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A weekend on Haeundae market

My cold has finally almost gone after two and a half weeks, and I finally feel I can get back to using the gym or going for walks.

I spent much of the weekend on Haeundae market where Jemma had a stall selling her art and jewellery. She seemed to sell more when I wasn’t there so I took Gucci for lots of walks around Haeundae. Her stall was next to a fortune teller who I got chatting to. I suggested to Jemma they strike up a deal where he tells clients that they ‘will make a purchase of art in the very near future’!

This morning I went to the back to transfer nearly £5000 from my Korean to my UK account. Not bad savings for seven months wages. I may not be earning as much as I did back in London, but what with free accommodation and cheap living, I’m saving quicker than I ever have before.

Then I posted a wedding card to Joe and Kara, along with cute clay models of a bride and groom that I’d made (my clay activity classes have inspired me). I’m recording all my students from every class shouting ‘congratulations Joe and Kara’ so I can put them into a video that can be played on their wedding.

I’ve just bought Connors tv off him. I’m going to bring the playstation up from the common room and connect it up so I can play it in my room. I was in two minds whether to do this as I’m sure it will eat up hours of my time that could have been used exercising, writing my novel or playing Korean…but I’ve done it.

The view from the second floor

It’s finally spring, those precious few weeks between the chilly winters and blazing hot summers where the temperature is just right and I’m comfortable in my room without either the underfloor heating on the air conditioning on. My room is as messy as you’d expect for being a place I rarely have other people in. Surfaces liberally covered in papers, books and clothes and a clothes horse as the room centrepiece. My chair is naturally full of clothes, so I tend to write sitting on my bed, back against a pillow propped against the wall.  From the little balcony outside my room I have a great view of Sasang, across the Nakdong river and to the planes coming into Gimhae airport. Or atleast I will do come morning. For now I can watch the neon lights of the district below me (we’re atop a steep hill) and listen to the pitter patter of rain.

I’ve been taking it real easy this past week, keeping warm and inactive as I’ve had this stinking cold that’s been producing rivers of snot that have caused much sniffing during teaching hours. Half the workforce and students seem to have gone down with the same thing, though my colds always seem to last longer and be more severe in Korea.

On Saturday we had a special activity day for the school, with the same again this Saturday. I was running five ‘make clay vegetable’ classes in a row which I managed to sniffle through successfully.  After work we headed to Haeundae for dinner and drinks. On the drive there Lilly (bosses wife who works in office) asked Dan why he was thinking of staying another year in Busan.

Dan - ‘I love it here, it’s a great city, I like the people I work with, good accommodation, and my girlfriends here.

Me – ‘What Dan said’

I’m in a great city splitting my time between a good workplace with free accommodation during the week and sweet domestic bliss with Jemma on weekends. I’m sure one day I’ll look back on this as a golden time in my life.

Jemma joined us at the end of dinner. She already knows Dan, Connor and Tracy, and I’m sure all the workmates who met her for the first time liked her too. Sunday I spent all day chilling at Jemma’s so I didn’t wear myself out . Jemma’s wonderful, always making sure I’m well looked after. She’s been invaluable for helping me with trips to the dentist and doctors. On such trips I feel like a dog being taken to the vets, listening to a language I don’t understand and then getting an injection in the behind. On my last visit to the dentists I got a filling and am due back to get it finished. I swear they do it all in one go in the UK, don’t see why that can’t happen here? I was also told that I have some tooth decay on my right-hand side that is too close to the nerve and I’d need to go to another dentists for that. Jemma found another dentists who could do it, but it would take multiple visits and a lot of money. Seeing as I don’t feel any pain on that side and my dentist in London said I was all fine eight months ago, I’m  dubious over how necessary said treatment is. I’m thinking of waiting till I’m back in the UK for a second opinion.

I’ve been paying for all of her grocery shopping every week. I really don’t mind, Jemma doesn’t get much money for her full time jewelry course and I have enough that I can afford to help her out.  We both help each other out.

I’m two thirds of the way through my time here already, and if I want to continue my relationship with Jemma, it’s about time to make plans for another year.  I’ve had a great time in Busan, but in all honesty if it wasn’t for being with Jemma then I wouldn’t be looking to spend a second year. Maybe a year in another country, and then back to the UK, and that would be it.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to phrase this without sounding awful or non appreciative, but I can’t so I’ll just be out with it. If I wasn’t with Jemma things would be simpler, just enjoy the last four months of my time in Busan with all the hikes, beach parties and lazy evenings on the PS4 that I want. Then head home to the UK to visit family, travel for a few months more to tick off a few more countries I’m eager to see, then settle down into a new job and place in the UK at my leisure. 

When I first went on tinder it had been a couple of years since I’d had any regular love life and I was just looking for some female company. Naively I hadn’t thought about how deeply I’d get involved when I did meet someone.  If the relationship wasn’t so good, or if Jemma wasn’t so into me, I don’t think I’d be too bothered about it ending. But it is, so I’m trying to keep it going. If we are able to overcome the immigration hurdles to live together and the adoption hurdles to put a family together then I think I could be very happy with Jemma. 

I asked Joy Monday last week for a chance to talk about coming back for another year. I had to remind her on Wednesday and again today. I’m still waiting…

Still yet to get out of bed today...

It’s two years ago to the day I boarded that plane to India. Back then there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to step inside an airplane and leave the UK behind. 

I never imagined back then that I’d end up living in Korea. I’m now tucked up cosy in bed with the underfloor heating on. It’s a rare overcast and rainy day, all the better for staying in. 

I’ve been reading ‘Good cop, bad war’ the excellent autobiography of Neil Woods, a former British undercover cop with the drugs squad. He had to pretend to be a junkie again and again in order to integrate himself into drugs gangs all over the UK. If I ever think teaching can be stressful its got nothing on mixing with violent thugs knowing you could be dead if they figure you’re a cop! Eventually he became convinced that the war on drugs wasn’t working and set up LEAP (law enforcement against prohibition).

When I can be bothered to get out of bed I may even use the gym for five minutes. Seeing as its completely free and located downstairs I have no good reason not to. I have no work until 1PM!

The novelty of ‘oh wow, look at me working and living in Korea’ has worn off and it’s now a place I live like any other…except I don’t understand the language.  Sometimes I wonder if I should just carry on with the travelling lifestyle where I only have to think of myself? Some of my fellow travelers are still on the road a year and a half on from when I last met them. Teach for a year for the money, travel cheaply for another year, repeat.    There’s still many places I wish to cross off my travel wish list. Everest looms large in my mind. 

But the pull of settling down is also strong. I resent compromising future travel plans, though I know it may be necessary if I want to stay with Jemma. I wrote up a lengthy essay on the pros and cons of trying to stay with Jemma. I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with her as always, but the issues don’t seem any more easily resolvable than when I last wrote.

   

Grans

A message just came over the family whatsapp. My granny kibble (mums side) has fallen and an ambulance has had to come and pick her up and take her to hospital for the second time this week. My auntie Anne is with her now.

My mum and dad are currently in Cayman where my other gran in Cayman isn’t doing well either. Three weeks ago she revealed that she has breast cancer. A specialist has seen her and has put her on drugs to slow the cancer, but my gran has ruled out either chemo or surgery. She’s had a history of operations due to heart conditions and doesn’t want to face any more. Papa (step grandad) is especially upset. He’s already lost his sister and mum to breast cancer.

I last saw my gran in Cayman this time last year, and my gran in Penarth eight months back before I left for Korea. Both of them are well into their eighties and knowing I’d be thousands of miles away I did wonder if it might be the last time I’d see either of them. If it is, at least I know they lived long lives and I saw them when I could.


Lying in bed listening to the music from Witcher 3 as I finally finish this piece. It’s going to be a long read and covers some old ground, but thinking, or writing aloud, helps.

A week back Jemma joined me for a trek with the Busan hiking club. I’d been wanting to introduce her to my friends, but I knew the hike wouldn’t be an easy one, involving scrambling up a trail of large boulders towards the peak of Jangsan. Furthermore a walk along a trail the weekend before had revealed Jemma has an unexpected fear of even moderate heights, so I was wondering how good an idea it was to bring her along.

But Jemma said that there will likely be obstacles for us in the future, so she shouldn’t be scared of facing some of those now. The hike went well, Jemma made it to the end and a bunch of us went to professor Angkun’s house for beer, whisky and chicken (I know, I’ve totally sold out my vegetarianism, I will return to it one day)


Matt was telling us the story of how he met Bibi. A volcano erupting in Iceland led to flights being cancelled led to him meeting backpackers in Malaysia who recommended teaching in Korea led to living in Busan led to hosting Bibi through couchsurfing led to them getting together and living in Malaysia led to them getting married after several years led to a honeymoon in Iceland where they collected a rock from the 2010 volcanic eruption that started it all! It’s the volcanic version of the butterfly effect. A volcano erupts in Iceland, people get married in Malaysia. He says it’s not always easy (Bibi works in Malaysia half the time and spends the other half either travelling or living with Matt in Busan) but it works.

I guess I forget that behind every cool international couple I meet there’s a long story of ‘where shall we live?’ and visa issues that they had to overcome.

Tracy is having such issues now. She’s been with her boyfriend for over four years, and they both planned to move from South Africa to Korea to teach for several years. Tracy got the job, and then Korea got a lot tougher on accepting South African teachers after some of them were caught faking their qualifications. Now her boyfriends struggling to get a job offer any nearer than China.

I’m with Jemma every weekend, staying over on average three nights a week. When we’re together everything is great, though when I’m back up in Sasang for the working week I start to get angsty.  I want to make it work and I know if we broke up (like we did briefly at the start of December) I’d be missing her instantly and wishing we were together again. 

I’m naturally happier in a relationship, and as soon as I’m out of one I start thinking of where another might be coming from.  I was a very late starter to relationships, twenty-five before I had one I could honestly call both normal and serious. At that time there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to get a girlfriend. I miss the certainty that I had in Lucy, that just knowing that we were meant to be together, of it not being something that I’d even question or feel the need to think myself into, like I’m doing now. When at thirty I discovered that my relationship had never truly been what I believed it to be I was instantly anxious for one that was ‘real’, which I soon did, even though it was fraught with issues.

Jemma was looking through all my facebook photos last weekend. ‘She’s cute’ she said when coming across one of Gabby.

‘Yeah.’

‘I don’t want to be like any of your ex’s in the pictures, someone that you used to know.’

I’ve been thinking back to the Gabby period of my life quite a bit recently. It should have been so easy. None of us had to compromise on where we lived or what we did for work to be with each other, but still we screwed it up, both for silly reasons that shouldn’t have been reasons at all.

Jemma and i don't let non-issues and petty arguments get in the way.  But I have to admit to feeling a constant low level kind of stress right now due to wondering if I’m doing the right thing.

I’ll start with the negatives, so I can end on the positives.

1 – Where would we settle? 

I’m enjoying Korea, but this was always meant to be a year or two adventure before returning to my home country. Jemma however says she’s willing to try moving to the UK with me. It would be a huge leap for her, and I worry that in the meantime it will affect her choices such as not setting up business in Korea while still having an eye on moving to the UK.  Having scanned the UK immigration options our three choices are to;

Have lived together for two years, with plenty of documentation to prove it. Seeing as I get free accommodation with my job anyway, it seems impractical to move in with Jemma for two years in Korea just for the sake of paperwork.

Fiancé visa; Marriage isn’t really that important to me, but I suppose I could do.

Marriage visa; see above

For all of the three options above in order to sponsor Jemma for living in the UK I’d have to either;

Be earning 18.5K in UK or above. I could probably get a job that earns this eventually, my last job earned over, but it could take some months after returning to the UK before I finally achieved it.  There’s really no way to say for sure, all during which time we’d be apart and struggling to keep things going.

Have savings of 62.5K or over for over half a year. I’m not there yet, though I’m over halfway. I have to admit this is mainly down to inheritance from grandparents rather than my own saving abilities. I used to be very self-conscious about receiving money that I hadn’t earned, but I’m finally coming round to a way of thinking that appreciates the privileges I have. 

2 – Having children

For her whole adult life until a year back Jemma thought she’d always be a Buddhist nun. She hadn’t given much thought to having a boyfriend, let alone having kids. And now it’s suddenly an option, she’s already into the age range where becoming pregnant has increased risk of miscarriage and having a child with disabilities. Having worked at a children’s hospital I’ve seen how having a child with disabilities takes over your life and I don’t want it. I’m favouring the adoption option more but that’s fraught with a lot of money, paperwork with no guarantees at the end.

3 - Language

Jemma’s English is fluent and though her grammar is often off but I always know what she’s trying to say. Sometimes I find the little quirks that mark the English of someone for whom it’s their second language as charming. Other times I feel there will always be some things that we lack the vocabulary to talk about properly. It’s unlikely we’ll be discussing the finer points of English literature anytime soon.

I think that often when speaking a second language you come across as far younger. Though if at times Jemma’s grasp of language may make her seem younger than she is, my few words of Korean must sound like a toddler learning its first words.


And now onto the positives

1 - Love  

Well obviously. Jemma’s a real sweet person and has a very cheerful energy about her. I think everyone I’ve introduced her to likes her.

2 - Sex life 

I’m sure Jemma wouldn’t want me posting too much about it. But very satisfied. Any time we’re in the bedroom always makes me think ‘why would I ever be thinking of giving this up?’

3 — Her family  

I know a lot of Koreans going out with foreigners don’t tell their families for months or even years. But I’ve met all of Jemma’s extended family already and they’re supportive. Her mum loves me, and despite the fact that we have to next to no words in each others languages she’s always happy to see me. Her niece and nephew, Nagun and Daeyon are adorable. I’ve been teaching them English and making clay models with them. They’ve been living with their gran ever since their parents’ divorce. Jemma’s brother works long hours in Suwon (near Seoul) and sends a lot of money back to support the family. The mum (who I haven’t met) doesn’t seem bothered about them at all, visiting more and more infrequently and now pretending she’s working in china as an excuse not to see them. Last Thursday Nagun was performing at a piano competition. Jemma’s mum had to take Daeyon to Taekwondo so Jemma and I took Nagun. She played beautifully. I love them, they feel like part of the family already, but at the same time I’m cautious about getting too close if I’m only going to disappear again.

4 - Start the settle down and have a family process already 

I always did want to settle down with someone eventually, and Jemma is definitely someone who wants to settle down with me and who i could be happy with. I’d always presumed I’d start looking around once settled back in the UK, but now, maybe not.


This is Jemma’s first relationship, and she pursues it with all the passion typical of a first love. I love her too but past experiences have made me realize that love doesn’t always conquer all. I know that in reality there would be less hurdles for us both in the future if we dated someone from our own countries. 

I’m thinking through our options now;

I could move back to the UK after this years teaching and apply for a fiancé visa once I have a job that earns 18.5K or more. The downsides are that I’d be away from Jemma for some months and that I’m really not enthusiastic about getting married anytime soon, which of course is a bad way to start a marriage!

Work for another year in Busan before trying to move to the UK, which would have the benefits of earning more money and getting to know Jemma for a whole other year. The downside is that when Jemma finishes the jewellery course she’s on in August her plans are to set up a shop to sell her paintings and jewellery, either in Korea or England. That takes time, and leaving Korea just as her art business gets into swing would massively mess her up her career plans and be a waste of money and effort for her.

Work for three more years in Korea. Had just thought about doing a year or two here, though I suppose I could do more with a bit of travelling in between. The downside is that after three years Jemma could have a successful art career here and so be very reluctant to leave, and we’d both have several years invested in a relationship that had gone nowhere.

Live in Korea – I like it here, but so much to the point of thinking of emigrating for good. For one I will always be limited in my career choice, it’s English teacher or nothing. Another my level of Korean is pitiful for seven months in, and though I’ll continue to get better I’m not a natural and I can’t imagine I’ll ever be fluent. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in a country where I struggle to hold a conversation with the average person the street.

Split up – The option that neither of us really wants to talk about. 

The question is;

Am I not brave enough to realise if this will be too difficult to work in the future?

Or am I not brave enough to know to fight for something good when I have it?

Five things i miss about living in England

Language – I’m mostly in an English language bubble here, surrounded by other people who speak English and teaching English as a job. But sometimes I’ll be out and realize that I don’t have the language skills to communicate with the majority of the population. I miss living somewhere where I can talk to anyone and don’t feel ignorant about not knowing the local language.

Family- thanks to whatsapp and skype it’s very easy to talk face to face to your family. But it would be nice for a far shorter commute so it was possible to visit family on the weekends, such as Joe and Kara’s upcoming wedding.

Friends – Originally, I was going to have family and friends in one category, but then couldn’t think of a number five. So yeah, being able to bring my mates over to Korea for a weekend would be great.

Veggie food –Korea has a very meat and seafood based diet, plus a lot of food is shared so it’s just easier to tuck into what everyone else is eating. So I’ve totally failed at being veggie here. I still very much agree with the animals rights issues behind vegetarianism, and when I go back to the UK with its many veggie options I want to take it up again.

British TV – Reaching a bit now to make five, especially seeing as I didn’t even own a TV in the UK for the past few years and I can watch clips of my favorite  shows on youtube. But British TV is some of the best in the world (I know I’m biased…but it is!), especially the comedy.

Five things i love about living in Korea.

Jemma – Got to be number one!

Being a foreigner – I’m enjoying being in a place where the culture is new and much of the country is still unexplored to me. It captures the feeling of travelling while still having a home base and making money.

Accommodation – I live for free in a nice place with good people right next door to my work. Couldn’t be better!

Food – Korean BBQ, kimbap, bibimpap, it’s all delicious. Restaurants here are many and affordable.

Hiking – The city of Busan is more a series of city centres strung together and interspersed with mountains. It combines all the best things about city life with some easily accessible hikes. Plus there’s a good group that meets up most Saturdays to walk with.

   

Do Hyun Woo

Chinese New Year was last weekend, which is also celebrated in Korea, so that meant two days off work.  I arrived at Jemma’s on Wednesday night, which was also Valentines day. Jemma had prepared me a romantic meal, tofu dishes and wine.

Chinese New Year is the time that Koreans see all their family and eat loads of food (kind of like Christmas for a lot of westerners). I met the few uncles, aunties and cousins of Jemma’s who I hadn’t met already. I even took part in the little bowing ceremony where the younger people bow to the older family members and receive an envelope of cash in return. Then Daeyon and Nagun (Jemma’s niece and nephew) bowed to us and we gave them money. I’m sure my bowing looks very amateurish but nice to be included. 

Of course, I don’t understand the conversations going on around me unless Jemma translates, but I feel I’ve been adopted into the family. The weekend before we’d been to an uncle’s house who specializes in giving people names. He drew a beautiful scroll with my new Korean name on it, Do Hyun Woo.

Talking about religion and politics

I finished ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ tonight so I don’t have anything better to distract me from journal writing. Well I do, learning Korean, but I’m writing this instead.

I’ve become addicted to twitter feeds and reading lots of articles on politics and secularism. My favourite speakers include Sam Harris, Sarah Haider, Imtiaz Shams, Steven Pinker, Andy Ngo, Melissa Chen, Maajid Nawaz, Kmele Foster and Maryam Namazie.  It used to be that I subscribed to a left wing good/right wing bad way of thinking, but in the past few years I’ve found myself identifying more with centrists or classical liberals, believing both the far left and far right to be awful. I’ve become a big fan of horseshoe theory, that states that the far left and far right are closer to each other than the centre.

I’ve been listening to the secular jihadists podcasts, four ex-Muslims who get together to discuss all sorts, though mainly Islam and atheism of course. I’m very interested in the conversations about the Woman’s march in the USA, and how last year it used an image of a woman in a hijab. On one hand I see that it’s attempting to show solidarity with Muslims, a group with reason to feel under fire since Trump came to power. But more so, I just can’t see a religious garment of modesty culture as a symbol of a feminist march. Especially when that garment is something still forced on millions of women through either social pressure or law. 

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Thinking about future stuff again

I whatsapped Temi (friend in Glasgow who I first met through Bex) on new years day, though my message wasn’t read. I then tried texting her, then phoning, then emailing her work email, to no reply. I discovered she has a new facebook which I sent a friend request and message and received nothing back . I was getting worried, I knew she’d been a bit up and down, and I started fearing the worst. Also we were sort of dating last summer which she was then upset about when I got the job in Korea, so I was feeling responsible too. I know I’ve been upset over how relationships ended in the past, but someone being dead is the ultimate ‘that didn’t work out well’.

Having partly convinced myself she was dead, I discovered she had a linked in account and made my own to get in contact. She replied the next day, she’d just been busy with work. Phew, that was a huge relief!

Things are going good with Jemma still, though after researching how easy it would be for her to be allowed to live in the UK (we’d have to get a fiancé visa) the next hurdle is kids. I’d like children, and I’ve suddenly realised that Jemma is already at the age where having a child will be more difficult, with increased chances of miscarriage or downs syndrome. Having worked at a children’s hospital I saw just how much having a disabled child takes over your life, and it’s not something I want.

The other option is to adopt. Connor was talking about the view that having a child is one of the most selfish things you can do, not raising a child, but having one. There’s enough people in the world already and you’re thinking ‘you know what this world needs? More people like me!’ There’s many children in the world who need parents, and many would be parents who want children. Why not match those things up?

I’d be very happy with adoption, what matters to me is that I have the experience of raising a child, not whether it shares my DNA. You’d think that you’re doing the world a favour in caring for an unwanted child, and the authorities would make it easy for you. But after just a brief look at the adoption options I’ve realised it’s an incredibly complex, long winded and expensive process (several years and many thousands of pounds) with no guarantee of a child at the end.

I love Jemma, but I’d also like kids one day, and I hope I don’t have to give up one of these…