Sunday, August 8, 2010

Family Reunion of a First Kind

"Sometimes life brings you pleasant surprises -- it's not scripted or orchestrated, but just right. Life can be charming, like that, if you let it."
It was a family reunion -- one that has never happened at this scale before.

True, I spent nearly 10 days with Rio at the Chiswick flat.  During this time, I was also able to spend some quality time with Luke and meet his father, Derek who inspired me with his abstract paintings.

I was also able to go running with Luke a couple of times (take great satisfaction in his tremendous progress) as well as Chris (we ran down to Richmond together).  In fact London has been a great running city and what I personally dub "the fittest city in Europe".

It was ideal that Luke worked at Apple, since he was able to hook me up with an appointment at the Genius Bar in Westfield Shopping Center.  I had an issue with iMovie, and Apple gave me a free upgrade. (Note: It's amazing that Kim, Kae, Rio, Luke and Chris all use Macs -- I've never seen so many exclusive Mac lovers in my life)

BTW, Westfield, the largest urban shopping center in Europe, is simply amazing.  It's like going to a theme park -- there is definitely something for everyone with mega stores and a large 14 screen state-of-the-art theater.  You will love it, even if shopping may not be your thing.

Since Kae was in Tuscany for drama training camp, I was able to stay in her room. It was the longest I've ever spent at any place away from home in quite a while (not counting the Navy).

A Bike in a Bag

When I arrived in London and boarded its renowned Tube train, I noticed something different right away. No it wasn't the faces or the accents -- I already was expecting that.

The Difference

There were no bikes.  No regular bikes at least, just foldable ones.  The ones that could almost fit in a gym bag and slide underneath your seat. Come to find out only foldable bikes were allowed in the Tube, rush hour or not.  I could see why the trains were compact and very crowded, even before rush hour.  I finally understood the meaning of a poor, helpless sardine packed in a crushed tin box.

Interesting Features

The bike was interesting. Not only were they compact, providing for flexibility in transportation, but they were virtually thief proof.  It seemed too good to be true.  How come I hadn't really seen them in DC.  Oh yeah, we are the land of the Big and Bountiful while London was tight and tiny.  Still, I had to check one out for myself.  Yeah, it folds, but how does it ride and most importantly of all, how silly do I look on it?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Trafalgar Square Limerick

Trafalgar Square is a park in the heart of London
It is the most famous tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.

Giants Causeway Limerick

Here we are in Giant's Causeway
Where 40,000 columns of basalt rock stand today

The volcano erupted
The larva cooled
But before there was science
There was the Legend of Finn McCool

Friday, August 6, 2010

"What's Going On" at The Celt in Dublin

The Celt is the local Irish pub where I had a fantastic time.  I listened all night to lively Irish music from The Shenaningans.  I had a great time meeting Daryl O'Connor, Muray,  Cormoe McCarthy and owner Noel Tynan.  Celtic music is so magical, delightful and contagious.  It is the predecessor of Bluegrass (Descendants from Scotland, Ireland and Wales).  It makes you soul dance and spirit rejoice so much that you stay until the very last note.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Imperial War Museum

Constructed during WW I, the Imperial War Museum really depicts how life in Britain was during WW II.  It boasts a 3-story building with all the details of life built within the walls.

I have been to many museums over the years that depicts warfare and weaponry.  First, I brushed it off as just another museum, similar to the many Army, Navy and Marine Corps Museums I've seen in Washington, DC.  But when I arrived, I was in for a staggering surprise.

It may be old, but it is beautiful, formidable and exciting.  It  is fascinating, interactive and heartbreaking.  The holocaust museum is very emotional and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fire Breathers of Belfast

Linen House -- A Great Place to Stay

I truly enjoyed my stay at the Linen House Hostel. Of all weekends to stay in Belfast, I chose the weekend of the Gay Pride, so the place was packed. I shared a room with 19 other people, but I did manage to get a great night's sleep, even though some were loud and snored through the night.

I can't remember the last time I slept with so many people -- this goes back to my enlisted days in the Navy aboard the USS Francis Hammond (FF-1067)

I have to admit, some people had bad body odor and they made noise late at night, but nothing could beat the price: 10 pounds per night. The bed was comfy, the showers were warm and the WiFi was strong.

The location in Belfast cannot be beat, since it is only 5 mins from the new Victoria Square Mall and a leisurely 10-min walk to the City Centre.

I found both Sarah and Leonard very helpful and hospitable.  They even let me stay there for a few hours to upload video after I had checked out.

The WiFi was great and I stayed up late uploading 4 videos, often in the living room where a lot of the backpackers congregated through the night.  It was nice meeting them, although they were loud.  It was good ambience.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Time of Glee in Dublin

Dublin is indeed a beautiful city that has both its good and bad.  Lovely and Georgian in many areas.  In some, it is wild and rowdy.  And not to mention the rain -- loads of it and all throughout the day.  Great Irish music, lots of Guinness and lots of character.  It is the city that brought writer, poet,  James Joyce, singer, songwriter, Sinead O'Connor and U2.  In Dublin, they love James Joyce so much they celebrate James Joyce day like some countries celebrate freedom.

I made it out to see the Giant Ferris wheel next to the Dublin O2. It resembled the London Eye, but not nearly as magical.

One of my favorite books when studying Humanities in Graduate School at California State University was "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man."

Dublin is fashionable, stylish and very warm and friendly.  There's plenty of culture and plenty of things to do.  Dubliners go out often and stay up late.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Belfast -- an Old City of Conflict is now a New City of Cool

"People are building bridges.  The most important bridge been built is in each and every person...It's important to being part of the solution, not part of the problem."  
Arthur Magee 

As a teenager growing up in Georgia, I heard a lot of news of the centuries-old conflict in Northern Ireland.   The problem is, I really didn't understand it.  To me, this conflict was similar to the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict with no end in sight.  Sadly, the news seemed so remote, with no direct, personal impact, and I felt so detached.  I never expected to visit this country with my own eyes -- it was never on my radar scope, up until now.

So when I found out I would be visiting Mark and Lee (friends who I met at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in DC three years ago), I realized there was a lot to learn.

Belfast is known for its troubles and religious conflict.  For over 25 years, the IRA was very busy here.  On Bloody Friday 1972, the IRA set off 22 bombs killing 9 people and injuring about 120.  The city had not experienced such a day of death and bloodshed since the German blitz of Easter Tuesday 1941. Nearly 1,000 lives were lost and 100,000 people became homeless.  One main fault was that when the bombs dropped, people did not know what to do.  There were no bomb shelters.  They did not know whether to run, hide or stay in their beds. The IRA hoped they would be just as successful in catching the government and the people unprepared in hopes of getting Northern Ireland out of the UK.

Truly, there was only one main pursuit: The Irish Republicans wanted a united Ireland. However, there never such a state as a united Ireland.  After all as a detached foreigner, I didn't truly understand what the big deal was, other than the name and the unity.  Truly, Northern Ireland and Ireland enjoyed an open border where citizens could cross either side freely without having to produce a passport.  So what's in a name?


The conflict between the Catholics and the Protestant isn't  really about religion.  It stemmed from differences in social classes. The majority of the population in Ireland was Catholic.  They never underwent the church reform that England did in the 1500s.

Hostility arose between Catholics and Protestant when England began to establish plantations in Ireland and act as a colonial power.

The Legend of the Giants' Causeway

The Most Beautiful Coastline in the World

With Mark Wilson and Lee Lawson

"Living here, we really don't appreciate what we have in this wee country. We have  glaciated vallies, exposed rock formations at the Causway showing millions of years of geophysical and climatic changes etc, and then there is the human history of the area as well, and the part it has played in shaping modern day Europe and modern day American history, legislature, culture, music, democracy, agriculture and industry!!! We've a lot to offer and don't make the best use of our tourism potential!