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