10 Things About Korea…


So I won’t be along here much longer, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

There’s plenty about Korea that I’m going to miss, without a doubt, and then there’s a fair amount of things I won’t miss about Korea. It would be fair to say the same about anywhere, of course.

So here goes nothing…

10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea (in no particular order of importance)

  1. The ajjumma-ajjeoshi cult – forget about how you spell the bloody word auf English, the reverence paid to these two pillars of society is beyond impressive. I often long to be one myself, just so I can get stuff done. I have looked for a  temple to worship but have only found people pushing me out of the way because a worshipped one is oncoming. I challenge my readers to find a more ubiquitous beacon in honour of how to get shit done than the lowly, and not so lowly Uncle and Auntie.
  2. Food – Yum. Season care me not, belly always happy. Tasty with or without MSG, the local tucker satisfies beyond compare, and at a price to match my much unencumbered wallet (in that it’s empty of cash). I still amaze my Irish brethren with the fact that four strapping lads could fill themselves with deadened meat and a decent skinful of schoops (an Irish dialect for pints) for about 20 blips, or there abouts. That is merely the tip of the iceberg.
  3. The weather – I’m going to Ireland, a country not renowned for it’s tropical beaches and balmy breezes, and after an afternoon where I strolled into work in short sleeves, spent an hour under a tree reading in the shade, and then dozzily cantered home in anticipation of me din-dins all in glorious sunshine, it will be hard to compare. In fairness, you would do well to better yon land of the morning calm for it’s months of May and June, and September through to even November. Regardless of when you go to Ireland, the advice at the best of time is ‘bring a good jacket’.
  4. Deliveries – You could spend your whole life in your home and never, ever, ever have to leave. I mean it. Think of the luxury of, in theory, only having to put clothes on when the delivery guy turns up, and even then it wouldn’t be much more than a bed sprawl thrown over your shoulders to cover your jiggly bits! Can you do that with as much a degree of comfort elsewhere as you can with as much success as in Korea? I sincerely doubt it – although fixing an income would be a a challenge if you were a carpenter or marine biologist… And half the time, if not all of the time, delivery is everyone’s favourite price, free! Did I mention stuff arrives the next day?
  5. Communications – Roads, telephones, internet, taxis, buses, trains, and of course subways, exist in abundance (they’d want to considering how many people live here) and they are all efficient, effective, and extraordinarily everything the public transport or whatever system in your country is not. Don’t try and argue, you’re wrong. Not without it’s faults, of course, but man I couldn’t believe it when I was in London a few years back and I heard that they were excited that they were testing getting mobile signals into the underground. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, in Seoul it was unheard of that your phone wouldn’t have a 3G signal underground, let alone just a regular bar or two on your phone.
  6. English – Ok, so not everyone is fluent and as an English language teaching professional it’s my wont to complain about the inadequacy of the English language ability of such a massive proportion of the population given the time spent on language teaching and yeah so fucking what? Not only has the country provided me with a lifestyle others would aspire too, as well as a family, friends, and many wonderful memories, it’s also the reason that made living here initially so easy, and today it’s not much different. I could go on but I won’t. English in Korea, who’d have thought it was so great?
  7. Health and Safety – Up until about two months ago this wasn’t such a big issue, and in the respect that I am now going to mention, I still thinks it’s alright. There’s not really a penchant for preparing everyone for the inevitable. You’d wonder some times who is more adult about the way that people should be constantly protecting others. Remember, we’re adults, so you know, look where you’re walking down the street and don’t expect everything to be so perfect for you. It’s a welcome thing that the love of suing the shite of some poor misfortunate for not being impeccable has not landed with the same rigour as it has in the Republic of Errors…I mean Ireland.
  8. Silence – One of the great things about being in Korea and not being completely fluent in the language or the whimsicalness of everything about you is that so much moaning and nonsense which your life is better off not knowing about floats gently and tenderly over your head and evaporates into the clouds above. And even if you do understand it, it’s a lot easier to tune out when it’s in a foreign language than when it’s in your native brogue. This lack of generally ignorable bullshittery is a fantastic advantage to being a resident in the land of such placidity in the AM, in my own most humble opinion.
  9. Suwon – It has been my home for over four and a half years, and the place where we live now has been our home for three and a half of those. I haven’t lived anywhere longer but for my folk’s place back in Ireland. I love the view from above everything. I like that suddenly we have a subway station right next to us. I love Hwaseong Fortress and the Jin Mi Tong Dalk  nearby. I like that I can walk to work in twenty minutes, and even more importantly I can walk home and not get stuck in traffic. Did I mention we recently found a butcher who sells decent steaks nearby?
  10. My job – This factor would have sounded offensive to the same me some years back. The idea that me, of all people, would actually like my job is in many respects absolute madness. But aside from the five months holidays a year, and the less than 15 hours teaching I have to do as part of my contract, it’s quite an enjoyable situation. I’ve not only had some fantastic students over the years (really, some real class acts, I’m not lying) but I’ve actually learned from my experience, not just about how I can teach better, but how to deal with people more effectively and also, how to be a better writer. I’m genuinely sad to be leaving this job.

10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea (in no particular order of importance)

  1. The ajjumma-ajjeoshi cult – Isn’t it nuts? Really! I can’t get over it that someone saggy and poorly dressed can hold a higher position in society solely based on the fact that they’ve had more time in it. It genuinely drives me mad that I play second fiddle to someone who has no genuine advantage to me, in terms of the two of us standing side by side, other than they are a middle aged and Korean. Sure some deserve it, but why can’t I be given the same level of amazeballs for just standing on the corner and being a thirty year old?
  2. Food – Man I long for some variety, and I’m not talking about variety in Korean food, because you can’t beat the variety of Korean food in Korea I’ll tell you that for nothing. I’m talking about the variety of any food that isn’t Korean. I’ve seen enough Pizza and Pasta places to last me a lifetime. And as for Japanese noodles spots, which aren’t bad at all, I can’t handle it, I really can’t. And while I’m at it, I just long for some bread without sweet cream cheese and/or hotdogs (note: I love these things…but sometimes I care not for them). In fact, I wish it was mandatory for every person who opened a foreignesque restaurant to visit the country where it comes from so they can taste the food they’re attempting to replicate and then they will realise that other countries in fact do like to use an ingredient known as salt, and not sugar, to bolster the deliciousness out of the food.
  3. The Weather – Winter and summer can suck my balls frankly. Last winter I went to Thailand because, lets be honest, I like going outside. And to be honest, I don’t like taking the nine showers a day required of summer in Korea. Did I mention yellow dust and or course micro dust? Yeah, not weather, I know, but come on let’s be honest….
  4. Deliveries – If I don’t get killed by one of those lunatics in their vans or on their bikes, I’m going to kill them for me almost killing them as the somersault through another red light. I could say more but after my food rant I’m going to control myself. Deep breaths. Think of happy places. Mmmm, no delivery lunatic bikes in Ireland…that’s nice….
  5. Communications – I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that fast internet speeds and high rates of connectivity aren’t the be all and end all. This is especially the case when the price is censorship and ActiveX/mass rates of identity theft with little to no repercussions for those responsible for protecting said identities. And while I’m here, driving will grow you a thicker layer of skin than is really necessary. You might think it’s alright, that is until you encounter Sunday drivers, a phenomenon quite the opposite from its western counterpart.
  6. English– It irks me that so much of Korea is so English friendly. I’m on the other side of the planet but life here is so cushy that it’s just wrong, to me at least. This is a moral thing, personally speaking. In Ireland we speak English purely because English was the way to communicate and get jobs, essentially if you emigrated, and I personally don’t see why Korea should be so obsessed with this language which has such a foreign baring on everyone’s lives. You may disagree with me, and I’m sure many do, but this is how I feel. I think Korea should be less concerned about having the entire country fluent, and more concerned about giving an even spread to it’s education. Or something to that effect.
  7. Health & Safety – Ok, fuck this, I’ve had enough. Firstly let’s stop by cutting steel on the fucking street, and when you’re down there do me a favour and share the fucking footpath with the people who are using it i.e. those walking from A to B. See those fancy changing coloured lights up in the sky? There’s a reason for them and it’s not because they go well with all the neon. Yes, I am childish in that I need to be protected from your inanity, but please I do in fairness have a right not to take my life in my hand as I walk down the street to buy a carton of poxy milk.
  8. Silence – ‘I heard them say ‘waygook’ …then did they say ‘Conor’…they’re talking about. What? Come here and say that to my face! Arrrrrrrgh!’ and other stories.
  9. Suwon – There is an expression in Korean that basically says you shouldn’t spit into the wind. And in this case I shall not spit into the wind. What I will say is that Suwon, while not without it’s charms it does lack a certain amount of finesse, says the fella who wants to walk around his apartment naked until his dying days.
  10. My job – My job is no better or worse as it is, but I’m in my early 30s and I’ve a family to look after. In ten years, I could be in the same state, and this is not something I am willing to accept. There are ways which I could change this, but to be honest the right move is to stick to myself and Herself’s long term plan and get moving. I hold no regrets and would recommend it to anyone, but for me right now I have reached the point where I new stage must be entered upon.

So that’s it.

Anything you’d miss and wouldn’t miss about Korea?

 

This Could Be (one of) the Last Time(s)


The fact that I live an apartment on the twentieth floor is not news to this blog. This high position allows for a fine, if not a little post-apocalyptic at times, view of Suwon on all but the most weather beaten of days. I have grown fond of taking photographs of the many perspectives this home of ours provides. There aren’t many opportunities left for me to do this. 20140606-193730.jpg After four and a half years here in Korea, which is essentially the whole life cycle of this blog, we are returning to Ireland to live. 20140606-193754.jpg Things you need to know: This is an indefinite move. We really aren’t sure where we will eventually settle down. 20140606-193806.jpg We will never leave Korea forever. We will be back. This is a certainty. Just don’t ask me when. It’s going to be a crazy change, and we are excited, terrified, happy, and of course sad to be making such a move. This is a life changer. 20140606-193825.jpg Before we came back to Korea in 2010 we moved country four times in a year and a half. We’ve enjoyed the stability. I’ve really enjoyed writing here about life in Korea, and I know many of my regular readers are here for my writing about Korea. I hope that you will join me as I document life in Ireland, when I find a minute to spare (of course). 20140606-193840.jpg So that’s my big news, in case you’ve been wondering. So with that in mind, here’s a song.

…And a post-apocalyptic-ish sunset

20140606-194035.jpg

 

P.S. I hate packing/moving country almost as much as I hate K-pop. It’s going to be a blast!

Learning to Read and Other Skills


It’s still amazing to me how many people are unable to understand text. Now, I don’t mean the people who are actually illiterate, which is a genuine concern, I mean people despite being able to read cannot actually understand what is being said and the context and content fully. Such people are the type who have been gifted with the ability to actually read, unlike so many deprived of the skill, but who cannot use it to living a fulfilling life. What’s more is that these same people apparently feel that they are above those who do not have the same level of intellect and opportunity to advance in society. I’d say it’s a cultural superiority, but that would be polite and aiding their pseudo intellectual commentary. I think it’s best to label them as trolls.

Let’s find some definitions for trolls:

A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In origin, troll may have been a negative synonym for a jötunn (plural jötnar), a being in Norse mythology. In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.” – Yee Olde Wikipedia

An evil troll, Torok, the transformed state of the ex-husband of an old friendly witch named Eunice St. Clair, has chosen her apartment building to be the heart of the restoration of the world he once knew. To do this he uses an Emerald ring, and takes possession of a little girl named Wendy, whose brother Harry immediately suspects something wrong. Torok, often in the form of the little girl, goes into each occupant’s apartment, hideously transforming people into plant pods.” – IMDB

The savage trolls of Azeroth are infamous for their cruelty, dark mysticism, and seething hatred for all other races. Yet one exception among the trolls is the Darkspear tribe and its cunning leader, Vol’jin. Plagued by a history of subservience and exile, this proud tribe was on the brink of extinction when Warchief Thrall and his mighty Horde forces were driven to the trolls’ remote island home in the South Seas during a violent storm.” – World of Warcraft

Of course each of these explanations is as likely as anything you’ll find on the Urban Dictionary or wherever else.

Now, this here lovely site doesn’t get much in the way of trolls, or indeed comments at all, and for the most part comments are nice and congratulatory. If I’m lucky I get an inquisitive one or two. Then I get a few comments every so often to one or two of my Korea criticism links, which are apparently quite high on a ‘I hate Korea’ Google search, at least that’s what I’ve been because I haven’t checked – which is probably an indication of how much I care.

In one particular post I have a number of comments which all relate to the fact that my site is a forum for hatred and that it’s OK to just blast out criticism, and I mean really nasty and narrow focused attacks on pretty much every Korean ever born – which includes my wife and daughter – and I’ve given up authorising those comments. I did go through a period initially where I allowed them, but I changed my mind because it is something that I actually feel pretty strongly against, and that’s essentially the belief that Koreans are the bottom feeders of the earth and everyone who has ever met anyone who knows anything or nothing about Korea should be told this. I could go on but I won’t. To give you an idea of the level of intellect we’re dealing with here, allow me to share with you a recent comment which I still have yet to delete:

Fuck Koreans. Everything about them sucks ass, and if you wanna see what happens to the world when Korean idiocy is left unchecked….North Korea…Nuffield said. I know for a fact MANY comments on this forum aren’t making it because several of mines haven’t, and I have a friend in busan who couldn’t post either. Too much truth in his post maybe. Bring on the comments, I don’t give a good god damn. I hate Koreans, most of my friends hate Koreans, and here in Australia, my neck of the woods, most of the people in my community don’t like Koreans either. A kid came to my university from South Korea, and no one liked him. He would get the same criticisms…racist, pig headed, closed minded, arrogant, superiority complex, lack of common sense, poor manners, lack of courtesy, rude in general and annoying to be around. Fuck Koreans. I have visited SK for a month, and it made me hate them even more. My school should stop allowing these fuckers to come here, all they do is sit in their annoying little groups “tee-heeing” about shiny objects and what some asswipe k-slop bugger is on about. The Korean asswipe in one of my classes actually tried to explain to us why Koreans are a superior race, and that they are pure by blood…not according to my research. At any rate, fuck korea, there I said it. And I’ll copy and paste this to word, so I can re-post if this doesn’t make the forum.” – Aussie who hates korrie (2014)

Of course, Mr/Ms AWHK doesn’t realise that WordPress is pretty well equipped for tracking down gombeens who can’t read the context of a post but who feel that the comment section is where their true calling in life lies. With that in mind I popped the IP address of the above into an IP finder. I’ll leave this here and you can make your own assumptions.

Untitled

Anyway, this post is about an inability to read and what concerns me is that seemingly educated people, as I assume all these people are, feel that they are above an entire nation of people yet they can’t even understand a blog post. “But it’s the internet” I hear you quip, and yes you’re right I should set my standards a little lower.

With that in mind I’m going to finish with another lesson in how to read, or how not to read.

As I teach English writing here in Korea, one thing I’m always certain to do is to reiterate the necessity of confirming and knowing the sources where you get your material. I’m not against using online sources at all, in fact I encourage it as there is great variety in the internet. Of course there are problems with encouraging reliance on the internet. We do find ourselves sinking into our own personal information clique. Here we feel that without criticism we can read and post and read and post whatever we like without ever crossing paths with an alternative voice. Twitter is a perfect example of this, and if it weren’t for having friends who I really know (and vice versa) who share a variety of opinions and news articles, from preachy Godist stuff and unrealistic out of context idealistic quotes from people I’ve never heard of heard, right up to the usual conspiracy theory and American politics we all love to slobber over in a fit of middle class apathetic rage, Facebook would be the same.

So it’s important that when you read a blog or website you’ve never come across you should click the about page. If you have the time whilst lazily bullying yourself about the internet some more articles from said website might be worth your unbridled scrutiny also. But I can see how this can be difficult for some, who may have concerns for conserving their wrist’s energy.

Again my poor misfortunate blog was left open to scrutiny. Again some genius, this time a clever fella ‘Wayginkorea’ felt he was more adept at internetting than your humble author, not that I am a master or anything. Fortunately, at time of going to press, even Reddit defeated its evil ways but I think I have some of my fellow Korea based bloggers to thank for a down vote or two.

On that post that this individual was so displeased by, a defense if you please. I get it that my poem and recording of it didn’t resonate so strongly with other people, but since the actual tragedy so much has come about that the poem’s message has been completely swamped by the controversy surrounding the actual tragedy. If you asked me the kind of people who decided they knew so much about the accident and Korean culture and are only nodding their heads into whiplash with I-told-you-sos will find something like this only abhorrent. I myself do my best to stand out of the way of truth, and just try to accept the current.

This was an account of something I did on my personal blog, so if you didn’t like it go back and read teacher blogs about how little Jimmy couldn’t control his wee wee and then spelled kuntin kandy instead of cotton candy. Life, my friends, is not all about everything meeting your own standards.

The thing is that gets to me is that there’s a great market out there for absolute Korea related vitriol, but you won’t find it here. It’s not that I don’t have things to complain about that stem from life in Korea, and it’s not that I wouldn’t be in a position to rant on and on and on about them. Because I could. In fact I’ve about three or four half finished drafts of such vitriol which have seen the sobering light of a night’s sleep and have remained where they belong. Perhaps someday they will materialise as some class of content but for now they are merely writing practice.

I don’t see any point in ranting in hate here, or in any class of media, be it online or in traditional formats. It serves little function, and even in front of real live people the distance and use is relegated to just pissing more people off. I’m not suggesting the internet is a place only for happy stories and cute puppies, which some people actually enjoy. But there is a place for anger and unless it is serving a purpose that will effect change I can only see it as a waste of time, yours and mine, and a reason to be more angry about nothing in particular. An English written blog about an individuals life in a very foreign country is an example of where anger is a waste of time.

If anything my beloved but few readers, when you read, read deep. Read more than just the link. As long as the internet is open there will be more than just a link to click, and with that more information, images, reactions, and perspective more can be gained. Find out for yourself, and don’t let some moderator or Google search decide for you. Don’t be afraid of your mouse, or your eyes, or spending a little extra time to work out where you really stand on some bull shit argument some half-wit blogger posted on the internet.

‘I Just Want to Scream’ – Reading at PEN Korea Poetry Concert


This picture was shared with me by Alexandra Jade Rodrigues on the ould Facebook. It’s a really touching addition to the poem I kind of haphazardly shared here some weeks back. I say haphazardly as it was a knee-jerk emotional reaction to the tragedy, and it seems to have been a reaction which many empathised with. I’m grateful to Alexandra for sharing this with me, as it is a poigniant image which reflects the continued wait for answers, even when the news of the disaster appears to have left the newsreels of the international media.

As you may be aware, some weeks back I was very fortunate to be invited as a reader at an international poetry concert organised by PEN Korea. The concert took place about a week or so after the tragedy. Initially I was asked to read only one poem, but following the tragedy of the Sewol sinking off the south coast, I contacted the organiser and asked if it was possible that I read my poem which attracted so much attention here, ‘I Just Want to Scream’. I was very fortunate that they ascented, and in the end I read my two poems. The first is a older poem Driving Close to the DMZ which was originally printed in Burning Bush II a couple of years back. This poem was followed by I Just Want to Scream.

In these videos shared with me by the concert organisers you can here me deliver both my poems.

Driving Close to the DMZ

I Just Want to Scream

This particular video includes a shortened and edited version of all the readers at the concert and is also worth your time and consideration.

Thank you again to Alexandra for the image, and to Sun A at PEN Korea for giving me the opportunity to read.

For more on PEN Korea please visit their website: http://www.penkorea.or.kr

Forced Recap: Chiang Mai 2014


Instead of being reminded by my regrets, I should be reminding myself by the way I wish to remember. It has been over two months since myself and the rest of my clan returned from our two month stint in Thailand. When we were there and after we returned we were sure that it was perhaps the best time we have spent together as a family. We gained a lot of confidence in ourselves as parents, learned a lot about our young daughter, and at the same time had a great time constantly exploring Chiang Mai. Up until the past week or two it has been almost a distant figment of my memory, and on most days it barely registers as something that we believe has marked our lives forever.

Granted when we left we knew that we had stayed our welcome and had to depart to the normality of home, work, bills, and of course Yeongtong. We did probably spend too much money, and believe it or not two months of sitting around not working can in fact get a little boring, even when you’re in Thailand. Of course we occupied ourselves but after Herself’s friend who came to visit during the month of February we saw the last few weeks as a wind down period before we headed back to Korea. And then disaster kicked in.

This is Chiang Mai

It was a disaster averted I can confidently assert now, but at the time it was my biggest challenge travelling anywhere. +1, our little angel, broke out in a really high fever. We treated her as best we knew, firstly with some paracetamol based medicine, then when a warm bath, and she seemed to be ok. However, later in the day her temperature sky-rocketed again, so we did the same but this time as we bathed her she turned blue and started shivering so much that she was practically shaking from left to right. We quickly threw some things in a bag and went to the Chiang Mai Ram hospital, which was fortunately nearby. +1 was diagnosed with pneumonia and was quickly admitted and then treated. Thanfully after a few days she was discharged along with a big box full of antibiotics to ensure the infection stayed away, and in case in her temperature rose again. It is probably this which shook us so much that allowed us to want to return home to Korea as quickly as we hoped. It was a scary moment, no doubt, but the fortunate no brainer of investing in travel insurance beforehand allowed us in the end to only worry about our child’s health, and not on the further widening of our travel purse strings.

Yet for that moment, which we all recovered from, we still turn to each other and kind of ask ourselves, ‘what about Thailand?’

The Three Amigos

Staying in Chiang Mai together for a long period was something that myself and Herself had promised ourselves for years. Ever since we first were seeing each other and rendezvoused with a charge and jump into each others arms after the last flight from Bangkok touched down in Chiang Mai on day in mid-September, 2006. Herself knew Chiang Mai well and looks back on it fondly. She spent three months learning traditional Thai massage there the winter before. Her memories were still fresh and her enthusiasm to show her stomping grounds was fervent. We came back to Chiang Mai in 2012 briefly on a quick visit to Thailand and again had a blast (read about those adventures-ish here), although we skipped up to Pai and then down to Koh Chang as well to give out trip some needed variety. This time we spent the entire two months in Chiang Mai.

Perhaps though we are doing the reflecting thing wrong. We came back with huge suitcases after one of those awful night time flights which give you about four hours sleep and an early morning arrival in Seoul. This would possibly be easier if we weren’t hauling around our toddler who, as is always the case in these situations, is on a much different sleep pattern to the encumbered parents. We dumped our bags on arrival, pulled a few needed things out, then shoved the suitcases into the spare room and didn’t look back at them for another month at least. I went back to work the following Monday, while Herself struggled to fall back into the routine. Yes, routine, the death song of any wild aspiration. It was cold, the air was crappy, we needed to go to Homeplus, and we really looked forward to getting out to the east coast as soon as possible. At least we had a car though.

Change

Many people use their holiday pictures to refresh their memories, and I suppose we could have done this. I can’t really, as I’ve uploaded them all to my ageing laptop which is now in my office in work. Constantly shutting down as it over-heats, I can’t even contemplate how or when I’ll get the chance to comb through the 30 or 40 gigabytes currently stored on it. I want to. I need to. In fact, we need to. It’s a classic case of information overload, taking so many pictures that you completely forget them. It’s not enough to say that I really enjoyed learning how I could use my camera, it’s time I actually pulled out all those images and did something special with them, other than plaster my flickr page with albums from markets, which is about the height of what I’ve done so far.

On my bookshelf next to my computer which I write from now there are six photographs of myself and Herself. Always these pictures look at us, and always they are smiling. There is one from our wedding party at home in Dunboyne, two from our actual wedding day, a picture from my masters graduation  (a qualification I earned with her welded tightly to my side it must be said), and three pictures from our forever memorable honeymoon in Turkey. This is how we should celebrate our events, not by posting albums and updates on the internet, but in front of the places we pass the most each day. I always try to print some photographs but rarely find a suitable place to see them. Perhaps what I should really be looking to do is not find better things to photograph, but to find more wall space, without which I might end up with no memories to really to celebrate.

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Some previously uploaded photo albums from my two months in Thailand can be found here:

Chiang Mai streets Part 1

MAYA

CMU Art Museum

Chiang Mai Sunday Market, January 5 2014

Night Bazaar, February 2014

And if you click this link you can see all my albums from Korea, Thailand, Ireland, and more…