401 book translation project: Mr Kim’s house

  • Written in Korean by Suk Yong Kwak, 1970’s, Korean Journal, Toronto
  • Translated by Ok Ryong Kwak and June Kwak


Mr Kim’s house is in the downtown area of a city, a short drive from Toronto.

Within 10 minutes of his house, you can get to a large department store or Chinese restaurant. In the stretch between his house and the department store there are more than 10 bars. On the outskirts of the city there is a car manufacturing plant and several other companies. Unless you work or study at the university, most people work at the car manufacturing company. The work is hard, but after 4 or 5 years you can come to Toronto and buy a store and some people move to that city from Toronto to work. Tough strong men go there with the goal to make a certain amount money. People who have worked there many years, now own houses and live a comfortable life. From their houses, if you drive 10 minutes, you are surrounded by farm land and quiet beautiful country side where people walk with no hurry in their steps.

Mr Kim’s house is a small brick house that is divided into front and back living areas. He lives in the back with one bedroom, living room and kitchen with a basement that is shared. Five years ago, the rent was $15/week and people who just arrived in the city would live there for a short periods of time.


It’s similar to Toronto’s Bloor Street area. Even if you go out late at night, the people living in the front of the house are not bothered. Beside a stepping stone pathway there is a lawn and garden and at the end of the lawn are two huge maple trees. Maybe because the house address number is 389, (a lucky combination in a Korean card game,) it’s called the lucky house and there are some stories that support that name.

Within just five years there have been many people who have immigrated alone. In that house, after two or three weeks or sometimes four or five months living there, renters found an apartment to move into. In that room, there have been more than 10 Korean renters. One year in autumn, in mid November, one bachelor on the way back from the outskirts of town saw a frost covered farm field with unharvested Korean cabbage and Korean radish and he asked the farmer if he could take some and he returned with friends and picked five garbage bags full of cabbage and radish. They were discussing where they would make kimchi, and chose Mr Kim’s house. Since the weather was mild, the cabbage and radish were caked with mud. Four men were busy washing five garbage bags full of cabbage and radish in the bath tub. The owner from the front half of the house came to see what all the commotion was about and he was alarmed to see the water running like a fire hose and became concerned about the water bill and the possibility of the pipes becoming clogged, and he said he would be charging $10 extra. They washed the vegetables for half a day on Saturday and left the rest for Sunday. Since then whenever they made kimchi, the owner demanded that they pay extra rent.


Even though the cabbage and radish were free, in the end the kimchi was expensive.

In this house, they sometimes have weekend parties with Korean card games and whoever is renting this house tends to be the winner. That’s why it became a house rule for the host to provide one bottle of whisky. Also, the renter of this house gets a better job and in the job a better position and for some single men, they get married easily and for those waiting for their fiancee, the trip across the Pacific happens swiftly. That is why it’s called the lucky house. Besides that there is one rumour among the wives and fiancees of the renters. This story changes depending on who is listening to it, the writer might stray far from the truth, but the story goes like this… Over a two year span, there had been 10 people who rented that house and the next renter was a man who worked for car assembly plant whose specialty was springs. He had a build like a wrestler and deep voice, but his mind and heart were like silk; he was a very kind and sensitive man. Here, we call him Mr Spring. One autumn night, it was pouring rain, Mr Spring had showered and was preparing supper


when someone knocked on the door. It was not even the weekend, and he had no appointment with anyone, but he opened the door to find a woman there soaked to the bone, with a high-bridged nose and dark hair and average height, a western woman. She said in Korean, “Mr Kim? Is he in?” This big man Mr Spring, whose family name is Kim, said “Yes, my name is Mr Kim.” but he was then at a loss for words. That girl put one foot into the house and presented a wrapped parcel. It was an apple pie, still hot. He offered her a towel to dry off and a hot cup of tea and she said she liked insam tea. They talked about half an hour and he learned her name was Jane; she lived not far from there; she had just come back from Montreal after a two month stay and she immigrated to Canada from Hungary when she was young. The renter has changed? After having tea and apple pie, Mr Spring felt like he was in a dream and he could not sleep well that night. The next day, after work and running errands, he came back home and found lights on and cooking aromas coming from his place.  In a small pot there was rice cooked and in the washroom, his underwear was washed and hung up to dry and his bed was neatly made. Mr Spring went to the basement to see if anyone was there, but on the dinner table, he found a note that said, “Mr Kim, Sorry.” He was annoyed and agitated.



He was not making much money and how much should be given to this woman as house cleaner? His only thought was of his fiancee in Korea and what she would think. Talking to himself, he twice called out his fiancee’s name. He checked his closet and under his bed and searched his house for the woman. He tried to sleep but he felt as if the wet woman in the rain was going to creep in from the dark and could not sleep that night. The first night they met was Thursday night, on Friday she cooked rice and washed his underwear and on Saturday he worked overtime and after two nights of not sleeping he was feeling exhausted and if she showed up there he was going to tell her off. It was too early to report to the police and maybe too much trouble and he could not explain yet to the owner, so he was left to wait for her to return. He was angry, but also in a way expectant for her to show up.

This is the story of Mr Spring. With his story I wonder about the lady in two ways. One, what is the her role and since when has she come in and out of this house? Who started to bring her into this house; who is this Mr. Kim? The owner of the house, do they know about it? Why did she not come that weekend? In that house, there have been 10 people. He tried to call previous renters and was met with a awkward laughs but they don’t know. Mr Kim who lived there two years ago for two weeks and now lives in LA, is he the Mr Kim? After that there is no Mr Kim. The man who was


there the longest was Mr Headlight and he’s not that kind of person. Mr Door who lived there for three weeks, now lives in Chicago and he cannot contact him. The most probable one was Mr Engine who was often in Toronto dating and he got married quickly. The one who lives in Toronto now, Mr Bumper, he is well known as a stingy person and doesn’t even drink a drop of alcohol so it would not be him.

The only thing in common to all these men whether single or married was that they were all living alone and each one added a tool to the kitchen utensil collection at the house making it a handy place to start out and strangely there were no gatherings on a Thursday night.

Then that rain soaked woman came to that door, with a high nose, with dark hair from Hungary, Jane, who is she who knows how to cook rice in a pot and likes insam tea, and she remembers the tea name, not just from hearing from other people or reading a book, she must have come there often and had a key to the room. She even made an apple pie so she must have had a deeper relationship with one of these men. But it’s hard to inquire about this woman because the former renters may have had a fiancee or wife across the Pacific Ocean yet out of loneliness during the long wait with no birthday party or housewarming party or other social


gatherings, may have gone to a bar and met this girl. He may have drank too much and this woman brought him to his house. Whatever the beginning was she came to this house often. It is certain that she liked Korean men. She could have been single or divorced or a single mother living with a family or alone and in the daytime working at a job.

So how did you come to resolve this situation, Mr Kim? At that question, he laughs half-heartedly. He had got a small chocolate box and wrapped it up with a card and left it on the table and following Thursday it was gone and the house was clean and in the place of the chocolate box there were a few chrysanthemums in a glass of water and a note, “Thank you Mr Kim, Jane.” What did Mr Spring write? He smiled and said, “Jane, I don’t know you well, but thank you for apple pie and cleaning and cooking rice. I am sorry but I am going to change the lock.” he said very decisively.

Recently, I heard that beside Mr. Kim’s lucky house 389, a big apartment building was going to be built and they would need the land to expand the parking lot and that house would be demolished. The only remnants of that property are the maple trees with the girth of three to four arm spans, standing there lonely.

June Written by:


  1. Avatar
    Pamela Kohlenberg
    August 5, 2018

    Such a lovely story! Thank you for sharing it June.

    • June
      August 5, 2018

      Thanks Pam!

  2. Avatar
    May 9, 2020

    Love those stories…maybe posing more questions than answers.

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