One of the things I wasn’t prepared for when I came to Nepal was the mistaking of my identity and how common it would be. Pretty much from day one, people came up to me speaking Nepali and mistaking for a plethora of ethnicities. Coming from a strong Chinese American heritage and the diverse culture of the United States, the case of mistaken identity in Nepal was an unexpected challenge I’ve had to navigate in during my time here. In the US, I almost never get mistaken as anything other than Chinese and if I do, most people have a pretty easy time understand how I can be Chinese AND American. Here in Nepal, people’s gut reaction is to assume that I’m Nepali, and since I interact with a lot of Tibetans, I often blend in with them as well. When I tell them I’m Chinese and I’m from America, I can see the gears in their brain working. They ask, “But where are you from from?” Or “But where are your parents from?” Even though I’m ethnically Chinese, my parents were born in Vietnam and escaped as refugees during the war. Often times, they walk away more confused than before and at first, I was frustrated with my lack of ability to effectively communicate the complex history of my family. It took a lot of thinking to fully comprehend how, even though Nepal is multiethnic and multilingual, the populations perceptions of identities and physical appearance weren’t as detached as mine were. Their perceptions of Americans stems from this idealization of whiteness and despite the reality of America being an extremely diverse country, the fantasy that exists in their minds have a hard time accepting this. By no means is this phenomenon their fault, they are only reflecting what they have been acculturated to, but does bring up the larger questions of what validates a person identity and how that relates in a larger context.
Many people think of Iceland as a haven for environmentalism. Known for its geothermal power, the country has become a leader in sustainable energy. The commitment to sustainability here, in many respects, is greater than what I have experienced in the U.S. (though I suppose that bar is pretty low). In this week’s blog post, I’ll discuss Iceland’s geothermal energy production. In a week or two, I’ll write a follow up post about other facets of sustainability in Iceland. Much of the information below comes from the lectures in my Sustainable Energy course, as well as the links at the very end of the post.
How does geothermal energy work?
Before delving into geothermal energy in Iceland, let me first summarize what geothermal energy is and how it is harnessed. Geothermal energy, or heat released by the Earth, is a product of radioactive decay in the Earth’s core. As atoms within the Earth become more stable, they release energy in the form of heat. This heat travels to the Earth’s surface where we experience it in several forms, including volcanoes: steam vents, geothermal springs, etc.
In Iceland specifically, there are over 200 volcanoes, 34 high-temperature areas (steam fields where the ground temperature is greater than 150 degrees Celsius), and 250 low- temperature areas (where the ground temperature is less than 150 degrees Celsius).
Greetings from Zurich, Switzerland! While Switzerland is known for its divine chocolate and creamy swiss cheese, I have found that atmosphere in Switzerland can more accurately described through its streetwear and work ethic. When you walk down the perfectly disheveled streets of Zurich, you cannot help but stare at the locals as they are dressed to the nines in magnificent fur coats and perfectly blown out hair. I mean even the men are properly dressed in straight-edged jackets and rather dapper loafers. I even witnessed an older woman dressed head to toe in Chanel waiting to board the bus! I mean is this city even real or is it just a figment of my wildest dreams? As a whole, I would describe the atmosphere on the street as chic and effortless and it is for that reason that I could easily see myself living there in my 40s. I have already began looking at property that I aimlessly hope will be available in my old age to purchase. Walking through the simultaneously busy, yet relaxed streets of Zurich with the sun shining off of the golden restaurant signs just made the perfect Saturday.
Even though I was only able to spend a single day in Zurich, I feel as if I truly experienced the local laid back, yet productive atmosphere that surrounds the city. On the other hand, I must admit that I did not have a single ounce of chocolate or swiss cheese while I was there. I know this may be an international crime and serious mistake, but I feel as if the world is so globalized that if I truly wanted to try it, I could buy it anywhere in the world and it would be the exact same. So alas, I do not believe I made a terrible mistake. I did throughly enjoy the single handed best tomato soup of my life at Cafe Presse Club in the city center. It was perfectly creamy, yet full of flavor and I even got to enjoy it while sitting outside Zurich’s Munster. Overall, a perfectly normal, yet extraordinary moment that I will cherish forever.
As I've traveled all over the world, one of the things I've learned is that the best way to learn about the culture where you live is to examine the art, whether it's theatre, comedy, or music.
One of the most interesting and exciting aspects of the UK scene I've learned about has been the grime culture, which is a form of rap.
It's cool to see that grime is so big, because rap is a form of art that emerged in the United States, but has spread rapidly. Individuals in the UK have embraced it, and they even are beginning to sound a bit American, but clearly have shifted the genre in their own way, which I find fascinating.
Rap is mainly a way that black individuals were able to cope with the struggles of violence and poverty which have suffocating effects in inner cities. In the UK, rap has served a nearly identical purpose, and the rappers here are rapping about nearly the same things that Americans do.
This weekend, I went to Normandy with my program. The sight of D-Day and the entire battle that liberated France from Germany, the region of Normandy in the north of France is integral to the nation's history in the context of the second World War, yet simultaneously important to France's relationship with the United States. Before coming to Paris, I knew that D-Day was important to history, but I did not know to what extent it was still referenced to and talked about in the modern day.
France is a country with a very long history. It has seen five different republics, countless kings and queens, emperors, and revolutions. Juxtaposed to France, the United States is like a young kid finding its way: so young that it is confused and progressive all at once with enough energy to keep its momentum going for a long time. The two countries are drastically different when it comes to their histories. However, the one true thing that they have in common is the Battle of Normandy. I have thought it so interesting for months how French people seamlessly make fun of Americans, yet at the same time almost strive to be just like them. On occasion, they poke fun with our accents and discredit our global knowledge, yet at the same time, they respect us. They sport our clothing brands, they watch our movies, and they dream of visiting our country. As a sweeping generalization, they seem to hate to love us. And why? In part, because of the Battle of Normandy.
Since my first week in Paris, I have heard of French people adoring Americans because "we saved them in the war." At first, I discounted this as a stretch of our history with the French. However, as the weeks passed and the confusion ensued, I realized that in fact, no matter what we as a country seem to do, French people continue to like us because of the sacrifices that we made for them during the war. As a country of tradition, it is not surprising that they share a long memory.
Phnom Penh hides in plain sight. On one hand “Under construction” signs and levelled land, promising development and economic growth, dominate the Cambodian capital’s landscape. On the other hand, the city’s troubled history finds a way to narrate itself through the city’s periphery to the Killing Fields, and the absence of historical buildings in its proximity. As I walked around Phnom Penh this weekend, all I could see was a people trying to live the “Cambodian dream” and overcome their traumatic past.
For those unfamiliar with Cambodian history, by traumatic past I refer to the genocide that took place in Cambodia by the Democratic Kumpuchea’s leader Pol Pot. Almost 1/4th of the Cambodian population was systematically wiped out through brutal killings between 1975 and 1979. Many were brutally tortured and most continue to bear physical if not mental scars from that period.
One of them was my tuk tuk driver, Mr. Chan Tou. On the way to the killing fields, he told me his own story. Mr. Chan Tou’s father, a well educated man, was a teacher. The Khmer Rouge branded him as a traitor and convicted him for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Chan Tou’s father and mother did not survive the genocide.
This week was a little different from my previous weeks in Auckland for one major reason: my parents came to visit! Yes, in the spirit of being the amazing support system they are, my parents flew 30 hours from Buffalo, New York to spend 6 days of their spring break (the life of academics) in New Zealand with me. Unfortunately now that I’m almost entirely based in DC I rarely see my family anymore, and it’s always great to spend time with them. So when I stepped into the well-lit brunch joint I was meeting them at, it was the first time I had seen them since Christmas. Beyond the obvious perk of seeing my family after a long winter, their trip to UofA gave me a great opportunity to travel around the North Island, and show off my newfound New Zealand expertise. For the first three days after their arrival they left me to tend to my classes while they went gallivanting off around Rotorua, a stunning collection of geothermal hot springs just a few hours South of Auckland. For me, it was after they returned from this trip that our vacation together really began.
We spend Wednesday night at a lovely bistro my Kiwi friends had recommended to me, in the center of the bourgeois suburban district of Auckland, Ponsonby. At the restaurant, Augustus bistro, we ate fresh prawns and snapper by candlelight, catching up on the goings on of my life under the fern-filled ceiling. The next morning we went on our first real adventure, waking up at 6am to catch an early ferry to Waiheke Island, a gorgeous island just off the Eastern coast, that Obama would visit just one day later. This was the kind of trip that was just a little pricier than I can afford on my college budget, and thus the perfect thing to do with my family. We took a wine, cheese and olive oil tour across the island, wandering through the vineyards and olive trees under the New Zealand sun. The island offered panoramic views of the Auckland skyline across the glittering Pacific, lined with rugged cliffs and black sand beaches. My parents especially appreciated the gorgeous weather and scenery, as they were coming from 3 feet of snow back in my hometown. The Waiheke Wine Tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, however our next day’s activity very nearly topped it.
While living in the Southern Africa region, I have been able to encounter and learn about the lifestyles of people from South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. I have begun to understand the territory that comes with living in a developing country.
One recurring struggle that I have encountered is the issue of with water insecurity. Botswana is a land-locked country. Water is imported from dams in South Africa. Also, rainwater is collected in dams situated in cities all over the country. Having running water available across campus and in the dorms was expected just as you would expect the sun to be shinning every day. Then when I least expected, the spout in the 3rd-floor bathroom of UB's Main lecture hall ran dry. Just like that, you start to become more conscious about how much one relies on running water to complete tasks.
For Batswana, the inconsistencies in water is not a major issue. Most families in their homes store water in empty soda bottles or in giant storage containers. If you are able to afford it, some people will have the ever-so sustainable rainwater collection tanks on their properties. My first reaction to the lack of water shock, but then I became overwhelmed with a calming sense shortly after. I understood that the water issue was something I was eventually going to have to face (shout-out to the CIEE student blog posts for preparing me). More or less, I wished I knew to what extent would a region-wide water shortage affect me on campus. A notice was delivered by my program director. My roommate told me the day before that the water tanks on campus would be turned on for these purposes. With the help of my type-B personally and two 5 liter bottles of water purchased from the nearest Spar, I was able to make it through my first week-long water shortage. I had assumed that the Gaborone dam water levels must be low. But it turned out that a water pipe had broke, so all water was "shut off" in the Greater Gaborone area and surrounding parts. Most of the campus had running water. There were just a few campus buildings here and there that did not.
I never quite understood the idea that someone would need to “get out of the city.” I had always heard about it in regard to people in New York City being too overwhelmed by the city and having the desire to go somewhere quieter. In DC, I never felt this. I had come from a rural area and wanted to be in an urban location, that’s why I chose GW! It wasn’t until I got to Shanghai that I truly understood this notion. So, this weekend I decided to get away and travel with a group of seven friends to Guilin and Yangshuo, two towns that are a three-hour flight south of Shanghai. It was absolutely amazing.
In order to maximize our vacation, we decided to fly out early on Thursday morning. We had a flight that left Shanghai at 7:10 AM. We took Didi’s (Chinese Uber) to the airport and then caught a direct, three-hour flight to Guilin. Flying in China is a unique experience. The airport security is different than from the U.S. In China, you can keep your shoes and jacket on, and liquids do not have to be removed from your bag. However, the security guards seemed to be pretty unfamiliar with some of the liquid products and confiscated them as a result. For example, one girl had her contact solution taken, and another lost two bottles of Tabasco. Once you get on the plane, you almost guaranteed to be greeted by a completely full plane. It seems to be rare to have open seats. During the flight, regardless of its length, you will be served a meal. It is almost guaranteed that you will have the choice between noodles and rice, both with some kind of meat (sorry vegetarians). Once you land, it is a mad dash to get off the plane. Then you will all depart, grab your bags and try to find out how to get a public bus ticket to get to your destination. For our trip to Guilin, this process went well once we got through security and we ended up getting to our hostel smoothly by taking two different buses.
We only had one night in Guilin so we spent the full day exploring. We went and got Korean food for lunch and then took a bus to the reed flute cave. This cave was very large and pretty, but also very touristy. There were colored LED lights everywhere that gave the cave a very odd glow at times. Regardless, it was still a cool visit and there were several areas that were very pretty.
On December 12, 2012, I was sitting on the bus with two of my friends going back home from school in sophomore year when I first heard about the Sandy Hook shooting. One of my friends vaguely told me that there had been a school shooting that day. In that moment, I didn't know much about what had happened and assumed it had meant one or two people had been shot by the police on school grounds. As I watched the news and learned about the age of the children, the number of victims, and other details of the atrocity, my mind went blank. Why would anyone do such a thing and how was it possible for the perpetrator to acquire these guns? Instead of receiving assurance from the leader of our country, I watched as President Obama cried on national television and pleaded to Congress for reform on gun laws. There was no way that Congress was going to sit back and not implement serious change regarding gun control. There would be justice for the 28 lives lost on that fateful day in December.
Six years later, the list of mass shootings has only increased to include the Las Vegas shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, Sutherland Springs church shooting and, now, the Parkland, Florida shooting. For all of the shootings besides the most recent one, my friends and I would watch our representatives send their "thoughts and prayers" instead of acting and providing productive results. We would argue with each other on social media on our opinions of the second amendment and angrily watch as members of Congress did the same. This time, I am out of the country and on the opposite side of the world where I am surrounded by students from almost every nation. This time, my discussions include topics like the gun laws and shooting statistics in other nations. While talking to a local Singaporean friend about the shooting, I learned that few to no Singaporeans own guns. Singapore has some of the toughest laws in the world regarding gun possession. All gun owners need licenses which can easily be denies by the licensing officers. Any illegal possession of guns and ammunition can result in harsh punishments including imprisonment and/or caning.
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