The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for Ireland

Street signs


Street signs are so much a part of city life; it’s very easy to take them for granted. At the corner of any street of consequence back home, you’d find a post from which hangs, or sticks out, a sign that indicates the name of the street. In the case of some low cost subdivisions, the subdivision block number would substitute as a street name. Some signs were large and fancy, with reflective coatings. Others were more austere.

But you could always count on these rectangle-shaped signs to be where they needed to be, and to look the way you expect; as surely as the sun’s rise in the morning, and its replacement by the moon at night. After all, why would anyone do it any other way, right?

Ah . . . assumptions . . . assumptions.

My first overseas destination, Taiwan, was a harbinger of things to come. For one thing, naming conventions there were different. Major thoroughfares were called “roads”. My company’s Taipei office, for example, was situated along Tun Hwa North Road, which could be loosely likened to a wider version of Ayala Avenue in the Makati Central Business District. Yet it was still called a “road”. “Streets” were smaller than roads, and relatively less prominent. Small alleys and side-streets were called “Lanes”.

Taiwanese roads were divided into sections and compass directions relative to a point of reference — a concept that has no Philippine equivalent. This was designed to give people a rough idea where on the road they were. Tun Hwa, for example was divided into North and South by its intersection with another road: ZhongXiao. The further away from the intersection you were, you’d transition to different section numbers. Our office, again as an example, was at the southern end of Tun Hwa called Section 2. Other roads ran from East to West. Some had as many as 7 sections which actually stretched outside Taipei City, deep into Taipei County.

Taipei street signs were also squarer than rectangular. They had to be, because they were bilingual. In keeping with efforts to make the Taiwanese capital an international city, English approximations of Chinese street names, and Hindu-Arabic numerals were included in all signs as an accommodation for the city’s foreign residents.

Canadian streets, at least in Ottawa, had an interesting implementation of a bilingual street naming policy. Since the street names were the same for both French and English, and utilized the same letters, it was a simple matter of adding “St.” and the French equivalent “Rue”. The following photo taken near Parliament Hill shows how they do it.

The Irish like to put both old-Irish and English names of their streets on their signs, as with the sign below for St. Patrick St. in Cork, Ireland.

The photo above also captures a common theme amongst European signs. They often use plaques mounted on the sides of buildings. I first noticed them on a trip to Paris. I didn’t immediately recognize them for what they were, because I instinctively associated signs with posts. It also didn’t help that at the time I hadn’t done my homework and figure out that “Rue” was French for street.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the street-name-on-a-post was not a “sacred” rule by any stretch of the imagination, Irish and more recently Italian, street plaques were less of a surprise.

Assumptions are funny things. Sometimes, you can’t even distinguish between fact and assumption because it never occurs to you to re-verify what you’ve already accepted as gospel truth. The nice thing about visa-collecting is that you’re often forced into situations that make re-verification necessary.

I wonder which assumption will be challenged next.

Oct 3, 2010

Irish houses and their names


In July 2009, my company sent me on a week-long business trip to Cork, Ireland. It was my first trip to the country, and my third trip to Europe.

The hotel that my company booked me into wasn’t all that far from the office, and I liked to get to know new places by walking. So instead of taking a taxi to work, I opted to hit the pavement.

As I walked through residential neighborhoods to and from the office, one thing that stood out for me was the absence of house numbers. Street name plates were affixed, European style, to the fences on corner homes so you knew what street you were on. But if you were looking for a specific house, I imagined that that would be a bit of a challenge.

I ran my observations by my office mates, who were mostly expats from Germany, France, Spain, and a few other countries, and they confirmed my observations. There were indeed no numbers. But, they were quick to point out, mail and parcels all still found their way to them. Somehow, postal workers knew where everyone’s house was. There was a system, but nobody really quite new what it was.

That day, I started looking at the houses a little more closely. Each house seemed to have names. At first I thought that they advertised the owners of the house. Then I started seeing wording that seemed reminiscent of places in the Lord of The Rings. Hmmm.

Later in the week, I shared a cab to the Cork city center with a co-worker. While we were making conversation with the cab driver, I ran the house-name observation and the mail delivery mystery by him. To my surprise, the cab driver turned out to be a retired postal worker, and he was happy to clear matters up.

Each Irish homeowner, it turned out, was free to choose whatever name they wanted, register it with the local government, and voila, the house had an identity. Our driver chose the name of his favorite vacation spot (somewhere in Europe, forgot exactly what) for his house. These names often stayed with the house even as they changed owners.

I guess the semi-permanence of the house’s name helped postal workers find their mark. But man . . . I’d definitely need help if I ever accepted an invite to a house party, and had to find the house myself.

Filed under Ireland, Slices of life
Sep 26, 2010