Saturday, March 31, 2012


Hospitality is hard work and hard work is usually what I excel at. I don’t have particularly good footskills or natural violining talent, but in both soccer and music, you can cover a lot of weaknesses with hard work. I’m a natural worker—a “strong back, weak mind,” as the saying goes. It’s something my dad says, anyway.

On the way to Oryukdo
Speaking of my dad, he was here, in Korea, with my mom. Seriously. In the APA style manual it instructs writers that italics are not to be used for emphasis because if the emphasis is important enough to press “CTRL i” you ought to just rewrite it so it sounds better. You should try not to suck too hard as a writer and avoid using italics the way your Korean students abuse exclamation marks.[1] I’ve tried, but I’m not really sure how to write the first sentence of this paragraph emphatically so as to render the italics useless. Attempts at this topic sentence:

     ·         After seven months of skype dates, I finally saw my parents at Gimhae Airport six days ago.
     ·         My dad and mom were in Korea, having come approximately 14 time zones in the future and 6,500 miles away from their normal lives to the other side of the world.
     ·         My parents spent their spring break trooping up and down mountains and stairs and subways in order to be with me.
     ·         I love my parents.

I’m sticking with italics.

My parents were here, in Busan, at my school, by the bus stop, in coffee shops, on the subway, up the mountain (down the mountain, up and down, up and down), attending my classes, sleeping in my time zone, eating Korean food, living Korean life with me. They also brought Golden Grahams, girl scout cookies, my camera, and my T.S. Eliot (quotes surely to follow). They brought hugs. They brought two sets of eye crinkles, smiles, and senses of humor that I inherited.

What is this kimchi business?
With them came distant memories of home and childhood—random memories, like the time dad put in a basketball hoop for my sister’s birthday—and the more recent memories of coming to Korea. I wrote once about forgetting what was novel because I was already so acclimated. But as my parents patted the ridiculously hard bed, laughed at sticker photos, and got groped by old ladies on the subway, I remembered my own transition.

“Never would have thought to accelerate down the hill,” my dad remarked breathlessly to my mom as our taxi careened through down a 35% grade slope and jerked a right turn at full speed—narrowly missing a calm female pedestrian talking on her cell phone. Mom laughed and asked when we could eat kimbap again. “It’s like a turkey sandwich! I’d eat it every day back home for lunch.”

That was the first day. When even my mom—whose exploits in the gym are memorialized in this post—mentioned her calves were sore, I remembered my own first-week woes of constant stairs and mountains. My legs don’t feel a thing anymore, just like I hardly notice the insanely dangerous cab-driving and how I can actually remember the names for food the way I never could for the first month or so.

Not everything from their visit was about old memories, though. There were some beautiful firsts like doing sticker photos with my parents (Dad: “Am I…being punished for something?”) and watching them try kimchi, bibimbap, bulgogidapbap, kimbap, samgyetang, hoddeok, and galbi. My parents are hardy folks, though, and I think I experienced more culture shock than they did as I ordered the food, gave directions, and generally played hostess.

Being cute at Gwangali
You see, I’m a grown-up. I have a job and an apartment and a life away from home. I know the area, the food, the language in a way my parents never will. It’s bizarre and appropriate, somehow. It’s like that part in all the books I read growing up when the hero comes back home—riding on their dragon steed/friend, wearing a sword she attained through destiny, and noticing that everything in the Shire looks smaller than they remembered.

My parents are pretty short[2] and our ice-cream scooper, though mammoth, is not as heavy as my six-year-old mind paints it—and I’ve known this for a while. I suspect I’ll marvel at my adult status until I’m thirty or so, but there’s something about the hard work of hospitality that acts as a crucible of maturity. My mom always told me that she didn’t realize how selfish she was until she had children to raise. Showing my parents are Busan was, I imagine, a lot more enjoyable than giving birth and neither of them woke me up crying in the middle of the night asking for food.

Haeundae Beach
I was responsible for my parents this week for the first time ever as their host here in Busan. I didn’t do anything spectacular—found food, recharged bus passes, and generally figured out how to be a tourist in my hometown with a grand total of six words in Korean. On one occasion I failed completely—no Lotte baseball for us—and another went about four subway stops in the wrong direction right after my mom commented on how well I knew my way around. It’s hard work, hospitality. It takes more than a “strong back, weak mind” to do. You need strong calves and advanced googling techniques. You need to be able to say “kosin tehakyo ga jusyo” and read menus in hangul. But it is so, so worth it.

(For the record, my parents own more than one outfit each, but they're both economical packers. I think my mom would want me to include that. Probably my dad, too.)

[1] That’s paraphrased, of course.
[2] Here my dad would interrupt and remind me that yes, he is short, but my mother is three inches taller than average women. Since my best friends are usually pushing six feet, I don’t believe him.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kosin University Blows a Strong Wind


This is a basic introduction to Kosin University, compliments of my second-year composition class. We’re still working on which nouns to capitalize and the spelling of “Jesus” and “welcome,” so bear with us.

Kosin University is christian missionary school. Kosin University is located in Youngdo. There are many helpful and kindness people. There are many hills and no amusement facilities so students focus on study hard. Our school precept is CORAMDEO. Therefore, Kosin university students always live based on CORAMDEO.

Kosin University is a Christian School in Busan, South Korea. Most of students are Christian. Also, there are many exchange students so we can talk with them and improve our English skills. It is benefit for us to study in English. Weclome to Kosin University, and then you can believe to god and grow your dream in future.

Kosin University is in Busan, Korea. And it is located in top of the island. So Kosin has a beautiful scenery. We love our university. Because Kosin University is Christian University. And English department is the best in this University.

[This one was whimsically entitled: <Above the Sea>]
Students of Kosin University start the day thereby watching the sun rise. Kosin University have a fantastic view like a horizon and the sky. Also we have a nice night view. We can see the beautiful moon shadow on the sea. Any people are surprised when they come here in the nice view.

Kosin university is a Christian university which is located in Young Island in Busan city. Kosin is all about theology and medical. Kosin university is a healthy university because all students and professors have to claim [climb stairs] up and down every day so they are healthy. Kosin campus is very small so we can go around and enjoy studying. In short, Kosin is a great university for all people to study about God and medical!!

Kosin university is Jejus’s [Jesus’s] university. There are many Christian. But there are some non Christian. The university situated in island. Therefore Kosin University blows a strong wind.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Plots from the North

Some days I feel like I’m wrestling with Korea. Unsuccessfully. Most days are great (“yippy-skippy” as we like to say in the Schnabel family), but yesterday was not one of those days. Maybe it was another subversion plot from our not-so-friendly neighbors in the North.

You can do better than this, Korea, I said to myself when I got home from work. It was one of those days—a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day—where the beautiful view of my lighthouse and the sea were obscured by clouds and work and students who stare at me like water buffalo when I ask, “Do you understand?”

It was also marred by a conversation I had with my roommate last night. Hanna is a lovely person: she is smart and sweet and has fun with life. She likes to take care of people, and when she found out it was my friend Caroline’s birthday she said, “Really? Oh, congratulations! Here is your birthday present!” And handed her a package of melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate she happened to have just received minutes earlier. She is great, but like everyone ever in the history of ever, she is a product of her culture.
“I need to have jaw surgery,” she said when she came home. “But it is very expensive.”
“Do you have to have surgery?” I asked, surprised. She’s quite healthy.
“Yes, because my jaw is crooked and if I get braces it will be more crooked. I want to be a flight attendant so I have to be...” she gestures lines across her face.
“Mmm! Yeah! Symmetrical. You have to be that to be a flight attendant.”

At least both genders are equally idealized. Korean girls
have very high standards for their boyfriends.
I checked with one of my older Korean friends who agreed.

“Flight attendants have to be 164 centimeters and no more than 50 kilograms[1].”

You have to be Korean Perfect to be a flight attendant. It’s a prestigious job here in Korea, and many girls are English majors at Kosin strictly so they can attain this dream. It’s madness from a bygone era. Particularly when girls talk about starving themselves and having surgeries in order to get a job.

“That’s illegal in the United States, you know,” I told Hanna.

“Appearance is very important here,” she said.

“What about saving the money you’d spend on a jaw operation and instead use your English at an embassy or something?”

“But I am not smart. You have to be very smart to get those jobs. And my jaw is so...see? So I have to have surgery.”

They care so much here. It makes me miss the relative earthiness of Americans. You’d never hear a Korean girl say seriously, “I didn’t really feel like wearing make-up today, so I didn’t.” Or a Korean boy say, “I don’t care what brand it is, just give me whatever’s the best price.” Conversations about appearance are daily here, if not hourly. The compliment of choice is “cute” or “beautiful” not “smart” or “diligent.”

Americans are shallow, too, but not like this. In America, there’s at least a sense of injustice if someone doesn’t get a job or a boyfriend based only on how they look. But here it’s only pity and disappointment. I guess there are upsides, though, because it’s true that Koreans are, in general, very nice to look at. They’ve defeinitely created an on-average prettier society. Unfortunately, I’ve read way too many YA and science fiction novels to be too comfortable with what just might be yet another subversion plot from the North.[2]

[1] That’s 5’3 and about 100 pounds for all the yanks.
[2] I found a discarded paper yesterday of a list of interview questions one student had asked another. Question eight said: “If North Korea invades South Korea first and starts to kill all the Christians first, are you sure you won’t deny God?” I’ve got my next exam question.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Go....

This commercial is about the most perfect thing to describe many Koreans who are learning English. 

Many thanks to Caroline, who blogged this first. ^^

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Compliments of Andrew Luth, I found out that my theory has legitimate scientific backing. He posted two links on facebook, but I wanted to share them here, too, because I thought they were so fascinating.

First, Dunbar's number is a suggested number of people with which one is able to maintain a stable number of relationships. Depending on the scientist doing the study, the actual number changes, but the theory remains the same. It is also called the Monkeysphere and if you are interested in the theory, but hate how boring Wikipedia writers are, I recommend this link to

And while we're at the linkings, Happy Pi Day which here in the East we celebrate as Akira Yoshizawa's birth and death date. Who is Akira Yoshizawa you might ask? Link!

Korean Beard Lore

I accidentally stumbled across a fascinating little tidbit of Korean culture this evening. I was at dinner with three friends—Adam, Elijah (fellow teachers) and Hanna (my roommate and student assistant). Elijah has recently grown his beard out, and it is a magnificent quatracolored beard, too. Adam is also beginning a beard journey of his own (“I’ve taken a vow,” he claims), but it’s more at the shall we say “scruffy” end of things right now.

I think it’s needless to say, but Koreans are not particularly adept at growing beards. We have seen some very fine mustaches on the subway and our seedy island of Yeongdo resembling the rat-tails of Ho Chi Minh’s brand of facial hair. But a beard of Marxian proportions remains rare (the man, that is, not the philosophy). So Elijah’s beard is not something Koreans see every day, which was evidenced by Hanna asking to touch it and then laughing like mad at how it felt.
She also shed some very interesting light on Korean beard-growing procedures. The conversation went something like this:

“When someone wants to grow a beard, we say to them, ‘You should think about...’” She looked a little hesitant, as when she’s unsure of pronunciation. Also she put her hand in front of her mouth. Perhaps, I thought, she was chewing her kimchi bokkumbap. “Like _______.”
We looked stumped. I thought I heard “or no.”
She looked at us expectantly. “_________.” She was quite sure of the word now. We still were not.
“Digorno?” Adam tried.
Then Hanna looked stumped. She tried again.
“Ummmm, it’s sort of...sexual?”
“Oh! You mean ‘Porno’! Got it!” Elijah and I exclaimed.
Adam: “Wait, excuse me?”
“When someone wants to grow a beard—or any hair—in Korea, we say to them, “You should think about porno!””

Hanna bought me cake this week because I
was stressed. And she cleans the bathroom.
Killer roommate.
Who knew?

Koreans also consider beards a little dirty. Not in the sexual sense (which, considering how its growth is encouraged, I was tempted to think), but in the actual “not clean” sense. They eat a lot of soup here, so it makes a good deal of sense.

Actually, attractive Korean men, explained Hanna, can grow beards. And only attractive men can do it.

“But they don’t,” she hurriedly added. “Just can. Maybe they grow...” She gestured a mustache. “It sometimes looks nice, but if it gets too long, he looks like a grandfather.”

Anyway, I think the obvious take-away from this bit of Korean culture is this: if you want to grow your hair out, think about porno.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Hard Part

I have been lazy. I don't think I wrote more than 500 words for the past week. So I apologize for the lack of posts. This was written over a week ago, but it sounded too lame so I didn't post it. Now, desperate for material, and finding what I wrote before is even more pertinent, I'm posting. Cheers.

Kristen was an intern with me in Thailand and we were
birthday buddies back when my name was Hlaine.
Clinically, things like goodbyes make perfect sense to me. You put your arms around someone and squeeze. You wave; you walk away. Real life, however, is anything but clinical, and instead of enjoying what ought to be as easy as breathing I spend goodbyes puttering about in embarrassment and introspection. Why aren’t I crying? Can I find a different way to say “I’ll miss you” so they’ll remember me? Which one of us will forget to write first? Meanwhile, everyone else seems to get on with things as naturally as breathing.

The only things I do as naturally as breathing—mostly involving a violin, soccer ball, or Microsoft Word 2007—have exactly one common denominator: excessive, excessive practice. “Practice makes perfect” after all.

Lainy went home yesterday. :(
Though perfection remains unattained, I’m getting better at goodbyes. But in other ways, they’re getting harder and harder.

I have this theory about friendships. I think that each person at any given time is able to sustain only a certain number of friendships. There’s a limit, in other words, to the amount of friends you can give the amount of love and attention a true friend deserves. You know the feeling when you are trying to maintain too many—thin, sort of stretched, like too little butter scraped over too much bread. (couldn’t help it) There are all sorts of factors, of course, that might indicate how many friendships you can handle at a given point: mental and emotional health, stress levels, family matters, and distance.

For me, distance is the killer. Distance and goodbyes are closely linked somewhere in my heart or stomach. I can’t tell which since they both get a little queasy when I think about hugging my parents at the airport or bawling on the ride to church after leaving Hilary behind.

I suppose goodbyes are the most obvious opportunity cost of traveling, but it’s only through all this practice that I’m now realizing it. My parents, both middle school orchestra teachers, insist that practice does not make perfect, but rather permanent. When talking about f sharps and b flats that slice of wisdom is a whole lot easier to swallow than when goodbyes are involved.

Let me tell you.
I’m getting a little sick of writing posts like this (and you’re probably more sick of reading them). I want to have all the answers so I can write one of those sweet essays that wrap up nicely at the end, neatly and subtly pointing back to all the foreshadowing carefully placed in earlier paragraphs because the author already had things figured out from the get-go. Maybe one day, when practice has made too many goodbyes permanent that will be the case.

In the meantime, I could use your prayers. I don’t know what the next couple of years are going to hold. There’s a few paths laying themselves out in front of me, and (once more) God seems to be shrugging, smiling, and (thankfully) holding onto all the cards. I do wish he weren’t so ineffable...

“We have great staff here—from
the professors to the genitals and
everyone! They’re very sweet ladies.”

In an effort to make this post sound less
sappy, I offer exhibit A from The Perks
of Being an ESL Teacher in the form of
a student quote of the day. I think he meant "janitors."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Worlds Collide

For those whose lives are sad enough not to include a serious batch of Seinfeld, let me explain the worlds collide theory. Your life is made up of individual worlds. In middle school, you had your family world, your school friends world, maybe a church friends world, and maybe (who wouldn't?) your bocce club friends world. When a friend from bocce club came over for dinner with the family, worlds collided.

This week, I am thrilled to say, my Chesterton world has collided with my Busan world. Lainy, an old friend from ages past, has been the first person from the old homestead to make the trip out east. It’s not covered wagons anymore, but a 13-hour plane flight plus layovers and subsequent hops has been enough to keep most people at bay. But not Lainy!

Jetlagged out of her mind, she’s allowed me to drag her to all my favorite Busan places. So far she’s been half-drowned in seaspray (and rain. It hasn’t stopped raining since she got here), splattered by spicy soup (it’s hard to eat with chopsticks), and sexually harassed by a dirty old Korean man (you don’t have to worry about theft in Korea, but the ahjusshis are hazardous).

But she’s still here! Sleeping, that is, because her body doesn’t know what time it is here in the future, and by the time it does, it’ll be time to fly back and join the past again. In the meantime (time, time, time), I love showing off all three Korean words that I know and feeding her hoddeok. Worlds are colliding, and it feels good to have a little slice of home.

Tough cookie.

The Art of Hoddeok


Rain on the camera, coffee in the cups

Coffee's great! (also, it is the reason I
can't fall asleep right now...)

Worlds Collide

Friday, March 2, 2012

Blessings All Mine

(the white hi-lighting is back. forgive me)

Here’s some encouragement from Hebrews 11 for everyone away from home right now:

“All these people admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

So for all of you who are foreigners—the farangs in Thailand, the barangs in Cambodia, the 외국 in Korea, the 外人 in Japan, the 外国 in China, the gringos in Peru, and for anyone else that’s ever felt a little lonely—this is a great reminder of where home really is.




Perhaps my favorite thing about the Bible is that it isn’t shallow. God doesn’t cut corners or pretend that being faithful to Him guarantees a pleasant life. Instead, here in His Hall of Fame, he writes, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”


God does not list off his best and brightest and most faithful, hand them a plaque in front of the rest of us, and move on with His Grand Narrative. God, as the Son, was human; he knows the suffering of life—its brevity, its betrayals, its punches, its crucifixions—better than we do. His Word does not give us empty pep-rally speeches, but pauses with true empathy over the reality of things.

Yes, these people “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; [they] shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; [their] weakness was turned to strength...”


“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword....[They] were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”

Your Christian life is difficult—God does not deny this. The world in which we have the freedom our hearts constantly seek will always curse us[1] and at the end, we—just like the Hall of Fame-ers—will die without having received the desire we’ve cultivated in our hearts. Because

“God planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be.

[1] “The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.” C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain may be the finest apologetics book ever written.