Annyong from Korea!

21 Aug

I’ve made it! After a long period of preparation I am finally IN KOREA, and the name of this blog is no longer a lie!

The travel here was looong: Harrisburg  to Chicago to Tokyo to Seoul! We left at 5:30am on August 16, and didn’t arrive in my town of Chuncheon until midnight on the 18th (this includes time zone switches, but basically I did miss a whole day). I also didn’t get to sit with my cohorts, Alex and Jess, on the long flight from Chicago to Japan, but that’s okay, since I was mostly zombie-like the entire trip. When we arrived, my new boss at the KAC, Kyong Jung, and few others were waiting for us. Our luggage arrived safely, and there were NO problems getting through customs, so we were off! It’s a 3-hour drive from Seoul to Chuncheon, so that added a bit of time to our adventure. When we got to Chuncheon, we settled into the 3 bedroom KAC guesthouse, open to people who work there or are visiting. (I should mention that by “guesthouse” I mean apartment building on the 8th floor!) Jin-Ju was already there to greet us – she is a former IVEPer who hails from Busan (a city on the southern tip of Korea), but who is just here to do her 3-month internship at the KAC. In the meantime she will live in the guesthouse with me, and, as of today, a lovely 3rd roomie from Mongolia! We are an international house!

The apartment is pretty comfortable, and has a nice view from the back porch – tree covered mountains and a little farm down below. I slept on a floor mat the first couple of nights, which is not bad. However, I am now shacked up in the back bedroom with the “real” bed, since Alex and Jess, who were using this bedroom before, have both left for their assignments in different towns. Cindy, our Indonesian YAMENer, also left yesterday. Though it’s hard to say goodbye, Kyong Jung set a SALT/YAMEN! reunion for end of October, which will be hosted at the KAC and the guesthouse. (YAY!!)

Right now, the weather here is hot and humid; I always feel slightly sticky. Sometimes a rain shower offers a break from the sweltering heat. Our laundry also gets hung to dry, which means it sometimes takes longer and gets a little stinky. No major issues, though. I am getting used to the musty smell of my “fresh” laundry!

On our first full day here, we met a barrage of people, using the KAC office as a home base for orientation and a few meals. Orientation consisted of general history of Korea, presented by our new friends Jinsol and Chan, two thoroughly Canadian Koreans who would later become our translators and tour-guides. We also learned about the history of MCC in Korea (they responded with relief work after the war), and the connection of the MCC to the KAC. I may have mentioned that MCC no longer works in Korea, but the KAC still aims to uphold their values of peace and reconciliation. I was delightfully surprised to see much MCC literature in the KAC office, as well as posters and such. They even use the same MCC calendar that our family has at home! Also, the KAC office has a wonderful full-wall window that overlooks a lake, backed by more majestic mountains. The little area in front of it is called “freedom park” or something of the like, and has a lineup of flags from around the world. Canada is one of them! So, between the flag and the calendar, and all the MCC, Mennonite, and Anabaptist literature, I feel quite at home there! All this acted as a quick reminder that God has put me in a place I belong; I am surrounded by people with the same core beliefs, and that means I am among family…even if I have yet to really get to know them!

One of the things I’ve quickly discovered here is just how important food is in Korea! I’d heard it before, but I didn’t quite know what that would look like! For example, last night we went out for “Chicken Ribs”, or Dak galbi. The restaurant featured low tables with big round skillets in the middle. Our food was already cooking when we arrived, and boy it smelled good! The skillet had a mixture of chicken, cabbage, and rice cakes all in a red spicy sauce. Then the table was filled with baskets of leafy lettuce. Once our food was ready, we’d take some chicken, and wrap it in a lettuce leaf for a mouthful of deliciousness! I quickly filled up, only to realize that was just the first course! After the chicken came rice and noodles, also cooked on the skillet. So big meals are typical, as are many side dishes (even a “simple” meal has 2 or 3 components), and snacks. Ubiquitous, ever-present snacks! Whenever it’s not meal time, someone always makes sure to replenish the candy bowl and snack tray, which will hold all manner of packaged cookies, crackers and donuts. I am slowly trying each kind.

As for my current day-to-day, well it’s sort of up in the air. I have yet to find a daily routine (she said on the 4th day!), but this is what I think is being established so far: wake up too early due to stinking jet-lag, get ready, have breakfast with Jin-ju and whoever happens to be here (it’s been different every morning so far because of so many comings and goings, but as of tomorrow it will just be us 3). Walk/taxi/train (it’s been different every morning) to the KAC office. Study some Korean. Jin-ju is currently my roomate, coworker, and Korean tutor. I am only in the beginning stages of learning, trying to memorize all the characters and their sounds. She then writes out words for me to sound out, or tells me words to write down. As per Kyong Jung’s orders, I am not to worry about work while in the language training period – he really wants me to focus intensively on it. As of next week I may have an official tutor to walk me through lessons, so that Jin-ju doesn’t have to do it. When the whistle blows, Jin-ju and I will go back to the apartment and hang out and eat dinner. Then I get tired ridiculously early (stinkin’ jet lag!) and go to bed.

There are tentative plans about what my future life here will look like. First, they are still trying to find me a host family. Therefore my time at the apartment is tenuous and I could be leaving any day; though the estimated time of my stay here is 3+ months, so I can still get comfortable. Second, Kyong Jung is working on finding Jin-ju and I bicycles to ride to work. There are so many bikers in this town that it only makes sense. There are bike lanes everywhere, and gutters that run up the stairs at the train station (so you can push your bike up easily), and a bike path around the lake. I actually really hope this happens! Not only do I think it would force me to exercise a smidge, but everything here is flat and scenic, and I think it would be a nice thing to do for my mental health. Third, and this is more of a vague airy idea than a plan, I hope to somehow acquire a piano or a guitar, or membership in some sort of choir or university Christian or otherwise extra-curricular club…. In other words, I need friends and activities, and Jin-ju and I did some brainstorming about it. She came up with the choir idea. I thought we should both learn guitar and have jam sessions at the KAC.

So all in all, that’s the low down on what I’ve been up to. I already have so many more stories to tell on top of this, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Thanks for reading this insanely much! I’ll try to keep it shorter next time, but I just had to get it all out this time!

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3 Responses to “Annyong from Korea!”

  1. Allison and Daniel August 23, 2012 at 12:29 AM #

    Deborah, I’m so glad that your first experience in Korea has been such a positive one! After reading this post, I am more and more excited about what God has in store for you over thsi next year! We will be continually praying for you everyday and trust that God has great plans for you during your stay there. Thank you for sharing the pictures too! What a beautiful view! I wouldn’t mind having that view while at work! What a blessing. And I also agree with Natasha that “Annyong” said “Annoying” hahaha. We love you and miss you!

  2. Mama August 22, 2012 at 12:21 PM #

    Tell Jin-ju that I say Thank You to her for taking care of you!!!

  3. Natasha August 22, 2012 at 12:59 AM #

    Deborah – I really enjoyed this first post from you in Korea! I’m glad you are safe and sounds and can’t wait to hear more! P.S. I thought that Annyong said “annoying” at first so I’m glad you are not annoyed!!

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