Friday, March 27, 2009

Shalom and community

Returning from Korea was a bit sad (as we weren't sure exactly when we'd be back again to visit Joo's family and friends), but there was also a sense of fulfillment as Joo felt she had gotten in three solid weeks of family time- a rare thing considering how busy people generally tend to be in any developed country. On an interesting side note, when I lived with the Digals in tribal India, with Siva in mountainous Nepal, with Dara in the rice fields of Cambodia, or with a family in Mongolia, there always seemed to be a neverending abundance of family time. In Guatemala, in fact, there is a saying, "Hay mas tiempo que vida" ("There's more time than we would ever want to use in our lives"). Compare that to the schedule of a typical American family, especially if there are children involved in sports, music, etc. Not that one is better than the other, just an interesting and pronounced difference...
That said, my parents have done a fine job of blocking out their time both to spend with Joo and me and with various community/church fellowship time. For instance, last weekend, we participated in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Several people at our church signed up to be either guests or hosts and then the hosts were told the number of guests they'd be receiving (without their names being revealed). We knew we'd be having four. Joo waited by the window with binoculars when 6:00 rolled around. The first car to pull in the lane held Carl and Elaine Newcomer- Carl was my mentor throughout high school. Then came Art and Mary Newcomer. Joo was delighted as they were, in her words, "two of the most fun couples she knows."
True enough, Siwon's recent teachings to us in laughter therapy were more than fulfilled with an evening full of culture, story-telling, and massage. Siwon (Joo's best friend) had given us a special foot massage mat that stimulated nerves going to all areas of the body, and we combined that with our Argentinian head massager to give a head-to-toe experience.
Meanwhile, Heather was busy gallavanting around the historically imbued sands of Egypt with her friend Kristen. I have yet to hear the nitty gritty on the trip, but I'm sure it was a fabulous experience and she successfully topped me in terms of number of continents visited (she now has 5 to my 4).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Art, Korean culture, family and friends

DalKong dropped us safely off at an art village just in time for her to meet her "boyfriend" (She saw another dog on the opposite side of a glass wall and they raced back and forth trying every way possible to reach each other... ahh, the frustrations of love are not limited to humans!) We however enjoyed exploring various exhibits and artistic displays including this building that was constructed around a tree. There were also bountiful expressions of child-created art which often centered around bodily functions...

The art village was nice except for the fact that every single building had a separate admission fee and so we ended up just walking around and talking without going into many places. That was fine with me though as I was enjoying the family time as much as possible since that was our main reason for this Korean trip. :)
Back at the apartment, we had a nice party with lots of fresh fruit; one of the rare times on the trip when all the family was gathered together in the same place at the same time.

As we only had access to our camera for a couple days of this trip, I unfortunately didn't snap many pictures covering the culture, but here are a couple crucial items. One thing I specifically like about Korean culture is their wide array of healthy things to drink. From a wide array of exotic fruit juices to hundreds of teas to mashed roots and leaves and even some that I still have absolutely no idea what is in them... they often come either in a tiny glass bottle or a foil pack kind of like a CapriSun
Another thing I like are ways in which they've held their own in the face of Westernization. For instance, the concept of blood flow and temperature of the body are extremely important to the point where many foods are considered "hot" or "cold" (and it has nothing to do with their physical temperature but how they make your body energy hotter or colder). Another way to shift blood flow is through acupuncture, blood-pumping machines that give huge hickeys, or deum (pictured below). To use a deum, you place them on certain key points on your body depending on how your energy balance is off and then you light them on fire. As it slowly and slightly painfully burns down to near your skin, the blood is brought to that area which theoretically helps the overall flow throughout your body.
And of course, no Korean apartment would be complete without a kim-chi refrigerator or a rice cooker. The rice cooker makes the rice and then keeps it warm to be eaten at virtually every meal on every day. In fact, when Koreans refer to food, they simply use the word for rice. "Have you eaten rice yet?" "Shall we go eat some rice?" etc.
I had never enjoyed wearing glasses, but I had a new pair made cheaply in Korea and they turned out to be particularly comfortable...

A second major reason for our trip to Korea was a battery of health tests/exams (since we don't have insurance in America). Joo hadn't had a dental checkup in years and I won't mention the number of cavities plaguing her but it was in the double digits. Thankfully, Jusu's good friend from university Ji Won is married to a dentist, Park Jeong Min, so Joo felt safe with him (dentists have a reputation here kind of like car salesmen in the U.S.- you have to get one you trust). After an hour or more of reconstruction which could have been very expensive, we were gratefully shocked when Jeong Min gave us a 50% discount off of his already low prices. We then went out for coffee and a meal with Ji Won and their daughter Rachel.
Now when it comes to Korean children, I have mixed memories. I have some memories of how dealing with 20 screaming children and seemingly undisciplinable kids drained me quite low after two and a half years of teaching. But I also have loads of beautiful memories of how their energy can be channeled in constructive and creative ways that blew me away. Their innocence, excitement to learn English, cute ways of expressing themselves with the little vocabulary they knew, blatantly honest way of describing they way they perceived differences between America and Korea, etc. Rachel brought out all of the positive memories as I spent three hours conversing with her in English about a very wide range of topics considering that she was only 7 (6 in American age). She also emerged victorious over JooYeon, Jusu, and Kiwi in an intense game of Simon Says.

And on my last day in Korea, I finally ate the last item on my list of Korean foods I had been craving- dolsot bibimpap (a mixture of hot pepper paste, rice, egg and vegetables served in a smoking hot stone pot- it's exquisite how the rice on the bottom of the pot gets crispy by the end).

Kiwi and I spent our final brother time in a short "family love meditation" where we focused on each of our family members one at a time and on their healing/peace involving any current struggles or stress. Joo's best friend Siwon came over to spend the night in a little final slumber party.

And so tomorrow morning, we leave early for the airport and our 20 hours of flights/layovers on the way back to Ohio... anyunghi gyeseyo Hankuk! (stay in peace, South Korea!)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


We finally got our camera back (although unfortunately they neglected to fix the video option) and so I can udpate the blog with some more pictures of our trip so far. Jusu's art exhibition was highly successful with her receiving another exhibition offer, a part-time job offer to illustrate some books, and several museum curators who wanted to see more of her work.

Joo spent a lot of constructive time with her friends, not only catching up on stories from the past year, but also sharing some effective life tools with each other (Joo taught her friends about some yoga techniques and family conferences and her friends taught her a positivity method called EFT and gave us a huge interactive foot therapy mat). I joined in on some of these meetings and it was euphoric for me to see how much, in addition to the deepening of our relationship, Joo has grown as an individual throughout our year-long honeymoon.

This is her friend Hyo-won talking to her nephew on a video phone while we met at a coffee house. Incidentally, as we were leaving the coffeehouse, Joo whispered to me, "I think we just passed a girl we met in Peru..." So we turned back, and sure enough she was right! It was a Korean girl we had shared a small cramped boat with on Lake Titicaca and then danced the night away together with in traditional garb on the island of Amantani!

Although I dove fully into the Korean way of life again, it was hard for me to ever shake the uncertainty at the back of my head as to the plans for our next year(s). I had applied to three grad schools and not heard back from any of them. The pressure was on because I had to keep meeting with her family and I wanted so badly to be able to assure them that I was taking good care of JooYeon in America- not only emotionally but also financially. Then, about halfway through, I got a letter from Teach for America - which was a nationwide teaching certification program that was essentially our Phoenix, Arizona option- and that was a rejection. As it was our least desirable of the three options at that point it wasn't a huge letdown, but it did serve to put an intensified pressure on the top two options.
At this point, all the little things that I disliked about Seoul (like the traffic shown above) began pestering me a bit more than usual and I struggled to stay in good spirits. I wrote to a few close friends which definitely helped out a lot, and I can't overemphasize the encouragement JooYeon gave me by constantly expressing her faith in me and that whatever was best for us would eventually work out (she later told me that she has acquired this patience from observing and relating with my mom). I also began to meditate on the fact that the deeper meaning in life depends not on when we succeed or fail, but on how we process and handle every situation along the way.
Then, just as I was beginning to move towards a plan B and start applying for some high school jobs, I got my letter of acceptance from Ohio University... not only was it a full scholarship but also a healthy stipend for teaching 4-5 undergraduate classes a week. I was thrilled as this option was a dream combo of studying math (my passion) again and teaching undergrad students (no offense to the elementary students of Korea but my energy levels had just been drained and I've always wanted to teach at the university level, even if it is just as a teaching assistant). We had also really resonated well with the Athens area- the nature, people, school, organic foods, etc.
I haven't accepted it for sure yet because we're still looking at a math grad program in Connecticut as well, but at least we can now rest assured that we will have at least one desirable option in the fall and her family doesn't have to worry as much about her wellbeing in America. So Joo put together a little party and we celebrated with some fruit and champagne...
And then DalKong the dog drove us to our next destination, but I'll update more on that in the next blog...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Meet the in-laws...

Joo and I have been in Korea for about a week now, spending the days diving into complicated governmental and financial labyrinths and the evenings with her family in their Seoul apartment. This post will just be a quick introduction of her family because our camera is getting fixed at the moment so we don't have many pictures. Above is DalKong, the poodle that gets to come with us everywhere (some times secretly if dogs aren't allowed) and gets into all sorts of mischief but is of course lovable at the same time.

Next is Changmonim (her real name is KimSooJa, but whenever I call her that everyone just bursts into laughter at how awkward it sounds since Koreans refer to other adults by their relationship to you rather than their name - "changmonim" means "honorable mother-in-law")

Then we have Kiwi, who I can call by his real name (or nickname) because I'm older than him, but he calls me "brother-in-law."

He's 26 and just starting his final year of undergraduate university (normal timing for Korean men since they have mandatory military service thrown in there). We're quite close and spend a lot of time hanging out and critiquing music/TV/movie together while the girls shop, get their hair done or sleep (he's a night owl who typically stays up until 5 or 6). One of our main ones this time around has been Flight of the Conchords...

Then we have Jusu (who's older than me, but for some reason I can call her by her real name too). She's 31 and has been the central focus of this visit to Korea because she just graduated from a master's program in art in France and is putting together her first exhibition this week back in Korea.

The father is quite hard to catch on camera as he doesn't like any pictures to be taken of him when he's not in a suit (Korean tradition), but he is an architect with a keen interest in traditional Korean foods that are supposedly very healthy (lots of bones, blood, roots, etc.) So, that is the core family- more about our actual time here in the next post when we hopefully have our camera back!