September 1


There goes the summer. Without a blink or nod of recognition Autumn is upon us. There has been enough talk about the weather already so I shall spare you and I further discomfort. The Irish summer is a subject best discussed from more summery climes. Regardless it does little to explain the speed it passes with.

Maybe it is because today is a day I previously would have returned to work after a long and hot summer break. But I’m not in Korea any longer so it’s of little consequence. What is notable is that in July I went back to work and pretty much worked all through the summer, for better or worse, for the first time in around six years. You grow used to creature comforts like a two and half month summer holiday, which I’m probably only just about to appreciate a little more now.

Second and even more significant was that in May Herself gave birth to our second daughter, who I suppose you can refer to as +2 (not wanting to break from convention or anything). This happening has basically swamped us with greater responsibility and fears, and with me going back to work a little earlier than at first planned the challenges have been compounded. It is because of this a variety of emotional and physical challenges have personified our summer, normally considered a more relaxing time of year, as a hectic and frustration laden season.

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to keep +1 at the forefront of our attentions, while at the same time trying to care for a new and bubbly little baby girl. It’s not that we care any less for either of them, it’s just that all the time in the world we had before has now been split in two. This has been the challenge, but I think with +1 starting Montessori this week things will change a little for the better.

And now you wonder what lies ahead for this autumn and the winter that follows? We will continue on in hope and worry about the next step that needs to be taken.

Probably with the summer over I can worry less about missing the whole of my favourite season due to work commitments. Myself and Herself would love to travel again, and while we will be in London this weekend with her parents, I miss the sense of adventure experienced when visiting a country I’ve never seen before. We check the Ryanair prices all the time, but in the back of our minds is a big planned return to Korea next spring to celebrate +2’s and Herself’s new niece’s birthdays. Aside from the obvious festivity which would surround a trip like this, we are both keen to return and catch up with many of our friends who we miss.

I think at times this past year we have both worried was it the right decision to leave Korea. It has been a long year, as we suffered many ups and downs with my work situation and Herself’s pregnancy was not the rosy cheeked adventure anyone who has never had kids might imagine pregnancy to be. I think we reached breaking point on more than one occasion but despite these tribulations much has been overcome and we look forward to the future optimistically again.

It is always reassuring that despite your doubts when you can turn to someone you love and who you rely on and they can reassure you that the decisions made were the right ones and that there is little to be done about circumstance. Deep breaths, short sleeps, laughterless afternoons, hour after hour passing are trials easily overcome with the support of a loved one, and especially one who is as tired and stressed as you are.

I’m an optimist at the worst of times, and I feel that this will be my undoing in the long run. I am sitting in a café on Dublin’s Harrington Street looking out the big bay window as I type and there is tall and broad, bright green sycamore tree in front of me. Through the tiniest gaps in the leaves is a streak of blue through pale white clouds, and that is where I look to. Not to right where the a dark summer rain heavy cloud lurks in its steady progress to take over my scant blue triangle in the leaves. These small glimpses through the leaves are what motivate me. There is always a chance that something good will come of even the worst summer many Irish living can recall. I wish and I hope, and I encourage myself to see the brightness in the dark, the colour in the monochrome, and find the warm cinders in the long dead ashes of a fire.

September I look forward to you, and to October and November aswell. Sure who knows what will become of you, or us, or the people sitting around in the café where I write this. I can only hope the best for everyone.

 

Thanks for reading, if you liked what you saw here please leave a comment below and share your summer story, or perhaps tell me and your fellow readers what motivates you to get on with life.

 

Trying to Appreciate Time and Effort


I frequently look back on everything I’ve written in this blog and think that it has all been a complete waste of time. I can’t count the amount of words I’ve written, I’m sure there are several books worth, but what is it worth when all it does is sit there waiting to come up in a Google search? This isn’t the first time I’ve had this notion, and for the most part I’ve held on to the blog itself mostly because of nostalgia. Deleting from the record over four years of work just doesn’t seem right to me, but then I wonder again.

What concerns me is what the blog has done to me. Granted I haven’t been writing much here, or indeed anywhere of late, but it has stifled my written output elsewhere. It has always been a distraction, something which I have written on and felt that my need to write something has been quenched. So many times I’ve felt guilty for writing on my blog when I could have sat down and wrote something else, something more challenging, something I would perplex over and frustrate myself trying to find someone to publish it. But this blog’s greatest publishing quandary is coming up with more intuitive tags to lure new readers.

I can’t say I’m not proud of my blog here, but there is a bitter cynical streak in my veins which asks that regardless of what you have written, who is reading it? I’m not suggesting that I want some post to go viral, or that I want to be some class of a power blogger, in the Korean sense. I don’t really think that my opinions are any more valid that anyone else who may have a blog, or indeed anyone who may actually be able to think and act for themselves. I think I just always hoped for more to come of it.

This blog grew from itself. It started slow. It started confused. It had a longwinded and unread infancy, but at some stage around its second birthday I suppose it started to get a little popular. The number of readers managed to regularly peak around fifty a day, and for me this was a success. I felt like it was my duty to write for these people, whoever they were. I don’t know what I was writing about, you can check my archive for that, but I do recall that I was having fun.

It was perhaps that writing that was the most exciting aspect. I learned at that time how to really use the keyboard to my advantage, and I think I actually believed in myself as someone who had the skill to craft a beautiful sentence. As my grandfather might say, it takes a lot of them to fill a pint. Yet, there was something about what I was doing. The more I tried to change and grow as a blogger the better reactions I earned.

One time when I was considering quitting the blog writing thing I opened up a 10 Magazine where I had an article written that month, and in it Ifound that my blog was featured as Blog of the Month. It wasn’t really a major accolade by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt good to get a little recognition from a fellow blogger and blog reader.

I think that every time I half considered quitting blog writing some small thing like this happened and I got a little more impetus to continue writing. I can recall regularly panic writing a blog conclusion with five minutes before a class started, and spending the down time in that class adding the tags and uploading photographs in a frenzy as if the very action of writing could not wait until I got home, or at least back to my office. When the post went out I would then sit back and refresh my blog stats waiting for a spike in views. This kind of recognition was kind of a drug.

Since I’ve been back in Ireland I think my posts just haven’t garnered the half-frenzy of attention I thought they got in Korea. I probably haven’t tried hard enough, but that would imply that I’ve tried to make me blog a success in Ireland. For some reason the blog just doesn’t seem to have the same function here. It is still necessary, but I think it has become more of a personal venting space than anything, and who wants to read that? Maybe I could look for something to talk about more, but I struggle to find that new guile required.

I still believe that without my blog I don’t think I could have been as confident a writer as I am now.

Well, that is a little unfair. I could easily have become as confident if not a more confident writer without this function, but my blog successes have encouraged me to continue trying and to persevere and to understand that you cannot expect success to be immediate. I need to remember this lesson more than ever these days.

But I also strongly believe that it has been a mighty distraction which has blinkered me a lot about my understanding of how writing and the world works. I believe that for some reason it has scuppered many opportunities, but if you asked me what opportunities these are I could not list them.

Now that I say all this I think that the problem is not with my blog and blogging itself, it is my own maturity as a writer and an individual looking for a sense of self when I am feeling quite lost at sea. Perhaps, as I look for a conclusion and an understanding here, I could say that maybe the blog has matured me to expect more from myself and to step beyond my comfort zone and accept new challenges. This is perhaps what I should say, and stop looking for ways to blame my blog for doing nothing but help me know myself a little more.

 

*Don’t worry, this is not the end of my blog, just thinking out loud….AGAIN*

St Patrick’s Day Ten Years On


I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day for the first time in 11 years. That I was not excited about this lends a lot to my own feelings about Saint Patrick’s Day as a day of Irish celebration, which probably isn’t helped by the whole institution of Saint Patrick’s Day around the world. But having been away from Ireland for such a length of time, I think my understanding of my own Irish identity and Irish identity in general have changed.

When I first went to Korea I was 23. I arrived on March 16, 2005, the last time I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day I was 22. I suppose I just missed the day, and at the time I knew that this was probably for the best. I was no fan of Saint Patrick’s Day back then.

While before I had never really considered its relevance or its connection to me or my Irish identity, something of a sucker punch came when I went into an alehouse I used to frequent. Shrouded in a darkness, the sunlight streamed through the permanent smokiness and silhouetted the pirouettes of stumbling celebrants enthused by A Nation Once Again shaking the very fibres of much strained PA system. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. It was a dubious WTF moment, and one I always remember and attest to an urgent desire to leave the country, and Korea is where I ended up.

My own story in Korea is one littered with its own confusion, in terms of Irish identity. I stumbled upon an Irish party on the days surrounding March 17, and wasn’t too enthusiastic about celebrating my identity then. I settled in to living and found a group of friends who saw a novelty in my Irishness which I tried not to embellish but soon got it into my head that I was the only Irishman in South Korea.

I used to spend a lot of time in Seoul expressing my distaste at my nationality, its failings, and why I was a better person not to be living there any longer. I knew several friends shared similar feelings back in Ireland, so it wasn’t something I was attempting to appear aloof about, at least not on my own anyway.

I wonder though that the longer you spend away, the longer you feel that you to try to find yourself, as opposed to the idea that you’re missing out on something. Mixing with people from around the world from many different backgrounds who proudly exclaim their nationality while you shyly question what is it that makes you stand out from others would have this effect.

Ireland was a very unfamiliar place in Korea, so there was very little to talk up. As much as I would try to offers faint words of praise towards Ireland, I’d spend an equal amount of time explaining where in fact Ireland was and that, despite its proximity to the United Kingdom it was not in fact a territory of the Queen, or attempting to talk down the hype of Irish drinking habits and love of Riverdancing to the tune of IRA marching songs. It was hard to find a middle ground.

I don’t imagine that this image of Irishness has disappeared, and while there are plenty who shun the whole idea of the image of an Irishman, they will feel the necessity to indulge in the inebriating elements of the celebration. Not that I have a problem with this, I suppose. It’s often a mid-week day off, and what better way to beat the hump than to have few drinks. For your sins, like.

There is a strong trend in Ireland which now sees over-drinking on St Patrick’s Day as something the national image could do without. Doing so robed in green and bedecked in shmarockery in the name of a saint in a increasingly secular society just doesn’t rock the boat seven days of the week. I’d fall into this category of Irish person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to celebrate the day any longer.

Like it or not, Ireland’s national day is St Patrick’s Day. I often felt that we needed some kind of an independence day or a day that at least allows us to recognise the achievements of those who saw about Ireland’s independence from England. Ireland being Ireland though, some would never see us truly independent seeing as we still have the six counties in the north as part of the UK, while there are plenty of elements who could never stand for approving of the actions of De Valera or Collins camp.

I think that Paddy’s Day has allowed us, more and more in recent years, to celebrate ourselves a little more than any other kind of national celebration would allow. While the parades and bedecking in green seem to be embellished habits from abroad, they certainly have allowed for the new identity of St Patrick’s Day to shine through. The parade in Dublin and the hundreds of thousands of revellers are far removed from the local parades which town after town celebrates in as much fashion as the community can muster.

When I helped out with the St Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul, we saw about doing the same thing, but in a slightly different way. You would always do your best with what you had, and we would regularly muster together as much Irish cultural talent as possible. This would include Irish dancers, US army bands playing Irish ballads and songs, a Korean U2 tribute band, some class of an Irish-Canadian folk rock six piece, and a guitar wielding human juke box from Bray performing across the afternoon, while in the background all forces of paddywhackery were out in force encouraging and inviting new participants into the madness that is Irishness in Korea.

Community was the essential element, even if it meant participating in a field of plastic Paddy inspired mayhem. The more bodies the better was the philosophy of choice, because let’s not forget this was a party we having. It was so much fun and such a success that we didn’t mind the moans from locals and the endless tidy-up come six o’clock.

In Blanchardstown in Dublin where I now live, and in Dunboyne were I spent my formative years there are now community parades. They don’t appear to have much resembling the hype of our Seoul shenanigans, and they pale in comparison to the big one in Dublin. Regardless, the faces throughout are smiling as big as any other parade, and they are faces you could recognise, maybe not now but in a couple of weeks when you’re in the local Supervalu or Spar.

As a parent though, I found it encouraging to see so many kids at the centre of the parade, marching, kicking, dancing, whistling, and chanting. These little things, small as they are and as insignificant as they seem mean a lot to these families who get to see each other having their own little moment as the centre of attention.

This far from a bad thing, because regardless of who we are we always need to feel a little bit important, and to have a sense of place in our community. This community can be a small village in the west of Ireland, a suburb or Dublin, or a shower of foreigners clattered together in one of the largest cities on the planet a mere 8,000 kilometres away from home.

 

Much About 2014


The end of the year is all about looking back on what happened, what was said, who did this, and other stuff. As a blogger I like to look back at what I wrote, but also what was read. It certainly hasn’t been my most productive year, with a few long gaps in between writing, and while of course it has been a memorable year, it has equally been a notable year.

A few bloggins milestones for me to brag about:

  • I had the single highest monthly visits to this blog in April with 3065 hits.
  • The same can be said for the average daily visits, with 102 being the average for April also.
  • There were 63 posts in 2014
  • As of 3.30pm on December 31, 2014 there have 28,231 visits this year – I know some blogs get that in a day, but this is my blog and this figure is an improvement of 4,000 visits on last year.

Here are some of the moments which mattered for me in 2014.

  • We moved back to Ireland in July.
  • We left Korea after four and half fantastic years.
  • I got paid for writing a poem (still haven’t cashed the cheque).
  • We spent two and bit great, warm months in Thailand, and learned a valuable lesson in the importance of travel insurance.
  • Myself and Herself found out we’d be having another baby in the middle of next year.
  • I got an commendation from the Irish Association of Korea and from the Embassy of Ireland in Korea for my services promoting Irish culture in Korea.
  • I signed on the dole a few months after coming back to Ireland.
  • I lost my camera somewhere just before Christmas.
  • I got accepted into an EdD course in the University of Glasgow.
  • I read a couple of poems at an official PEN Korea event
  • and other stuff…

Here are a few photographs which mattered to me in 2014

Christmas is brewing Dublin

Early morning prayer

I'm not scared

East Sea Rising

Port Corners

April Highrise

Spring, Korea

Decisions

Teaching

This is Chiang Mai

Lost in the Night Bazaar

Sunday Market, Chiang Mai

Moving country left me without my (good) computer for over four months so I was without a satisfactory way of editing and uploading shots from July through to almost late November, so there’s a bit of a gap in the timeline. I did get a new phone however, and that seems to be doing a really nice job of taking and sharing photos online.

And of course before I forget, this is a blog, and it is one on which I write on. So without getting bogged down in too much fanfare here are the five most read posts written and shared in 2014:

  1. I Just Want to Scream 
  2. Nimmanhaemin
  3. Saint Patrick’s Day in Seoul, 2014
  4. 10 Things About Korea
  5. People Have Their Own Problems To Worry About. You Don’t Need to Hear About Mine

So that’s it. The end of 2014, and next up we have 2015. I hope to keep battling away here at the keys for the forseeable future. Thanks for your comments, contributions, and readership. Oh, and happy new year to you and all those special to you!

 

 

 

 

Back in Ireland, Back in Line


It is November now, and after almost five months back in Ireland I am beginning to see what drives people to be so committed and set such high expectations. A new sense of value has permeated everyone, not just in their commercial sense, but in every sense. It’s is no longer what will you do, more what can you not do and how is it going to affect me? As a person who is returning to Ireland it seems that I have left out this consideration, and have become wrapped up in wide eyed notions of what’d I’d like to do if it’s possible, please. Somewhere along the line this will have to change.

Since September my triumphant return to little old Ireland has been suffering a series of, how do I put it without sounding too alarmist, hiccups. In fairness, myself and Herself knew it would be far from perfect, and we knew we’d have to struggle through this period, and it is well that I had the foresight to recognise this in advance of our arrival. Still, it has been increasingly disappointing.

Besides everything else all I really want now is a full time job. When I came back from Korea I was fortunate enough to land right in the middle of the high season for ESL teaching in Dublin. This is a period in the summer when literally thousands of language students converge on the capital and start to study English. They range from the age of 12 and up, and by up I mean into people’s sixties and beyond. Unfortunately the majority of these people have to go back to work or school come the end of August, and so the work dries up.

It’s not all doom and gloom as there are occasional jobs here and there, but because the teaching work in ESL in Ireland is strictly based on demand it does mean that at this time of year there are a lot more teachers seeking hours than there are classes available. It’s a feature of the business I wasn’t so aware of when I returned to Ireland, but it’s not something I can complain about as I should have expected it. Long story short: this is the rut I’m stuck in.

Rut softened by nice walks along the canal

I’ve been very fortunate since getting back to Ireland to have my fair share of support and advice from friends and former colleagues, but at the same time it still does not seem to be enough. I can’t begrudge anyone as it is me who is the person that must meet the standard, not come here expecting some standard to be available for me.

I was pretty confident though that my work in Korea over the past four and a half years would carry some weight in Ireland. And by this I mean some weight outside of the classroom. While I suppose that you could argue that the economy has seen a change for the better and there are more jobs available, there is still a huge amount of competition out there. This is especially the case when you see that there is one particular job every week fitting the particularly criteria I’m setting myself. It’s times like this I wish I worked in IT.

As I bury my head in my computer screen worrying over the state of my application, I know that there is someone with more relevant experience than me. Sure I can type out my skills and explain how I utilised them for blah blah blah but in the back of my mind I know that there is someone who did exactly the same thing or exactly what the job is looking for. Tell me to have confidence all you want, but this is certainly something every job seeker struggles with.

For one thing I want to stay in education. However another part of me says to forget about it and go and do something else, something that pays better, and something that won’t have you crucifying yourself waiting for one new posting a week. I could easily do this. Just take a step down from what I expect of myself, which is probably too high in the first place, and then in a few years take the step up to a better paying position.

The rewards of education.

This would be the cheap way out. I’ve worked in education for over eight years, admittedly most of this is in Korea which is on the other side of the planet. But it’s my job, and it is where my skills and knowledge lie. I know how students and teachers think and work, and I know that I can apply this to a role here beyond satisfactorily. As well as that I have all these other personality traits which seem to come as part of every job position advertised.

If anything, I have hoped that I could start from where I left off in Korea. I mean this in terms of salary at least. When you do a currency exchange you’ll find it’s not that huge a salary in terms of Ireland, and Korea it has to be said, but it is somewhere to start from. I believe I’m worth this much at least, and I hope that I can return to this level. As I said, I hope.

Last February I was accepted into a Doctor of Education course in the University of Glasgow. When I found out this news I was ecstatic. I had worked hard to be accepted into what I believed was beyond my retention. The thing is, I deferred the course until next year because I knew I was moving back here and I knew that it would be hard to settle into work here and to study at the same time. I wanted to settle in with work comfortably, or at least be comfortable with the work situation here before I dived into doctoral study. I believe this was the right decision.

This is another significant reason why I want to stay in education. I’m making a commitment which I believe could be significant to my future, so I need to stay involved. I can’t work in a call centre and try and get an EdD. What’s the point? It’s a complete waste of my time, regardless of whether or not I hope to return to education in the future.

One way of looking at the classroom.

All this being said, I’m looking to get beyond the classroom. I think that this may be where my problems lie, in that I have circumstantial evidence of an appropriate level of skill for an actual educational leadership or management position. There just isn’t enough stability, or indeed pay, to support a growing family as an English language teacher in Ireland. Couple to this that I’m not qualified to teach in secondary or primary schools in Ireland, that’s considering that I even want to do this.

That’s one side of me. There is another perspective, and one which I am equally torn against. I want to write. I want to write so that I get paid. If I could write enough so that the pay could afford me and my family a living then that would be equally fantastic. I have known for years that the best way to go out and find writing work is to go out and ask. It’s that simple (although the format that ask in is a little bit more complicated). What is less complicated though is my reason for not trying. That reason is I’m absolutely terrified.

Regular readers and friends will assert that this is nonsense and that I have nothing to fear but fear itself. I wish it was ever so easy. I don’t think of myself as competitive, nor do I think of myself as someone or something marketable. I just think of myself as who I am, an early thirties former Korea-based ESL teacher from Ireland. When I say it to myself like that I suppose I can expect little else but the just dessert I’m lauding.

I will argue to myself and myself only that it is perfectly natural to be afraid of fear and rejection. It is, trust me, but at what point does this attitude become ridiculous to the point that you start letting yourself down? And what about when I start letting other people down?

Tomorrow is another day.

I sit now and look back over the eight years I spent in Korea, and of all the things I claimed to have achieved. I look to how I can translate my experience into something worthwhile which communicates the character I wish to put myself across as. I look at the same time and can’t help but feel the effects of karma rubbing off me after fleeing Ireland in 2010 when the dole queues were at their longest. I think of what a great job I had but of how completely untranslatable it all feels now because of distance, because of situation, and because of the fact that I am no longer a one-of-a-kind, the way I used to think of myself.