Monthly Archives: October 2013

An Update and a Halloween Story

It’s the week of Halloween, and you know what that means: I’m the most excited!  The trees are turning beautiful, brilliant shades of gold, orange, and burgundy, and the weather has been mostly beautiful this fall season.  Houses are decorated all over town.  I love it.  Fall rocks.  Fill my glass with apple cider, find me a pumpkin to mutilate, and I’m happy.

The job hunt is still on, but I’m hoping it’s reaching it’s conclusion.  I’m in the final stage of hiring for a job that I really, really want with a  company that I know will be awesome.  I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but obviously I have.  I’m just waiting for that final phone call for the last interview.  I figure if I can get in front of the hiring manager, I have as good a chance as anyone.  I’ve been researching the industry and the company, so fingers crossed!  Hard!

Anyway, back to Halloween.  It would be the Halloween season without a ghost story from the desk of Marge.  You all know I love my ghost stories!  Well, this one is recent, and it really spooked me!

As most of my regular readers know, both of my grandparents (my parents, really) passed away this year, Grandma in January and Grandpa at the end of August on my uncle’s birthday.  Not the greatest ever present for him, especially given that the two of them were very close.  My folks lived had lived in their home since 1963, I do believe – 50 years.  Two generations of our family have been raised in that house.  We all have always come home there.  Coming up that driveway has meant coming home for everyone since they were kids.  It’s the homestead.

Both of my grandparents died at home.  Actually, I’m sleeping in the bed my grandma died in.  I know, some people think that’s creepy, but it really doesn’t bother me.  I mean, it was my grandma.  Nothing to be scared of.  Grandpa died in the same room, but that doesn’t bother me, either.  He was surrounded by family, and they both had a very peaceful passing.  As I’ve said before, we should all be so lucky, to be 90 years old and die in our homes, free of pain.

Well, the folks’ house is old – same age as them, in fact.  It creaks and groans and has a closed-steam heating system complete with giant radiators that clang, bang, and sound like minor explosions at night sometimes.  The house talks.  It’s not hard to get creeped out in there, especially if you’re alone at night when the wind is howling around the corners of the house and through the old keyholes.  The place has character!  Nevertheless, I’m not particularly scared of the house, save my bedroom, and that’s because of experiences I’ve had that wholly personal.  I don’t really blame the house.

Anyway, my husband and I were sitting in the living room about two weeks ago while my aunt and uncle were still in town.  They had gone to the Mexican restaurant for dinner, leaving us alone with the baby, who was in bed.  My husband was sitting in Grandpa’s old armchair, and I was sitting in the chair nearest to the front door (that we use – there are three).  We were talking about something of no particular importance, and suddenly, we heard something from the kitchen.  A woman’s voice.

It was as clear as a bell.  We both heard it at the same time.  It stopped our conversation dead.  We both just stared at each other for about 30 seconds, and my husband finally asked, “Did you hear that?”

“Yeah.  What did that sound like to you?”

“I thought it sounded like someone calling ‘Margaret.’  Is your aunt here?”

“They went to dinner.  I didn’t hear the truck door, and the back door security beep didn’t go off. … I thought it said, ‘Mom’.”

At that, we both turned towards the kitchen, which had a light on, to listen and see if anyone was there.  There was no one.  My aunt and uncle didn’t walk through the door, beep included, until about 15 minutes later.  I asked if they’d been outside talking, and they said they hadn’t, that they’d just arrived home.

I told my uncle what happened, and he told me that while he and my aunt were home for Grandma’s funeral, they were laying in the bed in my old room one night.  There was nobody else in the house except for Grandpa, who was long asleep downstairs.  They were talking, and they heard what distinctly sounded like footsteps out in the hall.  Now, that seems easily explainable, given what I’ve told you about the “talkative” nature of the house, but believe me when I say that those old wooden floorboards have a very distinctive sound when someone walks on them.  They don’t make noises on their own.  My uncle was so convinced that someone was there that he got up to look, but sure enough, they were alone.  He said he could’ve sworn he heard someone walking from the top of the stairs to the bathroom.

Now, do I think my grandparents’ house is haunted?  Meh.  Both of these events took place with family in the house during a time of upheaval and high emotions.  I think things of this sort of more prone to occur at those times.  Also, let’s face it, it’s the family home, and would it really be that strange for a family member to drop by and make themselves known when there are plenty of us in the house?  Although I was spooked at the time, I determined that there was nothing to fear from that voice.  Was it my mom or Grandma or someone else?  Who knows?

One thing I can say for sure though is that we both heard something, and it definitely sounded like a woman’s voice calling out to someone.  My husband also claims he has heard the footsteps at night, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.  For my part, I haven’t heard them or anything else since that night.  I don’t really think our house is haunted, but I do think maybe we had some family visitors popping in to say hello while we were all hanging around.  After all, Grandma said more than once after she stopped using stairs that she missed the second floor of her house.  Perhaps she’s getting more use out of it, now that her knees aren’t hurting so bad!

Edit:

My grandparents moved to that house in about 1956.  So it’s been more like 65 years.  My bad.

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Happiness

This has to be a short post, since I’ve left my husband at home to sit at the library and use the free Interwebs to job-hunt.  I sat over at the state offices for about five hours yesterday, taking employment tests.  Nope, don’t have a job yet, but I’m hitting it hard, and I have a couple of places that are interested, one of which would actually offer an amazing salary and kick-ass benefits to boot.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that I can either land that job or the state calls and makes me a cushy offer!  Once you’re hired, you’re never fired at the State of Illinois!  Ah, the push towards endemic mediocrity!

Anyway, this is our third week here, and…  Life is good.  We’re happy.  The first week and a half was spent sharing the house with my aunt and uncle, but now that they’ve gone home, things have quieted down, and life is getting settled in.  You know what I’ve really noticed about being home so far?  In spite of the government shutdown, in spite of the high unemployment around here and the fact that most people aren’t exactly rolling in money, in spite of the fact that it’s cold and rainy, people are fucking happy.  I mean, they’re enjoying life.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve witnessed genuinely happy people?  Too damn long.

That is my biggest observation, upon return to the US: there is happiness here, and a general satisfaction with life that I never witnessed in Korea.  I never realized how miserable we had gotten there, and how much the atmosphere around us had started to poison things.  Maybe that was because we were both ready to go, but I don’t think so.  I think Korea is generally unhappy.  The high incidence of suicide would seem to support this, at least to some degree.  I can’t remember the last time I saw so many smiling people.

People smile at the grocery store and Wal-Mart.  They smile in their cars.  They smile while they’re out walking or playing in the (nicely wooded) park.  They smile even though they aren’t wearing great clothes or carrying a Louis Vuitton bag.  They smile even though their kids are driving them nuts and there’s nothing on the table yet for dinner.  They smile because there’s something around us here that lends itself to happiness. We aren’t the richest people here in west central Illinois, and we’re not pretty like the people on TV, but there’s something here, and it’s real and it’s good.  And I really missed it.

We went to a pumpkin festival in Springfield last weekend.  It was nothing fancy.  A non-profit donated pumpkins to organizations and schools all over Springfield, and they carved pumpkins to submit to the event.  Big parts of Washington Park were covered in pumpkin displays, Halloween decorations, and candy booths.  There were parents, grandparents, and plenty of kids running around, enjoying the crisp fall air and the warm glow of the spooky holiday.  My husband loved it, and he doesn’t like Halloween.  He said he’d never done anything like it before.  I enjoyed it too, and the kids had a grand time.  When was the last time we did something like that?

No, things aren’t perfect.  We have immigration to look forward to, and I’m still unemployed, but I’m working hard to make it happen.  I have a good feeling that something is going to come my way.  I don’t want to get overconfident, but I’m really hoping one particular opportunity pans out because I’m actually interested in the work, the company, and the people there.  I think I could really get into it as a career, and I haven’t felt enthused about work in ages.  Seriously, fingers crossed that this one will come to fruition!

So don’t cry for me, South Korea.  The truth is, I’m glad I left you.  Through all my wild days, my soju-soaked existence, I kept my promise – I didn’t get stuck there.  To all my fellow expats who are scared to come home – don’t be.  I have other friends who have left, and they’re going to make it.  Yes, the short-term without a job sucks, but you can make provisions for that before you go.  You can find a job here.  They are out there.  If you’re starting to hate life in Korea and feel stuck, go.  For your own sanity, get out.  Even our kid is happier here.  She has cousins to play with, more space to play in, toys and clothes donated from the family pile-o-stuff, and there are things to do with her besides go for walks.  Don’t get stuck.  Life is too short to waste being bored and unhappy.

Goodnight and Good Luck

Well, this is it.  Today was our final day in Korea, probably for good.  We’re not planning on coming back.  Our bags are packed, and we’re ready to go.  It’s the end of an era.  If we were starring in a big sitcom, this would either be the end of the season or, more probably, the end of the series.  The characters always travel to another country at the end of my favorites series: Ugly BettySex and the City… Okay, just those two, but you get the point.  

Am I sad to be saying goodbye to Korea?  Eh.  In ways, I guess.  I’ll miss our crappy jugong apartment, at least in the short run.  It was our first “family” home, so it’ll always have good memories, even though the bathroom tiles are falling off, the kitchen needed a renovation the day it was built, and there are spiders in the laundry room the size of the mice that also live in the laundry room.  Oh, and the neighbors that make ridiculously loud noises at equally ridiculous hours.  So that I won’t miss.

Weirdly, I was very sad to sell our Musso.  We were probably lucky to sell it at all, since it seems like most foreigners aren’t overly inclined towards large vehicles.  It found a good home with an engineer nevertheless.  That car was severely underrated.  The Mercedes diesel engine was a real gem – never gave us a single problem.  If you ever have a chance to buy a cheap car with a Benz engine in it, for God’s sake, do it.  You get all the perks of having a Mercedes and none of the drawbacks, and I’m specifically referring to the nickel-and-diming that happens when you own an aging German car.  

German cars are like the German language and really just about everything else in Germany.  When all the little parts are working, there is a harmonious, Heaven-sent vacuum of awesome matched by few other things.  When one little piece falls off, everything goes to shit.  The engine and drive train will run forever.  Everything else will fall apart.  Trust me, I know.  My first car was an ’85 Mercedes 190E, Boris.  He was my love, but like any good friendship/relationship, he cost me.  The A/C quit (twice), the exhaust had problems, the sunroof got stuck once, and the entire dash control face just fell off once while I was driving from Wisconsin to Illinois.  By the time it was all over, I was driving with a door that stuck, a 4-65 air conditioner (four windows down, 65 mph), no radio, no sunroof, and myriad other obnoxious problems – a car whose attitude matched a Saarlander’s after he’s just been told that the bar is out of beer.  But I digress.  

I guess there are other things I’ll miss about Korea.  Hanging on for dear life in taxi cabs and on buses.  Also dodging scooter boys on sidewalks and in small alleys, since it keeps you alert and limber.  I’ll miss seeing hookers on sparkling scooters with their legs crossed, trying to preserve whatever dignity they have left.  I’ll miss seeing drunk-ass ajosshis passed out in pools of their own vomit.  Or, you know, just random people sleeping on benches in the park like they’re homeless.  Basically, I’ll miss the funny bits of fuckery that make Korea laughable.  

I won’t so much miss the elbowing, spitting, hacking, shout-talking at each other, or the various disgusting odors that frequently permeate the city.  In Masan, it’s an oh-so-refreshing combination of welding, fish/ocean, and that nasty fruit stand/fishmonger down the back street.  You’ve never seen truly vomit-inducing garbage until you’ve seen a 100-liter trash bag full to the brim with fish guts and kimchi.  That is almost too real for me.  I also won’t miss people coming up and getting in the baby’s business, like she’s a baby panda at the zoo.  (I freaking hate pandas.  They are the stupidest animals ever.  What animal doesn’t want to mate?  What carnivore won’t eat meat?  Pandas.)

Now I know the question on everyone’s mind is: Will this be your last entry about Korea, Marge?  Heck no at all.  I still have more stories to tell, and I know I’ll have plenty to say about life after Korea.  Going abroad is always interesting.  It might be sad, scary, disappointing, or the most exhilarating thing you’ve ever done in your life, but one thing is for sure: You can never go home.  It might look the same and smell the same, but it never will be the same.  You can’t step into the same river twice.  I left America single but engaged and am coming home nearly four years later married with a kid.  My folks are gone, and this time, I’m really an adult.  There’s something about your parents being gone that makes you an adult.  There’s no net anymore, and there’s no excuse; you have to grow up.  Can’t be Peter Pan anymore. 

Anyway, my updates will be fewer and farther between for awhile, since I’m staying at the old homestead, and there’s no Interwebs.  Actually, there isn’t even any touchtone phone.  I know, I know: Queens of the Stone Age.  Actually, I think it’ll be sort of nice, at least for a week or two.  After the hustle and bustle of Korea, I don’t think I’ll mind being in the quiet for at least a bit.  I’m also sure that this feeling will pass, but it’ll be okay in the short-term.

In closing, as I sit here and think back on the last six years, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.  Sitting here on my makeshift bed for the last time, I’m somehow drawn back in time to a bed in an English hotel many years ago, when I had a late night panic attack and refused flat-out to come back to Korea.  (Yeah, never really loved it here, not gonna lie.)  I may be awake at a God-awful hour, but I’m going back to bed, and I’m not panicked this time.  In fact, given that I’m making a huge trip with a baby and a husband who despises long-distance travel, I’m oddly serene.  I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know that it’s time to find out.  The way will be hard, but I heard an expression not too long ago that I really liked: The only way out is through.  I think Robert Frost said it.  

So we’re going through.  Through Tokyo, Chicago, and St. Louis.  At the end of the line in the Lou, my aunt will be waiting to pick up and smother the kiddo with kisses.  She’s the one who dropped me off all those years ago.  It feels right, like everything has come full circle.  

To those of you who are staying on in Korea, I wish you good luck.  Good luck maintaining friendships in a world where people are in and out like there’s a revolving door.  Good luck finding a job with a boss who isn’t a criminal, half-crazy, or both.  Good luck getting your K-belt, if “yellow fever” is your thing.  Good luck saving some money and doing some fun traveling.  Good luck getting a full night’s rest before said travel.  As for me, I’m going back to bed because that rest is exactly what I need.  So goodnight and good luck, readers.  I’ll see you on the other side.