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Choices

Now is about the time I should be looking at transferring all our money over to my UK account so we have six months of being able to show we have the money in the bank when it comes time to apply for Jemma’s UK visa. We haven’t yet…
And for the first time I’m wondering should we, or should we invest in a life in Korea instead? I’d always said previously that I wanted to settle back in the UK in the long run. I’d always presumed I’d be happier there because…
Because why?
I’m happy in Korea for now aren’t I? I’m weighing up the pros and cons for living in both countries, and as always it helps to write it down.

Pros for settling in Korea:
Work – Sure, my current work isn’t great and absolutely no way am I looking for a career at Wonderland. But now I have my F visa I can afford to pick and choose schools until I find something I’m more comfortable with and there’s a lot of easier teaching gigs I could do.
The one down side is that with my (near non-existent) level of Korean I’m limited to only one type of work, and couldn’t consider work in the environmental or medical fields like I could back in the UK.
Though of course what I really want to do for a living is write, and I can do that from absolutely anywhere in the world.

Jemma’s work – Jemma’s market stall has really picked up since last year, and on a good month she’s bringing in twice what I do for teaching. She has a unique art style and her simple and cute designs are popular with a wide range of people, especially little kids. I won’t post links to her art here, though I will mention that my friend Niki loved it, and noted some similarities to the British artist Doug Hyde, though it was actually the first time Jemma had heard of him.
On top of that she’s got a few art teaching gigs going on, including a three hour session every Tuesday due to start next month at a local music school.
Jemma could start up again in the UK, but it would be a lot more difficult to get established, especially in the first few years.

Our flat – We already have our own flat here, so if we stay in Busan we never need to waste money on rent.

Possible investments – We’re close to the money we need to save to bring Jemma back to England, but alternatively we could use that money to buy another little apartment, that we could then rent to either tenants or use as an air B n B, especially with our area being pretty close to the touristy bits of Busan.

Gucci – It will be a lot of money and fuss and bother to bring our little dog over to England.

Busan is a cool city – I have both beaches and mountains within fifteen minutes’ walk of our flat, along with anything I could possibly want from a big city. I like the UK and I like my hometown Leicester (especially after leaving it, absence makes the heart grow fonder etc), but there are few places that can compete with Busan.

Busan’s expat scene – I had originally thought ‘expat’ was a word that Brits and Americans abroad liked to use so they didn’t call themselves immigrants, though technically there is a difference. Immigrants move to another country with the intent of staying permanently while an expat lives abroad but still intends on returning to their home country. Having said that, many people from all over the world move abroad with the intention of going back home eventually but then never do so the lines get a bit blurry, and I only ever hear expat used to refer to foreigners from the western world. So maybe my original thought still applies and let’s just call it the foreigner scene.
It may show a lack of integration that while being married to a Korean the majority of my social life is spent with other foreigners, but there it is, often you want to mix with people from a similar cultural background where you have a first language in common. And Busan has enough foreigners that I’m never at a loss for people to hang out with when I want to.

Jemma’s family – Her mum, niece and nephew are just round the corner, and it’s nice to able to have family so close where we can help each other out. Though of course with living in Busan it’s my family that are far away. Wherever we live someone family is going to be halfway around the world and require a lengthy and expensive plane trip to visit them every year or two. It’s definitely swings and roundabouts with this one.

We can always visit the UK – Korean vacation days are shite, but with teaching contracts usually lasting a year it’s not too difficult to do one job, take a few months off, and then return for another. Jemma is busy over the summer, but November to February is quiet and she can easily get away. So even if we’re working and settled in Korea, it shouldn’t be too hard to spend a month or two back in England every year and catch up with all my family and old friends, and I know we’d always be welcome to stay with my parents at the house where I grew up.

And now the cons:
Language - This is the biggest one for me. I’m not a natural when it comes to other languages. I know some people enjoy learning them but for me it’s a lot of hard work to get even a few basic words to stick. I’d compare it to having a mountain to climb but the truth is that I found literal mountains far easier and enjoyable to scale.
I know I’ll get better, but I wonder if I could ever be truly fluent no matter how much I practice.
For someone who barely speaks the main language of the country I live in, you’d be surprised at how rarely this actually causes an issue. The older generation don’t speak much English, but most people my age and younger have enough English for at least basic communication.
Only as an English teacher overseas (my job is literally to speak my native language while my students aren’t allowed to speak theirs in class) could a foreigner speak so little of the native language and still get by. It used to be that the Brits invaded other countries and imposed our language on them. Now we getting invited over to other countries and get paid to do the same.
But every now and then there’ll be something like doctors’ appointments etc I’m still reminded that there’s still this big barrier between me and the majority of this country’s population.

Security - Also back in the UK I know I’m guaranteed to full health care on the NHS and a pension when I retire, things that may be a bit more complicated to work out here. Being a young foreigner in Korea can be fun, but you rarely see any westerners retiring here.

Veggie food – In the UK I can walk into pretty much any shop or restaurant and be guaranteed a good veggie option. In Korea I’m left wondering which option has the least meat in it.


And for neither pro nor con but mixed.
Adoption plans – Where would it be easiest? Korea or the UK. I don’t know yet but I’d like to phone the Korean adoption agency here soon. And where would raising a kid be easiest? Korean school and work pressure can be insane, and I wonder if any kid we had would have a more chilled upbringing in the UK. Plus any male child has to spend two years in the military here, which has been unanimously declared as being a totally shit time by everyone I know who’s been through it.

When I first moved to Busan I imagined it for being just one year, with ever after dropping ‘that time I lived in Korea’ into conversations in an effort to come across as more interesting than I actually am. It all seemed so new and exciting then.
And now it’s just become home. I’m accustomed to being the foreigner, so much so that going back to the UK brings a little reverse culture shock. I’m comfortable here, though there will always be things I miss about the UK.
Six months in each country would be perfect.

F is for freedom

It's all change at work with the foreign teachers. Tiana leaves Thursday next week and is going to work a couple of months at a summer camp near Seoul. Cody leaves the week after and is heading to Hong Kong and then onto...wherever he feels like! Frankie finishes at the same time, is heading back home to South Africa for a couple of weeks and is the returning to teach in Busan...at a different school. They're counting the days. Tonight we all went for a picnic of pizza and beer on the beach.

And for me, maybe i'll stay at Wonderland, maybe i won't, because my F visa arrived yesterday! So i'm now free to work wherever the hell i want without having to worry about sponsorship or letters of release. I no longer believe my job is in any danger or getting any aggro about my performance, and have come round to the idea that they need me more than i need them. Especially now that they'll soon be one foreign teacher down even if i stay! Chanel's boyfriend Conrad starts next week, and Jack is back at the beginning of August, but even then we're still one short with no other new recruits in sight.
On the other hand, it seems like a waste to go to the trouble of getting an F visa and then not taking advantage of it by staying in the same job i had anyway.

I think if i do choose to leave Wonderland for elsewhere i should do it in the next month or two. No point in working nine or ten months and then quitting. I'd just lose out on my severance pay (Korean schools often give you a months wages as severance pay when you finish the 12 month contract.)
I've already searched through job postings, found several that looked promising and emailed them along with my cv. I was feeling optimistic. Previous experience with applying for jobs in Korea had led me to always expect a reply, and very often an interview. And now with already being in Busan with an F visa and no need for accommodation to be provided with the job, I expected to be much in demand.
Yet so far, not a word. I'll keep trying, but that is disappointing.

My recent kindle reads

‘Factfulness’ by Hans, Osla and Anna Rosling. It’s a common sentiment that the world is getting worse, we’re all going to hell in a hand basket and to look back at the past through rose tinted spectacles. I even grew up in a religion that always stressed how we were living in chaotic end times and without god stepping in there was no way the human race would survive!
In a word, ‘bollocks’. Life has been steadily improving for the last couple of centuries worldwide in almost anyway you can imagine (longevity, crime rates, poverty etc). I’m already a fan of Steven Pinker’s books ‘The better angels of our nature’ and ‘Enlightenment now’ and this one covers similar ground. It’s probably why I scored 12/13 on the opening multiple choice quiz on the state of the world, a quiz that I’m told most experts fail at so dismally that a bunch of chimps picking at random would actually get better scores. It’s not blindly optimistic, but instead presents a good picture of how things can be bad and still better than what came before at the same time, and the reasons why we often believe the world to be a worse place than it actually is.

I finally completed the ‘Wind up Bird chronicles’ by Haruki Murakami. It’s a strange book, a mix of everyday drama, history and supernatural elements. I’ve been working through it for a while between other books, and while there’s some intriguing imagery, characters and ideas, its meandering plot never really grabbed me.

I moved quickly through ‘Broken and betrayed’, an account of the Rotherham grooming gang scandal written by Jayne Senior. She’s the youth worker who after years of struggling to be heard by the police and council authorities, was finally able to blow the whistle on what was happening. She’s moving straight into my top ten of heroes.

I also read ‘Prisoners of wonderland’ an account by two ESL teachers who found themselves in the Hagwon from hell. I’m not sure how interesting it would be for anyone not in the foreign teachers in Korea community, but for someone whose currently at the Wonderland chain of schools it definitely gripped me. They were working in a school in Daegu back in 2001, so none of the characters were the same and as much as I complain about my job, their school and boss was far worse! The book ended with them embarking on the infamous ‘midnight run’.

And to put my work into even more perspective, I just last night finished ‘Slave’ by Mende Nazer, the true story of a Nuba (tribe in South Sudan) girl who was captured at the age of twelve by the mujahideen and sold as a slave to a Sudanese Arab family, the wife of the family of whom especially treated her horrifically. She was later sent over to be a slave to her sister in London who was married to a Sudanese diplomat, from where she was able to escape aged twenty. She now works as an anti-slavery campaigner.

Past, present and future

Let’s begin with a look backwards. A while ago I was chatting with Lee all of our old favourite haunts, and whether we’d ever find ourselves back there. There was Oxygen, the dingy metal club where I first started banging my head away at seventeen. I loved everything about it; the music, the hyperactive smoke machine, the dingy stages where you’d get black marks all over your clothes if you sat down! It’s since been swallowed up by the Fan Club next door.

Then there’s the Charlotte, Leicester’s legendary gig venue and the sweatiest, smallest venue on so many great bands tours. I’ve lost count of all the great metal, punk and Indie acts I saw there, or the mosh pits I’ve been bounced around in. It’s now a convenience store.

Or our three years in a row at Leeds festival, the first of which infamously ended in a riot!
A few years later on I was moshing my heart away on the far more spacious rock dance floor of Camden’s the Electric Ballroom. And then there’s the naturally awesome week I spent at Burning Man. Or the month I spent working at Monkeebar in Borneo, definitely the most fun of all my workaways.

And now I think, even for these places that are still going, will I ever return? Jemma isn’t a clubby person, and even I’m finding the idea of all nighters less appealing. I used to buy Kerrang magazine every week and know all about who’s who in rock music. And now I don’t have a clue.
The chances are I may never return to the above places, but that’s OK. I should just leave them as fond memories rather than trying to relive them and finding that my latest visit just can’t match up to the past.

And now looking forwards. This Wednesday morning we have an appointment with the immigration people. We’ve got out personal statements, forms filled in, documents...Fingers crossed I get the F6 visa.
Originally when I made the appointment three weeks back I felt it was only a matter of time before I was either fired or quit my current job. Though since then things have settled a bit, but still it would be nice to have the option of the F6 just in case I still want out in the future.

And what comes after that? Our plan at the moment is to settle in England in a year or so, which means we have to transfer enough over to my UK account to meet the immigration requirements for bringing Jemma over, and then half a year later (money has to be sitting in my account for six months) begin the immigration process.
And then look at jobs…
And then look into housing…
And then look into adoption…

Or alternatively we could stay in Korea for a year more, or another, or permanently. A few more months of saving and we could probably afford to buy another little flat in the same building as we are now and then rent it out. It could be a good investment, though if we do that it would be years before we’re ever in the financial position to consider moving over to the UK again.

There’s always one more thing to investigate, and to prepare, and to sign, and then I think, OK, then we’ll have our lives exactly where we want to be with nothing left to organise save for the odd holiday.
Of course, that’s not true is it? They’ll always be something more to organize. And with so many future plans I think I’m often forgetting to appreciate the life that I have just now.
‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’.
With that in mind, I decided to go hiking this weekend. Just me and the mountains with the aim of clearing all else from my mind.

But then Dan invited me hiking round his way on Saturday morning so that worked out perfectly. Jimmy and his mate Joe joined us and we headed up towards Seunghaksan and then onto Gedeoksan. It was a great day for it. Warm but not yet scorching hot, and enough of a climb to feel like it was good exercise without becoming exhausted. The breeze atop the summits was wonderfully cooling against our now sweaty bodies. Cuckoos and crickets were singing. The trees gave us enough shade, breaking every now and then to grassy hills and rocky peaks from which we could see out across every corner of Busan. I'm still a novice when it comes to posting photos via LJ, so I hope this works.


The view looking home! Gwangan bridge stretches across the centre. On the left rises up Marine city. On the right are the towers of W square. Directly between the two are two dark smaller looking towers. They look tiny by comparison but are still 43 floors high! Our little apartment block is in the shadow of those.



Elsukdo Island in the estuary of the Nakdong river, famed for being home to many water birds. The last time I took my bike out I cycled all around here.



This is a nostalgic shot for me. Sasang is my old neighbourhood, with my former school SGA just hidden behind that green hill. Sasang eco park alongside the river was the site of many a morning stroll or bike ride.



I often forget what a huge port city Busan is. The port of Busan is the worlds fifth largest! Every day dozens of ships sit anchored out on the ocean to avoid the docking fees.

To freeze or not to freeze

How much electricity do fridge/freezers use? Not much so the internet informs me, but the empty one in my Gwangan flat strikes me as a complete waste, so I’ve now taken to switching off all the electricity in the flat when I leave. I’ve left the doors open as I hear that otherwise it grows mold and becomes stinky in ways that are impossible to scrub clean. Hope that’s OK. I’ve been kind of paranoid about leaving this place ever since I accidentally left the under floor heating on full blast for five days.

Night Hike

Finally working out how to post pictures to LJ. If this works there'll be a beautiful shot of Gwangan Bay taken on last Wednesdays night hike up Mount Jangsan with my old work crew. My phone doesn't take photos nearly this good. Photo courtesy of Jason.


Books and tunes

I’m sitting in Holly’s Coffee just down the strip from where Jemma’s market stall is. This is where I come when I get too cold and bored with sitting behind the stall and want to take some time out for writing. Everyone else here looks like they’re students writing assignments. I was going to write a long piece regarding wedding party plans, but it’s a windy day and I should be back on the market soon to keep hold of our display when the gusts come, so I can’t write too much. So instead here’s what I’ve been reading on my kindle recently, which is one of the best gifts my parents ever bought me.

Masih Alinejad - The Wind in my Hair – Story of the woman who started the White Wednesday and My Stealthy Freedom campaigns in Iran. Absolute hero!
Ali Rizvi – The Atheist Muslim – A must read for anyone interested in the future of secularism in the Muslim World.
Sam Harris – The Moral Landscape – Just started a couple of days ago. An attempt to show that scientific understandings can have a large role in shaping morality.

Music wise I’ve been listening to a lot of Ramin Djawadi, the composer behind Westworld and Game of Thrones. And my big find for last year, Bo Burnham. I haven’t binge listened to anyone on youtube so much as Bo since I discovered Tim Minchin. Here is his wonderful satire on teen pop stars ‘Repeat Stuff’. It’s hilarious, true and very dark!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nt9c0UeYhFc

Phucking Fonics

The more I teach English the more I realize what a strange language it is. There are grammar rules that I never knew existed until I stumble into them in class. I use them instinctively, but when it comes to explaining them to kids, it’s not so simple.

Even the alphabet has more letters than it needs. Take for example:
C – 50% of the time it’s an ‘S’, 50 % it’s a ‘K’ – All the time it could be replaced by either one or the other of them. Except for when it’s used in ‘Ch’. Hangeul uses the symbol ㅊ for this. Much simpler.
Q – Just use ‘Kw’ instead.
X – Why not use ‘Ks’?
And what is the point of ‘Ph’? It does exactly the same thing as ‘F’ and is pointlessly confusing.
I was listening to the Sam Harris podcast a few months back and he had a good point on political tribalism and how we subscribe to opinions.
I roughly it remember as going like this. ‘Know someone’s position on one issue, and there’s a good chance you can use it to predict their other views. Know a person’s stance on gun control, and there’s a good chance you can guess their opinion on abortion, climate change, drug laws, animal rights, immigration and the Israel/Palestine conflict. And yet these issues are unrelated. Why should it be possible to do this?’

So while I’m on a ramble, I’ll go through my opinions on above subjects now. My views have changed before and I’d be naïve to think they won’t change again. I’m not really trying to convince anyone here, this is more of just a thinking aloud.

Drug laws – For most drugs I think that criminalising them just leads to a waste of police resources, income for criminal gangs and otherwise law abiding people ending up with a criminal record. So I'd lean towards the decrimilisation view.
I did use to enjoy the occasional mushroom trip, but otherwise I've never been big into drugs. It’s been over a couple of years since I did any kind of drug other than alcohol and I may never end up doing them again. Drugs are super illegal and a big cultural no-no in Korea, though the Koreans drink like fish (why oh why is alcohol rarely thought of as a drug!)
For me it’s not worth risking my stay here for something I’m not too bothered about. Plus Jemma is against it.

Guns – Countries with stricter gun laws (Europe, East Asia) tend to have less gun crime. The math isn’t hard to do.
For someone from the UK, the idea of having a ‘right’ to a gun is alien to me, but it seems a big thing to Americans. I recall the time I stayed with Dorothy in Florida and her boyfriend had a gun in his back pocket which went everywhere with him, including to the restaurant. Which in so many other countries would be a case of ‘WTF does that guy have a gun in a restaurant, call the police!’ Yet in Florida it was legal, so long as it’s covered up, which I find bizarre! ‘Places with stricter gun laws have more shootings’ he said, which is actually not at all true, but I wasn’t in the mood to contradict at the time.

Animal rights – Definitely with the pro-animal rights side. I know that after fifteen years of vegetarianism I ate meat for a year and a half in Korea but there’s no way around it, I sold out, the animal rights people have the moral high ground here. So I’ve been veggie since leaving Korea again at the end of January and so far since being back have managed to keep to it. Seafood and meat, especially BBQ and 치맥 chimaek (fried chicken with beer) are a big thing here, with often no veggie options at all. Also unlike the UK where you usually order your own dish, here the food is all shared, so I’m going to end up with meat in front of me next time I go out for a group meal. It smells and tastes fantastic, so let’s hope I stick to my principles and just eat the side dishes.
If my life depended on it then I would eat meat, but when it’s completely possible to eat healthily without causing animals to be slaughtered for your tastes I see no excuse not to. Plus it’s easier on the environment too. I’ve never been vegan (that really takes extra care to find food) but I respect those that are able to do it.

Climate change – I believe it’s occurring and we should do something about it, though I don’t take the alarmist approach (‘the world will end in 12 years!’ as a certain politician put it). Humans have survived big changes in the climate before, and a few metres rise in sea level and degrees increase in temperature isn’t going to wipe us out, though it will undoubtedly cause problems.
I like Steven Pinkers approach in ‘Enlightenment Now’. It’s happening, but coping with it is a challenge we can meet. Also I credit Pinker with changing my mind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful if we could get all the worlds energy through renewables, but I just don’t think it’s feasible to supply the energy demands of 7.7 billion people with renewables alone. With that in mind, nuclear power is cleaner, safer and could potentially be cheaper than fossil fuel burning power stations. Here’s a link to explain it far better than I ever could. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/opinion/sunday/climate-change-nuclear-power.html

Israel/Palestine – One thing I’ve noticed is that the split in how people view whose sympathetic in the Israel/Palestine conflict divides very neatly along political lines. Right wingers tend to sympathise with Israel, left wingers with Palestine. I find it a morally messy conflict with a lot of wrong and right on both sides, so I guess that makes me a centrist. Here’s the ever reliable Ali Rizvi with my favourite take on it.
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/picking-a-side-in-israel-palestine_b_5602701

Abortion – There’s no subject that leaves me quite as conflicted as abortion. A woman’s right to bodily autonomy vs the babies right not to be killed. I can think of no other situation where the rights of two different individuals are so directly in conflict. I believe that both pro-life and pro-choice side stick up for human rights, they just choose a different human to side with.
I don’t buy the idea that the embryo isn’t really human or isn’t really alive. But whether to attach the same moral and legal worth to an embryo of three months as you would to a baby that’s just been born…probably not. In fact as I don’t believe that abortions should be made illegal then I guess I would have to say no, even though it does make me feel very queasy.
I know that a lot of objections to abortion tend to come from religious groups but I’m an atheist and I still feel very conflicted about it. Abortion is also an issue in which the right and the left switch their normal positions, which is one of the points of the following article.
https://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/2012/10/being-pro-life-doesnt-make-me-any-less-lefty
One thing I do feel is that the push for late term abortions is not a progressive cause. As for the issue of women not being in a position to raise a child they’re pregnant with is easily solved. If you really can’t or don’t want to raise a baby, give it up for adoption. The issue of bodily autonomy during pregnancy still remains, as does the issue of dealing with judgemental family members in more conservative communities. But the question of how can we look after this baby can be passed to someone who really wants one.
You can argue that adoption isn't the ideal start to life, and maybe it isn't, but it's an improvement over being dead. I’m someone whose hoping that one day I could adopt, and would hope that other couples consider the adoption option as well as having their own. The world has enough people already!


Immigration – Immigration is another issue where I tend to find myself smack in the middle of things. I’ve lived in two different countries other than my home one, and plan to move my partner over to my home country eventually, so clearly I’m not anti-immigration. I also believe that every country has the right to determine who enters.
One thing I have noticed (and again reveals my tendency to read so many American opinion pieces) is that in the political discourse of the USA, and to a lesser extent Europe, even being opposed to illegal immigration (either people crossing the border illegally or coming in legally and then overstaying) and trying to impose immigration control can be labelled of as unprogressive and racist by many left wingers.
Every single country on Earth has an immigration policy and people whose job it is to enforce it (some more successfully than others) and the penalties for breaking those laws are often far more severe in other countries than they would be in the states! Of course writing this I realise I do know a few people, including one close friend, who have stayed in the USA illegally. Not that I’d ever say anything because they’re mates and I’m not a snitch.
I’ve lived in Korea for a year and half with at least another year to go, and though going through all the paperwork and health checks can be a pain, it would never occur to me, or I’m sure to the many other foreigners I know, to try and slip in under the radar.
As a white person in Korea my experiences are largely positive, though it’s far from the same for other immigrants. Korea is a lot more ethnically homogenous than either the states or much of Europe, and I remember people suddenly worried when they got even a small fraction of refugees from the middle east that Europe regularly gets.
https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/11/03/how-500-yemeni-refugees-in-a-korean-resort-sparked-protests
As for the much wider European crisis, I’m glad it’s being handled by people who aren’t me, because I wouldn’t have a clue which position to take and when to draw the line. On the one hand I can’t help but be sympathetic to people who are desperate enough to board a tiny boat to cross the Mediterranean in hope of a better life. On the other, I think a lot of them are more economic migrants than refugees from actual war torn areas. And there simply isn’t enough space in Europe for everyone who wants to live there, you have to draw the line somewhere.
I was going to do a long winding post about my views on politics, race, the culture wars etc and I’m wondering how to start it? The news? Let’s start with the news.

I’ve noticed that I’m consuming just as much news, maybe more, about US culture and politics as I do about the UK, and far more than I do about Korean news and culture despite the fact that I live here. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t live in the USA and it doesn’t affect me all that much. I’ve been reading and watching a fair bit about Andrew Yang, the democratic nominee who’s proposing to introduce UBI (universal basic income) and he’s my favourite of the nominees. He focuses on actual policies, and is willing to reach out to both sides of the political divide rather than indulge in in party squabbling. If I were American I’d probably be a supporter.

I also got immersed in reading everything on the whole Covington Catholic School fiasco a few months ago, which was a perfect lesson in media spin and in questioning your own biases. It was interesting to see how as a fuller picture of what occurred emerged which people were willing to face new facts and change their minds, and which ones just doubled down on being wrong.