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    The road paving in provincial cities, which started and progressed steadily in this way, faced a significant change in the 12th year of Sejong, the Gyeongsul year (1430).

    The construction of the land road network connecting Hanseong and the whole country had begun. The first step was to build main roads stretching from Hanseong to the east, west, south, and north.

    Through the construction of these main roads, major cities in the provinces began to be connected.

    In this process, an unexpectedly region emerged as a transportation hub: Wonsan.

    Wonsan, which had been a small village under Deokwon-bu (renamed from Uiju, its name during the Goryeo Dynasty), was upgraded by a whopping 5 levels to Wonsan-mok.

    “Has the court gone mad?”

    “Where is Wonsan?”

    “Why Wonsan? Is gold buried there or something?”

    The people were all curious about the reason for Wonsan’s sudden promotion.

    However, before long, the people – especially the merchants – came to know the reason.

    While Gangneung, the largest city in the East Sea region since ancient times, had to cross the Taebaek Mountains, the route to Wonsan was relatively easier. Moreover, the port being built in Wonsan drew the attention of merchants.

    “It’s a natural good harbor!”

    Thanks to the natural breakwater of the Wonsan Peninsula, the port being built in Wonsan was safe from storms.

    Confirming that the roads and sea routes that would not only connect to the newly pioneered northeastern region but also extend to the virgin territory to its east started from Wonsan, the merchants immediately took action.

    “We need to secure a spot first!”

    In this way, Gangneung and Wonsan would fiercely compete for the position of the central city in the East Sea region in the future.

    ***

    The situation where Joseon was rapidly changing was not good for everyone.

    In the 8th month of the Gyeongsul year, all the gisaeng in Hanseong submitted a joint petition.

    “How can such an outrageous thing happen? The lowly gisaeng submitting a petition!”

    The officials who received the petition all made a fuss, saying it was a rude act, but Sejong showed a different reaction.

    “The gisaeng are also subjects of this Joseon, so they can submit a petition if necessary. Therefore, bring it.”

    “Your Majesty, it is a petition from lowly gisaeng. It will only taint Your Majesty’s eyes.”

    The ministers tried to dissuade him, but Sejong did not back down.

    “Don’t they know their own status? Yet, if they submitted a petition, doesn’t it mean there is an injustice significant enough for them to do so? Bring it.”

    At Sejong’s insistence, the Chief Royal Secretary submitted the joint petition from the gisaeng to Sejong.

    Receiving the petition, Sejong immediately unrolled the scroll.

    “The handwriting is truly beautiful and elegant. Whoever the gisaeng is, she wrote it very well.”

    Admiring the petition’s handwriting, Sejong soon began to carefully examine the content.

    Excluding the customary greetings and words praising the king, the main content was a complaint about how difficult it was to make a living these days.

    • These days, government officials do not frequent the gisaeng houses often.
    • We lowly gisaeng liven up the host’s mood with singing and dancing skills we have honed since we were young gisaeng, and we make a living with the rewards earned through that effort. However, now, not only has the number of people visiting the gisaeng houses decreased, but those who come only focus on getting heavily drunk, making it difficult for us gisaeng to make a living.
    • So when we asked the officials who came as customers for the reason, they said it was because they had a lot of work and few days off.
    • We heard that Your Majesty is a wise ruler who wishes for all the people to live in peace and always contemplates good methods. Although we are lowly gisaeng, we are also subjects of Joseon, so please increase the officials’ days off to alleviate our difficulties.

    “Hmm…”

    Sejong, who read the joint petition from the gisaeng, stroked his beard and fell into thought. After pondering for a moment, Sejong handed the petition to Chief Eunuch.

    “Chief Eunuch, read it out loud so everyone can hear.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    When Chief Eunuch finished reading, Sejong asked the ministers.

    “What do you think?”

    “…”

    The ministers could not immediately answer Sejong’s question. It was because they, too, had reduced the number of visits to the gisaeng houses, citing fatigue as the reason.

    In the end, the ministers had no choice but to give a theoretical answer.

    “It is the narrow view of the gisaeng. Do not worry, Your Majesty.”

    At the ministers’ answer, Sejong showed a displeased expression.

    “According to the petition, they said they do not go to the gisaeng houses because they have a lot of work and few days off. As far as I know, the officials’ days off are not few, right?”

    “…”

    At Sejong’s point, the ministers shut their mouths again.

    ***

    In fact, the guaranteed holidays for Joseon officials were not few.

    Most basically, they did not work on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd of every month. It was similar to the 6-day work week system in 20th-century Korea.

    In addition, they also rested on the days corresponding to the 24 solar terms. (Note 1)

    It was the same for traditional holidays. They rested for 7 days during the Lunar New Year, 3 days for the first full moon, 3 days for Dano, and a day for Chuseok. (Note 2)

    Moreover, each government institution had additional holidays set according to their internal regulations. For example, in the case of Seonggyungwan, the 8th and 23rd of every month were holidays. (Note 3) Hyang also gave a day off every 10 days to those working at the research institute.

    When these cases were combined, there were often consecutive holidays of several days.

    Therefore, at the beginning of the year, Seoun-gwan was crowded with officials. It was to calculate the consecutive holidays created by combining the legally set holidays, seasonal divisions, and traditional holidays.

    ***

    Sejong, who was well aware of this, questioned the claim that there were insufficient holidays.

    “Are the holidays really insufficient? Or have the holidays that should be enjoyed been forcibly reduced?”

    At Sejong’s question, Chief State Councilor Lee Jik took responsibility.

    “The holidays have not been reduced, Your Majesty.”

    “Then, are you saying the holidays are insufficient? As far as I know, the holidays were the same during the reigns of the previous kings, but such words did not come out.”

    “Your Majesty’s words are correct. The reason this situation has occurred is…”

    Lee Jik, who paused for a moment, took a deep breath, closed his eyes tightly, and continued.

    “The officials have too much work to do!”

    ‘Poison or the Office of Records? Let it be as it may!’

    With a sense of resignation, Lee Jik answered. Sejong asked with an absurd expression.

    “A lot of work?”

    “A lot!”

    “Even though the number of officials has increased so much?”

    “For every one official added, two or three tasks increase!”

    “Hmm…”

    At Lee Jik’s report, Sejong stroked his beard.

    “Does this mean we need to further increase the number of government officials?”

    “That’s right! This is also necessary for the smooth progress of the reformation!”

    “I thought it had already been increased sufficiently. Considering the increase in local officials as well…”

    “At least 30% more must be added!”

    “Then the budget…”

    When Sejong mentioned the budget, Kim Jeom stepped forward.

    “Of course, it is true that there is no room in the budget! However, as the national wealth of this Joseon is gradually increasing, if we can continue this, we will be able to handle the increase in officials!”

    “That’s not an easy task, is it?”

    At Sejong’s point, this time, Heo Jo stepped forward.

    “Your Majesty, increasing the number of officials also means giving opportunities to those who have been discriminated against. It means widely opening the door to those who were banned from serving in the government because they were illegitimate sons or from the northwest. What could be better than this?”

    “That is true.”

    As even Heo Jo, who was in charge of personnel management in the court, stepped forward, Sejong took a step back. Seeing this, Maeng Sa-seong stepped forward.

    “Your Majesty, we, your subjects, will do our best for the wealth and military strength of this Joseon that you desire. However, there is a limit with a limited number of personnel. Therefore, the number of personnel must be increased for certain. Your Majesty! We will do our utmost to govern the lower-ranking officials and assist Your Majesty! So, please allow the replenishment of personnel!”

    “Please allow it!”

    All the officials gathered at Geunjeong-jeon prostrated themselves regardless of their rank and pleaded for an increase in officials.

    Seeing this, Sejong answered in a solemn voice.

    “As your intentions are firm, I will trust you. However, there are limits to the finances, so expand gradually.”

    “Your grace is immeasurable!”

    “Convey my intentions to the gisaeng who submitted the petition as well. Tell them that if they endure for just two or three years, good days will come.”

    “We shall obey your command!”

    “And since the number of personnel will continue to increase, there will be no need to increase the holidays, right?”

    “Huh? Yes…”

    The ministers, who hesitated for a moment at Sejong’s words, soon bowed their heads and answered. Hearing the answer, Sejong summarized the matter in a much brighter voice.

    “Alright then! Let’s handle this matter in that way! What is the next agenda?”

    “Next is…”

    The historian who recorded all of this added the following:

    • …So, His Majesty decided to replenish the workforce, but decided to maintain the existing practice regarding holidays.

    The historian discusses:

    Josam-mosa (조삼모사, 朝三暮四). <Note: Aesop’s fable “The Monkey and the Cats”>

    ***

    In the end, the replenishment of the workforce was decided. However, since it was decided to be implemented over time, the officials of the court had to continue working overtime.

    On a late night in the 8th month, bright lights were still leaking from the windows of the government offices on Yukjo Street.

    “What time is it now?”

    An official from the Ministry of Taxation, who was wrestling with numbers using an abacus and counting rods, raised his head and opened his mouth. Starting with him, the officials began to straighten their backs and open their mouths one by one.

    “It’s already past haesi-ban (10 p.m.)…”

    “Already? Time flies.”

    “I know, right? There’s still a mountain of things to deal with…”

    Grumbling while looking at the still plentiful workload, the officials’ stomachs growled.

    “How long has it been since we had dinner…”

    “Quite a while. By the way, I’m really getting hungry.”

    “The restaurants are closed, and if we go outside, the city gates are closed, so there’s a curfew…”

    While everyone was grumbling with an empty stomach, one official took out a basket wrapped in a cloth. Untying the cloth and opening the lid of the basket, the official frowned.

    “As expected, the rice has gone bad! Damn it!”

    As the official grumbled, having confirmed that the rice he had bought had spoiled, a colleague beside him remarked.

    “Wouldn’t it be stranger if the rice was fine in this heat?”

    “That’s true, but…”

    In the end, to soothe their bodies tired from overtime work and to forget their hunger, the officials began to chat.

    They chatted about this and that, but the hunger led the topic of conversation to food.

    “Ah~. At times like this, the tang-guk (soup with meat) from Myeongwol House is perfect.”

    “The tang-guk from Myeongwol House? Is it that delicious?”

    The one who mentioned Myeongwol House nodded at his colleague’s question.

    “They boil the beef bones well, add sliced boiled beef and noodles, and top it with green onions! That milky-white broth is truly outstanding!”

    “Gulp!”

    The officials listening to the description swallowed simultaneously. Whether he knew it or not, the talk continued with tang-guk as the topic.

    “Having a drink with that tang-guk is the best! The hot broth goes well with either clear rice wine or cloudy rice wine! Ah~!”

    “Stop it! I’m already hungry enough as it is!”

    As a colleague reacted sharply, the one who talked about the tang-guk immediately raised his hands.

    “Ah, sorry.”

    The situation was settled for now, but soon, one by one, they began to open their mouths.

    “By the way, I’m really, really hungry.”

    “It’s our mistake for forgetting to buy snacks before the curfew while working.”

    ***

    As the officials of the Six Ministries worked overtime every day, a new sight was created on Yukjo Street.

    A group of merchants appeared in time for the officials’ leaving work. The merchants sold yeot (taffy) or tteok (rice cakes) to the officials who remained due to overtime work. Since the curfew was immediately imposed when the gates of the capital closed, it was a daily routine for the officials who had to work overtime to purchase late-night snacks from the merchants.

    However, those who missed the timing like today due to the heavy workload had to gulp down water or tea to fill their hungry stomachs.

    ***

    Among the officials grumbling while holding their hungry stomachs, one suddenly brought up an unexpected remark.

    “Shall we order delivery?”

    “Order delivery?”

    “We can just send someone to Myeongwol House and tell them to bring tang-guk, right?”

    “But it’s curfew.”

    “We can issue a night travel permit.”

    “Ah!”

    The officials who found a loophole immediately put it into action.

    They issued a night travel permit, confirmed the number of people who would eat the late-night snack, and then sent a servant to Myeongwol House.

    “Oh my…”

    The head gisaeng of Myeongwol House, who heard the message from the servant who had hurriedly come from Yukjo Street, had a perplexed face. However, the head gisaeng soon made a decision.

    “In a recession like now, what can’t we do? Wait a moment!”

    It was the moment of birth for Joseon’s first food delivery.

    ***

    Note 1) The Academy of Korean Studies.

    http://story.ugyo.net/front/sub01/sub0103.do?chkId=S_KSH_0021

    Note 2) Wikipedia.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_holidays_in_South_Korea

    Note 3) Naver Blog.

    https://m.blog.naver.com/PostView.nhn?blogId=kstudy0700&logNo=220695565729&proxyReferer=https:%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

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