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.

The Art of Waiting


Imagine for a moment that a long time ago there was a secret art, or perhaps it was common practice, where people waited without fuss and hindrance. Do you have that picture in your head now? Good. Allow me to begin.

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I just came back from a quick trip to the shop where I bought a can of Sprite and a packet of crisps (or what we shall call crisps for arguments sake). I went to one shop first and then moved on to another shop as it didn’t sell Sprite and I’m not hungover so Korean Cider wasn’t on the cards.

As I stood at the crossroads, myself and the person next to me tried to cross on a red light a number of times, only to be cut off by approaching traffic. I eventually darted over. After leaving the first shop I walked towards another shop, and along the way I checked my phone twice for reasons which will be only described as ‘updates’. After finding some Sprite and a suitable packet of crisps I left and made my way back to my apartment.

Standing by the lift door was a fellow dweller who had entered the building at the same time as I. He pushed the call button for the lift, checked himself in the mirror, then in an almost panicked movement jumped to check his phone, which like me, was some race of smartphone. The screen lit and his thumb lingered over the screen kind of twitching in an anticipatory way I am familiar with, because I know that nervous kind of ‘what will I do now’ expectancy from whenever I do the same thing several times a day.

As I watched I could feel my own thumb stroking my own phone in my pocket, a bit like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings would with the his precious. I stopped for a minute and looked around for something else to do, or something else to occupy myself with for the two or three minute wait as the lift dropped someone off up high and then came down to collect us.

As you can imagine, there was not a lot to do. I looked at some flyers for some restaurants, I looked at the wall and some bicycles cluttered by the door. I rubbed my fingers up against the mottled edge of a pillar to feel if it was smooth or not – it was not – and all because I was struggling with waiting a few minutes for a lift to come down.

What came into my head, and this was merely fifteen minutes ago, was had we lost the ability to wait patiently for something to happen? Are we bored so easily that we cannot stand still and expect what is actually going to happen, and why do we have this sudden urge to fill what is only a tiny piece of essentially empty time with a trivial activity? I could ask more questions here about this same idea but I won’t. This is enough.

Even thinking about this, you almost wonder what did people do before they had technology to fill up so much of their time? I recall that the subject of smartphones came up in a writing class I was teaching, and someone suggested that people must have been bored before smartphones turned up. I got this impression of people sitting around a fireside in Victorian times all leaning on their chins, exhaling deeply, drumming their fingers and wishing someone would hurry up and develop 3G technology. The world can hardly be that boring that we need to entertain ourselves for every moment we are conscious.

I think we’re selling ourselves a little short by expecting the world to excite itself up a little so that we can pay more attention to it. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped setting such high standards of simple pieces of machinery when there are much more exhilirating experiences to be had which do not involve live up-to-the-minute stats and social-media fed responses, among other benefits.

Much of this would require people, and especially this person writing, to slow down and wait for things to happen, because they will and life will probably be just as self fulfilled finding out information tomorrow as it will be today.