Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

As the holidays are upon us again, some say it can be a difficult time to be on foreign soil and be so far away from what's familiar. I don't doubt that in the slightest. Thanksgiving is such a day to celebrate connections with family and to relive past moments with loved ones through shared time, familiar tastes, and comforting foods. One reason this holiday is so cherished in America is, in part, because of the foods served on that special day, foods that we've come to expect and come to put enormous effort into. Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving, for example, is so hilarious to us because it's the opposite of our expectations. Snoopy serves up some scrumptious toast, pretzel sticks, jelly beans, and popcorn to the guests gathered 'round the dinner table--any kid's dream meal, for sure!--and yet, Peppermint Patty isn't satisfied. "Where's the turkey, Chuck?" she asks. "Don't you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners?" She gets upset just as an expatriot might at such a time; I'm tempted to ask the same thing. "Where's the turkey, Korea? Don't you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners?"

On a day that should be full of familiarity, so much is foreign: When I should be on holiday, I find myself at work, conducting classes like normal. When I should be eating a special meal, I feed myself a simple lunch at the office. When I should be with family, I have plans to go back to my apartment and eat dinner alone. "Happy Thanksgiving," Andy told us this afternoon as we planned for another day of teaching. That's it? Just "Happy Thanksgiving"? No celebration? No decorations? No pumpkin pie? No change in routine? Is there nothing at all that resembles Thanksgiving? Sitting at the end of the day, however, I am gratefull to conclude that it wasn't "just another day." I may have had to work, yes, but I've found that the day could be special through other ways; I found a piece of something familiar at dinner tonight. Brandon had suggested we have dinner out as a way to celebrate Thanksgiving together. His idea beat my plan to be by myself, so I was totally up for it. Andy mentioned a few favorite restaurants of ours, but Brandon wanted a place we hadn't tried. He said we should have barbequed chicken, since Koreans don't really have turkey. After unsuccessfully looking for a chicken place, David, Andy, Brandon, and I settled on barbequed duck instead. We ate at a place called "Sulph Duck," a classy restaurant just a few minutes away from our school.

The tables were about shin-high, in traditional Korean style, just tall enough to put your legs underneath if you were sitting on the floor. We left our shoes at the door, in a bookshelf used specifically for that purpose. We sat on dark leather pillows that resembled Western seat cushions without the annoying ties in the back. Our table itself had a large circle cut out in the middle with metal groves inset in the space left behind, the place where the pot of scalding wood chips, Korea's barbeque pit, would go. The ceiling had metal piping running along it with vertical pipes extending down to each table past eye-level; these were the exhaust pipes, I was told. Imagine the amount of smoke generated by a pit like that at every table! First they brought out the fixin's: kimchi (of course, a staple side dish), coarse salt, wasabi-soybean sauce, black bean paste, sliced garlic, raddish slices, vinegar-soaked cucumbers, lettuce (to wrap the meat in), and shredded cabbage with drizzled wasabi-mustard. Then they brought the chopped duck and grilled it right before our eyes.

As another side dish, they had something that I didn't think I'd like: a shredded cabbage with some sort of pinkish dressing smothered on top of it. Andy had warned me before about eating the cabbage salad at another restauarant, so I was planning to avoid it. During the meal, however, at more of Andy's advice, I decided to have a bit of it wrapped up in the lettuce with the meat. The cabbage tasted oddly familiar. When I tried it alone, I understood why. "Remember what I was telling you about," I asked David. "About cole slaw? This is it!" It reminded me of the sweet slaw that my grandma makes--I had found southern-tasting cole slaw in a far away place like Chungju! I ate the whole plate and my companions asked if I wanted more. "I'm good," I said. I sat there savoring the familiar taste, remembering my dear, sweet family. I thought about the other sensations from the meal as well: the smell of wood burning; cucumbers that tasted like sweet pickles; and juicy, smoked meat. It all reminded me of real Texas barbeque, as if I were enjoying the familiar tastes of home. I couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving than that!

Tonight, I am thankful for the support of my family and my friends who have been gracious enough to permit me to leave on this grand adventure. I am ever grateful for an employer who pays me enough to live on my own. And I am especially grateful to a God who has supplied all my needs and continues to pour out His rich mercy. It has been a Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Since I've been here in Chungju, I have almost daily compared this city with thoughts and pictures in my head of my own hometown, San Antonio, Texas. It's much smaller--about the size of Waco or College Station, if you're familiar. I ride to work in a mini-van or sometimes a large charter-like bus, but just when I start to enjoy the ride, it's over: The commute is little more than five minutes one way. I've ridden in a taxi from one side of town to the other and when I do, I get the same feeling. Though that ride is a bit longer, it only costs about 3,000 won, which figures at about $2.40 USD. You can't get out of downtown San Antonio to my dad's house on that dime! As I look out of my sixth-story window, I can almost see all of Chungju, or at least the half that faces me. It's a little deceiving, however, because on Sunday drives, the city seems to keep going and going and going... But even my longest drive yet only lasted 30-45 minutes and encompassed almost if not all of the outskirting farming villages. That time would have been my ride to work back home! At the request of one of my young readers, and after much procrastination of my own, I have decided to compose a sort of picture essay of the city, to help you, in her words, "better imagine [my] surroundings."

A map of the greater Chungju area, though unsure of the scale
The view from my window. Waking up to sunshine and mountains is a beautiful thing!
A look at my apartment building (tall one on the right)
View from the corner where I stand every morning to catch my ride to work

As seen during the day and at night, the street I walk on every day to get either to the market, the store, or the PC Bang (for internet access, yay!)

One of the streets on my walk to the store

One of my Sunday drives, this time headed to the Chungju Dam.

The skyline in the morning

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Korean Jazz Orchestra

Koreans seem to have quite a knack for mixing things in many varied, and sometimes unthinkable, ways. This afternoon Brandon and I had the privelege of attending a Korean Jazz Orchestra concert. By the end, I wasn't sure if I had witnessed a Korean talk show, the opening of the Jazz Age in 1920, or a 1980's rock concert--as varied as the pieces of music were. And for those of you with a more mellow taste, they had that element, too: a recorder solo and later in the program, authentic traditional music. As we were riding up the elevator back to our apartments afterwards, I had to just shake my head and laugh at the piece-miel selection from the afternoon. I could call it a lot of things, but strictly a jazz concert? Even with jazz's infamous freedom and poetic license, that would be a stretch! The combination of different and, at times, clashing musical genres definitely wasn't soothing for American ears. Perhaps, however, that was one of the concert's strengths: No matter what else it was, it was distinctly Korean and the nationals attending seemed to be proud of that.

The reason I say I felt like I was at a Korean talk show was two-fold: The concert was interrupted multiple times by dialogue and there was nothing in the speaking parts that I understood. A well-dressed young woman walked to the corner of the stage after nearly every selection to explain or comment on the previous song (as far as I gather). At times, she asked the crowd questions in search of a response, to which they would usually reply, "Nay" (which is yes). I assumed she had asked them how well they liked the performance so far. At other times, she walked to the middle of the stage and handed a mic to the performing guest of the moment, presumably for an impromptu interview. Some of the performers addressed the audience for several minutes. I felt like I was in a studio audience! It was just like watching Korean television, I thought to myself--to hear the joke or the act but not to be in on it. I'm not sure if all Korean concerts are conducted this way, but in America, especially during a serious orchestral performance, it would be a cultural faux paux (sp?) to be so verbose!

I felt as if I had jumped decades over to the beginning of the 20th century and the Jazz Age for some musical selections. The orchestra's first piece, a famous arrangement called "In the Mood," featured traditional jazz elements and flapper-like, rather scantily-clad, dancers. At one moment early on, they introduced a woman soloist who sang in English, "It's Only [a] Paper Moon." Singing in English seemed to be appropriate for ushering in the mood of the Jazz Age. I thought she was beautiful and also a little flapper-like, wearing a frilly skirt above her knees and a formless, sparkly sweater top. A few other selections reflected those same early jazz elements, with other singers also singing in English. Even some of the spotlights in the background reminded me of the 20's, with their bold design elements and black-and-white color scheme. During those arrangements, I felt like I was truly listening to real, American jazz.

In the middle of the concert, the star soloist of the evening seemed to steal the show. I remarked to Brandon later that it felt like featuring him was an excuse to give his own concert. He had asked the orchestra to take five and continued to sing without them. The stage lights dimmed and the spotlights changed to a range of phsycodelic, 80's-like colors with matching off-the-wall patterns. The performer broke into what sounded like "Eye of the Tiger," a signature song of the time; it was hard to tell because the melody was familiar but the lyrics themselves were in what I thought was Korean. He also graced us with his rendition of "Hot Stuff," in English this time to aid the foreigners among us. It seems as if his musical talents were well-received, for at one moment in the show, the whole concert hall broke out in singing with him! I was also witness to a woman directly in my view standing up and flailing her arms through one whole song!

As far as the rest... They brought the dancers in and out of the program as it continued, spotlighting them at random times. The show itself ended with what sounded like traditional jazz, featuring another singer and, again, the flapper-dancers. There were seven soloists in all, including the ones just mentioned and a young woman playing two traditional Korean instruments (as far as I could see sitting close to the back of the hall). One was a penny whistle-type woodwind that sounded much too reedy; the other, a small instrument that could have been a cross between a clarinet, a trumpet, and a saxaphone. It was black and silver, shaped with a bell on the end, much like a clarinet but shorter, that was played (at least in this case) half straight out and half down. It sounded very oboe-like and reedy, but also distinctly brassy and like a saxaphone. At one time in the song, it and the alto sax played together. I found that to be interesting because, though the two sounds were similar, musically they sounded distinct.

If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't. But I thought it was a very valuable, very unique experience. The Koreans have quite a distinct culture and quite a different definition of the word "performance."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My First Korean Sunset

Sunsets are my favorite time of the day. Not only are they beautiful, but they radiate the glory and warmth of God. They remind of His faithfulness in providing another day on the earth and in perpetuating His promises to us by continuing to hold the Earth up with His mighty right hand. And they speak of a hope of the sunrise to come. Because of my schedule, I hadn't as yet had a chance to see any sunsets in my new home, except for small glimmers of sunbeams through the buildings surrounding the school. However today, as spontaneous and unexpected as a flower in winter tundra, it caught my attention through the glass of E-Mart as I rode the escalator upward. No matter the circumstance, a sunset is glorious.

"You are sunrise--You are blue skies!

How could I know the morning if I knew not midnight?

You're my horizon--you're the light of new dawn.

So thank you, thank you, [Father...]

that after a long night You are sunrise!"

-N. Nordeman, "Sunrise"

Un Poco de Español en Chungju

Jesus Adrián Romero has become one of my all-time favorite musicians. Written in Spanish, his songs describe the characteristics of God in such finite pictures--"telling details," we English majors call them. They speak truth and encouragement to those of us trekking through life on a faith journey. I brought two of his CDs with me on my own trek across the ocean and had a chance to listen to one of them last night for the first time this side of the Pacific. It brought a sense of somber direction and perspective. Reflecting on my current life situation, Romero's words reminded me of where I am and all that Christ has brought me through to now.

Two songs have ministered to me in particular. The first, "Te Veo," which means "I See You," describes different places in which the speaker finds a glimpse of God: "en la noche," at night; "en la luz," in the light; "en la sonrisa y en el amor," in a smile and in love. "Veo tu mano guiandome," he says-- I see your hand guiding me. He speaks of feeling God's hand on his life and being able to hear God's word and voice. The crux of the song comes down to the chorus: "Eres tan fiel y no hay razon que me haga dudar de tu corazón... Siempre eres fiel." You are so faithful and thre is no reason to make me doubt your heart; you are always faithful.

If there were anything in the world that would make someone doubt God, surely moving to a foreign country ranks high on the list. If there were anything to make someone feel as if they cannot hear God, surely being a woman alone, a femme sole, without any familiar face or comfort or covering, would be one of them. Surely losing your luggage or your contact or being unable to read simple signs or communicate to the grocery clerk--surely those circumstances would cause a man to doubt! And yet...

I had a friend tell me before I left that he thought my desire to go wasn't a good idea. "It's not a wise decision," he said. "If none of the pieces are falling together like they should, then it's probably not from God." And yet, the moment he said it I was at best a month away from leaving! I had only to pack and obtain my visa! From the moment I heard about the opportunity, peices fell together: God released me from my living situation and allowed me to move back home; my then-employer could not have been more cooporative with my desire to go and asked only that I keep them informed; within a month from starting to gather my documents, a willing sponsor was found to interview me and offer employment; my visa was granted and issued with enough time for me to leave just three days after receiving it. From the start of the whole story, I could say like Romero, "Veo tu mano guiandome; siempre eres fiel." I can see your hand guiding me. The LORD has surely proved Himself to be faithful in this venture!

The second song, "Aquí Estoy" (Here I Am), speaks of God searching the world over for a faithful servant. "No tienes que buscar a nadie mas," reads the chorus. "Yo quiero ir. Aquí está mi tiempo; aquí están mis horas. Aqui estoy yo." You don't have to look for anyone else: Here is my time; here am I. The speaker confesses that he doesn't want to lose the talents and gifts given him, but give them back in a way that God could use. "Mi vida es para ti," he says. My life is for you. Away from the comforts of home, a confession like this grips my heart and makes me remember why I came: "Aquí estoy, Señor; here I am." It convicts me not to sit on my haunches and let time (and my talents) seep through the cracks in my building. It reminds me that even here--6,000 miles from home, as literally far away as you can get from American, Texan normal--selfishness and laziness still reside. My issues didn't dissolve when I jumped ship for Korea. They may not have magnified, but I still carried them with me. Here the flesh lives on just as much as in America. Here, it still requires a fight.

I used to think that if only I could get somewhere else--to another country!--my life would be all the easier. But sitting on the floor of that other country, I realize that's an illusion: You can't escape life. The best you can do is choose to live it differently from now on. Jesus Adrián reminds me how to do that. One shouldn't make a trip like mine impulsively, but deliberately--consciously choosing to say to God, "Here I am."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Making Kimchi

This morning, my school's director, David, and I had a chance to be a part of the process of making kimchi and at the same time help out a local farming community whose focus is the care of the elderly and handicapped. In sum, 13 "patients" and two administrators live on the premises, which takes up a good three to four acres of hilly farmland tucked away in the foothills of Chungju. I was at once amazed by the humility of the conditions and a love for the people that I met. I had a chance to meet the woman who is the director of the facility, Pastor Kim, and her assistant. Pastor Kim seems to have a genuine heart for these people; in our transalted conversation, she mentioned those whose lives had been changed by her love intervention. I witnessed first-hand how she cared for them: by making their lunch, by directing their decisions, and by stirring cups of a warm, creamy drink at the end a cold, crisp work-day. I witnessed, too, the effort of everyone together working as a team to make the kimchi. It wasn't easy, by far, but it was a very good day.
As David tells me, the process of making kimchi is an ancient method for preserving Korea's nappa cabbage. I saw first-hand today how important a process like that can be: Just one acre of land (which is, I assume, all that the facility needed to grow its crop) was enough to yeild two flatbed truckloads of cabbage heads--and by the time we left at 3:40, there was at least one more truckload to harvest. The heads measured anywhere from a seven-inch diameter to a fourteen-inch, with a height of ten to twelve inches each. That's almost the size of a medium pizza! Needless to say, that's A LOT of cabbage! You can only eat so much of it; and it's not a vegetable that keeps well, like sweet potatoes. So what do you do with it? When you're in Korea, you do as the Koreans: you make kimchi.
The first step in kimchi-making (aside from the harvest itself) is to peel off the bad layers of cabbage leaf, then cut each head in half lengthwise, like a hotdog bun. The second is to soak it in hot salt water for a day and then to mix seasonings (like red pepper flakes) and other ingredients with it. The final stage of kimchi preparation (in the traditional method) is to scoop the mixture into ceramic vats buried in the ground, there to sit and ferment for up to a year. The more it ferments, I'm told, the better it is for your health because of the bacteria in it, like eating yogurt cultures or cheese.
I was only able to participate in the first stage, chopping each head in half. I tried later to help with soaking the heads in salt water, but was asked instead to "play with [the] dog" because the salt would ruin my clothes. I get the vague impression that kimchi-making is a distinctly Korean art and that foreigners ought not to mess with such a "good thing." Either that or I was caught being a girl again, not allowed to do something because it wasn't expressly safe! What little I was able to, however, felt oddly rewarding. "This is better than sitting in front of the computer all day," I said to myself as I sat on a plastic stool, square butcher-knife in one hand and half a cabbage in the other. Just as Ecclesiastes admonishes us, it was the simple pleasure of enjoying the work of your hands.
After my stint as a kimchi chef, we adjourned to the kitchen (also labeled "restaurant" on the sign in English) where David and I lunched on the kim bap and mandu that we had brought with us. David's justification for bringing our own lunch was due to my intollerance of spicy foods; he said the local community might not have anything too mild for me to try. At their insistance, we stayed to lunch with them also: They served us fish soup, rice, and a plethera of spicy vegetables and other "fixin's" to mix in with it. I was able to try lotus-flower root (that I enjoyed) and a Japanese plum that didn't set well with my taste buds. The other things, edible leaves and a dish made from a small root and onion, were quite tasty indeed. I was also able to try fried sweet potatoes-- which tasted almost exactly like the Bar-S corn dogs I ate as a teenager (minus the dog)--and raw chestnuts, which had the distinct flavor of a cross between a carrot and a coconut. After the meal and subsequent return to work, we took a break again and sipped a curious Korean beverage: a hot, creamy substance apparently made from peanuts and walnuts. I couldn't tell if I were drinking liquified peanut butter or just very odd hot chocolate! With each new meal, I feel as though I am warming up to Korean cuisine all the more. Korean drinks, on the other hand, remain to be seen.
Here are some photos from the day:

Stage 1 of kimchi preparation.

This is the shack that houses the ceramic kimchi fermenting pots

(the red lids on the ground).

This is a traditional Koreah kitchen. They usually boil water in the iron pots and use the lids as frying pans. The square openings in the concrete are for lighting the fire. If only I could take this set up on my next camping trip!

As part of the adventure, we were given a tour of the facilities. These ceramic pots are used to ferment the community's soybeans and red peppers into paste, staples of the Korean diet.

The friend that I made while I was chopping cabbage!

The odd hot chocolate-y, peanut-butter-y beverage that is reported to be good for your health. I hear it can sometimes stand in for meals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Positive Aspects of Korean Church

For the last two Sundays, I've been able to see the Church at work in Chungju, South Korea. Though I still have critiques, there are good things happening here. The LORD is still at work among His people--He is as much alive and well here as He is in San Antonio, Texas, or anywhere else that the Church gathers. It was good to see His people working together, serving one another, and accepting another believer dispite her different appearance.

The first church I visited, a mix of Presbytarian and Methodist, was encouraging and welcoming to me because I found it familiar. I took comfort in looking over the Korean hymnal for songs that I could recognize. When we sang one, my heart soared and my voice rose as my English mingled with their Korean, just as it will when we are gathered together around the Throne of Grace in eternity. The LORD spoke to me in my heart language through that hymn: "Here I raise mine Ebenezer"--here I remind myself of the LORD's faithfulness--"hither by Thy help I'm come"--by His hand I've arrived in Korea--"and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home"--the LORD will keep me safe until He sends me back to the States. It reminded me of how transient my stay in Korea will be, but it was such a comfort knowing that He has brought me even here and will keep me until my time here is complete.

The second church I visited, a larger, completely Presbytarian congregation, was comforting in other ways. This time, I had no hymn book; and I found no song or word that I recognized. The choir was beautiful and the message was apearantly well received, but I couldn't connect with any of it because I couldn't understand. Instead, I focused on the basic elements of the service that didn't require a knowledge of Korean but a knowledge of God. David had mentioned to me that it was a thanksgiving service. I was struck by how many times in the service they stopped and prayed as a congregation. Though I couldn't understand anything else, I picked out one word: "Ko-map-sam-nida," thank you. It felt so refreshing that they brought a sacrifice of thanksgiving as an offering to the LORD, as a ministry to Him, corporately.

As the service ended, the congregation was asked to greet those around them and thank them for coming (as far as I could gather). I was greeted by several ladies, one of them an old woman with a pink coat, who welcomed me emphatically with her gestures and facial expressions. She spoke in rapid Korean, none of which I understood, motioning with her hands for me to follow her "up." By this time, David, with whom I had come, needing to tend to an emergency, had disappeared; I was alone without a translator or an English-speaking counterpart. Spotting the pink coat in the crowd, I followed her out the sanctuary and down the stairs to my right. I was greeted by another woman in the process who said, "pan-gap-sam-nida," which is "Nice to meet you." I felt oddly welcomed in the teeming masses headed toward the Fellowship Hall for lunch. It felt like these women went out of their way to make me feel at home.

I later found David and we ate the meal prepared for us. I felt a bit like a celebrity because so many strangers came to me and welcomed me in Korean, one of them even giving me a hug. I was thankful for and receptive of their kindness and hospitality. Again, I felt like an Old Testament foreigner coming to worship YHWH at the Jewish Temple, accepted in the midst of the Levites and other tribes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Helming Andy's Class

When I first arrived at Learning Well Institute (LWI), I took over classes that my director David had been teaching. He was away on a personal trip to the States and most of them were now to be my classes. The week he came back from the States, he took back one class on Tuesday/Thursday and a week later took back two more on the same days. That left me with no classes to teach on those two days. The week after that, the administration decided to have me sit in on one of Brandon's and one of Andy's classes every Tuesday and Thursday.

Brandon and Andy have joked for the last couple of weeks that I should teach their classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I never really considered it because I had my own classes to teach and I didn't want to be a glorified substitute. I guess the real reason why I hadn't considered it was laziness; I kind of enjoyed not having anything to do and just didn't want any more work. Andy asked me again today if I would take one of them, this time somewhat seriously. He said it might be an easy class and, for reasons that I can't quite identify, I decided to give it a try. I'm really glad I chose to; it ended up as the highlight of my day. It was really fun and energetic, though at times too loud and riotous. But, all in all, the kids responded well and I think I'd do it again.

The kids were studying a book called Sounds Fun!, which focuses on building vocabulary. The lesson seemed simple enough: review the words and have the students fill out pages in the book with crossword puzzles and matching sets. But I didn't just want to throw seatwork at them--and what would I do when they finished? As I had brought from the States a method book for teaching vocabulary, I consulted it to find a game or activity that would reenforce the words I wanted to teach. I wasn't interested in having the students learn "a list" of words; I wanted the words to sink deeply into their knowledge base. But the sheets and activities I found all centered around a deeper knowledge than these students had capacity for, due to the language barrier. I guess that meant I was back to square one in my planning.

An idea began to form in my head: What if I found pictures that more accurately illustrated the students' words than the simplistic drawings in the book? What if I came up with my own activity? Instead of just drawing lines to the pictures--because that, after all, was part of their seatwork--what if I had them figure out the word first and then match it to the pictures? I began to get very excited about this new "game" I came up with and hoped that I had enough time to do it. In my planning, I had put together a word search for the kids and had already decided to do that first.

The lesson for the day morphed into a lesson in spelling. To help the kids with this fundamental, I adapted a game that I had put together in my time at Believers Academy. Basically, it's a relay: students group into teams and individually run to the board to write down whatever it is that you have them practicing, whether a grammatical something, musical notation, or spelling words. To save time and increase a sense of urgency during the game, you can leave the answers up till the end and afterwards go over them for accuracy with the class. One point is given to the team who finishes first, but points are also given for correctness; the fastest team isn't neccessarily the winner. The kids at BA really enjoyed it, so I thought it would be a good extension activity for Andy's students.

Mercifully, Andy had warned me that the kids get a little uncontrollable during games. He suggested I limit mine to ten minutes. I was never so thankful for his advice than when I stood in front of his class this afternoon trying to get them to calm down! Just before we quit the game, I began to feel a sense of futile frustration at the constant rise in volume. We literally were able to play the game for no more than ten minutes, which was just enough time to have everyone go once. After the activity, I decided to pass out my fun worksheet instead of the word search, since it reenforced spelling and better complimented the class' structure. I was quite surprised at how fast the kids worked; some of them were even able to start the other worksheet before the end of class.

Today's class was surprisingly enjoyable to teach. I'm not sure what I liked more: preparing or being up in front of the classroom. The kids seemed to enjoy me being there and once I established certain rules, like when to be quiet, they were largely obedient. Even though the game was a bit chaotic, it was kid-friendly. It felt really good to teach them something and better still to have shared with them a little part of myself.

Adult Class

For the past two or three weeks, Brandon, Andy, and I have been teaching adult ESL classes three nights a week. Andy has beginners, I have the intermediate students, and Brandon has taken on the advanced class. At one time, these sections were combined into one class, but to better fit the needs of the students, they were split. Andy seems to have the largest class, with six to seven adults; Brandon has a smaller class, with only three or four; and I have the smallest, with just one student, Jenny. This is my first time teaching adults, but it seems to be different from children only in the topics of interest covered and behavioral attitudes. I greatly enjoy my class because I am able to give Jenny the one-on-one attention that she needs, I am able to build a comraderie with her that is absent in my other authority-based classes, and because the topics covered are also of similar interest to me. I have to say: it's one of my favorite classes to teach.

Another great thing about teaching adults is that they have a measure of freedom to engage in activities that interest them. Andy and Brandon have told me a story or two about about the adult class inviting them to several activities. My student, Jenny, asked me a couple of weeks ago if she, Brandon, Andy, and I could go out for dinner one night; this, of course, morphed into the whole gang coming along. We had it planned for last Wednesday, but things didn't pan out. We ended up going out as a group last night (11-11) to a place called Cherry Blossom, a buffet-style "family restaurant" (so they advertize). It was so elegant--and, by far, the best dining experience I've had this side of the Pacific! It wasn't the kind of southern "family style" I'm used to, like Bill Miller's or Luby's, but it was beautiful and the food was delicious! I tried sushi, some sort of veggie summer roll, rice with caviar, and even found some good ol' fashioned p'tata salad! (And don't forget two slices of Korean watermelon) It wasn't "southern," but I s'pose it was good enough!

After dinner, we sat around talking for a little while. It was all very pleasant, the conversation centering mostly around me and what Texas was like (if all the houses are so spread out). Andy and I bantered back and forth about which state was better, mine or his (California)--and I won the debate by "ki-bi-bo," Rock-Paper-Scissors. Things got a bit heated when the question was asked if I was comfortable "living with" the guys. I must have turned red-faced, for I quickly righted their mistake. "We live in the same apartment building," I said. "But we had different rooms." We later adjourned outside for a photo and a ride back to our apartments. It was a wonderful night, one I hope we can soon repeat.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Searching for an Authentic Church

Yesterday morning (11-8) I was able to attend Korean church with my school's director, David. He took me to a small, Korean-speaking congregation. It was good to meet the Church here, even if I couldn't understand the language.

This church seemed very Western, with translated Western music, Western technology, and Western methods. They had everything from a standard pulpit to a computerized projector screen. We even adjurned to the Fellowship Hall afterwards for a meal. I had the impression through the progress of their liturgy that it was modele after a Methodist church because I recognized the Lord's Prayer and a congressional lead-and-response volley. In my head marched the different Protestant denomonations that I knew: Lutheran, Episcopalian, Southern Baptist, Pentacostal. None of them directly fit this Korean mold, so I assumed it must have been something with which I was less familiar. David later explained that it was a combination of Presbytarian and Methodist; those were the two denominations who evangelize the peninsula, presumably from the beginning of the missions movement. The theology is Presbytarian, he said, but the methods are Wesleyan.

Thinking back on it now, it all seems like a copy. It wasn't an authentic Korean church; it wasn't the expression of Jesus in the unique Korean culture. It was the expression of Jesus in a highly Westernized Korean duplicate. It felt Korean in name only--with the Korean language, to be sure, but nothing else. If what I've been taught is true, this Korean church was just another extension of the American church, but not its own! Apparently, in the church's distant past, its parent church[es] reproduced after their own kind. In some respects, this is dissappointing. I wanted to experience Korean church, like my dad suggested, not just another picture of my own.

It's problematic in other ways, too. David suggested that many Christians live their whole lives as baby Christians. If that's the way it is for many Korean churches, then they've inheritted the apathetic, sinful condition of the American church at large. If the Presbytarians and Methodists who founded the Korean church reproduced after their own kind, they brought with them America's diseased spirit. Is this the way God's church is throughout the world? Are we so stuck on ourselves that we've lost our power? Are we so materially-minded that we don't need Jesus anymore? Are we so Westernized that we don't have room for the Spirit to move in our gatherings?

If this is true for the world Church, then what's the solution? To demolish church buildings and revert to house-church settings forever? What would that accomplish? Yes, house churches have good aspects, but they have some drawbacks that are worth considering. One is the size: You have limited resource availability in a small house church. You also have limited spiritual "resources." To use the analogy of the body, the cells within a given locale--say the fingers--are all finger-cells; that's their spiritual gift. They work very well together, but there are no other kinds of cells because everyone is literally the same part. If it takes the whole body of Christ to grow a believer, as some say, he may have trouble growing just among finger-cells, especially if he isn't one himself.

Another drawback to house churches is the tendency to glorify--or at least permit--the flesh. House churches seem largely to be discussion-based: a leader begins talk of the Scriptures, usually with a reading, an members contribute their own ideas. Though this can be moderated somewhat, it seems to lend itself to an attitude of "anything goes." If the idea seems good, then it's allowed. But if it's not from the Spirit--if the Spirit isn't saying it to the congregation--then it doesn't contribute to the growth of the church and might as well be "like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbol" (I Cor. 13:1). If the utterance is not from the mouth of God, it's useless.

So how does one create or produce an authentic [fill in your ethnic group] church? What is the expression of Jesus in this unique Korean culture? In asking these questions, have we missed the point of the sea of believers in Revelation "from every tribe and every tounge and every nation" (5:9)? Are we so busy trying to keep the church "unique" or "cultural" that we've forgotten what the Church is all about? What's the sea of believers doing in the first place? Certainly not arguing over doctrine or which song to sing--and certainly not singing their own songs. They may be a unique expression of Jesus in their cultural backgrounds, but when they gather around the throne of God, they stand united as one, uniquenesses forgotten. That's what the Church should be: united as one, in awe of the beauty of their God, and sent out to give cups of cold water to strangers in desparate need.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Calling Home

This week, I've been able to call back home to San Antonio four times. When I told my co-worker that I had used my cell phone, he warned me that it would be $50 or $60. Though it hasn't been quite that expensive, at just under 15 cents a minute and $9 an hour, just hearing my loved ones' voices has been so worth the extra cost every time! Wednesday night my time (Wednesday morning CST), I was able to talk with my friend Heidi; Thursday morning I talked with my friend Ernesto; and today, Saturday morning, I had a chance to talk with mis abuelitos, my Grandma and Grandpa.

I didn't have a chance to tell my grandparents goodbye before I left the States. I just wanted to to tell them how sorry I felt and apologize for not telling them when I was leaving. My brother had had a going away party when he left the States a couple of years ago, but I had no such plan. I mentioned to my grandma that "we'd have to have an impromptu send-off paty when I left." As I was unsure of the final departure date until a few days before, things were last-minute at best. My grandpa called me the Saturday that I left, as I was 30 minutes away from flying out of the country, to ask what I was up to.

"I'm in Los Angeles," I said, "getting ready to board the plane."

"Well, thanks for letting us know!"

I felt like a bit of a heel after that. Here were two people (not to mention the others in my family that I didn't get to see) that were so supportive of my decision--and I didn't even see before I left! I felt so bad about it that I thought about taking an early trip back home just to see them. My grandpa reassured me this morning. He said they could dwell on the regrets of those moments, "but the Lord knew the events of that week, too." My grandma was also understanding. "You were very busy those last few days," she told me.

After they said those things, I felt so released, like it was okay for me to enjoy myself here. I didn't feel the need to come back so soon, as if things were already set right. Being proud of me for going far outweighed any regrets that they had about me leaving.

My grandpa was so encouraging this morning! I've never heard him speak about Christ as passionately or as heavy with conviction as he did tday. He said that he tells people that he can see God's hand in me being over in Korea; he knows that the LORD will protect me and provide for me as I'm here. I started crying during the conversation from sheer surprise--I hadn't expected to be so encouraged. God surely brings His word and His encouragement from such amazing places!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Deja vu

My experiences thus far in Korea have been faintly reminiscent of something I've done before--but I've never done anything like this! Some of the memories I've had over the last two and a half weeks remind me of something because it feels as if the memories are older than they should be. But I can never place what they remind me of.

An example comes from my second cousin, Mary (her uncle Bill is my grandfather). We were chatting on Facebook yesterday afternoon (Korean time) when she mentioned that she wanted to get to my blog updates before Uncle [Grandpa] Bill did. I told her that he seems proud of me for going all the way to Korea. She confessed that it was a very central part of his life. A vague something went off in my head when she said that; it wasn't surprising, as if the same conversation had taken place years earlier. I thought back to my grandfather's recent comment on his blog about my adventure: "Show your support, family." I remember going to the Yucatan for a week two years ago and something vaguely suggests that he might have said something like that then... But I don't know if he knew about it.

As another example, yesterday I asked one of my co-workers, Lauren, to find out how much it costs to call the US on my cell phone, as I had already made two such calls. I relayed the good news to the guys I work with, that it was only 9,630 won (about $9) for an hour. Andy commented, "[$50-$60] is about how much it would be to call on a US cell phone, though." Thinking back on the incident, it feels like it was much, much earlier than yesterday, as if this were a duplicate of something that had happened years ago. I wasn't surprised by the numbers.

All of these events feel like deja-vu. I've heard a couple of theories about this phenomenon: One, that it's a sign that you're directly in the will of God. And two, that sometimes there's a glitch (of sorts) in your brain and the memory makes it to long-term storage before it makes it to the short-term. It kind of feels as if both may be happening in this case. Maybe I've jst been absorbing so much because of the newness of everything and my heightened senses. Maybe it's like being born: You're never more alert in your whole life than you are in the first few weeks of life because of the environment you were just thrust into. You have to learn, to adapt, in order to survive. Maybe I've just been learning so much these last couple of weeks. At any rate, if the frequency of these "glitchtes" is any indication, I must be quite in the will of God!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Hospital Visit

For health insurance purposes, the government of Korea requires foreigners to pass a medical inspection of sorts, which basically consists of minor x-rays, vision screening, and a drug test. It is also needed in order to obtain a residency permit. Just days after my arrival, Lauren took me to the hospital to get this check-up. Though she noted that the hospital we visited was the exception in Korea rather than the rule, I found the differences between a visit like that in the States and here to be vast.

While hospitals in the States tend to look clean, crisp, and bright, the one I visited in Chungju was very dim and dusty. American hospitals are usually supplied with bright, florescent bulbs spaced profusely throughout the ceilings to insure adequate lighting; here, no such accomodations were present. Lighting was intermitten, at best. Even the colors used to decorate showed the difference between the two places: Hospitals in the States tend to be white with blue or a muted maroon, but this one was brown, yellowish, and an off-white, almost gray. The colors could habe been due to the lighting, yes. The floor itself was unique: If memory serves, there was a pervasive red line to one side of the hall that, presumably, led to different offices or corridors. Also, I noticed a dingy, bumpy yellow strip down the center of the aisle (present also along sidewalks outside), which, I learned, was an aid to guide the blind.

The hospital itself gave the impression of going to a doctor's office, rather than a clinic or full hospital. There seemed to be no hierachy of space, no separation between the lobby and the sanitary hospital halls. The nurses' desk, which looked like the receptionist's station, was mostly wooden, adding to that same feel. Little offices seemed to be around every corner. When I went to have my eyes checked, I followed Lauren into a room that could have been a filing room, as full as it looked with papers and well-dressed office staff. I read a standard eyesight chart on a wall that looked like it was from another era. The room reminded me of what a 1950s library or secretary's office might have looked like. This contrasted with the weight machine that the staff had me step onto: it was completely digital. Whereas I am used to manual scales that balance with actual weights and a manual ruler, this device took my weight digitally and automatically brought down a stick to measure my height. I was so impressed!

Bodily fluids seemed to be handled more carelessly than in the States. For example, in the US nurses who take your blood usually wear special gloves, put you in a separate room, and quarantine any equipment which comes in contact with blood. Here, my blood was taken in a small room that looked like another office. I was asked to put my arm up on what looked like a secretary's desk! Lauren assured me that the needle was sanitary and that the procedure itself was safe. Though I have no doubts about that, I couldn't get over how vastly different the same procedure would have been in the US. Urine taken for drug tests also seems to be handled differently. In the States, the attending nurse usually gives you a sealed plastic jar with your name on it. I remember needing to sign affidavits the last time I had a drug test done. But here, all they give you (or at least all they gave me) is small Dixie cup, no name, no affidavit, nothing to prevent me from contaminating the sample.

Though I have to keep in mind Lauren's comment that this hospital was different than most in the country, I still find the contrast between the procedural habbits of medical staff in both countries to be immense. This may not be how it is everywhere in Korea, but I certainly find it shocking to note that it is still present somewhere.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Saturday

On the first Saturday in Chungju (Oct. 24) Liz and Ashley, the girls I met at Jungsan High School, came to my apartment for a visit and a taste of good ol' American food. They later took me out on the town. As Liz told me later that day, "If you not invite us, I think your Saturday would be boring." We had a wonderful time!

For lunch, I decided to make one of my favorite childhood dishes, Two-Bean Chili--which became No-bean chili when I couldn't find the beans. I added chips and salsa as an appetizer to make the whole meal have a more Tex-Mex kind of flair, just the way I like it. As this was my first attempt at salsa, it turned into pico de gallo instead. Because Korea hasn't discovered tortilla chips yet (or at least I haven't discovered them here), I settled for Sun chips--which I thought was an unexpected but tasty find. I tried my pico for the first time before the girls arrived and noticed it had quite a kick; I congratulated myself on my culinary prowess, until days later I discovered that I hadn't seen the chili pepper on the side of my chip package. I guess I made gringo pico, after all. Any pico at all is still impressive in Korea, I think.

The girls arrived promptly at 12:30. They had brought with them Korean snacks, tea, and ramen noodles as gifts. The gesture made me feel accepted into their lives and culture. Apparently Koreans waste no time, because in the first moments of entering the apartment, Liz grabbed her throat and confessed, "Teacher, teacher, I thirsty." I laughed a little, gave her a drink, and we all sat down to eat. They seemed to really enjoy the meal; I don't know how different it is from their regular fare. I greatly enjoyed it because it reminded me of home and my family. It was a little sweet, but just spicy enough for me to appreciate. I asked if it was too spicy for them and they said no. What I made was probably extremely mild in comparisson to what they're used to.

After lunch, they asked me if I wanted to go shopping. I had been secretly hoping that they would go with me, anticipating the day just so I could ask. Since I had nothing else to do until 8 p.m. that day, it was set. They wanted to go see a movie first and then go shopping, but it turned out that the action thriller they had picked out (one of only two English movies availible) was rated R and they were only 17. I wouldn't have enjoyed the movie even if we had gone. It was the first time I had been to a theater, though, so it was good for me to look around. Because of a shortage of space, Korean theaters are considerably smaller than San Antonio theaters and have shops inside them, which I found surprising. This one reminded me of the one at the Quarry Market because we had to go up an escalat0r to get to it, but it was much less decorated.

As seeing the movie was a bust, our second stop was to find stationery. We went into a very girly store called Comma, which reminds me a lot of a bigger version of Claire's. They sell things from notebooks to watches, even to little tea sets. I hadn't been in it yet because each time I had passed it, I was with Andy and Brandon and I figured they wouldn't have enjoyed it very much. After Comma, I told them that I wanted to find some knee-high boots, so we stepped into a shoe store.

I have to confess: shoes in Korea are outlandish at best, though there are some occasional muted styles. As we browsed the iasles of the store, I found shoes that were a cross between lace-ups and high-heeled pumps. I didn't think I could pull off a style like that, so I kept looking. I've noticed a lot of people wearing them on the streets, though. They seem to be functional--keeping your shoe attached to your foot when normal pumps tend to slip off--so they could be worth a try. But I was there for boots, not more tennis shoes. I found some brown leather high-heeled boots. They're not cowboy boots, mind you, but they go up almost to my knee and seem to be very warm. The girls helped me find my size--a 250 in Korean sizes-- and I bought them for 39,000 won, which I thought was a steal considering the cost amounted to less than $37 USD. You can't really find a good, fashionable shoe like that, especially boots, in the States for that little.

After the shoe store, we decided to browse a clothing store to do some window shopping. Come to find out, my fashion leaves a lot to be desired in the eyes of a Korean teenager. According to my young guides, I need to wear baggy shorts with stockings and a one-size-too-large plaid button-down shirt in order to be fashionable. If I didn't like that, I could always wear an oversized sweater with leggings. They picked out outfits for me that I probably would never wear and Liz tried to find me a nice hoodie. I actually found a cropped blazer that I thought would be nice, but couldn't find it in my size.

I needn't have worried about the spice, because during our outing, they took me to a street vendor to have "a snack" called dok-bo-ke (which can also be eaten as a meal), thick rice noodles lathered in a sauce made from Korean red peppers. It was way too much for me to handle! I may have eaten 2 two-inch noodles from the whole plate and I still thought it was hot! Th girls just snacked away, as if there were nothing wrong. If I couldn't have handled intense Mexican food back home, I'm not sure why I decided to come to Korea. Thankfully, they also ordered some fried rice noodles wrapped in seaweed for me to try, which was almost bland in comparisson.

The outing was wonderful, all in all. I learned a bit of Korean consumer-culture and introduced my young friends to a bit of southern pride. It would be wonderful to do it all over again.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How I came to be in Korea, Part 4: Finally Here

First published via Facebook, October 26th (one week after my arrival):

Some might say it went by slowly; others think there may not have been enough time. Whichever it was, only God knows. He is the One who planned this from the beginning. It has been a little over two months since this whole change began for me, from directionless uncertainty to a sure, steady path, from the thought of going to another country to actually being there. I am at once speechless and full of so many words.

It's been a week almost exactly since I stepped foot onto Korean soil. Every moment this last week has been graced by the hand of God. I cannot say that everything I do here in Korea is God-breathed, for I know that my flesh still lives here, too. But this week has been full of His mercy and grace. I felt like a foreignor from the Old Testament last Sunday night, needing a cup of cold water from a stranger. As I desperately sought out anyone who spoke English, trying to figure out how to recover my lost luggage, I never felt so accepted than to be taken in by a Korean woman. As I entered my apartment for the first time, with only the things from my carry-on bags, I was never so thankful for clean blankets, a pillow, and a bar of soap left by a stranger. I have felt the provision of God this week: dishes that I didn't pick out, food that I didn't buy, running water that I didn't pay for, and people who care for me.

At first, it felt like I was still in the States somehow. I'd never done this before, so how was I to know what it felt like? I was so disoriented that I stood in disbelief, even as I conducted my classes. "Am I really here? In Korea? What?!" I kept thinking. As the week has gone on, the feeling has subsided somewhat. I still have to remind myself where I am when I wake up, though. I see so many faces in my dreams, faces of people I left back home. It's getting easier to believe that I'm here, especially when I use the language (the only three words I know) and get out onto the streets. Not to say that it's "normal," but I'm beginning to settle down.

How I came to be in Korea, Part 3: Finishing Touches

First published via Facebook, October 7, 2009 (eleven days out from my arrival date):

Over the last month, as I have prepared documents and slimmed down my possessions, the LORD has opened a job for me in South Korea. At the beginning of September, my recruiting agency informed me of an opening in a public school which needed to be filled by the end of the month. I was so excited--could I be leaving in less than 30 days? I filled out the application, wrote a cute essay, and sent it in. After a week, I hadn't heard anything and really began to doubt if I were ever going to get a job overseas--because apparently, I wasn't getting that one.

I really began to get discouraged. At the same time, the agency sent me four or five other referrals that I could look into at my liesure. If the public school didn't work, I could try those. Before I really had time to look into that, however, Footprints called me. "I have excellent news for you, Jennifer," they said. "Learning Well School in Chungju is interested in interviewing you for an immediate position." Footprints set up the interview for me for early the following week. It was a 45-minute phone call that went very well. The next day, my interviewer offered me the job and sent a contract via email.

Much ground was covered in the interview. The interviewer, the director of the school, told me a little about the school and the city where I would live. Learning Well is a private language institute, or hogwan. It's about 90 miles or so outside of Seuol. Chungju is a smaller city with 300,000 people (less than a third of San Antonio!) surrounded by the mountains. I would be provided a room and transportation to and from the school. The school itself has many English-speaking teachers, but I'm not sure how many are native speakers. It sounds as if the school and staff will be very supportive in my efforts. The director seemed very interested in my teaching background and wanted to know if I could incorporate music into my lessons. Another thing he was interested in is my relationship with Christ. "I hear you are a Christian," he said. "I'm a seeker myself." I'm not sure what that means, but I know I need to go prepared.

Since the intherview, I have sent my documents to Korea and have been waiting on a visa approval number. Once I have that, I can then contact the Consulate in Houston and send them documents for my visa. I got an email from the school yesterday that asked if I could be ready to go by the end of the week. Dad's response to that was, "If your bags were packed and the taxi was waiting out front, I still don't think you could make it by Friday." It's a bit of an unrealistic dream. I still have to wait a minimum of four days for my visa, which puts me at a departure date of no less than the middle of next week. And I don't have my approval number yet. It won't be very long, however, once I do get it. As I told my director, "All I really have to do [now] is pack."

Things are heating up as I spend my last days in the United States. Something may happen and I could, like a friend of mine, spend more "last days" here than I thought I would, but if everything pans out the way circumstances are going right now, I may be leaving in as little as two weeks from this day (October 7). It's an exciting time, indeed.

Night Life

One of the ways my life is different now is through Chungju's night scene, something my co-workers have taken strides to introduce me to. Back in the States, it was never really an interest of mine to frequent bars or clubs. A former co-worker of mine, Maria, asked me once if I'd go to a club that she invited me to. "I'd have to pray about it," I confessed to her. Though I still feel largely the same way, I'm doing my best to be open. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians, "I have become all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some" (9:21). It is my prayer to do the same.

The first weekend I was here, Brandon and Andy (in the pink shirt pictured at right, singing a duet with Mary, an ex-pat from upstate New York) took me to meet their social circle, English-speaking ex-patriots from three different countries, New Zealand, Australia, and the good ol' US of A. We met at a nice outdoor cafe for coffee or tea and good conversation. Then we moved the party to a bar for a couple of round of darts. I played the guys in one game, with my partner Laura, and was promptly beaten in the second by Mary and Carly. They, of course, beat two more guys in the final round of the night. After the darts, we walked to something called a "nuray-bang," a karoake bar with private rooms for you and all your friends to sing together. I didn't sing much because I knew that 99% of the songs in the playbook, which has both Korean and English selections, would be unfamiliar to me. It was an interesting experience: It almost felt like we were in someone's house and were playing with their karoake machine on a big-screen TV.

Andy and Brandon have taken me to other things besides the nuray-bang as well. Almost every night for last two weeks, we've gone out to dinner and last Saturday, Brandon and I went to a lounge to hear another ex-pat from America play acustic guitar and original music. I greatly enjoy going to dinner because I feel like I'm engaging the culture. It gives me an opportunity to use what little Korean I know, learn more Korean, and observe how differently they do things. It also allows me a chance to practice my new-found chopstick skills! The lounge was also really beautiful because it was nestled at the foot of a mountain next to an apple orchard. It was small with a capacity for no more than 35-40 people, which gave it a very intimate atmosphere. The music was peaceful and intriguing and the view, even in the dark, was beautiful from the spacious balcony windows.

My Friday nights and weekends have definitely looked different than those in the States! But we don't just go out; sometimes we've stayed in. Friday night, for example, the same friends that I met the week before held a Halloween party, complete with costumes and a scary movie. We watched "The Thing," which left a lot to be desired as far as movies go. I don't do scary movies at all, so I really didn't care for the selection. But it felt good to be included. While I was there, Chungju's resident foreignor, Matt, invited us to a party at his apartment the following evening. The party at Matt's was really fun. We had Indian food that his wife made for us, played "Apples to Apples," and watched another movie, this time "Clue." I enjoyed that movie way better, only because Clue is one of my favorite games!

In the States, I would have only done these things as special occasions or if someone invited me, which was somewhat of a rarity. Though they are definitely treats for me, it feels good to experience the life of another thriving community.