Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Seven Days in May

Inevitably, the order of our little republic has broken down as our time in Korea has reached its conclusion, and we have both liberally indulged ourselves, while forces beyond our control simultaneously conspired against us in our final days in May.

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.


Mosher said...

Say it ain't so, Mike? The end of the blog?

I know what you mean about not looking forward to going "home". I'm not, either, aside from seeing all my friends and family. The place doesn't endear itself to me *sigh*

Mike said...

Well I have a bit of a backlog of things to write about, but I've been in two minds whether to just end it here. But if I do clear that backlog, once I'm done what more is there to say? :-)

Don't go back unless you have to! It's one thing to spend time with friends and family, but there's something very wrong with England these days isn't there? Those that can see it are never going to be happy living there.

I assumed from reading your blogs that you probably wouldn't return permanently if you could avoid it.

Mosher said...

Yeah, you're right Mike. It'd take someone/something special to make we want to live in the UK. Right now, the only place I'd pick is Scotland (never spent enough time in NI to form an opinion) and then I'd likely be pushing for them to become independent.

However, I'd prefer Oz, NZ or even Vietnam. But I'd need to find someone who'd go with me. Or drop all my ties back home and hope to find someone new in the new place. *sigh*

Lee Farrand said...

Good luck with all that you do Mike!
I've followed this blog regularly for the past six months and it's provided a deep and valuable insight into life here as an expat. You write well and I encourage you to keep an online blogging presence in some shape or form.

- Lee

Jon Allen said...

Hi Mike.
Just caught up with the sad news that this might be the end of your blog.
I always looked forward to your photos and amusingly written little anecdotes.

If you've got the time, energy and inclination I really do think you could write a book about your experiences.

After all the trouble you've had getting back in to Britain with your wife I hope you can survive life back home.

Personally I am very glad we did not go back to the UK after our 1 year in Korea and had the chance to continue the expat life here in Tokyo.

Mike said...

Thanks Lee - reading your blog has also been interesting. The Korean blogs that I still read are going to be a bit of a lifeline for me as I get back into my life in England.

I'm afraid if I continued writing about my experiences in this country it would probably be frustrating and disheartening for all concerned :-)

Mike said...

Hello Jon,

I wasn't sure I would write anything else but I've finally persuaded myself to come back to this now write up a few backlogged experiences. After that, I don't know. I liked writing but Korea was really my outlet for that.

I'm envious of your move to Tokyo because Japan was always where I really wanted to be - but fate decided differently.

I hope your experience is different, but I'm having a lot of trouble adjusting back to this country, and it's not getting easier with each passing week. I think you were right to take the opportunity of extending your expat existence.

Mike said...

Or drop all my ties back home and hope to find someone new in the new place. *sigh*

Mosher - From reading your blog(s) it sounds like you've got friends in a lot of these countries. It's difficult leaving behind friends in the UK but sometimes you've got to wonder if all the other problems that come with living here are worth it.

Mosher said...

..which is exactly my problem. I love my country, I love being both English and British (English born, Welsh and Scots parents!) but there are *so* many things that piss me off about the whole place it's got beyond a joke.

It's the friends and family that make it bearable. But surely my homeland should be better than just "bearable"?

엘우드 said...

안녕하세요? 마이크씨

i dont even think that you gonna read this comment as the latest posting was done on last march and this one is posted more than a year ago..Well i just decided to do it because it was really enjoyable to read your journal. actuallty i spent whole night to read them and now its now 6 inthe morning here in melbourne.

those deep thinking and consideration about other culturee and having a shout of your thoughts
are very interesting to me as i found it quite close to my brain-work. and also, i believe the influence thing was mentioned on this post, it was meaningful for me to reflect back on my times in korea and having living here for 3 years. well i wish you all the best..

지나가다스친 젊은이

Mike said...

안녕하세요? 성규씨,

Thank you for your kind comments - I'm sorry I kept you up all night :-) Now that I'm living outside Korea I find it difficult to write about it even though I had a number of things I wanted to post before I left, so I'm not writing much now. But I am still reading comments which are posted and replying to them.

Writing about my life in Korea helped me think about my experiences more carefully, and I believe that helped me understand Korean culture better and live there more happily.

I hope you are enjoying yourself in Australia. Take care.

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