A Merry Misadventure (and more food pictures)

It is a beautiful September Friday afternoon here in Uijeongbu, South Korea. The weather is cooler, the humidity is lower, the skies are blue with some fluffy white clouds, and I opened the windows of the apartment to let in the sweet air. I describe weather conditions like this as "summer in Maine," for some reason. Perhaps I am recalling carefree days of my childhood. I have been staying here in Uijeongbu since last Saturday at Tain Palanun's apartment. Tain is in Thailand trying to obtain a Chinese visa. My roommate this week is William, a Thai student attending Uijeongbu International Christian School. William has been living with Tain for three years now, and he will be graduating from high school next June.

My life has been different this week, since Uijeongbu is north of Seoul and it takes longer to get to the church from here by subway or car. When Pastor DeVries is heading to the church for service or Bible college in the morning, he drives by and picks me up in his van, and I usually go home via the subway since his afternoon and evening schedules differ from mine. When I was visiting Korea last year, I got to know my way around this part of Uijeongbu, so it feels like home to me in a way. There is a U.S. army base here in Uijeongbu, and I have seen some American soldiers in uniform running early in the morning and in civilian clothes eating out down near the big Shinsegae department store downtown. Last night, William and I encountered some off-duty soldiers eating barbecue in the restaurant he took me to (I treated him to Indian food the week before).

Korean barbecue is a delicious experience that I was was more readily available in the U.S.. You grill your own meats that you order at your table with its built in charcoal grill. This restaurant had a special grill with a sort of moat around it into which some chopped vegetables and scrambled eggs were poured. As the meat cooked on the grill, the eggs cooked up into a wreath-shaped omelet to be eaten along with all of the side dishes that came with the meal - a cold seaweed soup, a leafy salad with spicy dressing, kimchi, garlic, some sort of bean sprout salad, pickled radish, and probably something else I am forgetting. Oh, yes! Tofu. We ordered Korean sticky rice and kimchi jjiggae, a stew that has kimchi as its main ingredient. William ate that while I focused more on the cold soup. The meat is cooked whole until a certain point, then cut into smaller pieces with scissors to finish cooking. The smaller pieces are easier to pick up with chopsticks and we dipped them into the gochujang (red pepper paste) or soy sauce based dipping sauce with bits of scallion and green chili pepper floating in it. I preferred the latter. Barbecuing your food and sharing all of the side dishes is fun and encourages conversation.

Today I had a merry misadventure. After this morning's Survey of Doctrine class (you can hear the classes at the gracemissionkorea.org website and find out about the church and Bible college here) I decided to do a couple of errands up here in Uijeongbu. My first errand was to buy a phone card at the World Foods store where Tain's helpful Chinese-speaking friend works. I handed her 10,000 won and she loaded up my phone for another month of service. Next, I went to Uijeongbu station, rode the subway for one stop, then transferred to the light rail U Line to head into the northern sections of Uijeongbu. Why? I was in search of the elusive Costco store! I was determined to hunt it down and bag myself and membership card so that I could buy sour cream and a bag of shredded Mexican cheeses. Why? Quesadillas and tacos. Sour cream and cheeses other than American and mozzarella are almost non-existent in all the grocery stores around here. Costco has both. I boarded the narrow, driverless train and rode the 6 miles to Songsan Station, the station shown on the Costco website's map. The store looked within walking distance of the station, and I'm pretty good at navigating, so I thought, "It's a lovely day for walking, so why not stroll over the Costco, pay for a membership card, and buy some precious dairy products?" 

Before I left the station, I used the bathroom. I'd had tried to use the men's room back at the Uijeongbu subway station, but none of the stalls had toilet paper in them. I looked all over the bathroom and could not find any, so I had not relieved myself. At Songsan station, I noticed a woman unrolling some toilet paper outside the restroom from a roll on the wall before she went in. A-ha! That's where the toilet paper was! I left the station lighter and more comfortable. 

Down at street level, I realized that I did not know how the map was oriented, so I chose a direction at random and began walking. The map showed an elementary school near the Costco, and my built-in teacher radar led me unfailingly to an elementary school that was letting out as I passed by. I group of boys converged on me saying, "Hello!" "Hi!" "U.S.A.?" I replied, "Hello. Hi. Yes." My yes response resulted in one of the boys transforming into a soldier shooting a machine gun, complete with sound effects. They asked me my name and I said, "Daniel" since Dan seems to be hard for some Koreans to say. The bold soldier happily volunteered his own name and the all followed me down the sidewalk asking me questions in Korean that I could not answer and introducing me to their buddies as we met them. 

When we met a girl, they immediately called her a pig in both English and Korean, to which she replied, "Beautiful," and smiled. One of the boys pointed to the girl's friend and called her mouse in English and Korean. (She was as cute as a little mouse.) The boys were so proud of their English insults. I told the guys in word and by show that they should be nice or one of the girls might hit him. It didn't faze him in the least, and he kept pointing at the first girl and calling her pig. She replied, "Princess," and smiled. Obviously she had a good self-image. We walked to a corner, crossed a street, and then had to part ways. I was assailed with goodbyes, see you laters, and byes until we no longer could see each other. 

A group of three boys continued along the way I had chosen. I decided to ask them if they knew where Costco was. They thought on that a bit and then recognized the word Costco, but didn't know where it was. They asked a passing girl who said something about E-Mart. Eventually, they gave up trying to help the Miguk and waved goodbye.

I headed back in the direction of the subway station hoping to somehow get my bearings. I saw the name of one of the streets on my Costco map and began to walk in the direction I thought was right. Proverbs 14:12 says there is a way that seems right to a man that only leads to death... I walked and walked, trying to figure out the Korean system of addresses. I almost stopped several people to ask for help, but I ended up spotting a real estate office and realized that, of all people, these ones would know where such a landmark is located. The friendly folk in the office showed me on a map where I was at the moment and where Costco was. I was nowhere near it. It was not within easy walking distance unless I was a giant that could cover a city block with each step. Costco's location was almost not on the map! I laughed at my predicament and thanked my kind helpers.

I walked back toward the station, knowing my adventure had turned into a misadventure, but a merry one. I stopped at a shop and ordered a milk bubble tea. The bubbles are really big tapioca pearls that add a chewy treat to your drink. I like it, and the owner of the store seemed happy to sell one to me. I hope she really was. I took a picture of my drink back in the station as I waited for the train.

Feeling as though I had already started out having a misadventure, I decided to keep it going and I got off the light rail at a different stop than the one I had started from, knowing I would probably find my way home sometime today. I ended up catching a number 208 bus and riding it through the city for a long way, seeing many places I had never seen before including a beautiful performing arts center. Near my final stop, a woman boarded the bus with her little girl and a baby in a carrier on her chest. The baby was chubby and happy and gave me huge grin when I smiled at him, and when I looked over at the little girl, she was already looking over at me and smiling at me without a trace of shyness. Those were some children who were clearly enjoying life!

This weekend begins the Korean Thanksgiving holiday called Chuseok. It is a major three-day holiday when people return to their hometowns to be with family, eat traditional foods, and, for those who do such things, worship the ancestors who have blessed the harvest and visit their graves. Like Thanksgiving in America, traveling can get a bit crazy on the highways with cars and buses and on the railways. I am going via train to Daejeon on Monday to visit Min Mok. Since he is at the police academy and the actual day of Chuseok is Sunday, he has only Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off from school while most everyone else has Monday through Wednesday off from work and school. I thought that young people would be excited about the time off, but many of the ones I have spoken to say it is a boring holiday for them, because there is nothing to do, since nearly everything shuts down except some tourist oriented attractions, like amusement parks that have special discounts for foreigners like me. Chuseok is a time of year to give gifts too. "God" gave me 30,000 won as a Chuseok gift this week. To God be the glory, great things he has done! I'm hoping for no misadventures this Monday as I travel. I need to be at Seoul Station by 8:30 to catch the train to Daejeon. I will need to head out early from Uijeongbu to arrive on time. Pray that all goes well and that I have a blessed time with Min Mok and his family.

This was the second week at the school where Pastor DeVries teaches Bible to the North Korean high school students. My heart is stirred whenever I think of them and I find myself slipping into prayer while I am there in the room with them all, asking God to reveal Himself in a personal, powerful way. I walked away from yesterday's class thinking how important that investment in young men is, how vulnerable they are the snares and temptations that would knock them out of their place in God's purpose and plan. Pastor DeVries said in class that Jesus' disciples may mostly have been teenaged guys. That was thought provoking, especially since teenaged guys these days tend to see themselves as too young to be disciples. If somehow that could change... 

And on the other hand, one is never too old to be a disciple either! I am a student here in Bible college and tagging along with Pastor DeVries to some of his Bible studies and learning how to share the Gospel in Korea from his example. We have an opportunity to have a Bible study in a pre-school kindergarten on Mondays with the school staff. I cannot wait to go. To be able to minister to teachers is near and dear to my heart. I miss the fine folks at Greater Grace Christian Academy and pray for their success in their daily mission.

Okay. It is now 8:02 PM and I am hungry again, so I will make myself a bowl of cereal or eat some of the leftover green curry chicken that William made earlier this week. Yum!


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