Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The tragedy of communism.

(Authors Note: This posting is not full of funny stories or anything like it. It's about our visit to North Korea and the tragedy of communism. It's not like we left our tour deeply depressed. Instead, we felt more educated and aware about what is happening in the part of the world we live in currently. This tiny peninsula is far from insignificant.)

This last weekend, we went to visit Korea's DMZ.



The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) separates North and South Korea and is the most heavily armed border in the world. The DMZ was set up after the cease-fire in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. There was never actually a peace treaty signed, so technically speaking, the north and south are still at war.

We were able to visit several different areas of the DMZ. It is something that is taken VERY seriously, being that it's not exactly a safe place to visit. We took a tour with the USO, which is an organization that supports military and expats abroad. You are not allowed to just go "see" the DMZ. In order to pass through all of the security, you have to actually be on a certified tour. Once we got to Camp Bonifas, after having our passports checked, we signed a paper during the briefing stating that were war to break out while we were on our tour, we would not hold the UN accountable.




Here is a picture of us standing on the edge of the South Korean border, facing North Korea. You can see the North Korean guard in the far back and the South Korean guards just behind us. This part of the DMZ is where all of the joint meetings between the North, South, and the UN occur.



This is a picture of us straddling the border between the North and South, while in the conference meeting room.



Standing with the South Korean guard.



This picture is taken from another location along the DMZ. While standing there, we could see the "jamming" tower, which jams all radio, tv, phone, cable, and Internet signals from South Korea and other locations that could possibly enter the country. For those of you who don't know, North Koreans have no contact with the outside world. Their only news comes from their own government. Their Internet comes from their government. They have no idea what is going on with the outside world. It is an absolute tragedy, especially because it allows the government to brainwash the people.

These are a couple of thoughts/facts we learned about on our trip:
-South Korea has the tenth strongest economy in the world. This is especially interesting when you compare their economy with North Korea's economy. The average factory worker in North Korea makes $2.50 every month.
-The Bridge of No Return is named this for good reason. At the end of the Korean War, soldiers were given the choice of where they would like to live. However, once they crossed that bridge, they would not be allowed to go back. This is still true today as it is illegal for a North Korean to leave their country and immigrate to another country. They are allowed to leave the country, but if they do not return, the government can look for them and arrest them for trying to escape.
-One more interesting piece of information that you may not know is that the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jung Il, is dying or possibly already dead. If there is going to be a revolution in North Korea, the time is coming soon. Some South Koreans feel a deep compassion for their North Korean families are working hard to simply stay alive. Many South Koreans are taking serious measures to try to alert the North Korean people about their dying leader, encouraging them that this is the time for a revolution. If you are interested in reading more, check this out on the BBC website.




The Bridge of No Return


Also, you can check out the video Keith made with various segments from the day on the right hand side, if you are interested.

Thank you for reading and caring about these current global issues.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 5:10 PM | 5 comments  
Friday, December 5, 2008

So I'm not your average Karate Kid...

Alright, I admit that I am pretty awful about any kind of semi-regular posting on here. Since it's pointless to make excuses, and I don't have any good ones, I will make up for this absence through including an embarrassing video that displays my inability to be serious when Keith is trying to take a video of me actually being serious.

Check out the video on the right. I just got my orange belt this week, which is actually very exciting for me. I love Taekwondo and what a challenge it is. I'm hoping to be at a very high belt by the time we leave Korea.


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A few people have asked us what we did for Thanksgiving. The weekend before Thanksgiving, we purchased tickets to this English teacher conference thing that had a Thanksgiving meal at the end of it. We didn't go to the conference, just the dinner, but it was amazing. On the actual Thanksgiving day, I had to unfortunately work, because here, it is just like any other day, of course. Keith fortunately had the evening off, so he went to a Thanksgiving dinner with about 15 other foreigners, potluck style. He brought mashed potatoes to the dinner. In order to cook for that many people, he basically had to use all of our dishes to hold them. He also made sweet tea. Even though I couldn't go, Keith brought me back a plate of food, which was delicious.

Thanksgiving is also interesting here because Koreans don't like turkey at all and you cannot buy it anywhere here. But, we were thankful to have turkey from the military base that is not to far away.

Here is a picture from the meal we had the weekend before Thanksgiving and Keith there at the dinner with some of our friends.




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I have working quite a few more hours at work the last three weeks because we had the end of my first term, and now the beginning of the winter term. I was sad to see some of my students go, but I am thankful that I have a few of the same students for another class this term.

I actually really like my new schedule. I am teaching some higher levels now with some really cool topics to cover and discuss. For example, last week, in the highest level class I teach, we watched a news clip about the two blind candidates that were running for state office in the US. In addition to reviewing what they watch and taking notes on it, we also have stimulating discussions about the topic. It is always interesting for me to see their different perspective on issues like this one, for example. Should people with disabilities have equal opportunity in government and other fields as people with no disabilities? Today we talked about freedom of speech, specifically in light of some recent Korean celebrities who have committed suicide as a result of public shame. In other words, they killed themselves because people said bad stuff about them on the Internet. It is a complete tragedy. This raises some important questions in a shame based society about the freedom of speech. Needless to say, I am really enjoying teaching and how much I am able to learn about this culture and society while I am doing my best to help my students learn English.

Here are a couple of my class pictures on the last day of class for the last term.




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A couple of the interesting places that we've visited recently are the National Museum of Korea and the Seoul Tower. The museum was incredible and so big that we only visited the first floor the day we went and will have to go back to see more on another day. The Seoul Tower is the highest building in Seoul and has a magnificent view of this enormous city. The building is surrounded by windows in it's entirety. We ate dinner there with the beautiful view. Also, all around the tower, there are windows pointing in the directions of various locations around the globe, from the North Pole to the South Pole, Cairo, Moscow, and even Seattle. We also visited Hard Rock Cafe for the first time since we've been here and enjoyed some really good burgers.


The National Museum of Korea


The National Museum of Korea. They love their Pagodas.


Putting my Taekwondo skills to work on this ancient warrior.



Ancient pagoda in the National Museum.


When I mentioned that the Seoul Tower has windows literally everywhere so that you can always see the view, I meant that. This picture was taken from the men's bathroom.

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Finally...here is our first Christmas tree. We put it up together on Monday night of this week and we love it. Special thanks to Mom (Gayle) for the ornaments and the guy who used to live in our apartment who left us his fake Christmas tree.


Posted by Megan and Keith at 1:09 AM | 9 comments  
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Pepero Day.

Today is 11/11, also known as Pepero Day.



Here is the explanation of what Pepero is and why pepero day is celebrated, courtesy of Wikipedia.

"Pepero (빼빼로) is a cookie stick, dipped in chocolate syrup, manufactured by Lotte in South Korea since 1983, and is similar to the Japanese chocolate-covered snack food, Pocky."

Pepero Day is an observance in South Korea similar to Valentine's Day or Sweetest Day. It is named after the Korean snack Pepero and held on November 11, since the date "11/11" resembles five sticks of Pepero. The holiday is observed mostly by young people and couples, who exchange Pepero sticks, other candies, and romantic gifts.

"According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero"[citation needed] (Pepero means "thin like a stick"). However, it is more likely it was initiated by Lotte, the company which produces Pepero." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepero)



(This is a Pepero display in the grocery store.)

I love that explanation..."more likely it [the holiday] was initiated by Lotte, the company which produces Pepero." You would think that people would realize it was just a marketing scam, but they don't seem to care.

Yesterday and today, my desk was piled high with gifts of Pepero from my students. I have to admit, I actually love the candy, particularly the green box, which is almond. Yesterday, I dipped one of the Pepero sticks in my coffee, which tasted fabulous, but my students thought it was the grossest thing they've ever seen for some reason that I do not understand.


Living abroad is especially amusing on days like today when you celebrate holidays that you had never even heard of just 2 weeks prior.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 4:50 PM | 10 comments  
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When in Korea, do as the Korean do.

I would like to apologize for the long absence. I got out of the routine of posting on the blog for a few weeks. We have been spending a lot of time with the new friends that we are making, which is awesome. In all honesty, I've also read a few good books in the last few weeks, which is where my computer time disappeared to.

Overall, we are good, we are safe, and we are still in Korea.

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We haven't fully embraced this classic Roman philosophy in every way, "When in Korea, do as the Koreans do."
We have yet to eat octopus while it is still alive.
We haven't learned to drive like a maniacs and run over or swerve around any living or non-living thing that comes into our path. (Granted, we don't have cars or drivers licences, which is a pretty legitimate reason for not taking part in this Korean practice.)
But, we are doing our best to embody this philosophy in many other ways.

Keith has started to wear his Ipod everywhere he goes. He fits right in. EVERYONE has earphones in all the time.

We are both working on speaking Korean, but I have to confess that Keith is doing much better than I am. My Korean accent is horrendous.

Keith is playing soccer on Sunday nights on a team of mostly foreigners from all over the world. Keith played on awesome game on mid-field last Sunday night. They play against a Korean team at Cheonan Stadium, which is about 2 km from our apartment and a really nice sports complex. (The U-17 World Cup was held there last year.) Soccer is definitely one of Korea's favorite sports. It is second to baseball, which they love, especially considering that the Korean team won the gold metal at the Olympics this summer.

We have learned to walk and push our way through the crowded subways, streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, stores, and trains, but we are still learning to lose our "personal space bubbles". There is no such thing as a "personal space bubble" in a country the size of the lower half of Indiana with a population of 49 million people.

We have fallen in love with the bakery, Paris Baguette, which really has nothing at all to do with Paris and is a South Korean based company with the most wonderful breads, pastries, and coffee. They know our order in the morning...it's awesome.

I got a library card on Tuesday, which is very exciting for me, as ridiculous as that sounds. English books are scarce and very expensive, so this will be really nice to have. The library is only about a 5 minute walk from our apartment. They have about 150 English books, mostly classics...you know, the books you think you should've read by now, but just never have.

The biggest way that I have embraced this philosophy is through a little hobby that I picked up. I am now taking Taekwondo. I just completed my fourth week. I absolutely love it. As a matter of fact, last Friday I was promoted from a white belt to a yellow belt. I am still the lowest level in my class, but I'm moving up slowly. Taking Taekwondo is humbling and humorous every single day. It is SO much work, but I really love the workout and learning the self defense.

I mentioned that it's humbling. Well, that is because I go to Taekwondo with about 25 7-year-old boys who are all at higher levels than I am at. It really is fun though. I am humbled at how good they are with their positions and form. Their faces are wonderful we are sparring together. Today, I had to spar with a little boy who was wearing a protective vest around his upper body. I couldn't bear to actually kick him until my instructor said that I had to because his little precious eyes were full of fear and terror because he's only about 3.5 ft. tall. My full stretch kick is higher than his head.

Anyway, it's embarrassing all the time, but we laugh together, and I really enjoy it. Laughter is definitely one of the few things that transcends all languages...laughter, the head shake for "yes" or "no", and the profound English phrase, "OK".

Keith will be starting Kendo soon, which is Japanese sword fighting.


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Please check out the two videos that Keith made on the right hand side.
The first link is to Keith's his debut music video, which we recorded on the public bus full of people.
The second video is full of pictures from a few of the things we've done since we've been here. Please, please, please...take a look.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 9:49 PM | 9 comments  
Thursday, October 9, 2008

An apple is not the teacher gift of the 21st century.

It's been a while since I posted on the blog. I tried for a while to come up with an excuse...but I realized that I don't have one, so I'd rather not lie about it.

In an effort to avoid writing a book about the last two weeks,
here are a few of the highlights:

-Last weekend we had lunch at Outback Steakhouse, which we have here in Cheonan. We split the ribs and they tasted just like they do at home, with the exception of the fact that there were no garlic mashed potatoes.

-Keith is playing soccer on our "church team", which is really made up of about 3-4 guys from our church, and the rest just other foreigners that live here in Cheonan. He loved their game last Sunday and looks forward to playing with them every Sunday. There are a few British guys on the team who take "football" very seriously.

-Josh and Sarah, the pastors at our church, took us out to lunch one Sunday at a restaurant that we can see from the window of our apartment. It is really close but we had never been there before because we didn't know what they had or how to order. They taught us how to order galbi, which is pretty decent. We've been back to the restaurant once since then and enjoyed it.
This is basically what your table looks like...give or take a few sides depending on the restaurant:



-I love running into my students around Cheonan. It makes me feel like we know more people than we actually do and helps me feel settled. I saw one of my students when we were having galbi one night. I saw another student at church on Sunday, which was really impressive, since it's an English service. Then, a couple of days ago, I saw a student who was walking home from school (not our school, her daytime school) while I was walking to buy apples. The apples are amazing this time of year and the old ladies have come out of the woodwork to sell them on the sides of the streets.

-We got a package this week from home with our wedding dvd and wedding pictures. It was awesome to watch it and remember that incredible day. Also, we are so pleased with the pictures. Tyler, our photographer, was amazing, and we couldn't be more thankful or more pleased.

-The weekend before last, we went to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is considered by some the "main palace" or the "national palace" in Seoul. We absolutely LOVED it. It was one of the key moments where we both thought, "This is why we love traveling and this is one of the huge reasons that we are here. We want to learn about the history of this foreign culture and see what their lives were like (or at least where they lived) before our country was even 'discovered'." The palace is unfortunately a reconstruction since the original was burnt down by the Japanese like most of the ancient architecture in this country, but still amazing nonetheless.
Also, while we were at the palace, they were doing an ancient archery reenactment, which was pretty cool, and a little funny. We could see the glue on their faces from where they put on their fake beards.
Here are pictures of us at the palace.










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This week, my students have enlightened me. We have a calendar in my classroom with each of the days circled when it is someone's birthday. Since I teach five different classes of students during the week, that is quite a few circles. My birthday, which is Sunday, is also circled. I didn't think anything of it and of course didn't expect any gifts. However, I was surprised when three different little girls brought me gifts, all on different days, but they brought the exact same gift, with just a different "flare". As a teacher, I wouldn't have been surprised to get three apples for my birthday, since that is, after all, the classic teacher gift. However, I have learned that an apple, is not the 21st Century.

Instead...the cell phone charm. Check these out.



It's definitely different. I've never had a cell phone charm before. I guess we'll just add that one to the unending list of "firsts" we already have and will continue to have this year.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 12:51 PM | 11 comments  
Friday, September 26, 2008

Beef. It's definitely not what's for dinner.

This week has flown by! I have had pictures to post from last weekend and I can't believe that it's already Friday night and I am just now posting them.

Here we are!







This last weekend, Dalene came and stayed with us. We went to Seoul on Sunday together with the intentions of going to the zoo and a palace, but actually only made it to Tapgol Park, a cool shopping area with traditional Korean goods in Insadong, and the arts district.



While we were shopping in Insadong, we saw this man holding this sign.
Keith took advantage of his offer.




We also to went to an old fashioned American diner, with really wonderful hamburgers and milkshakes; they even had Dr. Pepper. It was excellent. The waiters and waitresses wore 50's style costumes with the funny paper hats that you can still get at In and Out Burger today. It was really funny. Even though everything was "American" food, we still had to point to the pictures on the menu to order in English.

It's interesting how much we connect food with our culture and even with home. One of the biggest struggles that I experienced living in Kenya was how different the food was and how I just couldn't seem to adapt to it at all. (That is of course with the exception of the phenomenal pineapples and mangoes that are far and above any others I've ever had.) There was only one meal a week in the cafeteria that I enjoyed and looked forward to. Nothing else ever looked good. Here, I am thankful that we have the ability to cook for ourselves. We still are definitely not used to Korean food and I still can't really eat kimchi without making unpleasant faces...it's just too spicy. Needless to say, I am SO thankful that we a have fridge, two burners, and a sink, so that we don't have to eat Korean food all the time. There are a couple things that we do like, but we are still learning how to order correctly.

We wanted to do something different and unique and we are so happy that we are here, even on the harder days. Please don't misunderstand me...we are trying to experience the culture in full swing. But, there are some places I would just rather the swing not go.

I mean...would you want this for dinner?




I think I'll pass for now and stick to trying to like kimchi.

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Posted by Megan and Keith at 6:35 PM | 12 comments  
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chuseok...hiking...and sushi.

This weekend was Chuseok, a national holiday here, one of their biggest holidays of the whole year. We had Monday off of school for the holiday, and the three day weekend was wonderful. Unfortunately, like I have mentioned before, Koreans don't believe in days off, so we will be making up our school day from last Monday this Saturday.

If we had known in advance about the holiday, we would've made plans to go away for the weekend. By the time we knew about it, everything was already booked all over the country, from trains to hotels. Also, as we talked more about it, anything that we would really want to go see would most likely be closed. The whole city shut down on Sunday, with the exception of McDonalds, which we saw on our walk home from church. (Some things are the same no matter what country you're in.)

Sunday afternoon, we went hiking on a trail that is only about 2 miles from our apartment. It was really nice. It is definitely an escape from the busy city and I didn't even notice the sounds of traffic up on the hill. Along the trail, there is random exercise equipment for people to use if they want to. It's actually really common. Not far from our apartment is a small jungle gym playground area that is not just for children. There is weather resistant exercise equipment for the public to use while their kids play. It's really cool.

At the top of this hiking trail on the hill, there is a bungalow.

Here are a few pictures from our hike...





After our hike on Sunday, we were again left with some nice vacation time, without having to get ready for work on Monday. We did something that I have been wanting to do for two years now. Kim and I kept saying that we were going to learn and try this together sometime, but in the reality of the "college lifestyle", both going to school full-time, both working, both in serious relationships, both studying...we never got around to it. (I promise Kim, we will still do this together.) So, finally, Keith and I sat down with almost all of the necessary supplies and some online directions with pictures, and we made SUSHI!












The desire and inspiration to do this after so long was once again rekindled on Saturday when we went to the mall to try the "Japanese Sushi Restaurant". It was unfortunately mostly Korean food with a speck of Japanese influence. (Koreans have their own version of sushi called Gimpab, which we do like, but it is different. Sometime soon, we will go check out "Little Tokyo" in Seoul, which I'm sure will have amazing Japanese food. Then eventually, we hope to go to Tokyo, the actual city...we are pretty close after all.

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Thank you to all who gave suggestions on my cheating students. There have been no more incidents to report. Also, Keith and I are both over our colds, which makes life definitely more enjoyable.

I'm off to work.

P.S. Here's one more picture of Keith with portion of a very large person, in downtown Cheonan.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 1:57 PM | 10 comments  
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This weekend...what I hate about being a teacher...and chicken noodle soup.


Keith at Starbucks on our first day in Seoul (left)
Riding the bus from the airport the night we arrived (below)

The Arario Gallery Art Museum in Cheonan with Houston (1st)
Walking in downtown Cheonan (2nd)
This is one of the permanent sculptures in downtown Cheonan; this street is covered with art. (3rd)





This weekend we went to the art museum here in Cheonan and to Seoul for the day with our friend Houston. In Seoul, we went to a pretty decent English bookstore and had our first Mexican food in 3 weeks. I never realize how much Mexican food is a regular part of my diet until I don't have it anymore. I remember having the same tragic realization in Kenya last summer. I just can't seem to get enough of it. So, the burrito that I had on Saturday night was amazing. The service at the restaurant was awful and awkward. The servers stand around your table watching you, which is weird...but the food was great.

On Sunday, I went to visit Dalene in Daegu and we had a great time. (We went to college together and had no idea that we would end up working for the same school, just at different branches an hour train ride apart. She's amazing and I'm so glad that we can see each other every once in a while.) She is such a joy to be with and she makes me feel so much closer to college and the friendships that I miss so much. I know that I will continue to look forward to the times that we can get together. Also, it was cool to see some more of Korea. The city that she lives in is the third largest in the country. We went shopping and bought fruit and vegetables from sweet old ladies on the side of the street. There is a lot more to do there in Daegu than where we live and there are also a lot of cool places to visit in her area, like Buddhist temples over a thousand years old. I'm excited to go back when we can spend more than just the day there and together.

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Overall, Keith and I are both really happy with teaching. My classes seem to be going very well. Here are always some humorous moments, especially while reading a book called Gross Body Facts with one of my middle school classes. The first chapter was about burping, the second, sweating, the third, bad breath, and the fourth, vomiting. I am scarred to open my book and prep for the next lesson because it seems that it just keeps getting worse. Since I am teaching English as a foreign language to these students, they ask vocabulary questions often. While reading Gross Body Facts, some of the vocabulary questions I've been asked, I would've preferred not to explain. For example, words like "drool", "tossing your cookies", "snot", "plaque", and "queasy", make me feel like I am teaching a class on personal hygiene, rather than the English language.

One really great thing about my classroom is that I constantly hear wonderful piano music while I'm teaching. For a while, I thought that someone above us must be teaching piano lessons, and that was likely where the music was coming from. After a while though, when all of the music seemed flawless, and definitely not the level of students that are still taking lessons, I asked one of my co-workers what was up there. There is a ballet studio right above us and the accompanist plays beautiful classical music all evening. I love it.

As much as I am enjoying my job, I have discovered what I hate about being a teacher.
Kids cheat.
I HATE IT.
I HATE CHEATING.
It's awful! Our students are attending what others have told me is the best English language school in our city, with regards to test scores, structure, discipline, and fluency rates. But, they are still cheating! It drives me crazy! In the 10 days since I have been giving exams, I have caught 10 students cheating. It's horrible. I tell them ahead of time if they cheat or talk, it is an automatic "F", but they still do it. Then, I have to call the principal to have him come in here and yell at them all in Korean about how they shouldn't cheat. Then they respond to him with their different excuses about how I'm making it up and how they didn't really cheat. But, I can prove it by their answers and I see it with my own eyes. Some of them argue, some of them cry, some of them hate me now, for their own mistakes, and at the end of the day, I end up feeling bad. It's ridiculous. It is definitely the one thing that I hate about being a teacher.

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As you might have read before, Keith and I have no oven, microwave, toaster, or toaster oven. It provides some little "adjustments" to what I used to consider normal. (Please don't misinterpret this as a complaint. Although it is annoying, we are still grateful and blessed to have a nice apartment with two working burners, which are WAY better than most people around the world.) For example, this morning I woke up hungry and looking forward to the cinnamon raisin bagels that I bought at Costco this weekend when I went to visit my friend Dalene. Anyway, I pulled the bagel out of the freezer and realized I had a small dilemma. How do I defrost this bagel without a toaster or microwave and without 2 hours to let it sit there and happen on its own? I have a great solution just in case you ever experience a similar dilemma. Let the bagel soak in hot water concealed in a plastic bag to keep it from getting soggy for 15 minutes. Then, turn on the stove, and use a frying pan to toast your bagel on medium heat. Turn the slices over after about 3 minutes to toast the other side. Viola! A delicious breakfast! The point is…every day requires new creativity…and at this point…I love it.

Yesterday, once again, I tried something new with regards to cooking without processed and prepackaged foods, and without an oven. Keith has been sick the last couple of days with a cold, so I thought that I should get him some chicken noodle soup. The challenge is…there is no chicken noodle soup here…not even at Costco. So, I made it from scratch and surprisingly, it tasted awesome! I'm so thankful that I did, not only because it was such a great accomplishment, but also because last night, I also came down with this nasty cold, so I'm glad that we had enough for the next couple of days.

I hope we get better soon. It's hard to be patient with little kids when you feel like you should be in bed. (I know what you're thinking...stay home from work...but Koreans don't believe in sick days, so it's not an option.)

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We miss you all and appreciate your prayers. We are so glad that we are here and are truly enjoying ourselves. But, we are realistic in knowing that there will be more challenging days to come. Please let us know how you are doing.
Posted by Megan and Keith at 11:50 PM | 12 comments  
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