Monday, August 30, 2010

The Trouble With Academic Ignorance

I'll keep this short and sweet. Recently, I've had the unfortunate (dis)pleasure of meeting individuals (within an academic setting, no less) who perfectly illustrate the concept of academic ignorance: unwilling to learn, eager to inform you that you are wrong, teaching rather than conversing, indirectly insulting political beliefs through the use of mean jokes and "friendly" mockery.

The academic setting is fueled by politics. It encompasses a number of perspectives, spanning a variety of positions on the political spectrum. Yet while the academic setting can surely be a wonderful, rich setting to learn about the important issues of our time, I've found that certain individuals stick to their own political perspectives with no room for growth or discussion. And while living as a staunch believer of certain issues is admirable, the lack of respect towards dissenting views isn't. Academic ignorance has been demonstrated in the willingness to insult other perspectives on personal grounds and the lack of an open mind when encountering individuals with opposite views.

The academic setting has no room for ignorance or mockery. Ideally, academic forums aim to educate. Ideally, they are formed by individuals who (despite dissenting opinions) are cordial, and respectful towards the political perspectives espoused by their peers. Let this blog (splattered in various shades of pink. I wonder if that makes me a flighty non-academic?) illustrate the aggressive, forceful side of my academic belief system. Perspectives, political or otherwise, should not be attacked using an individual's personal attributes, potential acquisition of material possessions (oh my god, does that make me a greedy capitalist?), hobbies, and religious views.

Friendships and relationships don't flourish on the basis of academic mockery. Nor do they develop by using one's own political perspectives to elevate oneself above his or her peer. Attacking political perspectives on personal grounds is downright rude. Ultimately, exercising the principles of respect towards others' political perspectives is a valuable lesson, whether we're in an academic setting or not.

Respect in an academic setting? This is my hope heading to Queen's this fall. And while my recent experience has jaded me, let's hope Queens proves me wrong.

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”
- Benjamin Franklin

Friday, August 27, 2010

Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Last winter, I was sitting on the GO train, tired & sleepy as usual, when an interesting commotion erupted a few aisles away from me. The fight occurred between two individuals who clearly didn't know each other: a young woman decked out in a beautiful Burberry raincoat and the elderly man sitting beside her. The woman clearly spent her afternoon in Yorkville, surrounded by shiny Holt Renfrew shopping bags. For the next fifteen minutes, Elderly Man continuously wagged a finger in front of Burberry's face, accusing her of supporting the capitalist enterprise. Before he got off the train, Elderly Man stepped over the Holt Renfrew bags and announced that Burberry should head to Chapters and spend some good money on a book he thought she should read: Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

While Burberry rolled her eyes at the suggestion, I curiously filed the book title away in my head with the intention of looking it up later. Lo and behold, a few weeks ago, while browsing the aisles at Chapters, I discovered and purchased The Shock Doctrine after finding it discarded on an empty shelf. I started reading it this week on the train ride to and from work. To spare you all a long, winded summary, click here to read Wikipedia's ever-so-trusty synopsis.

Right away, I knew from the first chapter that I would be very skeptical about the premise of the book. Don't get me wrong, I highly respect Naomi Klein as a reputable, respectable source. However, I think critiques of The Shock Doctrine holds some (alot of?) merit.

I think my problem lies in her treatment of capitalism as an evil plot, a formulated scheme of treachery borne only in the minds of those in power. The book treats the capitalist enterprise as a huge conspiracy, an alliance between governments and corporations to shock a population into the realities of a free market economy. Her elaborate parallels between the uses of electroshock therapy to free-market policies leave me skeptical. Is capitalism in its purest form truly evil? In a Western world run rampant with consumerism, are the individuals who personally desire material wealth subsequently (automatically) accomplices to corporate greed? Are supporters of capitalism and material wealth evil? Alternatively, what would be a better option?

Personally, I don't think capitalism is as inherently evil as Klein seems to imply. Nor do I think support for material gains is inherently selfish. I have yet to finish the book, so I'll hold off writing a review. Who knows, perhaps my opinion may change by the time I finish it. Either way, it is an interesting read. I definitely recommend you all to check it out. I thought I'd share this book with you all, as reading it can definitely helps us uncover our true feelings (loyalities? hatred?) about the realities of today's consumerism.

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
- Sir Winston Churchill

“What kind of society isn't structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system.”
- Milton Friedman

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
- John Maynard Keynes

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Greatest Decade(s) Of Our Lives - Life In Our 20's

Early this morning, as I was turning on my computer to start work, my manager walked in to say hello and to drop off her things before she headed off to a meeting. I noticed she had dressed up more than usual (most likely for the meeting), and, before I could stop myself, I complimented her by blurting out, "Wow, you look so pretty today!" Clearly, the boundaries of appropriate compliments are unknown to me when I enthusiastically flatter people's outfits. How awkward.

Despite my lack of compliment etiquette, my manager didn't mind. In fact, she laughed and shook her head to say that she didn't think she did and that she's just another old lady. Before she walked out, she stopped and added thoughtfully, "You're in your 20's, correct? You're at the best age right now. You're living the best decade of your life."

Interesting. As 20-somethings, are we really living the best decade of our lives?

I have no qualms admitting that, personally, being a 20-something is awesome. As an adult-but-not-quite-an-adult, I don't have the responsibility of a mortgage or dependents. Nor do I have as many restrictions as I did when I was a teenager. Alcohol consumption is (definitely? certainly? inevitably?) an option, as are late-night outings which I would never have been allowed to go to when I was younger. I don't have to worry about growing pains, high school dramatics. I don't have to worry about house maintenance, heating bills, things I certainly take for granted as I comfortably live in my parents' home.

I love my age. I absolutely, positively love love love being a 20-something. Old enough to make my own decisions, yet young enough to have a world of opportunity in front of me. I have friends who are, quite simply, stuck in love with being a 20-something, hoping beyond belief that they can forever stay this age, that future responsibilities and realities will never catch up to them. Conclusions? Being 20-something is awesome (Word).

However, I don't think one decade of life is necessarily, ultimately greater than others. Each age is special. Each decade holds special, memorable moments. Being 20-something isn't all that life has to offer. In fact, there's so much more to come. Like the initial moments following your engagement. Or the moment you obtain a full-time, permanent job with benefits (how adult). Or the moment you realize, upon graduation, that you are totally, completely, ultimately, forever done school. Or the moment you say I Do. Or the moment you sit in the hospital, about to welcome a new baby into your family. Or the moment your children start kindergarten, primary school, high school, university. Or the moments you watch your children grow up. Or the moment your children receive that letter of acceptance from their university of choice, jetting off to live in residence a few months later. Or the moment your kids leave home, and you sink down on the porch, realizing with excitement that you're an empty-nester. Or the moments you begin your retirement, anticipating travel destinations, awaiting what else life has to offer you.

Undoubtedly, we're enjoying being 20-somethings. And while we love where we're at right now, let's not forget that we have our entire lives ahead of us. Opportunities and responsibilities will eventually present themselves: ones that we will inevitably come to love and embrace. We have so much more to look forward to. I don't think we should be scared or apprehensive about what's to come. In fact, I'm definitely excited!

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."
- Agatha Christie

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prepping For Kingston -11 Days Left

Oh my god. I move in eleven days. ELEVEN DAYS. So much left to do, so little time! I feel like this move isn't sinking in just yet, since I'm procrastinating finishing off the last few things on my To-Do List. However, I got a jolt of the Eleven-Day-Reality today when my email was bombarded with messages from Queen's regarding Orientation Week, registration, and all that good stuff.

I MOVE IN ELEVEN DAYS. Panic mode? I think so.

Latest Developments For My Move To Kingston:

1) I packed. Half my closet. It's taking two trips to move my wardrobe (in addition to my purses and shoes) to Queen's. Don't judge me.

2) I registered for Orientation Week. Activities include a boat cruise, a graduate & professional student semi-formal, a corn maze & hay ride (what? I know), a speed meeting, a trivia night, a haunted house walk, etc. Why does this seem like Frosh Week all over again? But for old people, obviously.

3) Pack the rest of my life away. Pictures frames, my printer, bedsheets, my six pillows, curtains, clothing, and random little things you never realize you need because they're always there and yet you panic when you realize they aren't (Like dental floss. Or garbage bags).

4) Figure out HOW to get Microsoft Office on my laptop without spending an obscene amount of money.

5) Download Skype. Because I need to keep in touch with all of you while I'm in the boonies. Skype dinners, anyone?

6) I need to buy an iron. My obsessive compulsive need to have my shirts free of wrinkles will go haywire if I don't own one in Kingston.

7) Tuition payments, registration, etcetera, etcetera.

8) Plan my combined going-away party with Mishal and Vania, since we're all leaving town the same weekend.

9) Plan going away dinners/lunches/coffee dates with those I won't have the pleasure of seeing on a regular basis come September. I'm missing everyone already!

That's it for now. But I'm sure there's more.

I'm nervous. But excited. But nervous. And panicking. But EXCITED!

"Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words--- 'wait and hope.'"
- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Monday, August 23, 2010

The World of Pageantry - In Defense of Beauty Pageants

In approximately one hour, the Miss Universe 2010 pageant will be televised on NBC, as per the usual yearly routine. In light of tonight's broadcast, I'm set to write a brief defense on the misunderstood world of pageantry.

Because I shamelessly love it.

I have to say, I'm insanely excited for tonight's live event, as I usually am when a major pageant is televised. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've followed every major beauty pageant since I was 11 years old. I haven't missed a televised event of Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA since the sixth grade. Except for when I got the chicken pox a few years ago, when I was sadly too sick (and itchy) to enjoy Miss America. (Boo! Hiss! Chicken pox!)

I don't know why I get so excited about beauty pageants. The glittery dresses, the lights, the music, the competition. Talent portions and the Final Question have always been my favourite, most likely because my own public speaking fears stand in awe at the articulate, expressive answers given by contestants within a challenging, pressure-filled atmosphere. Miss Universe is a particular pageant I enjoy for the sheer competition between participating countries. Seriously, it's like the Olympics. Only with inhumanly beautiful contestants (with medical degrees, no less!).

I see many people about to stone me with tirades regarding female degradation, pretension, shameless displays of corporate greed and selfishness, and the misrepresentation of average women. Before one casts the first stone, I think it's important to note that the world of pageantry has its good sides as well. I'm not overlooking its obvious failures: the politics, the bias, the bribery, the eating disorders, the catty contestants. I don't deny that they exist. There are clearly a number of young women stooping low enough to pull mean stunts to get ahead of the game, and many others who will risk their health and bodies for the sake of competition and reputation. I'll point out, however, that cattiness does not merely exist within the world of pageantry. Snobby (and competitive) women (and men!) exist everywhere. We run into them all the time. And while many women sadly put their bodies at risk, I don't think beauty pageants were originally intended to foster a politically charged atmosphere where one feels the need to protect his or her reputation and appearance at no cost.

On paper, I think beauty pageants are a great idea. They promote academic achievements, humanitarianism, and most importantly, for me, the importance of public speaking. I remember sitting at home as a young girl, watching in awe as Lara Dutta gave an incredible, articulate answer to the Miss Universe 2000 Final Question that inevitably led to her victory. I remember wishing I could speak just as well as she did, hoping that one day I could deliver speeches just as memorable and expressive. To this day, before I present in front of a large number of people, my mind still flashes back to Lara's articulate response. I've tried hard to emulate her skill.

Pageantry is not merely rooted in simply admiring a woman's physical attributes. Her mind, her words, and wisdom are taken into account immensely. They demonstrate talents that should be appreciated by many of us going into careers where we face public speaking everyday. Pageants are much like talent shows for grown-ups. They celebrate and crown the achievements of young women and provide sholarships and funding to study areas contestants have a passion for.

I realize this isn't a popular opinion for many who read this. But I'll thoughtfully point out that I truly believe the political and catty nature of pageantry has been its downfall. The original objective, mission, and vision of beauty pageants has been to encourage public speaking skills, to celebrate efforts that bring social issues to public attention, and to reward the achievements of young women who have accomplished what many haven't.

And if that means they get to walk around in super-awesome-glittery dresses, then I don't think we should have a problem with that. And if the woman is stunningly beautiful, then I see no reason to detest and hate her for it.

Appreciating someone for their beauty and mind can be difficult (particularly since the two concepts are popularly perceived to be mutually exclusive). But I think we should remember that beyond the politics, the bias, the controversy, pageants illustrate talents and skills important to one's career and academic pursuits. Skills that little girls all over the world will admire. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

"That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful."
- Ninon de L'Enclos

Sunday, August 22, 2010

(Not So) Missed Connections - Romantic Encounters Of The Grad Kind

Picture this: You're driving down a dark street late at night, you're pretty tired, you're worn out, and you see a red stoplight coming up so you start slowing down. You stop and wait until you can start driving again. Bored as you are, you glance over at the individual sitting in the driver's seat of the car beside yours. Lo and behold, your eyes widen when you notice that the driver is the most incredible, beautiful, stunning, divine, exquisite creature (guy or girl) you've ever laid your eyes on. Wow. (Insert Joey Tribbiani-esque voice here): How you doing? But before you know it, the stoplights change, and said beautiful creature drives off, never to be seen again.

Has this ever happened to you? It never happens to me. When I glance over at the drivers beside me, I'm usually scowled at by an elderly woman disapproving of my speeding tendencies (I'm not an aggressive Asian driver, really) or a creepy old man grinning at me to the point where I'm uncomfortable (obviously I speed off as fast as I can! Ahhh!).

But, friends, these things do happen sometimes. And as I drove Vania and I home a few weeks ago, we noticed a very nice Cadillac driving beside us. When we reached the stoplight, we glanced over and spotted the CUTEST PUPPY WE'VE EVER SEEN hanging out the driver's seat. Seriously, so cute. And I'm a cat person. We kept waving at the cute puppy... until we noticed puppy's very cute (Read: Insanely Hot) owner. And so as we kept driving for the next few blocks, Cute-Dog-Loving-Cadillac-Driving Boy and I kept hitting the same stoplights. We fangirled over that puppy (owner) while we patiently waited for each of those sets of lights to turn green. Oh, Vania. What an entertaining ride home! And the epitome of something you'd find on Craigslist Missed Connections (which my friends and I hilariously read sometimes, just for the entertainment).

Do we really know anyone who has met their significant other driving down the street? None that I know of! But when it comes down to it, the concept of finding one's significant other is interesting, particularly as we've reached an age where half our friends are either engaged, in a serious relationship, or are already married. We've reached the age as 20-somethings where we start receiving pointed questions from family, friends, and relatives regarding the next ten years of our lives: engagement, marriage, children, the whole scary nine yards. Wow. How did time fly by so fast? How did we grow up so fast?

I know many people often wonder about who they will end up with. Craigslist Missed Connections alone show us a number of people, from various age groups and all walks of life, searching for that Hollywood-turned-reality romance. Relationships, to be frank, aren't an afterthought to any of us. Humans instinctively treat relationships as an important part of life; they are a centrifugal force to which we plan our lives and efforts around.

And so as a result, I'm sure you've often wondered how you'll meet your significant other (don't lie, I know you have!). On a GO train? In class? Through a friend? At the library? If it floats your boat, Craigslists' Missed Connections? How will you meet the person you'll eventually end up with? And how, pray tell, will you know? I've noticed, from observing many individuals my age, that so much effort is placed on contemplating these questions, on the search for potential lifelong relationships and significant others. At our age, it's a reality I'm sure many reading this have thought about.

However, let this blog post serve to assure you that you shouldn't worry about the unknown years ahead and the individuals you have yet to meet. If there's anything we can learn from the new phases of life we will soon begin (moving to new cities, starting Master's degrees, starting new jobs), I think we can all agree that we've felt time going by faster than usual. Time. It just seems to be going by too fast. Time that shouldn't be spent dwelling on things that could be, should be, or should have been. Time that can rather be spent enjoying friends, family, moments, and experiences that will, years from now, be just a fond memory.

Let this blog post serve as encouragement and assurance to those who wonder, to those who shake their heads in annoyance at the thought of the unknown years ahead. To those who nurse broken hearts, wounded egos, unrequited souls. To those who have experienced misplaced committment. Friends, the search may seem futile now. But let me assure you that time spent actively searching and alternatively worrying won't always produce the results you desire. In the meantime, we have so much to do, so much of the world to see until we finally find this reality.

Friends, we may feel like we're getting old, but we are actually still so very very young. Enjoying one's years as an adult-but-not-quite-an-adult is just an important as the later years of life. So until then, enjoy the fleeting moments and days of your twenties.

Let this blog post serve to assure you that one day, you will indeed find that individual who will forever change your life. One day, someday soon. And when you finally do, it will be far from a "missed connection." On the contrary, it will be a connection you've waited patiently for, within the context of memorable experiences. On the contrary, it will be a connection you'll have and treasure for the rest of your life.

"For everything you have missed, you have gained something else."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, August 19, 2010

City Street Smarts - A Lesson Learned

Well. I had an interesting encounter this morning. I don't know what to think of the experience, really. To be honest, I'm still a little shocked. Actually, I'm more than a little shocked. I'm utterly stunned. Flabbergasted.

So I went through my usual routine, got off the GO train, walked into Tim Horton's, and (instead of my usual Banana Nut muffin) purchased a small Iced Cap because it was devastatingly warm. And as per usual, I was minding my own business, just like those walking on Front Street rushing to get to work. Men in snazzy suits, women in heels, people gabbing away on their ever-so-trusty Blackberries. A typical Thursday morning.

And as per usual, I walked down University Avenue, sipping my Iced Cap, obsessively checking what time it was on my cell phone to make sure I wasn't late, distractedly picking lint off my blazer (OCD tendencies, what did I tell you?), and giggling at my recent text messages. Then it happened. Oh yes, it happened.

All of a sudden, a woman (dressed in a beautiful suit) walked up to me sobbing uncontrollably. And immediately, being the (dense) sucker I am, I felt a pang of sympathy. She asked if I could spare any change. Through tears, she told me that her father just passed away, she was being kicked out of her apartment, she was behind on rent, and she had no money for breakfast. With tears pouring down her face, she told me that she was on her way to work and that she was so very very hungry. She just wanted a breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton's. Could I spare any change?

In my defense, after listening to her for a few minutes, her story did sound legitimate. She looked completely harmless, and her story was just so sad! And so I reached into my purse and pulled out my wallet to see if I had any change. Unfortunately, I only had a $10.00 bill (which I needed for lunch) and 8 CENTS in change. I also knew I wouldn't have time to go to the bank if I gave her my $10.00 bill. Apologizing, I handed over my 8 cents and said that was the only change I had. And that I'm sorry!

As if on cue, her tears stopped. The look of pain vanished from her eyes. She grabbed my 8 cents, started scowling, and rudely asked if that was all I had. Shocked, I said yes, it was. She rolled her eyes, muttering something about how selfish I was. Without even a "thank you," she asked how I could only spare such a small amount. Didn't I listen to her story? Didn't I know how much she needed my money? Worse yet (and this really is the worse part), she reached over and tried to grab my beloved Coach purse off my shoulder, claiming that she wanted to check my wallet to see if I was lying. Friends, this was my favourite Coach purse. My darling Coach purse. The love-of-my-life-never-gonna-let-it-go Coach purse. I gasped in fear! FEAR, I tell you! Immediately, I pulled away, clutched that purse to my chest, and ran across the intersection.

I have no idea what possessed her to do such a thing. She looked perfectly normal. She spoke perfectly normal. But would a perfectly normal person grab a total stranger's purse? Would a perfectly normal person berate a stranger about their lack of change?

I have no idea if she was crazy or if she grabbed my purse out of impulse. But clearly, this incident has absolutely reminded me of the value of Street Smarts. Our city is full of con artists, scam artists, with people who will do anything for money. Let's all be careful, no matter what the situation is. Excercise cautiousness. Excercise Common Sense (something I obviously didn't do today). No matter how sad the story, no matter how harmless an individual looks, you can never be too careful anymore. Never!

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
- Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Immigrant Story: Land of Opportunity or Limit?

I'll get right to the point. We have a problem, friends. A certain problem exists in our province (and nation) that will be difficult to fix, but it affects thousands upon thousands of people each year. This sizable conundrum produces unimaginable stress for people who have worked hard to climb the education system so they would never have to be in this position. And yet here they are.

As a result of my summer job, I've witnessed firsthand the stunning trend of limits on immigrant employment. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people flood employment agencies everyday, across the province, desperately seeking jobs. They are doctors, lawyers, clinical researchers, physiotherapists, teachers, accountants, managers, I could go on. They've climbed the ladder of education in their home countries so they would never have to worry about paying for their mortgage, about saving tuition for their children's education. They've achieved certain careers so they would never have to live from paycheque to paycheque. They came to Canada for opportunity, for better jobs, to earn a livelihood. Yet their university degrees aren't credited when they arrive.

Instead, they are sitting in employment agencies, filling out questionnaires regarding their unemployment. I don't know if this issue breaks your heart, but it certainly breaks mine (and quite certainly touches on my own personal moral intuitions). CTV broadcasted today that people searching for doctors in neighbourhood hospitals and clinics are turned away because of the shortage of medical practitioners. Would this problem exist if the policies of foreign accreditation were better formulated?

Knowing that there is a perfectly capable doctor (with 20 years of experience and who speaks perfectly solid English) manning the escalator at Walmart actually brings tears to my eyes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing the opportunities Canada offers. On the contrary, I'm probably as close to a nationalist as you can get. There are ample benefits to settling in this awesome country of ours. What I am bashing are the policies for foreign accreditation, particularly in light of judicial interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rights consciousness in so present in today's culture, particularly since Courts have continued to interpret the Constitution in favour of protecting certain rights. Since the 1960's, Supreme Court (both Canadian and American) jurisprudence regarding constitutional protection of rights has escalated for a number of groups and individuals.

But what about perfectly educated immigrants? Who will protect them?

"My dreams were all my own. I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed - my dearest pleasure when free."
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Love Affair With Europe - Moments From EUROTRIP 2010

Three months ago, I fell in love. Yes, friends, I really did. I fell in love with the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. I fell in love with a certain atmosphere, with a different way of life, with people who laughed and loved with utmost abandon. I fell in love with a unique environment I always heard about but never physically witnessed.

On May 8, 2010, Elaine, Mishal, Alicia, Alaana, and I boarded that Air Transat flight headed to one of the most beautiful parts of the globe: Rome, Italy. And for the next two weeks we went on to wander the streets of Paris, France (where we met up with Wendy!) and explored the ins and outs of London, England. It was my first time in Europe, and quite honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life to date.

By the way, for a more detailed summary of each day of our Eurotrip, visit Elaine's blog at the following links. She was proactive and detailed every single thing we did on our trip. She'll also be teaching your kids one day (shouting out congrats to Elaine as she heads off to teacher's college in September!):

For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in Rome, click here.
For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in Paris, click here.
For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in London, click here.

So why did I fall so deeply in love with Europe? How did Paris become my favourite city in the world? Here we go, friends. The Seven Love Affairs of EUROTRIP 2010. It was an unforgettable trip, to say the least.


7) My Love Affair With European Food

I, quite literally, ate more in those two weeks in Europe than I usually do in a month. That's how good the food was, friends. I couldn't stop stuffing my face. Have you ever had bucattini? No? Do you know what bucattini looks like? No? Well, let me enlighten you. On Day 2 of Rome, we wandered our hostel's neighbourhood of Trastevere and decided to have lunch at a quaint little restaurant named Le Gildo Ristorante de Trastevere. And I swear on my well-loved limited edition of Doctor Zhivago that I tasted the best pasta I ever had in my life. I have no idea what was in it, goat cheese maybe? It also had bits of the BEST. BACON. EVER. EVER. EVER. I don't know what it is about Italian pasta. Or authentic Italian food, for that matter. I've never tasted anything like it. Incredible, scrumptious, mouth-watering, I could go on for hours.

Yummy pastries, pain au chocolat for breakfast in Paris every morning (except for the one morning we ate Mishal's leftover curry chicken for breakfast. What? We were homesick), mouth-watering macaroons. You name it, I ate it. I'd also like to give a special shoutout to the most amazing tiramisu I've ever encountered, served at Cafe Unisex on the Champs Elysees in Paris. I swear, that tiramisu melted in my mouth. It melted.

FUN FACT: Europeans like their coffee strong. Really strong. Like, can't-gulp-need-to-spit-it-out strong. Like, not-even-four-packs-of-sugar-can-mask-the-taste strong. But obviously I had to order an espresso while sitting at a cafe on the Champs Elysees. Just for the experience, really.

FUN FACT 2: I swear to you that Rome's Fuimicino Airport has an awesome secret. You can purchase the most delicious croissant in the world for only ONE EURO. JUST ONE! Go to the airport's mini food court, you'll find it there. Yum.

6) My Love Affair With Europeans

I've been told most of my life that Parisians are snobs. And to this I say, please. Please. We didn't meet a single rude person in France. Parisians were the nicest people we met on the trip (actually, I take that back. They tie with Romans for friendliness). And seriously, the first time we actually encountered rudeness was when we got to London, where there wasn't even a language barrier. Just a rudeness barrier, really.

Walking down the Champs Elysees in Paris well past midnight, you tend to meet some pretty interesting characters. Most are intoxicated, but interesting nonetheless. The same goes for all the people we met each day of our trip. From city to city, each person was fascinating. From the slightly tipsy Masters students we made friends with on the Paris Metro at 2:00 am one morning (one of which gave Wendy a Facebook name that turned out to be an Italian actor when we searched him later), the Political Science student in Paris who only knew about Toronto because he watched South Park, the quirky locals who warned us not to visit the Paris version of Jane and Finch (we were stubborn, went anyway, and got swarmed by attacking gypsies. Scariest experience ever), the aforementioned gypsies who attacked us (!!!), the men from Bangladesh who Mishal bartered with so we could buy our Eiffel Tower statues, our waiters and waitresses from each city who tolerated our requests to take a picture with them, the host at ROSSOPOMODORO in Rome who gave us a history lesson on Julius Caesar, our neighbour at our Paris apartment who helped us find our apartment when we thought we were in the wrong building, the artist named Emilian (from Serbia) who sold his art on Rue St. Honore near the Louvre but told us his name was Jacques because it was his alter ego (yeah, just roll with it), the amusing British business men we made friends with while we waited for autographs after our plays... I could go on and on! We met a number of characters on our trip. They made each moment exciting, to say the least! I think meeting people from different countries is large part of one's travels, and I'm glad we got to meet such a diverse group during this particular trip.

FUN FACT: I think the one thing that surprised me the most was that, despite the diversity in population in terms of visible minorities, some people we met in all three cities harboured surprising stereotypes about Asians that you wouldn't see in Canada. To the point where they think every Asian is a new immigrant from Hong Kong or Japan. For future reference, I will not respond to "Ni Hao" or "Le Ho Ma" because I'm 1) Not Chinese and 2) Saying hello in another language is probably the worst pick-up line or sale inducing mechanism ever. Just saying.

5) My Love Affair With European Historical Landmarks

I have to say that Ancient Rome took my breath away. Versailles in Paris practically left me speechless. Everything I learned in history class came down to this, and the history buff in me fangirled over every single historical destination (tourist trap or not). I won't continue to babble about how awesome all these sites were (you just need to visit them!), but I will give special mention to my incredible experience at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I visited Democracy Square by the Houses of Parliament one afternoon, and crossed the street to the Court. Although it wasn't in session, I was able to tour all three court rooms. The court was empty. No tourists were in sight, so I was allowed to sit on the very seats where the JCPC made crucial decisions. I almost passed out, actually. I was that excited. I will never forget that afternoon at the Supreme Court.

FUN FACT: Democracy Square in London houses many activists and/or students fighting for a number of causes. They also haven't showered in months. And they aren't afraid to let you know! Smelly and proud, I was quite fascinated. Please don't let the stench prevent you from entering Democracy Square. Go in and have a little chat with them. They're very pleasant and interesting people! A little extreme, but pleasant.

4) My Love Affair With European Theatre

Les Miserables will forever be my favourite play. I don't know how to describe why I love it. I just do. There's something about the story, the music, the voices, the heartbreak, the love, the triumph, that culminates into a masterpiece I thoroughly enjoy. The songs are remarkable. And the version of Les Mis that we saw in London left me speechless.

Let me note further that plays in London transformed me (us) into crazy lunatics. To the point that we blocked the entrances to the stage doors at the Adelphi Theatre and Queens' Theatre to make sure we got autographs from the stars of Les Miserables and the world premiere of Phantom of the Opera: Love Never Dies. We took pictures with the stars, made eager conversation, and hung onto their every word. Special shoutouts go to Alistair Brammer (who played Marius, star of Les Mis) and Ramin Karimloo (who played the Phantom in Phantom). Exhibit A of our embarrassing fangirl encounter with the talented Ramin Karimloo:

Barb and Mishal (eagerly): So you're from Canada! Are you ever coming back?
Ramin *signing our programs*: If I don't do Phantom's Broadway premiere, I will definitely come back to Canada.
*awkward silence*
Ramin: So where are you girls from?
Barb: We go to UofT.
Mishal: We're from Mississauga
Barb: It's near Square One. Can we take a picture with you?

I don't think that conversation did much to present our brain cells in the greatest light. But Ramin didn't seem to mind. And the entire conversation was filmed, thanks to Elaine. We had a similar experience when we cornered Alistair Brammer for an autograph. Alaana, of course, filmed that entire experience and quite expertly zoomed in on his nicely shaped muscles as he walked away. Epic. Just epic.

And so that goes down in history as my real, honest to goodness, fangirl experience.

FUN FACT: I tried to add Alistair Brammer on Facebook but he rejected my friend request. Ah well, such is life.

3) My Love Affair With European Museums

On Day 2 in Paris, I had my first emotional experience with art. There's just something about being two feet away from a real, authentic Monet that makes you catch your breath. Standing face-to-face with authentic Renoir and Van Gogh paintings quite honestly brought tears to my eyes. These works of art were so incredibly intricate, and yet so incredibly beautiful. And I don't usually cry when I see art. I will never forget that experience at Musee D'Orsay. It wasn't as big as the Louvre, but its effect on me was beyond what I expected. It was so much more than I imagined it would be.

We also spent two hours at the museum gift shop, and I purchased my beloved copies of Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette and Degas' Le foyer de la danse a l'Opera , which will probably hang in my new room in Kingston in September.

FUN FACT: The Mona Lisa is pretty dinky small in real life. No joke, it looks like a dot compared to the other paintings in that particular room. It's funny how I built up such a larger-than-life image of the Mona Lisa in my head. I was therefore quite surprised when I finally saw it. Awesome experience nonetheless.

2) My Love Affair With European Shopping

Who are we kidding? We obviously went shopping. And, friends, let me just mention the shopping gem in London called Primark. Where practically everything is under FIVE POUNDS. If you want a deal, that's where you go! From the boutiques in the Jewish neighbourhood of Le Merais in Paris, Oxford Street (holler) in London, Spittafields Market/Portobello Road/etc in London, Harrods in Knightbridge, London, and the gazillion souvenir shops we visited all over Rome and Paris, we purchased items we knew we could never find at home. Shopping in Europe is a fabulous experience, and souvenir shopping was the highlight of it all. Now I have postcards of every single site we went to, because I'm a nerd like that.

FUN FACT: If you attract the attention of your airline's check-in representative, you will probably bypass security even though your luggage is a gazillion pounds overweight (because of the aforementioned shopping, obviously). And it's at this point where I will, again, thank ALAANA for saving us hundreds of dollars in excess luggage fees because, hey, she's pretty! Wink Wink. We discovered the check-in guy's name and email on her boarding pass after. HILarious. Trust me, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got through security. So much money saved.

1) My Love Affair With European Atmosphere

I don't think this Love Affair can ever be described in words. Everything felt different in Europe. Looking back, the experience feels quite surreal. Grocery shopping in Paris, purchasing a baguette from a busy Paris bakery as dinnertime approached, wandering the streets of Rome until midnight because we were so very very lost (I don't think there was ever a moment in Rome where we weren't lost!), walking down the Champs Elysees late at night when it's all lit up, walking through the most beautiful park in Le Merais, standing in the middle of Castel Sant Angelo.... I could go on for hours. Europe has a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere (Paris in particular) that I can't describe. All I know is that I've fallen in love with the city and the culture. And I am seriously am entertaining the thought of living in Paris for a few months one day, just for the experience. Within the city, people take their time to truly live. They enjoy every single moment and treat each experience as a life-changing one. It's no wonder I've fallen in love with it all.

FUN FACT: Parisians like to "people-watch." It's an art, really. You sit at a cafe and you watch people walk by. I'm not kidding, it is the most entertaining experience. Elaine and I sat down at the aforementioned Cafe Unisex on the Champs Elysees one afternoon and giggled for hours, watching our waiters, the families, the couples, the fashionably dressed men and women, and all the interesting people who called Paris their home. Sitting at a cafe in Paris, reading, chatting, and munching on delicious treats is a must-have experience. It's a must, I tell you!

I will never forget my first trip to Europe. As Mishal, Elaine, Alicia, Wendy, and I start different phases of our lives in September, as some of us move away and some of us start new jobs, I think we will always remember this trip to be remarkable, unforgettable. I think witnessing the great wonders of the world firsthand is something we should all experience. So, friends, as we go through life, let's love wholeheartedly, kiss deeply, hug affectionately, and travel to all the places our hearts desire. There are so many places in the world we have yet to see. Hundreds, Thousands. The thought of what's waiting beyond the parameters of our homes and cities is thrilling. And hopefully one day, I'll have even more travel-related love affairs to share with you all. EUROTRIP 2011? Yes, please!

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing about."
- Benjamin Franklin


Monday, August 9, 2010

Where The Heart Is: Home

As I got off the GO train at Union Station this morning in Toronto, I was struck with a strange sense of homesickness. I was homesick for Toronto, in Toronto. Does that make any sense? At all? Anyone?

I think the reality of my move to Kingston truly hit me yesterday afternoon when I started packing. I methodically set aside winter clothing, important books from my bookshelf, old notebooks from classes in undergad, school supplies, picture frames, and other items to the point where parts of my room (really, my bookshelf) looked relatively empty. Exciting, but obviously quite scary at the same time. Come September, everything I've known for most of my life will be miles away. Remnants of my life's previous phases will merely sit in photo frames and in old notebooks I'll be taking to Kingston.

And this morning, as I walked out of Union Station, with the reality of my move just three weeks away, that wave of homesickness made me realize how much I'll really and truly miss Toronto. Queen's is a beautiful campus, and I'm sure that Kingston will be an awesome city to live in. But I will, without a doubt, miss my morning GO train rides, the insanely busy Tim Hortons on Front Street and University Avenue, the hustle of Bay Street workers running to get to work on time, the bustle of city life, and the familiarity of a city I've attended school in and travelled to work to for the past five years.

I will miss Toronto and Mississauga very much. I didn't realize the potential to miss my awesome home cities would be so great, and yet here we are. I suppose leaving home for an extended period of time has such an effect on us, but I would like to convey how much I love these cities and how much I'll miss its familiarity and dependability when I'm gone.

Really, it isn't until we leave a person or place that we realize how much we've grown to care. Our affections grow with time, whether we're aware of it or not. And no matter where I go in this world of ours, whether I jet off to England or Boston or an unknown destination for law school next year, whether next year's EUROPTRIP 2011 to Barcelona and Madrid will transpire, whether I travel anywhere else for academic purposes (or otherwise), it's a great comfort knowing that I'll always have dear old Mississauga and Toronto to come home to.

And wherever any of us go in life, that's where your heart will always be. Cliche as it is, you'll always have it waiting for you when you desire to return. Home.

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one. Stronger than magicians ever spoke, or spirits ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”
- Charles Dickens

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The (Not So) Healthy Grad Student - Kicking The Junk Food Habit

In about an hour, I'll be heading out to have dinner with some friends in Brampton. They don't know it yet, but I have a plan. What's that plan, you ask? Well, friends, I'm seriously craving cookie dough right now. That rich, chewy, calorie condensed blend of creamy goodness. I don't know why, I just need to have some right now. This urge to stuff my face with cookie dough is so strong, I tell you! (I guess I should stop wondering why I gained weight this summer. My uncontrollable need to fill my body with junk is probably a major reason).

After dinner, I plan to slyly drop hints that we should head over to Coldstone for dessert. Why Coldstone? Good question. I've discovered an awesome new concoction that only Coldstone can make perfectly: Creamy French Vanilla Baked Ice cream with huge bits of Cookie Dough (!!!), Reese's Peanut Butter Pieces, Graham Cracker bits, Almonds, Pecans, Walnuts, M&Ms, Gummy Bears, AERO chocolate bar bits, and, last but not least, hot fudge sauce. Definitely not disgusting at all! Now if that isn't a smorgasbord of the most random crap thrown together, I don't know what is. But it tastes so very yummy that it'll cause you to contract pangs of your life's greatest cravings, trust me. Trust me.

But I know that as I'll stand in line eager and ready to order my yummy (smorgasbord) concoction, at the back of my mind, and in the most party-pooper of ways, I will probably ask myself if this is the healthiest option for my body. A huge cup of cookie dough ice cream versus an apple when I get home? The healthier option is obvious. But the question is, more often than not, do we pick the healthier option when we're faced with a choice? Come September, as I (we) head to grad school, university, new jobs, should I (we) be chomping on junky options even though we're busy with all our new activities? Actually, at any point of life, should we really be stuffing ourselves with junk?

I'm obviously not promoting a celibrate life free from junk food, ice cream, cake, chocolate, etcetera. But my point is to ask each of us (myself included) if we're guilty of eating too much of it? If we always choose the junky option when we're faced with a healthier option? We're all guilty of it. We've all bypassed the salad bar at least once to have dessert first (well, I have anyway). We've all had at least three pieces of cake in one sitting at least once (well, I have anyway). We've all finished a bag(s) of chips in one sitting at least once (well, I have anyway).....

Oh, let's face it. I can be a glutton when it comes to junk food.

I hang my head in shame, friends.

Choosing the healthier option can span a number of benefits. Decreasing our junk food intake (Lays BBQ chips and Ruffles All Dressed, I'll miss you so) can have a number of positive effects. Kicking the junk food habit is hard, I know. Choosing carrot sticks over a Fudgsicle will be difficult. But when we do so, we should realize that reducing junk food intake can:

1) Reduce our grocery bills. Junk food is expensive, friends!!! Four bucks spent on a bag of chips can contribute to your gas fund for the week.

2) Lower our sugar intake. Decreasing our sugar intake (along with the right amount of exercise) can help us shake off any excess weight we think we should lose. (With all that cookie dough, I'll probably need to).

3) Potentially reduce exposure to a number of health risks. Feeding junk food toxins into our bodies periodically can increase our risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and osteoporosis. I think reducing our junk food intake will subsequently reduce our exposure to these health risks if we continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle at the same time.

4) Help our teeth. Just like coffee can make your teeth yellow (or so legend says), excess sugar we feed into our bodies can cause tooth decay, cavities, and a number of mouth-related issues we probably don't want. Decreasing our junk food intake and taking care of our teeth can go a long way to helping us have healthy pearly whites our dentist (aka my mom) can be proud of.

I'm sure there are more benefits, but these are the only ones I can think of right now. Well, it's going to be hard, but as I head back to school in September, I will try my hardest to choose the healthier option. This doesn't mean I won't partake in sugar goodness sometimes, but I think that kicking the junk food habit will go a long way to benefiting our lives and bodies. And that, friends, is what I hope to do this September. Wish me luck! If you'd like to join me on this quest, let me know!

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out." - Robert Collier

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Grad Life & The "Roots" of Human Emotion

After a long day at work, my parents came home and announced that we'd be devoting our evening to a fun family bonding activity. And to this I jumped up in excitement, wondering what, pray tell, we'd be doing tonight. Well, it turns out they wanted to work on our garden. And by working on our garden, they meant Weed Pulling.

And so decked out in sweatpants (yes, I do own a pair), t-shirt, and a ponytail, my parents and I set out to methodically pull out weeds in our front yard. We've had no time to take care of our grass this summer, and our front yard is literally dying. We're that family on your street you stare at because their front yard has turned an interesting shade of brown. Even nature needs some TLC, friends. We filled bags to the brim with countless weeds. And quite honestly, the process was incredibly time-consuming. Weeds not only kill your grass, but they take forever to find and pull out, especially if you pull them away from the root. Trying to find the rest of the root is downright annoying, especially when they've grown particularly deep.

Weeds are incredibly hard to completely destroy because they dig roots so deep into your soil. Although you try to pull out as much as you can, roots that remain allow weeds to survive despite your greatest efforts. They dig its claws so very deep into the heart of the growing process that healthy, beautiful gass can be damaged, maimed, and eventually destroyed if the roots of weeds aren't pulled out completely.

I'm obviously not a professional gardener. So why am I explaining what I learned during my Dad's (super awesome) family bonding activity? To show off my (not so awesome) botanical knowledge? Wellllll, no. Actually, I think my brief stint as the family gardener can remind us all of an important life lesson we can take with us to grad school, to our (new) jobs and of course, throughout the course of life. Yes friends, even weeds can teach us about a common aspect of human emotion and about our relationships with strangers and each other.

Remember the cashiers at your local Loblaws who rolled their eyes when you asked if the laundry detergent was on sale (let's face it, we're students & we're cheap)? Or the girl who talked behind your back in high school with rumours that were totally false? Or the the guy who boasts about his imaginary riches to impress whoever listens? Or the pitiful girl who self-righteously snarks about girls who go shopping even though she participates in the same activities herself? Or the people who snap at you when you accidentally bump into them on the sidewalk? Or the people who walk past you without saying hello even though they clearly saw you (hi, are you twelve?)? Friends, who are we kidding? We meet so-called "jerks" everyday. And no matter what we say to them, they're too wrapped up in protecting themselves and their own perspectives that they make no effort to be understanding, kind, or accommodating to others.

Case in point: My Dad and I were walking past the Premier Fitness at the plaza on Dundas and Dixie over the weekend when we saw a big red sign that said "Free Hot Dog Lunch!" A few other people paused in interest, and we all walked over. The guy beside the sign told us that we had to obtain a lunch ticket inside the gym. So we all headed inside (around 8 of us) to obtain this awesome, free lunch ticket! Booyah! This was perfect, we were staving! And so my Dad and another man went to the front desk and had the following conversation:

Girl At The Front Desk: Can I help you guys?
Dad and Other Man: Yeah, is there a free lunch ticket we can get?
Girl At The Front Desk: *stares at them, then rolls her eyes*
Girl At The Front Desk: (ignores them and turns to the 2 other girls at the desk) Oh my GOD, what is wrong with people today? What kind of cheap idiots keep wanting free stuff?

You read that right. She really said that. Brilliant response to potential Premier Fitness customers, yes?

I'm heading to a new school and a new city in September. And I'm sure many of you reading this will be starting new phases of your lives someday soon. Let my gardening adventures remind all of us that, in the various situations of everyday life, we can meet a number of rude, sullen, snarky, or self-righteous people. It happens all the time. People rub you the wrong way and you wonder why. And quite honestly, when you think about it, the reasons behind such attitudes compare very much to the stubborn roots killing the grass in my front yard.

Huh? Lost? Let me explain. I've come to realize that these people have deeper problems than what shows at face value. Rudeness, snark, and self-righteousness can be the result of problems that have dug roots into the soil of their hearts and minds, with their pain manifesting through to their actions and to how they treat others. From the snarky girl actually struggling for acceptance and love from her husband, to the angry man you bumped into on the sidewalk painstakingly trying to fix his relationship with his wife, to the rude cashier worrying about her financial situation, to the rude acquaintance struggling for self-confidence and control, to the girl who spread rumours because of self-esteem issues.

Just like the weeds and grass growing in my front yard, I'm sure we all know that humans have roots. Love, pain, joy, happiness, misery, longing: human emotions have roots that dig so very deep into the heart, fueled by (often complicated) relationships and (somtimes disheartening) circumstances beyond anyone's control. Although it may be hard to accept, I think we should remember that the people who are rude to us may have a deeper, more complex reason for being so. Maybe they don't mean to specifically hurt us or attack us. On the contrary, their anger is directed at us for a reason that may not be related to us at all.

We all have problems of some sort. And I suppose the more disheartening, painful circumstances of life can affect how people negatively treat others. And while we may never want to be friends with these people (like we'd ever want to be friends with Jenny Humphrey?), let my front yard adventures teach us all something about the importance of compassion and love towards those who need it. The amount of time it took for me to pull out those (annoying) weeds helped me realize that just like the strong, deep weeds damaging my grass, humans as well have deep, complex problems that have strong roots. And without invested time, love, compassion, and kindness, these roots will harden and damage relationships if they aren't completely pulled out and forever destroyed.

Let's be careful with the people we meet. I've learned very recently that, cliche as it may be, there's more to a person than meets the eye. And while their rudeness will forever be a turn-off, we shouldn't settle on despising them. And while we can't fix their problems, we can do something else. We can try to understand them.

"There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist."
~ Mark Twain