Message from a childhood friend . . .
A couple of days ago, I received an email from a childhood friend, a next-door-neighbor girl who made mudpies for me 50 years ago and now organizes class reunions. With our fortieth high school reunion coming up in 2015, she probably wanted to keep in touch and remind me of my Ozark home:
How are things going in your world? It has been a hot, hot dry summer here. Everyone is ready for a change.I was happy to receive her email and know that I've not been forgotten, which is thoughtful, given that I failed to recognize her on two different visits home over the past few years -- my declining eyesight, perhaps, or more likely my declining brain. Maybe my failure to recognize her the second time explains why I've not been forgotten. My friend has remained in our hometown of Salem, Arkansas, working in the local bank and becoming far more successful than I have been or ever will be. She always was more practical than I am. Fortunately, my hometown friends imagine that I'm eminently successful because I'm living and working overseas, so I nod my head when they speak of my career, and I intone, "Yes, I'm imminently successful." So far, nobody's caught on. Anyway, here was my reply:
Life just seems to get busier. We started AWANAS up again about 3 weeks ago. We had about 170 little kids and 50+ youth. I am on the cooking committee and have been trying to have enough food for 200 kids. Some Wednesdays I am not sure that we will be done in time. It is a mad rush. There are a lot of different people living in Salem than we grew up. Many people I do not know and I live here. You would probably be lost for sure.
I don't know if you keep up with US national news. We are knee deep in politics, no make that neck deep. According to TV, both men are evil or great depending on which ad you catch. Even local and state elections have so much negative campaigning that you don't want to vote for anyone.
How is life there? I always had the idea that Korea was a tropical nation. But Dad was stationed there during the Korean war. He said the first night he got there it was freezing cold and they slept in tents. So much for tropical. How are the kids and the wife? Does the school year work there like it does here?
I am curious. How many languages do you know now? Do you have TV like we have TV? What is the biggest difference in living in another country? I have been to several of the European countries. But visiting there and living there I know would be different. It is just hard for me to see the little boy that I grew up with in a "foreign" country. I would never have guessed. But maybe deep down you always knew.
Well, I guess that's enough questions for one day. Hope to talk to you soon.
Thank you for a thoughtful email.I've not yet heard a reply, but my friend is clearly a very busy lady -- probably already preparing hot dogs for 200 kids!
The weather here is changeable, not so hot as in the Ozarks, and we recently had two hurricanes, sort of. By the time they reached our area, they were merely tropical storms. Don't let that mislead you back into thinking Korea is tropical. Your father is right -- the place gets cold in winter. I didn't realize he was in the Korean War. From living here and learning how terrible that conflict was, I have a lot of respect for the men who fought here.
I've also learned -- as I grow older and less self-centered -- that women are generally better at organizing things than men are, so I'm not surprised that you can arrange to feed 200 kids every Wednesday!
I'm sure I would be lost in Salem since I can't even recognize people I already know. Some mornings, I barely recognize the guy in the mirror. I'm thinking about taping my name there to jolt my memory. I should also add, "This is the problem." Meaning myself, of course.
I have been keeping up with the election, and I agree with both sides -- when they describe the other side. I agree with the Democrats when they tell me that Mitt Romney doesn't understand people too poor to afford a dog rack atop their car. And the Republicans are right when they say Barack Hussein Obama lacks the experience to be president. Oh, wait, that was four years ago. Scratch that. But they still claim he has a strange name . . . it sounds 'Muslim', and Islam is a religion nearly as foreign as Mormonism! So . . . there's a lot to think about . . .
I like Korea. I even like Seoul, where we live -- it's the first real city I've lived in. The subways and buses are very convenient, also cheap. My wife handles the practical things of life. I bring in the paycheck, or most of it. She also works, as a freelance translator. That means editing work for me. The kids go to Korean schools and are bilingual, but better in Korean. The school year starts in March, which I haven't gotten used to yet.
On languages, I really know only English. My German is fair, but I'm bad at the grammar. I've not learned Korean -- too hard. I've studied Greek, Hebrew, and Coptic for research, but I'm not good.
We do have TV. In fact, Korea exports a lot of television sets -- you've doubtless heard of Samsung. They're sort of like Apple . . . except that Apple doesn't make TVs.
The biggest difference is the language. That's a real barrier in a foreign country. Culture is next. Here in Korea, Confucianism is strong and influences everyone to think in terms of relative status, so there's a constant need to figure out who's more important than whom in the social hierarchy. Even kids try to impose their will on each other depending on who's the elder.
When I was a little boy, I didn't think about foreign countries, but as a teenager, I knew that I wanted to see the world. So, I guess I knew, deep down, at some point. I've now seen enough of the world to know that there's a lot of the world I'd prefer not to see.
What countries have you visited? What does your husband do? What are your children doing?
I'd better get back to work . . .