Building Bridges

The next day, I hopped on a train to Northern Ireland to see Mark and Lee, my folklife fest friends who I had not seen since 2007. They took the entire day off from work to give me a grand tour of the Antrim Coast showcasing the scenic, untouched Northern Ireland coastline —  one of the most beautiful in the world, and the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site, declared by the Irish as the 8th Wonder of the World.

Enjoying a meal with Mark and Lee in Northern Ireland

Mark and I created an impromptu limerick which we posted on Youtube

Here we are in Giant’s Causeway

Where 40,000 columns of basalt rock stand today

The volcano erupted

The larva cooled

But before there was science

There was the Legend of Finn McCool

It is called the Giant’s Causeway

It was made by Finn McCool

It’s really just the start of a stepping stone tool

To get across to Scotland

To fight with Bennadonner

Through many disagreements

They pulled each other asunder 

He took the cloth much 

And try and try as he may

He never hit his target

But he made us our Loch Neagh

The mud landed in the water

And with all the might he can

He only then succeeded

In making the Isle of Man

So he took to playing the organ

And over here were his pipes

He played the Sash, Derry’s Walls, and Billyboys

But started loads of fights

Cuz’ the Scottish Giant thought they were his tunes

But little did he know

That the music for Highland bagpipes

Came from across there near Dunloe

We then visited Balintoy Harbour on the Antrim Coast, 13 kms away. 

“Haven’t been back in 28 years.  When I was nine years old, my family would come here for the summer holidays, and I would dive off these rocks, swim across this pool of water, climb up the natural stairway and dive again. Would do this all day long,” Mark reflected.

“When you return to the Capital City, please let all your friends and runners know how beautiful the Emerald Isle truly is,” Mark said.  Then I gave him and Lee a big hug and wondered where in the world we would meet again.

I got to do a lot of quality sightseeing and made new friends who taught me a lot about the precious value of life and respecting other people.  I learned about the sectarian conflict and how it is important to learn and understand each other.

Belfast is known for its troubles and religious conflict.  For over 25 years, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) clashed with the Irish National Liberation Army. The Republicans carried out a guerrilla campaign against the British forces as well as bombing infrastructure and killing innocent civilians. 

On Bloody Friday 1972, the IRA set off 22 bombs killing 9 people and injuring 120.  When the bombs dropped, people did not know what to do.  There were no bomb shelters.  They did not know whether to run, hide or stay sheltered at home. The IRA hoped they would be just as successful in catching the government and the people unprepared in hopes of getting Northern Ireland out of the UK.

Truly, there was only one main pursuit: The Irish Republicans wanted a united Ireland. More than 3,500 people were killed of whom over half were civilians.

However, there was never such a state as a united Ireland.  As an outsider looking in, I didn’t truly understand what the big deal was, other than the name and the unity.  Just ten years ago the border was filled with concrete barriers, barbed wires and bombs. Today Northern Ireland and Ireland enjoy an open border where citizens could cross either side freely without having to produce a passport. 

 “I’m glad you took some time to research our history,” Mark said.  “It was very important for the parties to understand our differences so that the IRA and the British government could properly negotiate.” 

The last place I visited was the First Presbyterian Church where I met tour guide Arthur Magee.

Arthur Magee

“Belfast has been a by-word for the troubles, sectarian strife, and intolerance. If you come nigh you will see a city where on a micro level, people are building bridges.  The most important bridge that is been built is in each and every single person here. That bridge is between who you actually are and how you see yourself. Whether you’re part of the problem, looking back and blaming other people, or whether you’re part of the solution and reaching out and seeing other human beings, as exactly that, human beings. We’re no different from any other place in this planet. We’re products of circumstances and history. And the same problems that exist in Belfast apply everywhere.  Belfast isn’t a byword for intolerance, it’s a beacon for hope. It’s a place where people are reaching out and it shows the possibility of change. And it also shows the importance of each and single person to reach out, to build bridges and to see other people as exactly that, other people.”

This whole trip was more eye-opening than attending class at GWU, and definitely a lot more fun. No encyclopedia, no ebook reader, no youtube video could teach me life’s social skills better than what I learned in Barcelona, Normandy, or Belfast.

I only had one final day in London when I returned from Belfast. In life, nothing rarely happens the way you intended it to.  It’s important to be flexible, fluid and understanding.  Sometimes life brings you pleasant surprises — it’s not scripted or orchestrated, but just right.  Life can be charming, like that, if you let it. In the long run, we will appreciate the fact that we were flexible and cherish the tender times that we were able to spend together.

The dinner with Kim and my nieces was wholesome and filling.  I did not know it was even possible to make spaghetti so delicious.  The meal, in fact, was just as good as Rio’s Japanese Tonkatsu curry she cooked for us the night I left for Northern Ireland. This is also the very first time I’ve spent time with Kim, Kae, Rio, and Rintaro all at the same time, under one roof.  So it’s a very special moment to be thankful and cherish especially when we let life’s circumstances take the lead.

We had a wonderful time, talking, laughing, and just enjoying a simple and pleasant meal with friends and loved ones. Nothing special, though it meant the entire world to me.

After dinner, we all went to Notting Hill to visit Rio as she was painting her clothing store.  Notting Hill is a fabulous, affluent, fashionable community with beautiful Victorian homes and attractive storefronts.  It is a very artsy place that reminds me of Chelsea, NYC, and Georgetown, D.C.

The last 12 months have been momentous for Kim since this is the first time that she has seen Mom, my older sister, Pearl, and me, within the same calendar year, since we immigrated to the US in ’79  (Mom in Japan at my grandmother’s funeral, Pearl in Hong Kong and now home in London). This was no coincidence, and it was a precious moment to forever embrace.

Luck was recurrent through the course of the trip since the idea was born during a routine run on the Mall.  I boarded a Space-A flight from Joint Base Andrews at the very last minute and every moment after that was entirely spontaneous.

It was serendipitous that I met Marcy and fortuitous to reunite with my folklife friends Mark and Lee.  And I wanted nothing more than to re-create this experience for Americans back home.  And on the MAC (Military Airlift Command) flight from Ramstein AFB back to Andrews, I had plenty of time to contemplate and plan my next big project.  I was looking forward to coming home and reuniting with my pet parrot, Apollo and my pit bull, Georgia. Both were in good hands with my housemate, Kanita Williams.  I knew that fate would lead her to become a lot more than just a typical roommate.