Tuesday, May 13, 2008
There has been the rush of buying presents to take with us, winding down our work, saying goodbye to the friends we have made in this country, and a last desperate attempt to somehow fit a few more experiences into my time here, which relative to my life back in England, was already more than I could ever write about, let alone fully comprehend. Broken cameras, almost broken ankles, unexpected medical complications and billiard tournaments have, in the end, been obstacles which have not stopped us rushing around Busan every day accomplishing our goals, but it has meant there was much more to say about my time here than I managed to document.
The imminent overthrow of my Korean life and its enforced replacement by a British one, has served to concentrate my mind in a way that living in Korea without the threat of change has not. I have been asked by friends if I am looking forward to going back home, but as I have written here before, when you find your own Government acting outside the law, and have to fight it in front of a judge to uphold the freedom you believed to be self-evident, it doesn't quite feel like home any more. But it goes further than that. After all this time, my old life seems like it existed a long time ago, and I find myself struggling to remember the details. What did I used to eat? Where did I used to go, and what did I used to do? These are all questions which can no longer be automatically answered, but instead require rummaging through thoughts which have been buried under layers of Korean experiences. I will of course adjust, and then it will be the turn of the Korean memories to sink beneath the layer of confusion which encountering British bureaucracy tends to create in the mind. I always knew this would be the case, which is one of the main reasons I started writing this blog all those months ago.
Another thing which has concentrated my mind has been a medical condition. I have been a little unwell of late and I was going to wait until I went back to England to get a diagnosis, but instead we made the time to walk into a small specialist hospital a couple of days ago. I was told what I probably have fifteen minutes later having been tested almost immediately. While it's not necessarily serious it isn't to be treated lightly either, and it's going to take time to fight it. I was told that the condition often comes about through either stress, exhaustion or heavy drinking. While the latter is almost a running theme in Korea, ironically this is the one reason out of the three that I can categorically rule out. The other two have been part of my life for years though, so clearly I need to have a re-think. But the immediate lesson is the immediacy of a diagnosis and treatment that would have taken weeks to initiate in the UK. Someone once said that Britain is the best country to be sick in if you're poor, but Korea is the best country to be sick in if you're not, and since I'm in the 90% rather than the bottom ten, I'm about to swap fast and great medical care for extremely slow care of moderate quality, which is unfortunate.
So am I looking forward to going home? My answer then is no. I've enjoyed my time in this country, and the lifestyle I've had here as a consequence. I've enjoyed it much more than the life I had before I arrived. I've read that there are two types of expatriate, those that live abroad out of necessity and look forward to their return, and those that realise that they never want to go back. I've realised I probably fall into the latter category. I do of course miss friends and family, and there are certain foods I miss, but the pull of the experiences of the last seventeen months are strong. It's not to say that everything here is OK. It isn't, and clearly some people's experience will vary. I haven't taught English here but I'm well aware that it can prove incredibly frustrating, and while I have felt free to walk the streets alone at night - even as a foreigner - in a way I couldn't do in my own city in England, I know that this does not necessarily hold true for foreign women. In the end though, in all my time here I have met and talked to one foreigner, and that was only for fifteen minutes, so aside from that and a brief appearance on a Seoul Podcast I can't speak in any detail of the wider foreigner experience.
I hope I've tried to portray a positive image of foreigners during my time moving within Korean society, and insofar as one of our friends says that she would now consider dating foreigners, and a couple of friends have said they are no longer scared of foreigners, I guess I've have had some influence. But despite my integration with Korean society, I've failed to integrate with it. I have a working vocabulary of 600 words which means I can often make myself understood, but often can't follow the conversations going on around me in plain-form Busan accent and dialect. Busan is not the easiest place to learn Korean, but I've spent a lot of time working here and that's something I wish hadn't happened. If I could do it all over again, I'd have foregone the work, faced the financial consequences, and strived for fluency and the ability to truly function independently in this country, rather than rely on my companions to do the talking.
I have to go back to England and circumstances mean that whatever I think right now, I might never return to live in Korea. Life is complicated. I have to keep studying the language and ironically, now I'm not spending my life running around Busan I may have more time to do it. Certainly, should I ever return here, my goal is to return with some kind of fluency in Korean; if I were to return without this I think I would be increasingly unhappy here despite my experience before now. It's already been playing on my mind a lot in recent months.
I don't know what the future holds and clearly my priorities are about to change. I will probably return to this blog to write up some of the experiences which got lost amidst the chaos, but this will be my last entry in Korea. I started writing this mostly for myself and didn't expect to end up with around a hundred people a day reading it, which was a bit of a shock and not necessarily in a positive way. Still, I hope that you have enjoyed reading it and that it has provided you into some insight into Korean life and one person's time in Korea.