One of my last nights in Dublin I went to the Brown Bread Mixtape with Carolyn. Brown Bread is a monthly theme night that laces music, spoken word, comedy, and poetry with sly social commentary and, at times, outright rage. I heard about it from a guy I met at work, Kalle, a writer and performance poet from Waterford.
I was enormously impressed by the energy and passion of the players that took over the upstairs of The Stag's Head. The performances were funny, creative, and emotional, showcasing a variety of talent from both Irish and international performers. Although I tend to be skeptical of spoken word poetry which all too often lapses into Beat-speak, I found Stephen James Smith's sultry rhythms moving and was quickly won over.
During the intermission they brought in a great deal of delicious brown bread with butter and jam for the packed audience which went rather well with a nice pint of Guinness. Carolyn and I were interviewed for an upcoming radio show about Brown Bread and we met many of the performers who were absolutely gracious and thankful that we had come.
Although the offerings vary each month, it's clearly Kalle's passion and energy that fuels the Mixtape and makes it so unique. Check out his spoken word piece railing against the Irish politicians in charge of the banking system:
Finally, at the end of the performance, Kalle led the audience through an anthem that shook the walls with heartfelt passion. It reminded me of why Ireland has had such a fierce and bloody history of standing up against political and social repression. To hear a room full of Irish folks roaring, "My blood is boiling for Ireland" is bone chilling. It's hard not to respect the Irish passion for political discussion and action, especially when compared to the level of apathy in the States. "Ireland, Ireland, Ireland fucking Ireland!" the crowd sang. I can't think of a better sentiment now for that troubled island.
I met Angel at Slattery's, a local pub frequented by the young, tech folks working for Google and Facebook. Angel's a Chinese immigrant and Slattery's is one of three jobs she's working while putting herself through school to get the European equivalent of an MBA. It was clear that she's a hard worker and ambitious, eventually wanting to start her own business. But for a lot of immigrants, the opportunities (especially in Dublin these days) are limited.
"Angel" (whose real name is Hui Fang) was amused that the more I drank, the more my eyes closed to a squint. Must be a function of old age because it's been commented on more and more. She was intrigued that I was from New York and I would drop in and visit her for a pint now and again to visit with her. She always knew I wanted a Guinness and somehow always had the correct change waiting for me before I even payed her.
The Chinese are incredibly hospitable, she said, even giving up their own beds for guests and she insisted on showing me a good time in Dublin. That I was her American "guest." I couldn't argue and we made plans to go see a movie and then perhaps go dancing later.
Dublin has a lot of immigrants. In fact, most of the people I've met weren't Irish at all. They were Spanish and Romanian, Chinese, French, Moroccan, Mexican, Slovakian. They also tend to get paid less than the comparable Irish worker, but certainly more than they'd be making at home, so there's some understandable hostility and resentment toward the hand that's feeding them.
A lot of immigrants, like Hui Fang, come over to learn English which means they end up with some hybrid of an Irish brogue superimposed over their original accent. In Hui Fang's case, it was rather cute, but I must admit that I struggled to understand her here and there. Since she's only learned English in the last few years, she also struggles a bit to understand English and goes to the movies regularly, which I imagine is good practice. Though in hindsight, perhaps it wasn't terribly wise to take her to see Inception of all movies. Difficult enough for an English-speaker to follow, much less someone already struggling with comprehension.
We took the bus into town and went to a Chinese grocery store so we could sneak snacks into the theatre. I was pretty lost in there and we ended up with some round textured crunchy nuts that were a bit too sweet, some dried chewy strands of salty yellow fish fiber, some sweet creamy gelatin to be slurped out of plastic shot cups, and some green tea drinks. As we covertly opened our snacks under the cover of darkness and the dried fish rose to meet me, it occurred to me that we were likely the only people in the theatre eating some kind of contraband fish gut. There's something special in that.
We went to a pub after and exchanged stories and relationship history. Was this a date, I started to wonder? Hard to be sure. But Angel was refreshingly forward about asking me questions and forthright about answering. I admired her for striving so hard to better herself and told her I'd be happy to show her around New York if she ever visited. After we went to a disco and met her friends, a couple of lovely young Brazilian girls. The club was playing songs like Kool and the Gang'sCelebration and Let's Hear It for the Boy, but based on the crowds overwhelming approval, I'm pretty sure they weren't doing it ironically like in some New York borough's. Angel ran to get me drinks regularly (against my protests) and I talked with her friends. One of them, a lovely blonde started making out with a young punter who she apparently kind of knew and I talked to the other about Dublin and places to travel in Europe. When Angel returned, after a short consultation, she insisted her friend liked me and tried her best to get me to pay attention to her. If this is hospitality in China, I certainly can't complain.
After a stop at Burger King for the girls, we ended the night ridiculously late and not a little tipsy, despite the fact that I was meeting Carolyn in Edinburgh the next day for the Fringe Festival. I promised to help Angel with her resume when I got back and that we'd watch another movie together, perhaps Gone with the Wind, which she had downloaded online.
"Gone with the Wind, huh? Is there a Chinese translation for the title?"
"Mmmmm... something like... Girl Who... Girl Who Have Very Long History."
I made a comment about how the movie represented such breakthroughs in technology for its time. Angel didn't believe me.
"Why? When do you think the movie came out?"
"Oh, like very soon. Within last ten years."
Globalization meets pirated media. Certainly the Chinese can't expect we're all walking around with waxed Rhett Butler mustaches... although lately I've been seeing some hipsters that might confirm that very image.
I've been talking with Ayako about some fundamental differences between Japanese and American culture. While Americans are certainly considered hardworking, frequently turning up in the top 10 hardest working countries, I'm convinced we've got nothing on the Japanese.
According to Ayako, entry-level Japanese workers are expected to put in 12 - 15 hour days the first year working at a company. After that, they're able to finally relax and settle in to a mere 10 - 12 hour day. This is so common there's even a term for death by overworking, called karoshi.
Such devotion to work is perhaps compounded by the idea that Japanese at a young age are expected to plot a strict course in life from which they're not expected to deviate. The Japanese sense of happiness also seems to be bound up in their individual talents. There doesn't seem to be an inherent separation between what motivates someone out of preference verses innate aptitude. It was interesting when asking Ayako what drove her to follow how she spends her time (whether it was working or playing piano), she would respond simply that she was good at it.
We talked a lot about this and what it means to be "happy". Is life any less fulfilling if your happiness is predicated on what you're good at? Can we be bred to be satisfied in our jobs, as opposed to more base inclinations? The American perspective is so different -- one of working hard and playing hard -- but there's a strict separation there. There's not an expectation that people should enjoy their work simply because they're good at it. For those slogging through their jobs (and let's face it, that's a fair number), that's what weekends are for. To reclaim what made life important in the first place.
Desperate to communicate the American idea of having a personality totally independent of work, I wandered past a decrepit theatre in Dublin hosting a John Hughes retrospective. I could hardly resist then, taking Ayako to see The Breakfast Club, complete with the dust and scratches of 25 odd years and a warbling sound track. I couldn't think of a better movie to show teenagers resisting categorization, an inherently American claim to individuality. Not sure she totally liked it, though we both had some giggly moments along with the cheering audience.
These are some statistics of estimated annual hours over 8 centuries (to put our contemporary work ethics in perspective) courtesy of Wikipedia:
yeartype of workerannual hrs 13th century Adult male peasant, UK 1620 hrs 14th century Casual laborer, UK 1440 hrs Middle Ages English worker 2309 hrs 1400–1600 Farmer-miner, adult male, UK 1980 hrs 1840 Avg worker, UK 3105–3588 hrs 1850 Avg worker, U.S. 3150–3650 hrs 1987 Avg worker, U.S. 1949 hrs 1988 Manufacturing workers, UK 1855 hrs 2004 Avg full-time worker, Germany 1480 hrs 2008 Avg worker, India 2817 – 3443 hrs 2010 Investment Banker, NY 5082 hrs
What do your work hours look like? Are they in line with the contemporary average of where you're living?
I took my roommate, Ayako, to see a play at the Temple Bar Project Arts Centre called The Colleen Bawn (which loosely translates as beautiful blonde girl). I had no idea what it was going to be about, but considering the long history of good Irish theatre, felt compelled to see something while in Dublin and was itching to get out of the house on a Friday evening.
The Colleen Bawn is a melodrama written by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in the 19th century. It was first performed in New York in 1860 and so definitely had dated notions of comedy, suspense, and propriety. That being said, the players did a wonderful job with the material given, considering how ridiculously melodramatic plays of that time could be.
To sum up (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Hardress Cregan and his mother have fallen on hard times. His mother tries to persuade Hardress to marry the wealthy Anne Chute. He agrees, although he is already secretly married to Eily O'Connor, a beautiful fair-haired girl (in Irish cailín bán or colleen bawn) who has many admirers including the roguish Myles-na-Coppaleen. Anne, seeing Hardress with Eily one night, mistakes him for her lover, Kyrle Daly, and, angry at Kyrle, she agrees to marry Hardress. Hardress's servant, the hunchback Danny Mann, offers to murder Eily so that Hardress will be free to marry Anne. Thinking that Hardress has agreed, he takes Eily to the lake where he attempts to drown her, but he is discovered and shot by Myles-na-Coppaleen. At the wedding of Hardress and Anne the police come to arrest Hardress for the murder of Eily, but before he is taken away Eily appears. Hardress is released, Eily is accepted by Mrs. Cregan, Anne and Kyrle are reconciled and Anne offers to pay off the Cregans' debt.
This was based on the true story Ellen Scanlan who at 15 was married to John Scanlan, but when his family refused to recognize the marriage, he persuaded his servant kill her. The servant took her out to the River Shannon in County Clare where he killed her with his gun, stripped her, and weighted her down with a stone before tossing her in the river. After her body washed ashore, Scanlan was arrested for murder, tried, and hanged at Gallows Green.
After the play, we grabbed dinner at the delicious Eden and walked the streets of Temple Bar. There we saw an Australian offering a rather intriguing outdoor amusement. He had a bicycle in which he had reversed the handlebars, so when the rider turned right, the bike went left and vice versa. The Australian had laid out a carpet over the rugged cobblestone street, and charged 4 euro for people to ride the bike roughly 8 feet. For those successful, he would give 40 euro. Every ten minutes or so the Aussie would jump on the bike and ride in circles effortlessly. Of course, when anyone else tried it, they couldn't ride the bike more than a foot before awkwardly stopping or crashing to the cobblestone. But considering the amount of drunken revelers at any given moment in Temple Bar, it was the perfect scam. We watched for about 45 minutes as patron after patron tried to master the reverse bicycle before being humbly thrown to the ground. We estimate in less than an hour, the Aussie had made over 100 euros and had a line of brave, inebriated souls still behind him.
Chris Jennings is the Team Lead for Google's Analytics Academy, an online course platform that teaches Google measurement tools. He has also published several articles about online education and technology, as well as speaking at different distance learning conferences. His interests include creative writing and literature, American culture, simulation and virtual environments, web development, and educational technology.