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  • explorewithasmile 10:35 am on October 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , observations, ,   

    Hello Again! 

    My apologies for not updating you more often! Be on the look out for several blog posts in the near future!

    • Ellen 12:31 pm on October 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      So happy to see you, again on asiapod. Can’t wait to see pictures of you in a conical hat working the rice paddies.

    • Kristyna Bronner 9:42 am on October 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Wow! An internship on a rice farm?! That’s crazy. How do you like your roommate? My roommate in Hong Kong is from Mainland China and she loves that I’m a native English speaker because I can help her with her homework and pronunciation. I think you would really like Hong Kong: there is a HUGE city here, but my university is an hour train ride outside of it surrounded by mountains!

    • explorewithasmile 12:58 pm on October 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      My roommate is incredibly nice and similarly to yours loves practicing English! However, I wish she was a little more supportive and patient with me in my Vietnamese language practice. Yes, the farm is hard work but it is so rewarding that I love every minute I spend out in the field! NO WAY – that sounds awesome, even perfect! I don’t think I will be able to stay away from Asia for too long, so when I return I will definitely consider exploring Hong Kong and other parts of China. Now don’t get me wrong, Viet Nam is beautiful, everything from the country, the cultural traditions, the people and even the food! You should definitely adventure around South East Asia as well (assuming you will be back to Asia at some point too)!

    • DougReilly 3:16 pm on October 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Are you with the same family that Trevor Gionet was with two years ago? Or the same village? I wish I could remember the name of it. It would be fantastic if you could use your ipod to take some videos out at the farm, and give us a taste for wet-rice cultivation! I liked your self-discovery about where you want to live. I myself am always torn between City Mouse and Country Mouse…cities have a buzz and vitality and depth of human activity that is fascinating. Nature of course has an equally deeper depth….and silence (or rather freedom from human noises), darkness, fresh air! Coming from an intensely wilderness summer and diving into HCMC and Hanoi was certainly a journey from one extreme to the other!

  • grenphi 3:12 am on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , observations,   

    Being Good People 

    Up above you’ll see a watch. This is a watch I bought at a supermarket in Nanjing for 178 yuan (about $28). It’s been fairly special for me. Besides finding it aesthetically appealing, it’s also been a source of hope. On bad days I like to look at my watch to see if the gears are still moving. When they are, I’m reminded that time is still continuing, and that things will get better. When they’re not turning, I’m reminded to wind my watch and get on with my day. It’s been surprisingly comforting.

    To the right you’ll see a picture of a man sitting on a stool. If you look closely, you’ll notice he has only one leg. He sits outside a café near my campus I go to when I crave bread or an easily digestible meal.

    • Before I came to China, I was told by numerous people not to give money to beggars. I’ve heard this from many people in China as well. As a result of taking this advice, I didn’t give any money to beggars for some time. This included the man you see in the photo. I walked by him several times a week. I said“你好”, I even waved and smiled to him as I passed by.

    But, when he stopped waving and turned his palm up, hitting the back of his hand against the stub of what may have once been a leg, I pretended not to understand. My waving hand would fall, my smile would fade, and my eyes would look away. I remembered what I was told, and followed what other people said and did.

    Looking at this now, I can see a sociological pattern. I was instructed to follow a particular norm, observed a particular norm, and internalized this norm. I took the word of perceived experts without much questioning, and refused charity to a man with one leg (and scars all over his torso, I found this out in one of our later conversations).

    To be honest though, this post isn’t really about me analyzing a normative structure that I followed. This is more so about a moral realization about being a good person that has been on my mind almost every day I’ve spent in China. Let’s look back at my watch.

    For 178 yuan I have a functional timepiece that is at once a source of comfort as well as style. Arguably, this was a worthwhile purchase. Some would argue it’s a deserved gift to myself. But, what kind of person buys themselves a watch and walks by beggars several times a week? Sure, my friends and some of my family have told me and will tell me again that I’m not spoiled or indulgent, but would this man with one leg agree? I doubt it. This isn’t limited to the man with one leg, either. I pass by several people each day in terrible situations without even meeting their gaze.

    So what should I do? I’ve asked people, and most still suggest that I don’t give beggars money, citing pickpockets and the risk of the beggar harassing me for more after I’ve given them some. Look back at the photo of the man. You’ll notice, the area was clear enough for me to take a picture. My camera was 700 yuan, and nobody tried to snatch it from my fingertips. In the photo you’ll also notice that the man is leaning next to his crutches. Do you really think that he’s going to follow me and harass me more? I don’t think so.

    Thus I’ve taken to giving him small amounts of money every time I go in to the café. I feel a bit better doing this. Does this make me a good person? Some might argue yes, but I don’t think so. My donations never reach the price of my watch. I do manage to help him, but I also walk by many others. A few days ago I walked by a man with both arms amputated at the elbow. I gave him no money. I didn’t look him in the eye. Take that in for a moment. He was on his knees begging with no forearms or hands to speak of, and I didn’t even look him in the eye. I walked by wondering how he managed to carry his change bucket along with him, all the while enjoying the comfort of the shiny ticking luxury item around my wrist. I can’t look at that experience and say I am a good person. I am not a good person.

    That being said, I don’t know if constantly trying to justify my actions while living with any degree of wealth is possible. As long as I enjoy privilege at the expense of someone else, I lack the consistency to be considered inherently “good” (I can hear Tenzin now, “nothing exists inherently”. Just work with me on this one).

    My friend Roy has a phrase he likes to use to describe someone he likes. He says “S/he’s good people”, a plural applied to a singular individual. I don’t know if my interpretation is correct or if I’m over analyzing, but the phrase usually refers to people being laid back and honest with themselves and others about their situation. So now my goals have changed. I’m not looking for a good person. I’m looking for good people. I may try to be a good person, but in all likelihood I will not be a good person. I will just be good people. I’ll have to be ok with that for now.


    • Sarah Ty 3:02 am on October 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Not to mention one moral compass you once told me about: are your contributions to society generally making the world a better or worse place? And remembering, at least for now, that our insignificance in the universe can sometimes be a blessing. Anyway, great post! I like this quote: “I don’t know if constantly trying to justify my actions while living with any degree of wealth is possible.” Talk about challenging a normative pattern! You always give lots of food for thought, or as the Chinese would say: 很耐人寻味… Thanks for helping me think more about what it means to be good people…

      • DougReilly 1:21 pm on October 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        And yet another moral compass to think about: is the decision you are making good for all the world? In other words, if everyone did the same, would the world be better. This comes from Sartre’s existentialism, in which there is no discrete good, just webs of intersubjectivity. The key to this idea’s power is to understand how much we really influence the people around us, all the time.

        Great post, I love the watch analogy. I have a similar watch, though I have to turn it over to see all those tiny gears.

  • grenphi 2:12 am on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , observations, signs   

    Weekly Challenge 3-Response 

    Will do.

    This is a sign that’s posted up in my bathroom, so I see it every day. The actual meaning of the Chinese isn’t “Slip Carefully”, although I appreciate the advice. A better translation is “Caution: Slippery Floor” or “Careful of Slippery Floor”.

    I don’t have anything deep or existential about this sign. It just makes me giggle. However, this message is partially built off the idea of not having a shower mat. By putting a towel on the floor, I beat the system. I don’t know if most Chinese people use shower mats because the only ones I’ve seen are in expensive hotels. But, I haven’t gotten a chance to see very many Chinese bathrooms, so I can’t say if this is a cultural phenomenon or not.

    Best wishes to my fellow asiapod bloggers and everyone back home. Slip carefully!


    • HMJ 1:14 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      English translations of Chinese-language signs (or documents such as owner’s manuals) can indeed be hilarious, if not downright nonsensical. Even using mechanical tools like online translators will not as often produce results like this with most Indo-european languages I know. I would be curious to learn what linguistic mechanisms are at play there–that is, what fundamental, conceptual differences between the languages this reflects and, concurrently, what differences in mental/thought structures. In the sign you posted, there seems to be a misunderstanding (or different understanding) of the use and meaning of the adverb (carefully) as opposed to the noun (caution) or adjective (carefully). Does the Chinese language have adverbs?

  • Hannah 5:37 pm on August 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , hong_kong, observations   

    Not quite China 

    A long time ago, in a country that is now far away, I made the decision to take a short trip to Hong Kong before going to Beijing, China for the semester. Having completed my first full day here, my only regret is not planning a longer trip. I’m going to express myself in the form of a list because I feel like that’s what I have been doing all day: making mental notes on why Hong Kong is awesome.

    1.  Arrival- I arrived at my hotel in Wan Chai after a 16 hour plane ride, and a near 3 hour bus trip from the airport (due to heavy traffic). Needless to say, I was not in the greatest mindset when I arrived. But then I was greeted by the friendly staff. And escorted to my room (number 2525 on the 25th floor- how cool is that?). And so began my journey.

    2. Exploring- It was already evening when I had deposited everything in my room.  My first stroll out of the lobby was not promising at all. I turned left, I turned right, and I couldn’t find anything but highway. It was frustrating, and the hotel had a restaurant that was calling to me. It was tempting to turn back into the hotel haven- but going abroad isn’t staying in a hotel. I decided to follow the crowds, and eventually I made it. It took some creepy tunnels (different kind of subway), remembering to look left when crossing the street (cars drive on the other side here), and getting lost, but I finally found the street of shops. And it was so worth it.

    3. Dinner1- Decided on a Japanese Sushi bar. They had sushi, dumplings, and waiters that don’t speak English or Mandarin. I discovered this after the waiter lectured me in Cantonese when I said ‘thank you’ in Mandarin. It was a friendly lecture.  Downloading of Cantonese language apps onto the iTouch to commence when I get back to the hotel.

    4. Cantonese-

    Phrases that the Lingopal iTouch app does not have: check; food; how much?; delicious; hotel; good;  you’re welcome.

    Phrases that the Lingopal iTouch app does have: I’m a dolphin trainer; I’d be willing to learn Cantonese to get to know you; I like puppies, long walks on the beach, and reading French poetry in the moonlight.

    …Okay then.

    5. Hotel at night- My room overlooks an enormous cemetery. Less creepy at night.

    Hotel View at night

    Hotel View during the day

    6. Morning- Waking up at 8am thanks to time change means a very long day- a good thing on a short trip. I find the authentic market where locals buy fruits, veggies, and so much fresh fish and meat. It’s beautiful. No one is speaking English. I see produce and fish that I have only seen on the Travel Channel before. The fish are so fresh they are still wiggling around on the counter.

    Fruit at the market

    7. Afternoon- I take the shuttle from my hotel to Times Square. Over 8,000 miles away from home, and it’s weird to be in a place that actually is kind of like the Manhattan Times Square. I find Red Pepper after wondering around aimlessly- the best way to find things. It was a casual looking restaurant. Of course, it’s the quiet ones that sneak up on you- The food was delicious (dried sauteed string beans and pork, thanks for asking), but the tea was fantastic. Lychee tea. My favorite. As I expressed my gratitude to my waiter, he asked where I was from. When I said New York, he told me that he had worked on Broadway and 31st for years. Thanks for the amazing meal Ricky.

    8. Dinner2- Not as exciting as lunch. Wandered around Wan Chai for three hours in 95 degree heat, finally lowering standards to any place with air conditioning. They had individual televisions in front of the seats for single eaters- the future of fast food dining?

    9. Tomorrow- Today, I walked around with the locals. Tomorrow, I am booked on a sight seeing tour. I am so excited to be one of those tourists taking pictures of everything.

    10. Home- Slightly worried about New York in a hurricane/tropical storm, and looking at the sunny skies all day is guilt inducing. My high school has been turned into a shelter, and parts of my town are being evacuated. Hopefully members of my Beijing program will be able to fly out soon, as the airports are still shut down.

    Thanks for hanging on for this very long post. It’s been a long day, but a fun one.


    • Sue Jessica 6:21 pm on August 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I loved that you had a good first day, and Ricky sounds very nice and friend able. I was disappointed to read that dinner wasn’t good. It kind of reminds me of when we go to Villa Maria or the Tavern and we’re disappointed.
      Keep having fun, xo
      ❤ Sue

    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 12:46 am on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hannah! These pictures are such a treat on such a grey and gloomy day here. Thanks for sharing (all from the iTouch?). Can’t wait to see more!

    • Yi Lei 5:47 pm on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Oh my gosh I can’t believe you are already in china now!
      Have fun in one of my favorite cities~
      I miiiiss you!

  • grenphi 6:05 am on August 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , fitness, observations   

    Welcome to the Gym 

    The great thing about jet lag is that when it’s time for a 6:00 a.m. workout, I’ve been up for three hours already.

    Up above is a gallery of the fitness area near my dorm. Unfortunately, due to internet issues, I was not able to get them in order, but I’ll explain for you what’s going on. The picture of the man in the blue shirt isn’t from the gym. He was a nice man who sold me a pair of Kung Fu shoes. I felt like including him because he was a cool guy. I bought the Kung Fu shoes after seeing the man in gold wearing a pair and looking very comfortable.

    Until today, I’d never seen a Chinese person work out. I’ve only seen one Chinese person who looked fairly muscular since I’ve gotten to Nanjing. Combined with all the smoking and dangerous driving, I could have sworn that health and wellness was not a huge priority here.

    That’s why this fitness area was a huge shock. I discovered it empty on our campus tour one evening, and thought that’s how it would remain. But, when I went there at 5:30 a.m., it was packed. Not only was it packed, but it was packed with people who were much older than I was. There were some people my age on the basketball court and playing badminton, but that was it. However, what was more shocking than the retiree dominated demographic was the fact that the large majority of them were in good fantastic shape. I was repeatedly outclassed on the pull-up bar by men 3 times my age. Many of the grandmothers were flexible enough to kick me in the face. There were a few older men who worked out without shirts, and their 6 packs were better than most of the college students I know. Some of these people were performing exercises I had never even seen before.

    I’m not sure what their success is attributed to, but I did recognize some fundamental differences in training philosophy. The first thing I noticed was that their exercises incorporated the entire body. There was not, as their often is in the US, the concept of isolating muscle groups. These practitioners were using their whole bodies in every exercise, and the results were visible in their casual movements. They were comfortable and moved very fluidly. The second thing that was visible was an absence of explosiveness. They didn’t overstrain their bodies or try to perform 110%. They worked very hard, but they did so at a pace. Finally, I managed to recognize that many of the people exercising were performing limbering movements lined out in Mr. Bisio’s book “Tooth from the Tiger’s Mouth“, while few were doing simple static stretching. This is encouraging as I continue to use his book as a resource.

    I’ve never seen so many old people moving, chatting, and living with so much energy and vitality. Until now, this kind of movement and, dare I say it, youthfulness at old age was stuff of legend for me. It was reserved for the stories of old kung fu masters, the Gracie family, and legendary fighters such as Randy Couture who won a UFC title at 43 (definitely not elderly, but well beyond what is considered “prime”).

    Many of the people in my group have taken to going drinking and clubbing. While they are nice people, I will leave them to their night time parties for now. At 6 am, this is where I will be, and I will need my sleep.


    • HMJ 10:04 pm on August 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Pics of the shoes?

    • HMJ 5:37 pm on August 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thx! Are you getting emails and Skype messages?

      • grenphi 8:39 pm on August 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I am receiving emails, but not skype messages.

    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 12:54 am on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Love your use of the strike-out text for emphasis. Keep ’em coming. Great reads for this middle-ager up with a toddler at 5:30 am 🙂

  • DougReilly 6:44 pm on April 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bicycles, color, hanoi, observations, , ,   

    Vietnam Photos: Yellow 

    My first morning in Hanoi, I stepped onto the sidewalk to admire the light on this yellow wall. When I had my camera up, I saw the cyclist out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t have arranged for a more perfect composition and color palette. Sometime life gives you gifts. It was the start of a great experience in Hanoi. 

    Nguyen is the program assistant in Hanoi. I first noticed the yellow bag and Vespa, and then Nguyen turned and smiled. The students have a great guide for their time in Hanoi!

    • Kristin Brænne 7:41 pm on April 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply


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