Home again, again.

It’s a weird thing, having more than one “home.”

In some ways, it sucks, particularly when two of your “homes” are pretty much on opposite sides of the Earth. You can’t just nip across to one of them for a special occasion, hop back to the other one when there’s been some kind of emergency, pop in for a cuddle and chat with a loved one who happens to be in the “home” you’re not currently in. You have people and things you adore in both places, and you can never have them all together. You can be spending the most fantastic evening with some of them in Home X and be hit by sudden pangs over what you’re missing in Home Y. When you’re here, you miss there, and when you’re there, you miss here.

Of course, having more than one “home” can also be pretty great, otherwise why on Earth would I do it?

Things I loved about my trip “home” to Northern Ireland

The welcome. There’s nothing like having more than one “home” to remind you of how many great people are in your life. If you’re in one place all the time, with all of your important people right there in the same general area, it’s so easy to take them for granted. Especially when you’re as bad at staying in touch and maintaining relationships as I am. I could go (and have gone) years without seeing certain people, and months without seeing people I really should have spent more time with, even though we lived in the same town. When you’re only there for a few weeks, however, you make the effort. You get together with that old friend for a cup of coffee, you take your granny out for a drive and a walk in the forest, you spend time with your sister and family and best friends instead of repeatedly acknowledging that “we really must do dinner some night soon” as weeks stretch into months. People are pleased to see you; you’re pleased to see them. And it’s somehow more precious because it’s only for a short time.

Driving. I was actually a little surprised by how much I loved being behind the wheel again. Having not driven a car in three years, the first few days were a little nerve-wracking, but before long I was pretty confident again and loving the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted. I felt genuinely sad when I handed over the keys at the car hire place on my last day, and briefly considered getting a car when I came “home” to Korea. That notion has since been hastily abandoned. I value my life too much.

The weather. The existence of cool breezes was like a delicious novelty, made even better by reports of horrible heat and stifling humidity over in my other “home”.

English. It’s incredibly liberating to suddenly find that you understand everything that’s going on around you. To be able to walk into a shop and simply ask for what it is that you want instead of being misunderstood as you try to speak a different language… to have basic daily interactions without them evolving into complicated mime acts… to just ask when you don’t know how something works, and have it explained to you simply and quickly.

Friendly strangers. This was the closest I’ve ever been to serious reverse culture shock. I probably seemed very surly and rude the first few times I encountered it, because the moment had passed before it registered with me that that friendly nod of the head, the casual remark about the weather, the cheery hello, was directed at me. I chatted to shop cashiers as if we were old friends. I went for a walk in a forest with my mum and granny one evening, and was amazed when every single person we met along the way greeted us as if they knew us.

Things I missed about my “home” in Korea

The food. I have officially completely switched over as far as this is concerned. Western food is just no longer for me. Give me rice and noodles and spicy stews and kimchi and stir-fries! Don’t get me wrong, I had some really nice meals when I was “home” in NI, but a few mouthfuls often seemed enough for me, and I regularly struggled to finish my food. Then it sat heavily in my stomach, causing me discomfort and often actual pain, my body no longer sure of how to process the rich sauces and stodgy carbs. Of course, I still have my unhealthy weaknesses in the form of sausage rolls and crisps – but after a couple of weeks of over-indulging in those, I felt so sluggish and queasy that I was relieved to be putting several thousand miles between us! I went to a Korean restaurant in Dublin on my last night, and was in raptures over the food. Who would’ve thought it, considering my initial reaction to Korean cuisine?! (I hated it.)

The internet. Well, obviously we have the internet in NI. But it doesn’t compare to Korea’s super-fast connections and widely available free public wifi. I had serious withdrawal!

The kids. As mad as they drive me sometimes, and as much as I was in desperate need of a holiday, I missed these little imps. The squeals and shouts of my name when they first spotted me talking to a colleague in the corridor, and the stampede of tiny feet running helter skelter to greet me with bear hugs and kisses, just gave me the warm fuzzies.

Smoking in bars and restaurants. It’s just not the same when you have to go outside like some sort of social outcast. I like a cigarette after my meal, and one with each drink. I’m enjoying being able to do that freely again.

The Local. I think the main reason that I’ve come to love The Local so much is that it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever had a place where I can be surrounded by familiar faces and feel safe, liked, welcome, and free to be myself whether I’m full of smiles and songs or silently recovering from a terrible week. I got the airport bus to Daejeon on Tuesday night after more than 24 hours of travelling, dumped my bags in my apartment, had a quick shower and change of clothes, and headed straight to the bar after being thoroughly amused by this on Facebook:

I opened the door and saw the usual dozen or so people sitting at the bar, their backs to the door, and watched them all turn around as I called cheerfully “Honey, I’m hoooooome!”. There was a cheer of my name, much as if Norm had just walked in, and the owner came out from behind the bar to hug me and get me a drink on the house. I suppose his takings were down. ;) One by one, those sitting at the bar came over to hug me and ask about my holiday. I gave out Irish Whiskey Fudge and trinkets, told my stories, caught up with friends, and couldn’t take the huge smile off my face all night as I received a welcome that I never would have expected or hoped for after just a few weeks away. They made me feel like I really belonged.

I was “home” again, again. :)