These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
The next day we hiked back out to view Dún Eochla. It is yet another fort on this island used as a watch tower for invading ships. Again the spectacle was amazing as we were blessed with another clear day, despite a strong wind giving many of us wind burn. Soon we found ourselves walking back to the ferry as we were exhausted from the past days of adventure. We had to say farewell to the Aran Islands, but welcomed our warm beds waiting at our cottages.
I have arrived in Ireland, and thus far it has already been an adventure, from plane delays to getting lost. To any potential travelers to Ireland be sure to know how you are getting to your destination from the airport. We (my fellow students and I) were under the impression it would be easy to get a ticket for a bus that would take us to Galway. It turns out that “easy” turned into a hour-and-a-half of walking around trying to find some sort of booth that sells tickets. Finally we broke and decided actually to ask for help and our dilemma was answered quickly. Turns out you simply buy the tickets on the bus, it is brilliant! If only there was a sign to tell us this information.
Themed restaurants are very much en vogue in Beijing.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine offered to take me to one. She told me it was a 1980s restaurant, and that I had to be sure to bring ID. Only ‘80s babies allowed.
I was trying to envision what an ‘80s nostalgia restaurant would look like. As an American kid, I grew up with Nickelodeon cartoons and Boy Meets World, but the 1980s in China were what? Tian’anmen Square and Reform and Opening? My cultural reference points were somewhat lacking. I had no idea what to expect.
We caught the subway into a more central part of town and leaving the busy streets behind, followed my friend’s smartphone map through ever-narrowing side roads. In the middle of a neighborhood, we turned into a small alley between apartment buildings, walked past a public restroom, and turned a corner. It was a fairly ordinary Beijing alley: cement walls and narrow roads, little shops and their proprietors sitting outside. Except for the large crowd of twenty- and thirty-something Chinese people milling about, we might have been anywhere.
A man with a rockstar ponytail was sitting by the door, checking reservations and handing out oversized pieces of paper, formatted like a Chinese grade-school exam: the menu.
The staff was in the middle of cleaning out the restaurant for the next round of diners. Everyone loitered outside, waiting until they finished and the doorman began to call roll. As he shouted names, groups piped up with “present!” and filed into the restaurant.
This building had been remodeled to look like an elementary school classroom: blackboards on the walls, a hopscotch mosaic on the floors, a Chinese flag over the blackboard, pictures of Lu Xun on the wall, an old arcade video game console sitting dark between the tables. Groups of adults were crowded into small wooden desks and chairs.
The back room had posters of movie stars and rock bands from the 80s; the walls and door were all covered with graffiti, a mix of English and Chinese writing stretching up to the ceiling. Unlike a typical restaurant where tables turn over regularly, everyone was let in at once, squeezed in all together around desk-tables. It was one long dining experience, a kind of interactive performance dining, on display once a night. Reservations required.
The “teacher” waved a wooden pointer around, summoned the class monitor to put any unruly “students” back in line, and barked commands while the diners worked to contain their giggles. He was imposing and hilarious. “Students! Class begins!” Much of what he said went over my head, but I got the gist of it, and my friend Jade helped fill in some of the gaps.
The restaurant sold bags of favors shaped like uniform shirts, tied with a red scarf. Jade told me about the red ties students had to wear around their necks when she was in elementary school, the class inspections, and how students would get demerits for forgetting to wear theirs.
I recognized ring pops and push pops among the packets of candy – a cultural commonality. Jade told me the wind-up jumping frog was a toy every Chinese child had. Finally, there were multicolored rocks that looked like jawbreakers. The teacher hit them together at the front of the room, causing a shower of sparks.
Dinner ended with a trivia contest. The tables transformed into teams, each with a buzzer rigged to ring in. The questions were all about Japanese anime characters and movie scenes, video games and television shows. I was no help, but the diners at other tables scrambled to be first to buzz in with the answer.
When we left nearly three hours later, it was dark outside, and the competition was still going.
That is right folks I am heading to Ireland, Spiddal to be more precise. It is an exciting notion, as well as frightening. This will be the first time I have truly been cut off from home, and by cut off I mean the entire Atlantic Ocean. Despite this separation I am invigorated with this extraordinary adventure put forth in front of me. Where will it lead? There is one way to find out, one ticket to Ireland please!
“Why Ireland?” Is usually the first question people ask me when they discover I am traveling there for a little over three months. My answer is simple really; it worked and heat is not my friend. Further persuading was found with the possibilities of this trip; such as an overnight stay at Inishmore (Aran Islands), seminars at the Hill of Tara, visiting the Rock of Cashel, etc. In addition to these excursions I also wish to further my understanding of people and various cultures, while Ireland is not exotic, it is certainly different then Minnesota.
With only a few days till my departure it has finally become apparent to me that I will indeed be living in a different country for several months. My days consist of check lists and last minute errands to ensure I have all that I need. Before I know, it I will be waving good bye to family and friends and boarding a plane. Let the adventure begin…
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