Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cultural Differences: Healthcare: In Which MsCaroline Tries A New Position

This may have been preferable to what actually went down.  via

(Warning:  This post describes - although somewhat obliquely - an actual medical examination performed on MsCaroline which she felt would be of interest to her (mostly female) readers.  Male readers - and those who prefer not to think about such things - should probably skip this one.)

Although MsCaroline has been extremely preoccupied recently with finding somewhere to live, she has also had to keep up with the everyday and the mundane:  work, children, housecleaning, laundry, cooking, shopping.  Included in this have been a few regular - but not as mundane - personal maintenance activities and exams:  mammograms, dental cleanings, and, of course, every woman's favorite - a trip to the gyno.

One would think that MsCaroline, as a woman of mature-ish years with two deliveries (and plenty of observers at each) behind her, would have discarded any shreds of remaining dignity long ago, and be absolutely sanguine about displaying her, shall we say - charms - to any qualified medical professional without a second thought.

Oddly enough, that is not the case.

Perhaps it is MsCaroline's puritan conservative New England upbringing.  Perhaps it is the result of having delivered (naturally) a baby with a head roughly the size of a soccer ball which causes her to instantly react to being placed in the lithotomy position with a certain amount of panic.  Perhaps it is a reaction to all those nude beaches when she lived in Europe.  Whatever the reason, MsC views her annual check of the undercarriage with the same amount of trepidation that most people would have for an unanesthetized appendectomy, or perhaps a spinal tap.

She is fully aware that there is no good reason for this, which is why she gives herself several stern talkings-to every spring in order to shame herself into Doing The Responsible Thing and making an appointment for an annual exam.

This was difficult enough in the US, where everyone spoke English and her physician was a kind and gentle soul who efficiently distracted MsCaroline from the business at hand by discussing Labrador Retrievers every time she appeared in his office.

When MsCaroline moved to Seoul, though, she realized that she would be facing a bit of a challenge, since gentle English-speaking, retriever-discussing gynecologists are on thin ground here.

Her solution? Put it off for as long as possible, which she did.  And, with one thing and another, a few years slipped by.

Of course, MsCaroline - while mostly irrational and paranoid - does not have an actual death wish, which means she eventually talked herself into making an appointment at the local hospital, which serves many international patients and which she had visited herself for other, less intimate health issues with great satisfaction.

What transpired was an exam fairly similar in procedure and comfort to the ones she experienced in the US, with an exception that she had absolutely not forseen:  the examining table.  Or, rather, the examining chair.

MsC, who has only had this sort of thing done in the USA, has no idea how it's done in other countries, and she is well aware that there is something of a consensus in the international community that Americans are wusses when it comes to issues like privacy and dignity and comfort as they relate to medical procedures.  So she was not too surprised when, after a brief consultation with the doctor, she was walked around the corner of the office, ushered into a cubicle with a curtain that did not close, and told to change into the provided garment while three medical personnel (2 nurses, 1 physician) watched her do so.

When she emerged, she was ushered to what looked pretty much like a pink dentist's or optometrist's chair that had sort of  cushiony thigh-rests for one's thighs.  MsCaroline's thighs were, however, still together, and she was still modestly draped, which, to her mind, would not be useful for the sort of examination she was anticipating. She sat there in the upright position, face-to-face with the doctor, who was sitting at eye-level  on a low stool opposite her, flanked on either side by nurses, all of them staring expectantly at her, and wondered, How in the world will this happen? Is she going to get down on her knees? Maybe I should be standing up? Or maybe I'm supposed to lift my legs up in the air?  What is the protocol here?

(For non-US readers. MsCaroline should clarify that the typical position for such examinations in the US is a sort of a raised table with foot stirrups at one end.  The patient lies down, (usually covered in both a gown and some sort of paper modesty drape) places feet in the stirrups, does some scooting, and the physician approaches the end of the table to do his or her thing.  It is a position of great indignity, but it is one with which MsC is at least familiar.  At this point in time, she would have welcomed such a situation, because at least she would have understood what her role was.)

In this case, however, what transpired was something that took MsCaroline by such surprise that the examination was almost over before she had a chance to reflect upon her loss of dignity.

As the doctor and nurses all looked on, MsCaroline's chair began to transform beneath her.  Before she had a chance to register what was happening, the chair began to rise, while simultaneously reclining.  At the same time, the thigh-rests (which MsCaroline had initially perceived as cushions) revealed themselves as thigh stirrups, and began spreading inexorably outward as the seat of the chair dropped away, leaving MsCaroline in what can only be described as a compromising position in mid-air. (MsCaroline should note here that, even in her state of shock, she was cognizant enough to observe bitterly, Well, at least there aren't any automatic wrist and ankle restraints to complete the picture.)  Even stranger, instead of being flat on her back and able to focus on a spot on the ceiling (Dear God, please make me a bird, so I can fly far, far away.  Dear God, please make me a bird...), MsC was still upright enough to be making eye contact with her audience of three, all of whom were staring raptly at her splayed business with terrifying intensity.

Mercifully, one of the beauties of Korea -and the Korean medical system in particular - is that people here are in a hurry, and they do things fast.  No sooner had MsCaroline's Very Slow Cognitive Processes identified an irregularity (Hey...what the-) than the doctor was pushing the magic button that returned MsCaroline to an upright - if somewhat traumatized - position.

By the time she had dressed and hustled herself back out to the doctor's consulting room, it was almost as if the whole thing had never happened.

And that is probably for the best.

(Note:  MsCaroline - although a wussy American - should point out here that, while the position for being examined was quite different, the examination itself was thorough, appropriate, comfortable, and left her feeling, once again, that the Korean medical system is really pretty damn excellent.  The next time she goes, she will know what to expect. She is particularly interested in knowing if any of her readers have experienced this sort of thing.  Or, perhaps it is the norm in most other countries?)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

House Hunters International** with MsCaroline, Part II: Which One Did They Choose?

(MsCaroline's posts are not in any way connected with the awesome HGTV show House Hunters International, but she wishes they were.)

MsCaroline is well aware that, in her last post, she promised to reveal the results of the Asia Vu family's search for a new apartment in Seoul on "Monday or Tuesday."

Astute readers will be aware that it is now Thursday (almost Friday in Seoul.)

Just like the airlines, MsCaroline regrets the delay, but due to circumstances beyond our control, the apartment situation was not finalized until today.

Those of you who know MsC personally know that she does not do well with uncertainty and vagueness, so these last few days have been, shall we say, 'character-building' for her.

The delay was due to a little bit of real estate drama, which - thanks to an oddly-worded e-mail - gave the Asia Vus the impression that their first choice had already been taken.  This meant that MsCaroline spent part of Monday afternoon looking at more villas, including one with a beaten copper sink in what would have been the boys' bathroom, hahahahahaha - I don't think so.

After that viewing, MsCaroline slumped dejectdly back into the realtor's car  and expressed her sadness at having had her first choice slip through her fingers.  The realtor cocked her head, looked quizzically at her, and said, "But didn't you understand my e-mail? I said you can have the villa! Maybe my English is not so good?"

(Well, yes, that was the problem, but since MsCaroline got her first choice, she's going to overlook it.)

As it transpired, the villa was, indeed, being negotiated for by another couple and their realtor at the same time MsC and MrL made their offer.  However (and this was very unclear for quite a while) what the realtor had meant to say was that she had managed to get the landlord to accept their offer first.  So her e-mail, which was supposed to convey the message, "Rejoice! I have narrowly averted a disaster for you!" actually sounded like, "So sorry! The apartment is already under contract!"

 Language.  It is a tricky thing.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, the Asia Vus finally got their offer in on Monday, and the last few days have been a back-and-forth negotiation between themselves, the landlord, and their realtor, as they dicker about whether a water cooler is included in the rent (it is); whether the water delivery is included in the rent (it is, but only 2 bottles per month, and they use 4;) whether internet is included in the rent (it is,) whether the landlord will replace the nightmarish window treatment in front of the patio window that gets caught in the door when it is opened (he will); whether a full-size Western washer and dryer are included in the rent (no, but this can be arranged for a fee.)

All of this has been discussed exhaustively via text (best way to communicate with anyone in Korea), e-mail, and the occasional phone call.

Oh, and in the middle of it, Son#1 arrived home from the US for his summer break.

But finally, today at noon, MrL sent a text saying that the company had approved and signed the lease, and that the Asia Vu family would soon be on the move.

And so....without further ado (yes, yes, MsCaroline realizes that this has been an entire post just overflowing with ado) .....which one did they choose?

You will recall the choices were:

#1:  Spacious kitchen, gloomy, no outdoors

#2:  Smallest property, minimal storage, but with gorgeous outdoor decks:

#3:  Spacious and light, medium kitchen, small (but usable) patios - sort of like Paris.

Interestingly, the majority of commenters on the blog and on Facebook ignored #1, assuming (rightly) that it came down to a decision between #2 and #3.  In all fairness, the kitchen in #1 was enormous, and MsC did feel a twinge of regret when she passed it up, but at the end of the day, she is very satisfied with her choice:

The winner:  #3 - 'Paris'

MsCaroline is impressed with her readers' insight: even those of you who didn't pick Paris had excellent logic behind your choices. Most of you realized that MsCaroline's yearning for the outdoors would outweigh anything else and quickly removed #1 from consideration.  The few who picked #1 did so for that kitchen (oh, that kitchen!) which really was its saving grace.  

Those of you who chose #2 were closer than you would think.  In fact, MrLogical and MsCaroline had decided to make an offer on 'The Deck House' (as they had come to call it) and viewed it no less than 4 times with growing satisfaction.  On the fourth visit, however, they did something they should have done on the first visit:  they brought along a tape measure, which clearly illustrated just how small the rooms were.  While they still could have shoehorned their furniture into it managed it, at the end of the day, the lack of storage would have ended up being overwhelming (not to mention several items of furniture would have had to be gotten rid of.)  In addition, as more than one reader observed, the decks, while they were quite lovely, can only be used for approximately 4 months of the year in Seoul.  The unbearably hot and humid summers, weeks-long rains of monsoon season, and  at least 5 months of bitterly cold winter mean that any outdoor space can only be used a small percentage of the time.

Readers might also have noted that #2 was described as not having very much light and being on the ground floor.  MsCaroline did some thinking about how difficult the last 2 winters had been even in her flooded-with-light high rise apartment full of floor-to-ceiling windows, and she realized that signing on to live in an apartment that was already somewhat dark in the Spring- and undoubtedly even more tomblike in the winter- would be the final nail in the coffin of her Seasonal Affective Disorder.   MsCaroline had a few dark hours grieving the loss of the Western-sized oven, but at the end of her night of grief, she had made her peace with 2 more years of cooking in what amounts to an Easy-Bake Oven,  (and determined to buy herself the biggest damn toaster oven procurable for money when she was in the US in July - now that she has a place to store it, she might as well, right?)

#3, while offering very little in the way of a view, seemed to provide the best compromise:  it was bigger and lighter than #2, full of storage, and provided a little bit of that 'outdoors' that MsCaroline and MrLogical had been craving.  It had a dining room (the Asia Vu family has spent the last 2 years eating on a table wedged between the kitchen island and the back of the living room couch, flanked by a refrigerator,) an actual foyer, and a laundry room in which one could turn around. The closet space in the master bedroom was twice what they'd had in the 'luxury high-rise," and MrLogical's bicycle gear would no longer block the view out of the bedroom window.   And the best part? The patio - while not quite a Texas-sized deck, was large enough to hold a few chairs, a small table, and a grill. Which is really all MsCaroline had been hoping for.  Besides, as soon as she realized that they would probably end up in #3, she immediately began combing every Pinterest design board that featured balcony decor.

After a few days of intensive searching, she knows exactly what she's going to be doing with that plain 'Paris' balcony:

Just give her a little time.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Househunters International** With MsCaroline

This is nothing like the properties MsCaroline has been looking at.

(Note:  This is the 3rd of what will probably be an annoying number of whiny, anxious posts about MsCaroline's search for a new apartment in Seoul.  If you really have nothing better to do you can read the first two posts here and here.  **MsCaroline should also note that this blog post is in no way associated with the real show House Hunters International, but it is an excellent show that you should watch if you get a chance.)

The last few days have been interesting, to say the least.

MsCaroline has had the entire week off, which, at another point in her life, would have meant hopping on a plane and going somewhere interesting.  However, the fact that Son#2 (who attends a different school than the one where MsC teaches) is in the middle of sitting the iGCSEs (a series of exams,) as well as the fact that the AsiaVus may soon be homeless, have kept her right here in Seoul, cleaning out closets, meeting with realtors, and trying to understand how she acquired so much household detritus in less than 2 years.

The good news is that things are looking up and MsCaroline has finally seen some apartments that she could imagine her family living in.

It looks like MsCaroline and her family will not be living in cardboard boxes in Seoul Station after all.

But the house hunt is not over yet.

If you have ever watched the show, House Hunters International (which MsCaroline used to enjoy oh-so-much before she actually started hunting for a house internationally,) you will be familiar with the basic premise, wherein a Western couple (usually American or Canadian) is seeking a dwelling/vacation home in some interesting and exotic location and allows the viewers to come along for the search.  The show typically includes a brief overview of the couple; (Glenda and Arthur are busy taxidermists who have vacationed for years in the South of France) the type of property they're looking for: (Now they're ready to invest in a rural farmhouse in the country where they can spend time expanding their collection of lifelike stuffed weasels) and a tantalizing cliffhanger (But will they be able to find their dream home in the competitive housing market of St-Guilham-le-desert? Stay tuned to find out on this episode of Househunters International!)

Viewers then watch the couple and their realtor make the rounds of 3 properties (which, MsCaroline now realizes, have been previously narrowed down via a maddening process that has certainly given Glenda a peptic ulcer.)  The cameras follow Glenda, Arthur, and their realtor through each property, recording their observations (This house is gorgeous, but it's near a busy highway;  It's smaller than we wanted, but the view is breathtaking; Charmingly rustic, but we'd hoped for something with plumbing.)  After touring the properties, Glenda and Arthur then mull over the pros and cons of each property, but coyly refuse to reveal which one they're leaning towards, and the viewer is challenged to guess which one they opted for after a brief visual recap:    Will it be:  #1) The perfect property near the highway;  #2) Smaller place with amazing view;  or  #3)Least expensive property that needs fixing up? Stay tuned to find out!

All this has been going through MsCaroline's mind this week as she's trudged from one place to the next (they are, by the way, getting better) opening closets, standing on patios, measuring walls, estimating distance to the train station and mentally calculating how many bicycle parts can fit in a given closet space.  On Wednesday, she saw at least 10 properties, all of which (finally) met all of her criteria and her budget.  It was the first time she'd gone looking that she came home hopeful instead of depressed.

Today, she, MrL, and Son#2 made the rounds of some 5 properties, debated their merits, narrowed their choices down to a final 3, and then made a unanimous decision to make an offer on one of them.

The offer is on the table (a stated in an earlier post, the apartment-hunting process in Seoul includes a certain amount of negotiation) and it will be Monday before anything is known one way or another.  In the meantime, MsCaroline has decided to entertain herself by writing her own personal version of Househunters International, and is inviting you, Gentle Reader, to play along.

MsCaroline has already (regretfully) ruled out many properties with fabulous views, high ceilings, and  closets the size of Westminster Abbey, due to picky things like no elevator (apartment on the 4th floor); distance from train station for MrL, who already spends more than an hour on the train each way anyway;   no indoor parking (significant in Seoul, where winter means months of snow,) no closets in her children's bedrooms, and no storage for MrL's bicycles.  As is almost always the case, she fell in love with many of them before going through the stages of grief and ending up at Acceptance, where she is now.  She and MrL have narrowed it down to 3 final candidates, all within 10 minutes' walk of the train station, and will be making an offer shortly.  See if you can guess which one they have gone with.

MsCaroline and MrLogical are a middle-aged expatriate couple seeking a villa (low-rise apartment house) in the popular expatriate neighborhood of H**** in Seoul.  They want a 3-bedroom, 2-bath flat with ample storage for MrLogical's sports gear  that is located near the subway station.  After 2 years in a high-rise building, they would like to find a place with a patio or a small garden.  But in the space-hungry Seoul real estate market, is their dream of a little bit of Outdoors even a possibility?  

Property #1: 
As a person who's worked for 2 years in a small galley kitchen, MsCaroline was enchanted by this huge space.
  A spacious, but gloomy, 2nd-floor, 4br/2ba villa.  Large bay windows in dining area and living room provide an excellent view of the interplay of light and shadow on the walls of the blank, gray building directly opposite.  No balcony, patio, or deck.  Huge kitchen with 2 refrigerators (1 for food, 1 for kimchi,) separate dining area, two indoor parking spots (like gold in Seoul, and includes some extra storage space,) a study/fourth bedroom/storage room to hold bicycles and workout equipment for MrL.  Fireplace. Bonus extra gas cooktop(who knows why?) located in the meth lab laundry room. Medium Master Closet,  tired and dated Master Bath.  Children's bedroom windows face walls but have large closets.  Quite dark except in the front rooms. Upper end of price range.

Property # 2
Look! An outside!
 Smallest property; 4br/2ba ground-floor villa, also ideally located only 10 minutes from the station.  Very small closets, but 4th bedroom would provide extra space for MrL's bicycles/ice axe collection.  Bedrooms are small, but just workable.  Kitchen is smaller - and grimmer - than one in present apartment, but has Western-sized oven. One indoor parking space.  Newly remodeled master bath, MBR closet tolerable. Separate small dining room.  Ground-floor apartment, so no view to speak of and not very much light, although not as dark as #1.  Major attraction of this otherwise blah property:  half of the villa is surrounded by wrap-around  private decks flanked by built-in planters and trees.  Enough space for table, chairs, grill, and quite a few guests. Smack in the middle of the price range.

Property #3
Wrought iron balcony.  Looks like Paris, right?

Spacious villa on the 4th floor.. Older and rather tired, although newly wallpapered  and updated. Two indoor parking spaces and basement storage closet.  Huge rooms, all with big windows and lots of light.  Patios off almost all rooms, although very narrow - but feature charming, Europeanish balconies (or so MsCaroline tried to tell herself.)   4th floor means a little bit of a view, but mostly features the facades of other buildings, some of which also have wrought-iron balconies.  MsCaroline (who has been trying to put a positive spin on things) was cruelly mocked by MrL and #2 for comparing this apartment's view to one in Paris(well, it could be, if you squint your eyes a little and imagine it in the dark after a few glasses of wine.)  Kitchen is larger than MsCaroline has now, with more storage, but oven is typical miniscule Korean version.  Dining room.  Fireplace.  Big closets in every room, and extra 4th bedroom for holding MrL's assorted gear.  

Paris.  MsCaroline can totally see a resemblance. Sort of.  A little. Right?

So...which one did we choose?

Property #1: Spacious, but gloomy

Property #2:  Small, but with outdoor space

Property #3:  Big villa, with small patios.  Just like Paris.

Tune in on Monday (or Tuesday) to find out!

MsCaroline and MrL have contacted their realtor and are will probably hear back from her on Monday. They hope they are not jinxing their offer by writing this and would appreciate all forms of good mojo, juju, and general positive vibes being thrown their way.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


For an explanation of the term 'headdesk', click here.

(Note:  MsCaroline has been house hunting, as she recently discussed in this post.  She is hoping to leave behind life in a 34-story high rise building in one part of town and move to a low-rise building, or 'villa' in a different part of town.  So far, there is no indication that this is ever going to happen.)

If you have not already gathered as much from the title of the post, allow MsC to cut the tension immediately by telling you up front that, no, she has not found a new apartment. Yet.  (The 'yet' was added to prove that she is keeping a positive attitude and optimistic spirit in the face of adversity. )

In fact, she is just about as far away from finding a new apartment now as she was when she started the whole process a few weeks ago.  She is also beginning to feel a certain rising panic and frustration as the whole incomprehensible process drags along, pulling her in its wake, similar to what the Yellow Dog does to the person holding his leash when he senses he's getting close to the dog park.

MsC is certain that at least 80% of her problem is that she doesn't understand what is going on.  Some of it, she is sure, is due to cultural differences; some of it, to language differences;  and some of it to forces of nature that cannot be fully explained.

She had envisioned something like this:  MsCaroline calls the realtor and tells her what she is looking for.  The realtor says, "OK, I can help you."  Over the next days or weeks, the realtor and MsCaroline view a number of residences that fall within the guidelines (location, price, size) MsC has specified, after which MsC narrows down the choices, brings MrL along for a final viewing, and after convincing MrL that the budget is much more flexible than they had originally agreed  an offer* is made  on a suitable dwelling.  If this is unsuccessful, an offer is made on #2 on their list, and so on. 

It goes without saying that this has not happened.  Yet. (there's that positive outlook again.)  What has happened, though, is the following:

  • MsCaroline has seen high-rise apartments (not villas) in both her requested neighborhood and other neighborhoods which she does not wish to live in.  She is still not sure how or why this happened, since she has stated since day #1 that she is looking for a villa.
  • MsCaroline has seen a number of sad, frightening dwellings that make her think of post-WWII East Germany or Dickensian orphanages, or both.
  • MsCaroline has been shown several apartments at the rock bottom of her price range, which-in addition to disturbing her emotional equilibrium- only reinforces her conviction that the housing budget needs to be extremely flexible in the other direction. She is ready to spend a lot more money, but she is having trouble getting the realtors (yes, there are more than one) to show her more expensive apartments.  Yes, she finds this strange, too.
  • MsCaroline has been shown the same apartment twice. The first time, she stated that it was Too Small and Their Furniture Would Not Fit (and it also made her feel melancholy.)  The second time, she stated that she had already seen the apartment and had said their Furniture Would Not Fit and did not need to see it again.  This was a very odd and awkward conversation, since the realtor refused to believe that she'd already seen the apartment, and MsCaroline had to describe it to her as sort of a test  to prove that she had already been in it.  The fact that this conversation took place while the landlord and present tenant were waiting on the doorstep to usher MsC and her realtor into the apartment made things quite uncomfortable.
  • MsCaroline has been double-dipping (and will soon be triple-dipping) her realtors.  This is, by the way, OK in Korea, where there are no central real estate listings and realtors tend to find things by word of mouth or else they represent buildings or specific landlords (a likely reason why MsC got to see that apartment twice.  Maybe they thought it would grow on her, if they kept showing it to her.) MsCaroline is used to monogamy in her real estate relationships (there's a contract involved in the US) which is probably why she has felt begun to feel slightly dirty as she flits from realtor to realtor, giving her particulars to all and sundry.  When MsCaroline poured out her heart to a Korean friend after her first disappointing  foray into house hunting in Seoul, her friend whipped out her phone and gave her the phone number of a different realtor.  Thus it came to pass that MsCaroline and MrL, after looking at 3 villas with Realtor A, made their farewells and casually strolled a few blocks away where they met Realtor B. This had a bit of the wacky sitcom flavor to it, since they felt they had to keep the meeting with B clandestine and were trying to remain unseen by A, who kept offering to drive them back home.  Since then, they have gotten no fewer than 4 more recommendations, and, at this point, they plan to call them all, in a desperate attempt to find a place to live before their present lease expires.

Today, MsCaroline had an appointment with Realtor B.  She had spoken with her on Friday, at which time B had assured her that she had a number of suitable villas in her price range and they would be looking at them all on Monday.  MsCaroline looked forward all weekend to Monday, hoping against hope that, out of all the villas she would be seeing, she might actually find The One That Would Work.

B picked her up and drove her to the first villa, (which, as described above) MsC had already seen and crossed off the list.  When MsC pointed out that this villa was at the bottom of their price range and-as she had stated clearly on Friday - she wished to see some things on the higher end, B looked blankly at her for a few seconds, then made a hasty phone call and stated that she had a larger place to show her.

The place was indeed bigger and more expensive, but too far away from the station, and, in fact, was in a building that MsC had already stated was Too Far Away From The Station when they had looked at a different place in the same building on Friday.

It was still Too Far Away today.  And the other apartment was still Too Small.  And that, according to the realtor, is all that's available.  Unless, of course,  MsCaroline would like to see something in the high-rise around the corner?


*In Korea, apartment prices (and what they include) are often negotiable.  The final price agreed on may differ considerably from the original asking price.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Expat Mothers - Praise Worth Repeating

MsCaroline and her mum, Bangkok, about 1970

MsCaroline has only been blogging for a few years, so she is not really au courant with all the unwritten rules of blogging.  She figures, though, since it's her blog, she can do whatever the hell she wants as she pleases, and that includes repeating herself.

As many of you may know, today is Mother's Day in the US (and Germany, and a few other countries as well.)  MsCaroline had a nice Skype with her own mum and mother-in-law over her morning coffee, fondled her own newest Kindle ( she will not tell you how many Kindles she has gone through already) and generally enjoyed not thinking about house hunting, which she will be doing more of tomorrow.

But, while she was trying not to think about house hunting, she couldn't help but reflect on the fact  that her own mother (and mother-in-law) had survived not only moving house in a foreign country, but also doing it multiple times (and the amazing thing is that they are both sane today.)  Which, of course, got her to thinking about the incredible things that expat mothers are called upon to do on a regular basis, which got her to thinking about the post she had written about her mum last year on Mother's Day, in which she outlined just a few of her mother's life experiences and how much she loved and admired her, because she had not only survived, but thrived under some pretty challenging circumstances.

And then, because MsCaroline realized she couldn't say it any better than she already had last year, she decided it was worth repeating.  Because if MsCaroline has learned anything in the last 2 years, it's that being an expat mother is a challenge like no other, and her hat is off to all of you who have done it or are doing it now.

So, if you didn't read it last year, or just want to look at some great photos of my lovely mum, take a look at the post I wrote last year.  I don't think I can say it any better than I already have, so This Is For The Expat Mothers - Especially My Own.

Oh, and - Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

House Hunting, International-Style

MsCaroline's toes in front of the private plunge pool in her bungalow in Ubud,  which she will totally tell you about later when she is sane again.

MsCaroline is totally aware that this post was supposed to be the final installment in her series of posts about Spring Break in Bali, but something has come up.

House hunting.  Or rather, apartment hunting.  In Seoul.  As foreigners.
Like so many other things, watching this show is about a million times more fun than doing it in real life.

Good times.

Those of you who have been reading since the inception of this blog (Hi, Mum!) may recall that the Asia Vu family initially signed on for a 2-year stint in Seoul, with the possibility of renewing our contract.

Believe it or not, the 2-year mark is fast approaching.

The last few months have been fraught with uncertainty and a certain amount of stress as MsCaroline and MrLogical have grappled with the many variables involved in the decision-making process:  finances (always a major player,) Son#2's education (he's halfway through high school,) distance from family and friends (heart-wrenching,) custody and care of the Yellow Dog,  renters for the house in the US,  MrL's job location (changed from a 15-minute commute to a 2-hour one each way,) MsCaroline's job location.  The point is, it has been a nightmare, just a nightmare has been challenging.

In keeping with their disparate personality types, MrL and MsC have handled this stress in their own unique ways.  MrL, by gathering information and acting on it in a rational and logical manner, and MsC by swinging wildly between euphoria and despair and eating a lot of carbohydrates.

It has been, to say the least, an interesting time and one that MrL is deeply grateful is almost over.

At this point, most of the variables have been settled in the general direction of a 2-year extension in Seoul, allowing Son#2 to graduate from his present school and MrL to continue working on an (in his field) iconic project - with the exception of one significant x-factor:  the question of housing.

Since their arrival, the Asia Vus have lived in very typical dwelling in Korea:  The high-rise apartment building. They have spent the last 2 years learning how to live a 1200-sq.-ft.(111.48 meters) lifestyle; a no-yardwork lifestyle with a lovely view of the Seoul Tower.  They have embraced elevators, parking garages, garbage chutes, anonymous neighbors, and underbed storage with zest and enthusiasm, and thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of a hermetically-sealed 14th-floor view of Seoul.

But now, that time must come to an end.  Partly because 1200 feet with minimal storage- while compact and charming - is getting old.  Partly because most of the AsiaVu's friends live in a different part of the city and they are tired of being the ones who are always desperately fighting for a cab at 1am.  Partly because the rent in their apartment will soon be higher than they wish to pay.  And most of all, because MrL and MsC have missed, more than anything, having an Outside.  Not an actual yard, of course:  let's be realists here - MrL, is, after all, not the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company (yet.)  But a Space Outdoors.  A patio, perhaps, or (on a ground floor) a small deck with a scrap of a garden and maybe even a shrub or two.

MrL and MsC have even been fantasizing about grilling.

So, they are leaving behind the glittering splendor of the high-rise, and heading out to a section of town where the international community congregates in low-rise (6 stories or fewer) apartment buildings referred to as 'villas.'  The primary advantage of villas is that one gets more space for less money, and - almost without exception - can expect some sort of an Outside:  a patio, a balcony, a deck, a micro-garden. And all of this for only about 4 to 5 times the price of the mortgage on their Texas-sized suburban tract home back in the US.  Plus utilities, of course.

Naturally, as with every other real estate transaction in the history of the world, overshadowing this entire exercise is the painful process of aligning one's fantasies expectations with one's budget.

So, what it comes down to is this:  if a place they can tolerate suitable dwelling can be found in the next 30 days, the Asia Vus will stay in Korea for two more years.  If it can't, well, they'll be heading home, richer for the experience.  MrL has every confidence that a suitable place will be found, but MsC (with her typical pessimism) is less certain, not to mention the fact that not knowing where she'll be living in 30 days makes.her.absolutely.insane.

They've begun the hunt (which in Korea is a different kettle of fish altogether,) which MsC will share with her readers once things are settled one way or another and she regains some perspective and her sense of humor.

In the meantime, she is baking.