So far in our virtual journey through Bali, we’ve covered forms of Balinese music and theater that predated globalization and the advent of mass tourism. However, as emphasized through Liz’s repeated questioning of “well what IS traditionally/properly Balinese?” a main point in this class has been about the fluidity of culture. Just as the indisputably Balinese Hinduism we see today was ultimately an import from India, so too has Bali needed to re-adjust its cultural mindset to accommodate its booming tourist economy. In terms of the arts, one such product is the modern kecak chant, which creates a soundscape for theatrical scenes using various patterns of the sound “cha.” Our class has been repeatedly practicing this popular tourist performance, and it’s honestly not hard to see where the appeal lies! As the chant excitedly continues, a tale from the famous Ramayana epic unfolds as the brave monkey general Hanoman (pictured above) sets out to save Sita and kill the evil rakshasa (played by yours truly). Even if I do meet my untimely demise by the end of the performance, chanting along to the kecak is an incredibly catchy way to explore Balinese tourist culture.
Throughout our time in Bali, the class has had the opportunity to play in one of the cornerstones of Balinese music–the gamelan (or “ensemble” in English). Composed primarily of bronze instruments to withstand Southeastern Asia’s notorious rainy season, these gamelans serve multiple ends here in Balinese society. On one level, one cannot understate the religious significance of the gamelan instruments, which are believed to have their own spirit that deserves reverence from players and bystanders alike (so if you get rebuked for trying to step over one, now you know why!). The gamelan also finds its way into numerous ceremonial contexts, such as the funeral our class saw earlier in the block in which the gamelan served as the center of the procession. Beyond the realm of the spirit, the gamelan also finds a prominent role in the competitive realm as well! Our class got to experience this firsthand at the Bali Arts Festival as we watched gamelans representing different regions of Bali duke it out in front of thousands of excited fans. Though the class (seen in the picture below) may need a few more blocks before being competition-ready, we have also been practicing gamelan daily both for the immersive experience and in preparation for our upcoming show! FUN FACT: if you’re curious about this multifaceted type of Balinese music and culture but want to save the trans-Pacific flight, CC has a gamelan group that performs once a semester! Be sure to keep an eye out for their shows!
This week in Bali, our class had the pleasure to witness a traditional performance of the Barong–a mythic creature of major importance in Balinese theatre and religiosity. This lion-esque beast contains two people controlling the costume, with one in the front and one in the back. Though seemingly a stage prop at first blush, the Barong’s mask is the product of rigorous ritual purification, and often is housed at the local temple when it isn’t being used in performances. In this show, the class reveled as the mighty Barong played with his monkey companion and later faced off against the evil witch Rangda. Interestingly, this classic fight always ends in a draw, thus representing the good and the evil within all of us. Filled to the brim with colors, action, and a gamelan music accompaniment to boot, this was an incredible look into the power of the Balinese arts. Curious what gamelan means? Tune in next time to find out!
On Thursday night, as we neared the end of another busy week, the students of German 202, and a few members of the Max Kade house, CC’s German language house, gathered together at Professor Ane Steckenbiller’s house to eat a delicious home cooked, Mediterranean dinner, and to play an exciting German murder-mystery game. The game was set at a dinner party, and was centered around a group of characters, each one played by a different player. Through a series of clues and dialog between players, it becomes clear that the characters all have some connection to one another, and some connection to a murder that’s been committed, and that the murderer is in their midst. The goal of the game was to solve the murder by the time the dinner was complete. It took three hours, but with the help of the two native German speakers who were present, and some ice cream sundaes, we successfully completed the game.
Each week in German 202 our course work is centered on a specific theme from our textbook. The vocabulary, discussions and readings that we do each week usually have some connection to these themes. Past themes in this block include traditions, regional specialties, science, and technology. This week’s main focus was on law and the environment. On Friday, in the spirit of our theme of the environment, our class took a field trip to Red Rocks Open Space. On our way to Red Rocks we stopped to buy some food from Wimberger’s, a local German bakery and deli. After fueling up with delicious German snacks we began our walk through Red Rocks. As a challenge, we tried to speak only German during our time in the park. Many amusing attempts were made using German to try to explain the various natural phenomena that we observed. After about an hour and a half of walking, we stopped by a small pond to eat our German snacks and to read and discuss a series of famous 19th century German poems. This series of works, which included poems by Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff, Theodor Storm, and Stefan George, all had to do with nature and human interaction with and perceptions of the natural world.
This week in German 202 a major theme of discussion was the German federal state of Bavaria, or as it’s known in Germany, Bayern. Bavaria is known its modern cities like Munich and Nuremburg, stunning castles, and idyllic countryside. As a Bavarian native herself, Dr. Ane Steckenbiller, our professor, was able to provide our class with her own experiences and perspectives about life in Bavaria. Together we were able explore the traditions and history of Bavaria and were also able to unpack some of the common stereotypes that exist about Bavaria, for instance, that Bavarians are more conservative and provincial than other Germans.
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Bavaria on several occasions. In my time there, the thing I have always noticed most, other than the stunning beauty of the region, is the wonderful contrast and balance that exists between the modern and the traditional. I have witnessed Munich transition over a single day from a bustling, impersonal city, to a city in which nearly all the inhabitants had donned their traditional garb, and had transported themselves and their city back through time, to enjoy the celebration of “Oktoberfest.” This same contrast can be seen as you leave the cities and make your way into the countryside. Ultramodern cities and highways gradually give way to quaint towns where the highest building is still the town Church. The dozens of languages that are spoken in the large international cities are replaced by the dozens of different dialects of German that can be heard as you make your way through the countryside. It’s this balance in my opinion, that makes Bavaria a truly remarkable place.
View of the Bavarian Alps Marienplatz: Munich city center
The past two and a half weeks have been filled with various Chicago explorations but the nature of the block plan is bringing me back to reality. The pace of the class is definitely quickening as we wrap up third week.
All twelve of us spent most of today in the Newberry Library. While Lena braved the meat-locker temperatures in Special Collections, the more faint of heart set up camp on the second floor.
I definitely wish I spent more of the first two weeks familiarizing myself with the request process at the library. However, I feel like I finally have a strong foundation for my research project. I am exploring the history of Chicago’s parks and to what extent they have served as vehicles for social and environmental change. Meanwhile, Mary is working on a paper about Gwendolyn Brooks. She even interviewed a man in Bronzeville who knew Brooks! Other projects include a look at the history of women and mental health, Jazz in Chicago, art and the Chicago Fire, and the Peruvian Amazon Company’s atrocious treatment of native Amazonians. Next week, we will present our findings to our classmates and turn in our papers.
It’s hard to believe we only have one week left in Chitown! Thankfully, we checked one box on my bucket list last night. Bill took us to Pequod’s, a pizza place in Lincoln Park that’s famous for its deep dish. While we munched on mozzarella sticks there was a contentious debate about what pizza to order. Some argued for a thin-crust option but Bill demanded that we order strictly pies because we are in Chicago. Unsurprisingly, the man footing the bill got the final word. I was just happy that I got cheese and carbs in various forms (somehow, our table was populated by mozz sticks, cheesy garlic bread, and pizza all at the same time). We finished the night with a fantastic view of downtown and a discussion about Michigan Lake vs. the ocean. Personally, I need the wild energy of the ocean to feel grounded. Others said that any water that extends into the abyss has a calming effect. The jury is still out I suppose.
In the past two weeks, my classmates and I have wandered through various parts of Chicago. From Uptown to the UChicago campus, we’ve passed walls of murals, popped our heads into random music venues, people-watched at Lincoln and Millennium park, and eaten nearly everything in sight. Nevertheless, visiting the Chicago History Museum illuminated many aspects of this city and helped me to see the various neighborhoods through a historical lens.
We visited the museum in lieu of class on Friday and were encouraged to take our time at each exhibit. I savored every moment, as I hope to do my final project on the history of Chicago. This coming week we are working on these independent research projects at the Newberry Library. While we are permitted to explore any topic that the library’s collection specializes in, I want to learn more about Chicago. I am particularly interested in the planning of the city. In what ways did city planners push a segregationist agenda? What measures have been taken to create more integration of race in class in this city? Do the lines that were drawn between neighborhoods limit certain groups’ access to public spaces? These are all questions that I want to explore by utilizing the Newberry’s collection.
The Chicago History Museum placed a focus on this topic through its various exhibits. One plaque read, “the contours of the city have been shaped by successive waves of people from various parts of the U.S. and other nations.” While this can be said of practically all of America’s cities, I found it particularly interesting because it connects to something we discussed in class during our first week here. That is, we learned that it’s important to understand that a city is a palimpsest. Like a piece of writing, cities often have a layered history wherein certain aspects of it may be erased but traces of its history remain. Each neighborhood has a legacy of its past. For example, a few students took the wrong bus one day and ended up in a neighborhood called “Back of the Yards.” We later learned that this name is an allusion to the area’s history of stockyards. Chicago is known for its meatpacking past. I learned in the museum that a combination of labor struggles and negative environmental impacts contributed to its demise.
Also in the museum was an exhibit about Chicago’s jazz scene. While jazz has its roots in New Orleans, it spread north to Chicago during The Great Migration and legends such as Louis Armstrong took the windy city by storm in the 1920s.
I scribbled various notes throughout my exploration of the museum. Each serve as a sort of “seed” for my research. I want to know more about A. Phillip Randolph and the Chicago Housing Authority. I hope to explore the intricacies of the 1996 “Plan for Transformation.” Most of all, I’m excited to delve deeper into this city’s influential figures. From Superintendent Ben Willis—who is notorious for school segregation in Chicago—to the admirable nurses and doctors at Provident Hospital, the first African-American owned and operated hospital in America. Overall, I learned a little about a lot of different topics at the museum which will serve as a broad base of exploration in the coming weeks.
Hello there! I am reporting from Chicago, IL. Eleven other students and myself are taking “The City vs. the Country: Literature of Nature and Urban Spaces” with Professor Bill Davis. A huge part of the class is exploring Chicago independently, so I thought I would delve into the different ways of wandering the city.
While our classes are located at Newberry Library, just a short walk away from our apartments, all the students have taken advantage of our 30-day subway pass. Bless the L! I grew up in Houston, where public transportation goes to die and you have to pry people away from their cars by their cold, dead hands. Thus, I do not take public transportation systems for granted and being able to get anywhere in the city without stepping into a car is very refreshing.
Becoming familiar with a subway map is also a very satisfying thing. I’m almost to the point where I can imagine it when I close my eyes. I can zip north or south on the red line from Clark and Division and I relish in the brown line route through the loop.
Yesterday afternoon, a few of us went to see a movie. When we emerged, it was pouring rain and subsequently, the L was packed with people. Each red line train that came was humid with hoards of commuters. We let three trains pass, hoping they would grow emptier. After waiting 15 minutes, Mary stepped daintily into the crowd and her body was absorbed into the tube of humans. I admired her assertiveness and the rest of us caught the next train.
But I love it. I love how everyone faces skyward, like fish out of water. I love that I can stand without holding on because the strangers around me hold my body up. I love the dank smell of sweat and cigarettes and exhaustion.
I took a 15-minute nap this afternoon; I fell asleep to rain pounding on my window and awoke to sunshine. The weather here can be very capricious, so walking around the city, one must be prepared for just about anything. Nevertheless, using my two feet just to meander around Chicago’s various neighborhoods is one of my favorite ways to see the city. After lunch is a prime time for excursions and students in the class have explored nearby Bucktown/Wicker Park, as well as Pilsen. One of the best parts about Chicago is that every neighborhood has its own personality so you can digest the city in bite-sized pieces by tackling a new area every day. Pilsen, with its colorful murals and varied history, has definitely been a class favorite. Bucktown is known for its delicious restaurants and “hip” vibe. Neighborhoods still on my bucket list are Hyde Park, Andersonville, and Lincoln Park.
Ahh, lastly, we have my favorite mode of exploring the city. I borrowed a road bike from a family friend in Chicago but there is also a superb bike-sharing system in Chicago. What I love about cycling around Chicago is the independence and spontaneity it infuses into my days.
I have found that in the age of yelp and google maps, it is too easy to decide on a destination and get a sort of tunnel vision. Or in the case of the L, literal tunnel vision. Often, I find myself dropping a pin at a particular café or museum and then following the little blue dots on my map until I arrive without really seeing the places I’m traveling through. But with a bike, I get to see so much more of the city and stumble upon places that I would not have found otherwise. On Sunday, I biked past a skate park and spent half an hour watching scruffy teens sliding on rails and dropping into bowls. Today, I passed a bike shop that is female-owned and run entirely by women. I wandered in and they gave me a bunch of recommendations about various trails in the city. Biking helps me to see the different arteries of this city as a connected network, instead of a fragmented puzzle.
In the second week of this class, we watched the movie Dear White People. Have you seen it? It came out in 2014 and Netflix ordered a TV version of it, also named “Dear White People” last May. While there was some backlash at the time to a tv series of “Dear White People,” it was nothing to how many (white) people reacted to the trailer that was released yesterday.
The video garnered over 1 million ‘dislikes’ in one day, with many taking to Twitter, denouncing the show for being “racist” and encouraging “white genocide” and cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.
Let’s be clear. Let’s be super super clear. There is no such thing as reverse racism. You cannot be racist towards white people. All together now: Reverse racism does not exist.
Why is being racist towards white people NOT a thing? Because to be racist you need two things: power and prejudice. Racism connotes a system that disadvantages those based on race. Therefore,people of color cannot be racist– they can be prejudiced– but not racist because they do not hold power in a racist system and thereby cannot benefit from this system.
When white people argue that people of color are being racist toward them, it is just untrue because this understanding of racism refers more to when someone (usually non-white) makes them feel bad (cue white tears) for their identity. This understanding also completely ignores structural systems of oppression that has and does consistently disenfranchise people of color in obvious and in invisible ways.
In the online article “What is Reverse Racism and Why It Doesn’t Actually Exist in the U.S.,” Phillip Lewis argues “But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system.” (hyperlinks in original)
Thus when white people cry “racism,” it ignores this legacy of racism that still disenfranchises people of color in concrete and tangible ways.
Let’s say it all together just to make sure the people in the back heard us: REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST
Rather, these conversations about “reverse racism” or a TV show that questions race has much more to do with whiteness.
In “The Social Construction of Whiteness” Martha R. Mahoney (1995) argues “Whites have difficulty perceiving whiteness, both because of its cultural relevance and because of its cultural dominance. . .like culture, race is something whites notice in themselves only in relation to others. Privileged identity required reinforcement and maintenance, but protection against seeing the mechanisms that socially reproduce and maintain privilege is an important component of privilege itself” (331). And, I would argue, protection against these mechanisms that produce whiteness is an important aspect of whiteness.
When white people operate off the understanding that racism is just when someone of another color is mean to you, it simply reinforces the category and supremacy of whiteness to begin with. Learn your non-white history, read some articles like this one or this, and stop pretending reverse racism is a thing.