Dishcloth Enchantment – Suspicious Maids, Part 4


This time I’m going to wrap up our current series on Suspicious Maids by Jingyu Park (박진규의”수상한 식모들” ), but instead of doing the usual rundown of the plot, I will just select some details and images to highlight. It’s a very slippery sort of story, and it never stays on one topic or scene long enough to really grasp. Character development is also thin, so the main focus of the story is really the theme of the maids rather than anything else.

The next time we see Kyeongho in chapter 11, it’s springtime, and the weather is marred by yellow sand. Dust storms are a regular occurrence in East Asia, and they were known as “raining sands” during the Silla Dynasty in Korea. Here is a basic description of the phenomenon:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_Dust

It’s time for Kyeongho to enter college, and we have some description of his family and the crowds of other students at his new school. He is in the humanities department of a university in Seoul, which is briefly glossed over. At a party one night, someone asks if he will get a part-time job. He suggests he might become a hospice worker, but his fellow students find that rather distasteful. He notes that since he has a body like a bean jam bun, he has no love life, but he lives a double life anyway with the suspicious maids planting the gnawing mice in his dreams. He talks constantly with the probably imaginary Sunae and refers to these mice.

Chapter 13 returns to Kyeongho’s mundane family life, particularly celebrations on Children’s Day. The post at this link has some great historical information and old photos related to the importance of that holiday:

http://blog.korea.net/?p=15652

The story moves back and forth between the suspicious maids and Kyeongho’s mundane reality or some mixture of them repeatedly. This progression includes glimpses of Seoul’s rainy season with Kyeongho trying to salvage his electronic devices as the water rises while Sunae hangs around unable to carry anything. I suppose this incident illustrates that Sunae is indeed some sort of imaginary friend. Chapter 14 has him alone with Sunae again, dreaming of animals and discussing the mice once again. In chapter 19, Sunae is admitted into the hospital but wants to eat ice cream, and there’s a discussion of the colors of the ice cream. This is all very surreal.  Chapter 22 relates some of Sunae Kang’s life in 1980 Kywangju when many people were killed by the military. Sunae and her family couldn’t flee the unrest apparently, so this incident is brought up a few times in relation to her.

Looking back at chapter 12, we have another discourse on the suspicious maids that starts with a description of one of the maids at midnight clenching her dishcloth. The woman of the household wants her to cook all night, so she’s crying. Everything she prepares seems to go wrong: a bowl of rice vanishes, ribs fall on the floor, kimchi juice leaves a stain on the lace tablecloth. The family causes her excessive stress on that day, and she grinds her kitchen knife against the sharpening stone late at night when she’s alone. Suspicious maids pull off the perfect crime, and she gets revenge by doing things like mixing poison in with the man of the house’s midnight snack. His wife kicks her out after that, calling her a black widow, but peace doesn’t return to the household even after she’s gone.

Then the segment talks about the enchanted dishcloth some more, but it certainly has a negative magic, spreading germs and making food go bad. The rest of the chapter gets into more of the situation of the suspicious maids, but as with other parts of the book, recurring characters are few, most sections only last a few paragraphs or a few pages, so it’s very hard to really get wrapped up in the story. A lot of it is vague and philosophical. You just learn enough to get the basic situation before the author moves on to the next topic, situation or moody image.

Chapter 15, “Salt Child,” starts out with an intriguing situation. A newborn baby is abandoned in a salt field one evening in 1938. A woman in a black hanbok takes the child to a hut on a hill, and a few women’s names are mentioned, including one suspicious maid, Yeomok Kim. But then the story skips over her and talks about a figure named Mr. Choi for awhile. Chapter 18 returns to a new suspicious maid Jeomrae. Chapter 20 returns to Korean history and Suyeong Kim who reared a suspicious maid. This seems to be a modern period of history since it talks about the US air force’s aerial bombing.

Here’s a little on salt fields, but I don’t know the history to say why 1938 was significant at all or how it figures in relation to the suspicious maids:

https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/tag/salt-fields-in-korea/

Chapter 21 returns to Kyeongho at school with a classmate named Jeonga. Chapter 24 returns to Kyeongho’s split with Jeonga and Kyeongho erasing his suspicious maid document, which seems to be where all of these side stories about suspicious maids come from. Kyeongho travels to Hannamdong to investigate another house with a suspicious maid, and in the final chapter, titled “Transformation into a Teddy Bear,” Kyeongho appears to now be in his thirties and has an old teddy bear he has had all of his life. This chapter has some discussion of men’s fantasies, perhaps Kyeongho wanting to transform into his teddy bear since there is a mention of plastic surgery. The point seems to be that men aren’t motivated in work and relationships with women, but the story is so hard to follow because of the peculiar style.

That at least gives you a taste of what the book is about and provides some context for it for anyone brave enough to tackle it on their own. Because it’s so fragmented, I’m going to stop there, otherwise I’ll end up with a really long post with too many disconnected details, so I’ll wrap it up there.

Part four of a four part series.

Next time: Huang Yi’s Dragon War!

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About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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