Lemme tell you about Lotte Mart.
Lotte Mart, the equivalent of Wal-Mart (US) or Tescos (UK), sells all manner of pets which you can buy along with your weekly groceries, the latest DVD and a summer dress, all for a low low affordable price.
I’ve never not had a pet. I’ve had cats, a dog, hamsters, a gerbil, birds and countless fish. With the recent departure of my turtles and the death of my 14 year old cat, I’m left, for the first time ever, petless.
When I first arrived in Korea, my housemate quit within moments (literally) of me turning up. Nothing to do with me, mind you, but she quit and left and I was left behind in a three bedroom apartment to care for her turtle during her absence. When she returned 6 weeks later to live in a different town, she reclaimed her turtle and I began to miss it. Left alone for months in a huge apartment, I decided I needed a pet with a short lifespan. It was a toss-up between a goldfish or a turtle.
I eventually decided to buy two turtles so they wouldn’t be lonely when I was at school (which is ridiculous as apparently they don’t get lonely) and a small tank. I was assured that turtles ‘only grow to the size of their tank’ (bulls%$t!) and as they were from Lotte Mart, ‘their lifespan is probably that of the average goldfish’ (double bulls$%t!!).
I picked out my turtles, one with spots, one with none so I could tell the difference, took them home and named them Gir and Zim.
At first they had pink stones:
Then purple stones:
Then, as they had a penchant for eating their stones, they got no stones.
As time went on, they got bigger. They would run around the apartment. They would flip out when they spotted me coming home from work. They learned how to get my attention if they wanted food.
They grew bigger.
I bought them a bigger tank and they continued to grow. My year was up, I needed to leave. A friend on the coast offered to house them and Gir, Zim, my new roommate and I all travelled south to drop them off.
I travelled to Ireland to study.
I travelled to England to work.
I travelled to Italy to ‘work’.
I returned to Korea 6 months later and reclaimed the turtles.
During their second time living with me they moved apartment three times. They went through four tanks eventually ending up being separated into bigger tanks. They came to own lamps and heaters and basins and towels and a scrubbing-brush. They ate shrimp and kitten food and tuna and fruit.
They grew and grew and grew and became more quizzical about life outside their tank. They grew from the size of an average bottle cap to the size of The Canadian One’s hand in four short years. They attempted ill-advised escapes.
As the time to move to Canada approaches, we needed to decide what to do with them. They’d outgrown their current tanks and were in need of bigger homes. As we are flying via Ireland to Canada, taking them with us wasn’t an option. Ireland doesn’t allow ‘exotic animals’ from Korea to be brought into it and the UK would allow them but only after 6 months in quarantine. They were growing in tanks that were too small for them and were looking more and more unhappy by the day.
I either needed to find someone to house them after we’d leave but that left that person in the same predicament as us, ‘what do I do with them when I leave?’
I decided I needed to set them free.
After months of internet research and reading turtle forums, scouting locations and trying to get my head round the idea of setting them free, Operation Freedom was a go.
I picked a date and choose a lake in Cheonan, 90 minutes from our apartment, as it was a contained area. Other turtles have been spotted there on many occasions and there was plenty of plant and fish life to keep Gir and Zim in food. Although we don’t leave until March, the turtles would have to have lived a summer in the wild in order to eat enough to survive hibernation in winter, something I couldn’t guarantee I could do.
This past Sunday, after 20 minutes of crying, I finally gathered them up, placed them in their box and prepared them to leave. I gathered their rocks too, one from each beach I’ve been to in Korea and brought back as a souvenir for them.
The Canadian One, Gir, Zim and I all got the bus and headed south, making Gir and Zim’s homes around Korea: Cheonan – Mokpo – Bupyeong – Cheonan – Seoul – Cheonan.
We walked around the lake, taking in the beauty of the turtles’ new home. We found a nice secluded spot to sit alone by the lake and set them free as The Canadian One insisted we don’t just plop them in and run away.
And so I did it. I put them in the water.
Gir swam out into the water immediately. He popped up to take in his surroundings and then disappeared into the water, never to be seen again.
Zim, on the other hand, stayed close. She ate some plants near us and although she swam around a bit, she always returned to the spot where we put her into the water, popping her head out and staring directly at us. She was my favorite of the two turtles, the most interesting and the most engaging of the two, who continually tried to get our attention in the apartment and took a special liking to The Canadian One. She’d often stand up in her tank to peer over the edge and watch him playing the guitar or sitting at his computer.
They were inquisitive little creatures with two very distinct personalities. They were much more interesting than goldfish, which I originally thought that they would be like, and although I hadn’t really done much research before diving into turtle-ownership, buying them was the best thing I’ve done in Korea.
I loved them and I hope, wherever they are, they’re having more fun that they would have ever had living in a little plastic box in my apartment.