Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In the Company of Friends

22 May 2008

It hardly seems possible that three months have passed! Surely the calendar is playing tricks on me.

There have been so many wonderful friends who have made this mission to Pai Chai possible. My deepest thanks go to David and Shirley Wu who provided the initial opportunity. Their encouragement and support were of tremendous value. The mission simply would not have been possible without my sister Eva, my friend Gail and the ladies of HHCV who have faithfully watched over my house and affairs in South Carolina. They took away the biggest worry I had before coming.

Before arriving in South Korea, AnNa Cho, Rev. Kim and Rev. Chang emailed with words of welcome and encouragement. They and other staff and University Chapel members have been so very gracious, supportive, loving and caring. My every need has been provided.

Being able to travel to Asan City to visit Pastor Jeong, a good friend, was a special joy. He invited me to speak in his new church and to see the new school the church will dedicate in June. His ministry there will flourish under his leadership.

As mentioned in earlier blogs, it truly has been a joy to know and teach the students. They're wonderful young adults who will make a positive difference in the world. It's been great fun working with them.

A piece of my heart will stay in South Korea and I bow deeply from the waist in humble respect.

감사합니다

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Playing Tourist and Enjoying Friends

22 April 2008

It's fun playing tourist in my "new" home. Debbie, from Hilton Head, came for a too-short visit and we really pack in a lot of sightseeing. She surprised me and Rev. Kim upon her arrival. We were on the way to the bus stop to meet her, but she had made friends with her bus seat-mate who gave her a ride to the university entrance! They called us to say they were almost at the school. Debby speaks no Korean and the woman spoke no English. Wonderful isn't it?

Early the next morning, Rev. Kim picked us up and we headed for Suwon, a town about 2 hours north of Daejeon, where we enjoyed a delightful day at the Korean Folk Village. The next day we had lunch with Elizabeth, a member and friend from the University Chapel. Elizabeth and I have become good friends even though we have difficulty talking with each other because of our languages. We toured the campus that included a special tour of the music building with So Hee, one of my Honor's English students. So Hee has a beautiful voice and sings at the church. I especially wanted Debby to see the music building as it's built in the shape of a grand piano!

On Friday we took the KTX (bullet train) to Seoul for the weekend. The KTX travels at 300km/hour or 186mph and the ride is as smooth as silk. We got to Seoul in only 1 hour (it takes three by bus). After grabbing a taxi and unpacking at the Ewha Guest House, we headed downtown to start our fun in the city. We attended the traditional music/dance concert at ChongDong Theatre and also a great musical/dance at Nanta Theatre. We visited the Museum of Modern Art and Duksong Palace. We shopped along Insadong where I purchased a "Jing", known in English as a "Gong". Saturday morning we hooked up with Sonia Strawn, a friend and recently retired GBGM missionary. Sonia introduced us to Namdaenum - the humongous shopping district at the South Gate. It's like Canal Street in NYC - just bigger and they have everything! On Monday night, we were at City Hall Plaza and got right in the middle of the big lantern parade in honor of Buddha's birthday. Ladies were in traditional dress and monks in their grey attaire. Peaceful and beautiful.

In the afternoon we joined a tour group to the DMZ at the 3rd Agression Tunnel. This included a quick stop at the new train station that will connect S. Korea to Kaesong in the North. The Kaesong Industrial Complex is a joint effort that provides much needed employment to N.K. citizens and goods to S. Korea. The Agression Tunnel portion included a long, very long walk down a a very steep incline that eventually came to the last tunnel found that N.K. was building in an effort to reach Seoul. We had to bend over and wear hard hats as we progressed further into the tunnel. Let me tell you, the walk back up to the top was a killer! We could see NK from the observatory.

On Sunday, we visited Pastor Park and his church in Gimpo, just outside Seoul. Afterwards, he had arranged for us to be taken to Aegi Bong Peak where we got another view of North Korea across the river. This was by far the best view of N.K. and not nearly as commercialized as the tunnel site.

While Debby was here, David and Shirley Wu arrived from Mongolia. Together, we hosted a dinner party for some of the theology staff members and their wives. The next day we invited two other women friends over for strawberry shortcake and tea.

How blessed it is to enjoy and be in the company of good friends!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday's Twelve, Worship and Brunch

08 April 2008

The twelve come on a fairly regular basis, good folks interested in reading and studying the Bible in English with the foreigner. Twelve, a good Biblical number, don't you think?

Three are Chinese and speak fluent English, as do most of the remaining Koreans. We have only forty-five minutes and the time goes quickly. Our time together is generally filled with the obligatory Bible passage, then peppered with lots of questions and resulting discussions. As expected, the longer we are together, the more we trust each other and the richer our discourse. While not antimated by any means, we are enjoying each other's company and the opportunity to find out how we can relate Biblical passages to our daily lives.

This past Sunday I took my camera to record our group. As you can see to the right, only half of our group came, but we were good! We've only six more Sundays together and like other things, our time together is much too short.

Following our lesson, we leave for worship service temporarily being held downstairs in the 21st Century Building auditorium. Members have broken ground and dedicated an ideal site for the future church. To be located above the main entrance to the university, the design is architecturally very modern with glass walls protruding skyward ending in triangular points. It is scheduled to be completed sometime next year.

Worship always begins and ends with one loud but muted sounding gong. It's a fitting sound invoking the tradition of Korea, albeit Buddhist. Students participate through music leadership, both singing and playing of instruments. AnNa, my assistant, plays the piano and I'm like a proud Mama as her fingers fly over the keys. Several students also read the day's scripture passage in Korean, Chinese and English. The service is very much like ours in the UMC and many of the hymns are familiar, so I sing in English while all around me is Korean. Sounds great! We even have the passing of peace, and you'll never guess who always seems the last one to return to her seat. Theology professors and our Chaplain take turns preaching each Sunday and although I don't understand a word of what they say, the spirit works just the same.

After service, which concludes exactly at 12:00 noon, a light brunch is served to everyone. On Easter morning, we each received a chicken leg with thigh and an Easter egg. Last Sunday it was a foot-long hotdog with pickles. Of course hot tea is always served. The ladies prepare the brunch just before each service, and my job last Sunday (token, I think) was to take the wrapped hotdogs to the table for later distribution. We have a good time meeting new folks and catching-up with others.

JB

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Black Ginseng, Ying and Yang

04 April 2008

Black Ginseng, with a component of Saponin, is purported to be at least 15-20 times more potent than the more common white or red ginseng. It is supposed to heal hormonal imbalances, put more estrogen in women, give men stamina, help with diabetes, cure most cancers, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and upset stomachs. It also helps maintain a healthy heart, protects the liver, helps all sorts of diets, slows the aging process, and best of all (so says the ad) there are no side-effects.

Ginseng, also spelled Ginsing, is grown in great quantity about one hour south of here in the large farming area of South Korea called Geumsan. Last weekend, I was invited to visit the area with Mesuk, Park, her husband and their sixteen year old daughter Yu Jeong, Yoo. Mesuk attends Pai Chai University Chapel with me on Sundays.

Our trip was filled with short English phrases, quick tap-taps on the battery-powered translation machine and many "What is that?" questions from my side of the car. The Korean mountains were beautiful and being a misty, cloudy day, the tops were enshrouded in fog creating an ethereal look. As soon as we rounded one curve I knew we were there. The land on either side was cut into long, narrow, extremely straight, and raised rows. Every single row was partially hidden by black plastic stapled to thin wooden frames in the shape of the letter "L", listing to the right. In South Georgia they call it a "lean to"...a small roof that "leans to" the side of a house - you know, where you'd park your car.

Anyway, there were miles and miles, farm after farm and plot after plot of these black plastic covered rows with ginseng growing underneath. You see, ginseng does not like sun. It also takes anywhere from 5-10 years for the stuff to grow before harvesting. This is definitely reflected in the price.

Mesuk wanted me to see the ginseng market. It reminded me of the Statesboro Tobacco market...long rows and numerous aisles of sellers with their product, each one hoping you'll buy from them. It was fascinating and as we walked down the aisles, one lady spoke to Mesuk. They had gone to elementary school together, so naturally we bought from her. I really wanted only one ginseng root...like one carrot, but either something was lost in translation and hand motions or you can't do that. I ended up with almost a kilogram of some of the best! Cost? $20,000KRW or $20.00USD. Mesuk's friend allowed me to take her picture.

After the market, we went to a famous restaurant in the area for dinner. Sitting Korean style of course, we each had a big, personal bowl of steaming rice, chicken and ginseng soup. Absolutely delicious!

Mesuk has another friend who perfected the black ginseng. She presented me with a box filled with individual packets of the black liquid that is to be drunk as-is...one a day.

Not only should I be in good shape come the end of May but my ying and yang will be also be balanced!

JB

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trust and Responsibility

26 March 2008

My purpose in coming to serve as an Individual Volunteer in Taejeon and Pai Chai University was to teach a class in Missiology, an English class to the Appenzeller & Howard College Honor's English students and lead an adult English Bible Study during Sunday School hour. Since arriving, I've also been asked to speak to a Saturday group of students whose purpose in meeting is to develop leadership skills. Additionally, we're contemplating the establishment of another "less structured" English class due to interest and requests.

The university students are bright, energetic yet shy, extremely polite, technologically savvy, very interested in learning, beautiful, and have an absolutely delightful sense of humor. They dress in the latest fashions and all the young women sport designer-label handbags. Every single one has the newest cellphone complete with Korean/English dictionaries, calculators, cameras and internet access ... and probably much more, I just don't know the tech-talk.

Yet, with all this, they seem somehow lost in time in terms of life experiences, perhaps protected along the way, unexposed to the fast-paced culture the same-aged students in North America learned while still in middle or high school. Selfishly, I believe this is a good thing. They appear clean, unvarnished, wholesome, innocent, and trusting - still moldable.

It's not an easy task to prepare to teach them. To have such awesome young men and women in front of you each day and for such a short time is a tremendous responsibility. It's serious business and they deserve the best.

They trust me and I can't let them down.

JB

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Homemade Korean Dinner

19 March 2008

Last Saturday night, new friends invited me to their home for dinner. Rev. Lee and his wife Park, Hye Jung and Yo Seh, their thirteen year old son, live in the same building as I do and it was a special honor to have been invited into their home. Rev. Lee and I are colleagues in the Theology Department at Pai Chai University.

Hye Jung had prepared a delicious meal of salad w/kiwi dressing, duck, beef, mushrooms, rice and kim (seaweed). For dessert, she provided cheese cake, herb tea or coffee and a perfectly arranged bowl of fresh strawberries (it's strawberry season here) that were so large and perfectly shaped they almost looked fake. They were sweet and absolutely delicious! Naturally, we ate Korean style from the lovely wooden table in the living room.

Hye Jung graduated with a degree in music, her major being voice. She has a piano that she also plays and is an artist with oils as well. They took a year of sabbatical in Clairmont, CA and Yo Seh attended school while there. They've also lived in Germany. She speaks very good, but limited English, yet understands a great deal. Yo Seh speaks English very well, but his parents say he doesn't like to speak it back home in Korea as none of his friends do. Lee of course, speaks all three languages very well. We had much to share.

It was a delightful evening eating, listening to the background music of Placido Domingo and enjoying getting to know each other.

Included with this blog are a couple of pictures of the evening before Yo Seh, being a typical teenager, retreated to his computer.

Best,
JB

Trash Prancing

19 March 2008

Early Tuesday morning I was primed and ready to make my first trash deposit per my "remedial recycling 7x's" lesson from An Na. I planned on taking it down then returning for breakfast and final preparations before leaving for work.

With trash cradled in my arm and poised on left hip, I pranced into the elevator, proud of my accomplishment thus far and everything packaged just so. On the fourth floor, the elevator stopped and a nice looking Korean woman/neighbor got on. She bowed politely, as did I - or at least as best as one can bow with a hip load of neatly packed trash. Then she smiled and pointed toward the ceiling, saying something to me. I smiled and said, "Han gook mal, chal mot hamn ni dah" or "I'm sorry, I don't speak Korean".

Departing on the first floor and opening the outside door, she stopped, waved her arm across the parking lot indicating there were NO trash receptacles! She then said "something" and waved her arm in an arc toward the right, finally pointing her finger down...I got it..."NEXT Tuesday"!

Somewhat dejected and no longer prancing, I returned to the elevator and made my way back up (toward the ceiling) - laughing all the way. When I told An Na, we had an better laugh as even she didn't know trash was picked up every OTHER Tuesday.

At last, I can hold my head high again.

Best,
JB