Aug 192014
2014-08-08 Korea Times Picture

Irish Ambassador Aingeal O’Donoghue, fourth from left, and five elementary and middle school students pose for a photo at the Kevin O’Rourke Library of the Irish Embassy in Seoul, Aug. 8. / Korea Times

Our favorite Ambassador (Irish or otherwise) featured in the Korea Times yesterday, after giving a talk to a group of schoolchildren. You can read a copy of the text below, or




Here’s the text of the article (copied from the Korea Times website):

Ambassador gives Irish hospitality to aspiring diplomats

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Diplomats face numerous unexpected challenges when they serve in foreign countries, where they may have to accustom themselves to very different cultural and socioeconomic settings.

Addressing five aspiring young diplomats at her office on August 8, Irish Ambassador Aingeal O’Donoghue encouraged them to train themselves to be open-minded and curious about the world if they wanted to pursue diplomatic careers.

“You have to want to know about and get to know about the country where you are posted,” she told five children during an interview with them. “That’s a really important quality.”

The children — three elementary school students and two middle school students, ranging in age from 9 to 13 — live in Bundang, a district within Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

The five children sat down with the Irish ambassador after their request of an in-person meeting with her was accepted.

Showing unique Irish hospitality, the ambassador began her opening remarks in the Irish language. “Cead mile failte,” she said, and then translated it into English: “a hundred thousand welcomes.”

The Irish envoy listed her previous foreign postings — Madrid, Washington, D.C., New Delhi and Brussels — to help the children understand why cross-cultural understanding and curiosity matter for diplomats.

“All those postings are very different,” she said. “Each time you have to master your new job, learn a lot about language and culture to get to know the country you are based in. That’s a challenge.”

“One of the hardest things being Irish ambassador in Korea is that the two countries are very different. So to work here successfully, you have to understand Korean culture and the way people want to do things and correct the way you do things. That takes a lot of effort.”

The envoy stressed that a thorough understanding and accurate knowledge of their own country and its culture were also important for diplomats.

“The thing actually people don’t always think about is you have to know your own country really well when you are representing your country abroad,” she said.

“It could be governmental policies or it could be culture or have you ever visited other parts of your country. All that, which is very intangible, is very important.”

During the meeting, she took questions from the children and gave answers based on her extensive experience in diplomatic service.

The five children were curious about the role of an ambassador, how they could prepare for diplomatic careers, and what kinds of experiences would help them get that plum job in the future.

Ambassador O’Donoghue said diplomats needed to be multitalented because their duties varied so much. Diplomats have to protect their nationals overseas, promote their culture, and play a role in facilitating trade with the host government.

“But it is a huge honor when your government decided to send you as an ambassador to another country to represent your culture,” she said.

When asked for information about Ireland, the envoy said her country was home to numerous Nobel Prize winners and was the only country to have a musical instrument — the harp — as its national symbol.

Historically, the envoy said Korea and Ireland were similar in that they had experienced many foreign invasions, but that culturally they were very different.


Kang Ye-eun, one of the five students, said the Irish ambassador’s presentation was “inspiring” and had given her a deeper understanding of the diplomatic service field as well as of Ireland.

“Personally, the opportunity to meet the ambassador made a huge difference in my view of the job. She encouraged me to become more interested in the actual job and inspired me,” the middle school student said after the meeting.

“I thought that Ireland was a really interesting country, which is quite similar to our own country.”

Woo Min-joo, a fifth-grader, said she came to realize that being a diplomat was tougher than she had initially thought.

“Before meeting the ambassador, I was not so sure of what ambassadors do. But after her presentation, I realized that it is a hard job to do,” she said.

Another fifth-grader, Park Woo-min, said after the meeting the Irish ambassador he was motivated to study English harder so he could better prepare for his future career.




 Posted by on 19 Aug 2014
Aug 172014

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 020 bannerMap - roads, all

We all woke up early today (not content with going to Mass yesterday) to hike what I call The Circuit of Seongbuk-dong.  Seongbuk-dong, the neighborhood where we live, is essentially a small valley, bounded on the north by the Bugak Skyway winding its way along the ridge, on the south & west by the City Wall, and open in the east to the center of Seoul.

The Circuit of Seongbuk-dong is basically to cut across the east end of the valley, follow the city wall north & east until you get to the stairs to the Bugak Palgakjeong up on the Bugak Skyway, and then follow the Skyway east until you get back to your starting point.  I estimate it (using at 7.5 km, cutting down from the Skyway past our house & then as directly as you can to Seongbuk-ro.  But you could easily stretch that to 9 km depending on how you come down from the Skyway.

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 001Stage2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 004 1:  We left at 7:40am, and walked down our street until we got to the pedestrian cut-throughs through little alleys down to the 7-Eleven.  Across Seongbuk-ro, and we’re at the bottom of the City Wall where Hyehwa-ro cuts through.

Stage 2: There are a lot of stairs, but also a lot of level bits, so it’s not so bad, except that the stone steps are very high, and often not very deep.  So hard on your thighs and careful where you put your feet.

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 0062014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 010Stage 3:  From there, the city wall climbs up to the top of the ridge where the road to the back entrance of SKK University & to Samcheong-dong cuts through, and you can cross from the inside of the wall to the outside and Samcheong Park.

You stay close under the City Wall until the stairs up to the guard house at the restricted part of the wall (above the Blue House, the residence of the President of Korea).  There, keep on straight.

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 012The path — and I use the term loosely as it’s really a wooden walkway (see right).  It’s all deep woods.  The interesting thing, both there and higher up, is the variety of plant life.  It’s not “a pine forest” or “an oak forest”… there is a wide variety of trees, bushes, vines, shrubs, etc.  So it’s very pretty.


2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 0132014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 017Stage 4:  Around the time that the path takes you above the Samcheong Tunnel (from Seongbuk-dong to Samcheong-dong), you get a great view of Samcheonggak, an old palace (well, ok, only since 1972) where you can eat traditional meals & see traditional performances.  For example, when I was there for lunch once, there was an extraordinary performance of mostly drumming with some acrobatics & plate spinning as well.

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This is where the fun part begins:  approximately 1 km of stairs, from the Samcheong Tunnel up to the Bugak Palgakjeong (on the Skyway).  It’s a tough climb, but I’m happy to say not as tough for us as it would have been a year ago.  There were a fair few people hiking (mostly up).  We passed some resting on the occasional small rest platforms, but sadly, the folks actually climbing all passed us (well, not That Girl, just me & Aingeal).


2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 0252014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 033 Stage 5:  The easy bit.  The Palgakjeong is a great place to visit on a clear day for views over Seoul, and also has a couple of places to eat (which I’ve not tried).  You can park there but it’s very popular so there can be queues to get into the parking lot (to the irritation of other drives on the two-lane Skyway!).

We didn’t go into the Palgakjeong, but just headed along the Skyway, which has a parallel hiking trail (generally a dirt trail, but if the dropoff is too steep, there will be a wooden walkway).

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 0262014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 034Eventually, we got back to places that I normally reach during my morning constitutional (5km on the Skyway: 2.5 out & the same to get home!).  The Skyway follows the ridge, so it’s fairly level (by car); on foot, there are some stretches where you go up & down, but nothing like the climb a bit earlier!  On the right there is a panorama of a large exercise area — in the morning, there are a lot of regulars who hike there, exercise, and then hike back home (I assume back home anyway).  That Girl is modelling the “hang upside down by your feet” machine.

2014-08-17 Circuit of Seongbuk-dong 040And finally home!








 Posted by on 17 Aug 2014
Aug 162014


2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 019 banner
We got up early this Saturday morning to go to the Papal Mass celebrated by (of course) Pope Francis.  But not as early as many:  the volunteer who showed us to the section where we were seated said she’d been there since 2am — and was hoarse enough to prove it! — and many people (like our housekeeper’s church group) had been meeting at 3am for a 4am arrival at Gwanghwamun.  So I felt like a bit of a piker.

2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 001It was a pretty good day for it.  While hot, it wasn’t tooo hot, and there was cloud cover for part of the morning, which helped.  They’d provided hats (well, visors really) for everyone (see above) which was a good idea.  No water allowed:  next time there’s a rule like that, I’m stocking up on ice-coffee in a bag (ain’t water, ain’t in a bottle…).

The first thing we saw was the length of Sejong-daero full of people.  Chock full.  Tomorrow’s papers will tell us how many… The paper said they expected “up to 1 million people”.

2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 052 The pope showed up a bit before 10 — on the giant monitors, you could follow his progress at walking pace (in the Popemobile!) up Sejong-daero from Seoul Square / City Hall all the way to Gwanghwamun.

2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 114The mass was actually to beatify 124 Korean martyrs, mostly from the 1700’s (a bit from 1600’s and 1800’s also).  The large screens on either side of the alter had a succession of graphics, including an interesting animation (see left), where the figures would appear and then a cross would float from the bright (star shaped) cross to the figure’s chest.

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For the mass, a very large number of priests had been brought in, and they collected the Host and then walked down Sejong-daero.  Each priest had a helper, who had a parasol which they held over the priest while he was administering the sacrament (as in the pic to the right).  They started heading down Sejong-daero a few minutes before the main alter had gotten to that point:  it’s a good walk down to Seoul Square!

2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 155One interesting thing was the mantillas, which I’ve never really seen worn until I was in Korea (although if I’d gone to church in Spain, there’s a good chance I might have seen them there too).  In the bright sun, they also doubled as handy sun screens; virtue really was it’s own reward.

Anyway, here are the pictures, first a panorama of the the alter with the Royal Palace behind it, and then all the rest of the pics.

2014-08-16 Pope Francis Mass 132



 Posted by on 16 Aug 2014