Diphylleia Grayi

What would you do?


1. Final.

The sun was casting uneven strokes of faded sunlight across the dusty kitchen table; the kettle was left brewing steadily so a thick smog had enveloped the windows; I peered out through cool glass. The sunrise was feebly peaking above the city skyline with the faint glow of morning but I knew I wasn’t supposed to turn on the lights. I always got scolded for wasting electricity.

I flopped down at the table.

My parents had already left for work and a bowl of half-cold  [1]된장국 was the only thing to greet me that morning. I picked up the bowl and stared at my swampy reflection. The soup was slushy and murky like the pond on my Grandfather’s farm and smelled a bit too fishy but I managed to swallow it down anyway. Mum usually tended to leave without making me breakfast…

A few textbooks from the night before were still scattered across the kitchen counter. They were all aged and second hand and donated by a charitable student; notes scribbled throughout the pages. On top of my Mathematics study notes Mum had left a [2]Seoul National University pamphlet for me to read.

I scanned the information quickly.

…General information…courses offered…alumni…

Nothing I hadn’t seen before in other pamphlets exactly like this…I felt like I needed more time…

However, the [3]CSAT was looming ever closer and so did the choice I had to make.

Most of my school life had been dedicated to, one day, improving our family’s [4]status within society that the current situation could never do. It was the seducing idea of my opportunities that led my parents to push me…and push me…yet…it had never occurred to me that I had a choice in any of it.

So as I wandered carefully up the steep hill outside my house, I didn’t understand why it was bothering me now. Perhaps it was the sweat pouring down my face from the thick textbooks in my backpack, or the holes in my shoes which gathered up the loose pebbles on the road. Perhaps it was the bitter frigidness of the winter morning. Perhaps it was what Kang Shi-Woo had said to me the other day…



He’d turned to me unexpectedly in the middle of lunch and set his half eaten [5]킴밥 down at my desk. “Hey Hong-Gil! I noticed you’ve been looking down a bit lately. You know…” Shi-Woo began. “There’s a comforting warmth to realise that in the ruthless growth of society, you are so insignificant… yet,” he greatly emphasised the ‘yet’ with a cheeky smile, “the peaceful breath of the sky is still within your reach, brushing your outstretched fingertips,” he leant forward a little more, “but, if the road in life you follow has little more than the hard asphalt beneath your feet, then you won’t have time to look up at the sky anyway.”

Then Shi-Woo had turned back to his group of friends with the smile still playing on his lips.

The way Shi-woo described life as a ‘road’ struck me as something odd. Did that imply that I could change direction? Did that mean there were other routes? Did that mean there were options? Did I have a voice? Perhaps it was those questions that made me walk up those twenty flights of stairs…

Or perhaps it was the sudden realisation that the lie of superficial happiness my parents had engrained into my delicate brain as a child which made me open the door leading to the roof.

A strong wind rushed in as I heaved the door closed and walked forward. While we didn’t have a lot of money to spare, there was always food on the table. I was able to go to school. My parents were still contently married.

I looked up. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. My toes were clinging to the edge of the building and my face was pointing upwards; fluffy clouds swimming in my eyes. I reached upward and felt the gentle breathe of sunshine kiss my fingertips. My bag had slipped off my shoulders and lay slumped on the concrete below.

A choice lay in front of me like a sign post pointing toward the highway and the nearest cities.

And you know I didn’t know what to expect…


[1] Deojang Guk (Korean’s equivalent to Miso soup. It’s soy bean paste based and eaten as a common food)

[2] SNU is part of SKY- Korea’s top universities. To be accepted into these are considered extremely prestigious.

[3] The ‘College Scholastic Aptitude Test’ is Korea’s equivalent to Australia’s HSE.

[4] In Korea there is a permanently big gap between poverty and wealth. The poor generally stay poor and the rich get more money.

[5] Kimbap- the Korean version of Sushi. However it traditionally contains more fillings other than fish and the rice is prepared with sesame oil instead of vinegar

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