Yun Hu-myong was born in Kangnung in 1946. He studied
Philosophy at Yonsei University and first embarked on a literary career
by writing poetry. His poems were awarded the Kyonghyang Shinmun Literature
prize in 1967, Then in 1979, he was awarded the Hangook Ilbo Literature
Prize for his short stories in 1979. In the 1980s he received several awards
for his fiction.
He published a collection of his poems, Myongkung (Expert
Archer) in 1977. His novels include Donhwangui Sarang (Don Juan's Love,
1983), Puhwalhanun Sae (Resurrecting Birds, 1985), and Pyolkkaji Uriga
(We to the Stars, 1990).
The characters in his novels are caught in a world which
seems to them meaningless. They attempt to construct meaning by developing
dreams and fantasies, until they find themselves unable to determine what
events are real and which only occur in their dreams. His novels are marked
by a charm and lightness that express hope of meaning even despite the
Kazakhstan 式 Alma-Ata, Uzbekistan 式 Tashkent, Kyrgyzstan
式 Bishkek, Tajikistan 式 Dushanbe.
Kyrgyzstan 式 Bishkek, Tajikistan 式 Dushanbe.
As I sat under a cypress tree, straddling a rusty iron
chair, I had flashbacks of myself in a middle school geography class, repeating
over and over again the names of strange countries and their capitals as
if memorizing some secret code. Four countries of Central Asia and their
capitals. Of course, among these Kazakhstan 式 Alma-Ata and Uzbekistan
式 Tashkent are said to have already become names that are not so difficult
for people who need to know them, but Kyrgyzstan 式 Bishkek or Tajikistan
式 Dushanbe are still nothing but totally unfamiliar names. Bishkek? Dushanbe?
And the personal name "Luda." Going to look for that
Luda with a "girl's name" is something I cannot forget. Over a few days
in early autumn, our ethnic brethren of that place were claiming that it
was a "girl's name."
Let me see. Where should I begin the story?
Right. There is this tree.
Some time ago, after moving to a new place by Segomjong,
there was this needle-leaf tree growing rather hardily in the ground at
the foot of the stone embankment forming the property line with a neighbor,
and under it there was, among other things, a used iron chair that someone
had left behind. From that time I had been able to spend my hours sitting
there alone with pleasure. And I thought about this and that concerning
those countries and the people I had met there.
It was sometime afterward that I found out that this
tree was a cypress. As a result of asking the gardener who comes to do
work next door, I discovered that though it was a kind of juniper, it differed
from the juniper commonly called the "prickler," and that it was closer
to the white cedars and was popularly called a cypress. He also kindly
told me that, unlike in the past, the "prickler" was now worth almost nothing,
but that this tree was still comparatively valuable.
"Ah, a cypress!"
I looked upon the tree anew. I had known the name from
before the time I knew it was that tree. Not only that, it came back to
me that it was called cypes in French. It was also the tree that foreign
artists often featured in their paintings.
No, it is not the cypress or cypres appearing in foreign
artists' paintings. I recall that one day last fall I was in a far-off
land and the object that I approached was also one of these trees. I neared
the tree as if it held some special meaning for me. This was probably all
the more so because the place was the steppe region of the Central Asian
Uplands where there are not so many trees. Calling that place a steppe
region is using geographical terminology, nevertheless, one should not
imagine that there was lush grass everywhere. A prickly, dry grass called
camel grass was swaying to and fro in the wind 式 it was a plain, more
like a desert, that went on and on. Such plains in Kazakhstan, appearing
to be strewn with grains of snow, were actually covered with salt.
The reason I went to this place was because of the piece
of writing I am about to present next. As you know, with the break up of
the Soviet Union, the actual circumstances of our brethren living in Central
Asia have become known; even the opening of the road that now runs between
us was unimaginable in the past. It was on one such day that I received
a piece of writing through the Korean Education Center in Kazakhstan's
capital of Alma-Ata. I was told that as soon as the Soviet Union broke
up, the Korean Education Center went in and has since been teaching our
brethren there everything from the language and writing of their motherland
to its history and culture. The person who called himself the "person in
charge" frankly stated that he had touched it up a little and asked for
my comments on it. He also said that, if possible, he hoped that it could
be carried by a Korean publishing institution. I now present that writing.
A Child Learning a Language
式 Written by Mun Luda
The child is a boy. He cannot speak the Korean language.
Well, the Korean language is what it is now called; in the past it was
not called the Korean language. Not the Korean language, but the Koryo
language. Some people also called it the Choson language. But now, instead
of Koryo or Choson, he hears the new name, Korean.
Whether Koryo, Choson or Korea, he said they were all
the same place. The place of this grandfather's home 式 it was that country
that he called Korea. Therefore, the boy too called himself a Korean. In
the past they were called people of Koryo, but they are all the same country.
"I worry at your using less and less of the Koryo language."
Always worrying, the boy's father tried to help the boy
learn the language.
"Try saying 'How are you?'"
Then the boy struggles to follow.
"How......are......you......?"Though it was quite difficult,
he managed to follow.
"Try 'morning, evening, night.'"
Because he had heard old adults using the Koryo, no,
the Korean language, it was not unfamiliar to him.
But a few days before, when he and his father met a man
who had come from Korea, the Korean that he had learned from his father
froze up in his mouth so hard that it wouldn't come out. Even though his
father first said, "You have to say 'How are you?'" he merely hung his
head to bow. The adults who had seen this boy, even while giving a hardy
laugh, in a way seemed sorry.
"He understands, but that's how he is," the father said.
Following this the adults pour glasses of vodka and talk
about this and that of how they live. Such talk of how they live is more
than a little boring. They say that in Tajikistan a war had broken out,
killing and wounding many people, and that many Koreans had fled to a safer
neighboring country. They also said that in Uzbekistan too, a number of
Koreans were looking for new grounds and were preparing to leave.
"So I don't know what will happen here in Kazakhstan."
"Even so, unlike elsewhere, we have no place to go."
Listening to the talk of the adults makes the heart heavy.
The boy's grandfather had said that he left the Korean soil early, spent
some time in Sakhalin and in Vladivostok, and was brought to Central Asian
soil by force.
"You must go see your homeland. There it's different
from here. Right in front of the village a stream flows, there are hills
behind, and it's so beautiful everywhere."
This is what the grandfather had said; he passed away
last year. It was at the time when the road with Korea was opening and
people were beginning to go back and forth.
Below the Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia are the
four countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. On
the high peaks of the Tien Shans, snow lies white even in the middle of
summer. People say that the sight is so beautiful. But my grandfather said
that the homeland is different from here. Since he said it is so beautiful,
I wonder what kind of place it can be.
As soon as I got home from school one day, I went outside
the city with the adults. Once you left the city, an endless plain began.
The group walked, gazing at the wild poppy flowers spread out like a Persian
carpet. Beyond the plain of wild poppy flowers in full bloom, there is
again a desert-like plain of camel grass that goes on endlessly. If you
go in that direction, they said the land is called Siberia. To be sure,
rather than beautiful, the Central Asian lands must be called fearful.
But what did we go to this place for, you ask? It was
to dig up potatoes. Because there was a wide field next to the plain and
after being dug up by the "turactoru" (tractor), there were still quite
a lot of potatoes remaining in the ground.
The people dug up a half bagful or more of potatoes each,
and though they complained of them being heavy, they carried pleasant expressions.
"This world is so threatening; what are we to do if our food also runs
out?" they asked.
"If you go that way, you come to Siberia; if you go on
further from there, the Far East; if you go that far, you've gone all the
way to your homeland..."
One woman sighed a deep sigh.
"Talk is easy. It's so far."
"Still, it should be easy for those kids to get there,"
the boy's mother said as she pointed to him. The boy too somehow wanted
to believe that.
"If you want to do that, you have to know the Koryo language
The boy's mother looked at him. As his father had already
told him this a number of times, he was well aware of what she meant. Even
to the boy, this seemed to be so true. If one goes to his homeland and
can't even speak the language, how can he call it his home?
So, while the adults are talking about something else,
the boy turns his head to the plains and opens his mouth as if whispering.
The other people, of course, can't hear this. However,
he was probably heard by the nearby blades of grass and insects. The boy
believes this. Even though the people behind him may not have heard him,
the things in the plain in front of him surely have.
The wild poppy flowers blooming full and red must have
heard him. The fresh, green camel grass must have heard him. The saksaul
trees used when roasting mutton, must have heard him. The desert rats under
the trees must have heard him. Even the huge magpies must have heard him.
Strangely, the boy felt his courage rise up. It seems
as if he sees before his eyes his true homeland of unbounded beauty.
The next day the boy went to Gorki Park that had a zoo
and playground. There he met a number of women cutting roses. The women
were carefully cutting the park roses and taking them to the market to
sell. So the once-beautiful park was quickly losing its attractiveness.
The father said, "If all the flower beds in this world
are spoiled, we'll have to leave here. Some people tramp on the flower
beds and next, others want to tramp on them.
The adults looked at each other as if thinking about
where to leave for. But they could not seem to reach a good solution. The
word "peoples" came out of the adults lips numerous times. And the name
"Soviet Union," and the names "Lenin" and "Stalin" came out from lips.
And again, the names "Russia," "Vladivostok" and "Sakhalin." But they said
that anywhere would now be difficult.
"So the only thing to do now is for us to learn to speak
our peoples' language well. There's nothing else to do," the father said
To the boy, these words seemed to aim at the heart like
the Uzbeks' swords.
As soon as school was out, the boy made hurried steps
toward the outskirts of the city. A loaf of bread was packed firmly in
Reaching the place where the icy waters running down
from the Tien Shans formed a river flowing toward the desert lake, the
boy turned his head to the east and stood. Further down that road was a
freshly-dug grave because his grandfather had requested that he be buried
to the east in order to be as close as possible to his homeland. But unlike
before, there was a field of wild poppies, spread out like a Persian carpet.
In the thickly-wooded forest of large firs instead of saksaul trees, magpies
as always were walking around nervously. There too wild cats were said
to be running about.
The boy looked toward the distant plains of Central Asia
absorbed in deep thought. And then toward those eastern plains he shouted.
"How are you! This is the language of our people!"
At this, the field of wild poppies first began to stir.
The wild cats of the forest perked their ears and looked up. Pushing off
the fir tree branches, the huge magpies flew. Over toward the plains, the
desert rats ran this way and that. A strong wind rose, heading for the
desert covered white with rock salt. From the Tien Shans the rumbling of
crumbling glaciers could be heard.
Once again the boy's words rang loudly.
"How are you! This is the language of our people!"
The citation is rather long, but there seemed to be no
other way to tell the story of the journey to the cypress tree. As mentioned
above, I made it explicit that it was because of this piece of writing
that I went to Central Asia. But, to provide a few more details, at that
time I was already planning a trip to Russia to gather information for
a project of sorts, and after considering that it would be all right to
take a side trip to Central Asia, that is what happened. I thought that
it would be good to meet the boy featured in the writing. I was also curious
as to what the relationship was between the boy and the writer Luda. While
realizing that I didn't know whether this was something that had actually
happened or just something that someone wished would happen, I still wondered.
The thought that perhaps the author Luda was the main character also remained
For this reason I left. However, being able to meet Luda
soon after my arrival there was not to be. That is why I am now gazing
at this single tree telling you this story.
Before telling the main story, I ask first for your understanding
in making a brief point in passing about using the simple expression "I
left," as the procedure leading up to boarding the airplane was so involved.
Since until not so long ago flights to other destinations
had to go through Moscow, it was rather fortunate that a direct flight
once a week had come into being. This was another reason for adding on
Central Asia to my trip. I heard that a private individual had somehow
rented a plane and was making the runs. For this reason, there was something
not quite normal in the procedures for issuing visas and purchasing tickets.
"You are now making plans to take a secret route" 式 that look seemed to
be hiding somewhere in these transactions.
Yes. There is the term, the so-called "open secret,"
but even though it may have applied here, it actually seemed like it would
be a good route to take. Consequently, there is not even an official airline
company handling passenger tickets. Having to ask and ask to find out where
to buy a ticket is no easy task. And even though you are told that you
will get a reciept when the payment is made, no form of official documentation
such as passenger coupons is placed in your hand even at the end. All that
really matters is whether you are able to board the plane. Regardless,
that huge airliner departs only once a week. There was a simple reason,
I found out. It was due to those bundle dealers that the airline was able
to make ends meet.
What was more baffling than anything else, however, was
that on the evening of the day before the departure date, I unexpectedly
received a telephone call informing me that because the incoming plane
had not arrived, it would not leave the next day. On asking what to do
next, the voice on the phone answered that there was nothing that could
be done except to wait to hear from the other end.
It would likely take a good half day to enumerate the
complications that arose after this, but in the end a whole week was skipped
and I was still barely able to depart. Because it took a week for the airplane
to arrive, I hardly need to mention all the commotion raised by the bundle
dealers. At Kimpo Airport, Russians, Kazakhs and Koreans alike lifted and
pushed bundles, yelled out shouts, and went at each other with poles, creating
a scene of utter chaos. They are called bundle dealers but their bundles
can not rightly be called bundles 式 they were huge items of freight. So,
while the airplane was actually a passenger plane, almost half of the seats
were shamefully filled with piles of cargo. And on top of nearly all being
chain smokers, the bodies of those middle-aged Russian women rolled in
fat. Someone even said that a good topic for study would be: what in the
world do Russian women eat that when they are young that they are so slender
but after they marry and get older they put on so much flesh? Indeed, covering
the seats with their bottoms and squeezing them in to sit down is even
difficult 式 those impossible Katyushas, those impossible Natashas, those
Though this is what the plane was like, the route the
plane flew made me realize that it was truly a new age. In former times,
these were impassable skies, that is, the Chinese airspace and the Mongolian
airspace we passed through. With not a speck of anything resembling the
green of vegetation in the solid grayish-brown of the vast and rugged Gobi
Desert, it was quite some time before one could look down and find a small
oasis in the far-off distance twinkling like a discarded pot shard. Five
hours out of Seoul, with the yellow waters of the Selenga River nearing,
the wheels of our rattling plane touched down at Ulan-Ude in Russia's Buryst
Autonomous Republic. There we took on fuel and again had three hours and
thirty minutes to fly. Our estimated time of arrival was the middle of
What I at first intended to describe as just "I left"
ended up being stretched out to this extent. Therefore, I must begin my
story from the time I arrived at Alma-Ata. But as soon as I set foot on
the Alma-Ata runway, I was suddenly overcome with the helpless feeling
of "why did I come here?" and with this, my story is interrupted. It was,
of course, my intention to find out about Luda as soon as I arrived. But
that was always nothing but a secondary concern. At any rate, since my
job was to gather information, I thought that if I did a little digging,
I could come up with an unexpected amount of material for stories. This
was all the more so because Central Asia was in the Islamic world. Even
so, I was somehow not quite sure of anything.
Why I suddenly felt this way, I don't know. Everyone
was busy trying to make a living, traveling back and forth on this difficult
plane, and in the midst of these circumstances with bundles being lugged
around, a man like me...... with a sense of emptiness, I just sank down
into my seat. If I really think about it, how much has that "man like me"
been harassed to this day by the storms of life and how ardently has he
struggled to survive? Didn't I once want to experience for myself the saying
that all legitimate trades are equally honorable; wasn't a job, no matter
how unfavorable, to be regarded as an object of envy? With no place to
lay this frail body of mine without coming under suspicion because it had
been my fate to be hounded from place to place by the authorities, I had
actually dreamed of being a sailor lying in the lower deck of a ship; I
had dreamed of becoming a night watchman and lying down in the back room
of a guardhouse; I had dreamed of becoming a waiter's assistant and lying
down on the barroom chairs; I had dreamed of being a garbage scavenger
and lying down in their common housing; I had even dreamed of becoming
a grave keeper and lying down beside a grave. While a man's dreams may
be limitlessly lofty, they may also be limitlessly humble.
It was this person who found himself deposited in a strange
city in Central Asia. But time passes and now, quite a long time after
avoiding my fate, I was for some reason asking myself if this were truly
a place where I could lie down without coming under suspicion. Being as
alone in the city as the city was strange, I would say that it was indeed
natural for me to ask such a question. The problem, however, was that the
question was being directed toward the me of Seoul. I didn't understand
it. My heart shuddered at the realization that I was asking myself such
a question. My period of such distress had clearly passed and I now had
a room of my own, a perfect space of my own.
That question and the sense of bewilderment that accompanied
it stayed with me all the time I was riding in the car into town with the
Korean Education Center staffer who had come out to meet me. Because the
"person in charge" whom I had called and asked to meet me could not come
in person due to some pressing business, the staffer who had come out was
doing his best to acquaint me with a variety of things concerning the present-day
situation in Central Asia that was facing me. As he was imparting this
information, we darted toward the hotel through streets lined thick with
trees arousing more fear than expected. Most of what he was telling me
I had already heard from the two Koreans sitting next to me coming in on
the plane. That the financial situation was more than a little troubled
and that as nationalism was gradually becoming stronger, the land that
our brethren were based on was gradually becoming smaller were things I
had also seen a number of times in the newspaper. A plan was being made
to move the Kazakh capital of Alma-Ata to another location; of the ninety
ethnic groups living in Central Asia, the only one to have no beggars was
that of our brethren; there were now about seventy Korean Christian missionaries
in Alma-Ata and the evangelistic rivalry between each of them was becoming
a problem 式 these were all things that I had heard on the plane.
But there was one thing that I had not known. Unlike
when I was on the plane coming from Seoul absent-mindedly listening to
what others were saying, I now realized for the first time that it was
not until now that I really had my own room, my own space. I had earlier
jokingly asked the "person in charge" to reserve me a cheap inn or some
such place because the only thing that mattered was that I had a place
where I could lay my body down.
"They say that when Jews move to a new place to live,
the first thing that they do is build a synagogue; our people build a school."
After talking about so many different things, he now
talked like a staffer from an educational institution. He added that even
though our people had been driven there in the face of death under Stalin's
forced relocation policy, unlike other peoples in the same situation, our
people lived comparatively well because of that very passion for education.
I learned from him that not only our people, but the Germans, the Jews,
the Kurds, the Chechens and others had been forcibly relocated at different
times prior to and after 1937. Though the time period was slightly different,
a movie I had recently seen, "Fiddler on the Roof," did a good job of depicting
the forced relocation of the Jews from Russia.
But now there is probably no one who feels shocked by
such a historical fact. Since the people who went there cried "Oh, 1937!"
in a singular voice, many years have already passed and we have turned
our eyes away. The year 1937 was indeed a calamitous one for our people
on Russian soil. It was the year that our people who had moved into the
Far East region centered around Vladivostok and who had been living under
gradually worsening conditions were abruptly ordered to be relocated in
Central Asia and were hauled there by train. However, the gruesome history
of migration had become known as much as it ever would and was now nothing
more than timeworn story. Granted, I had become aware of the fact, for
example, that in a house on one of the streets of Khabarovsk in Amurski
where the ethnic Korean revolutionary Kim Stankevich once lived, her beautiful
figure still hung engraved on a bronze plate. Moreover, the practice of
commenting this way or that on the huge cartwheel of history, the so-called
big talk, was not for me to do.
I was hoping to find its meaning, no matter how small
or negligible it was. This was not because I believed that "It is the small
things that are beautiful." Far from it 式 according to the teachings of
philosophy, these words were a fallacy. This was because all things were
not beautiful because they were small; nor were they beautiful because
they were large. This was also true of people. Things were beautiful because
they were beautiful. Beauty was something for which there was no suitable
absolute criterion for verification. After finishing school I became more
conformist, and when asked which side I was on, I said such things as "From
one lily I can see the glory of God" or "From one lotus I can see the providence
of the universe." Just as the saying that small things were beautiful was
a fallacy, the thought that large things were good was likewise fallacious.
A saying is only a saying because it has been said. Supposing that this
cartwheel is huge, where is there a cartwheel as huge as the solar system?
Where is there a cartwheel as huge as the galaxy; or to go one step further,
where is there a cartwheel as huge as the universe? I had become a person
who refuted things in this manner.
Meaning "river of seven forks" and in Kazakh called the
Djetisu Hotel, this was a place which charged fifty dollars or more for
one night. Regardless of whether I knew what the place was like, I thought
it was expensive. It turned out that there was no choice for me but to
pay the fifty dollars "or more." The staffer said as if murmuring to himself
that there was a thirty-dollar hotel just up from the education center
which seemed to be a medium-priced hotel in Alma-Ata. But he had not mentioned
the thirty-dollar place until after we had finally managed to get a room
and I was about to pull my money out of my pocket. The "person in charge"
seemed to have taken the "place to lay my body down" or the "inn" that
I had mentioned as empty words.
"Because your flight arrived so late and the restaurants
are all closed for the night, I brought you a few bread rolls. Try to make
it on this until tomorrow morning. And bolt the door securely and lock
it, and don't open it for anyone. It's dangerous."
The man from the education center said a few more words
to emphasize the danger, left behind some others about getting in touch
with me the next day, and departed. According to what he said, it was not
as bad as Russia, but the security was terrible. To make matters worse,
from the continuing civil war in the neighboring country of Tajikistan,
refugees were flooding in and the turmoil was becoming serious. The situation
was one in which the newspapers were full of reports of people throwing
themselves out of apartment buildings because they had nothing to eat;
such things as this were to be expected. Following the collapse of the
Soviet Union, the region's dangerous security state had become widely known
through the newspapers and television. Because I was left there alone,
my body, for some reason, felt as if it were shrinking.
As soon as the staffer departed, I was left alone in
my own room. It was the first time in a long while that I had been able
to cut all ties with the outside and be alone. In this sense, the warning
not to open the door for anyone was rather welcome. After thinking about
it, it occurred to me that more than for any other purpose I had ventured
there solely to be alone in that room. It occurred to me that for this
I had crossed the Chinese mainland, crossed the Mongolian plateau and crossed
Lake Baykal, leaving behind far-off Seoul. Unbeknownst to anyone, there
was hidden happiness in that room.
Only a short time had passed before I realized that I
had not asked him anything that I had wanted to. I had hesitated, thinking
"what if he is the 'person in charge'?" and that is how things ended up.
I had questions about Luda. I had hesitated to ask where this Luda, whose
writing had been shown to me not so long before, now was, and with that,
the opportunity slipped by. I was not able to give the requested comments
nor was I able to make the requested presentation. And these were requests
that had been made several months before. Therefore, I considered letting
the matter pass without mentioning it. And that too would have been all
With the passage of time, however, I leaned heavily toward
thinking that I definitely should have asked. The boy learning his mother
tongue 式 that image hung vaguely before my eyes. I visualized the image
of the boy along with the steppe of wild poppies in full bloom that I had
associated with it the first time I read the piece. I also remembered I
had thought that "wild poppies" should have been "field poppies" to be
a more proper expression, regardless of whether the "person in charge"
had touched it up, or whatever. That steppe too I had wanted to see. As
fall had already set in, I would not be able to view the plain of "field
poppies" at their best.
Lying on the bed on my back, I recalled the newspaper
article on Uzbekistan and its situation that was carried at the time President
Kim Young Sam visited that country last summer on his return from Russia.
With independence there, the Uzbeks insisted on using their people's language
instead of Russian which they had been using until then. And for our people,
who had not anticipated that language would ever in their lifetime be used
and who, therefore, saw no need in learning it, there was no choice but
for them to be helplessly removed from their jobs. Under the banner of
Soviet socialism following Lenin's revolution, language and script had
been unified into one in the Russian mold, and now caught under this unexpected
turn of the cartwheel of history were our people. I was filled with the
strange feeling that once when we had no choice but to learn Japanese in
the motherland, they at the same time had to learn Russian. The more I
thought about it, the more vivid the image of the boy learning his mother
tongue became. I just had to meet Luda.
As I have stated above, it is not too much to say that
Central Asia was no more than a side trip on my travel plans for Russia.
But I had to see the museums and other places of special interest. While
abandoned there, I wanted to see an Islamic gravesite memorial service.
India erected the most beautiful architectural structure in the world during
the period of the Mogul Empire 式 the Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum
built by the emperor as the resting place for his departed empress. Outrageous
as it was, the phrase "To the last drop of blood for Allah" written on
the front of the sepulcher of Iran's revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini also
came to mind. However, a tomb with notoriety of this type could not become
the focus of my interest. I wanted to see a public cemetery more than anything
I had wanted to meet Luda, but there was no chance for
those words to leave my lips the next morning. An unexpected phone call
came from the education center telling me that as transportation had fortunately
just become available, they were sending it to the hotel and all but insisted
that I take a trip to Ushtobe. The word "insisted" is misleading. After
apologizing as he had done before for being too busy, the "person in charge"
explained that he had made inquiries a few days earlier about arranging
transportation because he thought that this was something I just had to
see. The person going in the car was a teacher at the Ushtobe Korean School
and he would take me to a restaurant.
Ushtobe is the place where our people first arrived in
that year 1937 when they were forcibly moved to Central Asia. The Korean
School there was being operated under the sponsorship of people in Kwangju.
It was surprising that Central Asia and Korea were building relations to
such an extent so quickly. But I did not have the slightest desire to see
all the places there of such a nature. It would not have mattered to me
if we had somehow just passed it by. I was not prepared to see and deal
with such historical vestiges. I say again that I was intending to just
pass briefly through Central Asia. But it would be less than truthful to
say that my curiosity was not aroused by the fact that there was a Korean
School there. Most importantly, I could not help but do as they suggested
because of the restaurant. When the telephone rang, I had been biting off
unaccompanied mouthfuls of the dry bread the education center staffer had
left with me the night before.
As I have said, at the very beginning I did not feel
that it was imperative that I meet Luda. That writing being sent to me,
too, was a unilateral action. But the night before when I was so strongly
gripped by the feeling that I was alone in my own space, I promised myself
to realize the meeting. I had to meet this person, I promised to myself.
Without meeting the boy who had gone out alone on the plains of Central
Asia, who faced the field poppies and the desert rats and shouted "How
are you!" in our language, then who was there to meet? I must belatedly
confess that the night before when sleep was about to set in, I had felt
the outrageous thought that that boy could possibly be me, or that he most
likely was me, passing through my head as if it were a dream in a light
sleep. I then fell into a very deep sleep.
"People seeing the Russian script for the first time,
often read that as 'peck-toe-pah.' They say that there is actually an association
by that name in Japan. It's supposedly an association of people who had
come when traveling to Russia was difficult."
The Korean teacher, for whom more than one year had so
quickly passed since he had come with support from Kwangju, pointed to
the letters "PecTopaH" in front of a restaurant. That was the Russian for
"restaurant." Since the Russian script is different from other Western
scripts, it is naturally difficult to read. But that difference can be
easily learned by making a few simple modifications in reading. Later,
however, when the opportunity arose and I went to the Lermontov Theater,
I couldn't help but cock my head when I heard "Hamlet" as "Gamlet." This
was just one of many examples of how the first letter with an "h" sound
in the West took on a "g" sound. For instance, humanism = gumanism, heroine
= geroine, Himalaya = Gimalay, Hitler = Gitler, Hermann Hesse = Germann
Gesse, hamburger = gambulugi, and so on and so forth.
After finishing a meal of the Russian-style won ton soup
pelmeni, ham and bread, tomatoes and vegetable juice, we 式 the Korean
School teacher, our driver and myself 式 bought a bottle of German-made
Nicholas II vodka and headed the car in the direction of the vast plain
before us covered with snow-powder-like salt that momentarily seemed to
Though I had been told it would take a full day to get
there and back even rushing as we were, I had not hesitated the least bit
at any time prior to escaping from the city. But that was only after being
reluctantly treated to a meal. I had no alternative but to put off the
meeting with Luda till later.
There is no way for me to explain hearing about Luda
only a short while after setting off for Ushtobe except to say that it
was actually quite coincidental. It was natural for me not to have given
a thought to asking the Korean School teacher about Luda. There were more
than a hundred thousand ethnic Koreans living in Kazakhstan alone. But
it would be less than the truth to say that I was going all the way to
Ushtobe that morning without thinking that I could somehow learn something
about Luda. As it turned out, the Korean teacher knew of Luda.
As soon as we had put the city behind us and faced the
distant plains, the reason for drawing field poppies in my head could have
been nothing other than because of that writing of Luda's. Where could
the place be where those flowers could bloom like a Persian carpet? Turning
my head in all directions, I saw nothing but parched earth.
"Field poppies...I mean wild poppies. Where do a lot
of them bloom?" I could not help but ask.
"I don't know what kind of poppies they are, but from
spring through summer the flowers bloom over the entire plain. The petals
are wide like small hollyhocks. You should see them."
The Korean teacher pointed outside with his hand but
to nowhere in particular. However, the only thing to be seen in the landscape
outside was a bare autumn plain. My eyes, nevertheless, seemed to see the
image of a boy come out onto that plain and shout "How are you!" It was
not simply to look at the distinct scenery that I repeatedly turned my
head to examine different parts of the plain. It was at one such interval
that I muttered something to the teacher about Luda, about Luda's writing,
as if in passing.
"They say that there was a boy who came out into a field
like that and shouted in Korean when the field poppies were in bloom. He
shouted 'How are you?' I'll have to shout once when the field poppies bloom."
What I had said could have been just a bunch of fiction.
It was, therefore, anything but important to me. More significantly, in
my mind I was drawing flowers in full bloom on that desolate wilderness.
The only reason I said what I had was because of the scene that I had drawn.
At this, the teacher quickly turned his head toward me.
"Oh, a girl named Luda wrote something like that and
won a prize for it here. It was in the Koryo Daily. Her hometown is Ushtobe,
too. Did you read it?"
I was surprised at what he said. Whether the piece had
been carried in the local Korean newspaper, the Koryo Daily, or whether
the fact that she had won an award was carried in the paper was not clear,
but in any case, that he knew about Luda was pleasantly surprising to me.
I let out a short exclamation, "Ah!"
In this way, I came a step closer to Luda. What I must
admit here, however, is that at the time I was listening to the teacher
speak, I discovered the fact that Luda was not a male but a female. I was
more surprised at this fact than that he knew about Luda. The exclamation
that I had let out was, therefore, all the greater. Since the main character
in the writing was a boy, I had naturally thought of Luda as also being
male. That I had belatedly discovered that this was a misconception due
to nothing other than my pitiful stupidity. Simply put, Luda was short
for Ludmila, and Ludmila is used only as a feminine name. One may be able
to come up with all kinds of excuses, but in this so-called age of internationalization,
or globalization, such a thing can be nothing less than a face-reddening
shame. To give a few examples of "belatedly discovered" familiar names,
there is Agasha for Agafya, Borya for Boris, Lala for Klara, Nadya for
Nadejda, Katyusha for Yekaterina, Sveta for Svetlana, and so on. Indeed,
I have to admit that in my youth when I first read the poetry of Rainer
Maria Rilke I had thought that he was a female. But what concern is it
of mine whether Luda was a male or a female? I was to find out later that
it was by a mistake on her end that her familiar name had somehow been
attached to her writing.
Be that as it may, Luda was a female. According to a
friend of her older brother who lived in Ushtobe, he was not sure if it
was to Kyrgyzstan or to Tajikistan but he said the word was that she had
gone with her brother to somewhere in that direction.
If you continued driving on the road that went to Ushtobe,
it would take you all the way to Sakhalin. I was also being told that over
the ridge of the well-known Tien Shan Mountains jutting out into the distant
plain on the right was China. The Tien Shan's greatness was not due only
to their magestic appearance seen in the distance over the boundless steppes.
On their large and small peaks, snow and ice accumulate and slowly melt,
forming streams that form rivers that flow to the plain below. It was this
waterline that fed it life; in it were the life-giving forces of nature
and concordance. That is why the water of the desert and steppe below is
clear, cool and sweet. The teacher said that here lay the reason why Alma-Ata
had become the republic's capital, though it was just one city located
in a corner of Kazakhstan, which comprised one-eighth of the land area
of the expansive territory of the former Soviet Union.
As the sun rose to its zenith, over the great plains,
a lake unexpectedly appeared between the dark red hills of the earth. This
was Lake Kapchagay, which means "white sands." The waters of the tributaries
of the Ili River flowing from the north wind around through the precipitous
ravines of the Tien Shan range, gather here, and then flow into the huge
Lake Balkhash. In the early fall, the icy waters are warmed by the morning
sunbeams to burn off the thick fog. Rather than "beautiful," "divine" came
to mind at the bank of the lake with its strong winds blowing. The teacher
assured me that the city was on the other side of the water.
We pass another stream and a small town on our way to
Ushtobe. At the market set up along the roadside, beef, mutton and vegetables
are sold. After buying a bag of sunflower and pumpkin seeds next to the
thick smoke and strong smell of the roasting mutton skewers, we again set
out into the desert of only sparse camel grass. The masters of this vast
desert plain since long ago were nomads. When the Mongols invaded the area,
these nomads asked the Russian emperor for help and the since ther, belonged
to Russia until recently. But the names of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane are
still prominent in the history of this land. Historical remains from Genghis
Khan in the plateau region, however, are limited to a few earthen monuments
式 the present masters, as in days of old, are none other than the nomads.
There is the nomad man sitting high on his horse driving a herd of hundreds
of sheep; and there is the nomad boy, with his dog at the head, driving
a herd of cattle and blocking the asphalt highway. And in the plains where
there is not a single human shadow, a nomad cemetery occasionally appears
like a village of humanity. Here too, small domes shaped like Islamic mosques
stand at the tombs of the wealthy.
Ushtobe, along with Tashkent, Kzyl-Orda and a few other
areas, was where the first Koreans migrated to in 1937. Now, after the
passing of half a century and though many have moved to different places,
I was told that 8,500 or so have put down their roots in Ushtobe. The first
few people thrown into this land faced an approaching winter. They hurriedly
dug holes in the ground and covered them with reeds and mud to fight off
the bitter cold. Here and there the remains of these holes could still
On the trains that brought them for nearly a month, there
was considerable death; on the barren land that they were thrown out on,
there was considerable death; and since the first generation of migration,
a history of four generations has already evolved.
At the old remains that we went to with Han Pyotr and
Pak Nikolai, I wanted to ask how anyone could have possibly lived there,
for there solemnly rest the scars of an unfortunate history. And right
there at that spot, in a way different from that of the nomads, the grave
mounds of our people began to occupy space, saying "I am the master of
this land," and as the new village that was being created was like a village
of the living, for quite some time, while my thoughts on life and death
and history were bound together in my mind, I could not help standing there
motionless, as if I had committed a crime or something of the sort.
As soon as we arrived in Ushtobe, the Korean teacher
contacted the friend of Luda's brother and we benefitted by being invited
to a restaurant at lunchtime. Her brother's friend looked to be in his
early thirties and went by the name of Mikhail. Pointlessly worrying that
it may look as though I had sought out this place for the express purpose
of meeting Luda, it seems I dealt with him somewhat more crassly than I
had with other ethnic Koreans. According to him, it had already been a
few months or so since the girl's family, who lived in Alma-Ata, had gone
"'My brother's going into business.' That's why she said
they were leaving."
Hearing Mikhail's words, the Korean teacher smiled saying
that people here call standing along the road selling a loaf of bread or
a hat "business."
"Kyrgyzstan..." I was going to bring up the Flying Horse,
but did not.
The extent of my knowledge of this country was that it
was couched in the Tien Shan range and that it was known as the home of
the Flying Horse of long ago which could cover a thousand ri, or about
4,000 kilometers, in a day. That horse ran so fiercely that it sweat out
blood-like sweat, so it was also called the Blood-sweating Horse. But because
that was only something out of the annals of the past, I judged it to not
be appropriate to mention at such a place.
"In Kyrgyzstan, the large lake called Issyk-Kul is well
known. It is at the foot of the Tien Shan peaks which are covered with
snow all year round. During the days of the Soviet Union too, it was well
known as a resort area. The people here say that at lake bottom Issyk-Kul
is connected with Lake Baykal. And the fact is, they're a few thousand
ri apart. I haven't been able to go see it myself yet."
Teaching was part of the reason but, as if to substantiate
his words, the Korean teacher said that he had volunteered to come to learn
more about Central Asia because of his interest in the area.
"That's right. Vitaly also said that he was going into
business near the lake there. Vitaly, that's Luda's brother," Mikhail added.
And we were informed that though Luda had tried hard
to find a husband, among her people, things had not worked out. Without
having to pry for specifics, it was sufficiently conveyed that this was
considered to be a very important matter. In addition, it was said that
she once went so far as to try to go to Korea, but that had not worked
out either. For some reason I felt as if I had done something wrong. The
lines that she had written 式 "How are you! This is the language of our
people!" 式 suddenly entered my mind and were imprinted upon it.
I remembered that before coming I, too, had looked at
a map and my gaze had dwelled upon that lake. Not only upon that lake,
there was also Lake Balkash situated in about the center of Kazakhstan.
But they had been pushed aside by the mighty Baykal, the lake boasting
the deepest water depth in the world, and their existence had soon dimmed.
I thought to myself that some day I must be sure to go there; that is all
I thought about lakes.
From here, however, events began turning down a road
other than the one planned. Upon close examination, I must say that "from
here" in fact cannot but be quite vague. The reason is that for talk of
"Kyrgyzstan" to transpire, Luda had to first be there. However, I cannot
but again say "from here." From that time I had the feeling in my head
that something that had vaguely directed my fancy toward the Central Asia
region was putting order into my life. I suddenly realized that there were
tangible words that were responsible for clearly gathering together my
vague perceptions. If this were so, what on earth were these words that
have me talking so pompously as this?
All right. Without any further ado, they were "Flying
Horse" and "lakes."
First, Flying Horse. I remembered that sometime back,
when the silk road story was being televised, that land and its people
had also been presented. Now the Flying Horse remains only as a legendary
story, but the film of that report ended suggesting that the manifestations
of the legend could be discerned in the horses of that land. Hence, it
would have been of no use to talk about a story such as that to the people
beside me; due to my concern that the conversation would be superficial
and become weighty, I didn't even mention the subject there. But suddenly
the urge arose to go there, if only to confirm those manifestations with
my own eyes. Due to my so-called "spur-of-the-moment" character, there
was a flickering moment even in this were it seemed as if my miserable
life which had so often been driven into absurd corners was about to continue.
Me being far removed from riding horses and horseracing, why suddenly this
concern for manifestations of the Flying Horse?
The lakes, however, were different 式 especially Lake
Baykal. Because I had seen everyone who had been there foaming at the mouth
with excitement, when I first made my travel plans, I racked my brains
to find some way or other to work it in, but I could not find the right
key and had to give up on the place. Going to Russia's Baykal from Central
Asia was also quite difficult. Therefore, I had to settle for quenching
my thirst by looking down at the outer edge of one part of the lake from
the airplane. However, the Central Asian lake that is groundlessly said
to have its bottom connected with that of Lake Baykal entered the picture.
In any case, isn't it true that it actually is located at the foot of the
Tien Shans and covered year round with snow?
"The people here say that sunken at the bottom of the
lake, there's an ancient city 式 that's what they say," said Mikhail as
I was showing interest in the lake.
Mikhail was a rarity. He had already been to Korea at
the invitation of the Education Center for Ethnic Koreans Abroad in Seoul's
Tongsung-dong and was using Korean in such a precise manner. I could not
help but take increased interest in his speech.
"At the bottom of the lake..."
Taking a sip of the canned beer that came with the soft
drinks, I drew that distant lake in my mind. According to Mikhail, the
"Issyk" of "Issyk-Kul" meant "hot" in the Kirghiz language, "Kul" was "lake."
Also, Issyk-Kul's water was fresh on top and saltwater underneath. If compared
with Lake Balkash, the two lakes differed from each other here in that
Lake Balkash was freshwater on one side and saltwater on the other. And
he even mentioned the novel "White Ship" written by the Kazakh novelist
Aitmatov. It is a story about a boy who had come to live with his grandfather
by the lakeside when his parents were going through a divorce, and as he
watched the white ship sail away, he dreamed that he turned into a huge
fish and followed the ship. While listening to Mikhail speak, I was also
allowing a novel that I had read in high school, "Immen Lake" written by
the German novelist Storm, to come to mind.
"The white ship..." A mysterious and a beautiful spectacle
excited my mind.
While this was transpiring, I cautiously asked to neither
the Korean teacher nor Mikhail in particular if it were not possible to
go see the place. Nothing that Mikhail was telling us was in any way lacking
in arousing my feelings toward the lake even more.
But then according to Mikhail, although it was not that
far from Alma-Ata to the lake as the crow flies, it was actually quite
a distance because the Tien Shan range blocked the way and you had to go
all the way around to the southwest where a pass cut through the hills.
"I really wish I could go there... Isn't there some way?"
Glancing back and forth at the Korean teacher and Mikhail, I practically
After seeming to think over what I had asked for quite
a while, Mikhail finally suggested that the two of us go together, taking
advantage of this opportunity to also look up Vitaly. He said we could
look for a way to get there once we got back to Alma-Ata. It was like this,
without really intending for it to be so, that my venture toward the lake
What I gained from the trip to Ushtobe was more that
just a little. Irregardless of the importance of other things, I had seen
the tombs of our brethren, and I had seen the remains of those reed dugouts
sunk into the desert plains on which they had been cast in that year of
1937 to put down the horrid roots of their new lives. I also saw the Korean
school that recently opened there. But what made my heart leap more than
anything else was the anticipation of a whole new world 式 being able to
go to the lake deep in the mountains.
According to Mikhail who had said he would inquire about
finding a way to get there, by asking about his friend Stanislav's car,
it had not been the least bit difficult. Stanislav's family name was Lee,
and while he made a living driving, he wrote poetry in the side. So the
three of us left Alma-Ata at a little past noon driving his Djiguli Lada,
the most popular passenger car in that region.
Earlier, when I first checked into my fifty-dollar hotel
room, I said that I had tasted the delightful pleasure of having my own
space. And now again, when the car was suddenly speeding through the center
of the wide-open steppe 式 I don't know the reason why that same feeling
resurfaced. Even though they could be called brethren, the fact was I was
going to an unfamiliar place with people who were in no way connected with
me 式 in other words, it seemed to be a feeling of relief gained from private
travel. I was rolling around the unseemly word "happiness" inside. The
mysterious lands of the deep mountains of Central Asia had given me a space
of my own like a room of my own. It was as if I was going inside to hide.
Once again, even though it is called a good half-day trip, in it there
were so many episodes. First of all, Mikhail had only been to Bishkek once
on a group tour ten years before, and this being Stanislav's first trip,
the fact that he knew nothing about how to get to the lake was a problem.
With only a simple map and road signs to aid us, we could only drive on.
We even bought a copy of "Caravan" along the road, the major daily newspaper
in Kazakhstan, and it seemed as though we were just like a caravan, only
without camels to ride 式 just like a desert cavalcade.
It may sound easy, but depending solely on road signs
was anything but easy. Unlike areas such as the Middle East, the Far East
or Eastern Europe, Central Asia is a region beyond imagination in its vastness.
With a branch of the Tien Shans to our left, we merely sped along at an
average speed of 100 kilometers per hour in the center of a steppe covered
entirely with short and scanty grasses. As to seasons, even though it was
"Lady Summer" of early fall according to the Koreans there, the steppe
was nothing but yellow grasses. This was the so-called "silk road of the
steppes." At times, herds of horses, flocks of sheep and herds of camels
formed and were seen walking to some unknown destination down that steppe
Just as the name implies, a steppe or grassland, is nothing
but a field of grass; trees hardly grow there. Even though I say "grow,"
only on rare occasions could one or two small mangey shrubs be seen standing.
And on a truly rare occasion, a few trees formed a nice little grove. Among
these, most common was the Karagach, a kind of elm. It had deep roots and
was said to absorb water quite efficiently. Next, there was the djuda,
similar to the jujube tree. To discover how good a tree it really is, there
is probably no better way than to go to the rare place that it grows. It
was truly a rare tree. For this reason, instead of describing everything
about that "good half day" car trip in excessive detail, I will mention
specifically a few places where there were trees.
Befitting one who writes poetry, Stanislav knew many
different things about trees which helped me in many ways. When we were
on the vast, bare steppe and it would have been awkward to expose ourselves
to take a leak, it was just in the nick of time that we spotted a few trees,
stopped the car, and attended our business. It was then that he said "Haven't
you got any of these trees in Korea?" and became my tree teacher by telling
me about the deep red fruit of the djuda trees that could be picked and
Because the city of Alma-Ata is virtually an oasis itself
with the melting waters from the perpetually snow-covered Tien Shans, the
trees lining its streets are more luxuriantly verdant than those of any
city in Korea. But once you leave the city, the landscape becomes completely
different. The places with cultivated trees standing in rows along the
road are also temporary; both sides are just flat plains. Causing me to
sometimes wonder if they had been hauled in from somewhere, the rough,
disfigured saksaul trees, used for skewers when roasting mutton, were fascinating
式 even when their old stumps were seen loaded on a passing truck. Saksaul
is a tree especially well suited to Central Asia's salty soil and desert
About an hour and a half out of Alma-Ata, the road curves
to the left and runs on. It is not too much later, while crossing over
Kuridai Pass, that you unexpectedly come across poplars shaped just like
the ones in Korea. Here and there the poplar trees sour straight up to
the sky. But besides these, there are only a few short scrub trees and
swaying eulalias, which quickly pass out of sight. Soon even the grass
of the plateau of Central Asia gives way to barren land. Crossing over
Kuridai Pass meant passing over a branching ridge of the Tien Shans. It
is composed entirely of an assorted heap of pointed, broken rock.
I could not help recollecting the days when I had listened
to Borodin's "In the Steppes of Central Asia." A number of years before
that, when Park Chung Hee's May 16th revolution took place, my father's
being a feared "revolution prosecutor" seemed to verify anew the old saying
that "what goes around, comes around" by my father himself being put in
prison. It was right after my first love had fallen to pieces. Though the
music's Eastern rhythm was sad, it contained a bit of sweetness which consoled
my double pain. At that juncture, I quit school and everything else, determined
to be on my own. Harboring great ambitions indeed, I had gone around looking
for a room. Ambitious dreams are childish dreams. Whether it was because
of that girl or not, I am not sure, but in the autumn that she left me
it had been unusually difficult to breathe. And after that, no matter how
much older I became, just when that time of year rolled around, it had
become difficult to breathe for no apparent reason.
While crossing over Kuridai Pass, it suddenly came to
me that it was that confounded season again and before I knew it my face
had lost its color. Though it was not such a high pass, I began feeling
difficulty in breathing. The thought ran through my mind that on the last
day of one's life, it must be due to something being wrong with one's body
that breathing becomes difficult.
I hope you will not fault me as being too foolish for
cocking my ear while carrying that thought because it seemed as though
I would be able to hear Borodin's tune or the like coming from somewhere.
What I did hear coming from that place was only the bleak sound of the
wind. But I knew that sound of the wind could have also been the very rhythm
of "In the Steppes of Central Asia." A few karagach trees stood on the
plateau where the horse hoofs of the cavalries of many peoples 式 the Mongols,
the Tatars, the Turks and of others 式 had galloped and, strangely, wearily
retreated. Borodin, who is said to have had some Tatar blood, had probably
also heard the sound of the wind brushing by the karagach trees. Even after
crossing over the pass, the border was far off. The best information that
we had was to travel in the direction opposite that leading to the capital
of Bishkek once we entered Kyrgyz territory. Neither Mikhail nor Stanislav
knew what Bishkek meant. The capital had recently reverted back to its
old name with the breakup of the Soviet Union at which time it had gone
by Frunze, the name of one of Lenin's cabinet generals.
Four hours or so had passed. We passed the last Kazakh
village of Georgievka and before long entered into Kyrgyz territory. As
we had been told, at the turnoff to Bishkek we turned left. To check our
directions, we bought two watermelons from a roadside fruitseller for fifty
tenge and put them in the car. The shift in currency from the ruble to
the tenge spoke of changes in the world.
I say this only because the subject of money has come
up, but it had not been very long since each republic had begun making
its own money, we had to deal with some completely unexpected difficulties.
The reason we could buy watermelons with tenge was because the place was
near the border. At the service station we had spotted and stopped at a
little further down the road, we found out that we could not get any fuel
with tenge. It was just another country's useless money. Kyrgyzstan's monetary
unit was called the som. Whether tenge or som, to me they were both strange-sounding
"That's some other country's. Some other country's.'
He says, 'Bring me som," Mikhail said a bit bitterly. He said that during
the Soviet era, sister republics could not ignore one another, and that
he did not know how things could have changed so quickly. That too, he
thought, was surprising.
Since we could not use tenge, I wondered if we might
not be able to use dollars, but being in a remote corner of the countryside,
that was also difficult. Even though we still had fuel, we felt fortunate
to have spotted the service station before it was too late. We were a hare's
breath away from not being able to move at all. Without any other choice,
we decided to try to make it to the next service station and moved the
car forward with troubled hearts.
Didn't I say, however, that I would talk about the trip
mainly by talking about trees? Regardless of how the fuel problem turned
out, if you turned your gaze to outside the window, the land of Kyrgyzstan,
unlike that of Kazakhstan, had a deep green hue. Palisades stood to either
side, the Kunkei Ala Tau mountain range to the north and the Tersuski Ala
Tau range to the south, cozily enclosing the great plain like a folding
screen. This area was indeed a true steppe. Compared with the desolate
landscape up until then, it would not be too strong of an expression to
call it a paradise. Unlike the mountains without a single tree, the forests
with poplars and willows grew quite thick and even the grasses were fresh-looking.
Put in other words, the entire plain was an oasis. On closer inspection,
there was also a stream of clear water running right beside the road.
"It's the 'Gangt' River."
Looking at the sign that Mikhail was pointing to with
his finger, I could see the letters "KaHT" Because he had pronounced it
"gangt," I felt very strangely about Kant's name. Kant... It was at the
time I was reading that German philosopher that I met a girl preparing
to retake the college entrance exam, and our eyes became interested in
the attractions of the body. My father had been released from jail and,
to pass his ten-year suspension of rights, was raising hogs in Pongchon-dong.
The philosopher had been so strictly disciplined that
to tell the time, it was more exact to watch for him to come out for his
stroll than to look at a clock. I remember that in "The Critique of Pure
Reason" Kant says that man is endowed with reason from birth, but I am
not positive my memory serves my right. "Acumen" and "innate," even difficult
terms like these employed by the Japanese, I learned at that time. In my
subconscious was the desire to change "The Critique of Pure Reason" to
"The Critique of Pure Passion" (homonymic in Korean). Could it have been
due to meeting that girl with whom I would go up the dark hill behind the
school and spend hours of mutual sucking and feeling? At times I had even
Whether "Kant" or "Gangt," it was this little river that
formed the lifeline of the entire plain and spread green over the steppe.
Among the willows, Stanislav pointed to the weeping willows ("hanging willows"
in Korean) and told me that figuratively they were also referred to as
"tear-shedding willows." The long, drooping branches were the tears. As
an exaggeration it was a somewhat distinctive one. In a village of humanity,
emerging after such a long absence from behind those weeping willows, construction
was well underway in erecting a house of worship, striking in that it was
a characteristic Islamic mosque. This was also one of the things that fell
into the category of representative changes that were recently occurring
in Central Asia. It was the revival of religion.
What I most attentively watched after entering Kyrgyzstan
were the horses passing by the side of the road. Though I make no attempt
now to ascertain it, it would seem more accurate to say that I was observing
the legacy of the Flying Horse. Many people passed on horseback. Riding
horses and driving herds of horses or flocks of sheep, riding horses and
traveling in groups, or riding a horse alone and going to the foot of the
mountains 式 in any case, the sight of horses being ridden was quite common.
And even from a quick glance, it is not an overstatement to say that those
horses were tall, sharp and fleet steeds. Though it is said that the Flying
Horse has vanished, I was overcome by the thought that I was beholding
the Flying Horse.
The further the car drove on, the smaller the vast plain
gradually became, with the mountain ranges on either side eventually running
into each other to form a narrow ravine. At the service station that we
barely managed to spot at the entrance of the ravine, we could get no fuel
式 we were only able to find out that if we went forty kilometers further,
we would arrive at our destination.
We had no choice other than to drive our car into the
ravine. Now there was almost no talk between us. It can be said that until
then, facing only a monotonous landscape outside, we had been speaking
to each other almost without stopping for anything. With hills continuing
uninterruptedly and a few karagach and djuda trees as the center of attraction,
our trip had been quite lackluster. We had talked about the peoples of
the Soviet Union, about the government of each republic, about President
Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, about the first-ever National Foundation Day
ceremony sponsored by the Korean Embassy that had recently been held, about
the singer of Korean decent, Viktor Choi, who had died so young.....we
had shared our thoughts as they had come to us. It was Stanislav, however,
who had done the greater part of the talking.
Once this friend was going around with this Tatar girl,
you see. Well, we were really surprised. The reason why, you see, was because
Tatar women beat their husbands, you see..... There's this ethnic group
called the Chukchas. This wife sleeps with the Russian next door at night
and returns home, you see. Well, the Chukcha husband was asked who the
biggest fool in the world was, you see. To this the Chukcha man replied,
"The Russian next door." Ha, ha, ha, ha..... Think about why he said this.....
When company comes, the Kyrgyz boil a sheep's head and serve it. Then the
guest first cuts off the ears and gives them to the host. There's almost
nothing on them to eat, you see.....
The ha-ha-ha talk that we had shared like this had disappeared,
and as I have said, our lips were now shut tight. The mountains on either
side steepened and the ravine narrowed, so much so that once you entered
it was considered difficult to come out again. On the left, the gorge dug
in deeper. Down there the upper waters of the Chu River were said to flow,
but down where the river water is supposed to flow was beyond my range
of vision. The mountain was formed of soil and crumbly stone, and while
it seemed that falling rocks would rain down on us at any moment, our car
traveled alone up the road through the pass darkening in the dusk. The
saying "The remains of the roads (of the ancient Chinese warring nation)
of Ch'ok" came to mind; "A scene from (the ancient Chinese fanciful novel)
'Soyugi'" also came to mind. Every now and then the placing of a carved
deer or eagle figure along the ravine road looked rather like a road marker
directing one to some haunted place.
Our foremost worry was what would happen if our fuel
were to run out, stranding us in the middle of the Tien Shans, not being
able to come or go. No one had to ask to know that we were running on "empty."
In addition, all that we had had in the line of food was a few cans of
beer and some peanut snacks. It had become clear that the fine dinner we
had planned to eat by the lakeside after four or five hours of steady driving
was now only wishful thinking. We were getting hungry. Instead of that
fine dinner, all we had at the moment to eat were two watermelons. On top
of that, the temperature was becoming unseasonally chilly for autumn. From
just a feeling, one could sense that we were at a fairly high altitude.
I had pointlessly gotten caught up in the senseless fantasy of lakes and
white boats and whatnot and suddenly hated myself for it.
I wonder how much time passed.
At sometime or other, the uphill road had turned into
flat country; in the darkness the outline of trees stirred vaguely. Even
so, there was a faint light in the sky, maybe it was starlight or something,
in the background. And soon the glimmer of an electric light was shining
from between the trees.
"A3C [ah-jeh-ess]," Stanislav said in a low voice as
if to emphasize something, but he said it with force. It was there that
I first found out that "A3C" was a service station. The curtains were pulled
on a window of the building, but through the wire mesh that also covered
it, it appeared as though someone was still there. I remained sitting in
the car; the other two went up to the window. Though I was watching from
somewhat of a distance, it did not seem as if things were going well. The
woman holding up the corner of the curtain and looking out was continually
shaking her head. As we were to find out later, the reason she would not
take dollars was because she did not have a device to sort out counterfeit
bills. Suddenly we were being taken for counterfeiters hiding out in the
back country of Central Asia. At this we could produce only hollow laughter.
But we did learn that the lake was now not so far away, that there was
no place to sleep right beside the lake, and that consequently we would
have to stay the night in the nearby village of Palukcha. I still wonder
what thoughts I had had that made me shout to myself that here was a village
of humanity, as I looked at the vague stir of the trees in the darkness.
What we heard at the service station in the end had the
effect of helping us achieve our objective. When we were exhausted and
momentarily at a loss as to what to do, another Djiguli, as its name suggests,
came djiguling up beside us and stopped. While "rumble" is in the dictionary,
it is not as though I do not know that "djigul" is not. I just wanted to
use this expression and couldn't help myself. We thought that the car was
in the same situation as we were. But the man in the driver's seat came
up to us and asked if we needed any fuel. It is not necessary to say how
delighted we were to follow him. After turning the corner on the other
side of the road, we were able to put in one can of fuel for ten dollars.
Palukcha was the Kirgiz name of the village; its Russian
name was Lubachia. From the way Mikhail, who had made sure of the village's
name from the fuel seller, proclaimed "Ah, here. Lubachia, it's here" as
if it were some great discovery, I got the feeling that this village had
some connection with Luda and her family. Though quite a lot of talk was
exchanged during the time the car was driving in to the village, I was
surprised that for some reason there was no talk of Luda or her brother.
Though my connection may have been minimal, the other two were both Luda's
For the ethnic Korean of Central Asia to leave the place
he had lived in and become attached to was nothing out of the ordinary.
Here, leaving should not be thought of as being comparable to our moving
from one rented room to another. Leaving is often to a distant place, perhaps
so far away that the person will never be seen again. Granted that there
are quite a number of people who leave from the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent
for the Far East Russian cities of Vladivostok, Ussuriysk and other areas,
this is to a far-off land thousands of kilometers away. Therefore, leaving
indeed takes on the meaning of having to find a way to stay alive.
That there are a lot of people leaving is considered
as being a reliable indication that there are just as many other people
on the verge of leaving. When it comes to countries with different peoples,
in those countries where nationalism is strong, there is nothing for the
people living there to do but to try even harder. Nobody could be sure
that some misfortune such as that of 1937 would not repeat itself. In actuality,
society was in disorder, and at any time living became even more difficult,
it became a life-threatening situation. This was the reason for my asking
if Kyrgyzstan was safer. They both concurred in saying that the people
there were even more headstrong..... It seemed that the reason why my two
travel companions did not come out and talk about Luda and her family has
to be understood from this perspective.....
"Since it's getting late, I'll contact Vitaly tomorrow.
The telephone's another family's. We've arrived in Lubachia," Mikhail said
looking at his watch.
It was already past eight o'clock. After calling out
"Kastinicha, chai?" a few times to people passing by to ask where a hotel
was, we finally arrived at one. It wasn't just any old hotel. All the outside
lights were on except one; in that light the letters "AKKyy" could be seem.
When I asked what it meant, Mikhail explained that the "ahk" meant white
and the "koo" meant bird. It was written in a book that this white bird
flew to the lake. The white bird? It was the swan.
After parking the car across the street from the hotel,
Mikhail and Stanislav told me to wait there alone for a moment and walked
off. It was because the hotel would ask a lot of money without rhyme or
reason if there were a foreigner along. I got out of the car and, while
pacing back and forth, breathed in the smell of the lake water; from the
tip of my nose I breathed in the pungent smell of that water which melts
from ice and flows down from the mountain ravines. Even though it may have
been some other smell, that is what I wanted to believe it was. And a longing
for the outside world and its concrete representation as a white ship were
beginning to occupy my thoughts.
Getting two rooms for thirty-three dollars was due entirely
to Mikhail and Stanislav's efforts. For foreigners the hotel would have
asked more than twice that amount. Under strict orders to keep my lips
sealed all the way to the room, I walked down the dark hallway like a deaf-mute
carrying one of the watermelons. The fact that one country's language may
in some situations be dangerous or even forbidden strangely impressed itself
upon my mind. That one country's language was Korean. In the Japanese colonial
period, there was also a time when we were forced to use Japanese instead
of Korean..... While walking down the pitch-dark hallway with lips sealed,
my whole body seemed to shudder.
In any case, we had secured a room to stay in for the
night. Another problem, however, was awaiting us. That was the fact that
at this hour the hotel restaurant was already closed and there was no place
in the area to buy anything to eat. Whether it was an elegant meal or not
did not matter 式 just getting something to eat was the important thing.
It is true that we had gotten our rooms cheap, but in reality the hotel
was conspicuously empty. There were only a few employees, male and female,
gathered in a corridor room chatting with each other. Except for them,
it seemed almost completely empty.
I was told that during the Soviet era this area had been
known throughout the Soviet Union as a resort area equal to Yalta on the
shore of the Black Sea. Consequently, there must have been a lot of vacationers
flocking in at that time. Though I call them vacationers, they should not
be associated with people with time and money. Vacations were something
for people who had systematically been given approval. However, following
the collapse of the Soviet Union and the system, in a time when making
a living was difficult, the vacation business was the wrong line of work
to be in. It therefore seemed that the restaurant was closed not only at
this hour, but at any hour. I could no longer say that my stomach hurt
from hunger pangs; it hurt from a burning pain. I was in a fix. No matter
how hard I searched for a solution, it was in vain. Helplessly, we gathered
in one room, blaming ourselves for not having bought even one loaf of bread
from the women standing in a row along the road with a loaf of bread in
each hand doing "business." There was no choice but to divide up the watermelons
to relieve our hunger.
Though it was already weather that required heating,
there was no heating devise in the room. In the toilet, there was no bathtub.
There was this thing about a meter square and five centimeters deep with
an enamel base propped up on bricks, but I do not know if it was for pouring
water over yourself or what. Waiting for the water to come out warm was
also a waste of time. After eating the watermelons in the shivering cold
of a room that was getting colder, the other two went to the other room.
I could only feel sorry for myself and laugh a bitter laugh as I wondered
why I had ever come to a place like this to have an absurd supper of watermelon
and restlessly trapse the floor.
If I had intended to run away and hide, this would have
been the truly perfect place to come to. The room was difficult to find,
too. Finally, I had come to a place that no one was aware of. I did not
know why, but I was thinking that this place would even be hard for the
Korean law enforcement authorities to find, even if they poured all their
efforts into it. I was now a law-abiding Korean subject. Even if the police
with their cellular phones were to question me, I would have no worry with
my authentic citizen's registration card. My time for running away and
hiding was the long-past October Reforms period of the early 1970s. But
I was still being hounded by that ghost. While at the same time experiencing
a sense of increased freedom and the futility of having all ties severed,
I laid my body down on the shabby bed with my clothes still on. As I was
falling asleep, I seemed to console myself by thinking that it would be
comforting if I could see a white swan and a white ship.
I met Vitaly the next morning as soon as I woke up. I
saw him standing behind Mikhail while I was rubbing my eyes after being
awakened by a knock at the door. Around dawn, I had gotten up to go to
the bathroom and then went back to bed. I must have fallen straight into
a long and deep sleep because the room was now so bright. Mikhail said
that he had gotten in touch with Vitaly as soon as the sun had come up.
We then shook hands.
"I have to get something to eat first. Even seeing the
Kumgang Mountains..." In my distraction I was going to quote the saying
"Even seeing the Kumgang Mountains can wait till after eating." But it
was not so appropriate for them. After going through the motions of washing
up, I followed them out. I wanted to ask what had become of Luda but thought
I may be asking too quickly. Indeed, everything could "wait till after
Then, as I casually raised my eyes, I saw it. It was
dazzling. In the distance, appearing differently from the day before, was
a majestic and imposing mountain of dark blue blocking the view, soaring
high into the sky. What dazzled my eyes was the white snow covering the
top of the mountain. I was aware that in this area there were towering
mountain peaks covered with snow all year round. But seeing them in person
was something completely different. It was a feeling of cool, white and
pure energy being transmitted into my mind. And I was thankful to the others,
who knew that I was staring at the snow-covered mountain in awe, for waiting
for me before getting into the car.
We had a difficult time finding a restaurant. It seemed
that there were unbelievably few restaurants around for a resort area,
and they opened late. It was now time for what would be considered brunch
in Korea and even Vitaly spent quite a bit of time sticking his head in
this place and that searching for a place to eat. Finally, it was Stanislav
who was first to discover a place whose signboard read "cafe." Sure enough,
in front of the place stood an iron stove with a fire of saksaul firewood
being kindled, signaling that they were preparing to roast shashlik, that
is, mutton skewers.
"Skaska, old stories. Or you could say children's stories,"
Mikhail said reading the sign "CKa3Ka" and explaining it to me. From "children's
stories" I assumed that he was referring to "folk tales." We ordered a
few skewers of shashlik and went inside. Because it was a cafe, I thought
it might be somewhat different from a restaurant, but in short, the meal
was perfect for me at that time. I still vividly recall the food set on
that table. Yellowish byelashi bread baked with minced mutton in it, thick
and savory cabbage and tomato soup, shashlik that was not tough, clear
lemon juice, plain dark bread eaten with butter spread on it, and the area's
speciality 式 a rather sour-tasting apple wine.
For some reason, Vitaly seemed guarded toward me, though
I did understand well enough that if you met someone for the first time,
even an ethnic brother, in a foreign land, he could not help but be a foreigner.
The three of them were enthusiastic in their talk on views they held in
common. I wondered if the greatest influence that remained of the seventy
years of the nation set up by Lenin and known as the Soviet Union was not
communism but the teaching of the Russian language and its script to the
nation's fifteen republics and more than 150 ethnic groups. This I thought
as I listened to them speaking in their Russian. Saying da for "yes," and
nyet for "no" 式 that was the language. Pronouncing "H" as "n," "P" as
a trilled "r," "X" as "h" 式 that was the script.
Though I could not understand their Russian, I could
figure out what they were talking about. In short, it was the problem of
how to survive in that society. Now anywhere in the four nations of Central
Asia, advancing in the world of officialdom is an impossibility without,
not Russian, but that particular nation's traditional language. It was
natural for the leading ethnic group in a nation to give preference to
the language of that nation. Therefore, others could only be squeezed out.
What could be done? There was no alternative.
When the Soviet Union fell apart, ethnic groups were
taken into the fold by the fatherlands of their peoples, by nations like
Germany and Israel. But what about that strange country of the Far East,
Koreya? Although half a century has already passed since the Japanese withdrew
and a number of years have passed since the Soviet Union crumbled, haven't
the northern and southern halves been torn apart and continually engaged
in a senseless war of attrition? Far from being taken in, for the ethnic
Korean wanting to go to the fatherland there was the letter of invitation,
the visa and unparalleled difficulty at every turn.
"You mean 'Let's go to Issykol'?"
We finished drinking our tea and left the "Folk Tale"
Cafe that Vitaly had led us to. Everything was working out well. But I
was thinking that there was no reason for us to go without seeing Luda
and it was becoming harder to hide the anxiety raising my head. After seeing
the lake, we had nothing to do. I really worried that we might leave without
seeing Luda. From the beginning, the reason for coming this long distance
was for me to see the lake and for Mikhail to see his friend. Luda was
only an added attraction. But even granting that, I could not help feeling
anxious at the thought of coming this far and going back empty. The more
I thought this way, the more I wanted to make sure I met her.
When the car began to move, I indirectly had these thoughts
passed on by asking Mikhail in a low voice if Luda were somewhere far away
so that Vitaly, sitting in the front seat, would not hear. How Mikhail
conveyed what I had said to Vitaly I do not know. When Vitaly heard this
and turned to look at me, I nodded to him that that was right. At this
he nodded back to me indicating that he understood. We both nodded the
same way, but I could not be sure that we had nodded at the same thing.
The road to the lake seemed to be leading to a single
designated spot. After driving a way down the deserted road lined with
trees, the road curved to the left and in front of us there suddenly appeared
an amusement park full of all kinds of rides. The merry-go-round, the ferris
wheel, the minature train and the other things painted yellow, red and
blue 式 even when seen from a distance, it appeared from the rust in spots
that they had not been used in quite some time and that they had clearly
been neglected. From its size we could tell that the amusement was not
intended for the people of the village. The renowned resort had certainly
been a renowned resort.
At the entrance of the amusement park, two iron gates,
hung on columns with tops like those of a mosque, were tightly secured
with a metal lock. There was no other road nearby leading to the shore
of the lake. After we ran around in confusion for a while, a woman, wearing
a scarf on her head tied in the back as is the custom in Central Asia,
walked out of a house off to the side that looked like that of the custodian.
She asked us our business and explained that no one was permitted to open
the gate, but after practically begging, we just barely managed to gain
permission to go inside.
We went across the vacant amusement park. I held the
absurd notion that I should be able to hear the sounds of the people who
had come and enjoyed themselves in the not-too-distant past.. But the chain
that turned the merry-go-round was off its gear and lying out on the rotating
floor just the way it had snapped. In the vortex of the transition period,
in today's urgency for survival, I knew that an amusement park was nothing
less than an extravagance. In order to get food to eat, there were people
cutting and selling the roses in the park. And it was not just roses in
the park. There had been a former police official who had stolen a few
potatoes from someone's house and ended up committing suicide when discovered.
"We've come to the lake."
It is not clear if I looked at the lake on hearing Mikhail
or whether he spoke at the moment I looked at the lake. I looked out over
the vast, blue waters. In the distance, a mountain peak was reflecting
upon that blue water. The actual mountain peak and its reflection fused
together forming a single world. Rumors that there was a village submerged
in the lake seemed to be accurate. Though the reflecting of the landscape
on the other side over all the water was a simple principle, I looked at
it from a completely different perspective. I had never before seen the
reflecting of such high, snow-covered mountains upon such an expansive
lake. I regret to say, however, that I saw no white bird and no white ship.
Here I present an overdue summary of the lake from an encyclopedia entry
and go on:
This lake, called Rehai in Chinese, has a surface area
of 6,200 sq. km., an average depth of 279 meters, and a maximum depth of
702 meters, with water surface at an altitude of 1,609 meters. Though it
has many entering tributaries, it has no outlets. Except for at its narrowest
parts, the lake does not freeze over even in the dead of winter. Salt concentration
is about 5.8 percent and quantities of fish such as dace and carp are caught.
The lake not only provides arable land to the surrounding plain with an
oasis spreading out over it, except to the south, it also has an amusement
It is truly a vast and a deep lake. I may be making the
other side sound near, but that was only part of the one end. From there
it went on and on, so far that the other end could not be seen. I did not
know if there was a white ship floating on its way or not beyond my view
on the other side.
Where the amusement park came to an end, there was a
not-particularly-high stone fence partitioning off the park from the shore
of the lake. We jumped over the stone fence and walked through a dry thicket
to the water of the lake. Unlike at the amusement park, here cool, refreshing
air showered the entire body. From where the yellowish-brown thicket ended,
the commencing waters of the lake grew progressively darker the further
they went until they turned into a deep navy blue at the other side. Even
though I said that it is not believed that the water at the bottom of the
lake is connected to that of Lake Baykal thousands of kilometers away,
and even though I did not see any white bird or white ship, the lake's
deep navy blue hue left no doubt that it was treasuring some profound secret.
A small wave was being pushed in to the lake shore. I
put my hand into its water. Its name may mean "warm lake," but its water
is quite cold.
"They say that if you throw a coin like this one out
into the lake, it will return."
Mikhail took out some change and held out one of the
coins to show to me. I, in turn, fumbled in my pocket and somehow my hand
pulled out a hundred-won coin. We threw the coins out into the lake. We
had finished what we had set out to do. Then we took turns taking pictures
of each other and turned our backs to the lake.
That was it. It would have been nice if we had brought
along something to eat, but we had nothing. For all the world, I did not
see how others would be able to understand why we had rushed so hard to
get there and then be ready to go back after standing there no more than
a few minutes. It did not even sound right to say as an excuse that my
purpose was just going there in itself, or something like that. If I had
had my own way, I would have stayed there alone for a few hours and contemplated
a number of things. I needed time to ask myself the reason why I had put
so much effort into rushing to this place, leaving all my problems piled
up in Seoul. But still, it was I who made my way back through the dry thicket
ahead of the others.
Besides this, I was preoccupied with the thought that
I had not attained the goal I had gone there and worked so hard for. To
be sure, a view of the pass darkening in the dusk. The saying "The remains
of the roads (of the lake such as the one we had was superb. On the way,
hadn't I seen the horses, lake such as the one we had was superb. On the
way, hadn't I seen the horses, and at the lake, hadn't I even dipped my
hand into the water? There was, in fact, no other purpose. Nevertheless,
this feeling of unfulfillment was real. I felt that I could not pry open
the secret, whatever it was, of why the lake had called me to it.
What could it be? As if to check, I turned around and
looked back at the lake a number of times. The lake was located at a place
more than 1600 meters above sea level. It was, I had heard, second only
to Lake Titicaca in South America in size and depth. Because I had set
my mind on seeing the lake, I had hurried past the karagach trees and the
djuda trees and the poplars and the willows as if they were mileage markers
式 and at last, I saw it. But...
There was no way to shake the "but" that stuck in my
head like an albatross. To detach that bird, I actually shook my head.
It was then. Looking at the amuzement park's stone fence,
I saw that there was a towering tree of some sort standing there. I did
not know why it had not caught my eye when I went in. No 式 if that tree
had been standing there alone, I most likely would have passed right by.
So, I had not seen just the tree 式 I had seen it and a woman standing
beside it. Her youthful and bright face was being concealed by the shade
of the tree.
"Luda!" Mikhail shouted.
We crossed over the stone fence and directed our steps
to under the tree. After they had exchanged a few words with each other,
I was introduced.
"How are you?
"Two clear eyes looked at me. Momentarily, I could not
but be struck by the distinctiveness of her Korean. It was the first distinctive
Korean that I had heard in Central Asia. And following these words, I could
distinctively feel that they were being accompanied by the inaudible words
"This is the language of our people."
"Ah, how are you?"
He had unconsciously repeated what she had said. With
that, I became wrapped up in indescribable emotions, not understanding
why that simple greeting's deep ring had caused my entire body to quiver.
The fields of field poppy flowers stirred, the wild cats of the forest
perked up their ears, pushing off the fir tree branches, the huge magpies
flew. The desert rats ran this way and that, and the sight of the strong
wind rising up over the desert covered white with rock salt repeatedly
came in and faded out of view. From the Tien Shans, I even thought I could
hear the rumbling of crumbling glaciers.
I looked across the lake at the snow-covered Tien Shans.
That unfulfilled feeling of "but" seemed to disappear just as snow melts
away with Luda's "How are you?" I had become aware that the Tien Shans
across the way were giving new meaning to "How are you?" for me.
The tree whose shade Luda had been standing in was a
"cypuriss" in Russian, that is, a cypress. Stanislav explained to me that
the cypress did not originally grow in Central Asia and that you had to
go somewhere like Georgia to find many. Possibly in the amusement park's
prosperous times, the tree could have been planted as some kind of commemoration.
On the day I met Luda, the time we had to speak to each
other could not but be short. We had to get back to Alma-Ata in a short
while, and there was no special reason for me to spend a lot of time with
her. However, I was more moved then than I had ever been.
There was a young lady under a Kyrgyzstan cypress tree
who gave entirely a new meaning to "How are you?" in the language of our
people. Even in the car on the way back, that picture remained in my mind
the whole time. Also, when I had looked at the lake from under the tree,
the perpetually white, snow-capped pe e reflecting on the water were etched
upon my eyes. And then, upon the realization that this was clearly another
manifestation of the white ship, under my breath I slowly repeated "How...are...you?"
Translated by David E. Shaffer, who is Professor of
English at Chosun University.