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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

    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.

Dont 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?

    . Youd torn it down Well. YesI talked to Miss Kim about it down at her burger stand

    almost, you know. Her stand I mean. I dont know how you managed to hide, and why

    youre 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. Its a good thing youve 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 wouldnt remember. Its just like any other country.

    Alcohol makes a good excuse for anyone. Even the American GIs turned the other cheek. Nobody hurt you. Its 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. Itll be forgotten in another week.

So that was it, business as usual for Jerry. Hed never had a relapse go over so lightly.

    Not that the guilt wasnt 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 hed left. Of course everyone understood. Wasnt this country Hell even for its own people? Couldnt they understand how the noise and ruckus brought about occasional mistakes? He was

    justified. He had a right to let go sometimes. They didnt know how much hed suffered. He wasnt 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 hed covered up, apparently after hed 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 oclock class. Luckily this was vacation, so his classes were all day-to-day planning, free talking institute classes. Hed 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 itd be forgotten. That was all he needed. Hed never been one for daily, weekly, monthly AA meetings. Hed quit on his own, managing to find non-drunken

    occupations without any need to discuss the disease with anyone, let alone a group of

    quitters.

This week was also for contract resigning. He met Drew in the office. Drew seemed

    uncomfortable, but he usually seemed that way. He said hed gone to the bosss 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

    Jerrys incident and was confused about how to respond. Jerry should be wary, he

    warned, it was possible hed reconsidered the implications of employing a dangerous,

    recurrent alcoholic. Jerry had been through this so many times hed 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 theyre Islamic the temptation of liquor and young girls might be

    off-limits.

By now he was at his bosss 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 hed 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 Jerrys leg and back. He gripped Jerrys shoulder and said, I understand you Jerry. Youre a friend. We would never back-bite to you in Korea. Youre part of our family here. This is your university home. Its okay. Its 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 Kids Club maybe, an overnight 20-hour a day, intensive month-long

    English immersion program for elementary school children, perhaps. Maybe theyd 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, theyve 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. Weve decided to let Drew go. Can you help us?

Ahb - Excuse me?

Jerry, we dont want Drew this year, okay?

    You mean - youre 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. Were very sorry for Drew, you understand. But, we hope he can understand. You understand dont you?

Understand what?

    Why were not re-signing him. I mean. Well. Were hoping to make you head teacher,

and you can take up some of his classes too. Youll have a good pay raise, you know.

    Understand?

This couldnt 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 didnt like the schools 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 weve plenty of others whod take it Jerry. But, because we love you, you know, were giving you this great offer. Understand?

    Um Why do you want to get rid of Drew? I mean, hell ask for a reason.

    The situation if very complicated you know? Its hard to explain because its so complicated. Weve thought about this for a long time, you understand. Its for the benefit of the students.

Jerry was not one to push such issues. He wasnt 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. Hed need his rep for another job, and he didnt feel like going through all of this, applications and stuff, if he didnt 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 weve done for you? Jerry was done with it. He nodded

    agreement and signed the contract.

    ***

Jesus Jerry, why do you think theyve 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

    sighed.

I dunno Drew, were foreigners after all.

But I-but you- He said it softly, shrugging and staring hard at his tea.

Yeah, its pretty fucked up I know.

    Do you think I upset someone? Maybe it was that student I failed.

Theres never going to be an answer Drew.

    Maybe its because I never went to the school picnics. I mean, Ive even taken the department head on tours of London. I give him gifts every New Years.

    Ive never been to any picnics either. Look, after all the years youve been here you must have a pretty penny in the bank. Why not retire and go play?

    promised tenure and retirement benefits. Im too old to wander. This is home Id been

    Jerry, right here. Ill 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 students questions. No. No, I dont 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, Id be willing to work things out.

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