Thursday, September 17, 2009

This is England

"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.


daeguowl said...

welcome back...perhaps you might like to check out

I believe it might help you get back into the swing of things in Korea

Mail me if you want any more details

Mike said...

Hey thanks - and that looks like a great idea for a site :-) May well drop you a line when I get myself up and running again properly here - happy to participate etc.

Chris in South Korea said...

Welcome back to Korea, Mike - from one blogger to another :)

Ian said...

This post hits home. It's been the subject of discussions with my wife and I just about every day, too. When I was in Korea, some things were good and some bad. I'd make comparisons and often settle with the idea that I simply preferred some elements of Canadian life better. When I got back, however, a lot of those things had eroded in my time away.

We've tried out three cities in Canada now, looking for the right neighbourhood to put down roots and finally settling in the big metropolis of Toronto. It's supposed to be as big and happening as you can get in this country but I only see growing rudeness and violence, social detachment in everyone you meet, and a stifling work/tax culture made worse by the recession.

The grass may not always be greener on the other side, but the tax rate's lower and the neon lights are brighter.

Good luck back in Korea.

Mike said...

Thanks Chris.

Mike said...

Ian - I'm sorry to hear about your Canadian experiences - especially since in recent years I've been thinking about where we might go if Korea ultimately doesn't work out for us - and I was minded towards Vancouver. I hope things work out for you if you stay in Toronto.

Mosher said...

Wow. I guess I missed out on a lot by only following blog posts! I've still not made it to Korea, so if you're there again then I will - once more - attempt to see you should I make it over.

This may be some while as I'm on a PGDE course in Glasgow so I'm pretty much "stuck" in the UK for two years.

I do agree with you on most of your points about the English legal system. The Scots one is slightly better in some respects but sadly hasn't made much of a difference to society overall up here. My mother even warns me not to speak to anyone on the way back from the chippy or to go into any pubs in central Perth (and this is a comparatively nice city) in case someone susses I'm English and wnts a fight.

Mind, my mum's paranoid.

Best of luck with your new stay in Korea. As with most of SE Asia, it seems like a far more welcoming society.

Mike said...

Hello Mosher - it also seems that in the chaos of the last few weeks I have missed the important piece of news about your PGDE course - congratulations on that! You've been on such a wild ride these past few years I couldn't quite believe I read the words 'settle down' in your blog - but I hope everything works out as you want it to. Now I know you're not going to be spending the rest of your life in Scotland, so Korea is waiting for you when the time comes :-)

Mosher said...

Well with the job market here, one plan is to look to the foreign schools overseas. I'd love to spend a year or so in Bangkok or Hanoi :)

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