Home in a Box

The care package.

After considerable sturm und drang, I finally received my care package. Delayed by a flurry of emails, numerous uppings of taxes and duties, and some of the thickest, laziest bureaucracy I have dealt with, I finally convinced the Korean UPS depot to drop off the parcel at my school. It was shellacked in an unholy amount of packing tape, and it was just bulky and heavy enough to make lugging it home arduous, but it was in my hands. I covetously clutched it to my chest and hobbled the thing to my apartment, my fingers taloning into the sides as I went.

When discussing home sickness in the teaching abroad experience, people usually report that the first wave hits either when you get truly ill, or when you hit the three-month mark. Naturally, these two coincided for me, and thus I spent a week encased in a phlegmatic haze, perpetually spewing mucous from every facial orifice and dreading my life. Why had I come to Korea? Couldn’t I have foretold what a terrible decision it was? I was having a cold, a cold!, and I was unable to bathe myself in the warm familiarity of home or home’s wonderful, effective, English drugs and beverages, and thus everything Korea-related seemed terribly ill-thought.

Home-sickness does tend to breed within itself. When you feel like garbage and want home, suddenly the things that you enjoy about your new land seem stupid, and all the other minor annoyances you usually ignore become enormous, mind-bendingly offensive crimes against humanity. Koreans walk slowly! Korea has lots of people! Koreans drive fast! Everything they do is claimed as a health-boosting activity! They turn off the heat after noon and crack all the windows! How could these people exist without acting like regular Canadians? What a backwards country! I began dwelling into a giant hate vortex of insensibility, from which I detected no escape.

Things multiply. They evolve from a single-celled organism of pure distaste into an enormous, betentacled, intelligent beast, one that begins to generate loathing of self and everything. Korea, for that week, was a stupid hole of a country, and I was an enormous moron for ever wanting to set foot here. Everything was weird and scary, and utterly without any joy. And spicy. Why must everything be so spicy?

With some effort, the tiny, pitiful optimist in the back of my head began to speak up, poking holes in my cocoon of ill-thought wrath. After several days of moping, I began to think: why did none of these things bother me mere days ago? Was the weather, and the fact that daylight barely appeared until 8:00, impeding my mood? Were these things actually that serious, or was I allowing the regular frustrations of life build into some sort of orgy of directionless anger? Did Korea as a country suddenly become intolerable in the intervening time? Or did the flu make me an irritable crank? The customs shenanigans did not help me build the case towards the lattermost, but when you develop the sense that all your troubles are being blown out of proportion by some primordial section of your lizard brain, the rage begins to dampen. I calmed down some, realizing I was just going through the bumps of, you know, real life, and decided to just calmly and grumpily ride out the culture shock flare.

Then: the box came.

The feeling of home is vague and different for everyone. It’s accumulated through years of association, of being around people you generally love and, even in the times you don’t, are by law or custom required to spend great deals of time with. It’s got memories shellacked into the walls like layers of paint; it’s got wafts of your favourite home-cooked meals, utterly irreproducible in other kitchens; it’s got birthdays, holidays, long weekends embedded throughout. The feeling of home is chicken noodle soup and flat ginger ale, or whatever it is your moms used to give you whenever you got sick, but it’s in the air all the time.

I didn’t think the feeling could be shipped internationally.

In the box: Sweaters to fight the mid-afternoon deep freeze in my classroom! Halloween candy! Homemade cookies! Photos and artwork for the walls! Jam and maple syrup! Cards for my birthday, and Christmas! Handwritten and drawn note from my niece, complete with adorable misspellings! Painstakingly google-translated English-to-Korean letter given to me, mostly nonsensical in actual Korean! I sat on the ground with the box and bathed myself in the feeling of home, letting it spread over my apartment until I reclaimed the minor, building flame of a feeling that this place was becoming my home, too, at least for a little while. My shoebox rathole apartment is mine, and though it was someone else’s just four months ago, and will be another’s in however long, it’s mine for now. In those moments opening the care package, I missed home more than ever, but I became okay, knowing that it was still out there waiting for me, and that all the little bumps here are no more bumpy than the ones in Canada, they’re just new and more confusing because of all the Hangul.

Oh and then I went and bought myself a new camera for my birthday, and being the consumerist pig that I am, that certainly buoyed my spirits.

If I hold it jauntily, it totally reinvents the lens-as-eyeball shot, right?

14 thoughts on “Home in a Box

  1. Me too…Zoe picked the pictures in the calendar (even the bad making a face one). Happy birthday brother, if its any consolation, Zoe and I are both sick too. Sharing mucous a world away. Love the looks of the new camera, can’t wait to see the fruits of your learning how to use it.

    Take care and talk to you soon..

    Love J&Z

  2. Hi Micheal, Hope you had a wonderful Birthday. By the way, your blogs are suppose to crack me up……….not make me feel bad. lol Take care. Love Kath

  3. Sorry, I was a little behind in my ready but taken aback by my sisters rivers of tears; they do need some international experience. I could not help but to reach back to the three month mark away from home travelling through Europe in 1970 (only a few months before your sister was born) and not having the luxury of Blogs, e-mail or really even phone connections for that matter though those who travelled at this time will remember with fondness the joy of recieving a letter at the American Express office in what ever City you happened to be in

  4. I was not quite finished my reply when it decide to send itself but then maybe it was best to end it there afterall. I guess my point was that we all get that homesick feeling at sometime but that is what makes home so special and worth going home to – at some future time. Anyway, chin up and remember, without all of those spices you might really not like the taste of what every strange item you are eating!



    • Yeah, the longer I’m away, the more important it becomes. If I was to just up and bail on my commitments, the coming home wouldn’t feel nearly as important or special. Homesickness is just the gradual realization that home is pretty cool, and that it’s hard to not want it when you know it’s there waiting for you.

      True enough. The spiciness does distract from quite how many tentacles I’ve ingested since I’ve been here.

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