Monday, 27 December 2004

Christmas 2004

Greetings everyone.

Hi. Merry Christmas (in case I don't have a chance to
otherwise greet you for Christmas). It's getting
colder, plastic evergreens are springing up like
flowers in May or acne the week before prom night, so
it must be December. This Christmas feels more like
Christmas than last year, because, I suppose, of the
music: last year the only Christmas music I got to
hear all December was that elevator Christmas music
you get on the radio, which is usually not the kind of
holy, meditative Christmas music that puts me in the
holiday/Advent spirit, but this year I have the
antidote: I have place my Handel's Messiah in the CD
case that I carry around to work and home, so whenever
I want it to start feeling like Christmas, I just pop
some Handel into the tape player in each classroom,
and have the Messiah as the background music for that
class. The Messiah being the one thing that readies
me for the holidays more than any other thing, I'm
feeling much more Christmassy this year, even though I
haven't so much as smelled egg not, tasted a candy
cane, or even seen a nativity scene.

Korea has its beauties, even in winter -- the trees
are finally empty of their various colours, which
means I can see the mountain more easily. (**one
single white male: tall, sensitive, articulate,
seeking a silver lining to various clouds; if
interested call 0** *** **** after business hours.
Serious inquiries only.**). Unfortunately, as
beautiful as Seoul winter can (HONESTLY!) be, I've not
been able to enjoy it for the last week, because I've
been feeling sudden urges to fall asleep, cold sweats,
and a bad cough. That's right, yours truly is sick: I
get funny tastes (and sometimes colours) in my mouth
when I cough, I wake up with headaches and am
constantly thirsty. Sometimes I sneeze fifteen times
in two minutes for no apparent reason. I even took
Wednesday off to rest. I'll get better, of course,
but it's a pain being sick and having a bedtime of
10:00 pm.

Let's get this over with quickly:

you all know now (unless you've forgotten somehow)
that my mother has terminal stomach/liver/other places
cancer. This means I will be going home for
Christmas. That means I had to purchase a plane
ticket home for Christmas, which also meant I now have
no money for Christmas presents (sorry everyone -- ask
again on a year when my mother isn't dying. Believe
me, I wish I had the choice to spend my December
paycheck on books CDs and hobby accessories for all my
friends, too.) It means I will be in Canada, in
Agassiz, specifically, for the week between Christmas
Day and New Years' day, but it also means that my top
top tippy toppest priority is to be with my family
this Christmas as (here come the waterworks) it
may/probably will be my family's last Christmas with
my mother in the mix. All this is to say no, I can't
spare a whole day (out of my five, one of which is
lost to jetlag) for you; no, I can't drive out to
Langley or Vancouver or Red Deer or Manhattan to swing
by your new pad (though I'm sure it's really cool).
However, if you want to come out to Agassiz to see me,
I'll make sure that Mom and Dad have lots of tea and
crackers on hand, and you can drop me a line and I'll
send you directions to my house.

But unless seeing me is deathly urgent, or I am
"please become godfather to my children" level close
to you, here is some reassuring news:

I'd asked my boss if I could extend my contract for
three extra months so that I had three more paychecks
before I came back to Canada, and I could properly be
my brother's best man in July when he gets married,
having worked until May, I'd be able to live in Red
Deer in June and sort things out for him. My boss,
for whatever reason, decided she'd rather hire
somebody else next March, and has decided to reject my
offer to stay for three extra months. Maybe the
uncertainty of my family situation was part of her
rationale, but in the end, I'm not too fussed. She'll
be able to bring on a new teacher at the beginning of
a semester (which is nice for her), and maybe hire a
couple (which is cheaper for her), and I don't have to
bust my groove thang for 10 and a half hours a day for
an extra three months. And (here's that silver lining
I advertised for earlier:) now I'll be coming home at
the beginning of March, so that's not too far off
after Christmas -- barely any time at all, the way
time keeps passing faster and faster!) so I can be
there for my parents' 30th Wedding Anniversary! I
hadn't thought about this, but that's pretty exciting.
And, suddenly I've gone from having about five more
months at this school, to having just over two more,
and that, my friends, is a nice feeling, considering
the level of workaholism the administration has begun
to ask of its teachers.

The downside (and this is big) is that I'm gonna miss
my girlfriend the now, retroactively renamed Exgirlfriendoseyo.

A lot.

















A lot.

As she will me.




but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

of course that part won't be easy. she's really been
a rock for me, and I'm so grateful and lucky/blessed
that she's in my life right now. Everybody in my
Church (where she's been attending weekly), just
adores her, and asks about her caringly when she's
absent because of a test or a paper.

She's doing exams and papers right now, wrapping up
her final semester, so I'm trying to be a steadfast
support for her, and encourage her in her studies.
Last night I cooked special, Rob-style spaghetti and
brought it, in a plastic container, down to the school
where she was studying, and surprised her with dinner
there. That was fun -- but we're trying to find the
balance between relationship maintenance and diligent
study, but right now I feel like diligent study is
winning by a longshot, and I miss her sometimes. Of
course, this, too, shall pass, and the reunion (of
sorts) when she has leisure time again, will be
wonderful, but for now I'm trying to be a solid
support and encourage her as much as I can.


A few weeks ago I got this one: the opposite of
YESterday is NOterday.

I've been having fun with my kids; I've learned how to
speak Konglish really well -- English with TOTALLY
Korean pronounciation, and that always cracks up the
kids, but the best laugh one of the kids dealt to me
came a few weeks ago.

I was teaching the word "Statue", and I mentioned that
often we see statues in churches and temples. Eddie,
one of my sweetest Kindergarten students, made the
finger gesture that the Buddha often makes in his
statues -- thumb and middle finger touching as if you
moved the "A-OK" sign down a finger, as if he's about
to flick something with his middle finger. Then he
asked "Teacher, do you know why Buddha is making that
way?" (making that gesture)

"Why, Eddie?"
now I have to explain a game of rock scissor paper
that korean kids play (they LOVE variations on rock,
scissor paper, and it's the ultimate argument settler
in this country; it's universally recognized as fair).
In one of the variations, the winner of the game gets
to flick the loser in the middle of the forehead.
This flick is usually done by the index finger or the
(strongest) middle finger. Eddie explains to me that
Buddha is making that gesture because. . .
"Buddha and God play rock scissor paper. And Buddha
win, so Buddha can do this one" (makes flicking
motion) "to God".

I didn't find this a bit blasphemous, of course -- it
was just a kid living in a culture where Buddha and
God are about equal influences on the religious
preferences of people around him, trying to make sense
of it all. It made me laugh, and hey, the dude wears
the virgin Mary around his neck two days in five, so
he'll grow up to understand more about it all, I hope
in a way that's as lighthearted as that, down the
road. It's a lot nicer to be able to chuckle about
the way religions can live alongside each other than
the two girls in another class who have been known to
feud in class because of has Christian parents and the
other has Buddhist parents (I learned about that one
from my teaching assistant). It saddens me that kids
so young are already building walls and being nasty to
each other over religion, which (from what I've
gathered) is (if nothing else) humanity's attempt to
figure out how NOT to be nasty to each other.

I explained counting syllables to a class by using
words that had lots of syllables, that I knew the kids
wouldn't know, to show that you don't have to know a
word to sound it out or count its syllables. The
words I used were "detrimental" and "extraneous",
which I repeated several times in class, until one kid
put up his hand and asked "Teacher, what's
excremental?"

My girlfriend sends me messages on my phone, and she
keeps making adorable spelling mistakes -- and somehow
her spelling mistakes ALWAYS turn into different
words; they never just turn into nonsense. She spells
message wrong, so she regularly says things like

"thanks for that massage. it made me laugh"
or "i'll send you a massage later"

yesterday she said "I told my mom that you brought me
spaghetti. "She was empressed" (I don't know what the
emperor's wife has to do with my spaghetti OR her mom,
but it make me smile)

and unfortunately, since she'll recieve this letter, I
guess that massage mistake's gonna stop now, but it's
been fun.

so that of course leads to the question "When your
Korean friends' chronic English errors are really
cute, is it still your responsibility to correct
them?" -- one lady at work always says lunch "lonchee"
so that the word lunch almost rhymes with the word
"raunchy" -- and do I need to correct that, when it's
so cute? She's the same one who told me, when I went
to the doctor's, that I have to get lots of lest.

My name regularly becomes lobeuh (which is how Koreans
say "Love" in Konglish), so I'm Love teacher to some
of my kids, and to others, I've told them about the
Lobster nickname, so I have a few kids who won't stop
calling me Lobster, Love, or Robot, which I don't
mind.

Matt's brother Joel is here, and he's cool. And I've
started making spaghetti again, after almost a
two-year hiatus. This is really nice -- it'd been so
long since I'd made spaghetti, it's nice to get back
into practice. Also, especially during a time that's
particularly emotionally challenging, with a
girlfriend who's unavailable because she has to study,
making spaghetti is (I realized) a REALLY comforting
ritual for me. Making it makes me feel almost as good
as eating it. Plus, afterwards, my house smells SO
good afterwards.

Anyway, I should probably go. I'll see some of you
this coming Christmas, and the rest of you in March.
I miss you and I love you, Korea's still good, life
and God are still good -- it just sometimes takes some
looking to find the silver lining. Like when your mom
sends you an e-mail about how "it's getting more
difficult to do everyday things -- I had to take a nap
in the middle of a meeting with some church families"
-- but then, it's also my mom where I take my cues,
and where I learned, to look for a silver lining. I
remember her saying "well, you know, surgery's not an
option, but on the bright side, I get to keep my
stomach and eat food with flavour," and "I try to
think positively -- I've lost a lot of weight, but hey
-- I fit into everything in my closet now! And I
don't snore anymore!"

Way to go, mom. Everybody on this list could learn
from you. I'm not sick -- I'm just staying home from
work to watch movies and sleep. No less than Hamlet
himself said, "there is nothing either good or bad,
but thinking makes it so", and John Milton agreed that
"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make
heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven." and, to
paraphrase Proverbs 17:1: "Better a dry crust with
peace and quiet than a house full of feasting", I'll
say, "better a sick mom full of love and joy and
wisdom, than a healthy mom who's the subject of all my
trips to the counsellor" I wouldn't trade you for the
world, Mom.

And to all the rest of you:

well, I like you all, quite a bit, too.

God Bless

Rob

Thursday, 2 December 2004

Mom' Cancer Announcement

I don't know if I have room, or heart, to comment more
than what my father wrote. Here's the e-mail I just
recieved.
*****
December 1, 2004
Dear Family,
Thank you all so much for your prayers during this
past week. Jane has had
a great week, filled with hope and expectation. We
have both felt very
much the support and encouragement of all of our
friends and family during
this anxious time.

God has answered all of our prayers, though not in the
way we had
hoped. Our prayers during this time have been that
above all, God would be
glorified by whatever happens. And we are sure that
the events of today too
are in his control and will work together for his
glory and our benefit.

Yes, as you've probably guessed by now, the news today
was not good. Jane
had her surgical examination, and the doctor found
cancer in many different
places. Jane will not be facing the major surgery of
having her stomach removed.

It seems in some ways that we are now back to where we
were last October
after the first CTscan. Cancer seems to have a way of
keeping us on a
roller coaster ride for some time. But now we know
for sure that Jane's
cancer is not operable or curable by human or medical
means.

This does not mean we no longer have hope! Of course,
initially, and
always, our hope is first and foremost in the Lord!
We have every
confidence that our lives are securely held in his
hands, and we know that
he will lead and guide us in ways that may seem
mysterious to us, but that
reveal his wonders at work in and through us. We have
experienced this
already as we have seen how the Lord has used this
time of illness to be a
blessing to many whose lives Jane's life has touched
over the years.

We will continue to strive for fullness of life as
Jane uses the means the
Lord shows us and as we keep our hope fixed on him.
How much time Jane,
or, for that matter, any of us have left is still not
in our hands. And we
pray that God will spare Jane for as long as he needs
her to be a blessing
to others and to reveal his glory though her. We also
pray for strength,
comfort and grace for each member of our family in the
trying times in the months ahead.

Please continue to remember us in your prayers, as you
have been doing.

Please feel free to send this email to others you
think might be interested
and willing to join us in prayer.
God bless you all,
Rudy

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Eventful. . . A Little Too Eventful.

So a lot has happened since my last letter. I
remember writing in my journal a few months ago, "what
does it mean that my life has been so peaceful lately
-- does the lack of opposition show that I'm off
course from my life goals, or what?"

Calm before the storm, friends. Calm before the
storm.

To summarize (as if I EVER summarize). . .

1. As I described before, my nephew was diagnosed
with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a particularly nasty
kind of degenerative muscle disease.
2. (This was an awesome part -- a ray of sunshine, if
you will): My brother got engaged to his girlfriend in
Red Deer, Caryn Siler, who's a grate humman beign.
(Sorry about that spelling, folks. A little inside
joke action there.)
3. My grandfather has been in and out of the hospital
more frequently again in the last few months, which
leads to all the worries and concerns I've discussed
in previous letters.

4. (Hold onto something: this is the big one.) My
mother has been diagnosed with stomach cancer --
gastric adenocarcinoma of diffuse (signet ring cell)
type ('cos I know you'd be curious, Dr. Dave). It's
about the nastiest form of stomach cancer out there.
Since the diagnosis, we've found out that it's spread
to her liver as well, which means that surgery is not
an option, and because of the kind of cancer,
chemotherapy won't cure it; they've opted not to use
chemo because it might give her an extra two months,
but only at the cost of making her other remaining six
to twelve months miserable.

You know how serious it is when Dad writes an e-mail
about test results, and spends as much time talking
about heaven as he talks about what the doctor said.

So let's just say it's been a difficult time -- I
wrote after I learned of Matthias' muscular dystrophy
that allowing yourself to love someone always opens
you up to the possibility of loss. This takes that a
little farther again, as this time, the one touched is
my mother, someone I never allowed myself to love --
someone whom I love as naturally as breathing, who's
been part of the bedrock of my life since before I had
a heartbeat.

I found out on Friday the 15th, talked to Mom and Dad
that Saturday morning, and have yet to make the rest
of my rounds on the phone. Deb, sorry I haven't
called you yet. I love you.

The upshot is that my mom and dad have come to Korea
to be here on my birthday, and the week after; once
Mom had the diagnosis, that was the first thing she
wanted to do, and my uncle bought my mom and dad
tickets to Korea, while my aunt got on the phone to
raise funds so that both parents could go. Dad's
church graciously gave him another two weekends off
(they just got back from a trip to Germany to see my
other sister, Rebecca), to send him to Korea as well.
I've been surprised at the suddenness, but it's so
good to see my mom and dad again.

It's been a tearful weekend, and a week of great joy
and great sadness, with joy outweighing the sadness,
but a few main impressions have come out of it:

1. I am surrounded with good people -- the coworkers
really stepped up for me on the Friday I found out
with compassion and understanding, and also with
enough humour to make me feel like things can continue
at least somewhat normally. Matt has been a rock for
me, and Lina (my Korean girlfriend) has proven her
quality and compassion in a really amazing way.

Meanwhile, my church has really banded together in
support. I feel really surrounded by love, care and
prayer (as does my mom). People have helped me find
cots and bedding for my parents, and even picked them
up at the airport when I was at work! Last Sunday,
mom and dad came to my church with me and my
girlfriend, and all three newcomers had a wonderful,
warm welcome, and on Wednesday night we went to a
church family's house for dinner, and on Friday we'll
have a farewell potluck dinner at another's.

2. My mom is surrounded by good people. My mom's
church has answered the news with so much love,
support and generousity, that I want to go back there
and give every single one of them a hug. Christians
like to talk about community and the unity of
Christians, but Mom and Dad's community have really
shown that it's more than words.

3. I've been really amazed by my Mom's reaction -- it
seems like she's handling this whole thing better than
anyone else. She's said that the whole thing so far
has made her realize how many people there are who
care about her. She has a level of peace and trust in
God that helps to keep me from flying off the
handlebars with my own anxiety. My Dad, too, has been
really solid, but please remember them both in your
prayers, and not just my mom. I think Dad is the one
who has the hardest role. Pastors are not usually the
ones who ask for emotional support; usually, they're
the ones who give it, so it's a hard place for him to
be. Mom has the hope of heaven staring her right in
the face -- she'll even tell you that she's not afraid
of going home -- but Dad's the one who will remain,
bereaved, after she's gone.

4. It's so good to be around my parents. It's one of
those instant comfort buttons. When I'm sitting
around a house with my folks, it's not exciting. Most
conversations happen at night around bedtime, and the
rest of the day is mostly quiet, in Korea as in
Canada, but it's just a good atmosphere -- having
their presence here is really nice, and mom and dad
have really been game to try out foods and go places
as far as their stamina will carry them. (Their
stamina's diminished -- Dad by a cold and Mom by her
stomach.) We had a great weekend eating different
kinds of non-spicy Korean foods (mom loved Korean food
-- both parents were real sports about trying new
tastes) and seeing the Han River, looking over Soul's
skyline from the tallest building in Korea's, walking
through a palace, buying Korean-style clothes in the
traditional market (that was my thanks-for-coming-out
gift for my parents), and meeting my church family.
We spent the whole weekend with Lina, my girlfriend,
and she really got along well with Mom. She even came
to church with us on sunday and really enjoyed meeting
the people who've been helping her care for me these
few months.

My mom loves people so easily that it makes people
love her, too. Lina really loved meeting my folks. I
loved seeing her be accepted and loved by them. Most
of the weekend, Lina walked around with my mom,
holding her hand, and she sent me a message (hopefully
teasing) that she misses my mom more than she misses
me when she can't see us during the week.

In other news, I went to Japan during the five day
weekend that was Korean thanksgiving. It was really
interesting to see how two countries can be so similar
in some ways and so different in others -- just a
different feel on the streets, a different aesthetic,
a different (much lower) noise level. A different
twinge in the shapes of faces and eyes and noses, a
different fashion sense -- it was interesting going
back to knowing NONE of the language, after reaching a
point where I can survive fairly well in Korea with my
Korean.

They have better urban planning, though. Quieter and
more peaceful -- but sometimes oppressively quiet.
Expensive. Really expensive. We spent the whole time
visiting and staying with friends Matt had made while
travelling in Cambodia and Thailand, which was easily
the best way to encounter a new country -- we didn't
see the touristy spots, but I think we got a real feel
for the people and the country. One night, a friend's
father actually took the day off work so that he could
buy ingredients, and then he (a sushi chef), prepared
sushi for us like you wouldn't believe. It didn't
stop coming, and there were so many different tastes
and textures. He spoke barely any English -- "You
like me sushi. I happy," but we had a great time, and
Matt's friend Kuru translated. Matt got out Kuru's
guitar, and sang a song by a Canadian folk singer
named Stan Rogers, and he and I sang a song we've done
together a few times, with harmonies. Then Kuru's
father said, in Japanese, "I'm not a good singer, but
you shared Canadian songs with us, so I want to sing a
Japanese song to you."

The man -- my father's age, and unable to speak
directly to us -- sang a song to us, and opened a part
of his heart, in the ragged voice of a man unfamiliar
with singing. It was one of those moments of
understanding that can't quite be conveyed. Then he
sang a second song, called "Sukiyaki" which some of
you might recognize; it was a hit song in the 1960s in
America, and a version, translated into English, got a
lot of radio play in the mid nineties, enough that I
knew the words. I sang the song back to Kuru's father
in English, and he was totally amazed and surprised.

All this to say I had some really cool connections,
and made some friends that I hope I will see and hear
from again.

Japan was great. Expensive, and too many coins
(everything up to 500 yen ($5 equivalent) was a coin
-- start lobbying NOT to get a $5 coin in Canada. So
many coins is just maddening), but beautiful in a way
that Korea isn't, because Korea was so busy trying to
grow faster that they didn't take as much planning or
aesthetics into account. Tokyo is a very carefully,
thoughtfully, and beautifully designed city. I
enjoyed that part a lot.

But, coming back to Korea has only reminded me how
much I love Korea. Koreans are warm and expressive in
a way Japanese aren't; just seeing a mother give her
daughter a hug on a street corner here was something I
didn't/wouldn't see in Japan. It's quiet and peaceful
there, but Korea is just plain fun, and more exciting.

So I loved Japan, but it reminded me how much I love
Korea in the same stroke. I'm glad I went to Japan
though.

The students, as always, are hilarious -- one girl,
because she didn't know the word "garlic" when I told
her about eating garlic spaghetti, immediately accused
me of eating "garbage spaghetti", and you know you're
with kids when you hear somebody singing classical
music with weird voices, culminating in one of my boys
doing Beethoven's piano piece "Fur Elise" in a roaring
monster voice -- his voice and the melody being about
as opposite as a message and its mode can be.

Work has been a soap-opera involving backtalking,
gossip, miscommunications, accusations, couples on the
rocks, supervisors who feel "uncomfortable" talking to
the people they supervise, and directors who talk to
everyone else on staff instead of the one with whom
they have a problem. It's been interesting. I'm
getting along better with the staff these days, and a
few of the other wrinkles (a co-worker's constant
complaining, and a few other kinks) are getting worked
out -- to the extent that I'm enjoying the staff room
more that I have. . . since my last workplace, really.
The mix of personalities is just starting to mellow
and gel.

At my church now, I'm teaching Sunday School for the
younger kids -- four Koreans with low degrees of
English, and two native English speakers from South
Africa (one of whom has on occasion corrected details
in my stories, and has also made requests: "Why don't
you tell us about David and Goliath?" I have a man
who's volunteered to help me with interpretation when
I need it, but they want me to do most of the sunday
school in English -- English Sunday School would be
quite a draw for a certain kind of parent to bring
their kid to our church.

I'm going back to Canada for Christmas to be with my
family. I will be spending most of that time with
family, though -- this just seems to be a Christmas to
be home. I'm glad about that -- the jetlag will be a
stinker, but having just had my parents in Korea, and
remembering what it's like to be around the family,
there's no place I'd rather be.

Autumn in Korea is the most beautiful time of year --
Mom and Dad managed to come at the perfect time; the
two best times are during cherry blossom season in
April, and autumn leaves week in October, and Mom and
Dad hit the Autumn leaves square on the nose. It's
light jacket weather with cold evenings, cool enough
to enjoy a warm drink for a little more than just the
taste. I managed to bring them around, thanks to the
Seoul City Tour Bus, to a lot of different areas of
Seoul, and they saw one of the major markets, some old
stuff (palaces and a folk village) some pretty stuff
(some walking trails near my place and the Han River
at night on a cruise), and some fun stuff (middle-aged
ladies dancing along with the stage shows at the
sauna, kids staring). We wore our Korean style
clothes around a number of times (especially mom), and
it was amazing how many smiles and approving looks we
got from Koreans (especially older ones). Ask me to
show you my outfit when you see me next.

Having Mom here's been an interesting perspective --
she has a remarkable peace about her cancer, and
seeing her courage, and her trust in God, has really
given me a lot more peace about the whole matter as
well. It's started a lot of conversations with my
friends about her faith and her trust in God, as well
as the hope of heaven, and helped a lot of my friends
to understand what I believe. On the bus home from
the airport to drop my Mom and Dad off, I explained to
the now, retroactively renamed for privacy, Exgirlfriendoseyo, my girlfriend, what that hope of Heaven means
for my family, and even my Buddhist-raised girlfriend
agreed that the idea of going to heaven to be with a
creator who knows and loves you sounds more pleasant
than ceasing to exist and eventually having your
memory die as well, only to reincarnate and go through
the grinding-wheel of a flawed world where sorrow is a
necessary counterpoint to joy, again. Maybe the best
perspective I've heard yet -- and Mom, sorry for
stealing your story -- was from a conversation my mom
told me about having with my nephew Matthias, the
five-year old who's been diagnosed with Duchenne
Muscular Dystrophy and who isn't expected to live past
age 25.

Matthias asked my mom,

-Oma, is it true you have cancer?
-Yes, it is.
-Why do you have cancer?
-I don't know why. Only God knows why.
-So you might die, right?
-Yes, I might die. And then your mom and dad, and
your Opa (Opa and Oma are the dutch words for
grandfather and grandmother), and your uncles and
aunts will be very sad.
-But I won't be sad if you die, Oma.
-Why not, Matthias?
-Because then you will go to heaven and be with Jesus,
and one day I will go there too, and then God will
give us bodies that don't have a problem.
-That's true. And in Heaven, we can praise God
forever.
-But Oma, we praise him already!

Way to go Matthias. I'll be so glad to see you one
day in a body without a problem.

If I haven't learned anything else from such a trying
time, I've learned how deep my own roots go in the
Church -- to my church, my bible, and my Lord were the
first places I went (along with my best friends, in
Korea and in Canada) when I heard the news, and that's
where I've found the most peace. I apologise to any
readers of this letter -- some of you aren't
churchgoers and aren't down with the things that have
brought me comfort -- who might feel preached at by
all the "religiousity" of this letter, and I hope I
didn't beat you over the head, but if you take nothing
else from all this God talk, at read it and know that
you've learned something about your friend Rob and
what things, deep down, form the bedrock of his
character and his family. It's steadied me in this
time, and whether you believe it or not
philosophically, it's a part of my story personally,
so I guess it was bound to find its way into these
letters eventually.

To everyone on this list: thanks for being an
important enough part of my life, in whatever respect,
that I felt like you ought to be part of this news and
these events in my life. I'm glad to be so surrounded
by people who know, care for, and understand me in all
the different ways you do.

So thanks again for your care, prayers, and concern.
I'm glad to know you all, and to have you around at a
time like this.

Much love

Rob

Thursday, 26 August 2004

August 26th 2004

OK.

It being fully two months since I've sent one of these
out, and those two months being quite eventful and
mostly excellent . . . it's time for some rob-style
catching up. (X-style is a totally acceptable
Konglish term -- if I want my hair cut like Justin
Timberlake, I just say "Josteen Teembohraikeuh style"
at the barber's and they'll figure it out.

In the meantime. . .

My general rule of thumb for surviving in Korea
without going off your rocker is to keep in mind the
rule of twos: every new endeavour takes two attempts
to get it, and every simple, mundane task takes twice
as long as it would in Canada, because of language
issues, etc.. However, something strange has
happened. Matthew, the new co-worker I told you about
in the last e-mail (who's no longer a new co-worker,
but an established co-worker), and I have some weird
knack about us (Mattie would call it good karma or
somesuch), whereby the rule of twos doesn't apply to
us. Somehow we do things together effortlessly.
(Knock on wood.)

During the last week of July, I had my summer
vacation. We decided to set out and climb a mountain
-- Jiri mountain, which many Koreans will tell you is
the most beautiful mountain on mainland Korea. We
managed to find bus tickets, rooms, places to sleep,
food, transit to odd, random bus terminals, find a
movie theatre or a nightclub in a strange city, all
with very little trouble.

Matthew has been hiking since he was six. I've been
hiking since I was twenty four. We managed, through
studying a map, to find the route up the mountain that
took less time, but, according to everyone we
consulted, was the hardest trail on the whole
mountain. I was carrying my backpack, and the routine
was this: Matthew hikes for twenty minutes, sits down
and waits ten minutes for me to catch up; I catch up,
he sits five minutes with me while I catch my breath,
bluster and whine, and then takes off again. Then, as
if to add insult to injury, about three quarters up
the mountain, when I was ready to collapse (this climb
was HARD, and I'm not exactly a tiger or an athlete),
he grabbed my bag, and carried it the rest of the way
to our destination, along with his own. It was quite
an experience -- somehow I discovered not just a
second or third wind, but a sixteenth wind somewhere
in me that I didn't know existed. The view was
amazing, and in two days we hiked a mountain that
takes most people four days. After the muscle
soreness subsided, I felt like a king, and that first
sauna after the mountain was one of the greatest
things I've ever felt.

Somehow everything went perfectly on summer vacation
-- from climbing the mountain to finding our way
around Kwangju, the city in southern Korea where we
played tourist, to the people we met. On the Saturday
before Jiri mountain, Matthew and I were in a
traditional Korean market; Matthew was going to show
me his favourite tea/incense shop, where they sell
incense made from a 600 year old recipe that's
apparently so good for you that it does everything
except raise your children. While in that shop,
Matthew mentioned to the really sweet, cute sales lady
that he burns the incense during his Yoga workouts.
She said "Oh! I study Yoga!" Matthew mentioned that
he also teaches Yoga, and she asked for his number; he
said, "We should get together some time," and she
said, "OK, but is it alright if I bring my twin
sister?" At this point Matthew and I exchanged a
glance that said, almost verbatim, "does life even GET
any better than this, or should we just both die now?"
and Matthew kept his composure enough to say "Yes."

The next Saturday (after Jiri mountain), we had dinner
with the twins, and it was one of the most enjoyable
dates I've ever been on.

And that whole story is to tell you that the reason my
e-mailing has trailed off is because I'm spending
about an hour every night now talking to a certain
twin on the phone. (As is Matthew with her sister.)
It's currently in that really fun "getting to know
each other, can't spend enough time with each other"
stage, but so far the outlook seems good. Her name has been changed to Exgirlfriendoseyo, and her English name (that I chose for
her) is Angelina Summer, or Lina. Feel free to
inquire about her if you ever want to read an e-mail
of me gushing frantically, even tiresomely, about how
wonderful it is to be alive. (Just ask Melissa --
she's had one already.)

And don't get too excited yet either -- we've known
each other for just over a month so far, so things are
still very early and tentative, but it's been a lot of
fun getting to know her, and I frankly never expected
I'd be in any kind of close relationship with a Korean
girl -- I'd always figured the cultural differences
were just too great to bother. But I bother now.

One of my favourite students just left the school; she
was a kindergarten student, one of the ones I saw
every day, and she was the funniest little sweetheart;
she had hugs for me every day, and a quick, ready
laugh. On the other hand, one of the boys who left in
June is back from Toronto, and he's as sweet as ever.

But he's not the one I want to tell you about either.
It's happened again -- last year, it was a little girl
named Serina, whose smile always came out when I came
to class, and who wrote me cards and letters telling
me she loved me. This year, it's Jina. She's stolen
my heart outright. She just moved to Korea recently
-- before Korea, she lived in Rochester, Minnesota,
where, naturally, she'd learned perfect English. She
has this funny middle American accent in the middle of
a bunch of Korean accents, she happens to have a
perfectly internalized sense for English grammar.
Really, there's nothing I can teach her except how to
do a monkey dance or tell a story about a
shape-changing, flying hippo with a straight face.

Here's the thing, though: she doesn't speak Korean.
She's moved to a country where the kids her age
haven't gone to school long enough to speak English,
and she can't speak their language. Today we were
talking about trying new things, and I asked her if
she'd been scared when she moved to Korea (two months
ago). She said she was, and I asked her if she liked
Korea better now than before. "Yeah."

Then I made the mistake: "Have you made some friends
now, so that you feel better?"

"No. Not really." She said it with a brave face --
not quite slopping over with a child's optimism, but
at least something better than bald stoicism -- and I
shifted the conversation quickly, before she could
start getting more homesick than I'd probably already
thoughtlessly made her.

After class, the kids were lining up to go outside and
catch their busses, and she was at the back of the
line (where she usually goes), and I picked her up and
gave her a hug. I said, "Jina, I hope you find lots
of friends in Korea."

Then she said "Me too," into my shoulder with a
forlorn voice that no child her age should ever need
to use -- unless it's about something silly like
"Hyongeun got pistachio nut ice cream and I wanted it
too, but I'd already asked for mango-strawberry." --
and with those two words she carried my heart away and
hid it somewhere in the dimple on her left cheek.

I told her I'd be her friend, and she said she wanted
to come to my house, and hugged me a hug with a little
too much loneliness and need in it.

Fortunately, her Korean teacher then shouted, "Jina,
let's go!" before I could burst into tears right then
and there, but all that's to say I've fallen in love
-- or at least fallen in compassion -- with another of
my kids, and I hope she'll be OK, and I wish there was
something I could do to help her adjust, but I can't
quite clone myself into a six year old who can play
with her, and I don't know if a twenty-four-year-old
goofball buddy is really what she needs to feel like
she can make it here in Korea. Seeing Jina go through
that rips the band-aid off my own homesick sores, but
I can handle myself; I'm holding out. I know where to
go to find Anglophones my age. I just hope she'll be
happy here.

In other news, I had a phone call from my mom and dad
in which mom said something along these lines, in her
most allusive voice:

"So, Rob, have you talked to Dan . . . lately?"
"Not really. I got an e-mail a few weeks ago."
"Hmm. You. . . might want to . . . call him. He may
have some (significantly said,) NEWS for you."

of course, by now there was no doubt he had news, nor
what its nature was, given the status of his courtship
with his girlfriend Caryn, so by the time I talked to
Dan the next Saturday, I'd guessed that. . . he's
ENGAGED (sorry to those of you for whom this is a
repeat.) He asked me to be his best man last
Saturday, and I said "of course." The date's July 2.

So I've decided I'm going to try and extend my
contract with this school until the end of May, so
that I can spend June in Red Deer with my main man,
and then probably spend part of the summer travelling
before buckling down on the rest of my life, or at
least the next step.

In health news, please continue to pray for my
grandfather, and pray also for my mother; if you
e-mail me, I'll tell you more details, but enough of
you who receive this update already know about them
that I'm not going to get into detail on it. But pray
-- if you're into that kind of thing.

Student quotes: "You are the funnily funnily funnily
Rob teacher." (from Daniel).

"I really liked going to the mountain. I have lots of
good mammaries."

"I want a dog. I'll buy a puddle."

"Why do you tell crazy stories like that, teacher?"
"I'm just playing with you."
"We're not toys, teacher."

"Three stickers if you can name the four Beatles."
"John."
"Good. There were three more. Any guesses?"
"Matthew, Mark, Luke?"

Penmanship error: My house is cozy became "My house is
oozy"

Remembered the spelling, forgot the meaning: "My
summer vacation is going to be superficial!"

A girl on the subway looks at the portrait of WB Yeats
on the cover of my Yeats poetry collection and says
"Harry Potter!"

A three year old marched up to my table at dinner the
other night (his parents had put him up to it). I
expected him to do something weird or hilarious like
take some food or start crying, or jump up and down
and run back and bury his face in his mom's neck.
Instead, calmly and properly as an ambassador, he
stuck out his right hand and waited for me to shake
it. In my wonderment, I could barely finish my meal.

Anyway, there are some of the bones, and some of the
trimmings, of my time. It's been sticky hot and work
has started to get tiring (especially the afternoon
business), but it just cooled down this week finally,
and I'm doing OK.

I need to wrap this up now, before the letter reaches
critical mass and implodes, so go in peace and
happiness, and bless you all.

Love always:
Rob Ouwehand

Friday, 28 May 2004

May 2004.

My jacket smells like saltwater.

A long long time ago (for those who don't already know), my ancestors (on my father's side) were fishermen; many Ouwehand fishermen still live in the village Katwijk (the home of the original Ouwehand) even now. My uncle owns a boat, my dad wishes he did, and I'm never happier than standing on the deck of a boat, or piddling around a lake somewhere in a canoe. Lacking these, even wet grass on bare feet at least pleases me a little.

But last weekend I went on a ferry tour of Baekdo a remote island off the southern coast of Korea, with a group of forty other foreigners. This was WONDERFUL. It was a quiet town of 1200, suddenly filled up with a bunch of foreigners eager to have fun and excited to be on vacation (it was a three day weekend). So our excitement was reflected by their excitement and curiosity at having us, and basically, we spent the whole weekend feeling like celebrities or something. Kids followed me to the pier where I went fishing, asking me questions I couldn't understand, much less answer (though I made funny faces, and that seemed to suit them fine). I think they thought my name was Canada, until my friend called me crazy for making funny faces, and then they thought my name was crazy.

(No jokes about that later, please.)

So along with the language guesswork and funny communication attempts by some cute kids (who may have never seen a foreigner before; whitey doesn't often visit Gumundo or Baekdo), I had a gorgeous weekend in the fresh air. Korea's ocean is really beautiful -- the cold early mornings and ocean air make you feel alive, and the islands off the south of Korea, because of whatever geological quirk formed them, are often smoothed, as if they are very old, but very tall -- like the long canine teeth of a dog sticking up out of the ocean. They would be visitable, but only if you could put rock climbing gear on over your scuba gear. And there at the top are those grey-green scrub plants that sprout in such grey and green places, and the water sprays up on your face, causing what I can only call the ocean squint -- I don't think I squint quite the same way in any other place -- and later in the evening I lick the corner of my lip and taste salt from the seawater that dried onto my face.

I love the sea. If I liked seafood as much as I love the sea, I might end up in some port village, or as a fisherman myself. (Unfortunately, I don't have the patience for picking out bones.)

During the weekend, I met a girl who is, as JD Salinger once said, "A verbal stunt pilot" -- the kind of person who rewrites song lyrics to fit inside jokes. Her name was Edisa, and she was the first black woman I've spent time with in Korea (I've seen some, but there aren't many here; Korea remains surprisingly racist toward Africans and their descendants. Korea's a very appearance-oriented culture, and employers ask you to include a photo with your application is so they can avoid people who are ugly, overweight, overage, or coloured "wrong" (too dark). Sometimes schools won't even hire people with Asian background because it's not as "other" as having white teachers.) She was good with a comeback, and willing to let me talk out my random thoughts (of which I've been having many). Together, we came up with the dumbest idea for a restaurant ever. Worse than "so I can say I have", a place that sells all those foods you'd only eat on a dare, like prairie oysters, haggis and blood pancakes. How about this (isn't this ghastly?) -- "Poachers" - a restaurant specializing in dishes made from endangered species. The slogan (of course) is "Good to the last one!"


But before I can really set into this story, we need a bit of cultural background.

The older folks in Korea are called Ajumma (mature woman) and Ajashi (mature man). Ajumma can apply to any Korean woman over 30, and any man over 20, depending on who's addressing him/her. By the mid-fifties, because they've "paid their dues," I guess, some behave a little less politely than most other Koreans, and care a little less about the general courtesies that are either the grease that keeps the wheels of society turning, or the B-S- that keeps people from acting out who they really are.

Ajumma, especially, is also a personality type, and the personality connotations are not too positive. Unlike older ladies (50 and up) in North America (pardon my generalizations here), ajumma is the one most likely to shove you as she dives for a seat on the subway; she's the one most likely to be rude to you in a restaurant, to touch your white skin, poke your curly hair, grab your love handles (out of sheer curiousity -- look at how big those cheese-smelling foreigners get!), comment that you're writing in your journal with the wrong hand (I'm a lefty), and you'll sometimes do what they say, however unnecessary, just so they'll leave you alone. This is the impression many foreigners get of Korean ajummas. Some of us carry a downright bitterness and resentment of the mature set.

Here's a video showing how the mature set is often viewed here in Korea. Pay attention to the music style, and the over-the-top rudeness of the older folks.



Ajashis have a similar reputation; they, and young men, can be the harshest judges toward foreigners. The most negative image of an ajushi is a drunken, middle-aged man swearing at the top of his lungs, possibly starting fights with his belligerent talk, hacking up loogies and spitting in the street, ogling girls, and maybe propositioning blonde westerners by asking them if they're Russian (blonde Russians are often recruited to work in the profitable prostitution industry here). Here's a reflection on that kind of ajashi, from someone who's writes about Korea much better than me: just to show I'm not just blindly generalizing or being unfair.

Yeah, this is the most negative stereotype, but (I've discovered) it becomes really easy to judge people when you can't communicate with them and, by communicating, prove such judgements wrong. Judging goes both ways, let's not forget; once a group of ajashi ruined my day (and most of my week) by arguing over who had to sit next to the big-nose (me) on the subway car; one ultimately chose the other end of the car, away from his friends, over sitting by the stinky honky. That hurt, so I can understand how easy it would be to dismiss ajashis in return.

Anyway, that's the background; sorry for so much explanation. Now the tour group was on a ferry, heading out to Baekdo, the scenic islands, and foreigners were scattered around the rear section of the ferry, so that a few ajumma and ajashi had to sit beside foreigners. One ajumma took it upon herself to propose a series of seat trades that would clump all the foreigners together in the middle section of the seats. (I also noticed that one of the LEAST desirable seats was next to the African-American woman I mentioned earlier;) I started to wonder whether this wasn't a racially motivated attempt at micro-segregation. Then, just as she was getting more emphatic (she put her hand on my arm and rocked me sideways, as if to roll me out of my seat), and I was getting quite annoyed, this music came on over the speakers. It was ajumma music; I can't even describe it to you except that if you took the sample music on an average three keyboards/synthesizers, played them at the same time as a karaoke song track, faster, to a disco beat, and then added shrill Korean vocals with echo effects, you might have something a little quieter. It haunts the foreigners; we just can't understand it, verbally, musically, OR culturally, but somehow the mature folks in Korea LOVE it.

Here's an (inexplicable) sample.



So that kind of music comes on, and suddenly, this same Ajumma who was starting to annoy most of us is in the aisle, DANCING! Not only that, she pulls her neighbour up to dance with her, and then, gets one of the foreigners up there with her, too! The rest of the ferry ride was one long dance party, with fifty and sixtysomething Korean men and women doing silly dances (point your fingers and shake your shoulders and knees kind of stuff) with a bunch of twenty and thirtysomething North American (and Irish) English teachers dancing along. Add into this the hilarity of the bad music and the fact we're boogieing with people our parents' or grandparents' ages, and the TERRIBLE dancing ('cause there's no other way to dance to music like that except badly), and mix in the excitement of the fact NOBODY in the room had EVER seen anything even remotely as odd and unexpected as white kids dancing with old Asians to terrible music on a scenic boat tour, and it was enough to make me smile for a week.

And wow, those ajumma are energetic! The lady who started it all hauled just about every single foreigner out of their seat for at least a little while. My friend took a lot of photos with her digital camera; I hope I can send a few along to you.

And the best part is this: now, next time a drunken ajashi sits next to me smelling of Korean alcohol and dried squid snacks, and brays about George Bush and growls, "Yankee go home", or an ajumma behind me in line pushes, even though I have nowhere to go and can't get HER on the bus any faster by pushing the people ahead of ME (happens), or butts ahead in line (ALL the time), instead of silently resenting them, I can smile, because hey, I've seen the other side of that coin, and it's pretty fun.

So it was a perspective I think I needed.

(ever notice how if you look at the cut on one five-year-old's hand, suddenly everyone has a scrape to show you? Or if you wake one up with a short tickle, suddenly you have seven sleeping kids? Kindergarten's so much fun. It's really fascinating dealing with kids that age.)

There's this funny quirk in speaking Korean to Koreans; when one gets into a taxi or in most other situations, one says a few Korean phrases (most often something like "how much is it?" "I'll have two, please, to go" or "take me to the Hongdai district, please" and then, the Korean will answer. Conversations with Koreans always involve a lot of context guessing, body-language reading and general "usually they say this next" experience, but after a foreigner shows that they speak a little Korean, Koreans always answer with one of two things:

"Do you speak Korean."
or
"Your Korean is very good."

Both phrases involve the phrase "hangug-mal" (literally, Korea speak), but it's difficult (other than by learning more of the language) to read which of the two phrases the Korean is saying, so one invariably guesses wrong, and the conversation either goes

"Do you speak Korean?"
"Thank you."

or

"Your Korean is very good."
"Only a very little bit."


Anyway, I'm enjoying my school, mostly; a few people are a little more curt and blunt than I'm used to dealing with (which requires more sensitivity and grace than I sometimes have to spare after telling a class to shush a hundred times in forty minutes.) I've been tired lately, so I think my students are getting to me more than they normally do. My patience reserves are low, as is my annoyance threshhold. I'll be OK once I kick this long-running, low-grade cold, and sleep some, I'm sure.

I had a student ask if, at the end of the month, if all the students in the class did all their homework, we could do something special -- I said "What kind of special thing?" "Go into the playroom" (Our school has play room equipment like in a MacDonalds for the preschool kids). "You can't do that," I say, "you're too big to play on that."

"Teacher, not to play on it -- just to break stuff." I howled. Absolutely howled.

Seen on the spelling section of a multiple choice test:

"Canada's national sport is _______"
A: ********* B: **********
C: ********* D: Hokey.

The preschool students also laugh hysterically every time they see me blink. I'm enjoying work, though I find myself staying late a little more often than I think I'd prefer. (though that's as much my choice as anyone else's; I didn't realize how long I was staying at school until I commented to my boss, who looked exhausted, "It's been a long day for you -- you've been at school almost since I got here this morning!")


Yesterday I went out with my friend Colleen (the one I met in the snowstorm of my last e-mail). She really surprised me by asking me what I was angling for in our friendship. After nearly choking on an apple slice, I took about a full minute to compose my thoughts (I realize how unfair such long silences are to my friends when they ask such loaded questions -- a sixty second pause allows people who ask me important questions just enough time to imagine I'm about to give the worst possible answer, but that's how I am, so deal with it. I like to choose my words on touchy topics.)

But fortunately what could have been a can of worms (had we had different ideas about the friendship) was instead a simple, "I enjoy being your friend and I'm very content to leave it at that."

Such topics, even when they are cleanly defused, are still risky, and feelings can be hurt accidentally by wording something wrong, or seeming too relieved (or not relieved enough) that the other isn't interested.


Take care, all.

Much love and ocean sprays on all your faces (hopefully the real thing, and not just the aftershave flavour). Thanks for reading this whole long thing; I hope it was worth the time for you, and worth the typing for me.

robouwehand

Saturday, 22 May 2004

Knock-Down, Drag-Out (May 22nd 2004)

It's been a miserable, white-knuckled fight with a
cold for me these last two months (that's the
knock-down, drag-out in the subject line). So bad
that I've even taken Buckley's Mixture to poison the
cold out of my body. I'm in the midst of another one
now, one that features sinus congestion, a rasping
cough, and a ridiculous rate of tissue consumption
(tissue meaning kleenex, not any other kind of tissue
. . . I'm not THAT sick yet). (How odd that I can now
list cold features the way my students can list
features on their mp3 players.)

Last night I tried to write an e-mail to everyone, but
the computer managed to swallow the thing due to an
internet explorer/search engine glitch. This annoyed
me a lot -- I wonder what happens to all those e-mails
eaten by computers. Does some computer somewhere
store them? And why do computers only eat the
subtlest, wittiest, most brilliant, long (especially
long) e-mails? What do they want with the tastiest
bits of correspondence that makes them steal all the
best ones? I don't know, but last night in my
frustration, I sat there pondering what a
understanding computer could gain about humanity just
from the gleanings of the e-mails it eats.

On Friday morning we went to a zoo with our
kindergarten and preschool kids. This reminded me of
what a zoo should not be. (So far, most Korean zoos
I've seen have depressed me -- my jury's out on the
idea of zoos in general [Yann Martel had some
interesting insights about zoos in "Life of Pi" that
are worth turning over in one's head], but I fairly
roundly dislike Korean zoos -- too small,
uncomfortable, unnatural, crowded, and altogether
depressing.) The elephant was in a space that I could
have walked around in about four minutes, and she was
backed into a corner (where the only shade could be
had). It was obvious all she wanted to do was shrink
or be invisible. Meanwhile kids were lining up along
the fence and shouting -- screaming for it to come
out. Sad. Remind me to avoid Korean zoos if I get
another chance to see one. At least when Koreans live
in houses so small that they shove their mattress in a
closet in order to unfold the breakfast table, it's
their choice, and they could leave if the city or
emigrate if they've had it with living on the 16th
floor of a filing cabinet. The elephant didn't have
much choice about whether she wanted to be a country
elephant or a city elephant.

I'm doing mostly well. My students remain brilliant,
though I can't think, offhand, of some moment of utter
cuteness that I simply MUST share with you (sorry
about that). My brother got a good episode in an
e-mail a while ago, but I can't retell it without
losing the freshness. Recently I smirked when my
loudest student, upon my second loudest student
blurting out an incorrect answer, admonished him to
"think before you speak". Only through great
restraint did I avoid teaching them the word irony.
Nothing recently has quite reached the heights of the
boy who accidentally quoted Monty Python's Search for
the Holy Grail when he tried to sound out the bumper
sticker "I [heart] NY".

Things have been changing in my life. Recently, near
the beginning of lent, I realized that my love for
music was interfering with my progress on some of the
other passions and goals in my life. Some of you
don't know yet that I put myself on an indefinite
(until it's finished) music hiatus, as I sort out what
parts of my life I want as my top priorities. Since
then, I've been really encouraged with the way my
relationships have taken shape, and I've managed to
even meet some English speaking Christians who live in
my area. (This was something I never had last year,
but something I'm really enjoying -- I went to a bible
study on Thursday night without riding a subway for 40
minutes to get there!)

I'm also reading more, and reading the important stuff
more, and growing in my faith. So to those of you
who've been praying for me, thanks, and be assured
that there have been some encouraging results so far.
(We'll just wait to see what the next step will be.)

Other than hanging out with friends, reading, spending
time alone in thought (my journals and diaries are
filling up at about twice their usual rate), and
spending ridiculous amounts of time at school to get
all my marking done, and being amazed at how much
Korean pop one overhears in an average day, and how
much that singer/song sounds EXACTLY like Madonna's
single from last fall (except the vocals aren't as
strong . . . shudder), I'm wishing it were easy to
find NHL Playoff hockey on TV here (by the way,
congratulations, all my Albertan, and Canadian hockey
fan friends), and wishing I knew a place to find
certain favourite Korean dishes near my house.

And something else.

A pair of mondays ago (not long ago, really -- it
feels like longer) I got a call at 6:45 AM from Mom
and Dad. When the phone rings before 7 am, it's
usually not because somebody in their home church got
engaged.

They'd spoken to my sister and brother-in-law
(currently living in Germany). My nephew has always
been small, slow and a little uncoordinated for his
age: instead of playing fighting games like most 4
year olds, he would sit on the floor and play with a
train set; he preferred putting things together over
running places and climbing things. He was slow to
walk, and never really crawled. We suspected this was
because he was born 6 weeks premature.


********** if you're one of the relatives/friends who
has already heard this, and don't feel like getting
depressed by reading it again, you can skip reading
until the next bunch of asterisks.

******************************************

He'd been to a doctor, and they discovered an enzyme
in his blood that's usually found in patients whose
muscles are breaking down. The diagnosis:

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

This means his muscles will continually weaken until
his heart or lung muscles fail, somewhere in his late
teens or early 20s, barring an act of God. Duchenne
Muscular Dystrophy usually appears in young boys, and
there's no cure other than minimizing discomfort and
using various tricks to maximize mobility.

This is surprising and disappointing. It's difficult
to know how to grieve a situation that's going to be
difficult for the whole family, but currently isn't
too bad. It's hard to consider that for the next
twelve or fifteen years, this emotional process will
sort itself out, but it will take that long to unwind
itself. It hasn't, and maybe it won't, sink in, just
what the next twelve years will involve in that
aspect. I don't know how I'm going to have to support
my family, or when I'm going to need support. It's
just really . . . detatched so far.



******************************************

What I DO know now, is that my nephew is a really
loving kid, and he's surrounded with love from his
family and community, and that will lead him through a
life with more blessings than a lot of people with a
lot more longevity experience.

I don't know exactly how these things work in God's
plan, except to reflect in sadness that we live in a
hurting world, and that all things are not right on
this planet. (I'll say, though, it's difficult to
consider one's own nephew as a symbol of the whole
world's malaise. It isn't that impersonal. It's
impossible to be that impersonal with someone you
love. That's always the risk of loving someone --
that something will hit you right in the soft spot you
have for that person.) Right now my prayer is that
our family will have peace, and that however God does
these things, and whatever happens, that we trust Him,
and that His name will be glorified.

So those are a few of the things buzzing through my
head these days. I'm doing OK -- I think this whole
family thing is really hard on my Mom and Dad, who
feel really far away (it's all happenning in Germany,
where Rebecca and Frank are surrounded by support from
their church community.) So keep my parents in mind
too, if you're the praying kind.

Today I went to an amusement park with my co-workers,
and talked a few people into going on rides they
actually shouldn't have taken (not for health reasons
-- just for wooziness purposes). I forget that other
people have a very different feeling about rides than
I do. Roller coasters are like tickling: it's all in
your head, and its YOUR tension that makes the ride
scary, and the tickling tickle. If you can relax
through either, it won't bother you anymore, and (for
the rides) you can enjoy them, or (for the tickling),
you can say "stop it, that's annoying" with a really
dry, drop-dead voice. Speaking of which, I've learned
how to be a wet blanket for my students when they're
being too funny and not paying attention. It's weird
having to deflate jokes, when I spent so much time
learning how to make and enjoy them.

Today I was at a major intersection, and the green
"walk" sign had started flashing, so I had to run to
catch the light. I jogged along, when I nearly
stopped in my tracks, in the middle of the road, at
the sight of an old, toothless man who was running
hilariously (chest out, fists pumping up by his chest,
legs taking small, old-man steps very quickly, head
leaning backwards as if he were being pulled by a rope
stuck to the front of his shirt) across the
intersection in the other direction, even later than
myself. He had this delightful smile as silly and
excited as the grins of little boys running away from
the girl's bathroom at school, where they just soaked
all the toilet paper in the sink.

Six minutes later, I looked over my shoulder at a
group of five friends lined up to pose for a picture.
The photographer was counting down to take the picture
when the light turned and the "walk" sign came on, and
the five friends turned around and started crossing,
in unison, totally stranding the photographer with
nothing in her view lens. The image of the five girls
turning around without hesitation, and the lone girl
up the creek without a paddle, cracked me up for a
good five minutes more.

So life goes on. Again, I must weather a family . . .
I hesitate to use the word crisis, because it's a
crisis in slow motion . . . whilst eight time zones
away (for now) from anyone else in the family (as I
did when my father had a bout with cancer last year --
now that feels almost like family situation training
to prepare for this one). I wrote in an e-mail to my
brother last year, at Dad's cancer diagnosis, that
these kinds of things are exactly the stuff of growing
up. Maturing is borne of a million things happening,
some big, some small, some controllable, some
uncontrollable, some forgotten the next day, some
indelible. We define ourselves by how we react to
these million things that happen, and by finding peace
(or not finding peace) with the things we can and
can't change. Sometimes we're thrown into a
situation, and other times, we throw ourselves into
one. However those million things happen, hopefully
we're paying enough attention to notice them, and we
never stop listening, and never stop learning.

Bless you all.
Rob

Tuesday, 27 April 2004

Mountain, Sauna, Matt, Church, Funny Students

OK. Fully aware that the last e-mail was a downer (so
much so that I've received about a third of the normal
number of responses to my updates, and most of those
much later, and from different people, than usually
respond to them, I'll try to balance it with a little
bit of wonder and joy.

And, storyteller that I am, I'll do it episodically.

On the night of the last full moon, one of my
coworkers invited me to climb Buram mountain (the
mountain five minutes from my house,) after work.
Just in time for the mosquitoes to get moving, we
headed for the forested mountain, and climbed, using
trails and occasionally pulling ropes, to make our way
upwards for about half an hour as the sun went down.

The moon was orange, and the patterns of streets and
apartment buildings in the valley between the
mountains was stunning -- there was just so much city.
For the southern Ontarians, imagine stopping at a
lookout point driving down Mount Hope on Hamilton, but
instead of looking down on Hamilton, looking down on a
city five times the size of Toronto (and visibility
was good enough that we could see a good quarter of
it). Lights all the way to the horizon. The photos
turned out beautifully, and they're on Jon's digital
camera.

We have two new co-workers: Matthew, who's really
energetic, positive, and fun, as well as being a
writer himself. He's a good, smart guy, and so far
we've really enjoyed each other's company. I've kind
of taken it upon myself to try and show him and the
other, brand-new teacher (Amanda, who looks a little
like Uma Thurman, and whose boyfriend is arriving in
two more weeks), around this area. Matthew already
knows a lot about Korea and Seoul, but Amanda's brand
new, and from a small town, so this afternoon I'm
going to give her a taste of the subway system.
Matthew is also a huge fan of the saunas here --
Korean bath houses are incredible, and they're one of
the best de-stressing experiences I've found -- and it
looks like I've found my first sauna partner since old
roommate Dave left. This makes me very happy. He's
also an avid traveller, which means I might have some
company to actually accomplish some travelling around
Asia this year: travelling alone just doesn't appeal
to me (said the guy who headed out for Korea
unaccompanied). I'm thrilled to have him around.

One of my Kindergarten classes, when I take
attendance, started playing the "say no when Rob asks
if I'm here" game, so I answered them with "well then
where ARE you?" They've been regularly insisting that
either A: one of their classmates has eaten them (to
which I shake my finger at the accused classmate and
say, in a funny angry voice, "No more eating Kevin,
Owen", or B: they're at my house in Canada. I tell
them to say hello and give a hug to my Mom and Dad.
One day, I asked them, "Well it's supper time in
Canada right now. What are you having for supper with
my mother and father?" So Mom, head for the grocery
store, because you'll need to have ingredients ready
for pancakes, cake, cookies, pizza, donuts, rice and
soup next time I take attendance and my kids all turn
up in your house.

There is a coffee shop in one of the busier districts
on Seoul called "Canada Coffee Shop"; it's funny,
because in Korea, there's a coffee shop with Canada's
name and flag, employing Koreans, selling Italian
drinks that were popularized by an American coffee
shop franchise (Starbucks). Then it occurred to me
that really, nothing's MORE Canadian than such a
combination -- Canada, the country where you'll find
an Italian restaurant owned by Chinese Canadians in
the Punjab district of Vancouver, where ability in
Chinese, Japanese, Punjabi, English, Korean, and
Italian are all useful to better serve the clientele,
and where when I ask a new friend what her ethnic
background she says "Heinz 57: a secret combination of
herbs and spices." My Korean kids have trouble with
understanding the short history of Canada and the way
people here are from so many places -- you can be
Irish Hungarian Iranian Haida French and Taiwanese --
over here, I had one student whose family genealogy
stretched back twenty-eight generations -- and that
we're PROUD that such mixing can occur in our
increasingly (though not yet perfectly) diverse and
accepting society.

More in the lines of heritage and history:

I finally read the book my maternal grandfather wrote
about his family history, chronicling his family's
beginnings in Holland, the trial of the Second World
War, their immigration to Canada and the family's new
life there. When I was about sixteen, he sent me this
book he'd written after talking to all his father's
friends and relatives. At the time it was a bunch of
Dutch places and names without faces, and I got about
one chapter in before giving up. This time, after
conversations with my grandfather about our family and
heritage last January, and after being far enough away
from my roots to understand and treasure how deep they
are, reading it was a moving experience. The book
read, to me, as a tribute to my great grandfather, and
I imagined my Opa using research for his book as a
chance to get to know his own father in a new way, now
that he's gone, and realized that by writing down his
own discoveries as he tried to get to know his father,
he also gave me the chance to get to know HIM in the
same way. So thank you for that, Opa. Thanks for
writing down your journey, so that I could share it
with you, and get to know my own roots because you
recorded yours.

More recently, I was struck near the bone again by an
experience I had in my local, in-my-area church. It's
a small church, and it meets in a large classroom in a
Christian English school. The leader of the church is
a guy named Steve, and he has some contacts with the
underground church in China, and some missionaries
there. In China, church meetings are illegal, and
missionaries there have to be extremely careful,
becuase they're carefully watched. Instead of the
loud, exuberant, free singing found in a North
American or Korean church, a Chinese or North Korean
underground church can't risk being overheard, so they
will have one guitar playing lightly (if that), and
one person singing aloud (in a quiet voice) while all
the other worshippers mouth the words or hum quietly
along. The song leader in our church asked us to sing
a song in the style of the underground church. The
style of singing the song, whose words went, "He is
our peace, He has broken down every wall. . . Cast all
your cares on him, for he cares for you, He is our
peace. . . " was both a praise song, and a prayer for
those who can't worship freely -- who still live
behind walls. For about three days I couldn't get
that picture out of my head. I've been reminded.

I think prospects here in Korea are looking up: this
new potential travel/hangout friend in Matthew is a
really encouraging sign: I've been lonely and homesick
for the last month or so. Both the new co-workers are
pretty good friendship prospects, and if Amanda's
boyfriend (coming in July) is as cool as she is, we'll
be in for some good times. I'm reading good stuff --
Dune by Frank Herbert, and the Iliad by Homer have
both carried me away recently -- and writing has been
progressing (slowly . . . but progressing) as well.
As always, my students are brilliant and wonderful
even when nothing else is -- Cindy (the most verbose
student I have -- funny, but really chatty, and who
regularly, ironically, scolds Willy for talking too
much) was asking me about the homework I gave her: "Do
we really have to do this part?"

"Everything from page 56-59"

"What about on page 57?"

"Cindy, what part of "Everything" don't you
understand?"

"Everything."

I howled -- I don't think she realized on how many
levels her comment worked, but it was perfect. She's
the one who used "It's a travesty" instead of "It's a
tragedy".

In another class (another favourite class), we were
reading about Benjamin Banneker, a black intellectual
who challenged Thomas Jefferson in a letter about
their allowing of black slaves in America. During a
review class, I asked my students, "What famous
document did Thomas Jefferson help write?"

(the constitution)

"I don't know."

"It starts with a C."

"I don't know."

"The conn n n nn "

"glish."

Konglish is the Korean slang word for English words
that sneak into the Korean language -- words like
guitar, barbeque, piano, hamburger, and words that
didn't quite make the jump intact, like "handphone"
and "air con" for "air conditioner".

Showing Amanda (who's never been overseas before)
around the area, and around Seoul, has been a good
reason to revisit a lot of places I hadn't been to in
a long time. New people in one's life often causes
one to revisit old, familiar places, both in
conversation and in location. That's one of the best
things about having visitors to BC: an excuse to see
canyons and mountains and theatres that one doesn't
otherwise visit.

Today I went to one of Korea's traditional markets --
it's mostly touristy now, but still loaded with old
Korean goods like jewelry boxes, carry bags, and other
wonderful artifacts of Koreanity. I'd forgotten how
quaint and lovely the area is with its cobblestone
road and bamboo building exteriors and a funny blend
of modern destination and ancient Korean market.


In follow-up to what I said last time about my nephew,
I'll just share a verse in the Bible I found that
reflects my view about the whole thing.

John 9:1-3:

1As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from
birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said
Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God
might be displayed in his life.

-- My prayer now is that "the work of God might be
displayed in [Matthias'] life". In the case of the
man born blind, that meant Christ would (shortly
thereafter) heal him; in my nephew's life, that might
be the work of God in his life; it might be something
that I can't see or imagine now, but that will totally
surprise and amaze everyone when it happens. I'm
finding peace about the situation; I mostly just want
to see him again.

I was walking through a shopping center in Seoul and
accidentally stumbled upon some kind of program -- a
group of 11-15 year old boys were playing in a drum
arrangement with large and small drums and cymbals.
For a long time, they played, varying the beat and
somehow managing to continually increase the intensity
of their rhythms. Heads bobbed in unison; it seemed
like even the sweat crawling down their faces ought to
be synchronized, and I realized that each of these
boys had, for a little while, ceased existing: they
were only the rhythm, nothing except the same as their
teammates, and I, too, disappeared for a while (I
can't tell exactly how long: clocks seem to stop
working properly when you're carried away like that).
What an invigorating experience! Somehow getting away
from myself for a little while makes me feel so much
more comfortable once I'm back in my own skin, but not
many things can do that. Old friends can, and chances
to really show a person love or compassion can.
Sometimes worship can (that's where the word ecstasy
originally comes from -- the heightened state of
excitement old Greeks observed during certain
religious rituals), or art -- creating or engaging
with it. Regardless of where it occurs (I imagine
intense exercise or competition would do the same),
it's quite an experience, and certainly makes
returning to onesself a lot easier, sort of the way
travelling can make your hometown feel that much more
comfortable. I once read a note a Japanese ESL
student had written to a penpal, and she had signed
off with the phrase "Have a vivid day" -- I loved
that: not just a nice day, or a happy day, but a vivid
day. May your experiences today be intense and
interesting, and may your mind be aware enough to
notice things as they happen to you, and may you
relish them. Sometimes I'm walking down the street
and suddenly, inexplicably, it's as if somebody
flipped a "senses on" switch in me somewhere, and I
can see every leaf on every tree, taste the sunlight,
and feel the air sliding between my fingers. I wish I
knew how to bring such an experience on whenever I
wanted, but until then,

Have a vivid day.

All my love.

Rob

Tuesday, 23 March 2004

A More Personal Update (March 23rd 2004)

This one got more and more personal as I went on, so
pardon the initial cuteness; I decided halfway through
that it was only going out to a very short list of
people. it's a little long, but i've never been one
to apologize for that. please bear with me. this
letter is not for bulletin boards or public
discussion. it's more so you can know how your
prayers for me have been answered.


OK, so here are some advantages and disadvantages to
living alone:

advantage: you can do whatever you please at home
disadvantage: this usually means nothing interesting

a: you can go to bed whenever
d: korean meals are often designed to be eaten by two

a: you can walk around wearing anything you want
d: there's noone to be shocked or surprised or
disgusted or any such thing

a: you pick what movies to rent
b: you can never think of anything you want to see

a: you don't have those pointless small talk
conversations about whether its better to push a chair
in with your foot or your hands
d: those conversations are fun

a: nobody knows, or checks, where or how you are
d: nobody knows, or checks, where or how you are

a: privacy
d: nobody has a backup copy of your keys (funny typo
there: I originally typed "eyes" instead of "keys")

a: long showers
d: it takes initiative to hang out with someone
a: which means you get personal stuff done
d: or waste untold amounts of time on pointless fluff

a: you can keep it as clean as you like
d: you can keep it as dirty as you like

a: no one else can take credit for the decor.
d: no one else can take blame for the smell.


and so forth.

I've been sick for quite a while now -- it seems that
just as I was recovering from that last cold, I caught
another one, or something like it. All my co-workers
are sick. There's this stuff called the yellow dust
in the air right now -- it's dust blown in from (I
think) the Gobi desert in China, and it's a fine dust
that makes the air hazy for a few weeks every spring,
and people with asthma are told to stay indoors (or
wear these cute surgical masks that you can buy at any
convenience store -- remember pictures from Shanghai
during the SARS scare? Exactly like that -- just not
as many). It also makes sore throats and head colds
increase, and makes sore throats (like mine) heal
really slowly. Kids miss classes, the local news
gives air quality indexes, and if it's too high,
school is cancelled (but not private academies like
ours).

I'm having a lot of fun with my classes right now. I
have one trick where i tell students to touch my nose
(then I wonder why I'm sick), and make some animal
noise; then I say "Do it again" and repeat. Then,
after three or four repetitions, instead of meowing,
or clucking, I shout "BOO!" and startle the dear
child. I had one student who's the most vocal student
in my class -- good attitude, sense of humor, but
loud; I had just shown the rest of the class my trick,
when she walked in late. She says "Why is everybody
laughing?" and I said, "Come here and I'll show you."
And I did. Great times -- I really enjoy that class.

In another class one of the students was reading
something about bumper stickers, and the "I Love New
York" sign was in the article -- the I heart NY one.
While he was reading he came across this sign and
instead of saying "I love New York", he sounded it out
and said what sounded like "I hurt knee."

That was the class where, because I was tired at the
end of the day, I offered them bananas and kept
calling them "umbrellas" -- and you know how once you
get the wrong word in your head, you're GOING to make
the mistake again. So now we have a running joke
where if I can't think of the word for something, I
call it "umbrella". And there's this girl named
Christine in that class who just goes into hysterics
whenever I do something funny. They're also quite
smart. Then somebody misread "soap on a rope" as
"soup on a rope" and what could I do but crack up?

There's also a student in that class who's so
obssessed with Lord of the Rings that his name is
Aragorn. Every writing assignment I give must have
qualifiers like "design an invention to make your life
easier. that's YOUR life; not the life of an Orc
warrior or a white wizard." It's actually quite funny
though. He's a really bright kid, and he said he
wants to be a writer. He's talented enough (at age
14) to give it a go.

Last weekend I went to Everland (an amusement park)
with a new friend named Colleen. Colleen is cool.
She's good to talk to, a bit older than myself, an old
hand at living in Korea, tolerant of my weirdnesses,
and smart as buttons. (really smart buttons) She
also appreciates my jokes, and lives close enough to
hang out on weeknights (though since we're not close
enough friends yet to spend a lot of time at each
other's houses watching movies or eating cheese-free
nachos, hanging out usually involves a little money
these days). Everland was cool, though she was afraid
of some of the rides. But a good time was had by all.
So far we've discovered we can spend a lot of time
together without getting sick of each other, and so
far our age difference (not shocking, but more than
three years) hasn't shown itself in any major way. I
think we're both glad to have a friend nearby, and
we've both been pretty good about nurturing a good
friendship without moving uncomfortably fast or
frustratingly slow.

Living alone has meant I spend a lot more time writing
than I did before. This is a very good thing.

Finally, I've had a revelation, possibly because of
the alone time, and possibly because I've started
spending more time in the Word, and in prayer (another
advantage of living alone, especially without cable
TV: nobody to distract you).

And here's how it goes. this is going to take a
while, so buckle in and get comfortable. maybe print
it out and take it to the dentist's office.

My oldest sister and I have a years old debate about
whether Christians ought to read books/listen to music
full of discord and hurt etc.; I argue that they're
part of the world where God has placed us, and part of
the human nature God put in us, and that more learning
happens along the lines of tension than along the
lines of harmony; Rebecca answers that being exposed
to, and turning my mind toward sometimes squalid
aspects of life can be damaging to my soul. Maybe
it's just that Rebecca's way of becoming available to
God is to seek out peace and quietness and wait for
God's whisper, while my way, traditionally, is to
stare into the storm to wonder at His splendour.
Revelation has come both ways (Elijah and Job)

I think it's a good debate for both of us -- iron
sharpens iron, and I think both of us benefit from
each other's insights. Often it seems that we are
arguing two sides of the same coin, and Rebecca
reminds me to fix my eyes on heavenly things, for
that's where we're GOING, while I (hope I) remind her
(how presumptuous I am!) to keep her eyes on the world
around, because that's where we ARE; fire is beautiful
because it's fire, as well as being beautiful because
it's a metaphor for the holy spirit. It can, and
should, be enjoyed for both, I think (am learning).

Christ managed to do both -- he brought peace to those
who needed it, and created harmony where there was
discord, but he also destabilized some people who were
too complacently secure, and often associated with
people who moved along the ragged edges of life.
Somewhere among the stances we argue is a way of life
that is harmonious and peaceful as well as challenging
and growing.

(sorry if some of this commentary is old hat for some
of you; writing it helps me work through it; that's
how I come to understand most things in my life.
Maybe, if anything, I should apologize for wrestling
my angels and demons in front of all of you.)

Anyway, I'd mentioned a while ago to rebecca that of
my family members, I think our minds operate most
similarly. Since then we've both looked at the
similarities between us and learned a few things, and
seen a few things in ourselves that we hadn't ever
thought to look for in ourselves before.

She said in her last e-mail that

"I think you are right that
we think the same way, but the
difference I see is in what we
think about." (see also: Phil. 4:8
"Whatsoever things are true, lovely,
honest, just etc think about such
things." "by beholding we are changed."
2Cor. 3:18: "But we all, with open
face beholding as in a glass the glory
of the Lord, are changed into the same
image from glory to glory, by the
Spirit of the Lord." )

So I wrote in my journal about that, and had a
realization (here it is, finally.)

it's hard to admit this, because rebecca and I have
debated this exact thing before, with me vehemently
defending myself.

confession time.

Music has become a god to me. I was so busy thinking
about my ambition to be a writer, and wanting to make
sure God came before writing, and that if He asked me
to put writing aside to further His kingdom, I would,
that music snuck in the back door and became the thing
I didn't want to give up.

The thing is, there are the priorities I'll tell you
if you ask me to list them, and there are priorities
you would discover by drawing a pie chart of how I
spent my time, money, and thought. If there's a
discrepancy between the things you say are most
important, and the things you live as if they were the
most important, obviously you are lacking either
vision for your life, or commitment to that vision.

so I've decided to stow my CDs and my speakers and my
player for an indeterminate amount of time: it will be
more than a month, but I don't know when it will end;
basically, until I can listen to music without it
possessing my thoughts and causing me to spend
inappropriately large amounts of time, thought or
money on it.

I'm going to miss music a lot -- I can only think
it'll be like quitting smoking; everywhere you go,
someone's lighting up and making you miss that
feeling. Except it'll be even harder to defend,
because music isn't inherently bad for you; even the
music I listen to. I am not backing down on the
points I made in discussions about the value of
certain types of music; I'm just recognizing that, as
defensible as such music is in general and in
principle, in MY life, at this time, its presence
represents something other than a means to enjoyment
and (sometimes) learning about the world, and those
principles fall to the greater principle that "You
shall have no other gods before me".

I've been thinking lately about the idea that God is a
jealous god. I want to make sure that I am not
misunderstanding or underestimating God's (justified)
possessiveness over what calls itself His.

so pray for me. pray that ALL my values get realigned
appropriately, because I've been easily distractable
for a while. Living alone means I have a lot of time
where me and God are the only ones in the apartment.

This is pretty big for me. Most of you know how much
I talk about /listen to music. Most of my casual
spending money was spent on music last year. I don't
quite know yet what I'm going to do, or where my mind
will go when I stop thinking about that song on the
radio, but I'm kind of excited to find out -- because
I don't think God will disappoint me if I give Him all
that now(soon)-free space in my mind to do with as He
pleases.

The thing is, even if it's OK for Christians to go
into the world and engage with the things and ideas of
the world (in order to understand the people of the
world and better show them Christ's love, among other
reasons), this requires -- REQUIRES (and pardon me if
this sounds cliche; it's just becoming new to me
again) that we be absolutely anchored to God before we
make such forays.

You can't stand against the flow of a river if you
don't have a solid footing (and preferably a rope
around your waist that's tied to something even
bigger), and I was so busy saying that it's OK for
Christians to stand in the river that I forgot to
check whether my rope was secure. So now I'm at least
aware I was drifting, and looking to get that rope
tied tightly again. This will take time. Hopefully,
as I continue to spend time with God, He will move
more mountains in my life, and maybe by the time I get
back to Canada, you'll barely recognize me. Maybe.

So I'm asking you to pray for me. And thanking you,
for the prayers you've already done. I've been placed
in a spot where I don't think I've ever had so much
quiet in my life, and I can't wait to hear what God's
been whispering while my life was too loud to let me
hear. There are other areas of my life, I'm sure,
where I need such radical shifts and new insights, and
pray that I'm willing to go through those shifts, and
that I make no excuses. (that was how I knew music
was too important in my life: I started making excuses
about why I didn't REALLY have to cut back on my music
consumption).

anyway, it's an exciting time spiritually. I haven't
been this deep in the Word since my second year of
university, and I don't know if I've ever prayed even
this much (and believe me, there's room for
improvement). but for the first time, I can say I've
prayed recently for all the people on this list. I'm
not quite up to praying for each of you daily, but
weekly is better than my former "twenty seconds after
I finish reading your e-mail, with few exceptions"
rate. God has this snowballish knack for picking up
momentum as He goes, so who knows where this will end.


I love you all.

Becca: you asked for my response. I guess this is
part of it. Any thoughts?

Dan: in case I forget later, happy birthday, dude.
and mom and dad: happy 30th again.

Take care.

Rob