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.

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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.

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An Unconventional Christmas


Two days before Christmas day we had landed at Chiang Mai International Airport after a brisk six hour flight from Korea, and the day before, Christmas Eve, we pottered about our locality and did some shopping for the apartment we were staying in. We went to bed that night as we would have any other night, happy that we had made it finally to Thailand for the winter, and hopeful for what the coming few months would bring.

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The next day of course was Christmas Day, and we had not done much in preparation for it. We woke and breakfasted on what we could scrape from the fridge – an egg or two, some bread, tomatoes, and fruit. We played together with +1 for a while, waiting for it to warm up outside and for +1 to fall asleep again for her morning nap, which she dutifully did at the usual time.

Upon awaking we quickly packed what was required for the day and caught a cab to a big shiny new shopping centre on the ubiquitously named Super Hi-Way which circles the city. Once there we entered and began to potter around.

Spending Christmas Day in a shopping centre with all its glitz and annoying repetition of door after door bedazzled with logos and products may sound like an awful turn following the usual Christmas charge for presents. However, I don’t think we had been in one all December, and to be honest, it was an easy way to take the mind off obvious alternatives several thousand miles away.

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There was of course plenty to see and with a little baby in tow (or doing the towing as the case may be) finding the most appropriate entertainment is always the main concern. We wandered around different shops, obviously, trying our hand at the Japanese version (original perhaps) of Daiso in Thailand, a kid’s café, and we even took a few moments to wonder at the indoor ice rink on the fifth floor.

Before long we found a big kids section and went about choosing a few presents for +1 for her second Christmas. Although she’s only one, she was all but a month old for her first birthday so this would be kind of like her first Christmas. We decided against Santa because, to be honest, she will not understand or ever recognise the amazingness that is Santa Claus on a Christmas morning. We discussed it but decided that simply giving her presents without that kind of ‘appreciation’ seemed a little unnecessary. Herself didn’t really experience Christmas until she lived in Ireland with me, so when it comes to Christmas-like decision making generally she takes my word (at her peril). From next year I think there will be a big change.

After a little more shopping, like for stuff like food for the fridge (to vary the breakfast content and the likes), we settled on the notion that we would be well served by having some dinner. We had perused the restaurants already and knew for certain that there wasn’t a turkey to be found in the square mile of Thailand we were in, so we settled on the next best thing; wine, cheese, and serrano ham.

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We had snacked earlier and didn’t feel like going in for a huge feed, and we decided that if we could manage this and still feel hungry then we might consider something greater. We immersed ourselves in the wine and accoutrements, while feeding +1 who was happy enough to demand what we were eating while throwing all her toys and food on the ground. Later we decided on a plate of pasta, more I think to keep +1 satiated than for our own appetites, and cake.

At some stage, I’m not exactly certain when, we skyped my family in Ireland who were all up and busy with Christmas morning. It is always worth witnessing how the wonder of Christmas can relieve a good hangover, but I believe St Stephen’s Day is a little less effective. We did our best to hear what everyone else was saying over the din of the restaurant, and after a decent chat we let them be with promises to call back when we got home to stronger connection.

By the end of the day we were home again in our apartment not far from the city’s old walls. We quickly got +1 ready for bed, made another call or two wishing people happy Christmas. Once +1 had gone to bed, myself and Herself stayed up chatting, while I polished off more wine. She fell asleep and I decided to sit up at the computer. I may have wrote something, but that may have been the night after.

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So that was my Christmas. It was unconventional sure, but I think I’ve become used to unconventional Christmas happenings, although I will always stand by the belief that it’s not what you do that matters, it’s who you do it with.

A belated merry Christmas and happy new year to all my readers wherever you are in the world.

On Dadhood: The Earliest Notions


I am sitting typing at the computer now while intermittently sucking and grimacing on an ice cold Hite Dry Finish. I have just put +1 to bed after battling with an increasing fever throughout day, alone I should add, because Herself had gone to Seoul and I was filling in as Herself was exhausted, not for the first time, and just had to get away for the day.

Any young or new parent will recognise this necessity. I’m fortunate enough to be home a lot due to my working hours, but Herself is home all the time, here, up on the twentieth floor. Opportunities for escape, to remember what it was like before all this parenting took control of us, are rare.

We have been parents for just over a year now. I haven’t written about it much, just a passing reference here and there to the joys of our daughter’s latest advances. It came to a head recently when I realised that I have basically been leaving the dominant factor in my life outside of my writing, and I think that if I can talk about it here comfortably and competently, well I don’t know but I think something better will come of it. Or maybe I just feel that now I want to tell my story of being a parent.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

I suppose what I will say to start is that nothing prepares you for what is ahead. It amazes me that despite how little we knew and understood, we managed to learn quickly, and fortunately not only through our own mistakes. Despite my worst concerns I can proudly say that after 12 months we did not break it, and we managed to help it grow at a regular pace and for it to develop correctly. “It” is of course our child.

From the outset though, I knew that things would be a lot more different than everyone had already warned. Perhaps I misinterpreted their messages, or that in reality no one can explain how much having a child changes you. I wonder, because one half of the parents of our family is not a native of the country we live, would our experience have been any different if I was Korean, or if we were living in Ireland when we had +1.

In the run up to her birth I recall panicking regularly about the methods and means of preparation. The constant concern that they don’t do things the same here as they do in Ireland kept me constantly on edge. Of course I had the easy job, but as an onlooker I’m more in a position to come up with quack theories based on something I may have heard when I was a lot, lot younger. For all my fears about how things were done here and why we would be doing this and not that etc. I eventually just pulled up and thought, “Conor, relax. Look around you. There are families and children and babies everywhere, and they are all perfectly healthy and happy. Everything will be fine”. And guess what, it was. At least the birth anyway. Anything that happened after was up to us.

I haven’t had any children in Ireland, nor have I ever been married to an Irish person, so it’s kind of impossible to compare my experiences of being a dad here in Korea with anything else. I know that it has been different from what my friends experienced.

Cramming. December 2012.

Cramming. December 2012.

I started off trying to inflict my understanding of the world on the raising of our child from an early age. One thing that I still battle over is the heat in the apartment. It was always hot when +1 was first born, in fact it was so hot that shorts and t-shirts would have been appropriate wear. Meanwhile, outside it was beyond freezing. I couldn’t understand why the child couldn’t survive in a reasonable temperature, her being a human also and having the same physiology as every other human, but my opinion was not considered. This drove me up the wall, but I’ll never know if I would have been right. I

Fortunately for the arguments against me it really was incredibly cold that winter. My parents arrived in late February and I think by then the temperature had finally gotten to a point, at least towards the end of their stay, where one could be outside with a jacket half open. I didn’t realise how cold it was and argued about this with Herself as we tried to leave the hospital, and this was only in late November, until I stepped outside holding tiny little +1 wrapped up in a blanket and suddenly couldn’t stop apologising. But still, the heat had to be turned down indoors.

As the father I suppose that my understanding of child rearing is limited, at least from the infant stage. Now of course this is a stereotype, but in hindsight I certainly started off from the back foot, as Herself had been preparing for months. While I stuttered along trying to pick up a semblance of understanding, Herself already had everything prepared, mentally at least. I fell deeply into the stereotype of ‘a typical man’, and I feel that if it wasn’t for my broad shoulders and ability to rock the baby to sleep soundly I might have found myself banished to some dark corner of the apartment, kept on merely for my pay cheque and as a family driver when trips to the hospital were called for. If Herself heard me say this she’d be quite upset, but that’s how I felt a lot of the time, as I was trying to catch up on so much while our daughter was growing quicker than I could adapt.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

What struck me at this early stage was how pointless it all seemed to be. Here we were, both infatuated and madly in love with this tiny being which came from my wife, but it just lay there doing nothing. There was no reaction, no understanding, no conversation, discussion, or indeed volunteering to cook dinner. This little tenant was here on a free ticket and we were there to bend over hand and foot for it, this completely dependent little lifeform.

It was around a month into this journey that I started to nourish a new found respect for my own parents. Not only because they did all this, but also more importantly they were humble enough to leave these stories out of their childhood tales.

Perhaps I could learn from this and realise that regardless of what happens this is part of the journey, and one which I will not be the first to have taken, despite what I believed for some time during +1’s early days.

Flea Marketing


Myself and Herself have half a kind of a hobby these days. By these days I mean Autumn, as its kind of a seasonal thing. We go to flea markets and sell our *ahem* stuff.

The reason why we say it’s kind of a hobby is because we’ve only ever done it three times, and at the same time we only have so much to sell. But yeah, we’re well into it. We’ve a big black suitcase packed full of old but decent clothes, a few other bits a and pieces, as well as our mat for sitting on, and we head off and start selling our stuff. It’s good fun, social, and we usually come out with a few quid in our pocket.

I think it’s kind of a fad at the moment, because there seem to be flea markets for all sorts of occasions. There are a couple of charity ones, and of course there’s one in Hongdae, and for some reason they seem to be getting a lot of attention of late. Don’t ask me why. Probably because of Hongdae, but who am I to presume?

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We got into it last year when our local neighbourhood, 4 danji (4단지), in Yeongtong organised a small one in between the three main apartment complexes. There is nice treelined laneway which cuts in between the three big apartment complexes. Here vendors set up their stuff on one side, while people were free to walk up and down checking out what people had to sell. There was also a stall selling noodles, or to be specific 잔치국수, and a person with a long table full of pickled roe and squid.

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We did alright that day. In fact we did so well that we set our sights on next year as we headed up the steps to our appartment double counting our thick bunch of 1000 won notes.

It was also good fun. We paid for dinner that night, but we also found a rare sampling of community which is hard to find in the often bland and solitary apartment complex. As it was a Saturday, there were all kinds of people out getting involved. Of course there were familys selling all their household bits and pieces, like clothes, books, toys, and of course ornaments, jewelry, and kitchen wares. There were also plenty of the same kind of people walking up and down haggling for the best deal. It was really just a bit of fun, and I don’t think we sold anything for over 5000 won.

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This year we thought we had our secret weapon, the diamond we could sell for millions and retire off the takings. We had for the past ten months building up a bounty of baby clothes and other baby related goodies, which had gone beyond their use for obvious reasons, and we now planned to put their former owner through university with the proceeds from their sale.

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Ready for our onslaught of the flea markets of Suwon, Herself found our first battle ground. There would be a flea market on a Friday on the roof of the AK Plaza at Suwon was our destination, and the customers were sure to be women, but more importantly young or expectant mothers keen to snap up a few bargains in the hunt for appropriately equipping their little bundles of joy – and by appropriately I mean with as much stuff that the other kids don’t have and at as cheap a price as possible.

We set the bar high, asking for high prices on most of what we had. We had done some research and found stuff in no where near as good quality as the baby clothes we were selling on the internet, and it was going for what we thought to be unreasonable prices. Let’s not forget we had some good stuff, especially for a baby about to be born in October or who wasn’t that old. +1 was born in November and we needed as much winter clothes as possible, and now that they were too big we needed to make room for more. There were some other things as well, nice stuff that you couldn’t find in Korea, including some fancy brands and the likes.

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What I gather now is that people go to these things expect everything to be 1000 won. That’s the only explanation as any time we quoted a price people would turn the nose up, complain it was expensive, and then trail off. The odd time they’d come back, showing interest, ask about the price, expecting us somehow to suddenly go “oh that one, oh, sorry we meant to say it was free, not 10,000 won”. I gather that these things are suppsed to be a good way of getting your hands on some cheap stuff, but clearly the notion that people were also trying to raise a little cash was beyond them. I won’t even start a discussion on value.

We persevered and came out relatively well. We didn’t sell half the amount of things we hoped, and we left with a very full and heavy suitcase. Regardless, we made almost 200,000 won. I’m not really sure how much stuff we sold, but if we were to do a comparison, I sold about 15,000 won’s worth of stuff whilst herself, a shark in her previous life, seemed to do better. Despite our attempted tenacity our prices probably quartered from what we had discussed the night before, and to add insult to injury (not that there really was any), herself’s friend who sat next to us sold four things and nearly made as much as us. I suppose in the end it depends on what you’re selling not how much you’re selling it for.

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Today we were ready to go again with another flea market. This time it was again our local 4 danji neighbourhood annual event. We brought down our wares and set things up. Unfortunately, baby clothes were not considered to be as hot a commodity as we’d hoped. Most of the people there had kids who were actually doing the selling while the mothers and fathers stood around chatting and drinking coffee mix.

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The location for this flea market makes it nicer, as it is covered over by trees, and pretty much everyone has to follow the same route. The people are mostly friendly, inquisitive, but also keen not to spend more than 1,000 won on anything. I don’t think we were much better. As was to be expected we sold a few things, but we didn’t have the diversity of bric-a-brac which are suitcase had last year, and the clothes we were trying to sell just weren’t suited to the customers. As Herself said, we’ll have to go to Hongdae ot sell half of this.

But these things aren’t all about selling stuff, because people have to buy things right. We did a little shopping of our own and came out in good nick with a bread maker which we scooped for 10,000 won, and I picked up a stack of baby story books in English for +1 as they’re pretty hard to find here without forking out top won for them. We had some more nice noodles, chatted, met some people we hadn’t seen for a while, drank coffee, joked with customers, and at the end of the afternoon we trudged back home and the three of us collapsed on the bed for a hour and a half long nap.

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(All photographs were taken today in Cheongmyoung Maul 19/10/2013)

Photographs and text copyright Conor O’Reilly 2013©

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I want to add to this post that perhaps the best flea market you can visit in Seoul has to be the one around Dongmyo Station. It probably sells nothing you will ever want to buy, unless you need half an obsolete mobile phone or a violin with only two and a half strings. This one is purely for those who wish to explore, and it is a mecca for that resource.

Seoul Suburban gives a more in-depth analysis:

“The median age of both vendors and buyers is somewhere north of 50, and interested parties stroll through the spillover from the larger area of flea market near Sindang Station: cleaning supplies, power cords, remote controls, artwork, comic books, portable cassette players, bass guitars, and just about whatever else you could throw on a pile, which, in some cases, is exactly how things are organized.  Not everything here is junk – a few antique shops can be found in the back alleys nearer the stream, and even some decent vintage pickups are available; the shop just outside of Exit 3 sold L.L. Bean flannels, which I haven’t seen anywhere else in the city.  And even if you aren’t looking to buy anything, simply wandering through and taking a close look at what’s there is sport enough.  My favorite spotting was a sheet of stamps from Sierra Leone featuring the Disney characters, including one that pictured the head mouse himself operating a backhoe underneath the tag, ‘Mickey mining bauxite.’”

Family Holidays.


I’ve gone on many, many family holidays, but what I remember isn’t exactly what I originally sent any postcards home about. The novelty of a family holiday is a notion that has alluded me for a long time.

I grew up the second eldest of five sons and it was what seemed to me to be a long time before I could enjoy my own holiday on my own conditions. Probably the fact that I was in that position in the family, where I seemed to spend more time on full family holidays than my other brothers may have, may have encouraged a sense of desperation I had to avoid mass family fuelled exodus when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I’m certainly more inclined to enthuse over a family holiday now, probably because I’m not a teenager anymore.

Back in the day, as all family holidays begin, the car was the transport of choice for all our communal adventures. If we were lucky we’d get to go on the boat to France, but this was certainly the exception rather than the rule. You can imagine the sense of expectation we all had as we prepared for those summer holidays down in Kerry, which was at least seven hours driving away. This trip was long before motorways, let alone well maintained rosds, and people didn’t see rules about seatbelts on in the back seat as that important. All five of us would somehow fit in the back seet, and if we were lucky one of us would manage to get the front seat.

My youngest brother, otherwise known as the baby (as he was at the time and still believes himself to be so), would wedge himself in between either my legs or my eldest brother’s legs. So there we’d sit, each of us vying for an extra inch, and somehow combining into a melee of arms and arses which was, for better or worse, comfortable. There was never a short straw, because the person who didn’t have my youngest brother between his legs was the one who had to sit behind my ould fella who had the seat pushed all the way back leaving practically no room for the person behind him. It can be such a joy to reminisce.

The last real family excursion I’ve experienced actually involved the grand arrival of the entire entourage in Korea for my wedding back in 2008. This was definitely surreal having all my brothers over scaring the locals every time they burst out laughing. Fortunately we were all grown up and knew better than to use one car for a family that included six large males, some larger than others, plus my poor little mother, not to mention Herself who was about to join these ranks, and her own family who were eager to show us around.

But it was different. Gone were the elbows in ribs and sandy arses wedged tightly together in the back seat of a Volvo. We were lucky enough to have Herself’s own ould fella’s mini-van as well as another car, although I can’t recall where that came from. This was unprecedented luxury transport of the highest order. There was even room to take a nap so as to sleep off some of the post wedding celebratory hangovers from the night before as we convoyed between destinations.

These days however, most of my family holidays are quite minor affairs, at least in terms of the number of people who travel. Myself and Herself tend to be the sum total of travellers, although the odd time my parents will be with us if we’re in Ireland, or friends who join us here and there. Unfortunately our journies have not managed to carry on that fine child hood tradition of wedging as many people into the back of the car as is likely will fit, but maybe with +1 soon to arrive, those days are soon to return. Oh. bliss.

This post is in response to Steve Miller, the QI Ranger , a top travel and activity blogger based in Korea, who asked today “What’s the most memorable trip you’ve taken with your family?”