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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)!


  • 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


  • 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!

Small Hints I’m in a New Country…

5 Sep

I’ve talked about my general experiences here, but I thought I’d share a few (okay, quite a few) shorter observations about what daily life here actually looks like.

  1. Loud speakers out in the street that always seem to be the same angry-sounding man. Angry or authoritative…it’s hard to tell. (It took me a few days, but I finally found out it’s a fruit vendor truck! How can a man selling fruit sound so angry?)
  2. Guys in military uniform always moseying about – Korean men are required to fulfill 2 years of military training after school.
  3. Kleenex/tissue boxes placed at the dinner table, rather than individual napkins.
  4. Hanging laundry to dry (an environmentally-friendly change that I’m willing to keep indefinitely).
  5. Cross-walk guards who hold flags with stop signs on them, instead of actual stop signs.

    Children here have the best umbrellas and backpacks!

  6. Children who walk to school in droves, without parents (most families here have two working parents, and children typically walk alone to school from the start).
  7.  Hot red peppers laid on the side of the road to dry (in any given neighbourhood, on a busy street, or a secluded sidewalk!).
  8. Firetrucks that read 119, instead of 911.
  9. Homes and restaurants with tiled entrances, where you are expected to leave your shoes.

    First, notice my ginormous pair of boots (it was a rainy day; refer to #14 for further explanation). Then, notice the tiny pair of Mary Janes at the back – children are not exempt from the shoe-removal rule!

  10. Homes and restaurants equipped with tables that have short, kick-out legs, and cushions for your tooshie.
  11. Decidedly Korean side dishes, even for a “Western meal”. (Spaghetti and kimchi, anyone?)
  12. All the tea is green (and tastes way better than the green tea we have in Canada!).
  13. The sink isn’t plugged for washing dishes – you just soap up a sponge and lather, then rinse!
  14. Even on a Very Rainy Day, people still wear shorts/mini skirts/sandals/high heels. The only rain boots I’ve seen so far were my own.
  15. Old people giving me the once-over, and little kids calling me a “foreigner”. (For the record, most people don’t really notice me, or if they do it’s no big deal. You always kinda double-take the visual minority, but it’s not as blatant as people wanted to warn me it would be! )
  16. A clip of music before every pre-recorded announcement at the subway or store. Sometimes I get the Korail (subway) song  stuck in my head.
  17. Free samples on every aisle at the big grocery stores! E-Mart and Lotte Mart are the big supermarkets here, and there are more samples to be had than at Costco! (The Lotte conglomerate has its hands in everything from supermarkets, to housing, to hotels, to sports teams, to an amusement park, to trade and oil industries. It practically deserves its own bullet point, since I see it everywhere here! But alas, I have little patience for mega-corporations when I really stop to think about it, which is why I won’t give it any more space than it already has.)
  18. No English radio stations in my city! Except the one English song I heard on a Korean station…by Olivia Newton John. Sigh.
  19. Buses that you pay for by swiping your card on a sensor – so high tech! Some of them also have a sliding door as an exit.
  20. Birdies that look and sound different (magpies and cranes, oh my!). Also…ginormous spiders in all the trees. (Note to self: don’t bike under low-hanging branches.)
  21. Recycling everything…WIN!
  22. Everyone stopping to have a hot, prepared lunch together at work – no brown paper bags here! (We have a schedule that tells us who is each day’s chef. I get Wednesdays.)

    Fantastic parking job…

  23. The apparent lack of rules when driving. For example, red lights are a mere suggestion to slow down, and if there are no parking spots you’re welcome to block in others by parking behind them, where there is space.
  24. The rooster that crows every morning, and the sound of crickets singing.
  25. The fact that I’m really starting to miss my family despite all this awesomeness. While there’s a lot to entertain me, nothing can replace the oddities you take for granted in your own home and native land.