In India, on the backs of trucks on on the sides of buildings were murals that proudly proclaimed “My India is great!”

Alternatively, in Egypt, painted above shops, scrawled in elevators and plastered on bumper stickers you’ll find Azkar Allah, remember God.

If we take graffiti to mirror national priorities and interests – and why not it’s probably more accurate than polling – it seems clear where Egypt’s heart lies.

But a return to religion, doesn’t necessarily mean fundamentalism, just like Indian patriotism doesn’t necessarily equate to jingoism. There are dangers to be sure, but let’s try to avoid the Fox News logic of religious Muslim = dangerous Muslim.

Nobody thought WWJD bracelets were a bad idea.


Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? She believes our site is blocked in China. I’ll inquire in a few days if this indeed is the case or if perhaps we’re just blocked by one service provider or in one internet cafe.

Landed in Xiamen! I’ll be spending a semester here studying Mandarin at Xiamen University. With a population of three million – over a million of whom are migrant workers and not considered permanent residents – the place is not considered big by China’s standards.

The speed of construction here is like nothing I have ever seen. The first day I arrived there was a construction zone outside the gate of the university campus. Within a few days the dust had settled and a deluxe McDonald’s was over half-way completed. A few mornings later, the McD’s ice cream shop was open for business. Last night I strolled by again and noticed that a new concert venue is a few days into construction – in other words, almost done.

Today in Chinese class we learned a phrase: Xiamen university is not Xiamen, and Xiamen is not China. Is this the China that 1.3 billion people know? Is this the air that most Chinese breathe? No. But for some  – and for me, at least for now – it is.

PS. If you want to find Xiamen on a map, locate Taiwan and then scan the mainland coast directly parallel to it.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? She believes our site is blocked in China. I’ll inquire in a few days if this indeed is the case or if perhaps we’re just blocked by one service provider or in one internet cafe. On a more positive note, this is the 100th post on Seven Continents! Congratulations to all the writers, and thanks to all our reader for stopping by.

I’m sitting in Flavor Tango, a fast-food Chinese restaurant in the Beijing airport. I’m feeling drained and dreamy. Air Canada flight 029 departed from Vancouver at noon and chased the sun across the Pacific Ocean until we landed in Beijing. Which means that it’s about 3am my time and I still haven’t seen the sunset.

After studying Chinese history and swallowing any article I could find on China for the past few years, I feel like I’ve just landed in my favorite storybook. I’m drinking hawthorn juice and crunching snow peas and all I hear through the airport announcements is a jumble of monosyllabic tones. After a few hours in this airport I find myself already escaping into the fiction pages of the latest New Yorker. Ah, the sweet relief of the Roman alphabet.

I try to ask a lady at a coffee stand how to say ‘gate’ in Chinese. Unfortunately, my year of Chinese language classes hide in a dusty corner of my brain and Spanish comes running out triumphantly. No, no, mi querida lengua, not this time.

I’m debating buying a beer and sinking into the sleepiness, slowing my mind for a few hours before my flight to Xiamen.

Over the summer I explained my trip to China to so many friends and family that it quickly became an abstract and distant idea. I reiterated the rhetoric of the relevance, timeliness of studying Chinese, and started to sound like another voice in the chorus of The Economist’s “China is Rising” choir, with all its epic mysticism.  Today in the Beijing terminal it is happening. I’m here. Instead of these logical, credentialist motivations for going to China, it is my heart that is pulling me forward: I can’t wait to land in Xiamen.

There is an advertisement that I have seen all over the Paris Métro. It shows a typical British Bobby who is badly beat up. He’s holding up his hand as if to say, “STOP! I’ve had quite enough!”
Iarretez de massacrer l'anglais

Stop massacring English!

The ad reads: “Stop massacring English!” The idea is, of course, that if you buy this company’s English courses, you will ostensibly stop “massacring” the English language.

I’ve been in Paris for a week now, and this ad got me to thinking, if there was some French guy (complete with beret, cigarette, and baguette in hand, naturally) who got a smack every time I made an error in speaking, what would he look like?

Well, he would probably be in pretty bad shape. In fact, he’d probably still be lying on the floor, quivering from the time I said I thought “the window was delicious.”

The language barrier was not something to which I gave a lot of thought before coming to France. I have been studying French since kindergarten (I have the Atlanta public school system to thank for that one), and I have been to France twice before and got along just fine.

But I haven’t taken a French class since my first semester freshman year at Duke, and it turns out that that is plenty of time for your brain to start to rot.

Yes, I remember the basics. I can order in a restaurant and talk to shop owners just fine. But it turns out that there is a big difference in being able to buy a stamp and being able to show your personality and wit in conversation.

In two weeks, Ecuador will hold a constitutional referendum. Every citizen over 18 is obligated to vote. If ratified, the new constitution would be the country’s 20th since 1830. As important as the upcoming US presidential elections might be back home, the long term consequences of September 28’s vote will almost certainly be more dramatic for this country.

The constitution is the project of leftist president Correa. From limited conversations, it seems that those for “Si” generally view it as a victory for social causes, most notably free education and healthcare, while many of those for “No” believe it dangerous as a means for the executive branch to hoard power in the way Chavez has in Venezuela or as an undermining of family values, with same-sex marriage and women’s right to abortion as the primary concerns.

The entire country is caught up in the political firestorm. Debates dominate radio waves and television screens, and propaganda pervades media outlets. Supporters of both sides wave flags and yell through microphones on the corners of crowded intersections. Community constitution readings and support-groups in public parks are the norm. Strong-opinioned arguments can erupt anywhere and almost without notice. From bars to taxis, dinner tables to sidewalks, excitable Ecuadorians plead, shout, and agitate for their side. Any Ecuadorian of voting age can be defined by their alignment por el “Sí” or el “No”.

I have never seen such widespread interest and passion for politics, and this is especially notable given that distrust of the government is so common, and that political instability and unrest have been a staple since the country’s founding. Never before has the population been so included in charting the course for their country, and a huge proportion is taking advantage of this new-found power by becoming informed, engaging in debate, and being vocal for their side.

As debate, anxiety, and political furor reach fever pitch, only one thing will remain certain: The 28th will be an unbelievable day to be in Ecuador, and to be an Ecuadorian.

My Monday morning: watching American Sunday night football from 10am-1pm with a couple of friends and a few random Australians in an engineering lounge. Luckily for me, ESPN’s coverage of the Colts and Bears was broadcast here on our humble channel 10. And even more luckily for me, being the Chicago native I am, the Bears pulled off the upset and won.

Don’t worry, I’m not posting merely to brag – it has cultural significance as well, I swear. A couple of firsts occurred for me Monday morning and a couple of things stood out:

1. I’ve never watched football with people from a foreign country. Some liked it, some didn’t. A couple of the guys knew as much as the Americans present and even belonged to their own fantasy leagues. A couple of the guys could have cared less.

2. I’ve actually never watched football from a foreign country… at 10am on Monday. Just wait til next week… my Bears play the early Sunday game, so at 3am Brisbane time on Monday, I will be watching…somehow, though I haven’t quite figured out how.

3. I’ve never watched football with someone who truly hated it. I quote (in response to a great tackle), “Five against one?? That’s so ridiculous. This game is ridiculous.”  and (sarcastically in response to a head-butt-nearly-turned-into-a-fight after a play) “Ooo, I hit him with my helmet on… I’m tough.”  It was really funny, especially since he had just sat down and didn’t know there were Americans there.

But seriously, it was a lot of fun and it felt so good to see some football again. And I won my fantasy game by nearly 25 points… and it’s my first time ever in a fantasy league… and I had the second highest score overall in the league. Ok, that was bragging.

Two days ago I witnessed an event that can capture the essence of almost any country outside the good ol’ USA – a national soccer game.

This one didn’t disappoint.

Ecuador took on Bolivia in one of their first qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. My host brother Martin lamented the quality of our “Selección” and told me that his Tricolor, as the yellow, red and blue clad squad is lovingly referred, had to capture a win against one of South America’s historically poorer teams to remain in good enough standing to be able to hope for a spot on the world’s largest futból stage.

This was the first time I donned Ecuadorian colors (bright, but badass) after a summer vowing a Guatemalan identity to anyone who would listen. But for a game of this level I had to throw away pretenses and get on the right side – I saw what happened to the few Bolivians who showed up and cheered for their loan goal, and it wasn’t pretty.

“Si se puede”, or “yes you can”, is the go-to cheer after any nice move, and its proliferation throughout the game definitely fixed it as the national team’s motto. As fond as the Ecuadorian fans were of this one, they were just as, if not more ecstatic to chant “hijo de puta, hijo de puta” (translation inappropriate) at the referees after any even marginally questionable call. Bolivians, bad calls and misplayed balls were all to be showered with imaginative and impassioned expletives.

Goals for the Ecuadorian side were magic – and there were three of them. Horn-shrills, high-pitched whistles, beer, arms, toilet paper, and newspaper shreds shot through the air during exceedingly extensive periods of chaos steeped in elated joy and sound.

3-1 Ecuador. I can get used to this.