Another year, another country — Ireland this time. Don’t panic, I’m still freelancing with Huawei’s European Research Center, but I’ve decided to take on a new project straddling Cyber Security projects in Dublin and Shenzhen. To be sure, landing in a place without any prior exposure brought with it a flood of new experiences and excitement. And unlike in Germany, here at least I faced no language barrier… although some may argue otherwise.
Those who know me won’t be shocked to find out that I feel at home no matter where I am — I guess travel will do that. But Dublin surprised me, and over the course of the last two weeks I’ve developed a genuine fondness for the place. Here are a few impressions and stories.
Firstly, Dublin is a breath of fresh air, which no doubt has something to do with all that greenery and proximity to the sea.
Secondly, there is life on the streets despite the almost-daily drizzle; people actually look happy. Although I’m not sure how much of it is Guinness related. Nevertheless, there’s a positive energy in the air, a buzz and enthusiasm. It’s a far cry from the days of the Great Potato Famine.
Thirdly, a complete disregard for the little red man puts a big smile on my face every single day. Jaywalking is ingrained within society without any of the stigma one would attract in a place like Munich.
But let’s talk about more important aspects of life here: the weather.
Nobody in Dublin, or Ireland for that matter, goes a day without voicing their disappointment in the weather. Everyone moans and groans about the rain, cold wind and the lack of sunshine. In fact, I was pulled aside one evening and asked why I was so brown. What an odd question, I thought. But that was before I realized I’m now living in a country where “if the sun appears for more than an hour, stocks of sunscreen run dry” — I heard that from someone on the street.
Not to be outdone when discussing the day’s fluctuating barometric pressure, I’ve started to look at the forecast at least three times a day. I’ve even discovered a handy phone app which can tell how many minutes are left before I’ll need an umbrella. That reminds me, I still need to buy one.
Planning one’s outfit is pretty simple: (umbrella), a fleece and a beanie for the evening. But I must admit that over the last few days I’ve taken to donning my warm overcoat which was previously reserved for winters in Munich. I gather that the high humidity may make the RealFeel a bit cooler than forecast.
In truth, though, it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Sure it rains just about every day, but then again it only drizzles. Before you know it the clouds have cleared and the blue of the sky is within grasp, if only for a few minutes at a time.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph!! Let me start off by saying that there is plenty of rental accommodation in Dublin, it’s just a pity that most properties have been priced on par with Manhattan. People tell me that the shortage of apartments is due to the property bubble crash which put many development projects on hold. As a result much of what’s on offer is depressingly dingy, old and unsuitable for my needs. And being a student mecca, the vast majority of inner city accommodation caters to their immediate requirements, or lack thereof.
I’ve taken in my fair share of viewings: apartments, studios and even shared accommodation — without much success I might add. On more than one occasion, even though I arrived bright and early to a house viewing, there had already been a line of four or five DINK couples eagerly awaiting to be shown through. Nine times out of ten the first couple signs right there on the spot, leaving the landlord with the unsavoury task of shooing away the remaining vermin. Oh, and by the way, the current record for the number of people waiting to be shown thought an apartment stands at 29. No joke, I counted them myself.
Adding insult to injury, €1400 barely gets you a single-bed studio fit for a leprechaun. In one particular apartment, once the bed was unfolded, there was no room to stand let alone pass from the kitchen to the toilet. In yet another, this one overlooking the swanky Grand Canal, I couldn’t even squeeze myself onto the balcony because the dining table was blocking the door. What should have been a great selling point ended up being the sticking point. Amusingly, the balcony was larger than the apartment. Who designs these places?
You quickly realize that having people over to visit may not be as feasible as originally planned — a thought shared by a recently-arrived French professional who said “it’s Dublin, not Paris.” I’m starting to think that my guests might be better off pitching a tent in a nearby park, or the balcony for that matter. And here I thought Tokyo apartments were small.
It’s easy to spot the prospective tenants. They stand around in loose clumps outside apartment buildings waiting for the landlord to arrive — a sight not far removed from a beggar with his hand out.
Everyone waits patiently with their eyes glued to their telephones counting the minutes and the other hopefuls. Nobody talks, after all, who in their right mind would consort with the competition. So it’s always amusing to have a friendly Australian break the ice and get them laughing about their collective misery.
“Wow, what a turn out. Haven’t I see you guys before? Man, this end of town is crap. Wasn’t this the apartment with the bedbug infestation?
Standing on the street is somewhat demoralizing but at the same time gives me an opportunity to meet similarly dismayed individuals. After a few days on the house hunting circuit I started bumping into familiar faces. Reluctantly, I’ve been forced to bump up my budget to improve my chances of success.
High demand and fraud go hand in hand, and it seems like the hustlers have figured out an angle. On no less than nine occasions I was contacted by bogus letting agents who have somehow penetrated the rental market. Out of curiosity, I tracked down one rental fraudster all the way to Rivers State. Yep, our friends from Nigeria strike again.
Meanwhile, I’ve been staying in rather squalid student accommodation not far from work. I had to play the “poor R&D student” card to get a studio-ish room which could easily be confused with a cell in the London Dungeon. It’s small, dark and from time to time fills with a somewhat pungent aroma — yum. Perhaps the fact that the whole building drops off their trash outside my window has something to do with it. Still, it’s temporary and makes for an amusing story.
Dublin is a multicultural microcosm. On any given day you’re bound to bump into twenty different nationalities before the sun goes down. It gives one a wonderful feeling of being based in a lively, international hub where foreign languages flow as freely as the beer.
It’s like a miniature London which has had the dregs removed and, like traditional Irish Whiskey, triple-distilled to produce a punchy spirit that leaves one gasping for more.
But don’t go telling the Irish that their capital is anything like London. They don’t like to let on but they still hold a grudge against the colonialist island to the east.
No, Dublin is no London even though they have plenty of double-decker buses. It certainly doesn’t have London’s fast-moving cadence, but then, I was never fond of rushing about. It’s laid back without being some sleepy backwater with little to offer. The positive side of all this is that people are far more relaxed and genuinely take time to spark up a conversation with a stranger.
Unsurprisingly, Dublin has a vibrant pub and music scene, at least in my eyes. A pub on almost every corner, and one atop of another south of the river in Temple Bar. A conversation I had a couple of days ago with a colleague suggested that the local tastes have changed in recent years and that pubs have failed to reinvent themselves in line with a more sophisticated clientele.
On my first Friday night on the town I got kidnapped by two Irish boys, one Russian and three Italians. They introduced me to some of the town’s hidden gems which stayed open till the wee morning hours. We ended up at Ryan’s on Camden street, a watering hole which officially closes its doors at 11pm but if you didn’t hear the final call — nobody did — you could stay behind the ‘officially’ closed doors and continue having a whale of a time.
And just like in London, Friday nights tend to attract all manner of creatures who partake in a pint or ten. I’ve completely stopped drinking during the week — not even with a meal. Anything less could probably be considered suicide; that and the fact that Mr Muffin-top needs to get in shape.
The accommodation fiasco aside, the next item on the list are the postcodes. Dublin 1 is in the north, Dublin 2 in the south, easy enough… or so I thought. But add to that the remaining 22 regions and you have yourself a real jigsaw puzzle not even the locals can put together.
The only logic which seems to prevail is that odd numbered codes are to the north of the river and even numbers to the south. I imagine that the postcodes were thrown together during one of those Friday drinking binges. There really is no logic to their layout, at least to my untrained eye.
I’ve been told that the River Liffey serves as a well-established demarcation between the Haves and the Have Nots — south being the upper end of the market. The going joke is that anyone from the south crossing over to the north is advised to update their immunization shots.
I must hand it to the Dubliners though. An unexpected side benefit of running around viewing apartments is that I’ve familiarized myself with most of the city, main streets and the ridiculous postcode contours. It’s been a cryptic experience as good as any geocaching mystery. I wonder whether, just like the national anthem, Dublin’s postcodes are required reading for prospective Irish citizens?
Dublin is a very cycle-friendly city. It even has a subsidized bike-to-work initiative for anyone wishing to purchase their own wheels. Most roads have dedicated bike lanes and the traffic is quite forgiving of even those cyclists whose last bike had training wheels.
There are plenty of free city bikes too, DublinBikes, which make for a hassle-free commute. Last Wednesday I received my DublinBikes smart card and immediately pounced on the first bike station to try it out. The first 30 minutes are free, so just about everywhere worth going is within easy reach for free. In fact, if it wasn’t for DublinBikes I wouldn’t have been able to make it to half of my house viewings. The traffic can be quite high during peak hour, and just like a scooter in Mediterranean countries, a bicycle here is indispensable.
The DublinBikes are similar to those used in other city bike projects — a cruiser-style bike with three gears, a basket on the front and flashing lights. Nothing fancy, easy to operate and gets the job done. They are built like tanks, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be flying down the road faster than 15km/h. But given the amount of tourists from wrong-side-of-the-road countries, perhaps the tanks were chosen on purpose.
The buses, trams and trains are quite affordable too, more so than in Germany. Last weekend I took the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) to Howth, a small seaside village about an hour to the north of Dublin, where I spent the day hiking along a picturesque coastline. Well worth another look I think. And before you ask, nobody was shooting at me this time — Maltese hunters take note.
The amount of investment pouring into the country, particularly within the ICT sector, puts many larger countries to shame. With a highly creative and talented workforce, an open economy and a competitive corporate tax environment, Ireland has managed to attract eight of the top 10 global information technology companies to establish a significant presence here.
“Ireland has made a good job of building a proto-Silicon Valley. By attracting global high-tech names to the country, it provides a high-tech hinterland in which smaller companies can grow…a whole ecosystem of support.”
— Ben Rooney, The Wall Street Journal Europe.
Some relevant facts about Ireland’s ICT sector:
Ireland is also the European data centre location of choice for world leaders including IBM, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, MSN and Adobe and is now poised to become a global cloud centre of excellence. The luck of the Irish, do I hear you say?
Between work and pursuing apartments, there has been little time for much else. It’s a shame I didn’t make it to Dublin earlier in the year to see the summer that everyone’s been raving about.
This stint is shaping up to be a grand experience but I’m definitely over the whole apartment hunting thing.
Hmm, I think it’s Guinness o’clock.