Love Boat: Taiwan Study Tour

2012 Love Boat Group Photo: EYTC Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EYTSC)

2012 Love Boat Group
Photo: EYTC Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EYTSC)

The summer right after you graduate high school is a strange limbo. It feels like you are just anticipating your new life as a university freshman. I originally planned on lounging around with friends, but my parents had other plans. I would be in the country I had unappreciatively been visiting every other summer since the first grade: Taiwan. However, this wasn’t just a family vacation. I would be attending the Expatriate Youth Taiwan Summer Camp, which I would later find out to be nicknamed “Love Boat.”

On Chientan Campus

The camp itself was a month long culture and language program in Taipei (Taiwan’s capital) made for Taiwanese or Chinese kids, ages 14-18, who lived overseas (usually American, Canadian, and European). We spent about the first two weeks on the Chientan campus learning Mandarin Chinese, sorted into levels 1-6 depending on how well we knew the language. I was sorted into level 2. Mind you, I grew up in an area where they shut down the Chinese school for lack of Asians anywhere near my age group. So, I could speak and understand from speaking with my parents, but my reading and writing level extended to my name, numbers 1-10, and 小心 (be careful).

Chinese Yo-Yo or Diablo Photo: Brooke Meyer

Chinese Yo-Yo or Diablo
Photo: Brooke Meyer

Along with the Chinese classes, we had a choice between taking traditional calligraphy and painting (which I chose), kung fu, or Diablo, which is a type of yo-yo, for our culture class. Occasionally, during our time in Chientan, we would further our cultural learning by watching films based in Taiwan or learning to sing a song like this gem.

In all honesty, I didn’t learn much Chinese in class nor did I learn much from calligraphy class other that I shouldn’t do it professionally. I actually learned more about the culture and polished up my Chinese speaking skills when we snuck out of the camp to explore the city.

Exploring Taipei

As mentioned before, the camp has the nickname “Love Boat.” The purpose of our camp, according to a press release, was to improve and enhance our knowledge of Taiwanese and Chinese roots. However, the camp got its nickname from vacation-like attitude the students took throughout the camp and, of course, the hook-ups that inevitably occurred. There are articles online that illustrate the camp as a way for parents and government to match Taiwanese descendants to find each other and get married. Regardless, there was a huge amount of “love” going around because of the freedom after bed check.

When I say sneaking out after bed check, I mean walking right out of the front door without being seen by certain camp counselors. With Taipei night life right at our fingertips, it was incredibly difficult to resist. There were so many night markets, restaurants, and clubs that opened up an entirely new aspect of Taiwan I had not yet seen. In an attempt to shorten this post, I will only share two of my favorites.

Stinky tofu stand at Shihlin Night Market Photo: Will Jackson

Stinky tofu stand at Shihlin Night Market
Photo: Will Jackson

One MRT stop away was Shihlin Market, one of the biggest night markets in Taipei, filled with so much life. Lining the crowds were cheap food vendors, video arcades, and shops of almost anything you could think of, from clothing to cute stationary.

Ximending Photo: Carrie Kellenberger

Ximending
Photo: Carrie Kellenberger

We were also close to Ximending, a famous district known for the shopping and clubs as well as being the main LGBT district of Taiwan. The first time I went to the shopping district was to get my first tattoo in the famous Tattoo Street. I would return to Ximending many more times for Party World KTV or Karaoke Television, a place you get an entire room, fully equipped with comfy couches, a menu, a large table and TV to match, and microphones, to a group of friends and sing really off-key to old songs for about three hours for only about 400NT to 600NT ($13-$20) per person.

Exploring Taiwan

2012 Group at Eluanbi Lighthouse Photo: EYTC Facebook

2012 Group at Eluanbi Lighthouse
Photo: EYTC Facebook

In the remaining week, we got an overload of Taiwanese culture, as we travelled around the entire country, hitting major Taiwanese landmarks and destinations, eating at whatever local restaurant had enough room for our massive group, fully equipped with Lazy Susan tables. Taiwan is fairly small, not making it difficult to travel around the whole country. However, on this weeklong trip, we travelled to at least two locations per day. We started out at the National Center for Traditional Arts, to Taiwan’s southernmost point at the Eluanbi Lighthouse, and ended in the Old Street in Danshui (Tamsui) District back in Taipei. Again, for the sake of the length of this post, I’m going to cut down to some of my favorite stops.

At the Kenting Night Market Photo: EYTC Facebook

At the Kenting Night Market
Photo: EYTC Facebook

On day 3, we stayed in Kenting, Taiwan’s first national park. The area is best known for its beautiful beaches. Unfortunately for our group, there was a big storm throughout the day. Though, that didn’t stop us from exploring the beach later that night. But, another fun thing about Kenting is its night market. The storm throughout the day did not keep massive amounts of people from coming that evening. There are so many vendors selling small souvenirs, activities, and so many delicious Taiwanese snacks.

Ten Drum Art Percussion Group Performance Photo: EYTC Facebook

Ten Drum Art Percussion Group Performance
Photo: EYTC Facebook

Mid-tour, we stopped by Taiwan’s Drum Culture Village close to Tainan. The village was formerly a sugarcane factory and converted to a cultural drum village after the Japanese rule. Because we took the tour, we had a brief drumming lesson and then a special performance by the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group.

The skywalk at Xitou Nature Education Area. Photo: Foreignsanctuary.com

The skywalk at Xitou Nature Education Area.
Photo: Foreignsanctuary.com

Throughout the tour, we basically hiked until our feet bled. One of my favorites was hiking in the Xitou Nature Education Area, which is well within the mountains of Taiwan. There is so much wildlife and foliage, especially when compared to Taipei and any city we had encountered. There was also an option to go on the Sky Walk, which is 22.6 m aboveground, allowing maximum observations of the forest.

Although I might not have taken full advantage of the classes provided by the camp, Love Boat 2012 is an experience I could never forget. The amount that I learned about my native country on the month-long program outweighed anything I picked up on from the previous eighteen years. The amount of tradition and life within Taiwan is abundantly clear, and you really just have get out there to experience it and learn.

Medz Yeghern: The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

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The official banner commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide in the UK.

 

 

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A depiction of the Syrian desert death marches.

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A map of the Ottoman empire of 1914.

 

April 24, 1915 marks the date that started the carnage sealing the fate of an estimated 800 thousand to 1.5 million Armenian people who were systematically murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in what has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Similar to the Jewish holocaust of World War II, the Armenian genocide was the governmental extermination of Armenians as a minority within the region that is now known as the Republic of Turkey. The first cycle of this bloodbath (that didn’t end until 7 years later in 1922), involved the mass murders and forced subjugation of physical labor of the young and robust male population. The second cycle of the Armenian genocide involved the Syrian death marches.

Women, children, and elderly in large numbers were marched southward to the Syrian deserts where they were then subject to frequent incidents of rape, robbery, and physical abuse. Many died on these marches from starvation, and lack of water. Those who tried to stop and take a break were shot on site.

The ancient Armenians had inhabited what was known as their homeland for many years prior to the Turk invasion in the eleventh century. With this invasion came significant problems for the Armenian population. For one, the Turks were mostly followers of the Muslim religion and began to rule while labeling Armenian Christians as second class citizens denying them their right to vote and going so far as to tax them for identifying as Christian.

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A painted depiction of a meeting of the Young Turks political group.

 

With the growing trend of Turkish nationalism came the creation of a political group known as the Young Turks who were an ultra nationalist organization whose political ideologies included the end goal of a wholly Muslim and Turkish state. Behind the smoke of World War I, the Ottoman Turks began their attack on the Armenians starting by targeting the thousands of Armenian soldiers enlisted in the Turkish army. This event is known to the Armenian people as “Medz Yeghern” meaning Great Crime. On the 24th of this month, the Armenian community, along with its sympathizers remembered this time of sadness in fellowship with marches, rallies and speeches centered around this harrowing topic. However, Armenians today face another hurdle concerning this 20th century genocide—recognition that it was a genocide in the first place.

 

100 years later, the modern Turkish government does not recognize the massacre at Anatolia to be deemed a genocide. Perhaps even more surprising (to me anyway) is the fact that the United States and Israel are also among the ranks of the few nations who also refuse to use the language specific to genocide when talking about the event. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide comes from claims within the Turkish and Azerbaijan governments that there was no plot to exterminate the Armenian race, but that there was a more complicated inter-ethnic war taking place, that Muslim Turks were also killed during that time, and that the numbers produced by scholars concerning the number of Armenian dead are inflated.

Speculation has been made that President Obama’s refusal to use the term genocide is largely because of the United State’s alliance with Turkey— despite that a majority of 43 states have declared their agreement that the massacre of 1915 was indeed a genocide. This year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, a recorded 130 thousand people marched in Los Angeles from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate in solidarity. On the eastern side of the United States, there was also a gathering of thousands of Armenian-American youth in Times Square where they marched waving the Armenian flag,  wearing Red carnations and chanting, “Turkey is responsible for genocide”.

It would seem that 100 years later, Armenia still has something to fight for—even if it’s just the recognition their bloodied history deserves.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Banned Books Across the Globe

The power of knowledge is a terrifying thing for parts of the world, while for others, it’s a sense of liberation. Knowledge comes from experience and books. The ones with experience are the ones who write the books, and the stories in books are what gives people ideas, promotes imagination. Allowing people to create stories of their choosing for others to read has been a controversial topic for about a century now.

 

The United States prides itself on “freedom of speech” for its citizens. Nowadays it is incredibly hard to ban a book in the United States, near impossible. Sure, there are still books that are highly frowned upon in which there are less copies made, and some school districts and organizations ban books from being in their libraries and put into school assignments. But there are many books that were taken out of circulation even in the US for a while. In fact, many classic books are still frowned upon. Books like The Adventures of Huck Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin have been controversial due to the amount of derogatory race-relate worlds and cruelty towards African Americans. These are just two books that have been banned in the past, but are now available and just marked up as some of the books that “aren’t with the times” and dated. There are many more books that have been banned just in the United States that make a person roll their eyes.

Many countries outside of the United States, even ones as progressive, are still banning or taking books out of circulation. Books like American Psycho have been classified as demeaning to women and violent. American Psycho is still banned in Queensland, Australia. The Anarchist Cookbook gives how-to’s on how to build bombs and make drugs. This book (for obvious reasons) is still banned in Australia and the U.K. Many others are on this list of banned books, and there are still books in the United States still being controversial. A Texas high school banned simple, everyday books that a college kid like myself actually owns. In fact, if I had been able or even prompted to read some of the more mature books, it could have helped me mature faster and open my mind to a different thought process. The Art of Racing in the Rain was removed from the high school’s library shelves for one scene with sexual content. High school students know about sex. Reading a story that has a scene about consenting adults should not be condemned, in fact, it SHOULD be brought to attention. With the amount of crime and widely accepted or ignored violence in the world right now, a book like this is harmless.

 

Who makes these arguments to rid their world of these books? Why do they get a say? As an avid reader, having read several of these “banned books,” I thrive on the knowledge and understanding I get once I read a book. People want to know. There is never enough information about any topic. The world wants to know more, but it has become apparent that there are governments, activists, conservatives, and people who have just plain radical thoughts… basically people from all spectrums… who want others to see their sides. They fear people who have different ideas, and thoughts, and the ones who can persuade others to open up their eyes and have an imagination take a lot of heat.

 

It’s understandable that certain governments might not want a “How to cook up drugs and bombs” book circulating, but many governments, including South Korea, ban books that have potential to inform its audience of sketchier instances within its own boundaries. Other books that are included on the list of banned, disapproval, and ones that have been limited on publishing and circulation are ones that have characteristics such as being very progressive and forward thinking, revealing a pitfall of a government, group, or a major scandal of some sort. Mysteries, such as The DaVinci Code, thrillers, classics, and informative texts have all had their turn in being banned. Even in places like France, there have been books banned. Classic books, by Voltaire, have been banned.

 

We live in a world that is very dependent on “the system.” We trust our governments and our legislature because it’s easier, we don’t think we’ll get anywhere if we do speak our minds, and we’re scared of being the one to stand out. With public shaming being very apparent with the help of the internet, someone always watching your every move. This is something that everyone fears, for example, who’s reading my blog post right now? This relates to the banning of books. People (specifically the authors and the ones they influence) are speaking their minds in their books. They’re stating facts, opinions, stories, and people are listening or reading them. It creates ideas, movements. And ultimately, that is a universal concern. People fear ideas that are different from their own.

Coping in Bhutan

While sitting in my room, sick as can be, facetiously thinking, “I feel like I’m dying” I started contemplating death. Death, in general, is an uneasy topic for most. It brings up sad memories or is associated with the fear of the unknown. However, this is one aspect all people, regardless of their beliefs, have in common. We all will die. Most of us go through life without thinking of our demise from day to day. The thought of our death is usually only upon tragic incidents. While it may seem distorted to talk of how we will die or what we would like to happen after we leave this life, in Bhutan this is the norm. Ironically life in Bhutan has a lot of focus on death.  Addressing their death produces happiness, less stress, and a fuller spiritual path.

Arial view of Bhutan's capital, Thimphu.

Aerial view of Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu.

The Bhutanese people’s ‘secret to happiness’ is to incorporate the meditation of death into each day. CNN’s Eric Weiner spoke to many people on his recent visit to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, and found death was not an unspoken fear to any of them. While opening up to a stranger during his travels he mentioned his panic attacks he’d experienced, despite the fact that his life was going particularly well. The kind stranger, Ura, replied with “You need to think about death for five minutes every day… It will cure you.” This statement left Weiner both stunned and intrigued. Ura continued with his advice, “It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you”.  This task of thinking about death each day would seem to send most into a downward depressing spiral, but Ura explains that in Bhutanese culture the thought of death goes hand in hand with happiness and the attainment of a full life.

These prayers flags are found all over Bhutan to represent the lives that have been lost.

These prayers flags are found all over Bhutan to represent the lives that have been lost.

Their acceptance and comfortable nature with death allows them to live a less nerve-racking and fearful life. While expected to think of death five different times a day, the Bhutanese people work on the their acceptance and readiness for death. A University of Kentucky study in 2007 found that, “death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts”. This reaffirms Ura’s message that the recognition of death is a necessary part of having the ability to live a whole life.

The psychological cost of not expressing things we fear can take atoll on the satisfaction we have within our lives. The teaching of thinking about your fears so much until they no longer are a fear is a process that differs from our western lifestyle. Western civilization centers on success as a key to happiness. This success typically pertains to one’s career and the strides they take to rise up.

Massive Buddha Dordenma statue found in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Massive Buddha Dordenma statue found in Thimphu, Bhutan.

In eastern cultures it has been observed that success is rooted in spirituality, personal happiness, and mental wholeness of the person. This is evident in Buddhism, which is a prevalent religion in Bhutan, where death is not the end of the spiritual life of the person, but it is the end of the body. This belief gives comfort to Buddhists who lose loved ones or are near death themselves.

In recent news a tragic earthquake has struck Bhutan’s neighboring country, Nepal, has produced a large death toll.  This earthquake was a 7.8 on the Richter scale resulting in casualty count surpassing 4,800 .

Map showing Nepal and it's proximity to Bhutan.

A map showing Nepal and it’s proximity to Bhutan.

Their lifetime of meditation practices helps them prepare for unexpected sorrow like this.  The belief in an afterlife provides an explanation of death and also a meaning to life. Meditation every single day makes passing on seem less devastating.

Life in Bhutan and in other eastern cultures’ daily meditation leads to very happy lives for its locals. This practice could teach westerners that the mere thought of our departure can make the anticipation involve less fright and leave room for more joy.

Loving Venice to Death

When we think of Venice we think of riding down the Grand Canal atop a gondola while sipping wine and listening to a gondolier sing. Though this experience is still plausible, the cherished gem of Italy, with its rich history, exquisite art, and many attractions, is sinking. This city has been on the top of many travelers’ list of where to touch down abroad. Due to the rising sea level Venice is a wonder that is slowly slipping out of our hands, and therefore the rising interest to see the city before its too late is alluring to most.  Venetians are slowly leaving their homes due to the fact that what they once called home has changed so much.  Granted time will tell as to when the city submerges, Venice continues to take a beating with high tide and a growing tourism scene.

An arial view of Venice, Italy.

An aerial view of Venice, Italy.

The city is sinking approximately 0.08 inches each year and because of the progressive sinking, Project Mose was put into play.  Starting back in 1982, after the massive flood of 1966, the plans and implementation have been drawn out. Consorzio Venezia Nuova (CVN), Venice’s best-known construction company took on the job.

Gates will be built at each entrance to the lagoon.

The gates will be built at each sea entrance to the lagoon.

This project is a multi-billion underwater floodgate system installed to keep Venice afloat for as long as possible. The gates create a barrier that will help with the annual flooding by blocking the Adriatic Sea from entering the lagoon.  With the help of a pressure system the gates will rise to block the high sea level from flooding Venice.  This ambitious construction will cost upwards of $7 billion dollars and should be completed by 2016.

There was a skeptical halt to funding for the project to save Venice in June 2014.  Mayor, Giorgio Orsoni was arrested for accepting money for his personal political campaign from CVN. Corruption and money laundering made donors hesitant to help the submerged city. “It is a tragedy of epic proportions” expressed by the former chairwoman of Venice in Peril, a donating charity to Project Mose. Project Mose will continue, though it’s controversial and heart breaking that people would do that to their own city.  The high tide has driven some Venetians out of the city, but most stay because it’s been home for so long. This contraption should aide to the citizens’ protection and the survival of their properties. Venice is slipping away more than just physically, but culturally.

The crowds of tourists in Venice, Italy.

The crowds of tourists in Venice, Italy.

Another form of aide that is needed in order for Venetians to stay in their city and that is tourism control.  Tourist season in most vacation spots is dreadful to locals, but it is beneficial for the economy and the merchants. This increase in tourism would seem valuable for Venice’s citizens by creating a boom in the spending in the city.  The current typical tourists usually take day trips, and after the day is out they board back on the cruise ship. Even though they don’t stay long, when the cruise ships unload, the tourists engulf the city.  The tourism scene certainly brings in money, but it has taken over residential areas. Venetians are slowly leaving the city because their former streets of unique artisan shops are now filled with products geared toward the visitors.  Merchants change their product to appeal to the customer, which happens to be a mainly visitors.  According to Travel, “Since 2002, the number of Venetian properties dedicated to tourist lodging has increased by 450 percent.”  This rise in tourist lodging causes the price of residential properties to soar driving Venetians to the main land.  The residents are outnumbered by the tourist population

Venice is disappearing from what it once was. Venice being the top of the list for many travelers has sent the city into a downward spiral of change. The tide is rising along with the tourist count leading this cultural change to take the charm of Venice out of Venice.

Un-Belize-able!

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View from our hotel, Kanantik

When the country “Belize” comes to mind, many Americans are surprisingly unaware of what this country has to offer. When I visited in January of 2013, I had no idea what to expect. I thought to myself, “Great, another country where everyone will make jokes about me in Spanish right in front of me.” I was wrong. Belize is the only country in Central America whose official language is English. Spanish and Belizean Creole are also spoken, however everyone knows, and speaks, English. Being only a quick two-hour flight from Miami, Florida makes Belize even more appealing to tourists.

Anyone flying into Belize must fly into Belize City.  From there, smaller aircrafts will take you elsewhere.  My family traveled to the Placencia Peninsula, which is only about a 45 minute plane ride from Belize City.  Once we landed, we got a bus ride to our hotel, Kanantik.

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The best beer Belize had to offer!

The next morning we rented bicycles to sightsee in Placencia.  The city of Placencia is about a twelve mile stretch, so a bicycle is all you need to go from place to place.  We quickly learned that dogs wandering around the streets was normal (and sad – a lot of them had fleas), the locals would stare (mainly because I was the only person in that twelve mile stretch with blonde hair), and the temperature would not get below 85 degrees (luckily we had Belizean beer to cool us down).  Nonetheless, we were also told that many celebrities vacation down to Belize quite frequently, such as Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lawrence, and Tiger Woods.  Finally, after a long day of sightseeing, we headed back to our hotel for dinner!  Belize is a tropical place where you can relax in your cabana, lay on the beach, eat, and drink.  However, there are also plenty of activities to do, such as zip-line, horseback ride, snorkel, scuba dive, shop, and go cave tubing.  Although we did not do all of those activities, the ones that we did is what made the experience at Belize so amazing.

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Groups in front of us carrying tubes to the caves

The next day we took an hour and a half bus ride to Nehoch Che’en National Park, also known as Caves Branch Outpost.  This area is in between Belize District and Belmopan, which is the capital city of Belize. Here, we were going cave tubbing for the day.  I really didn’t know what to expect when going cave tubbing.  “So do we just sit on a tube while floating in a cave for 5 hours?” is what I thought to myself the entire hilly and bumpy bus ride to the National Park.  Once again, I was wrong.  After carrying our tubes for about a mile to the entrance (that was the worst part!), we placed our tubes in the water, adjusted our life jackets, turned on the flashlights on our helmets, and got in the water.  The guide had a rope around all of our tubes and he was in charge of pulling us the entire way through the caves.  The excursion lasted about two hours, which was more than enough time for us.  We did learn a lot about the caves and we saw bats inside of them as well as the beauty surrounding the caves.  Although our adventure did not stop there, cave tubbing was a memorable experience and one that I would definitely do again.

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View from inside the cave

I begged my sister and my dad to go zip-lining with me, because who wouldn’t want to zip-line at a National Park in Belize?  After much persuasion, my sister decided to go.  After getting our harnesses adjusted, the instructors told us how to zip-line properly.  We did ten different rounds, each going higher every time.  Zip-lining definitely made the entire experience. Even though it was my first time zip-lining, it is definitely not my last!

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Picture of the Blue Hole

Although these are just a few of the activities that we did while exploring Belize, I definitely recommend doing it all. If I were certified (and had more time) my family and I would have gone to the  Blue Hole of Belize.  Not only is it a top attraction in Belize, but it is a world class destination for diving.  The Discovery Channel even ranked the Great Blue Hole as number one on its list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth.”

The whole point of traveling is to explore different parts of the world, so why not try it all?  Belize is an “Un-Belize-able” place to visit.  Although we never stayed long enough in Belize to visit Belize City, many people do.  With the average yearly temperature being 84 degrees, it is considered a retirement haven for many adults.  Belize is also known as “the Hidden Jewel of the Caribbean” because many people are unfamiliar with this country.  I know that I will be back to visit, so if you ever have time, take the quick two-hour flight from Miami to explore this beautiful “Hidden Jewel” of a country.

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Sightseeing in Belize

 


 

Foreign and domestic: similarities and differences between video game blogs across the world

While reading both American and foreign blogs about video games over the last few months, I’ve realized there are some distinct differences in how they are written, but they also have many similarities. In this blog post, I’m going to take a look at what distinguishes and connects blogs from across the world.

In order to look at these differences, one first has to look at how the blogs are published. Both blogs from the U.S. and blogs from other countries have multiple ways in which they reach audiences. The first is through the bloggers’s own website, in which they’re the only one who writes and they’re really the only reason to visit the site. This seems to be a popular way to blog in both the U.S and other countries, but the blogs I came across like this seem to get more attention in other countries compared to similar blogs in the U.S. For example, “Sun Rising Blog,” a Japanese blog dedicated to video games and anime, gets comments on many of the articles posted by the only writer, Michael Vincent. Comparable U.S. blogs receive comments sometimes, but it doesn’t appear to be as often as “Sun Rising Blog.” Perhaps this is due to the oversaturation of U.S. centric blogs, that is to say that people wanting to read about games in the U.S. have more places to look to find gaming news they care about. This spreads the consumer base out, leaving many blogs with few readers. People in other countries may have fewer options of what to read when they decide to go search for blogs about their passion, and so the blogs which do exist garner more attention and thus more comments.

When one looks further than one-person websites, however, the amount of community interaction increases drastically both in the U.S and other countries. All around the world there are larger websites which host writings by bloggers, giving the writers a larger audience and the websites which host them more pageviews. Blogs which are featured on sites like these can get hundreds of comments, as opposed to rarely ever making it into the double digits of comments on self-hosted blogs. There are, however, some differences in who hosts these blogs. In the U.S., these blogs are hosted either on sites dedicated to hosting people’s video game blogs, such as Kotaku, or in a section of a dedicated video game news website, such as IGN’s blogs section. In other countries I managed to find video game blog sections on mainstream news websites, such as The Guardians’s video game blogs section. Despite having not been posted to in about a year, The Guardian had something I couldn’t find on similar U.S. websites.

One effect these differing strategies have is the ability for blogs to make it to a mainstream audience. In both cases, they don’t seem to be able to, but in the U.S. people seem to have to go less out of their way to stumble across a blog post. For example, to see a blog about video games on The Guardian’s site, one has to specifically go to the video game blogs section, something which isn’t too easy to accidentally stumble across. Kotaku, on the other hand, is made up entirely of blogs, making it easy for people who go to the website to find them. IGN often features well written blogs on their front page, so consumers of their content also can often stumble across community blogs instead of professionally written articles. While this may make it seem like video game blogging content is easier to find for a normal person in the U.S. (that is, someone who doesn’t typically consume video game news), people in the U.S. would still have to consciously go to IGN or Kotaku to find that content, meaning it seems to be just as unlikely to pop up in everyday life in the U.S. as it is in other countries.

Other countries seem to also have “regular” blogs which feature games in some of their posts. That is to say that instead of the entire blog being about video games, just one or a few posts on the blog are about video games. For example, “Ask a Korean,” a blog about all things within Korean culture, has had a couple of posts dedicated to video games (namely, StarCraft and Homefront), and a few other posts have mentioned gaming or games within them, but the blog itself is not centered around video games. In my search of video game blogs, I did not come across any instances like this in American blogs.

It’s been an interesting few months following blogs from foreign countries I may have never even heard of if not for this class. Seeing just how similar gamers are no matter where they come from creates the feeling of a tight-knit community spanning the planet.

The Prison Labor Marketplace

The United States currently imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Since the 1980’s and the beginning of the war on drugs, the prison population quadrupled to 2.3 million in 2008 – and 1.57 million in 2013. When we look for the cause of such a vast escalation, we examine our laws. However, despite the rising population, the goal of this post will not be to discuss ‘how they got there’, instead we will examine what they do once they are incarcerated.

When a man is sent to prison it is an attempt on the part of society to punish and reform. The mission statement of the Bureau of Prisons reads: “It is the mission of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.” These words paint a picture of a hierarchical, organized effort towards the responsible and just operation of penal facilities which incorporates reasonable, medical care, and a means of self-improvement. However, as we will see, prisons have violated this ethos in various ways.

Prison labor, a concept born of the brutish practice of slavery, has morphed in modern society and entangled itself within multiple facets of American life including politics, local and national business. Prisons are companies and their products are the human convicts. They sell the labor of prisoners with a deep discount to wages, a labor force that cannot organize against management and continually adds to its numbers. By making the labor available for sale, this practice creates incentives for lawmakers and business owners to construct a system in which maximum penalties are enforced for minor offenses. This aim resulted in the proliferation of ‘mandatory minimums’ when it came to minor drug possession charges. The penalties for crack cocaine are far more punitive than those for cocaine powder.

There are additional benefits for sourcing labor solely from inmates; for instance, companies also save on extraneous labor costs by their inability to organize labor unions and demand better conditions and wages. They are seen both by the company and the public as condemned and it is difficult to overcome their apathy when attempting to address prisoner concerns. A prisoner is perceived to ‘deserve it’ for the crimes they committed. So in addition to the years for which they are incarcerated, a convict is now harnessed with the yolk of local and corporate economic growth.

There are also numerous side businesses that are born when prisons begin to privatize. Prisons require food, cleaning supplies, and electricity. In a particularly upsetting case, Philadelphia-based firm Aramark Correctional Services was accused multiple times of underfeeding inmates with maggot-infested food. This must be considered a massive failure to provide even the most basic human rights to incarcerated American citizens. While the egregiousness of each case varies, the fact that this company’s contract was renewed shows a clear lack of public outcry – and thus, little force for change. It is likely that other organizations such as this will continue to operate outside of the public view.

The scale of the production output is staggering in numbers and variety. “…the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.” Private prisons have also become a much larger part of the penal system. “Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.”

Now that we have a more complete image of the implications of prison labor, what are the questions we should be asking? Is it acceptable to punish people with longer sentences for crimes, burden them with producing and assembling a large portion of military and civilian goods, and allow companies to profit greatly from their largely discounted labor? In terms of public perception, we once again run into the apathy problem. However, if we were to discuss this only in the context of the ideal, then life in a prison would alter immensely. The long-held moral of Western civilization which states ‘that it is reprehensible to profit from the trade of human lives’ is at the core of the argument against slavery. Since the incarcerated are serving a sentence, their lives are in the hands of the state – or more accurately, the companies which the state hires. Thus, prisoners lose the element of choice in their actions, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

I think it’s easy for the public to simply write-off this section of society as inconsequential. Politicians are fixed in their punitive positions, as altering that stance would label them “soft on crime” and lose elections. The results speak for themselves in this case. But whether we are a nation of ideologues or calculating pragmatists, Americans must take it upon themselves to conduct the informed debate upon these issues.

Bernin’ it Down, Swiss Style

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City of Bern (personal photo).

Let me take you to our time in Switzerland, the most naturally beautiful country of the 9 we visited (albeit with some tough competition). We were lucky enough to experience two cities in the magnificent, and frankly almost unrealistically majestic landscape populated by the Swiss. Our first stop was the capital, Bern. Throughout our trip, we tried to find the “off the beaten path” activities and places, even in the bigger cities. There was nowhere else where we succeeded in that more than Bern. Staying with Airbnb hosts made this considerably easier for us; to experience the city more like locals than tourists.

We stayed about a five minute train ride from the main Bern train station, and considering the relatively small size of the capital, from there it was no further than a fifteen to twenty minute walk to anywhere we wanted to go. We made it there in late June, and even during that time, it reminds you of a picturesque winter wonderland, minus the snow. The buildings are reminiscent of what I would picture the North Pole to be, very robust, stone and brick construction, with elegant features including spires, clock towers, and pillars, and a river snaking through the stunning architecture; the Aare.

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Astronomic clock tower, downtown Bern (personal photo)

It took us about a day to get a really good feel of the city, all while trying the infamous chocolate and cheese (highly recommended). It was jacket weather about the whole time we were there, except the second day. And we jumped on that opportunity… To take a step back, on the nicer, hotter days of late summer it is a popular activity for the residents of Bern to swim in the crystal clear, and magnificently colored Aare River (pictured below). Now, considering that it is composed of melt from the Alps, it is easy to imagine the frigid temperature of the water that so appealingly invites you. Of course, on a hot day, this freezing water would be as refreshing as imaginable, but it was not one of those days, and we had no idea how cold it really got, all we could focus on was experience, and all in all, it was absolutely worth every second. There are entrances that line the calmer, swim-worthy stretch, but we decided that was too easy, and found a bridge, and there is no easing your way in off of a bridge… The shock was breathtaking, quite literally. When we re-broke the surface, we were gasping for air, and for a moment fearing we had made a big mistake. Normally, your body adjusts to the surrounding of a cold temperature, but not at this level. We floated until we got to the nearest exit, maybe 100-200 yards from the bridge, laughing in both anguish and joy, the whole way.

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Aare River, from an overlook (personal photo). Bridge from which we jumped.

The rest of our time there was spent walking to the further outskirts of the city, admiring architecture, and hiking a beautiful but long way to a viewpoint from which we could see the entire city, topped off with a rainbow to reward our efforts.

Our final stop in Switzerland was to a mountain town called Gimmelwald, nestled neatly in the Swiss Alps. Not to be confused with the popular Grindelwald resort town, Gimmelwald ended up a hidden gem, and an absolutely gorgeous, isolated two cable car ride from the base city, where we both wish we could have stayed for an entire six-week stretch. With a population of just over 100 people, not much exists in the town outside of its residents, but one hotel, and one hostel. To buy groceries, it takes another five-minute cable car ride to the next town, suspended over a seemingly infinite drop, but an even more beautiful view of the all encompassing cage of the Alps, shielding us from the outside world.

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Via Ferrata trail, Gimmelwald, Switzerland.

Activities there were exclusively hiking; wasting time doing anything else in that area is an inexcusable waste of beauty and time. The highlighted hike of our stopover was a three and a half hour trek of which I could write an entire post. To keep it short and sweet, it was by far the most steep of any hike I have ever experience, and being from Oregon, I have done my fair share of the activity. We began at an elevation of 1,638m from the town of Mürren, to the cable car station of Birg, mapped at 2,677m, and when we narrowly made the car down to the shop from which we rented our boots, both the operator and the shop owner were astounded that we had tackled the high-difficulty trail (much higher than we anticipated) at all based on our lack of experience in the Swiss Alps, let alone the time in which we finished. To say the least we felt quite accomplished, and went on to Italy with an extra load of pride in our packs.

Kimchijeon: Korean Kimchi Pancakes

Kimchi, pronounced kim-chee, is a traditional fermented Korean vegetable side dish. It is served at almost every Korean restaurant and made in almost every Korean household. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi but it is most commonly made using cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as the main ingredient. Cabbage is the most popular kind of kimchi. People may use kimchi as just a side dish to eat with rice or they may incorporate it into other main dishes like kimchi jjigae (kimchi soup) or the dish I am writing about today, kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes).

In Korea they have different types of pajeon, or Korean pancakes. I’m writing about kimchi pancakes but they have other pancakes that are more popular like vegetable pancakes or seafood pancakes. The pancake shops are busiest on rainy days as Koreans love to eat pajeon and drink makgoulli (milky Korean rice wine) when it rains. Why is that? According to my dad who grew up in Korea, you have to look at the history of the poor farmers in Korea. He says that when it rained, farmers couldn’t work so they would spend the day inside. Making pajeon was cheap, easy, and everyone could eat it together. They paired it with makgoulli because it was also very cheap to make and everyone made their own and had some on hand. Nowadays, people like pajeon on rainy days because it’s comfort food and cheers them up on a gloomy day. Others may provide a more scientific explanation. No matter the explanation, it’s been raining a lot lately, I’m craving Korean pancakes, so let’s get to it!

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Kimchijeon

Makes 1 large pancake

1 cup finely chopped kimchi (you should be able to find kimchi at your local Asian grocery store)

3 Tbs kimchi juice

2 Tbs chopped onions

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water

Vegetable oil

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This recipe is pretty simple. Just put everything listed above, minus the vegetable oil, into a medium sized bowl and mix well.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet, I used a 12 inch skillet, over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, pour all the contents of the bowl onto the skillet and spread evenly into a nice, big circle. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom turns crispy, and then flip it to the other side.

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Reduce the heat to medium and cook this side for about 2 minutes. You’ll also want to use your spatula and press down on the pancake every now and then. If you don’t think the other side is getting crunchy and you notice that there isn’t any oil left, you might want to add another tablespoon to help get that crunchy texture. Flip it back to the other side for another minute and then it’s done!

IMG_0738IMG_0739Cut it up and now it’s ready to be shared! Enjoy!

BRITISH ROCK CONTINUES TO INVADE

Starting in the early 1960’s, the British Invasion swept America with rock and roll. Beginning with the Beatles and Rolling Stones, British rock has dominated the States. While the British Invasion is commonly recognized as taking place in the 60’s, time has proven that Brit Rock has never truly left. Rock n’ roll from across the waters has shown to still be alive and well as English rockers continue to sweep the country with newly found artists as well as pre-existing rock phenomenon’s. With new groups such as the Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, and countless others, England has proven that the British Invasion has never truly never left. England has been able to capture the youth of America with their rebellious, adolescent rock tunes.

 

The Beatles enter America

The Beatles enter America

 

Earlier last week, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s, The Rolling Stones, announced a 15 date massive stadium Zip Code Tour across North America consisting of mainly U.S. dates, as well as select Canada and Mexico dates. The tour will hit enormous stadiums such as Arrowhead Stadium, LP field, Heinz Field as well as many others. This marks the first U.S. Rolling Stones tour since their 2005-2007 A Bigger Bang Tour. With over 50 years of success, British rock group, The Rolling Stones have swept America off its feet and taken the country by storm. Along with The Rolling Stones continuing their reign over the world, Paul McCartney has also been making his rounds with headlining acts of major music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Firefly Music and Arts festival this year.

 

Rolling Stones TOur

 

Along with rock classics such as The Stones, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, British rock has also stayed strong in the 2000’s into the current years, with acts such as Muse, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay, and countless others dominating the airwaves and gathering fans in the masses. In addition to these gigantic acts, newer British rock groups have begun to take over the alternative rock airwaves. These new acts include the Arctic Monkeys and The 1975 who have struck the hearts of the younger generation and especially hitting home with college-aged students.

 

A relatively new rock group, The Arctic Monkeys has taken the world by storm in what felt like an overnight process. I have been lucky enough to see this young group of musicians live in concert twice and have been able to first-hand experience what all the hype is about. In the past year the rock group has filled slots in humongous music festivals including their headlining stage spot at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, as well as shows including festivals, Bonnaroo, Loufest and many others. In addition to playing these large music festivals, the group also went on an extensive tour across the States selling out nearly all of the dates including a local show at the Blue Note as well as the Pageant in St. Louis. With the lead singer, Alex Turner, portraying the pure image of punk rock with the slicked back hair, skinny jeans, and leather jacket, use of cigarettes, and way with the guitar he is able to capture the attention of the defiant youth.

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Arctic Monkeys rock thousands of fans at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

With all of the new British rock groups making their rounds in America, they have proven that the famous British Invasion has never truly left. Rockers from this country have continued to show that they are in fact here to stay and will not be disappearing anytime soon.

Studying Journalism in the US vs in Germany

Visiting the MDR TV station Source: Maria Koehler

Visiting the MDR TV station Source: Maria Koehler

The path to a journalism degree seems obvious: choose a college, declare journalism as your major, graduate, accept a job in the field. Simple. I always figured this process was consistent around world. When I studied abroad in Leipzig, Germany last summer, I learned that this is definitely not the case.

In Germany, journalism is usually studied in graduate school – at least as of last summer. We visited with students and professors at the University of Leipzig’s journalism school, and learned that a prime potential German journalism student spends her undergraduate years specializing in a different topic. In other words, a journalism degree is more like the icing on the cake, as opposed to the cake itself like at the Missouri School of Journalism. Obviously, it’s possible to study journalism exclusively in graduate school in the US as well, but it’s not necessarily the most common path.

We spent some time discussing the two different approaches, and I think there are several pros and cons to each.

The American System

Pros:

  • If a journalism major decides to go to graduate school for journalism as well, they have quite a few years of studying journalism under their belt.
  • It’s possible and common to be a journalist without having to go to graduate school.

Cons:

  • Students aren’t as likely to be an expert in another topic as well, unless they double major or study something different at graduate school.

The German System

Pros:

  • Students are an expert in the topic they have their bachelor’s degree in, so they are prime candidates for certain jobs or stories that involve these.
  • The masters program is three years long, unlike the one additional year it takes MU students to get their masters in journalism, so students are (arguably) more mature once they enter the workplace.

Cons:

  • If they end up in a career where they report about a wide range of topics, their undergraduate degree has (arguably) gone to waste.

Learning about journalism in Germany definitely opened my eyes to a different approach. The Missouri School of Journalism is known for throwing students right in to the newsroom and watching them either sink or swim. This is effective, but could also go horribly wrong. From what I understand, the German approach is almost opposite – less risky, but could also be discouraging for students who are set on being in a newsroom straight out of high school.

 

La Grande Bellezza

I recently watched Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and am in awe. The film is worth seeing, if only for the glamorous scenes of Rome it offers. Read any blog about this film, and you are guaranteed to see overtures to the imagery. I had never had a particular interest in traveling to Rome; after viewing this film, however, Italy just got bumped to the top of my bucket-list.

Many of the reviews of The Great Beauty focus on the film’s similarity to La Dolce Vita. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen La Dolce Vita, but the best explanation I’ve read is: “‘Beauty’ can be read as an update of ‘La Dolce Vita,’ but while it is definitely Fellini-esque, it’s also a crystallization of Sorrentino’s own distinctive style.” Sorrentino’s style certainly is unique: the film’s main character, Jep Gambardella, lives in the heart of Rome, spending his time going to parties and living the kind of life most of us only dream about. Accompanying Jep is a whole list of unique characters, all of whom have what some might call character defects, who live in a contemporary world of decadence.

The film is simultaneously uplifting and sad. On the one hand, the images of Rome are beautiful. These fantastic views are accompanied by a diverse soundtrack; there’s plenty of dance music and classical music, as well as some contemporary pieces. The music contributes greatly to the mood, as is evident during one scene at a roof-top party. Throughout the film, the mood is brought down by a choir singing “The Lamb,” which starts off mellow enough, but by the end, becomes melancholy.

The Great Beauty resonated well with me, largely because of the cynicism and apathy it presents the viewer. Throughout the film, Jep is amazed at the hypocrisy of those around him; so many people think they’re better than the rest, and that they should be praised for their accomplishments. At one point, Jep has heard enough and calmly insults a pompous acquaintance for her hypocrisy, finishing the conversation by stating: “We’re all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little…don’t you agree?”

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http://b-iff.ro/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/la-grande-bellezza.jpg

 

The film also shows how love can affect us. Forty years prior, Jep had been in love with a girl, who he learns has died. The love that Jep lost out on haunts him; it affects his relationships with other women, and thrusts him into deep moments of nostalgic regret. Jep, at age 65 realizes that he has possibly lived a life void of fulfillment, and concludes that he can no longer live his life doing things he isn’t really interested in doing.

The Great Beauty is about viewing life in retrospect and realizing that we’ve made mistakes and need to change the way we live. For Jep, this means turning the page and embarking on a journey that will hopefully bring him fulfillment. I’d highly recommend this film for the scenery alone. Film buffs are sure to enjoy it, given Sorrentino’s unique style of filming, use of color, and music. Fashionistas will undoubtedly enjoy the film; Jep’s bespoke wardrobe should be the envy of any well-dressed man. The women and the clothes they wear, are well, beautiful. What strikes me the most though, is the film’s message: We’re all unhappy, but be nice to one another, and enjoy life’s absurd moments of love, humor, and beauty.

Is It Right to Be Forgotten?

Have you ever wished to take something embarrassing off the internet? Maybe it’s a quote of yours, an article about you, or even unflattering pictures of yourself. In the EU as of last May it is now legal to request certain information to be “Forgotten”. Last year a man named Mario Costeja González won a case against Google which now makes it a search engine’s job to control what search information is displayed. Since then, thousands of requests have been submitted asking google or other search engines to take down unwanted content.

Image Property of PR Week: http://www.prweek.com/article/1303295/public-figures-exploit-right-forgotten-own-peril

Many cases have legitimate reasons behind the requests such as revenge porn,  someone’s political views that are no longer true, or, in Mario Costeja González’s case, results showing misleading information of a person. With every practical case comes many that are downright ridiculous. A man in the Netherlands asked for a picture of himself playing a didgeridoo in a park to be taken down because he thought it was embarrassing (no, amazingly this is not a joke); they actually took it down. Some pedophiles have even requested to have search results of their arrests taken down. Thankfully, these requests were denied.

Image Property of: http://scienceprogress.org/2011/07/the-problems-of-policing-internet-privacy/

It is easy to see how subjective the rulings are on each case. According to Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, “The process is still evolving”. Many people criticize that if it is legal to request to remove information in the EU then why is it not the same in the US or other countries? I see this becoming a growing concern globally considering so many people want certain information to not exist. Facebook has also been getting flack on the security of their default privacy controls. Facebook has been accused of selling information of its users to ad agencies. People are becoming more concerned about how people see them online. Personal branding is a term often used today that describes how you control your image. It is getting harder to do that currently when just about anything can be posted to the internet. So after reading this, take a moment to search your name and hopefully the results are not surprising.