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A Chinese Christmas

A university in China has now banned Christmas to in order to resist what officials call the corrosion of western culture. It is a bit strange to me living in my bubble that Christmas would be viewed as a threat. I grew up in America, and my favorite holiday is Christmas. However, I can see that western influence is increasing throughout the world, and I can see how other people might not view it as being neutral. Western food, music, and thought can be seen spreading to different corners of the world, and it is seeing mixed reactions of acceptance and scorn. China is officially atheist as a state, and few people in China would understand or stress the religious significance and symbolism that follow the holiday season. I understand this university’s effort to remove itself from a western Judeo-Christian tradition, but I do not think this effort will be sufficient to prevent the spread of customs and ideas that are already growing. It will be interesting to see how holidays become less restricted by national borders over time.

Ivory in China

One of my favorite animals is the elephant. Elephants are emotionally intelligent and adorable, and elephant starts with an E just like my name. Elephants have been the target of poaching over the years, and China has now made ivory sales illegal. Ivory has been used in traditional craft making for countless years and has been integrated in China’s culture of prestige and craftsmanship. The trade of carving ivory has been a noble pursuit in which people have trained and specialized. The end of ivory sales means the end of an era of ivory crafting. This is killing a craft but extending a lifeline to elephants who have been targeted for their tusks for both legal and illegal markets. Even former NBA star YaoMing has contributed in this effort to reduce ivory usage in order to protect elephants. Change rarely has solely good results. I feel for the craftsmen who are losing their way of life and an aspect of their culture, but I feel this is a step in the right direction for the sake of saving the elephants.

The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin

My honors college reading group is reading The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin. A few things about this book and about this reading group have stood out to me.

  1. Economic gains and losses are surprisingly concentrated in just a few nations. For example, the first wave of globalization increased wealth for mostly just seven nations.
  2. While a lot of Americans do not think about the fall of the American kingdom, all empires rise and fall. The thought of another replacing America as the world’s sole superpower is intriguing and important.
  3. The physical form of things can have such a huge economic impact. But containerization of goods had an immense effect on the shipping process and enabled greater time and cost efficiency in trade.

Pangea

Pangea is the music group that the OU Confucius Institute hosted in Catlett Music Center. They are the group that scored the music for the beloved children’s movie Kung Fu Panda. I went for a fun evening for my Chinese American friend to listen to a blend of Asian and American music styles. The amazing thing about globalization from a more cultural perspective rather than an economic or political one, is that pathos has a chance to take over the experience and allow you to enjoy new things from a more sensory and emotional standpoint rather than a cold, intellectual one. While I was at the concert, there were instruments that are more western and instruments that are more traditionally Chinese and each song approached this fusion with a slightly different style. Each small decision that was made artistically, whether it be tempo or dynamics, added up to a harmonious cadence. I am really glad that my friend and I went to this concert, and I am glad that OU is able to host events like these that open up our hearts to ideas of globalization with regard to culture.

“The Crisis of Modern Turkey” by Soner Cagaptay

On 9/25/2017, hosted a Teach-In following the theme of the Strength and Fragility of Constitutions. The 2pm session was hosted by Soner Cagaptay and entitled “The Crisis of Modern Turkey.” Cagaptay took the audience through a brief history of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he rose to prominence in 2002 and became president in 2014. Since then, Turkey has been transformed into a state of political crisis. Turkey is one of the most politically polarized nations on the face of the earth. People either believe Turkey was hell before Erdoğan and is now heaven, or was heaven before Erdoğan and is now hell. Oddly enough, 73% of Turkey’s wealth is in the areas that didn’t vote for Erdoğan. It has been suspect that elections have been unfair, which would be the first rigged elections in Turkey’s recent modern history. Cagaptay theorizes that Erdoğan acts largely because of the circumstances of his childhood: his family was a poor, religious family that felt marginalized. Erdoğan has been attempting to shape people in his own image now as a conservative, Middle Eastern, Islamic society. Erdoğan has been locking up dissidents and almost must continue to do so, because if he stops, he will be both persecuted and prosecuted. While of of this political strife is happening Turkey has simultaneously been enjoying a period of economic prosperity. There has been an increase in foreign investment, improvements in infrastructure, and lower levels of infant mortality. So Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have a mixed legacy for his political failings and economic successes. If elections continue to be the means by which Erdoğan is able to maintain power, his reign will end eventually as the people who were raised under his rule are less and less likely to vote for him. Then his legacy can be more fully decided.

One especially intriguing thought is this: Democracies don’t die with a bang. The start of a democracy is clear but the end is so gradual you don’t notice it. One day you wake up and it’s not there. It’s died with a whimper because democracy is so fragile.

Aarhus

Today was my last day in Aarhus.
I can’t believe how time flew by.
I passed with a 7/12 on my final oral examination for Viking Age Scandinavia, and I can honestly say I deserved a 4.
I am so glad that I chose this program over an OU program because it was fun being the only American in my entire class. We had about 45 students, and most of them were Danish. We had two Canadians, two Australians, a Singaporean, and me the American. I was afraid for the first few days that Danes were really closed off like I had heard a few people say and I wouldn’t get to know any of them, because they talked amongst themselves in Danish as soon as we reached a break in lecture. However, a few Danes reached out to the international students and then more and more Danish students were reaching out to us. Danish people are really obsessed with their “hygge” or coziness, and some of them find hygge in reading books by the fire or going out with friends for coffee or beer. What I love most about the Danish people I met was their humor and kindness. They made me feel at home, and I will always have a place for Denmark in my heart.

What I learned in Europe so Far

  • I felt that some French people did not necessarily want to speak English, even if they were able to. They are French, they are in France, and they would rather speak French. Since I was traveling with my parents, we sometimes spoke Chinese. I felt that when we did, people were not as upset that we didn’t speak French but were happy that we at least spoke English.
  • It’s a small world. I talked with some Indian New Zealanders in Paris for about 10 minutes, then three days later I ran into them in London as they were getting on a bus I was leaving.
  • It’s much easier to be present in the moment when you don’t have any cellular data and normally suffer a bit of a snapchat addiction.
  • In David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water,” he says that culture is all around us but we don’t notice it much. I do know that America has a culture and has customs, but I think it is easier to notice them when you experience a culture that is different than America’s. I’ve now realized how enthusiastic, outgoing, and loud us Americans are compared to Danes.
  • Travel is not an itch you can scratch and have it disappear. Traveling to new places makes the desire to travel to even more places burn even brighter.
  • Religion isn’t so much just a religion. Sometimes it’s more of a culture. I’ve met Catholics who never attend mass and don’t believe in hell. I’ve met Lutherans who don’t believe in God. There are barely any Mormons in Aarhus, and I suspect that a part of that is because how irreligious most people are, but many people religiously smoke and drink. The tour guide in Copenhagen said people drank an average of 80 liters per year there.
  • I thought I was different in Oklahoma since there are not  many Chinese people. But in my class here in Aarhus, I am the only American. I am one of two STEM students. (The other one is an engineering student from Singapore, and was the only other Asian funnily enough.) Most people there are Danish, blonde, and study prehistoric archeology. One Dane kindly pointed out that there was a Canadian in the class as well, but I am fairly sure that he lives 30  hours away from Oklahoma. I like being the only Chinese, the only pre-med, and the only American. It helped me feel how the United States really is only 5% of the world’s population. It’s hard to realize that when I’ve grown up in the US my whole life.

Cost of American University for International Students

In English Composition II, we have to write four papers over a societal issue. I have two classmates who are writing about the high cost of tuition for international students in American universities. I have read at least one paper from both of them. Both students were good at explaining how international have to pay more in tuition and fees and have fewer opportunities to work since they are not American citizens. Both were good at showing the reader how international face additional struggles. International students can be homesick, they don’t always have a strong support system, they can face culture shock, and often they are taking university level courses in their second or third language. However, something that bothered me about both of my classmates’ projects is that they don’t provide any solutions. They both call for more compassionate treatment towards international students by lowering education costs. But I fail to see how we will do this. International students disproportionately study business and STEM, which is beneficial for the United States as we are in a STEM major shortage as our economy rapidly shifts. However, why would the government or schools want to lower the cost of education for international students? What incentive do they have? The stereotype is that international students have a lot of money from their parents, and many don’t; however, there will always be countless international students whose parents can afford American education. There will also always be international students whose parents cannot really afford American education, but sacrifice everything anyways for their child to receive their education. College is a business, and international students are a good demographic for charging a lot a money. What would have to change to make the lives of international students easier?

Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

Our second book that we read in our reading group was Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye. In this book, we follow 14-year-old Liyana on her move from St. Louis, Missouri to Palestine. What stood out to me the most from this book was the feeling of going to a new place that you don’t exactly belong to. Liyana’s father is a native Palestinian who moved to the states for medical school, but Liyana spent her whole life in the United States. When she moved overseas, she had her mom, her dad, and her brother, but she did not adjust well when she first arrived. She did not understand the cultural differences and wanted to continue interacting with the world the same way she had her entire life.

When I was seven, my parents told me we were going to China to visit for five weeks. I had never been to China before, and I did not fluently speak Chinese. Remembering the culture shock I experienced in China, I can relate to Liyana’s move. Something that Liyana conveyed in a truthful and real way was that when you’re traveling with a few people who share your worldview, traveling isn’t as lonely compared to being the only one who shares your same approach to life.

Liyana felt like she did not know this version of her father, who now followed the social norms of Palestine fairly closely at times. Relating this back to personality psychology, this brings up the old question: what makes a person’s personality their personality? Personality is not always stable across time and across situations, so maybe people have exactly have a set personality, but rather an ability to adapt to different situations. I would consider this as something good that can come of out traveling: just learning how to adapt to different situations and cultures.

Chinese New Year

I attended the Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the Chinese Language Club. Instead of just practicing how to say different Chinese foods as I do in Chinese class, I got to eat the food. The variety of dishes included dumplings, sticky rice balls, eggs with tomatoes, and eggplant. I was reminded of how much our senses of taste and smell are linked to memory. While eating the food, I remembered eating authentic Chinese food back in my home in Bartlesville and even growing up in Ohio. The room was filled with chatter, some in English and some in Chinese. Students and adults alike were playing Chinese chess. The intoxicating smells of the dishes came together in this glorious olfactory symphony.

 

Good food reminds me of good times and I am grateful that OU provided me a way to experience this good food to remind me of home. It also makes me look forward to eating yummy food when I go to China next spring.

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