After the Ecstasy, The Contradictions 

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, by Jack Kornfield

The thing about becoming more conscious is that you discover a deep well inside yourself which is full of peace but also suffering, it’s like a can of worms you wish you never opened. You wish you could become unconscious of being conscious. But you can’t, there’s no going back once you start to become conscious that we are physically on this beautiful earth for a short time, but that there’s much more to our existence than that. When you realise that every breath you take is actually the same breath that I take, the same breath that our ancestors took, that we are all connected, all equal, all beautiful and all flawed, then you are irrevocably changed. From Putin, a man who has committed terrible crimes against humanity, to the beautiful heather growing on Horn Head as I look out my window in Donegal. We don’t have life, we are life, we are all different expressions of the same thing. 

Life is simple yet incomprehensible, there’s peace and happiness but also pain, agony and terrible suffering. After the Ecstasy explores and discusses this side of spiritual awakening, the side that is not so often spoken of, the laundry as Kornfield calls it, the dirty side we don’t want anyone to see. The contradictions. 

The book is split into four parts: Preparation for Ecstasy, The Gates of Awakening, No Enlightened Retirement and Awakening in the Laundry. It’s an incredible collection of first-hand accounts from monks, priests, nuns, gurus, lamas and other spiritual people about their experiences of awakening and their spirituality. There are references to poets like William Blake, philosophers such as Socrates, renowned zen teachers, famous Tibetan masters, mystics, rabbis, the teachings of Jesus, the Buddha, the Tao. Kornfield includes mythological stories such as that of Icarus who flew too close to the sun, it spans history and cultures around the globe from India to Japan to the Native American Sun Dance. It is a widely researched, comprehensive account of spiritual awakening across the world. I kept thinking I wanted to thank Jack Kornfield for the gift of this book. 

First there are lots of beautiful accounts of the initial joy of awakening, of finding the Divine in a summer sunset, the eyes of a child, the taste of an apple. There are dizzying accounts such as one from a rabbi who describes his awakening thus:

‘My eyes were closed and as I quietly prayed a huge transcendent light began to glow around me, as if it were shining through the world’. 

Another teacher’s story describes her feeling as ‘I suddenly understood completely; Everything is all right just as it is! The whole world is completely, profoundly whole…..There was an amazing physical dimension to it as well. My whole body dropped away, the shell or container of myself vanished, the bottom of the world dropped out’. 

I filled myself up with these stories and felt really good. I thought about my own moments of awakening. I went back to a journal entry from 2015 which went like this:

“Just walked up from the bus station this evening in the middle of storm Eva. I was cold, wet and being blown about like a leaf. But I felt happy. I enjoyed it. I felt God. I am starting to see God in everything, in the rattle of a window in the night, in the splash of a puddle as a car races through it, in the woman in Tescoes who didn’t have a club card so offered me her club card points. I am starting to see a light and a brightness all around, particularly in the sky. This morning the sky was bright blue decorated with clouds and a red sun peeping through, this is God”.

Towards the end of 2015 I had my moment of Ecstasy. It came after a period of intense suffering in the beginning of the year, which was my annus horribilis. In January 2016, in the midst of my ecstasy I left Ireland and embarked on a life-changing journey in the east which culminated in a four year stint living in Japan. But it wasn’t all happy-camping from then. In fact, after my period of joy, I had darker periods than ever before, a heart-break in Japan which made me think about ending my life. It was almost as if my new capacity for unbounded joy also created a well of seemingly infinite pain. ‘But how’ I asked myself? ‘Even though I know God is with me, even though I pray, I meditate, I try to show compassion and love to everyone I meet, I know that God is everywhere, how can I still suffer so much?’

Chapter 5 is entitled ‘Nothing and everything’ and begins with a quote from Kalu Rinpoche ‘You live in an illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality but you do not know this. When you understand this, you will see that you are nothing. And being nothing, you are everything. That is all’.

I thought about this quote for a long time. ‘Being nothing, you are everything’, huh? Isn’t this a contradiction? I was confused. There follows a quote from Emily Dickenson ‘I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody too?’ The biggest question in philosophy is ‘Who or what am I?’. I know this is about about ego-lessness or ego-death, that by detaching from a fixed belief about ourselves, we enable life to flow through us, we are freed from restrictions about who we should be, who society expects us to be. When people ask ‘What do you do for  a living?’, people often reply ‘I’m a teacher,  a lawyer, a doctor’ or whatever, but the question was not ‘Who / what are you?’, it was ‘what do you do?’. Teaching is what you do, not who you are (personally speaking). Why define and restrict yourself? 

But I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. Is this double-think? Young children are ego-less and unconscious, but we are taught as children to develop personalities, to create identities.  Are we then supposed to spend our adulthood trying to divest ourselves of this personality again? 

We use a lot of ‘I’ when we speak English. In Japanese, they don’t really use the word ‘I’. There is a word for ‘I’, it’s ‘watashi’, a clunky and cumbersome word and it sounds unnatural to use it. But there is a deeper reason for why the Japanese don’t use the word ‘I’ and it’s about the ego. In Japanese, it sounds egotistic to use the word ‘I’; to talk about yourself, to bring attention to yourself is really unattractive and kind of rude. In Japanese society, you shouldn’t try to stand out from the crowd, you are not amazing and special, you are just like everyone else. You are part of the whole, you are nothing and thus everything. I think this is why the Japanese team lost the recent World Cup in penalties against Croatia. During play they showed amazing teamwork, as a team they were powerful, they worked so well, but when it came to individual players having to stand on their own and score using only their own wits and strength, they couldn’t do it, they had no power. 

It’s very interesting that language is not just a way of communicating but a way of thinking. In Irish we don’t become our feelings in the way we do in English; we say ‘I am sad’ or ‘I am happy’. In Irish we say ‘Ta bron orm’ or ‘ta athas orm’ which means that sadness or happiness is on me. By saying that sadness is on me, we recognise that it is just a fleeting feeling, it is on me right now but I know that it will pass, I did not become the sadness. 

The Dirty Laundry really starts in Chapter 10, which is entitled just that and it is really hard to read. To be quite honest, it stumped me. Half-way through this chapter I put the book down and didn’t come back to it for a couple of weeks. Even when writing this blog I took an over-night rest before coming back to write this part. Why is this part so hard to accept? Because this is what really illustrates the contradiction within awakening. This chapter tells stories of enlightened people abusing their power. It opens with a quote from Kanju Khutush Tulku Rinpoche “People commonly feel that because I am a living Buddha I must experience only serenity, perpetual happiness and have no worries. Unfortunately this is not so. As a high lama and incarnation of enlightenment I know better”. In one way I find this quote liberating, that despite being enlightened you are still human with human failings, an excuse for being flawed, but in the context of the stories that followed, I found this idea chilling, like being human was used as a justification for committing horrendous crimes against people. 

Author Radha Rajagopal gives an intimate account of discovering that her teacher Krishnamurti, who brought the gift of courage and awakening to tens of thousands of students worldwide, was in fact living a secret life of ‘hidden abortion, duplicitous cover-ups, growing attachment to luxury, and an arrogance and rigidity that led to prolonged legal battles with his own staff”. There follows more stories like this and a statement that the abuse of power is in fact a common area of danger in spiritual communities. Who can forget the story of hot yoga which spread across America in the 1970s? The yoga sequence was devised by a man called Bikram Choudhury who became the celebrity face of this type of yoga and shot to world-wide fame, until the story broke of his dirty laundry; widespread abuse, sexual assault and exploitation of the young women and men he was teaching. I watched the shocking series on Netflix a few years ago. There’s also a horrific story of the transmission of HIV by a teacher who told his students that his special powers would serve as protection. These spiritual teachers, although they undoubtedly brought joy and learning to many, also brought terrible pain and suffering. How can this happen?  Kornfield draws on the story of Icarus to illustrate the problem. Icarus, with his man-made wings forgot he was human and flew too high, the sun melted the wax on his wings and he fell into the sea and drowned. These teachers too, surrounded by crowds of disciples who think they are perfect, forget they are human and get intoxicated, disconnected, out of touch with what’s important and fall into the shadows. My therapist is a very wise woman and the mantra she constantly repeats to me is to ‘stay grounded’, it’s great advice. 

Kornfield summarises the problems as mis-use of power, mis-use of money, mis-use of sexuality and mis-use of alcohol and drugs. He explains that one can be enlightened,  while remaining unconscious in certain areas, that consciousness in one area does not necessarily transfer to other parts; a Catholic nun can have a close relationship with God but have troubled or destructive relationships with her family. When I was in Japan, I learned that monks are considered businessmen. They make a good salary, many of them drink alcohol, they go to kabakuras (a club where hostesses are paid to entertain customers) and they gamble. I struggle to understand how people can teach spirituality while engaging in these anti-spiritual practices.  

The lesson in After the Ecstasy is that the journey is not linear but continuous and as human beings we are never safe from temptation to negative action. Isn’t that depressing? Kornfield uses the evil character of Mara, who tempted the Buddha, to explain this. Just as in the stories of the Buddha where Mara never goes away, awakening happens in cycles; periods of joy and openness are often followed by periods of fear and contraction. Initial enlightenment is only the beginning. 

I suppose this is why people go off into caves to find their silence, their solace, their God, it’s the only way to escape temptation which is all around us all the time. But what happens when they come back into society? There is a story about a Tibetan monk who spent 10 years in meditative solitude in a quiet cave. When he finally found peace and bliss he felt he was ready to emerge and go back to the world. As he approached a village, he could hear the sounds of the marketplace and he walked towards it. On the busy street he met a man carrying a full bag of vegetables on his head. In the chaos the man bumped into the monk and the bag of vegetables tumbled as did both men. The monk got really angry and shouted at the man to watch where he was going. Being peaceful while alone in a quiet cave is all good and well, but how do we maintain this in the chaos of the modern world? Most people don’t have that luxury of going off into a cave for a long period. We have to find a way of living simply, lovingly, peacefully amidst the chaos of our modern world. 

Being spiritual in the modern world is really hard. You almost have to step outside society in order to live simply. I feel that in many ways our overly consumerist, materialistic society in the West is in direct opposition to spirituality. Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet everywhere we go, everywhere we look here in Ireland, a Christian society, we are bombarded by ads telling us we need this car that would nearly wet the tea for you, or this air fryer which will make your life so much better and to spend spend spend . Socrates, who lived a simple life famously said ‘I love to go to the market and see all the things I am happy without’.  I really admire people who manage to live simply and not accumulate things they don’t need. I would like to ask them ‘do you have to turn off your radio, your tv, the internet?’. I really try but fail all the time.

Fr. Peter McVerry’s motto is ‘live simply, give generously’. One thing I have learned through travel to other countries is that there is no one way to live, but I daresay this way is a damn good one. But to live simply is to live differently to the majority. Simple diet, simple dress, simple action. People like Fr Peter McVerry and Mother Theresa are physical embodiments, indeed physical expressions of spiritual awakening, but I have no doubt that Fr. McVerry suffers as did Mother Theresa. 

No Enlightened Retirement is a really important chapter, which further explains the hard truth that with the peace of enlightenment, pain is never far away, that no experience of awakening places us outside the truth of change. The cherry blossoms in Japan last about two weeks every spring but they are talked about all year round. They are beautiful because they are transient, the beauty lies in their change. If they were there all year around we wouldn’t find them so beautiful, we would take them for granted and stop noticing them. I learned the truth of change during a Vipassana meditation retreat in India in 2016. We heard this word over and over again ‘annica’ which means ‘everything changes’. It’s a beautiful word which I came to love ‘annica, annica, annica’. As I sat with intense excruciating pain in my legs and my back, I watched it change, evaporate and leave my body. At that moment I realised a power inside myself, a power not to react, a power to remain equanimous through pain and to watch it change. If I could just translate this to my everyday life…. 

As Kornfield says ‘Our problems are our teachers’. Our problems make us examine ourselves and bring us back to truth, the dirty laundry is an invitation to truth, suffering is the gateway to awakening.  Zen Master Dogen said that a zen master’s life is one continuous mistake – that is, an opportunity to learn, one mistake after another. Kornfield uses the great phrase ‘discriminating wisdom’. It means that yes, we need the support of teachers and friends but we must develop our own authority, our own ‘discriminating wisdom’, we have to give birth to ourselves, the ultimate struggle. ‘No teacher can give us the truth or take it away. In the end we will find that our own heart holds the simple wisdom and unshakeable compassion that we have sought all along’. 

Life and the spiritual journey is absolutely full of contradictions. We look for a truth, something to trust, to ground us. We are encouraged to let go and trust, but to trust what? We have seen that it can be dangerous to trust each other, even dangerous to trust an enlightened spiritual guru. All we can trust is our own truth. And what is that? I think the only thing we can trust is change.

Part Four of the book is entitled Awakening in the Laundry and it explains the mandala of awakening. A mandala is an image which represents the great circle of existence, it can be simple or complex…did we need another contradiction? The point is to include everything, to embrace the opposites and travel ‘the middle path’.  The lesson is that enlightenment doesn’t save us from suffering, it actually creates it over and over again and asks us to honour it, to embrace it. Not to let go of the pain but let go into the pain. 

The realisation I came to about the contradiction is that you have to just live your life, that sweeping your kitchen floor, attending work meetings, spending time with loved ones and dare I say not-so-loved-ones, this is just as much spiritual practice as prayer, meditation, yoga and volunteering. This is life, laundry and all. 

As Kornfield says “In a mature heart our spiritual life becomes more about mercy and loving kindness than about struggles over self or battles with ego or sin. We can be present for what Zorba the Greek called ‘the whole catastrophe’”. 

Feel the joy, feel the suffering and embrace it all. 

Bali Nights

bali nights.jpg
‘Alexa you need to turn your lights on’ Ania is shouting back.
I look through my mirror to see what she’s on about it. Alexa’s coming behind me and she has no lights on.
‘Oh fuck’ I call back ‘Alexa turn your lights on’.
‘What?’ she’s saying ‘Oh shit’ and I can see her fiddling with the buttons on her handlebars.
Ania pulls in and I pull in and Alexa pulls in. Ania and I are both looking back at Alexa but her lights still aren’t coming on. I get off my bike and go back to her.
‘Where are the fucking lights?’ she’s going.
I switch them on for her, they are in the same place as they are on mine, and we get going again. We’re on the way to a bar on Batu Bolong beach called Old Man’s. I met Ania on Saturday, my second day in Bali, and Alexa arrived today, Tuesday. We’re all staying at the same hostel, Riviera House, and after getting chatting earlier, we decided to head for a drink together tonight. It’s Ania’s last night, she’s been here for four weeks already and she leaves tomorrow.
That’s the funny thing with travelling; you can make friends really quickly. Or the opposite, you know straight away when you’re not going to become friends with someone. You usually know fairly soon if you click with someone or not. When you’re not feeling it with someone, just don’t bother, it can be painful if someone is persisting on trying to be friends for the sake of it, and it’s just not working. There was this one guy I met in the last hostel I was in in Malaysia and God did he talk some shite. Occasionally we’d have a great chat, I mean when you talk as much as he does, some of it has to be at least decent patter, but mostly I couldn’t listen to him. I’d come down for breakfast in the morning and he’d be there.
‘What you gona do today?’ he’d ask me.
Oh God I’d be thinking, let me have my coffee first man before you start. We’d chat away in the hostel but I would never have left to go anywhere or do anything with him. There’d be no escape then if say we were sitting together in a café, or on a bus somewhere, I’d go out of my mind if I got stuck with him. Lovely fella, just doesn’t know when to give it a rest.
But it was clear from the start that Ania, Alexa and I we were going to get on. I first met Ania outside the hostel. I was trying pathetically to get the hang of how to ride my scooter, just practicing in and around the hostel grounds, and I kept falling off. Ania came walking down the side street towards the hostel, she was asking me if I was ok in her Polish accent, big smile across her face, trying not to laugh. I must have looked a sight. She assured me then that she was the same when she first arrived and now she’s scooting around like a good thing. This was encouraging and I was grateful, though I was thinking she’s just being nice, no one could be as useless as me at this, especially at that point. I couldn’t turn a corner without falling off.  She gave me a few tips like lean into the corner when you’re turning, which helped, and told me to keep trying, that I would get it. She was right of course and now I am also scooting around like a good thing.
Which is just as well, because if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t be able to go on this night out to Old Man’s pub as an independent woman of the world, mistress of my own scooter, like we three are right now, tearing up the road like bosses.
It was me who met Alexa first too, and I liked her straight away when she wasn’t saying very much, just taking things easy and not in a race to find out everything about me in one go, like so many people you meet in hostels. What’s your name, where are you from, how long are you staying, what have you seen so far, it’s so exhausting having this same conversation over and over again. Alexa didn’t do that to me and I didn’t do it to her. We just chatted about yoga and I don’t know, I think I was telling her about my scooter mission and I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea, which she did. It was cool seeing her and Ania meet as well, I knew they were clicking by their facial expressions and body language towards each other. Ania’s face was lit up like Christmas. She is quite a smiley person, but it’s a genuine smile, she just has a lust for life and sees the good in things. And Alexa was sitting comfortably just chatting and shooting out a few jokes. She has a sort of dry, subtle sense of humour that only comes out when she is comfortable with someone.
So we arrive to Old Man’s, which is pretty much right on the beach and Ania gets us sorted with a bottle opener to get our beers opened. We’ve brought a beer each with us to get us going, and save a bit of dough on the first drink. This was Ania’s idea; she’s the old pro, having been here a few weeks already. They’re a bit cheaper from the shops, not much, but every little helps and it just saves you having to queue at the bar first thing. It fast tracks you into the vibe.
We decide to do a lap of the place first to get our bearings, see what we’re up against. All you can see are long, tanned, toned limbs, gyrating in the music. The mean age is about 25 we reckon, all gorgeous young things out to score. Everybody’s sweating and dancing, there’s a game of beer pong going on in one part of the bar, which looks like a bit of craic. We stop and watch for a bit; all three of us agree that the guy in the white teeshirt straight across from us is hot, a unanimous verdict. He’s also watching the beer pong. He’s about 5.11’’ I’d say, tanned and toned (obviously) has brown hair and a beard. He’s drinking a beer and what I most like about him is he’s not looking around trying to eye talent, he’s just casually watching the beer pong, unselfconsciously.
We find a spot under a fan and get into the dancing, A couple of guys and a girl have gotten up onto a table in the middle of the bar and are strutting their stuff, having a bit of a dance off. This is getting us going. It’s like everyone’s energy is just vibrating through the bar as one single pulse, we’re all just here to have a good time. We’re in the moment. The girl, who I think is European, is beautiful I say and she is giving the local Balinese guys as much as she is getting, she is holding her own no problem. She does the slut drop and slides back up provocatively.
‘She is a great dancer’ Ania says ‘but I wish I didn’t have to see her thong, and she is full of herself’.
She’s wearing a long, loose, sheer dress and you can see her underwear.
‘True’ I say ‘but still, fair fucks’.
When she gets down I wink at her and touch my index finger to my thumb to say ‘perfect’, she does it back to me. Justin Bieber’s Sorry is on. And this is one of the good songs; the music is mostly shit.
‘I’m going to head to the ladies’ I say. Alexa says she has to go too so we go together. The queue is about ten people deep and pouring out into the bar. A middle-aged Ozzie women rocks up behind us.
‘Aw wow, look at this queue’ she drawls, she’s beaming from ear to ear and still dancing, Billie Jean is on now, she’s having a good time.
‘I know, when are we going to evolve to have penises?’ Alexa says.
‘You want a penis love?’ the Ozzie goes.
‘I’d take one for like a day’ Alexa says ‘and piss on everything’ she says still straight-faced. Me and the Ozzie woman break out laughing.
There’s no toilet roll in the toilets so we just have to use the spray hose thingy to wash, I’m actually getting kind of used to it. When I first encountered this system in India, my main concern was how do you dry off. But you just do and it’s fine.
Alexa heads back to Ania and I say I’m going to scope things out a bit more on my own. I shimmy through the dancefloor and I’m just shaking it by myself on the edge, where people are smoking and chatting when I hear a voice go,
‘Hey Evelyn, is that you?’
I pretend I don’t know who it is, but I do. It’s the guy who stuck his boner into the back of me a couple of days ago, while giving me a ‘scooting lesson’. I put the quote marks because it was really just an excuse to perv. He stayed on the scooter and stretched around me so he also had his hands on the handlebars. I had no room to move and when I felt his hard-on I said thanks but I have to go now. He gave me his number but I was never going to call him after that stunt. Eventually I admit I recognise him, his name is Arno. But I don’t give him much and after a bit he gives up and goes away.
I head back to the girls and find them engrossed watching a couple sitting a few feet away having what looks like a lover’s tiff. We’re all sucking on I think beer number three by now. They fill me in on the story they have imagined about this couple. She has cheated on him and is trying desperately to apologise and get him back, but he’s having none of it. He’s sitting on top of a bench with his arms folded and his feet on the seat part. She is standing in front of him trying to break him down, trying to get in there, she’s hammered.
‘There is obviously something between them’ Ania goes ‘otherwise he would just walk away’.
‘Yea’ Alexa agrees ‘where are her friends man, someone needs to tell her to get it together’.
The guy is holding an unlit cigarette.
‘Will I go over and light his cigarette?’ Ania asks us.
‘Do it girl, that dude needs to be saved’ Alexa goes, she’s from NYC.  
Ania struts over with her lighter in hand. We’re watching her, laughing. She offers the guy her lighter. He laughs, surprised, and takes it. The girl ignores her. He lights his cigarette and just gives it back. He doesn’t take the bait and Ania comes back, grinning.
‘What more can I do?’ she’s shrugging, ‘he must be a glutton for punishment’.
We get another beer and dance some more. We’re giving it but the music is not getting any better so about midnight we decide to hit the road. Ania wants to get up about 7 in the morning for an early surf.
There’s a moment of panic when we get to our scooters when Ania says she can’t find her key. She’s rooting in her bag cursing in Polish. But then she finds it in her pocket and we get going. Ania’s out in front eating up the road, then me, then Alexa; the same positions as before. My view is of the back of Ania, her shoulders back and straight, sitting like a queen on a throne, leaning into the corners, her short blond curls peeking out under her helmet, blowing in the breeze.
We stop for food at a roadside stall and end up gate-crashing a group of locals having a little party. They’re passing around a bottle of the local brew Arak and ask us to join them. The owner of the stall serves us up a plate of Nasi Goreng each, we get a snifter of the Arak, and sing a couple of songs with them, the usual numbers; Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Imagine, Hotel California.  
The following afternoon Ania leaves for Thailand. It’s not an emotional goodbye, she’s just moving on, it’s the nature of the beast. We hug, exchange Whatsapp and Facebook details and wave her goodbye. When she’s out of sight I turn to Alexa and ask her does she fancy going a yoga class. She does.
Another one bites the dust.

Why ‘Where are you from?’ is such a complex question

Last night I watched the Tommy Tiernan Show on RTE 1. Tommy is undoubtedly a brilliant interviewer; warm, empathetic and with a nose for getting right to the heart of the matter. One of the first questions he asked his first guest Brenda Fricker was ‘Are you sad?’, an excruciatingly personal question to ask someone. I held my breath as I watched her face absorb the question for a moment before lowering her tone and heartbreakingly answering ‘oh yea…yea’. It was a brave question and it only worked because there was a trust between them, and Brenda was honest enough to show her vulnerability. That painful admission was really powerful and I think we all connected with her at that moment. 

His second interviewee was Bashir Otukoya, Assistant Professor of Law at UCD and PHD student. Tommy’s first question to him was ‘Where are you from?’. Bashir, if he was taken aback, did not show it and answered cheerily that he is originally from Nigeria but based in Drogheda as he has been for all his life here in Ireland. 

But I felt for Bashir in that moment, in having to explain that he is also Irish.  The reason ‘Where are you from?’ is such a sensitive and loaded question is because it immediately sets the person up as being ‘not from here’. It ‘others’ them. 

Straightaway Bashir was identified as not being ‘from’ Ireland. He was set up as being different, and most of the interview continued on to focus on this difference, his challenges growing up in Ireland as a black man including at school, in employment and his quest for Irish citizenship, which he got in 2016.

I put up a tweet on Twitter saying that ‘Where are you from?’ is a sensitive question and how you should be careful how and why you ask it.

One man commented that this question is an innocent Irish thing, showing genuine interest, a cosy question that sets the scene for you to tell your story. The sentiment surely is genuine interest meaning no harm, but is it really your business to ask someone to tell you their story like that without knowing anything about them? Immigration is hard and you don’t know what people have been through. Calling it an ‘Irish thing’ does not magically make it warm or endearing. From experience I can also say that it is not exclusively an Irish thing. I lived in Japan for 4 years and I got asked this question 100 times a day. If I had lived there another 4, or another 20 or another 30 years, or until the end of my days, I would still have been asked this question.

No matter how well I spoke Japanese or how much I followed the customs and behaviors, I was always ‘the foreigner’. The widely used word for foreigner in Japan is ‘gaijin’ which I heard almost every day. ‘Gai’ translates to ‘outside’ and ‘jin’ to ‘person’. I have to say that at times I found it hurtful to be considered an outside person, and judged entirely by my appearance. This is what this question does when it is the first question you ask someone. Asking this question of someone you have just met makes an assumption about them. And that’s the definition of prejudice. At least it is respectful to establish a rapport with someone before you start digging into their personal life. And even then, you should tread carefully because you don’t know what anyone has been through. 

A lot of people have commented saying that it’s a customary question, breaks the ice and means no harm. 

It’s not intended to harm, I know that. But the thing about harm is that, it’s not really about the intention or the person inflicting the harm. The impact is on the other side. As Bashir put it, when you hear this question ‘over and over and over again’ it begins to feel like ‘You don’t belong here’ and that does begin to cause harm.

The other reason that it’s a sensitive question is because it can be a really complex one to answer. For many people in our multicultural, globalized world, it’s a really difficult question to answer, and to answer it accurately would require going into a lot of personal detail. If you were born in Poland to an Irish mother and a Polish father, moved to America at the age of 4 years and grew up speaking English with an American accent, how would you answer it then? You are not going to start explaining all that to a perfect stranger. Because it’s none of their business and they don’t really want to know all that. They want a simple answer so they can put together a simple idea in their head about you. But it’s not a simple question. Yes I know it can be, but these days more often than not, it’s not. When I worked in an Irish pub abroad, staff would sometimes come over to me excitedly and say ‘Evelyn, this customer is from Ireland’ and I would excitedly go over expecting an Irish accent and some news from home, but it would usually be an American person with Irish heritage, who would be a lovely person, just not what I had been expecting.  I suppose this challenged my assumptions of what an Irish person is. 

I was staying in a hostel with a woman who was born in India to Indian parents, grew up there until her early twenties before moving to America to get married to an American man. She looked Indian and sounded Indian, but when asked this question she says that she is from America and an American.  I saw confusion several times on the faces of people who asked her, because it wasn’t the answer they were expecting. 

Often this question turns into the same conversation. Where are you from, why did you come here, how long will you stay. At first it was nice, but this conversation got really tiring after a while and it constantly re-inforced that I was different.

I think the complexity also lies in the fact that the meaning is unclear. Does it mean ‘Where were you born?’ , ‘Where were your parents born?’ ‘Where did you grow up?’ ‘Where have you spent most of your life?’ ‘What nationality are you?’. It can mean one or many of these things. So then it comes down to, what is it you are really asking. And then it should probably be a question of, is it really appropriate to ask these things of someone you just met.

I think it’s important to note that Tommy Tiernan asked Brenda Fricker ‘Where do you live?’ and he asked David Norris ‘Where did you grow up?’, two very different questions to ‘Where are you from?’. They are straightforward and the meaning is clear.

One tweeter commented ‘Never take offense to that question, it’s in the Irish psyche to be curious to see if their school geography can match you with somewhere they’ve heard of or they might be able to find someone in common with you’. That’s the simpler end of the story, it’s endearing, warm and reflects the Irish sense of humor.  

My boyfriend is a very proud Irish man and he doesn’t agree with me that this can be a sensitive issue. He is also a big Shane McGowan fan. So I asked him the question and it went something like this:

Me: Where is Shane McGowan from?
Boys: He’s Irish’.
Me: Not, what’s is nationality. Where is he from?
Boyf: He’s from Ireland.
Me: How?
Boyf: Both his parents are Irish, he’s been to Ireland loads of times, he plays Irish music, his heart and soul are Irish, he is ‘Irish’.

But the question was not ‘what’s his nationality?’. Is this what the question really means? McGowan was born in England, grew up in England, has an English accent, but he is ‘from Ireland’ because of those reasons mentioned. You can see how answering this question can get complicated unless you were born of parents of the same origin, and grew up and lived all your life in the same country as them, which is increasingly not the case in today’s world.

Another guy on Twitter commented sarcastically that I should ‘lighten up’ and that I was ‘woke’. Another guy lamented for the state of education and the next generation saying that schools and colleges should be demolished for brainwashing kids with this wokeness and that the next generation is f*#ked. ‘Wokeness’ is a new buzz word and often used in a derogatory way to describe ‘millennials’ getting easily offended. There is a lot of fear in those comments, but if respecting others and allowing people to express themselves freely without hurting anyone is something to be fearful of, to me that is the scary thing. The world changes, and it’s changed so rapidly in the last not even one hundred, but ten years and twenty years since the new millennium. I was born in 1985 so I grew up in ‘the last century’ as my nieces are fond of describing it. Things change, it’s nature, it’s evolution.

I wonder why some people responded defensively and even offensively to my comment. One person told me to ‘cop on, twat’. One person told me I need to get out more (Great advice in the middle of a pandemic). I wonder is it because they are worried that their own views might contain prejudices, and that is uncomfortable for them. Like Bashir said ‘Why does someone get defensive when they are accused of racism? It’s because their integrity is being questioned. But if somebody’s telling you that you are acting in a racist way, its not for you to question whether that question is founded or not, it’s to internalize that feedback and ask why did someone think that about you – its an opportunity to self-reflect’. 

I’m not calling anyone prejudiced, I am trying to explain how it feels to get asked this question repeatedly as an opener, when you are in a living in a country where you are visually different to the majority, and how it can sting. Sometimes when I was really tired of being asked it, I answered random countries like ‘China’ which would induce confusion or hilarity, because its not what they were expecting, not what they assumed I was. They had a pre-conception of my identity. 

Several times when I said Ireland, people began to talk about the IRA, and I did not want to get into a discussion about the IRA with someone I did not know, in what was a friendly and casual situation, it was not appropriate. Bashir put it well when he said ‘When it is the very first question, you don’t know what the other person’s intentions are. You don’t know if it’s going to be a friendly relationship, or whether it might become racist, and because you have experienced racism before, you have to be careful’. 

Another tweeter said ‘People have always asked where I was from when I’m in a different country, should I be offended?’. It’s not for me to tell you that you should be offended, you’re missing the point. 

Another person commented that context is key with this question, which is exactly the point. It’s not that asking someone where they are from is a rude question per se, it’s the context it is asked in that matters. 

Tommy went on to tell a story of secondary schools in Galway where school children play black versus white soccer matches. That’s black children versus white children. He described this as ‘wonderful’ and ‘delightful’. His point was that this ‘in the moment’ showed that they were comfortable in their differences of ethnicity and that there is beauty in that. Bashir laughed generously, saying he wouldn’t go so far as calling it wonderful and talked about the psychological impact this goes on to have into adulthood, that splitting children up into combative teams based on visual difference becomes a problem later in life as those children in the ‘black box’ realise that it’s the ‘white box’ they need to join if they want to make it. 

One tweeter commented that ‘It is evident how the onus is always on those who experience prejudice and hate to extend patience to those who cannot see their prejudice themselves’ which hits the nail on the head.

Another tweeter commented that RTE are doing great work on diversity and inclusion. But diversity is supposed to be about accepting difference, not highlighting it. Isn’t it more diverse to accept someone for who or what they are, rather than ask them to explain it?

The vision for diversity might have been there, the execution unfortunately was not. 

Comments from people defending the asking of this question ‘Where are you from?’ miss the point. It’s not about whether it’s right or wrong to ask it, it’s about understanding the broader implications of this question, and the hurt and exclusion it can cause when asked in the wrong context.  

Prejudices are something we all have. I certainly have them, Tommy Tiernan showed he has them. Prejudice is about pre-judging people and we do it all the time, but I would go so far as to say that most of the time we are wrong in our pre-judgements of people. It narrows the perspective immediately and a great deal is lost. 

The next time you go to ask ‘Where are you from?’ from somebody, stop to ask yourself what is your motivation for asking it. And I would be very interested to hear your answer. 

The Language of the Birds, performed by Iarla McGowan

Iarla McGowan reads poem ‘The Language of the Birds’ by Stephen Murph

The Language of the Birds

Sometimes, in that space between
the waking world and dreaming
As I lay there on my back
and I faced toward the ceiling
I would try to capture meaning
by the feathers of its wings
As a thought became a bird
became the tune of which it sings

But no sooner had I heard it
than its call had been and gone
And all it left behind it
Was the legacy of song
that left me in the emptiness
to stare at the abyss
With the certainty of nothing
but that momentary bliss

And for two full months within that ward
I lived inside my head
With nowhere else to go besides 
a chair beside the bed
So I sought that bird for company,
for freedom, and relief,
As I fought to keep my sanity,
My reason, and belief

And the more I trained myself to seek
became the more I saw
As the less I feigned myself to be
Allowed me to withdraw
’til I learned to see that certainty 
and permanence aren’t real
And that frequency of consciousness
determines how we feel

So I turned the dial from helplessness
to truly tuning in
From denial through to hopefulness
And found myself begin
To look beyond the prevalence
of human apprehensions
To find a realm of resonance
and positive intentions

And now within that space between
the evening and the night
Sometimes I stand upon the bridge 
in the fading of the light
Just to watch the rise and fall
of the swallows as they play
And to hear the heron’s call
At the closing of the day

‘Cause in a world where isolation
is synonymous with loss
And the strain of separation
bears its own immoral cost
I wish I had the answers, 
and I wish I had the words
To encapsulate the wisdom
in the language of the birds.

This poem helped me understand life a bit more

You know when you hear or read something and you just understand life a bit more? This poem by Leitrim poet Stephen Murphy and performed by Iarla McGowan just makes sense.

The poet sets the poem in a strange place, a place where probably most people at some point in their lives have experienced a weird epiphany or meaningful moment, ‘that space between the waking world and dreaming’.

He first talks about trying to find meaning in a bird’s song, ‘as a thought became a bird, became the tune by which it sings’, then describes his despair as the bird flies away, leaving him alone ‘in the emptiness to stare at the abyss’.

Though he feels sad, he recognises the beauty and joy he experienced in that moment ‘the certainty of nothing but that momentary bliss’. Personally, the older I get, the more I realise that I know nothing, that the more I learn the less I know, that I’m just on a constant search for the truth which is so frustratingly hard to find. But this is a solid, grounding truth, a certainty – he had a momentary feeling of bliss. It’s a simple and comforting truth.

There follows a period of two full months solitude in what must have been a hospital ward ‘I lived inside my head, with nowhere else to go besides the chair beside the bed’. What a perfectly lyrical line this is. It flows with such ease and wisdom, it is pure poetry.

So he seeks the bird again ‘for company, for freedom and relief as I fought to keep my sanity, my reason and belief’. And he begins to realise that the beauty of these moments with the bird, the beauty of life itself is in its very transience. It’s beautiful because it doesn’t last. ’til i learned to see that certainty and permanence aren’t real’.

There’s a lovely phrase in Japanese culture that captures this too ‘mono no aware’ which translates to ‘the pathos of things’ and the deeper meaning is about the transience of things. Theres a wistfulness and a sadness in the passing of things, but also an acceptance and an appreciation. It explains why the Japanese celebrate the sakura every year, the cherry blossom. They only blossom for about 2 weeks in the year but they are two of the most important weeks in the Japanese calendar, and they talk about it all year round.

The next line is the main point of the poem for me ‘that frequency of consciousness determines how we feel’. Consciousness is something we are learning more and more about, it means being aware and present. Some people find it in prayer, some people find it in art, some people find it in gardening, some people find it in tea ceremonies. It’s simply those moments where you quiet your riotous mind and live in the moment. Actually it’s always there, you just have to realise it.

And so he finds hope in this. If he can just tune in to these moments, to every moment he will experience joy ‘so i turned that dial from helplessness to truly tuning in, from denial through to hopefulness, and here he finds ‘a realm of resonance and positive intentions’.

He ends the poem as he started it, in a strange indefinable space, a transient moment, but one that comes without fail every night ‘within the space between the evening and the night’. And this is also a truth, as night follows day.

There is wisdom and power in this poem. The poet finds meaning in the birds, which is something we can all do. In this increasingly material world, it’s becoming more and more important to learn from nature and animals, about how to live in the moment, to appreciate true beauty and the simple things in life, things like ‘the rise and fall of the swallows as they play, and to hear the herons calling at the closing of the day ’.

The poem is by Stephen Murphy, a poet from Leitrim and it’s performed here beautifully by Iarla McGowan, sincerely, honestly, passionately.

Horn Head, Donegal – the top of the world

Horn Head, Donegal – the top of the world

One of the things I love about waking up on a Sunday is not having plans; nothing to do, nowhere to go. It’s not that I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything, I just don’t want to have anything planned in advance. Just to wake up on a blank page and see where the Sunday takes you. Which is exactly how I woke up last Sunday.

Breakfast in the jim-jams, peruse of the papers, bit of a listen to Sunday with Miriam, nice and eezy. Then I look out the window, across to Muckish which we are lucky enough to see from our house in Letterkenny. ‘I wonder what that day is going to do’ I say to Christine who’s already done a bums n’ tums class, the shopping, the laundry, cut the grass and fixed the door of the shed. Well not quite, but she has been down and up the town already. She’s much more productive than me anyways. ‘Looks alright’ she says ‘Will we go for a spin somewhere?’ 。

So after throwing a few ideas around: Glenveagh (was there recently), Sliabh Liag (bit too far for a last-minute trip), we decide on Dunfanaghy. ‘Dunfanaghy has everything’ according to Christine. ‘Gorgeous beach, the golf course, lovely cafes and restaurants, live music in the pubs, the Shandon spa nearby and the drive around Horn Head. It’s a happening wee town’ she has me sold.

At around 1 o clock, we are ready to go. I put a few of the supplements under my arm as I’m going out. ‘You’re not bringing the paper are ye?’ she asks with disgust . Apparently not, I put them back down quietly. Row number 3,722 averted.

Dunfanaghy has everything’

We arrive in a bright and bustling Dunfanaghy, park up and head straight for the beach. It’s cooollllddd and windy but lovely and fresh once we get going. There’s loads of people about: on the streets, outside the cafes, on the beach, on the golf course. Indeed we had to duck once or twice when walking back through the golf course, dodgy enough I tell you. I got a coffee and Christine got a burger from a wee van outside the golf club and we enjoyed them under the sun which was warm when you were sheltered from the wind. Was able to take the gloves off like.

A wild place where fairies and goblins lived I always thought.

Then we got on the road again, and drove along The Wild Atlantic Way up towards the aptly named Horn Head. We can see Horn Head from our home-house in Carrigart and looking across at it as a child, it always held an air of mystery for me. From our house, it appears in the distance as a big arc-shaped mountain, (a horn if you will) standing solid, constant, formidable, weathering the North Atlantic storms. A wild place where fairies and goblins lived I always thought.

On the way up, up, up to the viewpoint, catching the view of Tory Island was really special. The sun was splitting the rocks by now and we got a perfectly clear view of the little island, some nine miles out to sea, another place full of fairies and goblins you might say.

Keep watching til you see Tory

We came on down again and on round to the main view point at Horn Head. As Christine says in the video, the video doesn’t capture it. Standing at the top of Horn Head, the top of the world, really takes your breath away. You know that feeling when your stomach lurches? This drive has a lot of that and goosebumps.

Main viewpoint from Horn head looking out at the wild North Atlantic
Christine going in to local tour-guide mode pointing out all the beaches

So it was one of those couldn’t-have-went-any-better-if-you-had-planned it Sundays. Probably-would-have-been-shite-if-you-had-planned-it Sundays.

But my pictures, videos and words don’t come anywhere close to capturing the experience, the thrill of driving around Horn Head, the breath-taking natural beauty of it, heaven on earth. It has to be experienced to be understood.
One for the bucket list.

My dramatic make-up transformation: Before and After

Before and After

Putting on make-up correctly is an art. It requires, skill, creativity, vision and experience, as well as the right tools and products. Just like Monet, Van Gogh and Da Vinci, the make-up artist also takes a blank canvas and attempts to realise their vision, whatever that vision might be, sometimes beautiful, sometimes indeed frightful, depending on the mood of the artist and the task at hand. I had the pleasure recently of being the canvas, on which my friend and make-up artist extra-ordinaire Emma, was to try out her vision of a beautiful, fresh bridal look.

Day-to-day I usually wear a little bit of make-up: a dab of foundation, pencil on the brows and a slick of lippy, but that’s usually about as far as I go. Over the years Emma has taught me little tricks, like applying coconut oil to your lashes to make them long and luscious, or when doing the eyeliner ‘flick’, to hold a piece of card up to your eye at an angle and draw the ‘flick’ along it, but when it comes to more advanced techniques like contouring I’m totally lost.

It never ceases to amaze me how effortlessly glam Emma ALWAYS looks so I was excited at the prospect of getting equally glammed-up and experiencing how it’s done first-hand.

So on Tuesday evening last, I hopped in the car after dinner and headed down to her little studio in her lovely home in Ramelton, Donegal.

She cleansed me first with a refreshing cucumber cleanser and as I tend to have dry skin, she also moisturised and primed my face with a hydrating primer.

She mixed two foundations together to get the perfect shade for me and when she started painting it on, I have to say it felt like a lottt!!

With so many products in different textures and finishes, creams, gels, powders, liquids as well as colours to choose from, I was curious about how and where to start and how to know what will look good, so I asked Emma.

‘Everybody’s different’ she said. ‘As soon as I meet someone I’m looking at what they’re wearing, their hair, their accessories, getting a flavor of their personality and I’m immediately putting a look together in my head’.

After applying the foundation, she then set it with a powder. She worked with an artist’s style palette, which was also a mirror, dabbing her paint brushes in her chosen product before painting them on to my face. It was cool to see her at work: focused, skillful, inspired.

Next was the eyes. Apart from pencilling in my brows, I don’t do anything else with my eyes as I have always believed that eye make-up doesn’t suit me. But the way Emma did it, it looked amazing. She went smoky with the eyeshadow, used a gel liner in my upper eye-lids before adding lashes. She finished them with a cream highlighter in my inner eye, a simple technique that really made them pop. The eyes were the most dramatic for me and proved that it’s not that eye make-up doesn’t suit me, I was just never doing it right.

After that it was contouring and blusher and the look really started coming together. We finished with a shocking pink lipstick by Rimmel, a beautiful shade, which really gave the look the wow factor. But for something a bit less daring, Emma recommends a pink or nude lip.

Overall it took a little under an hour. And I couldn’t believe it when I looked in the mirror. I felt so glam. I wish I’d also been wearing a glam dress to finish the look, but there will be plenty more chances with dinner dates, drinks with friends and summer garden parties to come xoxo ❤ .

If you’d like further information, a list of products used or to make a booking with Emma, contact her here at Emma Gordon Make-Up Artistry .

Emma Gordon, Make-Up Artist

Hiroshima’s commitment to Peace, Love and Baseball.


Love and Peace sign in Guesthouse Lappy. One of many Love and Peace signs throughout the city.

6th August 1945 at 8:15 in the morning. That’s when it happened. About 600 meters above the Hiroshima Cultural and Arts centre, American bomber plane Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb, the first ever nuclear atomic bomb to be used against human beings in the history of warfare.

We all know this date, we know the atomic bomb happened because we learn about it at school from our history books. We learn dates, and place names, the names of the people in power, the politics. But coming here to Hiroshima, to the very site where the bomb was dropped, seeing for myself the place where all those innocent people were blown apart, sorry to use such a graphic expression, is something I couldn’t have learned from any history book.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, I exited the south side of Hiroshima station and looked for the sign for what is now called The Atomic Bomb Dome. I could have taken the public streetcar for 10 stations, but I wanted to walk. I could have used a map, but I didn’t want the distraction. Instead I just followed the street signs. Without the distraction of a map, my phone or the hustle and bustle of getting public transport, I just walked silently, clearing my thoughts. At certain stages there were signs indicating the distance from the A-Bomb Dome: 1.5km, 1km, 500m. As I was getting closer, I could sense a resistance in my body and I walked even slower. The heat was sweltering.


The preserved ruins of the Hiroshima Culture and Arts Centre, now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Eventually, after about a 40 minute walk under the strong summer sun, I came to it. The Atomic Bomb Dome, as it’s now called, previously the Hiroshima Culture and Arts Centre, the building 600 metres above which the atomic bomb was dropped, instantly killing everyone inside and thousands nearby. Over 140,000 people were killed by the atomic bomb, about 70,000 directly from the blast and another 70,000 from injuries and radiation illnesses. The original target of the bomb is said to have been the nearby Aioi bridge, easily recognizable from the sky because of its T-shape. The original Culture and Arts Centre building was known for its dome at the top, which was green, the shape of which you can still see. The remains of the building are now preserved and protected by a security fence preventing entry. There was an argument to demolish the building because of the painful memories, but it was decided to preserve it, as a memory of the atrocity that happened, as a memorial to the people who were killed and as a symbol of Hiroshima’s everlasting commitment to peace, and an end to nuclear warfare now and forever.

When I got to the A-Bomb Dome, I stopped outside, went to my knees and said a prayer for the repose of the souls of those people that were killed, many of whom were mobilized children, who had been recruited to work in factories due to labour shortages during the war. It was a busy Friday afternoon so there were lots of people around. When I got up, a smiling couple asked me to take their picture in front of the Dome. `Sorry` I said. I wasn’t exactly in a smiley ‘picture-taking’ mood. Lots of school kids were also milling around, taking notes and chatting with each other.


Mourning the lives lost in the atomic bombing, we pledge to convey the truth of this tragedy throughout Japan and the world, pass it on to the future, learn the lessons of history and build a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons.

After spending a while here, I went on to the Peace Memorial Park, a large and beautiful park containing the Peace Memorial Hall. As I entered the hall, I followed a path surrounded by high grey walls going in a circular direction. It felt quite claustrophobic in here. It led to a room where the walls are tiled, one small tile for each person who was killed. In this room there are also individual photos of each person who was killed and a searchable database to look for people. I stayed a while and looked at many of the faces. Then I went to the Peace Memorial Museum and watched videos of survivors telling their stories, many of them parents telling about their children who were killed.  They described vivid and frightening scenes of bodies floating in the river, eyes bulging out, people screaming and calling for each other, the smell of hair and skin burning. I won’t forget them. I cried and prayed for the people who were killed. And for the people who experienced it but survived, left behind with horrific memories.


Panoramic view of the Hiroshima, burnt to the ground by the A-bomb.

When I got back to the guesthouse, I was still in a very quiet mood, having not really talked to anyone. My host Yasuko san, a kind woman of about 50 or so was there and asked me how my day was. I told her about going to the A-bomb dome and my sadness must have been very obvious. Yasuko-san however took a different perspective. She told me she is thankful that so many people from other countries come to pay their respects, but she doesn’t want people to dwell on being sad. She wants us to celebrate the survivors who rebuilt the city into what it is today, a city that is fiercely dedicated to peace and love. Everywhere you go in Hiroshima there are signs of peace and love. It’s written on buses and buildings. Streets, parks and shops are named after peace. There’s a Peace Bell, a Peace Boulevard, a Flame of Peace. There’s a Peace Clock Tower that chimes at 8:15am every morning, the time that bomb hit. She said she is proud to be from Hiroshima, born and bred here. She said we should never forget what happened, but rather than feel sad, we should feel grateful to the survivors, her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, who with a fighting spirit did not wallow in their pain. They took courage in each other, in peace and in love and rebuilt the city. It’s an amazing spirit. The spirit with which they also fiercely support The Carp baseball team! Go on the Carp!


Of course she had family who died as a result of the A-bomb. And while talking about this she burst into heavy tears. She said it’s hard to talk about it, that many people couldn’t really talk about it, can’t really talk about it. Instead they just move on relentlessly. But we should talk about it, by talking we face our emotions and free them. By talking we pass on history, her-story, who’s story? The real stories of the people who died and survived the atomic bomb.

Claire, a girl who has lived in Hiroshima for 13 years, whom I met and chatted a while with, told me that there are times when elderly men and women sit around the a-bomb dome area in the evening and talk to anyone who will listen. Maybe they are trapped in their memories and cannot move on. It was only 74 years ago that this happened. There are still people alive who directly experienced the a-bomb. But as time goes on, there are less and less people still alive who were directly affected by the bomb. As new generations come up, we can only understand what happened by stories. And we should listen to these stories.

We should listen to these stories and remember the horror of the a-bomb, so that it never happens again. We should use the memory of the a-bomb to remind us to live peacefully, to remind us to love each other, to fight against war, but to fight with with love and peace. The only thing that can beat hate and war is love and peace. Along with the people of Hiroshima, I commit to this.


The lovely Claire and beautiful daughter Sumi-chan and dog Beemo.




What can I get ya? A bartenders challenge to try everything on the menu: Daiquiri – simple, classic, sexy!

Gona take a break from beer for a while (just on the blog, not in real life, God no) and up the ante a little with a boozy cocktail. Mainly a Daiquiri, made by our resident cocktail maestro, Victor from Sweden.


Im actually writing this post from our Rokkaku pub. Man in the Moon has four pubs in Kyoto (and 1 in Tokyo) and I work at the Rokkaku branch as well as the Kyoto station branch here in Kyoto.


So heres Victor doing his thang. Recently he’s so creative with cocktails, knocking out all sorts of original mixes, not on the menu. One to watch, this one.


But I decided to go for a Daiquiri, which is on the menu. As Victor says himself: Daiquiri is just rum, sugar and fresh lime, simples. In the correct quantities, shaken to perfection, served in the right glass, its the cocktail of cocktails. How does it go so wrong sometimes? Maybe because people don’t appreciate the simplicity and mess with the recipe, trying to make it something more complicated.

でも私はうちのメニューからダイキリのことにしました。ビクターて言うたことは、ダイキリのことが:RUM、ライムとシュガーだけなんです、シンプル!なんでたくさん人変わりたいかな? このままちょうどう美味しいです!


Which is a shame, because its perfect in its simplicity. Anyway this Daiquiri was delicious; boozy and with a good kick to it, its pretty much just alcohol after all, fresh, more-ish and it went to my head, in a good way. Id had a long day and Im not used to cocktails. I admit it made me a little tipsy.


I drank it with the lovely Daniela, there she is, our French belle. She’s on a Mojito.


Day: Who knows!
Drink: Daiquiri
Price: ¥900
Verdict: Simple, classic, sexy; the Gucci of cocktails. And boozy, so drink it slowly.
Atmosphere: Lively for a Tuesday evening. We had our regular English night event so there was lots of energy in the bar. There was a football match on the tv, a friendly between Japan and Paraguay in advance of the World Cup. I drank it with Daniela who was also having a cocktail. Inspirational-vibes.


Day 5: What can I get ya? A bartender’s challenge to try everything on the menu. The Premium Malts – Local Kyoto Beer

So this is a local Kyoto one! Its called The Premium Malts and its actually not on the menu, a little exclusive here. We do have have a Japanese beer called The Malts which will be coming up soon. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s much of a difference in them.

Technically Kirin Heartland should have been next on the list but I don’t like it so I might be procrastinating a little. I`ll get there. Its definitely next.


Meanwhile heres the pic of the Kyoto Premium Malts.


Hiramatsu-san in the background, Christina behind the reji. I had just finished my shift, and it was about 12 midnight. Wed had a fairly busy, steady evening so I was well ready to sit down and have a beer.

Davide finished at the same time so we drank it together.


We were in a roguish kind of a mood. There was a big group of German guys in, Paku had just arrived and he got the music going. We Will Rock You came on and lifted the roof, table thumping, foot stomping, air-punching – it was a racket.

I took a good sniff of it first actually and it smelled really fresh. I don’t know why, I just wanted to enjoy every bit of it. The moment the first drop hit my throat I realized how thirsty I was and took a big gulp. It was good, lemony actually. Christina tried it too, what did she say? Fruity I think.

I drank it fast and it quenched my thirst.

Acting the lark with Hiramatsu-san – Guinness badge buddies.


Day: 5
Drink: The Premium Malts – brewed in Kyoto (bottle)
Price: ¥800 (little bit more than the others – craft beer dakara)
Verdict: Lemony – thirst quenching
Atmosphere: Worked the evening shift, got off at 12 midnight. Was a fairly busy evening and I was thirsty! Drank it with Davide, the rogue! Big group of German lads in having a hoolie.







Days 3 and 4: What can I get ya? A bartender’s challenge to try everything on the menu! Kirin Beers

When I say Day 3/4, I should mention that this means Day 3/4 of the challenge – but the days are not necessarily consecutive. I can’t drink everyday, that’d be a whole other challenge. So I had a couple of booze free days since the last post and now I’m back and rearing to go again. So rearing that Imma tackle 2 drinks in this post.

Namely The Kirin Beers! Don don don! I don’t like Kirin beer you see.

So here goes, first up is:

Kirin Lager

Wasn’t looking forward to it. Wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. But it was actually quite good. Better than I expected. 期待しえてより美味しかったです!That’s always the way isn’t it. Expectations totally effect your experience of things.

I’d only tried Kirin on draught before and I definitely didn’t like it, regardless of the circumstances. I am learning that sometimes loads of things can effect your experience of things like who you’re with, your mood and all those sorts of things. But I’ve given Kirin draught a good couple of goes and I always don’t like it. (is that different from I never like it?).

But apparently I like it from the bottle. That`s the opposite of the norm right. Draught is usually better than bottle. Fresh is always better no?

Atmosphere-wise, had been working with Anna all day and we shared it in the last 15 minutes of our shift. There she is the trooper. She’s dosed with a sore throat and everything but she`s soldiering on.


Day: 3
Drink: Kirin Lager (bottle)
Price: ¥700
Verdict: Better than I expected, would drink again.
Atmosphere: Been working the day shift with Anna all day and we shared it in the last 15 minutes of our shift.


Day 4

Next up: Kirin Ichiban Shibori (一番搾り)

kirin ichiban

The other day a customer sitting in the corner of the counter motioned me over with his hand. It was a pretty busy evening, quite noisy in the bar and he said ` something something something shibori `. Thats what I heard anyway. An oshibori is a wet tissue we give out to customers to wipe their hands before eating or drinking.

Like this:oshibori.jpeg

So I go like, aw you want an oshibori? He was with 2 friends, and beside them there was another guy sitting with his wife and they all completely burst into hysterics. At which point I realized I must have made a mistake and copped on that he was asking for Ichiban Shibori. The pronunciation and meaning is exactly the same, I might add. Hardly that ridiculous a mistake to make. Well they found it hilarious anyway which left me pretty embarrassed. I guess I won’t make that mistake again. Fuckers.

So heres the meaning of Ichiban Shibori. Ichiban means One or First. Shibori means like to squeeze or press something (so like thats what you’re doing when your cleaning your hands with the tissue right?).

The reason this beer is called ichiban shibori is that it only uses the first press of the wort. Whats a wort? Good question, I had to look that up myself. Its the liquid thats extracted during the brewing of beer or whiskey. Most brewers use the first and second press or extraction of the wort, but Kirin Ichiban only uses the first and its the only major brewer that does this.

Its a 100% pure malt beer. Typically, 100% malt beers have a strong and heavy taste, but, when brewed only from the first wort the flavor is smoother, and this is the pure flavor of the malt.

Ooh I actually am starting to learn stuff now. Cool.

I realize I haven’t said much in the way of my own personal opinion on the taste but I don’t remember now! Was rushing to meet Makkyo after work so just kind of knocked it back to be honest.

Day: 4
Drink: Kirin Ichiban Shibori (bottle)
Price: ¥700
Verdict: Smooth and easy to drink
Atmosphere: Worked the day shift and drank it towards the end of my shift. Was meeting Makkyo right after work so my mind was elsewhere 😉