Translated from Korean by Jack Jung

It is easy to disdain those who like to lounge at a café, drinking strange teas and listening to music that differs greatly from our traditions, essentially doing nothing. However, for those who can find beauty in the sleek lines of electric locomotives, the forms of steel and glass, and the architecture with its acute angles, such relaxation at a café is both a refreshing form of indulgence and a display of refined behavior.

The relentless pressure of life constantly weighs down on our tenderness. Those who inhabit modernity are particularly sensitive to this pressure. Everywhere, we encounter towering walls of steel and concrete. In the midst of this breathless visual weight, if there is a chair and a table where we can briefly rest our hearts—hearts that are so easily broken—how could we not spare a moment for such pleasure and allow our steps to guide us there? The warmth of hot tea and the melodies of music at a café mingle with the bustling noise of the streets, offering solace to the souls who find themselves there.

When you are there, no one asks if you are a skilled worker at a steel factory, a chief surgeon at a hospital, a traffic cop, an attorney of the court, an insignificant day laborer, or the only son of a millionaire. Such titles are left behind beneath the café’s neon sign when you enter. In this space, you become simply human, seeking solace for your heart. That is why everyone remains so humble at cafés. Gentle smiles play on their faces as gentlemen delicately sip their tea and ladies serenely listen to the music.

Within these walls, only peace prevails, guided by the unwritten rules of decorum. We must speak softly, ensuring our voices are not heard at other tables. Whatever careers or conflicts people may have had before, the words exchanged at a café should be centered around topics of deep affection. It is a place where feelings of unconditional love find their home.

We all close our mouths and refrain from opening our eyes as we listen to Schubert or Chopin. In that moment, we must resist tapping our heavy shoes to the familiar tunes or whistling, lest we risk rudeness. Doing so would violate the unwritten decorum of the place.

One night, as autumn’s chill penetrated my body while I was out for a walk, the moon cried in the heart of the sky like a bird. Every step felt heavy, and the desolation weighed upon me. My mournful heart, which mourned for no one and nothing in particular, longed for the warmth of other human breaths. I turned away from the moon and entered my usual café.

Inside, three men and three women sat, each with a friendly cup of hot tea in front of them. They were all enjoying a renowned piece played by a string orchestra, which emanated from the sound system.

With modesty, I also took a seat among them, comporting myself like a gentleman. I, too, decided to savor the tea and music.

Five minutes, ten minutes, and twenty minutes passed. It was just the right amount of relaxation, but just before it could warm my cold blood…

…the café’s door swung open with a loud bang. Four or five intoxicated individuals stormed in, shouting and bellowing. They claimed the well-maintained table in the center of the café, ordered tea, and noisily gulped it down. They began singing as if they were the only ones present. The music vanished. Decorum perished. Their uncouth behavior shook the café from within.

My heart started to break. I couldn’t bear the sorrow that surged within me. I no longer wished to spend any more time there. Hastily, I rose from my seat and turned toward the door when a large, strong man with oily hair and a pale face entered, accompanied by a German shepherd of lion-like proportions. I took a step back, fear draining the color from my face, as I watched the dog’s heavy tail swing, moving from one customer to another, sniffing them curiously.

At that moment, one of the drunkards accidentally spilled the remnants of their tea on the ill-mannered dog. Startled, the dog recoiled and then began barking furiously at the drunkard. Its roar echoed as if it could shake mountains and crumble valleys.

I quickly settled my bill for the tea and hurriedly made my way out onto the sidewalk. As I walked away, the strange barks of the dog continued to reverberate behind me, resonating in that hall of arts for a long time.