Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Allergy Update (July 2003)

Because I've received some concerned e-mails. . .

I'm doing fine in regards to the allergy stuff. The
doctor gave me some pills to take for a few days, and
the lump in my throat went away nicely after about
twenty-four hours. My old roommate Dave (who goes
back to USA tomorrow to attend Medical School at . . .
I think Columbia in NYC), asked one of his doctor
friends about my allergy and she told him that an
allergy to the noodles I ate on Wednesday, and a shock
reaction like I had, is a common enough occurrence.
I'll also tell you what I hear from the allergy
specialist on Monday as soon as possible.

Regarding my ankle, the ligament that got pulled was
one associated with my fibula, not my tibia. The
fibula is the smaller of the two lower leg bones, and
it is NOT the weight-bearing bone; its purpose is more
for support and maybe balance. That means that now, a
week after my injury (almost exactly), I can walk with
barely a limp, and I only feel pain when I've climbed
too many stairs or bent my foot in a direction it
doesn't like. So within a week I am back on my feet
and (almost) as mobile as ever. I won't attack any
hiking trails yet, but my coworker (who recently ALSO
injured his ankle) agrees that I was really lucky as
ankle injuries go.

So things are going well; I have a vial of epinephrine
(adrenaline) and a syringe that the doctors gave me on
Wednesday so that if I have another allergic reaction
I can inject myself instead of first going to the
hospital. I feel a lot better having that on hand,
even though I'm now one of those people who has to
carry a vial of adrenaline with him in case things get
out of hand. But on Monday or Tuesday they'll give me
a list of things not to eat and you may never hear
about it again, so that's good.

The two new teachers at our school are remarkable.
They arrived on Tuesday night from Toronto Ontario and
Hull Quebec and on Friday night, because they have a
week off before classes start, they decided to buy
tickets to Bangkok leaving on Saturday! They also
headed out into Seoul on their own, armed with nothing
but the Korean phrase book they bought, and ran a
single errand on their own which is quite impressive
for the first week. They were sad not to finish all
seven errands they had meant to accomplish, but it
took me a week to buy shampoo when I got here (only to
find out at the pharmacy that the Korean word for
shampoo is . . . "shampoo"), so I think they'll do
just fine.

Anyway, I have to buy a going away present for my

Thanks for your concern, and I'll write you again once
I've seen the allergy specialist.

God Bless
Rob Ouwehand

Sunday, June 15, 2003

June 14th, 2003

There are two girls in the PC room near where I'm
sitting; they're playing with webcams and laughing
hysterically. It's really cute.

Hello everybody. Thank you for waiting so patiently
for another update.

But now, it's late Saturday night, I'm listening to an
excellent new CD, I had a great weekend, I've heard
some good news from a few of my friends
(congratulations, Melissa, Jon and Anna, and all the
people who graduated/are graduating this spring).

Friday the thirteenth was a good day for me. I must
backtrack. In March I was promoted from teacher to
foreign teacher supervisor at school; part of my job
is to help communication between foreign teachers and
the Korean bosses, and the other part is to help with
interviewing prospective employees. We had four
positions to fill between now and September, so I had
lots of recruiting/interviewing to do. On Friday, I
told my boss that the people I phone interviewed on
Thursday should be hired, and on Friday a fellow from
England accepted our offer and filled our last open

So this weekend I have quite a load off my shoulders
concerning staff for the upcoming months.

I was tired, so I decided to go out with my roommate
and visit a jimjaebang (sauna).

In the subway, before the train came in, I noticed one
of the cutest little girls I've seen since I arrived
here. She had on a finger-paint purple outfit and
hair ribbons (pig-tails, of course) and she had these
huge, friendly eyes. We made eye contact and waved,
and a few funny faces later, when the train arrived,
she and I were playing hide and seek around one of the
pillars on the subway platform. On the subway, I was
standing halfway across the car and she ran up to me
and gave me an almond and a stick-on tattoo. I doubt
I've ever had a child warm up to me as fast as this
sweetheart who didn't even speak my language. Before
she got off the train she came up to me and said
"Ajashi annyong" which means "sir, goodbye", and waved
at me through the window as the subway pulled away
from the platform.

In Canada, if I were that friendly to a strange child,
her parents would probably watch me like a hawk (and a
suspicious hawk at that) until I left their kid alone.
I love this country. Being a foreigner has its

In the jimjaebang, there was this booth with a water
jet spraying water down into a pool in such a way that
you can stand or sit under the powerful stream. The
force was so strong that as soon as I stood under it
the entire world disappeared and all that remained was
the air I breathed, the bone-shaking sound of a
waterfall, and this amazing, splattering pressure on
my shoulders and head. I turned my face toward the
stream and it was so forceful that when it fell
directly on my nose, I could feel spray flying around
in my closed mouth. After the sauna/shower/water
jet/hot tub/mud bath room, you put on a pair of shorts
and a shirt and go upstairs to the hot and cold rooms.
The hot rooms are up to 90 degrees celsius. They are
too hot for the bacteria that makes sweat stink to
survive, so the air smells salty. The room is so hot
you have to put a towel down because it hurts too much
to directly touch the floor. Then you go to a cold
room and let your sweat-cleansed pores fill with cold

Wonderful. Also, massage chairs. Mmmmmmmm.

I was in one of the lounges, writing in my journal,
when eight Korean university students made a
game-playing circle. They asked me where I was from,
and invited me to join them, and even asked me to
teach THEM a game! We talked and played until four in
the morning, and it turns out most of them are
studying English in some form or another. At four or
five AM, some of them went off to rest, and I sat and
talked with one of the girls until seven in the
morning, when people started waking up. I gave her my
e-mail address and I hope she writes: I'd love to hang
out with these people again. They seem like the kind
of crowd I'd hang out with if I were a Korean
university student.

Between them and a group of Seoulites I met during a
weekend trip to Pusan (far southern tip of Korea), and
one of my students, whose mom invites me out to
different museums and art galleries and palaces on
weekends, I'm managing to develop a decent social life
involving of Koreans, rather than just foreigners who,
as soon as you start really liking them, decide to go
home. These folks are really sweet, and there are a
few that I think I can even talk to (albeit in simple
language) about complex ideas like cultural gaps and
Eastern vs. Western mindframes.

So I'm making friends. I also have a church I like
now, and I am involved in their drama team. I haven't
been on stage yet, but I'm going to the small group

It's a strange country though. Some people are so
sweet, and then others flash you dirty looks because
you're white; some kids make friends like a
thunderclap, and others point at you and laugh. Today
I was in the Hongdai area -- near an arts university
-- and I started juggling. A crowd gathered, laughing
when I dropped a ball, and clapping when I finished,
and then, five hundred steps from where I managed to
draw an appreciative, friendly crowd, I saw a stage
where a protest was beginning. Two people on stage
were singing a protest song where the crowd shouts
"F***ing USA" at the end of every line, and I drew
hateful glares from people who thought I was American
(because many Koreans assume all white people are
American). I'm sure every city contains such sharp
contrasts -- I think of the intersection in downtown
Vancouver where on one side there is a rich business
area, and on the other side is East Hastings, home to
aids-infected junkies, hobos and prostitutes. But
maybe being an outsider makes those kinds of things
much more noticeable.

Thanks to those of you who faithfully write me
letters; I really love getting them, and, as I said
before, if I am slow to answer, send me a reminder and
I'll get to it. I had a few weeks where I was
actually homesick, but I'm still glad I'm here, and,
as I wrote in my journal on the second day I was here,
"it's OK to miss people -- it'd be weird if I DIDN'T
-- but it's NOT OK to let missing them wreck my time

This last month was especially hard for homesickness,
because (for those of you who do not already know), my
father was diagnosed with the early stages of prostate
cancer. It's not severe or life-threatening, but it's
still cancer, and I'm still in Korea, and that's
frustrating, because I can't be there for Dad and Mom.

Also, one of my best friends had a baby who I'm not
going to meet until next January, and I really wish I
could meet him sooner. But, as I said to my brother,
this is life, and this is how we grow up: one little
thing at a time. A friend gets engaged, someone gets
sick, I'm presented with a choice of who to hang out
with, etc.. Stuff happens, and some of it I can't
control. But it changes me, and I'm a different
person now, because of things I choose, and because of
things that aren't mine to choose. Every person who
receives this letter is also a different person than
the one I remember from my time with them, but that's
all right, because this is planet Earth, and on this
crazy planet, full of crazy humans, there aren't many
things that are the same yesterday, today, and

Anyway, that's what's been filling my days, and what's
been on my mind lately.

I hope, long as it might be, that this was worth the
read, and worth the wait.

Thanks for caring enough about me that you took the
time to read the whole thing.


Friday, May 16, 2003

Update May 2003

Hi everybody. This is personal news, but I'm writing
a bulk (ish) e-mail (note the streamlined "to" list)
because I don't think I could handle writing each of
you a personal letter about this, but I want each of
you, specifically, to know so you can pray about it,
and know about it.

This morning I got a phone call from my Mom and Dad;
Dad had prostate surgery a little while ago to remove
a bunch of stones (I hope this isn't an overshare . .
. ) and today (I guess it's probably yesterday by now)
they saw the doctor for an update, etc..

The doctor told him that of the stones they removed, a
certain amount of them had cancerous cells in them.
They caught it in an early stage, and it hasn't
spread, which is excellent: prostate cancer is one of
the least threatening cancers after skin cancer, if it
is caught in time and dealt with appropriately. They
caught this one really early, so the prognosis is
really good (as cancer prognoses go), but even though
my nurse aunt says that this kind of prostate cancer
comes out fine 99% of the time, it's still the "C"
word, and it's still my dad, and that's a little
distressing: it's the first time cancer has struck
anyone in my family closer than cousins I've never
met. And whatever the success rate of treating this
kind of cancer or the other, it'll still be unpleasant
having his prostate removed: he'll be on his back
and/or limited in movement for 6-8 weeks after his
hospital stay, and, you know, he's my DAD, and I'm in
stinkin' Korea where all I can do is call regularly
and e-mail.

So pray for my Dad a lot: it's only been in the last
few years that I've really grown to know and admire
him, and see how much of him is in me, and pray that I
would be the best son I can from where I am, and that
my Dad's condition would neither wreck my stay in
Korea, nor that my stay in Korea would make me a poor
support during my Dad's hard time.

Still love it in Korea, etc. etc., but. . . I dunno,
this is the first time I've REALLY been frustrated
that I'm here instead of there, and I can't just drop
everything and spend the weekend at Mom and Dad's or

Thanks for caring, and being the kinds of people I
care about enough, and who have cared enough about me,
that I want you to be the first to know news like
this. I'm blessed and lucky to have such a long list
of addresses in my "To" box for news like this: I
thank God every chance I get for having supports like

Love you all

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Valentine's Day Update (February 2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2003

For the Bridge Community Church Bulletin Board

(January 2003)

Dear Dellemans:

Greetings and hello and such! I am here in Korea now,
and starting my second week of teaching the kids. I
thought it would be a good time to let the church know
what's up and how I'm doing.

To the Bridge Community Church:

Greetings from South Korea! I am in Songpa, one of
the southwestern-most districts of Seoul, very close
to the Olympic Park where many of the 1988 Olympic
events happened (only about a ten minute walk) -- the
tennis courts, the velodrome, the swimming pool (I
think), the gymnastics arenas, etc.. It's actually a
beautiful park to walk around.

I teach from mid-afternoon until about 9 pm. It is
absolutely amazing how hard these kids work: they are
in school or private schools/extracurricular
activities from about 8am to 9pm for some! On Friday
afternoon my kids were so tired they could barely do
anything. "teacher, can we play a game?"

But they're sweet kids: friendly and likeable. I
wish I could understand all the things they say to
each other in Korean, but them's the lumps, I guess.

I've gone to an English speaking church service
here, and I would like to get connected with the
community, but it is a little hard for foreigners
(especially ones who only know three words of Korean)
to make inroads in to the community -- I'm gonna try,
but it'll be like wandering a maze blindfolded for at
least a while.

My roommate is a girl named Alisa. She's new here,
too, so it's nice having someone here who ALSO doesn't
know squat. We're working out the initial awkwardness
of being opposite gender roommates sharing a bathroom
(though with separate bedrooms, of course), and I'm
sure things will end up OK. We're establishing good
lines of communication about where the lines need to
be drawn, and open communication about such things
will lead to more trust in the future, and a better
chance for a good friendship.

I'm still getting used to the way things work here
--drinking is one of the national pasttimes here, and
everybody smokes -- a slight change from the folks I
usually hung out with in BC, but I'll figure it out.
The subway system here is extremely well marked, easy
to understand, and simple to use, and subways lead
almost anywhere in the city I'd want to go, so that's
good, and I've found places nearby where I can buy
English books and music, as well as a theatre where
they show movies in English (subtitled, of course).
I'm slowly getting on my feet, and I'm excited about
the opportunities this city presents.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated from time to time as
things happen. I now have a lesson plan to prepare.
Thank you for your prayers and thoughts.

Rob Ouwehand
Seoul Korea

Saturday, January 11, 2003

First e-mail after arriving in Korea.

I am posting these in chronological order, and I am leaving them mostly as sent, warts, typos, factual inaccuracies and everything.

I am in Bangie-do, a disctrict in the southwest of
Seoul, and I start teaching classes tomorrow. yee

I've already met a bunch of "foreigners" as we seem to
call ourselves -- mostly Canadians, New-Zealanders and
Americans so far -- and it's a really interesting
breed of people you run into when you're overseas --
it's kind of like when you go to university, and
suddenly everyone you meet is at least nominally
intelligent and motivated, as the mere fact they're in
university would attest to, except here, every
foreigner you meet is at least nominally global minded
and open to new experiences and thoughts. (not that
they don't get hammered and sing . . . is it nagi-bo?
-- korean karaoke (instead of in front of a whole bar,
it's in a private booth -- for you and a few buddies).

Anyway, nights are very bright here -- I live just
off a street called (roughly translated) "eat street",
and there are scads of restaurants and things, all of
which have brightly lit neon signs that blare away all
night. I don't know a stitch of korean (kuns hamnida
is an approximation of how you say thank you, but
other than that all I know so far is yes (naae) and no
(ani-yo) and kim'chi

met some fun interesting people. had a long involved
conversation where I explained why I didn't drink or
smoke, and had a whole table of new zealanders
fascinated at my logic. Did my best not to play the
moral high ground card, and succeeded.

Met some folks I want to get to know better for sure,
though. I like the other teachers at my school, too.
The two guys (named Dave and Jon) are really cool --
smart, open-minded, and easy to talk to about the
kinds of things I like to discuss.

umm. . .

my roommate is a girl named Alisa. She's from florida
and she's quite pretty in her quiet way. we have
separate bedrooms, but the apartment isn't quite huge.
We're still figuring the whole thing out, but I think
we'll be OK. We both admitted right off the bat that
we weren't thrilled about rooming with the opposite
gender, and that helps -- if there isn't initial
comfort, honesty and authenticity will bridge most
gaps. But she has a boyfriend back home (she showed
me a picture), and that helps a lot in terms of how I
think of her -- I just chunk her into the "off limits"
category, and then, even if she breaks up with him
later, she'll still be in that category, because
that's how I learned to think of her. Not having
emotional entanglement possiblities with her will
certainly make being roommates with her easier --
'cause if something goes sour, being roomies for a
year will make it REALLY sour. We basically have set
some of the initial terms, and we've said that
basically we need to be totally up front and honest
about things, and we'll be OK. I think it'll work --
she seems that kind that won't hide things much.

it smells like coffee in here. (I'm in an internet
cafe). better than it smelling like cigarettes

(cigarettes are really cheap here -- 2000 won, which
is like, three bucks canadian, and almost everyone
smokes, and smoking seems to be allowed in every
public building. That's a little less fun than some
of the other aspects of this place.)

it's really weird being the one who doesn't speak the
language. and I've been told it's REALLY hard to get
a good haircut around here, so I have to decide
whether to grow my hair out (thought it's not good to
look unkempt here -- grooming is important to these
folks), or start looking, or live through a series of
bad haircuts. so I might just have to get some
electric clippers and learn how to cut my own hair.
(that'll be an adventure. . . I guess). Nobody here
will have a clue about how to cut curly hair, and mine
is thick too. Darn.

but food here is great -- the korean style of eating
is very communal. Instead of getting your own plate
with your own spread, often they'll have a hot plate
on your table where you cook the meat and hot dishes
they spread out on it, and then as you finish the side
dishes, they'll come around and replenish them. The
side dishes are in dishes from which everyone eats --
some restaurants don't even give you your own plate --
so you're always reaching all over the place around
people and such, and offering folk food and things.
I'm still working on the whole chopsticks thing - - I
can eat one entire meal with chopsticks, but I've
never eaten so many in a row with only chopsticks, so
my finger stamina is starting to slip -- about two
thirds through every meal I start to get cramps and
lose my chopstick dexterity. It's kinda funny and
kinda embarrassing. But I'll get used to it. Food is
really cheap here, and the spicy food doesn't give me
a headache, the way spicy indian or mexican food does.

I'm having fun being the new guy among the other
foreigners -- nobody knows me, so I get the chance to
totally create my own impression. Last night I made a
few good first impressions. I made everybody laugh
once or twice, and one of the girls told me "hey,
you're really not a dick," which, from the tone in
which she said it, came across about the same as
"you're a sweetie".

at one point, we were ordering food and I said please,
and a girl looked at me and said "you're canadian,
aren't you?" -- I had no idea manners were so easily

the new zealanders i've met here so far are wild.
they're loud and funny and every time they make a
stir, everybody assumes they're americans so their
nation doesn't even take the bad rap for it. (pretty
funny if you ask me)

I'm still jetlagging -- it's seven hours behind here,
so at 10 pm it feels like 5 am to me. I had dinner
with the other teachers from my school on the first
night I arrived, and by 10 pm I looked and felt like
I'd been beaten up by a small gang. It took me five
minutes to understand that the bathroom was around the
side of the building. (bathrooms here are generally
clean, which is cool, though you usually have to go
around the side of a building to find them.)

one cool thing about korea: you can turn your heater
so that it heats up the floor! (in case you sit on
the floor to eat with your buds) damn cool.

anyway, my head is mostly still spinning, being in
Korea for less than a week. I'm starting to gain some
footing, but it's all still pretty new. Amazing
though. On friday morning, I cried because I missed
my friends and family -- I hadn't met anyone in Korea
yet except some co-workers, and I was tired and still
disoriented. Unpacking was really difficult, because
Jon came out to see me the night before I left, and,
for lack of anything else to do, helped me pack, and
every time I unpacked some item, I was reminded again
of the hands that packed them as a final gesture of
(heterosexual man to heterosexual man) love, and I got
all verklempt again. But now I'm doing OK, and the
longer I'm here, the more excited I am to learn and
experience everything I can. there is SO much to
absorb here. Wow. And the longer I'm here, the more
I like it.

OK, I hope this is a good mix of bulk e-mail and
personal impressions. as I start getting e-mails from
all of you, I'll write you more personal responses,
but that's kinda the way things have started as I
figure out how to get my feet under me.

Thanks for your prayers etc. -- I love you all and I
miss you a bunch.

(if one of you -- dan or tiff or deb or brad -- could
pass this on to Sarah Shook and let her see it, I'd be
much obliged: I haven't quite gotten around to adding
her address to my book yet.)

OK, gotta go now.
godbless, love you all:
Rob OUwehand