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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Views from Vienna

10:47, Sun 23 August 2009, Vienna

Well I successfully navigated to the Sudbahnof station in Vienna without any problems this morning and thought I had come way too early but it turned out to be a good thing because this train requires reservations and I had to go figure that out. Unfortunately I’m not digging this reservation thing as I don’t get to choose my seat and have the misfortune to be seated in directly in front of a screaming, squealing, kicking 4-year-old for the next five hours… Perhaps I’ll be able to change seats at some point because I don’t know if I can make it.

Vienna was different from what I was expecting. Well actually I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but it was such a change from Munich that I was really surprised. First off, when I arrived at the train station (one of several around the city instead of one main one) I found myself in a very crowded urban environment. That was kind of shocking as I battled so many people for access to the street and public transportation. I found the tram I was supposed to take to get across town to the other train station near my hotel but I was perplexed as to how I was supposed to buy a ticket. Seriously, there were no ticket machines anywhere to be found. I thought maybe I was supposed to buy it on the tram and boarded, watching the other passengers for some kind of a clue. Nobody seemed to be doing anything so I just assumed it was free and took my seat. An Australian couple came up to me and asked if I knew where to buy the tickets and I laughed and said I had no idea and had just been getting on. They weren’t convinced though and continued waiting around confused. All the times I took the tram, I never actually saw a ticket machine, although I found out later that you’re supposed to pay. Whoops!

One thing was evident, though. Vienna was very different from Munich, but equally or perhaps more beautiful. Even taking the tram I enjoyed just looking at the buildings as we passed. I took the U-bahn from near the hotel (buying a 48-hour all transit pass this time!) up to the northernmost part of the old city center and attempted to make my way down to St. Steven’s Cathedral in the center. I failed miserably. My sense of direction took a day off I think as I had no problems the next day, but even wandering through wasn’t bad because even on random side streets, the architecture was very pleasing.

Finally I gave up and got back on the U-bahn to go back a stop to Stevensplatz. When I turned the corner from the station, my heart literally stopped. Out of nowhere, here was this gigantic, imposing Gothic cathedral. I literally had to turn back around to catch my breath.

I suppose now is a good time to mention something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days. One of the most tourist-attracting aspects of European cities is the lavish and often ridiculous palaces and cathedrals. The idea that all of these magnificent buildings were constructed for so much money and at the expense of the everyday people is somewhat morally conflicting. On one hand, they are beautiful and offered an opportunity to progress art and architecture, but at the same time, there were probably much better things that could have been done with the money than building a palace with 300 rooms adorned in gold.

I got some supper from a little grocery store near the plaza and took it with me trying to find somewhere to sit and eat. I still have yet to actually eat in a café or a restaurant. The idea of doing so by myself isn’t very appealing and I enjoy sitting and eating in a park just as much anyway. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to come upon a park and find a nice bench by a pond in the shade. After I ate, I came across a statue of Johann Strauss on violin. It’s really cool how much good music came from Vienna and I did get a special feeling just walking around where Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, and so many others had.

I found my way to the tourist information center and found that there was a bus tour leaving pretty soon, so I decided to take that. It wasn’t particularly enlightening, but it was a welcome break from walking and gave me a chance to cross the Danube and get a better feel for the significance of different places around the city. Plus, it was at dusk and quite pretty.

When the tour ended, it was getting dark so I started to make my way back to the U-bahn station. I found myself walking down the main shopping stretch through the center of the city and it was totally invigorating. The street was pretty packed with people in a jovial mood. Normally I don’t really like crowds, but the feeling I got was incredible. I was in a beautiful city and couldn’t go anywhere without hearing some kind of excellent live music. I walked slowly, soaking it all in and grinning from ear to ear. There was a crowd gathered around some street dancers in front of St. Steven’s Cathedral, so I decided to join that and continued to thoroughly enjoy myself. It was a great end to the day.

Yesterday was rainy, which I have to say I was thankful for. It has been far too hot and sunny for all the time I’ve been spending outside traveling over the past week! I took this as an opportunity to hit museums and started out with a tour of the Opera house, which was pretty special. Even though it was mostly destroyed from bombing in World War II, it was still really cool to be there. I really wish that the opera had been in season so I could’ve gone to a show, although I’m not sure how well I would’ve been able to stand through an entire opera at this point! They never repeat the same opera two nights in a row, which seems to be a logistical nightmare, but very impressive nonetheless.

Afterwards, I walked to the Holburg grounds, which are huge. I went to the history museum where they had quite a bit of cool ancient Roman and Egyptian artifacts, as well as 15th century art. I walked around for an hour or two but I was feeling pretty tired, so I decided to head back to the hotel for a nap. I got some Chinese food take away and brought it back to the hotel. It was interesting; they actually gave me the food in reusable plastic containers rather than disposable boxes. I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn’t have space in my bags to live up to my pack-rat ways.

I was feeling musically inspired from my morning at the Opera house and decided to find somewhere like that to go to that evening since there was no opera. I found a museum called “Die Haus der Musik,” which happened to be open until 10 so I headed over there around 4 or 5 and spent a good three or four hours in an interactive museum dedicated to sound and music. Some of what they had was a bit bizarre (a room that mimics the sounds and vibrations of being a child in the womb), some of it was interesting in a scientific way (an interactive program that informs you about ghost notes and how your brain adds extra inaudible tones when you’re listening to someone on the phone), but my favorite part was probably the historical areas. They had one wing dedicated to the Vienna orchestra where I learned about the history of their sound and instrumentation (they have their own versions of oboe and horn, for example) and got to listen to their recordings of Viennese composers (which I probably could’ve done all evening). Later on there was a floor with histories and artifacts of the famous composers, from Hayden to Schubert to Mahler. It was overall a very nice way to spend a rainy evening.

There were still some people out last night but not nearly as many as the night before, probably due to the weather. I saw my first female street performer, a woman playing a violin beautifully.

I went back to the hotel to make my plans for today, for Prague. I was feeling a bit hesitant as I started because the Czech is even less intelligible to me than German. Also, I don’t yet have a map of Prague so hopefully I won’t get lost! Then I started clicking on photographs of attractions and felt a new wave of invigoration. I’m having an amazing time and feel so lucky to get to visit all of these incredible places!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Argentina Experience


This summer I spent a month in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was an extremely cool experience, and I don’t just mean the weather, although it was winter over there. I lived with a host family, sharing a room with another UTD student. We had classes four days a week (Monday-Thursday) with the weekend open for travel and exploring the city.
I had the best host family anyone could hope for. Susana, her husband Martín, and her kids Rosario, Dolores and Agustín were all so friendly and helpful with anything. They took really great care of my roommate and me, which made the whole experience just that much better. I lived in a neighborhood near Alto Palermo, in a nice part of town with lots of food, shopping and even a nice park nearby. I found a cute little café near my house to do homework and drink delicious coffee most afternoons.
My classes were Español Coloquial (colloquial Spanish) and a culture class. My Spanish class was a lot of fun, and it taught us the intricacies of the way people speak in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires. I also got to watch some great Argentine films in class. The culture class taught us about various aspects of the Argentine culture, focusing mainly on the ramifications of the dictatorship from 1976-1983 and on group culture projects. I did my project on Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most influential writers from Latin America of all time. Of course, I also took a tango class at foundation where we took classes, and visited the famous Caminito of La Boca where I saw live tango performances.
While my host family and classes were really fun, the best part was travel. The first weekend we were there we had a long weekend, and a group of us took a bus up to Puerto Iguazú to see Iguazú falls. While the bus ride was an experience in itself (especially when armed border guards came on twice looking for stolen electronics), the falls were spectacular. The wildlife and amazing natural beauty of the falls was the highlight of my trip.
Argentina is a great country that I thoroughly enjoyed spending a month in. I hope to go back as soon as I can, and definitely encourage anyone else to visit. Buenos Aires is an exciting, fast paced city commonly known as “the Paris of South America.” I loved the bustle, the energy and the life that filled the city and its inhabitants. I agree with famous tango singer Carlos Guardel—the city is “Mi Buenos Aires Querido,” my beloved Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Day in Paris


Paris-July 3rd, 2009
Wow, I am completely and utterly exhausted, still. Yesterday morning, I moved out of my Nice apartment after bidding goodbye to Madame Charpentier around 11am. I took my bag and backpack, bumping down four stories before walking to the tram, taking that to the Nice Ville train station. I had previously booked my ticket already, and my train was leaving in a few hours. Waiting at the train station was not terrible-though there was a lack of seating anywhere, and people milling about waiting for their trains. I bought a sandwich and waited, then made my way onto the train once it arrived. The train ride itself was around five to six hours, during which I occupied myself by listening to my iPod, reading, and making small-conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me-in French, of course. At some point I fell asleep, the long trip getting to me.

We finally arrived in Paris, at the Gare de Lyon. As luck would have it, I was immediately welcomed by the bustle and hustle of Paris and its many inhabitants, both native and touristic. I grabbed my bags and plunged into a crowd moving in the direction I wanted to go, weaving in and out before making my way up and down flights of stairs to get to the metro station that was adjoining the gare. I bought a metro ticket because my Pass Navigo was with the family I was going to be staying with, and struggled with getting my bags through the narrow metro entryway. My first order of business was to succeed in getting myself lost trying to find a map of the subway-though I had been in Paris previously its metro system sadly was not ingrained in my memory. Finding a map, I groaned inwardly as I looked at the number of changes I would need to make in order to make it to Eglise d’Auteil, my stop. I had arrived on a Thursday, getting to Paris around the time that everyone was heading home from work. Thus, I was treated to packed subway trains, and had to wait while several passed by before my bags and I would fit onto a train. I lugged my bags up and down flights of stairs, vowing that I would take a taxi to the airport for my return after the hassle of squeezing through crowds with my baggage.

I arrived at my stop after an hour and half of rush-hour metro travel, and proceeded to call my family. While the call was being made, I surfaced above ground to a suburban Paris of sorts in the 16th arrondissement, an avenue lined with small shops and “apartments.” The Seine was off to my right, a bridge spanning its dirty green water, and the Eiffel Tower was visible in the distance. I was finally in Paris. I walked down the Avenue Theophile Auteil, verifying the directions to the home I would be staying in. Madame Chomel greeted me, welcoming me into the building. I loaded my bags onto the tiniest of elevators I have ever been in, while she sent me up a great distance to the second floor, meeting me there. I followed her into the apartment, which could qualify as a house in its own right. A massive grand foyer with a vaulted ceiling stretched out, a large salon to the right and a kitchen on the left. Bedrooms linked off the main hallway, my own being through another long hallway. I would be staying in Baptiste’s room, the son of Monsieur and Madame Chomel, one of three children. I met him first, a cute twelve-year old who would undoubtedly be a player once he was older-he was cheery and not at all shy, and I was hardly able to keep up with his fast-paced French. Madame and Monsieur Chomel, having had students from Alliance Française for many years now, spoke articulately and allowed me to understand them clearly. At this point I had not used English in a long time, so my French was rapidly getting better. They complimented me on my French, and made polite conversation over a dinner of rice with a curry chicken mix-asking about Obama (every person I met in France asked me my opinion about Obama-he’s awfully popular there), my schooling, and why I was in France.

After dinner, I went to my room, getting the wireless password from Monsieur Chomel-finally having a reliable source of internet for the first time in a month (the McDonalds in Nice had wireless that was sometimes questionable, and then it shut down for two weeks!). My family provided me with a map of the city, as well as pointing out the easiest way to get to school and various other locations around the city. I thanked them, then promptly passed out-weary from a day’s worth of traveling. In any case, it’s Friday now, and I will take the day to relax, go out, and explore the “most romantic city in the world.”

A Day in Nice


A Day in Nice-June 14th, 2009
My summer program in France is conducted through Alliance Française, a French language program with locations all over the world, and in many places all throughout France. My first stop, therefore, is Nice. Now in my second week here, I have fallen in love with the place, and have adjusted delightfully well to the amazing weather, beaches, and great food.

I moved into an apartment owned by an older French woman, a divorcée that I have breakfast with each morning, talking about the United States, my life, her grandchildren, or what is currently playing on the radio. My room is remarkably large, with a large balcony that overlooks the Place Garibaldi, one of the larger squares in Nice. I have a full sized bed, a dresser and a wardrobe, a closet, two desks, and large windows. My apartment is right on a bustling street, so each morning I wake up to the sounds of the city waking up. My language courses start in the afternoon, so I have the morning to myself-usually to walk around and explore the city. There are a great number of people, tourists from all over France, Europe, and overseas. Wandering by myself, I walk through Vieux Nice, or the old city, weaving through the narrow streets that are lined by souvenir shops, small cafés, and other boutiques, ultimately ending near the Marche de Fleurs and the beaches. I peruse the market, where there is freshly caught seafood of all sorts, spices, souvenirs, paintings, and of course-a huge assortment of flowers.

After pausing near the beach (I usually preferred staying near the Beau Rivage plage), where all sorts of people can be found (topless elderly French women and their speedo-wearing husbands or a man wandering around in a penis costume), I head back towards the Place Garibaldi. I stop in a small bakery in Vieux Nice on the way, picking up a freshly baked baguette-its glorious smell making me hungry as it burns my hand. A small interjection about this bread: people line up outside to get bread from this boulangerie, and often leave with a minimum of two loaves. It is also amazingly cheap, and perfect for making sandwiches. After reaching the Place, I swing into Monoprix to pick up some gouda cheese and tomato, then back to my apartment. There, I make a sandwich of sliced gouda, tomato, along with some basil and a sprinkle of dried mint. I head back out to the Place and sit on a bench, eating my sandwich and people-watching.

Some observations about Nice:
1) Everyone smokes.
2) There is a large population of elderly people.
3) Just because someone’s French does not mean they’re native to Nice-they’re probably a tourist as well.
4) Dogs are extremely popular-everyone has them, from small terriers to German shepherds. The more macho the guy, the smaller his dog. Scrawnier guys tend to have larger dogs, and women and the older population tend to have terriers or other pocket-variety canines.
5) The streets are an obstacle course of dog poop-it is not required to pick up after your pet, unfortunately.
6) Everything is within walking distance and walking is the best way to discover more about the city.
7) The beach is extremely popular.
8) Oh yeah, in case I didn’t mention it-the beach is extremely popular.

After eating, I head to class-four hours of grammar, listening comprehension, and oral practice. My class is extremely small, consisting of three other Americans, a Finnish girl, and two Mexicans. We move at a fairly slow pace, trying to allow the weaker students to keep up-and it allows me to refresh the French I learned three years prior. When class is over, I walk back to the Place, and jet towards a popular place that sells socca, a specialty of Nice. If I get there in time, I can avoid the long line that inevitably piles up. Socca is a pretty simple dish, made with mostly chickpeas and olive oil. It’s baked on a huge dish, somewhat similar to a giant crepe. When served, a portion of it is scraped onto a plate and then sprinkled with a pepper-seasoning, then eaten by hand. Delicious, albeit oily-and is great to eat from time to time. I take my food to the beach, where I eat it and spend some time on the rocky beach, enjoying the sea breeze.

Towards the evening, I head over to McDonalds, where I get free WiFi-there, I check my email, get on skype, and get told how lucky I am to be in Nice. It’s true, I am-and I love it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer in Paris

I have officially completed my first week in Paris (sadly, this doesn’t mean I get a certificate of achievement. I really like those, so I’m a little bummed). My consolation prize I suppose is the city itself—busy, self-important, but enchanting. I am living with a lovely French family in the southeast portion of the city on the 5th floor of a pretty massive apartment complex. I have my own room with wi-fi, which is definitely a plus, and they feed me!
This weekend they have gone on holiday: Bastille Day is Tuesday, July 14. Having the place to myself has been nice, but sadly I have resorted to a bread-cheese-wine diet (cooking isn’t exactly my forte) but it seems to be treating me well. Yesterday I did big sights (Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin museum, a boat trip down the Seine) with a friend of mine from high school who is backpacking across Europe, and we finished our evening at Trocadero, a plaza with some of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. We spoke with some Frenchmen, drank some (a lot of?) wine, ate camembert…a beautiful evening. We met some German tourists who thought we were hilarious (did you know that ‘smooth’ has a sexual connotation in German? Neither did I) and had some excellent tips for some other travel cities.
Its almost time for me to go to school for the day—I’m in the first level (oops) so it’s easy but I’m still learning things. My French teacher in middle school was Polish, and turns out she taught us completely wrong pronunciation. Fantastic! So I have a lot of refreshing and relearning to do. À bientôt!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Reflections: A summer in Europe


First impressions of London? London is quite different from Amsterdam and Paris. I don’t mean just the language either. While both Amsterdam and Paris were laid back, London moves at a pace faster than almost any city in the world (the only possible exception being New York City). The program seems fun so far. I have a pretty amazing Shakespeare teacher. He is an American expat, who enjoys teaching his subject as any teacher I have ever met. The people that are in the program also promise to make the next 5 weeks quite fun. I am eagerly looking forward to doing all the things that I might have missed the last time I was here, but more important that that I cannot wait to experience the London theater scene. While I am here the two plays I want to see most are Hamlet with Jude Law and Waiting for Godot featuring Patrick Stewart and Ian McClellan. Waiting for Godot probably ranks a bit higher because I have always loved both of those actors.
My schedule will also allow me to explore the city of London. There is so much to see that I don’t even know where to start. The Natural History Museum is right down the street so probably there. I am staying in Kensington, one of the highest-class boroughs in all of London. My dorm is a converted flat that is next door to the French ambassador and down the street from one of Dustin Hoffman’s houses.
So far, we have had our first week of classes, and signed up for program-sponsored cultural events. These are events that are subsidized by AIFS and are designed to give us a better idea of what London is like. Through AIFS, I will go see Wicked (for the first time), to a cricket match, to the dog races, and, finally, on a boat cruise through the Thames.
Overall this promises to be an incredibly rewarding trip. I cannot wait to get started, and already have I realized that it will go by too quickly.

This weekend I headed out to Vienna to meet up with a friend of mine from UTD named Heather. However, I was planning on continuing on to Salzburg, so all of the hostels that I researched and everything I had planned to do was a three-hour train ride away. It was when I was riding up the escalator in Vien Mitte. I was in a foreign city, where I knew nobody, did not know where to stay, and did not speak a single word of the language. First order of business was to find a place to stay for the next two nights. So what did I do? I picked a direction and walked with my bag in tow. Eventually, I came to a line of cabs that took me to the nearest hotel that (luckily) had vacancies.
I got settled and then immediately struck out to try to find something to do for my first night in the foreign country. So I found my way to a local establishment and started to make friends with the locals (who thankfully spoke a lot of English).
The next morning I headed out to the palace grounds, after looking at things to do decided to go take a gander at the Austrian crown jewels. I had seen the British crown jewels and was expecting much of the same. The Austrian jewels however are much different. Instead of being a series of crowns ornamented with jewels taken from across a worldwide empire, they consisted swords made of narwhal horn, and stylistically were very different. One piece of clothing that takes center stage is a series of elaborate mantels. These varied by size and extravagance based on who commissioned them. It was interesting to see the difference in wealth between Austria and England. While the British Empire reigned supreme, the Austrian empire could not even hope to match the wealth, and this fact is reflected in the crown jewels.
On Sunday, I went and visited the Austrian zoo. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and so I spent the entire day wandering around the zoo gazing at all the magnificent animals. There were cheetahs, polar bears, bats, and penguins…along with everything in between. The vastness of the zoo cannot be overstated. On all sides this area is surrounded by city, yet here was an oasis of natural space about 50 acres in area. It was huge!
My favorite part of Austria was the food. Meat prepared in 100 different ways, and of course the schnitzel was awesome. To say that I enjoyed Austria would be considered an understatement.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Egypt!

EGYPT
Day 1: Arrival
We met up, ate at Felfella (falafa and soup), went to the Nile and walked along, slept early
We stayed at Hostel Brothers – really nice! Well… the first night the AC didn’t really work… but you get used to these things
Observations: CAIRO
1. Everyone wears a hijhab
a. Most = ‘fake’ i.e. tight, bright, showy clothes NOT traditional
2. Boys/men are SUPER flirty
3. A LOT of harassment with foreigners (ie to take a Felucca ride)
4. Nile is beautiful
5. City at night is ALIVE like NY or Tokyo with all the lights!
6. Tons of people on the streets all hours of the day and most of the night!

Day 2: Cairo - Giza (took pyramids to pyramids and sphinx), Papyrus Museum, Essence shop (I blew glass!), Dinner at new restaurant, walking, clubbing
Observations: CAIRO
1. Need to bargain for EVERYTHING
2. People try to sell in package deals a lot… not a good bargain
3. Hospitable… always offer tea
4. Discounts for students
5. Prostitutes galore – one picked up right in front of me in a nicer club!
6. There was a fight in the streets and the cops just stood aside and watched!
7. LOTS of wedding proposals
a. 20,000 camels offered to me 
8. everyone works on tips (or so they say)
9. I feel pretty uncomfortable even remotely uncovered because everyone is covered and men make lots of comments
10. Camels – tons of flies…. Are hard to stay on… and are TOTALLY worth it
11. 20 million people in one city!
12. People are very proud of their work
13. I touched the pyramid (the second one… the one with the cap)
14. Asians go a lot and take a lot of pictures… just like the stereotype
15. Glass blowing – we saw and participated!
16. Essence place was very friendly even though we may not buy stuff but that is part of how they sell
a. 10% of perfumes are essence that mainly come from Egypt… 80% is all alcohol
b. perfume last 3 hr when essence last 10
17. locals take advantage of how Americans pay at higher prices and over change like CRAZY
a. you WILL get cheated here
18. it is difficult to eat if you want to stay safe
19. 1 man helped us find a restaurant by walking us all the way there!
20. Everyone has different opinion (i.e. wat is good food)
21. Lotus flower = symbol of Egypt and sign of love
a. Cairo tower is in this shape!
22. People are either really religious (a lot of men have the burn mark on their forehead from praying)
23. Most important mosque in the world is here (Ashar)
24. People in the streets are super willing to help
25. Land is really fertile and expensive which is why building are built up… but with the city expanding there is a need for more
26. At 11 p.m., the city was soooo busy!
a. No cars could fit on the street
b. Everything was open (stores)
c. Families were out
27. I was treated differently w/Mary (white girl) more so than with others
a. More comments because with Mary I just look like a foreigner but alone I am considered slutty for wearing a dress that goes up to my knees
28. Very clan-like
a. People don’t associate much with others and stay to their groups a lot
i. Seen in streets, clubs
we later booked a flight to Luxor where we saw that you need to look around because there are always better deals to be found (better than an overnight train!)
I also learned that Upper Egypt is South because it is lover and Lower Egypt is N because it is high and Nile flows to the North

Day 3 – Cairo – breakfast, Egyptian Museum, lunch at Sheraton, Zamalak, Cruise on the Nile
Observations – CAIRO
1. Egyptian Museum

a. Need a student ID to get good prices for everything

b. Arab prices are SOOOOO much cheaper!
i. i.e. museum: 4P Arab
30P student
60P rest
c. King Tut = amazing!
i. For tombs – four boxes followed by 3 sarcophosis?
ii. Tons of stuff: carriages, etc
iii. Only tomb is 100% intact
d. Tour guide was helpful
e. Soooooo much to see, so many bodies, statues, etc
f. Animals are cool
g. Mummies = expensive to see but cool
h. LOTS of tourists there
i. Not sensitive to cultural dress i.e. short shirts, midriff, etc
2. Sheraton = nice.. LOTS of hooka
a. GULF POPLE = hijhab doesn’t cover all hair = weird
b. Friday night is crazy even families were out all hours
3. Zamalak
a. Wealthier island on other side of the Nile… not the most wealthy but close
b. Hijhab is more traditional when worn
c. More men with turbans
d. Car stopped for us!
e. Very residential area
f. More modern stores (Harley, Costa, Quicksilver)
g. Embassy buildings
h. Cleaner in general
i. Streets and buildings
i. Went to a really small café
j. Not so touristy and the people like it that way… they didn’t get why we were there
k. People didn’t harass us as much
l. More foreigners live here
m. People are still nice
n. Nice Garden that was closed
**In general, a good contrast to downtown and a good look into Cairo at a different angel.
4. Nile Cruise
a. Another ex of how Cairo is based on tourism
i. i.e. Sufi mystic = usually religious here done for money w/photos. Very theatrical and different compared to Syria
ii. Belly dancer – not great but good for pictures again to make money
iii. $$$ surprise charges (drinks)
iv. if you are important (i.e. have money) people wait for you i.e. we waited on one group for 30 min and were all late
v. beautiful scenery
vi. servants were up, food/show was downstairs
By this day, we were both getting more used to the ridic amount of comments

Day 4 – Luxor (East Bank) – early to airport – Oasis hostel – Karnak – restaurant – nap (felt sick) – outside Luxor walk around Luxor temple – market – sleep early
Observations LUXOR
1. men wear traditional robes A LOT
2. women = real hijhab, lots of black, not showy
3. more poor city, VERY poor areas
a. house with one room with a big coach and 6 people
b. hallway with rags that symbolize a home
c. markets full of rotten fruit
4. more blacks because further South
5. more children in the street, lots begging
6. tourist – HARRASMENT esp market, street (horses) and Nile
7. locals are proud of Luxor kept trying to tell us to stay longer
8. cheating applies here too and souvenirs are expensive
9. less busy streets, people walking in local shops are nice
10. cheaper transportation, food, living than Cairo
11. downtown is cleaner and more residential
12. Karnak is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life
13. More visible Christians and more churches


Day 5 – Luxor (West Bank) – woke up at 5.30 a.m, go to West Bank via ferry, taxi to Valley of the Kings, hitch a bus to Hatshepsut’s Temple, taxi to Valley of the Queens, walk and take a service back and have lunch at same safe restaurant (Green Palace) an went to inet café, local market, 2 malls, sat in nice hotel (Mercur), walk along Nile, McDonalds, ferry back and forth, late (delayed) night plane back
**22.5 hour day!**

Observations – LUXOR
1. lots of very poor areas
a. food all rotten
b. women wear black robes (not extra cover, just plain hijhab) and carry big bags on heads
2. more Christians
a. it was Sunday and there were a lot of church-goers, more people out at night like a Friday in Syria (McD was SUPER busy), shops and pharmacy closed
3. weather = HOT
4. some very nice people but lots of cheating
5. best memories = giving bathroom man 5 Leera and a little boy on the ferry selling tissue a few leera and seeing his smile. And seeing the affection between the dad and baby on the ferry.

Day 6 – Cairo – slept in! breakfast, shower, underground buy Alexandria ticket, citadel, long walk 2 Hussein mosque, Ashar, ate at Najeeb Manfouz, Khan al-Khalili, walk a little in Ashar, Khan again, hotel inet, sleep

Observations – Cairo
1. Most of Egypt – poor like the markets we see with rotten food
2. No pictures of the president around like in Syria and Jordan and Morocco because his oppression
a. Not taking care of his people seen by how the are cleaning president’s road and not dirty city
3. Super flirty men
a. Young men easier to argue with to lower prices than women or gentlemen
4. Underground system is cheap and CROWDED… and still streets are full!
5. Train is so different than America
a. People come 5 min before train and buy a ticket
b. Learn about crime – punishment or theft can be a chopped off arm, people don’t report rape because of embarrassment
6. Locals try to be helpful but don’t always succeed
7. Egyptian history lessons
a. King Farouk = last one before Nasser
i. Women built Cairo Uni
ii. Burnt down castle
iii. Trade btwn Egypt and France: obelisk and clock
8. People don’t sit on the street, so we were looked at funny
9. They are cleaning the city in sections (as seen in the citadel)


Day 7: Alexandria – woke up at 6 a.m., underground to train, 2.5 hr train, walk to beach, sat in garden, went to library, walk along Mediterranean, sat at beach 2 hrs, ate at seafood restaurant, inet café, walk to get water, train to underground, legit marriage proposal by Tamer

Observations – ALEXANDRIA
1. cleaner than Cairo and Luxor
2. people don’t harass as much
3. all hijhab and real hijhab
4. library is VERY big and nice
a. charge to go in!
5. train is nice and comfortable
6. saw on train that a lot of Egypt is farmland and greet
7. most towns are poor and old and run down
8. Alexandria is another mix of old downtown and new town (like Syria)
9. Older population mostly (not as many teens except near the uni)
10. People are really nice and helpful
11. Poor people are there too, but even they are outside enjoying the outdoors
12. Green city!
13. Not many churches
14. Greek influence is obvious
15. Metro not always segregated
16. City is still running and busy at 10.30 p.m…. not really till midnight though
17. Fish is the main staple
a. Sold everywhere and famous
b. We saw men fishing outside
18. Food is less rotten in local markets than in Cairo and Luxor
19. Cops actually stopped traffic unlike Cairo
a. Crossin street is still scary but service was nicer
20. Cops working on maintenance in the garden… still trashon he floor though

Little girl (stranger) went to a random women on the beach and held her hand for like 20 min and the women welcomed it and got a kiss at the end. (caring for kid is part of the culture)
Little boys on the street so happy to say “Hello” to Americans. People in general were nice to Americans
I got in trouble for putting my head on mom’s shoulder likely because mom’s knees weren’t covered and my chest was more open


Day 8: Cairo – Coptic Cairo, try to go to Cairo Uni, DAY BEFORE OBAMA MAKES BIG SPEECH!
Observations – CAIRO
1. As you get near to Coptic Cairo, you obviously see a lot of more Christians
2. The people in Coptic Cairo (Christians) were also very nice and it was almost more comfortable to go there bc I was without a hijhab.

Jordan!

Day 7: Taxi to Jordan
Very fun ordeal – I went to the garage in Damascus that is well known to be the station to pick up the necessary taxis. I was first met by a group of drivers that were not recognized by the Damascene government or taxi organization to be proper drivers and they tried to convince me to drive with them. I considered but after waiting 10 minutes under the sun for them I decided to just do the right thing. So I just went inside.
There was NO organization. You just go in and wait for a full taxi to go to Amman (or wherever)
I paid 750 Leera and had a nice driver that didn’t smoke, got the front seat, and was in a car with people who spoke English
Observations: Amman
1. Appearance is really important
a. Showing off the amount of money you have
2. The people here are kinda rude
3. The Dead Sea is a HUGE tourist site – people from all over the world come for the mud at the Dead Sea
4. They say the word “Aady” a lot – it means normal or “Mashy”
5. The rich side of Amman is REALLY wealthy


Day 8 – Amman – Tala took me to for a heavy foul breakfast, to old downtown, to the amphitheatre, to the old museums, to have mansaf for lunch, to Rainbow street, and then to a western café’ for dinner
Observations – Amman
1. They don’ use as many lovey words as Syrians (well… turns out no one does)
2. Same old parts, not as dirty though
3. Rainbow street is famous for their Friday parties
a. Walk, concerts, café’s
4. It was Independence day there, so it was SUPER busy
5. It was cooler than Syria
6. The old men in the old city are more rude
7. The highest flag in the world is flown in the middle of Amman
8. Mansaf (the traditional meal – fat juice mixed with rice, a block of meat, and a thin piece of bread) isn’t that great. At all.

Syria!

Syria
Day 1: Hama and Latakia
We left at 12:00 p.m. for a three hour drive to the NE of Syria. Our first stop was Hama, a city known for its 2,200 year old water wells. There are about 150 of these huge wells all over the city.
HAMA – interested facts
1. 150/+ water wells that are 2,200 years old
2. No Jews in the whole city and Christians and Muslims get along here better than any other Islamic city. Christian woman even cover their heads out of respect
a. Story: Jews put dead, bloody pig in Mosque trying to start a feud between Christians and Muslims, but Muslims found out and Jews haven’t been welcome since
3. Manufacturing center of greater Sham esp: milk, cheese, beef supplier of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon
a. We ate at a city center/mall type modern place and they served the sweet famous in the region along with the best ice-cream ever in the world. We were treated to lunch by locals
4. On Locals: they are extremely nice, women are super conservative, but people are very hospitable.
5. The city is known for its river “االعاصي” or “Orantus” meaning rebellious because the river runs from South to North rather than the traditional North to South
6. The city was 80% destroyed by bombs of the Syrian government trying to wipe out the weapons hidden underground by the Muslim Brotherhood
We then continued to the coastal town of Latakia. We left about 5:15 p.m. which was perfect because we got to see the beautiful scenery of the NE on the way. The road was surrounded by mountains, but these mountains were different than those around Damascus because they were green – covered w/trees and plant life. It was absolutely beautiful.
We made it just in time to see sundown on the Mediterranean. The beach here is beautiful – the water is crystal clear and you can see the rocks beneath the water.
We watched a man make za’atar bread (menaaesh) and bread and cheese from scratch!
The people were suuuuper hospitable. For example in the internet café’ helped us a lot

LATAKIA - Interesting facts
1. The city is a tourist city, and the people and downtown are very similar to people in the rest of Syria
2. There are a lot more Christians in this city, I saw a lot of churches
3. Downtown is just like Old Damascus with café’s and shops, etc
4. The bay area is a tourist hub, with beach gifts and standard street-side arabic food
5. Weather is cooler because we are higher up, and the weather year-round is generally mild and nice
6. This place is 100% crowded during the real summer (late American summer)
7. People here work until 2 a.m. and open around 10 a.m.
General things I learned
1. Homs people are made fun of like Aggies
2. In Latakia, there is the largest Easter celebration in Syria
a. All f the Syrians come to Latakia Easter Sunday dressed in new clothes and go out to the streets for music and fun

Day 2 – Latakia, Ugarit, Kasab, Mashqueeta
After a good sleep and tea, we went out traveling. I have a bit of a stomach ache because of all the sandwiches (cheese+muhammara+zaiatar and zaitar) late last night
We first went to Ugarit which is one of the most important sites in the world
Important facts: UGARIT
1. Site of 1st alphabet in the world
2. 90 rooms in the ancient site
3. 1st musical notes
4. almost 4,000 years old
Important facts: MASHQUEETA
1. After the old civilization, we drove to masheqeeta. The one-hour drive was one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. The city itself was like a port with seven lakes.
2. We took a 30 min. boat ride down the lakes.
a. We learned that the boating business was hurt because of the recent boating accident in Damascus
3. Lots of olive trees all around
We then drove around stopping for pictures until we got to Kasab
Interesting facts: KASAB
1. city on the TOPPP of the mountain
2. popular tourism spot for the summer
3. sell lots of herbs
4. lots of Armenians
5. lots of Turkish music because we were right by the border, which we did stop by but were not allowed close to or in Turkey proper
We next ate at a restaurant famous for their fries – it took us FOREVER to find it we kept seeing signs thinking we were close then after 30 min we finally made. We also ate a desert that was 100% unnecessary but yummy (Kanafa).
We then went to a beach side town my uncle remembered to be beautiful, but was basically trash. Just comes to show how some people in Syria don’t know how to keep up with their environment.
We then got lost on our way to the next city, but it was a beautiful place to get lost in because we drove to the top of the mountain and saw the beautiful scenery.
We then returned to our chalet where we came to find the electricity gone, typical middle east 
We had someone (a friend of Mhmd… happened to be 3X boxing champ and now a border patrol worker SCARY) take us around and we talked around tea then walked around the city.
In Latakia, we bought some burned salty/sour green humus beans and walked along the bay. We had a sweet that was like a cake with cheese in the middle. We then went back to sleep.

Day 3 – Somra and Aleppo
We woke up early and drove to the MOST BEAUTIFUL SITE IN SYRIA! The city of Somra. The entire ride was nice, and when we got closer we saw two mountains with the sea in between… then when we drove down the road was full of beautiful bushes and flowers.
Interesting facts: SOMRA
1. Lots of Armenians
2. The right mountain, when looking at the sea, is Turkey! That is the border
3. The sea is crystal clear, and there is a family on the bottom making yummy fatiyar
We then drove to Aleppo. I fell asleep along the way. We went straight to our hotel (Dal-lal) in the old city. And we then went to visit our friend Amaal for lunch… followed by getting our hair done… followed by a little shopping by myself in the square where I was hit on by two people, whistled at almost too much, followed by one. Then we went out to dinner at like 11 p.m. at “nady Jalaa-ah”
Interested facts: ALEPPO
1. he city looks a lot like Damascus: the old city has a lot of old houses and alleys and then there is a new downtown area
2. the roads are wider
3. there are just as many taxis and microbuses
4. famous for their food
5. women are not too beautiful there (Latakia was better, Homs is famous for their women)
6. THE PEOPLE
a. Lots of Armenians!
i. Originally when the Turks were bombing the Armenians, they fled to the closest city (Aleppo) and stayed there!
b. More Christians
c. The Muslim women are more conservative – more covered head-to-toe in black than any other city
d. The people LOVE their classical music
e. Very friendly people
i. One man wouldn’t let us pay for the taxi
ii. One woman wouldn’t let me pay for my magnet
iii. They love showing me their work and welcoming us to the city
iv. Mhmd’s friend came all the way from the other side of the city to drive him down
v. One man had me try on all his necklaces and said ‘his happiness was to please me”
f. CRAZY drivers!

Day 4: Aleppo
1. Aleppo Citadel
a. Largest
b. Oldest
c. Most important
IN THE WORLD!
d. we had a tour guide that told us everything about the history
e. built for the Mamluk period, used by the Byzantines
2. Museum
a. Lots of realllly old artifacts
b. Quick tour from tour guide
c. History from early man  Mamluk  byzantine  roman ETC
3. Old city/Market
a. A lot like Damascus
b. Biggest covered market in the world
c. Surprised to see not too much of the famous Aleppo nuts… more in Damascus!
4. Mosque (Omayyad)
a. Nice… not too special in my opinion
b. Zacharay’s tomb
i. Like Jesus’s uncle
Day 5: Bus back to Damascus
1. We took a bus back… the BEST bus ride ever
a. Company was Express/first classes and it lived up to its name!
i. Seats recline
ii. Personal TV (I watched Barrier 13)
iii. Snack, water, coffee, juice, tea
iv. Personal man working there
At Damascus we went out to a nightclub called Chillos that was super fun. We got to sit upstairs and watch everyone dancing!

Day 6: Stayed in Damascus… La Serail at night

Monday, August 31, 2009

A McDermott Adventure in Argentina

During our month-long trip to Argentina, we were able to enjoy a huge variety of the amazing adventures that Argentina and it's neighbooring countries had to offer. Being stationed in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, we immersed ourselves in the days of soccer and endless nights of tango and cafes. On weekends we traveled to the magnificent Iguazu Falls, Uruguay, and the final weekend we went to Tigre. Our entire experience was incredible, and Tigre was a perfect ending to the trip.
We arrived in Tigre early Saturday morning via the train from Buenos Aires. Upon arriving we immediately boarded the ferry that would take us to our adventure. The ferry ride took us house to house while it dropped people off from their grocery shopping and finally we arrived at our destination. Our day started with a quaint, kind welcoming by the proprietors of Deltaventura, a husband and wife. They lead us into their large backyard, opening to a trail into peaceful fields, with turkeys, dogs and cats coexisting in the foreground. It felt like home; we played soccer and ran around like we were little kids again. Our guides spoke of their surrounding environment with such passion, making us wonder why we had never really heard of this utopian slice of South America before. And so we were raring to go canoeing into the heart of this beautiful ecosystem on the calm waters. We rowed slowly, encountering fun road blocks, joking with our friends on the other canoes. There was no one there but us. To reference a cliche, that solitude made us feel so much more at one with nature and simple aesthetic pleasure. We reached a rounded lake near the end of our rowing, where some of us decided to lie down and observe the blue sky, away from all the stresses of maps and curriculums of the big city.
We then began our trek back to camp, amidst orchards and houses. We felt extreme jealousy of the owners of these homes, who were able to settle down away from the pressures of market bustle and constant crowds. Though we were already tired from the adventure, the best was yet to come.
Lunch was the epitome of home-cooked quality. It was a traditional asado meal, with various, vast amounts of grilled meats sizzling on a plate, the aroma evoking vigor in us once again, prompting us to eat. Even the vegetarian food was delicious, the pasta and sauce cooked with a caution that would remind one of a mother's considerations for her child. The plates kept coming and we could not resist, because the flavor itself obliged the appetite more and more. The satisfaction however, was not over.
In the afternoon we began our rides on horses and mountain bikes. There is something about traveling with animals that connects us to nature even more. We not only understand our surroundings, but how other creatures interact with them. Though this resulted in some turbulence along the way, it was quite the learning experience. This experience was not lost to the bike riders, though. There was something amazing and awe-inspiring about being able to stop alone and look around, raised on a ridge above a sea of fields on either side with the sun barely poking out. It was pure nirvana. In the end, we saw the guides care for a hurt horse with such love, making us realize the importance of carrying consideration for others into all aspects of life.
We left that evening having come full circle. We had entered Argentina to a crowded, vibrant and cultured city, forced to navigate the Subte underground and the roads above all while absorbing a language that was entirely foreign to some of us. We were ending our journey, though, by observing its calm side, interacting with the land without commercialism. We saw the manufactured and natural beauty of Argentina, and both sides were amazing contributors to a life-changing experience.

The following people are represented by this blog post:
Erich Bao, Dionna Budd, Liz Organ, Prashant Raghavendran, Bryan Thompson and Lye-Ching Wong

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beijing: The Insider Story

Just when I prepared myself for thronging crowds and smoky streets, Beijing springs a surprise on me. The Silicon Valley of People’s Republic of China stands out for its beautiful architecture, superb restaurants and clear blue skies. The Peking University students tell me that I should be thankful for the clear blue skies as they were as rare as a blue moon prior to the big clean up in preparation for the 2008 Green Olympics.

My course at the Peking University has been intense, but fun. Our class of about 40 students had representatives from 25 countries. It has been a most amazing experience to interact with students from so many different cultures with diverse backgrounds. We formed small teams to work on our final projects, and it was inspiring to see how many interesting ideas we came up with when we put our heads together. We also had the chance to talk to several prominent businessmen who have started their own enterprises in China about the prospects in the Chinese economy. They explained to us the obscure concept of guanxi, communication difficulties, cultural barriers and other problems a foreign businessman would face in China. At the end of the day, we all had a better understanding of Chinese culture, economy and political environment.

Beijing is undoubtedly a very intriguing city. The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu is awe-inspiring to say the least. Some other amazing places I visited are the Museum at Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City and the TianAnmen Square. At the Jade Gallery, I had the chance to check out how jade jewelleries and artefacts are made from the raw jade stone, and how the ring of jade was inserted in the 2008 Olympic medals. The Wangfujing Street is home to many curious shops including the Shengxifu Hat Shop that has been in place since 1911.The stalls on Food Street sell everything from crispy scorpion fries to worm kebabs.

The Summer School in China has been a very enriching and educational journey, and we all feel nostalgic as we bid goodbye to each other. Dr Fei Qin concluded the course by quoting Dr Suess from ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’:
“Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street……..
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest………………
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t………
You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Adventures and Self-Discovery in Morocco

So I know it looks like I do nothing but blog on the EMPSN, but we are all required to write blogs when we study abroad there should be a dozen or so of doing the same thing. I highly encourage you all to post your blogs on EMSPN so we can have share stories on this 'social' network :)

So about my summer, I was fortunate enough to receive the Critical Language Scholarship this summer, and I was sent to Tangier, Morocco. At first I was SUPER upset about being sent to Morocco because I don't know the local dialect at all and I am not really interested in North Africa. But alas, the scholarshp was a GREAT opportunity to learn Arabic, and my goal/I WILL be fluent in arabic by the time I graduate UTD... so I took it. And I am SO glad I did.

The program itself was intensive, as promised. We spent the first 10 days traveling through about 5 major cities in North Morocco (the South is mainly desert), and then we finally settled in Tangier. Classes were 4 hours a day, followed by about 4-5 hours of homework 5 days a week. CRAZY I know. We barely had time to leave the campus to go experience the culture... we basically just went out to grab dinner. Eventually, we got more efficient and started spending more and more time out which was fun.

We traveled almost every weekend and had some 'fun' ADVENTURES: sitting 7 people in a taxi (me being the lucky passenger in the front between the driver and another passenger that was 6 feet tall... and yes the stick shift was on my tush the whole time!), getting offered illegal drugs like 10 times in one night... including at dinner by my waiter, riding on a camel to watch the sunrise at 4 a.m. over the Sahara (real Africa one might say :) ), going to local homes for interesting local cuisine and AMAZING hospitality, cold bucket showers, etc. One of my favorite adventures was throwing my bags into a moving train and then jumping into random local Moroccan men arms after the train started to pick up speed because I got off at the wrong stop. Or getting into a fake taxi and almost being kidnapped with friends. Needless to say, we had our adventures in Morocco.

This is where the blog gets corny... so forewarning.

The best part of the trip though was what I learned about myself. This trip, more than my previous two trips, really changed me as a person. It was so powerful to be around such AMAZING people that had similar interests and passions as me, and I re-discovered my love for arabic and the middle east by staying in the region and by constantly being around them. I now KNOW I want to end up working in the region or at least towards improvement and greater universal understand of the traditions of the peoples of the region. I gained a new-found appreciate of the traditional culture and a hightened appreciation of the differences between the lifestyles in East and the West. I gained self-confidence in my language skills and started realizing the power of communication with peoples of such different background. The opportunity to speak with fellow americans that just love what the language and culture as much as I do was a very beautiful thing. We started throwing in random arabic words in our everyday english conversations (similar to when we say "hola" all the time), and we all internalized the 'arab way' when it came to greetings (cheek kisses), sharing, giving, and just loving each other. I met americans from states like Montana, Ohio, Indiana, etc of which I know NOTHING about, until now. Also, of the 45 or so of us, only like 4 hadn't traveled before, so everyone had something to give intelectually to the group. I made some great friendships that I know will last forever, and I rediscovered the type of person I am and want to be when it comes to relationships with elders, family, friends, etc. I am an Arab-American, and I have developed a greater pride and understanding of what that means and how that forms me as a person. How that makes me 'unique'. Both sides of that hyphen is special and I have started to internalize that. I only hope that each of you have the opportunity to go out and meet some people in the middle of nowhere (like North Africa for instance) that will make you look inside yourself to further understand the person you are and the person you want to be in the future. I know it sounds corny but it can happen, and it did happen to me in Morocco.

The Explorer

So I know I have already written a few blogs about the Middle East, but this year I have had such a different and such a wonderful experience that I feel like I need to share with you guys.

A quick pre-summary of what I am about to talk about, I took a month traveling around the Eastern Mediterranean region of the Middle East. That is, I traveled through like six cities in Syria, went back to Amman for a more local experience, failed to get to Lebanon, and went to Egypt for almost two weeks.

First was SYRIA. I studied in Damascus, Syria last year for 3 months, but I was so focused on language study that I did not travel except for a quick bus tour through some sites in Jordan. This year, me and some friends and relatives rented a car and drove through all the big cities on the west side of Syria. (The East is basically desert). I was amazed to see how different each region was in a single country. There were very conservative cities were most women were in full black veil covering even the skin between the eyes (these cities include Hama and Aleppo), there were cities were music was more prevalent than others (Aleppo), there were beaches (Latakia) and mountainous scenery that could rival Switzerland (Somra and Mashquita), and I can go on and on. The food was AMAZING as Syria is known to have the best food in the Middle East. The people in the different regions have a few words that are different but in the most part they all speak the same Aamiya (dialect). It is kind of like the USA with our minor differences between the North and South (you non-Texans that say things like "pop" and don't understand basic words like "ya'll"). Now that my language skills are better, I was able to speak to more locals in their native tongue, and I think the biggest thing I noticed was their pride for their country, their unbelievable hospitality and love for friends, family, and even foreigners. What can I say? I LOVE Syria.

Next, I went to JORDAN. for a few days where I stayed with a friend of a friend. Unlike last year, I actually stayed in the city the whole time and went to most of the different areas in Jordan. I went to the old medina (old city) where the people were actually not too friendly and I was a little uncomfortable without a long sleeve shirt. I went to the new part of town and was AMAZED at how rich some parts of the city are. I saw the biggest houses I have ever seen IN MY LIFE in Ammann. I learned that there are a lot of investments in the city now, so that is why they are growing. I also experienced the Westernization of the city firsthand - I stayed with a family in which some of the elders were against the non-traditional advancements of the region whereas the teenagers were almost ashamed of the old parts of their city and were super proud and excited about the new things to come. While in Ammann, I also visited the major touristy sites (the huge amphitheater, the new mosque dedicated to the past king, etc). One thing I think is cool about Ammann is that the highest flag in the world is flown in the middle of the city. One side note - their main local dish (mansaff) is disgusting, in my opinion. It is a dish with a piece of meat, rice, a thin slice of special bread, and a weird yogurt that they pour over it that is basically fat. Yucky.

I wanted to go to LEBANON, but I because I was traveling so much the only times I had to go was near to another travel... and with the parliamentary election nearing and the daily bomb threats there was a big possibility that I would get stuck in the country and not be able to catch my flight to Egypt or back to the states. I hope to make that trip up soon though!

Lastly, I traveled to EGYPT with Mary Gurak (2007 McD scholar) and with my mother. The latter was an INVALUABLE asset, because I do not know the egyptian dialect and my mother was able to get us into a lot of local areas and knew how to steer us towards a less-touristy experience. I have to say, I was VERY disappointed with Cairo. The city is EXTREMELY dirty, and soooooooooooo crowded. There are 20 million people in the city! Also, the people there harassed us more than anywhere else I have traveled to in the Middle East. We not only got cat calls, but also we had people that were too pushy when trying to sell us goods. I was also the least comfortable in Egypt as far as not wearing a hijab. I have never had a problem with this before even in a very Islamic city like Damascus, but I got a lot of nasty comments and condemnations from the local Egyptians. To be fair, I did have some lovely experiences with some locals and I wasn't able to stay in a home and experience the hosptitality I have heard Egyptians offer, but I still was taken aback with the experiences in the streets of the city. When in Egypt, I did do a little sightseeing - we went to the Egyptian Museum, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut's temple, the market Khan al-Khalili, etc. We also traveled to Luxor (another city) where we saw the ancient Egyptian Karnak Temple. The ancient sites are ABSOLUTELY worth seeing. Lastly, we took a day excursion to the city of Alexandria, a beautiful coastal city with an amazing history (guess who the city was named after) and few historical sites left. All in all though, I was most amazing with how pour the country is. With all we hear about Egypt and Cairo and all the money they get from other countries (they get like $20 billion from the US alone), the people are living in HORRIBLE conditions. The markets were full of rotting fruit and veges, we saw 'houses' that consisted of a single hall with a couch and mats on the floor for 6 + people to live in. The king is not very popular in Egypt, and we didn't see any pictures of him in the streets as you do with most other countries and their kings. I can go on, but this is getting too long.

All in all, it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about both the persistence of tradition and the modernization of the Middle East. This region has become a big part of my life, and I would encourage anyone who has the means and interest to try to take a trip out to this side of the world at some point in their life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Learning to travel, teach, and even treat patients in Ghana!


I am happy to say that my sensory overload in Ghana has since composed itself into a nice cognitive framework from which I have effectively learned how to travel, teach, and even treat patients in Ghana. When my studies came to a close and I bid farewell to the group at Legon, I felt ready for a change of pace. What a change it was! I arrived at the pre-primary school and the headmistress showed me the class and said, "Ok, teach." I looked at twenty of Ghana's most energetic five year olds and thought, "Teach what?" Since the children were about to graduate up to primary school, I could teach them whatever I wanted. Class quickly evolved into hours of me providing constant entertainment with new learning songs, counting strips, story drawings, and reading books.

The proprietoress of the school encouraged me to leave at lunch so I arranged an afternoon volunteer at the children's ward of the nearby University Hospital. My tasks included taking children's vital signs, holding down the squirmers during medicine dispensation, and talking with the kids to take their minds off of being sick. Most of the children were in the hospital because of severe diarreah or malaria. It was interesting to watch the dynamics between the children and their parents, the children and the nurses, and amongst the nurses.

After volunteering at the school in the morning and the children's ward of a hospital in the afternoons, I took a week to go visit '04 Scholar and current Peace Corps Volunteer Hannah Frank. Her site is in Fulfusu, also known as Damongo Junction, a village of 5,000 without electricity or running water but 4 cell phone towers. Her primary project is guinea worm eradication and if you want so see the water source and her work, check out her blog at http://hannahefrank.blogspot.com/.

The coolest day of my entire trip was the day we went about making yam fufu and lite soup. We hop on a tro tro to get to the market in Buipe so we can buy the ingredients for fufu and lite soup: yams, tomato, maggi seasoning, and a chicken. On the way the tro tro stops, some men have a short discussion and then a cow is led over to the back of the vehicle. The back seat is taken out, lashed to the roof (next to a goat that is already up there), and the cow is more or less shoved into the boot of this tro. Everybody climbs back in and at one point the tro carries a cow, goat, sheep, and 19 people. We collect our ingredients from the market, giggle at a sign that reads "NO NAKED flames," then head back to Fulfusu to make dinner. Fufu is made by peeling and boiling the yams until they are soft and then pounding them until they become a sticky lump of starch. The lite soup is more or less a tomato soup with some seasoning and lots of pepe (pepper). The live chicken became delicious chicken soup thanks to the men of the compound teaching us how to kill, pluck, and cut the animal. High school biology has nothing on the slaughtering process. Every step of the way the anatomy of the chicken was explained and I could even see the formation of the eggs in the chicken. We shared the food with the entire compound and stuffed ourselves.

Hannah and I traveled back south to attend the swearing in ceremony for the new group of Peace Corps Volunteers. Afterwards we then went to visit Hannah's cousin who volunteered at an orphanage and invited us to see the closing ceremony. We bummed a ride back to Accra so that I could easily catch my flight the next day.

Experiences in Europe

This summer I was lucky enough to travel extensively in Europe in addition to my research at CERN. My internship did not start until mid-June, so I was able to travel for a large chunk of time starting in late May. I was also able to augment my study with weekend trips across western Europe.

I started my study abroad experience in London. I can speak a meager amount of Spanish which helps me with reading a decent amount of French, but I had thought that an English speaking country would be a nice place to start my experience. This ended up backfiring to a certain extent because, while everyone at the museums and sights spoke English, the people in the hostel with me were largely from France, Germany, Italy, or elsewhere and spoke mostly in languages that I did not understand. This was not a problem, though, as I spent the majority of my time walking around the city and experiencing London.

By far the most interesting and fun thing that I did in London was go to Shakespeare's Globe. A Comedy of Errors, a hilarious play centered on two sets of twins and mistaken identity, was absolutely hysterical, and the experience was only improved by the venue: a thatch-roofed replica of the Globe located right on the Thames. If anyone else spends some time in London and wants to see some Shakespeare, the cheapest Globe tickets are the best. The goundlings pay five pounds and stand on the floor in the center of the Globe for the entirety of the play. I was lucky enough to show up early, and I ended up in the center, close enough to prop my elbows on the stage.

London, I felt, was not entirely different than the United States, but there were distinctions. The age of the country was one thing. I visited Westminster Abbey and saw the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor who died in the year 1066. Newton was one of the newer additions to the Abbey in 1727. I found it interesting that when visiting sights in London, or all of Europe for that matter, the relative youth of our country becomes remarkably apparent. Additionally, the city seems to be built in one large pile of buildings, tube tunnels, bridges and people. Tiny alleys and winding streets are lined with tall, skinny buildings, built at any angle that allows them to fit into the jumble. Within walking distance of each other are modern buildings and those with smokestacks reminiscent of Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes. The age as well as size of the United States, especially in a sprawling city like Dallas, prevents us from needing to build in such a way, but it is certainly interesting to see. I also kept doing double takes when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a twelve year old driving a car (I know the steering wheels are on the other side, but for some reason, it always caught me off guard for a split second).

From London, I flew to Amsterdam where a stayed for a short two days. The Van Gogh museum was very nice, and I happened to be there when they had The Starry Night on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. With this piece in hand, the museum had set up an entire temporary exhibit on night works which I found to be very interesting. Amsterdam seemed to be two cities simultaneously. The north part of the city, which houses the infamous red light district and some of the other more notorious aspects of Amsterdam, was truly intriguing just to watch. Whether it was a businessman openly haggling with a prostitute, an off duty police officer taking a break in a coffee shop, or the thousands of bicycles outside of centraal station this was one of the most culturally different places from the United States that I visited during the entire summer. The south part of the city, on the other hand, is much less touristy and better highlights the beauty of the city. The canals, I'm told, are rivaled only by those in Venice, and the buildings all give off a quaint, homey feel. The parks are pristine; the weather is great; and the people are laid back and friendly.

From Amsterdam, I went to Paris. My favorite part of Paris was, hands down, the food. The Louvre: big, Notre Dame: nice, The Eiffel Tower: tall, but the food: tasty beyond words. I only had one bad meal in Paris, and by bad I mean it was more on the culinary level of a hot pocket, which in nearly any other case, is rather good. Paris taught me the difference between eating and dining. Besides treating my taste buds I enjoyed Paris because it is a great city to see while just strolling around. I spent a day walking along the Seine, browsing paintings being sold by street vendors and watching the Paris day unfold before me. Did I mention the food?

Rome was next on my whirlwind tour of Europe, and I think the experienced can be summarized by saying that one would be hard-pressed to find a type-A Italian. The Paris metro and the London underground, there were electronic signs that would count down the minutes until the train arrived. The last minute counted down the seconds, and if the train was late, it would count up the seconds that the train was late. The trains in London or Paris were never more than 10 seconds late. Rome was another story. The same signs existed, but would sporadically change from five minutes, to three, to one, stay at one for four, then go back to five. The managers the Roman subway system could save a lot of money by just posting non-electric signs saying, "Just wait, it'll get here". This was not, however, a bad experience. The trains just getting there when they got there actually did a lot to lower my stress level. I wasn't worried about missing trains or checking in to my hostel late because in Rome, late and deadline are very relative terms. I was content to just go with the flow and get there when I got there.

The Vatican museum with the Sistine chapel was my favorite museum of the trip. It was laid out in a linear fashion with a set path to take. This made it much more manageable while still being one of the largest museums in the world. The audio guide was also very extensive and instructive.

After Rome, my internship started, but I was still able to travel on the weekends. I investigated interesting ways to exit cable cars 450 feet over small lakes in Interlaken, Switzerland (by bungee proved best). I went hiking in Lauterbrunnen, a small town nestled in a valley between two Lord-of-the-Rings-esque cliffs boasting thousand foot waterfalls. I swam in the pristine glacial river that runs through Bern and visited Einstein's house shortly after. I visited the botanical gardens and eyed a $24,000.00 watch in Zurich, and I ate Weiner Schnitzel in Heidelberg, Germany.

I visited a lot of places and saw a lot of interesting things, but the things that I most enjoy taking away from my experiences abroad, separate from my research experience, are the differences between the United States and countries abroad. I learned so many things from the different cultures that I visited this summer. American portion sizes are ridiculous; there's full and then there's American full. 24/7 megastores that sell everything for cheap are not omnipresent in all countries. Moderate Americans are a bit conservative by European standards, and American beer, for the most part, is not any good at all. For all its differences, I also figured out that I greatly appreciate living in the United States. It was a fun, enriching summer, but its good to be home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reflections on a summer in Germany

Today is my last day in Germany. I left Marburg this morning with a few friends from the Sommer Universität program, and the whole way to Frankfurt we talked about how odd we find it that the program is actually over. It’s strange really; we all knew that the program runs for four weeks, but over the course of the last month we seem to have lost track of how time had actually been passing.
It’s not a hard thing, to lose track of time in Marburg. Many have described the Universitätstadt as a perfect fairy-tale town hidden away in the hills of Hessen, an apt description that captures the city’s relaxed atmosphere. Exploring the old, historical city, wandering along its winding, cobbled streets really gave me the sense of being lost in a traditional German town. However, the International Sommer Universität program was about much more than just getting to know Marburg. During the last four weeks, not only have I studied and spoken more German than ever before, but I have also learned much about the European Union, its role in the world and how Germany, the largest and probably most important member of the Union, influences Europe and the rest of the world. I am particularly pleased about participating in the ISU program this year because, as a beginning graduate student in International Political Economy with a focus on Europe, the scope of my seminars this summer have helped prepare me for classes to come. I feel that getting a better scope of the European Union and its policies has helped me to open up my mind more to international organizations and the kind of attitude of cooperation required to work with them.
Aside from getting to know more about the European Union and Marburg, the ISU program also included several cultural excursions on the weekends. These outings included hiking through the hills and forests of Hessen and dancing with traditional German folk dancers, taking a tour of a salt mine 800 meters under the earth, exploring Point Alpha, an observation point for both American and Soviet forces before reunification and taking a ferry ride up the Rhein river. These experiences provided a great opportunity to get in touch with German gemütlichkeit, the warm, welcoming, friendly spirit of Deutschland.
The ability not only to get to know Germany by living here, but also by exploring its history and culture, has helped me gain a greater appreciation for new cultures and viewpoints on life. Also, being away from family and friends and everything that I have become so reliant on and comfortable with has given me a greater appreciation for everything I have in my life. As much as I know I am going to miss Germany and the people I have met and gotten to know in my month at the ISU program, I am ready to come back home and get back to my life, but incorporating all that I’ve learned here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer in China 2



Beijing and China's ruling Han majority portray a very specific version of China to the rest of the world. This China is homogenous in culture and creed.

I had a very different experience in China's southern Yunnan province, home to 26 of China's 55 minority groups. In Yunnan's rural lands, I ate the Bai people's distinct culinary creations, witnessed the Ni's distinctive dance, and even married a Tibetan woman after winning a strength contest and being crowned the Yak Prince. (Pictured) The marriage was for show … I think. What Mandarin I understood didn't help me in rural China, where many people speak regional dialects.

So, during my 8 weeks in China, my impression of the nation changed greatly. I don't know how I ever thought a nation of 1.3 billion could be homogenous, but I did. The reality is that while America may be the world's great melting pot, China could probably give the U.S. a run for its money. America undoubtedly has one of the largest varieties of races and nationalities living under one roof, but at the end of the day, our cultural differences aren't that great. For the most part, we're eating the same food and wearing the same clothing.

In China, the racial differences are subtle, but the cultural differences are pronounced. Each ethnic group has its own style of dress, from simple farming attire to fluorescent floral patterned dresses and hats. Each group has its own music, dance, and even musical instruments. China's varied geography and climate has left each group with its own cuisine and abodes.

And while the ideal Chinese person that Beijing portrays is a Mandarin speaking atheist, China is filled with more languages and religions than perhaps any other nation.

So, I left China with a couple of valuable lessons. Actually, I learned dozens of valuable lessons, but to always carry anti-diarrheal doesn't fit in well with this narrative. My first lesson, as cliché as it is, is to never judge a book by its cover, or perhaps more appropriately, a people by its propaganda. You can never really understand a people or culture until you've experienced them first hand. The second lesson, as corny as it is, is that with just a few shared beliefs or commonalities, incredibly varied groups can come together as one nation.

The summer I spent in China was eye-opening. Studying abroad, as harrowing, hectic, and exhausting as it could be, was one of the best experiences of my life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

ATLAS at CERN


During my freshman year as a McDermott Scholar, many people asked me where I thought I might want to study abroad, and to be honest, I couldn't decide. At times, I saw myself taking physics classes in Europe or Asia, and at others, I thought I would want to enroll in something vastly different than my major and learn about the ancient Greeks in Greece while reading the Iliad. The only recurring study abroad option that occurred to me, was to work at a large physics lab abroad, and with the Large Hadron Collider's world-destroying black holes in the popular news so often, CERN seemed like a good option.

At the time I didn't know that the 'European' in the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN with all of the adjectives switched in french, was taken pretty seriously. As the United States is not a member state, I soon figured out that CERN did not offer the gobs of American student research positions that I had expected, but instead only offered 10 spots for American students. I applied around winter break last year, and was accepted to the program, I believe, because of my previous high-energy physics experience under UT-Dallas professor Dr. Joseph Izen. My experience at Los Alamos National Labs certainly helped as well, and I definitely would not have been able to spend the summer in New Mexico without the McDermott program.

So thanks are sincere and necessary, but, perhaps, do not make for the most interesting read. For that, I'd like to take everyone on a small tour of where I've been working this summer. CERN is located about 20 minutes outside of Geneva on the border between Switzerland and France. It's a great location because you can set your watch on the Swiss trains and buses, and the great food and wine bleeds over from France. Most things above ground at CERN look like modest office buildings, somewhat reminiscent of founder's north on the inside and the art barn on the outside. There are some nicer buildings, but the truly impressive parts of CERN exist underground.

Impressive is a bit of an understatement. CERN houses the Large Hadron Collider or LHC. The LHC lives in a circular tunnel 100m underground, 26km in circumference. It consists of thousands of superconducting magnets that bend a beam of protons in a circle. The beam-pipe is cooled with liquid helium down to a chilly 1.9 kelvin, colder than the residual temperature of outer space. This system of superconducting magnets (essentially electromagnets without electrical resistance) creates a magnetic field of over 8 Tesla, and the entire beam-pipe is also kept in a vacuum with a pressure about 10 time lower than the pressure on the surface of the moon. Oh, and it accelerates protons to 99.99% of the speed of light, focuses them into small, intense packets, and smashes them together at energies up to 7 times higher than previously possible in the lab.

Located along the LHC ring at the points where the machine collides protons, are the world's newest particle detectors. One of these detectors, the one I am working on the summer and the one that the UT-Dallas high-energy physics group works on, is called ATLAS. It's a cool name, but a rather bad acronym standing for A Torodial LHC ApparatuS. ATLAS is a collusus. It is a cylinder of concentic sub-detectors seven stories tall and half a football field long. It weighs over 7000 tons, about as much as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the entire thing has to be alligned and calibrated on the micron scale. Each level of the detector is designed to measure different things. The innermost sub-detector, the pixel detector, works simmilarly to a digital camera to measure the precise location of particles that emerge from high-energy proton collisions. The outermost sub-detector is the muon system. It is designed to snag information about a particular particle called the muon (essentially just a more massive electron), and it is this subdetector that can be seen behing me in the accomanying whoosh picture.

My job this summer has been to work on whats called the ATLAS trigger system. The ATLAS detector alone produces enough data fill a stack of CD's that could reach the moon and back, twice, every year, many Terabytes per second. This is, of course, too much data, and many times when protons are smashed together, nothing intersting happens at all. The trigger system is in place to quickly filter through the collisions in real time and save only the interesting ones, lowering the data output rate to about 300 MB/s. This is not as easy as it sounds, considering a focused group of protons called a bunch collide in the detector every 25 nanoseconds; by the time the electronics get the signal that a collision has occured, more collisions have already taken place.

Working at CERN has been very fun, but it was not the only thing that I did this summer. I was also able to travel before the internship started in mid-June as well as on the weekends. I hope to fill everyone in on some of my travels in another blog post coming soon.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A changing Chinese culture



Sitting in a music hall in Li Jiang, China, I heard the sound of two worlds colliding. The intended performance of the night was an ancient Naxi minority musical arrangement; 1000-year-old music played on centuries old instruments by 80 year old musicians (pictured). The music was beautiful, haunting, and accompanied by the booming bass of a nearby western dance club. A perfect analogy of the cosmic culture shift occurring among the Chinese youth, the bass line was unrelenting, unstoppable, and unignorable, and yet these stoic men of another China played on proudly and unflinchingly.

That has been the inescapable theme of my entire trip in China. Whether it be dance music intruding on 1000-year-old epics, Kentucky Fried Chicken replacing noodle stands, or MRIs and modern pharmaceuticals pushing out herbs and acupuncture, the conflict between old and new, East and West, is constant.

I too, find myself conflicted. The changes taking place in China seem inevitable and necessary. It is amazing and a testament to technology that even in the most rural parts of China, I can call home on my computer using Skype on a wireless internet connection. Information, modern health care, and transportation are seemingly no longer luxuries in much of China, and they shouldn't be.

At the same time, the worst parts of the west seem to be accompanying these advancements. Cars and smog are replacing bicycles. Clubs are raucous and filled with drug dealers. The modern youth are embracing consumerism and individualism, much to the dismay of their traditional parents who expect them to be their retirement plans.

So, on any given day, I've never been certain which China I would be experiencing. I've worked with patients in a traditional Chinese medicine hospital, witnessing the application of millenniums old techniques. The slow, purposeful movement of Tai Chi has been my morning coffee. I've seen the best of China's ancient Buddhist and Taoist temples carved into the sides of mountains (pictured). I've also danced to American music, eaten at more than one familiar fast food restaurant, and kept up to date with all my friends on facebook. It's hard to know exactly what I'm supposed to be experiencing and whether I'm missing out on the "real" China, or whether that China exists now only in history books.

Whatever the case, my experiences in China's Yunnan province have been other worldly and eye-opening. I've learned basic Mandarin, the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and the limits of my digestive system. Most importantly, I have a much better understanding of 1/6 of the world's population. I can't thank the McDermott Scholars Program enough for the opportunities for self-improvement it makes possible.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Malaysian Exploration



Historical Melaka, situated close to the Port of Malacca, is among the most beautiful tourist attractions I have visited in Malaysia. This photograph is taken in front of the Victoria Regina, a fountain built in 1904 in memory of a great Queen. The fountain is adjacent to one of the oldest churches in the country, built in 1753 and the Malai Gallery Seni Lukis built in 1931. The Muzium Umno Melaka (1935) and the Kites Museum of Enduring Beauty house a collection of bewitching traditional curios. This place is also remarkable for numerous well-maintained gardens, and a great variety of fruit trees planted on sidewalks. These gardens and trees are brilliantly lit at night, which gives Melaka a round-the-year festive look. The Eye of Melaka is also home to the King’s Palace and the original building from which the independence of Malaysia was declared. On another note, I discovered that the delicacies of Malaysian cuisine have a really strong smell, and the seafood dishes include everything from cuttlefish to octopuses. I also came across some interesting fruits like the ‘dragon fruit’ that is indigenous to this land. My internship at the JVMC Corporation is interesting and enjoyable, especially as the staff is very friendly. Since I work at the office from 8 to 5 on all weekdays, my trips around Malaysia are mainly limited to the weekends.
On 27th June, I visited Medan, Indonesia on a weekend trip. Medan has a much higher population than Melaka, and has a strikingly different culture when compared to Malaysia. The picture below was taken inside the Maimoon Palace in Medan.
However, the most notable memory of my Indonesian trip are the numerous shops displaying intricate Batik work, wood carvings and unique items like key chains with preserved animals- scorpions, flying lizard, goldfish and ladybugs. My summer is far from over as I have scheduled trips to Cambodia this month, and to China in the next. Please look forward to my next blog for report on the latest news from my South-East Asia travels!

Machu Picchu!!!

You know how there are those places that have become little more than tourist traps? (Certain beaches in México come to mind). Of course, this is not to say, necessarily, that any of those locations are overrated. In fact, the opposite is often true, which would make sense, as thousands of tourists continue to visit those specific locations for a reason. However, time, capitalism, and globalism have opened the door to welcome the entrance of a tourist industry that, over the years, has effectively commercialized and sold those destinations in something akin to mass production. In essence, there are locations, I believe, that have become so entangled with the tourist industry that they seem to lose some of their original appeal—that is, in some way, they are less real than they once were.

Machu Picchu is not one of those places. Of course, like any other location having once been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the town and site itself are constantly swamped with tourists, travelers, and foreigners who are all too easily streamlined through a nearly seamless process that the tourist industry of the nearby town of Cusco (as well as the whole country of Peru) has perfected in the century since the ruins were “discovered” in 1911. Numerous tours are available, expensive train tickets are sold, and plenty of luxurious services are extended to any party willing to pay a hefty sum of money for the heavily-advertised Incan experience—it´s all there for English- and Spanish-speakers alike.

However, in spite of all that (in spite of the tourist services that would make the trip to the ruins seem typical or cliche), Machu Picchu was unbelievably AMAZING! Truly, no words exist to adequately describe the beauty I beheld on that day. In many ways, the site (with its trapezoidal structure that was perfectly engineered to withstand the earthquakes that shook the mountains over time) was nothing like the pictures I had so often seen—it was so much more beautiful, mystical, enthralling, intriguing, and peaceful all at once! Even though I took a ridiculous number of photographs, it was not enough to capture the wonder that was Machu Picchu. To think that my trip to this place was a last-minute addition (thanks to Sherry´s encouragement)!

Fortunately, the tour lasted nearly three hours and covered all of the site. Afterward, thankfully, everyone was given free time to explore alone. I simply found a secluded area and lay in peace, surrounded by 500-year old ruins, freely grazing llamas, and lush, green mountains as far as the eye could see. I don´t think I´ve ever found a more peaceful spot on this earth. It was over all too soon, but it was certainly an experience that I will never be able to forget. And even though tourists (like myself) will likely continue to invade this area for many years to come, this is one place that will never lose its authenticity, its natural beauty, or its quintessential ability to astonish all who are fortunate enough to lay eyes on it.