Byeon In-Tae the Big Liar

Byeon In-Tae was a servant at the government office in Fort Seogwi. He was extremely resourceful and was famous for being a habitual liar. One day, having some government business to attend to, he was on his way from Fort Seogwi to the town of Jeju when he passed through a field owned by a certain wealthy family. It was an extremely large field, and belonged to a wealthy household, so there were dozens of male and female laborers weeding the field together. Just about every person alive at that time would immediately know who you were talking about if you mentioned the name Byeon In-Tae, the Big Liar. As he was making his way through the field, one of the laborers doing the weeding said “Hey, there’s Byeon In-Tae.” Everyone turned to get a good look at the infamous man. Having business to attend to, Mr. Byeon barely took notice of them, and continued walking by at a good clip.

Hearing his name called out aroused the curiosity of the wife of the man who owned the field, so she said in jest “Hey, Byeon In-Tae of Fort Seogwi, tell us a lie before you leave!” “Oh, jeez, tell a lie? I wouldn’t even know how,” said Mr. Byeon. “Besides, some Japanese pirates have just arrived at Fort Seogwi, so everything is in chaos there. I have to hurry and deliver this report to the authorities,” he continued, as he rushed off. All the field laborers jumped up from what they were doing. With shaking hands, they said “Darn, it’s my turn to man the watchtower today,” and “Oh my, today my father is on watchtower duty, so I better rush home and have dinner with him before he goes.” All the men and women scattered in different directions, racing off towards home.

During those days, people took turns looking out for ships carrying Japanese pirates encroaching on the island. With the exception of the elderly, every male had to take their turn at the beacon fire watchtower and stay on lookout for the whole night. If there was an emergency, everyone in the countryside had to assemble together. That is why the workers who were weeding the fields all ran off home when they heard that some Japanese pirates were invading. It was their duty. 

Once all the younger men and women had scattered off in a hurry, the only people left in the large field were two elderly people, a man and a woman. As they sat in one of the furrows of the field, they worried that if anyone saw them, they might think they were husband and wife. Worse, someone they knew might think that something suspicious was going on between the two of them, so they also stopped working and left. The vast field was left deserted.

Once the workers realized that Mr. Byeon had downright lied to them, they all rushed back to the field, but by that time the owner of the field had lost out on the full day’s work he had paid for. He went and found Mr. Byeon and gave him a thorough scolding. But Mr. Byeon explained what had happened, saying “Your wife asked me to tell a lie, so that’s what I did.” Hearing this, there was nothing more the owner could say.

At this time, the lieutenant general of Fort Seogwi was a man from the village of Sinchon. One day, he was supposed to take his wife to Sinchon to take care of a certain matter, but he was not able to escort her himself since he was busy with other matters. The lieutenant general called over Byeon In-Tae, who was one of the local government office’s servants, and told him in no uncertain terms “You are to accompany my wife to Sinchon and back, and don’t you dare forget.” “Yes, sir,” replied Mr. Byeon.

In those days, one had to cross over Halla Mountain to get to Sinchon Village from Fort Seogwi. Mr. Byeon went and got the lieutenant general’s wife and set off along the road up the mountain. They left early in the morning, but the path passed through the wild areas of the mountain, and they ended up wandering all over the place. Day turned to night, and it got pitch black outside. In those days, it was too dangerous to sleep on the mountain; you had to stay awake all night. Knowing the area of the mountain they were in, since he had crossed through many times, Mr. Byeon led the lady to a cave he knew of and told her to sleep there. He went a ways off and lay down by himself.

Getting lost and ending up near the cave at dark was actually all part of a scheme of his. As time went by, the lady began to shiver with fright, listening to the wind and the sound of wild animals. Deep into the night, Byeon In-Tae began to make whistling sounds, imitating the wind. He barked like a fox. He made all sorts of scary, unnatural sounds. Any woman lying alone at night on the mountain would naturally be quite afraid, but hearing all those sounds really put the lady over the edge.

“Hey, Byeon In-Tae!” she called out. “Yes, madam, you called for me?” said Mr. Byeon, as he swaggered over towards her. “My goodness, I’m going to die of fright out here! Come sleep next to me,” she replied. “I beg your pardon? How could I? The commander of the fort would kill me if he found out,” Mr. Byeon told the lady, as he strutted back to where he had been lying down. Then he started making the scary sounds again. “Hey, Byeon In-Tae!” shouted the lady, once again calling him over. “Yes, madam?” he said. “Get over here right now. I have something to say to you,” she told him. When he got close enough, she grabbed him tightly by the wrist and would not let go. Being so frightened, she did not spare any time thinking about the consequences. “Lie down with me,” she said. “If you say so, ma’am” said Mr. Byeon, as he squeezed in tight beside her.

When it got light, they continued over the mountain towards the lady’s home. She was worried sick. “Listen, you, if you say anything about what happened last night, there’s going to be serious trouble. It will be the end of the both of us, so be careful and don’t say a word,” she told Mr. Byeon. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. The lady sternly repeated her warning. From that day on, whenever Byeon In-Tae wanted a drink or needed some money, he would go to see the lady and pester her, saying “I feel like the truth is going to come pouring out of me some day.” “All right, you jerk, here’s some booze for you. Drink it up quick and be on your way,” she would reply, giving in. “I think I’ve got to come clean about what happened,” he would say. “Okay, you dirty scoundrel, take this money and get out of here,” she would answer. The lady never failed to cough up money or alcohol when Mr. Byeon came asking. 

It is said that Byeon In-Tae once managed to trick the governor of the island out of some meat he was going to have for a meal. The table had been set for the governor one day, and Mr. Byeon brought out some meat that he had intentionally burned. The governor said “You little bastard, you’ve got to keep the meat at a distance from the flame and just let it simmer. Go cook me another piece of meat.” He threw away the burnt meat that had been put in front of him. Mr. Byeon celebrated as he ate up that piece of meat, and then took a fresh piece and left.

There was a great fire blazing up on the watchtower. Mr. Byeon took the meat and faced the fire for a short while, holding it in both hands. Then he brought it down to the governor, who gave him a good scolding, saying “You fool, why have you brought me such an undercooked piece of meat? How on earth did you try to cook it?” “Well, sir, you told me to keep the meat at a distance from the fire, so I held it at a good distance from the watchtower fire,” replied Mr. Byeon. Totally exasperated, the governor did not even bother swearing at the man. He just told him “Get out of here, right now.” He threw away the piece of meat. Byeon In-Tae, quite happy with himself, made a meal of the discarded piece of meat.

As recounted on March 2, 1975, by Mr. Gim Gi-Ok (70) of Taeheung-ri and on October 19, 1974, by Mr. Gim Seok-Bo of Goseong-ri.

From 99 Legends of Jeju Island, a compilation based on accounts compiled by Hyun Yong-Joon.

Byeon In-Tae : 변인태 : 邊仁泰

Fort commander

   The fort commander was a jinjang (진장: 鎭長), the highest ranked administrator of a jin, or fort. See footnote 1 above.

Fort Seogwi

   The place here called Fort Seogwi was known as Seogwi Jin (Seogwijin: 서귀진: 西歸鎭). Jin was the term for an administrative district in an area that was strategically important to the military, similar to the English fort or camp. The area is today part of Seogwipo City.

Governor / Town of Jeju

   What is here called the town of Jeju was called Jeju Mok (제주목: 濟州牧). The area is today part of Jeju City. During the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1897) dynasties, the term mok (목: 牧) was used for an administrative district that included a large town, but it was also used to refer to the town itself. The chief administrator of a mok was called a moksa (목사: 牧使), here translated as governor.

Lieutenant general

   The man was a jobangjang (조방장: 助防長), an army general whose duty was to assist the highest-ranking general (jujang: 주장: 主將) in defending a fort against attack. The person assigned to this role was usually the chief administrator of a town within the local area who was skilled in martial arts.  

Sinchon Village : Sinchon-ri : 신촌리 : 新村里

1 thought on “Byeon In-Tae the Big Liar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.