Category Archives: Tampa International

I’m just a poor wayfaring anthropologist.

I alluded to money being a roadblock to amateur research in my post about Songkran and I would like to expand on that topic. I will be using the current pop cultural scene I inhabit.

This past week was probably one of the worst to be an amateur anthropologist. I remember reading in the Tama Bay Times way back in 2013 that the International Indian Film Festival a.k.a. the Bollywood Oscars would be hosted by city of Tampa near the end of April, 2014. ‘What a wonderful opportunity to witness some serious cross cultural interaction,’ my inner anthropologist thought. Of course, I knew that attending the official awards show would be as likely as attending the Hollywood Oscars. But I knew that Indian pop culture would descend on my city for a few glorious days and I would have the chance to soak it in.

Then, I started going to school  as a non degree student at the University of South Florida and to accommodate this schedule I began working the 2:30 PM to 11:00 PM shift at work. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is the time frame during which much of the “pre-gaming” goes on. This has lead to my ironic circumstance of having to miss out on the festivities that the IIFF awards, the opportunity to observe and participate for an extremely intense period in order to further my career as someone who observes and participates. The true crux of the situation is that, had I opted not to take classes as an out of state and non degree student, I would have the funds to buy a ticket to this event.

In fact, funding is one of the key disadvantages of being an amateur anthropologist. Organizations do not generally give research grants to inexperienced anthropologists who have only a B.A. in the field.  Lacking a legitimately official connection to the Huaorani gets in the way of government grants and giving up the right of first refusal to National Geographic has hints of unethical behavior considering the Huaorani’s history of visual exploitation. So I’m left with crowdfunding. I don’t really like asking people for money and I remember when that pedophile tried to use Kickstarter to self publish his guide on how to initiate sexually abusive relationships with children. Even more controversial was Kickstarter’s decision to take it down from the site. But credit cards aren’t going to be enough pay for 3-4 plane tickets, 7-11 days in Ecuador, filming equipment, and other supplies.

Of course, at the end of the day I am going to make this work. As Theodor Herzl once said, “If you will it, then it is no dream.”

Question of the day: What non-official channels might there be for amateur research endeavors?

 

Next time on The Amateur Anthropologist you will learn what the International Indian Festival looks like from the outside.

Tampa meets Thailand

As an amateur anthropologist, my dreams of throwing myself into an unfamiliar culture are often dashed by financial shortcomings and not enough PTO from my job. Fortunately, I live in Tampa, FL, home to the Wat Mongkolratanaram temple.

Temple entranceCheck out the Grandfather clockMonks' seats Wat Mongkolratanaram was built on 26 July 2005 and dedicated on 20 May 2007 in honor of the 80th birthday anniversary of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the king of Thailand. The temple hosts a lunch every Sunday but the Sunday I visited was a special day: Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The schedule on Wat Mongkolratanaram website said the ceremony began at 10:30 but when I and my friend, travel blogger Maria Laborde, arrived at 9:45 the parking lot was already packed and as we approached the main building I noticed there was quite a mix of Thai and non-Thai visitors and quite a few were taking pictures. I had brought two cameras, one for photographs and one for video and seeing the number of cameras that were already flashing about was very reassuring.

The first thing I registered as I walked around to the entrance was the smell of incense.  Next, I heard the sound of a band playing traditional Thai music. They were playing on a stage in front of a giant banner declaring the start of the New Year in Thai and English. Beneath the music I heard a voice speaking a completely foreign language; it was a monk on a loudspeaker.

Wat Mongkolratanaram is beautiful, inside and out. The architecture and altars were things I had only ever seen in movies. Maria and I spent a while taking pictures outside and we asked permission to take some photos inside the temple as well. We had looked up some quick tips about temple etiquette on the internet and were careful not to point fingers or toes at the Buddha. When we had gotten all shots we needed we exited the temple, making sure not to turn our backs on the Buddha.  Maria noticed that other visitors, Thai and non-Thai did not seem to be showing the respect we had as they did turn their backs when leaving.

Maria and I wandered around the temple grounds until the ceremony began.  When we went back inside the temple, Monks had lined up on a raised platform by the wall and began chanting. There were mats close to the Buddha statue and rows of chairs near the exit for those who did not wish to knee. It was crowded so we knelt in the back with hands folded in front of us in a prayer gesture.  Congregation bowed on command and there was responsive chanting between the monks and the congregation. I couldn’t help but draw a correlation to the responsive chanting that I grew up with at Temple Beth-El.

And then there was lunch. There were several food tables lined up against the outside wall of a community hall.  There were several options before me so I picked two I’d never tried: pumpkin curry chicken and red curry chicken with a side of fried rice and lady fingers for dessert ($9:50). Maria got her food as well and we walked down the length of the building to get our drinks and that is when we realized our mistake. Around the corner of the building there were even more food tables lined up! If only we had shown a little patience.

Throughout the day, there were opportunities to give alms, sprinkle perfumed water and flower petals on Buddha statues, and have water sprinkled on us by the monks. The end of the ceremonial process was marked by congregants (mostly children) using super soakers to spray even more water on any person who dared cross their path. This ritual is actually a means of encouraging good luck, good health, and a prosperous new year. It is also a refreshing way to cool down on a very hot day.

As I saw the Buddhists and non-Buddhists mingle and take pictures of each other around the temple grounds, it became obvious that this was as much a social event as a religious ceremony.  It is also a great method of outreach for the Thai and Tampa community. I even witnessed a moment of cross-cultural communication in the very long line to the restroom as a Puerto Rican woman explained where her island was to an elderly Thai woman. All in all, this was a fascinating experience and I am looking forward to exploring Tampa’s international communities.

For more about our festival experience, check out Maria’s post http://www.latinabroad.com/2014/04/14/history-songkran-festival-tampa-photos/