The Grumpy Expat: August 2013

MsCaroline, circa 1970, in Bangkok.  Grumpy even in her early years.

MsCaroline wrote a post a few months ago about being a grumpy expat, in which she described an interesting phenomenon in which her brain managed to frame every unpleasant thing in her life as a direct result of her living in a foreign country.  In short, she had become a victim of her Grumpy Expat Brain.

In fact, her brain has been so grumpy, that she has started (and stopped) any number of blog posts, typing away frantically for minutes at a time (all the while with the growing awareness that she was writing Crap) only to stop mid-sentence and perform the cyber-equivalent of crumpling up her paper and tossing it angrily on the floor (which means hitting 'delete' for you kids out there.)

She has finally hit on the brilliant idea of following these time-worn honored pieces of advice to writers all through the ages:  1) just write.     2) write what you know.

So, MsCaroline is writing what she knows.  And what she has been knowing for the past several weeks is grumpy internal monologue.  Don't say she didn't warn you.

Friday, August 10th (Incheon International Airport):   Following a 22-hour flight, arrive at ICN, and after enduring the usual bureaucratic indignities, drag hideously heavy bags (full of treasures purchased in the US) several kilometers across Largest Parking Lot in Asia to find car.  Observe it is approximately a thousand degrees hotter in Seoul than it was in Washington D.C. Rejoice in relatively light traffic until we reach Seoul proper and drive into a hideous traffic jam.  Wish for more powerful air conditioning in car.

Thursday, August 15th:  Long-overdue appointment with hairdresser.  Reflect on how fortunate one is to have found an English-speaking hairdresser who does a reasonable job, if one doesn't look too closely at the stripes highlights on the sides of the head.  Decide (foolishly) that, after 2 years, relationship (and hairdresser's English) is good enough to attempt to explain that the stripes highlights are not quite the look one is striving for.  Reason that, if hairdresser puts in more highlights, the stripe effect will be less obvious, even if it is still extant.  Ask in clear and simple English for 'more highlights here on the sides'.;  Hairdresser replies, Ah, more bronde? Repeat no, not blonder, just more highlights.  Hairdresser nods sagely and gets to work.  When All is Revealed 2 hours later, it is clear that the only word the hairdresser has heard is more.  While it is true that hair is less striped, it must also be admitted that entire coiffure is a color not known in nature.  Consider asking for corrective action, then think the better of it:  God only knows what the results might be.  Leave salon looking like an aging, dumpy version of Pink.  Consider the possibility of wearing a turban until December but realize this is impossible due to heat and humidity.

Saturday, August 17th:  Elephant curtains having finally arrived in post, MrL is finally nagged into ready to take on the challenge of hanging them.  Task is complicated by the fact that apartment does not have curtain rods, but does have strange, small soffits directly over the doors (leaving approximately 10cm of space to install a rod, which rules out chunky decorative rods MsC had hoped for) and that, once installed, curtains must be able to be pushed out of the way on regular basis to allow access to both laundry facilities and open balcony where MsC likes to have her cocktail in the evenings coffee in the mornings.   Several trips to hardware stores later, MrL comes up with ingenious solution involving narrow - but strong - galvanized piping which will be cut and installed behind soffit.  He then produces a bag of power tools, dons safety glasses, and proceeds to cut pipe to fit on balcony.  MsC is both stunned and impressed that he brought power tools with him to Seoul, although on further reflection, she realizes she should not have been surprised. Curtains are finally hung (not without a certain amount of bickering) and MsCaroline realizes that they do not look nearly as fabulous as she'd hoped they would.  Further realizes that it would be unproductive to make this observation aloud.   Thanks MrL for his efforts, and decides she will pretend the curtains are not there, which is rather a shame after all the time and money they've spent, but there is really nothing else to be done.

Wednesday, August 21st:  First day of teacher orientation week after entire summer off.  Realize with a shock on the way to school that I have not spoken a word of German all summer and will be walking into a week long of jargon-filled planning meetings in that language.  Hastily download Deutsche Welle podcasts onto iPhone and try to reprogram brain during 15-minute walk - largely unsuccessful. First several hours back = most trying.

Saturday, August 24th:  Take stock of potted plants in balcony garden, which have been looking miserable lately.  Decide they are stressed from too much hot sun and insufficient water (housekeeper tasked with watering them weekly during our absence.)  Spend the morning moving them to shadier places and soaking them thoroughly.

Monday, August 26th:  Plants look even worse, if possible, especially one topiary which was covered with blossoms before MsC left for the US which have now all turned black and shriveled away without ever opening up.  MsC notes that topiary wilts in hot afternoon sun and contrives to move it to even shadier spot in conjunction with increased watering, replacing it with thriving and intensely green arborvitae plant.

Wednesday, August 28th:  Topiary distinctly worse.  MsC finally resorts to Googling the problem.   Discover that sun-loving topiary's black blossoms may be a sign that they are overwatered, which - based on weekly watering by housekeeper -should not be a problem.  Subsequently learn that, during time MsCaroline was in the US, it rained every single day and that plants should probably have been brought indoors to prevent root rot. Wonder what MrL's reaction will be when and if hideously expensive topiary should die.  Wonder if it can be spirited away while MrL is at work and replaced with something cheaper.

Thursday, August 29th:  Belatedly observe that once-thriving arborvitae is now yellow and nearly dead.  Concede that vision of balcony as lush green bower is not as easily accomplished as one would think. Wash hands of whole thing and decide to ignore plants altogether, after which they immediately begin to thrive again.

Friday, August 30th:  Receive first electricity bill for new apartment, which is heart-stoppingly high, despite suffering miserably exercising extreme self-control in regards to use of air conditioning.  Go out and buy more fans.


Lest you think that MsCaroline is nothing but a complainer, let her hasten to reassure you that there is still good in the world, and she knows it.  As evidence, she submits:

Slow, steady, and encouraging recovery:  Good friend of MrL's and MsC's who had been in a coma after cycling accident not only recognizes us when we visit him in the hospital, but also a) smiles and:  b) still understands English (his 2nd language.)  We rejoice all the way home.

Hugs and smiles from former pupils make the first day of school an absolute joy.

Son #2's iGCSEs - These tests are not taken by American pupils, but #2's school (which has a British division) makes them available to all students, and #2 sat them last spring with a great deal of Sturm und Drang and dark predictions of failure.  Scores came out last week, and, as it turns out, #2 not only passed, he passed everything with flying colo(u)rs -or at least, so MsCaroline (who did not really understand the grading system) was assured, by bona fide citizens of the UK, who should know what's what.

Dropping temperatures:  Korean friends tell MsCaroline that temperatures will drop around 1st of September.  MsCaroline- who, by now, cannot even remember a day when temperatures were comfortable - is skeptical.  Fortunately for her, Korean friends are correct:  temperatures drop precisely on September 1st, and MsCaroline flings doors and windows open with wild abandon for the first time in months.  MsCaroline realizes it is sad that she is so excited about dropping temperatures, but anyone who has experienced Seoul in the summer will understand why this is so significant.

Pren-duh:  Tiny local hardware store around the corner (roughly the size of MsC's living room) has been go-to spot for all of MrLogical's curtain-hanging apparatus and mechanical geegaws.  Lovely proprietor - who now recognizes us - speaks about as much English as we speak Korean (eg, almost none) but always does her best to find what we need.  Stop in on Sunday afternoon to pick up yet another piece of galvanized metal pipe (curtain rods, people;  curtain rods) and find proprietor there with her teenage daughter, who is sitting by the register doing homework.  As we enter, proprietor greets us delightedly, takes MsC by the  arm, and introduces her to her daughter in a torrent of incomprehensible Korean.  Bows and smiles are exchanged, and then the proprietor gives MsCaroline's arm a little squeeze, smiles at her, and says to her daughter, "Pren-duh."  

MsCaroline smiles blankly, but doesn't get it right away; and then she remembers:  'f' in Korean often comes out as ''p'


Not feeling grumpy at all.


Karen said…
Love it! Finished reading with a smile. Friends truly are a good thing! Good to see you back, Carolyne. Laughed at your plant hanging plant is pathetic, but I keep trying. Amazingly, all others are doing well, so them must love benign neglect. Happy September!
MsCaroline said…
Karen - yes, they are, and an especially nice surprise when you aren't expecting to find one. Sadly, all of my plants seem to be happiest when ignore them...very much like teenagers...; )
Stacy said…
I think we all know by now that you are far from a whiner, Carolyne. But when you do complain we are heartily amused so, as much as I hate to encourage complaining, carry on! You make me smile!

How wonderful that you have found a new friend. She sounds thrilled to know you too! I love getting to know the shopkeepers but it must be a real challenge with the language barrier. Well done!

As for your curtain issues: Photos, please. We'll be the judge. I am sure they are not as bad as you are suggesting, just not as nice as you were hoping.

And last but not least, congratulations to #2 for his good results!
Unknown said…
Ahhhh, Caroline, you make my heart smile!
BavarianSojourn said…
That last one very nearly made me cry! I am not laughing at your stripey hair though, nightmare! :D
MsCaroline said…
Stacy: Thanks so much - I realize that I'm pretty fortunate that the things that make me grumpy are so minor - but I know most people can relate, so...share I do! Re: curtains: I think I will have to do a whole post on the curtains: MrL really did come up with an ingenious fix for windows that clearly aren't meant to have curtains, and he should probably get some credit for it!

Traci: Awwww....thanks! <3

Emma: I just keep telling myself that the hair will grow out...and the new 'pren-duh' made me feel like I'd been given a present!
Unknown said…
I love reading your blogs... husband sitting at next desk wondering about my random bursts of laughter and then the "aaaws" at the end :)
That made me all teary eyed! Friendship makes everything better. :)
Trish said…
This is what blogging is all about, MsC. Tell us the good and the bad, the funny and the serious and we feel honoured to be a part of your life. Far better than a sanitised version.

I have no idea about iGCSEs either even though I live in the UK. I am only just getting to grips with the marking system (UMS points??) for son's AS level results. He also did far better than we expected. Congrats all round!

My hair has also gone a funny colour. Bit darker than I had hoped for. I look like Morticia.
Kelly Garcia said…
Your grumpiness is completely entertaining! I've been there with the curtain trials and tribulations AND the plant ones too. AND the Korean hair coloring gone awry. Hope the turn around continues this month though. This weather doesn't hurt one bit.
Nance said…
If we didn't crab about and perseverate over our hair, what would you and I have as a hobby? LOL.

I am currently trying like crazy to decide whether or not to go to the stylist and get something done. Something. The problem is, she does whatever she wants while she chats and chats, and pretty soon, it's too late.

I have given up altogether on plants in pots, both indoor and outdoor. I simply cannot ignore them properly. Good luck!

Desperately trying to conceive of a place where elephant curtains could hang here at the Dept.....
MsCaroline said…
Lori - I'm glad you like them - and I'm happy to contribute to keeping John wondering what's going on!

Heather -yes, it really does..even cyber-friends! ; )

Trish - congrats to Rory, although I have no idea what AS is/are. No surprise with such clever far as hair goes - we'll make quite a spectacular contrast - Morticia and Pink...; )

Kelly - I'm pretty sure everyone in ROK has a hair horror story to tell, but it just kills me that I managed to mostly avoid it for over 2 years and then messed up by getting overconfident about my ability to communicate. You should be able to pick me out of a crowd anywhere in Seoul now - bright WHITE/YELLOW hair on a short middle-aged lady who really should not be trying to carry it off...sigh.

Nancy - I am not in any way trying to one-up you, but I would like to point out that at least you and your stylist speak the same language (in theory at least, unless yours speaks something else as a 1st language) even if she doesn't pay any attention to what you're saying. I can talk until I'm blue in the face and it's pretty much a given that only about 25% of what I say is actually comprehended...sigh.The worst part for both of us is that, while we may not be thrilled with what we're getting from our present hairstylists, we're probably both too terrified to go to a new person and possibly get something worse...or is that just me?

What a very good writer you are and how good it is to have you back, grumpy or not. I do now feel that I know what you have been up to, warts, and stars, and all! Enjoy your cooler September.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - Thanks for both the compliment and the 'welcome back'!Probably the best thing about expat blogs is that readers can see that our day-to-day challenges are all pretty much the same as what goes on back home - with a few extra twists! Sooooo grateful for this cool weather, I can't even begin to tell you - and we are enjoying it tremendously!
Expat mum said…
Prenduh. I love it! How sweet!

If it makes you fell better, I still blame a lot of my woes on the USA and I've been here 23 years! (This may have sparked my next Expat Focus post, for which you will get full credit!)
Iota said…
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment on mine. And you're totally allowed to be grumpy - it's your blog!
Iota said…
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment on mine. And you're totally allowed to be grumpy - it's your blog!
Iota said…
You don't think that the hardware store proprietor thinks your name is Brenda, perhaps? (just joking)
MsCaroline said…
EM - Thank you! I'll look forward to reading what you have to say - one of the reasons I love blogs written by expats in the US is the insights you get into American culture from a different viewpoint - things that you just accept as the status quo without thinking that there might be a different way of doing it. As you've observed before, that goes both ways - plenty of good things in the new culture as well, and there are quite a few things I would love to take back to the US with me. But on a bad day, it's just one 'why can't they come up with a better way to do this' experience after another...
MsCaroline said…
Iota - yes, it is nice to have a platform for a little whining - but I should probably include a disclaimer that I am NOT perpetually grumpy - it just seems that grumpiness and blogging inspiration always strike at the same time! And 'Brenda' is one I hadn't thought of! I did actually wonder for a minute if 'prend-uh' meant 'foreign lady who drives me crazy every weekend asking for bizarre oddments' but I hope she wouldn't be holding my hand and smiling when she said it!!!

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