Sunday, November 18, 2018

Our New Home

So here’s something funny.  Whenever I meet someone here (and since I’m relatively new still, this is usually at least once a week) and I tell them I moved from Busan, they almost inevitably reply, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  

I mean, I kind of get it.  It’s a big change.  Gone are the towering apartment buildings of my old neighborhood.  The area we live in is pretty rural, with lots of rice paddies and old villages.  My bedroom view isn’t exactly the “million dollar view” I used to have of Dongbaek Island, Haeundae Beach, Dalmaji, and so much water.  Instead, I look out at a private, quiet forested hill, surrounded by pine trees, feeling like I live in a treehouse.  While tourists used to pose for pictures in front of my apartment building, the only people in front of my house are the 10-and-under set, screaming and laughing and playing games.

But I don’t hate it! Not at all!  Now that it’s November and gratitude is on our minds especially as Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the changes of this year and feel compelled to write about our new home and how we came to it.  

This past summer, as we anticipated our move north, closer to Seoul, I was feeling quite a bit a of dread and anxiety (referenced somewhat in this and this post).  I was moving by myself because Matt was extended at his job in Busan.  It was hard to get any information, though a couple people on Facebook helped tremendously.  I had hoped we would get to live on base after all the shenanigans with our property manager in Busan, but we were told that would be very unlikely as the base didn’t have enough housing yet.  I got sort of used to that reality and said, “Fine, as long as I don’t have to live in an apartment again.”  Because honestly, last winter in our apartment took so much out of me.  Then I was told that it was likely we would have to live in an apartment.  

I reached out to a couple realtors (property managers but they’re called realtors) in the area, and they made me think all the good places were being snatched up as I was stateside, but I wasn’t about to sign a lease sight unseen.  The soonest we could get away to go house hunting was about a week after our return to Korea, which was just a few weeks before school was supposed to start.  The day before I was supposed to leave to come north, I’d gotten more bad news, and I couldn’t get a room in base lodging or for that matter even near the base for our house hunting.  I was kind of at my wits’ end — or near it, anyway — and I sent a series of discouraged texts to my parents, big sister, and best friend stateside.  They all wrote back that they were praying, and goodness knows I was praying too, but it felt pretty futile.

I went for a run in the gym, going as hard and fast as I could until there was just no energy left to be anxious and worried.  Then I returned to the apart-hotel room we’d moved into, prayed for the umpteenth time, took a deep breath, and typed up a message on a Facebook page, introducing myself and asking if anyone knew of a particularly good realtor and good places to look for housing.  I got several really helpful answers, and one woman in particular sent me a direct message that ended up being a total game changer.

“There’s a five-bedroom house next door to mine that’s open right now,” she said.  “It’s quiet, there are hiking trails nearby, and there’s a creek and playground and tons of kids.”  She also told me about a realtor several of the neighbors used and loved.  I had an appointment arranged within minutes.  

This realtor could not have been more different from the one we’d used in Busan.  She spoke excellent English and greeted us so kindly, offering ice-cold bottles of water as we drove from house to house.  We’d talked about what we were looking for beforehand, and she seemed to “get it” exactly.  In all, we only looked at three houses — very “House Hunters International”-esque — but she said she had a longer list that were “villas”  (townhouses with no yards or outdoor areas) and apartments, and she didn’t think we’d like them as much as the houses she’d shown us.  We felt we’d seen enough, too, and really it was down to two houses.  One was the house my new friend had messaged me about.

And that’s the one we ended up with.  As the realtor put it, the other house was bigger, but this one had the best neighbors, and after having a downstairs neighbor that would growl at us in the elevator and complain to management often, it feels like the nicest gift.  They showed up with hugs and food and gifts as we moved in.  There’s lots of space for running around and playing. The kids are outside when the weather is good until the sun has set — and sometimes later! — and they’re dirty from head to toe when they finally come inside from playing in the woods or down at the playground or creek.  It feels like they’re doing the kinds of things kids are supposed to get to do again.

Another big change is that I also started homeschooling the youngest three again about a month into the school year (if you remember, I homeschooled when we lived in Hawaii, and I’d actually missed it these past two years!).  I had wanted to make a decision when school started, but since that was less than a week after we moved in, I just could hardly think straight.  But I found that this was one case where I don’t think it hurt anything to decide to homeschool when I did.  The dust had settled, and I could reason more clearly.

Then there are other changes, like how I have a dryer again.  Living close to a commissary — rather than a couple hours away — means I have pizza and frozen yogurt in my freezer again, which is both convenient and delicious.  Some of the changes are both good and a little sad.  I miss the conversations I had with the owner of the pizza place I went to on Friday nights... but I know I won’t miss the walk through the frigid wind to get there in a couple months!  My friends here mostly Americans, which is wonderful, but I remember fondly the birthday parties I attended in Busan where “Happy Birthday” was sung in English, Korean, and Norwegian.  I miss the international community I was part of there, and the diverse stories and perspectives I got to hear.  

But there’s so much more open space, and the beauty, patterns, and rhythms of the countryside are a welcome change.

It was still a challenge to move here without Matt.  We had two months of a “commuter marriage”, though thankfully that’s over now!  It could definitely have been worse.  When we were doing our safety inspection with the realtor, the superintendent of our neighborhood and his wife came to meet us.  They are the sweetest couple.  “Don’t worry,” they told my husband, “we will take good care of your family while you’re in Busan.” And they did!

Anyway, as I sit here, reflecting on gratitude this Thanksgiving week, I’m humbled and awed once again at the goodness of God.  And I want to point out that it isn’t because this move turned out exactly the way I wanted it to six months ago.  I still had to move before Matt, we didn’t get base housing, no lightning bolt and voice from Heaven told me to definitely homeschool.  There were many moments of anxiety and tension and worry.  I’m not saying all this to point out my holiness or goodness — since I’m so, so grateful anyway — because actually the opposite is true.  I fought, I stressed, I complained to God (and people) pretty much every step of the way.  But now, when I look around and feel the peace, contentment, and gratitude for how He has worked things out, I feel pretty silly for all the grumbling.

During the summer, I actually said the words, “[With this move] I keep saying, ‘Okay, it will be fine as long as this or that happens.’  And God keeps saying, ‘Lower your expectations. Nope, lower still.  Lower.... L o w e r....’”  Now, on the other side of the move, my change-resistant soul bows humbly at the words, “‘If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’”  Emphasis mine, because hi, that would be me. (Matthew 6:30 NIV). 

I’ve received so much more already than I ever thought I would — sweet neighbors and new friends, a lovely house surrounded by natural beauty we wouldn’t have had on base (sorry, but it’s true), a sense of quiet peace and assurance that I’m doing the right thing homeschooling my younger kids at this point in time.  Once again, I see how God provides not exactly according to our plans or what we tell the world we want but according to exactly what our hearts need.  

And I am so very thankful.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mr. Toilet/ Haewoojae: You’ve Gotta Go!

“But... but... where did they go to the bathroom?”  I was that girl, reading books like Swiss Family Robinson, Little House in the Big Woods, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and so on with this one pressing question.  It was in the dark ages, of course, before internet searches were available, and the couple times I came right out and asked the teacher in front of the class, everyone laughed and I was told not to create such disruption.

So for a long time, I had to sit quietly, lost in my wondering.  I don’t think I was that weird.  I grew up in a country where a very common friendly question translates literally to, “How are your bowels?”  There were also times when I desperately needed a bathroom and couldn’t find a suitable one anywhere.  Moreover, I was well-acquainted with horrific news stories of cholera epidemics that wiped out thousands of lives, with a lack of good toilets largely to blame.  

The bottom line is (yes, potty pun intended), toilets are really very important.  And apparently, someone in Korea agreed with me.  When I was still living in Busan, I heard about the Mr. Toilet museum in Suwon (near Seoul), and thought, Now this is a place I need to see!  After our move this summer, I realized I was only twenty-something miles from it.  I couldn’t wait.  I had to go.

Finally, last week when my parents were visiting, we made the long-anticipated expedition.  Upon our arrival, we saw the giant toilet I’d seen in pictures, surrounded by statues in a park-like setting, but since it was pouring down rain, we first went to the “cultural center” with a children’s poo activity room.

Yes, you read that right.  

Anything and everything you could want to know about fecal matter seemed to be in this room.  The only problem was that while many of the questions were in English, the answers were in Hangul.

Some information was there, including this sign that affirmed my vegetarianism.  

And other information was more pictorial and therefore easy to comprehend.  

There were lots of interactive exhibits and a giant slide that went down a toilet. 
 The kids — okay, fine, and the adults — thought it was pretty funny,
 though after a while my mom and I were feeling a bit queasy.

By then the rain had let up, so we crossed the road to the giant toilet, passing on our way a display of artistically decorated urinals.  I learned that the Hangul name for the museum was Haewoojae, which means “a house to relieve one’s concerns.”  It was built by a former mayor of Suwon, Sim Jaedok, who demolished his house of 30 years to create the giant toilet as a celebration of the World Toilet Association.  I tried to picture myself doing the same thing, and I was fairly certain my family would think I was even crazier than I’ve seemed at times.  So I was impressed that upon his death, Jaedok’s family turned it into a public museum.  

There were all sorts of chamber pots and commodes from different times in history, 

plus informative exhibits detailing everything from what people around the world use to wipe themselves 

to how toilets work and how much water they use when flushing.  There were puzzles the kids could put together depicting scenes of toilets through the ages 

and an interactive screen wall where the kids could hit floating pieces of “poo” and turn them into butterflies, birds, and flowers.

But wait, there was more.  

In the surrounding park outside, there was a large sculpture of the Golden poo (see in the picture at the top of the post), which we had learned was “hashtag poo goals,” or the quintessential healthy number two.  This golden specimen of unicorn excrement could be found in latrines all around the park, of which there were many.  There were also sculptures of people using the bathroom, 

though in all but one statue of a baby, you could only see the bottom (thank goodness!).  I also learned surprising tidbits of Korean history and culture (read the signs).

I wish the museum had more English in the children’s area, and that they provided information about just how important good sanitation services are, possibly citing specific statistics on how many people die each year from diseases caused by a lack therof.  There were a couple exhibits that touched on this, but more information would give the otherwise very interesting but lightweight locale a bit more substance, or raison d’ĂȘtre.  

I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Pyramids at Giza, and now I’ve been to the giant toilet in Suwon.  As I left, I felt like I could write a new Visa advertisement, “Road toll: 2,600 won each way.  Admission to Mr. Toilet/ Haewoojae: free.  The feeling that you’ve seen it all: priceless.”