The first thing I remember was the doorbell ringing. My supervisor was here and it was Sunday morning. I received a wonderful invitation to attend her church. Like opening the refrigerator door we set off into the frigid air outside. A thick fog blanketed the ground. Rubbing my eyes, I followed this excited woman and her husband down a sidewalk lined with trees and little shops. The surroundings were beautiful and the air screamed of freshness. I remember the blinding sunlight playing hide and seek through charcoal trees.
We got to the church and there was an English service for foreigners. The pastor was a missionary from Nepal. He couldn’t really speak Korean either, but his English was perfect. The service was so much fun. Koreans have a childlike innocence about them and I could see it in the songs they sang. There were three Koreans leading worship and they had choreographed dances for each song. It was a lot of fun.
After the service, everyone in the entire church met for lunch. The church was 5 stories tall and everyone met on the 4th floor. We had Kimchee, rice and a hot soup. It was getting cold in Korea and the soup hit the spot. I met a few faces and joined them downstairs for coffee and cinnamon tea. The amazing thing about Korean church is that it goes on all day. There is an early service that starts around 5am and then several more services spread out throughout the day. Attendance is optional, but most of the members are there all day. In addition to this, there is an early morning prayer service at 5:30am every morning Monday through Saturday. I was amazed to find out that the ministers in the church attend the 5am prayer service 7 days a week! When do they ever sleep? And yet, they never seemed exhausted, but always healthy and happy. The 5am service is called Sae-byok-ki-do (새벽기도) which means, “dawn prayer”.
While visiting with new faces and unfamiliar accents, we shared a cup of cinnamon tea called Su-jong-gwa (수정과) near a warm gas heater. The best cinnamon tea ever! They drink this hot tea during the wintertime keep warm. The ingredients include: dried persimmons, cinnamon, brown sugar and ginger. It really opens up the nasal cavities. And it can also be served cold as well in the summertime. One of my favorite teas. I even learned how to make it in my apartment. It took a couple of times to get it right, but I am now a brew-master.
After the service I did a little exploration. Down the street from my apartment, in the opposite direction, there was a big building called E-Mart. This E-mart could be the equivalent to a Wal-mart in America. The building was about 6 stories tall and several blocks long. The first floor was a department store and the remaining stories above were a parking garage. Upon entering, you could find your way to escalators in the back going down further. The second basement floor had sporting goods, electronics and goods for the home. The third floor basement was where all the food was located. It was down here that I could find fruit and canned tuna and bottled water, etc. On Sundays, just like America, there are grocery clerks everywhere handing out free samples of food. A little pinch of squid here and some interesting spicy vegetable dipped in a sauce over there. And the milk was so good! There was even a bakery where you could find bread balls stuffed with sweet cream. I made myself sick eating too many! There was an isle for dried ramen noodles of all kinds.
I couldn’t believe I was in another country and that I would living here for a year!