Gangneung Bus Station


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What this place is is a blur. A moment of passing. Transit. From there to here or from somewhere else to another place. All that is left is the grey area, a space with less colour than grey, as distinct as the indviduality in a large packet of A4 paper. Where is there when the moments worth remembering are elsewhere? But I am here and there is this other place which I should be in and it may be where I am going – perhaps with the sun shining and flowers and colours and other weather and familiar faces and absolutely no apprehension – there is no longer part of me until the next time I see it.

Take this bus station. A point of arrival and departure that never moves but just sits here swallowing up and spitting out people moving between to positions. It’s only function is to sit in the town at a crossroads. People sitting around, waiting with boxes and bags and nervous looks on their faces. Huddled in front of heaters with collars pulled high against their chins, waiting in silence for their bus too be called. Everyone is looking at everyone, and not at their shoes like they usually do. Nervous and out of place, no one belongs in a bus station. Everything that is here is designed to convenience transit away from and to this place; restaurants, shops, cafes, seats, clocks, doors, steps, lights, everything. You could say that nothing belongs here, but I do, at this moment moving from there to here or wherever in my journey I am, looking at my feet hoping nobody sees me too clearly.

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o be in this place is to be dislocted. To be abandoned to a schedule. To be out of place. To be a number in a queue, waiting as the seconds tick away. And then you’re gone and any memory you have of the place is a mystery why it’s a memory.

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Words and images © Conor O’Reilly 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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 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.

Letter from Korea, October 2011


Suwon, South Korea
20/10/2011

Dear Ireland

There are probably two moments in my life which I regard as life defining. Of all the moments which made a difference, the two most important really changed who I was and where I was going in my life. If I could be astute I could claim that they gave me a greater sense of purpose, allowing me to understand who I am more. One of these moments was coming to Korea. The other was the first time I heard The Stone Roses play. Continue reading