catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 16 :: 2008.09.12 — 2008.09.26


Resident alien transplant

On June 19, 2008, we left the community of which we have been a part for 18 of the past 22 years. This intentional upheaval, this moment of significant insanity, meant saying farewell to Higashi Kurume, a small village located on the western edge of Tokyo, where we first arrived with two young daughters in tow back in 1986.

Our Japanese community was place of great cheer, and if people didn’t know our names, they certainly knew our faces: at the friendly dry cleaners, at the Yamazaki grocery store where cashiers greeted us with smiles even when we strode through the aisles wearing bike helmets (one can never be too safe), at the bento shop, at our favorite bike repair business run by two brothers who would do “Click and Clack” proud, at Doutors Coffee where my usual was just that, at the local gyoza restaurant, and especially at the “M” (for “mature women”) hair salon, where the woman who has cut my hair for all these years and with whom I have never really had a full conversation—due to the high hurdles of language fluency—burst into tears when I told her that I was moving.

We bid adieu to a school where we have worked long and hard, but in truth it was the village that it took to raise our three children. We left a community that remembered our oldest daughter presenting an insightful middle school science report on neutrinos and our 4-year-old daughter taking notes in the back of her dad’s pre-calc class, and which fondly recalled the day that we adopted our infant son and then headed off to class the next day with him sleeping in a Snugli.

We said farewell to dear friends and esteemed colleagues, many of them in fact former students of ours, our long-suffering neighbors (we never really understood the garbage rules), and our downtown Tokyo church, which truly was a gathering of nations.

Handing over our alien registration cards—our foreign “green cards”—to the Japanese immigration officials at Narita Airport as we prepared to board our flight in June was an emotional time. We realized then that we really and truly were leaving our known and familiar community. It suddenly hit us: we were no longer residents of Japan.

On July 31, we landed at Incheon Airport in Seoul to begin work in another Asian country at another school in a vastly different environment. No, Toto, we are not in Tokyo anymore! Questions are still arriving faster than answers, among the foremost: will we ever be part of a community like the one we enjoyed in Tokyo? The hardest and strangest part of the transplant has been that now we are introduced as a (late middle-aged) couple without children. It is incredibly weird when people ask us if we have children and then inquire where our kids are now. Our communal identities have been redefined in many ways.

As we are beginning to settle into an unfamiliar place of residence and work, however, we are forging community ties on many levels, including in our apartment complex where several of our colleagues live. Together we are attempting to figure out new (and even more complex) garbage rules, the importance of a designated kimchi fridge, how to get 20L bottles of filtered water delivered, how to open our keypad-coded doors, what to do if there is no hot water in the morning (just ring our melodic doorbell at 6am and use our shower).

Despite amazingly helpful Korean staff at our school, hilarious members of our new community who have tirelessly assisted us in a myriad of adjustment challenges, the question of “just what have we gotten ourselves into?” springs to mind daily. But just yesterday we received our Korean alien registration cards; we have now become official residents of this new land.

The process of community-building is truly underway: walking (or riding the shuttle bus) to school in the morning, buying previously unknown fruit like chammeh from a street vendor on our way home, attempting to establish communities of grace in our classrooms, worshipping in our new downtown Seoul church which is another gathering of nations.

We are indeed gradually discovering a sense of community here in HAPPY Suwon, a city which takes pride in its slogan as prominently displayed on buildings, signs, and buses: Harmonious, Abundant, Paramount, Prosperous, and Young Suwon. At our advanced ages, we often feel a little bit like Father Abraham, yet we continue our journey as transplanted resident aliens.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus