Bryan in Taipei: Exploring Local History

October 5, 2018
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Flags of Spain, the Netherlands, Qing dynasty, Koxinga , U.K., Japan, Australia, U.S., and Taiwan flying at Fort San Domingo.

One of the most exciting parts of living in Taiwan so far has been discovering the many legacies and influences on the island’s rich culture. One of the courses I am taking while here focuses on this history from the arrival of the aboriginal tribes to present. This includes the arrival of the Dutch, the Qing dynasty, the Japanese occupation, and several different phases of history. I decided to go to 淡水 (Danshui, or Tamsui in the Wade-Giles romanticization), which lies just north of Taipei, to check out Fort San Domingo and the British Consulate to see one of the island’s first Western consulates, as well as some traditional Japanese architecture. Though I had the chance to visit the world-famous National Palace Museum, its contents are vast to say the least (it would take 15 years to see all of the items cycled through exhibitions) and pertain more to the history of the mainland than local history.

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British consulate in Danshui featuring colonial architecture.

The photo above is the British consulate, which remained in operation for several hundred years. It sits among the top of the hill and neighbors the old Spanish (and later Dutch) Fort San Domingo. It was largely responsible for housing the British consul, who could assist British merchants during trade or British citizens during other matters, and remained in operation until 1972.

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Residence of Tade Eikichi in Danshui. I had to take off my shoes before I could enter!

Another interesting site in Danshui is the former residence of Tade Eikichi, the township head of Danshui during Japanese rule. The Japanese occupied Taiwan for half a century and their influence is still felt in local cuisine, architecture, and several other customs. The house above is built completely resembling a traditional Japanese home, complete with a porch and a garden as well. This home faces the Guayin Mountain and Danshui River, which still serves as a source of inspiration for local artists to this day.

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View of the Guayin Mountain and Danshui River from Tade Eikichi’s residence.

While this post only scratches the surface of this topic, Danshui offers an interesting case-study on how this island came to become an amalgamation of several different cultures and create a unique one in its own right.

Until next time,

Bryan

 


Justine in Russia: Progress

March 14, 2018

Within the next few days, our program is holding our “individual progress meetings”. This does not mean our individual grades in each of our classes, but mid-term updates on our mental health, home stays, and how we have adjusted to life here. As I mentioned in my last post, I can’t believe that it is already March and that this is almost mid-term of our 18-week program. Also, it’s starting to get warmer (25 to 30°F instead of -7°F) and the sun is out almost every single day. When we first arrived to for program, we were told that Saint Petersburg only gets about 60 days of sun a year. I do not really believe that because there were many days where it was sunny…and snowing at the same time!

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Sunshine at 8:00 a.m.

The snow is starting to melt and it is above 0°C/32°F most days. It was raining today and you can start seeing a bit of the ground.

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Statue near Park Pobedi metro station.

 

Progress is hard to be measured. I’ve been here for a few weeks and I’ve never really felt so comfortable about a place in my life. I go to school via bus. I take public transportation all the time. Everything is smooth sailing, except the occasional fights on the bus/metro during peak hours. Having an unlimited bus pass makes things a lot easier and encourages me to go out more. Sometimes I do forget that I am home and that rules in New York aren’t the same as in Russia. I noticed that in more crowded/touristy neighborhoods, people jaywalk a lot. However, in more residential areas, people wait for the full 30-90 seconds before crossing even if there are no cars on the road. A few days ago, I was in the southern part of the city for a weekend market and crossed the street diagonally. Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to cross diagonally. A police officer stopped me and told me that I was not allowed to cross the street that way. I was not really panicking, but more confused than anything. (This entire exchange was in Russian). Eventually, he asked for my documents and I handed him my spravka (letter saying I am legally allowed to be in this country, because my multi-entry visa was being processed). He was pretty confused because it’s not really a common document to come across. He ended up asking me if I could wait a minute and he brought me to his partner, who eventually told me to not do it again or else I would get a fine. It was one of those moments where I did not think about adjusting my behaviors for the host environment.

I am also starting to fully understand my host grandmother, but I still need to work on responding to her. I am able to interact more with shopkeepers and food service workers, which I am happy about. Although we all have Russian IDs, sometimes museum workers do not like giving student discounts to visiting students. However, I’m getting better at sounding less confused during my interactions, which helps me get the discount 95% of the time. Here is one of the exhibits I visited this weekend (at the Манеж)

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The food scene here is great. I am not exaggerating this simply because I love being here so much, but because it actually is the best food I’ve ever had. I managed to find amazing tacos in the northern most part of the city.

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Best tacos ever!

Interestingly enough, I also found the best pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), in the middle of a Central Asia market near my house. There is no real address, but I used 9 photos to guide me to it.

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I often think about how I would want to come back to this city after I leave, but I would not know what I would do here career wise. I currently audit a master’s level class (In English) and I really like it, so I can imagine myself enrolling at the university for that program. However, I do have a lot of time to figure this out (especially since I still have 1 year of university left).

До свидания (goodbye).


Justine G.

Жюстин, sometimes Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.


Janus in Singapore: Which God?

March 20, 2017

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – Singapore’s oldest church, right across from the SMU Library

Something struck me when I was going through the various photos I’ve collected from my time here in Singapore – there are quite a number of religious buildings in the city. I’ve never thought of Singapore as a particularly holy place, unlike certain parts of China or the Philippines that I’ve been to with comparable numbers of religious buildings, nor did I think that an extremely industrialized and advanced city would have such a strong presence.
There are five religions that have a significant presence in Singapore. According to the 2015 census, 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, 18.8% practice Christianity, 14% practice Islam, 11% practice Taoism, and 5% practice Hinduism. These numbers make sense to me; a majority of Singaporeans are Han Chinese, with Malay and Indian groups representing about 10% of the population, each. It makes sense that Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Hinduism play such a big role in the lives of Singaporeans – these religions are the religions in the various ancestral homes of the people living in this city.

The Masjid Sultan

I didn’t expect such a large Christian presence, though. While I was in China, I didn’t encounter many Chinese Christians, nor do I know of a large enough presence of Christianity in Malay and Indian countries that could explain the 18.8% figure, a percentage that has apparently increased in recent years. According to census figures, 12.7% of the population was Christian in 1990 and 146% in 2000. While one I can understand that there should be a a small presence – Singapore, after all, was a British colony – I’m not quite sure why Christianity has a growing presence. You would expect that the Singaporeans’ ties to religions more closely related to their ancestral homes would increase in popularity, rather than a religion that was introduced by foreigners that no longer have a strong hold on the country.

One of the larger Buddhist temples/museums in Chinatown

Another interesting aspect of religion in Singapore is that the number of highly educated Singaporeans practicing a religion, particularly for Taoism, Hindiusm, and Islam, is increasingly noticeably. This goes counter against a fairly commonly observed phenomenon where religion becomes less and less important the higher the level of education. I’ve seen this myself at SMU – the various religious clubs are very active in the community, and it isn’t uncommon for me to run into classmates at Sunday masses during the weekends, or even the odd weekday mass that I attend. Practicing my Catholic faith has definitely been much more easy to do in Singapore, simply due to the number of parishes that make it almost impossible to not attend Sunday mass. There’s a church a 10-minute walk away from my flat, and on weekdays or Sundays spent at the library, Singapore’s oldest cathedral is simply across the street.
There’s much more to learn about religious life in Singapore, particularly for the non-Christian religions. While I feel like I’ve touched the surface of what can be learned – living in Little India lets me experience many of the Hindu religious holidays, my many visits to Chinatown have allowed me to enjoy the various Buddhist temples, and the largest mosque happens to be on my favorite food street in Singapore – I do plan to eventually attend a service for each of the major religions in Singapore. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere, and my fellow exchange students who have done the same say that it’s a truly interesting experience to have.

Decorations outside a Hindu building in Little India, a minute or two’s walk from home.

St. Joseph’s Church – another relatively large Church in Singapore. Unfortunately, the building isn’t very well kept, and almost seems like a relic of a past decade.


Olivia in Sweden: Back in Stockholm!

February 23, 2017

Went back to Stockholm!

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We went to one of the Royal Palaces that hosted the Treasury! This museum hosts some of the monarchy’s most treasured jewels, crowns, and swords. We were not permitted to take photos of the artifacts but here’s a stunning picture of what you see when you first enter the museum.

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The Hallwyl Museum allowed for some photography! This house once belonged to the Count and Countess von Hallwyl and boy oh boy did they live up to their noble names. It was a really cool insight into the late Victorian period of Stockholm (and it was free!) Check out their pool table, their marble bathtub, and marble shower!

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We also swung by the Royal Dramatic Theatre. The beautiful building was founded in 1788 and renowned architects, artists, and interior designers worked to make it so breathtaking. Unfortunately, most of the shows are solely Swedish, but maybe if I learn Swedish in time I can give it a try?

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Here is also a pic of Gamla Stan, or the Old Town. Very interesting to see where old meets new. It’s one of the greatest preserved medieval areas in Europe. Stockholm was founded in 1252.

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There were many attractions, such as bookstores, bars, restaurants, and little ice cream shops, including this Nutella haven.

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There’s so much to do in this city. It is so convenient that it’s only 40 minutes from Uppsala. Uppsala itself has some great historical attractions, which I can’t wait to share.


Clara in Italy: The Mostra

January 9, 2017

This isn’t so much about Italy as it is about the culmination of my semester at UGA Cortona, which just happens to be in Italy. I’ve been in four studio classes for over 10 weeks and we put on a final show at the end exhibiting our best work from each class! It was really fun to set up–maybe that’s the theater kid in me, but I like working together on a show. I was on the matting team, so I was helping to frame all the flat works that were going to be hung on the wall. Starting bright and early at 8:30am woo woo! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures of that?? Or any?? I was really tired and out of it, but I still think I did a bomb job along with the rest of the team. 😀 Worked until 2pm, and then had to run off to the Italian language exchange (which I also have no photos of because I suck). But anyways, it was a really cool learning experience! Unsurprisingly, all the materials for matting cost way more than I want things to cost, but that’s the #artlife for you I guess. (Ten euro a board??? RIP wallet if I ever need any of this for the future.)

Anyways, the most important pictures first. Me as a cthonic monster entering the premises.

Taken by my friend Angel, the photo champ.

Actually I might post a bunch of her pictures, since she did a much better job than I did of documenting the ridiculousness of opening night.

Still there are a few good ones (or halfway decent ones idk). Such as this picture of horrible (jk I love her) roommate Hannah pointing at Angel’s sketch of the David.

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Hannah please.

If you were curious, by the way, here are three of my pieces. (I did take these ones.)

We also all received flowers from our professors who are the sweetest, and I somehow ended up with two, so I stuck them both in my hair.

Super crappy lighting, I know. Sorry. I get really awkward while taking selfies in public, which is why I look like I’m dying slightly on the inside even though I was actually having a great time.

There’s not much to say about the actual show except that I was really proud of our work and it was also really really really cold!!!! I was so cold. Most people spent a lot of time eating snacks in the sideroom where it was slightly warmer and shielded from he wind.

Here are a couple shots of the hall with people in it:

And now, a showcase of Angel’s photos (with permission):

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There’s Angel in the middle, with our art history professor Eva and Hannah the Roommate all making the Hannah(tm) photo expression.

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Me in front of my oil painting.

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Me, UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH.

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The hall empty and looking very respectable.

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Our book arts professor Julie and Hannah posing grumpily next to Julie’s piece.

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Jeff, our photography professor, ALSO UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH (but I think it’s a pretty adorable photo and he thought so too)

Anyways, that’s about it. It was a really good academic culmination. Stay determined guys! Happy holidays!


Clara in Italy: Montecassino

November 29, 2016

So remember when I wrote an entire post about how much I hated the Cappella dei Principi? I spent some time later thinking about the decor because I do really love inlay work, but my professor mentioned that it was so overwhelming and contrary to her design aesthetics. I wondered if that was also playing into my general hatred of the space in addition to the horrible power dynamics.

But then we stopped at Montecassino on the way to Naples, and I think yes, there is something to it.

Here’s Montecassino:

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Or at least, a part of the courtyard. It’s hard to get a picture of it in totality. Montecassino is one of the first (or the first? I think) monasteries of the Benedictine order. It was basically razed to the ground by Allied bombing during WWII, but has been reconstructed.

But look at the interior of the church!!

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None of this is original of course, but it’s still really beautiful. And golden. Here’s where it gets really cool though–look at this stone inlay work!

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What!! It’s everywhere.

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But I really like it here as opposed to how much it gave me the really bad shivers in San Lorenzo. Somehow, it feels warmer, you know? I still have my bones to pick with Christianity (I never won’t), but this place is lovely.

Interestingly, there is still a Medici buried here.

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There he is. Piero the Unfortunate. (The Pieros of the Medici family really got the raw end of the deal when it came to being remembered, by the way. Piero the Unfortunate and Piero the Gouty. Yikes.) He was driven from Florence during the French invasion, but was eventually given this tomb here. Still a large, imposing, obnoxious Medici tomb, but you know. It’s a little different when you’re Piero the Unfortunate instead of Cosimo the Grandduke of Tuscany. :/ He didn’t even ask for this tomb. A later Medici pope (can’t remember which?) had it made for him.

Also, there are some bronze doors from Constantinople outside, which is pretty rad, though we couldn’t figure out if these were replicas or the real thing.

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That’s my art history professor being a nerd. She’s great.

What’s the point of this post? Honestly, I don’t know. I liked Montecassino. It felt serene and safe and magical. Even though it had similar decorative techniques to the San Lorenzo chapel (even similar motifs!), it was just. Nicer. Kinder maybe? Perhaps this is just because what I know of the two places informs my impressions, but anyways. I’d definitely recommend going to Montecassino over the Cappella any day.

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Stay determined.


Clara in Italy: Power and Violence in the Cappella dei Principi

November 10, 2016

So this is going to be a fairly short post since it’s just something I’ve been thinking about since my class went our trip to Florence.

Basically, it just boils down to how much I hate this room:

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For a little more context, here’s a photo of San Lorenzo, the Medici church in Florence from above.

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Taken from wikimedia commons because sadly I don’t have a camera drone for aerial shots, though that would definitely be awesome

That gigantic domed piece right there? That’s this room. The Cappella dei Principi. The Chapel of the Princes. It’s absolutely beautiful inside. Everything is made of inlaid stone. Like!! Man, inlaid wood is amazing enough, but inlaid stone is something else. And it really is pretty much everything in there.

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That’s not a painting. Nothing in that is painted, not the shading, the colors, anything. It’s just carefully cut stone merged together seamlessly.

Here are some more detail shots of the inlay work around the place.

It really is incredible. It’s the sort of fine craftsmanship that I’d love to be able to do because fine craftsmanship is my jam. (Speaking of which, bring back respect for craft as art. Or bring back respect for art as craft? …. both??? That’s an argument for another day I suppose, but essentially, tear down the hierarchy of art and respect all forms of it as skilled labor that requires practice as opposed to the magic of talent. I feel like I’ve already had this rant…)

Still, there’s something really viscerally horrible about this room. The pictures really don’t explain it. You can probably look up more photos, but I just. It’s awful. There’s some kind of vague hymnal singing being played over speakers quietly, and it felt like the least sincere sacred space I have ever been in.There’s an altar and there are candles and it’s a chapel in a church, but it’s terribly oppressive despite the massive domed ceiling and sense of space.

You’d think I’d still have liked it–the decorative style is just so lovely. Maybe it was just too much. I don’t know. My book arts professor told me it made her grumpy too, so that was validating. I think, though, that it was really what my art history professor said at dinner: there’s something really violent about that much power.

This is the place that Hitler and Mussolini chose to meet in the 40s. This is the physical manifestation of riches and some serious 16th century conspicuous consumption. We are powerful, and we want you all to know it. To me, that’s vicious.

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Do you see those sarcophagi? They’re like 8 feet off the ground and bigger than trucks. To command so much personal space for your dead corpse–that says something too.

I don’t know what about this makes it so different from the massive Gothic churches that I like so much, but maybe it’s the division between the (ostensibly) public and the (explicitly) private that gets to me. At least churches were supposedly meant to be shared with the people at large. This just feels cold and parasitic.

Is that too harsh? The sort of anger and hyperreactivity you’d expect from a far-left women’s studies minor? Maybe. But I’ll hold to it. Visiting all of these grand monuments and churches and beautiful spaces and art havens, it’s still uneasy to me when I think about the price. It happened 600 years ago, sure, but it’s still happening now. I don’t want to lie to myself about what material awesomeness comes from.

Hope that wasn’t too much of a downer, but I want it to be something we reflect on more often. Art is not just art. History is not a vacuum, and we should not forget that. This wasn’t worded as well as I wanted it to be, and nor did it really convey what I felt, but I hope that it has come close enough to be understood.

Stay determined. The sun will still rise tomorrow.


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