Notes on Being a Yes Man

27 Aug

Did you ever watch that Jim Carrey movie, where he decides to say “yes” to everything? The movie itself isn’t especially memorable, but the message is – open yourself up to new experiences, and you will be rewarded; if not in a material way, then definitely in an experiential way.

This is me trying to peel a “Korean watermelon” without cutting off too much fruit. So much pressure! We eat seasonal fruit for dessert here all the time – right now it’s mainly grapes and these watermelons which taste like honeydew. (The etiquette for seed-eating is different for every fruit. Spit out grape seeds & skin, but eat the watermelon seeds!)

I’ve adopted the “Yes Man” mentality here in Korea. It’s the philosophy that led to my finding myself at a Korean bible study on Wednesday night, and probably future Wednesday nights, too. My roomate, Doogii, suggested I come with her, so I said yes. Was I really itching to sit in a room in a strangers’ home, amidst the sounds of a language I don’t understand being volleyed around me? Not particularly. Did I enjoy myself? I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t the most comfortable. Did I learn from it? Yes. Absolutely. And I’m glad I did it. Not only did I get to observe more of the culture in an at-home context – I got to see how small groups work here. One major difference was the closing prayer. Everyone went around in a circle and said their prayer requests – pretty typical. Then, in an unfamiliar (to me) tradition, everyone suddenly just started praying at once! Enthusiastic voices murmured praise and requests to God all at once, all around me, filling the room. It was quite something! When the prayers naturally trickled into more and more quiet, someone started the Lord’s Prayer (I think; it was in Korean), signalling the end of individual prayer, and a time to pray in unity. I was not brave enough to say my prayers out loud in English; nor did I know how to join into the group prayer. Yet, despite these things, my witnessing this event was something else. My eyes were opened to see that the the Lord truly appreciates and rejoices when we lift our voices to him – no matter what language, no matter how we do it! Next week I will pray out loud, joining the chorus.

And now, since I’ve mentioned small group, I’ll go ahead and explain church to you. Jesus Village Church (JVC) is a 90 person-strong congregation of worshippers following the Anabaptist tradition. What’s different about it is that there’s no pastor! Instead, there are 4 co-leaders, or what sound to me like church elders, who take turns preaching. I think the mentality behind this is to keep it a community effort; while I can get behind this, I’m not quite sure I agree. (There’s something to be said about having a preacher who went to seminary!) Despite this major difference, however, I can still appreciate their intentions and style of worship. Every Sunday begins with small study groups for an hour, and that goes into an hour of full-group worship time; singing and scripture reading and preaching. After that everyone has lunch together, which is (1) an awesome way for a church to bond as a family, and (2) very Korean to begin with. I may have mentioned how much Korean people like to eat together…. As for my future attendance at the JVC, I’m not promising anything. There’s an English-speaking church in the area, but it’s Methodist (apparently run in a non-denominational way, whatever that really means). I might go there in a few weeks, depending on how I feel spiritual-nourishment-wise. They also have a Saturday evening service, so I might do that. But speaking of spiritual nourishment, I also get that from the office! On Friday morning, 4 of us followed a devotional in an Anabaptist prayer book (still more liturgical than I’m used to, but it’s cool), reading prayers, scripture, and singing songs together. It was lovely! I’ll be happy to continue on with that each morning.

A few days ago, Jin Ju and I got bicycles loaned to us from a JVC church member. They’re really swell! I must be in the honeymoon stage of my time here, because I have a really good bike at home that I never use. Even so, after seeing how bike-friendly this city is, I was itching to get one. So glad I did! The ride from door to door (between home and the office) is about 45 minutes, but it’s not too bad since it’s all flat and mostly alongside the lake, which is Top Caliber Beautiful! As for other extra-curriculars (if one thinks of the SALT “curriculum” as going to your job and going to church), I’ve discovered the wonderful website meetup.com, designed to connect people of various interests in various parts of the world. So far there’s no meet up group in Chuncheon (I wish), but there’s an English-speaking expat book club that meets in Seoul every month. Does that not have my name written all over it? I signed up in a flash! Who cares that it will take 1.5+ hours to get there? I’m being a Yes Man!

And now, for some thoughts on the most interesting observations to come out of a “Yes” this week…. Without really knowing what I was agreeing to, I set off on Saturday morning to Wonju, to attend my first Korean wedding! Nuri, who works at the KAC, suggested I drive there with him, his wife, and their 15-month-old daughter (who is to-die-for CUTE), so that I could see what it’s like here. Well, people, it’s different! But I’ll start at the beginning. I woke up and got ready, and walked down to the crosswalk where they were going to pick me up. It was a nice day so I was happy to be out (thankfully the humidity has ebbed off a bit and it’s not too hot anymore). Then, they picked me up and we were off! Wonju is about an hour’s drive South from Chuncheon, and the biggest city in Gangwando province (though Chuncheon is the capital). The drive there was so scenic and beautiful – we passed by all these green mountains and bubbling rivers, and small farms. It was like something out of a movie. Then we got to the hotel in Wonju where this wedding was taking place. There was another wedding happening just before, so I peeked in, without really cluing in that the doors to the hall were wide open for the public. After waiting for a friend in the bustling lobby (again, right outside where this other wedding was taking place with open doors!), it was time to eat. Difference number one at a Korean wedding: food, before all else. It was buffet style and the choices were endless! I wanted to be adventuresome, so I tried a little of everything. Even this roll that, I discovered only after it was on my plate, was nothing more than mashed potatoes wrapped in a piece of bologna and dotted with mustard – a take on Western food, perhaps? Ah, but there was also a delicious breaded chicken thing in sauce, and pork cutlet, which is my New Favourite Food. And where should we eat but the hotel’s ginormous banquet hall? There was no assigned seating, and I’m sure there were guests from the other wedding there, too! So, difference number two: no fancy reception or speeches over dinner – I think most of the pomp and circumstance all happens before the actual wedding day, during the engagement period. After eating, we slowly made our way to the hall where the wedding was to be. To my surprise, it was already underway when we finally rolled in there, to standing room only. No matter! There was no stress about it, because no one pays attention, anyway! Difference number three (and it’s the biggest single incident of culture shock I’ve had since coming here): at a wedding, the wedding is not necessarily the important thing. Say what? Let me explain. The bride and groom were resplendent as we’d expect them to be in a Canadian style wedding. She wore a sparkly number and a veil, he wore a proper tux and a snazzy pair of dapper white gloves. There was a long aisle (which, to my limited understanding, she never walked down – it was all for show). There were flowers. There was mood lighting and white tables with white chairs around them, for those who wanted to sit and pay attention. Simply put, the front half of the room was all business, and what you’d expect from a wedding. But, like a mullet, the party was at the back. The doors here stayed open, for people who wished to come and go as they pleased. Here, at the back of the room, everyone was chatting and laughing and catching up, not giving a lick of attention to the life commitment being made at the front of the room. I saw people texting and talking on the phone, even handing out business cards – the whole time! Imagine my surprise. In Canada you can get away with texting in class, and you can talk too loudly on public transit, and you can generally be pretty rude in a variety of circumstances without people really getting offended. But to even glance at your phone during a wedding – let alone take the call – let alone make the call! – would be the height of social faux pas, and one of the rare occasions when someone would ask you to stop. But alas, I’m in a different culture, with different customs and expectations and mores, and it was all made very clear to me at this most memorable of wedding ceremonies. After the union was sealed with a kiss, the bride and groom immediately cut the cake that was standing by the altar, and poured some champagne together, over the champagne glass-tower that was there as well. Then, some friends sang a song – in which the groom surprised the bride (I think), by joining in. That was sweet. And thus concluded the affair! Nuri and friends chatted in the lobby some more, and I retired to a lone chair to read a book until they were ready to go (he suggested it; I wasn’t purposefully being anti-social!). Then they drove me to the Wonju bus station, and I took a bus back to Chuncheon, where Jin Ju was waiting for me. I loved the bus ride back, again through the mountains, enjoying my alone time as I alternately read my book and gazed out the windows with a look of awe and wonderment. It was an interesting day, and I battled not to label the whole thing as “weird”, but I’m so glad it happened. The truth is, I’m just and outsider, and I have no idea. And I never would have realized that unless I’d said “yes”.

Other Supercool Things from This Week:

  • Finding this amazing restaurant in Chuncheon, specializing in PORK CUTLET!!

    My fave dish and my new fave restaurant. Mmm.

    Not only were the prices more than decent, the woman who works there is an amazing cook! We had 6 side dishes, including kimchi (obviously), noodles, potatoes and these puny little anchovies that I’m developing a palate for. Not only that – she was an excellent host, proudly pointing out the nest being built just outside of the establishment! But not to worry; the restaurant itself was tiptop for cleanliness. I will be returning.

  • Visiting the Dakgalbi Festival here in Chuncheon. As I told you previously, dakgalbi is a delicious chicken dish that everyone here is so proud of, they made a festival for it! We took our bikes up a hill to the middle of the mountains, and walked around the exhibition type atmosphere, enjoying a pan flute ensemble from Ecuador (they were called The First of the Mohicans!), and a dance troupe competition of ten separate teams performing traditional dances from all over Asia.

    Doogii is behind the smiling girl on the big screen. Good job, guys!

    Our third roomate, Doogii, was in the Mongolian dance troupe!

  • Discovering how much I love toasted seaweed. Mmmm, 김 (kim…it means seaweed). Wrap it around a little rice and tuna, and it’s salty, green perfection.
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7 Responses to “Notes on Being a Yes Man”

  1. Willy Stell September 1, 2012 at 5:24 AM #

    So good to read about how you are doing, friend! And good for me to be reminded of the importance of saying “yes.” I am most definitely a hesitant traveler and would do well to take a few more risks 🙂 Blessings from Amman.

    • Deborah September 1, 2012 at 5:00 PM #

      Hey William!! Yes, it’s hard at times, but it gets easier with practice! 15 seconds of insane courage is all you need.

  2. alyssa301 August 30, 2012 at 3:47 AM #

    As usual, your blog post is delightful and excellent. Very excited about everything you are doing! I very much approve of your yes-man attitude… you’ll see, experience and learn so much more!

  3. Liz August 30, 2012 at 12:29 AM #

    I am so happy that you are trying new things. You are an amazing girl. Your blogs are also great. I feel like I am there. Great writer. I look forward to hearing more of your adventures.

  4. Mama August 29, 2012 at 11:27 AM #

    I’m proud of you for saying “yes” to so many scary things. xoxox

  5. Natasha August 29, 2012 at 6:05 AM #

    Whoa, that was a long one but oh so very interesting! I love the way you write Deb – you are truly gifted! You are learning and experiencing so much and I’m proud of your mentality! I’m also going to try that website out for myself in Rome 🙂 Thanks for the heads-up!

    • Deborah August 29, 2012 at 4:09 PM #

      Good to know – that’s why I mentioned it and inserted the link. I know a lot of people right now who could use that website!

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