A Distant and Beautiful Place

A Distant and Beautiful Place

Yang Kwija
Kim So-young
Julie Pickering
Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    A Distant and Beautiful Place
    Book Description:

    Somewhere on the periphery of Seoul, between the modern metropolis and the traditional farming communities, lies a "distant and beautiful place," the neighborhood of Wonmi-dong. Here, a young couple from the city struggles to make a home for themselves; a hapless "salary man" is forced into door-to-door sales after losing his job; a precocious seven-year-old questions the meaning of friendship and community. Everyone seems to be chasing the intangible dream of a better life. Set against the backdrop of South Korea's breakneck drive for industrialization and economic development in the 1980s, these compassionate and often humorous stories capture the essence of modern South Korean life-including the ubiquitous atmosphere of violence and fear that clouded the country prior to democratization in 1987. They also depict the Korean people's unfailing optimism and love of life. A Distant and Beautiful Place first appeared as a series of linked stories in literary journals between 1985 and 1987. It was published as the collection Wonmi-dong saramdul in 1987 and quickly became a best seller. Yang Kwija, one of South Korea's most respected and popular authors, has since published dozens of novels and shorter pieces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6123-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    Since her literary debut in 1978, Yang Kwija (b. 1955) has garnered a critical and popular following enjoyed by few Korean authors. Yang grew up amid South Korea’s breakneck drive for industrialization and economic development. Not surprisingly, her writing explores the modern urban experience in a changing society: the opportunities and disappointments of the new economy and the social mobility that it seems to promise; the deterioration of traditional ties of trust and reciprocity; and the underlying, yet ubiquitous, atmosphere of violence and fear that characterized South Korean life prior to democratization in 1987. Throughout her work, Yang explores these...

  5. A Distant and Beautiful Place
    (pp. 6-25)

    As they squeezed the wardrobe out the narrow door, a fragment the size of a coin chipped off the side. The same thing had happened when they moved in. Gasping under the weight of his end, Ŭnhye’s father had no time to examine this new blemish. He could only imagine the inner layers of wood gleaming like ivory and the angry scab that would eclipse the older scars on the rough surface. The ten-foot-long wardrobe was already scratched in several places. It couldn’t be helped. After the initial annoyance passed, the scratch would establish itself as yet another mark of...

  6. The Spark
    (pp. 26-46)

    He had just lit a cigarette when he heard the blast of the signal and the churning of wheels from one of the cavities in the dark upper reaches of the station. “The train is now arriving. All passengers please step behind the safety line.”Damn, of all the rotten luck!He jammed his cigarette into the sand-filled ashtray on top of a garbage can and smacked his lips at the bitter aftertaste.

    Moments earlier, just as he stuck his ticket in the turnstile, the signal blast had announced the arrival of another train. As he rushed down the stairs,...

  7. The Last Land
    (pp. 47-68)

    For nearly ten days the wind blew relentlessly. The spring cold snap had arrived. Pedestrians scowled at the plastic bags and candy wrappers that littered neighborhood streets. Garbagemen collected the rubbish and burned it in the vacant lot, producing black smoke that rode the wind and ashes thinner than rice paper that fluttered through the air like swarms of moths.

    Once the garbagemen had lit the fires and left, it was the children’s turn. Sangsu, eldest son of the wallpaper shop people, Kyŏngok, youngest daughter of Kim who pushed a garbage cart, and that little rascal Chinman swarmed out to...

  8. The Wonmi-dong Poet
    (pp. 69-85)

    People probably think I’m just an ordinary six-year-old girl, but I’m far from ordinary. While you might say I was conceited if I claimed to know the ways of the world, I can, with some certainty, say I know what’s going on at home and how our neighbors’ minds work. You see, I’m really seven, maybe even eight.

    It seems my parents put off registering my birth because I was such a frail thing and they weren’t sure I would survive. I guess I’m lucky to be on the family register at all, even if they have me down as...

  9. A Vagabond Mouse
    (pp. 86-105)

    Summer nights in Wonmi-dong usually started around nine. That’s when the low bamboo platform was placed somewhere between the Wonmi Wallpaper Shop and the Happiness Photo Studio, and the game ofgobegan. The platform, which spent the daylight hours moving back and forth in search of shade, was the latest of many projects belonging to Mr. Chu of the wallpaper shop. Chu had a hobby of disassembling things, then taking twice as long putting them back together. The bamboo platform had been taken apart and reassembled three or four times already, but one leg was still shorter than the...

  10. On Rainy Days I Have to Go to Karibong-dong
    (pp. 106-131)

    The two workmen stormed in just after eight in the morning. The project began with the tearing apart. Ŭnhye’s father grimaced at the racket as he watched the men pound and smash. Pieces of tile and fragments of concrete flew through the air with each blow of the hammer, so he couldn’t stand there watching. The kitchen, right next to the bathroom, was just as chaotic. The things they had moved from the bathroom made the small kitchen seem even more cramped than usual. His wife stood in the middle of it all, washing greens for the workmen’s lunch.


  11. Bellfinch
    (pp. 132-150)

    At the entrance to the park was a shelter for lost children. It looked like a glass cylinder; its round roof was painted green, and large windows wrapped around its sides. She paused quite unintentionally and, with her daughter Kyŏngju, looked inside. Faces curious, Yunhŭi and her son Sŏnggu, who had been following behind, stopped, too. Five or six small children looked out at the passersby; some were sucking on ice-cream bars, others were crying halfheartedly, noses running and faces stained with tears. It was still early, but these children had already lost their parents in the crowded park, and...

  12. The Tearoom Woman
    (pp. 151-177)

    The taxi let them off in the middle of the plaza in front of the train station. As always at year’s end, there was barely room to move. Cars swung into the turnaround, oblivious to the crowds, and pedestrians precariously wove their way through the vehicles. The new department store to the left of the plaza meant even worse crowds. Before the store’s construction, the plaza was already overflowing with passengers who streamed from an endless succession of trains arriving and departing on the Seoul–Inch’ŏn line, and with people trying to catch taxis. “It’s packed,” Ŏm muttered to himself...

  13. Our Daily Bread
    (pp. 178-195)

    For the people living in Wonmi-dong—no, to be precise, for the people of the fifth subprecinct of Wonmi-dong’s twenty-third precinct—a particularly thorny problem arose this winter. Depending on your point of view, you might think it a trifling matter, easily overcome with a little common sense, but in any case, it was clearly a most unfortunate situation.

    It all began at the end of last year. In summer the streets of Wonmi-dong bustled until midnight as residents escaped the sweltering heat of the one-room living quarters attached to their shops; but once the cold came, things were different....

  14. The Underground Man
    (pp. 196-219)

    He opened his eyes, but he didn’t look at his watch. Even without turning on the light and looking at the watch, he knew it read four o’clock. It was about five minutes fast. He had to wait five minutes for it to be exactly four. Of course there was no reason he should wait until four, but he held his breath and listened anyway. At the stroke of four, the bell at Sŏg’wang Temple on the lower reaches of Wonmi Mountain produced its hollow toll, and the neighborhood’s ubiquitous churches launched into a confused chorus of electronic chimes. He...

  15. Cold Water Pass
    (pp. 220-242)

    The woman’s voice flowing from the telephone was dreadfully thick and hoarse. At first it was difficult to tell whether the owner of the voice was a man or a woman. The moment I heard it I spread open the pages of my memory and began searching for its owner. I had received telephone calls from two husky-voiced women in the past. One was the editor of a corporate newsletter, the other, a publisher. While I had met neither, I had a preconception that both were active, no-nonsense career women.

    Of the two, I hastily concluded that it must be...

  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)