This time we will start to look at the story of Minyeong Lee’s Flower Boy Ramen Shop (이민영의 “꽃미남 라면가게”). Of course, reading a book that has been adapted into a TV show allows for a much deeper encounter with the characters and the situations they face than what was shown in the TV version. This book is no different, and for the first segment, these new details are a lot of fun.
In the first chapter that begins with the “Ramen of Destiny” recipe, the focus is on fated love. Eunbi Yang is anxiously preparing for her university exam. She enters the tent of a tarot reader and spends more money than she can afford on a reading. The tarot reader has her draw five cards. When she draws a bell card, the girl tells her that this is the card of destiny: Eunbi will hear the sound of bells when she kisses her fated companion. At first, she wonders if it is Jaeho, her boyfriend for whom she has been waiting to get out of military service for the past two years.
Meanwhile, Chisu Cha has returned to Korea from America and gets casually involved with a flashy woman at the airport. Later, he ends up wandering around the district of Seoul where students congregate, Noryangjin, to visit his old friend Hyeonwu. When Chisu runs into the ladies’ room to hide from his father’s thugs, Eunbi ends up stuck in a bathroom stall in close quarters with him, studying all of the features of his face in great detail, which results in this pretty hot passage:
그때,은비의귓가에 종이 울리기 시작했다.
고동색의 깊은 눈동자가 바로 앞에 있었다. 맑은 눈동자에 은비의 모습이 담겼다. 코끝에 뜨거운 숨결이 닿았다. 긴장감에 손끝은 차가워지고 숨쉬는 것조차 조심스러운데,심장은 쿵쾅쿵쾅 격렬하게 뛰었다.
데엥.데엥. (Lee, p. 31)
Here is my translation:
At that moment, a bell started to sound in Eunbi’s ears.
His reddish-brown eyes met hers. Eunbi’s reflection filled his clear eyes. His hot breath touched the tip of her nose. In her nervousness, her fingertips went cold, and she carefully took a breath as her heart bang bang bang thudded wildly.
After this first strange meeting, Eunbi has trouble connecting with her newly discharged boyfriend Jaeho and runs into him by accident at a high school fair. He is with another woman, and Eunbi’s hot temper takes over since she has been faithfully waiting for him all this time. At the water balloon station, Eunbi throws balloons at them, accidentally splashing water on Chisu in the process. Unlike in the TV show, Eunbi and Chisu don’t speak before this happens, but she accosts him into posing as her new boyfriend to save face with Jaeho, but it is an unpleasant encounter between them.
Later when Eunbi begins her student teaching assignment at a boys’ school, she discovers Chisu is really only in high school and is the son of a very wealthy, important businessman. Things get very tense and inadvertently passionate in this setting as well, ultimately getting Eunbi in huge trouble with the school’s headmaster.
As the story progresses, Eunbi has a number of conflicts with Chisu, and one of them is over Chisu dating Soyi Yoon, Baul’s girlfriend. In the TV show she is called the “white swan,” but here in the novel she seems to be called the “white lily.” This is more in keeping with Baul’s Christian background, which comes up again and again in small ways in the novel. Since Eunbi is close to Baul, she expresses concern to Chisu about the situation because it is starting fights between Baul and Chisu whenever they meet. Chisu explains to her that she has old ideas about morality and that both he and Baul can date the same girl. He also comments about the way a rich man bestows something on a beggar, apparently referencing the class difference between him and Baul. He clearly expects Baul to share Soyi. She retorts that love isn’t a game regardless of how much money someone has.
Here is another passage that directly follows this discussion which emphasizes how entrancing Chisu is to Eunbi:
치수가 부드럽게 웃었다. 치수의 머리카락이 태양 빛을 받아 오렌지빛 인영을 만들었다. 미소가,그리고 머리카락이 눈부셨다. (Lee, p.92)
Chisu smiled tenderly. Chisu’s hair was shining like the sun with an orange light that made a shadow. A smile, then dazzling hair. (My translation)
시각이 사라지자, 다른 감각이 예민해졌다. 치수의 숨소리가 들리고, 치수의 향기가 진하게 자극해왔다. 코끝에 숨결이 느껴진다고 생각한 것과 동시에 따뜻하고 부드러운 것이 이마에 닿았다. 낙인을찍듯 깊게, 부드럽게 눌려오던 입술이 떨어지는 순간, 소리가 들렸다.
종소리….치수의 머리 위엔 여전히 태양이 만들어낸 후광이 번쩍이고 있었다. (Lee, p.93)
The vision faded, and another keen sensation overwhelmed her. She heard the sound of Chisu breathing, smelled Chisu’s strong, intoxicating scent. She felt his breath on the tip of her nose, and at the same time she thought about how it brushed across her brow, warm and soft. It was like a branding iron stamping deeply but pressing gently, slipping for a moment to her lips, and she heard a sound.
Bells….The surface of Chisu’s hair was still like the sun making a glittering halo. (My translation)
Chisu has her in an emotional meltdown, and she can’t concentrate at all, but at that moment, she gets news that her father Cheoltong is in the hospital. She rushes with Coach Seo to the hospital.
Throughout the scenes where they are at the boys’ school together, Chisu is called a number of things by Eunbi and others, including hwanungnim (환웅님), which seems to be a reference to the father of the founder of Korea, Tangun ; and Chaseung hwangtaeja (차성 황태자), which translates roughly to “the crown prince of Chaseung.” So he is considered royalty and above the others in the school, and these titles are oftentimes used derisively.
When we turn to chapter 2, the section beginning with “Eunbi’s Ramen Cooking Method,” the story does indeed focus even more on Eunbi’s troubles. Eunbi’s father is in the hospital, and when Eunbi talks with him, they talk about ramen, money problems, and being seriously ill. Kanghyuk Choi also appears separately with Cheoltong in this part, and he immediately starts calling Eunbi “the missus” (manura, 마누라). Kanghyuk spends a fair amount of time talking with Cheoltong, and it is clear that he was summoned to see Cheoltong because of Cheoltong’s impending death and the terms of their agreement regarding it. But Eunbi is oblivious to this situation.
Love is of course the main theme of this novel, and one of the ways it is expressed is in this fated relationship between Eunbi and Chisu. However, from what I see of Chisu so far, even in the novel, he doesn’t strike me as a really great sort of guy that Eunbi should be all hot and bothered by. He sounds as bad as Jaeho.
Looking at the novel structurally, the author actually does a nice job of bringing out multiple love triangles, such as Chisu’s father, his mother and Kanghyuk’s father, though that hasn’t come up yet in the novel; Eunbi, Chisu and Kanghyuk, which is just starting to emerge as a storyline in the part I covered this time; and Baul, Soyi and Chisu. The emphasis is on a triangle of two men with one woman, and there is a not-so-subtle commentary given on this situation in the novel, as I mentioned above. It’s less obvious in the TV version. But it is a major theme of the story.
On a technical note, one difficulty in reading modern East Asian novels in their original languages is that authors don’t usually tag dialogue like we do in English (this book was published in 2011), so it’s very hard to keep track of who is speaking. The dialogue just runs without any names or descriptions interrupting it. Sometimes when a character is doing some action, it also isn’t clear who the subject of the action is, and it takes a while to figure out that as well. This will be a challenge throughout the year as I cover Asian language books.
Part three of a five part series.