Friday, January 11, 2008

Silent Running

"You know when I was a kid, I put a note into a bottle and it had my name and address on it. And then I threw the bottle into the ocean. And I never knew if anybody ever found it." - Freeman Lowell, Silent Running

My father died last Thursday. He developed Alzheimer's at a relatively young age and while the progress of the disease was slow, it means he'd been in a care home for several years. He became very ill in June for no discernible reason and received the Last Rites but recovered somewhat unexpectedly, so when he contracted Norovirus last week, which has been sweeping the UK and has seen his care home quarantined during three separate outbreaks in the last two months, the priest was called in for a second time. I still had some hopes that he would get better so that I could see him again, but it wasn't to be.

I suppose you could say that these are the risks that are run when you travel far away from home and are separated from loved ones, but I can not ignore the fact that I would have been back home if my Government had allowed my wife and me to return there last year. My Government's actions have denied me those final days with my father, and being there at the end with the rest of my family, and I feel I lost out on something that was very important - but as my Government seek to make my effective exile permanent, this is just the beginning of the life they are forcing me to lead. The costs will only continue to mount. Someone once wrote that you can learn a lot about your own country by being away from it, and I certainly did, though none of it was good.

During the last week as I sat around doing little and contemplating life, I reached the decision to write a book about my battle against my Government - or more properly - their battle against me, because there's much to say about what's happened, and not just because of people in the Government. But whether this is ultimately categorised as 'revenge thriller' or 'farce' I can not say. I don't know what my father would have made of my Korean experiences, and if they have Internet connections in the afterlife I'm still not sure what he'd make of it, but as a former union activist, I'd like to think he would have understood how I came to get stuck in this country, and that he's with me in spirit as I try to fight back from this corner of a foreign field.

The funeral was held yesterday but I didn't travel back for it. Meniere's Disease is a fact of life for me. It means a lot of things which most healthy people take for granted are very difficult. Travelling alone is one of them. What you read is this blog - I did this, I did that - not that I often did these things while suffering from dizziness and nausea while pushing myself to the limits of my endurance, in the name of leading, or pretending to lead, as normal a life as possible. Was it a mistake coming out to Korea in the circumstances? I'll tell you now from my experiences - and some of the abusive blog comments I filter - that there are those who will say yes. You know the type - they have all the answers to everyone else's problems but somehow their own lives fail to seem entirely happy. The attitudes I've encountered in the last few years have led me to the conclusion that people who live with a disability can't win sometimes. If you try and lead a normal life you will get criticised for it, or people will forget that you're doing it under duress and sometimes you have to make compromises. And if you lock yourself away at home - and clearly there are quite a number of Meniere's sufferers who feel they have no choice but to do just that - people will criticise you for that too. Still, if people like this didn't exist, who would my Government employ?

I went to the local Catholic church last Friday morning, again, where I got a little upset amongst the memories of a thousand paternally enforced and reluctant mass attendances, and may have scared away a elderly ajumma doing the Stations of the Cross (sorry). It was suggested from back home that we go to a temple to commemorate my father on the day of the funeral, and I thought that in the evening we could attend a Catholic church while the funeral was going on in England. Surprisingly, the decision proved a little controversial in some nearby Buddhist circles. It wasn't that there was necessarily a problem with going to a temple, but going to both a temple and a church seemed to be regarded as - at best - an uncomfortable blurring of the lines between religions. I don't know what to say about this - people do a lot of interfaith activities back home in order to try (clearly unsuccessfully) and remind us that religion is ultimately meant to be about love, not hate. Well, most religions anyway, despite - or perhaps because of - my upbringing, I've never been entirely sure on where the Catholic church stands on this. Like a lot of lapsed Catholics though, I've defined my own stand on this among many other issues. But, I was a bit surprised at the Korean Buddhists. Perhaps that tells you something about the virtual state of Cold War that sometimes seems to exist between Christianity and Buddhism here - though having been harassed by Christians in the street myself - to the point at which on one occasion my wife had her arm grabbed by one evangelical as she walked by him, I can understand some of the reasons.

So my wife and I, along with a friend and Korean Mother, went up one of the nearby mountains where a functional looking temple, as opposed to a grander building hundreds of years old which you might typically imagine, nestled amongst the bare trees. We entered, lit a couple of candles, burned some incense and offered our prayers - each in our own way - while performing 'big bows' towards the statues of Buddha. Korean Mother read some Buddhist scripts. Away from the constant noise of the city, it was completely silent aside from the birds singing outside, so it was nice. We may eventually put my father's name on a lantern here - the type that hang from the ceiling with all names of both the living and the dead on them, and then this will be the place I come to remember him.

Brevis ipsa vita est sed malis fit longior.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the death of your father and that you weren't able to attend his funeral.

But I am touched by how you chose to commemorate his passing, especially under the difficult circumstances in which you find yourself.

Anonymous said...

I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Despite your recent turn of events, I hope you push forward with your idea of a book. It would shed some light on your plight and that of others as well as be a means of expressing your feelings.
Columbus, Ohio, USA

daeguowl said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of your father. I know from experience that it is tough to lose a close relative while on the other side of the world and I hope you can find a way to grieve properly.

Jon Allen said...

Sincere condolances on the loss of your father.

I think writing a book about your experience with the Government would an excellent idea. You seem to be a naturally engaging writer so I think it would work very well.

( Just don't read my father's blog on writing and publishing books as it might put you off !

Ewha said...

Awwww, Mike, I'm so sorry... said...

Sorry to hear of your loss Mike. and of the idiotic morons in the UK. But they're everywhere these days :(

Mike said...

Thanks for the comments. I appreciate them.

Mike said...


I've started to read your father's blog at - it looks fascinating. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, it's Dale,
So sorry to hear about your father. I know you've expected it for many years, but that doesn't soften the blow. As regards whether you should be in Korea or England, the obvious answer is both! However since this excuse for a government won't allow that I'll leave you with Genesis 2:24. I personally think you've made the right decision.

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