Korean Standards

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 half.

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 cigarettes.


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 significance.

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 secure.

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 like that.

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?

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 anything.

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 someone.

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 far away.

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 problem.

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 particularly cool.

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 daughter singing.

“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 seventy-two kilograms.

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 rising.

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.