On the 27th Jan (Tuesday) night, I rendezvous with Si Yu and Elizabeth at the airport. As it is my first major overseas trip, my family also came along to send me off. My flight departs at 11.30pm via KLM and will arrive at Amsterdam for transit, where it will touchdown at London Heathrow Terminal 4 airport at 7.20am. It is followed by a final flight by British Midland from London Heathrow Terminal 1 to Belfast City Airport. The plane arrived at our destination at 12.10pm.
28th January (Wednesday) - Arrival in Belfast
In the afternoon of 28th January 2004, we arrived at Belfast City Airport. We were welcomed by the International Friendship Association (IFA) and was greeted by their large ‘Welcome’ banner. They provided free shuttle service from the airport to our student halls.
These few days were the coldest days as reported in Belfast for years. The sky was downcast, casting a pale veil on all the buildings and ancient monuments of the city. I caught a unique sight on the way to the student accommodation. The traffic light system functions on four options instead of the usual three. The fourth one is flashing amber light. Which I found out later that it actually improves traffic efficiency. The vehicles on the side of the flashing amber can proceed if there are no pedestrians crossing the road.
The bus zoomed down University Road, past the famous Red-Brick Lanyon Building. The sight wasn’t as impressive as it was shown on the welcome guides and websites. Maybe the rain is casting a somber feeling on all these monumental sights.
And a short distance up, the bus turned into Elms Village. My accommodation encountered some difficulties as the reception found the room which I was supposed to be allocated was occupied. I was immediately given a guest room which I will be holding up for the next 2 nights. The guest room was fabulous with double beds, a personal bathroom and toilet. All four of us are staying at Ogilvie Hall, the tallest building in the area.
Students from the IFA chatted with us and invited us to the ‘Dinner at Fisherwick Church’ this evening. We will drop by this church for their sunday service once a while.
We acquainted with Daniel and Fai Lam. The latter is a friend of Joshua since his junior college. They brought us for a short sight-seeing walk along Lisburn Road where the main grocery shopping areas are. Night falls rapidly. It is only 5pm when the sun is beginning to set and by 5.30pm, it is absolute darkness.
By the time we arrived at Fisherwick Church, it is already filled with hordes of International students. We acquainted with the Dutch students who were there as a trainee teacher. We were treated to hot tomato soup; which tasted fabulous.
29th January (Thursday) - Orientation Day 1
The official orientation programme begins on this day. We rendezvous at the Peter Froggatt Centre at 9am and went through the usual registration procedures. In the lecture theatre, we were introduced to Queens, Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole. We obtained our student card before proceeding for lunch at the Student Union.
This is where we will be having our lunch and dinner for the next 4 months. The food is part of the package we paid for with our accommodations and it is great.
We kind of missed the ‘Get to know Belfast’ bus tour in the afternoon so we just went back to Tesco for shopping. I bought a TESCO Phone SIM card for £19.99. It has some value in there and the best part is that I am given another £10 top up card for it. After dinner, we joined in the Ceilidh– live music and Irish dancing. It is here where we got to know a large group of fellow Taiwanese who are here for a month studies.
After the dance, we went to The Parlour (a pub) which is just directly opposite the Student Union. There is an Irish word Craic, which means having a good time with convivial company, sparkling conversation and rousing music. The Irish just like to relax, enjoy and have fun.
30th January (Friday) - Orientation Day 2
On Friday, we continue with our second day of orientation. It is this day where I met a friend from Hungary who is to be a good buddy for the months to come. We were shown around the computing facilities, the libraries and the Physical Education Centre.
At night is the official welcome dinner for us all at the Great Hall in Lanyon Building. The hall feels just like a scene from Harry Potter.
Life as a student in Queens
Living in Belfast is not as expensive as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. 2 litre fresh milk only cost 79 pence, and I just bought corn flakes (1.5 pounds) for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are provided.
The student union and the lectures are just a 15 minutes walk from my hall. There are no television set and internet in the rooms. It is really back to the Stone Age. Nevertheless, I got a lot more time to do reading and meditation as I don't have a computer to bug me. It is actually a good sign as most of my time back in Singapore is taken up by computers and appointment
The first few months were pretty cold and their radiator is water powered. When we arrived, the sun set at 5pm and it only the sky only brightens from 8am.
We opened an account with Ulster Bank, from which we were given ATM cards where we can withdraw money from anyone of their ATM machines, which we they 'Hole in the Wall'.
Lunch is from 11am to 2.30pm, Dinner is from 4.45pm to 6.30pm, and Weekend dinner between 5pm to 6.30pm. I will normally have my lunch at 11am while dinner around 5.30pm. Where we will slowly have our meals and chat.
One of our favorite pastimes in Belfast is to go Tesco for shopping. It closes at 9pm on weekdays, 8pm on Saturdays and 6pm on Sundays. When we go shopping in Tesco, we will either go for their house brands which is very cheap or stuffs which were RTC (Reduced To Clear). When we found anything that is good, we will call it VFM (Value For Money).
31st January (Saturday) - Black Cab tour of Belfast City
One of the foreign student from New York, organised a Black Cab tour round the city. We joined in with a friend from Norway.
We were shown the dark side of Belfast where tensions between the Protestants and Catholics still run deep. In here we have Oliver Cromwell of the Protestant order.
Though the Berlin Wall came down, the wall in Belfast still stand and is higher than before. Visitors drew and wrote peace messages on these walls.
They compare their conflict similar to that of the Palestine and have great respect for them.
6th February (Friday) - Performance at Belfast's Waterfront Hall
Elizabeth found some good symphony performance at the Belfast Waterfront Hall and we just went for it.
This is my first classical performance and it is from here where I started learning music.
7th February (Saturday) - Dining with French
The French invited us over to their place for dinner on this evening.
8th February (Sunday) - Visit to Belfast Castle
The Singaporeans are the organizers for the visit to the Belfast Castle. We roped in the French and Taiwanese for this trip. It is a bus ride from the Belfast City Hall.
Here is our group photo.
At the back of Belfast Castle is Cave Hill country park. Climbing to the top is somewhat challenging but we were rewarded with a picturesque view of the Belfast inland sea.
14th February (Saturday) - Visit to Stormont
We sent our Taiwanese friends off in the morning. Thereafter we made our way down to Stormont, the parliament house of Northern Ireland.
The compound is large and has a long wide road leading to the main building.
The main stormont building from the side.
15th February (Sunday) – Visit to Carrickfergus Castle
We took a train to Carrickfergus castle on this day from the Belfast Botanic station.
With us is Tibor, our Hungarian friend.
In the castle are some beautiful paintings depicting life back then.
There are many replica armour and swords where we can try it out.
Here is Tibor striking an alliance with the Castle warden. Tibor is a member of the knighthood order which I shall share later in Belfast 2 of my posting.
25th February (Wednesday) - Snow in Belfast
It is winter when we arrived in Belfast but it is only a month later when the snow descended onto the city. It is the first time I see snow and was quite happy sitting by my room window observing the falling flakes.
The snow stopped falling and the clouds starting to clear.
People just having fun building snowman and playing snowballs.
The Queen's University building with the front yard in snow.
25th / 27th February - Strike in Queens
On the 25th and 27th February, there is going be a strike in Queens. It is led by the teachers (AUT) and supported by the students (NUS). The reason is the teachers are underpaid. Here are what the teachers will be doing:
Firstly, tell your students that you will not be teaching them or providing them with any form of service on the 25th and 27th
On the 25th and 27th you should not set foot on university premises except the Students’ Union. That does not mean that you stay at home. You should make your support visible by turning up for part of the day and picketing a campus entrance near your place of work.
2nd March (Tuesday)
The snow are now melting. I think it is finally getting warmer for good. The snow clouds from the Arctic that arrived last Wednesday is a big surprise for everyone. Last week, schools are closed but not the university. But life still goes on, it is not as cold as thought even though it is 0 degrees or 2 degrees or even negative temperature.
5th March (Friday) – Ice Hockey
On Friday, we went to catch the Belfast Giants at the Odyssey Arena. The best part of the game is when the players get into a free for all.
6th March (Saturday) - Visit Belfast City Hall
We decide to visit the Belfast City Hall free guided tour on this day.
The interiors were impressive!
And we were led to where the parliamentarians debate over issues. It has now been moved to Stormont.
20th March (Saturday) – Visit to Giant’s Causeway
On this day, Failam helped us sign up for the Giant's Causeway and the Glens one day tour. It is wrapped up with a trip to the Bushmills distillery (1608), which is the world’s oldest legal distillery.
The legendary Giant's Causeway where the rocks appear as steps where giants cross the seas.
The wind is awfully strong in this area. Even Si Yu can hinged towards one side and still be supported by the wind. Check out the video below.
Our group photo (we have to rest on one another for this photoshot due to the strong winds)
22nd March (Monday) – Ice Skating
The IFA organised a Ice Skating event for us. It is the first time I'm trying out Ice Skating too. Here is me with Wei Jia from China.
30th March (Tuesday) - Elizabeth Birthday celebration
Ok. Actually Elizabeth birthday is on the 31st March but we got it wrong and celebrated one day in advanced. But since everyone is here and the food/cake is ready, here is our group photo. Besides the four of us, we have Wei Jia and Hong Jie (from Shanghai).