I thought I would be more emotional when the day finally came, but by that point we had all driven ourselves to the point of exhaustion. When considering how I would write about it I could only come up with labor and delivery metaphors. I was more emotional about leaving Seoul before I had started to pack; once I became engrossed in the sheer labor of packing, changing addresses, making the rounds to say goodbye, and working on the logistics (insurance, banking, transportation, schools, etc.) of our arrival, I couldn't even think about the day after we arrived. I really was like being in labor again. I had prepared myself for labor like I prepared for athletic events and at some point I really lost track of the fact that a BABY would come out of it.
So here we are in our new home and my stomach is almost disbelievingly beginning to unclench. I’m still bracing for impact and now quite ready to let go, although everything has gone surprisingly smoothly.
Moving out of an apartment in Korea is pretty interesting in itself because of the jeonsae system and the way apartments rentals work. For those who don’t know, we pay a rather large amount of money here, called jeonsae (almost $200,000 for our apartment) when we enter the apartment. We then pay no monthly rent. When we leave, the owner returns this sum of money to us. (You can probably understand why many young couples or families depend on their parents for coming up with jeonsae -- the people who moved into our apartment when we left used their parents money, as did we.) Each resident has to acquire or bring his or her own appliances, which creates a lot of waste. We were mostly using my in-laws' old appliances and furniture, but we did have a nice newish refrigerator (3 years old), gas range, microwave, and air conditioner. Except for the refrigerator we wanted to give everything away, but even giving things away are difficult -- the air conditioner, for instance, requires someone to uninstall it and take care of the freon gas. The gas range requires calling someone from the gas company to come and disconnect the gas line which costs 15,000 won and is really silly, if you think about it, because the next tenant is just going to hook it up again as soon as they move in. We gave away a good amount of stuff and threw away just as much. That ended up taking as much time as the packing. We ended up having to airmail (at the last minute) another 75kg of clothes, books, and kitchen stuff because we were limited to carrying only 20kg per person on the plane and our two yo (beds, kind of) and bedding was already 40kg.
I wrote about customer service before, but the 빨리빨리mentality here can be very convenient for the consumer but hard when you're on the service end. We called the gas company to come and disconnect the gas around 9am and they said, "Well, it may take some time..." "시간 조금 걸리겠어요." I was thinking 2 days. They said 10 and the guy came before that. We realized, on the day we were vacating, that there was no way we would be able to meet the weight requirements with the amount of stuff we had left to bring with us so we called the shipping company to see if we could airmail a few more boxes. They came within a few hours, packed 3 more boxes of stuff, and took it away. (As a side note, the first of our airmail boxes arrived today. They stagger the shipments to avoid a lot of customs tax. The whole shipping process has been very pleasant.) All that was great. But during the time we were packing we had to show the apartment to possible tenants. The real estate agent would call and ask to show it right away, and I’d have to tell her I was out and wouldn’t be able to be back for another hour or two. They also had people wanting to come in and measure things so that as soon as we vacated they could start redoing the interior. (Another side note: I’m pretty sure this is why you’re not expected to clean the apartment when you leave. Most people will redo at least the wallpaper, if not the wallpaper and the floors. The next tenant in our place was redoing the floors and the kitchen sink area as well as the wallpaper. The interior company deposited bags of cement with an hour of us taking the last of our belongings out of the place.)
Our apartment transfer was at 8pm and we left the next morning. Despite having packed repeatedly and airmailed a second set of boxes on the last day, we still found ourselves with too much baggage to meet the weight restrictions. We usually ride the airport bus which stops very close to our apartment, but with this much luggage and our jeonsae money burning a hole in our pockets (the banks were closed when we received it so we couldn’t deposit it until they opened again at 9:30am) we checked in at the City Air Terminal. KC’s parents took the kids in a taxi KC and I drove our car loaded to the brim with bags. Since we were flying Asiana, we were able to check in all our bags at the Terminal before going through the immigration process there. We were lucky to get a very nice agent who let us get away some about 30 kg of extra luggage and we only ended up paying about 25,000 won. We then went to the bank at 9:30am and deposited the jeonsae (in 수표, kind of like a cashier’s check). Many people would do the transfer electronically but the new tenant’s parents are older and wanted to do things the old fashioned way. Then we rode the airport bus to Incheon airport.
KC’s parents were very sad. KC’s father has been pretty moody and 날카롭다 lately. They ended up watching the kids for most of the last few weeks while we were running around and packing. I think they were as exhausted as we were and feeling more sad about the move than we were. After 5 years of weeks filled with sword-fighting and feeding the kids their lives must seem suddenly very empty. They will visit in September while their apartment is being renovated, but we worry about how they will handle our leaving.
In the back of my mind I was worried that carrying so much luggage would get us into trouble with Chinese customs. But there too we had no problems. My dad met us at the airport, we met a driver he had arranged for us, and we headed to our new place. (Even though my dad no longer lives in Shanghai his knowledge of the place has been a great help.)
We rented our place through a Korean real estate agent. They had the keys and everything ready for us when we arrived. It’s a furnished apartment with ondol, and the phone, internet, etc. were already installed and working when we arrived. The agent took us to register at the local police station, which is required of all foreigners entering China (within 24 hours). (If you stay at a hotel they do it for you.) We made the first of many trips to Carrefour to get water, paper plates, cups, toilet paper, soap, etc. We’ve been here for about 5 days as I write this and I am already sick of Carrefour -- I’ve been there too many times -- but that first day I was so impressed. It’s like a cross between Target and Safeway, with a lot of foods I hadn’t had easy access to in Korea (oatmeal, blueberries, macaroni and cheese). The only drawback is that it doesn’t deliver, and for someone accustomed to Korean delivery systems, this is tricky indeed. We live very close by, but when you’re buying basic appliances (toaster, fan, large containers for toys, etc.) you can only carry so much. Plus the weather is really really hot.
That’s enough of an update for now, I suppose. More later on working the Korean network in Shanghai.