Kwang was in middle school just before the Korean War in 1950. His school was built by Queen Min, second to last queen in the Rhee dynasty in Korea. She recognized the imminent problem in Korea was the education of the men and women in the middle class. The school building is a small two-story red brick. In the summer green Ivy vines crawled to the top and transformed the building to green. In the small field the clay ground basketball and tennis courts were in the east corner. Soft rubber balls were used as tennis balls.
After World War II Korea had an extremely urgent situation to get or develop new technology. The industries had to produce fertilizer, cement, petroleum, chemical products and more. In 1950 Korean industries had just started to sprout with joint venture companies in America and Europe. Science and engineering fields were more important, encouraging and demanding subjects in college. Also, because of the extremely high demand for engineers and scientists in the marketplace, the crème de la crème of the top students went into the areas of scientific fields over literature, history or political science.
Of course, Kwang’s main interest was science. For years he was the pet among the science teachers, especially the biology teacher, Mr. Shin, who was very short and nicknamed “curly” because of his curly hair. He loved Kwang as his own son. His pants were almost down to his butt and he always wore second hand army boots. He carried another nicknames as “Ein”, because in appearance he resembled Albert Einstein with his bushy hair, he did not know he wore different colored socks on each foot and was always absent minded. Mr. Shin seemed almost not enough called “Einstein”. The students just called him “curly or Ein”. He did not even know that he had nicknames, or he pretended not to know. One day Mr. Shin assigned Kwang to take care of the chicken coop that had 25-30 chickens, including two roosters. This involved daily clean-up, collection of eggs, feeding them and monitoring the physical condition of the chickens. This job took about two hours on weekdays.
It was a simple coop, with a dirt floor, with a very small space for each chicken. The three nests were over racks with small “drop” ramps for the eggs to pass through to be collected below. There was a hatchway door that was hinged at the bottom in order to form a ramp with grip strips and a nine inch perch for each chicken and 24 ft. by 12 ft. dirt ground serving as the “run”. The entire area was enclosed by a wire fence.
The chicken coop was located on a hill toward the south side 50 yards away from the main campus with a nearby vegetable garden which had green onions, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, corn and cucumber for student’s experiments.
Since in Korea there are classes Monday through Saturday, he took care of the chicken coop every day, except Sunday. On Sunday it was the janitor, Mr. Kim’s turn to sprinkle the seeds on the ground inside of the coop and pour water into the bowls to the brim. Of course, he did not forget to collect the fresh eggs that had been laid.
10 – 15 eggs that were collected daily were sold to the market to help biology students take trips to the beach for collection of sea animals and seaweed, or going to the hills to catch different species of butterflies.
After finishing his job, Kwang lay down on the ground with his two hands behind his head and looked down on the vegetable garden and looked up at the sky to imagine his dreams for his future destiny with floating fluffy clouds. He closed his eyes and wanted to take a nap under the warm sunbeams of early summer. He saw the activities of the chickens in his mind’s eye. Two roosters were chasing hens around the edge of the coop and occasionally they lifted their heads and scanned the perimeters of the coop. The smallest chick was always following number 11 chicken with brown feathers and number 13 chicken with white feathers pushed the dirt away and tried to dig a hole to look for worms. The first thing Kwang did after he got the job was putting tags with numbers around the chickens’ necks. Before drawing pictures of all the 27 chickens in his mind, Kwang fell asleep.
One week later he looked up at the sky, as was his habit, and watched the chickens as they chased each other and pecked at their feed of seeds and corn. Usually two roosters roamed around the chicken coop or were busy pecking at seeds. Suddenly one of the roosters ran to a hen and over her back. Other hens walked away from the scene and looked for hiding places and flocked to the northeast side of the coop.
Kwang watched for a few minutes and suddenly stood up and ran to the coop and without any thought or hesitation, kicked the rooster with all his might and energy. The rooster lay down, his body shivering, with a squawking noise, and the hen ran away flapping its wings and its feathers were flying in the air.
Kwang found out the rooster’s stomach had burst and it was dead. He did not have any intention of killing the rooster, only wanted to separate it from the hen. Why he even attempted to separate them while they were having a good time, why he did it, he did not understand it himself.
Anyway, it was too huge a problem to handle himself. Kwang went to tell the incident to the biology teacher, but he had already gone home and his office was closed. He did not have any solution of how to tell the teacher the next morning. During his forty-five minutes to an hour walk from school to home he tried to get an explanation in order to avoid the possibility of a week long suspension from school. Usually on the way home he got grilled corn on the street and ate it as a snack. That day he did not even look at the corn wagon that was equipped with a charcoal stove along with piles of the yellow corn.
“Hey, student, get some corn. Why don’t you buy today? You are just passing me by.” Kwang did not answer, just continued walking with his head down a little, looking at the road. “Hey, student, if you do not have any money today, you can bring it tomorrow,” the old man continued to talk. Kwang did not answer, and continued to walk by hearing the noise from the small children around the corn wagon.
As soon as he arrived home, he passed the first big squeaky wooden door, and then passed through the second door and then in the middle of the yard. His mother was pumping water from the ground with a hand pump. In order to avoid her attention he did not look at her, and went to his room and threw his backpack of books on the floor and lay down on the mattress and covered his head with the sheet. A few minutes later his mother came in with popcorn for his snack before dinner. “What is wrong? Are you sick or do you have a fever? Or fight with the fat boy?” His mother asked him non-stop questions. Kwang did not answer her and kept silent. Instead of leaving his room, she approached him and put her hand on his forehead. “Just a little temperature, not bad.” She continued, “I hope you did not make any trouble with a teacher?”
“Mom, please leave me alone”, he almost yelled at her with an expression that if she did not leave that very minute, he might become violent. His mother left his room quietly, shaking her head. She could not understand her son’s behavior. It had never happened before. She just viewed Kwang as quiet, diligent and a good student. The only complaint or concern she had was that he swallowed his food without chewing it.
Her concern about the happenings in her son’s school day did not go away. It seemed she was just walking blindly through a labyrinth.
The next morning Kwang left home as if nothing had happened yesterday. After breakfast he said “goodbye” to his mother and went to school a little earlier than his normal time in order to see his biology teacher.
Mr. Shin was busy with paperwork at his desk. “Good morning, teacher.” He did not look at Kwang, and Kwang continued, “Yesterday one of the roosters died in the coop”, Kwang informed the teacher without mumbling or intimidation. “What? Let’s go see.” Mr. Shin stood up abruptly from his desk and held two hands on it. Because of his zeal to observe the death scene, the teacher only asked Kwang a few questions, instead of millions. Kwang followed his biology teacher to the coop. The teacher saw the rooster’s exposed intestines. “This is a chicken’s disease”, he made a hasty conclusion. “Very contagious disease. Let’s order the janitor to take all the other chickens and kill them before all the other chickens get this disease.” “Hoo, Hoo”, Kwang sighed deeply and the teacher left without asking him any more questions. The teacher didn’t give Kwang a chance to say a word of explanation. He was convinced the rooster had died from a highly contagious disease that endangered the whole coop. For a long time Kwang looked at the coop and the dead rooster. He saw that baby chick number 7 was still following number 11. And number 13 was busy drinking water. The other chickens happily ate their seeds. He picked up his notebook and recorded “all will be dead” with a big question mark.
After Kwang graduated from engineering school at the University of Iowa and got a job with an oil company in Houston, Texas, in order to improve his self-confidence and assertive speech pattern, he took a Dale Carnegie course in Houston, Texas.
For many years he kept it as a secret and felt guilty that he did not or could not tell the truth to Mr. Shin. Now he removed this heavy burden from his heart. Kwang chose to share this story from his past with other students as an impromptu speech. It was an extremely humorous and interesting story. He got the highest score among twenty students in the class. Later he was made an assistant instructor for the course, which was a great honor.