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:

  • Newbie: The KAC has a new intern! Jane will be the other Korean IVEPer next year, going to the MCC Washington office. In the meantime she’s serving out 2 of the required 6 months at the KAC (she’ll do 4 after her term), which means we get to enjoy a new face five days a week!
  • Friends: This past Sunday evening I invited 2 of my single-lady friends (cue Beyoncé) to eat some of my rice cooker-baked cheesecake. It was not that great, but they were nonetheless impressed, and we all had a grand time.
  • Fairy-tales: Right now me and my high school girls are half-way through watching Ever After: A Cinderella Story. I told them we would be watching it in two parts, one hour each. I wasn’t really sure if they were liking it, I guess because certain scenes weren’t eliciting as much laughter as I’d hoped (though this is probably due to extra concentration on reading subtitles). However, when I went to turn it off, they all cried out for me to let them keep watching. “Teacher!” One of them exclaimed. Too excited to form a whole English sentence, she put it as simply as possible: “End!” I smiled and told everyone I was glad they liked it, but we still had to finish next time. I’ll admit I’m as stoked as they are. That reaction was just the best.
  • The Not-Quite Nanny: Most Mondays, after I’m finished with the older girls, I walk home with two 9-year-olds who live close by my own apartment. (Mondays I teach at an after-school program center, so there are always kids of all ages around.) These girls like to use English, so I think it’s a good arrangement. Not to mention we get to walk home at dusk which, especially in summer, is always the best time of day. The route we use would normally take ten minutes, but when you’re with two adolescent girls, extra time must be allotted to watch the fish in the stream, pick daisies and clovers to weave into our hair, play on the exercise machines, stop at convenience stores to buy candy, and make sure everyone has a hand to hold (they are still sweet and innocent enough to like that). But I’m honestly still wondering whether this walking arrangement was made so that I can supervise them, or so they can show me the way. Here I was thinking I was being some sort of mentor to them, and then last week when they were gone for the day, I was asked if I remembered the way home! Ten months in this town and people still think I’ll get lost. Greaaat.
  • Novelty: Last Thursday was a national holiday (Memorial Day, I think). Jiwon, Yunju and I explored Chuncheon under the hot sun (HOT=35 degrees!) and even enjoyed a bowl of makguksu at a restaurant near Soyang dam, where the tables were set in the middle of a stream. The owner even provided our table with a small towel, should we want to dry our feet after a dip. Now when will I ever get to do that again?! Here’s to a country with almost no FDA or safety restrictions! We need more restaurants like this!

    With shoes perched on a lone dry rock!

  • Our entire library, dismantled.

    Our entire library, dismantled.

    Carpentry for Dummies: Some of you will remember that the winter months meant covering all our office windows with plastic (to trap air as a sort of heat pocket). Well, as I mentioned, summer also offers its own set of temperature-related challenges, and so we spent last week sticking UV-protective sheets on all the windows, as well as insulating (thus shading) an entire wall. This was a major task, because it meant we had to remove our bookshelves first. And those things are heavy! So we took off all the books first, then watched/helped as Kyong Jung did the more manly job of staple-gunning the drywall to the frame. Then we put all the books back. I was quite happy to escape for three hours to “class” that Friday…

  • backpack!Sewing Club: The cherry on top of my every week is my ladies’ novel-reading group, AKA “Lunch Club”. Truth be told, they have a far too easy-going (read: lazy) teacher, so we’ve neglected The Little Prince for the past three weeks in favour of eating out and sewing mini backpacks. Yes, that is correct. I hand-stiched this little guy! Cute or what? Ilgyong, or “Alice” (middle, pink shirt) sews all sorts of projects semi-professionally, so we thought it would be fun if she taught us something. We were right! (It sure beat drywall.)

sewing

  • Spectacle: Today I got an eye exam, because I’d heard glasses here are really cheap. I didn’t really need new glasses, but hey, it’s always good to have a spare pair on hand, especially when they ring in at $90 and only take about a 20 minute wait! (For you ignorants blessed with 20/20 vision, this is as opposed to $200 and a two-week wait in Canada.) I even “splurged” on the best lenses! But let me tell you…that was the weirdest eye exam I’ve ever had in my life. First allow me to set the stage: the man was crazy. Crazy-nice, mind you (not crazy-rude, or crazy-scary), but still: c-r-a-z-y. He spoke neither Korean nor English. Oh no! He spoke his own strange hybrid of Korean-English, and his pronunciation was the worst I’ve ever heard. Now, side note, I really pride myself on being able to understand strange, varied and heavy accents. I’ve had many long conversations with people who other EFL speakers can’t understand at all. So when I say I couldn’t understand this guy’s “English”, it basically means he wasn’t speaking English at all. And because he wasn’t speaking Korean, my roomies – who accompanied me should we run into language problems – also couldn’t understand him. At one point he tried to spell something out to me, and instead of “F”, I heard “apple”. So yeah. But then he had the audacity (delusion?) to claim that he’s “famous” in Korea for teaching English! He seemed very proud of this, so we laughed…”with”…him. Act II: It was time to let this barrel of laughs actually examine my eyesight! When he asked me to read the three numbers projected on the wall, I couldn’t. When he didn’t accept my “I don’t know”, I decided to throw out a guess: “3…5…4?” I was so off. It was really nothing but blur. Now, instead of his then trying a different strength, he just said “no, again.” Again? As in guess again? Look, I know it’s called an eye exam, but you’re not typically supposed to feel stupid for getting things wrong! So I guessed. After a few more wrong guesses (and let me stress that I was really just looking at black smears on a white background) he finally seemed to understand that I couldn’t see, and only then changed the strength. This song and dance lasted for quite a while. I was thinking of calling the whole thing off, but eventually we got there, and now I am the proud owner of some pretty cool purple specs – which I can (mostly) see through just fine. My depth perception seems a bit off, but it might take a few days to decide if it’s because my eyes changed, or crazy dude messed up. I’ll let you know if I sustain any injuries doing simple things like stairs…in the meantime here is another image of my face avec specs:specs
  • Roller-coasters?: The best news of all! This Saturday me and my beloved roommates will go to the Lotte World amusement park. I have no idea what’s there, but I’m SO excited anyway. We always have a fun time together, and – hello! – amusement park!

Also, you should know…

I will be back in Vancouver on July 26. Before that I still have a month left on service, a few days at re-entry, and a short road trip to DC with my pal Stefanie. While this is a lot to look forward too, I’m also trying not to get caught up in looking forward. Instead I’m trying to remain present and use my time here wisely, something I’d also like to ask for prayer for. I heard a quote the other day that I can’t forget…“Don’t just do something; stand there.” (No, I didn’t get it backwards). I think it sums up my year of service pretty accurately. I’ve often worried myself about what I should do next, when really the concern should be about staying present. I shouldn’t worry myself with tasks and busywork. I also need to stand here, steep in the culture, and take in everything that’s happening.

You know what? Despite that occasional feeling that I’m navigating this culture blind, I think I’m doing alright. A few weeks ago marked a point of pride in my simple life. Me and a small group of church people were out for barbecued duck (no big deal, right?). I behaved how I’ve learnt to: I threw a few garlic cloves on the grill, I wrapped a sesame leaf inside my lettuce leaf, I filled them with rice and meat and gochujang (spicy red pepper paste), and ate it in one bite. All with my chopsticks, and all without giving the whole process a second thought. That’s when I realized the woman sitting next to me was in wonder at everything I seemed to know about Korean cuisine. She told me, “Bora, you are almost Korean!” I smiled widely and said thank you. On the inside, I was beaming. While it may not seem like that big a compliment (especially to some of my friends who have lived in say, Africa, and after a few months were told “you are one of us”)…in my life, in Korea, it is. To be acknowledged as any sort of Korean person – even an almost Korean – is leagues more than I could have hoped for even three months ago. I may have dropped the ball with the whole language thing, but at least the people around me are noticing my strides, and understand my intentions. I’ve said before that Korean culture is still sort of opaque to me, given that there’s very little feedback (for who would be so bold as to tell me I’m doing it wrong?); but moments like that one put wind in my sails!

Working overseas has stretched me in unfathomable and as-yet unrealized ways. I’ve gotten used to a new level of loneliness, I’ve battled anxiety and insomnia, I’ve been held at arm’s length from new people for longer than I’d normally expect to be back home. But I’ve also seen God’s provisions, felt His perfect timing, and witnessed moments of true love and acceptance even from those I thought I’d never understand. It’s almost time to go home, but in moments like these, I’m content to just stand here. For this, too, is my home.

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3 Responses to “Almost”

  1. Elfie Wiens June 14, 2013 at 11:39 PM #

    Love this. Love you.

    Deborah

  2. Natasha June 14, 2013 at 12:11 AM #

    Amazing thoughts, writing, and information. I love your blog posts Deb – you have great insight! Loving the new glasses too 🙂

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