Thursday, August 26, 2004

August 26th 2004


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."
"Good. There were three more. Any guesses?"
"Matthew, Mark, Luke?"

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

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