Friday, 21 August 2015

City Sightseeing: The Hop On/Off Bus: DUBLIN

From Google Images

During a city break anywhere, I think taking one the City Sightseeing Buses is a must-do. A city is a maze of which only locals have a true map of, and taking one of these buses is like piggy-backing their route.

Dublin has three major hop-on/hop-off bus providors: Dublin Bus, CitySightseeing, and new to the market, CityScape. The first two costing €19 for 24 hours, and CityScape at a discounted €10. 

The River Liffey, Dublin
The top deck bus views are great, they offer a view of the city that walking just doesn't give you. The almost birds-eye views are a great chance to snap some pics, but only really when the bus is at a total stand-still. Remember these buses are negotiating city traffic and often times trying to get a photo that is not blurred from the jilted stop and starts of the city traffic can be cumbersome.

Friday, 14 August 2015

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Myself outside St. Patrick's Cathedral
Photography: GMK Photography

For a 6.00 Euro entry fee, St. Patrick's Cathedral is well worth your time and cash. This is Ireland's largest church and is currently belonged to The Church of Ireland; it was previously Roman Catholic diocese.

The grounds of the Cathedral open at 10am, but the church itself is open from 9am. The church does have daily services if your that way inclined (see link below for details), otherwise, there are free guided tours every hour.

Upon entry, there are free self-guided tour pamphlets available free of charge in most world-spoken languages. I opted for the self-guided tour as for me, this visit was purely a photography trip.

The architecture is purely outstanding and takes a few moments to really take in. There is also an
audio guide as well as touch-screen virtual Apps placed around the cathedral to explain the history, background and importance of the Cathedral to Dublin and its culture/history. Anyone familiar with the history of Ireland and The Church of England would note this cathedral to be a point of interest and quite pivotal.

The outside grounds of the Cathedral are also not to be missed. Decorated beautifully with an on-site cafe, this is an ideal position to take in the exterior of the building, soak up the summer sun or hide from the showers under the trees. There's even a children's playground, and the grounds of St. Pats really does serve as a park ground to the Dublin locals.
St. Patrick Cathedral Grounds

How to get there: The Cathedral is located at the junction of Patrick Street and Upper Kevin Street. It is easily accessible by foot from the center of the city.

Opening Times, Cost and Facilities:

Daily Services Timetable:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Cutting Ties With Convenience


 [Originally written:  November 28th, 2013]
Harbin, Stree Market
They say that old habits die hard. However, what they fail to mention is that new habits form quickly. Circumstance is what makes us form habits. No longer can I soak in the comfort of my old habits and routine, because my environment doesn’t allow it. The barriers of travel prevent me from waking up to eat my preferred breakfast of tea and toast (I have searched every square mile for a toaster) and relax on the sofa watching BBC News. Instead, I wake to plug in my water-heater as I prepare my instant-porridge and banana, now ripe from yesterdays market purchase. Before, I would return home and hope there is a good selection of TV programs on that evening. Now I return and hope my electricity isn’t cut-off, or my internet connection is still available. After living with high-speed fiber optic, the constant lack of online availability is a bigger challenge than one had expected.
It is difficult to hold onto our habits when we are constantly prevented from keeping them. Home comforts and familiar routine for me are not an option. Now I return to my bed-sit and spend my evenings making lesson plans, reading books or writing; the days of sitting down with a bacon-sandwich to watch the latest updates on Netflix are over. However, the challenge of losing convenience and the safety of normality goes beyond a good internet connection. Just stepping outside ones front door, a wave of abnormality, strangeness and a constant assault to the senses makes you crave the mundane. Nothing can prepare the uninitiated for the riot of noise, car horns and vendors that stain the streets of China. At times, one can feel suffocated by the chaotic lifestyle that runs through its veins. I often feel that everything, be it buying milk or doing laundry, is much more difficult now. However, I follow that thought with the suggestion that everything was perhaps too easy before. Everything was convenient; which is, after-all, what prompts one to travel in the first place.
Harbin, China, 2013
They say the grass is greener on the other-side; yet what they don’t tell you, is that it takes a lot of rain to make that grass that bit greener. China is literally Yin and Yang. There is a lot of positive attributes to this exciting world. Nothing is ever the way it should be, and battle to make it that way is often in vain. But when the internet won’t connect, or the electricity cuts off half-way through cooking your seventeenth Noodle Stir-Fry in as many days, the grass is simply being watered by the rain. And the next day, or even the next week, the grass really is greener.
It really is an emotional battle to cut ties with the convenience of home. I cannot make China into the country that I want it to be, and quite rightly, I never expected or wanted to. Yin and Yang is the Chinese concept that contrary forces are interdependent of each other. In simple terms, you cannot experience good, without experiencing bad, or you would have no concept of the good in the first place – thus good and bad are interdependent.
The more time I spend in China, the more is revealed. I have slowly become accustomed to the exciting thrill of China (Yang) and the undeniable but forgivable disappointments (Yin). As I say goodbye to the convenience of old, I realize that perhaps I can not only survive in China, but thrive… even without an internet connection.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Learning Mandarin In China

Shanghai Train Station, China, 2013
[Originally written: December 4th, 2013]

When discussing teaching in China with friends and family at home, the one question that is always posed is “Oh, do you speak Chinese?” I would smile in reflex and automatically reply “No, you don’t have to”.
That much is true. To teach English in China, you don’t need to speak Chinese. However, to live in China, Chinese is essential. I first learned this lesson when trying to buy four apples at a market in Benxi. I pointed at the apples and said ‘Su (Four)’ in my best Mandarin accent. The man smiled kindly, then blurted out several sentences in Chinese at lightning speed, grabbed three plastic bags and started to fill them with apples.
“Oh, no, no. Bu! Bu! Wo yao su!” I said, in panic. I wanted four apples, this man was giving me an orchard.
What I didn’t realize was there was a hand-made sign saying 10RMB for 1kg of apples. I had just asked for 4kg. I walked home, bags of apples in hand, feeling somewhat embarrassed and defeated, vowing to improve my Chinese.

Chinese isn’t difficult as far as languages go. Once you know the verb and the vocabulary, you’re pretty much in the know. Grammar is not near a challenge as in French or English. The challenge however, is not that there is no alphabet, but there are four tones. Say ‘Ma’ the wrong way, and you could call someone’s mother a horse. The tones are of such vital importance, you could sit down and learn twenty new words off by heart, but not a single person will understand you due to mispronunciation of a certain tone. I learned my address perfectly, yet no taxi driver ever understands me.
“Dongsheng Xiaoxie” I say, perfectly.
”Ting bu dong” stares the taxi-man.

Water Graffiti, BenXi, China, 2013
I show him the address in Character, and he repeats exactly what I feel I just said. That is the biggest challenge of Mandarin – thinking you’ve mastered a new sentence only to be not understood.

Before I came to China, I thought Chinese characters were complete nonsense. “Surely they need an alphabet, these drawings are ridiculous. Imagine writing an essay in Character!” However, after a while, you start to recognize characters, and soon you realize it’s exactly the same as words. Already I can look at a menu and know what has meat and what does not.

Another challenge of learning Chinese in China is not a lot of Chinese people have patience for those who can’t speak Chinese. I initially thought this myself, but it was confirmed by a Chinese colleague of mine. Plenty of times I have tried to ask for something in Chinese in a supermarket, only to be laughed at by the young cashier with pink glasses and braces. Don’t for a minute think she’ll try and interpret. This is because, in my opinion, most Chinese people (especially in Benxi) are not used to foreigners in their community. They don’t have the same understanding for differences as we do when we come from a diverse world. I am not bashing the Chinese people in any way here; it’s just simply a fact. I have been laughed at trying to speak Chinese, and sometimes I have had staff members roll their eyes and walk away. They aren’t used to interpreting their language – and that, for me, is a challenge.

Chinese is hard, and I have considered staying in China to master the language. I will never speak it fluently, or be able to write an essay in Character – but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to but four apples only.