It was Saturday. Gun-Ho vacated his room from OneRoomTel and loaded up his car with his belonging.
“Once I took out all my stuff, I certainly do have a lot of stuff. I didn’t know that when they were all in the room.”
Gun-Ho had to travel back and forth three times between his room and the parking lot to load up all his stuff – off-season clothes, a laptop, a blanket, books, etc. There were a lot. He had to throw out a few books and left-over soju from the refrigerator, such a waste. Gun-Ho received a call from his aunt when he was loading the car while panting heavily.
“Gun-Ho? You don’t go to church these days, do you? A person must believe in God.”
While he was busy in loading stuff, his aunt talked to him for a while, trying to convince him to go to church.
“Auntie, I gotta go. I am in the middle of moving. Why don’t you call me later?”
“Oh, oh, are you moving? Where are you moving to? You must be moving to a nice place. God already planned our lives. If you let me know the address, I will stop by. There must be a church in the area. If you believe in God, you will be blessed.”
Gun-Ho desperately wanted to hang up the phone while his aunt kept talking and talking; it drove him crazy. If he responded to any of what she was saying, she probably would add more saying to it. So he just simply answered with yes, yes.
“Are you listening? You have to go to church. Oh, and have you had the chance to go to that philosophy hall that I told you about? You haven’t?”
“I don’t believe any of those.”
His aunt had talked for at least 30 minutes before she finally ended the call.
“I should have ignored the call… well, why does she go to a philosophy hall? She is going to church; she is even a deaconess.”
Gun-Ho laughed. Finally, he finished moving and laid down in his new room. It was hard work, and he felt somewhat relieved. He went out having Jjajangmyeon (noodle dish topped with black bean sauce)and came back, and laid down again.
“Tomorrow is Sunday. Maybe I want to go to Bucheon to see friends. Maybe, I’d better check if the internet is working.”
The new place already had internet working. That was nice. These days, many landlords made the internet service ready to use, in addition to providing a refrigerator, a washer, and an air conditioner; that way, the room was rented out quickly.
“I do like the internet speed here. Let me see. Let me search the philosophy hall in Gangnam, that my aunt talked about. Was it Jinyeo Philosophy Hall?”
Philosophy halls do advertise their service on the internet, showing their addresses and phone numbers. There were a lot of philosophy halls.
“Oh my, we have this many philosophy halls in Korea? Do they even make a living?”
Gun-Ho found Jinyeo Philosophy Hall. Their main number was displayed.
“Let me call them for some fun.”
It rang a few times before an old man picked up the phone in a gruff voice.
“Jinyeo Philosophy Hall. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to talk to the head of the hall.”
“This is he.”
“Oh, hello. Do you by any chance open tomorrow? It’s Sunday.”
“We don’t do consultation on Sunday. I go to the mountains on Sunday.”
“Oh, you do mountain climbing.”
“No, not mountain climbing, but mountain prayer.”
“Mountain prayer? I see, then I will call you again next time.”
After he hung up the phone, Gun-Ho giggled.
“Mountain prayer? My a*s. I am sure he goes mountain climbing, not mountain prayer. He knows how to play his role. Anyhow, I want to hear what he has to say about my f*cked-up life.”
Gun-Ho went to work on Monday.
The director told him to get work instructions from Mr. Kim. The worksite Mr. Kim brought Gun-Ho in was not the plastic injection molding site, but a washing room for plastic drums. He could smell strong chemical odors.
“All of our new workers have to start from here.”
“This is a washing room.”
“We wash plastic drums and also crush plastics here. After you work with the washing team, then with the crushing team, and then you will work with an injection machine.”
Gun-Ho got angry. He wanted to scream that he didn’t come here to wash the damn plastic drums but to operate the injection molding machine. Mr. Kim’s smiling facial expression said it all: take it or leave. He already moved all his stuff here; he is in a hard-pressed situation. He wanted to ask the director for an explanation.
“I joined the company as an injection molding machine operator.”
“I know that. But our company policy requires every new employee to spend 3 months working at the washing site and crushing site.”
Gun-Ho almost said it but suppressed the urge. Washing and crushing plants usually generated bad odors. Especially crushing plants produced loud noise; that’s why they often had a high turnover rate. And probably that’s why Gun-Ho was placed in these plants to fill the empty jobs. Gun-Ho was thinking; maybe it was not a bad thing to work in that site. The work would be a little hard tedious physical labor job, but he would get paid the same salary.
“All right. I will start with the washing job.”
There was another worker already working on the site; he seemed in his 50s. He handed a pair of rubber gloves and a scrub brush to Gun-Ho. He had a blank face and he was quiet.
“You need to pour the chemical residues in the drum here. If the chemical remains got in contact with your skin, they will cause blisters and itchy skin; so please make sure you wear arm covers when you work. Also, you need to be extra careful not to let the chemicals into your eyes.”
Gun-Ho blurted out a curse word. He did as the senior worker instructed. The senior worker proceeded to the cleaning process. He first wiped off the plastic drum with an air suction device, then sprayed some mixed chemicals, and then cleaned with a steamer. The last step was to clean them with water; this was Gun-Ho’s job. After washing 100 drums, he felt dizzy and spinning, while also feeling severe lower back pain.
“Can I have a break?”
The senior worker looked surprised. He probably thought what Gun-Ho had done so far was not hard enough to earn a break.
“Suit yourself. We usually take a break every two hours. You have worked for almost two hours, so why don’t you just keep working until then?”
The senior worker was way older than Gun-Ho, but he kept working without a break and he was strong. He probably had done physical labor work all his life.
“I felt dizzy working the same washing job all day long.”
Gun-Ho passed out once he returned to his room after work.
“I should have passed the exam and taken the level-9 government job…”
Not being able to become a level-9 government employee would be his lasting regret. If he could go back to Noryangjin, he would study so hard like he was ready to die if he didn’t pass the exam.
“I… I… didn’t study hard when I was in school. This is my punishment for that.”
Gun-Ho felt deep sorrow.
“This is how people develop chronic illnesses and depression. Sh*t! Let’s just drink.”
Gun-Ho went out in his comfy sweatpants and bought three bottles of soju from a convenience store.
The next day and the next day, he kept washing the drums at work. All of his body ached, his arms, neck and especially his lower back. He applied pain relief patches on his body.
“I think I have to find a new job.”
Then he thought in desperation that the life of a factory worker would be the same everywhere.
“The work itself was ok when I was in Pocheon. They just didn’t pay…”
When he worked in Pocheon, he had spare time after work; he sometimes went to the PC room in the evening and played computer games. Here in Yangju, it was far from that life. He always passed out after work at home, no more soju or computer games. He received text messages from some of his friends; they asked Gun-Ho to come to the high school reunion, and one of the friends who had a nice job invited Gun-Ho to his wedding.
“I should give up on marrying someone, shouldn’t I?”
Gun-Ho thought hard; it seemed impossible for him to get married. He had no girlfriend; it just seemed impossible for him to start a family for now and also in the future.
“My life will end working in a small factory forever… Hew.” Gun-Ho sighed.
Gun-Ho drank everyday after work in his room. Looking at his reflection in the mirror, Gun-Ho thought he looked so old; he hated it. Suddenly, he thought of that philosophy hall which his aunt mentioned the other day.