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“Spider Web Railroads” by Do Myong-hak

#Books on Demand l 2022-06-21

Books on Demand

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We left the station with our stuff. We tried to get a car that would take us to Taechon but couldn’t find one. 

That was when the security guard came to say that we could catch a train from Pyongyang to Chongsu청수 that was leaving the next morning.

A train to Chongsu indeed arrived next morning. But another problem was lying in wait. Having found out about the mirrors, other train employees, even the train conductor, tried to mooch off of us. 

I was so furious. The railroads, which were supposed to be the nation’s arteries, were not arteries, but spider webs that fed on people’s blood. 



안주장마당 경대 가격이 그렇게까지 싸진 것도 불과 며칠 전부터였다.

우리가 길에서 숱한 시간을 낭비하는 동안 

우려했던 대로 삼면경대가 이 지역에서 돈이 된다는 정보가

혜산의 큰 손들에게 알려진 것이다.

그들은 굼벵이같이 움직이는 열차보다 트럭에 상품을 대량으로 싣고

신속히 이동해 물건들을 싼값에 뿌려버린다. 

그러니 우리 같은 개미들이 녹아날 수밖에 없다. 

It hasn’t been that long since the price of vanity tables in Anju Market plunged. Just as we feared, while we were wasting time on the road, the big players in Haesan got wind of how pricey three-mirrored vanity tables were. Rather than using the crawling trains, those big merchants quickly transported the goods on trucks and sold them cheap. No wonder small fries like us were left behind.


고민 끝에 까나리를 사서 혜산에 팔기로 한다.

커다란 수지통 다섯 개에 까나리를 채우고

올 때와 마찬가지로 복잡한 열차에 시달리며 혜산에 도착했다.

 He filled up five large plastic containers with fish and traveled to Haesan on the same grueling railways.



Interview with SNU Korean literature professor Bang Min-ho

The two men wanted to make up for the loss by buying something cheap in Taechon and selling them at a higher price in Haesan. And that something was fish. But the stinky fish turned into mush, which meant even this venture ended up as a failure. This story shows the economic reality of North Korea – corruption among North Korean bureaucrats and government workers who sponge off the backdoor capitalistic markets and the sufferings of people.  



다음 날 해산 장마당에는 전혀 듣도 보도 못한 

‘신상품’을 들고 나온 여인이 나타나 눈길을 끌었다.

종이에 ‘까나리가루 팝니다. 1킬로 5천 원’하고 써놓았는데,

까나리 가루는 호박국 끓일 때 넣어도 좋고,

감자반찬 할 때 뿌려도 좋고, 하며 열심히 팔았다.

The next morning, a woman with an amazing new product was grabbing attention at Haesan Market. 

She had a sign that read “Fish sauce for sale. 5,000 won for a kilo.” She claimed that the fish sauce was great for seasoning pumpkin soup and boiled potatoes and many more dishes. 


내가 망친 돈을 회복하려 아내가 나선 것이었다.

It was my wife who stepped up to recover the money I had lost.


그리고 아내는 목돈을 가루로 전변시킨 내 공적을 참작해

이날부터 ‘소비지도원’이라 부르던 별명을 취소하고,

‘멍멍이’로 하향 조정해 주었다.

Taking into consideration my amazing feat of turning money into fish pulp, she gave me a new nickname, “Doggy.”





Do Myong-hak (born in Haesan in 1965~)

Debuted with Monthly Journal of the Korean Novelists Association 

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