I was scheduled to return to England with my wife and baby son on the 25th, but that never happened; we cancelled our tickets on the 20th. Our baby is not a good traveller. In fact he is not a good sleeper or eater either, so this last year has been exhausting. Losing face in Korea is best avoided, so I’m not supposed to talk about it, but that’s the reality. It's been an extremely tough year. Our trip to England felt necessary for the sake of relatives and an ageing parent, but it was probably always the wrong decision, one made out of emotion rather than logic.
Our long and many subway journeys across Busan from Saha-gu to the east of the city where we were searching for an apartment during August were fraught experiences, because he was not a happy traveller. Sometimes we had to get off at stations to calm him down, and once it was so bad we gave up and went to the surface to catch a bus. Suddenly twenty-four hours of travelling and fourteen hours of flights with him appeared a reckless idea, and we took the emotionally gut-wrenching decision to cancel the trip and disappoint my family. But as parents we had to do what we thought best for our son, and that was not going.
There’s no easy solution to the problem of international relationships when the two countries are far apart; one partner is always going to make the potential sacrifice of being separated from friends and family. And for all the Korean government’s constant attempts to support multicultural families within Korea, there is one important respect in which they certainly don’t support them, and that’s in the provision of holiday time legislation, with a mere five discretionary days a year typical in many jobs. Contrast that with England, where twenty days is common. This means that when I get a job I simply may not have the option of returning to England except for a week, which stripping out travelling and jet-lag hardly amounts to quality time. It seems that sometimes the only solution to the problem is to quit your job, and apply for a new one when you return.
Another ominous sign of more difficulties lying ahead came in the form of ticket prices. We booked well in advance as we always do, but this time there seemed to be much fewer viable choices in terms of airlines, and the price we paid was over twice that last time we bought a return tickets three years ago. Of course, the major variable in airline ticket costs is the oil price, but as someone who sometimes traded oil and certainly has the charts to hand, I know that by coincidence, the oil price was almost exactly the same this time as last. The airlines would probably argue about such arcane subjects as forward buying and hedging, but I don't really believe a word of it. Until there's more competition again on those routes in happier economic times, the costs of returning home may be destined to remain considerably higher.