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“OK. I want you to eat these and describe them in words,” Mr. Moon said as he placed an array of different food on the desk. Knowing what the training was about by experience, the veteran club members surrounded the desk, each wearing a welcoming expression.
An apple, a variety of snacks, paprika, salt, sugar, a macaron, dried squid, dried filefish, roasted egg, sikhye, Coke, green tea, red ginseng, and green grape- flavored candy.
(TL’s Note: sikhye is a sweet, traditional Korean beverage that is made with fermented rice, and it’s typically served ice cold in the summer.)
“They all look so good!”
“Well, you guys don’t get any,” Mr. Moon said in order to prevent the rest of the club members from eating the food on the desk, and of course, he was met with backlash.
“Oh, c’mon! That’s so much food!”
“Yeah! Can we have just a little bit, Mr. Moon? We’ve been looking hard for things to write about, and I think I can use more training right about now.”
Sun Hwa and Seo Kwang shouted in turn, raising their hands. Then, looking at his cumbersome pupils, Mr. Moon, said, “Fine. As long as Bo Suk is finished.”
“And this is training, so I expect a piece from you all.”
“You got it!”
Ecstatic that they would get to eat, the club members began to pressure the freshman nonverbally. However, Bo Suk paid no attention to them since she was busy trying to decide what to eat first.
Then, Sun Hwa said, “Go for the filefish.”
“No, go with the red ginseng.”
“Red ginseng!? Are you kidding?! C’mon now, Bo Suk. Why don’t you start with a nice sip of that sikhye?”
“Man, I want the apple.”
Listening to what sounded like suggestions or preferences, Bo Suk chose an item from the desk: salt.
“Of all things?”
“Man, you’re weird, too.”
Although Sun Hwa and Seo Kwang muttered one after the other, her decision was rather wise in Juho’s eyes. The simple flavor of salt would make it much easier to describe it into words. Then, Bo Suk dipped her pinky in the salt and brought it up to her mouth.
Though simple, there were no better words to describe salt. At that, Mr. Moon reminded her of the rule of having to come up with three words for each of her choices after some thought. Then, Bo Suk’s face turned serious, and she tasted the salt yet again.
“It’s just salty.”
“Hm… maybe bitter, or astringent?”
Due to her teacher’s urging, she focused on the flavors in her mouth.
Her next choice was the dried squid, from which she ripped off one of its legs and put it in her mouth, chewing.
“Chewy, a little fishy, and… well, salty. I can’t repeat words, can I?”
With that, she took turns tasting each item on the desk, and with their eyes fixed on her, the veteran members smacked their lips impatiently. While Bo Suk had made steady progress, the last item proved to be a challenge.
“Grapes, green grapes, and… more green grapes.”
“You can do better than that.”
As Bo Suk rolled the candy around in her mouth, her eyes rolled with it.
“You already said that.”
At that, her cheek bulged out with the candy.
“Green grape- flavored.”
“OK, last one.”
Clenching her hands into fists, Bom rooted for her, who seemed to be struggling to think of other words aside from “green grape- flavored.” It was only natural since that was the flavor of the candy. Besides, her vocabulary had long been depleted by that point.
“You can do it, Bo Suk.”
What the freshman really needed to realize was that the training wasn’t intended for developing a sensitive palette. Mr. Moon was training her in describing what she was eating, and there was no restriction to the way she could choose to go about it. No matter what the wrapper said about the flavor of the candy, if one believed it tasted like sardines, then it became a sardine-flavored candy. What others would taste was of no importance. After all, Bo Suk was the person with the choice of accepting the signal being sent to her brain from her tongue and, lastly, turning that into words.
Of course, even in the literary world, it was essential for one to have a reasonable basis for their beliefs, since, without it, they would most likely be disregarded by those around them and treated as if they were in need of medical attention. Thankfully, Bo Suk was about to overcome her obstacle…
… although, she still didn’t quite understand the intent of the training. Fortunately, after a brief time thinking, Mr. Moon decided that she had done quite well for her first time and let her move on. From words to sentences, from sentences to literature, and eventually, she’d grow more mature as a writer.
“NOW, can we eat??” Baron asked, holding a piece of dried filefish in his hand.
At that, Mr. Moon said, tearing off a piece of the dried squid, “Yes, you can. Leave some for me.”
Just like that, the Literature Club started a spontaneous party. Biting into an scrumptiously red apple, Juho wondered if the fruit in his hand and mouth could be a hint for his next piece. From then on, he wrote habitually, in anticipation of a piece that would somehow resemble a ripe apple.
“Mideum Choo Returns with the Seventh Volume of the Dr. Dong Series.”
“Once Controversial, the Character Based on Yun Woo in the Dr. Dong Series Finally Makes an Appearance.”
“The Shocking Short Story. Hints about Yun Woo?”
“Yun Woo According to Mideum Choo.”
“Yun Woo, of ‘River.’ Fans on Their Toes about the Mysterious Author. Who is He?”
“Is this the book where Yun Woo appears?”
“At first, I read one volume just to see what the character was about, but now, I ended up buying the whole series. It’s freakin’ amazing!”
“The Dr. Dong series is popular in Japan, too. Mideum has always been famous, and every detective novel buff knows her.”
“Seems like she owes one to Yun Woo. She had to have spilled the beans on purpose!”
“Have you been living under a rock or something? It was the journalist’s fault.”
“But is this Yun Woo in the book really Yun Woo?”
“They have to be different. Besides, it’s fiction.”
“The character’s an arrogant a-hole. I think he’s even less likable than Dr. Dong.”
“Well, in either case, they’re both probably loaded. His books have sold millions.”
“Don’t you think Mideum and Yun Woo are probably pretty close? They’re in the same club and they even published a magazine together.”
“I heard she even interviewed him. In which case, they would be pretty close. Maybe he’s actually pretty similar to the character. Who knows?”
“Honestly, Yun Woo stood out the most in ‘The Beginning and the End.'”
“I see this comment everywhere”
“I saw a clip of Pyung Jin Lee interpreting ‘River,’ and even he was surprised. He’s an expert! People are saying it’s Yun Woo’s best work, yet.”
“I’m just glad that Yun Woo is a prolific writer.”
“His piece was inherently different from San Jung’s, almost like the difference between ideals and reality. If San Jung’s style was ambiguous and dream-like, Yun Woo’s was clear-cut and realistic in the way he portrayed death. What’s even more shocking here is that he’s only been around for eighteen years.”
“Who the heck is he anyway? An alien?”
“I tried asking the other authors in the club, but even they wouldn’t give me anything, saying, ‘We prefer to keep that to ourselves.’ I swear, Sang Young Ju and his random catchphrase.”
‘Is this really what people think of me?’
Juho was reading Mideum’s new book in the subway, and just as she had announced previously, the character was arrogant beyond belief. First, he was wealthy and lived in a large, luxurious house. It was as if pouring oil on the fire, like there weren’t enough people who believed Yun Woo had great wealth already.
On top of that, the character had never seen a single piece to the end in his entire career. His stories stopped midway, and there was no trace of patience in him. Yet, he proudly introduced himself as an author to others.
Then, Juho flipped a page, and Dr. Dong asked, “With what right?”
To which, the author answered, “I’ll write ’til the day I die. Besides, what’s so important about genre or length in a book? What else would you call me, if not an author?”
“Useless piece of trash,” Dr. Dong let out.
Just as Mideum had shared during the book concert, the author’s room really was similar to Juho’s, filled with manuscript paper covering the walls.
“Next stop, is…”
Taking his eyes off the book, Juho checked the station at which the train was stopping. Since he had to get off the train, he rose from his seat and shoved the book into his backpack. Then, exiting the station, he walked through the streets that he was well acquainted with, and up the hills, from where Yun Seo’s studio, private institute and home appeared.
Unlike the busy streets that he had previously been in, the scenery of the house gave one the illusion that they were in the countryside. Then, a dog barked in the distance, indicating that Juho was nearly there. Lastly, while walking up a slanted alleyway, a group of people came rushing down. Considering how Yun Seo’s house had always been the only building at the top of the hill, they had to be her students.
In the narrow alleyway, Juho stepped aside in order to let the crowd through, who were in a group of twelve, and a woman in the very front passed by in a hurry, greeting him. Although they were quickly walking down the alleyway, they all seemed joyful. Looking attentively at them, Juho, too, made haste.
“Hello, Mrs. Baek.”
Before even going inside, Juho ran into Yun Seo waving at him while sitting on a flat bench in the front yard.
“You’re wearing your uniform, today?”
“Yes. I’m coming straight from school.”
She had been inviting Juho for dinner from time to time, and he had come with the expectation that he would be able to think of the topic for his next piece, which was struggling with.
Unlike usual, Juho looked at the buildings in the distance before him and Yun Seo and asked, “What’s with the paint and the canvas?”
Yun Seo was sitting in front of an easel, and while Juho wondered if she painted as a hobby, Yun Seo answered, “It’s teaching material. We painted today, and this is mine.”
Then, she showed Juho a painting of a big moon.
“That’s one peculiar-looking moon,” Juho said honestly, noticing that the moon in the painting was crooked. “There’s a strong sense of irregularity. I think it’s actually artistic.”
“Right? You know what you’re talking about!”
In any case, it was rather peculiar that there was painting involved in a writing lesson. On the other hand, she had taught Mr. Moon, which made the peculiarity somewhat normal. Then, Joon Soo came out of the house.
“Oh, hey! I see that you’re in your uniform!” Joon Soo said, looking at Juho’s uniform. At which point, Juho repeated what he had said to Yun Seo, “I came straight from school.”
“Did you paint too, Joon Soo?”
“Yes, I have, before.”
Then, looking at the painting, Juho asked, “Does it really help you write?”
“In some ways, yes,” Joon Soo said, and Yun Seo chimed in, “Painting and writing have a lot in common. One observes an object and draws what’s within it. You can see it often in eastern paintings. The reason our ancestors didn’t vary in contrasts of color had nothing to do with their skill or with them being unaware of the concept of it. It was an intentional decision to express the magnificent spirit that lay within an object, which couldn’t be altered by light.”
An object changed its shape depending on the light. When the sun was up high, the shadows tended to be shorter and stouter, and while the sunset dyed everything in red, the dark removed any shape that had once existed. Juho remembered finding a western painting that portrayed an object that changed its shape over time.
‘It’s fascinating how an object changes its shape depending on the perspective and the movement of the light, even when viewed from the same angle,’ Juho thought as he remembered a few eastern paintings in his head that didn’t utilize any contrast of color. The technique was often used in painting portraits because the painters placed a higher value in portraying the noble spirit that resided deep within the person they were painting, which would remain unaffected by the sun.
In the sense that it involved portraying things that couldn’t be seen with bare eyes, painting and writing shared a lot in common.
“Whenever I hold a brush instead of a pen like this, I get a better understanding of what I do as a writer, and it allows me to find new inspiration. Besides, it’s a good way to unwind.”
It was quite intriguing, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun. Then, Juho remembered the apparent joy on the faces of the twelve he had previously run into in the alleyway.
“Would you like to try?”
“Yes. There’s plenty of paper,” Yun Seo said, moving aside from the easel. Where she had been sitting, there was a palette with a variety of paints on it, as well as a set of brushes, and a small pail. Then, being the tactful person he was, Joon Soo handed him a clean, four-by-six sheet of paper.
“I’ll take your bag.”
Although Juho had yet to say a word, everything happened swiftly and efficiently. The teamwork of the teacher and her pupil was truly impressive. And because he didn’t have a reason to decline, Juho sat in Yun Seo’s place willingly and placed the paper on the black, aluminum easel.
“So, what am I doing?”
“You paint. Anything you’d like. Just like writing.”
Just like writing. Writers observed what lay within an object and portrayed that in their own way. Although Juho had been creating sentences out of words up to that point, he had not been faced with the challenge of having to paint, and while it was different, it was also similar in some ways. Looking at the paper in front of him as if here were looking at a computer screen, he placed his hands on the palette like he was typing on a keyboard.
“Hm,” Juho let out, thinking back to a time when he was writing. He couldn’t afford to keep his hands idle. He had to paint something, anything. Then, raising his brush, he placed it on the canvas. A blue line came gliding down the middle of it.
‘What is this?’
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