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  • julialeavitt 10:28 am on October 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ho Chi Minh City, reflections,   

    It’s been so long we need to catch up 

    So I know it’s been a very long time since I posted anything and I apologize because within the next hour I will probably bombard asia pod with 4 weeks worth of memories, experiences, ideas, and what nots. Internet has been a reoccurring issue here but that is not the point of this blog. For the past two weeks we have been living an adjusting to a new environment in Hanoi. I’ll tell you more about that later. Right now I want to do some reflection on Ho Chi Minh City where I learned so much about the history and relationship between America and Vietnam.

    During photography class we had a Vietnamese guest speaker by the name of Doan Cong Tinh or should I say The King of the Battlefield…. This guy was such an inspiration. He was the definition of B.A.

    Tinh was a northern Vietnamese soldier says that his only weapon was his camera. He is one of the greatest wartime photographers and definitely the best from the Vietnam war.

    Tinh’s style of photography during the war was so different than any other journalists during that time. Most of the mainstream photos depict horror and tragedy. Not that the war wasn’t either of those things. But he showed soldiers, men and women, fighting for their country with smiles on their face instead of tears. He told us that he wanted to show the world that Vietnamese people were proud of their country and honored to fight for it’s freedom.

    One of his photos particularly moved my emotions because it was a staged photograph during an 83 (or so) day air attack on the north and south border. He had his troop come out of a barrack to smile for a group photo. This was such a huge risk because bombs were constantly dropping. In fact, right after he snapped the photo a bomb fell and the entire group dispersed. Most died or were never found. Tinh lived by miracle. The main man in the photo was assumed dead until Tinh met someone who knew the soldier 30 years later. Tiny went the mans village hoping to reconnect after all these years thinking his friend was dead. When they finally met, the man was not recognizable because he aged so much. Furthermore, he had severe mental health problem from head trauma that was caused by the bomb after the photograph. The veteran was extremely poor and was incredibly unhealthy both mentally and physically and it was all due to the lack of support for veterans. It’s not like back in america where US soldiers get benefits and health services. Soldiers here get stigmatized and left to fend for themselves with all he trauma from war.

    Since meeting with his long lost comrade, Tinh has been lobbying for better care for veteran soldiers in Vietnam. He held a benefit for his friend and raised Enoch money to aid him back to health….well back to better health.

    Tinh showed us through his photographs that Vietnamese soldiers on the front line were happy and privileged to fight for their country. He explained that they had all accepted death and that made it so much easier to cope with the stress of war as well as making it enjoyable.

    It was amazing to see a different side of the war especially since it’s a large part of my reason for coming to this country. If I hadn’t traveled here, met the amazing people I met, and seen the museums and monuments from the American war in Vietnam I honestly dont think that I would have ever understood anything about the war. In American school there is a lot of truth left outside of the curriculum and text books. I don’t recall ever learning about the current issues that millions of Vietnamese people facing such as agent orange, many of whom are part of my generation. Not only are health issues from agent orange passed down from generation to generation but many of it’s victims come from poor villages with zero health assistance. I also dont recall learning that many American children, families, and gi veterans are also suffering from agent orange; however, it is more likely that those Americans are receiving adequate or some health care from the government. Okay now I’m starting to rant and rave about the after math of the war. I apologize. It just pisses me off that my highschool or even middle school teachers never expressed the present day aftermath of the war and rebuilding as a country. I have so much compassion and respect for the Vietnamese people because after such brutality and destruction caused by the US they have forgiven and created a strong bond with America. I have never met so many kind and friendly people as i have here. Considering the horrors of the war it amazes me how eager people are to meeting us and getting to know us in the friendliest ways. Im so glad I came here. I know I went off the topic of this blog so to bring it back i just want to say that in addition to learning about the war from the vietnamese perspective the King of the Battle field taught me another aspect of the war that I was unaware of. That being pride, privilege and acceptance for fighting and dying for ones homeland. It’s the opposite of what Americans experienced which were protests and shame for fighting. The two sides are so very intriguing to me. But I am glad that it isn’t about side anymore rather its about unity.


    • Jennifer Allen 3:39 pm on October 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Coming from a family with multiple people that have served in the US military and currently having a brother in the army I can assure you that many of the men and women in uniform in this county fight for love of their country and are not ashamed at all to wear the uniform or to fight for their country.

      When I was in college I went to an anti-war protest but not because I was ashamed as an American to be fighting a war and not because I didn’t love my country. I went because I love this country, the freedoms I have living here. I went because I didn’t agree with why the country was at war and wanted (and still do) to see the war end.

      I also think if you talk to the people who are protesting many of them will tell you they too love America and are doing what they think is best for the country. It’s one of the things that makes America so great. The differences of opinion and that people can freely express them – protest does not always equate with shame and lack of patriotism.

      • julialeavitt 2:26 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you so much for commenting! I completely understand where you’re coming from. However, I was not trying to say that American soldiers lack patriotism but that I never saw that side of the war in history lessons when I feel that I should have. The photographer displayed patriotism from the vietnamese side, which is also important to learn about because in so many photographs we just see sadness and bloodshed; then I forget about patriotism because all I see is pain. In school I remember learning about protests and PTS, but I don’t recall ever learning American Patriotism during the Vietnam war. So what I mean is that I wish American patrotism and Vietnamese patriotism were expressed more in school. Its important to teach all perspectives so that we can develop our own emotional understanding. I still have so much more to learn. Actually, the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which I read twice gave a great perspective on the life of a GI in the Vietnam war.

        I apologize for sounding like I was bashing our soldiers and veterens. I too have close friends and family you have served and are serving this country. I am so deeply proud of them.

    • grenphi 2:57 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Julia!

      I really liked this post. It was very captivating and personal, and I really enjoyed your perspective. One thing I did want to make a note of is that many U.S veterans suffer the same fate as Tinh’s friend. I used to fundraise for a group that worked to help veterans who were left behind by the system. It’s an unfortunate reality in the U.S that there are many veterans who end up homeless with serious mental and physical disabilities. It’s true that the U.S government provides a lot for our service members, but many are left behind without recourse.

      Keep up the good writing!


    • Esther 3:54 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I cant help but think that you have missed the point of this blog, Jennifer. No one is doubting American patriotism both present day and during this time period. The Vietnam war, or as the Vietnamese refer to, The American War presented a difficult time both at home and abroad. Many soldiers, drafted against their will, had to rise to the challenge and fight for a cause that many were unsure of and many citizens of America united to help put a stop to the war, which is most definitely a form of patriotism. However, I think that what tinh taught us, yes I am another student on this trip that had the privilege to also listen to him speak, was that the war was won due to the unity and patriotism found within the Vietnamese soldiers who were fighting for a cause in which they strongly believed. These people were fighting for their independence, something that we as Americans also gave many lives to secure. Listening to this man speak, I can honestly say that it was the first time that I truly had a deeper understanding of what was at stake for the Vietnamese during this war. We were able to view the war from a different vantage point, from the eyes of a man who risked his life time after time to rally the Vietnamese to keep on fighting for their independence through these images. This post isn’t justifying the losses of American soldiers or taking an anti-American stance on the United States military, war is a horrible occurrence, one that should be avoided at all costs and no one wants to see the lives of Americans sacrificed; however, history is history and this war did happen and to help gain a better understanding as to what really went down during this time period it is important to look beyond the rudimentary things that many are taught in school and see the war from another perspective. Now, I’m not attempting to start some sort of online argument I just want to make clear that no one is doubting American commitment to this country and I too am incredibly proud of all the men and women that stand up to defend our country.

    • julialeavitt 4:00 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for saying that Gennady. It is extremely important to acknowledge the lack of support for veterans who are now homeless because it is a huge issue that needs attention. In fact, many are not aware of the problem. It goes along with my point that we are not learning enough about the Vietnam war in school. This is a very important social and political issue to teach kids. I cannot speak for all American high schools but when I was studying the Vietnam war that was not touched upon at all. I wish it was something we could talk about more and teach more because we need to increase awareness of such disparities that have happened in history but remain present day issues that need our attention so we can reach out and help others who need it. Its being ignored and I just think that education prior to college is where kids should be learning about all of this from both sides/every angle, and I’m not sure that they are.

      • Bob Leavitt 3:54 pm on November 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I just lost a long reply to your posting & so I must start over. We should support & respect both our veterans and our currently serving soldiers. They’ve sacrificed a great deal sometimes their very lives in their service. But we should not lose sight of the fact that in a democracy, the armed forces do not set national policy they help implement it. The purposes & good that comes from these sacrifices are dependent upon the quality of the policy makers & their decisions. The faults of these national leaders in no way diminished the courage & heroism of the men & women who serve in our armed forces. As you know, I was in high school & college during most of the Vietnam War. I opposed the war mostly on humanitarian reasons. I could not reconcile the level of violence & destruction visited upon the people of Vietnam with the official rationals given for the war; to prevent the spread of communism. Unfortunately the lessons of the war have been lost as the country has drifted to the right. Otherwise we would never have gotten so bogged down in Iraq. The causes of the war are now well documented. Right-wing ideologues & pseudo-intellectuals view the war as a failure of national resolve undermined by the anti-war movement. They assert that we abandoned our allies; had we stayed a little longer we would have won the war. The history of our military involvement in Vietnam goes as far back as the McCarthy era & the purge of all our Southeastern Asia experts form the government particularly the State Department followed by the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. These events set up a succession of flawed policy decisions from Eisenhower to Nixon & particularly by Johnson. As a country, teaching these lessons in our schools requires acknowledging them. In many ways the divisions that were caused by the war have never gone away. The same fault lines persist today as in 1968. In this environment where history has been ignored, blurred, &/or revised its no wonder that the Vietnam War is or cannot be thoughtfully & thoroughly taught in our schools. Which or whose version of history are we going to teach? If your interested, a good place to start is anything written by Bernard Fall the journalist/author who covered the French-Indochina War. His book Hell in a Very Small Place about the siege at Dien Bien Phu is chilling. He was killed in Vietnam in 1967. One of the best books on the subject is The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. This book should be required reading somewhere along the line in either high school or college. I found They Marched Into Sunlight by David Maraniss to be a riveting account of the war & the period. Part of it also takes place on the campus of the University of Wisconsin just a year before I went to school there.
        Well that’s it for now; maybe its been too much. Continue your great work there; it sounds like your getting a lot from the experience. We miss you & love you this [………………..] much.

  • jhboisselle 4:57 pm on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , reflections   

    Animal Flesh…Yum! 

    [Note: This text, authored by Gennady on another site, has been re-posted for the convenience of Asiapod readers. Please contribute comments, but note that Gennady himself may not have access to them for weeks at a time.]

    Animal Flesh… Yum!

    About three months ago I made a decision to drop vegetarianism as a life style in order to be better prepared for dietary changes upon my arrival in China. Little did I know that would be one of the best decisions I could have made. Being omnivorous has not only allowed me to adapt to the culture with much greater ease, it has also helped me manage my own health and conditioning while I’m here.

    Before coming to China, my vegetarianism was the subject of many discussions with concerned friends and family. I don’t know how many times people have suggested to me that vegetarianism in China would be easier than in the states. Looking back, I think that idea came from lofty dreams of Kung Fu monks in flowing robes eating simple diets and being in harmony with nature and all that other hooey. Maybe it came from the fact that Chinese restaurants serve little bite size pieces of meat with vegetables, as opposed to brick like slabs of animal sinew the size of my leg on a plate with a side of starch.

    No matter where the idea came from, what I’m trying to get to is that vegetarianism in China is much harder to maintain than in the states. This is because almost every dish is cooked in either meat stock, or has bits of meat in it for flavoring. This isn’t to say that vegetarianism is impossible. I’ve met quite a few who make it work, but they usually make more compromises than their American counterparts.

    Ironically carnivores in my group have been eating more vegetables here than in the US. This is quite simply because the Chinese cook vegetables very well (with or without adding meat). According to my roommate, the Chinese are a bit perplexed at why we Americans eat so many raw vegetables due to their lack of taste. I find both styles to be delicious, but my roommate does have a point. I have yet to see a child in a Chinese restaurant refusing to eat their vegetables.

    Personally, I’ve taken to unabashedly eating dead animals whenever the chance presents itself. This has mostly centered on health and time constraints. In his book “A Tooth From The Tiger’s Mouth”, Tom Bisio states he’s observed that some vegetarians need to eat constantly in order to compensate for the energy they aren’t getting from meat (page 125 for those playing along at home). From my own experience, I’ve noticed the same thing. By eating meat, I have drastically decreased the volume of food that I consume while still maintaining weight and energy levels. Two fist sized dumplings, stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, bamboo, and mushrooms can tide me over for 3 hours of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice. I couldn’t have eaten so little and done so much as a vegetarian. This not only saves money, it saves time. I can eat small quick portions and get moving.

    Am I a bad person for going back on my morals and eating at the expense of other sentient beings? To many people I probably am. Then again, I wear clothes made in sweat shops, I buy regularly from corporations with records for workers rights abuse and disregard for the environment, I consume at an unsustainable rate, and live a life of privilege and wealth that extraordinarily few people in the world will ever know. Was I really a good person while I wasn’t eating animals?

    Probably not.

  • Tatianna Jasmine 11:11 pm on September 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , reflections,   

    Saying goodbye to HCMC 


    I have been living in Sai Gon for three weeks, and now it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful city. My classmates and I will travel through the central highlands, before settling in Ha Noi for the remainder of the program. As I reflect on my time living in southern Viet Nam, I can say that it has been an experience filled with hospitality, excitement, fun, adventure, and so much more. I was warmly welcomed into every home, place of business, restaurant, and shop I entered. I enjoyed almost every meal I ate, and met some amazing human beings. During my stay in HCMC I was paired with a local Vietnamese college student, she is a year older than I and is currently studying economics. My new buddy is a sweet girl, who tried her best to help me out with whatever I needed. Like most people in Vietnam, she drives a motorbike, and often took me on rides around the city for dinner and such. Initially, riding on a motorbike was terrifying, as traffic in Vietnam is ironically more intense than traffic in my hometown (NYC). However, after a short while, I developed a trust in my buddy’s familiarity with the techniques necessary to navigate such dangerous roads. My buddy is very interested in traveling to the U.S., and plans to apply for a work-study program that will aid her in her endeavors. I hope everything works out well for her, because it would be awesome if I could return her hospitality and help her explore my hometown. Another person I will miss dearly is my language instructor. I am so appreciative of the immense amount of patience and kindness she showed me. She always encouraged me when I was struggling with any of the material, and always tried her best to explain any concepts that may have been difficult. Although I am not a pro at Vietnamese, I can say that her excellent teaching skills have given me a new confidence in my own abilities. I must admit that leaving HCMC saddens me a bit because I would have liked the opportunity to build a stronger bond with both my buddy and instructor. Despite my slight disappointment, I am grateful to have met such wonderful people, and look forward to all of the new people I will meet along my journey.

    • Sam Smukler 1:47 am on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yeaaaah cô Hóa! I had her this summer, she was great. 🙂

    • DougReilly 1:19 am on September 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great post! Hanoi will be a big change, but I think you will like it.

    • Irene Perez 6:48 pm on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      So happy you’ve had these great experiences; details great; keep it up. Godspeed!

  • viennamf 7:20 am on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Hikone, host family, , , reflections,   

    Small World 

    So far most of my initial worries about Japan have been laid to rest. It turns out that I definitely did not over pack and I may have even under packed for the first time in my life. I didn’t lose any luggage. I’ve been early to all my classes thus far (being two minutes away from your classroom helps) and I have decided that kanji and vocabulary are both scary and I will have to conquer them both.  The Boss coffee is as good as I remember though and the food is awesome in general (especially the snacks!).  I have done some exploring of Hikone and surrounding cities but not as much as I would have hoped due to jet lag, school work, and rain (or maybe I am just a wimp).  I have already made some great friends here but so far they are all Americans and I find myself really enjoying the American ghetto experience.  This is obviously because it is super comfortable and there is not much of a language or cultural barrier to get over first and I really like the other students here.  I think that my home stay will definitely change this.

    Speaking of my home stay…I am fortunate to have a home stay this semester because there were a lot of students applying for a small number of slots.  When the very nice Japanese woman who coordinates the home stay program at JCMU told me about my host family she said that I had a host sister, Mami, who had experience studying abroad in the U.S. in New York.  I thought that this was interesting indeed and I figured that I would probably know the college she went to, maybe Hamilton or Ithaca College or something along those lines. I was really excited when she Friended me on Facebook but I almost fell of my bed when I read her message and she told me that she had studied abroad at Wells College.

    Wells College, dear reader, is located in my hometown of Aurora, NY. This itsy bitsy village is 1 square mile and contains about 700 people.  Wells College takes up a good percentage of the village and the po

    pulation but it is also teeny tiny with about 400 students.  She practically lived in my backyard.  A little Facebook stalking revealed that we had both attended Ennichi, a Japanese festival at Cornell University, we had a friend in common, and she had stayed with friends of my family for winter break.  I am pretty sure that we never actually met, but it could have easily happened since we were in such close proximity for a year. My mind is a little bit blown. I think that the chances of this happening are very slim and some how predestined by fate.  However, she attends an all women’s college in Kyoto that is affiliated with Wells (it used to be an all women’s school) and HWS students study abroad in Hikone, so it is not wildly impossible for someone from HWS to meet someone who studied abroad at Wells.  Or maybe it still is. I am not very good at statistics.

    This is my gift for my host family. It is a picture my mother took of the Wells College boat house. I think it turned out to be very fitting.

    I’m sure that my home stay experience would be unique without this connection, but I think it will be on a different level now because we are not just exchanging our cultures of America and Japan but also the specific cultures of Aurora and Hikone, two places we have both lived.  Apparently that whole “small world” thing is true.

    • DougReilly 1:10 pm on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      What a great story! And yeah, the small world thing is not a cliche but a fact. I hope the host family works out well!

    • Jennifer Allen 12:26 am on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      That is so awesome! Especially since Wells and Aurora are so small. I think giving them a picture of the boathouse is very fitting. It is one of the things most people and students remember about Aurora is the sunsets, with good reason as they are some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

      btw I studied at Wells and than worked there for a few years.

  • viennamf 9:32 pm on August 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , reflections,   

    From Brats to Sushi 

    Studying abroad in Japan has been my dream since childhood so when I arrive in Nagoya on Thursday I will be fulfilling a goal I set in grade school.  This will not be my first time in Japan, however. Last year I was honored to spend two weeks in Tokyo through the Tanaka Foundation’s Technos International Week Program (that might not be the exact name of the program but I was never clear on the real title).  The next three and half months will be very different from those two weeks, but I am glad I that I have had some introduction into real Japanese culture.  It makes living in a different culture a little less overwhelming and I already know I love the food.

    How have I prepared for my study abroad experience in Japan? I think the right answer would be that I spent the summer intensively studying Japanese and advanced kanji and reading all kinds of books about Japanese culture.  That would probably have been a great thing to do.  But I didn’t do that.  Instead I moved to Wisconsin for the summer–Madison, Wisconsin to be exact.  I live in a very small town in Upstate New York and I go to school nearby so I really needed to get out of New York all together and, according to my boyfriend, Madison was the place to go.  So, at the end of May off we went to live in that strange place known as the Midwest for three and a half months, knowing no one and having no guarantee of employment or enjoyment.  But everything worked out far better than I could have hoped.  Within a week I had two jobs (waitressing is a great skill) and was quickly falling in love with the city.  By the end of the first month I had picked up local slang (bubbler for drinking fountain), enjoying local festivities (Brat Fest and various anti-Scott Walker protests) and had began to adapt to the local cuisine of microbrews, bratwurst, and deep-fried cheese curds.  I worked hard and I got to know the downtown capitol district of Madison very well.

    Obviously spending the summer in Wisconsin is vastly different from spending a semester studying abroad in Japan but I think it did prepare me for living in a totally new and unknown area where I know very few people and very little about the area.  I proved to myself that I could pack up and go somewhere entirely new and thrive.  Not that this means that living in Japan is going to be easy now that I have lived in Wisconsin, but I think that it will help a little (although my cheese curd withdrawal is going to be intense).

    As I write this blog entry, I am fifteen hours away from departure for Japan.  I am nervous, overwhelmed, and excited.  There are things I wish I had had a chance to accomplish before I left but I won’t be able to.  There is still packing to be done (well, repacking at this point) and last minute details to iron out.  But I don’t really plan on sleeping so I should be fine.

    In addition to doing coursework in Japan, I will also be doing a service project for the Gilman International Scholarship Program.  I am honored to be one of the recipients of the scholarship and my project will be on the lives of Japanese women.  I plan to do video and audio interviews with young Japanese women about their lives, education, and career plans and turn it into a short video to present on campus next semester. I am really excited about this project and I’m sure I will end up blogging about it.

    Since I really need to get back to packing (and this is a really long post) I am going to condense the rest of the things (mostly ridiculous) I am worried about and excited about into a list:

    Worried About:

    -Being on time to classes


    -Losing my luggage

    -Not having enough money


    Excited About:

    -Japanese food 24/7

    -Boss coffee

    -Living in Japan

    -Learning to cook Japanese food

    -Meeting new people


    -Living with a host family

    -100 other little things I can’t think of right now

    So that’s all for now.  More to come soon!


    • DougReilly 7:35 pm on August 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      It took me a long time to apply my travel philosophy to my own country…I like how you’re starting with that. You’re going to do great! What’s Boss coffee….a brand or just really good coffee, and if the latter, I didn’t know Japan was known for good coffee. Doug

  • grenphi 7:19 pm on August 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Change, , , reflections,   

    Stress Wellington 

    Wow, a lot happened in 3 months.

    As hoped, I’ve changed a lot since May. For the most part, I’m healthier, happier, and I have a much more positive attitude about my life. That by itself is a success. But, I’ve also managed to meet some of my other goals. I worked 3 jobs this summer, and managed to at least offset some travel costs (if nothing else, I got paid to be busy). I was able to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate this summer, so my conditioning has greatly improved. I’m mentally more prepared for conflict now than ever before. I’ve also managed the transition out of vegetarianism fairly smoothly. Overall, I feel fairly prepared for the semester in Nanjing.

    Where I haven’t progressed as much as I would have liked has been in my Chinese. 3 jobs and martial arts became overwhelming at times, so I didn’t study as much as I wanted. I also haven’t focused as much on simplified characters as I would have liked, and I haven’t been using as much audio material as initially planned. I have been using the “DianHua” app on the iPod, and the study function has proven incredibly useful. However, this hasn’t been a replacement for time lost.

    I’m now just a few days out from my departure on the 24th, and oddly, I’m rather calm (minus perhaps the series of muscle tension injuries I’ve been keeping at bay with self-administered acupressure massage and Qi Gong this last week). However, just a few days ago I was extremely worried about the trip. A few people tried to help by telling me study abroad would be “great” and so on, but that didn’t do much. It wasn’t until I thought back to the past two years of school that I became calm. I made a list in my head of all the things I am not currently doing as I go to China that I have done in the past two years. It goes something like this:

    I am not going through personal trauma.
    I am not helping someone else out of their personal trauma.
    I don’t believe I am at a great risk of losing my own life.
    I have little reason to believe someone close to me is at risk of losing theirs’.
    I am not responsible for someone else’s survival or personal safety.
    I am not breaking someone’s heart.

    I’m just going to China.

    This will probably be far from the hardest thing I’ve done, although there will definitely be struggles. Who knows what will happen once I get there.

    I don’t really know how to end this post, so I’ll leave the readers with a quote. I learned this from the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen during my Tibetan Mandala course. I meditate on it when the world starts getting to me.

    “I learn more tolerance from my enemies than I do from my friends”

    Best of luck to my fellow Asiapod bloggers and everybody returning to school.


    • DougReilly 3:50 pm on August 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for posting, and it’s been great to hear your thoughts as you get ready to undertake your journey. I like your sense of perspective and the window into the mental process you’re giving us. It reminds me of the mental process I go through as an airplane takes off (which causes me a bit of distress!): I think about the statistics of flying (it’s staggeringly safe), imagine a set of dice with a million sides each and consider that I never get the number I want when I only have six-sided dice! Then I relax, consider myself lucky to be in such a machine, and then accept that I might die, but am not really likely to. But if I did, I certainly couldn’t complain about my life thus far. I have several exercises like this that takes me through the flight. I don’t mind the distress, really, it makes the first steps on new soil so much more appreciated!

    • HMJ 2:06 pm on August 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Getting your chat messages; mine are stuck, marked as “pending.” ❤

  • grenphi 8:29 pm on May 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , recommended reading, reflections   

    Preparation Goals-Nanjing 

    Every journey begins with a single step, and my blog begins with a traveling cliché.

    I’ve decided to write two preliminary blog posts as opposed to just one. The first will be written at the beginning of my summer prep (now), and one towards the end (probably late August). I realize the preparation by itself will be an adventure because I have numerous goals and a few obstacles. Optimally, I will be a different person in three months as I depart for China.

    Let me preface before I discuss the goals and plans to be accomplished before I head off to Nanjing. I have diabetes, and I’m a martial artist. These two characteristics are very influential concerning the goals and experiences I will have in preparation and in China. Therefore, I have two sets of goals for preparation. The first is a set of generic goals that I believe are fairly common among China travelers. The second set is the set of goals that I believe are more specific to me and people with similar experiences.

    Set 1) I’d like to be able to do some basic living in China. This will mean speaking and understanding the language (I may be doomed here), and having some money for emergencies and/or spending. To do this, I study Chinese frequently (almost every day), and use multiple methods-books, videos, audio lessons, music, etc. As far as money is concerned, I’m still looking for a summer job. Living will also require a visa and various other logistics, which I believe I am taking care of by completing every task CIEE has been giving me.

    Set 2) I’d like to be able to survive in China. This means, as a diabetic, I need insulin. Insulin comes with a very particular set of restrictions, so it will be best for me to get insulin in China rather than ship it from the states. My mother has figured a way to work this out, and for this I am extremely grateful. She’s done more work for this trip already than I have, and I’m extremely lucky that she has been there for me.

    Survival, beyond just insulin, will revolve largely around martial arts. On a very basic level, I want to be performing with a very high level of physical conditioning when I travel and arrive in China. This will allow me to deal with jet-lag, changes in diet, changes in weather, diabetic issues, fatigue, and frustration much better than if I were in poor health. Good physical condition will also allow me to be better prepared for violent confrontation and emergency situations. This isn’t to say I expect a crisis to occur. I prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

    In order to maintain this physical conditioning, I will also be developing an exercise program that is equipment free, allowing me to practice wherever and optimally whenever I need. For myself and others looking to do this, I suggest looking into the 8 Brocades of Qi Gong, which has already proven tremendously beneficial for my health without great effort.

    Also, for the sake of survival, I’ve been steadily giving up vegetarianism. This was a difficult decision, but I’ve been told by numerous travel abroad students and Chinese nationals that vegetarianism and a 200 lb frame don’t go together in China. I don’t want to compromise my physical health or ability to defend myself by losing muscle mass over 4+ months, so I have to get used to eating meat.

    There are more goals that I am probably forgetting, but that’s ok. This post is long enough, and I hope I haven’t bored my readers. If I still have your attention, I would like to point you to two books for summer reading that I believe are worth your time. The first book is called Meditations on Violence. It’s written by Sgt. Rory Miller, and provides a very important insight into violence and the world as a whole. I have read this book twice, and plan to read it again many times in the future This recommendation goes double for you martial artists out there.

    The second book is called A Tooth From The Tigers Mouth. It’s written by Tom Bisio and it’s about traditional Chinese medicine. I have just begun reading the book, but I had the rare opportunity to meet Mr. Bisio in person and receive treatment from him. He’s an intelligent, humble man and an incredible martial artist. His insight and treatment were life changing, and I foresee no less from his book.

    And with that, I am off to go work on these goals. Best wishes to all my fellow Asiapod bloggers and to all the readers who have taken the time from more important things to read my words.


    • DougReilly 3:39 pm on June 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a wonderfully rich post! I definitely need to look at Meditations on Violence, as I’ve been aware of, touched by, and have given a lot of thought to violence…so thanks for sharing that recommendation.

      I think it’s great that you’re taking your preparations so seriously, and that it seems that martial arts is a very important structure for you and for your journey. What is your martial art, by the way?

      I respect your decision to give up vegetarianism, at least for a while. It probably makes good sense–and once you are the ground you could always re-evaluate. I’m not sure what your motivations for vegetarianism are–moral, environmental, nutritional, but I guess I’d view the experience of eating eat again as something worth reflecting on. In terms of the environmental and moral arguments against eating meat, I found a counterargument that I never heard before, and in an unlikely place, the novel Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. She talks about how anyone involved with mechanized crop farming knows that it kills multitudes of animals (I believe the example in particular was combines decapitating rabbits) so even most of the earth’s vegetative food production is not free from creating suffering. I’m not a vegetarian though I’m sympathetic to all the arguments, and Kingsolver’s observation I guess made me a little more conscious of the truth that suffering really is an unavoidable part of existence. We cause it, inflict it, and experience it, even when we might try not to. I think trying to minimize the amount of suffering we cause is still a good thing, however!


    • grenphi 2:09 am on June 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Doug,

      My original martial art is a combination between Korean Tae Kwon Do and Japanese Shotokan Karate. I have now focused my training more towards Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. I’ve also had chances to dabble in Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

      Let me know how the book strikes you. I’m curious to hear a reflection on it from someone other than me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post,


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