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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)

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