The Maoul Bus*


I walked up and down the street looking for the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. Where I was going was only four stops away in that direction, but I soon realised that the bus only went in the opposite direction, which left me a good fifteen stops away.

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I bit the bullet and crossed the street. Before long a stubby little green bus trundled up to the bus stop. The doors jerked open quickly like a trap and an assortment of people disembarked. Once the bus was empty I stepped on, found a seat, and sat there waiting for what appeared to be the moment when the bus was full enough to move on.

I thought at first there was an age limit, me being the youngest on board by a good thirty years at least. This notion was shot once a school girl got on and buried her face busily in the screen of her smartphone, her hair hanging down over her ears and face providing the perfect shield from the banal surroundings.

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As the bus pulled away a woman carrying her toddler waved it down and she got on, sitting just in front of me, the child’s face buried in the cosiness of her mothers neck. Occasionally the child would peek up at me, and I would smile back, and she would bury her face again in her mother’s neck.

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The bus moved on and stop after stop more people clambered on, the bus seemingly rocking from each additional weight. It felt like it would collapse with every groove and divot in the street the tyres met. It hauled itself around tight bends, up hills, and over speed ramps. All the time the standing passengers held on tightly to the precarious handrails dangling from the ceiling.

There were all-sorts on this bus. An elderly couple who bickered back over each comment shared between them. A primly dressed university student talking quietly on his phone. A short and gnarled man with a glowing winter weather beaten face dressed from head to toe in black. A lady, out of place it seemed, in a long beige coat of smooth wool with a faux mink stoal around her neck, earrings glitzing, and her sunglasses black as her well dressed hair standing out against her pale makeup adorned face.

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I sat there watching as the bus winded through so many alleys I forget. It groaned up a steep hill and slipped back down on the other side, revealing a panoramic view of Seoul and its river Han adorned with highrise dressings on its far bank.

These streets it wound through were narrow and a constant battle for space ensued. Cars slipped into every possible space, while men and women walked up and down next to the bus arms full of bags and the likes. The bus wove its way through expertly and without apparent complaint.

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These streets were full with businesses whose trade was only barely recognisable through the window trappings. People gazed in at mannequins fashioned the same way for twenty years. Proprietors stood on doorways and gazed out at the world going by. The bus moved on, up another hill or around another corner.

And then I arrived. I pulled myself through the throng of passengers, pushing the stop button on my way. The doors flung open again with a clatter and I jumped clear before the shut on me as I escaped. I turned and watched as the diesel engine spluttered exhaust fumes as it excelerated away full to bursting with bundled black silhouettes destined for somewhere else in the locale.

(* the maoul bus – 마을 버스 – is a local bus service which services neighbourhoods in the bigger towns and cities of Korea. This particular bus was located in Yongsan-gu, and serviced Hanam, Bogwang-dong, and Itaewon)

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013

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A Personal History of Haebangchon


I like Haebangchon. I have only lived there briefly, but I lived nearby for a while and spent many formative years in Korea there. I made a lot of friends there, and I still have plenty who float in and out of bars and cafés and shout and wave at me when I turn up on random sorties. A bit like me, Haebangchon has changed a lot, and I’d even say it has become more sophisticated, but still with its old town grit that people come back for so much.

Haebangchon is, in essence, a slum. At least it started out that way. Officially named Yongsan-2 dong, the place gets its name after it became a place where North Korean refugees settled after the war, which is why it’s called Haebangchon, meaning Freedom or Liberation Village depending on who you’re talking too. I know that when residents ask a taxi to take them there, regardless of where in the city they’re coming from, they’ll ask the taxi driver to take them to Yongsan-2 dong. It has a dubious nature, and you’ll do well to get a taxi from Itaewon to there late at night, but that has nothing to do with it being a dodgy neighbourhood. As far as I know, there are a few more former North Korean refugee enclaves around the city, but this is the only one I’ve heard off, and it’s also probably the most famous.

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My Repeated Failure at Watching Sport on the Telly in Korea


Yesterday marked the end of the month of Irish sport on television, that is television streamed through the internet and watched on my computer. It has taken me five years of living in Korea to master the art of searching through Google for the relevant link to watch a match, which is impressive. It was an ordeal I would recommend to anyone as the rewards are worthwhile, although they could have been much better.

For starters this is not the first time I’ve tried to find sport via the ould interweb. I know that when herself when was in Ireland, she never had any problems watching the things she wanted to. There are a few Korean websites that post television shows up after they are shown for the first time. I imagine you can do the same with certain Irish programmes too, but with live sport it’s completely different.

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HBC Fest – Rock n’ Roll (and some folk) Photos


Here are some more pics from May’s HBC Fest, this time I’m keeping all things musical this time and focusing purely on the live acts. I have a few more pictures of the crowd’s antics to post but I’m going to give the people who make the Fest worth going to some credit – in fairness it wouldn’t be much of a music festival without much music, right?

These photos are going to start from the beginning, around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I didn’t get to see everyone, but everyone I did see did get a photo included. I decided to go with a slideshow this time.

Enjoy!

 

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By-the-by, let me know what you think of how this was presented – did the slideshow work? I have other options for displaying photos that I’m currently exploring. I want to avoid the big long post of photos I’ve been doing in the past.

If you’d like me to send you some photos, please contact me.

 

 

Reapproaching the Way I Write


I’ve recently (as in the past week) be inspired or determined to really put the head down and make some progress with my writing. There are three reasons for this.

1. Encouragement: I’ve never been short on encouragement from the right people, but usually it comes after going looking for it. There have been two people who have turned on my lately and told me to get the thumb out.

One of these people was my old friend/mentor, Duane Vorhese, who has been on to me a lot lately about getting a completed manuscript together. He obviously is sure of the necessity of constantly reminding the likes of me to actually sit down and focus on what’s important, and for me, that’s getting a book published before I leave Korea in a few years.

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