[FOUNTAIN]Similar toes, whether here or overseas

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[FOUNTAIN]Similar toes, whether here or overseas

The writer Kim Tong-in’s 1932 short story “Similar Toes” tells of Mr. M., who had become infertile from venereal diseases in his lascivious bachelor days. When he married and his wife became pregnant, Mr. M went to see his urologist, who sarcastically recalled, “Mr. M’s efforts to resolve the mystery of mysteries was the biggest tragedy of his life.”
The pitiful man meticulously scrutinized the body of his son and concluded that their toes were alike. Kim Tong-in metaphorically compared the Korean Peninsula under the Japanese rule as an age of impotence, and depicted the people’s struggle to survive and procreate.
In 1976, the filmmaker Kim Su-yong’s movie of the same title reflected the changed times. Instead of an obsession with lineage during the colonial period, the son-preference and the tradition of primogeniture pressured Mr. Hwangbo. He, too, is infertile from a lewd lifestyle but his mother, unaware of her son’s condition, pressured her daughter-in-law to deliver a son. What saved the torn family was a baby found at the doorstep. One day, a woman who used to know Mr. Hwangbo abandoned her son, and the child brought peace to a family thirsty for an heir. When Mr. Hwangbo wanted to know whether he was the child’s father, his wife said the boy was “the son of all the men in the world.”
If Mr. M’s justification of “similar toes” was a mockery of his own desperation, Mr. Hwangbo had an epiphany and overcame despair. Mr. Hwangbo finally renounced his obsession with lineage and accepted “the son of all the men in the world” as his son.
Recently, a daily television series had a plot that undermined adopted children. Furious at dialogue deriding an adopted child, adoption agencies demanded that the network end the series because it had damaged the personal standing of adopted children. On the other hand, some viewers defended the writers, saying they had reflected reality.
Koreans have a special attachment to blood ties. The legacy has not changed much today, when the declining birth rate has become a national concern. This year is the 50th year since Korea began sending orphans abroad for adoption. For the last five decades, the country has been at the disgraceful top in exporting babies. Still searching for similar toes, we let the children of us all go to foreign lands.

by Chung Jae-suk

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