Our Neighbors, Ourselves: The Well-being of My Neighbor by Pyo Myoung-hee

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.23 Spring 2014
  • byKim Young-burn
The Well-being of My Neighbor

The Well-being of My Neighbor is a collection of seven short stories that reflects how one is mirrored by one’s neighbors. Author Pyo Myoung-hee suggests that in a contemporary society where everyone has resorted to individualism, one can eventually discover his or her true self based on the nature of their tenuous connection to their neighbors. The protagonists in each of the stories endure their hardships while living mostly in solitude. In a sense, they live absolutely isolated lives. However, they begin to examine themselves through their encounters with their neighbors and subsequently contemplate what it means to be a neighbor. It is moving to read the passages where a character, accustomed to isolated city living, makes a connection, albeit weak and fragile, with a neighbor.

In the title story, “The Well-being of My Neighbor,” Bin, the protagonist, is a college lecturer who is barely able to eke out a living. He lives alone on the second floor of a multiplex apartment building. Bin is very sensitive to air pollution because he has a weak respiratory system. In the end, it is none other than cigarette smoke that eventually connects him with his neighbor. One day Bin finds himself subject to severe discomfort because of the smoke seeping through the pipes on his balcony. The unbearable cigarette smoke reminds Bin of his frequently stolen mail, and he begins to suspect the man who lives below him as the possible culprit. Bin rummages through his neighbor’s mail in order to learn more about him and through this initial suspicion, Bin gets to know his neighbor.

The author states, “Your neighbors are the people most closely linked to your life. Therefore, their problems can become the mirror with which we can examine our own lives. Because I live alone, I view my neighbors in our communal residence as a kind of family and evaluate my own life accordingly.” 

Author's Profile

Pyo Myoung-hee made her literary debut when she won the Changbi Prize for New Figures in Literature in 2001 with her short story, “Nocturnal Scenery.” She is the author of the short story collections Exit No.3 and Housemate, and the novels, Off Road Diary and The Gold Rush.