[42nd Translation Award] Commendation Awards: ’Rivers and Mountains Without End’
Translated by Koh Hyo-jin
The parking lot guard outside the hospital’s main gate blew his whistle, bringing the incoming traffic to a halt. There was no separate gate to the mortuary in the back, so the funeral procession was leaving the hospital through the front. After executing a hand salute towards the procession’s rear end, the guard let the incoming traffic pass through. I parked my car on the third underground floor of the parking lot and went up to the lobby. The new hospital building had a raw, stinging smell. A few janitors were hunkered down on the floor, rubbing stains off the tiles.
The hospital was a conglomerate’s first general unit, built as it entered the medical industry. The clinics were not divided into specialties such as internal medicine, surgery, or pediatrics, but categorized according to diseases specific to a body part or an organ. A sign propped up in the center of the lobby informed which floor one should go to for a particular body part. The Uterus & Breast Examination Room was on the first floor, the Liver Center and Heart Center were on the second, and the Kidney, Lung, Bladder, Spine Centers were on the third.
A banner outside the Uterus & Breast Examination Room advertised the operation of precision laser medical examination equipment brought in from Germany, and a group of women were sitting on a sofa awaiting their turn. The women, who appeared to be around the same age, either health club buddies or former schoolmates, cackled as they chattered away. Some knitted. Others were reading a book. The children, having tagged along with their mothers, were blowing gum bubbles between their lips. A woman looking into a hand mirror, trying to fix her lips, scolded a child as he clung to the woman’s arm, pushing the child away. I went past the hallway where the women sat in a row, and went up to the Cancer Center on the second floor.
I could not remember when my symptoms of faint nausea began whirling inside my body. It was as if they had always been there, but it also felt as though they were not real symptoms but mere shadows or hallucinations of a symptom. I could not tell whether it was near the pit of my stomach or the far end of my intestines or the rim of my throat where the shadows of my nausea were spinning. Late at night after returning home from work, or drinking wine, watching a history drama on TV, on rainy Sunday evenings, they would squirm up from someplace deep inside my body like fog or smoke, but after a while would usually subside and vanish without a trace. When the foggy yet smoky things slithered up towards my throat as though they were about to leak out of my body, I slowly clenched my teeth and pushed them back in. Pushing the nausea in, I would let out a yawn, and closing my mouth shut, I would notice that my eyes had watered. My nausea was like a yawn or a burp, for even when I tried to scrape it out of my stomach through my gaping mouth, I would vomit nothing. During the executive meetings that continued all afternoon each Monday, holding in a fart made me burp, the end of the burp tinged with a foul smell. If you hold gas in your stomach, it is bound to seep out as a fart or a burp, and my nausea was no different. I thought it was a sort of fart, burp, or yawn.
The nausea exploded when I visited the dentist to get an implant where a molar had been taken out. Having slit open my gums, the dentist demanded, Ah, Ah, Ah, that I open my mouth wider, as though he were a construction worker in the midst of an excavation project on the bone structure of my lower jaw. Each time I opened my mouth wider, the nausea wormed itself up my throat and through my vocal chords, the pain so excruciating that it felt as if my intestines were being flipped inside out, and just as the nausea subsided, my mouth filled with a sour fluid. After I rinsed out my mouth then opened it once more to his AhAhAh, the nausea lunged into my throat as if a strange, franticly kicking beast were about to burst out. AhAhAh, AhAhAh, the dentist said again and again, and suspended his work each time. The nausea did not cease, so the nurse placed a gag between my upper and lower jaws. My mouth remained open with the iron gag stuck inside, and the nausea, unable to break out of my throat, went berserk throughout my intestines.
Koh Hyo-jin is a freelance translator who studied translation at the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at Ewha Womans University.She can be reached at email@example.com.
Authored by Kim Hoon
Translated by Charse Yun
At the main gate of the hospital, the parking lot attendant blew his whistle to stop the incoming traffic. Since there was no separate entrance to the hospital mortuary, the file of cars in the funeral procession had exited through the main gate. The attendant snapped a salute toward the rear of the procession before letting the line of waiting cars resume entering the hospital. I parked my car on the third floor of the lower level and went up to the lobby. There was a pungent smell of fresh concrete in the new hospital building. The cleaning ladies were squatting on the floor with rags, scrubbing away stains from the tiles.
It was the first general hospital to be built since this particular conglomerate entered the healthcare market. Its departments were not classified into specialist services, such as internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, etc., but by the body parts or organs to be treated.
The directory standing at the center of the lobby indicated which floor to go to for which body part. The first floor was for the uterus and breasts; liver and heart was on the second; kidney, lung, bladder and spine on the third.
In front of the Uterine-Breast Exam Center, a banner on the wall advertised a high-precision laser device imported from Germany.
Women were sitting on the sofa, waiting their turn. One chattering group, who looked about the same age and might have been old school friends or gym pals, occasionally burst out laughing. Other women were knitting or reading. A few children who came with their mothers were blowing bubbles with their gum. One woman, who was fixing her makeup, shook a child off her arm with a look of scorn. I walked down the hallway, past the women sitting in a row, and went up to the Liver Center on the second floor.
I don’t remember exactly when I first had this faint sense of nausea lingering somewhere in my body. At times, I thought I had always been somewhat prone to nausea, but sometimes it didn’t seem like an actual symptom, but rather, a faint trace of a symptom or even a phantom sensation. Even when I felt it churning in my body, I couldn’t pinpoint the exact source of the feeling, whether it was in the pit of my stomach, or the lower part of my guts, or up about the throat. Coming home at dawn from a full-night’s work, or watching a historical drama on TV over a glass of wine on a rainy Sunday evening, I would feel nausea waft up from deep inside my body like a billow of smoke or mist, which in most cases, disappeared as unpredictably as it came. Whenever I felt the smoke or mist swirl up and creep toward my throat as it tried to escape from my body, I would clench my teeth and force it back inside. If I pushed the nausea back down, a yawn would come out; if I pursed my lips, tears would spring to my eyes. My nausea was no different from a yawn or a burp in that nothing came out even if I tried to vomit up whatever was inside. There was a weekly executive meeting held every Monday afternoon. If I tried to restrain myself from passing gas during the meeting, a belch would come out. At the tail end of the eructation, a foul smell would ooze out. If my stomach was gassy, I could expect a fart or a belch. I thought my nausea was the same way. I thought it was a kind of yawn, fart or burp.
The nausea finally exploded when I went to the dentist to have an implant in the space where I had a molar removed. The dentist was digging into my gums like it was public construction work, excavating deeply into my lower jawbone. He kept repeating Ah, ah, ah, asking me to keep my mouth open wide. However, every time I opened my mouth, a churning wave of nausea painfully slipped past my Adam’s apple like someone twisting my intestines inside out. Barely would the nausea settle when stomach acid would start to rise.
After I rinsed, when I opened my mouth again to the dentist’s ah, ah, ah promptings, a fit of nausea attacked my throat like a strange beast kicking its way out of my stomach. The dentist had to keep saying, Ah, ah, ah, whenever his work was interrupted. Because I couldn’t hold my nausea down, the nurse placed a dental prop between my upper and lower teeth.
The pressure of the metal bit finally kept my mouth open, but the nausea, held down below my throat, violently churned and kicked in my guts.
Charse Yun is a visiting professor at the Department of Practical English at the Korea National Open University. Born in Milwaukee, he received his B.A. in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his M.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Kim Hoon is a renowned novelist in Korea. Born in Seoul in 1948, he entered the Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, as a reporter in 1973. He was first assigned to the city desk, covering social affairs, but later covered literature. He also worked for magazines and newspapers including the Sisa Journal, Kookmin Ilbo and Hankyoreh.
He published several essays during his journalistic career but became a full-time writer after leaving the Sisa Journal in 2000.
The journalist-turned-novelist is known for his epic works such as “The Sword” (2001), “String Song” (2004) “and “Mt. Namhan Fortress” (2007).
“The Sword,” the story of Admiral Yi Sun-shin interpreted fictionally by Kim, is praised for portraying the inner solitude of the admiral, while “String Song” rediscovers the life of sixth-century musician U Reuk. It drew rare public attention when the late former President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008) favorably mentioned the book. The book also became a million seller for author.
His “Mt. Namhan Fortress” revolves around the 47 days when King Injo of Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) and his lieges were isolated in a fortress due to a Chinese invasion.
Kim recently published his new novel “Heuksan” (Black Mountain), about the religious persecution of Catholics in 1801, demonstrating his curt sentences to weave out an elegiac story of people’s suffering.His new book has entered the top 10 bestseller list in Korea, immediately after its publication.
“Rivers and Mountains Without End” is the first collection of short stories by Kim, published in 2006. Unlike his hits, the novellas in this book are set in contemporary Korea. Yet Kim’s keen perspective on humans is clearly visible, including the title piece translated at the competition.