Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Same Time, Next Year

Last year I spent New Year over in the Haeundae area of Busan and we watched the sunrise from the beach at dawn, or rather, we watched the clouds get brighter until eventually a gap allowed us to see the New Year sun some time later. Watching the sunrise from a beach or mountain-top is something of a tradition in Korea, and the beach we were on was suitably crowded with thousands of people.

We were invited over to stay with friends again, but my enthusiasm for it all was not what it was last year. I've met some of these friends during the year but not necessarily their partners, and I didn't look forward to spending time with people who may quite reasonably - one year on - be expecting me to be fluent in Korean which of course I am not. I finished the year with a vocabulary of 465 words and while it's surprising the number of sentences that allows me to make it's still a long way from communicating anything advanced or understanding what is said to me with words outside my vocabulary in a Busan accent. I've discussed this problem before recently, of facing people whose expectations are perceived to be beyond my level of progress, and while it's easy to dismiss it as just being in my mind certain experiences have proven otherwise. Unfortunately, until I push myself a lot further this is likely to become a reoccurring theme here. I should get myself out there regardless because it's all good experience and it all helps the process of learning the language, but sometimes avoiding people and situations is the easy option which amongst the problems of legal cases and issues back home, becomes the most tempting option to take. This is the lot of the bad Korean language student in Korea.

It's been very cold here in the last few days, for Busan anyway, and the temperature overnight was forecast to be -3°C. Admittedly, that's a far cry from the -8°C forecast for Seoul, and it's not a temperature that would be unusual back home, but maybe after the very long hot summer I'm feeling the cold more, because these days I'm even struggling to stay warm in my apartment - and the idea of standing out on a beach waiting for a sunrise that might in any case be obscured by clouds was not a great motivator. So we decided to pass on the Haeundae beach experience in favour of a local one instead with Korean Mother, but my wife was not feeling well when she woke up so it didn't happen. In any case, part of the reason for doing this in Haeundae, if anywhere at all, is to experience the crowd and the sense of the event. Three people stood forlornly on a desolate piece of coast is something that can be done any morning of the year. But there wasn't a cloud in the sky when the sun rose somewhere beyond the apartment window's field of view amidst the mountains and apartment blocks of the city, so I'm sure Haeundae would have been better this year, and now I regret missing it.

These are not the only reasons I ended up seeing in the New Year with a whimper rather than a bang, unlike the woman in the neighbouring apartment judging from the noises I heard during the night. There are things going on back home which are robbing me of my enthusiasm at the moment, and I find myself plodding around Busan like it's a contractual obligation rather than through any genuine desire to do so.

I could not have conceived a year ago that I'd still be here a year later to have the option of repeating the New Year experience, but after all that has passed with my Government in recent months I have reached the conclusion that they have betrayed what it is to be British, to the point at which I question whether Britain really is any longer what it was and whether I any longer have any real rights as a citizen. So as I face another New Year I can no longer believe with any conviction that I will ever be able to return home to live - if one can call a country that treats its citizens like this home at all - and I therefore think it's entirely possible that as we welcome in 2009 I'll be stood on that beach in Haeundae again, where I expect it to be cloudy.

Korean tags: 설날, 한국어, 바닷가, 추위, 날씨

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