In Recognition for Contributions to Irish Culture in Korea…


On Thursday night I was invited over to the Embassy of Ireland in Seoul for a special event. It had been a while since I’d been there, having been in on occasion helping promote Irish Association of Korea events, and for other reasons. I brought the family with me this time, and remembered to take a shave and a shower beforehand. The visit was worth the effort.

Myself and five other individuals were to be awarded for our contributions to the promotion of Irish culture in Korea. While I was undoubtedly the shortest tenured recipient of the award, the company I kept held no qualms about my presence at the ceremony.

With ambassador O’Donoghue and IAK chair, Shauna Browne

Among those were Tom Coyner, who chaired the organisation for seven years and has his share of stories from over the years, Byung Guen Chun, a Korean gentleman who was encouraged into participating over ten years ago and is still an enthusiastic member, Sean Conneely, a Irish Columban missionary who has made Korea his home for over forty if not fifty years, and the daughter of Mr Lee (that’s what we’ve always called him, and I can’t find his business card to use his proper name, so sorry…) who is the owner of the Dublin bars in Gangnam and was unable to attend. Bernard Hughes, another long term Irish expat and contributor to the IAK, was unable to attend also.

It was a very simple ceremony. The Irish ambassador to Korea Aingeal O’Donoghue and IAK Chair Shauna Browne handed out the awards, after each of which a few words of praise were lauded and then the obligatory photographs, all washed down with a bottle or two of champagne. It was a nice but short opportunity to catch up with some old friends, some of whom I am likely not to see again for some time.

Award recipients and ambassador O’Donoghue and IAK chair Shauna Browne

I can’t really emphasise how much this award means to me. While there’s the obvious recognition that is attached to the commendation, that it comes from my peers in both the IAK and the embassy is an indication that the work individual contributions we, and by we I mean all those who have gone before me, have done over the year building up the Irish Association of Korea to the organisation it is today has not gone ignored.

The past year has seen a few notable departures in the committee but I think that this change allows for new faces to step up and embrace the challenges I feel are worth the effort. I couldn’t have imagined myself organising as many St. Patrick’s Day festivals as I did when I first came to Korea, and in the end look where I ended up just before I leave the country over nine years later.

My new paperweight 😉

This is a perfect indicator of how important it is to take every opportunity that you stumble upon, embellish it, nurture it if it’s worth it, and then let it grow with you. And while I know I travelled half way around the world to do this, it’s not necessary for everyone. You just need to be able to make the opportunity yourself, but I’m not going to tell you what those opportunities are. That’s the part that’s up to you.

Now I just need to find something to fill my time over the next five years. Maybe they could use me in Dublin…

 

For more information on the Irish Association of Korea and how you can get involved (I recommend it!) visit www.iak.co.kr

You can see more photographs from this small event here 🙂

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Monochrome Seoul


I don’t get into Seoul as much as I’d like to. Although recently I’ve been fortunate enough to hit up the tourist trails around Myeong-dong. I miss the big city. The feeling you get as you’re lost in a tidal wave of more people. I miss the main streets, and the side streets. I miss looking up from the cavern floor of a canyon of highrise. I miss getting lost in a world of alleys and emerging and finding my way around because it’s just Seoul.

Here are a few shots I took recently uploaded to an album on flickr. All shots were taken between April and May of 2014.

To view more of these grainy and shaky Seoul street shots please follow this link.

To view more of these grainy and shaky Seoul street shots please follow this link.

To view more of these grainy and shaky Seoul street shots please follow this link.

 

Photography © Conor O’Reilly 2014

 

 

Saint Patrick’s Day in Seoul, 2014


When you live in Korea long enough expecting public holidays from home to fall on their usual day or date becomes a waste of time. Really. Anyone American will be familiar with Thanksgiving falling on a Saturday, and even the Superbowl the night after. Irish, like myself, are now most familiar with a Saturday Saint Patrick’s Day, and yesterday was no different from other years (except for last year and the year before when Paddy’s Day actually fell on the weekend…which kind of ruins my point), the day of Ireland and it’s ‘ness was transformed from its early weekday schedule to a much more alcoholic friendly Saturday.

And with that Seoul, and by Seoul I mean Guro-gu, and by Guro-gu I really just mean Sindorim, but it’s probably best to be accurate as well as honest and admit that it was a small park at Sindorim Station.

But I digress.

This years festival was as big as any before, and it may have been bigger. The open stage which was brought in last year has allowed for a wider festival space, allowing for crowds to fill the entire squre or plaza and swallow up and who naively attempted to pass through on their way too or from the subway. The removal of the big purple C4U beer tent was a welcome sight personally, although it was still lurking in the background cleaning up from the thirsty festivalers. I’d like to add that for all their generosity providing drinks to the thirsty, none of of this is reciprocated to the organisers who provide such a lively crowd. Sour grapes? Yes, but for a festival which always struggles for a source of finance you’d think a donation would be nice. Perhaps if the festival moved away then maybe they’d appreciate us more.

What about the rest of the festival though? There was a busy information area just above the escalators which seems to grow each year. The Seoul Gaels were en masse providing info, as were face painters, balloons, and new to the scene story tellers. It’s a good setup, as anyone who comes within view can’t miss the fact that something is happening, encouraging leisurely Saturday curiousity as well as providing a beacon those lost at sea in search of the infamous festivities.

 

And what of the festivities? Plenty of Seoulites indeed attened, and plenty of nationalities in the mix too. There has not been an overall majority of westerners at this festival for some years now, and while it’s a relatively even balance it’s always good to see a large number of Koreans of all ages in the crowd. Granted many are probably staring in wonder at the madness, but that’s not really what is important.

This year saw the return of many tried and tasted favourites such as Dara Sheahan, the dancers Tap Pung, Bard (the Korean Irish trad group), and another American military band, although those who I spoke to couldn’t be sure which one they actually were. There was also a band flown over from Shanghai called Boxty Rebellion, which was a big deal, I suppose. They played early though and the crowd really could have been drunker to enjoy them. From the pictures I saw after four o’clock things livened up to a more than typical level of manic.

With Herself and +1 in tow however, I decided that a calm and responsible exit was required. We bowed out not long after half past four, and from there we seemed to be banished to traffic as the rest of Seoul was, as usual, trying to go in the same direction.

Well done to all the organisers and the team of volunteers who worked hard to pull this one off. It was definitely a very professionaly run event that was suitable to everyone, from raving lunatics infested with beer, and young families (yes, I know, it was that good!). A fine feather in the cap of new IAK Chairma…woman Shauna Browne, and long may her good work continue.

For more on the Saint Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul for 2014 visit iak.co.kr or check the facebook page, or on twitter (@irishinkorea or #paddysgotseoul).

 

Note: Author (me!) was chairman of the Irish Association of Korea from 2011-2013 in case you’re wondering why I may be biased.

The Maoul Bus*


I walked up and down the street looking for the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. Where I was going was only four stops away in that direction, but I soon realised that the bus only went in the opposite direction, which left me a good fifteen stops away.

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I bit the bullet and crossed the street. Before long a stubby little green bus trundled up to the bus stop. The doors jerked open quickly like a trap and an assortment of people disembarked. Once the bus was empty I stepped on, found a seat, and sat there waiting for what appeared to be the moment when the bus was full enough to move on.

I thought at first there was an age limit, me being the youngest on board by a good thirty years at least. This notion was shot once a school girl got on and buried her face busily in the screen of her smartphone, her hair hanging down over her ears and face providing the perfect shield from the banal surroundings.

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As the bus pulled away a woman carrying her toddler waved it down and she got on, sitting just in front of me, the child’s face buried in the cosiness of her mothers neck. Occasionally the child would peek up at me, and I would smile back, and she would bury her face again in her mother’s neck.

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The bus moved on and stop after stop more people clambered on, the bus seemingly rocking from each additional weight. It felt like it would collapse with every groove and divot in the street the tyres met. It hauled itself around tight bends, up hills, and over speed ramps. All the time the standing passengers held on tightly to the precarious handrails dangling from the ceiling.

There were all-sorts on this bus. An elderly couple who bickered back over each comment shared between them. A primly dressed university student talking quietly on his phone. A short and gnarled man with a glowing winter weather beaten face dressed from head to toe in black. A lady, out of place it seemed, in a long beige coat of smooth wool with a faux mink stoal around her neck, earrings glitzing, and her sunglasses black as her well dressed hair standing out against her pale makeup adorned face.

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I sat there watching as the bus winded through so many alleys I forget. It groaned up a steep hill and slipped back down on the other side, revealing a panoramic view of Seoul and its river Han adorned with highrise dressings on its far bank.

These streets it wound through were narrow and a constant battle for space ensued. Cars slipped into every possible space, while men and women walked up and down next to the bus arms full of bags and the likes. The bus wove its way through expertly and without apparent complaint.

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These streets were full with businesses whose trade was only barely recognisable through the window trappings. People gazed in at mannequins fashioned the same way for twenty years. Proprietors stood on doorways and gazed out at the world going by. The bus moved on, up another hill or around another corner.

And then I arrived. I pulled myself through the throng of passengers, pushing the stop button on my way. The doors flung open again with a clatter and I jumped clear before the shut on me as I escaped. I turned and watched as the diesel engine spluttered exhaust fumes as it excelerated away full to bursting with bundled black silhouettes destined for somewhere else in the locale.

(* the maoul bus – 마을 버스 – is a local bus service which services neighbourhoods in the bigger towns and cities of Korea. This particular bus was located in Yongsan-gu, and serviced Hanam, Bogwang-dong, and Itaewon)

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013