Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections on Christmas in Korea

Santa came to Sacheon and I'm his Mum! Jordan donned the Santa suit for our tiny little church congregation last Saturday, and, with Gyum Jin interpreting, was able to hand out gifts (all donated by Kenny Anderson--along with the suit!) to the assorted tots in attendance. We had a whirlwind week with delicious food, like duck bulgogi on Thursday night at a nice restaurant with Gyum Jin and Kenny. It's more delicious than I can explain;
and kimchi bokumbop, particularly as prepared by a teensy little hole-in-the wall place by my old friend Erin's apartment, became another favorite! We actually had that dish twice. We found an adorable restaurant near the bus station which served it and decided to just eat there, tired after exploring Samcheonpo's bay market in the cold. But that version was just "nice," and I remembered the dish as far more savory when I'd eaten it with Erin before she left. Still hungry, Jordan suggested we sample the other also, so we walked another mile to the tiny, single owner place and bought the dish again--one serving, this time, to share. We watched her make it; and I'm going to take pictures of the little place later so I can remember always where it was. Jordan concurs--they make the BEST kimchi bokumbap by far!
But enough about FOOD (even though there's so much more to tell); Jordan was impressed as I always am with the local sights, smells and experiences to be had close to my home. These included this Buddhist temple, tucked up in the hills behind old villages, at the end of one of my favorite walks;
and the pagoda in Sacheon Park.
We looked out from each level and there are too many beautiful views, even in winter, to post them all on a blog, but here's one view of Sacheon.
We agree that the best way to experience Korea is in an area like Sacheon, which blends ancient traditions and views with current trends. We shared dinners with friends and co-workers, but on our own, we wandered through open air markets, village by-ways, the streets of Sacheon, the never-ending rows of fish vendors, Jinju's ancient castle (with Gyum Jin)and its historic museum, and sampled foods from street vendors and shops. There's a guy who daily creates a sweet loaf with a whole egg inside that you've got to try! My favorite thing to buy at the open market,though, besides pajeon, are these huge bags of rice crackers in multiple varieties. My students love them and so do I! This photo is actually from Busan, but it looks a lot like where I buy my stash in Sacheon for a $1 or 2 a bag.
My son was catapulted instantly to celebrity status by coming here. My co-workers, church friends, and students were so welcoming. But certain groups of students gathered around, popping by just to say "hi"...and one particular group of middle-school boys (the most entertaining group I teach) wouldn't attend any other classes while Jordan was in building! It was both embarrassing and delightfully heady for him
Jordan's back in the US now, finishing off his holiday with friends and family in Utah. I miss him horribly, along with everyone on the other side of the ocean. But, I'm deeply grateful for 5 of the most amazing days of my life--wonderful mostly because I got to share something new, dream-like, and foreign in my life with my best friend--my son.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2013! I hope this year, with all of the heartaches its bound to contain, also holds enough miracles to balance the scale.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Feelings of Christmas Since I don't know how to properly hyperlink, if you'd like to listen to this, just copy/past the link--it's the recent "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Perhaps it's because this choir is a constant for me--Mom played their records every Christmas, so I heard them, I'm sure, even in the womb--,but, nothing evokes the Spirit of Christmas more quickly than their music. The next thing that gets me feeling gleeful for Christmas is my son's arrival, 3 days from now! He's the one laughing in the front.
Who knew we'd ever be spending Christmas together in Korea? Then, of course, there's the fact that I'm teaching English to Korean kids and talking about the season continually. I asked a friend to purchase and ship about 240 little candy canes to me from America. They're a huge hit! Most American kids might toss 'em out, or just give some grunt of acknowledgement for the paltry little things. But everyone here adores them--far more than the candy corn I sent for. Too bad. So much for the title of my blog.
But, the students themselves, the way I feel about them, light the spirit of Christmas in me every day. Since the concept of Christmas is a fairly remote one to these kids, centered on"what I want to get" for Christmas, we've been chatting about the origins of Christmas and coloring some stuff I sketched and wrote up for traditional Christmas carols, on top of our regular lesson plans. I gave the kids free reign in color choices, and here are a few of my favorites so far:
This more traditional treatment of Mary and the baby Jesus (although the blond hair is a little retro, reminiscent of the 1960's religious interpretations)...
...verses, Mary with a red veil and blue hair, holding red-haired baby Jesus, wrapped in green swaddling clothes. While we reviewed grammar concepts and lesson plans, they also colored mother and child, including their hair, skin and clothes, in bright red, blue, purple, yellow, orange, brown and black. The interpretations of Rudolph varied from shades of brown, white or black to exotic techni-colors and cow prints. Plain ole' lyrics to Jingle Bells were substantially spruced up:
Santa's suit, face, and beard were embellished with every imaginable color--yellow, blue, black, brown, pink, red, orange....
And rainbow!
The middle-school boys, who've driven me right up to that proverbial edge, have kept me laughing more often than reprimanding lately; and THEY have been the most creative. From tender and subtle coloring (the traditional Mary above was colored in by one of them) to outrageous, they warm my heart this season and remind me of the joys of raising a son!
Have a holly jolly week, despite the disappointments and horrors out there; because "a merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken"(Proverbs 15:13).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let it Snow!!

By far, the biggest news in this part of the world is our snowfall, because this simply isn't done around here! Today 2 of my brothers share a birthday on Pearl Harbor day (or, that's when it'll be in a few American hours). So, it's somehow poetic--sort of--that nature has delivered another unique way to remember. I had no idea this was going on outside until nearly noon! Busy correcting papers (I teach from 2-9:30 pm), and watching computer generated TV, a Facebook post finally got me to look outside!! I'm waiting now to find out if we'll get a "snow day"--I hope so! Last day of middle-school students' final exams should warrant a snow day, don't you think? I know, if the issue was put to a popular vote, there'd be question. A cancellation would be inevitable in our forecast. We'll see! Don't know exactly why I want school to cancel, because I enjoy my job. But, I'm sleepy and would rather stay home to wrap presents, take a nap, and draw. I took the first photo earlier. It's much deeper now--I'll attach another when it stops!
YAHOO!! Most schools are ending early or canceling and that includes JC Academy! The kids have got to be so thrilled! Most of them write about the joys of snow fights and making snow men, but never get to do either around here. The snowfall appears to have ended, too! So, a walk is in order before hunkering back down to the original snow day plan. This type of winter view might not come along again, and I should see more than what's visible from my balcony.
So here's a bit of the view. Elementary school students everywhere are out inspecting the white stuff and making snowballs--even a few adults!
Snowmen are being formed from every large patch of snow, before wetter precipitation melts it all away! And some of my favorite sites are extra charming:
Like this rooftop behind my apartment, or this one across the street:
I'm sure the Buddhist temples look even more lovely, but I've already wandered around long enough, looking for charming little items to send home for the holidays and grocery shopping. I'm in the mood for more hot cocoa and sketching polar bears and pixies. Enjoy the season, whatever it brings!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Changing Seasons'm-the-christmas-unicorn. Everyone needs a muse, and my son is basically mine for music. As a young teenager he accused me of warping him socially, because I raised him on classical music and he wasn't up on all the trendy music of his peers. So, I empathized, told him that some day he'd thank me, and there after we spent the bulk of our time listening to HIS selections of music while in the car (which was often, since I free-lance painted everywhere). As a mom, I got a glimpse into what was filling his head. As an individual, my musical palet expanded. Now he Does thank me for his classical roots, but, to my unexpected delight, he also keeps my soul filled with musical selections I'd never have considered without him. I'm a big fan of Sufjan now--even if I keep forgetting how to pronounce his name. As it turns out, this first song I found and copy/pasted, isn't the one my son posted, but since I love it too, I'll leave it. And here is the correct link (I hope--it's what I'm listening to now). The song is a hodge-podge of what Christmas "means." It's both cynical and hopeful, reflecting the collective souls residing on this planet, which is why the silly boy genius artist is so universally loved. Thank heavens for technology, because it allows us to share. In saying farewell to Thanksgiving, and welcoming the Christmas season, I'd like to say "thank you" to Korea for many things, but here are just a couple:
Asian dragons. They are way cooler than ours--more serpentine and colorful. I wish I could've gotten a closer picture of these at the Jinju lantern festival. They're positively breathtaking. Click on it to get a closer view or google them.
Also, with cold weather settling in, I've discovered a brand of hot cocoa that I really love and mandu, which is far, far yummier than the European style dumpling. I also love that on every food item I purchase, the calorie content for the entire package is listed right on the front, thereby enabling my understanding of exactly how much damage I've done after compulsively consuming the whole package. However, there's less sugar in everything, so add that to the list of cool things about Korea! Oh, and for those of us old enough to remember when opening something wrapped in plastic was a simple process, it still IS here! Food is covered and sufficiently insulated, but you don't need a knife or pair of scissors to get at it. Crazy American packaging--
My students continually make me laugh, like when we played "stick the nose on the Ghost" (variation on the old "pin the tail on the donkey")! And I want to especially say "THANK YOU" to one of our young missionaries who's leaving for a new area this week.
See the tallest guy in the line up? That's Elder Mortensen. He's from Utah, and has been here for months. He serves as translator and helps keep our tiny branch together. I unexpectedly cried like a baby today. It's his last Sunday in Sacheon, and he's become something like a son to me. Since I don't generally get very attached to missionaries--they don't stay in one place long enough--this tells you what a great guy Elder Mortensen is. He shared his Nyquil when I was sick and tries to be all things for everyone. Luckily, Elder Campbell, the other tall American, is pretty darn great too. But Elder Mortensen will be sorely missed.