So this may be one of the last posts written by Chris in South Korea while, well, in Korea. It’s been a fun, dynamic, interesting, and splendid five years – or at least the memories, Facebook posts, blog posts, and all those possibly-misremembered-because-we-were-drunk nights out.
Last night, however, was a very different sort of reality. Cleaning.
This isn’t just the hurried, frantic cleaning you do before your girlfriend comes over – this is the you’re leaving the country in a day and a half, get your act together and get your stuff in boxes or luggage cleaning. That there’s a good friend moving into my apartment means I have another good reason not to leave (too many) dust bunnies propagating.
Most of the stuff has packed fairly easily, albeit the reality of taking far more than I had intended. And I’m not even to the bedroom yet – it’s the office / photo studio that fills two of the largest boxes the Korean Post Office sells. To be fair, this is far different from typical expat stuff – in these boxes are most of my photo studio, including backdrops, a beauty dish (for the non-photographers, a metal dish not unlike a satellite dish), a fragile honeycomb that goes on top, and a bunch of office supplies that are cheaper to ship than buy again.
The bookshelf was easy – most books will either go back to What the Book (where most of them came from), or simply be left for anyone to grab freely. A few items will be shipped back to the US for safekeeping along with other stuff I probably won’t need while in Thailand (a couple very nice jackets, for example)… What slowed me down (and what filled up the trashbag) were the various notebooks. These aren’t diaries – these were notes from traveling, to-do lists, and other things best committed to paper for the on-the-go nature.
Into the trashbag they went.
These, along with some other stuff, filled up a 50-liter bag. Lest you think these memories being thrown away would never be seen again, these were the pre-cursors to many a blog post you’ve already seen and enjoyed here. I looked through them all – those older memories are sometimes the more precious ones.
With the bookcase cleared, it was time to tackle the camera shelf. This has slowly morphed into the ‘anything vaguely technical’ shelf, despite the impressive collection of camera stuff. Much of it went into the backpack I’ll take on the plane – nothing against the fine folks that handle luggage, but I’ll handle my thousands of dollars worth of cameras and glass better than you will. Less to be thrown away here, which means more to figure out where to put it and how many USB-to-USB mini cords I really need…
The boxes are now mostly full, and while the desk is still a mess things feel like they’re coming along nicely. One of the last refuges of stuff is this black plastic shelf right next to my desk. This holds everything from the printer to the iPad charger to important papers and such – it’s like an extension to the desk.
It became time to prune the ‘IMPORTANT PAPERS’ plastic folder. The one that holds photos, passports, college graduate certificates – the sort of thing every expat should really have in case sh!t hits the fan and they have to leave without grabbing anything else. A few things – old receipts and bills that were long paid – got thrown away, while a few other things were enjoyed briefly – a card my former co-workers gave me before I left the US for Korea back in 2008.
The catharsis begins here, in case you were wondering when the title became relevant. My collection of 600+ business cards, collected over five years – thrown out like yesterday’s bathwater. BUT WHY?, you might be asking. Of the 600, I’m connected to 75% or so via Facebook or Gmail. Most of them are out-of-date, displaying an old phone number, job title, or even job place – the expat flitters fast, after all. Of the minority that wasn’t someone I wasn’t in contact with in the electronic world, I didn’t feel bad – how many restaurants or dry-cleaning shops do you need to frequent in a country where you no longer live? It’s the people, not the places, that really matter.
The ‘OTHER IMPORTANT PAPERS’ plastic folder was where the catharsis really hit. This is where I kept my old contracts, pay slips, and anything else related to my teaching jobs. I also kept copies of notes taken during official meetings, a copy of the letters sent to bosses, and so on.
This folder got destroyed. On one level, reading through old contracts, letters written to bosses asking for changes, a few pay slips with questionable deductions… I kept them, thinking they were important for some reason.
They aren’t, really.
There’s a caveat here, of course – you will want a good record of where you worked, when you worked there, and who you worked with. This might mean keeping some of those contracts – in my case, it meant keeping track of those things on a chart that I put together. It may also mean keeping up to date with your former addresses (they sometimes ask for those on job applications in the Western world), and the school’s landline number (not just your bosses cell phone number, which is probably as transient as you are).
In any case, it felt good to tear up those old papers. It was like feeling free of the past – a past I accepted in order to live in Korea, travel around Asia, and otherwise enjoyed whenever I wasn’t working… I don’t need them any more than I need to know how much I paid for electricity in July of 2010. The past is not always or necessarily your friend, despite what your memory may claim.
The future is at hand – and I’ve got the boxes filled with stuff to prove it. I leave for Thailand tomorrow morning (Friday morning), and will emerge looking for the normal sort of things: internet, a place to live, and things worth taking pictures of.
Oh, and one more thing – Weird and Wonderful Korea, my newest book? The book release party was plenty of fun – thanks to everyone that came out. The PDF is now available for any device you have that reads PDF’s. That’s most of them out there, including the tablets, smartphones, and of course computers. Check it out now. A version for Amazon’s Kindle (and Kindle apps) is coming very soon, and a print version is on the way as well.
UPDATE: The Amazon version is now live. Check it out for your Kindle or the Kindle app on your device.