“the sound evoked peaceful sorrow or sorrowful peace…
with the regular beat of the safety, the solidity, the unbroken guard…”
The sound of Dadeumi. The regular beat of a pair of wooden bats pounding the folded fabric overlaid on the sturdy stone, a way of ironing unique to Korea popular in the 17-18 century.
I often think that I might be the last generation holding some specific sensory memories related to the things disappearing over time in my culture. Dadeumi must have gone even before my elementary school years in most of my country. When I visited my paternal grandmother’s house far south of the Korean peninsula during the summer, there was a Dadeumi, the stone base and two wooden bats in the small corner room. I don’t remember if I saw anyone actually doing it, but I heard the sound of Dadeumi occasionally. The rhythmic beating sound in the early evening evoked some kind of peaceful sorrow or sorrowful peace, putting me into study sleep. The beautiful sound generated by the everyday chore of women in the past generation, metaphorically related to a woman waiting for her husband’s return home late at night. I can still clearly hear the regular beat, almost felt like the weightless sound of the cautious longing of a woman dissolved in her demanding labor.
It must have been a small world to the women back then, like the moon’s orbit around the earth compared to the other stars. I wonder what she must have thought, felt, and not felt, when she beat the clothes of her husband, in-laws, children, draped over the smooth stone with the bats for the long hours. The palms must have gotten red and sore when she picked up this chore for the first time. Then, her hands got tougher over the years of her housework, showing some calluses that hardened many things in her life. I wonder if her shoulders got stronger or ached more over time with this work.
There is a unique word in Korean, which is untranslatable in any other language, “Haan”, I think it was the strong desire for a life that was unlived by all these women, reduced by the cultural circumstance in their lives. It is sad but beautiful because they took this path with pride and tried to live this term given to them as best they could, even though their unfulfilled lives solidified somewhere inside, generating the ringing sound that made the listener gaze long into the empty space or on the verge of tears with no particular reason. But the regular beat always brought the safety, the solidity, the unbroken guard of the life that our past women held for their family, sacrificing all the desires of tasting, drinking, gulping down their own lives.
Sometimes, I close my eyes groping back for the beautiful sound of Dadeumi, and feel lucky that I can only imagine this sound now with a little glitter of nostalgia over the things gone forever. The stars had burst to all directions of the universe, including the little moons in every household of the past.
<June 5th, 2019>