Dandelion Land


The green that creeps from beneath is a steady process. Warming the eyes along with the flawless blue of the sky with its cotton wool clouds. Blue and green, that is spring for me. It is without saying a relief to welcome the colourisation of the country after the death of everything in winter.

I can’t say that I would like spring as much as I did if I didn’t dislike winter. When I was in Korea it was the dry and arid air, the biting cold winds, and the white bright sunlight pitching rays constantly. Winter in Korea is a time when snow storms were a relief from the constant squinting.

For my first winter in Ireland I expected the long days of wind and rain, a grey and lifeless landscape, and the damp that seems to find everywhere. But it was the darkness which caught me off guard. The sun setting at four o’clock in the afternoon swallowed the evening in absolute night, and leaving myself, Herself, and +1 staring at each other at home, expecting something to happen.

Much like Korea, Ireland’s winter swallows up all the visible life. But for the crows hovering overhead, perfectly silhouetted in any weather but more so in the overcast of December and January, little signs of life persist. Waiting for the world to awaken after winter follows a similar pattern in Ireland and Korea. Snowdrops show first, white exaggerated in the damp mud of flowerbeds. Then the shoots of daffodils break through the earth.

In Korea at this time of year you can’t take a step left or right without seeing a cherry blossom tree blooming. Even in the most sun deprived thoroughfare hectic with traffic, a much desiccated looking tree will be blooming as resplendently as its excessively pruned bows will allow. I’ve always thought it to be a bit over the top.

Yet a few weeks ago I was driving into Dublin’s city centre and at Cabra Cross, just by the McDonalds and Tesco the traffic stopped. This is one of Dublin’s less dynamic traffic spots, and it certainly is not an attractive part of the city – but let’s not be too harsh as there are worse place to be stuck in traffic. I looked out the window, and much like those very deprived looking cherry blossoms, at the base of a tree were some frail and gutter mud splattered daffodils, attempting to be as resplendent as their situation allowed.

 

Now the daffodils are slowly dying off, but the trees have gradually been warming our eyes as first the hedges and now the trees start to green with spring. It’s not long after this that the dandelions come out, yellowing in a peppered splay across any grassy patch. A sure sign the warm weather has returned is dandelion seeds tumbling carelessly in the breeze of a sun splashed afternoon.

We call these piss-in-the-beds because if you pick one you will wet the bed, or so we were told as children. But I wonder would the dandelion be as common if it weren’t for children blowing their seeds at every opportunity.

I wake up early most mornings to the new sound of spring, as thousands of different noises come through to my room. Birds singing, mostly, but the leaves rustling in an April gust comes frequently enough. There’s also the silence of morning, something I can’t remember from Korea. Where no noise from the street permeates the walls, and looking out the window all I can do is really imagine the sound.

More so than before I appreciate my new domain in Ireland. The garden, green, and all the other colours it presents, and the breeze and the birds, it’s a long way from my old position watching for glimpses of life on the twentieth floor in Suwon. They are two different places, and nowhere can either be compared. Ask me if I prefer one, I’d probably prefer to not answer that but I would say that I’m happy where I am for now. All I need now is for someone to cut the grass for me…

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).

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

Walking Home at Night in Yeongtong-dong


Last night was the first real dark night I’ve walked home from this year. I left work around 6pm and by the time I had crossed the street and said goodbye to a coworker it was as dark as December. I won’t prey on your sensibilities with a slew of cliches about walking home alone in a chilly night in October. We’ve all been there. It’s a universal feeling.

I had my camera with me and fortunately some of these pictures came out well enough that I thought I’d post them here.

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November


I like November and I always have. The month just sits there, almost Christmas but still far enough away to be still kind of normal, and long enough after any summer holidays so any pining is well gone. Even though it can signal the true beginning of winter, a season I don’t shine too, with all the cold rain, wind, the leaves losing their leaves, I still look forward to November every year.

I think it’s one of those reliable months. I know it will be colder because the wind will suddenly pick up a notch and the temperature must drop a few degrees further. Despite this, I can prepare well. November is a great time for dusting out those heavy jackets, wooly jumpers, thick socks, gloves, scarves, and hats in warm, earthy colours of browns, burgundy, and dark greens to keep me cosy.

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And to keep me satiated it is certainly a most appropriate time for food, with soups and stews and baked root vegetables all coming out of the kitchen. It’s a great time to really roll up my sleeves and rekindle the worthwhile craft of cooking a hearty meal. In Korea as well, there is no shortage of stews, and then of course all-weather barbecue dinners take on a new life as they move indoors. These are particularly special treats, which start as soon as I step inside and the hot air warms me through instantly, and after a feed of beef or pork, not to mention a few – if not several – drinks, stepping back into the icy night air afterwards is the ideal way of encouraging passage to the second round.

If you have a fire there is no better month to first light it than November. The joy of sitting by the warmth of a crackling, or gas flowing hiss, while the television shows a late night movie and my glass is half full with my second decent sized glass of red wine cannot be praised too much. Add to this the company of Herself or friends and I can do little to complain – unless I end up drinking too much wine and wake up with a corkscrew of headache and no memory of the end of that film I was watching.

In Korea, of course, fires are far from common in the home. In fact if I lit a fire I would probably be arrested, that’s if I survived my home burning down as well as the entire building I live in. I don’t think my neighbours would be impressed. As a worthy compromise there is the always reliable underfloor heating which is piped throughout every apartment. While it can be slow to start off, once the heating is primed it doesn’t take long for the house to warm up. Stepping into a room with the floor heating on always feels like I am passing into stove warmed cabin; it is cosy, inviting, and homely, and any memories of firesides with wine are forgotten once a basket of freshly baked sweet potatoes are passed around.

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But for me, the real magic of November waits outside. By the time October has passed the trees are well beyond deciding whether or not they will move on to their winter hibernation. Their leaves are either in the process of their radiant discolouration, or they are tumbling down the street in a series of never-ending somersaults courtesy of the stiff breeze. Ochres, auburns, maroons, mellow yellows, fading greens and coppers are splattered about the trees, while the crunching and scratching of the already deceased come from where my feet meet the street. It is always hypnotic.

The air at this time of year has only began to bite and with each small gust it nibbles away at my ears and cheeks, as I duffle up my jacket fully for the first time and perhaps tie a scarf snuggly under my chin. The sky is as blue as if it has dressed for the occasion of being painted in a landscape, and if there are clouds they do the same, ballooning up in a white lather like bubble bath. At all times the sun shines down down, strong as ever, but warm like an old radiator in a big stone room.

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The buildings stand in sharp relief to this bright blue scape, with their every angle being caught and stretching out in a long straight shadow courtesy of that sun which no longer reaches a central apex. It is undoubtedly as the architect had imagined when the designs were first sketched, with the sun catching in a pinprick sized corner of glass which reflects as beaming spot light upon the riotous Renoir painted scene below.

Spring in Korea


Spring, it could be argued, has finally arrived. Usually I would equate the cherry blossoms with spring, but for me spring is most evident in the yellow dust, or 황사, that infamously comes from China. But cherry blossoms in Korea really let you know there’s no turning back now; summer is around the corner.

In Korea cherry blossoms are very, very popular. In fact I would say they are more popular than any other plant in the country, and the festivals that are celebrate these pretty trees are almost as popular.

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I’ve heard a few Korean people here question this aspect of modern Korea; why does Korea celebrate this tree and it’s blossom so vivaciously considering the flower itself is a symbol of Japan, Korea’s neighbour that is often seen as Korea’s enemy? Continue reading