By Alek Sigley
(Continued from Part 2.)
Chŏng Jin U then bumps into Ŭn Ok the next day in the on-campus botanical garden, where he was taking a morning stroll. It was a relaxing garden to walk in, with a variety of luscious trees, birds, and a serene atmosphere. Chŏng Jin U then sees Ŭn Ok sitting on a bench by the path, under an old oak tree. She’s absorbed in reading a book. Seeing him, she blushes, but he can see from her face that she is glad to see him. She clears away some fallen leaves for him to sit beside her on the bench. Eventually, Chŏng Jin U again asks Ŭn Ok for her thoughts on his thesis presentation. Finally, the serious look from the day before appears on her face and she tells him.
It turns out that Ŭn Ok’s father is a judge, and that she had grown up reading legal books that were around the house. She humbly admits that that is the extent of her knowledge, but then goes on to express her thoughts on how Chŏng Jin U may have further improved his thesis, which she acknowledges did have many an excellent point.
Historians of the last century had already taken great pains to examine the history of marriage and family structure in relation to increases in productivity and changes in the economic system. Chŏng Jin U should have built upon this basis to explore more deeply an issue which he did indeed brush across in his presentation—the historical development of the spiritual/moral/ethical relations of people in primitive, ancient, and medieval times. For the struggles of the working people to replace old, contradictory, and crude morality and marital relations with those that are more noble, has had no less of an influence on the development of marriage throughout human history than growing productivity and the development of the (economic) base.
After hearing this Chŏng Jin U was quite stunned. This young woman, who he had at first considered quite ordinary, had both intelligence and beauty, and he felt a pulling upon his heart strings.
He immediately got to work writing an addendum for his thesis, in which he emphasises the role of human subjectivity and its desire to advanced towards higher morality as a factor in the history of marriage. He worked assiduously, more than anything because he wanted to show it to Ŭn Ok before she left. He couldn’t suppress his desire to see her again.
Upon completing it, he brings it to her dormitory, but finds that she is at the train station, and her train is departing in thirty minutes. He immediately takes a bus to the train station. Finding her amongst the crowd on the platform, with three flower pots wrapped in cloth at her feet, he asks her to look at his revised essay. She humbly denies that she has the scholarly authority to appraise his essay however. Just then the train arrives.
He senses that she understands that the essay was just an excuse on his part to meet her again. Feeling embarrassed, he takes up two of the flower pots to help her move them onto the train. Seeking to fill the awkward silence he asks her:
“What plants are in these pots?”
“Really?! … But into these flowerpots… And then to your home?”
“These are specially cultivated in the vegetable research centre so I’m going to experiment on them… At home, in Yŏnsudŏk.”
Moved, he helped her take the pots into her carriage. Hesitating as to whether he should shake her hand or not, he in the end simply got off the train. He felt a sense of emptiness that something important was about to leave him. When her carriage went by she was standing at the window. She waved to him, but perhaps afraid to convey the sorrow of parting, she quickly lowered her hand and turned away. He stared at where the tracks led into the distance.
Ŭn Ok’s devotion to her research, began to draw Chŏng Jin U to her even more than her pretty face. One and a half years later he was assigned to the people’s court in his home town. When he had some spare time, he visited a vegetable research centre on the outskirts of town. Ŭn Ok offered him some pears they had grown. Chŏng Jin U, with the business-like manner of a legal practitioner, cut to the chase and made his intentions known, confessing his feelings for Ŭn Ok. Ŭn Ok blushed, and kept silence for a time. Finally, she said she was too busy to date him, and asked for his forgiveness, rejecting his suggestions for an evening walk or to see a movie.
Two days later he went back to the vegetable research centre, to find Ŭn Ok away conducting research in a high-altitude area. He receives a letter from Ŭn Ok from someone at the research centre. In it, Ŭn Ok apologises for her lack of manners from the other day. She writes that she is happy to receive such love (if it is indeed love). She is a simple girl who knows only to struggle with vegetables in harsh environments, towards which such feelings are undeserved. The rest of the letter coldly advised him to focus on his career in law, on which he had just embarked, and not waste his energy on other matters.
Reading this however only made Chŏng Jin U even more eager to prove to Ŭn Ok that his feelings towards her were not a mere fleeting obsession, but something much more profound. It would still be some time before she felt the same love that burned in his heart.
That’s the end of the section on how Chŏng Jin U and Ŭn Ok first met and fell in love. The next section skips forward to their winter wedding. Ŭn Ok relates the problems faced in Yŏnsudŏk caused by the poor soil and high altitude, thus explaining her drive to breed vegetables that will be able to better feed the people of her hometown. Chŏng Jin U promises to help her by putting up with extended absences from home when she has to go and do research, and also look after the greenhouse she sets up in their attic. Chŏng Jin U and Ŭn Ok are thus the model couple. They’re also the “intellectual” couple, whose presentation in contrast with Ri Sŏk Ch’un and Ch’ae Sun Hŭi touch upon themes that relate to the “intellectualisation of all society” mass movement. But I’ll leave that for you, dear reader, to ponder as you read the book!