Letter from Korea, June 2014.


Jumunjin, Korea
June  23, 2014

Dear Ireland,

If you’re not already aware I’ll be leaving in about a week. I know I’m going on about it a fair bit, but it is what I’ve been building up to for quite a while and it feels appropriate to me to talk about it a lot. Right now, in terms of being in Korea, it doesn’t feel like there is much else I should be talking about. One thing though that I’d like to make clear though is my intentions.

Never at any point have I turned around and said I have to get out of Korea for some abhorrent reason, like the usual tripe you hear about the inadequacies of Korea, Koreans, or indeed the inadequacies of those who cannot accept that this is a very different country to the one which they were raised in. I could go on here, but I won’t.

Over the past four and a half years Korea has presented me unlimited opportunities to not only excel professionally, but also personally. What matters to me most now is that I did my best to respond to each opportunity. Master Yoda’s message has always been in the back of my mind ringing strong, ‘do, or do no, there is no try’.

As an adult I think it’s important to know what you want to do in life. Even if this is the wrong decision, knowing your direction makes developing a lot easier. In Korea I have been granted many opportunities, including business, education, journalism, and I have tried to see them through to realise their potential, or has more often been the case, their suitability to me. I’ve worked on the plans, built my image, and connected with important decision makers in all of those fields. In the long run however, I did not have the heart for whatever it was that I was doing. For me this was an incentive to seek different paths.

It may be that success was not immediate and I just needed to try harder. Passion, however, was lacking and the incentives in the long run were even hard to assess. I could not even tell the length of the run I was expecting to undertake. It is important to know the disntance of any race, or indeed the height of the hill you are attempting to climb.

I’m not without my commitment to other areas in my life. I believe it is important to be prepared for everything that life presents to you, but it is equally important to know as many clichés as possible when you choose to back down from a challenge, and I will let you devise them here. You can draw comparisons if the clichés aren’t strong enough for you to understand my point, all I will say for now on this is that some things were not meant to be.

Korea has changed my mentality on so many fronts, not just how I approach challenges but also how I prepare myself. To take every opportunity we are presented is not possible, and to rely on the patience brought about by previous failures is something that probably doesn’t sound too encouraging when you set out. Again, I look to another master for guidance, this time an Irish one:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”*

 
(*I am sorry, I’ve seen several versions of this, but never once have I seen it accredited its exact location in the canon. Regardless the message rings true. And of course, this is Samuel Beckett)

This July I shall be reacting to another failure of mine. The change from Ireland to Korea was always with an open mind and an aspiration to change again in the future. The future has now arrived and while life has been good in Korea, the ladder upward has been flimsy and without a top in sight. Maybe ladders of life do not need tops, but they should at least have milestones, and by milestones I suppose I mean realisable goals.

Since I began teaching in Korea I have always progressed a step at a time. I can realistically chart my progress contract by contract, while always looking to the next stage, but now there appear to be no more rungs. There are options of course, and the position I had teaching academic English language skills in a leading Korean university had many options, many at the grace and mercy of the almost five months of holidays a year, and the limited class contact hours. Perhaps some have always wondered why I managed to maintain such an active online lifestyle, well now you know.

There is plenty to be done with this time of course, and I know many who use this position or one like it as a base for them to find more work teaching office workers or in homes and the likes. I’ve done all this, and I believe I was a good teacher with a decent reputation. Yet the lack of security and the reliance, invariably, on apathetic and often clueless recruiters on temp contracts charged with the responsibility of placing teachers is an experience I can do without in my work life. Added to this, at the best of times work is only available from 7am to 9am, or from 6pm until 7pm or sometimes 8pm. Students, are tired, bored, and overworked. The dynamic in the classroom is as you might expect, tiring, boring, and far too much work for the teacher.

I think that I’m coming across as scathing here, but I’d like to reassure you that for many these options are fine, and I can see why. What helps is a strong commitment, and also close access to the positions which offer these times. Yeongtong, where I lived for the majority of that time, was limited to the occasional vacancy in one of the several colossal Samsung plants that are close, and a scattering of other jobs. Quality positions were few and far between.

So this is the work life I am leaving. I will say little of the future I am traveling towards. Maybe I’ll save that for a later letter. What I can say is I’m leaving it for uncertainty and a smaller pay cheque. I worry a lot that my shrinking of income and free time will make me regret my decision to leave Korea. As a family we are committed, and I don’t doubt the summer will be fantastic, but as the winter settles in I worry. I think more and more now over the coming days how much I’m going to miss Korea. At this point I will also say I’m a little scared.

I know that we will be back to Korea to visit, but I hope that it does not turn out that we return with our tails between our legs again in a few years time. My attitude will have to change of course if I want to come back with my head held high. I hope that I am prepared for this challenge.

Korea in May


So why no blog post for a while you ask? Well I don’t know. I had something to think about then I realised…whatever…so I stopped. I could have been serious but that would have been something difficult. So I’m on the dry, blog wise. So to cheer you up here are some photographs from May in Korea, which is always a lovely month here.

 

All photographs were taken by me, Conor O’Reilly. I use a Nikon D5100 with Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8 lens, and I edit in Lightroom only. Pictures were taken in Suwon, Jumunjin, Pyeongchang, Seoul, and Hwaseong. Remember to check my Flickr for more regular uploads, and I’m also on Instagram.

Of course, you’ll recall my post from Buddha’s Birthday, and Monochrome Seoul which have more pictures from this past month.

 

An Old Fisherman’s Advice


We were walking around Jumunjin Harbour on an early April morning. The sun was warm and the docks were busy with tourists and workers. Underneath the carpark the wharf was busier than usual. Long gone were the fish sellers, moved to another less in the way location of the port, so to see so much coming and going was unusual. While not regulars in Jumunjin port, we would be more regular that most and seeing a flurry activity as such was something reserved for the height of the squid season, and it was not that time of year yet.

We edged closer, hopping over river sized puddles and landing on tiny atolls of uneven concrete, until we came to what was of so much anxiety and interest to the workers and curious visitors. On the concrete were nets and nets full of fish. They were litterally exploding with them. To see nets this full in a small port like Jumunjin, where even in their tourist markets they mostly sell farmed fish, was a delight. There were wheelbarrows full to bursting being shoved past, and nets being stretched long for cleaning and recasting. Of greatest interest though was the a stocky greying man, sitting on a plastic chair pulling the fish from the nets.

Herself began to talk to him, as I tried to take a few photographs of the action. He was very garrulous and you could tell that the catch had enlivened him. He cracked jokes and offered advice. We put in an order for some fish and a much used plastic shopping bag returned full to near bursting with oily, unscaled and still to be gutted fish. I think they said there was twenty in it, but later we found that there had to be even more. They charged us a mere 10,000 won.

20140405-_DSC0511

As we stood around chatting with and I continued to take photographs, he made a suggestion.

“Why don’t you sit down here and pull the fish out, and I’ll take a photograph of you while you do it? You can even wear my oilskins and hat”. He laughed out loud at the idea and gave my wife one of those looks, while nodding in my direction. Needless to say, me being no fun and afraid of actual work I declined the offer, shirking away in the process. The man didn’t seemed bothered and continued to laugh and crack jokes with Herself.

Later that day as I was looking back over my photos I could not help but think about this suggestion. He didn’t seemed bothered by any stretch of the imagination, and was certainly only having a good laugh at my expense, and probably rightly so. What I could not stop thinking of was that this was worthwhile advice for anyone who is a  tourist, or a photographer, or just whoever is nosey and wants to inspect as you go about your work. If you think that something is so fantastic you feel enticed to point and stare, or photograph, or watch with intense critical interest, perhaps you should don those oilskins yourself and really see how interesting an experience it is.

Whenever we travel we take so much time to find authentic experiences, but rarely do we take into account that what is an authentic experience to someone is a life and way of living to another. Yes it’s interesting, but isn’t it more important to have a little personal respect for people who are going about their lives? It’s not as if they would choose to be so interesting to the point of fascinating.

Goodnight Gangwon-do


Today’s photo comes from Gangwon-do – a view from twin living room of my mother and father in-law’s apartment in Jumunjin. It’s a photo I planned from the night before after I realised I’d left my SD card at home. Today while in E Mart I made it my business to make my way up to the camera department and buy a new one.

Goodnight Gangwon-do

1/50 – f/16 – ISO 200 – 35mm

I’m including a second image today as my photo of the day because its a photo I quite like, despite it being a simple Instagram effort.

Snow!

on instagram