Participant Observation is the Process of Learning by
Observing and Participating in Cultural Life
The Latest!
Come Explore with Us!

Maura Fox - Lebanon Lawn Program

A Sunday at the Park: A Look into Lebanese Culture

Maura Fox - Lebanon Lawn Program
November 25, 2018

Hello, San Diegans! We hope your stomachs are stuffed from Thanksgiving and you're welcoming in the holiday season with family. It seems that autumn has finally come to San Diego. This past weekend was crisp and sunny â€" perfect for some local adventures.

What better way to spend a Sunday than exploring Balboa Park's International Cottages?

The House of Lebanon was hosting its annual Lawn Program, part of the year-long program brought to us by the San Diego House of Pacific Relations. Different countries host the Lawn Program each weekend of the year, sharing their food, music and culture with San Diego and its visitors.

Lebanon is a country bordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. It boasts clear ocean waters and ancient Roman ruins from thousands of years ago, as well as a lively nightlife (or so a House of Lebanon volunteer told me)!

On Sunday, folks watched traditional Lebanese dances performed on stage and enjoyed upbeat Lebanese music that got everyone moving and smiling. The House of Lebanon also offered attendees a selection of Lebanese "Meza" â€" cuisine including hummus, stuffed grape leaves, falafel and chicken and lamb shawarma.

A traditional Lebanese living room was set up on the grass, as well, where folks could sit and learn more about a Lebanese home. Sleiman Abou Chacra, a volunteer with the House of Lebanon, showed me around the small living room, pointing out a traditional device used to ground coffee and some Lebanese instruments, such as a lute and a tablah, which is a type of drum.

Chacra said the Lebanese living room is used for eating, listening to music and enjoying family company.

Lebanon's program was the last of 2018, and the Lawn Program schedule will start again in the new year.

While Lebanon does not currently have its own physical international cottage in Balboa Park, the volunteers at the House of Lebanon say they hope to have a real building soon. Nine countries will be constructing buildings in the coming years, they say. We can't wait to check them out!

From the tasty food and fantastic music to the welcoming volunteers, my family and I had a great time learning more about Lebanese culture. Here at the Worldview Project, we want you to take advantage of all the great opportunities in San Diego to learn about and appreciate other cultures!

Check out our online calendar for more information about events for you and your whole family.
Tom and Rodrigo at the Wall

San Diego: The Chinese Connection

May 11, 2018 - Magdalena Buchwald

Once there was no concrete harbor basin in San Diego. In the late 19th century - where the sail topped San Diego Convention Center stands today - Chinese fishing junks set forth to seek their daily catch. After the gold rush, Chinese people found new homes in the cities along the west coast. In San Diego, fishing was their main occupation. Not necessarily because there was nothing else they were able to do, but because there was nothing else they were allowed to do. When Chinese people arrived in San Diego they were discriminated in most jobs and ended up working in low wage occupations like laundry and restaurants. Later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 discriminated this particular ethnic group. Local ordinances forbid them to buy property north of Market Street. This is why area bordered by the bay in the south, Market Street in the north, Petco Park Baseball Stadium in the east the Trolley tracks of the Green Line in the west used to be San Diego´s Chinatown and is today the Asian Pacific Historical District.

On Saturday, 29th of April, the WVP Explorers Club went to explore this part of our Finest City, starting out at the Chinese Historical Museum on the corner of J Street and Third Avenue. Before exploring the quarter´s streets our tour guide Yen Tu (Interim Executive Director, Chinese Historical Museum) gave us astonishing information about the quarter´s history inside the museum walls. Our group was more than surprised to find out that the museum building has not always been at today´s location. In the 1990s the entire building was moved from the corner of 13th and F to this location. The building was originally a Christian mission and school of the former Chinatown. Today the building teaches visitors about the quarter´s history with help of old photographs, dioramas, furniture, everyday objects and art.

Out on the streets our group had problems to detect a lot of signs of the former population anymore at first. It's past is not readily visible. "You have to look up to see it," explained Yen Tu to the members of the WVP Explorers Club during the walking tour. And it is true; many of the buildings' second stories show Asian ornamentation and colors.
Third Avenue is one of three main streets in the quarter, Fourth and Fifth Avenue being the other two. Still today Third Avenue can be seen as the "Chinese Street". Already the street´s entrance J Street and Third Avenue is marked with two Chinese stone lions. After old traditions the stone lions are supposed to keep evil out. When you have a closer look, there are even more signs of Third Avenue's Chinese heritage. The Chinese Benevolent Association is a few doors down from the museum. The Benevolent Association helped immigrant Chinese to cope with life in America. By introducing their own insurance and regulatory system the association was an important authority inside the quarter; now, after a long history, the association has decided to terminate their activities in 2018. Another Chinese artifact can be found at the corner of Third and Market Street. Alongside the façade of Hostel on 3rd a colorful mural depicts a typical Chinese dragon. The mural used to be hidden in a narrow gap between two old buildings, but is now proudly presented to the public.
Taking a right into Market Street our tour passed Fourth Avenue, which used to be occupied mostly by Japanese people; the next side street, Fifth Avenue, was home to many people from the Philippines. Today Fifth Avenue is lined with restaurants and bars from a verity of cultures; and again the interested eye has to look for hidden details to make out the Asian architecture in between the modern gastronomy and nightlife. The facades of the Havana 1920 restaurant with its corniced roof and The Fields Irish pub with its green and white tiles are just two examples. Taking a right at J Street we made our way back to the Chinese Historical Museum where we found one more treasure. At the end of our tour Yen Tu introduced us to the museum´s very own Chinese garden in the back of the museum. The light backyard hosts a small Koi Pond and free Tai Chi classes on Saturdays. It is a quiet oasis surrounded by Asian cultural history and modern hustle and bustle.

If you are interested in exploring the Chinese Historical Quarter yourself, you can join one of the free walking tours offered by the museum twice a month. Find more information on the museum's website:
Lena and Friends
Getting Our Culture On in San Diego!

It Never Rains in Southern California?

April 24, 2018 - Magdalena Buchwald

For three weeks in March, I had friends from my home country, Germany, visiting me here in San Diego. For the past four years, Estella and her boyfriend Marius have visited me wherever I'm livingâ€" here in San Diego; in Bergen, Norway; in Köln, Germany; and even at my parents´ house in Bavaria. But this was Estella´s first time in the U.S. and her first time visiting anywhere outside of Europe.

I thought it would make an interesting experiment to compare her expectations of what the American culture is like with her actual experiences.

Culture is something most of us follow unconsciously. By spending time in other cultures, unwritten rules often surface. Now, I would say that America and Europe are two very familiar cultures. We Europeans think we know The United States oh so well, as the American pop culture is a part of modern European culture. Since I came here, I've heard a lot of "All your friends in Europe probably think we are all about New York, Mickey Mouse and Hollywood." And in some ways this is true, as it is the prominent picture painted by popular media.

But since I moved to San Diego in October of 2017, I have gained a more intimate picture of what American culture is all about. And I am still learning. For one, I understand well that San Diego is not representative of the whole United States. This is also one of the first things Estella and Marius noticed. For example, there is a common notion that the whole of America has an obesity problem. So my friends expected fast food around every corner and massive soda cups at 7/11. But they didn´t find this in San Diego. "See, there is another jogger", was their observation on our way to Grand Ole BBQ & Asada in North Park, where we were going to enjoy what we believe to be very American - a proper barbecue.

Another thing that they considered to be especially American is going to the mall. Malls are where kids in Hollywood movies meet (e.g. Clueless - after all Estella and me grew up in the 90's). Before arriving in San Diego, my friend asked me if we could go shopping while she´s here â€""To a proper American mall." Most of the mainstream brands that people worship in Germanyâ€"such as Levi´s, Nike, Abercrombie & Fitchâ€"are American brands. (Funnily, you can visit a Levi Strauss museum close to where I grew up in Germany, as the founder grew up there). In the end it was exactly these brands, which you can purchase in Germany, that my friends happily bought at the outlet stores in Barstow.

During the three weeks of their visit there was so much more to explore than shopping malls. Experiencing food and drinks is a huge part of international travel. To the surprise of Estella and Marius, the cuisine around San Diego had so much more to offer than fast-food chains and burger joints. Microbreweries everywhere tempted our party with the local IPAs. Undeniably delicious, these modern brews sparked up a lot of conversationâ€"especially compared to the hundreds-of-years-old brews from Germany.

The wide range of international food of San Diego inspired them, too. Of course hamburgers, corn dogs and cherry pie got their chance, but we also went for Taco Tuesday in Barrio Logan, homemade pasta in Little Italy and ramen in North Park. Such a wide selection of cuisine is not the norm in Germanyâ€"except perhaps in Berlin.

But there was still one thing that surprised them the most: the weather. On a gray and rainy day in Germany, you might dream yourself away to sunny Southern California. During the three weeks of their visit, though, it actually rained several times. Just as the European songwriter Albert Hammond describes in his song "It never rains in Southern California", my friends, as well as I, have believed this San Diego to be just a place for hot pants, surfing and lying on the beach all day. But we soon learned that indeed "it pours, man it pours," every now and then, in Southern California.

March 26, 2018 - T. Johnston-O'Neill

Over the weekend the Worldview Project Cultural Explorers Club attended the San Diego Latino Film Festival screening on the Argentinean film Zama. The film is based on a book of the same name that is considered a classic in Spanish literatureSet in the late 1700's in what is today Paraguay, the plot is rather simple. Don Diego de Zama is a lower level official in the Spanish colonial enterprise that simply longs to transfer to a more pleasant situation in Lerma Spain. To say this wish is frustrated is an understatement as the manipulative outgoing governor and seemingly everyone and everything else conspires to thwart Zama. I'm not sure when was the last time I've seen a film in which the cinematography so closely reflects the inner states of the characters and the contours of the action as Zama does. The film starts out with the shot shown on the movie posters of Zama looking out over a vast river, the camera is static and the shot is long, without any words spoken we are clued into Zama's longing to be anywhere but where he is. The scene then shifts to a labyrinth of interior shots that are almost frantic as the camera moves in and out of catastrophic spaces where every encounter is a negotiation in which no one understands what the rules are. Playfully the wigs worn by the colonists show the ever present tension between a festishized civilization set against wildness. Between the ill-fitting and dingy wigs of the officials to the extravagantly overwrought ladies wigs, the hairpieces seem utterly absurd, anachronistic and wholly out of place. Vestiges of a dream of splendor unrealized. The movie is, in turns, shocking, sympathetic, cruel, compassionate, languid, lustful, tender, tragic, violent (but not explicitly), perplexing, challenging, and darkly humorous. The wigs (and later indigenous masks) also reflects the perils of identity that seemingly all the characters suffer. No one is quite the person they appear to be and some might not exist at all. In the end, after an incredible string of suffering and humiliation, Don Diego de Zama hangs in there, almost as if he is driven by a macabre desire to see what happens next. So do we.

I must say that I was concerned how the 14 members of the Explorer's Club (and the Book Club) would make of the movies. I was fully prepared for a negative reaction considering how strange the film was. The loved it. Most of us met afterwards in the food court to discuss the film. People were immensely moved by the complexity of cross-cultural relations depicted in the films. The horrors of colonialism are clearly evident in the film, but the film really brought everything down to interpersonal relations. Club members also commented on the fluidity of identities in the film. Everyone was impressed by the cinematography and more than one mentioned how well fitting it was to the situational and psychological drama.

Moisés Esparza, who leads the team that selects the films for the festival, introduced Zama. He gave a very eloquent shout out to the Worldview Project and their support. We are honored to do so, and really the longing starts today for next year's Latino Festival!

Indian Ragas Meet the Blues


March 8, 2018 - T. Johnston-O'Neill
Had a grand time at the Sheela Bringi concert at the Encinitas Library last weekend. Vocalist/Harp player Sheela was joined by Clinton Patterson on guitar and trumpet, San Diegan Mile Shrewsbery on tabla and cajon, and Brent Kuecker on bass and harmonium. Worldview Project board members, volunteers and a few from the new Explorer's club attended and helped out. The show was a sell out (way to go Monica!) and a musical delight. Fusion music can be less than stellar with groups that dabble, but Sheela and Miles have years of training in Indian classical music so they are far more adept at blending the old with the new in music. Clinton Pattern's guitar work was nothing short of fantastic melding Indian musical ideas with southern blues. It's hard to imagine how that could work but it really does. Sheela was born to Indian parents in Colorado but she has spent considerable time studying with Indian classical vocal and instrumental gurus and it shows. Interestingly enough her main instrument (she also played the harmonium and bansuri flute) is an Irish Harp, re-purposed to play lyrical and meditational ragas. Her voice was delightfully mellifluous but she also performed numbers that exhibited a goodly amount of vocal staccato calisthenics. The concert is part of the ongoing Center for their Passport to Worlds of Music series. As a board member of that organization I'm honored to help out (I do the sound work)and I hope Participant Observer readers can catch one of the remaining concerts in the series. The next one features music from Finland!

WVP Explores the Charming Little Town of Tecate, Mexico

Tecate Trip

March 1, 2018 - Cassia Pollock
A couple times a year the volunteers at The Worldview Project visit the charming little town of Tecate, in search of sizzling tacos, delicious pastries and a slice of authentic Mexico.

The city, which is less than an hour's drive from San Diego, gave us an insider's look at the country. All the negative media coverage would lead us to believe that border towns have nothing but drug cartels, cheap bootleg alcohol and violence. By visiting Tecate, we saw firsthand how much more the city has to offer.

Many people are afraid to travel to Mexico and the situation is only exacerbated by headlines declaring that the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings that includes listing Baja California with a Level 2 advisory calling for "increased caution." To put this in perspective, a variety of popular travel destinations are placed in the same category, including France, Spain, the U.K, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Denmark. For six years, members of the Worldview Project have routinely visited Tecate without encountering anything remotely dangerous. During this trip, we confronted no greater hazard than the spicy hot sauce on our tacos.

There was no line at the border point of entry, so we casually strolled into Mexico. After exchanging dollars for pesos, we stopped at a variety of vendors and taquerias (taco shops) that offered our taste buds a burst of traditional Mexican cuisine and classic flavors.
Tecate Sign

At every corner and crossing, we inhaled the mouthwatering aroma of savory, grilled meats. We treated ourselves to tacos stuffed with lamb, fried fish, shrimp and Al Pastor, served alongside plates of roasted scallions, peppers, crisp radishes, salsa and a variety of hot sauce. Our taco stops included the Swap Meet marketplace, Tacos El Sabroso and the Tacquira Los Arcos which specializes in Al Pastor. Above all, one of the most delectable treats proved to be the fried confections: hot, fresh churros dipped in butter and generously coated with sugar by a local vendor.

When we made our way to Parque Hidalgo, the central plaza, we came across a band playing salsa and cumbia music under a gazebo. Lots of locals were dancing in the plaza, so we joined in! We bought fruit popsicles at La Michoacana and people watched. There was a noticeable lack of tourists as friendly locals sipped margaritas and swayed to the music at the town's square. The trip wrapped up with a visit to a magnificent panaderia called El Mejor Pan de Tecate (The Best Bread in Tecate). Racks of glazed confections lined the busy shop, as staff constantly rushed out with plates of freshly baked pastries.

After loading up boxes of bread to go, we grabbed a few more tacos at Tacquira Los Arcos and headed back to the border. We went home with passports and pastries in hand, along with heightened awareness on the importance of rising above stigmas to explore other cultures.

Effervescent Irish Music at Kalabash!

Máirtín Cógáin

February 20, 2018 - T. Johnston-O'Neill
Several WVP folks helped out at the Máirtín de Cógáin Project concert at Kalabash School of Music and the Arts. It's the first in a series of concerts by the Center for World Music that will take place in the coming months for their Passport to Worlds of Music Series.

Máirtín Cógáin is an acclaimed playwright, actor, singer, storyteller and bodhrán (Irish drum) player who hails from the County of Cork in Ireland. Most of the songs he performed are from the south of Ireland. He was backed up on Uilleann (pronounced il-en) pipes and a variety of penny whistles by Ben Jaber (who also plays French Horn with the SD Symphony.)

Pete Polansky and Jonathan Parker showed off their fancy fiddling on guitar and kept the rhythm tight. The guys gave a spirited performance that showed they really know their chops. Although some of the songs were bittersweet and poignant (notably "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" from the movie of the same name that Cógáin himself appeared in), most of the songs were upbeat and often quite humorous.

Through his musical performance, Cógáin spun a tale about a farmer, the farmer's wife and the "teaman" that was wonderfully witty and displayed a fine touch for storytelling and humor. I shot some video and stills at the event. Check out the clip below for a taste. Can't wait for the other concerts in the series!

Travel = Education = Change

Jake & Steve

February, 16, 2018 - M. Buchwald
Travelling as a political act doesn't have to be a big act. An evening with Steve Smith and Jake Heilbrunn brought the possibilities of traveling with cultural awareness closer to the audience at La Jolla Library. "There is a small, but significant difference between a selfish traveler and a citizen diplomat," explained Sharon Payne (Board of Diplomacy Council) in her opening speech. What she means is that it takes a change of perspective to not only travel for individual pleasure but to gain meaningful experiences. Sharon has learned that to achieve a change of perspective you often have to defeat fear. The fear of the unknown keeps us from opening up to what is out there. Overcoming our fear opens doors to cultural understanding.

The first speaker of the evening, Steve Smith, France specialist and co-author of Rick Steve´s Guidebooks, can relate to that. Fear of the unknown is obviously one of the obstacles to travel politically. When we used to wish a traveller "Bon voyage," now we send them off with a word of caution: "travel safely."

Steve has a mission to get the American travellers out of their comfort zone. He wants to send them outside of Orlando-Disneyland and show them the real France. This includes a lot of teaching on his part and learning on the traveller´s side. Steve understands education as the most powerful weapon to change the world. In his eyes, travel is another form of education. If you know that a French waiter may get mad if you order white wine with your steak and don't expect passerby in France to wish you a good day wherever you go, this will make your stay more enjoyable. He has the following message for travellers looking to get the most out of their trip: "Think about what and who you are looking at and what you can learn about a country!" Of course, one doesn't have to agree about everything all the time, but we should try to understand other points of view. The remaining differences between cultures can inspire interesting conversations and captivating presentations.

The second speaker, Jake Heilbrunn, also gave a presentation on how amusing cultural differences can be. For example, he offered instructions on how to get to places in Guatemala: "When you get to Guatemala, take a taxi to the bus station. Hop on a bus to Santa Elena, about 8-9 hours and 180Q (quetzales.) Then take a tuk tuk to San Andres. The homes have no addresses here, so ask around for me. Just say "Chris the Gringo," Jake said. And this is apparently how you travel in South America.." The journey to his destination became an adventure in itself. His bus was caught in a traffic jam with no way back or forth. It surprised Jake that nobody acted like an angry New Yorker, threatening to sue the bus company. His fellow travellers accepted the situation for what it was … unchangeable. Jake forced himself out of his comfort zone and ended up playing soccer with some of the boys on the bus. He learned all about one boy's life, using hand signs and body language. What was supposed to be a boring nine-hour bus ride turned into 20 hours that flew by with good company.

Jake is aware that his story started out as a combination of "Eat, Pray, Love" and "Into the Wild." He was unhappy with his situation, decided to do something about it and ended up finding what makes him happy - travelling and teaching. "Of course, this is not what makes everybody happy," Jake said. He doesn't suggest that people force themselves to travel if they don't want to. But he recommends finding out what you think will make you happy, visualize a plan and then carry it out. With that in mind, it's important to note that travel has been scientifically related to the gain of happiness. Dr. Thomas Gilovich is a psychology professor at Cornell University and has proven that happiness and travel correlate in his studies.

"While objects and material things make us happy for a short period, experiences really become a part of us," Gilovich said. He claims that adjustment with the status quo is a real danger to happiness and that the journey out of one's comfort zone will lead to happiness. But at the same time, adaptation is necessary to make it out there. In his presentation Jake Heilbrunn introduces what he calls, "the power of adaptation." It is the concept of freeing yourself of fear, getting ready to make mistakes and adapting to new circumstances. "Like when you have to sleep in a three storage bunk-bed right under a ceiling full of bugs and spiders, when your biggest fear is bugs and spiders," Jake said. While laughing about his anecdote, Jake invited everybody, not only the audience at the La Jolla library, to become global ambassadors. "Because everywhere we go, we take our culture and background with us," he said. "Travel is a chance to show other people what our culture really is about." When asked what his plans are for the future, he answered that he has things he plans and wants to do. But he doesn't need a specific roadmap. He will continue to travel off the beaten trail.

Steve and Jake, travellers of two different generations, both see travel as a way to learn from their experiences and glean fresh knowledge. They took a chance and are now sharing a valuable lesson: Travel is education and education is change.

Travel as a Political Act Booksigning

Travel as a political act

February, 12, 2018 - M. Buchwald
Has a revolution ever started from a bed? Although the 90's classic "Don´t look back in anger" by Oasis makes us believe that it is easy to change the world from the comforts of home, that would make revolution a product of wishful thinking and living inside a box. But there's good news for all the adventurers out there! It appears that travel, not staying in bed, is the real political act.

The Worldview Project and the San Diego Diplomacy Council are proud to present Steve Smith and Jake Heilbrunn and their views on "Travel as a Political Act" at the La Jolla/Riford library on February 13th (7:30-8PM, $10 suggested donation). Experiencing these two world travelers and perspective-changers might just be the first step on your own political journey.

Steve Smith and Jake Heilbrunn are convinced that moving outside your box and out of your comfort zone can bring about both personal and political change. They have made it part of their lives to spread this message by sharing their experiences while traveling with others. On February 13th, you'll get your chance to become inspired by these two world travelers and perspective changers at the La Jolla Riford library.

Steve Smith's second home is France, where his insider tips, experiences and local acquaintances have made him a renowned specialist. Reading about his experiences as a tour guide, as well as a private explorer, gives an idea of how love for another country has shaped his identity. He has been educating American travelers since 1990 as a co-author of Rick Steves' France and Paris guidebooks, making numerous TV/radio appearances and working as a speaker. Most recently, he was involved in the publication of "Travelling as a Political Act" by Rick Steves.

When Jake Heilbrunn first went on a life-changing trip at the age of 18, he was desperate for change. Suffering from physical problems caused by psychological stress and unhappiness with his life, a one-way ticket to Guatemala was his way out. A way to detach from the burden of other people`s expectations. He embarked on a search for purpose. Now back in the United States, Jake has started a new journey as a bestselling author, blogger and TEDx speaker, sharing his life lessons with others.
Bookmark and Share

Keep informed about San Diego Events!
Sign-up for our weekly Eblast by clicking here: Sign Me Up!

Home - Calendar - Films - Tidings - Donate - Articles - Food - Music - Dance - Stage - Art - Netflix - Books - About - Shops - Extras

The San Diego Participant Observer is a publication of The Worldview Project, a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit corporation
2445 Morena Blvd, Suite 210 San Diego, CA 92110 — © 2006 - 2017