We are back! After another whirlwind summer, we are back in our apartment in Seoul as if we never left… except for a few of those pesky “American pounds” we picked up along the way. Once again we find ourselves in the position of readjusting to our current home. This process has to happen wherever we lay our heads, whether in Seoul, Taipei, Birmingham, or Denver. Each time we unpack our suitcases, we must take a deep breath, look at our surroundings, and remind ourselves what life is like in each of our homes. Happily, we are becoming more accustomed to making this adjustment and so it has turned from a sort of whiplash experience to more of a soft “oh yeah…” as in “oh yeah, THAT’S how they do that here.” reminder in the back of our heads.
Here are a few of the “oh yeah…” moments I experienced as we transitioned Stateside and then back again:
1) America: The grocery store. Are you sure that every grocery store we go to in America is not remodeled while we are gone to become even bigger than last year? I swear, every time we go back to the States, I stand amazed as I enter a grocery store. They are HUGE! And the aisles are so wide! Not only that, but there are so many things to choose from when you go. I was doing a simple produce run to pick up some apples and I found myself paralyzed by the options. Do you know that this particular grocer was selling seven, seven, different kinds of apples? How are there seven different kinds of apples? And how do I know which one I want? Next to the milk there was an entire section of the refrigerator reserved for specialty coffee creamers. I don’t think even Starbucks has as many options to make your coffee taste like something other than coffee. And, let’s not even talk about the ENTIRE aisle devoted to breakfast cereal.
2) Korea: Labeling. Somehow, it always seems to catch me off-guard. Perhaps it has to do with the jetlagged haze that clouds my brain for the first few days, or maybe I am just a hopeful amnesiac. Whatever the case, the first time I go to make the frozen chicken bites or mix the powdered lemonade, I check the label expecting it to give me some sort of a clue as to the oven temperature or powder to water ratio. I am sure that the label actually does provide sufficient information to allow consumers to enjoy their product without sending them to the hospital with either salmonella or diabetes. However, ignorant as I still am in the language, I am left to try my hand at trial and error. Wish my family luck that I don’t poison them.
3)America: Garbage. Korea, along with many other Asian countries, is quite specific about their trash. Recycling is obligatory. There is no optional green bin you can request from Waste Management or the hope of earning a few coins from a local aluminum depository. You recycle, period. Not only that, but we organize our recycling. We have paper, cardboard, plastics (which have sub-categories), metal, Styrofoam (yep!), and glass. Additionally, we have compost waste where we put all of our food trash. Anything that doesn’t fall into one of those categories (which isn’t that much) is put in the regular trash. This trash must be thrown out in a specialized city trash bag that must be purchased for a fee that supports our local rubbish services. Having to pay for trash bags encourages people to recycle as much as possible, as recycling is free. The system may sound complicated but we have grown accustomed to it. Coming back to America always throws me for a loop when I remember that everything: food, plastic, glass, goes into the same bin at the same time. And, you can use whatever you want as a trash bag! This practically cuts the cost of throwing out diapers in half.
4) Korea: coffee shops. Tell me, when do you prefer to enjoy a cup of coffee? Is it with breakfast or with lunch? And what time do you like to have breakfast? Is it before or after you go to work for the day? Call me crazy, but I like to have coffee with breakfast and that usually means around 7:00. When we are up at 5:00 AM with jetlag, even 7:00 seems a little late to be enjoying the first cup of joe. However, the Koreans do not see eye to eye with us on the subject. Most coffee shops (Starbucks included) state clearly on their doors that business hours are 9:30 to 11:00. One blessed little shop opens its doors at 7:00 AM but I literally made one of the employees scream and almost jump out of her skin when she walked past me waiting for my order at 7:10. There is a delicious little waffle and coffee shop that is about a five minute walk from our apartment that we crave many a weekend morning. Our craving is left sadly unfulfilled most Saturdays, however, as it does not open until 11:00 and we usually can’t hold out for breakfast that long. So, cringe as you may at the thought of Waffle House at 6:00 AM, its greasy hashbrowns and stale coffee are nothing but a sweet memory to us as we try to trudge through the wee hours of jetlag.
So, once again, we must learn the ways of our Korean home and remember the “normals” that we have put in place. It’s great to be home… in this home, that is.