27th December, 2016
Wonwoo takes one last look at the place he used to call home before hopping into the taxi behind his mother. It’s cold – December tends to bring on the worst of winter, and Wonwoo can’t imagine a life of not needing three long-sleeved t-shirts under one sweater, a hoodie and a down jacket with a scarf and a beanie. It’s the coldest temperature recorded in over a hundred years, and he’s glad to be leaving it behind, but at the same time, he can’t help but feel a little bittersweet.
He’s spent his whole life thus far here, and now, all of a sudden, right when he can almost taste freedom on the tip of his tongue, he’s being whisked away to a new country.
He almost can’t believe it. It feels so surreal to him; the news that the whole family will be moving to Australia of all places, and because of his father’s job. Wonwoo thinks the most logical thing would have been for him to complete his final year of high school while staying at his grandparents’ place, but no, this “will be a wonderful bonding experience”, a “chance of a lifetime!!!!”, and “a nice change of scenery” for the family.
Beside him Bohyuk looks ready to jump out of his skin from excitement, but Wonwoo can’t seem to find it in him to match the energy that emanates from his brother. For starters, he doesn’t think he’s ever had that much energy in his body at any given moment in his life, but also, he feels a tingling feeling of dread over his wrist, right where his soulmate’s name will appear when he turns eighteen.
What he fears most right now, more than moving to a country where he can only speak in stilted sentences, more than the prospect of having to make new friends in an unfamiliar environment, more than losing the one best friend he’s had growing up, is waking up on his eighteenth birthday to find a name on his wrist attached to someone he’s left behind.
Will it say ‘Sooyoung’, in the neat handwriting of everyone’s favourite girl-next-door affectionately dubbed ‘Joy’? Will it say the name of someone he’s bumped into while doing the groceries with his mother without realising? Or will he look down to find an exotic name of some tanned beach girl scrawled across his wrist?
Wonwoo shivers. He doesn’t want to be soulmates with Calypso, the blonde, blue-eyed girl with the weird anklet tan who isn’t seen without her surfboard. Not that this made-up beach babe actually exists, of course.
Boarding the plane is a blur for Wonwoo who’s lost in thought, wandering the forest of possible soulmates in his mind. After Calypso there’s James, with red curls bouncing in every direction in a way that Wonwoo has never seen hair move before, and then there’s Maria, who’s half-Puerto Rican, then Emma the clarinettist, then Jennifer but with a ‘G’ and one ‘n’ and a ‘ph’ instead of an ‘f’; Wonwoo really hopes Genipher won’t be his soulmate.
“Wonwoo-yah,” his father pokes his shoulder, snapping him out of his reverie. “You should buckle up your seatbelt before the stewardess comes around.”
It startles him; he doesn’t remember having sat down, but he obligingly does up his seatbelt before unceremoniously shoving his earphones into his ears to tune out the world. Safety instructions are for people who actually care about living, and emo teen Jeon Wonwoo ain’t about that life.
He’s kidding, he values his life a lot, but he’s not in the mood for listening to nasally voices over tinny speakers. He closes his eyes briefly to the sound of his brother tapping at the screen in an effort to find a good movie to watch.
Wonwoo slowly wakes up, his eyes fluttering open to Bohyuk’s hand on his shoulder and the seatbelt sign flashing off. His earphones are tangled into his hoodie strings, and he can already tell it’ll be a pain to untie, not to mention that the hoodie will have to go as soon as he steps off the plane; the sun caressing the tarmac does not look like it will be kind to his body temperature. All around him, people are rising out of seats to grab their bags, and it’s all somewhat orderly until a sharp screech fills the plane.
“What the fuck has happened to my Stradivarius? Do you even know how valuable it is?”
Wonwoo sighs. It seems like there’s a temperamental musician on his flight; the type he always tiptoed past when going through the arts building at his old school. As the shouting continues and the exhausted flight attendants struggle to placate the violinist, Wonwoo briefly wonders if Emma would be as uptight about her clarinet. He really hopes not.
They finally start to exit the plane, only briefly held up by Bohyuk nearly leaving his landing card and passport in the seat pocket. Customs, however, is messier, as Wonwoo’s mother discovers they have to declare all the food they brought in their suitcases.
The customs officer, whose name tag reads ‘Warren’ stares them all right in the eye, his gaze occasionally dropping to the absolute mountain of groceries. Wonwoo stares dejectedly back at him, wondering why his name is the same as the English word for a rabbit’s home, and he suddenly has a flashback to his textbook with its little picture of domestic rabbits, Warren hopping alongside them.
As the adults all engage in a vigorous conversation about the legality of bringing in pickled vegetables and various spices, the brothers find some seats a few meters away. Bohyuk immediately takes out his phone, powering it up and frantically telling his friends that, no, he did not die in a plane crash, and no, he has not fought a crocodile yet. Wonwoo slowly takes out his own phone, leaning back into the uncomfortable chair with the ugly pattern, wondering if Australia is going to continue being such a drag.
His phone hasn’t connected to the network yet, the little ‘searching’ message taunting him as Bohyuk happily types away next to him. Finally, he has success, and three bars with the word ‘Virgin’ pops up. The growth of his celebratory grin halts as he registers just what his phone says. Virgin? He must be confused about that translation.
Just as he’s about to open up Google Translate, his mum beckons him over, to where all the food has been packed away back into the suitcases.
“So, how long are you planning on staying in Brisbane?” Warren asks Wonwoo’s dad, his eyes on the family’s immigration documents.
“Indefinitely,” Wonwoo’s dad says with a smile, “We’ve moved here for my work.” Warren nods in understanding, and seems to make up his mind.
“Well you’re all good to go, as long as this mud you’ve reported on your shoes is purely from suburban environments.” Wonwoo is just about to join in on his mother’s nods, but then remembers his school’s class trip to a national park a few weeks ago and raises his hand timidly. They’re not out of the woods yet.
The journey out of the woods takes another hour, as it turns out Warren was only on his second shift and didn’t yet know how to deal with international forest mud. Once another officer, this one called ‘Barry’, finally turned up, they were able to make some progress and managed to escape the airport.
Wonwoo thinks that’ll be the end of it, and it seems Bohyuk does as well, but their parents lead them over to the car rental office. He is once again thoroughly confused by the names of things in this peculiar country, when he spots the name ‘Thrifty’. Do Australians just disregard the meanings of words when they choose names?
Once all the paperwork is done, they are led out to their family car for the next few weeks, a Jeep. The rental man cracks a smile, exclaiming “we bought a Jeep!” Wonwoo just stares at him, wondering about the mental capacity of Australians.
No shit Sherlock (SHINee’s back), he thinks, staring at the white SUV, which, obviously, has been purchased by ‘Thrifty’.
The crazy Thrifty man finally leaves, and the family pile into the car, all immediately scrambling for the air con. Just as Wonwoo’s dad goes to put the keys into the ignition, he belatedly realises that the steering wheel is not in fact on the left side, but the right. Wonwoo thinks he hears something suspiciously like “fucking Australia” come out of his dad’s mouth as he gets out of the car to swap seats with his mum.
Once Wonwoo’s dad has figured out which side of the road to drive on, the passengers all relax into their boiling leather seats to watch the city passing them by. Wonwoo sees a lot of ugly houses, three different McDonald’s within ten minutes, all dubbed Macca’s (since when was that its name?), and exits off the freeway for about five different coasts. Gold? Sunshine? The almost optimistically happy names make him uncomfortable; surely a place can’t be that fabulously shiny and happy?
When they make it into suburbia, Wonwoo immediately notices the hills. On the first one, a terrifying thing that came out of nowhere, he feels the car is about to fall backwards down it, the prowess of this Jeep be damned. It’s a whole ‘nother experience when they’re going down the hill once they’re over the crest. Brisbane is obviously the playground for Satan’s children; devilishly hot, geographically torturous, and filled with unpleasant, primitive arses.
They finally arrive at their new home, something that Wonwoo has only seen pictures of before, but where they’ll be living “indefinitely”. He remembers his mum telling him it was a Queenslander, whatever that meant, but Wonwoo finds himself quite liking the wrap around veranda and the large room under the house that his parents have already decided to leave to him and Bohyuk.
His bedroom is towards the back of the upper level, at the end of a corridor which boasts Bohyuk’s room, their shared bathroom and a spare bedroom, which is taking on the role of a storage space for all their unopened boxes. Wonwoo has a view of the back garden from his window; he sees a pretty overgrown lawn enclosed by a wooden fence, with a few large trees that have an absolute abundance of purple flowers spilling from their branches.
After setting his suitcase down, not quite bothered to open it yet, Wonwoo walks through the rest of the house and out into the garden. His shoes are back upstairs, so he just steps out onto the grass and makes his way over to the trees.
Something wet squishes between his toes, his nose wrinkling as he brings his foot up. All he sees is a mess of purple mush, supposedly what once was one of those flowers. He dismisses it easily enough - flowers are going to fall. Wonwoo puts his foot back down, preparing himself for more squishy steps. What he doesn’t expect however, is to be stabbed right in the big toe by something in the grass. He brings his foot up again, but this time, sitting in amongst the purple mush is a little barb. Bending down to look more closely at the lawn, he sees little weeds interspersed throughout the grass, barbs sitting happily in their little green home. Even the plants are out to get him.
“This motherfucking country!” Wonwoo curses, fleeing the garden to wash the mess of barbs and purple off of his feet.
He doesn’t notice that it’s only been a mere few hours in Australia, and yet he’s already swearing like a native.