Autoethnography

The Art of Autoethnography: Part IV

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Below is a table detailing the assumptions I made of the assumptions I had after my first autoethnographic encounter and what was learnt through further literature research. While not all my assumptions were completely wrong I definitely still had a lot to learn.

What I am also finding is that the more involved I become in this autoethnographic study, the more interested I become in the cultural significance and background of the Bollywood film industry. this has unintentionally caused some of my research to go off in a tangent to some extent, relating less to language acquisition and more to the cultural language study of the Bollywood genre. I am finding that I either need to shift to topic of my auto ethnographic study or attempt to refocus.

Assumptions Reflection
The assumption that was made was in relation to the parameters od the autoethnographic research. Initially I set out that I would use multiple media texts in my methodology to obtain personal experience. I believe that this assumption was a little presumptuous. Even though I knew it would be difficult to learn some aspects of the language I did not realize how difficult it would be. I can to the realisation that little would be gain from this experience if I was to continue in the same fashion viewing multiple types of texts to acquire even the most basic level of language acquisition when starting from scratch. In reflection I believe that the greatest personal experience will come from focusing on one individual text and to absorb this text on a number of occasions and then focus my research around this. A number of factors play a part in the change of the parameters of my methodology. The first is the time period over which this research was conducted and the hours that could be dedicated to it. The most important factor was though the lack of a foundation of understanding of the Hindu language. Due to this I have now watched the same Bollywood film three times and each time I find myself picking up on some new words even if only for a moment and reaffirming the ones I have previously picked up. I also become more aware of different aspects of other communication aspects present in the film.
In my first notes I stated that the Bollywood movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was produced using the Hindi language and that because it is a contemporary media text it would provide a context for the language that included slang and colloquial language. ‘Bollywood productions are today acknowledged as the generator of and vehicle for contemporary popular culture in India.’ (Goethe Institute, 2016). My assumption while correct was also limited and basic. The language used in Bollywood films is much complex then simply Hindi. English was used in the film not only when on location in an English speaking country but also the occasional modern words which are the same in both English and Hindi, for example the word internet. According to the Goethe Institute (2016) The language used in Bollywood films has a distinctive supra-regional integrative quality. ‘The code switches between sociolects, standard languages and distinct Persian and distinct Persian or Sanscrit features, jargons with regional variants right through to other Indian national languages such as Panjabi, Marathi, Gurarati and not least English’ This is throughout films in the Bollywood genre.
While this assumption is not related to language acquisition I thought it was important to note that when I first watched this Bollywood film something about the premise of this music seemed strange and stupid to me. Upon critical analysis of this observation I was able to gain a better understanding of why they premise of this musical seemed so foreign to me. I am used to watching musicals that are either produced on Broadway or in Hollywood. Musicals made in Hollywood and on Broadway tend to focus around entertainers because they are focused on making the musical aspect of the story seem as realistic as possible. Though according to research ‘Bollywood is not encumbered with adherence to realism’ (The Bollywood Ticket, 2016). This knowledge to make a better understanding as to why this this musical seemed so strange to me. Unconsciously I felt disconnected from the storyline because it lacked that realism that I am used to in musicals.
Never did I have the assumption that I would be able to gain a complete understanding of the Hindi language simply through studying media text produced in this language. Though I did assume that when were hear of people acquiring a language through media that it is all they have used. It is evident through the research conducted that while media texts provide a great tool in the acquisition of a language, it is simply a part of the process and other learning is needed this can take place through classes in a more formal context, though in a less formal one it could simply be researching on the internet. Aiping et. al. (2016) in the article Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading, states that ‘second language incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading usually involves the process of through reading usually involves the process of learners noticing an unknown word, searching for its meaning, and elaborating upon the form meaning connection’. Learning a language through listening in this case is quite similar, it is all part of a process and in most cases further research is conducted to obtain a complete understanding of the language.

 

Resource List

Aiping, Z, Ying, G, Biales, C, & Olszewski, A 2016, ‘Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading’, Reading In A Foreign Language, 28, 2, pp. 224-245, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2016.

Goethe Institute (2016). Multilingualism – Languages Without Borders – Projects – Goethe-Institut. [online] Available at: http://www.goethe.de/ges/spa/prj/sog/ver/en5356222.htm [Accessed 12 Oct. 2016].

Thebollywoodticket.com. (2016). Introduction to Bollywood – The Bollywood Ticket. [online] Available at: http://www.thebollywoodticket.com/bollywood/beginner.html [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].

The Art of Autoethnography: Part III

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Studying languages comes easily for some and is a curse for others. I am one of the latter. I have friends that can speak multiple languages fluently and yet I can’t seem to get any further than my native tongue. I am somebody who has attempted to study several languages and not succeeded, even with the help of classes, tutors and so on. Because of this I find it fascinating that people could simply use a TV Show or a game to learn a foreign language. Whether is be stories of migrant learning a language through a TV Show or kids picking up a language through their favourite card game, the evidence for the success of the use of media as a tool for language acquisition is overwhelming.

These observations and stories of language acquisition success have brought me to form a topic for autoethnographic study in this area. Looking language acquisition through Asian language media texts. The answers that I am seeking to discover are not just simply can I learn any aspects of the language but also what can I learn about the culture of that language in the process.

Autoethnography is an approach to research that combines methodological tools and literature with personal experience to obtain a greater understanding of culture. (Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2011)

To complete the methodology in this autoethnographic study I will combine literature research relating to the study of languages and testimonials/news stories regarding people who have learnt languages using media texts. This will be combined with the personal experience of using Asian language media texts in order to learn aspects and vocabulary of various Asian languages.

When looking online the extent of language learning resources and tips for learning languages can be overwhelming. To obtain some ideas about the types of media texts to use for this research I chose to collate some of the suggestions from a simple google search and the following table summarises what I found.

Brave Learning –       Listen to foreign language radio stations

–       Foreign language poems

–       Podcasts

–       Surf the web in a different language

–       Foreign language TV channels

–       Read a foreign language book

–       Write a foreign language blog post

–       Play games in a different language

Fluent U –       Browse reddit (thematically-orientated to one specific region)

–       Use region specific social media

–       Play online video games (use Twitch, language specific)

–       Date in the language (try tinder etc.)

Pick the Brain –       Television (Taiwanese dramas: Sugoideas.com, Korean, Japanese, Chinese Mandarin: Dramafever.com, Japanese anime: Crunchyroll.com)

–       Foreign film movies and trailers

–       Listening to music in your target language

Franglish –       Listen to music in your chosen language

–       Read foreign language comic books

This research gave me some great ideas for a starting point. I chose to not focus on the choice of language as a driving factor for choosing the texts but to simply find texts which interest me not matter the language which the text was done in. this research will not in no means result in me being fluent in a language but I hoped what I would gain from this research is some vocabulary in a language be it only a couple of words and no more. But what I also hope to gain from this experience is a better understanding of language in the context of these various texts.

What I needed to be careful of was as stated by Anderson (2006) not to allow this research to devolve into self-absorption and that would result in the loss of its sociological promise.

Autoethnography allows for creativity in regards to its presentation, going beyond traditional methods of writing. While my research will be writing it will take the shape of journal entries documenting my progress and research through blog posts on my personal blog these posts will simply provide a home for the Snapchat videos documenting my personal experiences throughout this autoethnographic study and allow me to expand and reflect upon my findings.

To start off this autoethnographic research I will include a brief account of my first autoethnographic encounter, learning a language through a Bollywood film. I choose a Bollywood film for three reasons.

  1. It was easy to obtain
  2. I have watched Bollywood movies before and quite enjoy them
  3. And finally, as this was the first emersion into this research I thought I would ease myself in with the language through something that I was familiar with.

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My progress of language acquisition and the Snapchat videos detailing my personal experience will have to wait till my next post but a few things that I did note are;

  • Subtitles don’t always make sense
  • The pause and rewind button got a work out.
  • It was a lot easier to keep up with the dialogue then the songs due to the pace.
  • Attempting to learn aspects of the language and document it at the same time meant that I did not become involved in the storyline of the text at all and watching the movie took twice as long therefore I didn’t finish it because Bollywood movies are already two hours long.
  • The key words I found myself picking up are the ones which sparked my interest, random words which either stood out or were part of the sentences which had unusual sounding subtitles.
  • This approach to learning a language may help with understanding slang or colloquial phrases in a foreign language but it still only provides you with snippets of the language as a whole
  • It does not at all permit the acquisition of written language.

 

Reference List

Anderson, Leon 2006, Analytic Autoethnography, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 373-393.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095 [Accessed 30 Jul. 2016].

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. (2013). [film] Johar, K. & Johar, H.

 

A Weibo Experience – Lucy Ronald, Sam Cavanagh and Tim Williams.

 

Sina Weibo (Pronounced way-bo) is a microblogging platform in China with over 222 Million users (Raponza, K. 2011). Weibo is the microblogging platform throughout China, holding a significant market following. The popularity of Weibo can be attributed to the 2009 Ürümqi Riots where the Chinese government blocked access to non-Chinese social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (Blanchard, B. 2009), allowing for Chinese platforms to become centralised and capitalise on the opportunity within the market (Tong, Y. Lei, S. 2016).

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Due to study and career involvement in journalism and marketing the interest in Chinese social media was the driving factor for our digital artefact, due to the interest by western organisations in China’s expanding markets. Primarily we attempted to utilise RenRen the equivalent of Facebook, and 51.com which we struggled to graspe whether it was a gaming site or perhaps a dating site (or maybe both?). Various complications and restrictions imposed upon foreign users and organisations engagement on Chinese social platforms by the state resulted in the absent opportunity to experience RenRen.

Weibo is comparable to that of Twitter and is open to foreign engagement on the platform. However Weibo still implements strict internal censorship guidelines, such as the manual removal of any sensitive political comments with 30 per cent of censorship occurring within 5 – 30 minutes (Zhu et al. 2016). As Twitter users this was an opportunity for us to experience through our own knowledge of the western platform.  

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Our capacity as users was limited from the beginning, as all communication must be processed through Google translate prior to engagement. For example, the first interaction was translating a video of a dog:

只成精的泰迪, 当被主人嫌弃衣服太脏后, 不开心的它选择了

According to Google Translate:

‘Only into a fine Teddy, when the owner dislike clothes dirty, unhappy it chose’

Due to consuming content primarily within the Australian filter bubble, it was difficult to gauge an understanding of what topics may be trending throughout China. According to Chiu et al. (2012) China has the most active social network, with over 300 million users, all almost exclusively Chinese, engaging in Mandarin at one moment. Therefore we utilised the source ‘What’s on Weibo’ in an attempt to provide insight into how a foreign individual may interact and produce content. Furthermore, just like western platforms, we followed, commented and shared content all through the process of Google translate.

This however came to a halt when Sam’s IP address was flagged, or as we assume to be flagged, by the Sina Weibo organisation. This resulted in the freezing of the account and failing to recognise the verification number in order to retrieve the account. According to Gallo, F. T. (2012) microblogging has come under intense scrutiny by the Chinese government. While throughout Western countries we express a degree of free speech, internet censorship is widespread throughout China. However while this may be argued as a form of state control we believe that there is an underlying philosophy that influences this.

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The three major schools of thought in China is Taoism, the belief in living in harmony with the Tao (the way), Confucianism, as a framework for a way of life, otherwise the importance of living in social harmony (Yao, X. 200). Finally Legalism which demonstrates the framework for the ideological and intellectual aspects of Chinese society. Legalism often is considered to be a progressive school of thought (Pines, Yuri. 2014).  

While the Chinese government enforces restrictions Weibo remains to be one of the more ‘open’ forums. Gallo, F. T. (2012) states that an unnamed Sina Executive illustrates the need for ‘balance.’ What China has done is produce a distinct response to the empowerment that the internet provides users, viewing it in a holistic manner or an organic part of society, rather than its own entity. Therefore reflecting upon the Chinese philosophies is that the reason our Weibo account was frozen, I am perceived by the Chinese state to be an entity that harms the ‘social harmony’ of Chinese society. Therefore I am unhealthy for Weibo.

References:

Blanchard, B. (2009) China tightens Web screws after Xinjiang riot, Reuters, viewed 20.10.16 <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-xinjiang-internet-idUSTRE5651K420090706.

Chiu, C. Ip, C. Silverman, A. (2012) Understanding social media in China, Marketing and Sales Practice, McKinsey Quartley, viewed 22.10.16 <http://asia.udp.cl/Informes/2012/chinamedia.pdf>

Gallo, F. T. (2012) The Reality of Chinese Microblogging, Harvard Business Review, viewed 22.10.16 <https://hbr.org/2012/10/the-reality-of-chinese-microblogging>

Pines, Yuri. (2014) Legalism in Chinese Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 22.10.16 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-legalism/#EpiLegChiHis>

Raponza, K. (2011) China’s Weibos vs US’s Twitter: And the Winner Is? Forbes, viewed 21.10.16 <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2011/05/17/chinas-weibos-vs-uss-twitter-and-the-winner-is/#5162494e646f>

Tong, Y. Lei, S. (2016) War of Position and Microblogging in China, Journal of Contempory China, 22:80, 292-311, viewed 24.10.16

Yao, X. (2012) An Introduction to Confucianism, Cambridge University Press, viewed 23.10.16

Zhu, T. Phipps, D. Pridgen, A. Crandall, J. R. Wallach, D. S. (2013) The Velocity of Censorship: High-Fidelity Detection of Microblog Post Deletions, Cornell University, viewed 26.10.16 <https://arxiv.org/abs/1303.0597>

Bebop Box

In first approaching this autoethnographic task, the four of us had grouped together in order to determine what would be our field site. Travelling to Asia, was out of the question, and we had all experienced Asian food to a similar extent as well. What we did however determine was that we had all held differing experiences in regards to Japanese anime, ranging from the extensive, to almost nothing at all. Although this determined our media format, the plethora of anime in existence made the selection of a single series extremely difficult. However, the one that continuously entered the conversation was Cowboy Bebop.

As influenced by Ellis’ definition of autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis et al, 2011), we decided to present our project in a gogglebox-esque format, combing clips of the show and our recorded reactions. This provided real time responses to each of the four viewers as they happened, allowing direct comparison of responses and both a visual and verbal account of individual epiphanies.

The selection of Cowboy Bebop was quite interesting in itself as we had never seen the series screened in Australia. The show is not available on Netflix, and due to its creation in the late 1990s, no advertisements are currently being used. Access then became somewhat of an issue, resulting in us borrowing a physical DVD set of the series. However, the quality of the DVD itself became very questionable after cutting on halfway through the first session. A quick search on YouTube provided us with the first three episodes in full, with English dubs and high definition. This forced us to question how these episodes were getting past the stringent copyright laws on YouTube, questioning whether the age of the series was a factor, or did the series just slip through the cracks. YouTube’s community guidelines rules specifically state that you cannot “use content in your videos that someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks, snippets of copyrighted programs, or videos made by other users, without necessary authorizations” (YouTube, 2016). Each of these three episodes was taken from a different channel, each demonstrating blatant copy write infringement. YouTube even flagged our video when attempting to upload! Further research into Anime message boards and forums provided no conclusive answer the problem, with some users stating that their posting of videos were taken down almost immediately, while others list channels hosting over 500 clips of Anime, to which they don’t own the rights.

The word-of-mouth recommendations of Cowboy Bebop by numerous individuals (both our age and older) and thus, representative of its cult following. Furthermore, research into this cult found over 46,000 subscribers to the Cowboy Bebop sub-reddit, a rating of 9/10 on IMBD, and two differing ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie, 64% critics from critics and 90% from the audience. It was this cult following that led us to the conclusion that the series must be quite long such as other cult anime series like One Piece. However, we soon determined that this was wrong with the series holding only one season, and one movie. This furthermore made us question, why Cowboy Bebop had such a popular following in both Western Countries and Japan.

A particular element of the episodes that puzzled us was the music soundtrack that accompanied fight scenes as well as the theme song that played at the introduction of each episode.  Jazz has its origins in New Orleans, so it was surprising to see it use in a Japanese film.  Despite this, the music in Cowboy Bebop was composed by Yoko Kanno with The Seatbelts, a blues and jazz band.  These composers wrote the iconic Cowboy Bebop opening song titled Tank which has been embedded below if you wish to listen to it.

Interesting, the Cowboy Bebop sub -reddit has many positive comments about the inclusion of original music, supporting the ideal that the original sound track in the series is a key factor for its popularity.  Maybe the utilisation of jazz music was a way to attract audiences from more Westernised backgrounds.

Importantly, director of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichiro Watanabe was so impressed with Kanno’s score that he was inspired to go back and re-write scenes.  Each scene essentially had its own unique score and song.

Charlotte found the use of the jazz music quite odd, as having grown up playing Jazz music herself, her interpretation of where jazz music fits in in terms of interpretation, art and self expression was not in line with the use of jazz in Cowboy Bebop.  However all four of us noted that the theme music was similar to what we had heard in more Westernised films such as Mission Impossible and James Bond which also have orchestral music in some of there scenes.

All in all, the experience of anime was different for all four of us.  Perhaps this was due to the contextual knowledge we already had about elements of the series, including how much anime we had previously consumed.  Because of this, not all of us enjoyed the episodes as much as we thought, because we had pre-conceived ideas as to what it was about.  Cowboys fighting people.  I guess we were all wrong!

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1

From Sand to Skin

Talkin' About Technology, yet not restricted to.

Following on from my blog posts about the Buddhist Sand Mandala I bring a Prezi that encompasses the thought process and transition from researching the Buddhist Sand Mandala to having a Mandala tattooed on me. Enjoy.

https://prezi.com/s2dppoxhxji0/from-sand-to-skin-mandala-tattoo/

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Viewing myself on an Asian dating show

In my previous post, I proposed my individual project of examining Asian culture through dating shows and recorded my initial thoughts and assumptions of these shows, specifically, If You Are The One, a Chinese dating show where one man attempts to impress 24 women. To delve deeper into the understanding of this culture, I’m now attempting to reflect upon, analyse and interpret this experience within its broader sociocultural context using an autoethnographic research approach.

Chang observes that the uniqueness of autoethnography comes from the way it “transcends mere narration of self to engage in cultural analysis and interpretation”, setting it apart from things such as memoirs and autobiography. It is not about focusing on just self, but finding understanding of others through understanding your own assumptions and beliefs. For my project, I am not focusing on my own dating experience; I am finding an understanding of Asian culture by using my own experiences as reference and context.

My first reaction to the dating show was pure shock and humour. If I envision myself in the position of the audience members, I would see myself rooting for one of the girls, or picture myself dating the man on offer. But instead, from my own perspective, all I could do was laugh. The reasoning behind why the women didn’t want the man seemed so far-fetched and unusual to me and when the first contestant began performing their talent to win over the other, I froze, wide-eyed and whispered …. What the shit am I watching?

This is entirely indicative of a Western, single, young woman mindset who has never considered some of the things these people considered when it comes to dating such as children and whether my family would be ashamed, or whether their hair is too short so he looks too bad …

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Vast outlines critical cultural differences between Asian and the West dating. He explains one of the main points to be that Asian women are interested in guys who genuinely make them feel liked since they are often considered to be insecure. He explains this to come from the fact that “Asian girls focus on how much you care about them, and want to stay with them, because they don’t have the same financial security and earning opportunities as Western women do”. Moua adds to these differences, stating that family values are very important in Asian dating, “women are often introduced to eligible men through their parents’ mutual contacts and are expected to be married [between 22-24]. The parents of the eligible singles often [screen] the other person before deciding if they should start contacting one another.” As such, Asian women look for a man who will please her parents and would provide a family for her soon. Moua continues that public affection is something that Asian couples are expected to avoid – “being seen in public together is often enough for a man and woman to be recognized as a couple.” This is entirely different to Western dating, where affection is often a key point in the relationship.

These stereotypes and dating norms were prevalent in my first reaction to If You Are The One, highlighting the tendency to unconsciously relate to any text we consume by viewing it in the context of our own culture and experiences. Even though I previously did not have a lot of knowledge with Asian dating norms, seeing them so starkly compared to what I am used to has bridged a connection and understanding in under an hour.

To conduct further research on Western match-making, I shamefully reopened my old Tinder conversations to see what kinds of things were talked about first, similarly to an episode of the show. Usually, the conversation began with some cringe-worthy pickup line or comment on appearances, followed by the standard questions like what I do with my life and what my weekend entails. When I compare this to the Asian dating show, similarities do surface like the job questions and the judgement of appearances. However, I am yet to see the use of a pickup line throughout the show and there are definitely no inappropriate sexual comments which are way too common on Tinder 😦

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An interesting point I noticed on a recent episode of If You Are The One, was that a woman instantly turned off her light for an American man and justified this by saying that her family would never approve. From my perspective, interracial dating would never be an issue. But when statistics are considered, 88.8% of Chinese men marry Chinese women, and 79.9% of Chinese women marry Chinese men (source: Le). This, again, creates a difference between Western and Asian culture, understood from an autoethnographic standpoint.

After researching further into Asian dating culture and viewing more episodes of a show that is very similar to that with which Australian people readily consume, I understand more that it is naïve to just brush Asian dating norms off as strange and accept that I would never behave the same way that some Asian people do during dating, because there are actually dense similarities between us. Our context and history has changed certain behaviours, but underlying all these talent and dating shows, there is a culture of appearance judgement and considering how all aspects of your own life would fit with the other person’s life: it is just that these Asian people often live a very different life.

As such, autoethnography has allowed me to grasp an understanding of Asian culture by understanding and examining my own biases and experiences to filter out similarities and differences between the two cultures. I have found that my continual viewing of If You Are The One, has changed slightly where I strangely enough now try to consider myself from an Asian woman’s standpoint to try and guess whether the woman will choose the man or not. It is surprisingly more entertaining. Stay Tuned.

Reflecting on Hindi TV as an Autoethnographer: Mahabharat and Hindu Epics

Watching the first episode of the 1988 Hindi TV-series Mahabharat and accounting for my experience by live-tweeting my thoughts and opinions on the show has left me with a lot of questions. Is television anywhere near as popular in India as a pastime as it is in Australia? What was the real message behind the show? Why on earth was Ganga killing all her children?

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Ganga and King Santanu (Image Source)

With these questions and my cultural assumptions in mind, — which can be found in my first post here — reflecting on my autoethnographic accounts of a cultural phenomenon can be insightful and revelatory. Reflective analysis not only highlights “dominant narratives” and “ways of thinking” about culture but also pursues a deeper understanding of such experiences on a larger cultural scale (Warren, 2009). By scrutinising my initial comments and assumptions, and by conducting a little more research on all those postulations I tweeted about, here I am, trying to make sense of my Mahabharat experience.

My first enquiry is into the prevalence of television in India, and more precisely, the popularity of Mahabharat across the country. Researching this felt like a history lesson, but albeit an intriguing one. Television for me is a staple, and consuming programs on TV like there is no tomorrow is something I pride myself on. Television in India was introduced in 1959, however “transmission was restricted to areas in and around the capital city of Dehli for over a decade” (Kumar, 2006, p.57). With the arrival of the TV in the Indian family home came the inevitability of globalisation, and moreover a connection to “an increasingly mobile world around them” (Kumar, 2006, p.64). Television allowed families to share in entertainment experiences, created a bond between individuals and the characters they saw on-screen and moreover kept people informed.

As for Mahabharat, “the religious epic captured the collective imagination of Indian viewers” (Kumar, 2006, p.76) since its inception and release. Programs such as this have entrenched a sense of national identity for members of the Indian community (Kumar, 2012), and have been reflections of Indian values, mores and social and cultural norms. To say the show was successful would be an understatement, reaching a diaspora of over five million individuals. “Within weeks of its launch, the TV show became part of many Sunday morning routines” (Awaasthi, 2016). The Mahabharat series has since seen two modern adaptations released as a result of its popular reception in the past, with Lavanya Mohan (2015), writer for the The Hindu stating that “BR Chopra’s Mahabharat revolutionised Indian television of the nineties.

Now that context has been somewhat established and the history of Indian television successes has been explored, my next question is about the content I saw in the first episode of Mahabharat. There were several times throughout the course of the 40 minute show I was left scratching my head in confusion. Was this simply because of a cultural barrier or was the show itself confusing? My guess is the aforementioned.

Mahabharata — note the ‘a’ at the end this time — is one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Denoting information on the development of Hinduism, the poem was traditionally attributed to be the work of Vyasa. According to James L. Fitzgerald (2009) of Brown University, the Mahabharata presents sweeping visions of the cosmos and humanity and intriguing and frightening glimpses of divinity in an ancient narrative that is accessible, interesting, and compelling for anyone willing to learn the basic themes of India’s culture.” The sacred text was the basis for the television series Mahabharat, and the first episode I saw was regarding the story of Devavrata.

To put it briefly, the first instalment of the Mahabharat series shares the story of King Shantanu and the relationship he has with the goddess Ganga, with whom he marries in human form. She is described by her “superhuman loveliness” (Rajagopalachari, 1979, p.19) and Shantanu’s infatuation with her is duly noted. Following the birth of their children — they have several throughout the course of the first episode — Ganga drowns them in the sacred river Ganges. The first episode of Mahabharat doesn’t explain why Ganga does this, however it is believed that it was due to a curse. So, mystery solved? I think so.

Watching the first episode of Mahabharat with absolutely no knowledge on traditional Hindu stories, the Mahabharata or Sanskrit epics proved challenging to say the least. Not only was it made clear that I was an outsider in this cultural experience, but it also highlighted how unfamiliar cultural phenomena can lose meaning when shared across transnational borders. As I tried to make sense of my Mahabharat experience my own understandings of Hinduism and India’s entertainment industry were confronted with new ideas and interpretations.

As I have acknowledged before, autoethnography demands self-reflexivity and openness to interpret a cultural experience. By researching my cultural assumptions and addressing my ethnically driven concerns with information from books, eminent media platforms and social and historical commentary, my experience and understanding of Indian television and the Mahabharat experience I encountered has profoundly changed. The next time I sit down to watch an episode of Mahabharat I won’t be so thrown by Ganga drowning her children, and I will be able to appreciate the cultural heritage present in the telling of a great Hindu epic.


References:

Touring North Korea

Picking up where I left off, in the midst of virtually touring North Korea, I think I have decided upon where my autoethnographic research will lead to for my final research digital artefact. Autoethnography is, essentially, when the researcher throws themselves into a cultural field, experiencing the oddities and nuances alike. And upon experiencing these foreign, but otherwise “everyday” events, looking back to within one’s self and understanding why such events have stood out. To explore my research through such a process I am thinking of writing a short online fiction piece. The narrative is still not entirely decided upon, however I am thinking of a plot that’s loosely based around the idea of a character being absorbed through a virtual reality headset and placed into the actual world of the 360 North Korea video I am basing my research around. From here the character experiences the unfolding events. I am considering embedding live tweets from my research as thoughts, or learnings that the character experiences. This would be slightly interactive as the readers could click on research links through embedded tweets(form of references/further readings).

So, in order to create this interactive online digital story, I must begin my research.

To do so, I am going to delve into some of the following things that stood out to me, in the hope of understanding North Korean culture through the cultural framework of my own life. Through this research it will be interesting to consider how my experience of the video changes. This investigation should then hopefully inform how I will convey my research through my interactive digital piece. Looking at my previous observations, I want to focus in on a few core aspects:

  • How successful can North Korea really be? How much longer can they last while being isolated from the rest of the connected world? To expand on this, I want to look at the internet situation of North Korea. In the last few days North Korea accidentally leaked the DNS for .kp, showing only 28 domains on their internet. This Reddit post will be a valuable place to being my autoethnography.
  • Military experts analyse the footage from the festival to try and gain an understanding of N.K’s military strength
  • The notion of tourism, or tourism attractions in North Korea is interesting.

Furthermore, there are a few other curiosities I am interested in exploring:

  • How do weddings work in North Korea? Are they planned marriages?
  • Traffic is reported as being relatively new to N.K.
  • Most people (everyone?) are wearing navy blue armbands. What are these?
  • The Supreme Leader is kind of hard to take seriously with his massive portrait on a float regardless of how many missiles and nukes he flaunts. However it is hard to ignore the atrocities he is carrying out.

As the civilians in the 360 video walked the streets, waited for trains, and even visited “tourism destinations”, I noticed they weren’t doing something almost everyone does in my day to day life. As they moved through the streets and waited in the metro, absolutely no one was scrolling through feeds on their phone, something of a complete obsession within the culture I am familiar with. The strangeness, and perhaps more importantly, the significance of this cultural variation was emphasised in the narrators final lines.

“All of this closing off from the outside world cannot be sustained as each successive modern era requires participation in a global economy in order to survive… many wonder how much longer will this last”

The notorious censorship of the North Korean internet is just one facet of this so called “closing off” of the country. But in understanding this isolation, I am, as an autoethnographer, able to better understand the 360 video at hand and thus the North Korean country. Interestingly, North Korea’s main Domain Name System (DNS) server was recently leaked revealing that there are only 28 websites on North Korea’s public internet. Now, when I say public, I mean this limited amount of websites can be viewed by the outside world and tourists. There is an internal intranet used by officials and government in North Korea, which would be a whole new type of interesting, but there is a lot of significance in seeing the limited extent of the public internet. For starters, many of the websites are propaganda in its simplest form, one site show casing the Supreme Leaders activities, such as visiting farms full of bountiful fruit. In this case, these sites are most likely meant to be viewed by the outside world.

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Supreme Leaders Activities: http://rodong.rep.kp./en/

Most of these sites are extremely “pre-dated”. Looking at the North Korean internet is like taking a step back to the beginning of the internet. They are slow to load, and when they do, you are presented with an unsophisticated site that may not have been updated for a long time. Yet in a way, this brings a kind of authenticity to my North Korean experience.

A few of these sites bring me back to one of my early observations in the tourism of North Korea. The idea of North Korea as a holiday destination is one that seems completely insane to me. The places I have holidayed in, be it western countries such as America or Asian countries such as Thailand, for the most part where safe and allowed for tourists to do what they wanted. This form of freedom and adventure in a foreign place is what I understand as the idea of a holiday. However, there is practically no freedom to tourists visiting North Korea. You cannot leave your hotel room without government official “guides”. While most western visitors recounts of travelling in North Korea are positive, saying “the only way DPRK tourism is not safe, in my opinion, is for tourists who plan on participating in any civil disobedience”, Enright, a travel writer who wrote about her trip on her blog, Borders of Adventure, said she was constantly aware of breaking the rules and the possible punishment this entailed. “You can’t say to your guides, ‘Hey did you know that during the war the North bombed the South and not the other way around?’” She goes on to explain that telling her North Korean guides the truth about the rest of the world would have put not only herself but the guides in immense danger if she were overheard. In discovering this bleak way of tourism, there is obviously a definite reason you are escorted around the country by The Supreme Leaders Henchmen “guides” on specific, structured tours.

I feel these strict circumstances around tourism and the isolation placed on North Korea are both pointing to what the Supreme Leaders dictatorship is trying to achieve and continue to maintain, a unified hive mind of solidarity. North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Su-yong told reporters at a UN climate change conference earlier this year that “The real source of power in our country isn’t nuclear weapons or any other military means, but the single-minded unity of the people and the leader. This power of unity we have is the real source of power that leads our country into victory.”

Living in a country where freedom of speech is a somewhat protected right, it seems bizarre that the government of North Korea is promoting single-mindedness. Furthermore, that’s an interesting sentiment when the country literally parades massive nuclear weapons through the capital city in celebration of the 70th anniversary of The Workers Party.

What I have found through my research is that North Korea is ultimately an oppressed society with limited freedoms. However, in a way this only adds to the culture of which as an autoethnographer I have begun exploring. As Ellis (2011) explains, “When researchers do ethnography, they study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture. These practices, values and beliefs (which I have merely scraped the surface of) vary from mine own with such a vast difference that when I view the 360 video now, the entire context has changed.

BULA! Kava, Fiji and culture

My opening post on Kava was based on perceptions both personal and societal with minimal investigation. This post is almost completely research based. So what is Kava?

Kava is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. Kava is made from the root or stump of the kava (Piper methysticum) shrub.’ – Dr Edward, Global Healing Centre.

To follow up on my personal interest of the Fijian beverage, I’ll be undertaking a cultural study of how the drink impacts the country’s lifestyle. When attending my brother’s wedding in Fiji, I’ll speak with locals and gather information from the region to assist in unpacking how this iconic drink fits into their society.

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Since my initial interest was sparked, I’ve had time to gather information and reassess my approach to the study. Initially my attention came from the side effects of Kava itself and the reasons why it is such a popular beverage in Fiji. This interest certainly still exists, however I’m becoming more fixated on the role it plays in Fijian society and how it impacts the local’s lifestyle and way of living.

My opening blog post proposed seven questions and beliefs surrounding Kava. After engaging in further research into the topic, I’ve come up with a few answers.

Q) The general belief is that Kava is said to contain a very high alcoholic content, so how strong is it?

A) Kava contains NO ALCOHOL! This was news to me. It is however a depressant like alcohol. It is classified as a ‘psychoactive beverage’ made purely from shrub native to Fiji. There are many different strands of Kava creations that have there own profile ranging from sleepy to numb to relaxed.

Q) Another conception of Kava is that it can act in the same way a psychedelic drug would in that it can impact the brain causing an individual to hallucinate. Is this fact or fiction?

A) Kava is not a psychedelic drug in any way and will not give you warped visions that allow you to see different things. The common perception of this derives from the fact that there are hallucinogenic beverages like Kava such as Ayuhuasca that are often confused to be Kava. This confusion has led to the misconception.

Q) Are its origins entirely Fijian?

A) Kava dates back at least 3000 years. While it is prevalent in Fiji, its creation isn’t entirely claimed by the country. The piper methysticum shrub that is used to create it is found across the Pacific Islands and the beverage itself is drunk in places such as Tonga, Hawaii, Vanuatu and Polynesia.

 

Q) The belief is that the beverage is consumed by all ages, is this true? If its alcohol content is as strong as it is said to be, this raises further questions.

A) As previously mentioned, Kava doesn’t contain alcohol. The age limit, if any, of drinkers was difficult to find therefore I’ll ask locals when arriving in the country.

Q) Why is it acceptable to consume alcohol at a young age in Fiji and why does this differ from Australia’s attitudes towards drinking restrictions?

A) As per previous answer.

Q) Most Australians seem to be aware that Kava is a mixture of water and natural plantation, so how is it made and what are its exact ingredients?

A) Kava comes from the root of the Yaqona shrub. The shrub is used in multiple ways ranging from strained, crushed, grounded or powdered with water into a very big wooden bowl. It is as simple as it sounds.

Q) Another myth suggests that the drinking frequency and strength of Kava contributes somewhat to the laid back attitude of the country. A big claim, but does it hold any logistical truth?

A) Another question that will need plenty of clarification from locals. However, its regular consumption at all times of the day and relaxed, sleepy impact on an individual suggests it may contribute. The fact it isn’t as strong as previously believed to be suggests it couldn’t contribute to a prominent portion of local’s everyday attitudes to any massive degree.

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Following up on my initial perceptions of the Fijian beverage I’ve become aware of the huge revelation that it doesn’t contain alcohol and I’ve also come to realise Kava is a VERY traditional and cultural element in Fijian society. The locals engage in ceremonies using the drink as a symbol and method of creating relationships and strong bonds between each other. The ceremonies centring around Kava have rich histories dating back centuries. I’ll aim to attend one of these ceremonies when in the country.

Another area I’ll research that is of new information is that it has many uses including medicinal, sedation, diuretic, muscle relaxant among many others.

Extending on my now base layer of knowledge on Kava I’ll look to further delve into its role in Fijian society. This will be aided by photographs, videos and hopefully audio interviews obtained from the locals.