Guam-Encouraging the anti-craic

Craic. It’s a great word. One that people don’t use enough. “What’s the craic?, Any craic? How’s the craic?”, all phrases you might hear an Irish person say.  But what exactly is “craic”? (pronounced “crack”) Well, for each it is different.  In Irish, craic is the word for fun.  So each person has their own version of what craic is.  For me, it’s a good music session where everyone seems to be having good craic and the session itself is good craic and the whole night turns out to be good old craic.  In Korea, a night where it’s 6am and you don’t know where the time went because you were having such craic is great craic. So you get the drift, to each their own.  Everyone has an individual idea of what great craic is.  

So let’s talk about “anti- craic”. This is a phrase that describes the opposite of craic.  Like anti fun.  Something where you stand there going “what’s going on here lads? No craic” That’s anti- craic.  I’d like to present a case study of anti craic as seen on Guam.  

Guam is an island full of resorts. These resorts have pools and restaurants and gyms and everything you can think of.  What they ultimately do is encourage you to spend all day hanging around the resort with just the people you travelled with, enjoying the facilities on offer.    There is only so long that one person can spend beside the pool or on the beach before one gets cabin fever.  It also encourages you to shy away from interacting with other people.   This is anti craic. Should you succeed in spending the day at the resort, you might want a few drinks at night.  Excellent, head down to the bar.  But be sure to go early enough because it closes at 12.30am, way past my vacation bed time.  Complete anti craic. Couple this with the fact that on a regular Friday night there are about 40 people in the bar.  For those 40 people there are not 1, not 2 but 3 security guards.  Not only have people spent the day avoiding one another but now they want to make sure we don’t somehow randomly start a fight with each other or heaven forbid order a drink past 12.30.  Anti-craic.

If you were brave enough to somehow venture outside the resort and head down to a bar, you are in for a big shock.  You should expect to be the only craic happening in that bar. Not only that but the 3 bouncers will I.D. you and ask you random questions like ” So you’re just passing through?” What was it that gave me away?  After a drink and 2 games of pool, you’re all done.  Back you go to the safety of the resort. Complete anti craic.

When I’m on vacation, there’s nothing I love more than to stay in bed longer than I usually would and enjoy a nice little lie in.  Forget it. If you stay in a resort, you must report for breakfast between 7 (it’s ridiculously early) o clock and 10am.  This is well and good if you have children and you’re all up anyway but it defeats the idea of having a lie in. Unless you want to skip the breakfast that you paid for and pay through the roof for the food in the cafe.    Anti craic.   

Then there’s getting around the island.  All of the touristy things are in the one place, more or less.  If you don’t have a car, you can use the trolley system.  Grand.  But if you have a car and you decide to explore the island be prepared to “explore”. Guam seems to have a problem with road signs.  And by problem, I mean they don’t exist.  You get a rather sketchy looking map with a load of road numbers on it and off you go.  ” Where are we?    Oh I don’t know somewhere along road number 3″. Excellent, I’ll spend the rest of my day driving along road number 3 trying to figure out either 1)  where on the map we actually are or 2) if anywhere on road number 3 actually looks like something I actually might somehow recognise. And if, like me, you like to go “for a spin”, don’t come to Guam.  The speed limit around the island is 35. Great for encouraging safety first but you are essentially taking your car for a walk and would probably end up going faster if you went in reverse.  Another classic example of anti craic. 

And to finish off my anti craic rant, let’s talk about the NYE party tonight.  It’s at the resort (surprise).  There’s dinner and later a band or a D.J. (nothing that’s too  much craic).  There will be a fireworks display at midnight and afterwards a party.  But only until 1.30am, that’s when it finishes and everyone will head home.  Or to the respective floor that their room is on.  That’s only 90 minutes after you ring in the New Year. Wow, such great craic……NOT… complete anti craic. 

I feel like my first luxury holiday will certainly be the last for the upcoming future as all roads in a resort lead to a town called anti craic. 

As ever, feel free to leave comments below and Happy New Year!

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Guam~where people speak English

I’ve been living in Korea for a little over 3 years. During that time, I’ve invested time and effort to improve both my language and my culture skills there. I live in Paju so I speak Korean on a daily basis. I should point out that I’ve never been to America so keep that in mind.

What happened to me in Guam was strange. I feel like the best way to describe it is culture shock. I simply couldn’t understand why everyone was speaking English! Even the children could speak English. It wasn’t just that, the whole way on the island was different. Nobody was in a rush, everyone actually seemed to enjoy their work, nobody actually looked like they worked at all.  I even saw people out running, like a lot of people. They weren’t running to anywhere in particular, they were running for the good of mankind. Imagine having weather where you have nothing better to do in the evening but go running around this tiny island where only 160,000 people are native.

As I passed the staggered buildings, all I could think was “what a waste of space, they should build up like the Asians”. As I ate my meals, I looked around certain that both the side dishes and the chopsticks would arrive shortly. Of course they didn’t, so I had to make do with the knife and fork idea.

People are also super friendly. I think it’s fair to say that one look at me would tell you that Im not from Guam. So, as a starter to every conversation, ” where are you from” was commonly heard. The second I tell them Im from Ireland, their faces light up and usually I’m the first Irish person they’ve met (or claim theyve met)
I bought an $11 hat in the Calvin Klein sale the other day. Now $11 is hardly going to be the making of the store daily takings but the lady behind the counter had me literally convinced that I was their most prized customer. I wanted to stay and lap it up.

I’ve just never really experienced this before. Theres no fighting to explain it all in Korean or having to get assistance from assistants who are terrified of foreigners. It’s such a shock to the system.
They even go as far as calling me ma’am.  Randomly I bought vitamins the other day and the guy who served me passed by me in the mall later and was all “Hi maam its me from Vitamin World”. Like we were best friends. I was stuck to the ground but may have managed a smile and a hi. And it’s not just that guy, its everyone. The people in the stores, in the hotels, the people who give towels for the pool, the taxi drivers, all of them.

Only thing is that they don’t bow. Bowing comes as an automatic reaction to me now. I bow to the people here all the time and they look at me like I have some muscles spasm that’s causing it.  I just can’t help it. I dont even know I’m doing it until after I’ve done it. It’s a real awkward turtle moment. If the people here bowed, it would simply be the icing on the cake.

For now I will continue to drink this delicious drink that the guy in the Hilton insisted on making for me. It’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it…….
More on Guam island in the next post………

Christmas away from home.

Christmas 2012 will be my 4th Christmas in South Korea.  Celebrating Christmas in a country that doesn’t has made me look at and celebrate the occasion differently. 

Being from Ireland, Christmas is all about family.  Every year we’d all gather together and eat Christmas dinner and exchange gifts.  It was the big clean before the decorations went up and the fight over who got to decorate the tree.  When we were young it was about getting up at ridiculous o clock to see what Santa brought and in more recent years it was about eating as many roses as was humanly possible. 

If I was looking for a Christmas celebration similar to home, I certainly picked the wrong country! Christmas doesn’t really exist in Korea the same as it does in Ireland.  Korea, being a Confucianist country doesn’t celebrate Christmas as a holiday.  It’s there but it’s not.  Coffee shops have their special Christmas coffees, the buses are decorated with fairy lights and tinsel, there are ads on tv for the Christmas sales in some stores.

But for children, it means nothing more than a few days off school. Santa doesn’t bring gifts here which I found out to my utter amazement my first Christmas when I asked what Santa was bringing. They understand that if they get gifts, it will be from Mum and Dad.  Saying that however, they do know who Santa is.  My school, for example will get a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve.  But he contains none of the magic that he does for the children in Ireland and other such countries. 

My first Christmas away from home was 2009 and  I stayed in Korea.  I had only just arrived in September so I neither had the know how or finances to take a vacation.  My friends and I simply made lots of different dishes from back home and ate dinner together followed by movies, games and the whole thing was very similar to how I would spend it in Ireland.  Opening the presents however, was the worst part.  You can’t thank anyone for their presents when they’re miles away.  My little cousins drew little pictures for my apartment which caused a few tears. Looking back, that first Christmas was quite a lonely experience.  Even though I spent it with friends, it was the first time to be away from family for the holidays but it was a necessary part of the “character building” that comes with moving away.  That first Christmas essentially set up my mind frame and the reality that I was away from home so Christmas was going to be one of those times when I had to think differently and celebrate it differently. 

2010 brought the opportunity to be home for Christmas which was great.I was between contracts so spent September to December at home.    I spent it with my family and we ate at my house and played cards and did all the random things that we only ever get to do at Christmas. 

On Christmas Day 2011, I woke up in a floating cabin in Thailand.  This time I felt none of the loneliness of being away from family. In fact, I barely registered that it was Christmas.I just wished a cheery “Happy Christmas” the same way I wish my friends a happy weekend.   The weather in Korea is super cold in winter so a Christmas in the heat was exactly what was needed.  I spent that Christmas riding elephants, petting tigers and floating up rivers on a bamboo raft.  All with friends that I made on the tour and it was definitely one of the best Christmas I’ve ever spent. I returned to Korea with none of the doom and gloom that usually comes post-Christmas.  Instead I was fully energised and ready to take on the Siberian cold again. 

This Christmas, I’m heading to Guam with my friend.Its going to be full of hot weather, shopping for clothes that actually fit, eating regular food that doesn’t include rice for every meal and just generally chillaxing. 

It’s been 2 years since I’ve been back to Ireland and I’ve now become so accustomed to not having a real Christmas that I haven’t done any real Christmas shopping so I fear my family will have to wait until January for presents!!!!!  That being said, I’m looking forward to spending Christmas in an alternative way and see it as part of the experience of being away from home. 

 Happy and Safe Christmas!  or in Korean 메리 크리스마스!

Getting a car in Korea

Living in Paju, it is of great benefit to be in possession of an automobile.  First on the agenda was to get a driver’s license.  This was the least difficult part of the process and I had it in a few hours.  I first brought my license to the Irish Embassy in Seoul to get it apostilled.  Then a short work away, I went to the Seoul Global Centre, who have a specific desk dedicated to this exact cause.  First, she handed me an eye test form and sent me on my way.  Conveniently, the eye clinic was just a 5 minute walk away.  So after I got that form in, gave her a passport picture, I handed over my Irish license.  She handed me back a Korean drivers license.  The deal is that if, at any time, I want my Irish licence back, I simply trade in my Korean one.  However, after 3 years, if I’m still in Korea, I can have them both in my possession.  Here’s a picture;

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I got my license in October 2011. It wasn’t until September this year, that I got serious about getting an actual car.  First, I went to Craigslist where I found USFK Classifieds.  Excellent, gave them a call.  What followed was about 6 weeks of my time wasted because of one reason or another.  Every time I called and arranged to go there, for one reason or another he couldn’t show me cars.  Once he was gone to Ulsan to deliver a car etc etc.  So the last straw was when I called on a Friday and made an appointment for the next day ( as requested after the Ulsan incident). So I tell him ( and he was a foreigner) that I’ll be there at 2.30 and he confirmed our appointment.  I get there the next day and he doesn’t even pick up the phone.  I called 4 times and my calls were never returned.  So that was the end of my relationship with that company, they clearly didn’t need my money. 

After that, my confidence was a little shaken.  I was starting to wonder if I actually needed a car.  Then I waited at the bus stop for 15 minutes in the rain and decided that yes, I did need a car. So, I went back to Craigslist.  This time found another website www.karstart.co.kr  Found an email address and emailed them my exact requirements.  Within 30 minutes I had a reply and so started a great relationship.  Before the week was out and thanks to my twitter friends, I had the search down to 2 cars.  Called and Mr Choi agreed to let me test drive both cars on Saturday.  True to his word, he picked us up from the station and after a few metres, let me take over.  This happened with the 2nd car and he was so patient as we checked everything and asked a million questions. 

So then it was business time.  The car came in on budget.  After that there was the small matter of tax and insurance.  Being Korea, a simple phone call was all that it took to get quotes from about 10 different insurance companies.  After choosing the one I wanted (coincidentally the cheapest), I paid my tax, and government charges.  Add an English Sat Nav system to that and my bank account was 4,500,000 lighter.  definitely within the 5,000,000 I was going for. We sorted it all out while drinking coffee and eating oranges in Mr Choi’s office.   

Best of all, he offered to let me drive it away that day but having a party to attend I chose to get it delivered.  Again, true to his word he delivered to my school in Ilsan on Monday afternoon, Sat Nav installed and insurance sorted. 

I’ve called the car Spudnik because…..well just because.

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Do I have regrets? Yes.  I regret wasting so much time with the first company when Karstart had it all sorted within the week.  I’ve only had the car for a day but I drove home from school in 15 minutes where it takes the bus 35. 
If anyone has more specific questions please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be sure to help in any way.
Imagine what I can do with all the time I’m going to save not waiting for buses. I might actually get more blogs done!!!!