Category: church

A Colorado honeymoon

While the rain continued in Atlanta for the entire week after our wedding, Michael and I got to run away to beautiful Colorado for the week to celebrate our honeymoon.  The weather there was absolutely perfect – brilliant azure skies, fluffy white clouds, and just enough fall briskness in the air.

We spent most of the day on Monday traveling – to the Atlanta airport, flying to Denver, and then driving out to Steamboat Springs, which is about 3.5 hours northwest of Denver.  Mostly by luck, and because I was craving pizza, we happened upon an amazing pizza place called BeauJoe’s about halfway between Denver and Steamboat Springs.  They pride themselves on their “Colorado-style pizza”…I didn’t even know that was a thing, but apparently it means thick artisan braided crust, over which local honey is drizzled before eating.  Never in a million years would I have thought to put honey on pizza, but it was really tasty!

Michael had the whole week planned out, with just enough activity each day to keep us entertained but relaxed and not stressed out.  It was perfect.  We started out on Tuesday with breakfast at the Creekside Cafe, a little restaurant that came highly rated by friends and the internet alike.  Its fame was well-earned.  They had the most delicious sausage gravy and flaky biscuits I’ve ever had in my entire life – we liked it so much that we made a point to go back again before we left Steamboat Springs.  If you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods, get the Barn Burner – well worth the $12 a plate price tag!

After breakfast, we got a couple’s massage.  The price tag was a bit steep, but the masseuses were excellent, and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It was a nice relaxing start to the week.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the quaint, picturesque town.  It’s definitely a seasonal tourist town, with a small concentrated city center and super friendly locals…visiting in the off season meant that we got to enjoy all of Steamboat’s charm without any of the crowds.  The best of both worlds!  I particularly enjoyed the hours posted on the shops in the downtown area – they said things like “10:00-ish to 5:00-ish, except when the fishing is good”, “probably not open on Saturdays, unless we are,” or “by appointment only, unless you’re lucky.”  Quite a character-filled little town.

Wednesday was probably the highlight of the trip – a hot air balloon ride over the city.  We got to do something that neither of us had experienced before – quite a feat considering our adventurous pasts!  I was a little nervous because I’m so uncomfortable around heights, but it was a fairly calm day and not really scary at all.  The only time I got queasy was when I decided to look straight down from 2,000 feet above the ground.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  But we did get to see a moose from the air, which is apparently quite rare!  It was fun to see the town from a completely different view.  Watching the pilot wrangle the enormous balloon into a tiny little basket after we landed was rather amusing, too.  We celebrated our successful flight with a champagne toast in little paper cups.  Apparently that is a tradition that was started after the first successful hot air balloon ride (in a balloon made of paper!!), which was commissioned by the French king in the 1700’s (you know the French love their champagne! ;]).  Incidentally, the first person to fly in this monstrous paper contraption was named Pilatre de Rozier, which is where our modern term “pilot” comes from.

After the hot air balloon we grabbed an early dinner during happy hour at the local steakhouse, E3.  (By the way, eating during happy hour is a great way to get fantastic food at a fraction of the cost.  This is true across the country, not just in Steamboat Springs).  We had a local beer, lobster macaroni and cheese, a huge hamburger, loaded potato wedges, and a delicious been bourbon soup…all for about $30.  And with leftovers to spare!  We definitely ate well in Steamboat :D.

We also took a trip up to the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs on Wednesday.  The hot springs are natural, although the pools and paths have been built up by humans…they’ve created quite a pleasant, relaxing hot springs experience, with differing temperatures in the various pools and lovely walkways and waterfalls and gardens throughout.  It was wonderful!  We met this young guy there with his friend who was such a hoot.  As soon as he found out that we were on our honeymoon, he became our biggest fan – taking pictures of us, asking us about our plans, even kicking people out of the private 2-person pool so we could have it.  It made me want to say we’re on our honeymoon every time we travel, lol.

Thursday was our last full day in Steamboat.  We decided to spend it following the advice of some locals and checking out some local haunts.  There are 2 lakes, Pearl Lake and Steamboat Lake, about a 30-45 minute drive north of the city that are also state parks.  We spent the day exploring them both.  On the way up we stopped at a popular general store, Clarke’s, which serves as the tiny town of Clarke’s general store, post office, local restaurant, bank, and tourist office.  We grabbed some lunch there, and then took it to Pearl Lake to eat.  We had the lake pretty much to ourselves (another benefit of visiting in the off season), so we lay on the ground to enjoy the view for a while.  But pretty soon the pebbly ground started hurting, so we went in search of Steamboat lake.  That one is much bigger and surrounded by nature walks, so we picked one of the shorter ones and took our time walking it.  Highlight of the walk was definitely the many deer we saw within a stones throw of the path!  Made me realize just how sick and malnourished the deer at Berry are, lol…

That evening, to celebrate our last night in Steamboat, we had a nice dinner in, making a yummy chicken marsala with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.  I love having a partner in the kitchen! 🙂  And then we were off, heading back to Denver.  Our flight didn’t leave for a few more days still, but Michael had a surprise planned the next day, so we had to get back a little earlier.  On our way out of town we swung by Fish Creek Falls for a little while, a popular local attraction.  We got into town in Denver just in time for their monthly “Friday night art walk,” so we went out and casually checked it out.  The art walk is just an opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work and meet some new people.  I enjoyed seeing the artwork, we met some interesting new people…but the highlight for me was definitely the grown-up coloring book that one of the artists had out!  I liked it so much that Michael bought me my own when we got back to Atlanta :).

Saturday was it – the day of Michael’s big surprise!  It turned out to be a scavenger hunt, similar to what we’ve done in the past.  But the twist here was that there was a plot and props and real actors that you interacted with as you progressed through the hunt.  It was set around a famous robbery of the Denver mint that happened in the 1920’s – we were supposed to help one of the thieves recover their share of the loot, since they had to lay low and avoid the cops.  It was, admittedly, slightly cheesy, but I enjoyed the interaction with the actors and the code words and phrases that they made us give before they’d give us our next clue.  Michael’s very good at picking surprises that I will like.

We had another treat in store for us that evening.  Shiloh, a friend of mine that I met at Rachel’s wedding in Wyoming 3 years ago, lives about 45 minutes north of Denver, so he drove down and met us in town for dinner.  It was good to catch up with him, and I always enjoy introducing my friends to Michael.

The next day we went to a church that we had found online, Faith Mountain church.  They were very friendly and the message was very challenging.  I’m glad we went.  We didn’t do much the rest of the day, though…and then, just like that, we were on our way back home!  Back to the real world of full-time jobs and house cleaning and settling in from the wedding.  Considering the whirlwind our lives have been over the past year, a break with nothing to do was just what we needed, even if it only lasted 1 week! 🙂

Ringing in a quarter century

Well folks, it finally happened.  I am now officially 1/4 of a century old.  Michael planned a dinner at Red Lobster with some Atlanta friends the night before my birthday to celebrate, but other than that the actual day passed by fairly uneventfully.  The next weekend, however, I went to a dance event, and a couple weeks later I went to visit my dear friend Sarah in Houston.  I have decided that those were the rest of my birthday celebrations….your 25th birthday only happens once, might as well make it last the whole month, right? 🙂

The dinner at Red Lobster was nice, albeit quite low-key.  I was originally a little sad because a lot of my house church friends were still out of town, but that just meant that it ended up being a whole new group!  Chris and Julia, Michael’s parents, and my mentor from church and her husband were all there, along with several house church people who were still in town.  I felt very loved and cared for.  We were going to go bowling after, but instead we all went to my house to watch Million Dollar Arm, which had been given to me as a gift earlier that night.  I do so very much love having people into my home :).

The dance event, Sweet Side of Swing, is possibly my favorite event out of all the ones I’ve ever been to.  The leveled classes making learning easier for everyone, and every detail is attended to with such care that it makes it almost impossible to NOT enjoy yourself.  This year was even more special by the “Swing Literacy Development Training” course that I took.  This was an add-on that was offered in addition to the regular workshops and social dances….8 solid hours jam-packed with tips and techniques for teaching swing dance more effectively to beginner and intermediate dancers alike.  It was a really well-done workshop…I’m very much looking forward to implementing the things I learned at the weekly Atlanta swing dances!

But, as fun as Sweet Side of Swing was, the crux of the month was definitely my visit to Houston.  Aside from my brief dinner with her last year while I was in Houston for an interview, it’s been years since I’ve seen my dear friend Sarah.  We saw each other a lot while we were in Korea, and keep up regular phone conversations now that we’re both back stateside…but phone calls can’t hold a candle to seeing beloved friends in person.  I took advantage of the long weekend around MLK day to go see her…only got to spend a couple of days with her, but a couple of days is vastly better than nothing!  Sarah and Donnie are incredible hosts – possibly the best I’ve ever met – and also great friends….the two of those together made for one very happy houseguest!  Sarah picked me up at the airport, and then I was greeted at their home with a welcome sign and guest basket.  Over the course of 2 days, we managed to pack a lot in – game night, puzzles, church, a tour of NASA (Donnie works there), walking around an adorable little boardwalk and mini amusement park, and even a round of restaurant hopping (messy burgers in a sports bar with lots of character for dinner, and then drinks and cake at a gem of an establishment nestled right on the water afterwards).  And yet, somehow, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.  I guess that’s what happens when people who care for each other a lot just get to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.  I have decided that, even though they’re short, weekend trips are much better than nothing, and I’ll be making every effort to make more of them in the future!  So glad to be blessed with friends all over the world with whom I can pick life back up when I see them, no matter how long we’ve been apart!

 

Efforts to become more cultured

In an effort to become a more cultured individual, I have decided to make an effort to see more performances this year.  With the Georgia Tech Woodruff Arts pass, which for $20 gives me 1 free ticket to every performance at the Alliance Theater, High Museum, or Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for a full year, it’s hard to find a legitimate reason for why I shouldn’t go.  However, in the course of that push for increased cultural awareness, I have become ever more cognizant of just how much I like watching performances.  Whether it’s modern dance or a musical, a professional circus or just a kid’s play, I love watching people show off their craft, put proudly on display what they have been working for months or even years to perfect.  It gives me such an appreciation for the creativity that God used in designing His creation.

Here’s a couple of my favorite performances that I’ve gone to this year so far:

The first on the list is a bit of a misnomer, since I didn’t actually see the entire performance.  I went home a few weeks ago to see a play that Josh, Matt, and Hope were in.  I ended up having to leave early because of terrible pain from kidney stones, which was a pretty big letdown.  But I got to see the pictures and hear the stories after, and it’s always wonderful to see my family – even if I’m in pain.  Actually, that was probably the best place I could have been – my mother is a wonderful nurse, and my siblings are excellent cuddlers when one is feeling yucky :).

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I went out with Michael and another couple mid-way through the semester to see the circus.  That was quite an adventure!  There was apparently a huge cheerleading convention in the same area, so the roads and sidewalks were swarming with giggly teenage girls in short skirts and bouncy ponytails.  It took us FOREVER to go the last 3 blocks.  But we finally made it…and it was incredible!!  I had never actually been to a circus before, and we definitely picked a good one to go to.  It was absolutely mesmerizing.  I found that I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.

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But I’m also realizing – and very grateful for the fact – that I don’t have to be doing anything particularly exciting to enjoy time with people I love.  And I really have been blessed with some truly wonderful friends.  Michael said something a few weeks ago that really stuck out to me.  “I like your friends a lot,” he said.  “They love you very well.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Whether it be going to a sketchy fair in downtown Atlanta, going out for tea with some girlfriends, collaborating to throw a surprise birthday party, or just gathering together every week to study the Bible and encourage each other – we started a little house church of sorts a few weeks ago – I’m so very humbled by the network that God has given me here.  It makes the thought of having to leave so, so sad.  I’ve been diligently looking for a job all year, but so far nothing has panned out, so please keep praying that something comes through!  I’ve only got a few weeks of school left…but regardless, I’m just trying to remember that God is taking care of me, regardless of what happens :).  

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Caleb with Amy on her first Ferris Wheel ride ever!

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Silence

You know that feeling that you get when something big is about to happen?  You bolt out of bed, you have butterflies in your stomach, you’re all tingly and excited??  That’s what happened to me this morning.  I bolted up out of bed, wide awake, way before 5:00 am.  And, since I have nothing to do before I catch my bus, I’ve decided to write one last blog from Korea.

Today is the day that I leave Korea, after living here for over a year.  And while yes, it is sad, at the same time, it’s exciting.  I remember when I left Costa Rica; it literally took about 3 minutes before I could force myself to step onto the plane, that’s how much I was dreading leaving.  But I don’t think it’ll be that way this time.  I’ve had a wonderful year here, and I’m so so grateful for the time that I’ve been given.  But I also know that God has more things in store for me – really big things.  And I can’t wait to see what they are!

I had more goodbyes this weekend – with Si-yeon, my wonderful language partner and friend; with Lorna, my dear friend from a neighboring city, who came to see me off and stayed the night with me on Saturday; with all of my church friends, who hosted a farewell church-wide lunch after the service on Sunday; and of course, with my host family, who let me cook for them and give them gifts one last time on Sunday night.  I will miss them all dearly…..but I’m also getting pretty stoked about Atlanta!  Studying, more languages, more new friends and plenty of old ones, dancing, and of course…..wedding season!!  I have all of that to look forward to!

I want to close this blog with a piece that I wrote for and read at my church on Sunday morning.  It’s a good representation of how I feel right now.  Also, lots of pictures and videos below!  Enjoy!! 🙂

Silence
Silence.  I try to will my lips to speak what my heart is telling them to, try to force my tongue to form the words that so desperately want to come out.  But all I get is silence.  My heart feels like a freshly scrubbed sky after a torrential storm.  It is clean and content…except that it has not stormed yet.  There is so much that I want to say, so many words that need to come out, that it simply overwhelms me.  And so I say nothing.  Silence.
How do I tell them, I ask myself, what they have meant to me?  How could they ever understand what worshipping and praying and fellowshipping with them has done for me in this past year?  How could they ever know how much serving them and being served by them; how much teaching them and being taught by them, has blessed me?
I want to tell them.  I want them to know how much I love them.  But I don’t know where to start.  Perhaps I should explain the sheer terror that overwhelmed me before my arrival to Korea.  As Sir Henly so aptly pointed out, “you are too young to be teaching in Asia all by yourself.”  And I cannot argue with him.  I had never felt more alone, more isolated, more scared, than when I arrived in this city last year, far from home, family, and all things familiar.  If they knew, if they knew how many times I cried myself to sleep during those first few weeks in Gyeongju, would they be able to better understand why it’s so amazing that I’m crying now at the thought of leaving? 
Perhaps I should explain my initial elation upon finally finding an English service.  Dr. Cho must have thought that I was an idiot when he gave me a ride that first Sunday, I was so excited.  But if I talk about my initial excitement, I must also talk about how that excitement faded into dull monotony after the first few weeks.  I traveled often, came to church when I was in town, and settled into my normal school existence during the week.  I never saw them outside of church.  Sure, I missed Christian fellowship like what I was used to back home…but here in Korea, there didn’t seem to be any other alternative.
And then, somehow….an alternative DID appear.  They became not just people that I saw for an hour every Sunday morning…they became my friends.  They became not just a sea of faces who sang from the audience, listened to the pastor, and then left, not to be seen again until the next week.  They became my teachers, my confidants, my friends, and my family.  I have laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and learned with them. 
They have taught me more about the Lord, more about myself, more about loving and accepting others, than I ever thought possible.  They have taught me to truly love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to always give Him everything that I have.  They have taught me not to be afraid of people who are different from myself.  They have taught me not to judge those who come from backgrounds different from my own.  To not shy away from cultural and linguistical barriers, but to embrace them.  They have taught me that a smile, a hug, a kind gesture or a caring word, will touch someone no matter what language they speak, no matter what country they were born in, what job they have, or how much money they make. 
Here in Korea, I introduce myself as an English teacher.  But I think a more apt description would be a life student.  A student of life.  My friends, my family here at Gyeongju Jeil church, they have taught me that.  They have taught me how to embrace every opportunity that comes my way, how to love every individual that God puts in my path.  How to laugh at my mistakes and learn from them; and how to teach others, so that they don’t make the same mistakes.  I wish that I could tell them everything that they mean to me.  I wish I knew the words that I could say to make them understand.  But I cannot.  My heart is content and scrubbed clean, but the thunderstorm of words has yet to arrive.  And so…silence.  I use my pen to convey what my lips cannot.  Maybe one day they will realize how much they meant to me.  How much I love them.  I can only hope and pray that that day comes soon. 

This video was actually from last week, but I was having trouble uploading it then.  Anyway, my church did a world rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” – English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) are represented.  So beautiful!

A gift from a student on the last day of class.  Possibly the best gift I have ever received.  Absolutely incredible <3

Jeong-min surprised me with a goodbye violin performance on my last day at church.  I had been asking her to play for me all year.  So beautiful!!!

Pictures with some of my favorite students…

My last Sunday in Gyeongju I was the guest speaker at church!    

Pastor Mario praying over me before I left

Church goodbye lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant

Me and Lorna :).  She came to visit me one last time before I left….she’s such a blessing…. <3

Lorna, Lin, and Lauren! 🙂

Please note the size of Pastor Mario’s umbrella…hahaha 😀

Church farewell party

I’ve been super busy these days.  The clock keeps counting down, but I try to ignore it, and just enjoy each day as it comes.  New deadlines at school have kept me hopping at work, and the litany of things that must be done to wrap up a year of living in a foreign country have assured that I’m never bored outside of work.

But in between the monotonous and the mundane, there have been some beautiful moments.  My favorite this week was undoubtedly Sunday.  My church threw me a going away party in the evening after church.  A large percentage of my congregation is from the Philippines, so they all got together and made a Filippino feast for us.  There was shrimp, and marinated beef, and flan (yummy!!), and lots of other stuff which I have no idea what it was called, but it was delicious, anyway.

About 20 people came (which, when you only have a church of maybe 35 or 40, is a really high percentage!  Lol…), and we ate together and talked and laughed, and just overall enjoyed each other’s company.  They surprised me with a cake (made me blow the candles out and everything!), and a slide show with pictures and messages saying things like “we’ll miss you, Lauren!” and “We love you!”.  I may have shed a tear or two.  It was beautiful.  I will miss them so much.

Oh, I almost forgot!  After dinner, we all gathered around and watched Courageous, the most recent production of my home church, Sherwood Baptist.  My friend James had sent it to me as part of a care package earlier in the year, and when I suggested that we watch it as a church, everyone agreed.  It was a nice end to the evening.  One of the Korea pastors liked it so much that he asked me how to get a copy.  I gave him mine.  I figured it was the best use of the gift that James had given me :).

My second favorite moment this week happened the next day, on Monday night.  A friend of mine from college, Emily, got a scholarship to come to Korea.  She arrived about a week ago, but has been spending most of her time in Seoul.  Well, this weekend her program came down to Gyeongju, and I actually got to meet up with her.  We went for a walk, and spent about 2 hours catching up.  It was great to see her, and also a good way to mentally start preparing myself for my impending new reality – the one in which I’ll be able to have fluent conversations like that with almost every single person that I meet.  It was a very nice ending to my day.  Thirteen days until touchdown!

Me and Emily <3

Where we ended up on our walk

See the projector screen?  **sniff, sniff**

My church family…. <3

Filippino food = sooooo good

The cake they got me – they made me blow the candles out and everything 🙂

Spring has sprung

Wow.  The last few days have been such a blur.  Spring has officially sprung here in Gyeongju, and I’ve been making the most of the beautiful weather.  I shall have to go with the reader’s digest version, since I still have lesson planning to do tonight and sleep is closing in on me fast.

Last week I only taught on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday I had off – the students had some sort of test; I never really know the reasons for why I get days off when I do, lol.  But anyway, whatever the reason, I had no class, so I had 2 glorious days of nothing to do.  On Thursday I went to school, although I didn’t teach.  Thursday was the day of the school English festival – “Sunnies’ Festival,” as it is called here.  I shall forever refer to it affectionately as the Day of Mass Chaos.  All day, plans, locations, events, everything was constantly changing on the spur of the moment.  That would have been stressful enough; but the real problem was that all of the last-minute decisions were made after a flurry of hurried conversation in Korean.  Which means that I was left mostly in the dark.  Which wouldn’t have been horrible; except I was running a couple of the events.  Yeah.  Not cool.  But I managed, made it through the morning, and then was left the afternoon to simply enjoy the rest of the festivities.  There was a pop song competition that a lot of students performed it – that was really fun to watch.  Check out the top 3 dances in the videos below, along with some pictures.  The highlight for the students was when they dragged a bunch of teachers up on stage after the performances (myself included), and made them dance improv.  Hmph.  I’m still trying to figure out if I enjoyed it or was traumatized by it.  But judging from the number of comments I got from students afterwards, I would say that doing the robot with the principle was definitely a success ;).

Part 1: mass chaos

Part 2: mass chaos compounded

Part 3: random jump-rope competitions…what??

Thursday was rounded out by a parent-teacher dinner.  I was shocked to find out that apparently my host mother is the president of the parent-teacher association, and dismayed when she started pressuring me to sing karaoke – introducing myself in Korean in front of the entire room was just about enough cultural bravery as I could handle for one night.  But I got a good meal out of the evening, and was able to escape with a fellow teacher before the singing started, so it all turned out ok :).

Me with some of my co-workers

Friday was another school event, the annual school “picnic.”  This was another source of confusion, as we were originally going to all walk together to Gyeongju World (a small amusement park); for some reason the school had decided that it is a valuable tradition to make everyone walk the 2-hour or more walk to Gyeongju World for the school picnic.  But then Thursday night, it was decided by someone that we would walk to the Expo park this year instead; then we were taking buses; then we were going to Gyeongju world again, but this time taking buses instead of walking; in the end, it was finally decided the morning of that everyone would just meet at the theme park, using whatever method of transportation they wanted to use.  The last minute plans were difficult to stay on top of with my limited Korean, but in the end I was very grateful to not have to walk all the way there :).  And I had a lovely time, too – a group of students claimed me as “theirs” for the day, so we hung out together and rode all of the rides and everything.  It was fun :).

The view from the top of the ferris wheel

I don’t know these students.  They’re 3rd graders – I’ve never taught them.  But they wanted a picture with “Teacher,” so they grabbed me, and I obliged 🙂

Creeper shot….she was too adorable to ignore 😉

Some of my precious students from winter camp.  I don’t teach them anymore, so it was good to see them.. We rode the bus home together 🙂

Saturday, my friend Lin and I decided kind of last-minute to go cherry-blossom hunting.  Gyeongju is famous for its cherry trees – there are thousands and thousands of them scattered throughout the city, when they’re in bloom they really are extraordinarily pretty.  However, the blossoms only bloom for about a week out of the year, so once they start you’ve got to take advantage of it!  So we rented bicycles and just rode around the city, hitting all of the cherry blossom “hot spots.”  Apparently half of South Korea had the same idea as us.  The streets were jammed with cars.  I’m talking apocalyptic evacuation, city traffic after a GA Tech / UGA football game.  Major, major traffic.  I was exceedingly grateful that I was not stuck in a bus.  But we were on bikes, so we avoided the traffic and got to take lots of lovely pictures :).

Epic bikes!  Notice the basket in front :).  Also notice the pink frame, shirt, and pants….**facepalm**

One of my favorite shots… 🙂

Lover’s lane…absolutely gorgeous! 🙂

Festival time!

Yay for picnics!! 🙂

I’m throwing a handful of blossoms into the air…can you see it? 🙂

The only decent shot I got at night….

Sunday, to round out the weekend, I went to church.  I was joined by my friend Lorna, who I had met last year at the church retreat in Daegu.  We hadn’t seen each other for a while, but she came to town to visit this weekend, so we got to hang out for the day.  It was lovely.  We went to church, and played frisbee for a while, and then came back to my house for a while.  Lorna was actually the 1st person I had ever brought with me to my house!  It was very exciting :).  And then in the evening, we met up with Lin and her husband Pan, to have dinner with some friends of theirs.  It was a home church, so we had a scrumptious dinner with them, and then a little worship service afterwards.  It was wonderful to see such a passionate group of believers.  I’ll never forget, as we were leaving, the little 10-year-old boy started sobbing.  I asked him why, and he said it was because his mom had told him that he had to stop reading his Bible because he needed to go to sleep.  Really made me stop and think about my priorities in my own life…  But anyway, it was a lovely way to round out the weekend.  Plus they had a little 13-month-old daughter, who was absolutely preciousssss.  I asked to hold her, and she just loved me!  Was cuddling her head into my chest, and wouldn’t go with her parents when they tried to take her away.  It was adorable :).  And that’s it!  Monday came again hard and fast, with me jumping right into my regular classes and Korean studying, and being informed that I’ve just been given 4 additional classes starting this week.  As of today I have exactly 3 months left in Korea, and I really want to finish strong, no matter what they throw at me.  Wish me luck!

The house church assembly 🙂

My new girlfriend….soooooo precious!! <3

Picnics, Pizza, and Pals

I seem to have finally been cured of my previously insatiable wanderlust.  While I spent nearly every weekend last semester traveling, this semester I don’t want to go anywhere at all.  Even my upcoming trip to Jeju Island, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, I’m looking at with more than a little bit of trepidation.  After going all over Korea and southeast Asia, it seems that both my wallet and my sleep patterns have had quite enough moving for a while.

But then again, perhaps I don’t want to travel simply because I like where I am.  I’m finally finding fun hobbies and wonderful friends….and of course, I love my host family :).  My host sister came to church with me on Sunday – that was cool.  And then we made dinner in the evening for my host parents – this one was an even bigger hit than the fajitas!  We made a chicken / pepper / bean / corn / green pumpkin / whatever else I could find concoction that was really really tasty, if I do say so myself.  In between church and dinner, I went out to lunch with some people from church.  We went and got Korean pizza (have you ever had sweet potatoes on your pizza before??), and talked and laughed – mostly in Konglish, with a little bit of Chinese thrown in there, just for kicks – and overall just had a great time.  I love my friends here <3.

From Left to right: Jeong-min, Hyo-jeong (both Korean), Pan, Lin (both Chinese), and me :]

Speaking of friends, Saturday was also a lovely day with friends.  In the morning, I had Korean class with Si-yeon – she bought me lunch at this superrrrr yummy Japanese noodle place.  Then in the afternoon, I met up with my Uzbekistanian friends for a picnic – they brought the fruit, I brought the drinks and kimbap.  At the kimbap restaurant, I ran into another foreign teacher here, also named Lauren, and I invited her to come along.

So the four of us trooped out to the royal tombs to eat – it sounds morbid, but it’s really not.  They’re just big hills dotted all over the city; make for lovely walking and picnic places.  So yeah, we found a nice spot, and had a lovely afternoon picnicing….I was so excited!  It’s been years since I’ve had a picnic, and I was literally giddy, lol.  Afterwards we were going to go take sticker pictures together, but the place was closed, so instead we elected to go to a coffee shop and buy something to warm us up – it was so windy outside!!

Aziz, Stan, and Lauren², having a picnic in the park 🙂

Our photos have been forever “Koreanized” by the eternal peace sign 😀

Stan and Lauren

Stan and Lauren…again 🙂

Me ‘n Aziz

<3 <3 <3 

So that was my weekend.  Additional noteworthy highlights include playing badminton with my host family – in the house (don’t worry, we were gentle, lol), and the taxi driver who gave me a Lolli-pop and a mix CD just because, totally brightening my really crappy day.  All in all, quite a lovely 2 1/2 days.  My following week has been comparatively lovely, too – much less stressful than the previous weeks.  As I had hoped, with the projects dying down at work, so has the stress.  Four days in Jeju start in a day and a half!

My angel taxi driver.  Please note the totally tricked out dashboard and CDs glued to the ceiling.  I just had to snap a picture 🙂

Things you can’t plan for

I’ve had quite a week.  Forget about all of the field trips and festivals and other exciting things I’ve witness during my 6 months in Korea.  This has been the type of fun that you can’t plan for. 

Last Friday was another open mic night at Grazie, the last one that Anthony and I would both be at.  So I asked him to accompany me on a song, as sort of a “last hurrah” for us, if you will.  So he did, and it was a lot of fun.  We sang “Painting pictures of Egypt,” which is a metaphorical song that alludes to the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert, which I thought was a very fitting song to sing in the presence of so many people who are in transitionary periods of their lives.  But the best part, for me, was that In-suk, my host sister, came with me!  It was so cool to be able to share this part of my life, usually so separate from the life of ordinary Koreans, with my host sister.  Check out the video of me singing below :). 

 Saturday night was the reverse – I was the foreigner on Korean territory.  Several of my students had asked me weeks ago if I would go out with them Saturday night, the night after their finals ended, when they would finally have some time to breathe.  I agreed, of course – I never turn down an opportunity to spend time with my wonderful students – so a date was made.  I was a little worried that they were expecting me to pick up the entire tab, but we went dutch the entire time, so that was good.  I was so proud of my students – they were trying to speak in English almost the entire evening, even with each other!  When just my presence gives them such an incentive to try and speak in English, how on earth can I begrudge them my time when they ask for it??  And besides, I had a blast – we went and took sticker pictures, and had coffee (or green tea, in my case), and went to dinner, and sang karaoke, and even bought matching phone dangles for our cell phones.  It was a blast, and an evening that I’m not likely to soon forget. 

The next day, Sunday, my friend Anthony invited me to a party after church.  It was a party hosted by the Filipino community for the Filipino community in Gyeongju…although I am not Philippina, Anthony is, and he invited me to tag along.  So mid-afternoon I met him (after being regaled by my host mother and sister on the piano for the past hour), and we made our way to the church that was hosting it.  We originally went to the wrong church, but we ended up meeting a co-teacher of Anthony’s who helped us straighten it out, so it was all good.  It’s good for me to hang out with Anthony – it teaches me not to worry if things don’t always work out as planned :).

So anyway, we finally found the party, and it was a blast.  I met a lot of cool people, was introduced to Filipino food, and even won a 6-pack of soap because my team won the balloon-popping game.  Plus, this may sound shallow, but I’m going to say it anyway….there were so many hispanic-looking men there!  I know they weren’t technically hispanic, but they looked like it, and I was very happy…I definitely go for the tall, dark, and handsome type.  I’ve been a bit deprived working at an all-girls’ school in Korea, lol.  Hearing Tagalog, however (the language of the Philippines), really threw me for a loop.  Tagalog is a mixture of Spanish, English, and a lot of its own unique flavor, too – constantly flip-flopping between understanding a bit and then not understanding left my brain really hurting! 🙂 In the end, though, I was really sad when I had to leave – the party was just getting started!

But the reason I had to leave was because I was making dinner for my host family!  I had asked them about a week ago if I could make dinner for them, and surprisingly enough, they had agreed.  My host sister, In-suk, really wanted to help, so I let her stay, but the parents we kicked out of the kitchen.  We made fajitas, with chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and it was a huge success.  Although I must say, the images of them staring with confusion at these empty tortillas and huge skillet of meat and vegetables, or trying to eat fajitas with chopsticks, or insisting on adding kimchi to the filling, are ones that will stick with me a long time :).  But overall, definitely a success and lots of fun.  I also gave them their Christmas presents, which they really seemed to like.  Afterwards, we went upstairs and sang karaoke (they have a karaoke machine in their house!!!) and then went to bed.

If I could, I would have weekends like this every single week.  Even though I didn’t go anywhere, I had more fun this weekend at Grazie, with my students, at the Filipino party and with my host family than I have in a very long time.  It was a wonderful way to end the first half of my stay in Korea.  The next few days quickly disappeared in a blur of final classes, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt sentiments from my students, and preparations for America.  Look for more about my stay in America on the next adventure of Sinbad! 🙂

A Seoul-ful Thanksgiving

I went to Seoul this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And yes, I know that it’s a week early, but apparently in Korea this is when they celebrate American Thanksgiving.  So off to Seoul I went, and man, what a weekend it was!!  In the span of 2 and a half days, I met the American ambassador to Korea, got a private tour through the most visited museum in Korea, talked with some guys from Uzbekistan for nearly an hour – in Korean! – went to a new church, talked to a waiter in Spanish, had a Chicago deep-dish pizza, went West Coast Swing dancing, and got my Indian visa.  Let’s start at the beginning….So Saturday morning, I headed to the bus station bright and early – and by that, I mean 10:00 in the morning.  Which admittedly is not really all that bright and early, but saying “dim and mid-morning” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it…anyway, I digress.  The 10:10 bus was sold out, so I got a ticket for the 11:00 bus, instead.  While I sat there waiting, 2 men who were obviously foreigners came and sat down next to me.  I couldn’t tell where they from, but I could tell that it wasn’t Korea.  They kept staring at me, so finally I decided that it would be less awkward if I started talking to them.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Oh, no English, English very very little.”  Great.  “어느나라에서왔어요?”  (same question,  in Korean).  Well, turns out that they did speak Korean, although I don’t know how they learned it – my Korean vocabulary skills were not advanced enough to ask.  But they were advanced enough to have nearly an hour-long conversation with them about other things – augmented by frequent queries to the English-Korean dictionary on my phone.  It was hard, and most of the time I felt like and idiot – but we were still communicating.  It was fun, I really enjoyed it :).

So I finally made it to Seoul, and met up with some of my friends and went to the Thanksgiving dinner.  This was an event co-hosted by the Fulbright office, the American embassy, and the National Folk Museum of Korea – the most visited museum in all of Korea, and also our venue for the evening.  It started off with a private tour of some of the galleries – the museum was already closed, so we had the entire place all to ourselves.  It was crazy.  Other events during the course of the evening included speeches from embassy and Fulbright officials, performances by both traditional Korean folk artists and fellow ETAs, and of course, dinner!!  The performances were amazing….but I’ve got to say, the meal was probably what made me the happiest.  Turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit, green bean casserole, pumpkin and apple pie, the works…I was one happy puppy :).  The only thing that was missing was my family.

National Folk Museum of Korea
Our adorable little tour guide
Traditional performers…they were sooo good
Yummy!! 🙂
ETA performances
They sang a traditional Korean folk song….or tried to, anyway 😀

Sunday morning I went to a church service with Leora.  The church, Julibee, is the largest independent English-speaking church in Korea…and it was awesome.  The worship, the sermon, the people, the building – all of it was wonderful.  I met up with my friend Dan for lunch, and we decided on a Mexican restaurant in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  The food was great, and the waiter spoke Spanish, which was even greater.  Ever since then, I’ve been listening to all of my Spanish music on repeat.  I love Spanish sooo much….I’m determined to not forget it while I’m here!!  Dinner was Chicago deep-dish pizza with Leora – they claimed to have invented the deep-dish pizza, which was a lie, but it was still good.

Leora is nothing less than adorable <3
I love my friends….
Jubilee church
Cardboard walls….so cool
Dan and I at “Los Amigos”
They said they invented the deep dish pizza….lies….

After dinner Leora had to head back to Hwacheon, but I was staying through until Monday.  So I made my way to the other side of town by myself, searching for a tiny little club in the corner of an alley.  The rumor on Facebook had it that this tiny little club had a West Coast Swing dance on Sunday nights.  So I got off at the right exit and started walking in the direction that I thought the instructions told me to go.  It soon became clear that that was NOT the actual direction I was supposed to go, and within a very short amount of time I was lost in the middle of Seoul.  I was about to turn around and just go back home, but in a last-ditch effort I asked a taxi driver to take me to the big wedding center that looked like was very close to the dance club, from what I could make out from the grainy, pixelated directions.  Well it turns out that I was right, and before I really knew what was happening I found myself in Tiffany’s Bar, watching people dance my baby, a dance that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven.  Not only were the dancers incredible, but they were also all super friendly, and some of them spoke English, so I didn’t feel quite so alone and outsider-ish.  I finally had to tear myself away, for fear that the metro would close and leave me stranded on the opposite side of Seoul from my hostel (that would have been one EXPENSIVE taxi!).  But I had a blast.  It was definitely worth the lonely treck out there, and even the fighting off drunk people on the way back.  Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds…the metro was full of noisy drunk people on the way back, and the man sitting next to me happened to be so inebriated that he couldn’t sit up straight, and so he kept sliding and slumping over onto me.  It was uncomfortable and disconcerting, and I was certainly glad that we were in a public, well-lit place, but he got off before I did, and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

West Coast dancing….pure joy….

Monday was not quite so fun, but I suppose it was necessary evil to have fun later on.  I went to apply for my visa to India, so that I can go there during my Christmas break.  It took me a while to find the office, and I was tired and grumpy by the time I got there, but I finally made it ten minutes before my appointment.  I had a bit of a scare when my number was called – I was told that they don’t accept payment via ATM transfers, which is what I had done.  But because they had never actually said that on their website (and also, I think, God was with me), they decided to accept it in my case, and I am currently passport-less, waiting for my Indian visa to be put in and then mailed back to me :).

I finally made it back to Gyeongju late afternoon.  The rest of Monday was spent doing laundry, cleaning up, catching up on my blogs, and other sundry things like that.  But what I neglected to do is finish my lesson plan for tomorrow, so I suppose I should go do that.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  You are loved!!!

Cheonan and Suwon

I went to Cheonan this weekend to visit my friend Dianna, who taught at my school last year.  It was definitely a long weekend – I spent about 9 hours total on a bus – but it was a lot of fun, too.  So I got there around noon, and after eating lunch with Dianna, the two of us went with another Fulbrighter, Phebe, to see the ancient fortress in Suwon, about an hour away.  Phebe was really excited because the fortress wall is listed as a cultural heritage site or something like that – she kept reminding us that “We’re seeing so much culture!!”  For Dianna and I, who both have extensive experience with Gyeongju, the most historical city in all of Korea, her comments were a little bit laughable.  But it was still a beautiful wall, and I really enjoyed seeing it.  We got there during the day, and stayed until the sun went down, so we got to see the whole range of lighting.  So Dianna took hundreds and hundreds of pictures, and Phebe and I had lots of bonding time to get to know each other :).Sunday morning Dianna and I got up, made breakfast in her apartment, and then headed to church.  It was a great service, uplifting and encouraging, and I always love meeting new people! 🙂  We went to lunch with some of Dianna’s friends from church, plus a newcomer, Ronnie, from Zimbabwe.  ‘Twas a lovely afternoon, indeed.

After getting back from church, Dianna and I made a chocolate pudding in her rice cooker, played a board game while we waited for it to finish, and then I headed back to Gyeongju.  It was, all in all, far too short of a weekend, but I enjoyed it.  One more weekend of traveling, and then hopefully I’ll be done until the end of the semester! 🙂

The fortress during the day….
….and at night
The city of Suwon
I have no idea who they are.  I just thought it was cute 🙂
Dianna, me, Phebe
Some cool, weird-looking statue in the middle of the city.  That’s the extent of my knowledge 🙂
They plant cabbage like flowers.  They do it in Gyeongju, too.  Still trying to figure that one out….
Baking!!
Whisking with chopsticks….gotta love Korea 🙂