By Park Min-Gyu
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé
Published in Koreana: Korean Art &
Culture (The Korea Foundation) Vol. 22, No.1 Spring 2008 pages 88 - 99
See also a short Introduction from the same journal
There’s a word, farm.
It’s a word that everyone knows, yet I reckon it’s a
word that no one really knows. Isn’t it rather like “Hometown at 6”?
That’s what Miss Kim Haneul answered; she graduated just this year from
girls’ commercial high school. Putting down her coffee, she makes a
sound, “pisi.” It sounds like a laugh or a sound made to conceal a
laugh. Thanks, I reply, in a manner suggesting it has absolutely
nothing to do with me. It’s just like “News at 9.” She’s at an age when
a person should make that kind of impression, more than any other. She
drinks her coffee. Hazlenut flavor.
It was this morning that I got a call from a farm.
The weekly meeting had just ended and I was talking about this and that
with the department head. Then the phone rang. Hello? The department
head had taken the call; he looked mystified. It’s for you, he said,
passing me the phone. This is Shin Seok-Hyeon. Hello is something
someone like a department head can say—on the spur of the moment.
That’s how I took the phone. Hey, Seok-Hyeon! Is that you, Seok-Hyeon?
Unexpectedly, a voice having nothing whatever to do with regular social
life in today’s Korea came bursting out of the phone from the other
end, loud and embarrassing. Heads turned, so I took the call in a
changed manner. Hello?
It was old Gi-Ha.
There’s a word, activism. It’s a word that everyone knows yet it’s a
word that no one really knows. Just like farm. Right. I know, it’s like
“Producer’s notebook,” isn’t it? That’s how Miss Jeong Hui-Jeong knows
it; she joined the company two years back. Why did you transfer the
call to the department head’s office? Becuase the caller said it was
urgent, she replies. In which case, you should have asked for his
number. Back at my desk, I dialed my home. Burr-burr. My wife did not
answer. After dialing the first five digits of her mobile number, I put
the phone down. There were two possibilities. Either she was in
Carrefour or she was driving. In either case, I felt it would be
inconvenient to talk about activism, farms, or old Gi-Ha. That explains
it. I checked the calendar. There was about a week left before the
summer vacation. The airconditioner, that had been off briefly, started
to blow hard again.
I don’t know how long it’s been since I last saw my wife with her eyes
open so wide. It was because that evening, exceptionally, my wife and I
drank together. In our standard, medium-sized apartment, in the
kitchen, at the table, we drank beer. Several bottles of beer, bought
at Carrefour with a special offer, so we drank the lot. Our daughter,
in second grade of elementary school, was asleep and snoring. She is
always utterly worn out after attending after-school lessons at three
different institutes. Once we’d finished talking, after we’d shared a
cigarette, exceptionally, we had sex. My wife had told me to wash
before going to bed but I made her lie on her front and penetrated her
a bit roughly, aggressively even. My wife accepted me in a docile
manner. Between her really fat, corpulent buttocks; it felt as
impossibly remote as three different after-school institutes. Seventeen
years ago, my wife was not at all like this. She was a skinny college
student, and she was old Gi-Ha’s sweetheart.
I first met my wife in my second year at university. Would that have
been in 1986? Probably so. There was an umbrella organization for the
various political activist groups and my wife was giving a presentation
at that day’s seminar. Love at first sight, you might say. Who is she?
With a pounding heart I stayed where I was to the end. At the
get-together that followed, it became obvious she was old Gi-Ha’s
sweetheart. Old Gi-Ha was what you might call the star player in the
group I belonged to. In a word, he was a militant whose name had
figured several times on the lists of those wanted by the police. The
girl was clearly fascinated by his every word. Suddenly, I had a
feeling that the soldiers had vanished from the field and all that
remained were mere fluttering flags.
So I followed old Gi-ha more than ever. Odd psychology, but true all
the same. Everyone knows what the outcome is if you’re into activism;
finally old Gi-Ha was arrested and had to spend a long time in prison.
Korean society changed to civilian rule, headed toward democracy. The
Berlin Wall fell, Lenin’s bronze statues were removed, and in the
meantime that skinny student had become my sweetheart. Good! That was
old Gi-Ha’s reply when I visited him in prison and told him about it.
Take good care of her. I nodded. Why was that? I had intended to say
sorry but what emerged was thank you. Why was that?
My life changed a lot. We both got jobs and after seven years of
earning a double income we were able to buy our present appartment in a
new town. Quietly, from being someone hoping that society would change,
I turned into a person hoping that his office ranking would change. One
autumn day, as I pulled deeply on a cigarette, I recognized the fact.
There was already no going back in life. I was forty. Even if I knew
where my comrade was, the flag was no longer fluttering. Once my wife
came to live in the new town, she suddenly began to put on weight.
Old Gi-Ha had visited our place just once. It was in the days when we
were living in a rented room, enthusiastically earning a double salary.
It was because he’d just been released; he came with Jeong, another
former student who’d been inside with him. I’ve come because I wanted
to see you both. That was the only reason for his visit. Moreover, he
was holding a bunch of flowers the more beautiful for looking rather
shabby. He really was that kind of guy. We drank until the flowers were
withered. I’m sorry, old friend. I had intended to say thank you but
sorry emerged instead. Why was that? My wife had gone to the toilet and
did not reappear though we waited some time.
What had made the visit possible was old Gi-Ha’s purity (my wife had
been a virgin). No matter what others might say, that was what I
thought. I’ll take the lead, then you who survive can follow me.
Jeong’s passionate cries meant that I had to endure a stern scolding
from the landlord. Only there was no survivor following behind the
fallen leader. Jeong later went on to become a renowned teacher in
various institutes; like him, all our former companions each found a
way of living as best they could. Old Gi-Ha was the only exception.
That’s the way he is. I heard that he had rejected the offers from
political circles and had entered the real world of manual labor just
after our daughter was born. I discussed it with my wife, whose swollen
body had not decreased in size at all. About that time a support group
had been set up to help him. Half the members believed that one day he
would become a member of the National Assembly, the other half hoped he
would never become a member of the National Assembly, or anything of
the kind. My wife and I shared the expectations of both sides, half and
We must save the farm. That was a headline printed in a copy of the
support group’s newsletter that arrived at some point. To put things
briefly, it expressed his viewpoint as he informed us that he was
giving up the workers’ movement and joining the farmers’ movement. A
few former student friends took the initiative, rolling up their
sleeves to help establish the kind of community he was advocating. For
us, it must have been the time when we had to pay the last installment,
or it may have been the balance. We alread contributed a lot, didn’t
we? It was my wife who first said it. I did not reply but I reflected
that it was true.
That had been the last time. He gradually turned into someone
forgotten, no longer mentioned by the media; then the activities of the
support group grew relatively infrequent. Compared with Gim and Gwak,
who had headed the movement with him, then become politicians, he had
gone in a quite opposite direction. By the time we moved to the new
town, we had forgotten old Gi-Ha, who had gone to live in a farm. No,
there was one time when I heard news of him, while I was out drinking
with Jeong. What do you know? one of my former students dropped out of
school, he’s a real screwball. Would you believe it? He went to live
for a time in that community Gi-Ha started. He was speaking in a rather
formal style, and though I asked him to use a more familiar level of
language, his way of talking did not change. His odd pronunciation of
the endings of phrases suggested someone who had become influential.
The star instructor at an educational institute had by then become a
VIP customer at ‘room salons.’ That kid, he stood it for six months,
then he ran away. Judging from what I heard, it doesn’t matter what you
say, he never listens, just follows his own way. You have to have a
sense of reality. Reality. Don’t you agree? By the way, what are you
doing these days?
Before my very eyes, one of the hostesses removed Jeong’s trousers and
set about exploring his groin. With that, my partner began to grope me
too. I thought it was time for us to move on somewhere else but
suddenly, at last, Jeong adopted familiar language to me. Hey kid, we
do things together here. To me it wasn’t sex so much as like sitting in
a public toilet. Getting it off while twice changing partners, I was
reminded of a Chinese communal toilet where there are no partitions.
What will you do? My wife asked, a cigarette between her lips. I don’t
know. There’s still a week or so left, so let’s think it over slowly. I
in turn took out a cigarette and put it between my lips. Decide soon.
The condominium booking depends on it, after all. Ah, right. At that
moment I was trying to imagine what it would have been like if
seventeen years before that skinny student had become old Gi-Ha’s wife.
Suddenly I had the impression that if I bared my wife’s belly, it would
bear a tattoo saying, “not a chance.” For some reason I felt as if we
were sitting side by side in a Chinese communal toilet smoking our
and help me. The sound of old Gi-Ha’s voice saying that made me keep
thinking of him. It’s something really hard for me to ask, Seok-Hyeon,
he’d said. I felt as if the room was filling with thick smoke. I got up
and opened the window. Hey, it’s cold. The fat woman who had been a
student seventeen years ago dove beneath the summer quilt just like a
student would. In the dark of night, the lights of the new city were
fluttering like a luminous flag. Vrooom, a sports car with the muffler
removed, went speeding across my field of vision like a yellowish line
drawn on a page with a fluorescent marker as if to underline the city’s
That, you might say,
is the background that made me visit the farm. Among all the incidents
I have enumerated, if just one had not happened I would have
courteously refused old Gi-Ha’s request. If I had not liked that girl
student, or if my wife had suggested contributing to the support fund,
or if the vehicle passing at that moment had not been a sportscar but a
local council garbage truck, I mean. If he had been reduced to
contacting me, didn’t that mean that all those other people had left?
With my mind made up, I set about persuading my wife. My daughter
texted me “Not fair” from her institute. In the end, I decided to send
my wife and daughter off to Jeju Island as part of my younger brother’s
family group. Or what about going together? Where? To old Gi-Ha. My
wife’s mouth pouted as she mumbled an indistinct reply. What is there
to look at in a farm? My wife and daughter left for Jeju Island two
days ahead of me.
I have never visited a farm. Looking back, that’s a fact. Of course,
I’ve seen farming villages several times in “Hometown at 6” on
television but otherwise I’ve merely glimpsed them briefly in passing
as I went speeding down some national highway. Therefore I was feeling
rather nervous as I took the eastbound expressway. Rather like a
tropical fish relocated into the ocean deeps; I had made and remade all
kinds of preparations. I’d packed mountain climbing gear and boots,
full supplies of emergency medicine and dressings, different kinds of
tools and a hunting rifle as well as sufficient ammunition, into the
trunk of the car. And above all, money; I was furnished with a really
large sum in cash. There is nothing like money for making a person feel
Old Gi-Ha had remained stubbornly silent about the nature of the help
he was asking for. I felt confused, my surmises ranging from light
farming to having to pursue wild boar. Suppose it were foot-and-mouth
disease or some such thing, can’t that be harmful to humans too? I went
so far as to make myself feel bad deliberately. With that, thoughts
arose of words like avian flu and mad cow disease. What on earth could
it be? Sitting on a bench in a rest area, I drank a hazlenut coffee and
smoked a cigarette. Oddly, I had scarcely taken a single puff before I
was taken with a severe fit of sneezing like a flu-stricken chicken.
With that storm, I felt as if a sky as blue as Jeju Island’s sea was
ebbing away like a low tide. Like a tropical fish feeling a change in
pressure, so that my wife and daughter came to my mind. Suddenly, just
It was well past midday when I arrived in Silsang-ri. By the time I
reached Injei, Gi-Ha’s directions had already lost their value, but
after consulting a map, then asking repeatedly, I was at last able to
reach Silsang-ri. It might call itself a village, in fact all there was
were some empty houses with no trace of anybody around. Instead, I was
able to see magnificent woodland tracks and untouched nature. It struck
me as being like something from the National Geographic. Parking the
car, I washed my hands in the brook that flowed alongside the track.
The water was cold and refreshing; several fresh-water fish were
swimming, shaking heads colored by the green shade of the foliage. I
was amazed. To think there was this kind of nature just a few hours’
drive away from Seoul. From the entrance to the village, stretching, I
gazed for a longish time toward the flickering end of the track. It was
only a few hours’ drive, but I felt as if I was standing alone on a
rock some eighty kilometers to the south-east across the sea from
Ulleung Island. The sound of the wind reminded me of waves as it
penetrated my ears. According to his directions, once past that forest
track there was a steep hill and on the other side of that was old
Gi-Ha’s community. How many years had it been? I was unable to count
them off on my fingers colored by the green shade. With the expression
of a fresh-water fish returning to the river it had left seventeen
years before, I got back into the car.
Anyone home? I repeated the same Anyone home several times but got no
reply. So I made up my mind to take a look round the community’s
facilities. Though I call them facilties, they were nothing more than a
few buildings and store-rooms, with a small lecture hall; since they
were spread over quite a large area, it took about ten minutes in all.
The first thing I saw as I arrived was a ricefield, then a broad
cornfield stretched to the foot of the hill, bordered by several
plastic-roofed greenhouses. As for buildings, there were two main
buildings that seemed to be living quarters, with store-rooms and
lecture hall standing separate, while there seemed to be a cattle shed
somewhere since a vague sound of cows lowing could be heard, diluted by
the wind. So the size of the whole extended to wherever the cattle shed
was. Anyone home? I started again to call repeatedly Anyone home?
Seok-Hyeon, is that you? Ah, Seok-Hyeon! Gi-Ha arrived just as I had
almost finished a cigarette. Incredibly, a cultivator came clattering
up noisily and, incredibly, Gi-Ha was sitting on the cultivator. Have
you been waiting long? I’ve been repairing the cattle shed . . . and he
couldn’t go on. Is Su-Hui ok? She’s fine. Is your child getting on ok?
Yes. Thanks for coming. Unable to let go of my hand that he was
holding, old Gi-Ha was on the brink of tears. Unable to look into his
eyes, I stared miserably at the ground, at his shadow. His hair had
become grizzled. That made it more dazzling against his sunburned skin.
The time that had passed, the more dazzling for that, rose to the
surface of my memory.
Try these, I grew them myself. The meal was composed of vegetables and
bean-paste but it was a banquet full of old Gi-Ha’s pride. As I ate, I
was able to learn more about the current situation there. Putting it
briefly, things were bad but Gi-Ha was holding firm. First, the person
acting as general manager had gone off with what remained of the
support fund and the money the community had earned. That had been
three years before. As a result they had borrowed money and gone on
with the year’s farm work, only that had been a bad year. So their debt
tripled. They had believed what the government said and cultivated the
specified produce, a disaster. The policy changed after six months but
no kind of compensation had been provided. They built the cattle-shed
with a group of volunteers. They began to raise poultry. Poultry had
been a success but then the prices had plummetted, on account of avian
flu. Soon after that, the chickens had dropped dead in droves.
Obtaining someone’s help with great difficulty, they had purchased ten
cows. Most of the volunteers had left the community. Among the few who
remained there were serious differences of opinion. The divergent
opinions could not be narrowed down. They had been able to manage with
ordinary rice and black rice; but then the opening of the rice market
had suddenly been announced. Three months previously, the remaining
volunteers had quit the community.
So now there’s no one left? No, there’s one who stayed, called Seok . .
. I don’t have a driving license, you see. So he’s taken the van and
gone into town. To buy food, look for fodder and equipment, that kind
of thing. Ah, since you’ve come I should tell him to bring back some
meat. No, it’s ok. Not at all; the meat’s different here. He phoned but
Seok’s mobile was off. Rather than meat, what I really wanted was some
coffee. I rummaged through the dining room cupboard but all that
emerged were a few dried, wrinkled carrots. Tell that guy Seok . . . I
began, then changed my mind, No, nothing. I had been thinking he ought
to bring back some instant coffee.
But how can I help you? Old Gi-Ha looked absorbed for a moment, then
stood up from the meal table, suggesting we go take a look at the
cattle-shed. For the first time in my life I rode a cultivator, and so
reached the cattle-shed on top of the hill. The feeble-looking
milk-cows were making sounds very unlike their usual lowing. They’ve
given no milk for the past few days. Something was surely wrong. The
cows’ eyes were red, bloodshot. If it’s a disease, shouldn’t you call
in a vet or something like that? I peered around. Will you take a look
here? Old Gi-Ha was pointing at one of the pillars supporting the shed.
How shall I put it? A hole some ten centimeters in diameter had been
bored through it at an angle. For a moment I thought it must have been
made using a drill. But the inside surface of the hole was smooth like
glass. What’s this? At least I asked something like that. Instead of
answering, Gi-Ha pointed at the undergrowth and the ground around the
shed. Clearly some parts were dried yellow or a sooty black. Even a
cursory glance revealed a scene very different from the surrounding
green vegetation. What is this? I asked again. Gi-Ha’s expression was
cold and stiff. Several prolonged sighs emerged, thin and pale like
sick cows’ milk. Nowadays, you see
We’re being attacked by extra-terrestrials.
The cows began to moan again. I simply listened to what old Gi-Ha was
saying. He said things I could understand, and things I could not
understand. The attacks had begun two weeks before. First, the dog had
died. The dog’s body had been like a mummy, with not a trace of
moisture left. Gi-Ha’s conjecture was not that the dog had been killed
but rather that something had landed just where the dog had been. You
see, for a radius of about six meters, all the grass was dried yellow.
And the next day he had observed a flying object. With his very own
eyes, he had discovered a disk floating some ten meters up in the air.
The disk had stayed there for about five seconds before suddenly
vanishing. That had been the beginning. Disks had kept appearing and
from then on the strange attacks had begun. As he said, they were
strange attacks. Overnight a whole field of cabbages had been plowed
up, then part of the rice, that had been ripening well, had become
blighted in a flash. The leaves and stalks of the cash crops in the
plastic-covered greenhouses had grown brittle like ash. Then last
night, when Seok had gone into the town, a flashing light had shone
down on the cattle-shed. The cows, that had panicked at the sight of
the disks, now had bloodshot eyes after the night’s event and that had
been the moment when the hole in the pillar had appeared. Knodding my
head, I listened to the whole story, which went more or less like that.
Seeing my unexpectedly composed reaction, old Gi-Ha gradually seemed to
be calming down. Traditionally, they say forty is an age when you’re
free of vacillation; so I suppose that’s why I felt peaceful. I’m not
telling lies, either; you know better than anyone what kind of a person
I am, don’t you? I didn’t think he was lying, either. In the course of
my life, I had watched a woman pass from 44 kilograms to 72 kilograms.
Don’t you have the police or some such public powers round here? Well,
my point of view is, it’s no easy matter to start talking about things
like this. Besides, I was a dissident, and since that became known
they’re none too fond of the sight of me. I don’t expect they are.
There are the people involved in the farming cooperative and the
livestock cooperative, but they’re just the same. Why, I couldn’t even
tell someone like young Seok. To say nothing of the friends in Seoul.
They would reckon that Gang Gi-Ha was suffering from the after-effects
of torture brought on by the setbacks he’s suffered in farming. I
expect they would. Suddenly this world felt like another planet. Old
Gi-Ha had his back turned to me so he looked even more isolated. People
are all extraterrestrials to one another.
Suddenly I had the impression that a kind of lowing sound rent the air.
Ahh! Gi-Ha was shouting. Looking up, a flying object was suspended
above the cornfield emitting a bright light. It was a strange feeling,
rather as if a woman who had passed from 44 kilograms to 72 kilograms
were floating lightly in the sky. I took out a cigarette and put it
between my lips. The flying object turned in an ellipse several times,
seemed to make an unsteady movement and vanished. Oddly enough, I had
no sense of being in any danger. I remembered being told that it had
displayed a kind of flashing but on the whole that was the feeling.
Very fast! That was all I said. What’s it after? That was all Gi-Ha
said, too. We said nothing more. The cows were howling in a way far
removed from lowing.
After we had finished supper, we went on and on debating the attack. I
enjoyed the feeling of being at a seminar. I had a strong sense of
being back in my university days. I mean, since you’re involved in
broadcasting . . . Old Gi-Ha found it difficult to start talking. He
was someone who was constitutionally incapable of asking people for
favors. So it was easy to guess the end of what he could not complete.
You want the media to cover it? You saw it clearly, didn’t you? Sure;
it’s clearly news if anything is. That was what I said, but I was
laughing inside. My job, that Gi-Ha imagined was in broadcasting, was
in fact in production as a specialist subcontractor. It was not without
relationship with television, but my decision-making powers did not
extend the length of a rat’s tail. And even supposing that we crossed
several bridges and got it covered, that seemed likely not to be good
for Gi-Ha. The main characteristic of the media is a tendency to purvey
gossip. Having old Gi-Ha’s face appear in a program like “Believe it or
not!” would be as dreadful as any attack by extra-terrestrials.
Besides, there was no guarantee that the disk would appear again. Even
if we managed to cross several other bridges, it would only need the
slightest error there and that would be the end of it all. That thought
shot through the firmament of my mind, sparkling like the disk.
It’s news, so how can anything be more important? At the very moment
our traditional methods of organic farming were about to bear fruit,
they’ve come under attack. Do you realize, it’s taken years to produce
those rice plants that have been blasted? He was overcome with emotion
for a moment, before recovering his usual calm way of speaking. That’s
why I need your help, Seok-Hyeon. If I fail like this, who’s going to
devote themselves to farming in the future? While it had been a
seminar, I had felt happy. That thought struck me. He was longing for
mobile press units to arrive without delay – so I determined to do my
best and calmed him down by arguing that even covering news required
all kinds of formalities. In any case, you’ll suffer a lot of damage,
you know. Still, even if there’s a lot of damage . . . After all, we’re
all in the same situation, ultimately. What? Do you mean there have
been attacks in other villages too? No, not that. But as a sign of
protest against government policies they’ve plowed up their fields and
burned their crops, you see. Even if I sold out, it wouldn’t fetch
That’s bad, I said, taking out a cigarette and drawing on it. If the
situation of a peaceful village and a place undergoing attack by
extra-terrestrials were simliar, then the more I thought about it the
more mysterious farming life appeared. The fellow called Seok failed to
return, there were no further disturbances, so that finally we went to
bed early. The sharp smoke from the mosquito coil, something I had not
smelled for a long time, pricked my nose and eyes. Are you asleep?
Gi-Ha’s voice sparkled in the moonlight. No, I’m not asleep. Thanks,
anyway. I did not reply, because I could feel an apology hiding in his
expression of thanks. I turned my head. His face in the moonlight
seemed to have grown older. He had been a man upright and tenacious
like a green pine, but now what looked like tears were sparkling in his
eyes. I held my breath. But the tears did not flow; instead they
withdrew again into his eyes. They were a fighter’s tears, with strong
surface tension. Now I’m feeling really lonely. I wasn’t as lonely as
this in prison. That’s what I thought. With those words, That’s what I
thought, something like “myself as I was seventeen years ago” spoke,
using my lips. I had the impression that the thickly rising
mosquito-coil smoke was deliberately touching the edge of the moon.
That was why the moon beyond the window seemed even closer.
Tell me, what about going into politics, even now? Those words jumped
out unexpectedly. Don’t even mention it. As for this . . . so far as I
can see, there’s no solution. Frankly, none. I went on to mention Gim
and Gwak. Naturally I did not neglect to talk of Jeong. I likewise
brought up names like Yi, Yun and Yang, Gi and Bak, about whose
situations I knew something. They are doing well, old Gi-Ha said.
That’s really good, that they’re doing well. Then Gi-Ha interrupted
what I was saying and added: But Seok-Hyeon, after all, there should be
Having refrained means I have to go on refraining, doesn’t it?
After delaying sleep by our murmuring, the fatigue of driving had
accumulated, and I slept late the next morning. In the meantime, old
Gi-Ha seemed to have inspected the cattleshed, the rice paddy and the
other fields. Hasn’t that Seok fellow come back yet? Hmm, he’s always
paying truant. He’ll probably be in the town’s internet cafe. Internet
cafe? When he’s playing games, or whatever it is, he’s lost to the
world. He’s not made to be a farmer . . . . Still, I said, and headed
for the toilet. I followed Gi-Ha’s directions but what I found was,
let’s say, old-fashioned in style. Is there nowhere else? That privy is
all we’ve got. At that, lacking the patience to endure a boring speech
on the principles of organic farming, the close connection between shit
and rice and the significance of that cycle, I went into the privy. I
felt flushed. I clenched my teeth on a cigarette. On the spot, I felt
like taking the car and speeding out to the town’s internet cafe.
Beyond the little window the sun was visible, making me feel even more
By the time I had eaten a late breakfast and helped irrigate the rice
paddy it was nearly midday. I had only spent a short time doing odd
jobs, yet I was beginning to find the farm strangely tedious. I’ll be
leaving tomorrow morning. I had made up my mind as I was washing the
earth from my hands. For the sake of politeness, I’ll have to do some
drinking this evening. The water was cold and clear, the heater was not
working. I found all these things inconvenient. I was again thinking
that Gi-Ha ought to go into politics. He could surely get to be a
member of the National Assembly. At least then he wouldn’t be pestered
by extra-terrestrials. The more I thought of people sweeping up sacks
full of money by some kind of strange tricks, the more convinced I felt.
That afternoon I used my camcorder to film the blasted heads of rice
and the white, powdery remains of the vegetables. Old Gi-Ha eagerly
provided explanations but to my way of looking, they were merely empty
heads of rice. The camcorder’s battery was sufficient and I reflected
that that level of sincerity was simple courtesy. The corpse of the
dead dog was certainly odd. It would be really difficult to forge a
thing like that. Therefore, as I was transferring the photo of the dog
to the camcorder, I found myself longing to be able to film the disk.
Once you have proof, that changes everything. It would take on the
features of a scoop and even the kind of reporting Gi-Ha had been
thinking of would become possible. Who knows? Therefore I checked the
camcorder to make sure it was working. That way, there would be no
So, as the camcorder was working well, that afternoon passed without
any problem. I almost had the feeling that I was reviewing things that
I had recorded the previous day. Someone appeared briefly driving up in
a car, asking if we might be thinking of selling the land; naturally
the answer he got was negative and he left again, after asking to be
contacted later and leaving a name-card of the General Committee for
National Land Development of the Korean Association of Free Real Estate
Agents. That was all. It was all, except that I drank a small amount of
makkolli with old Gi-Ha, and phoned several classmates telling them
that the situation here was really difficult (without, of course, any
mention of flying objects) and all I heard in reply was Things are
really hectic here, too. I’ve hear that. I know, but times are hard for
everyone. I and old Gi-Ha briefly talked about the state of things, and
the problems Korean society was facing, then we took a short nap. I
reckoned that was it. I’m not sure how long we slept but hearing the
cows making a bellowing sound that was far removed from their usual
lowing, we opened our eyes. Against the dark background of the twilit
hill, a brightly fluorescing luminous body was floating.
It was the disk.
Get in! Gi-Ha was standing on the cultivator; grabbing his hand and
pulling, I pressed hard on the starter of my four-wheel-drive. I was
already carrying the camcorder in my right hand and suddenly my body
felt light, as though I only weighed forty-four kilograms or so. The
disk remained firmly fixed in one place. Perhaps on account of the
bright light, I felt very different from when I had seen it in
daylight. I pressed the button. The recording light began to blink
fast, like the heart of a universal earthling. Good grief! Gi-Ha
screamed. Indeed, the sight was so strange that I too felt like
screaming. The bottom of the disk was wide open and from there a kind
of pillar of light extended toward the cattle-shed. And one of the cows
was being dragged up that pillar into the disk. Old Gi-Ha was about to
leap out and go running in that direction, so that I was obliged to
restrain him. The other cows were uttering loud cries like space
monsters at the loss of their companion.
Then everything went quiet. As soon as the disk had vanished after
pulling the cow up, the remaining cows stopped crying out, as if it had
all been a lie. At last old Gi-Ha opened the door and jumped out. I
went racing after him. The sight that met our eyes was a spectacle that
no one should have to see. It was appalling. The cows were all dead,
their bodies scorched black, overturned, hugely bloated like baloons.
Milk was spurting from their udders as if driven by the pressure inside
their bodies. I saw old Gi-Ha drop to the ground, at which I finally
stopped filming. I hurriedly pressed the stop button but even before
that, the world had come to a halt. That was what it felt like.
While my panting calmed down, I reviewed the recording. How was it
possible? In the place where the disk should have been there was
nothing but empty air, with only the darkness showing. There was
nothing but the cattle-shed, the fence, the crying cows, filling the
dark screen. Just in case, I adjusted the contrast but the result was
the same. Bang. Just then one of the corpses exploded in a secluded
corner of the shed. Noxious gases and entrails looking like the larvae
of some kind of space monster came bursting out. I quickly carried
Gi-Ha out from the shed. The thought of returning to the house only
came to me after I had smoked two cigarettes in succession. I said that
we ought to go back and decide on some kind of countermeasures but
Gi-Ha made no reply. He and I both realized that there was no
possibility of any kind of countermeasures. Round here . . . there are
too many mosquitoes, I muttered as I lit another cigarette. The
night-time path was dark, the lights were out in the house.
The local police took the call relatively kindly. They inquired in
detail and double-checked the location and the extent of the damage,
but still they seemed to linger over the information that it looked
like an attack by extra-terrestrials. Uh, extra-terrestrials? They
asked no more questions after that. Anyway, we will visit the scene
tomorrow. Now we regretted our vague mention of extra-terrestrials, but
it was like crying over spilled milk. Even if the police said they were
coming, we could not help thinking, what use would that be? We could
not focus on anything. Feeling as though everything was pointless, old
Gi-Ha was lying down. Although it was midsummer, the floor felt
Why, that Seok fellow hasn’t come back today either! At that, old Gi-Ha
who had been lying motionless finally roused himself. You know, he’s
never stayed out this long before. At the latest he’s always come home
quietly the next day. Old Gi-Ha and I gulped in unison. The word
‘attack’ and the scene of the cow being drawn upward abruptly struck
our minds a heavy blow. I phoned to the police station again, this time
to report a missing person. Let me talk to him. Snatching the phone
from me, old Gi-Ha gave them precise details of Seok’s personal
information, the car’s plate number and type. The policeman, relatively
responsive to an incident involving a human being, replied that he
would launch an investigation immediately, and hung up. Thirty minutes
later the police called back. The car that you reported missing is
currently up for sale at the Injei used car dealer’s yard. But the car
is registered as having been sold to them in a regular fashion, so
perhaps you can provide some kind of explanation? Sold? That’s right;
it seems that you sold the car to them two days ago. It fell to me to
explain. It’s alright. He’s what matters. Who cares about an old car?
Old Gi-Ha simply sat muttering quietly beside me.
I could hear a ticking sound. It was my watch; it had been a present
brought back from Europe by a member of a production team five years
before. Those had been times when there had been a lot of overseas
productions, a lot of use made of the term ‘Millennium Special.’ I had
money left over from expenses, you see. The more you spent, and the
more work you did, the more intensely you felt the meaning of the term
‘global village.’ I think they’d been doing a program about a Swiss
watch factory. A white-haired craftsman putting the finishing touches
to his production—memories rose of watching that with my wife. Why,
this watch is that watch! More precisely, this was the first time in
those five years that I had ever heard it ticking. The global village!
I suddenly felt lonely. The more work you do, the more work gets done.
The more work you do, the more work gets done. The more work you do,
the more work gets done. Following the precisely determined ticking
seconds. I had fallen into a vague reverie. Suddenly, I longed for
Seoul if not Europe; and I was hungry. You must eat. Gi-Ha waved a
hand. Like it or not, I prepared something and ate; then I lit a
mosquito coil. There were a lot of mosquitoes inside the house. A
silent thread of smoke took over the space between the two of us as we
sat there silently. Then my mobile rang. It was my wife.
Is that you? Yeh. In the background there was a lot of noise and I
guessed that my wife could probably not hear my voice at all. What’s it
like on the farm? she asked, making her voice louder than was
necessary. Uh, it’s . . . fine, I answered. We’re in the hotel’s
karaoke room. I’ve got a surprise for you. You’ve never heard our
Hye-In sing, have you? I’ve just been turned inside out by her! Just
you listen! And so I was obliged then and there to listen to my
“My goodness, my goodness, don’t be like that! A woman’s heart is like
a reed. Why are you like this? Don’t ask.” My daughter’s voice rang
from another planet through the earpiece. Then my wife started her
fussing again. How was it? Isn’t she killing? Her dancing’s really
special too. I reckon we’d better make a singer of our Hae-In, don’t
you, dear? Her voice seemed bound to reach old Gi-Ha’s ears too. Right,
right, I nodded quickly. The mobile I was holding felt as if it weighed
Seok-Hyeon! Old Gi-Ha spoke up as soon as the call was over. Yes. He
was looking unexpectedly calm. Go back up to Seoul. Why, in that case .
. . I replied slowly but could not go on. No, rather I feel sorry. I
shouldn’t have asked you for help to start with. The police will
probably be coming tomorrow morning, too. So don’t worry. You go back
home. Since it was already past ten at night, I spread the bedding.
Even if I left in the morning, I thought, there was no sense in getting
up and going now. My heart was troubled. The moon was bright and
Gi-Ha’s sleeping face bathed in moonlight looked so peaceful I could
not stand it. Hey . . . are you alright? Something about “a girl
student seventeen years ago” spoke out, borrowing my lips. A voice no
different from that of seventeen years ago came through the darkness.
You think I feel alright? But . . . what are you going to do?
I really don’t know.
For a while we lay silent. Bang! The sound of a cow’s body bursting
echoed across the hillside. I don’t know. As I heard that sound, that
was what suddenly came into my mind. Fumbling, Gi-Ha’s hand crept
through the darkness and grasped my hand. It was a very different hand
from seventeen years before, big and rough. Seok-Hyeon, don’t forget to
take some rice with you when you leave tomorrow. Actually, I already
prepared a sack this afternoon. I’m telling you now, in case you forget
when you leave. You know, that rice . . . I’m sorry I’ve nothing but
rice to give you, but it’s really good rice. You understand? A sack of
rice seemed to be pressing down on my breast; no words would come out.
I was also thinking that I would never be able to swallow rice
cultivated under assault from extra-terrestrials. Another Bang sound,
unable to pass over the lofty mountain crest, came back as an echo.
I really don’t know.
I tried hard to get to sleep. I shall never again have any occasion to
visit a farm. I listened attentively to the ticking of the Swiss watch.
The more work you do, the more work gets done. The more work you do,
the more work gets done. When I woke it was dawn. Old Gi-Ha was shaking
me violently. The room was brightly illuminated, dazzling, but it felt
quite unlike sunlight. Coming to my senses and putting on my glasses, I
glimpsed through the window part of a huge luminous object. It was the
disk. A long, gently curved fuselage was floating right in front of my
eyes. We held our breaths. After staying like that for a time the disk
began slowly to move. This time it was not just one. As many as seven
disks were gathered in one spot, in the air over the far-off rice
paddy. Seizing my camcorder, I aimed it again at the scene but the
result was the same as before. So we had no choice but to watch the
movements of the disks. The disks kept in formation, a huge concentric
circle, and soon the central part of each one opened and began to emit
light. A bad omen. Struck by a feeling that the light was stripping
bare the entire rice paddy, Gi-Ha went dashing outside. In spite of
myself I went running after him. I briefly tried to start the car, then
turned off the ignition and got out. For some reason I suddenly thought
that the car might make them notice me. Instead I grabbed my hunting
rifle. Then I went running after old Gi-Ha, who was well ahead of me.
By the time I reached the edge of the rice paddy, I got the impression
everything was already over. Clasping a handful of rice heads, Gi-Ha
was crying. One handful of rice heads! I examined them. There was none
of the feeling of well-ripened heads of newly harvested rice. The
inside of every ear had the appearance of having been emptied and wiped
clean. Gi-Ha began tearing at the plants, running across the paddy and
shouting like someone chasing flocks of birds away. After crossing
several sluices, we examined the heads of the black rice, hoping that
perhaps they had not taken those grains, but the inside of those ears
too was utterly dark.
From behind my back, I heard Gi-Ha laughing. Or at least it sounded
like laughter, and like weeping, too, a strange kind of sound it was. I
did not have the courage to turn round. Instead, I raised my head and
glared at the disks. I had the impression that the light had grown a
little weaker, as the disks kept circling as before. Why did I do that?
I raised my rifle and took aim, at the same time as I bellowed, “You
bastards!” in a voice that echoed across the entire rice paddy. Why did
I do that?
Then, just as the I of seventeen years ago was pulling the trigger, I
turned the rifle about five degrees to the left. It was because
thoughts flashed through my mind in succession: this has nothing to do
with me, retaliation, if I die only I suffer. So of course I was
obliged to hear the shot passing through empty air. Hwew, a sound like
a gasp of relief clearly struck my ears. Vroom vroom. Suddenly the
disks began to circle. It was surely their reaction after the sound of
the shot, but I felt instinctively that it had nothing to do with it.
The disks began to move away, as if they were taking a step back. No! I
screamed again. The place the disks had retreated to was none other
than the cornfield. The two of us began to run in that direction, no
telling who was first. The reason why human beings do their utmost is
because they are helpless. As I ran, I experienced the truth of that.
Day was dawning faintly. The throng of tall maize stalks seemed to be
feeling like a sorrowful flock of birds about to be slaughtered. The
cornfield was being agitated by a waving motion, as if it was preparing
to face an emergency on the basis of its own premonition. We came
racing up to the entrance of the cornfield. For some unknowable reason,
that was the best we could do at that moment. Whoosh. Suddenly a sound
like waves breaking started to reach us from somewhere. The disks were
displaying a different kind of motion from previously. Just as I was
thinking: they’re spinning round, I was pushed by some force and fell
to the ground. The same had happened to old Gi-Ha a few steps away.
Recovering my senses, I realized that a mound of bent maize stalks was
weighing down on us. It was a considerable weight. Combining our
efforts, we finally managed to get out from the pile of maize plants
but by that time the disks were nowhere to be seen. At the far edge of
the sky where the disks had vanished, a pale morning sun was just
The sight that met our eyes was truly grotesque. The maize plants were
upright or bent over, following a regular pattern. I had the feeling it
constituted a proportioned curve. You know, this might be a kind of
crop circle! I spoke, still panting. Crop circle? I saw it in some
documentary. Seen from above, they form a shape or symbol, there’s a
theory they are messages from extra-terrestrials. Message? Old Gi-Ha
replied, also panting. We staggered back to the house like two
scarecrows going back to a storeroom. Get in, I said, pressing the
starter. Like a frightened beetle, the four-wheel drive scuttled up the
steep slope of the hill, the tires screaming. Getting out of the car,
we walked to the edge of the slope. From there, like scarecrows that
have at last found their proper place, our hearts reaching out while
our arms hung powerless, we had a complete bird’s-eye-view of the
cornfield. Across it, the sign
had been drawn, the mark of product quality approval awarded by the
Korean Standards Association. It was a huge KS, in amazingly precise
proportions. Those bastards . . . Gi-Ha started. They know us far too
well! Ah, I said, took out a cigarette and put it between my lips. I
felt the sun was floating as high as it could go.