20 Positive Vibes


It’s not a time to be taking things for granted.

My youngest brother of four is in town for two weeks and antics are at large. Plenty of trips to traditional Korean spots such as E Mart and Starbucks have so far resulted.

+1 grows from strength to strength. She’s climbing, jumping, running, spinning, and aside from the constant exhaustion, she is nothing but a joy to watch and serioiusly addictive happy drug.

A number of life things have finally sorted , or are in the advanced stages of sorting themselves out. I have a bit more direction and confidence thanks to this.

It’s spring in Suwon and Yeongtong, and once we get those eternalz tourists out of the way (also known as cherry blossoms) the city is riot of green and all sorts of other colours as flowers are sprouting everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and my favourite time of year.

I lost some weight in Thailand and have managed to keep it off, to a certain extent.

I’ll be reading a poem at a PEN Korea event in Jukjeon, which is just down the road from us. This is happening on the 26th, and I’ll pop a notice up here so if you’re in the area you can drop by.

I’ve been reading (and finishing) a lot more books lately. It has been quite rewarding as I was frustrated by this. Most recently I read The Great Gatsby again, as I last read it in secondary school as part of our first or second year course reading. If you had to do this, I’d suggest rereading it now as you will discover a real gem of a book that was, in this man’s case, wasted on the energies of a fourteen year old.

Since Thailand I’ve been developing my understanding of my camera and its functions, and while I’d say I’m no expert and far from it, I am enjoying the learning curve and its fruits. If you’re keen to learn about how to use your camera I’ve a friend who is staring some photography workshops in Seoul if you want to look him up.

I think that, the more and more I look back, our two months in Thailand was such a good decision, not only because of the weather but also, and more importantly, we got to spend so much time together as a family and learned so much about each other.

I’ve been having some luck submitting some stories and poems to magazines of late, and it’s a gentle reminder that I should keep working away. I’m considering putting a chap book together of Korea related poems, but I consider a lot, so maybe I should say nothing until it actually happens.

I got my writing class to write some poems for me, as part of a lesson on working on narrative, descriptive language, and dramatic effect, and they were all really good.

I walk to work every day.

The amount of good quality imported beer going at decent prices in the bigger supermarkets is increasing steadily. And, the local Lotte had a wine sale of late.

Today the sky is clear and blue and I can see right across Suwon from my twentieth floor perch here.

Last week I met up with three really good old friends from when I first arrived in Korea. I hadn’t seen them for a variety of reasons, namely me being useless, but since seeing them I’ve been reminded of the importance of people close to me staying constant in my life.

I know that some will think I’m a bit of a no-mates internet addict, and I kinda am, but I’ve been getting a lot of benefit from the groups area of Facebook of late. Not only in the Korean Bloggers one, but in a number of photography groups also where I’ve been picking up tips, getting exposure to things I usually wouldn’t seek out, and also networking with others of a similar ilk. It seems a little more of a mature way of utilising the website, rather than just as a promotional tool

A second thing about Facebook, when I initially cancelled my account a few years back I did so in half a fit of nerves and rage, but since I’ve returned I’ve approached it with a different attitude. I see it as a way to actually keep in touch people I know from throughout my life who are from over 30 different countries, and who are also living in 30 different countries. Yes Facebook will lead to the decline of civilisation but at least we’ll know how others are getting along while it’s happening.

I like having hobbies.

Something really amazing is going to happen in July, but it’s a secret.

I have an amazing wife who loves and supports me in everything I do, and we are completely committed to each other, our eternal present, and our futures. And for this I more grateful than anything.

I say all this in light of the tragedy of the Sewol ferry sinking just off the south coast of Korea. I can’t even bare to look at the news because of it. These twenty postive waves are an attempt shine a light on the importance of everything in life, regardless of how trivial it may seem. Be grateful for yourself as we never know how or when it may be taken away from us.

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.