Friday, February 01, 2008


"I know this country. He'll probably turn up in a fecking Bongo."

Korean Mother had consulted a fortune teller to find out what the best date and time for our apartment moves to begin. The answer was the 31st January, at 8am. In my opinion, being told you have to start moving at such an hour merely confirms the importance of seeking a second opinion. Or a third, fourth, fifth and sixth until you find a mystic who's able to give you the answer you want to hear. After all, it's not as though they usually agree with each other. But no, she went with the first answer she got, which meant a very early start.

The fortune teller also specified which two items had to be moved into the new apartment first, and at what time. In our case they were a rice cooker and a... portable toilet, which has been handed down from generation to generation in the family. Really.

I'd hoped to be able to finish my work as soon as possible on Wednesday; but when you're trading the stock market you can't always extricate yourself from it, and so I didn't finish until 1.30am, after which I was up for another hour disassembling computer equipment and packing it away. Four hours later, we were awake again preparing for the arrival of the removal men. We didn't have a lot of possessions, but even so, I had concerns about what size truck would arrive. My wife told me not to worry, but I told her that I've been in this country long enough to assume they'd turn up with a Bongo.

Fortunately, everything we own did fit on the back of the Bongo, even if the solitary guy driving it was less than pleased when he first saw everything in our apartment. Apparently, we'd told him there was a bed, a couple of chairs, and not much else, but this seemed to create the impression that we wouldn't own anything else, such as clothes. And from the look of shock on his face and the loud exclamation of "Oh!" when he walked through the door, we should probably have warned him about the foreigner as well. Still, the driver and I became fast friends when he discovered he could communicate with me in Korean at some basic level, as we carried items together down to his small truck. Ah yes, clearly this is something I wasn't warned about - I'd assumed that employing removal men meant they would move everything, not require help with the heavy lifting. Now it was my turn to exclaim "Oh!" loudly, and occasionally 'Ouch!' along with some more colourful language. It was somewhere amongst this my thumb started bleeding and as it refused to really stop this became a bit of an ongoing theme for the rest of the day.

It had been quite important that we make the move in one journey, which is why we'd rather hoped something larger than a Bongo would come. I don't know whether there are reputable removal companies in Korea but everyone seems to operate on the assumption that, given half a chance, things will 'disappear' on route if they are not watched at all times. A friend of ours tells the tale of how some rather nice wine didn't make it to the destination when she moved, but after vehement denials from the removal men the bottles were magically 'found' when she offered to give them some money to buy soju. Korean mother still maintains that a large chair was stolen on a previous move, although she can't prove the removal men took it.

So, armed with more than my usual level of paranoia, I'd taken the hard disk out of my computer, and put it in a bag of items which would stay with me at all times. I could afford to lose the computer, but the prospect of setting up Windows and Ubuntu all over again was too much to face. However, our plan relied on one trip since we had people to watch the truck at one end and the other but not en-route if any of us had to stay behind guarding possessions in the street.

With everything emptied, we waved goodbye to the one-room apartment directly above a mini-mart which had been our home for the past fifteen months, and moved on to the joys of unpacking at the other end.

Moving out was relatively smooth compared to the chaos which ensued moving in. Finding myself alone with the removal man in the new apartment, I had to try and explain where things he was carrying were meant to be moved to, while trying to figure it out myself. Meanwhile a workman with a drill was running around fixing things which had been pulled apart by the previous occupants. It wasn't any better though when the removal man went back down to his Bongo and autonomously started sending things up in the elevator. I happened to be carrying a large door out of the apartment when a loud ping announced its arrival and revealed what looked suspiciously like our television sat alone on the floor. So I discovered that five seconds is barely enough time to put down a heavy object and lunge through rapidly closing doors in time to stop possessions disappearing, possibly forever.

After some initial problems with the Internet connection installation, I got our desks set up and the computers working, before heading off to help Korean Mother move from her apartment. But Korean Father had returned from Namhae and she had six Bongo's to help, one of which seemed to be involved in a low-budget Korean remake of the sci-fi classic, Silent Running. Korean Mother has a lot of plants.

So we returned to the new apartment where it was desperately cold, the hot water wasn't working and the bathroom door handle was broken and wouldn't lock, in time to start work at 4pm Korean time. Our office door was shut and over the next nine hours the banging, drilling and occasional cries gradually subsided and I made enough money to pay our rent for several months. Given that I wouldn't have been trading if we hadn't started the move so early, it seems as though that fortune teller made a good decision for us after all. Spooky.


Anonymous said...

Other moving customs I've heard included things like-- Never move on a Friday. The first things in a new home should be sugar and coins for a sweet an prosperous life.
We've moved many times and it is never easy. There is a lot of tension, worry, and exhaustion. Rest.

mark said...

Hi Mike,

I was visiting Busan with my girlfriend, for a while in January. Prior to my trip I had read your blog cover to cover to help gain further insight into life in Korea. I had been intending on sending you an email while I was there to see if you wanted some non-Hagwon employed westerner to meet up with. But it coencided with the death of your father and house hunting, so I thought it might be best left until next time.

Just wanted to thank you for writing such an entertaining blog. I borrowed atleast a couple of your themes when I wrote up a blog of our travels. If you're interested its at :


Mike said...

Hello Mark,

I'm sorry we didn't meet up. Certainly, the last month has been really busy with my father, the move and the preparation for the Hearing, but hopefully next time you're in the vicinity my situation won't be nearly so chaotic.

We're about to go out in search of the nearest mini-mart, but I can't wait to read your blog when I get back.

Post a Comment