The Old Garden: Nature Does Not Change (Part 19/26)

The Old Garden: Nature Does Not Change (Part 19/26)

October 13, 2009

Previous: The Day I Met Yoon Hee

I tossed and turned for a while listening to the sounds from the ravine. With the first full moon of the year beaming down, the rice paper door was iridescent, and the shadow of bamboo trees draped elegantly on the back window facing the yard. I heard the wind chime hanging from the roof. For an instant, I tried to picture Miss Han Yoon Hee, my new protector. Because I’d only seen her briefly, I could not remember what she looked like. I do not remember how I spent the next day. I went up to the temple, I wandered in the forest . . . ah, now I remember. Right by the first entrance to the temple where pine trees were abundant, I sat on a rock to cool down. Underneath the rock where it was shaded, snow had frozen into ice, which was in turn slowly melting from the bottom, forming an endless little stream of pure droplets. I could hear a man and a woman talking to each other gently from down the hill. I guessed they were having a picnic. They were young. The man began singing in a high clear tenor. I return to the hill where I used to play, the old poet lied when he said that nature does not change. The grand pine tree that once stood here is now gone, cut down. I cannot forget their mindless singing. Just like an old movie. The girl laughed, the sound of water tumbling down a valley. They soon began singing in harmony. Walking along the pasture in the evening, with my darling coming home, walking along the pasture in the evening . . . I sat on the pine hill until late in the afternoon, until the wind became too cold. The singing youths had left the hill a long time before. I was already in my thirties, and maybe I envied their youthful energy.

Walking past an unfamiliar village in the rain, you can sometimes see a family in a lighted room, sharing dinner and conversation. You move from under the eaves and keep on walking, just glancing at them once. You can sometimes hear a mother call to her children who have gone too far to play. Or observe, from afar, a farmer and his wife sitting on a porch looking out onto their courtyard. The wife is shelling beans, the husband has just taken off his muddy boots. The farmer absentmindedly glances at the stranger, only half of his body visible over the low mud wall. The dog loses interest and stops barking. A night train passes over a bridge, the sleeper cars dimly lit. A black silhouette passes from one train car to the next by the train’s outer steps. After dropping a cigarette butt between the fluid wheels, you check if there’s someone in the next car. Walking into a vacant motel in a small village, there is a wanted poster right next to the door. All the programs on the black-and-white television are over for the day, its washed-out screen snowing with little specks of black and white light, and the woman at the reception desk is sleeping, leaning against the wall. The vinyl-covered floor has black holes here and there, and on top of a seat is an unbearably red fleece blanket. The fluorescent light bulb is making a zzzzz sound. In the guest register book, you write clearly the identification number that friends obtained for you. At night, you are too tired to wash your dirty socks, but you know it is important to appear clean and proper, so you wash your windbreaker and hang it up by the window. When you go on the road again in the morning, the wheels of the everyday world are obliviously turning as usual, nothing changed.

Continued: The Guy Who Disappeared into the Hwarang Cigarette Smoke

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