Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 5:26am

'The Chinese population [in Ireland] has increased dramatically in the last decade,' says Vicky Twomey-Lee, 30, the brains behind the blog Irishbornchinese.com, 'more so with students coming over to study, people from Macau [around the time of the handover] to work, etc. There is a good mixture of Chinese now; before, it was mainly people who opened restaurants and Asian markets.

'Pockets of streets with Chinese businesses have opened up on the north side of Dublin - Moore Street would be known to some folks as Chinatown. We don't actually have a Chinatown in Dublin, or anywhere in Ireland.'

The software engineer, who was born Lee Wei-kay in Cork, in the south of Ireland, grew up in the restaurant business. 'My uncle opened one of the first Chinese restaurants in Ireland - in the heart of Cork city. My father, when he was a teenager, came to Cork [from Hong Kong] and helped his brother. My father's family resided in Tai Po - the house faced out to sea; now it's covered with apartment blocks and shopping plazas. My mother's family still lives in Lam Tsuen.'

Lee, who has taken a year off to attend a multimedia course at Dublin City University and has moved to the Irish capital, says she is proud of her heritage - 'Mostly because Chinese people over here work really hard' - and of rapidly developing China.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a child of restaurateurs, Lee sees the path to assimilation as running through the stomachs of the natives. 'People in Dublin have no qualms with trying new food, and many restaurants opened by mainland Chinese have a lot of their local cuisine on their menus. The Irish love that.'

Other 'home' comforts are becoming more common too. 'Growing up, I enjoyed watching shows and animation taped in Hong Kong and shipped over. Nowadays, there's the Chinese Channel [TVB Europe], which [shows] a lot of current news and dramas.

'I'm in a country that is changing every day; I see ads in Chinese on buses, televisions, newspapers, etc. There's even a Chinese section in some local papers.'

Despite the transformation, Lee still enjoys coming to Hong Kong, which she does regularly. 'My experience has always been positive - apart from being bitten by mosquitoes. I'm lucky I speak Cantonese fluently. My husband is Irish but he has learned a few everyday phrases, and people in Hong Kong are amazed and appreciate that he speaks Cantonese.

'I'm still a tourist in Hong Kong. I know I get ripped off but at least I can understand what they say. I don't know how to haggle but I know when to say no.

And if an Irish athlete goes head-to-head with one from China at the Olympic Games, who will Lee be cheering for?

'Now that's a tough one. I'm actually happy if either wins. Ireland is such a small country, and fair play to the athletes who make it to the Olympics. Although I'd cheer more for the Chinese gymnasts and divers. If I had to place my last euro [on it], I would go for a Chinese athlete.'