On Dadhood: The Earliest Notions


I am sitting typing at the computer now while intermittently sucking and grimacing on an ice cold Hite Dry Finish. I have just put +1 to bed after battling with an increasing fever throughout day, alone I should add, because Herself had gone to Seoul and I was filling in as Herself was exhausted, not for the first time, and just had to get away for the day.

Any young or new parent will recognise this necessity. I’m fortunate enough to be home a lot due to my working hours, but Herself is home all the time, here, up on the twentieth floor. Opportunities for escape, to remember what it was like before all this parenting took control of us, are rare.

We have been parents for just over a year now. I haven’t written about it much, just a passing reference here and there to the joys of our daughter’s latest advances. It came to a head recently when I realised that I have basically been leaving the dominant factor in my life outside of my writing, and I think that if I can talk about it here comfortably and competently, well I don’t know but I think something better will come of it. Or maybe I just feel that now I want to tell my story of being a parent.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

I suppose what I will say to start is that nothing prepares you for what is ahead. It amazes me that despite how little we knew and understood, we managed to learn quickly, and fortunately not only through our own mistakes. Despite my worst concerns I can proudly say that after 12 months we did not break it, and we managed to help it grow at a regular pace and for it to develop correctly. “It” is of course our child.

From the outset though, I knew that things would be a lot more different than everyone had already warned. Perhaps I misinterpreted their messages, or that in reality no one can explain how much having a child changes you. I wonder, because one half of the parents of our family is not a native of the country we live, would our experience have been any different if I was Korean, or if we were living in Ireland when we had +1.

In the run up to her birth I recall panicking regularly about the methods and means of preparation. The constant concern that they don’t do things the same here as they do in Ireland kept me constantly on edge. Of course I had the easy job, but as an onlooker I’m more in a position to come up with quack theories based on something I may have heard when I was a lot, lot younger. For all my fears about how things were done here and why we would be doing this and not that etc. I eventually just pulled up and thought, “Conor, relax. Look around you. There are families and children and babies everywhere, and they are all perfectly healthy and happy. Everything will be fine”. And guess what, it was. At least the birth anyway. Anything that happened after was up to us.

I haven’t had any children in Ireland, nor have I ever been married to an Irish person, so it’s kind of impossible to compare my experiences of being a dad here in Korea with anything else. I know that it has been different from what my friends experienced.

Cramming. December 2012.

Cramming. December 2012.

I started off trying to inflict my understanding of the world on the raising of our child from an early age. One thing that I still battle over is the heat in the apartment. It was always hot when +1 was first born, in fact it was so hot that shorts and t-shirts would have been appropriate wear. Meanwhile, outside it was beyond freezing. I couldn’t understand why the child couldn’t survive in a reasonable temperature, her being a human also and having the same physiology as every other human, but my opinion was not considered. This drove me up the wall, but I’ll never know if I would have been right. I

Fortunately for the arguments against me it really was incredibly cold that winter. My parents arrived in late February and I think by then the temperature had finally gotten to a point, at least towards the end of their stay, where one could be outside with a jacket half open. I didn’t realise how cold it was and argued about this with Herself as we tried to leave the hospital, and this was only in late November, until I stepped outside holding tiny little +1 wrapped up in a blanket and suddenly couldn’t stop apologising. But still, the heat had to be turned down indoors.

As the father I suppose that my understanding of child rearing is limited, at least from the infant stage. Now of course this is a stereotype, but in hindsight I certainly started off from the back foot, as Herself had been preparing for months. While I stuttered along trying to pick up a semblance of understanding, Herself already had everything prepared, mentally at least. I fell deeply into the stereotype of ‘a typical man’, and I feel that if it wasn’t for my broad shoulders and ability to rock the baby to sleep soundly I might have found myself banished to some dark corner of the apartment, kept on merely for my pay cheque and as a family driver when trips to the hospital were called for. If Herself heard me say this she’d be quite upset, but that’s how I felt a lot of the time, as I was trying to catch up on so much while our daughter was growing quicker than I could adapt.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

What struck me at this early stage was how pointless it all seemed to be. Here we were, both infatuated and madly in love with this tiny being which came from my wife, but it just lay there doing nothing. There was no reaction, no understanding, no conversation, discussion, or indeed volunteering to cook dinner. This little tenant was here on a free ticket and we were there to bend over hand and foot for it, this completely dependent little lifeform.

It was around a month into this journey that I started to nourish a new found respect for my own parents. Not only because they did all this, but also more importantly they were humble enough to leave these stories out of their childhood tales.

Perhaps I could learn from this and realise that regardless of what happens this is part of the journey, and one which I will not be the first to have taken, despite what I believed for some time during +1’s early days.

Undol -v- Radiators


In a classroom I teach in the heating hasn’t been working since who knows when. It has probably been broken since the summer. It’s one of those awful heaters that doubles as an air-conditioner, blowing out dry, heated air, in the winter, and flimsy puffs of cool in summer. Yesterday, I was sitting at a desk rubbing my knees and grimacing one of those ‘oh well you know’ friendly kind of faces towards the students who came in wrapped for artic exploration. I actually felt sorry for them because at least I could stand up and walk around for a little warmth.

I turned to one student, who I knew had lived in the UK for several years and proclaimed ‘what we need here are some radiators!’ to which she gave me a blank look. I remonstrated with her, trying to job her memory to which she replied ‘I prefer undol’. And I thought, ‘oh yeah…but no…’

Of course if you’ve lived in Korea, or indeed merely visited, you’ll have experienced undol. It is the floor heating which exists in every home, many hotels, and indeed any restaurant where floor seating is the norm. It’s great, to be honest, to crawl into your home from the cold, kick of your shoes and glide across the sleek floor and then lie down in a warm cosy spot, defrosting with the undol’s loveliness caressing your bum.

Old undol… (image by me via flickr!)

I know Herself is a big fan of it, especially when there’s a nice big cosy blanket to wrap around herself. I would be inclined to blame it for what seems to be every Koreans’ outspoken aversion to anything cold (except iced lattes etc.). Can you blame anyone for liking the cold after probably spending every moment they don’t need to be outside sitting at home on the undol. In fact anything that isn’t undol in winter is in fact cold. I know this sounds like stereotyping, which I’m no fan of, but in this case it’s not necessarily a bad thing. To back me up all I need to do is look behind me at my wife currently engaging wholeheartedly with all that the undol has to offer.

Back to my remonstration.

I grew up with radiators, not undol. Radiators were, in winter, great. Why? They were warm. They radiated warmth. They were cosy, provided you didn’t touch one which was doubling as an soldering iron for some reason. Of course if they’re never turned on they’re not much good. Sure they leaked, stuff got stuck behind them, you burned your finger, and of course they had to be painted every so often. But then again so does a house.

You see for all that radiators have not, and all that undol has, radiators have that undol has not. Let me explain, and elaborate on why Korean needs more radiators.

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

So I’ve given one side of the story already. The cosy, slipping under the blanket in front of the TV, versus the burning your finger and laboriousness of radiators. It’s a clear winner, but really it isn’t because you can’t have undol everywhere.

Firstly, I wonder how effective undol would be in a two story house? Firstly there’s the pipes upstairs thing, and then there’s a space issue. How many square metres is your average apartment compared with your average house? Would it work? And if it did, how much would it cost?

Next, while I think taking your shoes off as you enter the home is a nice concept, it can be really annoying and impractical, such as in the hallway, or indeed in the kitchen. A good tiled floor would be much more useful. And then there’s the cultural element. The amount of time I’ve been chastised for even letting the tip of my shoe laden toe touch the linoleum, and all I can think of is, ‘chill the fuck out, if it bothers you that my toes touched the lino, give me a space bigger than a toilet cubicle to take off my bloody shoes in…’ It’s a little overkill. Yeah maybe I should be more vigilant with my size 11s, but come on, it’s a floor not a child’s bed.

Take my argument out of the home, which is where most people I discussed this point with seemed to think was the only place that needed heat.

Oh yes, I’ve opened up the argument to the rest of the world.

Floor heating really only works when you don’t have shoes on. Yes, heat does rise, but when you’re wearing shoes and socks and walking around what does it matter, you’re not really going to be in one place long enough to really appreciate the warm floor. And if you don’t have undol what are you going to do?

What we have ended up with is a world of heatless buildings that seem to have been designed with the idea that, well we can’t have undol, we can’t have anything. There is the odd portable heater, which never does the job, and don’t even get me started again on the hot air belchers. I know that these would probably work better if they rooms they were in were actually insulated.

I know, you’re asking yourself when did I become an expert on construction materials and heating. Well, since I’ve froze my ass off every winter since 2005, I’ve decided I’m an expert.

Back to the point. Undol is lovely, but radiators, yes please! Or even better, lets knock a fireplace into every wall like there should be.

P.S. I say all this with my sockless toes all cosy and warm lodged on a warm patch on the floor.

P.P.S. Stay warm kids!

Supermarkets -v- the People?


It has been bothering me since about the time it has been instigated. It’s a simple thing that shouldn’t really get me agitated as it has very little effect on me, and in many respects it is a good principal to take. It’s just that I think it’s the wrong step and I don’t think it really solves any problems, only encourages more populist resolutions to complicated social and economic problems.

What am talking about? Sunday closing for the so-called discount stores in Korea.

Now lets establish some terminology first.

“Discount stores” are what major supermarket chains are called in Korea. These include E-Mart (part of Shinsaegae international), Homeplus (owned by Tesco, the second largest supermarket company in the world), and Lotte Mart, which are the biggest ones.

“Sunday closing” is a government regulation which has called for all “discount stores” to close on two Sundays a month, or in some cases two Wednesdays a month. The reason for this is because they were blamed by smaller businesses for taking away too much business from smaller shops and businesses which were nearby.

Now that we understand this, allow me to explain why I find this to be bothersome.

To begin with there’s the obvious inconvenience of wanting to buy something that the major supermarkets stock. I personally haven’t been overly bothered by this on many occasions, and I’ll admit that the one time it really did get to me, and is probably where the idea for this blog post came from, was on a nice Sunday afternoon when I decided to stop by Yeongtong Homeplus and pick up some tasty foreign beer.

I fancied a few warm cans of something elaborate and I was looking forward to the painstaking decision I would have to make in the aisles. When I came to the front of the supermarket the shutter was pulled down and there was a big yellow banner acorss it explaining, I imagine, that it wasn’t their fault I couldn’t buy my beer, blame the government.

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I don’t doubt that at this moment you’re thinking I’m some crazed anti-government vigilante who feels the world is against him, but this is not the case. I am not going to go into why I didn’t want Korean beer either, but if you’ve been in Korea long enough, you’ll understand. The way I see it is that as a consumer we’re being forced to buy things we don’t want to buy when there are better alternatives available.

I’m all for buying from the little guy, believe me, and I would happily choose the alternative over a major mulitnational blood sucking vampire such as Tesco any day of the week. But I’m also a consumer who has grown accustomed to buying food and products that meet a certain standard, and there’s also the added bonus of liking a bit of variety in my life also.

But there’s a little more to it than that.

One of the arugments put forward for Sunday closing was that the prices of the major supermarkets were suffocating the smaller businesses. But if you’ve spent any amount of time in the supermarkets, you can’t really argue successfully that they are in fact ‘discounted’ prices. Yes there are some discounted goods, but really can you say they are slicing a hole in the belly of the competition and watching them bleed dry on the streets? No. Maybe a pinprick would be a more apt comparison.

There is more to this picture than just prices, its the very nature of competition and the lack of innovation in the realm of small businesses. Take smaller supermarkets for example. What do they sell that would make you want to choose them over the major supermarkets? Nothing. In fact that lack of variety and bog standard middle-to-bottom of the line brands in stock are in my opinion a turn off, especially to young and middle sized families, the kind of people who go into a supermarket and drop 200,000 won in a weekly shop. Other than being a place where you can pick up something urgently in case you run out, I struggle to see what other function they can serve. Of course across the world these smaller shops suffer from the same plight, so it’s not only a Korean problem.

Before this situation with supermarkets came to light, it was another issue raised by smaller restaurants who again complained that the supermarkets where threatening their business. Around 2010 or 2011 Lotte Market announced they were selling fried chicked for around 5,000 won per portion. Compare this with the standard delivered variety costing over 10,000. You can imagine why the fried chicken restaurants went up in arms over this. Not long after this E mart copied them by selling jumbo pizzas at cut prices, and again the pizza shop fraternity went baloobas. In the end the government jumped in and put a stop to this opportunism by the considerably wealthier and resourceful supermarkets by putting a cap on the number they could sell every day.

If we take a look at the pizza and fried chicken places around Korea you can see the problems already, as there are already too many. To the average armchair enthusiast they seem to be a get rich quick scheme which doesn’t seem to be such a hot ticket any more. Pizza places seemed to be the next to follow, and recently I’ve noticed a surge in tteokboki restaurants – I suppose it depends on what’s being promoted the most at whatever franchise fair people end up going to with a sack of inheritance.

*This video will give you an idea of the problems with the fried chicken business in Korea

The propenderence of fried chicken and pizza franchises, to name a few, is a key ingredient in understanding where I’m coming from. I see that these clearly point to a lack of much needed innovation in the small business sector.

For example, if you have all your little supermarkets which are competing against E Mart and Tesco change their stock to sell organic or direct from farm fruit and veg, or high end products, or homemade/locally produced condiments (you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about) you’ll not only encourage people to shop there you encourage the wider national agricultural economy to prosper. This is just an example. Easier said than done I know.

Another avenue is to really go out of your way to provide excellent service. Take camera shops for example. If you go into a camera shop, the guy selling you the stuff is a photographer, and knows all about what you are looking at. Invariably they throw in all sorts of others freebies like bags, memory cards, and other things. Of course the supermarkets aren’t the threat to these people’s livelihood. Their situation is even more serious because they have to compete against the internet.

For the most part a lot of the people who own these places are older, don’t have a lot of money, and really lack the inclination to innovate. Perhaps though they could lease out their premisis to someone with the inclination to innovate. Retail rents are extraordinary at the best of times, but if they could do a deal where the older owner keeps his deposit down as kind of insurance while the younger person pays the rent and some, or something to that effect.

I’ve heard before that a lot of these places are only kept open by some older people because they don’t really have anything else to do, so you know, they keep plugging along. This is mere speculation of course as there are undoubtedly other social issues which may be at play which I’m unaware of.

Regardless, the main thing is that the business is busy and the people involved are all making money. I know that this will not be something that will not happen overnight, and I know that in many circumstances it will not happen at all.

Populism and complaint to the nanny state will continue on as before. If a little innovation were to come it needs to be encouraged by those in a position to do so. There’s no reason why people who are already burdeoned with inexplicably high rents need to suffer because no one wants to buy what they are trying to sell. But at the same time, if no one really wants to buy it perhaps its worth considering what it is for sale.

There is so much room for growth in Korea, despite what people might think, but it is on a micro scale. Large scale development has polarised the economy and increasingly society. If a little vision were employed perhaps we could find ourselves living in new neighbourhoods which were welcoming to all our tastes.

Get Ready, Get Set…Chuseok


by Ben Haynes

What a wonderful time of year we’ve happened upon! The harvest season, celebrated in as many ways as there are people and religions on this blessed planet. Yes, it’s all about getting together and enjoying the company of family and and gorging on the fruits of a well worked field or cubicle. Maybe packing on a few kilos for the winter months for good measure.

To observe this time of bounty, Americans roast up the largest, antibiotic-filled, corn fed turkey we can find at the grocery and then stuff it with some….. stuffing.

Apples for Chuseok

Apples for Chuseok

Israelis celebrate Sukkot, the feast of the Tabernacles, bringing together neighbors. All are welcome! Other than those blocked off by a huge cement wall, of course. Gnoshing on the harvested grains in a most biblical fashion and observing the quintessential element associated with all Jewish holidays- “remembering” wandering through the desert. Symbolized by modern Jews by being lost in the car on a hot summer’s day.

Indonesians celebrate the rice harvest. Offerings are made to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice in Bali. Mushroom shakes are offered to tourists. Lammas, historically celebrated by early Britons baking the first harvest’s grain into a bread offering is now keenly observed by the oh-so-unique hipster Pagan or Wiccan in a most dogmatic fashion.

Koreans have Chuseok, where sungpyeon, a sweet-tasting rice cake, is made and enjoyed by all. Families gather around, making ceremonial table settings to remember loved ones passed.

As well, they buy gift packs of 10 apples for 100$ or 5 fish for 400$, or maybe a packet of peanuts for some exorbitant price.

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Yeah that is 200,000 Won for a watermelon.

Oh yes. Let the bells of capitalism ring throughout, and watch, as local department stores dress up their employees in hanbok to sell fruits, mushrooms, nuts, and Spam. Priced as though these items are rare, illegal, magical or forbidden,or all of the above. A pumpkin being sold for 200$. But this was no ordinary pumpkin, sillly. It had a bow on it!

As a foreigner in this “land of morning calm,” we get enjoy our autumnal shopping trips to Lotte or E-mart with an additional spike of bustling insanity. No child is safe unless riding in a shopping cart. Even then, they are subject to the possibility of a 4-5 cart pile up. It’s best to leave the small ones at home with grandma during the weeks prior to this nationally beloved holiday.

This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit please follow this link

BenHaynes

Ben Haynes has resided in Seoul with his wife, Ren, since 2011, where he is regarded as a local hero. He has the foresight of a community channel televangelist. He leads with the fortitude of Aurelius. His sweat is sweet as freshly squeezed juice. Villagers whisper giddily when he walks by. He enjoys a good book and cold glass of beer.

The Koreans of Europe


No two cultures are the same but every one is similar, right? You could certainly say that about much of Europe, where thousands of years of breeding, trading, warring, traveling, and sharing across ever-shifting borders has caused a mixology of international characteristics of which one can be difficult to discern from the other.

In Asia, it is a little more difficult to separate the differences because the continent has suffered less fluctuation of its borders, and in terms of today’s map, colonialism for the most part decided on today’s borders. But still you can throw in the changes, regardless of actual influence, of international trade, development, colonialism, the sharing of ideas, television, and migration, and the wind at the weekend if you wish, and you will soon realise the stark similarities between peoples and cultures there.

Now that might seem like a simple notion, and it is, but if you take away cliché comparisons such as the idea that your culture and my culture are very musical, or that we have a distinct cuisine, or family is central to the social contract, then you have to get off your armchair and take a look a little closer.

When I first came to Korea from Ireland I was fascinated by the notion that the Koreans were called by someone as the Irish of the east. I thought to myself as I spent more time here that this was something to connect me with the country, that it was something stronger than the bonds which other nationalities might ascribe to their connections with Korea. But those reasons for which Korea is lauded for its Irishness really didn’t appear to be that strong.

Of course there are very strong reasons for calling Koreans the Irish of the east, such as our tenacity for drinking, our colonial history, the fact our country is divided by a significant border, we’re stuck between two significant world powers, we both have a distinct national cuisine, and we’ve a social structure which focuses on both age and gender hierarchies… oh wait forget the other two.

You see, the whole comparison thing between Ireland and Korea seems to be done by someone who sat down with Wikipedia one day and got this notion into their head that Ireland and Korea are very similar. I suppose they are in some respects but in many respects they are far from complimentary. For example if you considered the alcohol consumption aspect you run into problems. Anyone who has ever drank knows that there is an etiquette to drinking, sometimes very formalised and other times apparently informal, but there is always a way to drink. When we think about drinking, in countries that drink a lot, how we drink and what drink is far more important than how much (because we already know that’s a fair amount).

Now if you’ll excuse me if I turn to some reliable Wikipedia statistics. In terms of thirst Ireland and Korea are ranked quite closely together , but you can’t help but notice that Ireland is not the only country on the top half of that list with a dark history linked with its geopolitical situation. Yes, being fond of a drink is a stereotype both countries fall into, but it is by no means an exclusive club, and if anything it hardly characterises the entire culture and people (but in fairness it probably does).

There are of course many similarities between the people of Ireland and Korea. In the same respect, similarities exist across the entire planet and to single them out as unique to Korea and Ireland, or indeed only to Ireland and to Korea would be selling things a little short.

Take for example Italy, or indeed Italians. For the past four weeks I’ve been teaching Italian high-school students in a summmer camp just outside of Dublin. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, and if I do come back to Ireland for the summer I use this work as a means of earning a little pocket money for the adventure. It’s generally good fun, and interesting from a teacher’s perspective to meet students from another country where English is also considered very important for university and employment prospects.

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A building on the university campus where I taught for four weeks under typically Irish summer skies.

First impressions present Italians as completely the opposite as Korean students. They are lively, opinionated, and vocal, very vocal. The stereotype of a Korean high school student is anything but this, and I come across the remnants of their much discussed experience in the university students I teach. They are generally shy, reserved, and for the most part quiet, very quiet.

Now I recall that when I was in university that we were also quiet but that was probably more out of fear that we would be asked a question. We were not afraid that we might get the question wrong, but because we knew we would have no idea of the answer to the question asked. Anyone who ever took a foreign language class in secondary school probably cannot recall the classroom being abuzz with Irish/French/Spanish/German/whatever. I think that this is probably close to the same case with the majority of Korean English language students.

Yes, for a person who goes from teaching very quiet and reserved students to a class of lively and mostly enthusiastic students, with the added benefit of being western (even more western than myself I’d hasten to add) it is easy to offer immediate stark contrasts, many of which are likely to have been formed from well established national stereotypes. I’m sure if I stood at a bar in Itaewon or Haebangchon and professed that in fact Koreans were not that different from Italians, and they were in fact more like Italians than actual Irish, I would be shouted down for such a ludicrous assertion.

Before I go into detail here, please take into account my experiences. Firstly and most importantly, I don’t really know Italians in any way as well as I know Irish or Korean people. Most of my experience with Italians stems from teaching them over a number of summers in fairly relaxed situations, and I’ve never even visited Italy, let alone lived there, like I have being doing in Korea since 2005. I think that it’s also important to explain about the students I have been teaching; for the most part they all appear to be middle class, relatively well schooled teenagers, mostly of high-school age as far as I could discern. With these things in mind please ascribe your own prejudice to the study sample.

Anyway, this isn’t a scientific expose, but more a reflection on my past experience teaching Italians in Dublin on my summer holidays, which may also have some significance as you read this words. I did come across some worthwhile comparisons which allude to national character more so than the demographics and historical comparisons which plague Irish-Korean analysis.

At the top of the pile has to be food. Now don’t expect me to give a foodie’s detailed description of each respective nationality’s cuisine. That’s near impossible for me, for now at least. What is significant is that each country is obsessed with food (yeah I know, what’s the big deal?) but more importantly, with their own national cuisine. It could be reasonably argued that a large portion of each country’s economy is powered by its tenacity for its own cuisine. Ireland, unless you count the local chipper on a weekend night, would not fit in here.

I know how good and how diverse Korean food is, and while it may have its critics there is little doubt in how much Koreans miss Korean food when they leave the country. Yes, we can all poke fun at the flocks of ajjumma with instant noodles and gochujang stuffed into their suitcases as they travel, but can you blame them when much of what they know in terms of food is Korean food (and Chinese take-away). Expecting them to revolutionise over the space of one-flight, probably in a tour group full of similar minded folk, is probably asking to much. Anyway, they’re happy so what does it really matter?

It’s always easy to point the finger at people who do things differently, and especially in Korea where many are particularly reserved. I know that it’s easy to praise younger people who are keen to experience new food from around the world, but again it’s equally easy as one who enjoys variety but dislikes expense to notice that much of the international cuisine enjoyed by many young Koreans is indeed spaghetti with seafood and a cream or tomato sauce, or worse, the evil brunch made up of a sausage, an egg, some salad, and some other concoction. Despite this attempt at snobbery you’ll do well to find Koreans who don’t have a list of Korean dishes they crave after so many days away from a suitable supply, and if all else fails you’re bound to find somewhere to stock up on the always reliable ramyeon. I’d warrant that Italians aren’t that far off, at least the ones I was teaching weren’t.

Now granted that the restaurant in the university they were staying in was far from haute cuisine, which could have influenced their thoughts. but a day didn’t go by without some lamenting for “Italian” pasta, or “Italian” food. Their own food of course, which many will tell is fantastic, and rightly so – much like Korean food – but it still bothers me a little when people who apparently obsess so much over food, when given the opportunity to try something other than the stainless steel served chicken and potato slop they’d been divvied out the first port of call for sustenance in Dublin was either McDonalds or Bugger King.

Travel broadens the mind and when it comes to food this is especially the case. Koreans, in their defence, were not really allowed to travel up until the 1980s, and even then it was not on their own that they all began to encroach on the UNESCO heritage sites of the world. This way of traveling is only slowly leaving the mass conciousness of the the country, and independent travel is becoming a thing, especially for university and post-university aged people who are eager, for the most part, to acquire stronger English and also to have a good time before they end up having to sell their soul to a full-time job.

And I suppose my wonderful Italian students, many of whom had only traveled with their parents (I did a survey) and even then only to neighbouring countries on school excursions or lanugauge exchanges, would be far from an acceptable sample to base my argument on, but I can’t help but find this issue which has been recurring over the past number of years when I have taught Italians in the summer.

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One of my classes of Italian teenagers from all over Italy, with their certificates of completion…and me, grinning stupidly!

The other area which struck me a bit more thunderbolt like, and is something which is certainly a recognisable trait in Korea, and that’s image.

What always struck me is that the youngsters I’ve taught have always been for the most part, despite the bags under their eyes from self-imposed sleep depravation, very well groomed and image conscious. I won’t say whether they were well dressed or not, but they did obviously take the time to wear what were nice clothes and spend some time fixing their hair in the morning. Now they were teenagers so you can’t expect too much variety from their attire, but that being said even though they were away from their parents they didn’t come in with their clothes hanging off them, unwashed and smelly.

I had a conversation about Irish fashion with these students one day and we went on about how Irish people dressed and whether or not we were considered stylish or not. The general consensus was that it was hard to know because they hadn’t seen too many Irish people, and when they were in Dublin it was hard to know who was Irish and who wasn’t. I told them next time just listen to them.

The conversation developed over the coming days as I tried to get more information from them on their experiences. It turned out that they were impressed by Irish dress sense (not style or fashion mind you). In Italy, I was told, people always had to take into consideration their appearance among others. That their look was always being scrutinised, and that there were in fact many ways to dress in Italy which were socially unacceptable, especially for women. Does this sound familiar to my readers from Korea?

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My final class of Italian teenagers before they packed their bags and headed back to Italy.

I told them that this was also the case in Korea and I gave them some examples, such as keeping shoulders covered, not showing too much skin or clevage, and some others. These youngs adults explained to me that they were impressed by the general social acceptance of one’s own way of dressing. I explained that sure enough plenty of people probably thought they were stupid looking or whatever, but they empathised that this did not stop them wearing what they wore, and it was accepted that this is how some people dressed in public.

I explained to the Italian students, as I was a little misled at first, that don’t be put off by the people on the street who seem scruffy and who don’t apply as much time in the mirror as they may, they probably spent just as much time making sure they looked suitably unwashed. They understood this, but what was important was that they were allowed to do this.

I know that Herself has expressed the same feelings about living in Ireland also. She enjoys being in Ireland because there is less pressure to dress a particular way, and to meet a certain standard. This is not to say that she dresses less fashionably or doesn’t apply herself with as much care, it’s just that she has more options in the wardrobe than she would have in Korea. Of course image is important for every country, and Ireland is definitely the case.

I found this to be, well honestly, fantastic from an Irish perspective. I don’t think the Irish go out and win too many acclaims from the armchair fashionistas of the world, but too me this seemed to be something to be proud of. Now, I’m sure if they were in another part of Ireland this idea would be slightly less obvious, but still the more I think about it the more likely it is the case….maybe.

I know that in this rather drawn out comparison between Korea and Italy may seem to have holes all over it, and I don’t doubt that my arguments and assertions here are quite week. Let me reiterate, they are mere observations, and I hope when you read this, like when you read anything else I read, it gives you the inclination to search around a little more to find another opinion.

What I will assert though, to conclude, is that if anything my loose comparison here should be seen as a way of firstly drawing attention to the ridiculous notion that two countries would be so alike as to be compared as twins. But more importantly I hope that I can give you a decent example of how similar every human being is, and that despite thousands of miles seperating us our different upbringings and cultures do have similarities which are indistinguishable, and even when that is not the case, the differences are what make being a person interesting. In the end let us forget that all our blood is red.