Monday, February 26, 2007

Tiny Tales

When the children speak about people who are 'kind', 'gentle', or 'nice', they say, "This person has a warm-mind." I just like the sound of that... a warm-mind. I want a warm-mind.

So I told my TOEFL class that I had met a Korean girl at church. And that she had offered to teach me Korean. Suddenly, Annie started pumping her fist in the air and chanted, "Marry, marry, marry." Sheeesh!! Little girls are the same all over the world.

Kindergarten kids are the coolest. The other day I created a "special test" for my kinder kids to help them learn their colors. I would call out a color and a body part, and they would have to find something in the room with that color and put their body part on it. For example... I said, "Blue... your elbow!" The children ran to the back and pushed their elbows against a blue poster.

Then I called out, "White... your foot!" With the biggest grin on his face, Syan (the only boy in the class) pulled down his pants and proudly displayed his white underwear. I just about lost it. Somehow, I kept a straight face and instructed him to pull his pants up and find something else white. By the way, none of the girls in the class took this opportunity to kick him in the pants (but I think Kate wanted to).

Today Syan raced to the front of the room to tell me something. Kate decided he needed to sit down, so she jumped out of her chair, grabbed the back of his coat, and pulled. The coat ripped and Kate flew backwards. I turned around just in time to see her stand up with a grimace on her face, rubbing her backside, and holding a piece of Syan's coat. Syan didn't seem to mind, in fact, I think he found it funny because he totally forgot what he was trying to tell me. Poor Kate hobbled back to her chair. She said she was okay.

The sound of "Teacher, teacher, teacher." will never get old.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I went to church today. It was the first time since I've gotten here.

The bus ride was interesting. It was so full that some people had to stand for the 40 minute ride to Seoul. I ended up giving my seat to a young guy who looked like he was going to 'lose his lunch'. He needed the window more than I did.

Church was great. Like cool water on my soul. It was an English outreach service. There were about 50 people in the congregation. (The normal Korean service, which I plan to visit sometime, has about 300-400). Pastor Mike gave an excellent sermon about integrity. It was a familiar topic, but one you can never hear too much about. It was interesting to listen as he applied the scriptures to Korean culture.

I was also glad to hear Mike speak the gospel message throughout his sermon. It gave me confidence in this church.

After the service, I joined the other college age kids for a small group meeting. It turns out, they have a Bible study in the morning and a fellowship meeting after the service. So we sat and talked... specifically how we've changed since high school and how we want to change in the future. Each person took a turn sharing. (there were about twenty of us, but we split into two groups). We covered the whole spectrum... new excited Christians to old wise Christians.

Then we all went out for a late lunch. The food and company were awesome. I felt accepted and at home right away. Most of the group is made up of Korean-Americans. However, there are some native Koreans. And then there is one New Zealander named Tim. He and I were the only "white" faces there.

They have already invited me to join them this Thursday. Of course, I will go.

Prayer does get answered. This church was an answer. I don't believe in coincidence. Though the ride to Seoul is a little long... and I could probably find a church closer... I feel that this church is a great place for me right now. I am already excited for next sunday.

(I took these yesterday but they didn't really fit with my "pattern" theme.)

A wiseman once said, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Photo Walk

Patterns. Shapes. They surround me. Jump at me. Laugh with me. Each one unique. I got their autographs. Shapes. Patterns.

These were taken today while I wandered. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

I spoke with a man at a construction site. We didn't use words.

By the way, I intentionally walked through a construction site. I blame my mother for my fascination with construction. When I was young, we didn't have money for boring stuff like cable tv, movies, or amusement parks. Instead, my mom would take me to construction sites where I would watch metal monsters battle.

Anyway, I narrowly avoided leaving footprints in wet cement. Luckily, I was able to leap before it was too late. I glanced up. The construction worker looked at me... looked at the footprint free cement... and smiled. I gave him a double thumbs up. Shook my head. And smiled. He waved me on to a safe path.

A wiseman once said, "A wiseman doesn't need words."

Friday, February 23, 2007

The 5th Floor

The kindergarten on the 5th floor, the floor below Ewha, is moving. Moving days are always a bit sad. A little like dropping your cookie in the dirt.

Each day, I ride the elevator past floor number 5. And I smile, because through the metal elevator doors, I hear playing children and fun music. It's not hard for me to imagine NeverNever Land hiding on the 5th floor. I mean, that's where I'd put it. No one would look for it there. And I bet all the teachers in there are really robots created by the smart kids. No studying. No work. Just fun and adventures.

Sometimes I arrive at work just in time to see a miracle. Around 500 little "lost boys and girls" pile out of the elevator. I'm not really sure how they fit. The important thing is that they do.

It's strange how we grow accustomed to things. And then we appreciate them only after they're gone.

I spotted three of my snowbird friends today. I decided this time it might be okay to take their picture. If I knew snowbird talk, I would have asked their permission.

Random info... I've been reading about "the street culture of children" and "street photography". It's interesting stuff.

When I grow up, I will make sure to give pocket money to my grandkids so they will like me... because that's all it takes... right?

Evacuation of NeverNever Land

Snowbirds, does anyone know where they come from?

A wiseman once said, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sleepy Sergei

I was walking through the store when two Korean girls stopped me.

"Yes, how can I help you?" I said.

They froze in shock... "Oh, we thought you were Russian. Have you heard of Jehovah Witness? Have you heard of our magazine? We would like to give you one, but we only have them in Russian."

I said. "No thanks, I don't want a magazine."

And we parted ways. During our short conversation, I really wanted to say...

"I believe Jesus is God. What do you think? Have you read the gospels? Why were people always trying to stone Jesus? Was it because he was claiming to be God? Do you think he was lying? If yes... think about this... if you told everyone you were president of Korea and then they tried to kill you because you said it... would you let them kill you? or would you say... "NO, no, I was lying. I was just kidding." Why didn't Jesus say he was lying? Do you think he might have been telling the truth?

But as these words flew through my mind, I also thought... it will be pointless. We will stand and debate and nothing will change. I'm sure I won't change their mind and they won't change mine.

But am I really sure? Darn it, I just let an opportunity slip by. I'm such a coward.

Sage is in one of my speaking classes. Her answers are always poetic. Here is something she said recently in an interview concerning bad habits (she claims her bad habit is a weak will, because she can't wake up at 4AM to study).

Mr. Sleep said gently, "pretty girl, please sleep and don't wake up, and don't study harder."

A wisegirl once said, "Don't listen to Mr. Sleep."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rollerblades, Sherlock, and Pancakes

While waiting for the bus, a person sees a lot of interesting things...

I watched four little girls cross the street. Three had rollerblades on. The one without rollerblades won the race across. Somehow, I think, instead of plain old fast feet, she'd rather have rollerblades like her friends'.

A little boy and his mother... the little boy ran circles around his mom. Then he discovered a yellow square painted on the sidewalk. He walked on the square with great dedication for the next ten minutes (I think his mother was thanking God for yellow sidewalk squares).

A girl on what looked like her big brother's bike. She waved at her friends, almost crashed, and regained her balance but lost so much momentum in the process that she had to quickly hop off. A nearby cement pylon helped her get back on.

Two boys. One with rollerblades and the other without. The one with rollerblades held tightly to the hood of the other boy's jacket. The boy without rollerblades pulled (and tried to breathe).

To catch a bus in Korea, you must be aggressive. They will not stop unless you jump out into the street and wave your arm.

You see interesting things on the subway too. Like a husband and wife with a tiny child. I decided to try and play Sherlock Holmes. Unobtrusively, I examined their clothes and behavior toward each other, toward the baby, and toward others on the subway. Here's is what I saw and hypothesized...

The husband had a suit on... but not a very new suit. The wife was dressed in nice, but slightly worn clothes (there was a small worn spot on her pant knee... possibly from playing with baby). The husband held the baby on his knee and with his free hand, dangled a toy that flashed lights. The baby got upset when he wouldn't give it to her. She pulled at the toy angrily. The toy dropped and rolled across the subway floor. An old woman picked it up and, with a smile, handed it to the wife. The wife smiled sheepishly back and said thank you several times. The husband and wife glanced at each other and smiled.

This is the story I imagined... they must be a young couple just scraping along. He works hard to provide for his wife and daughter, but for now, never has any extra to save. His wife stays at home, raising their child and managing their small apartment on the 25th floor. They are unique in Korean culture, because they married for love rather than convenience. They are proud of their life together and the child they hold between them. They are going to visit grandma... to share the joy that is their daughter and to gain some rest. While grandma watches the little one, they can relax their constant vigilance. A happy couple that has been through hard times. A couple that knows more hard times are around the corner. A couple that knows they've made it this far... and as long as they have each other, nothing will be too hard.

And then it was my stop. And I went down the road that is my life. And they went down the road that is their life.

What will little Jenna's road look like?

Next time you find yourself walking somewhere. Make sure to keep your head up... look at the horizon. Suddenly, you will begin to notice new people, new places, new details. Colors and sounds will assault your senses. It's tiring though... and soon you will find yourself looking at the ground once again. Returning to your comfortable little piece of world. But every time you gain the strength to look up again... some new wonder will await you.

I'm getting quite good at making pancakes. Look at these beuts!

Mom claims that Jenna and this little girl are friends. I'm not so sure. Jenna is giving the bigger girl quite a stare down. You can clearly see that she is the stronger personality (Mortinson pride!). On second thought... maybe she's just constipated.

A wiseman, and the Son of God, once said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Museum

It's the new year celebration here, which is like our Christmas. Everyone leaves the big city and heads out to the country. Huge family gatherings take place. (Everyone buys fruit and takes it to their families.)

I decided to check out the National Museum. I accidentally took the subway going the opposite direction I wanted. So I got off to switch trains... and discovered a ghost town. A ghost tube rather. It was very strange. I'd gotten so used to the crowds. The pushing. The shoving. The lack of eye-contact. A complete absence of life was a bit eerie.

In the museum, I watched a little boy hide from his mom. He saw me watching and made the universal "shhhh" signal. Clearly, I was expected to keep quiet and avoid blowing his cover.

A little girl dressed in a beautiful ancient Korean dress, displayed her attachment to technology, when the lights on her shoes suddenly flashed.

I felt very brave today. Venturing into Seoul by myself. Traveling the subways by myself. Visiting the museum by myself. Eating a sandwhich from Isaac's by myself. It's a strange feeling, being the only white English speaking person in sight. I admit, I felt very alone in the midst of hundreds of people.

I'm in that introspective mood again. And I need solitude and silence. I need to write and talk with God.

Mom and Dad having way too much fun.

A wiseman once said, "I must go."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Caramel Teeth

In one of my many reading classes, we recently read about teeth. Particularly about losing teeth. Apparently the tooth fairly doesn't visit Korea.

I asked the children, "Have you lost any teeth? What did you do with them?"

Allow me to share Iris's story (I did my best to use her words, but fixed her grammar).

"I had a loose tooth, so my mother tied a string to it and then tied the other end of the string to my bedroom door. Every night, my father comes home at the same time and reads me a story before I go to sleep. My mother knew this, so she waited until just before he came home to tie my tooth to the door. When my father opened my door, my tooth came out. Then he had to give me money."

It is Korean tradition to throw your lost tooth up onto your roof and yell, "Bring me back a strong tooth." Tradition holds that the magpie will take the baby tooth and bring back a new stronger tooth. Iris said she lives in an apartment very high up so she could not throw her tooth onto the roof. (I feel like this is a Dr. Seuss book...roof, tooth, booth, soothe)

Instead, she threw her tooth out the window and yelled, "God, give me a new stronger tooth!" (I imagined all the children in Korea throwing their teeth out 20 story apartment windows. "Bring your umbrellas, 60 percent chance of teeth today.")

This was a Valentine gift from a little girl named SallyOne (I also have a SallyTwo). I find the English part funny.

In my interview class, I asked the question, "If you were a candy, what would you be? Why?"

I liked this part of Joy's answer, it seemed very thoughtful to me...
"I would be a caramel. Because people who eat me must melt me with spittle. It is a little awkward at first. After a long time, we will be friends."

A wiseman once said, "Two blankets are warmer than one."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hair and Paper, Part II

There have been a lot of complaints about my new haircut. From the children. Anne (one of the Korean homeroom teacher/secretaries) informed Jean that all of the children, boys and girls, have asked her to tell me not to cut my hair again. The children said that it should be a new Ewha school rule.

In one classroom, Annabel said, "Oh teacher, I said cut hair a little. You cut too much."

I think they just can't handle change.

One of my favorite lunch meals (tuna, seaweed, rice, and assorted veggies).

I needed some writing materials. So I started looking for a stationary store. After wandering a bit, I decided to ask one of the secretaries at Ewha.

However, she spoke very little English and couldn't understand what I was looking for. I thought, "Oh well. No worries." I turned to go, but she waved and before I could stop her, had called Steve, the director.

Steve gave me brief and vague directions. Fortunately, I have excellent detective skills and I quickly pieced together the clues I had. After dodging several taxis, a bus, and a motorcycle, I found the little shop.

As soon as I stepped in the door, the owner said, "You are a teacher at Ewha?"

I stood in awe, who was this guy, how did he know about me?

He pointed at the phone, guessing my question. "They just called."

I laughed. Steve had called the store. Wow. All I wanted was a little paper and a few pens. I had no idea I would cause so much trouble. But I was also comforted. They were really taking care of me.

I returned to the school to show my purchases to the secretary. Everyone was impressed by the sweet coloring book I'd found.

All in a days work for super-ninja-juggling-short-haired-teacher-man.

"The book"

A wiseman once said, "Never stop reading books."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Best Medicine

I believe I may have... no... no... I know I have virtually lost control of my treasured speaking class. I simply could not stop laughing today. And neither could they.

Let me start at the start. Strange circus music began playing, which signaled the beginning of the final class of the day. I walked towards the room and quickly realized something was wrong. All the lights were off.

Immediately, my ninja senses entered alert status five. Stealth mode. My dress shoes whispered noiselessly on the floor tiles. With lightning speed, I whipped open the door and flicked on the lights...

Nothing. Not a girl to be found. Backpacks and books were strewn across tables and chairs. But no students. That's when I heard a girly Korean giggle. It came from the back closet. I sprinted to the closet door and grabbed tightly (still in absolute silence).

More girly Korean giggles. Then an attempt to open the closet door from the inside. However, my massive ninja strength prevented any escape. After several more minutes of high pitched girly laughter (and several more feeble attempts to open the door), I released my captives for interrogation purposes.

This was only the start.

During the interview time, Joy and Annie insisted on interviewing together (I called them "JAnnie" one day and they have taken it to heart). The interview question was "What is the nicest thing you've ever done for someone?" Joy told a lovely story about helping a little boy home in the rain. Then it was Annie's turn.

She talked about how she'd made a birthday present for her cousin. "I made him red crap," she said innocently. I couldn't handle it. I started laughing. She didn't understand why.

I asked, "Did you make him 'a' red 'crab', or 'a' red 'crap'?"
"Red cra-b," she replied. "Teacher, what is 'cra-p'?

Luckily, I know the Korean word for poop (imagine that) which is 'dong'.

Joy demonstrated her new knowledge... she squatted and said, "Crap, teacher? Dong?" I covered my mouth to hide my laughter and nodded.

Then the two girls just lost it. They laughed and laughed... and so did I.

Then they couldn't leave it alone... "I make red crap", "I make rainbow crap", "I make brown crap." Tears poured from our eyes.

They ended the day by hiding in the closet again and also giving me a gift (see following pictures).

I think I needed to laugh. It felt good.

Yep, folks, nothing says thank you like a hard boiled egg.
It says, "To. Ryan from. IBt Tofel. girls."

This side says, "thank you teacher to teach us."

A wisegirl once said,"Annie is back. Class very noisy."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Photo Journey - Donghae

This weekend I traveled to Donghae for the second time. I can barely begin to describe it.

I'll try... me, three South Africans, multiple bus rides, beautiful valleys, rock skipping, snow, Uncle Peter, Chili's, sunrise that didn't happen, the ocean, lovely weather, a photographer's dream, strange sculptures, tea, crazy Korean TV, and the bus ride home.

(Donghae is located on Korea's east coast. It is a four hour bus ride from Seoul.)

The sky decided to cry frozen tears while we were in Mureung valley. It was beautiful. The South Africans don't see snow often. I thoroughly enjoyed their excitement.

Two children escape from the blizzard.

Uncle Peter told me that this is ancient poetry.

This photo marks the end of Day 1. It's about 50 steps from Uncle Peter's apartment.

Everyone, especially Uncle Peter (as you can plainly see), was amazed that I was able to catch all these fish, gut them, and dry them. All within a few minutes of reaching the beach.

Boy vs. Ocean

Their moms must shop at the same place.

Peppermint tea with a view.

The End

A wiseman once said, "The more experience I gain, the more I realize how little I have."