Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: The Final Weeks

MsCaroline, MrL, and friend J in the guest bedroom holiday/farewell party photobooth

Those of you who are still reading this blog have probably guessed by now that MsCaroline and Co have finished all the confusion of packing and moving and tying up loose ends and are now more or less settled in a serviced apartment somewhere in Bristol, trying to get over jet lag.

MsCaroline, who has been in the UK for approximately 3.75 days, has plenty of insightful observations to make about life in Bristol, which she will share with you in due course.  However, she feels that she owes her readers at least a few highlights from the last 6 whirlwind weeks of life in Seoul.

(But she will just say this before she moves on:  English grocery stores:  Oh. My. God.  One would never be able to walk into an express corner grocery store in the USA- and in many cases, a regular grocery store - and buy a dozen free-range eggs, fresh green curry, and almond milk.  She has been to Tesco or Sainsbury's every day - sometimes twice - and still cannot get over what you can find in these stores. She is not sure she will survive a trip to Waitrose.)

We all realize that it is impossible for MsCaroline to ever relate all that has taken place in the last 6 weeks, and she is not even going to try.  She will provide you, instead, with a few highlights which will somehow have to suffice.

Early December:  Due to the impossibility difficulty of moving a student from an American IB curriculum to an English IB curriculum in the very last semester of school, the decision is taken (by #2 himself) to do the extra work required to graduate early from his school in Seoul.  His fabulous, supportive, and wonderful international school in Seoul facilitates all of this (although #2 himself was the one who took on the not inconsiderable extra workload with grace, good cheer, and a wonderfully positive attitude) and even provides a 'Graduation-for-One' ceremony on the last day of school at the final winter assembly.  #2 has the very unique experience of graduating alone in front of the entire student body (and his parents, of course) and makes an articulate, moving, and creditable speech which MsCaroline does not remember because she is concentrating so hard on not falling apart(thank God for video).  The most heartwarming moment of the whole thing takes place when he moves his tassel and the audience of his peers bursts into a roar of applause and cheers (at that point, there is no hope for MsCaroline, who just pulls out the Kleenex and tries to work on damage control.)  The ceremony is followed by a reception for #2 and the entire senior class, Head of School, and faculty members. It is a happy, happy day.  There are many photos taken, but this selfie probably sums it up best:

High School (Honors) Graduate #2 (yes, MsC is bragging.  She is not apologizing.)

Mid- December:  Having wrapped up their work obligations (MsC is not going to even talk about how heartwrenching difficult it was to say goodbye to her students and colleagues.  You'll have to use your imagination) MsCaroline and MrL throw a combination farewell/holiday Open House in an attempt to both say farewell to friends and also use up as much of their liquor cabinet as possible (shipping the stuff would incur heinous duty taxes - besides, it's always good to have a challenge.)  Copying an idea from #2 (who had done it at his birthday party last year) they decide to set up a DIY photo booth, complete with studio lights (nice to have a photographer for a son), a remote to control the camera, and whiteboards for writing messages.  The resulting selfies are a priceless (and hilarious, as the night went on) memento (see example above.)

Mid-December:  Having recently celebrated a 'milestone birthday,' and reasoning that landing in England and immediately trying to track down a doctor would add an unnecessary level of confusion to an already-challenging situation,  MsCaroline decides to undergo a series of routine medical screening tests 3 weeks before leaving the country at her local hospital (she will describe the whole experience in a future post, because this paragraph will not in any way do the experience full justice.) These are the sorts of tests that require a certain amount of fasting and other unpleasant preparations, but MsCaroline goes into the whole thing gamely, primarily because she is aware that she will be unconscious for most of it.  This is, in fact, true, although, due to unforeseen circumstances, she is required afterwards to spend the night in a Korean hospital, during which time she is not only fully conscious, but also connected to an IV, not permitted to eat or drink, and (not surprisingly, under these conditions) unable to sleep.  Needless to say, when she is finally released the following afternoon, she goes straight to bed and stays there for about 24 hours.  (Note:  there was really no cause for concern;  it is just that Korean hospitals are far more conservative than Western ones and require hospital stays after even the most routine and minor procedures.  MsCaroline reflected on this bitterly more than once, realizing that, had she had this test in the US, she would have been at home, eating chicken noodle soup  and toast and lying on the sofa with the dog, rather than lying all night long connected to an IV on a (very hard) bed in a Korean hospital.)  For those of you who are concerned about MsC's well-being, have no fear:  all is well and MsCaroline has a clean bill of health - and a newfound appreciation for the western hospital system.)

Mid-to-late-December:  #1 arrives to enjoy his last Christmas and New Year's in Seoul.  Much celebrating is done:
Heading out for a Christmas Eve Dinner at the Libertine in Itaewon.

and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are lovely.  On the 26th, however, the entire family awakenswith varying degrees of debilitation due to what they soon realize is a case of stomach flu which means that they lose almost 2 full days' worth of sightseeing and (even more importantly) preparing for the packers, who arrive on the 29th.  MsCaroline and MrL - already somewhat weakened from their bout with the flu - engage in their traditional pre-move bickering, during which both of them remember with great bitterness just how unpleasant it is to inventory every.single.item.in.the.apartment.and.write.it.on.the.provided.form.  After the packers leave and they are all settled in the hotel, they once again return to their normal state of mutual admiration and great goodwill, heightened by:  1) a bottle of wine, and 2) the knowledge that they - and their marriage - have survived yet another moving inventory.

Late December:  In the midst of the stomach flu, MsC receives a frantic and unintelligible phone call from her sweet Philippine housekeeper, who, it transpires, has been apprehended by the Immigration Police and is in jail, awaiting deportation.  Since MsCaroline is:   a) unaware that her housekeeper was in the country illegally and b) has no experience with either Korean jails or the deportation process, it takes a certain amount of time and repetition for her to grasp the situation, compounded by (quite justifiable) hysterics on the part of the housekeeper.  The situation, as it turns out, is very straightforward:  the housekeeper must remain in jail until she leaves for the Philippines. The catch in all of this is that the housekeeper does not have enough money to pay for an airline ticket, nor do her family in the Philippines.  In addition to all of this, due to Christmas and New Year's (both official holidays in Korea) she will be required to stay in jail until the holidays are over and cannot even buy a ticket until January.  Eventually, MsCaroline and another one of the housekeepers' employers manage to sort things and arrange for the purchase of the ticket (the housekeeper has worked for them for over 3 years and is a lovely, sweet lady - it is unthinkable that she should just be left in jail.)  While MsC is very happy that J's problem is solved, she cannot help but be concerned at the same time with a more selfish issue, namely:  Now that J is in jail, who is going to come (at the last minute during the holidays) and do the extensive cleaning of the apartment after the movers leave on the 30th which was arranged weeks ago and which will (obviously) take hours and hours? And is MsCaroline a spoiled, lazy foreigner who is too good to clean her own apartment?(No, she is is a tired foreigner who is happy to pay for it to be done.) This is eventually sorted for them by their realtor, but MsCaroline has a few dark moments before it is all arranged.

Late December:  The AsiaVu's beloved dog, Merlot, is taken to the dogsitter (also quite beloved) and left there with the understanding that she will be flown to England directly the AsiaVus find an accommodation that permits pets.  No one discusses the fact that everyone has been extremely pessimistic about the likelihood of finding such (this article more or less sums up what they are up against), and instead talks brightly about other things, preferring not to consider what will happen if no pet-friendly dwelling can be found in Bristol.  MsCaroline does a lot of looking out the window and sniffing.  It is a terribly sad ride, both there and back.



Late December/Early January:  Having finally moved out of the apartment, the Asia Vus head to a hotel in downtown Seoul, where they will stay for the next few days before heading to the airport on the 2nd of January.  MsCaroline takes it into her mind that she would like to ring in her last New Year right in downtown Seoul near the Bosingak Belfry, which has a Times-Square-like celebration, complete with music, announcers, street bands, and general revelry, culminating with the ringing of the great Bosingak Bell at midnight.  Accordingly, she and MrL arrange to meet with friends M and S to have a lovely late dinner (Italian, 5 courses, lots of wine) and then wend their way 20 or 30 minutes before midnight to the Jongak area.  This is an excellent plan, except that they have not contended with temperatures hovering not much above 10 deg Fahrenheit/-12C.  Although all of them are veterans of Korean winters and are warmly clad, the truth is that standing around outdoors in that temperature for any amount of time is fairly uncomfortable, no matter how much wine you have drunk.  By the time the bell starts ringing, MsCaroline can no longer feel her toes, and MrL has completely lost his sense of humor.  Nonetheless, they stick it out, and are able to wrap up their time in Seoul with another unique (by 'unique,' I mean 'mildly uncomfortable but mostly worthwhile') experience:


Waiting for the New Year with friends M and S. MrL claims he was smiling in both of these photos.  This may or may not be true.
Early January:  We end our nearly 4 years in Seoul in much the way we began it:  dinner with friends at that most iconic, delicious, sociable, and friendly Korean institution:  the Korean BBQ restaurant.  It seems entirely fitting, although terribly bittersweet.



Goodbye, Korea.  We've loved you - and we'll miss you.  More than you can know.

19 comments:

Expat mum said...

I went to uni in Bristol many years ago and it was great then. You will love it. best of luck and hope you're reunited with the dog soon.

Nance said...

Oh my! So so very much...much! I remain Hopeful for a reunion with Merlot. The UK is Quite Doggy, from what I understand, and you are not unaccustomed to Effort (obviously!), so I look forward to the Merlot Is With Us post soon.

Bless all your hearts, however, with what you went through for this latest Upheaval. When I got to the stomach virus, that was the kicker for me. No amount of money would have been too large to pay for Someone to have come in--legal or no!--to do All The Rest. Of Everything.

Glad you're back to chronicling. Missed you.

MsCaroline said...

EM: I believe you are absolutely right. We are really loving it so far. Hoping for the best re: the dog...

MsCaroline said...

Nance: We are hopeful, too. Frankly, we've been very surprised about all this anti-dog stuff. I'd always heard that an 'Englishman's best friend is his dog.' Apparently that is only the case if and when the Englishman/woman owns his or her own home. As landlords, they seem pretty much anti-pet across the board. Our estate agent informed us point blank that having a pet would reduce our options 'dramatically' and someone else suggested that we write and distribute a 'pet CV' to all prospective landlords, to show that Merlot is well-cared for, housebroken, won't be destroying the property by scratching and chewing...etc. etc. etc. We are still trying to remain optimistic, but it will definitely be a challenge to find a place that meets our standards (eg, not a dump and within a reasonable commuting distance.) I probably should have had someone else to come in and do All The Rest - I was pretty exhausted by the time it was all said and done. And thanks for the kind words - I have missed both reading and writing in the past few months and am thankful to have some free time to do it again!

Donna said...

Enjoyed reading all about your final month. But could not help but feel the cold in the New Year's picture. Everyone's head was covered but yours! Your poor ears! I see you survived. Looking forward to hearing about Bristol. And yes. I am still very jealous of your move! ;)

MsCaroline said...

Donna - not to worry! I was wearing a neck warmer that pulls up over my head and ears as well - just pulled it down for the photos so you could see my face. Besides, my head wasn't cold - just my poor, sad toes - despite warm hiking boots and thick socks! As far as being jealous goes, I would recommend you start that in about 3-4 weeks after we're acclimated. At the moment, everything's an awkward bumble. I'm loving Bristol very, very much, but being on a constant learning curve (plus jet lag) is very different from being on holiday. I'll be glad when we are a bit more settled, but I am really enjoying myself nonetheless.

nappy valley girl said...

Wow, that sounds like quite a month. Glad you're over the worst of the move now and that you like Bristol (can't wait to hear more). And you must certainly go to Waitrose if you think Tesco and Sainsbury's are good....you should blog about it! x

Joshua Austin, DDS said...

I can not believe it has been 4 years! Best of luck in the UK. Love you guys!

MsCaroline said...

NVG - Oh, no worries, there is enough blog fodder in Tesco Express alone for me to write several posts! I have been embarrassing #2 to death because I keep taking photos in all the grocery stores. He just walks away and pretends he doesn't know me. ; )

MsCaroline said...

Dr.A - Aww, thanks! Actually, it has been just over 3 years 9 months since Chandler left, and a bit more until we joined him, so it's not quite 4 years (I'm trying to be strictly honest here) but I think rounding up is ok in the situation!

Trish Burgess said...

What a final few weeks - the extra work for you all, your housekeeper in jail, your lovely son graduating, freezing your butts off on New Year's Eve, Korean BBQs - lots of highs and lows.
So pleased it all worked out well though and I know you reached Bristol ok. Now to get Merlot back with you. Fingers crossed x

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Blogger ate my comment! Welcome to the UK and so glad you are finding things ok so far. Would love to meet up when you have found your feet, either by coming to see you or by your coming up here, or anywhere in between. Have you a car? You might find rented houses more accommodating of dogs than apartments. My daughter had a lovely house for eighteen months or so which was very tolerant of her large and bouncy labrador. Do hope things are going well.

MsCaroline said...

Trish - Yes, I am relieved that things are calming down, and hoping (fingers crossed) that we can get Merlot here soon, although I admit that having to look after a dog at this stage of the moving process would be a headache. Once we're settled, I'll look forward to having her company!

MsCaroline said...

Elizabeth - So glad you re-posted your comment! To answer your question: no, we haven't a car - yet. I think we'll be getting one soon, though, if for nothing else than weekend jaunts. I should also say I noticed right away that we are incredibly close to Wales - #2 actually has been to Cardiff twice already (we've been here 9 days!) to visit one of his high school friends who's at Uni there. I did think of you right away, though - would absolutely love to meet you in person and see some of the beautiful landscapes I always admire in your photos, and - more importantly - meet you in person! Hope your snowdrops continue to poke their way bravely through the earth - we are supposed to be getting snow tonight! xx

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

So glad it is going well. We are in North Wales and you are close to South so we are accessible not on the doorstep. Do email me eamusgrave@yahoo.co.uk and we can plot to say hello!

MsCaroline said...

Elizabeth - yes, I remembered you saying your daughter was closer to where we were, but I feel certain our paths are destined to cross - never dreamed back when I was mooning longingly over your blog back in Korea that it would happen quite like this, though! I'll email you and we can start plotting. ; )

BavarianSojourn said...

Hope it's all going well and you are enjoying Bristol! I think it's a great city, really community minded! :) xx

Clare Taylor said...

The best of luck on your next adventure. I'm (sort of) originally from the part of the world you've moved to - drop me an email at pottymummy at gmail dot com and would be happy to send you ideas for local trips out!

MsCaroline said...

Emma- yes, we're finally here and settled into our temporary apartment, and loving Bristol - such a friendly city, and much more international than I'd been expecting!

PM - have been thinking about you as I go through all the song and dance of house hunting - not to mention the surprising amount of Russian one hears being spoken throughout the city. Will be in touch very soon because I definitely need some guidance - am almost overwhelmed by the choices!