Getting to know you!

Last Saturday I was a meeting of Cultur (with a fada on the final ‘u’), the  community organisation in Navan that works with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Among those attending were women from Brazil, Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria.

A local Garda turned up to give them some idea of family disciplinary methods that are illegal in Ireland. Some of the punishment common in their home counties are banned here.  It was a practical example of the cultural problems migrant families face – not just with the culture of the locals but with their own children who get new ideas in local schools that conflict with traditions back home.  

There was also a young man from Monaghan there to encourage them to learn Irish!

‘Inclusion’ was a word often mentioned, they want to feel part of the local community.

There were no Chinese in sight though they do have a presence in Navan. The reason for their absence was that ‘they like to keep to themselves and are hard to get to know.’ That phenomenon is something I know only too well from my effort to contact Chinese in Dublin.

The Cultur Group were getting ready to join in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Navan.  

They are a great bunch of people and the wider Navan community seem to be doing their best to ‘include’ them.  

Only 17 million births in 2017 China!


A lot has been read into the Chinese stamp to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It shows five pigs (this is the ‘Year of the Pig’) a mammy, daddy and three little ones. The general opinion was that it is a signal from the Chinese Government, which established a ‘One Child’ policy in 1979 and extended it to two in 2016, that it is now encouraging three children per family.

It seems there were only 17.58 million births in China in 2017, 12% below official forecasts. It led to a fear that in the not-too-distant future there will be too many old people and not enough young to provide for them.  

In many families both parents have to hold on to jobs and prefer to put all their resources into the education and raising of one child rather than facing the financial burden of two or more.

Pig are still a symbol of prosperity in Asia so connecting pigs (prosperity) with the number of children is not farfetched.  In the West we have a story of Three Little Pigs. Two were easy-going and lazily built houses of straw and sticks while the third put extra effort into building a sturdy house of brick which the hungry wolf could not knock down. So, going that bit further and having a third child is like building up a durable family that is more likely to survive future challenges.

In the meantime, a lot of huffing and puffing is going on between the government and cautious parents, both trying to keep the wolf from the door.

Another Celebration!




The Chinese Spring Festival New Year celebrations have not yet ended in Ireland!

Last night the ‘Gala’ (as New Year concerts are called in China) was in the Maynooth University Students Union.  There were singing (no dancing), food and, of course, a raffle.

The number of students participating was boosted by a group from the Confucian Institute in Dublin.

Dishes of food were presented to each table and included favourites such as spring rolls, chicken wings, dumplings, friend rice, fried noodles and Chinese style chips. Everything else was prepared by the students themselves and if it was not up to TV-performance level, the enthusiasm and cheer made up for it.

Not all the students were Chinese, among the performers were young people from Europe,  Africa and India,  studying Chinese here.  Each table had a ‘menu’ encouraging everyone to learn a few words.

It is another reminder of how Chinese influence is extending throughout the world.  The students’ celebration illustrated the positive side.   

A Chance to Experience China

Today two more volunteer teachers set out for Hong Kong on their way to China. They will teach in state universities. One, Eimer, has already taught on the mainland and will be returning to Chongqing, a major city with a population of over 30 million people.

Margret is on her first visit and will be teaching in Wuhan which has its connections with Ireland as the Columban Fathers, who started as the Maynooth Mission to China, have their roots there.

They are sponsored by AITECE (see www.aitece.com) who have arranged a break and orientation for them in Hong Kong before setting out for the mainland.

There are now direct flights from Dublin to Hong Kong, only 12 hours on Cathay Pacific, but China and Ireland are two different worlds.

China is not just a paradise for food, exotic sights (to Western eyes) and an amazing culture but also for teachers. Or at least that is the experience of the Irish teachers who have gone there with AITECE.  They report that they have never met students who are so open, friendly and responsive – a teacher’s dream, they say.

If you have a third level degree, or know someone who has, this is a great opportunity not only to meet the students but to experience another world.

Just add on, if necessary, a short course in teaching English as a foreign language and you are ready to go! (Also, you need to between 22 and 60.)

Get in touch!

Chinese New ‘Ear’

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The best way of celebrating the Lunar New Year is to gather with a  group of friends and spend a few hours  talking, singing and making dumplings (jiaozi) together.

During the chatting, gossip about other people comes up making their ears burns –  that is why the dumplings are made in the shape of ears and the name jiaozi comes from that!

Well, actually that is not quite true. The reputed inventor of jiaozi was the doctor Zhang Zhongjing who, 1800 years ago, noted how his neighbours usually had frostbitten ears around the New Year. He made dumplings from mutton, chilli and herbs, wrapped them in a dough skin, boiled them and distributed them.  They were shaped like ears to indicate they would de-ice the ears, warm the body and increase blood flow.

Today making dumplings represents companionship, celebration, feasting and wishing each other good luck.

Last week we had such a celebration in our house. There were plenty of dumplings with music and song from China, Korea, Japan and Ireland. No frostbite was reported but everyone enjoyed the warmth, good company and even the news that was exchanged.

Maynooth in China

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Recently Maynooth University joined an international trend by opening a Maynooth College of Engineering in Fuzhou, on the east coast of China. It will offer Chinese students courses in computer science, engineering, robotics and web programming with the first 300 students graduating in 2023.

It is not Maynooth’s first contact with China, one hundred year ago Maynooth proudly gave birth to the Maynooth Mission to China. In its name, hundreds of Irish men and women went to that war-torn county between 1920 and 1954. They worked with the poorest until the early 1950s when all foreigner were expelled. The graves of some of those Irish missionaries remain there. 

The university continues this tradition in a new form. It states, ‘The partnership will prove to be a powerful model of third-level internationalisation,  one in which we engage fully with and learn from the local culture and local academic environment.’

The intention to learn from the Chinese experience in education and culture is to be praised. A number of other Western universities have found that continuing to work in China depends of self-censorship with regard to matters that might offend the government. They have had to cancel talks and visits from individuals not approved by the authorities. However, as the Maynooth college specialises in engineering it is unlikely to experience any such problems.   

Back from China!

Last Friday we had a reunion of Aitece teachers who returned from China in recent years. Between them they had put in seventy-two years of teaching English there!

As they shared their experiences the most common reflections were, ‘a wonderful time’, ‘most rewarding period of my life’, ‘amazing students’ and ‘it was so positive’.

It was also ‘send-off’ time for two new volunteers and the story of their struggle to get all the necessary documentation together in time was sobering.

In recent years many foreigners have gone to China to teach with doubtful qualifications so now everything has to be documented, notarised and certified.  Congratulations to the two who had to rush to complete the process before a deadline. After that, for them life in China will be no problem.

Hopefully the Chinese government will realise that the new regulations will deprive them of many great experience teachers who won’t want go to all that bother but in the meantime we will try to meet the demands.

The good news is that there are still fantastic opportunities to spend a year or more in China working with young people, the less good news is that you will need to apply in plenty of time to get the documentation done.

Congratulations again to the twelve teachers who have spent so many happy and productive years in China and on the good relationships they have built up on a personal level between Irish and Chinese.

Twins’ Chat

What do twins talk about before they are born? (the China connection is that this was sent to me by a Chinese lady.)

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

(The other photo is of the daffodils in our garden, there from before 1 Jan! A sign of good things to come? ) 

And what about the New Year in China?

In China the 1 January New Year has no particular feelings attached to it. It is just a time to party or relax. While Christmas is viewed as a religious celebration which might challenge the Marxist ‘economic realities only’ ideology, New Year is at worst just another Western innovations. It even boosts economic consumption so is accepted as a public holiday.

The real or Chinese ‘New Year’ will come in a month’s time with genuine cultural and religious overtones. That is the time when people take a few days off, families which may have been separated by long distances get together and old customs respecting ancestors and elders are revived.

When you think of it, in Ireland too New Year’s Day does not have the buzz of celebration like Christmas, Easter or even Halloween.  There are few memorable stories or customs associated with it. Maybe this is because it does not have a long history. Even the Church does not have a special feast to celebrate it.

The modern or Gregorian calendar, which situates New Year’s Day on  1 January, was not launched until 1582 and only in 1751 was it accepted in England (and Ireland.)  It was not recognised in China until 1912.  Today eleven cultures still do not recognise it and celebrate their New Year on dates ranging from March to June and even into our autumn (understandably especially in the Southern Hemisphere).

Looking forward to 2019, we are likely to feel an increase of China’s economic and cultural power and, to be fair, there are many useful lessons to be learnt from it.  

In the meantime, A Happy ‘Western’ New Year to All! 

No Christmas this year in China

During this Christmas Day in China students will be sitting annual exams and on strict government orders all institutions, including schools, not to celebrate, or display, any sign of the festival.

Yet, China manufactures four-fifth of Christmas decorations sold in the USA.

The government is in a bind. Its economy needs Christmas and not only for the export market. Young people like a reason to party and business enjoys the boost in local sales. 

However, the authorities feel they must downplay the occasion as part of its efforts to remove foreign cultural and religious influences.

Christmas is (originally) a religious event and the government is in the midst of efforts to supress religion, especially Islam in its less developed West and Christianity in its highly developed East.

Religion is seen as a threat to the government’s assurance of a complete paradise in this world (if not now, in the next generation or the one after that).

Meanwhile, 100 million Christians in China will go about silently celebrating a wider understanding of human aspirations.

A Happy Christmas to All!    Hugh.