Sorrow In Korea

This past Thursday, February 24th, the mother of one of my coworkers passed away.  We were informed of this right at noon.  Just the previous day we learned that she was in critical condition and so it was quite sudden.  My coworker’s name is Chun Jong Woo,

"The Man" Mr. Chun

which if he was in America it would be Jong Woo Chun.  In Korea they say the family name first, unlike us where we say it last.  I however call him “The Man”, as he has been here at HHI for 20+ years and he is an incredible wealth of knowledge and is 2nd in charge after Mr. Lee.  Mr. Chun helps me during our lunch break to train me in the art of brazing and I deeply respect him.  My understanding was that he and his family were Buddhists.

As Kang and I were walking home that night he asked me if I would like to go to a service that night for Mr. Chun’s mother.  Kinda like a “wake” here in America.  Absolutely I said.  I would be honored to do so.  As we walked I questioned Kang about body preparation here in Korea.  To make a long story short, they do not embalm here.  As I explained to Kang the embalming process he asked, “Why?  Like a mummy?”  Kinda.  Burial here is virtually unknown of here.  Land is so scarce here almost everyone
cremates the body.  If you can’t afford to buy a house how is one to buy a plot for burial?

I was picked up at 8 PM in front of the apartment.  On the way to the wake I asked Kang about the process that I could expect.  Everything here in Korea is structured out the wazoo.  I figured that it had to be the same in this area of life and I did not
want to offend Mr. Chun in the process of paying my last respects.  As we were driving Kang explained that because he is a Christian he does not bow as he sees Ancestor Worship as idolatry.  I agree with that statement.  I did explain to him that the
mindset of the believer is what’s important.  Are you worshiping or paying respect?
The mindset of the believer determines the verdict of one’s actions.  And so as we were driving my mind was questioning the practices that I would soon be witnessing, are we
paying respect to the memory of a coworker’s mother or worshiping her?  At this point I wanted to ensure that I did not cause a brother in Christ to stumble by my actions, given to us by God thru the Apostle Paul.

Our driver, also a coworker by the name of Min Ji Hoon, was
also what I thought to be a Buddhist.  It was at this point that it was clarified to me that they were not Buddhists, but they belonged to Confucianism, which the Koreans see as the same.

We arrive at the “Funeral Home”, a huge granite building,
reminding me of a structure the size of the Alabama state capital.  It was not a private institution, but a government building.  We went to the room
that was listed for the mother of Mr. Chun.  We pass thru multitudes of flags and wreaths.  Later I find out that the flags represent HHI, Mr. Chun’s family crest, and several other identifying entities.  The wreaths were from HHI, the chairman of HHI, the Unions of HHI (which is the most powerful union in Korea) and once again multiple entities.   As I said
before, Mr. Chun was a well-respected and long term employee of HHHI.  We enter a room full of tables where we take our shoes off.  Immediately to our left
is a “parlor”.  As we enter this area we are surrounded by folks in traditional Confucianism/Buddhist garb, with the men on our right and the women on our left.
They bent over at the waist at a 90 degree angle and started uttering a
sound.  They were not chanting, not moaning, not wailing, and just uttering guttural sounds.  The 2 men in front of Kang and me were Buddhists like Mr. Chun.  They approached the area in front of us which was kinda like a fireplace mantle, only bigger.  It was maybe 8 to 10 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and double tiered.  The area was draped
with flowers that looked like lilies with a picture of the deceased in the middle of it.  On a ledge going the width of the mantle were offerings of apples, dates, melons, and other fruits.  On the floor on a bed of coals were a teapot and an incisor of incense.  Two of my
coworkers approached the tribute area and poured a cup of tea and placed it on
the mantle.  They stepped back, just a few feet before Kang and me, and went to their knees, then prostrated themselves on the floor in front of the tribute area.  The lines of men and women on either side of us did likewise.  Everyone stood to their
feet and they repeated the process again.  At this point all four of us men in the center of the room turned towards the men on the right side of the tribute area.  I am being careful to call this a “tribute area” because I do not know the state of mind for the individuals performing these actions.  Since there is a tremendous difference between worship and respect and honor I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to assign motives.  All of the men (Kang and I included) as well as the family members bowed and prostrated ourselves to each other twice and then the men in mourning talked to us.  I
had no problem doing this as I know my heart.  I was not worshiping the men, but honoring the grief that they were feeling for the loss of a loved one and it deeply pained me to see a man (Mr. Chun) that I have known for just 2 months in anguish.   In
many aspects I have fears that I will soon be facing similar pain due to my
father’s cancer and both of my parents’s advanced ages.  After the men were finished speaking we stood and each of us placed a monetary offering in a drop box in the parlor to help the family.

I then participated in a traditional Korean food setting while sitting on the floor for the next four hours.  By the time I left my legs were numb, as well as my butt-tocks (in the immortal words of Forrest Gump).  Mr. Chun came out and talked to us.  He was deeply honored that I would come to this event.  It is virtually unheard of for Westerners to participate.  I do not know if this is because they are not invited or if it is because they feel uncomfortable in doing so.  Over the course of the night I had the priviledge of meeting Mr. Chun’s wife and children.  During the entire night I did not see expressions of grief similar to what I have seen back in the states.  What I saw appeared to be folks
in a state of shock.

There were a couple of things that I noticed during the night as the reflection on the window opposite me peered into the parlor where the family members performed the ritual.  Many questions came to my mind as I witnessed the events of the night
that I asked Kang about concerning the practices of Buddhists however he said
that now was not the time and I agree.  There will be time for follow-up and my friends need time to grieve.  I have been blessed to develop relationships with my Korean teammates.  Kang did clarify during the night that they do not believe that their
ancestors become demi-gods.  They pray/mediate for guidance from the dead and also for their intervention to their god.  Sounds very similar to what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about Mary.

Another coworker (Chi) asked me if they could give me the
nickname “Bald Eagle”.  And no it’s NOT because I can’t grow hair!  It was explained to me that I have such a focus at my job for what I am doing.  I was told that I am like an eagle that has
identified its prey and is diving down upon it from above to capture it.  I have been hunting and have seen a hawk
diving to kill its prey many a time and so I understand the analogy.  It’s a nice compliment actually.  Debey has said this about me all my  life.  Chi also asked me if I would be willing to go to Seoul one weekend with him as that is where he is from.  Even though he said that he knows zero English and my knowledge of Korean is elementary, we have developed a friendship that allows us to communicate without words.  I am really looking forward to the trip.

I returned home at 1 am.  I am thankful that I have Korean friends that have allowed me into their personal lives to the extent that they have.  I am honored that they respect me, as respect is extremely prized here.  God has blessed me to put me here when He did.  Working with Kang today we talked about the odds of me coming to HHI with its 50,000 employees working here on a daily basis, and yet out of that I am placed alongside a fairly good English speaking brother in Christ, and then to be so well received.  He agrees with me that this is a God thing.

At this point in time I was finished with my post however calamity struck again just three days later.  My #1 boss, Mr. Lee Ho Soon’s father passed away.  I found this out about lunchtime from Mr. Kwon.  Mr. Kwon is Mr. Lee’s supervisor, a big boss
in the company.  He informed me that he had heard how I had taken part in the wake of Mr. Chun’s mother and that I was
a “good man”.  After lunch the team gathered in the office and they were talking away.  Numbers were written on the white board and conversations going 90 to nothing.  To
make a long story short, 12 of them were going to get off at 3 PM and drive to Andong (pronounced An-Dwong), a journey of 3.5 hours away one way.  Unfortunately all of us Alabamians had a meeting at 5 PM with a representative that had flown in from Montgomery, just for that meeting.  Obviously it was very important to HYPO that this meeting take place.  The more I thought about it, the more that I felt I should go to the wake though.  Mr. Lee has been very kind to me during my time in Korea and I really looked up to him.  He had shown me in a previous week pictures
of his father as well as his “offerings” to his mother that had previously passed away.  So I called Mr. Son Chang-Gon, the HYPO manager that we have been involved with from day 1 and explained my desire to go to the wake instead of the meeting.  Mr. Son graciously said that it was more important that I be with my teammates during this time in support of Mr. Lee than it was to go to the meeting.  I graciously thank Mr. Son as in my experiences with American companies I can’t say that they would have come to the same conclusion.

And so our journey began.  When they said we were leaving at 3 pm, they were not joking.  We did not have time to hit the showers and so all us men took sink showers out of 2 sinks.  It was not a problem as little hair as I had but it was hilarious to watch these young Korean men with heads full of thick black hair trying to get their entire heads under the faucet.  I even took the time to help wash some of their hair in the back.  We hit the ground running and we drove through parts of Ulsan that I not seen before.
HHI goes on for miles and miles.  We drove past ships under construction that just blew my mind.  HHI builds 15% of the world’s deep ocean ships every year and I can believe it.  We drove past a golf driving range.  Anybody that can hit the ball 15 yards is going to feel very manly.  It consisted of about 5 levels of floors, with a mesh net 15 yards from the driving mats.  So you could knock the heck out of the ball and it was only going to go
as far as the netting.  Made it to the edge of the city of Ulsan and our driver took a toll booth ticket.  We then took out like a bat out of a very hot place where we passed rice fields.  There were rice fields everywhere as well as mountains that remind me of Gatlinburg.  We reached speeds of 150 kph, which when I placed that into my metric converter was 93 mph.  Glad I did not know that at the time.  Our driver, Jo Jae IL, had a GPS on his dashboard that he had programed to get us to the funeral home.  The unique thing about it was that it kept track of the speed cameras, which were about every 5 miles.  It told you how far away it was and the speed for the area.  As long as you reduced your speed by the time you got to the camera, you were ok.  If not then you received your ticket and picture in the mail.  Did I say there were rice fields everywhere?  There were a multitude of Christian churches everywhere.  We passed through tunnel after tunnel and Jae IL was lucky I did not puke in his car the way that he was driving.
We passed isolated graves that I witnessed as we drove by on the interstate.  At each site there was a post like a horse hitching post.  The graves also were not flat with the ground.  Picture a round bale of hay in the center of a clear cut field about 10
yards in circumference.  This is what each grave looked like.  I was told by coworkers it was because the dead were buried sitting up.  I do not know if this was true or if they
were just pulling leg.  We also passed a HUGE Buddha statue sitting (literally) on the top of a hill visible from the roads.  I am guessing that it was 50 to 75 feet tall.  Just to let you know there were no billboards by the wayside.  My goodness, what would Stuckey’s do in Alabama without having the ability to have every half mile?  The Korean music also
was “different” is all that I can say.  I enjoyed it, just different.  When we got
off at the interstate we had to present the toll booth ticket and pay the
operator for the mileage both coming and going.  These booths are at every exit and so they tax you till you are going blind.

We arrived at the funeral home in Andong.  This wake was different from the previous one that I had attended just a few days prior.  While no sorrow was evident at Mr. Chun’s wake, it was very visible here.  There were the same rows of flowers outside the entrance to the area for Mr. Lee’s father from HHI, the Union at HHI, etc., as well as the same “tribute area” and mantle visible with the picture of Mr. Lee’s father centered in the flowers.  The same offerings of apples, tea, dates, and melons were on the mantle.  I noticed though that as my 12 coworkers went through the rituals described above that
Mr. Lee was bawling his eyes out.  As before I did not prostrate myself on the ground to the picture as the others
did, however I bowed my head and said a prayer for Mr. Lee and his family and departed father.  I did, once again as
before, prostrate myself to Mr. Lee in respect to the loss that he was suffering.  As we all stood up, Mr. Lee made a bee line straight to me, bypassing the other men in the room.  Tears were flowing down his face as he kept saying, “Thank you” and shaking my hand.  All I could do was hug him and say that I was sorry for his loss.  He did not understand the English but I believe that he understood me.

As we left the parlor a relative came up and gave us an opaque orange envelope and in it was a meal ticket and a $10,000 Won bill (about $10 US).  After this we went down to the funeral home/hospital restaurant (by the way, I did not tell you that they were both on the same premises).  Don’t know if that’s being frugal or else just that the doctors suck at this hospital.  We went back upstairs to dine with the other guests and family members.  The first thing they did was give us a bottle to drink, kinda like a Red bull.  Translated it is called “Good Morning”.  It prevents a hangover.  I drank two shots of Soju and a small paper cup of beer that night.  I ate raw octopus at this wake as well as cuttlefish.  If you have not read my previous articles on our lunches, cuttlefish is
actually squid.  It should be, for the sake of truthfulness in advertising, be called cuttlesquid.  Just saying is all.  Mr. Lee came over during the course of the night as he made the rounds sitting and talking to the guests that had attended that night.  As he came over he sat next to me.  Mr. Lee introduced his wife and 2 sons to me that night.  As fine a family as I have ever seen, no matter which continent I was on.  One thing that I will remember for the rest of my life is “toe socks”.  Mr. Lee always wears toe socks, and tonight was no exception. At a wake you are to drink however you are not to toast.  When Mr. Lee sat next to
me he poured me a small paper cup of Soju and I returned the honor to him.  We raise our cups to each other but not to touch, as that constitutes a toast.  He touched my cup and toasted me out of respect to me.  Also, the senior in position and older man’s
cup is to be the highest cup when they are raised.  Once again he placed his cup lower than mine as a sign of respect to me.  All of these actions are nuances that communicate meaning to each other.  I stopped him and we also toasted again, with me making sure that my glass was in the correct position in order to communicate to him that I admire and respect him greatly.

As we left for the night I wanted to take care of any nature breaks before I left and you will be surprised when I tell you this.  Not a single indoor restroom is heated.  Not the floor, not central heating, nothing.  Not at the church I attend, NOWHERE in a public Korean building are they heated.  I will tell you one thing; you sit down and take care of business quickly when the temperature is 15 degrees in there.  To top off the night, Jae IL does not watch where he is going as he backs out of the parking garage and hits the column that he parked next to.  I guess they need to include concrete columns on his GPS going forward.  We arrived back home at 1 am and I had to get
up at 6 for work and so I hit the bed.

No matter the nation, no matter the faith of the grieving, no
matter the verbal language spoken, pain is understood by all.  Thank God for His grace and mercy to those that He calls for eternal life.  We know that we just sleep momentarily, but we will be with Christ for all eternity giving Him glory.  That reminds me of a song that Elder Rick posted on his Facebook page, and I have included a link
for you to listen.  I encourage you to listen to the words of this old German hymn.



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Hungry anyone?

With my working overtime now it has been difficult to post
daily menu listings and so I have decided to make a weekly blog for our “delectable”
entrees here.  I am still valiantly searching
for the Western café here on site but no luck yet.  Maybe one day.

Monday we had Doenjang
soup with boiled Mackerel, broccoli salad, pan-fried seaweed stems and of
course, Kimchi.  There was no cheese to

Doenjang soup

go with the trees and so that was disappointing but I somehow managed.  I actually thought I saw Wolfgang Puck in the
kitchen working away but the Koreans could not understand him due to his thick

Tuesday was bean sprouts soup, beef bulgogi
(which was DARN GOOD!)­­­, seasoned radish, seasoned vegetables, and for
desert, Kimchi.  After the meal I asked
Kang for a “head’s up” on how we eat this stuff.  I only got a couple of the radishes as they
were neon pink and I wanted to sample, yet did not want to throw a bunch away
if I did not like them.  What you do is

Tastes better than it looks

take the radish, which is sliced paper thin, put the bulgogi in, wrap it up
like a taco, and eat.  What an amazing
contrast of flavors.  I did not know the
color “pink” had a taste, but it does.  This
was one of the more enjoyable meals so far.

On Wednesday we went from the mountain tops to the depths of
the ocean in just 24 hours.  Oyster soup
(which I love oysters, just on a cracker with a splash of Tabasco sauce),
roasted Vienna sausages with hot pepper sauce, seasoned sweet cabbage, seasoned
young radish, and (do I even have to say it anymore?)  Understand that the end of EVERY menu will
close with Kimchi.  I was tempted to go
into the Baskin Robbins yesterday as I walked past it to see if they had Kimchi
flavored ice cream.  Honestly, I would

Not just America's favorite but ROK's as well

Not just America's favorite but ROK's as well

not be surprised if they did.  Visualize
a platter piled with Vienna sausages.
That was lunch.  Oh yeah,
rice.  Just as Kimchi ends every menu,
rice precedes every menu that I list.

Thursday was rice soup (in addition to the rice you pile on your
plate), boiled dried Pollack with hot sauce,
and seasoned vegetables.  When they say
hot sauce, I think they actually mean they have a pipeline straight to hell
where they siphon off liquid fire to put in the meal.  I am still waiting for the mothballs in a care
package so I can insert them into my nose before I enter the latrine after
lunch.  Trust me, it is rough in there!

Friday took a cultural twist.  We have peanuts at break time, and I am
thinking cool, that’s a Southern thing.  At
lunch I see more bags of peanuts and “dirty rice”.  Ok, is Emeril Lagasse here today?  I expect to hear “Bam!” from the kitchen any


moment.  That day was a traditional meal
where the dirty rice and peanuts were eaten to ward off ghosts.  Yes folks, Casper is not welcomed here in
Korea.  The options were Doenjang soup
with young radish, steamed squid, macaroni salad, and seasoned vegetables.  I have to mention that the Kimchi today was “white
radish” Kimchi.  Believe it or not, not
all rotten cabbage sitting in a pot in the ground for 6 months tastes the
same.  Now it does smell the same, but a
very different taste.

I was fortunate to work Saturday and we had bean-curd soup
, beef boiled in soy sauce, pan-fried radish, and seasoned Bok Choy.  This was the best soup I have had since I have
been here.

Hope you enjoyed this first edition of the menu blog.  Any suggestions for improvement please let me

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When in Rome….

Last night I
had a wonderful time with a dear brother in Christ, Kang and his fiancé Su
Jin.  I met them at the famous landmark MacDonald’s,

Seo Kang Seok and his lovely fiance Su Jin.

and we proceeded to a Mom/Pops Korean restaurant.  We decided to go out to eat as I was not able
to find the ingredients to cook “Southern” for them.  Honey, the list for the next care package is
on the way and it’s basically food items I need.

As we walked
I learned that Su Jin is 28 years old.
She is a mechanical engineer (talk about Kang marrying up!) and she
lives in Seoul.  They basically get to
see each other once a month as the high-speed train round trip is US $80, which
is a large amount for what Koreans make.

The "engagement" bands.

The courting ritual reminds me of biblical Jewish rites.  Kang should have permission to marry (not
required however virtually no one dishonors parents blessings or lack thereof)
and the husband is to purchase house before marriage.

At the
restaurant I asked them about several items that I saw grocery shopping
today.  I said what the heck is up with “dried
squid”?  What do you do with it?  Soak it like dried beans and then cook
it?  No, eat it like jerky.

Dried squid

One question led to another until I made the
fateful statement, “Act like I am not even here and order whatever you would
order on a date.  I will eat what you
eat.”  Little did I know what that would entail?

First we had appetizers.  A bowl arrived.  Ok.
What is it?  It was butterfly larva.  No folks, I am not joking.  When I picked up my chopsticks instead of a
fork she was amazed.  Hey, when in Rome,
right?  How do I describe larva?  Difficult.

No, it does NOT taste like chicken.

Does “musky” have a taste?  Kinda
like a smoky flavor.  You could feel the
developing legs inside the husk as you chewed.  Hey, I ate more than one, what can I say.  I asked them if they had ever ate escargot,
and guess what arrived just as soon as the question popped out of my mouth?  Yeah, that’s right, snails.  Very small shells.  Pick them up and suck them out, kinda like
sucking brain out of the crawfish.  From
there the “foo foo platter” arrived.  On
the platter was 8-10 M&M’s, dried fish, dried eel, something like green French
fries that tasted like Wasabi, and dried mouse.

The only thing I recognized were the M&M's. The mouse is the brown at top of platter.

I asked, “What?”  Su Jin said “Mouse,
like Mickey.”  Imagine something as flat
as a pancake.  She was telling me this as
she was cutting it up into strips with scissors.  By the way, did I mention, “When in Rome?”  Yeah, I ate more than one piece.

I have not
mentioned Soju ( to you yet.  I think that is what makes it bearable for
Koreans to eat this stuff.  After a few
shots of that, I think anything is possible.
If you have never had it, go to your medicine cabinet and get out the
rubbing alcohol.  Drink the entire
bottle.  That’s about one shot of that
stuff.  Look, I have had moonshine in my

Liquid rocket fuel they call Soju in Korea.

youth and that is about how powerful that stuff is.  I believe that is the real reason the space
shuttles were canceled, due to lack of liquid fuel for the main tank.  It’s all being exported to Korea.  I noticed after a few shots of that stuff
unique drinking habits.  When we would
toast, Kang place his left palm upon the area of his right nipple, and Su Jin
would cup her glass in both palms, and turn at a 90 degree angle to me,
drinking looking down.  When I asked,
they explained the rituals pertaining to hierarchy and submission to one in
higher rank.  For the female, she is to
hide her face to me and his hand position was in submission to me since I was
elder.  It is amazing the subtleties
here.  They also told me that as long as
your shot glass is in front of you that means you still wish to drink.  You place it to the side when you have had
enough.  That should have been the first
part of the dining experience they told me, not one of the last.  Ok, quail eggs came up.  No difference than chicken eggs, just hard to
peel because they were so small.  Either
that or it was the Soju.

Anyone that
knows me knows that I talked politics.  I
explained the Stalinist Federal government and their war of aggression
currently being waged against the sovereign states and the valiant efforts of
Tea Party folks such as myself fighting the fight.

We must stand strong against the new War of Northern Aggression currently being waged!

The only way that I could explain it was to
paint the picture of Ulsan being a state, Seoul being a state, Busan being a
separate state, independent yet uniting in a limited fashion.  It was a totally inconceivable concept to
them.  By the way, it was amazing to
watch them grab their phones and look for the definitions of what I was saying
during the course of the night.  They
would punch in my spellings for words in question, I would say yea or nay, and
then off they would go speaking 90 to nothing in Korean bouncing the concepts
off of each other.  I can honestly say
they learned as much about me and American culture as I theirs.

Finally the
main course arrived.  There is one thing
that I have really learned that we miss out on as Americans, (other than the
dried mouse and larva), is the meal environment.  Everything comes in on one plate.  Everyone eats off that plate, dipping with
their chopsticks to eat whatever they want.

Your jaw gets a good workout from chewing the rubbery tentacles.

In America, for the most part, folks fill up their plate and rarely sit
at the table.  There is a lack of social
interaction and exhortation of one another.
In Korea the family structure is the most important thing.  This past week was the Korean New Year.  Koreans went to their home town wherever it
was to be together as a family.  Kang
said it could be huge, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc.  I look at my extended family and we could not
even get everyone together in the hospital room at one time when my father was
there due to cancer, not knowing if he was going to live.  I will not even mention holidays.  It’s a damn shame, but I digress.  Octopus.
Rome?  Yeah, you know that saying
by now.  It was not bad.  Kinda chewy, but it tasted good, but that
could have been the Soju speaking.

To wrap it
all up, I had a truly blessed night.
Debey and I have been invited to their wedding as I am now basically
part of their family, and I would not dream of missing it.  They were honored that I would come.  I made it home fine, as I only had a few
toasts to their marriage and our friendship.
They were amazed how I was as an American, that I was trying so hard to
learn of their culture and inserting myself as to depth that I am.  I am as equally honored that they would allow
me to be part of them, to be open to me without fear of asking questions.  This is a lifelong relationship that is being
developed and I truly love them.  Thank
you God for putting me where You have, at the time that You have, for Your
glory may I be faithful.

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Good morning Alabama

I am now
going to step out and create a blog.  I
figured it was about time I step into the modern era of electronic
communications.  Of course, I am sure
that there are 3rd or 4th generation advancements past a blog, but I got to

To be a Redneck, one must know what is acceptable.

walk before I can run.  Just to forewarn
everyone, if you are not fluent in “redneck”, you may need to search
for a translation program on the net, as “English” is my 2nd
language.  I had a difficult time explaining to Kang that “Redneck” is a term of endearment back in Alabama. Continue reading

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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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