Letter from Korea, December 2012


Suwon, South Korea
December, 2012

Dear Ireland

There are moments when I completely forget that I’m a father now, and I lapse into my old routine, desperate for something which I used to think was enjoying. Things are a little different now. It’s not that those things which I used to be entertained by are no longer entertaining, as they are somewhat, it’s just that these moments where I forget don’t last long. I’m either jolted from a daydream into activity by a gurgle or yelp, a call from Herself (who seems perpetually busy), or I just remember.  It’s a nice realisation to have over and over again.

The change has been swift. Even the difference between when Herself was heavily pregnant and since we’ve brought little cute +1 home (yes I’m still calling her +1 here) is stark. But to anyone who has spent any amount of time with people with new-born babies, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I won’t deny that I was far from adequately prepared, especially from a psychological perspective. I think I’m doing better now.

Thankfully, Korea makes things easy on us new fathers and mothers. We had a week in what’s known as a jorriwon (조리원), which is an after-care centre for those who have just had a baby. While there were some who complained about the standard of care given in the place we stayed, I couldn’t actually see what their problem was.

Here is a place where you go to stay which has a number of programmes for mothers to help the recuperate, as well as cooking your meals, doing your laundry, and most importantly, helping you get used to your new responsibility, which is of course raising a child. And where these people helped out mostly was allowing you the opportunity to try and fail a few times at trying to feed and placate your child, and if you couldn’t hack it they’d take it off your hands and deal with the child while you got some much required sleep. This allowed us to ease ourselves into the whole new parent thing.

2012-11-27 17.28.39

I spoke with a few Irish people, and even when I mentioned the price, they sounded enthusiastic in their ‘fuck that’ exclamations, in the sense that the price was incidental and that a service like this is what Ireland could do with. Sure it’s a bit elitist, and for us it was certainly expensive, but it was just another item on the increasingly long balance sheet of payments.

We only stayed a week in this place as we considered it pointless to drag the process of getting settled into a routine at home. We both were certain that the longer we stayed there the more difficult it would be to get out of that level of comfort. More than anything though, we were also very eager to bring +1 home, which is where we’ve been for the past couple of weeks.

Up until Friday however, we had the help of the mother-in-law, who as I’ve said before, is some woman. She arrived and immediately began to clean, cook, and attempt to feed +1. Which was great as it took the pressure off us. I was in work up until recently (now on winter hols) so she would stay in the room with Herself and help with the night feed, while I was banished to the couch. Every so often I would join Herself and get myself eased steadily into the night process.

Being in work made my life easier, I can honestly say, as I was away for the day I missed out on five hour long marathons of feeding, dozing, peeing, shiting, changing, rocking, feeding, dozing, sleeping for ten minutes, and so on. I’d return home to find Herself and the mother-in-law in tatters with exhaustion. However this didn’t stop another table full of kimchi and seaweed soup being served up with regimental efficiency every evening.

The thing about the seaweed soup is, and don’t get me wrong I know it’s very healthy, my own mother had five sons and never touched a drop of the stuff and she never experienced anything adversely negative from the lack of it. Although, the obvious refutation to that is how would you know if you’ve never had it? I do know that Herself has probably had more of it that she has had in her life to date, and whether she’s doing better than if she hadn’t had any is irrelevant. She’s happy and getting stronger every day and that’s what matters.

But now I can hear +1 waking up so I will have to close. Herself will have to be woken up to feed her and I will have to be the dutiful go-for as we do our best to make this process as easy on everyone as possible.

2012-12-15 19.13.10

That is how things are going in Korea now.

The sun is going down outside. The snow was melted by the rain over the past few days. It’s chilly but more like a December chilly as opposed to the -15 freeze we were engulfed in last week. I have two months of holidays ahead of me. There’s a presidential election on Wednesday but what do I care, it won’t change much I suppose. Christmas is around the corner. Family will arrive to see the new arrival in February. I’m a father. A proud one. Life is good, I suppose.

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Letter from Korea, October 2012


Suwon, South Korea
October, 2012

Dear Ireland,

It has been a while, but as much as I want to blame others I don’t think it would do much good. Some people are just poor at maintaining a schedule. I wish the same could be said for a woman’s womb.

As you can probably imagine the experience over the past few months has been mostly revolving around the fact that in less than a month myself and Herself are going to be parents. It has gone beyond the stage where we can feign shock at the end of youth, as there is no escaping our fate now. Not that I’m complaining.

It’s a strange feeling as we roll into the final month of the pregnancy. We know that we will have a little screaming, kicking, and shitting little baby right here in the living room I’m writing from now. We know that, as has been explained over and over again, that sleep deprivation and all sorts of other non-childless phenomena await, and you know I think we’re no longer worried about that. I suppose it’s what comes with the job.

If anything what is of greatest concern to myself and Herself is that we are going to be more responsible than ever to someone other than ourselves for almost as large a portion of our lives as we have been alive already. You think of it that way and you can understand our real concerns.

One image that comes to mind is that I was talking to someone recently who told me that after his first child was born he recalls not understanding why the hospital staff were allowing him and his wife to take their child home, and did they not understand that they had little to no idea what they were doing with the tiny, vulnerable human being in their arms. I think many young families start this way, especially if the usual safety net of experienced family members is either on the other side of the country, or in my case, a wet and windy island off the coast of the far end of the Eurasian continent.

However, Korea can be an incredibly convenient country to live in, and pregnancy definitely falls within this category. Over the past few months Herself has been availing of a plethora of free (or incredibly affordable – cheap is a different category) classes ranging from caring for child/baby in the home to aqua aerobics and yoga. Many of these are provided by our maternity hospital which even goes as far as to send a mini-bus out to collect her. We also had a breathing exercise class, which basically told us how Herself should be breathing as the labour progresses.

This was, I suppose my first introduction to the world which Herself has been inhabiting for the past few months. In I walked to a room full of youngish men, many around the same age as I am and all looking equally terrified, and their pregnant wives. Much of the class’s contents went over my head as the instructor appeared to inform us things we could have read about easily enough, along with a few things I found odd.

One thing she mentioned was that if the father talks to your baby while it is in the womb it will become more intelligent. I asked for the peer reviewed paper supporting her reasoning. She looked and smiled and continued talking. Another piece of advice included you should have a natural birth because it’s good for the baby, which is fine, but all I could think of was that she was guilting women who may actually need to have a C-section. I may have been wrong but that was the impression I got.

The real fun came after the breathing when she wanted to demonstrate the posture and methods for what can be only described as the final push. The instructor wasn’t very good at demonstrating to the class (she was a bit ould so I suppose straddling a table and showing us an example may have been beyond her). So when she described the position and the action, my 36 week pregnant wife wasn’t at her most flexible for turning around to see what to do. When our lovely instructor, and she is actually quite nice, then decided that the people who were past 35 weeks should do a demonstration for everyone else, well you can imagine how delighted we were to find out we were the only people that far gone. The whole room watched as herself lay on her back with her knees pulled up to her chest, whilst we were instructed to pull and push, as one would do if one was struggling with bathroom issues, all preceded by a deep breath and heavy squeezing grunt. Hilarious stuff indeed. I know what you’re thinking; sore thumb syndrome to beat the bad.

So that was grand.

What’s also really beneficial about having the baby here though is what I’ve discovered to quite a treat and one which is not a regular attraction in hospitals of the western world, and it’s called a joriwon (조리원). This is essentially a nursing home or convalescent centre for women after they have their baby. It is where we will stay for a week and where the baby will be gently coaxed into our existence, where they will cook for Herself, where they will have daily yoga and massages for herself, where they will take the baby off our hands and feed it or look after it if we need a little extra sleep, and mostly where we will avoid the true reality of screaming, kicking, and shitting for at least seven days after we leave the hospital. Yes I know it’s cheating, but I’m sure there are plenty among us who would leap at a chance for something like this.

So basically that’s everything about the pregnancy and everything worth talking about this weather. At least everthing worth saying, right. Much of our time these days is spent watching the calendar and perusing the internet looking for more ideas on something or othe to do with the pregnancy. You can call it study.

Oh, me mammy sent over loads of lovely knitted stuff – revelling in her role as Grannius-Maximus (I’m dead now).

And it’s Autumn, which is always enjoyable in Korea.

That’s as good a conclusion I can offer, as I don’t have much of an opinion these days. It’s all about existing and getting on with it. Opinions are slowing me down.

 

 

 

P.S. Actually what’s probably slowing me down is the agonisingly slow death of my five year old laptop. If anyone would like to donate a new one, I’ll let you know where to send it. Sound.

 

 

Letter From Korea, August 2012


Suwon
August 24, 2012

Dear Ireland

I’ve been kicking myself a little lately because even with so much free time on my hands, I don’t seem to be getting the same amount of work done that I would like to be getting done. In a recent post I ranted about having too many distractions and found it difficult to scratch things off my list. Things have gotten a little better – I think – and maybe it was the rant that allowed me to get much off my chest. Still productivity, or lack of, bothers me still.

I get a lot of free time with my job. I won’t say how much but I will say that I am granted the luxury of less than normal holiday time, as well as limited contact hours in the classroom. So when I don’t get what I want done as quickly and easily as I should it bothers me. Preparing for the arrival of +1 is obviously taking up more of my time now, and a lot of this revolves around caring for Herself and keeping her company during the day, but I still have ample time.

Still, as the days pass things get done, gradually. Herself gets bigger and bigger and, bit by bit, I finish things I’ve being saying I should be doing.

One of those things that I haven’t had close to the top of this list is writing another blog post. I’ve kind of gone off the boil. I don’t really feel inclined to talk about anything going on in Korea so much – I think other people do a better job – and I also don’t feel that pushed towards talking about just day to day things that I usually go on about. I have a list of posts for this blog that I will eventually get around to, but for now I really am not inclined.

I know that I go through different things with varying levels of enthusiasm, and I know if I look back through my posts I’ll see months where I have written less, and months where I’ve churned out three or four posts every week. Now I’m not sure what to think as I do, I suppose, have some reasons for toning down the content.

Recently I bought an iPad to use, mostly, as an e-reader and browser. The reason is that I find a lot of content when I’m on twitter that I want to read but because I mostly use twitter on my phone and computer, I find it hard to read much of it. The phone’s screen is very small and my eyes hurt, and my computer is big clunky old thing that isn’t very mobile and the battery lasts about as long as it takes to boil the kettle, maybe less. So I figured the iPad would be a sound purchase.

Still, I keep looking over at my previously mentioned old dinosaur of a Fujitsu (about five years old, maybe more), sitting lonely in the corner of the room. This is my old warhorse when it comes to the written word,  and to really feel like I’m getting work done, I have to turn this on.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I came across this blog post on a website called the Blog of the Impossible. In the article, the writer describes an odd but enlighening encounter with the inventor of the computer, Russell Kirch. Frankly, it reads as a bizarre situation, and the author is clearly and justifiably humbled by the interaction. The reason I’m talking about this is not because Russel Kirch is obviously an amazing scientist and inventor who has achieved much more than me, but because what he said about computers and creativity:

“I’ve been against Macintosh company lately. They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things. You can code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before.”

“That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before.”

It’s an interesting notion. All around us are the tools to make the world a better place for ourselves, but we can be easily distracted by other entities which confuse us, making us wonder about what is the right pathway to be taking. Creation is such a simple concept and without it the world wouldn’t exist in it’s current state. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that without human innovation, humans would be still hanging from trees.

Making or creating new things can be as simple as changing your breakfast to the way you walk to work, or even just walking against the traffic going down the stairs in the subway – upset the norm. The blogosphere and twittersphere in Korea is a fine example of people going out of their way to upset the norm and to make changes to their life. In Korea, opportunities don’t happen for you and you have to step outside of your shell if you ever want move upwards. I suppose the same could be said of everywhere in the world.

Carried on from this idea is the second kind of reason that I’m feeling less inclined to write posts here of late. I’m beginning to think that I should be looking for markets for a lot of my essays here. I don’t see why not. I think they’re good enough, but many are probably too long for many people to read – I know when I look at a post on a website I automatically check how long it is before I started reading it. Certain people look for certain types of writing to read, and some people don’t want to read long articles, and some people do.

What does this blog have to do with that though? First of all, please excuse the comparison but I recall reading that it was a shame that T. S. Elliot spent so much time writing academic criticism and not writing poetry as this kind of swallowed up his creativity for years. I get the feeling more and more of late that I shouldn’t spend two or three hours writing a blog post, but  I should spend that time writing something else, be that an article for a magazine that will pay, or an essay, or some poems that have not gone past the stage of scribbled in my Moleskine notebook.

In Korea there’s not that many options other than blogging if you want to write and publish regularly, and while that’s a fairly narrow minded perspective to take, it is the truth if you ask me. There are only three newspapers, a handful of magazines in English, and then there’s a number of websites of varying quality and content. Fortunately, the internet is a magnificent gateway to so many more sources for anything you are involved in, and especially writing.

It may sound like an odd concept, but a computer can actually be a gateway to a more productive and creative life. This holds true in Korea for certain. Although, much like any piece of technology, so much depends on what you actually do with it!

 

Letter from Korea, May 2012.


Dear Ireland

I feel obliged to offer an apology for a lack of social commentary on life in Korea. Being Irish, I complain all the time, even when things are going well. If you were to sit with me for a relatively short period of time, I would undoubtedly complain about plenty of things I can do nothing about. It’s kind of an old-man syndrome I suppose.

The thing is, complaining about life in Korea doesn’t interest me as much anymore. Well, at least complaining about it on the internet and pointing out all the failings and the misery and normality of living here doesn’t interest me much. I suppose it’s just not productive. It doesn’t make my life any better, and while I’d love to attract the swathes of readers across the waeg readership who are itching for scandal and tales of depravity and inadequacy, I’m pretty happy to keep to myself these days. You see, it’s not just Irish people who like to complain all the time about things they can do nothing about.

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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.

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