Finally Feels Like Spring – China Day 6

Written and posted March 8th, 2018

Today we took a 7 AM flight to Guilin. After arriving we visited the Reed Flute Cave. The cave was a salt cave made naturally after multiple natural events. It was really pretty especially since there were colorful lights throughout it. After the cave, we went to lunch in a hotel for rice noodles. They were good, but not as good as the noodles the other day. We then took a bus two hours to Yangshuo where we are now staying. Yangshuo is beautiful. It is in the countryside, surrounded by mountains and when we arrived it was 62°F. We then went shopping on a street called West Street where most of the prices were incredibly marked down and could be easily negotiated. Our local tour guide had a “cousin” who was selling really nice handbags. We went to the store that sold obviously fake merchandise, but then we were brought upstairs into a vault. The vault had Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada and more that were NOT fake. I was in heaven, but then as I was looking at a Louis duffel bag the women took the bag off the shelf and continued to take more bags and the shelf itself off. We then entered an even more backroom with more name brand products that she was selling at amazing prices. As much as I wanted to buy something, I didn’t have enough money or a way to carry it back to the States, however, others got multiple items. While it was mainly a travel day, it was one of the best days so far!

– Anna

Bad Jokes and Bruce Lee – China Day 5

Written and posted March 7th, 2018

Today was our last day in Xi’an. Since we had rain the first day we had to pack everything into our schedule today. We saw the Terra-cotta Warriors, learned calligraphy, ate a delicious noodle lunch, went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, biked the city wall, had hot pot for dinner, and explored the city after dinner as well. We also said goodbye to our very punny local tour guide Bruce. I will be posting mainly photos today, especially since I have to be up at 4 AM for our flight to Guilin in about three hours.

Enjoy!

-Anna

Terra-cotta Warriors

Learning calligraphy

Shadow puppets

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Buddha (couldn’t take a picture head on)

Prayer and burning of incense

Another Buddha

Dragon as part of a wall at the Pagoda

View from the ancient city wall bike ride (photo creds Nick Sokoll)

Part of the Lantern Festival display on ancient city wall (photo creds T. Bei)

Your Eyes Are Always Bigger Than Your Stomach – China Day 4

Written and published March 6th, 2018

Today we flew from Beijing to Xi’an. Since it was a travel day and rainy we did not do that much. I will be posting photos today (taken on my phone because of the rain) from my shopping around the city, eating food, and watching the Tang Dynasty Show and dinner. My blog post tomorrow will hopefully be much more exciting.

– Anna

Ice cream with waffle bubble cone (photo creds to Savannah)

Steamed corn

Meat (lamb) on a stick

Vegetable dumplings

Mango juice drink with whipped cream, mango pieces, and matcha dusting

Making dough

Tang Dynasty Dinner

Tang Dynasty Show

Family Not Foe – China Day 3

Written and posted March 5th, 2018

Sputtering, the coffee, sweet milk, sugar, and boiling water drip into my cup, the size of a toddler’s. It’s my 5th cup of the day and it’s only 7 AM. I add a couple pork buns and watermelon to my plate and that completes my breakfast. I am still full from dinner and the Hot Pot yesterday.

Bundling up, two sweatshirts and a jacket, I head to the bus to start my day. Stepping off the bus I am greeted by an intricate archway to the Summer Palace. As we enter, an older group of people are practicing Taji with a ball and racquet. Our group joins in, but we are not able to keep the ball on the racquet like everyone else. We walk through the Summer Palace that looks over a lake and a mountain with a Pagoda on top. Everything is so beautiful, no wonder the emperor stayed there for most of the year.

Freezing, we rush to the bus, excited to experience a tea ceremony. There are five different teas, oolong, black with lychee, rose, fruit, and jasmine. The person leading the tea ceremony pours the hot water into the mug, leaves swirling around in the midst of creating a delicious drink sliding down your throat and warming you.

My ears pop and mountains flash by as we pull up to the entrance of the Great Wall of China. As I step off the bus I see the long stretch of wall that is more expansive than my line of vision. I begin to climb, my legs burning after only 50 steps. I didn’t think I was that out of shape, but the almost vertical incline has me winded. When I reach the top I feel victorious. The view is spectacular. I am able to see the vast wall and mountains, struggling to tell where and if they end. After taking in all this beauty I finally begin my dissent. While it is terrifying and I slip down it more than I walk, I make it to the bottom still in awe of my accomplishment and the wall itself.

After dinner, we head to a local market and street for shopping. There are so many stores and restaurants. While I want to buy everything there: egg waffle cones, matcha ice cream, churros, crepes and more, I only buy milk bubble tea. The streets are still busting, but it’s getting late and we have a flight to Xi’an tomorrow. Taking the subway back along with all the locals we reach the hotel and check-in for the night.

See you tomorrow!

– Anna

Trading the Old for the New – China Day 2

Written and posted March 4th, 2018

As I realized yesterday, it was very hard to write a blog post at the end of the day since I was so tired from everything that we had done. I’ve decided that I will post a written blog post every couple of days and other days will just be photos. Today will just be photos, enjoy!

-Anna

Giant Panda at the Beijing ZooHackysack in the park Gymnastics as morning exercise Rickshaw ride to a local home for lunch Temple of Heaven Forbidden City Street foodPeaking Duck for dinner Hot Pot as our second dinner

24 Hours of Night – China Day 1

Written and posted March 3rd, 2018

Departing from Westtown (on Thursday) we took a bus to the Newark International airport. When we got to the airport, we found out that someone on the flight had a medical emergency and there was not enough oxygen for us to fly to Hong Kong. All of the options we were given were bad, especially with the impending winter storm the next day meaning we’d lose at least two if not more days. However, after much deliberation between the teachers and the airport staff, it was decided that they would give a stipend to thirty people who left, and our group had priority to stay. We all made it on the flight and landed in Hong Kong at 5:30 AM on Saturday. Hong Kong was the first time we had seen daylight in a little over twenty-four hours.

After one more plane ride, this time only two hours, we made it to Beijing. We met our tour guide Sunny at the airport. While we were driving, Sunny told us a bit about the history of China and Beijing. Sunny mentioned something called a political blue sky which I found interesting. A political blue sky is when a political leader is coming to Beijing and all the factories close so there is no smog and the sky stays blue. I was surprised that Beijing knows their air is extremely polluted but does not do anything to prevent it except for powerful figures.

Sunny also took us to lunch near the Olympic village and the Birds Nest, the Olympic stadium. The restaurant was similar to Westtown, in that it was family style. There was a lazy-susan in the middle of the table with all of our food which we spun when we wanted another dish. However, a major cultural difference was the utensils. I have never been good with chopsticks and while I struggled to use them, I know it will get easier as the trip goes on. Another cultural shock was the bathroom in the restaurant. I had to squat over a hole and bring in my own toilet paper, very different to bathrooms in the States.

When we went to the Olympic village we saw the Birds Nest, the swimming pool, a winter only man-made ski hill, and people doing tricks with rollerblades. The park also had buildings that, when looked at together, were in the shape of a dragon. After leaving the park we walked around the Houhai Lake District and went to dinner, which was in a similar style as lunch and was very yummy! While this was only a brief preview of my day, I’m experiencing extreme jet lag, so I am going to get some sleep. Thanks for reading! I’ll try to post again tomorrow.

– Anna

Lunch!

Entrance to the Olympic village

Birds Nest

Dragon made of buildings

Performance rollerblading

Lake Houhai District

5 days, 34 shows

After attending SXSW, I reflected on my experience a lot. I thought about what it meant for me personally and me as a music blogger. My biggest takeaway from the festival was that music is the biggest connection that we share with other people. My experience at SXSW was completely different from any other musical event  I’ve attended. The crowd and the artists were much more accessible, relatable, and humble than I’m used to. Since the majority of concerts I go to are in Philadelphia or New York City, I’m used to a certain type of audience. Here, the audience and artists are usually unresponsive and just there to perform or listen. SXSW had a completely different vibe where people were willing to bond over the music and actually talk to each other. I met so many people that were super kind and open and it was all because of music. SXSW is really incredible because it brings so many people from all over the world come together for a few days of music. It didn’t matter where people came from, what they looked like, what presidential candidate they wanted to vote  for. In a time where everyone is divided and categorized, music still has the power to unite everyone. SXSW encouraged me to continue finding ways to connect with others through music.

As a music blogger, I was amazed by the talent that I saw. There were so many artists showcasing tons of genres over the 5 days. It was impossible to get to every concert, but I was very happy with the 34 bands I did see. I was assigned to write a ‘8 best discoveries’ piece after SXSW, which is exactly what I did. It was surprisingly difficult to narrow down my list to 8 artists, but I wrote the article pretty easily after that. It is up now and it can be read here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin and I will always keep it in the back of my mind as I continue my love of music and my music blogging. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to experience SXSW and I’ll definitely try to go back.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -Stephen Hawking

I did not want to come to Israel initially.  

Israel is often discussed in the context of the occupation, Gaza wars, and violence of the IDF.  Westtown is pro-Palestine, as most Quakers choose the side of the underdog.  During the two weeks I spent studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earlier this winter, I read many articles scrutinizing Israel and uplifting the Palestinian voice.  When the Jewish Student Union brought a speaker from the Anti-Defamation League to speak on anti-Semitism, the Jewish students asked her to speak about the anti-Israel movement prevalent on college campuses, because we felt to ignore it would not address the elephant in the room.  I did not want to come to Israel because I felt extremely conflicted.  I would read one article saying the IDF is a moral military and is always on the defensive side, and then watch a video of an Israeli soldier denying an elderly woman access into Israel to get the medicine she cannot get in the West Bank.

To me, being Jewish means being a good person even in the most difficult situations.  Every Shabbat we read from our prayer book, “When you come across a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it.  It shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow–in order that God may bless you in all your undertakings [Deut. 24.19] Happy are those who consider the poor [Psalm 41.2] May we together with all our people respond to the needs of others, from the fruits of our harvest this week, we share with others.  And so we gain blessings, our lives have meaning, our lives have love.”  Being Jewish means tzedaka, always giving back and helping those who cannot help themselves.  The most charitable people I know are Jewish:  my grandparents; aunts; cousins – every one of them does what they can for the betterment of others.  Wherever I find myself in the world, be that Paris, Cuba, or India, I have found a community amongst Jews.

Among all Jews is an understanding of suffering, persecution, and oppression.  Our holidays celebrate victories – with Chanukah, the victory over the Greeks, with Purim, the fall of the evil Haman, and, most importantly, Passover and the exodus from slavery in Egypt.   But our suffering is not ancient, as every Jew feels the tragedies of the Holocaust when the world turned a blind eye while Hitler ordered the systematic deaths of six million Jews in Europe.  I do not know of any other group of people that has faced as much hatred for as long as it has existed.

If this is Judaism, then this should be the Jewish state.

I didn’t want to come to Israel, yet here I am.  I wanted to live as a Jew but I wanted to be separate from the State of Israel.  The separation was more comfortable than accepting the reality.  After 18 days of touring the country and meeting many people working for the advancement of Israeli life, I see that the reality is far from the dream of Eretz Yisrael.  I have a choice – I can go back to America and forget the stories of the people here.  I can be a good American Jew, read JPost, support Israel without question, do a Birthright trip, and turn a blind eye to the injustice.  But if you know me, you know I cannot do that.

I believe the future of Jews is intertwined with the future of the Jewish State.  My future will reflect Israel.  Jews believe that life is full of tests from God.  I believe that our relationship with Palestinians is our current test.

After living here for 3 weeks, I am less confused but more conflicted.  I feel like I can argue both sides of the conflict.  On the one hand, Israel needs to be safe.  There cannot be stabbings and bombs going off on a regular basis.  It not only kills innocent people, it also perpetuates a culture of fear.  When Israelis hear that Palestinian children read books in school calling Jews rats, it evokes memories of the Holocaust, when German children were taught Jews were like rats and Hitler used pesticides to exterminate millions in gas chambers.  When I asked an Israeli what he thought of the IDF, he looked confused. “What do you mean ‘what do I think’? There is nothing to think about, it is a must. There is nothing to question, it must exist if we are to exist. The IDF does what it needs to do to protect the citizens of Israel against people who detest us.”  

But if a Palestinian mother loses her son when he is shot by an IDF soldier, she will hate the soldier who shot him and the country the soldier shot him for.  In effect, she will hate Israel- the Jewish state.  So on the other hand, the majority of Palestinians do not hate Jews; they just want to exist in peace and have freedom, but can not because of extremist groups that perpetuate fear.  Animosity grows every day under the occupation.  

I have come to see corruption in both governments and believe they lack the leadership and courage to bring peace.  Some say there has been no effort to make peace.  Some say treaties and negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been created but are not being honored. Unlike many who feel truth lies between extremes, I believe it lies in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone seems to have their eyes on Israel and the more eyes that are on Israel, the more truths there are.  

As outsiders, we choose to see the side that enforces what we already believe, which is why it is so hard to see the truth in the other side.  It has become clear to me, however,  that there is always another explanation as to why things are the way they are.  Yet, suffering has no boundaries, politics, or religion.  

I can spend hours fighting both sides in my mind, reading articles, watching videos, and praying for peace.  I do not choose to retreat in the face of suffering but I do not know what I am supposed to do to; I have a feeling it will become clear when the time is right.  As a Jew, it is my responsibility to manifest the Jewish state, a state in which Judaism exists in its true form:  love of all humanity.  Religion, like everything, can be a force of evil.  Yet I have seen spiritual leaders use religion as the greatest force of good.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Israel is not the only place with injustice.  My Dad once said “history does not repeat itself, it rhymes,” and I am slowly understanding what he means.

I do not walk away from this trip with bold assertions about what needs to happen for there to be peace, nor with a firm grasp of everything that already is happening, for that would be naive.  I will not speak on behalf of all Jews everywhere nor will I speak on behalf of Israel to people who want to start arguments or people who believe they understand everything.  I will, however, continue to learn and to listen because I choose to be invested in the wellbeing of the state of my people.

I know when I go home distance will make it easy for me to forget the sense of community I feel here.  All I  will have are pictures and memories of the breathtaking nature and the kindhearted people.  I did not want to come to Israel, but things have a funny way of working out.  Now, I do not want to leave.

 

 

 

 

P.S. I wrote this post during my last few days in Israel but did not have time to edit it. I am home now.

 

Final Days

We have now been home for a couple days and other than getting used to the time zone, I have found myself missing many aspects of the life-changing trip. I miss my wonderful students, even if some of them did constantly talk over me in class. I miss our reading groups where I could see so many of the students’ determination to learn. I also miss spending hours working in the library in which I categorized and labeled hundreds of books. Even though there are so many aspects of this trip that I miss, there are definitely some parts of the trip that I won’t miss such as the random power outages, sometimes for the whole night. I also won’t miss the constant staring for being an “obroni”, or foreigner, everywhere I go.

There are many great lessons I learned while on this trip, but one of the most useful lesson/values I learned would probably be the importance of being flexible and going with the flow. I was very determined before the trip that I was going to teach my class the basics of ballet at my warm-ups at the beginning of the trip, but I had to scratch that idea after the first day because I realized that it wasn’t what the students enjoyed. They need to move around more to focus. So I decided, with the help of some friends on the trip, to teach my class different warm-ups that we do with Westtown’s dance program. We started off our second week of the trip with a lot of rain. This meant that we had to relocate my class to a smaller space. As a result of this, many of my warm-ups had to be scraped due to lack of space, so I had to think quickly to figure out what we could do and what music would go well with the warm-ups to keep the students interested. One of the last days of the trip, we went to pick up pieces from the woodcarvers in a nearby town. When we were a couple minutes away, our trusty red van that we had been riding the who trip broke down halfway up a hill. Our van driver slowly backed down the hill to the side of the road and parked there. We quickly got together and started walking the rest of the way to the woodcarvers because we still needed to get our wood. When we walked back to the van, a man approached us and started to explain how he and a few other men were growing different food plants including coconuts to help feed those who needed food. He then offered us coconuts from his trees, which we accepted after making sure that they were safe to eat and not infused with unpurified water (they do that with watermelon in the area). We then were picked up by taxis that T. Kwesi sent for us. This kind of event would normally make me stressed and uncomfortable because I am not the type of person who is able to go with the flow very easily, I usually like everything planned out and to go with the plan. However, this trip helped me understand that there are many things, such as red vans, that don’t go as planned and that you need to often think on the spot.

We finished up our trip in Accra where we went shopping in an craft market as well as going to W.E.B. Dubois’ house. We then relaxed at our hotel for the rest of the evening preparing ourselves for a very long flight home. Thankfully, there were no screaming kids on the flight home unlike our flight to Ghana.

This trip has allowed me to grow as a person and create lasting memories that I will be able to share with so many people in the future. I hope to return to Ghana at some point in the near future (study abroad in college maybe?) to continue the work that I started in the two brief weeks.