I feel like I had my most authentic Korean experience yet today. We ventured out to our new Kodean class, which involves a bus ride at rush hour. The bus was over flowing with Koreans of all ages yet it would stop at a bus stop, nobody would get off yet more people would get on. I felt like we were seeing how many teenagers could fit into a VW bug. The little handles you hold onto? You're sharing that with several fellow bus riders. And then the bus turns and goes up hill. I felt like my core was working overtime to keep me from falling on anyone. This is where the genetic superiority of Koreans come in handy. The fact that their sweat doesn't smell made the bus ride a fascinating experience vs. a stinky experience.
More about our Korean class: Chris' Halmoni has a sweet lady come over a few times a week to help her around the apartment. This lady, whose name I don't even know, has been so stinking helpful and gone out of her way to help us find this class. It is taught at a center for families of Koreans in an effort to help them integrate into Korean society. This morning she came to our apartment and helped us navigate the bus ride across town and back, even taking us out for Jjajangmyeon just as the kids were getting hangry. Tomorrow she is coming AGAIN to help us make sure we know how to get there. It's like she knows how scared I am of public transportation! I am so grateful that she would go out of her way so much to help us get started with this school. It is a great opportunity for the kids to really get a head start with their Korean skills. Their class is 5 days a week/4 hours a day while mine is only 2 days a week for 1.5 hours. As if that isn't cool enough, the price is even better. It's free. Yes, I have to pray for the bus fare and the girls' lunch each day, but still!! The first email I read when arriving in Korea was the one letting me know that my Korean class was cancelled. Instead of feeling stressed or worried, I felt like it would work out. A free class that has options for the girls too? I feel like it is a huge blessing that will help us be able to communicate with our Korean family!
The girls start class tomorrow but I had my first class today. I really like my teacher's teaching style (practice, practice, practice). She worked on one principle over and over for the whole class. It was great! I have always struggled remembering vocabulary but I am finding that as I have to use the words I am learning, I'm remembering more. And despite the fact that my spoken Korean really stinks, I really can understand most of what Halmoni says to me. I'm looking forward to the kids passing me up so we can practice together more.
ps: Elise said her favorite thing about being in Korea is not having to listen to crazy things that Hillsry Clinton and Donald Trump are always saying.
pss: Lilly had her first run in with a squatty potty today while I was in Korean class. And she handled it like a rock star! I would have turned away and held it in but she figured it out despite the fact that she didn't even know they existed before! I gave them a lesson on using our "you go girl" (so glad I picked that up!) tonight so they can have options while at school. Lilly said she rather squat. The older girls say they're holding it in. I am still scarred by the squatty incident of 2011. I'll take the "you go girl" any day.
1. Autumn is a whiney walking partner but she does make me laugh (Valerie, come walk with me!)
2. Daiso in Korea is cheaper and has cuter stuff. Oh, and it is right around the corner from us. What?!? (다이소=Daiso. Complete with fountains to play in)
3. I love having a handful of parks nearby for the kids to play at whenever they want to. (And I can see them from the balcony at one of the parks for an added bonus.)
4. Korean kids doing Taekwondo is great entertainment. I'm ready to bribe the girls to sign up.
5. I am really enjoying an empty schedule. Cooking, cleaning, going out on little explorations with no real responsibility outside of our tiny apartment.
6. Less is more. I'm really enjoying being in a small space with less stuff to take care of. Sweeping only takes a few minutes. Dishes? There are just enough for one meal so they're easy to wash. (Our broken dishwasher helped prepare me for this trip!)
7. I love being able to hand the girls $$ and asking them to walk over and buy some vegetable or fruit from the little fruit/vegetable stands that line the sidewalk outside the apartment. It's a super cheap farmer's market that is close by and open everyday. The equivalent of 1.50 buys me 6 big cucumbers. $3 buys me a big bag of Korean melons. And there is a kimbop joint on every corner so the girls can just run out and pick up some kimbop!
8. Snow ice is delicious. I felt like a dork but all I found myself saying, over and over again, "it really does look like snow!" Imagine snow made out of milk. This is no shaved ice. I've just never seen or tasted anything like it. I kind of helped scarf it down. Don't you worry. I took the stairs on the way back.
So much happens everyday here that I am not even sure where to start. Right now, our day is so full of new experiences as we are seeing Cultural differences everywhere we turn. I'll try to quickly touch on a few highlights, I guess. And a quick disclaimer: I'm blogging on my phone and I have always felt like it hinders my writing. Scattered thoughts? Completely my phone's fault.
1. Koreans are just as hospitable here as they are in America. Seriously. They are so kind! From our first day here, Chris' aunt and uncle AND cousins' cousins (so real tight relations here) have gone out of their way to help us feel comfortable here. The cousins' cousins are 14 and 10, which is before the time in a Korean teenager's life where they have school until 10:30 pm Monday-Sarurday. This means we get to see them and Lilly/Elise now have a friend their age! They went to a trampoline house of sorts with 예주 (Ye-ju), we went to the night market together and then last night they went over for dinner. They have just been above and beyond kind. And it has helped Elise be less homesick, which is just plain ole awesome.
2. We are in the middle of this huge city (huge.) yet I went out to walk yesterday morning and found so many neat places. I found a park full of older Koreans exercising. There was also some serious badminton being played. Yes, during the Olympics I found out that people actually play this competitively but it still surprises me when I see people doing more than casually playing at a BBQ. There are exercise machines along the road and in every park that allow you to exercise different parts of your body. They're like playground equipment for adults and I'm pretty sure America needs them. So cool. My favorite find on my walk yesterday? A little exercise path that goes along a nice little manmade stream. It has little rock paths to cross over, exercise equipment (of course), mileage markers (darn kilometers) and it just makes you feel like you're not in a giant forest of high rise apartments for a little bit. I'm taking the kids there this morning.
3. My healthy eating! I don't know how much weight I'm going to gain on this trip but it is so hard to control your portion sizes when well intentioned Koreans are giving you more and more food. (And the words of my Korean teacher keep playing through my head : it isn't run if the kids don't finish their food. They're kids. But if you don't, it's VERY rude!) I was taught how to say "I only eat a little" and "just a little bit of rice" but they are useless. Last night, it was just Halmoni and I eating dinner. I dished up our rice and just gave myself less. Once I set the table, she proceeds to pile a ton of her rice into my bowl. I slowly powered through and ate it all even though I was stuffed halfway through. Halmoni immediately says "do you want more rice?" as she starts trying to dish up more! They're just so darn nice. So I try to take the 6 flights of stairs as much as possible. And I'm eating a lot of kimchi. Let's hope those are my saving graces.
Today we are going to attempt a city bus tour which allows you to get on and off whenever you please for super cheap. Tommorow? The girls start Korean school. 5 hours a day and it is free. It is designed to help part Korean families learn Korean so it sounds like a perfect fit.
1. We found an atm that allowed us to withdrawl money with a foreign card (yeah! This allowed us to go to church!)
2. We got all of us on the right subway to go to church.
3. We found our way to church despite my bad decisions. Instead of transferring to a bus, I thought it was short enough to walk. In the rain. I'm pretty sure all of the Koreans thought we were nuts as we did it without umbrellas. (The Korean folks love to stay dry. Everyone has their own umbrella on hand. In K dramas, you will be deathly ill the day after you get suck in the rain. Always.) We walked into church 5 minutes late and dripping wet. Korea isn't too different than America. The only empty row was front and center.
4. We made it through church. Bless those sweet missionaries that softened the day. Elise wanted to go home after sacrament meeting but the primary president made primary much more bearable for Elise/Lilly by inviting in an English speaking elder to help with the lesson. We doubled primary today and increased young women's by 150%. The older girls loved meeting a girl Chloe's age and are anxious for an upcoming mutual activity where they will learn to cook some food item that got lost in translation. It's a good thing they like her since she is the only young woman in the branch! Everyone left church excited to come back, which is what I was hoping for. Half way through I was losing my resolve as I was pretty sure that I was scarring Elise for life. Yes, she was won over by a sandwich break and a couple of games of uno, but she was won over none the less. (And in defense of the primary president, what do you do with 2 kids for 2 hours straight?)
5. We made it home from church much faster and dryer, thanks to a ward member who lives close to Halmoni. And now we know the best way to get to church so future Sunday's will be easier.
6. I learned the word for Holy Ghost. And I learned that I can sing Korean hymns just fine as long as they aren't speedy cheerful ones like "the is sunshine in my soul today".
Today started off with us waking up at 5:30 am thanks to our systems being a little off. We're hoping that we sleep in a little later tomorrow.
Things we discovered today:
•most ATMs in South Korea don't take foreign cards. Yep, I still am penniless here in Daegu.
•Appliance delivery is way more entertaining here. Imagine a motorized pulley/ladder that parks outside your balcony. It was pretty impressive.
•Jjajangmyeon tastes better when you get it for 3000 won (2.50) than it does when you pay $12.
•Daegu has a great set up for interval training. Their streets are lined with adult playground equipment...little workout stations every 20 ft that exercises different parts of the body
•Daegu Stadium is more than a stadium. It is this massive park with fountains, an area for riding rental bikes/segways/other wheeled toys, a track for exercising and if you're really lucky, a saxophone concert. (We have to go here again with all of the girls!)
•Our branch as 2 primary kids and 2 young women. We are doubling their numbers for the next two months IF we can find the building they meet in. The sister missionaries teach the young women classes, which should be a blast since the girls love sisters!
•My girls get along better when they are their only English speaking companions.
•My Korean is already improving. This is less of a commentary on my newly acquired skills and more of a reflection on how ridiculously bad I am at speaking Korean. basically, anything is an improvement. I am better at understanding as long as you talk to me about scheduling vs. your deepest desires. I'm thinking that I should make up a list of the few subjects that I am comfortable talking about. I can hand it to any Korean who is brave enough to talk to me! :) Hi, my name is Sarah. I have the Korean vocabulary of a 3 year old and would love to tell you what food I like, where I am from or how old I am. If you're willing to talk nice and slow, I might even be able to talk to you about our hobbies or families.
Blessing of the day: Word travels fast. I was worried about explaining the word of wisdom to our family but a friend of the family tonight said "no coffee? No alcohol?", to which I also threw in green and black tea with my elementary Korean. I'm grateful for whomever it was that filled them in on our beliefs as my Korean couldn't have handled that.
Today we rolled out of bed at 2:30 am to make sure everything was ready to go by 3:30. We just had some last minute toiletry packing to do and then we were on our way to the airport. Unfortunately, that last minute toiletry packing took Autumn's suitcase out of the car. And it never made it back to the car. When we started emptying out luggage, Autumn calmly said "I don't see my bag." I may have slightly freaked but Autumn never let her reaction go above that "I don't see my bag" level of a reaction. What a cool headed chica! I sent Chris home to fetch it and it was Autumn that pointed out that this wasn't the end of the world and that, bonus, she was wearing her glasses vs. her contacts so she wouldn't even miss her contact solution. As much as I feel like a complete ninkumpoop for forgetting a bag, I am so glad it was Autumn's bag. It reminds me of Autumn's trip to Korea when she was 11. The passport office had messed up her passport and we weren't sure if it would arrive in time for her flight. I was freaking out. Little 11 year old Autumn calmly said "Mom, it's ok if I don't go this time." So cool under pressure. I want to be like her when I grow up. Just saying.
Ok, so we're in Korea. We are riding the bus to Daegu as I type. Why the bus instead of the super fast ktx train? Well, folks, I'm traveling as a party of 6. We saved big bucks by taking the 4 hour bus ride BUT the bus leaves every 30 minutes, so we got to leave sooner than on the train. My anti-public transportation self is quite impressed with this bus. It's pretty swanky with wide seats, padded leg rests and reclining seats. Yeah for saving some $$ AND being comfortable.
Language update: the kids refuse to speak Korean to anyone and my Korean class just got cancelled because I'm the only one who signed up. (They need three students and they won't let me sign up my kids because it's an adult only class). Once we get to Daegu, things are getting real. Chris' sweet family will pick us up from the station and none of them speak much English. I'll let you know how that goes. The highlight of the day: when Chloe told me that the more I encourage her to speak Korean, the less she wants to speak it. I'm going to chalk it up to sleep exhaustion and hope she's back to her sweet self after a nap.
Blessing of the day: I was bracing myself for 90 degree weather with 100% humidity, which is pretty normal for Daegu at this time of year. I was just hoping I could deal without looking like I was on the verge of death. Yep, Oregon has made me a moderate climate wimp. BUT I can suffer through the sweat another day. Daegu has a week of cooler weather with less humidity forecasted and I am so grateful fr the chance to slowly acclimate. What a blessing!
A little trick that I learned while working with the stake camp director this summer was never ending to do lists. It may seem rather obvious to those of you who are organized, but her method is the only thing keeping this "go with the flow" sort of gal alive. It basically involves throwing up your brain into lists that live on notepads around my house. I make the lists and when they are complete, those pages get ripped out, thrown away and sometimes burned. (Ok. I haven't burned any yet, but I am thinking it could be therapeutic)
In a few days, we take Rachel to school and then run off to Korea. These to do lists are the only thing keeping me alive. Yes, I still add the items that I've already completed just to make sure they still get the recognition of a checked box. Yes, there are still plenty of items that don't get finished for several days. The important part? I am way more efficient and productive with the list than without the list.
a tiny Autumn and Rachel on our last trip to Korea. (DMZ)
Korea prep? I got my international permit this week JUST in case I want to drive on Jeju island. Driving is supposed to be fairly laid back on Jeju vs. on the mainland. I found a swimsuit and shorts. I got 8 loads of laundry completed despite the fact that my washing machine is broken. Again. New nikes for the kids. Organize the itinerary. Make an itinerary notebook. Debating, yet again, whether or not we should really stay with Chris' grandma or stay in an airbnb. (what if we kill her with stress?) Find a camera backpack that is fabulous. Sew a patch on said backpack to make it cuter. Cut off more jeans and sew them up so the kids get shorts for free. Gather school books. Order more curriculum so it is waiting for our return. Look for luggage. (everywhere. did I buy any? of course not!) Reserve a sim card in Korea. Suspend at&t phone plan while in Korea. Arrange insurance for Rachel. Buy dog food. Buy wart remover.
Just typing that list makes me tired. But here is the good part. I had an accidental conversation with my sweet father this morning (I was aiming for mom, sorry dad!) that helped me refocus my efforts. Yes, I still need to take care of some practicalities. Folks, we can not buy clothes in Korea. Too many curves. But my dad gave me a very gentle and inspired reminder that there is work waiting for us in Korea. There is family history waiting to be done there and we will be lead in all aspects of our trip as we have a willingness to help in this work. Last time we went to Korea, it was in the miracle of the jokbo. A jokbo is a book of one family's records. The one that we found last time had 22 generations in it and brought us to Chris' 11th great grandfather (1587). Chris' mom showed it to us the night before we left Daegu because she thought we "might" want to look at it. I remember laying in bed that night brainstorming ways that I could possibly copy that information in the few hours that we had left before our morning train trip to Seoul. I woke up with the idea to photograph the whole book, page by page. I think there were about 1600 pages. I wouldn't have had the memory cards to handle that project but a friend of mine had convinced me that I needed to video tape our trip. Right before leaving Oregon, I purchased two 32 gb flash cards. Those flash cards didn't hold much video but they did hold our digital images of that jokbo. What will happen on this trip? I am not sure. I do know that there is a family history library in Daegu. I figure they must know more about Korean Genealogy than I do. I also know that there are at least 4 more books that go with that jokbo at Wang Halmoni's house. I'm not sure what is in them, but I can't wait to see. (and maybe I will photograph those also!) During my talk with the papa bear, I went from feeling pretty frantic to feeling peace. It will all work out in beautiful ways that we can't even imagine.
I've decided that I need to start blogging again. I know. I've decided it before only to quite again. I'm not promising anything, but we are heading out on a pretty epic adventure and I just want to make sure it gets recorded! In just a few weeks, after we drop Rachel off at BYU, we are flying to Chris' motherland. (No, not Mexico. No matter how much Chris wants to claim Mexico as his home.)
We will be staying with his dear sweet 97 year old grandmother and other family in the area. Because we are beginning adventurers, we are only going for two months. I say only now but it could be a long two months. I've signed up for a Korean class, which hopefully build on my very beginning Korean skills. I'm hoping the little Kangs will pick up on a little bit of language without a class since I can't find a class for kids. (I'd put them in school but the Korean school system has many characteristics that just might scar them for life) Oh, and Chris will only be with us for 2 of the 8 weeks. We plan on being serious tourists while he can help translate, but we will pretty much stay put in Daegu for the rest of the time. (Until I get brave?)
So we will go to Korea. We will hang out with our Daegu family. We will eat a lot of amazing Korean food. Kimbap, Bibimbap, Nangmyeon and a whole lot of Korean shaved ice. (which doesn't compare to Hawaiian shaved ice, says Chloe) We will find bathrooms, we will ask for directions, ride public transportation and order food. When we learn a little more Korean, maybe we will even do more than that. Seriously, though. We plan on attending the local Korean branch where I'm hoping the girls will at least learn some cute Korean primary songs. We plan on doing touristy things, but more than that, we plan on living it up like some super white Koreans. From what we read online, Daegu doesn't have a lot of entertainment and it is the hottest/most humid place in Korea. Although humidity stinks, we are going to Daegu so we can spend time with "wang halmoni". And to eat delicious food. Let the adventure begin!
Being blessed with 6 girls brings lots of joy and lots of chaos into our house. We get to do girly to the sixth degree and I enjoy every moment of it. Almost. My poor husband is outnumbered in a major way, but he did ask for it when he said that he wanted all girls, a mere 14 years ago.