Tuesday, January 16, 2018

CapAsia X: Travel, Study, and Enjoy Asia in Spring 2019

CapAsia is not only one of the best, genuinely-immersive field semesters in Asia, available to US students, but also has a lower price tag.  It has been participated by students from various schools including MIT and Berkeley and has received three Fulbright-Hays awards. 

The time-tested program is built upon select strengths of traditional field trip, center abroad, exchange, collaborative, field research, and other study-abroad models.  It provides a guided experience of Asian cultures directed at observing and making sense of the social spaces the local people create and use, and why.  The participants truly immerse in the socially, culturally, and historically different Asia and learn by doing collaborative projects with leading universities in the region, with the help of local experts and educators.  Home stays and local field trips are central to CapAsia; We also live in ordinary neighborhoods.

In Spring 2019 (Jan-Mar), the CapAsia group intends to conduct a 7-week project in Sukhothai, Thailand, and 3-week project in newly developing Yangon (Myanmar) (alt. Laos).  These longer projects will be complemented by a brief stopover in Bangkok and a few local field trips in Thailand and Myanmar (Alt Laos).  It is open to all majors from any school, with an interest in the social and cultural aspects of space, urbanism, culture, the natural and/or built environment.

While they experience Asia by doing collaborative projects, home stays, and field trips, the participants learn by transforming the experience into knowledge and reflecting about themselves, i.e., their environments, cultures, and the selves.  As they learn about Asian cultures, make local friends, and help communities to achieve higher quality of life on their own terms, the experience will help them situate themselves in today’s changing world.  The learning is transformative and the program is life-changing.  The directors were nominated for two national awards.

It is one of the low-cost foreign field studies, definitely worth the money, and would do enormous justice to a loan that you may have to take.  The program fee, $7,200, will cover long-distance travel and lodging costs.  The rest, cost of living in Asia, is minimal, a few hundred dollars.  In addition, students pay tuition fees at Ball State's off-campus rate.  You are eligible to use most scholarships and financial aid.

For more information, visit: http:capasia.wixsite.com/capasia

If interested, please contact
the Program Director, Prof. Nihal Perera (nperera@bsu.edu)
Co-Director Prof. Tim Gray (grayarchitecture@gmail.com)
or a Program Assistant: Anton Schauerte (aschauerte@bsu.edu); Zhou Lanyang (zl358@outlook.com)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lanyang's CapAsia: Spring 2017 in Thailand and Nepal

During CapAsia, in early 2017, I had a wonderful journey in Thailand and Nepal. We lived with local people and joined in their lives, trying to understand their culture, livelihoods, and the creation of spaces for their daily activities and cultural practices. During these ten weeks, I learned a lot of things which could not be taught at my college and developed many different ideas and questions on topics that I had not thought before.

Actually, I did not have any expectation about CapAsia before I joined it. As CapAsia was to begin at the end of the semester, I did not have extra time to think about anything besides my schoolwork. So, before I started my journey, I just told myself to be relaxed and tried to do everything good or bad that would come to me. I am very happy I did like that because I am a picky person. This time, I opened my mind to accept new things. This is the vital reason why I was able to gain so much during the trip.

And the most “harvesting” period was the 23 days in Si Sachanalai. Due to the perfect arrangement of Thai students in our group, we had a terrific trip in a small county in Thailand. I learned a lot from them. When we were in Nepal, the schedule was not so good. Also compared to the Thai culture, Nepalese culture was more unfamiliar to me; I could not get used to as well as to Thai’s. So, I did not engage in the fieldwork with passion as in Thailand.

Nonetheless, during this journey I gained extensive experience, about a large number of things that were totally different from what I had been familiar in China. These kinds of things gave me the opportunity to be an outsider and look into the life that I am used to; this situaiton let me make new observations and develop new ideas about my country, city and myself. The thing that enlightened me the most was the detailed experience of normal daily life, including the house we lived in, the food we ate and the entertainment we had. So, I would like to share some of details which made me have a reflection.

Toilet: Westernization and Modernization
The life which impressed me the most happened in a small county in Si Sachanalai which was called Sara Chit. The experience was deepened by the members of my team and I living in local people’s houses. What left the deepest impression in me was the toilet. It was a western style toilet, totally different from what is common in China which requires the user to squat when using it. I could not get used to using that toilet.

Western flush toilet is like a symbol of Westernization in China and many people even see it as an upscale object. So, people see the places with flush toilets as modern and fancy. Some places such as international airports and hotels need to consider their users who come from different countries which use flush toilets.

However, there are some places that use flush toilets to show their higher class. Some places like international hotels and airports adopt this kind of toilet to meet the needs of people from different countries, which had shown their top grade and servings. However, flush toilets are not appealing for most Chinese people. So, it is normal to see them queuing for Chinese style toilets at the public rest- rooms where Western toilets are available. Besides, many flush toilet rooms would have a notice asking not to squat on it. There were some flush toilets broken because people squatted instead of sitting on it. Even though flush toilets are not very convenient for Chinese people, it is common for fancy places to provide flush toilets instead of Chinese style toilets. The designers of these places not only think that flush toilets can represent top quality service, but also expect the user to think that the places with these are more gorgeous (Including me??), despite their process of using these are not very delightful. Most of the time, this kind of rest-rooms are luxuriously decorated; they use flush toilets and luxurious decorations to signal its customers that they would become rich people by using them. That is the why flush toilets are widely provided in public spaces, especially in places deemed upscale.

Some Chinese people ignore their comfortable daily life style, but chase behind Western style to show their higher-class life. I do not mean it is bad to use flush toilets or lead a Western life style. However, it is inaccurate to think Western things as better without evaluating its suitability. From this perspective, I see the blind chase of Western culture thought as modernization.

In the 1880s, China began using flush toilets. Despite the one-hundred-year history, flush toilets are still not accepted by Chinese people. Although the ordinary people have not accepted, flush toilets are popular among the owners of some modern places which ordinary people visit occasionally. When I was in Thailand, it was hard for me to pretend happy to use the Western toilet without good decoration rest room.

The using of flush toilet represents Chinese modernization to some extent. At least from that time people pay more attention to using modern technology to create a clean and neat toilet. However, this type of modernization has a deep connection with Westernization. Industrial revolution was the beginning of the modernization and it happened in Western world. The Western people built the system of the modern science. And they used technology built upon this science to create an efficient tool called the machine. Industrial revolution improved the quality of life of the humans and released them from toiling physical work. Because of these, Western people first began their modern life. And because all these things were born in western, modernization was the basis of western cultural background and ideological system. It is very hard to separate it from westernization without deep thought and understanding of one’s own culture. And some of people just easily think modernization is copying everything of western and chasing western blindly. In China, there is a sentence which satirize this phenomenon, which is went like ’the moon in the foreigner country is more orbicular than China’.

Modernization is not westernization. Now China has clean and neat Chinese style modern toilet but some people still had not accepted it. It’s the best to mix one’s own cultural background with the modernization process and then make out the new things belong to itself.

Seven-Eleven: Urbanization and Modernization
When I was in Bangkok, I liked shopping at Seven-Eleven convenience store. I maintained my love of Seven-Eleven during the entire stay in Si Sachanalai. I went there at least once a day. Maybe this is because that is the only modern-city convenience found in the small county where I resided. I could buy snacks and other things that came from city.

One day I heard that a nearby Seven-Eleven was closed down because it did not have enough customers. This news sounded unbelievable to me. Because Seven-Eleven is so necessary for people’s daily life; people can find the latest snack, low-fat milk, hot coffee, magazine and so on there. All of these things are needed in normal life. Could it be said that seven-eleven would firstly occur to one’s mind if he needed anything? At least I did like that. However, the reason that it went bankrupt was that in that locale the seven-eleven was a new thing with which the local people are not familiar. Besides, people there already had the shops they were used to. When they need anything or they need to the shop they went to the shops they are familiar with instead of a new one or “professional” Seven-Eleven. When we shopped at the local stores, it was common to find people chatting; some customers spent their whole afternoon in a shop. So, the small local store is not merely a commercial place but also a social place for the small county people.

In most stores, the boss was also the worker. Sometime the store is his home or it was close to his house. While the Seven-Eleven belongs to an international professional company, the staff trained by the company have many rules to obey. So, it is impossible for them to spend too much time chatting and socializing with their customers. Most workers at Seven-Eleven are young people whereas the workers in the local store are aged or middle-aged people who have lived there for long time and familiar with the local life. The boss of the small store was not only a business person, but also a friend of local people. So, the small local store was more popular than the Seven-Eleven. For local residents, this kind of small store is vital for their daily life. They could not only buy the things they want, but also would also get different kinds of messages they need and is a vital place for them to spend their day time. As for the Seven-Eleven, it was the baby of the urban life. Its professionally efficient service perfectly matches the high-velocity city life. And city residents do not need it to have the function of social interactions, because the city has separate social and recreational places which are totally different from the small county and the countryside.

The rural area is not like the city in which one complex work is divided into many different detailed parts. Rural areas are not like cities which have cinema, coffee bar, shopping mall and other professional place for social interaction and recreation. The rural cannot afford the cost of such division of tasks. Its social life usually happens in a small store, food market or somebody’s house. Rural life needs one thing with diverse functions instead of separated into small functions like in the city. Along with this, country life is slower than the city: People chat in the shaded places or stay at home. Seven-Eleven was created for the city life which is a different. That is the reason why Seven-Elevens cannot prosper in rural areas. When they can, it is likely that the rural life aspects will be transformed, or vice versa.

This was the first time I felt deeply the contradiction between the urban life and the rural life. Conventional knowledge is that the rural areas are not as developed as cities and the life in the rural is not so convenient. People in rural area also want to enjoy modern life. So there are lot of people moving from countryside to the city. At the same time, rural areas are trying to modernize. But modernization does not mean looking like a city. Countryside should learn from city’s experience and technique, but its modernization should root in the rural style life, and create rural modernization.

The Spirit of Spontaneous Recreation
During the time in Si Sachanalai, we participated in many local festivals. At the festivals there were wonderful shows, many fool stalls and booths for shopping. This kind of celebration was usually held in a park or an open space close to the famous temple in the area. The one which impressed me most was the festival celebrated in the Si Sachanalai Historic Park. That festival lasted for three days and was participated by people and vendors from many counties in Si Sachanalai. Every county had their own area to show their unique characteristics. And every area was well-decorated. The county I lived in called Sara Chit also joined this festival and it was famous for its traditional kite called Jula. In their booth, we saw many beautiful kites which were made by the champion of the kite competition. He was an old man and we had talked to us during our field study. From the conversation we knew that he only made kites for exhibition and festival decoration. He did not sell them. We also met a lot of people whom we had interviewed before. At the last night at Si Sachanalai, we were invited by my host family to watch the Sara Chit’s show. And this show gave me lots of points and thinking.

It was a five-minute show involving four actors and two actresses. One actor acted for a girl. They sang as three couples, wearing traditional working clothes and holding a bouquet of rive paddy in hands. I guess their show was about a love story between man and woman in countryside. From my perspective, it was not a good quality show; they were not professional actors and did not have fantastic theatrical properties. Yet everyone was so happy to see their acting. I was moved more by their passion than the acting of the actors. During the show, I started to think about how this group of people came together and organized their festival. From this festival, I can see a kind of spirit which is necessary for the formation of a community or a group. I saw this spirit as spontaneous recreation.

The spirit of spontaneous recreation is a creature of peace age. When people do not need to worry about surviving, they have more time to spend on recreation. Besides, it is also a spontaneous action, because it is put forward by people and made by people. Finally, it represents a “comfy” attitude which only exists in an environment where the diversity and people’s courage to speak out are allowed and/or exercised. This kind of spirit may be normal in Western world. But it is lacking in China.

In China there are not as many different groups as in the West. Society in China is more like an administrative unit than a group of people living as a unit. Some developed cities like Shanghai and started to have more groups organized by people. But there are far more people living as a individuals, alienated from others. The Chinese society lacks different groups organized by people. I think there are two main reasons:

First, under the paternalistic government, people lack the spontaneous sense. This has lasted for a long time. China has been a big country since the ancient time and the whole country was ruled by one emperor and his government. It is so hard for them to control the country well when different people have their own ideas. So, diversity was not welcomed by the governors and the people did not directly fight for it.

In Street Culture, Wang Di shows us an interesting street life in Chengdu during Qing Dynasty. At that time, the government did not govern local institutions severely. The city was run by the elite or the leader of the people. So, there were many different kinds of people sharing the public space together and they used their order to keep the city going. There were vendors using the street to do their business, peasants were teased by the city residents, a woman who sat at her house and chatted with the people on the street and a group of people found a person with fame to solve their problem in a tea house and so on. When the government decided to modernize the city, they published many rules and strengthened their execution. The city became cleaner but with less diverse. To run the city well, the government needed the maintaining of order to become easy. It made decisions like a parent. It provided people what is good from its perspective without caring about the real thought about its children. The children were hard to against its order. What the government provided was not bad, at least it enabled millions of people to have a good life which was much better than what they had before. Besides, more and more people thought it is good to follow the mainstream. None-mainstream thought was not encouraged. Finally, people do not want to implement their ideas because what they already had was not so bad and their ideas are hard to become true at the same time, they do not want to express their ideas for the fear of sneering by other people. So, the only way is to accept what the state gave. With time, people lost the ability to fight for things they want spontaneously.

Second, under heavy life pressure it is hard for people to ignore the result and just enjoy the process. To earn more money people usually limit the time they use to have fun. If some people decided to play a show, since it is a rare chance for them to have a show, they would make everything perfect and give themselves much stress. People cannot relax to have fun, because the recreation is not a normal thing for them. Just like when China first hold the Olympic Games, the government spent much money on it and gave the whole world a splendid ceremony. But if china have hold the Olympic Games many times, that show won’t be as brilliant as the first one. Luckily, nowadays China is more developed than before. I can see people in my generation are much more relaxed than their parents. We are relaxed to enjoy the things we want without caring too much about the final result and others' comments.

During the festival time in Thailand, I saw a group of people organize events by themselves to show their county’s character with happiness and were relaxed. This is a cooperation of a group. All they want to do is to tell people how good their county is. They were proud of their county and enjoyed the festival.

If people could have this kind of spirit when constructing their city, finding their partners to do the things they want and using their power to change the environment they live in, it can not only make the residents have more sense of belonging of the area they live but also help the community establish its unique personality. The city will be harmony, due to people getting to know each other more during the working process. I think this kind of spirit is a good thing to solve the Chinese urban problems that the sameness of all cities and the social apartness.

The establishment of the spirit of spontaneous recreation needs the government to give more freedom to its people. It should be both physical and psychological freedom. Letting people have more time and energy to think about their city, and help materialize their ideas. Moreover, people should have more courage to produce diverse thoughts and practice. As for the city resident, they need to be relaxed and enjoy the life. And I am so happy to see more and more people do this.

In Thailand, I deeply felt the cohesion and happiness of a group from the spirit of spontaneous recreation. This kind of relaxed and active spirit is vital for the formation of a group. Making people connect with each other and attach themselves labels created by themselves. The space which created by this people is more like a people space and full of people’s story.

Heritage: City’s Story and People’s Story
I really admire Thai people that they permeate their history into their lives and give it a new meaning. The historic park means a normal park for the locals. They use the historic park in their daily life. I can see the inheritance of their culture and the conversation between the ancient time and modern society. I always thought that everything existing on the world is like a balloon which would fly away without the rope tying it with ground a. The connection between one with the others is the rope. If one thing can have more connection with other things, it is safer to exist in the world. But the historic environments lack of this connection, because the society has totally changed; their functions are not useful for modern people any more. These environments become fragile needing special protection. That is the reason why there are UNESCO World Heritage Committee and relative rules. On the contrary, if these environments are reused by the modern people again, they would have their historic functions connected with the modern world.

The reason why I started to think about this question is because my hometown is famous for a world heritage – The Leshan Grand Buddha. It is like a symbol of my city. Every time when I introduce my city I would mention it. But one day I began to think about the meaning of the Buddha to my city. On that day, I was standing on a small hill in the center of the Leshan’s old city where you can see all the old city including the Leshan Grand Buddha sitting on the opposite of the river. But in the direction of the Buddha, there were two skyscrapers standing like two giants ruining the view of the Buddha. I thought these two skyscrapers cut off the connection between the Leshan Buddha, an ancient thing, and a modern people like me. I was mad about that two buildings and started to search about the Buddha’s image in my mind. I found I only have been there twice during the eighteen years. And the other memory was the Buddha image on the street light on the main road (to strengthen the Buddha image of Leshan the government put the Buddha’s pictures in many places especially for the tourist). The Leshan Grand Buddha is more a tourist site for me. It has no connection with Leshan’s culture and Leshan people’s life, but it has a strong connection with Leshan’s GDP. From that time I began to pay more attention to find the historic objects’, monuments, and environments’ relationship with the local life. The sad thing is that people living with history is very rare.

Now the problem of the Chinese historic heritage is that people pay more attention on its commercial value instead of its original meaning. Heritage has been developed like a tourist site which establish a connection between it and the modern society. It was protected because it can make money. But I think its original meaning was polluted by this connection.

If a young kid goes to the temple with her/his parents, s/he will leave the impression that people come to the temple for fun and the temple is a good place to make money. The historic and spiritual messages this site wants to express are totally changed into commercial, economic, and touristy ones.

Heritage changes with times. When people of a different age try to give it a new meaning, I think, it should be based on its past. We should understand the story that happened in the past and respect it so that we can inherit the history well; keeping it as it was, adding to something created by us, and then passing it to the next generation. It should not only let people in the future know what it looked like and meant in ancient times but also see how it looks like in our times.

Heritage’s culture value and historic value should be well protected and the best way is to make connect it to people’s lives, just as how Thai people do.

As far as I remembered, the most touching word I heard from the whole journey was when we were at ASA (Association of Siamese Architects), one of the architect said (approximately): ‘A place where there is a story can be called a heritage.’ When I heard these words, I began to imagine what a city full of stories looks like. When we in Kamphaeng Phet, we met a group of young people. They organized an art exhibition to raise money to protect an old building in a local school. They said they loved that building even it is very old but it is full of people’s memory. They wanted to fix it and turn it into a library or a coffee bar. This is the first time for me to see ordinary people standing out to protect their building.

China is a country with rich stories. However, in most of the situation, the story is used for making money. But we can even not protect these old valuable stories well, needless to say our ordinary stories. The experience in Thailand has enlightened me a lot. Heritage is the story’s carrier. This story can be as big as having connection with the whole nation or just about one person. How can we make these stories remain real? In the past, I did not think that I have any duty to protect the heritage. Now I think I am obliged to do it, because the beautiful story which comes from thousands of years ago needs better protection, also because it is my story.

Chinese planning is very different from that of the West. City planning is more like a government business. All what the residents can do is accepting. We call this kind of planning ‘from the top to bottom’. Even for me, as a city planning student, when I am doing my planning project, I always think I should help ordinary people and give them the thing which I think is good. After CapAsia, I started to change my attitude. I am a normal city resident more than a city planner. I would ask myself, as a city resident, what kind of city do I want to live in? As a normal resident as well as a city planning student, what can I do by using my city planning knowledge to create a normal residents’ dream city? Now I think city planning is the business of everybody who live in the city and it is also an easy but difficult thing everyone can do. People have their agency.

My Biggest Harvest: Learning Stereotypes
From the whole journey, I think I have worked out my problem of the stereotype. During the process, we managed to understand different people, different culture, different life, and doubled the things we took for granted. The purpose for doing this is to tear off the tag which were created by the society we lived in, the culture we had and our growing environment. Now I have learned to see the essence of one thing, or the basic thing without all the interpretations given to me. For example, if there is a water, it is just a water, a kind of liquid which is used to drink when creature gets thirsty. It is not a bottle of water with healthy mineral substance, fashion package or it is sold for rich people or ordinary people. When I am thirsty, I just need a safe liquid to make me feel better. I found when I can ignore those unnecessary tag I become more relaxed than before. I can accept the diversity of world better and find more possibilities of each thing.

After I was back, I read a book called Brief History of Humankind. It tells how the humans created virtual concepts like government and bank to keep human world going. Combing with my CapAsia experience, I think the humans attach themselves too many tags. It is too tiring to live like this. When I just want the thing A, I have to accept the B, C, D, E attached on it. It is exhausting. Some of these tags exist since the people are born, they hid soundlessly (secretly) in our minds and keeps controlling us unconsciously.

This journey gave me a good chance to judge the tags in my mind and ask whether I should keep them or not. Once I abandoned one fixed pattern in my mind, I would own thousands of possibilities of new things. Anyway, tearing off the tag is a happy thing, it makes my world filled with love and peace. In the process of growing up, we need to put on new tags on ourselves to define who we are at the same time tear off the tags which were imposed on us. I think this is the thing what I am doing now: unlearning old and rigid stereotypes, learning things that are more real to me, and liberating myself from the old chains.

Finally, thanks to CapAsia for giving me a new sight on the world and thanks for Nihal for giving me the chance to take another look at the world and myself. Thanks everybody we met on the journey, the love and help I received from all the people who made me feel that I could not be more lucky. Thank you CapAsia! Thank you for the beautiful world!

Zhou Lanyang, July 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Zhang Ziyu in Thailand and Nepal: Reflections of a CapAsian (2017)

Sumer is approaching in Changsha, China, but I still miss the summer we spent together in CapAsia early this year. Joining this program was really a wonderful decision I had ever did. There is so much that I gained from CapAsia and is hard to tell all. Everything I experienced and everyone I met gave me new ideas about this world and myself. That make me become a better person. Let me try to recount some of this experience and my reflections. 

Si Satchanalai Project 

This is the first CapAsia project in Thailand. Everything was new for me. At the beginning of CapAsia, I always want someone to guide me and tell me what should I do. However, with the deepening of research, I learned that things were changing all the time. Do not panic about no survey direction. Time is the best way to tell us what we learn. For me, this was a self-positioning process.
We spent three weeks in Si Satchanalai, a district which is located in Sukhothai Province, trying to find the other side of Thailand. To be honest, I knew little about Thailand’s history and culture before I went there, especially, Sukhothai which was the first Thai kingdom was unfamiliar to me. However, everything unknown or interesting taught me how to do research. Observation and curiosity are the first step of survey.

The three sub-districts that our group focused were, Nong O, Tha Chai and Si Satchanalai. Si Satchanalai historic park is one of the most a significant landmark in this area. However, most tourists including Thai students did not know that there is a chinaware town nearby. My homestay father is a shop owner in the town. He wanted to get more outside information and make chinaware and be famous. He also had some good ideas on how to make his dream come true. Unfortunately, there were money problem and some obstructions with the local government. There are many businessmen like him in these sub-districts and they use their limited energy to develop their own lives. “Listening” helped us to learn their stories, needs, also what we need to do in the future. Most importantly, we learned from them. They made me start to think about my own major. What is our role of an urban planner?

Moreover, this project taught me how to learn and understand different kinds of people. Culture is people’s lifestyle. Sometimes we do not realize that something is culture because we feel comfortable. As an outsider, life experience in Thailand made me feel its culture more easily. Examples include bare feet in the room, sitting on the floor to have dinner, and taking cold showers. How to communicate became a big problem for us. Our difficulty to communicate with the Thais was not only due to the language difference but also due to the gap in understanding. A real understanding can only be built on long-term relationships. For instance, during the first week, when my homestay parents wanted to communicate with me, they always talked to my Thai friend in Thai language first and waited her to translate for me. As time went by, we became closer; the hosts tried to use some English words directly. What we need to do is just respect the locals and their culture and try our best to understand and learn.

There was another interesting story I remembered. When we had free time in Sukhothai after the project, we met a Chinese girl with her parents. She complained that she planned a three days trip in Sukhothai, but her program was completed in one day and was feeling bored that time. It was strange that I did not know where to start talking even though I came in touch with so many interesting things there. How can I help her get the same feeling as me in three days? Maybe the difference is between travel and experience. People usually care about their own feelings on a trip. They want to get experience of beauty and gain self-satisfaction in a short time by traveling. By contrast, people who do research will pay more attention to the environment and local people. They might get a new understanding and change themselves by making long-term observations and communication with local people.

Kamphaeng Phet Project

After a three-week study in Sukhothai, I almost had a basic understanding of CapAsia. So I started to relax and enjoy the trip. Owing to only ten days we had in KPP, we needed to look for stories which we wanted to focus on in a short time. Fortunately, Yuan and I found our study direction quickly, even though it was difficult to travel to the site, at first. I must admit that this was a period of rapid growth and of finding myself that I never knew.

Our target was Ton Pho Market, an old market which is close to the local government office and the historical park. In our viewpoints, it is a good location for the market. However, when we first visited this old market at noon, we saw a few venders and customers. Why is it a depressed market? This was the beginning question that directed our group’s inquiry.

We learned the following by talking with people in this old market.
  1. Only if people pay less money for government, they can do business in the old market. This is a market with 60 years history. And it takes time-sharing and vender-flowing operation. It means the rush hours of the market are the mornings and nights, not noon that we visited the first time. Hence, our first impression was not totally true.
  2. The influence of the old market is waning. There is a larger market nearby which has a 30-year history and is open all day. Local people called it the Central Market. At first, we wanted to find a vendor who has moved from old market to the Central Market and had a talk with him; we also wanted to find the connection between the two markets. When we went to the Central Market, we realized that the scale of central market is beyond our imagination. As the time is limited, we decided to pay more attention and do deeper research in the old market and also get some basic information about the central market, particularly how it affects the old market. There was a variety of vendors in the old market:
    1. Old owners who has a steady stream of regular customers are satisfied with things as they are. Most of them had business for more than 10 years. They did not want to give up the circle of friends at the market; they also believed that a move to the Central Market would make them compete with more of the same trade and won’t make more money.
    2. New owners do not have a steady stream of regular customers because the popularity of the old market is declining. They preferred to move to the Central Market for greater development.
    3. Some vegetable vendors moved between the old market, Central Market and the night market. They did business in different markets at different times in order to make optimum money. Some venders did not sell things for a living, but for a hobby, or a way to fill time. So the cheaper booth-fees at the old market attracts them.

Through the study, we found that the old market and central market have different functions and different service times and areas. Their relationship is more than a competition. It is more of a cooperation and joint development. The owners have their agency to adapt and change the market. Moreover, the old market is not only a selling and buying space but also a social space for customers, vendors, workers, and those who come to hang out. The old market is already a part of their life.
This makes me rethink about planning I learn in school. Sometimes, we only consider the function of space and ignore the affection needs of people. People have a variety of needs and they will also change with time. What if the planners can follow people’s changing needs and make some changes in planning to accommodate this? Maybe people will live more comfortably and planning will be more successful.

To summarize the whole process, there are some problems and insufficiencies in practice. The first one is qualitative analysis is more than quantitative analysis. In fact, I still have some questions like how many owners in the old market totally? What kind of business do they do? How long have they been doing the business? what time do they open the shop? I wonder whether the old market can operate in the future.

The second shortcoming is most of our investigation objects what we focus on were shop owners. We lack of deeper talking with customers, government employee and local people near the market.
Nonetheless, I learned a lot of communication skills and developed a research mindset from the KPP project. In order to get more correct information, we need to observe steadily more than once. When we get information at the first interview, we could never come to a conclusion immediately. Hence, it is important to ask more questions on account of what we know and more information will come and wrong information will be amended. The whole study started with a question. The curiosity drove us to observe, ask, and reflect, over and over again. We wanted to help the market to be a booming market first but, in the end, we just understood a part of the market. What is study? Don’t always think about change, start with understanding first.

Kathmandu Project

For the last project of CapAsia, we came to Nepal. We collaborated with the students at Nepal Engineering College who major in architecture and conducted a joint architectural design project with them. We only participated in the preliminary phase of it. We talked with local people and tried to learn local culture and history. We then shared our observations and reflections with the Nepali students in view of helping and guiding their design process.

There is similar class in my college, but we never spent much time on survey and rarely asked why before. We always wanted to start our design quickly after we got the design requirements. The whole trip taught me to ask why and express my views as much as possible, even though we cannot get the answer.

I learned many more important things on the way. Nepal students wanted to build a museum of Newari culture. What we did was to think of some questions like how should we define museum? What is Newari culture? Do they really need to build a museum? How to show Newari culture in a museum? Everyone had their own opinions after study. Someone even said they do not need a museum. That sounded amazing and beyond my expectation. Everything will happen. This is CapAsia.


All the things I faced in CapAsia, all become the things I learned. During the 11 weeks, I met so many people who have different backgrounds and personalities. They showed me a colorful and totally different world. I started to think about some questions that I never did before. I learned my capacity for self-expression and things-redefine. We always do planning according to our thinking without a concern for the city and people before. We often ignore what is happening, but prefer to recall what is losing. In my opinion, it is easy to get away from our daily life like going on a trip, but it is very difficult to observe our own lives. How to close to people. How to close to our life. Maybe this is the real thing that CapAsia taught me.

Ziyu (Zoe) Zhang


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Newari Cultural Center/ Museum in Kathmandu

We just completed CapAsia IX conducted in Thailand and Nepal (in spring 2017). In Kathmandu, CapAsia students got involved in the NEC project to design a Newari Cultural Center/ Museum. Due to our limited time (3 weeks), CapAsia and NEC students brainstormed how to approach.

One of the highlights was Iris (Zhou Lanyang) focusing on museum as a process of transfer of culture from older generations to younger ones. In addition to displaying objects, the museum can also be a place of live storytelling. Moreover, much of the class focused on public culture, thus extending beyond the usual elite culture. The need for a cultural center when the Bhaktapur Durbar is present was questioned. Amber Janzen discussed the possibility of adapting (with necessary adjustments) the neighborhoods of ordinary Newari people just outside of the durbar (the royal square) which represents the culture of the Newari elite. The neighborhood is fully functional and there is no need for actors to act like Newaris.

For Iris and others, culture is never static and never the past; it also has a future, but the crucial moment is the present. The present is the pivot between the past and the future [however far they may span]; the present is also only time the culture-makers have agency to produce culture and some control (other thane defining at a latter stage). Iris connected this thinking with her own experience of older people sharing stories. Near Wat Phra Borom That (the Burmese style temple in Kamphaeng Phet), she had observed "old people" sitting outside on a bench and sharing stories from the past with her. Can we get people like this to tell their stories and the younger generation to come listen? The central process that needs to be included or housed in a museum was thus conceived.

This highlights how a dynamic process (instead of a product) can define a cultural center (as most other institutions and spaces), rather than building a house for artifacts, although some artifacts maybe a part of this project. The location is highly important and it could be a crucial driver. The design challenge is to organize the process along with its spaces and built forms.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Travel, Study, Engage Asia in Spring

In Spring 2017, the CapAsia group intends to explore and carry out small projects in newly developing Myanmar and post-earthquake Nepal, with a brief stopover in Thailand. Open to all majors from any school.
CapAsia is a nationally and internationally recognized unique study-abroad program. The participants truly immerse in the socially, culturally, and historically different Asia and learn by doing collaborative projects with leading universities in the region. As you learn about Asian cultures, make local friends, and help communities in achieve higher quality of life on their own terms, this life-changing experience will help you substantively situate yourself in today’s changing world. CapAsia has received several national and international awards and the directors were nominated for two national awards.

It is one of the low-cost foreign field studies, definitely worth the money, and would do enormous justice to a loan that you may have to take. The program fee, $7,200, will cover long-distance travel and lodging costs. The rest, cost of living in Asia, is minimal, a few hundred dollars. In addition, students pay tuition fees at Ball State's off-campus rate. You are eligible to use most scholarships and financial aid.

Please join us on any Wednesday at 4;30pm at the planning conference room to learn more about this lifetime opportunity. There will be free pizza!
If interested, please contact the Program Director, Nihal Perera (nperera@bsu.edu) or Program Assistant, Amber Janzen (aejanzen@bsu.edu). Look forward to seeing you at an information session.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Claire's CapAsia Experience

Growing up, I wanted to be an artist, an oceanographer, and even an astrophysicist. It turned out, though, that these were brief phases, as I painted glamorous images of each profession and ultimately discovered that my interests did not quite align with any of them. I finally decided on architecture, at Ball State University, where I quickly learned that my interests and passions were most closely aligned with planning and development. Planning, I realized, could allow me to work with critical urban issues such as poverty and housing, while still including design.

My first two years in the planning studio were both marvelous and disappointing. I was captivated by the complexity of the city and the forces that determine the development, growth, and shape of all urban existence. The problem, though, was that the scope of many studio projects often touched surface issues only. It was finally after my first economics course that I began to understand the complexity of the city and the dynamic systems that are much more influential than any plans I had designed. I soon declared a second major in economics, encountering tools and themes that illuminated my studio projects and explained growth and development patterns in cities. Most important, in order for me to become a visionary leader who could view a community comprehensively, I knew that I would need to understand both the science and analysis of economics as well as the social and urban considerations of planning.

Such ideals finally became real for me when I left Indiana for a semester in Southeast Asia and soon found myself in Chharanagar, a vibrant neighborhood on the fringe of Ahmedabad, India. Although I had spent a week on a service trip in Haiti, this was my first long-term experience in a developing nation. With my fellow students I entered the oppressed, though hopeful, community in order to understand the goals and priorities of the people, and utilize my skills as a future planner to collaboratively help them achieve their community goals. Because typical research methods were not available, I had to draw upon the primary resource available to me: the people. I spent my afternoons exploring Chharanagar, talking to mothers on porches, sipping tea with families inside the cool homes, taking notes about everyday life, sketching structures, and manually constructing a map of the community. Through such interaction, I discovered countless details, from caste oppression to a remarkable pursuit of justice through the medium of theatre that cannot be drawn on a map or displayed by numbers.

As I studied Chharanagar, I also carried out an independent study in urban economics. The course changed the entire way that I viewed both economics and planning, enabling me to see the relationship between the two. When I looked back at my past community development projects, I saw that the proposals lacked depth, feasibility, and people as the top priority. The lens through which I viewed my world shifted drastically, and I refocused my undergraduate thesis on low-income affordable housing to reflect these new insights.

Before I even had a chance to fully digest my experience in Ahmedabad, I was living on the edge of Kathmandu with Timila, an architecture student at Nepal Engineering College, and her lively and hospitable family. For two weeks, I was incorporated into nearly every aspect of their lives. I walked to and from school every day with Timila, took part in the family’s celebration of Holi, the festival of colors, and came home to a nightly meal of dal bhat. Although my stay with Timila was the most challenging part of the trip, it was ultimately the most rewarding and enjoyable as I was immersed in the vibrant, everyday life of a young Nepalese woman my age.

After four months in Southeast Asia, my entire viewpoint had been shaken, electrified, and entirely revolutionized. With an incredible passion for the synthesis of economics and urban planning, a substantially expanded worldview, and a far greater understanding of the planning process, I was quite far from the romantic planner that I had once been. Today my goal is to bridge the gap between social urban planning and economic development as a leader in a not-for-profit organization or in government, through a redevelopment authority. I hope to use economic and data-driven methods, in conjunction with community engagement, to regenerate declining urban areas and revitalize local economies. Ultimately, I want to be a planner and economist who makes effective decisions to improve the urban fabric and the quality of life within it.

Claire Thomison
CapAsia VI Participant