My Ireland bucketlist

It’s been almost 3 years since I’ve been home in Ireland.  Now, I have a week in Ireland to do everything.So I made a list,

  • Eat potatoes with a good lashing of creamery butter everyday
  • Eat Mammy Brownes brown bread and possibly learn to actually make it.
  • Eat anything else that Mammy Browne made, apple tart, buns, scones, anything and everything.
  • For snacks eat Taytos, Cadburys, Roses and anything else that may be lying around the house.
  • For an additional snack, eat some proper cheese.
  • Drink Lucozade like it’s going out of fashion.
  • Learn at least one new tune from Kathryn and play music until Mum gets angry with us.
  • Go to Mass  and have that conversation about the homily and the priest and the crowd with anyone who wasn’t there.
  • Say the rosary with Grandad (random, I know, but it’s the small things in life).
  • Put on my wellies, go outside, walk around and pretend to herd the cattle or sheep.
  • Prepare suitable phrases for Dad that I did a good job on the herding.
  • Be a gap stopper for a few hours.
  • Play a session in a small pub.
  • Meet all my friends and neighbours.
  • Meet my aunts, uncles and cousins and catch up on anything I’ve missed.
  • Spend as much time as possible with Mum, Dad and Kathryn.
  • Do the shopping in Dunnes Stores.
  • Go to the Mc Donalds drive through in Roscrea with Kathryn ( it’s a long story).
  • Take a million pictures and threaten to make a powerpoint presentation as my present to my friends in Korea. Day 1……..
  • Tell stories that start with “When I was in Korea…….” with Alexa and Ali.
  • Do a few tourist things with Ali, Alexa and Kathryn.
  • Find my old hurl and bring it back to Korea.
  • Buy loads of nice things to bring back to Korea.
  • Drive “my car” around the yard.
  • Play cards.
  • Count in the New Year with my family.
  • Buy storybooks on Irish folk tales so I can read them to my students.
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My 10 favourite things to do in Korea.

Someone asked me what my favourite things to do in Korea were.  I have a lot of favourite things to do so I narrowed them down to 10. Before we read, I think we should listen to Julie Andrews and her favourite things, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_PjaKkmTgQ

My list isn’t half as interesting as Wild Geese that fly with the moon on their wings but here it is anyway;

1. Drink tea with my friends; Monday to Friday is a haze of school and study and randomness so when the opportunity arrives to sit down, drink tea and have a laugh, I take it.  I have so many great memories that have stemmed from all of us in one apartment drinking tea and having the craic. Since your friends are your family here and thankfully I’ve got some great friends, tea time is a great catch up time.  As you can see in the picture, you never really know what’s going to happen at tea time……….

teatime

2. Play at a session; I love to play to my walls and I’m sure my walls appreciate it but there’s nothing like playing with real people. Having a few pints, a bit of craic and playing a few tunes is the most ideal way to spend any Sunday afternoon.

session

3. Be a  tourist; There are loads of places I’ve never been to in Korea. I love nothing more than heading off to some museum, exhibition or random city, getting lost, play the tourist and encourage the people to practice their English. ” This picture was taken at Chuseok when we all headed over to Paju Samneung to check out the tombs. Just us and our cameras and Spuddy.

Tourist

4. Fly Kites in Imjingak; Imjingak is an area with a park right before the border with the North. Tours to the DMZ usually stop there are there are interesting things to see like the North and stuff but the park there is fantastical. It’s a giant  green area with a stage, some statues and it’s an ideal place to pass a day. It’s an even better place to fly kites. My friends and I went there recently on our day off and spent a wonderful afternoon picnicking and listening to the free concert. No kites in the pictures below I’m afraid but we look like we’re having a great time anyway.

iMJINGAK INJIN

5. Eat Galbi; Has anyone ever noticed that the most epic conversations always start over some delicious Galbi? Delicious meat, lots of side dishes, good people, random conversations. Galbi is where it’s all at. The picture below is as close to a Galbi picture as I could find.

Galbi

6. Sing at the Norebang; I don’t know one person who doesn’t love the Norebang. Actually, I do, I just choose to ignore them (more singing time for me!) A night out is never really over until you’ve hit the Norebang. Cheap, cheerful, you can play the tambourines, dance, sing. You can sing in English, you can sing in Korean or Japanese or just play the tambourine. If you are at a luxury Norebang you can eat the snacks. Good times. I’d like to thank Cindy or Leana or whichever friend took this photo of our last trip to the Norebang.

norebang

7. Go to the cinema. For everyone who asks, yes the movies are in English. Well the foreign ones are. Apart from all that delicious popcorn in all those flavours, the thing I love best is being the only foreigners in the theatre. It’s 50 or so Koreans and 5 expats and you can tell because only we get the jokes (I guess they don’t translate well) so while we’re falling around laughing, the Koreans are laughing at us laughing.

8. Have random conversations; I’m not one for talking to strangers but sometimes you just can’t help it. You’re sitting on the subway and suddenly the person next to you wants to practice their English. I’ve spoken to some great characters. The adjummas who think I’d be a great match for their son, the old guys who tell you stories of the war, the adjusshis who are a little disappointed that you’re from Ireland and not somewhere they’ve actually heard of, the other adjussis who actually know loads about Ireland. The list goes on. Good times. Like the guy below. I met him in Malaysia, he was all over the red hair. Shame he knew nothing about “Iceland”

chinese man

9. Learning Korean; I do complain about having to memorise all the vocab and grammar and so on but learning Korean is a hoot. Koreans are so shocked that you can say 안녕하세요, Wow amazing! I said hello. Imagine that!  After 4 years, I can say hello. For my next trick I can speak an entire sentence.  When I do my homework on the subway, Koreans will chime in when I make a mistake making it look like I magically got all the answers right all by myself. More good times. No pictures because I actually study as opposed to taking pictures of my books and posting them on FB.

10.  Bombing around in Spuddy. I simply adore my car. Not because it’s a Porshe or anything just because it’s mine and it fits everywhere. Honestly, you could lift it up and bring it inside it’s so small. In fairness to Spuddy it’s deceiving big. On the last road trip to Daegu we fit 4 adults, 3 overnight bags, a harp, a whistle, a concertina, a bodhran in there.  That whistle really took up all the space……

spufdy

I also get a 50% discount because I drive an awesome yellow car ( or because it’s a 경자). Whatever,  my reason is better.  AND it’s yellow so I can find it in that sea of monochrome. Win win right there.

Then there’s Norecar. In the morning on the way to school, I throw turn on some music and just sing as I drive. Great times. (for me, not for anyone who may be unfortunate enough to hear me!)

If you live in Korea, let me know if there’s anything you would add to the list. Otherwise, leave your comments below!

A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

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This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

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The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

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What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

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Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

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North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/

10 things I couldn’t live without in Korea.

It always amazes me how people who haven’t been to Korea assume that we have no internet and that I live in some random village in the back of beyonds where people don’t talk to me and I have no friends.  Well, that’s totally not the case.  Everything anyone needs in life can be found here, so here’s the top 10 things I couldn’t live without;

1. T-money card– Otherwise know as your trasportation card.  You just top it up with money and away you go.  You can use it on subways and buses and in Seoul, taxis.  Since I don’t have a car (yet) I use this ever day to go and come home from school.  So easy to use and they come as a charm so you can attach it to your phone or keys (see picture).

2. Laptop– Korea has some of the fastest internet in the world.  If I didnt have my laptop, I literally couldnt survive.  Of course, I could also use a P.C. Bang in an absolute emergency but it’s all about the laptop for me…………

3. A.R.C.- or Alien Registration Card.  The card you get when you arrive and you need it for everything, get a phone, bank account, doctors etc…..so I couldn’t live without mine.

4. Transportation; The transportation system here is the business.  The buses always run on time, theres several buses going the same direction so always a choice.  Subway is the same, clean, effective, sometimes a little crowded but what can you do????????

5.  Barry’s Tea & my kettle:  A ridiculous reason but I couldn’t live in Korea if I couldn’t drink tea.  What would be the point???? What would I offer people who came over??????? What would I drink in the morning????? or the afternoon?????or at night??????? or in the early morning after a few drinks????????????

6.  Phone– I love my phone. It keeps me up to date any time any place. I can check emails, tweet about ridiculous stuff, check facebook, use Google maps to make me not so lost…  And it makes phone calls……..

7. I-pod: All those mornings, I miss the bus and have to wait 10 minutes would be so boring if I hadn’t my I-pod.  The headphones also serve as a people deterant.  If theres someone you’d rather not talk to, simply put in your headphones and guaranteed they won’t come near you.

8. Bank: This one is a bit random but I couldn’t live here if I didn’t have my bank account.  I mean, ok, I could keep my money in my apartment (or spend it as fast as I could) but how would I send it home? Not having a bank account would only encourage me to spend every penny.  And not only that but sending my money to Ireland is sooooooooo easy.  And I enjoy the process. Unlike Ireland, the system in the bank is excellent.  Get a ticket for the area you want (regular teller, money exchange), go to that section and wait for your number to be called.  And the people in the bank are so great, they bring you the forms in advance to as to save time late, put your umbrella in plastic, offer you coffee while you wait and then they find some randomer who speaks English to serve you, should Korean be an inconvienence.  Excellent…….

9. 02-1330- Tourist Information Line– No one understands how great this number is.  It’s the magic number and the woman is the magic woman (although I’m fairly sure it’s different women but whatever).  So if you need to know anything remotely touristy in Seoul, just call and ask and they’ll tell you.  Seriously, you have no idea how brilliant it is…….. 

10. Jihachul app– Actually I don’t know how to spell 지하철 in English, sorry, but it’s this amazing app of the subways in Korea.  You simply choose the stop you leave from and the stop you’re going to and it calculates the fastest way/ fewest transfers/ how long it’ll take EVERYTHING! It’s in English so the days of getting on the wrong subway are well and truly over.