Archive for September, 2006

Friday September 29, 2006

September 29, 2006 - 2:55 am 3 Comments

Although limited Internet access relieves from my tendency towards prolonged (and perhaps needless) use, it’s been very difficult getting used to the sensation of dislocation. There are so many e-mails and phone calls that I want to make, but everything…is just so difficult here. After chatting with a few friends, it seems that the general sentiment is that while Europe is very picturesque, one cannot help but miss capitalism. Personally, I disagree – I certainly do not miss the greed, economic stratification, libertine pursuit of ends, and materialistic pragmatism of capitalism. Instead, I miss the sense of progress, a forward-looking attitude, and a general openness of the people and the society. So much has happened since I last wrote, including a trip to Segovia, a bull fight, ERASMUS orientation and course selection, and my birthday. I’ll try and give a truncated synopsis of everything (in no particular order).


  1. Segovia – Having never been to Europe before, the narrow streets, Roman aqueduct, and abundance of historic buildings were stunning to me. I saw the church where Isabel the Catholic was crowned queen of Spain. (There’s an ongoing debate on whether she should be beatified. Certainly, she unified Spain, promoted Spain’s colonial expansion, and epitomized Catholic piety, but she also expelled the Jews and Muslims and started the Inquisition.) The cathedral contained a dramatic collection of religious art, cavernous and overwhelming to be in. Vividly capturing the expressions of pain, loss, and infinite sorrow, the figures of the saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus created a sense of exigency – of the baleful and ignominious nature of human existence and the omnipresent sensation of guilt.  (As a side note, there’s also an ongoing debate on whether the Catholic Church should continue receive 35 million of tax-payer money each year. Zapatero is against it, arguing that the Church has never even tried to account for their expenditures.) Most captivating, in my opinion, however, was the Alcazar – a medieval castle/fortress that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. No words can possibly do justice to this historic landmark…rooms filled with ancient armory and artillery, the throne room containing detailed sculptures of all previous kings, exquisite stained glass artwork, and most importantly, the unique design and immensity of the architecture.


  1. Bull Fight – For only 2 euros, we got very good seats with a clear view of all the action. Truly the quintessence of Spanish pride, machismo, and fanfaron, the bull fight was a quixotically spectacular display of audacity, temerity, cruelty, and arrogance. By no means a far fight (in fact, I would nearly call it perfidious), I watched four bulls die…weakened and bloodied from an extended process of being merely a toy to the toreadors and matadors. That being said, going to the event was something I very much enjoyed because it gave me a first-hand insight into the essential elements of Spanish culture – to visualize the pomp and august nature of this somewhat anachronistic tradition.


  1. Class Selection – Surviving orientation and figuring out how to navigate the labyrinth of a university webpage (to get the schedules for the different classes, I had to look in nearly 10 different places, and still, I am missing information on course location), I finally got my paperwork filled out and submitted. My schedule…is quite odd. No morning classes, one class on Thursday, and no classes on Friday. (Most of my fellow students don’t even have class on Thursday since everything is packed in on Monday and Tuesday.) I suppose such an arrangement would make it easier for me to travel! Below is what I have selected.


(Tentative: 5 courses listed before (English translations my own), but the count may go down to 4 if one of the professors does not agree to give me an early exam)


  • International Economic Organization – class about the World Bank, IMF, WTO, etc.
    • Mon: 12:30-1:30 PM, Tues: 12:30-2:30 PM
  • Roots of the Western World – class that goes from Greek political thought and Roman constitutionalism to Luther and Marx
    • Wed/Thurs: 2:30-4 PM
  • Spanish Culture and Civilization – this is an ERASMUS class, meaning that I’ll be taking it with international exchange students all over Europe
    • Tues: 3-5 PM
  • Business in the Development World – originally there was a microcredit course, but it got cancelled. I was very lucky to find this seminar – I just happened to be speaking with the director of the microcredit research program here at ICADE! This is an advanced seminar so I’m a bit wary, but we’ll see how it goes.
    • Mon: 2:30-4PM
  • Economy of the European Union – a very popular class that I don’t know whether I’ll officially get enrolled in
    • Mon: 4-5 PM, Wed: 4-6 PM


  1. Birthday – First, thank you to all of those who wrote me notes and messages…you have no idea how much it meant to me. In particular, I want to thank Lauren for the inspirational poster and letter that she sent (ahh…I almost cried) and my little sister and mom for their e-mails! And of course, my father, who sent his very laconic birthday wishes a day late. Considering how homesick I am, all of your kind thoughts made an otherwise awful day infinitely better. And thank you to the few people here who made the occasion feel special. I think birthdays abroad are perhaps some of the loneliest times one can imagine. I won’t go into details, but a few mishaps occurred.


As a note, I have discovered the wonders of using Skype to call fixed and mobile lines. It is incredibly cheap at .012 cents per minute! I’m going to see if I can buy some credit and then figure out how to get in touch.

Friday September 22, 2006

September 22, 2006 - 6:42 am 4 Comments

It’s been a while since I last wrote, and so much has happened since then. The intensive Spanish is progressing, though to be honest, it is not intensive by all means. The grammar review is minimal and academic writing is completely undiscussed. Instead, the professor indulges in droll antics and drama for the entire duration (3 hours with 20 minute breaks on each hour), making for a very entertaining, but not necessarily useful prepatory class. Rather than learning sophisticated vocabulary and reviewing comprehensively the literature and history of Spain, I’m getting little vignettes of Spanish culture, mixed with a lot of inane discussion on frivolous topics (quite a bit of slang and swear words – creative pejoratives).

I’ve fallen into a decently comfortable method of living. Breakfast early, class until 12, lunch with other program participants, a languishing walk in Madrid’s central downtown until 7 pm, and then Internet until dinner at 9 pm. I’m familiarizing myself with the city, and learning to pick up words through observation, though I sadly admit that my listening comprehension needs to significantly improve.

This Saturday is Madrid’s first cultural celebration of “La Noche en Blanco”, in which all the major museums/plazas/palaces/theatres/parks stay open through the entire night, offering free programs to all visitors. The festivities run from approximately 11:30 pm to 7 am Sunday morning. I’m quite excited to pick and choose among the numerous programs (49 pages of different events on the official webpage:, though I doubt my ability to stay up. In particular, I think I’m going to visit El Museo Reina Sofia, El Teatro Real, and La Plaza Mayor, but I’m going to do more research in the area.

Also Saturday, I plan to go to Segovia (a 2-3 hour bus ride) with other program participants in the morning. Evidently, a culinary specialty of that area is a roast piglet, served whole – the expression of open-mouthed surprise at the moment of death a popular tourist photo opportunity. Declared site of “Heritage of Mankind” by UNESCO in 1985, I look forward to seeing for myself the old Roman aqueduct and medieval castles that served as the inspiration for Walt Disney, among many other attractions (

Classes start 10/2, and to be honest, I remain petrified. Here in Spain, I long for the United States much more powerfully than I did in Asia. The inefficiency and torpor…the opportunity cost of just being here…I try not to think of it. I’m liking how different the experience is, and plan to travel and marvel at the riches of Europe’s historical heritage.

Monday September 18, 2006

September 18, 2006 - 11:04 am 2 Comments

The words of Miguel de Unamuno offer great comfort:

No hay más diálogo verdadero que el diálogo que entablas contigo mismo, y este diálogo solo puedes entablarlo estando a solas. En la soledad, y sólo en la soledad, puedes conocerte a ti mismo como prójimo; y mientras no te conozcas a ti mismo como a prójimo, no podrás llegar a ver en tus prójimos otros yos. Si quieres aprender a amar a los otros, recójete en ti mismo.

(my rough translation below)

There is no dialogue more truthful than the dialogue one has with oneself, and this dialogue can occur only when one is alone. In solitude, and only in solitude, can one know oneself as one knows others, and while one does not know oneself as well as one knows others, one cannot see in others other selves. If one wishes to learn to love others, withdraw in oneself.


Friday September 15, 2006

September 15, 2006 - 12:21 pm 1 Comment
Good news. But it leads to the inevitable question – is the full pardon of the main perpetrator of thousands of deaths and human rights violation a human rights violation in itself?

September 15, 2006

Uganda Peace Hinges on Amnesty for Brutality

GULU, Uganda — In the beginning, it was simply called the Acholi war, and despite its brutality, few people outside Uganda paid attention.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a messianic rebel group, was exploring a new dimension of violence by building an army of abducted children and forcing them to burn down huts, slice off lips and pound newborn babies to death in wooden mortars, as though they were grinding grain.

“I killed and killed and killed,” said Christopher Oyet, an 18-year-old former rebel who was kidnapped at age 9. “Now, I am scared of myself.”

But, for the first time in 20 years, the killing has stopped. The rebel leaders, boxed in and with dwindling support, signed a cease-fire agreement on Aug. 26. Whether it lasts depends on whether Joseph Kony, the phantom rebel commander who is said to live deep in the jungle with 60 child brides, and his top deputies are given amnesty.

That is uncertain, because they have been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Still, this is the furthest any peace deal has come, fueling hopes that one of Africa’s most grotesque and bizarre wars, which cost tens of thousands of lives, may finally be over.

White flags are already fluttering in Gulu, the hub of Acholiland, even from the antennas of government trucks. People are no longer night commuting, the signature north Ugandan exodus from villages to towns every evening for safety’s sake. Instead, they are returning to the carpeted green hillsides to plant cassava, corn and beans, and this time their hoes and machetes are being swung to make things grow, not to destroy them.

The victims of this war are so desperate to put the nightmarish days behind them that they want to forgive, just as much as they want to forget. Typical is Christa Labol, whose ears and lips were cut off by bayonet-wielding prepubescent soldiers she now says she would welcome home.

“Only God can judge,” Mrs. Labol said through a mouth that is always open.

Of course, the rebels are not out of the bush yet. Many still hide in a remote, lawless corner of northern Congo. Some people wonder if Mr. Kony, who has told his troops he is possessed by spirits, will ever give up.

Mr. Kony has said he will but only if he is not prosecuted.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Mr. Kony and four of his commanders. Ugandan government officials have said they will ensure that the rebels get amnesty if they surrender. But the rebels have said the amnesty must come first. It is an impasse that possibly only the international court can break, but the court, established in 1998, has not indicated what it will do.

“We’ve never had such a situation,” said Claudia Perdomo, a court spokeswoman.

The Acholi people have their own solution. It is the mataput — the word means drinking a bitter root from a common cup — and it is a traditional reconciliation ceremony. Peace is more important than punishment, Acholi elders say, and they would rather have Mr. Kony return to Gulu for a mataput than rot in some European prison. Although the fighting may be over, it seems a new battle has begun: tradition versus modernity.

“In our culture, we don’t like to punish people,” said Collins Opoka, an Acholi chief. “It doesn’t really get you anywhere.”

The Acholis know something about punishment. For decades, it was customary for members of southern tribes to get the prized university spots and good office jobs, while northerners like the Acholis were stuck in the fields. The Acholis were known as superstitious — and tough — and filled the ranks of the national army. They fought rebel forces led by Yoweri Museveni, and after Mr. Museveni seized power in 1986 — he has been president since — the Acholis were marginalized and persecuted.

Enter Mr. Kony, a former Catholic altar boy revered in his village near Gulu as a prophet since he was 12. He smeared himself with shea butter, said his body and those of his Acholi followers were impervious to bullets and vowed to overthrow the government.

“We saw him as our savior,” said Mary Olanya, who knew Mr. Kony growing up.

Mr. Kony claimed to be guided by the Ten Commandments but soon his army was violating each and every one.

From about 1988 on, the rebels terrorized their own people, raping, robbing and killing across Acholiland. According to former rebels, Mr. Kony communed with spirits and his rules became stranger by the minute — anyone caught bicycling had to have his feet chopped off; all white chickens were to be destroyed; no farming on Fridays.

Few adults wanted to join his cultish, bloodthirsty movement, and soon the only recruits were children, most against their will.

Mr. Oyet said he was snatched one night nine years ago from his hut near Gulu and forced to march miles into the bush. The boys whose feet swelled and could no longer walk were clubbed to death — by other boys. All new recruits had to help with the killing. It was called registration. The population responded to the rebel violence by seeking safety in numbers. Nearly two million people abandoned their villages and crowded into government camps. “It was a desperate time,’’ said Quinto Otika, a Gulu elder.

And it continued for years, nourished by the Arab-led government of Sudan, which gave the rebels arms and sanctuary as payback for Ugandan support for the Christian rebellion in southern Sudan.

But by 2002, the Sudanese government was making peace with southern separatists and no longer supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Mr. Kony — and his bodyguards and harem — fled to Congo, where, according to Ugandan military sources, they set up a slave kingdom, living off the land and slaughtering wildlife. By then, the elusive rebel army had shrunk to a shadow of a shadow, with fewer than 2,000 fighters left. The West mostly ignored this war, more focused on Rwanda, Somalia, and Darfur, Sudan. But in 2005, the Ugandan government persuaded the international court to issue arrest warrants against rebel leaders, despite pleas from Acholi elders.

In Acholi culture, killers are accepted back into the community after they have paid compensation, admitted to their misdeeds and shared a meal, usually a roasted sheep, with the relatives of their victim. This is the mataput ceremony, and it comes from the days when clans were tightly intertwined by marriage and trade and could not afford to alienate one another.

The Ugandan government eventually warmed to the idea and signed a cease-fire with the rebels that took effect on Aug. 29. Since then, some rebel soldiers have emerged from hiding. They plan to assemble at collection points in southern Sudan, where they will wait until a full peace agreement is reached.

Though some United Nations officials have bristled at the idea of granting immunity to Mr. Kony and his top commanders, Ugandan officials say they are confident a deal can be reached.

“We can go to the judges and say there are new circumstances and that the indictments are no longer needed,” said a Ugandan government spokesman, Robert Kabushenga.

People are already beginning to wonder what Mr. Kony will do if he comes home a free man.

“He never aspired to be a politician,” said Florence Adokorach, now in her early 20’s, who was kidnapped at age 14 and forced to be one of Mr. Kony’s brides. Instead, he told his young wife, he just wanted to return to spreading God’s word.

Thursday September 14, 2006

September 14, 2006 - 2:35 pm 1 Comment

I found a wonderful passage in one of Unamuno´s works that I must share, but forgot to bring the book to the Internet cafe. Starting tomorrow, I will hopefully be connected to the school´s wireless system instead of on this rather tenuous and ephemeral connection. Then, longer e-mails and xanga entries can freely come!

Orientation was…surprisingly short, no more than 2.5 hours. Dr. Eugenia Ramos went through the basics of the program, providing a severe warning that 55% of all students get robbed. (She advised us to never consider ourselves the exception; each year, robberies are consistently reported) Knowing my slightly paranoid tendencies at times, I am taking the precautionary advice to heart. (Though, I was mildly disconcerted when she discussed the common presence of navajaros, thieves with switchblades, which frequently linger around ATMs) She also discussed the predominance of stereotypes in Spain, which until the last few decades, was considerably isolationist. Due to the recent and historically unprecedented influx of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, stereotypes predominate, thus explaining away some of the discomfort I experienced in my initial foray into this country.

We met students from a committee at ICADE which focuses on helping international students integrate themselves, and I had the opportunity to practice my Spanish…and inquire about the odd phenomenon of nostalgia for Franco´s rule among the old people.

It was a great relief to see Penn students again, though I declined the invitation to go shopping after going shopping with the group of female students for already a rather significant time. Afterwards, I was able to get a cell phone sim card and finish all my paperwork, altogether culminating in a productive day.

I can´t wait until classes begin, but I am slightly frightened by the fact that unlike the culture in the United States, professors don´t give out As unless the work is spectacular. If English were the default language used, I would not give this fact a thought, but when considering my rather broken spoken Spanish and language difficulties, well…timorous I become. But I will work hard and I will appreciate whatever I learn.

Wednesday September 13, 2006

September 13, 2006 - 2:09 pm 2 Comments

Miguel de Unamuno once said, “Here in Spain, everyone is Catholic, even the atheists.” How very true!

Today I went to the famous Retiro park, established by Fernando IV in the 17th century. With over 350 acres of beautiful gardens, fountains, and sculptures, I enjoyed my ambulatory stroll, in particular enjoying the estanque de retiro (a large artificial lake), el palacio cristal (glass pavillion), rose garden, and the statue of “El Ängel Caído” (the fallen angel), perhaps one of the only statues in the world in honor of Lucifer. Evidently, there was a Forest of the Departed to commerate the victims of the 3-11 attacks in Madrid, but I did not wander to that section. This park was clearly one of the most beautiful that I´ve ever seen – an attestment to the coercive power of absolute monarchy.

Although the sunlight was very strong, the weather was overall refreshing – cool in the shade with a slight breeze. I kept thinking that if my family were here, they would love the park so much - my father could go running and my mother would probably squeal in delight with how many beautiful pictures she could take. It won´t be the same in the winter since many of the trees are apt to lose their verdure and the flowers dormant, but I know it will be beautiful nevertheless. I spent some time reading Unamuno´s Niebla while outside, and had an interesting lunch of a “bocadillo de tortilla de patata”.

School orientation starts tomorrow, and I am quite excited to feel involved in academics once again. After speaking with my mom yesterday, I feel so much better.

Tuesday September 12, 2006

September 12, 2006 - 2:51 pm 3 Comments

Sick of my feelings of futility, I followed my personal mantra of – a mind active of learning has no time for sentiments of doubt or loathing.

Intent on keeping a positive attitude on my travels, I woke up early to go the famous Prado Museum, one of the best art collections in all of Europe. After having no difficulty in navigating the Spanish metro system (very complicated layout, somewhat inefficient, the old cars are very tiny and without air conditioning though clean), I arrived at the Banco de España station, a short hike from El Prado.

The Prado Museum is truly glorious – a tribute to the resplendent history of Spain´s dynastical dominance in centuries long past. After studying many of these artists in-depth in class, I was very excited to see the originals before me.

There were enormous galleries dedicated to Velasquéz, Goya, El Greco, Tintoretto, Rueben, among many others. Most of the paintings depicted scenes from the Bible, Greek/Roman mythology, and the Spanish court, executed with technical mastery and a flair for the dramatic. In particular, Goya´s “pinturas negras” captivated my attention, especially “Saturno” and ”Los Atropos” (I will post pictures and detailed commentary when I am able to use the Internet on my own computer.) Though grotesque, these paintings expressed a raw sense of humanism that both intrigued and repelled – clearly, the basis for modern surrealism, based on the abstract and the absurd.

Goya, however, certainly was a prolific artist, his courtly works an attestment to his technical mastery and his broad array of styles. His paintings adorn many of the famous churches and palaces across Spain, especially in the palace of los príncipes de Asturias. 

I was also able to see Velasquéz´s “Las Meninas”, perhaps one of the most well-admired works in all of Europe. Astonishingly larger than what I imagined, the painting beguiles the audience with an intellectual play of perspective, in which Velasquéz himself is in the painting, facing you with a large canvas turned in the opposite direction, and the royal family parallel to him. With a mirror in the background hazily reflecting “you” and all the subjects of the painting staring foreward, you can´t help but wonder that instead of the young princess, you´re the one is being painted!

I enjoyed El Greco´s Biblical depiction the most, most notably “The Ascension”. Unlike so many painters of the epoch of roughly 1540-1614, his paintings have a remarkable fluidity and life to them. Although the subject of the painting is pretty much the standard biblical scene (ex; resurrection, crucification, arrival of the holy spirit, the trinity, the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, etc.), the paintings of El Greco have such a dynamic flow of color and movement through expressive long brush strokes and a truly inspired portrayal of human faces and movement.

The more fatalistic element in my personality liked Grien´s “Las Edades y la Muerte” (The Ages and Death), which depicted a woman through the stages of childhood, adolescence, middle age, and death. I´m not quite sure how I felt about El Bosco´s “El Jardín de las delicias”, but it was certainly one of the most popular.

After a few hours of touring the museum, I ate lunch at a local cafe (still feels a bit weird, eating alone in a foreign country…). Then, I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens right next to the Prado. With over 5000 plant species and a plethora of park benches, fountains, and sculptures, I pretty much lounged around, reading a book, writing a few letters, and enjoying the cool Fall day for around 4 hours. (How slow these days pass…just like the native inhabitants, I have spent countless hours doing pretty much nothing…just sitting in a park…I don´t know how much longer I can take this before the novelty of nothingness wears off.)

Meal times are still rather hard to adjust to. I feel like I´m constantly hungry since lunch is so late (2 pm) and dinner even more late (10:30 pm) with breakfast very light. And I can´t continue spending Euros as much as I have – things are very expensive here, and the museums are not free.

I miss home.

Monday September 11, 2006

September 11, 2006 - 2:39 pm 1 Comment

Spain  – A quiet September 11th disconnected from the world.

I took a long walk today and went to the gardens of Zabatini and the Royal Palace with Miguel de Unamuno´s “Niebla” in hand. Ah, existential reading when one is already lonely exacerbates feelings of alienation. I just can´t wait until the program starts so I can get involved in classes and get to go places with people, rather than rely on myself all the time.

Unemployment is clearly rampant. Never have I seen so many people in idleness and shops that close for the majority of the day.

My Spanish is holding up, though there is much to be improved.

Sunday September 10, 2006

September 10, 2006 - 1:56 pm 2 Comments

My first official day in Spain…my first trip to Europe. The connection between Heathrow and Madrid was so rushed, but I made it in time. In the few hours that I´ve been here, I´ve probably spoken more Spanish than a semester. (On the flight here, a girl from Mexico chatted my ears off) What a day to have! Needless to say, there are quite a few adjustments to be made. Madrid, as expected, is beautiful. It´s my first day here, and I´ve already been to the:

1. El Palacio Real
2. La Plaza de Sol
3. Jardínes de Zabatini
4. El Senado

Granted, everything is closed so I only got to peer in through the outside, but the buildings are beautiful and the streets are just as I imagined old Europe to be. Sitting outside El Palacio Real, staring at the magnificent edifice and the majestic sculptures of all the Kings since the Visigoths, it is not difficult to imagine the setting for Perez Galdos´ “La de Bringas”. Part of me, however, is wary that much of what to see here does not coincide with my research interests. Nevertheless, I will think of something, and will post topic ideas here.

Unfortunately, my host family situation is not ideal. My host mother is an ancient woman, widowed with no kids. She keeps an immaculate apartment, which is located in perhaps one of the best areas in town, very close to my school. She´s a nice lady, but some of her mannerisms have left me a little upset.

1. I called right before I took a taxi out of the airport approximately 3 times and no one picked up. Nevertheless, I decided to go to the apartment.  
2. I rang the doorbell when I got to the apartment many times and no picked up.
3. I walked quite a bit to find a public phone with my extremely heavy luggage to make a phone call and no one picked up.
4. I sat outside her apartment for nearly an hour, waiting for someone to be back.
5. When I got annoyed and finally rang the doorbell again, to my surprise, she was already in there and FINALLY let me in.
6. She showed me to all the important places nearby, but then left me in a crowded center far away from the apartment with tenuous instructions and a challenge, “there´s no way you can get lost”.
7. I did not get lost following her directions, but I basically walked 7-8 miles because I couldn´t figure out the shortcut way and had to go to the roundabout way.
8. When I did get back to the apartment, I discovered the keys that she gave me does not open the inside door.

Thankfully, I found an Internet shop and am waiting for her in here, connected to the world, before I go back.

I miss home already. Europe is beautiful, but I see it as more of a vacation than a school year. Gone are my clubs, and extracurriculars in Spain are pretty much very infrequent and very informal. I miss everyone at home already. My room is the size of a large closet…and judging from the state of the apartment, any tiny semblance of a mess is not allowed!


Tuesday September 5, 2006

September 5, 2006 - 12:57 am 1 Comment

The Democratic Republic of Congo – what a tragedy. The US small arms trade reveals the hypocritical nature of defense politics – despite our programs for the eradication of small arms (ex: recently $50,000 was given to OAS for destruction for small arms in Central America), the US still exports $533 million in small arms each year. The clear lack of parity between disarmament efforts and maintaining the lucrative small arms trade is most disconcerting. What’s the point of discourse on the indiscriminate nature of weapons of mass destruction if the main culprit behind civilian deaths are ubiquitously traded? US arms have found themselves in 97% of the world’s conflicts, many of them involving blatant human rights violations. And yet, the government still maintains the purest of human rights rhetoric to vindicate American conscience.

(Below from the NYT)