It's been four months since I packed up my family and moved from South Korea to Mississippi. We've pretty much settled in now, and the worst of the moving stress is behind us, but I've discovered there are a few quirks and obstacles involved in such a drastic change of environment which I hadn't really given a lot of thought to... until now.
1. I have no idea how to be an adult.
Have you ever been on an airplane when the engines were starting to fail, and the pilot's and co-pilots arms have fallen off, and everyone is counting on you to land the thing? I feel like that every day.
I dabbled in adulting for a bit before I moved to Korea, but I ultimately found that it didn't suit me. For my first three years in Korea, I was making enough cash to keep myself drunkenly oblivious to grown-up responsibilities (my post about douchebag expats was not entirely un-autobiographical). Then, one day when I woke up to find myself married with two kids, my wife took care of paying bills, doing our taxes, and stretching my increasingly inadequate paychecks out from month to month. All that shit was in Korean, and my expert beer-ordering skills just weren't going to cut it.
Fast forward eleven years, and the tables have turned. I'm now the most competent member of my family to handle all of the adult shit that needs to be handled, but it's a closer race than I'd like to admit.
Sorting through the piles of mail I get, trying to figure out the difference between what is required to keep the lights on and what is just extra bullshit that people are trying to sell me, is like having the armless pilot and co-pilot giving me specific instructions on how to land the plane randomly interspersed among their conversation about planes in general.
And then occasionally, I'll have to write a check. Like, an actual, physical check.
This involves not only filling out the check correctly, but then putting it into an envelope, putting addresses and stamps and shit on the envelope, bringing it to the post office, and if you've got a black belt in accounting, writing numbers into a "checkbook". Am I saying that right?
2. It can be lonely.
I have some advice for anyone going through a similar situation. Maybe aim to move somewhere a little more ethnically-diverse and progressive than Mississippi. The lack of other Koreans for my wife to interact and speak her native language with is an obvious downside, but it's not easy for me either.
We're on the Gulf Coast, so it's not as bad as it could be, but it's still full of Trump-loving hillbilly slug-people. A Walmart cashier actually carded my 40-year-old wife (not me, just her) for beer that I was buying. Upon seeing her passport and frowning because she couldn't legally deny us, she told my wife, "You must really be enjoying the freedoms you get here," as if we'd just escaped a fucking gulag.
Sure, not everyone here is like that, but eerie weirdness always seems to seep out of seemingly normal people as well. I'll be having a conversation with someone, and they'll mention someone they go to church with. I guess that's innocent enough, but it's not something I'm used to hearing after fourteen years away.
I was at a child's birthday party recently. The family had crosses on the walls and stuff, but seemed normal enough. When it was time for us to leave, I told the kid's grandfather that it was a pleasure to meet him and goodbye. He responded, "Be blessed."
Is that a thing people say? What the fuck does that even mean? Is "blessed" a state that people can voluntarily choose to be in? Would it not require their creepy deity to cast a spell on me? Do I get a saving throw?
I can't relate to these people. They can't relate to me. More often than not, when I talk to someone, I feel like an alien trying to mimic what I think their perception of human is.
Am I saying I'm better than these people? Of course not, silly! I'm writing it.
3. Fucking bugs.
One of our main motivations for moving back to the States was so that our kids could experience a little more nature than life in Korea was able to provide. In a country roughly the size of Mississippi and a population about 1/6 of the entire United States, there's not much you can do but stack people on top of one another. I lived in Gimpo, a more "rural" town about an hour outside of Seoul, and our neighborhood looked like this...
The backyard of the house we're living in now is wooded on two sides, and my kids have gotten to see all manners of wildlife. From our house we've seen deer, rabbits, birds other than magpies, frogs, lizards, squirrels, raccoons, and armadillos.
But there's a dark side to all of that nature. A creepy-crawly six-legged dark side with a crunchy shell and nougaty center.
To be fair, the mosquitoes in Korea were about on par with the mosquitoes here, blood-sucking assholes. But most other bugs can't be bothered with invading an apartment twenty-five floors up. They don't have to bother with that here.
Flies are a nuisance, but fun to swat, so they've got that going for them. Spiders and I have a 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' relationship going on, so we're cool. But roaches can fuck right off.
I'm not talking about normal roaches either. I'm talking about those motherfuckers so big that you can hear them walking on the hardwood floors when you're trying to sleep at night. And they fly.
I don't want to give the impression that we're a family living in filth. My wife can't rest while there's a speck of anything out of place, and I've become a much cleaner person myself since marrying her. But with so many trees around, some of those floor-tapping bastards are going to find their way in. Combat traps have reduced sightings significantly, and most of the ones we spot now are already dead. But ew.
Worse than the roaches, the ants, the flies, and the mosquitoes put together, however, are the termite swarms.
I don't remember this being a thing when I was growing up, but I've been assured that this is not a new occurrence. Fortunately, it only lasts a short time out of the year, but holy shit. Unaware of the insect plague going on, I foolishly stepped outside onto my parents' porch one evening, and was immediately bombarded by hundreds of these kamikaze shitheads.
"What the hell is going on outside?" I asked, shaking bugs out of my clothes.
"It's a termite swarm," I was informed. "They'll go away in a couple of hours.
I didn't have a couple of hours. It was a school night, and I had to get the kids home, bathed, and in bed so I could drink enough to suppress my memories.
It was a good hundred feet or so from the front door to our van, parked across the street. I got the family ready, telling them to run like hell when I opened the door. Looking both ways before crossing was optional. Get in the van as quickly as you can and get the doors closed.
My wife and I screamed the whole way because it was terrifying. My kids screamed because screaming and running is fun. We made it to the van and got all the doors closed. Streetlights were nothing but glowing clouds of flying insects. When I turned on the van's lights, it was like traveling through a hyperspace made entirely out of bugs. I swear by the Old Gods and the New, the air was alive with termites.
4. My kids are going through a weird pop-culture transition.
I have the internet, so I'm able to keep up with the latest thing a Kardashian or a Kanye said on The Bachelor's Apprentice... or whatever the fuck you people are watching these days. But my kids' internet access has been much more limited. They're being bombarded on all sides with age-appropriate pop-culture, and it's kind of fascinating to behold.
Every game, every rhyme, every jump rope song that the rest of the kids in their classes have been singing for years, brand spanking new to my kids. And they're loving it.
My daughter told me a knock-knock joke a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that I'd never told her a knock-knock joke before, mostly because they're lame and I hold my comedy to a higher standard.
Like all knock-knock jokes, the one she told me was terrible. In fact, it was even more terrible because she didn't say it right. But she thought it was so funny, and that made me happy.
Just the other day, when I was driving my kids home from Tae Kwon Do practice, my daughter was teaching my son how to play this new game she learned called "Slug Bug". The rules, as she explained them, were that every time you see a car - that's right, any car at all - you should "Slug Bug!" and punch the person next to you.
I wanted to tell them that you were only supposed to do that for Volkwagen Beetle, but they were having such a good time shouting "Slug Bug!" at the top of their lungs and beating the shit out of each other that I just didn't have the heart.
5. There's guilt.
I didn't throw a bag over my wife's head and drag her to the airport in the middle of the night. Moving here was a decision we took a long time to make together. And it's so much easier for her to keep in touch with her family than it was when we visited ten years ago when we first got married.
Back then, making a phone call to Korea involved finding a place that sold international phone cards, buying one, figuring out all the pain-in-the-ass numbers you had to dial in order to make the call, and then doing it five or six times because you keep fucking it up.
Now all it takes is an app on her smartphone and a wi-fi connection... and there's video! It's practically like being right there with her family. At least from my point of view.
For my wife, it's a reminder of just how far away she is from everything she knows. There have been times when both of us wonder if we haven't made the biggest mistake of our lives.
And then there's the kids. We took them away from their friends and familiar surroundings, and dumped them into an unfamiliar school in the middle of the school year to learn shit in a completely different language.
As if all the stress from trying to raise a family on money from my books wasn't enough, now I occasionally wonder if I'm not just ruining all their lives.
But now that we're four months in, it's starting to get easier. My wife is keeping busy learning how to swim and drive (not at the same time), and the kids were doing great in school when summer vacation started, and they're making the most of summer by going to the neighborhood pool nearly every day. And they're still blissfully unaware of how to properly play Slug Bug.
Little by little, we're adjusting.