Saturday, December 22, 2007

We seem to live in a world increasingly devoid of personal contact.

Schools across the country are banning everything from hugging to high fives. An MSNBC article from October had this gem of a quote... '“Would you want your children to be hugging or kissing at school without your knowledge?”' That would be from David Hadley, the principal of some middle school in Texas.

Some administrators are citing "hallway clogs" as the reason to ban hugs, blaming girls for exchanging lots of hugs between classes, and others imply that hugging could lead to something worse. [Well, I suppose that Britney Spears' 16 year-old sister IS pregnant, so maybe they're on to something afterall.]

Spawns of Spears aside, it seems like a lot of us live without any meaningful contact from day to day. Touching isn't allowed, and with sexual harassment suits on the rise, it becomes more of a risk every day to reach out. I read an article once about a male teacher who took his young students into the hallway to help them zip up their jeans after using the bathroom, just in case. We don't trust each other, or can't. Touch has become a taboo thing, an excercise in deviancy practiced in the shadows by child predators and creepy Catholic priests.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No, Gracias.
Nicaragua: Rainforests and Reality
MSU Study Abroad
March 4-12, 2006

Nicaragua crumbles upon you as you first emerge from the fluorescent glow of the airport. A towering, quavering, saturated wall of green. The night air is filled with the rumble of ancient engines, shouting of harried drivers, and the hum of everything out beyond the lights of the airport driveway. A full day of traveling, compounded with the loss of our luggage, made this new country seem altogether too overwhelming for even just one week. Where were we, and how had we ended up here?

Nicaragua, sandwiched in Central America between Honduras and Costa Rica, is a country roughly the size of the state of New York at 129,494 sq. km. The largest of Central American countries, it lays claim to coastal plains on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides, with mountains dotted by volcanoes residing within. Tropical forests fight to retain their ground as people attempt to make livings farming small tracts of land spread throughout remote areas. Nicaragua is a bright, bustling country marred by poverty and political strife. Colonization and occupation, followed by internal strife, corruption, civil war, and finally interference by the United States has left the country economically scarred, though work goes on to reverse that trend.

With only a week’s worth of time to experience such a big and diverse country, the group with whom I was traveling soon realized that we would be attempting to jam two or three days into each precious day we had. The MSU Study Abroad trip for which we had signed ourselves up was named “Rainforests and Reality,” and we left with what must have been wildly differing ideas about what our week would entail. I expected rainforests, of course, but what I really hoped for was a glimpse into a life completely different than my own in most imaginable ways, and some unimaginable. Here I was in yet another country whose language I did not speak— leave it to me to take years of French, and not visit a French-speaking country. I spent a good part of the week worrying that, in a moment of blind panic and reactivity, I would respond to someone’s Spanish inquiry with a rusty response of my own. That never happened, though I thought to myself in French some of the time. Some part of me, the world-conscious part, needed to prove that I did in fact speak a language other than just English. Someday I will.

My story actually began the day before departure.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Consider the YouTube phenomenon: easy access to millions of videos shared by people around the world. If you want to hear a specific song you can find it with a quick search, and usually there are many versions from which to choose. Unknown, unsigned artists can create a huge fanbase by posting performances. People can post parts of their lives or create a personality for the viewing pleasure of thousands of loyal subscribers. The search term "Laughing Baby" turns up 10,200 results. The all-time most watched video is entitled "Evolution of Dance" and has been viewed 65,031,195 times.

These "viral videos" have not only created a culture but garnered fame for their creators. Not only can it be used as a marketing tool [by companies like BlendTec, known for their "Will It Blend?" videos] but it is a place where you can stumble across untold numbers of strange, offbeat things.

I will leave you with an example [which has been viewed more than 350,000 times]:

I really have nothing profound to say about YouTube... I suppose it's profound enough in its own right. I will however post the link to my "favorites" page, for a somewhat filtered example to fit with this post.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

old haikus

turn off, alarm, please
I need a few more minutes
late to class again

oatmeal, newspapers
wrapped up in my fleece blanket
breezy sunny day

chili and cheez-its for lunch
way way too much salt

I'm falling asleep—
public bureacracy and
EEP again

and now to Udon
for passionfruit with Heather
then maybe Beaners?

our yard looks so strange
naked, no trees, but trucks stuck
Mother Nature wins

homework and Apple
dinner, study group and bed
uneventful life

Hope the open seas
and sushi are good to you
I miss miss miss you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I'm taking a Humanities course this semester about Islamic art and culture. Now that there's only a couple weeks left in the semester we have moved from the ancient history of Muslim civilization to present-day. Today in class we watched a film about "Orientalism," or the West's fascination with the Near and Far East. It was inspired by Edward Said, a Palestinian-American professor at Columbia U who wrote the book Orientalism. According to Wikipedia [I know, only so authoritative], he had been under FBI surveillance since 1971, probably until he died in 2003.

Odd how time chances perceptions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Quebec is fantastic. We are in a beautiful area of the city... it's very hilly but we are only a block or two above a main shopping district. We're surrounded by cute cafes and pubs, as well as a couple galleries and plenty of stores. It is REALLY cold here, and the artic blast is cold enough to melt your face off.

Our first morning here we had breakfast in a cafe that was filled with the most delicious pastries I have ever seen. They also had really good coffee, and basically it makes me loathe most alledged "bakeries" in the EL area. There is no comparison.

Today and yesterday we volunteered at a local soup kitchen. The first day we cleaned the entire "drug and alcohol" ward [awful, it smelled like vomit] and today we cleaned the main area where people congregate before meals are served, as well as the "smoke room" [also awful, liquified smoke running down the walls]. Both days we also served dinner. The first day, half of us were in the back kitchen doing the dishes. My job was to take the newly sanitized [and scorching hot] dishes out of the washer, dry and sort them, then stack them to be taken back out for serving. Today, the same half of us served food in the line. I served soup, and I was the first person they talked to as they came through the line. It's been a challenge not only to remember French but to be able to listen well enough to understand any of it. People speak a lot faster than any of my teachers did, but everyone is very nice and I think they appreciate that I am trying. I'm able to understand and speak well enough to communicate and to be polite, at least.

Last night we went ice skating in the center of town on a little rink. Of course, people here take ice sports so seriously that it has it's own little zamboni to clean the ice. The city is beautiful at night, all covered in snow and twinkling lights and warm store-fronts. There are also carriage rides which I'm crossing my fingers for.

We've met a lot of really wonderful and interesting people, not only those helping us but also locals and the people served by the "soup kitchen." It's actually a very big building with separate men's and women's wards, and an area for people to take classes and learn the skills necessary to re-integrate into society and the workforce. Today we had some free time so we walked to a nearby train station and big beautiful old church [now I know why Catholics are so fervent... they have the most opulent churches I have ever seen, with giant, well-marked boxes for donations to the church, and tiny concealed "poor boxes"... nice]. On our way back to the soup kitchen we walked through a mall because it was unbearably cold, and as we left we encountered five police cars and a man being arrested. It was someone all the students recognized, and we had talked to him earlier as we worked. Sad, but at least this way he is guaranteed a warm place to sleep tonight.

We also met an old man with a very kind face, full of character, who told us of his Inuit heritage. He wants us to visit a musuem down by the ferry port? But anyway, today I asked if I could take his picture to remember him, and I don't think anyone realizes the extent of the lonliness a lot of these people feel. He also has a homing pigeon. I didn't know that until we had said our "au revoirs" and I was ready to go to my serving station, that I noticed a moving plastic bag at his feet. I asked what was in it and he told me all about homing pigeons and how you need to talk to them and tell them who you are before you take them far away, otherwise they won't return. I took a picture of him with the pigeon, too.

Tomorrow and thursday we are going to be in an "old folks home" of some sort... apparently we'll be making bonbons and decorating for a St. Patty's day party. Friday is a free day, so we're probably going to a museum or two and then sightseeing a bit. My intention is to eat pastries until the moment we leave, as there is no suitable comparison that I can think of back home. The hot chocolate is also better here, and last night we ventured out to a pub where I told the waitress I would like "un biere Quebequoise" so she surprised me with a local dark beer which was also good. So basically most things here are superior, except maybe the weather, because it's too close to the Artic Circle.

That's all I can think of for now... we spent 8 hours in the soup kitchen today and I think I'm in need of a shower to get rid of the tobacco drips and soup splashes.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I received a lovely postcard today, out of the blue, from my Dad. But not really since he was out of town last week. But anywho... the front was Curious George holding tight to his balloons. Dad wrote...

It made me smile a great smile when I thought of the nights spent reading these books. No amount of time that passes will dim those memories.

How lucky each of us is to smile a great smile every now and then. Even if it's something small, something old, something long past. I feel like today's culture discounts smiles and even warns against them. I was in Nicaragua last year, a beautiful place filled with beautiful souls, and one of the people on the trip never smiled in a single picture. Was he unhappy or just trying to look tough, aloof? I have a few friends who do it and I never understand. I've been told more than a few times that I have a great smile, though secretly I think I look a little deranged in pictures when I'm really happy. I look ready to eat someone. But at least you can tell I'm not faking it.

Pasted smiles and forced solemnity only perpepuate our glossed-over, lonelier-by-the-day world. We're surrounded by computers, cell phones, fast food, ATMs... all these things that make us forget what it feels like to laugh so hard you cry, or to snort milk out your nose. I love it when that happens.