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23 Jan 2020

Deep in the heart – It has been over a week now since HJ and I got back from a three-week visit to Texas, where we spent Christmas and the new year with my parents. Regular readers here will know that I was born and raised in New York, but my entire family—my parents and my two younger brothers—now live in Texas. As my parents only recently moved there, this trip was the first time since I first left the States (way back in the 20th century!) that I’ve gone back to visit family and have not gone to New York. I wrote about this prospect back in 2018, noting that the only thing still connecting me to New York was my driver’s license, but when that expired lat year the final thread snapped, and I am now completely untethered from the place where I grew up.

“...Texas is weird...”

I wondered if it was going to feel weird going to Texas instead of New York, and having now returned home I can say that it was indeed weird. Not necessarily because Texas is weird in and of itself, but more because of the unfamiliarity of it all. My parents are living in a new neighborhood and in a new house (they just recently had it built), all of which I was seeing for the first time. They also happen to live out in the middle of nowhere, on a very large plot of land (fifteen acres, or over 60,000 square meters—or a little over 18,000 pyeong, if you are partial to the traditional Korean measurement of area), which I think made it feel that much more isolated. They are not that far from Dallas, but we didn’t spend that much time in the city, for various reasons: I was busy with work for the first week we were there, and then HJ hurt her knee (she’s better now).

We still did get to travel around a bit, at least in that area. The first thing that struck us, as we were driving from the airport to my parents’ place, was how flat the land was. Texas does have more varied terrain elsewhere, but where we were we never saw anything that I would even call a rise. I think this flatness also contributed to that feeling of isolation; you feel very small when you can see the horizon stretching out around you in every direction. On the positive side, though, we saw some very beautiful sunrises and sunsets while we were there, of the like I’ve never seen in Korea, and that was partly due to actually being able to see the horizon.

I suppose it would be more accurate, though, to say that the very first thing that struck us was how warm it was. When we exited the airport it felt like a warm spring day, and this was a couple of days before Christmas. It did generally get cold in the morning, sometimes down to near freezing, but during the day it warmed up considerably; on the warmest days, it was well into the 20s (70s). I remember sitting on the back porch and playing chess with my dad a day or so after we arrived, and it was so warm in the sunshine that I kept shedding layers of clothes. I knew that it was going to be warmer than Seoul—or New York, for that matter—but I still don’t think I was prepared for actually being that warm in December and January. At the same time, though, it wasn’t like being in SE Asia in the winter, where it can often get downright hot and humid.

My parents’ new house is nice, if a bit huge, although being brand new there are also things they still need to take care of. They don’t have gutters yet, for example, so when the rain comes down it just spills straight off the roof, and where two planes meet you get a deluge. More important for us, though, was the lack of a decent internet connection. Coming from a country where you almost always have a good connection, it was a bit of a shock to have to rely on a satellite connection that felt like going back to dial-up. It was, of course, faster than dial-up, but it was still excruciatingly slow. They also don’t have television/cable hooked up yet, either. We did watch some movies and TV shows through a Chromecast that my youngest brother Matt set up, but we spent a lot of time doing other things.

This was not necessarily a bad thing, though. One unexpected benefit of not having a reliable internet connection or access to television was that I basically spent the entire three weeks with zero access to the news. I’m not a big news hound normally, but I do try to keep tabs on what is going on in the world. For the time we were in Texas, though, I had no idea what the rest of the world was up to. And you know what? Somehow the world did not careen out of orbit and go flying into the sun. It was quite liberating to realize that I could be completely clueless about world events and life would go on as it always has. And even if some world-ending event should be just around the corner, I don’t think knowing about it would make my last days on this earth any more enjoyable. I began to dip back into the news after our return, but it wasn’t making me any happier, so I’ve since cut back significantly on my news consumption.

We didn’t do all that much traveling while we were in Texas, but we did head down past Austin to visit a friend of mine who moved from Korea with his family last year. We also did some sightseeing and shopping with the family in Dallas and Fort Worth. And of course we just hung out a lot. I don’t get to see my family all that often, so it was nice to have everyone in relatively close proximity. In fact, now that everyone is in Texas and in roughly the same area (my brothers live in different neighborhoods, but both are less than an hour away from my parents), it is far more likely that the whole family will get together than when my parents lived in New York. That being said, I don’t think it will ever feel like “going home” when we head to Texas. Of course, it’s been a long time since I’ve called New York home, too, but there were things there that I remembered from my youth, familiar things. Even if I do get more familiar with Texas, I can’t imagine that it will ever feel like anything more than “the place where my family lives.”

Still, I do look forward to the next time we can get back there, although that unfortunately probably won’t be for a while. There are plenty of things to see and do, and they don’t brag about their barbecue down there for nothing. Were my family not there, of course, I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit, but since they are there, I might as well make the most of it. Whether I will ever get back to New York now... I’d like to, but I guess we’ll just have to see how that goes.

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