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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. "


  1. Ah RoseE, it's so good to hear your funny voice! Even reading your funny voice is good. I've missed you.

  2. Here's mine, even though I don't post much.

  3. Definately worth the 18months.. and I'd do it again to meet another one of him...