The Move to Seoul – Goodbye Japan
June 21, 2008 — After eight days of tireless effort sorting, cleaning and packing our stateside home in Nashville, we found ourselves frantically re-packing suitcases to take the 16 hour flight to Seoul the next morning. Thankfully, T started vomiting the night before we were to leave so S rescheduled our flight for two days later. Of course I’m being facetious, we were worried about our little daughter being so sick, but on one hand, I wanted to throw my arms around her to give her a great big hug and say, “Thanks for throwin’ up, honey!” The extra days were so needed and gave us the time to shop for clothes for everyone, which we hadn’t had any time to do before, and this was one of my main goals in going back to the states. It gave us 24 hours to relax for just a little while before the long flight, and also some extra time with Grandma B, who was a lifesaver for us during this really hard week.
I can’t fully or succinctly encapsulate how taxing our trip home was, nor would you probably care to hear about it, but, aside from the day-long stopover we did in Chicago to see Grandpa,
and then the meals we ate at Cracker Barrel with Grandma, there was no relaxing vacation happening at any point. I had just come off a three-week tornado of leaving our home in Japan, saying tearful good-byes to friends, coordinating shipping of our various household items, selling and shipping cars, packing clothes to mail ahead to Seoul and setting aside things to pack in our suitcase, just to name a very few of the things it took to move.
Then we stayed in military lodging for a week with no car. It was very surreal because we had come full-circle — we were back where we had started two years earlier, staying in lodging, hoofing it around the base on foot. When we had finally shipped off one vehicle to Korea and sold the other, S said, “I can finally say this now that our cars are gone — we did good, we never had an accident in Japan.” Later that day, we backed into a mailbox with the army rental van and cracked the back window. As far as accidents go, it was no big deal, but we couldn’t ignore the irony of it. And, as if the irony gods were controlling this whole scene, though the window cracked and glass scattered all over the ground, we had just finished up the final cleaning of our house so our van was stocked with brooms, buckets and dust pans which we promptly took out and used to sweep and scoop up all the chunks of glass. How convenient, ne?
Just a few hours later, that same day, we had the final honor of being visited by a crowd of fireman who came running to our room after Kiki turned the stove knobs of the kitchenette stove in our hotel room, causing a 24-pack of water bottles sitting on the burner to begin smoking. S and I were sitting just a few feet away watching TV and trying to forget the broken car window incident when a loud beeping started in the building and a voice followed in it’s calm, pre-recorded manner saying, “There is a fire on the third floor. Please evacuate the building. There is a fire on the third floor. Please evacuate the building.”
The following ran through our minds: “What? What? Fire? What? Where? Third floor? OUR third floor? On THIS floor? Where? What? Here? OH here. OH HERE! Oh my gosh! HERE! How? Kiki? Water bottles? Who’s at the door? Firemen!”
In truth, the “fire” was actually just a little smoke, and since the smoke was emanating from burning water bottles, the good thing is that eventually, the water would have put out the fire, right? Meanwhile, S and I are about to have a stress breakdown, we can’t stop the alarm because it’s building-wide, T is screaming in the doorway because her kindergarten class had just visited the fire station and she thinks we’re gonna burn if we don’t stop, drop and roll immediately (even though there’s now no smoke since I moved the water bottles off the burner and put them in the sink,) and the fire engine sirens are whirring outside getting ever closer to our building. The really bad part was that Ches had just walked over to the other building to rent some movies and when she came back, everyone from inside was standing outside, the fire trucks were there, but none of us had gone outside because we knew there was nothing happening with the fire. However, C was scared to death thinking we had all been caught in a fire or something. It wasn’t funny. Really. Not at all. So, I don’t know why I’m laughing right now.
In the end, I guess we had to have those two last experiences before we could leave Japan – having a car accident and having your smoke alarm go off and getting stormed by firefighters is a part of almost everyone foreigner’s experience at Camp Zama. In fact, setting off the fire alarm had happened all the time to other families in our housing area, and we had been amazed that it had never happened to us.
So, by the time we arrived home to the States, we were already overwhelmed and exhausted. We were also jet-lagging and apprehensive about all the new obstacles that lay before us, with the upcoming 16 hour flight to Seoul and then living in a hotel room for up to 60 days, and then finding a new house and new friends and new schools and new language and new job and new life. The anticipation of all of that was weighing heavily on me. How would I adjust? Would I like Korea as much as Japan? How could I since Japan was so awesome? All these things were waiting in my head to come forward, just as soon as it was their turn. But first, I had to wrap up Japan, deal with Nashville and then do that god-awful flight. Don’t get me wrong, the flight from Japan was pretty miserable, too. However, that one is only an 11 hour flight and the one to Seoul was direct from Atlanta for over 15 hours. Since I knew how much I had wanted to die on the last 11 hour flight, I couldn’t imagine what emotions I would go through on the 16 hour one. The dread of it lingered over me like a black cloud.
But, there was no time to think about the past or worry about the future. There was only today to worry about and I had an entire attic to empty, hundreds of books to sort, old keepsakes from 3 generations to look though and decide on — whether to store it, ship it to Korea or throw it away. I sorted through more boxes in 8 days than I can usually sort through in 8 months, or 8 years! There were piles of papers my mother had left behind filled with shopping lists and bank statements, and notebooks full of ideas, plans, and dreams. There were boxes of my dad’s math papers, tests he’d written, charts he made to graph the classroom averages of the students he taught with elaborate calculations he’d done to make sure that his tests were perfected to result in the most equitable scores falling perfectly across the bell curve. He had to have so many A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s to be sure that his tests weren’t too hard or too easy. He must have spent more time analyzing the results of his tests than he actually did coming up with the questions. I love that about him, by the way. There were letters from my grandparents, old pictures and even slides. What was I gonna do with slides? It was a tremendous amount to assimilate, but I plowed through it until 2am for several nights because, well, because I had to.