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…

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?

 

A Letter to My Seven Month Old Daughter


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Dear +1,

Look at you with your smiles and shitty nappies, you are the world too me. You may not realise it as you are undoubtedly focusing on something you just saw and must now touch, but it’s true, you mean so much to me.

I am writing to you today as I wish to part with some advice. As you are young it is hard for you to understand much, and as you are young it is your natural inclination to believe that you are 100% correct about everything. If the truth be told you will not learn the fallacy of this until you are, well probably close to your own deathbed many years from now.

You see little +1, as your father it is important that you realise that while you could reasonably argue that I know sweet fuck all about anything, other than knowing when I’m hungry, tired, or need to go to the toilet, I do indeed know a lot more than you. One day you may indeed know more than I, but first of all I beseech you to learn to speak.

Myself and your mother do our best in this world to not educate you the wrong way and I hope you will trust us when we direct you towards so-called child friendly paraphernalia. But I realise knowing the difference for you is difficult, so please allow my lifetime’s experience to know that not chewing those shiny scissors is the best option. And the hot teapot is best left on the table, because it is both heavy and hot.

It is unfortunate that in life you will have to learn to understand what is hot and what is cold yourself, as we all have our own levels. But let me give you a pointer: when your skin hurts from touching something, hot or cold, generally that means it’s bad. There are other signs which you can look out for in advance, such as is their ice on it, or in fact flames coming from it, is stuff melting nearby, is there steam emanating from some orifice etc. In fact anytime you feel pain it doesn’t promise to be beneficial – except for massages, and possibly tattoos, if that’s your thing.

There are other things which you don’t really need to touch, such as the dark coloured damp residue inside the nappy I just removed, my armpits in summer, the floor underneath the couch, and everything about ten centimetres outside your immediate reach. What you need in life will come to you with the right application, and while I appreciate the need to seek much out, searching in ever corner of your immediate world will reveal little for now.

Your youth, and I really sound like an old man now, is your greatest obstacle. Please give it time, as you have so much to experience and so much seems so new, which means it’s strange, which means that is the reason that you are probably complaining about it. Again, take our word for it, it’s for the best.

For example, when we strap you down in a cushioned seat with a nice soft head rest and sides inside a large self propelled two tonne piece of steel and plastic full of highly flammable fossil fuels, which then competitively attempts to travel at high speed with a plethora of other such devices, often around bends and over bumps, and even in poor weather with sight seriously reduced, it is, believe it or not, considered safest for you to be harnessed in, and not free to wriggle and squirm as your young body sees fit.

While I’m discussing this I should also advise you that I’ve also found that it is easier to fall asleep at night when you sit back, relax, and just wait for your sleep to find you. Incredibly, worming, squirming, and shouting in my arms does not work. I worked this out a few years ago when I was a bit of a night owl, and the more I socialised with others late in the early hours I found it more difficult to fall asleep, but if I sat on a plastic chair outside a convenience store or the likes, sleep soon came to me quite easily. It’s a strange phenomenon I know, but like much of my advice in this letter, time will help you realise so much more.

I trust that you will take this advice to heart and do your best to apply it to your forthcoming years. Soon it will seem like second nature not to try to eat your faeces or the nearest scissors, among other revelations of age, but remember that until that time I will be standing over you applying my care in a way that may seem intrusive, and equally like I am trying to ruin your appreciation of life. This is not the case, I am merely attempting to guide you through your early days with as few physical threats to your self as is possible.

For now, please trust me that I am right, because one of these days you will be just like your mother and I will never have this opportunity again. Until then allow me the glory of being somewhat correct.

With best wishes for your future,

Your loving father/Dad/앞파/ould fella/

“Getting There”


This is a short narrative post I initially set out to write for Groove Magazine‘s “Share Story, Win Trip” writing competition. The call came out for ‘funny’ travel stories where a lesson was learned. The winning pieces would be read out loud dramatically. Frankly, there just aren’t enough of these kind of encouraging writing opportunities in Korea. I could say more but I’ll get distracted.

I started writing mine and about two paragraphs from the end I decided that it wasn’t a travel story. So I stopped writing. I came back about a week later and took another crack at it, tidied it up but left it loosely over the 500 word limit, which kind of left it for any kind of flash litt and too short to be considered anything else. Still it’s a good story. You’ll laugh. I hope. 

Getting There

When I was bundled out of the taxi by the Englishless man who collected me from the airport, it was exactly twenty-four hours after my flight had left Dublin. He left me there shaking hands with a tall, spectacled and skinny Korean man with a mane of hair almost comically emerging from the top of his head. He told me his name was Richard, or Reeechard as he did his best to pronounce the R sound fully. He was dressed smartly in black pants, a grey jacket, white shirt, and burgundy skinny tie, all of which seemed to shine magnetically in the heavy overcast sky.
Richard helped me with my bags as we entered a building and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. I was brought into the school where I would be working, where I was introduced to the director, a man shorter than most I’d ever met before, but he effused authority and shook my hand confidently. He directed Richard to get everything sorted and then vanished into his office.
We picked up my bags again and made for the elevator. I was told that we would go to my apartment where I could get some rest or have some food. I would be sharing my apartment with my co-worker and with the teacher who I was replacing.
When we made it outside, we walked into a large apartment complex of twenty-five storeyed buildings. To say I was dizzy wouldn’t explain it properly. I had left an Ireland where buildings rarely stretched further than three or four storeys high, and in my home town of Dunboyne (pop. 6,959) there probably wasn’t a building, other than the parish church, more than two storeys high. Seoul (pop. 10,581,728) seemingly had no room for buildings that small.
We entered one of these behemoths and walked up to the elevator. There wasn’t much chat as I was tired and nervous, and Richard seemed a little uncomfortable with small talk for whatever reasons. When the doors opened he punched the number 23. I gulped and blinked hard. With a jolt we rose and the numbers flickered higher and higher, until they reached 23 where the elevator halted with a lurch. Outside on the landing Richard confidently asserted that “finally, we are here!”.
He pulled out a key and went to the door where he jerked to a stop with an “unghh” kind of sound coming from his mouth. He stood rigid with key holding arm outstretched towards the part of the door where a key hole would traditionally be located. I looked around unsuccessfully for Medusa but quickly found the problem was there was no keyhole in the door. Instead there was a small electronic pad.
He touched it and with a beep it lit up with numbers. Again an “unngh” sound. He looked at the key, looked at the pad, scratched his mane, and then looked at me. I looked at him and felt like replying “unngh”. He then rang the doorbell, whereupon a young girl opened the door, and Richard asked her if foreign English teachers lived in the apartment. The girl said no they didn’t, and closed the door. We stood looking at the green metal door in silence.
Richard sprung into action. He pulled out his phone, dialled, waited, and suddenly burst out chattering, then stopped talking, asked me to wait a minute, then started chattering again. He then hung up asked me to please wait where I was, and then he disappeared into the elevator which subsequently plumeted to the ground floor.
And there I stood, bags at my feet, jet lagged and clueless on a tiny landing on the twenty third floor of an apartment building a good 8,000 kilometres from home, diligently waiting a minute.
Richard eventually returned smiling and reassuring me repeatedly. We took the elevator down stairs to the ground floor again, and left that building, walked around the corner and into a completely different building. Here we took the elevator to the eighteenth floor, where a door stood with a keyhole in it.
Richard somewhat less confidently than before approached the door, inserted the key, and turned it. There was a loud unlocking click, and he let out a huge sigh of relief, then looked at me with a beaming smile. We entered the apartment.
Richard left a few minutes later, and I was left standing in the middle of a room looking around my new surroundings on the eighteenth floor. The large windows brightened the room. The was a purr of traffic outside but all I could see was clouds and mountains in the distance. I took a deep breath. I had arrived in Korea, and it was good. I think.

The Fourteen Year-old Boy’s Mind Strikes Again


Linguistically, Korea is a wonderful place. One of my favourite things about Korea is the Englishisms. Not Konglish, but Englishisms – where people use English to express themselves in a Korean way that doesn’t really work out and which many a native English speaker titters at the miscommunication. It’s usually quite innocent and harmless, and anyone with a brain in their head knows that the exact same happens when people try use Asian writing to look cool in ‘the west’.  There is a huge amount of this in Korea and it would seem more and more appears as the days go by. Of course, this has been commented on many times before on many other blogs/websites/complaint columns/bars and there’s probably a fair few of you who are already yawning and clicking to the next page already…

Well just hold on one minute.

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