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"The Telephone" by Yeom Sang-seop

#Books on Demand l 2019-11-05

Books on Demand

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Yeom Sang-seop’s “The Telephone” shows the life of a middle-class couple viewed through a telephone call and ensuing marital conflicts at a time when telephones first began to be distributed in Korean households. 

“Honey. You got a call.” 

Her curt voice was accompanied by attempts to hide assorted expressions - her awkwardness, a scoff, and anger. She avoided her husband’s eyes lest he should notice the varied emotions on her face. But her husband caught the twitching on her tightly closed lips and amusement in her eyes.

“Well, don’t you look excited to get a call. Your wish has come true. So, who was it?” 

Then the husband remembered that he gave his home telephone number to Chae-hong, his favorite gisaeng, while having a drink at the bar two nights ago. 

“나 좀 보세요 지금 전화가 왔에요”

한 마디 톡 쏘고 나서 어색한 빛을 감추랴,

복받쳐오르는 웃음을 참으랴, 성을 내어 보이랴,

꼭 다문 입술이 눈웃음과 함께 쫑긋쫑긋하는 게

주인의 눈에 스치어갔다.

“전화가 왔으면 그런 반가울 데가 있나! 인제는 소원 성취했구려”

젊은 주인은 그저께 밤에 요릿집에서 술을 먹다가

채홍이에게 자랑삼아서 

그 날 저녁때 맨 전화번호를 가르쳐 준 것이 인제야 생각났다.

Interview by SNU Korean Literature Professor Bang Min-ho

This scene in “Telephones” describes what kind of era the main characters were living in. In the story, a married man openly frequents a bar and flirts with a gisaeng and doesn’t even feel embarrassed about it when his wife finds out. That’s unthinkable in today’s marital relationships. The telephone is a medium through which such customs are displayed. Such social conditions are what Yeom Sang-seop was trying to satirize in this story.

“Things like this makes life interesting.” 

She could not have looked happier.

“Mr. Kim took care of Chae-hong’s kimchi this winter, huh?” 

She smirked as if relieved but then suddenly put her face close to her husband and pleaded. 

“Honey, can’t we get another telephone?” 

He was so taken aback that he could only simper and stare at his wife. 

“가다간 이런 일두 있어야 살 자미가 있는 거야”

아씨의 신기가 이렇게 좋기란 결혼 이후에 처음일 것이다.

“흥, 그 영감 결국 채홍이에게 김장 해 준 셈이군” 

인제야 안심이 되었다는 듯이 아내는 샐쭉 웃다가

옷도 채 못 벗고 이주사 턱밑에 다가와앉아서 조르듯이 의논을 한다.

“여보, 우리 어떻게 또 전화 하나 맬 수 없소?”

남편은 하 어이가 없어서 웃기만 하며 아내의 얼굴을 빤히 들여다 본다.

Yeom Sang-seop (Born in Seoul, Aug. 30, 1897~Mar. 14, 1963)

: Debuted in 1921 with short story “Tree Frog in the Specimen Room”

Won the Silver Order of Cultural Merit in 1971, etc.

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