Wednesday, July 1, 2009
So I’ve figured out how to maximize one’s bargaining position: open your wallet and show the shopkeeper that you only have X number of rupees left. It has worked pretty well for me a couple of times now—it also means I’ve come home sans rupees more than once!
As I said to Marianne on the way back from yet another shopping spree, I believe I’m done with my shopping—at least until I buy something else. It’s absolutely an addiction here. Only way to cure it, I fear, is to return to New York. But I am the proud owner of several exquisite pieces. Including my first Thangka!
Things are certainly winding down. Students are distracted by exams and plans for afterward. The level of commitment in class—at least in my class—has certainly fallen off considerably from where it was the first three weeks. Three students absent yesterday, with nary an explanation. Five today (one, Daniel, was actually ill). The explanation is fairly clear to me—they figure they can cut my class to study for their other exams with minimum repercussions, given my take-home exam for which they have had half the program. There is, however, the professionalism component to their grade for my course.
Despite that, there has been a sufficient critical mass to keep the discussion in class both flowing and interesting. Still, it is a disappointment.
Out and about:
On Sunday, Marianne, Doug and I hiked up to Dharamcot, via Bhagsu. We didn’t mean to take the Bhagsu road, and wished we hadn’t—the traffic was horrible, the fumes spoiling our “walk in the woods.” But it was a good workout, and the return trip from Dharamcot a lot more pastoral. Sunday evening, Ved, Catharine and I checked out a traditional Tibetan music hour, a sort of fundraiser for a benefit of vague description. One announcer, one performer, two instruments, some singing, some dancing. More quaint than compelling. At a school with another great vista, however. Oh, those snow-capped mountains!
Marianne and I walked the outer road around the Monastery Monday. It’s magical—great vistas, interesting Tibetan carvings and paintings on the rocks, a small temple here and there. And then had another terrific pizza at what Marianne calls the Dalai Lama’s pizza parlor. Who knew some of the best pizza anywhere was to be found in McLeod Ganj!?!
An elephant walked through town yesterday, accompanied by old men with beards and begging bowls. Happily, I spotted it from a distance on Temple Road and was able to capture its approach with my Flip. Click here to view the videos.
By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I thought you would like to see the picture we took today when we visited the Karmapa, the head lama of the Kagyud sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He only had time for a photo-op but I think you'll agree it was definitely worthwhile to see him. I had a chance to say a few words like, "Good to see you again," and he nodded and agreed. I told him, "I teach International Human Rights and these are my faculty colleagues and students." I also told him, "You are looking fine but a bit older than the last time I saw you," and the Karmapa replied, "You think so? You think I am looking okay?" I said absolutely and then the Karmapa turned to Professor Ved Nanda who had more to say. Students were slightly disappointed that they didn’t have a chance to speak to him, but seemed pleased at having met him. We then visited Norbulingka and the Transit School. What an afternoon!
I love Dharamsala. My mornings are lovely. My walk/jog around the monastery is accompanied by a variety of old and young, monks and nuns, all going to the same morning service where they will celebrate the new day by singing and then throwing powder in the air. As the only jogger, I am definitely the strange bird in the crowd, but am welcomed as much as any outsider could expect. Afterwards, I continue on my run, finding it impossible to continue up a very long, steep hill before finally catching my breath enough to resume running, while always appreciating what I have just experienced. I then return for a sumptuous breakfast at one of the most special and loveliest of hotels, the Tibetan Chonor House, where I am staying once again in the Wild Animals room. I then join my morning class which has been engaged in discussions about U.S. and India policy and human rights practices. Class conversations are lively and informative, as students exchange ideas about subjects ranging from the prohibition against torture, and the economic and social rights of children, women and working people. It is never easy for a national of any country to discover their country has violated a treaty agreement or not ratified several of the main human rights treaties. U.S. students pondered the meaning of their government being one of only two countries that failed to ratify the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, as one example; Indian students reflected on their progressive constitution and activist judicial branch, while wondering whether the problems of child labor and illiteracy are intractable or will, one day, be eliminated.
Today, though, the conversation shifted to China. I had taken students to the Tibet Museum yesterday where they absorbed the moving photographs and accounts of the Tibetan struggle for independence. They saw a powerful, 90-minute movie which detailed and revealed the brutality of China's army and repressive political system toward the Tibetan people. I expect that explains the students' reaction in class today where I used Professor Richard Klein's article on cultural relativism as a way to explain China and the "Asian way" of respecting human rights. I was met with very strong resistance and was placed in the situation of presenting China's position, at least to the best of my abilities. Tomorrow, I hope to persuade the students of the importance of learning the other side of the argument, especially where they are convinced there is only one right side. Tomorrow we have a Tibetan NGO coming to class and a representative of the Youth Congress, too. I’ll keep you informed.
By Professor Doug Colbert, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India
China may have lax environmental laws, but it is far from being a wasteful country. Everything is used. It’s rare to see garbage on the street. A common sight is people on bicycles pulling trailers piled high with cardboard boxes or paper. Or people begging to collect the empty plastic water bottles from tour buses. They weren’t begging for money. They wanted our empty plastic bottles. There isn’t a deposit on the bottles, but presumably the collectors get some compensation if they bring in enough bottles. Land is used. Looking through a fence hole, I saw a woman who lived in a huge apartment building collecting cucumbers from a plant she nurtured at the otherwise empty backyard of the building. There was only eight feet between the building and the fence. In the hutongs—the old-style way of living in Beijing, a sort of shantytown of connected courtyard residences centered around a water source—you see pots of vegetables and flowers and herbs growing in unlikely places. On the side of the highways you see thin rows of plants like corn, or fruit trees. And each swelling fruit is surrounded by its own burlap bag to protect it. When food makes it to the table, all of the animal is eaten. When a few of us went out for Peking Duck, the duck head, split in two, had its own special plate. I couldn’t face the eye or brain, but I did have a bit of duck cheek.
Kate Anderson at the Ming Tombs outside Beijing
Speaking of food, there are many differences. I enjoyed the eastern-ness of the “Western” buffet at the Beijing hotel: congee, bok choy, steamed pork buns, fried rice. And western foods not usually eaten for breakfast, namely soup and a salad bar. The meal fed to tourists at large restaurants was largely the same. Lots of dishes, and lots of variety, but again and again, pretty much the same: rice or fried rice, bok choy or another variety of cabbage, dumplings or spring rolls, chicken with peanuts in a spicy sauce, at least one dish with pork, another dish with beef, one with fish. Meat is fattier, and there is a much lower ratio of meat to vegetables than you find at Chinese restaurants in America. When the plate of watermelon slices comes out of the kitchen, you know the meal is over. Fortune cookies are not seen, as they are a completely American invention. Beijing street food is partially on display for tourists, or else why would there be English translations? The selection is staggering, and almost everything is served on a skewer, from fruit kebabs to grilled meat. Then there are the more unusual offerings: dog meat pot, starfish, mealies, scorpions, snake, sheep penis. These foods are not just there for show. Adventurous tourists order a slithery or crunchy skewer that then gets grilled or deep fried, but Chinese people are also ordering—and not on a dare.
By Kate Anderson, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Friday, June 26, 2009
China has a One-Child Family policy; the rule allows married couples to have just one child or pay heavy fines. While I knew that the Chinese have a preference for boy babies over girl babies, it was amazing to see this policy in action and the ways it plays out in day-to-day life. When people learned that I have three children, and all three are boys, I felt like a bit of a celebrity. In China, it’s common to see two grandparents out with their one grandchild. The child holds a grandparents’ hand in each or his or her own, and has the undivided attention of the adults. There are no frazzled parents in stores with four whining children in tow like you see in America. But what will all those only children become—confident adults with high self-esteem or little emperors used to getting their way? All the women I met spoke openly about the Chinese preference for boys. It was just a fact. I spoke at length to a woman who is pregnant. Because she is from a different region than her husband, her mother-in-law hasn’t welcomed her to the family. My new friend’s life will be very different if she gives birth to a boy. Obviously she could find out the sex of the baby, but she hasn’t. Maybe it’s better to wait and see. And hope. When I was with her, strangers she met would tell her they hoped she has a boy. When she saw a little boy, she would rub his hair for good luck. If she has a boy, then her mother-in-law will gladly babysit and the mother will be able to work. If it’s a girl, the mother will not work and will raise the baby herself. Imagine both your career and your family life hanging in the balance based on the gender of your baby.
The Entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing
By Kate Anderson, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Many people speak English in Hong Kong—where our program begins. We had a tour guide for most of our visit to Beijing. And in Xiamen, where our program is based, we have a unique and propitious situation. As many as 40 volunteers from Xiamen University are on hand to help our students, faculty and guests. I knew about this program feature, but I couldn’t have imagined the importance of this, or the generosity of the Chinese students, without experiencing it firsthand. What’s in it for these volunteers? Practicing English. Getting some free meals. Being good ambassadors for their country. It’s all of these to a degree, but what the volunteers give is far, far more than what they get.
Touro Law 2009 Students in front of Olympic Stadium in Beijing
I had three volunteers helping me. Two people were assigned by the program to help me; the idea is that if one of the students is busy, the other might be available. Tide and Candy (they choose their own English names in school) spent just about every moment with me, and Tide’s friend Cindy came along as well. They took me to Nanputuo, an incredible Buddhist temple that attracts the devout from all across the country. The students showed me their campus and school buildings, they helped me shop for gifts in downtown Xiamen and on the island of Gulang Yu, and one of them even took me to the airport (the other two were on a school trip). I was overwhelmed by their generosity and helpfulness. We had fascinating discussions comparing life in China and America. With so many people and so much competition, students in China work hard. They dream of studying in America, but very few people achieve that dream. So they study in China, where dorm life is different. Clean clothes are hung to dry on the balcony of every building. Students only occasionally go out to clubs and bars. The electricity is shut off at midnight in the dorms, so one must get home before then or brush one’s teeth by flashlight. The students I met are positive and optimistic. They have economic freedom and opportunities their parents didn’t have, but still the government censors information and there is no freedom of speech. Is more enough?
Stree scene in Beijing
Street vendor in Beijing
China has become more expensive, but for Americans, mainland China is overall very inexpensive. The exchange rate of almost 7 RMB to the US dollar means that a ride on a bus, one yuan, costs about 14 cents. You pay double that for an air-conditioned bus, which is well worth it in summer. Taxis are also inexpensive on the mainland. Hong Kong is another story. Transportation is reasonable, but food prices are comparable to being in New York City. A drink at a fancy bar can be as expensive as an entire meal at a local joint. Beijing provides the most shopping opportunities, but be prepared to bargain. A number of our students were extraordinarily good at this. When you’re first quoted a price of 1600 RMB, but end up paying 60, you know there’s a huge mark-up for foreigners. Markets are awash in ‘double-A fakes,’ knock-offs of designer watches, wallets, purses, bags, and sunglasses. Quality varies, but imagine a department-store floor filled entirely with small stalls selling the same items. If the salespeople didn’t have what a shopper wanted, they made a call. A ‘sister’ would appear with the requested goods. You might get taken down to the basement for the transaction, or the purchase might literally take place under a table, as these are copies of trademarked goods.
The Long Corridor at the Summer Palace in Beijing
The signs are everywhere: I am humbly aware that I speak no Chinese, and what little I attempted was probably laughable and all wrong. But I loved the signs in China with unusual, humorous, and sometimes downright perplexing English translations. A few examples:
On a moving walkway:
"Maintenance in progress/Inconvenience Cause Regretted/Do not enter the dangerous!"
At the Ming Tombs:
"Notice: Cherish The Cultural Relics, Please Don't Climb up or Scribble."
"ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION OF THE SCENIC SPOT NEEDS YOUR CONSERVE"
"May we remind you: Please be self-restraint and be a good tourist to mold a well-mannered imagination."
Lynne Truss would have a field day....
By Kate Anderson, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Allie, a law student from Xia Da (short for Xiamen University), audited most of Sociology of Law and made significant contributions to the discussion of the idea of moral education, a big part of the educational program in China, which we compared to the U.S law schools instruction of law students in the ethical obligations of lawyers and the honor code that governs the conduct of law students.
Allie has been quite generous with her time, and she also has tried to include us in activities she thought might be of interest to us. One day she invited me to the recital for the students graduating from the music school at Xiamen. Xiamen has quite a musical tradition. There is a music park down the road from the stone writing park. There is a median in the highway just alongside the university with musical notes laid over the grass that light up at night. I am told that it is the song of the city. The concert to which I was invited was for the ancient Chinese harp, the guzheng. Two different students took turns playing selections. Sometimes they were accompanied by a pianist but other times it was the pipa (another ancient instrument that looks like a mandolin but is held straight up and down) and a flute or wind instrument that I did not recognize. Robert Anderson and John Bayard also attended.
By Professor Deborah Post, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
We were acting out our own version of Lost in Translation when we all piled in taxis and headed off to the brand spanking new KTV, right down the block from the two-story KFC. Once inside we piled goodies into our tiny shopping cart – containers of buttered popcorn that turned out to have sugar on them, lychee flavored potato chips, juice for the Chinese students, wine for me and beer for the American students. We began our evening at about 8 pm and left at midnight. When we left, the lobby was full of people dressed up and ready to sing until the wee hours of the morning.
In our very full private room with our computerized selection of songs, we found a much larger number of songs in English than I had imagined, although sometimes the translations were a little questionable. Even I can sing along with Beyonce’s Irreplaceable or at least the refrain “to the left, to the left, all your stuff in the box to the left” (my own questionable rendering of the lyrics. ) The Chinese students loved a group called S.H.E. from Taiwan. They have a catchy little number “wo bu xiang zhang da.” In English that is “I don’t want to grow up.” Both the Chinese women and the American women seem to like Avril Lavigne but 50 Cent did not go over very well with the Chinese. I insisted that we sing at least one Karen Carpenter song - We've Only Just Begun. I thought that the Carpenters were still a cultural icon here in China, but maybe now that is all changing. So many things have changed in the ten years we have been here in China.
Samantha and Charles, coordinators of our student volunteers, insisted that one of the students accompany me home even though the party would go on for a bit longer. In the cab we discussed the evening, and Mike confided that he didn’t know many of the American artists but, he added “I like Karen Carpenter.”
By Professor Deborah Post, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Prof. Marjorie Silver – Visit with the Karmapa Lama, Norbulingka Institute, Transit School, Tibetan Children’s Village, Audience with the Dalai Lama
June 20, 2009, Dharamsala:
FALSE ALARM! THE MONSOON HAS NOT ARRIVED! Since Tuesday, when I last wrote, the weather has been unremittingly sunny, not a drop of rain. And our days have been so busy, until this most welcome Saturday.
Very good busy. Wednesday we visited the Karmapa Lama. The visit was far more pro forma than the one four years ago, when he chatted with our group for quite awhile, placed our white scarves on our shoulders himself, and gave us his blessing. This time, after a lengthy wait, we followed a long line of assorted individuals, his assistant monks did the white scarf thing, the Karmapa handed us each a red string without making eye contact, and, after another wait, took a hurried picture with the group. But then again, his importance in the world has certainly grown over the past four years. He looks older, too. Still attractive, to be sure, but at the advanced age of 23, I do believe his hairline is already receding!
Afterwards, we visited the Norbulingka Institute, toured the amazing workshops where the exquisite crafts are made, and had the chance to shop and/or refresh ourselves in their lovely garden café. Click here to see videos.
After that, we visited the Transit school, also in the outskirts of Dharamsala. Many of us were grumbling about yet another stop, but once we arrived at the unbelievably gorgeous view up the valley into the snowcapped Himalayas, all grumbling promptly stopped. The school was nice enough—got to see a group of teens rehearsing a dance to Chinese music for the Dalai Lama’s birthday next month, chatted with some lovely young people—but the view was just spectacular; itself worth the journey. In some ways the school—one only for older children— reminded me of visiting my daughter at French Woods Performing Arts camp when she was a relatively young teen—the place seemed like a teenager’s dream! Of course the French Woods campers had families to return to at the end of the camp session; these young refugees from Tibet do not. Still, if you have to leave your family and your homeland, it seemed like a pretty nifty place to end up.
Thursday we visited another haven for displaced Tibetans—the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). Much, much larger than the transit school, it houses about 1500 young people from about age 2 to 20. We spent most of our time in the baby house, entranced by the dozen or so delightful toddlers and pre-schoolers, who gave and received boundless affection. Even our students who remained somewhat remote at first were, after a short while, sucked into the vortex of the children’s charm. TCV is an oasis of compassion, nurturing, and education (both Tibetan and contemporary), and one can’t help but be impressed with this haven for their young people that the Tibetans in exile have created in a relatively short time. Click here to see videos from our visit with the children at TCV.
And Friday was the capstone to our extraordinary first week in Dharamsala. Our audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Our appointment, scheduled originally for noon, rescheduled to eleven, then rescheduled again to 12:30, didn’t happen until more than two hours later, but regardless of what at the time seemed like an interminable wait, it was so worth it. He spent a good deal of time with us, and seemed so interested in everything. And that laugh! A laughing, living Buddha! You would think he didn’t have a care in the world. I asked what he thought of our new president, and he had appropriately wonderful things to say about our democracy, the election, and the possibilities presented by our first African American president. He frankly admitted, however, that it was too soon to tell whether Obama’s presidency would make any positive difference for the future of Tibet. He hopes to meet with him this coming year.
We were thrilled to see how healthy he seemed, after recent reports of his illness and hospitalization. I left with a warm, peaceful glow. And then we went shopping.
Click here to see videos in and around McLeod Ganj.
By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India
Monday, June 22, 2009
Rupavardhini B.R. - The Power of Education: The Pursuit of Happiness by Some Bright Young Girls of the Kasturba Girl’s Ashram
Freedom and liberty are lofty goals that most democracies have set for themselves. I have come to believe that education is an important tool in the realisation of these goals, especially in developing countries. Man or woman cannot be truly free and the fruits of liberty will hang tantalisingly out of reach until there is freedom from want. The gainful employment that education offers can help in the attainment of that freedom. I am a student in the final year of law school and am interested in issues relating to gender and child welfare. As part of the Touro summer program in India we visited the Kasturba Girls Ashram in Shimla. The girls in the ashram are not orphans. They are children from economically backward families who have been recommended for admission by the local Panchayats (bodies of local self governance) so that they may pursue their school education. While it is wonderful that they have the opportunity of breaking free of the vicious cycle of poverty, the fact that such young girls be deprived of the chance of growing up under the care of their families heightened the sense of tragedy that struck me in that place. It is a tragic failure of the State and the system that a child must choose between the emotional comfort and security that the institution of family can provide and the promise of material security that education makes. But these girls are fighters. They have the determination to be happy regardless of the circumstances, the will to overcome the obstacles that poverty has deeply entrenched in their path and the sociological constraints that their gender imposes. They have dreams big and small. The desire to lead their families out of the hovels of deprivation burns silently but steadfast in their hearts. The sad reality is that many of their dreams might be trampled upon. But am certain the innocence, optimism and the values of courtesy and sharing that shone brightly in the girls when they interacted with us and cheerfully sang and danced for us without a care in the world, will shield them. They all appeared happy and well cared for. The credit for this must go to the commitment and empathy of the dedicated group of people instrumental in the running of the place. As we left the place, the girls waved to us energetically. Their smiles put me to shame, for the every individual of this nation must accept the responsibility for creating a selfish society in which ashrams and not homes are the refuge of children. But I also left with a sense of optimism. These girls are the ‘new lights for old lamps,’ in them lies the hope of redemption for all of us. Someday when the little girls of the ashram grow up to be role models for all children, especially the girl child who has long been treated as a burden in this patriarchy, the winds of change that have begun to blow would have become storms that steer India into true light and freedom.
By Rupavardhini B. R., a student who is studying with the Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India. She is a law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata.
But my favorite was the story behind another Chinese saying – sitting by a tree waiting for a rabbit.
To understand the meaning you have to know the story behind the phrase. The story goes that a farmer saw a rabbit run into a tree and knock itself out. He then feasted on rabbit. The next day he came back and sat near that same tree waiting for another rabbit to do the same thing. The man starved to death waiting for that second rabbit.
I suppose that when you say that someone is sitting near the tree waiting for the rabbit, it means they are involved in a silly or fruitless exercise, or maybe something really silly or stupid. The question for me was what is the English equivalent of this fable, and has it been reduced to some shorthand form? Turns out it is simply that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” The missing piece of the puzzle was the fact that the farmer neglected his fields while he waited for that rabbit. Click here for more information.
This fable dates back to the Song Dynesty and an author, Hun Fei, who lived from 280 BCE -234 BCE. It is also the title of a song by a group called Li Xuan. If you are looking for a Western equivalent, how about a band called Aesop’s Fables? Their one and only album was titled In Due Time circa 1969.
By Professor Deborah Post, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China
Friday, June 19, 2009
Professor Marjorie Silver - The Monsoon Arrives/White Water Rafting on the Sutlej River/The Trip to Dharamsala
THE MONSOON ARRIVED OVERNIGHT! And so, it is likely from here on in, the mornings will be stormy and very wet! But to paraphrase Doug Colbert (on other subjects at least), this is what was meant to be. I had my first painful attack of the intestinal thing today, so it felt quite cozy to stay in or near my room for the day. And the sky did clear in late afternoon.
I truly wanted to write sooner, to capture the wonderful experience of our rafting trip on Saturday, the 13th. Because one of the students needed frequent stops for motion sickness, we arrived at Tattipanne about an hour late, only to observe the only three rafts taking off with another group. We were told it would only be about an hour until they returned, but, in fact, it was more like two. So we made lemonade out of lemons and walked a short distance to a sort of beach. On the advice of an Indian woman on the bank, a few of us descended down close to the bridge to cross over to the beach, and what a mistake that was! We had to make our way over yards and yards and yards of large rocks, with no guarantee of sure footing. Facing my fears, I approached the task as I do 65 bluebooks: one at a time. And I made it safe and sound.
The river current was quite swift, so we had a limited area in which to “swim,” but as the water was icy cold, this wasn’t a drawback for many. I’m proud to say I made it all the way in, although gradually.
One of our students, Larry, scoped the area around a small cliff/high rock pile and found a spot where he was confident the water was deep enough for jumping off. I trusted his judgment; he clearly was experienced in such matters. Marianne, however, was having a major cow, entreating him NOT TO DO IT. Which he ignored. And he was fine. My concern was the “me-too’s” whose testosterone impelled them to follow suit. I wasn’t at all confident they knew what they were doing. But several did, and all were fine. At one point, I called to Jodie, who had Larry’s waterproof camera, to get a picture of his jump. Marianne chastised me for encouraging this wrongful behavior! I joked that Marianne clearly would never recommend me for the program director position. A little while later, however, Marianne asked Jodie to do the same! That was strange enough, but when a little while after that I heard a shout and a big splash, imagine my surprise that Marianne herself had jumped! So much for her credibility!
When we finally got off in our rafts, the skies opened up and a torrential rain descended. But it was fun! And the rapids themselves were terrific! For most of the time, I got to ride as gunner, sitting up front and center, not rowing, which was like being on the greatest water park roller coaster. It was a super day, and only helped to cement the bonds among this wonderfully cohesive group.
Sunday’s trip from Shimla to Dharamsala was very long, the bus was struggling up even modest inclines. But as I had slept quite poorly the night before, and took a Dramamine, I managed to sleep almost the entire twelve hours!
McLeod Ganj is far cleaner than I remember it, and Marianne finds it cleaner than even last year. She and I are sharing the same room Lucy and I had four years ago, Mythical Creatures. I love being back here, love having a patio, love the gorgeous jewelry on the streets. I didn’t plan to, but already on our outing yesterday, purchased a gorgeous silver pendent with Shiva’s third eye. Today my stomach problems kept me from spending more money!
Classes continue to go very well. Most of the students are so well informed, so well prepared, so engaged with the ideas. I learn so much from them. What a privilege to be here! And we just got news this afternoon that we have a Friday audience with His Holiness!
Click here to view videos of the group arriving at the departure point, "making lemonade out of lemons" at a nearby beach and having lunch at the destination point.
By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Note: Jess, Jen and Amanda go out on their Second Day
We go out to eat, and we want to find this place recommended by our 2L friend who went on the Germany program last year. So we go exploring, and eventually we found it. It was a nice little Italian place, and between the three of us, we split pasta in red sauce, a calzone with spinach, a cheese platter and garlic bread. Lesson: In Germany, the only cheeses they mention are hard and soft. We finally figured out how to order water without bubbles too, and Jess was happy! The waiter eventually invites Amanda and all of us out that night to go to some party with him. We tell him, “Maybe,” as we are all thinking, “Heck, no.” Jess tried every language she knew to speak to him, as he had a hard time in English, and when at one point Jess thanked him in Spanish, he says, "you’re welcome" in Italian. He invited us all to his birthday party in Rome at the end of July, all because Jess told him she’d been to Rome once. Then we paid and left.
We decided to wander around a bit, and try to find either a beer garden or a dessert place. We kept wandering, and lo and behold, we learned another lesson: Cars will run you over if you are still in the crosswalk after the light turns. And a third lesson: Bike riders have their own lane and have headlights. So while wandering, Jess got a kiss blown to her, and we all got whistled at. We came back to the apartment to research the nightlife. Google was tough in German. So, we headed out again, and found nothing. No bars, no dessert, no nothing. Then we got water balloons thrown on us from teenagers! What the heck? After that, we gave up our search and came home.
Day three: Orientation
Woke up still laughing about the water balloon incident. We decided to go out and do some food shopping. Another lesson: On Sundays, everything is closed all day, not just for siesta. We ended up going to a Lebanese food stand, and got half a chicken each. Then we went to a little pastry shop and bought a juice and some apple (apfel) strudel. We made it a goal to try as many different kinds of apfel strudel as possible. Then we went back to do some more homework before our meeting with the professor. While waiting to meet the professor, we had a few more laughs. I warned everyone that the toilet was at an awkward angle, but no one believed me until their knees hit against the bathtub. Also, we’re waiting for some interesting stories to happen because there’s a window in the shower. It’s frosted, but it does open.
We got bus passes and hopped on the MI Mitte train, and headed for anywhere. We found some great places to shop, and we ended up at this great little Italian place. (Yes, yes, we’re in Germany; apparently we went to the wrong country.) But the food was AMAZING. We were in love with the place, and the dessert was great - strawberries and ice cream; amazing ice cream. We came back and did more homework. Early to bed, early to rise.
Berlin Bus Tour
Waking up this morning was hard for all of us to do. Day three of classes went fine, and then we had an hour before we were supposed to meet to catch the bus tour. During that hour, we stayed with our guide, Andrea, and went to see a bombed out church from WW II. The tour was three hours long, and we saw everything! The Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, the Hotel Adlon, where Hitler loved to stay, and where Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony, the Reichstag, Embassy’s, shopping centers - everything. Then we went out for pizza since the professors were paying. Here’s a funny story: At first, the bus driver drove away with all the teachers still on the bus! The pizza was good, stone-cooked, and thin - yummm. Jessica had a strawberry beer which she liked. It was the first beer she found that she ever liked. Amanda and Jen tried a different kind of beer - a Hefeweizen (sp?) - which they thought was OK. Then we caught the train home, and did more homework.
We decided that today was a day we needed to do laundry at the Laundromat/bar by one of the apartments. We ended up going somewhere else, and dumb Americans, we just assume everything works our way. We had gone out and bought detergent. Pointless Euro spent. Detergent comes with the price of the laundry. Then we learned that in order to use the dryers, it’s 50 cents per ten minutes. No brainer, right? Wrong. It turns out that for every 50 cents you put in, you have to push the button, so that one dollar=two pushes. At least the Germans are honest. Needless to say, it took a bit to do laundry.
Today was the first day we all got to sleep in, and it was amazing. Then we went food shopping, got Amanda an ankle bracelet, and sat down to do the law review competition. We also discovered a new-found love for Nutella. Nothing too exciting seems to be happening today, thanks to school work. But that’s law school!
Today we tried taking a new way to school. It took the same amount of time, but instead of switching midway through, we switched one stop before school. The station is closer to our house, and being on the train for that long in an unbroken time slot allows us to get more work done. Classes are fine. We talked about a case that dealt with porn. It was weird hearing the professor talk about that. Then we went to the Reichstag.
The Reichstag was cool. It was the first parliament of the German Empire, was in ruins until the reunification of Germany, and was reconstructed in 1999, to house the new German parliament. We got a special guided tour around the inside of the building. Our guide was OK; he spoke decent English, but was very monotone. The history behind it was very cool. There was an awesome glass dome that we could walk in, similar to the Statue of Liberty. After that, we exchanged money, and took out money for our trip to the Czech Republic this weekend. Then we decided to get some take out from this little place we found, did some homework, and got ready to go to the casino. The casino sucked. Apparently American casinos are more lax. (We were asked to be quieter.) Also, the drinks were not free, and they closed the table down even though it was full of people. We found out later the casino is run by the Russian mafia. Awesome.
On the Way to Prague/A Night Out in Prague
We got up this morning, and off to school we went, bags heavy and ready to leave for Prague. We got to the train station in plenty of time. Once we knew where we were going, we went to get food. It’s a shocker, I know, but we had pizza, stuffed crust from pizza hut. It wasn’t bad, but not the best.
The cab ride in Prague from the train station was crazy! The people in Prague drive very fast. It was interesting, to say the least. When we settled into the hotel, we wandered a bit, and then found the Einstein pizzeria. We got gnocchi and chicken lasagna. The lasagna was OK, but the spinach gnocchi was AMAZING. We were in love.
The next day, we all woke up early to finish a final. What a fiasco it was, trying to submit them online. They took us all morning to write. Then I went down to get the Internet turned on. We decided we wanted to pay for it for the whole day, and then when I tried to connect up, I couldn’t find the cord. It turns out our room was the only room in the entire hotel without Internet---ugh! So we got all of our finals on one jump drive to send in one e-mail and finally sent it out.
After that, we got ready and went out and about. Prague is gorgeous! We went some place for a late lunch, where Jess tried absinthe 70%. Well, that was an interesting experience. The waiter had to show me how to light the sugar thing on fire and mix it in. It was still a rough drink though. Amanda had a minor panic attack because we weren’t used to the money, so when we got the bill, it was 700 Koruna. That’s actually cheap after the conversion.
That night we went out, and met a lot of nice people. We ended up first going to a punk-type club where the people were very nice. People from all over were talking to us, and would even walk with us, to show us where we were going. We went to quite a few different bars, and had lots of fun, met lots of people. The best part of walking around Prague at night are the gorgeous buildings. On our way to somewhere, we walked into this square with the most amazing building we’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to describe it, and pictures do not do it justice. Prague is really beautiful.
By Jessica Reich, Student, Touro Law Center Summer Abroad Program in Germany
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
On Monday, the students and faculty got into cabs and drove way out into the mountains to the girls’ ashram. It was a beautiful clear day. The ashram is so far away from Shimla, maybe over an hour through winding mountain roads. There are about 40 or so girls at the ashram, of all ages, getting an education. Most of them aren’t orphans, but come from families who are too poor to send them to school, so they come here for school, and to learn a trade. Every year, the students from the India program come out for a visit, to bring gifts, to tour the school, and mostly to interact with the girls. The visit is captured best, not through words, but through the videos I took. Click here to view videos from the girls' ashram. (The first video in this series is a trip that the faculty made to Justice Rajiv Sharma's home. His wife, Trisha Sharma, is the program coordinator in India.) (Editor's Note: Marjorie didn't want the first video posted because some of the shots of the faculty were less than flattering, but we couldn't separate the videos, so you get to see them as they were.)
I drove out with Trisha, our program coordinator, and she was in a playful, fun mood. We were stuck in traffic for long periods of time, but with Nick, our administrator, in the car with her as well, the conversation flowed, and the time passed with little stress.
Tuesday, Jon Van Dyke, who is teaching International Environmental Law, and his wife, Sherry and I, plus two students, took the toy train down to a stop called Kethleeghat. It’s certainly a small train, but by no measure the toy I had always envisioned. (See the linked video of the trip below.) As no first class tickets were available, we were forced into “general seating,” which segregated women and children from the men’s car. (Although apparently women and children were allowed in the men’s car. It was certainly more crowded.) We, too, were rather crowded, but it was an interesting experience---too long by half, however. I was rather surprised that almost none of the women---clearly from different regions---felt in any way obliged to make room for us, nor for that matter, for elderly Indian women who later boarded the train.I used my NYC subway skills to ask the four women sitting in the back banquet that was designated to hold five persons to please move one way or the other to allow me to sit. They did so quite begrudgingly! We became friendlier as I cooed over their babies, especially a one-year-old girl to my left. I pressed pictures of my grandson and daughter on her mother, whom I thought might have shown some interest, but apparently according to Fareeha, who translated some of what was said, she found it rather amusing, if not bizarre, that I would do so.
The most memorable---and anxiety-producing---part of the trip was when we stopped at Tara Devi. (Tara Devi is a beautiful 250-year-old temple between Shimla and Shogi.) The mother and child exited the train, but along with a man who apparently was the baby’s father, remained outside the window chatting with some of the others still inside the train, apparently friends or relatives. All of a sudden, I realized that the father had passed the baby through the open window to the woman inside! I began immediately to get nervous that the train would take off, with the baby separated from her parents. At a certain point, the woman held the baby balanced on the window ledge. And then the train’s horn tooted, and the train began to move! The parents did not instantly grab the baby, rather seeming to play a game of dare, running alongside what was then a rather slow-moving train. Perhaps they knew they could keep apace; perhaps they didn’t. All I know is that when the father finally reached up and grabbed the baby, I could let my heart return to its rightful place in my chest cavity!
The trip took about two hours, at least one more than we needed to get the full experience. Happily our taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at Kethleeghat. We stopped at a lovely Hanuman temple complex at Tara Devi, across the valley from Shimla.
The program had a party to say goodbye to some of our participants. I'm attaching a video of some of the fesitivities in the Oberoi Clarkes dining room: click here to view the video.
Tonight, Friday night, the Sharma family joined us as guests for dinner at the Clarke’s Hotel. We all dressed up in the clothes we bought here. We leave for Dharmasala in a day.
Click here to view the videos of the "toy train" from Shimla and the general seating in the women's car of the train.
By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India
Monday, June 15, 2009
Berlin in early summer
Every summer day is like summer, fall, winter, spring. I carry layers of clothes with me; sometimes I shed, other times, I add as the day goes along. It seems to rain a bit every day, but it's fresh and not humid. The trees are green, the Linden trees have a sweet smell which permeates the city, and the flowers are out in full force. Berlin is filled with green spaces. When the wall was up, the free part of the city was surrounded by the East. It was difficult for West Berliners to leave. They could have, but not so easily, so they created parks and gardens everywhere. There are many lakes, some especially for nudists, and places to go kayaking and canoeing. The city is filled with cafes, and in the warm weather, they’re overflowing. Since it's not always pleasant to sit outdoors, people grab every opportunity.
Memorials to the German's Enemies
It is rare for a country to honor those whom they have conquered or defeated or murdered. In Germany, there are numerous memorials to the murdered. There are special memorials to the murdered 6 millions Jews, the gypsies and the homosexuals. Besides these, there are many extraordinary markers. On the K'damm, the most important shopping street, in front of Kee DeeWee, Europe's largest department store, there is a large sign noting all the death camps and how far they are from Berlin. You can't miss it unless you keep your eyes down.
In the exact spot of the book burning in 1933, where they estimated 20,000 books (mostly Jewish writers but also Communists and Socialists) were burned, there’s an underground memorial. It’s level with the ground and covered with glass. When you peer into it, all you see are empty bookcases capable of holding 20,000 books. There is a sign above with a quote from the German-Jewish nineteenth century poet, Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.”
In another area of Berlin, large signs on the street quote all the laws instituted against the Jews starting around 1936; Jews can't own dogs, Jews can't marry non-Jews, Jews can’t own property, Jews can’t attend Aryan schools, two Jews lived here and were carted away. Each law is on a separate sign, and the signs go on and on. If it weren't so grotesque, it would be Monty Pythonesque. Outside my door are two brass plaques embedded in the sidewalk commemorating two Jews who lived here and were carted away to their deaths.
Another site is in Gruenwald, one of the wealthier areas of Berlin and one of the few not to have been destroyed. At that railroad station, many of Berlin's Jews were taken to their final destination. It's impossible for people living there to say they didn't know what was happening because the Jews were brought by truck to the station which is in a very visible location. At the beginning, the Jews looked healthy and prosperous. Many were burgermeisters. By the end of the war, when they were still coming by the truckload. they looked gaunt and impoverished. This station at Gruenwald is still in active use, but the rail tracks from where the Jews were shipped are no longer in use. Instead, engraved into the tracks are the dates and number of Jews who were transported regularly. There is usually no one there; only a grave silence. There are many stones placed there which is the way that Jews often recognize and honor a dead person. I always leave a stone. It’s a place to contemplate and remember. I once read a letter taped to the tracks from the grandson of a victim, which read: "Dear Grandfather, although I never knew you, I want you to know that I've heard about you. Your memory lives on." For me, these memorials make a stronger impact than a museum or a monument.
In another area of Berlin, near Mexicoplatz and Spanish Allee, there is a sign in a grassy area commemorating Guernica. Angela Merkel visited Buchenwald with Obama and while laying a white rose on a monument, said she honored the 6,000,000. The Germans have been the most faithful friends of Israel in Europe. I think even the young, who had nothing to do with this horror, are still feeling some guilt.
This week, my friend Princess Constanza zu Lowenstein, will be giving a talk to the students on the role her father, dubbed by his enemies as "The Red Prince," played as a resistance fighter. He was a journalist who by 1930 had predicted the rise of the Nazis and was actively engaged in fighting Hitler. By 1933, he was so well known that when the Nazis came to power, he was called to the Gestapo. He left with a packed suitcase not knowing if he would return. Fortunately a Nazi who knew him warned him that a cold wind was blowing, and it would be good if he left Berlin. He took the hint, and he and his young wife fled the next day. Most of their remaining friends were arrested or went into hiding. After wandering through Europe, without money, like most refugees, they finally arrived in the U.S. where he set up an organization to help artists, Jews and others who had fled. His organization was headed by Einstein and Freud, and they collected money and found places for the displaced. Unlike most immigrants, this young family---there were three girls, two of whom were born in the U.S.---returned to Germany in 1946 because the parents wanted to help with the reconstruction. Constanza suffered the same hardships as others in post-war Germany. Her stories are fascinating---it's an opportunity for the students to make contact with a "Good German" from WW2.
The next week, I'm taking the students to Saxon Hausen, the concentration camp located close to Berlin. It was a death camp, mainly killing homosexuals after using them to work in nearby munitions factories. Jews were also kept there, but were later shipped to Auschwitz to be exterminated.
Trip to the Deutsche Philharmonica
I hope this blog entry doesn't sound too somber. Last night, I had the magical experience of going to the Deutsche Philharmonica, which is one of the world's greatest orchestras. We saw Pierre Boulez conduct; he even played some of his own music. It's hard to believe that he's 84; he’s very alert, erect and conducted flawlessly. The orchestra was wonderful; you could hear every note clearly and they played together in harmony. The acoustics were excellent from every seat. These concerts are always sold out and the audience was very appreciative. They gave the orchestra many ovations. Some people even stood which isn't the German way. They usually just clap hard and sometimes stamp their feet.
By Professor Barbara Swartz, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in Germany
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
View from the Oberoi Clarke's Hotel
The Oberoi Clarke's Hotel
A Tibetan porter
By Professor Doug Colbert, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India 2009
Photos by Cat Allard
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Students and faculty from Touro Law Center's India Summer Abroad Program attended a festival at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Shimla on Tuesday, June 2. Click here to view the remarkable videos taken by Professor Marjorie Silver.