Archive for July, 2016

Northern Ireland

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

When we toured Ireland in our crowded station wagon in 1965 (see posting below), my father made a point of belting out Irish folk songs…. even though he wasn’t Irish. One of his favorites was “The Mountains of Mourne” (you can hear a nicely-sung version by Don McLean on YouTube), the wistful tale of a worker longing to be home “…where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.” My cousin Bryan married an Irish girl, Mary – and they’ve now retired to her home town, Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland — in exactly that lyrical place!

The Mountains of Mourne

While I was prepared for a beautiful stay in the hilly Irish countryside…. I didn’t realize that Northern Ireland has now become more like a movie set for Game of Thrones. Indeed, they’ve done a considerable amount of filming for the series there in places we visited, like the nearby Tollymore Forest Park…. and GoT tours now teach eager tourists how to use long swords & crossbows at places like Dundrum Castle.

Legananny Dolmen

I was particularly interested, however, in some of the older cashels (stonework farming enclosures) and raths (earthworks) dating from 600-1200 AD — & the souterrains (underground passageways) they might use to escape from raiding Vikings. Similarly, the tripod Legananny Dolmen, a Neolithic tomb from 2500-2000 BC, eerily reminds one of Stonehenge, which dates from roughly the same period. Northern Ireland’s countryside is obviously an enchanted location!

We didn’t miss the chance to visit Belfast too, a place with a more modern – but also comparably troubled – history. That term suits it well, & the period of religious and political strife after the late 1960s is commonly referred to locally as “the Troubles.” We visited the Peace Wall – a structure designed to clearly separate the two parties, as well as streets & other locations with wall murals & memorials highlighting both Loyalist & Republican tragedies. A visit to the relatively new Titanic Museum at the Belfast shipyards was fascinating – and we ended our Belfast visit on an appropriate note: having an Irish beer in The Crown Liquor Saloon, a drinking establishment so historic it was upgraded by the National Trust. It seemed a suitable location to discuss the pros & cons of another historical event we had witnessed just the previous day: the U.K. vote to “Brexit.”


Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The last time I was in Dublin, I was 15 years old – & crammed into a station wagon with my parents and eight very active siblings (including my then-youngest brother who was all of three weeks old). We were on our way home from a three-year stay in the UK, and were touring Ireland at the behest of my mother, who had Irish ancestry on her father’s side — and she had always wanted to see the country.

This Irish visit on our way home to the U.S. was obviously a bit more calm & considerably less stressful – but it still had a familial element, since we were reciprocating a Nanjing visit by my cousin Bryan and his wife Mary (see last January’s posting). We also took the opportunity to visit with another long-time relation — an 88-year-old, Dublin-based second-cousin-once-removed (yes, really!; we checked it out).

Sweny’s chemist shop

One of the things that made this visit very special, however, was Dublin’s obvious affinity for great writers. We had just missed Bloomsday – the celebration every year on June 16th when everyone celebrates the one day of activities described in James Joyce’s Ulysses. But the city nonetheless maintains a year-round Joycean awareness, and the folks seated next to us in the pub made sure we knew that Leopold Bloom had stopped in at Sweny’s, the apothecary across the street, on that day to purchase lemon soap.

Oscar Wilde memorial

We took it all in, visiting both the Dublin Writers’ Museum and the James Joyce Center. In the latter was a drawing of that same Sweny’s — by the artist Emma Byrne, and shown above — which was used in an illustrated publication of the work. Joyce was not the only Dublin writer of note, of course, & so we also visited Oscar Wilde’s (rather flamboyant!) memorial in Merrion Square – a tribute seemingly well attuned to his lifestyle. Another important literary stop was the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College, and a visit to see the Book of Kells – a lavishly illustrated work of the four Gospels produced by Irish monks early in the 9th Century.

Long Room of Old Library at Trinity College

I’m sure you must be thinking that I read Ulysses on this trip – but I have to admit to feeling just a little bit intimidated, and woefully unprepared (i.e., many believe that you need some academic training to tackle the 18 shifting-style episodes in that work, in order to understand what Joyce was trying to accomplish). So I made do with one of his very early — and I thought rather appropriately titled, for this visit — books: Dubliners. That collection of fifteen short stories (available free on Kindle) is on display in Sweny’s window…. and like many readers I found the last story (‘The Dead’) especially powerful; it definitely signaled the emergence of a major literary figure.

HNC Scholars

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Our HNC Masters students have a formal thesis defense as part of their academic program, and thesis advisors are not allowed to participate. A three-professor review committee judges their work – and this past year three Chinese HNC students were judged to have “outstanding” theses.

Of course, I was especially thrilled because all three students were part of our new Energy, Resources & Environment (ERE) program — & I had the privilege of serving as their advisor.

Mr. Du Yufan (at right in the photo) wrote a thesis looking at the potential for linkage between the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and China’s nascent national emissions trading program, which is scheduled to begin next year. Yufan will be heading to Oxford University in the UK later this year to continue his academic studies.

Ms. Cheng Huihui (center in the photo) conducted a preliminary health risk assessment of dioxin emissions associated with agricultural burning. This is a particularly difficult problem in China, given the extent of agricultural burning and the overuse of pesticides. She has accepted a position with Clean Air Asia in Beijing, and will be working with its China Director, my good friend and colleague Dr. Fu Lu.

And Ms. Wang Zixi (on the left) analyzed the effects of China’s green credit policies on overcapacity in the coal mining industry. She has been working in the banking sector, and will be continuing her work in green finance.

I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have such bright and enthusiastic students in ERE — & I look forward to following these three throughout their (no doubt comparably “outstanding”!) future careers.