Much About 2014


The end of the year is all about looking back on what happened, what was said, who did this, and other stuff. As a blogger I like to look back at what I wrote, but also what was read. It certainly hasn’t been my most productive year, with a few long gaps in between writing, and while of course it has been a memorable year, it has equally been a notable year.

A few bloggins milestones for me to brag about:

  • I had the single highest monthly visits to this blog in April with 3065 hits.
  • The same can be said for the average daily visits, with 102 being the average for April also.
  • There were 63 posts in 2014
  • As of 3.30pm on December 31, 2014 there have 28,231 visits this year – I know some blogs get that in a day, but this is my blog and this figure is an improvement of 4,000 visits on last year.

Here are some of the moments which mattered for me in 2014.

  • We moved back to Ireland in July.
  • We left Korea after four and half fantastic years.
  • I got paid for writing a poem (still haven’t cashed the cheque).
  • We spent two and bit great, warm months in Thailand, and learned a valuable lesson in the importance of travel insurance.
  • Myself and Herself found out we’d be having another baby in the middle of next year.
  • I got an commendation from the Irish Association of Korea and from the Embassy of Ireland in Korea for my services promoting Irish culture in Korea.
  • I signed on the dole a few months after coming back to Ireland.
  • I lost my camera somewhere just before Christmas.
  • I got accepted into an EdD course in the University of Glasgow.
  • I read a couple of poems at an official PEN Korea event
  • and other stuff…

Here are a few photographs which mattered to me in 2014

Christmas is brewing Dublin

Early morning prayer

I'm not scared

East Sea Rising

Port Corners

April Highrise

Spring, Korea

Decisions

Teaching

This is Chiang Mai

Lost in the Night Bazaar

Sunday Market, Chiang Mai

Moving country left me without my (good) computer for over four months so I was without a satisfactory way of editing and uploading shots from July through to almost late November, so there’s a bit of a gap in the timeline. I did get a new phone however, and that seems to be doing a really nice job of taking and sharing photos online.

And of course before I forget, this is a blog, and it is one on which I write on. So without getting bogged down in too much fanfare here are the five most read posts written and shared in 2014:

  1. I Just Want to Scream 
  2. Nimmanhaemin
  3. Saint Patrick’s Day in Seoul, 2014
  4. 10 Things About Korea
  5. People Have Their Own Problems To Worry About. You Don’t Need to Hear About Mine

So that’s it. The end of 2014, and next up we have 2015. I hope to keep battling away here at the keys for the forseeable future. Thanks for your comments, contributions, and readership. Oh, and happy new year to you and all those special to you!

 

 

 

 

Letter to Korea, August 2014


Dublin, Ireland
August 2014

Dear Korea,

I may not make a habit of this, but I thought considering our long affair together the least you deserve is an update on life without you. You know, it has been almost two months since I arrived back ‘home’ in Ireland and you seem further away than ever before. This is not the first time we have been separated for a long period, but always I had that return flight date lingering in the back of my mind. Such a comfort does not exist now.

Perhaps it is significant that I write this today, me who has kind of gone off writing this kind of thing, because it is the day when I receive my last pay cheque from my old work in Korea. In some respects I can look at it as the ending of what was another era for me, although I would laud it with such praise very reluctantly. The period of time for such an era to exist has merely concluded but all who existed beforehand continue on living in Korea regardless of whether or not I am there. Ireland is equally unperturbed by my return.

I was expecting more culture shock but have been lucky so far. The benefits have balanced pleasantly against the expected problems. Having a garden and a job to arrive to have made things much easier on me and my family. Family are nearby, as are friends, and there is a seemingly never ending quantity of tasty cake supplying cafes in the city centre which I seem to find myself in frequently on the way home from work. We discover new things daily and look forward as optimistically as possible to each new challenge the rest of the week brings us.

It may well be the honeymoon period, as arguably I’m still on my summer holidays. Today it rained like December and there was a bus strike. We went to the supermarket and again scratched our heads as to why raw prawns were so hard to find. They aren’t really hard to find obviously, they’re just playing second fiddle to cooked ones. A bit like the sunshine does with the rain, and in terms of fiddling about with transport I can’t fail to mention how much I miss my kyotung card, or transfer card. The so-called leap card is more a stumble along moderately well provided you don’t ask too much of it card.

Today as I taught a class I asked the students to write ten things about themselves, be it physical or emotional, and from here they had to let fellow classmates guess what each thing meant and then they would explain. The idea was to enable them to become confident talking about themselves and their emotions, I think. I gave myself as an example, which is something I probably do too often.

One thing that I wrote I wrote on the board as is ‘old is new’. I had been pacing the classroom trying to come up with things to include as part of my list. I looked out onto South William Street and up Clarendon Street from my classroom and in the distance I could make out the heads bobbing back and forth. There was the great debris of Grafton Streets midday traffic. It was in this part of town where I had worked just before I left for Korea nine years previously, and it was around here that I had spent many days and indeed nights. I don’t think I had spent as much as others but I remembered the streets fondly, almost nostalgically.

It got me thinking about each morning when I walked to the school where I teach. As I walked from Ormond Quay up to South William Street I was having this new feeling of being  new to a city, of being here for the first time. I had that blinkered feeling that ignored the normality brought about by familiarity, the same kind of bland taste you get from the same journey to work every day for a year. I was making a subconscious effort not to recognise what essentially looked exactly the same as before I left the city when I was only 23.

It’s not that everything is new. Perhaps it is seeing everything renewed. The old familiarity I had with Dublin hasn’t gone. I walk around and drive around the city and find my way with relative ease. I know where places and, for the most part, the quickest way to get to them. I stare a little longer in wonder than I used to, and I still hope that sooner or later myself and Herself can finally get a chance to regular sample all the delights our new home has to offer.

But that can’t be everything about living. Those grey walls will lose their lustre soon. The chance to be human will be removed and we will feel like more numbers but on a different chart. Herself waits for me through the long mornings to come home from work. It can’t be easy. I worry that what work I have will not be enough to live on. So much has depended on generousity to date. Consider it a metaphor that the tomatoes planted in our greenhouse will soon be dead and we shall be left to find fresh fruit elsewhere.

We sit and we wait for the ruthless nature of what is clearly a beast that only welcomes those working. The safety net that my teaching job in Korea provided and which we ridiculed for its unrealistic nature has finally been removed at our request. Now as we tumble as gracefully as our naive frames will allow us to fold in positions for safety expecting the thump of landing, I wonder will this next year be as challenging as we are expecting? Or will it be something else?

 

 

 

 

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.

Of Suwon No More


I am no longer a resident is Suwon. It’s a sad day, I suppose, but one myself and Herself talked about for a while. It may be a new idea to you but it’s one thing we’ve known about for some time.

Over the past week boxes were filled, as we’re plenty of those 100 litre rubbish bags. The bags went to the dumpster down below, the boxes to the post office. Thankfully there’s surface post from Korea to Ireland.

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On Tuesday we sent our good bits of furniture to a new home and life in Ansan. They looked happy there, being put to good use at the hands of newlyweds. We’ll miss that fridge I could fit into, and the bed too. It was as comfortable as they get, with a memory or two attached as well.

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In the morning we packed and watched Korea’s draw against Russia. It was already hot and I was hungover from farewell drinks with colleagues the night before. It looked like we’d never come near to leaving that evening, but sleeves were rolled up and sweat was wiped from brows and not a thought was given to what might be, only to what must be.

By five o’clock we had the house cleared and we dined at a plastic storage box. The apartment was bright with evening light, and our words amplified in the echo of our now empty walls. It looked bigger than ever, but it was as still as tiny as it always seemed with all our acquired accoutrements cluttering corners to abandon.

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Eventually everything was gone. We dumped our leftover furniture for disposal and jammed the final bags we meant to pack more sensibly into the back of the car. We panicked again when we saw another pile of something we’d neglected to economise space for, but found a solution through the good will of a generous neighbour.

Before we pulled away we checked the apartment once more, went to the toilet, and I managed to get one last picture of that skyline which looked across at us for three and a half years.

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When I say it like that, the whole adventure probably doesn’t come across as anything nearly as dramatic as it should. Yet, it was where myself and Herself both finally got a chance to settle a little for the first time after we married some six years previously. We are grateful for this opportunity, and none more so than the chance to start a family, itself as new a chapter as any.

Now though, the three of us are starting another phase of life. We are moving country. This is not myself and Herself’s first venture, but for +1 it is. Although I really can’t tell if she knows what’s happening; throughout the past weeks he has just been really good and allowed whatever to happen as it has.

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For now we are in a humid and overcast Gangnueng for a little over ten days, spending time with Herself’s parents and relaxing before we finally fly to Ireland and start settling into the onslaught of reverse culture shock we are expecting on arrival.