Brooke Goes Global: My final stop, Brazil!

November 27, 2018

Here I am, in São Paulo, Brazil.  The last country of our trip.  The final destination.  The official end to our program.  Yet, there is still so much to do, so much to learn, and so much to experience.  

Our group recently arrived back from our rural stay at a Quilombo and an Agroforest.  Quilombos are communities originally formed by escaped slaves.  These brave individuals ran from enslavement and found refuge in the mountains of Brazil.  In time, their practices of agriculture have been passed down from generation to generation.  Today, the Quilombo of Ribeirão Grande in Terra Seca fights for its right to stay.  The area they are cultivating is a protected area of the forest; there is to be no interference by humans at all.  But the people of the Quilombo have been living on this land for more than 200 years.  And they have farmed this land for just as long.  In the last 10 years, they had to prove their culture and their history to the government, so that they could remain in their homes.  This community is incredibly strong and courageous to fight a powerful force, the Brazilian government, and stand up for what is rightfully theirs.  

Visiting the Quilombo was fascinating.  We saw how their farming techniques did not interrupt the flow of the natural plants and forest.  Instead, they complimented each other as crops and trees simultaneously grew side by side.  We walked through the Atlantic Rainforest as the owner of the land showed us her medicinal plants she uses for stomach aches, stress, and headaches.  She pointed to a fruit tree and picked a small peach off its branches for each person in our group.  The cultivating and farming of the Quilombo does not disrupt the natural flow of nature.  It sustains the community’s life while simultaneously complimenting nature.  

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This was the wonderful meal the people of the Quilombo made for us.  They have this amazing business endeavor that involves selling their crops in the city and, in exchange, they have their customers come visit their home in the mountains, so they can see where their food is coming from.

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The stream that cuts through their property is a source of recreation and fun for the children of the community.

Next we traveled to the Agroforest of Felipe Moreira.  We jumped off the bus and grabbed our overnight bags.  We continued down a rocky path where our host traveled to us via zipline.  Us students, however, traveled in a much less exhilarating form — by boat, nonetheless still enjoyable.  We all hopped into the boat and crossed the river that would bring us to the place we would call home for the next few days.  

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A maximum of eight people could fit on the boat, so it took a few trips for all 30 of us to make it to our destination.

Over the next few days, we toured hundreds of acres of the Atlantic Rainforest which just happened to have some crops growing it in as well.  Around 20 years ago, the land of thick trees and heavy foliage was nothing more than grassland.  This particular part of the rainforest had been cut down and destroyed for the grazing of Asian Buffalo.  Nonetheless, in just a couple years, this family was able to completely change the outcome of this part of the forest — with the help of agroforestry.  Agroforestry is the combination of agriculture while also preserving the natural trees and plants that already exist in the area.  With a little help from the humans, and a lot of resilience, this particular part of the Atlantic Rainforest was able to bounce back.  

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Our second day of the trip, we were taken to the top of their property where we could take in the beautiful scenery of the nearby mountains.

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A few steps from the rooms we all stayed in was this beautiful pool that overlooked their property.

 

I was in a small group of students that chose to go deep into the trees to discover all that nature was willing to share.  I was full of nothing less than excitement to hear of the farmer’s agroforestry techniques that sustain his, his families’, and nature’s life.  Agroforestry demands that a diverse set of crops be spread out throughout a large space of land.  This is in contrast to mass factory farming that cultivates one type of plant over acres of land.  The diversity of plants in the forest keeps the soil fertile.  Additionally, when trees and plants need to be cut down to allow sunlight to shine through or room is needed for the cultivation of new plants, the cut plants are left on the forest floor.  This keeps the moisture in the soil so that the crops do not have to be watered.  This particular technique also acts as a natural pesticide.  Bugs lay their eggs in the dead plants on the ground because it’s easier than laying them in living plants growing high above the ground.  However, the eggs don’t survive in a dead plant on the ground.  Hence, very few problems with insects arise in agroforestry.  

The farmer, Damiel, proudly showed us his ample crops scattered throughout the forest.  He had a smile on his face as he cut down a heart of palm tree with two slices of his machete, and then slicing it thinly for all of us to try.  Stomping through the tall grasses, he showed us his pineapple plants.  And reaching high in the sky to get to his berry tree, he grabbed some for us all to try.  We all trampled back to class from the forest with a long sugarcane in hand which would later be made into a drink that complimented our fresh, flavorful dinner that night.  

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Their many pineapple plants!

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Banana trees grew everywhere.  This particular species was different from the type of bananas bought at your typical grocery store.  Despite their green color, they were ripe enough to eat and left a sweet taste in your mouth.

We have commoditized and exploited nature. Prioritizing revenue over biodiversity and beauty.  But nature is resilient.  It will bounce back if given the opportunity.  Nature does not need humans.  Humans need nature. 


Bryan (not) in Taipei: Borneo!

November 26, 2018

During an extended weekend in November, I had the chance to visit the island of Borneo. The island is shared by three countries – Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia – and is the third largest island in the world; I visited the Malaysian part in Sabah. This was easily one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been and it taught me a lot about this island’s unique history and fusion of peoples and cultures.

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Sabah City Mosque at dawn.

Though I traveled to the island during rainy season (which is not too different from Taipei’s), I lucked-out with the weather since it only rained the first day and second night I was there, giving me plenty of time to explore the city of Kota Kinabalu and the nearby islands, jungle, river, etc. As soon as I arrived, I realized how great a deal of multiculturalism was present, with a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese, local indigenous, and other groups all present in the city and living together, eating together, and so on and so forth. I also saw the profound Muslim influence in Malaysia, with the Islamic Call to Prayer played publicly multiple times a day, wide array of halal food available in restaurants, and other cultural markers such as dress, though also saw many Catholic churches and other religious representation. Food was a brilliant mix of different cultures and local ingredients. The baozi 包子 I tried in a local Chinese restaurant easily rivaled and in my opinion surpassed those I’ve had in both Northern China and Taiwan.

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A local home located on a hillside in an indigenous village in the jungle, about a 90 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu.

As a student of Linguistics, I was quite impressed by the level of multilingualism on the island. I was told that in Sabah alone there were 72 languages spoken (likely including dialects) and most people living there could speak at least 2-3 languages fluently. At Chinese restaurants and stores, I ordered in Mandarin and no one batted an eye. British historical influence was also quite present. Cars drove on the left side of the road and English was very widely spoken, even among the older generations. Beyond the city, I was also able to travel to the more remote countryside areas of Sabah and see local life and industry. Coffee and tea – two of my favorite things arguably – were both locally grown and quite good. I heard several different opinions on Malaysia’s place in the world and learned of the rivalry between East and West Malaysia.

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Whitewater rafting on the Kiulu River in Sabah.

Borneo seemed to offer it all in terms of things to do, with outdoor activities ranging from snorkeling in the crystal-clear oceans to rafting in the river to hiking in the vast swath of jungle landscape, though it still did not seem overrun by tourists (yet?) or otherwise inauthentic in any way. Malaysia itself is a relatively large country that varies so much from places like Kuala Lumpur to Penang, so any one thing shouldn’t be expected, but this trip offered me a much deeper insight into this cultural melting pot that admittedly I wasn’t fully expecting. In my case, leaving Taiwan helped me see it in a slightly different light upon returning, which is something everyone should keep in mind when studying abroad.

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Zipline from Gaya island to Sapi island, which is the longest island-to-island zipline in the world.

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Public Transportation and Daily Commute

November 8, 2018

Out of almost any city I’ve visited, Taipei has to have one of the best public transportation infrastructures in terms of both efficiency and convenience. While the roads can still get pretty jam-packed with traffic – especially with all of the motorbikes riding around – a significant amount of people in the city rely on public transportation. The city’s metro system, the MRT, is extremely clean and almost never late, running from around 6am to midnight everyday. The highest fare runs no more than $2USD, so it’s very affordable as well. There’s also the public buses, which are even cheaper and still very convenient. Like any city, rush hour means it can get very crowded, though this typically will only last several stops. It continues to amaze me that, even when it’s crowded, many Taiwanese people will leave the ‘priority seats’ open for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant passengers to sit. This is an attitude and level of respect that I’ve seen in several other respects here as well and one that is deeply linked to Confucian tradition. Much like the Japanese, queuing to the right side of the escalator and allowing people to pass on the left is also widely practiced here and lets you move at whatever pace you want. In fact, I’ve noticed that, even though Taipei is a relatively big city, people here are still fairly relaxed and not constantly rushing or jaywalking like in other cities.

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Taipei MRT on the Wenhua Brown Line

My commute to school each day is about 40 minutes depending on traffic. While this may sound like a lot, it is surprisingly pretty manageable given I only have class three days a week due to the 3 hour once-a-week class structure. I have several options for getting there, though I typically choose to ride the bus directly. This costs between $0.50-$1.00USD depending on which bus I take. With no transfers and some time to kill, I often use this time to listen to music, podcasts, or even do some reading, so it passes pretty quickly. I’ve found that the trade-off for living off-campus is living more directly in the city and engaging with the community in a wholly different way than by living in a school dorm. In this apartment, I have a Taiwanese flatmate with whom I practice my Chinese (in fact, he speaks English well but will only answer in Chinese), a friend from Richmond also on semester exchange, and one other roommate from Europe. Our apartment is located conveniently next to a metro stop, so I can reach anywhere in the city in about an hour at most. This has meant exploring the city has been a lot more accessible on weekends, on top of discovering new restaurants, parks, and other places.

Though it certainly wasn’t easy starting off, living like this in Taipei has given me more autonomy and independence than I’ve ever had and has helped me decide what I like most and least about living in a city, my living and spending habits, and other useful information that will teach me a lot after I graduate, too. I’m fortunate enough to have had other experiences abroad where I got to live in both a student apartment and with a host family, so I would say each has its own perks and each gave me different perspectives and insights. I’d encourage anyone studying or traveling abroad for extended periods to look into finding ways to engage with the culture and the community that are somewhat more unorthodox, like taking language/calligraphy/cooking classes and/or finding locals to help you get out of your comfort zone. I think what I’ve realized most of all is any experience like this is completely what you make of it, which is both a heavy responsibility and a fantastic opportunity.

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People ride mopeds/motorbikes like this all over the city. To make it safer for everyone, there are special rules for these riders to follow, but they’ll still often go beside buses and cars trying to pass!

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Expat Community & Elections

November 5, 2018

Dog and Flag

One thing that has surprised me during my time here is the representation of different countries from the expat community. In terms of students at my university, the vast majority of exchange students are from European countries, with the occasional American or Canadian as well. This helps create a different kind of abroad experience where I’m not just surrounded by other Americans, but get a whole range of different perspectives instead. Outside of school, most of the Americans I have met are English teachers and businessmen. The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) – the diplomatic and cultural exchange body of the US in Taiwan – hosted a ‘Town Hall’ event for American citizens staying here, which allowed me to hear from many different kinds of Americans living all over Taiwan. It struck me as quite strange at the time that this was the first time in several months where everyone in the room was American. Even during my other times abroad in the mainland or otherwise, I was always surrounded by a group of Americans from the program or group, so living without that has been eye-opening and has probably given me a more enriching experience overall as well.

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Town Hall hosted by AIT for US citizens at an American school in Taipei

Everyone attending this town hall was also reminded to make sure to vote in the November midterm elections. Though my requested absentee ballot never came by mail, I was able to get a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot from the town hall to mail in and ensure I can still vote in my state. It’s also election season in Taipei, so there are ads and political rallies all over town. The mayor of the city, Ko Wen-je, has recently received a lot of Western press coverage from his music video with a popular Taiwanese rapper (look it up, it’s actually pretty catchy). It’s really interesting seeing how elections pan out somewhere other than your own community/country and seeing people’s passion. This city continues to surprise me with how modern and livable it is – American cities could even learn a thing or two from it.

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Local political rally in front of Taipei City Hall


Brooke Goes Global: My experience as an Asian Woman Abroad

November 4, 2018

“I pick you” shouts a tattered, stranger man from across the street.  I look up to see his scraggly finger pointing in my direction.  He stepped off the opposite curb and began moving towards me.  “But I don’t pick you,” I shouted back.  My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to her.  She said jokingly “sorry, but she’s mine.”  In my blue dress, I continued to walk down the sidewalk with five other girls by my side.  To him, I was nothing more than a body.  The body of a woman he felt justified to sexualize and objectify.

I arrived back to our hostel.  I looked in the mirror and saw my exposed arms and legs in my short, blue dress.  I changed quickly into joggers and a long sleeve tee, an outfit that covered my skin and my feminine curves.  Now, looking back, I hate that I did that.  I hate that I let the sleazy man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of a woman.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

“So where are you from?” asked my tour guide.  “The United States,” I responded.  His face said it all.  My answer was not adequate.  Where was my light skin, my pointy nose, my wide eyes?  “No but where…”, before he could finish I cut in.  “I was adopted from China”.  This answer was satisfactory.  He only stopped when his ethnocentric ideals were proven.  I fit the stereotypical mold of an Asian.  I, however, did not fit the stereotypical mold of an American.  Despite me living in the United States and holding an American passport, he would not accept me as an American.  The tour guide proceeded to take out his phone and show me pictures of himself with Asians.  “This is my brother’s girlfriend from Taiwan.  Isn’t she pretty?”.  In my head, I was taking out my phone and showing him all my photos with white people.  But on the outside I humored the bigot’s microaggression and smiled like the passive woman of color I was expected to be.  Now, looking back, I hate that I didn’t speak up for myself, for Asians, for people of color.  I hate that I let the ignorant man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of an Asian.  Nothing more, nothing less.

In these instances, I felt like the only thing I had to offer the world was my body.  My body that just so happened to be female and Asian.  My mind was of no importance.  My personality was of little interest.  And my opinions, perspectives, and experiences — all irrelevant.  

It’s fascinating and heartbreaking to travel across countries all with the binding construct of a social hierarchy.  The amount of respect, dignity, and humanity you receive is based on your placement on this hierarchy.  You have no control.  You have no influence.  Society has the final judgement, labeling you as a superior, equal, or inferior.  Why is this the accepted norm?  Why is this okay to nations, communities, individuals?  I share my stories to demonstrate how rude acts of ignorance, even if small, perpetuate dehumanization.  

There’s growing popularity of the false notion that the way you dress can, will, and should affect the way you are treated.  As I walked down the streets of Cape Town, my blue dress caught a particular man’s eye.  My blue dress caused distraction and attraction.  My dress allowed him to label me as property.  Property that could be easily chosen and then discarded.  I should be obedient and honored that he would “pick” me.  My dress demoted my human status to object status.  If I hadn’t worn such a “revealing” outfit, I would have been treated as a proper woman.  I wouldn’t have been catcalled.  I wouldn’t have been objectified.  As the woman, I am the one to accept the blame.  It is my job to behave within the standards of appropriateness and sophistication.  This idea is ridiculous.  Clothing is not the perpetrator.  My actions, as a woman, should not be dictated by the limited self-control of a man.  Patriarchy and misogyny is excused while women are blamed — while I am blamed.

My program, thankfully, is not short on feminist women and their allies.  I have ample support from intelligent, creative, beautiful women with different perspectives across limitless topics.  Nonetheless, my support falls short in the area of race.  In a group of 25 students, over half of them are people of color.  Nonetheless, I am the only one who identifies as Asian.  I did not understand how much comfort and support my Asian friends provided until they were no longer there.  Within the group, I have sympathizers but no empathizers.  On days when the world seems to grab at my feet, pulling me backward, situations like these make me feel like a blank canvas, an empty body.  My self-confidence diminishes and my accomplishments are forgotten.  These seem to slip my mind but, thankfully, are fully appreciated and vocalized by my peers.  Those days do inevitably come but seem to be few and far in-between.

The past 12 weeks of my life have been hard, but they have also been so full of joy and growth.  I would not trade a single moment of my abroad experience.  It’s been a main contributor to the development of the individual I am today.  I am a woman.  I am Asian.  And I am proud to say that I am both.  However, I am also a daring adventurer who flew over the coast of South Africa, ziplined over waterfalls, and snorkeled with seals.  I am also a vulnerable and compassionate individual who studies with the hope of promoting and progressing health as a human right.  I am also a sarcastic ass who will not pass up an opportunity to make a joke.  These are all things my body cannot show alone.  These are all things society cannot come to understand when they limit me to a spot on a hierarchy.  But I have come to understand, societal constructs are not my loss — it’s theirs.  

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Despite the ocean temperature barely reaching 50 degrees, snorkeling with seals was a great experience!

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True friends cheer you on as you fly over waterfalls.

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We went dwelling in the Congo Caves that were formed millions of years ago from something as simple, yet as powerful as water.


Brooke Goes Global: South Africa’s Fight for Land

October 29, 2018

For the past few weeks, I have wandered between realms of ignorance and reality. My role as a tourist, as a student, and as a local, has immersed me into one sphere, then forcefully dragged me into another. Each sphere lives its own separate life, yet social and political consequences successfully transcend these borders. As a tourist, I have gasped and awed at the picturesque South Africa. The mountains have been climbed. The restaurants have been visited. The tickets for adventure have been paid for. As a tourist, I have the money and the time to experience the luxurious — and predominately white populated — areas of South Africa. Here, I live in a sphere of ignorance.

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The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront — a popular tourist destination.

As a student, I have been awestruck by the powerful history of this powerful country. I learned of the racism, the inequality, the systems of oppression of the past and the present. I listened to lectures on colonialism. I read journal articles on the nation’s economic inequality. “South Africa has one of the highest Gini Coefficients in the world,” they tell me. It enters one ear and goes out the other. Surface level knowledge and surface level comprehension of a life in South Africa. Here, I live in a sphere of awareness.

Living in a homestay, I have been pushed into the life of a local — to a life beyond beautiful pictures. I have lived with families who have very real struggles with gentrification, land rights, and economic opportunity. These struggles are no longer ignored. They are no longer just a written fact. These struggles are real and immediate. As a local, I see how the oppressed overcome hardships to find dignity and humanity. Here, I live in a sphere of reality.

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My homestay mom is on the left, Mama Thembsi, with one of her best friends, Elizabeth.

 

From 1948 to 1991, South African citizens lived under an oppressive Apartheid regime — apartheid literally meaning “apart.” In an attempt to make Cape Town an all-whites city, people were categorized according to their race. These classifications, including Indian/Asian, Colored, Black, or White, determined everything. If you were not white, you were forced to live in the outskirts of the city. If you were not white, your daily movement was restricted and monitored. If you were not white, manual labor jobs were your only economic opportunity. You did not vote. You did not own land. This was the law. And if you did not obey the law, you were subject to brutal whippings or execution. Children included. The oppressive and racist Apartheid government focused on protecting the population minority and repressing the majority.

The African National Congress (ANC), a protest grassroots organization, gained popularity in the latter part of the Apartheid government through promotion of its core principles. After people of color were stripped of their land and homes and herded into segregated areas outside the city, the right for land became a main pillar of their political platform. In 1991, the Apartheid government “peacefully” ceased power after years of protest from the ANC. I simplify this cession that includes stories of brave South Africans, powerful and peaceful protests, violence, and international relations. Instead, I wish to concentrate on a less popular topic — South Africa’s expectation of democracy versus its reality.

In 1994, the African National Congress came to power with something as simple yet as influential as the right to vote. Nelson Mandela, backed by the ANC, was elected President of the newly formed South African democracy. The ANC created a progressive and powerful constitution, granting its citizens the right to health, education, water, and housing. And land — its redistribution was mentioned in the constitution. Though to this day, land redistribution still has no explicit plans for change.

This brings me to where I am today, the rural community of Zweletemba. I went from center city Cape Town, known as the Europe of Africa, to a former blacks only township created during Apartheid. The 200,000 people population in Zweletemba are unique in their stories but not in their struggles.

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A main road in the neighborhood.

In the center of the neighborhood, most roads are paved and houses are constructed in neat, straight lines. Electricity poles stand erect at block corners. Hidden pipes bring water to homes. Children jump rope on the dusty roads. Dogs roam looking for attention. But as you move to the outskirts of the town, electricity poles become more and more rare, eventually going extinct. Public toilets become the street’s only source of sanitary plumbing. And houses take the form of four walls constructed of sheet metal.

Zweletemba is a neighborhood of subsidized housing. People, families move in because they can’t afford housing anywhere else. They construct a house out of the supplies they have, apply for government housing, and wait. After many years and much citizen advocacy, the government finally constructs the housing it so plainly labels as a human right in the nation’s constitution.

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An informal settlement in the outskirts of Zweletemba.

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Zweletemba is in the district of Worcester. Three families own over 70% of the land in Worcester. This land was attained during Apartheid when it was stolen from people of color and distributed to whites for farming. Most of this private property today is unused and vacant. Much of this land surrounds Zweletemba. Families are desperate for land and desperate for houses, so they build informal settlements on this vacant, privately owned land. The desperation of poverty is forgotten by the rich, white land owners. In an attempt to remove families from their unused land, they call the police to enforce eviction. Barbed wire barricades are put up so the land cannot be further infiltrated. And lawsuits are filed against the families.  And so goes another fight for the land, as there are merciless efforts by the rich to push impoverished families out of their homes.  Yet the actions of these families are hardly affecting the everyday lives of the rich.

Currently, the government is trying to buy this privately owned land for its people. The land, after purchase, would be public land. Houses would be built on the government owned land and given to families in need — this of course is an extremely simplified version of the process. One of the main bureaucratic dilemmas is the task of negotiations. The government has very little leverage power. They, the government and the people, are desperate for the land while the rich land owners are not desperate for the sale. The last sale of land, bought for the townspeople of Zweletemba, was valued at 6 million Rand. The government purchased it for 17 times its worth at 102 million Rand. The wealth gap keeps growing. And the profit of stolen land seems to be contributing to this exponentially growing gap.

In 1991, whites were greatly advantaged politically, economically, and socially. They had been given almost everything for over 40 years while the people of color had almost everything taken from them. In 1994, all races were granted political, economic, and social equality. Opportunity was now available to all. But, there is a tragic flaw in this logic. When someone starts a marathon 10 miles ahead of you, how are you expected to finish at the same time, let alone within the same hour? This illustrates the historic effects of inequality that still manifest today in South Africa. Linda Norling, a freelance journalist in Cape Town, writes “although political power has been in the hands of the black majority since the dawn of South African democracy 24 years years ago, economic power remains with white people: white households in 2015 earned 4.5 times as much as black households, and whites hold more than 60% of top management positions, despite accounting for only 10% of the working population. In universities, black people account for not quite 35% of academics, despite making up about 80% of the population.” This is the reality for many. As a tourist, student, and local, I have the privilege to move out of this sphere of reality. With this privilege, it is my responsibility to speak up and make a change.

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Here to make a change for this adorable generation of South African citizens.


Bryan in Taipei: Monkeys and Mazu

October 22, 2018

The title of this post should actually be ‘Bryan in Tainan’ since that’s the trip that inspired me to write this. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan (the “南” (nán) in its Chinese name, “台南” (táinán), means south) known for its history and culture from the Qing Dynasty. I also visited its southern neighbor, Kaosiung (高雄), on the recommendation of a mountain there with scores of wild monkeys. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

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About a dozen monkeys along the road up the mountain in Kaohsiung

When I arrived at the hostel, the owner couldn’t understand why so many foreigners were obsessed with seeing monkeys. Whereas she saw them as annoying and bothersome animals, most of the tourists who visited this mountain from other countries were incredibly excited to see monkeys in the wild for the first time. Signs were up all over the hiking trails warning hikers not to provoke the monkeys or eat in front of them. Apparently these monkeys have grown accustomed to the presence of people walking by and to an extent feeding them as well, so they were much less apprehensive than I would have expected. I even saw a few walk straight in front of hikers and hang out beside two elderly people drinking tea.

Hand Puppet Performance

Hand-puppet street performance by local students in front of the templeEnter a caption

In Tainan, I also saw someone dressed in a monkey costume in front of a temple doing some sort of performance. If I had to guess, this would have been inspired by the Monkey King from the famous classical Chinese novel, Journey to the West. It was just one of many of the street performances I saw – all accompanied by food stands, of course. I even ran into a hand puppet performance in front of a tiny temple in a not very busy side street. Although it was difficult to follow, I ended up watching almost the whole performance with only one other person in the crowd who likely worked at the temple. She was happy to see me interested and to explain the basic/dumbed-down version of the plot to me in Chinese as well.

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The Dutch Fort Zeelandia in Tainan

Nearby, I also ran into a fortress built by the Dutch in the early 17th century called Fort Zeelandia (or 安平古堡 in Chinese, meaning Anping District Ancient Fort). This was another vestige of foreign influence/colonialism in Taiwan that now still stands as remembrance. Taiwan and its relatively young few hundred years of history have seen a striking number of foreign countries or empires’ presence and influence, which is interesting to see throughout the island. Tainan is the historic capital city under the Qing Dynasty, so these roots stretch even farther back than Taipei, which was more bolstered and developed under the Japanese colonial period than the Qing Dynasty.

Statue of Mazu

Mazu (sometimes spelled Matzu) is the Chinese goddess of nautical navigation pictured in the statue above. You’ll find statues and shrines to her throughout port cities throughout this region and Southern China. There are lots of legends about her and how she became elevated to the status of goddess, but the basic idea is that she helps guide sailors back home safely. In an area prone to typhoons, this was important before modern sailing technology. I’m not certain why there were so many children playing and blowing bubbles that night I visited, but with the sunset it was an incredible sight altogether. I was taken aback visiting the south by how friendly and laid back people there were. I had a problem returning the city bike to the station and asked someone also renting a bike if they could help, and they proceeded to spend upwards of twenty minutes of their time helping me. Another person I met at a food stand was surprised I could read some of the Chinese characters (traditional here is much harder) and told me that if I could read the street signs I ought to go to this restaurant that the locals love instead of the touristy place I was headed towards. It was fascinating how different it felt being in a place only two hours away from Taipei by high speed rail and I am tempted to go back before I leave.

Bryan


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