Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eating Tentacles & Dancing Gangnam Style

It seems that Sydney is in good spirits this week.  She is becoming more "Korean" every day.  She sure loves it there.  Most the pictures are of her apartment.  I must say, it's a whole lot cleaner than Nicholas'.  There is no purple goo in the corner of the shower.  

I've completed my first transfer! Yes!
In this new transfer, we added three new elders to our ward, so now their are six of us! Hopefully, our new found strength in numbers will help us in finding investigators because we are struggling.

[Our newbies are Elder Arnett, Elder Gliattli, and Elder 이용환. The last two are greenies like me, so I'm not the baby of the group anymore. :(]

Now that I've completed my first transfer, I thought we might take a nice walk down memory lane and discuss...

11 Things About Korea That I Haven't Bothered to Tell You.

Yeah. Sorry about that. It's been a busy six weeks.
Nevertheless, let the list-making begin!

1. The first thing I noticed that was different about Korea? Not the buildings, not the smell, not the people, no, the chalkboards. I can't really explain it, but the chalkboards are different here. It's extremely off-putting.

2. The ward members cannot pronounce my name. I tried to tell them to just call me "Nitas 자매" like they did in the MTC, but they didn't like that too much. So now, I'm 아바 자매, or Sister Abba. Like the Swedish pop band. Like "Dancing Queen."

3. Food trash. Also known as the bane of my existence. I mean, I'm glad this country is environmentally conscientious, but every time my companion and I decide to gather and take out our food trash, it's like an episode of Dirty Jobs. I hate it.

4. Everyone smokes in this country. Honestly. It's like I'm back in the 1960's and smoking is glamorous and no one knows anything about lung cancer.

5. I eat kimchi almost every day. In fact, I've eaten so much that I can now tell the difference between good kimchi and bad kimchi. For instance, a couple of days ago, my companion and I went out to dinner and as I was mindlessly shoveling kimchi into my mouth, I paused and said, "This is not very good kimchi." My companion then took a bite herself, chewed, swallowed, and looked at me with this huge grin on her face and said, "자매님! You're right! This is some of the worst kimchi I've ever had! You know kimchi now. You've become more Korean!"

6. Speaking of food, you would all be very proud of how much seafood I've eaten in the past six weeks. Before, I would have balked at the idea of putting anything that resembled a creepy, crawly, sea creature even close to my mouth, but now I'm a pro at it! Just last night we went to a ward member's house for dinner and had spaghetti (real spaghetti! yay!) I spied a whole array of sea creatures: shrimp, mussels, and something small and vaguely tentacley. But did I hesitate? No! I popped those tentacles into my mouth like they were nothing! I mean, I probably still wouldn't spend money on seafood, but I'm definitely no longer afraid of them swimming happily around in my stomach. :)

7. We sleep on the floor on mattress-like things that also fold up into tiny couches. They're called "yo"s. No one knows why.

8. Someone once told me that I probably wouldn't eat bread too often in Korea. Lies. I have never seen more bakeries and coffee shops in my entire life. There are at least three of each on every street and you can bet that if I have the money and the time, I will stop and buy myself a chocolate chip croissant.

9. The inexplicable obsession this place has with corn. And not corn of the cob, mind you, oh no--canned corn. I've seen it on pizza, I've seen it in salads, I've seen corn-flavored popcorn, and once, most memorably, I saw corn-flavored ice cream. The only response I have to this--whhhhhyyyy???

10. The buses. Granted, I haven't ridden too many city buses in my lifetime and I'm sure Korea isn't the only country that's like this, but my goodness, these bus drivers are crazy. Every day it's like riding the Knight Bus, only faster and more death-defying.

11. 채육 대회. This is something that the stakes in Korea do every year. Essentially, all the wards in the stake gather together for a day and compete against each other in various athletic competitions. It's rather exciting. However, fun fact--even in Korea, I get picked last. I just have one of those faces, I guess.  I did win one competition though! At the very end of the day, the stake president called all the missionaries up and we did a shoe toss! (You know, like, when you loosen your shoe and then try to kick it off and launch it the farthest. Hey, I don't make up the games, I just play them.) Anyway, both the elders and the sisters had to do it and from the sisters, I won! For our prize, Elder Andersen (the elder who won) and I both got enormous boxes of ramen! But before we could claim them, we had one last task to complete: to do the Gangnam Style dance. In front of the whole stake. So awkward. But we did it because missionaries do what their stake presidents tell them to do. Even if it's dancing to Gangnam Style.

I love you all. Korea continues to be as ridiculous and as wonderful as you imagine it to be.
Have a Happy Halloween!

Sister Abba

She says this is a random reminder that she's in Asia

They made sweet potato cakes for a couple in their ward who was celebrating their anniversary

Sydney's district before transfers.  This is a "sticker picture"

She found the Hello Kitty section at the store

Sydney wrote, "In other news, I was supposed to get my new name tag a few weeks ago.  Instead, this happened.  I'm not amused."  I told her to keep it for Nick.

Monday, October 21, 2013

We Caught A Thief!

I'm glad Sydney learned to be forgiving.  As her mom, I'm still ticked at this punk, who got away with all the candy I sent her.  I expected this from Mexico but not Korea.  I'll have to seal her Christmas package really tightly.  I hope he's too terrified to ever do anything like this again.  

That's right, dear readers, I came to Korea to be a missionary and somehow I've also taken on the role of amateur detective. Just call me Nancy Drew. But, before we get to the exciting story of my sleuthing, let's rewind and talk about English Village!  I'm going to do my best to explain, but if any of you still haven't the foggiest idea what English Village is by the end of this post, just Google it. The internet, in all it's wisdom, will explain what I cannot.

English Village is essentially an extremely complex and randomly themed English class. For normal English Villages the point is to practice English, but when it's organized by a zone of missionaries, the purpose is twofold. In addition to speaking practice, English Village is a great way to introduce people to the Church and to give them a subtle tour of the building. Are you with me thus far? Probably not, but I'm just going to press onward anyway. Maybe it would help if I took you through, room by room. Here we go...

Welcome to English Village!

You enter at the Post Office, where you are given a passport and one hundred American dollars (not legal tender) to spend throughout your journey. From there, you head straight to the airport where you choose to fly to one of four exotic destinations: Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, or Salt Lake City! After the airport, you board your plane, where the glamorous air-hostess explains, in the slowest English she can manage, the various room of English Village. In case you couldn't guess, the glamorous air-hostess was me. Even Koreans complain that I talk too fast. Once your flight has landed, you're hungry, of course, and so you stop at the nearest restaurant and order some...pancakes!

Side note: If only I had the time to explain the stress these pancakes caused. To all future attempters of English Village, pancakes is not the way to go.

At the restaurant, you learn about table etiquette and how to pay a proper tip--a lesson even Americans could probably do with learning. Unfortunately, the restaurant makes you a little sick, so you then must visit the doctor's office for a check-up. In the waiting room, you can check your height, weight, and eyesight or simply peruse the wide selection of Church magazines (this is where I would be wiggling my eyebrows suggestively). Once the doctor has made sure you're sufficiently healthy, you head straight to the clothing store and then to the movie theater to browse a collection of missionary P-day clothes and watch a few Mormon Messages (my eyebrows are wiggling again). Finally, to end your English Village trip, you stop by the chapel and learn to sing a hymn. Fun, right?

All in all, our English Village went really well. The members loved it and a bunch of investigators, less actives, and even random people off the street came too! Since our mission president wants every zone to start doing this once every two transfers, hopefully by next time more members will feel comfortable bringing their friends and family members to come, have fun, practice English, and meet the missionaries!

Now, for my thrilling detective story. This is going to be like an episode of Monk, so get excited.

Since English Village took place in 정주, the biggest city in our zone, my companion and I were away from our apartment for almost two full days. When we finally returned to 중주 late Saturday night, we saw that there was a small package stuffed into our mailbox--a package for me from my family! As I pulled it out of the mailbox, I noticed the top was slightly ripped open, but since I was far too excited to care, I thought nothing of it and ran immediately upstairs with my companion so we could look through my spoils. However, it soon became abundantly clear that something was missing--my iPod. And if this wasn't enough, my Kit-Kats too. I knew my mom would never put just one measly fun-sized bar of my favorite candy into a package she was sending to the other side of the world. So yeah, I was angry. I can get over a stolen iPod, but once you touch my Kit-Kats, you've crossed a line.

Since neither my companion no I were ready to give up on my stolen stuff, with the permission of our mission president, we went to the apartment office the next day and watched the security camera tapes. Check that off the list of things I never thought I'd do on my mission. I felt like my companion and I were Monk and Natalie as we watched the tapes intently, waiting for the moment when one of us could point at the TV screen and declare, "He's the guy!" Oh, and believe me, that moment came. Red jumpsuit, reflective tennis shoes, dark hair. Just a fourteen-year old kid. At first, I was incredibly excited because I felt like a detective, but then, as I continued to watch this random teenage boy go through the package that my mom had lovingly put together for me, I felt violated, upset, and just, angry. Since it was Sunday [yesterday] and we had an appointment at a member's house that night, my companion and I couldn't go immediately to the police station, so we left for our member's house, resolving to go to the police station first thing Monday morning. My companion had assigned me beforehand to give the spiritual thought at the end of our visit with our members, but as we ate dinner, I couldn't get it out of my head just how angry I was. And as I thought about my anger, I realized the message I needed to share--forgiveness. As the saying goes, "Practice what you preach." I knew that I needed to forgive this kid who has stolen from me and so, with the translation help of my wonderful companion, I shared my story with our members and then spoke of the importance of forgiveness. As I spoke, I felt my anger ebb away and I knew that my Heavenly Father was pleased with my new found desire to forgive.

But the story doesn't end there. As our member dropped us off at our apartment, and I turned to walk into our apartment building, I saw him. Red jumpsuit. Reflective shoes. Dark hair. The thief. As soon as he saw that I was a foreigner, he tried to hurry away, but luckily my companion is both bold and fluent in Korean, so she simply went up to him and asked, "Did you steal her iPod?" 
He denied it. 
She said, "We watched the security tape. You stole it Friday at 9:15. Where is it?"

So after a few minutes and one rather awkward ride together in the elevator, I had my iPod back. And you know what? As I took it back from the now-slightly-terrified kid who had stolen from me, I looked him in the eye, smiled brightly, and said with all the gratitude I could muster, "Thank you very much." He bowed low. I bowed back. All was well.

Four lessons are to be learned from this:

1. If you're going to steal, never wear the same bright red jumpsuit you wore on the day you committed your crime. Honestly.
2. Don't assume that because you steal from a foreigner, that that foreigner's companion is not fluent in Korean and a freaking boss at catching thieves.
3. God really does work in mysterious ways. As we watched the security tapes Sunday afternoon, we had a great conversation about religion with the man who worked at our apartment office. We gave him a Book of Mormon and he accepted it.
4. Always forgive.

In last year's April General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "We must recognize that we are all imperfect--that we are beggars before God. Haven't we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven't we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy--to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed? Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? Should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven?"

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

I encourage you all this week to remember the ultimate example of forgiveness, even Jesus Christ.
Always choose to forgive.

I love you always.

Sister Arvanitas
Sydney's new coat to keep her warm

The airplane at English Village

Airplane window
Another airplane window

Airplane gate

Restaurant to eat pancakes

Who did the impromptu flower-arranging? me. I think I've found my spiritual gift...

Doctor's office

Doctor's waiting room

Clothing store for English Village

"He's the guy!"
just call me Detective Inspector Arvanitas.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In which.....

In which intestines are consumed.

On Tuesday, we added an extra friend to our companionship! Don't freak out, though, it wasn't a permanent thing. One of the young women in our ward, 김선영,(Sun-Youngis preparing to put in her mission papers soon and so we wanted to take her with us for an entire day so that she could see A Day in the Life of the Sister Missionaries! I think she really liked it and hopefully the whole experience made her more excited to serve a mission. To her good fortune, the day she was with us, another member in our ward decided to take us out to dinner. This doesn't normally happen, so it was an exciting time for everyone. Dinner was yummy and I was happy to be sitting in a warm restaurant with the soothing sounds of other people speaking a language I don't yet understand. However, after dinner, as we were waiting for the bus to take us to another appointment, 김선영 (Sun-Youngstarted typing something into her phone's translator. She then handed it to me and said, "This is what you just ate for dinner!"

곱창 - (n) The small intestine of cattle.

Oh, boy.

But actually, it was fine. I didn't know what it was while I was eating it and it tasted yummy to me, so all was well. Also, I hold firmly to Life Fact #54--"The tastiest food is always the food that is free."

In which old friends are reunited.

On Wednesday, my companion and I traveled to Daejeon for the Trainer & Trainee (TNT) Meeting. The TNT Meeting is when all the new missionaries and their respective trainers meet for the day and talk about how things have been as brand-new missionaries in the field. But do you know what else this means? I got to see all my old MTC friends again! Most importantly, I got to see my lovely, lovely Sister Pappa again.

My emotions were pretty much like,

But honestly, I did not quite realize how much I would miss her till we were separated for an entire month. I'm glad to report that my dear Pappa is doing very well in 광주 with her new companion and I could not be happier for her. But still, I wish we could see each other more often.

Other than this bright spot of joy, the rest of the TNT Meeting was pretty...meh. Or as the Koreans will shrug their shoulders and say--그냥.(Just that)

In which a lesson goes from "okay" to "almost comically horrible".

Thursday, we met with Hannah again. We had planned to go over the Restoration with her and her kids and we even had a member and her young son there to help us, but our planned "first thirty minutes of English" turned into more like "first forty-five minutes of English." My companion handled things wonderfully though and simply asked Hannah if we could just watch the Restoration video with her, talk about it a little, and then end the lesson there. She agreed.

This is where things started to go awry. Firstly, her two kids clearly did not want to be there and looked tired and bored. Then, Hannah kept getting up and leaving to answer phone calls from work. Finally, as the video was just getting to the good part of the First Vision, the TV went crazy. I don't know, something happened with the color and everything turned all red and orange and then, just as the music was building, the volume all of a sudden went way too loud and everyone nearly jumped out of their seats.

Anyway, I was having the hardest time trying not to burst out laughing and I was just glad when our train wreck of a lesson finally came to a close.

Don't worry though. We're teaching her the Restoration again next week.

In which General Conference was the best thing ever.

Earl Count: 12!
Thanks Earl for being in the choir and representing the rest of the family for me. It's always nice to see a familiar face. (Sydney's Uncle Earl had quite a bit of TV coverage this conference)

I don't think I've ever watched General Conference as intently as I did this time. It was like when ABC Family has their Harry Potter Weekends, only better.

Though it's hard to write about just one, I really loved Elder Scott's talk this conference. I loved how he talked about God seeing our weaknesses differently than rebellion. On my mission thus far, I have realized that I have a ton of weaknesses. More than I'd like to think about. But like Elder Scott said, "When the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy."

I know that through God, our weaknesses can become strong. I'm still working on my weaknesses, but I am ever grateful for a loving and merciful God who understands that I'm doing my very best.

I love you all very much.
Sister Sydney
Sister Pappa and Sister Arvanitas, reunited
This picture was sent to an unused email account.  This is Sydney's Mission President and wife with all the missionaries who arrived with her and their trainers.  

Sydney and Sister Lee

Sunday, October 6, 2013

구도자는 고구마 같습니다.

Note: I've decided to start writing vocab and city names in Korean. If you want to know how to pronounce them, just copy and paste them into GoogleTranslate and it will tell both the definition and the pronunciation. Isn't it just the best? :)   (You all can do that to figure out the title of this letter.  It's like a little game.  Steve and I can't have all the fun.)

This week comes to you in three parts.

Greenie Splits with Sister Jacklin!

Sister Jacklin and I were in the MTC together and now we're in the same zone. She serves in 정주, a city about an hour train ride away from us. There are only six sisters in my zone and all of them, except for Sister Jacklin and me, are Korean, so it's always a good time when we get to go on splits because, since it's such a strange sight to see two American girls wandering around Korea, lots of people stop and talk to us. Back in the MTC, she seemed so old, as I was just coming in and she was already preparing to leave. But out here in the mission field, we're both new and clueless, so we spent an exciting day together trying to find our way and understand Korean. 

Since our split was in 정주, we began the day by visiting one of the members in Sister Jacklin's ward. This member was so nice to us. We were just there to teach her a short, twenty minute lesson, but she kept bringing us out juice to drink and food to eat and pictures of her family to look at and even though we could speak almost zero Korean, she was so patient and sweet to us and would say what words she could in English so that we wouldn't be completely lost. After we shared our little spiritual thought, she ushered us into her car so that she could take us out to lunch (don't worry, going to lunch with her was always part of plan). I wish I could tell you what we ate, but I honestly have no idea. I would call it "Yak Bone Soup." As we were finishing our soup, I suddenly realized what Sister Jacklin and I had achieved. We had successfully taught a lesson and made conversion during Korean! I mean, it was broken Korean with a lot of random English thrown in, but still Korean. We had done it. And we're only greenies! (a greenie is a brand new missionary)

After lunch, the member we were with once again hurried us into her car and began driving us to a mystery location. As she drove, she kept saying "시장! 시장!" and I could only hope that 시장 wasn't Korean for "another restaurant where I'm going to stuff you full of more rice and soup" because I had just eaten a huge bowl of Yak Bone Soup and I did not feel confident in my stomach's ability to hold any more. But luckily, 시장 is the word for "open market," so I was saved from the possibility of puking. However, this lovely member's purpose in stopping at the market was to buy us grapes to take home and eat later. At least, Sister Jacklin and I hoped we were supposed to take. The whole time, we only vaguely understood of what was happening, but we were at least 60% sure that we were supposed to take the grapes.

A Wonderful Lesson with Our Investigator

I think I might have mentioned this in my last letter, but we have investigators! We meet her and her two kids twice a week to teach them 30 minutes of English and 30 minutes of the gospel. I'll just call her Hannah, since that's the English name she's chosen. Anyway, we had intended to teach them the Restoration this week, but since we were running out of time, we switched last minute to the Plan of Salvation. During our lesson, we watched one of the videos from this year's Youth Conference "Stand Ye in Holy Places" DVD--the one on the Plan of Salvation. Oh goodness, what an emotional wreck I was after that video. You should all watch it. But my emotions aside, I think Hannah was really able to feel the Spirit because, believe me, it was there and it was powerful. And that's not all! To end our lesson, Hannah said the prayer--she prayed! For the very first time! In her prayer, she asked God to help her think seriously about our message this weekend and I truly hope she does because even after meeting her only a few times, I want absolutely everything for her and her family. Till now, I never understood what it felt like to have God's love work through me in order to reach another person, but I think I get it now. I think it feels like this.

Farming for Sweet Potatoes

It's harvesting season in Korea and that means lots and lots of 고구마!(sweet potato) For those of you who don't know, sweet potato farming is done in five parts. 

1. Cut and move aside the stems. This is done with a sickle and it is awesome. Words cannot describe how excited I was when the bishop handed me an old timey sickle and was just like, "Get to work."
2. Unearth the potatoes with a shovel. The bishop and the member who owned the farm handled this. It looked absolutely exhausting.
3. Brush off the dirt and set the potatoes in a row. 
4. Gather them all together!
5. Sort the good potatoes from the bad and box them up to be sold.

All in all, I thought the whole process was wonderful. Definitely difficult, but still fun. And since manual labor like this doesn't take too much thought, I had a lot of time to just work and think. And as I thought, I realized: investigators are like sweet potatoes. These sweet potatoes were so precious to their farmer. He had spent all year planting them and caring for them and worrying about them and now they were finished and ready to harvest. And so it is with people--when they hear the gospel for the first time, a seed is planted. Gradually, as this seed grows, the person becomes more susceptible to the truth of the gospel, until one day they just know. They're finally ready. It's time to be harvested. In D&C 4:4, it says,

"For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringesth salvation to his soul."

People are already ready to hear our message. We just need to go out and harvest them. And yes, it's scary and confusing at first. Like my bishop said to me, "Here's a sickle; get to work." I had no idea what I was doing at first, but at time went on, I figured it out. It's the same with missionary work--I'll figure it out. I just need to keep swinging my sickle.

"For behold the field is white already to harvest."

I have been called to the Korea Daejeon Mission and the field is white.
And do you know what the word "Daejeon" means?

Big Field.

I love you all,
아바냐타스 자매

Sydney and her old timey sickle

She didn't label this picture but she probably got to take these home. 

Sydney thrusting in her sickle

Lots of sweet potatoes

Look closely, that would be a giant brown spider.  Sydney is naming these pictures her "Spider Series"

Looking back towards the city from the sweet potato farm

A cemetery across from the sweet potato farm

"This week all I wanted was pizza. warning: Koreans put corn on their pizza. Whhhyyyy???"
This would be Sydney's caption for this picture. 

I love that the pizza shop is called "Pizza School"
                                         This is the video they showed their investigator "Hannah"