Sometimes (most times?), I’m the world’s best chameleon, or perhaps a cuckoo. I learned the skill while young. When you grow up in a dysfunctional household, you learn to find other places to be safe. My older brother turned to God, the next older brother turned to crime and charm, we all found our own ways to survive. (Irish families tend to tend toward God and crime, when you merge the two, you get to work at the Vatican.) I made myself welcome at friends’ homes, where their parents were happy they had a friend with such nice manners. I watched, listened, and learned to fit in.
It’s a skill that has served me well in my subsequent travels.
I’ve never really felt at home though. I’ve always (almost always) been welcome and I have homes all over the world that I am part of, but they belong to someone else. So I watch, listen, and bring to the table the version of myself that best fits the environment. I don’t even realize I’m doing it most times, it’s an unconscious survival technique, but it works. It’s taken me across oceans, countries and professions, and won me surrogate family across the world, but it’s always been someone else’s home.
This home is mine. Not technically, of course, it belongs to my employer, so probably belongs to the State, but it’s mine as long as I do my job competently. I plan to do my job much better than competently, so this is mine while I do. And I like it.
I have a good friend who teaches at Hanguk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul and she lives in also, and she has half the area I have, plus has to pay her own utilities (if you’re monitoring this, dear employer, please don’t get any ideas). I’m in the same complex as the paper (two minutes walk) and in a 10-story “Foreign Expert Building.” With seven apartments on each floor, that’s a good number of foreign experts, but I don’t know my own neighbors yet. I do know the cool kids and the problem children – those are the ones to meet first.
So, welcome to my home. I’m on the 7th floor and overlook a middle/high school, which is kinda cool. I especially like the sports days – having grown up watching Chinese gymnasts on TV, I expected it to be an innate trait. It isn’t. Chinese youngsters are just as clumsy as the young of every other species, but I like that they laugh with each other when they fail to achieve the elegant dismount from the parallel bars (I like even more that the gym teacher smiles and pats them on the back for trying).
I have a large fridge/freezer, which I am covering with pictures. There’s a Ranger banner on the front that I was given at the VFW in Leesville, Louisiana, and pics from Bonnie and Granddot that were waiting for me when I arrived. Also some pics from a palace in Korea that I wrote a story for before I left. I went to IKEA yesterday and bought containers so I now have food in there also. The freezer? So far, just vegetable scraps to make stock for soups – I hear it gets kinda cold here in winter.
Then we have the kitchen. I may need to purchase more storage space here. It came with utensils and a pot or two, but few people cook here so I’ve already replaced a few things. I cooked last night for my Seednee friends, which needed a new wok and some kitchen tools. It’s a little less than I would design, but I can do dinner on a camp stove if needed, so can cope with this. Let’s call it a work in progress.
Bathroom – adequate, I need to replace the skanky shower curtain and get the fan fixed.
Spare room – where I will sleep when visitors vist – two large bookcases, writing desk, coffee table, sofa, flat screen TV. I tested the sofa by lying on it to see if it was comfortable enough to sleep on, and promptly fell asleep. I guess that’s a “yes.” I haven’t worked out the TV yet, but just noticed it isn’t plugged in – could that be the reason it doesn’t work? Oh, I forgot, curtains and air conditioning, this is okay.
My room – a king size bed, two bedside cabinets and two huge closets. And air con.
A colleague told me I could choose to live out and get a housing allowance instead of staying in “the dorm.” I see no reason to do so and have to negotiate all that is involved in paying rent and utilities in a language I don’t yet know, and until I do, the comfort of living in works for me.
Accepting guests, if anyone wants to visit . . .