Airline Inequality: A Social Microcosm of Class

When you think of situations in which class is highly visible, the chances are that the example of air travel will not immediately come to mind. Yet this is one of the most relevant environments where we can see the mechanisms of inequality come into play.

“… the modern airplane is a social microcosm of class-based society… the increasing incidence of ‘air rage’ can be understood through the lens of inequality.”
DeCelles and Norton (2016)

When you buy airplane tickets, you have the option to select from a range of different classes. Depending on your chosen airline, these can include economy, premium economy, business or first class. The higher the class, the more your travel experience will be improved. Advantages of upper classes include: more spacious seating areas, gourmet dining, a queue-skipping feature worthy enough to rival Disneyland and much more. The appeal of these factors is only magnified when you consider the cramped, claustrophobic and dingy environment economy passengers must endure for up to eighteen hours at a time.

However – as may seem ludicrously obvious – these upper classes come with a hefty price tag. Even to upgrade from economy to premium economy – a section still far removed from first class – can be at least double the price. I learnt this when I flew premium economy on Cathay Pacific from New Zealand to Spain. Considering the already sky-high (pun intended) prices of airplane tickets, this is no trivial fact.

Air rage is a common byproduct of this visibility of class. A study by DeCelles and Norton support how maddening it is to board a long-haul flight knowing your seat is located right at the back, and that you must sidle your way past the ‘prioritised’ classes to get there. I always find myself gazing longingly at the luxurious fold-out beds and passengers sipping on complementary cocktails, yearning for a spontaneous and unannounced upgrade. The researchers reported how – on a psychological scale – this air rage is the equivalent to a nine and a half hour flight delay. If that isn’t shocking enough, then you might be surprised to learn that this anger is in fact greater in first class passengers who are burdened with those from economy invading their exclusive, personal space (if you are curious regarding my opinion on that matter, you just have to pay attention to my tone).

“… it’s not often you see such a clear visual representation of our collective acceptance of the right of a small fraction of people to consume a very disproportionate percentage of resources”
Elizabeth Berman

The price tag is exactly what prevents a majority of people from the opportunity to upgrade from the discomfort of economy class. I expect most would argue that if you pay for something, then you are entitled to receive it; but the point is that it’s not a fair playing ground to begin with. The income gap is only increasing, and airline stratification systems reflect this. I am no economics expert (I smell maths), so you do not need to worry about me launching into a lecture on societal inequality. But this article framed it in a simple way when it said, “(this) ‘calculated misery’… involves degrading basic service to a level so low that non-masochistic passengers will pay up to avoid the pain. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to pay these ancillary fees. Those who can’t or won’t fork over more are made to suffer for it”.

Given the consequences of this classist visibility on airplanes, I believe that airlines should be taking measures to try and improve the system. Of course, this outcome would only come to fruition in an ideal world – and unfortunately, we live in the real world, where companies are driven by profit and not morals. Therefore, in light of the fact that I’m not about to change the world anytime soon, I hope this post has at the very least educated you on an issue that all travellers have encountered (whether they realise it or not).

The next time you take to the skies – whichever cabin you are seated in – take a moment or two to reflect on the stark difference of quality between economy and the upper classes. Take a moment or two to reflect on the justness of the situation, and – considering the psychological and physical repercussions – ask yourself whether you think it’s really worth it.

While you’re here, be sure to check out my experience flying premium economy with Cathay Pacific, and my guide to surviving long-haul flights… if you’re in economy class, you’re going to need it ✈

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Vlog: Cairo Edition

Before I launch into a mini rant about how much nostalgia creating this vlog bought back, I would like to formally apologise for being absent the last three or so weeks. Aside from adjusting to life in England (where the f*ck is the sun?!), I have been doing a lot of thinking in regards to this blog. As we approach the Ginger Passports’ first birthday (🎉), I have been reviewing the direction I am taking with this project. Over the last year, I have focused on creating aesthetic content that both summarises the places I have traveled to and hopefully educates my readers on some of the issues relevant to these areas. Falling into that last category are my more political posts (most notably, my defence of cultural appropriation) which have certainly struck me as a more meaningful and fulfilling purpose for this blog. Because of that, I am aiming to incorporate more of these types of post in the coming future. I would also like to explore a more journalistic side to my writing – but I won’t reveal anything more just yet! Make sure you follow the Ginger Passports on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you don’t miss any updates.

Okay! Now that that’s over and done with, let’s return to the resplendent, confused beauty of Cairo

“Egypt is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust.”
Gustave Flaubert

November will be a gripping month for Egypt content, but in the meantime, there’s still plenty of blog posts for you to keep yourself busy. Check out 10 Things that Surprised Me About Cairo, or for something a little more serious, read about my experience navigating unwanted attention and harassment in this eye-opening city. Last but not least, you simply cannot skip my personal favourite… Monolithic Giants: the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

P.S. You might recognise the vlog song from my travel playlist.

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The Ginger’s Guide to New Zealand Coffee (WTF is a Long Black?!)

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how you feel… there’s always peace in a strong cup of coffee.”
Gabriel Bá

Consistent with my tendency as a Kiwi to regard my country with vague deprecation, I never considered New Zealand to have a noteworthy coffee culture. But from the moment I walked into a Spanish café and tried to order a mochaccino, I realised I had well undermined our efforts.

If you’re not from down under and have ever found yourself in a New Zealand cafe, you’ve probably found yourself wondering: what on earth is a long black? Is that the opposite of a flat white? Is a fluffy even a thing?

If so, you’re not alone. Overseas, drinks such as Americanos, viennas and ristrettos dominate the cafés. Much like Australia, New Zealand does it’s own thing when it comes to coffee. So without further ado, here is a crash course on how to order a coffee in the land of the long white cloud…

Long Black

A long black is the most basic kind of coffee you can order in a Kiwi’s eyes. It’s basically two shots of espresso in hot water – very similar to the Americano (which you are unlikely to find advertised here). Long blacks are very strong, and not for the faint of heart.

Flat White

A Kiwi/Aussie creation – and my personal favourite – the flat white has creamy, steamed milk poured over a single shot of espresso. If you ask me, it’s a bit kinder than the long black first thing in the morning.

Latte

Although I have deep affection for coffee, I would by no means consider myself a connoisseur. And that is why I can say that I don’t really see the difference between a latte and a flat white. Apparently the only difference is that a latte has a little blanket of foam on the top, but essentially, it’s the same drink.

Cappuccino

Although the cappuccino is traditionally Italian, it is also very popular in New Zealand. The easiest way to conceptualise a cappuccino is as comprising of three different layers; the bottom layer is a shot of espresso, the middle layer is a shot of steamed milk, and the final layer is frothed milk. It is also common to sprinkle chocolate or cinnamon shavings over the top 😋

Mochaccino

Here, we return to the rule of thirds as with the cappuccino. This time, we have a third of espresso, a third of steamed milk, and a third of cocoa. A mochaccino is a convenient way to develop an appreciation for coffee without jumping in the deep end and scaring your tastebuds. I mean, let’s be realistic; it’s just a bitter hot chocolate.

Macchiato

Yeah… I still don’t really understand the difference between a macchiato and a long black (except for the fact that a macchiato sounds pretty damn fancy). From what I’ve gathered, a macchiato is ‘stained’ with frothed milk.

Fluffy

We can’t forget the fluffy! A fluffy is essentially a minuscule cup of foamed milk. I loved them when I was a little girl. They’re what small children get from cafés to feel adult-y and sophisticated when their caregiver stops off for a caffeine hit. If you’re lucky, they might come with a marshmallow or chocolate fish on the side.

If you’re a long-time reader of the Ginger Passports, you might remember that I published a post way back in March called You Can’t Buy Happiness… But You Can Buy Vietnamese Coffee. To this day, this remains one of my favourite all-time posts, and I highly recommend that you check it out to learn just what makes Vietnamese coffee special, and to discover a life-changing iced coffee recipe.

Alternatively, you might like to read some reviews I wrote about two of my favourite coffee haunts in my home town of Dunedin. The first is for Starfish Café and Bar, a seaside joint that I used to hit up on a near-daily basis when I was back in the motherland. The second is Nectar Espresso Bar and Café, which is slightly more urban and located closer to the middle of town.

P.S. I apologise on behalf of all Kiwis for the price of our coffee 🙈

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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Guest Post: How to Live the Japanese Language While Learning It

For people who strive to learn a second language, it isn’t enough to simply be adept at speaking it. A lot of the time, the decision to learn something as complex as another language isn’t entirely academic in nature (though it may partly be the case). Fortunately this desire to immerse oneself into the culture of the foreign language they’re working hard to master goes hand in hand with the spoken language itself. Japan is the perfect example of a country whose language most people want to learn because they wish to feel closer to its impressive and often fascinating culture.

Of course, such an endeavor is certainly easier said than done. However, there’s a reason why traveling to Japan in order to live the language while learning it is so rewarding. Those looking for a bit of a crash course in everything Japan has to offer with a long-term goal of mastering the language will no doubt learn all its little intricacies all the faster, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging. Here are just a few tips to living the language while simultaneously learning it.

Go for Japanese cuisine (it’s how the country speaks to your stomach)

The first suggestion is also probably the most fun to do – learning to live the language by experiencing Japan’s rich tapestry of cuisine. After all, a very large part of a country’s history is directly tied to their diets. It might seem like a rather far-fetched idea, but you’ll soon understand things about the country you might never have thought possible when you’ve had your fill of their authentic recipes. While being in Japan to enjoy true authentic cuisine would be the most obvious course of action, this is something that can be enjoyed in all parts of the world because of how much other countries and cultures are fascinated by what Japan has to offer.

Try and picture yourself enjoying succulent yakitori from a stand in Japan, while speaking to one of the natives. You ask questions as you observe their body language, from the way they speak to the way the natives enjoy their own stick of yakitori. Even something as simple as enjoying street food in Japan can be an invaluable experience when it comes to not just learning the language, but living it as well.

Attend the multitude of Japanese festivals

Living the Japanese language means to live its culture, and there are few events that match the cultural significance of the Japanese festival. The amount of history they have on display – whether you are attending a festival in Fukuoka or perhaps in Kyoto, is always a sight to see. After all, where else would you be able to get yourself acquainted with all the sights and sounds Japan has to offer all in the span of a single incredible event? It can’t be understated how much you can learn by simply attending one of the country’s many festivals.

Even the natives of Japan understand just how important attending a festival can be. Normally you would see a divide between the younger and older generations of the Japanese people due to events that have shaped the country. However, no matter what the age group is, there are very few people who do not enjoy attending these festivals. This only means that not only do you get to taste and experience the culture of Japan all in one place, but you also get to communicate and interact with natives from all walks of life.

Break the ice by enjoying Japan’s hot springs

While it’s indeed important to have a serious passion when it comes to learning and living the Japanese life, it doesn’t have to be devoid of any rest and relaxation. As a matter of fact one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture while being able to soak the stresses away would be by enjoying Japan’s world-famous hot springs, or onsen as they would call it. Located in Hokkaido, these natural hot springs are littered with natives and tourists alike, giving you a wide variety of people to interact and bounce ideas with while you take a rest. Why not? It’s a wonderful way to learn all about Japan, while still treating it like a carefree vacation.

Visit Japan’s historical castles and ancient temples

Japan is a country with a deep and vibrant history. One might think that researching the history of the Japanese people and learning the language are completely different – but they are different sides of the same coin. It only exists when both work in tandem; otherwise neither will survive because they helped shape each other through the decades and centuries. While it’s indeed possible to learn all about the history of the Japanese people through different websites and written works, actually stepping into an ancient temple or historical castle in Japan allows for a completely different perspective – you can even get the help of Japanese translation services if you have troubles during your study.

The castles in particular were a part of the intense and more violent periods of Japan’s history, and the ruins are something that can give you a peak at what Japan was like at that time. By learning all about its rich culture and speaking to the Japanese about how they might feel about their country’s history, you’ll get a great deal of insight – which is one of the most essential things in mastering the language.

There are many who will most likely tell you that learning a language is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While they’re completely right, there’s no reason that it can’t be fun – and living the language while learning it is most certainly that. If you’re serious about diving into everything that makes this wonderful country great, don’t hesitate! Pack your bags and get ready for the learning experience of a lifetime that you will not regret at all.

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and over the phone interpreter provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.

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All photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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10 Things that Surprised Me About Cairo

The more you get to know a place, the more you get to learn its many quirks. As a city I only held pigeonholed ideas about – think camels, mummy’s and sexual harassment (*cue dry laughter*) – Cairo was just waiting to surprise me.

Road lanes? What road lanes?

The very first thing I discovered was that Egyptians have absolutely no concept of road lanes (or road rules, for that matter).

When I was picked up from the airport at 2am and driven across the city to Giza, I genuinely feared for my life. People were treating the highway like they would Gran Turismo, and the blatant disregard for the law – and common sense – was mind-blowing. If you’re not quite grasping the sheer terror of driving amongst people like this, bear in mind that highways in Cairo can have up to eight lanes. And a donkey or two.

Pass the mango

I’m no stranger to mangoes. They’re one of my favourite fruits, and I have had the pleasure to try them from many different corners of the globe such as Thailand and the south of Spain.

But the embarrassing truth is that, prior to Egypt, I had never eaten a fresh mango on its own. I know, I know. Such the traveller. I’ve only ever had mango if it was in the form of a smoothie or dollop of sorbet. Even in Southeast Asia, I didn’t think to buy some from one of the countless street food stalls.

On my very first day in Cairo, I tried a real mango. Woah. It was like all of the taste palates on my tongue had just been reborn. It was so juicy, so sweet… I don’t think I can ever return to preserved, tinned mango every again. It turns out that Egypt is actually known for it’s mangoes, which – according to Fruit Link Co. – are “a tropical delicacy with no equal”.

Tip

If you’re a mango fanatic like me, make sure you visit Egypt during mango season (July to November).

The City of Unfinished Buildings

Cairo may be known as the City of a Thousand Minarets, but perhaps a more appropriate nickname is the City of Unfinished Buildings.

One of the things I noticed every time I drove into the centre was the myriad of unfinished apartment buildings. I’m not just talking about one or two of these, either. There were long stretches where I couldn’t spot a single completed building. From a practical point of view, they’re unsafe. From an aesthetic point of view, they’re just plain ugly.

When I inquired into the reasoning behind this, I was informed that there exists something of a legal loophole in that owners in Cairo do not have to pay taxes until a building is structurally finished. Given this, there is little motivation to achieve completion.

Representation

If the nickname of the City of Unfinished Buildings doesn’t catch on, then maybe the City of a Thousand Billboards will.

Cruising down the 26th of July Corridor, you are treated to advertisement after advertisement. Airbrushed models smile down on you with their photoshopped, white smiles, marketing everything from Coca Cola to Vodafone to KFC. The oddity? None of the female models are veiled.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be strange if it weren’t for the fact that up to 80% of Egyptian women are believed to wear headscarves. That’s no minority. Presuming that these advertisements are targeting Egyptian citizens, this lack of representation seems a little unusual.

Paris along the Nile

When I first heard this next fact, I burst out laughing. Did you know that Cairo was architecturally modelled after Paris?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Downtown Cairo was transformed into what was at the time called the ‘Paris of the East’. This was because the then-ruler was raised in France and wanted Egypt’s capital to reflect European modernity. This meant that the Downtown area was to be characterised by linear, gridded streets, geometric harmony, and reflect Parisian architecture.

Let there be light… please 🙏

If the lack of consideration for road lanes doesn’t already make driving a near-death experience for you, then the lack of street lamps will. There are so many stretches of highway where there is just no lighting. When you’re zooming along at 100km/h with half of Cairo on your tail, that’s the last thing you want.

I have no idea how you would navigate anywhere if it weren’t for the head and tail lights of surrounding cars – and even then, it’s near impossible to spot potholes or barriers that suddenly jump up out of the concrete. I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. But on that note…

Desensitisation

If you travel to Cairo, you will probably see a dead body.

I’m not talking about roadkill. I wish I was talking about roadkill. Rather, I’m referring to the 12,000 human lives that are lost due to crashes every year in this country.

I remember driving down one of the more remote highways and passing an ambulance. Upon further inspection, I realised that two paramedics were tending to an unmoving body that had been flung from an also unmoving motorcycle. I didn’t have to look too closely to fathom their fate.

It was the juxtaposition between how Egypt deals with this sort of thing compared to the response from my home country of New Zealand that really shocked me. Back home, a crash – even one that leaves no fatalities – will halt traffic, block roads and make national news. Here, it was as though nothing had even happened. If I hadn’t had my eyes peeled, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have even noticed it.

Death has been normalised.

Green

On a lighter note, one thing that pleasantly surprised me about Cairo was the amount of greenery present. For a desert city, this wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Cruising down the Nile along Downtown’s Promenade especially draws attention to this welcome inhabitance of vegetation, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to temporarily forget that I was in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

The haze

Coming from a small town in an environmentally-friendly country, air pollution had always been something of an abstract problem. But for Cairo – the city ranked as having the worst air pollution in the world – this is an unavoidable issue.

The effect this has on the landscape is striking. Standing beneath the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel and beholding Cairo’s skyline gave me the impression that I was looking over a civilisation on some distant planet. The horizon is a thick gray as a consequence of the fumes. As it ascends, the sky gradually fades into a dull blue. There are no clouds. There is no sun. There is only the haze.

Egypt is very… Egyptian

What amused me the most about Egypt was just how Egyptian it is.

If that sounds to you like an obvious statement, then allow me to elaborate. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, there are certain icons of Egypt that thoroughly tie into the stereotypes and conventions that the tourism industry thrives off. You know what I’m talking about.

But when I arrived, I didn’t actually expect these cultural symbols to manifest in absolutely everything. Everywhere you look is Egyptian iconography. Sphinx Bakery, Pyramid Gardens, Pharaoh Towers… walking in Cairo is like stepping into a three-dimensional postcard. I found it entertaining, to say the least.

I don’t intend for this blog post to deter anyone from visiting Cairo. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all these little quirks – good and bad – are instrumental in the formation of it’s character.

I highly recommend that you read about my experience at the Great Pyramids of Giza. Furthermore, if you want to learn about what it’s like to be a ginger in Egypt, then this post might be your cup of tea ☕

Last but not least, stay tuned for my Egypt vlog that is currently in the works! Show some love and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates.

All photographs courtesy of the talented photographers at Unsplash

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Park Güell: Gaudí’s Barcelona Dreamscape

Ah, Barcelona. I never thought I’d get to meet you.

Park Güell is a park in the Barna neighbourhood of La Salut, designed in the early 20th century by Catalan modernist architect Antoní Gaudí. It is composed of gardens and naturalistic architecture, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO 33 years ago.

Gaudí achieved his goal of creating a calming and tranquil atmosphere with Park Güell. His fantastical imagination is clearly reflected in the design of the gardens and structures, and walking through the front gates are like walking into a surreal dreamscape.

A ceiling mosaic in Sala Hipóstila

Perhaps the most recognised view of the park – and Barcelona in general – is that taken from the main terrace. The terrace is made from a long bench of beautiful tile-work that forms a sea serpent. This style is consistent with Gaudí’s habit of borrowing inspiration from the natural world.

The panoramic view of Barcelona from the main terrace

“Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.”
Antoní Gaudí

Gaudí’s tiled dragon

If you’re in Barcelona and develop an appreciation for Gaudí’s work (I mean, let’s be realistic – who doesn’t?) then be sure to visit more of his creations. La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló never fail to impress.

Tip

I didn’t realise until I actually arrived in Barcelona that you have to book tickets and an entry time for Park Güell. Given it’s a public park, I had erroneously assumed that you could just rock on up and enjoy the sight free of charge. Boy, was I wrong. If you’re planning on visiting, make sure you book online well in advance so that you’re not left disappointed when you have 24 hours left in the Catalonia capital and find out that the park is full for the next three days.

The entrance pavilion

The ‘Deats

Name: Park Güell

Website: www.parkguell.cat

Location: 08024, Barcelona, Spain

Hours: 8am-8.30pm

If you’re hungry for more of Spain, be sure to flick through my Postcards from Madrid, or see the beauty of Sevilla’s Plaza de España in 6 Ways to Learn a New Language Without Picking Up a Book 👍

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Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt

I arrived in Egypt with little expectations about how I would be treated as a white, unveiled and ‘exotic’ (I use that word liberally) female.

As a student of gender studies – and someone who has an active interest in global politics – I was well aware that the Middle East’s relationship with woman is far removed from what I am familiar with in the west. It was to be the first time in my life that I represented the minority, and that thought both excited and scared me.

The next two weeks would expose me to a side of humanity that very few things could have prepared me for. It disgusted me; not disgust in the sense that I grew reluctant to venture out of the house without completely covering myself – which, FYI, isn’t even enough to stop men who feel entitled to make women uncomfortable in the public sphere – but disgust in the sense that I couldn’t believe people think that this kind of behaviour is actually okay. The argument from relativity suddenly lost its shine that trip.

Over those two weeks, I was subjected to people stopping in the middle of the street and pointing at me, cars honking as I walked down the side of the road, and the making of rude and unnecessary comments in Arabic as I walked past. At one point, I was in the middle of a marketplace when a man riding a motorcycle zoomed past, shouldered me and nearly knocked me off my feet. When I visited the iconic Great Pyramids, I was surrounded by local tourists more interested in taking pictures with me than the actual wonders. It was flattering until they started grabbing me.

Making friends… us gingers gotta stick together.

All of this was just by existing in Cairo and minding my own business. Whilst I did not veil my head, I was dressed conservatively and respected the culture. None of the behaviour was provoked in any meaningful or justified way.

From my observation, about 85-90% of the women I saw in the streets were veiled. It is also worth mentioning that – compared to their male counterparts – very few women even venture into the public sphere. I counted the occasions I saw people who represented tourists, and the number might amaze you: seven. Just seven – over two whole weeks. Egypt’s tourist economy has plunged from 14.7 million to 5.4 million per year, and it is noticeable. Tourists have become something of a commodity, only fueling the attitude towards them.

The irony of the whole trip was that the occasion on which I felt most comfortable in public was when I visited a nightclub. I remember thinking that there is definitely something wrong with a culture where you receive more unwanted attention on the streets than in a freakin’ bar.

I’m not comfortable arguing that it is easier being an unveiled woman than a veiled woman in Egypt, as other travel bloggers have. There are cultural forces at work there that someone like me can’t even imagine, and it isn’t a competition of oppression. I’m also aware that my experience was far more benign than that suffered by other females. I’m just writing this blog post to share my personal experience so that if you are a woman with intentions of visiting this incredible country, at least you’re not walking in blind.

I never once felt unsafe or threatened whilst I was in Egypt. I think a large part of that is because I mentally prepared myself for the attention and was always in good company. But I can wholeheartedly understand why the experience would be enough to deter someone from the Middle East altogether. It’s a shame, because the two countries I have traveled to in this region so far – Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – left me with rich knowledge and positive memories that surpassed my wildest expectations.

You don’t have to lose all sense of identity in Egypt to avoid harassment. Even if you were wearing a niqāb, the chances are, you would still receive some form of it. After all, studies reveal that 99% of Egyptian women have been subjected to misogynist behaviour on the streets of Cairo (what is being called a ‘moral epidemic’).

But what you can do to prepare is educate yourself on the culture and understand that there is nothing you are doing to deserve this treatment. There is nothing morally justifiable about it. It it simply the result of a lack of education, public safety, poverty and dangerous cultural ideas. The only way it can be challenged is by standing up to it and raising awareness about the injustices served.

 All of the photographs in this post were taken at the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel of Cairo.
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In Defence of Cultural Appropriation

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post called Cultural Appropriation (Or Why that Bindi is Racist). Without rewriting the original article, allow me to briefly summarise my key points.

Cultural appropriation is defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people.” I later stumbled upon a slightly more detailed definition that I think also fits the bill: “Cultural appropriation… is a form of oppression for members of an identifiably dominant social or ethnic group to make use of the history, personages and/or habits of another, for the purposes of literature, music, art, entertainment, fashion. In short, for culture.”

Since publishing my blog post, I have shared a number of thought-provoking conversations with friends that have challenged my perspective on the issue. Dissatisfied, I decided to update my opinion — a part two, if you will — and to argue against what I originally wrote.

To begin, I am going to explore the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. There is a tendency to conflate the two, a misunderstanding which is arguably as dangerous as cultural appropriation itself. Whilst cultural appropriation tends to concern the power dynamics between two unequal groups, cultural exchange refers more so to the sharing of practices between two different yet balanced groups. In many — I’d even go as far as to say most — cases, cultural exchange is criticised for being cultural appropriation. Whilst I myself am persuaded that cultural exchange is justified, cultural appropriation is still something of a delicate matter.

Should we amend cultural appropriation to cultural misappropriation? Maybe it is possible that this whole discourse hinges around semantic specificity. From henceforth, I shall use cultural appropriation as somewhat interchangeable with cultural exchange, and refer to the detrimental kind as cultural misappropriation.

One of the central arguments for cultural appropriation is that it offers an opportunity for people to be educated about the rich diversity of human culture. After all, isn’t a more connected and compassionate society an objective goal? The topic of cultural appropriation also opens the door to what it truly means to own something. In my previous article, I discussed how it’s dangerous because it is as though a dominant group has ‘stolen’ a practice that belongs to a marginalised group. But do practices really belong to someone? Cultural practices are meaningful because of the ideas attached to them — can someone really claim ownership over an idea?

“Cultures are not intrinsically valuable, nor should they be preserved by virtue of their uniqueness. Cultures emerge from different groups of people trying to best navigate the world.”

The author of the above quote also put into words my exact thoughts: “… cultural ‘pride’ is absurd… there’s nothing to be proud of. (Cultures) aren’t superior or inferior to any other. You have nothing to preserve.” This message ties into the flaws of group identity. If you consider major conflicts between different groups of people, you’ll observe that that main source of conflict is the (often symbolic) trespassing of identity politics. We cannot abolish this discord without challenging our relationship with cultural pride.

By maintaining the mentality that cultural appropriation is in and of itself a ‘bad thing’, we are only causing further destruction. Through reinforcing exclusivism, some would even go as far as to say that it is as racist as cultural appropriation itself claims to be. If we cannot explore other cultures through participation, how are we — as a collective civilisation — expected to evolve and develop?

Perhaps cultural appropriation is indeed a positive thing, and participation in diverse cultural practices ought to be encouraged throughout society. Perhaps it’s the most constructive path to a more global, shared culture. “It is not an evil but rather a public good when different cultures are assimilated into the mainstream”, writes J. Wilson.

I have expressed why I believe cultural exchange should be condoned, and (hopefully) no one needs reminding that this should always be done respectfully. We know that malicious intent – whether that be through racism or whatever have you – is never acceptable. We know that there’s nothing respectful about dressing up as a ‘slutty Indian’ for Halloween in a costume you bought from Walmart, and we know that there’s nothing respectful about mockery. The key therefore is to strike a balance whereby different cultures are accessible and celebrated whilst still bearing courtesy and consideration for their history.

To what end does maintaining divisions between people serve? Cultural misappropriation can be harmful and leave devastating effects on persecuted peoples by reducing them to an idea. But cultural appropriation might be the answer to societal segregation rooted in identity politics.

Photographs sourced from Unsplash.

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Monolithic Giants: The Great Pyramids of Egypt

France has the Eiffel Tower. Italy has the Colosseum. And Egypt has the Pyramids.

I don’t know what it is about these Egyptian megastructures that puts them on a tier above the rest. Maybe it’s the fact that they are the last surviving wonder of the world. But what I do know is that visiting this archaeological site has been one of my greatest aspirations for a very long time, and compared to my expectations, my actual experience did not disappoint.

History lesson! The Giza Pyramid Complex includes the Great Pyramids – Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure – guarded by the limestone sculpture known as the Sphinx. Located in the Sahara Desert on the outskirts of Cairo, the Complex was believed to have been built to house the remains of the Pharaohs (Ancient Egyptian rulers).

“The people of Ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the King was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife.”

The largest pyramid – Khufu – reaches a height of 138.8 meters, and is estimated to have taken 200 years to build. 200 years! It is also fascinating to learn that the Great Pyramids are precisely aligned with the constellation of Orion, which was associated with Osiris, the Ancient Egyptian god of rebirth and afterlife.

Did you know?

There are actually six pyramids that comprise the Giza Pyramid Complex, not three as is commonly believed. The remaining three (called the Pyramids of the Queens) are much smaller and located in a row behind Menkaure.

  

I had already been in Cairo for over a week before paying a visit to the Giza Pyramid Complex. This meant that I had grown accustomed to the pyramids dominating the horizon every time I ventured into the City of a Thousand Minarets. But as my boyfriend and I approached the gates to the site, I couldn’t help but feel consumed with awe at the monolithic giants towering over us.

I don’t think I’d ever get used to the level of (attempted) security in Cairo. No sooner had we pulled up outside the main gate than did three guards descend upon the car demanding to check us for any weapons or dangerous goods. After asking needlessly if we were married (🙄) they let us through. We parked the car at the foot of Khafre and began to explore.

The pyramids rise grand and resplendent from the cripplingly arid desert. The size of the individual slabs are enough to astound you, let alone the size of the actual structures. Given the sheer volume of security at the entrance, you’d expect the Complex itself to be meticulously patrolled; in reality, there are no barriers or guards, meaning you can climb onto the lower landings of the pyramids and get up close and personal with the ancient wonders.

If I had to choose one thing that left a negative impact on my time at the pyramids, it would have to be people (namely men) trying to scam you. We hadn’t even gotten out of the car before they swarmed upon us, offering deals on tours and souvenirs. One boy even followed us all the way around Khafre, relentless and dogged in his pursuit. If I took a picture of a camel, its owner would materialise out of thin air and demand some sort of payment. If I accepted a ‘free gift’ from a souvenir seller, they wouldn’t leave me be until I returned the favour in some (*cough*monetary*cough*) form. In all seriousness, if I had not been there with my boyfriend – an Egyptian citizen who speaks Arabic – I am pretty damn sure I would have been guilt-tripped or manipulating into losing a lot of money.

Tip

To avoid getting scammed, give a wide berth to people at the Complex who are not official employees. The only people you should be interacting with are those at the ticket booth and those at security (both at the gates and succeeding the ticket booth). Even if they flash you their ‘license’, people claiming that they will show you where to park your car, or that they take the tours included in the entry price (spoiler alert: bullsh*t), or that tickets have sold out and they have the only remaining pass, are just trying to empty your pockets.

But as far as bad experiences go, those men were a relatively insignificant one. If anything, they were amusing. I had the luxury of sitting back and relaxing as I watched my boyfriend’s patience slowly fizzle out like an old firework. It’s worth mentioning some of the good things that happened during my visit, such as the fact that hardly anyone else was there. This can be seen in the solitariness of my photographs, and has motivated me to write a blog post chronicling the deterioration of Egypt’s tourism industry… stay tuned 😎

Before I arrived in Egypt, I had been warned by friends and family members that I would stand out like a sore thumb. I had dismissed their words of caution, but the truth to what they were saying really hit me here. Foreign tourists were something of a rarity, and the fact that I have red hair and the complexion of a white walker probably didn’t help on that front. Many local tourists asked to take photos with me, and one woman physically grabbed me by the material of my shirt and held me still until she had taken a satisfactory number of selfies. My boyfriend had to drag me away from the growing crowd so that we could continue with our sightseeing.

After taking in the marvel of Khafre, I made the executive decision that we would embark on a camel ride. After riding an elephant in Thailand last year, I was bursting to get back in the saddle. (Yes, I realise that camel-riding is probably dodgy. Yes, I plan to educate myself on this topic. And yes, I understand that condemning my own participation only in hindsight not once, but twice, makes me a textbook hypocrite. I’m working on it.)

A few minutes later and we were climbing onto the backs of two camels. You don’t really appreciate just how high it is until you’re up there. I’d read that camel riding is a largely uncomfortable experience, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s nothing of that sort. Sure, you have to keep one hand firmly clamped on the horn of the saddle to save falling off, but hey, where else is the adventure? Led by a boy no older than thirteen, we padded back around to Khafre, snapped some more photos, laughed at the noises camels make (seriously though, have you heard them?!) and then meandered back to where we started.

The Great Pyramids are the beating heart of Egypt. They have survived for 186 generations and they will survive for many more. Standing amongst these giants was a simultaneously humbling and inspiring experience, and one I hope to recreate again in the future.

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Global Street Art: Part One

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish… but that’s only if it’s done properly.”
Banksy

I was never a huge fan of graffiti. For the most part, I found it selfish and something of an aesthetic atrocity. But a few years ago, my home town – Dunedin – launched a street art project. This project opened my eyes to the beauty of urban creativity and the important distinction between the construction of street art and the destruction of graffiti tagging.

When I arrived in Madrid, the first destination on my travels around Europe, I was gobsmacked by the way street art dominated the suburbs of the Spanish capital. I had the pleasure of staying in one of the most cosmopolitan neighbourhoods – Lavapiés – and stumbled upon new artwork every day.

My newfound appreciation for this genre was only fuelled during my subsequent month in France; specifically in the capital of Paris. Paris boasted a different flavour of street art – more minimalist, performatory – but still one that I could admire.

Through my lens, I captured the standout pieces I discovered over my two months in Spain and France. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the first edition of my Global Street Art series…

A stunning painted door in my favourite village in Provence, France: Roussillon

Winter is coming… Game of Thrones vibes in Paris

Enjoying the famous mural buildings of Lyon during a French river cruise

A beautiful painting on the side of a building in Madrid’s neighbourhood of Lavapiés

Parisian philosophy

A gorgeous portrait in the French town of Arles in Provence

Quite possibly my favourite graffiti script: I declare war upon this way of dying

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