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An outhouse and a flushing toiletby 주아나

 

 


My maternal grandparents used to be wealthy.

According to my mom, even during the barley hill period*, out of all the houses, only the fireplace in my grandparents’ house was belching out smoke for cooking.

She also said that there were sacks full of one dollar bills in the attic of the guest room, and my grandparents were the first ones who demolished the thatched-roof house to changed it to a shack.

However, that was all they did.  


(Translator’s note: During the Chosun Dynasty and for most of the twentieth century, poverty was a perennial feature of Korea's agrarian economy. Most peasant families had to go through what was known as the "barley hill", the period from when the rice they produced the previous year ran out and the time when the spring harvest of barley was ready. When they had a poor harvest, which was not infrequent, and usually due to flood or drought, a famine followed, with grass roots and tree bark as the only sources of food. Work Cited:Transformations in Twentieth Century Korea by Yun-shik Chang, Steven Hugh Lee)


Even just ten years ago, my grandparents’ house was kept in the same way as when my mom was born.

Even when the neighbors were building western-style houses and setting up internet in their houses, my grandparents kept their house the same as before.

Although they changed their roof to a new type of tiled roof,

and although they demolished the mud-plastered wall and built it again with cement bricks,

the house structure was the same as the thatched-roof house in the past.

In order to go to the adjacent room from the master bedroom, we had to go through the outdoor hallway.

In the summer, we were attacked by mosquitoes from the mountain, and in the winter, our skin was cracked from the cold icy wind.

The kitchen was outside, so when we set up the table for meals, we had to go back and forth over the threshold so many times.

Between the guest room and the house, there was a barn. When the livestocks’ excrement was not cleaned up regularly, the smell fouled the whole house.

However, I was able to endure all of that.    

The most difficult thing for me to endure was the restroom.

 

The restroom of my grandparents’ house was hidden deep inside, between the guest room and the barn.

A hole of which the depth I could not really tell, two precariously-placed wooden boards, a soiled toilet paper roll that was crushed and stuck in a tin can, and a smell that I cannot even explain...

At night, I worried if my feet were going to fall into the hole, and in the day time, I worried that I would have to see everything with both my eyes open.

To be honest, I was afraid of the daytime more than the night.


This inconvenience was all caused by my grandfather’s stubbornness.

He was stubborn in that he would not let a restroom be built inside the house.

He knew that his sons and daughters were using flushing toilets in their houses in Seoul,

but his view maintained that his house was his house, and their house was their house.

Even though they were the wealthiest in that village, they were actually living in the poorest house.


After my grandfather passed away, I thought that they would change the house structure.

However, it was not until five years had passed that they built a living room inside the house, and after three more years had passed, a restroom was finally built inside the house.

It might be due to the stubbornness of my uncle, who was used to his own old living style like my grandfather.

If my uncle’s wife and cousins did not nag him, building these things inside the house would have been even more delayed.


Now, they are able to sleep on the floor with just pajamas on,

and use their private restroom inside the house, in which they can take care of their business right away when they need to go.


A person who is satisfied with an outhouse cannot gain a flushing toilet,

and a person who is satisfied with a thatched-roof house cannot gain a western-style house.


Which one am I satisfied with?

I reflect on myself and wonder: am I living being satisfied with old habits and old ideas?

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12/2/2014