There Are No Black Beans in this Country: Unnecessary Adventures and What We Take for Granted

Whether it’s the nature of fieldwork in general or the nature of fieldwork in Australia, things that should be simple end up as an adventure.

Let me give you some examples.

The little black dots are ants! This picture does not do the size of the colony justice.

The little black dots are ants! This picture does not do the size of the colony justice. More poured out as we removed the black plastic.

The task that should have been simple: grocery shopping. Every week, we go on a shopping marathon to buy food for six for a week. We throw grocery bags in the back of the truck (named Matilda), visit three different stores, since each has better prices for different types of food, and try to feed ourselves properly on a field budget. The complicated process can be attributed to the nature of fieldwork and generally having to rely on a grant. But the creatures of Australia make it more of an adventure. The other week, we opened the back of the truck to throw in the grocery bags, and instead found that a colony of ants had taken over our vehicle.

Since it would be unwise to put groceries in the middle of an ant colony, we had to get rid of them before beginning the grocery-shopping marathon. We drove slightly away from our cottage and tried to sweep them out, but that was highly ineffective. We decided to take Matilda into town and buy some ant spray, only to discover that Matilda no longer wanted to start. Eventually we restarted the car and make it into town, but it took several days to get rid of the ants. We had to carry groceries (for six people with large appetites) on our laps in the car. [Read more…]

Slip-ups, Solitude & Self Care

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Welcome to Beijing’s Ethnic Minorities park, where the traditional Bai minority compound is built on top of a McDonald’s.

After a few days of travel in Shanghai and Hangzhou, I found myself in Beijing, finally ready to embark on my summer of independent research. Beijing is the first of my stops in a research tour of China’s ethnic minority theme parks (the rest are in Yunnan province). On Wednesday night, I checked into my hostel and on Thursday morning, I took the subway to Beijing’s Ethnic Minorities Park, excited and hopeful for my first day of fieldwork.

And it went horribly.

There was nobody at the park. I’d come on a weekday, at lunch time. I saw a total of maybe ten other tourists and a couple of poorly-attended performances. The park was nothing like the bustling tourist site I’d expected. I was too nervous to do a single interview. Frustrated with the park and with myself, I left with only a few photos and some vague, hastily-jotted notes that made no sense when re-read.

After my disappointment wore off, I told myself it was OK and that nobody’s first day of fieldwork goes perfectly. I’d give myself another shot, this time aligning my visit time with the park’s major afternoon performances.

Day 2 did not go much better.

I was discouraged. The prospect of five more weeks of fruitless research terrified me. I came to China to do research and now it looks like I’ll leave with no results at all, I thought. [Read more…]

5 Weird Things about California, via 5 Weird Things about Boston

A snippet of California’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Pomona’s own Clark 1 residence hall.

“Weird” is an extremely relative term, especially when 18 years of your life were spent in a single subculture of a single California suburb.

This summer, I decided to step outside the normality of perpetual sunshine and for the first time in 12+ years, head to the East Coast.  Approximately five minutes after exiting the doors of Logan International Airport, all I could think was: “This is weird… And why the heck do we need to pay tolls to get out of the airport?!” Let’s just say that my choice of a better adjective was lost along with my sense of direction as I traveled the exceedingly confusing streets of Boston. It was, and still is, a weird experience being here.

Yet I recognize that my perceptions of weirdness are entirely subjective and that to Boston natives, narrow roads paved from cow paths* represent normality. So I drew from the culture shock I experienced upon arrival to pinpoint 5 things one might find weird about California if not yet familiar with its unique wonders. (Note that all of these points are derived from reverse-reflection on my time in Boston, on California. Hopefully that makes sense in a bit). I now present to you a list highlighting 5 characteristics of California I suspect a newcomer might find weird – especially if coming from a town such as, say, Boston.

[Read more…]

Welcome to New York: Week One

Goodbye for now, Los Angeles!

As of approximately 6:45 pm EST today, I will have survived being in New York for a full week. Honestly, I have no idea (1) how everything that’s happened / that I’ve done in the past seven days has encompassed only seven days, or (2) how I ended up here in general. No, really. I have no idea how any of it actually happened, and at this point I’ve pretty much given up trying to make sense of it.

What exactly do I mean? Let’s see. It could be:

  • The part where I got a summer internship with two HarperCollins children’s imprints in two departments without actually having applied for the job,
  • The part where the Pomona College English Department semi-spontaneously decided to pay for my round-trip flight, because Professor Dettmar is the nicest department chair in existence,
  • The part where I despondently searched for housing on Craigslist and somehow found a huge, beautiful room in an affordable apartment by the Cloisters, my favorite part of New York, hilarious and considerate roommate included,
  • The part where I was one of the first five winners of the We Need Diverse Books internship grant, without which I couldn’t have afforded my rent,
  • Or pretty much everything that has happened since I actually got here…which is a lot for one week.

[Read more…]

Preparing to Do Research Abroad

books

As my little blurb explains, I will be spending this summer doing independent research in Southwestern China, funded by the Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant. This grant is awarded to 2-3 rising Pomona seniors each year, allowing them to undertake research for a senior thesis, project, or exhibition during the summer months before senior year. In the past, students have used the grant to study anything from Singaporean Vernacular English to ideas of nationalism through sport in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

I will be going to Yunnan, China, to study ethnic minority groups in the context of cultural tourism, a topic I became interested in while studying abroad in China last semester. China is largely made up of Han Chinese (about 92%), but there are also 55 officially-recognized ethnic minority groups. In recent years, the Chinese government has developed many cultural tourism sites, theme parks where Han Chinese can go to observe and learn about minority culture and traditions. During my time Yunnan, I noticed a gender gap in how minorities were portrayed in advertisements, media, and in these theme parks themselves. Overwhelmingly, ethnic minority women (usually young, beautiful, and clad in colorful ethnic dress) were used to represent entire ethnic minority groups. [Read more…]

Big Friendships of a Small School

Three people in Pomona’s Class of 2017 are from Vermont. All three happen to be friends of mine. And I have already been offered, with not a single word of request, three places in Vermont to visit while I intern in Boston this summer.

Not bad for a school of just 1600 students, right?

Vermont in California?

One of my Vermont friends trying to be Vermont in California. It’s actually working. (See Ski-Beach Day)

Coming from a high school with a population 1.5x larger than Pomona’s, I wondered as a first-year how limited my social circle would be. Would I get sick of seeing the same faces over and over again? Would I have enough friends to fill even half my (enormous) room in the case of an elaborate post-midterms celebration? I consider myself an outgoing individual, but between about 50% of my peers studying abroad, seniors graduating, and humans simply operating in discrete social spheres, I wasn’t sure if I would find enough of the brochure-promised lifelong relationships I sought at a college as tiny as Pomona.

[Read more…]

A Summary of Sophomore Year

The end of another great year is upon us, and as everything winds down to final projects, papers, exams, and abundant last-minute senior sales, I cannot help but reflect on the moments that defined my sophomore year.

dramatic thinking

These past two semesters were filled with ups and downs, each week as volatile and capricious as an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. You see, sophomore year is an interesting and slightly awkward transition from the beautiful naivety of your first year in college to the stress and ambiguity of entering real-world territory as an upperclassman. Yet it is enjoyable nonetheless. Every student’s experience is different, of course, but there are certain revelations and minuscule details with which I feel every second year student can relate. So to finish off my writing career as a second-year student and to continue my trend of creating lists of gifs, I present to you the top six things you should know about sophomore year: [Read more…]