An Old Fisherman’s Advice


We were walking around Jumunjin Harbour on an early April morning. The sun was warm and the docks were busy with tourists and workers. Underneath the carpark the wharf was busier than usual. Long gone were the fish sellers, moved to another less in the way location of the port, so to see so much coming and going was unusual. While not regulars in Jumunjin port, we would be more regular that most and seeing a flurry activity as such was something reserved for the height of the squid season, and it was not that time of year yet.

We edged closer, hopping over river sized puddles and landing on tiny atolls of uneven concrete, until we came to what was of so much anxiety and interest to the workers and curious visitors. On the concrete were nets and nets full of fish. They were litterally exploding with them. To see nets this full in a small port like Jumunjin, where even in their tourist markets they mostly sell farmed fish, was a delight. There were wheelbarrows full to bursting being shoved past, and nets being stretched long for cleaning and recasting. Of greatest interest though was the a stocky greying man, sitting on a plastic chair pulling the fish from the nets.

Herself began to talk to him, as I tried to take a few photographs of the action. He was very garrulous and you could tell that the catch had enlivened him. He cracked jokes and offered advice. We put in an order for some fish and a much used plastic shopping bag returned full to near bursting with oily, unscaled and still to be gutted fish. I think they said there was twenty in it, but later we found that there had to be even more. They charged us a mere 10,000 won.

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As we stood around chatting with and I continued to take photographs, he made a suggestion.

“Why don’t you sit down here and pull the fish out, and I’ll take a photograph of you while you do it? You can even wear my oilskins and hat”. He laughed out loud at the idea and gave my wife one of those looks, while nodding in my direction. Needless to say, me being no fun and afraid of actual work I declined the offer, shirking away in the process. The man didn’t seemed bothered and continued to laugh and crack jokes with Herself.

Later that day as I was looking back over my photos I could not help but think about this suggestion. He didn’t seemed bothered by any stretch of the imagination, and was certainly only having a good laugh at my expense, and probably rightly so. What I could not stop thinking of was that this was worthwhile advice for anyone who is a  tourist, or a photographer, or just whoever is nosey and wants to inspect as you go about your work. If you think that something is so fantastic you feel enticed to point and stare, or photograph, or watch with intense critical interest, perhaps you should don those oilskins yourself and really see how interesting an experience it is.

Whenever we travel we take so much time to find authentic experiences, but rarely do we take into account that what is an authentic experience to someone is a life and way of living to another. Yes it’s interesting, but isn’t it more important to have a little personal respect for people who are going about their lives? It’s not as if they would choose to be so interesting to the point of fascinating.

Religious Tourism


I recall after university I was on a month long bender carousing through Spain when we happened upon Valencia. A fairly big city by any accounts, we were wandering around not knowing anything of the place or what we could do. There was a big church on a corner, and as part time tourists on our trip we decided an idea would be to take a look inside, because you know, churches are what tourists looked at.

At that time it made a pleasant change from the bars and street corners we’d been frequenting.

Inside its cool and dark stainglass lit air we took a moment to ourselves as we looked around. The place was empty, but you could feel the history. The mustiness of the place seemed to tickle some imaginative sixth sense in each of us. Perhaps some kind of proclamation by a priest at the pulpit, or who had sat at the knee worn pews in dreary early modern garb.

Phra Sing Eave on flickr

I won’t lie though, I think we’d left after five minutes and I won’t even bother to imagine what the name of this church may have been. It was though, and this may have been because of the circumstances, a memorable moment among many at the time.

It strikes me now, while I’m in Thailand, that tourism and religious buildings go hand in hand across the globe. Where is the connection between our interest in culture, which is what arguably is the main influence on the tourism I’m talking of here, and this universal fascination with old religious structures, some functioning, some not?

Early Morning Prayer on flickr

There are a few reasons.

Religious buildings are generally speaking awe inspiring. Not every building pars in comparison with European Gothic cathedrals of course, but take my small village in Ireland, Dunboyne. Without a doubt the most impressive structure is the Catholic church which flights to Dublin regularly use as a marker for lining up for their landing at the airport. Less dramatic but certainly steeped in more history is the Prodestant church and graveyard which has a history stretching back several hundreds of years. It is not large, but its quaint location nestled at the back of town and surrounded by trees is worth a wander around.

More importantly, religious structures are awe inspiring because they have absorbed so much wealth and concentration (not to mention lives, materials, and sacrifice) in their construction that they’re deservedly more impressive. Add to this the tests and twists of time which have worn many down to rustic impressions of their former glory.

Another thing to consider is that religion across the planet is a beacon of cultural identity. It is the outstanding feature, undoubtedly, of a people’s background and in many ways it offers an understanding of how society could possibly operate. After years of living in Korea, one of the first questions I still get asked about Korea (after confirming that it is indeed South Korea and not North Korea that I’ve lived in) is what is the main religion there. The answer is not necessarily important to this piece, but the asking is. It shows that people’s curiousity begins from the most obvious point, both from a spiritual (and indeed social) perspective, and a physical one in the shapes of the dominant buildings to be found in a town or city, which are invariably religious.

Waiting for a Prayer on flickr

You can tie these two points in with people’s own natural inquisitiveness to find similarities or differences with their own homes. When we travel we look for things which are different, or how things are done differently. The phenomenon of a corner shop or an alley is an international one, so you do well to find one which is truly unique, but with particular buildings it is easy to notice either the similarities or the differences. Religious buildings, with their central location, wealth, ease of access, and the fact that the main ones are on every tourist map you are bound to find tend to receive more visitors than pagans like myself would prefer.

Of course the real fun about travel, for me at least, is finding the unusual in the usual. What I mean by this is that I prefer to explore the alleys and lanes which surround religious buildings, rather than the buildings themselves. Invariably I end up in these buildings, but there is as much to see surrounding places of worship, escpecially those which have been around for hundreds of years. Many have established markets, government buildings, public squares, and many more curiosities. These may not necessarily be pretty places, but then most of the world where people inhabit is not pretty.

Despite this, what I’ve called religious tourism isn’t necessarily an interest in faith or devotion, it is essentially satisfying our innate human curiousity. Curiousity is what drives us outside in the first place, it spurs our emotions, makes us think, act, respond, and learn. Even if you are not religious, you have to give to religion providing us with these opportunities for self development.

New Year Votives on flickr

All photographs taken in Chiang Mai, January and February 2014. Words and photography © Conor O’Reilly 2014

“Walking Street” – Chiang Mai


On a number of occasions while in Chiang Mai, we made it down to the famous Sunday market named Walking Street. There’s not really much to be said about it, other than they close the streets off from traffic early on Sunday evening then vendors set up and then thousands of tourists descend. The nice part about it is that although it is essentially a tourist market, there is nice festival atmosphere about the place, and that there are tourists from everywhere, including Thailand. What is also nice is that you get the usual tourist crap, but there’s also plenty of artists and crafts people who make their own stuff selling things there, so it’s worth a look. To find it, just go to Taphae Gate around 5pm on a Sunday evening in Chiang Mai.

These photographs are from our first visit, which was more of a scouting effort as opposed to subsequent visits where we managed to buy the place!

Please visit my set on Flickr to view more images*

(*an earlier version of this post did not include the link above)

All images © Conor O’Reilly 2014

Osaka January 2011


Recently I spoiled myself and paid for a pro flickr account so that I can take full advantage of the service. I take a lot of photos and I’m always looking for somewhere to put them, and with the limit flickr has on 200 hundred photos, it kind of forces you into paying eventually, that is if you don’t know another service that’s free (please don’t suggest one in the comments section until at least a year from now).

With this, I’ve began to go through my various folders of photographs which I never got around to organising and sifting through. These are photos I’d always meant to go through, but for whatever reason they got the old reliable and famed long-fingered treatment that is my modus operandi.

This set I’ve posted was from my second proper trip to Japan (I have taken one more overnight trip back in 2005), when myself and Herself travelled over at New Year for four days. It was kind of a Christmas surprise present for Herself, although she kind of knew she was getting it, as she had never been to Japan and we had been talking about it for years.

Despite a brief scare the night before we left because Herself was in the process of being knocked around by a serious dose of flu, I dragged her out of the bed and we drove to the airport and flew over to Osaka. Dodging the quarantine scanners that are a regular sight at Korean and Japanese airports, we eventually found our hotel where herself took a quick nap. When she woke up we went straight out to eat, and even though Herself was struggling we eventually found a sushi restaurant and began to make short work of the contents of the rotating plates. After a couple of huge pieces of jellied eel, Herself never felt better and we were ready to take on Osaka!

 

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Osaka January 2011, a set on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
In December 2010, myself and my wife visited Osaka. We left Korea on December 31 and came back on January 3.

These are some of the photographs I took of the city.

Below are a couple of videos I have on youtube of my time there as well.

In Thailand…


I have just returned from a splendid eleven day holiday in the Thailand. Whether or not I deserved it at the time is neither here nor there, I certainly feel like I deserved it now. Which is what’s important, right?

So holidays, there a pain in the tender spots for those among us who plan on being productive on them. I’m always making a mess of things by bringing too many books to read and too many aspirations for writing a few hundred thousand words, or something like that… It’s not that I don’t enjoy not doing anything, but holidays for some reason really don’t bring out the best in me in terms of being productive. Miserably cold winters are much more suitable. In fact, I believe that misery (not abject, but mild doses of the extreme first world problem variety) brings out the best in ones creativity.

So, sitting in front of the pool for a week in a tropical climate is not going to encourage much creativit. Unless of course I’m some breed of alcoholic, homesick, depressed, opium addicted, recently dumped… which I’m not. Not yet anyway. Misery was not an issue on this holiday. This was good. Misery was something I was planning on avoiding for the most part anyway. I had a good think or two though, at least when there was no wireless signal, and that was nice.

My schedule went something like this: Continue reading