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Sunday, April 04, 2004

Incomplete, January/February 2004

[Here we have another piece from the archives.  It dates back to 2004, though it refers to some events from 1993.  It is incomplete, though I have left the outline of how I intended to continue.]

Dear Friends and Family:

I started writing this right after Horyon left the States, and am just now finishing it [April 4th!]. The style was a bit demanding, so it took longer than I expected. So please, just assume that you received this the second week in February and forgot to read it until now. A letter for March will be forthcoming! -R

On Monday morning, my parents and I took Horyon to the airport and said goodbye. She had been getting more and more downcast the preceding week while I stayed cheerful. Monday morning I joined her in tears. It will only be two weeks that we are apart, but we are so very far apart, and I was worried about her traveling alone. We often care so much about the people we love that we forget that they can take care of themselves, don't we? At about 8:30 Tuesday morning she called to say that she had arrived at her parents' home a couple of hours previously. Almost exactly 24 hours after leaving my parents' home. I'm not sure whether she waited two hours to avoid waking me up or to have seconds on kimchi chigae, but I appreciated it either way.

I received some consolation from some friends dating back to my brief involvement with community theater. Mike Harford is the man. He grilled some thick, juicy steaks, still bloody, just like our primitive ancestors used to do right after running down a woolly mammoth. He cooked some shrimp and mushrooms in butter to give a sense of modernity. He made biscuits just for me (the Pillsbury kind, sadly unavailable in Pusan). He even made baked potatoes, though somehow they neglected to appear until after everyone was completely stuffed. (No, I did not eat one anyway, though I briefly considered it.) I can't think of any higher compliment for a meal than mentioning it to 90 other people in a positive way, so there you go, Mikey. Consider your meal praised. (It was only yesterday, but I still have a good-food buzz from that meal.) Joining us were Mike's lady-friend Penny and our dear mentor, Rumi. Rumi has been involved in community theater since she was a fetus, I believe. She is the most engaging person I know, very strong-willed (OK, stubborn), and she used to smoke like a chimney. (You could gauge how well a rehearsal went by measuring how deep the butts were in her ash tray.) She is in the middle of a kind of sabbatical now, and only smokes like a home chimney, as opposed to the factory kind. We had an evening of conversation that never slowed down and always offered an easy out if the topic wasn't to your liking.

Perhaps some background on these characters is in order; after I graduated from K.U. in the spring of 1993, and before I left for Nepal in the fall of 1994, I really only did two things, though I managed to do them at the same time: I directed the youth choir at church, and I got involved with the River City Community Players (RCCP) the local community theater. This was before I started my letter writing, and years before I had an email address. I had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways... but I digress. My first part at RCCP was as a chorus member in "Paint Your Wagon," the musical popularized by the film version staring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Yes, they sing in it, and no, it isn't as bad as you'd expect. It's worse. That's where I met Mike for the first time. He called me Sparky, told off-color jokes, and asked to have his finger pulled right from the start. No wonder I liked him so much. The show was memorable to me because it was my first experience acting outside of church. (For those of you who are alternate-history buffs, you might enjoy chewing on this: in the middle of production I got a call from a K.U. band prof. asking if I would like to run away and join a circus band. My main reason for not doing so was my commitment to "Paint Your Wagon." If I had joined the circus band, I might have liked it enough to continue on playing my euphonium professionally or not. It was only for the summer, but I would not have become close friends with Mike and many other wonderful people, and I probably would have had dinner Monday night with some jugglers and sideshow freaks. Ok, fade back to original digression.) I enjoyed "Paint Your Wagon", and tried out for the next show, "Bus Stop." You might have seen one of the movies based on it, one starring Margo Kidder, a.k.a. Louis Lane, the other starring Marilyn Monroe, a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe. "Wagon" was a large cast, more than 30 people on stage, I think. "Bus Stop" was what you call an ensemble cast. It had only half a dozen actors, as I recall. Even though my part as the bus driver was relatively minor, I was on stage as much as anyone else, with as many lines as anyone else. It was challenging, and fun. With still no word from the Peace Corps, I got involved in the next show. A musical called "Something's Afoot," another ensemble piece, this one with 10 actors.

"Something's Afoot" is a relatively unknown murder-mystery-musical-comedy in the spirit of Agatha Christie (including a song by the detective character acknowledging the role of said author). To the best of my knowledge, it has never been made into a movie, and there are no professional recordings of the music. Rumi was the director, and at a cast party for "Bus Stop" she approached me and asked if I would be her musical director for the show. At that point in time, Rumi was an almost mythical character. Everyone seemed to agree that she was a hell of a director and actor, but also intimidating as hell. I had met her, but as I mentioned, she smoked like a factory, talked drama and acting and plays I knew nothing of, and projected a sort of 10-foot-tall super-athlete-of-acting image that made me feel like the guy who makes sure there's enough little cups of Gatorade for everyone to drink. So when she asked me to be a general in her army, I was a little intimidated. However, I did say yes. And that show was a labor of love the likes of which I had never before experienced:

The intensity of our schedule, the difficulties we had, the sinking feeling of it not coming together followed by the rush of discovering that I was wrong. It snowed the first night of tryouts, and Rumi gave me the first of innumerable rides downtown, where we sat in the empty theater, figuring that no one would show up. We were wrong, of course, but some of the parts we cast from people who only came the second night. I also tried out, and was happy to get a smaller part.

We didn't have an accompanist. We had a very nice woman who could be there for most of the rehearsals, but would be out of town for the performances, and the woman who played for the performances could only be at rehearsals for a couple of weeks. And before we had any sort of piano player at all, Rumi gave me the score for the show and asked me to make a kind of demo tape so that she could start to visualize what to do with the songs. I eventually went to Donna, the director of "Paint Your Wagon," and getting her help to make some rehearsal tapes for the cast members, since we just did not have enough time to practice the songs at rehearsal. For some reason, Rumi seemed to think that the talking bits were more important. She even threatened to cut a song or two if I couldn't whip em into shape.

So I did.

Rumi told me last night that she still receives compliments on "Something's Afoot." I was floored, and quite proud. We also discovered that on Mike's video shelf he had two copies of our dress rehearsal. One was mine! Fear not, I will not inflict it on anyone who doesn't ask, but you will forever feel an emptiness in your soul for not having experienced The Dinghy Song.

Back to the much more recent past:

The day before Horyon left, Sunday, we sang in church with my parents. "Come Thou Fount (of Every Blessing)." It's a good hymn, with beautiful harmonies and meaningful words, and we received many compliments afterwards. To me, the beauty went beyond the music. It was a wonderful feeling to be with my wife and parents, harmonizing, working together to make something better than any of us could do individually. I've been singing with my folks for years, if you don't count the past ten, but it was Horyon's first time, and it worked. It sounded like we had been singing together for years, rather than just practicing half a dozen times.

We had lunch at Applebee's with Uncle Bob and Aunt Diane, as well as my dear friend Penny (different Penny), who has been like an older sister to me, only nicer. Mom and Dad were there too (always good to mention the people who pay for your meal, right?), and they had us at a long sort of j-shaped booth. This made it pretty much impossible to talk to anyone at the other end of the table. I suppose we were lucky that our lunch was paid for even though we didn't properly entertain our hosts. I won't even talk about the food, because some of you are still in countries where getting a good steak with properly cooked vegetables, Texas toast and mashed potatoes is an expensive prospect.

We had only run through our song once on Saturday, because we were pretty busy. We had Uncle Don and Aunt Becky from Topeka (sorry, I mean Wakarusa, as if anyone knows Wakarusa) and my cousin Mark (from Lawrence) over for dinner. It was a sort of farewell party for those who wouldn't be able to see Horyon the next day. Mom fixed The Potato Casserole. Around here you don't even have to say the', it is simply understood that potato casserole' is The Potato Casserole. It is made with hash browns, cheese, some kind of cream soup, and crushed corn flakes on top to give it a little crunch. Not a very complicated recipe, but very impractical to make in Pusan. I had seconds, and ate the leftovers the next day.

Did I mention that in Korea I was homesick for the food?

Anyway, along with The Potato Casserole, I fixed salmon on the grill, as there happened to be two huge frozen salmon halves in the freezer. Dad had just bought a new grill a few days before that, and this was our first time using it. It came out ok, but a little over-cooked. Everyone was quick to point out that over-cooked is much more palatable than undercooked, except Horyon, who believes that it is far better to not cook fish at all. Well, not really salmon, but fish in general. I kind of agree, and am actually looking forward to getting some raw fish when I return. Especially if I can get someone else to pay for it. It's surprising to me how expensive it is to have a food *not* cooked. Back to my salmon, which was cooked: I wrapped it in four foil pouches and put lemon slices with some, mushrooms with some, and garlic with some. They all tasted very good, in spite of being a bit dry, and almost all of it was eaten by the end of the meal. Now that's what I call a testimony.

Horyon and I were surprisingly hungry, as we had met Doug (Mark's brother) for lunch. He couldn't come to dinner, because he is an active duty reservist, and has to travel quite a bit. We were hoping to also meet with his lady-friend, Jackie, but she was feeling under the weather. Fortunately, we had met her previously, so she wasn't a complete mystery woman. But it was still sad to miss one last chance. Instead, my long-time previous ex-date for the prom, Penny, came along, too. Penny was, and still is, a youth group sponsor at my home church. She continues to be kind to me, even though I didn't take her to the senior prom.

Sorry again, Penny.

[This is where the formal writing ends. I left myself an outline, working backwards through a road trip we took and the days following.  One reason I never completed this was that a major event during this time was the death of my Grandma, Kathleen Lucille Matlock Sack.  We delayed starting our road trip a few days so that we could attend the funeral.]

Friday Suki and Ken Harmon
Thursday Grandpa+Grandma Euler
Wednesday Chris Sack+family
Tuesday lunch with C.G.
Monday home from Wichita
Saturday BRKFST w/Jon+Clarissa, no money to Wichita
Friday - w/J+C hanging around Albuquerque old town
Thursday- vomiting w/Jon's bucket, Horyon watches Godfather
Wednesday hotel breakfast, drive from Alamosa CO to Albuquerque, Jon VanHoose
Tuesday drive from Lymon to Alamosa, pictures in deep snow, mountain drive, halfway to Denver. Breakfast at McDonalds, return to Elon's to get sunglasses.
Monday hang out w/Elon
Sunday Catholic mass with Elon and Indira Calkum
Saturday drive to Lymon
Friday Grandma's funeral
Thursday Grandma's visitation
Wednesday weird limbo day
Tuesday back from Omaha
Monday drive to Omaha, visit Jerry and Michele Milburn
Sunday Church

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Christmas 2003 and winter travel

[Another from the archives. A couple of minor changes: I included my parents' phone number in the original, for anyone who wanted to call, but I don't really think it's a good idea to post it on a website that anyone can visit. I also typed "syllable" instead of "syllabus" the first time around. Other than that, it is the same as it was three years ago.]

Dear Friends and Family:

Well, we made it to America. My father-in-law picked us up at about 7:30 in the morning and took us, along with my mother- and sister-in-law, to the airport. After checking in, we had our last Korean breakfast: kimchi fried rice and fish soup. I was planning to sit by and eat nothing, but I couldn't resist.

It's been a day and a half since we arrived, and I am still jet-lagged, so don't be surprised if I drift in and out from one topic to the next, paying little heed to chronology.

And now it has been a few more days, and I am pretty much recovered. So let me catch you up a bit from my previous missive, keeping in mind that I don't have easy access to that missive, and may therefore overlap a bit.

Our Christmas in Korea was busy, and not very Christmassy. I was in charge of the Christmas Eve service at our church, as well as giving the sermon the Sundays before and after Christmas, as well as trying to finish my latest report before leaving the country. I managed to finish everything but the report, which is still waiting for my attention. I brought all of my materials home, and even made a trip to Lawrence to visit the K.U. library on Monday. Great library, and for an alum, or anyone with a Kansas drivers' license, you can get a library card for $10. Not bad.

But back to our Christmas: my parents sent us a small box of presents this year, despite the fact that we would be home a week or two later. It arrived a week or so before Christmas. Last year (well, I mean 1992, but you understood that, right?) I made us both wait until Christmas to unwrap our presents. This year we were both feeling worn out and down, so Horyon managed to talk me into unwrapping them all right there and then. It was very nice. Nothing to write home about (though I did)–just some clothes and small cute things. In a way, that was our most Christmassy moment. (My word processor doesn't like "Christmassy", but I don't care, I'm using it anyway.)

The Christmas Eve service went well, but attendance was low. I had planned for 60 and hoped for 100, but there were only 25 or 30, and most of those were our regular attenders. It was a bit depressing, but not until the next day. Holidays are always hard when you're in a foreign country, and the more different it is celebrated, the harder it is. Strangely enough, a holiday with no celebration (in the foreign country) is a lot easier to deal with. For example, American Independence Day (the 4th of July) is not observed at all in other countries. Believe it or not, they don't care that much. And some of them might be happier if we had never broken free of the British Empire, but that's neither here nor there. Christmas is observed in Korea, but in a very different way. Like biting into a lovely golden brown bun and finding that it's full of bean paste, Christmas has some of the appearance, but little of the substance of American Christmas. Korean Christians accept it as the Christ's Mass–a special church service, but no more so than the other Christian Holy Days. The secular view is very simple: it's a red day on the calendar. No school, banks and government offices are closed, and most people get the day off. It is more of a couple holiday than anything else. People meet their boyfriends and girlfriends, go to the movies, have dinner, then wake up and go back to work the next day.

Presents are uncommon, though some parents buy presents for their children. Korea already has a Children's Day in which kids are spoiled rotten, so there is not much cause to make December 25th another Children's Day. No big Christmas sales, and no big after-Christmas sales. In the past five years, I've noticed an increase in decorations and lights, mostly from businesses. Some people decorate their homes, I guess, but when you live in a shoe box apartment, you can't decorate the outside, and inside decorations don't show very much from the outside.

And so this Christmas, once again, I was in a bit of a funk. And knowing that I was going to be in America a week later didn't seem to help at all.

I spent the week after Christmas working feverishly on my report. I made some remarkable progress, but didn't consider it good enough to pass. So I have it here with me now, in my parents' home in Kansas. Just like the good old days. I'm planning to get it in the mail by this coming Monday. Should be no problem. The jet lag is mostly gone, though I still wake up and have to pee every couple of hours through the night. Horyon and I have slept 11 hours the past couple of nights, catching up for the past month, I guess.

We went with my folks to see "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" yesterday. Fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to seeing extended versions of all three, and have already put it on my Christmas Wish List for this coming Christmas. If somebody doesn't want to be tickled until she screams, it had better be under the tree next Christmas!

We will be in America until February 9th, when Horyon leaves. She has a week of teaching starting on the 11th, then 10 more days of vacation. How annoying is that? When we planned this trip, she said, "Are you going to make me go back to Korea all by myself? Alone?" I tenderly held her hand, looked into her eyes, and said, "I hope you have a nice trip." I will be leaving my parents on the 19th, and staying in the Detroit area for about five days. I will spend time with Andy and Sarah Douglas near Detroit, as well as Rick VanManen near Toronto. Then back to Korea on the 24th. Classes start for me on Tuesday, March 4th. I turned in my syllabus during the last week in December. Can you believe I got it done that early?

Unfortunately, this means that we will celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, on February 17th, in different countries. I will be sure to have a nice steak dinner, and I'm sure Horyon will have soup and rice. In some ways an ideal meal for us, if only we could have it in the same room.

So as I return to my report (ten pages of baffling balderdash so far, not counting appendices and bibliographies), I wish you all a joyful new year, in which you find true Peace.


A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.