International Festival brings culture to Union

Anyone who was not in an isolation room this past weekend couldn’t help but notice the increase in traffic around campus—that’s right, the drop in temperatures and the pouring rain meant that it was once again time for Family Weekend and FallFest. Fortunately, the highlight of my family’s visit is always the indoor International Festival on Saturday, and this year marked the 21st gathering of campus cultural organizations in a toe-tapping, taste-bud-tantalizing afternoon.

After learning a lesson the hard way last year—the early bird gets the eggroll and the late bird goes home hungry—my guests and I decided to arrive at the McNeil Room at 11 am sharp. We were so prompt, in fact, that many of the groups were still setting up displays and cooking the first batches of each respective dish. Although we had to wait a few minutes for everyone to settle in, the short wait was well worth it to have fresh, authentic dishes without having to travel around the world.

The highly anticipated egg rolls, provided by the Philippine American League for just $1 apiece, were crisp and helped quell my morning hunger pains. PAL’s $7 combo meal included barbeque chicken on a stick, sautéed chicken in a Philippine sauce, an egg roll, steamed rice, and sagot, an interesting mixture of banana flavor and floating jelly cubes. The beverage had a good flavor but was not my ideal pairing for the accompanying food, and although I only scavenged one piece of Philippine chicken from my vulture family, that bite was delicious.

A close second to the egg rolls were the dumplings served by the Chinese American Students Association. The lunch special offered by CASA for $5 included some dumplings, a generous helping of sesame noodles, and green tea—subtly flavored tea was a much better palate cleanser. The noodles were prepared at the table by breaking the strands into smaller pieces and mixing in sesame paste using wooden utensils. The flavor and texture were good, but my panel of judges agreed that the noodles would have been better if they were hot.

Although we were full after splitting a few meals, the performances provided an opportunity to relax and digest. The opening act of the day was graduate student Sina Afshari, who played the stringed setar and sang two traditional Persian songs. His set was full of passion, especially the first song, “Morghe Sahar” (meaning “The Morning Bird”), and audience members were amazed by his ability to contort his fingers to accurately strum the notes. Afshari also stayed on the stage to perform four Turkish songs as a duet with graduate student Sahin Cem Geyik, who played the darfuka percussion instrument. Each song was impressive and different from the others, but my favorites were “Cesm-I Siyah” (or “Black-Eyed [Lady]”) and an improvisation on the Turkish scales—the latter was heavy on the bass notes and had everyone dancing in their seats.

The other audience favorite was the ABADA-Capoeira Brazilian martial arts performance, which integrated beauty and symbolism with aggressiveness. For example, the phonetic song “Chue Chua,” which is pronounced shoo-ay shoo-ah, refers to the sound made by a person stepping on a leaf. My favorite, though, was the opening classic “Capoeira, ABADA”—this talked about the setup of the roda, or wheel, used to spar or perform within. The members of the ABADA-Capoeira club showcased their martial arts skills both individually and within sparring pairs, and although some were more advanced than others, I have a tremendous level of respect for the body control required to exhibit each move.

Though only a few meals and performances are highlighted, all entertainment and dishes were enjoyed by the families in attendance. The amount of time and effort put into such an extensive event did not go unnoticed—perhaps the most impressive items I saw all day were the hand-cut paper designs, which are usually purchased but were crafted this year by graduate student Tian Zhang. As Ryan Twardowski ’10, secretary of ABADA-Capoeira RPI, remarked, “Promoting the cultures and traditions of foreign nations … can help Americans develop … pride for diversity and can lead to an open-minded way of thinking.” This year’s festival provided international students the opportunity to teach others about their cultures, and allowed American students like myself to learn about other fascinating traditions.