Sweaty palms and squeaking sneakers, the hall in front of the class was packed despite the early hour. Everyone knew how it worked; first come, first served to be taught by Lee Seongsaengnim.
A lucky few would have the honor to follow the professor around in the hospital rotations. Many prayed to obtain the privilege, a dragon, a beast they called her, but a recommendation from the professor opened doors to institutes a doctor could only dream of entering.
Whispers and scrunching papers paved the way for Ji-Seong’s nonchalant steps, which were stopped by the queue in front of him. It was insane; even Disneyland Paris had lines shorter than the one he joined, “excuse me,” Ji-Seong said, trying to make his way through.
“Ah, chum, look at this one. Do you think you are a direct descent of King Sejong? Wait your turn like everyone,” a boy with a Pusan accent said.
“Aren’t you in a hurry to meet the witch?”
“Witch?” Ji-Seong turned to meet the eyes of his interlocutor.
“Yeah,집선생님 [jip seonsaengnim=Dr. Jip].”
“Chip,ーah Jip, ーeh, why such a name?” Ji-Seong asked. [jip is the Korean word for the house]
“You know, Dr. House, well, Lee Seonsaeng is the female version of him,” the girl explained.
Ji-Seong listened while he eyed the girl. Glasses and bob haircut, she looked like she leaped out of a series herself.
“Annyeong, I’m Nam Soo-Hae,” the young woman said with a voice too cheerful for the early hour.
“만나서 반갑습니다[mannaseo bangapseupnida] Nice to meet you, I’ m-.”
“Chae Ji-Seong, THE transfer from Seoul University, I’m sorry to say this, but I think you’re crazy.”
Soo-Hae’s remark left Ji-Seong’s lips stuck on his name’s Ji shape, which he wanted to pronounce.
“OMG, you’re the transfer?” The Pusan accent boy said in a friendlier tone than the one employed earlier to push Ji-Seong to the line’s back.
A small group of students gathered around Ji-Seong. Everyone heard about the top-ranking student who transferred from Seoul’s number one university.
“Honestly, why did you do that? Why did you leave heaven to come in this hell hole,” student A said.
“Yeah, it’s this year with Dr. Jip will be like walking through purgatory,” the boy with the accent added.
“I understand you though, I mean, Seoul University doesn’t have Lee Seonsaeng. I wonder why?” Soo-Hae said.
No one understood why the star practician did not choose a more prestigious institute.
“Let me remind you, people, that our establishment is 3rd in the national ranking we have nothing to envy Seoul University,” student B said.
Soo-Hae was right; Ji-Seong came for her. Lee Seonsaengnim was the only professor who could quench Ji-Seong’s thirst for knowledge.
Ji-Seong decided to mingle with a question, “since when did you guys arrive here?”
Everyone turned to face the boy who wore a gray suit and a prune-colored turtleneck.
“Neo [You=informel]?” Ji-Seong said.
Of all encounters, this one was quite a shocker for Ji-Seong, who never imagined meeting the guy who now strode towards the little group.
“What do you think you are the only person on earth who wants to be taught by Lee Seongsaeng?”
“Ah, Oppa,” Soo-Hae yelled.
“Nam Gong Won, Nam Soo-Hae, siblings,” Ji-Seong muttered as the information was pieced together in his mind.
“So, you two study medicine?”
“It’s my first time in a 4th year, Oppa redoubled.”
“Shut up, Soo-Hae.”
Embarrassed by the remark, Gong Won shoved his sister’s head before turning to face Ji-Seong, “I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Neither did I,” Ji-Seong replied, looking at Soo-Hae readjust her glasses and hair.
Ji-Seong remembered the night at L’hexagone; he never met the mysterious woman again. The young man scouted for her in many nightclubs, but the lady seemed to have vanished. The bracelet she lost became Ji-Seong’s lucky charm, and like garlic, the sight of it made women flee, convinced he had a girlfriend.
Ji-Seong was sure to recognize her if they crossed paths again.
The class’ door opened, and the students stormed inside.
“Ya, do you think we’re at a rodeo show? Make a single file line,” Dr. Moore yelled.
Students were always shocked when they met her, assuming she was a foreigner, but Yoona Moore was just a woman married to an American ex-pat who worked in the U.S. embassy in South Korea.
The students executed the demand entering in an orderly manner.
Ji-Seong was five students away from the door.
Dr. Moore stepped out, “sorry, kids, that’s it, we’re full.”
The protests began. Ji-Seong advanced, “seongsaengnim, Moore seongsaeng, I have to get in there.”
“No, I,” was all Ji-Seong managed.
Dr. Moore slammed the door shut. Ji-Seong and the boy from Pusan remained behind with two dozen others.
Peering through the door’s glass behind other students stacked up against, Ji-Seong saw her stand up and walk in front of her desk.
The room grew so silent that even those outside could hear her voice. There she was, professor Lee Sa-rang, one of the most talented surgeons of her generation.
“I know the wait was long, but you made it. I don’t know whether I should congratulate you or pity you. Anyway, here a the rules:
“I give weekly assignments, I expect everyone to be on time, and I strike you out the 3rd time you are late,” Sa-rang lifted her gaze to the back row to where a hand rose, “yes, you may ask your question.”
“Is it three times late per week?”
A sly grin appeared on the professor’s face,” 3 times in the semester. The same goes for absences; I don’t care if you partied all night, whether you were at a funeral or you got kicked out of the dorm, you come and do your rotations.
“Oh, and another thing, no alcohol reeking students in the hospital. Filed nails for girls and boys, no 3-day beards, or sprung out of bed haircuts and sober attire. You represent the Yonsei institute. Please live up to the reputation.
“I know I have an apple tree of names, but I only answer to the following titles: Lee seongsaengnim, Lee seongsaeng, Seongsaengnim, and Lee gyosunim for those who feel the need to wax my ego a little more.”
The professor paused, “If I catch muttering anything else in my presence, I will strike you out, understood? Bitch, witch, nappeun nyeon, dragon, beast, you can think it. Your mind is your playground, but don’t let those words take the slide out of your mouths.
“Now, I will rotate with all of you, but the highest rankers get the privilege to follow me every day.”
The professor’s permanent rotation team was a gift and a curse; the top rankers had more work than the rest. Regularly given additional assignments, these students were prisoners of the professor’s presence. Their day usually ended when hers ended or when she decided to put an end to it.
“Here are the names: Nam Soo- Hae, Nam Gong-Won, Shin Ju-Eun, and Kwan Dae-Jung.
Dr. Moore handed her an envelope that held the name of the assistant chosen by the school’s board to avoid polemic.
Assistant was a big word for Sa-rang had one, this student, in particular, was a team leader coordinating and transmitting information to the other students. The student also ran all the errands, but it was considered a privilege for they sat at the first seat, even allowed to observe the professor while she operated, and sometimes they got to scrub in as the first assist in each surgery.
Sa-rang opened the envelope, “and last but not least, Chae Ji-Seong,” she said and rolled eyes as she realized the assistant was a boy.
Sa-rang nodded, “yes, question.”
“Seongsaengnim, Kwan Dae-Jung, and Chae Ji-Seong are outside.”