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.

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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)

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.

pods

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.

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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!

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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.

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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