The year of Vietnam continues at Chatham with students from our MFA in Creative Writing program visiting Vietnam. You can view photos from their trip on their Facebook page.
The year of Vietnam continues at Chatham with students from our MFA in Creative Writing program visiting Vietnam. You can view photos from their trip on their Facebook page.
Over the course of the past week, I have seen the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace, visited five cities in China, and attended events at thirteen schools — The thirteenth being Huaqiao University in Xiamen, which is where I’m writing this. I spent the bulk of last week with eighteen other university colleagues on a tour run by CIS (Council of International Schools). In addition to secondary schools in Beijing, we also attended fairs and information sessions at schools in Nanjing, Tianjin, and Shenyang. This was a wonderful opportunity to introduce Chatham to prospective Chinese students as well as the counselors at the various high schools. The schools we visited were either international schools or Chinese national schools with international sections — that is, groups of students studying international curricula (IB, A-levels, or AP) with the intent of studying abroad. Most of the students with whom I spoke were extremely receptive to the idea of a women’s college and thought the concept was “really cool”. They were extremely polite and pleasant and appeared to have a clear idea of what they wanted to study. They also seemed excited about the prospect of being part of our small, friendly community. ”Selling” a school like Chatham is easy, because I really believe in the quality experience we give students, and I truly hope that this comes across when I speak to prospective students.
Most Chinese high schools do not have any type of college counseling, but this is slowly changing as more and more students study abroad. Not only are schools creating college counseling centers, but the counselors themselves are working hard to help students think about finding a college or university that is a good fit — not just choosing one based on ranking. My colleagues and I traveled in buses, planes, and trains; ate everything from Subway sandwiches to Peking duck; developed a better understanding of the hopes and desires of Chinese students and their parents; and gained a deep respect for the teachers and counselors who are working so hard to prepare their students for the outside world.
Today, Huaqiao University is hosting me, and I am visiting with faculty and students from the School of Philosophy and Sociology. Dr. Yang, the Dean of the School, has visited Chatham twice this year to discuss the possibility of a partnership between our two institutions. One of the things I love about traveling is that one can always expect the unexpected! I had lunch with five of the faculty members from the department — one of whom is a guest professor from Germany. Once again, I was thankful for my liberal arts education. I am certainly no expert in either philosophy or sociology, but I was able to follow the discussion (which, by the way, took place in English, German, and Chinese) and at least contribute in some small way to the conversation — not to mention, practice my German. When I woke up this morning, I certainly did not foresee spending lunch discussing the differences in how Karl Marx and Georg Simmel view the individual’s relationship to society! China seems an incredibly interesting place for a sociologist to be based, and these scholars impressed me with their passion and depth of knowledge. The students here are in good hands, and the thought of some of them attending Chatham for a year is rather exciting!
Before I left for my recruitment trip on the 28th, I very boldly announced that I would be happy to blog while I was away. Hmm… I arrived in Malaysia early the morning of the 30th, and here I am a week later. Since then, I’ve attended the EducationUSA Triennial Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then flew to Hanoi where I’ve been busy visiting secondary schools, meeting with potential partners, and talking to people at the U.S. Embassy. One of the things I love about international travel is that I actually manage a level of mindfulness — i.e., living in the moment — which I have a difficult time achieving in my daily life. Mindfulness may be good for the spirit, but it makes for a lousy correspondent.
Looking back over the past week, it is difficult to identify the highlights. There have been many — all Chatham-related since there has been little opportunity for sightseeing. I’ve encountered nothing but lovely, friendly people along the way, but perhaps the friendliest faces were those of two alumnae I had the privilege of seeing in Kuala Lumpur. One of the meetings was planned; the other was an unexpected surprise. I was standing at my table during a mini education fair when Ninda Daianti enthusiastically announced her presence. She is an EducationUSA advisor in Indonesia, who also happened to do her MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham. She absolutely loved her experience in Pittsburgh and confessed that although she is supposed to advise students about a variety of higher education options in the U.S., she is decidedly biased toward Chatham. Her experience was so positive that she is now doing wonderful things back home as she guides young Indonesians toward the United States. Check out the @America Center where her office is housed: http://www.atamerica.or.id/. It is great to know we have such an enthusiastic partner in Jakarta!
I also enjoyed getting to know Sharon Wong ’06 as we feasted on specialties from Penang at a local restaurant. I tracked her down with the help of our Office of Alumni Relations and was extremely impressed with the confident, determined young woman I met. She earned her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Chatham and is now managing a Borders Bookstore in Kuala Lumpur. Her insights regarding politics, education, and social justice issues in her country — and the United States — were well-informed and humorously delivered. It was exciting to hear her story and how studying in the US and at Chatham, in particular, truly did change her life for the better. She was especially enthusiastic when she recalled the professors she had had and their willingness (without exception!) to talk to her and answer her questions. Being the recruiter that I am, I sent her away with an armful of brochures and USB drives and the request to spread the good word.
As a relatively new member of the Chatham community, it is helpful for me to have contact with former students and hear first-hand what they value about their time on our campus. It somehow makes jet lag, living out of a suitcase, and being away from home much more tolerable. Tomorrow it’s off to Beijing…
There are so many stories that remain untold, and observations we will now not find the time to share.
We have not yet told about all the brides and grooms to be found in Hanoi on one of our first days–in full wedding regalia (rental) having their photos taken on a day before the wedding determined to be auspicious. We counted at least seven around the fountain near the Metropole our first Saturday for example. I’ve included some images, and thank you for letting us share our trip and photos.
I cannot let this end, however, without telling the story of our dinner with Bunny (Oranuj) Osatananda, her husband Viet and son Vin at their hotel in Bangkok, the Viengtai. Bunny graduated from Chatham in 1960 with a degree in economics and has had a life of great accomplishment that we celebrated with a Cornerstone award at her reunion in 2010. She was the daughter of Thailand’s first woman lawyer, and followed her mother in being a high government official and a business woman. Bunny’s accomplishments range from being Deputy Commerce Minister to serving on the Commission on Women to an advisor to the Prime Minister and so much more. We declared her the president of the Thai Alumni Association, hoping that maybe this small membership of one would grow larger through her charm and example! We were all overwhelmed with the kindness of our reception, given that she had met only two of us before. Bunny and her family reminded us all of the meaning of hospitality and generosity–and the Chatham connection.
Our trip reached its official end in Bangkok, as I headed out to meet my son Matthew briefly in Fouzhou, China to check out what he is up to as a young golf pro there. From there, I fly home via Hong Kong (an absolutely amazing city). I write this on my way home, still remembering all the special qualities of the group and its members that were as important as the spectacular world sites we visited in helping make this a memorable trip. We were a wonderfully diverse group, with recent alumni, trustees, two sets of parent/child pairs, along with new friends, friends and spouses of Chatham people.
There were qualities of individuals to be remembered and appreciated such as Amy’s capacious store of knowledge of local specialties, Shelly’s love of children, Lynette’s liveliness and laughter. Genara, Elvia, Bill, Marty, Sigo, Jean, Kathryn, Paula, Linda, Katana, Gloria, Jim, Sid, Micki, and Vicki–were also delightful partners in this adventure. And we must not forget Joe, a great member of the group, a fellow seeker though his poetry and photography, as well as a guide. We were a good band of travelers, and I thank you each for helping make Chatham’s commitment to experiencing and valuing the world that much more real and enduring.
I am excited that two groups of MFA writing students will be going to Vietnam in May. I look forward to their perspectives on Vietnam, as well as the tales sent back home from everyone on Chatham Travels!
Until next time~
I’m sitting at my desk at home still amazed that I traveled to 3 countries in twelve days! Vietnam-North and South; Cambodia-Seim Reap/Angkor Wat and Bangkok, Thailand. Our final travel to Bangkok threw us into to the middle of the day-to-day life of over 10M people! Many cars, tourist buses, taxis and motorbikes traveling on the left side of the road! After checking into our hotel and having some lunch, we were off on our adventure. Traveling first by motorbus, we eventually boarded a boat to see the people who live along the Chao Phraya River. Highlight: stopping to feed the catfish! They were everywhere! We also visited many Buddhist temples while there. On the second day we were guests of Oranuj Boonyaprasap Osatananda (aka “Bunny”), Class of 1960. Her family owns two hotels in Bangkok. After a lovely feast of Thai and American Food while being serenaded by a local vocalist, the mike was opened to our group, “karaoke-style”. Several of us ventured on the stage and sang classics like “Mamma Mia” and “New York New York”. The finale song “I Will Survive” belted out by Genara Andrade ’97 was a real hit for our hosts. If she chooses to quit her “day job”, there is definitely an opening at Bunny’s hotel (kind of a long commute, though). Bunny gave us parting gifts and President Barazzone gave Bunny memorabilia from her alma mater. While dressed in a Chatham College T-shirt, Bunny related her story as to how she came to Chatham. Let me tell you folks, learning history, interacting with wonderful travel mates AND being wined and dined Thai-style as a finale, it just doesn’t get any better than that! Thanks to President Barazzone and to Chatham for making this trip a reality.
The last several days have been a whirlwind, and I begin this from the plane to Bangkok for the last country/leg of this trip. As Gloria wrote, we went to Angkor, which I was eager to visit again despite the arduousness of the visit and the fact that I had been there only a few years ago. Seeing it at sunrise is the right time, even when the sun does not put on a show as it comes up. The experience of the five towers materializing out of the darkness is suitable to set the mood for this site of the illustration of a great creation myth. The frieze called the churning of the sea of milk (I believe that is the correct name) and its depiction of the creation of the immortality for the gods and its conditions for humans, is extraordinary in its concept and detail. One climbs steep stairs representing the 37 levels of heaven (and parallel ones for hell) shown in the frieze to get a vista of the temple city and the hovering jungle which as we would see at another temple, gets in and takes over with powerful twisting roots whenever possible. Angkor is fascinating also for its religious syncretism, having been created as a Hindu site, and then taken over by the Buddhists, who without destroying Hindu images added Buddhist ones. This is a phenomenon we would see even in a very contemporary buddhist temple in a small village later.
My favorite site outside of Angkor is the next one we visited–one that has friezes of massive faces reminiscent of the giant heads of the Olmecs in Central America on all sides of a column. Their haunting smiles suggest they see the world as a Bosch painting from their elevated levels, but with more kindness than condemnation.
The 28th (Tuesday) was a gritty day, though certainly even more so for the people whose lives we managed to come just a little closer to. In transit we visited an alligator farm that we were told was for pocketbooks manufactured in Vietnam. We visited a “floating village”, Kompong Kleang, on the largest freshwater lake in Asia. The stilt village closer in to the roadway was the site of drying fish for all of the baskets upon baskets of such essential foods as you see in any urban market. The smell was extraordinary (“pungent” doesn’t begin to describe it), but we see once again the smiling, waving, and pantless Cambodian children. The adults mostly watch, though not with hostility, as we pass with our massive bus through the streets.
A boat ride out to the floating village showed a patchwork of riverbank, some still thick with mangrove, others now the scene of agriculture. Plants are grown, but fish and wildlife are diminishing in large numbers as the mangroves are cut. There is probably not much to trade-off in the minds of the people who still find enough fish to eat and sell, and now are adding vegetables for their use. Their huts have televisions and dishwashers, powered by automobile batteries, so the advent of “modernity” is a very strange melange.
I am finishing up this old post as we ready to visit our alumna Bunny Ostenanda ’60 in Bangkok tonight for a special dinner. More anon. Hope all are well.
Cambodia is an incredible patchwork of sights, sounds and experiences and a culture of seemingly kind, gentle, happy people. From experiencing sunrise at the mysterious ancient temple of Angkor Wat (one of the world’s wonders); to learning how sticky rice is cooked in bamboo by poor villagers and sold to roadside travelers; to riding a boat among floating fishing villages; to singing with young schoolchildren happy to learn in sparse classrooms; and to being blessed (again) by young Buddhist monks in one of the country’s thousands of temples; experiencing Cambodia has been a lesson in religion, sociology, history and art. This is a country that has picked itself up and recovered well from its 70 years of civil war—I only wish I could upload pictures , but problems remain! Hopefully in Bangkok, our next and last stop!
Our trip thus far has been a Southeast Asia ‘tasting menu,’ literally and figuratively, in that we have seen and done so many interesting things in our seven days. Perhaps the most compelling for me, though, was our visit to the Cu Chi tunnels in a rural area an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi was the underground tunnel system used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. (The Viet Cong were largely South Vietnamese farmers who sympathized and fought for the communist North). I was 7-17 years of age during the 10+ year US involvement, and so I know less about the height of the war and more about its ending. There are reminders of the war if you look for them, but our guide Tran told us that Vietnam is a country looking forward. The Cu Chi area, though, is now a place where busloads of international tourists learn about how the Viet Cong lived and cleverly fought against Americans, including demonstrations of a wide array of booby traps, and a chance to ‘crawl’ through a section of tunnel, which has been enlarged for visitors. As our group toured the area, many of us were left with a sense of uneasiness about the place–experiencing mostly patriotism and sadness for the American GIs who had served and died there.
What a day! I awoke at 0400 and after a light breakfast traveled with the group to Angkor Wat! Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Angkor, Cambodia which was built (using 385,000 personnel I was told) by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. It was his state temple and capital city. Having gone through a restoration by the French, it is the best preserved temple in the region. Using a flashlight to assist me in trekking a short distance to get to the viewing spot, I sat with the others in the dark awaiting sunrise. As the time grew near, you could hear roosters crowing in the distance. Unfortunately, due to a cloud cover, a “spectacular” sunrise did not occur, but “hey”, I was at Angkor Wat AT sunrise, a cause for celebration! Our guide bombarded us with a lot of information about this temple, but seeing it was education in itself. This temple remains the only significant religious center since its construction, first by the Hindu who dedicated it to the god Vishnu and then by the Buddhist. We were able to climb many, many, many, many steps to the top of the temple and view the massiveness of the area from a very high elevation. Our guide informed us of the “dress code” for entering the temple (pants/dresses/skirts below the knee; shoulders covered; no headwear), but others did not and a few tourists(women) were turned away because not only are “hot pants/daisy dukes” no longer fashionable (I think), they are certainly not appropriate wear for a place of reverence. After a group photo on the site, we returned to the hotel for breakfast. At about 1pm, we traveled by tuk tuk (a two-passenger carriage pulled by a motorbike front end) to lunch at a local restaurant. We then traveled by tuk tuk to Angkor Thom and Bayon, new capital and state temple of Jayavarman VII who ruled after King Suryavarman II. We were scheduled to take a hot air balloon ride, but it was canceled because of winds. Upon returning to our lovely hotel, many went straight to the pool to cool off! More temples and a dinner showcasing traditional Cambodian music and dance await us tomorrow. Lynette ’74