Monday, November 15, 2010

Hymen Shmymen

 Just want to say that I and two other smart young ladies write a blog focused on gender and science. This entry is cross posted at Please check it out!
Since medical school began, I've only managed to read one non-required book in the last two months. It's not a fact I'm proud of but I think I spend my scarce time wisely. I read Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History, an account of the history and nature of virginity. It's an accessible and entertaining read for my overtaxed brain.

This was one thing I learned:

Despite the lack of any actual studies in the literature regarding whether horseback riding, gymnastics, or riding bicycles might have to do with womens' hymens, virtually every contemporary writing about virginity aimed at teen girls is duly equipped with a disclaimer that says something along the lines of 'many girls tear or otherwise dilate their hymen while participating in sports like bicycling, horseback riding, or gymnastics.'"
Woah. There is no scientific evidence that these activities stretch or tear the hymen! Yet I've heard this countless times in teenage girl magazines or otherwise informative literature on puberty and sexuality. Be sure, this "fact" is not just something from conservative abstinence-only sex education curriculum but widely seem in popular and generally accurate sex ed. It's probably in those puberty books your pediatrician recommended you to read. Understandably this belief was popularized in order to dissociate hymen with virginity. In recent years (decades?), it's become more acceptable for girls to participate in sports and the hymen less a gauge of virginity.

I think it also shows that the empirical evidence or lack thereof don't affect people's beliefs that much, in sexual matters and otherwise. In medical school we grumble all the time about evidence-based medicine. It should dictate medical practice but often it doesn't. Doctors and patients often want and perform procedures that aren't medically better than the other options.

Have you heard this when you were growing up?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

history, culture, politics, and religion. oh my.

I have the pamphlet from the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba! Actually my travel companion graciously sent me these photos of hers, which she managed to carry back to the States. I re-read the pamphlet and it confirmed the feelings I had when I first read it standing under the red and white striped arches. The Church has a narrative of Andalucia's history and it's eager to let the visitors know that it has the moral high ground. 

According to the pamphlet, the Church is protector of other cultures. It preserved the mosque by converting it into a church.
It is the Church, through its Cathedral Chapter, that has made it possible to keep the former mosque of the Western Caliphate, the oldest cathedral in Spain, and a World Heritage Site, from becoming a heap of ruins. In fact this has always been one of the missions of the Church, to safeguard and inspire culture and art.
On the other hand, Moors destroyed the first church that was at this site in order to build the mosque on top of it: "Following the Islamic invasion of Cordoba, the dominating Muslims proceeded to the demolition of the [unintelligible] church of San Vicente and in the year 785, began construction of the Mosque..."

Therefore, everyone should be grateful that the church was so generous in preserving the mosque even those the Muslims destroyed the previous church.
It is a historical fact that the basilica of San Vicente was expropriated and destroyed in order to build what would later be the Mosque, a reality that questions the theme of tolerance that was supposedly cultivated in the Cordoba of the moment.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mosque-Church-Tourism Cash Cow of Andalucia

I was pleasantly surprised to this article on the NYTimes website yesterday. It brought back memories of my trip throughout Spain in early May, which was one of my fondest trips for reasons beyond the grandeur of La Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba.

Basically the bishop doesn't want people to drop "mosque" from any references to the present day Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.
I was less surprised to learn that the church doesn't want visitors to call it a mosque or even a mosque-church. When I visited in May, it was obvious that the church has an uneasy relationship with their building's history from the pamphlet/maps distributed to visitors. Unfortunately I don't have these pamphlets to quote to you, I know, bad that I don't have evidence to backup my claims. My travel companion can back this up.

The language taking great pains to emphasize both the cathedral's Catholic past and present. It's obvious that the church's past was a mosque. Most people come to see La Mezquita as an exquisite example of Moorish architecture. But the church wants the visitors to know that this site was first a church before the mosque was built. This fact prominent in the pamphlet and in the site itself. The foundations of the 7th century church have been excavated. Near the center of the mosque-church visitors can peer down to see the ruined foundations of the 7th century church. A placard prominently tells visitors this fact.

Tthe language of the pamphlet emphasized the glory of the church after its consecration as a cathedral. There was also a line, I can't recall precisely, that basically said that the Moors weren't all happy and multicultural and tolerant as everyone thought they were. Really, it said this. The tone of the pamphlet was like this: This building  happened to be a mosque sometime ago but you really shouldn't care about it so much. It was a church first. It's a church now. That stuff in between, Moors or savages or whatever, that doesn't really matter. Silly tourists.

I know that it's the church's prerogative to print whatever pamphlet it wants. The visitors have no choice but to read it because it includes a map showing the location of the mihrab, a must see. But this one seemed much preachier than other mosque-turned-church-historic-tourist site pamphlets I read elsewhere in Spain.

Finally, it's not confusing to visitors that the building is no longer a mosque. First, we're in Spain. It's very Catholic. Second, there is a giant altar with a giant crucifix from which hangs a giant Jesus. Third, there all along the perimeter are shiny golden chapels with figures of saints. It's obviously a church. No one is getting confused, as the bishop claims. [I didn't take any photos of these because I had severe church fatigue. Couldn't take any more Jesuses or Virgin Marys.]

Maybe the Mosque-Cathedral should be turned over to the Spanish ministry or culture or tourism the way Hagia Sophia has to the Turkish government. But no, that won't happen in Spain.

*The #1 tourism cash cow of Andalucia is actually Alhambra. Tickets are really expensive (like 15 or 20 euro) and booked weeks in advance. But La Mezquita is definitely worth seeing. My travel companion convinced me to go here with her. It was a decision I do no regret.

Blogger needs a confirmation page before actually posting. ARG. Did an incoherent draft show up in your RSS readers? I think so. That's embarrassing. I apologize.

Secular Córdoba

red and white arches

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lists: Things that warm my cold, cold heart

1. Bonfires, preferably on a slightly chilly night and on the beach.
Too bad there is no beach here. When I'm at the bonfire, I'm always complaining about smelling like smoke. But I love watching fire and feeling warm more than I dislike the smell of woodsmoke. I haven't been to very many bonfires so I remember each one. Even the bonfire jam session at orchestra camp in Interlochen without a bonfire.

2. Wearing a nice outfit on a stressful day
I've never been a sweat shirt and sweat pants kind of person, especially since I've come back from Denmark where athletic apparel is strictly for athletics. Maybe it's silly to look nice when I feel like crap but aren't you glad I'm not exerting control over my life by destructive means like starvation or binge eating? 

3. Cats
I aspire to have a cat. A friend sent me this link of cats in Ikea. I'm not going to put Ikea on this list because I decided not to include shopping. But really I love Ikea too. Those two things are the way to my heart.

4. Cuddles
If you don't like cuddling, I don't think you're human.

5. Getting mail or post, as you Europeans call it
I'm still at that point where I don't get many bills in the mail so among the advertisements I'll sometimes get a gem of a letter or postcard. It really makes my day. Please send me a postcard from your travels or even when you're not traveling. I have some empty picture frames that I'd love to fill with correspondence.You'll have to ask me for my address since I won't write in her.

6. When my friends decorated my door/locker for my birthday
In middle school and high school, I'd walk down the long hallways of identical lockers. Sometimes one would be festooned with hand-drawn signs, streamers, and sometimes balloons for the locker owner's birthday. When I was in undergrad, some friends decorated my dorm door for my birthday. That cheered me up a lot and I still remember it to this day.

Knock off of Inspired by The Secret Society of List Addicts

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lists: Things I'll Find in Norfolk

In one of my favorite books, Never Let Me Go, Norfolk, England is where lost things end up.
Kazuo Ishiguro writes: "When we lost something precious, and we’d looked and looked and still couldn’t find it, then we didn’t have to be completely heartbroken. We still had that last bit of comfort, thinking one day when we were grown up, and we were free to travel around the country, we could always go and find it again in Norfolk.”

Norfolk wasn't just a repository of lost objects. It also held missed opportunities, words left unspoken, and roads not taken, friends who grew apart, and other experiences forever receding from the present.

Heart shaped pendant
My mom gave it to me when I was in middle school but it sat in a box for years because I thought it looked too dowdy. Everyone else had those silver Tiffany chokers. Then in senior year or maybe junior year of undergrad I began to wear it continuously. Before then I didn't have one necklace that I wore  all the time. But I soon got used to it hanging around my neck when I woke up in the morning.

I lost it the day I left Detroit Metro Airport for Denmark. Later walking past the dancing water fountain in McNamara terminal I felt the chain sliding oddly around my neck. It had broken but was still draped around my neck. But the pendant was nowhere to be found. I must have lost it when I was taking off my layers at the security checkpoint.

Before I left Denmark I bought a daisy pendant, a very popular design by Danish jeweler Georg Jensen, as some sort of compensation, but it's just not the same.

A pair of angled forceps
My grandfather had a tremendous influence on my life. He was also an otolaryngologist. He taught me never to run around, laugh too hard, or talk too much while eating nuts. One of the last times I saw him before he died, he gave me a pair of forceps not because he wanted me to be a doctor but because they're just so useful for picking at things!

Sometimes when I get something valuable, I squirrel it away in a safe place. But I decided that I would honor his memory by actually going to use this tool, or at least looking at it everyday, so I kept it at home on my desk in a pen cup. But somehow throughout the years of undergrad, I lost it.

You can by forceps shaped exactly like the one I had at any surgical supply store. But of all the things I've lost, I would most like to find this one.  I would give a lot to get it back again.
My hospital birth certificate FOUND! 
My mom dug through a lot of boxes of my school projects, notes and childhood mementos to find this little slip of onionskin paper. It says my birth date, time, weight and was signed by the attending physician, who apparently was a family friend of my grandparents. There's no way my mom will let me hold on to anything important anymore.

The movie adaption of Never Let Met Go has been reviewed by various media outlets. But if you haven't read the book, you MUST NOT read any reviews of the film or book that give away the reason for the children's isolation. You will do yourself a great disservice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feminist med students!

I have found my angrier med school feminist alter egos. You CAN be a feminist and in medical school! Well maybe not in medical school while being lectured to for four hours but I can still maintain a blog. There is hope yet in the world.

Their blog is here.

If only I could be so angry! Or actually, if only I could express my anger!

Oh no. No hope in the world. I have too much to study before Friday.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lists: Things I Bought that I Love

Time for something lighthearted. My newest blog obsession is the Secret Society of List Addicts where contributing bloggers make lists. Their lists are funny, honest, and touching. I particularly liked People From My Past that I Regularly Googlestalk and Boys I Totally Crushed on for Years Even Though They Were  Unattainable (And Totally Wrong For Me) and wanted to try my hand at such lists. But I decided that it's a bad idea to make my own version of these because this blog is TMI as it as and because with facebook, you can find out the names of everyone of these boys. They would probably be freaked out and you'd think I'm weird. So I'll stick with this safe one.

Things I've Bought That I Love

My new bed
It's my first big girl bed (read: not twin size). I really like it and I get the whole thing to myself. At first it was like I was swimming unmoored in the sea but now I like being sprawled out. 
 Bed: post-assembly, pre-linens.

Pentax K-x camera
Sure it was a brick around my neck when I traveled in Europe. But I've taken at least ten good photos with it. Even one good one makes it all worth it. Too bad I won't have time to take it for walks now that i'm in Medical School. 

My camera, while waiting for a bagel in Amsterdam

The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum

Northface Recon backpack
North Face brand anything is expensive but my backpack has held up nicely through biking across MSU, stuffed to the seams on Ryanair flights crisscrossing Europe, two transatlantic flights and medical textbooks. And it reminds me of Europe every time I use it now.

White purse with multicolored embroidered flowers
Things you buy are worth it if it's really expensive but you use it a lot, decreasing cost/wear. But you know their real gems if they're cheap and you still use it all the time, like this purse I have. It's the Rorschach test of style. I've been told it looks hippie, modern, and Polish-people-from-the-mountains. Because the flowers are different colors, it matches everything. It was from the clearance bin at Kohl's, that paragon of lower-middle class consumerism. 

Black and white dress for 40 Danish kroner ($7)
This and the purse mentioned below are the best purchases from Studenterhus' secondhand bazaar, where Danish (mostly) college students (actually mostly girls) sell their used H&M and equivalent clothing. Very cheap and pretty trendy. If you've seen my weird tanlines around my neck and shoulders, you have this dress to thank. I love it because it doesn't wrinkle and makes me look really skinny.
Brown purse for 100 Danish kroner ($18)
So the secondhand bazaar sells used apparel, but this Esprit purse was brand new with tag for only $18. I was frequently seen wearing above mentioned dress and this purse when I traveled to warmer climes. It's especially good because I can fit my dslr case into it. I will cry the day the strap breaks, which it's already starting to.

more photos by my trusty k-x:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Budgeting time

I had a viola teacher in middle school who gave me the following rule about practicing my viola: You practice every day that you eat. He meant that if you were ill, and thus had no appetite and could not eat, you could take the day off.

At the time I never followed his advice, but these words came back to me this past week as I try to re-orient my lifestyle to the relentless pace of medical school. I'm still don't know how many leisure activities I can allow myself.

Should I take 1 hour go to DSW this weekend to buy boots? No. I'm trying a new line of thinking: If you find that you need something from the store, wait a week anyway. That goes for clothes, groceries, random stuff for the apartment. I hope it works.

All sorts of people -- faculty, administrators, fellow students, second-year students -- have been giving us advice about studying. But in the end, none of them are that helpful. A professor told us that we must study everyday. He specifically used football Saturday as an example of what we should not do. He said that we can't wake up early to tailgate in the morning, watch the game in the afternoon, go to the bar in the evening. Those days are gone! Oh wait, I never did those things in one day anyway. But for me it translated into checking facebook less and blogging less.

But some students say that it's not THAT bad. A second-year told me to take one night off a week. Don't study that night. But that confuses me somewhat too. Should I count Thursday night as my "break" night? I'm not studying much on Thursday anyway. On Thursday I already have class from 8am to 8pm, with an hour lunch break and breaks between classes of at most 15 minutes. I'm really just going home to get ready for bed. I feel a little cheated of my supposed free time if I count it as my "free night".

A fellow student, when asked about hobbies, replied that she reads every night before going to bed. I actually checked out a book from the library that I plan to read for 10 minutes everyday. This means I probably won't remember the beginning of East of Eden or The Unbearable Lightness of Being by the time I've reached the end. But I hope I can get some reading one this way.

I can't remember the last time 10pm or 10:30 was my cue to get ready for bed. I get up at 6:30am now and I need at least 7 hours of sleep to function at all the next day.

Lastly, I will make an effort to blog once a week. See you next week.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On the Eve of Medical School

I just uploaded onto facebook photos of my white coat ceremony that happened earlier today. After finishing uploading, I flipped through the photos. I seemed to me that that I looked older and more mature in those photos than the image I have of myself. Maybe it's the short hair, the smartly cut dress, or the (albeit short) white coat. Or maybe it's that in my mind, I know that it's the beginning of a formidable commitment.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


As popular and fun to read as travel writing is, it was never my intention for this blog to be a travelogue. I intend to update regularly but everyone in medical school tells me this will consume all my leisure time.

You may have noticed the new title of my blog. The end of my time in Denmark made me feel that that experience was fleeting, thus the previous title. But now I'm embarking on four years of medical school where the body is the subject of study. I think it also encompasses my interest in the body in society, in politics.

Today I had the first of a week-long medical school orientation. Immediately I was reminded of a similar experience, the orientation program for Aarhus University exchange students. The people I met my first day at Denmark Today, at the very first activity, became my friends for the rest of my time. So perhaps the same will happen now. We'll see.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Travels: Toilets

This is a restroom at Warsaw.  Circle = female. Triangle = male.  Yes, I was puzzled when I first heard about these signs on a travel forum and then I saw one with my own eyes at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Every country I got to seems to have slightly different restrooms.
First, there's the matter of what we even call them. European non-native English speakers call it toilet. It's also the word written on signs for public restrooms. This sounded vulgar to me at first but then I too started to call restrooms toilets.

Then there are the stalls. But all European restrooms "stalls" aren't stalls because the toilets are separated from the adjacent toilet by solid walls -- yes that go all the way up to the ceiling and down to the floor.That "foot-tapping" scandal involving some politician (or was it an evangelical preacher?) wouldn't happen in Europe.

Danish restrooms are unique for having er ... feminine hygiene product disposal bins that are just plastic bags suspended by a piece of metal attached to the wall. I didn't see these anywhere else except, I think, Norway.  Like so:

It's also very common in public restrooms and bathrooms at home to have two water levels for flushing, indicated by the bigger and smaller buttons. Oh I almost forgot! The fact that the flush is operated by a button ABOVE the toilet is different from the States too.

I'll also never forget a discussion among members of bidet using cultures (two Italian and Turkish friends) and non-bidet using cultures (me).

I could detail the restrooms I've seen all over Europe but I'm flying out to SoCal very early tomorrow morning. This also means no new blog posts for about another week.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Travels: Girls and Boys in Denmark

During my last days in Århus, I went to Legoland, probably the most famous Danish tourist attraction after the Little Mermaid statue. At the Legoland gift shop you can buy Lego sets, spare Lego body parts, and these silicone ice cube trays.
Legoland gift shop. July 2010.

The gendering of toys is a worldwide phenomenon, it seems. Even in Scandinavian countries with some of the most impressive levels of gender equality in many areas. It's also a popular subject of Sociological Images, a sociology blog. It runs a series on gendered toys and used this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic as illustration of childhood socialization via boys and girls toys.
A window in Copenhagen. February 2010.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wrap up: Time and Place

 I've been back in the States for three weeks. It feels much longer, like I've been here all summer. This surprised me. I thought that I would feel more reverse culture shock, that Ann Arbor and East Lansing would feel more foreign. I thought that I would feel uncomfortable driving my car again. I thought the American hypermarts would overwhelme me. I thought I would cringe at American-accented English.

The first three to five days, I felt this way. I wanted to find all the foreign things I had in Europe. Trader Joe's 100% Rye Bread is a close approximation of rugbrød. At a restaurant in East Lansing I had Zywiec beer.

At the same time as the discomfort, however, these were also glorious days of rediscoveries. I finally got a fragel, which I wanted to do the last day before I left in January but the store was closed for the holidays. So I fulfilled a wish I had maintained for six months.

By the time first weekend was over -- I came back on a Monday -- it felt like I had been here in Ann Arbor all summer, which begins for most American college students in early May.

This doesn't mean I've forgotten about Denmark. The opposite: I think about Denmark and Erasmus all the time. Like I've said many times before, those six months were the greatest six months of my life. The people, the traveling, the just hanging out in Århus. But I'm not raving about it to everyone the way I thought I would. I feel like I've entered a different chapter of my life. Denmark exists in memories. For the people I met on Erasmus, we're all post-Erasmus now and that's the way it must be. I feel that if I keep talking about Denmark and exchange that I'll start to have Peter Pan syndrome. As much as I would like to go back to Denmark, I can't because by "Denmark" I mean both a place and a time. Maybe sometime in the future I'll go to Denmark but we've all moved beyond that time to new endeavors.

My train from Århus to Copenhagen airport as it passed Copenhagen central station. July 12th, 2010 approx.12:30am

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wrap up: Flight, qualitatively

A few days ago I listed the flights I had taken and their distances. But today I want to recall the nature of these experiences on budget airlines, mostly Ryanair.

Ryanair plane exterior and interior.

"We love Ryan" - My Italian friend (We hate Ryan but still use it.)
The Ryanair legend goes like this: Flights are so cheap that you can hop on a morning flight to London, have lunch with a friend, and hop back home by evening.

In reality, most one-way Ryanair tickets probably cost $50 for intracontinental flights of 45 minutes to 2 hours long. However, there are many many hidden costs of using Ryanair.
  • Ryanair uses "secondary airports". These are pretty much cargo airports before Ryan came along. They're often REALLY far from the actual city that Ryanair advertises. Why these airports? They're airport usage fees are lower than those of the well-known passenger airports. There is frequently no convenient public transportation from the city center to these airports. You have to take a bus for an hour and costs anywhere between 10 - 15 euro.
  • Ryanair flights extremely early. I bet that the 6am flight at any airport is a discount carrier. Think backwards: 6am flight 4am arrive at airport 3am bus to airport .... 2am wake up and check out of hostel. It's like not sleeping at all. Pretty much every trip I took, there were nights like this for me. Even if the airport is accessible via public transportation, you can be that they don't run at 3am. Instead of taking a city bus/metro to the airport bus stop, you have to take a taxi. Plan on another 10 euro, if you split it with your travel companion. 
  • Or they flight extremely late. When I flew Pegasus airlines from Marseilles to Istanbul, my 3-hour flight was schedule for 2am and then delayed until 3am. I arrived in Istanbul at 7am without having slept a wink and spent 1/3 of my time in Istanbul as a zombie.
MP2, you know, not Marseille Provence airport but the other one. The 2 stands for second-class discount airlines passenger.

"It's like a bus. With wings." - My Vietnamese friend (I've taken nicer buses.)
It's like a bus because you fight for the seats and you should bring your own food.

Ryanair virgins will scrutinize their boarding pass (web checked in and self-printed, of course) and realize that there is no seat number! That's right. You have to fight for your window or aisle seat. Part of the seat-seeking strategy requires calculating whether to board via the front or rear door of the plane. Yup, the plane is always on the tarmac and not connected to the airport proper with the passageway.

They do sell food on the flight by at highway robbery prices.

I have taken very nice buses with assigned seats, free coffee, and seats that recline to almost flat.

The dreaded luggage box (Pack light. And wear all your extra clothes on your body.)
Passengers are permitted ONE carry-on. Purses, cameras, duty free store purchases must all fit within one piece of luggage, which must itself fit in the Ryanair Cage.

At Beauvais airport, a young woman in front of me managed to stuff her duffel bag into the box. But while pulling it out, the handle broke off. No emotion from the Ryanair staff looking down at her kneeling on the floor trying to pull out her broken bag.

I am very proud of being able to travel for 14 days with only this backpack, in which I also put my blocky DSLR case and an empty big brown purse. As you can see, it's a school-size backpack, not a hiking pack.

Tips of getting around the luggage restrictions: Wear 5 layers of clothes. Most flights within Europe aren't more than 2 hours long so you'll only sweat for 2 hours... Also carry a coat with lots of pockets where you can put the heavy items and your snacks for the flight.

No customer service.
Some of you may know that my trip to Lisbon was unplanned. This was due to the volcano ash cloud over southern Portugal that caused Ryanair to cancel my flight. While the ash cloud was beyond Ryanair's control, the ticket rebooking fiasco could have been prevented. Ryanair's website screwed up. Instead of allowing passengers of canceled flights to rebook for free, the website charged us as if we just decided to change our tickets. This lead to a two hour wait at the Faro airport where Ryanair did not have a dedicated ticket counter. Instead all our rebooking requests were handled by a single overtaxed airport employee. Because we didn't use the internet to rebook, we were charged a 10 euro fee, even though the Ryanair website screwed up and we couldn't have rebooked online anyway...

Ryanair is almost more trouble than it's worth. 
Ryanair is planning to eventually go transatlantic. It'll be the worst 8 hour flight in the world. But it means I can go visit all my lovely Europeans friends.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wrap up: Flight by numbers

I've flown a lot in the past few months within Europe, mostly on discount airlines. These are the flights I've taken, in chronological order.
  • Detroit - Washington Dulles - Copenhagen (4446 mi 7155 km)
  • Copenhagen - Amsterdam (394 mi 633 km)
  • Amsterdam - Copenhagen (394 mi 633 km)
  • Brussels - Prague (434 mi 699 km)
  • Århus - Oslo (224 mi 361 km)
  • Oslo - Århus (224 mi 361 km)
  • Billund - Barcelona (998 mi 1606 km)
  • Faro - Billund (1519 mi 2445) 8732
  • Århus - London (500 mi 805 km)
  • London - Århus (500 mi 805 km)
  • Billund - Edinburgh (485 m 781 km)
  • Edinburgh - Paris (503 mi 811 km)
  • Paris - Marseille (441 mi 710 km)
  • Marseille - Istanbul (1242 mi 1999 km)
  • Istanbul - Copenhagen (1266 mi 2037 km)
  • Copenhagen - Krakow (484 mi 779 km)
  • Krakow - Malmo (461 mi 743 km)
  • Copenhagen - Frankfurt - Detroit (4571 mi 7355 km) 
Total distance flown: 19,086 mi 30,716 km 

Number of trips on airlines:
  • Ryanair: 9
    The grandaddy of discount airlines, notorious for charging for every service possible and eliminating every measure of comfort.
  • Lufthansa: 2
    So luxurious in comparison. 
  • Wizzair: 2
    Hungarian discount airlines whose female flight attendants wear hot pink blouses and too much  makeup. The company colors are purple and pink.
  • Pegasus: 2
    Turkish discount airlines. 
  • KLM: 2
  • Norwegian: 1
    A discount airlines too but a nicer one. 
  • SAS: 1
  • United: 1
Percent of flights on discount carriers: 70%
Percent of flights within Europe on discount carriers: 88% (Gokcen airport in Istanbul is technically on the Asia side of the city, but you know what I mean.)


Leaving Warsaw. You can tell it's Wizzair by the pink wingtip. You can also see the Palace of Culture and Science if you look very very carefully and other skyscraper of Warsaw city center.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wrap up: Numismatics

I'm still sorting through photos and uploading them to facebook, gradually. It make me miss Århus and my travels and all my friends.

When I was packing, I gathered my loose change together and took this photo. They are mostly zloty, lira, pound, Swedish kronor, and a couple Euro cents. Oh! I spy a dime too.

(No Danish kroner in this photo. I wrote briefly about Danish money here.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Closing words

I'm back in Ann Arbor now.

This is an email (with some edits) I sent to some friends I met in Århus, who are all back in their home countries now, just before leaving Århus. It's as close to a summary of my exchange as I came come up with, not that it's possible to sum up life experiences.

Dear Friends, 

This is my last email from Europe. I'm getting on the train to Copenhagen and then flying to Detroit airport and continuing on to Ann Arbor. So there are a few things I like to say before leaving. 

This has been the best six months of my life because of the times we had together in Århus. I know that a lot of Americans, Canadians, and Australians use this time as a vacation to travel throughout Europe, but for me, it's been so much more.

At some point, all of you have asked me what my favorite city was. I usually say Istanbul, London, and Berlin. But that's just naming cities. A better question would be to reflect on the memorable experiences I have had. Then Århus would without a doubt be my favorite city because I got to meet all of you here. I loved all the times we spent here in the darkest, coldest months. 

When I was traveling around, I felt comforted knowing that I would come back to Århus, my temporary "home". It felt like a home because I knew that all of you would be here and we'd have dinner and talk and just hang out. You all are much dearer to me than Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or Nike of Samothrace at the Louvre (even though I was thrilled to see them both) because we shared good times together. You all are the difference between a six-month exchange and a European backpacking holiday. This experience is much richer and much more rewarding.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Travel photos

My most recent and last trip was to Krakow and Warsaw. When I got back to Århus on Thursday night, I looked at the photos I took there. I was taken back by how few photos I had taken in Krakow. I generally don't look through my photos when I'm traveling because I prefer to see them on the computer screen but don't have a computer to copy them onto. This means that I don't know what I had taken until I come home. 

The one photo I took of a landmark in Krakow

I've taken a lot of photos since I've been in Denmark (some of which you've probably seen on facebook). I made it a point to take my camera out with me more. When I'm traveling outside Denmark, I always have it with me. If left to my own devices on a full day, I usually take around 200 photos. Quantity is loosely related to quality. You can't have a good photo if you don't take any so I aim to take a lot. This is why I was somewhat disappointed in my photos from Krakow. 

However, I have a personal goal that in each day of traveling I should take one good photo. In Krakow, I took several photos of friends that I really like. Definitely more than one "good photo" each day. What's more, I got to spend time with a friend of mine taking photos of each other. Really, why did I go visit tourist attractions? We could have stayed at home and just taken photos of each other and I would have been perfectly happy. We'd have the photos and the memories of our photo session. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Travels: Measures of Tourist-itude

I have no idea how I'm going to catch up blogging. I want to write about Paris and Istanbul even though I've been back from Poland too. And I have yet to upload photos from Istanbul to facebook. 

I found that in Istanbul, you can judge how touristy a place is by two factors: the quality of its bathroom and the admission price.

Best bathroom: Topkapi Palace gift shop. The best part was that it's in the gift shop. since it's not inside the palace, you can go without buying a 20 lira ($13 or 10 euro) admission ticket.

My couchsurfing host and I went to a kebab shop on a side street off Istikal Avenue which had a squat toilet. This didn't surprise me since it was an entirely non-touristy kebab shop.

I was surprised by the squat toilet at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum because I thought it was popular tourist spot. Well, after going to the museum, I realized it wasn't THAT popular... Or maybe I didn't find the one for tourists in the exhibition wings. This was in building which has the museum's offices.

Topkapi Palace: 20 lira. (I didn't go.)
Hagia Sophia: 20 lira. (It's now a museum, not a place of worship, so they charge substantial admission.)
Istanbul Archaeology Museum: 10 lira.

Oh in Turkey they don't do student discounts either.

Oh yes, some photos of things I had only seen in photos before going on this amazing trip:

The famous Deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia

Alexander the Great, first guy on the left, though not the guy in this sarcophagus.

Very sad women and some gawking tourists.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travels: Origins

I was also frequently greeted with "kunichiwa". Eventually I wasn't bothered so much by being misidentified as Japanese because they are definitely the most common Asian tourists in Istanbul. There were some Koreans and very few Chinese. Statistically they'd have a higher chance of guessing the correct nationality, I suppose. It didn't change the fact that I got unwanted attention, regardless of the language.

One evening a Turkish friend and I went to a restaurant where the maitre d'expressed surprise that I was from America. At least that's what I think he meant. I heard my Turkish friend tell him "Amerika", probably saying where I was from. But then he looked at me and waved his hand over his face, drawing attention to my face as if to double check that I really was from America. 

During my whole time away from the US, I've noticed just the racial diversity in the US is an anomaly compared to many other countries. In Denmark, for example, the earliest immigrants only arrived in the 1960s. The country is still struggling to include non ethnic Danes in the country. But in the US we know that there are many Americans who aren't white. However, it seems that abroad, people don't realize this reality so much. To people I've met abroad, I hope that our friendship has shown you what America is like apart from the movies and TV.

Travels: Not so wonderful thing about Istanbul

I had some warning that traveling alone in Istanbul may be more difficult than doing the same in Spain. My Rough Guide to Europe had the following in the Culture and Etiquette section on Turkey:
Single female travelers may experience some harassment. A common approach is being stopped to answer a quick question. Be aware that a quick question is never a quick question and you could find yourself embroiled in a desperate attempt to solicit your phone number or arrange a dinner date. 
I wasn't sure if I would encounter the described harassment in Istanbul since it is more liberal than elsewhere in Turkey. In fact, I thought it would be rare because I find that cosmopolitan cities seem to have more with each other than smaller towns in the same country. I also thought that because I'm not white or blonde, that

Unfortunately, I was harassed a lot in Istanbul. Their tactics were just as described in my guidebook. As I walked by, the most common conversation opener was "Where are you from", which was often repeated if I ignored them. Some of them would say something about the sights near us like "Oh you are visiting Aya Sofya". But I did ignore them and just kept walking.

I'm not sure what their intentions were or where the conversation would lead if I even made eye contact. I never responded to their calls. I just kept walking. I suppose some would eventually try to sell me something. Or that's what I hope because that it gives them a reason to me, for the lira in my pocket. But according to The Rough Guide, it sounds like some of them want to have dinner with a random non-Turkish tourist woman.

These "friendly" men were in particularly high concentration at the square between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, middle-aged men just hanging around the square while tourists criss-crossed in front of them. This only happened when I was by myself in the historic quarter of the city where the main tourist attractions were: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia. This didn't happen to me when I was elsewhere in the city that were less touristy and I was accompanied by a Turkish friend. I don't know if it was because I was alone or because I was in a particular part of the city.

I can tolerate friendly haggling with a souvenir T-shirt vendor but I became uncomfortable when he started to say he broke up with his girlfriend "yesterday." And proceeded to have me stay for a cup of tea with him at his stall. I paid for two t-shirts and practically ran away.

The harassment was enough to make me really cranky and suspicious of men walking my way on the sidewalk. I know that people will tell me that that's just the way (a certain) Turkish men and foreign women interact, I'm a tourist, I was alone, blah blah. But none of those circumstances is an excuse. This behavior gives me the creeps. It rubs me the wrong way. It's just not an appropriate way to treat women.

But my time in Istanbul also included many fond memories such as -- like I recalled in a postcard to a friend -- having tea on the top of a parking lot overlooking the city and the Bosphorus glittering in the evening sun. That moment made me want to stay in Istanbul forever.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unphotographable Travels: Istanbul from above

My flight left Istanbul at 11pm and gave me the most beautiful take-off view of any city I've seen from the air. I saw lights outlining the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn and the bridges that span them. Ships dotted the black waters in the waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It looked like a game of battleship.

In the distance was an intense thunderstorm. I saw lightning pierce through clouds. It looked just like photos I had seen, long lightning bolts that lit up the gray clouds. Oddly, I couldn't hear the thunder from inside the plane, just the hum of the engines. Fortunately our plane wasn't in the storm. The sky was clear around us, allowing me to see the yellow lights on the ground and the white lightning in the clouds.

The airport was on the Asia side of Istanbul so we crossed into Europe. Then the darkness surrounded us as we flew over Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland before landing in Copenhagen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Travels: Cities

At the beginning of the semester I went to an English class called Literature of the City. I ended up dropping the class but during the first session of the class we had an interesting discussion about cities. The professor asked how many people grew up in cities. A few. And how many want to live in a cities. A lot.

I've said to many people I've met through my travels that I love cities. Istanbul was a city in all the ways that I love cities. It was a city of contrasts. The atmosphere of one neighborhood was very different from another neighborhood. By myself I went to the European side south of the Golden Horn. It's the old part of the city where the old historic sights and where most visitors are. I also went to neighborhoods with a distinctly European feel, historic European quarter and the modern European. 

Paris is a great European city, perhaps The greatest European city. I was in Paris a few days before going to Istanbul. But unlike Istanbul, I feel like I only saw central Paris. It felt fake to me because I saw the parts of the city mostly for tourists even though the buildings are original buildings, not reconstructions. I didn't get the feeling that real, average Parisians lived here. It was all palaces, Haussman-design apartments, and manicured gardens. Maybe Paris had become too famous that I could only see it as a series of postcard-worthy monuments.

Travel by the numbers: I'll sleep forever when I'm dead

Numbers of cities visited on my most recent trip: 4, not counting Copenhagen where I was only at the airport.
Number of nights where I got less than 4 hours of sleep: 4.

All the days where I traveled from one city to the next. Edinburgh-Paris, Paris-Marseille, Marseille-Istanbul, Istanbul-Copenhagen-Århus.

My most relaxing times in the last few months were the times I spent in Århus. I was, for the first time in years, not sleep-deprived. But when I traveled, not just this trip but previous trips, my sleep schedule was disrupted.

This is a one consequence of flying Ryanair and other discount airlines: their flights are always scheduled for very late at night or very early in the morning. I'm sure it's because airport space is cheaper during this time. Of course we all complain ... and still take Ryanair flights anyway.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Travels: You Know You're not in a Christian-majority country when...

One of the funny things about China in recent years is the arrival of Christmas as a most commercialized and  generally good-cheer consumerist holiday. People living in countries with a Christian tradition know Christmas as a once-a-year holiday on December 25th. The Christmas merchandise goes on sale on the 26th and you shouldn't have your Christmas tree up a couple weeks past New Year. But most people in China know Christmas as a time of general celebrating and shopping so the date isn't so important. In China it's not uncommon to see images of Santa Claus when it's not the holiday season.

I was delighted to find similarly out-of-season Santa Claus in Istanbul! Istiklal street was the main road of the historic European-influenced district. It's across the Golden Horn from the historic Ottoman district. It's now a very crowded and lively pedestrian shopping street. 

Above the street were these lights.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Travels: Istanbul is for lovers?

I don't know where to begin to talk about Istanbul. I've seen so many interesting things in three short days.  I guess I'll start where I left off at my last post. I previously blogged about Paris' renown as a city for romance. While in Istanbul, I went for a walk in Gülhane Park. It's located in the old city next to the palace where the Ottoman Sultans lived for several centuries. Here in the park, it seemed to me more like lovers' lane than parks I went to in Paris. 

In particular, there was a path parallel to the main one running the length of the park where there were wooden pavilions with benches. They provided (a sense of) privacy. Pretty much each one was occupied by a PDA-ing couple. I think I remember only one where there was a family with toddlers. 

I'm not a creeper, I swear.

Travels: Return

I've been dreading this day. Today I took my two suitcases from the corner of my room where they were upright and laid them down in the middle of my floor to begin to pack up my life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Travels: Paris is for lovers?

Paris is known as a city for lovers. I think every TV program about Paris shows couples kissing on the grass, walking along the Seine hand-in-hand, looking out from the steps of Sacré Coeur. My travel companion, who went to all the same places in Paris with me, thought our trip confirmed this fact about Paris.

But I didn't see more lovers than other European cities. I think I saw the same level of PDA that I would see in Århus. People see what they want to, I guess. I saw something that highlighted the silliness of romantic love.

The Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine between the Louvre and the Academie Française is a popular spot for love locks. Securing the lock to the bridge and tossing the key into the river below symbolizes enduring love. Well the tour guide pointed out that some of the locks on the bridge were combination locks. Instead of the river keeping the key that would undo your love, all you need to do is ... come back to the river, put in the combination, and take off the lock. I think this undermines the purpose of love locks.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


At the Pompidou Center was a banner for an exhibit called Dreamlands. The photo on the banner shows replicas of European landmarks in Las Vegas. Certainly Vegas seems a mirage in the desert. But my experience in Europe the past six months feels to me like a dream.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Danishize: Laundry

As my time in Denmark is winding down, I'm once again reflecting on the quirks of Danish life that are now routine for me but surprising when I arrived. Today I'm highlighting my laundry drying rack.

At MSU drying was cheap and my room small so I liked using the dryer. But most importantly, everyone used the dryer.

In Denmark however, none of my housemates use our dryer. And from what I see all around, no one else does either, exchange students or Danish students. At my house, the dryer not even in the same closet as the washer but relegated to a dirty corner of our garage.

Instead, we all have folding drying racks all from Ikea. I borrowed this one from my housemate.

My drying rack is actually the top part of clothing rack but it's from Ikea!

Now that I've been using drying racks for six months, it doesn't feel that inconvenient. Well, except when I wash all my clothes at the same time and don't have anything to wear for about a day waiting for something to dry. But it's really not that bad. I think that when I go back to East Lansing, I'm going to get a drying rack.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Danishize: Traffic

Whenever I get together with other exchange students, we always wind up talking about the weather or biking or biking in terrible weather. 

This photo shows several interesting things about Danish traffic.

(Are those two people kissing? That would also illustrate social acceptability of PDA here.)

It's amazing to see the red AND yellow light lit at the same time! Traffic lights here don't go from red straight to green. They go red, red and yellow, green. I think maybe it helps drivers of manual cars? But I love that little touch anyway.

Also, you can see people biking. Practically every road in Denmark has bike paths like this one. Only the small residential streets don't. There's also a scooter in the bike lane. I believe that is the place for them but it still scares me when they wizz past me when I'm biking. 

We also have traffic lights for bicycles. Very very nice. 

Not that this location means much to you, but this is the intersection of Nordre Ringgade and Langlegade that I walk almost every day. My house is just in the opposite direction from this photo. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Danishize: Shower

I think every shower I've seen in Europe -- with the exception of one hostel in Lisbon -- has detachable shower head. This really surprised me when I first arrived. It's out of habit that I always keep the shower head on the wall even though I can take this one off. I don't see how it's that useful.

I told this to my German housemate who shared a bathroom with me and she was very surprised. It's so useful, she said. Indeed sometimes after she used the shower, the shower head would be resting on side of the shower stall the instead of put back on the holder. She does use it all the time.

My shower:

What also bothers a lot of students here are showers without a shower curtain or glass separating the shower stall from the rest of the bathroom. Thankfully I don't have this problem because I have a shower curtain.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Danishize: Old Money, New Money

The design of the small denomination coins are pretty lackluster but I think the hole in the middle makes up for it. I don't know how many currencies have coins with holes in the middle. Is the Danish krone the only one?

Øre is the equivalent of cent. Now in Denmark only 50 øre coins are in circulation. All transactions are rounded to the nearest whole krone or 50 øre.

New paper notes are starting to be issued. The theme is bridges and archaeological artifacts. The new fifty kroner note was in circulation when I came to Denmark. Sallingsund Bridge and an earthenware vessel. 

[I was going to show you a fifty kroner note that I got as change earlier today, BUT I LOST IT! I hurriedly put it in my pocket after getting it at the cafeteria. By the afternoon, it wasn't in my pocket anymore.]

But the new one hundred kroner notes just appeared about a month ago. They show the bridge and a flint dagger.

The nerdy cool kids go to Danish National Museum in Copenhagen to see these artifacts on display. 

The Danish krone (plural kroner) is the currency of Denmark. (We say Danish krone to distinguish it from the Norwegian krone.) The exchange rate of the Danish krone is pegged to the Euro where 1 Euro = 7.5 kroner. This means that currently, $1 = 6.24 kroner. This is the lowest the kroner has been since I came to Denmark. In January, it was around $1 = 5.5 kroner

To give you an idea how much the things I most frequently eat cost
1 L milk = 5 kroner - cheapest 15 kroner - organic
1 cucumber = 5 - 8 kroner
1 little cup of quite bad drip coffee from the cafeteria = 5.5 kroner
1 loaf of rugbød = 15 kroner
deposit on one plastic bottle or aluminum can = 1 - 3 kroner, depending on the size of the container

New 200, 500, and 1000 kroner notes will be issued in the future, but I won't be around in Denmark to see them...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

All the biggies: feminism, motherhood, environment, food

A review of Elisabeth Badinter's Conflict: The Woman and the Mother on the NYTimes caught my eye because it reminded me of a post on the Racialious blog I read a few weeks ago. Both say that certain modern trends imply that women should return to their traditional domestic roles.

Badinter is a French academic. I hadn't heard of her before but it seems she has a significant body of work criticizing (evaluating?) feminism. She previously wrote that feminists are undermining themselves by popularizing the notion of women as victims.

But I want to focus on a point in her latest book, which takes up the issue of motherhood in modern times. She writes that the green and natural movement erodes the gains of feminism. It pressures women abandon modern inventions that have eased childrearing for old, labor-intensive ways.

From the New York Times:
But Ms. Badinter thinks that new social pressures are hard for many women to resist. The “green” mother, she says, is pushed to give birth at home, to refuse an epidural as the reflection of “a degenerated industrial civilization” that would deprive her of “an irreplaceable experience,” to breast-feed for both ethological and environmental reasons (plastic baby bottles) and to use washable rather than disposable diapers — in other words, to discard the inventions “that have liberated women.”

 This reminded me of criticism leveled by feminists against advocates of the food reform and sustainable agriculture movement. Michael Pollan, the figurehead of the food reform movement, is criticized for being alienating working women and women of color.

This comes from Racialicious:
First, Pollan and others situate the current state of American consumption in a patriarchal paradigm. These writers speak about a disappearance of food culture that for the most part accompanies male privilege. For example, Pollan, in an article for the New York Times on cooking and entertainment aptly titled “Out of the Kitchens, Onto the Couch,” explores the relationship between second-wave feminism and the gender politics of cooking. He argues that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique convinced women to regard their housework, specifically cooking, as drudgery. Friedan did not, in fact, construct this sentiment herself; she merely observed the existent trends in white women’s attitudes about food and housewifery. Pollan goes on to describe how Julia Child inspired his mother and other women like her, empowering them to channel their creativity into the kitchen. This is apt praise for the lively and engaging cook, but can Pollan not drive home the point that Americans need to cook more often without guilting American feminists?
Feminists and progressive people like to talk about the overlaps among their passions. And I agree too that there are many, not just the issues, but the people in one camp have overlapping interests. There are, I think, obvious intersections among feminism, environmental movement, organized labor, ethnic movements, and other social justice movements. I think my readers are well-informed about these intersections.

Both these critiques really resonate with me, not because I'm denouncing the benefits of reusable diapers or fruit and vegetables, but because they show an ugly reality. People who call themselves feminists or progressives or generally working to help people don't always agree. There are dividing lines.

It made me happy to see vocal feminists of color voiced their criticism of other progressive movements. I think sometimes there's an implicit assumption that feminists are uncritical of activists in other progressive areas. But this isn't entirely true. I care about the environment and about eating better, but not as much as I care about some other feminists issues. That's why I was the co-chair of Women's Council. Though I worked extensively with other progressive and racial ethnic groups on campus, I had one focus where I directed most of my attention.

You could argue that Michael Pollan doesn't want only women to return to the kitchen but both men AND women to cook but the truth is also that women are still the one who do most of the housework. So when you say, "go make (a nutritious) dinner (of locally grown, organic produce that will bring together your whole family)", it's women that are heading back into the kitchen.

In the end, I think both Badinter and Michael Pollan and the food reform movement hit on the same point: women are judge by society, by other women, by themselves on how they raise their children, be it the food they eat or the diapers  wear.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

House, Spring

The first image of Rødkløvervej 1 I saw was on Google Streetview. I couldn't remember what the house itself looked like because it was mostly obscured by a dense green wall of shrubbery around its perimeter. This was a photo taken during the spring or summer.

But when I came to Århus on January, it was a depressing scene. I blogged about it here. I also included this photo taken in January of my house.

In the depth of winter, it's hard to imagine what the house looks like in the spring. It seemed like this day would never come. But here we are now. It's spring and also near the end of my exchange.