Category Archives: World Traveller

I have such little faith in airport sushi that I’m looking for a cheeseburger.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Wow. Well, that wasn’t fun. I had completely forgotten how awful those long flights can be, and I have a six hour plus trip down to Singapore to go. Narita is such a weird airport; for one thing it runs completely counter to the rest of Japan in its insistence on being really, really crappy. Also, and this is key when coming off a twelve hour flight offering little but variations on curried chicken, and bizarrely, ramen (so United, you don’t think you’re going to burn someone and get sued? Really?), Narita refuses to get in line with other East Asian airports and have prominent space for an American fast food place that does no business but allows me and three other white people to get cheap food without having to queue.

The food is obviously going to be a highpoint on this trip, but right now all I want is a cheeseburger. The whole experience is odd. I’d completely forgotten the different approaches in East Asia to personal space. My completely culturally insignificant ‘manners’ are letting me down badly here, as I politely trot behind someone taking up an entire corridor with their stuff, thus frustrating the Japanese and Chinese behind me who would just blast through said luggage. It wouldn’t be rude, either. I’m the one ruining it for everyone. What else is new?

Natasha Richardson’s fate, and the fact I care, is making the whole experience rather surreal. I can’t believe I’m back here after so long. This is going to be difficult. This is going to be fun.


Made it, just.

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas.

So, woke up late, but just in time.  Woke at four thirty, possibly by the last ring of the third or fourth snooze alarm of ONE of the two alarms I set.  Panic sets in, and several calls to cab companies later I have a ride to the airport.

Now that I’m in DFW, I realize I didn’t have time to put some deodorant on before I left the house.  It’s a bit ridiculous worrying about that as I am about to set out on a trip that will take around 32 hours.  I think things will be much worse when I arrive in Singapore.  Maybe I should invest in some roll-on?

Last minute tasks before I board the plane amount to a single, important job:  frantically transfer anything I might even think of wanting to listen to or watch over to the phone.  Hopefully I’ll have somewhere to charge the DS in Tokyo.  That last leg to Singapore is going to be GREAT.

There’s a woman and her daughter sitting near me that are clearly from Mainland China and are probably going to Beijing.  I fight the urge to go over and start chatting in Chinese: opportunities to show off and subsequently by rather harshly humbled are only days away now!

I’m starting to enjoy living in the Cultural Apocalypse

Ok, so this is the least original post ever, as this clip has to be everywhere on the Internet, but wow.

I mean, wow.

It feels nice to feel foreign.

My time in America is regularly punctuated by a sudden realization of the obvious.

I’m in America.

It happens all the time on the motorway, driving past these huge signs for fast food joints and ‘family restaurants’ reaching up into the sky.  It happens whenever I drive past a car mechanic business that chose to use the word ‘lube’ in its title.  It happens when I get in my car and realize that I drive EVERYWHERE now.

This weekend just past was chock full of such moments.  My personal favourite was my unwitting recreation of every horror movie I’ve ever seen involving young people and a map.  It never dawned on me that sitting in my well-lit car in an abandoned petrol station in East Texas with nothing but my mapquest print-out and an innocent look was tempting fate.  Luckily for me I made it out alive.

The following day I traipsed around the only supermarket in said East Texas town with a fellow reveler asking loudly if he thought they had champagne.  He replied in the negative, I got my miniature football helmet from a vending machine and we left.

So not only am I being Americanized, but I’m turning into an obnoxious city person as well.  What fun.


My blog is back!!  I have a computer again!!  Life is good!!

An Irish phenomenon

Culchies.  They’re amazing.  Really.  A truly Irish phenomenon.  They reflect worldwide trends I suppose, but there is something very Irish about the culchy.

The only American term that really comes close is redneck, but… it doesn’t come close at all.  Culchies, first of all, are from the country.  Hence the term.  So, no trailer parks or anything like that.  In fact they tend to have a bit of money.  They also don’t have red necks, as the sun only came out in Ireland sometime in the 1990s, ironclad proof in my opinion of the existence of global warming.  They tend to be aggressively nationalist but not necessarily easy to mobilize in any Karl Rove sense of the word.  Culchies are Catholic and mostly practicing but don’t have any redneck type desire to reach out and convert others to their faith.  Isn’t everyone Catholic?

This is already getting difficult.  I better start with a visual aid:

 Jackie Healy Rae

That’s Jackie Healy Rae with a constituent in Kerry.  Mr. Healy Rae has been an effective independent in Irish parliament since 1997, where he campaigns for issues close to his heart, such as less stringent drink-driving laws.  Ireland’s atrocious record on the road doesn’t bother him as much as the infringement of his constituents’ rights to drink eight pints of Guinness and still be allowed to drive home.  So the man supports recklessness, or as my friend Ciaran once eloquently put it, carnage.

You see, Mr. Healy Rae is a good example for two reasons.  Firstly, he exposes the importance of regionalism in the definition of the term.  Dubliners generally consider all Irish people outside the greater Dublin metropolitan area to be culchies.  Corkonians (rightly) take exception to this, with an indignant air fuelled further by their inherent belief that Cork is actually the greatest city on the planet held back by non-natives who just don’t ‘get it’.  A New York of western Europe, as it were.  It goes on and on, as people use the term culchy to denigrate the next most rural segment of the population.  There is seemingly no endpoint, though I believe the final level of exemption is living in a settlement that has an Xtravision.

This is where the use of culchy gets tricky.  Dubs take the easy route and essentially label everyone as being a culchy, but they’re missing the point.  This brings us to my second point.  Culchies are a vibrant and interesting people, though a bit ‘earthy’, let’s say.  It’s essentially Irish culture without the sophistication.  This results in a complete lack of self-consciousness.  They are truly oblivious.  Observe:

That man makes this blog so much easier.

That man makes this blog so much easier.

Now, a lack of self-consciousness might not be a big deal for Americans, but in Ireland these things are important.  The Irish, despite being exceptionally friendly, game for a laugh, and generally fun to be around, believe very strongly in cutting down to size anyone brazen enough to pop their head above the social parapet.  Being overtly noticeable, therefore, is something to be avoided.  Culchies feel the same way but they have no idea they’re sticking out so badly.

I was at home last weekend and there were some culchies at a family event.  Nice people.  But nevertheless, certain traits stick out.  I retired to bed before three, because I can drink with Irish people, but not with culchies.  They had spent the last hour on the dance floor dancing to late 1990s dance music and trying to flip each other through the air over a wooden floor.  The following morning I woke up to hear a tale of how one of them sank into some strange maudlin reverie at half four in the morning while his friend paced outside the house waiting to physically beat my sister’s urbane friend.  I am smiling now, thinking of it.  I find comfort in familiarity.

They travel through the world with an almost violent sense of ignorance.  I don’t mean they’re stupid, I just mean that they don’t care.  My sister’s boyfriend, the alpha male of the group, spent the weekend bringing them to heel and looking mortified.

But he needn’t have bothered.  I’ve been called a culchy myself.  The trick is that all Irish people are culchies.  It’s the ether from which we have emerged.  The culchies remaining just can’t figure out why the rest of us are so stuck up.  And they might be right.  After all, culchies observe licensing laws by pulling their curtains at eleven at night when city pubs are kicking people out.  They live amongst some of the nicest scenery on the planet.  And although the rest of us might find them amusing, they really don’t care.  In an Ireland transformed into an economic mini-Godzilla characterised by tax breaks and service industries, boring conversations about the property market and middle class city-dwellers trying to make out like they know anything about wine, the culchies are very bullshit-free.  I just hope the shift from dirty Ford Mondeos to dirty Mercedes Benzes won’t change them forever.


I hate my national airline.

Seriously.  Aer Lingus is just rubbish.  I’m sitting here in Cork waiting for a flight that will end up having been delayed at least two hours.  It takes 45 minutes to get to London.  So, my well-planned trip might turn into a complete disaster.  There has been no attempt at a sincere apology and nobody is taking care of us.  I mean, I may as well fly American Airlines! Oh, wait…

I’m too irritated to grade, unless I give the poor twenty people unfair marks I’d only have to change anyway.  So I thought I’d come online and write a meaningless post.

Some points:

  • I’m glad there have been protests against the Olympic torch relay in London, and Seb Coe’s statements that the relay is about Olympic ideals is fairly disgusting. 
  • I’m going to write a post tomorrow about culchies.  They are a fascinating phenomenon.
  • I can’t stand airlines and their consistent abrogation of anything even approaching acceptable customer service (like, really).
  • Flying thousands of miles to go home for the weekend is awesome, but I don’t really recommend it.  Here’s hoping I get the grading itch on the flight to Chicago.  If I make it.

I have to switch terminals in Heathrow and go through British security, which, incidentally, is a Nazi-inspired caricature of the quasi-fictional forces from Children of Men.  I had to change bags this morning to accomodate a box of chocolates because I don’t feel like being verbally abused and conceivably shot. 

I am Irish, you know.  They don’t forget that stuff.

Rolex is not in the dictionary.

So, last night I played Scrabble. For the first time since I was about seven years old. Rather than admit this of course, I pointed out that I speak proper English and therefore was destined to win, and inwardly started planning how to accept victory graciously.

Yeah, well. Scrabble is hard. For me, anyway. Though I could be stupid. A few things:

  1. You can get points from more than one word at once. I didn’t know this. So, spelling out ‘sordid’ on one line and rendering ‘malfunction’ plural on the other is really, really good.
  2. All the words I think of in Scrabble are good words, but worth about ten points.
  3. Scrabble makes you really, really sleepy.

All of this was new to me. For example, I got the words ‘tacit’, ‘tannoy’, and ‘yob’, all of which I considered pretty cool words. The game didn’t agree with me. I got virtually no points at all!! Except for ‘yob’, I suppose. Having sat down and considered this carefully, there’s only one logical conclusion.

The game is flawed. I mean, come on, ‘tacit’ is an excellent word. It sounds nice, and it has an inherently nuanced meaning. You hear me? Nuanced. How could I not dominate my peers at Scrabble? Or at least be competitive.

Something has to give. I can deal with being rubbish at activities that involve running around or having some kind of hand to eye coordination, but this is nerdy stuff. This is my domain, people. If I’m not good at things like this….. I’m getting a bit worried.

scrabble from al.garcia on Vimeo.