Get involved with Irish music in Seoul!

Lately, I’ve had a lot of messages and emails from people interested in getting involved in Irish music in Seoul. I definitely won’t complain about this. It’s great to see the progress that Irish music is making here. When I started playing in Seoul, we were hard set to find a place that would hold a session. Now, we literally don’t have enough time or people to keep up with the demand.

If you play Irish music, sing or dance, you’re always welcome at one of the many sessions that happen in and around Seoul. Your first port of call should be the “Irish music in Korea” Facebook page. Request to join the group and then you’ll be up to date on the sessions that are happening.

Generally, every second Friday night, there is the Tulip Session in Myeongdong.

tulip

Once a month, we have a session in Dublin Terrace in Gangnam.

DT

Finally, we have the weekly Sunday Session in the Wolfhound Bar in Itaewon. It starts around 4pm and ends around 8pm. This is my favourite session for so many reasons. Some of the best sessions I’ve ever had were in the Wolfhound.

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As with the nature of these sessions, we do extra sessions, we do less depending on the time of year and so on. If you have any questions about Irish music in Korea, feel free to email me or go to this website http://www.ceoltoirisoul.com/

*This information was correct at time of posting (June 2015)

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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

Korea- 4 years on

This week marks my four-year anniversary in Korea. I can still remember the day I landed in Incheon as if it was yesterday. I remember exactly what I was wearing. How the cleanliness of the terminal impressed me, meeting my recruiter, being terrified in the car because we were driving on the “wrong” side and going to school where the children thought I was a man!

I’d love to know what my co teachers thought of me that first day. Back then I had super short hair and was paler than I am now. That first night, the other foreign teachers, Michelle and Garrett let me off with staying in but from the second night, we were out and about. And I mean “we” since I had to be escorted to and from everywhere because everything looked the same to me! After two weeks though, I had gotten the swing of things and was let out solo.

The finest piece of advice I heard in those first few weeks was from Nathan, who was part of the Geumchon Crew and still a good friend. On the train to Seoul he said that when you come to Korea you only have 52 weekends to see and do everything so any weekend you don’t go out and do something is wasted time. During that first year, my friends and I hit up all the big museums, events,festivals and did a few foreign trips for the long weekends.

The learning curve that first year was incredible. Before then I had never taught in a classroom, let alone taught English to Korean children. I’d never been to Asia before coming here and I’d never lived quite so far away from home before. But after the initial “what am I doing here” shock, life just fell into place like it would anywhere else.

When I left for Korea, my mission was to let my hair grow long. Here’s how that worked out over the years…..

This is us at our co teachers wedding a few weeks after I arrived.

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                        This is when I visited my sister after my first contract.

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                                            Beginning of my second contract.

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Now

heli bar

What have I learned?

A good attitude is half the battle. Not every day is going to be sunshine and roses so don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask for help if you need it. In relation to teaching, over prepare, then just go with the flow. These days, teaching is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Not every student is going to get it. Revel in the small achievements of your students. Don’t take it too seriously, remember somewhere in the chaos to have a bit of fun.   Your friends are your family here so make sure you have some good ones. Take opportunities no matter how small they seem and just do things. Don’t over think things.

Am I the same person?

Being here has changed how I think about things. I’m more open to new ideas and ways of doing things now. I question more now that I’ve been here. Travelling has made me slightly braver than I used to be. Now, I’m more willing to accept mistakes and take risks.

Regrets?

I try my hardest in life not to have regrets. If I were to do something differently, I would have bought my car earlier. That car has made everything so much easier for me. I would have also started seriously studying Korean earlier. I only started to really study after about 2 years and now it’s only so so for someone who has been around for four years. But, I’m studying hard now and I guess that’s what counts. Other than that, I would have done everything else the exact same.

Highlights?

The people I’ve met. I have some of the best friends anyone could ask for. I’ve met loads of interesting characters along the way and hopefully that will continue. The places I’ve seen. Climbing the Great Wall and trekking across the Gobi have got to be on the top of the memories from travelling. The things I’ve achieved that I never thought I would (car, driver’s licence, TOPIK, being in a band).

Stay or go?

Stay, at least for another year. I’ve just signed a new contract at my school and things in my life in general are going well. I’m playing lots of Irish music, I play in a World music band,  I have lots of friends, good social life. I have it on good authority that someone I’m related to might be joining me here in the next few months. I still haven’t gone to all the countries I want to go to. Honestly, right now I have no real interest in going home or going anywhere else. I’ve invested a lot in learning Korean and building up a life here so I’d like to take that a little further if I could.

Advice for anyone who wants to come over? 

In ten years, it’s the things you don’t do that you’ll regret, not the things you do. If you want to come to Asia and teach, travel, have an adventure, just do it. It’s not going to fantastic everyday but most days will be pretty good. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of by challenging yourself to do something like this. You meet loads of people who you wouldn’t have otherwise met and it gives you an opportunity to do things differently.  Bring a good attitude and look at it as the start of a new adventure.

Kuala Lumpur- A flight, hostel and a sense of adventure.

“My favorite thing to do is go where I’ve never been”- Diane Arbus

I had only a cheap flight, a hostel booking and my backpack. The few weeks before the trip were packed full of school stuff, music and between this and that, I hadn’t made any solid plans other than playing music at a session there.

Arriving on Saturday at low cost carrier terminal (as opposed to KLIA, the international airport), I found the transport to the city plentiful and cheap. An hour later I was checking in at my amazing hostel, POD’s which is a very short walk to KL Sentral.

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The sessions was organised for Sunday in a suburb of KL. Arriving slightly early, I found the opportunity to explore this most random suburb, take some pictures and eventually rest with a pint.

desa sri 2 Desa sri hart

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to the session. In Korea, it’s a very casual thing but this was no longer my territory so I was slightly nervous about the whole thing. But any excuse for a few tunes so off I went. And what a great afternoon I had. Cher Ly (the organizer) was well organised, knew lots of tunes and the native musicians seemed to know each other very well in general. Surprisingly though, it was their first session so it was quite a privilege for me to be there and enjoy some tunes with some excellent, top class musicians.

the musiciansThat was as far as my plan went. When I woke up Monday morning, I had nothing to do and 5 days to do it!  Off to the travel office to collect a map, a guide-book and clearly the towers were right up there on the top of my list.

I don’t know what to say about the towers. Super easy to find, I literally couldn’t stop looking at them! They are incredible. You can go to the sky bridge but it costs something like 80 ringgit to go there and you only go about half way up.

tower1 towers

I did go to the top of KL Tower though. KL tower is a little more difficult to find. It’s a nice walk from the nearest monorail station but as long as you follow the other foreigners you’ll be ok! It’s only 45 ringgit to go to the top but unfortunately it was a little hazy when I went up.

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The area around the old Kuala Lumpur railway station has loads of interesting sites. The station itself is a really beautiful building, just across the road from the KTM building.  Also in that area is the National Mosque of Malaysia, Islamic Arts museum, a park, largest fly in aviary in the world, a planetarium, butterfly park, deer park, lake park so it’s a great place to spend the day.

mosque old railway

Of all the things I did in KL, Batu Caves was my highlight.  A popular place to visit, the caves are served by their own Kommuter station which costs just 1 ringgit! Better is that the caves are literally right outside the station.  It takes about 2-3 hours to do this and I recommend you do it in the afternoon when its a little cooler. The statue is impressive and the steps, there are just so many steps. They go on forever. I read that if you reach the top, you’ll be absolved of your sins. Worth it so.

Batu Caves

Watch out for the monkeys. There are so many animals here, it could well be a zoo. The birds, monkeys, chickens, all just having a great time. The monkeys will grab your stuff so be careful with your possessions. Best part of the trip was seeing the monkey open the bottle that a guy threw him. Such a simple thing but honestly I was so impressed! You can see the video on my Facebook page……..https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151557401343016&notif_t=like

Apart from the many tourist things, the shopping in KL is amazing. It takes a lot to impress me shopping wise but KL is a shoppers heaven. Under the towers is Suria mall which could keep you busy for an entire day. Also there is Pavilion, Farenheit, Central Market and Chinatown.

Overall, it wasn’t the things I saw or did, it was the people I met along the way that made the trip. POD’s attracts a really great crowd and everyone in my dorm was so open and chatty and we spent lots of time sharing stories and experiences and the like. Or the guy on the subway who decked me as Irish and spent the journey giving me food tips and inquiring about Ireland. The people I played music with, the people I met in the street, all amazing characters who made my adventure memorable. This is me and a Chinese guy who asked me for a picture at the Batu caves!

chinese man

Tip: The week before I went, my friend Janet (http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/) had been to KL and told me about Heli bar. It’s a bar on a helipad on the 36th floor of the Merara building. Summoning up my courage, I headed out for a drink, not entirely sure I would find it. Luckily enough, it’s super easy to find and the view from the top is amazing. For 20 ringgit (drink), you can sit up top and enjoy an unrestricted view of the city. It’s a much better spend than the sky bridge or the KL Tower.

heli bar heli drink heli3

Will I go back? Definitely and next time I’ll go further than KL. If you have any questions, just ask in the comments below!

Every family should visit you abroad.

When I share stories about my life here with other people, most of the time they don’t understand. It’s not their fault. They’ve usually never been here and don’t understand the culture or the way of life  so the significance sometimes gets lost.  If someone back home were to look at my Facebook page for example, they might be lead to the conclusion that I spend my time travelling, playing music, sharing funny stories about my students and socializing. I’ve spent every Skype call for the past four years reassuring my family that I am indeed doing alright. I have a job, money, accommodation, friends, a life. They’ve spent four years asking questions, “what do you do out there?, when are you coming home?, what’s the food like?, hows the weather?, what do you do at the weekend?, do you ever get a holiday? is it not dangerous so close to the North?”. The questions go on and on and sometimes I do well answering them but most of the time I don’t. It’s something you must experience.

Before I left for Korea in 2009, the final words my mother said to me in Dublin Airport were “Shauna, if I think you’re going to stay a long time, I’ll come to visit”. I’m not exactly sure if she had an exact timeframe in mind when she said that, but I guess four years is it. A few weeks ago, my sister told me of their big plan to come out here. My mum and older sister are now halfway through a two-week visit and I can honestly say, it’s the best thing they could have done.

The things that I take for granted are such novelties for them. The first day they walked into my apartment, my sister asked where my keys were as she watched in fascination as I entered my door code.  The idea that I can actually read and converse in Korean is a novelty and they are thinking of ways to get my gas range back to Ireland.  My mum calls my phone addiction “networking” and my sister hides her iPhone minus 1 for fear of ridicule from Koreans.(Honestly, I don’t know what version it even is but I haven’t seen it in Korea EVER). The giant screens, the technology in the subway stations, buses and everywhere else is so fascinating. High rise apartment buildings and shops that are on a floor other than the ground floor are possibly the most greatest fun.

Of all the things they’ve done and seen, I think what surprised them the most was how strong Irish culture is here. We organised a session in Seoul for our visitors (my family and my friends family) and Mum couldn’t stop talking about how great the Korean musicians were. I’ve spent over three years telling her but it was only after she heard us playing that she understood.  We’re also heading to a ceili on Saturday night and I think that it’ll be this experience that Mum will take home with her. When Mum asks me how I know people, I mention the Seoul Geals and she’s even more astonished that there’s sport as well as music/dancing. Now she understands that although we look in pictures like we’re enjoying ourselves at Irish events, we also put in the hard work to make them happen. She wouldn’t have understood had she not come here and seen it for herself.

Coming to Korea and indeed to Paju has gone a long way to showing them that living close to North Korea doesn’t mean anything in day-to-day living.  Every time North Korea pop up in the news, people at home gain images of military swarming the area and checkpoints and all kinds of tension and so on.  They now see the reality that life here is  safe and actually a little boring, not at all living up to the images they had conjured up.

This week, I have their schedule jam-packed with lunches and dinners with my friends to make sure they meet every one of significance. Putting faces to the names that I talk about and seeing a bit of the personality behind those names is great. Whenever I’ve had a problem in Korea, although Mum gives great advice, it’s these friends that have been there to help me out of it.  For my real family to see my Korean family brings with it a certain knowledge and comfort that I’m far from alone out here.

Most of all this trip reinforces the idea that this isn’t just an extended holiday I’m on. I have a real job, real responsibilities and a real life. So many times, when North Korea pops up in the news or something bad happens, we all get the emails to just “come home”. Now, my family see that dropping everything and heading back to Ireland isn’t all that easy.

Living abroad, it’s always great to return to the comforts of home for a visit and share the stories of your travels. Having your family walk a mile in your shoes, however, is the best way to help them understand how you live your new life, how you made this life what it is and what keeps you where you are.

Fmily and friends

What TO bring to korea

Now that you know what NOT to bring, here are some ideas on what to bring;

1.Adaptor; I can’t tell you how many people I meet who completely forget to pack adaptor when they come. It’s an easy thing to forget but pack 1 or 2 international adaptors. If you’re American you’ll also need a surge protector which can be bought here.

2. Bath Towels; For some strange reason, Koreans don’t use big bath towels like we do. So it’s worth it to bring 2 of the biggest towels you can find with you. The smaller sizes you can buy here.

3. Swimsuit; Korea isn’t exactly known for its beaches but whether you go to a water park or Busan or just the pool, you’ll need a swimsuit.

4. Work Clothes & Shoes & underwear; Check what the dress code is like at your workplace. If it’s smart then bring enough work clothes from home. We don’t have Dunnes Stores or Pennys here so it’ll be worth it. If you’ve got larger feet, bring enough shoes for every occasion, summer, pair of boots for winter, school shoes, indoor shoes, going out shoes. If you’ve got an unusual bra size you should bring enough with you when you come. Same with regular underwear. You can get it here of course but it’s just not the same…….

5. Brown Mascara & other beauty products; It is very difficult to find brown mascara in Korea so if you use it, bring it with you. If you have colored hair and use a special shampoo, you might want to bring this with you also. The water here can strip your color easily.
For the men, good quality shaving products like aftershave. There is a poor variety here and they are expensive. For the women,quality perfume. If you wear Viktor and Rolf, YSL Cinema or anything other than Chanel, Dior, Burberry or a few other big names, bring it with you. And deodorant. Yes you can get spray deodorant here but its a good idea to bring stick with you because that’s harder to find (but still available) Either way a bring enough to last you a while.
The last thing is Colgate. You can get it here but so many people responded on my Facebook post by saying you should bring it. A happy medium is to bring one or 2 tubes of Colgate toothpaste with you and buy it here when it runs out.

6. Things from home; Everyone has a bad day here. It happens. It’s a good idea to bring a few pictures or something from home that you love.

                                                       bad_day

7. Food and Drink; The all important one. Remember all food and drink only lasts as long as it takes you to eat them. Might be a good idea to bring seeds for herbs, Colmans mustard, Lea and Perrins, chilli powder. Cadbury’s chocolate to keep you going for the first while. And of course Barry’s Tea. You can never have too many tea bags. But remember chocolate and tea and technically all foodstuffs can be sent over easily so don’t take up too much room packing food! Also stock up on duty free liquor like Jameson and the like, only the major brands can be found here.

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8.  Musical /sporting goods; If you’re Irish and you play music, you should bring your instrument.  Irish music is getting stronger in Seoul so there’s no reason not to keep playing. That goes for other musicians also.   Same goes with sports.  If you play gaelic or hurling bring your gear with you so you can continue to play in Korea.

9. A good attitude; Coming to Korea isn’t going to be a walk in the park everyday. Life is different here.  Come with a good attitude and an open mind and it’ll make things easier.  Even the most random experiences here are all part of the adventure…………..

As ever a huge thanks to everyone who helped contribute to this post via my facebook page.