A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oh France

I'm like Zorro, you rarely see him, but you know he's there."

- Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France's far-right, xenophobic, send-the-immigrants-back-home party, the National Front


Two Years and Counting

I just got confirmation that my subscription to knezzy.com has been renewed, which means that knezzy.com is officially two years old! Hard to imagine no?

In honor of this momentous occasion I thought I’d try to give FunFacts for wHeNeVeR a bit of a facelift. It all started with a migration to Blogger beta a couple of weeks ago, which has been a persnickety transition at best. My posts aren’t always posting properly, and I still can’t use all the new features with my blog for whatever reason, but we’re managing (I think).

But it has allowed me to start putting labels on my blog posts, and in honor of the 2nd year, I’ve created a Top 10 label so that I could share some of my favorite posts from the last two years. I also created a Favorites label, which is, ahem, slightly, ahem, more inclusive.

In addition, I decided to go back and retrieve some of my blog posts from the pre-knezzy era and have recently posted them as well. The archives from July-November 2004 contain all those posts, mostly from Taiwan.

We’ve also got an IHT news feed in the sidebar, so you’ll never be too out of the loop again…or so I hope. :o)

As soon as Blogger Beta starts functioning properly, you’ll see even more changes. But until then, enjoy!

Also, I’ve added a few photos up on Fun Fotos for whenever. Check ‘em out!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Global Moment, I

Ok, I’m officially freaking out.

As some of you might recall, this term I have been very much focusing on understanding globalization. In fact, I’m currently sitting here at the LSE library trying to write a 5,000 word essay on the topic: IS THE CONCEPT OF ‘CULTURE’ STILL ANALYTICALLY USEFUL IN AN AGE DOMINATED BY GLOBAL FLOWS?

When it comes to writing, I’m one of those people who has to have an introduction set before I can write the rest of the paper. Once I’ve got the introduction down, everything else comes naturally. Of course conversely, if I can’t nail the intro, then the rest of the paper doesn’t come.

In this case I’ve gone through three different iterations of my introduction and am about to endeavour on my fourth because of an experience I just had.

My third introduction started with a look a the typical construction of globalization: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and CNN. As such, I wanted to make sure I had the names right (ie is there a dash between coca and cola?), so I went to their corporate websites just to check. Chez McDo I was directed first to their international site where I started playing around. I was trying to figure out in how many countries they operate, so I went to their drop-down list and started counting (very scientific, I know). I started at the bottom and the first (last) entry immediately caught my eye: Yugoslavia.

‘That’s weird,’ I thought to myself, ‘Yugoslavia isn’t technically a country anymore.’ And so, I instinctively clicked through to explore further. Lo and behold, the website URL was www.mcdonalds.co.yu. The .yu clearly referring to Yugoslavia.

‘Perhaps it’s Serbian, they might still consider themselves the seat of what remains of Yugoslavia,’ I thought as I clicked to open the flash site.

The flash player loaded and I was confronted with Roman script which surprised me a bit as Serbo-Croatian, while essentially the same language is written in Cyrillic characters in Serbia and Roman characters in Croatia.

‘Maybe by Yugoslavia they mean Croatia then, or maybe it’s just easier to operate in Roman script in an international company.’

A notice at the top of the page caught my eye. “Novosti,” it announced. Now I’m no speaker of Serbo-Croatian, but I my skills of deduction were working well enough to associate “novo” with “Novograd” in Russia, which I knew meant “new city.”

‘Ok, so what’s new?’

Branislav Knežević (40) novi predsednik McDonald’sovog zapadno evropskog regiona.

Alright, some guy named new regional president of McDonald’s.

‘Wait, does that say Branislav Knežević?! Knežević like Knezovich? My last name?’

And then I proceeded to quietly freak out.

Apparently some guy I’m at least somehow related to is the new president for McDonald’s in “Yugoslavia.” Now, if my last name was Smith or Chan, I might be less inclined to find this a bizarre event, but given the rather uniqueness of my last name, it just really seemed like a small world kinda moment.

Here’s his picture next to mine. Whaddya think? Do we look Knezovichy?

Creepy. Creepy. Creepy!


Friday, November 24, 2006

Sexy Goodness

Beyond being thankful for all my friends, family, and that the turkey came out well, I had one more thing to be thankful for yesterday: my new MacBook finally arrived! I couldn't have been more excited as I had been waiting ages for it to arrive. I ordered it on the 6th of November, just before Apple came out with a new MacBook, and being the kind people that they are, they replaced my order of their suddenly out-of-date computer with their new model. I would have been angry otherwise, but it did mean a horrible delay however when it came time to finally getting my computer. I mean, three weeks, what'd they do, put it on the slow boat from Malaysia (or wherever they manufacture)?!

But now it's here, and it's sooooooo sexy. I love it, love it, love it. It's sleek, compact, has a built-in video camera (with which you can play photo booth, my roommates and I quickly discovered), and the battery lasts like three hours.

Now I need to come up with a good name for it. Usually my computers have male names, but perhaps this one should break that trend? We've had such fun names before as Balthasar and Micarême, but now what? Both of those names were reminiscent of French, as that was the language I was involved with at that time. But now we're getting into Arabic, so I think I should try an Arabic name.

And yet, I can't decide on one so let's try a new fangled approach to this process: an online poll! I've selected ten names and given you their meanings below (Note: the first six are feminine names, the last four are masculine). You have till December 1st to place your vote.

What should I name my computer?
Qubilah - Concord
Habibah - Beloved, sweetheart, darling
Salihah - Correct, agreeable
Mayyadah - To walk with a proud, swinging gait
Khalidah - Immortal
Faridah - Unique, matchless, precious pearl or gem
Irfan - Thankfulness
Shakir - Thankful
Karif - Born in Autumn
Karim - Generous, noble, friendly, precious and distinguished

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

I Don’t Make Sense as a Person

“What did you do within the last week, say, that was a global experience?” asked my professor in this week’s seminar for Approaches to Globalisation to start the discussion.

People were hesitant at first, but someone finally called out: “I saw the new James Bond movie.”

“OK, good. Anybody else?” she said as she wrote ‘James Bond’ on the dry erase board.

“My friend from New York came to visit,” I said, glad that I could think of something that seemed global.

“I had Italian for dinner on Saturday,” one of my classmates called out.

That got me thinking: “I’m not sure that I should admit this here, but on Sunday night I ate at Burger King in Leicester Square. Oh, and I had a spicy bean veggie burger, which I think could be construed as a global experience.”

“So your friend comes in from New York and you take him to Burger King?” my professor retorted.

“Oh no, I went with another friend from the US…who I know from China…who’s studying at SOAS…before we went to an Italian opera with English surtitles at the ENO…and it was an opera about India at that.”

“That’s interesting, having the high culture and the low culture together like that,” she commented.

“Oh, and on Saturday night I went to a Brazilian bar with a Canadian friend who happens to be an LSE student but who I know through a mutual friend from China. We watched capoeira and tried to samba.”

And the funny thing is, I could keep going with this. The more I thought about it, the more actions I realized fit in to the global context. All this without even having mentioned anything to do with the Internet—and believe me, I had Skyped, blogged, and chatted with the best of them over that week.

“You did this all this week? You’re not just projecting all this into this week, right?” the teacher asked with some concern.

“Oh, all this week. Otherwise I’d be talking to you about my trip to France.” I smiled coyly.

“Well ok, what did people do this weekend that was local?” she queried.

“I renewed my monthly London bus pass.”

“Wait, another classmate interjected, how did you pay for it, with your American credit card?”

“Well actually, no. I paid with my UK card (which is through a US bank, BTW) because I had had troubles before where the card readers wouldn’t accept my swipey card, they all wanted the cards with chips.”

“So how about this,” I continued, “and again, I’m not sure I should admit this here. Every morning when on my way to the LSE I cross over Waterloo Bridge, and whenever I do, I make sure to turn over my left shoulder so that I can see Big Ben and the London Eye. It’s what reminds me that I’m in London every day.”

That prompted a burst of discussion, and no, it wasn’t even about how crazy I am.

With others chiming in with their examples, we moved quickly to, “I went to a British pub,” and the discussion of British pub culture.

“On Sunday, before the Burger King incident, I went with a Brit to a Wetherspoon’s (a British chain of pubs), drank a pint of French beer, and felt more like I was at an American Red Robin’s than anywhere else as it was a chain restaurant based on concepts of, as Ritzer puts it, McDonaldization. Does that count as a global or a local experience?”

We continued on from there to an academic discussion about space versus place, and how are global experiences fit into Appadurai’s model of global flows, or ‘scapes’ as he likes to call them. But that’s not what struck me about the conversation, and nor is this why I’m sharing the story with you.

Rather, it is for three reasons:

1) Sketching out my life on the board made me realize that I don’t make sense as a person. I shouldn’t exist. I’m pulling my life from all across the world on a very intense (more intense than I even realized) and very consistent basis.

At least my friends make as equally little sense for the most part. For example, my friend who came in from NYC was here to surprise some British friends that he had made while teaching in Guatemala. This was before, of course, he went on a round-the-world trip. My friend with whom I saw the opera might be from the US, but she doesn’t even have a home to return to there anymore—her mum lives in Egypt and her dad in the Far East somewhere (can’t remember anymore, sorry).

Is this how most people experience the world? Is globalization that inevitable and all-encompassing? Or am I just lucky and confused?

2) It shocked me how much of this global activity I take for granted, or don’t even think about. When my professor first posed the question, I couldn’t really think of anything that I had done that would qualify as global, and then I got started. I guess that since I’m studying globalization, one would think that I’m more aware of my participation in the world, and yet I couldn’t see through the iron cage (to use a Weberian turn of phrase). What does this mean about the people who don’t ever sit there considering the extent to which their lives are globalized?

4) My professor’s comment about high and low culture also took me by surprised. It had never occurred to me that Burger King was low brow but opera is high brow. This might be more post-modern than part of the age of globalization (although this certainly had a factor in it because the reason we ended up at Burger King had everything to do with how we experienced McDonald’s in China). I’ve been frustrated by notions of class of late. Is this a useful analytical tool at all to look at things?! Or is it just me that likes to simultaneously mix my cultural milieux?

To finish off then, I pose a question to y’all similar to the one posed by my professor: what is the most absurdly ‘global moment’ that you can recall having, and what is the most local moment you recall having?

Tomorrow I host two Americans besides me, two Canadians, four Brits, a Spaniard, a Dutch, and two Chinese for American Thanksgiving. This has the potential to rank up there for me!

Happy Turkey Day everybody!

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Monday, November 20, 2006

BAA is B-A Bad!

Last weekend I was ready for a break. After several days of hard work, I was absolutely exhausted, and so I was happy that I had found RyanAir tickets to Nantes, France on sale at 1p (two cents) each way. Sure there were taxes, but it was still a great deal, and I couldn’t wait to get back to France. I had been away for much too long.

So, after a presentation in one of my seminars at 9AM, I hopped the bus for Liverpool Street Station, and then the train out to Stansted (one of London’s numerous airports).

The trick with RyanAir is that, although they have some good fares, they charge the big bucks for luggage. Since I was only going away for the weekend, I thought I could make due with only a carry-on bag (which is free to take aboard) so I didn’t purchase space below. With that in mind, I packed only the barest of necessities that I might make it through the security checkpoint. I didn’t have access to the Internet, so I didn’t know what the regulations were when I was packing, so I thought to play it safe, I wouldn’t bring anything remotely resembling a liquid. No toothpaste, no deodorant, no nothing.

Later, at school, I checked the BAA (British Airport Association?) website to make sure that I was following all the restrictions. One thing that is very different than in the US is that passengers are only permitted one carry on item, period. But, and I quote from the November 6th update, “other bags, such as handbags, may be carried WITHIN the single item of cabin baggage, not in addition.”

My backpack was barely half full, so I could easily stick my messenger bag inside my backpack. All was good to go.

Indeed my arrival at Stanstead went smoothly. I got off the train, checked in within minutes, and then started queuing for security, which went ok until the x-ray machine.

My bag went through, and the guy called to the person who trolls through everybody’s bags to go through mine. She pulled out my messenger bag, and immediately decided that, although my backpack was underweight, undersize, and contained no questionable items, that I had two bags and therefore had to check one.

I balked and started arguing immediately, pointing out that the website stated clearly that a handbag could be placed inside a carry-on bag. She immediately called her supervisor over and I proceeded to argue. They insisted that I was “wasting their time,” and that “all passengers are allowed one bag,” and that my messenger bag “was not a handbag.” I countered that I had only one bag worth of stuff. After all, how else does one pack items? If I had a camera in a camera bag stuffed inside, would that mean that I had two bags?

They again said that I was wasting their time, and I said that I would like to look at the website with them and that it was irresponsible for them to be disseminating false information on their website.

They escorted me back to the check-in desk to check my bag.

I didn’t have to pay to check this bag for my troubles at least. And when I was talking with the security officer that was escorting me, I said politely: “I’m not trying to cause a fuss. I try very much to be an informed traveller and follow the rules. I checked the website this morning, and it clearly says that a handbag can be placed inside a carry-on bag.” The security officer seemed somewhat sympathetic and said that if I went to the supervisors table, I could pick up a feedback form.

After passing through security I went directly there, and with a slight gleam in my eye asked the supervisor who had been called over before for a feedback form. She forced a smile and presented one to me. The mutual loathing was palpable. It was lovely.

I was early, so I filled out the form front and back with my lengthy complaint, trying to be as restrained as possible. I asked for a response, so I’m hoping to get something soon. If I do, I’ll be sure to post it.

I realize that it’s petty to argue over such a simple thing, but it’s really the principle of the thing. Airport security in this day and age has crossed the line of sanity. Why does it matter if I have a bag inside of a bag instead of just one bag? I was willing to let them spread my underwear out for all to see if they really felt the need to analyze all the contents thereof!

But more importantly, when will people realize that it doesn’t actually stop anything? If the terrorists really wanted to go so far as to hijack a plane, I’m sure that they could find a way to circumvent even the tightest restrictions.

I can carry safety razors, fountain pens, sharpened pencils, and syringes on board, just to name a few items that could easily be used to create a disturbance. I can once again take liquids on board, though notably only in limited quantities. But fine, if a terrorist cell works together, they each carry a small amount of liquid explosive on board.

Our lives are daily filled with risk, and one is much more likely to be a victim of a car accident than of a terrorist attack. Terrorism is a risk that we must live with now, it’s part of our world, and it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

By instituting absurd and inane security measures that disrupt our daily life, it’s the terrorists that win! I beg, I plea for a re(?)-instatement of sanity in our approach to public security! Does that mean that there should be no security measures at airports? Of course not—that would just be imprudent. But a balance must be reached!

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Book meme

A fun meme that I saw on Thothmuffin's blog. I'm in France at the moment, and so the only book I have on me happens to be in French. It's Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. I went ahead and added a rough translation in English as well.

Posts about France to come after I return to the land of normal keyboards, promis juré.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig around for that "cool" or "intellectual" book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.

Combien serait puissants leurs voeux, combien pur serait l'élan de leurs âmes vers le ciel! Avec quel volupté ne se sacrifieraient-elles pas! De quelle douleur serait atteinte sa mère, si elle ne pouvait envoyer toute la somme! Ces beaux sentiments, ces affroyables sacrifices allaient lui servir d'échelon pour arriver à Delphine de Nucingen.

How powerful their wishes would be, how pure the elan of their souls would be towards heaven! With what voluptuousness they sacrifice themselves! What sadness would her mother recieve, if she couldn't send the entire sum! These nice sentiments, these terrifying sacrifices would serve to put her in the echelons of Delphine de Nucingen.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Post-Modern Moments

Freezing sun, night frost
Rush of buildings thus obscured
Blank panopticon

The luminescence
Is praised on high tippy-toe
Wi-Fi where art thou?

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Speaking of...

Speaking of Asian politics, Taiwan's first lady indicted on corruption charges.

My Taiwanese friend, YMC, called the Taiwanese governmental corruption scandal to my attention a couple of months ago now. Indeed, I would direct you to his blog for an interesting Taiwanese perspective on the issue.

But the situation seems to have come to a new breaking point with the most recent round of indictments. Taiwan is prone to political protests, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the square outside of the CKS Memorial packed with people in the following weeks calling for Chen Shui-Bian (the current President) to resign.

It’s a scene that we’ve seen several times across SE Asia of late. In the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has faced corruption charges of her own (though they had to do with vote rigging, not fiscal matters), and as such has faced five different coup attempts within the last year. In Thailand, Thaksin, who has facing corruption charges of a fiscal nature, was overthrown by a military coup in September.

But for Taiwan, the stakes are bigger. If their government loses its power of rule, the whole sovereignty of the “nation” is called into question. How would Beijing react to a destabilized Taiwanese government? Would they see it as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for? Beijing would love to see the Nationalist party (which is a strong believer in reunification with the mainland) come back into power in Taiwan, and they might just wait for that eventuality and try to influence things in that direction. Or they might be more overt.

In any case, the ruling DPP seems to have lost whatever credibility they still had in Taiwan, and that is a sad state of affairs.

I watch with baited breath.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hakuna Matata?

With the China-Africa Forum on in Beijing at the moment the news is flush with commentary on Sino-African relations, and the subtitle of one of the IHT’s lead articles, China aims to increase its clout in Africa, Unsaid goal: Redraw world's strategic map, says a lot about how it’s being talked about.

Is China trying to become Africa’s next imperial ruler, or are they truly trying to promote universal development (see The allure of the Chinese model)? And what are the ramifications of China’s involvement in Africa? Should the US and Europe be worried that there is a new player in the game?

I’ve written several times before about China’s policy of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of other countries, especially pointing to an excellent article by Howard French back in May entitled Letter from China: A growing power lets a growing crisis fester. That article was a scathing critique of China’s approach to the Sudan, but The perils of Beijing's Africa strategy takes an even broader picture of the ramifications of non-interference.

And if you’re looking for an even larger view, the article that my friend Even pointed me towards, China paves way to Myanmar riches, talks about China’s growing influence in the junta-state of Myanmar (formally Burma, which borders the Yunnan province where I was for the last two years). Essentially the Chinese are trying to open up routes through Myanmar to get to Africa.

As for my opinion: is China trying to spread its influence outside of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries? Absolutely. Is it doing it in an irresponsible way? Possibly. I’m not an expert on African studies (Aaliyah, I’d be curious about your analysis), but supporting corrupt governments with atrocious human-rights records for personal gain hardly seems the responsible thing to do.

On the other hand, if the US wasn’t so obsessed with promoting its ideologies throughout the world, we might not be in such the quagmire we face today.

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