Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The life, the taste, the colours, the smells, the sights, the emotions: what you can’t learn in a classroom

November 12, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

Looking back on the period leading up to my departure and the two months that have passed since I arrived, I realize that there are two very different perceptions of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of friends, family, colleagues, and peers seemed to be under the impression that I was going to the Caribbean to relax on the beach for three months. T&T is a small twin-island nation and it is somewhat understandable that there are a large number of people who know little about this place, so many people base their perceptions on the stereotypical Caribbean all-inclusive vacation experience. One the other hand Trini’s who’ve I’ve spoken to while in Canada and those that I have met here, hold a completely different perception. I have been consistently warned about the danger and corruption present in T&T and am instructed to be incredibly careful and always on guard. This is all good advice when travelling, but what I find interesting is how completely different these two views are.

Neither perception adequately represents this beautiful country. Yes, there are some beaches but there’s so much more to see, and yes, it is common to hear gunshots at night but every person on the street will say “good evening”. My experience here has been wonderful. Port of Spain is somehow chaotic but calm; the general pace of things is hectic, but the attitude relaxed. Hailing a maxi-taxi around the Queen’s Park Savannah is a rushed activity as cars weave in and out of a seemingly never-ending flow of traffic. But after work it’s time to “lime” and people are relaxing and laughing with friends and loved ones. I fear not being able to adequately capture how incredibly “cool” Trinidad is.

I have come to love this place, it’s all a matter of managing things. Learning to deal with the traffic, navigate around the island, eat “doubles” without dumping them all over yourself, and how to dodge cars on streets barely wide enough for a single car, it’s all bean a really incredible experience. I think what has been the most fulfilling experience has been learning how to get around by myself. Most everyone has to get around by taxi but they operate more like buses – traveling established routes in a cramped car with unfamiliar faces. The island isn’t very big but getting around can be very difficult if you do not have someone to instruct you on where to catch a taxi heading towards your destination.

The nuanced cultural relations in this diverse nation have a distinct effect on daily life in T&T that is best experienced first hand. Trinidad is a place where you can see beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps, and the world’s only natural asphalt lake but it is also a place where there are many underserviced or “squatter” communities such as Sea Lots, a great deal of economic disparity, and where violent crime is a daily factor in many people’s lives. Trinidad is diverse, beautiful, and also a place where caution must be exercised, but where the people are friendly and helpful.

Discussing theory in the classroom is vastly different from experiencing a new country firsthand. Nuances of culture are an integral part of the learning experience. Context is everything. Doing the work, understanding the theory, going through the motions is one thing, but actually trying to understand the why is so much more complicated than it sounds. We sit in classrooms that stress investigation but from all that I have read about Trinidad, nothing could have prepared me for the real thing.

Now that I’ve been here for two months and have had a chance reflect on these various perceptions, I have developed a better understanding of the importance of context and experience. Most of my research here has been into the specific circumstances of various communities, while the majority of my UOttawa classes have been largely theoretical. This opportunity has really taught me a great deal about the importance of culture and context. There is no way that this could be duplicated in the classroom, and I’m thankful to be lucky enough to learn these lessons all while enjoying a wonderful part of the world.

Adventure of gas station in Vietnam

October 23, 2012 | Boyi Cameron, PSY, North Thang Long Economic and Technical College (NTLC)

I was sitting on a motorbike as a passenger. Em T*** is the elder brother of my host family. He is younger than me so I call him “em” in Vietnamese. This time we went to a gas station because his motorbike has ran out of gasoline. There were no such things called queue, because people stormed upon the gasoline machines as bunch of thirty monsters for water.

The gas station was not westernized at all. I found that is hard to name the ladies who work at gas station. Perhaps they are very capable on many things, so I name them “super ladies”. The “SLs” are holding the pipe and transfuse the gas to the container, meaning the gasoline are not covered or stored underground as well as the gas station in Canada. People have waited for the empty spots randomly. It was like a bunch of bees are trying to tuck in to their beehive. There were not too many lights over there, which was not bright, where caused the place even more crowded. People stood there only for gasoline, and some of them were waiting for others like me.

I carelessly put my arms around my body, and kept moving my legs to avoid to be bitten. The atmosphere was thin and chocking by the emission of overloaded carbine dioxide. I did not wait for the elder brother for too long. I went to aside of the gas station and started to check around the area.

The gas station was located in a middle of highway, which was no speed limit. In other words, people can ride on the road freely and quickly. There are more than 10 cases of motorbike accidents happening in Ha Noi every day. Accordingly, people can travel around the city by motorbike but also get injuries or threats of life easily. Around the gas station there were no obstacles for decreasing the speed, but normally, Vietnamese would stop the engine and walk towards the station slowly.

In Vietnam, motorbikes are very common, and it is the fastest and smallest transportation for Vietnamese to travel the city. Ironically, people would rarely have seen any automobile demanding gasoline in this station, at least, that yet I have not seen any bigger size of vehicle than motorbike in that crowd.

I posed different stances at the sidewalk for more than half hour. I pulled out a very simple black-and-white phone that I bought in the first day in Vietnam, and searched a contact to chat with. I was carelessly searching on my “BNW” without noticing there were more than dozens of them staring at me as a zoo-monkey.

I pleasantly dialed number and chatted with my friend. After 5 minutes I went to meet the elder brother. He act seriously and told me that I should not use my phone around the area of the gas station. I doubted that and asked why, and then he translated some key words of “explosion” and “fire”.

I stuck my mind on the sense of Canadian Safety Board. People even smoked and talked loudly on phone right beside the gasoline machine. But, in Viet Nam everything is so different. Now I understood why that crowd watched at me as I seemed to owe their money or something. They were shocked when I talked on my mobile phone, and they seemed not to understand that is “allowed” in Canada.

“Cấm sử dụng điện thoại”, I wish I could understand the phrase that means, “mobile phone is prohibited”. Let me explore more and more about Vietnamese cultures and “magic” areas, such as this adventure that I found was stunning.