Dandelion Land


The green that creeps from beneath is a steady process. Warming the eyes along with the flawless blue of the sky with its cotton wool clouds. Blue and green, that is spring for me. It is without saying a relief to welcome the colourisation of the country after the death of everything in winter.

I can’t say that I would like spring as much as I did if I didn’t dislike winter. When I was in Korea it was the dry and arid air, the biting cold winds, and the white bright sunlight pitching rays constantly. Winter in Korea is a time when snow storms were a relief from the constant squinting.

For my first winter in Ireland I expected the long days of wind and rain, a grey and lifeless landscape, and the damp that seems to find everywhere. But it was the darkness which caught me off guard. The sun setting at four o’clock in the afternoon swallowed the evening in absolute night, and leaving myself, Herself, and +1 staring at each other at home, expecting something to happen.

Much like Korea, Ireland’s winter swallows up all the visible life. But for the crows hovering overhead, perfectly silhouetted in any weather but more so in the overcast of December and January, little signs of life persist. Waiting for the world to awaken after winter follows a similar pattern in Ireland and Korea. Snowdrops show first, white exaggerated in the damp mud of flowerbeds. Then the shoots of daffodils break through the earth.

In Korea at this time of year you can’t take a step left or right without seeing a cherry blossom tree blooming. Even in the most sun deprived thoroughfare hectic with traffic, a much desiccated looking tree will be blooming as resplendently as its excessively pruned bows will allow. I’ve always thought it to be a bit over the top.

Yet a few weeks ago I was driving into Dublin’s city centre and at Cabra Cross, just by the McDonalds and Tesco the traffic stopped. This is one of Dublin’s less dynamic traffic spots, and it certainly is not an attractive part of the city – but let’s not be too harsh as there are worse place to be stuck in traffic. I looked out the window, and much like those very deprived looking cherry blossoms, at the base of a tree were some frail and gutter mud splattered daffodils, attempting to be as resplendent as their situation allowed.

 

Now the daffodils are slowly dying off, but the trees have gradually been warming our eyes as first the hedges and now the trees start to green with spring. It’s not long after this that the dandelions come out, yellowing in a peppered splay across any grassy patch. A sure sign the warm weather has returned is dandelion seeds tumbling carelessly in the breeze of a sun splashed afternoon.

We call these piss-in-the-beds because if you pick one you will wet the bed, or so we were told as children. But I wonder would the dandelion be as common if it weren’t for children blowing their seeds at every opportunity.

I wake up early most mornings to the new sound of spring, as thousands of different noises come through to my room. Birds singing, mostly, but the leaves rustling in an April gust comes frequently enough. There’s also the silence of morning, something I can’t remember from Korea. Where no noise from the street permeates the walls, and looking out the window all I can do is really imagine the sound.

More so than before I appreciate my new domain in Ireland. The garden, green, and all the other colours it presents, and the breeze and the birds, it’s a long way from my old position watching for glimpses of life on the twentieth floor in Suwon. They are two different places, and nowhere can either be compared. Ask me if I prefer one, I’d probably prefer to not answer that but I would say that I’m happy where I am for now. All I need now is for someone to cut the grass for me…

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?

 

Sprung


Spring has moved beyond it’s intial flex and is now well into the process of ejecting life from within the winter locked bowels of the plants and people longing for the seasons much anticipated warmth.

For me, without a doubt, the finest part of spring in Korea has to be its first couple of weeks as the first rain soaks and nourishes the earth, then the yellows of the forsythia and other plants slowly poke out in the yellow dusy haze. Before long the bushes on the streets begin to glow a warmer green, and the ever present cherry blossom trees have pre-bloom fur about their branches as the white petals rest just a few days from when they explode everywhere.

Did I mention the azaleas, which are the true jewel of the Korean spring?

It is this time when Korea’s spring is at its best, in my opinion. Yes, we all obssess over cherry blossoms (just spend a moment on my instagram page) because, well as impractical as they are, they are very nice to look at. However, before their emergence, this is when I find any extra skip in my step. The added warmth in the air makes this all the more easier.

Of course, it’s hard to resist arming myself with my camera on those short walks to work. Here’s a small set of some of the views on the way too and from work.

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All shots are unedited original images ©Conor O’Reilly 2014

For more photography find me on Flickr, Tumblr, and Insatgram

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.

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.