September 1


There goes the summer. Without a blink or nod of recognition Autumn is upon us. There has been enough talk about the weather already so I shall spare you and I further discomfort. The Irish summer is a subject best discussed from more summery climes. Regardless it does little to explain the speed it passes with.

Maybe it is because today is a day I previously would have returned to work after a long and hot summer break. But I’m not in Korea any longer so it’s of little consequence. What is notable is that in July I went back to work and pretty much worked all through the summer, for better or worse, for the first time in around six years. You grow used to creature comforts like a two and half month summer holiday, which I’m probably only just about to appreciate a little more now.

Second and even more significant was that in May Herself gave birth to our second daughter, who I suppose you can refer to as +2 (not wanting to break from convention or anything). This happening has basically swamped us with greater responsibility and fears, and with me going back to work a little earlier than at first planned the challenges have been compounded. It is because of this a variety of emotional and physical challenges have personified our summer, normally considered a more relaxing time of year, as a hectic and frustration laden season.

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to keep +1 at the forefront of our attentions, while at the same time trying to care for a new and bubbly little baby girl. It’s not that we care any less for either of them, it’s just that all the time in the world we had before has now been split in two. This has been the challenge, but I think with +1 starting Montessori this week things will change a little for the better.

And now you wonder what lies ahead for this autumn and the winter that follows? We will continue on in hope and worry about the next step that needs to be taken.

Probably with the summer over I can worry less about missing the whole of my favourite season due to work commitments. Myself and Herself would love to travel again, and while we will be in London this weekend with her parents, I miss the sense of adventure experienced when visiting a country I’ve never seen before. We check the Ryanair prices all the time, but in the back of our minds is a big planned return to Korea next spring to celebrate +2’s and Herself’s new niece’s birthdays. Aside from the obvious festivity which would surround a trip like this, we are both keen to return and catch up with many of our friends who we miss.

I think at times this past year we have both worried was it the right decision to leave Korea. It has been a long year, as we suffered many ups and downs with my work situation and Herself’s pregnancy was not the rosy cheeked adventure anyone who has never had kids might imagine pregnancy to be. I think we reached breaking point on more than one occasion but despite these tribulations much has been overcome and we look forward to the future optimistically again.

It is always reassuring that despite your doubts when you can turn to someone you love and who you rely on and they can reassure you that the decisions made were the right ones and that there is little to be done about circumstance. Deep breaths, short sleeps, laughterless afternoons, hour after hour passing are trials easily overcome with the support of a loved one, and especially one who is as tired and stressed as you are.

I’m an optimist at the worst of times, and I feel that this will be my undoing in the long run. I am sitting in a café on Dublin’s Harrington Street looking out the big bay window as I type and there is tall and broad, bright green sycamore tree in front of me. Through the tiniest gaps in the leaves is a streak of blue through pale white clouds, and that is where I look to. Not to right where the a dark summer rain heavy cloud lurks in its steady progress to take over my scant blue triangle in the leaves. These small glimpses through the leaves are what motivate me. There is always a chance that something good will come of even the worst summer many Irish living can recall. I wish and I hope, and I encourage myself to see the brightness in the dark, the colour in the monochrome, and find the warm cinders in the long dead ashes of a fire.

September I look forward to you, and to October and November aswell. Sure who knows what will become of you, or us, or the people sitting around in the café where I write this. I can only hope the best for everyone.

 

Thanks for reading, if you liked what you saw here please leave a comment below and share your summer story, or perhaps tell me and your fellow readers what motivates you to get on with life.

 

Top Five 2013


Top Five Things I Did in 2013 

  1. Survived a year of +1 and gloriously celebrated her first birthday in November.
  2. Visited Ireland for two months during the summer, and laid the ground for a future there.
  3. Family (finally) visting us in Korea to celebrate Claire’s 100 Days.
  4. Representing the Irish Community in Korea and laying a wreath at the newly laid Memorial for the Irish Who Fell During the Korean War.

    Taking a moment after laying the wreath for the Irish who fell during the Korean War.

    At the Korean War Memorial in Suwon (image via flickr)

  5. Getting a new camera (a bit commercial and consumerist, but I am so happy to have it)
Top Five Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2014
  1. More family fun!
  2. Moving back to Ireland
  3. Starting my doctorate (fingers crossed)
  4. The next two months in Thailand

    Those next two months don't look to shabby from this perspective!

    Those next two months don’t look to shabby from this perspective!

  5. More rejection letters… 😉
Top Five Things I Should Seek to Do More in 2014
  1. Get paid to write
  2. Find the right family-work-writing time balance
  3. Get more writing published
  4. Learn to appreciate moments without a camera or story as a goal of the experience.
  5. Be more physically active and socially engaged, and less staring at the internet.

People I’ll miss in 2014

  • T.P., my grandfather, a scurulous rouge but as generous and warm hearted as they come. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.
  • 할머니, or I should say Herself’s 할머니, who passed away a few weeks ago. Another person who had a big say in my and Herself’s future together.

    With Herself's 할머니 around 2007.

    With Herself’s 할머니 around 2007.

  • More and more friends who move around the world, always looking for work, homes, or just some new challenge (myself and included)

Top Five Tips For Living in 2014

  1. Drink, of course, but don’t drink so much you can’t remember. Life is actually alright when you’re not locked, but do remember to get locked, that is important. Oh, and if you are drinking, drink nice beer/wine/whiskey, the price is worth the difference.

    Worth it.

    Worth it.

  2. Turn off the internet.
  3. Read those books you said you would last year.
  4. Give it up.
  5. Start a hobby, and if you have one already, improve your ability at it.

 

What’s your Top Five from 2013, or for 2014?

On Dadhood: The Earliest Notions


I am sitting typing at the computer now while intermittently sucking and grimacing on an ice cold Hite Dry Finish. I have just put +1 to bed after battling with an increasing fever throughout day, alone I should add, because Herself had gone to Seoul and I was filling in as Herself was exhausted, not for the first time, and just had to get away for the day.

Any young or new parent will recognise this necessity. I’m fortunate enough to be home a lot due to my working hours, but Herself is home all the time, here, up on the twentieth floor. Opportunities for escape, to remember what it was like before all this parenting took control of us, are rare.

We have been parents for just over a year now. I haven’t written about it much, just a passing reference here and there to the joys of our daughter’s latest advances. It came to a head recently when I realised that I have basically been leaving the dominant factor in my life outside of my writing, and I think that if I can talk about it here comfortably and competently, well I don’t know but I think something better will come of it. Or maybe I just feel that now I want to tell my story of being a parent.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

I suppose what I will say to start is that nothing prepares you for what is ahead. It amazes me that despite how little we knew and understood, we managed to learn quickly, and fortunately not only through our own mistakes. Despite my worst concerns I can proudly say that after 12 months we did not break it, and we managed to help it grow at a regular pace and for it to develop correctly. “It” is of course our child.

From the outset though, I knew that things would be a lot more different than everyone had already warned. Perhaps I misinterpreted their messages, or that in reality no one can explain how much having a child changes you. I wonder, because one half of the parents of our family is not a native of the country we live, would our experience have been any different if I was Korean, or if we were living in Ireland when we had +1.

In the run up to her birth I recall panicking regularly about the methods and means of preparation. The constant concern that they don’t do things the same here as they do in Ireland kept me constantly on edge. Of course I had the easy job, but as an onlooker I’m more in a position to come up with quack theories based on something I may have heard when I was a lot, lot younger. For all my fears about how things were done here and why we would be doing this and not that etc. I eventually just pulled up and thought, “Conor, relax. Look around you. There are families and children and babies everywhere, and they are all perfectly healthy and happy. Everything will be fine”. And guess what, it was. At least the birth anyway. Anything that happened after was up to us.

I haven’t had any children in Ireland, nor have I ever been married to an Irish person, so it’s kind of impossible to compare my experiences of being a dad here in Korea with anything else. I know that it has been different from what my friends experienced.

Cramming. December 2012.

Cramming. December 2012.

I started off trying to inflict my understanding of the world on the raising of our child from an early age. One thing that I still battle over is the heat in the apartment. It was always hot when +1 was first born, in fact it was so hot that shorts and t-shirts would have been appropriate wear. Meanwhile, outside it was beyond freezing. I couldn’t understand why the child couldn’t survive in a reasonable temperature, her being a human also and having the same physiology as every other human, but my opinion was not considered. This drove me up the wall, but I’ll never know if I would have been right. I

Fortunately for the arguments against me it really was incredibly cold that winter. My parents arrived in late February and I think by then the temperature had finally gotten to a point, at least towards the end of their stay, where one could be outside with a jacket half open. I didn’t realise how cold it was and argued about this with Herself as we tried to leave the hospital, and this was only in late November, until I stepped outside holding tiny little +1 wrapped up in a blanket and suddenly couldn’t stop apologising. But still, the heat had to be turned down indoors.

As the father I suppose that my understanding of child rearing is limited, at least from the infant stage. Now of course this is a stereotype, but in hindsight I certainly started off from the back foot, as Herself had been preparing for months. While I stuttered along trying to pick up a semblance of understanding, Herself already had everything prepared, mentally at least. I fell deeply into the stereotype of ‘a typical man’, and I feel that if it wasn’t for my broad shoulders and ability to rock the baby to sleep soundly I might have found myself banished to some dark corner of the apartment, kept on merely for my pay cheque and as a family driver when trips to the hospital were called for. If Herself heard me say this she’d be quite upset, but that’s how I felt a lot of the time, as I was trying to catch up on so much while our daughter was growing quicker than I could adapt.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

What struck me at this early stage was how pointless it all seemed to be. Here we were, both infatuated and madly in love with this tiny being which came from my wife, but it just lay there doing nothing. There was no reaction, no understanding, no conversation, discussion, or indeed volunteering to cook dinner. This little tenant was here on a free ticket and we were there to bend over hand and foot for it, this completely dependent little lifeform.

It was around a month into this journey that I started to nourish a new found respect for my own parents. Not only because they did all this, but also more importantly they were humble enough to leave these stories out of their childhood tales.

Perhaps I could learn from this and realise that regardless of what happens this is part of the journey, and one which I will not be the first to have taken, despite what I believed for some time during +1’s early days.

Letter from Korea, October 2012


Suwon, South Korea
October, 2012

Dear Ireland,

It has been a while, but as much as I want to blame others I don’t think it would do much good. Some people are just poor at maintaining a schedule. I wish the same could be said for a woman’s womb.

As you can probably imagine the experience over the past few months has been mostly revolving around the fact that in less than a month myself and Herself are going to be parents. It has gone beyond the stage where we can feign shock at the end of youth, as there is no escaping our fate now. Not that I’m complaining.

It’s a strange feeling as we roll into the final month of the pregnancy. We know that we will have a little screaming, kicking, and shitting little baby right here in the living room I’m writing from now. We know that, as has been explained over and over again, that sleep deprivation and all sorts of other non-childless phenomena await, and you know I think we’re no longer worried about that. I suppose it’s what comes with the job.

If anything what is of greatest concern to myself and Herself is that we are going to be more responsible than ever to someone other than ourselves for almost as large a portion of our lives as we have been alive already. You think of it that way and you can understand our real concerns.

One image that comes to mind is that I was talking to someone recently who told me that after his first child was born he recalls not understanding why the hospital staff were allowing him and his wife to take their child home, and did they not understand that they had little to no idea what they were doing with the tiny, vulnerable human being in their arms. I think many young families start this way, especially if the usual safety net of experienced family members is either on the other side of the country, or in my case, a wet and windy island off the coast of the far end of the Eurasian continent.

However, Korea can be an incredibly convenient country to live in, and pregnancy definitely falls within this category. Over the past few months Herself has been availing of a plethora of free (or incredibly affordable – cheap is a different category) classes ranging from caring for child/baby in the home to aqua aerobics and yoga. Many of these are provided by our maternity hospital which even goes as far as to send a mini-bus out to collect her. We also had a breathing exercise class, which basically told us how Herself should be breathing as the labour progresses.

This was, I suppose my first introduction to the world which Herself has been inhabiting for the past few months. In I walked to a room full of youngish men, many around the same age as I am and all looking equally terrified, and their pregnant wives. Much of the class’s contents went over my head as the instructor appeared to inform us things we could have read about easily enough, along with a few things I found odd.

One thing she mentioned was that if the father talks to your baby while it is in the womb it will become more intelligent. I asked for the peer reviewed paper supporting her reasoning. She looked and smiled and continued talking. Another piece of advice included you should have a natural birth because it’s good for the baby, which is fine, but all I could think of was that she was guilting women who may actually need to have a C-section. I may have been wrong but that was the impression I got.

The real fun came after the breathing when she wanted to demonstrate the posture and methods for what can be only described as the final push. The instructor wasn’t very good at demonstrating to the class (she was a bit ould so I suppose straddling a table and showing us an example may have been beyond her). So when she described the position and the action, my 36 week pregnant wife wasn’t at her most flexible for turning around to see what to do. When our lovely instructor, and she is actually quite nice, then decided that the people who were past 35 weeks should do a demonstration for everyone else, well you can imagine how delighted we were to find out we were the only people that far gone. The whole room watched as herself lay on her back with her knees pulled up to her chest, whilst we were instructed to pull and push, as one would do if one was struggling with bathroom issues, all preceded by a deep breath and heavy squeezing grunt. Hilarious stuff indeed. I know what you’re thinking; sore thumb syndrome to beat the bad.

So that was grand.

What’s also really beneficial about having the baby here though is what I’ve discovered to quite a treat and one which is not a regular attraction in hospitals of the western world, and it’s called a joriwon (조리원). This is essentially a nursing home or convalescent centre for women after they have their baby. It is where we will stay for a week and where the baby will be gently coaxed into our existence, where they will cook for Herself, where they will have daily yoga and massages for herself, where they will take the baby off our hands and feed it or look after it if we need a little extra sleep, and mostly where we will avoid the true reality of screaming, kicking, and shitting for at least seven days after we leave the hospital. Yes I know it’s cheating, but I’m sure there are plenty among us who would leap at a chance for something like this.

So basically that’s everything about the pregnancy and everything worth talking about this weather. At least everthing worth saying, right. Much of our time these days is spent watching the calendar and perusing the internet looking for more ideas on something or othe to do with the pregnancy. You can call it study.

Oh, me mammy sent over loads of lovely knitted stuff – revelling in her role as Grannius-Maximus (I’m dead now).

And it’s Autumn, which is always enjoyable in Korea.

That’s as good a conclusion I can offer, as I don’t have much of an opinion these days. It’s all about existing and getting on with it. Opinions are slowing me down.

 

 

 

P.S. Actually what’s probably slowing me down is the agonisingly slow death of my five year old laptop. If anyone would like to donate a new one, I’ll let you know where to send it. Sound.

 

 

I am a Lifer


When I told a friend a while ago that myself and Herself (and +1 of course) were aiming to return to Ireland in the future, he was shocked. “Jeez man, I thought you were done with the west. I had you down for a lifer”, he responded in near disappointment. I was kind of struck by this term, ‘lifer’, more by what it meant that the actual word itself.

There are several kinds of, hmmm how do I describe them, well people living in Korea. The particular one’s I’m talking about are people from English speaking countries who have travelled here and married Korean women, and some who haven’t also, but essentially they spend a long time in the country and, for want of a better word, they assimilate. I’m being vague here because I refuse to tar and label all of us as expats or foreigners – this is an argument for another long day.

Those of us who assimilate, I suppose, are those who can be called lifers. Is it a bad thing to make a life for yourself here? Again another argument for another long day.

A lifer is someone who, I assume, can be reasonably expected to spend a large part of the rest of their life living in Korea. I know plenty of guys who are more ‘lifer’ than I am. In fact, I know people who have been in Korea longer than Herself has been alive. These lifers have lived in Korea long enough to have learned how to make their life comfortable enough to live happily on a day to day basis.

This description is probably what I mean by assimilate, because let’s be honest, I know plenty of people who have been here for several years and never leave Itaewon, but they’re happy. They have made their life liveable within Korea and adapted to suit whatever this country has to offer. I am not suggesting that these people live the ideal life, or that living life in Korea like this has negative connotations. It’s their life and who am I to judge when I’ve got my own problems to deal with.

There are also plenty of these kinds of people who have adapted completely differently; they speak fluent Korean, they work with a Korean company, they have kids who they send to the local schools, and other things. These people have also assimilated to living in Korea. Again, if they’re happy then fair play and long may their jubilation continue.

Personally, I see myself sitting somewhere in the middle.

What I got from the idea that I was a lifer was that it was both an insult and a compliment. Now, I know my friend and he’s not the kind of person who would turn around and make fun of the fact that I could spend the rest of my life in Korea, but I have picked up on the fact that people who have only recently arrived (the past year or two) always take a step back and look at you differently when you say that you have been here for as many years as you have. It’s kind of a reaction that instantly displays respect, but at the same time makes people look down their nose at you and ask, “are you off your fucking head, man”? The main reason I know this is because I’ve done it myself, and I probably still do it.

But what makes people want to stay in Korea so long? The news is a great place for finding regular excuses to leave Korea, but then if you don’t read the news that much having proper reasons might be more of a challenge. Negative experiences in hagwons or relationships are probably top of the list, but I know plenty of people who have had difficult times here but have persisted for whatever reasons. These things are part of life everywhere, so making excuses based on these is a bit short-sighted if you ask me.

I know I’m not alone when I say that the reason I came back to Korea has always been because of my first year here. I had a great time, saved loads of money, and met the love of my life who I’m now happily married with and we’re now having a baby together. That being said, we’re not in Korea now because Herself wants to be here near her family – she does, obviously, but that’s not an overly significant reason because she realises my family is important also. We’re here because when we were back in Ireland Korea looked like a better option. Perspectives change of course.

The longer I spend here though, the longer reality comes home and the more I realise that my first year in Korea will never be enough to tie me to this country forever. I say that like I am planning never to return to Korea, but the thing is, I will be in Korea for the rest of my life. Maybe not all the time, but until the day I die, be tied to Korea. This was confirmed the day I got married.

So, call me a lifer and make fun of me that I’m here forever. What can I do? Sneer and snark? Not much point. Just get on with life I suppose, which is what I’m good at. I just hope that the friends I’ve made here, my fellow lifers, will also always be here along the way.