Saint Patrick’s Day in Seoul, 2014


When you live in Korea long enough expecting public holidays from home to fall on their usual day or date becomes a waste of time. Really. Anyone American will be familiar with Thanksgiving falling on a Saturday, and even the Superbowl the night after. Irish, like myself, are now most familiar with a Saturday Saint Patrick’s Day, and yesterday was no different from other years (except for last year and the year before when Paddy’s Day actually fell on the weekend…which kind of ruins my point), the day of Ireland and it’s ‘ness was transformed from its early weekday schedule to a much more alcoholic friendly Saturday.

And with that Seoul, and by Seoul I mean Guro-gu, and by Guro-gu I really just mean Sindorim, but it’s probably best to be accurate as well as honest and admit that it was a small park at Sindorim Station.

But I digress.

This years festival was as big as any before, and it may have been bigger. The open stage which was brought in last year has allowed for a wider festival space, allowing for crowds to fill the entire squre or plaza and swallow up and who naively attempted to pass through on their way too or from the subway. The removal of the big purple C4U beer tent was a welcome sight personally, although it was still lurking in the background cleaning up from the thirsty festivalers. I’d like to add that for all their generosity providing drinks to the thirsty, none of of this is reciprocated to the organisers who provide such a lively crowd. Sour grapes? Yes, but for a festival which always struggles for a source of finance you’d think a donation would be nice. Perhaps if the festival moved away then maybe they’d appreciate us more.

What about the rest of the festival though? There was a busy information area just above the escalators which seems to grow each year. The Seoul Gaels were en masse providing info, as were face painters, balloons, and new to the scene story tellers. It’s a good setup, as anyone who comes within view can’t miss the fact that something is happening, encouraging leisurely Saturday curiousity as well as providing a beacon those lost at sea in search of the infamous festivities.

 

And what of the festivities? Plenty of Seoulites indeed attened, and plenty of nationalities in the mix too. There has not been an overall majority of westerners at this festival for some years now, and while it’s a relatively even balance it’s always good to see a large number of Koreans of all ages in the crowd. Granted many are probably staring in wonder at the madness, but that’s not really what is important.

This year saw the return of many tried and tasted favourites such as Dara Sheahan, the dancers Tap Pung, Bard (the Korean Irish trad group), and another American military band, although those who I spoke to couldn’t be sure which one they actually were. There was also a band flown over from Shanghai called Boxty Rebellion, which was a big deal, I suppose. They played early though and the crowd really could have been drunker to enjoy them. From the pictures I saw after four o’clock things livened up to a more than typical level of manic.

With Herself and +1 in tow however, I decided that a calm and responsible exit was required. We bowed out not long after half past four, and from there we seemed to be banished to traffic as the rest of Seoul was, as usual, trying to go in the same direction.

Well done to all the organisers and the team of volunteers who worked hard to pull this one off. It was definitely a very professionaly run event that was suitable to everyone, from raving lunatics infested with beer, and young families (yes, I know, it was that good!). A fine feather in the cap of new IAK Chairma…woman Shauna Browne, and long may her good work continue.

For more on the Saint Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul for 2014 visit iak.co.kr or check the facebook page, or on twitter (@irishinkorea or #paddysgotseoul).

 

Note: Author (me!) was chairman of the Irish Association of Korea from 2011-2013 in case you’re wondering why I may be biased.

Letter from Ireland, August 2013


Dunboyne, Ireland
16 August, 2013

Dear Korea

Negativity is an often attractive topic. It’s in our nature to be critical, to find issue with what is at fault, and even when we are happy we still find reasons to complain. This isn’t exclusive to any particular situation or condition, everyone does it in some manner or form. There may be some explanation to it, but that is not my aim today.

I wanted to write today about something which has being an increasing source of bother for some time, and since I am now in Ireland I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on it from a particular standpoint.

Some time back, possibly longer than one year ago or more, I wrote a post on this blog entitled “10 Reasons Why I Dislike Korea“. I suppose when I wrote it I felt that I had to say what I said. I was feeling inciteful as well as insightful, and at the same time I was approaching the living in Korea thing from a new angle. I didn’t consider it an “I hate Korea and here’s why you should too” kind of post, and I still don’t. I read it again recently with the thought that I might take it down, but decided that no it wasn’t my post which had the problems, it was the people who read it, and of course those who commented on it who had the problems.

Regularly people find my blog with search topics which automatically create the idea that they hate Korea, or that they are looking for people who hate Korea. These kind of people who go searching for previously written complaints find my blog post with a set agenda, that is they agree with me, or accuse me of being a racist, which I don’t believe I am. But what gets me a little is that more often than not, people take what I have written and muddle my meaning.

I suppose that’s just part of writing to be read though. That some people disagree with me, or that they take what I write and twist into some other meaning and confuse and confront me as if I have some sort of agenda is something I have to deal with. I have kind of stopped replying and interacting with many commentors, with the exception of the odd clarification. That’s my way of dealing with it.

I had thought of removing the post from my blog but I think that would be against what I stand for. I do still believe in what I wrote, and if it’s a little more negative than how I usually think or write, let it be a lesson for me to think these things through. On the up side, it does bring a lot of traffic to my blog, more than many of my other posts, but I don’t get the impression that many people do what I suggest they do and that’s read some of my other posts to get an idea of how I really think.

And you know, how I think now is no different than how I ever think. I try to think as openly and as relevant to my current situation as possible. I try to approach my blog posts about wherever I may be as honestly as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever lied, or taken anything out of context before (too much). As I say, it’s a personal blog and I am just the opinion of one person. This is the internet, I suggest using it to find a counter opinion.

You see it’s always easy to choose the reasons we dislike somewhere when we are there. Call it a constant search for a better situation, or something, something that encourages us to simply desire a better slice of the cake, because every human is entitled to want.

I could easily turn around and write ten reasons why I like living in Korea (and maybe I will but it would be a challenge to avoid cliches – which may be why I wrote the ten reasons in the first place). What I can do is point to where I am now, Ireland, a country where I have lived for a lot longer than I have lived in Korea, and one where I left in 2005 when I was 23 because I disliked living here. Today I couldn’t even attempt to rattle my brain to recall the simple causes of my initial departure, but there are plenty of things which get to me already and I’ve only been bacl here on holidays for a month and half.

Things like this odd superiority complex, the casual racism, the expectation that Ireland is and always will be perfect for everyone, that it is impossible to get real, good, Korean food, that we still as a people cannot stand up and fight and demand together the changes this country needs (but this could be a universal problem), that we still can not turn left on red, and that the majority of pubs still insist on serving only Guinness, Heineken, Carlsberg, Smithwicks, Bulmers and Budweiser…

We are people and we all want a better lot. We see things which we believe can be improved and we try to talk about them, to raise awareness where we see wrong. Some things will never change, such as the poor beer choices in Ireland and the human zoo that is Costco in Korea. We hope, and in this hope we continue on, making our own changes to see the progress in our lives, because we know how little hope we stand of ever finding the solutions we seek elsewhere.

I do dislike many aspects of living in Korea, but I bear them as an acceptable weight, and I see them as challanges which would be merely different but equally pertinent in any other country I might choose to live in, including my own. There are plenty of reasons that I like Korea also, but I chose not to write about them at that time.

There is no such thing as utopia. With every situation were people live together there will always be complaint and distaste. I believe it is in our nature. The important thing is that we do our best to concern ourselves with our own goals and our own future and we look beyond what others see as wrong. No place is exempt from criticism, just as much as no country should be criticised for only its mistakes and wrongs.

The same can be said for people. If you see what someone has done or said, look back and try to see what else they have said or done and try to realise how much of a human they are and how their actions reflect our own, regardless of skin colour or place of birth. In the world, it’s all just best that we get along, regardless if we’re from Ireland or Korea or somewhere in between.

St Patrick’s Day in Seoul, 2013


If you haven’t heard already, I’m chairman of the Irish Association of Korea, and every year around this time we organise a small get together. You might have heard of it, we call it Saint Patrick’s Day.

I won’t blether on too much about it as my brain is exhausted at the simplest mention of the event, however give this link a click and you’ll find all the info you need about the event.

St Patricks Day, Seoul 2013

For some photos from last year’s event, please take a look at my good friend Tom Coyner’s shots from the festival. Tom is also knee deep in this wee event that is taking place in Seoul and is celebrating Irish and Korean links.

irish korea

Go on, you know you want to!

Just Saying by Dave Tynan


This video came my way the other day. It’s a stark reminder of what happens to those of us Irish people who are dealing with emigration, one the social issues among young people in Ireland leading into 2013 (for example, I have four brothers and of the five of us only two live in Ireland). It is safe to say it really sunk in here at If I Had Minute to Spare towers. I’m not the only one – a friend back in Ireland posted on Facebook that this video actually made her cry. I wasn’t far behind her.

As well as the film’s obvious message, there is wonderful night portrait of Dublin city with so many landmarks I’ve seen countless times – including the Why Go Bald sign. Some of these are obvious, while others are more subtle and require some amount of a trained eye.

More about me and this video:

In my own case, most of my friends are still back in Ireland. So whenever I hear back from them or if I’m lucky enough to visit, I feel like I never hear the full story. It’s like I walked into a room in the middle of a joke or argument and everything just stops and brave face is put on until I leave the room again. I’m not sure if it’s a defence mechanism or a mind your own business one. I suppose we’re all strangers to a certain extent now. It’s a shite state of affairs really. This is one dominant feeling which emerged after watching the film. There were more but they’re too personal and too bloody nostalgic, and there’s enough poxy nostalgia over Christmas as there is.

I’d move back to Ireland in a heartbeat – not to change this but to change me – and this video sums up a lot about how I feel about Ireland, and especially Dublin, and how I feel about he limbo of not being and almost being there.

I can say more about this but its not appropriate now. Let this film attempt some class of an explanation.

But then again, it is Christmas and maybe im just a little mopy and homesick.

 

Follow director Save Tynan on twitter: @dave_tynan

Letter From Korea, August 2012


Suwon
August 24, 2012

Dear Ireland

I’ve been kicking myself a little lately because even with so much free time on my hands, I don’t seem to be getting the same amount of work done that I would like to be getting done. In a recent post I ranted about having too many distractions and found it difficult to scratch things off my list. Things have gotten a little better – I think – and maybe it was the rant that allowed me to get much off my chest. Still productivity, or lack of, bothers me still.

I get a lot of free time with my job. I won’t say how much but I will say that I am granted the luxury of less than normal holiday time, as well as limited contact hours in the classroom. So when I don’t get what I want done as quickly and easily as I should it bothers me. Preparing for the arrival of +1 is obviously taking up more of my time now, and a lot of this revolves around caring for Herself and keeping her company during the day, but I still have ample time.

Still, as the days pass things get done, gradually. Herself gets bigger and bigger and, bit by bit, I finish things I’ve being saying I should be doing.

One of those things that I haven’t had close to the top of this list is writing another blog post. I’ve kind of gone off the boil. I don’t really feel inclined to talk about anything going on in Korea so much – I think other people do a better job – and I also don’t feel that pushed towards talking about just day to day things that I usually go on about. I have a list of posts for this blog that I will eventually get around to, but for now I really am not inclined.

I know that I go through different things with varying levels of enthusiasm, and I know if I look back through my posts I’ll see months where I have written less, and months where I’ve churned out three or four posts every week. Now I’m not sure what to think as I do, I suppose, have some reasons for toning down the content.

Recently I bought an iPad to use, mostly, as an e-reader and browser. The reason is that I find a lot of content when I’m on twitter that I want to read but because I mostly use twitter on my phone and computer, I find it hard to read much of it. The phone’s screen is very small and my eyes hurt, and my computer is big clunky old thing that isn’t very mobile and the battery lasts about as long as it takes to boil the kettle, maybe less. So I figured the iPad would be a sound purchase.

Still, I keep looking over at my previously mentioned old dinosaur of a Fujitsu (about five years old, maybe more), sitting lonely in the corner of the room. This is my old warhorse when it comes to the written word,  and to really feel like I’m getting work done, I have to turn this on.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I came across this blog post on a website called the Blog of the Impossible. In the article, the writer describes an odd but enlighening encounter with the inventor of the computer, Russell Kirch. Frankly, it reads as a bizarre situation, and the author is clearly and justifiably humbled by the interaction. The reason I’m talking about this is not because Russel Kirch is obviously an amazing scientist and inventor who has achieved much more than me, but because what he said about computers and creativity:

“I’ve been against Macintosh company lately. They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things. You can code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before.”

“That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before.”

It’s an interesting notion. All around us are the tools to make the world a better place for ourselves, but we can be easily distracted by other entities which confuse us, making us wonder about what is the right pathway to be taking. Creation is such a simple concept and without it the world wouldn’t exist in it’s current state. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that without human innovation, humans would be still hanging from trees.

Making or creating new things can be as simple as changing your breakfast to the way you walk to work, or even just walking against the traffic going down the stairs in the subway – upset the norm. The blogosphere and twittersphere in Korea is a fine example of people going out of their way to upset the norm and to make changes to their life. In Korea, opportunities don’t happen for you and you have to step outside of your shell if you ever want move upwards. I suppose the same could be said of everywhere in the world.

Carried on from this idea is the second kind of reason that I’m feeling less inclined to write posts here of late. I’m beginning to think that I should be looking for markets for a lot of my essays here. I don’t see why not. I think they’re good enough, but many are probably too long for many people to read – I know when I look at a post on a website I automatically check how long it is before I started reading it. Certain people look for certain types of writing to read, and some people don’t want to read long articles, and some people do.

What does this blog have to do with that though? First of all, please excuse the comparison but I recall reading that it was a shame that T. S. Elliot spent so much time writing academic criticism and not writing poetry as this kind of swallowed up his creativity for years. I get the feeling more and more of late that I shouldn’t spend two or three hours writing a blog post, but  I should spend that time writing something else, be that an article for a magazine that will pay, or an essay, or some poems that have not gone past the stage of scribbled in my Moleskine notebook.

In Korea there’s not that many options other than blogging if you want to write and publish regularly, and while that’s a fairly narrow minded perspective to take, it is the truth if you ask me. There are only three newspapers, a handful of magazines in English, and then there’s a number of websites of varying quality and content. Fortunately, the internet is a magnificent gateway to so many more sources for anything you are involved in, and especially writing.

It may sound like an odd concept, but a computer can actually be a gateway to a more productive and creative life. This holds true in Korea for certain. Although, much like any piece of technology, so much depends on what you actually do with it!