Choose Your Poison Wisely


It is worthwhile to always know where you are going, and this is especially the case when travelling. I’m not suggesting you do something peculiar like making an itinerary or researching places to stay and see, I’m suggesting that you are aware of what you are letting yourself into. You can look at this from the point of view that you should at least have an inkling of the environment ahead, or have absolutely no comprehension of what to expect. I’m a fan of the latter.

I’ve done a bit of travel in my short amount of years on this earth, most it of it independently, and I think it would be an accurate enough to claim that I’ve never really known what was in front of me. When I first went to Korea in 2005 I had no idea what lay ahead. I glanced through a lonely planet and looked at a few pictures online. I had also heard that Koreans were known for liking a drink, which appealed to the gusto of my age at that time. But that was it, and so I tumbled headfirst into that country and nine years later I’m still tumbling, albeit with a little more composure.

I attach my successful acclimatisation to Korea to this blind dive I took. I think that I had such a lucky streak that I have considered this the best way to approach anything. I travelled down through China and into Laos and then Thailand all overland after my first contract in 2006. I followed this ‘we’ll work it out when we get there’ strategy to the letter, and while I had a great time, Herself back in Korea was none too keen on this randomised approach to independent travel.

In Chiang Mai now, I’m witnessing the second factor in this notion that we should be aware of what we are letting ourselves into. We chose Chiang Mai because we knew it was a big town, with plenty to see and a comfortable enough lifestyle for those who chose to live here. We don’t really have an income, but we’re staying in a small apartment complex with a swimming pool and in decent proximity to much of what we’d like to entertain ourselves with. Did I mention the weather is lovely?

So what of it? Well it’s Thailand, right, so what should you expect? I for one wasn’t one hundred per cent sure, but I’ve lived and travelled in Asia a fair amount since 2009, so I think it would take a good whack of Asia to really knock me off my feet. What we always expect is that Asia will be this different place, full of mysticism, spirtuality, tradition, and I dare say, inspiration.

When I first came to Korea I was definitely without mysticism, spirituality, tradition, and certainly inspiration. I couldn’t say now that I came looking for it either, but I know that I have certainly found them, that’s not to say that I actually care for all of them. Inspiration however has been a major factor in my life since I came to Korea, and it is without doubt one of the most important changes I believe to have experienced since I arrived here.

If you arrive in Asia, you can’t expect to find all these wonderful life changing moments waiting for you as you disembark. For anyone considering a journey east, I beg you to look at the demographics. The populations for many Asian countries dwarf western countries. There are obvious cases like China and India, but even without considering them Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia all have well over 100 million inhabitants, the combined population of the two Koreas is larger than that of Germany. While I’m talking about this you’ve got Vietnam and The Phillippines with over 90 million people, and even Thailand has a larger population than France. So what’s my point? When you have this many people living together, what do you expect? If you’re still thinking mysticism, spirituality, and tradition then perhaps you should stay where you are for the time being.

In reality, what you’re supposed to be expecting, in reality is urban squalor, poverty and wealth face to face with each other, pollution, commercialism, greed, violence, and invariably western influences. All of these are mixed in somewhere with all these things you expect, and you can find them, but expect to step over a few open sewers and drunks fighting in the street on your way to get to it.

While of course there is plenty of tradition in modern Asia, what makes it different and more complicated now is that it is not only western countries which are experiencing multicultural challenges. Religions mix in capital cities, rural people welcome city dwellers, developement changes long established patterns of life, and for the visitor familiarity is all to present. You will often here terms such as globalisation bandied about, and I suppose you can argue that this is a good example of it, whatever this is of course, but to accept this concept of globalisation now is to accept that it has always been a factor as long as humans have been living together, just on a smaller scale, it’s just a question of recognising how large your world actually is.

I suppose that is why we came to Chiang Mai for two months. It was of course an escape from the cold (albeit not that cold compared to the few people from Mongolia who are also here) but also to try something we’ve always talked about doing. We came without a plan, other than to be here, and we came to enjoy a time which may be our last opportunity to do so. There is nothing to discover here. There is no search for some kind of beauty or new sense of self.  There is just a chance to be part of a greater world.

If we find inspiration here I suppose we are all the better for it. I prefer to look on this situation to see if we actually get more things done. Productivity is its own kind of inspiration and the mind works quicker and stronger when it is busy and active thinking with direction. A holiday or a change of location can help this, but getting stuck into your experiences is nothing but good food for inspiration. My point is, if you come looking to find it you won’t, but if you come just looking then you will probably find something, whether you expect it or not.

In the end, time will cure the ills brought on by your decisions.

 

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly January 2014. All rights reserved.

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In Defence of Stamps


Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make the difference. There was a time when I would check the post every morning in the hope that there would abe a letter for me. I would ask my mother why was there never anything for me, and wistfully she would respond “well if you sent a letter to someone then maybe you would get something in return”. My obvious response was to drop my shoulders and curl my nose and skulk off muttering about some injustice or something.

I didn’t realise it until probably now that my mother’s response was probably something similar to what I know now. Personal letters or emails are wonderful, but they rarely come, or at least their infrequency is dwarfed by the sheer quantity of spam and bills. And even if I jump to the twenty-first century and talk about emails it doesn’t get much better, in fact it worsens.

Throw into your inbox all your newsletters, online transactions, receipts, work related mail, social network updates and notifications, and whatever else streams in between nine and six daily, and probably continues throughout the night if you recieve mail from across the timezones, email loses all the charm it had, if it ever actually had any in the first place.

I’ve come across a few articles recently where someone disconnected from their email for a year and found out how wonderful the world is, or something to that effect. There are also countless amounts of surveys or reports proclaiming the effects and costs laid on the corporate world from people checking and responding to overburdened email accounts.

I should also elaborate on the state of my email inbox at the moment, with over 3,600 unread emails and counting, many of which will not change or improve my life if they ever are opened. This amount started to grow from about six months ago when I suppose I just got tired of deleting them. There may be some important mail in there I should have read, but if it was really important they would have emailed back, right?

Sure enough you could argue that social networking has removed our need to email so frequently, and of course email has removed the necessity of writing letters, just regulary mail services removed whatever messenger network was there before. Perhaps there is someone out there busily considering the medium to overtake social networking, and good luck to them.

For all our complaints about social networking though it won’t go away, and neither will email, and incidentally neither will regular mail. We will see how and why we use these forms of communication change though, and some day we will be as nostalgic for old-fashioned tweeting or email writing as we are now for a hand written letter.

Modernity and modernising has always been about making it easier and more efficient to do things. To compliment everything modern there is always the old way, deemed in some respects old fashioned and antiquated as equally as it is is considered traditional or vintage. Speed and efficiency is undoubtedly the defining and divisive factor in establishing the difference.

Who is to say that there is actually anything wrong with, for example hand writing a letter, walking down to the post office, queuing up to buy a stamp, and then popping it in the post box, and heading off to finish the rest of your business? Compare this to standing on a bus grasping a railing one hand as it trundles through town, whilst tapping uncomfortably the tiny letters on the screen of a smartphone, including the backspace repeatedly, and clicking send, whereupon your email is sent directly to its recipient who is likely to be experiencing something similar in another part of the planet. Either that or it will be waiting for them when they wake up in the morning.

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Speed is everything. Even more important than money, seemingly, because somehow the idea that time equals money has proliferated and began obliterating everything that once stood for something, and by something I mean a person’s job and livelihood. Nostalgia is making mighty waves promoting the way things were and how the world was better before we had a full communication suite trapped inside a small black device which fits into our pocket. Conveniently, there’s a fair amount of nostalgia available online, or at least you can book it or order it online. How fortunate are we?

There is a tremendous amount of modern speed which does seem unnecessary. In Korea, I feel like every building over three floors must have a lift, buses bull through red lights, there is ultra fast internet for all users, deliveries are made at low cost and arrive the next day, and there is one of the fastest high speed rail systems in the world in a country where it only takes five hours to drive from one corner to its furthest extremity on the opposite side of the peninsula. Yes, I know that the clogged expressways undoubtedly encouraged this development, but they’re not always clogged. Speed equals progress, development, and of course convenience. This is good and the goal we should be setting for all of ourselves.

Don’t think that I’m critical of Korea here, a similar list could be drawn up about any country. In Korea and especially Seoul it seems that everyone and everything has to be where they should be now, and not tomorrow, and certainly not soon or over the next few days. Seoul is the only major city I’ve lived in so I can’t reasonably compare it fairly, but I’ve heard enough comparisons with such poster cities as London and New York to recognise the same obsessions with this instant. For all I may feign complaint over, the convenience of Korea is by far its most redeeming factors after living here for over eight years.

But let me ask you would you go back to slower and less convenient times? I wouldn’t. It’s not solely because I have a recognisable addiction to things been done instantly, or because of the convenience, or the cheaper cost, it’s because it’s better. Whether we are better people is an unnecessary observation, as again nostalgia feeds on these grievances. For all that I or others may raise about a modern obsession with speed, I don’t see myself slowing down, let alone stopping.

What I would do though is ask myself or others to think a little about what is really necessary? For starters, much of the devotion to doing things quick stems from the time is money notion I mentioned earlier. To do things quicker and more efficiently will save us more money in the long run, right? Well in many respects yes, but at the same time this is not always the case.

Take stamps for example. Mail or post is in its own right a fairly new phenomenon, and while the effort of writing a letter and posting may be considerably less efficient and signicantly more time consuming, it already seems to be becoming a redundant service that is poorly equipped to compete with the efficiency of email and multi-facetted social networks. Barcodes instead of stamps do little to help this cause.

If you want to post something you need a stamp. This something could indeed be a letter, but it is more likely to be some kind of a form, application, or parcel, but still you need to pay for it and since the Penny Black the preferred way has been to use a stamp, although of late some innovative soul discovered that barcodes are much more effective.

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I’m sure there is some reason for utilising barcodes as a means of determining the price of postage, and I suppose it’s probably a smart reason, right? I think though that maybe the world would feel a little less like a factory floor if we had less barcodes and numbers defining so much of our lives. Mail is such a small thing that perhaps we could be left enjoyed one of its redeeming traits, the small intricately painted and uniquely designed stamp.

At all corners there are numbers and codes pigeon-holing us. The favoured tool of streamlining our bureaucracy, giving a number not only makes us easily findable amongst the rest of the rabble, it removes the face of its owner, leaving if we’re lucky a male or female looking silhouette behind the digits.

Now comparing the barcode for a stamp with an national ID number is a bit severe I admit it, but I hasten to add that I don’t see any problem with regular old stamps. There was something to them which if anything make our connection with mail or post a little more tenable. They had a connection with not only the sender, but also the receiver.

There is a little more than nostalgia attached to this notion that stamps have a bit more attachment to people than barcodes. There is a novelty to them, and not just from the perspective of a stamp collector, from the point of view that we can try to make out the details, however intricate, of a stamp. We can see a little something that is special to another country. We can read the script and possibly have an idea what the currency is, and of course there is the feeling that it was not applied by a machine in a dark basement. Let’s be honest, when it comes to stamps there’s always that human element we can all recall, the taste of the glue on our tongues from licking the back.

The stamp has more personality in its own personalised way. In Ireland stamps come across as a celebration of the nation, which is odd for a country which doesn’t flaunt its patriotism as much as you may imagine, with pictures of flowers, birds, animals, historical figures, architecture, and indeed special events and occasions such as the Special Olympics, and fortunately never (or perhaps rarely) living politicians.

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It’s unfortunate that in Korea I haven’t seen a stamp since I was here in my first year in 2005 when I tried to send some postcards home. The stamps were small Rose of Sharon, the national flower of Korea, bright in their purpleness and backed by green leaves, and as typical a stamp as you could get. Some years later I went to send Christmas cards home, and each individual envelope was popped up on the scales, and a barcode sticker with its varieties of code was printed out and stuck on the top corner.

Much of this only sank home recently when I received and sent plenty of letters and parcels. I felt that, here was a little way of sharing the rest of the world. But at the same time it was a way of keeping a small industry and interest in the world alive, where we would be encouraged to look at the finer details of the wrapping of the objects which arrive in our letterboxes.

There is little argument against it, other than speed, perhaps. Yet, if you want to take it from the perspective of the consumer or the sender, you can be sure that when they go to the post office they still must queue up, and they still must put their letter on a scales, and the person will probably still tap a few things on a computer, if anything just to get a receipt.

Stamps are little things, but when we add up all the small things we find we have something greater. Efficiency will not make the world a better place, and in changing through development we often forget to stop and look at what it is we are changing. Stamps are small and insignificant but like most of the things which change without us knowing it will be long after they are gone that we notice we can’t tell one barcode apart from the next one.

Letter from Korea, October 2013


Suwon, Korea
Ocotober, 2013

Dear Ireland,

It has been well over a month since myself, Herself, and +1 have been back in Korea, and what I expected would be my September letter got left by the wayside and is only being seen to now in October. You know you’ll get the usual excuses for not doing anything which isn’t vital to one’s survival, such as being busy with things which are vital to one’s own survival.

After two and a bit months in Ireland, returning to Korea for life, work, and more life, was less the shock we had thought it might be. A smaller home, no garden, no dog, less rain, and that view from all the way up at the top of our tower just seemed to be what was right at the time. There seems to be less culture shock the more we travel between Ireland and Korea.

Update: Some photos from the last month and a bit back in Korea

When we first came back to Ireland we walked around in a half-daze finding it hard to comprehend that the last time we were here was almost two years beforehand. Yes, we had been back briefly in April for a funeral, but this was different. With the funeral we knew that we only had so much time and that we would be busy, obviously, and the week passed quicker than we knew it before we were back in Korea.

Two months is in many respects a long time, but you know it’s never long enough some times. Every time I seem to go home I seem to leave everything I want to do until the last two weeks of my time. This includes meeting friends, going into Dublin, and a whole list of other things. Maybe because I just feel comfortable up to that point until when I realise that it’s all going to be miles away in a mere matter of days.

This August though, we returned relatively scar free to Korea and returned to the regular humdrum. It’s a humdrum though that exists for everyone after their holiday, regardless of where they were or how long they were away for. Maybe we’re getting better at it, and maybe we’re becoming more aware of what it is we should be doing and when we should be doing it. In this case, it’s getting on with our day in the middle of all the other days.

We go to work, we go shopping, we take +1 out for walks and to her little classes, we meet friends, we go for dinner, and on occasion I get a little drunk. We complain about the weather and things that aren’t working properly in our apartment, we say hello to neighbours we recognise and wonder why others still don’t pay any attention to us even though we’re living here three years. The sunsets continue to decorate that sky to the right when I look out the window around six or seven every night, and always we see our little daughter growing stronger and more mobile to the point that we are often lost for words. This is just a snapshot of everything that occupies us, and I believe we all have our comparisons tidied away somewhere.

At the back of all this foreground lies our future. We could not continue to move forward without knowing what lies there. We have been fortunate enough to be given the many opportunities presented to us, and we know each moment presents opportunity. Korea for all the things it is not is definitely a boiling pot of opportunity, you just have to fight harder to make the most if it. The life I have delved, almost accidentally it seems sometimes, has brought a mightly stew of changes in my life, and my family’s life. Opportunities have been taken and missed, but regrets are something we seem to have few of.

On the east coast of Korea in a small town called Jeongdongjin, right on the coast and just south of Gangnueng, you can see this happening but you need to wait around for a while.

Right beside the broad white beach is a small urban park, and the centre piece is a rather large cylindrical egg-timer. Yes, an egg-timer as I know it as, that drops grain after grain through a tiny hole bit by bit counting down until the end of the year, until it rolls over and starts again.

We never see a grain dropping and we would need to spend the entire year to see the results of this ever gradual change. But like most who see the change, we come and and we go and we see it at different stages of progression.

In the future we know that by sitting here and watching everything reverberate and rotate balancing on its fulcrum, we know that things change with every minute. From full to empty and half-full again, it is worth taking a step back and realising that we never see progress as it happens, only once it has passed.

We don’t need anniversaries or milestones really to see this, just the patience to allow each grain of sand to pass through the hole and for the mound of white sand grow and grow until we have our own little mountain.

70


by Ray Hyland

For as long as I’ve been a resident of dear Dunboyne, there has been a tenuous but definite link back into Dublin City. An artery if you will, which pumps from the heart of the City Centre back to the edge of the old green belt.

I’d guess I’ve been on the 70 bus or one of its variants at least 5000 times since 1985 or ‘86.Probably more actually. I remember all subtle route changes. Did you know its original terminus was just by the Ha’penny Bridge beside an old carpet shop? From there it would wrap around to Liffey Street back onto Lower Abbey Street, pass the old O’Connor’s denim shop ( complete with weird mural that nobody remembers) back onto Capel Street, over Grattan Bridge and back to the still familiar route.

The terminus was pushed around a fair bit after that. The 70 made its home in Middle Abbey Street for a while, near the old Chapter’s book shop, before switching to the Abbey Theatre. It was moved to facilitate the Luas works, whereby it took up residence at the model railway shop on Hawkins Street. Right now it starts at the Burlington Road, hitting Dawson and Suffolk Street before going back onto the quays.

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Image courtesy of Dublin Bus Stuff http://www.dublinbusstuff.com

To live in Dunboyne without a car is much like living in a rural town without your own transport. For a long time, the bus only ran every two hours and sometimes not even then. Weekends especially were(and are) quite frustrating. I used to visit my Gran near NCR and by the time it got there from town, the single decker bus was always full, leaving me to sitting in the old luggage hold by the double doors.

So many times I’ve had to put my faith in this wretched service. The worst was on those busy winter nights when it would already be full by the time it got to Prussia Street. You knew well it was full of fuckers from Castleknock who had just missed the 39.Worse yet, going to school in Blanchardstown for 6 years meant I either had to get the special school bus or the 70 on Wednesday half days.

It improved slightly over time as the single deckers where taken out of commission and a new 270 service was deployed in the late 90s. This was to provide transport to the newly built Blanchardstown centre. Now noisy little yellow red mini buses went up and down the motorway. No matter what ideas you had about yourself, any passenger on these looked a bit ‘special’.

There was never any real novelty value going on the bus. It was good seeing friends or acquaintances on there that might break up the long journey. It was even better to sometimes feign sleep when you saw someone you didn’t to see getting on at the next stop.

A fond memory was the quiet man. He was a lad of maybe 25 and he’d sit down the very back of the top deck and roll himself a lovely joint. He’d have about half of it, never say a word and then offer it to whoever was sitting beside him before he got off at Littlepace. I wonder what became of him.

I finally managed to move out in my early 20s, free now from the grip of those dusty green(then blue) seats. But I still get shudders when I think of all the time wasted waiting around for that bus, or worse yet having my life dictated to by its questionable scheduling.

I never even mentioned the epic adventure that is the 70 Nitelink service or the old 70X that ran from UCD belfield for many years.

Nowadays there’s a train that goes from Dunboyne into the city, though it doesn’t impress me much. It’s a long walk back into the village but I guess it’s better than nothing!

My advice, get a car, or make lots of friends with available couch space in town.

This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit please follow this link.

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Hi, my name is Ray and I live in Ireland. I am slowly learning how unfair life is and dealing with it accordingly. Currently I live at home with my parents at the tender age of 32, having decided that success and a nice abode of my own was all too predictable. I presently work as an Intern, which in Ireland means, the same as everywhere else in the western world (no job prospects!). My principle interests include observing soccer players secretly laughing at the rest of us, wrestling with the reality that sometimes you’re better off not trying, wrestling full stop oh and fast food, consummation and critique thereof. I don’t like long walks along the beach, Monday is my favourite day of the week and if there’s an American TV show out there that you love and can’t stop talking about chances are I probably despise you.