Lee Je-ha 

Born in 1937 in South Kyongsang Province, Lee Je-ha studied at Hongik University. He received the Yi Sang Literary Award in 1985 and the Hankook Ilbo Award in 1987. He has published a number of works in a variety of genres, ranging from novels and short stories to poetry and children's books. Initially he wrote short stories, his first collection being published as Ch'osik (Vegetable Diet) in 1973. His first novel, Kwanghwasa (A Mad Painter), was not published until 1986.  
He is mainly famed for the experimental techniques he employs in his narrative works. While the settings are perfectly familiar ones, his fragmentary style and use of surrealistic metaphors challenges any too simplistic notion of what is real in today's world. The distortions of reality found in his work serve to draw attention to the distortions inherent in the system of values dominating society.  
Critics have generally seen his works as indirect satires of the dehumanized aspects of modern Korea's materialistic society. The superficiality current in certain milieu forms a central topic in some works, while the madness of those involved in politics formed a main focus of his earliest work.  
An overall term sometimes used to qualify his literary technique is "fantastic realism" and he is certainly to be counted among the most original writers of fiction in modern Korea. His originality is such that readers have at times been intensely shocked, disturbed by his refusal to follow the conventions of dogmatic schools. 

A Traveler Never Stops on the Road 



It happened around sunset on a mid-December day in 1983. A few passengers got  
off the Samchuk-bound bus that had started at Sokcho. The brief stop was made in Mulchi at a point where three streets met. Two or three men looked like hikers in ski jackets and winter hats, carrying backpacks or small toiletry bags. As they got off, they loudly complained about the cold weather and hurried to a small roadside store. There was also a middle-aged man obviously coming back from shopping raw fish for his store. He followed the hikers.  
The last one off the bus was a man who stood still, as if stunned by a blow. He wore a corduroy jacket and carried a ragged old bag that seemed to belong to a town clerk of the past age. He seemed to be watching the tail end of the departing bus, but in fact he was gazing across the street at the endless horizon of the ocean spread right in front his eyes.  
This last man had boarded the bus in Seoul at the spur of the moment as if someone were pursuing him. Since the bus left Seoul, he had seen patches of the ocean all along the way, but the sudden appearance of the entire ocean jolted him. It was in truth the ocean that made him get off the bus at the last minute. This desperate feeling was hard to describe, like facing a rock cliff at an unexpected moment.  
The ocean began at the edge of an open asphalt square, about four times as wide as a four-lane highway. Tour buses and cars were passing busily on the highway. The man shivered once and began to walk cautiously across the street. His steps were uncertain, as if he were teetering on a cliff.  
Small cement flower beds were here and there obviously for the tourists, but in the whipping gust of wind, they looked small and useless. The wind was so strong that it seemed to raise the ground upright.  
The man jumped over a two-foot-high barrier and walked right into a pebbly beach about ten meters wide. He put down his bag on the ground and was about to straighten up when someone yelled, "Stop! Don't move!"  
"Step back three paces! Leave the bag alone!"  
"... "  
A soldier rushed to him, aiming a gun at him. He looked gingerly into the bag and relaxed a little.  
"What is this?"  
"Shit... Can't you see what it is? Secret code numbers and ground rice powder."  
In the bag were some underwear, toilet items, and a small vinyl bag. While the soldier was poking the vinyl bag, the man thought to himself, "You are already dead." If he were a North Korean spy, he would take this moment to run. But what fool would carry a gun in his bag?  
"What is this? Looks like some powder... Is it lime?" The soldier asked and rubbed it between his fingers. The man got angry and walked resolutely toward the soldier.  
"I said rice powder."  
"What the hell...? Ugh, it's bones."  
"... "  
"Sprinkle them and go away."  
"... "  
"... go away right now."  
About 15 years ago when the man was a new recruit in an Army training camp, he saw a trainee who pulled the safety pin off a grenade, didn't know which direction to throw it in, and ended up blowing another man's arm off. Soldiers near him shouted and pointed to the right direction, but he got all flustered, reeling from side to side.  
Now the man felt like that trainee and was infuriated at himself when he snatched back his bag from the gun-toting soldier. He slowly walked back to the highway.  
He could see white paper signs with "Hot Fish Soup" handwritten on them, being almost torn by the wind off the windows of a couple of small eateries. He entered the left eatery only to find the men who had gotten off the bus. They sat around on old coal heater, loudly dividing the expense of drinking. One of them, the backpack-carrying man, didn't turn away, as if he knew the last comer. But the newcomer didn't pay any attention to them and flopped himself on a backless chair in a far corner.  
"Why the hell isn't this guy back yet? Maybe he didn't get it, huh?"  
"There are lots of them around... Maybe he found too many."  
"Too many?"  
"I hope they don't haggle too hard... If you are too nice to them, they stick to you like flies."  
"I am sure General Kim would kick them in order before they come here... Hell, if there are too many, each of us can lick two or three..."  
"You make me laugh. I know you jerk off as soon as you stick it in."  
"Oh, yeah? Mine is just fine. Shit, I'm not over the hill yet. I can last an hour...."  
"Shut up your dirty mouths. You are all getting old. Just zip up."  
While they were giggling, the middle-aged store owner came out of a small door and approached the last comer.  
"Will you have hot fish soup? That's all I have."  
"What kind of fish?"  
"Flatfish, that's all I have. How about soju?"  
"A large glass of warm rice wine. Just one. And rice."  
After ordering, he unlaced his hands and lit up a cigarette, a habit. He sat there after eating and lit his second cigarette when the store owner approached him.  
"Look, can I talk with you a moment?" he asked.  
By this time, the store was empty because the hikers had left as soon as their friend came back. It was obvious that they were on a sex tour disguised as a hiking trip. The friend they had been waiting for came back with several women, a couple too many and they noisily argued. The women-procurer wore a black beret.  
"I said I didn't need one," the backpack man complained. "Why did you bring so many?"  
"Hell, stop pretending! I've never seen a guy who doesn't hike a cunt. I've brought just the right number and you complain? You really don't need one?"  
"No, I don't."  
"Hell, if you don't want it, I'll take care of it. I won't touch a fingertip of hers, but you must pay."  
"You dirty son of a bitch."  
"Go tell your wife you didn't do it! You gutless eunuch."  
The beret man herded the women out of the store, but the backpack man turned around and asked the last comer.  
"Are you coming to the mountain?"  
When he hesitated to answer, the backpack man pulled his peak down and said, "If you are coming our way, come to the Baiksul Inn and play 'go-stop'1. You can sell your 'gwang'2."  
He could hear them hailing a taxi. The women's giggles sounded much more spirited than the men's. He didn't know why the backpack man acted as if he knew him. "Shall I sell my 'gwang', buy a woman and go in the mountain?" He thought to himself.  
"Please follow me," the store owner said and took him through the door to a back room. The eatery must have been a small barn made into a store. The door led to a tiny yard of an old crumbling house. Here and there dingy cooking utensils were scattered around as if there were no kitchen to hold them.  
"This is the room," said the owner and opened the door, but he stood still beside a wall and stared at the owner.  
"Will you take the gentleman as far as Wolsan? He says he will pay you a hundred thousand won. He's over eighty and has been like that for three days."  
"A rich man," he said and glanced at the old man. Thinking this must be his unlucky day, he turned around.  
"Why me?"  
"We've waited for three days, but found no one. I think you will do," said the owner.  
"There are taxis."  
"Cars can't go to Wolsan. There are no roads. Besides, I don't know whether it's north or south of the 38th parallel. It's a pity."  
"The old man insists he wants to go there. If not, near there. You can go as far as Suwha."  
The store owner must have thought he had the strength to do the job. Inside the room, the old man lay on his back with his eyes open and glaring, and a woman in a nurse's uniform sat with her back to the wall. Her face was completely blank.  
"Why don't you take him yourself?"  
"I can't carry him," the owner said angrily. "He says he will pay for the transportation in addition to the hundred thousand won."  
"I am sorry I can't. I am on my way to the mountain."  
"You are both travellers who happened to run into each other. Have a heart. Can't you relent a bit? Oh, you want more money?"  
"No, let me go."  
"You really can't?"  
"No, find someone else."  
"Don't be so stubborn, please," said the woman suddenly in a monotonous tone. He could not tell whether it was the old man or the woman who had offered to pay. He left the store, uneasily.  
In front of the store, he gazed at the dark blue sea. He didn't see the soldier, though. But he knew as soon as he stepped onto the beach, the soldier would pop up with his gun ready.  
It was near dusk when he got on a bus going toward the mountain. He looked out at the darkening fields but he could not get rid of his uneasiness. He felt bad that he had neglected a sick old man, but what bothered him more was the woman. He couldn't tell whether she was a young girl in her early twenties or a middle-aged woman over thirty, close to forty. There were in the room a radio playing old Korean folk music and a dim naked bulb on the ceiling. Her face against this background aroused a strange aversion in him. The old man was wrapped in a heavy coat and an expensive fur scarf. He looked like the patriarch of a wealthy family. He and the woman must have been resting in the mountain for health, and he probably took a turn for the worse. It was obvious he had had a stroke and was paralyzed. If the old man hadn't had glaring eyes and the store owner hadn't mentioned the DMZ line, he might have accepted the offer.  
When he got to the Baiksul Inn, the backpack man waved at him from a brightly lit second floor window. He acted as if he had been anticipating his arrival.  
"Come on up. I knew you would...." As he went up, the man was waiting on the staircase and said, "Don't take another room. We've already taken four rooms. We wanted three, but the innkeeper wouldn't hear of it. We stay here every time we come, but the son of a bitch... The guys are staying up all night. I have no taste for 'go-stop.' In the morning, will you come with me to the waterfall? For exercise, I mean."  
"Didn't you invite me to play 'go-stop'?"  
"You can play a couple of hours. It's not fun to me. I want to have a clear head when I go down, but those guys... oh, hell."  
He looked into the room to which the backpack man took him, but didn't go in, instead he followed him, still holding his bag. The next room seemed his, and the game was going on in the third room. One woman sat beside each man. The women giggled and cackled, fed the drinks and some eatables to their men and counted the money. They had been brought for this purpose. "Hey, you girl, you take care of this gentleman here, instead of me, get it? By the way, have you eaten?" While he was being introduced, the backpack man seated a woman beside him.  
"If you're going to spend the night together, have the best time," a woman said, making a strange gesture to his woman.  
"Win or lose, stop at midnight. If you get too excited about the game, you'll ruin yourself. I'll wake you in the morning. I'm going to practice yoga in my room," the backpack man said and left the room as he was about to join the game.  
"I don't know why the son of a bitch comes hiking. He's always like that," the beret man said, resentfully.  
"We've got 'kodori', 'kumbak', 'tongsagei'3 and jaekyu, you know these? Oh, 'gwang' is five won."  
"What is 'jaekyu'?"  
"If you turn over 'gwang' and don't have a match, you take a card from each one, but you can't take another 'gwang'. It's doesn't cost much."  
"What are you talking about, it's a lot," a player said.  
"In a deal where you take cards away, you can't 'stop.' After a round, if a possessor comes up, then you are dead."  
"A possessor?"  
"That means somebody else will 'stop'. You lose double. Why, you haven't played this before?"  
He didn't answer him and took out his wallet. Antes were quite high. "Gwang" was five thousand won, one point was a thousand won. There was even "nangari" which meant that he might lose all his travel money.  
Once the game started, everybody was quiet. They had apparently made all kinds of rules to raise the winner's pot, and they became deadly serious. Only the women talked and laughed once in a while. The woman beside him looked very young but had a face that looked like it had been beaten by a soft club. Occasionally she fed him snacks and poured drinks for him, but she never said a word. Just like what they say¦ˇif a woman doesn't get fingered by a man during a game, she would be ignored in the bar, too. She was obviously discouraged by the fact that there were more women than needed. She didn't come here as the partner for the backpack man; still, he had left, and she was downcast.  
Around nine o'clock, one woman stood up with part of the money that had been set aside out of each round for common use. She went out of the room, came back soon, and said, "A phone call for Mr. Kim."  
"At this early hour?" Mr. Kim grimaced and glared at the woman with feverish eyes.  
"Your hands are lousy. Why don't you go and finger 'it', huh?" Other players teased him. In about an hour, Mr. Kim and the woman came back.  
At eleven o'clock another man was called out for a phone call and came back. In half an hour, another. By this time, it dawned on him what "a phone call" meant. When one was on a losing streak, one went to have sex with his woman for luck. It was half past midnight when his woman said, "There's a phone call for you." Without saying a word, he followed her to the last room where, without a word, she began to undress, sitting beside the futon and covers, already in place.  
"I don't want it. Why did you call me out when I wasn't even losing?"  
"You really don't?" She looked up at him.  
"'It' won't stand up."  
"I'll make it."  
"I said I didn't want to."  
"Honest? Oh, I am so glad."  
She didn't look glad, but came around and hugged him from behind. She even kissed him on the back of his head.  
"When you go back, please say, 'It was such a long call. Was it an overseas call?' Say it, will you, please," the woman pleaded.  
"Overseas call?" He thought as he squatted awkwardly beside the woman. He suddenly felt very tired. He had been winning a little, but if he left the game in half an hour, the other men wouldn't resent him, he thought.  
Exactly at 2:45 a.m. he stood up and went to bed. He had been in deep sleep for about two hours before someone shook him awake. The backpack man was looking down on him with oddly compressed lips.  
"Wake up. There was an accident."  
A little after four o'clock, one of the women began to vomit and fell backward, dead. It looked like a heart attack. Stunned, he remembered the woman he had been with.  
"That girl called Miss Choi?"  
"Why? Did you sense something? You did phone with her, I guess.... "  
"No, I didn't" he almost blurted, but, instead, said, "She died of that?" The backpack man looked at him closely with an odd smile and said,  
"You are shocked, aren't you? Why don't you go down the mountain first."  
"Just slip out."  
What's going to be done, did a doctor come, he asked, but the backpack man simply said, "It was a heart attack." He didn't know whether to be grateful to him or to be embarrassed. Hesitantly he left the inn. All the men were quietly discussing how to resolve the situation. He hadn't had time to properly be introduced to each of them, but suddenly he realized he didn't get the name of the backpack man. He turned around and began to climb back up. When he hiked up about a mile or so, there emerged a cluster of motels. A Swiss-style park hotel stood conspicuously among them. A large number of teenagers with dishevelled bushy hairdos were looking out of the motel windows or strolling outside a closed souvenir shop. They were obviously on a school field trip.  
A tinge of red was seeping into the dark blue sky, but the tall mountains cast dark shadows, making the place somber, chilly and misty. In the hotel garden, a model E. T. statue stood as if it were mocking him. From below, a stream made a trickling sound. In awe, he stared at the extraterrestrial monster from a far star many light years away.  
"You may not believe this, but we are government bureaucrats" kept ringing in his ears. He did not know whether the remark meant that they would take responsibilities for the matter. Things could get hairy if a stranger were involved in it. Such a situation would inevitably get complicated. Even if autopsy came out right, the police wouldn't let go of the matter and insist on asking, who was this odd man? If the woman's death had something to do with gambling, things would really get bad. Gambling for illicit sex? The police would say, "How thick-skinned are you guys? Say that in court. No one would believe you."  
The backpack man looked about forty. His eyes were mild, but the teeth he flashed between his sideburns shone icily. He was thankful to the backpack man for helping him escape, but his bossiness rubbed him wrong. That was why he did not go to bed at the time the backpack man told him to. The word "bureaucrat" should have come out of his own mouth because he was one himself.  
After strolling around the cable car station, he waited for the coffee shop to open. He had coffee and went down to the inn. It was almost eleven o'clock. There was no one in the inn.  
"Oh, those men from the Department of Culture?"  
The proprietor said as if nothing had happened. The moment the proprietor recognized him as one of the guests, he blurted, "Shit. Those dirty sons of bitches are supposed to be from the Department of Culture! Can you believe that? They went down with the police."  
"Do you know where they went?"  
"Where else? The police station, I guess."  
"Did a doctor come?"  
"What for? The poor girl. By the way, why are you asking? Did you do it, too?"  
The proprietor kept cursing and complaining. Whether the hikers were in newspaper or broadcasting, he couldn't tell. If they had gone to a police station, it must be in Sokcho.  
 On the way to Sokcho by bus, he changed his mind and got off at Mulchi, but the eatery was empty. He threw himself on the first available chair and waited for the middle-aged owner. He guessed that Wolsan was a village near the end of the inner Sorak. Once he was passing near Injei, he remembered, he heard the name of a place called Wolhak, Wolsan, or something like that. Even if Wolsan happened to be north of the DMZ, he thought he could take the old man near there and ride a ferry boat to Choonchun before nightfall. From Choonchun, he could make it to Seoul by dawn.  
When he shouted at the door, the owner came out, blankly staring at him.  
"Are they still here, I mean, the old man and...."  
"They left."  
"They found a man?"  
"No. They left early by taxi to Wontong, but I know it's harder to find someone there."  
"What's the use of money? He can't go there anyway. Why don't you go to Wontong and ask. Did you change your mind?"  
"Didn't you say we could go as far as Suwha? Can I go there and get to Choonchun before the day is over? I must go to Choonchun."  
"I doubt it. Roadblocks are so strict."  
However strict the military police might be, it wouldn't take all day. He looked at the owner nervously and wet his lips.  
"I guess I can't do it. I must go to work tomorrow morning."  
"Even if the sky fell down, I must... I am a civil servant," came to the tip of his tongue, but didn't say it. He just ordered some food.  


It was two o'clock in the afternoon that I got on a Kanglung-bound bus. In Kanglung, however, I changed my mind and went instead to Kyungpo and arrived a little after four o'clock. I got off in front of a lake and began to walk toward the sea.  
I have been keeping my wife's bones all these years not because of any lingering love but because of having failed to find a suitable place to dispose of them. I should have discarded them near the crematorium or some spot on the mountain, but I was too tired to do even that. Since then the bones had been forgotten for three years along with other useless old things.  
"My hometown is not Wonsan," she once said. She had been an invalid with a mitral disease. I remembered her remark and thought of the vinyl bag of her bones. Even though she never said exactly where her hometown was, I guessed it was somewhere on the eastern coast.  
"If it is not Wonsan, where is it?" I asked but she didn't answer. Ever since birth, she had lived from hand to mouth, begging here, eking out a meager living there, merely trying to survive. Still, I thought, she should have known her birthplace, but, believe it or not, she didn't. There were times when she spoke a mixture of Honam and Youngnam dialects or a pure Pyongan dialect, which showed that she had had a hard life. She had been a peddler, then a serving woman in a back alley bar, before I met her. I was attracted to her for her intelligent-looking face, but I could not understand her total ignorance of her birthplace. If she had been raised in an orphanage, someone might have told her a name, any name, or she might have subconsciously kept a name in her mind. But she would stammer, say some nonsense, finally blush and turn her face away from me when I asked her. I guessed that she improvised the word, Wonsan, because I was from Kaesung. At that time, I laughed it off, but now that I was about to dispose of her bones, my memories of her blank response as to her birthplace strangely bothered me as never before.  
Kyungpo was his honeymoon spot some ten years ago. Then, as well as now, the resort town out of season looked deserted. Kyungpo has always boasted of its moon and the ocean, but was not different from any deserted resort town. All the raw fish eateries were closed to endure the gusty wind, weighed down under their slate roofs. Miraculously there were a couple of open eateries in front of which stood fish tanks eerily lit by fluorescent light. Several live fish, resting in a corner or slowly swimming, reminded me of a desolate wasteland.  
I pointed to a fish among several whose mouths had been lopped off. Then I went upstairs and ordered a drink. The floor was unexpectedly warm. The name of the fish was "hak-kong-chi," the proprietor said, the most aggressive fish that attacked other fish. That was why its mouth had been cut off. Even without a mouth, he was still more active than other fish. If it had had the kind of poison that would knock out other fish, it might have tasted better, I thought. I looked down at the sea and took out the vinyl bag.  
If the place were in a southern coast, the wind would blow toward the sea, but as soon as I opened the bag, the ashes flew around and into the inland lake. I threw off the empty bag into the wind and stared at the darkening horizon. If the town had been in season, I would have felt dreary, but I had a more urgent problem of finding a place to stay.  
When I woke up, hunched over a table, it was night. "I must go back. I must go into town," I kept thinking but I didn't want to stand up. Apparently this eatery doubled as an inn, so I asked the owner when the first bus came around in the morning. I washed my feet and came upstairs when the owner woman brought up beddings and said, "I haven't got guest registry yet, but we have women available." I refused and got ready for bed. I turned off the light and lay down to be immediately startled by a phone ring. "Sir, there is an attractive woman," the caller said. I slammed down the receiver. About ten minutes later it rang again. I sat up. In order to interrupt the woman's long explanation, he asked, "How much for a quick one? I've got to sleep now. I don't want any more calls. Send her up at ten o'clock."  
Because of my wife's illness, I had been used to releasing my sexual tension once or twice a month with another woman. During the time I was preparing alone for a G-5 Civil Examination, it was necessary for me. After a day's work, I would sit at desk to study, but I found myself dozing off. I wasn't a serious college entrance exam repeater, but all the same, I needed some fresh air. While out in the air, I first sought a woman. Then I found that releasing sexual tension helped me concentrate. Not much better than masturbation, such sexual encounters were usually with a bar girl or a prostitute. I used precautionary measures against venereal diseases, but tonight I didn't have any and felt extremely uneasy. At ten o'clock the phone rang, but I couldn't bring myself to ask for condoms. When the woman came, I immediately fell into the act, paid her, and went back to sleep.  
An overcast day. Over across the lake, one spot glimmered like a patch of ice in the morning sun. A road stretched out around a playground-like open space. In the middle of the road about ten meters ahead of me walked a woman at the same slow pace as mine. I could see only her back and shoulders. I knew I was awake, but I could not tell whether the scene was in a dream or I just got out of a heavy sleep and was walking into the town.  
There were only the woman and me. The surroundings seemed so remote and bleary that I felt as if I were looking at a slow-motion movie scene. All movements and all sounds seemed to have stopped at that moment.  
"Why did you come here in this cold weather?"  
"Well, I don't know... Maybe because today is the day my wife died."  
It was the woman who asked and I who answered, but she didn't even turn around to look at me. That wasn't all. I even heard the same old Korean song I had heard in the sick old man's room. This couldn't be real, I thought, then realized that it was the very conversation the woman and I had before we had sex last night. That was all we said. She looked at me with an odd expression and laid herself beside me. That brief conversation came back to haunt me and the music from another time and another place overlapped the present scene. I was having a hallucination. There suddenly popped up a screen before my eyes, narrowing my range of vision and heating up the air around me. The woman's back expanded in a moment and she began to run. She was rushing toward an oncoming bus. I suppressed a terrible premonition and stopped myself from stepping toward the loop of the road. Too tired, I flopped down under an old pine tree beside the road. I didn't look up but I saw people shouting and children running, the dead woman bleeding from her nose and the policeman covering her with a large piece of waterproof cloth.  
"She ran into it," the bus driver mumbled, blank-eyed. The bus stood with its nose stuck on a roadside hill. Wanting to identify her face again, I tried to stand up. A round face, a checked jacket. Before the sex act and afterward in bright light, I saw her but now I seemed to have erased her, perhaps a conditioned reflex against such complications.  
I finally opened my eyes to a complete void. There was no woman nor the bus, but an empty street. There were no people who had gathered around the accident. I shook my head and realized that I had relived my wife's death several years ago. I searched for a cigarette with sweaty hands. I had been contacted the day after the accident and rushed to the hospital morgue. I saw my wife there. They couldn't find the hit-and-run car and she was classified as an accident victim. That was that.  
The bus I was on reached Kanglung. I got off at the wrong exit and had to walk quite a distance. There, I hesitated whether to buy another ticket to Sokcho or get back on the bus to Yangyang. The reason I thought of Sokcho was that I was still curious about what happened to the backpack man and the dead prostitute. If I could, I wanted look into the police station and then veer off to Wontong over the Jinboo Pass.  
I bought a ticket to Yangyang and some drinks and rolls for breakfast. I felt unclean as if I hadn't brushed my teeth, and blankly looked out of a window.  
On my honeymoon, the town looked so clean but now it was dingy and dirty. The town itself was the same as ever, but in the few years past, I seemed to have developed deep gorges in my heart; why, I couldn't fathom. My pity for my wife or perhaps my sorrow in the wifeless world might have been the cause. My wife's hold on life was tenacious even when she was quite ill. After a series of miscarriages, she still wanted to get pregnant. She would not let go until the day she was killed. When she was a bedridden invalid, she would break out in hysteria, which was an indication of how much she wanted to live. "If I am going to live like this, I will just put an end to it all," she said once in a while with her eyes full of anger.  
"Okay, go on and do it," I used to taunt her. She must have meant what she said at least once; otherwise, she could not have put such a violent end to her life.  
At Yangyang, "There are no more buses today. Some can go only to Yaksoori," the girl behind the ticket window told me when I pushed in the money.  
"Snow storm warning is on. How many times do I have to tell you. One bus is leaving right now but only to Osaekri," she said.  
"Is there a bus going to Seoul?"  
"Go to Kanglung and catch a highway bus. Even there, all roads will be closed by this afternoon."  
How much snow are they expecting, I wondered, if roads are blocked here, I can't go anywhere. The safest way is hurry back to Kanglung and to Seoul. "I'll give you a good deal," a taxi driver kept bothering me. I couldn't understand myself for wanting to go to Wontong, which would inevitably force me to miss my work three or four days. That damn old man hadn't had such glaring protruding eyes, his expensive fur scarf hadn't caused nausea in me, that impertinent nurse hadn't offered me money, all these negative responses I had had couldn't be the reasons why I shouldn't go there. I didn't particularly care what I was going to do for the old man, but I could not just go away in this unresolved uneasiness.  
"I said I would take you to Wontong even if I wouldn't be able to come back," the taxi driver said.  
"Is that the reason why buses are not going there? They say they will go as far as the medicine water fountain."  
"No way. Do you know how many hikers will be trapped there? I can raise the price as high as I want."  
"If we leave now, will I be able to catch a boat?"  
"Snow doesn't stop boats."  
This man says whatever he likes, I thought, and followed him.  
It wouldn't take more than two hours to Wontong, I knew. Since I wasn't doing any sightseeing, I didn't think anything would happen on the way. The taxi driver and I argued over the charter fee, and though I wasn't quite willing to trust him, I got on the taxi. When we got to the fountain, sure enough, there were quite a few hikers coming down from the mountain.  
"See? They crowd up this place like frogs before rain," the driver said stretching his left arm out of the window. "Whew, it's coming down in buckets."  
I was blown over by his exaggeration, but in a strange way, I felt freed from the hamster's wheel of my life I have led so far. Those lucky hikers who could take their time even after the holidays were over... Even such lucky people were chased down by a snow storm, and here I was trying to go back up. Because of the oppressive air pressure, I might be feeling a kind of reaction to it all, a kind of rebound.  
Rounding around several mountain roads, we reached the Hankei Pass. There were snow flakes whirling this way and that in the wind. I lowered the window and lit a cigarette. A really heavy snow fall began as we neared Wontong. Within a couple of hours, the snow turned into a wild storm and built up high walls, imprisoning us in the town.  


I asked where the post office was in order to send a telegram, but the waitress of the tavern looked me over up and down, without saying a word and went away. "You sorry idiot," she seemed to say, "how could you ask about the post office in this catastrophe." I was so embarrassed that I kept my mouth shut. If she had said "You must go to Injei," I would have been more at a loss, anyway. Roads closed due to snow storm, three absent days... If I missed one day, it might be understood, but three days? For a lowly clerk like me? I blankly stared at the whipping snow flakes that slapped at the window panes. We stopped at downtown where three streets converged and could see a few lodging places among the snow-covered houses. Searching for a place to stay in the snow seemed too much. Even if I found the old man and the woman, what would I say to them?  
Across the street from the tavern, I found a store where I bought a vinyl raincoat. It was about three o'clock and the wind was beginning to subside. Most of the lodging places were ordinary houses where snowbound hikers, with long faces, were sitting in rooms or shaking off the snow in the yard. One empty room was dark as a cave.  
The last house, the sixth he searched, didn't have the old man and the woman, either. But he ran into two men who were looking for them, too. "Those men are looking for them, too," the owner of the house said. He turned around to see in the whirling snow two men eying him across the yard.  
"Are you looking for Miss Choi?" the slender one of the two asked.  
".... "  
"Have you searched all the inns?"  
"... They weren't anywhere," I mumbled a vague answer and watched the man coming toward me.  
"We have been searching everywhere all the way from Suwha," the man said in a friendly but perplexed manner. "Nowhere." The two men could have asked me why I was looking for them, but they didn't, even after I sat down in a coffee shop where they led me.  
"Suhong, Wolhakri... We looked everywhere. The guys were really fastidious," the man said. He meant the military policemen. The thin man occasionally craned his neck between sips of coffee and watched the street. The big man sat with his eyes downcast and never said anything. He must be the driver. "I saw them briefly in Sokcho and have followed them here," I said. The thin man told me scattered bits of a story about their search, so I had to say something.  
"Oh, really?" the thin man said. "It is only natural that one wants to go back to one's hometown." I didn't quite catch his meaning, so I looked him over carefully. He had been saying that the nurse woman, a Mrs. Choi, had tried to spirit away a sick man without permission, and unless he caught them and took them home, he would get in trouble. So, his last remark about the hometown was out of character. As we first sat at a table in the coffee shop, he had given me his name card. He was a managing director of S¦ˇ business company.  
"Was that Choi woman in charge of the old man?" I asked.  
"She was picked from the company hospital. An arrogant bitch.... So arrogant that she dared.... "  
The girl Mrs. Choi? A strange title, but I said nothing.  
"What can we do now?" The big man asked.  
"What indeed? Let's go to Injei. I'm sure they are there."  
"On the way here, we searched there, too. Maybe they went to the Baikdam Temple."  
"Are you kidding?" the thin man raised his voice, angry. "Do you know how old the chairman is? How could he go up there, huh? I think we missed each other somewhere. While we were on our way to Suwha, they slipped away, I am sure. That sneaky bitch. I'll find her no matter what."  
They must have driven by way of Hongchun. Even without consulting the small map, I knew the road to the Baikdam Temple would be an icy hell where even ghosts would be trembling in cold. "The sneaky bitch," the thin man cursed, but his manner was so childish that I could hardly suppress laughing.  
"Why don't you join us? Since you are going to Seoul, we can save you your bus fare," the man said.  
"How can you, in this snow? Thanks anyway."  
"We can manage. Yes, we can. If I don't get back, I'll get in trouble with the chairman," the thin man said.  
The chairman he had mentioned was the old man and the chairman he alluded to now must be the old man's son. This man probably is the chairman's nephew or some other relative. I didn't know how to respond to his kind offer. Things have gone in an unexpected way and once they found the old man and the nurse, if the nurse were obstinate, what would they do?  
I could easily guess that the nurse was not just a hired hand. It was against common sense that a hired nurse, no matter how arrogant, could have ventured such a daring thing alone.  
There must be a serious feud between the old man and his son. I knew they would not find the old man in Injei, either, but I decided to go with them.  
A Benz, their car, drove through what seemed to be an impassable road. The wind had subsided, but snow poured down like heavy rain. Still, the foreign car drove on without jolting or tossing. Perversely, this oppressed me. The two men didn't say a word. It was getting dark. Their visit to Injei would turn out vain, I thought, and decided not to accompany them to Seoul. If the snow storm receded a little, I could catch a boat. "Wait here. I'll look," the thin man said and went into the first inn at the mouth of Injei. Entirely contrary to our guess, he waved to us standing against a street lamp. "I've found them. They are here. Come on."  
A strange thing happened at that moment. The driver lowered the window but would not get out.  
"Why don't you come out?"  
When the man angrily came to the car, the driver said, "Let's just go back."  
"Are you crazy, you son of a bitch," the thin man screamed and slapped the driver through the open window. The driver put his hand on his cheek, sat with his head lowered, then slowly got out of the car. As they walked toward the inn, I hesitated a moment. I was now an outsider, but if a fracas happened, I could help, I thought, and stepped out. By the shoes outside the room, I guessed the right room, and squatted down on a wooden floor beside it. A woman, most likely the owner of the inn, opened her door, peeked out, and closed it.  
"Accept this and give me back the contract," the thin man was heard saying to the woman in a calm, low voice, and the woman answered, "Then everything is straightened out, right?"  
"The chairman is quite moved by you."  
"Please tell him I am thankful."  
Before I could move, the old man was carried out on the back of the driver and the thin man came out. The woman stood leaning at the door post in the manner of saying goodbye.  
"Oh, mister, why are you here?" the nurse asked me in her monotonous voice.  
The driver with the old man on his back faltered a little, so I followed him, steadying him from behind. The sick man still had wide open glaring eyes. Apparently he was paralyzed in the lower part of his body and around his eyes. "Aren't you riding with us?" the thin man looked around to ask me, as he was getting into the car. I shook my head. The car went forward a few yards when he poked his head out and began to roar terrible curses. Unconsciously I stepped forward when the man's head was drawn back into the car.  
The woman walked slowly to where I was. I stood there, stunned, and couldn't understand why he had done what he did.  
"So you didn't leave. Why in the world are you here?"  
I didn't know what to say. My lips moved like those of a child driven out of his house. I could have said, "I couldn't stand deserting a sick old man on the road." But the old man was gone. She had her bags; obviously she had paid already. She wore her nurse's cap on her head, a nurse's white uniform, and a black overcoat. I could see in the dim light that she looked dead tired as if she had been beaten up.  
"Didn't you say you wanted to go near the DMZ?"  
The woman smiled weakly.  
"You were one step late. If you had come yesterday, things would have turned out quite different."  
"Didn't the store owner in Mulchi say you would be in Wontong?"  
"We were there."  
I looked at her suspiciously. She might be lying.  
"No inn said you were there."  
"We didn't stay at an inn. We got a room in a house, because we didn't want people to see us. Then we gave up our original idea and came here. If you had arrived here yesterday, we wouldn't have been here. It didn't occur to you that we would stay at a house, did it?"  
The woman's tone had a tinge of mocking in it, so I said nothing.  
"But people destined to meet end up meeting, anyway," the woman said and laughed.  
"Why don't we go to a place where we can talk. I'll buy you dinner. You are going to Seoul, aren't you?"  
"Well, I am not sure if the boat can.... "  
"I'm going to Kanglung and from there to Jongsun. I must see my father,"  
"Where is your hometown? Everyone seems to be from Kangwon Province."  
"Are you, too? Mine is not Jongsun. It's Yoryang. Have you heard of the River Auraji?" I almost said, "my dead wife.... ," but instead, asked, "The Auraji River?"  
The snow-covered woman led me not to a restaurant but to another inn. She looked at me, hesitating at the entrance and said, "There is not a decent restaurant here. It is better to order a meal at an inn. After dinner, you can find another place to stay."  
After she went, as she said, to dust off the snow on her coat and order our dinner, I sat down on the floor and pushed my hands under a couple of cushions provided in the room. Yesterday and today I had been so continuously tired that my eyelids drooped heavily. What am I going to say at the office?  
"What did the son of a bitch curse about?" the woman asked me when she came back, face freshly washed. She sat leaning against the wall.  
"Didn't you hear?"  
"I did, but not clearly."  
"What did he say?"  
What's the use of repeating such curses, I thought, and remained silent.  
"I knew you would, you dirty dog. Something like that, I think."  
"I knew you would, you dirty dog, stick it to that whore," the woman pronounced every word clearly.  
".... "  
I felt as if I had seen something I shouldn't have and turned my face away.  
"I deserved it."  
".... "  
"I did a bad thing. I even forged a document."  
"Is that why he said something about a contract?"  
The woman looked down.  
"I nursed the old man for two years. I was called out from the hospital. Because it was the company hospital, I had to obey or quit. My job was not only bathing him, cleaning his urine and excrement, but also some other special duty. They asked me whether I could do it. There was a female cousin of the president who ran a Korean restaurant. She told me that I should get a contract. Of course, the real dirty duty was not mentioned in the contract."  
"Could an old man in his eighties do it?" I asked her, whether out of anger or perversity, I didn't know. "Because, he is paralyzed."  
"Do you know something called 'hot pack'? You use it to massage a patient. It's sometimes called 'yudampo'. This Japanese one is a little different, though. I served as a human hot pack for two years. In the contract, which I insisted to have, it was called 'a special nursing duty.' Lately, that contract has begun to bother the president. I nearly forgot about it, but the president is a low-down son of a bitch."  
"Is that why you ran away?"  
She nodded and looked at him questioningly.  
"They knew we were coming here. Where else would the old man want to go? Even before he got sick, he used to say day and night he wanted to go to Wolsanri, and it became a bone of contention between him and his son. His son, the president, would yell at him that since he had made a fortune in Seoul, he should consider Seoul his hometown, whereas the old man wouldn't hear of it. But that was just an excuse. The son was hitting back at his father for all the abuse he had suffered from his father. Do you know what the old man's nickname was? Jindo-Bull-Dog. The famous Jindo dog plus the bulldog. You get the picture, don't you? Then this winter, he got paralyzed. I thought he would not survive this winter, so I took him away. The old man can't speak, but once he starts whining.... "  
"In the middle of that uproar, you were cool enough to bring out the contract?"  
"You are inquisitive." She laughed a sad laugh. "How could I know what might happen? At the hospital I saw many paralyzed people suffering because of their greed. And the son wanted to use this chance to fire me. That director guy kept asking me to cooperate by pointing out that there are other hospitals. You know, the son will run for congress next year and he doesn't want any kind of gossip."  
Dinner was brought in. The woman poured beer for me, but I didn't feel like drinking it. This woman called Mrs. Choi must be a very patient person, I thought, perhaps she was paid as highly as the top secretary.  
"Then, I was the fool to follow you here."  
"I knew you would come," she stopped eating and eyed me uncertainly.  
"At first I thought about going to the Sorak Mountain to rest a few days, but it was too much for us. Then, I remembered what a fortuneteller in Myonmok-dong had told me once.... So, I waited there, you know, in Mulchi. The fortuneteller had told me that at the age of thirty I'd meet a man near a sea. He would be carrying three coffins. He would be my husband of my former life."  
"... ?"  
"In a sense, the fortuneteller was right."  
"A nurse believes that?"  
The woman's face became naughty.  
"Look at these, please." She pushed aside her chopsticks and showed me her right palm.  
"Have you ever seen a palm like this?"  
I looked down on the criss-cross lines rather dumbly and asked jokingly, "So, there was no one before or after me who wanted the hundred thousand won? If that's the case, the man carrying three coffins must be me."  
"Who said it was you? Don't be presumptuous. I simply said I knew you'd come back. By the way, let me read your palms. Who knows?"  
As if she were dealing with a hospital patient, she stretched both of her hands to me. She was acting like a child and letting down her defenses.  
"Then, are you still a virgin?" I withdrew my hands and asked. Immediately I regretted it.  
"How can a virgin talk like this? When I first went to Seoul, I didn't even know how to eat 'bibimbap.'4 I thought you ate rice and vegetables separately. Then, I was a virgin. But not now." She became crestfallen.  
I felt so uncomfortable that I ate in silence. She didn't say anything, either. In a little while, the inn woman took the portable table out. The nurse helped her. When she returned, she got something out of her uniform pocket.  
"I got my retirement pay. What am I going to do with this check?"  
Faced with a blank look from me, she asked, "Shall I tear this up?"  
"Are you crazy?"  
"Am I crazy to tear it up? It was money for that awful service I did. Three million won. I guess I can get a room for my father with this."  
"Don't be silly. Tearing it up doesn't do anyone any good. Only you become a fool. By the way, how old are you?"  
"In that case, I'll rip it up right now. Being a fool is much better,"  
But her hands began to shake. Crying, she said, "I can't." The next moment, she fell into my arms. I held her for I didn't know what else to do, but I kept my eyes wide open as I heard her deep, gut-wrenching moans. "If she did this on the road, she'd die," I thought.  
I didn't know how I escaped. When I patted her back, she stopped crying, but between sobs, she mumbled, "I can't stand this alone," but I couldn't recall clearly what I said to her. Did I say "I'll come back in the morning" or "Will you go to Seoul with me?" When I got out of the alley, I found myself still holding a beer bottle in my hand.  
I went into the first inn that came into my sight. Sitting in my underwear on the futon, I opened a window a little to watch the snow and sipped the beer. The inn owner brought in breakfast, unordered, and told me a boat would leave at ten thirty. I could hear dimly a drum beating.  
"Oh, that's Ogoo Exorcism Rite," she informed me.  
"Last year, a boy slipped on the ice and drowned. He was the son of an old civil servant who lives over the hill."  
I refused the woman's offer that she would carry my bag for me. When I arrived at the other inn, the nurse was ready. In awkward silence, we walked out of the alley. I turned to the pier. I could see the boat bringing in shaman dancers and musicians. I scribbled my address and office phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to the nurse.  
"After visiting Yoryang, will you come to Seoul?"  
"We'll both have to work for the time being... in order to afford a decent lodging."  
"You don't have to say that now."  
"I'll have to get on the boat. Are buses running?"  
"I'm sure they are. I saw the snow-removing crew."  
The boat had missed only once yesterday afternoon, but, because of the returning hikers, it was filled. The passengers were talking with a strangely tense expression on their faces.  
The boat with the shaman dancers and musicians anchored beside my boat. The shaman sorceress splashed water here and there from a gourd dipper. Then she threw it away and picked up a fan and a bunch of bells from the drummer. As soon as she shook the bells, the drummer began to beat. "Be careful," the nurse shouted. She stood on the bulwark watching me and smiling at me. I felt so overwhelmed that I turned away and took out a cigarette. The shaman began to sing.  

God in the East, God in the Sea  
God in the West, God on the Earth  
Hell-like is this world  
Please look down on it  
And pour down, please....  

Near the sorceress was a small fire around which stood people who were seeing their relatives off and some children. Suddenly an intuition flashed through me, and I turned around to witness the sorceress dancing toward the nurse, holding out her fan.  
"Get this!" the sorceress shouted and sang again.  

... Who'd have thought to see again  
the sea and the mountains  
Oh, my daughter, my poor daughter,  
How have you come back  
From that far, far Netherworld.  

"Get this!" the sorceress bellowed with eerily shining eyes. The nurse's face reddened. The shaman pushed forward her fan insisitently and the nurse teetered backward. The nurse dropped her bag and began to tremble violently. The nurse's cap fell on the ground.  
"Wow, what's she doing? Isn't that what's called 'the descension of the spirit'?"  
"My God, it's a nurse."  
The people on the boat showed their surprise and pity at the same time. To my ears came a piercing scream "Yobo!"5 I couldn't tell if it was from my dead wife or from the nurse.  
The minute I stepped forward to get off the boat, I could see the nurse's eyes change. She began to tear off her clothes, while at the same time, she began her first dance steps waving the fan the shaman had given her.  
The boat rocked violently once, and water loudly sucked out from under the boat. Up above the mountain hung a huge hand.  
I couldn't tell whether it was a hallucination or a reality. Unconsciously I glared down on the web-like criss-crossing of the lines on my palms.  

Translated by Choi Jin-young. She is Professor of English at Chungang University in Seoul