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Turning Thirty in Korea – A Retrospective View

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Today is my birthday. I am thirty years old.

It’s supposed to be a big deal, especially judging by the parties which friends of mine have had over the past couple of years. I’m kind of glad that I’m not home and having to have a party. I don’t really want to celebrate the fact that I’m thirty, or any age to honest. Granted, I do love the attention, I just would prefer to not have the fuss.

I suppose the most significant thing about me turning thirty is that I am turning thirty in Korea. This is something plenty of people have done and plenty of people have gotten on with it. I hope to do so also. But, if a tear were to make the effort and push its way through, it would be in honour of the fact that I have spent the majority of my twenties living in Korea.

I first came to Korea aged 23 and one half. I reckon I couldn’t even shave properly. I was thin. I was thirsty. I had finished university six months before and had left Ireland after a string of bad luck which could have been prevented if I hadn’t been so stupid. I remember being the youngest person I knew in Korea for ages. Things, I think, changed fast. Most importantly I started to write.

I remember the first thing I wrote, too. I was sitting on a rock surrounded by trees looking out on Sinnae-dong, with a notebook I had just bought. I was half way up the small local mountain Bongwhasan and had a wonderful spot for myself, one which I came back to on many occasions and one which was hardly ever occupied by anyone else. I opened up the notebook and described what I saw every day. It was a rush to see my ideas coming out before me.

The most distressing thing about this experience could have been that I did not know how good a feeling this was until I was twenty three. This didn’t sink in until later. There was no one I could blame but myself, and I was definitely jealous of all those who had taken their own opportunities and urges in life to see that they didn’t become disappointed with themselves.

In total, I spent around three and a half years in Korea, and managed to take a long three month trip down through China and SE Asia somewhere in the middle of this time. At the end of those three and a half years I made the best decision I have ever made in my life, I married the current Mrs. O’Reilly. Marrying her, for me, has allowed me to feel like I have redeemed myself for all the stupid, immature, and tunnel-visioned mistakes I made before that.

After a brief return to Ireland and a stint in England making myself more intelligent, I came back to Korea in February of 2010, where I’ve been busy planning the next ten years of my life and more, while doing my best to keep Herself happy.

I’ve heard of many who have not looked forward to turning thirty. Some of these people saw it as the point where they get older and leave the youth and vibrancy of their twenties behind them. I can empathise with this, but it seems that if I were to mourn the end of my twenties I would be neglecting the future which lies ahead of me.

When I was telling people in the week s leading up to this day that it was my thirtieth birthday (despite wanting to avoid the publicity, Herself in all her wisdom has convinced me to at least go out for a nice meal and a few drinks with some friends and co-workers), most people gave me one of those weird surprised faces. But, that’s always been the case; people have always thought I was older. Well now I am. I am I suppose, old, especially compared with those younger than me.

My friend Jim who recently left Korea told me that he couldn’t have been happier to say goodbye to his twenties, a period which saw him move home a lot and have a number of bad experiences based around the fact that he really didn’t have a sense of who he really was.

I’ve never had any bad experiences, so to speak, and in fact I’ve had many wonderful memorable experiences, but I’m happy to say goodbye to being in my twenties. Turning thirty has to be a time of change and maybe turning thirty in Korea will mean a change in my life here.

My twenties have been fulfilling. So has living in Korea. Maybe I’m optimistic for the future; I know that all that I have done so far is now leading towards the future and all that I can achieve must happen in the future, regardless of what the past offered, and there’s nothing I can do about my age.

I don’t feel like I’m thirty, although I don’t know how someone thirty should feel. I have made a bit of a name for myself somewhere doing something, and I do my best to make this name sound better than it actually is. I’m always looking to move on in life, even though I’m staying where I am, and I don’t know if being thirty will make life any different to me now that I can, probably, distance myself more from all those young hooligans in their twenties.


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