Friday, July 29, 2011

Arrival in Singapore

Good morning from Singapore! I arrived at my friend Eric’s apartment around 1:30am Singapore time after leaving Burlington approximately 34 hours before. At the moment I don’t feel tired at all but I’m sure it will catch up with me in a few hours. They were long flights and I tried to pass the time with bad TV shows and some David Foster Wallace topped off with People Magazine.

Although Singapore is not an official project country for me, because of when my flight got in, I would need to stay here at least one night before heading onto Bali anyway which seemed like a good excuse to stay for the weekend and see a little bit of Singapore. And (cue “It’s a Small World After All”) I met Eric at my sister’s wedding in early July and he kindly offered to host me while I’m here. Eric has been living in Singapore for about a year and is very well travelled himself. I'm very grateful for his hospitality and willingness to show me around. We are about to head to breakfast to plan our weekend. More on Singapore to come.


Name Story From The Tokyo Airport

I am writing this from Tokyo (although because the Narita airport does not have a lot of free internet access, it won’t be posted until I’m in Singapore). Strangely, although my flight to Singapore was listed under one flight number and had a 23 hour 29 minute duration listed, I discovered once boarding the plane that it actually was not a direct flight: 12 hours to Tokyo, 3 hours in the airport, then another 8 flying to Singapore. I’m seizing this opportunity to stretch my legs, and this unexpected layover also means I can explore the airport and add Japan to the list of countries I’ll have set foot on this year.

Saying goodbye this morning (last night? yesterday?) in Burlington was hard. Once on the plane though, I felt pretty calm. I think I am as ready for this year as I’ll ever be. It also helped that I made a friend on my flight and inadvertently began my project. The woman sitting next to me on my flight from DC was Javanese and was also traveling to Singapore and then home to Indonesia.

She was curious about my project and told me that her own name was a blend of an old Javanese name and a Sanskrit one. She talked about how much it had meant to her parents and why they chose a name that reflected multiple cultural traditions. She also said that through her name her parents expressed their greatest hope for her. I realized partway into her explanation that I did not actually know what her name was. It felt suddenly rude to ask. Knowing that her name expressed her parents’ greatest hope for her made her made the question of what it was become something that felt more intimate then if it was a name her parents simply liked the sound of. I remember at my Watson interview the question came up of how comfortable I would feel just sitting down with strangers and asking them how they got their name. At the time I thought for the most part I’d feel comfortable doing that but my conversation with this woman made me recognize that because names can symbolize so many different things in the places I’m going, the question begins to carry immense weight and the level of intimacy that it comes to represent may change in each place. Also , knowing each other’s names also would break the line of anonymity; we’d move from strangers chatting on a flight into people who could identify each other. In that liminal space of an airplane where people are always walking a balance of how much to speak to one another, names seemed like a big leap. Asking that question also meant I was taking the plunge and beginning my project. Then and there.

I got over it and finally asked her what her name actually was. She gave me her business card and told me I should come to Java while I’m in Indonesia and stay with her and her sister.

Her name is Widya Prasetyanti. She explained that Widya is traditionally spelled with a “V” in Java but the “W” makes it into a Sanskrit name. Regardless of spelling, the name means “knowledge.” Prasetyanti was also a last name her parents gave her (not a surname that was passed down to her from them as it most often would be in the United States). She explained that “praset” means promise or loyalty, and the ending of her name “yanti” indicated she was female. “Yanto” would indicate she was male. Put together, her name reflects a promise to knowledge; one that her parents swore her to at birth by giving her that name. She laughed telling me this because she has always been devoted to her studies—she’s gone to university in Japan and then went on to get masters in sociology and public health. She said when she was younger she used to be angry at her parents for making her name start with a “W” instead of a “V” because it meant that alphabetically it came one letter later. In her elementary school in Java, the teacher would call on students throughout the day by going through the alphabetical list. Widya hated that her first name started with a “W” because it meant she’d always be called on at the end of the day when she was tired and only the hard questions remained.

We talked about the question if parents are casting their children into a role by giving them a particular name. It is impossible to know whether Widya would still be continuing her studies if she had been given a name that didn’t mean a promise to do so. Either she has followed that course as a result of the inspiration of her name or it is more coincidental. Or, as I suspect, maybe it was knowing that her parents prioritized a commitment to knowledge above all else in naming her that may have led her towards that path. It is not the name itself but the knowledge that her parents cared so much about her education that they created a name that expressed that.

And so it begins…


Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Adventure Begins

Currently at a layover in DC before boarding a 23 hour, 29 minute (!) flight to Singapore. I'll be there for the weekend before heading to Bali on Monday. The photo was taken by my mom at 4:15am this morning, approximately 30 seconds before I started bawling.

The color coordination with my bags was most definitely unintentional.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Update from Packing Central

The important stuff is taken care of.


(Book recommendations courtesy of Philadelphia's amazing Applied Mechanics Theater Company (thanks guys!). And songs compiled from many beloved friends from many beloved mixes).

And now onto everything else....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bread & Puppet Theater

I got back to the states late Saturday night and spent yesterday on a spontaneous mini Vermont road trip. Hanna, my dear friend from high school (and middle school!) and I drove out to Glover to see the iconic Bread & Puppet Theater. Bread & Puppet originated in the 1960s as a political theater group and became a staple at many Vietnam War protests. Today they're based on a farm in Vermont and give free performances of their satirical circus in the summer. As their name suggests, the company gives out homemade bread to their audiences because they believe that bread & art go hand in hand as fundamental basics to everyday life. I felt like I was back in the Crum at Swarthmore in a very satisfying way. It was a beautiful day of art and sunshine and a classic Vermont experience--a great way to say goodbye to my home state.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sand Play

My four loyal followers may notice this blog has a new look today. Much as I loved the previous travel themed background, I think this simpler one might help make things a little more readable. And this new header is the result of a morning spent on the PEI beach.

When I was out of earshot, a passerby commented to my parents, "Isn't that girl a little old to be playing with sand?"

I think not.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Prince Edward Island

I’m currently taking a break from my Watson preparations and am halfway through my stay on Prince Edward Island with my parents. Between my graduation, getting ready for the year ahead, my sister’s wedding, and a nasty bout of strep throat, I think this down time was desperately needed. I have a feeling if I was home in Burlington, I would be obsessing over all that I need to do before I take off anyway, and up here, I am happily distracted.

I’ve come to Prince Edward Island every summer since the summer before kindergarten. This year is a briefer stay than most (2 weeks) but entirely worth it. Since I’ve moved around a fair amount in my life, it is, perhaps, the place that feels most like home. My room in our house on the island reflects this—it has become an odd amalgamation of things from different times of my life. James Joyce’s Dubliners next to a big yellow Playskool flashlight, a old red sweatshirt of my grandfather’s and multiple CD players that no longer work. It’s chilly here and so far my time has mainly consisted of sweatshirted beach walks and lazy days spent reading. The island itself remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen (Anne of Green Gables was right). I am lucky to be traveling to many different places in the next year, and I’m sure they will fill me with wonder and curiosity in a similar way, but for now, knowing what’s ahead is making me appreciate home even more.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Line Up

Several people have been asking about the order of the places I'm going to, which I'm hoping means they are planning on visiting while I'm there.

Deciding on the order of countries as well as which countries to visit were exciting and challenging tasks, and this list could possibly change (or at least, be added to). I did a lot of research in order to figure out how much to plan-- what made the most sense financially and what would give me the most flexibility. Lots of plugging in flights online and 3 travel agencies later, I decided to book through April 2012 with STA Travel (using a great student/discount/round the world option). The amazing travel agent I worked with gave me a great price because I was buying all the tickets together in a round the world bundle and made sure all the tickets I'm buying would have a small fee ($50) if I changed their date. So although having these flights lined up might give me less flexibility than some other Watson Fellows have when they embark, because I'm traveling to so many countries that are pretty spread apart, it made the most sense to book as far as I could ahead in order to get the least expensive flights. And I can always change the dates later for a small fee. I've found that knowing these tentative dates has actually provided a helpful framework to work within as I plan my housing in each place and try to find organizations to work with. I'm going to book the last bit of my trip, (From Europe back to the US) as well as any other side trips I take as I go along.

Here goes:

July 28th: Burlington, VT--->Washington DC--->Singapore
August 1st: Singapore--->Denpasar, Bali
September 21st: Denpasar, Bali--->Kuala Lumpur--->Bangalore, India
November 14th: Delhi, India--->Dubai--->Casablanca, Morocco
January 9th: Casablanca--->Abu Dhabi--->Frankfurt, Germany
February 27th: Frankfurt--->Johannesburg--->Lusaka, Zambia
April 12th: Lusaka--->Johannesburg--->London

Still to come (very approximate!)
April 12th: London--->Dublin
June 7th: Dublin--->Reykjavik
July 28th: Reykjavik--->HOME!


This Blog

Hello World. Despite a previous aversion to travel blogs (we can thank Elizabeth Gilbert for making any young western woman traveling alone in the next few years self-conscious about seeming narcissistic,) here I am. I think I would deeply regret it if I did not keep track of my adventures (and the names I encounter) over the next year in writing. More importantly, I'm doing this in a public forum because I hope this will be a space to be in touch with family and friends. As I prepare for a year of traveling alone, I have a feeling that any bit of my experiences I can share with others (through photos and attempted descriptions) will become quite important to me. I hope that because of this, my other forms of communications (skype, e-mails, etc...) can not only focus on the new experiences I am having, but the new experiences you all are having as well. Because, much as I might like them to, the lives of my friends and families I am leaving behind will not stand still while I am gone, and I am eager to hear about your own adventures.

I hope to post here often over the next year (and knowing myself, it will be in verbose and sentimental ways). So you know what to expect, I think this blog will be a combination of my personal experiences over the next year and also my research. As a result, there will undoubtedly be entries that focus on people's names and the stories and meanings behind them. However, this won't be strictly a name blog because I imagine there will also be entries that focus on the food I'm eating in Rabat, a trip to Victoria Falls, and how much I am missing my dog. I think in many ways this speaks to the nature of the Watson Fellowship, which focuses both on the individual pursuing the project and the project they are pursuing.

And in case I forget to say it later, I am incredibly and eternally grateful for this fellowship that I'm about to embark on. I encourage all of you reading this to check out the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship website and read about the fascinating projects that will be going on throughout the next year. I feel so lucky to have gotten this fellowship and am still pinching myself. I can't think of a more rewarding, meaningful and terrifying way to spend my first year out of college.

More on my project and preparations to come....