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.

Letter from Korea, October 2013


Suwon, Korea
Ocotober, 2013

Dear Ireland,

It has been well over a month since myself, Herself, and +1 have been back in Korea, and what I expected would be my September letter got left by the wayside and is only being seen to now in October. You know you’ll get the usual excuses for not doing anything which isn’t vital to one’s survival, such as being busy with things which are vital to one’s own survival.

After two and a bit months in Ireland, returning to Korea for life, work, and more life, was less the shock we had thought it might be. A smaller home, no garden, no dog, less rain, and that view from all the way up at the top of our tower just seemed to be what was right at the time. There seems to be less culture shock the more we travel between Ireland and Korea.

Update: Some photos from the last month and a bit back in Korea

When we first came back to Ireland we walked around in a half-daze finding it hard to comprehend that the last time we were here was almost two years beforehand. Yes, we had been back briefly in April for a funeral, but this was different. With the funeral we knew that we only had so much time and that we would be busy, obviously, and the week passed quicker than we knew it before we were back in Korea.

Two months is in many respects a long time, but you know it’s never long enough some times. Every time I seem to go home I seem to leave everything I want to do until the last two weeks of my time. This includes meeting friends, going into Dublin, and a whole list of other things. Maybe because I just feel comfortable up to that point until when I realise that it’s all going to be miles away in a mere matter of days.

This August though, we returned relatively scar free to Korea and returned to the regular humdrum. It’s a humdrum though that exists for everyone after their holiday, regardless of where they were or how long they were away for. Maybe we’re getting better at it, and maybe we’re becoming more aware of what it is we should be doing and when we should be doing it. In this case, it’s getting on with our day in the middle of all the other days.

We go to work, we go shopping, we take +1 out for walks and to her little classes, we meet friends, we go for dinner, and on occasion I get a little drunk. We complain about the weather and things that aren’t working properly in our apartment, we say hello to neighbours we recognise and wonder why others still don’t pay any attention to us even though we’re living here three years. The sunsets continue to decorate that sky to the right when I look out the window around six or seven every night, and always we see our little daughter growing stronger and more mobile to the point that we are often lost for words. This is just a snapshot of everything that occupies us, and I believe we all have our comparisons tidied away somewhere.

At the back of all this foreground lies our future. We could not continue to move forward without knowing what lies there. We have been fortunate enough to be given the many opportunities presented to us, and we know each moment presents opportunity. Korea for all the things it is not is definitely a boiling pot of opportunity, you just have to fight harder to make the most if it. The life I have delved, almost accidentally it seems sometimes, has brought a mightly stew of changes in my life, and my family’s life. Opportunities have been taken and missed, but regrets are something we seem to have few of.

On the east coast of Korea in a small town called Jeongdongjin, right on the coast and just south of Gangnueng, you can see this happening but you need to wait around for a while.

Right beside the broad white beach is a small urban park, and the centre piece is a rather large cylindrical egg-timer. Yes, an egg-timer as I know it as, that drops grain after grain through a tiny hole bit by bit counting down until the end of the year, until it rolls over and starts again.

We never see a grain dropping and we would need to spend the entire year to see the results of this ever gradual change. But like most who see the change, we come and and we go and we see it at different stages of progression.

In the future we know that by sitting here and watching everything reverberate and rotate balancing on its fulcrum, we know that things change with every minute. From full to empty and half-full again, it is worth taking a step back and realising that we never see progress as it happens, only once it has passed.

We don’t need anniversaries or milestones really to see this, just the patience to allow each grain of sand to pass through the hole and for the mound of white sand grow and grow until we have our own little mountain.

I am a Lifer


When I told a friend a while ago that myself and Herself (and +1 of course) were aiming to return to Ireland in the future, he was shocked. “Jeez man, I thought you were done with the west. I had you down for a lifer”, he responded in near disappointment. I was kind of struck by this term, ‘lifer’, more by what it meant that the actual word itself.

There are several kinds of, hmmm how do I describe them, well people living in Korea. The particular one’s I’m talking about are people from English speaking countries who have travelled here and married Korean women, and some who haven’t also, but essentially they spend a long time in the country and, for want of a better word, they assimilate. I’m being vague here because I refuse to tar and label all of us as expats or foreigners – this is an argument for another long day.

Those of us who assimilate, I suppose, are those who can be called lifers. Is it a bad thing to make a life for yourself here? Again another argument for another long day.

A lifer is someone who, I assume, can be reasonably expected to spend a large part of the rest of their life living in Korea. I know plenty of guys who are more ‘lifer’ than I am. In fact, I know people who have been in Korea longer than Herself has been alive. These lifers have lived in Korea long enough to have learned how to make their life comfortable enough to live happily on a day to day basis.

This description is probably what I mean by assimilate, because let’s be honest, I know plenty of people who have been here for several years and never leave Itaewon, but they’re happy. They have made their life liveable within Korea and adapted to suit whatever this country has to offer. I am not suggesting that these people live the ideal life, or that living life in Korea like this has negative connotations. It’s their life and who am I to judge when I’ve got my own problems to deal with.

There are also plenty of these kinds of people who have adapted completely differently; they speak fluent Korean, they work with a Korean company, they have kids who they send to the local schools, and other things. These people have also assimilated to living in Korea. Again, if they’re happy then fair play and long may their jubilation continue.

Personally, I see myself sitting somewhere in the middle.

What I got from the idea that I was a lifer was that it was both an insult and a compliment. Now, I know my friend and he’s not the kind of person who would turn around and make fun of the fact that I could spend the rest of my life in Korea, but I have picked up on the fact that people who have only recently arrived (the past year or two) always take a step back and look at you differently when you say that you have been here for as many years as you have. It’s kind of a reaction that instantly displays respect, but at the same time makes people look down their nose at you and ask, “are you off your fucking head, man”? The main reason I know this is because I’ve done it myself, and I probably still do it.

But what makes people want to stay in Korea so long? The news is a great place for finding regular excuses to leave Korea, but then if you don’t read the news that much having proper reasons might be more of a challenge. Negative experiences in hagwons or relationships are probably top of the list, but I know plenty of people who have had difficult times here but have persisted for whatever reasons. These things are part of life everywhere, so making excuses based on these is a bit short-sighted if you ask me.

I know I’m not alone when I say that the reason I came back to Korea has always been because of my first year here. I had a great time, saved loads of money, and met the love of my life who I’m now happily married with and we’re now having a baby together. That being said, we’re not in Korea now because Herself wants to be here near her family – she does, obviously, but that’s not an overly significant reason because she realises my family is important also. We’re here because when we were back in Ireland Korea looked like a better option. Perspectives change of course.

The longer I spend here though, the longer reality comes home and the more I realise that my first year in Korea will never be enough to tie me to this country forever. I say that like I am planning never to return to Korea, but the thing is, I will be in Korea for the rest of my life. Maybe not all the time, but until the day I die, be tied to Korea. This was confirmed the day I got married.

So, call me a lifer and make fun of me that I’m here forever. What can I do? Sneer and snark? Not much point. Just get on with life I suppose, which is what I’m good at. I just hope that the friends I’ve made here, my fellow lifers, will also always be here along the way.