Lee, Chan Ok of Seoul, Republic of Korea
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“Lee, Chan Ok of Seoul, Republic of Korea,” Friend, Aug. 2001, 46

Making Friends:
Lee, Chan Ok* of Seoul, Republic of Korea

Lee, Chan Ok (7) lives in the sky—twenty-three stories high in one of hundreds of apartment buildings that rise in clusters above her immense city. Seoul is the capital of the Republic of Korea and home to some twelve million people. From her balcony, Chan Ok has a wide view but still sees only a small part of the city she loves.

Seoul offers the best of the old and new. Skyscraping office buildings cast long shadows over the serene palaces of past dynasties (a series of rulers of the same family), and five gates still stand in a city wall built in the fourteenth century.

Most people here wear western clothing, but they also own the traditional and beautiful hanbok and gladly don it for wedding celebrations, festivals, and other special occasions. Food can be bought in modern stores, prepackaged and shrink-wrapped, or it can be purchased in sprawling outdoor markets where the aroma of fish, spices, fruit, and a thousand other delights mingle in the air.

Koreans love good food and are wonderful cooks. Rice is served at most meals, with a great variety of tasty side dishes, including fish, noodles, dumplings, soup, and barbecued beef. Many of these dishes feature seasonal vegetables and are flavored with pepper. Perhaps the favorite food is kimchee, a spicy pickled cabbage that is beloved of Koreans.

The evening meal is an important family time for the Lees. They usually eat at a low table while sitting on the floor, each with a bowl of rice. They use metal chopsticks and add side dishes to their rice from serving bowls in the middle of the table. Chan Ok has no assigned chores, but she eagerly helps her mother prepare meals and do other tasks.

Though Seoul is crowded, it has saved space for many beautiful parks as well as museums, gardens, and shrines. The storied River Han runs through the city, spanned by twenty bridges. One “bridge,” however, is not near the river. The Seoul South Korea Temple spans the gap between heaven and earth, and Chan Ok loves to see it.

Seoul’s twelve million residents are largely unknown to each other except as a sea of nameless faces. But Chan Ok knows something that brings the cold numbers to life—every one of this vast throng is a child of Heavenly Father, well known and deeply loved by Him.

She is certain that Heavenly Father knows her, too. She can believe that, knowing everything, He knows that she likes to sing along with her favorite artists on the radio and television, and dance in front of the mirror. That she won an award for a dance she performed at a stake talent night. That she likes to help her mother cook and enjoys setting the table with chopsticks and spoons. That her favorite snack is ta po ke, a spicy concoction of rice cake with vegetables and hot pepper sauce.

She can believe that He knows that she wants to be a singer or a nurse when she grows up and that her mother doesn’t want her to be a singer because she would face bad influences and have to work on Sunday. That her very favorite song isn’t one of the popular tunes she enjoys but “I Am Like a Star Shining Brightly.” That her favorite subject in school is Korean and that her least favorite is maths. That she is a good listener who senses when her brother, Chan Joon (11), or one of her sisters, Mesun (15) or Jin Sook (12), is lonely.

Knowing that everyone is known by Heavenly Father, Chan Ok goes about her life, confident of her own worth and the worth of others. She has many friends at school, which she can see from the windows of her apartment. She attends school six days a week and studies two or three hours at home each evening. Her teachers like her because she volunteers to run errands or do other tasks for them. In Korean schools, the students themselves clean the classrooms and bathrooms at the end of the day. Some do this grudgingly, but Chan Ok pitches in enthusiastically and does not stop till the room is spotless.

When asked if there was anything she would like to say to the children of the world, Chan Ok replied, “I’d like to meet them all in person and tell them that God lives. I want to give them my love and introduce them to my family.”

She shares a room with her sisters, and they sometimes help her style her hair and choose clothes. They are good friends, and she looks up to them and admires their achievements. Mesun, for example, is a gifted diver who has won international recognition in her age group.

Jin Sook speaks English and is a talented singer and a very eager reader of books. She has stayed in close touch with all her teachers.

Chan Joon is a computer whiz and Chan Ok’s personal computer tutor. He also likes baseball and soccer and has many friends. Sometimes he and Chan Ok have wrestling contests.

Chan Ok feels great love for her grandparents. When her grandfather was seriously ill, it was she who suggested a family prayer. She also loves her parents. She likes to give her mom hugs and sit on her dad’s lap in the evening. She often writes notes to her parents expressing love or appreciation. One said simply, “Mom, Dad, thank you.”

They return the love. “Her very existence makes our family happier,” Brother Lee explains.

Sister Lee agrees. “I’m so grateful to the Lord for giving her to us. My love for her grows every year.”

Korea is known as “The Land of the Morning Calm,” but it hasn’t always been calm. The Republic of Korea, or South Korea as it is usually called, has been half of a divided country since World War II. In 1950 it was invaded by North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There followed a horrible three-year war that destroyed much of Seoul. It has since been rebuilt into a modern city. There is still tension between the north and south, but everyone hopes that someday the two Koreas can be peacefully reunited.

That day may be hastened by people like Chan Ok and her family, people who realize that Heavenly Father knows and loves everyone, whether they live in the north, the south, the east, or the west. Or twenty-three stories straight up in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Photographed by Melvin Leavitt

The people of Seoul shop in traditional marketplaces as well as in modern supermarkets.

The Lee family enjoys eating together.

The Lee family enjoys playing together.

Chan Ok is close to her sisters. Here, Mesun helps her dress in a traditional Korean costume.

The Seoul South Korea Temple links time and eternity.

Seoul is a huge, bustling city, but there is always room for quiet beauty.