Inching Towards Yeolha
By Sam-Shik Pai
Translated from the Korean by Walter Byongsok Chon
Volume 7, Issue 2 (Fall 2018)
In October 2010, Columbia University saw the staging of Walkabout Yeolha, an adaptation of a Korean play by Sam-Shik Pai. This production, an MFA thesis project for Korean director Kon Yi (‘11), marked an encounter that, in my opinion, has yet to become more frequent: an exposure to contemporary Korean playwriting for U.S. audience. It was with great pleasure and pride that I became part of this project as translator of the original play by Pai.
It was in the summer of 2010 that the director Yi contacted me about this play, which, in Korea, premiered at Towol Theater in Seoul Arts Center, directed by Jin-Taek Sohn, in March 2007. A literal translation of the original title would be Inching Towards Yeolha, Yeolha being the destination of Jiwon Park (aka Yeon-Ahm), an eighteenth-century Korean philosopher who traveled to China in pursuit of practical ideas to modernize the traditional Korean society, which was driven by Confucianism. Based on Yeon-Ahm’s travelogue, The Jehol Diary, Pai created an allegorical satire, exploring the questions of tradition and innovation. Pai introduces us to a nearly-fossilized, fictive village in a desert, and guides us through the turbulence the village undergoes at its first encounter with what the villagers call the “exotic.” Yeon-Ahm, the narrator of the play, is a “four-legged beast” and, as she tells the villagers of the world outside the village, provides the initial conflict of the play. Her talking eventually makes her the scapegoat to save the village from being “erased.”
In the American theatre scene, contemporary Korean playwrights are only to be found by avid researchers aiming to find them. Part of the reason is that Korea’s theatre development suffered a disconnect in the early twentieth century while it was under the occupation of Japan. Only after 1950 could Korean theatre emerge again. In the director’s note, Yi mentions he found only three Korean playwrights whose works had been translated into English—Taesuk Oh, Yun-taek Lee and Kang-baek Lee—which gave him a strong incentive to bring Yeolha to life in New York. The three aforementioned playwrights are some of the most recognized playwrights in Korea, yet hardly any of their work has received a professional production in the U.S.
In theatre history education, the significance of Korean theatre is mostly allotted to the ritual tradition of Kut and mask dance called Talchum. However, the modern and contemporary playwrights are hardly covered compared to well-recognized Asian playwrights such as China’s Gao Xingjian (The Bus Stop, The Other Shore) or Japan’s Yukio Mishima (The Lady Aoi). While Korean-related themes have been depicted by playwrights such as Young-Jean Lee (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven), Julia Cho (Aubergine), and Lloyd Suh (American Hwangap)—to name a few—it is reasonable to say that these two authors write from a distinctive Korean-American perspective.
The American audience was first exposed to a Korean theatre production with the LaMaMa production of Prince Hamyul, an adaptation of Hamlet, directed by Minsoo Ahn, in 1977. A revival of this piece called Hamyul/Hamlet played LaMaMa in July 2011, directed by Byungkoo Ahn, the son of Minsoo Ahn. Recently, more Korean troupes have been bringing their acclaimed productions to the U.S. In 2009, Sadari Movement Laboratory performed their adaptation of Georg Büchner‟s Woyzeck, directed by Do-Wan Lim, at the Public Theater as part of the Under the Radar Festival. Seoul Factory for the Performing Arts (SFPA) put on their adaptation of Euripides’ Medea, called Medea and its Double, at LaMaMa in January 2010. These companies imaginatively fused western classics with traditional Korean performance elements and created original works crossing over both cultural traditions.
For Walkabout Yeolha, the guarantee of performance, combined with the significance of representing a new Korean play to the New York audience, was certainly a big advantage as I entered into the translation process. Picturing the performance venue, I imagined how the words of Pai could be delivered to the audience. My primary objective was to enable fluent communication between the two cultures: making what is Korean in Pai‟s text present and relevant for the American audience. As is frequently touched upon, translation entails “cultural interpretation” and, therefore, requires not only proficiency in both languages but also a complete embracing of both cultures.
In Yeolha, my first challenge was to make explicit and active what is innately Korean. The village in the play takes after a traditional Korean village that operates on a hierarchy based on patriarchy and gerontocracy. What is unique in terms of language among people who have become so familiar with each other is that they often use insinuating and provocative remarks in place of straightforward statements. For example, to a prodigal son who returned home after a long absence, a Korean mother would sarcastically say, “You‟re back already? Are you sure you had enough fun out there?” instead of bursting into tears and showing her joy at the reunion. In the play, the villagers by now have absorbed this kind of language pattern, which reflects the intimacy among them. The language among the villagers also reflects the hierarchy. For example, a village senior could throw a denigrating comment to a village woman or boy without being considered the least bit insulting. Showing respect for elders is, after all, deep in the Korean cultural genes, and elders, if not receiving the proper respect, actively demand it. While the play clearly provides the appropriate context for the tone of each word, it was my responsibility, when it came to the underlying Korean sentiments, to find the right expressions to convey the subtle nuance.
More broadly, delivering the right tone was of utmost importance for the allegory and satire in this play to be fully realized. The idea which prevails in the story—tradition being threatened by innovation—establishes this play as an allegory about the danger of complacency, while the chaos the villagers go through in the struggle brings out comic and satiric elements. Conflict occurs more often between groups or between individual and group than between individuals, so each character needed not only to breathe as an individual, but also to be characterized as a type, that is, as a member of a certain group. For example, the men, in general, give straightforward addresses, while the women speak more in a scrupulous manner. The seniors, to show their authority, use formal and commanding vocabulary, while the boys talk in fragments and colloquial idioms. The main characters are given their own particular ways of speaking: Yeon-Ahm, the narrator, speaks articulately and objectively, just like the Stage Manager in Our Town; and the Inspector, to emphasize that he belongs to a completely different world, uses bombastic phrases and terms.
Since the premiere of Walkabout Yeolha, several new Korean and Korean-American voices emerged, including Hansol Jung (Cardboard Piano at Humana Festival, Among the Dead at Ma-Yi Theater Company), Celine Song (The Feast at MAP Theater in Seattle), and Jihae Park (Peerless at Yale Repertory Theatre). Moreover, the growing popularity of K-Pop, currently at its peak with the global phenomenon BTS (Bangtan Boys), has put Korea on the mainstream cultural map as well. Yet translation of contemporary Korean plays still remains an underexplored field. In the current climate where theatres actively pursue diversity and inclusivity, translations not only open up intercultural communication but also address and reflect the present from a global perspective. In a time of multiple tumults, Inching Towards Yeolha offers us questions about complicity and its consequences, the need for as well as danger of innovation and new ideas, and how to find footings in moments of transitions. It is my hope that this play can generate more curiosity about Korean theatre and initiate more opportunities for contemporary Korean plays to be introduced.
SAM-SHIK PAI is an acclaimed contemporary Korean playwright and a professor of playwriting at Dongduk Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. He launched his career with his play November, which premiered at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival in 1999. He has written award-winning plays including The Woman from Afar (2014 Cha Beom-Seok Drama Award for Best Play), The White Cherry (2009 Donga Award for Best Play), Inching Towards Yeolha (2007 Donga Award for Best Play, Dae San Literary Award), and A Fairy in the Wall (2005 Donga Award for Best Actress). His recent play 1945 premiered at Myeong-Dong Art Theater in July 2017. He holds a BA in anthropology from Seoul National University and MFA in playwriting from Korea National University of Arts.
WALTER BYONGSOK CHON is an Assistant Professor of Dramaturgy and Theatre Studies at Ithaca College. He served as dramaturg at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Yale School of Drama, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Great Plains Theater Conference, and the New York Musical Festival. His articles have been published in Theater, Praxis, The Korean National Theatre Magazine, and The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy. He translated Sam-Shik Pai’s Inching Towards Yeolha from Korean to English, an adaptation of which premiered at Columbia University as Walkabout Yeolha in 2010. His Korean translation of Charles Mee’s True Love premiered at Seoul Performing Arts Festival in October 2012. Recently, he became the managing editor for South Korea for the online magazine The Theatre Times. Walter received his BA in English from Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, MA in theatre studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and MFA in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from Yale School of Drama, where he is currently completing his doctoral dissertation.
The original Korean production of Inching Towards Yeolha premiered at Towol Theater in Seoul Arts Center, directed by Jin-Taek Sohn, in March 2007.
Walkabout Yeolha, an adaptation of this translation, premiered at Columbia University, adapted by Kyoung H. Park and directed by Kon Yi, in October 2010.
A passage from Act II and Act III was presented as a staged reading, directed by Sam Buggeln, at the conference Drama Across Borders: the Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Theatre in Translation, held at Cornell University and The Cherry Arts Space in Ithaca New York in May 2018.
The English translation of Act I is published in Asymptote, October 2018.
INCHING TOWARDS YEOLHA
CAST OF CHARACTERS AND ETYMOLOGY OF NAMES
HO-CHEH (豪彘): Despotic pig, First Senior of Yeolha, 60s.
GANG-RYANG (彊良): Righteous and benign, Second Senior of Yeolha, 60s.
CHOO-OH (騶吾): Keeper of the cattle, Chief of Yeolha, 50s.
CHANG-DAE (昌大): Flourish and prosper, Yeon-Ahm’s owner, 60s.
JANG-BOK (長福): Lasting luck, 60s.
BOO-HYEH (鳧徯): Patiently waiting, 40s.
YOO-YOO (峳峳): Name of a legendary beast, 40s.
KYO-CHOONG (驕蟲): Arrogant bug, 40s.
CHO-MAE (草味): The world still in darkness, Jang-Bok’s wife, 60s.
GEE-YUH (鵸䳜): Bird name A widow, 50s.
GOO-YUH (瞿如): Easily taken by surprise Boo-Hyeh’s wife, 40s.
SAHN-YUH (酸與): Sympathetic, Kyo-Choong’s wife, 40s.
MAHN-MAHN (蠻蠻): Barbarian, savage, Village “Educator,” 20s.
GUH-BOH (擧父): A doer, leader, A teenager.
SAHN-GOH (山高): High mountain, Kyo-Choong and Sahn-Yuh’s son, a teenager.
JEH-GUN (諸犍): Totally castrated (cow), Boo-Hyeh and Goo-Yuh’s son, a teenager.
YEON-AHM (燕巖): Swallow’s rock, A scholar of silhak (practical studies, promoting industrialization, commerce, and the introduction of foreign technology) from the Joseon Dynasty. The narrator of this play.
INSPECTOR: Touring Inspector of Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau
PAN-CHEN (班禪) LAMA: Zen-sharing camel, a camel
CHO-JUNG (楚亭): Cho Cynasty’s gazebo, a tiger
MOO-KWAN (懋管): Exuberant pipes, a silkworm
An open field. A sandstorm has just come and gone. A bell rings from a distance.
YEON-AHM: How it happened, what caused such a mystery, who could ever guess what God has in mind. Once upon a time in a tiny village called Yeolha, there used to be a spring, known for its limitless outpouring of hot water throughout the seasons. Yet over time, the village turned into a desert, lost its legacy, and fell into oblivion. Now all you can see is land, plain land, which directly meets the sky…
(The stage gradually lights up while YEON-AHM is speaking. A post at downstage center. A rope, tied to the post, is extended to both ends of the stage. Other than that, it is an empty stage.)
YEON-AHM: …too small for a Manchurian horse, too big for a pony, not a donkey, not a mule, from a certain angle resembling a dog but is certainly not a dog, there was an eccentric four-legged beast embodying some characteristics from all the aforementioned animals. She had double eyelids, and while her hair was shiny and reddish, her ears were huge and whitish.
(While speaking, YEON-AHM turns into the “four-legged beast.”)
YEON-AHM: It all started on a spring day when the beast’s senile owner, thinking she is fully grown, decided to put a yoke on her and gag her, a spring day when a sandstorm blurred the boundaries between land and sky, erasing what little was left of the barren landscape.
(Senile CHANG-DAE enters, with one hand carrying a fodder bucket and with the other holding on to the rope. CHANG-DAE is wearing sand-protection glasses. He puts down the fodder bucket, catches his overdrawn breath, and takes off the glasses.)
CHANG-DAE: Mee-Joong! Mee-Joong…Are you deliberately starving yourself to death? (putting fodder in front of her) Eat. Eat, please. Have a shot at it.
(The BEAST looks away. A GIRL with protection glasses swayingly enters, holding onto the rope. She is wearing high heels, surprising footwear for the desert. The heels get stuck in the sand, making it hard for her to proceed.)
MAHN-MAHN: Mr. Chang-Dae!
CHANG-DAE: Who is it? Mahn-Mahn?
MAHN-MAHN: Yes! Can you help me?
(CHANG-DAE helps her to the post. MAHN-MAHN takes off her glasses and catches her breath.)
MAHN-MAHN: What a sandstorm! I can’t see a thing.
CHANG-DAE: You can easily get lost on a day like this. Why didn’t you stay inside?
MAHN-MAHN: (approaching the BEAST) Curiosity. Not yet?
MAHN-MAHN: (hugging and rubbing the BEAST’s neck) Mee-Joong, Mee-Joong…
(The BEAST sullenly frees itself)
MAHN-MAHN: What is the matter with you?
(The village boys—GUH-BOH, SAHN-GOH, and JEH-GUN—noisily enter, holding the rope, calling after CHANG-DAE)
GUH-BOH: Not yet?
JEH-GUN: Did she?
GUH-BOH: Two weeks!
SAHN-GOH: Fifteen full days!
JEH-GUN: No eat. No sleep!
GUH-BOH: What a freak!
SAHN-GOH: A wonder! A true wonder!
CHANG-DAE: (boxing their ears) You rascals! What’s so exciting about that?
GUH-BOH: The thrill.
SAHN-GOH: And the fun.
CHANG-DAE: Fun? I am dying of anxiety, and you say “fun”? Can’t you find any other “fun” stuff?
SAHN-GOH: No, sir.
JEH-GUN: I’m bored to death.
MAHN-MAHN: Hey. I play with you.
SAHN-GOH: Yeah. Like every day.
GUH-BOH: How come there is not a single soul getting lost and coming into the village this year? Remember last year? That three-legged man?
JEH-GUN: Him? The village seniors hid him in the dugout, forbidding any contact with him.
GUH-BOH: You are so stupid.
JEH-GUN: What? Then you?
SAHN-GOH: Went to see him every night.
JEH-GUN: You, too, Sahn-goh? Without me?
SAHN-GOH: If we brought you, you would have told the seniors right away.
GUH-BOH: Those weird stories he told. He wouldn’t shut up.
JEH-GUN: What kind of stories?
SAHN-GOH: None of your business.
JEH-GUN: I can still tell the seniors. You know what they say. Anyone from outside this village is a spy from the enemy.
SAHN-GOH: Traitor. We couldn’t tell you if we wanted to. We couldn’t understand a thing.
JEH-GUN: Are you kidding?
SAHN-GOH: You dumbass. That’s the weird part. Why would it be weird if we could understand everything?
JEH-GUN: I bet he understood everything you said. Spies can do that.
GUH-BOH: You think we’re that stupid? We did the same to him.
(GUH-BOH and SAHN-GOH speak to each other in nonsensical sounds. They laugh.)
SAHN-GOH: All night long.
GUH-BOH: Man. What fun we had!
JEH-GUN: No way!
SAHN-GOH: You have no idea. But we expect none from you anyway, Jeh-gun!
(The VILLAGE WOMAN—GEE-YUH, GOO-YUH, and SAHN-YUH—enter along the rope.)
GOO-YUH: Are you here, Mr. Chang-Dae?
CHANG-DAE: Who is it?
GEE-YUH: Not yet?
SAHN-YUH: Did she die?
SAHN-YUH: How bizarre.
GEE-YUH: That’s it! She’s pretending to be sick so she doesn’t have to be gagged and put to work.
GOO-YUH: That’s not it. I think she ate something bad. I’m sure of that.
SAHN-YUH: Maybe a worm got in her head?
CHANG-DAE: Cut it out, you handfuls! You’re not helping.
GEE-YUH: We’re simply concerned.
CHANG-DAE: Concerned? You’re just waiting, aren’t you? For this hairy thing to…
GEE-YUH: (Cutting him off) Speaking of death—which, by the way, is just awful, awful! —if she does die, can I keep the tail? It’s supposed to prevent hair loss.
GOO-YUH: I call foot!
CHANG-DAE: Don’t even think about it. Even if she dies, you will not get a single hair. Because I will cremate her and throw her into thin air.
GEE-YUH: What? You’re going to burn her?
GOO-YUH: That’s not fair!
CHANG-DAE: Why is it any of your business what I do with my pet?
SAHN-YUH: Because she is all of our business! Where did all the millet stalks that she devoured come from? From our fields in our village!
GEE-YUH: You said it! It is our business.
(From the other side enter the VILLAGE CHIEF—CHOO-OH—and VILLAGE MEN—BOO-HYEH, YOO-YOO, KYO-CHOONG, and JANG-BOK)
JANG-BOK: (yawning) I will kill myself first before seeing the damn donkey die!
CHANG-DAE: Donkey? Watch your mouth! She’s a horse.
JANG-BOK: Whatever that thing is, her whinnying keeps me awake all night long. How long has it been?
GUH-BOH: Two weeks!
JANG-BOK: Don’t I know that? We should do something about it!
CHANG-DAE: I did everything I possibly could.
CHOO-OH: Did she?
JANG-BOK: I told you. She’s horny. She misses her other half!
CHANG-DAE: That’s not what it is.
JANG-BOK: I’m telling you!
CHANG-DAE: Believe me. I took her to Boo-Hyeh’s horse, Yoo-Yoo’s mule, and Kyo-Choong’s donkey. You all saw that, didn’t you?
BOO-HYEH: Yeah. How she fought.
YOO-YOO: Tell me about it. She kicked and broke our mule’s front teeth. All of ’em.
JANG-BOK: What happened to Kyo-Choong’s donkey?
BOO-HYEH: Took off. Like the wind.
JANG-BOK: Coward. Just like his owner!
KYO-CHOONG: Shut your mouth! He’s smart like me!
JANG-BOK: Then what is the matter? (To VILLAGE CHIEF) Hey, Chief. Any clue?
CHOO-OH: (Examining the beast from all sides) Even on close inspection, I don’t see anything wrong.
JANG-BOK: It’s hopeless! There is no point in keeping this thing alive. Let’s eat her before she loses more weight.
CHANG-DAE: Eat your wife!
JANG-BOK: What did you say?
CHANG-DAE: Your wife. There’s no point keeping her alive!
JANG-BOK: You little…you better watch yourself…even when you tell the truth!
CHANG-DAE: Look who’s talking about the truth! Do you know what she means to me? In my sixty years, my son Mee-Joong was all I had, and now it’s this hairy thing…
CHOO-OH: Can we maybe leave her in the field?
CHANG-DAE: What if she runs away, just like Mee-Joong? I won’t be able to catch up with her. (Sighs.)
GOO-YUH: You pamper her too much.
SAHN-YUH: She’s right. You regard her as your son but treat her like a village fool.
YOO-YOO: Spare the rod, and spoil the child.
CHANG-DAE: I tried the rod. Only I couldn’t. Look at her huge round eyes. They were filled with tears, begging me…
GEE-YUH: Mr. Chang-Dae’s a softy, and it’s no good.
YOO-YOO: I’ve had it! Give me the rod. I will correct her in a second.
KYO-CHOONG: Are you that stupid?
YOO-YOO: What did you say?
KYO-CHOONG: I am well aware of her symptoms. When hair first grew in my fire pot, I had the same predicament.
YOO-YOO: Which is?
KYO-CHOONG: One aggravated by insomnia and anorexia.
JANG-BOK: When you had that, your father beat the hell out of you.
KYO-CHOONG: That did not cure me. It rather…
GEE-YUH: Okay, we get it. You had it and now she’s having it. But what the hell caused the depression? What’s the reason?
KYO-CHOONG: It is…my father beat the reason out of me. Anyway, that beating ruined my life!
YOO-YOO: That beating made you who you are! You should be thankful. Depression? What a joke! We should beat the hell out of her so that there’s no room for depression!
KYO-CHOONG: What did she do? This is all Mr. Chang-Dae’s fault.
CHANG-DAE: My fault?
KYO-CHOONG: Just look at yourself! You’re like a ghost.
CHANG-DAE: I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, all because of her.
KYO-CHOONG: That’s the problem! A beast takes after her owner. But the owner shouldn’t take after his beast! Why don’t you try being all happy and smiley first? You show your melancholy, filthy face to her, and no wonder she doesn’t sleep or eat.
CHANG-DAE: Is that so?
KYO-CHOONG: Smile! Make her laugh! Try it!
CHANG-DAE: (laughs awkwardly)
JANG-BOK: What the heck! Did you chew sumac? What was that?
CHANG-DAE: It’s been a million years since I laughed myself.
(CHO-MAE, JANG-BOK’s wife, calls for him from outside.)
CHO-MAE: (voice) Ao! Ao! Oe ou oe aa uu, uu ae! Aa uo oe ue eea!
(Jang-bok! Jang-bok! Where the hell are you, you brat! I’m going to break your legs!)
(ALL are startled.)
SAHN-YUH: Go! Before she catches you.
JANG-BOK: On my way! (to CHANG-DAE) If I hear her cry one more time when I’m sleeping, I am going to break her neck!
GOO-YUH: Let’s hit the road! Or we’ll get the rod ourselves.
GEE-YUH: Cho-Mae is so bizarre! She can’t hear! She can’t see! Oh God, here she comes!
YOO-YOO: (exiting) Listen to me! A kick in her ass will do the job!
KYO-CHOONG: (exiting) Laugh! And make her laugh! Don’t let a kick in the ass ruin another life!
GOO-YUH: (exiting, to CHANG-DAE) Speaking of kicks, I get the feet!
GEE-YUH: I get the tail!
(The Village people exit from CHANG-DAE’s house in all directions. CHO-MAE enters, holding the rope and swinging a rod. Her gait mimics an elephant’s. She is hard of seeing and hearing. Therefore, she is loud and swings her rod recklessly.)
CHO-MAE: Ae eue ae ou! Ouo Ae uo uo ae ee een aa ae un ee ae oua uo ae!
(Get here at once! Or I’ll put your head between my legs and piss all over your face!)
JANG-BOK: I am right here!
(CHO-MAE grabs JANG-BOK’s nape.)
CHO-MAE: Uou ue ie ou! Uea ou ea ae uou eae?
(You useless bum! Where on earth have you been?)
JANG-BOK: It won’t happen again. It is all my fault.
(CHO-MAE beats JANG-BOK with the rod. JANG-BOK does not resist.)
CHO-MAE: (sniffing) Oaa? Oa ee oou uee?
(What? What’s that odd smell?)
(CHO-MAE exits with JANG-BOK, tilting her head.)
CHANG-DAE: Is that so? All my fault? I look like a ghost? Damn! It is all my fault. It’s always like this. If anything goes wrong, I am to blame. (sigh) Okay. I will laugh. Mee-Joong, Mee-Joong, look at me. Alright…laugh. What’s not to laugh about! So, look at me…
(CHANG-DAE tries to laugh for his BEAST (= MEE-JOONG = YEON-AHM). He laughs this way and that way and later uses his hands, feet, his whole body, and tries everything he can to make the BEAST laugh. While CHANG-DAE is making an effort, the BEAST speaks.)
YEON-AHM: That’s right. This beast is suffering from depression combined with insomnia and anorexia. This critical condition started one morning, from the top of her nose. Just a regular itch. Something that would go away if she ignored it. But that morning, she just couldn’t let it go. It was unbearable! She would rub her nose on the stable post, roll on the floor, and do everything imaginable to stop the itching. Did it go away? It only got worse! This poor beast was a complete prisoner of the itching. All day long she would fight the itch, only to find herself totally exhausted in the evening. Sensing the strange smell of her own blood filling her nose, the beast lay her chin on the stable post, looked out at the sandy whirlpool in the darkness… and asked herself: “What is making me so itchy?” It all started from this question. The beast began to ‘think.’
(CHANG-DAE now sings and dances in merriment.)
Over the stove, the millet rice is boiling, boiling, boiling.
Why not take a bite? Oh God, how yummy, yummy, yummy.
Over the stove, the millet gruel is boiling, boiling, boiling.
Why not take a bite? Oh God, how yummy, yummy, yummy.
Over the stove, the millet cake is frying, frying, frying.
Why not take a bite? Oh God, how yummy, yummy, yummy.
Over the stove, the millet rice cake is ripening, ripening, ripening…
(While the song continues with the same cooking motif, the village PEOPLE enter from the back of the stage and enact what is happening in the BEAST’s mind. This can be referred to as ‘the brief history of the world.’ They pass through the storm and build a road with the ropes. They connect separated roads or build new ones. The ropes are entangled like a spider web. While all this is happening, the BEAST speaks.)
YEON-AHM: The beast was snowed in with numerous questions, as many as the grains of sand from the storm in the dark field. That night she stayed up, with her eyes wide open. Also, the next day, and the day after that. Who can say that, among the many, many dayflies that ever set foot on the earth, not one of them learned the fundamental truth? Suppose there was one, then we can say what happened in its mind is now happening to this beast. On the seventh day, this beast became omniscient, and her greedy spirit transcended space and time and roamed between the past and the future. Among the memories of the past, the present, and the future, she got lost. On the second seventh day—that is yesterday—the beast couldn’t go on any longer. If only the senile owner had a little more patience, the countless memories jamming this beast’s head would have vanished—poof!—during a doze. Dulled by exhaustion, the beast felt terribly lonely. At that moment came the old man’s merciless beating and the lonely spirit had to hold on to that. At that moment, the beast recognized herself in the old man for the first time and chose to stay with him.
(The BEAST (YEON-AHM) absent-mindedly observes CHANG-DAE’s performance, clucks her tongue, and, like an almost subconscious habit from the past, tries to fold her legs and sit. However, she loses her balance and topples over. CHANG-DAE looks at this.)
CHANG-DAE: Look at you. Your legs are wobbly, and you can’t support yourself! Up! Now! If you fall now, you will never stand again!
CHANG-DAE: (looking outside) Who is it? Jang-Bok?
YEON-AHM: Something’s wrong. Very wrong.
CHANG-DAE: (blankly stares at YEON-AHM for a few seconds and then shakes his head) How bizarre. Well, this hairy thing kept me awake for days.
YEON-AHM: My body, there’s something wrong with my body. Chang-Dae. Help me up. A terrific story just popped into my head. But then I got stuck. On such occasions, I must sit, fold my legs, and cup my chin in my hands to continue thinking. (She attempts the posture she just mentioned but keeps falling down.) Ouch. What is happening to me? I cannot sit.
CHANG-DAE: No. This, this can’t be…
YEON-AHM: What are you muttering to yourself? Like you’re crazy or something. Come help me up. Now!
(CHANG-DAE stares at YEON-AHM for a moment and starts screaming and swinging the rod, in order to keep the beast away rather than to beat her.)
CHANG-DAE: Shoo! Shoo! (Runs out of the house) Help me! Help! A ghost! A real ghost!
YEON-AHM: Is he really crazy? Chang-Dae! Chang-Dae!
(YEON-AHM, in distress, tries her ideal thinking posture. She falls again.)
YEON-AHM: Why can’t I…? (She scratches her head with her front foot and then notices the foot.) Ahh! What is that?
The stage darkens with the increasing sound of bells ringing. In the dark, rumor spreads in the village. PEOPLE with protection glasses come and go, holding on to the ropes, and gossip. The ropes are dizzyingly spread all over the stage. At one spot, the WOMEN gossip.
GEE-YUH: No way! That old man’s gone insane!
GOO-YUH: Tell me about it! People go crazy at this time of the year, especially the old ones.
GEE-YUH: Who was it last spring? Who said the kettle kept singing?
SAHN-YUH: Boo-ok’s grandpa. He went out to throw it away and never came back.
GOO-YUH: After the sandstorm, that kettle was found on the village border.
GEE-YUH: That’s when Mo-Ma’s grandma disappeared.
GOO-YUH: They had a little something something going on.
SAHN-YUH: I don’t believe that!
GEE-YUH: Believe me! They never came back because they chose not to come back!
(The WOMEN giggle. BOO-HYEH rushes in, holding the rope. He is out of breath and tries to gesture.)
GEE-YUH: What is it! What? Talk! Talk!
BOO-HYEH: She talks! She talks!
GOO-YUH: She what?
BOO-HYEH: She talks!
SAHN-YUH: Who talks?
BOO-HYEH: That horse, or mule or donkey? Whatever she is, she talks!
BOO-HYEH: I heard it. Clear! For sure!
GOO-YUH: What did that horse or mule or donkey say?
BOO-HYEH: I don’t know. I couldn’t understand.
SAHN-YUH: You call that ‘talk’ if you couldn’t understand it?
BOO-HYEH: She said things too intellectual for me, and she kept going on and on and on.
GEE-YUH: That thing’s not intellectual. You’re just dumb!
BOO-HYEH: Anyway, don’t you think she’s better talking than crying all night long?
GOO-YUH: Well…I don’t know. Let’s go and check ourselves!
(The WOMEN exit. SAHN-GOH and JEH-GUN, each holding a small sack of grain, get in line in front of MAHN-MAHN. SAHN-GOH hands the sack to MAHN-MAHN. MAHN-MAHN assumes the position.)
SAHN-GOH: Not that.
MAHN-MAHN: Then what?
SAHN-GOH: Lie down.
MAHN-MAHN: This position is better at this time of the year. Your knees will get bruised in the sand.
SAHN-GOH: I don’t care about bruises. I’m sick of that position.
JEH-GUN: You only think of yourself, selfish bastard! If she gets sand all over her, what am I gonna do? I am allergic to dust.
(SAHN-GOH and MAHN-MAHN have sexual intercourse. There is neither lust nor guilt. It looks like mere exercise.)
MAHN-MAHN: What did Mee-Joong say today?
JEH-GUN: Not Mee-Joong. Yeon-Ahm.
MAHN-MAHN: Okay. What did Yeon-Ahm say today?
SAHN-GOH: A lot of things.
MAHN-MAHN: Like what?
SAHN-GOH: Will you stop talking? One thing at a time. You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.
MAHN-MAHN: Alright. Why don’t you eat your cake. And, Jeh-Gun. You tell me.
JEH-GUN: Way back in the past, when Yeon-Ahm was old Mr. Chang-Dae’s master, they passed by our village and it was full of birches.
MAHN-MAHN: That’s what my mother said, too.
SAHN-GOH: Don’t talk about mother!
MAHN-MAHN: She saw birches when she was my age.
SAHN-GOH: Don’t talk about mo…! (He finishes the exercise.) Damn it! (gathering himself) Jeh-Gun. Don’t tell my mother. She worked hard for my tuition, and she will be disappointed.
JEH-GUN: (handing his sack to MAHN-MAHN) Don’t worry. I’ll tell her you lasted for an hour. (He starts the exercise with MAHN-MAHN.)
MAHN-MAHN: She said birches are yellow and red, like flames.
JEH-GUN: No, like moonlight. So, white, like your bottom.
JEH-GUN: Your mother, was full, of shiiiit.
SAHN-GOH: Hurry up! It’s time to go listen to the story.
JEH-GUN: Birches, would sing, a lullaby, hushaby, hushaby.
SAHN-GOH: Today, Yeon-Ahm, sang that song.
MAHN-MAHN: Sing it.
(sing) Over the stove miso soup is boiling, boiling, boiling.
One bubble, one mississipi two bubbles two mississipi.
One drop one mississipi two drops two mississipi.
Bubble pop I pop Drop pop I pop. Pop pop pop pop
where did it go, where did it go pop pop pop pop!
(JEH-GUN finishes the exercise.)
MAHN-MAHN: What happened to Guh-Boh? Is he not coming again?
SAHN-GOH: He’s weird nowadays.
JEH-GUN: Talking gibberish and shit.
SAHN-GOH: Let’s go. We’re gonna be late.
JEH-GUN: (To MAHN-MAHN) Aren’t you coming?
JEH-GUN: Why not?
MAHN-MAHN: No reason.
SAHN-GOH: Let’s hurry! She’s not coming.
(SAHN-GOH and JEH-GUN exit. From the other side GUH-BOH enters and calls MAHN-MAHN)
MAHN-MAHN: Hey Guh-Boh! What took you so long? (Happy to see him, she gets into position.)
MAHN-MAHN: Don’t worry about the tuition. I’m giving it to you for free today.
GUH-BOH: Mahn-Mahn! Just stop! Stop torturing me!
MAHN-MAHN: Why are you acting so strange? I’m torturing you?
GUH-BOH: This is not what I want!
MAHN-MAHN: No? Then what do you want? This is all I can do for you.
GUH-BOH: Silly girl, I told you! It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I know we are supposed to do it, but what I want is, I want you only for myself, I don’t want to share you with others! Did you think about my suggestion?
MAHN-MAHN: I did. I thought about it carefully, but I can’t do it.
GUH-BOH: Why not? You don’t like me?
MAHN-MAHN: Yes, I do like you. But I also like Sahn-Goh and Jeh-Gun. What will they do if I don’t play with them?
GUH-BOH: They have their fiancées!
MAHN-MAHN: So do you.
GUH-BOH: I will tell Boo-Ok to find another man.
MAHN-MAHN: Don’t do that! You’re all she’s got.
GUH-BOH: I’m all yours.
MAHN-MAHN: I can’t do this. My late mother used to say, ‘You are an important person. You are working for the chastity of this village. You are protecting the village women’s chastity until their right moment. To compensate for the women’s patience, boys had better be good and experienced. It is your job to turn them into men, real men. Don’t forget. An educator should always be fair to everyone. If you’re not, some people will get hurt.’ I have done everything my mother told me, always fair to everyone.
GUH-BOH: Fair? To everyone?
GUH-BOH: We are not animals. We’re human!
MAHN-MAHN: You’re right! That’s why I have to be fair!
GUH-BOH: Do you think this is fair for you? Living like this?
MAHN-MAHN: Yes. Absolutely.
MAHN-MAHN: Yes. But you’re confusing me with your weird behavior.
GUH-BOH: Oh, Yeon-Ahm couldn’t be more right! You tell a snorer to stop snoring, and he will snap right back at you.
MAHN-MAHN: I don’t snore.
GUH-BOH: You need to look at yourself for once. How pathetic you are.
MAHN-MAHN: I’m pathetic?
GUH-BOH: Yeah! Beyond description!
MAHN-MAHN: I never saw myself that way. What makes you think so all of a sudden?
GUH-BOH: Not all of a sudden. I’ve been feeling that way for quite a while. But Yeon-Ahm made me see it more clearly. Once I told her about you, she cried silent tears. Those tears made me realize… how much I, Mahn-Mahn, how much I…
GUH-BOH: …What’s that word…Anyway you’re torturing me. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat!
MAHN-MAHN: I think that’s because you haven’t done it with me lately. Let’s just do it and then see what happens. You might change your mind after that?
GUH-BOH: Ah, you’re not getting it. But I won’t give up. I am going to save you from this shithole. Just wait. Don’t do it with anyone until I come back! Please!
(GUH-BOH runs out.)
MAHN-MAHN: What in my mother’s name is he talking about? What’s gotten into him? Yeon-Ahm cried? For me? Why? (pause.) If that happened for real, I am glad I didn’t go. It would have been an ordeal seeing her cry…
(MAHN-MAHN enters her house. Limping. CHO-MAE crosses the stage. She still blurs her words, but they are much clearer than earlier.)
CHO-MAE: Jang-Bok! Jang-Bok! Where the hell is he? Jang-Bok! Jang-Bok!
(JANG-BOK answers, running towards CHO-MAE.)
JANG-BOK: On my way! Right here!
CHO-MAE: (Hitting him abruptly) Where the hell are you going so much nowadays?
JANG-BOK: Chang-Dae’s donkey is talking. (to himself) What’s the use?
CHO-MAE: Whether a donkey talks or not, what’s that got to do with you?
JANG-BOK: (in surprise) Can you…hear me?
CHO-MAE: Yeah. It’s strange. Isn’t it? I hear stuff, weird stuff. And I see things. I’m getting dizzy. What’s happening? For the very first time in sixty years?
JANG-BOK: Is it true? Can you hear me? Can you see me?
CHO-MAE: (poking him with the stick) This is you, right?
JANG-BOK: So you can!
CHO-MAE: How ghastly.
JANG-BOK: Ghastly? It’s a miracle! A miracle!
CHO-MAE: Miracle, my ass! I almost got lost because of that miracle. Call this a bolt from the blue! That’s an understatement! What the hell. I am going through all this, and you are out I don’t know where? Grab my hand. Take me home, you shitball! All this sound and sight are making me nauseous! I can’t walk!
JANG-BOK: (to himself) This wench is making this all up, to keep me by her side.
CHO-MAE: What did you say?
JANG-BOK: No, nothing. Let’s go home.
CHO-MAE: What the hell is going on in the village?
JANG-BOK: I told you. Chang-Dae’s donkey…
CHO-MAE: Not that.
JANG-BOK: Then what?
CHO-MAE: You don’t hear anything?
JANG-BOK: Hear what?
CHO-MAE: Sounds like a stone mill or a thunderstorm.
JANG-BOK: The wind?
CHO-MAE: No. This is not just the wind.
JANG-BOK: You got sand in your year? A worm? Let’s see.
CHO-MAE: No! I still hear it. It’s getting closer. It’s getting louder, my head, no my stomach, no my whole body’s going to explode!
JANG-BOK: (covering her ears with his hands) How do you feel now?
CHO-MAE: That doesn’t help. What is it? What can it be?
(JANG-BOK exits with CHO-MAE. From the other side enter the VILLAGE CHIEF—CHOO-OH—and the seniors—HO-CHEH and GANG-RYANG)
HO-CHEH: What? Who’s that bastard? I am the village storyteller! Who’s telling stories without my permission?
GANG-RYANG: A donkey talks? A donkey?
HO-CHEH: You, chief! What kind of a chief are you? You think we’re smelly, old, stupid farts, or what? For such a scandal, you should have informed us immediately!
CHOO-OH: It was such nonsense, I thought it would go away.
HO-CHEH: How much of a talker is that damn thing anyway?
CHOO-OH: Not just much. The things she utters are so unexpected and uncontrollable, hopping here and there, bottoms up and top down, pushing you away and pulling you back, hitting-you-right-in-the-face sheer absurdity. But once you think about them, they sound like they contain some kind of a substance…
HO-CHEH: What? So you’ve been there yourself?
CHOO-OH: Just once…
HO-CHEH: Traitor! You’re the chief!
CHOO-OH: It was more for surveillance and information than entertainment.
GANG-RYANG: So what is the substance?
CHOO-OH: Well, it’s hard to summarize…they’re things never seen nor heard of before.
HO-CHEH: Never seen nor heard of?
CHOO-OH: That’s right. But they seem to make much sense in a way, so even if you resist yourself, you can’t help but fall into the narrative of the stories, and in the end you find yourself believing everything, and then you wish you had seen all that for real.
CHOO-OH: Not that I believed them. But that’s what people say.
GANG-RYANG: So I gather that thing doesn’t talk about our village?
HO-CHEH: So I gather, that thing rambles on about the outside?
CHOO-OH: Mostly, yes.
GANG-RYANG: How long has it been talking?
CHOO-OH: About a couple of weeks…
HO-CHEH: A couple of weeks? What a disaster!
GANG-RYANG: This is an emergency!
HO-CHEH: We let this go on, and our village will be ruined.
GANG-RYANG: Village meeting! Right away!
The SENIORS ring the bells.
Loud bells in the dark. Once it brightens, the village PEOPLE spread the ropes in a way that the ends form a circle. They sit at each end. In the center of the circle is YEON-AHM.
HO-CHEH: Have you all gone completely insane? Where do you put your heads, people? Don’t you remember it is absolutely forbidden to talk about the outside in our village?
GANG-RYANG: It is only us, the seniors, who can talk about the outside!
GEE-YUH: Don’t get too upset.
GOO-YUH: Who in this village would believe such stuff?
SAHN-YUH: That’s right. It’s just for fun that we listen to her.
HO-CHEH: How many times do I have to tell you? That’s the enemy’s strategy! First, they entertain you, then they take your arms and legs!
GANG-RYANG: Poor wretched souls! Did you forget how we ended up here? Did you forget what our ancestors have been through?
HO-CHEH: If you didn’t, how dare you still say ‘fun’!
GANG-RYANG: Take out our ancestors’ sayings!
(The village PEOPLE take out a booklet from their clothes.)
GANG-RYANG: Chapter 3, Paragraph 17! “On Fondness for the Exotic!” Chief! Go first!
(The PEOPLE open their booklets with a rustle.)
CHOO-OH: “As our ancestors say, stay away from the exotic!”
PEOPLE: “All the evil in the world originated in the fondness for the exotic!”
CHOO-OH: “Those who are fond of the exotic are those who are fond of victories!”
PEOPLE: “All the battles in the world originated in the fondness for the exotic.”
CHOO-OH: “How vast and endless! The fondness for the exotic! Like seawater that never quenches your thirst!”
PEOPLE: “Vain, vain, and ever vain!”
GANG-RYANG: The world outside is still dominated by the exotic. Every Jack and Jill is so absorbed in acquiring the superficial, the vain, the filthy, the exotic that not a day goes by without multiple battles. Where can you find our ancestors’ beautiful tenets? Only in this village! Don’t let the outside world lead you into temptation! Soon that vain world will perish into oblivion, and someday, I strongly believe, our ancestors’ beautiful tenets will drive away the evil and rule over the earth!
PEOPLE: Revenge! No more shame!
YEON-AHM: Revenge? When’s that coming?
HO-CHEH: How dare she!
CHANG-DAE: Mee-Joong. Please stay put and be quiet! Say you’re sorry and beg for forgiveness. Say ‘I won’t utter a sound again.’ Come on, Mee-Joong!
YEON-AHM: I told you time and time again. It is a breach of decorum to address your elder by the name.
CHANG-DAE: My Goodness! What am I going to do with her?
HO-CHEH: Reveal yourself! What is your intention of spreading propaganda about the outside!
YEON-AHM: I am only passing on what I have heard and seen.
HO-CHEH: You have no clue about what’s outside! You were born here and never set foot outside this village!
YEON-AHM: There is more than what you see. Like, this body of mine doesn’t represent all that I am. Then what do you people know about the outside? Have you got a glimpse, at least?
HO-CHEH: There’s no need for a glimpse. It’s dangerous out there. We should stay away. Don’t go asking for trouble. You will get hurt!
YEON-AHM: Ignorance creates fear. But if you want to catch a tiger, you have to enter his cave.
HO-CHEH: How dare you say that?
YEON-AHM: Ruling the world, it all comes down to power. How can one acquire that power? By getting a grip of the exotic. The more, the mightier.
HO-CHEH: We have our tenets!
YEON-AHM: Without power, those tenets are a hurricane in a teacup.
HO-CHEH: You sound just like the Outsiders!
YEON-AHM: I am well aware of what your ancestors were like. Simply put, they were exactly like those you call the Outsiders. The atrocity your ancestors committed back when they had power…it was no less, maybe even more than that of the Outsiders. You can shove your tenets up your mighty asses! A cowardly excuse for losers, the last cry for the appearance of pride for those who had power but lost it and are ousted.
HO-CHEH: How dare you make such an insult to our ancestors!
HO-CHEH: She called our tenets a hurricane in a teacup! A cowardly excuse!
GANG-RYANG: She’s a mere donkey and has no influence over our tenets. This is beyond our tolerance. We would only give this thing more chance to spread her words. It’s crystal clear now. Who can trigger something of such scandalous proportion?
GANG-RYANG: The Outsiders. This one’s their spy.
(Whisper among the PEOPLE)
GANG-RYANG: Silence! Only one sentence can serve her right. Death!
(More whisper among the PEOPLE)
CHANG-DAE: No, please, stop! May it please your honors, spy? There’s no way. Please spare her for now. She’s very sick. She’s suffering from grave illness. Hasn’t eaten a thing nor slept a second, for two weeks. Haven’t we all been there, you know, being extremely sick? Feeling like a stranger in our own bodies, having dreams that make no sense and believing them to be real? I assure you. She’s having such dreams right at this moment. Please, cut her some slack. It will pass. Like a sandstorm that comes and goes, she will wake up sane and healthy. In fact, she just started eating and sleeping.
HO-CHEH: You’re saying all that to save this silly donkey?
CHANG-DAE: She is not a donkey but a horse. And she is like my son. I dream of growing old with her.
HO-CHEH: That kind of attitude is the cause of all this!
GANG-RYANG: Ten thousand to one, should she turn out not to be a spy, we still can’t keep her alive. Not as long as she keeps chattering.
CHANG-DAE: Mee-Joong. No, Yeon-Ahm. Promise them. Never to utter a word again. Now!
(YEON-AHM is silent.)
GEE-YUH: Death is a little too severe.
GOO-YUH: Tell me about it. It’s not like she killed someone. She only talked.
HO-CHEH: Talk! That’s the problem! If we don’t stop it, we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into!
BOO-HYEH: Then what do we do before bedtime now?
HO-CHEH: What do you do? Like before. You come to me to hear stories.
SAHN-GOH: But your stories suck. With all due respect, sir.
HO-CHEH: What impudence!
JEH-GUN: He’s right. They’re all about millet and grain and fences and what not.
HO-CHEH: You ingrates! That’s all for your own good! You think her stories will ever produce a single grain of rice?
SAHN-YUH: Your honor?
HO-CHEH: What is it?
SAHN-YUH: If you’re going to kill her, would it be ok to kill her after she finishes the story about the tiger? We were cut off in the middle.
(The PEOPLE agree.)
YOO-YOO: So the widow and the teacher did it and were kicked out? Or was it before they did it?
KYO-CHOONG: That’s not the point of the story.
YOO-YOO: It is to me. Did they do it or not?
BOO-HYEH: Of course they did it. What else could they do?
GEE-YUH: Were you even listening to the story? They could not! Am I right, Yeon-Ahm?
BOO-HYEH: That’s not fair!
SAHN-YUH: Maybe they were in the middle?
GEE-YUH: In that case, the sons are sons of bitches. They should have let them finish at least.
GOO-YUH: Thank you! A son doesn’t care an inch about the mother’s feelings.
KYO-CHOON: That’s not the point of the story!
(The PEOPLE loudly voice their different opinions.)
GANG-RYANG: Attention! We cannot postpone the death penalty by one second. Whether they did it, couldn’t do it, or were in the middle of it, that’s all part of a story. In other words, fiction, empty and false. Look at yourselves, arguing about who’s right or wrong over such pointless fiction. She is a curse to our village! We must kill her now!
CHOO-OH: (to CHANG-DAE) Mr. Chang-Dae. You can always get another beast, but not another village. Will you please let it go? Instead of this half-breed, we will get you a genuine deal, that’s right, a stallion. We can all chip in…
GEE-YUH: Wait, Chief? Did you just say “chip in”?
CHOO-OH: This concerns the whole village, so…
GEE-YUH: I will not eat her, and I will not pay. A donkey tastes like rubber.
GOO-YUH: Don’t you think that one would taste like human?
BOO-HYEH: What’s the difference? Way back when, we would have killed for a piece of that.
GOO-YUH: Why are you bringing that up?
BOO-HYEH: You started it!
GEE-YUH: Anyway count me out. Meat isn’t even good for your health. Especially donkey meat.
SAHN-YUH: You’re right. At this time of the year, with the sandstorm and all, we must preserve our grain.
CHOO-OH: This is not about whether you eat meat or not!
SAHN-YUH: Your honor?
CHOO-OH: Be brief.
SAHN-YUH: I’ve been thinking. She is out of her mind, right? If she is out of her mind, that means she is in some other mind.
CHOO-OH: I told you. Be brief!
SAHN-YUH: That means she’s got a spirit on her, that means, even if she dies, that spirit will survive, right? Where would it go?
WOMEN: You’re right! You’re right!
SAHN-YUH: Ten to one, it would go to one of us, right?
GEE-YUH: That’s right. Fortunately, it is stuck with the beast now. But what if it sticks with a human? That’ll be a disaster.
GOO-YUH: Now she’s only talking, but soon, wouldn’t she tell on us to the Outsiders? After all, we did try to kill her.
GEE-YUH: What is it, then? The human who gets her spirit is going be killed as well?
SAHN-YUH: How horrific!
YOO-YOO: Why don’t we leave it at that? Let sleeping dogs lie.
KYO-CHOONG: Sleeping dogs? That’s the point of this predicament.
YOO-YOO: You with your points.
KYO-CHOONG: There is something that you missed, your honors.
HO-CHEH: What is it?
KYO-CHOONG: If Yeon-Ahm is a spy as you concluded, although I do not agree with it at all, we must be extra careful before considering killing her. If we kill a spy from the Outsiders, would they just watch her die? Killing Yeon-Ahm is equivalent to a direct declaration of war. What will you do about that?
PEOPLE: That’s right. Good thinking.
KYO-CHOONG: Killing Yeon-Ahm is acting exactly by their scenario.
(PEOPLE agree. The SENIORS talk among themselves.)
CHOO-OH: Your honors.
HO-CHEH: What’s our plan?
GANG-RYANG: His theory makes sense, as hurtful as it might be to admit it. There’s only one alternative.
HO-CHEH: Which is?
HO-CHEH: In this sandstorm, she would most likely die anyway. That doesn’t make any sense.
HO-CHEH: Why don’t we spare her for now as Mr. Chang-Dae requested?
GANG-RYANG: So we just let her talk and spread her words?
HO-CHEH: We can gag her and keep her silent.
GANG-RYANG: It’s temporary, but there’s no alternative for now.
(The SENIORS face the PEOPLE.)
GANG-RYANG: Silence! Okay. Justice demands that this beast be killed immediately. But in these special circumstances, we decided to give her another chance and keep her under our observation until the sandstorm passes. Then we will make the verdict.
CHANG-DAE: Thank you, your honors! Thank you!
GANG-RYANG: Instead, we forbid you, from this very moment, to visit Mr. Chang-Dae’s and listen to the beast talk! You will forget all the gibberish rambled on by this beast and you will not spread any of that! Anyone who does not obey this will be banished! We order upon this beast a gag law. Mr. Chang-Dae will immediately gag her and will teach her to make the appropriate animal howl until the due date. Is that clear?
CHANG-DAE: Yes, your honor!
The PEOPLE agitatedly disperse.
CHANG-DAE’s house. YEON-AHM is gagged. CHANG-DAE.
CHANG-DAE: So you’re saying, in our former life, we traveled far, far away together? Crossing nine rivers a day, climbing mountains, passing through fields, and encountering all the eccentricities of the world? (laughs) Quite intriguing for such nonsense. Except for the part that you were the master and I was the stable boy. (ungagging YEON-AHM) Now, try it?
YEON-AHM: Try what?
CHANG-DAE: Don’t talk but neigh, like a horse. After all, you are a horse.
YEON-AHM: My, my, my. Never have I thought I would go through such an ordeal.
CHANG-DAE: That’s for me to say. If everything you said were true, you are a shameless ass. Riding me to the grind in the former life, and coming back to give me more? How did you end up like this?
YEON-AHM: Like what?
CHANG-DAE: How did you get to talk?
YEON-AHM: Let me see…I couldn’t stand the itching.
CHANG-DAE: Itching? What you needed was scratching, not talking.
YEON-AHM: You ignorant peasant. That’s a metaphor.
CHANG-DAE: A metaphor? Is that some kind of a skin disease? Is that contagious?
YEON-AHM: (laughing) Yes. A metaphor is very, very contagious.
CHANG-DAE: That explains the itching I’ve been getting. Damn. Let’s practice. Now, neigh, like a horse!
(GUH-BOH brings MAHN-MAHN into CHANG-DAE’s house along the rope.)
MAHN-MAHN: No. I said, no!
GUH-BOH: Shhhh. Quiet!
(CHANG-DAE feels their presence and hurriedly gags YEON-AHM.)
CHANG-DAE: Who’s there?
GUH-BOH: It’s me, Guh-Boh.
CHANG-DAE: What are you doing here? What if someone sees you?
GUH-BOH: I came to see master Yeon-Ahm.
CHANG-DAE: Mee-joong no longer talks.
GUH-BOH: I heard it all.
CHANG-DAE: Heard what?
GUH-BOH: Your conversation.
CHANG-DAE: Watch your mouth.
GUH-BOH: Don’t worry about it. I’m on master Yeon-Ahm’s side. (seeing YEON-AHM in gags) Oh, putting a gag on honorable master Yeon-Ahm! What a shame…
CHANG-DAE: Don’t touch her.
(GUH-BOH un-gags YEON-AHM.)
CHANG-DAE: Alright. What is it? This late?
GUH-BOH: I can’t take it any longer.
CHANG-DAE: Take what?
GUH-BOH: Master Yeon-Ahm is right. Our village is rotten to the core. We are turning into living skeletons here. So, I’m leaving.
CHANG-DAE: Leaving? You, too, Mahn-Mahn?
MAHN-MAHN: This is the first I’ve heard of it.
GUH-BOH: (To YEON-AHM) Master, please help us. You know the way out. Please help us out of here. Take us to the birches, a place just for Mahn-Mahn and me.
CHANG-DAE: Don’t be a baby and go back home.
GUH-BOH: Don’t treat me like a child. I thought this village was the whole world. That is, until I met master Yeon-Ahm. I saw Mahn-Mahn as nothing more than what she did here. But everything changed since I met master Yeon-Ahm. She opened up my eyes to the world beyond this village, made me see Mahn-Mahn’s pain, and that pain made me realize how much I loved her! That’s it! I got it! Love! I love Mahn-Mahn! I cannot leave her like this.
MAHN-MAHN: But I want you to leave me like this. Like you used to.
GUH-BOH: How is that possible? I love you!
MAHN-MAHN: Love? I don’t understand that word, but it’s driving me crazy.
GUH-BOH: Me, too.
MAHN-MAHN: Then why are you doing this to us?
MAHN-MAHN: You love me because I’m going crazy? I was fine before you loved me.
GUH-BOH: Do you feel crazy now?
MAHN-MAHN: I think so.
GUH-BOH: So do I! Mahn-Mahn! You’re doing it to me. Am I doing it to you?
MAHN-MAHN: Well. Not exactly. No.
GUH-BOH: What? How come?
MAHN-MAHN: (looking into YEON-AHM’s eyes) It’s gone.
GUH-BOH: What is?
MAHN-MAHN: My favorite part.
GUH-BOH: What is it?
MAHN-MAHN: Mee-Joong’s eyes.
CHANG-DAE: Mee-Joong’s eyes? They’re right there.
MAHN-MAHN: No! They’re not the same!
GUH-BOH: You don’t see me as your…?
MAHN-MAHN: Sorry. But I really can’t go with you.
(MAHN-MAHN exits along the rope.)
GUH-BOH: What? (looking into YEON-AHM’s eyes) What did you do to my Mahn-Mahn? I thought I could trust you. (running outside) Mahn-Mahn! (turning to YEON-AHM) How can you do this to me? Mahn-Mahn?
(GUH-BOH and MAHN-MAHN vanish into darkness.)
CHANG-DAE: My, my, my…Mahn-Mahn is right. This is all your fault. You don’t talk, and everything will be fine.
YEON-AHM: I wish I could, but I can’t neigh like a horse.
CHANG-DAE: That’s why you have to practice. There’s no time to lose. The sandstorm will pass by soon. Before that happens, you have to prove to the village that you are indeed a horse. That is, if you want to live.
YEON-AHM: Is that really necessary? What about learning from that kid and getting out of here? Yes. Let’s get out of here right now.
CHANG-DAE: Out in this sandstorm, with a deranged horse like you? We’ll get lost on our first step out of this village.
YEON-AHM: Even better. We’ll take the road less taken.
YEON-AHM: Isn’t that what you wanted?
CHANG-DAE: Shit! But we can’t leave now. Let’s leave after the sandstorm passes! But we have to survive until then.
YEON-AHM: So much ado about a talking horse…Alright. Like you say, I won’t utter a word. And I’ll practice the neigh.
CHANG-DAE: That’s more like it.
YEON-AHM: Show me the proper respect.
CHANG-DAE: What? You clueless beast. You’re a horse, and I’m your owner.
YEON-AHM: Wrong. I’m your master, and you’re my stable boy.
CHANG-DAE: Don’t stretch yourself. Just because you can talk doesn’t make you human.
YEON-AHM: Look, kid. How many times have I told you that there is always more than what you see? Can you carry your own house on a pilgrimage?
CHANG-DAE: Where did that come from?
YEON-AHM: The same principle applies to the body. Once a piece of wood is burnt up, the fire moves on to the next piece of wood. That piece of wood can become an oak tree, a pine tree, or an empress tree. Though I am stuck in the body of a horse, the principle that I am your master stays the same.
CHANG-DAE: Silence! Stop talking and practice your neighing!
YEON-AHM: Unless you show me the proper respect, I will keep talking and not practice anything.
CHANG-DAE: Suit yourself! They will kill you. Not me.
YEON-AHM: I’d rather die than being patronized by my own damn stable boy. Bring ’em in. I’m ready.
CHANG-DAE: Give me a break…Fine. Would it please you if I showed you some respect?
YEON-AHM: The proper respect. “Master” Yeon-Ahm.
CHANG-DAE: The proper respect. Master Yeon-Ahm. Now, would you follow me, please? (imitates a horse)
YEON-AHM: That’s pretty good. You can always tell a stable boy.
CHANG-DAE: Shut your…(calming himself) Would you please stop talking and follow me? (neighing)
YEON-AHM: (follows him slovenly)
(While CHANG-DAE and YEON-AHM are practicing neighing, stars in the sky start shining one by one. It gets dark. A cry in the dark.)
VOICE: The sandstorm has passed!
Bells ringing all over the village. The bells stop ringing at the same time. Silence. Faint music, as if it is coming from a radio.
Blue sky at dawn. Once it lightens up, we see a wagon in the center of the village field. It is tilted, with one wheel in the sand. The covering tent is raggedy, but there are still full-colored drawings, showing traces of the wagon’s prosperous past. Only a few of the many tiny light bulbs on the wagon manage to flicker. The music is coming from the speaker on top of the wagon. The village PEOPLE are in awe at this unexpected sight. The VILLAGE CHIEF enters with the SENIORS. Everyone silently gathers around the VILLAGE CHIEF.
(SENIORS are startled at the sight of the wagon.)
CHOO-OH: What on earth can that be?
GANG-RYANG: (to HO-CHEH) What is it?
HO-CHEH: (going through the book in his hand) Uhm…I can’t find it. It’s not registered.
GANG-RYANG: Not registered?
GANG-RYANG: (to the PEOPLE) Was that here before?
YOO-YOO: There’s no way that was here before.
GANG-RYANG: Of course. Of course.
GEE-YUH: Maybe that was here before, but we never saw it.
BOO-HYEH: It was not here before the sandstorm. That’s for sure.
GEE-YUH: How long has it been? Since its appearance?
GOO-YUH: I saw it, at dawn, on my way to the field.
YOO-YOO: How careless!
GOO-YUH: What did you say?
YOO-YOO: If you hadn’t looked at it, it could have disappeared.
GOO-YUH: You’re not making any sense!
CHOO-OH: Shhh. Keep it down!
HO-CHEH: Yoo-Yoo is right. This is Goo-Yuh’s fault.
GOO-YUH: Excuse me?
HO-CHEH: Yes. Do you know why there are no mountains in our village?
GEE-YUH: What’s that got to do with this?
HO-CHEH: That’s because the women in our village sleep through dawn. When the world was being created, mountains would rise from the earth at dawn, some would reach the sky, while others would get spotted by the early women and settle on earth. But the women in this village, since our ancestors, have traditionally been sound sleepers. That’s why all the mountains vanished into the sky.
GOO-YUH: That makes lousy sense. So what are you saying?
HO-CHEH: That this is all your fault, Goo-Yuh! You broke the village tradition and caused this mayhem!
GOO-YUH: We have tons of work and you, men, are not moving an inch. What do you expect me to do?
CHOO-OH: I said, keep it down! (to GANG-RYANG) What do we do? Shall we set fire on it?
GANG-RYANG: No. That’s against our principle. That thing is not there, it doesn’t exist. What’s the use of setting fire on something that doesn’t exist? That confirms its existence.
CHOO-OH: Then what do we do?
GANG-RYANG: Pretend we never saw it.
CHOO-OH: For real?
GANG-RYANG: Listen up, everybody. Our involvement would only make matters worse. We are not the cause of that thing. It just appeared all of a sudden. So let’s leave it alone. Let it disappear on its own. Am I understood? We never saw that thing. That thing does not exist. Let’s get back to work.
GEE-YUH: Goo-Yuh. You should be ashamed of yourself.
(The music stops. A MAN crawls up from under the wagon. He is wearing colorful clothes and is heavily covered with dust. The PEOPLE are stunned.)
INSPECTOR: (tapping on the radio at the front seat of the wagon) Damn thing’s broken again.
(The INSPECTOR senses other people’s presence and notices the PEOPLE. Both sides are startled. The PEOPLE try to leave the scene.)
CHOO-OH: (whispering) Ignore him.
INSPECTOR: You, there!
SAHN-GOH: But I can hear him.
CHOO-OH: You haven’t heard anything.
INSPECTOR: Can you hear me?
SAHN-GOH: We can’t hear you! We can’t see you!
CHOO-OH: Don’t answer, you dumbass!
BOO-HYEH: What a beautiful day. The sandstorm’s been unusually long this year!
YOO-YOO: It’s time to sow the seeds!
INSPECTOR: (laughing) So you’re ignoring me? Do I look like I’d go away in distress and embarrassment if you ignore me? Well, I will not. I, as Touring Inspector of Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau in the Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau under direct order of Emperor Almighty, command you in the name of Emperor Almighty!
(The PEOPLE are frozen, trying to figure out the INSPECTOR’s nonsensical terminology, rather than being intimidated by his authority. The INSPECTOR, tapping his radio, gives a command.)
INSPECTOR: Stay where you are!
The radio plays majestic grandeur music. The PEOPLE, overwhelmed by the music, bow deeply in bewilderment. It darkens.
When it dawns, we see the INSPECTOR sitting in front of the wagon, devouring millet rice cake and drinking water. The PEOPLE, seated in front of him, are watching politely.
GEE-YUH: Take your time.
GOO-YUH: He must have been lost and starved for days.
INSPECTOR: What was that? How dare you say such a thing? Me, lost? Do you think it possible for an inspector under the Emperor’s service to be lost? I’ve got enough food and water! But how can I refuse what you have so sincerely and devotedly prepared? Everything’s on schedule. I arrived here at the exact time of my scheduled arrival.
GANG-RYANG: On schedule?
INSPECTOR: Exactly. (looking at his memo) Exactly 586 years ago today, this wagon reached this village, and today’s visit has been planned since then! This is a once-in-586-years periodic inspection. You should consider yourself fortunate beyond belief! And you tried to ignore me like that?
HO-CHEH: It was such a surprise that we lost our sense of decency.
INSPECTOR: Surprise? Did I not tell you this inspection is periodic?
GANG-RYANG: We never dreamed you’d honor our secluded, tiny village with your visit.
INSPECTOR: That’s why it took 586 years. The Empire is….vast. (standing up) Now, shall we get started?
CHOO-OH: Started with.…?
INSPECTOR: The inspecting business I came here to do.
CHOO-OH: Forgive my impudence. But what is your business again?
INSPECTOR: Ignorant bumpkins! Touring inspection of Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau under direct order of Emperor Almighty.
INSPECTOR: In short, I am in charge of discovering and collecting mysteries in the world.
KYO-CHOONG: What do you do with them?
KYO-CHOONG: Yes. What I mean is, what is the purpose of gathering all that?
INSPECTOR: For mother’s sake! Their stupidity is appalling. Why do you breathe?
KYO-CHOONG: To live.
INSPECTOR: Why do you live?
KYO-CHOONG: (He is touched and in tears.)
INSPECTOR: I asked you why you lived, and you’re in tears?
KYO-CHOONG: (crying) I’m touched. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that very question. All I’ve been asked was: Did you eat? Did you finish work? How did you sleep?…
INSPECTOR: My goodness, this is pathetic.
KYO-CHOONG: I’ve been asking myself that question all my life. That’s right. The act of …asking oneself such meaningful…as human beings…you know, it’s kinda like…
INSPECTOR: You can be frank with me. You never asked yourself anything, did you?
KYO-CHOONG: Yes, I did! I always asked myself many things! I never got any answers, but I know there’s an answer to why I live.
INSPECTOR: Silly kid! You live because you exist. There’s no answer or purpose to your existence. Even if there were, you’d never know, you’d never need to know. Once you find out, you’ll go insane.
KYO-CHOONG: (bowing his head) I don’t care if I go insane. Please give me the answer!
INSPECTOR: He’s hopeless. Take him away from me.
(YOO-YOO and BOO-HYEH take KYO-CHOONG away from the INSPECTOR.)
INSPECTOR: Same principle here. Emperor Almighty is in full comprehension of all the mysteries in the world. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be Emperor Almighty. Do you now understand the gravity of my task here? Ok, let me condescend to your level. The collecting is in itself the purpose, and this task is in itself Emperor Almighty! (The PEOPLE mutter in incomprehension.) Enough, enough! I can’t waste any more time answering your below-moderate-intelligence questions. Chief. What’s the mystery in this village?
CHOO-OH: I don’t know.
INSPECTOR: I will stay here all day long, just like 586 years ago. And you have one day to find a mystery that will intrigue Emperor Almighty.
HO-CHEH: Well, we’ll do our best, but I’m not sure our village holds anything worth a mystery…
INSPECTOR: Is that so? You’d better think before you speak. I traveled thousands of miles through the sandstorm and learn there is nothing worth a mystery in this village. How pathetic would that look like? That’s why we decided to erase all the villages without mysteries from the Empire’s map during this inspection.
INSPECTOR: In other words, exterminate their existence. The village, the people, everything.
PEOPLE: Holy shit!
SAHN-GOH: Sir inspector?
INSPECTOR: Don’t call me ‘Sir inspector’! Repeat after me. Touring Inspector of Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau.
INSPECTOR: Damn! What do you want?
SAHN-GOH: I don’t think that’s fair.
INSPECTOR: What’s not fair about that? Villages without mysteries and, of course, their inhabitants have no reason to exist. They’re worthless!
SAHN-GOH: Would it be ok to just erase us from the map?
INSPECTOR: What? Do you have any idea what you are saying? That’s high treason, deserving decapitation, if you weren’t a child! How dare you insult the Empire’s map and Emperor Almighty! The Empire’s map should reflect the topography to the last inch! Not on the map, not on the earth!
(The PEOPLE fall into grave silence.)
CHOO-OH: Sir Insp…
INSPECTOR: What did I say?
CHOO-OH: Touring Inspector of Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau!
INSPECTOR: What is it?
CHOO-OH: I know you are on a tight schedule, but a day is way too short for us.
INSPECTOR: Too short? A day is a luxury for a village like this! I don’t need to do this, you know. I thought about just passing by and erasing this village.
WOMEN: My goodness!
INSPECTOR: But Emperor Almighty granted this village an equal opportunity. Because equality is his utmost priority.
WOMEN: Equality! That’s a great Emperor!
INSPECTOR: You should be thankful to have me as your inspector. Any questions?
GANG-RYANG: Yes. So, in the previous inspection, that is 586 years ago, what did our ancestors offer you?
INSPECTOR: (looking in his notes) Let me see…a handful of millet. A breed that grows well even in sand.
CHOO-OH: (excitedly) Millet grows in profusion in our village!
INSPECTOR: (jeeringly) Now, it grows in profusion in many other villages. There’s nothing mysterious about that. (looking at his notes) In 1172, a ball-less maiden. A woman without balls.
GEE-YUH: Women don’t have balls.
BOO-HYEH: Did women have balls back then?
KYO-CHOONG: Nonsense. They must have meant “gut” when they wrote “ball.” It’s not too uncommon in ancient documents. Is that right? A woman without guts, so a coy maiden! A woman that’s coquettish and, therefore, keeping it to herself.
GOO-YUH: A crazy woman? Or a retard?
INSPECTOR: That’s your limit. You haven’t got a grain of imagination in you. When they wrote “balls,” they literally meant “testicles.” Can you imagine how much sweat the record keeper must have drenched to come up with the expression, “ball-less-maiden,” a woman without balls, to refer to this thing that is neither man nor woman? And you talk about guts and crazy woman and retard?
KYO-CHOONG: Now I get it!
SAHN-YUH: (to herself) I’d rather have ball-ed that wench.
INSPECTOR: Anyway this man or woman served Emperor Almighty for life and was loved as his favorite.
KYO-CHOONG: Now I get it!
INSPECTOR: Am I moderately understood?
GEE-YUH: I get an idea, but only vaguely.
GOO-YUH: Yeah. Can you give us a specific example?
SAHN-YUH: Exactly. If you showed us some of your collections, we’ll have a much better idea.
INSPECTOR: You’re really determined to put me to the task, aren’t you? Well, what could these country bumpkins know about the current trend? Alright. I will grant you a huge favor. The theme of this year’s inspection is…ideology.
(The PEOPLE remain silent in incomprehension.)
GEE-YUH: Is that some kind of a spice?
INSPECTOR: You’re getting close. Something like that. You have too much, and you’ll ruin the taste. But too little, and you won’t have any. We used to have plenty in the good old days, but now it’s a rarity. The youth of today, they don’t give a damn about spice or ideology. They devour it raw, just the way it is. Now, be prepared for the wonder!
(The INSPECTOR turns on the radio. The theme music of ‘Panchen Lama’ is playing.)
INSPECTOR: Camel Panchen Lama!
(Through the tent of the wagon enter CAMEL PANCHEN LAMA. The PEOPLE applaud and cheer.)
GEE-YUH: What a strange-looking creature!
GOO-YUH: It’s saying something?
SAHN-YUH: Quiet! I can’t hear.
(PANCHEN LAMA, gesturing in a way that suggests penance and discipline, mutters.)
PANCHEN LAMA: I, the 689th Panchen Lama, say. To the ship crossing the desert. If the desert is too hot make yourself hotter if the desert is too cold make yourself colder if the desert is too vast make yourself vaster if the desert is too dark make yourself darker if life is too painful make yourself more painful, so I, the 689th Panchen Lama, say. Everything I said so far is bull. What I just said is bull is also bull. Everything in this world is bull a desert is not a desert you are not a ship I am not the 689th Panchen Lama then what are you looking at?
(PANCHEN LAMA sits, crossing his legs, and closes his eyes. The PEOPLE are at a loss.)
GEE-YUH: A spice or ideology or whatever is supposed to be salty or sweet or sour or hot, but this is just…
INSPECTOR: That’s what this ideology is all about.
GOO-YUH: He’s got no strength left. He’s almost a skeleton.
INSPECTOR: He’s been fasting for 689 days.
GEE-YUH: How come?
INSPECTOR: That’s his ideology. (to PANCHEN LAMA) Get back inside.
(PANCHEN LAMA slowly enters the wagon, still muttering.)
KYO-CHOONG: I still don’t get it. Could you give us a summary?
INSPECTOR: In short, that’s the ideology of suffering. Where does suffering begin? The inside. So bring it out. Still that animal insists he’s been Panchen Lama for 689 generations.
BOO-HYEH: It still doesn’t make much sense to me.
INSPECTOR: That’s why he was granted a spot on the wagon.
YOO-YOO: Oh! So an ideology is not supposed to make much sense?
INSPECTOR: More likely so. The less sense, the better. Okay, next. Cho-Jung, the tiger.
(The theme music of CHO-JUNG plays. Through the tent of the wagon, CHO-JUNG runs out terrifyingly. CHO-JUNG is tied to chains.)
CHO-JUNG: Wake! Those of you who are oppressed! Free yourselves! Overturn! Overthrow! The old and corrupt institutions! Don’t go after rotten meat but rather die of hunger! Take him down! The Emperor! Tear him apart! Start a new world with your fang!
BOO-HYEH: This I can understand.
YOO-YOO: Isn’t this rather dangerous?
INSPECTOR: Not at all.
YOO-YOO: What if he attacks the Emperor with his fang?
INSPECTOR: It happens once in a while. That’s his calling. Emperor Almighty would look at this beast and be reminded of the impending danger. In fact, he doesn’t exactly qualify as mystery, but we still need him, so that Emperor Almighty has something to shoot with an arrow whenever he is irritated. This one’s not a fine breed, but there’s not enough in stock, so I took him for what he’s worth. Get back. The next one…can’t make an entrance on its own.
(The INSPECTOR enters the wagon and brings out a small potted plant.)
INSPECTOR: I never imagined I’d still find one of these. This one’s a true rarity and also a hazard.
BOO-HYEH: It doesn’t look much like a hazard.
INSPECTOR: You have no idea. Small as this might look now, it used to be a tree with branches and leaves, covering the whole world! Heaven and earth were under the shadow of this creature.
INSPECTOR: This tree grows on human blood and produces a fruit called money, and that’s why it is called democratic tree. Anyone who goes under its shadow believes they are the Emperor of the world. (laughs) Can you believe that? There ever were such primitive times!
KYO-CHOONG: Where was Emperor Almighty back then?
INSPECTOR: Sitting on top of a tree, enjoying his vacation. Look closely. Do you see something like a chrysalis?
(The PEOPLE all approach the plant.)
INSPECTOR: That is not a chrysalis but a human being. He’s called Moo-Kwan and is the sole survivor of that era.
GEE-YUH: This is a human being?
GOO-YUH: How did he shrink so tiny?
INSPECTOR: Think about it. Everyone’s claiming himself the Emperor of the world, but since the world is so small, this one had to adjust his size to the world. That’s why he shrunk. It looks like he decided to stay put, reeling silk, so that others wouldn’t bother him. He’s still muttering something.
YOO-YOO: I don’t hear a thing?
INSPECTOR: Listen close! ‘Who am I? Who am I?’, he’s asking himself.
KYO-CHOONG: Ah. I hear it. I hear it!
INSPECTOR: Was that enough for you? Now go look.
(INSPECTOR takes the plant and enters the wagon, yawning.)
CHOO-OH: Everyone! Let’s hurry! Turn every grain of sand if you have to. But by tomorrow morning, you have to find this thing called ideology!
It gets dark. Loud and discordant music plays. PEOPLE run around, ringing bells. The village is now dusty with sand. YEON-AHM’s neighing resonates.
Lights up in CHANG-DAE’s house. The PEOPLE have gathered there. CHANG-DAE and YEON-AHM look at the PEOPLE in surprise. The PEOPLE are covered in sand and are panting. Pause.
GANG-RYANG: (panting) That’s what happened.
HO-CHEH: Nobody signed up for this.
CHANG-DAE: You’re messing with me, right?
GANG-RYANG: Do we look like we’re messing with you?
GEE-YUH: All day long, we looked under every grain of sand, but everything’s been rejected. We don’t even have a grain of sand to offer him.
GOO-YUH: That’s no surprise, actually! Whenever we found anything remotely exotic, we threw it all away. For how long.
BOO-HYEH: We even brought him Boo-Ok’s kettle, but it wouldn’t sing.
YOO-YOO: I dug up a corpse in the sand. There was no sign of life, but it was perfectly preserved, with life-like complexion. When I brought it to him, he said there’s a ton of those out there. So I buried it again.
HO-CHEH: Kyo-Choong tried to cut off his balls. But the Inspector said ball-less men were no rarity. If it wasn’t for Sahn-Yuh, he would have lost his balls for nothing.
GANG-RYANG: Can you get ideology by cutting off your balls?
KYO-CHOONG: Who knows?
SAHN-YUH: Shut your mouth! (hitting KYO-CHOONG on the head) Who says your balls belong to you? They’re mine!
KYO-CHOONG: I was only trying to save our village!
SAHN-YUH: (pinching him) What about me? Huh!
HO-CHEH: Save our village. You were thinking of yourself. Selfish bastard.
SAHN-YUH: How can you say that? How desperate must he have been to dare try such a thing! Speaking of desperate, isn’t it the seniors who should be in charge in this situation? Have you done anything while he was trying to cut off his…
BOO-HYEH: That’s not right. What difference does it make, balls or no balls?
HO-CHEH: What difference? You bitch! Have you seen them? Huh? Have you?
BOO-HYEH: Do I need to?
HO-CHEH: You better watch your mouth, or I’ll…
CHOO-OH: Enough! Please, enough! We’ve all been so out of our minds that we completely forgot about this one (pointing at YEON-AHM).
GEE-YUH: Yeah. We ran around for nothing.
BOO-HYEH: She’s the only one that can impress the Inspector.
YOO-YOO: Yeah. She doesn’t make much sense, so she’s got an ideology.
GANG-RYANG: Does she still talk?
CHANG-DAE: Not at all. She’s completely normal now.
(On CHANG-DAE’s gesture, YEON-AHM lets out a long neigh.)
PEOPLE: (in despair) No!
HO-CHEH: No. She must talk!
GANG-RYANG: What a disaster! How long has it been?
CHANG-DAE: A few days.
GEE-YUH: It’s probably not too late.
GOO-YUH: Make her talk again!
CHANG-DAE: Now you want her to talk? You were going to kill her for that.
SAHN-YUH: It wasn’t us. It was the seniors.
CHANG-DAE: Do you know what I’ve been through to teach her?
HO-CHEH: For our village, please make her talk again!
BOO-HYEH: Yes. She’s the only one that can save our village.
YOO-YOO: If we think about it, she’s the cause of all this. Her talking was an omen of terrible things to come.
CHANG-DAE: That’s why she stopped talking! What more can you want?
GEE-YUH: Her not talking will not solve anything now, will it?
GOO-YUH: No! Do you think the touring inspector of Internal-external…whatever was simply passing by? He sensed something. That thing invited him here!
SAHN-YUH: One who has tied a knot must untie it. It all started from her mouth and so should it end!
GEE-YUH: Let’s stop talking ourselves and make her talk!
(The WOMEN surround YEON-AHM.)
GOO-YUH: Hey! Talk!
SAHN-YUH: Sure, that will make her talk. Hey! You are so full of bull and shit! Pretentious, good-for-nothing thing!
GEE-YUH: You are all surface and no substance. You always get away with it, but that’s all you’re good at, slimy mudfish!
GOO-YUH: You can talk all you want about life and tenets and morals, but it’s all a hurricane in a teapot. You’re not even a horse. You’re an ass. Get it?
SAHN-YUH: You ramble on about the outside and what you saw and heard, but this is all you got? You’re going to make us all die!
(YEON-AHM, instead of answering, lets out a long neigh. The WOMEN pinch, scratch, and make a mess out of YEON-AHM, saying ‘Talk! You’re still not gonna talk?’ etc.)
CHANG-DAE: (pushing the WOMEN away from YEON-AHM) Stop! How can you be so cruel to an animal that can’t even talk?
GEE-YUH: That’s why you have to make her talk!
CHANG-DAE: It’s all over. She is completely cured.
GEE-YUH: (falling on the ground) Shit, we’re ruined! We’re all going to die!
GANG-RYANG: Please grant us this favor. Since you made her stop talking, can’t you make her talk again?
CHANG-DAE: I’d rather not.
CHANG-DAE: If she talks, the inspector will take her. That means I’ll never see her again.
GOO-YUH: How can you be so selfish?
SAHN-YUH: Tell me about it! My man almost cut off his…(sob)!
GOO-YUH: Do you think you’ll be happy if everyone dies because of your horse or ass or whatever?
GEE-YUH: We’re all going to die anyway! That freaking beast, and you as well!
CHANG-DAE: I really don’t…
HO-CHEH: We really will!
(Pause. EVERYONE is staring into CHANG-DAE’s eyes.)
CHANG-DAE: You can’t just threaten her to…
HO-CHEH: (rejoycing) Ok, ok! Then what can we do?
CHANG-DAE: You have to respect her feelings.
CHANG-DAE: First, you have to treat her with respect. With utmost politeness, address her as Master, Lady, Your Honor, or Madam Yeon-Ahm.
GEE-YUH: (boxing BOO-HYEH’s ear) Don’t laugh! Then what?
CHANG-DAE: By the way, when does she have to start talking?
GANG-RYANG: By tomorrow morning.
CHANG-DAE: That soon? It took me two weeks to get her to stop talking.
GANG-RYANG: But we don’t have two weeks!
HO-CHEH: We will all be dead in two weeks!
CHANG-DAE: (after a moment of contemplation) Liquor used to turn her into a chatterbox.
CHOO-OH: Liquor? No!
CHANG-DAE: (realizing his mistake) I know, of course. Our village strictly forbids the brewing of liquor. But this hairy thing, I mean Master, kept asking for it.
GANG-RYANG: Alright! Everyone, Go brew liquor!
CHOO-OH: But abstinence is our village’s tradition for hundreds of years.
GANG-RYANG: Where there is a village, there is tradition.
GEE-YUH: Doesn’t it take like a long time to brew liquor?
GANG-RYANG: Do you have a better idea? We should apply every means possible. Now! Brew liquor! Make it quick and reassemble! Do you all remember what the beast, I mean her honor, has taught you?
BOO-HYEH: You gave an order to forget everything.
GANG-RYANG: Re-remember! Let’s bring it all back for Master Yeon-Ahm! So that she can finish what she started. She should be dying to utter the next word! Hurry up!
The PEOPLE scatter. YEON-AHM lets out a long neigh, as if laughing at them. It darkens.
Night. Stars fill the sky. JANG-BOK’s field. Underneath the stars, CHO-MAE is plowing the field with JANG-BOK as the cow. CHO-MAE’s eyes are closed.
CHO-MAE: Yo-ho! Yo-ho-! There you go! There you go!
JANG-BOK: Is it really necessary to plow the field this late at night?
CHO-MAE: Day or night, it doesn’t make a difference to me! Besides you sleep through the day anyway.
JANG-BOK: That’s because I spend the night doing this!
CHO-MAE: I am making you do this, only because you’re no good in bed.
JANG-BOK: What more can you possibly want in bed?
CHO-MAE: You talk back. That’s what’s wrong. (hitting him hard)
JANG-BOK: Ouch! (falls with his hands on his back)
JANG-BOK: My back! It hurts!
CHO-MAE: Don’t play a trick on me!
JANG-BOK: I am sixty years old. Can we at least take a break? My back’s not my own anymore.
CHO-MAE: And you call yourself a man.
(JANG-BOK takes off the plow and drops himself on the ground.)
JANG-BOK: Yes, ma’am?
CHO-MAE: How’s the sky? Any stars?
JANG-BOK: Open your eyes and see for yourself.
CHO-MAE: (boxing his ears) Answer me! Are there any stars?
CHO-MAE: So you’re sixty already?
JANG-BOK: I told you.
CHO-MAE: So forty years since you married me?
JANG-BOK: That’s about it.
CHO-MAE: What on earth happened to you?
JANG-BOK: What do you mean?
CHO-MAE: You used to be…a man. Don’t you remember?
CHO-MAE: You stupid blockhead!
JANG-BOK: What did I do?
CHO-MAE: Are you crippled or something?
JANG-BOK: Can’t you leave me alone for one second? For a brief moment of peace.
CHO-MAE: You hate me, don’t you? You wish I’d just die, don’t you? You wish to kill me, don’t you?
JANG-BOK: Where are you going with these questions?
CHO-MAE: Nowhere…Plenty of stars?
JANG-BOK: It looks like they’re falling all over you.
CHO-MAE: Are they?
JANG-BOK: A falling star. Another one. Right there.
CHO-MAE: Right there?
CHO-MAE: Right there…
JANG-BOK: Yes, ma’am?
CHO-MAE: Do you know who I am?
CHO-MAE: Do you, or don’t you?
JANG-BOK: Of course I do.
CHO-MAE: Then, aren’t you scared?
JANG-BOK: I’m sorry?
CHO-MAE: Because I am, scared of myself.
JANG-BOK: So am I, a little.
(CHO-MAE hits JANG-BOK with the stick.)
JANG-BOK: Why are you hitting me? I haven’t done anything.
CHO-MAE: (She giggles, firmly hugs JANG-BOK, and they roll over the sand.)
JANG-BOK: (Stuck tight in CHO-MAE’s grip, rolling over the sand) Ouch! Ouch! My back! My back!
(CHO-MAE releases him after a while.)
JANG-BOK: Holy cow.
JANG-BOK: I can’t.
CHO-MAE: Let’s call it for tonight and go home.
JANG-BOK: (He stands up immediately, is about to head home, and then stops.) You’re not coming?
CHO-MAE: I’ll enjoy the cool air for a while.
(JANG-BOK, after a short moment of confusion, takes the plow and heads home. CHO-MAE, after a few seconds of hesitation, opens her eyes. In fear, she closes her eyes again. She covers her eyes with both hands.)
CHO-MAE: …Tickling. Tickling…you little ones…When was it…tens of years…hundreds of years…thousands of years…millions of years…when you left me…I cannot see, but I hear the bell. The bell ringing…No. I said no…Why me? Why does it have to be me? Go away. Don’t come near me. Get out…Jang-Bok. Jang-Bok…Jang-Bok….
(CHO-MAE puts down her hands that were covering her eyes, lifts her head, and stares into the starry sky. CHO-MAE gets up and strides into darkness. On the other side, GOO-YUH, GEE-YUH, and SAHN-YUH cross the sand, with liquor buckets in their hands.)
GEE-YUH: How’d you get that? I won’t tell. You had that for a while, right?
GOO-YUH: Speak for yourself.
(The THREE WOMEN laugh.)
SAHN-YUH: But won’t they get suspicious? We’re apparently way too early?
GEE-YUH: Let’s keep our focus to the present. Who cares what tomorrow brings?
GOO-YUH: Ain’t nobody with sober hands in this village.
SAHN-YUH: Even so, let’s slow it down.
GEE-YUH: Shall we.
(The THREE WOMEN stop.)
GOO-YUH: Damn. Look at all those stars.
GEE-YUH: The only asset worth a view in our village.
(SAHN-YUH drinks from the bucket.)
GEE-YUH: What the hell you are doing?
SAHN-YUH: I’m drinking.
GEE-YUH: Are you insane?
SAHN-YUH: Who cares? I don’t give a shit!
GOO-YUH: Are you upset about Kyo-Choong?
GEE-YUH: He still got his balls.
SAHN-YUH: Who gives a shit about his balls? I’m upset about his thoughts. He decided to offer himself without saying a word to his wife. Can you believe that? Even for the sake of saving the village? Why do I have to suffer for that? This sucks. Life sucks. (drinks)
GOO-YUH: Hey, stop drinking!
GEE-YUH: You don’t know what you’re saying. Thoughts? Those are useless. All you need is balls.
GOO-YUH: Pish. (drinks)
GEE-YUH: Hey…why are you drinking?
GOO-YUH: Who needs balls if they’re grains of sand?
GEE-YUH: Are you kidding me? Showing off before a widow? I’ll be damned. (drinks)
GOO-YUH: I’m getting tipsy.
SAHN-YUH: What’re we going to do?
(The THREE WOMEN sigh and head toward CHANG-DAE’s. On the other side of the stage, BOO-HYEH, YOO-YOO, and KYO-CHOONG, standing in a straight line, are peeing on the field.)
BOO-YEH: Starry fucking night.
YOO-YOO: Those stars are all part of land? This land we’re stepping on is a freaking bubble floating in the air…
BOO-HYEH: What the fuck are you talking about?
YOO-YOO: That’s what the donkey said. You were there.
YOO-YOO: You’re right. But somehow today I feel like I’m floating in the air, just like she said. Do you remember?
BOO-HYEH: Remember what?
YOO-YOO: When I was fourteen, I got lost in the sandstorm on my way back from the millet field.
BOO-HYEH: It wasn’t even spring, but it was wild.
YOO-YOO: What would have happened if I didn’t return to the village back then?
BOO-HYEH: You would have died.
YOO-YOO: What if I didn’t die but found another village?
BOO-HYEH: You would have died anyway because they would have banished you.
YOO-YOO: Why are you always being so negative? They could have welcomed me as their guest.
BOO-HYEH: Maybe me. But you, I don’t know…
YOO-YOO: You sucker! In that sandstorm, I imagined meeting people from other villages. Then I tripped over something, missed my balance, and fell, and that was the way back to our village. I held on to the rope and ran. I heard my mom calling me right there. Thank heavens, I was alive, I thought. But something wasn’t right. It felt like somebody was choking me.
BOO-HYEH: What’s with you bringing up old memories and stuff? You ready to kick the bucket?
YOO-YOO: What is it with me? If I’m to kick the bucket, I’ll kick it all the way to the moon! Hey, Kyo-Choong. What do you think?
BOO-HYEH: Why do you have your hands on your balls? Are you performing a ritual?
YOO-YOO: You finally did it. You cut them off?
BOO-HYEH: Let’s see.
YOO-YOO: What are you shushing about, dickhead!
KYO-CHOONG: Please, guys. What is wrong with you? Can’t you leave me alone?
BOO-HYEH: So that you can cut off your balls?
KYO-CHOONG: Balls or no balls, I’m trying to create an ideology.
YOO-YOO: Ideology? You?
KYO-CHOONG: What if Yeon-Ahm doesn’t talk again? We should still create an ideology out of what she said, one way or another.
BOO-HYEH: Create an ideology?
KYO-CHOONG: You know I have a good memory.
YOO-YOO: Only for things not worth remembering.
KYO-CHOONG: I remember everything that Yeon-Ahm told us.
YOO-YOO: You can’t make head or tail of them?
KYO-CHOONG: I can make too many heads and tails of them.
BOO-HYEH: Too many heads and tails?
KYO-CHOONG: They said an ideology was not supposed to make much sense in the first place. That’s what I thought of Yeon-Ahm’s words at first, but the more I think about it, the more sense they make. I don’t know…(in thoughts again)
YOO-YOO: I can’t make head or tail of what you’re saying.
BOO-HYEH: Damn it! Will we see another day, peeing on the field like this?
(The stage darkens on the MEN’s side and brightens on the wagon’s side. SAHN-GOH and JEH-GUN are holding MAHN-MAHN. GUH-BOH is beaten up on the ground.)
SAHN-GOH: That was close, man! Really close!
JEH-GUN: Did you have to be so harsh on him?
SAHN-GOH: He deserved it big time, man. Running away with Mahn-Mahn when everyone else is trying to save the village? Does she belong to you?
(SAHN-GOH gives GUH-BOH several hard kicks. GUH-BOH faints.)
MAHN-MAHN: Stop it! Stop! I will do anything you want. So please stop it!
(The INSPECTOR comes out of the wagon.)
INSPECTOR: What’s going on out here?
SAHN-GOH: We brought you something.
(SAHN-GOH and JEH-GUN bring MAHN-MAHN to the INSPECTOR.)
SAHN-GOH: (pushing MAHN-MAHN) This wench.
INSPECTOR: Who is this wench?
INSPECTOR: Mahn-Mahn? What does she do?
SAHN-GOH: She sleeps with us.
JEH-GUN: You know. (Sex.)
INSPECTOR: Is she a prostitute? They’re everywhere.
MAHN-MAHN: What’s a prostitute?
INSPECTOR: It’s a filthy thing.
MAHN-MAHN: That can’t be me. I am doing it for the chastity of this village.
INSPECTOR: That’s what prostitutes do.
SAHN-GOH: Then, what about these high heels? These were our initial offerings, but we couldn’t take them off of her, so we brought the whole package.
INSPECTOR: What about these high heels?
JEH-GUN: Let me enlighten you. A long time ago, her ancestors took over our village and had all the women in our village wear these heels.
SAHN-GOH: But when her ancestors were kicked out of our village and had to run for their lives, there was one woman who failed to escape, who was her grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother’s… grandmother.
JEH-GUN: Our ancestors made her grandmother wear these heels so that she would be reminded of the shame of defeat, whenever she…you know what (gesturing sex). Those heels have been passed down to this one. (pointing at MAHN-MAHN)
INSPECTOR: Uhm. The filthy heels of chastity…
SAHN-GOH: I knew you’d recognize them! What do you think? Would you call them an ideology?
MAHN-MAHN: Yes, sir?
INSPECTOR: Don’t you feel mistreated?
INSPECTOR: Aren’t you ashamed?
MAHN-MAHN: Of what?
INSPECTOR: Aren’t you in pain?
MAHN-MAHN: Not at all. At least not until a few minutes ago.
INSPECTOR: A few minutes ago? What about now?
MAHN-MAHN: I’m not so sure.
INSPECTOR: Uhm. I can’t do this yet.
SAHN-GOH: Why not?
INSPECTOR: It’s…too risky.
JEH-GUN: Tell him you feel mistreated! Now!
SAHN-GOH: You’re ashamed and in pain. Tell him!
(MAHN-MAHN is at a loss.)
INSPECTOR: That’s all. And please keep it down.
(The INSPECTOR enters the wagon. MAHN-MAHN caresses GUH-BOH on the ground.)
MAHN-MAHN: Guh-Boh. Guh-Boh.
JEH-GUN: Is Guh-Boh your other half or something? What does he have that I don’t? I’m hurting just as much!
SAHN-GOH: Yeah! We’re gonna die tomorrow anyway! Mahn-Mahn! You changed.
JEH-GUN: Yeah! You only care about Guh-Boh!
MAHN-MAHN: That’s not true. I didn’t change. I like you all, equally.
JEH-GUN: You tried to run away with Guh-Boh and leave us here!
MAHN-MAHN: I told him no. But he forced me…
GUH-BOH: (managing to open his eyes) Mahn-Mahn…be true to yourself.
SAHN-GOH: This is pathetic!
JEH-GUN: Do you really think he’ll kill us? Like all of us?
SAHN-GOH: (sarcastically) What do you think?
JEH-GUN: How do you think he’ll kill us?
SAHN-GOH: He said, “exterminate.”
JEH-GUN: But what does he mean by “exterminate”? Is it like rubbing dirt off our skin?
SAHN-GOH: Not just rubbing but chafing it off until it’s completely gone.
JEN-GUN: (almost in tears) That would hurt a lot.
SAHN-GOH: (almost in tears) It even hurts to rub.
JEH-GUN: Ah, I wish this was all bull!
SAHN-GOH: (standing straight all of a sudden) Shit! Mahn-Mahn! Let’s go! I feel like doing it!
JEH-GUN: Me, too!
SAHN-GOH, JEH-GUN: No?
SAHN-GOH: Did you just say no?
MAHN-MAHN: Yes. No.
SAHN-GOH: Did you hear that? She said no?
JEH-GUN: Wow. This is turning me on!
SAHN-GOH: I’ve never felt this way before! Let’s go do it!
(SAHN-GOH and JEH-GUN take MAHN-MAHN by force and run out.)
MAHN-MAHN: No! Let me go! I said no!
(GUH-BOH manages to get himself up.)
GUH-BOH: Mahn-Mahn…Mahn-Mahn…If I can’t have you, I don’t have any other choice…Stars up there, I have no other choice …
CHANG-DAE’s house. Almost dawn. The PEOPLE are sitting around YEON-AHM, anxiously waiting for her to open her mouth. Pause. YEON-AHM keeps sipping liquor.
KYO-CHOONG: So your honor, and then you said, the greatest profit of the greatest number is the foundation of the welfare of citizens, and the welfare of citizens is the standard of justice in the society? That’s what you taught us, wasn’t it? The problem is that the act of making profit inevitably accompanies unequal distribution. One’s profit is another’s loss. Based on this principle, the welfare of citizens cannot but be the welfare of a certain group of citizens, and, in the same way, justice is the virtue of only the selected few. In this case, can we still call it justice? The only thing that remains intact in your teaching is the greatest profit of the greatest number. The welfare of the citizens and justice in the society are all lies. How can you respond to that?
(YEON-AHM keeps silent.)
KYO-CHOONG: You don’t have an answer? Of course you don’t. Your honor’s teachings are noble, but the world isn’t so.
(JANG-BOK runs in.)
JANG-BOK: Excuse me.
HO-CHEH: What is it?
JANG-BOK: Has any of you seen my wife? She didn’t come home last night.
HO-CHEH: She must have. Where could that earthworm go?
JANG-BOK: I looked everywhere. If she’s not here, where is she?
YOO-YOO: If she’s gone, isn’t it one less thing to worry about?
GANG-RYANG: We haven’t seen her. Look elsewhere. You’re causing a diversion.
JANG-BOK: (runs out in distress) Where could she be?
KYO-CHOONG: And then, your honor said that virtue lies neither there nor here but somewhere in between. What did you mean by that? Your honor made it sound like it contains something profound, but it is nothing but a play on words. What we are truly in need of is not profound chaos but simple and clear order.
BOO-HYEH: What do you mean by that?
KYO-CHOONG: Don’t distract me. I’m on a profound subject.
GEE-YUH: Who would want to talk if you keep pushing like that? I certainly would not.
YOO-YOO: Start with something light and concrete. Ask her if the widow and the teacher did it or not. You’re giving me a headache!
GOO-YUH: Your honor. Did they do it? Or not? Please tell us. I am dying to find out.
(YEON-AHM keeps silent. Lights change. The other side of the stage. MAHN-MAHN, fully covered in sand, is running away from something. After she has run for a while, she looks around, panting. In the dark, CHO-MAE comes out of nowhere and blocks MAHN-MAHN. MAHN-MAHN is startled and tries to run away, but as CHO-MAE grabs MAHN-MAHN by the hand, MAHN-MAHN falls down on the sand. CHO-MAE grabs MAHN-MAHN’s ankle and looks closely at the high-heels she’s wearing.)
MAHN-MAHN: …Please don’t do this…these heels are my mother’s only legacy! Ouch! That hurts! Are you trying to break my ankle? Please! Stop…!
(CHO-MAE takes off the heels from MAHN-MAHN’s feet. She looks at them in silence. CHO-MAE throws the heels back to MAHN-MAHN. MAHN-MAHN picks them up and looks at them. Tears in her eyes. Her silent tears turn into sobbing, and then into a wild burst of crying. Pause.)
MAHN-MAHN: Who are you? Who am I?
(CHO-MAE reaches out her hand to MAHN-MAHN. MAHN-MAHN, after blankly staring at CHO-MAE’s hand, grabs it and stands herself up. They vanish into the dark. Lights darken on this side and brighten on the other side again.)
GOO-YUH: Man! I’m going insane!
YOO-YOO: Shit! What the heck are we doing!
BOO-HYEH: It’s over. We’re through!
SAHN-YUH: The sun is rising. (offers more liquor to YEON-AHM) Please, talk! I’m begging you.
YOO-YOO: (taking the liquor bottle away from SAHN-YUH) That’s enough! We’re done! Don’t waste good liquor! (drinks from the bottle)
BOO-HYEH: (She drinks.) We should have listened to the chief in the first place and set the inspector on fire!
YOO-YOO: (He drinks.) (to KYO-CHOONG) You’ve always said! The Outsiders are responsible for our misery in this village. We must have our revenge.
BOO-HYEH: That’s right. What are we waiting for? Let’s have it!
HO-CHEH: Don’t be ridiculous! It’s the Emperor, the Empire that we’re up against. It takes 586 years just for a tour.
GANG-RYANG: It’s not that I don’t sympathize with you. I do and I’m more than eager to bring it on! Their retribution does not terrify me. In fact, I have done some thinking, about how to defeat them for good.
BOO-HYEH: We’ll leave the thinking to you, seniors. But we are ready to fight!
YOO-YOO: Why all this talk? It’s all or nothing!
GANG-RYANG: Listen, everyone! We are not like those savages. We should be proud of that. If we go and fight them, and if we take them down by force, we’re turning into savages ourselves.
HO-CHEH: You’re right. We still have time. But if the beast doesn’t talk by morning, it’s not too late to reconsider the attack.
BOO-HYEH: Not too late! That’s why we are always defeated!
YOO-YOO: We’re not asking you to come with us, so let us go!
(There generates great tension between the SENIORS and the MEN. Somebody claps and breaks into a laugher.)
YOO-YOO: Who’s laughing? Who is it?
YEON-AHM: That’s what I wanted to see! That’s what I’ve been waiting for!
GEE-YUH: She talked! Yeon-Ahm talked!
(The PEOPLE are applauding in cheers.)
WOMEN: Hurray! Hurray!
GEE-YUH: We’re saved!
GOO-YUH: Our ancestors are watching over us!
HO-CHEH: What did I say? I said it’s not too late!
GANG-RYANG: Don’t underestimate our age-old experience!
(The PEOPLE are chattering in excitement.)
YEON-AHM: Silence! Silence!
GEE-YUH: Yes, sir! Yes, ma’am! Whatever you say, don’t stop talking.
YEON-AHM: Don’t get too excited! I’m talking now, but who knows if I’ll open my mouth for that Inspector fellow.
YOO-YOO: What? You obviously haven’t learned your lesson!
YEON-AHM: Watch your mouth!
GEE-YUH: She’s right. Don’t provoke her. What if she plays dumb again?
YEON-AHM: Listen up. I opened my mouth again, not because I care about my life. I’d rather die than follow the inspector and be the Emperor’s bitch. I mean it. But your trivial bickering and despicable conducts made me too impatient.
HO-CHEH: So, for the inspector, are you going to talk or not?
YEON-AHM: If you keep interrupting me, I will definitely not.
GOO-YUH: Don’t interrupt!
YEON-AHM: Let’s measure the options. What happens if I talk for the inspector?
SAHN-YUH: Everything’s going to be okay.
YOO-YOO: We will live, and you will live in Imperial luxury.
YEON-AHM: Everything okay? It will be for only 586 years. But what happens after 586 years?
BOO-HYEH: Who cares? That’s none of our business!
YEON-AHM: If your ancestors had been a little more considerate 586 years ago, you wouldn’t have had to go through all this. If you send me away now, it will only be a temporary remedy. You will be burying your heads in the sand. That’s no fundamental solution. Next, what happens if I don’t talk for the inspector?
YOO-YOO: We will finish him ourselves.
YEON-AHM: Finish him? Will that solve anything? Imagine the aftermath. You can’t fight the army of the Empire.
GANG-RYANG: So what are you suggesting?
YEON-AHM: I’m suggesting a plan that guarantees not only my own but also all of your safety. Of course, we wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of killing the inspector.
CHOO-OH: Enlighten us.
YEON-AHM: Be the subject, not the object, of the erasure.
BOO-HYEH: What is she talking about?
YEON-AHM: Go back home and pack your things. Lightly. Only the essentials.
GEE-YUH: Pack our things?
YEON-AHM: We’re leaving. Before the break of dawn.
GANG-RYANG: Leaving? Did you just say “leaving”?
YEON-AHM: That’s what I said. It’s this ground, this land that’s causing you all this pain and suffering. What is it that’s keeping you here? Look around. It’s all sand, sand, and more sand. You can’t take three steps forward without panting out sand. What little this village possesses is a few pieces of millet, which you’d always have to dig up from the sand, and a few shelters, so brittle and low that you can’t even sit up straight without worrying about collapse. Have you got anything else?
BOO-HYEH: …No. Nothing.
YEON-AHM: Look at yourselves. Your vision is blurred in the sand and dust, your body is all withered by the lack of nutrition, and your spirit quailed like a dried-up ear of millet. Yoo-Yoo. Tell me. What difference is there between the corpse you dug out from the sand and yourselves?
YOO-YOO: …not much. Not at all. We’re just like the corpse.
YEON-AHM: What can you gain, staying here? Why would you want to stay here? Leave! Get out of here! Vanish!
HO-CHEH: But what will the Emperor do to us?
GANG-RYANG: He’ll catch us and kill us all.
YEON-AHM: You move with the Emperor’s wagon! Take the lead! Don’t stop, keep moving! The wagon will never find you. Because we will never settle! We will erase and erase further and move on! I’ve seen them. Plains with green grass…mountains covered with trees…valleys with crystal clear springs…rivers…velvet flowers on the hills…the sea!
YOO-YOO: Green grass…
SAHN-YUH: The sea…
YEON-AHM: Yes! We will pass all of them, and you will stand up straight, you will see the world with vigor, you will take spry steps, and you will sing your heart out about the joy of life! It’s the break of dawn! Let’s move! Before the inspector wakes up, before the Emperor gets out of bed, let’s make no sounds, leave no trace, and be out of here in an instant! Vanish! If you welcome me, I will join you!
YOO-YOO: Absolutely! She’s right! This is no place to live.
BOO-HYEH: Damn! Let’s see how far we can go!
GANG-RYANG: Calm yourselves! It’s easier said than done.
CHOO-OH: It’s better than death.
GANG-RYANG: Et tu, Chief!
HO-CHEH: Why all this chaos? We offer this beast and have a happy ending!
CHOO-OH: That’s for cowards, with no vision for the future.
HO-CHEH: What did you say?
CHOO-OH: I am all on board with Master Yeon-Ahm. We must look ahead. Ages ago, our ancestors settled here and cultivated this land. But now it is barren. There’s hardly any trace of life here.
SAHN-YUH: Yes. No matter where we go, it can’t be worse than this.
GOO-YUH: It will not be easy. But think of our children.
YOO-YOO: Agreed! It’s our turn to venture into the world! Follow the example of our ancestors!
GANG-RYANG: We are not ready yet!
BOO-HYEH: When will we be ready?
YOO-YOO: Right now! Now!
CHOO-OH: We must make a choice! Will we bravely step up and promise our children a future of prosperity? Or will we remain and leave our children the pain, the poverty, and our shame? Those in favor of leaving, please put on your protection glasses!
(The PEOPLE put on their protection glasses one by one.)
HO-CHEH: No! It’s time to sow the ground. Where do you suppose you’re going?
CHOO-OH: With all due respect, dear seniors, we have made our decision. Everyone. Go back home and pack your things swiftly and silently! Most lightly! Only the essentials!
The PEOPLE scatter in determination. The darkness right before dawn.
When it brightens, the VILLAGE CHIEF and CHANG-DAE are waiting, with bundles. The VILLAGE CHIEF is wearing protection glasses and YEON-AHM is standing next to him.
CHANG-DAE: Hey, Chief. I’m not so sure about this.
CHOO-OH: Shut up.
CHANG-DAE: I have to wait for my son, Mee-Joong. What if he comes back and I’m not here?
CHOO-OH: Mee-Joong is dead.
CHANG-DAE: He might be alive.
CHOO-OH: What is everyone taking so long?
(GEE-YUH enters, empty handed.)
CHOO-OH: Ms. Gee-Yuh. Where is your stuff?
GEE-YUH: I’ve been thinking, you know, my husband’s buried here. Who’s going to take care of him if I leave…Go ahead. I’ll stay.
CHOO-OH: Ms. Gee-Yuh!
(The family, SAHN-YUH, KYO-CHOONG, and SAHN-GOH enter, all empty-handed.)
CHOO-OH: You, too?
KYO-CHOONG: It looks like my wife…
CHOO-OH: What about your wife?
KYO-CHOONG: She’s been getting nauseous lately, and I think she’s having morning sickness.
SAHN-YUH: I can’t give birth on the road.
CHOO-OH: Why not?
KYO-CHOONG: It’s not only that, but you know, all I was ever good at was remembering things. I remember every single event that transpired in this village, but if I leave, what happens to my memory? One day, I’d like to create my own ideology based on my memory. So …
(The family, GOO-YUH, BOO-HYEH, and JEH-GUN enter, empty-handed as well. They are furious.)
BOO-HYEH: Why the hell would you insist on bringing that crappy cupboard?
GOO-YUH: Crappy cupboard? Watch it! This was my wedding gift from my mother. I’m keeping this, forever!
BOO-HYEH: Fine! Then carry it yourself!
GOO-YUH: How can I carry this myself?
BOO-HYEH: It’s not just the cupboard! The table, the door…
GOO-YUH: How can we leave without them? Don’t you remember what I went through to get them?
BOO-HYEH: Why don’t you bring the cornerstone as well?
GOO-YUH: You don’t think I can?
BOO-HYEH: Give me a freaking break!
CHOO-OH: So what’s the verdict?
BOO-HYEH: It’s not that I wouldn’t go…But look at her! She’s not making any sense!
GOO-YUH: Speak for yourself!
CHOO-OH: (in distress) What about Yoo-Yoo? And the seniors?
KYO-CHOONG: Yoo-Yoo is sick in bed at my place.
CHOO-OH: What happened?
KYO-CHOONG: He was tearing down his house…
CHOO-OH: Tearing down?
SAHN-YUH: He insisted on tearing it down before leaving this place for good. Then it fell on him and he got hurt bad. He barely survived. He keeps saying “let’s get out of here. Let’s go.” But he can’t move an inch.
(The SENIORS enter, of course, empty-handed. The INSPECTOR enters behind them.)
CHOO-OH: Dear Seniors!
GANG-RYANG: (ignoring him) There was no other way.
INSPECTOR: There’s no need to put the blame on them. They are, at best, belated informers. Don’t underestimate the Touring Inspector of the Internal-External-Private-Public-Individual-Communal-Commonplace-and-Mysterious-Affairs-Executive-Bureau. Eating millet rice cake and sleeping in the wagon were merely a camouflage. I knew all about this beast from the beginning. I was simply waiting for you to complete the task. Good job.
(The INSPECTOR steps toward YEON-AHM. The PEOPLE move out of his way.)
INSPECTOR: Exactly what I was looking for. Something dramatic but not threatening…Yeon-Ahm, is it? There is one thing you didn’t realize. Maybe you did but pretended not to. All the places that you mentioned are already occupied. You may pass by. Maybe take a tour. But you can’t settle there. No stopping and keep moving? Happy with a glimpse? Do you really believe that will be enough for these people? I wouldn’t imagine. Man is bound to settle down eventually. What can you say about that?
YEON-AHM: I won’t talk any more. You can take me, but I’ll only be a shell of a creature.
INSPECTOR: That’s exactly what I need, the shell. I don’t need your words any more. They are all recorded.
INSPECTOR: Bind her.
HO-CHEH: You heard her! Bind this beast! The inspector wants to take her. Problem solved!
(The PEOPLE are reluctant.)
GANG-RYANG: What are you all waiting for? Do it!
(GUH-BOH who has entered running at some point runs toward YEON-AHM and puts a rope on her neck.)
GUH-BOH: Stay back!
INSPECTOR: Who the hell are you?
GANG-RYANG: Guh-Boh, you bastard! What do you think you’re doing?
GUH-BOH: I’m going to kill this beast!
HO-CHEH: You what? Have you gone completely insane?
GANG-RYANG: Do you realize the consequence of your action? She dies, we all die.
GUH-BOH: That’s exactly what I want. This trash of a village is better off dead! Erased!
GEE-YUH: What’s gotten into him?
SAHN-GOH: It’s all because of Mahn-Mahn.
GUH-BOH: That’s right! I want Mahn-Mahn!
GEE-YUH: Then, take her! What’s stopping you?
GUH-BOH: I want her for myself! I’m in love with her! But, in this village, I know I can’t have her for myself!
INSPECTOR: My, my. What a clown.
GUH-BOH: Ideology? This, you call ideology? If your ideology cannot save a girl from pain and shame, you can throw that ideology to the dogs! This ideology is better off dead! Stay back!
(GUH-BOH stifles YEON-AHM with the rope. YEON-AHM is choking.)
PEOPLE: Stop! No!
CHOO-OH: Somebody go find Mahn-Mahn! Quick!
INSPECTOR: Dead or alive, do it fast. It’s almost time to go.
All of a sudden, a strong sandstorm comes. The PEOPLE are running around in confusion.
INSPECTOR: What the hell? Where did that come from? Don’t panic! Stay where you are!
(The sandstorm calms and the wagon has appeared out of nowhere. A voice is heard from inside the wagon.)
VOICE: A moment of cosmic transition occurs with a wind of change.
INSPECTOR: Who’s in there? How dare you!
(The tent of the wagon opens, revealing CHO-MAE sitting inside. MAHN-MAHN is sitting next to her.)
JANG-BOK: My wife! Honey!
INSPECTOR: What’s all this? Who are you to be sitting there? Where the hell is all of my stuff?
CHO-MAE: This wagon was too damn packed, and what is worse, they wouldn’t shut up, so I kicked them all out.
INSPECTOR: You what? Kicked them out?
CHO-MAE: They ran for their freedom.
INSPECTOR: Do you have any idea what I’ve gone through to collect them all!
CHO-MAE: Don’t make a scene! This touring inspection was not meant for that rubbish. It was meant for me.
INSPECTOR: You? What are you?
CHO-MAE: What am I? You are practically blind. Don’t you recognize me?
(The INSPECTOR is startled.)
CHO-MAE: Wasn’t it you who brought me to this village 2344 years ago? Wasn’t it you who told me all about what’s going to happen today?
(The INSPECTOR steps back in fear.)
CHO-MAE: That’s right. I am the new Emperor.
(Music is playing from the radio. The INSPECTOR gets down in his knees and bows his head. The PEOPLE, bewildered, kneel and bow their heads as well.)
CHO-MAE: I’ve finished my period of exile. It’s time to return. Inspector, pull the wagon.
(The INSPECTOR approaches the wagon. GUH-BOH steps in front of the wagon.)
(CHO-MAE throws MAHN-MAHN’s high-heels to GUH-BOH.)
CHO-MAE: That’s your beloved Mahn-Mahn!
(GUH-BOH, in awe, picks up the heels.)
CHO-MAE: (smoothly touching MAHN-MAHN) Mahn-Mahn! There’s sand all over you. Let me wash you. Clean and clear. You will bear no pain, no shame, no anger, no despair, and no desire, but people will remember you with pain, shame, anger, despair, and desire. Because you are my daughter and my successor.
CHO-MAE: Let’s go.
Another sandstorm blows over the knelt down PEOPLE. The wagon is gone. It gets dark.
JANG-BOK’s silhouette is visible in the dark. JANG-BOK is overwhelmed with the unexpected freedom. He hops around in joy and cheers, “Hurray! I’m free! I’m free!” After a while, he stops. Silence. His silhouette disappears in the dark.
When it gets bright, we see the field and the starry sky. JANG-BOK, in the middle of the field, is sobbing. He is at a loss of what to do, just like a string-less marionette.
JANG-BOK: She’s gone. She’s gone…
(CHANG-DAE and YEON-AHM enter the field.)
CHANG-DAE: Master…What happens to me if you leave by yourself?
YEON-AHM: You can join me.
CHANG-DAE: I’m too old.
YEON-AHM: That’s what you used to say.
CHANG-DAE: Here it comes again.
YEON-AHM: A horse stepped on your foot. You were suffering from a severe cold. You couldn’t walk. You could barely crawl. And still you cried out in tears, “Master! What happens to me if you leave by yourself?”
CHANG-DAE: You let me ride the horse, put a blanket on me, and you walked?
YEON-AHM: No. I left by myself.
YEON-AHM: But you still followed me, persistently.
CHANG-DAE: You may not remember this, but when you were young, that is, before you started speaking, you had beautiful eyes. I enjoyed looking into them. They created this yearning in me…That’s right. I used to have a yearning. To get out of this village and travel far away. I was twenty-five when I could afford a horse. I would have left. If only it wasn’t for that woman. She wanted to have a child. She said I could leave after our first child. Crying. Her tears turned my horse into an apron, a pot, and a piece of millet. It took ten years until we had Mee-Joong, but then what happened. This creature of a wife died in childbirth. Eighteen years passed by, and I finally thought I could leave this village, now that Mee-Joong was an adult. But guess what. It was his turn…Forgive me for all this grumbling. You must think I’m a…
YEON-AHM: No. I don’t.
CHANG-DAE: You don’t?
YEON-AHM: I’m just a phantom, given a shape by people like you. Only those who feel an itch can feel pain…But the pain is more than what you feel, so what can we do about that.
CHANG-DAE: Isn’t it strange? I barely remember what my wife or my son looked like, but I can vividly picture the horse I did not get to buy.
(YEON-AHM, in silence, takes a few steps.)
CHANG-DAE: Master…Where’s your destination?
CHANG-DAE: What’s your plan?
YEON-AHM: Just…wandering. We are born to walk about.
(YEON-AHM exits, hummng a song.)
Over the stove miso soup is boiling, boiling, boiling.
One bubble, one mississipi two bubbles two mississipi.
One drop one mississipi two drops two mississipi.
Bubble pop I pop Drop pop I pop.
Pop pop pop pop where did it go,
where did it go pop pop pop pop!
JANG-BOK: (in tears) She’s gone. She left me…gone!
(Another sandstorm erases YEON-AHM from sight. The song becomes faint, the bell silently continues ringing, and then there is a long cry from neither a horse, nor a donkey, nor a mule, neither happy nor sad, neither angry, nor pleasant, but somewhere in between. The sandstorm erases CHANG-DAE and JANG-BOK from sight. In the dark, we hear YEON-AHM’s voice.)
YEON-AHM: People soon forgot the beast and the events of the day. Chang-Dae and Jang-Bok, finding comfort in each other’s sadness, moved in with each other. The boys played with themselves, picturing Mahn-Mahn, but one sand-stormy day brought another girl and she replaced Mahn-Mahn. Guh-Boh drank the extract from boiling Mahn-Mahn’s heels, slept for a couple of weeks, and woke up with no memory of Mahn-Mahn…
(While YEON-AHM is speaking, the PEOPLE enter one by one and engage in their everyday life. On one side are the WOMEN.)
GEE-YUH: So you’re saying that Yeon-Ahm was drunk dead in the middle of the market place?
GOO-YUH: They could tell by her reddish hair and white ears!
SAHN-YUH: She loved that liquor.
GEE-YUH: After all she taught us, she is nothing but a drunkard?
(On the other side of the stage are the MEN.)
BOO-HYEH: I heard she climbed up Mount Chun to dig up herbs, but then fell down the cliff and died.
YOO-YOO: She didn’t die but hid herself from the world in a remote cave in that mountain and is in search of the fundamental truth. You can see a light coming out of the cave, and they say that’s Yeon-Ahm’s eyes. They can even hear her yawning, down at the village!
KYO-CHOONG: That’s old news! She found the fundamental truth and is now leading a band of robbers.
CHOO-OH: That must be it! Remember, she had a lot to complain about.
(On another side are the BOYS.)
SAHN-GOH: Can you believe that? Yeon-Ahm rode a rainbow up to the sky?
JEH-GUN: No way.
SAHN-GOH: It can only be true. This is coming from a guy with five eyes.
JEH-GUN: He tricked you into giving him your millet rice cake.
SAHN-GOH: No. I can see Yeon-Ahm doing that. (to GUH-BOH) Can you?
GUH-BOH: (obliviously) What?
JEH-GUN: That must have been one bitter medicine.
SAHN-GOH: We had a lot of fun, right?
JEH-GUN: She was one funny beast.
SAHN-GOH: If she’s not in the sky, where could she be?
JEH-GUN: If she’s not dead, she’d be spreading her bull somewhere else.
SAHN-GOH: What are you what-ing about, silly?
YEON-AHM: That’s right. This village, which would be lost in oblivion throughout most of the year, had a few visitors in sandstorm season. Some of them shared news about a certain beast. The people, while doubting the authenticity of the visitor’s stories, still traded them with a warm meal, they cast a long gaze over the vast sand-stormy field, and was reminded of the reddish haired, white-eared, liquor-loving, eccentric-lesson-spreading, non-stop-talking beast, sighing or smiling without knowing exactly why, then shook their heads, and ran into their houses to shovel out the piling sand.
(While YEON-AHM is talking, the PEOPLE stopped working. They look like they are daydreaming. The stage gradually darkens, the SENIORS ring the bells.)
HO-CHEH: (voice) Village Meeting! Village Meeting!
GANG-RYANG: (voice) Everyone. Take out our ancestors’ sayings! Today we are reading Chapter 3 Paragraph 18! “On the Virtue of the Ordinary.” Chief! Hit it!
Gradual black out.
End of Play.