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

How do expats spend Christmas?

Have you ever wondered how expats spend Christmas? I asked some of my expat friends the same question and there is what they came up with.

Janet1Janet Newenham;  Cork woman, blogger and the person with the  most jet set lifestyle I know. This Christmas she will be spending Christmas day in 3 airports, Seoul, Shanghai, Phnom Penh. She will then spend her vacation in Cambodia. As if we’re not all jealous enough, I just heard that she’s also going to the Phillipines in January.   You can catch up on all her adventures by reading her blog http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/.


Stephanie Anglemyer; Photographer, blogger and one of the busiest people I know in Korea. She will spend Christmas Eve in her friend’s house here in Korea. Then, Christmas day, she will be tuning into Skype where she has an annual tradition of watching her Dad’s Christmas  Eve service. Stephanie is a really talented photographer and you can check out her blog here, http://www.anklebiterphotos.com/author/stephangle/

DanDan Berry; You can always find Dan in the midst of an Irish music session here in Korea. Dan is a volunteer with ARK (Animal Rescue Korea) and is originally from Canada.  This year, he’s spending Christmas in his new apartment, taking care of his “eejit canines”, chillaxing and having a few pints.


Conor O’Reilly; I’ll be here all day if I’m going to describe Conor so I’ll  try to keep it brief. Irishman, husband, new father, poet, writer, blogger, avid photographer. This year Conor, his wife Jin Won and their daughter Claire are heading to Thailand for 2 months. That’s the longest Christmas vacation I’ve ever heard of.  You can catch up with Conor and his thoughts on his blog, http://ifihadaminutetospare.com/ (the photo was taken by Tom Coyner. http://seoulman.smugmug.com/)

JessJess Plotnik; What can I say about Jess? Canadian, great craic, always laughing and having a great time, a little accident prone. Jess will spend Christmas day at a pot luck in a friend’s house in Gimpo, “a tradition I like to think I started in Gimpo”.


Ian Scheideberg; Ian is an avid poet and writer. I’ve known Ian for most of the time I’ve been in Korea and we always have great old craic. You’ll never be short of conversation when you hang around with Ian.  This Christmas, Ian will be in Taiwan for 2 weeks.


Eoin Kennedy; Eoin is my cousin. When we were children, we would always see each other at Christmas. This year however, Eoin is working  and living in Canada. So he will spend Christmas day working and then enjoying Christmas dinner with his boss and his boss’ family


Majella Browne; It is no coincidence that she shares the same surname as me, she’s my sister. Majella has been living in Spain for the past number of years but this Christmas is her last one in Spain as she’s moving to Korea on December 31st!


If you want to add your Christmas plans to those above, just leave a comment below!

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!

The importance of travelling.

There have been a lot of new arrivals,recently, in to our little group in Paju.  Some of these new arrivals, take the adjustment to Korean life really well.  Others,  not so well.  As I get to know them, a common link appears.  Those who do really well here and settle in well have travelled before. Those who require the hand holding and the guiding have never travelled outside of their home countries. 

To hang out with these people makes for a very entertaining night.  At a social gathering, the ones who have travelled will show up and despite not knowing anyone, will mingle and introduce themselves and talk about everything. Those who have never travelled, tend to wait on the sidelines and expect people to come over and talk to them.   And when they do, the conversation tends to be limited.  The Paddy no travellers tend to find it harder to trust and form friendships.  If you tell them something, they’ll ask 5 other people the same question just to make sure that what you told them is true. 

They also tend to spend their time continuing to live their lives as if at home.  They consistently skype, moan about how much they miss their home comforts and see returning home for vacation as a good idea. 

Paddy I’ve travelled are much more adventurous people.  While they maintain a relationship with those at home, they always tend to travel Asia for vacation time and are more “go with the flow” people, their easier to hang out with and will laugh at their mistakes rather than panicking about them. 

I once went on a vacation with a person who hadn’t travelled and a person who had.  It was a 4 day vacation.  I can say that we spent a great deal of the time on that vacation looking out for the person who hadn’t travelled.  They just weren’t able to handle themselves.  Constantly leaving their things unattended, wandering off without a word, depending on us for every little thing, not thinking for themselves.   It was a complete nightmare. 

All these things, for me, go back to travelling.  When you travel, you instinctively learn how to do things.  If you get lost, you get yourself unlost.  You know how to take care of yourself in a foreign situation, how to take care of your stuff and it gives you a certain independence and confidence.  Travelling and experiencing something different also makes you think differently.  I can’t really explain this, I just know that it’s there.  When you see other cultures and experience completely alternative ways of life, then that experience makes you change your thinking in a certain way.  Travelling makes you open yourself up to new ideas and gives you the opportunity to learn.

Of course, I’m not saying this as a criticism, merely an observation. I realise that some people simply don’t get the opportunity to travel.   Paddy no traveller, deserves a lot of credit for getting outside of their comfort zone and coming to Asia.  And I’m also not saying that every Paddy no traveller is the same.  Everyone is different, every situation is different but in general, the above observation tends to be true.