Forced Recap: Chiang Mai 2014


Instead of being reminded by my regrets, I should be reminding myself by the way I wish to remember. It has been over two months since myself and the rest of my clan returned from our two month stint in Thailand. When we were there and after we returned we were sure that it was perhaps the best time we have spent together as a family. We gained a lot of confidence in ourselves as parents, learned a lot about our young daughter, and at the same time had a great time constantly exploring Chiang Mai. Up until the past week or two it has been almost a distant figment of my memory, and on most days it barely registers as something that we believe has marked our lives forever.

Granted when we left we knew that we had stayed our welcome and had to depart to the normality of home, work, bills, and of course Yeongtong. We did probably spend too much money, and believe it or not two months of sitting around not working can in fact get a little boring, even when you’re in Thailand. Of course we occupied ourselves but after Herself’s friend who came to visit during the month of February we saw the last few weeks as a wind down period before we headed back to Korea. And then disaster kicked in.

This is Chiang Mai

It was a disaster averted I can confidently assert now, but at the time it was my biggest challenge travelling anywhere. +1, our little angel, broke out in a really high fever. We treated her as best we knew, firstly with some paracetamol based medicine, then when a warm bath, and she seemed to be ok. However, later in the day her temperature sky-rocketed again, so we did the same but this time as we bathed her she turned blue and started shivering so much that she was practically shaking from left to right. We quickly threw some things in a bag and went to the Chiang Mai Ram hospital, which was fortunately nearby. +1 was diagnosed with pneumonia and was quickly admitted and then treated. Thanfully after a few days she was discharged along with a big box full of antibiotics to ensure the infection stayed away, and in case in her temperature rose again. It is probably this which shook us so much that allowed us to want to return home to Korea as quickly as we hoped. It was a scary moment, no doubt, but the fortunate no brainer of investing in travel insurance beforehand allowed us in the end to only worry about our child’s health, and not on the further widening of our travel purse strings.

Yet for that moment, which we all recovered from, we still turn to each other and kind of ask ourselves, ‘what about Thailand?’

The Three Amigos

Staying in Chiang Mai together for a long period was something that myself and Herself had promised ourselves for years. Ever since we first were seeing each other and rendezvoused with a charge and jump into each others arms after the last flight from Bangkok touched down in Chiang Mai on day in mid-September, 2006. Herself knew Chiang Mai well and looks back on it fondly. She spent three months learning traditional Thai massage there the winter before. Her memories were still fresh and her enthusiasm to show her stomping grounds was fervent. We came back to Chiang Mai in 2012 briefly on a quick visit to Thailand and again had a blast (read about those adventures-ish here), although we skipped up to Pai and then down to Koh Chang as well to give out trip some needed variety. This time we spent the entire two months in Chiang Mai.

Perhaps though we are doing the reflecting thing wrong. We came back with huge suitcases after one of those awful night time flights which give you about four hours sleep and an early morning arrival in Seoul. This would possibly be easier if we weren’t hauling around our toddler who, as is always the case in these situations, is on a much different sleep pattern to the encumbered parents. We dumped our bags on arrival, pulled a few needed things out, then shoved the suitcases into the spare room and didn’t look back at them for another month at least. I went back to work the following Monday, while Herself struggled to fall back into the routine. Yes, routine, the death song of any wild aspiration. It was cold, the air was crappy, we needed to go to Homeplus, and we really looked forward to getting out to the east coast as soon as possible. At least we had a car though.

Change

Many people use their holiday pictures to refresh their memories, and I suppose we could have done this. I can’t really, as I’ve uploaded them all to my ageing laptop which is now in my office in work. Constantly shutting down as it over-heats, I can’t even contemplate how or when I’ll get the chance to comb through the 30 or 40 gigabytes currently stored on it. I want to. I need to. In fact, we need to. It’s a classic case of information overload, taking so many pictures that you completely forget them. It’s not enough to say that I really enjoyed learning how I could use my camera, it’s time I actually pulled out all those images and did something special with them, other than plaster my flickr page with albums from markets, which is about the height of what I’ve done so far.

On my bookshelf next to my computer which I write from now there are six photographs of myself and Herself. Always these pictures look at us, and always they are smiling. There is one from our wedding party at home in Dunboyne, two from our actual wedding day, a picture from my masters graduation  (a qualification I earned with her welded tightly to my side it must be said), and three pictures from our forever memorable honeymoon in Turkey. This is how we should celebrate our events, not by posting albums and updates on the internet, but in front of the places we pass the most each day. I always try to print some photographs but rarely find a suitable place to see them. Perhaps what I should really be looking to do is not find better things to photograph, but to find more wall space, without which I might end up with no memories to really to celebrate.

*

Some previously uploaded photo albums from my two months in Thailand can be found here:

Chiang Mai streets Part 1

MAYA

CMU Art Museum

Chiang Mai Sunday Market, January 5 2014

Night Bazaar, February 2014

And if you click this link you can see all my albums from Korea, Thailand, Ireland, and more…

Choose Your Poison Wisely


It is worthwhile to always know where you are going, and this is especially the case when travelling. I’m not suggesting you do something peculiar like making an itinerary or researching places to stay and see, I’m suggesting that you are aware of what you are letting yourself into. You can look at this from the point of view that you should at least have an inkling of the environment ahead, or have absolutely no comprehension of what to expect. I’m a fan of the latter.

I’ve done a bit of travel in my short amount of years on this earth, most it of it independently, and I think it would be an accurate enough to claim that I’ve never really known what was in front of me. When I first went to Korea in 2005 I had no idea what lay ahead. I glanced through a lonely planet and looked at a few pictures online. I had also heard that Koreans were known for liking a drink, which appealed to the gusto of my age at that time. But that was it, and so I tumbled headfirst into that country and nine years later I’m still tumbling, albeit with a little more composure.

I attach my successful acclimatisation to Korea to this blind dive I took. I think that I had such a lucky streak that I have considered this the best way to approach anything. I travelled down through China and into Laos and then Thailand all overland after my first contract in 2006. I followed this ‘we’ll work it out when we get there’ strategy to the letter, and while I had a great time, Herself back in Korea was none too keen on this randomised approach to independent travel.

In Chiang Mai now, I’m witnessing the second factor in this notion that we should be aware of what we are letting ourselves into. We chose Chiang Mai because we knew it was a big town, with plenty to see and a comfortable enough lifestyle for those who chose to live here. We don’t really have an income, but we’re staying in a small apartment complex with a swimming pool and in decent proximity to much of what we’d like to entertain ourselves with. Did I mention the weather is lovely?

So what of it? Well it’s Thailand, right, so what should you expect? I for one wasn’t one hundred per cent sure, but I’ve lived and travelled in Asia a fair amount since 2009, so I think it would take a good whack of Asia to really knock me off my feet. What we always expect is that Asia will be this different place, full of mysticism, spirtuality, tradition, and I dare say, inspiration.

When I first came to Korea I was definitely without mysticism, spirituality, tradition, and certainly inspiration. I couldn’t say now that I came looking for it either, but I know that I have certainly found them, that’s not to say that I actually care for all of them. Inspiration however has been a major factor in my life since I came to Korea, and it is without doubt one of the most important changes I believe to have experienced since I arrived here.

If you arrive in Asia, you can’t expect to find all these wonderful life changing moments waiting for you as you disembark. For anyone considering a journey east, I beg you to look at the demographics. The populations for many Asian countries dwarf western countries. There are obvious cases like China and India, but even without considering them Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia all have well over 100 million inhabitants, the combined population of the two Koreas is larger than that of Germany. While I’m talking about this you’ve got Vietnam and The Phillippines with over 90 million people, and even Thailand has a larger population than France. So what’s my point? When you have this many people living together, what do you expect? If you’re still thinking mysticism, spirituality, and tradition then perhaps you should stay where you are for the time being.

In reality, what you’re supposed to be expecting, in reality is urban squalor, poverty and wealth face to face with each other, pollution, commercialism, greed, violence, and invariably western influences. All of these are mixed in somewhere with all these things you expect, and you can find them, but expect to step over a few open sewers and drunks fighting in the street on your way to get to it.

While of course there is plenty of tradition in modern Asia, what makes it different and more complicated now is that it is not only western countries which are experiencing multicultural challenges. Religions mix in capital cities, rural people welcome city dwellers, developement changes long established patterns of life, and for the visitor familiarity is all to present. You will often here terms such as globalisation bandied about, and I suppose you can argue that this is a good example of it, whatever this is of course, but to accept this concept of globalisation now is to accept that it has always been a factor as long as humans have been living together, just on a smaller scale, it’s just a question of recognising how large your world actually is.

I suppose that is why we came to Chiang Mai for two months. It was of course an escape from the cold (albeit not that cold compared to the few people from Mongolia who are also here) but also to try something we’ve always talked about doing. We came without a plan, other than to be here, and we came to enjoy a time which may be our last opportunity to do so. There is nothing to discover here. There is no search for some kind of beauty or new sense of self.  There is just a chance to be part of a greater world.

If we find inspiration here I suppose we are all the better for it. I prefer to look on this situation to see if we actually get more things done. Productivity is its own kind of inspiration and the mind works quicker and stronger when it is busy and active thinking with direction. A holiday or a change of location can help this, but getting stuck into your experiences is nothing but good food for inspiration. My point is, if you come looking to find it you won’t, but if you come just looking then you will probably find something, whether you expect it or not.

In the end, time will cure the ills brought on by your decisions.

 

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly January 2014. All rights reserved.

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.

20131217-132518.jpg

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.

20131217-132529.jpg

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.

20131217-132615.jpg

20131217-132554.jpg

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.

20131217-132544.jpg

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.

20131217-132607.jpg

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

Finding Haenggung Road


The traffic on the way in was as hectic as expected for a Saturday afternoon. We eventually managed to park the car, and then we wandered out into the afternoon.

In front of the old palace that sat in the centre of the city fortress, stalls had been set up for some occasion that were mostly selling snacks and bric-a-brac, or were flaunting some flyers for some form of a healthier lifestyle. We picked our way through it, stretching our necks to see what all the fuss was over at certain stalls and helping ourselves to free samples, but all the time veering to the shadier side of aisles in between the lines of white canopied stalls.

Generally unimpressed, we left and made our way away from the large plaza in front of high wooden palace gate. On the ground close to the gate was a large copper embossed plate fitted into the paving that  showed a landscape and lettering that read “PHOTO ZONE” in red. I looked up and tried to frame this scene the tile was hoping that photographers would be inspired by.

Of course it was a very nice angle to photograph that particular corner of the place wall against the forty-five degree like rugged slope of the mountain with its look-out post silhouetting behind it, especially with the bulbous white and grey clouds and sun shining through them in the background at that particular moment. But the thought of encouraging lines of people to queue up for an ideally angled portrayal of this unique attraction without any aerials or high-rise apartments interfering got to me. I think that photography, whether amateur or professional, should be an entirely personal experience, and having a ‘photo zone’ takes away from this.

Fortunately, there were not lines of tourists and, in fact, there was nobody at all lining up as they were all presumably busy wrestling in between the stalls with each other, or following their tour guides yellow flag diligently around the palace and fortress wall. That was enough palace for me for one day.

We left the neatly arranged plaza to its business-as-usual clutter and turned down a narrow alley that ran perpendicular to the road we had driven in by. It had been some time since I had last been down here and recalled the broken tar macadam, stinking drains, and what looked like lines of hardware stores and grotty restaurants and bars.

But now the tar macadam had been replaced by neat and colourful cobble-lock paving of sandstone and black granite. The drains and gutters were clean and decorative. Bright shop fronts with displays of crafts and flowers had replaced the previous occupants. The shops façades were of old wood and plaster or bright tiles, and murals decorated the gable ends of old dreary buildings facing into empty space. Here was a new street, a street that anyone who walked down it could feel a little proud of.

Now in its new glow, the street carried with it a refreshed but lazy village atmosphere that wound its way through it. And we entered it, arm in arm, sauntering from one window to the next, taking an interest in every detail to be seen.

Music rolled out slowly from a speaker as a man explained the merits of his pecan pie he was selling as he offered tastes. We obliged and bought one for ourselves. Children shouted as they raced by on bicycles. A man and woman stood by a wall beating a rhythm with sticks as they practised a drum sequence. A mannequin sat painting on a canvas opposite a clothes shop. A large pig sat in the shade with his legs crossed and his eyes focused furiously as it thought about something.

If you looked up you could see what remained of the old street; rusting signs and old dirty tiles, sun yellowed net curtains in windows, wires and dangling satellite dishes, and all those other things you would recognise in a forgotten alleyway in an old part of town. It looked like another place. Yet none of these mattered as they sat allowing the street to change.

We stopped for a short rest in a coffee shop. Herself had jasmine flower tea and I ordered a latte. As we chatted and read, classical music played low from a single set of speakers in the corner and the two sisters who managed the business kept busily moving between tables, chatting with customers, and relaxing on an old sofa in the corner when all else was satiated.

When we left it had become darker as the evening was setting in. We cut down one of the alleys that spidered off from the central street. The streets remained clean, the building fronts remained neat, and everyone continued to move around at an assured but happy pace. We passed by old buildings restored with new stonework, new roof tiles, and fresh paint on old plaster and wood supports. Every so often we would pass a new looking tea and coffee shop sitting there in the slowly darkening evening and its lights warming the street with their orange glow. Before long we passed back onto the main street from which we drove in initially.

Everything we had just experienced lost its normalcy as we stepped out onto that street that seems to always argue with itself. The difference was behind the rows of quiet buildings and found only by following a windy alleyway, seemingly worlds apart from the stubborn old city it sits quietly changing within.

Malaysia Photographs


As regular readers will know, I was in Malaysia for a short holiday not so long ago. As usual, I took my camera and took plenty of photographs.

#With the exception of the amazing collection of sunset shots I took from Langkawi where myself and Herself spent about six days, my two other favourite spots to photograph were the BOH Tea Plantaion in the Cameron Highlands, and Kuala Lumpur and the busy streets around Bukit Bintang – being a tourist with limited time and a pregnant wife I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to see more obscure corners of the city, but I think I did a good enough job.

Click on the photographs below to take you directly to two sets of photographs I have just uploaded to flickr

Click this photo to view more photographs of the BOH Tea Plantation!

Please take a few minutes to read my short travel essay on this site about driving through The Cameron Highlands, where we visited the tea plantation.

I also have a shorter essay about my arrival and first few hours in Kuala Lumpur here.