If there was one thing Yoo Lee Shin found comforting about living in Darwin, it was the weather. The climate of the northernmost Australian city was almost identical to that of his homeland, South Korea. It was familiar, unlike almost everything else about his new home.
Shin sprawled on the sofa in the living room of his shared apartment, gazing with unseeing eyes out the window. It was mid-March and the weather was hot and wet; the humidity was such that Shin was positive he knew intimately what it felt like to be living in a fishbowl. The power flicked on and off as thunder rumbled ominously overhead. The air conditioner was out of action. Occasionally, it would come on, spurt cold air fitfully for ten or fifteen minutes, and then the power would go out and it would die once again. The humidity, the heat, and the near useless air conditioner made for an extremely unpleasant environment.
Tisha, Shin’s flatmate, lay on her back on the polished wooden floor, groaning theatrically. Not that Shin could blame her—weather like this wasn’t unheard of for the Northern Territory, but it was never something that someone could easily enjoy. The heat sapped one’s energy, and the humidity made everything extremely uncomfortable—and damp.
“Thank God it’s the weekend,” Tisha said, and Shin raised an eyebrow at her, the only reaction he could muster up the energy for. “At least we don’t have to try to listen to lectures while we’re breathing in warm water in this disgusting heat.” As Shin raised his eyebrow once more, Tisha elaborated. “That’s what it feels like. Breathing warm water. I hate air that feels… chewy.”
“You make a good point.” Shin closed his eyes and willed the air conditioner to magically start working and the power to stay on. “I do not think that will be a good reason to give for not getting an assignment done, however.”
“The lack of power might be.” Tisha sat up, running a hand through her short dark hair. “I’m thirsty.”
She grinned at him and he grinned back. “Everything’s too hard in this weather,” Shin added as he slowly got to his feet. “I do not know how you stand it. You have lived here all your life, and yet you have not melted. It somehow seems hotter and wetter than I remember Seoul ever being.”
“Some days I feel like I’m melting, and it’s a mystery as to why I’m still in one piece.” Tisha let out a heavy sigh. “I hope it’s not so bad next weekend.”
“The visit to your family’s home, yes?” Shin trudged into the kitchen and rummaged in the fridge, which was still, thankfully, cold. Blessedly so, in fact. Reluctantly, he closed the door and returned to the sofa, two cans of soft drink in hand.
Tisha took one from him with a nod of thanks. “Yeah. You’re still coming, right?”
“I said I would.” Shin took a sip of soft drink to try to hide the fact that the idea of visiting Tisha’s family for the first time made him more than a little nervous. Tisha, however, was good at reading him, and she tried her best to reassure him.
“You don’t need to be so nervous,” Tisha said. “They don’t bite. They want to meet you, that’s all. They’ve heard all about the cool foreign student who shares the flat. That’d be you,” she added with a grin.
“I do not feel very cool,” Shin deadpanned. “I feel very warm. And sticky.”
“Don’t you get weather like this in Seoul?”
“Yes, sometimes during monsoon season, it can be very humid.” Shin leaned back against the sofa, trying to get comfortable. “It does not seem as intense there, however. I do not know why.”
“More high-rise buildings, maybe?” Tisha shrugged as he quirked an eyebrow at her once again. “I don’t know, I’m guessing.” She flopped back to lie on the floor with a gusty sigh. “I wish the humidity would buzz off. The heat’s one thing, but this is bloody disgusting and I hate it.”
“I cannot argue with that.” Shin paused a moment. “What exactly did you tell your family about me, Tisha?”
“That you’re cool, that you’re here as a foreign student visa guy, that your fam still live in South Korea, and you’re studying engineering with me. That we met last year when we were lab partners in first year chemistry, and there was no way I was going to let you continue living in a Youth Hostel. That would be ridiculous for a uni student. I got you to move in to the second bedroom, which leaves the smallest room as our junk room and guest room and basic dump-stuff-into-it room. That you’ve applied for citizenship here, and your mum and dad are really proud of you.”
“You told them all of that?” Shin blushed, feeling a slight pang. He did not know what to say that would not sound ungrateful, and he was very grateful to Tisha. “I do not know that I would go that far regarding my parents’ opinion, however,” he demurred.
“I would. I’ve spoken to them when I’ve answered the phone, and they’re lovely.” Tisha sat up and smiled. “They told me they’re proud of you.”
“They might not be if they knew I was gay,” Shin muttered, refusing to look at her.
“They might surprise you, Shin.” Tisha took a long drink of soda. “People sometimes do what we least expect.”
Shin firmly changed the subject. “Your family owns a farm; that is correct?”
“A hobby farm, yeah. A few cows, horses, and sheep. Chooks. Mum grows herbs and veggies, and Dad’s gone nuts over growing mangoes. They took off there for their retirement.”
“And chooks are chickens?” Privately, Shin thought it would be a miracle if he remembered the many and varied Australian slang words for things.
“Yep.” Tisha’s smile broadened.
“I will never learn all of your strange slang terms, Australian,” Shin teased.
“Yes you will. They’ll imprint themselves on you, and you’ll speak Aussie as well as any of us. Anyway, Mum said she’ll make her Anzac biscuits, and they are fantastic. You’ll get addicted to them. Me and Craig are. I think the biscuits are what he misses the most when he’s away.”
“Your brother,” Shin said. It wasn’t a question.
“Older by a year.” Tisha waved a hand in a vague gesture at a framed photograph of a family of four on the mantelpiece. “He’s in the Army, joined up after school. I worked and travelled a bit before deciding to go to uni. He always knew what he wanted to do with his life—it took me a bit longer to work it out.”
“That’s right, you told me before.” Shin didn’t add that he’d spent a long time gazing at the photo, staring at the handsome, smiling face of Craig Jones, Tisha’s older brother.
“He’s the same age as you, twenty-six,” Tisha went on, “what with you having come over here after your military service and working and stuff. You guys can talk about that. Compare armies. Guns. Camo. Whatever Army blokes compare.”
“Camo?” Shin’s eyebrows shot up. “Why would we compare camouflage?”
Tisha shrugged. “I don’t know, Shin, I’m not Army.”
“I… don’t understand.” Shin wasn’t sure which emotion was stronger at that point—amusement or confusion, so he settled for mild bemusement.
She nudged his calf with her foot. “Don’t think about it too much. Just put it down to my strange Australian ways.”
“I’ll do that.” He grinned at her. “Though, I like your strange Australian ways.”
“I should bloody hope so.” The smile faded from Tisha’s face. “Seriously, though, how are you finding second year?”
Shin hummed as he let out a slow breath, more an exhale of air as he tried to get comfortable in an atmosphere where everything was damp and hot. “Good. There are some things that are confusing, but I am able to look them up to clarify the meaning. There is nothing that you need to worry about.” He smiled reassuringly at her. “I have my laptop, we have the internet here and at university, the Uni Library is enormous, and the staff are very helpful. And the lecturers and tutors this semester are very interesting. So, I will endure.”
“Okay, good.” Tisha drained her soft drink and set the empty can on the coffee table. “I wish the humidity would go away,” she grumbled, returning to their original topic of conversation.