Friday, November 27, 2015

The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate

You may have heard about the University of Ottawa cancelling yoga classes earlier this week because apparently, Starbucks loving white folks practicing yoga may be considered culturally insensitive. Now I’m not a Hindu, so I can’t speak for how they feel about this, but being a person of colour living in a predominantly western society that has incorporated so many great cultural practices into its fabric, this is my take:

White folks practicing yoga is as much cultural appropriation as those same said white folks ordering take out Chinese food. (ie: It’s not; pull that political correctness stick out of your ass and get over yourselves).

The argument that western folks practicing yoga is ‘cultural appropriation’ stems partly from the fact that many yogis are skinny white girls in overpriced Lululemon pants that don’t understand the historical and spiritual significance of Yoga as a practice. And of course, there are the broader historical issues of centuries of racist subjugation and western colonialism. Obviously, I’ve dumbed down the argument for brevity, but I do get it.

But if our expectation is that in order to enjoy something, one must always learn the history and cultural context of it, and kowtow for all the past transgressions of our forebears, then you’d better get yourself some “Confucius says” and “Chinese History for dummies” books and get learnt, before you go for your next fill of General Tao’s Chicken or Shang Tsung Kung Pao Fried Rice. Because I hate to break it to you - there is NO historical Asian General, surnamed Tao, that had some secret chicken recipe that has mysteriously been passed down from generation to generation, ending up in your local faux Chinese take out haunt. So if you're white, and enjoy General Tao’s Chicken (whatever the frick that is), YOU’RE being culturally insensitive, assuming you subscribe to this strange measuring stick for what cultural appropriation is. (Also, Shang Tsung Kung Pao Fried Rice doesn’t exist, unless they’ve made a Mortal Kombat Kookbook I haven’t heard of).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be culturally aware when we adopt practices from others. I’m saying that in our quest to be culturally sensitive, we also need to be a little bit pragmatic in picking our battles. If you’re going to do something that stems from another culture, be respectful of it, and that’s good enough. I don't mind if you get a Chinese character tattooed on your back, just make sure it doesn’t say “I like Opium” or "Nice railroad".

Cancelling ‘white people yoga’ because you think it’s culturally insensitive, is in and of itself insensitive - you are appropriating precious airtime, when there are far bigger issues facing the world today than your ‘white privilege I’m offended by everything’ attitude. If you really want to demonstrate your cultural sensitivity, do something to stop the spread of Islamophobia and the vitriol coming out of so many here at home. Maybe tell those folks to chill out and take a yoga class or something. Just sayin'...

Alright, queue the hate mail. It’s Friday, I’m not at work, and I’m ready to fight.

Cultural Appropriation-1

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Photographing the Pupils, part IX

The day after flying home, we went straight back to work (to conserve our precious vacation time), and then I was teaching classes that same evening. You know that saying about being so familiar with something that you could do it in your sleep? Yeah, that was literally me that first class, as the jet lag set in.

These are portraits of my latest three students who sat for me.

Photographing the Pupils

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-5

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-2

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-3

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-6

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-1

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015-4

Photographing the Pupils - Nov 2015
And me, taken by one of my students.

All photos taken with the Hasselblad 500CM and Planar 80mm f/2.8 on Kodak Tri-X 400. Developed in rodinal 1+24 for 7:00min at 68 deg. F.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Furstensteig, Liechtenstein

A week after coming home, the jet lag is finally starting to subside. Instead of Berlin time, my body only thinks it's in the middle of the Atlantic ocean now... which probably isn't much warmer than here.

As winter begins to set in, here's a look back to our hike up the iconic Furstensteig trail on an unseasonably warm November day in Liechtenstein, a tiny mountainous country sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. The front section of this trail was largely just a narrow ledge carved into the side of straight up and down cliff face, which made for some exciting hiking.


A look back towards Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.

From the trailhead, looking up towards Alpenspitz, the peak we would eventually summit.


Anita mimicks the wide expanse of our view.

A panoramic view of Liechtenstein. I'm only mildly exaggerating when I describe this as the entire length of the country. It's only 24km in length N to S.







While the trail is well maintained, a fall would be fatal.


After rounding the backside of the mountain, we extended our day by traversing across to summit another adjacent peak.




Post hike, we celebrated with a local craft brew, a delicious dunkel by Prinzenbrau.

And then we walked over a covered bridge crossing the border into Switzerland (Schweiz), because we could.