Thursday, September 24, 2009

Living Colors

When we first came to Busan in 2006 my girlfriend and I lived in a 'one-room' apartment which I rather liked. The tenancy expired and for the last three months of our stay we moved in with Korean Mother and Evil Korean Dog. When we left, Korean Brother made it his home which somewhat complicated any temporary return to our status quo ante.

All other things being equal, we would have found our own apartment after a brief period staying with Korean Mother on our return. But my wife wanted to live near her mother if possible, not least because since Korean Father moved to Namhae, Korean Mother has spent most of her time on her own, while I inadvertently kept her daughter away from her for years at a time. The more I thought about it, the more I thought the best solution was for us to get a larger apartment and for Korean Mother to move in with us. Undoubtedly some Westerners would baulk at the notion of such living arrangements, but I'm long since reconciled to some of the realities of Korean family life, and I'm not so bothered by it.

At least I thought I wasn't. Maybe it's all about semantics in the end, but for various reasons the notion of our finding an apartment for Korean Mother to share with us instead became us moving back in with her and sharing her apartment. We were all still living together, but now we were living with her, rather than her living with us, which realistically meant she would have control of the strategically important lounge area of the apartment. That wasn't really part of my plan – I'd envisaged lazy evenings lounging around on our inevitably leather couch watching movies on our 50-inch LCD. Instead, we would be confined to the side rooms with her controlling the high ground.

It wasn't a deal-breaker but the added complication now was Korean Brother's increasingly permanent residence. As much as he seems nice enough – it was one person too many for my liking competing for space and the bathroom, so I thought it might be better to find our own place after all – just for my wife and I. Somewhere along the line it looked like another solution had been found, unknown to myself – which was to encourage Korean Brother to find his own place again, i.e. move out. I had to put a stop to that when I found out about it because – admittedly to my English way of thinking – that looked bad, and I was concerned he might hold it against me if he felt forced out. I can't pretend to understand Korean families so it's entirely possible he would have just seen it as his duty without any animosity – but I couldn't live with myself thinking I'd unconsciously ousted him by returning. Korean family politics are complicated and some of their subtleties continue to elude me.

I don't really know where this leaves us as far as our residential situation is concerned. I've lived in plenty of places in my life, but I never really made them my home by furnishing them from start to finish, and imbuing my own ideas of design and function within their walls. I imagined that was something I would finally do on returning to Korea, but it may not work out this way.

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