Airline luggage policy asserts that two refrigerator boxes packed with clothes and then duct-taped shut are not acceptable substitutes to be checked in lieu of two suitcases. And don't even bother asking a flight attendant if one of the fridge boxes can be substituted for a carry-on.
The problem with packing in anticipation of two years spent outside your own country is that two years' worth of items do not fit in two suitcases. When first preparing for this trip, I packed like a typical traveler. That is to say, I laid out all the necessities and lined them up so that one bag could be filled with useful items, such as soap and shoes, and the other filled with clothing that could cover weather spanning four distinctly different seasons. After the bag was so full it strained at every seam, I then climbed on top of it, and bearing down, with sweat pouring from my face and while shouting derogatory remarks about airline luggage restrictions, I closed and zipped the case. I followed this exact procedure for each of my suitcases and I highly recommend it for fellow travelers.
The real issue is that, for undoubtedly the first time in my life, my packing has taken place several days in advance of my actual departure. My typical packing method is to open a bag, toss in whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, and then rush out the door with a good five minutes to spare before the: a. plane takes off, b. train leaves the station, or c. bus departs from the terminal. Then when I arrive at my destination, I open my bag with the same giddy anticipation in which one opens a grab bag from the carnival. I have, in the past, managed to pack five pairs of pants but no underwear, or three books of poetry – to a dance event – but no water bottle and no dance shoes. The overall convenience of grab bag packing leaves something to be desired, but the element of surprise never fails to amuse.
My current situation, as mentioned previously, has left me with far too much time on my hands after packing my bags. For the past few days, I've been noticing the things that have not been packed, such as a set of golf clubs, a thigh master, the annotated, unabridged edition of Shakespeare's collected works, or some other equally unwieldy and improbable item, and, given the time for reflection, I've often come to the realization that said item is imperative to my daily lifestyle. And so, on more than one occasion, I've unzipped a quarter-sized gap in the suitcase (any larger opening would result in all the contents spilling out) and maneuvered a lacrosse stick or whatever into the aforementioned tiny opening while simultaneously shimmying the suitcase until the item became nicely wedged into a bag that was, to all appearances, already full.
My only rule of packing is: Items packed in suitcase shall remain in suitcase. I have come to the bitter realization that my work wardrobe for Seoul thus includes three pairs of black dress pants, two black skirts, innumerable black tops, and one navy blue pair of loafers. Never mind that an identical pair of dress shoes in black sits at the front of my closet. The navy pair have been packed, and so my fashion fate is duly sealed.
Even given the amount of time dedicated to my recent packing session, I cannot remember everything I included in my suitcases. What will emerge during the customs search at the Incheon airport or later as I settle in my dorm room? What will my suitcases deliver? It's a slot machine; it's a gamble. All I can do is stare wistfully at the bulging sides of my bags and whisper, “Come on, baby. Mama needs a new pair of shoes.”