Monday, November 7, 2011

How long is enough?

How long should an overstayer overstay?  At what point do the costs of permanent exile abroad overtake its benefits?  What benchmarks can the overstayer apply to decide whether it is time to go back home?  Tough questions to ask, even tougher to answer.  

Last night, I met my longest-running overstayer respondent thus far: 26 years in Japan. 

As I went through my interview questions, my eyes were looking at him, my ears listening, but my mind was not paying full attention to his answers.  Instead I found myself wondering how it is at all possible to survive for so long without seeing your loved ones in person, touching them in the flesh. On my extended field research trips when I am separated from my wife and kids and I live alone in big cities and I get exhausted as I pry into the lives of my respondents, I find that loneliness creeps in inevitably and before I know it I have a raging urge to go back home.  And this is only for multiple weeks on end, the longest being just 3 months.  This guy in front of me left the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos was still President.

Was he a monster?  Or had he developed a secret coping mechanism, allowing him to persist and even thrive in Japan for almost three decades? 

Ben Kisli, an alias, arrived in Japan in November 1985.  He was taking a Geodetic Engineering course and had been working with his father in doing technical surveying jobs when his close friend enticed him to come to Japan.

Ben Kisli, now 26 years in Japan as an overstayer,
is the spitting image of Ben Kingsley, British actor, shown above.

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