Young people from Foróige’s Mahon Youth Project and Glanmire Youth Project in Co. Cork have been on an exciting cultural exchange with teenagers from Hong Kong!
After months of preparation, applications, interviews, paperwork, emails, phone calls, meetings and chasing passports, the Irish delegation of nine young people and three adults set off from Cork to experience a new culture. Adam Peerbux, intern at the Glanmire Youth Project wrote the following account of the trip:
We arrived at our destination to be warmly welcomed by the Hong Kong delegation.
A nice introduction to the Hong Kong culture was to see how courteous and friendly our counterparts were - it created a positive atmosphere and gave us a second wind after our long-haul flight. We boarded a private coach and travelled across Hong Kong to our accommodation - the journey was jaw-dropping as we witnessed the spectacle that was the Hong Kong skyline at night.
We arrived at the luxurious Y-Loft hostel in Chai Wan in the early hours of the morning and had a brief meeting before everyone went to bed to catch up on their sleep.
Our days started bright and early every morning in the blistering heat. We met the “Hong Kongers” and attended an art workshop where we learned how to do traditional paper cutting designs. It was a relaxing activity that allowed the Cork and Hong Kong groups to mix and get to know each other. Lunch and dinner were always a bit of a feast and we dined on traditional cuisines including bok choy, dumplings, fish balls, wonton, dim sum, soups and noodles. Chicken and duck are commonly eaten and as is tradition in Hong Kong, they were served with the feet and head attached. Other foods we tried included boar broth, eels, gai daan jai (egg waffles), milky tea, egg tarts and probably our most challenging dish, which looked like sautéed onions and fooled a few of us - jellyfish! We also got to grips with the chopsticks - though a knife and fork were always nearby if we got into difficulty.
Our second day was a formal day. We got to meet some important people in Hong Kong public life. We had a banquet at the prestigious City View Hotel in downtown Hong Kong and the Irish delegates gave a presentation on different aspects of Irish culture. To say the Irish representatives did themselves, their families, communities and country proud is an understatement. They surpassed any nerves or butterfly feelings and put on a great show for the Hong Kong audience. They presented on Irish history, youth culture, language, music, art, sport and dance. By the end of the evening, Hong Kong officials were trying to puck a sliotar, speak ‘cúpla focail’ and were doing some Irish dancing.
The Hong Kong experience was very educational. Throughout the week we got to observe and interact with the Hong Kong way of life including spirituality, education, housing, politics, social issues, sports, and the fun and leisure side of things. We visited museums and the University of Science and Technology. We saw the high importance that education plays in Hong Kong culture.
We visited a community project where children between the ages of five to twelve could drop in and do activities, as well as get educational support (similar to our youth clubs). We took part in an art workshop and made paper lanterns. That afternoon we broke out into smaller groups and visited our host’s houses. This was a very unique opportunity and a wonderful insight into family life in Hong Kong. We saw how space is something we take for granted here in Cork as Hong Kong has a huge population and space is at a premium. Although their homes are smaller than the average Irish homes, they were very homely. We drank local tea, tried delicacies like egg tarts and we chatted well into the evening with our accommodating hosts.
We had a very enjoyable day at Ocean Park, an amusement/zoo park located in the mountains and cable cars were in use to get from one section to the next. It was apparently the hottest day in thirty years and we were roasted by the end of it! Even the locals were diving into the shade.
Not for the faint hearted or for people who don’t like hustle, but one of the most popular activities was our trip to the famous Ladies Market in Mongkok where there is literally a mile stretch of market stalls! A shopper’s paradise, there are bits and bobs everywhere and if you like to haggle, this is the place to be! We all picked up gifts for people at home. It was great fun and the ambiance was electric.
Another amazing excursion was our day in Cheng Chow island, an old fishing island which we reached by boat. The Hong Kongers set out an orienteering adventure where the Irish delegates had to race against each other to check things off the "To Do” list. It was so hot that the race didn’t really get into full swing. Nonetheless, the checklist was completed. It included finding the hospital, the temple, eat egg waffles, eat fish balls, drink local fruit juices, etc.
We also visited a YMCA building and witnessed the range of services provided to the youth who attend. The building was five stories high with each floor offering different amenities. There was space for academic development, group work, one to one meetings, a gym, two sports halls, an IT room, café/restaurant, games room, office space and on the roof was a community garden in addition to a climbing wall. The facility is sponsored by government funding and public donation.
Our last stop was Noah's Ark, a hotel/spiritual centre/activity centre all built into a giant replica of Noah's Ark. The hotel was top class and the views from the deck looked over the beach. We spent a few hours at the beach trying to work on our tans and playing card games.
It became a bit emotional at our ‘Farewell Dinner’ that evening. Each of us received a friendship bracelet and a personal message on the back of a group photo from our Hong Kong friends. True bonds and connections had been made and we couldn't wait to see them in Ireland to show off our beautiful country and to return the hospitality.
After a noisy and excited welcoming at Cork airport, we took part in a walking tour of Cork City where we broke off into smaller groups and wandered off through the city streets. We showed our guests the Cork Opera House, Paul St. buskers, St. Peter and Paul's church, Coal Quay, Peace Park and the English Market, to mention a few. We took an educational tour of the Crawford Art Gallery given by one of our leaders, Hillary. Next was an impromptu visit to Cork's School of Music where a few of our team have studied. This was followed by a crowd pleaser - a trip to Penneys!
Throughout the week, the Hong Kong delegates were taken to our two communities, Mahon and Glanmire, where we visited the Foróige youth projects. In Mahon, they also were able to visit St Luke's Home for the Elderly where they were able to interact with some senior citizens and find out about the changes that have taken place over time in Cork. A tour of the home saw the facilities and services provided and the Hong Kong delegates also gave a cultural presentation/show for their audience. This was followed up by a sports day in Glanmire - basketball, badminton, rugby, soccer and hurling were all played with great spirit and enthusiasm. A visit to the City Hall and an invitation into the Lord Mayor's office to meet and discuss political issues with Chris O' Leary was another highlight and the Hong Kong delegates got to ask questions about housing issues. An Cathaoirleach Chris O' Leary was very obliging and honoured to welcome the Hong Kong and Irish delegates into his office.
We also rowed along the River Lee. The typical Irish weather was tough going but the craic was mighty and the group thoroughly enjoyed their time on the river. We had lunch in Blarney – a traditional Irish stew and home baked Irish soda bread which really impressed our guests. A trip to Blarney Castle was a must and we took the time to kiss the Blarney Stone!
The next day was a long trek up to the capital. We visited Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Trinity College, the National History Museum, O' Connells Street, the Spire, the GPO, Henry Street and the Jervis Shopping Centre. They enjoyed the trip to Dublin and they really enjoyed the historical facts about the fight for independence and the 1916 Rising. They were intrigued by the stories and how it related back down to the rebel county and Michael Collins.
We invited our guests into our homes to show them what Irish family life looks like. They were surprised by the size of Irish houses and more surprised at the size of our gardens. Some of the rooms in Irish homes are as big as their homes. Gifts were exchanged and photos were taken. The final goodbyes were said after two weeks in each other’s company. A few tears fell but we mostly smiled as everyone appreciated the fantastic experience.
The overall experience was superb and according to one of the participants, "One of the greatest things I've done in my life, just amazing." It was an intense programme but hopefully the participants will reflect back on their time and use the learning and experience in the future. Some have already expressed desires and aspirations to explore new horizons and are planning their next trip. It was an absolute pleasure and honour to be part of this exchange.
Many people have to be thanked for making this possible: EIL (Kevin Hickey, Aisling Meade and Fiona O' Leary), Hong Kong Youth on Commission (Sam Wong and Ronald Kan), Foróige, Mahon Youth Project, Glanmire Youth Project and all the hard work and commitment from previous years. Annette Fleming, Brian O' Toole, Cora Coleman, Geraldine Lynch, Thomas Maloney, Denise Cahalane, Declan Cassidy all deserve great credit for working hard behind the scenes to produce such an amazing experience. All the volunteers who helped out throughout the whole process, especially to Patricia Dempsey and Hillary O' Shea who went over to Hong Kong and done a lot during the week of hosting. Thank you to the families and friends who were involved in hosting and getting behind the exchange. I would like to give a special mention to all the young people who were involved in the exchange, both the Hong Kong and Irish delegates were amazing throughout. The nine Irish participants representing Mahon and Glanmire Youth Projects were an absolute credit to themselves and their communities both in visiting and hosting.