Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nauryz : Kazakh New Year

Nauryz is a non-religious Kazakh folk celebration of the spring – I am wondering if it is the same festival as that of cherry blossom festival in japan. Nauryz is mostly celebrated in the west and central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. It is celebrated on spring equinox. The central theme of Nauryz is renewal, cleansing, the coming of spring, and the birth of new life. During the course of history Nauryz has become a symbolic New Year in many cultures. Nauryz is one of the most ancient, respected and favorite holidays in that part of the world.

My university has about 70 Kazakh students and I got invited by few of my Kazakh friends to celebrate their celebration. It started at 5:00 pm but I could reach the spot only at 6:00 pm since we got lost. By the time we reached there, few girls – wearing their traditional attire – were dancing to a traditional music tune. A Turkish student performed Kanun – it looks like our Yangchen – and the small crowd added their own clapping sound to the music. Two Kazakh students performed Dombra (it looked just like a Dramgyen except it has only two strings and no animal head decorations) quite skillfully. They performed few traditional dances from different countries and few of them sang some songs – which I think might be a song to which people will dance when they are drunk. They showed us a short documentary about Kazakhstan. It looks great in that documentary but I also know they showed only the good things in that documentary. As the show is getting closer to end, few girls dressed in traditional attire threw sweets and chocolates in the crowd (I had fun jumping and catching those chocolates).

After the show is over, they served us their traditional food. I forgot their names but they are basically fried rice and breads. I interacted with few performers and friends – including strangers – and talked about their performance and their significance. A girl showed me a landscape which has a beautiful legend associated with it; she was proud hat her home is near that place. Well basically, there is a lake near a mountain and rock in a lake. She said that the rock looks like a young girl with her hair cascading in the wind from one side of the lake and looks like a old woman from the other side. It is believed that once a girl was wooed by men all over the country. As a test, her father made her stand on that mountain with a scarf and all her wooers were made to shot arrow at the scarf. Anyone who can pierce the scarf will get her as price. Unfortunately, the person who pierced the scarf happened to be the son of her father's arch rival. So, she jumped from the mountain into the lake and turned into a stone. Ohhhh.... what a tragedy!

They had a huge wallpaper where people were racing on horseback. I thought it is just a horse race. It is an ancient Kazakh game called kyz kuu (chase the girl). Basically, a guy and a girl will have to ride a horse and run towards a finish line. The guy can start galloping only after the girl passed his position. If the guy can overtake the girl, he can reach out to her and STEAL a kiss. If he could not overtake the girl, they will reverse the direction and the girl will chase the guy. If the girl can overtake the the guy before he reaches his starting position, he will get whipped with her whip. Seriously! what can be more fun than that? I am seriously considering to introduce this game in Bhutan .....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"International" Food Festival

We had been planning to bring together as many people as possible from different countries and have a feast. Today is the day, yay! We will have fifteen people – all from different countries (well, consider Hong Kong and China as separate. I hope the Chinese government is not reading this LOL ) – meeting in our apartment today. Well! Basically the idea is that we will all cook some food which is native to our country and everyone will get to try different food.

Everyone had been busy since morning – not me though. I woke up at 12:00 noon (Common, it's Saturday) and went to Wegmans to get my recipes. All my friends started working on their respective food from 2:00 PM. Some started chopping garlic without peeling the dry skin, some started burning eggs while trying to make omelet, and some started calling their mother back home.

One of my friend brought the computer in the kitchen and loaded the page which has detailed instruction on how to prepare his food. Well, he was even following the amount of water, amount of salt, etc. But it is good to see him trying really hard.

After I finished making emadatsi, I hanged around a while to see how they are making. I saw one of my friend standing near the pot which is on stove with a spoon full of his food and his mouth wide open just above the pot which contains the actual food. He told me that he is tasting his food. He put the spoon in his mouth and then put back the remaining food in his spoon into the pot and started stirring with the same spoon without even washing it. I could not help but tell him that he just got fired if he is my chef.

I started cutting my chillies and onion at 4:30 PM and I am done now. It is 5:00 PM now, so I am going to take a nap. I asked them to wake me up once they are done anyways.

Oh! talking of shopping, something funny happened to us. We parked our car near a small car at Wegmans. While we were about to leave, the owner of that car – an old lady – opened her car's door to get in. Sensing that there is only a small space between the two cars, my friend politely asked the lady if we should move our car. “No, thank you. I am not that fat”, was the lady's reply. She slammed her car's door and drove away. “What the hell! I have no intention of saying that she is fat” was all my friend could say after the lady drove away. Well! After all, it is not your intention that matters, it is how the other person takes it that does. So the lesson: don't be a gentleman.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Trip to Gettysburg

"A government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Sounds familiar? Those immortal words of Lincoln from his Gettysburg speech defines the fundamental meaning of democracy. I memorized that speech for an English eloquation competition, I was in eighth grade then. I also read few articles about the battle of Gettysburg and always wanted to visited it one day. So when we planned for a trip to Philadelphia and Columbus, I took the chance and included Gettysburg in the itinerary.

Initially, we planned to stay in Gettysburg for only few hours. Unfortunately or fortunately, Gettysburg's weather happened to be like that of Gedhu. When we reached Gettysburg at around 3:00 pm, we could not see the road clearly due to heavy fog cover. Hence we departed to Philadelphia that day and planned to come back for an entire day.

We went to the guest information area and got maps and other necessary items. We went in to watch a short movie about the battle and its history followed by a cyclorama about the battle. Cyclorama is basically a pictorial representation of an event on the inner wall of a cylindrical room, viewed by spectators occupying the center position. The sound and light effects give an illusion of movement and reality. It is one of the most amazing work of art I have ever seen.

[A scene from the cyclorama. source: NPS]

We went to the souvenirs shop and bought few presents for our friends back home. The entire park is so huge (actually the entire battlefield was converted to park now) that you have to use car to drive. You can still feel the history there: with cannons, tombs, and statues lying everywhere. First we went to the national cemetery where the Union soldiers were buried, followed by eternal peace memorial and few other sites of importance.

[The open field where Pickett's charge took place.]
Pickett's charge is an infantry assault ordered by confederate general Robert Lee against the Union position on Cemetery ridge. About 12,000 infantry men marched through the open fields towards the cemetery ridge which is occupied by union artillery. About 50% of the men were either killed or wounded and confederates lost the charge, and battle too.

I always thought that Lincoln gave the speech before the war began like one of those scenes in a movie. Actually, Lincoln gave the speech only an year after the battle when the federal government recognized the battlefield as a national park. Our guides told us that it is more fun to visit Gettysburg during the summer. He said that the local people still imitate the battle and there will be so many celebrations and youth camping. All in all, not bad at all. I enjoyed it and I liked the place.

[A memorial statue for the confederate soldiers who lost their life.]

[View of Gettysburg from Devils Den. It is small hill and the open field you see at a distance is the main battlefield.]

The bloody wheatfield. A series of confusing attacks and counterattacks within two hours left the place with thousands of dead bodies.