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