Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cheonan Crossroads

Many of my Korean language readers have interesting sections that I want to try translating. Here's one I did a while ago. This story comes from Yonsei University's grade 4 Korean reader. Be kind, I'm new at this translation business. I'm struck by the traditional society evident here. The young women have no say, and while the young men do show some initiative, it's really the old men who decide everything.

From what I can tell, these days Andong and Cheonan are both somewhat dull mid-sized cities.

Cheonan Samgeori Iyagi (Tale of Cheonan Crossroads)

Mr. Kim lived in Andong, North Gyeongsang province, with his son Eul-dong and his older brother's son Kap-dong. He wanted both young men to marry. Eul-dong was a very handsome boy, and everywhere there was talk of finding a wife for him. But Kap-dong, without parents and not particularly handsome, found it difficult.

At last Eul-dong was betrothed to the daughter of Mr. Yi, a very rich official in the town of Cheonan, in Chungcheung province. Kap-dong came with him, en route to Seoul where he was to take the government examination, and Eul-dong's father accompanied the two young men. The three men traveled for three days before arriving in Cheonan, and as the sun went down they checked into an inn for the night.

When Kap-dong woke up the next day, Eul-dong was gone, with no trace remaining except for a letter on his bed. The letter read, "You are older, and I cannot marry before you. Please take my place. I will take your place at the examination." Shocked, Kap-dong showed the letter to his uncle in the next room. His plans in tatters, Kap-dong's uncle angrily returned to Andong.

At first Kap-dong did not know what to do. But at the same time, the son of a governor from Jeolla province was staying at the same inn. Kap-dong conferred with the man from Jeolla and made a request that they go on to the wedding. With the man from Jeolla preceding him, Kap-dong arrived at Mr. Yi's house pretending to be Eul-dong. He and Mr. Yi's daughter married. But the wedding night, Kap-dong could not bring himself to enter the bride's bedchamber, and instead got drunk with the man from Jeolla. The Jeolla governor's son finally passed out from drinking too much. Kap-dong fretted for a moment, then deposited the Jeolla man in the bride's bedchamber and returned to the inn.

The next morning, Mr. Yi's household was rocked by the scandal. The groom had vanished, and the man who had accompanied the groom had spent the night with the bride! When he became aware of the true situation, Mr. Yi had his daughter formally married to the son of the Jeolla governor. When the Jeolla governor came to hear of the distinguished family his son had married into, he was so pleased that he offered his own daughter to Kap-dong as a wife.

Eul-dong easily passed the state examination in Seoul. The test administrator was so impressed with Eul-dong's talent and handsome looks that he decided he wanted that man as his son-in-law. So Eul-dong married and lived in Seoul. In this way each of the three men married and lived happily thereafter.

One day ten years later, Kap-dong, Eul-dong, and the man from Jeolla gathered again in Cheonan. To remember the way in which the town of Cheonan had changed their lives, they each planted a willow tree in the direction of their cities of residence. Thus Kap-dong planted a willow on the road to Gyeongsang province, Eul-dong planted a willow on the road to Seoul, and the son of the Jeolla governor planted a willow on the road to Jeolla province. From then on Cheonan has been known as the crossroads to Seoul, Gyeongsang, and Jeolla, and has been called Cheonan Samgeori - Cheonan Crossroads.

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