First Days in Korea

My first night in Korea included a meal at a shabu shabu restaurant. Shabu shabu is a Japanese dish where thinly sliced beef is added to a pot of boiling broth along with various vegetables. Our put had two halves for two broths, one of which was spicy. Pastor Steve and I were treated to this meal by my new friends, Jin and Esther who own the apartment where I live. It was a sort of "getting to know you" meal. After the meal, Pastor Steve drove to his home in Uijeongbu, which is north of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. I went home with Jin and Esther (this is the English name she has asked me to call her) and met Bongo, their daughter's little dog that was living in the apartment. Bongo was excited to meet me and followed me around the house for the remainder of the evening and slept on my bed. (Bongo is no longer with us, because he was barking so much whenever I left the house that the neighbors called the police. Bongo is now living with the daughter.)

I unpacked my luggage and took a shower having not bathed for over twenty-four hours of travel and sorely in need of bathing. Here is a picture of my bathroom. You will notice that there is no shower curtain. Any water that spills out of the tub onto the floor runs down into a drain beneath the sink. It is taking me a while to get used to water on the floor. 

The second picture is of rubber bathroom shoes that people put on when entering the bathroom or another room where water may be on the floor, like a laundry room. The trouble with these rubber shoes is that they are much too small for my feet, and I have been unsuccessful so far finding any that fit my size 12 feet here in Korea where men's feet seem to max out at size 10 or 11. 

I am also looking for a pair of "slippers." Slippers can be flip flops, slip on sandals/shoes, or scuff type slippers. Slippers are worn indoors after you remove your outdoor shoes just inside the entryway of a home. 

You can also go barefoot or wear your socks if you don't have slippers. Korean floors are not carpeted and are kept clean by not wearing outdoor shoes into the house and by vacuuming and/or washing the floors with something damp. I used something like a steam Swiffer to clean the floors for Esther a couple of Sundays ago. As you can see above, there are some shoes in the entryway and there are more in the white shoe cabinets in behind. Here is what the front of the apartment building where I live looks like...

...and this is the front door to the apartment. 

The door has no keyhole since all the apartment doors have keypads where the owners punch in a code that unlocks the door. 

The front door of the building also has a keypad to let residents in who know the code. I have no keys in my pocket, just codes in my head.
After a solid night's rest, I awoke uncertain of the time, so I remained in bed half awake listening for sounds of life from my new flatmates. Bongo was content to rest with me. Eventually, noises came from the kitchen area, so I got out of bed and joined Esther and Jin at the table. There was a loaf of soft bread with walnuts in it, so I made some toast and brought out a jar of the fresh raspberry jam that Connie Morehead had sent with me and ate toast with jam along with various fruits (tomatoes are a fruit here) and some other things that were taken from the refrigerator to tempt me. One of the Esther's puzzles involving me is what I will eat and how much. I found that she greatly overestimated how much I am able to eat (she was giving me almost twice as much as she served to herself or her husband) and how often I wanted to eat. Slowly, we have been coming to understand each other. We went shopping at Costco last night and she asked me to pick out things I would like to eat. I wanted to also choose things that she and Jin would eat, so we conversed and ended up purchasing, among other items, a box of Kellogg's cereal...

...and some Dodger's ballpark hot dogs and some buns. I have been doing my best not to be fussy about food and have been trying everything. The only thing I did not eat recently was a big plate of fried fish in Busan. I had tried to let my friends now that I am not a fish eater, but the message was lost in translation. I ate lots of rice, soup, and side dishes in place of the fish.

The Friday after I arrived was spent reading, eating, and sleeping - mostly sleeping to try and get over my jet lag. Jin took me to the local HomePlus grocery/department store which is a short walk down the hill from our apartment building to eat lunch, as is his habit when Esther is not around to prepare a meal for him, since he does not cook. He also does not do laundry, wash dishes, or most housework, since that is considered women's work. I have offered to learn how to run the washing machine so that I can do my own laundry, (the little machine in the back is the washer - there is no dryer)

but that idea was shot down quickly by Esther who says that doing laundry is her job and that it is therapeutic for her. Last night she said that sometimes she does it by hand, because it relieves stress and she enjoys it. I am allowed to wash my dishes and to cook when she is not around. In the kitchen there are 

two refrigerators, a gas stove, a microwave, an electric countertop oven, and various appliances. My favorite is the little machine that makes ice cubes and serves up purified hot, cold, or lukewarm water. I have been told to think of Jin and Esther as my brother and sister and that I should feel comfortable in their home, eating what I like, etc. Last night on our way to Costco, Esther said that she was worried that she would have to be different with a stranger in the house, but now she realizes that she need not worry with me there, that she can relax and be herself and not put on a show. I am grateful to God that she feels comfortable with me in her house, for it is truly a divine provision to have been chosen to settle here with them. I am not far from the church, and I have learned to take the subway from here to there and back again without mishap.

Today I went out in the warm, humid weather and rode the subway to an area where I knew a store named eMart was to be found. I found it after a while and then managed by sign language and a few English words to tell the sales clerk that I needed a transformer, a voltage adapter, and he led me to the aisle where they were located. I then stood in a long checkout line only to be told, again by much sign language, that I needed to go to a different register to check out, because the registers where I was were for customers who would be going directly upstairs to the car park. Since I was on foot, I needed to check out on the ground floor, so I made my way downstairs and waited in line again.

 Once I had made my purchase, I went outside and decided to take a chance. Instead of walking back to the subway entrance I had arrived through, I would walk in the opposite direction, hoping to find another subway entrance, one I had seen on a map. I walked with my somewhat heavy transformer in hand down the street, my eyes peeled for a subway entrance, knowing that if worse came to worse, I could retrace my steps to the subway entrance I had used before. I walked and walked and walked. No subway entrance. Many bus stops, but no subway entrances. I was very hot and perspiring from every pore on my body. No Korean did I see who looked as bothered by the heat as was I. I was like a snowman melting in the desert while the Koreans cruised along by foot or on bicycles cool as cucumbers, not one bead of sweat in sight. 

After walking a long way, I saw a sign pointing to an area I thought I recognized as being near where I lived, so I crossed the street and followed my nose in that direction. I had come so far from the original subway entrance that I decided that retracing my steps was no longer an option; I would either find a subway entrance or find my way home on foot. I was not afraid of being lost or not having any way to communicate with anyone. If there was any fear, it was that I would expire from heat exhaustion or dehydration, but there was little chance of this since I could go into one of the convenience stores and buy water and rest in the air conditioning, if necessary. I was convinced that I was headed in the correct direction, since the names of places on signs grew ever more familiar, so I pressed on, not knowing the sight to behold I had become - red in the face, perspiration streaming down my face and neck, my tee shirt stuck to my abdomen, saturated with sweat, and my hair standing up in front from all my attempts to wipe the water from my brow.

I found my way home and immediately went to shower myself, and that is when I saw what all the Koreans had seen, or tried not to see in many cases. I knew I must look bad when children clutched their mothers' hands and hid behind them, but I did not know how bad until I saw myself in the mirror. I thought of taking a picture and posting it here, but I decided to give you mercy.

The next time I sit down to blog, I will start telling you about the East Asian Conference and the Korean Missions Trip. I have some good memories and good pictures of that time.

Thanks for reading and praying. Pray that I become more heat tolerant!


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