Monday, October 31, 2011

Case of the Mondays

Some days are such a struggle. Mondays, in particular, have that nasty habit. Often there’s no reason for it, but by noon I’m thinking how is it not Friday? How is this day still going? That was today.

A nasty backbiter of a day.

Luckily I have trustworthy colleagues who have my back and can make me smile.

Unfortunately, I did not see Elijah today, which might
have contributed to the Mondayness of it all.

Crazy kids.
Aaaaaand I have a boombox. It weighs fifty
pounds and plays cassette tapes. Lucky girl, huh?

Even more luckily, God gave me a little hug today. I was playing my violin in a big classroom full of empty desks and scattered chairs. Lee tickled the hell out of the ivories while Richard and Park (Korean friends of ours) barged in with guitars at the ready. They sang in Korean, we sang in English, and we all knew the melody. Music and God baffle me that way.

Plus, I truly do believe there's always a silver lining. I just found it: 

"Baffles" is only one letter away from being "waffles."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Madness of a Korean Disposition

Seats were lined up all the way down the beach. Luckily,
Ashley and I got special seats reserved for foreigners.
On Friday I went to my third concert of all time and my first ever K-Pop concert.

Some crazy guy trying to hit on Ashley bought us glow
sticks. Seemed pretty cool until his favourite bands came
on stage: then he screamed like a little girl. We were almost
too terrified to wave our glow sticks. Almost.
K-Pop is madness. But it’s the kind of madness I can get behind: systematic, addicting, and exceedingly well-dressed. And there’s dancing. Lots of it. If V is right and a revolution without dancing is not worth having, than I suggest we begin said revolution in South Korea and invite Taemin, Minho, and the rest of Shinee.

And Big Bang.

And maybe 2PM.

They’re prominent (advertisements, dramas, movies), they’re pretty, and best of all, they’re prolific. For a book nerd who spent all of her childhood saying goodbye to characters she loved for three books (four, if she was lucky), this is a dream come true.
Guys dancing in suits will never get old.

In fact, K-Pop is an entire culture devoted to what teenage girls want. And unlike in America, it’s not degraded. The majority of Americans groan when they see a Justin Bieber poster and pretend to puke if Twilight is mentioned at all. But in Korea, much of society revels in these staples of girl world rather than ridicules them. The boys in my classes are just as likely to have seen the dramas, gone to the concerts, and memorized at least one k-pop dance by heart as the girls are.

Even more bizarre is how for once it’s not the women who are being ogled, but the men. Of course, there are girls’ groups, too, and they are very popular. But we have those in the States. What we don’t have are billion-dollar companies devoted to making groups of five boy/men look beautiful. Whole lines of clothing are devoted to bands, and each member of the band has to have his own “look,” his own “angle.”

Couple of fangirls bundled up on a crowded Gwangali Beach
to watch some K-Pop. Free outdoor concerts are awesome.
I ogle.

Mostly, I like anything that feeds my inner fangirl. I don’t know why that part of me exists, but I can’t deny that my heart didn’t squee! when I realized just how many Korean dramas and K-Pop bands there are. It’s like that moment when you read the first page of an five-book series, or you watch the very first episode of The West Wing, knowing there are still seven whole seasons left to go.

It’s not something that will stop me from reading my books or writing my stories or playing soccer, but K-Pop is a delicious way for me to indulge in a little madness.

My new favourite group:

The one with the bizarro green thing on/around his head? Wicked good dancer. How do I know?
Maybe because I've watched this video []
 a hundred times.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kiss Me, Kill Me

Looks funny, right?
Here’s another Korean lesson: 방(bahng) means room. So your bedroom is your 방 bahng. There are singing rooms called nore 노레 (song) 방 bahngs. And there are DVD 방 bahngs, which are basically private movie theatres.

Tonight, Ashley, Hanna, and I visited one. Since we were sans guys, we figured a nice, light romantic comedy would be fun. So we picked “Kiss Me, Kill Me,” a romance between a hit-man and his hit. Considering the cover, I was looking forward to some good fluff: hot guy goes to kill cute girl; cute girl disarms him; bizarre connection blossoms; la-di-dah, they discover they love each other.

Sort of.

Except that after disarming him, the girl steals the gun and tries to use it on herself. With a swift kick to the wrist, he then disarms her and soon discovers she ordered the hit on herself because she was suicidal and wanted to go out with a 방 (couldn't help it)

He begins to spend his pathetic, friendless existence ordering her not to kill herself, even though he himself has very little worth living for. Their first date is a day-long awkward-fest at an amusement park in which neither of them look at one another, nor smile, nor speak. At the end of it, he takes out a dozen roses he had hidden in his jacket all day long and throws them at her, yelling at her for being crazy. Every time the romantic tension got close enough for them to kiss, bad guys show up with guns or metal rods or with polite bowing and break up all that mushy nonsense.

She crashes her ex-boyfriend’s wedding with a gun, and his job as a hit-man is endangered by a younger new guy. But when they duke it out, he loses and is slowly being stabbed to death when she finds them and uses her wedding-crashing revolver to shoot the younger hit-man. Both men are wounded, but they part on good terms—the younger leaving before the cops come at which point our main hit-man grabs the girl and uses her as a willing body shield in order to make it to the get-away car. Unfortunately, he gets shot and bleeds to death in her arms.

Sort of.  Actually, the final scene is their reunion...during prison visitor hours.

So, yeah, it was a chick flick: hot guy (who lives for the thrill of murder) goes to kill cute girl (who is suicidal because of love); cute girl disarms him (and tries to use the gun on herself); bizarre connection (based on mutual ineptitude at living) blossoms; la-di-dah, they discover they love each other (despite an unknown number of years in jail to follow).

Thank you, Korea.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Most Adorable Korean Lesson You Will Ever Learn

I’m going to give you your first lesson in Korean. Don’t worry; it’s not one of those boring lessons about how to say “Hello! Nice to meet you, you dirty f***ing slut-whore” like my first lesson in Korean. This is much easier to say.

The Korean verb “to apologize” is sagwahada (사과하다). “Hada” (하다) is the verb of verbs. For those of you who know your Japanese, this is the “suru” (する) of the language. The closest English has to “hada” (하다) and “suru” (する) is “do.”[1] We can mix these verbs with all sorts of nouns to create verbs. Song+do = sing a song. In Japanese, you say shoppingu o suru (shopping) or sukii o suru (skiing).

So. We have 하다 = do.

Stay with me. This is where it gets adorable.

The first part of the verb is 사과, so where in song + do = sing a song, now we have 사과 + do = to apologize. But 사과 by itself means “apple.”

Apple + do = apologize.

Can you guess the adorable part now?

As Hanna explained it, “You don’t have a Korean boyfriend now but you are 진짜귀엽다 (jinjja gwipta: really cute), so when you have a Korean boyfriend, you will fight with him. When you make up, you should bring him an apple and say,


sagwa badda juseyo.


Please accept this apple/apology.

But remember to pronounce all the b’s as sort of p’s and all the d’s as sort of t’s too, but more of a d sound. Oh and the j’s sound a little like ch’s. Sorry it’s a little complicated for you English speakers out there. I apologize.


[1] English needs a cooler alphabet, am I right??

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nuptial Eeyore

I’m kind of downer at weddings. After spending so many weekends of my life playing Pachelbel’s Canon and Bach’s Air on repeat, I’ve sort of been soured on the whole romance part of the affair. Luckily, Koreans agree with me.

See those people in the back? They never stopped talking
the ENTIRE time. Kate (who is awesome and will get her
own blog post later) says they stand back there so they
can catch up with everyone they haven't seen since
the last wedding.
Sunny—one of the women working in the international office—invited all of us to her wedding last Saturday. Her ceremony took place in a marriage hall—an entire building devoted to small chapel-esque rooms with spray-painted gold chairs swathed in white tooling (sp??). Unnaturally white trees lined the short, elevated aisle—white, lacy— of Sunny’s chapel and the pulpit bulged at the front, drowning in flowers. Across the hall, two other halls mirrored hers with disconcerting exactitude.

My favourite part of the wedding was the groom. Grinning from ear to ear, he practically bounded down the aisle alone. No groomsmen or bridesmaids slowed things up so he was able to make it from door to pulpit in a round three seconds. At the front, he bowed first to Sunny’s parents, then to his own. Each time, he got down on his knees and touched his forehead to the floor.

There is much less touching in Korean weddings, much less kissing, and much, much more chattering from the audience. In fact, the fifty or so people who were crammed into the back never stopped talking the entire wedding. We could barely hear the pastor speak. Really, the only thing that was particularly clear was the groom shouting “!” (Yes!!)—hilariously loud—in answer to what I assume was the obligatory, “Do you take this woman...?” question. The whole ceremony was in Korean, so it was a little tough to follow.
Mommy and Daddy of the groom. Mom's wearing a Hanbok

To finish the ceremony, the cameraman staged us all into pictures surrounding Sunny and her new husband. First family, then friends, then work friends, then foreigners, ect. Afterwards, Sunny and hubby greeted all the guests at the reception while wearing Hanboks, traditional Korean dress. There was a fake throwing of the bouquet and then a not at all fake and completely delicious buffet. And you had better believe that my second bowl of ice cream mixed with cookies and a little coffee made me much less of a nuptial Eeyore.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dictator in Knee-High Boots

Go Lotte!
A couple weeks back I went to a baseball game with some friends of mine. Our local team—the Lotte Giants—were playing their last game before the post-season, a spot in which they were already guaranteed. Consequently, the crowd was not as bubbly as normal Korean crowds are cracked up to be. We found our seats in the placid outfield at the end of the first inning and settled down to a leisurely game.

But across the stadium, right behind the first baseline, the famed cheering section was doing its thing—despite any support from everyone else in the stadium. We couldn’t see much, but just like in high school looking at the other lunch tables we could tell other people were having a lot more fun than we were. Since it was our first game, Lee and I decided to crash the party.

The guards manning the gates into the rabid cheering section were easily foiled by a couple of wily foreigners. “Ticket?” He asked. We looked horrified and patted our pockets and pointed in the direction of our supposed seats. He teetered, but—as we well knew—he didn’t have the English to politely say, “I can’t let you in without a ticket,” so we were waved through.

Noise exploded around us—screaming girls, a man’s amplified voice, and, of all things, a vuvuzela. We found two open seats right in the middle of the mighty rumpus—in front of newspaper pom-pom-armed girls and behind flag-waving enthusiastic older men—and jumped in. I might have been screaming, “Hail to Kim Jong-Il and the blessed Communist Party” for all I knew, but I was screaming it to the tunes of old American classics. I vividly remember hearing the theme from Mission Impossible and probably a few from the Best of Queen album, too.

Hitler only wishes he had this kind of stage presence
Lee took pictures and I screamed God-only-knows-what as the Giants took a big lead in the fifth inning. The girls behind us made us a couple of newspaper pom-poms for our cheering pleasure so we could more effectively follow our cheerleader. This cheerleader—the drum major of the event—was a youngish (30s, probably, but Korean, so that’s still young) man wearing a Lotte uniform and knee-high white boots. He danced, he screamed, he led us with a control of the crowd so thorough as to make Hitler envious.

Don’t mind me. There’s just something about joining into one body of many screaming parts that forcibly reminds me of dictators and communism.

Anyway, unlike communism, it was a blast. I’m looking forward to more live Lotte games in the future. But for now, I’ll settle for keeping up with their postseason work. Game three tonight and hopefully on their way to the finals.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time the Destroyer is Time the Preserver

            It’s hard to tell when life is changing. Time slips by unpretentiously, humbler than Christ himself, leaving me fumbling with my mat as I try to get up and walk. By the time I’ve got it under my arm and I’m ready to leave the pool, it’s disappeared into the crowd—and the crowd has disappeared, too. It’s just me and the cool breeze and the black sky.
            I’m not complaining, mind you, about the breeze and the unreadable night. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little more warning. Sometimes it feels good to hear the clock ringing the hours or see the sun shifting degree by degree from horizon to horizon. That’s why I appreciate the birthdays and the benchmarks—the lines on the wall denoting my infinitesimal growth spurts. They’re good for the filing system.
            All-State Orchestra with strep throat.
Playing against Augustana College.
            My sister’s wedding.
            Les Miserables in London.
A flight to Korea.
But more often the real growth spurts happen in those shifting times—during the breeze and the black—and only a shiver of the chord connecting your heart and memory tells you something’s changed. The shivers are clues, so tiny I usually miss them—so random I sometimes mistake them for a trick of my emotions (is it that time of month again?). But I’m getting better at catching them these days: when a student prays for our class in Arabic; when my students cover their teeth to giggle at my jokes; when two of my grown male students hold hands as they walk down the hall beside me.
So what’s changed? Not much. It’s a little colder in the mornings. Most of my students remember my name and aren’t afraid to use it. Minhee smiles at me sometimes. When I fumble (with words, with my keys, with my mat as I leave the pool)—even as the leaves change color and the night comes a little faster - I don't stumble.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Double-Extended Lash-Boosting Mascara

Makeup disturbs me on several levels. There’s the “I’m slathering myself with pig-fat” level, closely followed by the infinitely less practical and more angsty “Do you know who I am underneath the makeup?” level. But it’s neither the germ-o-phobe nor the teenager in me that is the most disturbed, but the writer.

Allow me to back up.

Occasionally I find myself in need of certain products that will make me incandescently beautiful such as mascara. The last Sunday of my American convalescence was one such time, and I found myself in Target’s girl section where everything shimmers and the floors radiate with a pink estrogen glow. Or maybe that’s just the lip gloss cabinet. Either way, it’s a little eerie, so I try to dash through.

Luckily, I’m not all that picky about my mascara. Because I’m cheap and makeup is brutally expensive, it’s usually a simple process of finding the cheapest brand (L’Oreal, $5.84) and slouching off to look at notebooks and pens. I had already half-pulled my $5.84 choice off its little metal hook when I spotted the one next to it. “Bold-looking volume,” it claimed intriguingly. And that’s when I made a fatal error:

I hesitated.

Make-up quiz for the guys: When I say "Fabulash" I am
a.) applying makeup b.) drunk
The $5.84 went back on its hanger and I looked to the one on its other side. “Dramatic-looking volume,” it announced. I glanced back at “Bold-looking volume” and then back to my original pick—“Voluminous Million Lashes.” Thoroughly bamboozled, I did a quick scan and discovered I could also buy mascara with a “Lash Boosting Power System” that acted as an “Eye Illuminator.” And, if I was willing to up my price by a few measly dollars, I could have “Lash-boosting serum” mascara, or “double-extended lash-boosting” mascara or what was advertised as a “Telescopic Explosion.”

I tried for a moment to visualize an explosion anywhere near my eye in a positive light and failed. This is about the time I pulled out my notebook and sidled over to the CoverGirl display. They offered a dazzling display of yellow, orange, pink, and purple tubes each labeled “lashblast______” with each tube offering to fill in the blank with “length, volume, luxe, and fusion” respectively. In case you’re curious, “luxe” means “shimmer” and “fusion” refers to the combination of both length and volume—in one mascara! Can you believe they sell it separately, too? What a steal!

I took copious notes and moved on to Revlon. There, I was offered CustomEyes, FabuLashes, and Grow Luscious Plumping—with or without something mysteriously referred to as a “double twist.”

Rimmel tempted me with SexyCurves—magically guaranteed to make my lashes exactly 70% curlier than before with its triple plump brush and a particle accelerator. No, wait—actually it’s a volume accelerator, but I’m sure it’s equally scientific. From there I could choose between megalash, megavolume, megaplump, and megaprotein. No joke: megaprotein.

I laughed out loud. You can’t make this stuff up.

And that’s when it hit me. Yes, yes you can make this stuff up and someone did.

English majors, harken to me for I have the horrifying answer to the question that has haunted you for years. “What are you going to do with that degree?”

All in all it's just a brick in the--or something.
I repeat: horrifying.

I suggest, “I’m going to work for Revlon” instead of “I’ll be one of 6 poor underpaid saps who spends eight traumatizing hours every day pondering every possible way to combine the words “luscious,” “volume,” “plump,” “fabulous,” “length,” “lash,” and “eye” into one God-awful word that means even less than the dollar amount on my paycheck.”

Or maybe stick with grad school.

But that’s years away and almost as intangible as the possibility that I might one day be mature enough to select lipstick for myself. But when that day of grad school and maturity comes around, be assured that I will make an earnestly-deliberated decision between Sassy Mauve, Berry Haute, Va Va Violet, and Pink Pout Matte for my back-up color. I’d love to choose Fire and Ice for my primary lipstick, but behind that name is an English major, writing minor who desperately snuck a Robert Frost reference past her supervisors in an attempt to make the next seven hours of that day bearable.

Too heavy. And my face isn’t good with such dark colors. I think a Kiss Me Coral goes a little better with my skin tone, don’t you?

End note:
On Saturday I ran out of the house all gussied up for a wedding (more on that later, and oh yes, I just successfully used the phrasal verb “gussied up”). Unfortunately, my going-out-of-the-house checklist failed me. Cell phone? Keys? Wallet? Cleats? Both shin-guards? Earrings? Mascara?

Whoops. Luckily, I was able to sample some mascara in the underground shops on the way to the subway, so little Korean children did not shriek when they saw my face (no more than usual, anyway). But it did remind me of something I wrote, and thus, this slightly dated post.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Allow me to digress needlessly into Star Wars references in order to make my point. Anakin is a better pilot, but Obi Wan has a better overall grasp of the Force. C3PO can communicate, and R2D2 can do everything else. Han Solo’s good at being a bad-ass, but not all that great at understanding women. You win some, you lose some. (Unless you’re Jar-Jar Binks and you’re only good at ruining everything. C’est la vie, Jar-Jar.)

I have my own strengths at weaknesses. I am good at nitpicking, making toast, and coming up with horribly racist mnemonics for Korean words. On the other hand, I stink at killing the mosquitoes in my apartment, not scaring MinHee, and empathizing. The first idiom I taught my Masters of Divinity students was, “suck it up.”

In other words: if I were visiting Yoda for training on Degoba, he would not be likely to say “the mothering instinct is strong in this one.”

And yet I’ve become horribly protective of my mDiv kiddos. And by kiddos, I mean grown men with degrees and wives and a mature passion for the gospel. But the word “students” doesn’t denote how I feel about them. Maybe it’s because every week I’ve read their essays, learned about their mothers, their favourite foods from back home, their personal relationships with Christ. Nothing bares the soul like writing, and my kiddos have such beautiful souls.

This is how I would take on the system. Watch out, Korea.
Mother hen gonna slap a bitch.
But they also have only six and a half weeks until they have to take the TOEFL test—the grade of which determines whether or not they can stay at Kosin, studying to become pastors. No one warned them (or me, for that matter) that they would have to take the test so soon. To avoid being sent home, my first-years students must achieve a mark of 80 or more, a feat which most of the men and women about to graduate from Kosin’s divinity program could not achieve.

Some days I wish I had a light saber and the powers of a Sith Lord so I could take on the system.

Instead, I have my kiddos: Samedi, with the sweetest disposition and a deficiency in subject-verb agreement; Palash, unable to use an infinitive to save his life, but refreshingly belligerent; Richard, humble, joyful, and muddled somewhere between French and English; Dieudonne, 70 pounds of goodwill towards others; Ermeyas, earnest and hardworking and utterly lacking in sentence structure; Menglay who already speaks Cambodian, Thai, and Korean but audits my class—completing all the homework—to improve his fourth language; Vannak, who laughs at jokes I don’t understand and reminded me today of a Korean saying.

In Korean expression, they say ‘fighting to the end’ we will never give up.”

So we say to you, TOEFL (our Death Star, the Dark Side): you can stuff it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

축구친구 (Chukku Chinku)

Ladies and Gentlemen, today is a day that will live in infamy. Today is the day that the Lord has made. Today, I have succeeded in my capacity as Unofficial American Liaison to Koreans in All Things Women’s Sports (or UALKATWS if you’re Dutch CRC and love your acronyms nearly as much as you love your windmills).

Today, I played soccer.

And today, about thirty Korean guys learned that women can play—and enjoy—soccer.

The sun was shining—well, since I had to get up at 5am in order to make the 7am call, it wasn’t shining at first—and a cool October breeze sifted the air as the games began. We started with short-sided games on almost-cement-partly-turf and 족구 (Jokgu), Korea’s version of SoccerTennisVolleyball.[1] At first I was patronized—even a failed shot got a “nice-u! nice-u!” from my overly nice-u teammates.

But finally, after I’d executed a few kill-shots of my own and provided serious scoring impetus in the full-field scrimmage, the empty nice-u’s changed. Instead, I got real symbols of inclusion.

These pictures are unrelated. But I like them. Asians always
want to take pictures with the white people, so I'm starting
a new trend for us white people, and I've just started asking
Asians to take pictures with me.
      1.      The High-Five. This is entry-level acceptance; the bare bones of sporting inclusion; a small, but important step.
      2.      Water Tossing. Koreans are remarkable in their determination to ignore how unsanitary it is to share things they’ve touched with their mouths. Luckily, I am similarly unsanitary myself, so I had no qualms about chucking the water bottles back and forth with guys who can’t understand a word I say.
      3.      The Raised Hand, Dropped Face. You know what I’m talking about. It’s sign language for “my bad” and everyone knows it, everyone uses it. Perfect for a late pass, a hard knock, or a missed goal.

And—even though they probably would have said the same thing if I scored an own-goal, tripped on my shoe strings, or maybe just sat on the ball giggling—it was nice to hear, “You very good. Come back next week?”

This is either a typo are a personal message
to me. And you!
With the sun still yet to make its full appearance, as I walked to the field with Gyu—my liaison for all things soccer and helpful translator—he told me that this was the first time any of them had ever played soccer with a girl. “Girls here don’t like soccer,” he explained. “They don’t even like boys who play soccer because we spend too much time doing it.” He was the one that explained that the others wanted me to come back next week. “He says you have good position,” he explained a couple times. And, “They say you have very good control. Good passing.” (Thank heavens no one mentioned my dribbling, or lackthereof.)

Not a bad way to spend my Saturday morning. Now I’m going to nurse the my swollen ankle, scraped leg, and goose-egged shin back to health with cookies and an afternoon nap.

[1] It is very popular in the Korean military; you could tell who had already done their military service by their expertise at spiking the ball.

For more information, this video is pretty great:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Mountain Parents

I love my biological parents. They’re supportive and funny and took care of the litter box when my sister and I failed to make good on our many promises. But I seem to have picked up many an adopted parent as well.
Ancient fortress wall. It ran along the ridge
of the mountains on which I clambered.
Here in Korea I have several sets of adopted parents. There’s Nancy and Mark Krietzer (great German name!) who loaned me a cell phone and talk soccer with me. Nancy looks like a model without trying, and Mark runs up and down the mountain about eight times every day. Annette and Richard Edlin, the Australian couple who take care of all the young’ns such as myself, have us over every Sunday evening for International Bible Study, dinner, and talking. And, of course, my mountain parents.

Rocks on which to clamber.
I met them last Monday when I went for a hike by myself. My goal that day on Geumjeongsan was twofold. First, I wanted to get some exercise in, and second, I wanted to find Seokbulsa Temple—Lonely Planet’s #1 thing to see in Busan and rumored to be quite the Indiana Jones-esque sight. Sometime around midday I decided to ask someone where the temple was. This led to a veritable posse of Korean hikers—all dressed in black pants, long sleeves, and gloves, of course—debating how to explain “go down this trail until you get to the square thing and then go down some more” to the 외국인 (me). Maps were drawn and misunderstood. Many a Korean word was thrown at the 외국인 and many hands were waved and pointed until finally one Korean couple said “캍이” (together) and gestured for me to follow them.

Their initial suspicion that I was an idiot was gradually confirmed. Clearly the 외국인 needed serious looking after. First the wife offered me half of the apple she had packed for her and her husband. When I tried to protest at her generosity, she understood that I didn’t know what to do with said apple. So she mimed gnawing on her own (smaller) slice and—after consulting her slightly more English-savvy husband, told me, “apple.”

Ten minutes farther down the trail, we stopped again and she asked “water?” I showed her I had my own and even drank some so she could see that I know what water does. But she insisted on giving one a small cupcake (I call them moonpies, for some reason. They are chocolate and delicious) and a cup of something like very cold, refreshing tea. When I tried handing her cup back so she and her husband could drink, she poured me more tea forced it back into my hands, probably saying something like “hydrate.”

Before we moved on, she pointed to the sun and patted her cheeks and showed me her black pants. I think I heard the words sun lotion and some variation of “cover up, you nut, or you’ll look like a migrant worker.” I nodded and smiled and pointed at the sun, too.
The South Gate. This is where I got yelled at for standing on the battlements. Over to the left of the picture is where I successfully apologized  in Korean. The guy smiled and said "eeeeeh." Which sort of means, "It's cool, dawg."

When we arrived at the temple, her husband waited at the trail while she tugged me around. She was dragging me every which way to see something new and, I could tell she so badly wanted to explain everything, but didn’t have the words. She pointed and said things but my uh-huhs were pretty unconvincing. I could see her frustration. I’ll have to go back because I couldn’t even tell you what the temple looks like, to be honest. The most vivid memory I have is of her gloved hand holding mine as she showed me how to climb steps.

When we left, the husband pushed his English skills to the breaking point and I used, quite literally, every single word of Korean I knew in an effort to communicate. I was able to say “I am studying Korean” and “I am a teacher at Kosin University” in my more successful attempts. He managed to let me know, “We are going to drive you in our car to the subway because we think you will probably get lost and die if you try to do so on your own.” My biological parents raised me well, so I did wonder if it was safe for me to get into the car with strangers because even the cutest, politest kidnappers are still kidnapping you. In the end, I figured it wasn’t worth the fight. Older Korean ladies are very pushy.

Me and my mountain mom!
Especially when they think you need to go to the bathroom. Although I said, “No thanks, I don’t need to go,” she grabbed my hand and dragged me in anyway. Then she stuffed some toilet paper into my hands and showed me where the stall was. I went in quickly, knowing that if I didn’t assertively show my competence in this one area of life, she was likely to go over the finer points of urination and defecation without the benefit of euphemistic language.

In the end, they got me as far as the subway station. There we said our안녕히가세요’s and parted. I was able to get on the correct subway, transfer successfully, and find the bus home. Seven years from now, when my mountain parents are climbing up Mount Everest (for funsies), I like to think they’ll remember me as they sit in their pup tent on the frozen snow.

“Remember that hopeless little 외국인 we met on Geumjeongsan?”
“The one who looked like a migrant worker?”
. Do you suppose she ever made it back to Kosin?”
“Hmmm. Doubtful. Not without us. Pass the kimchi, please!”