More civil in crowded China?

AITECE teacher Garreth Byrne says:

Anybody who travels around cities in China quickly experiences overcrowded the buses and trains. The shopping streets and popular markets are always bustling, especially at weekends. If you bump into somebody you learn to say ‘Dubuchi’ the word for sorry, which also means ‘excuse me’ whenever you want to ask a stranger for directions. A Chinese street or railway station escalator is the wrong place to linger as you talk fixedly into a mobile phone – but it happens all the time and people bump into each other and automatically blurt out ‘Dubuchi’.

Civility is so important when you board a city bus and deposit the standard one or two-yuan fare into a box beside the driver’s seat before proceeding along the aisle in search of a seat. On busy routes at peak times it is often impossible to find a seat. You have to shuffle along and hope that several passengers will get out through the middle or rear doors at intermediate stops. You hang onto an overhead strap bracing yourself for sudden stops at junctions, keeping your eyes peeled for passengers getting ready to vacate their seats.

Sometimes passengers of student age on an overcrowded bus have seen me shuffle slowly along the crowded aisle and have risen from their seats, beckoning me to sit down as they motioned to grip a hanging strap. They were eager to defer to a ‘laoshe’ or teacher and a foreign teacher in particular. If my intended trip was only for three or four stages and I didn’t feel stress, I often smiled and said ‘sheshe meio’ meaning that I was ok standing and they could sit it out. Ah, but there were the tired late afternoons, in hot weather or in sub-zero winter, when I accepted such kind offers, at the beginning of rattly trips that wound their way through thick traffic along straight and winding streets until they reached the university terminal half an hour later. In such cases I always hoped that the polite young person would find another empty seat after a couple of stage stops.

I never accepted the offer of a seat from a working man, an elderly person or a middle-aged woman who might be a busy mother. Their health took precedent over my weiguoren (foreigner) passing discomfort. If a mother with child came towards me on an overcrowded vehicle my natural instinct was to rise and let them sit. We in Ireland don’t seem to experience such situations because city bus drivers monitor the seating capacity and tell surplus passengers to wait until the next bus. In China, bus company policy is to pack them in tightly and make more money.

There is much civility on crowded city buses in China, but there are lurking pickpockets too. Other passengers have told me to beware, and I have secured my cash and credit cards safely away from prying hands. Be securely civil.

It’s good to get a bus seat in cold weather. This bus leaving a university terminal in Changchun will wind slowly downtown through freezing slush.





Teaching in China is the best thing ever!

One of our teachers recently told me,

‘One class wants us to finish in one semester what normally requires two!
‘I’ve just come out from one of those classes and I feel on top of the world. My students are wonderful, amazing, a pure joy to work with!! When I went in this morning the room was cold and bleak (the temperature has dropped here) but I got a big smile from the students. They are so lovely! I usually have to give them mountains of homework but they never complain. So, there’s no question of “overdoing” it, I feel energized by the students and over the moon. Teaching in China is the best thing ever!’

Teaching in China sometimes means representing your country at local cultural events. Another teacher found himself in this position recently. Sometimes there is confusion between Ireland and Iceland, and a need to explain that Ireland is not part of England, but most young people are interested in the country because of its famous literary figures.

If you are interested in teaching in China, or know someone who might be, see

Why did the people in China cry?

The recent ordination of 28 young priests in Seoul, Korea, made a dramatic impact on youtube and led to people in China crying .

On asking why, I was told it was  a combination of the photogenic background in the Olympic Stadium, traditional music played on traditional instruments and the emphatic commitment of 28 young men to an exemplary cause.  While ordinations are common in China too, large number are rarely ordained together and the display is not so public.  For believers under a lot of pressure in China the sight must have been both moving and encouraging. Interestingly, it also shows the extent to which youtube is watched there.

Maybe the people of Ireland need some morale booster too. Today, with the number of priests being ordained at its lowest, we think the situation is the same worldwide, which it is not. The Korean Church has 6,000 priests, most ordained in recent years.  In Ireland there may be an impression that the Catholic Church is irrelevant but, world-wide, the number of Catholics has doubled since 1970.

Not that the Catholic Church in Ireland had done much to be proud of in recent years but, as they warned us after Vatican ll, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The baby is alive and thriving elsewhere.

What changed in Ireland?

Recently, on a bus, I was talking with a young Chinese priest studying in Ireland.

He told me he comes from a diocese in north China which has 75 priests and 17,000 Catholics – that is, one priest for every 230 Catholics!

The bishop there is 93 year old and is unique in that he does not allow the government‘s controlling Patriot Association to have an office in his diocese. Yet the government is willing to recognise him as bishop and cooperates to a certain extent. The bishop speaks three European language and translates foreign theological books into Chinese.

The strength of the Church there is in Catholic villages which have survived hundreds of years despite wars and persecutions.

‘We got our faith from Irish priests,‘ he said, ’But when we come to Ireland we cannot find that faith. Why is this?’

I told him I couldn’t answer that because I have been out of the country for most of my life and since my return have also wondered what happened in the meantime.

However, challenged by his question, I am now turning to David Quinn’s ‘How we Killed God’ (in Ireland) for answers.

Two Eras, Two Chinas

Compare the two halves of the first photo.

The top half shows the first batch of Columbans on their way to China in 1920. All in their clerical outfits. Within a few years two of them had been killed by Chinese bandits, a number had to return due to broken health and most of the rest were expelled in 1952 by the Communist government.

Now look at the lower picture. Today’s young Columbans, not much different in age from the pioneers but with different clothes and backgrounds. Do they share the same values?  They would express their sense of purpose differently but they go out with the same intention of giving hope that there is more to life than people may presently feel.

On 14 November, in Maynooth College, the evening that those 17 Columbans set out for China from Maynooth was remembered. As on that occasion, there was Evening Prayer with the students, a meal with the staff and students, but instead of heading straight off to the boat for China the Columbans who had attended headed back to Dalgan and the seminarians to their studies.  But all took with them a sense of awe and admiration for those who had set out so fearlessly almost a hundred year ago.   

Chinese Catholic Community gather to pray for deceased Irish missionaries

On 29 October, members of the Dublin Chinese Catholic community gathered at Dalgan Park, HQ of the Columban Fathers in Ireland, to remember the missionaries who had volunteered for China at a turbulent period of its history.

As part of the celebrations, historian Paul Dang gave a talk, in Chinese, on the history of the Church in China.


Irish Pumpkin, Chinese Pumpkin


Irish Pumpkin, Chinese Pumpkin

What have Xi Jinping, President of China, and Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of Ireland got in common? Both have political visions that they recently put before their people.

On 19 Oct.  China’s President Xi Jinping at his Party’s 19th Congress repeated his dream that the country will become a ‘moderately prosperous society and middle-income power’ by 2021. Within thirty years after that, it will be ‘a great modern socialist country’ that will have overtaken the USA as a world power. He promised it would lead to ‘a decent, even comfortable living for everyone in a clean environment’.

To achieve this they will have to make sacrifices, including what Westerners might see as a limitation on their human rights. However, the common good comes first.

On 14  September Leo Varadkar, at his  Party’s Think-in, described his vision of a ‘Republic of Opportunity.’ Its three guiding principles are: all will have an equal opportunity to be the best person they can; every part of the country will have the opportunity to share in national recovery and prosperity;  there will be second chances for all who need them.

President Xi’s call is for people to work together to develop the economy further so that all can share in its benefits. It is in line with Chinese tradition – putting society before the individual for the common good.

Leo Varadkar’s  call is for the individual to use the new opportunities that will be created to share in the national prosperity.

One says we have to make sacrifices to create a Halloween pumpkin big enough for all to get a bit of and the other that we have the pumpkin but just need opportunities to get at it!

100 Years with China

One hundred years ago a small group of priests set out from Maynooth College for China, a country on the far side of the world that they knew little about except that it could do with their help.  With the transport of that time, it would take them over two months to get there and they did not know when they would return.

The group became known as the Maynooth Mission to China, later as the Columban Fathers, and since then they have sent hundreds of priests and other missionaries not only to China but to Korea, Japan, Burma, the Philippines and South America. On 20 October a symposium entitled, ‘Maynooth, Ireland and the Far East,’ was held in the History Department of Maynooth College to commemorate the event.

Today entry to China is restricted but young Chinese Church leaders are now coming to Maynooth to broaden their experience and education.

According to the Chinese Ambassador, there are over 10,000 Chinese students in Ireland in various institutes. The Columbans are now planning ways of welcoming them and helping them in their needs here in Ireland.

Photos: Fr Neil Collins telling the story and Paul Dang,  a Chinese student at Maynooth.

Moon Cakes and Barmbracks

Last week we celebrated the Chinese Autumn Festival and in a week or so we will celebrate the Irish equivalent – Halloween.  Food is important in both – it is time to enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

In the Chinese celebration the Moon Cake takes centre stage and in Ireland it is the barmbrack.

It China the family gather for a special meal, but they are also thinking of their ancestors, thanking them and praying for them.

In Ireland the latter part is dying out. Now scary ghosts replace the ancestors and youngsters would not look favourably on receiving a token of the harvest, such as an apple, in their trick-or-treat bag.

In Ireland everyone got a slice of the barmbrack in which might be a ring, a coin or a thimble. That would foretell whether they would marry, get rich or remain ever single.

The round moon cake symbolises completeness and togetherness in the family, living and deceased.  The emphasis is more on relationships than the individual —  sharing the work, the fruits and a sense of achievement by working together.

As you see from the photos, we celebrated in Maynooth and with the Chinese Catholic community in Dublin. And the moon cakes arrived in time.  

Explore another culture, it is not too late!

Most of the volunteers teaching English in China with Aitece are in their 40s and 50s. They thought they had missed out on a chance to live in an exotic culture and make a contribution to life there. Especially to young people, like Chinese third-level students.

You get a free apartment, salary and the chance to visit different parts of the country. In return you give time to the students by letting them practice and improve their English. It’s a contribution to international peace and cooperation.

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