SANDY GRISHAM: Old teachers never die, they just lose their class

By Sandy Grisham

OK “class,” here’s the agenda for today: first, a wrap-up of New Zealand, and then a nanosecond glimpse into Seoul, Korea, before leaping headlong into Malaysia. How’s that sound?
First, to summarize New Zealand, here are the memories I will take away with me:
They are a whole lot further ahead of us in terms of conservation of resources; their two-button flushes on the toilets, one with half the amount of water, and the other with the full amount. You figure out which is for what. Their escalators stop running when people are not on them. Light switches and electrical outlets that must be turned on before they work, thus saving infinite amounts of energy. A public program of providing huge rain barrels for Auckland’s citizens to use for “gray water” functions.
They give a turn signal the minute they enter the roundabout so others will know just where they are going. (Heads up, Oxford readers.) They are always on time. You board the plane only 30 minutes before takeoff, and no sooner. They smile easily and are self-deprecating. There is no easily visible extreme wealth, and no poverty.
Their nation is indescribably beautiful – from the primeval forests to their majestic fjord lands with the deep glacier-created lakes, to their pounding azure seashores. Their people are striving hard to live in a multi-cultural society, with deep respect for the indigenous peoples as well as those who have come later. It is no wonder that our Ole Miss connection, John Scott and his Kiwi wife, Rachel, are supremely happy living there. While miles away from the beaten track, their lives there are full and rewarding.
However, the South Pacific was not always such a happy place for outsiders. While on the tour bus in Auckland, we had the privilege of meeting a descendant of George Gordon, a martyred Presbyterian missionary who had come to Erromango, Vanatu. In 1861, while we were struggling to save our nation, he and his wife were murdered and eaten by the native peoples who blamed them for the rains and poor crops (as their native religion had taught them). One hundred and fifty years later, the 1,500 islanders invited their descendants to come for a public apology. Bob Gordon and his daughter-in-law from Prince Edward Island, Canada, were proud to be a part of that event. It gave me chills as I listened to their story.

On to Seoul, Korea
A nanosecond on Seoul, Korea. We met Hyun Park, the husband of Min Jo Oh, Vaughn’s colleague at Ole Miss. At a late-night dinner, he ordered a typical Korean meal – but with less spice than usual out of respect for our tummies. Eating that meal took time, as civilized eating does, and we had many different dishes. We walked around the center city
where both the ancient and the new were comfortably juxtaposed. At midnight there was so much activity, it reminded me of my days in New York City. Seoul has long since moved out of third world status, with its automobiles, its electronics and other industries, its new buildings all around and more being built. New bridges, new streets, new parks – everywhere you look there is construction. It feels like a teenager: confident, energetic, optimistic and full of itself. Would love to be able to spend more than 24 hours here?

Now Malaysia
Imagine our joy when we were met at the Kuala Lumpur Airport by our boys. For Ben, it has been 21 years since we had seen each other; for Leong, it was 19, yet we all recognized the others, and hugged and hugged. They are, of course, no longer our boys, but grown men with children of their own about to be launched into adulthood – close to the ages they were when they came to Mississippi. (Many of you may remember Ben – Keng Beng Yeo worked at the People’s Bank under Ed Neelly in the late 1980s.) We are currently deeply immersed in their culture and their world, and will report in more detail next week. Meantime, we are eating squid, octopus and jellyfish – along with some other good stuff.
Don’t worry, you won’t be tested on this …

Sandy Grisham and her husband, Vaughn, live in Oxford. She is filing a weekly report from their around-the-world trip.