CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Category — Cultural Encounters

Pedestrian Pressure

My philosophy when it comes to walking around the city (or anywhere else for that matter) is that if you wait for the green “walk” light every time, you’ll never get anywhere. This mentality has made me a joke among friends who all seem convinced that I wait for traffic before crossing the street. Just as staying in your room all day has come to be known as “Pulling a Renee” amongst mutual friends, “Pulling a Liz” seems to have come to refer to taking a kamikaze stumble of sorts across a busy avenue.

As I’ve grown older and more reckless in my street-crossing I’ve come to recognize an amusing pattern among my fellow pedestrians. Walkers of any gender and age feel obligated to cross the street if someone else begins to. Level of traffic, time of day and location are irrelevant. If I begin to inch forward, so do a handful of people opposite and behind me. Jaywalking is the ultimate form of peer pressure.

I am a master of clumsily successful illicit street crossing, but not everyone is as vigilant and coordinated when it comes to safely making it to the other side. In this sense I sometimes feel guilty crossing the street when I’m not supposed to. This is because I’ve come to notice that when one person jaywalks, all others around said person feel obliged to do so as well. I will boldly step forward, preparing to weave through a line of slowly moving vehicles and others nearby will begin inching forward. It is as though they are unsure of what to do, the red hand is up but the crazy girl is walking anyway.

Jaywalking can be dangerous and in general is pretty juvenile. Maybe I’ll stop eventually but for now it’s still a thrill.

December 14, 2010   2 Comments

A Little Bit of Home

It’s amazing how taking a wrong turn can lead you to just the right place.

I was walking back from class, and I decided to take a detour; I was becoming sick of my 3rd Avenue routine. So, instead of turning left while walking crosstown, I kept going–and I saw some of the most wonderful things. I ended up in Greenwich Village, adorned with Christmas lights and infused with the wafting scent of pine. So of course, instead of heading to the dorms, I kept going away from them–and I found myself becoming even more immersed in the beauty of the area. It amazed me that it took me so many months to get to the West Side of the City, especially when this was what was waiting for me! Had I known, Broadway wouldn’t have been my exploration boundary.

I looked at my phone sadly, noticing that it was getting late, and started to turn South towards the dorm and the inevitable studying of the books within it–but then the best surprise of the night was upon me. I had never seen Washington Square before, and here it was, with a huge Christmas tree, glowing with the light of what seemed to be endless strands of decorations.

The whole night reminded me of home.

It all reminded me of the endless pine trees surrounding my dead-end street, of the countless decorations that my parents put up every year, of the lone lamppost in front of my house, the last house on the block, that always looks just a little magical when it snows.

Still, even though I am miles and days away from my small town of Manorville where the Island’s forks split, I was able to find a little bit of home in this grand city that now has an even larger part of my heart.

December 14, 2010   1 Comment

Having Fun with Sombreros

Recently, I had the great pleasure of going out with a couple of individuals I don’t normally see on a daily basis. It was a great change of pace, and overall the night was quite pleasurable.

I was sitting in my room planning on spending another lonely Thursday night by myself, when my friends, whom I haven’t seen in awhile, decided to go out to a restaurant called The Hat. Now, I have never heard of this strange place before, but they guaranteed me of delicious food and tasty beverages. After we all met up, we started walking towards our destination. The whole time, I was wondering what The Hat was, and at one point I couldn’t handle the suspense and had to know. At that point, my friends really wanted to tell me but didn’t want to ruin the night by telling me what or where the restaurant was. The only hint they provided was that it was a place where I’ve been to before.

We arrive, and as I’m standing outside, I look up only to realize that The Hat wasn’t the name of the restaurant. As it turns out, the name of the restaurant was El Sombrero, which is simply The Hat in English. At that moment I turn to my friends and tell them, “Of course I’ve been here before!” I couldn’t wait to go in because the food and the beverages were both amazing, and I couldn’t wait to order and devour a little taste of Mexico.

During our meal, I found several “Sombreros,” or Mexican-style hats, hanging on the walls of the restaurant. My friends decided to try the hats on, and to our great surprise, we looked fabulous in them. As the Mexican music filled the air, we danced the night away in our beautiful yet oversized hats, or as the Mexicans called it, “Sombreros.”

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Still Listens

<Still Listens, Acrylic Painting over Plastic Board and Cloth>

“What is the most powerful thing in life?” When asked to answer this question in an art and politics class at the Museum of Modern Art, I started to sketch a brain passionately. I believed intelligence is having the ability to wield power. Through this class, I observed how artists transmit their political views, thoughts, and inspirations by using their art as a medium. Studying political art exposed me to a broader view of the world. My initial thoughts of political art were that it must convey incomprehensible themes and controversial issues like racism. As the class progressed, I developed a sophisticated way of reasoning through my final project. I was able to obtain my third eye on examining a social issue free from establishing a fixation.

I chose to portray the theme of miscommunication between the people for my final project. Overexposed to the streams of excessive, unnecessary information from the internet and other sources, I suddenly realized my sensation has been dulled. After perceiving my dilemma, I started to examine our society in a different aspect. Surprisingly, I could see people raising their voices over insignificant things without even trying to understand each other every day.  Since communication is the fundamental tool for creating relationships among people and the building blocks of our society, I realized its profound impact was even beyond our cultural boundaries. The absence of sincerity, not the language itself, was the real bane causing social discord.

After I got the gist of the sketch, I decided to weave Korean culture into my work. My challenge was finding one focal point within two different cultures. I interpreted a Korean proverb, “reading a Buddhist bible to a cow,” which has the same meaning as “talking to a wall” in Western culture. I drew a cow wearing a mask, glasses, and headset to symbolize all sensors has been blocked. Then I cut the edges of the board as if they’re flowing into the headset. There was nothing particularly standing out as “Korean,” or “American,” but a newly intertwined culture of my own.

On the opening day of our exhibition, the diversity and richness of the viewers’ thoughtful approaches amazed me. When I was first asked what the most powerful thing is, I simply restated the well- known maxim: “Knowledge is power.” After ten weeks, I became aware that real power can be solely obtained by examining things in life in a creative and new aspect, and interpreting, feeling the world as it is.  Political art wasn’t obscure; it was simply a window that’s portraying us, reflecting our society, and showing the future. When I started to explain my final project, I felt more like an artists than just a high school student. I found a new sensation of happiness in the process of creating a work of art work and observing things in life in a different perspective.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Cape Cod

Every summer for as long as I can remember I have visited my uncle in Cape Cod. My family and I always go towards the end of August, right before school starts, and it is the perfect ending to summer. I get to escape the cloying humidity of the city and replace it with the cool salty breeze of Cape Cod. Time seems to stop in North Truro, the area where my uncle lives. I spend lazy days reading a book on the beach, occasionally getting up to cool myself in the icy water. I often just sit and stare out over the waves, sometimes being rewarded with the sight of a sleek seal popping its head out of the water. We visit the nearby Provincetown in the evening, a place full of happy and boisterous people. It is the only town I have ever experienced where people are so open about their sexuality and this contributes to the relaxed and carefree atmosphere you encounter there. Whether it be two men, two women, or a husband and wife, no one hides their affection and romance is everywhere. It is a town where everything and everyone is accepted.

Our last day in Cape Cod, I always make sure to run out to the cliff and take in one last view of the beach and endless ocean, as shown in the photo above. This will have to be enough to last me through the year until next summer.

December 9, 2010   No Comments

Cultural Encounter: This Time of Year

After going through my blog posts, it occurred to me that I am one cultural encounter short of the required number. Very easily I could draft up a summation of the semester, or describe my transition to the city; yet I would ultimately kick myself if I did not write just once on my favorite time of the year, Christmas. In the past, my ‘encounters’ have pondered serious questions and I had attempted to write them with the utmost eloquence and significance, what follows is quite different from what I have already written about, as I find it fitting to end the year on a lighter note. (If you so desire eloquence or gravitas, feel free to peruse my archives.)

In addition to the obvious religious importance, to me the Christmas season has come to typify all that is good in the world. The music, the giving, the lights, the atmosphere in the city, the smiles on people’s faces, the weather (yes, I said it), the happier attitudes, the decorations, the Santas on street corners, the trees, the wreaths, the candy canes, the stockings, the presents, the looks on people’s faces when they open the presents, the poems, the movies, ‘Yes, Virginia’ (my favorite!), the food, the family, the friends, the fireplace, you name it; I have come to love it all.

In fact, this past Saturday, I found myself risking both life and limb setting up lights on my roof (a la ‘Christmas Vacation’, best non-stop-action Christmas movie out there). Its funny to consider then that my favorite part of the season has nothing to do with decorations or gifts or songs, rather what I have come to love the most is that most everybody seems to be a little happier this time of the year, and if you come to know me, you will learn, there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing people happy.

That being said, there is one particular song that without fail signals to me that it is Christmas (it’s not “Last Christmas” by Wham!), the song happens to be from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and I have attached it for your listening pleasure. If you have heard it before, you will instinctively recognize its Christmas-sy Goodness: Christmas Time Is Here . Enjoy.

December 7, 2010   No Comments

“Although you’ll find our house a mess, Come in, sit down, converse. It doesn’t always look like this: Some days it’s even worse.”

Often, the walls and counters are splattered with tomato sauce, the microwave is covered in mysterious substances, and both the sinks are clogged with an odd assortment of meat and noodles at the bottom and gray material floating to the top.  That is the average condition of the kitchen at Ludlow.

However, there are times when the kitchen is spotless or at least there is enough clean counter space and one unclogged sink.  I boil water in the kitchen for my French-press made coffee; it is always empty and usually just cleaned.  I usually cook meals in the kitchen, and usually find some space.  But most interesting in the kitchen is seeing who actually uses it.

It is the one kitchen for eighteen floors of residents, and there is usually not a wait.  There are some regulars that I always see, first-time cooks, the occasional ramen cooker, and the Brita fillers.  There’s the girl from Baruch that I thought was from SVA whose family lives in the Dominican Republic, the awkward King’s College kid who owns all of the appliances and has the largest trunk of kitchen supplies, the other awkward King’s kid who makes cheesy baked chili and other boxed meals, and the Baruch guy that makes breaded chicken all the time.

It’s interesting to meet different people in the dorm’s kitchens that cook different cuisines and come from across the United States.  We all at least share one thing: a big mess.

December 6, 2010   No Comments

The Communicator

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Times square is known as the center where tourists from all over the world come and splurge in the delicious delicacies that New York City has to offer. To that extent, it is no surprise how well the mta transportation system is doing, despite its massive debt and rumors of fare hikes. Tourists often use these transportation systems, buses, ferries, subways, in order to get from one famous landmark, to a local delicatessen steeped in rich history.

The day started out like any other, with our IDC Arts class going to the Museum of Modern Art on a brisk day. It was quite a decent trip, and I had learned a lot about what Art is. What is Art? Well let’s just leave that discussion off to another day. After our professor-led tour was done for the day, everyone decided to go there separate days. I decided to leave with the bunch of people, who wanted to get food. The moment we left MOMA, one of my peers chose Halal food for lunch, and the rest of us followed. Far off in the distance, you could see a bustling Halal stand, with the employees of the place dressed in matching attire. When we were close enough, we could see the line of people waiting to get Halal food, and trust me, the wait was unbearable.

We had all eaten, and the food was amazing, considering I had a completely empty stomach when it was lunchtime. After all the food was consumed, we got on our way and took the subway back to Baruch College. However, we chose the wrong subway train to take at first, and ended up having to switch trains at Times Square. While in the Times Square station, a Chinese woman, from the southwestern part, asked me for directions to go to Herald Square in order to meet up with her friend. Now it would have been completely normal for us if we both had communicated with the English language. However, this was not the case. Instead, I was required to speak Chinese, something new to me because I haven’t spoken Chinese in so long. Luckily I was able to tell the woman where to go, and we were able to chitchat for a bit as we walked in the same direction. She told me how she just arrived in America a few days ago, and was looking for a friend to have lunch with.

She went her way, and I went back to join my friends after helping out the Chinese woman. For the rest of the day, there was a smile on my face, and I knew I had done something culturally astounding and productive the moment the woman had considered asking me for directions. Only in New York City…

December 6, 2010   No Comments

My Last Word

For as long as I can remember my Dad has been trying to get me to experience “culture.” Every time my birthday or Christmas roles around, the first question that pops out of his mouth is, “Do you want to see a Broadway play?” I always respond by trying to explain how movies are better and cheaper in every possible way, and once bought on DVD, Blu-ray, or digitally, can be watched as many times as one pleases. At least once a month he asks if I want to go into Manhattan and visit a museum. I tell him that there is nothing in Manhattan that interests me, especially since everything in Queens is just as good, if not better.

Ever since I had an opinion on the subject I have always tried to resist high culture, mostly because I have the feeling that it is being used as a shield or an alternative to resist advances in mainstream culture, and seems to clutch onto old ideas as if they are superior to new ones. The exclusivity of high culture events, like the opera, and Broadway plays seems to contradict the movement towards a more equal society, in which everyone can have access to the same entertainment. I also thought it was mostly really boring stuff. High culture usually rejects easy interpretations, often feeling distant and cold. For example the opera has both a language and a historical barrier; same with Shakespeare and ballet. Even more modern forms of high culture are too abstract and actively resist interpretation and the “mainstream.” This is even worse than the opera in some ways, one is just a language or historical barrier, while the other actively tries to shock and frighten normal people. These works do not serve the public; they serve a small elitist sub-culture that honestly feels their intellectual and abstract way of viewing things makes them better than the rest of us. It is as if they actively support class division, not by wealth, but by entertainment.

When I first got accepted into Macaulay I knew about the cultural passport and this class. I was hesitant, but willing to learn and see first hand high culture. I wanted it to justify its existence to me in a way that it never did before. This will probably be my last cultural encounter and to mark the occasion I am going to explain how being exposed to high culture over the last four months has impacted my feelings about it.

After seeing Fall For Dance, and the opera my overall perception of high culture did not stray too far from what it already was. It was not until we started studying photography that I started to see art through a new perspective. A lot of the photography we studied were taken for newspapers, or commissioned by the government during the great depression. This was a clear example of art being used for the public good, something that everyone could enjoy. The Scottsboro Boys, while not exactly affordable for the average New Yorker was approachable and could easily be enjoyed by anyone. It also taught an audience about an important event, without preaching to them. It had never fully formed in my mind that art could be used to teach people. Seeing the art at the MOMA was an experience. I enjoyed some of the modern simplicity of the art, but this art was created for the sake of art, something that I could not understand or appreciate.

In a way, this course has shaken my perceptions about high culture to some extent. I no longer feel that I am knowledgeable or wise enough to form a clear opinion on culture, whether it is mainstream or more refined. I am still wary about high culture as a way to divide the population into the elites and the masses, but I also feel that the line between the two is often blurred, something I learned while we were studying photography. I am still forming an opinion and I am always open to constructive debate.

December 5, 2010   No Comments


Last week my relatives visited from China and they were eager to adjust to American customs. I explained to them many of the customs we have in America, such as how it is almost necessary to tip whenever you go out to eat. In China tipping was a very foreign custom and it was unnecessary. It was only a few days ago when my cousins contacted me and sounded very excited on the phone. They claimed that they have acclimated to America very well and have been tipping wherever they ate. Naturally I felt very proud of them because of their quick adjustment and I was soon to ask them where they went to eat. They said they found a McDonalds near by and had decided to eat there. At that point I immediately knew what happened. My cousins went on to explain how they ordered a meal and then left a three-dollar tip on the table along with the trash. I quickly burst into laughter over their well meant but hilarious decision. I explained to them that in fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds, tipping was not required and that most likely their money was gone and the trash likely to be still sitting there. I found it very amusing to see how two cultures just cannot mix well. My cousins’ misunderstood American culture and their eagerness just lost them three-dollars.

December 5, 2010   No Comments