Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Aloha from Nicaragua!

I know that I have been out of the country and off of the island for more than two months now, and I am just getting my first blog done now. Internet is not always easily accessible here in the country, in fact, less than 16% of Nicaraguans have access to it. My time here has been incredible and priceless. I've had a plethora of experiences here that have been so diverse, humbling, and fulfilling. I moved in with my family after a few days here, and they have really been the biggest factor in learning more about the culture and Nica way of life. Our houses are all colorful with intricately designed metal around the windows, there is always food being sold in the "pulperias" of the neighborhood (a vendor selling food out of his/her house), and everyone looks out for everyone else in the neighborhood. We've been on the most amazing excursions to el campo (the country), the International Poetry Festival in the city of Granada, the Caribbean coast, and most recently, to Cuba to learn about their strong ties and influence within the Nicaraguan government. There is so much to share and talk about, but I'll focus on our time on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

To get across the country from our home-city, Managua, on the Pacific coast, we must trek 8 hours by bus to get to the river, at which we then take a panga boat three more hours until we reach the Atlantic city of Bluefields; it was a long day. This just served as the foreshadowing of the difference between the coasts of Nicaragua, which often gets noted, "as if they were two different countries."

Our 3-hour panga ride was quite scenic
From the city of Bluefields, we then traveled to the Garifuna community of Orinoco. The Garifuna people have descended from some of the only people who were taken from Africa, but not enslaved afterward. The captain of the vessel that was taking them to the Americas to become slaves fell ill during the journey, and their ship crashed on San Vincent island. The Garifuna people were the descendants of the Indigenous and African people who lived on the island before migrating west to Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua. We were very fortunate to learn about their way of living in fishing, traditional medicine, and reviving their Garifuna culture of language, music, and dance which was almost lost. We felt embraced as guests and family in Orinoco, and were honored to have been a part of their lives.
A fruit in Orinoco used in traditional medicine.

Members of the community show us the "Punta," a Garifuna dance.
Always appreciating the peace and the people of Orinoco. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Australian Aborigine

A lot of people when they think of Australia, is that it is inhabited predominantly by white people. Today this would be true, however they were not the first people on the Australian continent. In fact they are not even indigenous. The first people to arrive on the continent, arrived some 40,000 years ago, these people are known as Indigenous Australians, we know them more commonly as "Aborigine."

Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of Australia,as well as other nearby islands. The are perhaps descendants of the first modern humans to migrate out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, arriving in Australia 20,000 years later. Much like the derogatory stereotype of the African continent, there is no one such ethnic group to defines the indigenous people,as a whole, where in fact there are several tribal groups of Aborigines people on the continent. for example there are the "Koori" whom the Europeans first came into contact with upon establishing the colony of New South Wale in what is now modern day Sydney. And then there was the ethnic group of indigenous people that my brother and I lived around in Townsville, the "Murri," among others.

Historically speaking the Aborigine population was never really too big. before the arrival of settlers it is presumed that there population as a whole consisted of less than one million, or 750,000 to be more accurate. There numbers did not decline until after (surprise surprise) the  British colonization of the Botany Bay area (Sydney) in 1788. One immediate consequence of British settlement was a series of European epidemic diseases, especially measles and smallpox. In the 19th century, smallpox was the principal cause of Aboriginal deaths. An example of population decline would be the smallpox epidemic in 1789 in which 90% of the "Darug" people were killed due to the lack of an immune system to counter European illnesses. Other factors for the Aborigine population decline blatant genocide (especially in the Northern Territory) as well as the appropriation of land and water resources, which continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as rural lands were converted for sheep and cattle grazing. In which case several tribes land were taken from them and settled over by British farmers.

During the 20th century the indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000, and by the 1930's to just 74,000. That was was the lowest number before their numbers began to recover soon afterward. Then there was the horrific "Stolen Generation" lasting from 1909 until well into the 1970's in which case both the Australian federal government and the state governments deliberately taken away (Kidnap would be a more appropriate word to define this six decade long event)  from their families under the guise and excuse of "child protectiveness." The government at the time felt that indigenous children were being neglect and abused under their parents traditional ways. Though this was entire fabricated, as the government knew of the Aboriginal population decline and wanted to... speed up the matter. Nevertheless the process of forced child removal ended by 1973, and in 2008, then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made and official apology to members of the stolen generation, whom many still suffer issues from today.

As for my official experience with Indigenous Australians, especially the mainland Aborigine, I thought they were pretty cool. The first groups that I met was a family waiting at the bus stop my first week in Townsville, and could  not stop staring at them because... well I had never seen or met and Aboriginal person before in my life. I had heard about them in books (never on TV) but never actually got to sit next to one. I was so amazed by them, I just could not take my eyes off of them. As for their opinion on my brother and I, they seemed to be more curios about us than they we were about them. One day we were in downtown Townsville for the day, and two came to talk to us. we had a great conversation about... who knows what, and then what made our conversation even more powerful and emotional was that when it was time for my brother and I to leave to go home... they called us their "Brothers." You could not imagine how much jubilation wen through my entire body from just that one saying... I literally almost started crying when the bus left to take me home. That was something that never happened to me before; complete stranger calling me their brother... that was just ecstatic. On the street we lived on there were several aborigine families on it and their children were just fascinated with us. almost everyday they would ask us questions like where we were from and what the United States was like. Some of them even asked if they could come with us back to America. when we would take casual walks they would say hi to my brother and I, and to be real honest it made us feel really good about ourselves, especially since you DO NOT see these acts of kindness anywhere in the United States. Another thing that I especially loved about them was, not just because they were blatantly awesome and cool to have a conversation with, but the fact that they are an extremely proud race of people, even more than white Australians. They have been through so much throughout the history since their first contact with Europeans, and yet they have never let that get to them, something that I wish could be done here in America, where we have caste system for everything.

To me the Aborigine people made me feel really good about myself, especially the children, because they really looked up to me in a way, and because of that I really appreciate them a lot for it. When I first encountered them, I figured that they were like the Native Americans here and that they preferred to be secluded within their own. However that was not the case, and I learned that they are an outgoing race of people who tend not to let the worst situation consume them. Basically when they world gives them lemons, they make lemonade out of it. The culture and artwork are so amazing to me, and it really reminds me a lot of artwork found all across Africa. When I do go back to Australia, I personally would not mind coming across the Aborigine and the way of life again. In fact I just may like to study them for what I would like to do as a historian.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Γεια σας from Greece!

Γεια σας from the Hellenic Republic, also known by most of the World as Greece!
The View on the first night from my hotel!

            I have been in this beautiful country for over a month and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by! Since being in Greece I have explored Athens, I visited the Oracle at Delphi, tried my hand at Greek cooking, met some stray dogs, learned the Greek alphabet, and flew to Barcelona Spain.
There are stray dogs everywhere! I am in love!!!

Since arriving in the land of over 3000 islands the days have been a whirl wind of exploring one of the most unique countries in the world. AIFS (the American Institution for Foreign Study) and DEREE (short hand for The American College of Greece that no one knows the meaning of) started out the Study Abroad program by immediately immersing all of the students in Athens and the History of Greece. During the first weekend in Greece the Study Abroad Students were taken on a walking tour of Athens. We were able to walk through the old neighborhoods that surround the base of the Acropolis and see the small homes that made up the area. We were then treated to a local delicacy known as Souvlaki. Souvlaki is what most of the world knows as Gyros, however in Greece “Gyro” is the meat that spins around an open flame that is shaved and then put into the pita. This meat is than accompanied by a sauce either tzatziki or another sauce depending on the meat, then there is tomatoes, onions, sometimes lettuce, and always fried potatoes. 

During the Greek Cooking class held in the Residence Halls we learned how to make ΝΤΑΚΟΣ (dakos) and TZATZIKI two typical Greek foods. The NTAKOΣ is pictured above.

I have been asked by a lot of people how the current situation in Greece is and I would like to address that question here as well. Before I say anything I should point out that I have not be reading any information on the situation from any news sources American or Greek. This is because I want to get a feel of how the Greek people are reacting to the New Leftist government elected. So all of the opinions stated are from my observation by talking to locals and what I have learned in my Modern Greece a Troubled History Class if there is false information stated I apologize... To begin I would like to talk about the feeling surrounding the elections. The Sunday of elections two of my roommates and I traveled to downtown Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis lay Monastiraki one of the busiest squares in Athens. On this warm Sunday afternoon the streets of Athens were deserted except for hundreds of news cameras that were interviewing the few locals that dared to wander to narrow streets. The people of Greece had scattered to their neighborhoods or cities of their birth to cast their crucial vote and Athens looked like a deserted city that tourists had no idea was no longer functioning. The days following the election results I went back downtown with Alice who is the AIFS representative that is an asset to have in Athens and she mentioned how different the Greeks felt now that their government was supporting the views of the people. Before the election there were cops stationed outside all of the government buildings and the people felt like they were in a police state, since the elections there are cops that just sit on the main roads watching cars drive by because they have nothing to do. The people are hopeful for the new government and the metaphorical light that has shown itself, instead of protesting against their government the people have gathered in support of the government standing up to the European Union. I do not know what lays ahead for Greece but I completely support the views of the citizens, a government should represent what is best for the people and what the people want. Even if the government may not stand in favor of what more powerful countries believe.
Changing pace completely I want to talk about visiting the Oracle of Delphi. 
The story goes that two fishermen were visited one night by a dolphin (delphin) that could talk...after realizing that this wasn’t a normal dolphin (shocker) they followed it to the mountain side. The area Mount Parnassus was said to be the center of the world at the time (Zeus let two eagles go on both sides of the globe and where they landed was where Delphi was) and actually according to scientists the location of Delphi was in fact the center of the known world at the time it was established. The two fishermen worried about how they would survive in the mountains since they were fisherman that were accustomed to the sea and the dolphin told them not to worry because soon people would be bringing them gifts that would more than make up for the lack of fishing...
flash forward and the Oracle at Delphi became the most important Oracle in Ancient Greece...even Alexander the Great consulted the Oracle before going out on his famous conquests...however when he went, the gas that caused hallucinations in the priestesses was too strong so the priestess refused to see him, not taking no for an answer he grabbed her hair and she said “You cannot lose,” satisfied with that answer he left. It is easy to see why people of Ancient Greece would travel to Delphi to consult the Oracle not only is it beautiful, but standing on the mountain side and imagining what the ruins looked like covered in gold is thought provoking and the idea of how important the area was for the Ancient Greeks draws up stories from all over the Ancient World. 

In one of the walls there are inscriptions written by people that were once slaves, but were freed. The path leading up to the temple of Apollo is steep and the fountain where the people had to wash themselves before entering the sacred land is intriguing. If only the ruins could talk.

A couple of weeks after visiting Delphi the AIFS Group was taken on a tour of the Acropolis and Parthenon. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of walking on top of the Acropolis, the first area inhabited in modern day Athens. 
The great people that walked on the path, saw the view, and built the Parthenon that even in shambles is more beautiful than any modern day monuments. No words will ever begin to describe the beauty found in Athens. So I will post some pictures that will do this Ancient City more justice.

Finally, since arriving in Greece I travelled to Barcelona, Spain. While in Barcelona I attended a Barça game and visited Montserrat. Pictures are below. If you enjoyed these pictures you can stay up to date on all of the pictures I post of Greece via my Instagram @KitKatLage!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kimchi Making Festival (Nov. 15, 2014)

I would say that out of the many experiences I had here in Korea, learning how to make kimchi was one of the most memorable things I’ve done. This allowed me to learn more about Korean culture as well as how much effort it takes to prepare this unique food of Korea. The kimchi making experience I went on consisted of waking up early (around 9am), leaving Sinchang around 10:30am for Shinjung Lake Park, and making kimchi from 11:30am to 3:30pm. Particularly with this kimchi experience, it wasn’t just a lesson on making kimchi, it was also a festival to help for a good cause. The purpose of this kimchi festival was to produce as many boxes of kimchi that of which would be delivered to families in need during the winter. An interesting thing I learned was that it’s common to make kimchi during the wintertime. As far as the process of making kimchi, there was a lot of labor involved which definitely made me understand the hard work that needs to be put in to create such a wonderful side dish.

We love making kimchi!
When first arriving at the festival, there were many tents set up, camera crews everywhere, and everyone getting “suited up” to make kimchi. Prior to making kimchi, I knew that we had to suit up, but then I didn’t realize that there were so many things to put on. It was like a suit of armor. From hand gloves, arm gloves, aprons, to facemasks, I was surprised to see how much preparation goes in to the kimchi making process. Luckily, when it came to the actual production process, the sauce/base to make kimchi was already made. From there, we just needed to spread the base on the cabbages (that were previously brined in salt water). While making kimchi, the cabbages were like “pages” in a book. We would flip through each of the cabbage leaves and then spread the base (with generous amounts) leaf by leaf. This process went on for the next 4 hours, leaving only a 15-minute break.

At that time, the weather was a bit chilly especially during the morning hours. While making kimchi, my hands felt really cold because of the cold moisture from the cabbages and sauce/base. Although it was a chilly day, making the kimchi gave me a workout, which eventually increased my body temperature. While making kimchi, I really enjoyed the fact that we all worked together effectively, like an assembly line. Many of the Korean students that our group went with taught us how the process was. We danced, sang songs, which created a fun and memorable experience for all of us. From then on, we all did our part in producing a large amount of kimchi that would help so many Korean families in need.

Some of many boxes of kimchi that were made during the festival

An incredible weekend in Busan

Our journey began by taking a subway from Sinchang (where our university was located) to Asan Station. Once we got to Asan Station, we took the KTX (Korea’s bullet train) all the way to Busan. Let me tell you, it was surprising how fast that train was. After about a 2.5 hour commute, we finally arrived at Busan Station. Once we made it, Joon-young’s mother had been excitingly waiting for us. It was about 9pm and both Joon-young and I were a bit exhausted, but it didn’t stop us from exploring around his neighborhood. I was able to see his elementary and high school, as well as chill at a few parks he went to often as a high school student.

During my first month in Korea, I had already made friends with a lot of the Korean students. Among many of the friends I made while studying at Soonchunhyang University, there was one in particular who was from Busan.  His name was Joon-young. Having known him for just a couple weeks, he happily invited me to visit his home and family.

From there, we both set off on our weekend adventure to Busan. Since it we had a long weekend ahead of us, we made sure to explore as many things as we could. As a foreigner, I found it very exciting to be traveling around Korea, yet alone being able to visit my friend’s hometown.

Bottom of Busan Tower
Day 1

After touring Joon-young’s neighborhood, we returned to his home where I met his mom, dad, and older brother. During my stay in their home, I felt so welcomed by the hospitality that Joon-young’s family provided me. Even though it was my first experience staying with a Korean family, they made it pretty comfortable for me. What I enjoyed was how much food was prepared. There’s nothing better than home-cooked meals. I was able to get a taste of authentic Korean food in a Korean home. From different types of kimchi to an array of soups and other dishes, they made sure that I ate well, which I had no problem with.

Busan International Film Festival
Day 2

After taking a rest after our journey to Busan, Joon-young and I headed out to Haeundae Beach the next morning. With just a 20-minute walk from his home, Haeundae had already been packed with people. I have to say, it was pretty interesting to see a beach outside of Hawaii. Although the waters weren’t as blue as Hawaii’s beaches, I still enjoyed walking along the sands of Korea.

While at Haeundae, we noticed that the annual Busan International Film Festival was being held. We were lucky enough to see so many interesting types of films that were specifically produced in Korea.

After our stop at Haeundae, Joon-young’s family picked us up and we drove all the way to Daegu for his grandmother’s birthday. At the restaurant we went to, I was introduced to a lot of his family. From aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it, I got to meet his family tree.

During the dinner, the table was laid out with so much food. By now, I’ve taken in the fact that Koreans can eat, and I mean eat WELL! There’s so many words to describe how delicious the food was. After talking with many of Joon-young’s family members, I was requested to sing “Happy Birthday” for his hal-mo-nee (or grandma, 할머니). I truly felt welcomed by his family.  After the restaurant, we all went to noraebang (karaoke) and ended the night walking around Daegu Park.

Final Day

During our last full-day in Busan, Joon-young and I traveled to many parts of Busan, starting off with Jalgachi Fish Market. There were so many vendors everywhere, fish auctions taking place, and a wide assortment of fish. I was amazed at how busy this market was, but then again, it’s one of Korea’s famous fish markets.

One interesting I tried, and is also one of Korea’s delicacies, is live octopus. Personally, I grew up eating octopus in Hawaii, but I haven’t tried it live. Joon-young insisted I try, and as adventurous as I am, I went for it. I would have to say, it wasn’t as bad. Although the tentacles got stuck to my teeth, I enjoyed every bite of it. I left the fish market pretty full.

Next, we went to Busan Tower to check out a 360 degree view of the beautiful city. It was interesting to see how colorful many of the building were. It was like a crayon box. In addition to the buildings, there was an ocean view which made me feel like I was back in Hawaii.

After Busan Tower, we headed out to another traditional market which was near Jalgachi. At this particular market, we went on a food venture. This time, it was all about the street food. What Busan is known for is their hotteok. It’s a delicious pancake dessert stuffed with sugar and peanuts. For just 1,000 won ($1), it was definitely worth waiting in line for.

Throughout the afternoon, we explored the market trying many types of street foods such as mandoo, tteokkbokki (rice cake), fishcake, and soondae (Korean blood sausage). By the end of our day, we were pretty full.

As our weekend trip started coming to a close, I stopped to realize how amazing these past few days has been. From sightseeing all over Busan, visiting so many traditional markets, and trying new foods, this is probably one of the highlights of my time in Korea. After my trip to Busan, it made me want to visit there again. Significantly, this experience helped me learn more about my friend, his family, and the Korean culture.