Monday, May 30, 2011

It's uncomfortable to be the minority

When I arrived in Korea to begin my mission in 1972 it was mid-August and in the middle of monsoon season.  It rained pretty hard for the first week I was there.  My transfer to Kwang Ju wasn't scheduled for a week after we arrived, so I spent the first week working out of the mission home.  Everyday, the Assistants to the President would take me to an area somewhere in Seoul and have me pair off with those missionaries for the day.

When it finally came time for me to travel to southern Korea to begin my work in Kwang Ju there had to be a change in plans for my trip.  Because it rained so hard there had been some flooding and the railroad tracks were washed out.  So instead of taking the train to Kwang Ju, I was put on a bus, by myself, and told to expect to change buses half way down once I got to a city called, Chun Ju.  Well, it was pretty scary being alone without a companion and not speaking or understanding Korean very well.  The trip to Chun Ju was pretty uneventful and I arrived at the bus station without a problem.  By the time I got off the bus there was already some old guy who had grabbed by suitcase and had it on his backpack.  In Korea, they use a "backpack" that is sort of an A-frame made out of wood to carry things around.  This old guy was hoping to make some money by carrying my suitcase.  I told him in Korean (at least, I think I told him) that I wanted to go to Kwang Ju.  I thought the next bus that I needed to take would be right there at the bus station.  But the old guy started leaving the bus station and I was concerned because I didn't know what to do.  He eventually stopped at a taxi stand and started giving my suitcase to the cab driver.  This had me concerned because I knew Kwang Ju was still far away and a cab ride would be extremely expensive.  I told the cab driver (at least, I think I told him) that I wanted to go to Kwang Ju by bus.  By the way, all along these guys were talking to me in Korean and I had no idea what they were saying.

The cab drove down the road for a bit and then pulled into another bus station.  It turns out that here is where I was to catch the bus to Kwang Ju.  Nobody told me that there were two bus stations in Chun Ju.  I wonder now if I should have just stayed on the first bus and waited for it to stop at the second bus station.  Anyway, I was able to purchase a ticket to Kwang Ju and was soon on my way again.  The trip to Kwang Ju was interesting.  The road was gravel and bumpy the whole way.  I had my cassette tape recorder stowed over my head in the luggage rack.  It was enclosed in a fake plastic cover with a strap.  When I finally got to Kwang Ju there was a hole worn in the cover where it had bounced repeatedly against the luggage rack.

When I got to Kwang Ju, I got off the bus and went into the bus terminal building to wait for my new companion to arrive and take me home.  I waited and waited and waited.  Nobody came.  I remember looking around at the people in the bus station.  All eyes were on me.  I was the only me gook salam (American) in the building and must of been quite a sight for these Koreans.  It was not that comfortable having everybody staring at me.  Eventually a nice girl come up to me and asked if she could help (at least, I think that's what she asked).  I told her I was a missionary and was waiting for my companion to come for me.  We ended up going across the street to a tea house to see if we could find a number in the phone book to call.  I was uncomfortable before, but now I was in a tea house with a really cute girl and was really uncomfortable.  We found a phone number for the church and made a call, but nobody answered.

I thanked the girl and went back to the bus station to wait.  Finally, I spotted three American missionaries walking toward me and was so glad to see them.  One was my new companion, Elder Fisher, and the other two were missionaries that shared our house, Elder Tate and Elder Webb. I can't remember why it took them so long to pick me up.  I just knew it felt safe to finally have my companions with me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I forgot about my paper route

I had a paper route when I was in 7th and 8th grade.  Every afternoon (except Sundays when we did the route in the morning) I would go to a pick-up box at the entrance to our subdivision and get my papers.  I had to roll them up, put a rubber band around them, and stick them in a bag that went over my neck (with papers in a large front pocket and a large back pocket).  Then I would ride my bike through the neighborhood and throw a paper on the driveway or porch of those who subscribed.  At the end of each month, I had to go to each house and "collect" the money that they owed for the month.

One Saturday, my parents needed to go to Sacramento (about 2 hours away) and left me by myself because I had collecting to do.  That morning I went over to my friend, Pat Erickson's, house to see if he wanted to play.  He told me that he was going with his family to Santa Rosa (also about 2 hours away, but in a different direction).  He asked me if I wanted to go.  I knew I was supposed to be doing my collecting, but figured there would still be time to do it another day.  And I really wanted to go.  So I said yes and got in the car with the Ericksons and off we went.  After we had been on the road for about an hour I had a terrible realization.  My paper route!  I needed to deliver the papers that day and I was on my way to Santa Rosa.  I can't describe how sick I felt.  But I also didn't want to make Mrs. Erickson mad at me by saying I had to go back home.

So I just hoped the trip to Santa Rosa would be short and that we would return in time for me to deliver my papers.  I felt terrible all day long.  And the trip wasn't short.  The Ericksons stayed in Santa Rosa forever.  It was well after dark when we finally got home.  I found out that my boss had had to deliver the papers for me.  My parents weren't home from Sacramento yet and I just waited knowing that I was in big trouble.  When they got home, I had to tell them what happened and they were not happy.  I ended up getting grounded and having to pay my boss for delivering my papers.  Luckily, he did not fire me. 

I have tried to never let this sort of thing with any job happen again.  When other people are paying you to do a job, they have a right to expect that you will do the job to the best of your ability, and that you will not shirk your responsibilities.  I hope I am a better employee now because of the things I learned from messing up as a paper boy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Don't pound on bullets

When I was little, it must have been when I was about 4 years old, my friend and I found some .22 bullets in his garage.  We thought it would be fun to pound on them with a hammer and make a neat explosion.  So we put them on the work bench one at a time and hit them with the hammer till they shot off.  We had no idea that besides the explosion, the .22 slug was also shooting out into the air.  We were lucky that we didn't get killed.

Anyway, after I hit one of the bullets it shot off and the slug grazed the middle finger on my right hand.  I don't remember it hurting too much, but I do remember that it bled a lot.  I ran home to get some first aid and knew I would be in trouble.  I remember making up a story (that is, I told a lie) that I had cut my finger in my friend's toy lawnmower.  I had just made things worse by telling that lie.  Eventually the truth came out and I got in trouble for hitting bullets and for telling a lie.  I still have a scar on the back of the middle finger of my right hand. 

I learned that it was not good to pound on bullets and it was not good to lie.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I wish I never tried to steal home base

I used to love to play baseball.  When I played little league, I was the catcher.  It was so cool to put on all of the catcher's gear; the mask, the chest protector, the shin guards, and then use the neat catcher's mitt.  It was a little scary to crouch behind the batter and almost get hit by the swinging bat.  But it was fun because I was in on almost every play, even if it was to just catch the pitched ball and throw it back to the pitcher.  One problem, I didn't have a very strong arm.  Catchers need to be able to throw down to second base when a runner tries to steal.  I'm not sure I ever threw a runner out at second.

I was a fast runner and liked to steal bases when I got a chance.  I remember one game we were behind and I got on base in the final inning.  Somehow I worked my way around to third base.  I can't remember if others on my team got hits or if I stole 2nd and 3rd base.  When I got to 3rd base, I noticed that the pitcher would always walk a few steps toward the catcher before receiving the ball from him.  Then he would turn around and walk back to the pitcher's mound.  It seemed to me that whenever he did this he lost track of me standing on third base.  I thought that I might be able to steal home if I took off just as he turned and started his walk back to the mound.  So without any signal from the coach, I took off for home after the next pitch.  Well, the pitcher immediately saw me break for home and just had to turn around and lob the ball to the catcher.  The catcher caught the ball about 10 minutes before I got to the base.  He just had to stand there and tag me as I futilely tried to slide in safe.  I was out.  It was the last out of the inning, the last out of the game.  We had lost and it was my fault.  If I had stayed on base instead of trying to steal, who knows what would have happened with the batters that were next in line.  We might have won.  The other players were really mad at me and the coach was really mad at me.  It was not a happy time for me.

I learned that I should wait for instructions from my coach before doing something as crazy as trying to steal home.  I also learned that I misjudged my own capabilities.  I thought I was fast enough to make it to home plate before the pitcher noticed me.  It turns out, nobody is that fast.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Your eyes can fool you

One of the funnest things I did as a Boy Scout was a 50 mile hike in the high Sierras of California.  We took six days for the hike.  As I recall we started near a place called Mono Lake and ended at a place called Tuolumne Meadows.  The first day we had to hike up an elevation of several thousand feet.  We had to go over a place called Duck Pass.  I remember a long series of switch backs that took us up the face of a steep mountainside.  Many of us got sick (probably altitude sickness) and were throwing up.  Not to mention the blisters that formed on our feet.  But as we came over the pass we could see down to a beautiful blue lake called Duck Lake.  We had reached our first campsite and were very glad to finally rest.

Our Scout Master was in the Air Force Reserve and had made arrangements for a military airplane to fly over our location on about the fourth day of our hike.   They had plans to drop us some supplies.  They were planning to drop one box attached to a parachute (with the fragile stuff), and several boxes packed for a "free fall" drop (less fragile stuff).  In preparation for the drop, we were deployed around the drop site to make sure that someone would be likely to see all of the dropped boxes and find them all.  When the airplane showed up, our Scout Master lit a purple flare to mark the drop site and when the plane was overhead, out came the parachute.  It floated right down to the area of the flare.  Then we saw the free-fall boxes start to drop out of the side of the plane, one by one.

Here is where my eyes got fooled.  I remember seeing a box drop out of the plane right over top of where I was standing.  It looked to me like it was going to land right on my head.  It scared me.  I remember dashing for cover to protect myself from being hit.  But as I watched the box I noticed that it wasn't really dropping toward me at all.  In reality it ended up landing way up the mountainside, not even close to me.  We had to hike for quite awhile to finally find the box.  I was amazed that I had been so fooled.  I guess without anything else in the sky as a reference it was just hard to tell where the box was heading.  Only when it got lower and we could see it in relation to the mountaintop could we tell where it was was really heading.

That night we had parachuted hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner and even Popsicles for dessert.  We also got mail from our parents.  It was fun to get supplies dropped right in our lap.  Otherwise, we would have had to carry everything for the whole week in our backpacks.  Unfortunately for our Scout Master, he had to put the parachute in his backpack and carry it out for the final three days of the hike.

The hike was hard but very fun.  We spent weeks preparing for it by taking a series of smaller hikes.  It was definitely a learning experience for me.  One thing that I learned is that you can't always trust your eyes.