John Havice Jones (1962-2009)
I never actually met John but I counted him as a close friend in Seoul. We encountered each other on Dave's ESL Cafe, a message board for ESL teachers. John went by the name Jongno Guru and was universally admired on that message board. He was kind, reasonable, and had a knock-out sense of humor.
I don't know if John was ever an ESL teacher in Korea or Japan. When I knew him he had his own company and was a home owner in what I believe was one of Seoul's most wealthy neighbourhoods. He led a life many in the ESL teaching community craved. He got there by working hard and becoming fluent in Korean. Despite his success he never lorded it over members of the ESL community. He mixed with us lowly ESL teachers as well as the expat business people and members of the diplomatic community he also counted as friends and associates.
I remember John would patrol the ESL teacher message board looking for teachers down on their luck. If they were short on money, he'd quickly farm out some editing work to them. If they were in need of a place to stay, he'd offer them temporary shelter in his home. He was kind and generous but not a soft touch or sucker by any means. He knew a bad egg from a good person down on their luck.
My own part, I mostly talked to John over MSN messenger. He'd farm out editing jobs and little educational book writing projects to me. He paid in full and upon delivery, even if the client wasn't forthcoming with funds for several more months. He would even pay above and beyond a wage I'd negotiate. I'd ask for $400. He'd pay $500. After I moved back to Toronto, he stayed in touch over MSN, and would sometimes message me to brain storm about writing projects he had for Samsung. One day he just up and mailed me a Samsung mp4 video player he received as a gift from the client. And he slipped a US$50 bill in the box as well.
I hadn't heard from John in while. Last we talked I think he was working on some brochure for Samsung. That was in early fall of 2009. I got busy with Christmas and then I started condo hunting and then bought a condo and then moved and well eventually I noticed I hadn't seen John online for a while. John sometimes seemed to change emails and computers so I thought maybe he was reconstituting his online contacts or something.
Just today (February 17, 2010) I emailed him and then did a quick google. Much to my horror I found this post on the Marmot's Hole. It was nice of Robert to honor him but the few comments under the post left me feeling uneasy. Most of the comments were about him looking older than his age. Nary a positive word from a friend. Dave's ESL Cafe had a better tribute to him. Those unfamiliar with Dave's Cafe might not appreciate that the topic went for 9 pages and garnered not a SINGLE negative comment. Charitably Dave's ESL cafe might be described as place where frustrated ESL teachers can empty their bile sacks to valve the stresses of their lives and frequently hold fellow message board posters guilty for the bad time they're having in Korea)
Anyway, I thought I'd put up this page in honor of him and relate how he enriched my own life.
If you have a story about John, please email me. I'll post it here. Another request. I never met him. I have no idea what he looked like. If you have a photo of him, I'd love to have a copy. Again, please email it to me.
-- Karl Mamer
Hey, Mr. Donut Man!
[Once I published a small zine. I solicited a story from John. This was his story. I think it shows his humor. -- Karl]
Many years ago I was staying at a very down-market flop - er, inn.... in Japan, sharing a room with first one and then two other penniless travellers. Myself and an emaciated lodger named Martin would rent an old rusty bicycle - just one - from the owner of the establishment, and we'd ride two-up every morning to the nearby Mr. Donut outlet. Martin would be sitting on the seat, and I'd have to perch myself on the pedals the whole way, as there wasn't room for both of us to sit.
We'd get there and sidle up to the counter alongside the usual butt-crack-of-dawn customers - liquor-breathed Japanese businessmen who looked like they'd slept in their suits, and punch-perm punked-out yakuza molls. Skinny Martin and the Guru would then place our standing order: ONE coffee roll, ONE jelly-filled something (the highlight of Martin's morning being to pick which flavour of jelly), and TWO cups of (free) hot water. We'd bring our own off-brand teabags for this purpose. Sometimes we'd splurge and order a second TWO cups of (free) hot water.
With that sumptuous repast behind us, we'd climb back on the rusty, creaky, hard-as-*beep*-to-pedal-with-two-passengers bicycle and wobble back to our palatial digs. There we'd all plan our days, which typically consisted of washing clothes, showering, checking to see if anyone's parents or employers had by chance wired any money, and helping this one Iranian kid who was trying to learn English with the help of stack of coverless Peanuts comic books. ('Hey Guru, what does "psychiatrist" mean?' 'Merhdad, so help me, when I get some money, the first thing I'm doing is buying you a damn English-Persian dictionary!' 'No, Farsi.' 'Okay, a damn English-Fartsy dictionary!')
Oh yes, our "home entertainment centre" - now that system was the talk of the town! It consisted of my 4-yr-old Sony Walkman and a crappy pair of mini-speakers that Merhdad had rummaged from someone's garbage one day, along with a mini colour TV that someone at the inn had swiped from him. I never saw it, but everyone said it had a really clear picture- much better than the old relic the innkeeper provided.
And our musical library - man, talk about extensive! I think we had a grand total of three cassette tapes - my Smiths home-pirated compilation, a Neil Young tape we found at the inn, and Martin's once-funny, subsequently-torturous It's a Thai Smurf Christmas! (Not sure of the actual title, but that's what it became known as.)
Well, I guess even the Japanese have their limits of patience and graciousness. And I guess we had finally tested them, with our whopping two-donut orders, our endless requests for cups of (free) hot water, and our all-around moochiness. The staff started to behave ever so slightly less gracious than usual in taking our orders, and on a few occasions gave us a not-quite-a-full cup of (free) hot water for our smuggled-in teabags.
Well, by jingo, that did it! Why, the nerve of those cheeky little *beep*! Enough, we had all decided one fine day sitting on our furnitureless floor, bored out of our brains, and whining about heartless parents and employers, was enough!
I had a small portable electric typewriter with me (who didn't in those days?) upon which I hammered out our verbose, flowery, epic-length paean to the god Mr. Donut (addressed to his Tokyo headquarters) over which we sprinkled, like the finest confectioner's sugar, elliptical hints that the customer service levels at the (can't remember the location now) Branch might not be up the usual high Mr. Donut standards the world has come to expect.
Oh, how I wish I'd made a copy of that thing - we spent hours crafting it, and it went through countless revisions. I remember we closed with our all our names and signatures, and a revoltingly cheesy "P.S.: Keep those coffee rolls coming!" We posted the silly thing to Mr. Donut HQ in Tokyo, and by the next day had forgotten all about it.
The next weekend, I was kicking around the room, Merhdad was probably giggling about Charlie Brown's kite-flying mishaps for the 400th time, and Martin was off taking a shower. Then came a knock-knock-knock on the door. It's the innkeeper... a bit early for cleaning the rooms. No, there's a group of people behind her. Damn, she's talking and I'm barely understanding - Martin's the Japanese speaker among us...
I decide to hold them off. Gads, what a mob! About 10 of them... youngish guys and girls. And I send Merhdad to fetch Martin . Crap! Martin's only taken a small towel with him and refuses to come back to the room with all these strangers (including some very tasty young gals) standing out in the hallway.
I'm getting upset, not being able to understand... Martin's being a pill, shouting questions and answers down the hall, and these young Japanese strangers are looking all around our humble abode ('So, this is how the barbarians live...hmmm....'). And just then I'm starting to recognize some of these bright shiny faces - didn't place them out of uniform It's the freakin' morning staff from freakin' MR. DONUTS!
They're all dressed down in their weekend "play clothes" and bookbags. I'm thinking, 'Damn, did our letter get them all fired, and now they've come to kick our barbarian arses for it??? The innkeeper's going on and on, and I'm shouting now at Martin to get the *beep* back here and start making with interpretation, pronto!
Suddenly Martin comes charging down the hallway, clutching a damn small hand-towel with both hands, flies past the crowd, into the room, BAM!, slams the door. Grabs a dressing gown, and back out into the hallway we go. The shift manager comes up and reads a prepared speech (long apology, Martin says), they do a big group "sorry bow", and then they pull out two HUGE boxes of donuts!
At this point, we're apologising our arses off, feeling really bad about that damn letter, never expecting it would be taken seriously, or understood, or even read! And it was awful that the whole staff were ordered - on their day off!! - to come track us down and apologise. AAKKKK!
We were so surprised and weren't feeling good about it. We set the boxes over in a corner and then spent the next hour trying to convince ourselves that we deserved to eat them. 'We ... we deserve it, don't we? Sure we do... I mean... don't we?' They lasted us a week, but oh man, we gorged... GORGED ourselves.
Copyright John Jones (Jongno Guru) 2005