The news that we are officially leaving Korea at the end of February seems to be still reverberating around our colleagues here with the vast majority expressing more sadness than we'd honestly expected.
It seems that many of them got a notion into their heads that we would live here for the foreseeable future but then again they might have reacted to this news in the same way no matter when it came (now or 2 years down the line).
There has been a massive outpouring of concern that it the events that led us to leaving will forever shadow our view of Korea; that we will profess our hate of the country, its people, its culture. For me, that won't be the case - I have enjoyed being here, the life that we have is great, the work isn't the most demanding I've ever had, the people I work with are extremely nice and my extra-curricular activities keep me occupied. I can't complain really!
Korea has some very lovely people, technologically advanced services at affordable prices, good infrastructure and activities throughout the year to keep everyone active.... but it does have those who feel the compulsion to try and assert their authority without provocation, those who are so worldly-narrow minded, chauvinistic, illogical and socially inept that it makes me question what good can actually be accomplished. Korea is still a Man's country - even with a newly elected female President - where laws favour them, as do the cultural aspects of life. Women still have a long way to go here in the equality stakes and there is a need to change things little by little here to move the 'culture' of Korea in the same direction as technology and infrastructure has gone = FORWARD!
This takes me to looking at home...Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Over the past two decades there has been a conscious effort to move forward, move towards peace, an equality of life in a small country. The events of the last month haven't helped us think of moving home to Northern Ireland for good. 'Equal' doesn't mean almost the same, nor does it mean 'more than', but it does appear that some of the residents in the province do feel that they are being asked to give up more than others... then again, if you have the majority and your opposition has much less then you will have to give up more to meet that 'equality' level. Flags seem to be the current drive. Recently the dominance of Unionism in Belfast faced a shift and the city council voted by a majority to only fly the (predominantly Unionist symbol) Union Jack on designated days each year rather than year-round - something that had already been passed in other councils without riots or mass demonstrations. In Belfast it triggered weeks of disruption and tarnished the shopping and working lives of many during this Christmas season. Death threats were issued to some political representatives and the lives of police officers were also put in danger through violence and attempted murder. Where some of those argued through speech that it was a violation of their rights others sought to fight with their fists and brutish immaturity. I thought (or hoped) that we had moved on from that method of politics.
Maybe out of fear of falling off the radar (or possibly from the notion that any Press is good Press!), members from the dissident Republican community jumped back on the bandwagon and tried to murder a family man right before the end of 2012. His job? A police officer.
Before Christmas, as a way of trying to reclaim Belfast from the rioting and demonstrations against the flag decision, a massive crowd assembled in Belfast to make as much noise as possible for 5 minutes as a shout out to those who wished to drag the city and the people back into the past.... that demonstration wasn't merely at the Loyalists who were crying foul about the flag but to ALL who think that Belfast wants them causing unrest, disrupting daily life, causing civil disturbances or attempting murder. It was a shout from those in Belfast that have been able to mentally develop past the colours they were born under, the labels they were given growing up, the divisions that were put in place by segregation and religion in the past. It was a shout out to say that this was OUR city too, with OUR elected representatives that WE want to help us move the city out of the dark ages and towards a future that is accepting and considerate of all its people.
My parents wanted more for their family than the world in which they grew up. They taught us to accept others, to consider others, to have some empathy with their points of view. They brought us up to be equipped with the basic skills needed to show that neither religion, colour of skin nor political view means that someone does not deserve to be loved or shown compassion. We were brought up in a way that allowed us, through self-realisation, to see that although a Unified Ireland was a dream in the past it may not be where we want to be in the future (and this was well before the Celtic Tiger drowned itself).
Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has it's pros too but there are historical differences that need to be worked out so that it is a country in which religion or affiliation to a particular flag is not what defines us.
I want to be able to return home and to raise our child/children in a country that I can be proud of. In a country that has been able to rise above its past and move forward. This is closer than ever before and could mean that we are moving in the right direction.
For now, I think we'll be looking outside of the best little country in the world for work and life... and I am sure that no matter where that will be, we will see that everywhere has its problems/issues/cultural deficiencies just like home.
God bless Northern Ireland and all who live there - I think we all know you need it.
Goodbye 2012... Hello 2013!