Ireland, Part 4 (On the Water)

I enjoy boat rides. Ireland is surrounded by water. Is it surprising that I found myself cruising over the waves? No of course not, although I didn’t expect it to happen four times during my trip even if a couple of those were fleeting encounters.

Skellig Michael

12MC’s brief video from the Skellig Islands

Skellig Michael ranked high on my list of priorities as I planned the trip. A skellig is rock, in this instance the Rock of Michael, mirroring the Irish language Sceilig Mhichíl. Skellig Michael and its sister Little Skellig jutted sharply from the Atlantic Ocean a dozen kilometres from the Iveragh Peninsula (map). While just a stone’s throw from the famous Ring of Kerry and its tourist busloads, Skellig Michael stood a world apart in approachability and was equally difficult to conquer.

Irish authorities severely limited access to this fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only small boats could dock at Skellig Michael and only a handful of licenses were awarded each year to charter operators working primarily from Portmagee. This limited visitors to about 150 people per day give-or-take, and only in the summer months when ocean swells calmed sufficiently. Even that could be a crapshoot. We had to reschedule our original reservation after all five sailing days leading up to it were canceled due to high waves. The island caretakers wouldn’t let boats land there in perceptively dangerous conditions.

So why would anyone want to go to Skellig Michael? Lousy weather, seasickness, expense and inconvenience were all possibilities. These were all offset by the actual experience. The difficulty of the journey only enhanced the rewards.

The two Skelligs, out by themselves and surrounded by water, attracted huge colonies of birds. These included about ten thousand Atlantic Puffins on Skellig Michael, and I think many people would agree that puffins are about the cutest birds that exist. They’re like the pandas of the avian world. They also seemed to lack all fear of human visitors. We got as close to puffins on Skellig Michael as we would to pigeons in a park, and they were everywhere. Our kids loved them. I wouldn’t have ridden an hour on a cabin cruiser through an intermittent drizzle to a rocky shard simply for a few birds, though. They were a bonus.

Skellig Michael

The main attraction was the ancient monastery built high atop Skellig Michael around the 6th Century. The monks who settled here were sometimes called "white martyrs" because of their lives of suffering, deprivation and absolute devotion to their Christian faith, albeit without bloodshed. This must have felt like the most isolated place on earth 1,500 years ago.

We climbed the steep unprotected steps carved into the mountainside centuries ago, several hundred feet up to the monastery, as the horizon disappeared into clouds. It seemed otherworldly as we explored in a thick fog through beehive huts constructed by those early monks as crude shelter. I thought to myself as we walked along, that it seemed like a setting out of Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’ve since learned that this will likely be a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII. It’s a good thing we visited Skellig Michael when we did. Reservations will become a lot more difficult once the secret gets out and Star Wars fans put it on the pilgrimage list.

Kenmare Bay

The Seafari cruise out of Kenmare became our consolation prize on the day we planned to visit Skellig Michael originally and had to postpone it due to the weather. The waves were much calmer in protected Kenmare Bay (map) than the open Atlantic so we diverted to Kenmare that morning to see the Harbor Seals instead of Portmagee to see the puffins. It’s good to be flexible.

The ship’s captain explained that a gloomy day actually worked to our advantage. Sudden movements spooked seals, and sunny days created shadows they detected as motions. More seals should be sitting out on the rocks when cloudy. I wasn’t sure if that was something like rain supposedly being "good luck" on a wedding day — designed to make someone feel better — or whether there was truth behind his statement. Either way, we saw plenty of seals including a few tiny pups that resided with their parents only for a brief period each Summer before striking out on their own.


We kept returning to a recurring theme during our journey: how to separate ourselves from larger crowds in popular tourist destinations. Case in point, several sites in Killarney National Park just outside of the town of Killarney all drew healthy gatherings. However, Innisfallen Island (map) in the middle of the park’s Lough Leane, did not. That required a boat and most people did not want to go through the effort.

I think large excursion boats went to Innisfallen at certain times of the day although none were there when we visited. Instead, we hired a boatsman to ferry us from the concession stand at nearby Ross Castle to the middle of the lake. There we climbed through the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, founded originally in 640 and lasting through 1594. There were only two other people on the island during our brief layover, and then we got a guided tour around the lake afterwards to boot.

Valentia Island Ferry

Our fourth journey across water involved the Valentia Island Ferry (map). I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article so I’ll just mention it for now.

Completely Unrelated

Comment spam seems to have returned to the Twelve Mile Circle. It took a nosedive a few months ago after Google started penalizing link-back schemes in its page-rank algorithms. The spammers have responded by linking back to YouTube and Yahoo Answers pages instead, and I’ve noticed a steady upswing in those tactics. Of course, I moderate every comment on 12MC and I delete spam before readers ever see it. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse games from my little corner of the world.

The Ireland articles:

Most Remote Chinese Restaurants in North America

I wonder if I’ve observed a genuine phenomenon or if I’m falling into a confirmation bias trap. Everywhere I travel, and I meander through extremely rural areas as a matter of preference, I notice Chinese restaurants.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this peculiarity. I posted Not Fusion, CONfusion a couple of years ago. The subject matter differed — I focused on oddly bifurcated business in that instance — although Meh’s Canadian & Chinese Cuisine in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia would certainly qualify as an example of a Chinese restaurant in a rural area. I wrote at the time, "I’m continuously amazed to find Chinese restaurants in even the smallest, most remote and undoubtedly obscure towns that I’ve ever visited." That odd fixation of mine hasn’t dissipated over time.

It came back to life when I was in Guymon, Oklahoma recently.

I noticed a Chinese buffet practically across the street from our hotel. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised by the Guymon occurrence. It’s the "big city" of the Oklahoma panhandle with nearly 12 thousand residents. About 2.7% of the population (~300 people) self-identified as Asian in the most recent census albeit many of them Burmese not Chinese. Guymon probably fit within the definition of confirmation bias now that I’ve had an opportunity to consider the math. To my credit though, we’d been driving through empty terrain for several hours and the juxtaposition flashed on my conscious brighter than a neon sign.

It’s hard for me to conceive of the cultural isolation that these proprietors must endure in the most extreme examples. I came across one article that highlighted the story of a family of Chinese immigrants with US-born children that settled in Lexington, Nebraska. The ability to own one’s own business and earn a decent living in small town America provided an enticing option to urban problems, so maybe the American Dream makes up for the difference. They seemed to be assimilating just fine.

There are several dimensions one could use to determine the most remote Chinese restaurant in North America. I’m not sure I’ll ever answer the question to my complete satisfaction although I offer a few tantalizing possibilities. Obviously I’ve never been to any of these places and I have no idea if the limited online reviews I could find are even remotely true. I’m also sure theses places represent the most bastardized version of westernized Chinese cuisine imaginable to match the tastes of their clientele, and I’m a sucker for that. I enjoy authentic cuisine too. I try to appreciate the dichotomy separately for what it is, and recognize that they should never be compared.

Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, Glasgow, Montana

Glasgow has about 3,200 residents with 0.3% of the population (about 10 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s not to say that every one of those residents identify as Chinese of course, a distinction I’ll note similarly for the remainder of the article, although it does provide an indication of the potential population pool.

The Google Street View image led me to wonder if the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant was still open. Reviews in Yelp dated as recently as 2011 however and Street View dated to 2008. Maybe it simply needed a good coat of paint.

One person said, "This is the most awful restaurant I’ve been to." Another said, it was "One of the best meal[s] I had in Montana." Turning to Urban Spoon, a reviewer noted, "Average is ok in this case — I didn’t get sick after eating here either. This is my first criteria when writing a review for any Eastern Montana restaurant." I learned a couple of things. First, Chinese food in Glasgow, MT is either excellent, terrible or average. Second, the standard of excellence might not be very high in Eastern Montana. I wonder if Weekend Roady would agree?

Golden China Restaurant, Nome, Alaska

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Nome has 3,700 residents with 1.54% of the population (about 55 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s both a larger town and a higher percentage than the previous example. I’m including it on my short list anyway because anything in Nome has to be considered remote by definition.

Golden China Restaurant has some photos on Yelp and a small number reviews on Google+. One said, "The waitress never smiles, she looks mean." There was also a review in Korean which Google translated with the usual mangled results: "Korean pineapple chicken boss recommended. Tang manipulative called look. My Mongolian beef was too salty and sweet taste. Atmosphere clean and good music."

In Nome, be sure to look for the surly waitress and stick with the Korean pineapple chicken boss.

Viking Chinese Restaurant, Viking, Alberta

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Viking has about 1,000 residents. However it’s in Canada and I don’t know enough about the Canadian census to determine demographics. I highlighted this location primarily because I was amused by the possibility of Viking-Chinese fusion cuisine. It’s too bad Viking is the town’s name and not an indicator of culinary style.

I couldn’t find any online reviews. However, strangely enough, two people checked in with foursquare from Viking Chinese. You can do the same if you need to kill some time in Edmonton and want to take a 137 kilometre road trip.

Ying Bin Restaurant, Kenmare, ND

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Is Ying Bin Restaurant the champion of remoteness? Kenmare has 1,000 residents with 0.7% of the population (about 7 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s a tad better (meaning fewer) than Glasgow, MT. Conceivably, just about every person in Kenmare of Chinese heritage could be associated with the Ying Bin Restaurant. I found only one brief review: "Food is superb, when made fresh."

Those are my candidates for the most remote Chinese restaurants in North America. Can the 12MC audience do better? — double bonus points if you’ve actually eaten there. Triple points if you’re the restaurateur.