Monday, October 29, 2012

Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia photos are here!

I hope you enjoy these! Please don't forget to click on the album so you see larger photos and not just thumbnails.  If clicking on the album doesn't work, please go to the following URL.

M'sia, S'pore, I'sia Fall 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bangkok - A note on sex, cultural myths, and stereotypes

At the education fair I attended today, I had an unexpected, but refreshing, encounter with two young prospective grad students.  Somehow we ended up on the subject on some strange guys they met while they lived in other countries.  The one girl remarked how popular she was to German guys while living in Germany for a year, and her friend remarked how popular she was with Saudi international students she met while living in India for a year!  We were laughing about these incidents, and I shared a couple of my own crazy stories, and the girls both stated they  thought it was weird how in India, people there were more racist against skin colour differences (though they later admitted the same thing happens in Thailand).  I told them Indians want white babies, and they just laughed, and I commented that in Asia generally, white skin was more valued, which is why they had all that skin whitening cream here.  Then it suddenly dawned on them how true that was, but they didn't know why, and I told them I'd heard it had to do with class because a woman with fair skin meant she was wealthy enough to have servants to do everything, and she could keep her skin pristine, while a servant might have to work hard labour out in a field all day and become dark.  And we often do just want what we don't have.  We have our tanning lotions back home.  I've heard that in Sweden, they find darker skinned brunettes more attractive because that's exotic for them (remember that's just hearsay!), while in countries where skin is darker, it's the fairer people that are considered exotic. 

In any case, both girls stated they had experienced guys just wanting to have sex with them just because they're Thai, and these men had these stereotypes that just because these girls were Thai, they'd be loose because of Thailand's raging sex industry.  I told them girls from the West experience the same thing, that often guys from other parts of the world think we're easy because of what they see on TV because they see our movies or soaps, and that makes them think we're all having affairs and having sex with everyone we meet. 

We laughed about these things; I mean, here were two articulate, educated young women, who were anything but easy.  They were not prostitutes or girls who worked in a massage parlour.  I reflected on our conversation later and realised how it was a sad state of affairs when girls from such different regions as we come from experience the same types of assumptions no matter where they go.  When I was in Mexico, I was told that Canadian girls had a certain reputation there because the guys get exposed to the crazy drunks they meet in Cancun during spring break, and there are many of us that think the same of Mexican girls or Latin American women in general because we think they're so seductive.

This is a grim outlook, my friends.  All women everywhere seem to have some stereotype about them that makes people think they are loose.  When are people going to learn not to generalise?  It makes me sad that women have to experience this every day.  And I can't blame men alone for this.  There are many women who think this about women from other countries or cultures, too.  That's what's more curious, because we hate it when people stereotype us (about our sexuality and otherwise), and yet we would do it other women.

I may be a while pondering this...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fun times on an unexpected free day in Jakarta

Due to some miscommunication, I ended up having a free day in Jakarta that was originally supposed to be filled with school visits. Considering I was initially going to be working 15 days straight, including my travel days, until my one free day in Bangkok, I wasn’t overly upset to have another free day.  The only thing is that I didn’t then have a plan as to what to do.  So I asked at the concierge if they do any tours, and like the Shangri-La the first time I came to Indonesia, they work with a tour company that offers various tours.  They included the two tours I had already done, and the only other really appealing tour was a day tour that included a trip to the National Monument, a batik shop (where of course I couldn’t resist getting a couple of items!), a miniature park of Indonesia, and the Museum Indonesia.  This tour was a little more comfortable than the one I took in Bali where the two ladies that were with me didn’t speak English.  There were two ladies with me today, too, an aunt and niece combo, but they were from the Philippines and spoke excellent English, especially as one of them had lived in Chicago for a number of years.  It was so much less awkward this way!  (And hey, if you think I’m being linguicentric, it’s not that I expect everyone to speak English.  Those Czech ladies, I thought they might speak another European language, as many Europeans tend to be multilingual, so I offered Spanish and French to them with no luck!)

Aside from being a symbol of the country’s independence, this monument has a history of the country hidden beneath the ground on which it was built.  Several diaramas depict the country from its origins of its people being Mongolian migrants to the end in which it gains independence from Japan and Holland after the Second World War.  I took a few photos of those that I thought were more interesting, noteworthy, or had significant historical value, such as when city names were changed or regimes changed.  It’s interesting to see the profession of the country, and it’s also interesting to read it from a local point of view.  For example, at one point in time, Jakarta was originally called Sunda Kelapa and was then changed to Joyakarta (you’ll see the photo of the description about it).  But there is no scene depicting the time when the Dutch changed the name to Batavia nor when the Japanese changed it to Jakarta because they couldn’t pronounce Joyakarta.  You see a history of uprisings against the Dutch, and you get the impression that Indonesians were fairly successful at keeping them at bay, yet the Netherlands colonised the region for about 350 years, so the uprisings couldn’t have been that successful, though I have no doubt that many were killed in those battles and that perhaps certain cities or regions were more successful at maintaining some level of independence than others.  That is why, readers, you must remember that history is never objective.  You can try as hard as possible to be objective when you write it, but it will always have some level of bias.

It was also interesting to learn about some of the populations on the smaller spice islands who were able to navigate by their sense of smell for the spices that became so much in demand in the West.  Imagine not needing a compass or having to navigate based on the skies; you could simply smell where you wanted to go.  I’m just amazed by such an adaptive ability; I hadn’t heard of anything like that before.

I did also learn where the name “Soekarno-Hatta” came from for Jakarta’s airport.  I knew that Soekarno was Indonesia’s first president, but I didn’t know who or what Hatta was.  Turns out he was their first vice-president. 

This is not a park of miniatures but a park that allows you to see all the main parts/islands of Indonesia in one shot.  There are more than 72,000 islands, so you couldn’t really represent all of them, but it was interesting to see the very subtle difference in styles of fabric and architecture of homes, as well as the ways these homes were decorated.  In the first photo of the homes, you’ll see 3 large horns decorating the roof, and apparently houses were built this way to indicate how many daughters you had.  So this family would have had 3 daughters.  On another island, we learned that if your husband died, they would place him in your bed, and you had to sleep with him for a month before he was buried.  I can’t think how morbid and frightening that would be—not to mention dangerous if the body starts getting eaten by insects and stuff.  It’s not like they had air conditioning in those days to keep the body cool!  After you were finally able to bury the body, it would be placed in a decorative casket and raised up to the top of a large rock that had holes in it, and the body would be moved into one of those holes for all eternity.  Large rocks, like you’ll see in my photo, were meant to be used for one family of multiple generations.  I also can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get those bodies up a ladder into those holes.  The tour guide showed a photo of one funeral, and it didn’t look like they were using any sort of pulley system.  I’m hoping I just didn’t notice it!

The tour allowed us time to shop for souvenirs.  I wasn’t about to buy anything since I’ve generally stopped doing so because I thought I had bought everything I’d ever want in all my travels—but then I saw instruments…danger zone alert!  There were these beautifully painted maracas, but the size and shape of an egg.  I couldn’t resist, and besides, I got them for $2.50 each, so how could I resist??

There isn’t much I need to say about this as you’ll see everything that really needs to be seen in the photos, and little description is necessary, so I think I can contain it in the photo captions.  One thing I should mention, though, is that while in many parts of Indonesia, batik is the main style of fabric art, in a few places like Bali, the art of weaving is more practised. In some cases, it even looks like their styles are influenced by Indian textiles.  Lots of what I saw also demonstrated differences in wedding attire across the country.  It’s pretty neat to see the different types of jewellery and head ornaments, aside from the fabrics and clothing styles.

Anyway, I love that I still get to learn new things the more I travel to Indonesia.  It’s an interesting country with wonderful people and tasty food, my two main attractions to any country!