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Friday, May 15, 2009

Snail Mail to Dad dated 5/4/09

Rose writes (in very teeny letters on a 4x6" folded card):

"Dear Dad,

It sounds like you really want to know what life is like in Korea, so I am going to try to tell you. So I'm writing really small, because I can tell a lot if I just have the space and time.

So I wake up every morning to the musical alarm of our two phones and my not-so-musical alarm clock, and crawl off of bed. Bed is three mattresses laid out together on the floor, covered with a couple layers of yoh mats. I share a couple blankets with Sister Pak Song Hee, and our companions share a couple blankets, so we are obedient to the "Companions must not sleep in the same bed" rule. Sort of.

For breakfast, I fish my 2-liter bottle of water (that I boiled the night before) out of the fridge and toss back a multivitamin, usually followed by leftover snack food--rice snacks, or sweet bread that comes free with pizza ordered from the bakery down the street, or Pak Song Hee's birthday brownies. I recently found a brand of milk that doesn't taste like one part buttermilk to three parts water, so I'll be able to eat rice and milk and cinnamon sugar--which no Korean would ever eat in a million years--as soon as I go shopping again.

As ten-thirty (or earlier, usually) I grab my bag and Book of Mormon and kick on some shoes and walk outside. We live on the 8th floor of Ooshi Gwanyon Apartments, a huge complex of fairly ghetto little apartments. On the way out, we bow to the gwalija, who is the little old man who guards the elevator of every apartment complex in Korea. I think they're all the same man. And we walk past the extremely intricate recycling-sorter station (recycling is required by law, and is free, but you have to pay to dispose of non-recyclables) and past the little playground and skating park that belong to our complex, and onto the street.

We walk about two blocks to the Sujeong subway stop (okay, four) past little stores of every description--corner grocery stores, "French" bakeries, pizza places, restaurants with pictures of their dishes posted outside, hair salons (each one has a very 70's-retro-looking barber pole spinning outside), clothing stores with the 'on-sale' racks set up on the street, shoe stores with rows of shoes lining the pavement, little booths that sell cigarettes and subway tags, trucks parked on the curb selling dried fish or strawberries or big glossy Korean apples. We walk down the stairs into the big, clean, modern subway stop, pressing our subway tags (mine is blue and hangs on the buckle of my bag) against little sensors to pay our way through the turnstiles. We get on the train and head, usually, for Busanjin station, where Sujeong ward is. Once we get there, it's apartment-hunting time.

Sujeong ward inactives are our big project right now. We just head out with a giant atlas of Pusan, with sticky notes on it marking where we think inactive members live. This takes us into either a big apartment tower or into a cement-and-corrugated-metal labyrinth (one of which is hiding behind every row of businesses) where we get well and thoroughly lost, looking for house numbers scribbled on the door with a black marker. When we find the right door (for an apartment) or gate (for a house), usually no one is home behind it so we stick hearts all over the door and leave a "we're-thinking-of-you" note and move on. If someone is home (and they don't yell at us through the door to go away, as has happened), we go in, sit down, chat, eat what we are fed (we are always fed something--it's why we never buy lunch), share a spiritual message, pray, and leave. Oh, and when I say "sit down", I mean on the floor. Couches are for setting bags down on.

Evenings are when we usually have something scheduled--teaching appointments, English classes, or Shiksas (meals). Shiksas are often rough, because I'm still uncertain about Korean table manners and sitting on the floor so long just kills your knees. The food itself I manage pretty well--just take small bites so you're always chewing something, finish your rice and your soup (the only things served to you individually), try everything, and pray that someone serves you water (in a little shot-glass of a cup) and leaves the bottle where you can reach it. The soups can get dang spicy. You will probably end up with a bag of leftovers you do not really want to eat, but hey--that's life. And you can eat anything with kimchi and it will taste like kimchi, so that's nice.

So we head home, bone-tired, at about eight in order to be back home at nine precisely. We plan, shower (in the shower-curtain-less bathroom--but I've looked at members' houses' bathrooms and they're all like that), move laundry from the washer onto drying racks or from the racks to the closets, boil water, make brownies, gossip with our roommates, read scriptures (I've finished the entire missionary library, so scriptures are all I've got left), say why we love our companions, pray, and go to sleep.

That's a typical day in Korea. Less frequently, but regularly, life involves things like gukbap(soup) restaurants, stops at the GS25 (like a 7-11--no gasoline, just stuff) to acquire water and Snickers bars (my companion) or kimbap and something I've never had before (me) or an ice cream bar (both). We walk a lot, but we are obliged to eat breathtaking amounts of rice, so no sister missionary has ever, to my knowledge, lost weight in Korea. Maybe the elders do.

I carry my photo album with me everywhere I go. I have not yet met a Korean who wasn't dying to look at all my pictures.

Our other chapel, Yeosan ward, is off of Koejae (Goejae?) station, so hopefully you can look up the Busan subway system and get a sense of the size of our area*. At least, I hope you can, because I don't have one. I do nearly all my travelling underground.

There are all these people in Pusan. They're stacked in apartments twenty high and filling every subway car. There are enough to keep a PC Bary (World-of-Warcraft-playing-place) in business every twenty feet, and to provide custom to a grandma selling groceries every couple of yards. I just can't fathom the monstrous number of people around me. The traffic always rumbles, the streets are always lined with red and yellow advertising banners two stories tall, the subway cars rumble past, and here we are, two frenzied Americans scrambling gracelessly through it all.

I'm out of space** and time.

I love you.


* Busan subway system map.

**I don't know why she wrote this, as she left the whole blank front of the card . . . blank.

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