Posts Tagged ‘family’

Given that I had some time off before I started work, I decided to fly back to Britain for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t particularly a Christmas visit – it was just a coincidence that that event fell during my work hiatus, and it seemed like the perfect time to be back with my family.

I flew with Finnair (yes – boarding my flights, I disappeared into Finnair) via Helsinki airport. Both ways, I was a little anxious about my baggage. On the way there, I hid my small backpack in my carry-on suitcase, taking it out once I’d passed through security. On the way back, I was a little concerned about the weight of my big backpack, containing, as it did, several books in addition to clothing and suchlike, but it only weighed 17kg – well under the 23 kg limit (but still a bugger to swing on to and off my back).

I also paid extra to bring my guitar (a Mexican Fender Stratocaster) in its flight case back with me to Korea; even though it was well wrapped in plastic the case suffered a little damage – the guitar is OK, though. It’s been fun playing it in the past few days, although a) I do regret not getting over to my late grandparents’ home to pick up my Metallica music books and b) it’s given me a flare-up of sciatica, for which I will try to resume my back exercises.

At Helsinki, it was rather charming to see the airport staff getting around on adult-sized push scooters.

I barely had chance to unload my backpack and share the wealth of Korean snacks I’d brought back with my family, and to have an early Christmas dinner with – amazingly – my whole family, before I headed down to Bath to spend a couple of days with my friend Alex, and then to Bristol to do likewise with my friend Lawrence and his girlfriend Yi Vei. I got them all Korean snacks, too – including the ever-popular Pepero.

Alex and I, accompanied much of the time by his friend Jason, spent pretty much all our waking hours playing Magic: The Gathering with a little Munchkin and Islands of the Azure Sea on the side. My Magic decks didn’t do very well, as Alex has recently got back into the game and has much more of the recent powerful stuff than I do – and Jason is an adept newcomer to the game.

Before catching my train to Bristol, Alex and I visited Waterstone’s, where he bought me a bunch of Magic cards and card sleeves and I bought him Star Munchkin.

Lawrence and Yi Vei took me to a burger restaurant, Atomic Burger, that was decked out in old toys and where all the burgers had the names of American icons – I got a Johnny Cash. The following day, I was supposed to take part in Lawrence’s workshop at a Buddhist centre, but I had a terrible headache from not drinking enough before bed and sleeping too long. I felt bad about dropping out, but I was far too grumpy to join in the spirit of it.

Once back in Whaley Bridge at my sister’s place I spent much of the time playing board games with her, her kids, her boyfriend, her kids’ aunt. They enjoyed my Islands of the Azure Sea game; as usual, I’d modified the rules since playing it previously, which helped to balance the gameplay. I got them Forbidden Island and Catan Junior as gifts and we enjoyed them, too. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu along with its Call of Cowthulhu expansion for myself and got to try that out.

Other plans – like blogging, working my new game idea The Hell War, reading a friend’s novel, researching MA courses in Seoul – were pretty much forgotten. As Alex and Lawrence are two of my oldest and best friends I prioritised visiting them, and that, along with Christmas, limited my ability to see other friends. Another time.

In addition to my guitar and Munchkin Cthulhu, I also brought back my Monopoly and Scrabble as well as Civilization, a board game (which predates Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game) my parents got me about ten years ago and which I’ve only ever played once (and I cut that game short when my friends decided to change the rules as we were playing). I also got Stephen R Donaldson’s recent last book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark, Iain (M) Banks’s last book before his death last year, The Quarry, Robert Rankin’s latest, The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, Philip Pullman’s Grim Tales, Swords & Dark Magic and Strange Dreams – both anthologies, the latter edited by Stephen Donaldson. Finally, I ordered and received a small pile of unusual dice and brought them back along with all my other dice.

Since then, I’ve played Civilization with my friend Peter and Munchkin Cthulhu with some other friends – Matthew, Erica and Jihyena – celebrated the New Year with meat, uninspiring fireworks, drink and card games and paid my rent for January, leaving me with precious little money until I get paid some time later in the month. I’ll be living on my credit card until then.

I start work on Monday and I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I want to get the initial period over with and settle in as fast as possible, and also get used to getting up early every day. It seems like there are lots of documents to get used to dealing with and probably not much time during normal working hours to fill them all out. And the kids’ mums are apparently the kind that love to complain about everything. I should just try and keep my head and enjoy teaching the kids as much as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two to report on my progress.

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My dad, as he often did when I was at university there, drove down to Bath with my mum – and arrived on time, surprisingly enough. Then we drove further south to Highcliffe near Bournemouth, where my dad’s mother – ‘Nana’ – and her husband – ‘Uncle Reg’ – live. My dad had reserved a room for us at a nearby hotel.

My parents, on the other hand, stayed with Nana and Reg. As they’re quite elderly, they no longer live in the two-storey bungalow (ie, the master bedroom was on the same level as the attic) that I remember from my childhood, with its big garden with a stream running along it, and, on the far side of the stream, a path leading to a nice big park where I climbed trees. Instead, they have a nicely appointed, but rather plain flat not far from the beach.

They’ve aged a lot since I last saw them – which was a long time ago. Nana was as nice and enthusiastically grandmotherly as she ever was and was a great hit with Habiba; Reg was quieter – his speaking voice was the same, but he didn’t say so much. He’s blind now, so maybe his blindness leaves him in a bit of a world of his own.

In the evening, we drove through the New Forest to an isolated pub for dinner with my dad’s half sister, Lalani, and her mother. Lalani, despite being my aunt, is younger than me or any of my siblings. I’d never met her before – and my dad hadn’t met her until recently. Which facts are explained by my dad’s late father’s estrangement from his first family. Lalani turned out to be a very sweet, friendly person and the meal was a pleasant experience.

The following morning, we went to have a look at the beach at Highcliffe, then set off up north – visiting Stonehenge on the way.

Our specific destination in T’ Nawrth was my sister’s place in the Derbyshire countryside – except not my sister’s place, but her ex-partner’s place because my sister’s place had been devastated by a child- and bathroom-related flood. The family spent a lot of time there and, on the first night, they threw a birthday party for me; later in the evening, we played Star Wars Monopoly.

It was the first time I’d seen Caroline’s kids in a couple of years and they’d grown, as children do. Nelly seemed to be turning into quite a mature teenager, Tom had grown from the clownish cherub I remember into an even-tempered and irreverent boy and the baby, Maisy, had now taken on the mantle of angelic toddler.

Visiting my family is usually a little awkward, as I’m not that close to them – about which I have mixed feelings. But my sister is a friendly, down-to-earth woman and her children are great – which makes them the effective heart of our family. Everyone seemed to take to Habiba very well. I’m sure Habiba felt more than a little apprehensive at meeting them, but she charmed them with her charming charm.

In a slightly bizarre yet completely planned-for turn of events, Lauren, Habiba’s colleague and friend from Korea – whom we’d already met and stayed with in Bratislava – came over to visit one day and we all went to Chatsworth House, a beautiful and very expensive place; the gardens were especially nice. Afterwards, the three of us went shopping at the Farm Shop associated with the house and ate cold pasties in the shop’s car park. Later, we got Bakewell tarts in Bakewell.

On our final full day in the UK, my dad drove us to Runcorn, where we had a nice lunch with my friends from my Liberal Democrat days, Liz and Roger. After chatting to them for a couple of hours about life, we walked over to and around Runcorn Hill. I’d described Runcorn to Habiba as being rather grim with more than its fair share of scumbags, but the parts we saw (with the exception of our brief visit to Halton Lea (which I still think of as Shopping City)) were quite respectable, and the town does have a couple of very nice parks.

After exploring the sandstone crags and views of the Mersey of Runcorn Hill, we walked down to my parents house, where we met my youngest brother, Alex, and their dogs. It was only a flying visit before heading back to Whaley Bridge, where I only just had time to fulfil my promise to give my niece (the elder) and nephew a crash course in Magic: The Gathering.

The following day and before we knew it, it seemed, we had to leave to catch our flight to Iceland and further adventures.

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Saying goodbye to Ramana

Last year, Habiba’s dad broke his back whilst cutting down trees for his and Habiba’s mum’s new house. It was a very traumatic time for Habiba and we flew over to America to see Ramana. He was very weak and suffered a heart attack while we were there. Towards the end of the year he recovered some strength and started doing rehabilitation, but he still had serious problems to contend with: very bad bed sores, a fistula between his throat and windpipe, his kidneys threatened to fail.

Within the last week or so, these problems came to a head – the bed sores had led to blood and bone infections and Ramana’s kidneys finally gave up. His family realised that he would not be able to survive without some very painful and intrusive treatment – and even then he would not live long. So they decided to make him as comfortable as possible and not to treat his conditions.

Habiba received this news towards the end of the week and we knew that we would have to get over to the States as soon as possible. Habiba was able to get time off work and we got tickets – eventually, after trying lots of online options and having credit card problems, from a Korean travel agency (I had to go there on Friday afternoon with my and Habiba’s credit cards; we paid separately because I didn’t have enough of a credit limit to pay for two tickets, so I needed to forge Habiba’s signature for her payment).

We left on Sunday morning, getting an early and very quick airport bus from near our home. Annoyingly, we were subjected to a security interview just after we checked in. The Korean woman who quizzed us was confused by my account of not having a permanent address and currently travelling in Asia as well as living with Habiba – but she passed us.

Our first flight was at 10:40 to Tokyo Narita Airport. Getting on board was a little stressful. Habiba, while taking her bag off her shoulder for the additional pre-boarding security check, broke her necklace – beads went all over the place, and I got the honour of throwing the remainder away. I had a nearly full cup of coffee that I couldn’t take on board; I endeavoured to drink it, but Habiba was cross and impatient, so I ended up throwing half of it away, too.

Last year, when we went to America, we had to throw away three bottles of water at the same stage, so we didn’t make that mistake this time. However, boarding for the 13-hour flight to New York JFK involved no extra security, so we could have bought water for that flight. As they say hereabouts, Go figure. We took off at about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, flew through a night (what had been Saturday night in America and would be Sunday night in Asia) and landed at about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

Before each of our flights, Habiba spoke to her family on Skype and was told that her dad was still alive and seemed comfortable – so it seemed hopeful that we would be able to get there in time to see him alive. Sadly, though, when Ramana’s first wife, Carol, picked us up once again at the airport, she told Habiba that he had died. She said that we had passed him in the sky.

After a short stop at Carol’s apartment for food and showers, she took us to a Yonkers railway station to catch a train up to Albany, the closest city to Habiba’s mum, Noorunisa’s home. Noor picked us up at the station, and then we drove an hour and a half east to Springfield, Massachusetts to the rehabilitation centre, Kindred Hospital.

While Noor napped in the lobby, Habiba and I were taken to see Ramana’s body. He was on a trolley in a plain basement room with a dozen mortuary refrigeration compartments along one wall. He was wrapped up in white plastic and a white sheet; on his head was a beaded hat or skullcap. His face was damp and icy cold, but he seemed to be smiling slightly.

Habiba was in tears; I felt emotional, too – perhaps more in response to Habiba’s feelings than anything else. She spent a while stroking his face and hugging him; then she asked me to leave while she spoke quietly to him. The nurses that had prepared Ramana for our viewing were out in the hall and we waited in silence for a couple of minutes. Finally, I went back in and we took some photos for family and friends to see.

After that, it was another long drive, all the way back past Albany to Noor’s home; then bed.

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Habiba was 31 yesterday (the 12th of July). Happy birthday to her!

I finished work early and came home to start preparing dinner. Dinner was to consist of salmon grilled with a seasoning of finely chopped garlic stem, ginger, hot pepper, lemon juice and a bit of olive oil. I also put together a stewy kind of thing made of red onion, more garlic stem, tofu, asparagus, zucchini and mushroom. Plus there was a salad – which Habiba helped with when she got home – of various types of lettuce, celery, cucumber, carrot, avocado, almonds, olives and jalapeño peppers. Basically, lots of the food I didn’t grow up eating, but which Habiba has weaned me on to.

Also joining us for dinner were our friends and her colleagues JP and Zach. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I wasn’t entirely happy with the stewy thing – it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned – the tofu didn’t hold up too well in the jumble of ingredients. But it tasted pretty good. For dessert we had tiramisu (purchased, along with the other ingredients, at our local massive supermarket, E-Mart). When I bought picked up from the bakery area at E-Mart I also got four candles to go with it (and in it), three big ones for each decade and one smaller one for the odd year.

After that it was time for presents – from me, anyway: Habiba had already received goodies the previous week at work. First was a Korean cookery book (in English – and Korean) that I’d wrapped in some of Habiba’s fancy paper and decorated with hearts and stars and a crescent moon. Zach helpfully pointed out that it would be impossible for a star to show in the middle of the curve of the moon, as I’d placed one. I countered that hearts floating in a night sky was also unlikely.

The second gift was a nice pepper grinder that I’d bought from Lotte Department Store in Seoul city centre. It was a little expensive, but probably cheaper than a similar one in a similarly posh shop in the west. This pressie was wrapped in red wrapping paper (previously used – we’re environmentally friendly) and tied with the golden twist ties that fasten the ends of packs of vegetables and mushrooms from E-Mart. The package’s shape and size were, shall we say, suggestive. In retrospect, it would have been better to give this gift before dinner – that way, we could have used it. Habiba has been pining for a good pepper grinder for a while, so it was a good gift, I think.

Habiba also had phone calls from her family and friends wishing her a happy birthday. The highlight of which was this morning when she spoke to her father. He’s in rehab now and apparently off his ventilator – huge steps forward from his condition while we were over in America. I’m sure that was the best present she could have wished for.

The next stage of the celebrations come at the weekend – a night out and some sort of daytime activity are planned.

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