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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Apartment and A Korean Funeral


RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum and Dad,

Well, the new apartment is fantastic, in a peculiar kind of way. Here's how it is:

It is about two and a half rooms smaller than our old apartment: just kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, other room that is supposed to be a family room but we use for hanging clothes, and the small rectangular porch holding the washing machine and a storage closet. The bathroom has no sink, so we're brushing our teeth and washing our hands in the bathtub. When we moved in, it did not smell funny, but it was occupied by a lot of STUFF left over by the elders: pamphlets and Books ofMormon everywhere, random bits of leftover food, old shopping receipts, shoes, shaving cream, takeout menus. I set to it with a will, and within two days it became a neat, pretty, well-organized little place with pictures on the walls, and we have about six bags of stuff sorted and ready to take down to recycling. And I have a new toiletry bag and some free body wash.

The washing machine was a bit of a surprise. I stored my almost-empty luggage next to it, where it would be out of the way, and put in a load of laundry. Twenty minutes later I came back to discover that the washing machine drains straight onto the floor, and the water just runs to the drainpipe at the other end of the room. So guess whose duffel bag went on the clothesline for a while? It just isn't an adventure until somebody's luggage gets soaked.

My bed is fantastic. After three months of sleeping sardine-style with three other girls and kicking Sis. Beh every time I roll over, I have a king-size bed all to myself, with sheets and a blanket and everything, and a headboard with fleurs de lys on it. I absolutely adore my bed. It is the best thing ever . . . except the little 'Natural Noise Making Machine' left over by somebody. I figured out how to operate it and fell asleep last night listening to crickets. It's like Christmas in this place, I tell ya.

So when I'm not in bed, I'm teaching investigators. Really. One day this week, we had three lessons! With three different people! And one of them came to church yesterday! Sis. Pak has high hopes that we might actually see one of our very own investigators baptized this transfer. We're praying like crazy, and I'm working on my Korean again (it was on hiatus last transfer as I tried to memorize scripture references I needed for pass-off). As the only missionaries in Yeonsan, it's really all on us right now. Well, and Heavenly Father. Him, too.

We have heard tell that Michael Jackson has died. However, this pales in importance next to something more immediate: the same day, Sister Lee Du Yeop, Bishop Ryu's mother and our sort-of investigator, passed away. She was quite an old lady, but healthy and active all the way up to the end. I could never understand a word she said, but she always tried to talk to me, because she thought that I must be lonely, the lone American in an all-Korean world. She had compassion, and for that I will miss her. She's also the only person who ever made Sister Montgomery resort to sneaking food into her purse, unable to eat everything that she was served.

We attended her funeral two days ago. Sis Pak doesn't know the English word for funeral, so she kept telling me, "We go to hospital. Sister Lee Du Yeop." Which left me a little confused . . . why were we going to the hospital in the interest of someone who has already passed away? Well, here's why. Because with practicality that is as convenient as it is marcabre, every hospital in Korea has a funeral hall inside it. Um . . . yeah.

The funeral was a Cultural Experience. The funeral hall looked like every other soup restaurant in Pusan--hardwood floor, low tables. But beyond it was a room with a wall of flowers framing sister Lee's portrait, with incense burning in front of it. We all went into this room and did a full, formal Korean bow, which means getting down on your knees, pressing your forehead to the floor, getting up, kneeling down and doing it again, getting up, and then bowing once from the waist as deep as you can go. Then we turned ninety degrees to where Sister Lee's children and children-in-law were lined up (the men in suits with a yellow band around one arm, the women in black hanboks with white collars) and did the whole bow again. And then we sat down and ate. Yep, welcome to Korea.

The hospital catered. The dishes, however, were all paper (I have never eaten off paper dishes in Korea) and bore the logo of Pusan Bank, which where I come from would be considered a little tacky. But that seems to be the way it is here: ancient ceremony and modern practicality harshly juxtaposed, the monumental events of your life tempered with the knowledge that your life is just one of many millions going on around you and there isn't too much time for everyone to focus on just you.

This week, I also spent most of English class hearing stories about the Korean War from the older people who attend the class. Brother Pak Gun Gi, the choir director, used to make his living shining shoes for the American soldiers. That sobered me quite a bit. The past here is harldy past at all--it's within living memory, times when war raged everywhere and food was more precious than gold. All the meals I eat, with all the endless bowls of rice, are in part a celebration: we have food. We have safety. Eat . . . our country hasn't eaten well in such a long, long time.

Also this week the government issued a 50,000 won bill. Up until now the largest bill was 10,000 won . . . roughly $8 or $9. Really. That was as big as it got.

And in other history news, Happy Fourth of July! I shall celebrate by watching 1776 in my head, and possibly setting something on fire.

Sister Ogelvie's boyfriend is serving a mission in Montana. He wrote her a letter gasping in shock that he had been obliged to eat Rocky Mountain Oysters*. Sister Ogelvie's reply: "Rocky Mountain Oysters? Are you kidding me? I eat weirder things than Rocky Mountain Oysters for BREAKFAST, EVERY DAY. At least you know what part of what animal you're eating! Stop being such a wuss!"

I like Sister Ogelvie.

I also like Liz. Liz is my electronic dictionary. It's made for Korean-speakers learning English, Chinese, and Japanese, but it's dang useful for me, anyway. In addition to being able to look up anything in Korean, I can also look things up in French (it's got a pretty basic 11-language dictionary function, but it pronounces things out loud for you) and learn how to write hanja and store pictures and read Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, which the former owner conveniently left on the hard drive for me. I couldn't name it Katherine, because that name is reserved for my someday-I-will-get-a-new laptop, but in keeping with my traditions of naming electronics after classic movie actresses, she is Liz.

Can I have the recipe for granola, please? *puppy eyes* It is so good and yummy, and breakfast cereal here is out-of-the-question expensive. Although I did make rice pudding this week, baked and everything; that was fun. And COSTCO opens next week! Yaaaaay!

And today we're going to the Haeundae Aquarium, which is rumored to be better than Monterrey. We'll see--Monterrey was pretty impressive, at least when I was thirteen.

And that's the news from Lake Woebegone**, I think. I love you all so much, and I miss you! I made Irish pancakes for another breakfast this week (the elders left powdered sugar . . . I would have taken it with me) and missed breakfasts with my family while I ate them. Sad day. But other than that, really, I'm just fine. Great. I have my own bed!


*Rocky Mountain Oysters . . . sorry, you're going to have to google that for yourselves.

**Lake Woebegone: ficticious (or mythological) town in central Minnesota, home to the many characters created by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.


  1. I hope you don't mind me blogstalking. My son Caleb Anderson is in the same mission. His letters are short and I need to hear about the mission from a sister I decided.... good writer and funny. Thanks for keeping it public. Check out his blog at

  2. From Blogmom: Welcome to the blog. How is Caleb doing? with the language? I'll check out his blog, to get a picture of the mission from an elder's point of view!