The move – It has been four days now since we moved into our new place in the faculty apartments of Seoul National University. Since we didn’t have a lot of time to prep for the move (I was swamped with a lot of work, and HJ had a lot of classes to teach), we decided to do something called “packaged moving” (pojang isa). Basically, you leave everything as is, and then the moving team comes in, packs up everything for you, moves it to the new place, and puts it all back in its proper place.
At least, that’s the theory. The first two steps—the packing up and moving steps—went more or less according to plan. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a bit traumatic having a Mongolian horde (this is not entirely a metaphor—the entire team, with the exception of the boss, was comprised of Mongolians) come rumbling into the apartment and start dismantling and packing up the last six years of our life. I mentioned last time that this was the longest I had lived in any one place since graduating from high school. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that this was the longest HJ had lived in any one place in her entire life. I knew she had moved a lot as a kid, but I hadn’t realized how much.
So it was already a bit melancholy to be leaving behind a place that, for better or worse, had become home. And having a moving team pack up all your things is also a bit weird. For me, though, the threshold—the crossing of the Rubicon, if you will—was when the moving team boss said, “From now on everybody wears shoes.” In Korea, you never wear shoes inside a home, and whether or not you wear shoes is probably the most obvious distinction between “inside” space and “outside” space. (I heard that when indoor shopping centers first started opening up in Korea, there were problems with people spitting and doing other things on the floor, which I’m sure made sense to the offenders at the time—hey, we’re not wearing shoes, so this is an outside space!) So before the packing even started, just seeing people tromping around our apartment in shoes was very jarring and, to be honest, rather traumatic. In that moment the apartment was no longer our home.
Trauma aside, everything went fairly smoothly, at least until we got to our new place and came to the last step: putting everything back in its proper place. Of course, our new apartment differs from our old apartment in terms of size and layout, so it was always going to be impossible to have everything organized perfectly, but you do expect a certain amount of common sense to be used. This did not happen. What happened instead was that things were shoved willy-nilly into whatever spaces made themselves available around the apartment. Thus it has taken us the past few days to get everything more or less organized. Still, I suppose not having to pack everything up was a big help, even if we did have to spend a few days getting everything in order. If we had had to do everything from packing to unpacking, I imagine it would have taken us a lot longer.
In addition to trying to get everything into its proper place, I spent most of yesterday sorting through books, dividing them into books that will go into my office and books that will stay at home. Right now the books that will go into my office are piled in stacks in our living room, in what HJ calls the “Great Wall of Books.” Moving those over to my office and then figuring out how to arrange them on the shelves should be fun, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
One good thing about our location is that we are very close to my building on campus—not as close as I was to my building at HUFS (where it was a four-minute walk), but I was surprised to find that it takes me less than fifteen minutes by foot. And the neighborhood is a lot nicer than HUFS as well, as we sit nestled here at the foot of Mt. Gwanak. The nearest trailhead is maybe a five-minute walk away, so I expect we will be doing a good deal of hiking.
The apartment itself is nice, and even more so now that it is no longer an empty space and starting to feel like home. There are some oddities that we have had to work around, and others that will probably take a while to get used to. We were surprised to discover, for example, that the kitchen contains not a single drawer. Fortunately, the piece of furniture that we brought along to house our mini-oven and microwave has a drawer in it, and that’s where all our silverware is now.
My biggest disappointment, I think, is the size of the kitchen. This probably doesn’t sound like a manly thing to say, but for the past six years I have been dreaming of having a large kitchen. I think I would have even settled for a reasonably-sized kitchen. The kitchen in our old apartment was miniscule... but they somehow managed to make the kitchen here even tinier. At least it feels tinier, probably because we somehow have to fit a table in there. The apartment manager said that previous tenants managed to fit four-toppers in the space, but I don’t see how. We’ve measured out space for a two-topper, and I can’t imagine trying to squeeze in anything bigger.
On the positive side, though—perhaps to make up for the kitchen—we actually have a verandah! If you’re from the States, this is not what you think it is, but I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s called a verandah here, although I guess if I were pressed to describe it I would call it an enclosed balcony—except it’s not really a balcony because a balcony projects outward from the wall, while these verandahs are built into the building. To go back to the inside/outside space idea above, you wear slippers in them but not shoes, which means they are not exactly inside spaces, but they are also not exactly outside spaces. They are, to use a word I think I might have heard somewhere, liminal spaces. The important point is that our previous apartment lacked such a space. The space here, though, is so large that we are planning on putting a matching four-topper out there to use in warmer weather. There is also a built-in planter in which we intend to plant some herbs and vegetables.
In addition to the tables (which we haven’t bought yet), we have some other new furniture. The place at HUFS was actually fully furnished, but they used the cheapest furniture they could find, so we ended up buying a lot of our own furniture—a bed, a sofa, a refrigerator, etc. We did not, however, have our own TV or range, so we had to order these. After using the tiny TV that the school provided for so long, our new 40” HD TV is... well, it’s frightening, to be honest. I’m not used to being able to actually read text printed on the screen. Of course, we haven’t gotten a console for the TV to sit atop of yet, so it is currently sitting on a tall bookshelf that has been turned sideways and set on the floor.
And I guess that’s about all there is to report for now. Things have been mostly cleaned up and organized at this point—well, aside from the Great Wall of Books—but it will take a while longer before we’re willing to call the job done. And there is the matter of the furniture we have yet to get. I will have photos of the new place at some point, but I figured I would wait until everything was in place and the apartment looked presentable before I did the shoot.
Sometime in the coming week I will probably be writing again, this time about the other side of the transition; in my last entry I said goodbye to HUFS and GSIT, and in my next entry I will talk about what it is like to be (back) at SNU.