소녀 – 이문세 (1985年) – “So-nyo” – Lee Moon Sae


This song is about a long lost love from adolescence…

. . . . .

내 곁에만 머물러요 떠나면 안돼요
그리움 두고 머나 먼길 그대 무지개를 찾아올 순 없어요
노을진 찬가에 앉아 멀리 떠가는 구름을 보며
찾고싶은 옛 생각들 하늘에 그려요

음 불어오는 차가운 바람 속에 그대 외로워 울지만
나 항상 그대 곁에 머물겠어요 떠나지 않아요

Jump in! The water’s fine!

That morning the unknown was approaching and I could feel the wings of butterflies in my belly.  As I went through the rectangular doorway into the school and up the stairs the roar of children grew louder.  The smell of bread or cookies baking in the oven.  Where did it come from?  I could see myself in the granite tile.  Rectangular proclamations of triumph and praise hanging on the walls.  I hiked up to the third floor.  Removing my shoes and putting on red slippers and opening the door.  Why was there such a fanfare upon my arrival?  Was I a guest in their home?  I felt my identity was mistaken.  The owner of my school was a happy face and a generous soul.  Ready to overlook my faults.  She was cheerful and always padded the moment with laughter.  Her English was on the level of an infant, but she had plenty of servants to interpret for her.  She was the Queen and the school was her kingdom.  And I was a diplomat from a far away land read about in books, and seen in movies.  It was my first dive into Korea.
James and Jillian were rest stops along the way.  Places were I could stop and say, “what is going on? What does this mean? Why do they do this?”.  And I would get a Western mind’s explanation.  They were my fellow travelers.  James was a teacher from Tennessee and Jillian was a blonde from Oregon.  James gave me a small explanation of the schedule and a strategy for running the marathon.  After the brief in the war room, I was led into a class to observe how things would be conducted.After observing the teacher, it seemed like it would be a lot of fun and easy to manage.  After viewing several of these classes, I thought I would go out and explore unnoticed.  Soon I found a little monkey swinging on my leg….The morning classes I would be teaching were going to be fun: 6 – 8 year old students with a beautiful assistant helping in each class.
The morning was finished and our supervisor Mary wanted to treat us.  Nobly we rode in her car as honored guests.  Soon arriving at a Korean BBQ house near my apartment.  The restaurant had two sides: Western style tables and Korean style floor tables.  I voted Korean style, so we removed our shoes and sat on the square pillows.  It was painful sitting with my legs directly under my body.  Its a challenge if you have never done it.  Sitting on the floor is something Asians do naturally and is a healthy alternative to the chair.BBQ HouseMary called the waitress over and said something in Korean while we waited.  Soon an old face came to the table carrying a pink pile of pork and a metal tennis racket.  She turned on the gas and we waited for the red glow.  Mary laid the pork strips on the round racket as the smell of grilled meat filled the air.  Our mouths began watering- we were getting ready to eat Sam-gyup-sal 삼겹살.  This popular food is known as pork belly.  We took leaves of lettuce, placed a slice of garlic and dab of pepper paste inside followed by the cooked pork and ate like kings.  The rice was an excellent compliment.  We had seconds and thirds and then everything was gone.  I finished it all with a hot glass of water.  And like a stuffed turkey trying to stand up, I overcame gravity and balanced my way out the door.
We arrived back at the school and the leg of the race was about to start.  I thought it would be similar to what we had done in the morning, but I was simply introduced to the older class, given a book and the door was shut behind me.  Standing in a cage surrounded by chimpanzees, my thoughts were replaced with instinct.  I would stand my ground until the reinforcements arrived.  I looked for the lifeguard hoping she would see me…  drowning.  So I opened my book and began.
“What is this?! This is a cup!”, I proclaimed, hoping the sound of my voice would spell out authority.  Amidst the quiet roar of unfamiliar noises occasionally I was noticed and given a treat.  How could they be informed that what I came to bring to them was actually good and they should want it?  Hey kid, don’t you know that you’ll grow up someday and have to be responsible and learning to speak my language is good for you?!!  No response.  This mountain was big.  Where was my climbing gear?
Soon the referee burst through the door and sent the fighters to their respective corners.  We were given the rules again and then round #2 began.  I decided to put pencils in their hands and open their books in front of them, walking each child through the process of learning.  I asked a Korean teacher to have them draw their current state of emotion onto a piece of paper. I had taught boys gymnastics before and that was a joy and a challenge, but this was another level of difficulty that I had not encountered.  How do you direct them, if they can’t understand what you are saying?  Puzzled looks, needing hearing devices.  Leaning in to listen to me.  Soon breaking focus and continuing down their river of conversations.  How could I pull them safely to the shore?  This would be a process of learning and trying new methods and making mistakes and repeating them over again.  “You can’t succeed until you fail”, that is what they say…  when you find yourself in the midst of your problems, don’t leave–there is a solution.

The day was over and I threw the weight off my back.  I flew out of that place and we took a deep breath.  The smell of cookies.  A woman in a cart frying chocolate cream pancakes.  How lucky was I?  The stress melted with hot brown oozing as I pulled it apart with my teeth.  I could eat these forever.  After the fourth one I felt sick to my stomach and woke from the dream. ^_^Street cartIt was good to have James around.  He had been there 8 months before Jillian and I had landed.  He was our flashlight.  He showed us where it was safe to jump in and places we should avoid.  Really, the amazing thing about South Korea is the crime rate.  It doesn’t exist.  Drugs are no where to be found and the culture of family is very strong.  Korea is an isolated place, cut off from the big bad world.  Its like going back to the 1950’s in America when you could leave your front door unlocked.  As we carried on, we found our way to a place called Grand Mart.  It was a competitor with other department stores like, E-Mart and Lotte Mart.  We wandered in and found interesting things:  A happy pig made of jade, a ring with a Buddhist cross, and Korean spam.  As well as a Korean tailor, Korean Tony the Tiger and a radio called “Pooty”.
iWe made our way back outside and continued our conversation about our personal experiences and what had brought us to Korea.  It was an exciting time in life.  We were living an experience and no matter what the circumstances were, it would not be mundane.

Jumping into an ice cold pool…

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!

On the plane, on my way…

English: Road leading into Incheon Airport

Incheon International Airport, South Korea

I remember that night so well.  Driving off to the airport.  My family, standing in the drive way, saying goodbye.  As if they would never see me again.

I made it to the airport, boarded the plane and took a deep breath.  This was it and there was no turning back.  Could it really have taken me 2 years to make this decision?! Sometimes hurdles in life seem a lot bigger than they really are.  The biggest hurdle is our own doubts.

The flight was long and it gave me a lot of time to put my thoughts down on paper.  The plane finally landed in Incheon International Airport.  I grabbed my bags from the overhead cabinet and made it out of the plane and headed to customs.  It didn’t take too long and soon I was outside of the airport.  I noticed the ratio of dark headed hair to blond had changed and how the air was much cooler.  The school had already arranged for a taxi to pick me up from the airport and it was there waiting for me.

It was a long, quiet ride to the city with Korean radio softly playing in the background.  Occasionally my driver would attempt to practice his English.  I knew a little Korean as well, so it was a warm-hearted exchange.  Koreans are very ambitious to learn English, so they are taken back when an American knows how to speak their langauge.  Even if it is only a simple greeting, they are always pleasantly surprised.  So don’t be afraid, give it a try!

The school was eager to greet me.  It was night and my new boss and her supervisor had stayed at the school waiting for my arrival.  It felt so good to finally meet them.  I didn’t feel like I was an employee, but more like a guest visiting their home.  They gave me a tour of the classrooms I would be teaching in and the school’s amenities.  I was pleased.  Uncertainty turned to relief.  I had made a good decision.  It was going to be a good year.

After seeing the school, I was went to see my apartment that I would be living in.  It was an efficiency about 10 minutes by foot from the school.  Kitchen, drier, and stove were included.  The floor even had a heating system that used hot water running through tubes inside the floor, so the floor itself heated up from the inside.

The supervisor took me to the nearby bread shop and I loaded up, then went back to my apartment and got ready for the next morning.  It was a Saturday and tomorrow would be Sunday.  Monday was a holiday and work would start on Tuesday.

. . . . .