9.08.2007

The homeless feeding me.

Okay. So I've been off the blogger band-wagon for a while now. What can I say? Routine is a difficult subject to tackle. And even this belated post guarantees no revival of my earlier posting glory days. I just have something to say, that's all.

So, fall arrived in Cheonan virtually overnight. One day, we were all bemoaning that our clothes were sticking to our sweaty bodies like paper mache. The next day, there was red and orange in the trees and I was joyously (and somewhat redundantly) pointing out that I could wear a long sleeve shirt and tuque.

All this to say, that it was absolutely beautiful today, a perfect day to read in the park. Unfortunately, parks in Korea are not the grassy, tree-filled expanses that they are in the States. They usually consist of some sort of walking track, a small kid's playground, some vague, rusty stretching machinery, and dirt. I scanned my Cheonan map to look for a decently sized park that I could walk to, in the hopes it would have some space to relax and I found one, about a 45 minute walk away. I made a pb&j, stuffed a bottle of water and my magazine in my backpack, and went out into the glowing, but not too hot, sunshine.

As I neared the park, I noticed an abundance of oldsters riding around on bikes. Oldschool bikes. I walked under a bridge to see groups of old men huddled in circles. They were talking loudly and shouting at sticks that were thrown in the middle of the circle. Apparently, this is how Korean grandpas spend their Saturdays. It may have been this game.

I saw the park on the top of a small hill, and climbed the grass covered steps to it. It was a big dirt area with benches, a small fountain, and a wooden pagoda in the middle. There were old men hanging around up here, too. I had just sat down in the pagoda, when a man came up to me with a handful of newspapers. He motioned me to stand and proceeded to spread the papers on the floor so I would have a decent place to sit. He then squatted next to me and tried to talk to me. Between my five words of Korean and his five words of English, we didn't get very far. But this didn't deter him. He kept up his side of the conversation just fine and I would just interject a "Mulayo" ("I don't know) whenever he would pause for my answer.

At the other end of the pagoda, I could see his wife lying on a thin mat next to two suitcases, which I assumed were all of their belongings. From what I could tell, they lived in the pagoda, although the man did say something about his "home" being somewhere. So, I "talked" with the man for a while, and his wife came over and then another old man. They didn't seemed to be bothered by the fact that we were not really communicating at all. Eventually, everyone wandered away, and I was left to my reading.

After a while, the woman came over with a plastic bag in her hands. She pulled out packaged ice cream and handed it to me. I couldn't help thinking about the group from church who had just this morning gone to the train station to hand out food to the homeless, and here I was being given food from the homeless. I didn't want to accept it. I wanted to give them something. I wanted to know their story and what I could do to help. But I couldn't. So I took the ice cream, with much bowing and thanks. I thanked them again as I left, wishing that I could do more.

As I was walking home, among many other things, I was thinking about this language thing and how it creates a bubble. I gravitate toward bubbles. I use my family and friends as a bubble. I use my church as a bubble. Pretty much anywhere that makes me comfortable, I'm there. And there's a place for comfort. But I think that if I was to stay in Korea, I would have to learn the language. I create enough bubbles for myself without using language as yet another tool for isolation.

I have many ideas for change in the world. But there needs to be communication for them to happen. Wherever I live, I need to be able to communicate in order to be a participating member and a force for change in society.

3 comments:

rayc22 said...

I love your last paragraph. I think many of us, express the desire for the betterment of the world around us. I am learning too that communication (as simple and cliche as it sounds), is truly an integral and inevitable piece in this journey. "Wherever I live, I need to be able to communicate in order to be a participating member and a force for change in society." Amen!
www.xanga.com/raychung22

Carbar28 said...

Yes! Communication is incredibly important! But isn't it amazing how, even tho you didn't understand what they were saying, you and they could get each other's non-verbal cues?

Anyways, Bets. As a fellow Portland lover, I wanted to share with you a friend's blog. He's doing a series on "REasons I love Portland." Check it out: aaronstewart.blogspot.com
I thought you might appreciate it. And also, I wanted to try and further entice you to move there upon your return to the good ol' US of A.

L. Kuah said...

beautifully written, betsy and wow, what a powerful story. i know what you mean about the bubble, and how easy it is to get too comfortable. going abroad to orvieto 3.5 years ago changed that all for me. and i have now decided that i too, would like to be able to converse at least a little bit (basic phrases for conversation) wherever in the world i end up... even if i'm just there on holiday. communication is KEY -- thanks for posting :D