Citylife has been the northern partner to The Nation Multimedia on the Junior Dublin Literature Awards for ten years. This year’s essay competition was under the theme, ‘A Journey’ and we selected 17 year old Kathrin Kemmler from Lanna International School as our northern winner. She went on to compete against regional winners, taking home the top prize earlier this year. In addition to her 10,000 baht prize and three roundtrip tickets to the national awards ceremony in Bangkok, she also won two return tickets plus accommodation to the International Dublin Literary Awards Ceremony in Ireland. Returning from Ireland, Kathrin stopped by Citylife with a signed copy of the awards winner Jose Eduardo Agualus’s A General Theory of Oblivion, and a clover leaf key ring, so we took the opportunity to ask her to write a story for us of her experience. Congratulations Kathrin and we look forward to reading more from you in the future. Here is her story:
At the start of this year, I submitted an essay titled with the theme ‘A Journey’ to Citylife that eventually won me a round trip to Dublin this past summer. Within it I had written: “For every journey one undertakes there must be a will. A will to fight and a want that drives us to be.”
My ‘will’ then, at time of writing, was to, perhaps, earn a little pocket money that would allow me to embark on my journey to the bookstore where I could still my habit of petting and wetting the books with my tears by finally claiming them as my very own, long lost children. Little did I know that the journey that would follow would not only exceed the distance between home and the city by a whopping 10,000 kilometres, but take me to a place that I’d never dreamt of visiting before in my life. For a land that I had forever, since I was a child, envisioned as an unreachable, magical-like fairytale realm where leprechauns, red haired Vikings and a bunch of funny talking people roamed about, Ireland had certainly not been on my radar as a holiday destination. To say that the trip impacted my life in ways that simply altered my naively formed viewpoint, would, in my humble opinion, be my understatement of the century.
Casting aside all stereotypical expectations, I was surprised to discover myself taking in Ireland not with my eyes or mind, but through my heart. Dublin left a deep impression on me as a city, and I felt that despite being a city which appeals to a host of different interests, there was a strong sense of shared pride and appreciation in the arts and literature. It is therefore unsurprising that a city venerated as UNESCO’s City of Literature, is home to the world’s prestigious International Dublin Literary (or IMPAC) Award, held annually in the Mansion House of Dublin. Being granted the immense honour of attending this year’s award ceremony, I had the opportunity to meet many distinguished guests, among them the winner of this year’s award: José Eduardo Agualusa. In his acceptance speech, presented by his witty and compatible translator, Daniel Hahn, he shared his belief that great literature plays an essential role in developing one’s empathy muscles which thus leads to the development of societies as a whole. Ireland, I feel, is the gleaming illustration of this. A nation in which literature flows, not only within every street and alley but, within the very blood of the Irish, creating an atmosphere of kindness and a safety unlike any other. It is a warmth that even grey skies and chilly showers cannot overshadow.
For several years now, Chiang Mai has been striving towards becoming a UNESCO recognised Creative City. In other words, a city in which cultural and creative activities play an integral part in the city’s economic and social functioning. Does Chiang Mai have what it takes? I certainly think so. As a city that displays acceptance and tolerance towards all nationalities, cultures and religions, Chiang Mai is endowed with a fertile framework, destined for the future’s innovative development. Above all, however, it is its quality of preserving the Lanna culture with a sense of ownership and pride that, I feel, flanks Chiang Mai alongside Ireland’s top UNESCO acknowledged cities of Dublin and Galway. As reflected in their cities, the Irish people express an importance in their cultures, whether in language, tradition or history. Attaining the title of City of Literature or Film, signifies who they are without having to adapt personalities and words to meet the criteria, instead owning and knowing their literature to be great by virtue of solely who and what they are. If we, in Chiang Mai can do the same by embracing the cultures we are surrounded by, and the histories on which we stand, it is then that development can evolve in the righteous direction.
Referring back to my love for books, it is essential for me to point out that strolling down the streets of Dublin was like a dream come true. The numerous bookstores — Easons, Dubray Waterford and THE Hodges Figgis, to name a few — turned each day into a colossal struggle as I bade farewell to one bookshop after another without having quenched the itch in my fingers and sniffing of my nose. However, any surviving part of me that deigned to remain unsatisfied was soon appeased by the sight of the magnificent Reading Room in the National Library. And if that did not make the trick, I can assure you that the Book of Kells and monumental Long Room of Trinity, gave me the rest. As a one-time backdrop for one the Harry Potter sets, it speaks for itself.
As much as Dublin gave me in three full days, knowledge and stimulation, it was the two following weeks that markedly shaped my impression of Ireland. It is therefore largely thanks to my parents that, by undergoing an anti-clockwise tour of the island in our rental car, I attained such a remarkable perspective of the country. At the start of our road trip, my father had handed me a road map, making clear that it was our only means of finding our way around the country. Although we obviously made it out alive and in once piece, there is no denying that getting lost in the middle of nowhere was on our daily agenda…that is, if ‘nowhere’ means paradise. Venturing down the Wild Atlantic Way from the very northern tip of Donegal to the south western peninsula of Kerry, the sceneries that we encountered ranged from mind-blowing to hair-blowing. It was the rugged beauty, however, that made us halt, look and drink in the panorama again. And again.
It is the same with the Irish. Their words and spirit, although a little rough around the edges, are purely genuine and convey a kindness that makes you want to pause time and savour the moment.
No matter where we were, this Irish ability to celebrate life was present. Most evidently, however, in the city of Galway. Whether in sight, sound or happiness, one couldn’t differentiate as all elements seemed to merge into one. Merged into life. The source of this: street musicians. The sounds they generate, whether in form of fiddles, mandolins, accordions, bagpipes or the clacking of tap shoes, radiates a joy that is seen too rarely in today’s world. Living off the coins thrown towards them, it is a rough life, to say the least, but to express a delight simply through doing what one’s heart desires, embodies such a beauty that is nothing but admirable. What struck a chord within me was witnessing the violinists. The art in which they handled the instrument and coaxed the life-awakening sounds from it was mesmerising. I have played the violin since I was eight and never have I ever consciously experienced the ease or pure joy whilst playing. Their playing, however, made me remember. Remember the reason I confronted this instrument in the first place and realise the way it’s supposed to be done. For fun. Not for the grades or for the act to worship itself but…because it makes us and those around us want to smile and dance.
Whenever someone asks me what my hopes and dreams are for the future, my response is a snort. Not because I don’t have an answer. But because my answer isn’t what they’re looking for. Do I know what studies I want to pursue? Where that will be and what profession would follow? No, I’m afraid I don’t. What I do know, so far, is that I want to lead a happy life. To do what I love, in a place that I love. As straightforward as this may sound, it has, in fact, proven extremely difficult to make sense of as neither the act nor place has been yet identified. Or has it? I figured that wherever love is, there is home. Journeying Ireland, each and every encounter, whether through my ears, nose, eyes or mind, had touched my heart. And each time it did, it was as if being filled up to the brim and on the verge of bursting from pure bliss. My dream? To return Home.