Friday, December 30, 2005

Photo Bloggin' Numero Uno

Just a quick one. I decided that I should start sharing some of my pictures since I've been out...sohere's one. I took this one while in Paris. This one is at the Norte Dame Cathedral. The image itself is grainy...I'm still learning how to shoot black and white in low lighting. But I think it's kinda nice. I though it was funny that you had to pay two Euros to light a candle and say a prayer. I caught this girl lighting one and I think if you ignore the grainyness it's kinda nice.'s a start...have to save my best one's for later so you all don't think I suck as a photographer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Traveling Bean's Blog Update Alert!!!

There have been a few changes made to the blog...or I should say additions. First I would like to draw everyone's attention to is the new wicked cool Blog Roll that is in our sidebar (look this way--------->). This side bar now lists the blogs of all the wicked cool people who are participating in this community (which I would like to add is wicked cool). The second addition is a new member who should be arriving shortly. His name is Erwin Bennett Konesni and he is a wicked cool Watson fellow from Middlebury. So if you start to see some new guy show up and write...that's because he's been invited. Alright. As will bring you what you need....we promise to do it in the most wicked cool way as possible. Wicked.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ghana Christmas

So this morning when I woke up I was feeling really sorry for my self. I felt kinda alone and neglected...I know it's really silly...but honestly it's the first Xmas I've spent away from family. So finally after a few hours of doing nothing...I decided to come here. I needed to get out and do something with my self...not really sure what. As I hailed a taxi I realized...this dude is working on Xmas eve. So I asked...hey...are you working on Xmas also. He said he didn't know. If he made enough money to cover himself for tomorrow, then he wouldn't. But he said it was unlikely because most people were with their families today.

So it made me thing of all those people who can't really just take it easy on Xmas. Not those just here in Ghana, but pretty much everywhere. I realize...that despite the fact that I'm away from family this christmas, I'm pretty damn lucky to have a family to spend it with...even if it isn't my own. It also made me wonder a little about Nii's family. I wondered if they miss Nii. I wondered if it was weird having some random Puerto Rican in their house for Christmas (well...not entierly random...but most people would agree pretty random).

In many ways, Christmas has really lost it's true meaning. Not just for what it stands for Biblically, as the symbolic birth day of Christ, but also what it means in general, as a day that you spend with family and friends. Most people stress out during this time of year because they can't decided what to get for little Sara and can't remember if Uncle Bob's kid was 3 or 4...which apparently makes a difference when you shop for gifits. We put so much on the gift giving and build it up...and most times it's a huge disappointment. I mean, even the Christians have forgotten what it really means. Jackie was telling me about how the conservative christian right has been fliping out because they feel that people who say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas are trying to wipe out Christmas into extinction. Now does it really make that much of a difference to Jesus if you say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

In a way, being away from home this Christmas has made thing simpler and easier...and has reminded me of what I really do miss about this holiday...cause even my family has forgotten what Christmas is really about. For last few years I've seen Mom try her hardest to make Christmas fun for everyone and then Dad at the last minute finds a way to spoil it...every family has their Grinch. But I think this happens because we put so much on one day. As if only on this one day a year we can act like a family and treat each other lovingly. No, I miss the days when we did things as a family; we went out to buy the tree together, we decorated it together, you know things like that.

This adventure has certainly been a humbling experience in so many ways. I realize how many things I take for granted. I'm only a few months into it, but already the growing has been painfuly fun. Now that the holiday seasons is almost over, I think the worst of the home sickness should be over...although I don't want to speak to soon. Although after February things should be nice...I'll be doing some advernture travelign with Hilary and Jackie....two of my favorite people on this planet. For now...I wish friends and family the best...and in the sprit of trying to wipe out Christmas as we know it...Happy Holidays to all.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Some more comments on our language comments

Since the current theme on this here blog seems to be revolving around the relativity and the distinctiveness of language, I thought that I would add in my two cents.
Having lived now in four Spanish speaking countries, I am also now able to make some jokes and distinctions about language in different places. For example, I have been able to be shocked by the nonchalant use of ‘culo’ in Spain to describe someone’s buttocks, whereas in Mexico, the same word appears mostly in HipHop songs and conversations between teenage boys. The word in Mexico was ‘fuerte’, strong; in Spain, it was just another word. In Mexico, I also ‘walked the vacuum cleaner’, and ‘had a man’ when really I was just hungry. Also, looking for a comb could be dangerous, as ‘peine’ (comb), has only a slightly different pronunciation from ‘pene’ (penis). Such are the joys of speaking a language that is not one’s own.
Language can also reveal particular attributes about the ways that people think about life. Linguistic structures expose cultural attitudes; euphemisms often incorporate aspects of cultural histories or commonplace items. For example, many people joke about the phrasing in Spanish of things like “I forgot”. In Spanish, rather than you taking responsibility for forgetting something, the object forgets itself to you! Literally, you say, “My purse forgot itself to me in the restaurant”. For some people, this kind of roundabout way of saying things, identifiable in many phrases in Spanish, is emblematic of the way many of these cultures avoid direct confrontations, and rather often beat around the bush a bit. As far as euphemisms go, I remember in high school discussing sayings with a friend from Slovenia. When I brought up our dicho, “Don’t pull my leg”, he informed me that the saying with the same significance is, “Don’t sell me pumpkins”. This struck me as hysterical, but made sense when he explained that there is a plethora of pumpkins in Slovenia; trying to sell them to someone would be selling them something of little value, it would be wasting their time.
Attitudes towards particular languages can also be extremely revealing. Just as Jackie elaborated on the linguistic superiority that many native English speakers feel in a country where the language may be used “incorrectly,” Guatemala is a country largely shaped by linguistic divisions and particularly arrogant attitudes about language. There are more than two dozen languages spoken in Guatemala’s various region, a source of pride for the tourism industry, but historically a ‘problem’ the government and society has done its best to do away with. Similar to the United States, the government has limited the teaching of classes in indigenous languages, and in many places on the street, speaking an indigenous tongue is viewed as a sign of being uneducated, rather than a valued skill. By the same token, in retaliation, some indigenous communities attempt to shield their children from learning Spanish, fearing that such knowledge, particularly if gained through a formal education, will mean a gradual loss of indigenous culture in the next generation. At the same time, some young indigenous people who grow up speaking Spanish refuse to learn their language of heritage, an attitude influenced by ever-present racist undertones in greater Guatemalan society and culture. In these ways, the prejudice of people on both sides of the Guatemalan language divide blocks a mutual understanding and the creation of cultural spaces that would value both the Ladino and Indigenous aspects of the national legacy.
Language then, and people’s attitudes expressed both in actual speaking and in opinions or feelings about particular languages themselves, are informative, interesting and important cultural markers. Languages can reveal ways of thinking, world views, histories, and current power relations. They can connect us to people or separate us from them based on our understandings and uses, they can be funny, offensive, useful, but there is no denying the power of the spoken word.
Acknowledging all of this, the relativity of language for me is best captured in the following description: In Cuba, ‘coger’ is to take, or grab. A ‘guagua’ (pronounced wa-wa) is a bus. It is perfectly normal then, to “coger la guagua”. Say the same thing in Chile, however, and the reactions you get will be shocked and horrified, as there, the slang would translate your transportation plan into plans to “fuck (the slang meaning of coger) a baby (a guagua)”. Important then to watch what we say, and imperative to be able to laugh in retrospect at the variability of the ways that we communicate with each other, and indeed what it is that we may accidentally find ourselves communicating.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Commentary on Jackie's Observation

Although I would normally just respond in the "comments" section of the blog, I found this topic so overwhelmingly prevalent in this country that it's necessary to put my own experience into a whole section. I know, I know, aren't I just so greedy?

Anyway, yes Jackie, I agree with you 110% about your language observations and I deal with it on a daily basis. Many people think that I'm lucky to have come to an english speaking country (well, I am actually), but in reality, it has given me an entirely new perspective on the spoken word (and sometimes the written word as well).

As far as spoken english in concerned, I have encountered everything from American, to Kiwi, to Aussie, to Brittish, to any other form you can imagine. I've just become able to distinguish between people from England or New Zealand, and even tell when there is an Aussie in the room. The most extreme experience I have had with language though is through children.

Working at an afterschool childcare center, part of our day is spent doing homework with the kids...both reading and spelling typically and anything else that needs to be done. I quickly became aware of the difference in our languages when I would try to help a child sound out a word and realize that they had no idea what I was talking about because a vowel was said differently in our culture compared to theirs. Take the word "ten" for example. In American English, it is spoken with a short "e" in the middle. Here in New Zealand, they say it almost like the word "teen". "I have teen dollars in my pocket." I've found that, in order to keep the children from becoming confused, that I've had to speak in an accent when practicing reading!! It is quite amusing to hear myself put on this faux kiwi accent to help the kids read. But otherwise they don't understand. In fact, one child that I helped nearly everyday for three weeks started speaking with a mixed American and Kiwi English accent when reading with me. We laughed about it and decided that it really didn't matter much. It was an amazing lesson for both myself and the child though, because I learned that all those classes about long and short vowels, really are very culturally relative, and he learned a bit about another type of English at a very young age. Quite interesting.

I have also found that I experience a lot of difference in adults and we like to play the "how do you say this?" game a lot. I have found myself speaking like the kiwis sometimes, but only a few words here and there and they are completely out of context.

As far as written word is concerned, it has also made me realize that all those spelling lesson when we were little, in which our teachers commanded that we spell certain things with great accuracy were kind of pointless (and arrogant) as well. Many of the words I once mispelled as a child are spelled that way here!!! So my mispellings in America are totally correct in New Zealand. Hmmm (i wish i could think of a good example).

One other thing to consider about the written word (which i have only recently discovered, call me behind the times if you will) is that books are written differently sometimes. Did you know that every book of Harry Potter has two versions? One with an English cultural twist and one with an American atmosphere?? When I heard this I immediately found the first Harry Potter book, English edition (for that is the edition they read here) and began reading, finding many sayings and words that, had I not lived here, I would never understand. For instance, we may say "let's have a cup of tea, or would you like some tea?" Well, they call having tea here "having a cuppa" and they call dinner here "tea". I find that a bit silly as it gets very confusing, even for the kiwis, but live and learn, eh?

So that is my insight into the whole language observation and the one thing I have learned from it so far is this: People need to stop taking correct grammar and spelling and everything so seriously. I'm not saying we shud spel evryting lik dis, but I think a few letters here and there, that look and sound correct, may not be such a huge harm to our schoolchildren of this world. Take another culture's way of doing things into may benefit the kids more than we know.

Love you guys!!! Miss you all!!! -Nic

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The "Good" (Correct?) Way to Speak a Language or For the Culturally Superior

Being in Seoul is like being transplanted to another country --or maybe just to any other big, cosompolitan metropolis: a Starbucks whenever you need one; English translations on the subways announcing each stop; no questions about your funny Korean accent, just polite indifference; English spoken at unexpected turns; big tall non-Koreans and no strange stares.

I can't tell whether it feels like such a big difference because Mokpo is that much more...Korean, my southern province, Jeollanam-do, is that much more Korean, Seoul is just a unique bustling world-class bubble on this peninsula, or I'm just homesick.

Which is why I'm writing on Traveling Beans: I wonder where Hilary is and if she is homesick or lonely and therefore at times feeling unsafe and vulnerable even though she knows she is perfectly fine. Kristofer said he sure feels that way at times. Does it hit you, too Nicole?

Of course none of us are completely alone, we all have people. We even have each other at times. However, for example, even though Kristofer and I talk often, after 2, 10, or 30 minutes we still must say good bye and go to bed while the other starts their day on their continent.

At least each of us have a good knowledge of one of the major languages in our respective countries (Hilary - Guatemala - Spanish, Kristofer - Ghana - English, Nicole - NZ- English, Me - Korea - Korean and Konglish though I think I'm better at Korean than Konglish). What is that like for all of you? What have you been learning about that language in that country? How is it different from what you've been used to? How has it challenged the paradigms you had of that language before?

I ask this because at the hostel I'm staying at I met a guy from Uruguay who most recently lived in Spain, but just says he is from Spain. That is most convenient for him as he searches for a teaching gigs here because people only want a native speaker teacher. And of course native Spanish speakers are from Spain. Ironically, tonight he was telling me that if I plan on going to Barcelona be prepared to not be able to use much Spanish since most people communicate in Catalan. This was also in the same conversation about the rich diversity of the Spanish language --for example, when we went to Cuba people thought Hilary was Mexican, Emily was Dominicana, and they knew Kristofer was Puerto Rican, all because of their different Spanish accents.

I've been learning just how diverse English is, too. However, in Korea, up until now, American English has been the standard. There is somewhat of a regional preference --I would say something like the midwest or Pacific Northwest where there isn't too much of an accent. Or you could be like me and not have an accent because when I came to Korea in the 5th grade, my friends at my foreign school made me very aware of my Lowell "ahs" (r) and so I can control it whenever I'm in a formal setting. It's a good skill to have because I heard about an English teacher who got fired when parents and students complained about his braces and southern accent (*note: this was near Seoul --the closer to the institutions of power and money, the fiercer and more intense are many expectations.) Although rumor has it that the TOEIC (or the TOEFL? well, one of the international English language tests) is switching from 100% American English to 70% British English and 30% American English. One of my hypotheses for the change is the increase of business with and interest in India, which uses a more British English. Though I'm sure India has its own brands and mixings.

Like in Ghana, where Kristofer said he is enjoying the way they speak English (I think he said it feels a little more fun, casual, and intimate). However he alsomentioned some American foreign students who commented on the "subpar" English in Ghana, assuming that anyone who spoke or wrote well had to have clearly studied abroad in America. This sounded similar to a letter to the editor I read in the Korea times. An English teacher wrote a harsh letter complaining that "English should be left to those who speak it." In other words, Koreans should stop trying to use sayings they do not know how to use properly, and should just leave English to the Americans or native speakers. Way to go Mr. English teacher. So much for being a cultural ambassador.

Another ETA friend told me that her school wanted her to change her test questions because it was not in the "style" that students were used to. They were used to a Korean-style English. One may argue over that, but I truly believe Korea is in many ways bilingually English; that it has developed its on English style, its own accent...maybe even dialect? If that could be acknowledged and embraced, maybe the English teacher market in Korea would get more competitive and we could weed out the ignorant Mr. English teachers like the one who wrote to the Korea Times. Maybe when Korea embraces that it is creating its own brand of English (its own saturi, whis is more accurately translated = accent/dialect) native speaker English teachers are no longer needed to perfect sayings and smooth out the Korean tongue, but are for fun and enriching cultural exchange and to work with Koreans --not just to look down on Koreans because of poetical, "non sensical" English words found on stationary and t-shirts. Maybe when foreigners (non-Koreans) embrace that there is not just one way to speak English, they will be a lot more open-minded, less critical, and a lot happier with many aspects of their lives here.

So maybe what I'm getting to is that a good way to speak to a language --since so many people here in Korea are very obsessed with their pronunciation or how best to learn English-- might be to learn how to listen to different languages. Maybe the "foreigners" or non-Korean English teachers could start. If they take the time to listen to the Koreans who speak English, they'd realize that Korea is pushing past America and moving away from its monolingualism, and mind you, Korea is a culturally homogenous country-- something America is stubbornly holding onto hand in hand with language oppression against Spanish and other languages.

I say this because I am tired of sly comments excused as culture shock or homesickness. Comments about Koreans needing to learn to fix their pronunciation or "Wow! This is great! This stationary actually makes sense for a change!" If time was taken to consider and better understand the Korean language, these people would see why Koreans speak English the way they do, just like Spanish speakers and French speakers speak English the way they do.

This is what I see behind those words: orientalism, ethnocentrism, and a (false) cultural superiority. It's kind of like when you're not racist because you have a few black and yellow friends, oh but you are in ways you don't know or mean to be.

I hate labels and boxes, but paradims help to highlight problems and at the same time push for and reveal more questions and suggestions for something better. So what's my something better? Well, I already said it, should we begin considering Korea a country moving quickly towards its own kind of English bilingualism? Maybe cultural responsiveness is more than just a willingness to live in another country.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

do ya'll know that i update this more? in case you were missing me...(^_^)