Ch'oe Yun, born in 1953, is a writer of formidable intellect
and stylistic versatility. In real life Professor of French Literature
Ch'oe Hyon-mu of Sogang University, she utilizes many of the modern fictional
techniques in her writing, such as mixing fantasy with reality, parallel
time structure, multiple versions of an episode, and so forth. Her novella,
"Yonder a Flower is Quietly Fading," is rated as one of the finest stories
depicting the devastation wrought by the Kwangju massacre, which was carried
out by the military strongman Chun Doo Hwan in 1980 to tighten his grip
on power by showing that any resistance against his rule would be ruthlessly
dealt with. Like Kim Yong-hyon, she belongs to the generation of college
students whose days were spent in the oppressive shadow of military rule.
"The Soiled Snowman" looks ironically at the "heroes" produced by the resistance
movement. The hero was a true hero while he put his life on the line to
fight injustice, but he becomes corrupted by popular success and acclaim.
Ch'oe, thus, exposes the germ of self-deception latent in all men. Another
theme Ch'oe frequently explores is the national legacy. Most often it is
the legacy of the ideological struggle that led to the division of the
country and the Korean War, but sometimes it is also an older and a more
traditional legacy-the ethical, intellectual and artistic heritage of the
Korean ancestors. Ch'oe shows that though modern Koreans seem to have traveled
far from their past, there is really no escaping from their national heritage
and that they have to find meaningful and constructive ways of embracing
"The Flower with Thirteen Fragrances" (1995) is a fable
of modern times. The fairy-tale atmosphere of the story belies its serious
message and satirical intent. A lonely youth and girl find each other and
give birth to the modest-looking flower with thirteen different kinds of
fragrances as the fruit of their union. The flower, having powerful medicinal
properties on top of ineffable fragrances, becomes a national craze for
a time, but man's greed for money and fame kills the flower and drives
its creators out of their territory and eventually to take their own lives.
This jeu d'esprit should make Ch'oe Yun accessible to all readers who may
hitherto have found her work overly intellectual and difficult.
The Flower with Thirteen Fragrances
1. A Phone Call to the North Pole
It was one day late in the winter of his twentieth year.
Bai had been trying his hand at a variety of miscellaneous jobs in Seoul
after finishing high school in his hometown. Once he tried selling dogs
after he got to know a breeder of the indigenous Korean Chindo dog. Having
learned to drive a truck from his uncle, he had had temporary jobs with
several moving companies. Life was pretty tough then, but before too long
he got a chance to set himself up in a small business of his own. It might
have been a piece of good luck, but it might have been the reverse, too.
His uncle, who had left his hometown many years ago and
secured a footing in the metropolis after a hard struggle, died suddenly
one day. Although only six years older than Bai, his uncle had been a kind
protector and friend to Bai who had no one to help him in Seoul. So, Bai
inherited his uncle's small delivery truck. The dead man's passionate hope
was to be an airplane pilot. He had worked in an auto repair shop for several
years until he had saved up enough money to buy himself a truck and set
himself up as a small-scale mover. As a way of attaining his dream, he
spent endless hours taking apart and putting together auto parts. Bai had
explained to him countless times repairing cars and flying airplanes are
quite different, but to no avail. Uncle's dream was to be a combat pilot,
but he never managed to save enough money to enroll in a pilot training
school. Besides, there had been no war since he reached an age to be able
to fly an airplane. Hoping his nephew would become a shining pilot in his
place, he had financed Bai's education up to high school out of his meager
earnings. And whenever he succeeded in making a strange gadget out of old
auto parts, he proudly showed it to Bai. Most of them were no more than
mere toys which had no practical use.
"Do you know what's a pilot? It's not the brand name
of a fountainpen, mind you," Uncle would say to Bai from time to time.
Then Bai would respond, hoping to make him give up the dream, "You have
to be born in the right place to be a combat pilot. Like America, for instance.
It is fighting a war in one country or another all the time. You can't
be a fighter pilot unless you're born in the right place."
Uncle's last wish was for Bai to inherit his entire fortune,
but on condition that Bai would not bury him. So, Bai cremated his uncle
and scattered his ashes on the creek in their hometown. Then he inherited
his uncle's truck and bits and pieces of miscellany, which included several
maps, a few pairs of binoculars and a dozen compasses. Bai wasn't sure
how they were supposed to help his uncle achieve his dream, but he didn't
throw any of them away, and he always took the least old of the compasses
with him on his moving and delivery jobs. Most of his routes, however,
were familiar to him, so he never really needed the compass. Sometimes,
though, when he had to drive on a deserted country road he would stop the
truck and check the compass.
"Well, I'm headed north by northwest," he would say with
an air of satisfaction.
He had decided to continue the moving and delivery business
partly out of his need to earn his living but also out of deference to
his uncle who had spent the best years of his life as a truck driver. Bai's
dream was to live on the North Pole. For a while he rented a small room
in the suburb owned by a one-time customer of his and worked for a freight
company. On the days when there was no work, he stayed home repairing appliances
or the house. His uncle's truck always served him well and never gave him
He passed his evenings absent-mindedly watching programs
on the second-hand television set which had only two channels, or playing
tapes of popular songs on the worn-out cassette player which worked when
he gave it a few light kicks, and singing along with the singers. Sometimes
he examined the makeshift appliances his uncle had left him. Because he
suffered from a rather severe case of insomnia, he sometimes drove around
the highways at night to induce sleep. His insomnia produced fantasies
which grew wilder and wilder and chased his sleep clean away. He fantasized
about inventing a gadget that would enable people to exchange the thoughts
in their hearts over a long distance without articulating them, or a ball-point
pen that, if connected to your ear, would transcribe the thoughts in your
brain. From them he moved on to visions of travelling all over the world
to explain the use of the ball-point pen, which had created a worldwide
sensation. He pictured himself explaining its uses in many different languages
without any difficulty and smiling modestly to the crowd of fervent admirers.
It was often past midnight when he woke up from such wild dreams. He knew
it was just a harmless pastime of a lonely youth, but he thought his dreams
were far less fantastic than his uncle's.
In the evenings he sometimes recalled the faces that
had left an impression on him and the girls who had made his heart beat
faster at one time or another. For lack of more interesting things to do,
he tried to remember the girls in his classes who were scattered far and
wide, working in beauty parlors, factories and supermarkets.
One very cold winter morning he ironed and put on his
only suit and threw a red muffler around his neck to brighten up his black
suit. Strutting like a preposterously vain turkey he once saw in a zoo,
he stalked the streets of Seoul all day long. With his frozen hands stuck
in his pockets, he looked like one who was looking for a miracle or on
his way to sign a very important contract. He quickened his steps, as if
the miraculous chance that was within his grasp would vanish if he tarried,
even if momentarily. But no miracle happened to him. Nothing happened,
and no one appeared, to ease his unspeakable loneliness.
With hands pushed deep in his pockets, he observed young
people vigorously walking the winter streets, bright smiles on their faces.
They looked about twenty, like himself, but they were so full of energy
that he imagined that even their breaths would smell fragrant. He could
not believe that they were his contemporaries. Returning home in the early
evening, he took out one of his uncle's maps and hung it on the wall. Then,
leaning on his folded bedding and sipping beer, which was the only luxury
he could afford in his life, he gazed at the map. Thus began his dream
of the North Pole. When he felt bored with life he took the map down from
the wall to read aloud the difficult names of the cities. Ulan Bator, Vladivostok,
Sierra Leone.... But the place that excited his imagination the most was
the North Pole. Ellsmere, Eta, Tulle, Reykjavik.... Across the vast frozen
plains of the North Pole are scattered villages consisting of a few households....
In this way he began his slow approach to the North Pole.
Every night he walked on the plains of the North Pole
alone. Lights seemed to shine from afar, but they always receded when he
drew near. He was breathless and felt so cold that his blood seemed to
have frozen in his veins. If I don't reach that light, I'm going to fall
down on this floor of ice and freeze to death, he murmured, all the while
straining to put one frozen foot forward at a time. I'll find a kind- hearted
Eskimo girl and marry her, he thought. We'll have a faithful reindeer and
sleigh dogs, and we'll have a baby in time. When the baby grows up, I'll
take him out hunting. The march on the polar plains taxed his strength
to the utmost, and he woke up just as he was on the threshold of death.
Do I have to go all the way to the North Pole to have
such a simple dream? he thought as he woke up, rubbing the soles of his
feet which itched as if they really had been frostbitten in the North Pole.
But, as soon as he fell asleep again, he was once more on the vast Polar
plains, where there was neither noise, gravity, pain nor sorrow.
One day, while he was again walking on the North Pole,
a telephone rang. The ringing of the phone rippled through the North Pole.
There can't be phones on the icy plains of the North Pole, he thought and
walked on, murmuring, how clean the air is here, and it's so quiet that
this might be the Ice Age. A house appeared in the middle of the frozen
plains, and he walked inside. The phone was ringing in that house. He picked
up the receiver, which felt cold in his hands, and heard a strange and
muddled sound from the other end of the line. Then, he heard a delicate
sigh, which seemed to be coming from quite close by. He waited, for more
than five slow minutes by the polar clock. Then the phone went dead.
The North Pole woman didn't speak. But she called the
next day and the day after. When he picked up the phone, the same voice
said hello, then waited. If he stopped talking for a while, the woman also
Bai continued to work during the day as before. The metropolis
was full of people moving from one place to another and leaving old houses
for new ones. So, he received phone calls almost every morning. One day
he moved several dozen oil drums; another day old cabinets and a sewing
machine; on a third he took care of an evicted woman's pots and pans, and
so on. Sometimes he would answer a summons and find that the moving plan
was cancelled because the lease or purchase contract was broken. There
were days, too, when he had no work.
As yet he knew very little about the North Pole. He had
only seen a few photos, and he had watched a documentary about the life
of an Eskimo couple on television a long time ago. All the same, he always
fell asleep thinking of the North Pole. There was an Eskimo youth by the
name of Baihagitu. He was on his way back from a long trip. He didn't even
remember when it was that he had left for his journey on a fishing raft.
He had planned to come back with lots of fish and fur, but the raft snagged
on a reef so he barely escaped death. He even passed a whole season among
sea tigers which spent their winters in the blizzard. With icicles hanging
from his beard, he broke the ice with his teeth, and once even helped a
female sea tiger give birth to a litter on an iceberg. Many changes took
place on the North Pole in the meantime. He had left his igloo as a lad
of sixteen, and now he was a young man. Checking his compass, he walked
and walked towards his village, but it didn't appear. He walked on and
on, because he would freeze to death if he stopped walking. It went on
for no one knows how long. One white night, he met on the frozen plain
a woman dragging an old and ridiculous-looking sleigh.
2. Green Hands
I'll jump in front of the next car for sure, she whispered
to herself in the middle of the night from the dark side of the woods beside
the highway. It had taken her a few hours to reach this spot on foot after
making up her mind to jump in front of a passing car. She crouched down
behind a bush around a bend, which seemed to her an ideal spot for carrying
out her purpose. The bush contained a pine tree, whose needles tickled
her cheeks and made her laugh as she crept under it. The light from the
sparse pale lamps along the highway seeped faintly into the bush and reached
even to where she was squatting. She had already let pass quite a number
of cars. Shivering in the chill of the early spring night, she whispered
to herself again, "I won't jump in front of just any old car." That seemed
to give her limp body a little bit of strength. From where she sat she
could see far down the road. She could choose the car she liked; then she
could take her time to dash out in front of it. She did not keep count
of the number of cars she let pass, because she felt as if counting each
passing car would make her fall deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit.
I'm not afraid, she told herself for the thousandth time that night. Once,
she panicked when something jumped out at her out of the darkness. But
it was only a wild cat. And once she tripped over a stone and fell. Such
small incidents frightened her.
But I won't jump in front of just any car! she repeated
to herself and bit her underlip. Her underlip was unusually full, as she
had bit it often in her childhood, trying to endure her numerous sorrows.
She felt chilly. Trying to rally her spirit by singing a childhood song
she used to sing in her hometown, she waited for the right car.
Her hometown was deep in a high mountain. She had neither
parents nor siblings. She only had an ancient grandmother, who looked old
from the very first time she saw her. She didn't know how she was born,
why she spent her first twelve years in her hometown, and why she had drifted
from her hometown to a small town, then to a city, and then to the capital.
Each transition brought fresh unhappiness. She had been thrown out of every
single job she had and just now was on her way back to her hometown. Because
so many things had happened to her in a short space of time, she could
not remember all of them. She always thought of her brain as a small and
rather seedy box, somewhat like the colored cookie box which a distant
relative of hers who had come to visit her grandmother at one time had
given her. A worn and rather soiled box whose lid didn't close because
it was crammed to overflowing with strings, dried leaves, pebbles, and
the like. She had several keys to the box of her brain, but she always
misplaced them and couldn't find any when she needed them.
Deciding that she couldn't face her grandmother as a
failure, she had got off the bus bound for her hometown. She remembered
the whirlwind that shook her when she decided to take her own life. Of
course she didn't understand herself why she must die. She was only sixteen.
To the sixteen-year- old girl, death seemed like a sweet fairy, one that
comes to you to help solve your difficult and knotty problems. She had
been talking with the fairy for a long time now. The first time was when
she was thrown out of the house she had been working as a maid for a trivial
mistake. But she couldn't tell anyone that she was going to die because
the fairy had advised her to. Everybody would laugh, as they usually did
at her words. Everybody? But really, there was no one she could assign
to that pronoun. Anyway, because she was going to die that night, nobody
would be able to ask her why she took her own life.
She recalled her life of the past few years, like one
remembering a sad dawn spent in a chilly mountain. She recalled the little
girl she was looking after in the first household where she worked as a
maid. On that day, she followed the child around all day long, singing
along with her a children's song about the zucchini coming to visit the
cucumbers and lamenting her weight, and the apple coming to visit chilly
peppers and screaming about their spicy hotness. It was not her fault that
the child died, but her employer gave her a beating and threw her out.
She escaped, clutching only the pot of gardenia she had been growing on
the terrace. It was not entirely because Green Hands gave the gardenia
a strong mixture that its fragrance was so strong. The girl was only four
years old and had heart trouble. Green Hands knew that the young couple
threw her out because their grief at losing their child was unbearable.
She was thrown out of many more houses after that. And
every time for reasons she couldn't understand. One time the son of the
house broke down the door of her room to rush in and order her out. Another
time the head of the family got drunk and beat her up. In the process the
gardenia she kept with her all the time died. Then she got work in a nursery
farm. That was a happy time for her. But she was thrown out again, because
she cut off all the wires that were strangling the young pines, maples,
boxwoods and cone pines and gave them plenty of water. After that, she
worked at many hothouses and nurseries but was thrown out of every one
One more car passed. But she shook her head. No, not
that one. The medium-sized truck had glaring headlights like the eyes of
a drunken man and rushed past the bush with an explosive sound. The gust
raised by the truck shook the bush. Then the highway was silent once again.
She thought, I suppose my flesh will tear and my bones
will break, and touched her plump wrist in the sleeve of her worn overcoat.
And she felt her rough and thick hands, which her grandmother called "Green
Hands," because they grew plump grains and fruits even from burnt or stony
fields. Her neighbors also called her Green Hands. The herb man, who stayed
overnight in her grandmother's house one time, was amazed by how well she
could tell spots where medicinal herbs grew. He also called her Green Hands.
She was called Green Hands on the farm where she worked through the recommendation
of the herb man. But nobody in the city called her Green Hands. In the
city she was called Miss O, in the style people use to call young women
whose proper names they don't want to bother remembering. So, now nobody
called her Green Hands any more.
She touched her bosom with both hands. They had begun
to ache periodically. She thought she wanted to die before her breasts
matured. She couldn't stand to think of becoming a woman in her circumstances.
She had never been happy or gay ever since she left her hometown. Her flesh
felt smooth and bouncy in the darkness. That surprised her. She wept a
little thinking that her flesh would be torn and crushed under the automobile
tires. She had an illusion that someone was calling her "Green Hands!"
Was it her grandmother? Or one of her neighbors? She brushed away her tears
and listened. But it was only the low wind sweeping the earth in the distance.
She heard one more car approach. Lighting up the road
with its high beam, the car dashed up. She raised herself a little and
looked at the rather modest-looking car. For some reason, hot tears ran
down her cheeks. Because she recalled how her grandmother looked on the
day she left her hometown. Was she still alive? And what about my few neighbors
in that high mountain village? Were they still there, or have they all
left? On the morning she left her hometown, she saw her grandmother asleep,
curled up like a shrimp. Grandmother didn't seem to have sensed that Green
Hands had decided to leave. In their life together Grandmother made her
draw water the first thing in the morning. Then they would work in the
field and eat lunch together. When she got far away from her hometown and
looked back to see that the mountains were not the familiar ones of her
village any more, she had flopped down on the road. When she opened her
bag to take out the rice balls to eat, she found the rice cake and money
that her grandmother had put in. Though she had hidden the cloth bag under
the floor among rusted farm tools so her grandmother wouldn't suspect....
From great fatigue and so many memories swirling in her
head, she fell asleep momentarily. Though for a split second, she must
have fallen into deep sleep. She dreamt that animals that looked like dinosaurs
and other nameless reptiles were wrestling, tangled together. When she
woke up with a cough, she saw the vehicle with the high beam running towards
her slowly and a little unsteadily. It looked so funny that she forgot
her dreadful dream.
That's the one! she murmured, rubbing her eyes. The vehicle,
which looked one-eyed with only one of the headlights working, was coming
toward the bend where she was hiding. It was a small truck. When she got
up, closing her eyes tightly preparing to dash out, the car slowed down
with a rumble and came to a halt. A man jumped out of the car with a flashlight.
He circled the car once, checking its body carefully with the flashlight.
He also tried the tires with a few light kicks. As the flashlight swept
the car, she also looked at the car which rather resembled a porcupine.
Her heart which had been beating wildly with the thought of death calmed
down a little. What should I do next? she thought. I was going to fling
myself under that car. Why did it have to stop in front of me?
He was a small and thin man. She almost said to him,
"Excuse me!" The man's back, as he leaned forward a little with his legs
spread apart to examine the car by the light of the torch, sent a tremor
through her. It was unlike that of any man's she'd seen. She recalled the
legend of the man who came to visit this world when winter mist rose from
Mist Hill in her hometown, to collect all the worries in the world and
take it with him. The man's back resembled the pillar of mist that rose
from Mist Hill in her hometown when the winter wind hit it from all sides.
She felt anxious lest the man should turn into a pillar of mist and disappear
from her sight.
A few vehicles passed the parked truck. But she stayed
where she was, not knowing what to do. At last she got up, picking up her
travel bag which she had been sitting on. While the man was whistling,
looking at a light in the distance, she climbed into the truck. Getting
in the car again, the man looked surprised to find a woman sitting beside
him but didn't say anything. He merely noticed her soiled face, her tattered
travel bag and her muddy feet. The truck started again with a rumble. He
took her back to the city she had left behind.
Getting off the truck at dawn at the entrance of the
capital, in the flower farm district, she waited for the city to come to
life again. And she found work in one of the flower farms, which was in
dire need of hands at the beginning of spring. She introduced herself as
Green Hands, and the flower farmer agreed to give her room and board if
she'd transfer the several hundred potted plants there into bigger pots.
This time, she didn't cut off the wires from the baby pines and maples.
And she didn't go to the highway again with the intention of jumping in
front of a car.
She, too, suffered from insomnia. When she fell asleep
in the evening tired out from the day's work, she dreamed she was a baby
pine tree tied round and round with wires. She also dreamed of falling
down a precipice. Her grandmother used to say that if you fell down a cliff
in a dream that meant you're growing up. But she was already as tall as
she'd ever be, so she didn't think the dream presaged her growing taller.
One night, waking up again from a dream of falling down with all her hair
standing on end, she recalled the one- eyed truck she met on the highway
and the driver who looked from the back like the pillar of mist rising
from her hometown hill. She remembered the flashlight revealing the phone
number advertised with the name of his company on the side of the truck.
The numbers were written in all different colors and were shiny like decorations.
She dialed his number. At first she didn't talk but just listened to his
voice from the other end of the line. Then, every evening, when the evening
haze descended on the flower farms and her death wish rose again from the
pit of her stomach and choked her, she dialed his number. Every day.
3. Birth of the Wind Chrysanthemum
On a clear and sunny day Bai first came to see Green Hands
at the empty lot behind the flower farm. Mist was rising from the hills.
The azaleas were in bud within a dozen feet of where they were standing,
but Bai and Green Hands were too shy to admire the flowers.
Bai was the first to overcome his embarrassment and speak:
"Please call me Bai. It's the nickname I gave myself. I am a mover by day
and I dream of going to the North Pole at night. Bai means a man who walks
the plains of North Pole."
"And I'm Green Hands. I was born among the mountains
and drifted here. I'll be seventeen come next September."
Even though they didn't know it the first time they saw
each other in the truck, they realized today that both of them had been
running towards each other steadily from long, long ago. However, each
of them had been alone for such a long time that they didn't know what
to say and so just stared at each other with wide-open eyes. The woman
who made telephone calls to the North Pole every night was silent, just
as she was on the phone. The man who had whistled on the highway that night
and answered her call every night made her heart beat so wildly and her
hands shake so violently that she wanted nothing better than to flee from
him. But they both stood there transfixed, unable to utter a word, because
they were on fire, as if they had caught a contagious, flammable disease.
The first emotion to hit them was sadness. Green Hands
looked pitiful to Bai, and Bai looked pitiful to Green Hands. Each was
sad because the other had such tender eyes. They were also sad because
they didn't know what to do, and from the thought that meeting people brought
such sadness. But their sadness was nothing compared to the fever that
inflamed them immediately afterwards.
All night, both of them tossed in their sleep from the
fever that seemed to set them on fire and made them delirious. Pulling
the quilt up to his head, or squeezing her head with both hands, Bai and
Green Hands wondered whether the disease they caught was typhoid fever,
measles, or cholera. The next day, their fever subsided a little, but mirrors
revealed the ravages wrought on their cheeks and eyes by the previous night's
fever and sweating. There were dark rings around Bai's remarkably deep
eyes, and Green Hands' cheeks were so deeply furrowed that she had dimples
all day even though she wasn't smiling. Stunned by the sudden incomprehensible
fever, she wasn't in the mood for smiling.
After that long and lonely night, strange things started
happening to both of them. The next day, Bai started out early to move
a gloomy-voiced pianist's piano from the southwest to the northeast of
the city. He drove his truck along the road indicated on the map. But somehow
or other his truck had veered off the road on the map and was running on
a strange road at full speed. And he seemed to hear a military march booming
from the piano in the back of the truck whenever the speedometer went over
a certain point. After quite a while, the truck stopped in front of Green
Hands' flower farm. Bai was astonished. At that moment Green Hands was
walking towards the water faucet to fill the water can to water the orchids.
But somehow, her legs moved of their own accord towards the gate of the
vinyl house, and her hands were quickly pushing aside the tall gourd vine
blocking the doorway. When she flung the door open, there stood Bai in
the early morning light, looking as if his two big eyes had become two
It went on like this for a whole week. As if tossed to
each other by a tyrannical storm, they found themselves standing face to
face with each other, wondering how it happened. Bai and Green Hands looked
at each other as if their eyes had become magnets. Soon, they found that
not only their eyes but also their hands, feet, legs, chest and head had
become magnets pulling at their counterparts. Once, their lips became magnets
and pulled each other so hard that Green Hands felt as if her front teeth
had broken. Of all the magnetic activities of their body parts, they loved
that of their lips best. And their lips had the strongest magnetic pull
as well. When the magnetic power of their lips worked, they felt as if
they had been sucked into a long tunnel lit up with innumerable crimson
lamps and came out on top of a high peak which was surrounded with ineffably
pure air. It reminded Green Hands of the hills of her hometown and Bai
of the plains in the North Pole of his dreams.
"Why, what's the matter, Green Hands?"
"I just saw the hills of my hometown. I'd forgotten about
them for a long time."
"And I... I was walking on the plains of the North Pole."
"What are there on the plains of the North Pole?"
"You, and snow."
"And you are on the hills of my hometown. And the hills
are covered with snow."
While this went on, strange things were occurring here
and there. A runaway girl's suitcase was delivered to a bachelor's bedroom,
and the owner of the flower farm had to apologize to the customer who had
to take an orange tree instead of the gardenia he'd ordered. But the strange
occurrences did not always result in complaints. Sometimes customers were
ecstatic to see a Benjamin tree which had twice as many leaves as when
they had entrusted it to the farm, or the orchid which had no less than
seven stalks covered with white petals. The small orchid, which had been
drooping and hadn't bloomed for many years, suddenly had three flowers,
so the farm owner had the greatest difficulty assessing Green Hands' usefulness.
Seeing her escaping to the rear mound at every opportunity, he thought
he'd throw her out as soon as he caught hold of her, but when she appeared
in front of him, he forgot what he was going to say to her.
Bai and Green Hands' magnetic activities grew more and
more intense, so much so that they couldn't bear to spend a minute apart
from each other. They longed for each other so violently that they were
gloomy when apart. When they were together, Bai felt dizzy and confused,
as if he'd been running continuously on the dark roads of a country where
it was night all the time. Green Hands felt dizzy, as if she'd become a
small pebble a thirsty child threw into a bottomless well. They were even
more confused and lost than when they had entertained lonely fantasies
or contemplated suicide before they met each other. They wished, if possible,
to crash into each other's bones and melt into each other's flesh. They
would have swallowed each other whole if it had been possible. Too young
to understand all these contradictory quirks of desire, they felt paralyzed.
Bai no longer had the peace of mind to move other people's
household goods, and Green Hands couldn't stand to see the miniature trees
being strangled by wires. She felt as if the trees would bleed and their
flesh would burst.
One day in late summer they were sitting on the mound
behind Green Hands' flower farm and looking up at the yellow cloud. Green
Hands spoke first.
"How far can we go if you fill up your tank?"
"Far. Very far, Green Hands. We can go very far."
And so they agreed to leave for that far place where
the truck would take them. Then, for the first time since they began seeing
each other, they spent a whole day apart from each other. To prepare for
their long journey.
"We're going to take only the basic necessities, just
as if we're going to a desert island."
"Right. Only the basic necessities."
Green Hands, who had nothing more than a few clothes
to take, finished packing in no time and waited listlessly. And she packed
these old clothes only because their pockets were filled with seeds, seeds
which had got in there sometime, somehow. She put the clothes into her
bag making sure the seeds didn't spill out, and waited for Bai. Then she
chuckled low. She had thought of a good way to while away the time that
remained until Bai came to pick her up. She began to undo the wires strangling
the baby trees lined up under an awning. On a few of the trees the wires
had pushed into the flesh, so she had to cut them with a cutter. After
taking the wires off all the several dozen bonsai pots, Green Hands filled
the big watering can and watered them until the pots were soaked through.
Then she looked up at the sky to see whether it wasn't too late in the
day to water the plants the farm owner kept in the shade and neglected
to look after. She saw that night was approaching.
Bai sorted through his uncle's trunk to discard rusted
gadgets and put the maps and compasses on the truck. They made a sizeable
load. Every time he put an item on the truck he asked himself if he would
need that on a desert island. Then he went to say good-bye to the landlord's
family, who had been very kind to him. It hadn't taken him long to put
his things in order and pack, but it took almost a whole day to bid good-bye
to his landlord's family. All the family members had ideas about what he
would need to begin a new life. There were long debates, and then each
of them put on his truck one item he or she thought would be essential
to the new couple. So, his truck became loaded with the big bottle of spirits
from his landlord who had been keeping it hidden deep in his closet, the
cooking pot from his landlady, the quilt from the eldest daughter, the
silk necktie from the eldest son, and a week-old puppy from the younger
So, it was midnight before Bai and Green Hands could
finally go on their way. Bai took out the compass and drove south at first,
then northwest after a week, and then northeast after a month. They just
drove on, without worrying about lodging or eating. To shake off the nameless
loneliness that assailed them, they drove day and night. Sometimes they
drove all night until dawn broke over the dark mountain. At such times
they stopped the truck and gazed at the breaking day with their arms around
each other. Wherever they went was a desert island to them. Occasionally,
they stopped to work for a few days at a restaurant or on construction
sites or on farms and reached Green Hands' hometown after a few months.
After a long time, they gave birth to a rare flower which
they named Wind Chrysanthemum. Bai was then twenty-two and Green Hands,
4. The Secret of Wind Chrysanthemum
Who can tell precisely how Wind Chrysanthemum came into
being? Who can describe its shape and fragrance accurately?
"Wind Chrysanthemum. Your nickname is the North Pole
flower. The basis of your life is the frozen earth, so you have grown strong
on the high mountain in the cold shade of the cloud and in the chilly north
wind. Your pale purple blossom has fifty-five petals, which is eleven times
five, the number symbolizing the will to survive. With them you strive
to catch the sunlight filtering through the cloud. Your pure fragrance,
which is the crystallization of the intense and varied passions of your
small body, is a sad tribute to the world. To fight the dry climate your
stature is short, your lonely leaves are evergreen, and your modest stalks
are covered with down."
This is one of the rare descriptions of the Wind Chrysanthemum
that have survived.
Not even Bai and Green Hands can tell exactly how they
came to cultivate the first Wind Chrysanthemum patch in the world. Of course
they remember only too vividly the day they first discovered the flower.
When first discovered, the plant had only a few drooping flowers. It is
hard to believe that the plant later created such a sensation. The north
wind that Bai blew on it and the care that Green Hands poured over it day
and night for a thousand days made the plant so special. After that everybody
knew the name of Wind Chrysanthemum.
When Bai and Green Hands arrived in Green Hand's hometown,
the place which had the shortest hours of daylight in the whole country,
the village was almost completely deserted. It was the little puppy, tired
out from the long travel, who looked the happiest to reach their destination
at last. In Green Hands' old house standing high on the slope and looking
out onto the ridge, her grandmother was waiting for her return to bid her
last good-bye. So, the first thing Bai did on arrival was to close the
old woman's eyes and dig a small grave for her shrivelled body.
"I've lived too long, so let me go. Please plant over
my grave the seeds in the pouch under the floor." Those were her last and
only words. Green Hands found the familiar pouch under the floor, and planted
the seeds in it together with various other seeds from out of her dress
pockets. As it was late autumn, Green Hands' heart tore even while she
sowed them, because she knew they couldn't sprout.
After burying the grandmother and making preparations
for the winter, Bai and Green Hands took their first good rest since they
met. They forgot their loneliness, hunger, cold and anxiety and slept.
Days are short in that steep, high mountain, so even though they woke up
from time to time, it was always dark so they went right back to sleep.
Sometimes they kept on sleeping because they dreaded waking up. In sleeping,
they lost count of the days. When they woke up at last, they found five
pale purple buds on a small modest plant that had sprouted on the hill
to the rear of their house.
Green Hands was the first to see the flowers. It was
in deep night, snow fell in huge flakes and her breath froze as soon as
it escaped her mouth. She seemed to hear her grandmother's voice telling
her that it was the coldest winter in eighty-seven years. With a flashlight
in her hand, Green Hands went out in the icy wind to bid good-bye to the
fragile buds she hadn't had time to bring indoors. There she emitted a
cry. When a gust of wind whipped through the blinding blizzard in an angelic
soprano, the five buds heaved themselves and opened their petals. Astonished,
Green Hands lifted the clear plastic cover she had put over the fragile
buds. In the merciless wind that seemed ready to rip off the leaves and
tear out the roots, the flowers blossomed bigger and bigger and the fragile
stalk stood erect, like an owl's ear straining to hear a ghostly sound.
Green Hands gave the plant the name of Wind Chrysanthemum, because it bloomed
miraculously in the wind. But Bai, who had rushed out at hearing Green
Hands' cry, thought of another name. Standing beside Green Hands and watching
the bud opening slowly and the petals unfolding, Bai thought that it might
be the flower he once saw on a postcard, which said that it was the only
flower that bloomed on the North Pole. Green Hands knew many flowers, having
spent her childhood on the mountain, but she had never seen that flower
The flowers, however, began to droop as soon as the wind
died down and sunbeams began to spread on the mountaintop. The leaves drooped,
the stalks shrivelled, and the flowers dropped their heads. Then, one sunny
and warm day, the flowers wilted. It was no use giving them water and covering
them with plastic to keep them warm, or taking them indoors in a pot. However,
when one flower wilted another bud formed, and thus the flower eked out
a precarious life, causing Green Hands infinite anxiety.
It took them a long, long time to create a small colony
of Wind Chrysanthemums. Bai and Green Hands spent a lot of time and care
into getting to know the flower's constitution and multiplying the five
flowers into ten, and from there to create a patch of Wind Chrysanthemums
below the ridge. It took almost all of the best part of their youth to
learn that Wind Chrysanthemum takes root only in cool shades, that it dislikes
unfiltered rain and dew, that its pale purple color grows deeper in the
winter and that its fragrance grows stronger when cold wind blows. After
long and careful observation, they discovered that the white down covering
the stalks secretes sticky white fluid. Each individual flower had a slightly
different fragrance, which was strongest during the night and at dawn.
The fragrance was so strong that it sometimes kept them awake at night.
On such nights they had waking dreams of flying over mountaintops on the
back of a white pegasus and capturing a glimpse of the Elysian fields or
diving into the deep seas and climbing gleaming underwater rocks.
To create the freezing cold air, heavy snow and strong
gale necessary for the Wind Chrysanthemum to bloom, Bai poured his heart
and soul into assembling a powerful propeller and vapor freezer from out
of the auto parts left behind by his uncle. From experiment and experience
they learned that the chrysanthemum that was exposed to thirty days' storm
and heavy snow had the healthiest and longest-lasting flowers and the strongest
fragrance. To make the fragrance stronger, Green Hands tried mixing the
juice from gardenia stalk, a waterpepper root, and a piece of hemp into
the water from the fountain. Or she collected the rainwater on the seventh
of July by lunar calendar, let it stand for fifty-five days, and mixed
it with a piece of chicory, bunting's feathers and new shoots of besom.
Giving different water mixtures produced a subtle difference in the fragrance
of the flowers. Bai and Green Hands completely forgot their loneliness,
and time passed quickly.
Green Hands' inability to tell people how to cultivate
Wind Chrysanthemums was not a falsification by omission, as some of her
critics contended. It was simply that she had used so many different kinds
of mixtures and solutions to water the flowers that she often got it mixed
up herself. Besides, as other people couldn't discriminate between the
subtle differences in the fragrance produced by each solution given, her
laborious explanations were useless.
When Bai and Green Hands first took the flowers to the
nearby town on a market day and lined them up for sale in the shade at
a little distance from the market, nobody paid any attention to the pale
purple perennials less than a foot high. They stayed there for a whole
day, but they weren't able to sell a single one of the ten healthiest and
most vigorous- looking Wind Chrysanthemum plants in the wooden pots specially
carved out by Bai. A few children strayed towards the plants, it is true,
drawn by the peculiar fragrance, but their parents quickly dragged them
away, while casting suspicious glances at Bai and Green Hands. In dire
need of fuel to operate the propeller, Bai and Green Hands took the plants
to sell at the biggest flower shop in town, but the shopowner refused even
to look at them, taking them for some weed that grows out in the fields
and mountains. Green Hands held up one plant close to the shopkeeper's
nose, but its fragrance was unfortunately lost, mixed with those of so
many other flowers in the shop.
So, there was nothing for them to do but to reload the
pots onto the truck and drive back home along the darkening road. They
stopped briefly in a small village inhabited by about a dozen families.
It was the village that came into Green Hands' eyes when, many years ago,
leaving behind her home village to find a better life in the nearby town,
she sat down on the ridge and ate the rice cakes her grandmother had packed
in her bag. The village looked peaceful, and the mountain snugly sunk in
darkness soothed their tired hearts. It was Bai who came up with the idea
of leaving a pot of Wind Chrysanthemum in front of each household of that
village. It was his way of consoling Green Hands' loneliness and misgiving
of that day long ago. So, the pots were left as presents at the doors of
the village people who were fast asleep after a hard day's work.
At about the time the plant from heaven-knows-where had
given off its fragrance for a whole season and the flowers were about to
fade, several of the families of that village moved to Bai and Green Hand's
remote mountain village, after searching far and wide for the source of
the fragrance. Wind Chrysanthemums thus spread from one village to the
next, from village to town, and from town to city.
As the plants' colony grew bigger, more and more propellers
were needed. Having discovered that the force and direction of the wind
made differences in the shade and fragrance of the flowers, Bai and Green
Hands teased their brains out trying to find ways to combine the best color
and fragrance. They succeeded in growing eight kinds of Wind Chrysanthemums,
each with a distinct fragrance. One had the fragrance reminiscent of the
calm, deep sea; another had the whiff of the wind sweeping over the vast
plain; another seemed to transport one into a primordial paradise; still
another led one to an immemorial past... Bai and Green Hands gave each
fragrance a name from the scene that passed through their minds on smelling
the flowers first.
People came to settle there from the nearby villages
and the small city, to help with the cultivation or distribution of Wind
Chrysanthemums. By the time the village head living beyond the mountain,
astonished by the sudden influx of residents, arrived with a warning from
the provincial governor, the Wind Chrysanthemum colony had spread over
more than half the mountain ridge and several dozen households had settled
5. Wind Chrysanthemum Fever
People came from farther away. The first one to arrive
from afar was a pale-faced man who breathed hard, as if he had run all
the way to this remote corner of the world. "I'm a human Wind Chrysanthemum,"
he announced on arrival, much to the astonishment of everyone. "Please
allow me to stay here and study the flowers. I promise I won't bother you."
The man introduced himself as a Mr. Ko, who suffered
from the low altitude disease. He said that he could preserve his health
only in high mountain air and in strong wind, just like the Wind Chrysanthemum.
The man, who was almost forty now, had been suffering from the disease
since he reached adulthood, and had roamed all the high mountains in the
country in search of a cure, but to no avail. Bai and Green Hands didn't
understand his disease but allowed him to stay and promised to tell him
anything he wanted to know about the flowers. Ko said that his body and
soul were worn out, like the heels of a madman who roamed the deserts of
the world for centuries. He said he had heard about the flower while staying
on a snow-covered mountain in the neighboring country.
He built a hut beside the colony of Wind Chrysanthemums
in the direction of the wind from the propeller, and began to study the
flower. His small hut began to be filled with all kinds of laboratory equipment,
and every weekend he took many small vials to his friend's laboratory located
six hours' distance from there.
"Aren't I lucky to find something worth devoting my whole
life to at last!" He was heard murmuring to himself.
By devoting himself exclusively to studying the flower,
Mr. Ko was able to produce after two years a tablet which he'named "Bapa"
tablet. The name was a tribute to Bai and Green Hands, made up of the first
syllables of their names. But, since there weren't many people afflicted
with his disease, the tablets had no commercial viability and he often
fell into gloom. He wasted his fortune advertising in the newspapers for
patients of low altitude disease, and wrote numerous proposals to pharmaceutical
companies for mass production of the tablets. He didn't neglect to enclose
a petal of Wind Chrysanthemum in the envelope, so that his letters would
convey the fragrance. But the letters he received from the postman who
complained each time about having to climb the mountain in order to deliver
one letter, always contained bad news. Some companies didn't even bother
to write back, so the letters stopped coming after a while. Mr. Ko was
beginning to think that he might be the only one in the country suffering
from this disease. Noting his distress, Green Hands pitied him so much
that she wished she would get the low altitude disease just to console
him. For his forty-second birthday, Green Hands cut and dried forty-two
of the most beautiful and fragrant Wind Chrysanthemums, put them in a basket
woven from their stalks, and gave them to Mr. Ko as a present. The ten
fragrances of the flower blended divinely in the basket, like a symphony
of the most exquisite instruments, and spread from his room to the whole
village, from the village to the mountaintop, and from the mountaintop
to the Heavens.
At first the Wind Chrysanthemum fever spread slowly and
quietly, like the wind of May, which the people of the area called Marang.
Or tenderly, like the fragrance of the flower. Some fragrances of the flower
spread for miles on the wind. People could get to this remote mountain
village by following the fragrance. Poets sang of the color and fragrance
of the flowers, and two poets offered to weave the saga of Bai and Green
Hands into an epic. Poet K's "North Pole Flower," which was printed in
a daily newspaper around that time, didn't draw much attention at first,
but it began to be recited by more and more people and was soon made into
a song by a composer affiliated with the Nature Poetry Association.
In a forgotten village high up on the mountain
A lonely couple grew a flower.
Wind Chrysanthemum, your tough fragility
Is a whiff of eternity.
In the pale purple twilight
Your dream is primal peace.
You are a lover's yearning for the North Pole
Turned into floral fragrance.
I offer you my love.
I offer you my purity.
Your fragrance lulls my grief
And your smile thaws my loneliness.
At about the time the song "North Pole Flower" became
a popular tune, the Wind Chrysanthemum fever which began as a breeze turned
into a raging storm. Crowd after crowd made their pilgrimage to the remote
mountain village. Newspaper reporters came to interview Bai and Green Hands;
a photo artist brought five cameras and two assistants to take shots of
the flowers for a special exhibition and a calendar. They took pictures
for two whole days, going up the trees for a bird's eye shot, or prostrating
on the ground for a worm's eye shot, or with the lens almost touching the
petals for close-up shots. They snapped pictures of Bai from the back,
looking at the flowers with his hands folded on his back, and of Green
Hands looking up at the mountain, with her head wrapped in a towel. Bai
and Green Hands' skin was so tanned by the sun and the wind that it was
as smooth as baked potatoes, and chapped here and there. They were smiling.
They looked happy. When asked about the couple afterwards, one of the photo
artist's two assistants reminisced, "Oh, they looked so happy, my heart
ached to see them."
Green Hands always wore a towel wrapped around her head
in the photographs.
Sometimes she looked at the crowd with frightened eyes.
The sight of so many people sometimes awoke in her the memory of the loneliness
she never understood. But Bai reassured her every time she was struck by
fear: "No, we'll never be lonely again, as long as our magnetisms work
in us. We earned it the hard way. We have found our North Pole."
Green Hands had a worry she didn't tell even Bai. It
was her hair. It kept falling out. She didn't know when the trouble started,
because at first she didn't pay much attention to the problem. She just
assumed that old hair would be replaced by new ones. Just like dust particles.
Or dandelion seeds. Or like the mist that brooded on the mountaintop in
the morning, disappeared during the day, and descended again in the evening.
But by and by she realized that her hair kept falling out without growing
back. Once as profuse and abundant as heather on the steppe, her hair became
sparse. At some point Green Hands realized that the loss of her hair was
related to the endless birth of Wind Chrysanthemums. Her remaining hair
was still lustrous as pebbles in a clear stream, but she shaved it all
off and wrapped a towel around her head. Her hair was infinitely less precious
to her than growing the transcendently beautiful Wind Chrysanthemums.
As the song "North Pole Flower" gained greater popularity,
the beauty and fragrance of Wind Chrysanthemums became more widely known,
and more and more people wanted to have a pot of the plant on their window
sills. And it became fashionable among young people to give Wind Chrysanthemums
as a present to their sweethearts on the nineteenth of April, the anniversary
of the 1960 Student Revolution. A young man is said to have worked at a
gas station for five months to buy a pot of Wind Chrysanthemum for his
beloved. As it became rumored that one of the fragrances of the flower
has aphrodisiacal effect, managers of the so-called "love hotels" in the
vicinity of Seoul bought up Wind Chrysanthemums in the black markets. This
was one of the things that made Bai and Green Hands sad. They could not
possibly grow as many Wind Chrysanthemums as people seemed to want. Wind
Chrysanthemums had to have thirty days' icy North wind while they were
in bud, and many of the more fastidious ones refused to bloom even after
that. And Bai and Green Hands had neither the land nor manpower to expand
the colony indefinitely.
Many fake Wind Chrysanthemums made their appearance in
the flower markets and confused people. The fake Wind Chrysanthemums had
no fragrance, nor fifty-five petals. Their petals had neither the indescribably
delicate pale purple tint, nor the texture which was like the eyelids of
sleeping babies seen in September twilight. The fake flowers wilted in
a few days. Zang, the new puppy which Bai received as a present on the
day he left Seoul and had in the meantime reached maturity as a dog, grew
busy. Zang had to guard against the thieves who sneaked into the mountain
during the day and stole the flowers at night. Some of the thieves, unable
to steal the flowers, crushed them with their boots out of spite. These
people didn't know that the roots made the flowers what they were. They
didn't know that, once separated from their roots, the flowers lost their
fragrance almost at once and wilted. And those who tried to dig up the
whole plant with their long roots were sure to be found out by Zang, whose
ears could catch the faintest rustle from far away. A big-scale florist
offered to buy up the whole colony at an enormous price, and another wanted
to purchase Bai and Green Hands' cultivation secrets with a bigger patch
of land at a higher altitude.
Green Hands' home village, which had become the Wind
Chrysanthemum colony now, was not a very scenic place. Since Wind Chrysanthemums
began to spread on the mountain, however, its aspect had changed drastically,
so that now many mountain climbers sought it out. Shops and eateries sprouted
at the entrance of the mountain to cater to the endless stream of hikers.
Cakes and pancakes decorated with Wind Chrysanthemum petals made the vendors
rich. Manufacturers of souvenirs such as clear plastic prayer beads with
petals inside, canes with handles in the shape of the flower, back scratchers
with scratching hands painted in what was supposed to be the flower's pale
purple color, and towels with floral prints raked in profits.
Summer was a difficult season for Bai and Green Hands.
When Spring came, Bai and Green Hands had to mark the areas for each variety
of the flowers with white paint, and build coldhouses appropriate to each
of the twelve different varieties of chrysanthemums having different fragrances,
hardihood and color. When that was done Bai and Green Hands were exhausted,
but the coldhouses looked like so many igloos that Bai felt like he was
on the North Pole. Some of the tourists and flower shop owners were not
content just looking at the fantastic coldhouses and tried to sneak into
them, so Bai had to spend the whole day sitting under the shade of a tree
with Zang to keep intruders out. Green Hands on her part had to spend the
entire summer in the coldhouses, tending the flowers stricken with fever.
One sweltering summer's day, Bai and Green Hands had
unexpected visitors who made them realize how far the Wind Chrysanthemum
fever had spread. The two visitors had climbed up the mountain to the farm
in spite of the boiling hot storm that kept spiraling up to the top. The
two had traveled thither together, but weren't lovers, or even good friends.
They had just happened to share the transportation, and were, in fact,
rivals who were on very bad terms with each other. Bai and Green Hands
were able to converse with these foreigners, for foreigners they were,
with the help of Mr. Ko. Bai, thinking these foreigners might be people
from the North Pole, excitedly spread his map before them. But the man
pointed to the Netherlands and the woman to Italy.
The man emphasized that he was a descendant of Hamel,
who was the first Westerner to write a book about Korea. Then the woman
said that although her ancestor, Marco Polo, was prevented by unfortunate
circumstances from reaching Korea, he was nevertheless the first Westerner
to travel to the East and write a travelogue. Shaking her abundant dark
hair, she contended, moreover, that Marco Polo's travelogue not only preceded
Hamel's journal by four centuries but was greatly superior in literary
and scholarly value. The argument between the two foreigners aggravated
the heat and the mugginess of the day. So, to make peace between them,
Green Hands fetched a Wind Chrysanthemum with a strong primitive fragrance
that had a slightly mesmerizing effect.
Recovering calm, the two visitors broached their business.
Both of them were in the dyeing and fragrance manufacturing business. Hearing
about the incredible fragrance of Wind Chrysanthemums, they had come to
this remote mountain in the Far East to see about the possibility of extracting
a totally new kind of fragrance from the flowers. Bai and Green Hands led
them into one of the coldhouses. As soon as they stepped into the house,
the two hugged each other like lovers who had found each other after searching
the whole world, and shrieked in glee. The coldhouse contained North Pole
fragrance Wind Chrysanthemums, the fragrance Bai and Green Hands liked
the best of all.
They wanted to visit all the twelve coldhouses. But their
huggings and shouts of joy weren't repeated every time.
"Oh, this one resembles PJ07965," remarked Hamel's descendant
as they entered the second coldhouse.
"Not at all! This is similar to NH8247, which also goes
by the name Aegean," observed Polo's descendant.
"But how do you know about Aegean? That's the fragrance
my company developed in the strictest secrecy and haven't commercialized
In lieu of an answer, the woman tapped her high nose
with her long and thin finger. "I can sniff anything that's going on in
the world with my nose. Even what goes on in your mind," she said.
After that, neither of them tried to overawe the other
with arcane trade designations of fragrances.
"Oh, how pale St. Gabriel's rose would seem beside these,
and how tepid the fragrance of St. Philomene in comparison with this scent!"
"Oh, the Garden of Delight! the Garden of Ecstasy!"
"The River of Eden, Omphalos! Omphalos!"
They uttered many exclamations incomprehensible to Bai
and Green Hands as they toured all the twelve coldhouses. Then they were
silent. After that, they sat gazing at each other like ones in stupefaction,
and then left, holding hands in silent sympathy. They never appeared again.
The most frequent visitors were botanists and horticulturists.
Sometimes they came in groups, but most of them came singly to ask funny
questions, to chew on the petals or to sprinkle some solutions on the stems.
Some of them brought microscopes with which they studied crushed petals
or stamen. They all mumbled about DNAs and genes, tilted their heads in
doubt, and tried to peer into Bai and Green Hands' house like detectives
looking for clues. One of them swept the dust on the terrace of the house
into a plastic bag to take back, and many scooped handfuls of earth into
bottles, and some of them took lingering sips of the water from the well.
One researcher transcribed in his notebook the almost undecipherable serial
number carved on the propeller which Bai had constructed out of his Uncle's
auto parts. They seemed desirous of taking back a strand of Green Hands'
hair or, if possible, a piece of her flesh. They often got angry with the
people of the village for not helping them with their research.
Many Wind Chrysanthemums became ill following these weekends.
After so many visitors touched, rubbed and plucked at them, the number
of petals decreased or the down dropped off from the stalks. Some of them
wilted and died even if Green Hands wrapped their stalks with bandage.
After each strong wave of Wind Chrysanthemum craze, many of them died,
and that in turn only fanned the craze. That put Bai and Green Hands in
a painful dilemma. They couldn't forbid visitors altogether, neither could
they let the flowers go on suffering at the hands of the overinquisitive
crowd. Mr. Ko and the neighbors were a great help and support to them.
The villagers, who knew what the flowers meant to the young couple, abandoned
their work on weekends to come and help guard the flowers from the crowd.
But notwithstanding all the villagers' vigilance, some visitors still insisted
they wouldn't leave unless they were given a few young plants.
Mr. Ko, after the failure of his plan to commercialize
the low altitude disease tablets, decided to devote the remainder of his
life to recording everything related to the cultivation of Wind Chrysanthemums.
It is he who wrote so many tributes to the flowers. Sometimes, while in
his creative mood, he wrote one tribute a week. And he wrote them on the
special notepaper he had made using a secret method, with a special ink
which gave off a delicate fragrance. But because he kept them such a secret,
no one except Bai and Green Hands ever saw his notebook. In his rare good
mood Mr. Ko read to the villagers one or two of his tributes. Unfortunately,
all of them have been lost except for one, which remains to bear witness
to there having been such a flower.
Two hot air currents kept the mountain under siege for
many days, but Bai and Green Hands were oblivious to heat, engrossed as
they were in growing a chrysanthemum with the most incredible fragrance.
They watered the plants with the solution of collected dew and eighteen
other ingredients, including eggs of migratory ducks, tails of glowworms,
the pistils of bush clover blossoms, and skins of mountain cicadas. They
roamed the mountains to collect enough dew and watched the plants all day
long to see when they seemed to need watering.
After the hot summer wind and the cool autumn wind and
the icy winter wind had swept over their place on the mountain far removed
from the busy world, Bai and Green Hands at last saw the flowering of the
Wind Chrysanthemum with an indescribably enchanting fragrance. It had the
purity of the cleanest North Pole air, and had the farthest dispersal span
of any floral fragrance that had yet existed. They named this thirteenth
6. Wind Chrysanthemum's Doom
"Silence! Silence! Please stop chatting and let's begin
our conference. First, would you introduce the agenda?"
"Yes. As stated in the handout, the Ministry of Botany
and Forestry has to make decisions on five different agendas. We have about
forty minutes to deliberate on them."
"Why forty minutes?"
"Yes, why only forty minutes?"
"But what's that there?"
"That's the flower in question."
"Oh, is that the one?"
"Did you all take a good look? Isn't that just one of
the domesticated flowers originating from abroad? Didn't we discuss that
"I think it looks different. Now, who wants to speak
first? Why don't you go first, on behalf of the pharmacologists?"
"Well, somebody has to speak first."
"Okay. I'll try to sum up the situation. Three pharmaceutical
companies have applied for patents involving this plant. One company has
developed a cure for respiratory diseases such as asthma, from extracts
of the plant's sap. Another company is currently developing a preventive
medicine against Alzheimer's from the plant's petals and stamen. And I
understand that there's a company which is already selling a drug for urological
disorders using the unusually long roots of this plant. Of course, it is
an unauthorized drug as yet. So, we have to examine the three drugs and
approve one which has the best potential for contributing to the health
of the nation. In my opinion, urological organs are more troublesome than
respiratory organs, Alzheimer's disease is more serious than urological
disorders, but at the same time respiration is more essential to survival
than Alzheimer's... "
"Please come to the point."
"To be brief, the patent applications of the three companies
involve only numbers two, seven and eleven of the thirteen different varieties
of the plant, classified according to their different fragrance. That is,
the respiratory cure makes use of the number two Wind Chrysanthemum, and
the urological cure number seven, and so on."
"But why is that a problem?"
"Why can't we approve all three?"
"We can't, because there is a limit to the production
of the plants, as we all know."
"I'm sure there's a way to mass produce the plant. We
have just to find a way."
"Excuse me, but let me put in a word of explanation."
"Let me. In a word, all the companies concerned are convinced
that it is inefficient and uneconomical to cultivate so many varieties
in the small colony of the plant. That is to say, we have to approve only
one of the drugs, and one that's most helpful to our nation's health, and
give the company that produces it to massively cultivate the variety needed
for that drug."
"That's what I think, too. So, why don't we do that?"
"Please make your case brief."
"In my opinion, the urological cure is the most important.
After all, everybody has to relieve himself."
"It's my understanding that a resident of that area has
already developed a medicine from the plants a long time ago."
"You don't say! You mean somebody's already won a patent?"
"Oh, I think I'll have to explain, as it concerns my
own district. That medicine is of no importance, because it is a kind of
folk cure developed by a man suffering from an extremely rare disease.
It's a strange disease called the "low altitude disease," and instances
of it are so rare that only two cases have been reported in the country
in the past five decades. Let me add that many people have taken up residence
in the area for reasons such as that of the patient with the strange disease,
so we are running into administrative problems in our county. My purpose
in coming to this conference is to get the settlement grant for the new
residents in that area approved by this ministry. Please refer to the handouts
for itemized anticipated expenditures."
"Now, how can we decide on anything if all of you propose
a different agenda? Come to the point, please."
"May I be allowed to continue?"
"We've had many letters in our association in the past
few years. They were mostly complaints about violations of the ordinance
for disclosure of cultivation methods of plants. Eighty percent of the
complaints were about the cultivators of the plant, who refused to comply
with the ordinance."
"Now listen to this. As you all know, many cosmetic companies
have petitioned for permission to extract perfume from the plant, as joint
ventures with Western cosmetic companies. They have gone so far as to settle
on the perfumes' names, such as "Blue Wind," "Philomene," "P^ole Nord,"
and "Omphalos." The varieties they're interested in are numbers four, nine,
and eleven. Now, here we seem to have a convergence of interest with one
of the pharmaceutical companies. They, too, want only one variety to be
grown in the whole colony. The cosmetic companies also want it, for financial
viability. I noted that one of the pharmaceutical companies is interested
in number eleven, which is also one of the varieties one of the fragrance
makers is interested in."
"Well, that's the one for the Alzheimer's."
"I don't think any of the companies would give up without
a fight. They spent tons of money and more than a year in developing those
cures or perfumes."
"Other matters are as complicated as well. That's why
we're here to discuss the problems."
"How about this? I suppose nobody can say that Alzheimer's
disease is less serious than urological disorders."
"That's right. I propose that we approve the exclusive
cultivation of number eleven variety in the colony."
"If we pass that, can we be sure of the subsidy?"
"I move that we approve that. We're none of us all that
far from old age."
"If we approve that, we can enforce the horticultural
ordinance on the cultivators to disclose the cultivation method of at least
that variety. Then it might be possible to expand the colony and increase
"Then what about the subsidy? That place is within the
jurisdiction of our county. There's sure to be an additional influx of
residents if we approve commercial cultivation."
"Now which is it you want? Subsidy? Or reduction of residents?"
"That's only of secondary importance. This is unofficial
as yet, but a number of big industries have applied for permission to build
a recreation and leisure complex there. If we can get that approved, then
it will be a great addition to the revenue of our county. That area has
the ideal climate and terrain for a summer and winter resort. My superiors
have long been lamenting that such a golden piece of land is going to waste
as a weed colony."
"Most of the residents are illegal, aren't they?"
"More or less. Some of them were original residents who
had left the place and since returned."
"If there weren't these petitions from pharmaceutical
and cosmetic companies, we could have cleared away the weed patch completely
and turned it into a resort town."
"I heard that the number eleven fragrance is quite pungent.
Am I right?"
"Oh, what does that matter?"
"Do you like skiing?"
"Before I leave this room I must bring up what we left
off last time without having come to a decision. May I read this invitation
from the International Flower Exhibition Association?"
"Please read only the pertinent passage."
"'Our association is particularly interested in that
rare flower of your country, commonly designated Wind Chrysanthemum (Botanical
name undecided).' I'll skip the rest of the paragraph because it's too
"You mean the plant still has no botanical name?"
"Let me go on to the next point. 'We would like to invite
you to display seven rare flowers of your country at the World Rare Flower
Exhibition to be held later this year in this city. We are certain that
that will further promote friendly relations between your country and ours.
We would appreciate it if... "
"But you read that letter the last time!"
"Did I? The problem is, there's a great deal of conflict
between the various botanical and horticultural societies over this matter.
The National Gardening Association wants to send three kinds of roses of
Sharon, two kinds of pines and two kinds of bamboos to represent the spirit
of our country. The Southern and Western associations insist on sending
plants that thrive best in their regions, mostly orchids. So, that puts
us in a dilemma."
"We can't waste our time discussing again what we've
already gone through the last time. How can we represent our country in
an international exhibition without the rose of Sharon?"
"But the rose of Sharon isn't a rare plant. We can't
violate the conditions of the exhibition from our very first participation."
"But which is more important? "Representative," or "Rare"?
"Other smaller associations have also come up with suggestions
that are hard to disregard. The International Gardening Lovers' Association
applied for participation with very rare plants they have developed such
as improved roses, genetically crossed trifoliate orange and camellia and
indigenous briar. What complicates our work even more is that the letter
of invitation specifies Wind Chrysanthemum as the plant they're particularly
interested in. No horticultural association even mentioned Wind Chrysanthemum
in connection with the exhibition. So, what are we to do?"
"Does that bother you so much? Why don't you include
a mutated Siberian Chrysanthemum, then?"
"How about the number eleven Wind Chrysanthemum?"
"That cures Alzheimer's disease!"
"Now look. How can such a humble flower represent our
country? Maybe it existed in North Korea for a long time. Maybe the wind
happened to blow it down south."
"Well, I can see you're pretty mad. You wouldn't be using
your native accent if you weren't."
"Excuse me, but our forty minutes are already up. We'll
make that our conclusion and close this conference."
"But what conclusion do you mean?"
"What we've just come up with."
"Bai, why are people leaving here every day?"
"I hear they got work on the new construction site beyond
"And what made Zang die so suddenly?"
"I suppose someone fed him poison. But don't be too sad.
Zang has gone to Heaven. His life on earth wasn't so easy, so he deserves
a good rest."
"Bai, we can't cultivate only the Para Wind Chrysanthemum
as the order says, can we?"
"Of course not."
"I won't give up even one kind of our flower, ever. What
can we do?"
"We'll think of a way tomorrow."
"If all but the para chrysanthemums have to go, Mr. Ko
will get sick again. You know the para doesn't yield the sap for the low
altitude disease tablet."
"I know. But at least Mr. Ko won't be lonely any more."
"Yes, it's lucky there's another patient with his disease."
"But it's sad that such a young man should be stricken
with such a disease."
"Do all low altitude disease patients have such deep
"I guess they do."
"Do you know why?"
"No. I was just wondering."
7. The War Over the Botanical Name
Mr. K. had been devoting himself to the study of Wind
Chrysanthemums but he felt he was up against the wall in the final stage.
A rare breed of chrysanthemum that has never been found anywhere else!
He had invested a great deal of time in proving that Wind Chrysanthemum
resembles, in its biological character, Chrysanthemum Montuossum, the alpine
breed of chrysanthemum, and in appearance resembles Erigeron Alpicolana
Chrysanthemum Lubellum, but is made up of special tissue structure which
bears no resemblance to any known variety of chrysanthemum. However, that
was as far as he could go, as he could not establish a single fact concerning
the formation and evolution of the flower's mutated genes. He could not
accomplish the historic task of giving the rare flower a botanical name
without giving information about what makes it the unique plant it is.
He had visited the colony many times with his student assistants. He had
even gone as far as to make his assistants hide in a hut in the rear of
the ridge to note the plants' hours of exposure to the sun, the amount
and method of watering them, and the moisture in the air. But he could
make no progress. He interviewed the young couple who grew the plants,
but their awkward explanations conveyed no decisive information. Moreover,
he got the impression that they were lying about some things. So, he felt
an urgent need to get the ordinance for disclosing the cultivation methods
enforced and to ferret the secret out of them. His meeting with Mr. Ko,
who, under the pretext of convalescing from his disease, was residing close
to the plants' colony and writing the whole history of the plant, was highly
unpleasant as well. The man said he had been living near the colony almost
from the first and recorded the birth of every single one of the plant's
varieties, but instead of feeling honored by the eminent botanist's interest,
tried to foil his research every step of the way. Mr. K., therefore, decided
that there was no point in visiting the plant's colony any more.
Discovery of a rare plant was such an uncommon occurrence
these days! The fact that Index Kewensis, the publication of Kew Gardens,
the British Royal Botanical Garden, grew thinner and thinner and came out
at longer intervals was proof that discovery of new plants has been pretty
much exhausted by now. The thought of Index Kewensis always made his heart
leap, as if he was once again the young scholar he was in his thirties.
The most ardent wish of his life was to have a paper published in Index
Mr. K. first heard about Wind Chrysanthemums a few years
back from a flower shop owner in a provincial city he visited for a lecture.
The moment he smelled the poignant scent of the plant only half a foot
tall standing in a corner of the shop, he knew at once that this was a
rare plant which does not grow anywhere else in the world. Trying to suppress
his excitement, he had asked the shopkeeper the name and origin of the
"People living up the mountain brought them. If you buy
all three pots, I'll give you a real good deal," the merchant had said.
The professor purchased the three pots and came back
home directly, cancelling all his appointments. At home, he realized more
strongly with passing time that the flower had a very special power of
reviving forgotten memories and emotions in him. He remembered the innocent
youthful smile of his wife whom he had lost a decade ago. He found himself
tearing at his white hair and sobbing, recalling one spring day in his
youth when he and his wife, then a new bride, took a walk together.
He had established himself as a scholar early on with
his research on rare plants and had served three consecutive terms as the
director of a major botanical garden in the country. His findings were
utilized by many industries, so financial rewards for his scholarly achievements
have been considerable, too. It surprised him, therefore, that such a small
and insignificant-looking flower could affect him so powerfully. Sometimes
he found himself sitting vacantly in the middle of his spacious garden,
reviving poignantly delicious memories of his childhood. His garden, filled
with costly rare orchids and other expensive plants, suddenly lost their
glamour on account of the small weed-like plant.
Thus, Mr. K. took up the flower as the flower of destiny
for his twilight years. "Yes, let this be my final achievement," he told
His ardent desire to unravel the mystery of the plant
and to give it his own name before he left this world to join his wife
and ancestors kept him awake at nights. He also felt that success in this
project would make up for the one great failure of his life, the memory
of which still stung him. While he was still young, he had narrowly missed
giving his name to a rare plant. It was a plant which was commonly called
a "mountain sawteeth." He had spent several years studying it and had completed
a definitive paper on it, but just as he was about to send it to a scholarly
journal he found a paper on it written by a Japanese botanist. He vowed
that he would never let that happen to him again.
Chrysanthemum Montuossum KGB! That was the name he was
going to give the plant. The initials, of course, stood for his name. He
never for a moment doubted that even though he did not invent the plant,
he was the first one to recognize its true value and therefore deserved
to have the plant named after him. He did consider calling it Chrysanthemum
Banti, to imply that the plant grows best in the wind. But he crossed it
out from the list of possible names, as that name would remind people of
the young couple who insisted that they invented the plant. A botanical
name could mean no more to the young couple than a dandelion fuzz blowing
in the breeze. It was his conviction that a botanical name should be named
after an authoritative scholar. Though there were a few points that still
needed to be clarified, he concluded his research in a hurry and published
it in the Journal of Alpine Plants, volume 45, number 2.
Mr. L. became interested in Wind Chrysanthemums after
he heard that Mr. K. was working on it. The flower had become known quite
widely by then, so he could gather a lot of information easily. Mr. L.
regarded Mr. K. as a tumor eating him up from the inside. He simply couldn't
stand Mr. K.'s solemn attitude and conviction that he is right about everything.
It is true that, having been students of the same teacher several years
apart from each other, at one time they were close friends and collaborators
and had worked together on a number of projects. But, ever since the time
Mr. L. raised questions about Mr. K.'s classification of the variant strains
of tail fern growing over parts of Asia, their friendship changed to hostility.
Mr. L., however, was too busy with important matters to elaborate on his
objections. He despised the type of scholars like Mr. K. who wasted their
time on pure research and wanted to have heir names attached to the botanical
names of plants. In his youth Mr. L. had aspired to be a career military
man like his father and uncle, but he injured his arm playing football
in school, so he had to give up a military career and settle for an academic
one instead. However, his ambition was still with glory and valor instead
of with laboratories and flowers. So, his approach to the flower in question
was wholly different from Mr. K.'s.
As advisor to the "Society for Promotion of Industrial
Application of Botanical Research," "The Cooperative for Globalization
of National Flowering Plants," and "The Committee for Fair Botanical Practices,"
Mr. L. was informed that the plant called Wind Chrysanthemum had given
rise to a number of grave problems. The organizations not only informed
him of the problems but offered him research grants to solve them, knowing
full well his patriotic fervor and his enthusiasm for clearing away problems.
Thereupon, Mr. L. formed a joint research team and tried to discover more
quickly than Mr. K. all the important aspects of the plant- its characteristics
and ideal environment for growth. It came to his attention that an amateur
researcher whom he met on his visit to the plant colony had valuable information
concerning the plant.
He suspected the man at once. He felt that the man's
"disease" was only a pretext, and that his "having fallen in love with
the flowers" was a nice little fiction. But, anyway, Mr. L. needed the
man's day-to-day record of the plant's origin and the creation processes
of all the varieties. Valuing speed more than the propriety of research
procedures, Mr. L. sent his associates to the plant colony to worm as much
information out of the man as possible, and dictated a series of letters
addressed to him, making a number of offers which he was sure would interest
him. He promised him help in getting the secret of the cure for the low
altitude disease patented, and to finance the publication of his book.
He figured that if his team couldn't come up with satisfactory results
by the end of the grant period, they would have to "borrow" the man's knowledge.
Mr. L. did not care much about what botanical name should
be given to the plant, but getting wind of Mr. K.'s hope of having it designated
Chrysanthemum Montuossum KGB, he felt he simply couldn't let that happen.
The name might cause a misunderstanding that the plant was invented in
a dark cell in the old Soviet Union. In Mr. L.'s opinion, Chrysanthemum
Koreanum would be a far more appropriate botanical name for the plant than
Chrysanthemum Montuossum KGB. Of course, it would be entirely possible
to attach his own name to the plant if his research yielded the results
he intended, but he was, if anything, selfless and patriotic where the
honor of his country was concerned. Such selfless patriotism was a family
tradition, and he rather enjoyed the sense of patriotic self- denial.
Acting under the assumption that the name he decided
upon would be adopted, he recommended the inclusion of the plant in the
"Nationwide Rare Flower Competition" and "Special Exhibition of Alpine
Plants," events for which he was serving as a referee, to make the plant
better known. And before he could finish the research for the paper on
the plant, he wrote to the organizers of the 78th International Plant Geography
Convention that he would be participating with a rare plant.
Chrysanthemum Montuossum KGB! Chrysanthemum Koreanum!
Mr. M. recited the names contemptuously to himself while shaving off his
beard which he hadn't trimmed for three days. His beard cleared away, his
smirk was visible. Mr. M. always shaved before making an important decision.
As soon as he finished shaving, he called up his research lab, to see if
they found out anything. But his assistants returned the usual answer that
they found nothing worth noting. He knew it was unreasonable to expect
the old machines in his laboratory to yield any miraculous revelations.
But he just couldn't see why the analysis by his lab always produced the
result that this rare plant was a common species of chrysanthemum. Then
he made another call to a company which was interested in making an industrial
use of the plant. Hearing that the patent he had been striving so hard
to earn wasn't granted, he thought he had to choose one of the two courses
open to him. Mr. M. wasn't a distinguished botanical scholar, nor did he
aspire to become one. It didn't really interest him that Mr. L., who came
from the same hometown as he, and Mr. K., who always regarded him as a
phony, and other plant specialists such as Mr. N., Mr. O. and Mr. P. were
engaged in the study of this flowering plant which seemed to be the craze
of the decade.
It is true that Mr. L., who always behaved like a member
of the royalty at the gatherings of fellow hometowners, got on his nerves,
but his real reason for wanting to give the plant a botanical name of his
choice was the advantage it would give him in winning various kinds of
patents. And that meant money! He could have a completely modern new laboratory!
That was why he had jumped into the race.
He was a man who could look far ahead. In his eyes, Mr.
L. had too strong a streak of heroism, so he was vain and not too good
at guarding his secrets. As for Mr. K., he was excessively proud, but Mr.
M. knew instinctively that by flattering Mr. K.'s pride he could be maneuvered
to fight Mr. L. on his behalf.
Being meticulous about his appearance, Mr. M. stood before
the mirror, examining his denim trousers and blue cotton T-shirts. He was
dressed casually because he didn't want to alienate the plant growers.
He rehearsed in his mind a script he had carefully formulated. Could it
have been his imagination that he thought the growers of the plant and
their neighbors, who were notorious for their hostility towards outsiders,
were friendly to him? He didn't think so. He had confidence in his engaging
appearance and his diplomatic skills.
He was going to suggest a deal to the growers. If they
would give him the information he needed, he would get the botanical name
of their choice accepted, by writing and publishing his paper before anyone
else. And he also had notes for a lucrative business deal detailing dividends
and other complicated matters to propose to the simple couple. Moreover,
the name he had in mind for the flower was an incomparably more beautiful
one than those Mr. K. or Mr. L. had in mind-names which his informants
wormed out of their heads for him, so to say. Chrysanthemum Bantipherum!
A wind- embracing chrysanthemum! What a poetic, alpine name! If the plants'
growers had even a glimmering of the beauty of the plant world, the name
would make them ecstatic! Or, if they were really attached to the flower's
nickname of North Pole Flower, he'd be willing to give it the name of Chrysanthemum
Arcticum. He had also heard that the nickname of the young woman who created
the flower and all its varieties was Green Hands. Well then, Chrysanthemum
Azureum was not a bad botanical name, either, he thought. He started his
"Bai, is North Pole very far from here?"
"Yes. Very far."
"Could we get there if we filled up the tank?"
"Well, we may have to make a raft to get there."
"Then we'd have to learn to row the raft."
"Wouldn't the sea wash away our magnetism?"
"Not if we cross it on a stormy day. There's electricity
in lightning, you know."
"Do you think flowers will bloom on the North Pole?"
"Of course. I saw pictures of the North Pole with flowers
"Bai, when we get to the North Pole, let's don't call
our flower Wind Chrysanthemum. Let's call it North Pole Flower."
"Yes, we'll call it that if you like."
8. Death of the Wind Chrysanthemum
If it hadn't been for the totally unexpected development,
the competition surrounding the botanical name of Wind Chrysanthemums might
have gone on for a long time, getting more and more complicated. But something
occurred to put an end to the competition. The first to learn of the development
was Mr. L. He received a letter of rejection from the organizers of the
International Plant Geography Convention, to which he had written to propose
reading a paper. The letter said in part:
We regret to inform you that an official report concerning
the rare plant you proposed to read a paper on, under the tentative botanical
name of Chrysanthemum Koreanum, has already been published in the New Journal
of Botany, volume 37, number 2....
As soon as he read this letter, which didn't give the
name of the author of the report, Mr. L. assumed at once that the author
could be none other than Mr. K. and hated him with all the violence in
his guts. But, not long afterwards, he found the said journal in his mailbox.
It was mailed to him anonymously. Tearing the journal out of the envelope,
he ran his eyes through the contents page. The author of "An Approach to
the Biological Character of Chrysanthemum Multiodoratum Bapa" was not Mr.
K. but a certain Mr. A., whose name he'd never heard of. The list of contributors
gave no information about Mr. A. other than that he was affiliated with
a certain provincial university in Korea. Like a rider galloping straight
to his destination, Mr. L. skipped to the conclusion. The botanical name
the author of the article proposed for the plant was Chrysanthemum Multiodoratum
Bapa, which meant Bapa chrysanthemum with multiple fragrances. Mr. L. did
not have the patience to read the author's reasons for proposing such a
weird name, so he flung the journal on the floor. Then, picking it up again,
he threw it in the wastebasket with all the force his well-exercised muscles
At about the same time, Mr. K. was amazed to find the
article in the journal he subscribed to. His face turned the color of white
paper lit by a yellow electric bulb. At that very moment, a spring breeze
stirred the Wind Chrysanthemum on his coffee table and its pungent fragrance
stung his nose. Strangely enough, on that day the fragrance not only made
his eyes water with a strange passion, but it also made him nauseous. With
tears gushing out of his eyes, he skimmed the article with lightning speed.
He didn't know whether his tears on that day were inspired by a certain
nameless grief the chrysanthemum's fragrance often evoked in him or by
fury. The beginning of the article in question was quite similar to the
paper he'd already published in a domestic journal. Who could this nonentity
be? He knew every plant specialist in the country. Overlooking the fact
that the article answered the questions he was unable to answer, he decided
that this A. was a plagiarist. Taking a tranquilizer which he had gotten
into the habit of taking whenever something happened to upset him, he surveyed
his garden with gloomy eyes. Should he admit this second failure? Or should
he do everything in his power to deny it?
Mr. M.'s reaction was different from the others'. First
of all, he was an optimist and was much less sensitive about it than the
others. He didn't allow himself to be hurt by an unexpected paper. Neither
was he the kind of man to give up profitable projects he had set his heart
on. He began collecting information necessary for nullifying the effect
of the report. On it depended the future of his laboratory and its more
than dozen staff. That day, too, he had made about a dozen telephone calls
in the morning. These were social calls he made every morning to cement
his friendly ties with persons who could be of use to him in one way or
another. He never skipped this routine unless he was severely ill. He asked
his colleagues to find out about this Mr. A. He thought Mr. K. or Mr. L.
might know something about him, but his instinct warned against contacting
his rivals as yet. Shaving his beard with even greater care than usual,
Mr. M. drew up plans in his head.
Then, a sudden marvelous idea hit him. Mr. M. rushed
to his study with the shaver still in his hand. He took out a thick folder
from his file cabinet and carefully examined the data concerning the plant.
When he had gone through most of the data, he received calls telling him
about Mr. A. Hearing from them that Mr. K. and Mr. L. had also asked for
information concerning Mr. A., Mr. M. could vividly see their furious and
despairing faces, but the pains his rivals must have suffered didn't give
him a perverse pleasure as they used to. Most of the information he received
concerned Mr. A.'s personal history, and included very little about how
he gathered his data and reached his conclusions. However, one of his colleagues
had found out that Mr. A. did not submit the article to the New Journal
of Biology himself, and only sent a draft of it to a Dutch friend of his
whom he knew from his days of study in Amsterdam, just to get a personal
opinion. The friend had sent it to the journal. Each of his informants
gave information that partly contradicted the others', so Mr. M. was rather
confused, but one thing became very clear to him: that the way to survive
lay in working together closely with Mr. K. and L.
Unlike his attitude in asking for the information, Mr.
M. was now listening to the facts about Mr. A. quite calmly, taking notes.
All his informants thought that Mr. A. was not a remarkable man in any
way. Mr. M. had formed the following composite picture of Mr. A. from the
information he had:
Mr. A. is five feet nine inches tall, and weighed one
hundred and forty pounds. He is reputed to be an even- tempered and reliable
man, and not given to self-display. Like most botanists he likes to travel.
His parents raised pigs on a small scale, so his circumstances were by
no means easy while he grew up. He studied for two years in Amsterdam on
a scholarship, and since his return from abroad has been teaching in his
alma mater in the C. province. He has a son and two daughters, and divides
his time between his laboratory and his home. He is not affiliated with
any academic association, and his only membership in a social organization
is that in the Amateur Go Lovers' Society. His publications include The
History of Botanical Science, The Distribution of Double Seed-leaved Woody
Plants in C. Province, and about a dozen articles in journals, but none
of them received much attention. His most recent article, printed in the
New Journal of Botany, entitled "A Biological Approach to the Chrysanthemum
Multiodoratum Bapa," is his first article on flowering plants.
Mr. K. and Mr. L. also received information to the same
effect concerning Mr. A. a little later.
As soon as he recovered a measure of calm, Mr. K. drafted
a long letter of protest to Mr. A., in fact a solemn lecture on the need
for strict honesty in academic writing. He told his younger colleague that
he was extremely sorry to find almost half of his own findings, which he
had already made public, in the younger scholar's paper, and that unless
the latter made a formal apology and took corrective action, he would take
the matter to court, for the benefit of posterity. He wanted the letter
to be the most solemn and moving letter he had ever written in his life.
He polished the letter repeatedly, to make it all the more moving for those
who'd discover it after his death. Before putting it in an envelope, he
read it aloud from the beginning to the end. Right at the moment, he got
a whiff of the Wind Chrysanthemum fragrance which reminded him of a certain
letter he had written about fifteen years ago and did not mail, and made
his voice tearful. But he didn't stop the recitation.
Mr. L. turned up the volume of the military march to full
blast. With his jaw propped on his hand, he gave himself up to the thrill
of listening to the military march. The beauty of order and repetition!
What? Chrysanthemum Multiodoratum Bapa? What a short-sighted and unaesthetic
name compared to Chrysanthemum Koreanum! The man must be the type of person
who never listens to a military march. The military march drummed on his
heart, telling him he should redouble his zeal to quell and punish all
those who violated order. But of course if asked exactly what order Mr.
A. had violated, he wouldn't have been able to say. To figure that out
he was playing the record over and over again. Because he truly loved repetition.
The adverse wind against Wind Chrysanthemums was a veritable
tempest, as sudden as it was nonsensical. No one knew where the tempest
started. It was hard to pinpoint its origin, as it rose from various and
sundry sources and combined to create an irresistible tempest. Like all
tempests, once it rose it generated energy internally. The tempest swept
the whole country and overturned the souls of men, as a whirlwind sweeping
a desert turns a caravan into a sand mound in a minute. The flower which
inspired so many romantic reveries in those fortunate enough to possess
one, began to have dark associations attached to it.
Its sea fragrance which inspired calm reflection; its
cloud fragrance which soothed nervous spirits; its Hoha fragrance which
seemed to evoke the music of celestial dancers, all were now suspected
of having dangerous effects on the body and soul. Some contended that the
flower was a variety of the poppy. Cited as proof was the case of a teenage
girl who stole money from her parents to purchase a plant. Its sap, petals,
stamen and roots, which were greatly sought after as possible cures for
asthma, Alzheimer's and urological disorders, were suspected of triggering
or aggravating stomach spasm, nervousness and hard stool, and people began
to hate the plant itself. One magazine printed the "then" and "now" pictures
of its cultivator as proof that the mere sight or smell of Wind Chrysanthemums
could have a powerful depilatory effect. It was rumored that the Department
of Health would soon be conducting a thorough investigation of the negative
effects of the plant. The plants could soon be exterminated, depending
on the findings of the investigation.
Shortly afterwards, a newspaper carried an article on
the publication of A Study of Wind Chrysanthemum, co-authored by the three
most prominent botanical scholars in the country, under the title "A Meaningful
Reunion after Long Separations." The article praised in highest terms the
public spirit that motivated the three scholars to overcome their long
rivalry and collaborate on a research to put an end to the many false hopes
and myths surrounding the plant. The article quoted Mr. L. as saying:
"We were brought together by the common concerns about
the plant and our shared views on the delusions it produced. In other words,
the problematic plant ironically served as a peacemaker and reconciler
for the three of us. After all, Mr. M. comes from my hometown, and Mr.
K. and I studied under the same teacher."
The article sketched the findings of the three scholars
in the first half, and in the second half enumerated various cases that
suggested the fantastic expectations people had of the plants. It didn't
give any scientific proof that the expectations were baseless, but the
book and the short article served to convince people that the plant was
a sham and that they had all been deceived. Mr. A. published a reply to
the three men's arguments, but it didn't draw much attention from the general
public, and only made him suspected of complicity with a company which
had invested quite a lot of money in making commercial use of the plant.
There was no need to ban the sale of various products
made from the plant, products that used to enjoy phenomenal popularity.
The once enthusiastic purchasers sued the manufacturers for compensation.
A number of cases filed involved fake victims such as a chronic heart patient
or a sufferer of hereditary depilatory problems, which had nothing to do
with Wind Chrysanthemums. So, the suits didn't result in the cultivators
going to jail or paying compensation. However, the residents of the county
where the plant colony was located staged a violent demonstration in front
of the county hall, demanding the extermination of the colony. The county
governor could make them disperse only by promising to do what they wanted.
The construction of a resort town on the site was a certainty now.
Exactly seven months after the rise of the adverse tempest,
the plant colony was mowed down and the flowers disappeared from the earth.
The only extant record concerning them consists of Mr. A.'s article in
the international journal, which was never reprinted in any of the domestic
journals, and some tributes written by a certain Mr. Ko, a friend of the
cultivators and a man suffering from the low altitude disease. His notebook
on the flower was meant to be a detailed chronicle of the most miraculous
botanical event in history, written on the paper made from the dried leaves
of the plant pressed together and with the purple ink extracted from the
plant's petals. But it went up in smoke, after somebody stole it one day,
because old people who still clung to the belief that the plant had preventive
potency against Alzheimer's rolled up all its leaves into cigarettes and
9. Journey to the North Pole
It was pitch dark that night. And stormy. Wagner's Tristan
and Isolde was booming out from the open window of an unlit room in a seaside
villa. A man was sitting on the sill of the open window, gazing at the
silhouette of the bay illuminated now and then by lightning. He didn't
seem afraid of the fierce storm. The mixed duet was ascending to a tragic
climax, as if to lull the rough tempest. It was a love duet.
"O sink down upon us, night of love. Make me forget I
live. Take me into your bosom. Free me from the world!"
On the shore, a small truck appeared staggeringly from
the east and slid down the coastline, with its specter-like headlight trembling
in the tempest. Then it stopped on the shore.
"Holy twilight's glorious presentiment obliterates the
horror of delusion, setting us free from the world," the song continued.
Two shadows alighted from the truck, and approached the
sea whose waves' white crests flickered in the darkness. The man sitting
on the window sill caught a glimpse of two flitting shadows walking into
the heaving sea, and took them for two passionate lovers immersing themselves
in the waves to cool their inflamed bodies.
"Heart to heart, lip to lip, bound together in one breath,
the world which dying day illuminates for us," the duet went on.
When another gust of wind hit the shore, the pale headlight
of the truck died out, leaving the shore in complete darkness. The lovers'
duet continued, as if in defiance of the tyrannical storm. Could the lovers
hear this song? Have they come out of the ocean? The man in the villa couldn't
be sure. Darkness had completely swallowed the shore.
"I myself am the world, supreme bliss of being. Life
of holiest loving, never more to awaken, delusion free sweetly known desire."
Lightning struck from afar. The streak of light that
cleaved the air momentarily illuminated the shabby truck lying abandoned
before the white crest of the heaving waves. The man in the window went
back to his room to change the disc.
The next day the truck stood on the shore in the clear
sunshine after the storm. It stood there for many days afterwards, and
children used it for play until the coast guard towed it away to the junk
Translated by Suh Ji-moon, who is professor of English
at Korea University