The Chinese language is steeped in thousands of years of history, and over time popular phrases have developed and appeared in everyday life. An interesting characteristic of the language is their tendency for simplification. While this is not specifically slang, this characteristic makes studying abroad in China easier for students who are still learning the language. Many of the streets are lined with shops that have names describing what type of products the store sells. In this way, even students with a basic knowledge of the language are able to find the stores they need.
During my time studying the Chinese language, I have learned a number of slang terms. Curious to what some general Chinese citizens had to say about different slang terms, I interviewed a few. The first slang term was 也是醉了 (yeshi zuile), the literal translation of the term is ‘also drunk’ but in colloquial use the terms is used to express an individual’s frustration with something unreasonable. The older woman I discussed this with seemed rather unfamiliar with the term, the reason for which became clear after talking with a younger woman. She explained that the saying was most commonly used on online forums rather than in face to face conversations. Much like lol or omg in the English language, this saying helps people easily communicate their feelings over the internet. This more modern saying hasn’t yet had the chance to spread through all the generations. Only time will tell if the saying lasts or if it is merely a fad.
Another saying that my Chinese teacher in high school taught me was 二百五 (er bai wu), the literal meaning of this slang is just 250 but the colloquial use is to call a person very stupid. Both of the women that I talked to disliked the term and said it was not used in polite conversation. Such a negative connotation surrounds the phrase that many times shopkeepers won’t sell an item for that exact amount, choosing instead to add or subtract one yuan. It seems strange that slang can be as simple as a number, and yet still have such a negative meaning. Even with negative sayings and words, the Chinese language is beautiful and diverse. Through my increasing fluency, each day I learn more and more about the country and culture that I have come to love.
I experienced both excitements and disappointments last weekend but every memory was worth cherishing and talking about. Last Friday I went to Gibli Art Museum (The museum of Miyazaki Hayao) with the ICU culture program. Gibli Museum visit was THE activity that I looked forward for a long time and it did not disappoint me. Though the museum was not very big, It was filled with cute details at every corner. I examined Mr. Miyazaki’s drawings carefully, hard to believe that they were all done by hands at a period of time full of computer technologies. I have followed his anime movies since young and it was like looking back to my childhood memory in this museum. Though as a common rule in Japan I could not take any pictures inside the museum, I would not easily forget the lovely totoros on the window frames, the delicate spiral staircases and the fluffy spider dolls at the corners. In no other places have I seen so much attention paid to perfecting the details. Perhaps it is also a merit in Japanese culture.
On Saturday night the biggest firework in Tokyo took place at Sumida River near Asakusa Shine and I went to have a look with my friends. Although on Friday the professor warned me that there would be lots of people, I did not expected it to be so much. The subway to asakusa was tremendous and even worse it rained hardly. I felt lucky that I did not wear yukata because it would be even more difficult to walk. So instead of squeezing into the crowd for the firework, my friends and I went to taste the street food set up for this big event. They were very satisfying. As a part of 夏祭り (Japanese Summer festival) the firework was one of the most popular events in Japan over the year. People, especially couples, get together to enjoy the firework wearing yukata. In almost every love or youth themed Japanese TV shows, movies and anime, the firework festival took place and was described as very interesting and romantic. Yet, in reality the feeling was totally different with too many people. (Though the traditional snacks along the street were as delicious as expected.) Anyway, it was a funny and worthwhile experience to see how the world in TV differed from the real world.
(This photo is took by a brave friend who endured to see the firework. it was really beautiful)
As a side note, I am sitting at a cafe in Kichijoji this afternoon writing this post. Since Kichijoji only needs one bus and half an hour to get there, it has raised up to my No. 1 choice to spend an afternoon. There are so many izakaya (Japanese bar), cafe and sweet small design shops. Also, it is still not so occupied with tourists and remains the image of a lively Japanese shopping area. I have drawn some lovely images of my impression of ICU.
Over the past few weeks I have been randomly asking some native Chinese about their impressions of the United States. My subjects include: teachers, students, friends, parents, and other adults. In collecting answers, I have found, as expected, that some are more knowledgeable than others. Recently it seems like everyone has formed an opinion on America’s new President, meaning their views on America have been influenced by social media and news reports. So far, the attitude toward Trump has been negative. One father expressed his sincere beliefs about America’s future. He feels that China will soon surpass America, especially with America’s new president. China is in a state of growth and development that he foresees will place China at the forefront. I asked an international student who is currently attending college in the US about her attitude toward the US. For the most part she enjoys the freedom that America has to offer and she upholds and overall positive opinion. Yet she finds that the also freedom has its drawbacks. She feels like some Americans are overly vocal and cross boundaries. A few people have asked her if she feels sad that China does not have as much freedom as America.
Another realization hit me — many people are only familiar with the big-name places such as New York, Los Angeles, and other popular settings for American movies. Some have never heard of my home, Pennsylvania. Moreover, these movies have formed many people’s perception of the United States. Some people have images of the southern towns full of cowboys carrying around guns, others picture college students running around green university campuses, and still others expect the US to be like Europe. Our teachers and tour guides have warned us about the general belief that Americans are extremely wealthy. For this reason, foreigners ( wai guo ren) are often targeted by market sellers and taxi drivers. The bargaining culture in China is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Only if you are strategic and somewhat aggressive can you buy reasonably priced items. Haggling truly is a skill, I have personally unintentionally overpaid for a few items, so I respect those who are learned in the ways of asserting themselves in the marketplace.
Image below: Muslim Street in Xi’An.
A few weeks ago, our class had an opportunity to visit a middle school in Beijing. During our visit, a few ND students gave presentations on Christmas, schooling, and camping in the US. The middle school students were astonished to hear about our light work load in middle school as well as our freedom to engage in extracurricular activities and leisure time. In turn, the pressure that the students are under astounds me. Some students learn the material I encounter in college as early as middle school. After our visit, I asked a teacher how else students spend their time, to which she responded that their lives primarily consist of studying. Even when they are not in class, many students attend supplementary classes.
After middle school, the pressure continues to build. A high school student’s future education relies solely on their performance during this one major pre-college exam, gao kao. In China the schools are categorized into different tiers. When students prepare for the gao kao they apply to two schools in each tier. In the case that a student is weak academically, they are discouraged from even applying to the top colleges.
Another one of my teachers recently described her high school life to me. Compared to my own high school experience her high school days sound exciting, yet rigorous. I feel like her high school experience resembles my own college experience a bit. She lived in a boarding school, meaning she learned to be independent at a young age. I believe her school is relatively standard, but I am not certain. After a full day of classes (literally a full day), she had an extremely strict curfew. A sort of hall monitor makes his or her rounds through the dorm. Whether they are tired or not, the students must sleep. They cannot talk, because they will be heard. Additionally, the power is shut off at a certain time every night. In recalling her experiences, she also nostalgically talked about the moments with friends, shopping in the on-campus market, exploring the different cafeterias, and attending different school events. According to her, the ultimate consequence for misbehavior or misconduct was a call to a student’s parents.
Considering that a child’s behavior is often seen as a reflection of his or her upbringing, when a child misbehaves they disappoint and embarrass their parents. I’ve noticed that more traditional Chinese parenting is more so tough love than in America. In America, political correctness is widely upheld; most people put in effort to not offend anyone for fear of creating to conflict. Children are often encouraged to find and pursue their dreams. In China, parents often project their wishes and hopes onto their children. The most common dream involves schooling, a well-paying (or better yet prestigious) job, marriage, and a household. A lot of parents are critical of their children, when their children do well they ask them why they didn’t do better. Comparisons are drawn and criticisms are thrown on children in hopes of motiving the child to strive and succeed.
So far, I have only been able to record a few of my contemplations. For the remainder of my time here I intend to continue learning and observing. By now, I have come to the obvious conclusion that my life would be drastically different if I had grown up in China. Sometimes I try to imagine an alternate life, but I can only speculate. I believe a trip to the country side would greatly enrich my experience, but I will not have the opportunity to visit the countryside during this trip here. Hopefully I will have a chance another time.
French cuisine is great and everybody knows it. So great in fact, that walking an hour and a half to Blanc Foussy, one of several wine caves in the Loire Valley, is not at all bizarre. My walk there went particularly well, as I learned about German architectural failures from a kind and talkative German student. However, anyone can research the wine-making process and learn what I did at Blanc Foussy.
Instead, I’ll talk about cheese. Specifically chèvre. Specifically chèvre that is shaped like the bottom portion of the pyramid on a dollar bill (without the Eye of Providence that is). Tours and its surroundings specialize in chèvre, goat cheese, which is often sold in the aforementioned shape. It had already made a few inconspicuous appearances on the cheese platter that my host family offers after every meal when my host father recounted to me and the other student living here its history.
Pyramidal chèvre already existed in Napoleon’s time, and seeing it at a dinner with his counselor Talleyrand reminded him of his conquests in Egypt. He cut off the top as a metaphorical show of power, and thence vendors reinforced the notion by selling the cheese sans point.
Wine and cheese emblematize l’art de vivre, which I associate primarily with France. I often forget the warm weather required to cultivate them so finely. France’s proximity to the Mediterranean has entwined its history with that of Northern Africa with mostly adverse effects. I didn’t think to expect one as positive as the exchange of food. Besides the legendary origin of not-quite-pyramidal chèvre, dishes like merguez (North African sausage) and couscous are common. I’ve now eaten that meal in my host family’s home and on L’Île de Rê, where I spent this past weekend.
Six students from the University of Alabama, a fellow ND student, and I rented two rooms at a homestay near La Rochelle, a historic town on the Atlantic coast.
We arrived in La Rochelle Friday evening ready to eat, then found out that we needed to check in at the homestay before nine. After checking in, we set out seeking a marvel–an establishment open past ten in France. What we found instead was a fast food joint already closing, whose employees offered to imagine we were cars so they could serve us at the drive-through. These kind gentlemen gave us extra fries and chicken strips, and set the tone for a lovely weekend.
On Saturday, we resisted the urge to laze on the beach just long enough to downtown La Rochelle. After mussels and white wine, we strolled to the towers overlooking the old port: La Tour Saint-Nicolas and La Tour de la Chaîne. The name of the latter comes from its original function as one anchor of a chain which prevented entry into the port when drawn. Standing on La Tour Saint-Nicolas, where sentinels watched over this center of French maritime trade through the Hundred Years’ War, during La Fronde, and onwards, inspired me.
The next day, I parted from the group at Sablanceaux–the first of the many beaches along L’Île de Ré. The buses barely run on Sundays, and especially not on an island where a limit on building height exists to prevent hotels and resorts from disrupting the local charm. I hiked about fourteen kilometers and saw some pretty towns, but only one of the many things I’d wanted to see was in reach.
Among the tips offered to us by the owner of the homestay was a gas station that sells local beers, including “the Blonde de Ré.” Motivated by this amber mystery, I followed the arrows and circles on the minimal map the owner had given me. Thirsty and tired, I found the station. Closed.
L’Île de Ré is beautiful and peaceful, and I want to spend more time there. Planning my unfinished adventure occupied me on the long walk back to Sablanceaux, where I had merguez and couscous on the beach, seated among friends. Perhaps the greatest pairing I achieved this week was the pairing of my desire to explore and my use of French.
We ordered our food, asked for directions, called a cab, held a late-night conversation with neighbors to the homestay, all in French. I’m finding that I can communicate fairly well even when grammar slips away from me, and I’m alright with looking silly if it helps me learn. I downloaded a conjugations app which, along with the French Fullmetal Alchemist manga I’ve been reading, will compliment my coursework well. Speaking of, I moved up levels this week. Already, I have a lot to be grateful for.
On my last post I gave my first impressions of Tokyo the city. This time I’m going to go into what ICU campus life is like. And I guess the best place to start off would be the campus itself.
By American standards, ICU has a rather small campus. You can walk nearly the entire perimeter in around 25 to 30 minutes. But despite this, ICU is the largest campus in the greater Tokyo area. The campus is also a stark contrast to the sprawling city in that it’s so incredibly green.
It really is calming to stroll around campus when the weather is more manageable. As you pass the many trees on the campus, you’re very likely to be bitten by mosquitoes, cawed at by crows, and distracted by the buzzing of cicadas. Of the three, I’m really only fond of the crows. During my first few days in Tokyo I really didn’t like the overgrown, somewhat empty, and small campus, but it has definitely grown on me.
The dorm I live in took a little getting used to. The security system, power management, and trash disposal of all things were similar but strange enough to keep me confused for a few days. Our key cards are used to get into and out of our rooms, the floor we live on, and the dorm itself. They act as a way to check in and out, but ICU’s system is a little strange. If you don’t sign in with the key card, you can’t get out and vice versa. It is actually possible to lock yourself into your room or floor even if you have your key card with you. At first, this was pretty cumbersome, but I adjusted to it well enough.
Then there’s the trash… This is more of a general gripe for living in Japan rather than a specific attribute of ICU. Where we Americans have a simple two part disposal system (recycling and non-recycling) in Japan sorting trash is a bit more complex. You have four main categories: combustibles, non-combustibles, paper wastes, and PET bottles. In the first week I often stopped to ask myself “can I set this on fire?” And if the answer was no, I still had to decide whether the non-combustible material should be considered plaster or glass/metal. Weeks later, it’s less of a hassle, but just barely.
The last and arguably most important part of ICU is the academic experience. Essentially, what’s it like to go to school here? The summer courses in Japanese program basically offers one large course centered around learning the Japanese language. Each week we cover new grammar points, improve our listening and reading skills, and learn new words as well as new… kanji.
Why does kanji get italicized? Glad you asked. Kanji is easily my least favorite part of the Japanese language. It is one of the three “alphabets” used in Japanese alongside hiragana and katakana. However, where hiragana and katakana are phonetically based like our alphabet, kanji is based on Chinese characters. This means that every symbol is essentially its own word… And there are over 5,000 of them. And unlike Chinese characters where each symbol has its own sound, Japanese kanji can have multiple sounds as well as multiple meanings… And we learn about twenty new kanji every three days. So. Much. Fun. To learn.
Outside of the detestable kanji I genuinely enjoy class. Grammar is fun and interesting to me, and I’m pretty proud of how far my reading and listening comprehension has come since the start of class. Probably the best part of class, however, is being able to interact with native Japanese speakers in new ways. Our teachers are knowledgeable, helpful, and amiable, and they often make it easy to approach them with questions. On top of all of the language study, the course also offers cultural activities for us to participate in. More on those wonderful experiences later.
So that’s ICU in a nutshell. I’ve touched on what I consider all of the major parts of living and studying at ICU. In the next post, I’m going to rave about the cultural activities I managed to go to through the University and how they’ve help my understanding of authentic Japanese culture grow. Until then, here are some bonus pictures of the campus:
Cologne is a city of many churches. The iconic Kölner Dom is world-famous and the instantly-recognizable center of the city. The city is literally built around Der Dom, and for good reason. It’s utterly massive and absolutely impressive. Pictures don’t do it justice.
But Der Dom is hardly the only church in the city — it’s just the most famous one. There are twelve famous romanesque churches throughout the city. I’ve visited a few of them, and they are absolutely beautiful. There are also a number of more “ordinary” smaller churches and parishes throughout the city. Cologne boasts one of the highest percentages of church-goers in the country, both Catholic and Protestant. In exploring churches in Cologne, I made a point of visiting both the big and the small, the famous and the ordinary. And what better way to explore churches than by going to Mass?
I have found that there is a certain appeal to both types of churches, big and small. Mass in the massive (pun intended) Kölner Dom makes one feel miniscule and insignificant under the lofty roof and towering gothic pillars. It reminds me how small we humans are in comparison to God. At the same time, praying with the rest of the congregation in the large cathedral fills the empty space with something holy and unites us tiny humans to something bigger. Der Dom is an experience of big and small all at once.
Meanwhile, going to Mass at smaller churches where the locals tend to go has its appeal as well. They feel much more homey and comfortable. One of my favorite places to go has been Dreikönigen parish. There, I feel like I’m part of the community, united by faith to the native Kölsch. The variety of people, young and old, reminds me of the variety in the Church and brings the liturgical experience much closer to home.
One of the coolest parts about going to Mass in Germany: the music! St. Augustine once said singing is like praying twice. Singing in a foreign language might be like singing three times, in that case! German liturgical music tends to rely heavily on the organ, which fills up the space and echoes beautifully throughout the church no matter its size. The Gotteslob books, pictured below, are the hymnals used in almost every church.
When it can be quite a task to understand the priest or figure out the meaning of the readings, music is a much more relaxing, powerful way to praise God and is always much easier to translate than other parts of the Mass. As it has been said, music is the universal language, and it mediates both prayer and learning a few new German words!
The Best Part: People
In addition to being a great way to pray and connect with God, going to church has also been a great way to connect with new people! Mass is as much of a social event in Germany as in the U.S. or anywhere else. I have enjoyed a few nice conversations with people I’ve met at Mass, and the sign of peace offers a liturgical moment to meet people in the surrounding area. The Eucharist is a sacrament that brings all sorts of people together, and that has rung true during my time in Cologne.
Outside of the liturgy, parishes are often the site of extra-curricular social events as well. In Dünnwald, the local parish was the center of the Dünnwalder Frühling festival. After Mass last weekend at Dreikönigen, a marching band performed on the church grounds in the celebration of a local parish group much like the Knights of Columbus in the U.S. Der Dom, as a tourist attraction, brings people from around the world together to catch a glimpse of the architectural wonder. Churches bring people together and are a great way to connect with the local community.
What insights have you brought back as a result of this experience? How has your summer language study abroad changed your worldview? What advice would you give to someone who was applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study? Did you meet your goals for language learning? How will you maintain, grow and/or apply what you have learned?
I was deeply impressed by the learning environment cultivated at Hebrew University. I had heard that the ulpan program was like a well-run ‘machine’ for mastering modern Hebrew. We spoke only Hebrew in the classroom for 5 hours a day and covered over half of the first year textbook in only about 5.5 weeks. I am not the first to say it, but there is truly no better way to learn a language than living in a society which speaks it. Through this experience, I accomplished my learning goals for this program and look forward to continuing with this language through personal study with tutors this year. By continuing to progress on my own, I plan to be ready for another ulpan next summer at the ‘bet’ level.
Interestingly, Hebrew came more easily to me than I had anticipated. I was worried that I might face the same challenges I have experienced in the past to learning Arabic–a language that I can easily admit is the hardest thing I have ever studied. However, it was because of my studies in Arabic that Hebrew came so easily to me this summer. They share many words such as day, “yowm”, and many similar roots, such as sun, “shems” in Arabic or “shemesh” in Hebrew. These similarities would seem to make it easier for Israelis and Palestinians to learn each other’s languages (both official languages of the state of Israel). However, the politics of the conflict have greatly hindered this possibility. Neither of my Hebrew teachers knew Arabic despite the growing number of Arabic-speaking students entering the university. However, one informed me that she is now ready to learn Arabic to help these students and explained that now she regrets not learning it when she had the chance in school.
While English can get you pretty far in both Israeli and Palestinian areas, after a summer of travel in this region, I am now more convinced than ever that learning both of these languages is crucial to understanding the complexity of this conflict by allowing the inhabitants of this land to express themselves in their own voice, in their own languages. Language acquisition is the first step for me to be able to research and write a truly transnational dissertation of the United States and Israel-Palestine–one in which I share a convincing portrait of two societies, not just an in depth study of the U.S. intervening unidirectionally into Israeli and Palestinian affairs but a study of interactions moving multidirectionally back and forth across the Atlantic.
During the last week of the program, I was out celebrating with my classmates. I ended up meeting and chatting with two young Israelis. Much to my surprise, I learned that I was in conversation with a male IDF soldier and a female police officer. While I had seen soldiers on and off duty all around all summer, I had never made an effort to speak to any of them. I did my best to listen to their stories, asking if they felt safe in their work. The young woman told me, “Hardly ever.” Suddenly, she leaned in and said, “Why do Americans hate us? I feel like we are so vilified, and no one wants to understand our side of the story.” I had many things I was thinking and feeling: Over the course of the summer, I had seen inequality and injustice at work through more and less visible systems of oppression. I could see that there were more than just ‘two sides’ to this conflict, but I could not deny a series of power imbalances between the Israeli and Palestinian ‘sides’. I was also struggling to account for American ‘power’ to influence this region; I had after all had the privilege to travel both in and out of Israeli and West Bank territories throughout the summer, more freely than either most Israelis and Palestinians, because of my U.S. passport. I also worried that I had allowed my critiques of certain aspects of Israeli policies to blindly bias me against IDF soldiers and police officer writ large…I am sure many of these thoughts flitted through my head at the time, but as I looked into the brown eyes imploring me to understand her side in all of this, all I could say in that moment was, “I promise to tale your story back with me and share it.”
For others who pursue the SLA Grant experience, I encourage you to prepare yourself for a dose of self-reflection. What does it mean to be an American in the place of the world where you study? What privileges as an American allow you to be live there and learn there? Given this degree of ‘power’ for just being a U.S. citizen, how will you harness your privilege while you are there and when you return home? For me, my goal is to share stories: stories that have been silenced or overlooked in American popular and academic assessments of the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’, stories that add layers of humanity and complexity–as well as thoughtful critique and insight–to an otherwise ‘two-sided’ dominant narrative.
I have been lucky to travel extensively within and beyond Jerusalem this summer. While most of my travels have been on school trips with my peers from my Hebrew class, for a time I was lucky to have my favorite travel partner by my side, my husband Ryan. While we are supposed to be avoiding English speakers as much as possible in order to stay immersed in our language of study, he is one ‘Anglophone’ worth making an exception for! Here are a few places Ryan and I visited, which I can now confirm are much more fun to experience “בזוגות”(bezugot)– Hebrew for ‘in pairs’ or ‘with a partner’.
First an overview of places we toured on the south side…
Hike up the ancient fortress of “מצדה”, Masada
Masada is a desert palace built by Herod the Great sometime around 37-31 BCE. It was one of many palaces he constructed for himself; this one was of course meant as a refuge if he was ever threatened. (He was a very paranoid man, even killing his own children for fear that they would take his crown.) Later, a group of radical Sicarii Jews fortified themselves in this place as a fortress against the Roman army. After a long siege, rather than be taken as prisoners and slaves of the Romans, it is said that these Jews chose to commit mass suicide instead. This story has been incorporated into modern Zionist national lore. As one Jewish young man on a birthright trip explained to his peers (and us) as we waited for the trolley to take us back down the mountain, this story symbolizes that Jews will always stand up for themselves and fight, even to the death, for the right to live here “freely”. Like all nationalist tales, it is not clear whether such stories can contribute to peace with minorities in the region.
2. Swim and ‘Mud’ in the Dead Sea
Our next adventure was to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, snuggly surrounded by the Negev Desert on one side and the mountains of Jordan on the other. It is best to visit the Dead Sea in the winter as opposed to the summer months; however, while the locals are smart enough to avoid the heat, this does not stop plenty of foreign tourists risking the sun and temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was so warm it felt like bathwater, and we only survived in it for about 30 minutes. However, the mud was still great–best free exfoliant a girl can get! And of course, there is nothing quite like floating effortlessly in the Dead Sea.
3. Hike and Cool Off in the Ein Gedi Springs
It seems impossible that anything could be green in the middle of the vast, endless Negev Desert. However, the Ein Gedi is an ancient spring that has kept the Bedouin tribes of this region able to dwell and survive here for hundreds of years. The Israeli state control of this spring for tourism has, of course, caused problems for these tribes. Keeping in mind these politics, we hiked a path cutting through the mountainsides, stopping to cool off by wading in waterfalls along the path. The water felt unbelievably refreshing in the summer heat!
We also took time to explore the northern region of the country…
4. A Boat Ride and Surprise Swim in the Sea of Galilee
One of my favorite experiences this summer was riding a boat designed to look like wooden vessels from the period when Jesus lived. Because the boat was electric, it was very quiet as we sailed across the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water. The boat driver said that storms can come and go quite suddenly on the water when the wind shifts, and thus it makes sense that the New Testament says that Jesus calmed these waters. Since it was another hot summer day here, the boat driver told us that we could sit over the edge of the boat to dip our feet in–or even jump in if we felt inclined! It was too hard to pass up such an experience, so in we went with our clothes on! Again, it takes the right kind of travel companion to jump overboard with you into the Sea of Galilee. I was glad to be traveling ‘with my partner’- bezugot!
5. The Mount of Beatitudes
As Christians, Ryan and I found visiting sites from the time of Jesus to be quite a special experience here. I was lucky to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus was born as well as the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth where it is said Mary lived. These two churches rest on spots with ruins from the the time of Jesus making them ‘probable’ for the actual locations of these events. There are also other modern churches dedicated to aspects of Jesus’s ministry that constitute only ‘possible’ locations for where events in Jesus’s life might have taken place. One such church is the Church of the Beatitudes built by the Roman Catholic Church between 1936-1938 in honor of Jesus’s teaching of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. While it is unclear whether this is the exact hill where Jesus would have delivered this sermon, it is said that Christians have paid homage to this area since at least the 4th century.Whether it is this hill or the next one over, the church and grounds are really beautiful. You cannot help but reflect on Jesus’s words as you look out onto the hills and the Sea of Galilee.
As I have studied this region and the different aspects of the conflict here, I have done a lot of self-reflection on what my role as an outsider (white middle-class American Protestant women) can and should be here. Because of my American passport, I have had the privilege to travel in and out of both Israel and the West Bank (something that both Israelis and Palestinians are limited in, to different extents), and to listen to many stories of the diverse experiences of people who live here. As I think about the power I have to ‘access’ these places, I wonder how I can best use my power and privilege for good (and what the ‘good’ here even means). A few words have encouraged me along the way this summer: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.
Just to the right of the Shin Okubo station is a cute little neighborhood for all things Korean. The station is only one stop away from the popular Shinjuku station on the Yamanote line. One of my favorite things here in Tokyo is that in the huge metropolis that is Tokyo, every train stations and neighborhoods have a different feel to them. Some of them are crawling with tourists and locals alike like Harajuku, some are more residential but with a life of its own, and some are defined by certain characteristics.
My little visit to the Korea town of Tokyo made me aware of the globalization that is happening everywhere. Living in America makes it easy to take for granted the different backgrounds of all kinds of people, yet we are all connected through being American. In Japan and many other countries, the meaning of being Japanese is more heavily ethnically emphasizes. Even in the international city of Tokyo, it’s still relatively easy to stand out as foreigner. However, there are still many people who calls Japan their home even if they may or may not be so-called ethnically Japanese. I would love to learn more about their stories, and relate it back to mine and others stories in America.
On our midterm test, there was a reading session about how there was a recent increase in Japanese students learning Asian languages that I thought was interesting. According to this essay, there is an increase interest in dramas and pop cultures from Korea and China that cause this increase in the language studies.
I want to share two volunteer experiences that I have had in my time here in Jerusalem this summer. The first was one which I had sought out; the second was rather unintentional (but I’ll get to that below). The Notre Dame Summer Language Abroad office encouraged us before we left to seek out safe and appropriate volunteering opportunities. We were not supposed to just waltz into a community and start ‘helping’ but instead we were to consult with locals concerning ways that we could be of service according to the local’s needs and desires.
I was unsure how to go about finding such opportunities, so with the encouragement of my mother, I contacted the Lutheran World Federation office to inquire about volunteering opportunities. The office welcomed my offer and offered me three jobs- picking up trash, painting the front gate, or removing rocks from the office’s olive tree groves. Given the summer heat, my husband encouraged me to practically choose the one which I could best accomplish–trash picking. So one morning at about 7 AM, I headed over to the offices, received my gloves and trash bags, and began a two hour scouring of the office parking lot and grounds.
Trash waste is a huge problem throughout most of Israel and the Palestinian territories. On the one hand, it is an issue of cultural attitudes: properly disposing of trash–let alone recycling items–is not something which is socially prioritized and embedded into the majority of the populace. On the other hand, it is an issue of infrastructure: trash services–let alone recycling services–do not function as effectively as in the United States. It is a matter of adequate funding and resources, especially in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As I picked up broken bottles and wrappers, while trying to avoid the sharp bramble weeds, it was not difficult for me to ascertain that the LWF grounds would inevitably get trashed again by drivers casually disposing of waste on their rides to and from work, even by the end of the week.
It was not a glamorous job and it was not a job that offered me much opportunity to interact and connect with locals, as I had hoped volunteering would. However, when I turned in my full bag and gloves, the hearty thanks I received from the janitor staffed at the offices was well worth my efforts. He criticized local cultural attitudes for the mindless disposal of waste anywhere and everywhere. He explained that he had picked up 9 bags of trash just in the last week (a comment that made me feel sheepish for having filled only one bag), and that he thought it was a matter of respect for one’s peers and physical spaces that was still lacking in society. He then went on to talk about his children, including his son and his son’s new wife who have moved to the United States. As an Arab Christian, he was glad that they were able to get out and find better socioeconomic opportunities than he feels are available to Arabs in Israeli society today. It was only a short talk, but it gave me a small insight into the life experiences, working conditions, and dreams of one local man.
My second ‘unexpected’ volunteering experience came later in the summer when I signed up for a class trip on Israeli farming which I assumed would include visiting a farm and learning about farming techniques. I was surprised then when we arrived in a valley, about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem, surrounded by hills and mountain ranges. Where were the fields of wheat or soy beans? Or the cows grazing in pastures? (Or the farm houses for that matter?) This was not just my MidWestern bias; I had in fact seen some ‘traditional’ farm fields up in the Galilee region earlier in the summer. What exactly, in these rocky hills, were the crop?
The crop was olive trees, some hundreds of years old and some only decades old. These hillsides belonged to the Jewish National Fund, which was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement, starting under the Ottoman control of the region of Palestine and then under the British Mandate of Palestine after the First World War. By 2007, it now owns roughly 13% of the land in Israel. We were not visiting a private farmer but one of twelve farm land areas now protected by the Israeli Zionist organization, Hashomer Hachadash, an organization which tries to support Israeli farmers and thousands of acres of farm land from abandonment as fewer and fewer Israelis have the means to continue farming, both because it has lost popularity since there are other more lucrative industries to work in and also because of the difficulty of protecting the land amidst the conflict.
When I asked how the JNF had acquired the land we were walking through, the tour leader admitted that these lands had belonged to Arab families who “were forced to leave them” during the 1948 war. The phrase made me pause: “were forced” was a phrase in the passive tense. It masked who or what was responsible for “forcing” these Arabs to “leave”. The tour leader then pulled out rakes, hoes, and cutting sheers and announced that we would be cleaning up the grounds around a patch of olive trees.
In order to harvest olives, it is first necessary to clear all of the shrubs and weeds around the tree, which compete with the tree for scarce water. It is also important to remove the lowest branches of the olive tree so that the tree devotes all of its energy toward the upper branches for growing olives. When the olives are ready to be harvested, tarps are laid down around the tree so the olives can be dropped onto the tarps. Thus you also need to remove large stones so that the tarp can lay as smoothly as possible. The olives are then pickled or pressed into olive oil. This work is all done voluntarily, so if some trees do not get cleaned up, it is difficult or impossible to pick the olives from that tree for the current season. The tour guide explained that all of the proceeds go to diverse local charities.
With a pair of sheers in my gloved hands, I set to work trimming lower branches and weeds surrounding a nearby tree. After about two hours, our small group had cleared three trees. When we finished the guide said, “Now that you have contributed your sweat and efforts, this land belongs to you too. We want this land to belong to everyone.” As I had worked, I had wondered who had planted this tree and what their hopes were for it. The tree I trimmed was not too old–only 100-125 years more or less. This meant that it had most likely been planted by the Arab families who lived here and worked this land at that time who have since 1948 not been able to return here. ‘Belonging’ is a highly contested notion here amidst the conflict. I am unsure what the circumstances were which forced those families to leave, but it is clear that, at this point in time, this piece of land I visited does not “belong to everyone”.