July 15th, 08:00, Busan, Korea.
Torrential morning. Last morning. Feels like no plane could get up out of this rain. But bags to pack and a bike to box, already hot and sticky and late. Time for a haircut? Up first for breakfast, and then a couple of hours of folding, loosening, taping, stressing, and hurrying.
11:30. Suddenly realising that there is no airport bus at 2:30, plans change. Now I will aim for a bus to Seoul and then another to Incheon. Still torrential, the monsoon rain hammering down and engulfing the streets. Still, under a flimsy polka dot umbrella I venture forth in flipflops for the hair shop. Thunder raps above, streams of water gushing over my feet below. How could a plane take off in this weather? Kwang Hee is already there when I arrive, confident, unapologetic, expert customer. The barber is young, friendly, interested. He asks questions and namedrops in English. Guinness, Baileys, Tupac, Eminem. An hour goes easy while the storm continues.
12:30. I brave the cloudburst again to get to Homeplus. My last trip to the giant supermarket, topspeed pace through the aisles looking for more Scotch tape and bubblewrap. Some Dr. You Energy bars too, and a cheap Japanese raincoat that I can throw over the bike box it if is still raining when we leave. Back to the hair shop, the road well under water at the crosswalk, I put on the raincoat, though I am already wet. Despite the water it is still hot.
2:00. Leaving Sajik, four of us carrying bags, the dog let out too and running up the street. Nerves tense and taut, caught in the swirl of lastness that pervades every step, each footfall the first of a long large gap. The rain at least has relented, and though the sky still threatens we make it to the subway unsoaked. Then another goodbye, and a subway trip to Nopo. A friendly Ajumma tries to get me to sit and jokes about the weight I bear. But I stand and wait, and in Nopo wait again, a ticket bought, in paris Baguette with bad appetite.
02:40. Leaving Busan, for Seoul, on a full bus. Straining out of the window to see the waves, eyes cursedly heavy, no glory in this departure. Heavy moments. I can’t sleep on the bus. It pulls out onto the highway and heads Northwest. I watch the city slowly recede and between hills and tunnels see farms and fields, rivers and trees.
We stop at a service station, a 15 minute break, then continue the heavyhearted journey, arriving in Seoul Express station after sundown. I struggle with my bags, struggle to go to the bathroom, struggle to find the bus to the airport. I find it only after asking three people and 30 minutes in the rain carrying uncomfortable bulk on a busy street. Eventually bus 6020 appears and now I am leaving Seoul, another hour through the megapolis and out to Incheon.
21:30. I make it to the airport and find the Emirates check in desk. There’s a long queue, and as I wait my baggage anxiety grows. Two arabic men are arguing with an official over visas to Yemen. Some people are opening bags to repack. I have little money and an empty Korean bank account. But that stress evaporates when the friendly Emirates girl lets everything through. She puts Fragile stickers on the bike and points me to the oversize baggage counter. Everything is fluid now. The plane then is taking off. It is real. I get talking to an American who lives in Korea and is going to Dublin to meet a friend then on to Glasgow for a convention. We become airport buddies, chatting away an hour over expensive food. He speaks real Korean, has a Korean wife, a university job, an unfinished phd, and a child.
23:55. The Airbus A380 seems new and full. In my aisle seat I have no view through the window as we taxi out then hurl down the runway and up into the sky. Leaving Korea. I can feel the strings and threads straining as we rise, and though my mind is still there the distance roars between; a gulf opens and widens and half the world crosses beneath.
Dubai, 04:20 local time. After over 8 hours in the air, now 2 and 30 in the bus Dubai airport. I change some won for Euro and buy 200 Marlboro cigarettes. Not for me but they will save money for someone else. I go for a €5 hot chocolate with Gabe the lecturer and wander the busy cosmopolitan expensive shops. It is 33 Celsius outside but too cool indoors for my light shorts and T-short.
Dubai 07:00. Now a Boeing 777 to Dublin. Lots of kids, more familiar accents, two Tipperary GAA jerseys. I watch Tintin and TT3D: CLoser to the Edge. On the A380 I watched Haywire and, damn, forgotten. An inflight movie half watched stranded in my memory somewhere.
Dublin 12:15 local. Arriving in Ireland. Down through the grey onto the runway with an assured thump and roar as the flaps twist up. Slowly slowly we move across the concrete, before the people finally start to filter out. Through the passport control with the ease of a local, then on to wait for my baggage. My bike trundles through first, and later my backback. When I get through the departure gates Aidan is there, unexpected, a face as familiar as my own waiting. We head to a local bar and tackle a huge lunch. Bacon and cabbage no less, with lashings of tea. The bar is old and musty. Familiar familiar familiar.
Dublin 2:15. I horse the bags onto the Citilink bus. Buying a ticket s refreshingly easy, and I relax as we pull out and through the port tunnel into the city centre before heading west on the Motorway. The low city of Ulysses then the soft quiet fields of the midlands rushing by. Already my headspin is groping and finding the patterns of a lifetime, settling into the grooves of an often played record.
July 16th, 17:30, Galway, Ireland. I can count down the miles, as we come in the Dubilin road, past Merlin Park and GMIT then down towards Lough Atalia and up Bohermore. I scan for changes and see the same shapes and patterns looking back. These places are as much inside me as outside, well etched on the brain and easy to coax out, memories lapping thick on the streets and buildings. Home is history, wrapped around your core.
We pull into the Coach station. I have no phone but there is no stress. It has faded over the final miles, and now everything is as it was, but fresh and new at the same time. I am waking from a long dream, or plunging into a new one and too tired to fight, though for a short while I am stranded between the two, getting a glimpse of one from the other, foreign dweller and local son, both ideas easily lost in the stream of strangers that traipse up and down streets and cities.
The Arts festival is underway, tourist fill the few main streets, and the traffic is building when Dara arrives and we load up for the last leg.
An hour later I am at home, arriving as a surprise and basking in the newness of the old. The wet weather has lifted and a cool evening casts rich blues and greys over the calm lake. The garden is scattered with flowers in bloom. The grass is cut, the two dogs are lazing in the house. Greetings and welcomes, respite from the many goodbyes, before a meal that hits the stomach like it never left.
Only a day in transit, but a year and more of differences dissolve as my feet step into the same shoes. The little changes, chips in the chinks, are seen at first but melt into the background. I try to cling to the appreciation of what has passed and is passing, but it is hard to force a mind that relaxes at every glance into the known and the accepted.