Most of the stories take place in Seoul against a modern backdrop of skyscrapers,
bustling traffic, glitzy shops and omni-present billboards. But the subjects
of her stories rarely fit into that world, living as they do in crummy
rooms overlooking alleyways filled with garbage, rats and puddles of puke
(courtesy of the many tipplers who had over-indulged in the nearby bars
Seong-nan's cool, somewhat deadpan style of third-person storytelling
doesn't dwell on these sordid details, just touches on them while focusing
on the misadventures of her protagonists. Here's what happens to one of
them in "Early Beans." An unnamed man, he dresses in "pointy
shoes and a white dress shirt with the two top buttons undone and tucked
into snug jeans...like an amateur cowboy who had just stepped out of a
Running late to a sexual liaison with his bank-teller girlfriend, he drives
through a school zone where the kids pour out and rush toward the stalls
filled with "helium balloons, baby chicks and sweets." He pumps
his horn and yells, but the kids refuse to get out of his way. Not only
that, they play soccer and card games.
Sweating from the heat, cursing them under his breath, he inches through
the zone with his foot on the brake pedal, thinking that "each child
was like a lightning strike. With lightning there are no warnings."
Twenty minutes later he makes it to the main road where he heads toward
a shopping mall to buy his girlfriend a present: should he get her perfume
or earrings? While trying to decide, he must also come up with a joke,
because if he couldn't make her laugh she wouldn't have sex with him.
Absurdity upon absurdity follows: he is distracted by the numbers of "quick
delivery" motorcyclists on the road, one of whom, "Lightning
Delivery 675-1234," he crashes into, knocking him for a loop. Feeling
guilty, he volunteers to deliver the important package the young driver
had been entrusted with. Because his own car has been totaled, he must
take a train to Incheon. During the journey a group of teenaged girls
enters his compartment and, giggling all the while, teases him with their
provocative looks and moves. One girl in particular makes sure he catches
a glimpse of her white panties.
Sweating profusely, dizzy with suppressed desire, he gets off at Incheon
and walks to the home of Professor Byeon Yeongseok to deliver the package.
When he gets there he discovers the girl who had cock-teased him on the
train; it turns out she's the professor's daughter. She spits at him and
hisses, "You asshole, wasn't that enough of a show for you? How much
more do you want?"
He and the girl end up going to a disco together, where she proceeds to
change her clothes and disappear on him. He tries to find her, but without
success. So he limps home, where the "garbage bags seemed to have
multiplied" in the alley, and looks at himself in the mirror, discovering
that "his curls, which had come alive from perspiration, were matted
like a steel wool pad" and that "he looked as if he'd been struck
There is also a phone message from his girlfriend, who declares that "in
all of her twenty-nine years, she had never been so insulted. She told
him never to call her again, and then after yelling at him non-stop, she
Our hero's last act is to take out the garbage. "Across the way,
on the roof of a darkened apartment building, there was a pointy object
he hadn't noticed till now. It was a lightning rod."