How Chinese visitors to Belfast stoned by yobs refused to let experience sour impression of the city
Earlier this summer in my capacity as a Blue Badge tourist guide, I accompanied two Chinese ladies from Shanghai who were holidaying in Europe with their three children and the children's Beijing minder and Hong Kong governess.
These tourists were all courteous and genuinely enthusiastic about everything connected to Belfast, from Victorian architect Charles Lanyon to the story of Titanic. After guiding them through St Anne's Cathedral I wanted to show them St Peter's Cathedral in the Lower Falls.
By good fortune we had just left the children and their minder back at the hotel when, passing by Divis Flats, a stone was thrown at our bus, smashing the large, rear side window where the three children had earlier been sitting. That evening the BBC reported that the bus had been 'pelted with stones'. Actually, only one stone struck the bus.
The two mothers telephoned their husbands in China who advised returning to the hotel. After assuring them this was an exceptional incident we did resume our Falls Road tour albeit a little shaken. After looking at the new Easter Rising mural we found quietude within the sanctuary of the Catholic cathedral. Unfortunately, our peace was shattered by the commotion outside where bottles were being thrown and our driver threatened by four grown-up teenagers. We were most grateful to a passing gentleman who brought the lads to their senses.
The following morning, in response to the news, we were invited by the NI Tourist Board to enjoy a VIP tour of the city and by Belfast City Council to have tea in the Lord Mayor's parlour. Both gestures were graciously declined. Before these tourists flew out they asked me to express their gratitude to the city for the kindness shown and affirm their understanding that the stone-throwing incident was an entirely random act that could have happened anywhere.
As these visitors from Shanghai acknowledged, there is little society can do to about stone-throwing, bottle-smashing idiots who care nothing for their community and seek only to tarnish Belfast's hard-earned reputation for being a friendly city, a fun city, a safe city.