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Monday, August 31, 2009

English, Plumbing, and American Military 8/31/09

RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum and Dad,

Top news of the week: the heat seems to be breaking. It's the thirty-first of August and I haven't broken any bones or fainted or had to hack off my hair (although I did get it trimmed today, by a less-active member friend of ours named Jin Mok Kwan, who decided that a trim wasn't nearly entertaining enough for her so she curled it like a movie star's into the bargain). I think I may have made it through the worst of Summer in Korea. Now there's just winter to get through . . .

The bane of my life this week has been my native language. Yes, that's right: English. I'm starting to shudder every time I hear the word. See, we met this woman at Jin Mok Kwan's hair shop who went to an English class taught by our stake patriarch. And we chatted with her and had a great time. And so on Sunday, when the patriarch invited us to drop in on the English class, we said yes. But when we got there, he said, "So you can come every week, right?" and we're all, "Um . . . no, we can't. Because we're not English teachers. We're missionaries." But Sis. Matthews compromised with him at every two weeks, thinking maybe we could find someone in this class who'd be interested in the gospel. So this week our two weeks were up and we went to the class again. And the patriarch greeted us with "How about coming once a week?" "Um, no, sir. We can't." "Well, I taught English TWICE a week on MY mission." Um, that's nice, but that's not how we do things anymore. Not in Pusan Mission, thank you kindly.

Anyway, he handed us the teacher's workbook and sat back for an hour and a half while we taught his class for him. And after class all the students (middle aged ladies all) invited us to come to lunch with them, but we had to decline because of another appointment. Besides, by then we just wanted to get out of there. Because it was evident by that point that they didn't want to buy lunch for us, or even for the gospel. No, they wanted to buy lunch for English.

Last Sunday a less-active mother and daughter came back to church out of the blue. Well, not quite out of the blue. Because after church the mother came up to us and explained that her daughter has her university admissions interview in October, and she needs to practice English with native speakers. And so . . . we sat with her for about half an hour, giving pointers, and then made an appointment to share a spiritual message with them at their home during the week. And at that appointment her mom fed us fruit and cookies and apple juice (not the kind of apple juice you're thinking: apples and ice pureed together. Applesauce and water. Apple slushee.) while the daughter produced a stack of papers for me to correct. And yesterday, up they showed again--a half hour before the end of the block, so two and a half hours late--with another stack of papers. English! English English English! That's all anybody seems to want from us! They won't touch the gospel with a ten-foot pole, but will feed us cookies and watermelon and who-knows-what-all and smile and nod at everything we say just for the sake of prying English out of our mouths. As Sister Matthews put it, "We're like X-Men. English is our superpower, and the whole world's out to get it." It really does feel like that.

But that was the down point of an otherwise good week. We had a meal appointment almost every night, but none of them with crazy people. Although at one family's house I adjourned to the restroom to use the toilet, and found that it was blocked. So I was stuck in the bathroom for a good ten minutes trying to unblock this thing . . . fortunately, I've got a lot of experience with basic plumbing from six summers at Hackensack, which has a very finicky septic system. I was pretty embarassed, and the family was pretty embarassed, but they laughed it off and so did I. And after I got it working again, their daughter went into the bathroom, and then came out announcing "Neryo kan da!" 'It's going down!' which prompted her dad to tell me I must have done a good job.

The other great meal was with a family with the absolutely peculiar name of Tollet. Not Ii, not Kim, not Yoon . . . Tollet. The Tollets from Tulsa. They're members of the Camp Walker Military Branch, and they love missionaries and would feed us every week if we would let them. They made us RIBS. and BAKED BEANS. and KOOL-AID, which I haven't seen since leaving the states. And REAL KEMPS ICE CREAM FROM ST PAUL MINNESOTA. And offered to take me on base to go shopping for shoes larger than size 8. And they all speak English. Just English. So they don't care that I do, too. Whoop-dee-do for me. (Watching Elder Son try to eat his pork ribs with a knife and fork was very entertaining. A little justice in the world, after having so many Koreans laugh at me for asking things like 'Do you EAT the ginseng in this soup? Can you just eat it?' or dropping things with my chopsticks.) The Tollets live on the top floor of the most expensive apartment complex in Taegu, and call their landlord "Mr. Kim." This freaked me out, because in order to have the name "Mr. Kim" mean something, you've got to know only one male person with the family name of Kim. Military families, compared to missionaries, do not live in Korea or anywhere near it. They live in America. A big apartment full of America on the top floor of Lotte Castle.

Awwww crap I'm running out of time. Well, we had a ward carnival in Jungni this week . . . I painted faces, which was fun. And the finale of the evening was supposed to be everybody sitting down to watch Ice Age 3, which our ward mission leader has (bootlegged) on his computer (It's still in theaters), but he couldn't get the sound to work so we just ate and cleaned up and went home. Sis. Matt and I spent three hours trying, at a member's particular request, to make fortune cookies for the occasion, but she gave us no instructions beyond the ingredient list so they didn't turn out very well. (No, fortune cookies aren't Korean. Or Chinese either, apparently. Who knows where those things come from.) But we all had fun anyway, so 'tis all good.

And Kim Hyeok Teh, the "Golden" contact, called us. He saw us on the street and didn't have time to stop, but he called us to say he'd seen us and say hello. We were still fuming from Patriarch's english class at the time, so this was a bit of a shock and a complete mood-changer. Kim Hyeok Teh! He's not avoiding us! He hasn't been able to meet us since we first ran into him, and we figured he was doing the "Oh, I'm really busy" play as a way to get rid of us, which lots of people do. But him calling us out of the blue like that, when we wouldn't have known the difference, makes me think he really did feel the Spirit that day and does want to meet us again. So hopes are back up.

Urgh, gosh dang, my time's gone. I'll see if I can send some stuff, but no promises.

Gwon Ho Un is Korean, but served with the U.S. military. I'm not sure how. Dad should know.

Stay alive a few more hours and we'll have made it through August!* Love you! Make people do their visiting teaching, because people need to know that other people care if they're alive or dead!

Oh, Sis. Matt says thanks to Bethe for the encouraging words about the ear infection.



* The "Odd Year End of August Curse" in which every odd year at the end of August something disastrous involving broken bones happens to a member of our family. I don't know what wicked witch (or wizard) put this curse on us, or why. 8/01: Mom shatters her upper jaw in a biking accident; 8/03: a horse falls on RoseE and breaks her right hip socket in 2 places; 8/05: Teancum breaks every bone in his left arm falling off the monkey bars; 8/07 Teancum breaks one bone in his right arm skateboarding with his cousin. We're trying to reverse the curse this year.

**Bisoux: kisses (traditional French greeting)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thank You Note 8/10/09

RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum, Dad and All the Gang,

This is my official Thank You for the package I got just before I moved. As I hope you find enclosed, my compatriots and I had a good time disembowling it. Thanks so much for all the info on Emily's wedding! Is that what the cork is from? I was a little bewildered by the cork . . . And I was really excited for the picture CD, but I can't seem to get a computer here to read it. I'll keep trying and see what happens. Maybe a picture printing place can do it.

So the [Hershey's] kisses that the elders and I didn't eat I used to make chocolate-covered pretzels for Bro. Cho's baptism. Or I tried. I've discovered that candymaking is not among my skills as of yet. So they looked kind of a mess and had crunchy bits of crystallized sugar in the chocolate*, but the faithful members ate them anyway, bless their hearts.

Please tell Bethe she is on my list of people to write back and I have not forgotten her, but I ran out of time this week so it will have to wait until next. P.Day is not a lot of time.

Oh, by the bye, there's a movie called "Haeundae" in theatres over here--apparently it's a disaster movie set at Haeundae beach, which was right by my first apartment. So if you want to see what Pusan looks like, have Dad hunt it down. I doubt it's accessible in the States yet, but keep your eyes open. I don't think Taegu would be a very good setting for a disaster movie--there's relatively little of it to destroy.

OK, Korean Burger King has a new sandwich out called the "Angry Whopper". I'm not sure what makes it 'Angry' but I thought it was funny anyway.

And it's six o'clock. Sorry this isn't neater or more thorough--I'm on the bus, and you know what that's like. (It's like the Indiana Jones Ride, if you didn't know.)

I love you! Be safe!


* As Truly Scrumptious said, "The boiling point of your sugar is too high." (see Disney's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang")

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

to Bethe 17 Aug 2009

RoseE writes:

"Dear Bethe,

Welcome to the exciting world of Korean stationery. I don't know why this paper is an apple--it just is.

I have to tell you something I learned. The other day I saw a mug covered in pictures of different kinds of Japanese sushi, and it had the names of the sushi written in Korean, Japanese and English. And guess what the world for 'Eel' is in Japanese? Unagi! Like the sea monster on Kyoshi Island!* That's one japanese word I'll never forget.

There is a sushi buffet here in Taegu, like that place where we ate in San Francisco. We missionaries love it. One of the sushi chefs is friends with the elders and makes us special sushi, like bacon sushi or bulgogi sushi or duck sushi (like real duck meat, not the chewy rice stuff), and gives us free soda. We've eaten there every week so far.

It's also grape season here in Korea, so everyone is feeding us grapes. They have thick skins, so you suck the grape out of its skin and then spit out the grape seeds. They're really sour but a lot of fun to eat.

I love you! Thanks for writing!


*Kyoshi Island: this reference may give you the impression that both RoseE and Bethe have traveled in Aisa before, but that would be an incorrect impression. This is, in fact, another reference to an Avatar episode.

19 Aug 2009

RoseE writes:

"Dear Dad,

Here we go--a nice neutral landscape. The poem's probablly really girly but I can't read it and neither can you so we're fine.

I think your letters are backed up at the mission office, since the last one I got was dated 17 July and today is 17 August. I'm a little miffed about this, because I want to know if Taegu was in the Pusan Perimeter and I'll bet anything you've already told me but I can't just hassle someone to pick up my letters when they stop by the office because the office is now an hour away by train and nobody stops by it. But Wednesday is President's birthday and Sister Mom is orchestrating the surprise of having everybody in the whole mission show up to Pusan Zone Conference. She's not authorized to give us permission to travel outside our area, but we don't think that President will send her home when he finds out and anyway she's the one who feeds us Jello Salad (she has visiting friends and dignitaries smuggle the Jello out here in their suitcases) so our loyalties are firmly decided.

Man, I've got a lot of run-on sentences going on in this letter. You can tell I'm in a hurry, 'cuz I really want to get this in the mail tomorrow. I think I'm also subconsciously copying your writing style; I just re-read this and it sounds a lot like you.

Saturday night we got home a smidge early and were talking about our 'golden' contact* as we stripped off our stockings and got ready for bed. Earlier in the afternoon I'd suggested that the best method of celebrating this occasion would be to buy a big thing of ice cream (big for Korea--just larger than a B&J's) and eat it out of the carton. But we'd forgotten to stop by the mart on our way back to the apartment. Sis. Matthews mentioned this, then glanced at her watch: five minutes before we were supposed to be inside. I looked at her. She looked at me. And we went sprinting out the door, me without stockings and her in pajamas, to procure ice cream in under five minutes. We were shrieking our heads off and giggling like nuts, and I swear we made skidding, squealing-tire noises as we rounded the corner of the building. But we got our ice cream. Good times.

I love you and I miss you!


* a Golden contact is a person to whom you introduce the Gospel and they accept it immediately, without having to be talked into any part of it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Garage Sale, and "Zone Conference"

RoseE writes:

"Dearest Mum & Dad,

There was a Hutch Branch* party and I missed it? I missed seeing Megan and Linda? Awww, bites much. Darn it.

So here's the news:

This week Wednesday was Pres's Birthday. In honor of the occasion, Sis Jennings snuck EVERYone in the whole mission (Except the team on Jeju island, poor guys) into the mission office, some of them travelling a couple of hours to get there. When Prez came in we all sang Happy Birthday and did full Korean formal bows, which the Koreans taught us beforehand how to do properly. Three of the Korean sisters were wearing bright red-and-gold hanboks they'd borrowed from members. It looked really cool, and Prez cried and kissed Sis. Jennings, which of course made us all whoop and holler because we're missionaries and are not allowed to see that kind of thing.

So this meeting was officially 'joint zone conference,' because 'President's Birthday Party' is not considered a real missionary meeting, and we are no longer allowed to have 'mission conference' unless a general authority visits. So it was 'joint zone conference.' That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Oh, this is important: before I left Pusan I read an article in a kids' newspaper about a man at the Hershey factory who fell into a vat of chocolate and died. And so I wrote Grandpa Ben about it two weeks ago, but I forgot to put the blessed clipping in the envelope! So can you tell him that's what that letter is about? Thanks.

I got my name cards made today. They're going out in all subsequent letters, complete with genuine Korean typos. It wouldn't be a myongham if it didn't have a typo of some kind.

So the other big event this week was the joint Suseong Ward/Daegu Military Branch activity, of big yard sale, musical program, and dinner. The Koreans most certainly organized it, and only kind of let the Americans know about it at the last minute, which kind of disconcerted the Americans who have not quite figured out how to get along with Koreans yet. Koreans like showing off their kids' accomplishments (two languages, a musical instrument, and a martial art being MINIMUM, and that's of course on top of perfect grades, which are so necessary they're just assumed) so the Korean primary was singing and playing pianos and violins, and the American primary was just primary, which left the Americans feeling embarassed and annoyed and me feeling embarassed and annoyed for everybody concerned. Especially me, because they made the missionaries sing, too. What song? You Raise Me Up. No, really. They made us sing it. It's like the Real Korean National Anthem. We also did another song, just me and Sis. Matt, that actually was church-related and that I felt a lot better about performing in front of my countrymen. And I got to have chili for dinner, and the missionaries could have anything they wanted from the yard sale for free! So I got a fun t-shirt top thing, a gray dress that fits perfectly and looks great but also looks just like what nuns wear in Korea, a lace-up crop top of which Holly would approve and a pin-striped jacket that is actually made out of tight-weave mesh! You can't tell, but it's so much more comfortable to wear than wool or even cotton.

And this morning we went to Palgongsan, a mountain outside of town that houses a large and very old buddhist temple. It was SO beautiful. Trees. Plants. Birds. Two-hundred-year-old buildings. The world's largest statue of Buddha. We were 'handled' (a la Ju Di in Ba Sing Se**) by a tour guide from the Taegu Tourist Board, which was annoying, but he was very willing to take pictures for us. Yeeeeeah, we're tourists on P-day.

When it's not P-Day, of course, it's hotter than Hades. Sis. M. and I have been pounding the pavement looking up less-actives so we can give verified addresses and phone numbers to the ward council and be like "THESE people. Please get someone to home teach them so that we can do, you know, missionary work." We've been hiding under our buchaes (hand fans--how I ever survived without one I don't know) and ducking into post offices to get water and AC when we feel sick.

We've started to teach an older gentleman who lives right around the corner from Jeungni chapel in Lotte Apartments, which are the most expensive apartments I know. They're nice. His name is Gwon Ho U, and he's retired air force. He served on the Enterprise and flew 37 missions. He also wears one silver star on his flight suit--does this make him a general? I'm lacking in vocab for this particular topic. But he's come to church twice now and is making connections with the members, so we have high hopes of being able to teach him and really integrate him into the ward. He's so lonely. His wife's in the hospital, her memory all but gone, and his son, like everyone else's son, lives in Seoul.

Oh, query: did my CD full of pictures make it there intact?*** I sent it a looooong time ago but keep forgetting to check.

That's the news, for my time is short. I love you so much!


Blogmom Notes:

*Hutchinson Branch was our little congregation in Glencoe, MN

** a reference to an episode of Avatar where an apparently brain-washed woman named Ju Di very obviously tries to steer Our Heros away from What's Wrong With The Country, Ba Sing Se being the name of the place.

*** Yes, it arrived. Pictures will soon be available on Snapfish. Email me for the account info.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Avoiding Knife Fights, Traditional Korean Medicine, and Bidets

RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum and Dad,

I think that life is not going to get boring here in Taegu. It's been another week of absolute crazy . . . sometimes shocking, sometimes amazing, but never, never dull.

First off, cultural lessons. Sis. Matthews woke up early this week with something inside her left ear being swollen and painful. No fun. We dosed her up on ibuprofen to wait it out, but it didn't seem to be getting any better. At a meal appointment that evening, she had to apologize to our hostess for not eating very much because chewing was painful. And our compassionate hostess ran and got a box. Full of stuff. The stuff included little metal stickers, a pair of tweezers, a lighter, and a whole bunch of little cylindrical white things that looked like someone had cut a cigarette into short little pieces. Traditional Korean medicine, here we come.

So she took Sis. Matthews' hand and stuck two stickers on her middle finger, one on either side of the tip. Then she stuck the little cigarettes on the stickers. (We figured out later that they were filled with mugwort.) And then she lit them on fire. And they just smoldered and smoked and heated up, until they got uncomfortably hot and she took them off and then put them back on again.

Well, this was so utterly unusual that of course I wanted to get in on it, so I got little cigarettes on the tip of my middle finger (to prevent stress) and the middle of my palm (to prevent stomachaches). And we talked the elders into trying it, too . . . sissies. Whether or not it actually did anything to help Sis. Matthews' ear, I don't know, but we sure did have a good time playing with them.

(We also went to the doctor, who gave us some pills and ear drops, and whatever the cause, Sis. Matthews' ear is feeling better, so I guess that's a win.)

I also this week purchased a Tiny Bible. All the other missionaries have a Tiny Bible, smaller than the palm of your hand, that zips shut. Light, durable, handy. So I finally found one in a bookstore and bought it. It's green. :-)

I also got to do stats this week. That's keeping track of how much we do of what kind of work, and reporting it every night to district leader Elder Robb. Elder Robb is funny, but not because he means to be. He looks like Hugh Laurie, and sounds like Bertie Wooster when he's whining, which is funny to begin with. And then he gets all twisted up about the most irrelevant things, like having a junior companion report the stats. He told Sister Matthews that Stats are the Senior Companion's Job, and her handing that job off to me was neglecting her responsibilities. Sis. Matthews was squarely ticked off, but I laughed myself sick. I also enjoyed listening to Sis. Matthews tell him, quite bluntly, that her fourth-transfer companion was not a greenie anymore and not stupid and perfectly capable of handling stats and updating him on our day, which she was present for all of. The confidence of my senior is the delight of my eyes. Also her resolution to help me get ready to be a senior, sometime in my future service.

Elder Cook was in Seoul this weekend, speaking at the Young Single Adult conference. And all the Koreans got to go. So we had the apartment to ourselves for a night, and we celebrated by putting on the kettle in the morning and having our minimalist splash-baths in warm instead of cold water. (Day ten and counting.) Sis. Matthews also celebrated by finally working up the nerve to try the bidet. See, toilets in Korea span a wide range. At one end, you have the subway bathrooms, where toilet paper is not provided and where the toilet itself is not in evidence . . . just a porcelain hole in the floor, which does flush but that's about all the accomodation you get. Then at the other end of the spectrum you have the bidet, which is a fancy computerized toilet seat that will provide you with a forceful, adjustable jet of water to spray you clean where the sun does not shine. Sister Missionaries routinely get into trouble trying these things out. Sis. Beckstead and I both soaked our skirts; Sis. Ogelvie got trapped on one for five minutes trying to figure out how to turn it off. The bathrooms in Suseong chapel just got remodeled, so they've got these bidet things now . . . fancy ones, with seat warmers and air dryers. And Sis. Matthews finally tried it, and was disaster-free thanks to my coaching in the other stall.

This week we got pulled into a dingy little shop by the shop owner (I think he sells sheet rock or something) so he could speak to us very loudly and quickly about the Bible. Fortunately we didn't understand much of it. But the exciting bit was when he pulled, out of nowhere, this long, narrow, gleaming knife. Really, out of nowhere . . . there must be a little shelf or something under that table. He used this knife to peel an apple to feed to us, so he didn't ACTUALLY try to kill us, but you could have fooled our racing hearts. I thought we were going to have to fight for our lives. Fortunately I'm six feet tall and my companion's a Maori, so we probably could have taken one skinny Korean guy, knife or no knife.

Then later that same day a man stopped us in a market and talked to us (in English, so I could follow) for 45 min straight about how he didn't want to be forced to blindly believe anything and wanted scientific evidence for anything we expected him to swallow . . . which is why he is now a firm believer in extraterrestrials. Okay . . . . . . . He got really worked up, and we fortunately didn't, though it was hard with him yelling so fiercely. For a man who doesn't believe in God, he sure seemed to be pretty ticked off with Him. When Sis. Matthews got a word in edgewise, she showed him some passages from the Book of Mormon about the existence of God and the Plan of Salvation. And it was astonishing how quickly he calmed down as he read. Maybe he didn't believe a word of it (just because something's printed does not mean it's Real Scientific Evidence), but he calmed down a lot, and stopped yelling. And gave us his phone number. Which I think we're going to give to the Elders, along with Knife Guy's. They've been very upset about not having any investigators to teach . . . we're just glad we can help out. ]:-)
But here's the big news of the week.

So it's been hot. Dang hot. Sweaty and muggy hot. Our hand fans have been getting a workout, and we've been taking frequent water breaks as we hike across town looking for addresses of 'lost' less-active members. (Our ward mission leader called them that, and I thought it was quite evocative.) Nobody wants to talk to us when it's hot. Well, they never do, really, but especially, I mean.

Anyway, we were in a narrow twisty street, having just found yet another house where no one was home, when a man walked by. And stopped to talk to us, on his initiative, not ours, in a 'Hey, you're missionaries, right?' kind of way. So we chatted with him, learned about his family, told him what we were doing in Korea. And he still wanted to talk. We told him we were teaching about Christ, and how families can be together forever. We gave him a Family Proclamation with our number on it. And he still wasn't walking away. He gave us his name (Kim Hyeong Teh) and phone number and address. And he still wasn't walking away.

"Do you have some time?" we asked tentatively. "Could we sit down and talk?"

Yeah, he had some time. (Koreans never have some time.) We sat down on a nearby park bench.

"When do you need to go? Two o'clock?"


He gave us an extra ten minutes. This was weird.

So we started to teach him. About God, and how we communicate with Him through prayer. He was cool with that; he'd attended church for a while as a kid, and had prayed when life got hard. And we talked about prophets . . . much nodding; he was still with us. And Christ and the apostles. And then the kicker that after the apostles died, Christ's invested authority was gone from the earth, and so many people started churches interpreting scripture as best they could without revelation. (Usually this is where we lose people. As Sis. Matthews put it later, "This is the part where you run away.") But no . . . still nodding. Still focused. Still interested.
So I started talking about the restoration. About Joseph Smith, and James 1:5 (which he stopped the lesson to read over again). And then I shared the First Vision. And he listened intently to every word. And then he said 'Wow.'

Well, the Korean version of 'Wow.' Just a little sound in the back of his throat that nearly stopped my heart beating. Like he BELIEVED what I was telling him, and was amazed by it. He believed it.

So Sister Matthews took over from there, possibly because she saw that I was going to faint or something, and showed him Moroni 10:4,* where Moroni explains how you can know absolutely for yourself the truth of true things. And hearing him read that verse was amazing. Because I could hear in his voice that he was really, really reading it.

By the time we finished talking with him, it was 2:15, but he didn't seem to care. He set up an appointment to meet us again, bought us bottles of water, and walked us to our bus stop. And THEN walked away. Which he could have done 45 min. earlier. But didn't.

Sis. Matthews and I ducked into a convenient Lotteria to buy ice creams as a way of preventing ourselves from screaming or fainting or jumping up and down or otherwise behaving in a manner that would ilicit negative attention. Because he Listened. And call me crazy--call him crazy--but I think he believed it. I think he believed it all.

That experience right there was worth my 18 months. I would give another 18 months to do it again.

That's it, at last. Long e-mail. Pictures included, of Traditional Medicinals, the Roommates hanging out, and, um, I can't remember what the other one is. I'm sure you'll figure it out.
I love you. I'm glad I'm here.

*Moroni 10:4: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest tgtruth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. "

Monday, August 10, 2009

First Post from Taegu

RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum and Dad,

Hello from beautiful downtown Taegu! Okay, I'm not downtown, I'm at the city hall where I just got my foreigner registration updated, but still . . .

So I came up to Taegu with Sister Pak Seh Ra, on the train. The train was booked solid (how many people have to go to Taegu on Monday afternoon? A lot, evidently) so it was either A. stand for the whole trip or B. ride first class.

First class is pretty nice.

Taegu is about an hour northwest of Pusan (by fast train . . . so distance, I dunno), and it's got a very different vibe. Pusan's this big huge port city just sprawling all over the place and twisting through the mountains to build on any bit of ground at less than a 50 degree angle of inclination. Taegu is a round little city built in a neat, convenient valley, about 11 miles across. There is a river running through it, not big enough for shipping but big enough to be ornamental. It runs right by our apartment, so we can go outside in the mornings and jog in the park that runs along it. So pretty! There are ducks and cranes out on the water almost every day.

My companion is AWESOME.

Her name is Sister Pania Matthews, and she's from outside Wellington, New Zealand, and is a real live Maori. She is fantastic. This is her first transfer being full senior, and she's really good at it. I realized this when, my first night, she pulls out a map of Taegu and says, "This is for you, to see where you are. I hate not being able to figure out where I am. So here's the apartment, and the chapels, and our area goes like this, and here's the subway line and this is where the bishop lives . . ." That was when I figured we were going to get along pretty well. We've both had Korean companions for the last two transfers, so there are a lot of stories and jokes and questions and just chatter we've been saving up, unable to express, and man it is ALL coming out. Getting to bed on time is becoming a problem.

Speaking of bed, our apartment is tiny and dark and old, and in consequence I am actually sleeping on a yo. At last. It's not spectacularly comfortable--kind of like sleeping on an old blanket that's been folded in half and sewn into a pretty slipcover--but I've managed much worse, and it's nice how it just folds up out of the way during the day. And there is lavender on my pillow, so it's automatically lovely.

The bathroom is another issue . . . the management is doing some repairs, and they just shut off the hot water to the entire building. The entire building. Fourteen floors of like seven apartments each, and none of them will have hot water for two weeks. And, well, what are we going to do about it? So I haven't washed my hair for three days, but I did bathe this morning . . . very quickly. It was no fun. Tomorrow I'll try for my hair.

So in the six months that Sis. Matthews has been here, not much has been happening. Missionary work has been slow to nonexistant, and frustrating, and sticky and sweaty and hot. But this week has been crazy with bizarre missionary-related adventures. One night, we were walking home and ran into a Chinese woman who'd lived in Los Angeles for 25 years. She just chatted our ears off, and then invited us to her sister's Chinese resteraunt because she wanted to feed us mandu.

Sister Matthews looked at me. "Should we?"

Like I know? "Sure! Let's have an adventure."

So we piled into this complete stranger's car, drove straight out of our area (we had to make a quick call to Elder Robb (our district leader, and an Australian . . . welcome to the Pacific) to explain vaguely what we were doing and ask after-the-fact permission) and had really good mandu and then went home late. Bizarre.

The next day. It was the 10th anniversary of Sister Matthews' father's passing, and in honor of the occasion she wanted to go to the local sushi buffet, just to send her family a picture of "This is what I did on Dad's anniversary." And as we were on the subway, on our way to this place, a lovely girl started chatting with us . . . and invited us to lunch with her parents. Randomly. Even more randomly, because her father is a moksanim--a pastor of another Christian faith.
So Christianity is a little competitive in Korea. And while in America, the vast majority of ecclesiastical leaders I've met have been wonderful, kind, selfless, we're-all-in-this-together Christian people, there is a strong current in Korea of agressive, Bible-bashing moksanims anxious to have a larger congregation than the church across the street. And this particular kind of person has been known to eat Mormon missionaries for breakfast. So we're like, um, maybe that wouldn't be a good idea, and she's all like, no, it'll be great, come on, and so one thing led to another and there we were, being treated to lunch on a moksanim's tab.

It was a little bit of a strained meal. On the one hand, this girl (Heh Rim) was SO cool and friendly and awesome and I completely want to take her home with me. On the other hand there was her dad, and her mom, who were perfectly polite but very obviously uncomfortable with the situation Heh Rim had gotten them into of having to feed two of these cult missionaries who were sitting right there at the table with their blue cult books on the floor beside them. And the two other meal guests . . . members of Heh Rim's dad's church . . . kept trying to ask us "So what church are you from? And what's that book?" and the moksanim kept shutting them down. "It's not important. You don't need to know."

Well, you'd better believe we were on our absolute best behavior, and also were ready to bolt for the door. Heh Rim was so excited to have us for new friends, and got our phone number and gave us hers, and we thanked her father profusely with a lot of deep bowing . . . but we haven't heard from Heh Rim since, nor did she pick up when we called her to say Hi and Thanks, so we figure she must have gotten an earful from her dad later on. But maaaaan, she was so coooooool!

The next day we met on the street an English woman from New Zealand who was wandering around trying to find an address. We helped her to get where she was going, and it turned out that she (her name was Katrina) was the mother of the famous Katherine-shi, the most famous foreign television star in all of Korea. So, yeah . . . random much.

And then on the bus a man came up to us, sat down next to Sis. Matthews, asked "Can I see your book?" and took it out of her lap. He ended up walking with us to our appointment, listening on the way as we taught him about the Restoration, and the member family that we were meeting came out to meet him and teach him some more. (He wouldn't come in and eat, so he missed out, because it was a goooooood shiksa.) Some transfers, nothing happens, and some transfers people just start jumping out of the woodwork and screaming "Teach me!" It's shaping up to be one of those transfers.

Oh, and we did end up going to the sushi buffet. Ten thousand won. SO good.

And I also tried a new ice cream bar this week, which had corn on the label, so I figured it would be in the shape of a corn cob or something . . . nope. Corn ice cream. With corn kernels in it. Just like home in Minnesota.

So I think that's the news for the week, really. Oh, my new wards are Suseong and Jungni, and they're both, like, huge. At least huge compared to little Sujeong and Yeonsan. And there's an English-speaking branch for the Americans living on the Taegu military base, who made me realize that yeah, I have actually learned a lot of Korean here, and yeah, I may have round eyes and a big American nose and be six feet tall but I blend in a lot better than these folks, who practically scream I AM NOT FROM AROUND HERE in everything they do.

So that's the news. It is humid here, but breezy and gray, just like Pusan . . . apparently the nice weather followed me up. There's a Costco in Taegu but I haven't hit it yet . . . we're waiting for the elders to all go so we can watch them run around like kids in candy stores, which is funny. Oh, and last night we came home but stopped outside, and Sis. Matthews eased open the screen on the kitchen window and then we scared the living daylights out of Sis. Pak Seh Ra by screaming our heads off. (Told you we were getting along just fine.) I apologized to Sis. Pak Seh Ra in a full Korean bow, kneeling on the floor with my forehead on my hands, but I was laughing the whole time so I don't know if she forgave me.

And that's the news! I love you and I miss you and do you have Great-grandma's address?

Brother Cho's baptism: Bishop Choi is the one in brown leaning towards the camera to the left. Sister Ee Kyeong Mi is over Sister Pak's right shoulder, with Prez. and Sister Jennings behind her. Elders Hamilton and Aquino, my favorites in the district, are at far right. Elder Peterson finished his service two days after this picture was taken.


Friday, August 7, 2009

to Dad 7/27/09

RoseE writes:

"Dear Dad,

Sorry . . . you get the cutesy page with a girl in a tree. It's catch-as-catch-can on this letter pad. Maybe next week you'll get one of the military-themed pages. Or at least something with fish.

To make up for it, I'll tell you more about the UN Cemetery. We went last Monday after doing a Cosco run, so I was burdened with three boxes of crackers (they caused a lot of trouble on the subway. When we reached our stop, I picked up the boxes, saying absently, "C'mon, crackers!", then looked up to see Sisters Beckstead, Ogelvie, and Musser staring at me in horror.) But the guard let me leave them and my bag in his office, so it worked out.

At a chapel near the entrance, they show an orientation video giving a quick background of the Korean War and describing the history and purpose of the cemetery. The video informed us that the Chinese used "human wave tactics"* in their counterattack. I had to explain to the other sisters what that meant, and then later in the week Elder Kering found me and asked "What are human wave tactics?" Apparently this had been bothering him for days.

The Memorabilia Hall had a number of photographs of men who'd served in the War, then come to the cemetery decades later and spotted themselves in one of the pictures on display. So the cemetery staff took another picture and hung it next to the old one. So you walk along the wall, looking at these pairs of pictures--blurry, sepia-toned old shots of young men covered in dirt, and clear color photographs of those who made it through and returned with their families to see the country they saved. But all the other people in those pictures died out there in the mountains.

There's no way this place could have been a starving little war zone less than sixty years ago. There's no way. New York's needed two hundred years to grow into the vibrant, distinctive, well-infrastructured place that it is. Busan seems just as busy, as complex, as dynamic, in some ways almost more modern, and it . . .and Taejeon and Seoul . . . have just sprung up out of nowhere in the blink of an eye. It is a miracle. And if the North had not been held back, this place would be a ghost town, a graveyard like Pyungyang.

That's what I thought about in the U.N. Memorial Cemetery. I thought about the drone of traffic outside the fence, and the apartment buildings and driving ranges I could see over the trees, and the brand-new Costco by the river down in Haeundae, and about the temple up in Seoul. I probably know more about Korea than most of those boys did, those thousands of American and Australian and French and Canadian and New Zealander and British boys that came here and never went home. They probably knew so little about this country they died to save. But it's a country filled with life and hope and excitement now. Great good has come of it all--millions of people alive and well-fed and free and happy. And a couple hundred foreigners with plain blue books and worn out shoes.

The long and short of it is that history happens very fast in Korea. It's astonishing they've had time to build a memorial at all.

I miss you a lot, Dad. I wish you were here for me to talk to.


*human wave tactics is a term for an attack by massed infantry on a defended enemy position, intended to overwhelm the defenders by sheer weight of numbers, regardless of inevitable high casualties.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thank You and Ramble to Auntie Cat, in either June or August

RoseE writes:

"Dear Auntie Cat,

Here is my promised Official Thank-You Card, which comes all the way from America (so you KNOW it's cool). However, I must state that the great little card you sent is some of the most Korean-looking American Stationery I've ever seen. But it's got a Model T on it and the grammar is correct, so it can't possibly be a product of Korea. It is most evocative of the synergy of cultural influences that my life has become.

*Checks over* I think I used all of those big words right. English don't come rolling trippingly off the tongue no more. At any rate, thanks so much for the beautiful gift and all the love that comes with it. I will think of you every time I put it on.

I totally know what you mean about it suddenly hitting you that Holy Freak you are in another country. It hit me in mid-May on a rainy afternoon. I was with Sister Pak, and we stopped at a little stand for some lunch. Three breaded fried things for 1,000 won. I got squid. And standing there under the ratty awning, eating my fried squid with metal chopsticks and listening to the rain come pouring down in the street behind me . . . that's when it hit, I am in ASIA, which, despite my subconscious belief otherwise, is a real place where real people really live--people who will never speak English outside a classroom or go to America for any reason. This is a real place, and I am really living in it, as thoroughly and absolutely as any foreigner can.

I'm writing this on the train to Taegu. The Korean countryside is drifting by outside the window--row after row of painted, gray-green hills, with the Nakdong river sweeping through them.. It's so beautiful. I wish you could see it.



Monday, August 3, 2009

To Auntie Cat

RoseE writes:

"Dear Auntie Cat,

I got your letter and package today! I will only say 'Awwwww thank you so much' once here because I want to send you a proper thank you card with a picture and all, which will actually be classier. So awwww, thank you so much! (okay, I said it twice.)

It sounds like you had a blast of a time. It reminds me of all my various adventures with canoes in Minnesota . . . I've paddled those suckers in all kinds of weather, including major swells and strong headwinds, and I've flipped them (never when loaded with gear, thank goodness) and I've gotten out and towed them and I've waterskiied behind them (well, it didn't really work, but I tried). I think you do learn a lot about the world and about God on the water. For instance, that whole every-action-has-a-consequence thing. And the eternal law that even if you're the best canoer in the world, sometimes you just get wet. It isn't a punishment; it's just life, and it dries.

I also thought about nights in my little flimsy wooden cabins with a heckuva midwestern midsummer storm raging outside, literally shaking the building, and me lying in the dark silently praying, "Dear Father in Heaven, if tonight's the time for me to go, I'm okay with that, I'm pretty much ready . . . but please, Father, I've got six little girls here who are my responsibility. And I can't keep them safe against something like this, but I know you can. So please watch over my girls tonight. Please keep them safe." Lots of times in life, you've got to work your butt off for things. But lots of other times, all you do is wait and pray.

So that's my philisophical rambling for today. Gotta go write the newsletter. I love you!


Transfer to Taegu

RoseE writes:

"Dear Mum and Dad,

Food garbage lives in the freezer*. That way it doesn't get smelly while you wait to throw it out in the food garbage trash can downstairs, which is only open on certain days of the week. The city of Pusan is launching a big campaign to cut down on 'food garbage water,' which I guess is the nasty orange liquid that drips out of the food garbage bag when it melts, but why this stuff is such a big deal I'm sure I don't know.

Anyway, big news of the week: guess where I'm going today?


And of course you're like 'Where the heck is Taegu?' which is what I was like. Taegu is a city about two hours northwest of Pusan, well inland and in a basin, so apparently it's hot as all Hades in the summer. Hottest city in the mission in the hottest part of the summer--either I really ticked President off or he has a lot of confidence in me and my tough-it-out Minnesotaness.

And the next big question: is my companion a Korean or an American?


Because I'm going to be paired with a Sister Matthews, who is a Mauri New Zealander! I've never met her, but will offer you more info on her when I have it.

And the other question: Did Brother Cho Jung Gol actually get baptized this week?

Yes, he did.

Oh, my gosh, yes he did.

Sister Pak and I basically did nothing but bake for two full days in anticipation of this event, trying to use up all Sister Pak's pastry dough before she ends her mission. We made thunder cake, banana cake, croissants, and pineapple pastry bites. And I made some chocolate covered pretzels, but apparently I don't know how to melt chocolate very well, because they ended up kind of lumpy and with little sugar crystals in them. Oh, well. Chocolate's chocolate.

But unlike other baptisms I've been to in Korea, where the people involved are the missionaries, the baptizee, and maybe one or two members of the ward, this one involved about forty people: all the missionaries in the district, President and Sister Jennings, and a swarm of people from the ward. There was not room for everybody. Sister Pak had to stand.

Yes, Brother Cho got baptized. We only taught him for six weeks. But at English class the day of his baptism, someone (one of the non-members who turns up to practice English) started arguing that the whole no-alcohol thing was too strict and we should be allowed to at least drink champagne . . . but before I could say anything, Brother Cho popped up. "No. We don't drink alcohol at all. We just don't. It's a commandment."

We taught him about the Word of Wisdom a MONTH ago. And now he Does Not Drink. Which is hard, for a Korean man. It really is. I was so proud of him I just wanted to cry.

So the next morning, Sunday morning, Sis. Pak and I dashed into Sacrament meeting five minutes late (yeah, slam-bang missionaries, us), and Sister Pak glanced around the room and dashed back out.

"What?" I demanded.

"I need to call him!" she moaned, freaking out. "Brother Cho Jung Gol! Where is he?"

"He's in there. With his son. Didn't you see them?"

She put down the phone that she'd been frantically dialing. "He is?"

Yeah, he was. But every previous week he'd worn to church a black and white striped polo shirt, and that morning he'd shown up in a white shirt and a tie. A white shirt and a tie. He got confirmed, and received the Holy Ghost, looking every inch the priesthood holder that he shortly will be. I nearly cried. Okay, I did cry, a little. But that was because I had to give my 'Goodbye to Yeonsan Ward' talk right after that. I've been serving there for four months. When I got there, all I could say was a formulaic, shaky testimony. Sunday, I spoke impromptu for five minutes about how much I loved that ward and how glad I was to have seen all the miracles I saw there. Not the least of which is the simple fact of me being able to communicate--not well, not completely, but to communicate at all. Four months ago, it would have been impossible. I am leaving behind so many good friends in Yeonsan ward, who've patiently taught me and given me so much love and support. I feel like all I did there was sit in awkward silence and eat rice, but Sister Ii Kyeong Mi was crying as I left the stand.

Oh, here's the list I thought up of Things to Know:

Things you Absolutely Must Know Before Going On Your Mission:
How to Pray
That We Have a Living Prophet
How to Eat It and Like It--No Matter What It Is
That Missions are Really Hard (this one's courtesy of Elder Aquino. But it's so true. Missions are really, really hard, and if you know that going in, your life's that much easier)

Things You Should Know, But Will Learn in the MTC if You Don't
How to Work Hard
How to find answers in the scriptures
How to stay healthy
How you, personally, feel the Spirit and receive inspiration

Handy Things to Know
Basic sew-a-button, fix-a-popped-seam sewing
One decent cookie or cake recipe
How to play piano or violin
How to conduct music
How to sing harmony
How to read a map
How to procure clean drinking water
Scripture Mastery**
How to pack light
How to walk forever without complaining
A couple simple magic tricks

So that's the list. Hope it's helpful.

Dad: my English class says to try looking at, or something called VANK, for Pusan news. No promises, but that's what I've got.

Oh, speaking of English class, on Thursday everybody was hanging around afterwards chatting and Sister Cho Me Heh, who is sister Ii Kyeong Mi's non-member friend, asked me, "Will you tell us what you tell people on the street? Just tell us what the message is that you're here to share."
. . .

So, um, I did. In all but flawless Korean. I talked for ten minutes about priesthood authority, about apostles and prophets, about the Restoration** and Joseph Smith (and remembered the First Vision*** smoothly and perfectly, thank you very much), and bore my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I just did it. All by myself. And those five people listened reverently to everything I had to say.

PMG**** says that one indicator you're a successful missionary is when you feel the Spirit testify through you when you teach people. I always thought that was kind of abstract and annoying, as a marker, but this week I totally got it. I taught, and I knew the Spirit was there. Whether those other people felt it is up to them--I can't force them to be ready to hear. But the Spirit was in that room, there for them to feel. I was a good missionary that day.

Now, however, I am not, because I'm almost out of e-mail time and have to run do stuff. So . . . I love you! I love you so, so much. . .


*Food garbage: I asked why she had put egg shells in the freezer when making a cake.

**Restoration: of the Gospel: When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He established His Church among His followers. After His Crucifixion and the deaths of His Apostles, the fulness of the gospel was taken from the earth because of widespread apostasy. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ restored the fulness of the gospel. The true Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth again. Because of the Restoration, the teachings and ordinances necessary for salvation are available to all people. (from

***First Vision: The personal visitation in 1820 of God the Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in answer to the prayer Joseph Smith offered, asking which of the churches he should join. (

**** PMG: Preach My Gospel: the current missionary handbook