Dublin, It’s a Jungle

Dublin is a jungle, or it is something akin in its animalism. A hive. No not a hive, that implies benevolence towards fellow citizenry, and cooperation, and selflessness, order, prosperity, among other things. No, I think I was right, this city is certainly some class of a food chain populated by a variety of wild, flesh devouring species. The only thing is if you put a deer or lion on College Green at about 8.25 on a Tuesday morning, a WTF face would be produced and the poor misfortunate beast would probably lie down and curl up in a fit of uncontrollable tears. But you’ll allow me in this instance to describe lovely Dublin’s streets as a jungle, despite the whole cliché thing.

Now the buildings are all lovely, and with the exception of the LUAS works decorating the odd street, the roads are quite civilised looking also. They have black shiny tar-macadam which remains in place after the rain, and lines to distinguish the limits of the side of the road one must be traveling on. There are fancy traffic lights too, which for the most part are in working order.

The whole food chain thing comes from the traffic. If you look at it we have the big herbivores which traipse around minding their own business doing their best to finish the day so that they can go home and have their tea. They don’t usually pick a fight or cause much bother except when someone decides to do so with them, and I suppose with their size they are always going to be an easy target, but they can hold their own. No one enjoys really being too close to them but much like any ecosystem if you didn’t have them we’d be plagued with hitch hikers. I mean other vermin.

Buses are what I’m talking about, of course, and they lie somewhere important in the food chain of the commute. Like elephants, but without the grace and wonder of the mighty tusked beasts native to Africa and India, buses lurch around corners and busy themselves through traffic without too many concerns in the world it would seem. They harbour parasites, namely pedestrians, a necessary evil but one we are familiar with. Begrudge the bus for such ignominy if you wish, but it’s not as if the pedestrians really want to be there. Everyone knows that there is no such thing as a happy face on a bus. Except for weirdos, and stoners – the UCD routes are a good spot for these.

Next you have cars. This can be divided into three types, the out of towner, the regularly in towner, and taxis. Taxi’s are the Allosaurus of the Dublin urban scene. A large and formidable predator capable of taking on most competitors as prey. It’s no T Rex but you’d think twice about messing with him.

The regular in towner type are in many respects a nicer version of the Allosaurus. Imagine an Allosaurus that doesn’t need to fend for itself in the wild, one who has a salary, supplies its sustenance from the local Tesco, takes the weekend off, and in the evening instead of hunting for weaklings to prey upon it sits in and watches detective drama reruns on Alibi. Well able to scrap if it wants to, but all in all a nice enough top-tier predator.

The out of towner is still an Allosaurus but this kind of Allosaurus is a bit like that deer or lion which we met on College Green earlier. A fearsome beast in its own environment of narrow Kilkenny by-roads, but betwixt the labyrinthine one way conundrum of Dublin’s south inner city this Allosaurus has had his private parts removed and a large memory reducing sedative placed in its morning cupán tae. As such, to everybody else in this little jungle of ours, there are few more annoying alpha predators.

There are probably other beasts which flurry about from time to time. There is the rare articulated lorry which is like a bus but more aggressive and stubborn but is chained by shackles of regulation and distaste and distrust by the constabulary. Or indeed the mighty serpentine LUAS, cut in half by some class of an urban planner much reduced in the gift or foresight. At allt times these beastly automobiles are restrained by the barriers and regulations of the tar-macadam and the watchful eye of the ever hovering birds of prey, the Garda Síochana.

What I want to talk about next is a unique case relevant to our days, and one which has seen a surge in recent years, be it because of nicer weather, or tax breaks, or because Irish people are just cheap and don’t want to pay for the bus or their car. This particular beast of the street is one which proudly rises above other patrons of the jungle’s streets. Not only is this particular species one which holds the esteem of a low-carbon footprint, it is also frustratingly one which allows its facilitator to boast that they are indeed exercising whilst in their commute. Regardless of the weather, this hi-vis attired biped will forever stand aloof of its fellow city bound workers as one which has not spent at least half of the journey time stopped in neutral, or worse so have had to sit (or stand) in the shared vitriolic breath of one hundred others whilst carefully massaging in mesmerism the homely glow of their smartphone’s screen. Such a species sees no rules such as those encumbered on those other registered wheels of the city, and no need for safety, as all will stop before them as they change lanes and whisp between gridlocked bumpers. Not only this, but all who do not share their unique outlook on commuting should kneel before such nimble gazelles of the city.

This brings me finally to the bottom feeders. The scrubbers. The forgotten. The grubs which populate the undergrowth and for which the remainder of the city is left for them to scurry through in the hope a more elite beast will not swallow them up. Yes, I’m talking about the noble pedestrian. He or she who is eternally caught in the rain. Yes, it’s true we have all done it, but let’s be honest; no pedestrian ever wished for this. Are we not all just walking because our employer will not pay for us to park, and are we not walking because there are already too many more fortunate than us who have decided to say ‘enough is enough, I can take no more of the shared breath of the bus, I shall sit in the warmth of my own car and listen to music I like out loud and fart as loud if not more in comforting privacy’. But the pedestrians are the rebels, as it is they who say no to the conformity of yellow lines and red lights, pay no heed to one way signs and raise two fingers to the frustrating grimace of an Allosaurus who they have walked out in front of in a panic to buy coffee and walk the remaining ten minutes to the office in an attempt to pretend to cyclists that they also choose to exercise, and that indeed footing it is a lifestyle choice.

Yes, this is the city we dwell within. We lunch on each others throats each morning and evening in a fury of competition. We nibble on the scraps of gaps in the traffic and hope that the light won’t change to quickly or that the person in the car will realise that you should have your car in gear when you see the lights change so that you are ready to move when the car in front has and you’re not delaying the person in a frenzied rush directly behind you, not the contrary as is the case more often than not. Yes, I’m talking about you.

This jungle will spit you out one of these days. It won’t even chew you, the taste will be so bad. But don’t worry the jungle won’t miss you, there’ll be another bottom feeder ready to jump in and take your place, salivating at the opportunity of a glorious October morning along the quays…

Finding Haenggung Road

The traffic on the way in was as hectic as expected for a Saturday afternoon. We eventually managed to park the car, and then we wandered out into the afternoon.

In front of the old palace that sat in the centre of the city fortress, stalls had been set up for some occasion that were mostly selling snacks and bric-a-brac, or were flaunting some flyers for some form of a healthier lifestyle. We picked our way through it, stretching our necks to see what all the fuss was over at certain stalls and helping ourselves to free samples, but all the time veering to the shadier side of aisles in between the lines of white canopied stalls.

Generally unimpressed, we left and made our way away from the large plaza in front of high wooden palace gate. On the ground close to the gate was a large copper embossed plate fitted into the paving that  showed a landscape and lettering that read “PHOTO ZONE” in red. I looked up and tried to frame this scene the tile was hoping that photographers would be inspired by.

Of course it was a very nice angle to photograph that particular corner of the place wall against the forty-five degree like rugged slope of the mountain with its look-out post silhouetting behind it, especially with the bulbous white and grey clouds and sun shining through them in the background at that particular moment. But the thought of encouraging lines of people to queue up for an ideally angled portrayal of this unique attraction without any aerials or high-rise apartments interfering got to me. I think that photography, whether amateur or professional, should be an entirely personal experience, and having a ‘photo zone’ takes away from this.

Fortunately, there were not lines of tourists and, in fact, there was nobody at all lining up as they were all presumably busy wrestling in between the stalls with each other, or following their tour guides yellow flag diligently around the palace and fortress wall. That was enough palace for me for one day.

We left the neatly arranged plaza to its business-as-usual clutter and turned down a narrow alley that ran perpendicular to the road we had driven in by. It had been some time since I had last been down here and recalled the broken tar macadam, stinking drains, and what looked like lines of hardware stores and grotty restaurants and bars.

But now the tar macadam had been replaced by neat and colourful cobble-lock paving of sandstone and black granite. The drains and gutters were clean and decorative. Bright shop fronts with displays of crafts and flowers had replaced the previous occupants. The shops façades were of old wood and plaster or bright tiles, and murals decorated the gable ends of old dreary buildings facing into empty space. Here was a new street, a street that anyone who walked down it could feel a little proud of.

Now in its new glow, the street carried with it a refreshed but lazy village atmosphere that wound its way through it. And we entered it, arm in arm, sauntering from one window to the next, taking an interest in every detail to be seen.

Music rolled out slowly from a speaker as a man explained the merits of his pecan pie he was selling as he offered tastes. We obliged and bought one for ourselves. Children shouted as they raced by on bicycles. A man and woman stood by a wall beating a rhythm with sticks as they practised a drum sequence. A mannequin sat painting on a canvas opposite a clothes shop. A large pig sat in the shade with his legs crossed and his eyes focused furiously as it thought about something.

If you looked up you could see what remained of the old street; rusting signs and old dirty tiles, sun yellowed net curtains in windows, wires and dangling satellite dishes, and all those other things you would recognise in a forgotten alleyway in an old part of town. It looked like another place. Yet none of these mattered as they sat allowing the street to change.

We stopped for a short rest in a coffee shop. Herself had jasmine flower tea and I ordered a latte. As we chatted and read, classical music played low from a single set of speakers in the corner and the two sisters who managed the business kept busily moving between tables, chatting with customers, and relaxing on an old sofa in the corner when all else was satiated.

When we left it had become darker as the evening was setting in. We cut down one of the alleys that spidered off from the central street. The streets remained clean, the building fronts remained neat, and everyone continued to move around at an assured but happy pace. We passed by old buildings restored with new stonework, new roof tiles, and fresh paint on old plaster and wood supports. Every so often we would pass a new looking tea and coffee shop sitting there in the slowly darkening evening and its lights warming the street with their orange glow. Before long we passed back onto the main street from which we drove in initially.

Everything we had just experienced lost its normalcy as we stepped out onto that street that seems to always argue with itself. The difference was behind the rows of quiet buildings and found only by following a windy alleyway, seemingly worlds apart from the stubborn old city it sits quietly changing within.

My Second Home in Korea – Jumunjin, Gangwon-do.

I’ve been coming to Jumunjin in Gangwon-do as long as I’ve known Herself. She’s a local, but she hasn’t lived here since she finished highschool and moved to Seoul to go to university. Not long after we started hanging out together she sneaked me down here and we hung out at the beach in between the time she would spend with her family. It wasn’t long before we started to make regular trips here and these trips increased in frequency once I was formally introduced to her parents. Now I’d almost say I’m a local here. I don’t think too many of the real locals feel that way.

Sogum River and Jumunjin in the winter.

Not only is Jumunjin the place where we later got married, it’s also probably the place outside of Seoul we visit the most. A couple of summers ago we were almost every second or third weekend. That being said, it has been a while since we were last out here. I’d say we haven’t been here since some time last autumn, which is quite a while.

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