Letter from Ireland, August 2013


Dunboyne, Ireland
16 August, 2013

Dear Korea

Negativity is an often attractive topic. It’s in our nature to be critical, to find issue with what is at fault, and even when we are happy we still find reasons to complain. This isn’t exclusive to any particular situation or condition, everyone does it in some manner or form. There may be some explanation to it, but that is not my aim today.

I wanted to write today about something which has being an increasing source of bother for some time, and since I am now in Ireland I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on it from a particular standpoint.

Some time back, possibly longer than one year ago or more, I wrote a post on this blog entitled “10 Reasons Why I Dislike Korea“. I suppose when I wrote it I felt that I had to say what I said. I was feeling inciteful as well as insightful, and at the same time I was approaching the living in Korea thing from a new angle. I didn’t consider it an “I hate Korea and here’s why you should too” kind of post, and I still don’t. I read it again recently with the thought that I might take it down, but decided that no it wasn’t my post which had the problems, it was the people who read it, and of course those who commented on it who had the problems.

Regularly people find my blog with search topics which automatically create the idea that they hate Korea, or that they are looking for people who hate Korea. These kind of people who go searching for previously written complaints find my blog post with a set agenda, that is they agree with me, or accuse me of being a racist, which I don’t believe I am. But what gets me a little is that more often than not, people take what I have written and muddle my meaning.

I suppose that’s just part of writing to be read though. That some people disagree with me, or that they take what I write and twist into some other meaning and confuse and confront me as if I have some sort of agenda is something I have to deal with. I have kind of stopped replying and interacting with many commentors, with the exception of the odd clarification. That’s my way of dealing with it.

I had thought of removing the post from my blog but I think that would be against what I stand for. I do still believe in what I wrote, and if it’s a little more negative than how I usually think or write, let it be a lesson for me to think these things through. On the up side, it does bring a lot of traffic to my blog, more than many of my other posts, but I don’t get the impression that many people do what I suggest they do and that’s read some of my other posts to get an idea of how I really think.

And you know, how I think now is no different than how I ever think. I try to think as openly and as relevant to my current situation as possible. I try to approach my blog posts about wherever I may be as honestly as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever lied, or taken anything out of context before (too much). As I say, it’s a personal blog and I am just the opinion of one person. This is the internet, I suggest using it to find a counter opinion.

You see it’s always easy to choose the reasons we dislike somewhere when we are there. Call it a constant search for a better situation, or something, something that encourages us to simply desire a better slice of the cake, because every human is entitled to want.

I could easily turn around and write ten reasons why I like living in Korea (and maybe I will but it would be a challenge to avoid cliches – which may be why I wrote the ten reasons in the first place). What I can do is point to where I am now, Ireland, a country where I have lived for a lot longer than I have lived in Korea, and one where I left in 2005 when I was 23 because I disliked living here. Today I couldn’t even attempt to rattle my brain to recall the simple causes of my initial departure, but there are plenty of things which get to me already and I’ve only been bacl here on holidays for a month and half.

Things like this odd superiority complex, the casual racism, the expectation that Ireland is and always will be perfect for everyone, that it is impossible to get real, good, Korean food, that we still as a people cannot stand up and fight and demand together the changes this country needs (but this could be a universal problem), that we still can not turn left on red, and that the majority of pubs still insist on serving only Guinness, Heineken, Carlsberg, Smithwicks, Bulmers and Budweiser…

We are people and we all want a better lot. We see things which we believe can be improved and we try to talk about them, to raise awareness where we see wrong. Some things will never change, such as the poor beer choices in Ireland and the human zoo that is Costco in Korea. We hope, and in this hope we continue on, making our own changes to see the progress in our lives, because we know how little hope we stand of ever finding the solutions we seek elsewhere.

I do dislike many aspects of living in Korea, but I bear them as an acceptable weight, and I see them as challanges which would be merely different but equally pertinent in any other country I might choose to live in, including my own. There are plenty of reasons that I like Korea also, but I chose not to write about them at that time.

There is no such thing as utopia. With every situation were people live together there will always be complaint and distaste. I believe it is in our nature. The important thing is that we do our best to concern ourselves with our own goals and our own future and we look beyond what others see as wrong. No place is exempt from criticism, just as much as no country should be criticised for only its mistakes and wrongs.

The same can be said for people. If you see what someone has done or said, look back and try to see what else they have said or done and try to realise how much of a human they are and how their actions reflect our own, regardless of skin colour or place of birth. In the world, it’s all just best that we get along, regardless if we’re from Ireland or Korea or somewhere in between.

Letter from Korea, April 2013


Suwon, South Korea
April, 2013

Dear Ireland,

I’m not sure if I should gloat but I thought I’d mention the fact that spring is in full swing here. I should also point out that that was an unintentional rhyme  but I digress. Yes, April is warming the bones and joints enough for me not to dread the walk to work, and I am optimistically eyeing the month of May on the calendar in the kitchen. The shorts and t-shirts shall be dusted down soon.

We love spring here in Korea. It’s full of things to be happy about, such as the end of winter, but also the cacophony of blossoms which explode bit by bit throughout April. Right now we’ve bright yellow kenari decorating the sides of the roads, and slowly the purple azaelas and bulbous magnolias are breaking free. Of course the nation awaits the arrival of the cherry blossoms and the plethora of festivals that accompany them.

I should give a special shout out to the yellow dust, which is another of Korea’s wonderful spring characteristics, but it seems to have died down somewhat. Still, if you saw my car you’d wonder which building site I drove through beforehand.

But anyway, what class of an Irishman am I to be complimenting the weather and it’s not even shorts and t-shirts weather yet?

As it’s April I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate myself for no reason other than the fact that I think I deserve it. The topic of this personal celebration? Well it’s this blog I tell you. Yes, your favourite blog in the whole world is approaching its third birthday (in WordPress years). We started off in blogspot in the winter of 09-10 but I soon grew bored of the complete lack of hits and gave up. When I came back to Korea I decided at some point to reignite this blog in WordPress form.

You see, it would be thanks to its WordPress form that I would probably like to offer some gratitude. Any WordPress blogger will be familiar with WordPress’s ample selection of statistics, including graphs, views by country, and a chart which allows you to compare the number of hits month by month right back to the birth one’s humble scribblings. It is nothing short of blog porn if you ask me, and this would be the full extreme gang-bang variety.

I do look back at the early days and wonder, first of all, what the hell was I writing (here is something though, the first Letter from Korea!), but also how the hell did I manage an epic 124 hits in the month of May alone, and then an awe inspiring 204 in June? Things went out of control in July of that year, I think because I learned how to link it to my old Facebook account where I had something like 400 or 500 “friends”. However n in July of that year I deleted that account because I felt lonely and distanced from my friends, and the readers vanished.

From then on in I really had to learn how to blog. I had to learn how to connect with other writers. I had to learn how to find what people wanted to read. I had to find a way to find new readers outside of my former friendship circle. And I think I managed it. I read other blogs and commented. I found out about the Korean blogosphere. I wrote about things that happened, and I trolled topics so that I could give my own take on them. I stopped thinking about myself so much but kept what I thought about things as a central element in what I wrote. But more importantly, I kept writing and writing and writing. And before long things started to catch on.

Roboseyo over at, well Roboseyo chose my blog as blog of the month for 10 Magazine some time last year, which was a nice hat tip to all the work I had been putting in. It gave me the impetus to keep writing, because at that time I had been considering laying off posting because I felt it was getting in the way of other things I was writing. I know that this is still the case, but I’m discipling myself more these days not to throw down any old post idea that comes into my head. I’ve an Evernote account with about seven or eight notes all with potential blog posts on it, many of which where never acted on purely because I lost interest or time just drifted too far away from the topic. I’m always thinking about what I want to write, because I know now not everything I do needs to be written about.

What has been a nice comfort though, and we’re back to these statistics again, is that now my blog receives on average over 2000 hits a month, with many of these people coming from all corners of the planet, but mostly from Korea. I get a minor kick out of knowing that my blog could be considered a blog of note, although I have no idea who reads it. I’m sure more people read the kind of English teacher in Korea blog which there are plenty of here, but that doesn’t really bother me as we’re writing about different things to different audiences.

I know my blogs are long and I know that maybe some people look at the web page before they read, give it a quick scroll and go “fuck that” before navigating away to some other less text heavy page. I’m assuming there’s a large amount of that, as I don’t get many comments or reactions, which I suppose would be the mark of a more successful blogger. Despite this, I think that the blogs I write don’t really look for comments. I hope that anyone who reads these posts  reads them and takes in what I have to say, and then goes for something else to read. That’s how I feel about much of the things I read at least.

I don’t think I’m right or wrong about anything, I just have my thing to say and I am happy that some people are reading, because as a writer that is what I aim for, to be read.

As a writer in Korea I’m going to continue telling my side of the story through my eyes and through my own reckoning. One of these days someone might pay me for this, and I would love it if they paid me a shit-load, but I’m not holding out. I will still be here, money or none, and I hope that I can continue to attract you back.

Sound.

P.S. If you’re a regular reader, say hello, it would be nice to meet you.

Is it Safe in South Korea on worldirish.com


I was asked to write an op-ed by worldirish.com, a news website from Ireland which connects stories and activities of Irish interest from around the world, about the ongoing crisis between South Korea and North Korea. Most importantly, they were interested in the situation here and the international media’s response.

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The line which divides North and South Korea at Panmounjeom.

While I believe I carry the same opinion as many expats, and even experts here, my biggest concern at the moment is that I am not wrong about what I wrote. I wouldn’t be alone in this regard.

Here’s the article:

Is it Safe in South Korea? An Irishman’s Reflection on Living in the Country

To back me up a little, here are some links which will support my reasoning:

North Korea News is all Hype

Is North Korea Being More Restrained than we Think?

High Tensions on Korean Penninsula – interview with Andrei Lankov – Lankov’s closing statements here are most significant.

Signs of North Korea Easing Off War Message at Home

Map: This is How Far those North Korean Missiles Can Actually Reach

South Korea has Already Won

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The Korean Penninsula

If you’re interested in actual news sources worth following, I find that both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are reliable and don’t over embellish the reality, and both actively report from Korea with journalists who are aware of the ongoing situation and history between the two countries.

From Korea, most of the major dailies have English language editions online, but I would recommend Yonhap News, the Korean wire service, and the Hankyoreh as it is no where near as conservative as some of the other more famous papers.

Twitter is an invaluable resource during times like this, and if you’re on twitter and interested in following some people on the ground who live tweet updates regularly, Mashable put out an article recently with a list of very worthwhile follows with a good variety of opinions.

I hope that this post helps any of you to understand the situation a little better and will let you rest at ease somewhat.

“In Memorium” – New Planet Cabaret


More submitting by me here (and you wonder why I’ve had so few minutes to spare). This was for RTE Radio 1’s ARENA show which has been hosting a radio based creative writing course (yes you read that right) called New Planet Cabaret, with the assistance of the very competent and energetic Dave Lordon (I’d say more but I haven’t read much of his poetry so…).

I made my entry back in January and you can read the entry requirements here. I didn’t have mine featured and forgot to listen back to find out if it was at least mentioned – when I did listen to it there were mentions of some pieces which may have been a bit long for the radio – I imagine mine was also too long, if it was at least considered good. I thought I’d share it with you here as I’m not sure what else to do with it. It’s not a poem. It’s not a story. It’s just words and my imagination. Again, fun stuff. 

In Memorium

Christened Flatus Mac an Sídhe, he called himself Flatty for short, and Flatty Sheahy to a uniform or a skirt. He was not of the Sheahys of places known for their Sheahys, as this Sheahy was made up for sure, still Flatus wasn’t the worst sort.

He was a soft but robust fella whose age you’d never tell with a look, nor would you know if he was broad or short, stout or upright. He was just there.

Flatus really wanted to be the kindred sort, happily floating about mingling in and out with all types, enjoying the outdoors, strolls by the sea. Yoga. Hiking. Meditation, that sort of thing. Indeed a hike to a yoga and meditation retreat would be ideal.

A lover of life Flatty was. One who lived for lungs full to bursting and the whistle of the exhale through his nostrils. Life was all for Flatus.

But Flatty could kill if he wanted. Deprive you of his company he would, or hail down with the fury of a million factories in his poisoned effusions, drowning your crops and rose gardens, but only a rare breed could force that. At least that used to be the case.

Flatty could be full of himself, believed he was incomparable like a superpower, him with his blusters and gusts.

Sure enough he was untouchable and, for example, with a wisp a wall he could take down to its bricks, or pass through it as if it didn’t exist. Oh ould Flatty knew how to change everything, leaving a life and death distance in the difference.

Except for these notions of grandeur and his stance on issues environmental, he went about his existence like the best; god on his conscience, the day on his breath.

And we all knew him well, our Flatty, he who always played with our hair, his moods, his patience, and the fact he was never bothered by rush-hour, or missing buses late at night, and arguing about inconsequential things. We figured him to be at least.

However, Flatus Mac an Sídhe was old before he finished being young. Those muscles he once flexed fell flaccid, and to threats he grew apathetic.

Alas Flatty grew tired with himself. Finding moments to swallow the morning and drink in the sunshine and moisture of the dew just as the sun has risen had grown sparse. His skin grew grey and lifeless. His overworked throat went dry. The ducts in his eyes could not cry.

“It is what it is”, is what Flatty would say, “isn’t learning to live the best you can in company with it a better solution than arguing against it? Sure isn’t that that the way I’ve done it and never garnered further complaint?”

He would say that. Flatty could say that. Flatty had a say in things. Because without Flatty, well let’s be honest, there is nothing.

Yes Flatus, you and your molecules, you had a say and you could have done more. You could have gotten angrier and fought for those walks you loved so much. But now you have relinquished your title. Superpower or not, yours is a sunken flagship.

And then to be sure we killed you. We curried up enough filth and fear and vehemence to counter anything you could manage to rekindle until you keeled over breathless.

There you were, writhing in a blustering and intoxicating mess with your defecations all over the place. Tearing down everything you loved. Tearing down the walls of everything you thought was built from your influence. And you did not cry.

We woke the next morning and you were not there. Not hiding or buried or burnt or vaporized or departed or extinct or emigrated or arrested. Not gone. Just nothing

And now Flatus, there is only memory to define you.

Notebooks


I’ve been going through my old computer files and notebooks lately hoping to find some encouragement. It’s always interesting too look back, be it in a diary, an old collection of photographs, or even old posts on a blog. Pages and photographs fortunately have a stronger sense of permanency than timelines or twitter feeds, and even if you can find everything online, the nostalgia is physical when leafing through the old pages written in slightly different handwriting and in faded pencil or ink.

Aside from my newest Moleskine and a collection of my newest fascination as a writing medium, yellow A4 lined paper, I believe it’s called legal pad, I have all kinds of paper and notebooks scattered around the bookshelves and packed in boxes around the home. All of these have served some function in my scattered and impotent career as a Nobel laureate.

I don’t really write much here about poetry, as it’s something that I consider myself far from an expert on. But it drives me crazy to the point that sometimes I lose sleep over it, or I am a useless conversationalist. More than anything, I’ve always looked to excel at writing poetry, as to do it well is more than art, it is pure craftwork.

My poems to me are mostly biographical, at least in their instance, and reading back over them reminds me of how I was thinking at that time.

The thing is, I’ve never been one to keep a diary, and this blog certainly doesn’t serve as one – it least not in the day-to-day sense – so reading through notebooks I’ve written in serves odd reminders of what I’ve done in my life over the past few years. There are peculiar connections and many of these start with the actual medium itself, be that the notebook or the loose sheets of paper I wrote on.

Many pages are neatly organised together and appear like a final draft, or as close as I got to one, and then many are roughly folded with the edges frayed from being kept too long in the bottom of my bag. Some I recognise from the time I wrote them, such as white printer or copier paper, which often suggests to me that I wrote this while I was teaching in class (say nothing), or possibly at my desk on a break. Of course I can’t recall when and where I wrote whatever it was, but these scattered sheets are equally scattered memories.

Unity comes from between the binding of my notebooks. Each starts with a flourish infected by the desire to spoil the freshness of the recently freed paper, and ends slowly and unconvincingly as enthusiasm wanes with the final few pages, and I look to start a new notebook before the older one is even finished. This has always been the way I’ve used a notebook, from my primary and secondary school copies to my newest much underappreciated Moleskine which I seem to needlessly carry with me everywhere.

Every page in these old and new notebooks of mine is like an old cryptic diary arranged around some thoughts I had at some stage. Often these memories are vague and cliché, with nothing more than the impression that I was living in a big city and I was utterly appalled by the post-modern condition of urban habitation, or something unoriginal like that. Sometimes there are bits worth keeping though.

I have one of those cheaply made notebooks with plastic covers which you see being sold on the side of the street in Seoul. They are always too big even for the most ambitious writer. I bought mine back in 2007 at the top end of Insadong and I ended up writing in it right up until 2010, and maybe even 2011, but there’s still room for more. It wasn’t my only place to write, but it is without a doubt the one notebook I will reach to if I am looking to raid my memories for new material, or a simple dose of nostalgia.

But there are glimpses of the moment too. There are times when I travelled around the country with herself, there are poems from our honeymoon, such as this one which was published by Wordlegs:

“Foça”

“The wind has been blowing here
for three thousand years
and it will not stop
just for your honeymoon”
the fisherman told us,
soaking and shivering
from the gust laden tides;
the Aegean not as warm
as the guidebook
had optimistically implied

(As a gesture of goodwill and decency, please give Wordlegs a visit and have a read of some of the other excellent poetry and prose on their site)

There are poems from the creative writing module I took while doing my masters in Southampton, and there many, many poems and stories and comments on all other aspects of life. There are also a few poems I wrote to Herself, although I won’t post any here. There are notes for articles I wrote for magazines in Korea, and even the first couple of drafts for a post which still attracts a certain amount of attention here (just checked the super-sexy and detailed WordPress statometer and it’s ranked #8 all time most clicked post – what the fuck is up with that?). There are doodles, lists, phone numbers, and even email addresses for people or places I have no memory of. This is all just from one notebook, and I’m sure there’s more elsewhere.

If I were to stack all my notebooks up I’m not sure how high they would reach. If I combed through every page I’ve written I don’t think I’d fill even a small notebook with anything worth keeping. But as a good friend and mentor explained to me, undoubtedly as we were drunk in Itaewon late at night back in the day (or night), for every piece you’re happy with there is bound to be ten more you’ll never look at again but you have to keep writing because you’ll only know the difference if you have plenty to compare them against. The same ratio is probably true for anything I write which would be deemed good quality by an editor other than me – even here.

But that’s what writing is all about. The more you write the more you put down into a more permanent and physical kind of memory that can be actually picked up and looked back on. Unlike a photograph, words written down in an apparently random situation force you to think and force you to remember and recreate that situation. For me this is essential for any and all future written efforts.

Right now I’m half way through a new chapter of memories like this. There may be less words, but there are other things which act as a flint, such as a wireless password for a guesthouse in Langkawi, a picture of me that looks nothing like me drawn by a friend of Herself’s, and a several lists of things I should have done but I seem to have crossed very little off. That’s just me. Soon I’ll finish that and move on to the next one and soon those pages will be vague memories for rekindling. I look forward to the fire where I will bring this notebook and all those other notebooks too.