The first time we went to Germany was in 1986 on my husband’s Fulbright Grant. When I stepped off the plane I knew only ‘Bahnhof’ and ‘Sprechen Sie Englisch?’ After several months of studying the language with a private teacher, she suggested I take proper classes at the local Volkshochschule. So I signed up for an intensive course that was every morning for 4 hours for two weeks. The class consisted of 12 students from 11 different countries. One of the students was a Christian missionary from Korea who worked with Youth With a Mission. She had previously worked in Japan and was only recently deployed to Germany. Her name was Kyung Suk, and she was delightful. She quickly became the darling of the class because she had an awful time enunciating German correctly. My classmates would take her out to the pub afterwards and try for hours to get her to say, “Ich liebe dich” (I love you). Kyung Suk couldn’t do it. It sounded like, “Icky libby dicky”.
Kyung Suk also had a big heart and had invited us over to the student apartment house in which she was living for a meal. She and I connected over the fact that I love Korean food. My sister-in-law is Korean, so I was used to eating fare like kimchee, red bean popsicles, and sweetened barley water on ice.
Later that Spring I became pregnant with my first child. Our daughter was born the following January in the Frauenklinik in Tuebingen. At that time, if you didn’t choose to have an ‘ambulanten’ birth – to go home the same day – then you were kept for 5 days at least in the hospital. Since it was my first child, my doctor recommended that I opt to stay. I’m really glad I did because I had a special visitor each day. About the third day, Kyung Suk appeared in my room. I was really surprised as I hadn’t seen her for quite awhile. On her arm she had a wicker basket and in her hand a silver flask. She was also wearing a big grin. You have to understand that the only language Kyung Suk and I had in common was German, and neither of us spoke it very well. She placed the basket on my bed and began to unwrap the most amazing Korean feast – rice, beef, vegetables. The flask contained a special seaweed soup that is traditionally given to women who have just given birth to aid in the production of breastmilk. It was all thoughtfully planned and cooked. “No kimchee”, she apologized in halting German, “It’s bad for the baby.”
Because we only had student insurance, this wasn’t a private room. There were four other new mothers in the room, and they were turning green with envy as I tucked hungrily into the amazing feast on my bed. Kyung Suk and I talked as best we could, and when I was finished eating, she packed up her basket and left.
You can imagine my amusement when I was told the following story by our landlady’s housekeeper about a week later. “Oh when I had my son, my husband brought me a dozen roses to the hospital. I yelled at him: ‘Roses!! I don’t want roses! I’m hungry; I want food!” I didn’t get to tell her about my Korean feast, but I heard in my head ‘The Lord knows the desires of your heart’ (even if your husband doesn’t!)