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.