Cats were resting their butts against the glass door. This southward facing glass door always became warm with the sun at this time of the day. The neighborhood cats that followed looked as though sunlight was the only thing in this world that they needed. I knocked on the door. The cats were no longer startled by my presence. They stared at me for a moment uninterested, then turned away. I opened the door, slowly pushing aside the throngs of cat butts, and went outside.
The salty smell unique to a sea breeze hit my face. I pulled the zipper of my padded jacket all the way up to my neck. It was low tide, and the mudflat was extending all the way to the horizon. A person in rain boots was walking through the middle of the mudflat. They were, it seemed, heading toward Roe Island. The island was only accessible by foot two times a day, when the ocean waters receded. Locals went to the island to collect oysters, seaweed, and kelp. There were many islands like this in the area. They were all called “Roe Island.” I asked the old landlord why that was.
“Because roe deer live there,” she said as she organized the recyclable waste. She said they were roe that had broken away from the herd. They ran in circles evading predators, she said, until they eventually ended up on the deserted island.
“You can sometimes see at night.”
“The roe. They appear from the forests over there and swim through the waters at night toward the island.”
“Why at night, when they need to swim? The land bridge is opened during the day.”
“Because they’ll be seen!” she said as if frustrated.
“But swimming at night seems just as dangerous.”
“It is dangerous. They can die if the weather’s bad.”
At night, I would turn off the lights, stand at the window, and look down at the ocean. The water was impenetrably dark during the new moon or when the moon was a thin crescent. Only when it was larger than a half moon could I see bubbles on the waves and fragments of light floating on the water. And when the moon was finally a full moon, only then could you see everything, including Roe Island. The dense forest of trees on the island would often sway to the sound of the waves. But one day, when the moon was approaching its third quarter, the wind died down, and thus so had the trees and the waves. The stars moved slowly across the sky as the earth rotated about its axis. I immediately recognized the deer when I saw its black shadow standing in the forest. The deer just stood there for a while, without moving. Then slowly, it dipped its body into the ocean water. This sent ripples through what had been placid waters. Bobbing its head back and forth, the roe waded forward. As it did this the ripples from where the roe’s neck met the surface of the water began to overlap with each other. These ripples spread farther and farther. I held my breath, and the roe moved at a steady pace. Then finally, it reached the island. The roe must have been exhausted because it slipped and rolled its ankle as it tried to get up. Finally, however, it lowered its head and jumped up onto the island. It then disappeared, just as quickly as it had appeared. I let out the breath I had been holding in. I had been waiting each night to see a deer, but I doubted I would really see one. The roe had arrived at the island without encountering a single big wave, but those moments in the water must have been the most stressful of its life. After all, I could see it so easily. It was exposed to the entire world. I felt a sense of wonder as I watched the roe risk its life for those short moments.
After that night, I waited to see another roe. It had been so easy to see the first time; I thought for sure I would see at least one or two more. Another roe, however, never appeared.
I walked the slanted road that followed the slanted coastline. I passed a sushi restaurant, a janchi-guksu restaurant, a seafood jjamppong restaurant, one after the other. All the lights were off. And there was no one in the streets. The restaurants only opened their doors and received customers from noon on Saturday to noon in Sunday. On the weekends, campers set up tents on the beach, and vacationers would come to the Eundol Condominium, where I was staying.
A road appeared once you passed Eundol Shores. The road led to a forest. In the forest, the road transitioned to an unpaved path, and if you followed this path up for a while, you arrived, at Sabina Garden, located in the center of the forest.
I fed a single bill into the ticket machine and headed into the garden. Black pines lined both sides of the narrow, well-kept dirt path. I followed the path of black pines and came upon a roughly seven-hundred-square-foot pond. There was fog on the surface of the water. I looked up at the bald cypress standing in the center of the pound.
Sabina had bought this small pond in 1952. Sabina, an American who was recruited during the Korean War as an army nurse, lost a fellow nurse in the battle of Eundol Hill. The story of that nurse survived through letters Sabina sent to various individuals. Her friend wasn’t killed by enemy forces; she was killed after an altercation when she confronted friendly forces who were trying to desert. Her death, however, was reported as a case of suicide caused by PTSD and homesickness. Sabina worked for a long time to spread the truth of her friend’s death. Although she received permission to repatriate to America, Sabina remained in Eundol Village. She was also naturalized as a Korean citizen. She cut off all connection with the outside world and lived for sixty years on the shores of this small pond. She died at the age of ninety-one. She took her last breath alone in the workshed she made herself behind the pond. Sabina’s Garden was, in accordance with her will, opened to the public. Sabina had purchased over several decades a total of twenty-four acres of land around the pond, where she planted and maintained around twenty-seven thousand species of plants. A large number of endangered species and rare species that didn’t have colonies in Korea were discovered there after her death.
Two roads diverged from the small pond. The path on the left led toward the seaside cliff, and the path on the right to a colony of camellia. Today, I chose the right-hand path. I passed the camellia colony, as well as colonies of mahonia and witch hazel, and arrived at a colony of horned holly. There were a lot of plants here that flowered and produced fruit in the winter. Camellia like Chansonette, cotton candy, asahi-zuru. Witch hazel like pallida and Helena. And horned holly like rotunda, D’Or, Rubricaulis Aurea. I sat in the rocking chair. Chairs were placed where visitors would usually become tired and want to rest. One chair was made of a single log with no back rest. One chair was hanging from ropes like a swing, and another chair was like a beach chair, half reclined with long extended legs. If you sat in the beach chair-like chair, your eyes naturally turned to the sky. From that position, you could see the glow of the setting sun as it unfurled across the sky. In the area closest to the shore where it was windy, strong pines served as windbreakers, and at the bottom of the hill where there was little wind, plants with fragile pedals were planted. There were nests of birds and ducks where the gravel path ended far away from the sound of footsteps. Everything was perfectly conditioned for the sun and the sea, like a wooden bedside table that was glossy from decades of hands touching it. But there weren’t many visitors who came to see this botanical garden specialized for winter. Every year, Sabina Garden lost money. Aside from the endangered species, all the plants in the garden were slowly dying. Placed throughout the garden were photo spots; they also built a souvenir shop and a cafeteria. These shops went through several changes, becoming cafés and then guest houses, before finally closing completely.
There was a tall pile of fallen leaves beneath a dry, dead tree. I crouched down next to the pile and started looking for a leaf to take with me. I picked out a leaf with distinct veins and stood up. Today, I was going to tell Hyeri about this dead leaf.
The first time I received an email from Hyeri was six winters ago. The email started with the words, “I’m not sure if you remember me, but . . .” And, indeed, I hadn’t remembered her. I searched for her email address in my inbox. I had just once sent her an email. It was for a final project for an elective: “Movies and Art.” Hyeri and I were doing a group project together. It was called a group project, but there was no collaboration. Each of our four members simply emailed each other our parts; Hyeri had the responsibility of combining our files. I knew nothing about her—what her major was, if she was older or younger than me, nothing. My only memory of her was her notebook. One day in class, I had seen her notebook beneath her elbow as she sat diagonally from me. A single word had been written on the page dozens of times in dense handwriting. It wasn’t a language I knew how to read. Hyeri said she remembered when I brought up the notebook in an email. I wanted to know why she had contacted me. Hyeri seemed happy when I brought up the notebook. The language in the notebook, she said, was Swedish, and she was currently studying in Sweden. She sent me emails every Sunday. It was around her fifth email that I realized she had no reason for emailing me. If there was a reason, it was simply that she wanted to tell someone how she was doing. I stopped replying after that.
I had received similar emails from several other people. Someone from junior high whom I had been close with for just one semester; a former high school student whom I had once tutored for three months online; and a close friend whom I had lost contact with long ago. These people all had one thing in common: they had left Korea. I thought of their emails like letters from acquaintances enlisted in the army. People who entered the military in their early twenties sent letters to everyone they remembered, whether they were close or not. Everyone had the experience of receiving these types of letters; I also used to receive them. I also came to realize that, no matter how genuinely heartfelt my replies were, they always stopped contacting me once they were discharged. Every time I received emails like those from Hyeri, I would send an appropriately friendly reply. I was just friendly enough not to upset them, but I kept my responses short in hopes that the correspondence wouldn’t continue. They would quickly realize what I wanted and stop emailing me. Then two years ago in winter, I sent my first unsolicited email to Hyeri.
It was raining today when I left. But then it stopped, and so I forgot my umbrella again . . . My eyesight has gotten worse, so I went to the optical shop today to change my lenses . . . I went to the dentist today to have my teeth cleaned, but because the dentist wanted to pull all four of my wisdom teeth, I just left . . . I stopped by the movie theater on my way home and watched a movie by myself . . . These were the types of conversations Hyeri and I had. Because we didn’t share any memories and had no topics that we could bond over, we just blabbered on about our individual lives. Having a beer at home while watching a television program on my notebook, or chopping up ripe kimchi for kimchi stew—these were the type of menial things that made me think of Hyeri and the type of things I wanted to tell her about. It felt like I was telling Hyeri every little action I did. When I did this, it felt just like I was spending time with her. It was true that there was no possibility of our watching a movie together or having a beer together. And we didn’t see the same weather or live in the same time zone. But I rather liked that.
Hyeri told me she was getting her PhD in Sweden. When she first arrived, she intentionally avoided other Koreans. She had heard many times that Koreans abroad who hang out with other Koreans only ever hang out with other Koreans. But Hyeri hadn’t gone abroad to hang out with other Koreans. She actively started conversations with people of different nationalities, and, despite the fact she was sometimes ignored or rejected, she eventually made some good friends. Problems arose during a lecture, however. It was a Swedish language class for international students. Hyeri’s professor stared at her and said shamelessly, “Koreans eat with their faces buried in their bowls. Like dogs.”
Hyeri wrote that she felt like this incident was almost too stereotypical. But what was even more horrendously stereotypical was what happened next. Hyeri told her friends about what happened. She wanted her friends to feel enraged with her. But those friends only seemed confused. “But why do your people eat with their head in their bowls?” They seemed genuinely curious. Hyeri calmly explained that the question was based on racist assumptions. Only then did her friends finally understand her. And after that, they were more careful around Hyeri. They were excessively polite to her. Should we tell her that she bought bad seats to a concert, or would that be racist? Should we recommend this café’s famous cinnamon rolls to Hyeri, or would that be racist? Hyeri regretted telling her friends about that incident. She decided not to talk to them any more about racism. She waited until her friends had forgotten the fact that she was an outsider. Things eventually went back to normal with her friends, but then a few months later, a similar incident happened in her class.
The Korean community was already actively involved in fighting racism. They banded together to publicize incidents and sought ways to battle racism. But Hyeri didn’t ask other Koreans for help. She had already distanced herself from them long ago. It seemed like the Korean community thought Hyeri had turned her back on them because she thought she was better than them. Of course, Hyeri would get help if she asked for it, but that’s not all their assistance would entail. It also meant that she would have to become a member of their community. Hyeri didn’t want to become a member of that society. So, Hyeri became unable to speak to anyone about the racism she encountered. Her close friends were close but distant. And her fellow Koreans were distant but close. Hyeri sent me emails about the numerous insults she encountered. She needed someone like me who was faraway. She needed someone who couldn’t become close with her, who couldn’t interfere, someone who would just listen.
Once I left the colony of horned holly, I could see the tallest hill in Sabina Garden. On this hill was Sabina’s workshed. The shed also went through several iterations—a place where visitors could experience woodwork, then a museum, and now an abandoned building. Hanging from the walls were picture frames covered in dust. Bits of sawdust and pieces of wood were scattered about the floor. Towards the back of the shed was Sabina’s desk. Lying open on the desk was her longtime notebook.
September 21, 1991
The stiff pine needles are bent. Powerlessly wilted. The needles turned brown over the course of two weeks. The trees have been infected with mites from the south. I must fell all the infected. These mites travel through the wind; you must burn the trees to the root to exterminate them. It is not possible to pick out the trees that are in their incubation period. But must they all die?
I cannot let that happen.
The sign said that everything that happened to her trees, from the time she planted them to the time they died, was recorded in this notebook. It particularly emphasized the fact that this garden journal was written not in English but hangeul. A black-and-white picture of Sabina in a hanbok was shown next to the sign.
At the end of this path was a seaside cliff. And on the cliff was a dense forest of pines. Some of the trees were as short as people, and others were as tall as buildings. It seemed like there was a mix of thriving trees and dying trees. A sign in front of a stump read: “For my fallen friends.” This place was where she raised plants and at the same time a grave.
The sun was hanging high in the sky. The fog that had been floating on the surface of the small pond had dissipated. Sunlight was pouring down into the pond, but the water was still dark. I returned on the path I had entered.
Just a small walk from the condominium was Eundol Port. There were no boats, and the maritime police station’s doors were closed. Placed side to side toward the back of the port were several freight container-turned shops, and these made up Eundol Fish Market. It was called a fish market, but they didn’t really sell marine products. Locals just sat together in their stands and cleaned what they caught on Roe Island. I went into the shop located farthest back in the market. This shop sold fishing tackle for the occasional tourist who came for the night fishing. This place was always open. This was because it was the only shop at which locals could buy daily necessities. Every day I would come here to buy things like eggs, instant rice, or toilet paper. The old lady at the counter, who sat on her electric bag and calculated change with her abacus, ripped me off little by little. Fish that had been 700 won one day, would become 800 the next, and 900 the day after that.
“Can I see Moong-chi before going?” I asked the old lady as she counted my change. She told me I could. Moong-chi was sitting behind the shop.
Moong-chi slowly lifted his head and looked at me. He opened his glazed-over eyes and sniffed the air with loud snorts. It looked like Moong-chi was trying to figure out whether I was someone who was just calling his name or someone who was going to come play. Only once when I walked over to the front of the doghouse and crouched down did Moong-chi come out. He extended his back legs and stretched. He turned around a few times, then got on two feet to greet me. I stuck out my palm. Moong-chi licked my fingers and buried his face in my palm.
Moong-chi lived here, a red leash always attached to his neck. According to the old lady, her granddaughter had left him for her to take care of. Also according to her, Moong-chi was living the most luxurious life of all the dogs in Eundol. She said that there was probably no other dog who was fed kibble. She even put a mat down for him in the doghouse. Her face was filled with self-satisfaction as she said this. But underneath Moong-chi’s long coat of matted fur was an emaciated body. His leash was short and there was no place for him to go to the bathroom, so he had to lift his leg and pee on the outside wall of his own doghouse. I would sometimes ask the old lady if she had ever thought about untying him.
“My granddaughter raised him inside,” she said as she waved her hands in the air defiantly. “He’s never been outside, so who knows if he’ll be able to find his way back. He’s never seen a car before either. He won’t be able to dodge them.”
Moong-chi brought his front legs together as he rolled over and showed me his stomach. I gave him a belly rub. This dog knew how to communicate its feelings to people, as well as how to read people’s emotions. I took my index finger and thumb, made the shape of a pistol, and pointed it at Moong-chi. He quickly got to his feet. He raised his two front paws as though surrendering. I could see the jet-black pads on his paws.
I returned to the condominium. The cats that had gathered by the glass door earlier were gone. I fixed myself a late lunch and did the dishes. I took a shower, cleaned the room, and when I looked out the window, night was beginning to fall. Here, the sun began to set around four. And it seemed like the locals went to bed as early as seven. By eight, all the lights in the town were out, and everything went pitch black.
I sat at the table, opened my laptop, and looked at my inbox. I didn’t read the unread messages, among which was an email from Jae-yeon.
Jae-yeon had sent me an email four months ago. She wanted to include a similarly themed writing piece of mine in her private art exhibition. I replied to her saying that I would definitely collaborate with her next time. A few days later, I got another email from Jae-yeon. She said she really wanted to collaborate with me. But, she added, there probably wasn’t going to be another opportunity. Jae-yeon then told me the news of a fellow artist who had committed suicide recently. He was a relatively famous artist, and for the last several years, he had always been making his voice heard whenever there was controversy. He’d felt that he was always being excluded. He was cut from every project because he couldn’t find anyone to collaborate with. When he told Jae-yeon he was going to give up and start something new, Jae-yeon didn’t say anything to him. She regretted not being able to tell him that it was okay for him to quit and look for something else. Jae-yeon concluded her email by asking me how I was doing. I replied immediately.
You once asked me what my dream was. We were at your workshop on Euljiro. You were taking a break from school, and I was just starting out as a writer. If you remember, I hesitated for a moment and told you my dream had already come true. And then you asked me how that could be. But it’s true. My dream was to write for a living.
I liked living in a dream that had already come true. I wanted to live inside a dream and relive my dream over and over for eternity. I had never even imagined dreaming of anything else. I thought that no matter what kind of pain I endured, it would never affect my dream. I wonder, did I believe I was completely safe? Each time one of my literary friends quit, I felt like I couldn’t completely understand them. I sometimes concluded that they were talented but lacked the perseverance to succeed. Only now do I think of them again.
It was about two years ago. My friend had received an invitation to be on the panel at a forum discussing the issue of abuse of power in the literary world. While preparing materials to present at the forum, she was contacted by the organizer of the forum. Although criticism was allowed, the presentation could only include information that had already been made public. ‘If that’s all you were planning on allowing us to do, why even have the forum in the first place?’ my friend asked. The organizer tried to persuade my friend by saying that what was important was change through vigilance, that they weren’t suggesting for anyone to become a whistleblower, that they didn’t need to put themselves in a dangerous position. My friend thought this forum was just for show. She felt like she was being used, like she was just a tool. Eventually, however, my friend wrote up her piece and included the organizer’s request for everyone to see. After that, my friend turned into Voldemort from the Harry Potter series: they dared not say her name. I’ve never talked about this to any of my other writer friends. Jae-yeon, if you were a writer, I wouldn’t be able to tell you either.
This year was the first time I tried to write a proper resume. It’s not that I’ve never written a resume before, but every resume I wrote until now was something I submitted as a mere formality. With the hope of getting a job at a company, I looked up sample resumes, wrote down my desired salary, and even wrote a personal statement. I failed in the end, but I felt good. I had challenged myself to take a different path. I felt like I could change if I wanted.
This is as far as I wrote before hitting the send button. But then a few minutes later, I decided to send one more email to Jae-yeon.
It’s ridiculous to tell someone who wants to quit, ‘Just try a bit harder.’ I know that words like that put people through more pain. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to you and I’m sorry to your friend whom I didn’t know.
I sent the email and sat there in silence for a moment. As I imagined Jae-yeon’s friend, who was a stranger to me, I was reminded of my own friend’s face. My friend, who quit writing and decided to move to Canada, asked me to plan a going away party for her. My friend gave me a bitter smile as she said to me—someone who was celebrating her leaving Korea—“And here goes another artist, silently vaporizing from the Korean peninsula.” I took out my cellphone. I looked through the messages that my friends and I had exchanged. She used to send me the same message every month out of nowhere.
“Must continue living.”
At first, I was thoroughly shocked by this message. I couldn’t tell if she was saying this to me or making a promise to herself. I thought she was just sentimental from being too drunk. But as more and more friends quit and left, I realized something. I realized that there was no deeper meaning to her text message. It literally meant whether you continue or quit, you must continue living. Perhaps my friends had figured it out before I had: I was no different from them.
While all of my friends went abroad to study, went to graduate school, or got jobs, I chose to keep writing. Even when my bank account was looking dangerously empty, I chose to secure even more time for writing. I stopped drinking and quit all my hobbies. I stopped going out as much as possible. Even when I went out on walks through the neighborhood, I made sure to bring a tumbler filled with coffee so that I wouldn’t stop by a café. I didn’t meet friends or family. I had no weekends, no holidays.
Once I finally debuted as a writer, I received a never-ending stream of work. I ate microwaveable meals and staying up late writing. All my income was money I earned from submitting manuscripts, but because I developed a bad back, I had to spend it on hospital bills. I worked myself sick, and I paid off my hospital bills with that work. But I was happy because I was doing what I liked to do. I considered poverty to be a prerequisite for being an artist. And then one day I was invited to a forum. After the incident, I started to become a person who forced herself to write to resist the urge to quit. I thought I could tell this to Jae-yeon, just as I had confided in Hyeri. But instead, I eventually changed the subject “I” into “my friend”. I was getting used to the excessive effort to conceal and protect myself.
I was comfortable now that I joined with people who wanted to quit. I didn’t know them well, but I quickly felt a sense of comradery. I felt like I knew them well. Just like when I was a freshman in college and had felt closest to the students who, like me, passionately threw their entire being into literature.
After that, Jae-yeon sent me several emails. But I couldn’t bring myself to open her emails. Two months later, I heard that Jae-yeon had opened her private exhibit. The entrance to the exhibition hall was located in a lonesome residential alleyway. The hall was in an open concrete building that looked half-constructed. When I entered the building, the whole place smelled of mold. There was no one inside, only an oilstove burning red. Light from a projector was shining across the room. The triangular beam of light was pouring out of the circular lens and forming a movie on the wall. I crouched down next to the projector. Water was falling from the sky. A person cupped their hands together. And with their hands, they received the falling water. Soon, the transparent water filled the person’s hands and flowed out through their fingers. Another person received the water with their hands. And then another person below that cupped their hands and received that water. Again and again… It looked like it was raining. It felt like those hands were catching the rain that was going to fall on my head.
The poster on the standing signboard outside was wet with dots of water. It was actually raining outside. I extended my hand outside, beyond the cover of the eaves. It was a fine mist—hard to sense with your hand, but enough to soak your clothes if you walked long enough in it.
“Practicing Walking on the Edge of Ice.” *
Looking at the title of Jae-yeon’s exhibition, I imagined Jae-yeon stepping carefully on the edge of a piece of ice. I opened my umbrella. I then wedged my umbrella in the small gap at the top of the standing signboard.
*This image was borrowed from artist Kang Jiyun’s private exhibition “A Practice for Walking on the Brink of Thin Ice” (Post Territory Ujeongguk, Nov 22 – Dec 3, 2019).
I sent Hyeri an email. I wrote about Roe Island, about the fallen leaf I picked up in Sabina Garden, about seeing Moong-chi at the back of the fish market. I mentioned that I pretended to shoot Moong-chi with a pistol, just as she asked me to. I also mentioned that, just as she predicted, Moong-chi lifted his two front paws as if he were surrendering to me. But to me, it looked like Moong-chi was yelling “Hoorah!”
Hyeri and I started making these small requests of each other last summer. It was in the middle of the Midnight Sun period in Sweden, and in Korea we were experiencing a heat wave. Hyeri’s friends all said that the Midnight Sun was much better than the Polar Night, when darkness and rain continued for several months. Her friends enjoyed the Midnight Sun by sitting on the grass, soaking in the sun, and drinking beer late into the night. There was a festival and tourists from all over the world came to see the natural phenomenon. But for Hyeri, she preferred the Polar Nights. She preferred endless darkness over endless sunlight. Because it was bright during the day and night, she felt awake at night even when she shut her eyes and tried to sleep. All day she felt lethargic like a drunkard. Hyeri heard that a Korean restaurant in Stockholm sold Korean cold noodles, naengmyeon, during the summer months. Hyeri heard this every summer, but she had never once gone to the Korean restaurant. Of course, there was the reason that it was expensive, but more than this, she wanted to rid herself of her yearning for Korean food. Indeed, the reason she had learned Swedish—in a country where everyone could speak English, and Swedish was only spoken by the natives—was because she wanted to completely move her roots. But even though she spoke and listened in a foreign language all day, inside her head, she was mumbling to herself in Korean. She couldn’t help but overhear the Korean of random people on the street; any other language required her to focus all of her mental power and translate in her head. Sometimes, she just wanted to speak Korean with someone, anyone. The anxiety that she didn’t fit in anywhere, be it Korea or Sweden, was always following Hyeri. She always felt at a lost as she wondered what would be left when her extended time abroad was finished. The thing that came to Hyeri abroad was not the freedom she left Korea in search of, but a sense of isolation. But Hyeri thought a sense of isolation was better than that tiresome sense of belonging. And yet, Hyeri was now for the first time going to buy a bowl of naengmyeon in Stockholm. She wanted to drink that broth with floating pieces of thin ice. She didn’t want soggy meatballs anymore; she wanted crisp shredded daikon radish. She felt like that would wake up all the cells in her body, which were feeling under the weather because of the Midnight Sun.
The Korean restaurant had few customers. And the naengmyeon was more expensive than Hyeri had expected. It tasted worse, too. The broth was lukewarm and too salty. The Korean sauce, yangnyeomjang, tasted of capsaicin. And the noodles were soggy and stuck together. Naengmyeon that tasted neither like naengmyeon nor not like naengmyeon—this to Hyeri seemed just like her own wretched situation. Hyeri ended her email by asking me to get a bowl of mul naeungmyeon for her if I ever was near Eulmildae—if I liked naengmyeon, that was.
I went to Eunmildae. I had always wanted to eat there, so I decided to stand in line and wait. I waited for an entire hour, but the mul naengmyeon they served wasn’t my cup of tea. The broth was too watery, and the noodles were slimy and broke too easy. Only one or two specs of chili powder were stuck to the clear, white shredded radish, which should have been red. I told Hyeri I couldn’t understand why anyone would think this restaurant was good. Hyeri seemed to enjoy reading this email of mine. She told me that my tone was enough to convey how bad the naengmyeon was. She also said she would read my email several times whenever she craved naengmyeon.
Hyeri and I started making small requests to each other. They always started off with “If by some chance you ever go to . . .” I asked Hyeri to try Nobel Ice Cream for me if she ever went to the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. Later, I got a reply saying that the ice cream, although beautifully decorative, had strawberry toppings that were so sour it was horrifying. Hyeri asked me to try frozen persimmon for her, and that was the first time I had tried the sherbet-like dessert. I asked Hyeri to go the house of Astrid Lindgren, and while she was in that area, she discovered the Stockholm Public Library, which she had never visited before. She said she was captivated by the grand, old-fashioned space which was surrounded by a circular bookcase.
In order to complete Hyeri’s requests, I ended up going outside more than I usually did. I walked more, too. I contemplated what I would request of Hyeri next. I tried hard to think of anything, even trivial things I had never really wanted. About two months ago, Hyeri asked me to go visit Moong-chi. This email, however, started out with the words “I’m sure you don’t have any reason to go all the way to Eundol Village, but . . .”
I got up without finishing my email to Hyeri. I put a pot on the stove. I boiled four eggs, cooled them off in cold water, and then peeled them. I mixed some soy sauce and yangnyeom spice and boiled them down with the eggs. As the mixture sizzled, the smell of soy sauce filled the room. I decided I would tell Hyeri about this braised soy sauce egg recipe when I was done eating. Because soy sauce was something she would easily be able to find at the grocery store, I knew she would be able to enjoy the recipe herself. I opened the window to air out the room. I stared out the window for a while. The moon had yet to enter my window frame. But deeper into the night, the moon would take its place inside the rectangle. This would be the second full moon I had seen through this window. I had already postponed my checkout several times. What had been a five-day-four-night trip had dragged on for nearly two months. I wanted to live here forever. That seemed like just as reasonable a choice as any other.
I closed the window and started eating my braised eggs with some rice. Once I was done, I would continue writing my email. Tomorrow, I would go to Sabina Garden again to pick up another fallen leaf. And I would read the next page in Sabina’s diary. How, I wonder, had Sabina saved the pine forest? Where did she start cutting and burning, and where did she stop? How did she discern between those trees she would kill and those she would spare? Did Sabina consider herself as someone who left, or someone who remained? In America, Sabina would be someone who had disappeared. Tomorrow, I would get a new reply from Hyeri. An answer to my question, and Hyeri would tell me one more quirk of Moong-chi’s. That he had a spiral in his armpit, or that he knew how to howl to a song. I would stand at the windowsill day after day, waiting to see another roe deer crossing the water. I would wait, hoping that it wouldn’t be seen.
Translated by Sean Lin Halbert