Kim Jeong-han was born in Dongnae in South Gyeongsang province in 1908. He spent most of his life in the province in which he was born until his recent death. Kim's early education began with traditional Chinese confucian studies, before he entered a "new-style" school in 1919. He graduated from Dongnae high school in 1928 and spent some time teaching before going to Tokyo in 1929. During that period he was also arrested for his involvement in organizing a Korean teachers' association. From 1930 to 1932 he studied at the Waseda University high school and was involved in editing Hakjigwang, a journal produced by Korean students in Japan. Upon his return to Korea in 1932 he continued to teach and was arrested at least two more times by the Japanese authorities. At this time he also began to write prolifically, using his fiction to present his views on the situation of farmers in Korea.
Sahacheon(The Village below the Temple) was selected by the Joseon ilbo newspaper in its 1936 new writers' competition, marking Kim's entrance on the literary scene. It is typical of much of Kim's writing with its strong depictions of the multiple oppressions facing Korean farmers in this period.
Between 1940 and 1966 Kim wrote hardly any fiction, instead devoting himself to his teaching at Pusan University (from 1950 onwards) and to editorial work for the Busan ilbo newspaper. In 1966 he returned to writing fiction with the publication of his story "Moraetop iyagi" (Story of the Sands) and published five collections of short stories through the mid-1980s. One of his stories, "Okkinawa eseo on pyeonji", has been translated as "Letters from Okinawa" and appeared in Reunion So Far Away: A Collection of Contemporary Korean Fiction (UNESCO, 1994).
The Village below the Temple
A dirt-caked worm had crawled out from somewhere and now wriggled about the centre of the yard, which was as dry and hard as a stone threshing floor. Each time a colony of black ants took a bite the worm struggled all the more frantically. From somewhere else a mouse jumped out as if it had been left for dead, then it scuttled across the yard and disappeared into a hole in the wall.
Although small, fortunately an old persimmon tree stood in front of the hut, which leant mercilessly towards the north, full of holes, its rotting posts askew, and its door bent in like the mouth of someone with palsy. This withered tree's leaves had shrivelled even before the terrifying drought, during which not even one drop of rain had fallen since the rice had been planted out, but now those leaves were twisted so out of shape one might think it was a wild pear tree. Yet it blocked the August sun, which beat down at ninety degrees, and created a fairly wide, if raggedy, area of shade at its trunk. On a worn reed mat underneath the tree dirty tears streamed down the dirt-smeared face of a naked child. It had cried so much it no longer even made a proper noise. Old Ch'isam sat by its side, holding a broken earthenware bowl between his swollen, neuralgic shins, and muttered:
"Why won't the damn thing die? Just keeps slipping around...damn it!"
He hit the bottom of the bowl with a knife handle. The loach jumped up to one side and got away again. His daughter To※ga had gone out early in the morning to catch this loach, because applying crushed loach was supposed to be good for neuralgia. But this one didn't care much for the good intentions of others.
Old Ch'isam aimed the knife again, but was suddenly seized by a coughing fit and bent up double like a shrimp. With each cough it felt like the joints of his swollen legs were being pinched and another chip knocked off his lifeline. Then a large lump of blood emerged from the midst of his white beard.
"Oh my chest...why don't the devils just take me right now?"
The old man used his bony hand to wipe the tears from his eyes, which were all shrivelled up like soaked bean skins. His grandson lay at his side drenched in sweat. The old man chased away the flies swarming around the child's mouth and nose and stroked his dried-up little penis.
"Eh, don't cry. Go to sleep, baby... Why's your mum taking so long? Oh, your mouth is all dried up. What are they making her do that she can't come back to feed you! Ahem..."
Using all his strength the old man clutched the child and got up, lurching from side to side like a crab. Just then his son returned with a very red sunburnt face. He spoke gruffly,
"Where is everyone?"
"I think she said she was weeding Chinsu's cotton field."
Tu※lkkae silently took off his shirt, hung it on a branch of the persimmon tree, and took the child from the old man. Old Ch'isam smoked a mixture of less than half tobacco and mulberry leaf in his long pipe, and, as if to comfort his son yet fearing the answer, asked:
"How are the fields?"
"How are they?! Everything's ruined. They need flooding but there's no water, and the monks have blocked off that chick's piss of a pool..."
"It'll be like in ｀29."
"But in ｀29 at least there was spring water."
"Right. Now those bastards with their water system..."
"They said they wouldn't block off the spring in the farming season, but all the mayor knows about is playing down the whorehouse, what would he know about people dying!"
Tu※lkkae was getting more excited.
"No one will be able to live here anymore."
"It's disgusting. And now we have to watch even those damn monks hurt us, it's worse than before..."
The coarse nature of a hardened farmer was clearly apparent in the son's gruff words. The drought had only strained all their nerves even more.
The words "those damn monks" cut through Old Ch'isam's heart. Of the temple fields that they worked, when he was young he had donated the two with the best drainage to the temple, that is Pogwang temple, having fallen for the monks' claims that his descendants would be blessed for many generations and would go to paradise. It pained him beyond all end that he had given away his perfectly fine fields to the monks and now was forced to suffer the life of a tenant farmer, and, above all, watch his son struggle to survive.
"What have you been doing? You cow!"
Tu※lkkae turned on his wife as she returned. And as if to say just look at this, he all but threw at her breast the child, which looked as if it had just been pulled out of water even though its mouth was bone dry from crying. She silently took the child and hurried into the kitchen, removing the towel from her head and dampening it to wipe the child's face as it suckled from her breast.
"You cow, aren't you bringing out the food?"
Her husband's voice sounded like lightning. Tears rose up in her eyes. Tu※lkkae strode into the kitchen looking like he would box her ears, but when he saw her tearful face as she flustered around holding the child in one arm he looked away and quickly carried out the table of food even though it wasn't ready. The barley, which normally slid easily down, stuck in his throat from the very first mouthful that day.
The incongruous sound of flooding water under the scorching sun. Dirty yellow water came rushing down the hill through the ditches where the water bugs and fish had all dried up, spiders had spun their webs, and colonies of ants were playing. The grain that had already been scorched to death knew nothing of water now, but the remaining burnt rice and withered bean plants seemed to dance and sway as if just the sound of water could bring them back to life. White and yellow figures and black skirts noisily ran up and down the ditches on either side of the road.
They were releasing the reservoir water. The farmers of So※ngdong village had gathered day and night and begged and pleaded, almost rubbing their palms away in entreaty, and complained, and, finally, when they had got inside the reservoir enclosure at night and tried to redirect some of the water, the water supply office in T town had feared the violence of the previous year and decided to release the water from the second reservoir, which they would then be able to clean.
But there was no way the water from that reservoir could save all those fields, and the sight of the water ended up producing more noise and discontent than had there been no water at all.
Since Tu※lkkae's fields were at the very end of the line he had to go up to the entrance to the reservoir several times. But whenever he went there and made some of the water flow down it would disappear here and there along the way and hardly reach his fields at all.
After three times or so, the anger he had tried to suppress erupted.
Tu※lkkae turned and kept walking up the hill as he shouted.
"Damn it, I've lost my fields, there's nothing I can do about it now!"
He hurriedly clenched his teeth. If he were to rashly rebel against one of the genteel monks even once, then it went without saying that he would lose his temple fields.
The old monk, holding a parasol, pretended not to hear and continued to block off the water as Tu※lkkae approached him.
"Hey, what are you doing? Does this mean it's okay if those of us down below starve to death?"
Tu※lkkae pushed the old monk's toy-like shovel out of the way with his big shovel, removing some dirt along with it. The water flowed out again.
"Do you have no manners?"
Although the old monk kept up his genteel front as he scolded Tu※lkkae, displeasure and spite shone in his eyes.
"If I can just live then maybe I'll get some manners."
"Aah, this man is out of his mind! That's not the way to do things, you know."
The old monk went to block off the water again.
"Good grief! We have to live too. Can't we share the water a little? If even you do this..."
Tu※lkkae redirected some of the water with his hands. But he had barely walked a few paces when some kid jumped out from the corner of a field, blocked off the water and disappeared below the hill.
Tu※lkkae ran after him, his shouts reverberating around the valley, and placed a rock the size of an arm's reach across the kid's irrigation gate.
Another fight broke out on the other side of the road. Dressed in old rags and a short skirt, like those grass skirts worn by natives in the southern seas, Grandma Kadong had sat down in the middle of the ditch and was wailing at the top of her voice.
"Aagh, kill me and take all the water."
"You damn old woman, just sit and hog all the water others have brought here. Why don't you stop bawling your head off and go get some water too!"
Young bastard Yi Shibong, known to be a telltale at the local police station, left bruises on the thighs of the screaming, dishevelled old widow with his hoe.
Tu※lkkae was fanning himself with a hat made from barley stalks and following the water, which trickled down like a rat's tail. He saw Ch'o※lhan and Ponggu fighting in the middle of a rice field, pushing and shoving each other in silence like bears, but he just went on down to his fields, not thinking of stopping them. Of course the irrigation gates to his fields had been closed again.
"What bastard would..."
He quickly opened the gates and stepped up on to the side of the field, when he saw Och'on sneaking away. He looked out of his mind too. When he realised that he had been up and running about since dawn and had still not been able to flood even half a field Tu※lkkae sat down on the bank in despair, but as soon as that trickle of water stopped again he got up and left.
Ch'o※lhan and Ponggu were still fighting.
"You bastard, you think you can insult people like that."
Ponggu was sticking his bucktooth out and shouting.
"So you're really not going to let go?"
However hard Ch'o※lhan tried to lay his bird-thin hands on Ponggu, the all-too-powerful Ponggu just stood still, pushing and pushing at Ch'o※lhan's jaw.
When Tu※lkkae yelled at them they let go of each other and got up on to the bank.
"You idiots! What are you fighting over water for when there is none? Don't you have anyone else to get angry with?"
They looked down at the empty ditch, where even the water trickling like a rat's tail had now stopped.
Finally the three of them walked up to the head of the pool. The sun was about to set on Taesa Peak, and the large bell at Pogwang temple announced four o'clock. It was time for the monks' dinner. In the village below the temple, the farmers wandering around the So※ngdong fields grew more restless as the day grew to a close. And finally pockmarked Mr. Ko made a big decision and opened the gates to his fields a little more. Though his fields were near the head of the reservoir Ko had been unable to get any of the water, which flowed according to the power of the temple people, who were prone to strutting around like only children. As soon as he did so one man came running towards him shouting:
"Why are you touching that again?"
"Now that the water's about used up, I have to get some too."
And, as if these words seemed too cowardly, Mr. Ko added:
"And the water's overflowing in your fields."
"What? Overflowing? Where's it overflowing? Do you have eyes or what?"
He went to close Ko's irrigation gate.
Ko opened the gates even wider than before and said:
"Isn't it wrong to leave the fields at the top completely dry when the ditches in the lower fields are overflowing?"
"Why are you glaring at me like that?"
"Oh, this pal must be doing okay for himself."
The man sneered.
"This pal? Don't you have a father at home? Do you always call people pal?"
"What did you say? You're pushing things a bit, aren't you? Do you want me to I punch a hole in your face?"
"Damn you! However upside down this world is..."
"Hey, look here. The world's upside down? Ha, ha, ha..."
He raised his voice as if he wanted everyone to hear,
"Damn cocky bastard!"
And then he slapped the much bigger Ko on the cheek.
"What makes you think you can do that?"
The others nearby came rushing over like bees when Ko, taken aback, fastened his grip on the man's throat. And then telltale Yi Shibong, who had already hit Grandma Kadong, kicked Ko hard in the stomach, as if he were kicking a football. Ko cried out and fell down on the spot. Once he'd fallen down others trod on him and kicked him...then later there was a fuss as they tried to drag him to the police station. Nothing frightened Ko more than those words, and he had no choice but to say he was sorry and beg forgiveness.
Even when Tu※lkkae went to his side Ko still sat on the bank out of his senses. His left eye had swollen up a bluish black colour.
Finally the reservoir water stopped. At the sight of the dry flood gates the farmers were so depressed they didn't even speak or curse, but just sat down on the spot. The exhaustion accumulated from running around all day like he-dogs suddenly attacked and they couldn't even think of getting up.
On the other hand, the people in the village of Pogwang, with plenty of water, were running around raising the height of their irrigation gates, just in case the water should spill over into the lower fields, and keeping a watchful eye on low places in the banks.
Ko was angry, but more than that, the thought that he would invariably lose his two temple fields next spring made the future look like a grim dream. In these times when for no reason at all the well-irrigated fields near the pool were all being taken away and given to the monks, there was no doubt that after today's mistake Ko's fields too would be gone, though he had earned trust as a diligent farmer. He could not help but lose hope.
He remembered the previous spring and Mr. Ho. Ho had hung himself from the pine tree behind the village after losing his fields, and with them all means of living, for no reason. The sight of Ho stretched out, his black tongue sticking out, was vivid in Ko's mind. A shiver went down Ko's spine. If they could not survive maybe he should just go like that, whatever might happen to his wife and children... If only the bank he was sitting on would just sink deep into the earth.
The next morning Tu※lkkae and Ch'o※lhan carried water to their fields for the first time in a long while before sitting down to hungrily eat their fill of cold barley. In Pogwang, the new village of monks on the other side of the pond, fields, and stream below the reservoir, the monks were still shouting, as if they had lost a woman they had got after praying. During the night many of them had lost water when their ditches were divided. Ko listened unconcerned to the monks' bad language as he eagerly ate his barley, or rather barley shells, dotted here and there with large beans.
"Who would have the nerve to do that?"
His wife asked unconcerned, as she ladled out the scorched barley tea.
"Who knows, there are so many people around."
Ko got up and shook the dust off his trousers. He filled his pipe and before even beginning to smoke it he had tied his trouser tops and was about to set off to weed Master Yi's fields, when a policeman suddenly appeared in their tiny yard.
"Are you Ko?"
He looked suspicious.
"Yes, that's right."
"Let's go down to the station for a while."
Ko's face suddenly turned yellow.
"You'll know when you get there."
His words gradually became more sinister.
"There's no reason why I should be called to the station. I've committed no crime."
As Ko stepped back, the policeman hit him on the shoulder, got his rope out and began to tie him up,
"What's with this complaining? When I say let's go, you should just shut up and go, all right?"
"Oh, what's going on? Please don't do this, sir. He hasn't committed any crime. He hasn't ever even hurt a frog, last night we both slept here in this yard...oh, what's going on?"
Though she was sick with malaria, Ko's wife clung to him like crazy until the policeman harshly pushed her off and dragged Ko away.
If each plant turns into ten,
Each bunch gives us ten mal,1
The farmers from So※ngdong sang in chorus as they weeded Iron Bridge's fields in front of Pogwang village.
Under the blazing sun it was more than one hundred degrees! So much ammonia fertilizer had been used that you could hardly see the men through the rice plants! With hot steam rising like scorching flames out of the ground and the stinking smell of rotting fertilizer, the air was sickening. You would have to be Xiang Yu not to choke.2 The men worked like machinesΑsome panting and sticking their tongues out like puppies that had been beaten and left for dead, some tightly closing one eye because they had caught it on rice leaves. All they could do was to sing the chorus "eiyo※ho※ sangsadwiya" after the lead singer, puffing out their chests as if to clear out their lungs.
One of them deftly turned his backside around towards Ponggu's head and pretended to be giving birth.
"Eh damn you, you...you ugly bastard!"
Ponggu scratched the back of his legs.
"Aargh, you bastard, you better pay the doctor's fees!"
He started teasing Ponggu even more, so that nearby Ch'o※lhan quickly chimed in.
"Doctor's fees? Hey you're the bastard who should be paying us. You're farting like you ate raw radish, it's awful..."
"Yeah and there's something wrong with that smell. Hey is your anus rotting or something?"
Someone else joined in.
"He sti...stinks like he's got a wrotten hor...hor...horse leg in him!"
Ponggu shouted loudly. Then he urinated right there in his clothes.
"Oh that's too much!"
Ch'o※lhan moved several steps away, exasperated.
"Sssh...Iron Bridge is coming."
It was Tu※lkkae who gave the warning.
Master Iron Bridge was coming along the bank behind them. A parasol in one hand and a fan in the other. What's with Master Iron Bridge? His real name was Master Yi. Though he was full of nothing but shit he had money and at the end of the Choson dynasty he had paid for an iron bridge to be built and received the title "Master" from the district magistrate. But times having changed, this had all been revealed and everyone called him "Master Iron Bridge." Of course only behind his back.
"You're having a tough time of it. It's just boiling today!"
Soon Iron Bridge had reached them.
"It'll be a little late but let's finish weeding this field before we take a break. Put all your strength into it now! Look, some of the rice behind Ponggu has been broken off, damn it!"
Master Iron Bridge clicked his tongue and shook his fan at them in an exaggerated fashion.
The farmers silently forced all their strength into their exhausted arms. They could feel the blood about to run as they grazed their forearms on the rice stalks they passed. But they closed their eyes and scraped their way through the rampant plants using their thick, bamboo-rake-like hands.
Uh, uh, oom, oom!
Drops of sweat as large as beans fell off their faces, and surprised grasshoppers fled noisily. The singing stopped! Ten patches left. They hurried along, barely stopping to draw a breath.
Ch'o※lhan, who was weeding out in front, grabbed a snake that had come up behind him and swung it around three or four times, before sending it flying in the other direction.
The much-awaited breaktime arrived. The farmers all gathered around the bucket of makko※lli in the shade of a poplar tree, looking forward to refreshing their dry throats.
Master Iron Bridge had the first drink.
"Ooh, that tastes good!"
He passed the cup amongst them, and, twisting his whiskers, said:
"But it looks like there might only be enough for one cup each. Just think about the rice (well maybe it was one-quarter rice) you had for lunch and bear it. If you have too much of this stuff you can't do your work, but more importantly, it's bad for your body. Especially on hot days like this..."
The farmers had already licked their bowls dry and were munching on the lump of dried radish leaves dipped in hot red pepper sauce. They were not only thirsty but hungry too.
Just then a car went roaring past and stopped in front of Pogwang village, kicking up dust as far as where they were resting. The young people from Pogwang jumped out, back from swimming. They were the lucky young ones who were studying in Japan or Seoul. Of course there were girls amongst them too. The So※ngdong farmers watched them for a while. Telltale Yi Shibong was amongst them, and for some reason when he got out of the car he walked straight into the police station.
Tu※lkkae just swallowed a couple of spoonfuls of cold rice, as he wasn't a good drinker, and kept his eyes peeled on the door of the police station. A while later Yi Shibong emerged.
"I wonder what happened to Ko?"
Tu※lkkae had mumbled out loud before he even realised it. Ch'o※lhan said nothing, but a deep frown crossed his face. Ko who was falsely accused because of us...! They were embarrassed and troubled by their continued silence.
Oblivious to what was going on, Ponggu sat there undoing the bandages on his feet and picking out the bugs. The others found patches of shade on the road or the grass and laid down like dead travellers, flat on their backs with their black stomachs facing up. In no time they were snoring away, or rolling like worms in their sleep, as if they were being bitten by red ants.
In the tall still poplar tree the cicadas kept on singing boisterously, as if laughing at the farmers sleeping beneath them.
After eating dinner amidst the mosquitoes the villagers all came out of their crab shell-like houses and went to the stream. Although the drought was bad, the water flowing out from between the rocks still formed proper pools here and there. Moonlit nights down by the stream were cool.
When dawn breaks my heart longs for death,
But after eating dinner I want to live a thousand years.
Master Iron Bridge's farmhand Kang was already lying outstretched on a rock, staring at the sky and singing.
On the sands beneath the crescent-moon-shaped bridge the children gathered like minnows and ran around noisily singing, playing, and chasing fireflies. In the cloudless sky, waiting for rain, only the moon shone brightly. In the houses of So※ngdong, buried in the moonlight, mosquito smoke jostled like clouds crawling up the hill and floating down into the fields so that the moonlight and the smoke were indistinguishable.
The women came out in a group after the men and crossed the bridge.
The top of the bridge was the men's place. After bathing they hurried about looking for flat rocks. Wherever they stopped would be their resting-place for the night. But there were some who could notΑthose who, luckily or unluckily, still had water left were walking to their pools to draw water for their fields. One of them, Ponggu, had fallen asleep with the oil can he used for carrying water by his side; judging from his snores it was doubtful whether he would make it to the entrance to the burial ground to get water during the night.
Conversation blossomed amongst the others.
"How's your little sister, Tu※lkkae?"
"What do you mean how is she?"
"She's tall enough to be getting married soon."
"She's tall enough, but she's only seventeen. There's nothing wrong with getting married at seventeen, but there has to be somewhere for her to go."
"What are you worrying about? Looking the way she does she could be a daughter-in-law in an official's house. How could there be nowhere for her to go?"
"Here you go again... What if we marry her above us, trusting the way they look, and she's chased out in the first four days? Commoners like us should just stick with other commoners!"
Ch'o※lhan had been listening quietly, but now unexpectedly added a word of agreement.
Just then the women, who had been bathing in the pool below the bridge, came up giggling and cursing. At which Kang protested:
"You can't come up here. Why can't you stay down there?"
"Because the kids from Pogwang are down there."
All the men's eyes suddenly turned and glared downstream from the bridge. Where rows of poplars reached into the sky...
They were singing along to a record about wasting away from love or something of the kind, and sounded like half-idiots praying.
"Who are they planning to seduce carrying a gramophone around with them? And they went straight to where the women bathe at that."
Kang was the first to start cursing them.
"Dirty brats! We don't want to listen to you. Pack up and go away, go!"
The youngsters all got up from the rocks and quickly climbed up to the paddy banks from where they threw dirt into the stream and cursed back.
After the Pogwang troublemakers had gone the farmers took their towels from their heads, covered their faces and collapsed on their rocks. They were soon snoring.
It was a quiet night in the village. The only noise was the intermittent sound of someone banging brass pots and reciting a curse, "the daughter-in-law from over there sleeps in the day and works at night." Then the yellow lamps of the weaving women began to go out too.
The drought dragged on and on. Even though blackish clouds would gather in the mornings and evenings, they would disappear as soon as the sun went down. Like lies... Once you got to know those clouds that looked stealthily down on Pogwang temple valley you found out they were despicable drought clouds. Thick mist might gather on the hill walls at Yongguro※ng, but in vain. More so the moist autumn wind in the red morning light. Now even the weather in the valley had become completely unfathomable, though the farmers had relied on it for hundreds of years. Every day more burning rays scorched their insides. Crazy people would still swarm around those places where water trickled out like a runny nose, but where the water had dried up there was not even a puppy to be seen. The So※ngdong fields had been well supplied with water until the so-called water supply reservoir had been built three years before. Since then it had been like this every year: here and there rice plants, shrivelled up like corkscrew beards, had already been consigned to fuel mosquito fires, and the unrewarded worries of the farmers sitting helplessly under the big tree in front of the village just kept increasing.
One night, at their wit's end, they held a ceremony to pray for rain, as they had the previous year in vain. They lit firewood on the hill peak in front of the village, and everyone from So※ngdong bathed and lined up, some men wearing worn-out jackets and some even putting on proper ceremonial coats. There was Kujang, Tu※lkkae, Ponggu with his horsehair hat askew... The old man who used to be the village schoolteacher read the prayers, his topknot smaller than a mouse's tail tipping forward, while the farmers all looked up at the sky, bowed, and prayed for rain.
"Oh Jade Emperor in heaven, who looks after all of us..."
They bowed several times, their noses touching the ground. It seemed as if their prayers were following the burning sunrays right up to the heavens.
The rain ceremony ended.
"Clang, clang, clang, bash, bash...clang, clang, clang, bash, bash..."
The farmers came down the hill playing their instruments.
They deliberately played their drums for a while in the threshing ground in front of the village as if it were a time of peace and prosperity. The small children put fireflies inside squash flowers and danced around after the adults.
"Ku...ku...kujang, ju... just look at that cloud!"
Ponggu wiggled his buttocks and shouted as if he had made a great discovery. It was none other than one blackish cloud floating towards the moon.
"Oh yes! Bang, bang!"
The farmers were jumping up and down as if it were already raining. But that also turned out to be in vainΑthe next day and the day after there was not even any mist, let alone rain. The only thing to increase in all directions was anxiety.
One day the farming association of Pogwang temple invited the influential men from So※ngdongΑMaster Iron Bridge and Chinsu, who was the secretary of the township and on the committee of the farming association. The news they brought back from the meeting was that on All Souls' Day there would be a big mass at Pogwang temple to pray for rain, and a member of every family in So※ngdong should attend. A rain mass was a most welcome thing.
"But what will we all do? The monks say the mass..."
The farmers did not know what it was all about. But if they did not attend they would have no right to complain. As they made their living from farming temple fields, they could not object even if they wanted to. They even requested a large screen of Buddha be hung in the temple grounds since there was going to be a ceremony. From their childhoods they had heard again and again that if they hung out a screen of Buddha, any wish, however impossible, would be granted. The temple flatly refused at first, saying that it would be too expensive. How could such a simple thing be so expensive? Let's see if there is such a thing as a miracle! The villagers were eager to find out and begged the temple politely. After Kujang had made several attempts in vain, Master Iron Bridge went to the temple and just managed to reach an agreement. And so on All Souls' Day, July 15th according to the lunar calendar, the big bell at Pogwang temple began to ring from dawn.
Everyone from So※ngdong went in a crowd as if they were going to market. Well, apart from the farming association committee member Chinsu, Kujang and a few others, there were just a few women who had long said goodbye to middle age and some useless youngsters.
The thousand-year-old Pogwang temple of Taebon mountain was swarming with more than one hundred monks, young and old, and women gathered for the All Souls' Day mass.
Every room dedicated to Buddha was packed to the full with not an inch to spare, from the Main Hall resplendent in the five colours, to the Hall of the Netherworld, quiet but for the deep sound of the fish clapper bell, to the Hall of the Eight Life Stages of Buddha, and the Hall of the Five Hundred Arhants. Buttocks and flanks rubbed and jostled as people joined their hands high above their heads and then softly bowed. Everyone made their own individual wish, for happiness for their children, or relief from an aching back. Their clothes had been worn until they were thinner than dragonfly wings, but they pretended they were doing okay and kept piling up money in the huge offering box at Buddha's knees. At a glance you might think they were all rich landlords' wives, but if you only knew, most of them had borrowed that money.
The women from So※ngdong wiped away their sweat in a secluded corner behind the Hall of the Netherworld before moving up to the Main Hall. They had tried to dress up in their own way, but there was no chance of fitting in with their hemp skirts so stiffly starched it was unclear whether they were trying to sit down or stand up. They awaited their turn with trepidation, embarrassed that they looked so different from everyone else.
Then Chinsu's mother, who had been there for several days now, noticed them and came over. She looked really happy to see them, as she asked,
"Where have you all been hiding? I've been looking for you...have you paid your respects to the Buddha yet?"
She spoke as if she were a devotee.
"Not yet. My, you need money for that!"
Could there have been a more inappropriate answer?
"What are you doing coming to a temple without any money?"
Chinsu's mother puckered her lips and she disappeared wearing an expression that seemed to say, "I'll be humiliated if I stand next to this lot."
The hemp skirt lot hesitated for a while, thinking that they would only get less luck if they gave less money, but then they went and frugally gave their offerings to Buddha. The money they had gathered through their husbands and sons skipping meals or selling firewood was given away so they had no hope of repaying their debts. Some of them looked back as if it were a terrible waste.
In the Great Dipper Shrine behind the Main Hall a young woman was in the midst of praying for one hundred days to conceive a child. She kept on bowing in time to the wooden clapper of the monk at her side nearly wearing her knees away, as if she were neither bored nor noticed the disturbance outside night and day. If what the monk said was true, that all she had to do was listen to him, then she must be pregnant already.
Boom! Bang, bang, dum, dum, dum, tock, tock, rrrrrrrrrh!
Following the big bell all the other bells, drums, cymbals, and clappers in every hall started to sound out, and following the Head Priest Ho※'s directions a toothless old man began reading the sutras and the temple doors opened solemnly. The screen of Buddha was brought out on the shoulders of thirty-two young monks in bright red robes and erected with dignity in the middle of the huge yard in front of the Main Hall. The enormous picture of Buddha covered more than thirty pieces of silk!
All the monks in their fluttering robes, and all the visitors around, grew as solemn as if they were at a party for the King.
When the food offerings were brought out first the head priest and then all the older monks paid their respects, followed by the young monks, the apprentices and other children of the temple, then the monks' wives, devotees, and finally the ordinary worshippers. With the exception of the monks, all of them pushed to the front to give more money, bow and say a prayer.
"Please move back, let other people see as well."
Chinsu's mother pushed past the other devotees and bowed ten more times as if she had given a lot of money. When he saw the head priest's wife, Chinsu also stepped forward, saying "Mother, mother!" and pressed his head down to the ground.
The So※ngdong women had already emptied their purses and this time watched the others from the side with envy.
Only after these cumbersome doings were over did the prayers for rain finally begin. A big drum, cymbals, and clappers came to the front of the screen, Kujang offered the money he had scraped around for in the village, and the prayers began.
"Tock tock, tock tock, namu amit'a pul, kwanseu※m posal, boom, tock tock tock!"
The voice reading the sutras rose along with the sound of the clapper; at the end of each phrase the same rhythm of the gong, drum, cymbals, and large clapper was repeated.
The So※ngdong villagers bowed along with the prayers of the monks. Towards the monks' backsides. One monk walked around pushing the bodies into the right shape in an attempt to bring some harmony to the various bows of the ignorant farmers. This time of course the hemp skirts also did their bit. But they just looked ridiculous each time they bowed.
This phase of the prayers ended with the sutra coming to a small climax, the excited swaying of those keeping the beat, and the farmers and their mothers and their wives pressing their foreheads to the ground under the bright blue sky praying earnestly for rain...
During a break in the prayers the So※ngdong villagers walked clumsily into the magnificent lecture hall. The white-bearded lecturing priest must have been over eighty years old and sat cross-legged on top of the high platform shaking his knobbly meditation stick as he became absorbed in concentration on the teachings of the Buddha with the respectable devotees crammed into the room in front of him.
"Pogwangsanha sibjaro, musolnogo hosongwi."
He closed his eyes and recited in a clear voice. Without even an eyelid twitching he looked like a living Buddha. On the wall behind hung the words, "a life of worship." The room was as quiet as if everyone were dead.
The lecturer finally lifted his stick, tapped on the platform and opened his eyes to look around at his audience before continuing with his lecture and explaining what he had just recited:
"...it is said that "on the crossroads below Pogwang mountain an old mute woman went calling for her grandson. How does a mute woman call for her grandson? If we think about it at first it does not seem to make sense, but here lies hidden the deep truth of our Buddhist teaching. Once we understand this it has infinite meaning..."
The audience did not have a clue what he was talking about, and sat blinking like chickens brought to the marketplace. There were some brave women, Chinsu's mother among them, who pretended to understand, but the ordinary people could not manage that and some were already dozing, rolling around like pestles in a mortar.
Prayers started outside again. The monks sweated so much their robes dampened as they recited the sutras, and noisily hit the clappers, drums and cymbals. A screen and the sutras had to produce a miracle. And so the chanting undulated high and low before the prayers finally came to an end in solemn suspense. Every grain of sand in the huge yard in front of the Main Hall seemed to shake with the slow chorus of "namu amit'a pul."
Even the screen of Buddha, which they had trusted to the last, produced no miracle and the drought continued. Over half the rice seedlings had to be pulled out, and although they sowed buckwheat and other grains, they barely sprouted under the boiling sun, if they did then they soon shrivelled up.
The early-ripening rice, which had been planted with the hope of an early taste of rice, dried up too, and the rest did not appear very determined to sprout. Every morning around the alleys of So※ngdong all that could be heard was the dry sound of barley being hulled in mortars. Those who had gone to school were kicked out all together for not paying their fees. Some were not kicked out but dragged homeΑwhere will the money come from if we don't have any! Some left for school but turned back, knowing that if they were found out their thin cheeks would be slapped until they broke, for lying was surely the first step on the way to becoming a thief.
"Poor people's children are lucky if they can eat, what good is school?"
Many children from all over were withdrawing from school. In these circumstances the autumn festival was like a curse. Not many people from So※ngdong went to the so-called Township Sports Festival, held each year in the new fields at Pogwang, except for Master Iron Bridge's wife, Chinsu's family, and some reckless girls and boys who liked the music. Yet it was still a holiday and so the men brought out their old jackets and went from house to house visiting the older men, drinking sour homebrew for the first time in a long time and falling flat on their backs anywhere.
They set up a seesaw in Master Iron Bridge's yard, but not many women turned out, mostly just young girls from the village. In the evening Tu※lkkae's little sister To※ga had a go. But even they all scattered early, as if according to plan. The harvest moon was no different from how it had always been, and there was no way they could have forgotten the giddy pleasure of leaping high into the sky with all their limbs outstretched, but this evil poverty and bad harvest had stolen all the joy of youth and beauty from these customs in this village.
After the bitter autumn festival was over, the people of So※ngdong started to go into the hills. The men carried A-frames and the women baskets.
One day the So※ngdong women were picking mushrooms on the slopes of temple land at Taesa Peak. There was Grandma Kadong, Hwaje, Ko's wife, Tu※lkkae's wife, and To※ga... Of them all Grandma Kadong was the most knowledgeable. As she had wandered about these hills like a pheasant since her youth, she knew exactly what was what and what mushrooms grew where, and so always went ahead of the others and plucked out expensive pine and oak tree mushrooms. The other women followed her with envy, but though they would fill their baskets and walk over twenty li all they would find were some little mushrooms, which would fetch no more than twenty cho※n.
The shade of the pine trees and old mixed forest was gloomy and damp. Zelkova branches broken in storm winds hung dangerously overhead and every now and then cold drops of moisture fell from pine leaves. Accidentally step just once into a crack in the thick eulalia and honeysuckle vines and you could be bitten by a poisonous snake and die tragically like Sunnam. But Grandma Kadong's words were turning out to be right, even mushrooms were rare this year because of the drought.
To※ga and some other young girls were holding on tight to the side of the cliff. Their hearts quivered like startled sparrows and they could not look down they felt so dizzy. Their faces shone even more red with the reflection of the evening sun on the red maple leaves, but all they could look at were the hateful mushrooms busily rotting away. From the woods across the hill they could hear the plaintive sound of the woodcutters' singing.
Oh jackdaw, will you go to the streams of the Chiri mountains?
Who knows what's in my heart?
It was the song they always sang when they picked up their sickles.
Then suddenly there was shouting from the top of the cliff where the women had been picking mushrooms. Small children carrying clumps of dead twigs the size of magpie nests came running out mindlessly like baby wild boars scared by stray bullets. At the front was Ch'adol, followed by Kaettong... Rushing madly at the back of the group and carrying his worn rubber shoes, was Sanghan, who had been forced out of school that autumn.
"You damn brats! How far do you think you can get?"
Pogwang Temple's bearded ranger followed them shouting violently.
The women took flight in fear. If they were caught they would lose their mushrooms and be in big trouble. Some tripped over stumps and some tore their skirts on pine branches, but they ran on keeping hold of their baskets.
Hwaje was following the children more than fleeing herself, and fell head over heels several times nearly dropping her basket.
"Oh Ch'adol, just let him catch you please!"
But the children did not look back and just kept racing on. One fell backwards on the gravelly slope, his A-frame still on his back, one fell flat on his face, and one must have caught his foot on a sharp stump for he suddenly pulled his legs up to his body.
The ranger kicked their bundles of wood to the side like footballs and then went after the frontrunners, brandishing a cherry tree stick. And then suddenly all the children came to a stop below a rock known as Master Uisang's study spot. One of their friends had tripped and dropped to the bottom of the cliff like an old rag.
When the ranger saw them stopped in shock, he glared and then suddenly laughed,
"Brats, this is the kind of accident that happens when you run away and don't do as you're told!"
He scolded them as if they had pushed their friend.
Hwaje came flying over. She seemed relieved to see that Ch'adol was all right.
"Mum, Sanghan fell!"
Hwaje silently slid down to the bottom of the cliff like lightning. Everyone followed her.
Sanghan was stuck in a crevice of the steep rock, his net bag still on his back. Hwaje threw down her basket, and clasped Sanghan. He was already dead. His face was so smashed and covered in blood, with one cheekbone sticking out, that he was unrecognizable. And, strangely, next to the place where he died lay one of his worn rubber shoes, which he had been carrying.
Hwaje lost her senses for a while. But gradually violent anger surfaced in her eyes, as she stared at the ranger standing carelessly nearby.
"Don't you have any children?"
Her voice seemed to cut him like a knife.
"What difference does that make? Huh! If I don't have any, will you have one for me then?"
The ranger brazenly stuck out his bearded lips.
"What? That's too much for someone from a temple. No matter how important the woods may be, is this all you think of a child's life?"
She wanted to throw shit in his arrogant face.
"Hey, woman! Who are you making out to be a murderer here? You cheeky woman, you have a nerve! Why don't you mention these little thieves here? That brat had been deliberately stealing for a while, brazenly..."
The ranger kicked her basket of mushrooms with all his strength. And then disappeared somewhere. Actually the children's crime had not been to take firewood from an area they had not paid for. They had followed the grown-ups more than twenty li to the patch of wood the village had paid for to get those magpie-nest-sized bundles of wood. Their only fault was to momentarily enter the wood on the side of the road on the way home with the childish urge to pick up fallen chestnuts.
A while later the dead child's grandmother came running up pale-faced. It was Grandma Kadong. She stood like an idiot, staring at her lifeless grandson and not seeing the others, and then just laughed.
"You're really dead! You are really dead! Where's that monk gone that killed you...?"
She shouted like a shaman repeating the ravings of the dead and then laughed again.
Grandma Kadong had completely lost her mind. There had been no news of her son, whether dead or alive, since he had crossed the water to Japan to work as a day labourer, and her daughter-in-law had run away, so that her only grandson was as precious to her as a thousand pieces of gold.
Finally the ranger returned with a policeman from the station at Pogwang temple.
Grandma Kadong stared at the ranger for a while and then started to grind her teeth and curse him, "you evil bastard!"
"Hey! This won't do. You sent him to steal wood. This man hasn't killed anyone!"
The policeman roughly pushed Grandma Kadong away, but even as she was being pushed she was shouting,
"Aaaargh, you evil man, may you be whipped a thousand times! Bring my child back to life, bring him back..."
"This just won't do!"
The policeman glared and blocked the old woman's way.
"You're just the same as him, aren't you?"
She scowled like a totem pole and then laughed crazily.
"Oh, Sanghan! Sanghan! My baby, not even the gods knew you were going to die ," and then she started singing,
"Oh, sangsadwiyo※, have you gone after that jackdaw to the Chiri mountains? Why did you die? My baby, why have you left this world? Ha, ha, ha."
Grandma Kadong never recovered her senses.
Although the Milky Way had turned to face north to south, the fields at So※ngdong were far from autumnal. In the past laughter would naturally spread across the farmers' faces at the sight of the golden grain ripening in plenty, and the women would have already made several trips to market to sell some of the new rice. But this year they were gaunt and lifeless, like scarecrows sourly watching their fields.
There was now nothing left of the patch of firewood forest they had bought from the temple, and with winter coming on the men did not have much to do. Occasionally some went to steal wood, but there was a big fuss when they were caught.
Ko, who had been dragged off to the police station for no reason at the beginning of summer and suffered for several months on the absurd charge of cutting down someone's drainage bank, was finally released after the autumn festival. But given his nature, and his inability to express simple anger, let alone steal wood, he began to work as a day labourer on erosion control works. It was so far away he had to leave the house as the cock was crowing, and was only paid thirty cho※n for rushing about madly all day. But of course Ko was not the only one.
Now that the mushroom season was over the women would dig up wild bellflower roots or pick bean leaves. But as they had few fields of their own and no part of the hill they often had to suffer abuse.
Finally someone came out from the district office to do a field report on the drought damage. They heard nothing for about a month and anxiety hovered over the village. Then tax inspectors from Pogwang temple appeared. There were four of them altogether, including telltale Yi Shibong and three men from the main temple office.
Tax inspectors! Tenant fees! These words provoked the most fear, and also anger, in the farmers. But of course as tenant farmers on temple land they all waited at home that day. Even Chinsu of the farming association committee left his town office work to greet the monks.
From early in the day drinks were served in the living room at Chinsu's house. It looked as if the homebrew and side-dishes they had prepared in advance had already been consumed, for the farmhand was hurrying off to the store at Pogwang. Meanwhile the tenant farmers sat at the gate like criminals swallowing their saliva in vain at the pleasant smell of roasting pork that drifted out. They seemed worried they might provoke the ire of the inspectors and so took their turns to go inside to shake hands and thank them for coming. When they remembered what had happened to Ko during the summer they couldn't help but grind their teeth, but they had no choice other than to bend their knees in front of Shibong.
"Ahem, ahem, a-hem!"
Old Ch'isam dragged his stick and entered the gate coughing so harshly that everyone else felt it in their chests. Then, after bowing to men young enough to be his children, he ignored his son's advice and tried to ask about his fields.
"Hey old man, let's not talk about that. If you sowed buckwheat, then you can just pay the buckwheat tax, right?"
Yi Shibong cut him off impolitely in arrogant fashion.
There was no way Old Ch'isam could ask anymore.
"Hey, this is not the place to talk about such matters. You're ruining the taste of my drink!"
Ch'isam was even more offended by this scolding from one of the monks, but fortunately (!) he obeyed Chinsu's pleas and left quietly. He dragged his bony legs home, pretending not to hear the young people saying, "well, give away good fields to be blessed and that's the treatment you receive!"
The others sat outside Chinsu's gate sullenly and waited for the drinking to end. Some went home grumbling while others who had been chatting and playing backgammon began to complain.
"Damn it, have they come to assess taxes, or to drink? Who knows what they're up to!"
In response to this grey-haired friend, Scabface also began to complain:
"Who knows? Are they going to sit around and decide our tenant fees without even looking at the fields?"
"Damn, the...they won't go to our fields. La...last year too they just sat here and then ta...taxed us to the hilt...," Ponggu added.
"Surely if they are human, they'll have second thoughts this year!"
This was Mr. Ch'oe, who had once been obsessed by Poch'ongyo3 and gone around spouting about the Cho※nggamnok.4 He was over thirty but still wore a topknot, and could tell a lie even better than Su Qin or Zhang Yi,5 for a while boasting to everyone that he was going to be chief of a board.
"Look chief, it's unlikely them having second thoughts. That would be like you saying you'll be a chief."
That was Scabface, who had worked in mines in Japan.
Finally the drinking stopped. The drunken inspectors came out with bright red necks. Chinsu's wife, wearing gold-rimmed glasses, came to the gate to see them off, and then they followed Chinsu's lead and stumbled out leaning on their canes. The gaunt tenant farmers followed behind them in silence like criminals sent into exile.
There was no way tax could be fairly assessed when they were drunk. Utterly indifferent to what the farmers might have to say, they made no attempt to go even close to the rice, but kept mumbling to Chinsu in some incomprehensible foreign language as they walked straight past. It was as one might tend the grave of your wife's distant cousin. To feign sincerity they would lift up their canes now and then and point at places, or write something in their notebooks.
Then they swayed past Tu※lkkae's fields like scarecrows.
"Why did you plant buckwheat?"
Shibong asked in response to Tu※lkkae's handshake.
"We had no choice. If we'd waited for those dried up rice plants then we'd have been here forever..."
Tu※lkkae spoke timidly, holding a beanstalk in one hand and his sickle in the other.
"The buckwheat has done okay though."
"What? Even that was planted too late..."
Tu※lkkae was scared of what Shibong would say next.
The others had walked on to the next ditch. There Tu※lkkae's sister and wife, baby on back, were busy cutting down beans. For a seventeen-year-old To※ga's shoulders were broad and from behind she looked quite desirable. When she realized that strange men were standing nearby her two cheeks reddened beneath the towel covering her head, but her hands holding the sickle did not stop.
"Why didn't you say something to them?"
When the inspectors had left To※ga looked impatiently at her brother's glum face.
"What could I say?"
"Ask them not to tax us..."
"They'll do whatever they like so what's the point?"
"So you're going to pay tax on this bit of buckwheat?"
To※ga looked really sad.
"Well, if there's any left after we've eaten it maybe I will!"
Tu※lkkae laughed. Recently he had suddenly become quite bold.
To※ga felt a certain trust in her brother's words. But as he sat puffing on tobacco with his sickle still sticking out of his trousers he felt far from relieved. On the other hand, he was not as anxious as those red dragonflies busily flying over the buckwheat fields.
The next evening the villagers were called to Chinsu's house, where they each heard their tenant fees from Chinsu's mouth. And they were all shocked by the frightening decision.
However as they had no idea of what the consequences would be of laying out their complaints in front of this most modern of supervisors, a so-called committee member, they all went home dispirited and mumbling their worries, "Even if we scrape up everything we have, will it be enough...?"
Tu※lkkae and Ch'o※lhan were, in the words of the head of the village Moral Reform Society, that is Master Iron Bridge, the most headstrong in the village, and were already in the habit of gathering at the night school. That night too they went straight there from Chinsu's house as if according to plan. Ko was squatting in a corner of the small room looking more dispirited than normal. Finally after he had sent all the scrawny students home Scabface came in from the large room. White chalk in his bouncing hair. His face looked far older than his thirty-three years.
Here the so-called headstrong ones gathered each evening and, forgetting their exhaustion, chatted, told jokes, listened to Scabface's stories of the Japanese mines, and heard about the tenant fights going on here and there. They listened to the stories of the tenant fights in silence, blinking as if they were really important matters.
That night too they stayed late into the night. Then finally someone began to ask what they would do about the tenant fees they had no way of paying.
Autumn grew deeper; round persimmons hung on Master Iron Bridge's persimmon tree and ripe squash peaked out of the grey roofs where bright red peppers were spread out.
But the farmers' lives were gradually shrivelling up like autumn leaves in the frost, and the number of men gathering at the night school increased rapidly. One evening some brought persimmons they had picked at Master Iron Bridge's.
Scabface was worried about the consequences, but the others just looked on with wetted appetites.
"Ah, Kaettong, he's good at climbing trees! He jumps from branch to branch like a devil."
Ch'o※lhan was more interested in the story of how they had picked the persimmons than in the actual eating.
"We're eating them because we want to, so don't choke, OK?"
Someone was already rubbing his chest. But still he took another one. Accustomed to green bean and pepper leaves as they were, these persimmons were certainly a delicacy.
"Damn, we'll have to hear another speech for this, right?"
Scabface complained as he smoked his pipe, and Ko added:
"Even if we got down on our knees and begged forgiveness, there'd be a speech."
At the slightest provocation there would be so-called thought guidance speeches where everyone would have to gather at the night school. Yet there was no way anything could be achieved with speeches alone. What was more, no one was taken in anymore by the transparent rambling speeches of Master Iron Bridge, as the head of the Moral Reform Society, or Chinsu, as the head of the Promotion Society.
Now whatever anyone said the farmers just did what they could. Tenant fees and debts were no longer frightening. If they had planted the grain they simply ate it. Not only that, but they began to take other people's as they walked past. As time went on the rich people in the village, in other words Master Iron Bridge and Chinsu, grew more and more nervous.
The next morning Ch'o※lhan was humming and busily swinging his sickle up in the valley. There was a spring there so the drought had less effect and the rice ears were bending over properly. As he hummed along he thought of his marriage, which his mother had told him about for the first time the previous night. His bride was to be the prettiest girl in the village, To※ga. At one time, when Old Ch'isam had been seduced by Master Iron Bridge's honey-covered words, a rumour had spread that she would be sent to Master Iron Bridge as a concubine, but she had cried and cried and finally wanted to come to him. Of course he would be eternally grateful to Tu※lkkae, who must have played a large part in the decision. To※ga's face kept floating up in Ch'o※lhan's mind. Though they lived in the same village she always blushed when she passed by him! Those two eyes which always seemed to be deep in thought and that pretty nose! And...and yes, those firm white arms and legs he had stole a glance at when she had planted his rice seedlings last spring! At this point Ch'o※lhan laughed and shook his head to get rid of his fancies. He then picked up the rice sheaves he had cut one by one and put them on his A-frame.
As he was hurrying past the stone wall of his house he stopped.
His father's angry voice could be heard from inside.
"Don't talk crazy! How can we have a wedding when things are this bad?"
It was as if the hopes Ch'o※lhan had nurtured with all his heart were dashed in a second. And, although he was embarrassed in case someone saw him standing there, he stood just a little bit longer.
"If you have a child you have to see him married. If we wait until things get better we'll be waiting forever..."
His mother's answer was tearful.
"So you think it's all right? You presumptuous woman!"
"Am I your servant or something? All the time the slightest thing I do and it's you woman this, you woman that!"
"I'll kill you woman!"
"If you want to kill me then go ahead. I've been your servant for more than twenty years, and now it's time for our son to get married, so I don't want to hear anymore woman this woman that."
"Who do you think you're talking to? Damn, crazy woman, go to hell!"
His father's lightning-like anger was accompanied by the sound of breaking pots and a scream from his mother.
Ch'o※lhan rushed into the house. His father had grabbed his mother's hair.
"Please, let go! I was wrong, I was wrong."
His mother was clasping her hair and begging.
"Father! Please let go. I know you're angry, but just think what this looks like. The neighbours will all be laughing."
His son grabbed hold of him from behind and the father conceded defeat and let go. But he could not control his anger,
"You damn woman, I've treated you like a servant until now? Haven't I worked my arse off for you? You stupid woman!"
He shook with anger.
Their youngest son would not eat after the fight and went off to school crying on an empty stomach.
His mother seemed to have lost her senses for a while and sat under the gardenia tree in the backyard. His father stood anxiously by the cowshed, smoking and clutching the crumpled demands for their overdue taxes and the money they had borrowed from the farming association to buy fertilizer. Suddenly he went into the cowshed and stroked the back of his cow. Just as if it were the wife alongside whom he had suffered his harsh life... Tears gathered in his sunken eyes, between his long eyelashes.
Ch'o※lhan's wedding took place one month later.
"Aaargh, what thief cut that rice? I hope you're struck by lightning! I thought I could survive on that rice... I hope it makes your intestines burst!"
Ponggu's mother wandered through the lanes in her short skirt shouting. On the day the clerk visited her to collect taxes Kujang, Ko, Tu※lkkae, and Scabface went as village representatives to the Pogwang temple farming association. They asked for the due date for their so-called low interest loans from the springΑmost of which were used to buy fertilizerΑto be extended a little longer.
The Pogwang temple tenant farmers had to pay tenant fees plus a further four twi for every so※k for association fees and fertilizer,6 and then the interest on each. The fertilizer loan had to be repaid together with taxes each year.
The director leant back in his chair and ignored both their greetings and Kujang's begging explanation. He was scribbling something, but then suddenly grew serious,
"How about no longer working on those fields that seem to be so much trouble?"
"Every year it's the same. I don't want to hear this whining any more. Just try paying only the tenant fee and see what happens!"
"Who said we weren't going to pay our association fees? We're just asking for a slight extension."
This time it was Scabface who spoke.
"Either pay or don't pay, whichever you like. I don't want to talk to you anymore."
Anger crossed the director's healthy looking face, and then he caught a glimpse of Ko,
"Why are you here Ko? How dare you come back here when you haven't even paid last year's yet!"
He scolded him severely. Then he rummaged through his account book and went back to what he was doing before. The group came out having achieved nothing.
Several days later confiscation signs began to appear, first in Ko's fields beneath the reservoir.
The farmers looked again and again at the signs, which they could not even read. So we can not touch the grain we've sweat blood and tears for? Before sadness and anger even came the thought that now their very lives were endangered.
Ko finally fled in the middle of the night.
"Where could he have gone with those young ones in this rain?"
The next morning the villagers worried about Ko's family and despaired.
The heartless autumn rain beat down all day on the rice ears and confiscation signs Ko had left behind.
At dawn each day the foxes howled in the hills like some evil omen, and each evening the farmers filled the night school to bursting, now there was nowhere left they could drink on tab.
One morning the So※ngdong farmers all gathered in the yard at the school when the gong woke them. They held empty sheaves of straw, beanstalks, and buckwheat stalks.
They left the village in one silent line to demand that confiscation notices and tenant fees be cancelled. The women watched the men go from over the wall as if they were sending them off to the battlefield. What if they did not come back from the temple...they worried what might happen.
But the group led by Scabface, Tu※lkkae, Ch'o※lhan, and Ponggu had already climbed the hill behind the village, carrying their empty sheaves. The children hovered around the back of the procession, crying that they were off to burn the temple.