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What is Jjung

By Gladys Brooks,2014-06-17 06:35
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What is Jjung ...

What is Jung?

    Scott Morley

    July 2003

Teacher, do you know what is jung?

Yes, Jah Min, Ive heard about jung. Roughly, it translates to a sort of sentimental

    obligation, loyalty to family and friends.

Actually, it is not easily translated into English because it does not exist outside of

    Korea. Only Koreans have heartfelt responsibility, unending love for people close to

    them. Especially, Americans do not have this but in the west it really does not exist so

    much.

    Thats silly. Of course it exists in every culture. Man is a pack animal. We couldnt work together without loyalty. Because we dont have a word for jung specifically, doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

But it is not the same. It is not Korean. So, it is not really as strong with others as it is

    with us. Ours is unquestioning love. Dae han mingue you know the cheer? We will do

    anything for our family and friends, without ever questioning them or deserting them.

You think this is specifically Korean? Well, sure there are plenty of selfish people back

    home. Not everyone will do anything for a friend, but to make such a generalization...

    America, Canada, Australia, most western countries today were founded on the rights of

    individuals. That just means each person chooses ones loyalties personally.

    Because you are not Korean you cannot understand. I think maybe its genetic really. We have many songs about it too. Like the song, What is Jung? The student sang a wailing, mournful oriental ballad about endless love, reminding Jerry of Lionel Richie

    and Diana Ross. The student stopped and looked at his teacher. Jerry, you are 45 years old and unmarried. Your brothers are dead, but you never lived with them as an

    adult and your mother is in an institute for the elderly. You dont even care for your mother. If you had to go back home, where would you stay? Who would take care of

    you?

Well Maybe I could stay with you, eh Jah Min?

    teacher. Of course, yes, you are my

    * * *

    American Expat English teacher, Jerry Willard sat in his university office smoking,

    watching cold rain hit dingy concrete and asphalt outside. One night off, Christmas day,

    and he couldnt decide what to do with the time. Couldnt go to the bar, hadnt had a drink in five years. Already rented every video worth watching. Ill do a little shopping in Kukje. Boss might like a bottle of cognac. Cant be too careful. Dont payem tribute and find yerself unemployed.

He found he was smoking filter, so pulled out another, lit it off the last and tossed the

    melting butt in a tray. He liked that, the Korean method of extinguishing smoldering

    butts. Wet the tray with a mouthful of phlegm. He cleared his throat and spit on the

    soggy pile of old cigarettes. Then he pulled off his socks and picked his toes.

Eventually his coworker, a British expatriate from London named Drew Bennigan came

    in and sat down. A wiry, stoic English gent with a wild shock of white hair, he fit the

    role of eccentric old expatriate professor. Hed been teaching here for fifteen years, so

    this school and Drew just fit. Students meandering through campus inevitably spotted

    the wiry man scooting up the mountain for a tramp or to the post office or helping

    failing students in the cafeteria. His presence made the university seem scholarly,

    respectable.

    So Drew, how you gonna spend yer day off for Christmas? Jerry pulled up closer to Drew so as to make sure he understood his soft mumbling regional dialect, what British

    expats referred to as Original True English. Whatever, so long as Jerry could

    understand it; but he couldnt. What he heard was, bullabullamillagulla orphanage tomorrow billamulla. Jerry usually got embarrassed and just nodded his head. Hed

    seen the strange looks Drew gave him when he answered yes to questions like, how

    was your weekend, or what are you doing in your classes? But he knew about benevolent ol Drew the big-hearted and his orphanage work. On weekends and

    holidays when he wasnt organizing local TESL Club meetings or running marathons,

    Drew worked with Korean orphans.

Jerry said, I see. Hmm. Least youll get some free grub huh? Maybe even some turkey

    donations, chicken and dumplings? Oh, just Korean? At least home cooked though. How

    bout this weekend? Oh yeah, the Korean proficiency test. Gawd, did it ever end? Could anyone be so damn perfect? At 61, Drew was wired, driven, a constant over-achiever.

    and He was one of the few Expat profs that really did have a PhD in English Literature

    masters in Applied Linguistics, and his teaching credentials. None of this was obvious at first, you know. Being a stuffy old British Prof and all, he was hard to warm up to.

But really, Drew was one of the few real professors in Korea expat or Korean. He

    went out of his way for students, kept up with all the modern methods, read the

    linguistics journals. Sent home his dissertations, etc. Didnt have to. Probably, he shouldnt. This was Korea after all. All he had to do was show up sober three days a

    week. Do the drill. Giveem the lesson, dont ask questions and take the paycheck. That was how Koreans did it and that was how they wanted it to stay. That was how Jerry

    did it. Sure, as foreigners they got the crap end of the stick; old run-down machines,

    broken down computers and cheap mandatory textbooks the English Department head

    got kickbacks for selling. The less spent on education, the more slush cash for Karaoke

    Club bargirl bills. So what? This was Korea, where Everyman puts in his hours and goes

    home at two a.m.

Drew brewed some delicious English tea and they sat sipping. They talked about

    classes. Jerry was pissed they had to work the extra classes on holiday. Drew was

    pissed the students had no imagination, wanted teachers to hold their hands and guide

    them through class. Already! he said, grades arent even out yet and students who never came to class are begging for a B+. Please teacher, my mother died. Three

    students have told me that! One boys grandma called me!

    * * *

That evening Jerry sat on the couch flipping through Korean melodramas and shopping

    networks. A vivid diagram of a dirty colon, take these pills to clean out your ass while shedding pounds. As if any Korean girl needed to lose weight. The chunky ones just had

    more to spank, something soft to hold. Outside, neon lights blinked. The onion truck

    loudspeakers were so loud they rattled his veranda windows. Horns honked, teenagers

    screamed. Its Christmas for Christs sake, go home and decorate the bamboo or

    something. Spice the soju. All Jerry wanted was some turkey, potatoes and gravy with

rummy eggnog and some nieces and nephews at his feet. Jesus, the solid concrete walls

    alone could make a man drink. Florescent lights above, wallpaper over cracked,

    watered down concrete walls gone black with mold, concrete floors that made his heels

    hurt. And the cold; insulation didnt exist. He wrapped himself up with a hot water bottle.

On television red-eyed Korean men drank and smoked while their mothers and wives

    wailed about sons that chose not to be surgeons but dentists, or daughters who chose

    business over babies. Tragic. The smokers made him smoke more. The drinkers and all

    Five fucking years without a drink. No ODouls in that wailing made him want a drink.

    Korea. He glanced at his sack of gifts. For his boss, an expensive cognac and even

    pricier red wine. Why hed bought both he wasnt sure. Never could tell though, for

    what reason one might lose a job in Korea. Korean bosses tended to answer

    employment questions rather vaguely, and the reasons theyd unwillingly give up

    concerning hiring and firing never added up. Hed heard the schools were downsizing

    though, letting extra expats go - the ones who hadnt bought bosses cognac and wine,

    maybe. Teachers that expected something: equal treatment or a quality curriculum.

Jerry got up and put the cognac in the freezer. Koreans rarely drank their foreign

    cognac. They set it in glass cases as decoration and drank 50-cent bottles of the rotgut

    Soju potion instead. Boss man wouldnt get the cognac for another day and might not even bring it home. Might leave it in the office for between classes. Or place it on his

    shelf to impress coworkers.

Jerry looked at the wine. He recalled the warm fuzzies, the velvet room, when just the

    right amount of wine gets one just cozy enough to sit and feel a soft glow in the blood,

    when the grin wouldnt go away. He thought of chestnuts roasting, fireplaces, Nat King

    Cole and bay windows with snowy views.

He thought of the wine, and reached for the bottle. No bottle opener so pushed it in with

    a chopstick. Turned off the lights and poured a drink by the glowing light of an over-

    stuffed colon diagram on channel 3. The first glass was delish, dry and sweet. It

    brought memories he couldnt really remember that well, (hah!) because he was a drunk back then. He looked out to the rain. Ah yes, that first cup that softens up the neon

    glare of go-go lights outside. Now they seemed almost like Christmas lights. He poured

    one more, then one more.

    ***

When Jerry came to he knew not who he was, let alone where. Despite the pain in his

    head and the glare preventing him from opening his eyes, this question bothered him

    and he tried for some time to figure it out from beneath the bed sheets of wherever it

    was he was. He opened his dried, bile coated mouth. He tried to ask himself other

    questions but there was emptiness. His head was full of wordless, unformable wonder, a

    big hollow question mark, as if hed just been born. He could not uncover his head to look, for the brightness was too painful. Instead he just lay, occasionally retching, bits

    of green bile and foam dripping from his chops, contorting his body and exhausting him

    enough to lapse into relative numbness.

Eventually a Korean nurse came in and uncovered him. The sight of her brought back

    everything before the third glass of cognac. While she was cleaning his cut-up, gauze-

    bandaged hands and elbows she tried speaking with him. But hed never bothered

    studying the language and didnt feel like talking. He closed his eyes until she left, slowly recalling glimpses of what had happened.

He had shadowy memories of an Uzbek whore he once knew. She was yelling

    something and her face lunged in and out of his vision, as did her finger, bombarding his