Choose Your Poison Wisely


It is worthwhile to always know where you are going, and this is especially the case when travelling. I’m not suggesting you do something peculiar like making an itinerary or researching places to stay and see, I’m suggesting that you are aware of what you are letting yourself into. You can look at this from the point of view that you should at least have an inkling of the environment ahead, or have absolutely no comprehension of what to expect. I’m a fan of the latter.

I’ve done a bit of travel in my short amount of years on this earth, most it of it independently, and I think it would be an accurate enough to claim that I’ve never really known what was in front of me. When I first went to Korea in 2005 I had no idea what lay ahead. I glanced through a lonely planet and looked at a few pictures online. I had also heard that Koreans were known for liking a drink, which appealed to the gusto of my age at that time. But that was it, and so I tumbled headfirst into that country and nine years later I’m still tumbling, albeit with a little more composure.

I attach my successful acclimatisation to Korea to this blind dive I took. I think that I had such a lucky streak that I have considered this the best way to approach anything. I travelled down through China and into Laos and then Thailand all overland after my first contract in 2006. I followed this ‘we’ll work it out when we get there’ strategy to the letter, and while I had a great time, Herself back in Korea was none too keen on this randomised approach to independent travel.

In Chiang Mai now, I’m witnessing the second factor in this notion that we should be aware of what we are letting ourselves into. We chose Chiang Mai because we knew it was a big town, with plenty to see and a comfortable enough lifestyle for those who chose to live here. We don’t really have an income, but we’re staying in a small apartment complex with a swimming pool and in decent proximity to much of what we’d like to entertain ourselves with. Did I mention the weather is lovely?

So what of it? Well it’s Thailand, right, so what should you expect? I for one wasn’t one hundred per cent sure, but I’ve lived and travelled in Asia a fair amount since 2009, so I think it would take a good whack of Asia to really knock me off my feet. What we always expect is that Asia will be this different place, full of mysticism, spirtuality, tradition, and I dare say, inspiration.

When I first came to Korea I was definitely without mysticism, spirituality, tradition, and certainly inspiration. I couldn’t say now that I came looking for it either, but I know that I have certainly found them, that’s not to say that I actually care for all of them. Inspiration however has been a major factor in my life since I came to Korea, and it is without doubt one of the most important changes I believe to have experienced since I arrived here.

If you arrive in Asia, you can’t expect to find all these wonderful life changing moments waiting for you as you disembark. For anyone considering a journey east, I beg you to look at the demographics. The populations for many Asian countries dwarf western countries. There are obvious cases like China and India, but even without considering them Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia all have well over 100 million inhabitants, the combined population of the two Koreas is larger than that of Germany. While I’m talking about this you’ve got Vietnam and The Phillippines with over 90 million people, and even Thailand has a larger population than France. So what’s my point? When you have this many people living together, what do you expect? If you’re still thinking mysticism, spirituality, and tradition then perhaps you should stay where you are for the time being.

In reality, what you’re supposed to be expecting, in reality is urban squalor, poverty and wealth face to face with each other, pollution, commercialism, greed, violence, and invariably western influences. All of these are mixed in somewhere with all these things you expect, and you can find them, but expect to step over a few open sewers and drunks fighting in the street on your way to get to it.

While of course there is plenty of tradition in modern Asia, what makes it different and more complicated now is that it is not only western countries which are experiencing multicultural challenges. Religions mix in capital cities, rural people welcome city dwellers, developement changes long established patterns of life, and for the visitor familiarity is all to present. You will often here terms such as globalisation bandied about, and I suppose you can argue that this is a good example of it, whatever this is of course, but to accept this concept of globalisation now is to accept that it has always been a factor as long as humans have been living together, just on a smaller scale, it’s just a question of recognising how large your world actually is.

I suppose that is why we came to Chiang Mai for two months. It was of course an escape from the cold (albeit not that cold compared to the few people from Mongolia who are also here) but also to try something we’ve always talked about doing. We came without a plan, other than to be here, and we came to enjoy a time which may be our last opportunity to do so. There is nothing to discover here. There is no search for some kind of beauty or new sense of self.  There is just a chance to be part of a greater world.

If we find inspiration here I suppose we are all the better for it. I prefer to look on this situation to see if we actually get more things done. Productivity is its own kind of inspiration and the mind works quicker and stronger when it is busy and active thinking with direction. A holiday or a change of location can help this, but getting stuck into your experiences is nothing but good food for inspiration. My point is, if you come looking to find it you won’t, but if you come just looking then you will probably find something, whether you expect it or not.

In the end, time will cure the ills brought on by your decisions.

 

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly January 2014. All rights reserved.

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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.

70


by Ray Hyland

For as long as I’ve been a resident of dear Dunboyne, there has been a tenuous but definite link back into Dublin City. An artery if you will, which pumps from the heart of the City Centre back to the edge of the old green belt.

I’d guess I’ve been on the 70 bus or one of its variants at least 5000 times since 1985 or ‘86.Probably more actually. I remember all subtle route changes. Did you know its original terminus was just by the Ha’penny Bridge beside an old carpet shop? From there it would wrap around to Liffey Street back onto Lower Abbey Street, pass the old O’Connor’s denim shop ( complete with weird mural that nobody remembers) back onto Capel Street, over Grattan Bridge and back to the still familiar route.

The terminus was pushed around a fair bit after that. The 70 made its home in Middle Abbey Street for a while, near the old Chapter’s book shop, before switching to the Abbey Theatre. It was moved to facilitate the Luas works, whereby it took up residence at the model railway shop on Hawkins Street. Right now it starts at the Burlington Road, hitting Dawson and Suffolk Street before going back onto the quays.

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Image courtesy of Dublin Bus Stuff http://www.dublinbusstuff.com

To live in Dunboyne without a car is much like living in a rural town without your own transport. For a long time, the bus only ran every two hours and sometimes not even then. Weekends especially were(and are) quite frustrating. I used to visit my Gran near NCR and by the time it got there from town, the single decker bus was always full, leaving me to sitting in the old luggage hold by the double doors.

So many times I’ve had to put my faith in this wretched service. The worst was on those busy winter nights when it would already be full by the time it got to Prussia Street. You knew well it was full of fuckers from Castleknock who had just missed the 39.Worse yet, going to school in Blanchardstown for 6 years meant I either had to get the special school bus or the 70 on Wednesday half days.

It improved slightly over time as the single deckers where taken out of commission and a new 270 service was deployed in the late 90s. This was to provide transport to the newly built Blanchardstown centre. Now noisy little yellow red mini buses went up and down the motorway. No matter what ideas you had about yourself, any passenger on these looked a bit ‘special’.

There was never any real novelty value going on the bus. It was good seeing friends or acquaintances on there that might break up the long journey. It was even better to sometimes feign sleep when you saw someone you didn’t to see getting on at the next stop.

A fond memory was the quiet man. He was a lad of maybe 25 and he’d sit down the very back of the top deck and roll himself a lovely joint. He’d have about half of it, never say a word and then offer it to whoever was sitting beside him before he got off at Littlepace. I wonder what became of him.

I finally managed to move out in my early 20s, free now from the grip of those dusty green(then blue) seats. But I still get shudders when I think of all the time wasted waiting around for that bus, or worse yet having my life dictated to by its questionable scheduling.

I never even mentioned the epic adventure that is the 70 Nitelink service or the old 70X that ran from UCD belfield for many years.

Nowadays there’s a train that goes from Dunboyne into the city, though it doesn’t impress me much. It’s a long walk back into the village but I guess it’s better than nothing!

My advice, get a car, or make lots of friends with available couch space in town.

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

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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.

The End of the Summer


It’s still hot in Korea. By hot I mean warm enough to prefer shorts to trousers but pleasant enough to consider the walk, wherever it is you’re going, enjoyable. Only this afternoon it started raining the kind of rain that smells of the heat that has warmed it. Like some kind of stagnant puddle water. And as it drops and hits the ground the water mixes with all the other smells walked into the street, then stewed up to create a black paste which seems to follow every foot’s step in the city. It’s a summer rain true, but not a high summer deluge.

When we returned to Korea from Ireland a little under two weeks ago we were told we had missed the worst of the summer. The breeze which we found chilly was a much welcomed breath of life into a country drained to exhaustion from the hottest of summers. We were grateful that we had chosen our flight dates well.

When I first spent a summer in Korea I can’t recall how I felt about it. I don’t remember when the heat began or ended, but I do remember staying outside long and late into the night at the weekend dressed only in shorts and t-shirt. I also remember walking into the ice cold bank to find 10 to 15 people sitting around in small groups chatting, snacking on fruit, and generally just hanging out in what was a free air-conditioned space. A few years later and I would do the same, but with a cheap ice coffee in the local Paris Baguette.

Now, that cool breeze I mentioned seems to have let up a little, but there is still a heavy rattle of cicada in the afternoon. Occasionally a dragonfly will drop to the ground dead in front of me, a sure-fire sign of the end of the summer. I still carry a handkerchief with me to avoid looking like I just stepped from the shower, but I can feel the weather getting steadily cooler.

In Ireland the summer ends in July, apparently, and autumn runs from August through to October. In many parts of the world August is an unbearable month, but Ireland it can be cool and the most unbearable thing we have are the wasps which seem to enjoy lunches in the garden as much the next person. It’s a far cry from the crowded beaches and sweltering streets of Korea, but that’s where I was a couple of weeks ago.

 

A view in Ireland

A view in Ireland

I was not thinking of the Korean summer, just of how nice it was to be in Ireland for what was a very enjoyable and warm summer by Irish standards. If anything the only reason I didn’t want to go back to Korea was because it meant the summer would be over and I would have to return to work.

It’s always easy to get all sentimental after leaving your summer holidays behind and returning to work, normality, and routine, as you sit there, wherever it is and doing whatever you have to do, looking invariably at a scene quite different than you have recently made familiar to yourself. My view from where I write is often uninspiring, faced with a computer screen backed onto a white wall, and the view through the windows leaves nothing to the imagination. The mountains in the distance even being too far off to be wistful.

An example of 'the routine'.

An example of ‘the routine’.

Coming to Korea you’d think that all would be amazing, especially from little old Ireland. But equally so, leaving Korea and going to Ireland presents such stark contrasts, not just visually, but also physically and socially. One is here and the other is there, and there is so distant from here that it bears such little comparison that highlighting the differences only serves to be counterproductive. Each country exists in such stack separation from the other that seeing the two in any light never presents any recognisable image.

I say this with a fair amount of regret, but I know that it’s true. To worry that, for example, your holiday has ended and that you must now return to the routine does little but to feed your own sentimental wishes and dreams which are likely to be realised. It serves to remember that those who can be considered fortunate enough to live where you have returned from also have the same concerns as you, none more so than complaints about the weather, bills, normality, routine, and a desire to find a better life somewhere else. I would also hasten to add that if I were fortunate enough to be so wealthy as to afford to sit around and play golf all day at such a young age I think I’d find myself bored. Perhaps when I’m old enough to retire I will be of a different mind-set.

It is safe to say that we make decisions in life about where we want to be and what we want to do. Where we choose to live and how we choose to live are important decisions. Of course not everyone is in as comfortable a position as myself to be offered a choice, I know this better than I used to, but still it’s in our power to change this, somehow.

Living in Korea, I have been frustrated by many things, but at the same time I find a lot of enjoyment in living here. I work hard enough to enjoy a lifestyle which many in Ireland do not enjoy, but we are just as happy living where we are. I have being living in Korea long enough to know what to enjoy and what to avoid. I know the limitations of my luxuries and envy those without them, which sounds odd I know, but it is nothing unusual for a person to covet what they cannot have.

A view from Korea

A view from Korea

I have never really felt myself unhappy in Korea, homesick yes, but never unhappy. There are plenty here who find fault with so many social and political issues here, but I always look at it from the perspective that every country has its problems and no one country manages to deal with them in any way more effectively, as a whole. Societies face pressures from all angles, but rounding them off they are internal and external issues which time itself and the experience it brings often help to solve most complaints. Whether we live to see some of these changes is probably what concerns us the most.

I started this post talking about the weather. I see the weather as a metaphor for how we deal with our lives in different countries from our own. I can’t say it matters much to me or anyone in Korea, unless there’s some agricultural or aeronautical connection I’m forgetting, how the weather is in Ireland right now. I’m concerned that my family and friends are doing alright of course, but I don’t think that this supersedes my own situation, which is the rain from now until some time tomorrow.

And that is what I will do. I will wait until it stops and then I will see what happens next. I wonder will the rain be light enough when I get up so that I can walk to work, or will I have to drive. I wonder if it will rain all day and what I will do in between my classes if it is still pouring down. It’s what is here and what I must deal with, regardless of what the weather is in Ireland.

Looking Up


You come to Korea from where I’m from and you can’t stop looking up. Always up. At the sky without so many rain clouds, at the trees forever in a constant pattern of change, and at the buildings which stretch above everything I’ve ever known. It takes a lot of concrete and steel to make a megalith as complete as the Korean urban space, and event then it never seems complete. There is always some mason tapping away at some finer piece chiselling another groove in the pursuit of perfection.

And inside every groove lives another person, perhaps with their family, perhaps not. There are over 48 million people in this country, and it is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. You would think that you can never escape elements of the human here, but it is possible. You just need to close your eyes and try.

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Suwon where I live is small compared to other cities in Korea. I think I get confused when I hear the population and think of whether or not a city is big because I am prone to making comparisons. Like suggesting that a city of one million people is not big because there are plenty of cities around the world with populations over great than ten million souls. Comparatively we will never be happy with the populations of cities as we will always find one which is greater by some degree in some means of classification.

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Even then a city as an urban space cannot be properly understood at any one moment as it is forever changing. Its people die, businesses close and open, some policy creates some new complaint or cause for celebration. You know how it is. A guess can be made at the next best option but the streets that make up the urban space always aim to surprise, and I can only blame the people who make up the inhabitants of cities for this very welcome phenomenon. 

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Cities with their intensive concentration of people, constantly viewed by some as anti-human, are as human as everything else humans decide to make a part of their lives. Since I’ve come to Korea I’ve thought of both cities as both the anti-thesis of humanity and as the epitome of what humans live for. It is now that I understand or accept cities for what they are. They are an animalistic reaction. Cities are the home of the herd, and it is the herd which comes together as a means of supplying itself with more food, increasing protection, and to make finding mates a simpler process so as to increase the chances of the survival of the species. The highrise in Korea is nothing more than stacking more people in to provide higher odds of survival.

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It is no surprise that few homes come in the shape of a cylinder or sphere. Soul after soul compressed into blocks of concrete and steel without the honeycomb simplicity and complexity of a bees hive, but still everything continues to spread. I look up. It can’t be helped. Stack after stack of rooms on top of rooms, lives lived and thrived inside, happiness and tears, arguments and heartbreak, and more memories than atoms in between each neatly organised and tidily ordered set of walls. Each stack of rooms neatly slotting in between its neighbour, some growing from others, some torn down and new seeds laid for new rooms to grow eventually. There are a few dead with carcases shrouded in plywood and graffiti.

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But you will never know this if you live in a place like this, and I mean really live. Don’t stare at this grand blue print of a metropolis and dissect each block with demographics. Know each window hides a face and a past and a story and a future. And know that without any one of these this place would not be the same.