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  • Excerpt from All the Way
  • Hwang Chŏngŭn (bio)
    Translated by Bruce Fulton (bio) and Ju-Chan Fulton (bio)


My name is Sora.

In case you're wondering, the Chinese character for the ra of my name means "water dropwort." It was supposed to be a different ra, the one with the Chinese character that means "fruit," but Grandfather messed up when he went to our local precinct office to report my birth. Well, maybe he didn't mess up, maybe he wrote the "water dropwort" ra because water dropwort was one of his favorite side dishes. How else could you explain it, those two characters for ra are totally different. Grandfather, you couldn't possibly have mixed them up, right? I don't remember much about Grandfather. Not that I had much time with him—he passed away the year I turned two, they said he had hepatitis from eating fish he caught from the river. I've learned since that he had an average build, an average grip if you were to shake hands with him, he was an average breadwinner—everything about him was average. That was his reputation, and he lived up to it.

"You know, it wasn't that fish from the river that killed him. There was a flood, see?" My mother told me this when I was a little girl.

"There was a flood, houses got washed away, people died, see? And he's out there fishing—can you believe that? Houses, animals, [End Page 133] people are getting carried away, and there he is fishing in that muddy current. Now imagine all the people who got swept away in that water, imagine their bitterness and suffering. Well, that water is where he dropped a line. His hook must have dragged across some poor soul's cheek or back, and out came all the grudges and resentment, and that's what he choked on when he ate that fish and dropped dead."

Mother's name is Aeja.

And that's what my sister Nana and I call her—more often than we call her Mother, anyway. She's somehow more real when we call her Aeja. The Chinese character for the ae of her name means "love," and the character for the ja means "child." And sure enough, she's full of love, she's brimming with it.

Aeja the Love Child must have been overflowing with love when she was dating Father, judging from all the stories she used to tell us. A lot of them had to do with summer, because that's when they started going out. She talked about a massive typhoon, the kind that might blow in once in a century. She said signs flew off, utility poles got blown down, trees were uprooted, that's how strong the wind was. And there they were, the two of them, beneath an umbrella, stepping over fallen trees, and do you suppose their clothes were flapping in that wind? "No way." Tiny branches shot through the air like bone slivers or arrows, but do you suppose they were hurt? "Not on your life."

"So you and Father were out walking?" I asked her once. "And?"

Aeja was lost in thought for a moment, then said, "And we were talking—what else." She couldn't remember what they discussed, only that they talked endlessly as they walked. Really? I said, she didn't remember a single thing?

"It's because," Aeja said, "it was so precious listening to each other. It became part of me and nothing was left."

"Part of you?" [End Page 134]

"More than listening, we were kind of consuming each other. Eating, drinking those words, going all out, so there was nothing left to remember, it's like the two of us turned into one. Just like if you have milk for breakfast and it turns into blood and muscle, what we talked about turned into blood and bone for me," said Aeja, and then she was lost in thought again, maybe considering what she'd just said.

I have a photo of when Aeja was going out with him. She's young and pretty...