Children’s Day…


Now before you get all looney and start shouting at me that Children’s Day is in May, please remember that I am in Thailand (yeah, as if you’d forgotten) for the foreseeable future. With that confirmed, let me continue.

Yes, Thailand has a Children’s Day a lot like Korea also. For those of you unfamiliar with Children’s Day, it’s a special day where parents take their kids out and treat them to whatever they feel like treating them, I suppose. This may baffle some parents who believe their children celebrate Children’s Day every day of the year, however, in a culture which doesn’t really celebrate Christmas (except for the odd copycat effect with regards Santa Claus) Children’s Day strikes me as suitable alternative, although it pales in comparison to the general frenzy surrounding Old Saint Nick etc.

Today we headed down the the Kad Suan Kaew Shopping Mall, better known simply as Central, where we had seen some class of a childlike wonderland being erected over the past couple of weeks. Herself hopped onto the old Naver beforehand just to check and we were in luck, not only was this some huge kiddy extravaganza but throughout the mall kids got all kinds of goodies!

This being the third time we’d been to this shopping mall in four days we were glad that we were going there for a different purpose than spending loads of money on food – which we ended up doing anyway – but to give +1 a go at being spoiled – *note we believe she is spoiled everyday, and rightly so!

Too get things started, +1 got free ice-cream!

_DSC0177Then it was down to see the fun and activities on offer – none of which were suitable to a one year old toddler, but it was fun to watch.

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_DSC0264The whole place was kept eeirely blue under this blue canopy put up to keep the sun off.

_DSC0215And of course I was full of kids just being kids. Which is always a blast to watch!

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_DSC0237+1 made the wide choice and took a sideline seat to view the maddness. “Next year”, she said to me on the walk home, “I’m all over that shit”. The poor dote hasn’t realised she’ll have to pay for her own flights.

_DSC0240*As a bonus, here’s a youtube video I put together of a clatter of Vine efforts detailing +1’s day-to-day adventures in Chiang Mai. Lots of squeaking, sighing, and general cutery.

Is it December Already?


So now that Halloween is over we can all start getting our Christmas decorations down and checking the fairy lights are all working. While we’re at it, order a turkey, and for christ’s sake start knitting that jumper, there’s a 12 Pubs of Christmas on somewhere…

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Is it a bit early to be joking about this?

The thing is I can titter to myself, but I know that for a fact this is how things might as well be. Christmas is a bigger and bigger ordeal as each year passes. The lights in the cities go up earlier, there are more and more elaborate Santa’s grottos in supermarkets, and for some reason many people’s livers do not collapse, despite the increased effort.

If I was back in Ireland I could probably complain about this. But I’m not. I’m in Korea. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to invite you, my humble reader to celebrate this phenomenon.

In case you haven’t already noticed, preparations for the Christmas period are already in motion. Not more than two or three weeks ago I was in Costco and not one Halloween thing-a-majig did I see. However, Christmas trees and cribs to abandon were in stock. One crib, which to my eye was a walk-in one, had statues of the shepherds, wise men, Joseph, and Mary, not to mention the assorted livestock which usually comes with these things, all of which would have dwarfed little +1 at full stretch.

In starbucks yesterday, November 1st lest we not forget, they had rolled out their red Christmas campaign with all their Christmas flavoured coffees and whatnot over heating from too much cream and chocolate sprinkles. And this afternoon in Emart, the Korean supermarket chain, there was even a small section of plastic Christmas trees and flashing Santa Clauses.

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There are a couple of reasons why this doesn’t make me irate.

First of all there are more important things to get angry about.

Second of all, I kind of expect it so what is the point of getting angry about it – I wish I could say the same for driving standards in Yeongtong…

Thirdly, it’s Korea.

“What? That’s not a very good third excuse”, I hear you chirp.

Well it is. Korea is not a Christmas country. When I think family and holiday in Korea I think Chuseok and Seolal. When I hear Christmas in Korea I hear day off and drinking. Wait. That sounds the same as an Irish Christmas.

When I first came to Korea in 2005 I was lucky to even see the colours red and white together. I lived near a McDonalds which kind of helped me realise it was Christmas, but otherwise there was hardly any wind of it in the Seoul air. By 2008 I was living in Itaewon and you could kind of pick up on it a bit. I was also working in a much bigger school so they pushed the western holidays or whatever a little more, so I was reminded of Christmas somewhat more.

Around that time, someone in Seoul City Hall had the bright idea that fairy lights all over the place made the city look nice in the dark of winter, so Seoul suddenly looked like it was all lit up for Christmas. Of course these lights persisted until February, but in early Decemeber you could be forgiven for feeling the Christmas mood.

Despite this history of Christmas in Korea, my main thought still is that Christmas isn’t a Korean holiday, and any attempt to celebrate it isn’t going to match the ideas we have of Christmas in our own western homes. It’s not a family holiday for starters, and it’s certainly not one that many Koreans look back on with any amount of nostalgia. Now, you do see some kids getting Christmas presents from Santa Claus, and there’s that phenomenon of couples going to Myeong-dong on Christmas Day, but aside from that… oh yeah, don’t forget the twenty million or so Christians in the country (but since when has Christmas been about Christianity, right?).

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If you want to get an idea for where Christmas stands, maybe you should look at Halloween, which for some reason is called Halloween Day (yeah, I know…). There is no resemblance between the Halloweens in Korea and any of the Halloweens in Ireland I remember. For starters where is the abject fear of teenagers in the streets after dark? I could go on.

There is little point in growling about how Christmas is celebrated here. It’s like a Korean in Ireland complaining about how they just don’t do Chuseok like they do back home. And anyway, the fact that the commercial aspect is sneaking into popular culture should be comfort enough, seeing as it’s probably the most dominant feature of a typical western Christmas.

For me, I can find Christmas in Korea a very lonely time, even with a fantastic wife and now and amazing little daughter to keep me company, but I’ve never found a comparable comfort in the Christmas that Korea provides. That doesn’t mean that I don’t celebrate it. I’ve tried different things and always had a great time, but it’s not what I’d liken to Christmas. This doesn’t make it a bad thing.

The way I see it is there are two holidays here, one in the place it originated, and one attempt to liken it. Neither are wrong, neither will every be better, neither will ever suppress the other. Sure one may be more commercially driven than the other, or vice-versa.

So this December as I’m gradually getting used to red Starbucks signs and cups, mispronounced children’s Christmas songs, I’ll be happy knowing that at least there is something here that helps me get on with another year. What matters to me more than anything is, like any celebration, is who you spend it with and what you do, not what everyone else does.

I Own My Phone


Haaark!

I own my phone. Congratulate me. Thank you.

For two years I paid my phone bill like a diligent citizen. Included on this was a monthly instalment that paid for the actual device. I couldn’t remember how much it was because when I bought it the salesman spoke very quickly, circled pieces of writing, and showed me a lot of pieces of paper, and all the time I just wanted him to give me the blasted thing so that I could go and touch it constantly. But today I checked my bill and low and behold the bill was a whopping 50,000 won less than normal. Of course this is splendid news for my pocket as I can now divert this sizeable sum to some other bill I struggle to pay every month.

Of course it’s my phone is only a glorified paperweight that I could arguably say I don’t need. In fact I’m very sure I don’t need it. But I do have it. So there. Anyway. It’s all mine now.

One thing though which has made my *ahem* life more interesting/better/exciting/or however you choose to describe it, has been the camera on my phone. For all the other things (with the exception of the twitter for those long lonely toilet breaks) there is nothing I value my phone more for. Anyone who follows me on the internet elsewhere (instagramtwittertumblr (which is basically my instagram feed), flickr) will know that I’m a little obsessive about photographs – but I’m lazy about it.

To celebrate my now 100% of my phone and my love of photographs, allow me to share with you a collection of some photographs which I’ve taken over the past two years with this simple (looking) device. Photographs span across six countries (Korea, Ireland, England, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia) – I’ll do my best not to include too many sunsets!

(Hat tip to Craig Branch for getting me thinking about this post!)

 

(for some reason all my photographs won’t upload…maybe too many…but you get the idea!)

Getting my Knees Dirty on Korean New Year


On Friday night we boarded a bus in Suwon expecting hours of traffic packed in between tumults of snow. We hoped the journey would take less than five hours and, if we were lucky, the bus driver would at least leave the reading lights on, unlike the last time we took the bus.

We knew what was ahead. Korean New Year is famous for the lines of impregnable traffic on the express-way, and for the previous two days, both the weather forecast and my father-in-law had been warning us about the snow that was going to stop the world that existed around us.

Two hours into our journey along the expressway I awoke with a shudder and snort. The bus was cruising steadily along the expressway at an unfamiliar speed, perhaps over 80 kilometres an hour, and we were passing Munmak, thaat perpetual traffic black spot on the Yeongdong Expressway.

It seemed that the worst traffic we would be encountering along the road would have been in Suwon as we made our way painstakingly through the Friday evening, after-work rush. It was unexplainable, so much so that we found ourselves complaining about the lack of traffic, and the lack of snow.

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Letter from Korea, March 2011


Suwon, South Korea
27/3/2011

 

Dear Ireland

 

Saint Patrick’s Day came and went. In Seoul there was probably one of the biggest and best Saint Patrick’s festivals in the Irish Association of Korea’s history, or so I was told. Thanks to these efforts there is a chance more people know more about Ireland here in Korea.

For me, Saint Patrick’s Day has always been symbolic. When I first arrived in Korea in 2005 it was the day before Paddy’s Day. I was so happy to be out of Ireland. The day itself had always been a wonderful day to reinforce any stereotypes which might exist about the Irish. Of course outside Ireland most of the people who celebrate the day aren’t Irish so you can expect stereotypes to abound, but in Ireland I was always disappointed by Ireland’s national day. I’m not the only one who could do without the majority of the population reinforcing the global stereotype, but you can’t have everything your way.

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