Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Peruvian People

I've been meaning to post about the best part of Peru: the people!

We all know first impressions aren't everything, but if they were, I'd want to spend all my time with Peruvians. They are friendly, warm, inviting, laid-back, family-oriented, fun, and sweet. The family running La Posada Atahualpa even let us hijack the hotel lobby for a play one night. I think they enjoyed the snippets of Spanish as they laughed at us, piscos in hand, from the bar. Never before had strangers made me feel like laughing at myself as much as they did. (I blame Bob, my role was an un-dead being possessed by the spirits of 500 conquistadors).

The nightlife is what really got me. Venturing to pubs at night in the U.S. (not that I do it that often) usually results in good food and a good time with my own group. In Cuzco, the stranger sitting next to you suddenly is your friend and you're all singing, laughing and clapping together. A nice restaurant in Cuzco taught me this. My group enjoyed a tapas-style dinner late at night with a round of drinks, but, while waiting for the food, we abandoned our tables to run upstairs and watch the live music. This didn't have a touristy feel. Wood beams and stone walls with a modern edge welcomed us, the few American faces in the crowd. Peruvians sat around the bar and tables in the warm light, singing heartily with the singer's melodious voice and the accompanying classical guitar. Every face was smiling, hands were clapping, bodies danced in their seats, laughter echoed and the friendly atmosphere became a contagion. As I chatted with these instant friends and admired the music with them, I thought, this is what it is to be human. You can be anywhere in the world and just soak in happiness together. You got the sense that people in Peru just loved each other, for being human beings, for sharing joy.

And that's what set the Peruvian people apart to me. No matter how difficult life is, no matter how unfair, they wear their smiles well. Their music can charm a crowd. They make life light and cheerful. They're joyful, fun and they know how to celebrate: this is a lesson I want to remember.
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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Working in New Zealand

A description of any work day would not be complete without describing the traffic.  Auckland is a rapidly growing city with not enough housing for the people who want to live there.  According to Wikipedia, the population of Auckland in 2016 was 1,495,000 and the population density was 3,500 people/mi2, which is a big difference compared to the 6 people/mi2 in my hometown of Koeltztown, Missouri.  With almost 600 times more people, I knew commuting in Auckland was going to be intense.  My host dad, who was also my supervisor, and I carpooled and had a 40-minute commute from home to work during the peak of rush hour traffic.  When it wasn’t rush hour, the commute was 20 minutes.  One benefit of the commute was the opportunity to talk with my host-dad about whatever topics came to mind.  I would forget about the crazy traffic when we shared our interesting stories. 
I worked for Chemical Solutions Ltd. (Kemsol for short.)  Kemsol began in 1991 by Peter Vaughan who had the desire to develop better products than what was currently available.  Kemsol now offers a range of institutional and industrial cleaners that are sold in New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.  Products include hand soaps, floor cleaners, laundry powders, and air fresheners.  I like the range of products that meet the Environmental Choice New Zealand standard.  The company is 100% NZ owned by its employee shareholders.  More information about the history of Kemsol can be found at the following link:
During my first two days at Kemsol, I had difficulty with the Kiwi accent and names for objects.  Sometimes, I enjoyed the sound of the accent and would forget to focus on the task I was asked to do.  After a few days, only occasionally did I need clarification for what people said.  My daily morning tasks as the lab technician intern in Quality Control and Research & Development was to calibrate the instruments. The remainder of the day involved anything from adjusting production batches to product development.  I enjoyed all of it, every challenge and accomplishment I experienced including the tedious microfiber (microfibre for my Kiwis) project.  The work experience and new skills, such as instrument calibration, broadened the scope of my résumé, which is always a benefit of any internship because there is always more to learn. 
Watching the Dye Disburse in a Sample Product
The Kiwi work environment was more relaxed than the American work environment.  I am not saying that Kiwi workers do not accomplish their tasks, but the pressure of work felt less intense.  There were times when I worked on my projects while talking to a colleague about life at the same time.  The stories I heard and the laughs we had allowed me to learn more about my field and my coworkers.  Since I was not the only person born outside of New Zealand, I learned about other cultures thorough my coworkers.  New Zealand has become home to many immigrants in the last few years.  One of my favorite days at Kemsol was when a coworker noted at the lunch table that everybody in the room was born in a different country: England, U.S., Malaysia, and India.  I also had co-workers from South Africa, Philippines, Samoa, and Fiji (I hope I didn’t forget anyone!).  Despite being a foreigner, I never felt like an outsider at Kemsol. 
Since the internship, I have more confidence in my ability to problem solve and to be an effective chemist.  My favorite part of the internship was working alongside fabulous Kiwis who taught me about their role at Kemsol and about their culture.  Finally, I know the type of company and environment in which I want to work.  Overall, I would describe my internship as wonderful.
                Wearing mask to make laundry powder               

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Kiwi Language & Accent

While both the US and New Zealand are former colonies of England, the English language in each country has taken different paths.  American English has diverted further from British English than Kiwi English.  This could be a result of either the American idea that we must be different at everything or from the fact that New Zealand was not legislatively independent of England until 1947.  Thus, Kiwi English has had less time to divert from the motherland.  In the last 70 years, the Kiwis, aka the New Zealanders, have found a way to make English their own.  Here are some Kiwi spellings and words I encountered.  By no means is this an exhaustive list:

U.S. / New Zealand
meter / metre
favorite / favourite
Mom / mum
program / programme
organization / organisation
They also talk about morning and afternoon tea as their breaks.
rappelling / abseiling
Trash can / rubbish bin
So far, not too different from England.

Sweet / sweet as
            I didn’t understand why they didn’t finish the comparison. 

seam ripper / unpicker
Because seam ripper is too violent.

eraser / rubber

trunk (car) / boot

z (alphabet) / zed (pronunciation)
Radio advertisements would say “dot-CO-dot-N-Zed” for a website.  Later, I listened to my host-dad say that the last letter is “zed” when spelling to saying a URL.  He would correct me or give me a dad look when I said “zee.”  One night when he was tired after a long day at work, he yawned, stretched his arms, and said that he needed to “catch-up on some ‘zee’s.’” 
Almost instantly I respond, “You cannot pick and choose what to call the last letter of the alphabet if you are going to make fun of me when I say it.” 
            “It sounds weird saying ‘catching up on zed’s.’”
            “I know.”
            One of the reasons I liked my host-dad was that we could tease each other for a good laugh. 

bill (currency) / note
            My host-mom had sound logic in my opinion: “Bills come in the mail, and nobody wants them.”  Why call our money the very thing that takes it away? 

College or university / uni
            The New Zealand equivalency of high school is called “college.”  All undergraduate degrees are earned at universities. 

hiking / tramping
            I asked my host-sister to not say that in the States.

meeting / hook-up
            This synonym was used in the workplace and nothing weird happened. 

zipline / flying fox
            I don’t understand this one. 

What (as in you didn't hear what someone said) / pardon
These people are so polite!
Sandals / Jandals 
In Australia, they call those sandals (flip flops) thongs.
Ground beef / minced beef
How Kiwis said "minced" sounds a lot like “mint” to me.  Needless to say, I was very confused and concerned until I was corrected.
French Fries / chips
            How does one distinguish the type of potato now?!

ketch-up / tomato sauce

cooler / chilly bin

Jell-O / jelly

jelly / jam
            I was corrected many times; Kiwis are particular about their JAMS.
I was very upset to learn that New Zealand does not have grape jelly!  I think I found every other possible jelly and orange marmalade.  Grapes are basically only used for wines and juices in New Zealand.

To become one with the Kiwis, I tried to imitate the Kiwi accent since the best form of flattery is imitation.  Sadly, I was only able to sound like a Kiwi for 5 seconds before I would again sound like a foreigner.  In words like "garage" and “massage,” where Americans say the first a like a short u, Kiwis say it as a long a.  Changing the a sound in those words felt weird.  Also, we have been saying Rutherford incorrectly.  I have forgotten which way is correct, but the difference lies in the u.  Warning: Kiwis get offended if you say their accent is Australian. 

Last but not least, the native language of the early Polynesian settlers, the Māori, is incorporated into New Zealand culture.  According to Wikipedia, the three official languages of New Zealand are English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language.  Māori translations are on traffic signs and monuments.  The names of some businesses are in Māori.  Food such as “sweet potatoes” are advertised as kumura.  Some Māori words like whānau for “family” and Kia ora for “Hello” are common to hear.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Peruvian Textiles & Pottery

When you're an art major and you're taking Art & Architecture of Peru, you have to acknowledge the museums. Entire textbooks have been devoted to Peruvian art history, so I'll try to do it justice in fewer words.

What made Peruvian art history so refreshing is that the highest form was the textile. What westerners have previously considered craft arts (such as weaving, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry-making) were regarded with elevated status, involved effort, and masterfully refined technique in ancient Andean cultures. They still are today.
Chinchero weavers at work
Textile from the Paracas culture, about 1,000 years old

Art historians have analyzed the level of skill and social stratification to achieve such expertise (not even getting into architecture), and it's plain impressive. Society revolved around woven objects. They were used in daily life, for religious sacrifices, for mummification and burials, for differentiating social status, for distinguishing tribes, even for city planning. And they were woven well. The only woven fabrics to surpass them in stitches per square inch didn't arrive until the industrial revolution. Additionally, the Inca are famous for their quipu mathematical and literary system, though it was knot-based.

Through slip-molds and coils, Peruvian potters were able to mass-produce vessels long before the pottery wheel was brought from the Old World. Shelves upon shelves of pots have survived and can be viewed at Museo Larco in Lima.
Stirrup-spouted vessels in Museo Larco
Termed "inefficient" by westerners, the labor-intensive art forms of precolonial Peru assigned value to an artwork; they didn't detract from it. Foreign to western philosophies are many important Andean beliefs, including reciprocity, duality, the cyclical nature of time, destruction and construction, two converging to make a third. Everything is spiritual, artistic, biological, otherworldly and concrete at the same time. These values were essential to pre-Colombian religion, society, and survival in the harsh Andean world.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lima, Cuzco & the Sacred Valley: Landscapes

Before you even get to Machu Picchu, Peru offers some amazing vistas. 

Lima is BIG. Stretches for miles. 10 million people. City lights, ocean-side cliffs, buildings, graffiti, museums, shops, gardens, apartments and hotels...The earthquakes and erosion sometimes topple boulders down the bluffs onto highways or beaches, so you see gigantic nets holding everything in. This place is literally bursting at the seams. 
Giant cacti at Museo Larco, Lima
Pacific Ocean at Lima (by the docks you can see the black nets holding rocks in).
Cuzco, even stripped of its gold, has a way of glowing in the sun. It's nested in a see-saw of rosy mountains with steps, slopes and staggered buildings mimicking the landscape. Even before the Inca, the Lake Titicaca cultures had planned cities based on textile designs. Incan roads survive in Cuzco, so narrow only one car can pass through and pedestrians hug the walls to avoid cars. On top of century-old stones, Spanish stucco forms churches, restaurants and a very visible layer of history. 
Cuzco seen from the outskirts
Incan walls under Spanish plaster, Cuzco
The Sacred Valley was my favorite region of Peru. It felt like springtime, driving past rows of quinoa fields, watching animals graze, smelling the eucalyptus trees in the misty morning air. Villages, little brick houses, donkeys, alpacas, children and icecream, mud and straw, guinea pig's a sensory experience better lived than described. This region includes Písac, Ollayntaytambo, Maras, Sacsayhuamán, and the underground labyrinth of Qenko. Of course, Machu Picchu will have its own post. 

The sacred valley is full of ruins, green mountains, patchwork-quilt agriculture, fresh air and sunny vistas quickly overtaken with luminescent clouds. Ancient huts, uninhabited for centuries, are not an uncommon sight as they climb upward toward mountaintop granaries. The mountains disrupt wind currents so much that rain can fly upside-down in your face. All in all, you can't separate geography from the experience. 

Above: Ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán (no, not pronounced "sexy woman").
Below: Rock slide outside of Sacsayhuamán. Don't start till the second dip or you'll have trouble sitting for a few days!
Above: The "patchwork" of the Sacred Valley by Ollantaytambo
Below: Our awesome trilingual tour guide for the Sacred Valley, Magali. She taught us fun Quechua words.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Bridges, Greenhouses & Mountains

The first day I felt I was really living in Quito, one of the pedestrian bridges collapsed. It was early in the morning and thankfully no one was hurt, but the whole city heard about it. When I asked where it happened, I realized I'd passed under that bridge just a day or two before! These bridges were anchors, landmarks, to me. To hear one fell shook me even though I wasn’t there.

Some of my friends ran late to meetings and appointments that day because of the traffic, or they had to leave early for work because they heard about it on the news. Strangely, this “disaster” made me feel the city, its people. It made me a participant in a way I wasn’t before.

Even though I felt more connected to Quito than ever, this suburban student started to feel antsy after so much time in the city. Since I needed a break, a friend took me to a small village nearby called Nayón. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we boarded a bus that took us through winding mountain roads, slowly descending, until we reached our destination. The elevation was a little lower; it was in the upper 70s and humid. 

Nayón is a charming village, dedicated to plant nurseries, that fuels the lush gardens and parks of Quito. (No, I only almost drooled as I explored the greenhouses). We perused exotic succulents, palms, lime trees, orchids, celosia, cacti…it was the most beautiful day I spent in Ecuador. The village was quiet, with a small city square and a modest but lovely colonial church. Families picnicked on the grass, sweeping mountain vistas dimmed in the setting sun, and my friend’s treat to me—Salcedo ice cream—awoke my taste buds with unknown tropical flavors as it melted on its quirky popsicle stick. If I planned on staying longer, you bet I’d have some houseplants.  

When I came back to Quito, I saw the mountains differently. I knew them. When a cold wind came down from above, arctic in sensation, or when the crispness disappeared in sticky descent down a slope, I felt I was learning the mountains’ personalities. They felt mystical, and the muse for the Andean pan flute songs was becoming my muse, too. My Peruvian tour guide, Jessica, had described an ancient Andean belief in apus, or guardian mountain-spirits. I don’t follow any apu, but when I lived in the Andes, there was something in the landscape I could only describe as otherworldly. 

Bridges, mountains and greenhouses are a part of the geography, and a part of the people.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quito, Ecuador: An Introduction

After my tour in Perú, I spent 5 weeks with an Ecuadorian institution that helps young women and their children. I lived with them, did chores, painted portraits and built friendships. In my free time, I got out in the city and journaled about my experience.

Quito is nested in a high-altitude valley between awe-inspiring volcanoes, the nearest being Pichincha. The city stretches hours north and south and is home to 3 million people. While it’s on the equator, its 9,000ft altitude keeps it in the 50s-70s year-round, with a wet and dry season. Since it’s warmer in Quito than in Cusco, everything was green and palm trees threatened to take over. Buses, the Trolley, and taxis made getting anywhere in the city easy and relatively affordable. (If you opt for taxis, be sure to use radio taxis because the fare is reliable and they have seat belts. This is even more important in Lima traffic.)

I saw a side of Quito other visitors never see. Peru both helped and ruined me: I was so tired of plazas, colonial history and cathedrals by the time I got to Quito, I didn’t explore these “must-sees.” Instead, I explored the art scene, museums, parks, cafes and shopping malls, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. Quito has great museums and galleries like La Casa de la Cultura, La Capilla del Hombre, and La Casa del Alabado. My favorite parks were El Metropolitano and Parque Bicentenario. The colonial downtown is lovely, and I did, I confess, look at the big tourist sites from the outside. La Basilica, Quito’s main cathedral, is awe-inspiring. El Panecillo (“Little Bun”) is a large hill near the Colonial center topped by La Virgen de Quito, an angelic madonna statue who overlooks the city. Quito is most famous for La Mitad del Mundo monument, the line that divides the two hemispheres. I didn’t visit, but demonstrations of water draining in opposite directions on either side can be found here

In Quito, it helped to make friends with other volunteers; they showed me their favorite places and taught me how to recharge. It was fun to see how foreigners and natives alike enjoyed this city, because everyone’s experience is different. Ecuador showed me just how beautiful the world is—the hustle and bustle, the vendors walking between cars calling “¡mandarinas!” the artisans’ markets, the fruit shops, businessmen on the phone waiting for a bus, pedestrian bridges, families playing at the park, little lunch restaurants. The pace was faster than mid-Missouri for sure, but otherwise life felt the same. Stay tuned for more on Ecuador and Peru!
House of Oswaldo Guayasamín, famous Ecuadorian artist, activist and founder of La Capilla del Hombre. 

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