Today would be our first time during community service as a full NSLI-Y Group. We had to meet at 청량리역 bright and early so I had to wake up before 6 am–something I have not done in a very long time (since I got out for winter break from 하나고, to be honest). The station we were going to was very confusing so 민정쌤 told us to not come in on any line but line 1, that it would be easier to find the exit since it is not connected to the same building of the other two lines. However, this transfer caused me a lot of stress and ended up making me late since the trains seemed to all be late today. My first train on the 경의중앙 line was late and so I ended up missing my transfer train and then my next transfer train was late so overall I ended up being about 5 minutes late to the meeting time. (Though I will argue that I am one of the individuals that lives the farthest from this station!)
Anyways, we walked to the location of the community service together and piled into the church to hear about their purpose, the origins of the organization, as well as to hear the instructions of what we would be doing for them today. The Dail Community (다일공동체) works to provide lunch for the poor elderly in the surrounding area. The elderly may be homeless or living alone, or just not receiving enough wages to afford to eat for 3 meals a day. Some of them have disabilities or mental health issues. Some younger adults will come through but we were informed that they often are ridiculed by the others (because they are still young and able to go out and get a job) and so they will try to make themselves look older so no one knows. Hearing this, made me feel pretty sad… I would hope that if someone needs help, they would not feel embarrassed to seek the help they so desperately need. We got to watch a short video about the work that 밥퍼 also does abroad in countries like Tanzania and The Philippines to help feed hungry kids. It was all very touching and it made me excited to lend my hands to this organization today.
After discussing all that we did, we got to ready to perform the community service. We put on aprons, rain boots, and tied up our hair and were led to the kitchen where we would first prepare the food and then later serve it. For the 45 minutes or so, I was on chicken duty: peeling the skin off and deboning the chicken before shredding it in order for it be made into soup. Once we finished all of that, the elderly started piling into the dining area. We were given new jobs that involved either helping pass out food, collecting money, or actually serving the food. I was on rice duty at first, meaning I served the rice onto the lunch trays. After about 5 minutes, this old man switched with me and I later found out it was probably because he could not do more of the laborious tasks–which I was given instead.
I was on dishwashing duty with Josh and we focused on washing bigger dishes in a large sink with hoses. We cleaned the large pots that had rice cooked in them and we also cleaned the pots that contained the soup, meat, and the side dishes. This involved scrubbing the remnants of food off before using soap and water to finish the job off. While I was cleaning, my back began to hurt and I accidentally got my left arm soaked with dirty dishwater which made me wish that time would go by faster or that I was doing something else. But from the station I was at washing the dishes, I could look out the door and see a long winding line of old people–hungry for nutrition. Seeing all these people out there reminded me how much all of this food meant to them. They needed our help. I saw those people waiting outside and realized that the faster I cleaned these pots, the sooner they could be used to make more food. We were helping these people. It felt good providing them with our time to help out.
We served lunch for the elderly for two hours. Once 1pm came around, we started cleaning up for a little bit before stopping for lunch. We ate the same things that were served to the elderly with some extra beef added in just for us. We ate the chicken, potato, onion soup (It tasted so much like the chicken noodle soup my mom makes! At that moment, I really missed her) with beef, seaweed and anchovies, kimchi, rice, and a tangerine. Everything was very delicious. We had to eat our lunch in less than 20 minutes and then hurry back to the kitchen to finish cleaning.
I returned to the large sinks in the back with Josh and we cleaned the rest of the big pots and bowls. Eventually, we were told to put away our aprons and gloves and head outside for a group photo as we were done with our community service. I could not figure out where to put my gloves so I asked one of the older ladies still washing some utensils. She showed me how to turn the rubber glove inside out using this method that involved twisting the glove until air collected in the palm area and then squeezing the end which caused the fingers to pop out. It actually was really fun. After I finished my two gloves, I realized that there was a pile of gloves from the other students so I proceeded to do those too. I asked the lady once again to show me and I was able to do them faster and with more success the more I went on. The lady told me that I could bring this skill back to America and show my mom. It was a very cute interaction.
After taking photos and taking off our rain boots, we had time to fill out a reflection about our time volunteering. I really enjoyed thinking about everything and I even wrote my reflection in Korean just because I wanted to try. I think it was not too bad…
I originally planned on going home and studying at a cafe for a bit in order to get a start on my homework and presentation but when I was with everyone, I had the urge to hang out with them. Katie, Shannon, and Kaitlyn were planning on visiting a healing cafe in 신촌 and I decided to tag along (and convince June to come with us). I had the goal to study while there but if I am being honest… I was only able to study one grammar point. But looking back, I am not mad about it! This cafe was so cool and I am glad I took advantage of it!
When we first arrived, we took off our shoes and put them in lockers. We went to go and talk to the cafe employee to pay for how many hours we wanted as well as to order our drinks. (Guess what I got? I know that you are probably right–it was a hot green tea latte.) We paid about 9,900 Won (less than $10) for two hours at the cafe (with a 30-minute massage). After dropping off our coats and bags in the little cubbies, we went to get massaged. I have sat in a massage chair before but these were like on another level! I picked the massage type that focused on the back, shoulder, hips, and butt for total refreshment. It was so good but also so painful! If I come back, I am going to have to try another one–maybe the deep sleep one.
At the cafe, I goofed around with June and Kaitlyn who were in the same cubby hole as me. After the time was up, I took the train back home with June because she only lives two stops away from me. We had to transfer at 홍대 and would be transferring onto the 경의중앙 line which were both nonideal situations. When getting on the train, we realized–via subway announcement–that we were on an express train which explained why we were packed into the car like sardines! I was in front of June so I could rest my head on her but she was squished in between these two men and could not even move her head to fully look at me. It was very uncomfortable until the last possible stop when everyone cleared out.
I came home and ate dinner with my host sisters which was a lot of fun. We ate this spicy beef stew type thing (maybe 매운갈비찜 but I am not sure). Again, they were surprised I could eat it so well because even my older sister kept breathing in and out harshly as she drank the soup. We had a lot of fun conversation again about office life, our least favorite foods, spicy food, nicknames for different countries (For example, 스시국 is Japan– translates to Sushi Country), as well as this really funny story my older sister had on a plane ride. She was taking a flight from one American state to another with a friend and this man sat in between them. She explained to me how smelly this man was. She even wanted to switch seats because of it. She explained that she never thought that Americans were smellier than Koreans (since that is a stereotype and one that can be true if you think about deodorant) but that was the one time she experienced something like that, something that made her consider the stereotype. After dinner, I zoomed to my room to work on my project on the differences between work life in America and Korea. My older host sister helped me with the conversation we had over dinner and she even gave me some data to use! It was very helpful. I ended up going to bed after 1am because of the project and studying grammar for the quiz.
That was my blog post for the day! It was a very long and tiring day, but it was also a lot of fun and very rewarding. These 빨리 빨리 (fast fast) days keep me on my toes!! I hope you enjoyed reading! Till next time~
- Emma 엠마