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.