Wed, 09 Dec 2009 04:40:00 +0000

He got the call from his son. The old man told his wife the news.

And, now, he knew what he had to do. He had to go see the wise man.

His hair was graying, his eyes were failing and, when he did house work, his joints felt frail. This all came so soon — and now this.

The next morning, he prepared for his journey. He put on his coat and his hat, and he packed some rice cakes for a snack. He said bye to his wife and he walked out the gates of his house in Seoul. He limped past the aromatic food carts selling fried octopus and vegetable pancakes, and past the little league baseball fields, where young Korean boys were hoping to one day play for their high school teams. Then he reached the bus stop, where he got on the bus that was destined for the countryside.

The buses all smelled of gasoline and smoke — the kind of stench that stimulates your gag reflex after a while. But today the man did not notice. Today, he was too preoccupied with what the wise man might say.

After an hour, the bus stopped near a lake. It was the place all of the old man’s ancestors were buried under mounds of dirt. He walked to the graveyard and paid his respects. There were no tombstones or markings — just the memories of the day they were buried, or memories of the time his father told him who was buried under which mound. All these men had once visited the wise man. Now it was his turn.

The long trip tired him, but it was only half over. He sat at the feet of a mound and ate his rice cakes. They were bland, but his tongue was intrigued by the traces of salt in the soft white morsels. As he ate, a refreshing breeze came in from the lake and blew red leaves onto his lap.

It was already mid-afternoon, so he needed to continue his journey. He got up and instinctively navigated toward a house from his childhood. Every time they passed that house, his father would remind him it was the wise man’s house.

Part of him did not believe in the wise man’s powers. But it was more convenient to ignore the skepticism and continue on.

The wise man’s house was built right between two large dogwood trees that produced a bright pink leaf. The white paneled house looked bluntly out of place.

The old man rang the bell, and a thin pale man let him in. He was wearing traditional Korean garb made of a shimmering green and black silk, made for the wealthy class. Inside, the wise man knelt onto a seating pad and motioned for the old man to do so, as well. They sat across from each other, over a black stained table, but exchanged no pleasantries.

The wise man asked for the family tree. The old man gave it over. Then he asked, “What day was it?”

“Yesterday, the 15th.”

“And what time?”

“8:06 p.m.”

The wise man reached behind him and grabbed a book. He fingered to a page in the middle, looked back up and, using a brush, he wrote a Chinese character on a thick piece of paper.

The old man brought the sheet back home, and he called his son.

The old man asked, “How is he?”

“Good,” his son said. “We brought him home today. He was small — six pounds.”

“I can’t wait to meet him.”

There was silence. Then the son asked, “What did the wise man tell you?”

The old man smiled. “Sungsoo.”

“That's s a nice name.”