¡Adios, México!

Looking back, my trip to Mexico was undoubtedly a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. There were certainly low points (here’s to you, food poisoning) but for the most part, these were matched and surpassed by opportunities to experience a culture that otherwise would have remained largely unknown to me.

Summing up the entirety of three weeks in a foreign country is difficult, so I’ll instead give a rundown of the most impactful moments of the trip and what I’ve taken away from them.

In no particular order, here are the high points of Puebla and what they meant to me:

New Foods and Culinary Classes: I came to Mexico determined to be the most adventurous eater in the group. I didn’t have to like everything that I tried, but I had to try it — how else was I going to experience anything new? I was not going to be the gringo that ordered a cheeseburger at every restaurant we went to. Though this reckless abandon was probably a primary culprit behind a nasty bout of food poisoning, I can honestly say that I’ve tried things I never wold have known about.

Chile en nogada; a fairly indescribable dish featuring a pepper stuffed with everything from smoked meats to pineapple to nuts and covered in goat cheese and pomegranate seeds

We also had the privilege of taking a number of culinary courses through the UPAEP school of Gastronomía. Of all the dishes we made, pan de muertos (a traditional sweetbread made for Day of the Dead celebrations) was probably my favorite.

Pan de muertos

However, I think the neatest thing about my cooking lessons is that I can bring them back to mi familia. My mom and I love to cook together already–what better way to share my trip with her and the rest of my family than by cooking the things we ate in Puebla?

Los Miserables:  In the 8th Grade, I fell in love with Boublil and Schonberg’s “Les Miserables.” I probably saw the 25th Anniversary in Concert edition of the show no fewer than 30 times and I still have the show memorized word-for-word to this day. When I heard that we were going to see “Los Mis” at the theatre in Mexico City, I was thrilled. After all, it’s always easier to pick up on another language when you already have an idea of what’s going on.

Our seats were terrific; I’m four rows back from the stage

Suffice it to say that “Los Miserables” was far and away the most rewarding, engaging application of Spanish that I’ve gotten to experience in my four years of studying the language. I’ve never felt more confident in my listening and comprehension abilities, I picked up all sorts of new words and I was utterly blown away by the talent onstage. This has given me all sorts of new confidence to tackle my last year of my Spanish minor and incorporate the language into my life in new ways (e.g. showtunes).

New Friends: Sure, it’s cliché. That being said, thee weeks in a foreign country would have been almost impossible without finding a great group of like-minded Sooners that I could lean on as a support system. College can be a pretty lonely place even when you’re in the States, so having our little Puebla group in invaluable. We’re still communicating in our groupchat even after the trip finishing and I’m confident that I can count on them to be solid friends when I get back to Norman this fall.

The gang at the ancient city of Teotihuacan

I got to be closer with other members of the marching band, kids on the track team and all sorts of people I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know.

The Pride of Oklahoma takes on Puebla. (Alternate caption: A trombone, a saxophone, a mellophone and a synth player walk in to a foreign country)

Regardless of social circle or extracurriculars, however, we certainly have one thing in common: thanks to the College of International Studies, we shared a fabulous experience together.

Come find any one of us in Norman this fall–we’d love to tell you more about it.


Salsa–Not Just a Sauce

I’m not much of a dancer. Well, I wasn’t much of a dancer before Puebla.

I was fully prepared to get invested in the culinary and cultural aspects of my trip to Mexico, be it in the kitchen, touring markets or interacting with locals; I was not prepared, however, for authentic Mexican dance classes.

Sure enough, after getting our schedules, we saw that we’d be spending Tuesdays and Thursdays after class at the UPAEP School of Bellas Artes to learn a variant of salsa dancing called “cumbia”.

Twice a week, we’d troop down the street, into the the Bellas Artes building and squarely outside my comfort zone.

Cumbia dancers in their traditional regalia

While cumbia originated in Colombia, the genre came to Mexico around the ’50s and has been a staple of the culture ever since. We each paired up with an UPAEP student enrolled in the dance class we were attending and started learning some of the basics.

As we worked our way through four-bar musical phrases, something became very apparent: cumbia is very open to interpretation. All around me, my fellow OU students were toiling to get through the few moves we knew while the natives whirled through pretzel-like maneuvers as if they were nothing. Not a terribly heartening first experience.

The next week, I decided that I was going to make the most of my cumbia experience–after all, you get out what you put in. Filled with street tacos and immeasurable determination, I threw reservations aside and danced with reckless abandon. A real máquina de baile, if you will.

It was far from perfect, but I started picking up on more and more of the moves that the locals were throwing out. We’d dance for an hour, rotating partners every four minutes or so, and I even started to develop certain rhythms with certain partners. By the end of the trip, dance class had become one of my favorite parts of each week.

When we left Puebla, it was a little sad to say goodbye to UPAEP and the Bellas Artes school. However, there was another surprise in store for us; upon arriving in Mexico City, we ate a welcome dinner at El Lugar del Mariachi, a restaurant that featured traditional live music and dancing while we ate. At one point, we were even serenaded by a singing luchador wrestler.

By the end of the meal, the dance floor had cleared and our OU in Puebla class was able to practice what we had learned–we danced the cumbia like pros in the middle of the restaurant while a live mariachi band provided our soundtrack.

I certainly never would have pursued an experience like this without the prodding of my teachers in the program but now that I have, I am extremely grateful. Who doesn’t want to be able to tell a story like that? I’m grateful to GEF and OU Study Abroad for helping me to broaden my horizons…and to my dance teacher for helping get rid of my two pies izqiuerdas. 

First Amendment Interviews

Upon interviewing a number of my friends and family members, one thing is clear: people are generally pretty supportive of their First Amendment rights, even if they aren’t presented in a manner that’s terribly straightforward.

Maybe this is because the First Amendment is pretty well known or because Americans tend to go into Pavlovian salivation at buzzwords like “freedom”, but nonetheless, everyone I talked to supported the mock bills allegedly proposed by Congress.

For a conglomerate of guys from the 1700s, the Framers of the Constitution  have shown themselves to be pretty forward-thinking, thorough politicians. Granted, not all of their concepts have stood the test of a rapidly-evolving world, but the base ideals of an amendment deemed important enough to be listed first have proved themselves just as relevant in today’s society.

I realize that the purpose of this assignment was to invoke “gotcha” moments with my interview subjects — think Jimmy Kimmel’s bit where he asks people if they prefer the Affordable Care Act to Obamacare. Ultimately though, that just wasn’t how things played out. While Dean Walker’s experiment undoubtedly serves as a talking point for discussions of political freedoms, the people I talked to were pretty up-to-date on their First Amendment knowledge. They consistently deemed the five key freedoms of the First Amendment as vital and more or less identified the First Amendment as their genesis point.

I was a bit surprised that nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed consider the First Amendment to be too generous with the freedoms it guarantees as I considered them to be somewhat integral to our society.

Creator Response to Artistic Backlash

Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that some believe my previous post to be “manipulative”, “uninspiring” or “not a real blog post”.

Fortunately, y’all are in the wrong–not me.

I’ve recently taken measures to begin converting what had been a perfectly tasteful, well-run blog into a guerrilla-style beacon of topical, surrealist humor-commentary.

Unfortunately, this means that I’m entitled to absurdist posts at my folly.*

A picture says a thousand words. Because of this phenomenon, I am now

896 words over my requirement. Until next time, dedicated audience of blog-readers.

*Disclaimer: Only the author is allowed to refer to his posts as “absurdist”. Others doing so risk categorizing and assuming the stance of another’s viewpoints which is crass and uncouth. Indeed, I may deem a post farcical one day and identify it as a biting period piece on the culinary practices of Korean War-era Puerto Rico the next.

Really Just Some Food for Thought Here to Be Perfectly Honest With You

Noah Maloney is currently enjoying a meteoric rise in the film industry and, though his content runs the gamut from socioeconomic critique to simple farce, our society is subjective and politically correct enough that I’m perfectly entitled to call this “art” — which it is. I’m a film major, so I get the moving picture.

If the MOMA in New York City can have a room full of white canvases, I can get away with calling this a blog post.


Further Exploitation of What Counts as a Blog Post: Studying for Comparative Religions

Howdy all.

I’ve got one heck of a comparative religions exam coming up. Let’s put these 250 words to the pursuit of ecumenical knowledge.

Agni: This fellow is the Hindu god of fire. He traces his origins back to the Vedic eras when rituals were performed around altars of fire and fire itself was thought to be the master of the household. Agni carries burnt offerings up to the other gods via the smoke and, in this way can be thought of as “the mouth of the gods”. He’s the subject of the Agni Chayna Ceremony, a lavish 12-day, 17-Brahmin-priest ritual festival in his honor.

‘Ali: ‘Ali was a great Islamic warrior who would eventually marry the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah to become his son-in-law. Muhammad and ‘Ali were close, with Muhammad lauding ‘Ali in a speech shortly before his death. However, this inspired a great rift within the Ummah–Sunnis believed that Muhammad’s praise of ‘Ali carried no greater implications while Shi’ite Muslims thought that Muhammad had designated ‘Ali to be his rightful successor as Caliph. ‘Ali lost the Caliph position to Abu Bakr at the start of the Rashidun and, despite serving as the fourth and final Caliph of the Rashidun, the rift was firmly cemented between Sunnis and Shi’ites. ‘Ali’s grandson Hussayn was later massacred and beheaded in the great Battle of Karbala against Sunni forces, marking it as the darkest day of the Shi’ite calendar. ‘Ali was assassinated during his time as Caliph.

Masjid: Don’t be fooled by the fancy name–this just means “mosque”. The Arabic name translates to “place of prostration”, referring to salat, the daily ritual prayers that Muslims perform. The first Mosque was an open space in Muhammad’s home in Medina and subsequent mosques are modeled after the aspects that it had. Mosques today should have: 1. A prayer niche 2. An indication of the direction of Mecca/the Ka’bah 3. a “tower”–the original purpose of this is uncertain but it is now often the point from which the call to prayer is made 4. a fountain of water to perform the ritual cleansing before prayer. Early distinctions emerged between small, local mosques and large, communal mosques that held Friday prayer sessions and sermons. However, the mosque is not the only place a Muslim may pray. Mosques will never contain representational artwork, lest the worshippers commit shirk and venerate the people portrayed in the art. During the Crusades, some Christian churches were converted to mosques, but the truly impressive early mosques are the Umayyad mosque in Damascus and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Man, that sure is neat. Three terms out of 59 down!

An Experiment on the Creative Liberties of the Blog

Hypothesis: Given that our stipulations for the blogs are to post twice weekly and fill the blog with “varied content”, and given that we are allowed to select blog content at our liberty, if we fill our blog posts with excerpts from the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, we will still receive full credit.

Alt. Hypothesis: Regurgitating strings of etymological roots verbatim will still produce a better blog than some of the others that I have seen.

Methods: We will fill our minimum requisite blog post word counts with words extracted directly from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, proceeding in alphabetical order through the sections.

Results: [see below]

Analysis: Though an effective strategy, this methodology is likely to portray the experimenter as a pompous ass, albeit one who has discovered an efficient and effective way of merging his love of words with his blog deadlines.

U.S. vs. China Relations: Misconceptions

Continuing my penchant for attending OU’s “Lunch and Lecture” series, today I listened to a seminar presented by Georgetown University’s Dr. Andrew Scobell.

Scobell gave an interesting lecture over some common misconceptions about the current U.S.-China interactions.

It is no secret that the United States fosters a guarded attitude towards China. While many security deals and agreements went into place in 2017 and are planned for 2018, Scobell posits that the friendly relations are largely a gilding.

In fact, the current U.S. security doctrine defines China as being the single greatest long term threat to the wellbeing of the U.S. The Pentagon currently subscribes to a “4+1” view of national threats: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea + VEOs (Violent Extremist Organizations). However, while Russia rates as the most imminent threat in the near future, China is still considered to the be the greatest liability through the long haul.

This rivalry is not one-sided. China holds a four-pronged view of national security, categorizing their interests into concentric rings of territory:

  1. Homeland: The most prevalent Chinese security interests are domestic. This starts with the streets outside the policymaker’s window and extends to all lands controlled by Beijing.
  2. Periphery: China lives in, as Scobell put it, a “rough neighborhood”. Of the 14 countries that border it, China has gone to war with five years and many more are fragile, threatening collapse.
  3. Regional: There are six geo-political regions surrounding China. Think of this as the general Pacific-Asian “zone”.
  4. Global: China entered the global conversation in the 1990s, primarily in the realms of commodities, new markets and overseas investments.

There’s only one country that China feels can threaten it in all four of these “spheres”–the United States.

Interpreting the relations between the United States and China is tricky. There are three major schools of thought amongst Chinese leaders–opposition to Western thought, global hegemony, a resurgence of Confucianism, etc.–but they can be difficult to translate into the American political understanding.

As for the future, Scobell isn’t sure what’s to come. In fact, he doesn’t believe China knows exactly what they want either. That being said, he believes that taking steps to better understand the other nation’s mindset is essential to achieving international prosperity in the long run.

GEF Day 2018: Peace Corps Prep

It’s Global Engagement Day!

Though I was only able to attend a single session today, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a lunch/lecture presentation by Sarah Griswold and Jonathan Freeman — students involved with the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Scholarship, respectively.

I’m most interested in a future with the Peace Corps, so that’s what I’ll cover.

I’ve toyed with the idea of spending two years with the Peace Corps after undergrad and before enrolling in law school. I like the idea of pursuing something definitively “larger than myself”. It sounds cliché, but there really is an appeal to knowing that you’ll have a markedly positive effect on the lives of scores of people.

This thought was reinforced by a panel of high-scoring LSAT-takers that I sat in on during a Pre-Law Society meeting. One of the speakers adamantly recommended taking a break between undergrad and law school. He was in the middle of his time with Teach for America and spoke highly of its effects in his personal and professional development.

Ms. Griswold talked to us about her realm of expertise — Peace Corps Prep. Obviously, securing a place in the Peace Corps is competitive. OU offers the preparatory service to help Sooner applicants stand out amidst a sea of impressive candidates.

The program takes three semesters to complete and helps guide participants through prerequisites in the applicant’s chosen sector (Community Economic Development, Health or Environment), language requirements, intercultural studies and professional development.

As a realist, I know just how daunting the process for applying to the Corps can be. The world is filled to the brim with ambitious, impressive scholars who are just as interested in serving as humanitarians as I am. Fortunately, OU offers this valuable service to assist humanities-oriented Sooners in getting to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

March Mathness

I’m a bit late, seeing as the national championship is being played tomorrow, but here’s that really cool piece of software I covered earlier. Davidson’s “March Mathness” uses a collection of algorithms to help you statistically predict the optimal March Madness bracket outcomes.

Get familiar with it, play around with it and–when next year’s tournament rolls around–you might be able to clean up in your office pool.