This doesn't mean that I spent all my time roaming the hills and meadows and playing. I also worked hard helping my older brother run the farm. On a farm there are many tasks that must
be done during a particular season. The rice paddies and fields need to be plowed. Rice seedlings need to be transplanted and weeds need to be pulled. When pulling weeds, the most difficult task was to weed a field of millet. After the seeds are planted, the furrows need to be weeded at least three times, and this is backbreaking work. When we were finished, we couldn't straighten our backs for a while. Sweet potatoes don't taste very good if they are planted in clay. They need to be planted in a mixture of one third clay and two thirds sand if they are going to produce the best tasting sweet potatoes. By helping out on the farm, I learned what was needed to make beans and grow well, what kind of soil was best for soybeans and what soil was best for red beans. I am the farmer among farmers.
To transplant rice seedlings, we would take a pole with 12 equally-spaced markings to indicate where the rows would go, and lay it across the width of the paddy. Then two people would move along the pole, each planting six rows of seedlings. Later, when I came to the southern part of Korea, I saw that they would put a string across the paddy and have dozens of people splashing around in there, ft seemed like a very inefficient way of doing it I would spread my legs to twice the width of my shoulders so I could plant the seedlings more quickly, and this was how I was able to earn enough money during the rice planting season to at least cover my own tuition.
When I turned ten, my father had me attend a traditional school in our village where an old man taught the Chinese classics. At this school, all we had to do was memorize one booklet each day. I would focus myself, and complete the memorization in a half hour. If I could stand in front of the schoolmaster and recite that day's lesson, then I was finished for the day. If the schoolmaster dozed off in the early afternoon, I would leave the school and go into the hills and meadows. The more time I spent in the hills the more I knew where to find edible plants. Eventually, I was eating enough of these plants that I could go without lunch, and I stopped eating lunch at home.
At school, we read the Analects of Confucius and the works of Mencius, and we were taught Chinese characters. I excelled at writing, and by the time I was twelve the schoolmaster had me making the model characters that other students would learn from. Actually, though, I wanted to attend a formal school, not the traditional village school. I felt I shouldn't be just memorizing Confucius and Mencius when others were building airplanes. This was April, and my father had already paid my full year's tuition in advance. Even though I knew this, I decided to quit the village school and worked to convince my father to send me to a formal school. I worked on convincing my grandfather, and even my uncle. To transfer into elementary school, I had to take an exam. To study for this exam, I had to attend a preparatory school. I convinced one of my younger cousins to go with me, and we both entered the Wonbong Preparatory School and began my studies for the exam to transfer into elementary school.
The next year, when I was 14,1 passed the exam and transferred into the third grade at Osan School. I had a late start, but I studied hard and was able to skip the fifth grade. Osan School was 20 li (8 km) from our home, but I never missed a day or was ever late for school. Each time I would climb a hill in the road, a group of students would be waiting for me. I would walk so quickly, though, that they would have a hard time keeping up. This is how I traveled that mountain road that was rumored to be place where tigers sometimes appeared.
The Osan School was a nationalist school established by Yi Sunghun, who was active in the independence movement. Not only was Japanese language not taught but students were actually forbidden to speak Japanese. I had a different opinion on this. I felt that we had to know japan if we were to defeat it. So I took another transfer exam and entered the fourth grade of the Jungju Public Normal School. In public schools, all classes were conducted in Japanese, and so I memorized katakana and hiragana the night before my first day of class. I didn't know any Japanese, so I took all the textbooks from grades one through four and memorized them over the course of two weeks. Then, finally, I began to be able to understand the language.
By the time I graduated from the public normal school, I was fluent in Japanese. On the day of my graduation, I volunteered to give a speech
before a gathering of all the important people in Jungju. Normally in that situation, the student would be expected to speak about his gratitude for the support he received from his teachers and the school. Instead, I referred to each of my teachers by name and critiqued them, and then pointed out problems in the way the school was being run. Then I spoke on the kind of determination that people in responsible positions should make at that time in history. I gave this rather critical speech all in Japanese.
"Japanese people should pack their bags as soon as possible and go back to Japan" I said. "This land was handed down to us by our ancestors, and all the future generations of our people must live here."
I said these things in front of the chief of police, the county chief and town mayor. I was taking after the spirit of Grand Uncle Yun Guk and saying things that no one else dared say. The audience was shocked. When I came down off the stage, I could see their faces had turned pale. Nothing happened to me that day, but there were problems later on. From that day, the Japanese police marked me as a person who needed to be tracked, and began watching me and making a nuisance of themselves to me. Later, when I was trying to go to Japan to continue my studies, the chief of police refused to place his stamp on a form that I needed, and this caused me some trouble. He regarded me as a dangerous person who should not be allowed to travel to Japan, and refused to stamp the form for me. I had a big argument with him, and finally convinced him to put his stamp on the form. Only then could I go to Japan.