Letter from Korea, October 2013


Suwon, Korea
Ocotober, 2013

Dear Ireland,

It has been well over a month since myself, Herself, and +1 have been back in Korea, and what I expected would be my September letter got left by the wayside and is only being seen to now in October. You know you’ll get the usual excuses for not doing anything which isn’t vital to one’s survival, such as being busy with things which are vital to one’s own survival.

After two and a bit months in Ireland, returning to Korea for life, work, and more life, was less the shock we had thought it might be. A smaller home, no garden, no dog, less rain, and that view from all the way up at the top of our tower just seemed to be what was right at the time. There seems to be less culture shock the more we travel between Ireland and Korea.

Update: Some photos from the last month and a bit back in Korea

When we first came back to Ireland we walked around in a half-daze finding it hard to comprehend that the last time we were here was almost two years beforehand. Yes, we had been back briefly in April for a funeral, but this was different. With the funeral we knew that we only had so much time and that we would be busy, obviously, and the week passed quicker than we knew it before we were back in Korea.

Two months is in many respects a long time, but you know it’s never long enough some times. Every time I seem to go home I seem to leave everything I want to do until the last two weeks of my time. This includes meeting friends, going into Dublin, and a whole list of other things. Maybe because I just feel comfortable up to that point until when I realise that it’s all going to be miles away in a mere matter of days.

This August though, we returned relatively scar free to Korea and returned to the regular humdrum. It’s a humdrum though that exists for everyone after their holiday, regardless of where they were or how long they were away for. Maybe we’re getting better at it, and maybe we’re becoming more aware of what it is we should be doing and when we should be doing it. In this case, it’s getting on with our day in the middle of all the other days.

We go to work, we go shopping, we take +1 out for walks and to her little classes, we meet friends, we go for dinner, and on occasion I get a little drunk. We complain about the weather and things that aren’t working properly in our apartment, we say hello to neighbours we recognise and wonder why others still don’t pay any attention to us even though we’re living here three years. The sunsets continue to decorate that sky to the right when I look out the window around six or seven every night, and always we see our little daughter growing stronger and more mobile to the point that we are often lost for words. This is just a snapshot of everything that occupies us, and I believe we all have our comparisons tidied away somewhere.

At the back of all this foreground lies our future. We could not continue to move forward without knowing what lies there. We have been fortunate enough to be given the many opportunities presented to us, and we know each moment presents opportunity. Korea for all the things it is not is definitely a boiling pot of opportunity, you just have to fight harder to make the most if it. The life I have delved, almost accidentally it seems sometimes, has brought a mightly stew of changes in my life, and my family’s life. Opportunities have been taken and missed, but regrets are something we seem to have few of.

On the east coast of Korea in a small town called Jeongdongjin, right on the coast and just south of Gangnueng, you can see this happening but you need to wait around for a while.

Right beside the broad white beach is a small urban park, and the centre piece is a rather large cylindrical egg-timer. Yes, an egg-timer as I know it as, that drops grain after grain through a tiny hole bit by bit counting down until the end of the year, until it rolls over and starts again.

We never see a grain dropping and we would need to spend the entire year to see the results of this ever gradual change. But like most who see the change, we come and and we go and we see it at different stages of progression.

In the future we know that by sitting here and watching everything reverberate and rotate balancing on its fulcrum, we know that things change with every minute. From full to empty and half-full again, it is worth taking a step back and realising that we never see progress as it happens, only once it has passed.

We don’t need anniversaries or milestones really to see this, just the patience to allow each grain of sand to pass through the hole and for the mound of white sand grow and grow until we have our own little mountain.

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.

Letter from Korea, April 2013


Suwon, South Korea
April, 2013

Dear Ireland,

I’m not sure if I should gloat but I thought I’d mention the fact that spring is in full swing here. I should also point out that that was an unintentional rhyme  but I digress. Yes, April is warming the bones and joints enough for me not to dread the walk to work, and I am optimistically eyeing the month of May on the calendar in the kitchen. The shorts and t-shirts shall be dusted down soon.

We love spring here in Korea. It’s full of things to be happy about, such as the end of winter, but also the cacophony of blossoms which explode bit by bit throughout April. Right now we’ve bright yellow kenari decorating the sides of the roads, and slowly the purple azaelas and bulbous magnolias are breaking free. Of course the nation awaits the arrival of the cherry blossoms and the plethora of festivals that accompany them.

I should give a special shout out to the yellow dust, which is another of Korea’s wonderful spring characteristics, but it seems to have died down somewhat. Still, if you saw my car you’d wonder which building site I drove through beforehand.

But anyway, what class of an Irishman am I to be complimenting the weather and it’s not even shorts and t-shirts weather yet?

As it’s April I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate myself for no reason other than the fact that I think I deserve it. The topic of this personal celebration? Well it’s this blog I tell you. Yes, your favourite blog in the whole world is approaching its third birthday (in WordPress years). We started off in blogspot in the winter of 09-10 but I soon grew bored of the complete lack of hits and gave up. When I came back to Korea I decided at some point to reignite this blog in WordPress form.

You see, it would be thanks to its WordPress form that I would probably like to offer some gratitude. Any WordPress blogger will be familiar with WordPress’s ample selection of statistics, including graphs, views by country, and a chart which allows you to compare the number of hits month by month right back to the birth one’s humble scribblings. It is nothing short of blog porn if you ask me, and this would be the full extreme gang-bang variety.

I do look back at the early days and wonder, first of all, what the hell was I writing (here is something though, the first Letter from Korea!), but also how the hell did I manage an epic 124 hits in the month of May alone, and then an awe inspiring 204 in June? Things went out of control in July of that year, I think because I learned how to link it to my old Facebook account where I had something like 400 or 500 “friends”. However n in July of that year I deleted that account because I felt lonely and distanced from my friends, and the readers vanished.

From then on in I really had to learn how to blog. I had to learn how to connect with other writers. I had to learn how to find what people wanted to read. I had to find a way to find new readers outside of my former friendship circle. And I think I managed it. I read other blogs and commented. I found out about the Korean blogosphere. I wrote about things that happened, and I trolled topics so that I could give my own take on them. I stopped thinking about myself so much but kept what I thought about things as a central element in what I wrote. But more importantly, I kept writing and writing and writing. And before long things started to catch on.

Roboseyo over at, well Roboseyo chose my blog as blog of the month for 10 Magazine some time last year, which was a nice hat tip to all the work I had been putting in. It gave me the impetus to keep writing, because at that time I had been considering laying off posting because I felt it was getting in the way of other things I was writing. I know that this is still the case, but I’m discipling myself more these days not to throw down any old post idea that comes into my head. I’ve an Evernote account with about seven or eight notes all with potential blog posts on it, many of which where never acted on purely because I lost interest or time just drifted too far away from the topic. I’m always thinking about what I want to write, because I know now not everything I do needs to be written about.

What has been a nice comfort though, and we’re back to these statistics again, is that now my blog receives on average over 2000 hits a month, with many of these people coming from all corners of the planet, but mostly from Korea. I get a minor kick out of knowing that my blog could be considered a blog of note, although I have no idea who reads it. I’m sure more people read the kind of English teacher in Korea blog which there are plenty of here, but that doesn’t really bother me as we’re writing about different things to different audiences.

I know my blogs are long and I know that maybe some people look at the web page before they read, give it a quick scroll and go “fuck that” before navigating away to some other less text heavy page. I’m assuming there’s a large amount of that, as I don’t get many comments or reactions, which I suppose would be the mark of a more successful blogger. Despite this, I think that the blogs I write don’t really look for comments. I hope that anyone who reads these posts  reads them and takes in what I have to say, and then goes for something else to read. That’s how I feel about much of the things I read at least.

I don’t think I’m right or wrong about anything, I just have my thing to say and I am happy that some people are reading, because as a writer that is what I aim for, to be read.

As a writer in Korea I’m going to continue telling my side of the story through my eyes and through my own reckoning. One of these days someone might pay me for this, and I would love it if they paid me a shit-load, but I’m not holding out. I will still be here, money or none, and I hope that I can continue to attract you back.

Sound.

P.S. If you’re a regular reader, say hello, it would be nice to meet you.

Letter from Korea, February 2013


Suwon
February 2013

Dear Ireland

Today, Thursday February 7 of the year 2013, has been a long and busy day, and it’s far from over. This morning myself, herself, and +1, rose at 6am as we always do, but instead of feeding and returning to sleep, we dressed in a panic, and bailed into the car in sub-zero temperatures. A trip to the airport was afoot. Why? Well, mammy and daddy were on their way to Korea!

It’s kind of a childish thing to describe my parents, or mother and father, as mammy and daddy, as opposed to ma and da, or the ould won and the ould fella, but it’s certainly better than calling them Mum or Mom, and Dad. Not that there is anything wrong with calling one’s parents these, it’s just not Irish, at least not where I from anyway. However, for the rest of this post I shall refrain from calling them mammy and daddy, as that is now how +1 is shaping up to call herself and I at some stage in the not so distant future. How times have changed.

The arrival of the ould pair is a welcome turn of events. Last time we were together was in August 2011 after my brother’s wedding, and since then much of the communication has been through skype. We have not really sensed too much distance, maybe because we’re used to the separation, which was until we actually met them in the airport. Physical bonds and connections can sometimes be under-rated.

I know that there are plenty of so called expats in Korea who have probably not seen their parents in a much longer time than I. But I reckon I’m still old enough to pine for their company a little. Still, let’s face it though, probably the most important reason they’re here is to see +1.

She is the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and that means she is in line for some serious dotage. Herself’s parents are definitely keen on making sure that +1 gets pride of place in all family events, and I think it’s about time that she got some Irish molly-coddling!

A full suitcase at least of clothes, toys, and other gifts came along with my ould pair this morning, not to mention a whole host of gifts from family and friends who managed to link up with the caravan of supplies before it embarked towards Korea. So long story short; we’re spoiled rotten right now.

The thing is, while I survive quite comfortably here in Korea without things like black and white pudding, bacon (the Irish kind), decent chocolate, and a whole host of other ‘delicacies’, receiving a delivery of supplies really makes it feel like a second Christmas.

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I think Korea has a fine tradition of food, and it certainly makes living here much easier, however if there’s one thing that Korea really needs to think about introducing to the national diet it’s more cured pork products. Frankly, I believe that the world needs more of them, and Korea would be a better place with a tradition of curing pork. If you think it’s beyond them, I point you to kimchi, which is essentially cured cabbage with the essential preserving ingredient being salt. However I am not sure if I’m willing to advocate a kimchi-pork type concoction…actually I am, although not in the vein of kimchi jiggae. In fact anything would do as long as it’s not that excuse for ham you find littered around supermarkets. Where am I going with this? Oh yes. Korea, cure some meat for Christ’s sake.

On another note, based on the aforementioned arrival, Korea also lacks something else important, and that’s cheap baby clothes. It’s crazy. Really. Yeah I know you can buy everything cheap online, but frankly I don’t trust buying everything on the internet and I can’t see the economy progressing if everyone is relying on 택배 to survive affordably.

Anyway (avoiding a rant here), if you go to any supermarket or department store with clothing, baby clothes are extraordinarily expensive. In fact all clothes are extraordinarily expensive, especially given the quality. Even everyday outfits made of simple cotton with cute designs, are often not cute and over-priced. Even Ireland has cheaper alternatives than Korea, which is why +1 was supplied with half a suitcase of baby’s clothes! If only she was cognisant enough to realise the significance of this.

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But for now what’s important is spending time with the folks before they head back to Ireland in a few weeks. We’re not sure when we’ll get a chance to see them, and it’s important for +1 to know them, as she is loved very much by all my family but the physical distance presents a distinct barrier to actually developing a relationship. While I know that she is far too young to actually remember or react to this first meeting, I think my parents couldn’t hold themselves back from visiting, even if it is a balmy -12 outside (say nothing of the wind chill).

P.S. Added fun from next Sunday, my brother and his lovely wife will arrive from London! I’m preparing another list!