Happy new year

NEXT THURSDAY is the first day of the 4,709th year of the Chinese calendar.

To celebrate, Dublin City Council is staging a two-week festival including a carnival, dragon and lion dances, martial arts displays, a performance by the Chinese State Circus and a Chinese film festival.

It’s a sign of just how vibrant and important this thriving community is — but the capital won’t be alone in celebrating the Year of the Rabbit. Cork was twinned with Shanghai in 2005. In South Belfast, Anna Lo of the Alliance Party was the first ethnic Chinese-born person to be elected to a legislative parliament in Europe when she entered the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007.

The HSE estimates the number of Chinese in Ireland at 60,000 — potentially the largest minority ethnic community in the state. But who exactly are the Irish Chinese, where do they live, and what do they think of Ireland?

Sunnie Sun, Editor, Dublin

”I come from Dalian in north-east China, and I first arrived in Ireland in 2000. When I came, it was an easy life — going to school, working, and so on. But now you can really feel how difficult it is. I’ve started my own business, we need to pay ourselves, and a lot of companies are losing credit, but hopefully it will be better soon. Things will improve. I feel very lucky to be here.

“I’m the director and editor of The Sun Emerald, a weekly Chinese newspaper circulated to 10 cities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. When I got involved, I found that lots of Chinese people here didn’t speak English — so they didn’t know what the news was. That’s basically the reason we did the newspaper. It’s published every Monday, and people take it like their breakfast.

“I think Chinese and Irish people have a lot in common. The family thing is similar. In Ireland, after the kids are 18, a lot of them stay with the parents who look after their education. That’s a traditional Chinese family thing too, and it’s one of the reasons a lot of students are here.

“The only thing difference is the attitude to time — if you have a meeting, the Irish will almost always be late, but the Chinese are almost always on time. Why? For Chinese people, even the first time we meet someone, we want you to think we have good credit.

“Ireland and China have a lot of links now, but on the television you don’t really see China. Even the tourists who visit don’t see the real China. There’s a big difference to the China of a few years ago. My dream is to take Irish people to feel the real culture and meet the real people.”

Tong Li, Mother, Co Cork

“I’ve been living in Ireland since 2001. I grew up in Beijing, but I met my husband working in Chicago, and he wanted to come back to Ireland. He’s Irish, and an engineer. We had our first son overseas, and he thought Ireland would be better for raising a family, so we moved back to Carrigadrohid.

“We have four kids now, aged 10, eight, six and three. It’s great being a mum in Ireland — especially out in the country where the kids have the fresh air and the natural things. Not many Chinese children have that, because many of them live in big cities like Beijing. There are buildings and people everywhere.

“Are Irish parents different to Chinese parents? I’d say the way we raise our children is different, but at the end of the day we both want the same things. Chinese parents criticise their kids more than praising them. Here, they encourage more. At times, I do think Irish mothers (and my husband!) only say the good things but don’t tell the truth. Praising kids is good, but don’t overdo it.

“Generally, I think, Irish people view the Chinese now as part of society. There are probably some language barriers, but the Irish are very good at talking to people. Chinese culture is a little more reserved — they don’t show what’s inside that much. I’m shy at first, as are a lot of Chinese people. I don’t talk much. But after a while, I interact more.

“What about the recession? We do have some lessons to learn, I just hope we learn them. Everybody makes mistakes and what’s past is past, but we don’t want to make them again.”

Katherine Chan Mullen, GP, Dublin

”I first came to Ireland in 1971, to study at the Royal College of Surgeons. I finished medical school in England and worked in a number of places, before an Irishman proposed to me. So it was romance that brought me back in 1979. Ireland wasn’t my first choice, but since I married and settled down, I fell in love with the whole country. Not just the man.

“I grew up in the Shanghai area, and I find Ireland a peaceful, friendly country with lovely fresh air and greenery. But society has changed. In 1979, I could walk nearly every corner in Dublin without any fear or anxiety. The worst that would happen is that someone would come over to give you a hug.

“Today, I would be scared to death as a woman alone at night on O’Connell Street. It’s not because I’m Chinese — it’s because society and its security has changed. I can see that because I’m a foreigner. Irish people are more cautious about themselves. You can see the worry in them.

“Is there a problem of racism? I once blindly believed there was no racism in Ireland, but the more I contacted chefs, pub workers, students working late, and heard their stories, the more I believed that the cases of racism were rising. It does exist, and it could be something to do with drinking and drug problems. I don’t think it’s deep in the heart of Irish people.

“There is good integration between the Irish and Chinese. I’m involved in a lot of Chinese associations here — the Irish Council of Chinese Social Services, for example, we formed in 2002 to help students. They are so innocent when they arrive. They don’t know what to do, they might have trouble finding somewhere to live, and they can get a bit lost.

“As a GP, I find that Chinese and Irish people have slightly different health concerns. In Irish patients, I see more stress. You’ll find very few cases of stress in Chinese people, even though they’re possibly under more pressure living in a foreign country. I think it is the attitude to life. Chinese take it as it is. You come here, you have a happy or a difficult life, you adapt. Irish people are more sensitive to tense and stressful situations. We are growing up in two different cultures.

“I have one son, and he’s very Irish. He was born here, he grew up here, and he studied medicine at UCD. He’s now a doctor training in the hospital. I’m very proud of my Irish son.”

Liang Shen, Student & Martial Arts Teacher, Cork

“I arrived in Cork in January 2009, where I began a PhD course in UCC. This is my third year doing sports history at the Irish Institute of Chinese Studies. I’m studying sports policy in China from 1949, when the People’s Republic was established, right up to 2009.

“At the beginning, I found understanding Irish culture a little bit difficult. There was the language, for example, and the eating habits — Chinese food has so many ingredients and adding them makes the food very delicious. We spend a lot of time cooking food, whereas Irish and western food is easy to cook, and takes little time. Fish and chips is my favourite Irish food.!

“Sport is different too. In Ireland, sport is controlled by non-profit organisations whereas in China, it is controlled by the government. Western sports like soccer and basketball are very popular, but we also follow traditional sports — if you travel there, you’ll see most people practising tai chi and qi gong in the morning.

“I’ve been studying martial arts since 1995, and I want to introduce traditional Chinese sports to Irish people. At the moment, I’m giving three classes in tai chi and qi gong around Cork. All of the people in the class are local, and a lot of them are middle-aged. I think that’s when people get more interested in soft exercise. It can be difficult at the start, because you need to understand what chi is and where it comes from. But they’re very interested in Chinese culture.

“What can we learn from each other? Chinese people can learn English and traditional music, and could even try Irish football and hurling. An Irish friend of mine told me he went to a hurling competition in Shanghai. Would the Chinese enjoy hurling? I’m not sure. But it could be interesting.”

* For further info on the Chinese New Year Festival, visit www.dublin.ie/cny

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