Novel Name : Mercenary Black Mamba

Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 517

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The harsh treatment Korean soldiers were subjected to, along with their meagre wages, was truly wretched. Maybe officers on the field or generals were paid enough to buy themselves a decent meal.
But those on the ‘company’ grade, along with non-commissioned officers, were treated so poorly that it defied common sense. The annual salary of a sergeant boasting a career of twenty years was actually less than what a newbie bank clerk got. To make matters worse, some soldiers that made do with pittance and had to change his/her workplace often could not even afford a half-decent closet.
As for the soldiers drafted into service, their tale was too heart-wrenching to even mention out loud. Canteens clearly displaying their history in battlefields would often come with faded reminders of the past, such as ‘Made In USA 1945-05-15’ stamped on the bottom and ‘David Jr’ carved out with a dagger on the side.
What about their boots, then? Your little toe would poke out through the worn leather, while the glues holding the soles would have long lost their effectiveness, forcing you to hold them together with some steel wires while wearing them as if there was nothing amiss.
Meanwhile, white plastic fuzz and nose-stinging stench emitted from the plastic food tray, used since the Vietnam War days.
The situation with rice was also tragic. The ‘Tongil’ rice (unification rice) would only see the light of day after spending five years in storage. Unsurprisingly, such rice were crumbly and smelled disgusting. Even their color was an unappetising yellow.
As for ‘guk’ (Korean side dish soup), most of the time it was simply a salt guk with chopped radishes and chards added as an afterthought. Every once in a while, they would serve either mackerel or sandlance guk, and on the weekends, they might bring out ‘meat’ guk with pork fat visibly floating around on the surface. But on those ‘pork fat guk’ days, privates would suffer serious muscle pain after washing all the food trays using laundry soap.
Going on a training exercise was actually easier on the new recruits’ lives. Staying in the base was an unending series of terror and anxiety. Not getting beat up during the day by the officers meant that you could not sleep at night out of sheer nervousness.
And their wages were even more tear-inducing. A sergeant facing an imminent discharge after 30 months of compulsory service received only 4,700 Won as their monthly salary. That amount was just about enough to buy two novels and a packet of crisps.
‘Patriotism’ came from self-esteem and pride. But would soldiers on the company grade, non-commissioned officers, and regularly drafted soldiers be full of self-esteem and pride? Even after they were stained to the soul with a sense of deprivation, financial difficulties, terrible living conditions and even physical abuse?
Would a soldier, who was paid pittance and measly hazard pay, be burning with patriotism? Of course not. The core of the combat force, the company-grade soldiers and non-commissioned officers, would fall into a pattern of habitual behaviors, and whenever a chance presented itself, they would steal or divert military supplies.
Of course, the true hot bed of corruption and irregularities were found among the ‘field’ grade officers and generals that loved to sing ideals of patriotism and sacrificing oneself for one’s fellow countrymen. They would collude with civilian suppliers to pocket huge bribes, deliberately worsening the quality of the supplies. Hell, they even had the gall to cut out regular soldiers’ side dishes during the mealtimes too.
The corruption in the military ran rampant, but the public at large only got to hear about a small number of these cases. That was due to the unique nature of any closed-off organization, which includes the military. They looked after one of their own, after all.
Everyone was corrupt or complicit; they were too busy burying their skeletons to even care about stamping out any irregularities among their ranks.
The truth was that, while the government was waving ‘national interests’ and ‘patriotism’ around as their trump cards in public, the cost incurred through corruption and irregularities had already shot past what was logically acceptable as budget to improve labor conditions. In such a situation, increasing the defence budget would be the same as pouring water into a bottomless pot.
Mu Ssang had three personal wishes. One, to live in a han-ock (traditional Koran house) with the Hangrang-chae (separate servants’ quarters) and enjoy meat guk at his leisure. Two, to fill up the sarangbang (reception room for male guests) with ten thousand books and read them at his leisure. And finally, cultivating an orchard in the backyard to raise peaches, apples, pears, persimmons, red dates and grapes at his leisure.
All of his wishes were related to the hanok, in other words.
The trauma of getting bitten every night by bedbugs and fleas crawling through the gaps in the walls of the hangrang-chae in the big uncle’s residence (Baekbu-daek) was still haunting him. The door did not even close shut properly in that place back then.
In all honesty, living in a han-ock was not that inconvenient as long as you properly renovated the kitchen and the bathroom, and minimized the potential loss of heat. Actually, there were many advantages to one’s health when living in a han-ock. Not only that but you could easily chat to your neighbors, making it better for you psychologically as well.
A han-ock was poor at handling fire, but Monk Dae-woo said not to worry about that.
The apartment craze that swept across the nation in the mid 70s ended up covering Seoul and other major cities in masses of concrete. The Korean aunties lost their minds at the convenient apartment complexes and as a result, the massive concrete behemoths become the dominant trend in the Korean housing culture.
However, Mu Ssang was not interested in these concrete chicken coops. Staring at these beehive-like apartments always reminded him of the coops back in Sang-han’s family-run poultry farm. A chicken captured within such a cramped space could only do two things – eat the fodder and lay eggs.
Humans could not live like chickens, of course. And according to the theory of Yeong-Gi-Pung-Su as mentioned by Mu Ssang’s teacher, apartment complexes were the absolute worst. You were disconnected from the outside world by all that concrete and were also situated high up in the air, meaning you could not come in contact with earth ki. This prevented you from accepting the elements beneficial to your body.
Mu Ssang sat down on a stone pedestal, the only trace of an ancient tomb left, then looked at the village down below. With the rural village alleyway in the middle, the left side had around twenty or so rural farmsteads, while the right side was his plot of land with its soil laid bare after the land development process was completed.
That 2,200-pyeong plot of land, 36 pyeong larger than the internationally-accepted size for a soccer pitch, sure looked massive from up here. So large, in fact, that he did not have any rebuttal if someone accused him of arrogantly display his wealth.
“Ma, that is the real soccer pitch. The house of the Jangs’ main family can’t even touch its shadow, ma. I’ll build you the biggest house in this country, you’ll see. So you can boast as much to Missus Jang as you want. And I’m going to plant lots of peach trees on the back, too. Please smile again in embarrassment while holding up a peach just like back then.
“But pops isn’t around to tease you, like when he said that peach was as pretty as your butt, ma. So you can tease me instead, saying that peach looks like my ass.”
The scene of his father and mother, laughing and joking around while holding a weirdly-shaped peach, replayed itself so vividly in Mu Ssang’s mind.
[Ssang-ah, you must be ‘ungry, my boy. ‘Ere, ‘ave some.]
An illusory voice filled with love and affection trickled into his hearing. A lone tear traveled down his cheek.
“Master… Master, you said that your time is near. This disciple only believes in you, master. But if you’ve been lying, I’m gonna smack you real good, master. If you don’t want a black eye from your disciple’s fist, you better pull your socks up, master.”
Ja-Mo-Su-Jung-Seon… (The thread in the hands of a kind mother…)
Yu-Ja-Shin-Sang-Ui… (Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy…)
Im-Hang-Mil-Mil-Bong… (Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends…)
Ui-Gong-Ji-Ji-Gui… (Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home…)
Su-Un-Chon-Cho-Sim… (How can my heart as humble as a blade of grass…)
Bo-Deuk-Sam-Chun-Hui? (…Repay your affection as warm as a ray of the Spring sun?)
Mu Ssang’s mother, patching up her son’s socks late into the night under the light of a kerosene lamps… When the young Mu Ssang woke up from his sleep and frowned, her gentle and soft chest enveloped him tightly. Her gentle embrace tore through his heart harder than forged steel.
Mu Ssang quietly recited Meng Jiao’s poem, ‘A Traveler’s Song’, as tears continued to travel down his cheeks.
Mu Ssang immediately called the daemokjang (a skilled carpenter experienced in building timber housing) when the land development was finished to get the estimates for a modernized han-ock. The construction work started in earnest right after. Plots of land where the rural farmhouses were usually built did not often get registered as actual plots of land for houses. They were mostly treated as farmlands or simple forested lands.
Out of the 7,000 pyeong of land, the 5,000 pyeong of farmlands and grasslands were designated as the ‘back garden’, and the remaining 2,000 pyeong in the front was designated as the actual site for the residential house construction. When applying the building-to-land ratio of 40% and the floor area ratio of 80% on the 2000-pyeong plot, the resulting han-ock would have the floor area and the building area of 800 and 1,600 pyeong respectively.
Of course, Mu Ssang was not planning to construct a house that humongous. A Korean han-ock was built upon the foundation of the Buddhist philosophy of ‘Gong’ (emptiness) and Taoist philosophy of ‘Heo’ (void). Rather than ostentatious and flashy, most han-ocks followed the style of simple, unassuming ‘-chaes’ (satellite buildings).
The spacious gap between separate ‘-chaes’was the unique aspect of the Korean han-ock as it embodied its easy-going nature.
Five daemokjangs worked together to come up with a blueprint, and soon, the construction was underway. While each rooms would be independently located, they would still be integrated with the help of the ‘toetmaru’ (a narrow wooden porch running outside rooms) running through them all. Every building was to be placed on top of pedestals, while all the materials would be natural, no artificial stuff. Even iron nails were not to be used unless they were absolutely necessary.
Mu Ssang watched the busy construction site with content. The power of wealth was certainly great. The appearance of the site, with equipment and workers buzzing around like a swarm of bees, kept changing from day to day, from hour to hour. It looked different today compared to yesterday and this afternoon compared to the morning.
“Ma, should I build the Myo-Yeon-Geo (a place with a particularly great view mentioned in Li Bai’s poem, Questions and Answers in the Mountains) and welcome fairies there? Or, should I build a pleasure palace and fill all of its wings with beauties from five oceans and six continents?
“You say I’m a vulgar idiot? My master said that isn’t so, you know. He says that never mind how many there are, I must jump on top of every woman I meet to spread my superior genes around as much as possible. Ma, should I give you a dozen grandsons? Or hundreds of granddaughters? Maybe I shouldn’t care either way and make as many of both as possible? Myo-Yeon-Geo~ Myo-Yeon-Geo~… Indeed, Myo-Yeon-Geo with a wonderful view. Mm! …Wait, Myo-Yeon-Geo?”
Mu Ssang humming along some inane stuff to himself suddenly hardened his expression. He had recalled something buried deep in his memories just now. The thing was, Myo-Yeon-Geo was also a famous gomtang (beef bone stew) diner in the city of Daegu.
Once he was reminded of that, his mind drifted over to the Daedeok restaurant next, which was quickly followed by memories of the In Ae Won.
After purchasing Anjirangyi’s In Ae Won, he had completely forgotten about it. And he also had completely forgotten about An Bae-tae… No, the Abe gang and the fifteen gangsters he had loaded on a plane for a one-way trip to Ombuti.
How could he have forgotten about those vicious, wicked bastards who planned to burn 42 kids alive just to extract the Yamanashi Collection buried below the In Ae Won?!
“Did I get some kind of frontotemporal dementia because of that son of a b*tch’s Soul-Renewing Practice?”
Mu Ssang was somewhat worried. The symptom of such dementia came in the form of a decline in one’s cognitive function. But the symptoms manifesting from a drug overdose would be similar to dissociative amnesia.
He was not drugged, but a silvery needle two handspans long did poke and stir around in his brain dozens of times back then. If Mu Ssang was not an Epidium, he would have gone to meet his maker a long time ago.
The collection of Yamanashi Hanzo, nicknamed the ‘Bae-Geum’ (similar meaning to gold-hungry) General, reputedly included thousands of Goryeo celadons, Joseon White Porcelains, the Royal Seal, various paintings, calligraphic works and books in addition to hundreds of other national treasure-tier cultural works of art.
Mu Ssang bought In Ae Won before going on his business trip to Ituri, and figured that the place was probably empty by now. Monk Bumwoo was not someone who would abandon a bunch of kids in a space clouded by a ghastly aura, after all.
“I heard that more antiques have been taken to Japan than left in Korea…”
Mu Ssang was not all that interested in divine artifacts. He did not even pay attention to all those diamonds rolling around the Hollow Earth like some common pebbles too. He certainly was not greedy about things like this, but even he understood that cultural works of art could not be left forgotten and rotting in some weird space.
The problem was the seals, though. He knew nothing about sealing techniques.
Mu Ssang heard the sounds of a car’s engine. He emerged from his thoughts and glanced below the alley to spot two women kitted out in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) stepping outside a taxi. The two began walking up the alley toward him.
“Mm? What is the Sun Woo Bang Na mother-and-daughter duo doing here?”
The Dimensional Sight read one’s unique brainwaves instead of seeing one’s outer appearance. As such, Mu Ssang would never mistake a person for someone else as long as he had read their brainwaves once before.
Auras that were neither clean nor impure belonged to real shamans and exorcists. The chill-inducing aura came from Sun Woo Bang Na, while the coarser aura came from Sun Woo Ma Go.
“Oh, great god. Have health and prosperity been blessing you, sir? This girl would like to offer her greetings.”
Sun Woo Bang Na, who outwardly looked thirty-something years old, did not even give herself time to wipe the beads of sweat on her forehead before quickly prostrating on the ground. This eighty-something grandma sure was outgoing, wasn’t she?
“Hooray, hooray, one thousand cheers! I pay respect to the benefactor, oh the divine man.”
Sun Woo Ma Go, looking like a grandma of over sixty years old, greeted Mu Ssang behind her mother using a rather grandiose ceremonial gesture. Despite being a mother and daughter, she still displayed the strict behavior of a priestess.
Mu Ssang hurriedly waved his hands in embarrassment. “Hurry and stand up, both of you. Why are you prostrating on the ground and making such a fuss? Are you trying to ruin your nice dresses or something?”
“We are grateful for your kindness, oh great god.”
Two mudangs (shamaness) seemingly reversed back up while fixing their clothes.
“Are you taking care of father well?”
“There’s no need to worry, sir. Every day, the daughter offers her prayers and with the aid of the Cavern Spying Technique, she confirms the grave’s intactness. He’s resting in peace, so please do not worry, sir.” Ma Go – Sun Woo Ma Go – bowed so low that it seemed like her back was about to snap in half.
“I’m grateful. But what brings you two here?”
Mu Ssang was getting nasty goosebumps from the over-the-top respect two women showered him with. And they were old enough to be his grandmother and great-grandmother, too! However, he decided to let it slide. In the world of mudangs, one’s place in the pecking order was strictly based on the rank of the divine spirit in their physical being.
“One month ago, Great Ancestor Jeon Woo-chi has descended on this plain, sir.”
“Descended? Was it a possession, then?”
People often used ‘descent’ and ‘bing-ui’ (taken over by spirit) interchangeably, but those two terms were not the same. For one, the ‘descent’ meant a state of one’s physical body forcibly taken over by a deity, while ‘bing-ui’ was when one simply lost the control of one’s body after some random evil spirit had taken over it. The possession referred to the ‘descent’ in this case, and when it happened, the host’s ego would coexist along with that of the deity’s will.
“Yes, that was indeed so, sir. The Great Ancestor led this girl high up in the heavens to cross great oceans and endless mountain ranges. Then, past a vast desert where winds of sand blanketed the heaven and earth, we reached a plateau with strange rocks and deep valleys.
“We witnessed a young, verdant land in the center of this infinite desert. Groundwater swelled from various places in this blessed land with dense foliage.”
“How can that be!”
“Suddenly, the heavens rang and the earth rumbled below us. A great soul revealed himself and walked barefoot on the lake. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life prostrated and cried out [Dubaiburupa’s glory be eternal!]
“Earnestness and the unshakeable faith contained in the cries of their souls stunned the Great Ancestor. The shock caused him to lose his spiritual power and fall. This girl woke up from this vision and immediately realized that the great soul was you, oh great god.”
‘Holy cow. At this rate, I’m gonna develop involuntary convulsion at the mere mention of “glory be eternal”. I heard that Jeon Woo-chi showed up in the royal palace and ran amok there while still alive, but why the hell did he have to show up in the middle of the Sahara when there’s nothing for him to leech off there?’ Mu Ssang complained bitterly in his head.
“At the end of the deliberation, this girl finally understood the intent of the Great Ancestor. He wants this girl to serve you, oh great god.”
‘What kind of a situation am I in now?’ Mu Ssang’s wide-open eyes were now staring straight at Sun Woo Bang Na.
“Please take pity on this girl, sir. Going against the command of the deity in one’s body will cause a mudang’s soul to be destroyed. Please, I beg for your benevolence!”
The Sun Woo Bang Na mother-and-daughter duo bowed again and again like a pair of long-headed grasshoppers.
“Huh! Well, I’ll be damned. Do you want me to chase Jeon Woo-chi out of you, then?” Mu Ssang jokingly asked them.
“Ack! Lord Jeon Woo-chi is this girl’s great ancestor, sir. Please grant us your mercy, sir!” The Sun Woo Bang Na mother-and-daughter duo became visibly spooked.
“…The world you have seen by awakening your soul’s eye was actually the Sahara desert. The densely verdant land is the country I have founded called Novatopia.
“That land is incomparably rougher and harder than South Korea. A land where all sorts of people abandoned by the rest of the world gather to build a foundation for their new lives. Are you willing to discard the comfort and convenience to happily embrace the hardship?”
“Oh, oooh! Oh, the great and noble divine man! This girl will happily follow your will, sir.” Sun Woo Bang Na prostrated as if she was crumbling down.
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“In that case, I now acknowledge you as my family. You and Ma Go shall now receive my divine artifact.”
“Hooray, hooray, one thousand cheers!”
The Sun Woo Bang Na mother-and-daughter duo went down to their knees.
They said that practice makes perfect – Mu Ssang had gotten pretty good at acting like a cult leader by now. Not much he could do about it, though.
Besides, the shamanism had to walk the shamanism’s path. If things were tough within the country’s borders, then it did not seem like such a bad idea to open up the path of Korean shamanism in Africa. In a way, this was a form of ‘cultural export’..
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