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  • The Bow Tie
  • Lee Eyunkee
    Translated by Tahee Lee (bio)

Unless you live in a small country where there are only a handful of schools, it would be extremely rare for you to have a lifelong classmate, someone who went to the same school with you from elementary school through middle and high school all the way up to college. Yet I do have such a rare friend. His name is Pak Nosu. There are people in this world who give the school system too much credit and think Pak Nosu and I would be similar in our ways of thinking and behaving, but that is not true. A man does not stand alone. I think each man has a universal subconscious which preserves everything from his family’s household history to the history of humanity. That is why I consider education to be ancillary—like bridesmaids and groomsmen at a wedding—when a man faces the times by himself.

It was probably the times that made me a lifelong schoolmate of my friend Pak Nosu whose portrait I am now going to attempt to paint by stippling. An event considered coincidental in one era might turn out to be inevitable in another. The characteristics of an age often blur the line between chance and necessity. When Nosu and I were in school, it was considered a virtue for a man’s personal and social values to be completely consistent with those of others. In that age, men hesitated to step out of the bounds of shared values if they could help it. In that age, there was one sure formula: [End Page 5]

Don’t get any ideas into your head!

If you were branded “the kid with ideas,” the road to recovery was going to be a long one. Imagination was a dangerous thing.

If you were born in the same village, you were bound to enter the same elementary school. If you were a good student in a provincial grade school, you were guaranteed to go to a first-rate middle school in a nearby, not-so-big city. When you were in a first-rate middle school, going to a first-rate high school with the same name was as inevitable as song refrains even if your grades were poor. This was the formula. Nosu and I became long-time schoolmates following it. If a friend happened to break away from this path, we were impertinent enough to say, “Pity, he was such a smart chap.”

It was also not unrelated to the times that we entered the same university in Seoul. We both decided to major in silk fiber science, a rare field even in the department of agriculture, for three reasons: 1. We had a grudge against our hometown’s Stone Age industrial structure, 2. it seemed a familiar subject considering what we had seen while growing up, and 3. there was the government’s equivalent of a friendly pat on the back. From that point on, however, there was no formula to follow.

It is a well-known fact that in wartime the price of a regular horse shoots up as high as the price of a general’s; but when the war ends, it’s just a draft horse if it can haul and a crock of shit if it can’t.

So when Japan slowly began to refuse to import certain agricultural products, when China woke up from its long nap and began to make its way out of the bamboo forest, and when our government succumbed to the United States’ export offensive, we who belonged to the ill-fated generation with poor imaginations succumbed alongside it.

Furthermore, it was said that Koreans who made it big in the US wig market were changing to other businesses one by one. Rumor was that the Chinese only had to pull out a single strand of hair each for export and Korea’s wig export business would crumble. It is not clear what the Chinese had in mind then, but when they [End Page 6] took aim at the silk business, which was already in decline, Japan and Korea held hands and swore...


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