Friday, August 14, 2009

A Visit to Seoul (Series 1/100)

Some hundreds of years ago, a young scholar who lived in a remote village married a woman from Kwachon. After the wedding ceremony, he went to live with the bride’s family. His father, worried about his son, said to him, “There is only one hill separating Kwachon and Seoul. When you arrive in Kwachon, you must take care never to visit Seoul.”

“Why not, father?” the young scholar asked.

“If you set eyes on a bustling, flourishing capital city, your mind will become unstable and you will be unable to concentrate on your studies. Please promise that you will remember this.”

The scholar was a devoted son, and he always did whatever his father asked of him. Therefore, he promised that he would follow his instructions, and left for his wife’s house.

After he had been living there for some time, however, it occurred to him that it would be a shame not to go and visit Seoul, since it was so close by. He felt that if he did not go and see Seoul then, he would be unlikely to have the chance to do so in the future. Therefore, in spite of his father’s advice, he climbed over the hill and made his way to Seoul.

Once on the other side, however, he felt so uncomfortable going against his father’s wishes that he turned back to Kwachon after reaching the South Gate.

When he returned to his wife’s house, however, he reasoned with himself that it would be acceptable for him to go Seoul provided that he could keep it a secret from his father. Again, on the next day, he made his way as far as the South Gate. However, he again remembered what his father had said to him, and being unable to pass further, went back to his wife’s house.

He repeated this several times, going to the South Gate in the morning and then returning to Kwachon. A soldier on guard at the gate thought the scholar’s actions suspicious and reported him to the authorities. He was arrested and interrogated by the head of the police.

“Why do you appear at the South Gate every day? What are you planning to do?”

The timid scholar replied in a faltering voice.

“I recently moved to Kwachon after getting married, and had never been so close to Seoul before. It was my father’s words that made me behave in this way.”

“Your father’s words? Explain what you mean.”

The scholar related the whole story, and begged the officer to pardon him.

“Since I could neither break my promise to my father nor abandon my wish to see Seoul, I walked back and forth in front of the South Gate every day.”

The officer saw that the scholar was a devoted son, and said, “Unless you yourself had told your father, nobody would have known about your coming to Seoul. But you kept your promise nevertheless, out of devotion to your parents. This is conduct worthy of a true son, and you deserve to be rewarded. Since you are already in Seoul, please take the opportunity to see the city, and then go back to your hometown.”

The young scholar was rewarded by the officer and taken on a tour of the city by a military escort, before returning home to his wife. He eventually told his father what had happened, and related all he had seen in detail. Later, he passed the state examination and rose to become prime minister.

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