For the US at least, Independence Day. Yeee Ha. In Yakima, the city holds a day-long fair entitled 'One World, One Valley, One Nation' at the fair grounds, followed by the standard send up of fireworks to the sound of classic American tunes like 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun.' All in all, this year was a passionate display that connected the pride people feel for our great nation with the awesomeness of loud noise and gigantic visual displays of pyromancy. In other words, probably not THAT much different from people in Iraq and Afghanistan's impression of America, though much safer.
This fourth of July was different for me because I experienced the normal run of picnics, BBQs, and family outings with eight months spent on PacRim running through my head. Echoes of our class on Nationalism, the way Japan deals with holidays, and my own questions about reemerging into American culture followed me as the day progressed. Though the period of marveling over warm showers and being overwhelmed in supermarkets is over, subtle curiosities continue to come out in the midst of my rural hometown. Witnessing a holiday that celebrates the unity of our community and nation in particular brought curious contrasts to my mind.
Before returning to America, we were often told that the lack of attention we received upon returning would bother us. At the time, I took it to mean that we would have to grow accustomed to no longer being the immediate source of entertainment at any social gathering, or receiving stares when walking down the street. Not particularly fond of constantly being in the public eye myself, I thought this transition would come naturally, but I was also a little shocked by the pervasiveness of this 'not knowing.' Out here in the quasi-suburban hinterlands, there is no guarantee that members of a community have to interact at all with the people they live around and with. Stuck in our need for personal privacy, some of the more human aspects and perspectives of living with people can be lost.
Personally, I blame cars and urban developers. While many older cities were built for people whose only option was to walk, or prance (ok, take a horse) to work, Yakima has massive blocks of houses that stretch for miles upon miles. It's not a big deal, because cars can get us to just about wherever we want. This freedom to define the people we interact with, bought with our ability to pay for gas, technology, and upscale housing, gives us an interesting choice, but unfortunately not one that always plays towards the kinder aspects of human nature.
In Yakima at least, people often utilize this power to choose their social groups based upon similarities of thought, religion, and proclivity for certain activities. Maybe this is an issue with all modern, capitalist countries (as I seem to remember even more outrageous trends in Japan as well), but in America I can observe first-hand conservative and liberal peers who proclaim ideological rhetoric with little regard for understanding alternative perspectives or critically questioning their own beliefs. It is a little ironic to me that at UPS, students were sometimes accused of being unable to stand up for particular beliefs (while those with firm beliefs were sometimes criticized or afraid to speak out), while out in rural America the problem is the exact opposite - it is so easy to surround yourself with people who think similarly that having an opinion is far more important than being able to explain to other people or yourself why the opinion is valid.
During our travels we never visited a Utopian community that put all off these issues to rest. However, PacRim itself is a perfect example of a program that provides an opportunity to overcome this cultural proclivity for similarity that many people seem to consider basic human nature. One unifying trait of all my fellow Pac Rimmers (including the veterans who traveled with us) was an appreciation for diversity that acknowledged the vibrancy granted to our community by acknowledging, discussing, and appreciating our differences. The adventure did not end when we returned home, and so I still seek out this kind of person in my daily life. On our nation's birthday, this is the vision of 'One World, One Valley, One Nation' that I hope to embrace.
(Article by Safa)
Jagged mountain peaks surrounded us on all sides while snow-capped summits gazed down at us like the eyes of giants who beckoned us to climb higher. The crisp, early-morning mountain air tickled my nostrils but still I drew in one deep breath after another. My body had just begun to adjust to the shock of being jostled from sleep at two-thirty AM, only to throw on a head light and a few extra layers and begin trekking uphill. Our destination: Goechela Pass, Sikkim, India. Elevation: 6,400 feet.
Like an avalanche, eight months of Asia had taken us by surprise, dropping every variety of experience on us as we fell with it. We now considered ourselves expert travelers; we had seen so much and had been surprised again and again until we felt almost an indifference to surprise - we expected the unusual. We had bonded as a group and had made friends with countless individuals along our path. All that we had experienced had passed by us in a rush, before we hardly had enough time to reflect on what we had seen. These impressions, experiences, and images remained with us in some form or another in the process of slowly transforming from short-term to long-term memory. My mind was processing many of these past experiences and impressions as we set out for Goechela Pass.
Wherever Pac Rim went, we took the place by storm. We quickly filled up bus stations, internet cafes, even airports. As you can imagine, twenty-eight Pac Rimmers on the go, each carrying forty pound backpacks, were a force you did not want to reckon with. And we were no less of a spectacle as we trekked through the Himalayas to Goechela pass accompanied by twice as many staff, shirpas, porters, guides, cooks and ox laden with gear and food. Our final Pac Rim adventure was upon us.
After traveling to many countries and taking a wide range of classes on subjects ranging from Hindu archeology to Comparative Chinese and Vietnamese nationalism, our final class turned inward and examined what we, as tourists, had been doing over the past eight months. The class addressed some of the moral questions associated with visiting a foreign place and interacting with the locals. It advocated for ecotourism, a tourism philosophy which strives to create sustainable tourism that preserves the natural environment and helps local people capitalize on opportunities which improve their quality of life while promoting the local cultural identity. This class took us from Darjeeling, to Gangtok Sikkim, and beyond to the tiny Himalayan towns of Quizing, Yuksom, and Timi.
In Darjeeling we learned about the history of mountaineering in the Himalayas and wondered what drove some people to take on such grueling challenges like climbing Mt. Everest. We also explored how the commodification of mountaineering actually provides many job opportunities for locals as shirpas or mountain guides. In Sikkim, Gangtok was our home base for several weeks. We took classes at our hotel in the morning, acquired the clothes and gear we needed for the trek in the afternoons, and enjoyed all the momos we could at either the Taste of Tibet or Maharaja Sweets restaurants during the rest of our free-time.
As the time for the trek drew near, we put what we had learned from the ecotourism class into practice. Our first stop was Quizing; we stayed several nights in homestays and interacted with the community to try to develop and improve ecotourism in their tiny town. We hiked to the holy monastery and enjoyed the unique images which adorn the inside walls. We met with the man whose job is to protect the local fields by controlling the hail storms and adverting them away. Our objective was to help the community members develop these opportunities to increase tourism but at the same time to keep in mind that too much tourism would spoil the authentic small town experience. This brought up questions about a community’s right to develop and modernize which we had been asking on PacRim since our stay in Kyoto, Japan, another city whose development is restricted in an effort to remain authentic to traditional culture.
After Quizing, there was nowhere to go but up; and up we went. The trek to 16,400 feet pushed the limits of each and every one of us. The physical challenges of elevation and reduced oxygen and the mental strains of HACE were all very real. Fortunately our local crew of support staff took great care of us. They kept us fed, packed up our tents, and then beat us to the next campsite with such ease that it was almost embarrassing. Another source of inspiration was found in Lady Ugly, an unofficially adopted stray dog who joined our group in the base town of Yuksom and continued with us every day of the trek. Officially, dogs are not allowed in the park, but Pac Rim, having just taken Professor Benard’s Tibetan Buddhism class, was unable to curb their compassion for the little trooper, and Lady Ugly became a member of our group, whether Lisa Long liked it or not (and no, she did not.)
The trek wasn't all fun and games, of course. We continued to have classes on ecotourism as we traveled. We interviewed other tour groups we bumped in to along the way and we monitored the visible impact of tourism in the park.
The morning we reached Goechela pass we woke around 2:30 am. The sky was still black and we hiked with head lights on to guide our path around large rocks and over creaks. As the sun began to rise, color ascended upon the landscape before us. The landscape suddenly had depth, and shadows marked the passage of time.
As morning faded into afternoon, we found ourselves trekking through knee-deep snow. Lady Ugly forged ahead through snow taller than she was, but she maneuvered her way like a champ. The final stretch to Goechela pass was along the side of a steep, rocky bowl which inclined into a canyon below. As we climbed up to the pass, Mt. Khangchendzonga stood triumphantly before us and wispy clouds swirled mysteriously around it. The guides and porters greeted us with warm potatoes and cookies. Lady Ugly pranced merrily around us, happy to eat any fallen potatoes or cookies. All of our efforts and struggle culminated in this moment of joyous accomplishment. It was all downhill from there...
Or was it? As we turned away from Mt. Khangchendzonga, we embraced our metaphorical ascent back home to America. From this point, PacRim began to wrap-up as easily as falling off a mountain. One quick moment follows another and next thing you know, here we are, nearly every one of the 2008-2009 Pac Rimmies is back in the United States. Some of us have graduated and face wide-open futures while others have another year at UPS to complete. In any case, all of us are reintegrating. We are reintegrating back into the lives we remember leaving before we left for PacRim. We are trying on old memories, friendships, and beliefs and seeing how they fit now. We are noticing how the world we left has changed in our absence, and we notice how we have changed in our absence from it. Every time someone asks us to recall our trip, we reassess our experience, give it meanings and choose how to best communicate this abstract experience, while recognizing that no perfect transmission of this experience is possible. We even learned a thing or two about the responsibility of sustainable tourism which we are able to take back to America and to any place we visit. We are now constructing the photo albums of PacRim, but we are far from finished; we are already planning the next Goechela’s which lay ahead of us.
(Article by Stephanie)
I had originally planned on studying reproductive health and family planning in India for my thesis, but once I began my research I felt totally overwhelmed by the different policies and issues affecting each region of the country. So, when the opportunity arose for me to hang with a reproductive health NGO in Bangladesh over spring break I switched my thesis focus to Bangladesh, a smaller, younger, much more homogeneous country. At the time I had no idea that Bangladesh’s family planning efforts were some of the most innovative, provocative, and challenging projects in this field of work.
This amazing opportunity came about through my boyfriend, Cody, who does documentarian work for Pathfinder International, a world-renowned family planning and reproductive health NGO. He arranged to do some filming for the NGO during my spring break so that I could tag along and take photographs for the organization while also acquiring invaluable research for my independent study.
The trip ended up being one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Bangladesh is a much different country than any of the others we have visited and working with the NGO made the nature of our visit much more intimate than a trip in the very non-touristy country would have otherwise been. We were accompanied by at least one NGO worker every day in our visits, which allowed us access to and translated communication with some of the most remote villages in the country.
We spent the first four days in southeastern Bangladesh, near the Myanmar border. Our typical daily schedule involved several hours of travel though the craziest traffic I have ever seen, a visit to a static clinic, and a visit to an underserved or unserved population. Once in these communities we interviewed clients, female paramedics and depotholders (community volunteers who live amongst the populations they serve). Although the far majority of Bangladeshis are Muslim, many of the communities we visited were made up of either tribal Buddhists or Hindus. Despite their poverty, the village people were amazingly optimistic, hospitable, and eager to share their homes and lives with us.
(Article by Jessica)
As a member of the Baha'i Faith, over spring break I was able to volunteer at the Baha'i House of Worship in Dehli. Calling it an impressive place visited by many people still feels like a bit of an understatement. On quieter days, the number of visitors runs around 20,000, while on Hindu holidays as many as 150,000 people pass through its gates. According to a CNN report, it is one of the most "visited buildings in the world." In keeping with the statutes of the Baha'i Faith, it is a place where people of all religions are free to silently pray and meditate for as long as they desire. Also, because the Baha'i Faith has no clergy, neither sermons or rituals are performed - only Holy Scripture from the world's major religions are read (or sung) inside. The Baha'i House of Worship (mirroring the practices of the Baha'i Faith) is free and open to all and does not accept donations from non-Baha'i s.
Another interesting aspect of the House of Worship is how it is received by the rest of India. Since its opening in 1986, The Baha'i House of Worship has been a symbol of India's diverse spiritual history, existing separately and above the many bloody religious conflicts that have shaped Indian history for centuries. The design of the Temple resembles the lotus, a symbol of purity inseparably associated with worship and religion in India. The example of communal harmony among religions set by the Lotus Temple has been applauded by Indian supreme court judges and politicians, especially in the wake of violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims over the recent destruction of an ancient mosque. My time volunteering there ended up being one of the most moving and spiritually insightful experiences of the India portion of our trip.
Of all the times to volunteer at the temple, spring break fell at a time that was filled with business and excitement. Not only was a nine-day Hindu festival just getting underway, bringing tens of thousands of rural villagers to the Temple, but Naw Ruz, the Baha'i New Year, fell about halfway through my time there as well. That evening, the House of Worship held a choir concert inside the temple, followed by a beautiful dinner afterwards. The picture of myself with some of the other volunteers is from this Naw Ruz celebration.
In only two short weeks I met a lot of amazing people. Volunteers came from all over, and before long I was learning Bhangra (a style of dance from Punjab) choreography with two guys from Afghanistan and Bolivia, being taught Farsi by several volunteers from the Middle East, exchanging metal licks (albeit via acoustic guitar) with a volunteer from Bangladesh who played in a death metal cover band, trading stories with my Jordanian roommate, and being shown around Dehli by a few local Baha'i youth who volunteered there in their spare time. It was wonderful to be able to forge friendships with people from such different cultures (and, quite often, with very different mother tongues) while working at the Temple.
For the volunteers, days went quickly and a little chaotically because of the sheer number of people passing through. Though there were set duties for us to perform (delivering the English or Hindi briefing, helping inside the temple, etc.), unexpected surprises cropped up every now and then during our single-hour shifts. During one such shift inside the Temple, I had to take emergency action to usher a quickly massing group of Indians in one of the Temple's corners back towards the centrally located marble benches. In each of the nine lotus petal corners of the marble prayer hall are writings of Baha'u'llah, the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith. People often seem to think that something important is hidden beneath the one that says: “O Son of Being! Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants,” and as soon as one or two people start checking out the plant underneath the placard, ten more people rush to the corner. If left unchecked, before long thirty people will be jostling and pushing for a glimpse of a perfectly normal aloe plant and light fixture. Whether it's because people are used to images or holy relics being inside temples, or simply interested in the quote, I will never know.
That same day, while asking visitors to switch off their cameras and cell phones before they enter to help maintain silence inside, I was approached by a man from a professional school of photography in Amsterdam who had flown to Dehli to take pictures for a project on the Temple. He was also hoping to say some prayers for his grandfather who had recently passed away, but needed a prayer book. We were able to find him one, and later on he ended up staying to take pictures of the gigantic community Naw Ruz celebration, which incorporated Sri Lankan and Indian lamp dancing, a slam poetry performance by an Indian doctor, the aforementioned Bhangra dance choreographed and danced by the volunteers, and copious amounts of food for everyone afterward.
All of this happened amidst an ongoing flow of domestic and foreign tourists, Buddhist monks, Hindu women with bindis in bright saris and men in collared shirts, turbaned sikhs, architectural students, Sri Lankan and Bengali pilgrims, Christian nuns, traditionally dressed Muslim women and men, families and school groups. Because the House of Worship is not meant to convert people to or teach the Baha'i Faith, only pamphlets with basic information on the Temple's creation and the basic history are offered if requested by visitors or tour groups when exiting the Temple. Nevertheless, to accommodate the visitors, we had pamphlets in Hindi, English, Urdu, Bengali, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Tibetan, Chinese, Malayalam, Japanese, Korean, and a whole range of European and South Asian languages, just to name a few.
In the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah emphasizes the establishment of "unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world." Abdul'Baha, a lesser but still prominent figure in the Faith, likens the human race to a flower garden, with each flower adding its unique color and fragrance to create the overall beauty of the garden itself. Volunteering at the Temple gave me an opportunity to see this principle in practice, and take home some memories that I will cherish for many years to come.
(Article by Safa)
"The fundamental principle enunciated by Baha'u'llah...is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society"
"The Baha'i Faith recognizes the unity of God and of His Prophets, upholds the principle of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all forms of superstition and prejudice, teaches that the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and harmony, that it must go hand-in-hand with science, and that it constitutes the sole and ultimate basis of a peaceful, an ordered and progressive society. It inculcates the principle of equal opportunity, rights, and privileges for both sexes, advocates compulsory education, abolishes extremes of poverty and wealth, exalts work performed in the spirit of service to the rank of worship, recommends the adoption of an auxiliary international language, and provides the necessary agencies for the establishment and safeguarding of a permanent and universal peace."
I have always wanted to travel to the Middle East, largely due to many of the same reasons that I decided to come on this program; my fascination with experiencing different cultures and places has been somewhat of a lifetime obsession. So in deciding where to travel to on my two-week spring break, beginning in Delhi, I figured that I had an opportunity to go somewhere far away from home, while still avoiding the parts in Asia we have already visited. Many places were initially considered, from Peru to a tour of sub-Saharan Africa, but most of them were ruled out due to financial and time constraints, and so somewhere in the Middle East seemed to be the best option. That is, aside from safety issues (the most obvious being the threat of terrorism and the massive attention given to it within the region in the mainstream press). Of all the countries I considered, many of which the US was either on strained diplomatic terms or literally at war with, Jordan was the obvious choice.
Although our group’s spring break began with some airport frustrations, especially a 14-hour delay and staying in a Kuwait airport hotel for a night, as soon as we arrived in Amman we knew we had made the right choice. Our itinerary was jam-packed: a few nights in Amman, a visit to Mt. Nebo, the mountain made famous by God and Moses, then on to float in the Dead Sea, then a hike through the beautiful and pristine Wadi Dana reserve, on to Petra, Wadi Rum, then snorkeling and relaxation time in the beach resort town of Aqaba, on the northern shore of the Red Sea.
Although not everything went exactly as planned, (by the way, if there is one thing you have to learn when traveling is to be flexible) the group and I had a wonderful time, and were able to experience something more unique and amazing than we could have thought, from loads of hummus and pita to Bedouin hospitality to seeing a sting ray gliding effortlessly through a spectacular tropical reef. An experience I’m sure we are all not soon to forget.
(Article by Jeff P.)
It was the first day of spring break, and I was bound for South Australia. Eight flights there and back, the first two landed me in Malaysia where I spent a day wandering through air that felt as though I could swim through it. By evening, I was making my way to the low cost air carrier in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I got there early, so I located a corner in the McDonald's at this sketchy establishment, and made sure that all of my belongings where in sight and attached to me. It was here that I received my first proposal on spring break...
His name was Maxim. Maxim was from Singapore and spoke in a thick accent. He approached me with a container of chicken nuggets, offering me one and asking if he could buy me a drink. I simply looked at him and told him I didn't eat meat, not wanting to deal with this sort of interaction late at night. He sat down and continued talking to me, but spoke too quickly for my jet-lagged brain to understand. From what I gathered, he had body guards and he wanted to marry me. So...I went to my gate.
The next day, I arrived in Adelaide, two hours late. My boyfriend, Jessup, picked me up from the airport, and I officially began my spring break in South Australia. A visit to the Adelaide zoo, many museums, the National Wine Center, and of course my lodging—a Ketch tall ship. My spring break was filled with delicious food, tap water that was safe to drink, and clean toilets - not to mention another proposal, which definitively one-up'ed the one I had received from Maxim in the Kuala Lumpur Airport.
On my second to last day in Adelaide, Jessup took me to a beach in Semaphore—we had this pristine beach to ourselves, aside from a few kite boarders along the shoreline. There were no chicken nuggets involved this time...just shells to collect, sand in my shoes, and a definite yes.
(Article by Tara)
What do you do with two weeks of free time after months of classes and traveling? When I originally planned my Spring Break vacation, flying to Goa and enrolling myself in culinary classes was the furthest thing from my mind; however, after one intensive week of cooking and visiting some of Southern India’s traditional markets and spice farms, I wasn’t sure I wanted the vacation to end. After months of choking down Indian food and learning time and again that my spice tolerance is quite low, this experience made me appreciate some of the great cuisine of Northern and Southern India. Below are two of my new favorite recipes for everyone else to try their hand at!
Chemeen Kari (Prawn Curry)
1 medium sized onion sliced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
2-3 green chilies, slit
½ tsp. coriander powder
½ tsp. turmeric powder
12 curry leaves
1 tsp. lime juice
2 cups coconut milk
Mix sliced onion, green chilies,
powdered spices, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and salt. Rub this
mixture onto the prawns and keep aside for ½ hour.
milk on low flame while stirring constantly. Add lime juice to prawn
marinade. In separate pan lightly sauté prawn mixture in oil. Then add
prawn mixture to warmed coconut milk. Cover and simmer on slow flame
To top off the curry: heat coconut oil in a separate pan,
add one finely chopped onion and cook to a light brown. Sprinkle
browned onion over curry. Serve hot.
Kheer/Payasam/Doodh Pak (Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Nuts)
|¼ cup rice washed and soaked for 1 hour
5 cups milk
2 tsp. ghee or unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. green cardamom powder
2 tsp. raisins
1 tbsp. slivered almonds, pistachios, or cashew nuts
few strands of saffron soaked in 2 tbsp. milk
Bring the milk to a boil stirring continuously. In another pot, heat ghee, add the drained rice and stir fry till it changes colour slightly. Add the milk and simmer till rice is cooked completely stirring constantly to stop it sticking to the bottom. Cook till milk thickens. Add cardamom powder, sugar and raisins. Stir in saffron and serve garnished with almonds and pistachios.
You can also use vermicelli instead of rice. The vermicelli variation is called sevyian.
(Article by Jane)