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What’s in a Name

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Europe is a place of culture, history and apparently the very hot sun. I have the opportunity to travel to seven of these beautiful countries. Each sharing their back stories with the young Canadian. On this trip we’ve had the opportunity to visit some very important historical sites. Some uplifting and inspiring while others hold a dark and tormented past. However, a common connection is the tagging. Mainly during the long train rides, bus rides and countryside have I noticed graffiti. An harmless and colorful activity that people ensue to leave a mark. To them it may not seem like some random word written in a public space but instead, their mark.

Yet, I have also noticed that in places such as the Mauthausen Memorial/Concentration Camp and Hitler’s bunker there were an abundance of names engraved into the wall. The people seem to be from all over the world, from different years ranging from 1989 to 2017, reminders to “Never Forget” and couples writing “2gether 4eva”. I cannot help to think what drive do people have writing their names or whatever else on the walls of these types of places. Why on earth would people want to associate their namesake in places where hundreds of people suffered and passed or where a notorious dictator had once walked himself. It is understandable for people to want to remember or show that they were present in this place at one point in time, however, why leave an everlasting mark in a place where chaos and death ensued? I cannot help but wonder how people came to terms with making that decision but their name is now forever in the halls of the underground or remains of a former prison.

Kerouac Followed Me from San Francisco to Paris

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original-on-the-road-manuscript
Original On The Road Manuscript

The overarching (somewhat extracurricular) theme of my Europe trip was flirting with modern art; looking for meaning in the deconstructed chaos that is the abstract. Upon arriving in Paris, I saw a poster in the subway for a “Beat Generation” exhibit at the Pompidou. I was bewildered to see the names of my beatnik heroes (Ginsburg, Burroughs, Cassady, and Kerouac) in Paris. I felt the sensation of an “Oh! What a small world!” chance run-in with a good friend in a foreign city. I had spent the better part of the previous six months learning about these hedonistic hipsters and their rebellion against the status quo. My eyes drooled.

Inside the front entrance of this, the largest modern art museum in Europe, I stood at a juncture. I savored each salivating option. To my left was the Beat Generation. Straight ahead was Paul Klee. To my right was the permanent collection. My sober feet led my muddy mind lefty-Lucy. I wore the goofy grin of a giddy, grade school girl.

As I approached the entrance, I walked alongside a timeline that mapped out famous events that shaped the Beat Generation. I floated through the decades and I confidently plopped my own story down in the blank space that succeeded the sixties. The dimly lit room was plastered with rhythmic, postmodern poetry. Kerouac’s mellow-cello voice could be heard narrating ‘an evening in the beatnik life’ video that played for an audience of one, cross-legged Chinese boy not ten years old. Confusing deconstructionist paintings (that I admittedly hated) hung as an ode to insanity and irrationality. Figures lacked form to inform the norm of the golden morn yet to adorn the savage reborn.
The crème-de-la-crème, however, was the centerpiece of the exhibit. All 120 feet of Kerouac’s original On The Road scroll was stretched out in a glass case. At its boot was a crude map that Kerouac drew 60 years ago of the hitchhiking journey that birthed his most famous work. As I looked down at that map, I compared our routes and experiences. I felt more connected to my favorite dirty drunk drifter than ever before. Buddha Jack breathed a bumbling beat to me in his regular bohemian fashion. He whispered, “The empty sky is a foreign country. All of life is my witness,” and I whispered back, “I harvest my dreams from the field of stars. You taught me how.”

1947-48-drawing-by-kerouac-that-shows-his-hitchhiking-route
1947-48 drawing by Kerouac that shows his hitchhiking route

bus rides and bobby pins

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Shortly after returning from the recent Asia travel study term, Nicola had an experience with someone that impacted him.  His blog entry below speaks of the importance of the travel study terms for both our students and the people they interact with.

Redemption

Nicola Gladwell gave me a bobby pin.

During a long bus trip this April, I got out the handwritten draft of a short story and my AlphaSmart Dana word processor.

I balanced the Dana on my lap, then realized there was no comfortable–or even uncomfortable–way to prop up the sheets so I could type them. On the back of the seat in front of me was a tightly screwed-on strip of plastic that held the chair cover in place. I tried forcing the edge of a page under that, but had no luck.

Bother.

It was then that Nicola, seated across the aisle from me, came to the rescue. She removed a bobby pin from her hair and handed it over. I was at a loss what to do with it.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

She took the flat prong and worked it under the strip of plastic, creating a clipboard. I slid a few pages into the bobby pin and they held.

Brilliant.

Later on, we introduced ourselves and chatted a bit. She asked what I was writing.

“A newspaper column,” I said.

This was a lie.

The short story was an early draft, and I never talk about writing so new. It wasn’t much of a lie, however, because I planned to work on a column later on.

“May I read it?” she asked.

“Uh . . . no.”

I know better than to lie and was embarrassed that I have been instantly, though unwittingly, caught.

There was wireless internet on the bus, and she had her laptop open.

“Take a look at my website,” I told her. “There are things there you can read.”

I gave her the web address and she sampled a poem and an essay and said some very kind things about them.

“Now that I’ve read something of yours, you should read something of mine,” she said.

My Dana isn’t wireless, so I asked her to email me the link and promised I’d read it when I got to my hotel.

I have something to confess. Because Nicola is a college student–an undergrad, in fact–I had low expectations. Whatever it was she had written would be, I was sure, devoid of serious thought and lacking in decent craft.

The internet, as is often the case, had a surprise waiting for me.

Nicola wrote about a recent trip to Asia, telling how things that are of small consequence here, are valued and used there. Redeemed, if you will.

She gave as an example, painted car tires being used as plant pots in the Philippines.

She gave as an example, the Asian practice of eating all parts of a beast, including the snout and feet.

She gave as an example, a dollar-store toy that we would scorn in the west, having value in the hands of a Filipino girl.

She gave as an example, the scrap tin that is used in many huts in Manila and Bangkok.

I could appreciate what she was saying, for I’d seen the same thing in Africa.

In Kenya, a dirty, twisted piece of wire is not trash, it is something that can be cleaned and carefully pounded into an attractive pair of ear-rings, often with no more tools than a flat rock for an anvil and a discarded engine bolt for a hammer.

A useless piece of wire redeemed.

I could follow the path that her examples laid down, but was not prepared for where they led me.

“I loved Thailand,” Nicola wrote. “I could live in Chiang Mai.

“I would ride to work on an elephant and guide rafts on mountain rivers for a pitiful living, seeking wisdom from aged monks and taking a masters in sustainable living or linguistics at CMU.

“However. I have a problem. I can’t get it through my head — you have to help me.

“There are over two million prostitutes in Thailand. In [the province of] Chiang Mai, all of them are brought from destitute Burmese villages and trafficked through the village of Ma Sai on the border.

“I was in Ma Sai. I bought a pen. And a necklace.

“All Burmese teen girls traveling through Ma Sai leave without their virginity and thus their hope for a future and marriage, and almost half leave with an AIDS death sentence from their first few weeks in the industry.

“What does redemption mean to a sex slave in Japan, in Bangkok, in Kuala Lumpur?

“If I see so much of what we call garbage being redeemed throughout Asia, isn’t there a way to redeem the consequences of societal chastity, idolatry, obligatory merit-making, hierarchical systems, and poverty?”

I still have Nicola’s bobby pin. I am thinking of framing it and hanging it on my wall.

This will remind me not to judge the abilities and motivations of others.

This will remind me that the life we are blessed with here is not the life most people enjoy.

This will remind me that redemption is everyone’s responsibility.

This will remind me that Nicola, who was her way home for summer break, planned to visit with her family for a couple of days then head north to Ontario.

Ontario, you see, has set a goal of planting 50 million trees by 2020, and Nicola was going to help plant some of them.
http://www.johngovernale.com/articles/redemption.html

Where is the rice? Which means: where is the love?

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We are all back home from Asia. Though we only had rice twice in our SSU meal-plan diet! Yet it is obviously the most superior food on the face of the planet. In Asia we had rice with every meal, and this helps prove my superior-food point! They even made their desserts out of rice. They also had special rice dances, and even members of our team were moved to do our own rice-dancing.

Did you know that the USA Rice Federation on www.usarice.com says this about rice:

“[Rice] is nutrient dense and contributes over 15 vitamins and minerals including folate and other B-vitamins, iron and zinc”, “[Rice] is an energy food, supplying carbohydrates that fuel the body’s physical activity ” and, “Triggers the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain that helps regulate and improve mood”

I’d be impressed if I weren’t already.

Since we’ve been home in North America we have had wheat grains with almost every meal. Did you know this about wheat grains. According to youtube.com in a video titled “The FDA Conspiracy & Bleached Flour, Austin Nutrition” (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg5x-zUS5N8):  “various chemicals are used in the bleaching process, one of which is floride dioxide…”

Floride dioxide you say? That seems like a hastle! Why bother bleaching our food my North American friends when rice is already white.

The conspiracy video also says bleached flour: “spikes your blood sugar” among other undesirble things. Needless to say wheat flour is an evil in North American culture.

The Business of Redemption

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Mind-held Thai expressions tease my tongue. Each essay determinately engaging with the SE Asian sex trade…

I have had a line ringing in my mind since our return, mingling with the leftovers of Asian dialects:

In the business of redemption.

What does it look like to be in the business of redemption?

I am reminded of: plant pots made from painted car tires in the Philippines; a Malay man’s obsession with mundane rocks allowing him to find a wealth of value in his collection of unique stones: singing boulders, growing gems, and petrified wood; in eating meat, Asians use the whole of the beast: even if this meant finding pig snout on my plate in the Philippines and chicken feet in a Malaysian curry; a dollar-store toy that we would scorn in the west has found new value in the hand of a Filipino girl, as does the scrap tin finding its place in the sea of huts within Manila or Bangkok.

In the business of redemption. what does it mean?

Perhaps it means finding value in imperfection- in another’s garbage, setting it free from judgement and compartmentalizing snobbery.

I loved Thailand; I could live in Chiang Mai. I would ride to work on an elephant and guide rafts on mountain rivers for a pitiful living, seeking wisdom from aged monks and taking a master’s in sustainable living or linguistics at CMU. However. I have a problem. I can’t get it through my head- you have to help me.

There are over 2 million prostitutes in Thailand; in Chiang Mai all of them are brought from destitute Burmese villages and trafficked through the village of Ma Sai on the border. I was in Ma Sai. I bought a pen. And a necklace. All Burmese teen girls traveling through Ma Sai leave without their virginity and thus their hope for a future and marriage, and almost half leave with an AIDS death sentence from their first few weeks in the industry.

What does redemption mean to a sex slave in Japan, in Bangkok, in Kuala Lumpur? If I see so much of what we call garbage being redeemed throughout Asia, isn’t there a way to redeem the consequences of societal chastity, idolatry, obligatory merit-making, hierarchical systems, and poverty?

In the business of Redemption.

Thai vocabulary, redemptive ideas, thoughts of the summer, and efforts to summarize my year at SSU swirl around my mind. I feel reminiscient of a Hogwarts student awaiting the next school year, or Arnold buckling his seatbelt in the Magic School Bus. I feel like all my life I have been taught to stand on a gymnasium line or sit quietly without being told why, and now my experience has set my mind free from dictated learning. Let me ask questions, don’t break life to me gently, let me dive in and let me experience both the joy and the pain of humanity. What will I learn next year?

I think redemption would be a good business to get into.

There and back again, a student’s tale.

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So I thought the last post was the final and concluding one, so here’s to P.S’s…

Travel terms, yeah they are pretty great. I suppose they just kind of match my personality. I love being in airports, sleeping on uncomfortable chairs in the lobbies. The anticipation of who the heck is gonna be sitting next to you on the plane is usually exciting as well.

Side note* On the return journey from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I sat next to two young hip Jewish Israelites. One of them even recited from the Torah, or another piece of Hebrew literature, out loud (but somewhat softly to himself) during the flight. I thought they were pretty neat guys.

I also like getting on long bus rides and reading or listening to music, contemplating the events that had just happened and of the things to come. And then getting off and realizing that your earthly possessions can be packed into a suitcase or backpack. It’s pretty freeing.

And then there’s walking through foreign countries; sights, sounds, and smells are all new experiences these are also great aspects of traveling. It’s this I think I like most; the cultural exposure. Seeing how others live their life helps me understand my neighbor and their culture a little more, it makes them a bit more familiar and less like the unknown stranger.

And yeah, education.  This also helps with the understanding process. I left SE Asia feeling like I could emphasize and maybe even sympathize with their struggles and hardships. Some of this came from seeing injustices in the streets, but to get a better understanding of the root causes behind these social issues comes mostly from class room lectures.

My hardest struggle about traveling; meeting people. Kinda weird eh, sometimes I think I am a people person but most of the time I am not. It takes me a while before I can actually warm up to friends and new acquaintenances, I’m a bit of an introvert. I hope over time that this can change… but for now, it’s one of the aspects that makes travel a growing process 🙂

So now we are back, and it’s life as it was before, but I am thankful. I love traveling but having a home-base to come back to makes the uncomfortable airport beds/chairs all that much better and worthwhile. I know I have a roof over my head, great food, and a comfortable bunk bed to come back to! Although I really like traveling, I also love my culture and it’s familiarities. We have it pretty good in Canada, it’s a great “home-base”.

So maybe I’ll leave this blog by challenging myself and others. Canada isn’t perfect and terrible things are happening here that we have to address, but comparatively to other countries we are pretty much living in the land of milk and honey. So pray about it and try and see if God is leading you to spread His justice and love in places that are lacking it right now. Micah 6:8.

life on preservatives

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I feel like I sometimes live life on preservatives.
I’m home. I’m back in north america, or what I used to know as home and hopefully still do.
I feel different but I don’t see different. I’ve been here for three weeks, trying to adjust my body to a different time, to different foods, and funny enough trying to adjust myself to what I had been used to.
what am I doing? I am trying to adjust back to what I am used to?! what am I used to?
I stop.
everything has changed but everything is the same. 3 weeks ago I was on my way to new brunswick from Bangkok, a place I guess that few people from new brunswick have been. 8 weeks ago I was in a rainforest, and I slept in a house with an old man who spoke only Malay and offered us nescafe 3 in 1 and cookies and biscuits. now I am in my room, checking facebook for messages and preparing for summer in alberta. time has lapsed 10 weeks since I was in my room, checking for facebook messages and trying to prepare myself for southeast asia.

3weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks. what does time do? I am still myself from one moment to the next. what I decide to do carries on with me into the next moment and continues, yet I am the same person who was here 10 weeks ago. but I am a different person. I’ve written assignments on what I’ve experienced and learned while on my term on Southeast Asia, and I have learned much about the history and culture of people and places that were previously unknown to me.

how has this changed me? how has this made me a different person? the history, the culture, the communities, the food, the homestays, my classmates. I have grown closer to people. I hope. I’ve been learning over the past few months that people are not something to be afraid of. but rather it is not knowing people that brings fear. I’ve also been learning that time is something to be less afraid of. it is through the passage of time that growth happens. rather it is not being available to live and grow in the passage of time that brings fear.

I’ve been finding new joy in the people around me and the days as they come and go. I have a greater appreciation for each person as I get to know them better. And I hope that I will find I’m learning to live less on preservatives. I don’t want to be kept in the same place and in the same state.

“As I see the day stretched before me

in all of its mystery and predictability

I give it to You

and ask that You would walk with me

through the minutes and hours

keeping me awake and available

to You

and to whomever will cross my path”

~ from morning prayer by Joel Mason

Re Entrance into the SSU Community

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My experience with re entering the SSU community was quite difficult. It wasn’t difficult because SSU had changed or the people had changed, it was actually quite the opposite feeling. It felt like everything was the same, and that was the problem. I felt like my life had changed so significantly because of my experience in Asia that in some way I didn’t fit in at SSU any more. I don’t think that it would be a fair statement to say that the people at SSU didn’t change because I’m sure they did too. The difference was that their lives had changed under the same contexts it had always been in and mine had changed in a completely different world, with different issues, different challenges, different thought.
At first it was kind of upsetting and uncomfortable. However, the dynamic of SSU and the people it inhabits made for an incredible re entrance into the community. The bond that all of us Asian students had built in Asia allowed us to lean on one another for support for the first little while, and then eventually when we were comfortable the rest of the community was there to accept us.
Now after being back for over three weeks things feel pretty comfortable and regular again. However, what I don’t want is to feel too comfortable, I don’t want to forget what I have learned in Asia. It is a good thing to feel challenged and a little uncomfortable sometimes. Getting back into the ‘groove of life’ or into the ‘routine’ can be a dangerous and easy place to be. Challenge yourself daily!

I Still Hate Potatoes

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For as long as I can remember I have detested potatoes. I still eat them, and do not complain when they are served, but I do in fact hate them. I was thrilled when we were heading to Southeast Asia, where potatoes are not a staple in every meal; I was looking forward to two months of a potato-free existence. Throughout the two months the only thing I ate that involved potatoes was the occasional plate of french fries when I found myself tired of rice or fish or unrecognizable foods. Though I did not love the food in Asia, I loved that I could eat freely without worry of eating a potato.

When we were in Asia, before we came home I remember thinking that I would be a very different person; that I would have changed drastically in the two months we were gone. I could not pin-point how I had changed and figured I wouldn’t be able to until we came home, but I knew that I was different. I remember feeling anxious on the bus-ride from Saint John, and especially as we turned the corner and our eyes met the familiar big yellow house on top of the hill. I remember looking forward to interacting with people who hadn’t gone on the trip so that I could see the change in myself. But as I stepped off the bus and began greeting people, hugging and talking to them, I could not see it. In fact I felt almost exactly the same as I did when I left. I was horribly confused. I had had so many great experiences, I had met so many interesting people, I had learned so many new and exciting things. Why could I not see the change in myself?

As the days went by, and then weeks, I could not see a drastic change within myself. And still after having been back about 25 days, I am not an entirely different person than I was two months ago. I know that I have changed, how could I not. I have seen things I had never seen before; I have met the most interesting people and learned from them; I have listened to lectures and to my peers and I have learned from that. I have become more aware of the world around me and developed a true concern and care for it. Even small things like my tastebuds have changed as I find myself enjoying spicy food now. All of my experiences in Southeast Asia have changed me, I am different, however, in spite of all these things there are parts of me that have not obviously changed. I still hate potatoes.

A Whole New World

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I hardly know where to begin!

It seems like a lifetime ago that I stepped out of the Toronto airport and breathed the crisp and cold air of Canada again after two months of the perpetual sauna-soaked air of Southeast Asia: with glee, I spread my arms out, threw my head back, inhaled dramatically and refused the jacket offered me right off my aunt’s back.  The whole trip feels like a dream–even the heat!  And yet, the more time that slips by and separates me from that experience, the more I seem to absorb from it.  I can’t answer the demands from well-meaning friends to tell them about my trip; I can hardly remember more than one specific story at a time (such as the ill-timed story on how I took my relationship with squatty-potties to the next level: this went completely unappreciated by my mother, busily preparing Easter dinner!) but I feel the whole experience all in one piece as a completely indescribable…enlightenment?  That might sound really corny or implausible but I can only explain what it is that has changed for me, as a result of this trip, as a feeling.  To be more exact, I feel larger, not by physical measure but inside somewhere, deep down; there’s something new there that wasn’t there before.  Maybe it’s just things like being able to say ‘I know what a traffic jam reallylooks like’, or ‘I’ve seen how people in a poverty-stricken nation can be rich without money or justice’, or ‘I know history that other people can only hear about on the news, where it’s unrestricted by government leaders’ (because it’s different somehow, perhaps more valuable, when you know lecturers to be risking their safety or their reputation to tell you about their country).  Or I can skim a textbook and get a chill when, upon glancing at a picture and receiving a strange wave of deja-vu, I realize I’ve stood in front of that very same ruin, seen it in colour and even taken a picture of it!

Above and beyond all that, however, I think what I feel most in reaction to Asia 2009 is merely the fact that I no longer have a dark void where all knowledge of Southeast Asia is concerned.  Dark voids are burdensome things and a person doesn’t even notice how heavy they are until they’re gone!  (And by “dark voids” I suppose I mean ignorance or lack of knowledge.)  I am so incredibly gladI have had the opportunity to go to these three countries–even if learning about and experiencing them doesn’t make me an expert, I’ve learned so much more than just the politics of Thailand or the security issues in the Philippines or the day-to-day Islam in Malaysia, and I can boast epiphanies both personal, interpersonal, spiritual and even academic!  I can hardly believe there was a time I was anxious enough to consider not going at all!  In short, pre-Asia, in-Asia, and post-Asia are periods of my life that have opened up a whole new world for me and I wouldn’t dare close my eyes now!