The End

23 Jul

I’ve left Korea. The goodbyes have been said, the bags were packed, and the forty hours and fourteen minutes spent in transit are thankfully, blessedly, joyfully over.

Goodbye, Korea…ready for take off in Incheon.

Though leaving was admittedly not as difficult as I thought it would be, the past several days have left me somewhat (understandably) emotionally battered. Re-entry has been valuable to process what I experienced over the course of a very long year, despite my jet lag and occasional unwillingness to see it that way. In one of our sessions we broke off into groups and talked about our greatest joys and greatest struggles over the year of service. Our group was conveniently made up of SALTers back from Asia. The struggle for a lot of those in our group was loneliness, or unsureness about where we stood with other people in our respective countries of service. It was painful to talk about, yet something we knew no one could understand as deeply as those in that room. But then we talked about our joys. For many it was the joy of a single class group, or a single person with whom a relationship ended up giving more life than previously expected. My joy was knowledge of the unbending love I received from Christ. No matter where I stood with people, it was always clear to me that, so long as I came before him with humility, my status before Jesus remained unchanged.

Ephesians 3:17-19: I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

A song that played in my head on repeat the last few months was Your Love Never Fails: “I know I still make mistakes, but you have new mercies for me every day.” How true that was on service! I’ll be the first to admit I made a lot of mistakes this year. For the first time in my life I questioned very basic tenets of my faith, which meant I was also questioning the basics about who I am individually. But in the end I say that I may change, but He stays the same through the ages.

I am bowled over by such love. I am truly in awe.

After many group sessions, heart-to-hearts, laughs, cries, naps, and ice cream binges later – oh, and a talent show which I apparently co-hosted and possibly danced in –  re-entry is finished.

Except that now I face the very surreal prospect of re-entering back into “real” life very soon. First there’s the short vacation to D.C., but after that it’s back to Canada, to family, to my old haunts. I’m standing on a precipice of new possibility, more future uncertainty, and yet more assurance that God will guide me wherever I choose to lay my foot next. And for that I am excited.

Thanks to each and every one of you who prayed for me this year. I can say things like, “What a journey it’s been!”, or “Without your support I wouldn’t have made it,” but it’s hard to say those things without it sounding like a cliché. Just know they’re true, as I finish off with the only words I have left:

It has been an honour. God bless you.

A Year of Firsts

4 Jul

cheersThey say you should do something new every day. Actually I have no idea who said that, I just saw it on someone’s Facebook wall and I took it to heart. I have to say I’ve really delivered on that recommendation this year. Let this list be a summary of all the shenanigans I lived through these past 11 months (keeping in mind that there could still be additions made in the next 12 days)!

I…

  • Learned how to read another language
  • Taught two kids the alphabet & basics of reading English
  • Helped harvest red peppers
  • Received accupunctureguard
  • Witnessed prayers to the ancestors
  • Visited several “intentional communities”
  • Swam in the East sea
  • Tried pig ear, liver, and lung (and the weird intestinal sausage filled with noodles)
  • Chomped down on raw crab, so I could suck out its guts
  • Learned how to make buchimgae, japchae, tangsuyuk, duenjang and kimchi chigae
  • Taught myself how to make bread, Mennonite portzelkis, and chocolate pudding from scratch
  • Invented/adapted several rice cooker recipes including banana bread and a rockin’ rice pudding
  • Developed a taste for dried seaweed
  • Generally tried everything that was put in front of me, except perhaps that whole octopus at Thanksgiving (I’m not sure it wasn’t just for the ancestors; if you can only be dead to eat something I guess it doesn’t count)fishing
  • Had pizza and bucket chicken for Christmas dinner
  • Went ice fishing
  • Went to the public bath
  • Looked at North Korea & met a handful of North Korean refugees (probably more than I realize, though)
  • Walked on the Great Wall of China & through People’s Square
  • Navigated the Shanghai subway system all by myself
  • Slept on an overnight train
  • Rode the Star Ferry & streetcars of Hong Kong
  • Got over my fear of karaoke (but I’ll admit I’m still iffy about how public it is back home!)
  • Got over my fears of being called upon to verify something in the middle of a sermon at church
  • Lived in an apartment (!)
  • Lived with a Mongolian, thus making my first Mongolian friend
  • Saw where rice and soybeans come from

rice

  • Saw a Chinese water deer (AKA “vampire deer”) out my back window
  • Taught Dutch Blitz to my Korean, Indonesian and Mongolian friends alike
  • Climbed a couple very high and difficult mountains
  • Ate lunch in the middle of a river
  • Doubted God
  • Witnessed God’s provision even after my doubt
  • Had a blast, learned, grew, and stretched every single day!

A Trip to Lotte World

29 Jun

011A couple of weekends ago, Jiwon, Yunju and I took an early-morning bus to Lotte World. The entrance was entrancing, all pink, sparkly, and filled with cartoon characters and small excited children. The woman who sold us our tickets (which came at the very reasonable price of about $22) was dressed in a pink outfit that looked like something Sleeping Beauty would wear if she got a job as a flight attendant. Looking down the line, I noticed that all the female vendors were in pink, while the lone man was in a complimenting powder-blue ensemble Prince Charming would be proud of.

Find me.

Tickets in hand, we boarded an escalator which ascended into a child-at-heart’s paradise. Hard to believe we were still indoors, but already I could see a teacup ride, a flume ride, a pirate ship, an inverter ride, and several “hot air balloons” circulating the ceiling. The roof itself was a sunny glass dome, and the room was filled with sky-high plants, lame but well-intentioned animatronics, and music. We spent a little time in there, riding the flume and the ship (still one of the best thrill rides ever invented). Then we decided to head to the outdoor section of the park, before the hot afternoon sun showed its worst. Here I emerged, once again, into an atmosphere of pure excitement. Excitement!A Disney-esque castle stole the view, people were screaming in glee and terror on the roller coasters and thrill rides, and literally through it all the monorail moved steadily on. We immediately tried out the Gyro-drop, which is flat out the scariest ride I’ve ever been on. It slowly lifts you up into the air, only to completely drop you without warning. As I plummeted toward the earth, I noticed my ability to scream replaced only with the more embarrassing ability to grunt in agony. It was a short drop, but long enough for me to reflect on why I’ve never gone bungee jumping and certainly never will. When we were back on firm ground, it still took me a minute to stop shaking enough to get out of my seat. At this point my adrenaline kicked in, I started laughing, and my brain tried to do that thing where it tricks you into thinking you’ve just had the time of your life (rather than having your life flash before your eyes). Continue reading

Almost

13 Jun

Jiwon, I, and Yunju. AKA my roomies.

It is JUNE! 

어떻게?! 

This means I’ve made it ten months away from home. Except that statement feels somewhat false, since Chuncheon has also become my home. To put the strange mixed feelings I have into one simple phrase: I feel like the longest year of my life is flying by. I’m excited to see everyone I miss in Canada, but I’m overwhelmed by how little time I have left here. Not to mention all the goodbyes I have to say before that. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep, because it hit me: one more month. I am almost done here.

Anecdotes & updates from the last few weeks: Continue reading

Jeju Island

27 May

JejuianAs advertised, I spent the week of May 19-25 on Korea’s honeymoon/getaway island of Jeju! Now, for the sake of curbing my verbosity (and because I don’t feel like thinking too hard), I’m doing this post in point form, with pictures throughout. Ladies and Gents, a walk through my week on Jeju-do!

May 19:

01

  • 1 hour on the plane, after the easiest airport security checkpoint I’ve ever crossed!
  • First impressions: Jeju is gray and drizzley! Where’s my tropical vacation weather?!
  • Too early to check into my first-night’s hostel, I spent some quality time in Dunkin’ Donuts. They served my bagel in small bite-sized pieces with a fork, and I finished my lame book.
  • Got to my hostel and realized why it was only $13/night. On the bright side, there were only 3 of us in my 6-bed female dorm room that night, so there was room to move and the ability to chat.
  • I spent the evening walking aimlessly (which isn’t to say unhappily!) along the northern shoreline. I witnessed a Jeju “mermaid” (elderly woman diver without breathing apparatus) surfacing from the waters, her day’s catch in its bulging net. I also found a great gazebo thing on the edge of a cliffy gorge, as well as a smallish temple.

May 20:

  • Switched hostels. Totally worth the extra $7/night, plus free breakfast!
  • Hopped a bus down south, to the Jeju Folk Museum. Felt awkward when I realized it was an old-fashioned village where people actually live. It’s free, and you can walk through several yards and poke your head into rooms, but that’s only interesting for about half an hour. Not to mention the women who live there tend to be standing around, watching their guests snoop around their houses. I left after a snack break – for another 1-hour bus ride.
  • Befriended a girl at our hostel, also from Vancouver. Then Jessica arrived! We ate a dinner of Jeju “black pork” together. Delish!

May 21:

  • Had our free breakfast, then hopped the bus to Hallasan (“san”, meaning mountain). Our Vancouverite friend joined us after deciding against the 10-hour hike. Jess and I decided to do the 5 hour one, and it was a great choice! I hate hiking. I’ve said that before. But it was a great day, we had wonderful views, and I was happy to work for them.
  • After returning back to the hostel, showering, and donning clean clothes, we went to ACTUAL PIZZA HUT and ate pizza. Then Jess and I bought an ice cream cake to celebrate her upcoming birthday, and reward ourselves for all our hard work.

May 22:

  • Getting lost day: a bus ride due south, to the city on the opposite side of the island. Then many hours spent wandering in the wrong direction, wondering if we should “just take a taxi” everywhere. We tried to find some waterfalls, but ended up at a different one (just fine; water falling is water falling). Then we wanted to go to the beach, which we didn’t think was that far, and so ended up costing about 4 times as much as we thought it would by taxi. It was an expensive mistake for a day that should otherwise have cost us nothing, but at least the scenery was gorgeous.

May 23:

  • At the top of Songsan! I suggest doing an image search, as none of my pictures do it justice.

    At the top of Songsan! I suggest doing an image search, as none of my pictures do it justice.

    Jess and I got in contact with CINDY, who was also on the island! After a few frantic emails and phone calls, we finally were able to cross paths. She ended up joining us for yet another hike up Songsan Ilchubang, or “sunrise peak”, this great, gaping bowl of a mountain that seems to come up out of no where and is supposedly a great place to watch the sun rise. We didn’t, but it was still pretty.

  • Again, it seemed appropriate to reward ourselves with junk food, so we had a burger lunch before heading out to activity #2:
  • Lava caves! Manjanggul is a lava “tube” that goes on for a couple kilometers underground. For only a couple bucks, you can descend into the depths of the earth and walk its cold, dark bowels.

    At the end of our walk down the lava tube. It ROCKed.

    At the end of our walk down the lava tube. It ROCKed.

May 24:

  • Relaxation day! Jess and I visited the nearby(ish) Samyang black sand beach, where the sand was particularly hot to walk on. We got sunburned, explored the tidal pools, and gushed about how CLEAR the water was. Then we changed out of our bathing suits and walked around town a bit.

    The sand didn't seem that  dark to me, but it was sure hot to step on!

    Samyang “black sand” beach. The sand didn’t seem that dark to me, but it was sure hot to step on!

  • That evening we found out about an Indian restaurant, in a happening part of town we hadn’t explored yet. Rajmahal was not only pretty easy to get to, but we got a great 2-person deal which more than worth the delicious and authentic food we got.

May 25:

  • I enjoyed my last breakfast at the hostel, said goodbye to my comrade, then hoofed it to the airport.
  • When this becomes your normal, you've arrived.

    When street kimbap becomes your normal, you’ve arrived.

    After the plane, I took a bus back to Chuncheon. Once there, it was only by chance that I should run into Peter and Joy, a couple who have been like stand-in parents to me this year. Apparently their son was on the same bus as me, and they were picking him up! Without thought, Joy and I gave each other a big hug, and they offered me a ride home. I was so happy and surprised to see them that I realized just how difficult it will be to say my final goodbyes. I’ve spent enough time in Chuncheon that I run into people I know, and can call many of them family. To me, that’s the definition of home. Bittersweet only begins to describe the feelings I have about leaving Korea in eight short weeks. What a day that will be!

Seoul Searching and Other Adventures

17 May

What a great last week! Once upon a Saturday Yunju, my seemingly always-laughing roomie invited me to explore Seoul with her. We hit shopping center Myeongdong, climbed Namsan mountain (where Seoul tower lives), and then hit up Itaewon for some…drum roll, please…TACO BELL. It was a gloriously sunny day and so lovely to spend outside of Chuncheon.

EMU students and add-ons.

EMU students and add-ons. Sorry, my beautiful face isn’t in this one.

 

This past week, a group of students from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) came to Chuncheon for the first week of their 3-week cross-cultural studies. We hosted two of them in our home, and it ended up being a really fun experience.

During the week (which was busy for me, as all of my work and class times were still in place), we had enough time to squeeze in some 노래방 (karaoke) and a “family” dinner. Come Friday, Jiwon, Yunju and I were given the go-ahead to skip work and attend a Sorak mountain getaway with the students. Two hours of driving got us to a DMZ lookout point which I’d sadly already been to. Thus, my highlight was finding a little green frog to ooh and aww over with some other girls practicing varying degrees of shriekability.

I call him Spike.

I call him Spike.

Once we’d reached our hotel, which was nice, we set to some serious R&R. I opted out of a hike on Saturday, instead accompanying some of the girls to the beach, Lotteria for hamburgers, and then the nearby water park, Waterpia! There we ran into some of the guys and enjoyed the “maelstrom” slide…3 times in a row. (The video doesn’t do it justice. We rode it when the funnel was covered, meaning there was no light at all, and we couldn’t see where we were headed…way scarier!)

A side-note on bathing suit culture in Korea: you hardly see ’em! There was one point at the beach when I looked around and, despite its being crowded, realized NAPAMAs were the only ones in actual swimsuits (points if you remember what that acronym means!). The water park offered a different display: full on nudity every which way you turned in the locker room…followed by almost completely-covered bodies in the actual park. Yes, people wear swimsuits. But they also make sure to wear some sort of t-shirt or sheer hoodie on top of it. I witnessed one couple wearing full-on shorts, zip-up mesh hoodies, and baseball caps. On water-slides! No kidding! Such a modest culture, really. (I found this fun list of Korean quirks, if you’re curious for more. I’ve witnessed every single one of them, but my fave has to be matching couples.)

The weekend ended with puzzlement over the abrupt ending of I am Legend, the Saturday night movie showing on the only English channel at the hotel. We were upset, but it was a good bonding moment. Sunday we all attended JVC, had lunch there together, then said our goodbyes. It was a little bittersweet! I truly enjoyed our short time with that group.

This past week was a short interlude between fun and games. I taught my classes, and finished some actual work at the office. A damper was put on the week when I found out my sister Heather, who is currently in Uganda, has malaria. Naturally my worries, thoughts and prayers have been directed at her, and that’s somewhat exhausting (though definitely not as much as the disease itself). The good news is they caught it early, and she’s being properly treated. It sounds like she’s on the mend.

Anyways, this is to say I need a vacation. And thankfully I have one coming! It sort of started tonight, when I and three friends watched The Great Gatsby in theatres. Tomorrow (May 17) is a national holiday, and I plan to spend it with Connexus friends, shopping and eating summertime favourite 팥빙수 (an ice cream and shaved ice dessert). Then on Sunday I’ll jet off to Korea’s honeymoon destination, Jeju island. It’s well-known for its beaches and curious geological formations. I’ll be there alone for one day, after which Jess (fellow SALTer) will join me for the rest of it. I’m sure I’ll come back with lots of stories and pictures, so hold your breath.

Rested

7 May

A few months ago I was struggling with insomnia and anxiety. The two cycled, a chicken-and-egg scenario where I wasn’t sure which came first. And it was only at bedtime. My days were fine, happy, totally carefree. But then it came time to roll into bed and dread would take me. I wondered if I should get on some medication (for sleep or anxiety, I wasn’t sure), but I wanted that to be a last resort. My first resorts were evenings of herbal tea, lamp light, good sleep hygiene, and lots of prayer. I asked everyone close to me to pray about it, because, try as I might, I could not think myself out of it. Yes, that’s right. Me, a psych major and lay mental health awareness-freak was still thinking “if I try harder, if I do something right, this will go away.” The exact type of thinking I’ve always believed our society needs to abolish, because that’s the approach to mental illness that’s probably least effective.

Objectively I knew how a behavioural therapist might approach my problem. I knew what questions to ask myself, and I knew what good behaviours and thinking patterns to apply. Except, news flash, playing therapist to yourself is also pretty ineffective. Normally at this point, I’d have already consulted a doctor. But finding someone in Chuncheon was unlikely, plus there’s always the added negative of everyone suddenly knowing my health status (and I mean everyone). That’s just the sort of thing that happens when you have health issues in a different country. You need help and translation for every little thing. People tend to worry more about you.

The upshot: time would have to tell. I played my psych games, I drank my ginger tea. I still lay wide awake in bed, exhausted, shaking for no reason, heart racing as if I were about to go bungee  jumping, and pleading with God to give me rest. Sometimes He did, and there was a short respite. But it inevitably happened again.

Then, a few days ago, it dawned on me. I’ve been sleeping normally! I only noticed because I had another mediocre night (not terrible), and that was the break from normality that drew my attention. That’s when something else dawned on me: how true it is that we most turn to God in the bad, and not as much during the good. It’s easy to pray about stuff that’s making us feel bad, and we can be thankful when good things are being added to our lives. But when the bad gets subtracted? We no longer have to think about it, and therefore tend not to notice. Like when you take a painkiller, waiting those minutes before it kicks in: horrible. But before you know it, it’s like, “where’d my headache go?” Such as it was in the case of Deborah’s anxsomnia! Every night I was hitting  a brick wall, wondering when God would take compassion on me. Then when He did, I didn’t so much as thank Him, because I didn’t even notice.

I have a post-it by my bed, the prayer leftover from my sleepless nights:

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. – Psalm 94:19. Lord, that it may be so with me. Deliver me, that I may rest in you.

What it means to rest in the Lord is a lesson I’m still learning. I can use every pat textbook cure until the cows come home, but it’s not till I realize that God is the only thing I should lean on for consolation that I’ll actually find it. And when I do, the impulse shouldn’t be toward neutrality, ambivalence, or forgetfulness. It should be toward joy! Thankfulness! Praise!

This isn’t me saying I’m cured. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a problem like this again in the future. But until that happens, and/or when that happens, I’m going to remind myself that God already brought me through it before. He is faithful and He will do it – again and again, I believe my God will bring me through until I learn not just to praise Him in the storm, but also the sun and the drizzle. He always has compassion, we just have to train ourselves to see it.