WARNING: this post contains sentiment. What with experiencing my first thanksgiving just last week, and Christmas rearing its head round the corner, perhaps it's called for?
Someone once told me that being around my family was like watching a British comedy. This someone, of course, was East. I took his words as an unmitigated compliment because I love British comedy and just by having this said to me I realised how much my family of three embodies the madness that is a British script; we talk over each other, are suddenly and violently flabbergasted and use words like 'rubbish' or 'bloody Nora' as though they are legitimate curses. Our bickering is a way of expressing our love and because I've spent so much time in such a specialised environment, this has become the way I interact with people I meet who, after time, make me love them. It's never the same, though, as with my parents and the only contact I have with them is over Skype where the slight delay puts a stop to our usually smooth banter. Living overseas has taken my biological family and in moments of homesickness, culture shock and language difficulties, it's hard knowing that those I'm closest to, bar East, are thousands of miles away. We all need a support system and as a westerner in Korea, where millions of voices may as well be silent for how well I understand them, a lifeline is very welcome. So I found friends to fill the gap my parents had left.
When East and I first arrived here we had no idea what to expect of other English speakers. Would there be many in our area? Would there be another at East's school? What countries would they come from? Would we be friends just because we spoke the same language? As it happened there were three Americans who lived on the exact same floor as us in our apartment building and they greeted us like old friends; took us to dinner to show us what and how to eat, introduced us to soju and its many sugary mixes, leant power boards and adapters and gave us never-ending advice on places to go in the city. It was wonderful, having so much help so close to our door, but after a while we realised that we weren't doing things for ourselves. We didn't know where to buy train tickets, how to ask basic questions or what food was what. We'd been handicapped by friendship and it took striking out on our own to rediscover these skills. It felt much like breaking away from parents for the first time: out in the world, only a vague clue on how to get by and full of questions you decide not to ask for fear of looking like you can't deal with so much responsibility. Not only were we missing out on first hand experiences, we were limiting ourselves to a very small friend base. The kindness of our neighbours meant we had stopped searching for others with whom to share our lives. Luckily, proximity had another card in its sleeve. East met two very amusing men at his orientation, one of which lives just up the road from us. We have dinner with him once a fortnight and talk about the differences of travelling through Europe as opposed to South America. A gathering of Gwangmyeong teachers gave us an opportunity to meet people in our area and from that evening I befriended a girl who once lived in the same British county as I had and another who warned me away from Trinity College in Dublin because she had gone there and found it pompous. East got friendly with a guy who designs computer games in Seoul and they spent an hour talking about codecs and story lines. We had found another nest in which to fluff ourselves. A nest away from our nest. And we still had our neighbours, though one had been replaced with a new intake, and you can be sure we still loved them. Their Thanksgiving feast was proof entire of that fact. If Robert Lindsay had been there we could have filmed an episode of My Family.
What about organised activities, I hear you ask? Surely if you were looking for like-minded people you could go to some kind interest-inspired gathering. Not so easy over here. There are plenty of social events tailor made to westerners but finding out about them proved tricky, particularly when we hadn't made many friends to hear things from. So when we heard about a performance of Julius Ceasar at a station near our house, we went to have a look. The performance was short and sweet but the thing that really got our attention was the sentence written on the back of the flyer: 'If you would like to join Actors Without Bard'ers, please email us.' Bingo! Our chance at spending time with a group of people all interested in reading and acting. So email them we did and two weeks later we walked into a room of people who would quickly become some of our best friends. People who had read books I studied at university and knew who Magnetic Fields were and loved that I sat in the back of the room writing poetry on scraps of paper. Before meeting them I thought that living here had narrowed my choices to such an extent that I wouldn't be able to find anyone in whom I could see something of my own joys. Someone I could banter and argue with. I thought friendship had become a matter of take what you can get but it turns out everything I had at home I could build here. Minus my parents, I found a family that loved me and loved my interests. Moreover, everyone had a place in our chemistry; someone to organise professional meetings to keep us on the straight and narrow, another to work us up into going out and staying out far later than sensible, someone else who brought down the guilt for our previous night's revelries, another who brought cake or sweets to rehearsals to soothe our pain and one more who, silent, looks so perfect at the back of the room that you want to aspire to their calm, benign presence. Think the crew of Phoenix Nights without the wheelchair. And they read Shakespeare like bloody demons.
They say the family of the 21st century is made up of friends and not relatives. You know who else said that? Simon Pegg in the final episode of Spaced. And who is they? People who don't know any better. Surely we've evolved to the point where family is a very loosely defined term? We have families of mothers and fathers, those of adopted children and step-parents, orphaned children finding a place to be together, couples moving out for the first time and the many victims of tragedy who group for love and comfort. Of course the 21st century has family not entirely involving relatives but if you're lucky enough to have them, and even luckier to like them, these biological families take a very special position in the world. Mine is my own personal British comedy but while I've been away I've created another show: part American sitcom, slightly Canadian absurdism, frank and honest South African wit and perplexing, enthusiastic Korean hilarity. And they are, in a very real way, my new family.
If Lara were to be reincarnated, she would definitely return as the second coming of Zoe Wanamaker.