|MsCaroline's maternal grandmother and her eldest uncle, ca. 1918.|
A few weeks ago, I was invited to a friend's home for dinner. It was a lovely evening - good food and wine, good conversation, and a breathtaking view of Seoul's sparkling evening cityscape. Like most expat homes in Seoul, S's villa was furnished by her landlord and appointed with a few things she'd brought with her from home, along with souvenirs she'd purchased in her travels around Seoul and the rest of Asia. What interested me most of all was not the souvenirs - although I do admit coveting her 1800s-era map of Seoul - but the family photos. Not many, mind you: a few images of her family and friends; one of her daughter as a baby; and a photo of herself and her husband, young and in love and entirely pleased with each other and the life they were building together.
I've always enjoyed looking at photos anyway, but after I got home that night, I started thinking about the photos you see in expat homes, and how they differ from those you see when people are back in their own countries. When you're overseas, the photos you have in your home seem to take on more meaning, somehow.
|Family reunion and birthday celebration for MrL's mother on the occasion of her 70th birthday.|
Not to say that photos don't mean a lot in the houses you visit back home. But photos in an expat household take on more weight and more meaning, because most of us don't have many things from home with us to begin with. That's understandable, of course: most companies (ours included) put a limit on how much you can ship over, and one has to get ruthless in one's packing.
Naturally, a lot of us pick up objects de art once we arrive, which explains why the decor in all of our apartments here in Seoul looks vaguely familiar: kimchi pots, wooden masks, Korean medicine chests. These items rub elbows with the generic landlord-provided furniture that you find in many expat apartments (not many of us bring furniture along, and those of us who do don't bring much), creating a predictable decor for most of us that I think of as 'Asian-Ikea-Hotel.'
It's a bit different if you're living in a foreign country, though.
No, not because we don't take photos (in fact, we probably take more than the average person, since everything is so unusual.)
And not because we don't love our families or want to display photos of our beautiful, brilliant, and marvelous children/nieces/grandchildren/friends. Actually, we do. But expats have space and weight and packing limits that most people don't have to contend with. So the images that do end up getting displayed - that 'make the cut,' so to speak - tend to be the really important ones.
|Sons#1 and #2 with radiant bride, Auntie H.|
So, you make your selections carefully. You distill your life experiences, your family, and your friends into a few thoughtfully-chosen moments that you'll take along with you wherever you go.
|MrLogical and Korean cycling mates taking a breather.|
The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is undeniably true. But for expats, the photos you see say even more than most. These are not always professional photos; they may be small and blurry and taken with camera phones. They may be taken in kitchens or in airports or in small back gardens, although - depending on the expat - you may glimpse more than one of the Seven Wonders of the World in the background. From a professional standpoint, they may be lacking in color, composition, angle, and depth.
What they do all have in common is this: they're too important, too precious, and too meaningful to be left behind.
They're the ones that make the cut.
|Rare time with Mum back home last summer.|