Life, Once Again! - Chapter 753
“Hey, Hyungseok, this guy’s your colleague.”
Hyungseok looked at the man standing in front of the corporal. The first thing he saw was the cap with a flat visor. Under the visor were eyes that awkwardly looked around the room. Hyungseok instantly realized that he was a comrade in the same position as him.
He spent the first day with his breath abated. He couldn’t sleep during the night when a senior told him that he would kill him if he snored. The sudden appearance of a colleague that appeared after the first night was a ray of light to him. The clumsy-looking expression and the eyes that couldn’t stay in one place. Just the fact that there was one more person who hadn’t adjusted to this desolate environment gave him a sense of relief.
“Joonsoo, you came here two days earlier than him, so teach him the basics.”
His voice was energetic. Hyungseok followed Joonsoo and climbed down to the first floor of the building with his boots. He turned around to the left, went behind the building, and saw some people smoking. A man who was holding a shovel between his arm and his flank while smoking suddenly saluted. Hyungseok looked behind him. There was no way that salute was directed at him, so he wondered if there was a staff behind him.
When he looked behind, he saw no one there. Hyungseok turned his head to the front. The man who saluted giggled as though he found something extremely interesting. Hyungseok thought that the man saluted him to tease him.
“Corporal Park Jinjoo, may we clean our boots here?” asked Joonsoo.
A man was named Jinjoo…. Hyungseok stared at Jinjoo and his group who left after saying that they could before crouching down.
“I thought I didn’t have any colleagues. How fortunate.”
Joonsoo smiled with a big grin. Hyungseok also smiled.
“I came here just yesterday, so I was also worried because I didn’t see any colleagues.”
“In our base, we count colleagues by the month, so as long as other people enter by the end of this month, it’ll mean that they’ll be our colleagues as well. For now, you and I are the only colleagues in Signals, but if we expand to other platoons like Geodesy and transport, there’s about 9.”
“There are seven more?”
“Yeah. I’ll introduce them to you later. Even if you’re in different platoons, you can drop the honorifics if they’re colleagues. Also, everything to the left of the administration office is, us, HQ and to the right is Alfa company. People from different companies are practically ahjussi, so you can just call them that. Don’t end up saluting them or something. Right now, you might not be able to differentiate them because you don’t know everyone’s faces, but it should be easy for you to know who belongs where.”
“I see. Oh, I heard yesterday that I must learn who everyone in the company is. Is that true?”
“Yep. You have to learn the faces of all the seniors and know who’s your colleague.”
“How many people are there in our company?”
“When am I going to learn them all?”
“It doesn’t take that long. There’s a guy called Han Maru among our direct seniors, right? He learned them all in just two days.”
Han Maru, this name came up again. Hyungseok heard this name many times yesterday. The thing he heard the most was ‘just do as well as Han Maru’.
“Did this Han Maru do well?”
“You bet. That dude didn’t seem like a new recruit. He seemed like a veteran. Thanks to that, the seniors really like Han Maru even though it’s only been a month since he came here. He’s really good after all.”
While listening, Hyungseok perked his head up and looked around like a meerkat. He knew that they would get in trouble if the seniors found out that they were addressing their senior with something like ‘that dude’ or simply by name.
“Anyway, isn’t the wired comms squad leader kinda shitty?”
“Who’s the wired comms squad leader?”
“The one who’s ridiculously tall. His name is Kim Soonyeol.”
Hyungseok recalled the man who took the wired comms squad to dinner. He remembered how that person bumped his shoulder on his way out. That dude was really cocky.
“He definitely doesn’t have a good first impression.”
“Right? He’s not good. Also, there’s Yang Byungjo! He’s the boss of wireless, and he looks like a frigging toad. You know who I mean, right?”
Hyungseok realized who Joonsoo was referring to as soon as he heard the word ‘toad’. It was the person who chewed the privates and private first classes during roll call. Hyungseok was also very tense back then, so he listened to that person carefully.
“I remember him.”
“Isn’t he really ugly?”
“Hey, it’s only the two of us here, so there’s no need to hold back. This is just how the military works. When you’re with a colleague, you should be at ease, and in front of seniors, you do what they say. Alright?”
“Is that how it is?”
“That’s right. Also, there’s a really funny guy among the private first classes….”
After that, Joonsoo’s backtalk about the Signals platoon continued for a long time.
* * *
Hyunseok sat down upright in front of the cleaning shed. He had to wear a yellow epaulet for a week, and Han Maru told him that he would be exempt from work and cleaning during that time. He was reading a booklet about basic military rules and information regarding the base, and it soon became 5 p.m. The platoon members who had gone out for base maintenance returned smelling like grass and dirt.
“Man, new guy has it good. He doesn’t even do work.”
“Fuck, I wanna be a private too.”
The seniors who returned to the room all commented. Hyungseok felt like he was in the middle of the arctic. He stood up and thanked them for their work repeatedly.
“Get changed, and let’s get food at half-past five. Also, Hyungseok.”
“Private Lee Hyungseok!”
“Did you watch the house well?”
“Did you read the things they gave you to read?”
“Yes, I have!”
“Alright, that’s how you’re gonna spend the rest of the week. If you don’t know anything, you can ask the privates and private first classes. Don’t foolishly talk to a corporal.”
“Nice answer at least. Joochul.”
The man sitting to Hyungseok’s left replied,
“Private first class Lee Joochul!”
“Teach him artillery numbers and the countersign, as well as the army songs. Well then, we should hold an introduction for the new recruit, right?”
An introduction? Hyungseok looked at the members of the platoon chuckling. If it was an introduction, he had one yesterday. He felt uneasy. The eyes of the platoon all looked at him. Those gazes increased his anxiety even further. Come in, said the wireless comms squad leader.
The firmly shut door opened and Joonsoo appeared. Hyungseok wondered if Joonsoo didn’t get an introduction. Just then, Joonsoo rolled forward before standing in front of the wireless comms squad leader. The two were close enough that their breaths would reach each other.
When he witnessed that scene, Hyungseok was reminded of a post that he enjoyed reading from a community for funny stuff. The story was about a super high ranking senior deceiving a new recruit that just got stationed. It only took moments for his predictions to become a reality and for his anxiety to turn into fright.
Joonsoo went behind the squad leader before jumping onto his back.
“Private Lim Joonsoo! I’m a private, so I’m gonna fool around all day!”
Hyungseok was unable to say anything. A corporal walked towards an empty locker and flipped the name tag, which was flipped front-side back before. Sergeant Lim Joonsoo. Joonsoo put on a discharge cap with the visor that had been bent practically into a circle.
“Hyungseok, this is the Soonyeol with a terrible personality. He’s the wired comms squad leader. Soonyeol, Hyungseok said that you didn’t leave a good impression.”
“Fuck it. Do you want me to act like how I look?” Soonyeol said while frowning.
“And our cutie Byungjo! Byungjo, Hyungseok said you look like a toad.”
“Is that so? Yoon Hyungseok. I hope you can get along with a toad.”
The conversation that occurred after that did not enter Hyungseok’s ears. His mind was filled with the wish for the apocalypse to come tomorrow.
* * *
“I’ll bring Hyungseok and clean our boots.”
Maru pointed his chin outside. Hyungseok looked at the seniors before picking up his boots and going to the back of the building. Was he going to get scolded? Or maybe even beaten? Today was just the worst. Ever since he realized that he was deceived by a sergeant, he was greeted with displeased gazes from the corporals and sergeants as well as sharp words that pricked him. He couldn’t remember how many times he heard the word ‘brain’ today. He felt like there had to be a substance in the military air that lowered people’s intelligence. Even he could tell that it was a really flawed prank now that he looked back at it, yet he was deceived like a complete fool. He found himself despicable for letting his guard down.
“They didn’t do that out of malicious intent, so don’t let it get you,” Maru said as he scrubbed his boots.
No malicious intent. Hyungseok couldn’t believe that. The entire platoon was filled with people born or created from malicious intent. Everyone was out to get him, so it didn’t make sense that they didn’t do it out of malice.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Of course, there are lunatics who are crazy enough to commit murder in this world, so I can’t say that there aren’t any crazy people, but there are rarely any people who truly wish for your doom when you’re supposed to be living with them for the foreseeable future. You might feel like the world is ending and that the seniors are like grim reapers, but that will only last for a brief time. This is a place where people live, not other things. You’re bound to adjust in a few days.”
These were the first affectionate words he heard after entering the Signals platoon. Hyungseok almost opened up his heart but became tense again after remembering what the sergeant did to him.
“That’s it. That’s the attitude. For the time being, you should be nervous and listen carefully when the seniors tell you something. You’ll receive a lot of stress. It’ll be quite hard too. Don’t even start mentioning annoyance. But do it anyway. Do what they tell you to do. If you keep doing the things you’re ordered to do and calmly do them, you can change the traditions you don’t like once you become a senior.”
“Once I become a senior?”
“I’m telling you to do that if you have the will to do so when there are four bricks on your head. Even if you think things are unjust, nothing changes. Why? Because they went through the same thing. All of them got sworn at, so they would hardly want to change that for the better at this point. If you don’t like this treatment and want to treat the new recruits better, then you change it after you become a senior. Sacrifice isn’t something you force others to do; it is something you do yourself.”
Hyungseok nodded subconsciously as he looked at Maru from the side. That was easy to understand. Was it a rumor that the direct senior was the scariest? He got a feeling that this person was kinder than anyone and acted for his junior’s best interests.
“Also, two more things. If you think ‘is it okay to do this?’, then it isn’t. If you think ‘should I do this?’, then you should. You gotta learn to differentiate between these two. Above all, if you think you should be the one to do something, then the first thing you should do is step out. If you get caught by the seniors looking around foolishly at the back, they will start bullying you with real malice. Until you take off the chick epaulet, they’ll just be teasing you. That’s how they probe you out: what kind of person is our new recruit? Alright?”
Hyungseok dusted off the toes of his boots with a brush. This senior was giving him golden advice. He regained his calm and smiled.
“But I’m glad that you’re treating me well, private Han Maru. I thought no one was on my side in this platoon….”
Maru, who was next to him, picked up his boots and stood up. Hyungseok looked up at him.
“Hyungseok, the reason I’m telling you all this is not because I’m kind nor because I’ve taken a liking to you. It’s because if you get chewed by the seniors, I’ll get smashed.”
Maru’s eyes turned scary. Hyungseok understood what Maru meant before when he said something about how the seniors held no malice. Those eyes were what malice was.
“If you make a mistake among the things I taught you and you get chewed by the seniors, consequently giving me damage as well, I will take my time to teach you why the military is shitty, why the clock in the ministry of defense turns backwards, and above all, how shitty this guy named Han Maru can act, so I hope you can keep that in mind. Let’s not make mistakes among the things I taught you, alright?”
“Y-yes. I-I will not make a mistake.”
“Alright. I have faith that you will do well, Hyungseok.”
Hyungseok abruptly stood up with his boots. The chewing from the platoon members was cute in comparison. The demon lord of fear was right next to him. Maru turned around after taking the first step on the staircase and spoke,
“I’m in a terrible psychological state right now because I’ve recently lost the person that was my raison d’être. So I hope we can keep things peaceful. That should be better for you too.”
“I will do my best!”
Hyungseok shouted, raising his chin so that he could see the moon above.
* * *
“Sarge Han left behind such a deep impression when I first talked to him.”
“You think you’re the only one? It was like that for me too.”
“If I think about it now, Sarge Han was even scarier than four-stars when I was a private.”
“Heck, four-stars are nothing. I mean, we never saw one.”
“Right, but Sarge Han was right next to us.”
Hyungseok trembled as he turned the wheel.
 Jinjoo means pearl, and is usually a girl’s name.
 In the Korean military, people use honorifics to ‘seniors’ who might even be in the same rank, depending on how ‘colleagues’ are separated. This is different for each base, one base might separate it by the month (like what it’s shown here), but quarterly separation, bi-yearly separation and even yearly separation are possible. In the case of the last one, you’d see your colleague get discharged almost a year ahead of you if you’re unlucky.
 Discharge cap: When someone is about to get discharged, a platoon would collect some money and gift that person a ‘discharge gift’, usually a cap (either the cap they were supplied with, or a new one bought from military-related stores) with the names of the members of the platoon (or squad) stitched on it. This ‘tradition’ has mostly discontinued around 2019 as it was considered ‘extortion’.
‘Visor bent into a circle’: Apparently, having the visor ‘bent’ makes you look cooler, but the high-ranking soldiers would obviously disallow low-ranking soldiers like privates from bending their visors to make it look cool (they would think it’s audacious). This is why there is a mention of Joonsoo having a ‘perfectly flat visor’ on his cap at the beginning of the chapter. Again, this was discontinued when the military uniform changed and the cap was changed into a beret. The beret was again replaced in favor of caps completely in late 2020, because berets weren’t suited for work.
 Soldier rank insignia: private[-], private first class [=], corporal [≡], and sergeant [≣]. Maru is referring to the straight line as ‘bricks’.
 The ranks were velcroed on the cap so that it makes switching the insignia upon promotion easier.
 New recruits with yellow epaulets were called ‘chicks’ because of the color, and their position.
 ‘Direct seniors’ are practically responsible for their direct juniors, including their education and attitude. If the direct junior does something wrong, the direct senior will be held responsible for not having taught the junior properly.