Saturday, August 10, 2013

Korea # 23: People I enjoyed and admired

Korea # 21  Will, Maria, Hana, Cynthia, Karen, Sungun…People Along the Way

As I approach the end of my posts on Korea, I want to honor some people I met and whose company I enjoyed along the way…

Will Martin, Boise, practices for singing at our "graduation" at Chonbuk University, August 19, 2013

I knew before going to Korea that I would have a roommate close to my age until he walked into our room I didn’t realize I already knew and admired Will Martin.

Every winter at the Cathedral of the Rockies, a hundred or so Boiseans  of all ages come together as a choir and perform for the community.  The only requirement is that you come to eight or so rehearsals.  I came to see our neighbor, Kristin Ewing, singing with her two little girls, Grace and Lucia. 

The skill, enthusiasm and dedication of two people make this a very joyous occasion and one of them is Will Martin.  He looks like one of my all time favorite people, the late Dr. Jerry May, a psychiatrist, an important writer about spirituality and psychology, and a central personality in my spiritual home for ten years, the Shalem Institute in Washington, D. C.

Will has been teaching music and leading musical events all of his life with particular emphasis on early education, and still does so in Boise.  Two telling things about Will:  first, he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and, second, he and his wife Susan volunteered for the Peace Corps at age 55 and asked for the most remote assignment possible, one of the outer islands in the Philippines.

Will in Korean language class at Chonbuk University

Will has a passion for learning languages and learned Tagalog and other Philippine languages, and has learned Spanish, French and smatterings of others.  “You’ll never learn a language until you’re prepared to butcher it,” a teacher once told him so, in that spirit, he plunges into Korean.

It is both agonizing and inspiring to see Will struggle with Korean.  I  got CD’s from the Pimsleur Company which promised to teach me basic Korean entirely through  listening and repeating but after ten hours I could say four phrases but only after writing them down as they sound in English.  When I got there even that didn’t work so I confined myself to “hello” and “thank you.”  Will did his homework, sounded out every sign and spoke to everyone with a heartiness that wore me out just listening.  Yet after he left, I found myself imitating his gestures and enthusiasm.

Will has had two hip replacements and numerous other surgeries and claims to have a 90 year old body on a 66 year old frame.  The second day he tripped and hurt his shoulder so badly he should have gone home were it not for the exorbitant cost of re-ticketing.   Everyone knew he was suffering but faking it to stay engaged and in class.  He was the darling of the hip girls from Barcelona, I can tell you that from meeting one of them later in Seoul. 

At our “graduation,” there he was, playing guitar for all he was worth, as the class dancers broke out into “Gangnam Style” dancing.  Then he gave his guitar away to the young woman who ran the convenience store and went home.  We played golf as soon as I got back and he will avoid surgery on the shoulder, so good news.


How first impressions deceive and mislead us.

My first impression of Maria Cavelli was not inaccurate:  she is tough, strong-voiced—no, she is loud--east coast and straight ahead.  What you learn later is her generous heart.

Maria is 32 and working on a degree in business at Rutgers after many years as a bartender and waitress, including at strip clubs. She did not come from money, let us say.  She smokes and still likes to party.  She is mothering her boyfriend’s two school age kids and is serious about changing careers.  After moving to Bend, Oregon, for a time she wants a career that puts her in the outdoors.  When we go to the temple the first weekend she cannot get enough of the trees, the birds, the quiet. 

Maria is grateful to the doctor who took care of her after she was hit in the face with a beer bottle in St. Thomas.  One eye is not her own.  It’s hard to tell but you know she has overcome some serious trauma.

The first assignment in our Korean culture class was to compare Korea and the United States in some fashion.  Maria chose to compare such things as homelessness, prison populations and gun violence.  I don’t remember the gun violence numbers precisely but there are approximately 10 gun deaths a year in Korea, some accidental, compared to more than 19,000 suicides from guns and 12,000 homicides.

Maria’s outlook on life might be summed up by a few things she said in class:  “My hands are God’s hands.  I’m a work in progress.  And God clearly has a sense of humor.”

Cynthia Wandia

This poor picture is of Dianah on the left and Cynthia on the right.  Both are Kenyans.  Dianah studies at a university in Belgium while Cynthia works for a major energy company in Germany.  They represent beautifully how the world is changing as it opens to "Half the Sky," the half of humanity that has long been kept from its rightful place and contribution.

Cynthia attended a public high school in Nairobi and then went to Yale where she studied chemical engineering.  She speaks English, Spanish, German and no doubt Swahili and a tribal language.  She is 26 and has already moved through the many aspects of a major energy company, from production to marketing.  She has interned all over the world and it has packed an enormous amount into so young a life.

The one night I went out drinking with the young students I asked Cynthia a question and then monopolized her time for the next 90 minutes.  Questions had barely come out of my mouth than answer followed without a word or a fact out of place.  What a broad mind and pure energy!  She weighs 100 pounds only by putting rocks in her pocket.

Cynthia's ambition is to return to Kenya and make a major contribution to her country through her mastery of energy.  She has a clearly thought-out plan.  I'd love follow her back to Kenya online.  She's going to do something great. 

Whang In-yeon, who calls herself “Lenny,”  Sungun Choi and Hana

Lenny is the earnest, quiet, attentive student we might stereotype students in Korea.  When we report on this topic, Lenny estimates that she lives on 1192 calories a day (I’m over 3,000).  In another assignment she shows us the lunch she brings to school, which is all raw food:  lettuce, beans, pumpkin and raw brown rice. 

 Lenny says raw vegetables and rice help her keep a clear head, stay wide awake and avoid depression.  She lives at home and commutes to school.  She casually mentions that she swims 60 minutes every day.

We are in a class called “Healthy Living with Korean Cuisine: Nutrition, Health and Food Science.’  In the early days, Lenny is, as I say, attentive but answers questions softly.  The same could be said for Sungun Choi, another Korean whom, I think, commutes, or Hana.  But by the time class is completed 45 hours later, both are have blossomed.  It was Lenny who made the straight-faced comment about a particular food that was good for “masculine stamina.” 
From left to right, Briana (Boise State Literacy Department administrator) Hana, Kim, Sungun, Aryo from China and Won Song, our Michigan State professor of Nutrition.

Sungun tells us about a food supplement she uses called Omija which has five flavors: salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter and a wide range of health benefits. She speaks with credibility and growing confidence as the class goes on.

Hana was another Korean favorite.  I did not know she was on the summer school staff but I found out about it from this event:  When Will got to Joenju he left his fanny pack in the taxi.  It had in it his passport, money, everything.  He turned the problem over to Hana who called every taxi company in the city until she found it and had it returned within the hour.

Karen Glennon

Karen was raised on a ranch in Montana and has been a high school English teacher for more than 30 years.  She retired from the Nampa, Idaho, school district last year after she was sentenced to the hardest duty in the system without respect for seniority.  While in Korea she is distressed about what is going on back home.  Eighteen percent of Nampa’s teachers have resigned, including six out of 8 in the English department.  The school board says, we’ll just find more, as if teachers were Fritos.  Several of those who left the English Department are nationally-certified master teachers and irreplaceable, she says.

Apart from a trip to Mexico, this is Karen’s first time out of the country and she was upbeat and excited not only for herself but for others.  She took a generous view of our classmates, some of whom slept or texted through our class.  As you would expect, she is a serious student and a fine teacher in her reports for our Korean culture class.  Karen is on a tight budget but she will live carefully in order to come back to Korea next year.



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