Search This Blog

Monday, April 6, 2009

First Contact - 4/6/09

RoseE writes:

"This may have to be in pieces because I am on a coin-operated computer in the lobby of a hospital, and I don't have many coins. So we'll see what happens.

Oh my gosh Korea is the craziest thing I have ever done, including that time I slept in the Chicago airport. Some parts are so fantastic I can't even tell you. Some parts . . . well, I've gone through some kleenex and misplaced a handkerchief. But mostly it's good, and mostly it's hard work.

I must tell you about the mokyotang. The mokyotang is amazing. It is like . . . like Chaska community pool meets Disneyland meets the Garden of Eden. "Mokyotang" is a bath house, and our very first morning here we went to the best one in Pusan. It cost maybe five or six dollars apiece, factoring in the exchange rate which is pretty good right now. (Oh, there we go, the computer took my bill now. Okay.) So . . . the mokyotang. It's like this palatial hotel. In fact, I think it is a hotel. But you go to a desk and pay your money and they give you this little key-bracelet and you go towards the side marked "women" into a locker room full of tiny lockers just for your shoes. Your key opens one. The floors are all bamboo mats. Then you go into a bigger locker room with bigger lockers and into these you put . . . everything else. Everything. Then you grab a tiny pink scrubby-towel, which is for scrubbing and not for any kind of modesty, and hustle blushing into the baths.

Oh, my gosh, the baths.

It's this huuuuuge space. In the middle is a pool curved into a yin/yang shape, and each half is a different temperature. Around the room are all different pools: hot pools, cold pools, foot-bathing pools, pools with yellow sand in them, pools with grape juice in them (really), pools of salt water, rocky tunnel-pools, a lap-swimming pool, saunas, rinsing pools, pools with waterfalls to massage your back . . . there's a space open to the sky, the roof just grass mats, with a hot pool and a cold pool and a bubbly pool and a jasmine pool (it looks radioactive . . . it's really neat) and another sauna. And all the pools are filled from the mouths of statues, frogs and fish and deer. There's even a pool with benches in it, and water running down the benches, and stone game boards in the middle so you can play games or read the news or whatever. And in every pool there is at least one old Korean grandma, as naked as the day she was born, who will occasionally stand up and swing her arms around to slap her torso (this has something to do with positive energy flow, or something) and stare at you not because you are naked but because you are waygukin, white girl. And when you're done playing in all these different pools, including nearly twisting your foot off because you couldn't see the bottom of the yellow-sand-thing pool, you go to this row of low mirrors and sit on a little butt-shaped stool and scrub yourself off with this creamy white soap and your little pink scrubby-towel, and spray off with a sprayer that they have right there, and brush your teeth in the tooth-brushing sink (very sweet Korean toothpaste provided) and rinse off again in the all-around shower (hot or cold, your choice) or with a scoop filled at another just-for-scooping pool, or both, and then you leave the baths and to to this long vanity where they have combs and hair dryers and lotion and conditioner and q-tips, and do your hair, and then you get dressed and go get your shoes out of the little shoe-locker and leave feeling cleaner than you have ever felt in the entire course of your entire life. Oh, my gosh. I think if there were such a bath house in America there would be a huge scandal, but I also think I would go every day anyway.

So after we were clean and had breakfast (they have aloe juice here--aloe juice! With aloe chunks in it! It's so good) and ran some going-to-the-bank kinds of errands, we and the missionaries who were destined to be our trainers RAN (I hate running) to the subway and tracted for hours. It was hard and scary. And then we had lunch of spicy Korean food, over which I started crying, and then we tracted some more and then went back to the mission home, where I started crying again. (Sister Jeung held me and hummed "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger--she doesn't know the words, but she loves the tune) I also fell asleep on the floor in the midst of picture-taking time. Then my new companion, Sister Montgomery, woke me up and took me home.

So . . my awesome suitcase? The wheel broke in transit. So we dragged it to the subway station because no one would let me carry it, seeing as how I couldn't stand up straight for jet lag, and a bunch of stuff broke off it on the way, and I cried on the subway again, and then we walked up a long hill in the middle of Pusan in the middle of the night to our apartment.

We share an apartment with another companionship of sisters, Hill and Pack Song Hee. It is a little apartment in a BIIIG tower, and all four of us sleep on two big mattresses pushed together on the floor. There is a tiny room when you first come in just for your shoes, and you're supposed to wear special, separate sandals in the bathroom. I couldn't figure out why until I realized that the shower has no curtain, so everything just gets wet and there's a drain in the middle of the floor to drain it all. All the sisters are really nice, but I like Sis. Pack Song Hee best. She looks Hawaiian, and not Korean at all. She loves to just tackle people and hug them. And she bought me a treat my second night here, of one of her favorite foods -- pig intestine. Yep. And I ate it. (Sister Montgomery told me that later on Pack Song Hee came to the other two sisters and asked, "Don't they eat that in America? She seemed really surprised." When they admitted that no one in America would ever in a million years dream of eating a piece of pig intestine, she felt sooooo bad and was terrified that she'd made me sick. But she didn't. I'm okay.)

Pusan is . . . overwhelming. We're serving in two wards, and one of the wards is accessed from the subway via a market street. I love this street. There are big tanks of live fish, street vendors frying I-know-not-what, little wrinkled grandmas (Korean grandmas are just everywhere; you can't swing a cat without hitting a Korean grandma) whacking seafood with big carving knives or squatting behind baskets of fresh vegetables, cackling to one another while they wait for someone to buy something. There are stores just full of notebooks and trays of 5000-won sunglasses and knockoff designer purses and t-shirts with nonsensical English printed on them. And it seems like every vendor has a tiny dog.

Three times a week, the missionaries teach English class. This is such a party. A bunch of older Korean folks get together to practice their English with the missionaries. One of them is brother Pack Kun Gi (I'm guessing on the spelling here), who is not a member but directs the stake choir and is just stitch-in-your-side funny. He ran to the piano and played "Baby Elephant Walk" and made Sister M. dance to it. When I introduced myself and said I could belly dance, I immediately sat on the lid of the piano and refused to move until he sat down again.

Everyone gives us these tiny drinkable yogurts that Sis. Hill insists are made of cat's milk. She says this because her trainer told her this and she believed her. I, however, have owned cats, and know better.

Everyone in Korea lives in one of two places: 1. an apartment tower (at least twice as tall as the Church Office Building) or a banjee, which is a little house. Since Pusan was not levelled during the war, the banjee neighborhoods stand as they sprang up, probably some time in the fifteen hundreds. There is no rhyme or reason to them whatsoever. They are stacked on top of one another in all kinds of ways, and run up the sides of mountains like a wave washed them up there and they just stuck, helter-skelter. People keep attempting to map and number them, and keep failing. We went into them to visit a member couple who run a store making vegetable-extract juice as a health food. She gave us cups of hot asian pear juice, which is more savory than sweet. But I drank it.

On Saturday we ended up at this place that Dad would have loved. In fact, the brother that brought us there reminded me strongly of my own Dad. Here's why:

1. Saturday is "get in free day" at the memorial.

2. He said "we'll give you a ride to the bishop's house and stop at the war memorial on the way," and we discovered that the memorial is not like a statue, it is like a huge and beautiful temple/garden that nobody knew was there.

3. As we wandered around it, he told us stories about Korean history that nobody else would ever think to know.

4. About halfway through our time there, he just wandered off and nobody seemed to find this alarming. His wife gave us a ride to the bishop's house.

Anyway, the garden was these three courtyards running up the side of the mountain, each courtyard entered by a big beautiful gate and flanked on either side by pretty buildings or statues erected in honor of those who died in such-and-such a battle against the Japanese and passed through by means of a long flight of wide stone stairs to the next courtyard. At the top there was incense burning and you could see down into the city and over to the next range of mountains. It was so beautiful and so quiet after the incessant bustle of Pusan down below.

Oh, and in Korea, you can get a corn dog covered in sugar and coconut. Really!

Oh, and there are no forks in our apartment so the other day I made French toast with soybean oil and chopsticks.

Oh, and I will never want to eat an American apple again. With apples like these it's no wonder the Koreans don't bother with anything fancier than fruit for dessert. OH MY GOSH they are so good.

Today we went WAAAAY to the other side of the city to see the cherry blossoms. There was this amazing little river just packed with yellow flowers, and the cherry blossom trees arced above it. A bunch of Korean soldiers were there, on time off I guess. We all took our pictures with them, and they took their pictures with us. We passed a school and a bunch of little girls hung out the window to yell to us in English.

My stomach is hesitant to accept Korean food as actual food. It keeps waiting for a "normal" meal. Fortunately yesterday a member family (he American, she Korean) fed us, our roommates, and four elders (eight missionaries on Fast Sunday), chicken fajitas. I nearly cried, but as I need to get more Kleenex I refrained from so doing. I just ate two, with lots of sour cream, and we took a bunch of the chicken home.

I am having a **** of a time remembering anybody's name. All the Koreans are having the same problem with my name. I am writing all the names down everywhere and cramming them at every possible second.

One of our wards is like 95% inactive, and those who are active don't like each other. Ugh. The other ward is AMAZING, and the Relief Society 1st (2nd?) counselor reminds me of Rebecca Dykman. I went on a split to this ward last week, and stood up in Sacrament meeting to introduce myself. As I walked shaking back to my seat, all the sisters on my side of the chapel gave me not-very-discreet thumbs up. Awwww, I love Yeonsan ward.

All the rooms are heated with gas heaters, and when they are not running the rooms get very cold very fast.

I understand hardly anything that anybody says to me. I hope at least that I am cute.

I am so scared of prostelyting I can't even tell you.

We get an hour for e-mail now. Yaaaaay!

I am almost out of time on this computer. I love you so much, and I miss you so much.



  1. RoseE, I just came here the first time (for some reason, I thought you would have just barely started this, so it would have maybe one or two posts, and instead there is all this wealth here for me to read). It makes me miss talking to you, although since before your mission I never saw you either, really this is better then before, since I now write you.

    I love your descriptions of the bathing pool, and the markets (especially the Korean Grandmas). And the crying...hang in there. Someday it'll all make sense. Plus, do you need some cloth hankerchiefs? Aren't missionaries supposed to take like a dozen of them - or is that the Elders?

    We'll be praying for you, and your new life. You don't mind if I live through your mission vicariously, do you?

  2. RoseE,

    I have been following your letters with great interest. I remember all the feelings -- though not the crying, that's a sister thing. I am glad you signed on for such an adventure.

    Sister Pak looks very much like a girl I used to know. But then, she always looked Hawaiian too.

    Don't be hard on yourself when things don't go as planned. They never do. Just follow the Spirit and remember to love the people. Everything else will take care of itself.

    aka the Danite

  3. Dear Sweet, cute sister Hadden,

    I love Korea too. I wish I could see you there in action. You have such a flair for writing. I am so glad you got to go to Korea. I am also glad that Laura sent me your blog address. I know you will learn the language and be able to share the gospel and help covert people.

    Love ya,
    Sister Wall