Sunday, October 16, 2016

As we only have one full day left in Daegu, the girls and I have been walking around a little sad about ending this trip.  Hannah asked if she can come for 4 months next time and is already working on a deal that involves her hijacking Halmoni's trip next year.  Lilly and Elise are begging to return to Korean class tomorrow.  And I was left trying to explain to our family and friends tonight why I love Korea.  It was pretty messy with my serious lack of Korean vocabulary so I'm going to share with you guys.  In English.  So much easier.

1. Everyone holds hands here.  It's just the way it's done. Moms and daughters.  Friends. Guys hold guys' hands.  Girls hold girls' hands. It means nothing except "hey, we are friends. Or family. And we like being together."  I find it sweet and almost did a cartwheel when a certain 13 year old of mine (no names here) held my hand throughout the market the other day.  That would have never happened in America, folks. I loved it!  And do you know what I loved even more? The Koreans that I was telling this to were appalled that it isn't done in America.  They were shocked.  

2. Sijangs for the win.  I don't know what I will do when I can't walk through a sijang for all of my veggies, cute socks a plenty and, of course, cheap street food. Yes, we have farmers markets in America.  In Portland, they're expensive! Here, they have the best prices around AND they will sometimes throw in an extra apple or what not.  And going back to having to drive into Beaverton for my Korean veggies will be sad. And inconvenient. And more expensive.  Being a 5 minute walk from just about anything we need is pretty sweet. 

3. Tiny apartments.  I kind of love Halmoni's tiny apartment.  I know they wouldn't work back home unless we took to sleeping on the floor but I do enjoy it.    Did you know that most people that have modernized and have beds don't actually have a soft mattress? It's basically sleeping on the floor but higher.   I thought we might eat each other or something being so squished for 2 months but it's been quite nice. And just having less has been a little freeing.  Of course, I saw this as we are packing and I am bringing home half of Korea in our bags. I do want to do some serious purging when we get home and maybe move to a smaller house. Or to Korea. 

4. Safer public transportation.  My girls are much more free to roam about and I really think it's because of the Halmoni's. Halmoni's don't sit at home much here.  They walk to the senior center. They walk to their friends.  They walk to the sijang and to the exercise park. With them out and about all day long, there are always tough Halmoni's around to smack anyone who messes with your kids. Because of this, nobody messes with your kids. They know they're being watched. 

5. Jjimjilbangs. Need I say more? How have I made it 38 years without you??

6. Korean food, on the cheap.  You name it, we will miss it. (Minus the silk work larvae) It is about as expensive as McDonald's dollar menu and mostly healthy.  I've gained a taste for sweet red bean, kimbap and sweet potatoes on this trip.  I've tried octopus and still am not a huge fan, but I like the majority of Korean food. (Ok, they live on a peninsula and love their seafood, so I guess I probably like 50% when you consider that.)

7.  Branches. I love branches.  In America, our church congregation has about 400 people and is called a ward. Smaller congregations are called branches and our little Gyeongsan branch has about 25 people on any given Sunday. (With the Kangs and the two sets of missionaries.) I love the intimacy of a small group and the girls especially love having the sisters around.  Oh. Today I was invited to bear my testimony in sacrament since it was our last Sunday (After church started!)  A sweet returned missionary translated for me and it was kind of hard.  I get distracted pretty easily and stopping after each sentence for a translation was a bit of a struggle.  What was I saying again? We love the branch here in all their smallness, even if it does insure that you're teaching a lesson each week and probably giving a talk or saying a prayer on top of that.  

Ok, I could keep on going all night long. The point is that we're going to miss this place. The good news? I kept trying to use an extra box and Halmoni made me use her luggage, telling me to bring it back next year when we come again. I finally gave in which means....I need to start saving for next year! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You know how in America younger kids don't need ID when flying domestically?  Well. They need it here.  My dear sweet mother in law made a round trip taxi trip to our apartment in record time to grab the passports and get to the gate a few minutes before boarding.  She did it all while staying cool, calm and collected.  I love that woman!

We're in Jeju at a pension (kind of like a condo that has mats for us to sleep on) that is a quickly walk from the beach.  We've already sampled black pork (as in from a black pig that is unique to Jeju) and we've walked along the beach.  Tomorrow we have a tour guide taking us around the island, which I felt was an unnecessary expense until today. It's nice knowing that I don't have to worry about us getting everywhere!

And right now? I'm waiting for Lilly to fall asleep after a good cry about missing her Koreant school.  Going home next week is going to be a little sad as we've made some special friendships here. Sigh.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Yesterday the Kangs got a little more Korean as we had our first noraebang experience.  Welcome to the world where you can rock out to karaoke as loud as you please within the privacy of your own room. Yeju's family and Dong Bin took us to a noraebang across the street because we asked for some guidance.  Silly me. I let the fact that every 100 meters has a new noraebang keep from choosing which one to go to for our first time! Noraebangs, Siktangs (restaurants), Hagwans (after school academies) and make up shops are everywhere.   Elise loved the tamborine, they loved the English song selection (pretty much anything minus our favorite musicals. They did have some Les Mis that turned out amazing!) and we especially loved that they put no thought into the what images played in the background.  There was one children's song that basically had girls pole dancing in the back. Agh! Yes, we also did some Gangnam Style.

We also had a birthday dinner for Halmoni, Hannah and Chris' cousin.  It included a whole ton of samgyeopsal (pork belly=happiness) and raw halibut.  I snuck my halibut on the grill. Shh. Don't tell anyone. We sang happy birthday three times so nobody missed their wishes, a little like in Reply 1988.  Hannah got the English version.  Today was Hannah's real birthday so we let today be her last day of Korean school and sent her off to ride her first Segway.  They're only $10/hour to rent here so Dong Bin, Chloe and Hannah chased down small children with their new wheels.  (Ok, they didn't.  BUT Hannah did speed.  I'm actually not sure I'm ever letting her date, drive, leave her bedroom...)

Our last day of school was so Korean.  My teacher tried to buy us all lunch, but I out Koreaned her.  I was pretty slick.  They didn't even know the bill had been payed.  Then after our wood shop exursion (we made pens on the lathe and cut little animal puzzles from a saw that I swear he said couldn't cut fingers? The dangers of translating safety instructions.) our school tried to treat our family to dinner also.  I already feel seriously indebted to them as they have been angels with the patience and kindness that they've shown our family over the past two months.  Did I mention that this was a free school?  They are just a bunch of sweet ladies that put up with a whole lot of sass, some tears and plenty of empty stares as the girls had no idea what they were saying for a lot of the time there at the beginning.  If/when we come back, hopefully they won't lock the shutters when they see us coming.  I'd love to have us attend there again.

Tomorrow we are off to Jeju-do (do=island, pronounced doh, Homer style) Hopefully there will not be anymore typhoons and enough sunshine to climb Hallasan (san=mountain) and the Olle Trail.  We will try Jeju's famous black pork and let you know if it tastes any different than...pink or white pork.


Sunday, October 9, 2016



Bad mom confessions.  Lilly hurt her ankle on Thursday and I ignored her complaints (because she had spent the previous week chronicling every mosquito bite and minor bruise on her body) until we couldn't get her shoe on for school on Friday morning. This, of course, was 4 hours before our train left to Jinju for the lantern festival.  So we bought her a brace and tried to limit her walking, which is kind of impossible in this land of public transportation.  When I don't exercise in the morning, I still average 5 miles a day.

Jinju was great.  On our shuttle bus to our guesthouse (guest houses for the win! 6 twin beds makes this momma happy!) we passed by a big hullabaloo that we quickly figured out was the Korean Drama Awards...and there was a red carpet surrounded by a bunch of girls in school uniforms.  I hate to confess this on the blog, but the girls and I have kind of gotten into Korean Dramas over the past year.  Obsessed?  That's kind of a strong word. Addicted? Nah.  Do we enjoy them? Oh, yeah.  So our shuttle bus drops us off and we have to walk quite a ways to find our guesthouse.  As we are getting the run down at the guesthouse we hear the screams of high school girls at the Red carpet.  It was right around the corner. So Hannah quickly announced a change of plans and we went to have another pretty Korean experience that involved being pushed around by a bunch of fan girls.  Hannah is still bitter because she's pretty sure her favorite actor came before we were there.  We only saw a few people arrive but actually recognized one from a show we've been watching in Korea.  Funny story. On Friday morning, Hannah said she wanted to see a famous person in Korea.  Done.
                                    
As Chloe said, the Lantern Festival was lit. They had lanterns you could make and float down the river but they also had huge themed lanterns all along the river that ranged from historical lanterns to Disney lanterns.  My personal favorite was the part that was above the river, along the fortress wall. I kind of have a thing for fortress walls.  They're beautiful!  This fortress wall was a little ruined with displays for the festival, but it was still pretty amazing.  All of the "lanterns" on the wall either were related to Korean culture (games, food, period costumes) or they helped tell the story of the Imjin War in 1592.  Yep, the lantern festival is more about celebrating an important battle than about the romantic notion of sending lanterns, complete with your wishes, down the river.  The girls found a musical going on and it turned out to be a musical about the Imjin war. It was really well done for a free musical at a festival.  We loved it, even if we only got to see the last 15 minutes of it.  The rain let up a bit (apparently I brought rain to Korea...they've had more rain for this month than normal. Feeling a little bad about that but I do enjoy the rain.) so we headed to make our lanterns. Hannah didn't want to join in on the lantern making festivities so we told her to watch. Of course she changed her mind as I was paying and then was like a little kid as she followed her lantern down the river.  Silly Hannah.  Some of the girls made deep wishes about us being kind to each other and some of us wished for a trip to Harry Potter world.  They all write their Korean names on their lanterns and released them down the river.  Was it a little crazy to take a a train to a tiny town, paying for the most expensive guesthouse yet so we could release lanterns down the river? Absolutely.  It was a short but fun trip that made me glad I have daughters.  I don't know if I could have gotten sons on board for a lantern floating excursion.

Side notes:

Lilly's ankle was worse when we came back. I suck at parenting.  Don't worry. She riced it all day and it's much better.   Koreans are more into rhce. They think ice is horrible for sprained ankles.

The girls tried snails! I thought 3 out of 4 liked them but have been corrected. Chloe liked them.  She actually wanted more with breakfast this morning.

We've now made it through 2.5 sessions of conference. I loved Jeffrey R Holland's home teaching talk and Quentin L Cook's talk about looking beyond the mark.  Conference is the best!



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Well, I did it.  I went to a Korean bath house (jimjilbang) today.  I am a pretty modest person so it has taken a good 3 months of internal pep talks and Internet research to get me through those doors.  A Jimjilbang is actually a little more than a bath house as there are saunas for clothed folks (matching shirts and shorts that you get upon arrival) and there are rooms for you to sleep in.  It is a super affordable travel option at about $10.

During my first week here, family offered to take me to a jimjilbang and I nicely refused them.  I still wasn't sure if I could handle being naked with a bunch of tiny Korean ladies, much less being naked with tiny korean ladies that I know.  When I finally decided to give this thing a try (you can't come to Korea and not go to a bath house, right?), I opted to fly solo.  I figured I rather be a little clueless than be with naked with my mother in law.  

I'm pretty sure you are supposed to do the bath house portion of the jimjilbang first and then go to the clothed sauna portions.  I decided that I would do whatever I darn well pleased today as I couldn't handle the scarier part until I was seriously relaxed.  I threw on my uniform and ran away from the dressing room. (Ok, no running. I was a grown up about it all.)  They had different rooms for you to sauna away in with different temperatures. I started off in the 39 degree salt room (you are laying on salt rocks) and after feeling pretty relaxed, decided to move to the 49 degree salt room. At the beginning, I felt like I was going to leave with burn marks all over my body. As I acclimated, I hit a point where I think I could have fallen asleep.  Maybe I was starting to cook?  I then headed to the ice room, which felt pretty cool (hehe) after the previous one.  I then decided to repeat the cycle but this time around the 39 degree room wasn't hot enough so I went to the 49 degree one. So relaxing, folks. Maybe it's just the mom in me, but it felt rejuvenating to lay on what felt like a bed of burning legos, using a big ole salt block as my pillow. There was another room that was shaped like a oven and said 72 degrees.  The Korean on the door had the word fire on it. Because I've read Hansel and Gretel, I decided to skip this one.  No need to be grilled up in Korea.  Now I was sufficiently relaxed and running out of time.    Never go to a jimjilbang when you have to meet your kids in 2 hours. More time would have been ideal. 

Now to the good part.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I never fully adjusted to locker rooms in high school, I really don't dig being in the swimming pool locker room. But I did exactly what Lilly told me to do. Get naked and forget that you are.  Best words of jimjilbang advice ever.  From the mouth of babes. They have different pools that you move back and forth from of varying temperatures and contents. One pool was purple. I'm not sure what I was soaking in but I'm pretty sure it had plenty of health benefits. Right? Another one was mugwort and there was a long ole list of health benefits on a sign. But it was in Korean and I didn't have a phone on me to translate. It probably cured me of at least 10 life threatening ailments.  There were also two saunas (49 and 72 degrees. Celcius, of course.) I went back and forth between cool and hot, every now and again going to the cool sauna. Cool as in it didn't kill me. It had this strange combination of "I don't feel like I can breathe" and a tingly feeling as my pores were releasing every toxin they could. Ok, I don't actually know what my pores were doing, but it felt pretty dang good.

 I was doing all of this while waiting for the ladies in their underwear to call me over.  At every bath house, there are ajummas who over an intense scrub down. I don't know how much it normally is, but I handed them 20,000 won ($18) and I got a full body scrub and a cucumber mask.  (They had a price list but I didn't have enough jimjilbang vocab to make any sense of it.  This was pretty intimidating as I'd read that they scrub every nook and cranny but I sucked it up, took of my big girl panties and made it work. I basically used an age old technique used by toddlers. If I can't see you, you can't see me.  At this bathhouse they have you lay on a massage table of sorts for your scrub down. It takes about twenty five minutes and takes off so much dead skin that you see big balls of dead skin all over the table, despite the ajumma's continual cleaning of the table as she scrubs you.  The cucumber mask was freshly grated cucumber and did a superb job of keeping my eyes closed.   Every nook and cranny. Every now and again, she would throw warm water all over me and start again.  She ended with some pounding, stretching and massaging.  I've had massages before but this was a whole new realm of relaxation.  There are no words.  It was the most...agh! Really. No words. But I suddenly understood why this is such a huge part of the Korean culture (up to now I thought it was just to compensate for their tiny bathrooms at home). This isn't something just for women. It isn't just for older folks. I only saw a few kids because I went in the middle of the school day (strategically so!) but normally there can be generations that go jimjilbanging together, scrubbing each other down and talking together.  And then I had a realization. I am soon going back to a land that is short on jimjilbangs.  The nearest one to my home is 4 hours away and 4 times as expensive.  I think we need to move to Korea.  I'm pretty sure I could handle anything life throws my way with a weekly trip to the bathhouse.   So all in all, it was a pretty life changing week. I now eat kimbap (guess what I had for lunch today??) and I visit jimjilbangs.  Lilly is excited to go to one together before going home. Everyone else refuses to go with us, which is why I think we should go to the one with an indoor waterpark.  You can call it manipulation but I call it natural consequences for refusing to try scary things. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

wang halmoni

I met Halmoni for the first time when Rachel was a tiny baby.  She brought her a little pink dress for her 100 Day celebration, along with all of the requisite good jewelry and a baby hanbok.  And I have loved her ever since.  She is one of my all time favorite Korean people.  As much as I love her to bits and pieces, I have always worried that the connection that I felt with her was one big miscommunication.  She doesn't speak any English and I don't speak Korean. Maybe, as sweet as I thought she was, she was actually yelling at me in Korean this whole time?  My Korean skills are now better than they've ever been (still pretty mediocre, but we are measuring improvement, not fluency, right) and as I was heading to Korea, I just hoped that my improved Korean would keep Halmoni as the nicest Korean that I know.

It has been a little over a month now.  Our family brought 7 new bodies into her little apartment, along with a whole heck of a lot of luggage.  She comes and goes in between her apartment and Chris' uncle's apartment.  She deals with us and all of our crazy a lot.  She is patient. She is tender and loves hugs.  She thinks Autumn is hilarious despite the fact that some might consider her sense of humor crazy and disrespectful.  She misses Rachel. She values family.  She taught me how to run her apartment.  She taught us how to pee in the pot. (Don't ask. We still don't understand that conversation.) She worries about us. She reads my mind and buys the same things I do at the grocery store. She reads her scriptures daily.  She is so patient with us and our sketchy Korean.  Did I say she's patient yet? In the time we've been here, she has gripped us out many many times but now, I understand what she's saying. Eat more rice!  I bought you apples.  Eat them! Did you eat breakfast?  You need to eat more!  

Today I got to hang out with her while the girls were in school. We talked about our very wet picnic yesterday and had a good laugh. Like any proper Korean, she followed up asking if we were all sick now.  We talked about the weather around here (I can do weather!) and talked about Oregon. As always, she asked me if I miss Autumn and Rachel.  She wants Autumn to come back here when she doesn't have school and misses her "man-ee" (많이).  She went for a walk and brought back a bag of kimbap for us to share.  My family all knows that I have tried for at least 8 years to like Kim.  (Seaweed)  Every now and again, I make an announcement that I'm going to make myself like it. My kids have even tried to present it to me in ways they think will be yummiest.  My resolve lasts until my gag reflex kicks in.  It's really a sad thing but I did try again right before our trip (I had a theory that I could reset my tastebuds) and failed. Again. So here Halmoni (97!) goes and picks up kimbap and tells me to eat up.  😬  I did what I had to do and ate up. Guess what?!? Not only did I eat it, but I enjoyed eating it.  I took a two bite strategy that allowed the kim to not get stuck in my throat so much and it allowed the fillings to overpower the kim.  I was ridiculously proud of myself but also grateful that I didn't throw up on Halmoni.  I know this is silly, but Heavenly Father has helped me in so many ways on this trip.  Most of them are with trivial matters that probably don't matter so much in the end, but they sure have made this trip easier.  This little miracle allowed me to enjoy a lovely day with Halmoni and made our lunch a little nicer. We even got to FaceTime Autumn together!  I am so grateful for such a tender and kind example in my life and am especially grateful that I've had this time to grow closer to her. When planning this trip, I KNEW we were supposed to go to Korea now. In my "I know what Heavenly Father has planned for me" wisdom, I assumed it was to see Halmoni before she dies.  She is 97 and I assumed she was on her way out of this life.  I don't know how much longer she has here but after our visit, I will now be shocked if I hear she is even sick. She is one tough cookie! I don't think she got the news that 97 is supposed to be old. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Things I thought were going to be hard in Korea but weren't:

•living in an apartment smaller than the back of our house: turns out that I kind of like living in small spaces. Everyone is close at hand when you when you need them, cleaning is quick as there isn't much to clean and we hang out more. When the kids start getting on my nerves, they run down to the playground and all is well after 30 minutes of quiet

•not having a dishwasher: not as hard as it was not having a dishwasher at home. There aren't very many dishes and everyone has gotten used to washing their dishes right away. Also, the nature of Korean food makes the dishes easier to wash well. No cheese to scrub off and less grease. 

•public transportation being our only form of transportation: I actually like the freedom the bus and subway offer us. Of course, it is super cheap to ride here. It costs about $3 for the whole family to ride one way but this also includes up to 3 transfers within 30 minutes.  You can get anywhere on a bus or subway here and then you don't have to drive with the crazy scooter folk.  

•speaking the language: hehe.  Just kidding. That has been so hard.  So very very hard.  It actually is discouraging that we're going home when we are because I do feel like a lot of progress has been made. I wish we were staying longer so we could keep advancing at this rate. (When I say we, I mainly mean the kids)  

•sharing one bathroom: it's been hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. The girls have gotten a bit of a routine down, including a 5 minute knock for the world's longest showerer, Elise.  The banana milk prize for the first one in the shower has also helped!  The showers are a little different here so when I say shower, I actually mean "sit in a tiny bathtub and spray water on yourself".  It's a little cold but we've adjusted and it really isn't a big deal. The hand towels they use instead of bath towels? We're used to those too.  I'm pretty sure they use those because there just isn't room to dry a bunch of large towels.  And those Koreans are so tiny anyway, right??

•getting the kids to attend the Korean branch: I thought they might last a week before begging to go to the English branch but they're doing great. I think this is, in large part, due to the amazing American missionaries in our branch, who are also the yw leaders.  Who wouldn't want to hang out with sisters for all of your classes and activities?  They've even made the girls conduct in Korean! (with help, of course!) I did actually understand a couple of the testimonies today.  One was by the other yw in the branch who talked about how hard it is being the only Mormon in her school. She talked about how nice it has been having Chloe and Hannah in yw with her this last month...and it kind of made me want to stay forever. She is a super nice girl...one of those girls you want your daughters to be best friends with. Our goal is to get her to Oregon for a visit someday.  

•sleeping on the floor: I actually wouldn't know because I've slept on the bed most of the time. Ha! Nah, I slept on the floor while Chris was here and it was kind of rough for these old bones. The kids are sleeping right now though, so it can't be that bad.  

•not having a blow dryer or straightener: ok, this has been horrible.  My hair looks horrible and we have mirrors lining the elevator so I have reminders everytime I don't take the stairs.  I will overcome but I'm so sick of my hair looking cruddy.  

Hey, it turns out that the girls' Korean teacher lives around the corner and is going to start taking the girls to school.  When trying to figure out what I would do with my free time, Chloe said "Do what moms do when their kids are in school!"  I still had a blank stare as I've never experienced that, so she got more specific. "Do family history, mom!" So I made a game plan for this week and am pretty excited to get some family history done on my two free days.