World Within A World

World Within A World

Philadelphia encompasses various cultures. Because of the diversity, people have many opportunities to explore cultures outside of their own. Despite the differences that the different cultures consist of, there are a few similarities that the cultures share. Religion, food, and family life are a few elements that the different cultures had in common. The Cultural Anthropology class of University City High School, Philadelphia, PA, took many trips to explore various cultures.

Our Experience in Chinatown

First we took a tour of Chinatown’s community. We observed different languages, signs, statues, and symbols in Chinese stores. While at the Imperial Inn, a Chinese restaurant at 10th and Arch Streets, we had the opportunity to taste new foods including: duck, vegetable soup, meat and shrimp dumplings, and noodles. Some of us weren’t too fond of the food, while others enjoyed their meal. One student admired the service of the restaurant and the manner in which they went about their job. The setting of the restaurant was familiar. There were pictures on the walls of places in China. Even in spite of the Chinese elements, there was a flicker of American culture incorporated into the restaurant, for instance, there was a television which was broadcasting the news as well as soap operas.

With the experience we had we encountered new elements that differed from customs that we normally practice. Some found it difficult to eat with chopsticks and were more comfortable with spoons and forks.

The feeling of experiencing different cultures intrigued the students. A few of them discussed the issue of feeling like tourists in their own city. Quabeer explained that it was “because of the Hong Kong look and the environment was different from any other neighborhood (I’ve seen).” Justine added, “Even though I didn’t go, I felt like a tourist the first time I visited Chinatown. It gave me a feeling of being in another country because everything was written in symbols and different characters.” Students managed to learn a lot from this experience as Justine added, “I also found myself staring and reading information and looking at different sculptures.”

A Taste of Moroccan Culture

Upon entering Fez we noticed very dim lighting, many of the students expressed that they could barely see. It took awhile for our eyes to adjust. The walls appeared to be covered with carpet bearing purple and gold patterns. The seating arrangements consisted of sofas and velvet covered stools. Gold, circular pans served as tables. We were served a eight course meal consisting of: soup, salad, spicy lamb, beef kabobs, lemon chicken, fruit, among other things.

Throughout our meals, the music was playing lightly, however, when the belly dancer arrived the music became so loud that it was deafening. The belly dancer performed in between every two meals. Many of the students were surprised to see that the belly dancer appeared to be an American, because many students were expecting to see a dancer of a Moroccan ethnicity. We enjoyed the show so much that some of the students actually participated in the belly dancing. Some of the students initially followed the steps that they were taught and later on added a few additional moves.

The foods that we ate were similar to the foods of our cultures, for example: the lemon chicken and the beef kabobs were dishes that were familiar to the students. After our meals a smoke pipe was passed around to the students amazement.

Some of the traditions that we encountered were somewhat related to elements of dining in some of our cultures. For example, in Nigeria, when we ate, one would bring a bowl of water so that people could use the water to wash their hands. Usually, that was done for the elderly, or someone that is your senior, another case would be if you had a guest. The gesture is a sign of respect. In any case, students were able to relate with aspects of their own culture through this experience.

Note from a University TA: The manner in which food was prepared tells a lot about a particular culture and the consumption of a given food may also show resistance to another “invading” culture that may try to impose their culture on another. For example, (mention Zumbagua people of Ecuador) Ever since I learned about this aspect of cultural anthropology, I have never looked at a finished ethnic dish the same way since.

Reading Terminal Market

The Reading Terminal Market is a location that is a perfect example of a “world within a world.” Within the market, there was a wide diversity cultures that were represented, such as food, appearance of the vendor or shop, clothing, among other things. One can absorb many cultures in a single trip through the market. For instance, an Italian place could be around the corner from an African shop. Then, there was a shop that was selling different spices from different places, yet the spices were familiar to most of us. Also, each of the different places has different methods that those spices are put into use.

University Museum Tour

Professor Sanday took the class on tour of the University Museum as we saw African art, The Royal Tombs of Ur, etc. Even with what the students were able to learn, the students found a few issues with the circulation of artifacts in the Museum. “I thought the displays were interesting, but I feel as though it may be inappropriate to hold on to another culture’s possessions because although their intention may be to display things about a culture, some of the items did not have a purpose for them (the museum staff). In addition to this, I think that some of the displays that were in the museum were not obtained with that particular culture (permission). Therefore, it shows disrespect for that culture.” Another student shared her view as well:

My reaction towards the Museum of Anthropology is that it is an interesting source to explore different cultures through artifacts and other information. At the same time, I was a bit annoyed at the fact that the things that I saw came from different places. How can one take another’s culture and put it on display? Are the people of that culture aware that their belongings are no longer in their possession? Did they give their consent on whether their property could be used at all? Those were just some of the questions that ran through my head. How often do people go to the countries that are mainly displayed in the museum and see something like that in terms of American culture? Not too often.

The Intercultural Greek Step Show

The Intercultural Greek Step Show featured different cultural sororities and fraternities. Each group demonstrated to the audience what they represented by chanting or yelling the names of their group and making sounds as well. The fact that they were yelling in unison indicated to us that they were unified. They also demonstrated their unity through their performances, in spite of their different identities.

Reactions to Cultural Anthropology

Here are some of the reactions from the students towards the class:

I liked the Anthropology class overall. I was exposed to different cultures and made aware of different issues, that I probably wouldn’t have put much thought towards. Also, I was intrigued by my classmates. We all differ in terms of our views, lifestyle, religion, age, among other things. If it weren’t for the class, I probably wouldn’t have been in the presence of many of my classmates, basically, most of them were strangers to me literally. The class brought us together physically, though we may have been divided mentally. In class, there were some who favored debating, and arguing their case(s), then there were quiet ones. Either way, we were all made to think and analyze different and perhaps new situations. I can recall several times when I heard people refer to Christians as hypocrites (outside of class as well) which at times irritated me because I am a Christian, it’s a stereotype, and I believe that the concept of being hypocritical applies to everyone. Anyhow, listening to the different opinions wasn’t difficult to me because I’m an open-minded person. Although, I may not have agreed or even accepted what some people had to say. At the end of the day, people will feel the way that they feel, and it’s consequential to stand for what you believe.

I think this class was a great opportunity. It introduced me to cultures and views I have never heard of. The class could’ve used more activities and games to understand more instead of just reading the chapter.

I enjoyed the class for the most part. I would want to see more trips.

The class is an interesting class when we have discussions about different events that are happening in the world.

Copyright 2004, Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.

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