This time we will finish our discussion of Minyeong Lee’s Flower Boy Ramen Shop (이민영의 “꽃미남 라면가게”).
In the remaining section of the novel, President Cha, Chisu’s father, talks over with his aide how Chisu is now working a part-time job at the ramen shop. President Cha remembers who Eunbi is from the volleyball incident and wants her restaurant to fail. He doesn’t consider Chisu the type to finish what he starts and wonders why Chisu is smiling in a photo he took with the staff at the ramen shop. He only relaxes when he hears Chisu is meeting Soyi at the ramen shop and that he’s coming home afterward.
He steps in and summons Eunbi to see him once Chisu demands to live at the shop with the other guys, and he offers to buy the shop. When that doesn’t work, President Cha opens a rival restaurant, 촤 누들 (chwa noodle), and he demands to know why Chisu is staying with Eunbi’s shop when he can be at his noodle shop. Then he takes away Chisu’s credit card and sportscar to force him home. It doesn’t work. Chisu opts to stay near Eunbi and be as poor as Baul and Hyeonwu.
The surprising thing is that Chisu really doesn’t recognize his feelings for Eunbi as love. He sees Soyi Yoon as his type, while Eunbi isn’t at all. When Hyeonwu gently suggests he is in love with Eunbi, Chisu has to look it up in the dictionary and noticed it mentions sexual or general attraction to a person:
[사랑. 상대에게 성적으로 끌려 열렬히 좋아하는 마음. 또는 그 마음의 상태.] (p.224-225)
[Love. A feeling of sexual attraction or ardent caring for a partner, or such a state of mind.]
This definition is important because it frames the discussion for the rest of the novel, and Chisu particularly brings up the phrase 성적으로 끌려 (sexual attraction, seongjeokuro kkullyeo) often when talking with Eunbi. Hyeonwu knows Chisu is in love, but Chisu has a hard time convincing himself that this is exactly his situation. He doesn’t know why Eunbi gets to him so much, and he does acknowledge to Hyeonwu that he feels hurt over the situation with her. When he thinks of her beauty, he tells himself it really isn’t that he’s drawn to her romantically. He tells Hyeonwu he’s crazy for suggesting it.
A really great quote comes up in chapter 4 of the novel when Eunbi is thinking about Chisu’s strong reaction to the very idea that Eunbi might be in love with Kang Hyuk and is going through all of his shortcomings: “위로는 돈 이고, 사랑은 액세서리.” This can translate to “Money is a consolation, love an accessory.” It’s a devastating critique of Chisu’s worldview and is the reason they clash so strongly. She wonders if merely hearing the bell of fate when Chisu kisses her is enough. She doesn’t hear the bell of fate with Kang Hyuk, however, Kang Hyuk is connected to everything good about her father’s memory, like his ramen and his shop. She and Kang Hyuk both consider their feelings for each other “muddy.”
Chisu finally talks with Eunbi about being attracted to her, using the same expression from the definition of love that he looked up earlier. They get so close their bodies touch, but they are talking about money in that scene. After he makes his decision to stay at the shop without his credit card and car, Chisu spends a lot of time talking about how beautiful Eunbi’s face is, her nose, eyes, cheeks, etc. There is no real rivalry between him and Kang Hyuk at this point.
The drama continues with the other characters as Hyeonwu also must deal with some romance. He apparently has no romantic history. When a girl comes to the shop every day and orders the ramen named after him, he is surprised since he has no money or time for love. Eunbi tries to tell him that doesn’t matter to a woman, but Chisu disagrees and says it does. Kang Hyuk calls her a romantic.
Another great moment comes after Kang Hyuk asks Chisu if he wants to learn how to make ramen, and the staff of the shop is in the kitchen peeling onions as the lessons begin. Baul in particular can’t stand the way they are making his eyes tear up, and Chisu doesn’t want to join in, but Hyeonwu has his parents’ swimming goggles, and Chisu and Baul use those to make the task easier, Chisu wearing the mother’s pair while Baul wears the father’s pair. Chisu also kneads wheat dough in later scenes. Kang Hyuk then wants them all to make their own special ramen, but this is not presented the same way that it comes up in the TV version. Mainly the ramen dishes each bear one of their names as a marketing tool, and customers come in and order their dishes by those names.
Besides all of these complicated romantic issues, some controversy arises at the shop. The shop is so broke, but Eunbi decides they should have an opening day promotion offering free ramen for the first 100 customers. They have a number of other promotions, and they take promotional photographs and have their shop advertised on TV. Eventually they become famous enough that there are alarming internet rumors about the shop, particularly rumors accusing Kang Hyuk of plagiarizing the recipes from a shop in Japan.
Dongju comes in one day upset about it and shows Eunbi what they are saying on her computer. Chisu and the other guys can’t believe that of Kang Hyuk, and Chisu goes to see his father, suspicious. He walks in on a discussion between his father and Kang Hyuk that reveals they are actually half-brothers and President Cha wasn’t too happy to hear that Kang Hyuk had returned to Korea! He is President Cha’s wife’s son with another man. This scene is one of the best dramatic points in the book.
The rumors lead to packs of journalists camping out at the shop, but some help arrives from Japan in the form of Koichi, a ramen cook, and idol actress Miyu, who stirs up the crowd. The internet rumors change after their appearance to say that Kang Hyuk didn’t plagerize after all. But although the shop regains its customers and President Cha apologizes to Chisu, Kang Hyuk decides to return to Japan to his mother. Eunbi also decides to go for some reason, and there is another strong, dramatic scene where Chisu decides to go after them to the airport and get a ticket to Japan as well. He confronts Eunbi in tears and says he loves only her. The novel’s ending is quite different from the TV show, so this doesn’t entirely give a spoiler, though Eunbi does end up with the same man in the love triangle as in the TV version.
Finally, among the various subplots, we see Pastor Kim in a long scene where he comes to the shop to talk about Baul’s parentage and potentially adopting him. It’s a bit confusing, so I’m not entirely sure about some of Baul’s background, but everyone is happy with the outcome by the end of the scene. Compared to the TV show, the storylines involving Dongju and Coach Seo and the depth of Soyi Yoon’s character are not present in the book. These subplots were considerably embellished in the TV version to be more in keeping with the novel’s theme of dating only one person at a time.
The dialogue uses a few interesting techniques later to make it clear who is speaking. Sometimes the tag comes in the next paragraph which explains who just spoke, but most of the time, the reader can tell because each character has a distinct nickname of Eunbi, and they use it for their dialogue.
Overall, this novel was an enjoyable read good for Korean language students at the low advanced level.
Part five of a five part series.
Next time, we return to Hong Kong to look at Guai Shushu’s horror adventure novel Hidden Souls!