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The Substitute Son-in-law

2006-07-09 01:10

  Once upon a time, in a remote village there lived a man of nobility who was poor but proud. He had a daughter, his only child, who had reached a marriageable age. He wanted to get her married to a promising young man. So, one day he set out on a journey in search for a suitable young man for his future son-in-law.

  He visited sudangs one after another, hoping to find a young man for his daughter. One evening, he came to a sudang, where he was received as an overnight guest. While young aspiring scholars are working on their evening studies, he was observing each one of them with purposeful eyes. He finally found a handsome and promising young man. Rejoiced, he opened his heart to the tutor, who gladly accepted his proposal. The young man, the tutor told him, was his own son. Then and there, an auspicious day for the wedding was chosen.

  Returning home with the good news, father of the bride-to-be was waiting for that happy wedding day for his daughter. That day finally arrived. As it was customary, the bridegroom was coming to the bride's house for the wedding. But her father noticed that the bridegroom was not the young man he had chosen, but a stranger who looked ugly and unintelligent. What could a yahngban, an aristocrat, do? He was bewildered and awfully disappointed, but thought that there was no other decent way available than marrying his daughter off to that disappointing young man. Father was heartbroken but tried to console himself, thinking: “Well, if she was born under a lucky star, she will manage to live happily despite all this.”

  This young man was not the tutor's son; he was the tutor's servant boy. The tutor had been taking care of this boy since he lost both of his parents. Since the boy was found to be good for nothing more worthwhile, the tutor had him collect firewood for his family. Though the boy reached a marriageable age, no one ever wanted him as a son-in-law. So, the sudang tutor had decided to marry the boy, instead of his son, off to the girl.

  Five years went by since his daughter's marriage. Her father was anxious to see his only daughter and how she was managing. One day he went to her place for a visit and found that she seemed to be living much better than he had expected. Nevertheless, still feeling sorry for her about what had happened to her wedding, he told her he was very sorry. She told her father that he had nothing to regret and that she was in fact quite happy. And she showed him what she and her husband had in a large chest. The chest was full of money. “How did you get all that money?” asked father, showing a visible sign of concern. “Don't worry, Father. He has earned all this by diligently collecting and selling firewood all these years.” After a while, father heard a grunting sound outside; his son-in-law had just returned from the mountain and was unloading firewood collected that day. Now, the once ugly and stupid-looking young man looked dependable and promising.

  Ten more years had passed. His son-in-law became a very rich man. Now he decided to put his A-frame carrier away and study. He went into a secluded mountain hut to study single-mindedly. After three years of hard work, he passed Kwagu, the state examination, and became a respectable state official. And the couple lived happily ever after. Meanwhile, the son of the tutor lived as an aspiring scholar in poverty.

  Sudang is a private tutorial school in old days, where an old, often revered, scholar teaches Chinese classics to young people from aristocratic families in neighboring villages. These young people were aspiring scholars and many of them hoped to pass the all-important state examinations to serve kings.

  Korean

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