Of Suwon No More


I am no longer a resident is Suwon. It’s a sad day, I suppose, but one myself and Herself talked about for a while. It may be a new idea to you but it’s one thing we’ve known about for some time.

Over the past week boxes were filled, as we’re plenty of those 100 litre rubbish bags. The bags went to the dumpster down below, the boxes to the post office. Thankfully there’s surface post from Korea to Ireland.

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On Tuesday we sent our good bits of furniture to a new home and life in Ansan. They looked happy there, being put to good use at the hands of newlyweds. We’ll miss that fridge I could fit into, and the bed too. It was as comfortable as they get, with a memory or two attached as well.

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In the morning we packed and watched Korea’s draw against Russia. It was already hot and I was hungover from farewell drinks with colleagues the night before. It looked like we’d never come near to leaving that evening, but sleeves were rolled up and sweat was wiped from brows and not a thought was given to what might be, only to what must be.

By five o’clock we had the house cleared and we dined at a plastic storage box. The apartment was bright with evening light, and our words amplified in the echo of our now empty walls. It looked bigger than ever, but it was as still as tiny as it always seemed with all our acquired accoutrements cluttering corners to abandon.

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Eventually everything was gone. We dumped our leftover furniture for disposal and jammed the final bags we meant to pack more sensibly into the back of the car. We panicked again when we saw another pile of something we’d neglected to economise space for, but found a solution through the good will of a generous neighbour.

Before we pulled away we checked the apartment once more, went to the toilet, and I managed to get one last picture of that skyline which looked across at us for three and a half years.

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When I say it like that, the whole adventure probably doesn’t come across as anything nearly as dramatic as it should. Yet, it was where myself and Herself both finally got a chance to settle a little for the first time after we married some six years previously. We are grateful for this opportunity, and none more so than the chance to start a family, itself as new a chapter as any.

Now though, the three of us are starting another phase of life. We are moving country. This is not myself and Herself’s first venture, but for +1 it is. Although I really can’t tell if she knows what’s happening; throughout the past weeks he has just been really good and allowed whatever to happen as it has.

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For now we are in a humid and overcast Gangnueng for a little over ten days, spending time with Herself’s parents and relaxing before we finally fly to Ireland and start settling into the onslaught of reverse culture shock we are expecting on arrival.

This Could Be (one of) the Last Time(s)


The fact that I live an apartment on the twentieth floor is not news to this blog. This high position allows for a fine, if not a little post-apocalyptic at times, view of Suwon on all but the most weather beaten of days. I have grown fond of taking photographs of the many perspectives this home of ours provides. There aren’t many opportunities left for me to do this. 20140606-193730.jpg After four and a half years here in Korea, which is essentially the whole life cycle of this blog, we are returning to Ireland to live. 20140606-193754.jpg Things you need to know: This is an indefinite move. We really aren’t sure where we will eventually settle down. 20140606-193806.jpg We will never leave Korea forever. We will be back. This is a certainty. Just don’t ask me when. It’s going to be a crazy change, and we are excited, terrified, happy, and of course sad to be making such a move. This is a life changer. 20140606-193825.jpg Before we came back to Korea in 2010 we moved country four times in a year and a half. We’ve enjoyed the stability. I’ve really enjoyed writing here about life in Korea, and I know many of my regular readers are here for my writing about Korea. I hope that you will join me as I document life in Ireland, when I find a minute to spare (of course). 20140606-193840.jpg So that’s my big news, in case you’ve been wondering. So with that in mind, here’s a song.

…And a post-apocalyptic-ish sunset

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P.S. I hate packing/moving country almost as much as I hate K-pop. It’s going to be a blast!

Smartphone Perspectives


Not so long back a blog post by photographer John Steele on the pros of using a smart phone for taking photographs turned up in my timeline.

Of course, you’d have to live under a rock, and that rock would have to be in the middle of a very large and uninhabited space to not realise the dominance of smart phones in 21st century everywhere. Not just for the photographic capability, but also for their connection to the wider internet, and all their other conveniences. Let’s not forget the well worn trope of folks staring mindlessly into their screens 24-7.

I’m a bit of an Instagram nut as you already know, but when I’m not posting pictures there I can be found taking pictures of other things. Like John Steele, I also use Snapseed, but mostly on my iPad where I actually edit pictures taken with my DSLR. I decided I’d download the app again to my iPhone and try it out on my shots there.

I’ve used other apps for editing photos before, like Camera+, but I’m more familiar with Snapseed’s simplicity of use, and I quite like the colours and tones that come from the editing process. They’re not as smooth or natural as Lightroom on a desktop, but they can almost give an HDR effect.

Here’s a few recent spring type shots taken around Suwon, with a Gangwon-do cameo in there for added effect, that I’ve edited with Snapseed over the past week of two.

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As I am the proud owner of the humble iPhone 4, which is approaching vintage status at this stage, the pictures probably don’t have the clarity of newer and more advanced Smartphone cameras. When I put them up on a larger screen they could do with some more clarity as the graininess is pretty obvious. I could buy a new phone I suppose, but after dropping over 500,000 won on this one a few years back I‘m inclined to want to get more milage from this – I also like the idea of have a phone bill of a mere 30,000 won every month.

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And yes, I know that all of these pictures are in colour.

Korea in Chiang Mai


You spend enough time in Asia as an Irishman and you give up expecting to find Irish stuff. You know you’ll stumble across something here or there, but at the best of times all you can find is a can of Guinness and a Westlife song. Chiang Mai, despite its large expat population and even larger tourist numbers was no better than Korea, or anywhere else I’ve been. I had hoped for half a day or so, but any hopes I had were soon dashed by the obvious.

Not so much of a disappointment was the preponderance of Korean influences. In fact it wasn’t really anything close to a disappointment. Obviously you can make that Asian connection, which in many respects is a loose connection. More significant to this is the economic connection, the good old supply and demand of goods and services. Despite these two, where Korea shined through the most was in its culture – that being its food and its music.

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Herself is better at spotting Korean music (do you spot with your ears?), and by Korean music I mean K-Pop of course, than I would be. It’s not essentially because she can hear the Korean, which would stand out, but I think because she has a better idea of what songs are out there at the moment. All I could hear was the confounding ‘jumping, jumping, everybody’ song by Crayon Pop. There were other instances too but for the most part when out and about you’d hear a K-Pop tune or two, and seeing as this wasn’t in Yeongtong where everywhere was playing the same K-Pop tune I was not prone to writhing in misery at all stages throughout the day.

My experience of Koreaness in Chiang Mai was by all accounts primarily visual. There was a fair amount around, but this popularity is clearly surmounted by the plethora of Japanese ramen and sushi places, and the unmissable presence of car after car of Japanese manufacture. The big pick-up Toyotas and Izzuzus rumbling up and down filled gangs of workmen are hard to ignore, and while this is notable in my two months there I only saw one Korean car, and a ten year old one at that. You can shun this but don’t forget that Hyundai-Kia are the fourth largest auto manufacturers in the world.

In the supermarkets though, Koreans could hold their own. There was no lack of ramyeon or indeed gochujang or your usual list of regular supermarket supplies. To add to this Korean cosmetics were to the forefront of most major supermarkets, equipped with a Korean flag and pristine models face; you’d almost think you were in E Mart at times.

Around town as well there was a decent number of Korean restaurants, of which we never bothered to eat in, although I think we promised ourselves often enough. Mostly they were barbecue places, but there was a dakgalbi place, and oh yes now I remember we tried a place called K-Pop Ddeokbokki which was, to be honest, awful. Not just for the name, but because the food was really bad, and not because it was Korean food in Thailand, because it was bad. I think the kimbap we had was passable, but maybe not.

There were a few other peculiarities about, like a Magic water purifier manufacturer store which was proud of its Koreaness, and there was a Tom and Toms coffee shop near where we were staying that seemed to be perpetually waiting to be opened. As much as a novelty as this was, I was happy we missed this grand affair. More random than all of this had to be the woman we ran into who was wearing a Lee Myung Bak election hoodie – yeah like the ones you see the electioneering dancers at the corner wear. She had no idea what it was about.

           

There were no shortage of Koreans out and about either. The familiar sounds of their voices followed us around, and it has to be said, I could spot them well in advance. There were the young university aged independent travelers over protected from the warm sun who wandered up and down Nimmanhaemin in the afternoon, and then there were the golf groups of men and women who stayed in the condo where we stayed. They mostly stuck to themselves, I suppose, and rarely came to the pool which I couldn’t understand.

I met one Korean man who actually lived in Ulan Bator in Mongolia – and to think Myself and Herself complained about the Korean winter – who was baffled by many of his fellow Koreans who just came to play golf all the time. While he played a little, he was mesmerised by the wonders of Chiang Mai and that there was in fact a lot to do. The guy was having a good time it has to be said, and was heartbroken when he got called back to Mongolia for work. He did however leave me a bottle of whiskey which he had yet to get around to putting a serious dent into.

For the most part though, Chiang Mai was comfortable place for many Koreans who lived there all the time. I’m not sure what they did but there is a decent core population who send their kids to the international schools, and they work and live in safety and comfort, although nowhere near on the same scale as the number of Japanese in the city. I suppose it’s always reassuring from our perspective to find a Korean community, even if we don’t necessarily interact with them for whatever reasons.

So this was Korea in Chiang Mai, or at least the Korean stuff which I experieced. I was pretty happy to see this all round, and hope that next time I visit there’ll be a better representation of my adopted home.

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In conclusion I should add that while Chiang Mai did appear Irishless, it did triumph in two particular areas – Tayto (once but once can sometimes be enough!) and cans of Bulmers!

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For those not in the know I spent two months in Chiang Mai from late December 2013 until the end of February 2014. It was a good time.

All photos taken with my aging iPhone 4

Home to If I Had A Minute To Spare Towers


I kid because I love. But in this case I’m not kidding. I do live in a tower, a twenty storey high tower pitched between what seems like a thousand other twenty storey high towers. Although mine is made from concrete, steel, and glass, not ivory. This may or may not be a good thing.

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After a long summer away in Ireland, myself, Herself, and +1 have returned to our perch overlooking the ever present traffic which persists along that big long avenue that runs through Yeongtong-dong which I have no idea of the name.

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We have been told we have missed the worst of the heat, and we can well believe it as a cool breeze is now flowing through our apartment. Outside the weather is balmy indeed, with only the strong afternoon sun in our eyes to bother us as we stroll around.

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This evening, the first of September, the sky was truly clear for the first time as the sun encroached on the horizon of high-rise to our west. Bright, it turned the walls of the other apartments closest to us pink from white in its glow. All else which felled a shadow was black in its own silhouette from the departing evening. As it darkened more, all those shadows tuned to dusk, street lights came on as pin-pricks of fluorescent light, and the sky streaked with a brushstroke of cloud was layered in a peach kind of pink and a typical sky blue.

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It is home, I suppose.