La Dolce Vita

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Mi-Kyung Shin’s short story “La Dolce Vita” appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of MQR.

The summer I was on the cusp of adulthood, I got a tempting proposal: in return for babysitting Professor Rhee’s seven-year-old daughter, I could participate in the July Intercollegiate Music Camp free of charge. I was then a sophomore in the violin department at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. I tutored children at a junior music academy. I stacked books and hounded students for late fees at the college library. I waited tables at TGIF, wearing bunny ears and radiant smiles that gave me spasms in the jaw. Even after all that work I was perpetually broke, and I simply couldn’t afford the expensive camp. So when Professor Rhee laid out her offer, I didn’t need to think for long.

The camp took place in the bucolic township of Yongpyong, a three-hour bus ride east of Seoul. Twenty professors from top conservatories convened at Alpine Valley Hotel with their flocks of protégés numbering about a hundred in all, predominantly girls. Over the next two weeks, we were to learn from the venerated masters and perform in the concerts held every other evening in the hotel’s grand banquet hall. Mrs. Rhee, the queen regnant of the classical music world in Korea and my principal mentor at SIA, arrived in a black Porsche Cayenne with her husband, a retired pediatrician of great wealth, and Mirim, their seven-year-old daughter. The girl had dung-beetle eyes, big and oppressively black, and her mother’s high nose with nostrils more slits than circles. Her thin pale lips seesawed as she jabbered, giving the impression of constant snickering. Dr. Rhee’s features came through most visibly in Mirim’s heart-shaped face, marked by her widow’s peak and plump cheeks that tapered sharply into a pointy chin.

The more openly doting of her parents was the father. Dr. Rhee was a gentleman quite a bit older than Mrs. Rhee, probably in his late fifties, with a shock of white hair and a handsome paunch. He wore ironed chino pants and bright golf shirts, read historical novels at the hotel café, and attended our concerts in a dapper linen suit with a fountain pen clipped to the breast pocket. I liked Dr. Rhee. He was warm and decorous, always addressing me, “Ah, Ms. Yoon,” rather than as Nara. At times I imagined having a father like Dr. Rhee and grew wistful….

Purchase MQR 58:3 or consider a one-year subscription to read more. Mi-Kyung Shin’s short story “La Dolce Vita” appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of MQR.