Our family had the good fortune to travel to Sri Lanka over our Spring Break. Even more fortunate was that we were able to tour the small island country south of India with the father of a friend of ours. Gary is an expat who has lived there for many years. He and Recika, a driver and friend, planned our entire trip for us. It was amazing to arrive off of the plane and have a van and 2 new friends waiting for us. The week that followed entailed many, many hours on the road (pretty slow roads) traveling up country to see many major sites. What an extraordinary experience it was.
Sri Lanka has varied landscapes; we were not on the coast but inland which meant that we experienced the tropics and jungle and mountainous regions.
Among my favorite experiences
The elephant orphanage
The tea plantations in the mountains
The two dozen monkeys at one of our resorts
The varied religious representations: Hindu . . .
Buddhist. . .
And Christian. We were there on Good Friday and were surprised to see the Catholic
churchyards filled with parishioners all in white, as well as witness an
angel parade in the street!
The 1/2 day safari
The botanical gardens near Kandy
the Indian Ocean
Roadside pineapple (for under $1) and King Coconut
Seeing how Batik is made
The Old seamstresses using the OLD Singer sewing machine to hem Anna's sari.
I never knew there was such a thing as a car elevator. But there is. And now I can say I've driven into one.
Patricia had only told me "there will be parking" at the foot massage place. I followed her there only to arrive at what looked like a one-stall garage door. But, it was a car elevator. I have to admit I pretty much freaked out! The two other ladies in the car with me got a kick out of my reaction.
So, the door goes up, you drive in, push the floor you want (in this case B3) then the "close door" option. The door shuts behind you; there is a bit of a jerking sensation and you're off! The wall in front of you appears to be moving! It's a bit claustrophobic. Well, after a bit, you arrive on the other end, the door opens and you drive out. Sounds rather innocuous, but I have to say it was so strange a sensation that I made one of the passengers hold my hand while I shrilled and shrieked.
There you have it - a brand new experience in Korea!
I'm from the Midwest. We get around 80 inches of snow a winter. So snow and shoveling and snowblowing, salting the sidewalk, following a snow plow down the road or sliding around a bit are no big deal. We might wish for a snow day every time the snow falls, but in reality we would have to have 6 or more inches before school would get called off.
This is the backdrop of my experiences coming into this winter in the Seoul area. It makes for some humorous moments in a culture that rarely sees 2 1/2 inches of snow at once and lacks snow plows, snow blowers, and proper snow tires.
This past week we had school called off early twice. The first time it snowed a total of 2 1/2 inches (about 7 cm). The snow was amazingly beautiful out my classroom window where I can see up into the mountain. It was a wet and sticky snow, but I hadn't even imagined it was enough to call school early. I thought it was silly! But then I'd forgotten that people don't really know how to drive in that much snow around here, nor is it easy to drive down a snowy mountainside, now would there be snow plows to plow the roads.
So while the kids certainly enjoyed making snowmen or throwing snowballs, it took the twenty-some school buses a real long time to make it down the hill and onto the main road, because as I understand it, there was a 35-car fender bender at the intersection at the bottom. As I was going to a Sting concert that night (yes, that's right, STING concert), I decided to walk to the nearest subway area instead of ride the bus. Smart move. The walk there is 25 minutes and quite doable even with shoes and a bit of snow.
On the other hand, the rest of my family waited for the school bus to take them home. Usually the bus ride is about 20 minutes with 3 stops between the school and the apartment complex. But this time it took forever! Those who simply rode the bus all the way to the complex endured a nearly 3-hour ride. My family got out at the first stop, rode the subway to a place near us, got out, walked the 15 minutes home from the subway and was still home an hour before the others! That's no plows, bad tires, and crazy drivers for you!
Now I happened to be going to Sting with a friend of mine from Australia/China/Korea and her sister who was visiting from China. On our short walk from a restaurant to the venue we saw a rare sight - someone snowblowing. But the funny thing was that my friend had never see a snowblower. I suppose if I'd never seen one before I might also have exclaimed, "Look at that! They're making snow!" I love it!
Well, suffice it to say, a few days later snow was in the forecast again. People in charge of making big decisions panicked. I get it - a few days earlier we had had a major mess on our hands. So the Elementary Holiday Party set for after school was called off 24 hours ahead of time. And when the snow started falling, the school decided to call it a day and send everyone home. It just so happened that this time there was less than an inch of snow that fell. To quote my father, "How do you like them apples?"
In recent days we have been fortunate to make some new acquaintances with our Korean neighbors. This is somewhat of a big deal because as an ex-pat it can be difficult to mingle with the greater Korean community - something to do with the language and cultural barrier, I suppose.
Our new next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, are very kind and inviting. Mrs. Kim is a retired English teacher. We met a few weeks ago in the hallway just outside our apartments on the 23rd floor. Mrs. Kim struck up the conversation. We've only seen each other a few times since then, but I stopped by this morning to request she let us know if any important announcements came over the apartment intercom system. She invited me in for a marmalade tea and some conversation. Her husband joined us and she translated for us. Moments like these are precious because they give me the opportunity to ask questions, make observations, and get feedback from someone who truly can explain or answer. Mrs. Kim is about 70 and so has lived through the vast changes in Korea in the past 50 years, since the Korean War. She assured me that they are not nervous about recent saber rattling from the North, but understood how those from outside Korea would see the situation. She told me about how poor they were when she was young, that rice was rare so they ate barley, how eating 2 meals in a day was a special treat, how most of the time they had to choose between paying for food or fuel but not both in the same day. And here we are in this amazing, prosperous country now.
We've also begun to make friends with a family on the 9th floor. The daughter Minji is 12 and her mother Sunny hoped she could continue learning her English by speaking to us and so she struck up a conversation in the elevator. Anna and Minji spent a few hours together and I visited their apartment long enough to begin making friends with Sunny. Minji has spent 2 years in South Africa - 1 with a guardian and one with her mother. They seem very friendly and speak English pretty well. Perhaps we will get to know them better.
Through the North Korean Women's Refugee Center, I've gotten to know the other teachers. Some are Westerners and others Koreans. We often have interesting or deep conversations in the car to and from the shelter where we teach English to the women refugees.
We look forward to making more new friends when we travel for 2 days with a group from our church on a tour around S. Korea a few weeks from now.
Each moment is precious, isn't it? Let me encourage YOU to make a new friend, too.
Me: What shall we do today?
Anna: Let's go to the Toilet Museum!
Me: Sure, let's. Call up your friend and let's grab a cab and go!
1 hour later. . .
The girls were squatting over "squatter" statuary.
We were being grossed out by the life-size bronze statue with the hanging gold poo. . .
Thinking over how strange this place was. . .
And really glad we found the largest golden poo ever!
Unfortunately we didn't get to see an actual arial view of the museum, constructed as a toilet. But the interior view was plenty!
And to TOP it OFF, we saw the first annual Humorous Poo contest entries which covered the second floor.
I've never seen so much fake poo in all my life.
Thank you Mr. Toilet, AKA former Mayor of Suwon and Chairman of the World Toilet Association for a fun day.
Now for more serious matters, Mr. Jack Sim is now deceased, but he spent his life seeking to improve the circumstances of the poor who lack proper sanitation. You may enjoy this short film on the internet:
I've written two sonnets recently. This was an assignment given to my seniors, and as you may know, I enjoy writing the creative writing assignments that I assign. We had recently finished reading and studying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein AND had completed a brief study of sonnets. You may recall from high school that a sonnet is a 14-line poem with a set rhyme scheme and patterned rhythm of iambic pentameter (essentially 5 pulses per line). I've challenged my students to post their work on their blogs or Facebook accounts and accrue the most hits or "likes" as a class. The class with the most wins! Here's my contribution.
It was a touch of home right here is Seoul. Two and a half years in the making. As far as we know there is only one International Lutheran Church in all of Seoul, and we finally found it.
Just 30 minutes by bus, we walked into the church where Pastor Steve was in his robe, members were happily chatting with one another, and families were having pictures taken for the directory. Several members greeted us and inquired about our background. I spotted a teacher I knew from another school and met his family. All of this before church began.
Inside the church sanctuary (a real sanctuary!) was the alter prepared for Reformation Sunday and "the Green Book." Those of you who grew up Lutheran will know what I mean. The woman sitting in front of me overheard me comment on the green book and said, "Yes, I remember when we moved from the Red Book. It was such a big deal! Very divisive." Common childhood experiences! It was a taste of home to sing the old liturgy, hear a nice 8 minute sermon, take communion, and have a children's sermon for the kids. Very nice indeed.
But our experience wasn't over yet. After a ten-minute annual meeting, we made our way to the exit. We shook the Pastor's hand on the way out, talked to several more people and ended up in ye-olde-potluck line! Anna and Alec were both thrilled to get sloppy joes! No green jello, though. We sat at the long tables set up in the narthex and continued chatting with visitors from Maryland there to see their daughter and son-in-law. The churchgoers were from all different cultures and backgrounds, so it was indeed very international while simultaneously being a familiar experience.
As the potluck was winding up we were happy to win a raffle prize of a potted plant! The organizers made sure that the newbies got the "first gifts." On top of that we were talked into having our family picture taken for the directory!
Even the kids seemed to enjoy the service and the community feel.
I wonder how long it will be before we have a key to the church. . . .