Korea - Month 5

Act Two ended in the depths of despair, leaving the audience to wonder whether our heroine would really be ok in the end. Let us rejoin her journey...


After missing out on celebrating New Year's Eve, I convinced a friend to trek (45 mins) across town with me to the All-American Diner in Itaewon for a good breakfast since I hadn't yet been able to usher the New Year in properly. I had the best french toast EVER. (Seriously, it's not just the deprivation talking!) And then I got that sad feeling that comes after eating something really, really, good that you know you probably won't have again. :(

The same buddy agreed to go snowboarding with me since I thought it might lift my mood. Snowboarding is the only "sport" in which I have any interest in participating, probably because there's no competition in which case I don't have to worry about my nerdy self being pummeled mercilessly, but I digress...

We headed out to a little place called BearsTown early Saturday Morning. Shout out to the resort for providing free shuttle buses from Seoul! In the wee hours of the morning, we hopped onto the bus, slept for 2 hours and arrived in time to take advantage of a full day ticket (9a-430p).

I hadn't been snowboarding in over a year but several months of public transport had done me good. My legs were quite a bit stronger than they when I lived as a victim of suburban sprawl. My boarding skill improved in a matter of hours. I enjoyed the chance to be outside the city breathing fresh air polluted only by the sound of cheesy pop music filtering through the resort's speakers.

I returned to Seoul and the numbness I had abandoned for the day.

I have this annoying habit of thinking myself a completely unique individual, unplagued by all the idiosyncrasies and weakness that beset mere mortals. And so, it was in this state of discontented hubris that I found myself in tears on the subway for no apparent reason at all. I was filled, to the deepest depths of my soul, with a desire for home.

Some of you are now thinking, "Oh! How awful. We miss you too," and therein lies the rub. Youre scattered all around the country, a couple of you in far corners of the globe yourselves! Where is "home"? I'm not sure but I certainly wanted to be there---East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South---even New England would have seemed comforting during those dark days. I had internally assigned myself two weeks to "return to normal," knowing that if I remained in such a state, I wouldn’t be fit to teach when vacation ended.

The final days of the semester slowly dragged on until January 5th. I spent the first day of vacation sleeping, kept a promise to spend the 7th with a coworker, slept through most of the 8th, then woke up Friday morning, threw some things in my luggage and headed off to L'abri. [L'abri history here.] I was fortunate to have planned the visit far before I knew how desperately I would need it.

I traveled the four hours by bus uneventfully. Though no one on my bus appeared to speak English, I was able to communicate my stop to the driver. When the bus finally stopped at a small countryside bus shelter, I hesitated. "Yangyang!" the driver said, impatiently indicating the name of my desired stop. Oh, Lawd! I thought as I hopped down into crisp winter air. I grabbed my luggage, the bus sped off, and I stood for a moment in solitary confusion. By the grace of God, a taxi was idling nearby. I called L'abri and one of the workers was able to give the man directions.

Gangwando province is beautiful. The ocean parallels much of the highway and there are mountains in every other direction. I felt a bit more relaxed once I was in the taxi. The slow pace of the countryside had already begun to quiet my soul.

I arrived at L'abri during "work time" so the house was quite quiet. Actually, "house" probably isn't the right word as the place invokes the word "chalet." With only 11 inhabitants spread far and wide at the moment, I was invited inside by one of the staff and told to rest until dinner. Naturally, I was a bit nervous about meeting the other students especially having been told they were anticipating my arrival! L'abri is a study center but a loosely structured one. I had no idea what to expect.

I don't remember what we ate that first meal, but I do recall awkwardly attempting to introduce myself in Korean---my feeble attempt was well-received---and I remember trying to recall everyone else's names, as the sound of Korean names is still a bit of a challenge. The next few days were filled with study---Christian worldview, art, social issues, God & film, the Bible. My own reading was the book Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer.

The book absolutely revolutionized my thinking. How can I, the unknown, "unsuccessful" artist, bring the fullness of God's glory into the activities of my daily life? Often I've felt that only a finished book or screenplay stamped with the approval of others is the sole worthwhile marker of my worth. I found in Hidden Art, and in the way of life at L'abri, the worth in little things, small details that I had not previously considered of any value. It was in this unique atmosphere that the cloud over my heart and mind began to lift.

By the end of the week, I did not want to go back to Seoul. While I have no idea how long I could realistically enjoy life at such a slow pace, I knew that I would be leaving the first place I had felt fully at home since I'd been in Korea---no small matter in light of the darkness I had been fighting before I left the city. I simply had to trust God to carry me and sustain me despite my unchanged circumstances.

I came back to Seoul after seven days and threw my thoughts into planning an adventure of sorts. Initially, I had intended to use the money from my overtime classes to pay off one of my credit cards. After realizing that my mental health was on the line, I made the decision to book a vacation to the Philippines before I left for L'abri. I knew I needed a break from Korea. I also knew that if I were to visit the States, I would probably not return to finish my contract.

My trip to the Philippines deserves a chapter unto itself to offer the level of detail it deserves (next email! or read about a friend's trip here). For the purposes of this narrative, I can say only that the trip was a godsend. The beauty of Boracay Island and its people, many mired in considerable poverty, was both a breath of fresh air and a reality check. My depression had a tinge of self-pity that was grossly undeserved. I also experienced a few moments on the island that caused me to hold my integrity up to the light of my actions, only to discover the two did not match up with my perceived self image---the person I believe myself to be, or perhaps more accurately, wish myself to be. The time I spent in Manila was likewise a glimpse into several realities I had previously only known in theory. My stay there was a display of contrasts, a time of both discomfort and great ease. (More on that later...)

I returned to Korea relaxed (my stomach pains had subsided) and contemplative. At the time of my return, I had six days to prepare for my winter camp lessons since I had refused to do so throughout the rest of my vacation. With fear and trepidation I made a feeble attempt at planning, feeling that whatever magic has sustained me last semester was gone. And I think it is. I was running on my own motivation. These days, I'm definitely receiving "my daily bread." Please don't ask about next Monday's lesson plan. I'll know what it is when God reveals it! :)

I'll wrap this one up in the next email...then on to Month 6!

Love and hugs,