Continuing with chapter 2, Eunbi Yang’s student teaching job at the boys’ school doesn’t work out so well. When she teaches her first gym class, she is unnerved by the proximity of all of the young men during their basketball game, and her crush Chisu keeps touching her needlessly as he passes her. Later, when she overhears Chisu telling his group of friends later how to lead a woman on and repeats the line he used on Eunbi in the bathroom stall, she is furious. Confronting him before a crowd of teachers and students without explaining the reason for her anger, the former volleyball champ spikes a ball and hits the delicate Chisu in the head! The school is in shock. Chisu is in turmoil and disbelief at her actions, and he ends up at the hospital for tests. When he and his father demand an apology as a condition of her continued teaching assignment, she balks. Her dream of becoming a teacher ends abruptly.
Consistent with Eunbi’s personality, when she gets angry at the men in her life, she flies into a rage and uses her skill at volleyball to hit them. With Jaeho it was a water balloon, and Chisu saw her do it. He should have realized what she might do if she overheard his callous comments about the moment between them that she liked to think about so tenderly.
But other events force her back to Eunbi Restaurant, her father’s ramen shop. Cheoltong, her father, summons Kang Hyuk to his side in anticipation of his death and makes him heir to the shop and Eunbi’s fiancé without her knowledge! When he dies in the presence of a clueless Chisu – this scene was really fun reading – both Chisu and Eunbi are drawn into the daily life of the restaurant and into a love triangle with Kang Hyuk.
Chisu is disturbed when he accidentally sees Kang Hyuk hugging a tearful Eunbi through a window, so he asks his friend Hyeonwu what their actions meant and what it means to console someone who is grieving. Consistent with his emotionally stunted way of handling people, he tries to console Eunbi by giving her money. This insults her, though maybe she should have tried to understand him and see his fumbling attempt as genuine concern, but she is too hot-headed. She gets angry every time she sees him, but at the same time she is on good terms with Kang Hyuk as they prepare to renovate the shop in chapter 3. However, she is irritated at the way Kang Hyuk is constantly snoozing on the floor suddenly, and even Baul, Hyeonwu, and Chisu wonder if he’s ill when they see him do that.
Kang Hyuk plans to hire Baul, Hyeonwu and Chisu as his “flower boys” to work at the shop, and Chisu decides to take him up on it to be near Eunbi, who has otherwise ordered him never to come back. In spite of Kang Hyuk’s inheritance and position as her unasked for fiancé, he and Eunbi really get along fine, though he asks her occasionally if she hates him. She says honestly that she doesn’t, and she doesn’t stop him from calling her his missus. Chisu at one point has to ask if they really are married, but mostly it is clear that Kang Hyuk has a plan for the shop that Eunbi never would have cared about, plus he can make ramen as good if not better than Cheoltong’s. His cooking skill impresses Baul in particular, and Baul was very close to Cheoltong and ate his ramen often.
Near the end of chapter 3, Kang Hyuk unveils his plan to rename Eunbi Restaurant the Flower Boy Ramen Shop. He also brings up each of the employees creating ramen recipes, so this helps give some explanation for the chapter title ramen recipes. By the way, chapter 3’s title recipe is Chisu’s Ramen, but I don’t particularly see any strong connection between the story development and Chisu as a character other than his angst over trying to get Eunbi to apologize to him for hitting him with the volleyball and struggling with what is an appropriate form of condolences to console her after the death of her father.
Baul is as piqued as ever about his girlfriend Soyi going out with Chisu. Eunbi and Hyeonwu encourage him to start looking around at other women, but Baul rebukes him. He says he doesn’t have time and isn’t interested in seeing anyone else. Chisu’s class difference with the rest of the characters is highlighted by this insensitivity as well as his complaints to Eunbi about how cramped the house is and how he has to room with Hyeonwu. She tells him he is ungrateful for the little salary of 50 won a month that they are giving him when most people would be happy with the arrangement.
On a language note, there are a few interesting things to point out in the Korean. One word that appears to refer to the flower boy job Baul, Hyeonwu and Chisu take on at the ramen shop is 알바생 (albasaeng), but I can’t find it in any dictionary to get a clear English definition. Also appearing at times as 알바, it comes up frequently in the text. Sometimes Korean dictionaries can be quite limited, so context is the only guide here.
Another phrase that comes up that is the analogue to the flower boys I discussed a few posts ago is the female version, 꽃미녀 (kkotminyeo), which means flower beauty perhaps. It’s hard to get as catchy a translation, but it literally means flower + beautiful + girl/woman. However, I just have never heard it used in Korean pop culture like you would hear flower boys, and certainly in English it might be awkward to translate it flower girls since that has such a specific meaning as to sound silly in this context. I think the term in English is just too set to refer to little girls in a bridal party at a wedding. In the novel, Kang Hyuk uses the term to refer to Eunbi since she is the only female employee among the flower boys he is hiring.
The name for Soyi gets interesting here, too. Earlier I noted Baul calls her “lily”, 백합 (baekhap), which can also mean “white pigeon” and “white frog” but not really the “white swan” of the TV version. But here Eunbi calls her 백합년(baekhapnyeon), which can translate to something like lily wench or more strongly lily bitch. That did come up once in the TV show.
Finally, a word that I kept hearing in the TV version came up once in the book, and it’s interesting enough to mention: 스킨십 (skinship). This term sounds like a strange loanword from English, and it just means any kind of physical contact or affection.
Structurally, one more nice touch the author adds to the novel is the juxtaposition of the two contrasting entourages of Chisu and Baul, particularly during the basketball game. While none of their friends at school in their respective groups is that developed, it is clear from their names what commentary is meant: Chisu’s friends are the Flower Gang, perhaps referencing the leisurely lifestyle of rich boys who have time to worry about their appearance, while Baul’s friends are called the Holy Ghost Gang, referencing the tough Pastor Kim’s house full of orphans that he has taken in. The novel goes a bit deeper than the TV show into Baul’s background with poor Pastor Kim and the orphanage, and I haven’t noticed the same level of emphasis on bathroom humor in the novel.
This book made me go out and try some food at a local ramen shop, my first bowl of ramen other than the 50 cent packages sold in the grocery store, and I can understand its almost mystical appeal now. It was quite refreshing!
Next time, we’ll turn to the novel’s exciting conclusion.
Part four of a five part series.