Bryan in Taipei: 7/11 and an Unexpected Culture Shock

October 18, 2018

 

Crowded 7-Eleven

A really crowded 7-Eleven store during a music festival in Taipei last week

Though it might seem unorthodox, I wanted to dedicate this entire post to 7-Eleven because of how iconic and different it is in Taiwan compared with the chains in the United States. Because of localization, it actually makes for a pretty decent case study into the habits, tastes, and needs of Taiwanese consumers versus American ones. For starters, 7-Elevens are simply everywhere in Taipei and are seldom if ever attached to gas stations. In many areas, you can look down one major street and see multiple of this chain, then turn down another street and see even more. Its major competitor here is FamilyMart, with some Hi-Life stores sprinkled in as well.

Many Taiwanese describe the island as “方便” (convenient), and 7-Eleven certainly contributes to this sense of convenience. In 7-Elevens, you can: refill your bus/metro card, buy train tickets, print passport photos, microwave frozen or refrigerated food, send packages, and pay bills/tickets, just to name a few. Like much of Taiwan, the Japanese influence is evident, this time in the food: items like bento-boxes, instant noodles, and sushi rolls are widely available and quite popular with locals. It’s also worth mentioning that items like the Slurpee are not found here, which is surprising given their popularity in the US but unsurprising given how different the stores in Taiwan and the US are.

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7-Eleven X-Store in Taipei

One store I ran into here in Taipei (funnily enough, right next to another 7-Eleven) was a concept store called “7-Eleven X.” This futuristic store without cashiers had a larger availability of specialty items (e.g. a cold brew coffee machine and imported chocolate) that could all be purchased using a certain type of card. It was very cool to see how 7-Eleven is innovating here and using its established preeminence to try new ideas and see how they work on the local Taiwanese consumers. Other people seemed as excited and curious about the store as I did, and it was nice to get the opportunity to go inside and check it out. Overall, Taiwan’s 7-Elevens are more similar to and have more influence from those in Japan than those found throughout the US, which was something I wasn’t expecting to learn studying abroad here.


Brooke Goes Global: South Africa

October 18, 2018

The birds sang their morning song as I began to wake.  I blinked my eyes continuously and rubbed last night’s sleep from their lids.  I slipped on long pants, a cozy sweatshirt, and some warm socks.  I tiptoed out of the room and headed up the stairs.  I crossed the lawn to the metal staircase, twirling and winding up the side of the building.  Quickly, I ascended the stairs and struggled to catch my breath at the top.  The hostel roof, unmistakably, offers its best views before 6:30am.  I sat close to the edge so as to not miss a single wave produced by the vast blue ocean.  My cheeks burned as the salty ocean breeze brushed them red.  The morning mist dotted my hair in a layer of damp cold.  The weather invited families of clouds to scatter across the sky.  But the waking sun was not to be silenced.  Finding the only break in the clouds, the sun peaked its way into existence.  Sun beams slowly reached their arms out of the dark clouds and spread across the sea.  I smiled and turned my head to what I once ignored.  To my surprise, the green luscious mountain, standing close behind, applauded the performance.  I closed my eyes tightly to fathom this moment, this experience, this life.

Muizenberg, Cape Town sunrises became my first friend on the continent of Africa.  After the third day at the beautiful ocean town, I reluctantly waved goodbye to the hostel and said hello to a new homestay, in a new country, in a new continent.

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The morning’s view from our hostel in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

Here I am, in South Africa.

My homestay in Cape Town is in the historic neighborhood of Bo Kaap.  Houses stand side by side in organized, bright, colorful rows.  People are neighbors streets away.  Neighbors are friends and friends are family.  The Bo Kaap is the epitome of a community that cares for one another.

We had just arrived to the Bo Kaap, when we starting following the lead of my homestay mother, Omi Mia.  She led us through the streets, pointing out houses and pairing them with her many friends’ names.  All conversation in that moment was ignored as my brain concentrated on what the eyes were sensing — beautiful, bright rainbow houses.  All connected.  All so inviting and radiating.  My daydream was abruptly ended when Omi stopped us in front of a bright yellow home.  We emerged into a quaint and cozy living room filled with family photos and memorabilia.

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One of the beautiful streets of the Bo Kaap neighborhood. I live in the very last yellow colored house you can see in the photo.

Dinner after dinner, I excitedly sat at the table and listened as Omi shared her life story with us.  Omi is an intelligent, witty, and incredibly caring woman.  She is the oldest of four children.  At 72 years old, she is the hub of social gatherings among her family and friends.  On the night of our arrival, the table was set for seven.  She apologized for the small gathering that night, and I chuckled thinking back to normal family dinners with just my mom and me.

The Omi Mia household is one of 24 other households in the Bo Kaap housing IHP students.  The families hosting us students all know one another.  They adventure together.  They vacation together.  They eat together.  This is a community.  This is a neighborhood that cares for one another.

From 1948 to 1991, the Apartheid government attempted to make the city of Cape Town a whites only city.  This resulted in the Group Areas Act of 1950 forcing the segregation of different ethnic and racial groups.  Families were forced from their homes, told they only had minutes to put their belongings in a truck that would drive them to their new government issued house.  During this era of segregation, the Bo Kaap was, by law, deemed a Muslim only area.  The neighborhood’s history shapes its present.  Today, the Bo Kaap is a community of mostly Muslim families.

Unfortunately, gentrification and greedy politics are forcing families out of their Bo Kaap homes — homes that have been in their families for generations.  With the growing popularity of South African property, the Bo Kaap has become a hotspot for development.  It is in the central part of the city.  The waterfront harbor, museums, and countless amenities are all within a short distance’s walk.  As a result of this perfect storm, the demand for Bo Kaap property has exponentially grown.  This increase in property value causes taxes to soar.  New city regulations require monthly fees never charged to families before but are now deemed required and necessary.  Older generations pass and their children are unable to afford the adjusted finances of the now million dollar homes.  In turn, families who’ve grown up in the area are priced out of the Bo Kaap.

Gentrification is pushing history out of the neighborhood.  People move in for the convenient location while ignoring the community’s culture and individuality.  South Africa’s oldest mosque, over 200 years old, is located on the streets of Bo Kaap.  In practice with the Islam religion, the mosque plays a call to prayer at certain times of the day.  Within the past few years, an individual from Europe bought a house in the Bo Kaap.  Annoyed by the daily 5am wakeup from the call to prayer, he complained at a community meeting.  He demanded for the call to prayer to be stopped.  He believed as a foreigner, an outsider, and a non-Muslim that his needs should come before everyone else’s.  He willingly bought the house in the Bo Kaap.  He willingly moved in to this historically Muslim neighborhood.  But now, he is unwilling to accept the community he moved himself into.  Thankfully, his request was denied.  And at 5am, I happily lay in my bed listening to South Africa’s oldest mosque’s call to prayer.   

Another problem within the Bo Kaap is the consequences of tourism.  The Bo Kaap is deemed a must-see destination for South African vacations.  Tour buses park at the entrance of the neighborhood so their customers can get out and take photos.  Tourists ignore the privacy and property of the street’s natives and climb on their porches to snap the perfect photo.  Tour guides lead groups through the community’s sidewalks, spewing ignorant and downright wrong information about the neighborhood.  Omi has overheard tour guides tell groups the houses were painted different colors as a solution to them not being able to identify their own home when they come home drunk.  Yet, as a predominately Muslim neighborhood, most individuals do not drink in their town.  Tour guides still continue to share inaccurate and disrespectful rumors about real people, living in this very real place.  Tours of the Bo Kaap are advancing tourist companies, the city, and the outsiders.  Those living in the Bo Kaap are not reaping any benefits from tourism.  Instead their reputation is tarnished and their property is trespassed.

Nonetheless, I am thankful to say I am part of the SIT/IHP abroad program.  As a student of IHP, I am contributing to the preservation of the Bo Kaap and its stories.  Our homestays are compensated for housing students.  These working class families are paid generously by our program for kindly inviting strangers into their house.  Students learn from the families.  They learn the truth, the facts, the reality from citizens of the Bo Kaap.  But also we share our experiences, lives, and stories with the families too.  It is important to remember reciprocity when you’re abroad.  As much as we take from a foreign country as American students, it is just as important to leave a compassionate legacy behind.  I am honored to share the stories born and cultivated from Bo Kaap history.  I do not take this task lightly.  To have the opportunity to share someone else’s story, through my eyes, is truly a powerful adventure.  I am grateful to have this platform as an occasion to share the stories of these beautiful people in Bo Kaap, Cape Town.  

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The sea and the mountains — what more could you ask for?


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

 


Brooke Goes Global: Jaipur Travel Weekend

September 21, 2018

I have been on my abroad trip for 5 weeks and in India for 3 weeks.  I have told you ample about my classes and experiential learning.  However, I have dropped the ball on providing information about my touristy, free-time experiences.  Last weekend, IHP, our abroad program, gave us the opportunity to have a travel weekend.  A large group of students decided to go to Jaipur, a popular city in Northern India.  

From New Delhi, we headed on a 5 hour train ride to the city.  After many hours of staring at the “touristy Americans” throughout our transportation experience, we finally arrived in the city.  That evening we arrived at our hotel, the Anuraag Villa.  Consider this post to be a Yelp review for the Villa.  Every employee was kind and helpful, allowing their guests to make the most of their visit.  When we stepped inside the hotel, you were transported to a time when India was under British rule.  British colonialism seemed to be the decor theme of the hotel with their light blue bedroom walls, with adorned doors and large sliding locks.  Also, helpful tip: hotels are deemed some of the best places to eat authentic Indian food.  Professional chefs are hired by hotels, and because hotels cater to tourists, the food’s cleaning and cooking process is safe for a foreigner to enjoy.  Anyways, back to my Yelp review.  I certainly got the most bang for my buck at this hotel.  I shared a room with another girl in the program, and for two nights we paid $1,300 rupees.  This in terms of USD comes to about $13 per person for both nights.  It was not the most extravagant hotel I have ever been to, but it certainly contributed to my exciting time in Jaipur.  

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Me eating breakfast at the Anuraag Villa, enjoying the feeling of eating like a queen in India

Unfortunately, our time in Jaipur was too short to see everything the city had to offer, but I certainly saw a lot over the two days.  Our first stop on Saturday, was to an elephant farm in the outskirts of the city.  Our group was very concerned about the well-being of the elephants, but we were assured by the staff and reviews of the farm that the animals were treated humanely.  We had the opportunity to meet six different Asian elephants, each with their own individual handler.  Elephants are some of the smartest creatures in the world.  In the four hours we were with the elephants, we are able to make such a strong impression on them that if we came back three years later, they would remember us.  It was such a fascinating and invigorating moment to spend time with such large, yet gentle animals.  

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Playing with the elephants has been a highlight of my time abroad so far

 

After, we took off to the historical and iconic city of the Pink City.  The rumors are true.  Every structure within the boundaries of the city is pink.  Shops and vendors align the streets with colorful food and clothing.  The rainy weather caused a thin layer of mud to form on every inch of every sidewalk.  The bumper to bumper traffic caused a symphony of car horns.  And on occasion, a camel or an elephant made an appearance as a form of transportation.  We stopped for lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  We were able to eat some amazing food while enjoying some amazing views of the city.  The juxtaposition of the rolling hills against the building structures of the city created a sight that took my breath away.  Is there a better location to build a city than in the valley of a hill? 

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The beautiful view from our rooftop restaurant

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The Hawa Mahal in the Pink City

We spent the evening at the Amber Fort light and sound show.  The hour long performance gave a detailed history of the royal fort through narration, lights, and song.  The Amber Fort sits at the top of a hill, with a view of the city below.  With the mountain breeze sending a chill down your spine, it was a refreshing night to a long, tiresome, and hot week in New Delhi.  

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Amber Fort lit up at night

And to end the weekend, we spent Sunday morning at two historical sites including Jantar Mantar and the City Palace.  Jantar Mantar is a culmination of thousand year old sun dials that are able to tell the accurate calendar day and time of day based on the light from the “universe’s goddesses” — better known as the sun and the moon.  The City Palace constituted incredibly detailed buildings that showcased textiles, a royal and political meeting space, and chandeliers triple my size.  I appreciated the time we were given to experience a different part of India.  

PICTURE 7, 8, 9: The above three pictures depict the City Palace, a structure with exquisite detailing and architecture.


Bryan in Taipei: Pre-Departure & The Calm Before the Storm

August 31, 2018

To be clear, this title isn’t exactly accurate given how hectic my last few days in the U.S. were, but I thought it would be fitting since it’s rainy season in Taiwan right now.

My name’s Bryan, I’m a History and Chinese Studies double major from Philadelphia, PA. This Fall will be my 3rd abroad experience in East Asia since coming to UR, following two summers of intensive language study with China Studies Institute in Beijing in 2017 and with State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program in Dalian this past summer. After some careful consideration, I chose the Taipei program for a number of reasons, the most notable being my geopolitical interest in the region as well as the relative independence the program offers. I’m very excited to see how this semester unfolds.

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View of the Empire State Building from the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

A word of advice to future study abroad applicants: apply for the visa as soon as possible, and make sure to read all of the details closely. I mailed in my visa application in August after returning from two months in China, and I almost didn’t receive it in time. It turns out the office was understaffed and the application volumes were higher than usual. I had to go to the consulate in New York and spent the whole day getting it, but on the bright side I got to visit the United Nations headquarters there! This was a really great experience that got me even more excited to go abroad and learn more about the island of Taiwan and its fascinating history and fusion of cultures. Also, I happened to see an exhibit in Times Square by Taiwanese artist Kang Muxiang, so I recommend checking that out and learning more.

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Instead of being partial to a single work, I decided to show the plaque that explains the exhibit and its intentions.

Looking forward to sharing more!

Bryan In Taipei


Ella in Buenos Aires: Family in Town!

June 27, 2018

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This past week has been crazy busy for me since it was finals week, the beginning of the World Cup, and my family came down to visit! Obviously, I hadn’t seen my parents or brothers for the four months that I have been down in South America, which was really hard for me. I was so happy to see them and felt so lucky that they were all able to make the trip down. We had such a good time together.

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We did so many activities, like a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery! I had walked through the cemetery tons of times but had never done and actual tour. I learned so much about all the different mausoleums within the cemetery. Did you know that real estate companies buy the mausoleums from families that don’t want to maintain them anymore, and sell them to other families who hope to obtain a single place where they can bury all their loved ones? It was so interesting to learn about and observe the tombs of some of Argentina’s most important people. The cemetery is home to many Argentine writers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures, presidents, and politicians, one of the most famous being Eva Perón.

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We also took a visit to the MALBA, one of my favorite museums in Buenos Aires. Here’s me observing a self portrait of Frida Kahlo with a monkey featured in the museum.

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Here’s the whole fam at caminito in La Boca neighborhood! My brothers love soccer and were so excited to see the famous La Bombonera Stadium where the Boca Juniors club plays.

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Finally, we were lucky enough to snag seats at a restaurant to watch la Selección (the Argentine National Futbol Team) play in their first two games in the World Cup! I feel like my family is just as excited as the rest of the country that Argentina is moving on to the round of sixteen starting this weekend!

Chau for now!

Ella


Ella in Buenos Aires: A Weekend in Salta

June 25, 2018

Hello!

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Things have been getting kind of crazy here since finals are coming up! This week I wanted to write about my amazing trip to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. I went with four of my good friends that I met here in Buenos Aires at the Universidad Católica Argentina.

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First we traveled to the cities of Humahuaca and Tilcara, which were absolutely incredible. The mountains were breathtaking.

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Next, we went to Purmamarca, and to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, which went on as far as the eye could see. We learned that the government harvests the salt to sell! I had never seen anything like it in my life. We thought our car looked cool against the barren landscape.

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Last, we went to the city of Cafayate, which is kind of off the beaten path. None of our friends had been there before, so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect but we ended up having such a great time. The bodegas weren’t all open since it is the low season in terms of tourism, but the ones that we found were so cute and nice. I think this is my favorite city I’ve been to in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires. I can’t tell you how calm and relaxing it was! Also, the people we met were so nice and friendly.

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The whole trip was an incredible experience, but the highlight was definitely the hike that we went on in Cafayate. Our guide took us all the way to the top of steep mountain, where we could see the whole city below us. On our way up we saw five different waterfalls, and a whole herd of wild mountain goats!

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Now that I’m back in BA, I really have to hit the books this week so that I’m ready for finals!

Chau for now!

Ella


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