Letter from Korea, March 2012

Suwon, South Korea
28/3/2012

Dear Ireland,

Ever since I first arrived in Korea, March has always been a milestone. It is one of many milestones, but it’s one that is always hanging over me, not in a particularly negative or positive way, it is just there waiting for me to remember it without celebration.

People are fond of marking milestones, either as celebrations or as reasons to reflect again. If you think of March as a milestone in Korea, it was the month two years ago when the ROK Cheonan was sunk off the coast of Korea. Of more global significance, it was one year ago this month when the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan, killing thousands, making millions homeless, and of course shattering the reactor in the Fukishima nuclear plant. These days will forever be milestones in the lives of those directly affected by both of these events.

On an individual level, our lives are peppered with milestones; birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions to name a few, are always popping up in our calendars, whether we like them or not. There are often calls to celebrate them, and equally there are often attempts to avoid them at all costs.

A milestone, as a word, is odd though. Originally a milestone would mark each mile, telling travellers that a mile has now been passed. Later, milestones acted as notifications that a particular location was so far away, and I suppose that would mean you have travelled so far or you have so far still to travel before you get there. In the Phoenix Park in Dublin there are old milestones along Chesterfield Avenue telling people it is so many miles to get to the city centre. Of course those of you who are familiar with the Phoenix Park will know that you could walk, without too much strain, from the Castleknock Gate at the far end of the park to the city centre in less than a few hours.

I can only assume that it is the original Roman meaning that we have adapted to the term ‘milestone’; it is a marker that has shown that we have passed another recognizable distance again. The road we take is the life we live. I am not sure if we have a term which we would use to say that we have a recognizable distance in our life to go before we reach a stage. Maybe we, and I mean the royal we, realized that life’s journey has never been as predictable as the distances between two stones placed on a road.

The reason that March is a milestone for me is because March is the month when I first arrived in Korea all the way back in 2005. Even more of a milestone is Saint Patrick’s Day, because I distinctly recall leaving Ireland on March 15 and arriving in Seoul on March 16. The Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations I joined in that weekend were perhaps the first ones I’d enjoyed for a long time. Perhaps something to do with being out of Ireland gave me the impetus to take my nationality seriously, but maybe I just enjoyed the party. Little did I know that I would soon have the honour (or ignominy) of helping to streamline the celebrations in future years, and also leading the festival’s celebrations this year.

More important than that, March is the month that I can say that seven years ago my life changed dramatically. It’s not a point of celebration or mourning, but the time that I could argue that everything went upside down. In fairness, it would be better to say that my life actually was put in the position to come closer to right side up, and to get a little balance and understanding.

That being said, it’s also a time for me to reflect on what is actually going on here? I think that everyone who reaches a milestone always takes a moment to reflect and consider their lives and their goals. It’s a time when we sit down and make plans. I could come out with a pile of metaphors in this paragraph, but I won’t, I think you get the idea.

The weather will be gradually getting warmer in the coming weeks. I hope to see some cherry blossoms on the trees soon. Then it will be greener, warmer, and the year will be moving on to summer. Soon it will be March again. I think by then some changes will have been made, but I can’t say now what they will be. Will we be in Korea, or will we be somewhere else? Will we be working or studying? There are too many questions here.

I’m making efforts now to make my life and Herself’s life better for the both of us. I can only hope that myself and Herself are happy, safe, and moving on to the next of our milestones in life.

I hope that I can continue to talk about them here.

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