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“Seoulites” by Choi Il-nam

#Books on Demand l 2019-01-08

Books on Demand

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“Seoulites” is a story about a short trip taken by four friends who were originally born in a rural town, but have since become petite bourgeoisies in Seoul after their own struggles.

We were relaxing under the kerosene lamp light after washing our hands and feet when the dinner table arrived. As expected, there were only kimchi, ugeoji-guk and some dried radish dish to go with the rice, but we inhaled everything in a rush together with the makgeolli served with the food. 

“This is it. This is exactly what we used to eat 10-plus years ago. I eat dried cabbage soup in Seoul sometimes, but it just doesn’t taste the same. Doesn’t this soup alone make the whole trip worth the trouble?” 

Even after dinner, we could not stop talking about our childhood in our hometown late into the night, unable to sleep. 

우리들이 대충 손발을 씻고

호롱불 밑에서 이러저리 퍼져 있을 때 저녁상이 들어왔다.

과연 밥상은 김치와 우거지국,

그리고 무말랭이 버무린 것 뿐이었는데,

우리는 반주로 들어온 막걸리와 함께 허겁지겁 쳐 넣었다.

“바로 이거야.  우리가 십여 년 전에 먹었던 맛이 바로 이거야.

이 토장국 하나만으로도 여기까지 온 보람이 있지 않니?“

상을 물린 다음에도 우리는 쉬 잠을 이루지 못하고

어렸을 적 고향에서 지내던 이야기로 밤이 깊어가는 줄 몰랐다.

Similar meals were served for lunch and for dinner, along with a liquor made with corn. But we weren’t as excited as they had been for last night’s dinner or breakfast. We decided to return to Seoul earlier than our initial plan. 

Interview by Prof. Bang Min-ho of Seoul Nat’l Univ.

Now that they are a part of Seoul and are familiar with the mechanisms of the city, even if they chase after the rural charms and nostalgia, they can’t help but admit that they have become Seoulites. That’s the lonely internal struggle of the men of this story. Hometowns are very important in literature. It represents where our real selves could breathe before we were isolated as modern people, and before we lost our true selves. Even though this story explores this idea in a simple anecdote about a short trip to the countryside, you could say that the real message of the story is much deeper and heavier. 

“I guess we can’t help that we’re almost Seoulites now.” 

After leaving the pub, we each bought a bag of biscuits for our kids and went our separate ways.

As we waved goodbye and said let’s meet again to each other, I said to myself over and over again – “Hey buddies, we are the hillbillies. The worst hillbillies.” 

At the same time, I was aware of the 7~8 cm long tails of materialistic snobs that had grown under our spines, dangling about. 

“우린 이제 별 수 없이 서울 사람 다 됐는갑다”  

술집을 나오자 우리는

아이들에게 줄 요량으로 각기 과자 봉지 하나씩 사들고 뿔뿔이 헤어졌다.

서로 잘 가라고, 또 만나자고 손을 흔들 때

나는 이놈들아, 우리들이야말로 촌놈이라고,

형편없는 촌놈이라고

속으로 몇 번씩이나 되뇌었다.

동시에 우리들의 등골 뼈 밑으로는

칠팔 센티미터쯤 자란 속물이 꼬리가

대롱대롱 매달려 있는 걸 의식하고 있었다.

Choi Il-nam (Dec. 29, 1932, Born in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do Prov.)

: 1953 Debuted with short story “Ssuk Story” 

1975 Woltan Literature Prize 

Notable works - , etc. 

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