Chapter 8: Chapter 1, Episode 8: Legion Etranger
“Captain, Park has passed Program Zero.”
Piefs expression turned from surprised to happy as he received this report in the middle of the night. Mu Ssangs sniping test was satisfactory.
Legion Etrangers sniper training was made of four levels. Program Zero was a non-recorded level that focused heavily on survival. The basic training program “un a trois” (one to three) was mandatory. Thirty-two weeks were spent solely on level three. The fourth level had no time limit.
Programme Un (Program One) was simply torturous. In its 150-year history within Legion Etranger, the members that had passed the snipers training could be counted on two hands. Mu Ssang found it difficult to hide the last five percent of his capabilities like his master had suggested.
Piefs training for Mu Ssang was beyond the usual Program Un and was nearing sadism. How could a human cross the Pyrenees mountains 15-kilometer range under one hour How could a human climb an overhang perpendicular to the ground and over 100 meters high How could a human jump from 15 meters in height with just his body How could a human wait for 24 hours immobile in the wilderness The “how-could-a-human” training had no end in sight.
Piefs expression was worth its weight in gold. Mu Ssang did complain, but he managed to absorb all the training. It was the birth of an indestructible human weapon.
The next day, Pief received a transmission that made him smile; it was the news that he had been waiting for for a long time. He had been accepted and reinstated back into the Deuxieme Rep. At the end of this training session, he could leave boring Castelnau Bridge. His plea to Lieutenant Colonel Blanco had been worth it.
Deuxieme Reps headquarters were on the outskirts of Corsica. For a soldier to succeed, there was nothing better than going to war, and the Deuxieme Rep was the first military unit that was sent into international battlefields. The fourth company that he was to command were the special forces of snipers and explosives experts.
Pief, who thirsted for a higher position, was good at finding opportunities. He had been paying attention to the former French colony, Chad, which was in turmoil. France was going to leave Chad, and the Deuxieme Rep was going to be dispatched first to oversee this transition. Mu Ssang was a definite factor in Pief climbing the military ladder.
“Oh, petit canard!” (Duckling)
Pief greeted Mu Ssang gladly; he could have kissed him. Mu Ssang was there because Pief had called for him, but he didnt like him at all. He wasnt going to warmly greet someone who had lured him with sweet talk into two months of torture.
Mu Ssang didnt know why Pief called him a duckling for a while. He wondered if it was because he was cute. After all, he was handsome because he had received the best of his parents genes. But the aura around him was more sharp than cute. When he glared at someone with the red glint of his eyes, no one could bear looking at him.
Commander Pief had begun to call him “petit canard” after their trainee interview. He had asked Mu Ssang what he liked to eat, and he had replied that he liked the Foie Gras, traditionally a goose liver dish, but most foie gras was made of duck liver. The strange man before laughed until he coughed.
“Why did he laugh” Mu Ssang wondered.
He finally asked Sergeant Himlet, to whom he had grown close, “What ispetit canard”
The sergeant laughed heartily before replying, “Park, you should be happy. Its a nickname,duckling, but it also refers to a sensitive woman. French people call their lovers petit canards.”
“F*cking sh*t, this damned bastard!” Mu Ssang thought. Anger rushed to his brain.
Recalling Piefs lustful face, goosebumps raced up his arms and legs, and his rear muscles clenched involuntarily. Mu Ssang placed Pief on his death list.
Mu Ssang hurled profanities in Korean.
Pief didnt know the worst of the Korean profanities and, therefore, didnt realize Mu Ssang had sworn at him.
“Cest votre cadeau.” (This is your gift.)
Pief pushed an unwrapped Glock 17 toward Mu Ssang. It was the best weapon a mercenary could receive. When expressing their camaraderie or affection, soldiers usually gave each other guns or knives.
He did deserve it, but it was a gift that still deserved gratitude. Pief looked at Mu Ssang with warm eyes.
“Ugh, that rotten old man!” Mu Ssang thought. His muscles contracted once more at the disgusting look. There were no rumors about the commander being gay, but most French people within the legion had the nickname “C*cksucker.” It made him wonder how many gay men were in the legion for such a nickname to be so common!
Pief looked a lot like Stalin. He had short, black hair, a large forehead, thick eyebrows, and this 42-year-olds mustache was trimmed like Stalins, a “kaiser” cut. His attitude was exaggerated by his low and sensual voice. He was the poster-boy of sensuality. Just looking at him gave Mu Ssang a headache.
His stomach turned every time he heard the nickname “petit canard,” but the patience he had built while drumming at the wooden fish kept him from acting out. Without his masters teachings, he would have ripped out Piefs mustache and ripped apart his big mouth with his bare hands.
In reality, a man calling another man a “petit canard” was a huge breach of manners. That was because those words were accusations of another mans homosexuality. Pief would never know how his life was extended because of an old master on the other side of the world.
The difference between a second-class soldier and a commander was like the difference between the sky and earth. Mu Ssang, instead of committing an act of violence, he called the commander “Nigimi Ddugural,” vulgar Korean swear words.
In response to asking what it meant, Mu Ssang replied that it was the Korean way of respectfully addressing an honorable boss. Pief was extremely satisfied whenever Mu Ssang called him Nigimi Ddugural. If ever found out that Nigimi Ddugural was akin to “mother f*cker,” his eyes would have rolled back in his head in anger. There was no way the officers, even those with a knowledge of Korean, would know the harsh swear words.
So, this white commander mocked this young Asian by calling him a “duckling,” and the young Asian soldier got his revenge by calling his superior officer a “mother-f*cker.” After mocking and swearing at each other, they walked into the cafeteria shoulder-to-shoulder.
It was Piefs turn to buy dinner because he had bet that Mu Ssang couldnt pass the subterfuge test within three days. He lost, so he had to buy him haute cuisine, including foie gras.
Mu Ssang enjoyed French food, so far, and liked the people who enjoyed these luxuries. Perhaps because of their attraction to eating and living life, French people had much more leisure in their lives compared to Koreans.
However, he didnt like the way the French enjoyed eating. Mu Ssang had suffered starvation since he was nine years old. Food was something that was eaten for survival, nothing more and nothing less. He hated those who tampered with the worth of food, and he viewed expensive food with disgust.
Hae Young, when teasing Mu Ssang, used to call him a “food proletariat.” It was a good phrase to describe him because he thought of good food as something with many nutrients and given in sufficient amounts. He had never thought about the appearance or taste of food nor the atmosphere in which the food was eaten. All that was important was the amount, efficiency, and nutrients.
French people debated about the food on their table. Around the dining table, all kinds of exclamations and remarks were made about the food. Half of the meal passed with pointless discussion about the meal itself.
There was no way that those who debated the foods taste, history, perfection, and other details would look good in a food proletariats eyes. In the worst sense, it was flaunting money and knowledge about food. In nicer terms, it was an obsession with flavors and the atmosphere surrounding the food—Mu Ssang endured those incomprehensible table talks by repeating this to himself.
He often heard these sentiments from Pief and the commanders: “A meal is a sensual and artistic pleasure. It must be tasted elegantly and thought about extravagantly” and “a meal is a lesson. Those who rush into their meals are savages.”
He could never accept those words. Whether it was because he had first heard those words from Pief or because of their superficial meaning, he didnt know.
Mu Ssang was realistic and was a minimalist. He didnt understand what sort of sense, art, or elegance could take priority over the food itself!
To him, food gave delicious nutrients and a substance that made the stomach feel full. The French, who talked about the elegance and delicacy of foods waiting in front of them were crazy. At minimum, the distance between Mu Ssangs and Piefs thoughts about food was the same distance between The Netherlands and New York. The French attitudes toward food gave Mu Ssang culture shock.
Whether satiating oneself or ones artistic talents, French food had a lot to offer. The French typically enjoyed toast, jam, and coffee for petit dejeuner (breakfast) or dejeuner (lunch). Of course, in the trainees cafeteria, those meals werent quite like that.
Dinner was a multi-course meal with more than two types of wine. It was typically shared among close friends or families, not strangers. The fact that Pief had invited Mu Ssang to dinner in the commanders dining hall showed how important he was to him.
The entire meal consisted of haute cuisine, and items were served in this order: aperitif, entree, soup, fish, sorbet, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert. And the dishes were named for a combination of their cooking method, sauce, ingredients, and region from where they originated. Mu Ssang had a mental breakdown after looking at the menu. He had to trust in Pief to order the food.
The beginning of their meal started okay but developed a small crisis. The aperitif and entree were fine, but Mu Ssang became slightly uncomfortable when the escargot (a dish of Helix Pomatia—land snails—that are boiled, filled with butter and lemon juice, flavored with parsley and cooked in the oven in a five-hour process) came out.
Five snails, slightly smaller than a cows eye, sat on the white dish. He was shocked. Even when he ate the centipedes and spiders in his village, he couldnt think about eating snails. He had tried them, once, but had a bad experience with the snails transparent fluids. It was a flavor he couldnt get over despite his roughened taste buds.
And, now, on the white plate, five snails shells were filled to the brim with a blueish gel-like substance. Mu Ssang shivered at the deja-vu of that experience. It looked like a hawk-moth caterpillar that had been stepped on in the cabbage fields. The blueish-green, hawk-moth caterpillars body was larger than a mans thumb. It was disgusting enough for city people to shake in fear after seeing one of them.
The feeling of one of those squished under his bare feet was too much even for him, and the escargot brought back memories of that. The caterpillar was full of green, sticky, and slimy liquid. The recalled memories stopped his hand from moving toward the escargot.
Pief lifted a large needle, licked his lips, and asked, “Est-ce que cest le plat vous voulez” (Do you like this dish) He continued, “Lescargot avec le sauce moutard. Cest très bon. Jaime cet saveur.” (The escargot with mustard sauce. Its very good. I like the flavor.)
“Aha, la moutarde!” Mu Ssang acknowledged.
Luckily, the gel-like substance on the snail wasnt its fluid. Pief explained that the escargot was in mustard sauce, but his memories of the snails and caterpillar back home were hard to lose. The culture shock had yet to fade.
Mu Ssang glared at the gel-filled snails with unfounded hatred. Eventually, he picked up the tongs and needle as if they were torture devices. He did so because he saw the price: one snail cost over 10 francs. He felt that it would be a wasted opportunity if he passed up eating such an expensive dish.
“Park, you eat it like this.”
Pief grabbed the shell with the tong, prodded then pulled out the flesh with the needle, and ate it as if he was mocking Mu Ssangs hesitance. His movements were well-practiced.
“I know how to eat it. I was praying.”
Mu Ssang, who didnt want to appear weak, pulled out the flesh, using the techniques he had used when he ate the Korean freshwater snail, and shoved it in his mouth.
Pief hadnt been joking. The chewy, yet soft, texture went well with the mustard sauce and gave off a strong flavor. Mu Ssang had no choice but to cast off his previous conjectures about snails. They were delicious, so delicious that he wished to use snails in experimental dishes when he went back to Korea.
Up next was the consommé soup, then fish, sorbet, meat, pté a la viande, salad, cheese, and dessert. They ate for over two hours.
The pté a la viande was sometimes called “foie gras,” but foie gras was the main ingredient. The foie gras was chopped, covered with sauce, and pressed into a mold and cooked. And Mu Ssang, who ate the foie gras according to his wishes, wasnt that taken with the dish. He acknowledged its smooth texture and subtle flavor, but it was far too greasy and squishy for him.
He had judged the French people as savage after seeing them eat snails, but he was surprised at their ability to use all kinds of things as ingredients. The quality of the dishes set apart the trainees cafeteria from the commanders dining hall, reflecting the differences in the mens stations.
One more surprise was waiting for him after the meal: the price. The exorbitant amount was well over his weekly pay.
“It really is a self-serving society!” He exclaimed.
The food that could fill his stomach wasnt that expensive, and the food that made his eyes happy was very expensive. It reflected the power of money behind such a democratic society.
Pief chose the fromage (cheese) as his last plate. After having a spoonful of it, he began to talk.
“Park, where do you want to apply”
“I dont know. Im thinking about it.”
“What about the Deuxieme Rep on Corsica”
“The shooting squad”
Mu Ssang had heard of them. The Deuxieme Rep was a place only the budding stars from Legion Etranger could go, an elite unit. It wasnt a place he could go to simply because he wanted to.
Deuxieme Reps basecamp was on Corsica, Napoleons place of birth, exile, and interment. He also remembered that in Guy de Maupassants book, “Une Vie,” Corsica was the setting for Jeannes honeymoon.
Curiosity rose within him. He didnt care where he was going, shooting or defense, but Corsica appealed to him with the blue-colored Mediterranean surrounding it, the Ponant (yachts) that came with the breeze, the several cruise ships connecting to Nice, women….
Piefs offer provoked his other weakness. It was easy to convince a naive country boy like Mu Ssang.
“Deuxieme Rep has a different salary structure.”
“You mean they get paid more”
“Yes. Their training is harsh, but the salary is high.”
“30 percent more is an average, and you earn more during wartime according to your achievements and participation.”
He accepted without a second thought. That was Mu Ssang.
“What kind of simpleton is he” Pief stared at the Asian blankly. He had prepared so much to convince him: gifted him a Dragunov, a popular Glock, an expensive meal, and had also prepared many convincing terms to lure him.
He had done all of that when all he needed to do was state that the salary was higher. That was how the world worked. Some might say that, in hindsight, he knew it would turn out this way. But this wasnt foresight at all.
Frankly, Pief shouldnt have been that surprised. Mu Ssangs aim was simple: earn money to find his mother. So getting an offer for a higher salary was like the gospel of angels. The fact that the training was harsh didnt even reach his ears.
The more important requirement for a sniper, between talent and skill, was the talent of good sense and patience. Training could help them improve their concealment, movement, foresight, scoping, communicating, gathering, and shooting.
Heightened senses and the endurance to overcome stress could only be improved a little through training. Innate talent was the best thing and the reason why, despite the number of snipers, only a few were special. Mu Ssang had surpassed the level of the snipers in the special forces and was considered a god sniper. That was why Pief liked him. And with that, Mu Ssang chose to follow the path to hell.
The Ecoles three-stage training was squadron-based tactical training. It was a week of using personal, squad, and platoon firearms. The goal was to be prepared for night attacks and learn defense tactics. They trained using grenades, light flares, light machine guns, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank rockets.
The final stage of Phase 3 was four days of non-combat training in the Pyrenees. Phase 4 was mainly filled with the assessment and testing of individual trainees. The final test was a 150-kilometer full military march.
One-hundred real bullets were used for the final test. Grenades flew in the middle of the march and machine guns shot at them to create a realistic situation. The trainees were attacked out of nowhere, constantly putting them on the brink of death.
The training created anxiety so that none of them would let down their guard, even for a moment. Tired and stressed trainees cheered when the three-day march came to an end.
The disgusting four months of training was over. Mu Ssang became a legioner deuxieme classe (second-class soldier). The annoying adjective, “second-class,” was because of his sniper training.
He had received the lowest rank, but he was moved by the gesture because he had become the kind of mercenary he had only heard of. This applied to Korean soldiers, too. Once they received certification as a second-class soldier, they cried.
He was only a second-class soldier, but his salary was 1050 francs, 100 times more than the 2500 won that Korean second-class soldiers earned. The exchange rate made it 262,000 won, in total. The salaries of starting bankers in Korea was only 120,000.
Just looking at the salary made Mu Ssang obligated to bow to Jang Chi Soo and that rotten police force. They had been the ones who had made him a convict, exempting him from conscription.
In Legion Etranger, ones specialty and position were determined during the fourth stage of training. Mu Ssang, who was caught in Piefs intricate plan, was transferred to Deuxieme Rep, the 2nd Foreign Airborne Regiment.
Around that time, a refreshed Jang Shin was put back into training. He promised to support Mu Ssang unconditionally and join the Deuxieme Rep, too. The other two Chinese men who had enlisted with Jang Shin went to culinary posts.
Deuxieme Rep was always the first unit to be dispatched overseas, so the chance of dying was great. Even Jang Shin became an outlier because he was Asian and wanted to apply to the Deuxieme Rep.
So Mu Ssang moved to Calvi, a town in Corsica, where the 2nd Foreign Airborne Regiment was headquartered.
The French island, shaped like a fist and an index finger, sits in the northern Mediterranean Sea. The island is 8680 square kilometers, slightly smaller than Gyeonggi-do, and has a population of 300,000; whereas Gyeonggi-do has four-million people, quite a difference in population density.
Corsica is a beautiful island, which is why the French call it “ils de beauté” (beautiful island). Its a favorite vacation destination for the French, and celebrity-owned villas are scattered all over the island. Ferries run frequently from Marseilles, Nice, and Toulon by Carpe Rio to Corsica, giving the French easy access to the island.
Corsica was ruled by Islamic powers until the 10th century. From the 14 century onwards, it was ruled by Genoa (an Italian state). However, they were unable to withstand Corsican resistance and sold the island to France in the late 18th century.
Under constant foreign domination, the Corsicans became united diplomatically. Tourism became the biggest sector of Corsicas economy, but the native Corsicans did not necessarily favor the mainlanders. They did not welcome French rule and do not consider themselves French; they call themselves “Corsicans.”
The Airborne Regiment of Legion Etranger settled in Corsica because of its excellent topographical training conditions. In the northwestern part of the island is Mount Cinto, rising 2,710 meters above sea level. Mountain ranges of more than 2,000 meters above sea level branch from it. The alpine areas were covered with snow for half the year, so they could continue training for mountain survival, skiing, and ski jumping beyond winter. The long coastline was also suitable for offshore training.
Corsica had a mild Mediterranean climate, with short winters and hot, dry summers. Similar to Korea, winter was December to February, and summer was June through September. The hottest temperatures did not exceed 30-degrees Celsius, and in winter, the temperature did not drop below 0. It was a nice place to live, not too cold nor too hot.
The 3000-ton supply ship “Orleans” entered the port of Calvi. Eight-nine sturdy men carrying military bags slipped through the deck.
“Men, welcome to hell.”