Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The new men in my life

So I was recently informed that I was doing a poor job at keeping up with this blog. Frankly I wasn't sure if people were still reading it, but apparently they are, so I promise to start writing more frequently.

About a month ago something happened, which at the time I thought was a little strange, but it turned out to be a huge blessing. One day I was standing at the bus stop, waiting for the bus to go home from work, when an older Korean man approached me and speaking in very good English, asked me if I was a teacher. This in itself isn't unusual as here people often speak to you in strange places and they usually fall into one of two categories a) someone who is curious about you and wants to practice their english skills or b) someone who wants to recruit you to their church. The first group of people I am more than happy to speak to and, well with the second group I usually quickly pledge my allegiance to Satan and make a hasty retreat. This man, however, proved to be neither.
He introduced himself as Mr. Bak and told me that he is a retired Engish teacher who volunteers at a nearby seniors center. He teaches an English class and explained that he had an American girl helping him but she returned home so now he is looking for a replacement. Although he never actually came out and asked if I was interested, it's not the Korean way to be that direct, I knew that was what he was wanting. I immediately thought that this might be an interesting experience but also wanted time to consider the idea so I asked him to call me the following week so that I could check with my school. It didn't take much thinking for me to realize this was an opportunity to befriend some older Korean people who I was sure would have some interesting stories.
I agreed to spend an hour every saturday there helping with this class. On my first day I arrived not really sure what to expect or what the students reaction would be to me. I went into the clasroom and met my students, 8 men ranging in age from 70 to 84. Most of these men spoke decent English, enough for us to have a simple conversation, and they immediately started asking me questions about Canada and my life in Korea. I was expecting things to be uncomfortable because age is a big deal in Korea and usually when you have someone younger and older together things get very formal. Not with these men though. Right away they started joking around and teasing each other and bragging about who has the most girlfriends.
I felt instantly comfortable with these men and they started telling me stories about their lives. They all fought in the Korean war and one man told me that during the war they were all taught to say 3 words "I am South Korean", and this saved many of them from being killed by American soldiers mistaking them for North Koreans.
After the class finished they took me downstairs to the cafeteria for lunch where many of the other seniors in the building came over and started talking to me. At one point one man came over and started naming all the American states and which point one of the men in my class became angry and said "She's not American, she is from Canada". Without blinking an eye the man stopped in midstate and started reciting all the provinces instead.
Since that first class, I now go every saturday. What was supposed to be only 1 hour has instead turned into 4. All the men in the class put their money together and bought me a good Korean text book. Every staurday after our English class, I eat lunch with these men and then 2 of them spend 2 hours helping me learn Korean.
Meeting Mr. Bak that day at the bus stop was truly a blessing. I look forward to my saturdays with these men. They have become my friends, they have let me into their circle, and allowed me to see Korean people in a different light. I feel like I have 8 grandfathers and they have made it very clear that if I ever needed anything, they would be there to help. They even promised to be at the airport on my return from Canada, holding a sign with my name on it to welcome me back to their country. I have been given a unique opportunity that many westerners here don't get and for that I am very lucky.