The Little Things That Count

I'm thankful for this photo of a dog dressed as a pug next to a pug looking perplexed.

I’m thankful for this photo of a dog dressed as a pug next to a pug looking perplexed.

I know it’s a day late but, happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Let’s all take a moment from our epic turkey-stuffing-mashed potato meals and be grateful for what we have today. I have been blessed with so much, but the best things are the small things; the little intricacies of life that many take for granted, are forgotten, or easily overlooked. They are usually hidden within the larger, more obvious blessings. Ever since I’ve left for Ireland, these blessings appear more and more important. Here are the Top 5 little things that make me thankful while I’m here in Cork:

My mom's care-packages are the best!

My mom’s care-packages are the best!

1. Family

Of all the people in the world, I literally wouldn’t be alive today without my family. My mom has been so supportive ever since I’ve decided to go study abroad. The only thing she said prior to my study abroad application was, “As long as you graduate on time and your grades are good!” She sends these small, but very much appreciated care-packages that just always hit the spot. For the last couple of weeks, the hat that I brought with me to Ireland had shrunk in the laundry, so I’ve been meaning to get a new one. I didn’t say one word to my mom about it, though. Next thing I knew, the next care-package she sent me included a new hat, pumpkin tea, Advil, Christmas stockings with my initials, and a Michael Buble CD. I swear I think she can read my mind sometimes. My sister and I don’t Skype too many times (I’m not much of a Skype-fan actually), but when we do it’s always about something deep or important. These small talks we have are very uplifting for me, because I go months at a time without seeing her (same goes for my mom). Of course once we all go home, we get annoyed of each other fairly quickly. Doing my studies far from home though, whether it be in Boston or in Cork, has given me more of an appreciation for my family.

Friends!

Friends!

2. Friends 

I have all 10 seasons! And also… I love my friends! I’ve been fortunate to have met so many amazing people all over the world! It really is awesome when I think about the people I’ve met, their stories, and from where they all are! From my close group of friends back home in LA whom I miss to death, to my amazing friends in Boston whom I can’t wait to see for my final semester at Umass, and now to my new friends here in Ireland (some study abroad students from all over the states, others from all around the world!), I cherish each and every one of them. I love every story each person has, and they all have a story (especially the Irish). But the best little thing I love about my friends is all the laughter. For me, laughing with somebody, I mean actual laughing not that fake laugh you do because you feel sorry for the guy (I get this a lot because of my corny jokes, which I don’t mind at all. It’s better than no laughing), epitomizes a good time and a special bond, even if it’s just for that moment. True laughter makes you smile, and smiling makes you feel better. I read somewhere that if you ever feel down, put on a smile. Even though it’s not real, it tricks your mind and you’ll feel better. I think the same thing goes with laughter. I love it when my friends and I have a good laugh together. :)

I'll admit it. I am addicted to Chipsy Kings.

I’ll admit it. I am addicted to Chipsy Kings.

3. Good Food

Let’s be real here. A good burger every now and again just makes me happy. It’s especially comforting far from home. I’ve been pleasantly surprised of the food here in Cork, Ireland.  The first thing that I’d suggest a visiter from the States to try would HAVE to be Chipsy Kings. I absolutely am addicted to their Taco Beef Fries. They serve these perfect chips (fries) in a paper cone that acts like a cup to hold the goodness in. They then add cheese, beef, onions, and either garlic mayo or taco mayo on top. It all melts deliciously together for what I call heaven in a cone. Another great place is Jackie Lennox. They have the best fish and chips in town. Apparently, there are a lot of other restaurants copying Jackie Lennox, but the one I go to is the original, and of course the people working there are super nice, too. There’s also Rockin’ Joe’s (formerly Eddie Rockets). It’s basically Cork’s version of Johnny Rockets. They serve your typical American food. I try not to go there a lot since I’ll be coming home to burgers, fries, and shakes anyway, but I can’t resist. Lastly, there’s SuperMacs next to the cinema in North Main street. They sell Papa John’s pizza along with fried chicken, some burgers, and chips. I know it’s not the best food, but I crave some fried chicken sometimes. On the down side, the Asian food in Cork isn’t the best. Their Chinese take-away and sushi isn’t as good as in the States. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for what they do have. Writing about the food here makes me appreciate it further, actually… and hungrier too.

Me practicing my Irish step dancing at the Blarney Castle Hotel.

Me practicing my Irish step dancing at the Blarney Castle Hotel.

4. Good Health

I’ve been blessed with good health, which is very helpful when traveling far from home. You never want to be going great distances feeling ill. There’s something my body does which I still don’t really understand how. It never really gets sick. Maybe I get the cold once a year, for about three days tops. But other than that, nothing too drastic. With this good health, I’ve been able to attentively travel. I’ve been able to be polite and positive since I don’t feel like crap. If I have any advice for those looking to travel, try your best to be healthy right before and during traveling. Sleeping well, doing some sort of exercise or outdoor activity, eating healthfully (contrary to what I’ve been talking about on #3), and keeping in touch with your family and friends back home are all keys to being healthy and enjoying yourself away from home for an extended period of time. These would be good tips by which to live anyway!

Basketball is my favorite sport. I like the way they dribble up and down the court. I keep it so fresh on the microphone. I like no interruption when the game is on. I like slam-dunks that take me to the hoop. My favorite play is the alley-oop. I like the pick-n-roll. I like the give-n-go. And its basketball Bow Wow lets go.

Basketball is my favorite sport. I like the way they dribble up and down the court. I keep it so fresh on the microphone. I like no interruption when the game is on. I like slam-dunks that take me to the hoop. My favorite play is the alley-oop. I like the pick-n-roll. I like the give-n-go. And its basketball.                           -Bow Wow

5. Sports, TV Shows, Movies, and Good Music

These are the things that fill in the time between adventures. In my cozy little man cave I call my apartment, I like to have music playing in the background (Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Airborne Toxic Event… you know, the good stuff). I try to keep up with my shows back in the States when I can. Project-Free-TV and NETFLIX are the bomb-diggity. I can watch my favorite shows, such as  How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Parks and Rec, American Horror Story, Walking Dead, just to name a few. I also stream football online. The games are usually very late here in Ireland, with the 8 hour time difference to LA and all. I usually fall asleep to a game… or 4. Same goes with basketball games. I love basketball. I NEED to watch/ play it to keep sane. It’s just how I function. So I actually bought the NBA Euro League Pass so I can watch games. I only bought 3 month’s worth of course. To me it’s worth it :)

I hope everyone had a safe and delicious Thanksgiving! Don’t ever forget about the small blessings that life’s given us!

Until next time,

Peace, Love, Respect!

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A Very Corky Christmas Lighting

Christmas Tree and lights on Saint Patrick's Street.

Christmas Tree and lights on Saint Patrick’s Street.

This semester studying abroad has been such a blast, and it’s such a downer that it’s almost over (one month left!). However, I am excited to come back home to my friends and family. I can’t wait to grab a pint with my friends and tell them about my experiences here in Ireland.

With that said, the amazing people of Cork, Ireland, were given a treat with a (what I assume to be annual) Christmas lighting on Saint Patrick’s street last night! This will be the first time I will not be home for Thanksgiving (I usually travel from college in Boston to home in LA for the weekend then back again), so I’ll take any kind of Christmas/ Thanksgiving themed festivity I can get. Besides, Christmas time is my favorite time of the year! It was a chilly night, nothing like Boston-cold but chilly nonetheless. My friends, Christine, Jessie, Heather, Janet, Amber, Marine, and I heard about this event a week ago, so we expected there to be a good showing. But when we got there, we were quite surprised at how packed Saint Patrick’s street was! There were men, women, children, children on strollers, children with strollers, children holding other children in strollers… just so many people. Christmas music was playing. When there wasn’t music on, there was a choir singing Christmas songs. One guy was even rapping to a Christmas song on stage (the audio was hard to hear far from the stage so I couldn’t really hear much of what was being sung or said). From what we could hear, we sang along. We were those typical obnoxious Americans, singing out loud and dancing along like we own the place. It’s ok, the kids loved it! It was definitely a fun atmosphere. After about an hour and a half of waiting (Christine, Amber and I each took at least 3 long videos anticipating the lighting… in fact, at one point, we took videos of each other taking videos of each other, we were that antsy…), they finally turned on the lights. Rather anti-climatic (for some reason we were expecting fireworks and Santa flying across the night sky), the lighting was still very enjoyable since the street just got a huge positive vibe right after. Here were the photos I was able to take last night:

A very cool green-light Christmas tree on Reardens on Washington Street.

A very cool green-light Christmas tree on Reardens on Washington Street.

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Before the lights turned on.

Before the lights turned on.

We were stuck behind a taxi and bus stop.

We were stuck behind a taxi and bus stop.

A close-up on the choir.

A close-up on the choir.

Some light candy canes on a suit store window.

Some light candy canes on a suit store window.

Dunnes all lit up.

Dunnes all lit up.

Someone's picky this holiday season!

Someone’s picky this holiday season!

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After the lights turned on!

After the lights turned on!

So many people!

So many people!

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A look down an alley from the main street.

A look down an alley from the main street.

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This was the banner in front of the Christmas tree.

This was the banner in front of the Christmas tree.

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We were pretty hungry afterwards, so we did what every American would do when we’re hungry. We bought a large amount of Dominos pizza, chicken dippers, garlic bread, cookies and stuffed ourselves to our satisfaction. ‘Twas a grand night, like.

We didn’t see Santa, but the Christmas spirit was alive and well here in Cork! I’m glad I got to be part of it this year!

Happy holidays everyone!

Peace. Love. Respect.

Cúpla focal faoi Chontae Dhún na nGall

If you’re wondering about the title, it means “A few words about County Donegal” in Irish… or at least that’s what the pamphlet our tour guide gave us said it means. I’m writing this a few weeks after our great exploration of County Donegal in the north western part of Ireland, so my already questionable memory might be a little off. I will try my best, as I always do, to recollect my experiences with ya’ll. Thank goodness for photos, though, am I right? Inspiration to write comes and goes for me. And I often only feel like I need to write if I can write well. Anyway, that’s besides the point…

DONEGAL! What a long and winding road we took to get there. Literally. From Cork, my fellow explorers (Alyssa, Kaitlyn, and Kelsey) and I took a bus to Dublin first, which lasted about three hours. We left on a Friday morning before sunrise and got a small breakfast in a bus depot in Dublin. From there on, the trip just got more winding as the roads got smaller and rougher heading northwest from Dublin. I don’t exactly remember how long it took from Dublin to our next stop (my memory has yet again failed me here, sorry folks), but I know we got dropped off at a small fishing town at night fall. By that point, I had already experienced full-blown car sickness from all the winding roads. I was happy our bus travel was almost over. From there we were taken to our hostel, which seemed like in the middle of nowhere. All I could remember looking outside the shuttle bus was how dark it was. There were no lights besides that from the bus so we couldn’t really see anything outside. My friends and I joked that we couldn’t tell if what we were looking at outside from the bus was a field of grass or a wall of bricks. That’s how dark it was. The darkness also didn’t help when we were trying to figure out as to when we should get off. We actually got off one stop after our hostel. The owner of the hostel was conveniently waiting outside and saw that the bus had not stopped, so she followed us in her car to the next stop. She kindly took us back to the hostel and got us properly settled. Another example of the kind hospitality of the Irish!

One of the first things I noticed stepping outside were the stars! I mean, it wasn’t even that clear of a night, but since there was no light pollution, the stars just stood out so perfectly. I  looked up and whispered, “Wow”. The hostel itself was absolutely wonderful. It’s called Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille iMaliinmore, Glencolumbkille, County Donegal. You can check out their Facebook page here. It was very homey and well kept. The four of us shared a room for 2 nights. Each of us paid only 10 euro each night, plus five euro for each breakfast. Here are some photos I took of the hostel during the day when we could actually see things:

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The backside view of the hostel.

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The parking lot view of the hostel.

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We had the end room.

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Where the magic happens ;) Just kidding, it’s just my bed for the two nights.

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View from our room.

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Another angle.

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The dining hall.

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The kitchen.

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Gotta love the old fashioned keys!

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After a good night’s sleep, we went on a guided tour on Saturday. However, before we went out we had breakfast. It was the first time I ate a full Irish breakfast, and lemme tell ya, it was sooooo sooooo good. Toast and butter, sausages, an egg, “bacon” (I put it in quotes because it’s basically what we Americans know as ham, but it was still delicious), and what they call pudding (which is made from deep frying left-over parts). The black pudding supposedly has cow blood in it (or something like that). Having eaten my fair share of questionable foods in the Philippines, this didn’t bother me at all. It was quite good actually.

My full Irish breakfast. If I could eat that everyday I'd be a happy (and probably unhealthy) man.

My full Irish breakfast. If I could eat that everyday I’d be a happy (and probably unhealthy) man.

I could talk about food all day, and I probably will write about the food here in Ireland another time, but back to the tour… Kelsey had contacted a tour guide through Tour Donegal, a privately started business. One of its founders, Derek, was our tour guide for that day. He explained that his tours are personalized, meaning we can go basically anywhere we wanted to go. Derek had a pre-planned course to maximize our experience, but it totally depended on what we wanted to see. Our first stop was a 6,000 year old tomb. Amazingly, the marshes in which the tomb was enclosed preserved it through the years. It was remarkable how some of these huge boulders weighing at least a ton were moved before the invention of the wheel! Needless to say these ancient people left no stone unturned.

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Afterwards, Derek took us to the Slieve League Cliffs. These cliffs were breathtaking. At its highest point, they stand at 601 meters (1,972 feet) tall, which is three times taller than the more famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, another place I want to visit. Standing on a wooden deck viewing the cliffs, it’s almost as if I forgot I was afraid of heights. For some reason it didn’t seem so high. The wonderful colors of green, orange, brown and red dominated the cliff side. We could see a  small waterfall along one side of a cliff. The weather definitely made things more interesting; it was very misty. It was rather cold up there too, mostly because of the winds. We had to exit the car one by one carefully, because Derek said that the winds could literally blow the doors off (it has happened to him before). Despite being a bit nippy, the view was absolutely worth it. The more dedicated and braver hikers walked from the bottom of the cliff entrance, which was a good 8 minute drive from where we got out.

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Walking Dead reference for those who know what I mean.

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An ancient Napoleonic watch tower.

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The waterfall.

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Next up was Muckross Head, a popular climbing cliff due to its horizontal stratifications. Along its beach, we could see huge 10 ton boulders that were moved by the brute force of the Atlantic tides during a storm. Derek mentioned that he’d seen certain boulders in different locations of the beach depending on whether or not a storm had recently occurred. On top of the cliffs, there used to be an ancient structure there. Only the steps remained. This piece of archeology is just one of thousands (documented and undocumented) scattered around the Emerald Isle.

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These were some of the boulders that were moved by the storm.

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Ancient steps and a piece of archeology.

Ancient steps and a piece of archeology.

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On our way to the next site, we stopped by a bridge over a river known as the Owenea River. I believe Derek said that it means “the river of the deer”. Despite not seeing any deer, we did go along the river and spotted a big boulder. This boulder, Derek said, was an ancient boundary indicator that the town had ended. It was common to have a stone or boulder at the edge of towns indicating where it begins and where it ends. Another example of the history around Ireland.

Still no deer...

Still no deer…

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This boulder indicated the end of the town.

This boulder indicated the end of the town.

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Just to make sure we were in the right river.

Just to make sure we were in the right river.

Afterwards, we went to one of the more popular tourist sites of the county: the Assarancagh waterfall and the Maghera Sea Caves. I’ll show the photos first, since there are no words that could possible capture what I’m about to show you.

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Oh we also saw a sheep dog herding some sheep.

Oh we also saw a sheep dog herding some sheep.

The climb down was very fun.

The climb down was very fun.

Group pic.

Group pic.

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Inside view of a sea cave.

Inside view of a sea cave.

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Group waterfall pic.

Group waterfall pic.

Breathtaking. Looking back at these photos, I remember how I felt when we first got there and saw the sites. We first got to the waterfall, and by then the rain had stopped momentarily. The only moisture was coming from the waterfall itself. It doesn’t look it, but there was A LOT of water coming down in that waterfall. You could hear the waterfall pour down like it means business. I guess coming from LA, any amount of water coming naturally down would seem like a lot. But, wow, that was a powerful site to see, hear, and feel.

When we were done being amazed by the Assarancagh waterfall, we made our way to the Maghera beach. It was the most perfect sequence of events, really. All day the weather had been pretty bad. Rainy and windy, the worst combination. However, the moment we parked before we got to the beach, the clouds parted and the sun stuck its pretty face out as if to smile at us. We gladly welcomed the sun’s warmth as we walked onto the beach. My eyes had to adjust to the sudden change in lighting, but when it did, what I saw was, like I said, breathtaking. Green everywhere. For miles. Thin green vegetation waving at us as we walked, as if to say “Hello there, Americans! Welcome to true Ireland!” I was very torn at this moment. One part of me just wanted to stop… take a deep breath…and take in everything… the green… the freshness of it all…  I often found myself trying to catch up to the rest of the group because of this. Another part of me couldn’t wait to see what’s next! And yet another part of me, the one that reminds me to document everything for future reference, wanted to take photographs of everything! I managed to balance all three, so I was happy. The beach itself was very pristine. The reflection from the wet sand of the sky was gorgeous. It literally looked like a great piece of art, except better because it was real! Derek walked us across the beach to the elevated sea cave, and we did some exploring. The whole experience was just very fun. That was the last site of the tour, and he definitely saved the best for last. It was supposed to be a five hour tour, but we ended up spending about seven hours with Derek. I highly recommend his personalized touring if you ever go to County Donegal.

Back at the hostel, we met this older couple having their holiday there as well. They are from Northern Ireland, but they spent some time in the States. The man was a professor and the woman used to be a factory worker in Berkeley, California. We were talking about America, when the woman told me this story: She had lived in Northern Ireland during the whole IRA bombing days and what not. Whenever she would enter a store in Northern Ireland, she would get inspected by a security guard in front of the store. She would open her coat and her bag so to let the man inspect for bombs and weapons. Eventually, she moved to Berkeley. During her first visit to a store (it was a K-Mart she said), she saw a man outside and instinctively walked up to him, opened her coat and her bag for him to inspect. Very confused, the man looked at her weird and eventually ran away startled as to what just happened. It was then when the woman realized she was no longer in Northern Ireland. I had a good laugh at that one.

One thing that really got to me was what the man said though. He used to teach at a university in California. Or was it New York. I forgot which one (of course). But he said that one of the things that he noticed after his time in the States was how morally conscious the youth were. He said that many students were very positive and had a good outlook in life. He said it gave him more respect for Americans as well as hope for the future.

The next day, we departed from County Donegal, amazed at what we saw. If you can’t tell, I still am.

One of the street signs near our hostel.

One of the street signs near our hostel.

Until next time,

Peace. Love. Respect.

UCC Through My Eyes

Every Monday, I have one hour between my environment and public health class and my cultures of cities class. With this one hour i like to explore around University College, Cork. Here is a brief description of my experience so far:

For the first couple of weeks of classes, the weather was relatively dry. To my surprise it didn’t rain as much as I was told. This lack of precipitation made for some very enjoyable days outside. Usually in the 60’s (fahrenheit) the weather allowed me to sit in the Quad where my cultures of cities class was being held. I would people-watch most of the time. I tend to try to look at differences between different types of people. In this case I was trying to spot the differences between the people in Ireland and people in America. One very obvious thing I noticed was that there are so many blonds here! Either natural blonds or dyed. I believe it’s the style most girls preferred here. Another difference is the clothing of some males. Very rarely do I see baggy jeans or really skinny jeans. In fact the most common type of pants are sweats. Sweats and hoodies are a common site. Maybe it’s just the college scene? Anyway, the best part about my site seeing during this time has to be the Quad itself. The East and West Wing surround the Quad. The best way I can describe it is as if I was looking at a castle that was turned into a building with lecture halls and classrooms. From the outside, the castle-looking structure has green and red vegetation along its walls. The black and gold clock on top of the clock tower gives it a majestic, almost royal touch. The red and black flags on top of the clock tower makes it seem like the Lannisters own this land, like something out of Game of Thrones.

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Sometimes on a nice day I would sit at a bench in the pathway between the O’Rahilly Building (they call it the ORB) and the student center. The ORB is a modern looking grey colored building. Very serious looking. Almost like a prison but with a lot more windows and has a psuedo-starbucks inside. This is where the science courses were being taught I believe.  I was told that the ORB was the hardest building to navigate through at UCC. After going inside and looking at the way they constructed the hallways, I realized why. Every time two hallways connected there would be this pentagonal room separating them. To make matters worse, the numbering of each room was tricky too. Thank goodness I didn’t have any classes here!

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At the very end of the path lies the Honan Chapel. Earlier in the semester there were wedding ceremonies being held in this chapel. I heard rumors that only UCC graduates are allowed to get married here. Now, I often see little children dressed in long black gowns, almost like a scene from Harry Potter. On the back of said gowns I could see an owl. It seems as if, even if for only a moment, I was going to Hogwarts. Except there were no life-sized chess pieces and moving stair cases (that I know of at least). However, I wouldn’t doubt it if someone told me there was magic here. (I mean there are leprechauns roaming around somewhere right?)

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After the first couple of weeks of classes however, the weather started to do what it was supposed to here. It rains pretty much every day now which makes me appreciate my UCC raincoat that much more. When it does rain, I find myself in the student center after getting a 2 euro caffe mocha at a caffe on campus. I could barely hear myself think in the student center, which sometimes isn’t that bad a thing. It almost is always filled with students. I’m lucky to find a seat. On the side facing the ORB and the chapel, the student center has a huge glass side so i can look outside and watch as the rain pours. People pass bye, some with umbrellas, most with raincoats.

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One of the main adjustments I had to make (and am still making) is trying to figure out what the heck everyone is trying to say to me. Besides the Irish accent, it’s hard for me to understand a lot of the vernacular that they speak here. For example, one of the first Irish words the international students were taught was “craic”. “Craic” is pronounced “crack”. So when one of the staff said, “Where’s the craic tonight!?” everyone just laughed. Of course, he explained afterwards what the word actually mean. Another misleading thing was during the Irish Hurling final, people kept yelling “UP THE REBELS!” Now, Cork is the rebel city. Since in America when someone says “up yours, buddy!” it’s usually a bad thing, I was highly confused as to what they were trying to say. Actually it basically has the same connotation as if we were to yell out “GO REBELS”. And lastly, I’ll leave you with this last thing. Like in America, the word “like” is used pretty much in every other sentence. EXCEPT, instead of putting it in the middle of sentences, the Irish (or at least people in Cork) put it in the end of sentences. Example: American= It’s, like, raining so hard. Corkies (that’s what I call people from Cork): It’s pissing out of the heavens, like!

So when I go back home to Los Angeles, I’ll probably be asking my friends where the craic is, while constantly yelling “UP THE LAKERS!”, and comparing the weather by saying, “It’s never pissing out of the heavens, like.”

:)

Rocking the Spoons in Ireland

My new friend Barry, has been playing spoons since 1957. He told me he first learned it when he saw a man playing spoons at a pub and asked to teach him how to play. He said he learned it within 10 minutes. About a month ago 56 years later, I asked him if he could teach me how to play the spoons. In 10 minutes he showed me the way to properly hold them and how to keep rhythm. “It’s all in the grip” he said. Needless to say, I have a lot of practice to do if I want to be as good as Barry! Maybe in 50 years I’ll be asked by a random kid drinking Guinness and Jameson at a pub if I could teach him how to play! One can only dream. You can watch him play here: Barry playing the spoons

That's me in the red trying to learn from Barry a week later in the Blarney Castle Hotel.

That’s me in the red trying to learn from Barry a week later in the Blarney Castle Hotel. He also plays the flute, but I’ll stick with the spoons for now.