English House Gazette 2014

We open the latest edition of the English House Gazette with three profiles.

Connie Friedman, who covers disabilities, has a profile of New York Daniel Gillen, who is blind and attends Haverford  College.

Kyra Sagal, whose beat is art, has a piece on Laura O'Rourke, a Bensalem-based artist and photographer.

Kelsey Rall, whose beat is Bryn Mawr traditions, has a profile of the two students who are the Tradition Mistresses at the college this year.

 

 

 

The World of Daniel Gillen

How a blind Haverford College student navigates his world 

By Connie Friedman

It was a chilly night - perfect for a brisk walk around the college. The pace, however, was not at all brisk. The fall leaves did not crunch beneath his feet. Instead, they were wisped aside by his guide stick. Right to left, left to right, as if mopping the ground. Daniel Gillen was methodical. He traced the earth with his cane as if it was radar, echoing back every whisper of the world. The cane was not Gillen's only guide to the physical world. In fact, he had a heightened awareness for weather. There’s a slight chance of rain, he predicted. He knew the campus as if he existed on a contour map, relating every incline, every switch. When he walked through the cafe he made note of any shifted or misplaced furniture. Without his guidance stick, he preferred not to hold hands. Rather, he requested to be guided by the arm, as is the common practice. His fingers lightly grasped the guide’s bicep. Daniel Gillen is blind. He did not necessarily need the guidance, but he leaned on people for mere convenience - a convenience earned by his own perseverance.

Daniel Gillen in Concert

Daniel Gillen in Concert

Gillen, 19, was born into an Irish Catholic family as the oldest surviving son of Roger and Mignon Gillen. His father is a famous Irish musician who gained popularity after winning a contest on the country’s beloved Late Late Show Talent Search in 1981. While studying music in St. Louis, Gillen’s father met Mignon, a dancer at the college, and moved to New York. Gillen has lived his whole life on the Upper West Side on the 42nd floor apartment of a skyscraper. He describes his complex as a “town within a city.” His building has 452 floors filled with families of all sorts. But it is not the people that bother him. It is his lack of independence. “Living there, I always feel like I’m inside a shell. I can’t just go outside on to the street. The density and traffic flow are all very different. It’s just as dangerous as being out on a battle field,” said Gillen.

Despite the drawbacks of Manhattan, Gillen still likes the idea of an urban living environment. Maybe not in a megacity, Gillen said. However, he will not live in the suburbs. "Cars are too ubiquitous. I don’t trust autonomous vehicles in the research and development phase,” Gillen said. He prefers being near resources and people.

Resources are just the things that New York has offered Gillen who suffers from detached retinas. At age four, he attended Lighthouse International, an organization that assists with vision loss. The schools and programs at Lighthouse International helped Gillen develop social skills and an understanding of braille. At the age of six, Gillen joined the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School for those challenged with vision loss. His piano audition consisted of an exercise difficult for even those six years older than him. In his senior year at high school, Gillen performed Debussy’s “Premier Arabesque” at Carnegie Hall.

Gillen now attends Haverford College as a junior working towards a degree in physics and a minor in music. He’s aware of his gift and unique situation. “I am the first braille reader majoring in a STEM field at Haverford. I was curious about the way the world works and also I felt like I could relate a little more to quantitative and geometric things. I do like language and linguistics, although I’m not a polyglot,” Gillen said of himself. He is not modest and he’s not shy. His brashness results from his fight for the necessary accommodations to live a normal life. He has to pave the way wherever he goes including at Haverford. He came earlier than any student to study the campus, memorize its paths, and request all his material in braille.

Gillen uses an electronic braille typewriter for most of his schoolwork. “I get my textbooks in electronic braille format or hardcopy braille. I prefer braille texts over audio,” Gillen said. With his regular braille typewriter, Gillen made a map of California. Gillen scholastically described the map as “discrete lines where you can clunk the lines down on the page. I was putting a set of braille dots that represent a location within a matrix.” Gillen loves geography. He could name all the capitals and select cities of every country. As a child, he made a world map on his wall.

Gillen is obviously exceptional. His talent unfortunately comes with a price. “I have a small circle of friends. I don’t get together with them regularly,” he said. Gillen said he’s not involved in any extra curricular activities. Much of his time is dedicated to class prep, which means less socializing. It is also difficult to just run into people, Gillen said. His bright blue eyes show no sadness, no sincerity, and no emotion. They are glassy and artificial. As Gillen stands up to depart, he gives a hug full of tenderness. “Thank you for listening.” Gillen reluctantly spends much of his time in solitude. He snaps open his cane as the brisk wind blows through the door. The cane clicks and clacks as he twists and turns around the bushes to find his way home.

 

Reconstructed Memories

The art of Louise O'Rourke 

By Kyra Sagal

 

Louise O’Rourke’s memories are eternalized through her artwork. In 2011, her former partner, who was from Bulgaria, hung curtains from his home country over the windows in his United States house, which carried the aroma of his life in Bulgaria. Later, O’Rourke wrapped herself in the curtains. But the smell was gone. O’Rourke knew, just as the smell faded and would never return, her relationship with her partner could never last. She would never be a part of his personal life.

From that memory, O’Rourke created a video performance with the curtains. The video begins to play: Only her hands are visible against the curtains, grasping them tightly between her fingers. There’s tension. Then she releases the curtains. The sounds of a crying child can be heard, background noise to the deliberate movement of the cream-colored curtains. They surround her; the memory surrounds her.

Smell Scent

Scenes from Laura O'Rourke's Smell/Scent

 Through her videos, performance art, pieces, and photographic work, O’Rourke combines different mediums to present a unique view of love, life, and ultimately, memory. She said that her curtain piece “Smell/Scent” is a video that shows “a way of being a part of something that you’ll never be a part of.” This manipulation of memory drives her work.

 “I just like to think about, in memory, how things are altered and changed and not remembered correctly.” O’Rourke’s calm and friendly voice echo. Her defined cheekbones add an element of artistry to her persona. It is as if her prominent facial features hold memories of their own.

She describes her work as “photographic” rather than photography because the objects that she does photograph are intentionally altered. A single object can engulf a memory, such as the wig her mother wore when she had cancer. Since 2012, O’Rourke has been collecting her own hair every day. It is a “marker of memory,” falling out without notice. Walking up to the 8 x 12-foot panel inspired by her mother’s wig, O’Rourke’s hair can be discreetly seen in the edges, adding reality to the piece.

Often times, O’Rourke will erase people who have died from a photograph. If a person looked at a photograph that originally showed the face of a person they once knew, would they remember the photograph after the erasing of their face? Such questions motivate O’Rourke to continue her art.

O’Rourke will also find discarded beds in the street and find ways to alter their appearance and photograph them. She shyly spoke of someone she recently was seeing who quickly became important in her life. O’Rourke said after the relationship, she realized why she photographs discarded beds. “It’s because of my feelings that I have in relationships with people. And I feel that I’m easily discarded, and there’s a little bit more to me than just discarding me.”

While O’Rourke has had many jobs, she currently photographs for weddings, artists’ work, and she occasionally works on a paint crew. But she thinks deeply about the intention behind her personal artwork, and she carefully chooses her words. It is open for conversation. Yet she has no intention to sell her memory-based art. “That’s not my goal in life when it comes to art. It’s not to sell it. It’s more to make it to be seen and to be talked about.”

While an undergraduate at Slippery Rock University, O’Rourke’s desire to be an artist was reaffirmed when she dated someone interested in drawing. O’Rourke dropped her psychology major and majored in studio art. Later, she pursued her Masters Degree at Ohio University, with a desire to teach. She currently teaches at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center.

But O’Rourke, 30, acknowledges that life is tough. It is difficult to make a living. Her father once told her “You’ve got to wear a coat, ‘cause it’s a cold world out there.”

For O’Rourke’s graduate thesis, she created a performance piece based on a letter written to her about the ending of a relationship. After copying the letter and forming crumpled, clay versions of it, O’Rourke performed for six hours, breaking the pieces with her hands. O’Rourke said the silicon remnants fell over her body. She was “antiquing” herself, going back to the age when the letter was written, but covered in the silicon; she was a statue of a memory. As O’Rourke broke each piece, the clay cut her hands. She bled. While unintentional, the bleeding served O’Rourke’s purpose – to summon the raw emotions based upon the effects of a memory. She said the piece was prompted by a desire to discard something that cannot be forgotten because it is now an ingrained memory. Yet she knew when she was done with the piece. Her former lover was married with a child, and O’Rourke could not do it anymore.

“My memories aren’t driven every single time by a relationship that I’m in,” says O’Rourke. She is constantly mulling ideas; once she pulls one from the backburner, “that’s when it becomes something.”

 

Mistresses of Tradition

Meet the two Bryn Mawr students who organize all of the college's traditions
By Kelsey Rall

On any other brisk Sunday evening, Bryn Mawr students would have been napping in their rooms, finishing last-minute assignments in the library, or hanging out in the Campus Center. On this particular night, however, Mawrters as well as alumni and guests crowded into the darkening Cloisters of the M. Carey Thomas building to watch the time-honored Bryn Mawr tradition of Lantern Night. At the head of this huge event were two dedicated students: Pam Gassman and Dijia Chen.

The 2014-15 Traditions Mistresses, Gassman, 20, and Chen, also 20, were in charge of organizing and running this decades-old tradition, as well as three of the Bryn Mawr's other traditional events, which are Parade Night, Hell Week, and May Day. According to Gassman, they were responsible for planning the four major traditions at Bryn Mawr, having weekly meetings, reserving rooms, sending tradition-related emails, and attending SGA [Self Governance Association] as members of the representative council, as well as performing “physical labor—songbooks [for traditions with organized singing] are heavy.”

Lantern Night at Bryn Mawr

Lantern Night at Bryn Mawr

Lantern Night, the second of Bryn Mawr’s four major traditions, required a ton of organization from the two Traditions Mistresses. During this event, first-year students received lanterns in their class color, which was meant to represent that “the light of knowledge…being passed from one class to the other” according to the traditions page on Bryn Mawr’s website. The event was one of Gassman’s favorites because she “likes cult-y things.”

In an interview prior to the event, Gassman, a slight brunette with piercing blue eyes, spoke with confidence and unwavering eye contact. Her quieter partner, Chen, often stared at her fidgeting hands while she talked, which was infrequent. While Gassman often began speaking with self-assuredness, she would pause to reassess her words midsentence. Chen, on the other hand, chose her words carefully and sparingly.

Traditions Mistress, an elected role, was voted on by the student body in the spring. Classically, the role is held by two juniors. Of the job, Chen said, “I think you really have to want to do it to be able to do it.” Gassman agreed and added, “There’s so much coordination, and I think Dijia and I are both mellow…and we can take a step back and see things from different perspectives, which really helps.”

Gassman and Chen met on the Hell Week Committee, a group designed to plan and coordinate Hell Week, another of Bryn Mawr’s traditions. The current juniors decided to run together because their experience on the Hell Week Committee proved they worked well together. Gassman said, “Definitely being together on the Hell Week Committee and working together…gave us the background we needed to know that we could work together well, and have…a professional relationship together.”

Of their partnership, Gassman said, “We knew how we were going to divide certain roles, like I’m the loud one.” Chen added, “She’ll be the person leading the sheep with a blowhorn in front, and I’ll be the person in the back, herding the sheep.”

As Lantern Night drew closer, the two were responsible for sending dozens of emails, ordering hundreds of lanterns, and managing several student volunteers, among many other tasks. True to their aforementioned “roles,” Gassman took charge of the louder jobs, while Chen expertly organized in quiet.

During the frosty Sunday night, Gassman and her confident voice wrangled the first-year students into organized lines. Chen, on the other hand, slipped from place to place, fixing problems and checking in on student volunteers. Gassman held a megaphone, and Chen carried a walkie-talkie.

While Lantern Night was a success, running an entire college’s traditions was not always an easy task. “There’s a lot of different ideas, and just managing that and how to involve traditions” was a challenge, said Gassman. She also said, “Social media can be hard,” as many students who disagreed with changes to traditions flocked to the Internet to voice their concerns.

Chen added, “It really is impossible to satisfy every single person,” but “no matter what kind of experience you’ve had, if we change it a little bit, it doesn’t invalidate your experience.” She was referring to the change in the first tradition, Parade Night. Where upperclassmen used to through water at first-years, now they throw confetti and blow bubbles. Many students and alums were outraged by this decision and complained to Gassman and Chen. Though the constant criticism from the student community was challenging, Gassman said, “I [knew] what I signed up for…you have to have resolve.”

While the pair dealt with some difficult situations and stressful jobs, they mentioned that the gratitude of students made it all worth the hard work. Gassman said, “It’s really the small little words of ‘thank you for making this experience’” that were the best part of the job.

After the hundreds of participants in Lantern Night left, and the Thomas Cloisters were once again quiet, Chen wandered around, picking up pieces of trash and putting everything back in order. A small group of students gathered in the quiet Cloisters, and upon seeing Chen, they loudly and enthusiastically applauded her hard work and dedication. According to Chen, “little things” like this “made the job worthwhile.”

 

 

Coming to America

For students from overseas, America can be a confusing but wonderful  place

By David Roza

When Sylvie Ella Imeninema first arrived to the United States from Rwanda four months ago, the first place she went to was a Walmart in Birmingham, Pa.  “It was bigger than the biggest supermarket in Rwanda,” the 20-year-old freshman at BrynMawrCollege said.  “The size of things here, even the serving size, it’s all 20 times bigger.”

Imeninema's encounter with the Walmart is not unique. It is a fitting microcosm for the experience of many internationals students’ upon arriving in America, a nation that offers a wide abundance of food, clothing, and opportunities to choose from, but provides little guidance on what to choose.

It can be an overwhelming time for many students, including Claire Craig, a 19-year-old  Bryn Mawr sophomore from Italy.

“Walking into the CVS was really weird because pharmacies in the U.S. are like supermarkets,” Craig said.  “Back home, pharmacies are only for medicine; you can’t buy candies.  If you go to CVS, you can buy candies stationary, gift cards, chairs…There is so much. I can’t understand it.”

International Student Banquet and Flag Dedication 2008Though Craig might not be able to understand Americans, Americans can try to understand Craig. To find out about their experience in America, we conducted dozens of interviews and did an online survey of international students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. International students who make up nearly eight percent of the student body at HaverfordCollege and 19 percent of the student body at Bryn Mawr.  Together, they include 345 students from over 60 countries.

The opinions of these students were just as diverse as their nationalities, but there were a few things upon which most of them agreed, such as how abundant, varied, and just plain strange the food is here.  Of the  international students who filled out the online survey over 80% agreed with the statement “The food Americans eat is unhealthy.”

“If you think about popular food in the U.S. it's junk food, when there's a lot of healthy food available,” said Yungqi Chen, an 18-year-old Bryn Mawr sophomore from China.

“The earliness of meals and the weirdness of the food was somewhat of a big step freshman year,” said Andrew Szczurek, a 20-year-old sophomore at Haverford. “I was like, ‘What will I become without baguette and pains au chocolat?’ And then when I got here I was like ‘Oh my God, is she really having this much bacon and fries?”

The opinions on food are countless.

“[Americans] do not seem to understand the concept of room-temperature water, they put ice in everything,” said Sanya Aurora, a 21-year-old Bryn Mawr junior from India.“The food has too much bread, too much cheese.”

Many Chinese students complained about the prevalence of over-or-under-cooked vegetables and the enormous hunks of meat served in the DiningCenter at Haverford.

“I was so shocked by peanut butter,” said Valentina Viertel, 21-year-old Bryn Mawr senior from Germany.  “And I’m still so amazed by it. It’s not really popular other places.”

 

The land of too much

Other students complained that American food is served in ‘Too big servings,’ or 'with too much sugar,’ or as, ‘too much fried food,’ or in meetings where it’s not necessary to have food’ but perhaps it’s just the taste of home that international students miss the most

“I’m not really used to the food here; not saying it's not good, but it's not as good as in my hometown,” said Qin Yang, an 18-year-old Haverford freshman from China.

“Our dining hall is boring but you can still get stuff. For me, it was a hard transition because I didn’t grow up eating that food so I was obviously homesick freshmen year, really homesick,” said Shosini Bhattasali, a 22-year-old Bryn Mawr senior from India.

Many international students’ perception of American food is flavored primarily by the limited choices of the few dining facilities on campus. However, some students like Soyoung Kim a 21-year-old Bryn Mawr senior from Guatemala are resourceful enough to reach outside of campus to fulfill their culinary desires.

“What I like the most is that it [America] is so comfortable,” said Kim.  “You get access to anything if you really want to. Like in New York, there’s food from every single country. If I want Guatemalan food, I know I can find a restaurant in New York. The same goes for products – it’s really comfortable.”

The lack of any authentic “American” cuisine is a cause of distress for some students. Continue reading

Air Rat steps out

The life and times of the street artist named Air Rat

By Sam Fox

At first glance, Air Rat looks like the kind of guy you’d like to bring home to your parents. He has a neatly-trimmed beard and a “Mad Men” style coiffure. Today, he is wearing a pea coat over a matching blue button-up, and he is offering to buy me a cup of coffee.

We have met at a Starbucks in Old City--his suggestion--so he can show me pictures of his various art projects and then take a tour of his street art in the area. It’s a shame it’s raining, he says, because he would have liked to “put up” some pieces during the tour.

Sitting down at a table by the window, he pulls out a laptop and begins flipping through a selection of images culled from the 4,500-photograph gallery on his phone. As he turns his head towards the computer and types, tattoos wink in and out of view: between his fingers, behind his ears, and poking out from under his shirt collar. They are the first signs that he might not be so square, and once you learn to look for them, they keep showing up.

When asked what mediums he works in, he says “everything.” This is not far from the truth. He paints, stencils, sculpts, makes wood cuts, crafts stickers, and reappropriates trash.

The artist’s alias comes from a solo show he did a number of years ago, which featured cartoonish pigeon sculptures. Some of the birds were clear, others had glow-in-the-dark skulls. “Air rat” is slang for pigeon, so the artist legoanimation1decided to adopt the name for his own pigeons, and, later, for himself.

Air Rat identifies with pigeons because of their “roll with the punches” attitude. Though the artist has faced a number of legal, physical, and financial obstacles, he persists in his work much like the hardy, ever-present bird.

Right now, Air Rat is passionate about two main projects: one involving glass etch and the other involving Legos. Both projects move between the street and the gallery.

One of his first glass etch projects was a kitschy Ouija board, which earned him encouragement from other artists to pursue the medium further. Next, he completed a series of 40 hand-etched glass bottles that serve as aquariums for beta fish. A more recent project involved candle votives, which, when lit, project dancing shadows on their surroundings.

These functional, gallery-suited pieces are complemented by more informal work. If he is in a bar at 2 a.m. and nobody is there, he might run into the womens’ bathroom and do a quick piece on the mirror. He has learned that these pieces often get posted on Instagram later--unless he is interrupted mid-etch by a closing-time employee.

Since glass etching is so destructive, a Buddhist friend has given him advice for fostering good karma: only etch things that have already been etched. Air Rat says this goes against the graffiti artist ethos of doing whatever you want, wherever you want, but the idea stands to help him in the future. He has received plenty of angry phone calls for his etchings. In response, he even got a tattoo of a bottle of etching chemicals, wrapped with a banner that says “So Sorry.”

Air Rat’s Lego project involves casting resin replicas of Lego minifigures and gluing them in “little nooks” around the city. He has teamed up with photographer Matthew Kendig, who documents the installations as they change within the volatile, human “playscape” of Philadelphia. Thanks to passersby and shifts in weather, figures fade, get melted, dismembered, and taken. Fifteen of Kendig’s photographs have been assembled into a “one-page book” for a show at the Church Gallery in OldCity. The two plan on continuing the project with other galleries, but these ideas are still in the works.

After reading a pictorial history of the Lego minifigure, Air Rat discovered that Lego made a series of minifigures in the image of the founder of the Adult Fan of Lego association, as a tribute to the man’s popularization of the toy. Perhaps, Air Rat dreams, one day Lego will make an Air Rat Lego. Either that, he muses, or the toy manufacturer will sue him.

Both the Lego project and the glass etchings represent Air Rat’s two main artististic visions: developing a connecting theme and struggling against transience.

Though he is critical of most other Philadelphia street artists, he looks to stikman as a sort of model for these visions. Even though stikman works with stickers, wood cuts, and other materials, his work is always recognizable because of the character he uses. The artist also introduced Air Rat to the idea that all art is “ephemeral,” a word Air Rat now uses constantly, with urgency and reverence.

Love of the ephemeral

“Everything I feel like I’ve been doing has been an attempt to beat that idea [of ephemerality],” he says.

Street art is frequently removed or painted over soon after it is put up. And even when the art lasts, the structure on which it is plastered eventually gets torn down or altered. In order to combat the ephemeral nature of street art, Air Rat began taking pictures of his work and posting them on Instagram. And yet, as one of his friends pointed out to him, Instagram is just as ephemeral as the street. Pictures of art get lost in the hundreds of other images people receive on a daily basis.

The trick, Air Rat realizes, is to find a medium that makes a lasting impression. In each of his projects, he remains in search of a “fountain of youth.”

The pursuit of these lofty goals has been a long time in development. Continue reading

Asma's dream

Afgan women

Afgan women

By Saira Kitagawa

This is a story about Asma, an Afghan women age 24 from Kabul who came to live in America. Like so many other immigrants who migrated before her, she too sought a better life. Seven years have gone by since she first arrived in this country as a teenager, but her dream still remains the same: To go to school.

Asma was 17 when she first stepped onto land in America. However, she was not alone. Her husband, an 52-year-old American Afghan man named Abdul was beside her and she was pregnant with their baby girl, Hamida. (The names of the persons in this story have been changed to protect the woman we call Asma.)

Her marriage was arranged by her aunt in Kabul. According to Asma, being set up with an older husband was not “a new story for the Afghans”. However, her aunt had tweaked “a little” about his age and she recalled the experience as “frustrating”.

“I was told that he was younger!” said Asma, looking annoyed with wrinkles on her forehead.

Asma wore a bright pink coat and her wavy black hair, lightly shaded with red. was tied into a low pony tail. Her jeans were a nice dark color and she looked stylish, just like many other young mothers today. However, her dark eyes looked tired and looked a lot older than her years. She had a wary look that added tension to the air.

Asma’s father and mother were both originally from poor villages in Kandahar and Jalalabad. They had seven children and they thought it was the best option for their eldest daughter to leave Kabul and grab a new life with Abdul, who was “looking for a wife”. He was an Imam at the Mosque of Shaikh M.R. Bawa Muhaiyadeen in Philadelphia and had lived in America for a long time with his family. His English was perfect and they thought he was good enough to make her life better. Next thing she knew, she was married and off to America, the land of liberty and freedom.

“It was good when I came here,” said Asma, as she started fidgeting her hands. “People treated me as a human being. People would be nice and respectful. I like my country but it’s strict towards women. Here, women can go to school easily…women can say what you want to so…in my country, women can’t do these things easily.”

Although she gained her freedom as a human being, tragically, her life with Abdul was not what she expected.

“When we came here, he started pushing me,” said Asma. The fingers that had been fidgeting now were clutched tightly together. “I liked to go out and study alone. I wanted to be with my friends. Be social. Have a normal life. Some men don’t like this. He didn’t say but he didn’t like it. No.”

Two years ago, she filed for divorce.

“I had enough,” said Asma giving a big sigh, looking tired and looking at her five-year- old daughter who had just came down to sit next to her. Her eyes and hair was exactly the same dark color as her mother and her light grey dress had a trim of short black fur on it. Continue reading

New tastes in Chinatown

A look at the changing restaurant scene in Pihladelphia's Chinatown

By Qingyi Gong                                                                                                                    

Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a popular dining area in the Center City. Search “Chinatown restaurants near Philadelphia, PA” on Yelp, more than 200 entries will appear, along with thousands of food reviews from Chinatown diners.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown is small. Its core area spans roughly from North 9th to North 11th Street and from Arch to Vine Street, with banks, barber shops, Asian supermarkets, clinics and a mix of other community facilities.

But it’s the food that accounts for most tourists’ enthusiasm. The small neighborhood lays claim to some of the nation’s best Chinese restaurants and is traditionally seen as a paradise for Cantonese and Hong Kong cuisines.

“Dining in Chinatown kind of reminds me of the Hong Kong movies I watched,” said Shuyu Meng, a freshman at Bryn Mawr College. “I once went to Joy Tsin Lau with my friends to drink early breakfast tea. I’d say the Cantonese food there was fairly authentic. The choices of dim sum were also not bad compared to what I ate in Hong Kong.”

Hailing from a northern province in China, Shuyu said she personally liked Hong Kong food. The only thing she complained about was that there were fewer choices of congee, a rice porridge, available in Chinatown.

The first Chinatown restaurants were opened by immigrants from the southern region of China. The legacy continues till today. A lot of restaurants, such as Siu Kee Duck House, Ting Wong Restaurant and David’s Mai Lai Wah, still use traditional Cantonese spellings on their signboards and sell mostly Cantonese style food.

However, a new trend has taken place in Chinatown in recent years, as many budding restaurant owners started to sell Sichuan, Shanghai, Lanzhou and other regional foods of China. While Taiwanese, Cantonese and Fujianese flavors are still dominant, Sichuan and northern China cuisines have become real hits in Chinatown.

Hong Kong Wonton Soup, Beef Chow Fun and Roast Pork Congee, which are common Cantonese dishes,  have disappeared on the menus of some new restaurants. Instead, trendier eateries offer Shanghai Crabmeat and Pork Juicy Buns, Dan-dan Noodles and Ma La Hot Pot at acceptable prices.

The Shanghai Xiao Long Bao sold at the Dim Sum Garden has a wondrous taste. Topped with tiny spots of yellow crab powder, the eight flour-made buns form an exquisite circle in a bamboo container. Every bite is a delight, for the buns contain a lot of meat soup inside. And customers can drink soup while eating the yummy pork stuffed inside the buns. Another restaurant, Sakura Mandarin, just steps away from Dim Sum Garden, also sells authentic Shanghai food.

The boom of Chinese regional foods in Philadelphia’s Chinatown began more than a decade ago. Most notably, the number of Sichuan restaurants has increased significantly and Sichuan food has been in vogue in the neigborhood.

But the popularization of Sichuan food has been gradual. Most people in Philadelphia came to know Sichuan food through a restaurant called Han Dynasty, owned by Han Chiang.

“Almost everyone becomes familiar with Sichuan food through Han Dynasty. The restaurant opens a door for people to know about this type of food,” said Craig LaBan, restaurant critic and columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

LaBan said the wide popularity and success of the Han Dynasty restaurant may have “created a ripple effect in the region of Chinatown”, inspiring people there to open their own Sichuan food restaurants.

ChinatownSzechuan Tasty House and the Four Rivers are among the oldest Sichuan restaurants in Chinatown. But newer restaurants have also been opened over the past few years. E Mei Restaurant, located at 915 Arch Street, is one of the largest Sichuan restaurants in the area. It was opened three years ago and occupies the original site of a Chongqing restaurant.

The restaurant is jointly owned by two immigrant families. One of the owners comes from Sichuan Province.

E Mei sells classic types of Sichuan food. Famous appetizers on the menu include Sliced Chicken in Hot Sauce, Sliced Beef and Tripe with Chili Sauce, Sliced Pork with Garlic Soy Sauce and Hot and Spicy Shredded Pork. For entrees, the restaurant offers Dan-dan Noodles, Cold Noodles, dumplings and wontons, or Chaoshou in Sichuan dialect. Fried dishes like Ma Lai Fragrant Pot and Piao Xiang Tripe are also extremely popular. The restaurant’s menu is dotted with small red dried chili symbols, which denote “hot and spicy” for specific dishes.

The chief chef of the restaurant comes from Chongqing, according to the staff at E Mei Restaurant, according to Xuejian Yang, the manager. “The chef has previously worked in a five-star restaurant in China and makes sauces for the dishes by himself,” Xuejian said.

E Mei has a main lobby with 18 tables and one private room with two tables. It has hired four chefs, an appetizer preparer and several waiters. There are six to seven people in total on their staff list.

Business gets a lot busier on weekends. “Most customers come on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and we close later on Friday and Saturday nights at 11 p.m.,” Xuejian said.

E Mei Restaurant has created several new dishes for the winter season, including a braised lamb stew dish, which is made from special soup stock. Xuejian especially recommended the hotpots in his restaurant, which have spicy flavors and are said to be popular among students and tourists.

E Mei has been successful in advertising the spicy Sichuan food in Chinatown. And many new restaurants followed its path. Tango, another restaurant on Arch Street, now has a chef from E Mei to cook the spicy Sichuan dishes for its customers.

Lan Zhou Noodles, a famous dish in the northwest region of China, has also found its way to Philadelphia’s Chinatown. There are at least two noodle houses open in the neighborhood, one on North 10th Street, the other on Race Street. Jenny Zhang, 36, works at the Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House on 1022 Race Street. She said the restaurant opened almost 11 years ago and sells mostly noodle dishes, which are very different from Cantonese food. Another noodle house, called the Yummy Lan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House opened in 2009, at a date much later than the first one but seems to be equally popular. Continue reading

A life in music

Heidi Jacob has carved out an interesting life as a mother, teacher and musician

By Shreepriya Poudel

It is seven p.m. and the sound of violins and cellos fills the Goodhart Theater's music room. Members of a string quintet, one of the several chamber music groups at BrynMawrCollege, are rehearsing their final piece. The students stare at the sheet music before them and then occasionally at each other, communicating non-verbally, musically.

Their instructor, Heidi Jacob, an associate professor of music at Haverford college, stands at a distance. She watches over them practicing like a protective mother, ready to correct mistakes and come to the rescue, if needed. After a lifetime of listening to, playing and performing music, her ears are sensitive to every note.

“No, pause. Let us do this again. This part right here”, she says signaling a bar in the notation.

The students turn their pages back and play it again. Still is does not sound right. Heidi signals them to try again. Then one more time. This time the violins stop at the right beat. Finally, the dramatic pause that the composer

Heidi Jacob conducting

Heidi Jacob conducting

was aiming for is achieved. Jacob smiles a wide smile.

“I remember sight reading this piece many years ago, when I was 15,” she says later. “I played it with my brother. It was one of those revelatory pieces.”

The nearly 60-year-old Jacob has played the cello for more than five decades. She started playing the when she was eight and completed her dissertation in composition in 2011. At age 17, her performances in California and Germany won critical acclaim. She has toured as a part of a trio and as a solo artist. She has composed, conducted, performed and recorded. Hers is the life of the everyday musician -- not a rock star or a celebrated musical genius -- but the teacher who coaches our kids, the volunteer who conducts community orchestras or the neighbor who is always playing classical music.

A Childhood in music

“I just wanted to play the cello when I was eight because I loved it. I loved the Cello”.

With a father who loved classical music and a mother who was an amateur cellist, Jacob was quickly introduced to the cello.  She had started doing ballet when she was young and took up cello when she was eight. By the time she was 12, she had decided that she wanted to take cello a lot more seriously and quit ballet.  When she was 14, she decided that she really did not care about academics either. What she y wanted to do was become a musician. Her parents were not too keen on the idea. They had to be convinced with the help of her teachers.

After graduating early from high school, she joined the University of Indiana at Bloomington, taking lessons at the conservatory there. Deciding that she did not like her cello teacher, she auditioned for a place in the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She was accepted at the highly competitive school that offers free tuition, room and board to all accepted. Graduating in 1977 with a Bachelor’s in Music, she later joined the equally selective JulliardSchool in New York to gain a Master’s degree in Cello Performance.

Recalling her time in Curtis, she relates how it was a small school with around 100 students. Most wanted to be solo performers and were supportive of each other. From her time as a student to her life as a teacher and conductor, the Jacob has been on a musical journey that has had many intermediate destinations, with her playing different roles.

Chamber music

“In a smaller group, you have to listen more and work better”

Jacob started playing for chamber music groups when she was in high school and also played with youth orchestras. During her time at the Curtis institute, she gained more experience with chamber music groups. She fondly remembers being taught by member of the Budapest String Quartet. She was a part of a chamber music trio with her husband and a violinist for 10 years and the group toured the United States together. For a while, she thought it was what she wanted to do.

Making a living out of being a musician is easy. Jacob notes that even though most students at Curtis wanted to become solo artists or perform as a part of Chamber music groups, it has now become harder and harder to make it as a musician. When she decided to start a family, she wanted to look for different jobs that would be more stable.

For the same reason, she found it hard to have a solo career, although she did tour with her husband, a pianist, for a few concerts. When it comes to making a solo career, cellists have a harder time than violinists or pianists. Orchestras are more likely to hire violins or violas rather than cellos.

She still believes that it is important for a musician to learn to play in small ensembles. She likes being able to make her own musical decisions and lets her students do the same.

When she is teaching, it is interesting to see her life in chamber music come full circle. She challenges herself by trying to find new repertoire for interesting combinations for instruments, such as a bassoon, oboe and piano playing together. Coordinating a dozen chamber music groups each semester, coaching them, seeing them through to the last performance can be a taxing job. Yet she starts speaking with a rush of energy and passion as she begins to recount all the different kinds of music that the different groups are playing this semester. Continue reading

Snack attack

A food diary kept by college students reveals their eating habits

By Alyssa Kaden                                                                                                                     

College students will eat whatever you put in front of them.

College students eat five meals a day.

College students work out like crazy to combat the “freshman fifteen” or the “sophomore slump”.

College students are too lazy to go to class, much less to the gym.

All of these generalizations are made about college students by college students and their parents. The freedom experienced at college does not only just expand to what classes you can take but also to an all-you-can-eat buffet three times a day.  Dessert flows at every meal with at least two options -- not including the ice cream, the soft-serve ice cream, and the different ice cream bars are staples of the HaverfordCollegeDiningCenter -- more affectionately known as the DC.

Bit these stereotypes true? To put them to a the test, I did an admittedly random and small sample of students (three of my friends) and asked them to keep a food diary for a week.  The rules were: they would eat as they normally do, then at the end of each day, they texted me with what they ate, how much they ate, and when they ate. As an add-on, I compiled a list of my eating habits for the same period.  This story is about the results of this junk-food-pile-400x400experiment in observed eating.

Students can eat whatever they want during meal times.  However, most the college students I tested did not stuff themselves.  While they may eat a slice of pizza and two breadsticks, they don’t often eat nine cookies at every meal.

Take Amanda Lee, for example.  Lee is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.  A possible biology major, she also plays for the Women’s Club Ice Hockey Team at Penn.

“The myth of the college-15 is real,” says Lee, “Now I’m really careful about what I eat.”  And she is.  Over the course of a week, Lee did not eat more than 1,200 calories a day.  She also worked out every day.

Lee’s diet consisted of mostly egg white omelets and Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast and lunch.  In her room, she has a flow chart with the title “What Do You Want to Eat?”  The first question of the flow chart is “Are you really hungry?”

On Penn’s campus, they have an Insomnia Cookies (a late-night cookie delivery store), a burrito place, a pizza place, and a Chinese buffet in their dining center.  Lee avoided these except for crunch times.

“I have Insomnia Cookies when I want Insomnia Cookies,” Lee says, “But I also know that I should save when I want them for when I really need them.”  Lee has admitted to eating four cookies one night.  “It was a tough night,” she said.

Lee does not usually have desserts.  She reserves those for special occasions.

Lee does not look at the food offered to her on campus as everyday food, which most people would agree with.  Would you let your kid have pizza every day?  Or even sometimes twice a day?

Is Lee an exception to the rule?  Or does she represent the new age of college students?  Are college students more aware than ever about the dangers of unhealthy foods?  Or does Lee simply know what her body needs and respects it?

Which brings us to subject No. 2.

Emily Berlin is a sophomore philosophy major.  As a math minor and a member of the Haverford College Women’s Squash team, Berlin spends much of her time either studying or playing squash.  However, she lives in the apartments at Haverford and is not on the full meal plan.  She often has to make her own dinners, even when she doesn’t have the time.  In addition, Berlin is a vegetarian which limits the food she can prepare herself.

For breakfast, Berlin ate yogurt or toast daily.  A quick and easy meal (not to mention cheap) for a college student.  Also very healthy.  For lunch, she varied from salads to sandwiches to pizza.  It is really dinner where she tries to spend her time, but doesn’t always get around to it.  Over the course of seven days, she skipped dinner once and had toast for dinner another time.

“When I’m not busy,” Berlin says, “It’s much better.”  When she has the time to cook, she stir fries tofu with some fried rice or makes vegan tofurkey, though she is not a vegan.

“I love being off the meal plans,” Berlin says, “I can make my own meals and am not forced to eat whatever the DC offers.  They don’t have a lot of good vegetarian options.”

Berlin classifies herself as a healthy eater.  She takes great notice of her diet and how it affects her body and her mood.  She walks into the squash locker rooms one day and declares, “I eat too much sugar.  Twenty-two grams a day is too much.”

Berlin does not skip dessert, but instead has fruit for dessert often.  Half a grapefruit, apples, and strawberries are often eaten after dinner as a sweet ending.  She also tries not to eat after dinner.

Berlin goes to bed at 10 p.m. every night and wakes up at 7 a.m.  She sticks to this schedule religiously,often going to bed with more homework to do and finishing it in the morning.  However on days that she does stay up past 10 p.m. she admits to snacking on candy.

“I love candy,” Berlin says, “I eat way too much of it.”

Berlin tries to take good care of herself.  She focuses on what she eats and what she puts in her body.  It is important to her to work out daily and monitor the amount of food, but more importantly what is in the food that goes into her body.

“It’s not really about the amount,” Berlin says, “But it is more what the food is.”

Both Berlin and Lee are careful about the food they consume, but admit to eating more unhealthy food at night.  They also are religious about working out and often run in addition to their respective sports.  Is this an athlete mentality?  Is this normal for college students?  Or is this a female mentality?

Enter Subject No. 3 Continue reading