Fashion Speaker Series: Kathy Healey & Healey Wear

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By Pinn Duong

(This is part 1 of a two-part blog, each section features a guest speaker at The Fashion Program Speaker Series at GCC on March 4, 2020.)

Kathy Healey is the creator and owner of 22-year-old custom window treatment design firm, Healey Wear, in Rochester, NY. In addition to window treatments, her firm also expands to other parts of home interiors, including cushions, pillows, quilts and occasionally clothing alteration.

Beside window treatments and home interiors, Healey also worked on clothing alteration. She often paralleled working on clothing alteration as being similar to an autoparts mechanic, “Clothing alteration can sometimes be tedious, but very interesting. It’s taking something apart, seeing how it’s made, fixing it and putting it back in a better way. The biggest and best compliment I get from people is when they say, ‘Wow, how did you do that!’ making me feel like a magician.

She has also been a content creator by publishing two articles for Sew News Magazine, and another one for Threads Magazine

“My first publication for Sew News was my 13th submission; I submitted around 12 different ideas before my submission was picked. If you want to do this kind of work, just as other types of creators or inventors, you gotta have a tough skin. And whenever you face rejection, you have to say to yourself, ‘Okay, I’m gonna keep going, I’m gonna keep going.’ After my third submission, I told my son ‘I’m a content creator now, isn’t that cool!’ “

Workspaces inside her home include a second-floor sewing studio, a second-floor fitting room and a basement workroom. Healey discussed in details different aspects and tips of working from home. “Sometimes, a customer comes in with their wedding gown, then her mother comes and then another member of their family, and that’s three cars without parking spaces,” she recalls. “Whether it’s home or company, communication is important not just to your customers but also your own family members.”

Another thing you have to be aware of is your home and property needs to look nice and be kept up. Keep your home/work setting professional, you can’t be mowing a lawn when somebody comes to try on their dresses… “

Working from home allows you a flexible schedule, but somewhat limits your networking opportunities. “We’re always hungry; we’re always looking for what’s our next job. American Sewing Guild has been a great networking source of friends, sewing enthusiasts, and knowledge. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s the latest change in shades, updated safety rules; sometimes I run out of blinding, or interfacing… By coming together and working with other women in this group, we find ways to help each other.”

Networking also happened informally. My younger son was very active in high school musicals theatre groups. When the local costume-making community knew I could sew, they liked me a lot,” she laughed. “Doing costume work is another wacky way to learn how to sew. It’s also a nice way of helping and volunteering for the community.”

Interviewing Father Flynn of Doubt: A Parable – Sam Rigerman

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Samuel Rigerman is a freshman enrolling in Business Administration, with a dual certificate in Musical Theatre at GCC. Doubt: A Parable was his 17th theatre production so far, having participated in 9 shows during high school and a few other at Harvester 56 Theatre and Rochester. Last semester (Fall 2019), he portrayed Brad Majors in the Richard O’Brien’s musical The Rocky Horror Show. at GCC’s Stuart Steiner Theatre.

(You can read a summary of Doubt: A Parable here.)

Sam Rigermand and Lucine Kauffman as Sister Aloysius during rehearsal.

For an actor, auditions are always nerve-wracking, “especially with this show, I really wanted to work with director Marianne because she’s an amazing director and this would probably be my one-and-only shot at this time. So I really did all my homework to maximize my chance of getting the role.”

In preparation for the role of Father Flynn, Sam went to different Catholic Churches to watch prescript sermons, “some of the sermons were really boring ’cause they weren’t very good at delivering it, but I learned a lot and took away what I want or did not want in my sermons to apply my own tweaks to Father Flynn’s sermons.” He added, “to prepare for the storytelling section of the Father Flynn’s first sermon in the play, I sat in at the local Richmond library and listened to the women there reading stories to the kids. I tried to learn how she relates to the kids, projected the story so I can take that into my sermons and differentiate between story telling and giving a sermon.”

Some of his difficulties during rehearsals were delivering sermons, where he had to act as if there’s an audience listening when there is no one. The cast didn’t have a real audience until the first performance. “I also struggled a little with the second scene where Father Flynn teaches basketball to the kids, two things of which I don’t know how to do: playing basketball and talking to kids.

He said he also loved the intense scene between Father Flynn and Miss Aloysius. They were verbally battling each other back and forth: Father Flynn criticizes that she has no evidence, but Miss Aloysius is so adamant that she has him cornered and he just trying to get away from it. Sam added, “I love the actress Lucine Kauffman who played Miss Aloysius, she was so fun to work with. We created a bitter connection and really made the scene our own.”

(Photo: Mark Gutman / Daily News) Sam Rigerman as Father Flynn during his first sermon.

On deciding whether Father Flynn was innocent, Sam explained, “After I was cast, director Marianne told me to craft a ‘Who Am I’ statement. It took me a very long time to decide that Father Flynn was innocent. I had to keep reading the script, dig for different clues and find little things that indicate ‘Oh, he did do it’ ‘Wait no, he didn’t do it.’ I kept building on the clues, I finally concluded that he did not do it, and I acted throughout the show with the mindset that Father Flynn is innocent.”

“My reasoning for his resignation after hearing Miss Aloysisus ‘s threat is that he might have had a dark history that he does not want to be revealed. So he simply withdrew and transferred to avoid any further troubles, but he is innocent regarding matters with Donald (the kid suspected of being abused by Father Flynn)”

Sam’s analysis and portrayal of Father Flynn’s character partially correlates to his own personality, “I try to see the good in people, and the same goes for character Father Flynn. Even when someone is accused of something, I’d try to think of a possibility that they didn’t do it. I am aware that such horrific incidents of sexual misconduct have been brought up / revealed over the past 50-60 years in Catholic Churches, which is really hard to process.”

“If I were to play the character again, I’d still portray him as not guilty, but it’d be interesting to pursue the role in the opposite direction, that he is guilty and being manipulative toward sister James. But I would definitely have discomfort portraying him as guilty because it’s a very real and horrible incident that kids are subjected to at such a young age.”

Contrasting his portrayal of Father Flynn in the show versus Philip Hoffman’s portrayal of Father Flynn in the 2008 film, “I think Philip Hoffman portrayed Father Flynn as guilty. But for my portrayal, I wanted the audience to walk away with their own inner conflict of did he do it or did he not do it. One of the great things I think we succeeded at was that people walking out of our show not knowing if he did it or not. That’s the whole point of the show, that you’re filled with doubts about him.”

(Photo: Mark Gutman / Daily News) Sam Rigerman as Father Flynn and Alyssa Young as Sister James

Of the two production he had done so far this year, Rocky Horror and Doubt, Sam feels more attached to the production of Doubt and character Father Flynn, “Rocky horror was a lot of fun with many great musical scores, but Doubt, for me, was much more personal, especially when the cast was so close to the audience who sat on stage watching it. I am more attached to Doubt because the plot is real, it’s based on something that realistically happened in real life.”

Through Doubt, he was able to learn and apply many new techniques on character development and analysis, “Unlike character Brad Majors I played in Rocky Horror Show where the single-dimensional character only had one goal: being terrified and trying to get out of the Frank-n-Furter house, Father Flynn in Doubt is a more complex character where he pursues different small objectives in each scene to serve a bigger one. With Doubt, I learned more in-depth about creating a character and analyzing a script by finding the operative word, breaking down each of my monologue/scene into beats of action, I didn’t have to do that for Brad in the Rocky Horror.”

(Photo: Facebook) Sam Rigerman as Brad Majors and Runo Suzuki as Janet Majors during The Rocky Horror Show

Summarizing his experiences here at GCC so far, Sam shared that his favorite theatre course was Theatre 103 – Fundamentals of Acting, taught by Instructor Maryanne Arena, who was also a co-director of Doubt along with her daughter, Jamie, who teaches theatre at Geneseo College. “We learned about audition techniques, character development and a ton of super fun improv games, which is something I didn’t learn from high school theatre or community theatre. I also love my business courses, especially BUS 101 & 213, because Instructor Lauren Paisley of both of those courses is an awesome teacher. “

“I initially chose GCC because it’s close to home, it’s affordable and I can still stay at my job at Starbucks. Another major factor was because I auditioned for and was cast as Brad Majors, one of the lead roles, for Rocky Horror show last May when I was still in high school, so I decided to come here.”

What’s next for Sam? He’s preparing for the play Jack and the Beanstalk in this upcoming May and still has another year with GCC until his graduation in Spring 2021. “After GCC, I plan on transferring to Geneseo College or Colombia University with a BA or BFA/MFA, definitely with theatre component attached with it. My dream job is acting, but if that doesn’t work out, I will pursue a career that connects social media and theatre.”


Little fun facts:

  • The original set design planned that Father Flynn would be giving his sermons among the rows of audience off-stage, instead of on-stage where Sam was standing, but that didn’t work out so the audience sat directly on stage.
  • For his character Father Flynn who had long nails, Sam, who had never worn fake nails before, wore and kept on long acrylic nails everywhere he went (to class, to rehearsals…) the weeks before the performances.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Celebrating Vietnamese Lunar New Year: Tết

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By Pinn Duong

Global Education Committee celebrated Vietnamese Lunar New Year, also known as Tết, on February 13th at GCC. Carefully prepared by Nina Mortellaro from the Human Communications & Behaviors Department and with the help of other faculty from the Global Ed Committee, the event was filled with many authentic dishes, symbolic decorations and traditions of Vietnamese Tet.

The flavorful dishes were prepared and delivered by a Vietnamese restaurant, SEA, all the way from Rochester. The menu included many popular recipes in Vietnam, but might be rare to find in Western New York, such as fried spring rolls, crispy noodles complemented with dipping fish sauce and peanut sauce with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.  

Fried spring rolls & crispy noodles
Peanut dipping sauce & fish dipping sauce

To aid the festive mood of Tet holidays, Nina arranged an altar to represent the ancestral altar that is presented in every family household during Tet. Just like Vietnamese traditions, the altar consists of a five-fruit tray, candles and a variety of flowers that resembles the Tet’s ancestral altars.

Nina Mortellaro – the mastermind behind the event

The five-fruit tray (mâm ngũ quả) is an integral part of Vietnam’s Tet that can be seen through every region of the country. It consists of fruit of different colors displayed in an artistic and coherent arrangements. Traditionally, the five types of fruits resemble the harmonious colors of oriental nature elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. But many households or localities have deviated from the strict ancient rules and modified the variety of the fruits as they seem fit. 

Five-fruit tray (mâm ngũ quả) during Tết

Beside the charming orchids that were presented at the event, Vietnamese also embellish their houses and streets every Tết with yellow and pink apricot, peach blossoms, marigold, or Marumi Kumquat.

(Photo: GonExp) Dazzling flower market during annual Tet 

Adopted from Chinese Lunar New Year traditions, Vietnamese elders would gift children red envelopes of lucky money (or lì xì in Vietnamese) to little children and young adults. The attendees at the event also received a surprising token of lì xì from the Global Education Committee. 

“Lucky evelope” from Global Education Committee

I was surprised to learn that GCC currently has four students from Vietnam, including me. To see and experience our culture being celebrated and shared 8,870 miles from our home country was such a delight at a small and close-knitted community such as GCC.

“Chúc bạn đại cát đại lợi”
May you have great forutne and great profit.

Event photos taken by Donald Lockwood (MarCom student assistant). Featured image by shutterstock; food images taken from Internet / Google.

How is your Heart doing?

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By Pinn Duong

February is not only the time to give out hearts to your loved ones, but also the time to take care of your own heart. February is American Heart Month, first proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to raise awareness and urge Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle against the battle of heart diseases. As the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US and globally, American Heart Month pays tribute to health professionals, researchers and volunteers for their tireless battle in preventing and treating heart patients.

Image result for blood clot artery heart
(Image: National Institutes of Health) Blood clotting in artery

Heart diseases spare no one, not even the youth. The good news is that 80% of heart diseases are preventable. Below are some age-old critical reminders to ‘stay young at heart’, and prevent it from aging prematurely:

  • Keep a hearty diet of low-trans fat, low-saturated fat, low-sugars, and low-salt foods. 90% of Americans are consuming too much salt via pizza, pasta dishes, cold cuts, chicken and yeast breads, which are the top 5 foods that dominate American salty diet.
  • Stay active with two to three sessions of 10-15 minutes of exercises through out the day. Being active doesn’t mean toiling in the gym for hours. Something is always better than nothing; don’t give into the taking the elevator when you can take the stairs.
  • Track your numbers on weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Manage a healthy weight.
  • Screen for diabetes, which can lead to heart disease if left untreated.
  • Manage stress via mediation, exercise, and healthy relaxing techniques. Coping with stress using alcohol, smoking, or overeating is a huge no-no. You can even manage stress with proper breathing techniques for just 10-20 min /day. Laughing can increase healthy blood flow through your body by 22%.
  • Keep a high-quality sleeping pattern to restore your body and mental health. Sleep deficiency promotes weight gain, diabetes, and cause low-grade inflammation inside blood vessels that lead to heart diseases
(Image: Healthline)

Say NO to:

  • Smoking. The nicotine in smoke reduces how much oxygen your heart gets and raise the risks of blood clots.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Overdrinking alcohol causes irregular heartbeats (called atrial fibrillation), which increases your risks of stroke, heart attack or heart failure. The American Heart Association suggests no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

FUN FACTS

  • Newborn babies have the fastest heart beats of 70-190 / min while an average adult has a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats / min. A regularly trained athlete has an even slower resting heart rate of 40-60 beats / min.
  • Before the invention of stethoscope, doctors had to press their ears into the patient’s chest to detect heart beats.
(Painting by Théobald Chartran, 1816)
(Image: Science Museum London) After the original stethoscope was invented by René Laennec.

NOT-SO-FUN FACTS ABOUT HEART

  • One person dies every 37 seconds in the US from cardiovascular disease. By the time you finish reading this blog, we might have lost another six Americans to heart disease.
  • Heart attacks happen most often on Monday mornings. A rise in stress hormones and blood pressure cause heart blockages.
  • Heart attacks peak on Christmas Day, Dec 26th and New Year’s.
  • Your heart works twice as hard as the leg muscles of a sprinter. So do take care of your heart and give it a lot of love.

Source(s): https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=20b07ab0-e855-49c6-9ee2-91247e52d5cc

Featured image: designed by Freepik.

Data Privacy Day 2020

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By Pinn Duong

Initiated by The Council in Europe in 2007 and recognized by the US House of Representative in 2009, Data Privacy Day is observed annually on January 28th and became an international effort to inspire discussions and raise awareness of privacy rights and data protection.

1. PROTECT YOURSELF ONLINE

When you are outside: 

Avoid using unsecured (free) Wifi, which is often the case at coffee shops or convenience stores.  Consider using virtual private network (VPN) or mobile hotspot for secure connection.

(Image: mytechquest)  2012 Norton Cybercrime Report

On your personal device

Keep your device(s) and software up-to-date, which include operating system, web browser, apps. Even when you never need the new features that the latest updates offers, updates provides better security and defense against online threats and malware.

Delete when done: some apps are only for a single-use or a short-term, delete them after they are no longer useful 

Use antivirus software: no antivirus can guarantee to protect your device(s) from all threats, but I can provide a basic protection against common malware via periodical scans.

When you’re online surfing / shopping

Strong  passwords: use long & complex passcodes to lock your devices and don’t reuse the password across different accounts. Here’s a tip to a stronger password without forgetting them: use a phrase instead of codes 

A passphrase can contain symbols, and does not have to be a proper sentence. A passphrase is longer than any random string of passcode, easier to remember, satisfy complex rules and next to impossible to crack. Try to reach a minimum of 10 characters for passwords/phrases.

Change password after news of data breach: as digital consumers we are informed of data breaches and are advised to change our password by the company. It’s important to not ignore those messages to ensure your old data become useless even when stolen

Spot email phishing scams

Be alertful whenever you are online so you will be able to detect sneaky scams such as similar but not identical senders/domain names.

An example of an email from a scam sender. Can you spot the mistake?

There are 3 simple rules to spot phishing schemes:

  • Ignore emails, phone calls and websites that create a sense of urgency or requires you to respond to a crisis immediately .
  • Completely ignore what an email looks like: every single detail in a scam email is intricately designed to trick its readers (from logo, brand banner/fonts/image/text, sign-in buttons).
  • Figure out where the destination of the link URL direct to without clicking.

Identical looking button/link can lead to different destination websites (such as the 2 links below). Once you click on a link in a scam email, depends on what the scam click was designed to do, it can direct you to an infected website, access and private data on your device, or open an attachment. We are all susceptible to clicking phishing links when we are unalert online.

Office 365 Login

Office 365 Login

There are several ways you can figure out the destination link without clicking:

  1. Hover over – but do not click – an image/text link to display its actual destination.
  2. Right-click the link to select t “Copy Hyperlink” (Outlook), “Copy Link Location” (Firefox), “Copy Link” (Edge), or “Copy Link Address” (Chrome), and paste it somewhere else to see the text link.
(Image: Digital Check) Hover over a image/text to see the destination link appear

Have a quick read here to learn how to distinguish between a legitimate URL and a fake URL. Above are only a few ways to help you stay safe online, there are soooo many more crucial tips that extend beyond the length that this blog allows. The classic quote by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben fits right into our high-tech life, “With great power convenience, comes great responsibility.”

2. MASS DATA COLLECTION & SURVEILLANCE

But even if you are a tech-savvy person who draconianly follows all the online privacy protection rules above, you can only protect yourself from illegal hackers, not the legal tech companies that seek out and monetize on your privacy.

If it was a decade ago, the invaders of our data privacy were black hat hackers, but as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, we will have to add tech giants and federal surveillance to our list of invaders as well.

When you  contemplate on what tech giants such as Google and Facebook can collect about you, how much data your phones and devices have on you, all the modern advancements and convenience you are enjoying becomes more Orwellian. The all-knowing ad engines of Google keep tabs on your searches, videos you watch, your locations (via map), your communications and connections (mail & hangout), your (in)decisions ‘to buy or not to buy,’ your previous and future plans (calendar). Even when you have navigated carefully through the rainforest of privacy settings that allows you to limit Google’s control of your data, it’s still unclear what you’re actually permitting Google (not) to do and to what extent is it complying with your permission.

Accompanying the intense growth in big data technologies in the last decade is a plethora of shocking revelations of  behind-the-scene data privacy violations occurred on a tremendous scale.

  • 2013: Edward Snowden disclosed to the media about CIA & NSA ‘s extensive phone & internet spying surveillance on Americans & foreign countries.
  • 2016: Facebook collected data of 50 million Facebook users and indiscriminately shared it with Cambridge Analytica (a political data analytics company) who stored and used it for political advertising without users’ consent. It’s important to note that this was not a breach, but was designed to do so.
  • 2018: Tech companies sneaking into your wallets: Google bought credit card transaction data of approximately 2 billion card holders from Mastercard and shared it with advertisers to track how online ads lead to real-world sales. Not to lose out on the race, Facebook asked US banks to share their customers’ financial data to increase user engagement on its marketplace.
(Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch)

It might seem hysterical or paranoid by some as to why we should be worried about mass surveillance, as if there’s some heinous hidden scheme underway to seek control or revenge upon us. But it’s critical to be aware of the current tech infrastructure already in place that makes it possible for companies to profile most of us via our cell phone use, and how this growing infrastructure can manipulate / influence our daily life and decisions.

Sources:

Featured image: from cnet

Similar & Unique New Year Celebrations in Asia

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By Pinn Duong

This blog is going to explore various Asian countries ‘s New Year celebrations by their similarities, which are grouped into 2 categories:

  1. Countries influenced by Chinese’s New Year: Korea, Japan & Vietnam
  2. Countries that celebrate New Year with water fights: Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, Myanmar

1. COUNTRIES INFLUENCED BY CHINESE’S LUNAR NEW YEAR: Korea, Japan & Vietnam

Under Chinese’s historical dominance and influence, Vietnam, Korea and Japan adopts many similar New Year customs similar to that of the Chinese’s Lunar New Year, which commonly occurs in late January or early February. Mongolia and Tibet’s Lunar New Year occurs near or on the same day as the Chinese’s Lunar New Year, but Mongolia’s and Tibet’s New Year celebrations are unique by themselves. 

BUT, Japan celebrates New Year on January 1st. Initially, the Chinese’s calendar was introduced and adopted in Japan in the 6th century CE. During that time, Japan shared its New Year celebrations with China, Korea and Vietnam. However in 1873 during Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Western Gregorian calendar, and Jan 1st became the official New Year’s Day. Initial opposition to the sudden change was strong, but the resistance only lasted until the 1900s when the lunisolar calendar disappeared from annual celebrations.

Lunar New Year are also called Shōgatsu 正月 (Japanese), Chunjie 春节(Chinese), Tết (Vietnamese) and Seollal 설날 (Korean). The traditions outlined below are shared among Vietnam, Korea and countries that host large populations of Chinese ethnics such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Each country has their own adaptations of the Chinese influences.

NEW YEAR GREETING

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, families visit the oldest male relative’s house to pay respect and wish good fortune to the elders for the upcoming year. In return, elders gift the younger ones with lucky red envelopes.

New Year greetings are even more structured in Korea. Children (and sometimes adult offsprings) dress in traditional hanbok and line up to pay their respect to elders (parents, grandparents) with a traditional, respectful bow called Sebae.

New Year greeting in Vietnam.
Korean_Life_Festival_01.jpg
Sebae (New Year’s Bow) in Korea

ANCESTRAL WORSHIP

On the first day of Lunar Year, families and relatives gather at the house of their oldest male relative to pay their respects to both ancestors and elders. Before the New Year’s Eve, many families spend hours cleaning and preparing food and offerings which will be taken to their ancestors’ graves and ancestral altars, symbolizing many past generations.

The ritual begins when the eldest male kneels down in front of the altar with a burning incense in his hand, and he puts it  into the incense burner and bows deeply three times afterwards. 

After they have visited all of their ancestors’ graves or altars, all the food is gathered for a huge feast shared among families and friends. 

Traditionally, only male members participated in the worshipping rituals while females prepare the food and offerings and are not allowed to partake in the rite. In modern times, the rite can be done by all family members.  

(Photo: uBitto) Koreans’ ancestral worship rituals called “Charye” (차례)
Mâm cúng giao thừa gồm những gì
(Photo: VinID) A common sight of ancestral altar in Vietnam: elaborate offerings, multiple dishes & fruits decorated with flowers & candles 

LUCKY MONEY

The Chinese custom of gifting red envelopes (or “hóngbāo” in Mandarin) began in ancient Qin Dynasty.  Elders would thread coins with a red string to ward off evil spirits. It stems from a legend that a demon named “sui” (Chinese: 祟) would quietly surround children on the New Year’s Eve, causing them fear and sickness. The threaded coins were eventually replaced by red envelopes as printing presses became common. 

Click to enlarge
Threaded coins
2020 is year of the Mouse!

Similar customs have been adopted in Korea with a twist. Instead of red envelopes, Koreans use silk “fortune pouches” (Bokjumeoni in Korean) as a symbol of keeping good fortune and prosperity in the pouch. Since Korean traditional dress “hanbok” was not designed with any pockets, the Koreans created Bokjumeoni and tie it at the waist side.

Korean’s Bokjumeoni  (lucky pouch)

Similarly, the act of gifting children decorated paper envelopes filled with New Year money is known as Otoshidama in Japan. It’s interesting to note that, unlike the Chinese and Vietnamese envelopes that are dominantly red/yellow printed with new year wishes, Japanese envelopes (called Pochibukuro) are decorated with unrestricted range of colors and topics.



(Photo: FIT blog, ExpertWorldTravel) Pochibukur

Traditionally, older children would receive more money; but many adults in modern time gift the same amounts to their children, newphew or neices to avoid jealousy and arguments between siblings / cousins. This is usually the favorite part the New Year’s for many children, similar to how Western children excitedly look forward to presents during the Christmas or Easter holidays.

2. COUNTRIES THAT CELEBRATE NEW YEAR WITH WATER FESTIVALS: Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, Myanmar

Thai, Lao, Myanmar and Cambodia are known for their water splashing festivals during New Year Celebrations, which occur from April 13-15 in accordance with the sun’s movements. Other countries that also celebrate the New Year at the same time include Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, but they have entirely unique customs of their own.

Mid-April marks the end of a harvest season, the time when farmers can start enjoying their hard work all year before the monsoon season begins. April is when the summer reaches its peak temperature, make it difficult to toil long hours in the field, and allow farmers to have a break from the labor.

BUDDHISM PRACTICE

All  four countries begin the New Year mornings with religious rituals and merit-making at the local temples to start off a New Year with good deeds. An iconic ritual for the New Year holiday in Lao, Cambodia and Thailand is bathing Buddha statues and images with perfumed water. It symbolizes renewal, purification and cleaning away evil deeds.

(Photo: Bliawa) Bathing Buddha statues

Other merit-making acts include preparing offerings to the monks, releasing and freeing captured animals (bird, fish, crabs, tortoises and mostly small animals) and helping the poor through charity.  

In Laos and Cambodia, they build sand stupas, which are later decorated with flowers, flags and sprinkled with perfumed water, in remembrance of the deceased.

sand pagodas on the beach at Bang Saen
(Photo: Thaizer) Sand pagoda / sand stupas in Thai.

WATER FESTIVALS

Traditionally, the act of sprinkling water on one another signifies respect and blessing, to wash away the staleness, the bad luck from the old year. Young people would pour water over their elders’ palms to pay reverence.

But since New Year holiday falls on the hottest month, many recently take the blessings to another level and splash water one another and bypassers with buckets or cannons. In Thailand, major streets are closed to allow for water festivals.

(Photo: asiadmc) Songkran Water Festival during Thai New Year 

Featured photo: Vector Stock

Student Discounts & Tips you should know

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By Pinn Duong

If there’s one New Year’s resolution that will be repeated every year and will sustain you the most in the long-term and the short-term, it’s making a vow to save more money. Budgeting as a student is an endless problems (that is, until your student life ends), but knowing a few tricks and tools can relieve the stress.

Unidays

Unidays partners with various popular brands (in tech, fashion, beauty, fitness) to offer discounts and exclusive deals to students. The most common discount rate is 10-15% off, but deals can be as high as 60%. But don’t be blinded with all the discount numbers, as discounts do not automatically guarantee the best prices, so always shop around before swiping your card.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Thanks to a previous GCC international student blogger, Zerin Firoze, who shared some of her money-saving tips as an international student, I learned about building a good credit score and cash back rewards. If you are an international student or without an SSN, you should research and compare different (secured) credit cards before deciding which suits you best.

Extra note for international students: if you plan on residing in the US for the next several years, it’s important and almost necessary to build good credit history to prove that you are a reliable borrower, which determines whether and how well you can get loans, rent a desirable apartment or buy high-priced items like cars. 

After much research and from personal experiences, Discover it Student Cash Back arguably offers the highest rewards, cashback and perks for students and beginners who are learning to build credit.

  • 5% cashback in rotating categories each quarter: For example, it’s January right now so you’ll be able to earn 5% cashback from groceries stores until end of March. This is in addition to unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is at least 3.0 for up to the next 5 years.
  • Other perks: cashback match at the end of the first year, free FICO score, low fees and forgiveness for your first late payment.

Greyhound Student Advantage for bus rides

If you are car-less (like me) and rely on buses to travel during vacations, a Greyhound Student Advantage Card, which costs $30 per year, offers 10% off tickets and 15% off nationwide shipping. The Student Advantage Discount Card also offer students exclusive discounts from major retailers, travel and entertainment providers partners. You can find their up-to-date lists of partnership with national brands here.

Additionally, Greyhound also offers a road reward program in which you collect points every time you travel. The points add up quick, you receive 1 point per one-way Economy trip (or 3 points per one-way Flexible fare). The higher the points, the higher the rewards (This program is for anyone who signs up for it, not just students.)

Freebird for Uber/Lyft rides 

Again, if you are car-less, you either rely on buses for long trips and Uber/Lyft for short rides. Freebird allows you to earn points/rewards for every ride you take with Uber or Lyft, in addition to generous promo bonuses during special occasions. Highly rated on both Google Play Store and Apple Store (4.7 and 4.8, respectively), Freebird is much more generous in rewards and cashback than Uber built-in systems. Specifically, you can cash back at least $10 (which equates to 5000 points) after 20 rides (250 points/ride).

Cons: you can only connect the app to either Lyft or Uber one at a time, not both. This is a detriment since many people are connected to Uber, but Lyft often offers cheaper rides. Also, Freebird ‘s rewards 250 points per ride regardless of the distance, whether it’s 4 miles or 30 miles. On the bright side, Freebird doubles up the points during special occasions or holidays.

This app is also something I learned from GCC international student blog post by Zerin.

Student Universe for flights

This online travel agency offers cheap flights for students and faculty. To get the best price, it’s advisable to book ticket at least 1.5-2  months in advance. As a trade-off for their super cheap fares, there are many restrictions: tickets are mostly non-refundable, and it will be very costly to change ticket details (such as dates, destination, passenger). So only book on Student Universe if you are dead sure your trip details will not change later on. I had comfortable and affordable experiences using Student Universe so far, but that is because there were not any post-booking or last-minute changes to my trips/flights and I luckily never had to deal with the reputably unfriendly customer service. 

This is an example of ticket fares for a round-trip flight from JFK to LAX booking 1.5 months in advance.

If you’re looking for more money-saving tips, I recommend you to check out Zerin’s previous blog posts (part 1, part 2) on the topic.

I personally have used all of these services at least three times and have had positive experiences with them in my money-saving battle, so rest assured none of those recommendations are monetized ads. Happy 2020 and happy savings!

Featured image by kstudio from Freepik.