Archive for May, 2009

Try, Taiwan Planning…very good.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

You might have thought I’d forgotten all about Taiwan after the wonderful experience I had at the Faculty Academy, but lo and behold Taiwan travel plans are still well underway! But the process hasn’t been exactly easy. If you are traveling at all for any long period of time, there is the massive network of problems that you have to sort through. This process can be very discouraging, not to mention time consuming. Yet! There are many resources available to help point you in the right direction. Looking through the websites available (to be linked as they come up) you can get a sense of the step by step process of filling out the paperwork, but who will take you to the next level? I believe a personal account is in order!

Before beginning this account, I owe a great deal to Susan Fernsebner who has been my constant guide to charting out my travel and study of Chinese. She is a great asset, which taught me something: you need a person, not a program. We can read articles from a website, but nothing beats insider knowledge delivered in a relaxed setting. “Hey, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you about Taiwan and how to get there.” Something about it that just strikes me as very nice.

So where does it all begin? You’ve decided, “OK I want to go and stay in Taiwan for an extended time to learn language, what do I need to do?” (Granted this applies more to students than any other demographic, my apologies!) Let’s start by talking about what programs are out there. Professor Fernsebner directed me towards the Inter Chinese Language Program in Taipei. I can personally vouch for this program. As a US student applying, the speed at which the admissions crew responded to my questions, or even just taking the courtesy of telling me they received my application package, absolutely startled me. This program has a great reputation for solid language training. I am unfortunately only taking advantage of their summer program, but they do offer year long programs for those students and professionals who can afford to take the time (not just money but schedules) to do that type of work. ICLP, obviously, is not the only school out there, not by a long shot! I am not super familiar with all of the other schools but a web resource touches on available programs in Taipei:study abroad. As always, first hand knowledge is the way to go. If you see a different program that interests you, take some time to find someone familiar with how the program functions. A website is often not enough information! I can go through a walkthrough of applications later, but for now we will assume you have found your school of choice, and you are ready to take the next step.

So you’ll get the letter in the mail or a nice little e-mail, you are definitely in.

  • STEP 1: Freak out! It’s Awesome
  • STEP 2: Tell everyone, high fives are 100% in order
  • STEP 3: Check Panda Musings for Advice : P

Honestly, getting in–from where I stand now–has been the easy part, which is so odd for me to say since I was madly freaking out about whether or not I made it in to the program. Oh no, this is where the real fun begins. Oh man, do I have/need a visa? What is this place like? How do I get there? How am I going to eat? What do I wear? It’s a massive whirlwind of things to do, I have yet to reach the other side of this thing yet. Consider taking some time out to read up on where you are going. Lonely Planet offers awesome resources for looking at different countries and covers the whole breadth of knowledge you will need to start you off. I still subscribe to the belief that guides, no matter how detailed, can only take you so far. Going there is the way to get acquainted.

If you are a student you’ll be looking for a visa, specifically a multiple entry (it comes in either single or multi). The multiple entry has some really key advantages, the biggest being if you have some sort of emergency back in the states you have to address, you are able to come in and out with no problems. The visa, however, comes as an intermediate step. The first thing you have to do is get a hold of plane tickets. Right, you’d think you should get the visa and then the plane ticket. For the different embassies and consulates you need to prove that you have a way in and out of their country. The nation you are going to, as far as I can tell, wants to make sure you aren’t just going to be bumming around within its borders.

I had felt pretty nervous about visiting about the final step of handling the visa, actually going to the consulate (TECRO) in DC or in any of the many other locations throughout the states. It helps to look through the “consular division” portion of the website for visa info. The things you are going to need:

  • passport that has to be valid for at least six months
  • flight itinerary (simple print out will do)
  • two passport sized photos
  • filled out application, able to be downloaded from the TECRO website
  • a recent bank statement

This last one was kind of surprising and threw me a curve ball when I was at the office this afternoon. I hate being unprepared, but I was glad to get everything in and taken care of. Now I have to wait for my passport to get stamped. The office gave me the opportunity to have the passport sent to me. I figured that having the thing sent to me could turn into a recipe for disaster, lost passport=good bad.

That’s where I am at for now, more info later? Oof just a whole lot of work on my plate. I am shaking in my boots a bit. While at the office, I started looking at the Taiwanese flag…I feel like there is a fun study in the making, the history of the KMT flag.

Faculty Academy Thoughts! (FAT!)

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I can’t just keep myself out of the conversation happening about Faculty Academy 2009 here at Mary Washington! Held at the Graduate campus in Stafford, the talks so far have been both highly enlightening and also filled with unanswered questions. While I wanted this post to focus on discussing each talk I went to in exacting detail, I am simply wiped from the day and just want to ramble about the event itself. [Who knows maybe we will touch on each thing anyway!] I honestly had no clue how much was going on with this conference, even though I saw the program well in advanced. For instance, did you know our tech crew has a steaming video running of all the talks in University Hall, the main room of the building? This stream is located on the main website page @ http://facultyacademy.org/blog09/. I invited a good friend of mine to watch some the keynote talk without the use of power point! I know it is absolutely insane to talk in front of tons of people without the use of technology. James Boyle highlighted our tendencies to stray away from viewing openness as a very plausible potential for our projects, yet despite this eagerness to break our Cultural Agoraphobia, Boyle managed to provide a cautionary note that sometimes closed off items are okay and in fact necessary. During my session with Dr. Harris, Fersebner and Lexy Degraffenreid, I noticed that like many things, new innovations are taken almost too far. Right, that is a pretty vague statement on my part, but consider that one may be so overwhelmed by the new potential of the tools that his project fits the tools rather than the tools fitting the project. These new tools that we as academics have readily available should be serving our projects. All that being said, it can all be simply reiterated as such: the project should, and indeed must influence the tools. If you have imagination, wonderful! Use it to your fullness, but be warned new innovation can cause you to start artificial projects. Oh I can do such and such, well forget whatever I was doing before, let’s try everything else.

A gentleman in my panel Wednesday morning talked about how far we can push our projects and expand them to greater and more ambitious undertakings, while another man cautioned the crowd that a project can collapse under its own weight. What we really have here is a conversation (definitely the buzz word for this conference) concerning the very nature of projects in this new medium. Professor Harris with his Russian and soviet history site had a very specific audience in mind, Mary Washington students looking for sources just down campus walk at the Simpson Library. What our projects, in my mind and I say this over and over again, is a definitive vision and thoughtful rationale behind each of our projects. Dan Cohen’s digital campus talks about the basic training where we have to ask ourselves why we want to use digital media at all, what if your project would do better in some other form? The trend with any new innovation is to beat it into the ground until it is old hat. Proceeding thoughtful is really the solution to that trend. Another problem arises, we don’t have a solid understanding of what all of this technology and conversations have for the normal ways we handle courses and classwork. At Faculty Academy 09, I think, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are challenging a model set up by our medieval and closed approaches to learning and teaching. The University at its heart is sadly a business and needs to generate a profit somehow. Jim Groom (author of Bavatuesdays) and I have talked multiple times on the number of institutions that would go down if open source ruled the playing field, certainly academic journals would be an endangered species.

Allow the Project to Set the Need!

To move gently to the second panel I attended in the afternoon, since I noticed few people took advantage of the foreign language talk, I want to discuss the role of technology in facilitating learning language. The program, upon sitting and chewing on the material, held great insight into the multiple techniques available to a language class to fully develop. There were a wide range of opinions (e.g. whether or not blackboard is ok). What you learn is that no one method is a 100%. A number of factors play into what a course needs, sometimes just how the students themselves interact with the technology we (by we I mean you the teacher!) implement makes all the difference. While each speaker offered a lot of fodder, I wanted to touch on Jeremy Larochelle’s tremendous success with his use of blogs. Language requires a great deal of interaction. If you attempt to develop language solo and never interact, at least with modern language, you miss the full benefits of real experience. He mentioned that a student received a very critical post from an individual in Latin America attacking his grammar. Now, that seems problematic, but imagine if one were able to get native speakers reading the blogs and bringing their expertise as natives to the learning experience. Sadly (or perhaps wonderfully) we are in the experimenting stage, attempting to understand what works and what does not. Students really have an opportunity to open up and use the tools they gain through social network sites etc. for a more academic purpose. Maybe we need to make learning more fun and interactive? As a student diving into this world, I have found Faculty Academy to be the best experience I could possibly have in my training.

With Coffee in hand let us, as boldly as our brew, move forward!

For the Brave.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Alright! So, let me introduce you to Faculty Academy (= D !) This event, held by Mary Washington on its Graduate campus, attracts professors and hosts a number of panels and lectures about technology’s ever increasing role in humanities and learning. How can we be using technology to further classroom discussion and our own personal research? All good questions! What is the future role of technology in scholarship? Even better, now that we are cooking some nice tofu, let me direct your attention to the program for this year’s Faculty Academy. This two day event certainly has a host of interesting meetings to attend, plus who can turn down breakfast and coffee in the morning? I’d get up in the morning for that. A number of speakers I am sure are now making the last touch ups to their presentations for tomorrow, while the Thursday crowd is probably waiting until Wednesday night. I am particularly interested in Elizabeth Lewis’s Foreign Language 2.0. I myself will be hanging out with Alexandra deGraffenreid and professors Harris and Fernsebner talking about working projects using digital resources at 9:30 until about 10:45 tomorrow (wednesday). While I’m sure everything will go smoothly, I fully recognize I am probably the young dark horse of the crowd who is just getting his feet wet in all of this stuff, BUT! Never fear because all will be well, I’ll be all nice and professional. A quick preview: I will be talking about a project that Professor Fernsebner has gotten me very interested in, doing an analysis of Chinese history resources online and creating my own website which can act as the necessary pieces of history for an undergraduate interested in Chinese history. It sounds pretty straight forward, and you are right, it is. However, I want to hit on why it is so important to be using digital resources rather than just building a print copy of an annotated bibliography. A Digital Campus episode led by Dan Cohen really encapsulates my own interests in an episode entitled, “Basic Training”. Give it a listen if you have some time. I know you won’t have time of course, because you will be hanging out at Faculty Academy if you are cool!

For all of those who are on Twitter, you can follow Faculty Academy 09 by looking up umwfa09. There should be posts and updates throughout the day. Be on the look out for photos! Alright Faculty Academy, it’s on!

Celebration Florida

Monday, May 11th, 2009

A little video to get us in the mood before starting on disney’s nostalgic town : D

I have been meaning to talk about my experiences while in Florida checking out different mini-cities. Yes, I touched on The Villages towards Central Florida, a community developed solely for the 55+ crowd looking to be either winter birds or fully retire to the Florida area. That post had pictures of the Cinco de Mayo event going on, which attracted a pretty sizable crowd. However, I had a much bigger fish I wanted to go after, following in the footsteps of Andrew Ross.

On my last full day in Florida, Thursday May 7, I cut out an afternoon to break away from the family and scope out a town just outside of Orlando just off of Route 4. In order to enter the town, one must drive through a series of roads starting at Celebration Plaza with a few odd looking buildings. You sit on celebration avenue for a while until you start seeing Victorian looking houses. Now you have entered the past. At least what is being sold as the past. The structures of the building takes you way back to the 1950s. This of course is all in response to Andrew Ross’ work The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Values. I wanted to see where Ross had walked and taken pictures, held interviews and conducted his research. A brief background to his work, Ross under the auspices of University of New York took on an assignment to write a book about the, then developing, town put on by Disney. I think any study would have to come to the table with a certain stance concerning how Urban Planning should function. I am still learning and feeling my way around how one deals with urban planning, realizing that development is a business like anything else. Who is going to pay the most bucks? Celebration has a certain target audience that desire to not just purchase property but also a memory, nostalgia.  Give Ross a full read when you get the chance.  It definitely has a more academic feel but is still a very interesting read.

I have a few pictures to check out on Flickr if your interested: celebration photos. My favorite, and a trademark building, is the post office. I doubt that a structure like that was common during the 50’s, yet it represents a whimsical look at the past. Also, it’s really easy to find flags around Celebration, recalling that the past America was highly, highly patriotic. My main question as I walked around the enclosed city focused on how you can sell the city to both residents and tourists. I looked closely at the structure of the houses and how the changed as they get further removed from the center of Celebration. The center marketplace, located along a man-made lake, attracts tourists with unique shops and restaurants, although ironically Starbucks managed to get a hold of a building. The market also has the Celebration Hotel for tourists to experience the 50’s close at hand. I moved around from the market place up some of the different roads to check out the houses. As you move further away, I noticed that the houses get much more tame. You start to lose the crazy colors that are found in the marketplace as well as the stranger shapes. It seems to me that the town gets purposely divided between tourist and resident areas. At the end of the day the place produces interesting questions about living spaces.

But rather than make this all academic, I just want to state that I had my own sense of nostalgia. Here I walked the streets where Andrew Ross, someone I read in a class, did his work in ’99 about this growing experiment, now 15 years old, which has made us think about what the reversion to the nostalgic lifestyle means. Students need to deal with work material in more direct ways than just reading a book and writing a paper. Nothing can replace the feeling that comes from looking at the buildings with your own eyes, feeling the brick paths beneath your feet, or noticing how the kids of Celebration are just as rowdy as any other and Celebration throws up no skateboarding signs up. Overall great experience!

Check out the photos!

A Side Trip

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

I have been keeping busy over these past few days since school let out on May 1st. My mom has dragged me down to Florida. Initially, I got to admit I thought I would hate it down here, but really it’s been a nice break. The big issue for this post is: Have you ever had “work” creep into your vacation? For me, it is an easy matter. I love anthropology. The discipline can be my bread and butter at times. Recently, I wrapped up a course about urban planning and development, taught by Professor James. It’s main themes focus on all things urban, yet suburban also falls into the discussion. As a movement that came out of the advent of the car and a post WWII push to leave the city, suburbia presents a host of questions about urban planning and specifically isolation. If you look at a map of a suburb, the roads are far away from any main veins (streets) and often have curvy roads to discourage random drivers from entering the area. Take this aerial photo provided by ms cwang for example.

Yes, we notice a large vein pass close to the residential block, but note that this pathway does not come into contact with the suburb in question. You would have to enter it, if driving, by taking a number of side streets. Someone carefully lays out all of these plans, I assure these are not random designs by some kid. Each design comes with a specific purpose. A photo or snapshot can tell a lot about an area’s purpose, at least at the time of its inception. James provided me a much better eye for urban development, at least giving me a baseline for questioning, always a good start. My next stop, of course, will be Celebration which a part of a study conducted by Mr. Ross about ten years ago now.  Although I could leave Disney’s crack at New Urbanism to a study in an Anthropology course, nothing can beat the ability to go and see this place first hand.  Walk the streets that researcher walked etc.

I went off to visit some friends that live an hour and fifteen minutes north-west of Orlando, Florida.  We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and I figured, since we were in the same area, it was prime time to catch up. I brought my trusty little camera for the ride (provided by DTLT thank you!). Who knows what little random thing you can take a picture of?  I thought nothing of the surrounding area around my friends’ house called the Villages, yet as soon as we turned our little rental car into this place, my newly shaped eye for seeing urban development exploded with excitement. A gated entrance stood just before the car, unmanned yet nevertheless an imposing border line.  I began to take pictures at a furious rate of just about everything–still trying to get a hold of the idea of even taking pictures.  After hanging around my friends’ house (pardon villa) for a while, the couple took my mom, my friend and I around the community for a brief tour.

Some background is required to understand what the Villages are all about. I found out from a long time resident that a man by the name of Harold Schwartz started a small suburb for older individuals called Orange Blossom.  Orange Blossom provided the initial start to this absolutely huge development. He hired on some marketing experts to help further develop and popularize his vision of a planned community. According to an informant, the Villages is the largest entirely family owned development in the country. The entire area contains approximate 75,000 people, primarily above the fifty mark.  The Villages contains many of its own facilities, such as shops, grocery stores, and even a Walmart.  In Urban Theory, through Setha Low’s work, we studied over places such as Celebration Florida (where we will hopefully be going there on Friday) where the main idea is concerned with understanding how gated communities work. The Villages is by and large a gated, although not particularly secure, environment where one can live fairly self-contained and drive around in golf carts or cars.

(Golf Carts line the city streets)

The community actually has a main public roadway that bisects the Villages into two sections each carrying vastly different themes and styles, one being Spanish and the other New England Port. Most significant for me, I found that the Villages is a complex that only allows people older than fifty to life there. Linking this to Gate Communities, I am not used to seeing a fairly active attempt to distinctly label the majority group.  Certainly gated communities tend to be all one homogeneous group, but this is more by the cause of having such high living rates.  Here the Villages stands as an area devoted wholly to the upper fifties+ crowd. With youth and family only allowed at very short intervals, a month at maximum. I came at an interesting time, the community was celebrating Cinco de mayo.  I noted that many of the performers were from the community and even cheerleaders (whom my older friend remarked “probably didn’t make into the high school team!”) did cheers to Spanish music for a pretty packed in audience:  Cheerleaders for Cinco de Mayo.

This place, obviously, is a huge sprawling complex with a lots of clubs and activities for each member.  Many of these members leave during the summer months, which typically one can see a dramatic decrease in population beginning in early to mid May.  I wondered whether any of these people work and what level of disposable income would one have to have in order to stay afloat here.  The level of planning that is involved in the creation of a place like this is unthinkably high.  I have to admit I was impressed, but what does the Villages mean to urban planning?  I have so many unanswered questions about the whole matter.  Yet, all that being said, something interesting is happening with that development.

(update later!)

The Journey to Taiwan—An Opener.

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

On Friday at 3AM EST, I received an e-mail from the Inter Chinese Language Program in National Taiwan University; good news all I got hit up with an acceptance! This has been a matter of great anxiety, whether or not I’d gain acceptance from the school. Long nights praying and checking my e-mail at three in the morning, knowing that Taiwan exists 12 hours into the future. But now, thanks to the help of professors writing recommendation letters and so forth, I can let all of that slip behind me and be grateful that I made it in. But how do I get over there? This month, since I want to leave by June 1, will be a time of figuring out the ropes to gain a plane ticket, visa, and a place to stay in Taipei. How the heck do I do all that? There is a lot to do in less than 31 days. But the process already started yesterday. Tickets, although pricey, are indeed manageable. I uncovered a round trip for a little over twelve hundred with a hefty layover in Los Angeles, another home for the H1N1 that is receiving huge amounts of press coverage. I have my own thoughts on all that, mostly dealing with the latent connection between H1N1 and the zombie outbreak that most of us have been preparing to deal with for years now (thank you Left 4 Dead and Zombie Survival Handbook!). For the past two years May has always been this tumultuous month. Everything either happens or needs to happen in those 31 days. Case in point, my mom insists on a family vacation to Florida for “bonding time”. Some of you may snicker or sneer at me for complaining about a vacation, but when you have to take a driver’s test to renew your license—long story—and get fillings for cavities, on top of all the things you already had to take care of, it creates a lot of stress. This month does have some good prospects at least. For one, I get to hang out with Professors Fernsebner and Harris at the upcoming Faculty Academy and my girlfriend (cue audience going awww) is coming down to see me for two weeks or so on the seventeenth. It’s good times and sunny days from that angle. The larger, looming question is when am I going to find time to make some $ for that plane ticket. It will get handled, just a matter of how not if. I have been blessed to make it this far…no turning back, no turning back. Keep your eyes open, I’ll be talking about the visa and plane ticket things later.

I’m never one to just leave you without some sort of goodie, and the treat for reading today is a great video from a Taiwanese website about going to Taiwan. Notice how just being in Taiwan apparently makes you want to fly. Weird, right?

Taiwan!

The flight process should be fun.  I have never traveled abroad before, so this should all be kind of crazy go nuts.  I can see it now, working in the classroom and just randomly flying away threw the window, over Taipei.  Expect more!  And if you don’t read the blog bavatuesdays.com you should probably go fix that.