What is Jung?
“Teacher, do you know what is jung?”
“Yes, Jah Min, I‟ve 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
“That‟s silly. Of course it exists in every culture. Man is a pack animal. We couldn‟t work together without loyalty. Because we don‟t have a word for jung specifically, doesn‟t mean it doesn‟t 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 one‟s loyalties personally.”
“Because you are not Korean you cannot understand. I think maybe it‟s 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 don‟t even care for your mother. If you had to go back home, where would you stay? Who would take care of
“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 couldn‟t decide what to do with the time. Couldn‟t go to the bar, hadn‟t had a drink in five years. Already rented every video worth watching. I’ll do a little shopping in Kukje. Boss might like a bottle of cognac. Can’t be too careful. Don’t pay’em 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. He‟d 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,
“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 couldn‟t. What he heard was, “bullabullamillagulla orphanage tomorrow billamulla.” Jerry usually got embarrassed and just nodded his head. He‟d
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 wasn‟t organizing local TESL Club meetings or running marathons,
Drew worked with Korean orphans.
Jerry said, “I see. Hmm. Least you‟ll 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
master‟s 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. Didn‟t have to. Probably, he shouldn‟t. This was Korea after all. All he had to do was show up sober three days a
week. Do the drill. Give‟em the lesson, don‟t 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 aren‟t 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 boy‟s 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. It’s Christmas for Christ’s 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 didn‟t 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 O’Douls 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 he‟d bought both he wasn‟t 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 they‟d unwillingly give up
concerning hiring and firing never added up. He‟d heard the schools were downsizing
though, letting extra expats go - the ones who hadn‟t 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 wouldn‟t 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 wouldn‟t 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 couldn‟t 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 he‟d 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 he‟d never bothered
studying the language and didn‟t 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
face like a deerfly. He recalled feeling vague affection for her gold teeth.
After another long nap, Jerry woke up to more memories. He remembered admiring his
bloody knuckles and scratching his naked belly and chest while lying in the center of an
intersection, covered with torn and exuding red hives. His other hand held a bottle of
Jinro, and the cops were smiling at him, and apologizing.
The next day he was conscious when Drew came in. Drew was holding a big bouquet of
flowers. He set them on a chair and sat down on another chair without saying anything
for a while. Neither knew what to say but eventually Jerry asked, “So I lost my job?”
Without a smile, barely moving his lips, Drew mumbled something suggesting the
flowers were from the university. They wanted him back in two days.
“Don‟t you want to know what you did out there?” But Jerry did not. “Same thing I
always do on a drunk, everything and anything,” he said more to himself. “Drew, my
head is still killing me. Can you slow down a bit, maybe speak up some?”
. You‟d torn it down “Well. Yes…I talked to Miss Kim about it down at her burger stand
almost, you know. Her stand I mean. I don‟t know how you managed to hide, and why
you‟re not dead, but with all the cops around and the Russian sailors and American
military officers you went after, you still hid for four days and five nights. It took us that
long to find you, and every night you did something.”
“Go figure. How come I got my job?”
“Miss Kim. It‟s a good thing you‟ve got jung with Miss Kim - bought burgers from her
and brought her customers and all as long as you have. She got the police out of it.
Then she called and explained to the school. She told them everything - you were
drunk and out of your head and wouldn‟t remember. It‟s just like any other country.
Alcohol makes a good excuse for anyone. Even the American GI‟s turned the other cheek. Nobody hurt you. It‟s Korea Jerry. Everyone here understands misery and
mistakes. People have to forgive you because of age. How many times have you seen a
police officer assaulted by a drunken old man? Look at all the old men howling in the
subways here. It‟ll be forgotten in another week.”
So that was it, business as usual for Jerry. He‟d never had a relapse go over so lightly.
Not that the guilt wasn‟t overwhelming. Just walking home was another lesson in
humiliation. His brain was now clear enough to argue with itself, clear enough to find
some self-assuring excuses, to hold intact what little pride he‟d left. Of course everyone understood. Wasn’t this country Hell even for its own people? Couldn’t they understand how the noise and ruckus brought about occasional mistakes? He was
justified. He had a right to let go sometimes. They didn’t know how much he’d suffered. He wasn’t built for this type of living. This is a drinking culture, what else could expect
of him, and so on and so forth.
His apartment was covered with broken soju bottles. A window was broken out.
Newspaper was laid out where he‟d covered up, apparently after he‟d soaked his blankets and clothes in piss. He picked through some clothes on the floor and found
them covered in vomit or feces. Eventually he found something clean, and cleaned out
the bathroom enough to get ready for his 3 o‟clock class. Luckily this was vacation, so his classes were all day-to-day planning, free talking institute classes. He‟d probably
alcoholism to students, asking about their own spend the day explaining symptoms of
tendencies, or if they knew others with the same disease, which was more than likely
considering Korea was close to, if not at the top, of worldwide per capita alcohol
consumption. Maybe this would be his week of therapeutic English institute AA. The
chances of another breakdown he knew were unlikely, so a few days of explanations to
students and it‟d be forgotten. That was all he needed. He‟d never been one for daily, weekly, monthly AA meetings. He‟d quit on his own, managing to find non-drunken
occupations without any need to discuss the disease with anyone, let alone a group of
This week was also for contract resigning. He met Drew in the office. Drew seemed
uncomfortable, but he usually seemed that way. He said he‟d gone to the boss‟s office
once or twice this week and the boss acted surprised, fidgeting one day then flattering
Drew and buying him lunch the next day. Drew thought maybe he was still upset about
Jerry‟s incident and was confused about how to respond. Jerry should be wary, he
warned, it was possible he‟d reconsidered the implications of employing a dangerous,
recurrent alcoholic. Jerry had been through this so many times he‟d long ago resigned to accepting the inevitable. Another paycheck lost. There was always Thailand. What
does a recovering alcoholic do while sober in Thailand? He could think of very little. As
much as he liked the girls, the thought of a stiff, smiling and passionless prostitute and
sober, self-conscious, guilt-laden sex did not appeal. But there was work, and warm
weather. Why not Japan? Why not Taiwan? Vietnam needs teachers, but again a picture
of drunken tourism popped into his head. Indonesia. They need teachers and have warm
beaches, and since they‟re Islamic the temptation of liquor and young girls might be
By now he was at his boss‟s office. His boss was always friendly, always concerned
when face to face. Jerry was offered lunch and green tea. He was asked how he felt,
was he okay, did he need anything, if he‟d contacted concerned relatives, was his mother upset, would she come to see him, did he need to see her, etc. The boss looked
as if he might drop a tear or two, shaking his head and nodding and sighing and patting
poor Jerry‟s leg and back. He gripped Jerry‟s shoulder and said, “I understand you Jerry. You‟re a friend. We would never back-bite to you in Korea. You‟re part of our family here. This is your university home. It‟s okay. It‟s okay.” Eventually a contract was slid his way.
But his boss held the contract tight and spoke. “Jerry,” his boss said with that soft, creepy voice Korean bosses use before informing you of something unpleasant. His
boss sat down close to him, too close, so that Jerry could smell the garlic and see the
spinach stuck in his teeth. “Jerry, we have to talk to you privately about something.
Maybe we need your help. Anyway, it could make you a lot of extra money for some
time.” Jerry just sat looking at his boss, not speaking, trying to breathe himself into a
calmer state. He hated the way they approached such nastiness so intimately. It was
made to look as if such things were done for a higher cause, say for the betterment of
the school, for sacrifice to the students, or the team or the family when usually all it
came down to was short-sighted, blunt, uncreative greed. He thought about what this
could be about. A Kid‟s Club maybe, an overnight 20-hour a day, intensive month-long
English immersion program for elementary school children, perhaps. Maybe they‟d ship
him off to some other school each day, a 4-hour taxi ride through traffic and smog and
noise to an industrial plant full of dead tired, hung-over salarymen forced to study for the benefit of the company.
What could it be? Jerry just sat, seething beneath his blank demeanor. Outside he tried
to remain calm, but he just kept asking himself, what has my little escapade created? What do I have to do now to stay employed? Oh yes, they’ve got me by the balls, indeed they do. What is it? Just tell me and get it over so I can move on to Thailand.
“Jerry. We‟ve decided to let Drew go. Can you help us?”
“Ahb - Excuse me?”
“Jerry, we don‟t want Drew this year, okay?”
“You mean - you‟re going to keep me - and not Drew?”
“Yes of course,” his boss laughed and smiled, as Asians do, at almost anything, be it
happiness, sadness, embarrassment or discomfort. “We‟re very sorry for Drew, you understand. But, we hope he can understand. You understand don‟t you?”
“Why we‟re not re-signing him. I mean. Well. We‟re hoping to make you head teacher,
and you can take up some of his classes too. You‟ll have a good pay raise, you know.
This couldn’t be right man! How could they dump him for me? How could this be
happening? Why? What is the reasoning behind such a ridiculous suggestion! Jerry wanted to somehow ask this while keeping an upper hand, while not blowing his lid or
simply walking out. After all, aside from the guilt, he was being offered a big raise,
maybe. He had to be sure of this too, but how could he ask all of this about pay and
hours and then go on to defend Drew if he didn‟t like the school‟s offer? This was already way too complicated for a guy still recovering from a week of blood poisoning.
His brain was still to sluggish for this kind of crap.
He cleared his head and waited… then he mouthed the words coolly, “can I get back to you on this?”
“Actually… No. You can sign now, okay? The contract is ready and we‟ve plenty of others who‟d take it Jerry. But, because we love you, you know, we‟re giving you this great offer. Understand?”
“Um… Why do you want to get rid of Drew? I mean, he‟ll ask for a reason.”
“The situation if very complicated you know? It‟s hard to explain because it‟s so complicated. We‟ve thought about this for a long time, you understand. It‟s for the benefit of the students.”
Jerry was not one to push such issues. He wasn‟t the most moral of teachers after all,
and he understood his own survival just as well as anyone. Finding another school
would be a pain in the ass anyways. And what if the school was offended by his
rejection? They might blacklist him as a bad drunk. The schools were all in cahoots
about this kind of stuff. He‟d need his rep for another job, and he didn‟t feel like going through all of this, applications and stuff, if he didn‟t have to. He opened his mouth, “Uh huh. I understand.”
He reached for the contract. But the boss held tight. “One more thing. Can you tell Drew for us please? As a favor for all we‟ve done for you?” Jerry was done with it. He nodded
agreement and signed the contract.
“Jesus Jerry, why do you think they‟ve done this?” Drew sat looking into his tea cup,
and his hand was trembling. He sat back, to maintain composure. He took a breath and
“I dunno Drew, we‟re foreigners after all.”
“But I-but you-“ He said it softly, shrugging and staring hard at his tea.
“Yeah, it‟s pretty fucked up I know.”
“Do you think I upset someone? Maybe it was that student I failed.”
“There‟s never going to be an answer Drew.”
“Maybe it‟s because I never went to the school picnics. I mean, I‟ve even taken the department head on tours of London. I give him gifts every New Year‟s. ”
“I‟ve never been to any picnics either. Look, after all the years you‟ve been here you must have a pretty penny in the bank. Why not retire and go play?”
promised tenure and retirement benefits. I‟m too old to wander. This is home “I‟d been
Jerry, right here. I‟ll miss my kids, my students. So many people here are family Jerry. I
look forward to seeing them every day. You know how it is here. We love to hate it,
Jerry. But can we leave? Do you want to go back to a country full of strangers, of
isolated neighbors, of of – of no jung!?”
They sat looking at each other a while. Briefly, Jerry recollected his student‟s questions. “No. No, I don‟t want to.” America: a nice place to visit; old friends; green lawns;
personal space; real beers and real pizza. Japan had order, Thailand beaches and India
wild scenery. But Korea. He always came back.
“I just want to know why,” said Drew, “I mean, I‟d be willing to work things out.”