Friday, January 30, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: Househunting, UK-Style

MsCaroline is going to have to brush up on her geometric boxwood-trimming skills.


For those of you who are not MsCaroline's FaceBook friends, today's post is a follow-up to a comment she made in her last post:  The AsiaVus have Found A House. It is not located in Bristol, but in a nearby city that MsCaroline will not identify in case of stalkers and weirdos, so she will only tell you that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it rhymes with 'path.'  Sorry that she can't be more specific.

It will hold their furniture (barely.) And yes, they can bring the dog.


Those are, actually, the 2 most important things.  The rest, as they say, is just details.  Nonetheless, MsC is pretty pleased, because, for a while there, she was despairing of ever even finding a dwelling that met her requirements, which were, she felt, fairly straightforward:
  1. Somewhere that allowed dogs
  2. Somewhere that was close to transportation links and a reasonably short commute for MrL 
  3. Somewhere within walking distance of shops (groceries, pharmacy, pub, dry cleaners, coffee)
  4. Somewhere with at least 3 bedrooms that would hold all their furniture that had been shipped from Korea (keep in mind that approximately 8000 lbs of their belongings had been left in storage in the US, so it wasn't like they had shipped that much anyway)
  5. Somewhere with more than one bathroom
  6. Somewhere that fit their budget
It did not take much research for MsC to figure out that numbers 1 and 5 were clearly going to be the most problematic, and that the rest of them weren't going to be a walk in the park, either, given that Bristol is, according to her realtor, "the hottest market in Britain at the moment," meaning that properties are snapped up before they even get on the market.

As she has mentioned previously, for all the fact that the UK is clearly one of the most dog-friendly countries on earth, it is also, inexplicably, one of the most difficult places to find pet-friendly rental property that MsCaroline has ever run across.  It is also (apparently) unheard-of to have a dog (no matter how small) in a flat of any kind(at least, in this area), unless it is a garden flat, and even those were iffy, which left Houses Only, which knocked out most of the contenders in the parts of town where they wished to live.

As far as bathrooms go, well, MsC understands that things are a bit different in the US.  She also understands that if you are going to be living in a dwelling that was built before the advent of modern plumbing, you cannot expect to have nearly as many bathrooms as you would in a more recently-built dwelling.  However, MsCaroline is still scratching her head over the tendencies of landlords here to put one large luxurious bathroom into a house rather than two less-grandiose ones(which clearly would fit in the same space.) She cannot tell you how many properties she looked at that boasted one lone, enormous bathroom that looked like something out of a spa - but that was it. What she could not grasp was sharing a 1-bathroom dwelling with her husband and two sons (particularly during their early adolescence, when they suddenly became very hygiene-conscious and spent ages in there.) For this reason, she always marveled at the real estate descriptions describing a 'perfect family house' containing 4 bedrooms, a conservatory, and exactly one toilet. (MsCaroline may have misplaced priorities, but she thinks that she would rather have a second bathroom than a conservatory. But this is  probably part of why it is so broadening for one to experience different cultures.) 

Many of them did not even include the mysterious cloakroom, which - MsC finally learned- is the American equivalent of powder room - toilet and sink -but it took her quite a while to figure out that they weren't referring to coat closets. 

While MsCaroline considers herself a well-traveled, fairly enlightened person who is (mostly) free from narrow cultural constructs, she has to admit that the one bathroom issue was the most difficult to get over. No closets? Fine.  Small rooms? Cozy.  Washing machine in the kitchen? Convenient.  But one bathroom?  argh.

Fortunately for her, the house they have rented has not one, not two, but THREE toilets (1 bathroom, 1 'shower room' (ie, no tub) and one loo-under-the-stairs), which was one of its major selling points, along with permission to have the dog.  In fact, those were pretty much the main reasons they put down a deposit on it so quickly - well, that, and the fact that the attic had been turned into a giant 4th bedroom loft that would hold #2 and all of his paraphernalia.  But MsCaroline digresses.

So, yes, the decision was made quite rapidly.  The actual process of finding the house, however, was very slow.  While MsCaroline actually only viewed one or two properties in person (they were usually gone before she could get there), she spent hours poring over online real estate, learning an entirely new language, and discovering just how challenging it was going to be to even find a dwelling that met all her picky particulars, much less get in to view it before it was snapped up by a competitor. By the time she did find one, she was almost ready to put a deposit down, sight unseen.

A typical description, which would fill her heart with hope (quickly followed by despair) read as follows:

 Spacious character home located in sought-after neighbourhood of Adorable Quaintness;  this charming Victorian home features 4 bedrooms (2 doubles, 1 good-sized single, and 1 smaller single suitable for a study or nursery), 3 receptions, double-glazing, a fitted kitchen with gas hob and electric oven, all white goods and a sunny conservatory.  The spacious family bathroom has been remodeled to the highest standard and contains a 4-piece white suite including a separate shower cubicle. Parking is available through the residential parking scheme.  This desirable property is located  just minutes away from the shops, restaurants, and pubs of Lovely Historic Market High Street and offers excellent transit connections.  Spacious front and rear gardens. An ideal family home! Viewings are highly recommended, as this property is expected to go quickly!

What you may not like:

No pets,
No smokers
No unemployed


And now, the American English translation:  

This is an adorable and charming historic home that is exactly what you Americans think of when you imagine yourself moving to England.  It is located in an awesome neighborhood with all the charming details you would expect in an English Victorian home.  It has 4 bedrooms, 2 of which will hold double beds but not much else, (certainly not your ludicrously oversized American King-sized bed which you should have known better than to ship overseas anyway,) 1 of which will hold a twin bed, and one of which may or may not hold a twin bed, depending on whether or not you care to put other furniture in it, but either way, it's going to be tight. None of them have closets, so be sure to plan a trip to Ikea to buy some wardrobes very soon.  The house has a living room, a dining room, and a room that might be used as a TV room or study ('reception'= rooms you would have company in. MsC feels that, theoretically, 'reception' really should include the kitchen, because in an American home, that's where all the company ends up anyway, but maybe this is not an English thing.  She will likely find out pretty soon.) The windows are double-glazed, and this is important because it will keep you warmer, and is also a good indicator that the landlord takes pretty good care of the property.  It has a kitchen with appliances, (not all of them come with appliances, so this is actually important to pay attention to)  The cooktop is gas.  There is a conservatory (eg, 'Florida room'/glassed-in porch) off the kitchen.  There is one huge, remodeled bathroom, and it is really nice.  There is no parking for this house (no driveway or garage), but you can pay an extra monthly fee for a neighborhood parking permit to jockey with all the other neighbors for a parking spot on the street if you can find one. There are lovely front and rear gardens, which you will need to keep up, since all the gardens in this road are incredibly lovely and you will not want to be the only one without a gorgeous garden. This house is within walking distance to everything worth going to, which is why you will not mind having 1 bathroom and no driveway or garage. This is an excellent house, and by the time you call your realtor, it will be rented, but thanks for reading this anyway.  Also, because this house is so obviously perfect for you, we will not let you have a dog in it, but we waited to tell you that until the end of the description (MsCaroline quickly learned to scroll down and look for the 'no pets' warning before even starting to read, just to avoid all the soul-sucking disappointment.) 


 Add to all that the smoking-hot real estate market, and it meant that, as soon as MsC and MrL saw a house that would even vaguely meet their budget and requirements, they would have to put a deposit on it immediately.  So it came to pass that MsC and MrL viewed exactly 2 and a half (the half was one they approached and dismissed based on neighborhood before they even went in) properties before making a decision.

So the offer was made - and accepted - and now they just have to wait until March, when they can move in.

As it the case in every home one buys or lives in, there are always pluses and minuses:   in addition to its toilets and pet-friendly lease, the house has the coveted 4th bedroom that the Asia Vus had hoped for, although it doesn't have parking and is a longer commute than MrL would have preferred. It's a bit farther away from the city centre than they would have liked, and there has been some heated debate about where all the furniture will go (thank God for the garage, which is too small for a car but provides some badly-needed storage.) They are also not looking forward to waiting until March to move in, which means another 5 weeks in the tiny and cramped serviced apartment.

But really - MsCaroline is just relieved that they found something that will work, in a nice neighborhood, and she's looking forward to living in a real home - not a temporary apartment - again soon. She's looking forward to family dinners, strolling to the pub at the end of her street, digging in her own garden, and having her own books and art, her own cookware, cajun seasoning, and her own pillows again.

Most of all, she can't wait for this:








March can't come soon enough.  


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: Making Adjustments


MrL and MsC in front of the S.S. Great Britain, and, yes, it was cold.

After almost a month in the UK, readers will be relieved to know that MsCaroline is starting to feel less stupid, although it is clear that she still has a significant learning curve ahead of her.

She has learned how to take the bus and the train, can hold her own in a conversation that begins with, 'Alright?' and has (almost) got to the point where she can fill her phone number in on a form without having to look it up (always embarrassing.)  She knows to ask for a 'return' ticket instead of 'round trip,' and as far as money goes, she can now confidently and quickly identify £1, £2, 20p, and 50p coins without having to hold them up to the light and squint at them (she is still working on the others.)

Her daily life has changed in a number of other ways, of course, and - just as it did in Korea - it simply happened, without her giving it much thought, because there really was No Other Option than to Make Adjustments.

MsC, being the lazy reflective type, has given this some thought, and has come up with the following observations about her new reality and daily life in the UK, which should be filed under the heading, Things She Does Differently Now:

She is paranoid extremely cautious when crossing the street:  Not to say that she was ever a careless street crosser, especially in Seoul.  The problem now is that she is never sure where traffic is going to be coming from.  Yes, she looks both ways, but what really messes with her mind is never being able to anticipate what stopped traffic is going to do.  In other countries, one looks at traffic and can anticipate what will happen OK, these cars are able to turn right on red, so they may well turn into me if I step out into the crossing;  or, That is a left turn signal, it means cars will be going away from me, and I can go.  The problem is, having to reverse 30+ years of driving instincts is incredibly difficult, especially for someone like MsC, who always failed the spatial relations parts of IQ tests.  Suddenly having to flip everything around in your mind is bad enough, but the fact that roughly half of the streets in Bristol are One Way means that, even if one remembers that the traffic patterns are reversed, one might need to be looking the other way anyway.  (MsCaroline knows for sure that she is not the only one who struggles with this, and submits as evidence the fact that, on many one-way streets, the words Look Right  or Look Left are painted right onto the asphalt.)  But all of this still means that she goes through a huge number of mental gymnastics, traffic pattern analysis, and a certain amount of anxiety whenever she approaches a zebra (pedestrian) crossing.  For this reason, she strives to walk closely behind groups of confident-looking Britons, who seem to all have  a fine-tuned instinct for where to go (and when) without any hesitation.

She goes shopping every.single.day.  Part of this is the fact that she is living in a serviced apartment without any of her own things, and a minimum of usable cookware (not to mention no cajun seasoning.)  Part of this is that going to the grocery store in the UK is pretty much one of the most pleasurable things she has ever done. Part of this is that she has no car and must carry everything she buys with her.  And of course, part of this is the fact that this has been her entire refrigerator since 2nd January (and will continue to be, until early March:)


Yes, the top shelf is mostly MrL's beer.
Now, MsC totally gets that most Americans are spoiled with lots of space and giant refrigerators, not to mention tons of preservative-laden food that will keep for ages.  She also gets that she could be more efficient in her space management.  But she is still working on her mindset, and it has been a challenge to work with a fridge that is not much bigger than what she would expect to find in a dorm room.  (She should hasten to add that the freezer, which is next to the fridge, is the same size, which would be a definite plus, were she ever thinking ahead at all and buying frozen food.) It should also be pointed out that everything in the grocery stores comes in very compact sizes anyway, since everyone's used to dealing with space restrictions;  everything one buys is the size of what would be found in America in, say, a campground grocery store.  What this means is that, even if MsCaroline were to have an American-sized fridge, she'd have to go to the store every few days anyway to replace everything that was running out.  As evidence, allow her to present her eggs:

MsCaroline has provided this coffee cup for scale;  also because the cup is pretty awesome.

Astute readers will notice immediately that this is not the typical, long, dozen-egg carton that one finds in every grocery store in the US - and no, MsCaroline did not pick up the little box because of her space limitations.  She picked it up (off the shelf, not from the refrigerator case, by the way) because this is the only size you can buy (at least in the stores she has been in.) That's it.  Six at a time, please. And lots of other things are similarly sized for maximum space efficiency. Peanut butter, for example, comes in tiny jars about the size you buy bouillon cubes in in the US; even soy sauce comes in smallish bottles (think aspirin size) instead of the giant Kikkoman vat like MsC is used to having in her cupboard.

Of course, it should also be noted that the eggs, purchased at a corner grocery store (only slightly larger than an average 7-11 in the US) are free-range.  In fact, the only eggs available are free-range.  In the corner grocery store. Pretty amazing, huh?

So, while it has been an adjustment, MsCaroline is not complaining about the sizes of anything.  Not one bit.

She does laundry constantly much more frequently:  Long-time readers may remember that, when MsCaroline first moved to Seoul, she had to make some adjustments to her laundry routine, due to the popularity of the space-saving washer/dryer combo in many Korean apartments.  However, as soon as she moved into a permanent dwelling, this was rectified very quickly by the installation of a heavy-duty, US-style dryer.

This however, is not an option here in England in the serviced apartment where the Asia Vus will be staying for at least the next 6 weeks;  it is also unlikely that a US-sized dryer will be an option in their rental house (yes, they finally found one, and, yes, the dog can come, but they can't move in until early March;  details coming soon.) So, at the moment, MsC is trying to keep up with the laundry using a machine that holds the equivalent of about 4 t-shirts in each load.  And each load, of course, takes about 90 minutes just to wash - and much more than that to dry.

As it turns out, most of the dryers in the UK are not the vented sort of dryer that most Americans are used to;  they are more typically a type of dryer called a 'condensing' dryer, which does not require venting.  This is actually much more practical because many older buildings simply don't have windows in the right places to provide adequate ventilation for a typical vented dryer. Of course, it takes longer to dry things via condensing than it does just by blasting hot air on them, but everyone here is used to this (much as they were in Korea) and takes it in stride. Besides that, many people in the UK (and Europe) prefer to drip-dry or line-dry their clothes, either on a clothesline outdoors, or a drying rack indoors.  This is due to both economical reasons (electricity is expensive,) environmental reasons (less energy) and does, of course, result in less wear-and-tear on the clothes.  So the only people who seem to be struggling with the laundry situation are spoiled North Americans like MsC, who is determined not to whine once she finishes writing this post.

Now MsCaroline loves the environment and economy as much as the next person, and she is getting used to seeing this first thing when she walks in the door of her apartment:



What she is not getting used to is the ironing.  The ironing.

In case you are like MsCaroline did not already know this, she would like to share an important piece of information with you:   when you hang clothes to dry, they mostly dry wrinkly.  

Even if you put them in your condensing dryer and ruin the environment and spend a million dollars on energy let them spin for the several hours longish time it takes for them to get really dry - and you snatch them right out of the dryer while they are still hot - they still do not come out wrinkle-free like one would expect.  (Or, rather, like a person used to doing laundry American-style would expect. )

Oh, MsCaroline trotted herself off to the dry cleaners the first week here (MrL goes through 5 dress shirts a week and she was certainly not planning to iron them all) but they didn't use enough starch (MrL likes them to make a cracking sound when he puts them on) and, frankly, their ironing job wasn't that great, considering the price she paid.  So, she reasoned, since she is unemployed at the moment without a house to take care of, she might as well iron the shirts herself. How long could it take?

Let her tell you:  it can take a long time.  Especially if you have not ironed in a long time.  Even more if you are dumb enough to let the shirts dry completely before you start ironing them.

So MsC is learning.  Learning to take the shirts out and iron them when they are damp.  Learning that it's pointless to put the ironing board away because it will just come right back out within a few hours. Learning that a well-designed ironing board can make a huge difference in the rate at which you iron (and, conversely, that a crap one will make you want to throw the iron across the room.)

But she is definitely not complaining, because every single day, she sees things like this:

Bath Abbey

St. Philip and St. Jacob Church, Bristol

St. Mary Redcliffe church, Bristol

Llandoger Trow pub/restaurant, Bristol

tea in Bath

York Street, Bath




And, surely, that's worth making a few adjustments for.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: On Feeling Stupid

Morning practice on the River Avon in front of MsCaroline's (temporary) apartment.  

So, after 3 weeks of silence, MsCaroline has finally managed to find some time to do a little updating and let her readers know how she is adjusting to Life in the UK.

So far, so good.  The AsiaVus are comfortably ensconced in a small temporary accommodation on the River Avon (I know, aren't we lucky?) where they will stay until they move into their actual dwelling with all of their possessions (and the dog) sometime around the beginning of March. MrL is taking the train to work every day, trying to get up to speed at the new job, and remembering to spell words like, 'organise' and 'defence' correctly.   MsCaroline is lucky enough to have some other partners of MrLogical's co-workers here in Bristol as well, and they are all sharing the learning curve together.  #2 has hit the ground running.  He has organized an unpaid internship at a local art gallery for himself, applied for several barista jobs, and traveled twice to Cardiff (to visit a friend at Uni there.)

Obviously, the enormous language barrier that existed in Korea is not actually a problem here.  And really - all the 'separated by a common language' jokes notwithstanding - MsCaroline hasn't had any silly misunderstandings yet, like asking for 'pants' when she means 'trousers' (hearty laughs all round) or using the word 'fanny' (not part of MsC's standard lexicon in either English) to the consternation of all and sundry. (US readers who don't know what I'm talking about, click here.)

In some ways, MsC feels that it might actually have been easier to move to the UK directly from the US, instead of coming from Korea, because she is still adjusting to Not Being In Korea at the same time she is adjusting to Being in the UK, and that has been a bit of a surprise. A few observations:


  • Not looking different:  In Korea, one is immediately recognized as a foreigner;  everyone understands that you're Not From Here, and braces themselves for stupid behavior accordingly.  No one expects you to be able to speak the language, no one expects you to know the customs, no one expects you to know what you're doing - and (Koreans being Koreans) most of the time, people will leap to help you (even when you don't need it.)  Here in the UK, though,  MsCaroline does not look appreciably different from anyone else (except shorter, fatter, and less chic), and - until she opens her mouth - it is simple enough for everyone to assume that she is a local who Knows What She is Doing.  This also means that, when MsCaroline does dumb things, she just looks Stupid, instead of like an Exotic Foreigner Who Does Not Know English Ways.  For example:  upon entering a pub, one always places orders at the bar.  Even if the pub is huge and looks like a proper restaurant.  Even if there are wait staff walking around the tables delivering food, and even if there are menus on the table.  What one does not do in a pub is sit down at the table and wait expectantly for someone to take one's order, because it will never happen, no matter how long one sits there waiting.  Do not ask me how I know this.  
  • Not knowing the customs:  Let MsCaroline preface this comment by saying that, before she moved to Korea, she never traveled by bus.  Subway, yes, but bus, no.  In Korea, however, she took the bus all the time and found it to be fast and efficient.  When she got to Bristol and noted the extensive bus system, then, she was a confident bus rider and ready to take advantage of a cheap and convenient public transport system in which she had the advantage of being able to understand everything she read.  What she did not know(but should have realized, duh), however, was that buses in Bristol (she cannot speak for the rest of the UK) are somewhat different than buses in Korea, particularly with regards to stopping.  In Korea, if a bus is supposed to stop at, say, Bus Stop #2, it stops there. Whether or not anyone needs to get off, and whether or not there is a person waiting at the stop (granted, the 'stopping' might be more of a 'slowing' but a token attempt is made.)  And if a person is waiting at the stop, the bus always stops.  If it happens that several buses serve the same stop and the person is waiting for a different bus, well, no harm done.  The driver closes the door and drives on.  But  - and this is key -if a person is waiting at the bus stop, the bus stops.  This is not, however, the case in Bristol, which is how it came to pass that, on one particular day, MsCaroline stood at a bus stop in Bristol for approximately 20 minutes while no fewer than 10 buses whizzed right by her, not so much as even slowing down, while she became more and more embarrassed and confused.  She even went so far as to search the bus stop for some sort of button or light to activate.  But it never once occurred to her to stick her hand out and hail the bus as you would a taxi.  So, she walked, and it was a refreshing and lovely walk indeed.  And when she went home later on, she watched  this video, which she probably should have done in the first place.  And now she knows. 
  • Not Knowing the money:  Yes, yes, MsCaroline understands that it's pounds and pence here;  that's not the issue.  The issue is, the coins.  First of all, MsC did not realize that there is a pound coin.  This is not like a US silver dollar or Susan B. Anthony thing - sort of largeish and weighty, sending the message, "Hey! I am pretty valuable!"  The pound coin is heavy, but smallish - sort of the size of a US nickel - and really unassuming, except for its goldish color.  As a result, one fails to realize that it's worth a lot of money (comparatively.)  The first thing MsC bought was an umbrella (yes, MsC moved to the UK without one like an idiot, but in her defense, she was rushing at the end there) which cost £6.  She handed over £10, and was given a handful of coins, which her American mind immediately calculated to be the change left over from the cost of the umbrellas plus tax(which is already added in the UK, like in Korea and most of Europe, not tacked on extra like in the US, but she was not thinking clearly.)  She continued to wait stupidlyexpectantly for the bills to be handed over, which, of course, did not happen. Only when she looked at the coins in her hand, did she realize that she'd been given 4 £1 coins, which was, of course, the correct change.  She is still getting used to this.  It also does not help that the coins you would expect to be more valuable tend to be less valuable (have you ever seen a 2p coin? It's huge!) and vice versa.  It also doesn't help that MsCaroline's aging eyes cannot always see the (very faint) print on the coins telling her what they are worth  - especially since she is often in pubsdimly lit places when she's trying to deal with these coins. It's very humbling.  She has finally resorted to taking out her money at home, figuring out what it is worth, and memorizing its sizes and shapes (big silver polygon=50p; tiny silver polygon=20p;  multicolored large circle- £2, etc.) so as not to embarrass herself quite as often.  
  • Understanding the language, but not the customs:  MsC is still trying to figure out how to respond to, "Alright?" For my non-UK readers, "Alright?" is used as a sort of a greeting in the UK, but MsC (despite intense observation and careful listening) has not figured out how to respond properly to someone who says, "Alright, MsCaroline?" or just, "Alright?" Usually, she is paralyzed by indecision:  What do I say? "Yes, I'm alright?" or, "Fine, Bob, and you?" or should I use it back at them, like 'Hi':  "Alright, MsCaroline?" "Alright, Bob?" When MsC first arrived, she thought that she somehow appeared to be unwell, and people were concerned about her.  In the US, if MsC were to ask someone if they were 'alright' it would indicate that the other person looked ill or upset and MsC was inquiring about their state of being.  Here, though (and maybe this is a Bristol thing, MsC has no idea) 'Alright?' is clearly a greeting.  The problem is, MsC just has no idea as to what the correct response would be.  She has settled for a kind smile and nod combined with an unintelligible mumble, hoping that the other person will hear what they expect to hear and let her off the hook.  She would greatly appreciate direction from anyone who can tell her what she should be saying.  She is pleased to report, however, that she is doing better with, 'Cheers' or 'Cheers, mate' which is clearly a farewell and not a toast.






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.