Hwaseong Again


I’ve been living in and around Suwon for over four years, and without doubt one of the most interesting places to visit is Hwaseong Fortress at the centre of the city. I’ve written about it before I believe, and I think if you spend two minutes with a Google search you’ll find ample information on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only from your typical Korean government websites praising all that is wonderful about Hwaseong, but also a shovel full or two of blogs in English by other visitors (if I could suggest somewhere to start, I’d suggest taking a walk with the Qi Ranger).

But me being who I am have grown a little used to the fortress and can only explore so much of its windy wall. It’s always enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but what I find more worthwhile is a wander in between the many streets which snake in and out on either side of the 300 year old (or thereabouts) fortification. This space is old Suwon. It is where the city sprung from, and from the busy markets of Paldalmun to the laziness of the pretty much everywhere else, there is a maze worth getting lost in.

I think I’ve had a look at about 5% of what this area has to see, but regardless each step on a familiar pathway still intrigues. There’s something about the unspoilt ugliness of these narrow, often poorly maintained streets. And while they create this impression, the closer you look the more you see that they are in fact well looked after, just not by the city, but by the people who live there. It’s a bit of a paradox I suppose, but again, that’s probably why I find it interesting.

On Sunday (November 24th) I was wandering around with Herself, her folks, and of course +1. It was a dreary afternoon, a day that only Hwaseong’s surrounding area could only look well in. We took our time strolling around trying to find a restaurant which didn’t specialise in either fried chicken of boiled pig’s feet, both of which I adore, and needless to say I took a few pictures.

Photo 24-11-2013 13 06 57

Of late I’ve been experimenting with editing. Previously, I have just taken pictures and posted them here as I consider getting as many pictures taken as possible and then sharing them to be my main objective. I’ve also attempted to use editing software and failed royally, mainly due to my own impaetience.

A good friend in Korea put me on to an easy way of editing quickly and effectively, and I’ve been doing it regularly of late. It’s a simple as this. I use the Snapseed app on my ipad to edit quickly photos which I can now transfer to my photo album simply through dropbox, or indeed directly off my memory card thanks to a simple card reading device which I picked up for a very reasonable price. I’ve always thought that Snapseed was a good app, although not having the ease to upload and edit photos quickly seemed to turn me off using it (I am realising that I must be very impartient with technology and my use of it). Over the past few weeks though, I’ve been enjoying editing my photos, especially touching up the colours, shading, light, and some moderately effective sharpening. The success I’ve had with my photos is encouraging me to challange myself again and learn how to use photo editing software.

Photo 24-11-2013 14 52 39

Photo 24-11-2013 14 53 01

Photo 24-11-2013 14 50 05

All in all though, photography has been keeping me quite busy of late, and if you pop over to my flickr page you’ll see some of my many uploads, some edited and some not, including some late uploads from holidays in 2012 to both Thailand and Malaysia.

Photo 24-11-2013 12 58 19

All photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013. All rights reserved.

Peter Clarke


By Ray Hyland

The first adults you meet in life will forever leave an impression. Family notwithstanding you rely on your teachers and headmasters to guide you along the early roads.

Personally speaking I don’t think Dunboyne realises how lucky they had it. Peter Clarke served the area with great distinction, a place right on the edge of Dublin,for so long rural, growing rapidly as housing estates shot up as quickly as you could build them.

Many dreaded when their class teacher would be occasionally absent,for fear of the principal coming down to take the class for the day. I for one loved the tales of mice running around the skirting boards of the old school and the nuanced pronunciations from the teacher’s copy of Buail Liom. Not to mention the P.E class out in the mucky field,O’Neills footballs flying everywhere but scarcely over the bar.

That school was far from perfect. But while there was always sadness at the end of each summer holiday there was never true dread. Staying on the right side of the tracks just seemed the most sensible course of action when you heard of the legends of meter sticks and canes. In my experience the legends were just that, as mythical as those school plays whereby enthusiastic actors turned up for a production of Tir Na Nog.

There were problem children(your writer included,especially in junior & senior infants) and for them there was the principal’s office; a cologne fragranced mass of papers and a filing cabinet with a long lost typewriter sitting atop of it. Rare was it that you visited this room for anything other than bad news. Thankfully its charms remained a mystery for the most part.

Not unlike that fascinating Mercedes Benz, a cream coloured behemoth with left hand drive. Some lucky boys were even afforded the opportunity to be chauffeured home on occasion, but only if their grey uniform had not withstood the onslaught of a puddle and they faced the day in wet trousers. Mr.Clarke always had a bit of style.

Looking back on it, admittedly with rose tinted specs I’d say they were happy years. Nothing seemed out of reach, everything was possible. The school trips were always a real treat. We had Wexford and a trip to the Heritage Centre in 4th class. Any chance of misbehaviour was quickly culled when we saw we not only had Willie Lyons but also our headmaster to contend with. The train home was class though, crisps,coke and a game of snap.

Going back as a secondary school first year for a ‘visit’ the place seemed much smaller. To be greeted by the silver haired principal was proof that we were now on our way, headed for the real world whether we wanted to or not.

I only saw him a few times in the years after Dunboyne National School. He looked like a man enjoying his retirement. The hair was of course still silver and the smile never seemed far away.

Farewell then sir, I will be thinking of you at the three o’clock bell.

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

20130919-172951.jpg

Hi, my name is Ray and I live in Ireland. I am slowly learning how unfair life is and dealing with it accordingly. Currently I live at home with my parents at the tender age of 32, having decided that success and a nice abode of my own was all too predictable. I presently work as an Intern, which in Ireland means, the same as everywhere else in the western world (no job prospects!). My principle interests include observing soccer players secretly laughing at the rest of us, wrestling with the reality that sometimes you’re better off not trying, wrestling full stop oh and fast food, consummation and critique thereof. I don’t like long walks along the beach, Monday is my favourite day of the week and if there’s an American TV show out there that you love and can’t stop talking about chances are I probably despise you.

Yangyang Traditional Market


Across Korea traditional markets are still a common feature. Taking place every five days in towns and even cities, the markets give a brief insight into an older part of Korea. For the most part these markets are straightforward occasions and possibly a bit like you could imagine in the so-called olden days, drawing in all the local populace for not only business but also social reasons.

Throughout you can see people meeting and doing business, while at the same time there is a good quantity of back slapping and hearty laughing by the stalls. There are rows and rows of people, mostly old women it has to be said, selling what is clearly the excess from their small gardens, and for them it seems to be as much a chance to get out and meet people, with the added benefit of actually making some money.

This is a K-Pop free zone. Not because of the age, but because of the distance it sits from the modern and vibrant image which K-Pop and Hallyu parades as Korean. There are no hanboks, palaces, models with plastic surgery, dramatic light shows, or indeed very many young people at all. Korea will be more like this, the majority of the population being between 30 and 50 years old, and this relatively young country will soon be an old one holding on to its past as much as its future pushes to break free.

These markets are not only rural occasions, as they function within every city, the most famous being Moran Market. Travel past the glitz of any main street and burried in its alleys and side streets this side of Korea persists, struggling against the tide fueled by a minority keen to present a new Korea to the world.

Talk will persist eternally about how to combine these two elements but one is always going to be a loser. I’m not trying to sound critical here, just to explain a reality which isn’t spoken of much. Too many distractions seem to occupy the imaginations of everyone invested in Korea with a voice, but still Korea carries on, some struggling, a few thriving, many taking what they can from the ride and hoping for the best in the end. It’s no denying what demographic the people thriving usually make up, and if you need it hint, it is rarely the vendors and patrons of places like Yangyang market.

Below is a selection of an extended set of photographs now available to view on flickr. Please click this link to see more!

November in Yeongtong


Just as I had my camera on the way home from work last week, I had it again yesterday as I walked to and from work. This time it was nice and bright out and ideal for catching the last of the autumn leaves.

In Korea you’ll never hear the end of the talk about the colours of the trees. And I won’t lie, often I forget how splendid it is. Now last year I may have been preoccupied with +1’s impending arrival, but I think this year Yeongtong is looking especially fine. The weather has been splendid, without the usual rain and occasional gale, so perhaps this is why we are being treated to this fine frieze of leaves.

Of course just as I all but finish this post it starts to rain.

I won’t bore you any further with my interpretations of this loveliness, and just get down to the photos. I haven’t tampered with them, except for the odd crop. I use a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm 1:1.8f DX lens (if you want to buy me a new fancy lens you’re more than welcome – its my birthday soon if you need an excuse).

20131106-124852.jpg

20131106-124901.jpg

20131106-124910.jpg

20131106-124916.jpg

20131106-124922.jpg

20131106-124932.jpg

20131106-124938.jpg

20131106-124949.jpg

20131106-124959.jpg

20131106-125008.jpg

20131106-125015.jpg

20131106-125021.jpg

20131106-125029.jpg

20131106-125036.jpg

20131106-125048.jpg

20131106-125059.jpg

20131106-125115.jpg

20131106-125123.jpg

20131106-125136.jpg

20131106-125144.jpg

20131106-125154.jpg

20131106-125206.jpg

20131106-125216.jpg

20131106-125223.jpg

All photography copyright Conor O’Reilly 2013. If you’d to use any of these images please contact me

Is it December Already?


So now that Halloween is over we can all start getting our Christmas decorations down and checking the fairy lights are all working. While we’re at it, order a turkey, and for christ’s sake start knitting that jumper, there’s a 12 Pubs of Christmas on somewhere…

20131102-183319.jpg

Is it a bit early to be joking about this?

The thing is I can titter to myself, but I know that for a fact this is how things might as well be. Christmas is a bigger and bigger ordeal as each year passes. The lights in the cities go up earlier, there are more and more elaborate Santa’s grottos in supermarkets, and for some reason many people’s livers do not collapse, despite the increased effort.

If I was back in Ireland I could probably complain about this. But I’m not. I’m in Korea. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to invite you, my humble reader to celebrate this phenomenon.

In case you haven’t already noticed, preparations for the Christmas period are already in motion. Not more than two or three weeks ago I was in Costco and not one Halloween thing-a-majig did I see. However, Christmas trees and cribs to abandon were in stock. One crib, which to my eye was a walk-in one, had statues of the shepherds, wise men, Joseph, and Mary, not to mention the assorted livestock which usually comes with these things, all of which would have dwarfed little +1 at full stretch.

In starbucks yesterday, November 1st lest we not forget, they had rolled out their red Christmas campaign with all their Christmas flavoured coffees and whatnot over heating from too much cream and chocolate sprinkles. And this afternoon in Emart, the Korean supermarket chain, there was even a small section of plastic Christmas trees and flashing Santa Clauses.

20131102-190338.jpg

There are a couple of reasons why this doesn’t make me irate.

First of all there are more important things to get angry about.

Second of all, I kind of expect it so what is the point of getting angry about it – I wish I could say the same for driving standards in Yeongtong…

Thirdly, it’s Korea.

“What? That’s not a very good third excuse”, I hear you chirp.

Well it is. Korea is not a Christmas country. When I think family and holiday in Korea I think Chuseok and Seolal. When I hear Christmas in Korea I hear day off and drinking. Wait. That sounds the same as an Irish Christmas.

When I first came to Korea in 2005 I was lucky to even see the colours red and white together. I lived near a McDonalds which kind of helped me realise it was Christmas, but otherwise there was hardly any wind of it in the Seoul air. By 2008 I was living in Itaewon and you could kind of pick up on it a bit. I was also working in a much bigger school so they pushed the western holidays or whatever a little more, so I was reminded of Christmas somewhat more.

Around that time, someone in Seoul City Hall had the bright idea that fairy lights all over the place made the city look nice in the dark of winter, so Seoul suddenly looked like it was all lit up for Christmas. Of course these lights persisted until February, but in early Decemeber you could be forgiven for feeling the Christmas mood.

Despite this history of Christmas in Korea, my main thought still is that Christmas isn’t a Korean holiday, and any attempt to celebrate it isn’t going to match the ideas we have of Christmas in our own western homes. It’s not a family holiday for starters, and it’s certainly not one that many Koreans look back on with any amount of nostalgia. Now, you do see some kids getting Christmas presents from Santa Claus, and there’s that phenomenon of couples going to Myeong-dong on Christmas Day, but aside from that… oh yeah, don’t forget the twenty million or so Christians in the country (but since when has Christmas been about Christianity, right?).

20131102-213057.jpg

If you want to get an idea for where Christmas stands, maybe you should look at Halloween, which for some reason is called Halloween Day (yeah, I know…). There is no resemblance between the Halloweens in Korea and any of the Halloweens in Ireland I remember. For starters where is the abject fear of teenagers in the streets after dark? I could go on.

There is little point in growling about how Christmas is celebrated here. It’s like a Korean in Ireland complaining about how they just don’t do Chuseok like they do back home. And anyway, the fact that the commercial aspect is sneaking into popular culture should be comfort enough, seeing as it’s probably the most dominant feature of a typical western Christmas.

For me, I can find Christmas in Korea a very lonely time, even with a fantastic wife and now and amazing little daughter to keep me company, but I’ve never found a comparable comfort in the Christmas that Korea provides. That doesn’t mean that I don’t celebrate it. I’ve tried different things and always had a great time, but it’s not what I’d liken to Christmas. This doesn’t make it a bad thing.

The way I see it is there are two holidays here, one in the place it originated, and one attempt to liken it. Neither are wrong, neither will every be better, neither will ever suppress the other. Sure one may be more commercially driven than the other, or vice-versa.

So this December as I’m gradually getting used to red Starbucks signs and cups, mispronounced children’s Christmas songs, I’ll be happy knowing that at least there is something here that helps me get on with another year. What matters to me more than anything is, like any celebration, is who you spend it with and what you do, not what everyone else does.