A Feast For Many

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

img_0974( One of the Chuseok feasts I had over the holiday. )

Autumn marks festivals for many people around the world. A time to gather with loved ones, celebrate and give thanks for the bountiful gifts of life and those who came before. This past week I had the honor of being welcomed into a local family’s home to celebrate the traditional holiday추석 (Chuseok) with them.

img_1135(A very full me after a weekend of feasts)

To say that the entire experience was new and different would be slightly misleading. When being far away from familiarity and amoung people different from oneself, we often seem to clump everything into the category of different. This is an easy way to categorize that which  we don’t understand.

img_1078(A tiger guards the gateway of the Deajeon veteran’s cemetery) 

When doing so, we often forget that despite all our differences, people across the world are remarkably more similar than  they are dissimilar. There is an innate sense in humanity that unites all of us. When acknowledged, it can no longer be ignored, its presence glowing obnoxiously in our faces.  That was my experience this weekend. A festival with many beautiful and meaningful traditions, rooted in the same human motivations of love celebration.

 

img_1076(Deajeon veteran’s cemetery)

추석 (Chuseok) is the time in which many Koreans come together with family to remember their ancestors, celebrate the harvest and eat way too much food. That is exactly  what I did during my  Chuseok homestay and at times I  was reminded of my own family during times of celebration.

img_1150(Out looking to my fast favorite mountains over a sea of traditional kimchi pots) 

One of the first things we did was go to a traditional market to purchase the necessities for thecoming feast. Now, not being a big fish eater, this was quiet the experience for me. The first thing I noticed upon entering was the wave of smell wash over my nose. A sea of fish stalls, as far as the eye could see. It was quite striking and beautiful.

img_0884(Local traditional market – produce section.)

Row after row of vendors offered up their wares! Crabs the size of your head, frozen five three feet long and octopus. I watched fish, crabs and scrimp get selected to the feast.  I watched one seller chop the head from a fish and slice it open, only to find out that we would be eating that particular fish as an after dinner snack.Needless to say, I was apprehensive about having meals entirely made of seafood.

img_0905(A sampling of the wares sold at the fish market) 

Later that night, I had my first taste of raw fish. Nervous for the prospect of disliking it I found some bravery tucked away for such an adventure and put the whole piece in my mouth (after dipping it in the sauce of course).  Instantly I found that I really liked it!  It goes to show how much a preconception of something really shapes your ideas about it before you’ve gotten to experience. It gave me courage to try octopus a few days later with my family, which also a pleasant surprise, tasted much like mushrooms only with less flavor.  img_1091-1(Daejeon veteran’s cemetery) 

Over the holiday, I got to visit some local places of wonder. For those of you who know me, the Daejeon veteran’s cemetery was by far my favorite spot. Families go to have private ceremonies for their ancestors. Imagine umbrellas popping up over the graves. A mat on the ground with food careful and thoughtfully arranged upon it. A young couple sit, their shoes set to the side while thier two daughters, dressed in the traditional 한복(hanbok) gown chase eachother before being called by the father. They family sit together in prayer.

img_1122(Expo Bridge all lit up!) 

Chuseok day itself was fairly laid back and wonderful. There were two different meals with both sides of the family, with opportunity to rest in between and digest all the food. I really got to know and spend time with my host family and began to build relationships them. They were warm and welcoming. Although my Korean is very poor, we found ways to communicate and share our time together. I was even given some lesson’s by their youngest daughter in exchange for singing.

img_1139(My host family and I exploring the arboretum.) 

This Chuseok I am grateful for the opportunities that God has granted me, helping to come to Korea and alrady introducing me to  many wonderful people.

img_1132-1(Jiwon and I enjoying some not so traditional cotton candy. 🙂 

 

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Dia in Korea

img_0798(Settled in the mountains of 공주 (Gongju), there is a small pottery village. This pot was made by a man who I attend church with.) 

As I sit on my bed, I wonder how I can begin to sum up the past few weeks of my life in Korea in one simple blog post. In an ideal world, I would have a blog post for each day and the adventures that it entails; however that can not be. There are so few hours in any given day and by the time I reach home, I am often too tired to do much more than sleep. I will, however, for those who are not with me, endeavor to give a small recounting of what life has been like thus far.

img_0878(대전광역시 Daejeon is surrounded by mountains. )

On Tuesday it will be officially two weeks since I have arrived in Korea. In a single breath, I can say that it hardly feels like time has passed and that I’ve been here a lifetime. The days have both been flying by faster than I can count but also inching forward, minute by minute.

img_0838(Ice Cream with YAVAs who just came back from the USA)

We arrived late on Tuesday the 30th. We left Stony Point, NY on Monday morning around 6:30am. It was past 11:00pm local time when we made it to our new house. Do the time zone math and you get over 26 hours of travel!  Kurt, one of the site coordinators, met us at the airport, speaking only Korean. It wasn’t until we had reached Daejeon that he switched to English. Our first taste of something completely different from whence we came.

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(선생님 throwing clay on his wheel. ) 

From then on, we’ve been having an orientation of culture, language, foods, and new experiences. We’ve been shown around the city and introduced to the university pastors, our volunteer sites, site buddies, and Korean YAVAs recently back from the USA. There has been a volley of new information thrown at us, hoping some of it will stick. I had hoped to take in all of these two weeks and just absorb it before collecting  my thoughts into writing. Alas, I have become saturated with it and am even now unsure of how to begin separating it.

img_0899(We experimented with pottery and created our own objects. )

If I were to sum up everything in one word, it would be hospitality. Understanding the Korean concept of hospitality is a fundamental window into understanding Korea and Koreans. It is so much more than just being nice and welcoming. It is deeply rooted in centuries of tradition, culture and relationship building. The community and relationships within a community are held in high respect. Hospitality to the community is just one way of keeping those relationships in a positive light for the good of the community.  One of the challenges we must look at this year is how to not impose upon that hospitality as a 외국 (foreigner). We will forever be one of the outsiders, the one being welcomed. Learning to not take advantage of that inherent situation will become a theme for the year.

img_0917(A traditional market where anything from fresh produce to traditional clothing can be purchased.) 

One of the hardest things thus far has been our language class. We attend class every morning for four hours and learn reading, writing, speaking, and grammar. In many senses, it feels like starting over again as a child, but with the reasoning and understanding of an adult. You might think this would make it easier, but I find my brain struggles to make sense of something it doesn’t yet know. My tongue fights to conform into new shapes to produce new sounds. It longs to make F’s and R’s where there are none and fights the desire to just tune out what is unknown.

img_0929(Honey-hodduck, it’s like a pancake with honey inside!) 

Finding oneself in the midst of a conversation where you understand nothing is a very unique situation. Without verbal communication, the thing that really allows us to be who we are, we become lost and valueless. This is something that I had rarely fully experienced, nor did I appreciate how important being able to speak is to me. That knowledge has given me a new appreciation for those who learn a second language.

img_0906(Learning about the 받침 (bachim) or ending consonant of a syllable and the sound that it makes.) 

In the coming weeks, we start work at our volunteer placements. Our lives will become even busier as the month goes on. Not only will the work be new, but the language barrier remains. Although we will be there with Hannam University students who speak some English, I do not want to rely on them to continually meet me where I am. I want to push myself to meet them where they are. I foresee that the next several months will be busy and challenging but I am working at building a community to be challenged alongside.

IMG_0969.jpg(Orientation wrapped up with a night at the Ball Game. Go Eagles! We won!) 

Sitting in Discomfort

It is always unnerving to wake up in an unfamiliar place, then witness how quickly the unfamiliar can turn to the comfortable after such a short time.  That has been the story of this week thus far. It started almost two weeks ago with the journey to Stony Point New York. There the 70+ YAVs attended a (dis) orientation  before embarking on our separate ways.

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(Riding the train to Orientation with the other DC/MD/VA/WV YAVS)

Many of us there had never met each other, however, the surest way to fix that is spend long days discussing the darkest and most uncomfortable topics together. With the hard topics out of the way, relationships build quickly. The intent was to build a community amongst the other YAVs, one of the core values of the program. Having a community among those who you are working with, living with and those serving else where in the world.

IMG_0796

(Small Group at Stony Point )

We spent most of the time trying to tackle and comprehend issues such as White Supremacy and the unpleasant history attached to Mission Work. In essence two extremely large topics were thrown at us in a few days.  A taste of the unjust world in which we live and practice compliantly in daily life.  I will admit, they were hard to grapple. Examining my own life, I have come to see and accept that I am complacent in many of the behaviors found in modern day racism. 

It’s not something that I think about often. How much privilege I carry just because of the color of my skin. Adding to that my language, faith and social economic status I fall into the very privileged category.  Sitting with that is disquieting. I feel like I should fix that, I should find the solution. The thing is, I as a single person can’t. I can help to lay stones and support a solution already in progress without my help. Where I have gone, I am wanted not needed. I will not be solving world problems and helping in ways others cannot. In fact, I will be needing more help, often from those in need as I struggle to learn my new home.

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(YAVs being Commissioned before departure at Upper Montclair Presbyterian Church)