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

Monday, 8 March 2004

Idle Thoughts During A Snowstorm (March 2004)

So anyway, I have no idea why I'm indoors right now,
except that I'm recovering from a cold. The snow
outside is, paraphrased from a friend's Ukrainian
saying, "climbing down ladders," a rare and beautiful
thing no matter where you are. It's perfect snow. It
crunches underfoot, and it makes perfect snowballs,
sticks to your eyelashes, but doesn't soak through
your shoes. I've been walking around the streets of
my neighbourhood in my green, snow-magnet jacket,
looking like a snowman and grinning like a cat who
just grew opposable thumbs, but hasn't told anyone he
knows how to unlock the sliding door.

I was literally blanketed in snow, when I got to the
Subway (not the transportation, but the sandwich
restaurant, which is two blocks from my house, and
SUCH a joy to have so close; all last year, I ate at
Subway ONCE, and missed it more with each Whopper I
choked down). Before stepping inside, I brushed a
small avalanche of snow off my shoulders and jacket,
and then shook my head and let fly another small
flurry from my snow-gathering curls. After clearing
almost all the fluff off of myself, I looked up, and
the three employees in the Subway were all watching me
and laughing away. I was in such a good mood I didn't
even mind. When I left the restaurant, I crossed
paths with another foreigner named Colleen, from
Portland, who said "how long have you been here?"
I said, "Just over a week."
She said, "No wonder you're so friendly."

(often foreigners in Korea start off with this "golly
gee whiz" feel, and go up to any foreigner they meet,
and say silly things like "Hey! You speak English and
I have no friends! Can I buy you a coffee? A donut?
A car? What if I just follow you around for a while?"
-- and then as they get used to Korea, they get more
and more surly, until they'll pass a foreigner in the
street without even nodding at them -- as if they were
in Paris or something.)

Then I explained that actually I was just in a good
mood because of the beautiful snow, and we talked for
a while about Autumns in Ontario (where I grew up) and
New Hampshire (where she grew up), and made each other
homesick for a while, but otherwise hit it off rather
nicely. It always helps to have friends who live in
your neighbourhood.

It's been an interesting week. I caught a nasty cold
in my first week back (last time I came to Korea one
of the first things I did was get sick as well -- I
think it's part of my body adjusting to a new climate,
diet, etc.). Monday was a holiday here -- Korean
Independance Movement Day (leave it to a Canadian to
forget whether Independence is spelled with an "A" or
an "E"), the day when a Korean started the uprising
that eventually ended Japan's occupation of Korea. I
took it easy that day (I'd already had a lot of fun
that weekend, including taking a friend to that Indian
restaurant (Swagat) I visited with my old roommate
Dave, where he scoffed when I told them "I'll be
back"), but I was up six times on Monday night with a
throat as dry as anything I'd ever felt. It hurt to
swallow, and the next morning I had such a nasty sore
throat/headache combination that I called in sick on
my first day of work. I had wanted to get started on
the right foot, but instead I got started flat on my
back, sucking on a humidifier. Not only that, I asked
my boss to take me to a doctor's office that
afternoon, and since I had no cash, asked her to foot
the bill as well! Turns out I had an ulcer (an
ULCER!) on my right tonsil (and I'm sure my med-school
buddy - you know who you are - will tell me all about
that shortly), but I'm on a few antibiotics and
painkillers and I'm actually feeling quite well
compared to Tuesday evening.

So in the end, I missed my first two days, ate nothing
but rice cereal and orange juice for half the week,
and rented a couple of mostly decent movies when I
couldn't sleep anymore, but reading still made my
headache worse.

I haven't even tried, but somehow my students, before
I even came into the classrooms, had me tagged as a
"funny teacher". I've realized that if I want a class
of kids to take me seriously at all, I have to walk in
the room with a sour, mean face, to let them know that
while we're in class, I mean business. Also, since my
throat is the source of my sickness, my voice is 50%
at best, so I absolutely can't shout over students
when they're noisy. I trained them all to hush up
immediately when I clap my hands twice. Even the
kindergarten kids got that. I think I'm going to hang
onto that. Or maybe even find something quieter
still. I've learned the best way to handle a class of
kids is not with a sledge-hammer -- by being even
LOUDER than they are -- but with a scythe -- somthing
quiet and sharp that stops them right at the root of
the noise.

I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to teach. I
really do enjoy getting in the class. After a month
of being excited/terrified of this new school which
normally only hires people with education degrees,
which has really high quality/professionalism
standards, it was really a relief to just plain get
into the class with the students and do some
old-fashioned teaching. (That's old fashioned
teaching as in actual teaching with students, as
opposed to thinking about/reading about/worrying about
teaching; it's not old fashioned teaching as in I got
out the slates, straps and rulers and handed out some
good corporal lashings). Teaching really does make me
feel good. This school's students are SO bright
compared to my last school -- fluent, with great
attitudes! They'll have conversations with you
outside of class, speaking in complete sentences! If
not for the accents, I'd think I were teaching back in
Canada sometimes. This is really fun. And the stuff
they learn -- most of the classes are within a year of
studying the same material kids their age are studying
in Elementary schools in California! Except how many
Californian grade schoolers can tell you the
difference between a pronoun and an adjective (come on
Angela -- what's the difference? MY students know.
Do you (even though you're not from California)?)

I'm teaching Kindergarten, which is also really fun.
After my first class -- I hadn't met these kids fifty
minutes before -- two of the girls already wanted to
come up and give me hugs, just for being there and
making a noise like a chicken (or maybe THAT's why
they all think I'm a funny teacher. hmmm).

I think I'm really going to like this. A lot.

And golly, it's fun writing to a bunch of native
English speakers, to whom I can write as strangely and
colourfully as I wish, and who will almost all still
catch almost all of what I'm saying. (If you're
having any trouble, ask your mom. You know who you
are. Dan.)

heh heh heh.

It's been really nice being in Seoul this time around,
because I already know how to survive -- last year it
took me until March or even May to really feel like I
could get through a day without any big troubles, but
this time I arrived already knowing how to use the
busses, how to read a subway map, how to read the menu
at a restaurant, how to ask if it had dairy in it (it
never does), etc..

Anyway, this letter may match the tone of my first few
letters my last time around, except maybe now that
I've been around the block once (as well as through
the wringer), that tone is tempered with a little more
savvy. One of my friends wished my letters could
always be so chipper, and match those of another
friend who's now teaching in Taiwan, but I don't think
I'd be able to write anything other than how I'm
feeling in an e-mail like this, and I don't think I'd
want to anyway. Sorry (you know who YOU are, too.)

So maybe my next e-mail will be melancholy and
introspective, or thought-provoking and philosophical,
or bubbly and joyful, but I hope they're never flip or
trite, because I think I owe it to you, my loyal
friends and family in Canada/USA/Red Deer, to give you
slices of the real, no-punches-pulled me, in the real,
no-warts(or-wonders)-concealed Korea.

All my love

Rob "Now I'm going to go get more snow in my
eyelashes" Ouwehand

footnotes:
Dave: your e-mail was awesome, and I'll respond to it
personally soon.
Melissa: I keep telling everyone here how wonderful
Ayden and your family is.
Kristopher: This school definitely looks like a
keeper. I've only had one day of classes so far, but
I enjoyed it a lot, despite a headache and no voice.
Angela: I JUST got your e-mail now. E-mails take
longer to reach me because I'm asleep when you send
them, and you're asleep when I answer them, AND I
don't check as often now that I have to go to an
internet cafe to check. Korean kids DO only go to
school from 9-12 AM, but then they go to after-school
schools (Math, or Science, or English, or Piano, or
Taekwondo, or Soccer, or Swimming, or several of the
above) somtimes until 7:00 or even 9:00 at night! And
yes, they go to school on Saturday. But not to our
school. Most Koreans go to work on Saturday too. And
sorry, I don't have a saxophone you can borrow. But I
do have a purple walking puppet named Apostrophe Bill
you can use -- though I'll need him back when I come
home.

Dad (and everyone else)
My address (so you can send me presents, or even just
funny/cheeky/scenic postcards) is:

and, sorry to sound like a beggar, Dad, but could you
include in the package with the documents and
papermate pens, if you can, two more items? -- 1. a 2
ft by 4 ft (or something thereabouts) Canadian Flag
for display, and 2. a water bottle belt-loop hook,
like the one Mom gave you a couple of Christmasses
ago? That's all, I swear! Feel free to deduct those
amounts from money I send home, too. Thanks a
million.

a few English errors my kids made:
"Two small words coming together into one word is a. .
. "
"Complain word!" (compound word)

the book said "I see two hedgehogs."
he read "I see two hot dogs."

and for some reason they wouldn't stop laughing every
time I said the word "Judge" -- it was being used in
the "judge not" context, but they kept pounding their
fists like gavels on the desk. I explained that it
was the same word -- a Judge judges people -- but it
still cracked them up.

and one more for the road, for anyone with the
endurance to read this far (you brilliant troopers):

I didn't know why Koreans kept mispronouncing the word
"Doctor" and laughing, 'till a former co-worker
explained. Ddokk is the Korean word for chicken, and
Toll is the Korean word for fur or feathers. So if
you mispronounce "doctor" in a particularly Korean
way, it sounds like "It took two chicken feathers to
fix my ribs!"

one more time, as always with love,
Rob