I’ve been to Japan over a dozen times to teach workshops in the world’s third largest economy, recently overtaken by China. A friend’s brother was able to get me into a Chiba high school north of Tokyo, very difficult for gaijin foreigner. Her father is a county politician who called the principal and said I was a good friend of his. I asked the principal about the focus on memorizing information to prepare for the college entrance exam rather than critical analysis of ideas. He said high school teachers consider exam prep their job. It’s pulling teeth to get students to speak up in class to ask questions but I did get these questions from the three classes with a total of 52 students I interacted with: Have you seen any movie stars in California? Did you bring your cell phone with you? Why don’t you have bathtubs? Why do you wear shoes in the house? Would I be attractive in a US high school (from a cute boy)? Who is the most famous Japanese person in the US? What do you think of Japanese fashion?
I thought they might ask me about differences in our cultures so I made a list. Superficial differences I saw in Japan are: drive on the left, bow instead of shake hands, introduce yourself with last name first, everyone is always addressed as so and so-san rather than just first name, tipping is not expected, smoking in public places includes small restaurants, and you remove your shoes to enter shrines and homes where they provide slippers. I’ve never seen adults kissing, single adults often live with their parents, and women don’t wear shorts in public. Even the homeless I saw living along the river under the freeway had neat blue tents. It’s surprising how many workers for a job that would be staffed by one person in the US, such as on the beach I saw a bulldozer driver moving sand a straight shot down the beach, while a dozen uniformed workers directed him down the beach.
More significant: traditional diet is very healthy, it’s sad to see Mcfoods all over; focus on the group rather than the individual (students wear uniforms, office workers usually wear dark suits) and work long hours. I saw workers and students in uniforms on Saturdays. Many students attend after-school academies to help study for high school and college entrance exams. Japan is very homogeneous (people with Korean ancestry I talked with report discrimination) and the word geijin used to refer to non-Japanese people means outsider. It was used to refer to me when I did something odd like have my feet sticking out from the comforter sleeping on a futon. This group conformity results in low crime rate, low divorce rate and long work hours. Other impressions:
Black and white: School uniforms are black suits for boys and black or grey for girls with short pleated skirts—very short. A fad for a while was bulky leg warmers worn around the ankles. In a clothes catalogue, I saw one page with red accessories and that was it, all the rest of the clothes were black, tan, and brown.
Great healthy food: Fish is served whole, including the head. My favorite food is kaiseki, developed for tea service, many small dishes in a variety of pottery. I ate this at a traditional ryokan inn with hot springs. It was across the street from a huge Buddhist temple complex dating from the 900s, with lovely ponds and gardens. It’s sad to see kids eating donuts and hamburgers and gaining weight. I rarely saw an overweight adult.
Toilets: big variety from squatting over a hole in the ground to fancy ones in hotels with warm seats, with water sounds for privacy, and an automatic seat that opens and closes.
Time: Japanese are serious about time; trains arrive on the minute they’re scheduled.
Education: Japanese adults in my workshops often asked questions about specific detailed answers, indicating that this is the way they’re taught in school to pass the dreaded college entrance exams. High school classrooms I observed were quiet. Part of the obedience is they also don’t jay walk, they obey traffic signals, and clean up after their dogs.
Worship: everywhere you go there are frequently used Buddhist or Shinto (the former state religion of Japan since 712) shrines. You pour water over your hands and wash out your mouth, light incense in a big burner, then clap your hands three times, bow, and repeat three times. You can also tie on a white paper as a prayer or purchase an artistic wooden plaque where you write your wish and hang it on a line with the others. At big shrines, stalls line the entrance selling food and souvenirs. They often have little samples of pickles, rice crackers, and mochi rice sweets to taste. I saw Buddhist rituals conducted by the shaved head priests clad in yellow, purple or green satin robes with a kind of apron hanging in front and back. They used drums, rattles, chanting, and fire. The priest took people’s possessions and blessed them over the fire at the temple in Narita before air travel.
Africa: Tanzania 2007
Dar-es-Salaam is on the Indian Ocean, with lovely palm trees along the coast. My goddaughter, Nora, and I drove north from Dar to a game reserve and saw wildebeests, hippos–the part that came up for air anyway, impalas and giraffes who stay close together, elephants and warthogs. We drove on very rutted dirt roads, typical of most except some potholed paved roads in the cities.
About one-third of the people are Muslim (I saw a few women in full purdah in black from head to toe, even their faces covered, but most wear headscarfs), one-third is Christians and another third are animists (the belief that animals and natural objects such as trees and rocks have souls, using shamans to communicate with nature). Over 120 tribes live in Tanzania; I heard people ask each other about tribal background. The Massai stand out as the men wear traditional red or purple wrap-around cloth and white sandals. They often carry a spear or dagger, employed as guards in the city to protect houses or cars in front of restaurants.
One of the bigger village homes I visited in Mang’ula, in rural Tanzania, had no closets, as the family has few clothes, no books, and no toys. (See photos of the house on flickr) There’s no need for closets, just a few folded clothes in the three bedrooms, which don’t have doors. Made of mud bricks, it has a tin roof set above the house with open air and dirt floors. The roof is open above the walls for ventilation so nets over the beds are needed to keep out mosquitoes. In addition to beds in four rooms, the central space has a table with four chairs, a sideboard, table and two couches.
Food is cooked outside in unhealthy aluminum pans over charcoal or wood heat over simple bricks. We saw men riding bikes carrying large bags of charcoal. They eat tomatoes, eggplant, bananas, rice, potatoes, maize, onions, eggs, okra, cabbage, and beef, goat, and chicken. The main dish in east Africa is called Ugali, a dumpling made from maize. A small room outside the house has a stool on one side of a wall to bathe and a toilet hole on the other side. This family is fortunate to be near an outside water pump. (See photos of another Tanzanian village.[i])
Even in Dar-es-Salaam, the largest city, there are basic infrastructure problems in addition to the very bumpy dirt roads. Until recently, water had to be delivered. Now it comes in pipes and is stored in large tanks; you turn on the pump when water pressure gets low. Power goes out almost daily, a problem mentioned by youth surveyed in Dar and many other developing countries. Corruption is a problem: Policemen might stop you while you’re driving to ask for a bribe. Most of the consumer items are imported, including African design fabric from India (few women dress in western clothes), pans from China and so on. I visited a large Muslim school that looked similar to schools in any city.
Mawana is a Muslim resident of Dar. I asked her about the Muslim school survey responses:
Q: Where do students learn English slang like “hanging out with friends?”
A: They learn from friends at home or from their sisters and brothers or even Internet chat too. These students speak good English because they are not allowed to speak Swahili within the school environment.
Q: Students complained about power outages.
A: You know here in Tanzania, we have no security on electricity, it goes off regularly, and we can’t end a week without having a power problem. We experience no electricity on each weekend (either the whole day on Saturday or Sunday), and it goes off without having been announced.
Q: Some of the girls mentioned equality for women.
A: Islam stands for human equality, men and women are equal on getting basic needs and rights, on practicing religious events, rules and principles and in some places women are favored more. I hope they have an Islamic knowledge subject where they learn about equality for girls and women according to Qur-anic teachings, or they attend Qur-an madrasa/school after school so they get that insights from there.
We flew a short flight to the island of Zanzibar,part of Tanzania, men in caftans and caps, women with heads covered, some in black robes. A few women had their faces covered as well with a netting to see out. Some robes were embroidered with sequin designs; they wore jewelry, and had henna designs on their hands and feet. In Stonetown, the main town on the island, the shops are open to narrow passageways between three-story buildings. Former sultans’ mansions are now museums with elaborate Arabic architecture. In the countryside you see ox carts, buses, and bikes as the main transportation. Women and men seem to be segregated in public life. I didn’t see women on the beach or hanging out on the streets like men, and few on bikes.
I visited Chinese cities decades ago on a study tour and again in 2011 to Shanghai to meet Yuan and visit schools and villages. You can see my photos, and view slide shows of Beijing created by students and an informative DVD titled “China From the Inside,” produced by PPS in 2006.[ii] Crowded like Indian cities, poor people spend time on the streets, cooking, sleeping, and talking. The first time I was in China, the streets were packed with bicycles moving in amazingly harmony. The only time I saw an accident was in Xian when cyclists collided looking at the foreign women—my friend and I–in a rickshaw. Now, cars have taken over the roads and the Chinese city skies are even smoggier. Cranes are everywhere, tearing down old buildings, although they are an ancient symbol of longevity.
Then everyone was dressed in dark blue Mao suits, but now the cities are filled with fashionable women and men in dark suits and ties or young people in jeans and Ugh boots. In Beijing, a friend and I went jogging in the early morning in our special running shoes when Red Army soldiers ran past us in cloth slip-on shoes. Going to Lhasa in Tibet was the most exotic place I’ve been with the Buddhist temples built into hillsides and the stark beauty of the Himalayan Mountains. It was very sad to see the Chinese government impact there, destruction of Buddhist temples and punishment of monks and nuns, and forbidding any photos or mention of the Dalai Lama. One of the first things I saw was a bound man in the back of a truck being driven to his execution by Chinese soldiers. The Chinese government censors any mention of Tibetan protests, so Yuan didn’t know about them.
India (October 2012)
I spent six weeks in India on a study tour years ago. Like China and Japan, it has had an advanced culture for over 3,000 years. My main impression was the wonderful bright colors on the streets, in women’s saris, in markets with pyramid piles of colored dye. The streets are crowded with honking cars, bikes, rickshaws, and animals. The spirituality of the people is evident in photographs and statues of deities seen in taxis, shops, homes, and numerous temples. When I sat next to a man on a plane and commented on his beautiful emerald ring, he told me his guru, Sai Baba, manifested it for him from the either. When I was in the holiest of cities, Varanasi or Benares, I could feel the intense devotion of the people who came there to be purified of their sins in the holy Ganges River or bring family member’s ashes.
I saw cows wandering in the streets in the capital of New Delhi, because Hindus are not supposed to kill them.[iii] Elephants can also be seen, hired for weddings, political rallies, and store openings. A young man told me about his babysitter when he was a kid, an elephant who was partial to kids because one had rescued him from a cruel master with a whip. The elephant would pick up the kids with its trunk when they got too near the stream.
The contrast between the rich with their cars and the poor with their donkeys, or the beggars on the street crying, “Ma, Ma,” was striking. A poverty rate of around 25% drags down the country, as around 250 million people earn less than a dollar a day.[iv]
An Egyptian teacher who I hosted when she was in Chico for a course invited me to Cairo to visit her. Taking a taxi to her flat, taxi driver Osama agreed it wasn’t fair for President Mubarak to amass so much wealth, while the people suffered. Some of the poor live in the cemeteries and we saw women in chadors standing on the highway meridian selling Kleenex in the midst of huge traffic, one with her little girl. It wasn’t easy to find Susan’s place, and the traffic is astounding. Cars merge closely, like Mexico City. Where there are two lanes, they create three. Families with two children ride on a motorcycle with no helmets. There aren’t pedestrian walkways so people just weave through the cars: I tried to find someone to follow when I crossed a street. A chador-clad woman took me hand and pulled me through the oncoming traffic. At the airport, the taxi driver drove the wrong way on a one-way street since it was just a short distance to go, he said. At the airport I saw a woman pinned between two cars as one was trying to back up. She screamed but walked away. Cairo has grown from 2 million in 1950 to 20,000 now so it wasn’t designed for the current traffic.
Most of the housing is tall plain many story buildings, no gardens. In the countryside houses are made of mud bricks, others of masonry bricks with plaster. Any design quality seems to be saved for mosques. I don’t think I’ve seen a country with such uniform structures. I hadn’t seen a house until I saw some huge ones taking a bus out of the city but I don’t know if they belonged to private people. I was surprised when Susan asked the young daughter of the building caretaker to carry my suitcase up seven flights of stairs; I carried it until the caretaker appeared. It seems like class differences; another example was a woman from Upper Egypt spoke with me at Their Square who didn’t speak English. One of the protesters said she wasn’t well spoken, was from Upper Egypt as if people from Cairo look down on them. (Upper Egypt is the South where the Nile begins.)
The teacher took me to her sports club, a huge complex with pool and various athletic courts, computer room, and many plastic tables to sit and talk, as families like to be outside in the evening when it’s cooler. They stay up late and nap in the hot afternoon. Mostly boys were doing athletics although I saw a co-ed volley ball game. Most girls and women are in hijab, hair covering. (A guide Adel who showed me the pyramids said that girls may wear hijab in the university but not at other times. *They may also wear tight jeans along with hijab since men want a religious but attractive wife.)
I talked with two 18-year-old girls at the club, university bound. One of them and a 23-year-old accounting graduate, looking for a job, said they didn’t believe women should be political leaders because they’re “crazy,” not logical, lead with their hearts, while men think before they act and don’t make impulsive decisions. I asked about Angela Merkel and other women leaders. There are exceptions they said. I asked about the revolution. Miriam, 18, feels it’s good to have more democracy, but bad for the economy and tourism. They agreed the women protesters were very brave, hadn’t heard of the names of any of them. Miriam wants to be a Nano engineer, spoke good English, lives on the Nile, which I’m guessing is an expensive place. The girls think the military leaders are doing a good job.
I asked the girls how they meet a prospective husband if they’re not allowed to date–at work, university, family where you can see his behavior, they said. Marriages between cousins are very acceptable. Arranged marriages still happen in the villages, but not here. Marriage is expensive; families are expected to set up the new couple in a flat with appliances and furniture, and give jewelry to the bride. With many young people, housing is a problem. We saw lots of vacant floors with rebar exposed; Abdel said parents will complete them when their children marry. Nancy would like to have one child, a girl, because she can control her and be her friend, while boys like her brother go out. The teacher said she’s raising her two kids with the same values as she was-Islam, prayers, respect for parents and teachers, explaining rather than punishing, but with more freedom, like her daughter sometimes went to the university alone by taxi.
Personal space is different here; when I was interviewing the girls, the brothers of one of them stood close to us to listen and comment although they don’t speak English. Later swimming in a hotel pool, an 11-year-old girl wanted to swim next to me and talk to me, Susan wanted me to sit near her when she was watching TV programs and offered to sleep on the couch in the room where I was sleeping. If anyone does a small service like give your information, they ask for baksheesh, small tips. This extends to sound as well: On the bus to the Red Sea they played music–a kind of droning male voice chanting the Koran heard often, followed by a violent American action film with subtitles. People speak loudly on the streets and cell phones, drivers frequently honk their horns including at a foreign woman walking on the street, and loudspeakers sound the call to prayer to neighborhoods five times a day. Men yell in arguments, like when my taxi driver was yelling at a guy who was suggesting a hotel to me, almost a battle to get my fare. In Dahab even the cats were in your space grapping food from the low table and cushions. The restaurant supplied water bottles to squirt them.
I slept on a mat in the boy’s room while he slept in his sister’s room, very hot, very noisy with call to prayers from loud speakers including 2 in the morning, vendors yelling “ice cream” or butane gas sold from a horse-drawn cart as the driver clanked the cans to signal his presence. Kids stay up late and yell, playing, because it’s so hot during the day. *
Their flat has all the usual appliances, but wasn’t decorated–just one picture, newspaper as the table cloth when we ate in the kitchen, drying rack always up in the sitting room. TV was the center of family life. What people think is important: She didn’t want me to hang my underpants to dry on window racks where neighbors could see it in the building next to hers. (A teacher from Jordan told me what she would take back from being in California was not to be so fearful about what others might think.)
I heard different stories about the education system. The teacher said she gets class room visits frequently by the head teacher (principal) and inspectors from the Ministry of Education. They also talk to students and inspect for cleanliness. They check her lesson plans and give feedback, even as an experienced teacher. She has about 25-30 students in a class in what’s called an experimental school, run by the government. As well as taking an English language class, math and science classes are also taught in English. A student has to have high test scores to get into these schools. Parents are required to send their children to nine years of school or pay a fine. Since school is in four-hour shifts, it’s legal for children to work, as in carpet factories. Abdel said he’d estimate 80% of teachers don’t do much teaching because their salaries are so they reply on tutoring. They go to the home of a student and teach four or five there for extra money after school. The students just parrot back what the teacher says and repeat it on exams. He sees teachers on school excursions to the pyramids sitting in the shade, telling students to come back in two hours, and not explaining the history of the site. The new university-educated guides he trains are ignorant. I was able to briefly speak to the Minister of Education in Luxor. He said they only have $125 a year per student; budgets are strained by the decline in tourism, but he is setting up a new training institute for teachers.
Guide Abdul’s two daughters went to good private schools. (I asked him what’s different about this generation: They’re impatient, want things fast because of electronic media, and don’t let him finish his sentences.) Three young protesters I interviewed at Tahrir Square said the government schools were terrible, including the experimental schools, and students don’t learn English. They all went to private schools. A young man in Aswan said the teachers use pointers to have the students recite or just lecture without taking questions or reviewing to make sure students learn. A guide in Luxor said the schools were good there; you have to do good grades in grade 9 to get into a good secondary school. The senior year a student majors in either science or arts/languages.
I booked a tour of the pyramids via the hotel concierge and then stayed the night there, needing Internet to make a reservation for Dhab. Abdel, the guide was great, only me on the morning tour to Memphis, where the first dynasty united Upper and Lower Egypt in 3100 BC. It housed 100,000 people, the biggest Egyptian city of its time. Women had more equality then. Marriage contracts can be viewed that guarantee equal division of property if the couple decided to separate at the end of the contract period of five to ten years. Now Memphis is a small town called Metrahina with one multi-storied co-ed school for all grades, with a morning shift and an afternoon shift of four hours. The city’s museum houses statues of Ramses II found in many areas because he ruled from his 20s to his 80s.
I visited Russia before the fall of communism. People on the streets didn’t smile and when I visited a Russian friend he told me not to speak English so his neighbors wouldn’t report him to the secret police. After I returned home, the police told him not to correspond with me and jeans I mailed to him didn’t make it to him. Apartments were small and crowded. Women spent a lot of time waiting in line to buy food. To buy something in a drug store, I waited in one line to order, in another line to pay, and another line to pick up. Clerks used an abacus to add up sales. Modernizations mean fewer jobs with one person doing the job that four used to do. Consumer goods were in short supply, including birth control, so abortion was the main form of family planning. Soldiers checked under our seats and used mirrors to look under the train when we left for Berlin, looking for people who might try to escape from Russia.
Switzerland and England 2007
I flew to Zurich after leaving Tanzania. The contrast with the open air, four students to a desk, and no textbooks in the classrooms in Tanzania to the well-equipped schools in Switzerland is amazing. Here students have access to many computers, musical instruments, books, gyms and playground equipment. They come to school, not on foot, but by bike or scooter, train or auto. I visited two schools in two towns in the country—see photos. The countryside was just like the pictures with green mountains, happy cows with a big bell around their necks, snow covered peaks in the distance, very homogenous people in the country, while the city is more diverse, with some Africans, Indians, and Italians.
The British are very polite, many sorrys, thank yous, pleases. Everyone I interacted with was friendly. Visually England looks to me like Washington State, green with similar wildflowers: Queen Anne’s lace, pink clover, thistles, plus yellow gorse. The difference is ancient history, roads first build by the Romans, Norman churches built by French invaders, stone cottages with thatched roof from the 17th century, huge old manor houses where Henry VIII or Elizabeth I visited on their tours of the countryside. In York, we visited a Roman Villa that included heating under the floors, bathrooms with a pool of warm water, and a place to worship.
With government cutbacks, fewer programs exist to keep teens busy. Now it’s mostly churches and sports activities. This may be a contributor to the youth riots in big cities in the summer of 2011, following police shooting of a black man in a poor district of London. Feeling alienated and jobless in a time of austerity cuts, youth acted out. I asked a young man who lives in London about this: “The riots were crazy, for four days I felt like I was not in Britain, burning down buildings and cars, looted shops. I think it mostly opportunistic, but there is a lot of anger towards the government and police, cuts on benefits combined with increased living costs just makes life a lot harder.” (Kalwane, 20, m)
Buzios is a cobble-stoned resort town three hours drive from Rio. Beach vendors sell coconuts with holes for a straw, grilled shrimp, etc. From the beach, you look domed islands, part of the remains of when Africa and South America were one continent. Middle-class people have a maid most days of the week to cook, clean, and do child care because maids only earn $150-$300 a month. Wages have gone up because now the homeowner I visited pays $190 a month for housecleaning one day a week—all day. People smoke in the house and in public places; I realized I live in a small California bubble that’s conscious of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
I visited schools (see photos) and interviewed kids. I was told teachers are not well paid (around $350 to $750 a month, compared to $1000 for a university professor) and there aren’t enough spaces for the students, so some schools are in double or tipple sessions, as in common in Latin America.[v] Instructors with bachelor’s degrees who work for state secondary schools in a middle-ranking system only earn about $7,000 per shift per year, so many work at least a double shift. The average wage for a secondary school teacher was $299 month in 2004 (compared to $4,055 in the US) and a professor averaged $790 (compared to $4,638).[vi]
Public schools aren’t considered good quality education with teacher shortages and absenteeism and lack of preparation, so parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools (around $500 a month). To send a child to the private school in Buzios costs around $1,500 if paid in advance and includes access to a room full of computers, English class, and lunch. About 14% of Brazilians are in private schools, according to 2009 figures from the Ministry of Education. Brazil’s schools have risen from the bottom of the rating list in the International Student Assessment in 2000, to 53rd out of 65 countries in 2010.[vii] (Chile scored highest of Latin American countries but all of them were in the bottom third globally.) If students do well on the college entrance exam, they can go to public universities, sought after because they are free. A class system is perpetuated, as poor families can’t afford to send their kids to private schools to get the preparation they need to do well on the entrance exam. In Rio de Janeiro, 19-year-old Joao told me in all of Rio there are only two or three good public high schools and those require doing well on preliminary exams to be admitted. Some politicians are arguing for quotas to set aside university slots for low-income and students of color.
I interviewed a former physical education teacher. Claudia told me the public schools often divided into a morning and an afternoon session, and some have triple sessions. Kids get breakfast and lunch at school, an incentive for parents to send them to school. But the kids get the worst quality rice and beans because of government corruption. The school, books, and uniforms are free. Students only pay for copybooks and pencils. She taught PE in a high school in Rio in a good residential area, but her equipment consisted of one ball and no money to buy more. The other PE teacher at her school told her not to bother coming to school when it rains; you can still collect your salary. But Claudia did go to class, and the unattended students came to her classroom to do exercises, causing resentment from other teachers. Teacher absenteeism is a problem in Brazil, as in other developing nations.
India Travel Notes, October, 2012
Our impressions of India were free roaming dogs and cows, poverty– especially in Delhi–with people sleeping on street meridians, child beggars turning summersaults, tapping on window, and carrying a baby. Construction workers live in tents made of plastic for years and similar slums can be seen from the subway. Boys play cricket in any bare dirt.
Traffic with tuktuks, bikes, and horse drawn carts, honking with whole families on a scooter without helmets, or just the driver wearing a helmet. Small narrow streets crowded with traffic, narrow shops for bangles, saris, gas burners, etc. Trash everywhere, some pick through it, cows and dog graze, and what’s left over is burned.
Lots of temples, sadus in orange robes, Sikhs in turbans, Muslim men in caps and women in black. Devout Hindus put deities to bed at night and wake them in the morning in their home shrine and Sikhs do the same with their holy scriptures called the guru.
Respect for elders, touch elders’ feet but the elder intercepts and holds your hands.
Tolerant and eclectic about religion: in a Sikh home of doctors, they had a statue of Buddha, a photo of Sai Baba, as well as Sikh gurus. On birthday give gifts to others. On our guide Dalbir’s last birthday he feed his neighbors.
Positive about arranged marriage.
Diapers are rare. Men and women attentive to children. Families sleep together.
Construction is done by hand, both men and women, with baskets, few power tools. Bamboo scaffolding
Poverty is sad, I saw several men with no legs on a skateboard-type board, I only saw a few wheel chairs, most dwellings have steps, only stayed in one hotel with an elevator. In urban areas they live in tents near the road and pick through it, 2,000 tons of solid waste daily.
Headshake side to side means I hear you, hand gestures more open palm than here.
Patient and flexible with time.
Colorful fabric with sequins, embroidery, lots of bling.
Men hang out on the streets, playing chess, sleeping, but in the whole trip I only saw two women having tea together in an outdoor cafe.
Delhi–14 million people! Traffic like Cairo, no attention to lanes, lots of horns, people sleeping on the meridians, children coming up to the car to beg. Wandering skinny dogs, a few cows grazing in the garbage. Went to visit a government school for 1,000 boys, age 4 to 14. No tuition. Many are from the nearby slums with illiterate parents. A science teacher told me only about 10% of the students care about learning, most don’t work hard. A new government policy passes students no matter what they know through grade 8. My friend Ragni teaches English in Delhi and said by 10th grade she has students who are illiterate. They “can’t take pain,” said the science teacher. He said about 10% have computers at home, and there are about 40 computers in the school that was built in 1950. It’s in an archeological zone where they can’t make renovations, no fans, no lights, holes in the roof, didn’t see any equipment. This generation is more disrespectful towards parents and teachers, not as disciplined, said the teacher. In grade 10 they used to be evaluated by a yearly board exam, but now 60% of student evaluation is based on activities and attitudes and 40% on tests.
We saw Lodi Gardens, a large park with a pond and Mogul structures, but didn’t see flowers, visited the toilet museum showing historical toilets and models of latrines for the countryside with channels to a tank, and the Gutb Minaret built by Mogul conquers in red brick. My teacher friend Rajni took me to see the majestic white Bahia Lotus Temple, with a steady stream of tourists. Inside the acoustics reverb because of the lotus shape, was difficult to understand the passages read to us in various languages by young devotees. We also saw the large Hari Krishna temple complex, with people of course chanting, and worshiping statues of Krishna.
Visited a free government school for 1,000 boys, age 4 to 14. A science teacher told me many of the students are from nearby slums with illiterate parents. He said only about 10% of the students care about learning, most don’t work hard, they can’t take pain he said. A new government policy passes students no matter what they know through eighth grade. About 10% have computers at home and there are about 40 computers in the school that was built in 1950. It’s in an archeological zone where they can’t make renovations, no fans, no lights, holes in the roof, didn’t see equipment. This generation is more disrespectful towards parents and teachers, not as disciplined. Following the British education system with board exams like the A and O levels, were held in grade 10 and 12, but now in grade 10 students are evaluated on activities and attitudes and 60% on tests. My friend Rajni teaches English in a girls’ school and said by 10th grade she is expected to teach students who are illiterate along with others who have some English skills.
Our host took us to a Hari Krishna temple, greeted by a young devotee in white, a follower since age 8. Dressed in white, in love with Krishna, he explained each of the pictures of the life of Krishna. Our host started a recycling center for temple flowers to make compost and cut down on pollution of the rivers. (Since many homes have flat rooftops which aren’t used for gardening, I wrote to Rakesh, I hope you all will initiate a project to start roof top veggie and herb gardens as an example to others. Pots could be the large buckets used for washing, with holes poked in the bottom. Used tires can also be used. Saucers could be the large metal dinner plates. The large bucket could also be used for a compost maker, putting in food scraps, cow dung, weeds, etc. Reverse osmosis hoses could bring water up, just suck on the top of the hose put in a bucket of water below the stairs.) We took the subway to the Red Fort, a massive complex built by the Mogul rulers. We walked through crowded streets with shops, beggars, a challenge to cross the street and get on and off the crowded subway. We walked through a Jain bird hospital and temple, a rescue home for injured birds, as the Jains emphasize non-violence.
My host, Rakesh, took me to kirtan at a Krishna temple held in-between apartment buildings. Indians have put their creativity into fabulous fabrics for women’s saris and salwar kameez suits, wonderful colors, bling, and embroidery. People greet each other with hands in prayer position, then touch their heart, and to really show respect reach to touch feet but the other person takes your hands in theirs. This was a kind of kirtan where the audience didn’t respond back, just the men on the stage chanted in response to the lead singer. The chants were in Hindi. You enter the grounds, take off your shoes, wash your hands, give an offering to the statue of Krishna and Radha, the priest put yellow paste on your forehead, and then sit on the floor. A few of the songs sounded like reggae. Very warm loving feeling. A few men and one woman got up and moved their arms in a kind of dance, but not many.
Men’s public bathrooms are fairly open, nothing public for women. It’s common to see men urinating on the street, but the only time I saw women doing something similar was four young women walking to a corn field near the border where we saw the flag ceremony conducted by Pakistani and Indian soldiers with fancy marching and the crowd shouting Jai India or Pakistan.
We’re cautious about mosquitoes—one is flying around me now, because there’s dengue fever in the city. My teacher friend’s daughter has it so I haven’t been able to see her after the first afternoon. I visited her in the government hospital, six beds to a room, charting done by hand, not electronically, no decoration, in need of fresh paint.
The newspaper reported that in 2011 crimes against kids increased, with kidnapping up by 34%, rape by 20%, prostitution by 27%, and feticide 19%.
Monday we went to the Delhi train station at 5:30 am, where we were told we needed boarding passes not just an e ticket and that our train was cancelled and that we should take a taxi to the tourist office. The guy at the tourist office disagreed, said all was in order, so we went back to the station and the same man said it’s OK now with no explanation. A porter took all of our bags, some on his head. The train station at Haridwar was packed with people sitting or sleeping on the ground, strong urine smell. They came from all over the Punjab, some from Rajasthan, women’s head covered with their saris, wonderful colors. It turned out there were pilgrims, a special holiday to go to the Ganges and honor ancestors. Our pickup was delayed in the heavy traffic and the cell phones didn’t work, but eventually connected with Ajeet, a Canadian covert to Sikhism who is traveling with us along with Dalbir, our sweet Sikh guide.
I can see why the Beatles came to Rishikesh. It’s in a valley, built on hills overlooking the Ganges with two suspension bridges to get across, pedestrians, scooters beeping, an occasional monkey. We went to an Agni Hindu fire ceremony on the banks of the river, with Brahmin boys performing the ritual lighting fire. Yes, the caste system endures, was told upper castes still won’t eat with Dalits in school. (On the bus on my final day in India, a grandmother and physician sitting next to me let me know that she was a Brahmin of the highest of the six subcastes, as was her husband. Her father didn’t want her to meet him before marriage, but her mother allowed a meeting when he came to visit her ill father.) The boys passed around candles burning on metal plates or candelabra type holders moving around the audience. Lots of sadus in orange, small gentle cows wander the streets, and an occasional brown or black mongrel dog and monkey. An Aussie trekker got bitten by a mother money on that bridge, had to get rabies shots. We’re staying in a place overlooking the river.
Did kundalini yoga this morning, seated with mudras and breathing, root locks. Had a fruit crepe and veggie omelet with a warm lemon ginger drink for breakfast, then off to a river rafting on the Ganges. Three gentle rapids but a good way to see the area, people bathing in the river, hearing chanting from ashrams built up from the river. Dalbir doesn’t swim so it was special for him to go in the river. Then to visit a temple high on a mountain, an ancient Shakti temple where the priest gave us a blessing with orange powder on the third eye and a string bracelet tied on the wrist. I asked with Dalbir translating what problems people bring to him as a priest—they want a son or a job. He said young people are as devout as the older generation, continue rituals like cutting the oldest boy’s hair at the temple as an offering to deity, marriages, funerals, etc. However, urban educated youth I talked with are less devout than their parents, don’t go to temple as often. Hari remarked that his sister goes once a year. Then to visit on a maharaja’s palace, now a very post 5-star hotel rated as one of the best spa’s in the world. Very expensive so we just had high tea with a buffet of lovely sweets and small sandwiches, shown around to the largest suit with two large rooms and a veranda with a view of the gardens and the grand ballroom. Yoga, river rafting, temple, and high tea, can’t ask for a more enjoyable day.
We took a boat ride across a large human-made lake to stay with an extended family. The father, Bachittar Singh, was minister of agriculture. His teacher son and his wife and two children live in the ancestral home: He has to walk two hours up hills to teacher. He told us a former state minister of education was illiterate. One son and his wife and two young children live with the parents, each family having their own room with a large bed, much less stuff than in a Western house. One of the brothers, a Ph.D. student, was in love with a Hindu girl for 5 years, his parents agreed to the marriage. He said their children will be raised as Sikhs. He is researching domestic violence, said a law was passed in 2005 against domestic violence, but isn’t enforced, not considered criminal cases. It applies to practices like requiring a wife to eat after her husband.
The house has 14 rooms and 3 water buffalo—the father washed and feed them. They grew corn in their small vegetable garden. The lake view is wonderful from the rooftop. They help each other, share resources. The visiting uncle carried around his sick nephew, comforting him. Separate bathroom and washroom is outside.
The next door neighbors had a new baby; the hermaphrodites came to sing and dance for money or otherwise they would curse the baby. A small Sikh temple is near the homes, all the neighbors are related–all the houses for a long distance are in the same family.
We talked with a retired teacher who has a green house for chrysanthemums. He thinks discipline has decreased in schools since the government made corporal punishment illegal.
Sikhs moved towards equality by getting rid of last names that signal caste: All men are Singh and all women are Kaur. They have a tradition of some women warriors and one of the 10 gurus was especially focused on women’s equality.
Manali is in the Himalayas, views of snow-covered peaks, a valley with a river flowing through the middle. We went to see a waterfall, passing apple orchard on terraces, men and women herding sheep, houses with slate roofs, women knitting.
Manikaran: hot springs with men and women separated. Saw women chanting prayers in the Sikh temple in the afternoon for silent worshippers. We saw a Hindu temple Shiva lingam. The belief is that Parvati and Shiva meditated there for 1100 years where she lost the diamond in her forehead while they were making love in the warm waters. A snake swallowed it and gave it back to he when Shiva searched for it.
Kullu was the site of a festival where men carry their village god on a palanquin. A giant monster married Beam Pandiva and through her marriage to him became good as well. Her son had the power of 13 elephants. The village deities are taken in procession to festival where they are housed in tents. People sell clothes, tools, etc.
Rewalsar has a Tibetan Buddhist flavor with a large monastery built around a lovely natural lake, filled with coy. The myth about the lovely lake is a king burned his daughter and her lover, they arose from the fire on a lotus and the lake emerged. Very pleasant to walk around the lake, seeing the monkeys and a monk in meditation. A large Buddha looks down on the lake from a hill above. We talked with a Tibetan Buddhist nun from the US, who recommends Andrad Roy’s book Disappearing Democracy and the book Being Indian, and Frontline magazine. Her shamanic lama predicts a big earthquake in 2013. Buddhism predicts 1300 buddhas, but only four have come so far. Bon shamanism came from Persia to Tibet with white and black magic and animism. Guru Rimpoche 786 integrated Buddhism with Bon.
Himal state has the highest rate of female infanticide and sexual abuse. Rape is the fastest growing crimes, rate doubled the last 2 decades. Some politicians suggested the solution is to lower the marriage age, although many of the rapists are married. Mr. Talwar blames it on drug addicts.
Near a Buddhist temple with prayer wheels, we saw a Buddhist wedding celebration with food and drink, but the bride was crying about leaving her family, holding on to her father, comforted by her mother. Outside women danced in a circle while the men played instruments.
We walked through narrow streets with no room for cars, to a wedding celebration for the groom. Weddings last for at least three days, at the party for groom and for the bride the other isn’t present. After wedding night the family comes to celebrate. DJs played loud Punjabi music, and people danced in same-sex groups. Buffet dinner was served.
Hindus were celebrating a festival by nightly acting out of the Ramayana where Hanuman, monkey deity, rescues Sita from the demon king Ravana. See the photo of the children in costume. Rayna, our Hindu driver, said during this holiday he doesn’t consume alcohol or meat, as a symbol of good triumphing over evil. He ate eggs but joked that they’re potatoes.
I shared my PowerPoint about global youth with a government academy that gets help from the military and charges tuition. Student said differences are: youth today have more information, access to technology. Know about global issues, care about poverty, smaller families, have access to education for girls, agree girls are better students but a boy said it was because we helped them and other boys applauded. Generation gap, more freedom. Girls’ questions to me:
My cousins, who I live with, think they are always right.
Boys gang up on girls, only 3 in grade 10.
My mind is always thinking.
My father pushes me to do better.
Will our thinking change as we get older? [all girls]
A boy recommended his meditation technique.
Also visited a low-cost government school, including a classroom with no teacher when a guest enters, the students stand and recite a greeting. To respond to a question they stand and speak in very quiet voices that don’t carry around the room. The room was dark, only an old blackboard. Boys and girls sit separately, with many more boys than girls. In contrast in the tuition-charging classroom, they were well equipped with smart technology. The principal and director are former military officers and Sikhs. They check on everything, they said, unlike free government schools.
Amritsar is the second largest city we visited, a contrast to the peaceful small towns. Streets are filled with tukuks, rickshaws, bikes, cars, people, and dogs, a constant stream of colorful life. It’s like Mecca for Sikhs who come to the Golden Temple to circumnavigate the rectangular pool of water, and to bath in it. Women have a small walled area.
On the bus to the airport, I sat next to an MD, a grandmother with two sons. She let me know she’s a Brahmin. About the younger generation, she said they are more liberal than us, more honest than we are. Love marriages were not allowed, not supposed to talk to a boy when I was young. Now they talk to anyone they want. We were scared, concealed our feelings. We encouraged our children to say what they want. They do what they like, we don’t object. My second son gets so irritated if told what to do. The elder one is more likely to seek advise. Media is a bad influence, with a lot of exposing dresses which common people cant wear anywhere. The positive effect is that each person can get knowledge about things we were ignorant about. No TV. Reduced distance between people and countries. I don’t think they’re spoiled. I never told them to this or that and they picked their wives.
Corruption is everywhere. Anasare fights against it, but don’t expect it will go out or uprooted for 100 years. We need a strong leader to rule for 40 years or so. Doctors now are money seekers. Before they were moral and had ethics. Now they want extra money from patients, even those who are paid well by the government. Patients bribe doctors to get better attention and treatment. Maybe give 5,000 for surgery doubled what is charged, depending on your pocket. For birth control, women use IUDs or pills and men use condoms. She believes pills are harmful after about 10 years. In government clinics give free birth control. Men are paid a small amount for sterilization.
Girls school South Korea quotes: Girls have experienced discrimination so they have more ambition and desire to succeed, better looking, more patient, they’re steady, women are more diligent, work steadily, whereas men get distracted.
We don’t understand Obama’s thinking in praising Korea’s education system. I think our education system makes our country strong.
Boys like to fight, pugnacious, their nature is brutal.
How do you have fun when at school till 10 or 11:30? Sleep on the weekends.
If you were the head of Korea, what would you do differently? Help the disabled. I have an uncle so is disabled, he died and their family can’t earn money, the government gives just gives 600,000 so they can’t educate their children well. I want to raise the budget for disabled people.
How will you make change? How different from your parents?
Our generation ibelieves in women more than the older generation. Boys and girls are different, women are sensitive we can think more details not only the big things, but small things too.
How will you make Korea different?
m. Cancel night study.
f. More extracurricular studies, such as sports, music classes,
How would it be different if you were in power? Peace with North Korea. Peace first, then mayby unification later.
f. older generation politiceness and being cuqiet, now more westernization, speak out more. Watch western movies and TV.
The 12-hour flight was made more bearable by exercising in back of the plane with my resistance band, a wonderful travel companion. Also get exercise from window seat to aisle by standing on my seat and walking over the armrests and hoping down so the guys didn’t have to get up. One of my seatmates was a soldier in Korea. His life is so regimented with schedules and how to behave, but I guess it provides security for those who like it. I asked him about women in combat and he said the argument against it is that men would be protective and thus hinder their performance. I said there are strong women and weak men so it makes more sense to make individual decisions as the Israelis do. The flight only cost $100 because I buy everything with my travel credit card, a dollar equals a mile. I’ve had almost free flights to Belize, Tanzania, Bali, etc. recommend it.
Seoul is much more relaxed and less crowded than Tokyo where I’ve often had to wait over an hour in customs. Here a few minutes, no line to exchange money and buy a $9 bus ticket for the 50 minute ride to Seoul and the YMCA where I’m staying. I saw lots of grey high-rise apartment buildings; much of Seoul is fairly new because of destruction caused by the Korean War that began with invasion by the North in 1948, leveling Seoul again in 1950, and other earlier invasions. Like other big cities, you see McDonalds and Starbucks, posters for Western performers—Elton John while I was here. The city was leveled in the early 20th century. The location has left Korea vulnerable to invasion from Japan (their latest conquest was their rule from 1910 to 1945), China, the Mongols, with Russian influence in North Korea and the US in the south. Buddhism was brought from China and became the state religion in the 4th century. Dictator Park governed for 18 years, until he was assassinated in 1979. He industrialized Korea transforming it from a poor country dependent on foreign aid, as demonstrated to the world in the 1988 summer Olympic Games. Korea became a multi-party democracy in 1987. Park’s daughter is running for president this year, very conservative.
The Y room is small but has a refrig, water, yfi, bathroom, free breakfast. After arriving, I walked to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the oldest in Korea, built in 1395 but destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Luckily a traditional Korean arts festival was going on at the place, with dance, drumming, singing, and demonstrations of crafts like knot tying. The palace has many buildings, one lovely one surrounded by water on two sides .It was a great place to people watch, happy to see how gender roles have changed so much since my youth internationally, with dads carrying babies. People were dressed casually in jeans. I had traditional Korean dinner after mimicking no cow (moo) or pig (oink) but fish (swimming). The fish is served with head and eyes attached, as in Japan. The food is spiced with red peppers, a bowl of rice and small plates of spicy pickled cabbage and other vegetables. Breakfast at the Y was similar, minus the fish.
I walked all day the next day after hearing half of the disappointing presidental debate on CNN, not a good strategy to not go after Romney. I headed for Chang Deok Gung Place built in 1405, destroyed by the Japanese in the 1500s, and rebuilt later. Between the two palaces is Bukchon Hanok village with some of the few traditional houses with tiled roofs, sprinkled with lots of coffee shops and clothing boutiques.
I passed a private girls’ middle school called Duksung where I was able to talk with two English teachers and some of their students. The students weren’t in class because of exams, loud and boisterous, more outgoing than Japanese students I observed. They talked about the “heat” on them to study for the college entrance exams, as in other Asian countries. The exams are three to four days; students have some choice of subjects drawn from Korean, English, history, math and science. The impact of focus on passing exams is criticized for diminishing creativity, so the government allows some universities to include other admission criteria such a volunteering or awards, and interviews. Miss Lim said this creates additional pressure on students to study to ace the interview. The girls said they’re at school until 8 PM except Wednesdays taking extra courses. Graduating from a good university is necessary to get a good job in a recession, creating a lot of pressure on students. Suicide is resorted to by some who don’t do well on the 3 or 4-day exams. I asked how the girls cope with the pressure and they said talking with their friends and music. College is where students can relax and have fun. Students get support from homeroom teachers who spend several hours a day working with students. Miss Lim said she tries to make learning English fun as the girls get bored with grammar, using film and music. Vocational schools are available for students who don’t get into university. One of the teachers said she thinks teens today are more independent and less obedient than her generation. Schools still expect conformity by requiring uniforms and prohibiting nail polish, short skirts, or dyed hair. The government helps fund private schools so teacher Miss Lim said girls from poor families are able to attend her school. The girls and teachers agreed that girls are better students because they’re more mature. Teachers used to be able to use corporal punishment to insure discipline, but now have to find different tactics. She sends discipline problems to older stricter teachers to get in line.
I asked how the girls are different from their parents’ generation. A middle-aged t teacher said they feel freer to have their own opinions, as about how they are taught, while in her youth she was expected to obey her parents absolutely. She said change is slow, but the girls agreed it’s easier to talk with their parents than their grandparents. Of course they mentioned their use of technology, Internet and Mobil phones.
Today, Friday, I visit UNICEF staff people—4 women and 1 man, mostly in their 20s, the visit arranged by a wonderfully helpful educator who I am going to visit in the interior province where he lives with his family. A Korean woman who lives in Chico introduced me to Mr. Yu. The staffers said that school violence and bullying has increased due to school pressure, what Ms. Kim described as “our horrible education system.” Some schools have counselors to help students. When she was in high school she would be in class until 5:30, come home and eat dinner, then study to midnight, to get up at 7:00 am. In her family her father was the absolute boss, but she’s a feminist who lives on her own in a different city. She’s not optimistic about finding a feminist husband. Japanese teachers in their exchange programs are surprised that the Korean students have more freedom to speak up in class. The high school curriculum is more advanced than the US. A few alternative schools exist. Some conservative politicians want to nationalize the best universities and turn the best, Seoul University, into a graduate school only. Another problem is students with connections can get into top universities. Over 85% of high school students go on to university, but families want the best. The UNICEF programs gather youth in leadership conferences to encourage empowerment to create sustainable development, with a majority being girls. For example, the Rainbow Project themes are peace, human rights, cultural diversity, environment, globalization, local culture, and economic justice, global citizenship. Students who participate in the programs since 2008 do report at the end of the year that they feel more motivated to make change although adults criticize youth for being politically apathetic. They feel young people are cynical as what they read in their textbooks doesn’t match reality and they don’t feel powerless to make change. Their top issue is probably unemployment and worry about getting a job.
I met with 4 young women and male staffers, good dialogue. Went to lunch with one of the women who are a feminist activist, working for the “comfort women” enslaved by the Japanese. She pointed out the same kind of practice occurs around US military bases with Philippinas, etc. She said it’s hard to find a feminist man. She was raised in a typical family where the father rules. Most of them had incredible English. UNESCO is working on youth empowerment, the teens they work with are very creative, and more girls than boys.
Then for a walk in the foothills to get a bit of nature and to an incredible folk museum where you could spend a day looking at history of daily life. Best food I’ve had was on the street, a kind of dumpling stuffed with veggies and rice noodles. Saturday I take the bus to Mr. Yu’s family where his son and daughter will take me under their wings for the weekend, then schools visits on Monday and Tuesday and the bus to the airport.
Took the Seoul subway to the bus station aided by the kindness of stingers who helped me buy a ticket on the machine. A sweet young woman walked me to the correct ticket window to buy my bus ticket, to the bus, then went and surprised me with a drink for the hour and a half ride. Lots of yellow rice fields, almost ready to harvest, a few tiled farm houses, but most people live in clusters of the gray high rises. Mr. Yu lives in one, a spacious 3 bedroom 2 bath with a large kitchen and small laundry room. Mr. Yu and his family have shown abundant kindness, taking me out to meals or cooking them with numerous dishes with spicy veggies, so healthy. We walked to his office, the provincial education headquarters, where he works late every night and often on the weekends. We dropped him off on Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was full. His daughter took the bus from Seoul to join us; she works for the government, lives in a dorm there with her own studio apt. But doesn’t like the atmosphere of the office. They have a hazing tradition where they make newcomers drink till they get drunk at lunch and after work until the next “freshman” is hired. She and her brother (who lives at home and does IT work) recently traveled to NYC and DC with their mom. They were struck by the bigness of things (cars) and the cost—we had a terrific meal last night for $5. The sibs and I walked around downtown. Yesterday we went to a huge Presbyterian Church service, over 5,000 members, with choir and TV screens. I was surprised that there are more Christians than Buddhists here. After church we drove to a lake with historic village buildings with tile or thatch roofs, and a modern art museum. Juxtaposition. The three women drove to what we would think of as a county fair. The most striking difference is the healthy food; mostly fish and other seafood. I added steamed caterpillar to my list of eating fish testicles in Japan and yak butter tea in Tibet. Clowns wandered around dressed like beggars. I’ve been reading student responses to my global youth book questions. The main themes are they don’t like the education system where they’re at school until 11 PM every day studying with lots of pressure to do well on the college entrance exam to get into a good university to get a good job. The current political issue they mentioned is Japanese claims to small islands they consider Korean. As I hear from teachers in other countries, girls work harder and do better in school, although they’re about half of the university students in Korea.
Flew out of Chico at 6 am, nice talk with another yoga student. She’s off to Mexico. I’ve been needing more Russian youth input into my book, agreeable universe put a Ukrainian who works with Russian teens in Portugal next to me, good talk on the way to Chicago. Her family moved to Fresno after she finished high school (11th grade finishes there) and entered her senior year in a Fresno high school. A total shock because she was used to being with the same group of 30 students since 4th grade. They have a mentor teacher who stays with them their whole school experience, encouraging and watching out for them. She thinks that most of the group went on to university because of their mentor’s encouragement. Nothing like that here. She wanted to come to the US because when she was 17 it cost around $2,000 to bribe university admission officials, although that’s changed now that everything is online. I had three hours in Chicago airport, spent most of the time walking up and down under the light show of changing neo rainbow lights. Then seven hours to Amsterdam. Luckily the seat next to me so I could do some pretzel-like curling up to sleep a bit.
I’m staying in a hostel but my own room—wish they’d told me no soap, towels or glasses. The Dutch are exceptionally helpful and friendly. I saw a UPS driver stop for a cyclist and smile at him. They describe themselves as “curt,” but they seem more relaxed than Americans, even in Chico. The bike lanes are full of people of all ages cycling. An Alaskan girl who has lived here for nine years did a “free” tour of the historic city, you tip what ever you want. She is not a fan of Dutch men because she’s found them unwilling to work through issues.
She views the Dutch as historically very tolerant because their priority was making money not ideologies. They were one of their first to legalize gay marriage. Why? In the 16th century everyone had to work together to sandbag the city to keep it dry. Now about half of the people who live here aren’t Dutch. I’ve seen Muslim women in headscarfs, people of African ancestry, etc. We saw lots of canals dug by peasants in the 1600s with over 1,000 bridges, an old commercial building that Rembrandt painted. Many of the old building are tipped to one side because they’re built on sand and wood pillions, so close to sea level here, was a marsh. We walked by the prostitutes in their windows, wearing bikinis. They looked like normal pretty girls, shocking to think of what they feel they have to do for money. I looked at them in the eyes and smiled to let them know I recognized them as sisters. We saw the exterior of the Anne Frank house (we share the same birthdate) and other historic buildings, walked down a street where “coffee houses” sell pot. It’s not legal but the authorities look the other way because of the tourist dollars. I walked along the canals for more hours, looked at the flea market where luckily I didn’t find anything to buy as my suitcase is full of rain gear for the bike trip on Friday. Luckily today was sunny although cold.
Thurs. was rainy so I just went to the zoo. The most fun was seeing the beavers chewing on logs because I’ve seen their dens but never them in action. Amsterdam does a good job of creating green spaces, lots of parks. The older row houses are four narrow stories built around an inner courtyard. One woman told me it’s mostly for looking out your windows. Where she lives, there are five floors and five families. They do have an elevator. Nothing here is natural in the sense that the large park and the forest on the outskirts were all human built after they reclaimed the marshes. The big park has been sinking, so they’re engineering drains. I was told the Dutch engineers are experts, go to places like Hong Kong to create new land.
Friday was a perfect sunny crisp day for a three-hour bike ride to the countryside. Our leader was a well-informed young Brit who has lived here for 12 years. It’s easy to ride through the city because bike paths are on every street (also lots of trolleys and buses, not too many cars, some very small as seen in the photo of the red car). An Australian couple, a guy from San Jose who works for the State Dept in Tanzania, and an Oregon nurse on her way to Rwanda made up our group. Riding over the canals, we soon were on a country road along the river with large houses on one side. We stopped to see one of the few working windmills. It’s also the home to the man who was born there although its been moved to this new location. (see photo) Next we stopped at an 800-year-old farmhouse where the farm family makes gouda-style cheese from their 29 cows. He still had wax on his hands from one round of dipping them. They keep them indoors in the winter, along with the bull who has sired 100 calves this season. The farmer also makes wooden shoes with colorful painted design. We rode through the green podder lowlands, maintained by dikes. If they weren’t maintained, half of the Netherlands would be under water. Lots of waterfowl take advantage of the green fields protected by water, a swan paddled past us, very idyllic. The guide gave me 5 minutes to run into a middle school to find a teacher to give the book questions to students. I found one teacher and asked her to give the questions to an English teacher. And then back to the city and the conference started that eve.
Such a treat to be with people around the world and lucky English is the universal language. Sat. I soaked in info, taking copious notes, for 12 hours non-stop, eating left over breakfast food from the hostel. They provide cold cuts, organic whole wheat bread, yogurt and granola, apples and oranges every morning. Sunday, today, the conference ended earlier. I got email contacts from young activists from Greece, turkey, Spain, Brazil, Childe and Palestine to help with the youth activism book, yeah!! I celebrated with a cream puff and watched ice skaters in an outdoor rink in a square with lots of people sitting in outdoor cafes. Today was a big celebration for the town. Santa Claus parades around the town, supposedly arriving from Spain. He’s accompanied by lots of blackface helpers who take gifts from Santa down the chimney. A small protest was underway to ask that blackface be discontinued, I think mostly from the conference participants. Kids wore special hats with feathers and capes and waved flags to welcome Santa.
As to what I’ve learned, themes were anti-neoliberal austerity programs, anti-capitalism, anti-state. I pressed in the question period for solutions. One Egyptian said it’s too early. Some talk about forming co-ops, workers running their own factories, and other alternatives but not a lot of clarity about future society. Some speakers labeled themselves as anarchists, meaning anti-state. The three years of global uprisings were considered failures in that not much has changed, i.e. Egypt still has military rule, Greeks are suffering greatly, etc. But, they’re successes in that people are empowered, knowing they can make change. A lot of the videos showed police violence, including shooting with real bullets in Egypt, but the point was also made that media coverage of police brutality brought the masses to the streets, as in Greece. Some discussion of violence as necessary when confronted with police violence, cool to burn police cars, or a bright Palestinian blind young woman said it’s OK for youth to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers who occupy their land.
The most moving talk was by an Egyptian feminist who was in tears describing the “circle of hell” that often occurs where a large crowd of men surrounds a woman and grope or rape her, several were raped with a knife. She and others have formed protection groups to go in and rescue such women. You can’t really go to the police for help because the government’s position is that women should stay home. You’d have to be very courageous to report rape, as some women have done. Another theme is they believe horizontal direct action organizing works, very anti-hierarchy. Mostly a 20s and 30s crowd, but the plenary speakers were older academics, authors, mostly male American and British. The panels were most interesting because they were the young people on the streets from all the countries where uprisings occurred except the Tunisians couldn’t get visas. The organizers, a Canadian man and Dutch globalization professor (maybe a couple?) have made films about the uprisings so they have a network.
Monday I continued my interest in the narrow Dutch houses by visiting Rembrandt’s home from the 17th century, five stories high (see photos). He wasn’t a good Calvinist. After his wife died at 30, giving birth to four children—only one survived, he hired a widow to take care of his son and ended up in what the museum film called a romantic relationship. She sued him to marry her after I think 8 years of living together. He was obliged to give her monthly payments but sent her to a workhouse for women. Then he got involved with his next domestic worker, age 23. The museum had hands-on workshops, including etching. I didn’t realize it’s so difficult because everything prints in reverse. Then off to find a new place with minimal directions to hear anarchists from Spain and Chile, translated by an American guy who lives in Barcelona. O overall a godsend for contacts for the youth activism book. The most fun was the bike ride to the countryside. I wanted to take a bus to nearby port cities today but it was rainy and cold, thought I better guard my health for the 18 hour ride home. Stopped in Frankfort so I got to buy some German cookies. Lovely to be home no
[i] www.inourvillage.org/vv_village_scenes.html Tanzanian village photos by kids.
Transcript of the four parts: http://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinainside/pdf/pbschina-ep4.pdf
[iii] www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/things/cow.htm Includes photos.
[iv] “India at a Glance,” World Bank, September 24, 2008.
[v] Seth Kugel, “Brazil’s Unequal Education System Amounts to Big Problems,” GlobalPost, September 22, 2010.
[vii] “No Longer Bottom of the Class: Weak and Wasteful Schools Hold Brazil Back.” The Economist, December 9, 2010.