Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why I Like Wearing the Veil

Like any mosque, women must veil their head to go inside. At the Hariri Mosque - as the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque is called by most people - I was given a full length robe and veil to wear. And, simply put, I liked it.

In Islam, the veil is called the "hijab." Outside of Iran and Saudi Arabia, women are not required to wear the veil. However, a woman's choice to wear the hijab has become rather controversial in some areas. The most well-known example lately has been France's banning of the veil in public schools.

Many people see a woman wearing the veil and think she must be oppressed, by the men in her life, or her culture, or her religion. While this is the case sometimes, it's also certainly not true for all veiled woman. Many women choose to wear the veil as an independent, personal choice. It might be to honor her religion, to force people in society to interact with her on the basis of her personality and intellect instead of appearance, as an affirmation of her identity, or other reasons.

Why do I like it? It makes me feel comfortable and secure. I am stared at each and every day wherever I go here in China, and often judged (positively, I must admit,) purely on the basis of my skin and hair color. When I wore the veil in the mosques in Lebanon and Syria, limiting the ability of people to judge me based on my appearance was very attractive. It's not that I'm considering wearing it in my daily life, but that I appreciate the experience.

Besides, the concept of covering one's head has appeared in different cultures and religions all over the world:

For more on the veil, read one woman's explanation of her decision to wear the veil here.

Act II: Beirut

"Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. "

-Khalil Gibran

I flew into Beirut on Jan. 23 to visit my friend Tyler who is doing graduate school at the American University of Beirut. Fortuitously, he had break at the same time, but it didn't start until a few days after I arrived. It gave me time to get over the jet lag and explore a bit on my own though. We left for Damascus soon after he finished his exams, but not before seeing some sights around the town.

Beirut is an amazing city. It was engulfed in a civil war as recently as 1990, in addition to the war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, but the city has bounced back to become a bustling, cosmopolitan city and all-together wonderful place to visit. Great restaurants, shopping, and beautiful sights to see. And incredibly fashionable people! I felt like such a bum there. Lebanese people seem to dress up to the nines just to go out for coffee.

Even now, as the city thrives in many ways, one can see bullet holes and shelled out buildings around the city. There are also policy check points on many roads, and occasional tanks maintaining a presence in the city, as a preventative measure. It doesn't faze anyone in Beirut, much like the frequent power outages. Having much more to do with Lebanese politics than a direct result of the civil war, power outages are extremely common. There are rolling blackouts, three hours every day at a shifting time, so most people have generators.

The gorgeous Pigeon Rocks (above) are within walking distance of Tyler's apartment - lucky!

They're even more beautiful at sunset.

The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (pictured below) was built by the late Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik Hariri. Haririr was assassinated in 2005, before the mosque opened. It's a beautiful building, and its striking blue dome was the first thing I saw as we drove through the city center the first time.

For more information on Lebanon's civil war, I recommend Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation. I managed to read a little more than half while I was visiting Tyler, and it was well worth the effort.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


"What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation?"
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

First stop: Daoxian to visit my friend Jason. He's a teacher there, of course Teaching is far and away the main occupation for foreigners living in China, from my experience.

I'd already been to Daoxian for October break. A dumpy small town it may be, but I like it nonetheless. It's friendly, and easy. No extensive bus system to navigate (there were two routes? I think,) no place to spend lots of money (see: Shanghai,) and, in my case, no responsibilities. It was a great place to unwind after the stress of exam week. (Did you know exams are just as much work for teachers as students? Yikes, did I learn that quickly...)

Of course, all this means that one would go stir crazy living there, but for two weeks it was just fine for me. There's a video game arcade, skating rink, and stores with cheap distractions to buy - my darts skills are much improved after nights of practice. We also discovered that a rice cooker is excellent for making mulled wine, the perfect drink on frigid nights with less than optimum heating indoors.

Small town China is very different from living in a "big" city. Dirt roads, people wearing pajamas as daily clothing, no one who speaks English, and lots of families with 2 children. (Since Daoxian's residents are considered rural residents, they're allowed to have a second child if their first child is a girl, and minorities are generally allowed to have unlimited children. I don't know how big the minority population is, but there are definitely some in the area.)

I had lots of time on my hands while Jason taught, so besides working on my Chinese and reading some old New Yorkers my cousin Amanda brought from the States, I practiced taking pictures with my new camera. A few of the results are below:

I don't know what they were playing, but it looked really neat. They ended up with a sort of mosaic on the pavement in the end.

The coal truck.

(Note that one dart is actually stuck in the other. If you play enough, I think it's bound to happen, and we definitely played enough.)

The 705 Reunion Tour

"So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

6 and a half weeks, 8 different beds, and over 1000 pictures later, I have finally returned home! This February 14 was Chinese New Year, and the break between semesters for a Chinese university for the holiday is unimaginably long. It's been forever since I've posted, but I've got lots to share. Right now: what I call my 705 Reunion Tour.

My last semester at UNC, I lived with three of my friends in the loveliest house in Carrboro (705 Davie, hence the title.) It was the loveliest house not only because it had a front porch, a piano, and bookshelves spilling over with books, but because it was occupied by the loveliest people. My friends Jason, Tyler, and Zach lived with me there (plus a constant stream of welcome houseguests,) and life was good. Very good. So much so that I miss living there and my friends.

Therefore, given that I had almost 2 months of break(!), I took the opportunity to see my former housemates, now scattered all over the world. Jason lives in China too - Hunan province, actually. I visited him for October break, and if you look carefully, is in pictures as far back as my time at Xiamen University, where we studied abroad together. Tyler is doing a program in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Beirut (Lebanon,) and Zach is working for a doctor's office in Hawaii.

I know - Hawaii! Sadly, I did not get the chance to visit Hawaii.... yet. The trip worked out like this: I spent two weeks in Daoxian, a small town in Hunan province where Jason was teaching last semester. Then off to Beirut to visit Tyler for almost 3 weeks, and back to China, where Zach flew in to Shanghai to meet Jason and I for a week of shenanigans. (Not really, but Shanghai shenanigans has a nice alliterative quality.)

I have, therefore, a bazillion pictures and stories to share. Watch for frequent blog updates!