"Every civilization rests on a set of promises. . . . If the promises are broken too often, the civilization dies, no matter how rich it may be, or how mechanically clever. Hope and faith depend on the promises; if hope and faith go, everything goes." - Herbert Sebastian Agar
For many years I wanted to try living overseas; I'd grown disillusioned with the social problems, politics and attitudes of my own country, and wondered whether another society might provide a better alternative, or at least a illusory haven where the local problems would be masked behind the barriers of language, culture and my own ignorance. So when I arrived in Korea, I took a break from my own country's problems, and I waited for the homesickness to set in, signifying the subconscious realisation that what I missed outweighed what I despised. But it didn't happen.
Work and other obligations drew me back to the UK, but I had to fight to re-enter the country with my wife, and after I returned, my experiences were far from happy - with more crime and anti-social behaviour than I ever remembered. So I began to wonder whether my future really lay in the UK or elsewhere.
But life settled into a routine and the initial shocks passed. We prepared the groundwork for my wife's required visa extension, even though it proved far harder than imagined; each piece of evidence we required of late seemed to become a project in itself. Finally we prevailed with a little time to spare before our application and interview. We would spend £665 for 'Further Leave to Remain' (FLR) and if we were successful the evidence gathering process would begin again as we prepared our 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' (ILR) application six months later, at a cost of £1,020. After that, since Korea doesn't support dual-citizenship, visa extension applications promised to become a regular and costly routine for the rest of our days in the UK if we ever spent regular intervals outside the country, and ILR can be revoked at any time on any pretext the Government of the day might care to invent. On a short-term basis you do what you have to do, but sometimes when you take a step back to look at the big picture, it can overwhelm you with frustration. I began to see the future as an endless series of Government bureaucratic harassments made worse by the increasing willingness of British people to support anti-immigration parties at the ballot box.
"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." - George Carlin
Then my neighbours vandalised my car - 'keying' (or scratching) it all the way down one side causing hundreds of pounds worth of damage. How it came to this, and why I know it was them, is a long story of mistaken identities, and irrational unilateral retaliations, made all the darker by my knowing that what I was seemingly being blamed for was nothing to do with me in the first place. But once people like this target you in campaigns of harassment because they jump to the wrong conclusion, or need someone to blame for their own problems, there's no rationalising it. They are just like the government really. Short of catching them in the act on camera though, what can you do? Some would say fight fire with fire, but if we can't be better than that then we British deserve the society we are rapidly getting. More to the point, in a city increasingly blighted by drug gangs and the gun-culture that goes along with it, one must be very careful of getting sucked into something much bigger than mere criminal damage.
When you feel yourself getting sucked into someone else's psychosis which you appear powerless to stop it's depressing, and for us it was the final straw in a series of unhappy experiences in England, part institutional and part individual in cause. And so I decided to return to Korea on Sunday.
I bear no illusions about what awaits me - Korea is no utopia where these kinds of things don't happen - but nobody in Korea ever threw fireworks at us, nobody in Korea ever vandalised our property or threatened us with violence. Britain has increasingly become a nation of uneducated and uncivilised people revelling in their loutish anti-social behaviour - I'm ashamed of it, disillusioned by it, and I've decided I've had enough of it. And while one can never predict the vagaries of individual misbehaviour, what is certain is at the institutional level is that we have never became so overwhelmed by the Korean immigration system that it felt like it was practically criminalising us. It's also never likely to bankrupt us given that last time I got a Korean visa extension it cost about £20 - with the UK regularly charging anywhere between 30-50 times that amount it feels more like a fine than a fee, and one which is much harder to ignore disappearing from your bank account every year or two.
'beyond a reasonable doubt' under criminal law, but all it took for my government to force me to live in exile with my wife two years ago was to rule against us 'on the balance of probabilities' - a much lesser burden of proof under civil law. Something is wrong in British society when criminals get to walk away from their law-abiding victims unpunished, but those same law-abiding citizens can be treated like criminals and find themselves financially and socially punished by their government for doing nothing more than exercising their freedom to choose a non-British spouse. So for what it's worth Britain will lose one native graduate who has long been a clear net financial contributor to society, and an immigrant spouse with two separate degrees who has also been a net contributor to the country. We became victims of harassment, individual and governmental, and we just couldn't take it any more. To me now, this is England as it has become.
It's unlikely that my life in Korea will be the same as it was before. It's one thing to see yourself as temporarily residing in a country, but quite another to feel consigned to be living there on an open-ended basis, so I really don't know how this is going to unfold. By necessity I've already given up my job, and am unlikely to return to it for the foreseeable future; my first priority back in Busan will be achieving a good level of Korean fluency as quickly as possible. I can't say that Korea will work out better for us in the longer term - life is always a gamble and circumstances change. But for now, a new Korean adventure begins.