[Yoonhee wants to get higher paying gigs at the bookstore, but no matter how well learned or talented "Kim Yoonshik" is, if she does not take the state exam to higher her status (not taking it equates to ...hmm, I guess not having graduating high school?), nobody will ask her to help them do more difficult homework / help them cheat on tests. Since her brother is about the age to take the exam and is unable to because of his illness, the family agrees that it might be okay for Yoonhee to go ahead and take it.]
The day of the exam, Yoonhee waits among a crowd of men for the doors of the exam site (which is the Sungkyunkwan Bicheondang) to open, but even long before the doors move, everyone is pushing and pulling (they want to get the best place to sit), and Yoonhee starts being thrown around within the chaos. Yoonhee tries with all her strength to stay close to the doors, but she can't help being pushed farther and farther away. She is about to trip on one of the men's ankles, and she braces herself to be trampled all over, when somebody's hand reaches out to grab Yoonhee's arms and pulls her towards him.
Yoonhee, even after she finds her balances, is still shocked from her almost-fall, and finds comfort in the hand grabbing her arm, even though she doesn't know who it belongs to. Because of that hand, she is able to resist the pushing and pulling. After a while, the crowd becomes calmer and Yoonhee looks to the person holding her arm. Her eyes go to his white neckline, an then to his adam's apple. She thinks to herself that it's normal for men to have an adam's apple, and lowers her head to cover her own neck, before she can see his face.
"Whoever you are, I was saved, thanks to you."
Even as the man speaks, he doesn't let go of her arm.
"I-I'm okay now, so you can let go."
Everyone else is so busy taking care of themselves, but this person holding her arm feels so different.
Curious as to what he looks like, Yoonhee raises her head. She herself is pretty tall but this man is so tall that even when she raises her head she can only see from his wide shoulder up to his neck.
But the crowd now relaxes and Yoonhee can reach her face up farther. She can see his face. As soon as she sees it, she is so surprised and lowers her face right away, because his face is so beautiful that her face reddened the moment she saw it, forgetting that she is dressed as a man.
"You look very young. Is this your first exam, too?"
"Ah, yes. It is."
"N-Nice to meet you, too."
Yoonhee looks up to the man again. But before she can even see his face, her eyes go to another face that's looking at her, one that looks like it belongs to a monster.
"Soondol! How can you be so rude? Are there any men who wouldn't get surprised if your face just showed up in front of them like that?"
Yoonhee gets ahold of herself and pulls her arm away. I'm not a woman right now, I have to be a man, she thinks to herself. When Yoonhee pulls her arm away from him, the man mistakes her to be angry.
"I've been ill since childhood, so I look weak. That's why I've never been taught at a 서당 seodang or 과부학당 gwabuhakdang (kind of like the prep schools of the day), and I had to study by myself. I barely could come today with this body..."
Even at first glance anyone can see that this man is well-taught and well-off, but there isn't a trace of arrogance; on the contrary, he is quite humble! Because of this Yoonhee becomes embarrassed about how she must have come off.
"I didn't pull away because I was angry. I was just surprised--"
Soondol looks a little apologetically at Yoonhee, and she can't help but smile at him. Soondol was giant and scary-looking, but as the man said, Yoonhee could feel that his eyes are kind. It's likely that the two of them could withstand the crowd because Soondol was helping with his strength.
"You have quite the 선접꾼 seonjupkun (it's like a servant who does bodyguard-type jobs)."
The man stares at Yoonhee, puzzled. Then he sees that she is looking at Soondol, and realizes what Yoonhee means.
"Ah, that's not it. Soondol is just here until I get into the site (the seonjupkun usually goes in and saves the spot, fighting off other people)."
Doryunnim? That means he isn't married yet. A strange feeling tickles Yoonhee's insides.
"Your father ordered me to follow you in and find you a good spot. It was so dangerous just now--what if it gets even more out of control in there? If you get hurt, I might die of sadness..."
Soondol tears up. "It's because I'm so dumb, I can't remember where I was told was a good spot... Your father told me, but..."
The man sighs. "I should have come alone. It's my exam, and you shouldn't be troubling yourself."
It's a strange conversation. Soondol is definitely the man's servant, but it's hard to see a man treat his servant so kindly. And from his tone, he doesn't seem any worried about passing the test.
Yoonhee, knowing Soondol's potential strength, doesn't want to send him off, so she slips into the conversation.
Soondol widens his eyes as he lowers himself to Yoonhee's face.
"Where is that?"
Soondol still seems to think that closer to the building will be better, but the man says, "do as he says."
Before Soondol can protest, the doors open, and Yoonhee exclaims, "Soondol! Run!" Before she knows it, Soondol's gone. As he runs, the crowd splits and Yoonhee hurries to take this chance to run through, only to be held back by the same hand that grabbed her arm earlier.
"What are you doing! You should run after him, too!"
"Didn't you say that you are ill? I didn't think that you should overwork your body..."
The man places his body so that he is right in front of Yoonhee, to protect her from the moving crowd. It seems as though he really believed that she is ill.
Soondol, without realizing that he lost the two, hurries to the tree Yoonhee pointed out. People run out of his way, scared, and he arrives at the second tree. There are already some people who've settled there, so Soondol sets the mat slightly to the side. Even though the site is full of people fighting for their seats, there isn't anybody who dares to pick a fight with Soondol.