Friday, October 13, 2006

Our Korean Connection

Korean children at school
With North Korea's nuclear bomb on Monday, we had a sudden inspiration to write about our connection to Korea. We spent several hours going through files on our old computer trying to find a few photographs of the two young kids from South Korea who stayed with us when we were still living in California. We simply could not find any photos of Chung Kwan and Man Geun.

It's true, though, we actually were house parents to two young Korean boys. We had a momentary lapse, let our guard down, and agreed to host a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old for three weeks, while they were enrolled in an intensive English language program at the university. The staff at the English Language Learning Center said it would be a delightful experience. These young kids travel an incredibly long distance to our country to learn about life as we live it. They said, the kids will be glad to experience our food, everything about our way of living. In fact it will be so easy, we should take two visiting students, so they won't be lonely.

We bought it hook, line and sinker.

We went to the Holiday Inn in Santa Cruz, where a busload of very tired kids had been dropped off, and we picked up two kids from rather different families in South Korea. They spent three long, confusing weeks with us.

Korea, as we learned, has fairly rigid rules about birth order and sex. First-born sons are highly esteemed and expect respect and deference. Both of the boys we brought home were first born sons, except that one was quite a bit older than the other. So the rather sweet 11 year old had to reorganize his expectations while he became the second-born son in our household. This was all quite interesting, as Chung Kwan and Man Geun really did not speak enough english to be able to convey this to us, and we, in case you do not know, do not speak any Korean. We did some research to be able to identify what was going on between the two of them.

We were told that the boys had come to the states to experiment with food as well as language. They were apprised that we would not be cooking Korean food for them. That sounded safe enough for us. Roger and I are both good cooks and enjoy experimenting, but we had never cooked Korean food. As it turned out, though, they were really not so much interested in our "bland" stir fries. They did not seem to like our food very much at all. We found the tuna sandwiches I had prepared for their lunches hidden in boots in the closet of the room they shared.

Things were not really going as planned. There wasn't a mutiny, but there was a quiet discontent.

Then, we received a call from one of the boy's aunts who lived in San Francisco. She said that she was on her way to a nearby airport and was wondering if she could stop by and see the kids. We were absolutely delighted. She arrived with her car trunk loaded with Korean food. Literally.

By the very next day, when the kids had some taste of home, they were much more relaxed and communicative. We learned to eat some delicious and incredibly spicy food. What is sold as kimchi here in the states is nothing like the powerful, strangely aromatic, and earthy kimchi that the aunt brought. We ate food that was so spicy, one of the kids ran around the table with his two pointer fingers pointing up behind his head, as in the sign of the hot devil. It was all quite exciting and fun. They relaxed. They played on the computers. Chung Kwan sang us songs. His face unabashedly reflecting the joy he felt singing to us a rock and roll song in english. Man Geun wrote a poem about me being the mother he would choose, if he could choose a mother in America. It was simultaneously very sweet and weird.

On the last night they were in the states, we took them to the farewell gathering at the Holiday Inn. It was like any children's school gathering. There were songs. The visiting children sang to us their thanks and farewells. The director spoke to us about how much the children had learned, not just at the school, but in our homes, at our tables. He told of the phone calls he had received from homesick kids and exasperated guest-parents. Some kids wanted to go to new families. Some host families wanted to give up their visiting kids. But in the end everything had worked out was a complete success. Wasn't it, he asked? We all applauded. What fun it had been. Finally, he told of one last phone call he had received from a child who was very upset because he hadn't told his guest parents that he had stopped up the toilet. We all laughed. How funny and crazy these experiences really are. We hugged and said our good-byes to Chung Kwan and Man Geun and drove home.

That's when we discovered it was, in fact, our toilet that had been stopped up.

That's our Korean connection. It really was quite a memorable experience.

If you have a photo for Saturday's Good Planets please email it to newdharmabums at yahoo dot com. Thanks much.

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