Category Archives: East Asia

Rivalry and Unity, The KoYon Games

The first week of school at Korea University had just finished and all of the international students seemed to have survived the class registration chaos and started settling in. A message is posted in the Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) Facebook group by one of the leaders, Jihyun. “Our first official event as KUBA will be an amazing cheering orientation on Friday!” she wrote. “Through this cheering orientation the Young Tigers (official cheer team) will teach us the cheers, songs and dances for the KoYon games!” At first glance many were quite confused as we were thrown off by the word “cheering.” Why would anyone need to teach us how to cheer or root for our team? We had no idea for what was in store, as it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. At 5 pm, half of the KUBA groups met in a small auditorium while the other half met at 7 pm. Everything seemed normal as we took our seats and listened to the start of the presentation. Minutes later we found ourselves up and about dancing, singing, and sweating with the cheering. The schools have around 20 or more songs which were a range from traditional, nationalistic, patriotic, or simply poking fun at our rival university, Yonsei University. Around two hours later we finished the cheering orientation. Everyone was dripping with sweat and exhausted from what seemed to be the hardest workout any of us had ever done. No one seemed to mind though as there were huge smiles all around and many still humming or singing the cheering songs long after it was over.

 

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Cheering orientation, the start of the madness.

 

Now the reason for all of this cheering was to prepare us for the Korea-Yonsei Games (KoYon Jeon). The KoYon games are a friendly rivalry sports competition between two of South Korea’s most prestigious universities- Korea University (KU) and Yonsei University- held annually in the fall. The games take place over two days and the schools compete in 5 sports: baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. Thousands of students fill the stadiums from both universities and cheer for around 6-8 hours at the games.

Two weeks fly by and the KoYon games were upon us. Friday is the first day of the games with baseball, basketball, and ice hockey on deck. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend basketball and ice hockey as tickets were given out based on a raffle. I decided to attend day 2 (Saturday) as no tickets were required. Each of the 8 KUBA groups met at the subway station near campus at different times between 7-8am. Once we arrived, we finally found the entrance we needed to enter through and waited for around two more hours. After the long wait, they finally let us in and handed each person a booklet with cheer song lyrics, a bottle of water, and a bread-like pastry. As we were entering we could already hear the Korean students who entered the stadium before us and then bam, fireworks shot off behind the stadium and the students erupted in cheer. Coming up the stairs was quite a sight to see. The entire stadium was packed with students split into two with KU crimson red on one side and Yonsei royal blue on the other. KU began cheering songs with the cheering team leading the way on a stage at field level while Yonsei does the same on the other half of the stadium with theirs. We quickly found a spot in the standing areas behind the seated sections. This worked out better as we had plenty of room to cheer and no one who had seats used them through the entirety of the rugby and soccer matches which went from 10am to 4pm.

 

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Stadium divided by crimson red and royal blue students.

 

It was quite surprising really, the cheering songs never stopped. It was one song after another. With our arms on each other’s shoulders we swayed to some songs, jumped or dipped our heads up and down to other songs, and screamed out what little lyrics we actually remembered. It sure was something seeing students from different parts of the world all joined together in this stadium like two huge families. All laughing, singing, dancing without a care in the world. Most of the games throughout the weekend were extremely close considering Korea University has won the KoYon games for the past 4 years. KU won baseball while ice hockey and basketball ended in a draw. With those scores we would only need to win one in order to win the overall KoYon games score. The rugby game as with the other sports was very close however KU ended up losing by 2 points. Now the stage was set, only soccer left and the winner would be crowned KoYon games victor. Talk about intense! The soccer game started. The cheering continued. This time however, everyone was paying close attention to the soccer game while cheering. Yonsei scored first and we could hear them singing their cheers over ours. Things looked grim for KU as the first half ended 1-0 in favor of Yonsei. The 2nd half started and KU students got really into the game along with cheering. Every scoring opportunity was “ooh” and “aah” all around us. Finally it happened, KU scored a goal and we were back to even. The entire crimson red erupted and burst into the victory song that is played whenever KU scores in a sport. Another goal by KU and now the students can taste victory. Just 15 more minutes to hang on. This was perhaps the longest 15 minutes ever. Yonsei kicked it into overdrive and had scoring chances one after another. The time ticked down slowly and it looked as if Yonsei was about to break through until a misstep and KU took advantage with goal number 3. KU was victorious!

 

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Students celebrate on the field after the games are over.

 

The two days of sports games and cheering was over now but the KoYon weekend was not. It is tradition that after the KoYon games, all students from both universities will go to one of the home towns and have a celebration full of food, events, live music, and many other activities. The group leads instructed us that we would take the subway back to Anam (the town where KU is located) and the after party would commence fairly soon. It took about 3 subway trains to get everyone back to Anam but we managed to do so quite quickly despite that many students. I’ll never forget the moment when we arrived back at Anam station. I exited the train and looked up to see the entire platform and stairs leading out of the subway was a sea of students in their crimson red or royal blue shirts. It was a really magical moment to see the rival universities all next to each other sharing in the same excitement for the upcoming night full of fun and memories together. Once out of the subway we saw that one of the main streets with many shops and restaurants is closed off to the public. There was one stage at the start of the street and another stage at the far end about 10 blocks down. Once everyone made their way to the street, there had to have been maybe 10,000 or more students packed in the streets. At times it was difficult to get by because there was so many people. During the beginning of the after party all the students play the “train game,” which is when 10 students form a line, or train, and you go to different restaurants doing chants or songs to try and get free food. It was such a fun and unique experience to participate in the train game. Our train lead was a KUBA leader and shouted out a chant in Korean which we echoed. After a few stops with the train we all split off to do different things.

 

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Fun after celebration in Anam with KU and Yonsei students.

 

A friend and I made our way to the far end of the street to the second stage where they started doing short, fun dance competitions with randomly selected students in the crowd. These were fun to watch as there were some really good dancers and some just up there having fun. This however turned into playing cheering songs from both universities. This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of being a student at Korea University so far. To our surprise many students knew the cheering songs for both schools. We jumped into one of the cheering circles and it was such a great moment. I looked around the circle and saw students who didn’t know one another, students from rival universities, students with a language barrier, and students of varying ages, race and gender. None of that mattered as everyone was joined up arm in arm singing the songs, dancing around and having an absolute blast. We ended up loving the cheering so much that we participated in it for about the last 3 hours of the night. Needless to say, it was extremely tiring and I don’t think I’ve put my body through that kind of workout ever. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the stages packed up and restaurants closed. We said goodbye to our new friends from both KU and Yonsei and made our way back to the dorms. At my home university, I don’t live on campus so I am usually only there when I have classes. Because of this and working at the same time, I’ve had a hard time becoming really involved or having a lot of school spirit. That all changed after the KoYon games. I feel a sense of belonging and this is my new home. I’m a Korea University Tiger forever. I’ve done many exciting things in my life and ventured to many places around the world however the KoYon games and after celebration might just top them all.

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Tempus Fugit

Life is like a roller-coaster; the following is a peak-and-trough analysis of the past two weeks. My least favorite moment in Shanghai came when I said goodbye to some good friends I had made throughout the last two months. I am relocating to a second internship in Beijing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sure enough, the next high would present itself with the long awaited arrival of my hén hǎo de péngyou, Terry. When I met Terry in Calculus class, I never would have expected that three years later I would be waiting for him at the airport in his native country.

 

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My best friend Terry.

 

In my previous posts, I talked about the meaning of food and how excited I was to try authentic Chinese cuisine. I did not fully comprehend how dangerous it would be to order my own meals. Most of the time it was hit or miss but more often than not I would regret it later when nature called. Eventually, I learned my lesson and started cooking my own meals, always alternating between McDonald’s and KFC for lunch, much to Terry’s dismay. Over a span of four days, Terry restored my faith in Chinese food as I tasted Shanghai with virgin lips.

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Chongqing where we would meet Terry’s family. Terry’s father and mother were very welcoming and showed incredible hospitality. They arranged superb accommodations and placed reservations at the finest restaurants in Chongqing. China’s economy has seen tremendous growth over the last few decades and as a self-made business man, Terry’s father offered me practical life advice. He asked me to call him shūshu (uncle) and showed me a glimpse of the luxurious life of the Chinese elite.

 

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Chongqing hotpot.

 

We toured the city, enjoyed bubble tea drinks at an exotic zoo-themed café and went to the most famous hot pot restaurant in the city. Chongqing is near Sichuan and boasts the spiciest food in the country. Naturally, they thought I couldn’t keep up. Dish after dish came and I proved I had a stomach of steel. At the culmination of the meal, Shūshu’s friend, who is the president of a university, presented a nice gift that featured original postage stamps from all over China.

Later we went to a famous night club and watched a performance from the number one DJ in China. This was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Chinese people are not known for being liberal dancers and I saw this an opportunity to share my culture. I jumped on the empty stage when the DJ started playing hip-hop music and soon I was lost in my own world. I opened my eyes only to be blinded by the spotlight. As I looked across the sea of people, I realized they were all frozen; a thousand eyes fixated on the Egyptian-American dancing wildly before them. At first, I was intimidated, but then I encouraged the spectators to come on stage and dance with me. One by one they came until the stage was filled with Chinese people dancing around Terry and myself.

The next morning, I felt excruciating pain as my stomach fought the side effects of the hot pot. I mustered up the last of my strength to attend the home cooked meal that Shūshu had prepared. Although I could not eat much, the food looked and smelled delicious. Afterward, we enjoyed a scenic view from his company office overlooking the famous Yangtze River. The following morning, they arranged a “goodbye” dinner with an assortment of Shūshu’s acquaintances. I did not know it at the time but I was sitting next to one of the most powerful men in China. We laughed and shared stories using Terry as a translator to overcome the language barrier. At the end of the meal, they poured their drinks into their baijiu wells, which is the highest honor you can give someone.

I was sad to leave but at the same time, I was ecstatic to see my sister, Mel. I arrived in Beijing on my birthday and had dinner with Mel. Afterward, we met Val, my Russian friend, for a night on the town and celebrated my birthday in style. We made many new friends. My new co-workers here in Beijing are very kind and have gone to great lengths to welcome me to their city. I am excited to experience the rich history that Beijing has to offer. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, and the terracotta warriors in Xian—I want to see it all. With just under twenty days left in China, I cannot wait for the new adventures that await!

 

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Reunion with my sister.

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Gilman Scholar Jeff Prasad Shares His First Impressions of South Korea

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

A Metamorphosis Abroad

I have never been able to relate to a lot of the people I met growing up unless they came from a similar background as I do. If they did not, a bridge was immediately formed where we stood on opposite ends, speaking still, yet never truly hearing or understanding one another. This was especially true for Asian people (I know how bad that sounds but let me finish). Growing up, I definitely let the media, stereotypes, and Hollywood brainwash my ideas surrounding Chinese people. I always assumed they were very well-off, and super good at math. The fact that the Asians at my schools fit these stereotypes only pushed my prejudices deeper into my conscious. Before studying abroad, I had only met three Asians who did not fit these stereotypes, but still zero I could relate to. Yet still, I have been fascinated with Asia since I was a child, and made it my mission to eventually travel here. This by far one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.

My first day in Hong Kong was a very humbling experience. It was the first time in my life I saw Chinese people doing regular jobs, like supermarket cashiers, fast food, and plenty of other jobs. I thought wow, these people are just like every other race: diverse. Diverse in every sense of the word, from their fashion, views, and physique. It washed away my idea that Chinese people were people I just couldn’t relate to because we are just so different, but that is so far from the truth. This is the part where I introduce my brilliant co-worker and friend Ariel.

 

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This is Ariel, my brilliant Hong Kong sister whom I will miss dearly.

 

Ariel is like my tiny little sister, even though shes only one year younger me. She is an incredibly hard worker and has taught me so much about Hong Kong culture. We have similar views on most things we discuss, like the governing and policing parties, how life should be more than just working so much, and plenty of other stuff. She is the reason I work overtime practically everyday, her presence is dope. She’s passionate about her people and their freedom, she goes to protests just like us Berkeley folk are known for doing.

Through friendships like Ariel’s and my coursework through the University of Hong Kong, I have learned a lot about myself. I thought I was capable of adapting to any environment, but I discovered my kryptonite: censorship. During my travel to and from Tokyo, I have stopped in Shanghai a couple times. Since Shanghai is a part of mainland China, censorship is very real there. I was blocked from using all my apps, and even e-mail. I firmly believe that no one or governing force should have the power to control the information people can receive. It creates a bubble for that group of people, they become lost in the dark. Knowledge is power, and when access to resources that can provide that knowledge is prohibited, people gain very little power.

Experiencing this censorship was a miserable experience, until I decided to make the most of it. I exchanged my HKDs (Hong Kong’s currency) for RMB (China’s currency) and wandered around Shanghai. I discovered street vendors who were cooking some food that smelled amazing. I was about 3 dollars short, so I gave them the rest of my Hong Kong coins, and they accepted them with intrigue. When I was leaving, one of them asked for a picture with me, and of course I said yes because she had been so kind.

 

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My delicious meal in Shanghai.

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The kind street vendor who asked for a picture with me.

 

One of my reasons for interning in Hong Kong was because I imagined the work culture here being extremely intense (it is). So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to force myself to improve as a professional. I can say mission accomplished. Through my internship with the social enterprise Mircoforests, I have written website content, drafted a grant proposal, designed workshop newsletters, and produced press releases. I have gotten used to working 8 hours a day plus the usual hour or hour and a half overtime (keep in mind my internship is unpaid). I can focus on tasks better, I have learned how to write grants, press releases, and effective newsletters. I know the inner-workings of social enterprises which are similar to non-profits,  and I plan on starting my own non-profit or social enterprise once I have the means to do so.

I came here under the impression I was open-minded, then discovered I could be very narrow-minded at times. It feels like someone has pried my mind wide open with a crow bar, showing me a beautiful aspect of diversity and human connection. This experience has prompted a conscious metamorphosis.

 

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong

Farewell Reflection

It’s been almost a week since I’ve been back in the United States, and while I’ve been nothing short of busy from moving to a new apartment, looking for a new job, and getting ready to go back to school, I find that the time I’ve had to reflect on my experience in Japan and my readjust to life in Miami is quite plenty.

When I came back from my first year abroad in Thailand I remember feeling like people were so standoff-ish in America. Now coming back from Japan I feel quite the opposite. It’s kind of strange to have people being so open with each other compared to the quiet and reserved nature of Japanese people. While there are many things that I’m having to get used to again, there are also some things that seemed to come back naturally to me. Like hanging out with family and old friends, which has grounded me in a way that makes transitioning back to American culture much easier. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve been able to eat all the foods I’ve been missing while meeting up with these people. But already I find some aspects of life in Japan that I miss.

 

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From my last trip within Japan to Nasu.

 

Funny enough, I’m already missing the transportation system that Tokyo offers. I miss the freedom that it gives, especially considering I don’t have a car here. I miss the feeling of calm that Japan has. Stemming from the fact that Japanese culture is so centralized around not being an inconvenience to anyone, traveling around the city and just going out in general has a much more calm atmosphere than what I’ve been experiencing so far while back and it’s been admittedly kind of hard to get used to. I also miss the dynamic that I had with my friend group in Japan, specifically knowing that the likelihood that we’ll all be able to hang out the same way that we used to is impossible, at least for a very long time from now.

 

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Another photo from Nasu.

 

My overall takeaway from coming back has been one of general acceptance. While life in Japan and Miami is so completely different, I’m glad to be able to say that living in Japan and learning about the people and culture and language has made me grow and given me a better perspective of the world. I’m feeling positive about the reintegration process so far, and am glad to have such supportive friends and family to help me through it.

 

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This photo is from my hotel room in Narita.

 

Traveling for long periods of time is, I know, intimidating. But when it comes down to it the personal rewards and experiences that you gain from studying abroad are so much more beautiful and amazing than any of the difficulties or challenges it brings. Which is exactly why I know that traveling and studying abroad will never not be an important thing to me, and that it will continue helping me to grow and change for the better.

 

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And this is a photo from my balcony at my new apartment in Miami.

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Filed under East Asia, Stephanie in Japan

Understanding

Prior to studying abroad, I considered myself extremely open minded and understanding. I contribute these characteristics to my creative nature and unique background and interactions with various kinds of individuals from loving, kind and intelligent souls to racist, ignorant, and arrogant ones. However, what I am learning about myself in my time in Hong Kong is that I am not as understanding as I have perceived myself to be. Understanding Hong Kong culture, especially its work culture, has been a ball of confusion, sometimes met with frustration. I cannot understand the idea of dedicating so much of yourself and your time to an occupation, especially if the occupation is not a fulfilling one. I do not understand how when rules are set here, there seems to be no wiggle room whatsoever. Laws and rules are followed as they should be, but when these rules prevent productivity and lack compassion, it seems that logic and rationality become useless within the machine of society.

I understand that I must learn to live by the rules because at the end of the day, I am still a guest in this country and have no right to try changing ideas that have been cemented into their society ages ago. Becoming aware of my lack of understanding is just another example of how I am growing so much here, in the beautiful, yet sometimes confusing place that is Hong Kong.

 

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This is my amazing boss Rainbow Chow, who is one of the people who has challenged my understanding and helped me grow. She is a true inspiration and has taught me so much. Never have I been inspired by an individual so much.

 

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong

My New Host Country Crew

I remember boarding the plane to China, being really excited for the next twelve hours and feeling overwhelmingly nervous the final hour before landing. I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried about not speaking the language and not knowing anyone in my study abroad cohort of students. The first week was hard because I was missing home, friends, and most importantly my family.

The following week was a lot easier, I got to know my roommate, Juan, who hails from Argentina. We discovered that we have similar viewpoints, took turns cooking, and when we had overlapping free time, we would explore Shanghai together. Then Juan relocated and once again I was alone. When one door closes another door opens and sure enough that’s when I met Manav who has been my closest friend throughout this experience. I can honestly say my time abroad would not have been as eventful as it has been had we not become friends. Manav introduced me to Jagger who introduced me to his roommate Alec, and later we welcomed a new addition to the group, Luke.

The five of us have shared some great times together and I’m thankful for each one of these guys. During the week after we get off work, we all meet at my apartment and share a meal. Manav is Indian and the rest of the guys are American. I also have a lot of Chinese friends from my university back in the United States, but they are all scattered across China, which is a little bit smaller than the U.S. but with triple the population. My friend Peter drove three hours to come visit me and brought a lot of house warming gifts which meant a lot.

 

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A trip to the market.

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Our ingredients from the market for our home-cooked meal.

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Dinner with friends.

 

Last week my Chinese best friend Terry introduced me to his high school friends who took me out last weekend and showed me a great time. Frank came to my apartment then we met up with his friends; Ken and Gimy at a restaurant. We went to a very nice hot pot and they showed me their favorite hot spots. I am very grateful for Frank and his friends because they showed me that friendship transcends culture and language barriers (although they spoke very good English).

 

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Hot pot with Peter.

Shopping for jerseys

Shopping for jerseys.

 

My friend Terry will visit again at the end of July, and then we will go to Chongqing which is very close to Sichuan and is famous for its spicy cuisine. I am very excited to see my friend as well as reunite with Frank, Ken, and Gimy. Afterwards, my Russian friend Val will visit China and we will meet in Beijing where my sister Manal is currently residing. After Beijing, we will visit Shanghai and explore the city with my new host country crew. Although I have a month left in China, I know I will miss this experience and the people I have met dearly. Everything from my job, my coworkers, my boss, and my new friends have exceeded my expectations. I am very thankful for this opportunity and the chance to document my experience through the Gilman Scholarship.

 

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Work selfie.

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China