Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Certain Type of Belfast Bird

Photo courtesy of Jet Loe on Flickr

It never ceases to amaze me how they can all dress scantilly clad in freezing weather and wear enough makeup to spackle a house!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My First Encounter with Racism

A few weeks after I arrived here, I had my first encounter with racism...

Craig and I took the bus home from a long day of shopping at the City Centre. We were sitting across from a young couple with their child. The little boy looked at me and started pointing. The father whispered to the kid and the kid looked at me again and blew rasberries at me. I smiled and thought nothing of it, he's just being a kid.

Our stop came up and we proceeded to head down the aisle to the exit. Just as we got up from our seats, the little boy's father said under his breath but loud enough for Craig to hear, "He must have went to Thailand." This infuriariated Craig and he turned around to give him more than a piece of his mind. Luckily, I was right behind him and I had to literally push him off the bus. Craig was more pissed off than I was. Actually, I wasn't pissed off at all. I have experienced worse in my lifetime. It was no big deal and to engage in a fight with someone who is that ignorant is really not worth it. And besides, what should I be offended about? Thailand is a beautiful country with friendly people and amazing food!

I am sort of an anomaly here and I don't exactly blend in with the locals. Because let's face it...I have brown skin and 99% of the people around me are white. People don't quite know how to peg me. I look Asian yet I have an American accent. So the first thing they see is Asian, not American. I've had one stranger come up to me mistaking me for Korean and insisting I was Korean after I told her many times I am an American w/ Filipino heritage. That was weird. Or some have automatically assumed that I am a nurse working at the nearby hospital because of the influx of Filipino healthcare workers that have emigrated to Northern Ireland the past 8 years. I've lost count on how many times I've said, "No, I'm not a nurse." I've had others with the best of their intentions, speak to me like I don't understand English and I confuse them even more when I respond back sounding like a Yank.

This got me thinking about immigrants in Belfast who come from whatever country to build a life here like my parents did when they emigrated to the US. What is life here like for them? And what is it like for their children growing up here? Why did they choose to live here? My fiance said ever since the Celtic Tiger there has been an ever increasing number of immigrants who have come to work in Northern Ireland. A big majority of the temp workers in his company come from Poland or other parts of Eastern Europe. There are also a lot of Africans, Asians (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia), and those from the Middle East most are students who come to study at either Queen's or University of Ulster. The Chinese have been here ever since he can remember as a kid and possibly longer. He's noticed a lot more Filipinos around the late 90's.

Out of curiosity, I look up on google the immigrant consensus of Belfast and I find pages upon pages of hits regarding various racist attacks dating back around 2003. Most of them taking place in South Belfast on Donegall Road. I am guessing this is where a large majority of ethnic groups reside. I was apalled to read about ethnic cleansing campaigns by alleged loyalist thugs. Pipe bombs thrown into people's homes. Grafitti all over houses and cars telling the Chinese and Filipino communities to get out with swastikas and right wing slogans. Sinn Fein even stepped in condemning these attacks and warned that there must be a stop to this before someone ends up being killed. In 2004, Filipino nurses had become victims of attacks at such an alarming number that even President Arroyo of the Philippines took notice and directed her Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate with the UK authorities for the protection of Filipino citizens in Northern Ireland.

The most recent racist attack was just 2 weeks ago! A Bangladeshi student was ganged up by 15 people who kicked and beat him to the ground. He ran to a nearby home for help and it took 2 and a half hours for police to respond! In a BBC article from 2004 Duncan Morrow of the Community Relations Council stated: "I think we have a lazy toleration of racism in this community and that has got to stop, because clearly people are under attack," he said. "This is now very serious, as it's becoming regular." No shit! It's now the year 2009 and it still took 2 1/2 hours for the police to respond? WTF?

Is it any coincidence that these racist attacks have been growing in number since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement? I guess they need someone else to target their aggression on if they can't target their own people. Do these loyalist thugs realize that their ancestors were also immigrants who settled from Scotland? Oh, the irony! Further proof there are ignorant assholes everywhere.

Oh, and before I forget. To the guy on the bus: If you want to be racist, get it right..."He went to CALIFORNIA not Thailand!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I have received 4 emails from my mother reminding me to go to mass on Ash Wednesday. I promised her that I would go. Now that Ash Wednesday is here, I'm not so sure if I should.

For one, I would have to go to church on the other side of the Peaceline which is a pain in the ass. Walking there wouldn't be a problem since people would think I was a tourist anyway. I just hate weaving around to get through those gates and walking there alone is intimidating and scary.

Second, I'm not so sure if it's a great idea to be walking back home through a hardcore Protestant area with a big black smear on my forehead. I might as well wear a neon sign that says, "I'M CATHOLIC!" It is just as bad as wearing a Celtic shirt.

Third, even though Craig's family doesn't care. I think the neighbors will be suspicious seeing that they are harboring a Fenian in their house. As far as I know, they think I'm just an American. But a Catholic? I don't know how that would go well with the neighbors and I don't want to get Craig's family into trouble.

I can go to mass and wipe the ashes off before I leave the church. But what would be the point in going to mass in the first place? That would defeat the purpose. The whole point is to wear your ashes until sundown to show the world you are repenting.

Never in my life would I have thought "getting ashed" would be such a dilemma. If only my mother knew...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pancake Tuesday

It's Pancake Tuesday here in Belfast folks! It's the only time of year when stores are stocked with pancake mix and people hoard them like it's a nuclear fallout. Don't ask me why they only eat pancakes once a year because my fiance doesn't even know. I think it ties in with Ash Wednesday so people stuff their bakes with pancakes before they fast for lent. Craig's family is Protestant so I don't understand why they are on the bandwagon, probably because it's a British tradition.

This is the reason why my family sends me a jumbo box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix every couple of months (bless their hearts) because pancakes are outlawed for the rest of the year. Ironically, today is the day when we ran out of Aunt Jemima. :(

Everyone in the family was disappointed because they've had Aunt Jemima for the whole year with their tea thanks to my influence. Hehe. So Craig's mom went to Tesco to buy some mix. And boy, were they sad skinny little thingies.

Craig's sister was pouting and demanded the big fluffy American pancakes. I guess I'm going to have to put another order in with my parents because whatever the princess wants, she gets.

Belfastisms: My Struggle with the Belfast Accent

If you type in Google search "How to Speak Norn Iron" or "High till Speak Norn Iron", you come up with over 8,000 pages of various instruction websites. Some sites are even sophisticated enough to accompany their definition of idioms with mp3 soundbytes so you can learn the accent. I didn't realize that Norn Iron was quite popular until I found a girl on youtube who was practically pleading out to the interwebs if there was anyone who can teach her how to speak Norn Iron. As she put it, "I really need to learn how to do the Northern Irish accent." You hear that? She really needs to, people. Can someone help the poor girl? She seems desperate.

According to this dude, "Norn Iron is a variation of the English and Scottish language except butchered hideously", which is an accurate description. If you watch his video, you'll notice his accent. For one, you can understand him and chances are you will find it very rare coming across people like him unless you're hanging out at the University or wealthier places like the Malone Road or Stranmillis. He has what my fiance pegged as a "posh accent" with hints of the countryside. Nevertheless, this dude annoys my fiance to the point he wants to wring his neck for reasons I don't know. I'm guessing one reason for his hostility is because 95% of the Belfast population do not speak like a pirate and don't even use half the words that dude has outlined in his video. And he hates how everytime the dude says a word he makes air quotation marks. Yes that would drive anyone to violence.

My first encounter with the Belfast accent was, of course, when I met my fiance Craig 3 years ago (but he doesn't count because I could understand him from the get-go). Maybe because he watches too many American movies, I don't know. My real encounter with actual spiedy talk (working class Belfast accent) was when I was picked up at the airport by Craig's family. His stepdad was driving and he was talking to me behind the wheel. Everytime he would say something I would get nervous because I couldn't understand a thing he was saying. His accent was so thick he would mumble a lot, and talk so quickly I couldn't get anything in context. It sounded like all the words melded into each other. His mom was aware of my difficulty to grasp the language and was kind enough to talk to me nice and slow and pronounce every syllable like I was a 3 year old, "He--llo, Mad--dy--Hooooooow---aarre--yooo--tooo-daaaay"? It was funny and the entire family would bust a gut everytime she spoke to me.

You can imagine how I was communicating with the locals for the next few months. Anything they said after "Hello", my response was, "I'm sorry?, "What did you say?", "I don't understand, sorry", or I would mostly resort to "Uh-huh", nod my head and pretend to know what they are talking about. I was very self-conscious about annoying many people, but they understand that I'm just a stupid Yank and know to be patient with me.

Now it's almost a year, I can pretty much understand everyone. His mom doesn't have to talk to me like a three year old. I don't have to nod my head and pretend I understand people most of the time. I can even emulate the accent down pat. People often ask me how to say this and that in a Belfast accent for their amusement. First their eyes bug out in amazement, then they bust out laughing. I'm a great hit at parties now. Although, there are some instances where I don't understand but it's not the accent that gets me it's the new idioms that enter my vocabulary almost everyday. Some of them go right over my head.

Here's a vocubulary list that I've got down so far:

Aye = yes

What about ye? = How are you?

What's the craic? = What's going on?

Craic= Fun We're going to a pub in the Cathedral Quarter to have some pints and listen to a session, it will be great craic.

No bother = no worries

Dear = expensive A holiday in Italy is awfully dear.

Dander = Go for a walk. Let's take a dander up the Shankill to the chippy.

Chippy = Fish and Chip shop.

Yer man/Yer woman = I don't quite understand the meaning of this but they refer to it a lot and it's not necessarily someone I know. You know yer man at the chippy, has got cockles for sale. *shrugs*

Bake = mouth Are you gonna stuff yer bake with Tayto crisps all day?

Flat balls = lazy person, I hear Craig's mom saying this to her SO all the time while he watches horse racing or football Hey flat balls, are you gonna sit in front of the tv all day or you gonna drive me to Tesco?

Aye, yer ma?= It's a last resort insult engaging in playful banter.
-Show us yer baps.
-Aye, yer ma?

Baps = tits or two pieces of round bread

Ballix = testicles or used in context when you think someone is full of shit. I'll knock yer ballix in. or Don't talk ballix!

Fuck up = Shut up

Dead on = Right on or OK

So it is or so I did = They say this alot after a sentence. I went to Argus, so I did. or The price of fillet is dear, so it is.

Right = means they agree with you or they say this after a sentence to make a point.
You fuck up or I'll knock yer bollix in, right?!?

Blocked = to be pissed drunk. I was so blocked I went to tesco and bought foil. There's a story to this. Craig's mom had too much wine to drink at her company's christmas party. She had two glasses and was 'blocked' so in her drunken stupor she asked Craig's stepdad to drive her to Tesco and buy some foil. The woman is a party animal!

These are all the phrases I can come up with off the top of my head. There will be more to come! Isn't Norn Iron such a poetic and beautiful play on language? BTW...if you wanna hear real spiedy talk (working class Belfast accent) click here. Warning: The language is graphic and it's NSFW, so I wouldn't turn it up for your cubemates to hear if I was you, right?

Monday, February 23, 2009


My survey says 9 out of 10 Belfastians I meet would describe their city as a "shithole". When people ask me where I'm from and I tell them San Francisco, I get a look of shock and a furrowed eyebrow of disapproval as if, "Why on earth have you chosen to live in a shithole like Belfast?". I tell them that the complexity of Belfast fascinates me and I love the raw grittiness and there is something satisfying about witnessing the rebirth of a city in its early stages of development. I also tell them despite their disbelief, there are actual hidden gems in this city, you just have to dig deep in order to find it.

In response, one incredulous Belfastian retorted...

"That gem you're referring to is called Belfast International Airport and it's where people fly out of this fuckin turd ranch to places like San Francisco."

This statement alone begs the question, "Why are Belfastians so self-deprecating when it comes to their city?". OK, I agree it's not the prettiest city I've seen, but if you take into account the history, you'll admit that it is better now than it was 10 years ago when it looked like the war torn streets of Baghdad.

So, why is it still a shithole when clearly there have been signs of redevelopment throughout the city such as Victoria Square, a £400m shopping and entertainment complex which is the biggest and one of the most expensive property developments ever undertaken in Northern Ireland and the Titanic Quarter which is in the planning stages of transforming its former shipyard land into one of the largest waterfront developments in Europe. Also since 2001, there have been a growing number of tourists visiting Belfast. Frommer's has even listed Belfast as one of the top destinations for 2009:

Belfast, Northern Ireland

In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from fractured city into a hot city break destination, moving fast towards its 19th-century accolade of Athens of the North. Premier Victorian landmarks such as the City Hall, Ulster Museum, and Ulster Hall are reopening in 2009 after being given a makeover. But towering above the city, it's the glass dome of the sophisticated new Victoria Square shopping centre that's the real emblem of the city's renaissance. The army check points that encircled the city centre during the Troubles are a thing of the past; today you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from Teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords. Or, for the ultimate treat, stay at the luxury Merchant Hotel, sip bubbly among the chandeliers in Cafe Vaudeville's champagne bar and savor Michelin-starred dining at Deanes. - Frommer's

Looks like Belfast is not doing too bad for a shithole.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Be Careful Where You Tread...

Religious Distribution Map of Belfast Proper. Click to enlarge!

The above map is a religious distribution map of Belfast in 1991. Granted, demographics may have changed since then but there are still places where you should exercise caution. The red are predominantly Protestant areas and the green are predominantly Catholic. I wouldn't say all of them are unsafe areas (compared to that of the United States), but religious and political tensions still simmer in these neighborhoods. Just because you don't see bombs going off anymore, doesn't mean that Belfast is one big utopia where the Protestant and Catholics are holding hands frolicking through a field of daisies.

The few months I have been here, the political and social climate are still an enigma to me, and it's hard to ask people who are just mere acquaintances what their take on the situation is because you never know where they stand and who they know. And as an outsider, no matter how much you've studied on the subject or how long you've lived here, to a Belfastian, you are not and never will be an authority on the subject so it is best to keep your mouth shut and your ears open.

The following neighborhoods are where I know I should tread carefully. These are places where I wouldn't exactly flaunt my Celtic (Catholic) or Rangers (Protestant) wear. If you do, you will be asking for trouble. I'm sure there are more neighborhoods but these are areas I know of so far.

Protestant Neighborhoods:
Donegal Road
Lower Newtonards Road
Sandy Row
Tiger's Bay
Tully Carnet
Upper Ormeau Road

Falls Road
Lower Ormeau Road.
Short Strand

The following are neutral areas where tensions are low or non-existant:
Antrim Road
Belfast City Centre
Botanic Avenue
Dublin Road
Some parts of Lisburn Road
Malone Road but not Upper Malone
Upper Newtonards Road

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Which Toothpaste Are You Buying?"

One thing I miss from home is watching new episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. I am a self professed foodie and a culural enthusiast. When you mix food within the context of its culture, I'm hooked! If you've never watched this show, I highly recommend it. I guarantee you will be a Bourdain fanatic too if you like food as much as I do!

Some time ago, Bourdain went to Ireland. In the first 20 minutes of this episode, he explores Belfast and samples the various culinary delights of the landscape such as Guinness! He also takes a black taxi tour to both Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast, enjoys a pint at the Crown Saloon, and hob nobs with Belfast celebrity chef Paul Rankin.

Check it!

No Reservations - Ireland:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movies From Northern Ireland

When thinking of Northern Ireland, the last thing that comes to mind is that it is the hotbed of mainstream, blockbuster movies. Nevertheless, there have been amazing talent emerging from the Northern Irish film and theater scene such as Liam Neeson who hails from Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Ciaran Hinds from Belfast, and the underrated James Nesbitt from Coleraine. The few movies that I have seen from Northern Ireland have impressed me very much and leaves me wanting more. Main themes are of the political flavor, naturally, but have been presented in a poignant, profound, and edgy manner. And I despise formulaic films, films that are unchallenging and contrite bore the shit out of me. Speaking of contrite, for some reason Norn Iron actors are rarely perform in movies from their homeland which is quite odd. Most are actors from the Republic of Ireland and their lame attempt on the Norn Iron accent is amateur at best. This annoys Craig to no end and cringes his face as if nails are digging across a blackboard.

Below is a list of my favorite Norn Iron films with real Norn Iron actors...

Bloody Sunday(2002)- A film adapted for television, Sunday Bloody Sunday is an accurate portrayal of the civil rights peace march and massacre in Londonderry 1972. James Nesbitt's acting in this film is top notch.

Mickeybo & Me (2004) - Two boys from the opposite sides of the track befriend each other at the height of The Troubles. A poignant film that focuses on the friendship of two young boys and how their relationship changes within the dynamic context of their environment. Ciaran Hinds stars in this movie.

Omagh(2004)- A hauntingly powerful depiction of the aftermath of the 1998 Real IRA bombing that killed 29 people in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The cast gives an outstanding performance.

Finally, the latest film which has won many awards and accolades, Hunger(2008), which depicts the last days of Bobby Sand's life.

I am excited The Belfast Film Festival is in March/April of this year. This event would definitely be worth checking out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm a Featured Yelper on Yelp Belfast!

Click to Enlarge!

Yelp is now in the UK! Yelp is the fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great (and not so great) in your world. You already know that asking friends is the best way to find restaurants, dentists, hairstylists, and anything local. Yelp makes it fast and easy by collecting and organizing your friends' recommendations in one convenient place.

Yelp is...

...the ultimate city guide that taps into the community's voice and reveals honest and current insights on local businesses and services on everything from martinis to mechanics.

...just real people, writing real reviews, and that's the real deal.

Help the city of Belfast get started by writing a review and spreading the word to fellow Belfastians! Put Belfast on the map and show the world it's the place to be! I wrote mine. Now it's your turn!

Go to and write your reviews today!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sheep

A collaborative masterpiece by Craig and Maddy. The things you do when you are bored...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Story of the Norn Iron 5 Pound Note

There once was a little boy from Belfast who went with his family on holiday to Blackpool, England. His mother gave him a 5 pound Norn Iron note so he could exchange them for tokens to play games at the arcade. He handed the man the note, the man handed him back an equivalent of 1 GBP. Confused, the boy said he needed 4 more pounds because he gave him a 5 pound Norn Iron note. The man at the booth screamed at the boy and said he gave him the exact change. The boy scared ran to his his Norn Iron mummy and told her what happened. Mummy grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck and gave the concession stand man a piece of her mind in her harshest Norn Iron accent, "I gave him a 5 pound Norn Iron note. Give the boy the rest of his money. How dare you call my son a liar?!?!?!" The man taken aback, gave the rest of the money. After that, the Belfast boy never wanted to return to England again much less with any Norn Iron note. Belfast boy never liked England anyway and had no desire to visit as an adult.

The real story behind Norn Iron notes:

"Banknotes issued by Northern Ireland banks have the same legal status as Scottish banknotes in that they are promissory notes issued in pounds sterling and may be used for cash transactions anywhere in the United Kingdom. However, they are rarely seen outside Northern Ireland and are often not accepted in England and Wales without some explanation.[17] As with Scottish notes, clearing banks and building societies will accept them.

Scottish and Northern Ireland banknotes are not legal tender anywhere...The fact that these banknotes are not legal tender in the UK does not however mean that they are illegal under English law, and creditors and traders may accept them if they so choose. Traders may, on the other hand, choose not to accept banknotes as payment as contract law across the United Kingdom allows parties not to engage in a transaction at the point of payment if they choose not to."

Can someone explain this to me in layman's terms? Cuz I don't get it. This goes way over my Flippin Yank noggin'.

Thursday, February 5, 2009