What did you bring with you when you left?

I really don’t know how I started to think of this, it must have been all that time on the KTX!  Anyway, I’ve been looking around my apartment and thinking about what I brought with me from Ireland and what it means to me. Then I started thinking about the importance of what you bring with you, the reasons, the memories, the influence these items have or don’t have.  I’ve been here for  two and a half years and I still have the most important things.  When I left, I had this thought that I was leaving for a while so  figured I should bring the things that will survive and represent me and where I came from but not take up too much space! I guess everyone has something different depending on their hobbies and passions and interests so I’m really curious to see what other people brought with them when they emigrated.

Most of what I still have from Ireland is jewellery.  Jewellery is something I love to wear and something I feel represents me well as what I have is unique to Ireland.

I’ve got a Claddagh ring, which is always a great topic of conversation when it’s spotted. Now that I think of it, I guess most Irish women would bring one of these when they leave? They story behind it is very beautiful.  If you don’t already know the story, check out this link; http://www.potgold.com/claddagh.htm

Also I have a History of Ireland ring and a band that has “Is  D’Eireann me” and the English translation on the inside.  I love wearing these rings.  I look at them and instantly it reminds me of who I am and the place I’m from. I bought them bought in Galway when I worked in the area and they always remind me of good times.

The last ring I still have is a Children of Lir ring. My mother has the same ring in gold.  I love Irish folklore and I’ve wanted this ring for years but couldn’t find it anywhere and stumbled across it one day in Galway. Again, if you have no idea what the story of the Children of Lir is check this out; http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cwt/cwt12.htm

I have 2 more things.  One is a little religious medal that my godmother gave me before I left.  She herself went to Australia and has travelled a lot and told me that it would keep me safe on my travels.  My mother gave me something similar which travels around keeping me company in my wallet.  I guess for me, these two things are important to remind me of the people I left behind but also to remind me that not everything is in my hands.

Every emigrant brings something with them, big or small. Some bring a lot and others only bring a few.  For me it was one suitcase for a year and that contained my life.  So I chose my jewellery and a few photos.  When I have a bad day I just look down at my finger, remember Ireland and hear my mother inside my head telling me to stop whining and get on with it. So I do.

KTX- The thinking train.

I’ve just returned from a weekend in Busan with a few friends.  It was mighty craic altogether I tell you and I’m convinced that Busan is the Galway of Korea.  But more about that in another post.  In this post I want to talk about the KTX.

For anyone who doesn’t know what the KTX is, it’s the Korea Train eXpress, the high speed rail. For anyone who doesn’t know what Busan is, it’s the second largest city in Korea and it’s got a beach so it’s quite the popular destination.  A one way ticket to Busan set me back 50,000 and the return train ticket was a similar price.  So not too cheap but not too expensive either.  After buying the tickets online, you simply exchange them for actual tickets at the counter in the station.  The seats are assigned so it’s seriously happy days.

Before you get on the train you walk over a yellow line that says “We trust you! Only paid customers past this line”.  That’s Korea for you, all trusting and you think to yourself “hhhmmm this train might be a bit of craic”.However, once you get on the train, it’s like you step into a parallel universe, one that is allergic to noise.  Even as you are settling down for your journey and organising your stuff, you can hear a pin drop.  Then you sit back and look up and see a tv screen.  Excellent, maybe they’ll play a tv show or a movie.  No sorry, they won’t, they just use this t.v. as a way to tell you to be quiet and “respect the other passengers on the train”.  That includes phone calls and children.  It was hard enough keeping myself quiet for 3 hours but can you imagine keeping a young child occupied for that amount of time? I reckon the journey would most likely be spent in between the carriages where it’s safe to make as much noise as you wish.

Sitting in your seat in silence gives you time to think.  Nothing more, nothing less.  You could think about your conscience or lack thereof if you got on without a ticket.  You could think about how this silent train would make a great blog post.  You could think about the unfortunate person who has no other choice but to sit next to you (mwuh mwuh mwuh).  You could think about 5 ways to kill the person next to you if they pick their nose one more time.  You could read or listen to music ( but not too loudly) but it would be better to embrace this gift from the Korean railroad authorities…..silent thinking time.  I reckon its silent because they think that Koreans lead high stress, busy lives and need this silent thinking time to come up with the next super smart phone or self-cleaning apartment or whatever.

Then there’s the train lady.  I don’t know where they get them but the train ladies are always the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.  The uniform is oh so similar to the Korean Air one so I reckon they must train the train and plane ladies in the same place. All the thinking I did on the train led me to the conclusion that perhaps the train ladies are the ones who couldn’t quite make it as Korean Air ladies.   And it’s not an easy job.  I mean have you seen the skill with which she walks up and down the carriages? First she’s wearing heels so this in itself is a minor obstacle.  Then she manages to walk straight through the entire carriage, something I tried in flip flops and failed at.  The train just kept shaking from side to side, it was impossible. Of course she doesn’t actually help anyone because that would involve talking and as we’ve already discussed that’s totally against the rules. Instead she busies herself fixing bags and smiling or glaring at people.

Anyway, she carries around this machine which I figure is the conscience reader.  That’s why she goes up and down so often.  She has to take reading throughout the journey to see if you have used the thinking train time wisely.  Then at the end of the day she graphs it and Korail use it to improve services.  It’s also how she catches ticket evaders as they will cause the machine to spike to abnormal levels. Fact.

All the thinking I did on the train kept me occupied for 3 entire hours and before I knew it I was in Busan to practice my speaking  and talk on the phone.  If I came up with all this is it any wonder that Korea has Samsung, LG, Hyundai and all those other Korean companies? It wouldn’t surprise me if all these companies sent their workers on KTX journeys as a brain storming exercise.

So next time you get the KTX have a little think about what I’ve said here.   But remember whatever you do on your KTX journey, do it quietly.

What is keeping Irish people away from the”rest of the world”?

Here’s what I did this week;

  1. Read this article; http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0621/1224318353649.html
  2. Read this article; http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2012/0621/breaking59.html
  3. Started thinking….

Do Irish people have a narrow-minded approach to emigration? Do we still fear the unknown? Do we want to emigration in search of greener hills but not too green because that would involve being pushed outside our “box of convenience”?

What strikes me from Article 1 is that Irish people seem to have a great need for convenience.   Let’s emigrate. But only to a country that has a similar culture, where we can buy all the things we can in Ireland (only cheaper) and where we can speak English.  Heaven forbid any Irish person would actually have to learn a new language from scratch or embrace a new culture.   My view is that this approach is simply fear.

In 2012, the world is a small place.  Yet Irish people know little or nothing about different cultures.  When I came to Korea I didn’t know the first thing about it.  We simply don’t embrace a sense of adventure in Ireland. It’s the predictable “go to Australia or America” approach to emigration. I can see why.  For years, the Irish have been going to America and Australia and succeeding.  I’m not disputing that.  I’m saying that we simply aren’t encouraged to learn about different cultures and as a result the lack of knowledge let’s us down when it comes to taking emigration risks.  Opportunities in “rest of the world” countries are there, waiting for the brave adventurous souls to step forward and take them.

I can see and have experienced the difficulties of emigrating to a “rest of the world” country.  When I came to Korea, it was honestly the biggest shock to the system.  I was just 22 when I came here and the first thing I thought was “well this isn’t Roscrea!” For the first two weeks, I had to be escorted to and from school because every building, every person, every store looked the same.  My apartment (provided by the school) was just 4 white walls and lacked any homely touch.  I had no phone, no bank account, no family and no friends. I couldn’t speak Korean or read Korean.I got bills and didn’t know how to pay them, whether I was paying too much or too little. I was one of only a few foreigners in my city so people would stop and stare and touch my white skin and at first it freaked me out.  I had no idea what I was doing and there were nights when I would wake up wondering what the hell I was doing in Korea and how I was ever going to make a go of it.   But after the initial shock wore off a new Shauna started to appear.  When faced with these challenges, I found myself using initiative I never knew I had and I was more than capable of dealing with any situation that came my way. I wasn’t afraid to laugh at the ridiculousness of a situation and bit by bit, my new life started to come together.   But I built it from the ground up.  Was life difficult the first few months? Yes absolutely.  Was it inconvenient? Yes absolutely.Is it still a little inconvenient at times? Yes absolutely.   Would I do it again.  Yes absolutely. When I got over the fear and stop worrying about what could go wrong and start seeing it as a new adventure, everything seemed to work itself out.

I also think that the fear of emigrating outside the box of convenience has a lot to do with our education system.  After reading article 2, I realise how narrow our view of the world is in Ireland.  Of the languages we could actually hold a conversation in Asian and African languages were nowhere to be seen.   What is wrong with us? Can we not see that it is in our own interest to learn the languages of the world? America, China, Russia, all countries that hold huge power and influence in the world.  America-English, we got that covered.  But Russian and Chinese?  While some Irish students in some schools have the opportunity to learn Russian, Chinese is nowhere to be seen.  Perhaps if we started embracing these languages and learning about the cultures in schools nationwide, we could start to broaden our views of the world.  Perhaps embracing these in our education system would see the fear of going to these countries diminish.Perhaps learning more about other societies and cultures in school would encourage our future generation to take the risks and go to the “rest of the world”.

So my message is that we shouldn’t fear the unknown.  We shouldn’t be afraid to take the opportunities that require a little inconvenience and courage. Emigration should not be viewed only as an opportunity to gain new skills and opportunities, it should be looked at as an opportunity to share our skills and talents with the rest of the world.  Irish people have a lot to offer and  the “rest of the world” has plenty of opportunities if people are willing to reach out and take them.

Ireland vs Korea- Pro’s and Con’s

My contract is up in a few weeks.  I have two choices 1) Renew the contract and stay. 2) Go home and take my chances there. I decided to list the pro’s and con’s of each option.  Ok here it is;

Go home to Ireland

PRO’S

  1. My family is there.
  2. My friends who have not already emigrated are there.
  3. I don’t have a three, in fact I was lucky to think of two.

CON’S

  1. A recession.
  2. Few jobs in my sector ( P.R.)
  3. Big competition for said jobs
  4. Paying rent.

Stay in Korea

PRO’S

  1.  Big job pool
  2. Disposable income
  3. Access to the best technology
  4. Can continue to learn Korean
  5. My friends are here.
  6. Opportunities to travel in Asia on a regular basis.
  7. Won’t have to pay rent

CON’S

  1.  It’s a long way to Tipperary
  2. North Korea may at any time attack
  3. There is no three, I was lucky to think of two. 

So there you have it.  Pretty simple decision if you ask me.

When does your new country become your new home?

“If I had a minute to spare” wrote a great post about his second home in Korea ;http://ifihadaminutetospare.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/my-second-home-in-korea-jumunjin-gangwon-do/

This got me wondering; When can you actually call your new country “home”?

First, I guess it depends on what your definition of “home” is. In my opinion, it’s somewhere you can be yourself.  A friend of mine however, proposes that a home is somewhere you make memories, adventures and friends. Either way we both agree that it’s not always somewhere your family are.   

Everyone has a different theory about when your new country becomes your new home, as I found out, discussing the topic with my friends.  For some it’s all about the amount of time you stay in a new country.  For others it’s about having a routine, doing the same thing day in day out.  Some say that getting bills in the post means that your home! 

For me, it’s all about finding your niche, the one thing that you’re really good at. A new country means you’ll always be part of the expat community but making a home is something that gets you involved in a community within that community.   The thing that gets you out and helps you become part of your new country, as a group, not an individual.  The thing that people know you for.  

Since I came here in 2009, life has been great.  I’ll never deny that.  But while I was always happy, there was something missing, something not quite right.  While I was part of the expat community in Paju, I didn’t really have a role, I was “just another English teacher”.  So for the longest time, while Korea was my base, it never really felt like a home to me. Korea has lots of activities for expats to get involved in.  I envied my friends who took up hobbies like rock climbing, hiking or baseball and became increasingly satisfied with life and in turn renewed contracts and looked to stay on the long-term. I saw the Facebook accounts and the plans they made with their new communities and it occurred to me that they had found their niche.  That’s what they were good at.  It made them comfortable, they enjoyed it and excelled at it. 

My niche didn’t find me until September 2010, when I happened by an Irish Association of Korea Hooley in Seoul. And that was it.  I started volunteering a little with them, got to know loads of new people and got involved in Irish music and dancing.  Playing music with musicians from Korea, Ireland and all over I realise that I’ve found, not only my niche but now I consider Korea hom my home.  It’s such a simple thing really but getting involved, sitting, talking, making new friends and new memories, playing a few tunes and doing a few dances has, for me, changed how I see Korea.  It has gone from somewhere I work and live to somewhere I enjoy living.

Of course it can be argued that, because I’ve been playing music my whole life, doing it in Korea is just a comfort.  In my case, that’s true, but I have friends who have taken up hobbies and activities for the first time since coming to Korea and because of that call Korea home.  So for everyone it’s different.   

I don’t think my sister will mind me sharing her story.  She’s been living in Spain for the last 6 years. She lives with her boyfriend (so she’s pretty settled) and I don’t see any signs of her going anywhere else any time soon. She’s also not very outgoing and in those 6 years has never gotten involved in any activity or organisation of any kind.    Last night, on skype, I asked her if she considers Spain home.  She said no.  Then I put my niche theory to her and she agreed that because she lacks a niche in Spain, she’s not really involved in any community, hence, the fact that she doesn’t call Spain home. (Of course that makes me sad, but I hold out hope that she’ll find her niche soon.)

So there you have it, my thoughts on a new country becoming your new home.  In essence it’s all about getting involved meeting new people, having adventures and making the most of what your new country has to offer.

The Zombassistant Effect

As far as shopping is concerned there aren’t too many things that bother me.  But since I came to Korea, I’ve noticed a trend in the stores that’s definitely a cultural clash.  It’s something the shop assistants do and I like to call it “The Zombassistant Effect”.  That’s right, it’s bothers me so much, I made a new term. It essentially involves walking into a store and then being follow around that store until you either buy something or leave.  But if you look at the person following you, they take on this Zombie like look.  Like they have nothing on their mind but your blood or your money.  Hence the term, “Zombassistant”

At first, this really got me down.  To the point where I wouldn’t really go into the stores in question, which are usually the beauty stores or independently owned.  But then, I came up with what I consider an ingenious plan to fight against the effect.  Here’s what I do;

I walk into a store and let the zombassistant follow me for a while. Then I walk around the store again but this time I start picking things up and testing them.  If it’s really bad I’ll pick everything up, test it, look at my hand like I’ve never seen it before and then put it back in a slightly wrong position, so they’ll have to fix it.

Then I move along the store until I’m out the door.  However, after a while, I look at the million testers on my hand and make a “how should I get this off” look with my face.  This causes said Zombassistantto go in search of cotton wool and remover, buying me the essential second to check out what I actually went in to check out in the first place.

If I actually intend on buying something but I’ll follow the previous steps until I reach what I want.  Then , in the case of makeup, try every shade and then try them again before making a decision or with clothes, I try on the item in every colour and two different sizes and then hand the hangers and clothes back to the Zombassistant separately. ( Foreigners clearly cannot hang things on hangers, especially Irish ones!)

In severe circumstances, I’ll pick something up that comes in several shades or sizes.  I’ll then try out a few and make some different expressions with my face. Like I might be considering buying it but something is missing.   Eventually, I’ll look up and say ” do you have this in “insert made up shade /size here”? They then go in search of this shade/size and when they say no I shake my head and just say “no” and walk out of the store looking very sad and disappointed.  Job done. It doesn’t stop the Zombassistanteffect but it certainly makes it more interesting.

While I’m on this rant, there’s one other thing.

I’m pretty certain this is something that happens to everyone.  It drives me insane when they refuse to tell me the price in Korea because they think I won’t understand.  They point at the screen and wait.  So now, instead of getting mad I just stand there and look at them.  With a smile on my face, waiting, waiting, waiting them out, then eventually they point at the screen and I just go, 네? then forcing them to say it to me in Korean.  And that’s it.  I hand over my money.  Was it really so hard?????????? Just because we don’t look Korean doesn’t mean we’re stupid……if you can’t say it in English then just tell us in Korean.

Ok rant over.  The next time anyone suffers an attack of a Zombassistant, follow my steps and it’ll be very happy days indeed.

My 5 favourite shopping areas in Korea.

I’ve always loved shopping.  I can’t help it, one mention of the word and I’m there.  But, in Korea it’s more challenging that at home.  Because, although I’m a normal person, some of the clothes here wouldn’t fit my left leg let alone my entire body, “free size” my eye.  So here is my top 5 places to go shopping in Korea;

5. Myeongdong; I literally almost got into a fight with my friend when I refused to put his higher up.  It’s a great place to find clothes to fit us normal people.  Especially Forever 21.  This store is the business.  Clothes that fit and shoes that fit.  I have american size 10 feet and it’s almost impossible to find shoes, but Forever 21 has them.  In Myeongdong you can find everything from your brand labels, Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Hilfiger, to the fakes.  You should be prepared to fight your way through the always present crowd and shopping here cannot be done in a hurry, hence the number 5 spot. 

4. Shinsegae Centrum City- Busan; If you’re in Busan you MUST go here. This place is 14 stories of heaven.  It’s the largest department store in the world (don’t know if that record still exists).  It’s got everything and it’s a one stop shop.  It’s go every label you can think of and there isn’t anything that you couldn’t find here.Even the food stalls had are great! If you hate shopping there’s so many other things to keep you entertained like screen golf and ice skating and a cinema and it goes on and on. I love this place.  Fact. 

3.  Insadong; Whenever I ask my mother what she wants as a gift she usually replies “something Korea”.  Excellent, that narrows it down.  So off I head to Insadong and I come home all pleased and feeling slightly like a tourist.  Insadong has every gift you could hope for.  If you spend long enough here you’ll find anything you’re looking for.  You must be prepared to spend the day though, there are some quality little independent stalls and shops in the alleys and back streets so you should always spend times here. 

2. Westerdom and La Festa- Ilsan; Ilsan is forgotten about if you live in Seoul.  And it’s such a shame too because the shopping here is great.  It’s on the Orange Subway line at Jeongbalsan station.  Lining the Westerdom shopping area are all those great little shops with the usual/unusual clothes and accessories.  There are also a ton of cafes and the shooting place and department stores and so much more.  Definately worth spending the day exploring. 

1. Paju Premium Outlets; I had to give first place to my own doorstep.  The premium outlets here are nothing short of brilliant.  These days I rarely shop anywhere else.  I’m not rich by any standards and that’s the beauty of these outlets, you can get really nice clothes at really affordable prices.  Just to be clear Paju has 2 outlets.  One is Shinsegae and the other is Lotte.  They are within 10km or so of each other so if you have a car it would be really easy to do the two in the one day.  They have stores like GAP, Hilfiger, Lacoste, Club Monaco, Banana Republic, Juicy Couture, Elie Tehari, DKNY, and the list goes on and on to the more expensive brands like Michael Kors, Coach, Hunter, Kate Spade and TODS.  I find that the sports brands like Adidas, Puma and Nike here are dirt cheap.  Nike also have shoes that fit size 10 feet.

Eating here is great and the place (especially the Shinsegae one) is very entertaining with a band playing at the weekends and the grounds are really beautiful and well-kept.  Also really close to the Shinsegae outlets is Heyri Art village and Paju English Village.  Heyri is where artists, musicians and architects come together to display their work so there are cafes and restaurants and displays there.  If you have children or if you just want to take a look yourself Paju English village is also close by and it’s open on weekends. 

 Can’t help myself must add a 6th. but it also shares number 1 spot;

D- Cube City Plaza  ; If you’ve never been shopping here then get over there quick! This place is a mecca.  It’s got all the Western brands that we love and more.  It also has one of the only Charles and Keith stores in Korea.  What is Charles and Keith you might ask? It’s a handbag and shoe store.  But the shoes are generally a big enough size to fit normal people.  D-Cube also has a Frank & Frank store (apologies if the name is wrong) which is the only place to buy the coolest houshold items at a great price.  It’s also got loads of things to keep the children entertained and there are plenty of restaurants if you get hungry.  To get there, just hop on the subway,Shindorim station on lines 1 & 2

As I mentioned, if anyone ever needs a shopping assistant, I’m sure I could find the time to help you out…………