By The Numbers: MsCaroline's World Travels

It has been so long since I posted here, I suspect that most of my readers will have assumed by now that I've stopped keeping a blog and deleted me from their readers.  Actually, I had every intention of writing while I' was in the US ( I did manage to squeeze a post in while in Thailand), but jet lag, lingering malaise, and the whirlwind pace of activities left me very little time for sitting down to write once Son#1 and I arrived in the US to install him at University.  Ultimately, what with the busy-ness of the Festive Season, our trip to Thailand, and the almost immediate trip to the US, it turns out that I have spent a grand total of 3 nights in my own bed since 24 December, and (as I whined more than once on FaceBook) it also turns out that I am clearly getting too old for this sort of nonsense.

We returned from almost 2 weeks in Thailand, had 2 days to wash and re-pack, and then Son#1 and I headed to the US.  As many of you are aware,  due to circumstances beyond my control, I spent the first 36 or so hours in the US in bed at my in-laws', trying to re-hydrate myself and work through some of my trauma (I'll be just fine with a few years of therapy, really.)  Once I was back on my feet, Son#1 and I undertook the 6-hour journey back 'home' to the Texas city where our family had lived for 6 years before moving to Seoul and where Son#1 would be beginning his new life at Uni.

Once arrived, we were immediately plunged into a whirlwind of visiting and to-do lists as we tried to cram in all that needed to be done and purchased to get Son#1 settled in as well as all of the catching up with friends and the mad shopping frenzy of buying things from home that most expats know all too well.  MrLogical, of course, sent me off with a specific list of items to collect,  including oil filters for his car (a Japanese make, which means all parts must be special-ordered in Korea and therefore cost the earth, so why not have the wife just pop a few parts into her luggage to save a bit of cash down the road?), so - along with the items that I deemed necessary (and let's just say that the January sales back home were fabulous), I returned with two bulging suitcases and an eclectic assortment of items that may or may not have proved puzzling to the baggage examination folks in the TSA.

Given that I've been on the road (more or less) for over three weeks without posting more than once or twice, it seems almost impossible for me to catch up without writing a novel, so I thought I'd steal an idea from those 'end of the year' news shows and simply share a few highlights of both our Thailand and US trips 'by the numbers', which should (if I do it correctly) give you a general sense of both trips without boring you into a stupor.

7/36/52 - In the past 23 days, the:  a) number of flights I have taken, b) hours I have spent flying and c) hours I have spent in airports in and between 3 different countries.  Hardly worth noting for your seasoned world traveler, but way too much, especially at my age a lot for me.

9 - approximate number of times MrLogical and I reminded ourselves that Bangkok was no longer quite the tropical children's paradise of loving amahs, free candy at the markets, and year-round swimming we remembered from our elementary school days.  Reinforced regularly by the presence of condoms in the minibar, profusion of sex toys on offer in the street markets between the t-shirts and the Hello Kitty merchandise, and the high number of single male travelers (clearly not on business trips) at the breakfast buffet in our hotel.   

2 - high-pressure sales tours 'included' by our Bangkok tour guide after our trip to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha;  one, to a gem showroom, one to a tailor shop.  I'm sure that anyone with a desire to buy gems would have found bargains galore, but since none of us were interested (mind you, I was there with two teen boys and MrLogical) we viewed the whole thing as an annoying joke, with much obnoxious badinage. The tailors were luckier, and all 3 boys had dress shirts tailor-made for a very reasonable price, delivered the next afternoon to our hotel.

1-  embarrassing misunderstandings between Son#1 and well-meaning (but limited English-speaking) concierge at front desk of hotel in Bangkok, who confused Son#1's request for directions to a restaurant with a request for the services of a 'Thai friend.'

35(and counting) - minutes of laughter enjoyed by MrLogical and me remembering Son#1 recounting the above story.

6 - mornings that I sat on my balcony in Phuket, trying to memorize the mountains, the beach, the incredible blue sky, the tropical bird calls, and the bougainvillea spilling over my balcony, so I could take the image back with me to the grey winter of Seoul. 

1,379 -  Russian tourists on Kata beach in Phuket at any given moment during our stay there.  Immediately identifiable by tiny Lycra grape-smuggler bikini suits on  (often enormously corpulent) men,  apparent 3rd-degree sunburns on parties of both genders and grim and dour expressions on countenances at all times.

0- number of roommates present in university residence apartment when Nana and I helped Son#1 move in.

3- Number of roommates who would be sharing university apartment with Son#1 but still back home on Christmas break when we moved him into his bedroom.   Based on appearance of apartment, not obsessive about apartment hygiene.  As the mother of two teenage boys, I was not overly shocked by the state of the apartment (left, as it was, at the end of semester exams and right before Christmas break by 3 boys who were ready to head back home.)  However, Son#1's grandmother, who raised two girls, was clearly stunned.

6 - approximate number of cleaning products  purchased by Son #1's grandmother before tackling kitchen and bathroom of abovementioned university apartment, including rubber gloves.  *Note:  this number would have been significantly higher, except that it was clear that other female relatives had amply provided the other residents with (as yet, unused) cleaning supplies at the beginning of the term.

5 - containers of Clorox and Lysol handi-wipes located in bathroom and kitchen of university apartment, likely purchased by optimistic mothers of Son#1's roommates at beginning of 1st semester and never opened.

10 - lunches, coffees, and dinners with friends (and groups of friends) I had while in Texas.

15- (and probably more than that) people I did not have time to see due to scheduling conflicts and who I still feel bad about.

5- number of pounds I probably gained from all those lunches, coffees and dinners.

6 or 7 - times I was overwhelmed by waves of homesickness while in the US and a desire to chuck the whole expat experience and move home.

4-  times I handed or received money in the US holding my elbow as is the custom in Korea (one always gives and receives items with two hands or at least one hand touching the other elbow) and immediately felt stupid and pretentious.

14-  times I went to Target, just because I could.

3:30 -  time I seem to wake up in the morning when I have jet lag, regardless of time zone or location,

5 - pairs of shoes I bought while in the US.  (Yes, they have shoes in Seoul, but they tend to be narrow and to run quite small.)  Finding 'larger' sizes (US 8 is about as big as they get; I wear a 7 and that is hard to find) is a challenge.  I have never bought so many shoes so quickly and so decisively.  No time to dither.

6 - boxes of Mucinex (guafenesin) extra-strength extended release 1200-mg tablets preferred by MrLogical and unprocurable in South Korea, the amount needed to tide over MrLogical (aka 'Mr. Allergies') until we go back on home leave this summer.  Fleeting concerns about being arrested as drug mule at Incheon but clear conscience as to the fact that items were purchased for personal use.

200- dollars' worth of charges for overweight bag on return trip to Seoul

3- pounds' worth of gourmet Thai curry blends jettisoned at airline ticket counter to avoid paying  abovementioned overweight charges.

1 - times I fell apart over leaving Son#1 in the US while I headed back to Seoul.  It only happened once, when I said goodbye to him.  This is another one of those expat moments that make you think twice about living overseas, and I cannot think of a single lighthearted or amusing thing to say about it.  That is all.


Wilma said…
Thank you for making me tear up with the last paragraph. :( Glad to hear that you are home safe and sound and he is safely ensconced at the university.
MsCaroline said…
Sorry, Wilma - I had been so busy and tried so hard to keep it together all week, and it completely took me - and him - by surprise when I broke down. I pulled myself together very quickly, though. I wanted so badly to stay composed - just couldn't seem to hold it together all the way through.
Seems that keeping busy is the key...sigh.
Karen said…
Like Wilma...thanks for the tears. As I said, I am becoming less and less enthusiastic about sending off Daughter #1 (using your lexicon) come September. And she will be living right in our tiniest of tiny states!
However, the rest kept me vastly amused, as only you can do. Really want to hear more about Son#1's "misunderstanding!" Wouldn't do to embarrass the guy, though! So glad you are home safe and sound...stay awake during those meetings!
Trish said…
A fabulous post, covering everything in your usual witty, engaging way.

I never blog when I'm on holiday - the boys appreciate it and I feel it much better to come home, sort out photos and post when it's all clear in my head. So don't worry, we readers would never have abandoned you.
MsCaroline said…
Karen - So far, I am thanking the stars above for Skype and FaceBook - we've actually chatted quite a bit since I've been home, so I've been doing OK. As far as the 'misunderstanding' goes, I had to promise to write about it in the vaguest possible terms just to get approval to blog about it. In fact, after Chan and I stopped laughing, just about the first thing he said was, 'do not put this in the blog.' Sigh. And it was such a good story!
MsCaroline said…
Trish- thanks so much! It's always a challenge for me to maintain some sort of brevity! You do make a good point, though -I think the next time we are out of town, I'll leave some sort of 'Gone on Holiday' post and just enjoy myself, instead of feeling guilty - I certainly would never stop reading your blog just because you're away for a bit.
MsCaroline said…
Trish- thanks so much! It's always a challenge for me to maintain some sort of brevity! You do make a good point, though -I think the next time we are out of town, I'll leave some sort of 'Gone on Holiday' post and just enjoy myself, instead of feeling guilty - I certainly would never stop reading your blog just because you're away for a bit.
Good to hear about your travels in such an amusing way - sorry to hear Bangkok wasn't as you remembered, but have to chuckle over the concierge.....
MsCaroline said…
NVG - Well, according to my mother, Bangkok was like that when we lived there, too, but I was (obviously) too young to remember it. The concierge incident will undoubtedly go down in the history of our family as one of the funniest vacation episodes...we are still laughing!
A classic post, made me smile and also understand so vividly the hard task of leaving your son. When my daughter went off to university (in the same country even!) I thought I would be fine. I had my high flying career and other kids at home and everything. Still I found myself having to pull over when driving and sob in a layby at the sudden sense of how she had left home and how life would never be the same. Like you, I suspect, I am not a sobbing type. But they have had so much of our lives and now they are making their own without us. Good luck to you and him. And quite right promising not to blog about the incident. My kids now sometimes complain that they came home and didn't feature on the blog but that is because I have tried hugely to respect their privacy. Welcome back (if not welcome home). But home can be where you make it in my long and wandering experience.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - thanks for the encouragement - the whole 10 days in the US, I was very proud of my stiff upper lip and really did think I would be able to get by without breaking down, but that last goodbye was just too difficult. It's exactly what you say - nothing will ever be the same again. Of course, added to the whole thing was the sense that we would be so very far is good to be back 'home,' though. Everything seems a little more bearable when one is in one's own space, doesn't it?
Love this post Ms Caroline, absolutely love it!! Welcome back, u were missed! And yes, I too had a tear when reading the last para. Hugs to you xox
MsCaroline said…
Thanks, Circles! It's good to be back, and I'm getting used to parenting via Skype and FaceBook, but I can't say I like it!
BavarianSojourn said…
The last paragraph had me sniffing as well... It must be very hard! Having just read your newest blog post, I am very glad he is on the mend by the way! Now, I hope you are putting your feet up and having a well deserved rest after all that travelling! Emma :)
Potty Mummy said…
Great post. Especially loved the comment about the Russians and I suggest you check out the blog of a friend of mine where she gives us an excerpt from her book, about Russians on holiday:
MsCaroline said…
Emma - yes, very hard, but deeply grateful I have Son#2 still at home. Jealous of you and so many others who still have years to go! Lovely 4-day Lunar New Year weekend has been just what the doctor ordered!
MsCaroline said…
PM - just got back from reading your friend's blog - it was absolutely spot on - sending to MrL. Such a relief to understand now why all the Russians were so hideously sunburned - it's all the Vitamin D they were soaking up. We saw the exact couple she describes about a hundred times every day we were there.

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