Tips for surviving your first year in Korea

Two of my friends are getting ready to come to Korea. They asked me to write a blog on how to survive your first year here. It’s been a while since it was my first year so I took to Facebook to ask my friends. I was astonished at the replies I got back. There are so many things that nobody tells you before you come here. Hopefully we can sort some of that in this blog.

1. Language: Although English is widely taught and spoken by some people here, you should learn Hangeul. You simply won’t survive without it. And the best thing is that so many words are the same in English and Korean, you just need to be able to read out the Korean to understand.  You can learn your letters and a few basic words before you arrive. Although it looks super complicated, you can learn your letters in a number of hours. Here are some useful websites;

http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/

http://rki.kbs.co.kr/learn_korean/lessons/e_index.htm 

2. Culture: Know what’s expected of you in the workplace, when you visit someone, greeting people etc. A simple Google search will provide plenty of articles to read on this issue.

3. Supermarkets: The good news is that there are small supermarkets everywhere but for the bigger things there are two big supermarkets Emart and Homeplus (in Korean). You can buy everything from clothes to household items in these two places.

A tip is to buy with your card. I don’t know the ins and outs with this but it’s preferred to avoid the taxman.

Other tips from my friends include;

“You need to get stickers on your fruit on veg bag before you go to the register” (talking about loose items)

“Know the seasonal fruit and vegtables”

3. Transport: The bus, subway and train system here are excellent.

Subway;To make it easier for you, it’s a good idea to download the jihachul app so you can navigate the subway. system. You can figure out running time and waiting times for subways on this app. And yes, it’s in English.

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For those not living in Seoul, remember that the subway finishes well before midnight so if you live outside the city and you stay out, you should consider alternative transport home.

There is a jingle at transfer stations and end of line stations.

A Tmoney card is the name of the transport card in the Seoul and surrounding area. You can buy them for a few thousand won in most 7-11 and convenience stores. Then use the machines at the subway systems to load them with money or at a convenience store. The average cost of a journey can be calculated approximately using the jihachul app.

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Buses: There are different colour buses depending on where their destination is. Here is a site that explains just about everything transport related, http://www.kias.re.kr/sub06/sub06_06.jsp

You can also download the Seoul Bus app. Unfortunately, it’s in Korean but if you know the bus number you can check where on the route the bus actually is.

You can use your T Money card on the buses also or pay in small cash or coins.

Taxis; Taxis are EVERYWHERE. The regular ones are silver or orange. The should have a meter and the drivers information visible.

The black ones are more expensive. Supposedly they are more luxurious.

In Seoul, you can use your T Money card or a bank card to pay for the fare. You can also get a receipt. Outside of Seoul depending on the place, you can’t use a T Money card. You should have some cash to pay for the journey.

Here’s a nice little article on the whole thing, http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/article.do?_method=view&m=0004007002011&p=07&art_id=39543&lang=en

4. Banks 

Everyone wants a bank account straight away because they come loaded with money. It’s always preferable to wait until you get an Alien Registration Card to do this. The main banks in Korea are;

Nong Hyup

Shinan

KB*B

KEB

Woori Bank

Some schools make you open an account in a particular banl to avoid transfer fees etc.

Banks are opened from 9-4 Monday to Friday. The exception are the expat banks like KEB who have branches open on Sundays for certain hours.  You should consider this if you have a 9-5 job.

At least 2 of these banks have excellent expat services (KEB and Shinan). You can set up internet banking and download an app on your phone to check your balance etc.

Most banks have someone that speaks English especially the ones with expat services so don’t fear going in alone to set it up.

KEB also have an account called an Easy One that will lodge money straight to your overseas account.

* I should note that other banks potentially offer the same service but I have my account with KEB. You should bring all the details of your home account for registration.

Bank Transfers; You can transfer money from your account to another Korean account  by using either online banking or going to a bank machine. It’s very easy and the machine has English language so you can’t go wrong.

Paying your billshttps://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/pay-your-bills-at-the-bank-machine-in-korea/

Insurance: Should you need car insurance, travel insurance, health insurance etc, you can contact the Samsung Insurance rep who can speak with you in English. You can reach him at byung625@gmail.com and his name is Byung. I have my car insurance with him and travel insurance and it’s always great value and he speaks perfect English.

5. Apartments; Apartments here are generally a one room or two room for single people. Unless you really luck out in which case you’ll have a few rooms.

You will have a washing machine and  heating to navigate in Korean but fear not, I already have blogs done on how to use them.

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-a-korean-washing-machine/

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-the-heating-in-a-korean-apartment/

6.Rubbish disposal; This is a tricky one. Every place and every housing complex has a different system. If you live in a huge housing complex, they have one day a week where everyone leaves out their rubbish. This rubbish is separated by recycling, food and other.

If you live in a random apartment this is how it usually works;

1. Go to the supermarket or local shop and buy the rubbish bags. The yellow ones are for food rubbish. The bigger ones (blue in my area) are for general waste. Then I also have recycling. I leave recycling out in a box or a paper bag.

2. Look on the street for other rubbish that is waiting to be picked up. Leave your rubbish here and it’ll get collected.

If you have a bigger item like a chair that you want to get rid of you can either 1) Leave it out and let someone else take it and use it or 2) Go to the supermarket and get a sticker for it. Put the sticker on it and leave it outside with your rubbish.

7. Post Office: The postal system here is extremely efficient and safe. If you wish to send something in country then just put the senders details on the top left corner and the receivers details in the middle. Then send it either the quick way or the regular way. It’s pretty cheap.

If you want to send something home, there are two options 1. Land 2. Air.

Land will take between 3-6 months to reach it’s destination. It’s cheaper than sending it by air and it’s good to send home clothes and other items that you don’t want but are in no great rush for.

Air takes only 7 or so days to get to the destination. It’s the fastest way to send things home.

The Korea Post website is in English so you can go ahead and check the rates and fees etc…..http://www.koreapost.go.kr/eng/sub/subpage.jsp?contId=e1010601

The post office is open from 9am-6pm .

8. Alien Registration Card

Your alien registration card is the card you get when you become officially registered with immigration. You will need this card for the following;

  1. Visit to the hospital
  2. Visit to the dentist
  3. If you’re stopped by the police
  4. Entering and leaving the country
  5. Opening a bank account
  6. Making a loyalty card
  7. Getting a phone contract

It’s so important. If you lose your ARC you must immediately report it missing with the police and then go to immigration and apply for another.

9. Expat websites and finding groups

There are some seriously useful websites out there for expats. I’ll list a few here;

http://seoul.angloinfo.com/

http://www.korea4expats.com/

http://www.iherb.com/

http://global.gmarket.co.kr/Home/Main

http://english.11st.co.kr/html/en/main.html

http://www.thearrivalstore.com/

For the teachers among us……

http://www.waygook.org/index.php?wwwRedirect

For the Irish;

http://iak.co.kr/

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

Also USE FACEBOOK! So many areas have their own Facebook pages. In my area we have Geumchon Crew, Ilsan have their own page and so on. You get the drift. Google it or Facebook it and you’re bound to find some groups.

10. Random tips;

You have the option on taking over a phone contract from someone who is already here. Keep that in mind before going off and starting one of your own.

Olive Young sells lots of foreign brand cosmetics.

Don’t open your gas valve all the way. Open it just enough so the meter turns otherwise you’ll have a big bill.

Bring a huge towel with you.

Go to cineinkorea to find out what movies are showing in a theatre near you.

Just go with the flow if you have no idea what’s happening.

You can call the tourist information people on 021330 if you need some help.

In the deep winter, don’t leave your heating completely off if you leave for over a week. If your pipes freeze and burst, your entire floor will have to be taken up and replaced. No one wants that………..

Never trust the green light when crossing the street. Pedestrian crossings are out in the stupidest of places so always look left when crossing and don’t take the chance if it’s a bus approaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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*If you want to add something to this list, leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories from inside the classroom.

There are days at school when the students annoy me so much that I want to walk out the window and take my chances. But other days, they are so funny, I almost can’t remember the bad days.

I’ve learned so much from the students and whether they learn anything is beyond me. When first I started at this Kindergarten, I didn’t speak much Korean. Since it’s a Korean kindergarten and I’m the only foreigner, I wasn’t too long learning!

One day at the start, I had a five year old class and no assistant. Everything was going really well until this boy kept repeating something to me in Korean. I had no clue what he was saying so I just ignored him, hoping he’d stop. But he didn’t, he got out of his chair and made a gesture which made it quite clear that he needed the bathroom. I let him out and three minutes later, he’s standing at the door, butt naked holding a piece of tissue! Of all the days not to have the assistant!

 

I’ve learned that no matter how close to five the four year olds are, you probably shouldn’t give them scissors. I learned this the hard way. To be fair, they get scissors in art and other classes so I thought it was a fairly ok idea. I just let them off to cut the paper and when I turn back around one child is holding a clump of his hair. My only thought was ” I am such a failure”.

That’s a thought I have every day though. When one child is spread eagled on the table and another looks like he’s going to use his pencil as a weapon, I feel like a failure.

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder what the children are thinking about when I give them a task. Today, their task was to draw their family. Ryan called me over and said; “Teacher, this is what people look like on the inside”

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He went into some serious detail about how the blood works with the veins and arteries so I looked at him and said “What does this have to do with your family? It’s my father”, he replied. Insert a shocked silence here.

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Just when I think I’m getting through, I realise I’m totally not. The above is supposed to say “This is my father” etc. But the student just did it phonetically, as in Korean so it ended up as “deesmebab” Quite clever if you turn the B’s around. At least he’s making an effort.

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This picture is the “family” of another student. I think that’s him in the middle, the dominant male. I have no idea who the other people are although the person on the right yielding what looks to be an axe looks a little malicious.

The most enjoyable time of day is just after lunch.  The children line up, class by class and brush their teeth. Since the staff room is on the 3rd floor where the four year old’s hang out, they are who I see most of. It is the funniest thing you’ll ever see. They get toothpaste on their faces, in their hair, on their clothes, they let it fall on the floor and then pick it up and brush their teeth, everything. If they eventually manage to brush their teeth, they “rinse” their mouths with water. This means the water ends up on the mirrors, on the floor, they just drink it, they spit it at each other, they try to talk with the water in their mouths, everything. At the end of it all, most of them have soaked themselves and their clothes have to be changed. Funny times.

You should see what happens when they get to play soccer in gym class. The gym teacher throws the ball to them and they try to kick it. What actually happens is that they just miss the ball and then they can’t figure out where it is so they run in circles looking for it. It cracks me up!

I know I’ve made it out that I work in a jungle or somewhere but we have a lot of fun and despite what I actually think, they do learn English!

 

 

All China Gaelic Games and GAA in Korea

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to join 2 ladies and 14 men from Seoul Gaels in Shanghai to compete in the All China Gaelic Games. Teams from Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Dalian and Seoul, over 200 players from 10 different nationalities took part in the competition.

This was a weekend that showed that GAA in Asia is well and truly alive. I can’t help but wonder if, in 1884, Michael Cusack ever thought that 130 years after the GAA was founded, it would see clubs doing so well in Asia, thousands of miles from Tipperary.

I also think about how we, as Irish people, take GAA for granted. Every parish, village and town has a pitch with proper goals, people who know what Gaelic football is and how it’s played, access to footballs, jerseys, sponsors and trainers.  In Seoul, I see the committee struggle each week to secure a pitch for us to play. Each year, due to the very nature of expat living, there is a huge changeover of players. But despite all the difficulties, clubs continue, training goes on and so starts the dedication to the season and the team.

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Playing here is a little different to how we play back home. Games are 7 minutes a side, 9 players per team. In 30 degree summer heat, 7 minutes is a long time. In Korea, we have our own league with teams, mens and ladies from Seoul, Busan and Daegu. If numbers allow, teams are divided A and B. The league has at least 3 rounds so it provides a great opportunity to improve on fitness and skills between rounds, especially for new players.

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Then, there are Asian competitions like the All China Gaelic Games (ACGG’S), North Asian Gaelic Games (NAGG’s)and the Asian Gaelic Games (AGG’s). For the ACGG’s, only three of us were able to travel from the Seoul ladies team so Shanghai kindly agreed to let us play with one of their teams. This is the perfect example of how attitude is the winning formula for GAA in Asia. There is literally no such thing as “can’t” here. Everyone is welcome regardless of age, nationality or skill set. Everyone is encouraged to come out and get involved regardless of whether they’ve played before or whether they can commit to every tournament or not. It’s that welcoming approach that makes me regret not joining my team sooner. Despite never having met the women from Shanghai before Saturday, they welcomed us as part of their team and by playing with them, we walked away from the tournament having learned a lot that we can bring into the next games with us.

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Our mens team enjoyed exceptional success in Shanghai, losing out on the gold medal by just one point. Two of our players also won All star awards so overall a successful outing.

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It’s not all about the football either. Being part of the team is as much about the craic we have off the pitch as it is about the football itself. The theme for the after party last weekend was “Pirates of the Carribbean” and there were a few strange looks from the other guests in the hotel as pirates walked in and out of the lobby!

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Here in Korea, we’re preparing to host the North Asian Gaelic games this year which we’re really looking forward to. Teams from Japan and China as well as our own Korean teams will travel to take part in the tournament on July 5th.

If you’re interested in getting involved in GAA in Korea, you can contact our clubs;

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

Or for GAA in Asia

http://www.asiancountyboard.com/

Oh to have some relish!

I’ve been in Korea long enough to not miss any food too much but there are some times that I could really go for a bottle of Lucozade or a double decker bar. Or when I’m on the first train home from Seoul on a Sunday morning, I’d love to know that a big fry up was waiting for me at home, but sadly it never is (*sob sob*)

Here are a few of the foods I miss from Ireland:

Relish:Let’s face it. Ssamjang is a fairly poor substitute for relish. Nothing says sandwich like a good spoonful of Ballymaloe Relish. For anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about, you can check it out here. Eat that sandwich with a packet of cheese and onion Taytos and a cup of tea and it’s a perfect meal.

I’m quite partial to relish at the best of times and did bring some back with me at Christmas that I’m rationing but to have a constant supply of relish would be like all my Christmas’ in one.

While stalking the internet looking for relish the other day I found this on the Viking.ie website of all places.  All that relish in one basket……

Clonakilty fry making materials: Burnt sausages, a few rashers, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, brown bread are all the perfect Sunday morning breakfast. Any substitutes are just not the same here…..

Brown Bread: Nothing goes better with a cup of tea than a slice of Mammy Browne’s brown bread. Of course I could and have made it myself but it’s just not the same.

Barry’s Tea: This one technically doesn’t count since you can get Barry’s tea here. There has not been a time in the five years I’ve been here that there hasn’t been a supply of Barry’s in my press. Boxes here are the small ones but I think I could somehow convince someone  to bring me this one………..http://www.vikingdirect.ie/catalog/catalogSku.do?id=0465&cm_cat=2000000361

Double Decker Bars & Curly Wurly’s: Double Decker bars and curly wurly’s eaten straight out of the fridge are perfection.  Other Asian countries stock Cadbury’s so whenever I’m on holidays, naturally I stock up on such items, tell myself I’ll ration them out but then have 75% eaten by the time I land in Incheon.

Cheese: Some mature dark cheddar from Kilmeaden is exactly what Emart needs to start selling. Cheese here doesn’t even come close to what it is back home.

Coleslaw: Here’s a random one. Coleslaw from Supervalu Roscrea is my favourite by a very long mile. It’s perfect and my attempts to replicate it have failed miserably. I got “coleslaw” with a meal I bought here once and what I got was nothing more than a dob of mayonnaise and a piece of cabbage. Imagine a sandwich with Bernie’s coleslaw and Ballymaloe relish. Since I try to keep things going to Tipperary and Roscrea in particular, here’s a link to their Facebook page

Fizzy Drinks: Or “minerals” as they are sometimes referred to in Ireland.  As mentioned above, there are times when you would just love to have a bottle of Lucozade or some club orange. So delicious, it deserves a picture;

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If anyone should so feel the need to buy and send me one of these, I would be your friend forever. In the meantime, I’ll continue eating this poor excuse of a sandwich while sobbing quietly in the corner……………..

The dentist.

I hate the dentist. The very thought of going there makes my palms sweaty and my stomach turn. I don’t even know why. I’ve never had a particularly bad experience at the dentist but as soon as the word is mentioned I feel slightly sick.

In Ireland, the dentist, like the doctor were only places you went when you actually, desperately had to. Not exactly a great way to be but each to their own.

These days, in the state of being an actual “grown up”, I’ve had to be more pro active about such things so I’ve been to the dentist a few times.  I used to use a dentist in Paju but it didn’t get the most positive reviews from my other friends and nobody spoke English there so I decided to try somewhere new.  .

Yesterday, I went to a place called Star 28 in Ilsan, La Festa.  My friend Ian recommended it to me as they could communicate in English. After getting terrifically lost (how many 5th floors can there be?), I eventually found it and what greeted me when I walked in was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The waiting room had  huge couches, tables and chairs, a computer and magazines to keep you going while you were waiting. The receptionist signed you in and had you filling out the forms as if you were simply buying a new pair of shoes. After waiting there for a while, they could have pulled all my teeth and I wouldn’t have cared.

Eventually I had to see the actual dentist. They brought me to a private room and took some pictures of my teeth. Small talk was had before the nurse explained a little about what they needed to do. I must note here that she told me in Korean and for the most part I understood. In fairness to her, when I didn’t understand she just phrased it differently so I did.

The dentist then came to do his own examination and then we sat and had a great conversation (in English) about what he was going to do. Then the nurse took over and told me how much it would cost, how I didn’t have to pay it in one go and how it would maybe take two visits. She then finished by telling me that I needed some scaling but because I have National health insurance, it was free.

The regular filling was 70,000won (48euros) and the more advanced work was going to cost me 100,000w.(70 euros) I really wanted to say “that’s it? 170,000 won (118 euros)?

Worst thing about the experience is that when you’re having your work done, they put a cloth over your eyes so you can’t actually see what’s happening. In some ways, it’s a good thing and in others it’s bad. To hear the drill or whatever freaks me out but I just practiced some reels in my head so it was all over before I knew it. And painless. I went home and did my usual run before eating dinner.

I have one more appointment next week and now I’m not so terrified so I’ll happily go in and keep my smile smiley and leave knowing that I’ll still have money in my wallet!

7 ways a Korean Apartment is different to an Irish one.

Disclaimer: This isn’t the same for all apartments. Some are fancy but some are like the ones I describe.

1. Door Keys; “What does your door key look like?” they said. “I don’t have a key” I said. Instead I have a key pad with a security code.

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2. Shoe Area: You must take off your shoes before entering a Korean home.  It’s just how it is.

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3. Radiators; What radiators? We only have underfloor heating in Korea. I didn’t want to take a picture of the floor so I took a picture of the heating thing.

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4. The washing machines. Washing machines here are so big. And randomly you put the clothes in from the top.

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5. The wardrobe; Some people actually have wardrobes to be fair. But I don’t (sob sob). I have a rail where I just hang my clothes. Same same but different.

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6. The oven. A dissapointing one here. There are no ovens in smaller apartments in Korea. I have a convention oven.

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7. The shower: The shower is usually not seperated from the sink. It’s all in one. Just stand there and take a shower.

wpid-20140223_184942.jpgAdded bonus; The super fancy toilet seat that came with my apartment. Actually, I don’t know any other foreigner with the fancy toilet seat. It’s super fancy, heated, sprays wind and water and you can spend many happy hours on a long sitting, dropping the matter playing around with the seat.

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A few thoughts on my Christmas in Ireland.

Like most expats my age, I ask myself the same questions every September, “Where will I go for Christmas?” The past few winter breaks have been spent swaning around South East Asia in the sunshine so Ireland, with its mild, rainy weather wasn’t too high on the list. The same thing happens to me in May as summer holidays are planned and again the same problem arises. With so many countries within reach, both financially and time wise, I came to the horrifying realisation that it had been almost 3 years since I returned to the Emerald Isle.

This September, there was only one answer to my annual question, I had to go home. There was no reason for me avoiding it, I have a great family, great friends and there’s no place like home, I guess I was just fulfilling a desire to see as much of the world as I could while I had the chance.  While three years is not a long time, it’s long enough to hear the talks of the “state of the country” the lack of jobs, to read the frightening emigration statistics, and to realise that most people I went to school and university with were no longer in the country. So with all this in mind, I had worked myself into a flurry of doubt about whether or not I would know anyone in my area, if it would all be sadness and misery, the effect the recession had on my own family and community and if what made Ireland Ireland would still be there. I arrived back on a stormy, wet, miserable Friday afternoon which made me want to get back on the plane and go to Thailand but knowing that my father and sister were outside, I stayed. When I arrived home 3 hours later, the first realisation dawned on me. Nothing had changed. Nothing. Everything and everyone was exactly the same but a little older. Even my grandfather was sitting in the same chair I had left him sitting in 3 years earlier. It was like walking back in time. My kitchen still smelled like mum’s brown bread, there were fresh apple tarts on the counter, the Roses tin was a mix of actual roses and other random sweets and as usual, the kettle was on. My family all came round and were all still the same but of course, older.The only absence was my grandmother who passed away shortly after I moved to Korea a few years ago. I was particularly surprised by how much my little cousins had grown. The smaller ones had very little recollection of who I actually was but that’s what happens when you leave when they’re very young. I was astonishing to see them play music, play 7’s, read books and play video games when they could barely talk the last time I saw them.  I couldn’t stop them talking this time! I kept complimenting them on how great their English was! cousins Living in a country where open space is in short supply and the building are all high-rise with flashing lights,  it was a welcome change to be able to put on a pair of wellies and walk for hours through the acres and acres of farmland that surrounds my house. It was on one of these walks that I realised how lonely it can be. You might not meet one person from one end of your walk to the other and to imagine that this is the reality of rural Irish everyday was a scary thought. The whole place seems to have emptied of people. Farm Shauna house Music was the other absolute must on my Ireland bucketlist. Playing music with people who have been playing Irish music their whole lives is the single greatest thing I miss about living in Korea.  It’s slightly shameful that I only learned one reel during my week at home but it was such a delight to have a session in my house. While I play here in Korea, there is nothing like playing with people who have been playing forever. It was so lovely to see how they all communicated in a non verbal way with each other and played different variations to tunes and so on. Here’s  a video from the house session; House session Honestly, I thought that the standard of Irish music was a lot higher than I remember it when I last went to Ireland. My little cousin played a reel on her whistle that almost made me cry. To be able to play reels like that at 8 makes me wonder what she’ll play for me on my next trip home. One of my neighbour’s children sang a medley of songs with his guitar (that he had only been learning for 7 weeks) in a pitch that would put most people to shame. The sound of two concertinas met me when I visited another neighbour in a house where the mother and both of the children play music. Even my own mother, gave me a few tunes on the concertina one morning. This is the same woman who gave my sisters and I every musical opportunity while we were growing up and only took up music when we started to move out.  It seemed like everyone I met was somehow involved in the Irish culture whether it was the music, dance or GAA and I guess it’s a positive effect of an economic downturn. gingergathering Any worries I had about not recognising anyone were unfounded as the familiar faces of the past greeted me with a ” you’re the one in Korea, right?” Everyone was interested as to what life was like in Korea, how the weather was, how my job was going, how the music was going. The local town, however, was deathly quiet, the businesses I once knew either downsized or not in existence. People of my age were simply not around but those who were had good jobs and were doing really well. People in general seemed more friendly than I remembered and Dad put it down to the fact that when you lose everything you start to remember the important things like being nice. I can’t say for sure. Even though there really is no place like home and I enjoyed my time immensely, I must admit I was glad to come back to Korea. I had forgotten how laid back it is in Ireland and found myself unable to go without doing something for 5 minutes. The life there was so quiet that it was comforting to know that I was returning to a job and a great circle of friends. Hopefully it won’t be as long before I return home again. mumanddad family22