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From the early spring of 1980 I was confined to my bed for about three months by a severe attack of chronic asthma. As a result my beard grew thickly beneath my chin and there was really nothing I could do about it.
As chance would have it, that was just when the 5th Republic was being launched, and the kingpins of the moment wanted to have my paltry reputation, no bigger than a pig's tail, on their side, so they set out to drag me into their 'political reality'. Of course I firmly declined, calmly urging them, 'You can see I'm on the rubbish heap, what help do you think it will be to have me?'
Whether it was my words or my face that finally convinced them I'm not sure, for at first they were all hoity-toity, with 'Even if you refuse, we'll go ahead with our decision and announce your name anyway,' but finally they picked on someone else, and as a poet I safely survived one more of the ups and downs of our country's troubled history.
However, apprehensive of possible further demands or enticements,
I decided to let my beard stay, with only a little trimming, just a white
beard on my chin, like the old men of former times, and at first all the
people I met had something to say about it; those not particularly close
to me but much younger would say,
-- It suits you so well. Anyone has only to see you to know that you are a poet. You look like some wise master or hermit, far above all earthly things.
They would laud it to the skies, while my family and close friends said,
-- Take that thing off your face. Haven't you got anything better to do?
-- To be sure, you look just like the founder of some heathen religion. Now show yourself in your true colours!
Their scolding and sarcastic remarks came thick and fast.
And whenever I went to any meeting, for want of a better topic
the conversation would always end up focussing on my beard, so that for
fear that in such groups as The Hundred someone would demand a public explanation
as to why I was letting my beard grow, since I could hardly tell the real
reason, I would say,
-- I felt that you were not giving me sufficient respect, so to get a little more...
Which once provoked Sok Dong to say,
-- From now on let us all resolve to respect Ku Sang's beard, and nothing else!
For which I had to endure a burst of mocking laughter.
How time heals! Now 7 or 8 years have gone by and my beard seems
to have found its place; luckily no one seems interested in criticizing
it nowadays, but there is one annoying thing about it: at present, whenever
I attend any public function I can be sure that the TV cameras will come
zooming in on this white-bearded face of mine. And since that seems to
get broadcast, my acquaintances often greet me with 'We're always seeing
you on TV,' so that it seems to have had quite the opposite effect to what
was intended when I grew my beard in the first place, but I can't shave
it off again... Well, nothing's perfect in this world, is it?
Note: The Hundred is an association founded by the late Ms Kim Hwal-lan. Sok Dong is the literary name of the children's writer Yun Sok-chung.