My travels have finally brought me back into the western part of the world, but not back to the United States just yet. I landed in Germany on March 1st of this year. After helping with a group of young and motivated entrepreneurs get a new restaurant up and running in Stuttgart Germany, I have now made my way northeast to the city of Dresden. Along with the intake of the grandiose and beautiful sites of this old German city I have been getting a crash course in German administrative processes as well. I hope to have a resident permit which will allow me to work as a freelance consultant and trainer by the end of next month.
For the immediate future I will be getting my footing in Dresden first, working for a 16 year old company that specializes in consulting, training and wants to break into coaching by utilizing my educational background. After that time I will be free to move around and pick up clients from around the world as I will now be utilizing skype and other video conferencing, thus closing the gap and creating face-to-face situations from just about anywhere.
Until next time- “Auf Wiedersehen”
The real shock has come as I write this post, it is long overdue but still reasonable because Siem Reap, Cambodia can be unpredictable. In the past four months of my life here teaching at Build Bright University I have developed five seperate curriculumn, leaped and somteimes stumbled over cultural misunderstandings, met and welcomed visiting professors from China, and hopefully made an impact in the lives of my students.
There is another very interesting thing about Cambodia that I didn’t forsee, everyone here is obsessed with speaking english. The percentage of people that can speak a basic level of english within the city, not the countryside, of Siem Reap is staggering. At first it is hard to know who to trust, truthfully, there was some sort of honesty in the fact that only a few people could speak english when I was in Thailand. Here in Siem Reap the smiles and fluency can be a bit decieving.
Which leads me to write about a consequence of this obsession with learning english, and every other language really: spanish, korean, chinese, french, german. It began with the tourist industry here and the fact that millions of people flock to Angkor Wat every year. But it has lead to a confusion of self worth and culture and history. I have only been here for four months, but have seen a value put in the english language but not in kmer (the language of Cambodia). Some children and young adults can write english, but not kmer properly and the same goes for speaking. The elders here tell me that the kmer language is slowly dying and that most people in Cambodia today speak a broken and improper form of it. Some could argue that the same could be said for what is happening with American english, and I’m sure there are a number of other examples, but is that okay? Let’s have a discussion about it, a civilized, well worded one.
There are many things that I came to learn after living in Chiang Mai for the past two months. One of them is to never assume you truly understand what is going on with people here in Thailand. For example, although I was told that it was okay to cook myself food at a local cafe hundreds of times, the one time that I did not ask for permission it was seen as rude. Another example was found in a tuk-tuk driver, they are a kind of motorbike taxi that always try to charge travelers a highly inflated price. One I met just the other day graduated with his degree in mechanical engineering, and has a job, but when high tourist season comes around he makes better money being a taxi then he would working as an engineer, so he takes time off or works all day to make that happen.
And I also learned something very important about hospitality and traditions here in Thailand. As I left the Thai family that “adopted” me during my stay here, I was presented with several artifacts. One was a medallion with the image of a monk that was known for his pure heart and honesty, I am to wear this one around my neck at all times. The second item was a small sculpture of a famous chedi here “Wat Chedi Luang” and represents 600 years of history, and it encapsulates both the respect and knowledge contained within the country of Thailand as a whole. This artifact along with a sculpture that represented a monk who had the foresight to build a path to the nearby and famous Doi Suthep (The temple on the mountain) are meant for me to keep within my luggage and I have been told they will keep me safe. This gift giving is a normal happening in Thai culture and give me a reason to smile because, for me it is an honor to be treated the same as the rest here, to be brought into a family and to seen off in a traditional way.
For now, I head south, first to Bangkok, then I will be off to some Islands. It will be interesting to see if my interactions will be different closer to the tourists traps, and also with my medallion around my neck. I have a feeling there will be loads of confusion as to why someone like me has something so typically Thai around my neck. For now, I am very excited to find out.
Bpai- “let’s go”
For starters, I am sorry, I have been in a country that has taken me from one turn to the other. The culture, food, places and weather have been nothing but powerful. As I currently type from a computer lent to me by my Thai foster family here in Chiang Mai that has become a sort of adopted family I really have so much to say about the communication of this country. The trouble is, I still have no handle on it, aside from some very straightforward issues: Westerners are not used to the humble and subtle respect that should be given to monuments, leaders, elders, and one another within this culture; Monks are highly misunderstood, but are actually human with wants, struggles, and many of those that start actually do not continue down this path into adulthood; and finally, just as in the U.S., there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to manners or appropriate words or actions, so I am stumbling quite a bit.
For tonight I am achieving a small goal, sitting next to “Aunt Yupa” (Aunt must be put in front to show respect, she would not be okay with me calling her Yupa) by making a small update and loading some pictures onto the flickr account. I will have to unwind the web of intricate cultural communication in the weeks to follow through the generosity of my new family here, but as it stands it is 11pm and I by no means want to overstay my welcome.
Sa-watdii Cup!! “Good day”
I’ve managed to survive for a total of 14 days in Israel, all of which were packed with speaking about religion, politics, best foods to eat and tons of other subjects. If you want to “Speak Israeli” there are a few great tips. For one thing, do not, I repeat, do not beat around the bush. From missiles, required military service, several religions all fighting for position over different territories and a still ever constant passion for life Israelis have no time available to not speak their mind. Therefore, be prepared to be told and asked just about anything, it’s not rude, it’s just necessary. Communication has a rich history within Israel and it would be too much of a task to cover all of it, so instead I will focus briefly on David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
David Ben-Gurion had a love for languages, aside from Yiddish and Hebrew, he also learned: Turkish, English, Russian, French, German, Spanish, and even Ancient Greek. Aside from his language skills, David Ben-Gurion found power in the promotion of Judaism in the Hebrew language at the age of 14. Ben-Gurion and his friend formed a youth club, “Ezra,” which promoted Hebrew studies and emigration to the land of Israel, only Hebrew was allowed to be spoken within this club. The important part of this story is that during this time there were not many in the community that were fluent in Hebrew, but the rule was still made, Ben-Gurion used this limitation in communication to expand the Jewish values of his community at large. Although a small story, from a man with a number of them and a snapshot on the first leader of a complex nation, it would be interesting to see what the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis would have to say about the life and actions of David Ben-Gurion.
Ironically enough Israeli Jews use the word “Yala” during just about every conversation. It is the Arabic word for “let’s go,” somehow it seems to encapsulate the directness of the way people communicate in this country. As for the abrupt ending and jumps to this post, I have to plan my trip to Thailand in two days, YALA!!
Just a quick update for everyone. A going away party was thrown for me here at my home in Raleigh, NC. I’d like to make a quick note about how culturally Iranian it was. What does this mean? Food, food, food, lots of talking, laughing, and even more advice. There was no beating around the bush when it came to things I should be afraid of or what I should or shouldn’t be doing. No, the group of Iranians that came think of me as part of their community, and as such it is their responsibility to look out for me, and it is my responsibility to listen and respect their words.
Being young, educated, and ready to leave, I thought I’d have an easy time not listening, but you know what? They gave great advice, it was tempered, hopeful, seated in experiences far more than my own, and most of all sincere. This gathering gave me a perspective on something that I have been missing, the Iranian culture, and even more so, Iranian communication. It’s unapologetic, passionate, caring, and very honest. I wonder how my experiences with Iranian communication will compare with that of the Israeli’s. Mostly because it seems to have become a tradition to view these two cultures as polar opposites, I can’t wait to see for myself.
I, in no way think that what I will do is the right thing, it’s just not the wrong thing and sometimes that has to be enough. At this point in time I am comfortable beyond words, I could live this way for a long time, but eventually it would feel lacking and I know it will at some point. I have to chase my big fish and that’s why I have to go, regardless of the joy or pain I might experience on the journey that I roll down I will come out of the other side better for it.
The world has so much to offer, as does a country, city, town, street, coffee shop, and more importantly every person. My biggest fear is to become so assaulted by my fears of the future that it might get in the way of my being assaulted by my surroundings, by my joy, by my true lessons. To be defensible against something as pure as those lessons, or to be unprepared for them is ignorance and fear at its finest.
Taking this trip has less to do with attempting to be unique, or fighting the status quo, or being disobedient than is imaginable. It is just something that struck me as the right thing to do. I got great advice from my first public speaking professor, David, out of all of them I remember this one the most, “If you aren’t learning twice as much outside the classroom as you are inside, you’re doing it all wrong.” Fast forward six years later and I now have a paper that gives me the credibility of a Masters in Communication, and what does that paper mean to me without forming relationships within the world? Furthermore, what does my life mean without the knowledge of those learned skills being put to use for the betterment of the world? For a long time these questions have been haunting me in a way, waving at me through the windows as I wrote my papers alone in my room or screamed out at me as more people went to war. These questions beckoned me to leave as I watched protestors take to the streets while I sat studying the communicative approach of their protest by dissecting their rhetoric.
All the while I had to answer with, “not yet, not now, I have responsibilities to get this degree, then I can really make an impact.” In a few years I’ll have a job and I’ll make the same excuses, I’ll be caught up in the same daily grind that makes people put those questions on hold while the expenses of living take over, because that’s the nature of how we now live. I don’t want that, I don’t want to keep leaving my questions out in the cold. I want to embrace that voice that has been calling out to me for so long. Shouldn’t we all have a chance to do that, to take part in pursuing something that we feel strongly about without apologizing or making excuses? So this will be the start of my journey to make this attempt true.
In a final and possibly lasting idea I’d like to introduce the idea of uncertainty, because that is going to be a big part of this trip. If I am unable to write for a period of time, I truly apologize, but it’s most likely because I simply don’t have access to write. I will try as best I can to post two times a week, but if I don’t, leave me something, comment, interact with me, and let me know I haven’t been forgotten on my travels. I will be posting again much closer to January 20th, when my trip to New York, Israel, Bangkok and beyond will begin.