Sunday, March 8, 2015


I think that it is pretty safe to say that our girls are going to have a very different childhood than either Chris or I had. These differences bring about both challenges and perks every day. But, to be honest, the perks win out in my opinion. We wouldn’t still be here if we thought otherwise. There are so many times that I am overwhelmed by just how cool their lives are and the incredible skill set that they are developing.

When our girls were really little and I was just starting to make food for them, I was afraid that they would turn into one of the worst things I could imagine: picky eaters. The thought that we would be in Vietnam and walk past the pho stalls in order to find some chicken fingers, or in Japan we would have to skip the miso in favor of a hamburger, or even be in America and they would insist on rice with every meal sent me into cold sweats. The other day, they blew that fear right out of the water.

For dinner, we had ordered Korean delivery food. We all have our favorites from this restaurant and the girls’ choice isn’t that exotic: rice and eggs. With Korean food, it is traditional to get an assortment of banchan (side dishes) that can differ depending on what is available and what the restaurant decides to serve. This time, when our food showed up, we had some kimchi, some pickled greens, and… drum roll please…. tiny guppies. Yep. Tiny sautéed fish. I’m going to be honest with you. I fancy myself an adventurous eater but these didn’t exactly turn my crank, to borrow an expression from my grandfather.

But the girls wanted to try them. Wanting to encourage an eclectic palate, I happily put a portion on each of their plates. They downed them. And I’m not talking about they gave a little nibble here and there. They ate those little minnows like popcorn. Also, just so we are clear, there was no masking what they were. It wasn’t like a fried ball of dough with chopped up unidentifiable filling.

Child: “Mommy, are these fish?”
Me: “Yes, they are.”
Child: “And is that the head?”
Me: “Yep, that’s the head.”
Child: “And those are they eyes?”
Me: “Yes, sweetheart, those are the eyes.”
Child: “And are there bones inside that you can eat?”
Me: “Yes, you can eat the bones inside.”
Child: “Okay.” *gulp*

It was an extremely proud moment for me. Now, I’m not suggesting that they eat anything I put in front of them. Lily would tell you she is a vegetarian if she knew there was such a word and, for Lucy, the word “spicy” is synonymous with disgusting. The point is that they tried them. They saw a pile of tiny little fish and thought, “Hey, I think I’ll give that a go!” And that is why I love raising my kids here. They were put in a situation that I would never have thought to put them in and they handled it like pros.

It really gives a whole new meaning to snacking on goldfish. To be honest, I think they probably still prefer the Pepperidge Farm version.   

Friday, November 21, 2014

Discovery Week 2014

I’ve posted a few times about Discovery Week at Seoul Foreign School and my experiences traveling the world with students. It is an incredible “week without walls” where the high school sends our students and teachers all over the globe to meet new people, learn new things, have new experiences, and see the world in a different way. This is a video that one of our students put together to show the student body how everyone spent their respective weeks.

One of the many reasons why I enjoy my job! As my co-chaperone to Sri Lanka said, our lives don’t suck.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Betrayed by English

The girls are in school now (*sigh*) and are learning at a rate reminiscent of Keanu Reeves’ ability to pick up kung fu in The Matrix. Every day, they come home with new songs, new stories, new skills. It is amazing to watch them and it gives me a profound appreciation for the teachers who not only can mentally and emotionally bear a baker’s dozen of three and four year olds day in and day out, but actually teach them something every day. It’s astounding.

Of all the learning that has taken place over the last month or so, the literacy skills have been the most salient. It seems that we no longer have conversations with our daughters. Instead, our interactions go a little something like this:

“Yes!” (trying to squeeze in a response before she takes a breath and can start the “mommies” again).
“I have a rhyme! Cup and dup! That rhymes!”
“You are right!”
“Also, dough and no! That rhymes! Aaaand…. Airport dairport, that rhymes!”
“Yes, you are right. Those are rhymes!”
“Also, paper, daper. Water bottle dater dottle. That rhymes!” (exchanging the first letter of any word and replacing it with a “d” seems to be the rhyme of choice for the moment.)
“Yes! Great job. What did you do at school today, honey?”
“I see an L! And a D!” (indicating something in the room with writing on it)
“Wow, honey, yes, that is great! What words start with D?”
“I see a W!”

Imagine about thirty minutes of this and you have an average mealtime conversation in our house. While on somewhat of a repetitive loop, the fact that the girls are developing this linguistic capacity is incredible. We’ve been bootlessly trying to teach “A” for about a year now and now in the space of a month, they almost have the whole alphabet. Again, kudos to you, preschool teachers.

So, tonight started out all fun and games with a conversation like this one. We finished eating and they asked to read a book. Delighted with their newly rejuvenated literary affinity, I gladly curled up with them on the couch to read the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? What could go wrong?

It started off swimmingly. We were going through the pages, pointing out letters and making their sounds. We laughed at the blue horse and the purple cat and stuck out our tongues like the green frog. Then, along came the black sheep. I should have known this ill-fated animal would bring me nothing but trouble.

“Sh-sh-sheep. What letter does that start with, Mommy?”
“Well, do you see? Sheep starts with an “s””
(I can see the wheels are turning) “No, Mommy. Sh-sh-sheep. What letter does it start with?”
“Well, this one is a little funny. It really starts with two letters. ‘S’ says ‘sssssss’ but when it is 's' and 'h' it says ‘shhhhhh.’”
“No, Mommy. Not two letters. What letter does it start with?” (Clearly losing her patience with my incompetence.)
“Well, sweetheart, it starts with ‘s’ but with an ‘h’ next to it, it says ‘sh-sh-sheep.”

That was the last straw. She knows what sound “s” makes and “sh” wasn’t it. I was clearly holding out on her. She erupted into a tearful rage.

“What letter? WHAT LETTER?”

I held her and patted her back. She wept the tears that only someone who has been betrayed by their native tongue can. 

“I know, honey. English is a funny language.” We sat like that for some time. She cried over the loss of the simplicity of the alphabet. I comforted her thinking of all the tricks English would play on her like “laugh” and “pneumonia”. Unfortunately, life, like the alphabet, is not always black and white, dear daughter. It is a tough lesson to learn.

I knew I should have stuck with Spanish.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Apologies and Appreciation

It’s June. On the eve of our departure to the States, I find myself in a whirlpool of emotions. This marks the end of our sixth year living overseas and in this time, I have learned that the end of the year for expats isn’t all hugs and high fives. It’s an emotional roller coaster with celebratory highs and sorrowful lows. We applaud our students, our colleagues, and ourselves on another completed year but we also lament the inevitable masses who move on from our community to seek adventure somewhere else.

I have very vivid memories of the last moments we had in the U.S. before we moved overseas for the first time. There were a lot of tears but Chris and I were excited. We were departing on an adventure and it was going to be life-changing. For the people we left behind, there wasn’t much exciting about it. Life for you continued as normal, just without us in it. It was the same way when we moved on to Korea from Taiwan. We were the ones who left.

Now, not only is this our sixth year overseas, this is also the longest time we have lived in one place as a married couple. As expats, this means that we have had enough time to settle in to a place, invest in relationships, and get left behind as those dear friends depart on their own new adventures. Like you were for us, we are so thrilled for them. We can’t wait to hear stories about their new lives and find out about how things have changed. But, as you well know, getting left behind sucks.

Nevertheless, we pack our bags and get ready to do it all again. We get geared up for seven weeks Stateside where we do our best to make up for lost time with friends, family, and Target. It will be a great time and many memories will be made. However, as it always does, August will come too soon and call us back to our lives in Korea. We will once again pack up and leave you behind. It will be hard on us but it will be so much harder on you. I always knew that on some level but in the wake of the many tearful goodbyes brought on by the end of the school year, I feel like I can commiserate with you a little better. We will be going; you will be staying. We have the choice, you don’t.

So, let me take this moment to apologize and also show my appreciation. I’m sorry that we keep leaving you behind. It is hard to be left. I also want to thank you for supporting our decision to live overseas and legitimately be excited for us as we live out our adventure so far away. I had to take a page from your handbook this year as we say goodbye to dear friends and I am grateful to you in more ways than one.

See you soon, America!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

North Korea: Fact or Fiction

Well, here I am. I am back from the enigmatic North. It was truly an amazing experience and I am so glad that I was able to go and be a part of a team who offered hope and made a difference in a few people’s lives. Being one of the most closed countries in the world, we don’t get a lot of first-hand information about North Korea. We hear bits and pieces and we try to fit them together to create a full picture of this mysterious place. I had a lot of presuppositions before heading up there and some of them were spot on. Others, however, were very different. So, I feel it is my responsibility to let you know what I was able to witness. Please join me in a little game of “North Korea: Fact or Fiction”.

1.There are no cars on the roads. Fiction. In Pyongyang (the capital city), there are a lot of people with cars. There are nice, new green and yellow taxis, sparkling clean Lexuses and BMWs, and a good number of average-looking cars. There are a handful 50’s era vehicles as well as a good number of military transports but they are not the only ones on the roads. Granted, their traffic problems are not going to equal Seoul’s any time soon but the images I have seen of ghost town streets just aren’t accurate.

2.There is no electricity outside of Pyongyang. Fact. Yes, the satellite pictures you have seen of North Korea at night are correct. On more than one occasion, we had to travel several hours outside of Pyongyang and drove back at night. As my grandmother used to say, “It was blacker than the inside of a cow, kid.” No houselights, no streetlights, nothing. Even in the capital city, I noticed that people were accustomed to keeping flashlights with them and would pull them out if they were walking after sunset. I had hoped that so little light pollution would allow for some pretty spectacular stars at night but I guess the air quality (pollution from North Korea but also blown in from China) keeps you from seeing much at all.

3. The landscape is barren. Fiction. I had read that in North Korea, trees had to be cut down to serve as firewood, which resulted in a sparse, balding landscape. This couldn’t be further from the truth, at least where we traveled. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful scenery everywhere we drove. Vegetation was everywhere, carpeting the rolling hills and lining the lakes and rivers. Being spring, the flowers were in bloom and purple lilacs brought color and fragrance to the verdant backdrop. I found our drives to be very picturesque.

4. Propaganda is everywhere. Fact. This is an enthusiastic yes. Propaganda has been painted, posted, carved, and erected everywhere. Even when you think that you are in the middle of nowhere, there in a field is a giant sign encouraging you that agriculture makes the Fatherland strong or that we should all do it the Korean way. In every building we entered, slogans were pasted everywhere offering all kinds of “encouragements” about how to live and whom you should thank.

5. North Koreans live in total isolation from the rest of the world. Fiction… kind of. For this question, it depends on who you are. If you are Mr. Kim working in the fields in the countryside day in and day out, you are pretty much isolated. For those in Pyongyang, however, there is access to a lot of information. Our minders held many conversations with us about current events and American movies. Our hotel rooms had televisions that had several channels including a Singaporean news station and an American movie channel. As far as I could tell, the news didn’t seem to be censored, either. We saw updates about North Korean nuclear tests and I watched a documentary about the families from North and South Korea who were able to meet for a weekend a little while ago. I know that the vast majority of the population doesn’t have access to the outside world (this has a lot to do with #2 as well) but information is getting in.

6. The Kims are everywhere. Fact. By the Kims, I mean The Great Leader, the Generalissimo, and The Great Chairman themselves, Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, and Kim Jong-Un. The Great Interior Designer (whoever that was) must have been inspired by 1984. The Kims’ faces are plastered everywhere in order to see everything. Every household has the two older Kims’ faces hanging in their living room. I know because as soon as the electricity came on in the city, you can look in and see four creepy eyes staring back at you with their plastic smiles. Giant murals show the fat, happy Kims encouraging the North Korean people to do it the Korean way and party members (read: everyone) sport a lapel pin with the face of either the two deceased Kims or the current Kim. I imagine the current Kim will get a few more murals painted with his face encouraging you about the Fatherland in the not-so-distant future.

North Korea is a fascinating and complicated place. I don’t pretend to understand its complexity after having visited for just a few days but these are a few of the things I observed. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and prayers during my time there and I am grateful to be back home!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Working for Good

In just about 10 days, I am going to do something that not a lot of people get to do. And, to be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I’m going to North Korea.

As expats, we love to travel to new places, get new stamps in our passports, and tick exciting and exotic places off our “must-see” lists. After returning from vacations, we all share about where we went and what we did. Those who have traveled more off the beaten path get to tell their tales of adventure with more pride as those of us who stayed on the main roads listen in awe and often with a hint of jealousy.

That’s how I used to feel about North Korea. When I first arrived in Seoul and I learned that one of our teachers goes up every year to help out at a tuberculosis clinic, my immediate reaction was that I needed to get my name on that list so that I could play Marco Polo to my friends and be able to trump everyone else’s “where I’ve been” lists. However, the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, the longer I’ve lived here, my feelings about our mysterious northern neighbor have changed.

To me, North Korea isn’t a box to tick and it isn’t an adventure to be had. It is a country in suffocatingly desperate need and is governed by a leadership so corrupt that we literally have to hand-deliver medications to dying patients to ensure that they don’t end up in the wrong place. The danger of traveling to one of the most closed countries on the planet isn’t the exciting quest of an adrenaline junky. It’s a nauseating, nagging fear that sends me into cold sweats and keeps me up at night.

To be clear, I am not doing anything illegal by going up there. The North Korean government wants us there and is granting us the proper paperwork to make our stay a legally authorized one. I’ll be given a minder who will direct my every move and I’m sure that every minute will be scrutinized by someone; “private” won’t exist. I won’t say anything critical of North Korea nor will I say anything praising another country. I will make sure that my wardrobe doesn’t stray from the black/gray color palette. I will toe the line.

So, why go? What is the draw? Let me ask you this. Have you ever had something weigh so heavily on your heart that you feel like you can’t breathe? Have you ever been so drawn to someone’s story that turning away would take an incredible feat of physical strength? That is how I feel about the North Korean people. Their reality is a terrible one and their government makes it incredibly difficult for anyone to step in and do something, anything, to help. Yet this is what I have been given the opportunity to do. Help. I have the very rare chance to actually do something to make the lives of a few people better.

I was reading in Romans the other day and I came across a passage that we all grew up reciting:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. –Romans 8:28

I happened to notice that there was a note connected to the passage that offered an alternate translation at the bottom of the page. The alternate translation reads:

And we know that God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good.

How cool is that? This passage isn’t just about allowing a grand puppet master to tie up all the loose ends to make us happy because we are Christian. Rather, it is a call for those of us who love Him to team up with the Creator of the universe and make the world a better place. We get to take an active part in God’s plan to bring about good in people’s lives. We are called to work with God to bring light and hope to a fallen world. We are not only recipients of grace and love, but givers as well.

And so that is why I am going to North Korea: a place that is at once only a few kilometers away and yet also light years away. If you ask me how I’m feeling, I’ll tell you that I don’t know. However, I will ask you for your prayers. Pray for me, for our team, for the people we will see, and the people we will have to turn away because the medicine has run out. Pray for strength, hope, and love. And thank God for the incredible opportunity that we have to work alongside Him to make good happen.