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1 Jan 2022

New year, new home – Here we are, the first day of the new year, and we are at last settled in at our new place. Several entries ago I began what I have been thinking of as “the moving saga,” and today will be the final chapter in that. We pick up where we left off last time, with the appliances that had not been installed because the spaces where they were supposed to go were not the right size. Thankfully, everything got sorted on that front and both the washing machine and oven were installed successfully last Tuesday. On Wednesday the kitchen cabinet doors went on, completing the interior renovations. The original plan after this was for HJ to clean the place so that we could avoid a professional cleaning and save a little money. Well, once HJ saw how much dust there was left over from the construction, she decided that perhaps it would be worth it after all to hire a professional. So that’s what happened on Thursday.

“Despite our fears, we managed to fit everything into the apartment, even if it did look like a garage sale.”

With the interior done and the place cleaned, Friday was the day for getting other things done: the living room curtains, curtain rods for the other rooms, and a ceiling fan for the living room. Friday was also the day that HJ took delivery of the shelving units that would replace our old living room console, which was a little too big for the new place. When I got home on Friday afternoon, though, HJ exasperatedly told me that one of the sets of drawers was defective and that she would have to bring it halfway across the city to return it. This made no sense to me—why should she have to lug a set of drawers across the city when it was the company that had delivered a defective product? So HJ called the company back and asked them to send someone to pick the drawers up. I could hear the guy on the other end go into a spiel about how HJ had signed off on the drawers and thus it was now her responsibility if she wanted to return them. This made me rather angry, and it took quite a bit of self control to just sit there and let HJ handle it. I’m not going to lie—I really wanted to grab the phone and give this guy a piece of my mind. I resisted the urge, though, and HJ did a pretty good job of giving him a piece of her mind. She may have signed off on the furniture, but the delivery guy only really gave it the most cursory of examinations before getting her signature. It wasn’t until later, when she went over the shelves in detail, that she discovered the flaw. Still, even if the customer did technically sign off on something, wouldn’t you want to do whatever you could to accommodate them? In the end, the company reluctantly agreed to send someone to pick up the drawers, although we would have to visit their office to get our refund. We took this as a victory and agreed that we would never order anything from this company again.

That evening, we met the interior design guy at the new place to go over everything in detail. There are still a few minor things that need fixing or modification, but those will be taken care of in due time. I was pretty happy with the way things looked, and also glad that we had gotten the place professionally cleaned. With everything clean and sparkling, and with the curtains in the living room installed, the apartment was at last starting to feel like a home and not a foreign, empty space.

Saturday was Christmas, and we got a nice present that morning when the last item we had posted on Karrot Market—the living room TV console—finally sold. We had put everything up fairly cheaply, but our goal was never to make a lot of money off these items, it was just to get rid of stuff. And we did end up making a couple hundred dollars (or a couple hundred thousand won) from items we would have had to pay to throw away, so I’m not complaining. After lunch, we went over to the new place to put up the remaining curtains, put up some temporary winter insulation on some of the windows (it’s basically two layers of bubble wrap stuck together), and do a little final cleaning. When we got back home late that afternoon, we both felt rather wiped out. The next day, Sunday, was originally supposed to be another day of cleaning and prepping the place, but we still felt tired and run down. It was bitterly cold over the weekend, and I think that took a lot out of us, but I imagine the stress of the upcoming move didn’t help, either. So we decided to instead spend the day resting and doing our final preparations for the move. No point in wiping ourselves out before the move.

We were up early on Monday morning, and for the last time I watched from our living room as the sky slowly brightened over the mountains. The movers arrived at 8:30 and the move finally began. It’s a rather traumatic experience having a bunch of strange people barge into your house and start taking everything away. The fact that everyone is walking around with their shoes on makes it doubly traumatic, because that is when you realize that the apartment is no longer a home, it’s now just a space filled with way too much stuff.

We had arranged for a full-service move, which meant that the movers would pack everything up, move it to the new place, and then unpack it and put it away. This is certainly more convenient, but it is a little nerve-wracking and disconcerting to see the movers yanking things off of shelves and stuffing them in boxes like a very efficient gang of thieves. Fortunately, we did have Karrot Market to distract us—the people who had bought our large furniture items began arriving at 9:30, and we spent a while outside making sure that everyone got the correct items (and paid their balances, if any). Only one guy didn’t show up, and that was the guy who had bought the washing machine. We suspected that he was a professional who either recycled appliances or ran a second-hand store. He had originally said he would be by at 10:00, but when 11:00 rolled around and the movers were just about finished, he still hadn’t shown up. When we called him, he said that there was a problem with the truck and he wouldn’t be able to come by until four in the afternoon. So we asked the movers to put the washing machine just inside the front door of the building—we figured that no one was just going to walk off with it.

The movers went off to have lunch, and we drove over to the new place to get things ready. We stopped to get some egg sandwiches at a place near our building and ate those while standing at the island (yes, it’s a peninsula, but the distinction isn’t made in Korean, so I’m just going to keep calling it an island) in the kitchen—our first meal in our new home. It wasn’t the fanciest or most comfortable meal, but it was a start. After we finished our hasty repast, we busied ourselves around the apartment making sure that everything was ready. Actually, everything was already ready, so really we only just ran around anxiously as we waited for the movers.

The movers arrived at half past noon, and the first thing they brought up was HJ’s electric piano. As they took off the protective padding, I noticed that the veneer on one corner had been shattered, revealing the particle board underneath. I then saw that the same thing had happened on the other corner. Even worse, the lid was stuck and wouldn’t open properly. This was not a very auspicious start, and I began to grow very nervous about the rest of our belongings. There was nothing to be done about the shattered veneer, but the leader of the moving team brought up his tool box and set about fixing the lid. It took him a good amount of fiddling, but he eventually got it back in working order. I turned it on and hit a few keys to make sure it still worked—fortunately, the electronics and everything else seemed to have avoided damage.

The only other hiccup was with the stand-alone drawers that go next to my desk (well, underneath the desk now, since there’s no room next to the desk). Somehow one of the drawers had come open during the move, and it was stuck open and wouldn’t close. Once again, the team leader went to work with his toolbox and fixed the issue. Oh, and we also lost a wine glass that got shattered during the unpacking, but seeing as we had paid two thousand won (about two bucks) for it at Daiso and rarely used it anyway, we weren’t too fussed.

The process of getting the furniture in and then taking everything out of the boxes and getting it put away ended up taking a lot longer than the packing had taken that morning. Part of that was because the team leader spent so much time fixing stuff and wasn’t able to contribute to the unpacking as much as he normally would have. It’s funny, because when we first hired this company, we noticed that they proudly advertised the fact that that they had “no foreigners” among their employees. When we last moved (that is, when we moved into the faculty apartments at SNU), our moving team consisted entirely of foreigners, with the exception of the team leader. They did put a pretty nice dent in my bread machine, but in retrospect they did a better job keeping our stuff safe than this team did. (I do remember that it was a little frustrating trying to communicate with them, though, because they did not seem to speak Korean that well.)

The team leader being out of commission for much of the time was not the only reason it took longer to unpack—I think it just takes longer to unpack stuff than it does to pack, especially when you have as much stuff as we do. As the afternoon wore on and the movers kept bringing up stacks of boxes, HJ and I started to despair a little. Did we really have this much stuff? There were already piles of stuff building up, yet the boxes kept coming, like some sadistic clown car in reverse. In theory, the moving team should be able to put everything away properly, but in reality you’re moving from one place to another, very different place, so even if they’ve marked on the boxes where they’ve gotten everything from, there’s only so much they can do in terms of putting stuff away. We ended up tossing anything that we didn’t know what to do with into the storage room (what HJ calls her “piano room”). We eventually plan to have large shelves along one side of the room that will allow us to store more stuff, but right now we don’t have those shelves, so everything is sitting in piles.

At some point that afternoon, the guy from Samsung showed up to install our new induction cook top. He gave us the rundown on how it works, which we tried our best to remember despite the chaos all around us. The basic operation is fairly simple, though, so we weren’t too worried. He showed us a demonstration by boiling a pot of water (in a pot that he brought up himself), and everything was in working order. The internet guy was also supposed to show up at around four in the afternoon, but as four o’clock approached it became clear that the movers were nowhere near finished bringing stuff up and unpacking it, so we had to reschedule for the following morning.

As it turned out, the movers didn’t finish until after five. Despite our fears, we managed to fit everything into the apartment, even if it did look like a garage sale. Not everything made the trip completely unscathed, but all told I think we made out pretty well. By the time it was all over, we were tired and hungry (the egg sandwiches hadn’t turned out to be all that filling), and there was no way we were going to doing any cooking with the apartment in the state it was. Fortunately, we have a lot more options here for eating out than we did in the old place. On the first floor of our building, in fact, there was a soba place that we had wanted to try. Seeing as neither of us wanted to travel far afield, the decision was an easy one. Besides, it is a Japanese custom to have soba on moving day. At least, that is what I learned from my Japanese friends at university. It turns out that the soba tradition dates back to at least the 19th century but was originally the practice of gifting dry buckwheat noodles to your neighbors upon moving to a new place, not eating buckwheat noodles after moving. I was less concerned about the “accuracy” of the tradition, though, than I was about just getting something in my belly. We both got soba and donkatsu set menus, which turned out to be really good.

(A brief digression on “tradition” here. If you read the article I linked to in the previous passage, you will have seen that a survey was conducted among Japanese aged 18 to 59 about the meaning of “hikkoshi soba,” or “moving soba.” I was somewhat amused by how gleefully the article writer declared that 49% of the respondents were “totally wrong!” and that “every second person who answered the survey actually misunderstood this century-old practice!” I say “somewhat” amused, because mostly I found the article obnoxiously prescriptivist. Traditions are not museum exhibits locked away in glass cabinets, only to be cautiously admired and never handled. Traditions are living practices, and they can and often do change as generations pass. If 49% of people surveyed about the meaning of hikkoshi soba said that it referred to soba eaten after moving, that doesn’t mean that they are all wrong, it means that the tradition has—unsurprisingly—evolved since the Edo period. As a folklorist, I just had to get that off my chest. We now return to your regularly scheduled entry.)

After a very delicious dinner, we went back up to our apartment and rested for a while. We didn’t have too much energy left, but there were a couple of things that I wanted to do before going to bed. The first was to connect my computer and turn it on to make sure it worked (it did, thankfully). The second was to put together a night table we had gotten from IKEA—the only piece of flat-pack furniture we ended up buying there. This took quite a bit longer than hooking up my computer. The instructions were fairly clear and straightforward, but I was putting this together by hand, and there were a lot of things that needed to be screwed in. The process went smoothly for the most part, right up until I was supposed to insert some plastic pieces into some holes and then push other plastic pins into slots in those pieces. According to the instructions, it was a simple matter of pushing the pins in until they “clicked.” In reality, I had to take a hammer to those pins and (gently) smash them in. I’m honestly not sure why those pieces were needed in the first place—they don’t connect to anything, and they don’t hold anything together, either. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were included just to mess with people. When I finally got the night table together, I was pretty much wiped out, and we called it a day.

I woke up the next day with a splitting headache that did not end up going away for the entire day. At 9:30, two technicians showed up to take away the old AC unit and install the (newer and better) AC unit that we had brought from our old place. This turned out to be a rather complicated process, and they were still working when the internet guy showed up to install our internet. He also set up the television, which has an Alexa-like cable box that you can talk to. When I told HJ about this, she just had to say “hi” to it. The cable box thanked her for the greeting and said something about how we were all going to be good friends. I immediately set about figuring out how to turn the microphone off so we wouldn’t have some demon cable box listening to our every conversation. Have we become so lazy that we can’t press a few buttons or type something into Google and have to order our appliances to do stuff for us instead?

By the time the AC guys and the internet guy were finished, it was after noon, and we were once again hungry. I ran down to a nearby Subway to grab some sandwiches, and we had our second meal in our new place, this time sitting down at our table. After digesting lunch, it was time to take care of some unfinished business at our old place. I headed out to the neighborhood government office to pay for two items that we hadn’t put up on Karrot Market and needed to throw away—a small table and my old office chair. I paid 5,000 won for a document to affix to the objects so that they could be taken away. While I was at the government office, I also threw away our old DVD player (which had long ago stopped working) in some bins they have for recycling home electronics. Then I walked to our old apartment complex, attached the document to the table, and turned in our old parking card (which we had forgotten to return when leaving the previous day). My original plan was then to walk to school and get some work done in my office, but the splitting headache was still there and there was still a lot of organizing of stuff to be done back home, so I headed back.

As I mentioned above, it’s all well and good to have the movers put everything away for you, but when even we don’t know where everything is going to go yet, stuff doesn’t really get put “away.” It just gets put “somewhere,” where it waits to be put in its proper place. The worst area was the kitchen; the woman in charge of that apparently thought that she knew better than we did where everything should go and put stuff in all sorts of weird places. As of this writing, I think we have finally figured out where everything is and more or less gotten it organized, but for a few days there we were opening cabinets here and there looking for things on a regular basis. As a result, there was no way we were going to be making dinner that evening, either. We had enjoyed the soba so much from the previous evening that we decided to go back to try some of the other items on the menu. These proved to be equally as delicious. After dinner we went out to the local Daiso to pick up various baskets and bins for the kitchen. Then we decided to take the rest of the evening off and just relax.

It’s been a slow process since then of getting everything in order (a process that is still ongoing and won’t likely be finished for some time yet). I won’t bore you with the details, especially since this entry is very long as it is, but I do want to end with some initial impressions of life here in our new apartment. One of the things that you may remember me mentioning in previous entries is the noise issue. I noted before that, while there is a higher base level of white noise due to the city outside, it is not that noticeable. However, we had only been in the apartment during the day or early evening. One thing I was a little worried about was how noisy it would be at night. Our old place was generally very quite at night (except when motorcycles roared by); would it be too noisy to sleep here? I’ll save you the suspense and tell you that the answer to that question is “no.” It is definitely noisier than our old place, but it’s mostly a dull white noise. It has taken a little getting used to, and the adjustment process is still ongoing, but the city hasn’t kept us up at night. I think after enough time passes we’ll grow accustomed to this level of noise and not even think about it.

There are other aspects to the noise issue, though, aside from the general street noise outside. For one, they are constructing a new building right across the street from my office (as I type this I am staring up at the massive counterweight on a crane that is probably about five or six meters away from me). So during the day the construction noise is fairly prominent. The good news is that a) I am not usually home during the day, and b) the construction will not last forever. I do wonder how it may affect HJ, though, as she does her online classes from home. The other aspect to the noise issue is a surprisingly positive one: the complete lack of inter-floor noise (I’m just translating the Korean term here, cheunggan soeum, because I don’t know if we have a dedicated term for this in English). If you’ve ever lived in an apartment, you know that inter-floor noise, generally from the floor above, can be an issue. While the environment around our old place was fairly quiet, we did have a pretty big problem with inter-floor noise, depending on who our neighbors were. Here, though, we hear nothing from the apartments around us, which is pretty astonishing but also quite welcome.

The other big difference between our old and new places, particularly in terms of how the space is used, is that the new place lacks verandahs (uninsulated semi-external spaces generally used for storage, boiler/washing machine rooms, etc.). The lack of verandahs here has meant that we need to be extra creative with where we put stuff. The storage/piano room is still a bit of a mess as a result, but once we get the planned shelves up it will be a lot neater. And it does look like we will be able to fit all of our stuff in the apartment without having things spilling out here and there. This has been extra motivation for us to get rid of stuff that we don’t really need, and here HJ has made good use of Karrot Market. I think it was the day after we moved in that she decided to get rid of a set of pots that we didn’t really need and that weren’t go to fit into our kitchen storage spaces. I told her to put them up on Karrot for some ridiculously low price just to get rid of them, but she was so stressed about them that she just made them free to anyone who wanted them. Almost as soon as she posted, her phone exploded; by the time she checked her chats she already had 163 new messages. We obviously got rid of the pots, but a lesson was learned—don’t put stuff on Karrot for free unless you want a million people contacting you. She’s since put other things up for quite small amounts—enough to weed out the freeloaders, but low enough to move the items.

This leads me naturally into our location, as being right next to the subway station has made it a lot easier to sell stuff on Karrot. To get to our old place, people had to take the subway and then get on a local bus and ride for about five to ten minutes, which made it somewhat inconvenient. Here, though, we can just tell them which subway exit to come out of and meet them down there in a matter of minutes. It’s also nice to be able to go out somewhere and know that we are pretty much home as soon as we get off the subway. Many were the days at our old place when we would be coming home tired and just really want to be home right away instead of having to get on a bus. This is, I suppose, the other side of the coin from the noise issue, as being closer to the subway station means it is naturally going to be noisier. Do the advantages (being close to public transit, shops, restaurants, etc.) outweigh the disadvantages (being in a busier and thus noisier area)? I can say without hesitation that they do. Thankfully, our apartment isn’t directly adjacent to the main road, so it is not as noisy as it could be, but we still get all the benefits of the location.

What about the apartment itself? Well, it looks quite nice, with one exception: the floor. We decided early on that we were not going to redo the floor, both for time and (mostly) budgetary reasons. We also knew that redoing the floor would mean that much more construction waste, and we were feeling particularly green when we made our plans. The floor is a wood veneer floor (not the linoleum that you often see in apartments here), and for the most part it was in decent shape. Now that mostly everything else is new, though, we have a bit of what I’ve been calling a “shoelace problem” on our hands. I remember an old story from when I was younger about an old man who got new shoelaces and then discovered that his old shoes looked rather dingy in comparison. So he got new shoes, upon which he discovered that his pants were a little frayed around the bottom. You can probably see where this story is going. For the life of me, though, I cannot seem to remember what this story was called or where I heard it, and Google doesn’t seem to be any help (readers, any ideas?). Anyway, my point is that now that the walls and ceiling and furnishings are all shiny and new, the flaws in the floor are more obvious. That being said, we knew that the floor wasn’t perfect and we decided to live with it anyway. Truth be told, despite there being some nicks and gashes in the veneer here and there, we’re not too distressed. For one, it made the moving process a lot less stressful. I can only imagine how much more stressed we would have been had we had to worry about the movers gouging out the floor as well. I imagine that at some point in the future, once we’re properly settled, we’ll see about getting a repair kit and filling in the more egregious nicks. And then we’ll live with it, because nobody really sits there staring at the floor anyway.

We’re pretty satisfied with everything else, though. Our internet is a lot faster here (although we did have a very odd but brief stuttering outage this morning), which means the picture quality for YouTube and Netflix on our TV is much better than it used to be. I’ve also used the new induction cook top several times already, and although it does indeed take a bit of getting used to, it is quite nice. It boils water and other liquids ridiculously quickly, and it is also very precise. Each burner (which doesn’t seem like the right word here, but I don’t know what else to call it) goes from 0 to 9, which gives us much finer grained control over the heat. I’m still trying to get used to the different levels and figure out which levels are the best for various dishes, but it is fairly intuitive. I made cheese blintzes for brunch today, for example, and they turned out perfect. You do have to be careful about spilling liquids on the controls, though; on Wednesday I was boiling up a pot of soup and some liquid splashed right onto the controls for one of the burners, and the touch-activated digital display started going crazy. The cook top will also complain if you lift a pot or a frying pan off the burner (say, to swirl crepe batter around), but thankfully it won’t turn off immediately, so you can lift pans and stuff briefly off the surface and put them back down again. Its also incredibly easy to keep clean, as the entire surface is glass and can just be wiped down (although you do have to be a little more careful putting pans and pans down on it, of course). All in all, I’ve been quite impressed with how quick, responsive, and versatile the cook top is. There are things that you can’t do with it (if you wanted to flambe something, for example, you would need a separate ignition source), but I doubt we will miss those things very much.

You may be wondering how the oven has been doing. It is doing just fine, sitting there snug in its new home, and it appreciates you asking. But I have to admit that, after all my fuss about not having an oven for a week, I haven’t actually used it yet. I just haven’t had time to do any baking. I also need to quickly sit down with the manual at some point to familiarize myself with how it works. I don’t expect that to be too difficult a task, but it is one more thing I have to do before I can start baking. Oh, and I’m also waiting for an oven thermometer to arrive so I can see if the temperature readout matches the actual temperature of the oven. Little things, but barriers to use nonetheless. Hopefully by next week I will be able to start baking again.

Our new (“upside-down”) boiler is working out well, too. We get hot water a lot more quickly here, and I find it is also easier to get a suitable temperature for showers. In our old place, it seemed like the water was always either too hot or too cold. That is, keeping the water at a temperature where the boiler would continue to heat water meant that the water was too hot—but if I lowered the temperature to something I felt was more comfortable, the boiler would shut off and the shower would soon grow cold. It was a huge annoyance, but I had forgotten how much of an annoyance it was until I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. Water temperature aside, our new shower is nicer in other ways, too. We have a rain shower head now, which I am really liking, and we also have a nice frosted glass shower booth, as opposed to having a tub with a shower curtain (another annoyance). As for the rest of the bathroom, we have a fancy new electric bidet seat on our toilet. I won’t go into the details of that, except to say that it has taken some getting used to.

But I think that’s enough about our new place. We’re happy here, which is what matters, and as time goes on we will grow more accustomed to it, and it will feel more and more like home. And with that, I will bring the moving saga to a close. I wish you a happy new year, and I hope that 2022 will turn out to be a better year than 2021.

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