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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jaipur in the News

Last year at this time, I was in India. I might be in dreary ole' London (which actually hasn't been that dreary of late), but that doesn't mean that I've stopped thinking about India. Indeed, I was just talking about a movie I saw there, Rang de Basanti, the other week.

Which is why, when I saw a combination of 'India', 'art', and 'festival' in a headline in the IHT that I immediately thought of Jaipur, the capital of Rajhistan. Chesa and I went there last year to see another friend, Bethani, who was participating in a festival there (you can read about it in my post One Week Down, Almost).

For a review of the festival this year, and its importance for Rajhistan, check out the IHT article Entre'acte.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Inebriated Foreigners Beware

I just saw this article in The People's Daily Online and the same story from a foreigner's point of view on Go Kunming about a brand new and exciting service offered by the local authorities in Kunming: a drunk tank for foreigners. The drunk tank is administered out of the ICU of the People's First Provincial Hospital and is a unique way of foreigner gouging in Kunming. I have personally spent WAY too much time in that hospital's ICU (not because I was drunk) and think that being taken there would not have the calming effect the Chinese authorities seem to be hoping for. Also, that there will be English speaking staff on-hand to deal with these drunk foreigners I find laughable. The English spoken at that hospital is beyond pathetic--hell, half the time we couldn't convince the doctors to speak in standard Mandarin instead of the local Kunming dialect. These nurses don't have any clue what they're in for!

Last year, there were rumors going around that two body builders in town (speculation is that they were also taking steroids, which probably didn't help the situation) went on a drunken rampage, causing a lot of property damage on their way home. They were caught by a bank security camera, and were fined heavily. Imagining these two in the drunk tank is going to be my new favorite past time.

It's also an interesting case of perception--both articles mention that of the 50,000 foreign visitors to Kunming last year, they had roughly 19 alcohol-related incidents. And while there are certainly some foreigners with drinking problems in Kunming (note the incident above), I can't imagine that it is any more so than the local population. Where's their drunk tank, huh? Well, maybe I shouldn't complain, it's probably a dank cell in their local police station.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bosnia as a Globalized End Point?

Let me preface this argument by indulging in a bit of quasi-diasporic nostalgia, for although it’s not what led me down this track originally, it has certainly informed my argument.

In 1906, my (great?)-great-grandfather left his little village of Goranci tucked away in the hills near Mostar in what was then still part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Within the year, he ended up in Chicago, Illinois, USA, an Eastern European immigrant among many. In 1907, his wife followed suit.

In 2003, almost a century after this journey, I found myself hiking the 15km from Mostar back to his village in search of my so-called roots.

Growing up, my surname stuck out in a crowd for its difficult pronunciation, and often people asked where it came from. ‘It’s Croatian,’ I would reply, usually having to explain where Croatia was, never mind how it was related to Yugoslavia. And so, little by little ‘being Croatian’ crept into my identity.

Which is why it came as a shock to me when, during my junior year abroad in France, I started planning my Spring Break trip to Croatia only to find that Mostar, the city of family lore, was not there. Rather, history had left Mostar in what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina. I felt suddenly vulnerable, my identity threatened. Was I now Bosnian or, god forbid, Herzegovinian? I could hardly spell the latter let alone pronounce it (turns out Mostar is the capital of the Herzegovinian half of the country of course). 怎么办呢!

When I eventually arrived in the verdant valley of Mostar, after an almost epic train and bus journey from France, I was surprised by what I found. In my home in Colorado (USA) we had a small tile mosaic of the city brought over on one of the family’s subsequent sojourns back to the mother country. Growing up I always thought that one of the focuses of the picture was a church steeple. Upon arrival I discovered that I was sorely mistaken.

The city itself is divided roughly in half by a river that meanders through the bottom of the valley. But beyond a geographical division, this river is a symbolic division. Ethnic Croatians (Roman Catholic) live(d) on the north side, ethnic Albanians (Muslims) on the south. The Stari Most (Old Bridge) was also then a powerful symbol, for beyond its architectural splendor, it was the point of contact between these two disparate factions. And though the bridge featured prominently in my family’s tile mosaic, it was mosques that actually filled the background, not churches.

Of course, when I arrived in 2003, the bridge was in the middle of reconstruction, having been completely destroyed (neither side claimed responsibility) during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Indeed, half the town was under reconstruction. Bombed out shells of apartment buildings stood next to newly finished flats. The United Colors of Benneton stood proudly in the center of town, a nod to the future aspirations of the city. The hills that loomed over the valley were covered with cemeteries, and it was recommended that one not go wandering in the hills for fear of landmines. NATO forces were discreet but omnipresent—at one point I even chatted with a French soldier in army fatigues.

And so as I sat at a café overlooking the bridge, sipping Turkish coffee and listening to the chants of the imams broadcast over PAs at evening prayers, I couldn’t help but wonder how it all came to this—a question that has stayed with me ever since.

The answer that I arrived at just last week is globalization. This is what globalization looks like at its extreme end point. I was arguing that recent balkanesque impulses around the globe were examples not of a maintained power of the nation-state, but of a resurgence of the importance of the regional/local. And so, Yugoslavia was divided as a direct result of wars, redefining nation-states to coincide with local cultures—divisional units which arguably make more sense than arbitrary geographical ones.

But then there was Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the leftovers, the remainder, the odd one out. Croatia pulled away from Yugoslavia because it was mainly (though it’s important to note, not entirely!!!!!) Croat. Albania shared Islam. Slovenia had its own unifying language. Serbia was the heart of the Yugoslav ‘regime’, and as such tried to retain as much of its geographic integrity as possible, but ultimately, what was left convened around Serbian identity (except perhaps Montenegro and a few other regions). But then there was Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Here, in the center of all these other ‘countries’, it became the meeting point, the juncture of metissage, and so how could it be divided except by artificial geographic boundaries? Indeed, what relation does Bosnia have to Herzegovina besides an outwardly imposed bed to share, enforced by NATO troops and tied to its Austrio-Hungarian roots via the continued use of the Deutsch Mark.

It was global forces that brought B-H to where it is today, it’s mix of cultures and ethnicities indivisible in its recombination. A home to a vast diasporic community, many of whom were forced out by the atrocities of war, some of whom left at the prospects of better economic opportunities elsewhere.

The ultimate symbol of Mostar’s globalization? Red Bull adverts that are played in London’s double-decker buses which show men diving off the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Stari Most (Old Bridge)—the symbol of connection now the symbol of capitalist hegemony.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Purge Anyone?

*Disclaimer: Please note, the following post is not for the faint of heart. If bodily functions gross you out, stop reading now.*

Ok, so every morning at 6:30AM sharp, my upstairs neighbor, um, purges. Vomits, pukes, spews, throws up: call it what you will, it's grosses me out a little each time. It's fairly loud, so even though it is usually finished within a minute, it creates a lasting impression. I was hearing it last week every so often because my schedule was a complete mess--I was busy writing 15,000 words worth of papers to turn in (which I did last Friday. Yay, freedom!). Today however, it was just loud enough that it actually woke me up. Some alarm clock, ay?

My question is, why does s/he do this? I was discussing it with friends the other night, and the first guess was morning sickness. This is a good possibility, especially since I was hearing a screaming baby at about 8 or 8:30 several mornings after I heard the 'purging'. Perhaps, then, a second one is on the way? But why 6:30 exactly then? Is it just because that's right after she gets up every morning?

The next guess is that this person is bulimic. But, I wonder about this one because: a) they've just gotten up, so what has s/he eaten by 6:30AM to throw up? b) I only hear it once every morning at 6:30AM. Certainly, if this person were bulimic, s/he would be throwing up several times throughout the day.

And the final guess was that it was a chronic binge drinker who was just coming home for the night. I doubt this one strongly because s/he purges at 6:30AM almost on the dot every morning. Drunks don't follow schedules to a T.

And so it seems to me that it is part of this person's daily ritual. Right after s/he wakes up, s/he clears him/herself of any remaining food to start the day afresh. It therefore seems to me that this might be more of a cultural thing. My question, then to anybody who's reading this is: have you ever heard of or experienced a culture that this is part of the daily routine? I've been asking around, and so far people don't know, so I thought I'd throw the question to a wider audience. Personally, I vaguely remember one of the characters in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (if I remember his name correctly), an excellent book set in India, doing so, so perhaps it's some regional/ethnic tradition in India?

I probably won't ever know the real answer, but trying to figure out why this person purges at 6:30 every morning is driving me crazy! Any help?

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Hypocritical Month?

Turkmenbashi may have enjoyed naming months after both him and his honorable mother, but what about the origin of the month names as we know them? Sure July and August are named after Julius and Augustus Caesar, but did you know January was named after the Roman God Janus? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Janus was the "god of doorways, of beginnings, and of the rising and setting of the sun, usually represented as having one head with two bearded faces back to back, looking in opposite directions." Surely it was because he was the god of beginnings that he got the first month. But the dictionary also notes that, because of this portrayal of Janus with two faces looking at both directions, the term 'Janus-faced' (which is what set me on this chase, actually) has come to mean 'hypocritical'. So there you have it--January is a hypocritical month. Who knew?!


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Layin' Down the Law

Alright, I have tons of writing left to do before Friday, and I'm in a mad rush to do so, but I just saw this article and it really made me angry, so I just had to share.

It is entitled Drowning the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and is about plans by the local Chinese governments to build dams high along the Yangtze river in the Yunnan province.

These dams would effectively flood portions of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona in places. The local government there must realize that the tourism industry in that location is enormous, especially with visits to Tiger Leaping Rock, where a tiger was said to have bounded across the river to avoid capture which is already covered during seasonal highs in the water level.

And the kicker is, according to this article, the energy isn't even required for China. They are looking at exporting their excess energy from hydroelectric dams down into other SE Asian countries (which they already do some of), especially a growing electricity market in Thailand.

The Chinese government should be ashamed at itself for its dedication to blind development without consideration of environmental consequences. This pristine land is part of the world's heritage, and to flood it is absolutely reprehensible. I hate that there is basically nothing that anybody can do about it either, except to just get angrier at the Chinese government, which doesn't really solve anything...

My message to China: think about the overall consequences of your actions, for pete's sake. After 20+ years of unconstrained development, isn't it time for some glasnost and reflection on how to develop BETTER?

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Me Talk Pretty

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

North Central
The Midland
The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

See, now will someone please tell the Chinese that I speak very standard American English. Or, at least I used to. Now I have a weird Canadian 'oot' thing going on, and British speech patterns (though not an accent still, you can breathe a sigh of relief).

And in a personal addition to this quiz, to find out if you have a Colorado accent, just answer these simple questions.

1. Do you pronounce the word 'both' as 'both' or 'bolth?'
2. What is a 'longjohn'?
3. Do you know what the word 'umber' means?
4. How do you refer to the sandwich served at Subway and Quizno's, etc?
5. Do you pronounce the word 'coupon' as 'quepon' or as 'kewpon'?

If you answered:
1. Bolth
2. A long cream-filled doughnut, a type of undergarment, and a possibly a pirate
3. Yes, the "I'm gonna tell on you" sense of the word.
4. Sub
5. Kewpon

Then you might just be Coloradoan (Northern Coloradoan if you know #3).

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Kites over Kashgar

I was sitting in a semi-public bath house in LiTang, China (follow link for my previous blog entry about LiTang) when the book first enthralled me. At a mere (ha!) 5,000 meters (16,500 around feet), despite it being the middle of summer, my childhood friend, Robin, and I needed to find some way to warm ourselves up. Hot springs sounded like the perfect solution. We hopped a taxi that took us the 10km outside the city through open skies and windswept fields sparsely populated with yak and yurt.

The hot springs turned out to be a newly developed bathing complex, complete with white tiles but with fairly large 'windows' (well, holes in the wall at least) that let the light shine in. The assistant opened a large valve and steaming, sulfur-laced water poured into the tub.

Desperate for warmth, I sank into the tub, and picked up the book Robin had brought from the US: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Poor Robin was reading a physiology text book if I'm not mistaken, and so it was with a little guilt that I lost myself in the story of Afghanistan for several hours before I noticed my raisin toes.

Such a vivid and enticing epic, my mind kept wandering to the closest I'd ever been to Afghanistan--Kashgar, XinJiang, China (follow link for blog entries from my time there, or see some of my photos here.).

Kashgar is a city of traders, and is considered to be the city the furthest west in China (and there is a big Mao statue to prove it, of course). It's roughly north of Delhi and lies next to China's borders with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan (and not too far from Kazakhstan, thank you Borat). It also used to be the capital of Chinese Turkmenistan (from before XinJiang was an actual part of China) and so I stayed in the former Russian Embassy which has since been turned into a fairly decrepit hotel. The city actually played a large role during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and as Hosseini was walking through Afghan history, I felt connected to it through my experiences in Kashgar.

What prompted this post, actually, was an IHT article (what else) entitled Gambling on China for an Afghan Epic. Turns out they are now filming the movie version of the book in Kashgar, which creates yet another link between Kashgar and the novel for me. I must admit that I'm really excited to see the movie now, not just because they've filmed it in Kashgar, but also because it is a good book AND they are actually filming it in appropriate languages, with for example, and Iranian-born actor who has even bothered to learn Afghan dialect. The waiting begins!!

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