[FOUNTAIN]Bad times, good times

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[FOUNTAIN]Bad times, good times

As illustrated in Kim So-un's essay "Happiness in Lean Days," which appears in Korean high school language textbooks, it is natural for people to sweep into the dark recesses of their memories the tough times that existed before they had much money. But even those days are sometimes peppered by shining episodes that sparkle in one's mind like the morning dew. In Mr. Kim's essay are tales of three struggling couples. These are real stories, now blurred by history. But they never fail to impress me, especially the following tale of a young poet.

One morning a husband as usual sat at the kitchen table awaiting his breakfast. His wife approached with a bowl containing several steamed sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes were not the husband's favorite dish, but the wife kept urging him to have one, then two. The time to leave was nearing, so the husband finally said, "Come on. I have to get going. Why don't you bring me a real breakfast?" It was then the wife said, "The sweet potatoes are our real breakfast." The husband finally realized that they had run out of rice. Embarrassed and frustrated at his inability to provide for the family, the husband turned angry. His wise wife merely smiled and said, "My uncle is a cabinet minister. How difficult do you think it would be for me to go get a free sack of rice?"

The time of the story was either the Japanese colonial period or immediately after Korea's liberation. How could the niece of a minister easily get a "free" sack of rice? I wondered. Was it because the pay of the minister at that time was so much that the minister could feed not only his family but also relatives? I guess I was not quite bright enough to see the relationship of power and money in Korea.

The latest scandal of the president's son convinced me that the relationship between the two persists. The prosecution's investigation disclosed that Korean conglomerates, construction companies, a pizza firm and candidates in the National Assembly were just dying to curry favors of President Kim Dae-jung's second son, Kim Hong-up, with the mediation of the current and former heads of the National Intelligence Service. One can only turn a bittersweet smile upon hearing the news that President Kim's son stacked on his apartment veranda 1 billion won ($830,000), money he received in room salons and hotel parking lots.

With a new cabinet in place, I sincerely would like to bid farewell to the foul-smelling collusive link that is based on primary ties because somebody is someone's son or someone else's niece.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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