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Hong Kong

I know of one way to see the world without a study abroad program.

My friend Jamie, a 22-year-old American studies major at Yale University, is a singer and was a part of the a cappella group The Yale Spizzwinks(?) (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled—question mark, too.).

In May 2007, the Spizzwinks(?) toured China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam. In tailcoats and peak lapels they rocked high school auditoriums and downtown nightclubs.

And the praise they received was unforgettable: At a high school in Shanghai, students presented the group with a large banner of a Spizzwinks(?) publicity photo, blown up life-size. “It was a bit un-nerving to say the least,” Jamie said. “Our reception over there was unlike anything we received in the States… they treated us like rock-stars.”

Yet there were no mosh pits. “I think the most amazing thing was how silent they were during the show,” Jamie said of a performance in China. “Complete silence during each musical number, and enthusiastic but polite clapping after every song.”

A Spizzwinks(?) performance is a combination of music, skit, and comedy. While the language barriers made parts of their shows hit or miss, the humor was never lost on their audiences. “We did have them laughing out loud when we tried to introduce ourselves in Chinese,” Jamie said. “The one Chinese guy in our group taught us all to say, ‘Hello, my name is_________ and I study ______’ before the show, but needless to say we all butchered the language during the actual performance.  I think they found it endearing! ”

The group performed every other day on average, Jamie said, and in their free time they were “full-time tourists.” Jamie witnessed the heavy construction going on in Shanghai, host of this year’s World Expo. They experienced a Chinese spin on Karaoke–the difference, as Jamie described, is that you get to avoid the bar crowd. They rented a room, ordered drinks, and sang to Chinese renditions of U.S. pop videos.

They braved new foods and were…well, brave: “We all wanted to be outgoing and challenge ourselves with the strange Chinese delicacies we were offered” Jamie said. “I think that attitude eventually got the best of us, since we all ended up getting sick at one point or another…there was definitely a period when I was feeling very ill and refused to eat anything but Oreos and Ritz crackers.”

But it takes more than indigestion to discourage the Spizzwinks(?). They have since toured New Zealand, Europe, and Africa.

Watch Jamie and the Spizzwinks(?) perform Billie Jean.



I’ve noticed among my friends that in addition to Spanish, French, and German, Japanese is a popular language to study at the University of Minnesota.  My good friend Dane Christensen, a double major in Asian Languages and Literature with a focus on Japanese and Political International Economics with a focus on Southeast Asia, studied the Japanese language for 3 years before he studied abroad in Tokyo for about a year.  He plans to live abroad for several years after graduating college.  I wanted to get a feel for what living in Japan would be like compared to Minnesota, so I asked him about his experience.

Desiree:  Did you have a lot of free time?  Was it just like being at school at the U?

Dane:  The school I went to was the 4th most prestigious school in Japan for private universities.  The classes I took were harder than classes at the U.  School took up a lot of my time, but I also worked a lot as an English language tutor.  Japan is an expensive place to live, so I had to work since I was broke a lot.

Desiree: Where were your favorite hangouts during your free time?

Dane: I would spend time in Kabukicho, which was an area near a very popular place called Shinjuku at the center of Tokyo.  I would spend time there because my friend lived there.  I would also frequently visit Yokohama where my then girlfriend was living.  We knew the cheap bars, the fun bars, and so whatever we felt like doing in the evening we knew a place we could get to by subway.

Desiree:  Besides bars, where else did you go?

Dane:  That was just the nightlife, but we would also go out to arcades sometimes, which are still popular things in Japan.  With my friends, I’d go out to dinner.  There are a lot of different districts in Japan.  Tokyo is sectored off into categories based on things you can buy.  The technology district was pretty cool, but there was also a different section you could go to just for clothing, etc.  During the day, there are also a lot of beautiful parks to go to.

Desiree:  You mostly hung out off campus then?

Dane:  My university that I attended was a place I also hung out at because I was in activity clubs at the school.  In Japan, these clubs function the same way intramural sports leagues do at the U of M.

Desiree:  What kinds of activity clubs were you a part of?

Dane:  I was a part of basketball, hiphop dance, and capoiera (a Brazilian traditional dance).

Desiree:  What made you join these clubs—besides the fact that you are always a part of some club?

Dane:  Well of course I joined the clubs because I was interested in them, but then when you join these clubs you become friends with the people in them.  These friends are your social crowd.  That is the social norm in Japan to hang out with the people that you do things with at school.  It becomes sort of like an obligation because the clubs would set up social gatherings in addition to practice and meetings, etc.  It’s a good way to meet people though.

It seems as if Japan is one of the easiest places to assimilate into.  After hearing about Dane’s experience, I would love the chance to check it out!

My friend and co-worker Minji Kye  is a 21-year old exchange student from Korea studying design at the U of M.  She has been in the United States for several years already. According to the Open Doors website, there are many more international Korean students that travel to the United States rather than American students traveling to Korea. The other day, Minji mentioned the Easter celebration she had with her host family.  It made me wonder what kinds of holidays she normally celebrates in Korea.  She gave me a list of some important Korean holidays, which I then proceeded to read up on.

Chuseok is the most important holiday in Korea. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, and lasts 3 days. Koreans consider it their duty to visit their family’s ancestral graves, and to participate in Bulcho, the cutting of the weeds around the graves. In the morning, they perform Chare, memorial rites, where they pay respect to their ancestors. Women participate in a circle dance, called Ganggangsulle. There is also a game played during this time called Gama, where two teams have four-wheeled sedan chairs, and they try to take or destroy the other team’s chairs.

Seol-nal is the celebration of the Lunar New Year. It is more popularly known as Chinese New Year. During this time, Koreans travel to their hometowns to reconnect with their ancestral roots.  It’s celebrated in many parts of Asia, and is the second most important holiday in Korea.

Samil-jeol is celebrated on March 1st. It’s the Independence (or movement) day to remember the anti-Japanese demonstrations against the Japanese occupation of Korea on March 1st in 1919. As part of a special ceremony, the declaration is read in Tapgol Park in Seoul.  As a related holiday, Kwangbok Jeol is Liberation Day. It commemorates the Japanese accepting the Allies’ surrender on August 15, 1945, thereby liberating Korea from Japanese occupation.

Celebrities are all over TV, in the movies, on the radio. But who is considered a celebrity overseas? I talked to my co-worker, Randy Chang, who is an exchange student from China. His definition of a celebrity was well put:

“Basically, I think the definitions of being celebrities are all the same. There must be something special. Nice look, sense of humor. Voice (Singer), or Body language (Actor).”

Randy is 22, a senior at the U of M, and majoring in Math and Statistics. He listed off a few Taiwanese performers who are stars in China. Unsurprisingly, I had heard of none of them.

Jay Chou is a singer who has produced 9 studio albums and is working on a 10th to be released this May. He is known for composing all his own songs, which blend traditional Chinese music with R&B, rap, and rock.  He has also delved into acting, directing, and producing.

Mayday is an alternative rock band. They have been making music since the late 90s and just finished a tour last year. There are 5 members, all male. Their music began with a hard edge to it but later albums sound more like anthems. They have said that their inspiration for their rock music style came from the the Beatles.

Kwai Lun-Mei (also Guey Lun-Mei) is an actress. A lot of her recognition was actually gained from starring as the lead actress in a movie called Secret, directed by the above-mentioned Jay Chou. She has been in several movies as well as a couple TV shows.

This is just a basic list of who’s famous in China. It seems their stars are very talented and keep really busy.

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