Excerpts from The Daily Lives of Sungkyunkwan Scholars

성균관 유생들의 나날 | The Daily Lives of Sungkyunkwan Scholars (Excerpts)

Original text by 정은궐

(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation. Please note that I am still learning Korean and cannot guarantee translation accuracy.)


  • PART I: The Female Scholar
  • PART II: Initiation Ceremony
  • PART III: Master Daemul
  • PART IV: Hibiscus
  • PART V: Jangchigi Tournament

PART I: The Female Scholar

Sunjoon brought out a small box from his pack and set it in front of Yoonhee. Inside it were  several rice cakes and pieces of taffy, each one wrapped in a leaf so they could be easily eaten.

“What’s this?”

“Quickly now, have some before the exam starts. You seemed to be quite anxious last time so I thought to bring them. Keep them inside your mouth and the nervousness will subside.”

Yoonhee simply stared, not eating, until Sunjoon himself unwrapped a rice cake and brought it to her lips.

Reluctantly, she bit into the rice cake that he held.

“It’s delicious.”

“My family has very good cooks.” Sunjoon smiled.

“It is more so because your care is mixed into it,” Yoonhee blurted. “But why are you being so kind to me? We’ve only known each other since the day before yesterday.”

She asked this with the faintest shred of hope. A hope that perhaps he had discovered that she was a girl and was acting like this because he liked her. But Sunjoon answered quite differently.

“I was happy to make a good friend,” he said seriously. “I also stopped going to Academy a while ago so I don’t have very many friends. But the day before yesterday when I glanced at your exam paper I realized I wanted to know you better.”

“You embarrass me. It was nothing remarkable. And speak for yourself, you’re so accomplished that even I — a man — would find myself falling for you!”

“No need for you — a man — to fall for me,” Sunjoon chuckled. “I’d be grateful if we could simply be good friends.”

For some reason, his smile and words pierced a corner of her heart. Hiding her expression, she reached for a piece of taffy and, discarding the leaf wrapping, put it in her mouth. Then, thinking of her younger brother and mother, she closed the lid on the box and carefully put it aside. Sunjoon saw her but pretended not to notice as he turned away and started rubbing ink onto his ink stone.


The first time Sunjoon and Yoonhee speak to Jaeshin, after Yoonhee is assaulted in the streets and Jaeshin rescues her. (p. 80-82).

“Unhand him!”

His voice was cold, and yet, it did not feel so. Soondol hung a ways back, unable to come any closer because of Sunjoon’s frightening expression. Even the fearsome Soondol appeared to be afraid of him.

Sunjoon lifted Yoonhee’s face. Half of her face was red and swollen, her lips stained with the blood dribbling profusely from her mouth. His hand caressed her swollen face, and brushing her lips, he wiped away the blood. The places where his hand touched her burned more than her injuries.

“What the hell, so you already have a lover? Aish. What a waste of time.”

Yoonhee turned her head towards the grumbling voice. The man who had helped her was leaning against a wall with difficulty. She rushed over to his side and sat beside him.

“Are you all right?”

He couldn’t even retort back. Shocked at the blood flowing from his arm, she quickly pulled out a handkerchief from her sleeve. She had embroidered it with a lingzhi mushroom and given it to Yoonshik as a gift, as a way of wishing him long life, but somehow she had come to use it herself.

“I thought you only looked like a woman, but you’re going around carrying a handkerchief too.”

Ignoring his sarcastic tone, Yoonhee bandaged his bleeding arm. He staggered to his feet without a word and looked at Sunjoon. Sunjoon approached him and bowed in greeting.

He snorted and said, as though in a bad mood, “Your looks, expression, movement – it’s seriously disgusting.”

Sunjoon’s expression remained placid. Solicitously, in a tone of respect, he said, “You are gravely injured. If you are not treated quickly… ”

“I’ll take care of it!”

Still staggering, he began to stumble away in the direction he had come from. Sunjoon followed him and spoke again.

“I am indebted to you. Please tell me how I may repay you.”

He stopped walking suddenly. And, with his back still turned away, he said, “Stop making me talk to you. And don’t show your disgusting face in front of me ever again. That’s how you can repay me.”

“Have I perhaps upset you in some way?”

“Repay me!”

Saying that them not talking to him was repayment enough, the man shook them all off and disappeared.


Sunjoon: “Each person carries the burden of his own life upon his chest. How much this burden weighs depends on each person as well. Being young does not necessitate carrying a lighter burden than one who is old; therefore it does not mean you should not shed tears.”

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