After moving from the USA to Korea and Korea to Kyrgyzstan, I think we’re somewhat sort of maybe getting the hang of this international moving thing.
Unlike packing light for travel, planning a move and career in another country has so many more obstacles to sticking to minimalism. I hate hauling large amounts of things with me, but I also hate re-buying and wasting things that we will use in both locations. There is such a fine line deciding which material possessions to carry around the world.
We ended up with 6 bags. Well, 6 checked bags and a small tote bag and 2 small backpacks as carry-ons. It was definitely more than we came to Korea with, but virtually one whole checked bag was camping gear that we’ve slowly moved from the US to Korea and knew we’d use in Kyrgyzstan, and almost a whole other bag was doggy accessories. What? We love our Roo.
It all felt like a lot, but since we knew about the move 6 months in advance, I spent a lot of time trying to narrow down what we would take with us and think I got it mostly to essentials and comfort items. It’s funny how much these items can tell you about us. One checked bag was my clothes for all seasons, and one was Ryan’s. We also hauled a mini yoga studio with us – 2 mats, 2 blocks, 1 strap, and 2 eye pillows. We mailed a box of books home that we weren’t willing to part with and kept a few – poetry by TuFu and Wendell Berry, manuals and books from my yoga teacher training, a Morning Meeting book that we will use for teaching this year, and our wedding photo album and guestbook. At the last minute it looked like we would have enough room to fit our faux-down comforter that I splurged on last year, which made me happy because I like fluffy beds. So there were definitely things that weren’t downright necessities, but when you’re heading somewhere for a few years I’ve learned it helps a lot to make it feel a bit like home.
The most difficult part of this move were the logistics for bringing our dog, Roxie, to Kyrgyzstan from Korea, a route very lacking in information from bloggers and travel forums. We looked at pet relocation services but were quoted a very high amount and Roxie would be traveling alone on cargo through Moscow with an overnight stay in a pet hotel before her final flight to Bishkek. That would be fine, but from Seoul we found flights on Air Astana that would be 9 hours of travel time total – a 7 hour flight from Seoul to Almaty, an hour layover, then a 50 minute flight from Almaty to Bishkek. And we would be with her the whole time and be able to nag, nag, nag people along the way.
We started out by emailing Air Astana to confirm that they had climate-controlled cabins and transportation for the animals. They really liked to respond that everything would “be okay!”, but we pushed and pushed until Ryan cornered them with two choices for response, asking them to quote one. They quoted the one confirming that there was, in fact, manual climate control in the hold that Roxie would travel in. On the plus side, their Special Services customer support was extremely responsive and we always heard back from them within the hour.
As the time to fly got closer, I got more and more nervous. We were flying mid-day in July, which is what everyone says NOT to do, but there really wasn’t any better route or alternative for her to fly. We kept checking the weather and the times to make sure Roxie would be safe.
To confirm paperwork we would need for Roxie we started with pettravel.com to buy a packet of paperwork. All Kyrgyzstan required from Korea was a rabies shot within 6 months of flying (but more than 1 month before) and a health certification within 10 days of flying. We also scrambled to contact embassies for correct information, calling and emailing the US embassy in Krygyzstan, the Kyrgyz embassy in the US, and the Kyrgyz embassy in Seoul. The Kyrgyz embassy in Seoul was the most helpful and confirmed our paperwork was correct, but suggested we also have it translated to Russian. We didn’t think we needed certified copies (for which we were quoted $400), so got last-minute uncertified translations within a few hours from onehourtranslation.com for $70.
For Roxie’s kennel we erred on the side of caution and got a slightly large size because she was in between – a 400 size Vari Kennel. We decked it out with a giant hamster-style water bottle as well as small water containers inside. We kept a folded blanket at the bottom which is always in her kennel. I bought metal hardware for the sides of the kennel rather than the plastic hardware it came with. I also printed a sign in Russian and English that said “Please do not open. I am scared.” I stuck “Live Animal” and “This Side Up” and arrows all over her kennel. I also put little squares of pink duct tape so we would recognize her kennel from far away. We kept Roxie’s collar on her but took off her harness, and her collar had my email address rather than a phone number since we had cancelled our phone service in Korea. I also came ready with zip ties.
When we got to Incheon airport we stacked all our bags on a roll-cart and went to check in with Air Astana. We were sent to another location to pay for our excess baggage and Roxie’s kennel. After that we let Roxie out one last time to do her business on the 1st floor of the airport, where there was a nice patch of grass and trees by the parking. She knew something was up because she did both items rather quickly before we put her back in her kennel and zip-tied it shut.
We went back to the Air Astana check-in counter where they checked Roxie’s paperwork, weighed her, and taped tags and paperwork on her kennel. Then we had to go drop her off at the oversize baggage check. This was so hard. We got there and the people just said “Ok, you can go!” and asked us to push her to the side. That seemed a little informal, so we stuck around, and it turned out we had to sign a little chart certifying that we checked her in. Then we watched as they taped her kennel shut.
She was shaking like a leaf and we were panicking, wondering if we should call it all off and live in our friend’s studio apartment until we figured out what to do, but decided to give her a minute. We walked around the corner and sure enough, when we peeked back she was just laying in her kennel. So, attempting to send Roxie good vibes and energy while really I was about to puke, we went through security with about an hour and 10 minutes before our flight.
When we got to our flight the flight attendant at the counter was the same that checked us in, and he assured us that Roxie was already loaded on. We got in line right away and boarded, telling every flight attendant along the way that our dog was on board. I think Air Astana probably has a running joke about us, after emailing so many times for months and months and then telling everyone within earshot that our dog was flying. But they were all supportive and assured us that she was “ok!” Before our flight landed we notified the flight attendant that we were transferring flights from Almaty to Bishkek and that our dog was on board, and she said she would notify ground control.
Our flight got to Almaty early and it was hot. We had to wait in line to transfer, which was so stressful. When we got to our next gate, there weren’t even flight attendants there yet. This was the hardest part of travel. We had no idea if Roxie had been unloaded or if she was being kept in a cool place. The minute a flight attendant showed up we went to confirm that she was being kept somewhere cool and that she was being transferred to our next flight. We were told it was “all ok!”
As we boarded a bus to take us to our flight, we saw a truck with Roxie’s kennel in the back. She was sitting up with a big grin on her face just looking around. As we boarded one side of the plane, we saw Roxie being handed up and loaded into the baggage compartment on the other side. We told all the flight attendants our dog was on board (in Russian! Ryan got to practice).
When we landed in Bishkek, we had to wait in line to get our business visa and go through customs. Finally, we got to baggage pick up. The business visa took longer than others, so we were the last ones. Our 6 pieces of checked baggage were lonely, strewn about the conveyor belt. Roxie’s kennel was in the corner, and she was so excited to see us. She was thirsty but otherwise seemed rather chipper. We quickly loaded everything up as Ryan talked to the customs officer (again in Russian!) They discussed where our dog was from and why we were working here and if we had Roxie’s paperwork, and that was it. We left and quickly headed outside to meet Ryan’s brother, Greg.
Roxie’s kennel was taped and zip-tied shut, and we obviously hadn’t brought scissors or a knife with us. We ripped the tape off her kennel and then unscrewed the hardware to break her out of the back of the kennel. Hilarious that I was worried about her escaping. And that was that!
Over months and months I had been projecting so many worries and fears to this process, imagining the worst. I saw such vivid images of my fears in my mind – of it being too hot, of Roxie overheating, of her kennel being tipped over and her escaping, of her being lost, of us being stuck in an airport with no idea where she was, of us being stuck in customs. I rehearsed and rehearsed my fears. It didn’t occur to me that I was practically manifesting a negative outcome until a conversation at my yoga teacher training about focusing on the positive. The story a friend used was the way people stand outside and ask you to “support cancer research” but it sounds like they’re saying “support cancer”, and with all this focus on cancer instead of on healthy bodies, cancer abounds. So throughout the weeks leading up to flying and during flying, I pictured in vivid detail everything going perfectly smoothly. And it did.