Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Coming home...

The final week was a bit of an eye-opener into Tongan culture and how it relates to problem resolution. It’s a challenging thing to generalize an entire culture’s method of confronting problems but a single sentence from a friend just about summed up the overall mentality. After discussing the damage done by gossip in a situation we just left he explained, “When you have a problem you just punch each other and then everyone is fine.”
As foreign, and even extreme, of a concept as that was for me I couldn’t negatively judge that concept immediately because in this particular situation it worked. Rather than building up anger over what had been said and done, a few seconds of physicality resolved the issue as far as I could see. That’s not to say that I will take such an approach to resolving disputes in my life, but I saw in that context and with that cultural understanding a few punches patched up the problem. Whether the resolution I saw was conclusive or not, by the end of the day all involved had made amends. Maybe if time had permitted I could have discovered more of what is implied by the concept my friend shared with me.
Yet despite my confusion with aspects of Tongan culture, I left with a positive outlook on my entire experience. Coming home helped me realize and remember the big picture as well as how unique of an experience this summer was. I won’t soon forget the amazing beaches, the forests of palms, the food that took a while to grow on me, but most importantly the friendly people that I met. Initially I went hoping to be of greater help to the family than they were to me, but the life lessons I took from them top any of my efforts. Most were lessons I hope don’t fade as I continue to get readjusted to life in Provo.
Returning just a week before school started, life changed drastically from ‘island life’ to ‘student life’ with plenty to do in preparation for the school year. Part of me misses the days with little to do but go on a walk around the village. Another part is grateful for a schedule to keep me busy. Yet without a doubt it was easier to focus life on the fundamentals when I lived a simpler life. The change of pace that becomes apparent when you land in Tonga was an adjustment and lesson on its own. Similarly as soon as I got back to SLC the gears shifted and I felt the need to buy a planner to keep up with everything. Yet like anyplace, I’ll likely never fully appreciate or understand Tonga anytime soon, but in the meantime I’ll be grateful for the lessons I brought back with me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interviews might be harder than I thought...

I’ve started making decent progress on the next phase of my project: interviews. The first month of gathering information through conversation and observation helped provide a foundation from which I could base appropriate questions. When I say I'm making progress, I mean that I am about halfway through the number of interviews I hope to complete. Its definitely a milestone in my field study, but I define my progress as decent because most of my interviews haven’t yielded as much information as I would like to answer my research question.
In Tonga it’s relatively easy to gain access into the community, particularly when my host family knows or at least recognizes 75% of the people on the island. With a relatively small population, most people in Vava'u know each other because of an association at church, being alumni of the same school, or the most common reason is that most people are somehow related. So with host parents from two different villages and large families, I wish I would have realized earlier how huge of an asset they are in finding individuals to interview.
My current approach to interviews goes like this. I begin by making a physical map of the property. Sometimes the individual wants to walk around and point out the boundaries and it really becomes a show-and-tell opportunity. Other times the interviewee simply talks with my host mom as I take a few measurements and sketch the planting beds and house. Once the property and structures are drawn, the person then labels and explains the function of each area of the yard. That largely covers the function aspect of my project and I am satisfied with the information obtain so far on that. The second half of the interview is when I ask questions regarding aesthetics and the concept of design within the yard. Unfortunately most people get a confused look on their face as they figure out how to answer the questions. I can only hope that my translator understands what I'm asking and is conveying that idea. With nearly every question and after several interviews, I get an almost identical answer: "We do that for the beauty."
I’ve tried to word a series of questions in different ways (hoping they translate differently), but people still look confused and the answer keeps coming back the same. How helpful is the phrase "for the beauty" in defining what Tongan landscape aesthetics? There is some information to be inferred from these responses, but I want to know more. So far what I'm understanding on Tongan design is that planning and preparation is not given much forethought. Design preferences exist, I just need to find out the right questions to ask.
So in trying to get past this wall, I’ve decided to continue asking the few questions that have provided valuable information in past interviews, try asking a few new ones to better understand design tactics, and then make a lot of my own observations on common trends in the landscapes I draw. Also maybe yes/no questions on the design patters I've observed (straight lines, alternating plants, and large lawns) will open up some more conversation. I didn't expect interviews would require so much thought. But I guess I also didn't realize what concepts I assumed would translate easily in Tongan culture. Interviews might not be my strong point, but I hope I can keep working on them and get better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In-field post #1

My experience here on Vava’u has been an exciting challenge. Its been fun to learn how to start from scratch and develop contacts in a new culture. Tonga is, of course, beautiful with its clear waters, forests of palm trees, and friendly people. Yet I have found that people are quite reserved in their interactions with most foreigners, or palangi. This was most evident to me by how little people in my ward would speak to me at the beginning. But after about 4 weeks, something changed drastically and the lapse of time provided a much needed tool to integrate into the ward.
So far the work I’ve done on my project has laid a foundation of observations from which I can base more appropriate interview questions. It was great to actually walk down roads and stop to observe residential landscapes with varying plant material, new design principles and some interesting uses of various areas of the yard. I am just about to start the interview process with several contacts I have, and some will be people I will meet and simply ask if it will be possible to talk to them more about their beautiful yard. The greatest challenge has been not being able to identify very many of the ornamental plants used in the landscapes. I recognize a few that are used in the US, but many of them are new to me. That has also been fun to learn from adults and kids about the names of plants.
There is a strong connection to the land here. I’m still working on pinpointing how that connection to agriculture and subsistence living is related to landscaping around homes, but I’m hoping my interviews will begin to answer that question. I’m excited for what I’ll find out and hope I can find more answers rather than new questions as I begin this process.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Learning Journal 30

The movie that Ashley showed was...interesting. I'm not sure exactly what we were supposed to get out of it, but it did make me think. The approach of describing society in the clips was so bizarre. Initially I thought it was humorous, but came to realize the observations were so far detached from any amount of emotion and instead focused entirely on pure objective observation. To some degree I can see how it ties into seeing a method of creating field notes. During the first few weeks I will largely have the approach of observing without making an judgments. The reason for that is because I will not be aware of cultural norms until I have seen people interact on multiple occasions to pick up on trends.
I'm not sure if that was part of the purpose of the clip. Out of context, the result was a report of facts that was done in a way to evoke emotion. During the first few minutes, I though it was a joke, or an example of a bad way to report something as it was entirely objective. Every new concept built off of the previous and connected it to the next. Each was lumped into a simple category. Humans were described as such by their large brain, opposable thumb, two legs, and money. I'm not sure, but I don't think I liked the overgeneralized statements because it left me a little confused as to what the point was. The ending thought I had was how unfortunate for those people who rummage through the organic material not fit for pigs. It was interesting and I hope one day I'll figure out what that meant.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Learning Journal 29

I feel like these journals are starting to get fairly repetitive as the semester is winding down and there is only so much left to wonder and discuss. Actually there is still a lot to think about, but all my effort is going toward the final draft of the proposal. Today in class was another day of presentations. I was grateful to listen to those projects because it helped me realize that we all have some amount of ambiguity in our proposal since we don't really know what to expect once we arrive. We've all done some research and tried to read between the lines on the available information, but it will be interesting to see it all come to life. One presenter mentioned backup plans if she was unsuccessful at getting access into her particular community. I liked that because I realize that my enthusiasm about function may not be echoed in the people I talk to. However a lot of that may be overcome in the approach to talking about function. Most conversations will discuss it in a roundabout sort of way. I'll ask questions like, "How often do you gather in this area?" or "Why is this area so empty?" I hope that things will pan out, and I feel like they will.
Another thought I wanted to write down was the idea of significance. Something I haven't really researched before I did my presentation was the King George I, the constitution and how that essentially dedicated the people and the land to God. There is a lot that could be explored/explained about the function of the landscape from that. Because most people see it as a duty to care for the land, I suppose that will be reflected in its function and aesthetics. That idea still fits in line with my project, just to clarify that I'm not trying to throw a curve ball right at the end. Simply put, I felt like those historical events help verbally justify my intentions and interest in researching in Tonga.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning Journal 28

After finishing my presentation today, I felt like I wasn't able to accurately express my proposed project. In part I attribute it to the fact that my topic is limited in the information available in Tonga, which is why observations are such a large chunk of my methods for data collection. I think the other challenge I'm still finding is that applying what I've learned in school is hard. Most of what we concentrate on are residential properties based on design principles accepted in American, and generally Western culture. Since I haven't come across any specific information about that in Tonga, I didn't really have an answer to that question during my presentation. In reality though my project is designed to answer that question. The title I think I'm sticking to is "Aesthetics and Function of Rural Tongan Landscapes". That encompasses understanding the function (the interaction between users and the area) as well as the the visual aspects of design. I recognize the significance part of my project is weak, because it is largely for my own benefit in understanding how my interests can be applied in a developing country. Basically what today taught me was that I have a lot of late nights ahead to finish my proposal.

Learning Journal 27

While discussing culture shock it was interesting to think about the times I've experienced it. After arriving in a new culture there is a definite period where everything is awesome. When I moved to Ghana I felt that way. But reality set in pretty quick and it was made known to me that I was a foreigner. Within the first few days of being in Accra, my Mom and I decided to go for a walk and explore our new neighborhood. Within 5 minutes we had a small group of Ghanaian children following us around and adults giving us a double take. I realized then and there, no matter what we did we would stand out. It was the shock of realizing I was in a completely new and very foreign environment. Everything was exciting to see, but as the years passed many of those things became commonplace. In thinking about the reading, I would say that in three years I didn't reach bi-culturalism. I definitely had moments where I felt I understood Ghanaian culture, but I still came across social situations where I was surprised by the proceedings. Even after hearing an explanation of why certain things were accepted, I didn't agree.
Culture shock is a fact of traveling. It affects people to different degrees but we all have to deal with it for some period of time. Being aware of it makes it easier to deal with and recognize. However, I think its important to remember that even though culture shock may occur instantly, coming out of it can take time. Its not easy to adapt to a new culture on a daily basis. The upcoming experience in Tonga will be trying for me, but in a good way. Even though I've lived in several cultures different from my own, I either had my family or a companion that understood my culture. But I guess as I've progressed through the semester I've realized that will be the excitement of a field study.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Learning Journal 26

Being Friday night I figured I would forget to get onto my blog and write a learning journal, so I'm doing it before class this time. I'd like to think this shows that I'm planning out my time...or at least trying. As the departure for Tonga approaches I realize more and more how blind I am going into this field study experience. Blind in the sense that as of now I have no connections, limited cultural understanding, and a proposed project that everyone keeps saying will probably just change once I get there. I wouldn't say that I'm worried about the experience, but I'm simply acknowledging there will be a period of adjustment and flexibility. I feel like I have an understanding of how I'll go about my project, but I know that won't require all of my time. Thinking about that just makes me wonder what I'll be doing with the rest of my time each day. Getting integrated into my host family will likely help give me stuff to occupy my time. But to some degree I'll go from a regimented schedule dictated by school and work here to a very undefined schedule when I get there. I intend to go through what I want to accomplish each week and set some personal goals. That will provide some amount of structure to my days.
So I guess when I say that I feel like I'm going into this field study blind, I realize that is an integral part of the experience. Cultural immersion and project development are not what we often focus on while in classroom settings on campus. And I think no matter how much we talk about it (however little or great that is) nothing can replace the reality of being in a new culture. Similarly nothing can replace the obstacles of carrying out a field study project, at least that's what I'm assuming. Just in planning and creating proposals I feel like I've hit a few walls in research, but challenges are good because it facilitates growth. More than anything this entry is just trying to reason through the concerns I've had the past few weeks. I think it worked, and I hope its coherent because I'm ending this post replacing my stress with excitement.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning Journal 25

In class today we practiced methods in the WILK. It was an interesting experience to see how much we can read into situations based on our cultural understanding. The whole experience was the epitome of people watching. I actually found it pretty easy to simply write down what I saw without reading into the situation. However, when we got back as a group I realized that although I didn't write any of those interpretations down, I thought about them. Normally I wouldn't perceive those interpretations as a bad thing, but I understood the point that our understanding won't always be applicable to what we observe in Tonga.
The second exercise of the class was to try and enter a 'community.' That was a little harder because it meant I had to do more than observe and write. Actually trying to join a conversation or just starting one was a bit of a challenge. I think the main reason for that is that on campus most people are working some form of homework, listening to music, or just wanting to be alone for a minute. I walked around trying to find someone I wanted to talk to and finally ended up joining a group that was taking a survey. They were probably surprised to see someone who was so eager to take participate, but it was interesting to include myself in the study as well as talk to a few of the other students. They guy next to me was mostly interested in the free fortune cookies they passed out, and kept asking if he could have another one. I laughed about that and finished my survey by talking to one of the people in charge for a minute. I think as a whole, joining random conversations isn't something that comes naturally to me. I can do it, but I generally keep to myself so I'll have to get back into the swing of doing it.

Learning Journal 24

I enjoyed contemplating the term "be flexible" in class. One of my main concerns has been with understanding how to deal with obstacles in the field. At this point, its hard to know exactly how I'll handle things as my knowledge of the culture is largely limited to information gained in conversations. My approach will likely change shape as I come to understand how my project fits into Tongan culture. That ties back in with the idea of being ok with ambiguity in my project at this point and finding clarification along the way. Since my project is largely exploratory, I have to be willing to accept ambiguity to a point until I have a foundation to build off. I realize that my proposals are helpful in developing some framework to where I can begin, but some of those specifics may need to be adapted.
The question that we were supposed to answer in class dealt with getting the project started once we get in the field. Initially I thought about how I'll just have to see what happens when I get there, but then Ashley made us think deeper. One of the questing she asked concerned our intitial observations. The gist of what she asked was, how are you going to observe what you don't naturally notice? I'm still not sure exactly how you would even identify what you don't notice, but I suppose making a conscious effort to observe is a good start. Going into a new culture, in my opinion, actually helps because since most things are foreign you have to make an effort to understand what's going on. When you've been around something for most of your life its harder to observe because you think you understand it. It will be an interesting transition of seeing how my proposal will act as a framework for my project in Tonga.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning Journal 23

For our Tongan language class we planned a field trip for today. We were going to go to Salt Lake but not enough people showed up from both of the classes so we just stayed around in Provo. We went to Many Lands and Sione showed us some Tongan food before heading over to a restaurant just down the street called Sweet's. I ate a teriyaki burger while the owners explained how everyone in Tongan culture is related somehow. We later went to the luau in the WILK and saw a lot of dancing. It was interesting to see how proud the Polynesian community was of their various cultures. The program spotlighted Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga and New Zealand with several dances from each place.
One thing that I didn't completely understand was that during some of the dances people would go up on stage and throw many at the girls dancing. I realize that its not done in a bad way because men and women would go up and throw money at the girls dancing. The thing that confused me was that everyone seemed to know when it was appropriate. Not every culture had people get up on stage to give money, and it wasn't on every song. During the Samoa segment a woman with a huge headdress seemed to be the signal for the money. But in the Tongan dance the only difference was that only girls were dancing, and they were wearing the ta'ovala. But after they'd been dancing for a minute people just got up and walked across the stage throwing money at the dancers as they went by. I'll have to look into it more and see what that means.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning Journal 22

I feel like I’ve been out of the loop not having gone to the inquiry conference in person, or having the syllabus for the class. For that reason its hard to think about what to write because most of my thoughts are focused on this trip in Chicago. Its been an interesting experience to represent something more than myself again this past week as I competed and interviewed under the reputation of BYU. I competed in the plant problem diagnosis competition and did well. As I handed in my test the competition sponsor commented that he expected me to do well because I was from BYU. Throughout the week, similar comments were made. BYU’s landscape management program was mentioned in the keynote address during the opening ceremonies for having more industry certified students than any other program. Several companies pulled me aside to talk because of the reputation of BYU students.

I think in some ways my experience in Tonga will be similar. I’ll be there, and whether I like it or not, I’ll be a representative of BYU and the church. While the reputation is less likely to define my personal success in fulfilling my project, it will play a role. My host family will have a definite opinion of BYU students based on how I carry myself. Within the community most people may never have heard of BYU, but if Tonga is like other places, they’ll probably assume I’m a missionary being a foreigner. The impression I want to leave of what I represent is similar to what I found myself a part of this week in Chicago. Its really a legacy of people with integrity and all other positive attributes associated with that. I hope to live up to that and to continue creating a positive reputation for BYU field study students.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning Journal 21

So this past week has been a crazy one in preparation for my trip to Chicago and needing to get the IRB proposal in and done, as well as a primary mentor and course contracts. The huge rush to get everything done is largely my fault as I didn't spread things out and plan my time better. That's something I'll have to invest more effort into when I get into the field because I don't want to be rushing to get everything done. In meeting with other students and reading their IRB proposal's, someone mentioned in data analysis a specific plan to begin analyzing the data while still in the field at various point to make sure they had complete answers to interview questions, but most importantly to make sure they were accomplishing the aim of the study. Doing something like that would make it easier to detect shortcomings in the research and give a heads up of how to overcome it. That way there is less of a chance of leaving the field and later realizing I had missed something. Maybe that will still happen anyway because I doubt I'll be able to answer every question, but I think it will be good to check up at the first of every month or something to make sure I'm focused by reviewing the research I've gathered and really thinking about what it is I'm trying to accomplish.
Another interesting experience this week has been the fact of getting a primary mentor and my course contracts set up before leaving to Chicago with my major. I am excited about my mentor because he will help me build up my portfolio for graduate school and I may have another opportunity to work with him in the fall. He is a licensed landscape architect, the only professor with that qualification, and will be able to help me determine more specifically what aesthetics to look for beyond the western concepts we learn in class. In class we discuss a little about Chinese, English, Japanese, and Italian gardens, so it will be interesting to see if I can detect something similar (and similar may be a stretch) for Tonga.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Learning Journal 20

For our cultural prep class, Sione asked us to read two articles written by Vai Sikahema. In these two articles, he discusses the relation of the Tongan culture to the American culture, as well as Tongan culture to the culture of the gospel. The assignment to read these articles stemmed from the discussion we had about the word palangi and what that entails in the eyes of many Tongans. To summarize the discussion he said palangi culture is viewed as being a better way of living. I didn't really like that belief, but I guess it stems in part from the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I look at the little I know about Tongan culture, and admire them for their humility, family relations, and faith. Being an insider of what palangi culture is, I don't think its that great. Like every culture it has many positive attributes, but its not the best. Vai Sikahema commented along those lines in one of the articles saying that he was a 'cafeteria Tongan', taking the admirable aspects of Tongan culture and applying them within his life and family. Some aspects, especially on parenting styles, he chose to adopt a new approach rather than physical abuse and sarcastic remarks on a child performance to avoid appearing proud. So in being a member of the LDS church, he chose to adopt a more caring parenting style by praising his children, and discussing matters considered taboo in order to ensure they knew the gospel stance on matters such as chastity and not the world's alone.
There truly is a rich heritage that we gain from whatever culture we grow up in. American culture is a mix of many different traditions, and I appreciate the diversity. Yet in having traveled and lived in a few other countries, I appreciate the distinct and sometimes subtle differences between ways of thinking and living that cause me to question my own perceptions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Learning Journal 19

If I had to classify myself into one of the three categories in the "Helping, Fixing, or Serving" article, I would say that I'm a fixer. Maybe its the man in me, but I enjoy finding solutions to problems and repairing what is seemingly broken. However, I don't know that I entirely fit with the fixing category that Rachel Remen described because I don't see everything as broken. But when I do, I want to find a way to fix it. Of the three I had the strongest understanding of that one.
Remen's thoughts on the power of service caused me to consider why that view of life is so much more enlightening. In her story of the encounter with the woman which approached her in the hospital not as an unsanitary patient, but as an equal, gave Remen optimism. It is largely the effect of service that distinguishes it from the other categories. Fixing something may provide service and can have a lasting effect if done in an attitude of service--not seeing yourself as fixing a poor man's problem but helping a friend with equal standing. When we see all people as equal we have reached what Remen described as seeing life is holy, not broken. A desire to serve isn't something we have to think about, it just happens.
I think this way of viewing life is extremely useful when traveling abroad, especially to developing countries. When I first moved to Ghana at 15 I was shocked at the many things in need of being fixed. Even though I had lived in other impoverished countries as a young child, I was taken back. Yet after three years of seeing the same beggars on the same street corners everyday, the pity I felt for them turned to respect for their diligence and I came to know some of them by name. They knew I wouldn't give them money, but I would share some of my food in our short interactions. Seeing them as equals, not unfortunate and lesser individuals made all the difference. I am still unaware of exactly how life is in Tonga, but I know it will be a simpler life than the one I lead now. I don't want to give others the impression of helping out of pity, or fixing because my way is better. Rather I hope to serve out of genuine respect and appreciation of a friendship.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning Journal 18

So this weekend I actually devoted a huge chunk of time to working on my project like I planned. It was much easier to find applicable articles now that I have a better idea of what my project focus than when we initially had to make our annotated bibliographies. I spent several hours in the library looking up articles that explained research done on the benefits of landscape design and came across a very similar term in several articles called landscape ecology. Simply put, landscape ecology is the relationship between urban development and the environment. It seems like that term will be useful in better defining what the perception of landscaping is in Tonga. I think my project will largely deal with the functional use of yards, which includes urban development in a sense.
After looking on the internet for awhile I decided to search the shelves related to agriculture/landscape management in the SB shelves of the library. Many of the books didn't seem like they would apply, or the principles didn't leave much open to discovering new design perspectives in a different culture. But I finally found one that seemed random, but ended up being really helpful. Its called "African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South" by Richard Westmacott. It is a research project where Westmacott made observations, interviewed, took pictures, and drew site analyses of several dozen yards. Overall its a great book that I can draw some methods from and better understand how to go about understanding what the purpose of yards is in Tonga. Basically it was a good weekend of finding solid information.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning Journal 17

The class on Wednesday became a time of reflection, thinking about the information I've gathered on my topic and what I still need to get done. Its kind of daunting to see that there are a lot of gaps in my research, especially with the IRB proposal and another project proposal draft looming in the next few weeks. But the fact that I am further than where I started gives me hope. Right now is mid-term time so of course stress levels rise as the number of projects and tests increase, but its hard to devote hours to my project with all that's going on. I didn't get a chance to work much on my research this week, but this weekend I'm going to carve out some time to work on my proposals and hopefully feel better prepared for the upcoming weeks. I still need to do a lot to solidify the scope of my project. My project focus seems to change daily whether its 'landscape perception', 'Tongan landscape design', or 'rural Tongan landscaping' I guess its all about the same. Another challenge I'm running into is that its hard to know what's feasible when so little is available in the way of research. I know I can look beyond Tongan publications, but articles focused on landscape architecture/design in developing countries is not a widely discussed topic. According to the groups I have found dealing with LA abroad, its foreigners from developed countries or locals educated in such places introducing the idea, as LA as a profession is largely unheard of in those cultures. Jobs dealing with landscape in developing countries are more along the lines of horticulture and agricultural science gained from experience rather than formal education. From Brother Ostraff I feel like there will be a lot to learn and research because Tongans have a love for plants, so I hope that will springboard into seeing the functional uses of plants as aesthetic elements.
Anyways, this last section class was great to better understand what we're going to do when we get there. It was a nice reminder of what I should focus on and prepare for as the second half of the semester begins.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Learning Journal 16

Today the reading explained the Ophelia Syndrome, and attempted to explain how it could be overcome. The syndrome describes the way in which we express ourselves to a large extent. As in the play Hamlet, Ophelia doesn't know what to think and is willing to submit to Polonius' suggestions. In all reality, I think we all have moments where it is easier to accept the common opinion rather than investigate and discover an answer for ourselves. Although it depends on the topic, there are many occasions where I answer in an attempt to appeal to the question and demonstrate I'm thinking the same thing. While there are many instances that showing understanding is a valuable thing, one line in Plummer's essay stands out to me: "If we both think the same way, one of us is unnecessary." I have seen or heard this sentiment in multiple instances. One was on a TV show where a man, although extremely qualified for a position in a hospital, was not hired. When he was told this by the supervisor, he stated, "It's because I think too much like you isn't it?" And that was exactly the case. The supervisor wanted someone who could pose different views and bring new insights to the table, not simply encourage his own thoughts.
If I could learn to steer away from the Ophelia Syndrome, that could add incalculable value to finding answers in my research. Yet doing a field study to a different culture will force me into viewpoints that challenge what I have studied in my college experience. I may find that there is little use for landscape architecture/design in developing countries, or I may find that its simply an unexplored area because it is less lucrative than what could be done in developed countries. Either way, I feel like the opportunities granted through a field study experience will help me better understand my major in a way other than the mainstream.

Treatments to Overcome the Syndrome
Seek out and learn from great teachers, regardless of what they teach
Dare to know and trust yourself
Learn to live with uncertainty
Practice thinking from different points of view
Foster idle thinking
Plant to step out of bounds

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learning Journal 15

This past Friday I went to the Living Legends performance, which focuses on dance from Native American, South American, and Polynesian cultures. It was an interesting experience to see distinct differences in dance styles and what the dances were to represent. Many of the Polynesia dances didn't involve much movement around the stage, but rather focused on moving their hips and arms. One Samoan dances looked like it was a party with someone calling the movements out in the front while everyone sat in lines. The only Tongan dance they had was used to represent rebirth. It was just women dancing for the most part with the men joining in later from what I remember. The movements were very fluid and controlled. Also in comparison to other Polynesian cultures, the costumes or dress were very modest. The women wore dresses covering their shoulders and down to their calves. The men wore white shirts and the ta'ovalo. Also in Polynesian cultures singing was more closely associated with the dance. I'm not sure if that's just the dances they picked, but often Polynesian dances had an individual or group providing the music. With that in mind it seems that more often than not the more people that can be included the better. While there was structure to the dance, it seemed as though it was meant to be done in large groups. Whereas in the Latin cultures it seemed that things like the Tango were to be performed more than just done for the sake of doing it.
Another interesting aspect of the experience was the involvement of the audience. There was a lot of yells and people really getting into watching the performance. Many of the people were likely family or friends of the performers but it was still interesting to see how much pride many people had in their culture as it was performed on stage. It will be interesting to see cultural events as they really are in Tonga.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learning Journal 14

Taro Crop
I began looking up information in Tongan newspapers just to get an idea of some of the topics discussed locally. Searching through those I came across several articles on agriculture, one of which is called "Agriculture Still Tongan Economy's Last Hope" by Josephine Latu. It was written in October 2010, which is much more recent than a few other studies on landscape/agriculture I've found online in various journals. The article provided an interesting look at this sector in the economy and its potential for raising revenue for the country. Currently "the Agriculture and Fishing sector made up 19.9% of Tonga’s GDP in 2009/10, making it the biggest contributor to the economy." Some of the main problems they face is meeting the standards to export agricultural products to other countries. Several projects are underway including a fumigation chamber for insect control and a packaging facility to improve shipment and quality. There are many areas of the kingdom getting on board with this more defined solution to improving the economy. For one, "the Education department is looking at modifying school syllabi to promote farming skills, along with other vocational and technical training to better serve the needs of the private sector." This would add a lot of value to the country as it provides specific skills to a broad range of people. Even those who engage in other professions could benefit from the knowledge in raising a small crop of food for family. This will also be able to improve the labor sector as well. "Agriculture is really the only sector that can provide work for such a large section of the population." Even though I was under the impression that unemployment was relatively low according to the most recent census, improvements in the labor sector tend to demonstrate improvement in the economy from what little I understand about economics. This shift in focus could mean a lot for the kingdom. It also means that there is a growing interest in landscape management (if its actually moving forward) and could prove valuable for individual landscapes as an integral part of function and space.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Learning Journal 13

The last workshop class was both informative and productive. I have a better grasp on how to implement research methods to gather the information I am interested in. The first workshop I went to was the creative one. Talking with Jay helped me see how to implement the research aspect of the creative project I am envisioning. In addition to drawings of traditional Tongan landscapes, my research can and should focus on landscape designs on a broader scale. Doing this will equip me with a more thorough understanding of implementing design practices in a variety of settings. I think I already had come to that realization once before, but it was good to be reminded and it opens up my research sources. The creative aspect of my project still needs some defining guides, such as how many drawings will I include? What supplies do I need to take with me?
The second workshop I listened to was mapping. I initially went because I didn't know what the method entailed. I found out that it will work great for my project, and that I actually implemented mapping in my first methods interview. I asked the interviewee to draw, or map out their landscape. I am hoping Tongans will be able to help me do this and with a collection of yards, I am hoping to find common spacial functions that could be incorporated into a design. Another valuable approach besides the physical map could be a time map. This could document how things are affected through different growing seasons, possibly including bloom time, prevalent weather conditions, etc. I think my initial mapping method will likely be individual as I make observations in Tonga and gather information in general about how plants are incorporated into daily use. After developing a foundation of understanding I could go in and do participatory mapping with a family, or even a group to determine overarching elements in each landscape.
Both of the sections I went to helped clarify how I can go about gather information. I think this wast the most helpful large section class we've had because it was brainstorming in small groups about specific things, rather than general ideas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Learning Journal 12

I think I'm still trying to further define my project, which I'm guessing is the point of this semester of preparation. The first methods practice introduced a different aspect of landscaping that might be interesting to document in a developing country. While talking with the people I interviewed, it became apparent that curb appeal (or the idea of making your yard attractive) can vary greatly depending on the neighborhood culture. I realize that Tongan curb appeal will have an entirely different meaning than it does in the United States, yet as far as I can gather, plants are an integral part of their society and are used in some degree to aesthetically improve the area around their homes.
In an article by Arriaza (reference included at the end of this post) he stated his findings on landscape perception: "perceived visual quality increases, in decreasing order of importance, with the degree of wilderness in the landscape, the presence of well-preserved man-made elements, the percentage plant cover, the amount of water, the presence of mountains and the colour contrast." It seems that this study covered larger areas, yet some principles apply. I think each society likely has defining principles that dictate what is considered an attractive landscape, largely based on their surroundings. As with art, we generally associate that which is familiar with what we consider appealing because we can relate. In a landscape, ornamental plants are often used because of their aesthetic appeal, but also because they remind us of the plants we had while growing up. Sometimes it expands beyond what our childhood yards consisted of to include other gardens that had some amount of impact on our memory. More often than not, urban landscapes are used to mimic nature on a smaller scale. Yet as Tonga is comprised of mostly rural settings, I'm not entirely sure how landscapes are affected by proximity to nature and the bush. Another point brought up in an article called "Nature, race, and parks: past research and future directions for geographic research" suggests that leisure preferences also are a big determinant in use of outdoor space, and likely dedication to the upkeep of a yard. Available free-time will also be an attributing factor to rural landscape development.
There are many questions that I still feel like can't be answered simply by typing in a few key words into Google scholar. I suppose that's a good sign, as it gives some validity to needing to go and research in the field. Here are a few of those questions to conclude with and to find answers as I get to Tonga:
-How much leisure time do Tongans have?
-What value is placed on making the 'yard' look good for the neighbors and for self?
-Do yard uses differ from village to village?
-How do the natural settings reflect on aesthetic preferences?

Arriaza M, Cana.s-Ortega JF, Canas-Madueno JA and
Ruiz-Aviles P. Assessing the visual quality of rural
landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning 2004;

Monday, February 7, 2011

Learning Journal 11

Doing the first interview was an interesting process. My first scheduled interview with a professor fell through because she was too busy, which makes sense and I'm sure happens in the field. People have schedules of their own and I'm sure its hard to add extra things that just simply take up time for them, although it is a valuable experience for me. That is why I figured its important to make the interview valuable so as to not waste the time of the interviewee as well as your own. After watching the interview in class on Friday, which in all reality can't be judged too harshly because I'm sure most people have or will experience an interview like that. However, those interviewing techniques we discussed such as descriptive questions and probes will help. The things my section identified as problems were:
  • failing to have interviewees introduce themselves
  • the phrasing of too many question in one
  • not asking the question to a specific person
  • little to no follow up questions
  • asking questions that could be answered in one word
  • language barriers that the interviewer didn't try to work through
Most of these issues can be overcome. Sure, the band Sigur Ros did little to elaborate on any of the questions asked, the interviewer should be able to overcome that by asking the right questions.
As I interviewed last week, I felt like things such as probes came naturally in that setting. I had a list of prepared questions, but the interview mostly took its own direction as things the interviewee said prompted new questions and viewpoints I had not anticipated. Maybe I was simply lucky to have someone who was willing to talk, but it was a good way to ease into interviews.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning Journal 10

While playing the game rafa rafa at the cultural inquiry meeting, there were several eye-opening parallels to what I will experience as I relocate to a foreign culture in Tonga. I was in the beta culture where my goal in life was to trade, keep people out of my personal bubble, and communicate with only animal sounds and arm movements to negotiate deals. It was interesting to observe and participate in the alpha culture, but intimidating at the same time as I didn't understand what was going on and how to interact with the people. I was reminded in a small way what culture shock is like, but unlike the game, I'll be able to ask for explanations and my observation period will be long than a few minutes. I realize there will be some degree of adjustment as I arrive. And despite the many countries I have lived in, each culture is unique and requires a modified approach. But what I have come to appreciate the most is that with time, the aspects of the culture that initially appeared so foreign and strange, become normal and expected.
The other aspect of the game that caused some reflection was being the beta culture and having someone from the other group come to interact with us. I was mostly entertained by having 'foreigners' not really understand what was going on, while they felt offended when we rejected their trade. I think that is the case in many cultures. Foreigners are expected to have 'quirks' and not entirely understand. But respect comes by simply immersing themselves and making an effort to understand a new way of thinking.
I am glad that I went to the rafa rafa game and to be reminded of the feelings associated with going into a new culture.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Learning Journal 9

On Friday night I went to a celebration of the Chinese New Year. A friend in my ward served her mission there and invited a group to go and enjoy the food and program. Hosted in the WILK ballroom, I was surprised to walk past the partitions at the entrance and immediately go from being part of the majority to a minority. The room was filled with a quiet rumble of Chinese conversations many of whom were joined by returned missionaries and Asian students. It was fun to be back in a situation where I didn't understand what was going on and someone had to translate for me so that I could follow the program and know why we were clapping.

The food was not the Chinese food I expected, but I realized how bad I am at eating rice with chopsticks. The aspect of the event that I found most interesting was the program. Unlike what I thought would be a stereotypical Chinese performance, the dancers weren't very good. I have an image that Asians excel at most everything they do and work hard at it. But these performers were uncoordinated and seemed like they were practicing rather than entertaining. A few guys danced with Chinese fans, which in my mind would normally be connected with women. But I soon realized that this wasn't my culture and my judgments were based on my expectations of what Chinese culture should be. It was a good reminder of the need to be aware of where stereotypes become the basis for judgment.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Learning Journal 8

In the section we read of Agar's book Culture Blends, I thought one comment which was also mentioned in class was particularly interesting. He wrote: "Culture has to do with who you are." What interests me about this is that this definition encompasses what and how you think as well as what you perceive. Perceptions of what is socially acceptable and normal vary greatly around the world on some aspects. Yet with time and exposure to a new culture even those drastic differences seem less unique because the perspective has changed.
As I thought about culture and the perspective that gives us in life, I wondered what possible unconscious decisions I was making about landscaping in Tonga. Most of my ideas and thoughts come from the western society I am a part of which values maintained landscapes. Although I have been fortunate to experience several other cultures in my life for long periods of time, I still carry my cultural American biases. It is interesting that most of my college education has expounded on those societal norms of the function and appeal of designed outdoor spaces. We have TV shows about yard makeovers and curb appeal, but for most nations around the world less importance is placed on luxury and appearance. In many cases its expected that neighbors will maintain their yard to keep in line with a community's standards. I don't know how important order is in a rural Tongan neighborhood. It appears the houses are pretty basic, but each home has arable space around it whether its just left to grow wild or some type of garden is implemented.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Learning Journal 7

The more I'm researching the more fascinating it is to see there is research concerning landscape development in third world countries going on. While it only seems to be a sliver, I've come across several great resources that explores the human relationship with a landscape. Looking at my project with that perspective makes it seem just a bit more feasible. In researching its been daunting to try and find some evidence of landscaping in Polynesia, but as I initially anticipated, there is next to nothing. While that may seem depressing, it helped me realize that my project can deal with coming to understand what the Tongan interaction is with landscapes. As the creative aspect of it, I can allocate some portion of my research to drawing simple designs either for public areas, homes, and whatever other interactions I may discover.
According to the article by Swanwick, few attitudes or perceptions on landscape and nature are applicable when applied across large areas. Culture, economics, population density and other factors all influence a particular group's opinion on landscape. I've realized that plants are used for many medicinal, food, and practical uses such as art and clothing. But understanding how Tongans interact with the rain forest, crops, and landscapes in general will lead to interesting observations. I feel like I'm expected to have my project better defined already with the bibliography assignments, but they've helped me further understand what I can actually study in a third world country.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Learning Journal 6

In looking for four additional sources this week for the annotated bibliography, I was excited to come across some applicable books and articles. The frustrating thing is finding an article, and then not being able to view it because I don't have authorization to view it. But after a few more hours of searching I was able to come up with several sources.
The Journal of Landscape Architects from the Philippines had several applicable articles from the issue I saw, but I need to go back to the website and find a few more. I haven't had time to really read through many of the articles because I've only been searching and reading abstracts. The journal is called Muhon and being in a third world country, with limited resources, and an emphasis on improving the quality of life, there is a potential for several other great resources in the journal.
Here are a few other leads for researching.
Discussion on Rural Landscape and Rural Landscape Planning in China
Use of tropical plants in Hawaii in landscape architecture

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Learning Journal 5

I was excited this weekend to begin searching through other library resources after the big group class on Friday. Since horticulture and landscape management aren't large programs at BYU, their representation is a reflection of that. However by looking through other libraries from the HBLL website, I got on to Utah State's library and found a few other journal publications and books. I couldn't access most of them, but I did find some of them through BYU once I had a specific title.
One of those sources is where I got my information for one of the literature reviews. I was amazed because after a few weeks of searching, I finally came across something that was actual research done in the Vava'u Island group. Although the results and scope of the project don't really correlate with mine, there are bits of it that I found helpful. The main benefit is that there is a table listing plants by type, genus, species, and Tongan name. That gives me at least some names of plants to look up and research. Other than that, the journal article dealt mostly with plant succession in ecology. The author cited dozens of sources that deal mostly with other research that's been done in other Pacific Island groups. I'm going to look through some more of those citations and see if I can find some more applicable articles.
Its kind of a challenge to find applicable sources since my project on practical landscape development is kind of usual for a nation in poverty. I think I need to brainstorm some different search words that might yield more pertinent sources.

Link to the Journal article:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning Journal 4

According to the 2006 Tongan census, 72% of the population owned their dwelling, 4% rented, and 23% resided in their dwelling rent free. I'm not entirely sure how 23% don't pay rent for their dwelling or own it. It might have something to do with the close knit familial relations that exist, where owners weren't charging rent to family. I'll have to look further into that one because that could be an interesting hindrance to landscape development. I was surprised to see that 72% owned their dwelling. It came as a surprise mostly because I had heard that few people actually owned the land they lived on. I don't know whether the fact that they own their dwelling implies they own the land as well, but it would make sense that they would. I still need to dig further and see how land is distributed and who is in charge of its development. I've heard different ideas about the nobles sectioning off the land for the people but I haven't found a concrete source about that yet. It also could be different with a new government underway although it doesn't seem like change occurs quickly in Tonga.
In Vava'u there is a total of 2,871 households, with a population density of 128/km2. Vava'u covers 121 km2. The population of Vava'u is about 15,000. An interesting fact on the census is that 2148 people work in agriculture or fisheries. While they deal primarily with crops, that means there are people aware of plant care to some degree.
I spent a long time just trying to find any kind of document on Tonga and this is the one I found but haven't had a chance to read all of it yet. The topic covered in the document is an urban development in Nuku'alofa. One notable quote that gave me hope was: "The Government acknowledges that for sustained growth, health, education, water and sanitation, physical infrastructure, and the environment have to be improved." Landscape development is an integral part of infrastructure and environment. Especially in the capital city with the destructive riots a few years ago, several Tongans have told me there is quite a lot of development going on. Also another line from this group's analysis was: "The settlements in low-lying locations unsuited for housing result from the urban drift from outer islands." The urban drift referred to is the move many people are making to the city for better living and money. An effort to improve settlements in outer islands could dramatically help, which is exciting because I finally feel like my potential project might be of use to more than just me.

Learning Journal 3

In my research I've solidified the initial conclusion I made that little is done in the way of landscaping in Tonga. Yet I vegetation is plentiful and in pictures, many Tongan homes maintain some amount of plant life whether it be for food, aesthetics or just because it was there. I've been thinking that it would be interesting to explore what are the contributing factors that limit landscaping around homes, and even in more public places. This kind of topic would explore more of an urban planning approach. But I think that identifying obstacles a developing country faces in creating some type of infrastructure. In terms of homes, it seems that most people are hindered in developing their own plots of land because 1) many people don't own they land 2) 24% of the people are below the poverty line and 3) people are closer to the natural landscape. Also plants are used for a variety of reasons, but it seems that their potential as ornamentals is often overlooked. These are just a few of the initial things I thought about and found online.
According to the CIA world fact book 25% of the population lives in an urban setting, with a 1.6% annual change. With increased urbanization, there is often an increase in public areas used as parks and plazas. This often comes as a result because a population becomes more removed from nature, and such areas attempt to fill in the gap. In Vava'u I have found a few potential resources to better understand the landscape there. The botanical gardens are owned by the minister of agriculture and food. There is contact information for the gardens and I'll send an email to them pretty soon.

Learning Journal 2

I've been thinking about the reading and what it means to be either an observer or participant in field research. It is an interesting distinction because the effect you could have on your research may come, in large part, as a result of how you approach the information gathering stage. Reflecting on which method is better, it seems a combination of the two would yield the greatest results in most situations. Observation would allow me to view things as they appear with little to no interference on my part. I could observe what landscapes do exist, what areas around a home are used for, and further develop a plan from that point. With direct participation, I think that would include interviews with those who have landscapes, those who don't, and how public areas might be maintained. By participating it is strange to see, as the author pointed out, that some sense of objectivity should be maintained. A field study means interacting with the people of a new culture, but developing the emic or etic perspective also has its benefits. In terms of analyzing Tongan use of edible and ornamental plantings, there is little to deal with in terms of ethics. But I can see that it is good to be aware of cultural understandings so as to enhance my own understanding.

Learning Journal 1

My mind keeps running into a roadblock for this first journal entry because there are so many questions to answer and its difficult to focus on just one. But even though my thoughts are scattered, they're related because they are attempting to answer the same topic: what direction to take my research and the project. I realize landscape architecture is limited, and maybe nonexistent, in most developing countries. That means there is likely little to go off of in Tonga, leaving a blank canvas my creative little mind can try to fill. I know that I want to study plants (both ornamental and edible), design (likely based off traditional art), and Tongan culture (what is considered aesthetic and how do plants fit into that). Somehow those three vague interests might make a viable project.
Here are a few brainstorming ideas.
  • How traditional artwork is reflected in landscape design
  • How plants are viewed in Tongan culture and to what extent are they appreciated
  • Use of public spaces and efforts to landscape
  • Develop of sense of what a Tongan garden would entail (like a Japanese, French, or English garden)
  • Gardening practices
  • Tongan relationship with plants

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm not a tourist...I live here.

So as a kid I inherited an awesome t-shirt from my dad. It was yellow and had red writing with the words "I'm not a tourist, I live here." It seemed fitting because my family moved around a lot and even though I was obviously a foreigner, the shirt helped me point out that I would be around for a lot longer than a tourist's vacation. That's where the inspiration for the blog title came from; and the was way better than the ones I found of actual t-shirts with the same words.