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…

Buddha’s Birthday at 반야사


The nearest Buddhist temple to our place is just across the road. In fact I pass it every time I go to work. It’s small and hidden up a small hill behind ample tree cover. In fact you’d miss it completely if it were for the multicoloured lanterns which line the street from early April, lanterns which are of course in anticipation of today, Buddha’s Birthday.

I’m inclined to think that Buddha’s Birthday is one of the nicer holidays in Korea, where the majority are made up of celebrations for independence and the constitution and such like. Granted that they are all important, but they are in some respects new holidays. Celebrating the Buddha has been going on in Korea for a long time, and maybe something of the history has rubbed off on folks.

Buddhism has been practised in Korea since around the fourth century, and was welcomed in both the Three Kingdoms period and the Unified Silla period. During the Chosun dynasty, while not entirely ostracised, much Buddhism was forced to the side and practice was reserved in secluded mountain areas. Today this could be why many Buddhist temples can be found on hills and mountainsides – or it could be that they are just nice places to have temples.

We’ve been coming the 반야사 for a few years, and it is a different place to the usual mean and impersonal streets of Yeongtong. I don’t want to say that people change when they step on to the green grass looking out over the many high-rise apartments across the horizon, but there seems to be a different attitude. Courtesy is one thing that is in abundance, and smiles, and conversation with strangers. The chanting from the loudspeakers and the moktoks steady hollow tapping has a positive influence on even the sourest citizen it would seem.

To add to this, the sun was shining down warming the small tree protected garden of dry grass and multicoloured lanterns. The colours were lined in neat straight rows, each lantern recognising a donor and that a prayer would be said in their honour. To the side lines of white lanterns were representative of those who have passed away.

The stone pathway which dissected the garden, halfing the garden, with the temple to one side and the a large open area filled with mats for sitting on the other. Here people had gathered in family groups and were sitting and chatting while enjoying the temple food. This was a simple mountain or san-chae bibimbap  – essentially, fresh greens, some bean sprouts, mushrooms, a kimchi, and of course red pepper paste known to everyone else who isn’t a fresh off the boat tourist as go-chu-chang.

We have been celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Korea for as long as myself and Herself have been a couple. It’s kind of a thing we like to do. Before we would go to Gangwon-do and visit a small temple Herself’s mother used to go to. Again, it was a similar set up without the nice grass, but admittedly the food was better (it is Gangwon-do of course). After that we’d usually go for a walk through Odaesan National Park, for more food and of course the beautiful Seogumgang Valley.

But none of that this year. Lovely Yeongtong was on the cards, and in fairness it didn’t disappoint.

 

For more photographs from Buddha’s Birthday at 반야사 please take a look at my set on Flickr

 

Did you celebrate Buddha’s Birthday? What did you do?

Is there any local festival specific to your home you’d like to share?

 

Is it December Already?


So now that Halloween is over we can all start getting our Christmas decorations down and checking the fairy lights are all working. While we’re at it, order a turkey, and for christ’s sake start knitting that jumper, there’s a 12 Pubs of Christmas on somewhere…

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Is it a bit early to be joking about this?

The thing is I can titter to myself, but I know that for a fact this is how things might as well be. Christmas is a bigger and bigger ordeal as each year passes. The lights in the cities go up earlier, there are more and more elaborate Santa’s grottos in supermarkets, and for some reason many people’s livers do not collapse, despite the increased effort.

If I was back in Ireland I could probably complain about this. But I’m not. I’m in Korea. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to invite you, my humble reader to celebrate this phenomenon.

In case you haven’t already noticed, preparations for the Christmas period are already in motion. Not more than two or three weeks ago I was in Costco and not one Halloween thing-a-majig did I see. However, Christmas trees and cribs to abandon were in stock. One crib, which to my eye was a walk-in one, had statues of the shepherds, wise men, Joseph, and Mary, not to mention the assorted livestock which usually comes with these things, all of which would have dwarfed little +1 at full stretch.

In starbucks yesterday, November 1st lest we not forget, they had rolled out their red Christmas campaign with all their Christmas flavoured coffees and whatnot over heating from too much cream and chocolate sprinkles. And this afternoon in Emart, the Korean supermarket chain, there was even a small section of plastic Christmas trees and flashing Santa Clauses.

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There are a couple of reasons why this doesn’t make me irate.

First of all there are more important things to get angry about.

Second of all, I kind of expect it so what is the point of getting angry about it – I wish I could say the same for driving standards in Yeongtong…

Thirdly, it’s Korea.

“What? That’s not a very good third excuse”, I hear you chirp.

Well it is. Korea is not a Christmas country. When I think family and holiday in Korea I think Chuseok and Seolal. When I hear Christmas in Korea I hear day off and drinking. Wait. That sounds the same as an Irish Christmas.

When I first came to Korea in 2005 I was lucky to even see the colours red and white together. I lived near a McDonalds which kind of helped me realise it was Christmas, but otherwise there was hardly any wind of it in the Seoul air. By 2008 I was living in Itaewon and you could kind of pick up on it a bit. I was also working in a much bigger school so they pushed the western holidays or whatever a little more, so I was reminded of Christmas somewhat more.

Around that time, someone in Seoul City Hall had the bright idea that fairy lights all over the place made the city look nice in the dark of winter, so Seoul suddenly looked like it was all lit up for Christmas. Of course these lights persisted until February, but in early Decemeber you could be forgiven for feeling the Christmas mood.

Despite this history of Christmas in Korea, my main thought still is that Christmas isn’t a Korean holiday, and any attempt to celebrate it isn’t going to match the ideas we have of Christmas in our own western homes. It’s not a family holiday for starters, and it’s certainly not one that many Koreans look back on with any amount of nostalgia. Now, you do see some kids getting Christmas presents from Santa Claus, and there’s that phenomenon of couples going to Myeong-dong on Christmas Day, but aside from that… oh yeah, don’t forget the twenty million or so Christians in the country (but since when has Christmas been about Christianity, right?).

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If you want to get an idea for where Christmas stands, maybe you should look at Halloween, which for some reason is called Halloween Day (yeah, I know…). There is no resemblance between the Halloweens in Korea and any of the Halloweens in Ireland I remember. For starters where is the abject fear of teenagers in the streets after dark? I could go on.

There is little point in growling about how Christmas is celebrated here. It’s like a Korean in Ireland complaining about how they just don’t do Chuseok like they do back home. And anyway, the fact that the commercial aspect is sneaking into popular culture should be comfort enough, seeing as it’s probably the most dominant feature of a typical western Christmas.

For me, I can find Christmas in Korea a very lonely time, even with a fantastic wife and now and amazing little daughter to keep me company, but I’ve never found a comparable comfort in the Christmas that Korea provides. That doesn’t mean that I don’t celebrate it. I’ve tried different things and always had a great time, but it’s not what I’d liken to Christmas. This doesn’t make it a bad thing.

The way I see it is there are two holidays here, one in the place it originated, and one attempt to liken it. Neither are wrong, neither will every be better, neither will ever suppress the other. Sure one may be more commercially driven than the other, or vice-versa.

So this December as I’m gradually getting used to red Starbucks signs and cups, mispronounced children’s Christmas songs, I’ll be happy knowing that at least there is something here that helps me get on with another year. What matters to me more than anything is, like any celebration, is who you spend it with and what you do, not what everyone else does.

Days of Chuseok


The Chuseok holiday is ending slowly here. All that is left is the rest of the weekend, but that’s not really Chuseok. Most businesses will open up tomorrow in the hope of catching those desperate to restock their fridge and fill their belly with something other than Chuseok food.

Of course we suffer in Korea this year because Chuseok, a three day holiday, has fallen on a Thursday, so the three days around it also meld into Saturday and Sunday making it a nice rounded five day break. There will be a very slow and more unenthusiastic than usual start to work all around the country this Monday.

Myself, Herself, and +1 have been on the east coast since Tuesday. The town, as you may already know, is called Jumunjn (주문진) and it’s where Herself was born and grew up. Her parent’s house is a short walk from the beach, and to a certain extent it is within very short distance of some fairly nice countryside. If you’re fortunate enough to have a car then there’s a wealth of scenery and country well worth exploring.

As it’s kind of late at night and +1 seems to be more restless in the evenings (she’s just under 10 months old now) I’m going to share with you some photographs I’ve take over the past few days, rather than writing a long essay. Some are s little blurry as I’m still struggling with having the right amount of paetience to make this DSLR of mine work for me. Still, I hope you enjoy them.

If you’d like to read a little more about my experience celebrating Chuseok in my own home in Suwon, please follow the link.

Also be sure to check out Ben Haynes guest post Get Ready, Get Set…Chuseok

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Copyright all photographs Conor O’Reilly, September 2013. All rights reserved.

The End of the Summer


It’s still hot in Korea. By hot I mean warm enough to prefer shorts to trousers but pleasant enough to consider the walk, wherever it is you’re going, enjoyable. Only this afternoon it started raining the kind of rain that smells of the heat that has warmed it. Like some kind of stagnant puddle water. And as it drops and hits the ground the water mixes with all the other smells walked into the street, then stewed up to create a black paste which seems to follow every foot’s step in the city. It’s a summer rain true, but not a high summer deluge.

When we returned to Korea from Ireland a little under two weeks ago we were told we had missed the worst of the summer. The breeze which we found chilly was a much welcomed breath of life into a country drained to exhaustion from the hottest of summers. We were grateful that we had chosen our flight dates well.

When I first spent a summer in Korea I can’t recall how I felt about it. I don’t remember when the heat began or ended, but I do remember staying outside long and late into the night at the weekend dressed only in shorts and t-shirt. I also remember walking into the ice cold bank to find 10 to 15 people sitting around in small groups chatting, snacking on fruit, and generally just hanging out in what was a free air-conditioned space. A few years later and I would do the same, but with a cheap ice coffee in the local Paris Baguette.

Now, that cool breeze I mentioned seems to have let up a little, but there is still a heavy rattle of cicada in the afternoon. Occasionally a dragonfly will drop to the ground dead in front of me, a sure-fire sign of the end of the summer. I still carry a handkerchief with me to avoid looking like I just stepped from the shower, but I can feel the weather getting steadily cooler.

In Ireland the summer ends in July, apparently, and autumn runs from August through to October. In many parts of the world August is an unbearable month, but Ireland it can be cool and the most unbearable thing we have are the wasps which seem to enjoy lunches in the garden as much the next person. It’s a far cry from the crowded beaches and sweltering streets of Korea, but that’s where I was a couple of weeks ago.

 

A view in Ireland

A view in Ireland

I was not thinking of the Korean summer, just of how nice it was to be in Ireland for what was a very enjoyable and warm summer by Irish standards. If anything the only reason I didn’t want to go back to Korea was because it meant the summer would be over and I would have to return to work.

It’s always easy to get all sentimental after leaving your summer holidays behind and returning to work, normality, and routine, as you sit there, wherever it is and doing whatever you have to do, looking invariably at a scene quite different than you have recently made familiar to yourself. My view from where I write is often uninspiring, faced with a computer screen backed onto a white wall, and the view through the windows leaves nothing to the imagination. The mountains in the distance even being too far off to be wistful.

An example of 'the routine'.

An example of ‘the routine’.

Coming to Korea you’d think that all would be amazing, especially from little old Ireland. But equally so, leaving Korea and going to Ireland presents such stark contrasts, not just visually, but also physically and socially. One is here and the other is there, and there is so distant from here that it bears such little comparison that highlighting the differences only serves to be counterproductive. Each country exists in such stack separation from the other that seeing the two in any light never presents any recognisable image.

I say this with a fair amount of regret, but I know that it’s true. To worry that, for example, your holiday has ended and that you must now return to the routine does little but to feed your own sentimental wishes and dreams which are likely to be realised. It serves to remember that those who can be considered fortunate enough to live where you have returned from also have the same concerns as you, none more so than complaints about the weather, bills, normality, routine, and a desire to find a better life somewhere else. I would also hasten to add that if I were fortunate enough to be so wealthy as to afford to sit around and play golf all day at such a young age I think I’d find myself bored. Perhaps when I’m old enough to retire I will be of a different mind-set.

It is safe to say that we make decisions in life about where we want to be and what we want to do. Where we choose to live and how we choose to live are important decisions. Of course not everyone is in as comfortable a position as myself to be offered a choice, I know this better than I used to, but still it’s in our power to change this, somehow.

Living in Korea, I have been frustrated by many things, but at the same time I find a lot of enjoyment in living here. I work hard enough to enjoy a lifestyle which many in Ireland do not enjoy, but we are just as happy living where we are. I have being living in Korea long enough to know what to enjoy and what to avoid. I know the limitations of my luxuries and envy those without them, which sounds odd I know, but it is nothing unusual for a person to covet what they cannot have.

A view from Korea

A view from Korea

I have never really felt myself unhappy in Korea, homesick yes, but never unhappy. There are plenty here who find fault with so many social and political issues here, but I always look at it from the perspective that every country has its problems and no one country manages to deal with them in any way more effectively, as a whole. Societies face pressures from all angles, but rounding them off they are internal and external issues which time itself and the experience it brings often help to solve most complaints. Whether we live to see some of these changes is probably what concerns us the most.

I started this post talking about the weather. I see the weather as a metaphor for how we deal with our lives in different countries from our own. I can’t say it matters much to me or anyone in Korea, unless there’s some agricultural or aeronautical connection I’m forgetting, how the weather is in Ireland right now. I’m concerned that my family and friends are doing alright of course, but I don’t think that this supersedes my own situation, which is the rain from now until some time tomorrow.

And that is what I will do. I will wait until it stops and then I will see what happens next. I wonder will the rain be light enough when I get up so that I can walk to work, or will I have to drive. I wonder if it will rain all day and what I will do in between my classes if it is still pouring down. It’s what is here and what I must deal with, regardless of what the weather is in Ireland.