Thursday, December 31, 2009
I am ever so thankful for my Jesus this year and His continued work on my life. In one year, He has given direction, hope, and provision. He has established me here in a foreign land and has kept His hand on me from the moment the plane landed--there is nothing He has not already foreseen! He took me out of a situation I wasn't sure how to end, with grace and blessings besides. He grew me up this year. I thought I was an adult, and though I've felt like one since I was 12, I've begun to react like one. Things don't seem to bother me as much as they used to.
In 2010, I am hopeful for a year full of God's grace, His rich mercy, and His direction. I am hopeful that He will continue to show me His purpose for my life and that He would bring Himself all the more glory with me. I am asking the LORD for more time. Scripture tells us to be sober-minded and to redeem the time, "for the days are evil." Some may ask where the time goes--well, He's already given it to us! It has been enough time. My prayer, though, is that He would not return too soon, because there are so many more things still left to do. I am asking the LORD for provisions this year, in addition to those He has already provided. I am also asking for a continued sense of direction. I'm here until October, I know, but what then?
I feel ready for something tonight--ready to move on, maybe. Ready to be home? A little. Ready for a new adventure? Always. I feel ready for Him to move, to be honest. And if that means for Him to move me, then the LORD be praised! It is a new year--and a new decade! Come celebrate the LORD with me, you who have been set free! Glorify Him in this new time!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I feel as though in this Christmas journey across Korea, I couldn’t help but have some expectation for every place that I would visit: Gwangju, Busan, Jeonju. In my mind, I thought Busan would be an “easy” place to explore—on the map, it looked so simple. I pictured Jeonju to be a small town, with its “hanok village” located in the middle of nowhere on the dark outskirts. Just as the imagined picture I created for myself of Korean life didn’t fit with my actual life situation in Chungju, so my imaginings about them didn’t fit with the places I would visit, either. Facing the realities of these places rather than my wispy dreams wasn’t negative. I’m not sure you could call it “lowered expectations” or “expectancy,” but I went on the journey with the hope of adventure, armed with expectations though I was. It proved to be somewhat disappointing but also surprising in other ways.
As I planned for my trip to Busan, my tourist map proved to be slightly misleading. I knew the city had a subway system, but as I’m from a place with no such animal, that was a poor judge of size. I don’t know how big a city need be to necessitate subway transportation! The map itself looked simple: one or two intersecting freeways compared to San Antonio’s hub of five. Easy to get around, right? I picked out some interesting sights to see, a little off the subway route but according to the map within reasonable walking distance; I could get to them all in no time. It was only later that I realized that the Lotte Department Store that I thought was in the central part of town—a place around which I thought I could find a room—wasn’t the only one in Busan. There must have been at least three others, acting as mini-hubs in their respective sides of town.
Simple map or no, this was no simple city. The day after arrival, I learned from a fellow ex-pat that Busan is apparently quite “neighborhood-minded.” Here I was trying to traverse great distances in the city in one day when the locals themselves were content to merely stay put! No wonder the night of arrival was frustrating! I was disappointed that I ran out of time to see all the places I marked on my map, but was dreamily unrealistic about the time needed to travel to them. The task was necessarily daunting in a city of five million. “Reasonable” proved to be something quite different in Busan.
Jeonju I thought would be different than Busan, a country town, of sorts, absent of hurried busy-ness. We were in the city for fifteen minutes before the bus arrived at the terminal, when it had taken less than five to arrive at Busan’s. As we drove through en route to the station, the city lights felt reminiscent of NYC’s Times Square. I instantly observed how extensive Jeonju must really be. From the terminal, I expected to ride in the taxi thirty minutes or more to get to the hanok village outside of town, my destination for the night. Little did I realize that this place was in the middle of the bustle! It was like falling asleep at the Alamo: You step back in time as you enter through the gigantic wooden doors, but modernity still surrounds you.
The hanok “village,” what I thought to be a single traditional facility housed inside a thick concrete wall and complete with a courtyard, much like a San Antonio mission, actually showed itself to be an entire set of such facilities, encompassing an area one to two miles square. I decided to explore this radius a little, but I had learned from my experiences in Busan: If I couldn’t find whatever it was in the same neighborhood I was in, it had to be left for another trip. Inside this perimeter lay dozens of traditional guest “wons” (rooms) alongside exhibition centers, relics from Korea’s royal dynasties, and (so I presume) poor local housing. These, in turn, stood nose-to-nose with modern upscale restaurants an chic shops; in that respect, it was not unlike the Riverwalk. I didn’t know I would be sleeping in the ritzy side of town!
Because of the hanok’s gentrification and a layout akin to the King William District in San Antonio, the atmosphere of this place was sort of “lassie-faire,” to each his own. What I found profoundly odd was a lack of people to whom to direct questions; instead, at varying points of interest stood information kiosks. I thought I was here primarily for the experience—to paint calligraphy, to shape ceramic clay, to assemble ingredients for bibimpap. I did none of those. Even at the Traditional Culture Center, I found a significant lack of tour guides or hands-on classes. If I had made reservations for a tour or a class, I might have experienced more traditional culture, instead of just passively observe it. I feel as though this will be an experience I will understand only after the fact. Still, I was able to explore this small neighborhood, run into ex-pats from Canada, and engage in a lengthy conversation with a Korean woman in the traditional tearoom of the Jeonju Traditional Culture Center.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The day after Christmas for me, which was by that time merely a winding down of festivities on Christmas Day in the States, my friend Carrie and I were chatting online about love. I asked her what Jesus meant by the love He wanted to give us. She mentioned we as Christians can only love through His strength. Human love, she said, is always conditional, whether we believe it or realize it. "What you said about conditions makes me think of Christmas through the world's eyes," I replied. "It's only fun because you get stuff. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't have anything to open on Christmas morning, but stripped of presents, Christmas becomes something more than just material gain."
For believers, we must constantly check where our love is coming from. In some ways, I feel like the love felt on Christmas morning is conditional. I didn't get much for Christmas this year, just a small bag of goodies and five tubes of toothpaste. Am I mad that my Christmas was, through the world's eyes at least, a "bust"? To be honest, that's hard to say--or perhaps harder to admit. It was disappointing Christmas Eve, to be sure, when I went downstairs to check for any packages and my landlord shook his head. It was disappointing, too, not to have anything to open Christmas Morning. Having Christmas in another country strips away presents, lights, and anything else that's familiar about the holiday. What, then, does it become? Though I am still trying to process it, for me it was another day of rest and worship.
Friday, December 25, 2009
This memorial feels like a graceful cross between Boston Commons, the Vietnam Memorial in DC, and the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Of necessity not all the men and women who died fighting are buried here, but it is a good-faith effort to acknowledge each of the 29 nations who came to Korea’s defense. It is boarded on one side by a sculpture park, which is populated by 29 works of art to symbolize each allied country. The layout itself is very park-like, with sloping sidewalks and sculpted shade trees, but there are obvious signs warning in English, Chinese, and Korean not to exercise or run but to be silent and respectful. Visitors can experience two separate sections: the actual cemetery (with flags and other country-specific monuments) and something called the Wall of Remembrance, a granite structure symbolizing the war and subsequent peace, with the names of every soldier who died chisled in the wall. “We engrave your names on our hearts with love,” it says. “We inscribe your names in our land with appreciation. In Eternal Remembrance of the Fallen UN Forces in [the] Korean War.”
Part of the impetus for this theory of placlessness is a rise in companies vying for a spot in the global economy. For this reason, you find Costco in Seoul, Dunkin’ Donuts in the Incheon Airport, and Converse vendors in Chungju. I found a Burger King and TGI Friday’s in Gwangju, but I also found shops that didn’t participate in the global economy, and therefore seemed immune to the assembly-line approach to tourism and mass-produced experiences. Seong Yup’s nail salon, Lonesome, is one such shop. It operated out of a deep sense of honesty and hospitality. Its highly individualized service appealed to the whole person, offering tea while you enjoy the manicure. The proprietor of the store even attended to me personally! Though one could find shops in Gwangju that are also in other areas, it wasn’t a placeless place. The service I found was unique for one reason alone: the people serving. There is no other shop like Seong Yup’s in all of Korea because there is no other Seong Yup. To say that he was friendly understates his warm, welcoming personality. He attended to my needs as a close friend might.
I took this cross-country journey in an effort to disprove this theory. What could I experience in the places that I visited that would be found nowhere else? Gwen complained to me Saturday night [Dec. 19] as we toured downtown that she thought Gwangju was a bit boring. It was just a big city with no real attractions—in effect, a placeless place. However, I sent her a text message today [Dec. 21] that said, “I experienced something here that I couldn’t find in Chungju.” Indeed, I could not have found it even 6,000 miles away.
Having had a chance to mule over the incident, I feel as though hospitality like this speaks volumes to Americans. For one thing, we love control. We think of hospitality as largely an allowance: This much I will permit you to do or to enter, but the rest is mine and off limits. Though I’m still a bit unsure of the Korean modus operandi at large, Gwen’s seems to be one of service and trust. She trusted me enough to open her house to me and allowed me access to virtually everything there, serving me by her actions and wishing me to make myself at home. To give up control of her things for an almost-stranger is for the American something unheard of! Again, I was like a traveler in Old Testament Israel, a foreigner welcomed in the midst of the people.
We Americans might at first take offense to our host not staying with us; we feel somehow wounded and sense a sharp lack of acceptance, sure that such conduct can only be inhospitable. Gwen opening her home to me, however, makes me think of hospitality differently. She wasn’t trying to offend, but instead trying to provide for my physical needs through providing me privacy. Americans value privacy, but in general I feel they (myself included) don’t think of it as a way to be hospitable or gracious. Koreans, I feel, take many human needs into consideration and go out of their way to provide for them, including this need. By letting me stay at her house by myself, Gwen gave me a sense of privacy that I might, in other circumstances, not have had. She was able to spend time with her sister while her guest was able to unwind a little from her travels.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
[Sarah, the leader of the group]
[Sarah with her sister, Hannah]