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Thursday, August 04, 2005

dogs and hunjang's stool

Categories at del.icio.us/hunjang:

My reading of Jo Jung-rae's Taebaek Sanmaek has become more and more like browsing now that I'm getting close to the end. The longer I gets the more tedious it has become, and that's mainly because of the hard-to-digest idealism in the description of the communist insurgents, who now in the last 10th volume are being wiped out by the ROK army and police.
On the other hand, in their evilness, corruptedness and moral decay (as described by Jo), the characters on the side of the Republic of Korea make much more interesting reading, as well as the description of events among the civilians in small towns and villages: the wounds of conflict and war, the position of the families of the communist guerrillas and so on.

But it was about dogs in yet another Korean metaphor that I was to write this note, inspired by a passage in Jo's book. A character called Sônu Chin, a post-liberation refugee from the North and a staunch anti-communist, is asking his older associate (hyông, "older brother") for help to get a new better job. Before the Korean War he had been a middle school teacher, colleague to Kim Pôm-u who had tried not to take sides but joined the DPRK side after seeing what the USA was doing to the country and becoming confirmed of the correct direction of history. During the war Sônu Chin had served in some kind of security police, but was now anxious to find more interesting and rewarding things to do as the war was coming to and end. Groping girls and smoking Pall Mall (yangdambae, Western cigarettes, as Jo doesn't fail to add) Sônu and his associate ponder which one of the two might be better, university professor or a journalist. Sônu's associate (friend, hyông) contemplates that journalist is after all better, with the power but without the worries of an educator, which he expresses with the proverb hunjang ttong kaedo an môngunda, "not even a dog eats teacher's(*) shit."

Unlike in the proverb of trader's money being shunned even by dogs, in this case it's reassuring to notice that the proverbial dogs' avoidance of teacher's (hunjang) ordure is not due to the low status of the person or profession but because of the unedibility for dogs resulting from the hunjang's professional worries and agonies. This is similar to the case of traders, as I noted in an earlier occasion about Cheonggyecheon: in order to survive as traders, they have to be so empty from inside that what comes out is not touched by even a dog.

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