Archive for November, 2008

Unity through music : Playing for Change

Everywhere you go around the city, you’ll see now of the Christmas lightings and trees and decorations. There were Christmas songs belting through the sound system from Brown Thomas but unfortunately now this may be shut because the Dublin City Council deemed it noise pollution blah di blah. I mean, c’mon, this is pretty much part of Grafton Street Christmas tradition – to walk past BT, admire their beautifully decorated windows (with overpriced items that I could never afford, but that’s not the point) and sing/hum along to the Christmas carols!

Please don’t spoil this festive cheers by being so uptight about this. I don’t know of anyone who complained about the music and as far as I know, it actually puts people in Christmassy mood. More than the weird Christmas tree on O’Connell Street that the city council was raving over.

And staying with the topic of music, watch this video by Playing for Change. I know it’s not Dublin-specific, but it emphasises music as an universal language that links people together. Including Dubliners, and you and me who live in this city.


There are a few reasons why I think it’s appropriate to post this video here today. First and foremost, it’s a beautiful song that’s produced using recordings from all over the world, harmonised together so elegantly that it resonates with everyone. Secondly, this organisation aims to promote peace through music, and this is one endeavour that I’m whole-heartedly supporting. Thirdly, I think we can all do with a good reminder that no man is an island and we have wonderful people, friends and family, that stand by us every day, every step that we take. (Quite nicely, it was Thanksgiving yesterday in the US, so what are you thankful for this year?)

We need more positive actions like this.

In the past week, we’ve seen chaos in the Middle East (so much so that it’s nearly business-for-usual that doesn’t quite raise the eyebrows anymore), military coup in Thailand and most shockingly the violent attacks in Mumbai that left over 100 people dead and a few hundred more injured. At the moment there are some progress made in containing the attacks and I hope there will not be anymore unnecessary casualties.

But it begets a few questions. Why are men still using violence in order to achieve what they want? How come, through the ages and civilisations, are there still systems and governments that don’t work that the people felt they need to speak out radically? And why are men not searching for better middle grounds to their ideologies, and at times agree to disagree, or able to disagree without being disagreeable?

Sure, there are no simple answers to these. I long for the ideal world, but hey I also often live behind a rose-tinted glasses, Pollyanna world. I’ve tried stepping out and look at things with more cynicism and skepticism, but I didn’t (and still don’t) like what I see.

Oh well, this is something best left to philosophers to debate.

New teashop – Le Palais des Thés

Ireland is a tea drinking nation. For a while, we were even the reigning champion of tea drinking, consuming some 4-6 cups of tea per person per day, and only rather recently Japan overtook this country in the race for the title of Number 1 Tea Drinker in the World. The usual brands that a typical Irish household would stock are Bewley’s, Barry’s, Lyons and Twinnings (although this is an English brand).

A few years back, ordering tea would mean getting a pot of black tea, served with sugar and milk. I don’t know what happened to push forward a tea revolution in Ireland, but within the last couple of years, there is a shift for larger tea selection, to include green teas, infusions and even special blends of fruity and aromatic teas. And most of these new found favourites are best served without milk, with some even better served cold than hot.

With such an advent, it’s not surprising to find specialist tea shops in the city, selling loose teas and various tea-related gadgets and gift sets. Just earlier this year, Matchabar Tea Emporium opens its door at the Powerscourt Centre, boasting a selection of over 150 teas and tea blends to tea lovers. And just yesterday, a French tea company set up some competition by opening Le Palais des Thés on Wicklow Street, just about 5 minutes stroll away from Powerscourt Centre.

As I was passing by, I went in to have a peek in this new tea shop to see what they have to offer. A brightly lit shop with a spacious feel to it, the tins and packets of teas are neatly arranged along the walls of the premises. There were also a couple of “tea tasting stations” in different parts of the shop, where the friendly shop assistants cheerfully organise for a tasting of the tea that you would like to check out before purchasing.

This tea company boasts over its selection of some 250 different teas, that are categorised into the following “tea families” : Asian (China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia), Asian (Japan), Asian (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh), Middle East (from the Black Sea to Caspian Sea), African, South American, Blends and flavours, and Organically Grown Teas.

I am no tea connaisseur but I walked around the shop rather giddily at the thought of a whole world of tea possibilities! When I was offered an opportunity to squeeze in some tasting, I asked the shop assistant for a recommendation of something aromatic and light, of green tea variety (black tea gives me headache) and she brought me some Thé du Hammam. The tea blend smells amazingly delicious and fruity, as this is green tea flavoured with the pulp of green dates, orange blossom, rose and red fruits. I liked what I tasted, for the delicate taste to it while still carrying the unforgettable bouquet. I was sold, and I bought a 50g bag of it!

In fact, I’m liking the scent so much I am considering sewing some muslin bags to pack the tea mix in, and use them as fragrant pouches.

Drop by the next time you’re in town, and have a look at the place and try some tea for yourself. If you have friends who are tea lovers, this would be a good place to pick up some Christmas presents too, with beautifully packaged selections of teas and tea sets.

Ps: to my lovely friends in Paris, they have a few shops around but a couple of notable locations are St Germain (rue du Cherche-Midi) and Marais (rue Vieille-du-Temple). ;-)

Uh oh, they’re sorry they’re here…

Well, half of them. Them being large multinational companies.

This can’t be a very good news in time of economic downturn. Almost half of multinational companies surveyed by IDA (they surveyed 97/538 companies, which works out about 18% of client portfolios) that are currently based in Ireland have indicated that given a second chance to relocate their companies, Ireland would not have been their choice. The two main cited reasons – high business costs and poor infrastructure. It appears not only the residents here are tired of rip-off Ireland, foreign investors are also unhappy with fatigued accountings.

With the widening of European markets, there are more options than ever for any company that’s currently looking into tapping into the continent. Of the companies that said they would have chose a different location, almost 2/3 of them would choose Eastern Europe. Not only that, some 16% would even go to UK. This must be sending some major alarm bells to the government!

But of course Ireland does have its own saving graces, since the other half surveyed are happy where they are right now and would not have choose an alternative location. Top of the list of graces is the favourable corporation tax rates, which even McCain evoked time and time again during his (now lost) presidential bid debates and speeches. The other main advantages are skilful set of labour, high technological knowledge (although we still sorely need better telecoms and broadband infrastructures) and favourable regulations for multinationals relocating here.

However, in times of global competitions, the balancing act is tricky at best (e.g. maintaining high living standard but battling rapid increases in wages which reduces profits and thus taxation) for the government. Not only that, the international economic climate also influences decision making by large international firms which are trying to remain competitive. For one, a large number of the multinationals currently based in Ireland are American-owned, and if tax breaks offered by President-elect Obama be deemed more favourable, the companies may begin to downsize their operations here and return to US for their expansions.

I guess we won’t know right now how the events will unfold. Only time will tell. In the mean time, the government has to stop sitting on the laurels of Celtic Tiger, and start to think of Plan B (and C and D) to keep the economy of the country growing. One thing that I can think of right now is, stop spending frivolously on all sorts of overbudgeted and overran (time wise) projects!

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