Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Last Day

It's here. The end of the final day in South Korea. As someone pointed out to me earlier, this blog should really be titled "Let's see how much we can cram into one day;" however, I'd used that for the last post. It seemed that those in charge of our schedule really wanted to make sure that we got as much bang for our bucks as we could! We started the morning with our final performance of the tour at International Lutheran Church. The chapel was not meant to fit many people, but the space itself was incredible. It gave our choir a very live sound, which was a great way to give our choir the motivation to keep singing even though it was 8:30 in the morning and we had an hours worth of music to get through.  The congregation was mostly white, and the service was all in English. In the life of THE church and in the life of this church it was both Pentecost and communion Sunday, so it was a really powerful service to be a part of. Those who were there to support us were appreciative and very responsive to the meaning of the music and the sound that we were producing.  The whole time felt like a true praise to God. We all left the church with spirits lifted and smiles all over.

After the service, we went to an art gallery in Insadong.  The exhibition halls were set up in nobleman's houses from the ancient villages in the area.  The gallery was interesting and full of things from paintings to photography to jewelry. We walked from there to lunch where most of us had a dish that SOUNDS like bip-n-bop. I know that's not what it's called, but that's what it sounds like. Its a mixture of rice, veggies, meat, and chili sauce which is the equivalent of a midwestern "hot dish" or southern "casserole." We spent a little time shopping after lunch before heading to another nobleman village at the top of a hill (I wish that I had counted how many places we had to walk UP to get to. My quads feel GREAT.)

The village was very pretty, but it was a little bit awkward because people still LIVE in the houses... we then went to ANOTHER village, that was more like a park. We took a picture in front of an entrance to one of the houses in our robes. Many Koreans there stopped to take pictures of us. The choir members were 90% sure that we were going to be singing in front of this building -Anyone who knows David Mennicke should not be surprised. We didn't though. There was another performance going on in close proximity and we refrained from making conflicting noise. There wasn't much to do in the village, but one of the cool attractions was a time capsule that Seoul buried in 1994 on the 600th anniversary of the cities existence. They will open it 400 years after the burial when  the city celebrates it's 1000th year. We stayed to watch a taekwando concert which was absolutely incredible. It was absolutely amazing to see what these teens and young adults were able to do with their bodies. They leaped, kicked, punched, and broke more boards than I was able to count.

After the show we went to the North Seoul Tower and Teddy Bear Museum. Half of us went through the museum which depicted the history of Korea using teddy bears! Then we went up onto the observation deck and looked out over the entire city and the Han river. The city was beautiful, and the weather was cloudy, yet clear over the buildings, so we had a great view of miles and miles of the city. After the tower, we went to our last Korean dinner. We ate "traditional style" on the floor and enjoyed the company of our tour guides and fellow choir members one more time.  We had barbecue and soup while we did the "Grand Quack" (which was Pastor Riemer for his woman's bathroom trip) and also our thank-yous for the Riemers and four Lara. We ended with singing E'en So and copious amounts of tears -for the seniors, for the end of the trip, for the blessing of the choir, for the love of God. It was a perfect end to an amazing trip.

Tomorrow we will fly home.  The majority of the choir will be leaving bright and early tomorrow morning, but I will be leaving separately with Sarah and Carrie so that we can go straight to Michigan/Virginia.  Thank you so much for your prayers and support! I will blog at least twice more -once on our homestay, and also a reflection once I've settled back in to the states, so please continue to stay updated, and also keep the graduated seniors, members of the choir who are moving on next year and will not be able to be in Christus, and also the returning members as well as directors and guides in your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let's See How Much We Can Cram Into One Day

Today has been really busy, and it seemed like every spare 15 minutes had something else going on in it.  We started the morning with a "tutorial" on how to use the Seoul metro system. We took the metro to the World Cup Stadium that is located in Seoul. The stadium is from the 2002 game. The Korea United team is the top Asian football (soccer) team, and they advanced to the semi-finals in 2006, where they made the top 16 and reached the highest position that the team had reached in 49 World Cups. We were able to see the field, locker rooms, and FIFA museum. We had to move through everything pretty quickly so that we could get on the bus, drive a block or two to get lunch, and get back on the bus to head to our last concert venue. We were very pressed for time, particularly because so many people ordered things that took a very long time to get and we were delayed at the mall longer than intended. Lucking, our bus driver is an absolute champ and he drove insanely fast so that we were only 15 minutes past when we were supposed to be there.

We sang at the Asia Pacific International School for their K-12 students. We did a shortened concert, and tried to stick to the more upbeat songs to keep their attention. Many of the younger students didn't pay attention no matter what we were singing. It was a good concert, but not our best. It was incredible hot and we were all sweating like there was no tomorrow. The school graciously fed us doughnuts, oranges, and juice, and also gave us gifts. They were very welcoming, and the opportunity was really special, even if it wasn't one that most appreciated our choir and even if it wasn't our best performance.

After the school, we drove to a park that we were supposed to have lots of time at; however, we only ended up with 20 minutes to be there. There was a lot of things to do at this riverside area, but because of the time restraints, many of us just sat around and enjoyed the sun and the scenery. We went to dinner following our park time and were able to partake in a 10 course Korean dinner. The food was really delicious, but they brought course after course after course after course!! The amount was very overwhelming.  Lara said that the waitresses were very impressed with how much we ate... It sounded like many Americans who come through there leave a lot of food, so they were pleased that we enjoyed it.

After dinner, we went to a show called "Nanta." For anyone who has seen blue-man group, it's a very similar concept. There was a review that said "Nanta is a cross between Jacki Chan and the Marx brothers. I prefer to think that it's a cross between Iron Chef and Blue Man Group. Nanta is a stomp show where a group of actors/actresses use kitchen skills, utensils, and cookery to make percussive sounds.  The talent of the members was overwhelming, they not only had to act out the story line and character relations, but they had to dance, chop and insane rates, cook some, and keep rhythm. The show was phenomenal, and was something that everyone in the choir really enjoyed being at.

The area that the Nanta stage is in is has a great downtown life. The streets are littered with shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs.  We were given 20 minutes or so to look around and see if we wanted to stay later and catch a cab back to the hotel.  There were bands performing in a park, and Korean teens and young adults socializing, dancing, and enjoying the nightlife everywhere. I have not seen that many people all at once in a very long time. A handful of people chose to stay and experience a new dimension to Korean life. I chose to come back because I knew that if I stayed I would get really behind on blogging.

Tomorrow is a "free day," so we all have reign over where we want to be and what we want to do in Seoul. The city is similar to Manhattan. There is so much to do. We currently have a pretty big exploring day planned... one last chance to learn as much as we can about the city and area before we head back to the states!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"They blessed us. That was a real blessing"

Yesterday was the best day of the trip so far -there was not anything about it that was bad, or even "mediocre." To start off the morning, we participated in Taekwando lessons. I think that the only way to explain this is to use pictures.

Trying to do one of the warm up jumps.

Class starting

Todd fell down, he got the dumb quack.

Benta rocking the front kick

Our masters. They were pretty much awesome.

I'm a little bit proud of this picture, not going to lie.

Yeah, Natalie!!!

Alex posing with his board.

Resa and Sam doing some partner work.

Dr. Mennicke and the certificates.

The whole gang.

Kayla was really good at all of it!
After taekwando we went to lunch at a buffet where you could pick out your own ingredients for a soup that was made on a burner at your own table. After lunch we took a drive to a mountain where we could look out over Seoul. Following this we went to Insadong, which has a beautiful river running through it. I believe that Pastor Riemer said that the river used to be the sewage, but now the city has turned it into an absolutely breathtaking centerpiece for the area.  There are many colorful statues in the water, plant life, stepping stone paths, pieces of artwork, waterfalls, and lanterns adorning the river. The city is a large, and well known, shopping district. Many of us went off to explore the street vendors and souvenirs, bringing back more than we know how to fit in our luggage!

After shopping we went to the World Vision Korea center. Upon our arrival, there were snacks of fruit and cookies waiting for our consumption. Then we all changed into little bedroom slippers and went upstairs to warm up.   The two children's choirs came up. The first showed us their warm-up process, and the second performed 4 selections for us.  The group is made up of primarily 8-13 year old children and they sounded like absolute angels. They had a rich sound that resonated throughout the room. Their second piece involved traditional Korean fan dancing. The girls who performed the dance were in the older age range for the group and were absolutely stunning. They wore traditional costumes and had fans that were decorated with hot pink flowers and feathers.  Against the plain background of the room, the girls really stood out and shone in a way that our choir is not capable of doing! The director walked off for the fourth piece, which was a well known "do-wop" sorta piece that involved adorable choreography. We did NOT want to get up and sing when they finished! We would have preferred to continue listening to their gorgeous sound.

We got up and sang three of our best pieces, and then finished with "E'en so, Lord Jesus Quickly Come." Here's when the heartbreak started. This piece is our signature song, as well as a blessing on the audience and on the choir. We chose to hold hands when we performed yesterday, and a few of the children in the front row did as well. The children were captivated by our music and I couldn't help but NOT watch Dr. Dave (oops.) and watch the faces of the smiling children instead. I really felt like "Lord, Listen to your Children Praying" and "E'en So..." really blessed these kids. I truly felt God working in us and through us during this performance. One of the things that makes World Vision Choirs so powerful is their background.  The organization was started in Korea during the Korean War, and many members of the choir were orphans, or "vulnerable" children.  The mission of the choir is "to give a voice to the voiceless."

The concert ended with their blessing to us. I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it now. The children came up to the stage and held their hands out to us and sang an English blessing to us. The conviction on their faces was astonishing. It was as if they really meant it and weren't just "trained" to sing it. They truly gave us the richest and fullest blessing that we've received on this trip. At least half of our choir was in tears by the time they finished. It was beautiful, breathtaking, astounding, incredible... I can't find powerful enough words to adequately express how much they touched me, and the rest of the choir.

That's it. Nothing else from the day matters.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Korean Ducks Aren't the Same as American Ducks... and more!

Sorry for the lack of pictures. Here are some shots of the past few days!!

Kelsey sitting on the top of a mountain!!
Excited to have made it all the way to the top!

 This is from a war memorial statue at the Korean War Air and Watercraft park that we went to.

The choir singing at a military church at the DMZ!

Today has been a very full day. We left the hotel at 8:15 this morning to drive to Incheon to do a clinic with the famous director Hak Won Yoon. He directs the Incheon city chorale. To say the least, this choir was absolutely incredible; they are one of the top choirs in the world. In fact, they are so good that they can actually make a living off of the salary that they receive from singing with the group! Singing with them was incredibly intimidating because of the multitude of talent that exudes from the members of the group; however, we sang a few pieces for them and sang one with them as well! Hak Won Yoon took the opportunity to conduct us a little bit with a Korean rendition that we are doing of Psalm 23.  It is really interesting to have the opportunity to see the way that different conductors direct choirs. We have not done this piece with 4 or 5 different people, and each had a very different style.  When we were working today, I really felt like we were being shaped and molded. One of my favorite pieces of scripture is Jeremiah 18:4-6 which says "and the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says theLord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!" I was reminded of this passage as Dr. Yoon did different and really beautiful things with our choir. He molded us as a potter would a lump of clay. He fixed some of our blemishes and made us radiant - Just as God does each and every day.

After the clinic, many of us went out into the town and got food at very American chains (McDonald's/KFC.) From there, we traveled to a Korean Folk Village. This village was very similar to places in the States such as Williamsburg, Jamestown, and other historical places that show reenactments of the customs from the time period. There were people throughout the village making fans, pottery, spinning silk, cooking, and of course selling these wares.  There was a village with many live animals and replicas showing what the inside of the village would have looked like from the time period (forgive me for not remembering when that time period WAS.) There was also a series of shows in the middle of the afternoon consisting of things from b-boy dancing to tightrope walking to a traditional wedding. It was absolutely fascinating! (The B-boy break-dancing show was my favorite!)

After the folk village we went to a modern art museum that mostly documented the works of Nam June Paik and John Cage who were both very similar in style in that they played with motion and sound to create their pieces of art. The museum was very interesting to some, and a little cooky to others.Some of the art seemed odd and pointless, others intricate and captivating. After the museum, we went to a Presbyterian mega church. I mentioned this yesterday in my blog... except that I said it has a congregation of 1,000 people. That's not true. It's 10,000. The choir itself must have had 500 people in it.  The service was very interesting and it was a very special opportunity for us to be able to worship with a new and different culture. We were given headsets with an English translator giving a summary of what was being said. Mine was unfortunately almost entirely static and when I would turn it up enough so that I could understand the words, the static would be hurting my ears and audible to those sitting around me. I eventually gave up and just soaked in the Korean language and worship style. Those who listened said that the content of the sermon was very loosely connected and difficult to understand and the translator was very hard to follow! We had a late dinner following the hour and a half long service and are now getting ready to hunker down for the night and rest our bodies for tae kwan do in the morning! Some people are really excited for it... some are... not. 

Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers during the last few days of our trip!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

42 Minutes, and counting...

I'm currently paying for internet in our hotel's internet cafe, so not only will I try to type as quickly as I can, but I will also need to make this a brief post. I apologize for that since I have two days to catch up on...

I will start with what I can remember of yesterday. It seems like the days here are crazy long and we do so much all the time. Yesterday morning was our beach morning, unfortunately it started off very cloudy and overcast, so not everyone chose to go to the beach and even fewer chose to get IN the icy water! Regardless of going to the beach or otherwise, it was really nice to have the opportunity to have a late start. We had lunch at a rest area amd then we went to a Korean War memorial area. There were statues commemorating the soldiers as well as tanks, planes, a museum, a ship, and a submarine. There was also a museum at the top of a hill (I now know why Koreans are so skinny - they have to climb up an insane number of stairs all the time.) The museum was very nice and had a lot of interactive sorts of exhibits. The only downfall was that it was completely and totally in Korean.  After that we drove for a while, and then went to meet our host families!! I can not speak on behalf of everyone (although I do think that it was a mutual consensus...) I had a blast with my host family. Natalie and I stayed with the Ahn family. We sang, listened to the son, Guy, play amazing piano music, played a traditional Korean game, talked, and had a delicious homemade Korean meal.  It was a much more pleasant experience than we thought it would be. Providing I have time and internet capabilities, I would really like to expound upon this more, as it is something completely different from any American experience!

This morning we had to meet and load at 6:45am so we did not have much time with our host families once we woke up.  We got on the bus and had about a two and a half hour drive up to the DMZ! The area that we were in has restricted civilian access and we were only allowed there on governmental permission! We sang for Korean soliders at a church on the military base. Not only were they glad to get out of work (many of them were in basic training -Korean men are required to serve in the military for a few years. Many do this when they are university age) but they also seemed to really appreciate our performance (especially the two pretty soloists that came to the front!!) Singing for the soldiers was really inspiring, and touched not only those hearing the music, but also the choir members singing at the service.  From there, we drove the the infiltration tunnels. We were able to go down into one that has been reconstructed, and went as close as 300 meters away fom the border of North Korea. We were all required to wear hardhats because of the low rocky ceilings, some of us (Eric, Austin, Alan...) had more difficulty than others with not hitting their heads!! At the bottom of the tunnel there were several displays, and a copious amount of signs instructing us to go no further. Many of us realized how real the turmoil in North and South Korea was and still is when we went down. I equated it with going to see Williamsburg, Gettysburg, and the countless war battlefields that my family has vacationed to over the years. Going to the places, and being IN the history makes it real -being in the infiltration tunnel made the danger a little more real. When we came out, there were soldiers standing around, and while we were all glad to have the experience of being in the tunnels, I think we were all also ready to go to the next thing. After the tunnel, we had a long bus ride to Luther University where we had dinner and a full concert.  The concert went really well, and it was obvious that our music was a blessing to those who were able to hear it. There were a few mishaps in the performances throught the day - stools buckling, korean pianos, pitch pipes breaking, incorrect passage readings... the works. All in all, it has been a marvelous day.

Tomorrow, we have a clinic with a very famous director whose name I will include tomorrow when I have something telling me how to spell it. After the clinic we go to a Korean Folk Village, and to a church service at a church with over 1,000 members. Starting tomorrow night, we will be in the same hotel for the duration of our time in Korea. There are not words to describe how much we are looking forward to not having to pick up everything and move every night or two!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yesterday, We Climbed a Mountain.

Well... I didn't think I would be able to blog for a few days until I heard Eric explaining how the cables work. It only took me 30 seconds to get it running this morning after two hours of struggling last night.

While it feels like we didn't do very much yesterday... we're exhausted from the things that we DID do. For starters, we had a 4 hour bus ride to a mountain. While we were on the bus, Pastor Riemer did a mini church service for us on the bus. We stopped at a rest area for lunch where many of us were able to try some new Korean foods, snacks, and candies. After the remainder of the trip we ended at a National Park with several different options. First, we took a cable car to the top of a mountain where some of us continued to climb up a slippery slope to the very peak. One could purchase an engraved medal for getting to the highest point! The trip up to the top was exhilarating.. the trip back down was a little frightening. After successfully climbing down, riding the cable car back down, and appreciating being back where there's lots of Oxygen, we had the choice of hiking to a waterfall or taking a walk around some of the temples.

I heard that the temples were beautiful and a lot of fun; however I chose to take the 2 mile trail to the waterfalls. The scenery was absolutely breath taking, and the group making the trek really enjoyed spending time together. Some ran, some power walked, and some meandered through the woods until we had been going for about 45 minutes. We could have gone further to see some of the bigger falls... but if we did, we would have missed our dinner reservation. The smaller falls were nice, but some of the stone didn't seem natural. There is an old Korean folktale about the large pools at the bottom of these falls. They say that heavenly maidens used to come and take baths in the pools. Long story short - a nice, but very poor man, saved the life of a reindeer. The reindeer told him that if he took the winged costume from one of the maidens, she would be his wife, but on the condition that he could not show the costume to her until after they'd had four children. Well, she begged him to see it, and he showed it to her... but they only had THREE children, so she put it on, grabbed the children and flew back to heaven.  The reindeer came back and told the man that now they just drop a bucket down to get water to bathe in heaven. The man found the bucket, hopped in side and was brought up to heaven where he was reunited with his family!

After dinner, we drove another hour to the beach hotel where a few went out to the ocean, but many stayed inside and crashed after such a strenuous day. Many of us were hoping to spend this morning at the beach, but it's very chilly and overcast. Tonight, we are at our one home stay for the trip. It seems like many of us are a little apprehensive, but also excited.  Tomorrow we have to get up very early and will spend the day at the DMZ, and also have two performances. It's going to be a long day with minimal blog opportunities, but stay tuned!!!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tombs, Lakes, and Trees... Oh my!!

Today was a momentous day in that it was our first day in Korea without having a concert. Needless to say, we were all EXHAUSTED by the time that we'd finished being out and about all day (so I hope you won't mind if I keep this relatively short, and catch up on the finer details later!) We drove an hour away from our hotel, and visited some interesting Historical sites in Gyeongju. We first stopped at a burial mounds site.  The Korean royalty used to be buried in tombs inside large dirt mounds -the bigger the mound, the bigger the person was to society. The mounds and scenery there were beautiful, although it would have been really nice if it had been just a bit sunnier. After there, the bus drove us a grand total of 4 blocks until we got to our lunch destination.  I may have mentioned this before, but I would like to reiterate that our choir is pretty sick of Korean food. Many of us were once again not very excited about the 12 or so side dishes plus two or three main dishes that had already filled the table by the time that we got there. I believe I heard at least 10 people from the choir say "I just want a cheeseburger" at some point during the day.

After lunch, we went to the Wolseong Fortress (which we at least walked across the street to.) This is really the site of the fortress with a few foundation stones still remaining, and a beautiful forest.  We climbed up to where he fortress stood, and then down and around a koy pond. We crossed the street again, a little further down, and came to the Donggung and Wolji palaces.  These buildings have been replicated on a smaller scale and stand overlooking a beautiful duck lake. The buildings themselves looked very similar to the Korean architecture from other sites that we have visited, but there were artifacts and models of the original structures inside of them.  The buildings did not take long to view, but there was a beautiful path that led around the lake so that we could enjoy the scenery and wildlife that was playing in the water and in the shadows of tree branches.

Following this, we drove another 4 blocks or so to get to a Korean History museum. The museum had many buildings, including an exhibit of Chinese treasures, and many gold ornaments that decorated royalty in their burial garments.  There were statues and pillars, and lots of children running around yelling "Hello, America!" I believe the word that we've chosen to describe how we feel about this is "exotic." Not quite celebrity status, but just a little more than special.

After the museum, we headed back to Taegu, where we spent time at a huge outdoor shopping district. This time was mostly spent enjoying a non-Korean meal, and time away from our large group. The evening, and whole day really, were very relaxing and well needed. Tomorrow we are going to hit a Forest park of some sort and then travel to our BEACH HOTEL!!!! However, most of the day will be spent on the bus traveling from one place to another.

Alex Heatland was Dumb Quack recipient today for "being attacked by a tree." Well... really, he ran into a tree and dramatically fell to the ground a la Disney Princess. Bravo, Alex. Bravo.

Many of us are starting to miss home and the people that we left back in the States. For all of the families and friends who are reading: We all miss you terribly, and while we are having a blast in Korea, we are looking forward to returning in a little over a week... Begin preparations for many all American meals. Much love.