Chapter 11- Old Steel (1)

‘Beep-slap!’

Jungwu closed the alarm the moment it began to ring. He blinked a few times before shaking his head.

“Damn it. Couldn’t sleep again.”

Day 5 of being employed with KG Chemicals.

Perhaps it was due to suddenly plunging into work life, but Jungwu felt his sleep cycle was all messed up. And having worked overtime every day including last night did not help.

‘Cruel Doctor Moon.’

The one good thing to look forward to was the fact that tomorrow was Saturday.

‘If I just survive another day then I can take as much nap as… Ah Doctor Moon, don’t tell me I’ll have to clock in during weekends too?’

He couldn’t summon the courage to ask. He shook his head as he opened the door to his room.

He had to duck his head slightly to climb down the stairs that he had once run up and down as a child.

‘Delicious aroma.’

When he followed the appetite inducing scent and turned to look at its source, he saw his mother cooking in the kitchen.

“What are you working on?”

“Radish Soup”

“The one with lots of beef? Oh yay!”

“Not for you, it’s for Chan. So he can do well on the remaining tests.”

Even though she said this, she was the owner of ‘Jisook Restaurant’ which was famous for its large serving sizes, so there were no worries about his portion lacking any beef.

“I wonder what rank he will hit this time.”[1]

Jungwu picked up the water jug from the table. He was about to drink from it directly when Jisook Hong came like the wind and grasped his shoulders.

“I told you not to put your lips on it!”

“Hey! I didn’t drink yet!”

“Don’t drink it!”

Jungwu sat down looking disappointed upon having the water jug taken away from him.

“You’re so mean. When I was preparing for the finals you always just fed me grass roots.”

“Why would I feed you well when you were 5th from the back? And you, we sent you to that expensive college, and what are you doing now?”

“Hmm…part time?”

Jisook picked up an egg and was just about to throw it because of his nonchalant response when Jungwu immediately raised both his hands to surrender and communicated his wishes.

“I request half done eggs.”

“Go wake up Chan. He won’t wake up even when I call.”

“Okay.”

His mother had a tendency of giving preferential treatment to the younger and more academically successful second son since long ago. He wanted to tell her that he had become quite intelligent the last few days, but he instead chose to somehow keep his mouth shut.

Jungwu opened up his brother’s room and used his toes to prod the brother who was sleeping on the floor.

“Hey, wake up.”

“Mmm…”

“If you don’t wake up I’ll eat all your eggs.”

Jungchan[2] suddenly raised his head when he heard this.

“Don’t eat it. I’ll spit in your rice.”

“Tell me that after you open your eyes.”

Use of competitive spirit to taunt his brother awake proved effective once again. Jungchan yawned as he climbed out of the blankets and asked Jungwu

“Hyung, why do you wake up so early nowadays?”

“I told you. My part time job is crazy hard.”

His younger brother looked so mature that it would be easy to mistake the two of them as being same aged friends. And perhaps because he was better fed, Jungchan was already the same height as Jungwu.

Jungchan threw on his sweatpants and asked Jungwu

“Wow, I’m surprised you didn’t quit yet. You must get paid well then. Will you be able to buy me Pentawatch skin box[3] by my winter break?”

When Jungwu thought of how much money he would receive next month, his facial expression took a rapid change. An in-game item would be of negligible cost.

“You’ll reap great rewards if you behave well. Don’t wear my clothes, clean my room on weekends, and keep the living room clean.”

“That’s all I have to do? Really? You promise!”

“Is my word not good enough?”

The close-knit brothers who just came to an agreement entered the kitchen together. Jisook readied the bowls of rice and soup and placed them on top of the table as she addressed her sons.

“You know this isn’t for free, right?”

“Of course. I, the eldest son, shall repay this kindness with…”

“I’ll probably land within top 5. Sambum and Joonchul didn’t do that well this time.”

Jungchan interrupted Jungwu in the middle of his speech.

“5th place?”

Jisook pushed the bowl with the unmistakably larger amount of meat towards the younger son. Jungwu gave Jungchan a withering look and said,

“How is it possible that someone from our clan[6] can reach top 5? And not from the back but from the front?”

“Yeah.”

“Mom, who is he taking after? It for sure can’t possibly be y…”

Jungwu saw the ladle Jisook had gripped firmly in her hands, and shut his mouth. Jungchan turned his gaze towards Jungwu and answered

“I don’t know about me, but Hyung sure takes after our father. Including getting yourself into trouble.”

“You…”

Jungwu didn’t have a good reply for the comment about his failure of a father. He really did resemble his father in many ways.

Even though he wasn’t bad enough to be called a delinquent, he did enjoy slacking off like his father and had finally started to study seriously during the middle of his senior year of highschool, whereas his brother was the manifestation of the model student itself. The favored son of the clan.

Nevertheless, Jungwu was still number 2 in Jisook’s hierarchy of love and grinned when he saw her put him half cooked eggs on top of the rice.

‘Just wait one month. You’ll be surprised.’

Jungwu checked his clothes in the mirror which stood next to the entrance. He couldn’t make it do with having just one pair of presentable clothes, so he spent most of the money he earned through working as a Human Test Subject on ordering a new suit and a white button up shirt.

“I’m off!”

Jungwu enthusiastically pushed open the gates and crossed the yard.

When the door swung open, it gave a loud wail that startled a neighbor who was sweeping the yard. The man turned to search for the source of the sound.

“Hey Jungwu, can’t you do anything about that gate? Each time your mother leaves to go to the market in the morning, it sounds like ghosts are coming out.”

“I’m really sorry. I’ll oil it this weekend.”

While Jungwu carefully closed the gate, the neighbor took note of his clothes and asked,

“You’ve cleaned up quite well. Are you going to an interview?”

“Part time job. It’s getting cold so I got myself a muffler as well. Does it match my clothes?”

The neighbor nodded in approval and Jungwu smiled, feeling satisfied.

‘It’s good then. I know he has a good eye.’

Although he was retired by now, the neighbor had been a salaryman until a few years ago. And until now, Jungwu had not understood what an incredible feat it was that the man had managed to work at a company until retirement age.

“Oh yeah, I will be paying the cost of the meal for the next monthly neighborhood meeting, so look forward to it.”

“Really?”

“I can’t mooch off forever. Though I’ll leave Soju to you.”

“Kaa, sounds good.”

Jungwu waved goodbye and quickly climbed down the hill.

‘I only have to wait 4 weeks, no, 3 weeks until my first paycheck.’

His wallet was not faring well due to his attempt to look the part of a respectable salary man working for a major corporation.

He immersed himself in a daydream about what he would buy next month. The newest model of Tablet, brand name sunglasses, expensive watches and such drifted by in Jungwu’s imagination.

‘Hold on, let’s first pay off the mortgage on the house first.’

His future in the research team was still uncertain. He needed to plan ahead; otherwise, he might suffer greatly after a brief period of joy.

‘But I should still be able to buy presents…’

He smiled remembering the look on his mother and brother’s face when he bought brand new winter jackets for them. It wasn’t long now until he would be able to walk down the street with his head held high.

‘Clack’

Jungwu who had fallen asleep was jerked awake by the sudden motion. He grasped the subway handle tightly as he opened his eyes wide.

‘Where am I?’

After briefly looking around he suspected that the subway was passing through Yongsan. Lucky for him, he was woken up before it passed the station he had to get off at.

After breathing a sigh of relief, he checked his disheveled clothes. Meanwhile, he noticed that the subway was slowing down.

‘Mmm? This isn’t anywhere close to a station.’

– Dear passengers, this is an announcement. A piece of Han River Railway’s superstructure has fallen and is now obstructing our path, so we have slowed down as a precaution.

The passengers on board began murmuring after the train conductor’s announcement.

– The piece in question is a part of the rain drainage system. We are happy to announce that the structure of the bridge itself is unaffected. It will take approximately 5 minutes to remove the debris from the path. We highly appreciate everyone’s patience. We are repeating this announcement…

Jungwu was shocked and turned to look out the window, but the bridge was hardly visible.

‘Why me.’

Seeing trains pass by normally on the other lane indicated that the issue was likely not severe, but it was still boring to wait without doing anything.

Taking out his cellphone, he spent 5 minutes surfing the web.

Woong, the Subway came back to life and began to move again, and the passengers who were nervous were able to finally calm down. The subway continued to move slower than usual as it made its way over Han River Railway, likely as a precaution in case of any unforeseen danger.

Jungwu looked out the window to try and see what part of the bridge had fallen.

‘The Rain drainage system…’

Was it because he was focused and interested? A phenomenon that he hadn’t experienced in a few days unexpectedly resurfaced for Jungwu.

The fallen debris of the Han River Railway Superstructure became enlarged in his view as if he had taken a microscope to the object.

Once the smooth painted surface of the debris enlarged itself to the size of a cinema screen for Jungwu, he was able to examine the world of metallic surfaces.

‘Ack, I’m getting motion sickness because of the train’s movement.’

The motion sickness was similar to the one he had experienced when he tried out VR using his cellphone. Despite his discomfort, Jungwu checked the scientific information being fed to him from the enlarged image.

The yellowish green membrane that stuck like oil to the surface of the object was paint. Thanks to the hydrophobic property of the paint which reflected the droplets of water away, he couldn’t spot anywhere on the surface of the metal where a chemical reaction was taking place.

‘Clunk cli-clack’

Due to the subway train picking up speed, the image Jungwu was seeing became shaky as well.

Jungwu gazed over to the bolt that was shaking due to the intense vibration and saw that the magnification had increased once more on it.

‘Free Electron, you rascals. You’re causing problems there too?’

He saw the familiar looking stardust on the object.

They were busily and freely flying back and forth between the bolt and the steel frame, slowly eating away and eroding the surfaces of the metals they bounced off of.

If anything was a source of relief, it was the fact that if the bolt was like the size of 63 Building[4] then the free Electrons were the size of a grain of sand in comparison.

No matter how much those electrons run wild, it would be difficult to cause any significant damage to the bolt. It wasn’t like shoveling alone away at the mountain was putting the mountain in danger of disappearing anytime soon.

‘It doesn’t look like something to be worried about.’

Jungwu resolved to stop looking and blinked a few times as he turned his gaze to the other side before he froze. He saw a bolt whose surface had become extremely worn out.

‘That one looks dangerous.’

If the superstructure were to come loose, it would stop the trains on the other side. The chances were low, but if something were to happen, it would delay his journey back home. And it might take longer at night to fix.

Jungwu turned to look at the “Seoul Metro Customer Service” number written close to the entrance.

‘Hmm’

He took a deep breath to calm himself before he picked up his cellphone.

After a brief dial tone, he heard an automated message. He followed the prompts until he reached the section where he was able to connect to ‘Miscellaneous, speak to an agent’ option. Selecting that option was followed by a message asking him to wait patiently. There must have been a flood of phone calls going out to the call center from the passengers who were being delayed by the debris.

– Hello, this is Seoul Metro’s representative Hojung Kim.

The call finally went through.

“Hello, I’m just calling because I was passing the Han River Railway and saw fissures on the superstructure.”

– Yes yes, a fissu…what?!

“The Electric potential between the bolt and the steel frames are quite high, so the bolt seemed to have undergone a great deal of corrosion. Another portion of the rain catch basin might fall, so it will probably need a closer inspection.”

-… Uh dear customer, could you explain in detail where that is located?

“It’s at the Southernmost tip of the Han River Railway, above the portion of the rails where subway trains headed towards Uijeongbu run.”

Jungwu revealed the location of where he saw the bolt in as much detail as he could. The representative asked for his name, so he obliged.

– Thank you, Mr. Jungwu Han.

“No problem.”

– Could you explain again one more time the cause?

“So basically, Electrons tend to move from metals with low potential to metals with high potential…”

Jungwu explained again why it was happening, but the man did not seem to comprehend it. It must be quite confusing for the representative as well since this was probably the first time someone had ever called to inform them that a superstructure located over the bridge was in danger due to rust. He would be happy as long as they didn’t consider this a prank call.

‘I did my due diligence.’

Jungwu felt satisfied with the fact that he did his part as a citizen and exited the train at the transfer station.

*

Friday Morning at the KG Chemicals Central Laboratory.

The door to Lab 1 opened and the Research Supervisor Seungju Oh walked in.

“Attention”

A dozen researchers turned to look at him from their seats.

“Electronic Device Center needs 2 Senior researchers. They are going to get vacancies due to end of the year vacations. I want Junghi and Yoonjae to go. Just put up with it until the weekend.”

Two Senior Researchers stood up from their desks.

“And Team Leader Gilsoo Park has sent us a message. The Metal Lab is still recruiting new researchers, so they want someone from Lab 1 to apply…”

The researchers who were unrelated to the announcements cut off their attention and resumed focusing on their work.

Boyoung who sat close to the entrance smiled as she opened her bag, thinking she will get a chance to read a bunch of research articles today.

“Boyounga[5].”

“Aieet!”

But she had to quickly stand due to being called.

“Did you participate in Quasicrystal coating research this summer? The one commissioned by Korail.”

“Yes, Sunbae.”

“The city hall is searching for Researchers who had participated. Some sort of seminar is being held about Corrosion.”

“You want me to go? What about Team Leader Park?”

“You know he’s busy with the new project. Ah, and General Manager Kim of Korail has asked me to say hello.”

Since Boyoung had to leave soon, she closed her bag again.

“Take a few temps with you. You should show them how Sunbae handles work outside.”

“Should I?”

Boyoung’s eyes sparkled at Seungju’s instructions.

 


Note:

1) Korean midterms and finals are ranked per class, per school, per region, per country. This is then posted everywhere publically.

2) In Korean, there is a naming scheme called “Dol Lim”. The idea is that siblings, or sometimes an entire generation of cousins (usually of one gender, like all the boys, or all the girls) will share the same chinese character (and therefore pronunciation) on one of the syllables of their name. In this case, we can see that Jungwu and Jungchan have the same “jung” character in their name. This is why when the mother addresses her sons, she calls the younger brother “chan” because that’s the unique identifier for the younger son, whereas the older (MC) would be called “wu”. I do not know exactly because the chinese character for the names are not shown in the raw, but Jung in names most often mean righteous, justice, pure, etc. Dol Lim names are often the same pronunciation on the same syllable (Jung on first syllable for example)

Unrelated to this, the author of Chemistry has the exactly the same chinese character and pronunciation as my name, and my name was a result of Dol Lim being used for the character “Soo” (water) on the last syllable, because my family uses the elemental wheel to determine the Dol Lim character (My father was stone on first syllable). I’d be curious to know if the author had the same tradition in his family.

3) Pentawatch – a trademark friendly parody on Overwatch
Winter Break – Korea’s longest vacation (NA’s version of summer vacation). Lasts 3 months.

4) 63 Building is a famous building in Korea because at the time it was built in 1985, it was the tallest building outside of North America. It was the first Landmark building in Seoul, and is world famous as it was premiered in olympics and in Sim City 3000. It is a building that often symbolizes Korea.

5) You add ‘a’ or ‘ya’ after the name to call out to somebody at equal or lower standing than you. It is similar to saying “hey”

Aieet is a sound of frustration in korean (or sound you make with your mouth as you hit something). It either shows dissatisfaction or a certain rebellious attitude, and if said by a girl is seen as a cute/adorable resistance.

6) Clan means family but it also includes extended family(grandparents, all their children and grandchilren, or to everyone with same lineage)

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