Saturday, 15 February 2003

Valentine's Day Update (February 2003)

It is time for another bulk e-mail. If you did not
get the first one, sorry; if you do not want to be on
this list, sorry; let me know. In case you missed the
first letter, I am currently having an adventure
teaching English in a district of Seoul Korea.

It was recommended to me by my Uncle Dave, that I send
updates regularly, according to some schedule.
However, I fear that I would run out of things to say,
and also that, if I were late (disorganized soul that
I am, and easily distractible), you would all worry
about me.

So, as much as the regularity of a consistent update
would cause some kind of sweet anticipation for my
letters (see the episode between the Prince and the
fox in Antoine de Saint-Expeury's "The Little Prince"
to understand what I mean), I don't think I will ever
manage to be as consistent as my Uncle.

But I'll give you a little bit of what's been going
on.

I have a second roommate now. His name is Dave; he's
another of the teachers at my school, and he was not
getting along with his other roommate, so now Alisa
and I also have Dave in the mix. This is fine by me,
because Dave and I have almost identical tastes in
music, and he also owns a DVD player, and knows where
there are a lot of good restaurants and other places
to hang out around here.

Yesterday on the subway, I experienced my first real
encounter with xenophobia (fear/suspicion of
foreigners and people other than one's self). A
little boy sat next to me on the subway and looked at
me with this surprised, defensive face during his
entire trip; his sister teased him with "you have to
sit next to te foreigner" faces, and when the space on
the other side of him opened up, he moved away from
me. However, to offset that, while I was eating
dinner, I sat near a family with three kids, and when
the mother saw that I was western, she whispered
something to the kids and suddenly they all turned to
me and said "HI! What is your name?" they managed to
pull out what seemed like every English phrase they
knew -- "What time is it? What did you do today? Are
you American? Do you like baseball?" and smiled and
giggled and laughed and jumped up and down at my
answers. It was sweet and adorable and wonderful.
Later, I was sitting on a bench in a mall, resting my
feet, and three children sat next to me, totally
ignored me (which is a surprise; usually I get at
least a few stares and some sort of acknowledgement),
and soon began to take turns dancing, as if they were
in a competition. The three-year old boy was adorable
-- he clumsily but gleefully tried to imitate his
older brother -- and the older brother tried to do the
splits, but fell down, so the younger brother took a
running start and just dropped on his bottom.
Precious.

At church, I was invited today to join a men's small
group. They meet on Saturday evenings. I am excited
about this. The meeting is in Korean, of which I know
very little, but it will be a chance to make some
friends with nationals, and maybe arrange some
language exchanges (that is, I teach you if you'll
teach me). I think I would like to join. I don't
want to spend my entire time here with other
foreigners.

My kids are great: at a point where a North American
would cry "YES!" or "All RIGHT!" as an expression of
pleasure, Koreans say "asAAaaa". I told my students
that the english word "Awesome" has the same meaning
as "asaaa" or however it would be spelled. So they
started saying "Awesome," but they used the intonation
of the Korean word, putting the stress on the wrong
syllable and drawing the word out, so that instead of
saying "AWEsome" the way an English speaker would,
they would say "aweSOOOOOmme." Absolutely wonderful.
I really like it here. I'm starting to learn more of
the language: I just learned how to do the numbers, so
that when the storekeeper says "ee man chon oh baek
won" I know that it means twenty-one thousand five
hundred won (or about $28 Canadian, give or take.)

So yes, I am enjoying my time here. I am going to
register this week at the Canadian Embassy so that I
will be prepared and ready to evacuate in case things
start to go poorly in Korea -- I have a feeling that
the political situation here is very closely linked to
the way USA's war in Iraq goes, and if things go badly
there, Seoul is VERY vulnerable: Seoul is only thirty
miles or so from the demilitarized zone dividing North
and South Korea -- as roomie Dave put it, "we're an
hour's drive from the most fortified piece of
territory on the planet," so North Korean ground
troops could be in Seoul before George Bush had time
for a knee-jerk reaction. So please keep that in your
prayers. Pray a lot for diplomacy to make its way and
pray that hearts would be softened on both sides of
the impasse.

The Embassy has contingency plans for such ugly
possibilities, and I'll be in much better shape once
I'm registered there, but pray that none of the
contingency plans have to be put into effect.

But I'll end on a lighter note, because big threats
make a small mark on my mind compared with the small
pleasures. Here is a story. One of my funniest
classes yet was one where a student said "Poh" at
every punctuation mark in every sentence. So for
'"Yes, I am," she said.' he would read "poh yes poh i
am poh poh she said poh," so I taught them the names
of punctuation: comma, quotation mark, question mark,
period, colon, exclamation mark. So then he read that
way, except instead of "quotation mark," he would read
"potato mark," which had the entire class (myself
included) howling by the end of the story. A
hilarious kid. He hasn't done his homework once, but
he's such a sweetie.

I love you all, take care of yourselves
God bless:
Rob Ouwehand