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  • DougReilly 3:01 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    World of Nature, World of People 

    Two audio clips to go along with my Hiking/Fire Festival post from last week. The first is a short clip from the beginning of my hike, when I was by the river in Ohara. Lots of birds.

    Ohara Nature Sounds

    The next one is from the fire festival itself. You can hear the chanting that goes along with the carrying of the big burning torches.

    Kurama Fire Festival

    And here is a pretty good video for all of you who want to know more about the festival.

  • jhboisselle 1:33 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    You and I 

    The following is a post from Asiapod reader Tra T. To ’12 HWS.

    Being a loyal reader to Asiapod, I have always felt compelled to share, compare and contrast my own experience with all my blogger friends. While all of them are talking about their experience being Americans in Asia, I am in a opposite position of an Asian student in the US.

    My mother tongue is Vietnamese and my hometown is the old capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. The culture and the language I was brought up with put a great amount of emphasis on showing due respect to people higher up than you in social rank. The hierarchy of social ranking in Vietnam bases on an intricate web of age, kinship, occupation and social status, which reflect in Vietnamese complex system of pronouns. In Vietnamese language, there are over 30 words used to refer to “I” or “me” and just as many for “you”, all depend on the relative statuses between the speakers. When I talk to my mother, she is “mẹ” and I am “con”. When I talk to my uncle, he is “chú” and I am “cháu”. A female older acquaintance is “chị” and a younger one is “em” and the list goes on. The pronouns also imply the intimacy of the relationship. To my same-age friends, I am “tao” and I call he/she “mày”. To another same-age person that I am not too familiar with, I am “tôi” and the other is “bạn”. The male special someone is always “anh” (the same word for older brother) and the female is always “em” (the same word for younger sibling). A small switch in the pronouns in the conversation can contain in it a whole lot of meanings. It can either be a transition from stranger to friendship, to kinship or from closeness to hostility. I might sound repetitive at this point but Vietnamese language is so subtle that way and that’s what I love about it. When starting school in the States three years ago, English became my daily language and getting used to the simplicity of “I,me” and “you” still remains my longest cultural adaption. Suddenly, I found myself feeling impolite and ill-mannered because without the honorific pronoun system, I couldn’t fully express my respects to professors and older people.

    Three years passed and I’m still the kid who bows a lot and finds it uncomfortable to call professors and elders by their first name (of course, with exception to certain ones). The system of pronouns based on social ranking is shared by other Asian languages such as Japanese and Korean.

    I encourage you to go out there, listen to the subtlety of the language, make conversation, ask about it, use it and enjoy the fondness and respect people give you for your being earnest. Language opens the door to culture and I strongly believe in the power of everyday engagement as the key to it.

    Tra T. To ’12
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges

    • andrewupton 3:39 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply


      How have you been? I miss you!!!
      I know exctly wht you mean about the struggle between Vietnamese and English in terms of honorific language and language based on relations. Those of us in Japan, as you pointed out, face similar problems every day. The probelem is sort of reversed though. Instead of getting used to the language’s simplicity, like you and english, we are struggling with its complexity. I am always thinking of whether I should use certain honorific forms, whether I should use distal or direct style. It really makes me evaluate how well I know people, or how I view them. I don’t know how we survive without bowing in the U.S. I know for a fact that I will be bowing to everyone when I get back. ; )

    • Sam Smukler 3:25 pm on October 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Heh heh, this reminds me of a story. My parents visited me in Vietnam, and my Vietnamese friend and I were showing them around. We were at the Museum of Ethnography, and we were invited to have tea. I called my parents over: “Hey guys, this lady just invited us to have tea!”. My Vietnamese friend was amazed that I called my parents “guys”. 😉

  • jhboisselle 5:20 pm on October 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Asiapod Weekly Challenge #5: the art of listening 

    The book Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator and Alison Jay(Barefoot Books 2007) is a favorite in our family right now. 🙂 The detailed illustrations charm my daughter but it’s the narrated text that captivates. When we read it aloud, she leans in and tilts her head, signaling full attention. Below is an example from the book that nicely reflects the quintessential fall weather we are experiencing this week here in the Finger Lakes:

    Honk, honk, geese call. Swish, swish, leaves fall. Whoosh, whoosh, hats fly. Whoo, whoo, owls cry.

    What’s the relevance to Asiapod? Listening is a critical component of learning. Asiapod bloggers, for Challenge #5, we’d love a “snapshot” of your current audio world, something short, up to thirty seconds or so. Perhaps you’ll share your own voice, a phrase or a saying in the language you are learning from your daily life; or, it’s something from your environment,  such as the hum of the traffic that you hear outside your window every morning. If you aren’t up for actual audio recording, please do feel free to share reflections on your audio world via whatever medium/means you are inspired!  See, for example,  Andrew’s prescient posting on Taiko.

    Ok, so down to logistics and time for a confession.  The simple   act of uploading an audio (no, not video) file strictly using a mobile device proved more challenging than expected, we admit it.  There are a bunch of apps out there facilitating audio recording capture and playback (or email) but not for broader internet sharing.  In the end, we did arrive at a fairly decent solution to offer Asiapod bloggers, the app Audioboo.  To get going, download Audioboo, use it for your capture and then copy the link for the WordPress app.  A big shout out to Sandra Saetama ’13 for her work in this area supporting Asiapod here on campus. Thanks Sandra…and in advance, to those Asiapod bloggers who identify additional mobile-only solutions!

    And, oh yeah, last but not least, congratulations to Hannah for securing her second Asiapod challenge lottery for posting Dictionary Apps in China are the Best!

  • andrewupton 3:40 pm on October 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Taiko: The Music of The Soul 

    I have not written in a while and it is time for me to play catch up. First I want to share with you a bit about my Taiko group.

    The group is called Hikone Kojo Taiko and the practice at the Hikone Shimin Kaikan (which translate directly means something like the citizens meeting hall, but really means the Hikone Citizens Center.) The group meets every Wednesday from 7:30 – 8:45 pm and some odd Fridays and Sundays.

    What attracted me to Taiko in the first place was its pounding, crushing, surrounding rhythm and sound. It is a form of expression that both encompasses you and makes you feel free. It both energizes and calms you. It is frenzied and at the same time intricately structured. I think this feeling was expressed best through one of my group members t-shirts, which said something like “Taiko is the music of the soul”. Another close friend and Taiko drummer also told me that Taiko is soothing as it reminds us of our mother’s heartbeat while in the womb, I quite agree. Either way Taiko accesses a corner of our being not yet fully explored and asks us to confront it in a simple and surprisingly gentle manner.

    The first time I set foot in the Hikone Shimin Kaikan I felt out of place, lost, and totally confused. Everyone was there for some purpose, some reason. I was there to intrude on someone else’s purpose. Needless to say I was a bit nervous.

    I am not taught Taiko as much as I am dragged along for the ride. The first time I held the wooden stick or Bachi in my hand was also the firt time I played in a group number; the basic pattern mind you, but I was involved none the less. While some frown upon this method of teaching I think for some things you must feel their power before you can ever hope to learn about them. Taiko is something that seems ever present. I will come back to this momentarily.

    To return briefly to the culture shock (in some form) of my first blog; the other day a friend told me something that I tried not to share in order to avoid sounding petty, but here we go. This friend – also an HWS student – told me that she had heard several Americans from our program being pretentious in terms of Taiko. This friend told me that they acted like no one knew what it was but them. I must admit that at the time I gave into my all too human emotions and was legitimately ticked off. Now, before you go thinking this is because I would like credit for actually being in a Taiko group that is not the case at all. I am not doing Taiko for anyone but myself, so why should it bother me whether they know I am doing it or not? No. The real reason is much simpler and goes back to what I was saying before. Omnipresence.

    Having stumbled into and through my Taiko practice I have, very quickly, become convinced of one fact, Taiko is and has always been. It is both fluid and incredibly solid. It is the music of the earth and I can never claim I fully understand it, nor can i posses it. It is omnipresent. I do not necessarily mean this in the sense of a deity, but rather in the sense that it is the description of something intangible. When Doug and I were leaving the practice we stopped to talk to Matsumoto-San the head of the group. She explained to Doug, via me as interpreter, that Taiko is not just music, it is about coming together and creating one, unified sound. It is about cooperation and mutual understanding. It is a description of the interconnected nature of humanity and life itself. A seed falls in a forest, that seed becomes a tree, that tree drops fruit, that fruit is eaten by a cow, the tree is felled and becomes the drum, the cow is eaten and its hide stretched over the drum. The branches of the tree become the bachi. In this way Taiko is a sacrifice and a new beginning. It is nature giving back to nature its own rhythm and heart.

    While pounding out the basic pattern in the back you may think that you are insignificant, but that insignificance is an illusion. You are the soil from which Taiko sprouts and takes shape throbbing and rising to a crescendo, then shrinking to the smallest whisper. All things have their place, without the seemingly most insignificant of which we would not exist, earth. Taiko begins with the basics, the soil, the dirt and grows until at the end, it returns to the earth, as do all things.
    It leaves behind a spirit of mutual understanding and respect for this earth on which we are just fleeting guests. Like the final beat in a performance, at first strong, and then fading, fading…gone.

    • DougReilly 3:05 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great post and very articulate about Taiko. I think that it’s really cool that you can participate in Taiko without being an expert, and be part of that unified whole. I think you’re right that there is a lot of power there. And there’s a discipline to it which allows that power to come out, unlike in my opinion the few hippy drum circles I have seen, which are all over the place. So in the case of Taiko maybe there is freedom in regimentation?

      • andrewupton 3:31 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I would absolutely agree with you Doug. The music and as you found out the varrious patterns are the basis for Taiko itself. Everything comes from the basics as I said in my blog, so if one does not have the basics and if one is, as you say, a member of a “hippy drum cirle” then the Taiko is not pure Taiko. Freedom comes from knowing the basics, understanding the drums themselves and then finding the ability to transcend these things and just get lost in the music. Like a Picasso painting. If Picasso was not skilled as a realist painter he would not have been able to break the traditional paiting styles, and the human body, so sucessfully for that matter. Like you say there is freedom in regimentation so to speak. The rest is transcendence.

  • DougReilly 1:23 am on October 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Earth, Water, Fire: in search of Shinto in rural Kyoto 

    As I grow older, and as I spend more time living in small town USA, the less tolerant of crowded urban spaces I become. I was well aware when considering a visit to Japan that this was one of the things this archipelagic nation is most known for, along with sticky rice, Godzilla and Ninjas. And I was down with that idea. Cities, especially massive, multilayered ones, still hold a fascination for me. But as I wrestled with my guidebook, I kept flipping to the chapters on the natural spaces. There is a huge amount of it. The Japanese, it seems, mostly prefer the flat lands between their mountains and thus the highly concentrated population zones. Flying over Japan on the way to Korea last year, I was amazed that the archipelago is so mountainous. I think it also explains the long history of isolation. Mountains and islands usually have a similar effect on communities’ openness and horizon of possibilities; combining both features seems a potent recipe for nearsightedness.

    It makes me think again of Douglas Adams’ world of Cricket, adrift in a thick dust cloud for most of it’s history until someone shoots a rocket through it. The denizens of Cricket discover the Universe and promptly decide that it must be destroyed.

    I lived two years in Slovakia, a land-locked mountainous nation in central Europe, and even then, before having ever visited Japan, there were things that seemed….kinda Japanese. Like taking off your shoes before going into someone’s house (or school), or the strongly animistic folk traditions like maypole dancing and fire festivals that still hang on, especially in the mountain towns. Now, having both feet firmly planted in Japan, I do not feel I was wrong. The more I travel in Asia the more I feel that, at least in the more northern latitudes, we probably should be speaking of Eurasia and recognizing that the Urals are just another mountain chain in a contiguous, though large and complex, continent. Really it is just pretension that divides the one continent into two, especially on the part of the Europeans, who have been obsessing about the west-east divide from about the time of Herodotus.

    Anyway, I really wanted to see natural Japan. I really wanted to stumble upon a forgotten Shinto shrine in the middle of a dark wood. I wanted to find a bathhouse for dirty nature spirits and perhaps spot kodama bouncing around the trunk of a grand old tree. When I realized this was too far out of reach, I despaired. But then I read about Ohara, on the outskirts of Kyoto, and uncovered a hiking group that has been creating a trail through the mountains around the urban center. Then I read about the fire festival in another mountain village within the city limits called Kurama. The towns are linked by a 6 kilometer trail over two low mountain passes. I could explore ohara’s famous temples in the morning, and hike to the fire festival. This became the base plan for the workshop/field trip I proposed to the Japan Asiapod students.

    By the morning of october 22, the workshop idea had fallen apart. Disappointed, I set out on my own. I came this far…and I still wanted to get the photograph that would prove to the world that the kodama exist. I pushed my plan back a bit…it was supposed to rain in the morning and clear in the afternoon. I didn’t want to hike in the rain.

    The temple in Ohara was sublime. The three flavors of cold noodles and the beer I had in the village after that were wonderful. My spirits were rising as I left the village and entered the woods. I had about three hours to get three miles.


    About a third of the way there, I heard cracks of thunder and thick storm clouds began to bounce around the narrow valley walls. Then the rain came down, turning the trail to mud. Water, then Earth. I changed into my sandals and began to speak to the trees to assure them I meant no harm and if they could kindly keep the earth in place and not let me be washed away by a landslide, that I would pay them back. There was a lot of water rushing down the trail. After the first pass, i saw a gate indicating a shrine up hill from the main trail. I really wanted to explore it but was a little worried about a the time. And the rain. I moved on leaving it a mysterious promise in my mind. Another mile further and I was ready to call it a day. I found a bus stop in a small village and hunkered down under my umbrella.


    A car stopped, however, and the driver, about 5o years old it seemed, motioned me to get in. It was an old Honda, and the steering was on the left side. I pointed it out to the man and he knew what I was talking about, but I couldn’t understand more than that. I told him here I was going and said it might be cancelled because of the rain. Yep, I got that even in Japanese. So much in communication is contextual! I had a Honda from the same era and it always fogged up terribly. So i not surprised that his was doing the same. He drove while I wiped the window with a rag. Maybe I should have taken my chances with the angry forest spirits…

    We hit a police roadblock-the festival was not cancelled and droves were headed into kurama. The good Samaritan let me off at the train station below Kurama, where it was a quick and crowded train ride north to the town. Fire!

    The festival was really cool. Some people may have found it kind of boring, but I thought it was pretty and chill. And there’s fire! I think people who would not find the festival very interesting were on the noncombustible end of the pyro/non-pyro scale as kids? Guess who used to attach model rocket engines to toy tanks just to watch them zoom across the tennis courts and burst into flame against the practice wall?)

    Every family on the main street put a signal fire on the street, and prepared properly-scaled torches for the children to carry up and down the main street. Some people put shrines in their houses and they were very pretty. Shinto is my kind of religion…seems to find expression in bare wood, clean white paper, white round radishes and long daikon.


    A variety of costumes are worn, which I think depends on age and role in the festival. The torch bearers have naked bums, well, not entirely naked. They wear thongs. Very cheeky, however The older men seem to be the torch lighters, they have full robes on.

    The processions start with the youngest boys and then progressively older boys and young men take their turn. The torches, meanwhile, grow in size. I know that there are actually penis festivals in Japan (with giant realistic looking phalluses (imagine that in your flag day parade, main street America!) so it seems the Japanese are comfortable enough to call a spade a spade (though didn’t Freud say a space was never just a spade?); perhaps there is nothing phallic about the torches. Certainly the roots of the festival, which deals with historic signal fires, does not suggest any kind of fertility right. But add those long daikons on the altar and….I just don’t know. It is fascinating to observe things like this and try to grok their meaning. Misinterpretation is all too easy. It is also possible that the original signal fire commemoration then came to take on other, older concepts, things common not just to us primates or even mammals, but to many species that rely on sexual reproduction. Elk with knocking horns, cool kids with the season’s in clothing, nerds with high scores on Civ…All vying for the chance to pass on their genes, jeans or bug collections.

    I will leave the rest to photographs.



    A final rumination: I commented to Sasha while in Hikone that I kinda wished there was a technology for recording the communicating smell like there is for light and sound. I am sure there are technical impediments to this, but I think it would be really cool if you could take smell snapshots and then pass the perfumagraph around and people would be able to smell for themselves. Would somebody please work on this? Anyway, if I had my new Sony Whiffer with me in Kurama, I would have Sniffed the smoke made by the torches. Seemed like a kind of pine or cedar, and very nice. Though a little much when your clothes are saturated with it. When Sniffing smoke, use a fast shutter speed. Don’t want to overexpose.

  • Tatianna Jasmine 6:20 am on October 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Life in Ha Noi 

    So, it has been quite a while since I last blogged. Things have been moving pretty quickly and internet connection has not been great.

    I am now living in Ha Noi, which is the capital of Vietnam. The transition from HCMC to Ha Noi was a bit rough. For starters, the weather was a bit cooler and full of rain. Initially, I thought the people were not as welcoming and warm. I was also convinced that food prices were much higher than HCMC. I guess I did not realize how much I had grown accustomed to the people, places, and food of HCMC. I asked myself if its possible to experience culture shock simply by switching cities in the same country. YES IT IS!!! Northern Vietnamese people have a different accent when they speak; I have had to adjust my pronunciation of certain words just to accommodate the northern dialect. Also, while there are many similarities in the food served here, there is a slight difference in taste. Nonetheless, I have grown much fonder of Vietnamese food. It may be the one thing I miss most about this beautiful country.

    Adjusting to life in Ha Noi was difficult, but I am happy to say that the sun has come out!! Language classes are going well, I beleive I have gotten better at creating good pictures, and history lectures have introduced me to many honorable Vietnamese scholars, and photographers. Despite all of this amazing-ness… the spotlight is definitely on the Van Ho Buddhist pagoda, where myself and two classmates intern three days a week.

    I have never been a very religious person, however I have always admired Buddhism because I believe there are many aspects that address the very essence of being human. I decided to intern at Van Ho because I want to learn more about Buddhism by seeing it in practice. Van Ho is a very special place. For starters, the head monk is a woman and it has been this way for the majority of the pagoda’s history. There has only been one male head monk. It warms my heart to see women in such high ranking positions. In the back of the garden area at the pagoda, there are several graves where all of the past head monks have been buried. During one of our breaks the head monk showed us photos of a funeral procession for the former head monk. It was such a huge celebration with tons of people and many smiles. In terms of actual work, my classmates and I are usually cleaning and organizing things. However, sometimes we are lucky enough to be in the kitchen where our wonderful hosts prepare delicious vegetarian meals for us. Other times, we are simply relaxing under the sun and getting our personal work done. Initially, things were a bit awkward because of the language barrier. However, my classmates and I have become familiar faces, and have earned quite a bit of respect and compassion from the elderly women. I hope that when my spoken Vietnamese gets better, I can ask my new friends all the questions I have about their tradition.

    Until next time world…

    • TJ


    • DougReilly 1:11 am on October 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great photo of the pagoda…what is on the ground? Looks like flower petals. Try this with your camera…

      Put it on A mode if your camera has it. M if not. You need control of the aperture and you want a high number like 11, 16 or 22. Try that photo again and you might get those in focus along with the temple. And try one with the aperture wide open but the camera focsed on the petals.

      Your photo and the two I am imagining are three paths to a good image. Like hoe your perspective is low to the ground…very Buddhist!

  • jhboisselle 6:30 pm on October 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Dictionary Apps in China are the Best 

    This is a posting from Hannah, please do leave her comments but note that she may not be able to read them for a while.

    Dictionary apps in China are the best.

    Going from having approximately 3-5 hours of Chinese class a week taught in English, to having approximately 25 hours of Chinese class a week all taught in Chinese, in China, can be mildly daunting. The DianHua app is a Chinese-English dictionary app that has been irreplaceable all the times that I’ve been in class and the professor uses a word I don’t know-I can type in what the word sounds like. Or if I’m reading my textbook, or I’m out on the street, I can draw a character that I don’t recognize and look up the meaning that way. And the third way to look things up is of course to type in the English and get the translation. This is especially useful when trying to buy something unlabeled that you are unable to point to.

    -DianHua. My host mother for my temporary homestay taught me how to make dumplings. She told me the ones I made looked like calzones.

    In addition to the DianHua app, I also use KTdict C-E, which is another Chinese dictionary app. If a phrase isn’t in DianHua, I am sometimes able to find it using KTdict.

    -KTdict, after trying to figure out which author my friend was talking about when she said Ān tú shēng

    The reason I prefer DianHua, even though it lacks a few less-used words, is because the interface is a lot more clean, a lot more calming.

    I love the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and in that book’s book-within-a-book, they make a point of how important it is to not panic, and to remain calm. Hence my current iTouch lock screen:

    -“…it has the words “DON’T PANIC” in large, friendly letters on the cover.”- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, talking about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    Remembering this is very helpful when certain things happen, like when looking at a menu for a street vendor and realizing you have no idea what anything is (I never learned how to say ‘Chicken Skin’ in any of my previous Chinese classes. Or kidneys. Or gizzards. Seems like such an oversight now). So basically what I’m saying is that I love these apps, especially when remembering the days I had to look up characters in a paper dictionary. And remember, in Chinese there is no ‘sounding out’ words- if you don’t know a character, and you have to look it up in a paper dictionary, you have to look it up by radical. As in an individual component, or line, or dot. Not nearly as fun. And with that happy thought, I leave you to consider the wonders of the electronic dictionary in China.


    • DougReilly 1:03 am on October 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I totally forgot about Don’t Panic!

      Great words to live by. Yesterday, alone in very scary woods in a thunderstorm, I should have remember them. I almost panicked! And I sure as heck wish I had my towel!

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