The other day I considered the springform pan on top of my fridge. It sits there taking up a good fifth of my precious top-of-fridge space, an area I was considering rearranging. Living in a tiny studio will cause one to do these re-evaluations regularly. Every inch of space is precious, every piece of kitchen paraphernalia and every bottle of cooking oil worth scrutinizing for their practicality.
I was thinking about how I could fit my newly acquired rice cooker on top of the fridge – a hot piece of kitchen real estate currently occupied by two frying pans, a stock pot, two boxes of cereal, a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies, some other small bags of snacks, and the aforementioned springform pan.
I mentioned the springform pan and its problematic place of storage to my boyfriend, the person who had bestowed the rice cooker upon me.
“You have a springform pan?” he asked. “What do you use a springform pan for?”
I believe he meant generally, but it was a question I couldn’t help but personalize: “What do I use a springform pan for?” The answer is, nothing. Although I’ve used a springform pan in my life to help my very skilled mother make sheet cakes and cheesecakes, I don’t have any use for a springform pan in my current life working 45 hours a week and dwelling in a tiny Seoul officetel.
The springform pan and rice cooker vary in their degree of practicality (this is Seoul I’m living in, after all) but they do share one thing in common: I only have them because they were given to me by other expats who didn’t need them anymore.
I can’t think about that springform pan for too long without thinking about Lucy, my former coworker at my first job in Korea. We worked at a private school together, and she was leaving after my first three months at the job so she could go to graduate school in the States. Naturally, she was concerned about having money. Lucy ended up having a going away sale that became infamous among my then-coworkers because of how much she charged for everything she needed to get rid of.
Though expats live in Korea temporarily for the most part, living comfortably seems to require amassing STUFF. Talk to any expat about to leave Korea, and they will regale you with the horrors of negotiating all that stuff.
In 2013, I was anxiously awaiting Lucy’s departure because she had promised me her convection oven and I had put in an early “bid” to buy it. Living without an oven in Korea had proven to be tough, but I was determined at the time to buy a used one. Lucy and I settled on a price for her oven, and it was a high one. The kind of used price you probably wouldn’t waste your time with on Craigslist. But dammit, I wanted that oven. I would be buying her crockpot, too, and she invited me to come to the day of her sale so that I could see all the stuff she’d be getting rid of.
Long story short, I walked out of Lucy’s apartment with not just an oven and crockpot, but a mini trashcan, a spatula, a wholesale bag of pancake mix, baggie clips, a small paring knife, and the darn springform pan. Though Lucy nickel and dimed me for everything, the springform pan was definitely something I took overeagerly, riding the high of the sale. “Look at all these things I’m going to use! Now I can finally slice the tops off strawberries! I can bake zucchini muffins in my oven! And with this springform pan I’ll whip up cassoulet any time I feel like it!”
Lots of people you know will leave during your time in Korea. I experience this dissemination of stuff again and again. It was always different, depending on the person and how well I knew them and how much their departure hurt. When my best friend Rachel left in June, I asked her somberly if she would leave me her pink Christmas tree. I wanted it not only because it was a pink Christmas tree (!), it was so very Rachel, so silly and vibrant. The day I took the tree home on the city bus was a muggy and rainy June day. I set it out in my living area for a few weeks before I put it in my closet for storage. It was a cheerful-looking totem that helped me mourn her leaving.
By Charlotte Hammond