Sunday, June 25, 2006

Maebh and I are in Hanoi and it is HOT! Not just hot, but very very very hot. However, it is a combination of very beautiful and incredibly hectic. So much so that Maebh is in her element participating in extreme road crossing ( there arent any lanes here and no one acknowledges lights so traffic is a free for all) and I shriek and scream like...well... a girl while clutching her arm as we navigate traffic. Yes, I am made of steel.

We are staying in an adorable hotel with a really nice room, complete with ants and lizards and fabulously strong Vietnamese coffee.

However if one more person trys to sell me postcards I may be deported for commiting a nasty crime. It has gotten to the stage where Maebh and I are pretending we don't speak any English, but we really haven't perfected our art, as when we asked where we are from we are never too sure of what continent, never mind what country, we are from.

Today we are going to view Ho Chi Minh's resting spot... we are going there by motorbike. I hope to make it back in one piece, although the huge sign in the centre of Hanoi saying that there were 539 traffic deaths last year does not fill me with any hope.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Soccer, I mean soccer...wait..

Some of you may be aware of a minor sporting even taking place in a little known area, I believe referred to as, Germany. Some call this sporting event, the “Beautiful Game”, others consider is a rather large bore and then there are the few die-hard Korean fans who eat, sleep and poop the game. Korea played Togo on Tuesday night, so a 4-way intersection with 12 lanes was closed down in Daegu, 4 super duper screens were erected and the odd enthusiastic fan ventured to the intersection to cheer on the national treasure. I have an enormous stash of pictures from the night, but my camera is missing the cable that magics shots from it to a computer. So, once again I have had to borrow some pictures from Maryanne. In case you are wondering, red is the favoured colour for the national team and the little red horns are not representing what you think they are representing. The Korean team players have been nicknamed the, ‘Red Devils’. Silly me thought the title belonged to Manchester United. I have some videos from the night, but it will be a few weeks before I gather my technological know-how and various essential wires and cables

Estimated numbers for those in attendance at the above intersection alone was 50,000. Yet, despite the volume of people, it was oddly organised. There weren't any visible police or riot staff, yet everyone behaved with great dignity. The most surprising aspect was that everyone sat on the street. The only people standing were those at the rear of each street. Standing was only permitted when a goal was scored and in case you weren't aware of the goal, fireworks were shot up into the air from the centre of the crowd! Organising officials were certainly optimistic, as at the end of the game we were treated to a 5 minute fireworks display. Pretty!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Richard, my brother and his friend, Sarah Jane arrived in Daegu on Friday night. We took them out on Saturday night and unfortunately, a member of our party got a little bit drunk and decided that the sofa in one bar was a perfect substitute for his own bed.

Ian and I indulged in one of my favourite dishes here. It is called shabu shabu and has its origins in Japan. The basic method is to place slivers of cold meat in a pot of boiling broth and cook them for a few seconds before placing the cooked strip on a lettuce leaf with some kimchi, rice and gotchujang. Fabulous!

Below is a board that was in the downtown area of Daegu. On each red ribbon are good luck wishes for the Korean soccer team. Koreans are a patriotic bunch so all hopes are being pinned on their soccer stars.
The lady at the bottom was doing face painting in Daegu during one of their street festivals. I liked her look. Felt she brought the ancient Orient into the modern environment with great success.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Every country has its ups and downs, its pros and its cons , ( as demonstrated by a previous post). However, Ireland has its own share of faults, although what this article lists, suggests a little more than a 'share'.
In other news Maebh and I will be going to Hanoi at the end of June.


There are certain aspects of the Korean people and their culture that baffle me. I have been here since 2003 and still I am perplexed and antagonised by some of their actions

1. The incessant giggling- whenever Koreans are embarrassed or unsure of what to say or do to a foreigner they turn to their nearest and dearest and giggle. Infuriating. Stop giggling and try to work with me!

2. The rubbish- there aren't any rubbish bins, wheelie bins or large French style communal bins. Instead, the street is considered a suitable dumping ground. A few yards from Ian's apartment building door is a pile of rubbish so vile and nauseating that it is becoming somewhat of a chore to walk past it. Of course you can't just throw your rubbish anywhere. There are designated spots. This basically means that the street cats and rats are guaranteed three square meals plus snacks a day.

3. The complete and utter lack of communication between employers, employees and office workers- 99.9% of the time I never know what is happening at my school. I have lost count of the number of times I have walked into one of my classes to find a new student that hasn't got a lick of English and is terrified of the foreign face. It seems unimportant to keep teachers informed of students. I am also amused at the demands often made to have lesson plans, exams, agendas and corrections completed by 6pm when you have been notified of said requests at 4pm.

4.The World Cup- you can't move here for "Go Korea" shirts, jumpers, cups, hats, toys, blah blah... The kids are excited, the adults are excited, EVERYONE is excited for Korea's games. But ask any of them when the matches are being played, who Korea's opponents are and who the members of the team are and you will be met with very perplexed faces.

5. The attitude concerning the education of a child- dear lord in heaven someone needs to sponsor these kids a holiday. From the day of conception until the day they break free from the maternal hold (roughly aged 30), Korean kids are expected to be studying and absorbing as much information as they can so they can get high powered, respectable jobs and never have a childhood. Most kids here don't understand the concept of being bored, simply because their carefully planned educational schedules don’t permit it, most kids here don't understand playing for the hell of it, because again, playtime is to be done in accordance with the schedule and if they don't get any homework THEY REMIND YOU TO GIVE THEM HOMEWORK. I have encountered boys aged 6 that have had hysterical meltdowns because they saw a worm and children that can't play "catch”, because...well...they can't 'catch'.

6. The failure to "Think outside the Box"- Korean culture dictates that people operate as a group resulting in individualism being low on the ground. The Family Unit is very important, as is the notion of cohesive teamwork and uncritical acceptance of absurd office actions. In offices here, the boss is the be all and the end all. What he says goes and cannot be questioned or opposed due to the Confucianism system. Therefore, what the matriarch, patriarch or employer suggests or requests must be done without question. This makes life infuriating for the liberal Westerner who is accustomed to having the rules bent from time to time to accommodate their needs.

7. Working- Koreans are expected to devote their lives to their job, or if they have children, then they become the basis of their mother's actions. For the professional worker, their hours are ludicrous. Some start at 8am and can still be in their offices at 9pm that night. The hard-working westerner will point out that they too are sometimes subjected to these hours, but there is a difference. Work is not consistent here. Work is constantly being interrupted by naps, trips around the office, meal times, phone calls, meal times, texting, trips to the store, texting, moaning about exhaustion, texting and daydreaming. (I should point out that my school is a glaring exception to this as everyone puts in hard work while present). Koreans are all about 'showing face’ so even giving the impression of work is considered acceptable. Maebh and I cracked the rational behind this last year while touring the War Museum in Seoul. It appears that the North Koreans broke through the border into the South while half the Southern border forces were on their day off, so you can understand the fear.......... sort of. In fact vacation days are thin on the ground here. Ask anyone if they have been to a different country and most will reply in the positive. Push them further and you will hear that they "did" Europe in 5 days flat or they travelled from LA to San Francisco to Chicago and back again in the same time. They do not receive our lengthy holidays and are rather envious when informed of opposing actions in other countries.

8. Queue skipping- I can't even type about it. It is the best way to drive my blood pressure through the roof.

9. Xenophobia- very high here and unlikely to change for some time. Koreans are very very proud of their pure blood and do not want it tarnished.

Of course, it has been pointed out to me that actions such as those above, are not unique to Korea. Perhaps, being a foreigner, in a not so foreigner friendly country, has prompted such thoughts, but my observations are not isolated as a hefty number of people concur and have their own grievances. However, Korea is determined to be a power to contend with, both politically and economically in the near future, but its xenophobic attitude and unwillingness to change is curbing such actions. But then again, if Ireland was able to give itself an image overhaul noticed on the world stage, then there is hope for Korea.