This is what my sister-in-law said to me two weeks ago as she put her arm around me as I walked out of my Korean class for the last time, tears sliding down my cheeks.
I know some of you might think "It's just an end to a class, everyone goes through these kinds of things, why does it matter so much?" So I will give you a little history about it and let you experience a little of the love and kindness (I can't even begin to tell you how much!) I was shown by this wonderful person I am so blessed to call 선생님, my teacher.
As I have told you all before, two years ago the Lord really laid the North Koreans on my heart. I began to research everything Korean, not just North Korea, but all of it! The food, people, etiquette, culture, government, everything I could. At first I began to study the language by myself, using the Internet, books, Cd's, anything I could find. But I wanted to be able to speak Korean not just to get by and say I could, but to really know the language and to be able to communicate with the locals the way that they communicate within themselves.
I told my mom about my desire and what I wanted to do. We talked about the possibility of getting a Korean teacher but we really didn't know where to start looking. At the time I was only just barely fifteen and so my mom wanted to find some one who was trustworthy :)
One day we walked to the corner by my house and went to eat at a Korean fusion restaurant that was there called Genkiyaki: House of Teriyaki (It's amazing by the way and is home to the infamous Death and Zombie Taco's! Check it out next time your in Lakewood CA!) The restaurant had just opened up not to long ago by a Korean family. In the seven years that my family lived there, there was probably four different restaurants in that same location. I suppose the others went bankrupt or moved to a different location or something but anyway, David (the shop owner) ended up buying the property and started Genkiyaki.
My family had been going to this little shop since the day we moved to LA, even through the change of hands the restaurant kept going through, so we ended up going to Genkiyaki's opening day and absolutely loved it and continued to go back. At the time we knew the owner and his family by being there a lot, but not super well. But on that day that we went up and got some food my mom said to me after we got home "Gabby, you should go up to Genkiyaki and ask David or the Ajumma (David's mom who works there with him) about getting Korean lessons. They are Christians and we do know them somewhat... You should ask if any of them or any one they know would be interested in helping you!" At first I was kind of reluctant to go and ask them something like that. I had spoken to David's mom a couple of times in Korean and they knew I was interested in learning, but to go that far and ask them that kind of favor when we didn't really know one another on a personal scale seemed a bit awkward. But somehow I found myself walking up to the shop the next day :)
David wasn't there when I had gone and so I had to try to communicate with his mom who spoke/speaks little English! I ended up getting my point across I think with her Korean and broken English and my English and broken Korean, lol. She told me she had someone in mind and to come back the following week. The next week I went up and was greeted by Ajumma and a small, petite, older Korean Lady whom I will call Halmoni (Grandmother). Now David again wasn't there or was to busy in the back to come out and help me translate so I was on my own again, and Halmoni knew less English then Ajumma did!
Halmoni asked me basic questions like: How old are you? Where do you go to school? Have you taken Korean at all before? And then she asked me something that kind of threw me off... she asked me would I rather she teach me or her husband? I think I kind of stared at her with a blank expression. I thought I was having an interview with the woman who was going to be my teacher but she was asking me would I rather her husband teach me. I thought to myself "How am I supposed to know if I've never met him!" She went on to tell me that her husband was so funny and is good with younger people, he was a teacher and a principle back in Korea, and he spoke better English! I could only laugh inside myself thinking about what I was getting myself into. I ended up telling her that I would go with whatever she thought was best.
As I got up to leave Halmoni told me to come back in two weeks on Wednesday at 10:30am and I would start Korean lessons ( I would later learn that David opened up the shop early for me every Wednesday so that I could have a peaceful Korean lesson before the shop opened and people started flowing in. God has been so good to me!) She told me that we would do it for three weeks and see how it goes and then I could decide what I wanted to do after that. So again I left and came back two weeks later.
I walked into a pretty empty restaurant and stood waiting, waiting for I wasn't sure who exactly. Not but a minuet later an older Korean man walked in. He was skinny but had a warm, round sense about him and was about the same height as me (though I think I'm a little taller now) and had this certain look on his face, as if he wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen but was just as excited for the journey as I was. He spotted me standing over in the corner and walked over to me. "Excuse me miss, are you Barbie?" He asked in a think accent. I had to giggle a little at that. "Hello," I said, "I'm Gabby". "Gabby?" He said, trying out my name. "It's nice to meet you." I said, offering my hand to him. After a moment he nodded and took both of my hands in his and looked up at me with his deep brown eyes and smiled. "Gabby, It's very nice to meet you." I knew at that moment that the Lord had placed this person in my life, had led me there to meet this person, had a purpose and a reason for it.
We never did ever end up discussing whether we would continue classes or not :)
Continued in part two.
Hangeul, the Korean alphabet