Sunday, November 28, 2010

Close Encounters of the TA Kind - The Kingston Bubble

Kingston. It's large enough that it still feels like a city, yet small enough so you feel that comfortable community environment Queen's is so proud of. We live in that Kingston Bubble. And so, logically, we run into each other frequently, correct?

Friends, this past weekend was the epitome of everything I've said above. My encounters were, obviously, coincidental. Yet it all happened in sequence, in same weekend. Collectively, these encounters are strangely amusing, yet so strangely seemingly contrived. Eerie, even. My collective sequence of encounters were so strange (yet entertaining) that I've decided to blog about it.

And here, my friends, is my narrative of this past weekend's amusingly strange encounters. More specifically, these close encounters of the TA kind. That's right. TA-ing and students have something to do with it.

I've spent the last two weeks agonizing over marking essays (and, as a side note, if I ever have to read about why torture isn't an appropriate state tool ever again, I will probably throw a tantrum). Yet I set marking aside on Friday morning to spend time with my dodgeball team. We held an end-of-semester sushi lunch, since we won't see each other until January. The reason? Because we didn't make play-offs. Sad. I know. But that's a story for another day.

During lunch, I told Josephine all about my love affair with coffee shops, mentioning that I would be marking essays in a coffee shop that afternoon. And here, Josephine uttered those fateful words: "What if one of your students walked into the coffee shop you were marking in?" And I naively replied with a laugh, "That would never happen!"

Naive, I tell you. Really, I should have known.

And so after sushi, I walked to my usual coffee shop to mark the remainder of my papers. I sat there for several hours, and I went through them pretty quickly. Awesome. Marking was going great. Until I heard someone clearing their throat behind me. Turning around, I gaped in surprise to see one of my students standing behind me to say hello. They had spotted me marking from across the coffee shop.

Josephine's prediction came true. Dun dun dun. Eerie.

After a brief hello, hurriedly, I packed up and decided to walk over to the coffee shop across the street for a slice of cake. I needed a change of scenery, right? And really, I needed to leave. I felt my student's curious gaze burning a hole in the back of my head.

And so I walked to another coffee shop, found a seat, ordered a slice of scrumptious carrot cake, placed the remaining stack of essays on the table, and continued marking. It was going great. And yet half an hour later, it happened again.

Flipping over the title page to begin marking the next essay, I looked up and saw the student of the paper I was marking walk into the coffee shop. Let me say that again. The student of the paper I was marking.

What are the chances of that happening? Seriously, what? Dun dun dun. Eerie.

Meekly, my student paused to wave at me and I waved back, discreetly slipping her paper underneath my pile in the event that she would walk over to say hello.

She didn't.

That evening, some friends and I sat at the Common Ground for another few hours of marking and studying. Because our lives are so exciting, right? After describing Encounter 1 and Encounter 2 to a fellow TA, she laughed. Because beyond the awkward nature of the situation, I suppose it was an entertaining story.

But it wasn't over.

We finished marking pretty late that night, and I decided to take the Walkhome service home (an awesome service where two students walk home with you). Because it's dark. And Vic Park scares me at midnight.

And so as I requested a walk home from the desk at the JDUC, two students emerged to announce that they would be walking me home for the night. Donning their Walkhome walkie-talkies, we set out towards my house. Chatting about our classes, I asked my Walkhome walker what program he was in. His answer? "I'm in first-year Politics."

Oh. Really? Would you, by any chance, be taking the first-year Politics course? Friends, you know the answer. Why, yes he was! Cautiously, I asked him who his TA was. His reply? His TA was the friend I was marking with that evening.

Seriously. Can this town get any smaller? Spoken like a true urbanite.

And so this afternoon, I finished the last paper I had to mark as I sat in Starbucks enjoying the Christmas music and drinking my usual London Fog. Hallelujah, marking was over! Over! And so as I sat, reading blissfully, I looked up. And. You guessed it.

Another one of my students walked in. With other students from our tutorial. (Insert face palm here). They waved uncertainly, and I waved back. Because really, what's the etiquette of approaching TAs or Professors in a non-academic setting? Awkward situations, these.

How much of this could realistically happen in one weekend? It boggles the mind.

Wary of running into any of my students, yet too busy to get up and switch coffee shops, I immersed myself in more work and began to email back and forth with one of my own professors. I had questions regarding the essay due for his class this week.

We emailed back and forth for ten minutes. I had all my questions answered.

Until, of course, I heard someone clear his throat beside me. I looked up. And, wouldn't you know it? My professor had been sitting right across from me at Starbucks the entire time we had been emailing each other. After sending my last email, we finally noticed each other.

I waved meekly and said a brief, yet awkward, hello. He, in turn, waved and stood up to leave.

Oh, Kingston Bubble. Your small-town environment never ceases to amaze me.


This all happened this past weekend, folks. All of it. Lessons learned?

1. Your students are everywhere.
2. Everywhere.
3. In Kingston, you run into at least three person you know, involuntarily, everyday.
4. The Kingston Bubble is small.
4 a). But we love it anyway.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
- Peter Marshall (American Game Show Host)

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"
- Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Grad Life & Consumer Choices - Ethics and/or Frugality?

So. Here`s my dilemma. (I realized, by the way, that I tend to blog about my dilemmas a lot. I don`t inherently and constantly have problems, folks. I promise). On my way to Coffee & Company for a day of coffee shop marking on Saturday (because, let`s face it, 90% of the work I get done is completed in coffee shops), I stopped by Tara Natural Foods and spent almost an hour browsing the aisles. I couldn't believe how awesome it was. There was organic everything. I was thrilled to come across organic hand cream that I've been searching high and low for ages.

However, on my way home from Coffee & Company later that afternoon, I was struck with a sudden dilemma. I stopped by the trusty Metro to pick up some fruits and vegetables when, upon arrival, I remembered my trip to Tara Natural Foods earlier that day and felt a twinge of uncertainty.

Behold, my friends. Two dilemmas. What would you do in the following situations? Assuming you`re on a grad student budget (which we are), what would you do?

DILEMMA 1: Let`s say you`re at the grocery store. And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh Granny Smith apples (which, let`s face it, are the best ones!!), and you`re stuck. On your right, you have regular apples that are pretty cheap. Super cheap, in fact. Yet as you reach for those, however, your eyes trickle over the organic apples. An option produced with less exposure to synthetic chemicals and other undesirable pesticides. An option that wasn't subjected to chemical fertilizers that potentially reduced nutritional values and harmed the environment.

What do you choose? Is the choice clear-cut? Should we spend more money on food for the sake of the environment? Should we choose the organic option because it's the potentially healthier and environmentally conscious choice? On the flip side, really, what difference can a few chemicals and fertilizers make? Will it really harm us that much? So what about the cheaper option? It may only be a few cents cheaper, but we're on a budget. And so that's a few cents (that matter) cheaper. What do we do?

DILEMMA 2: Let`s say, again, that you`re at the grocery store (I guess you go there a lot?). And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh bananas. Awesome. You can bake some banana bread (with walnuts, obviously)! And regular bananas are a reasonable price, so you reach for those. Until, of course, your eyes flicker to the pile of bananas next to them. Locally grown bananas that are more expensive than imported bananas but are produced by the neighbour-next-door. Why don't we help a brother out, yea?

So what do you buy? Is the choice clear cut? Should you purchase domestic, locally grown products, even though it`s a bit more expensive? Is it the choice we always (and should?) make? Or, in the name of saving a couple of dollars (for lunch money this week, obviously), do we go the frugal route, and purchase other items instead?

How difficult a decision is this? This was my dilemma at Metro on Saturday, by the way. I always struggle with the choice of purchasing locally grown products over much cheaper (even a few cents!) options.


I know it's easy to say that we should OBVIOUSLY make the ethically, healthy, socially, and environmentally conscious decision. But that's a decision some can make more easily than others. Money is still an issue. A majority still purchase the cheaper over expensive (even in the name of a few cents!), which makes me think these dilemmas and choices aren't as clear-cut as we'd want them to be. Is money (we potentially spend) always the root of the issue?

Are the situations above really dilemmas? Are the choices ever clear-cut? On a graduate student budget, should we choose the more expensive option in the name of social conciousness, ethics? Or are more socially concious, healthy, ethical consumer decisions for those who have a bit more money to spend? And if we do choose the former, does the choice of one person actually make a difference for the causes we support? Can we ever unite the ideas of ethics and frugality?

I don`t have the answers to these questions. If anything, I have more questions to add to the list. I suppose we'll always be faced with similar choices. Pragmatic, frugal decisions versus choices in the name of a cause can be difficult to make. Can the choice of one person really make a difference? I don't know. But I suppose we won't know until we actually try, right?

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom: the power to choose, to respond, to change.”
- Stephen R. Covey

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bucket Lists - Goals To Accomplish Before We Kick The Bucket

I came across this website today (while procrastinating from marking essays and writing my own essay, obviously), and I probably spent a good half an hour on it. The website essentially takes you through what a Bucket List is and provides you with easy ways to create your own list of goals you`d like to accomplish before, well, you kick the bucket. Or, to put it bluntly, die.

Seriously, I can`t believe there are so many websites dedicated to Bucket Lists. However, going through the list of hundreds of bucket list goals, you tend to wonder whether you could accomplish certain goals yourself. My personal favourite lists include Popular Life Goals and 525 Ideas For Your Bucket List.

Bucket Lists are a funny thing. We never really know what this life will brings us, and I think creating a bucket list is an excellent way to have something to look forward to, something to aspire to. They obviously aren`t for everyone. I`m not trying to impose a prescriptive life lesson. I just think having a vague outline of what you`d potentially like to accomplish down the road provides a sense of meaning, of accountability. These goals are written officially on paper, statements of things you potentially want to acheive. Sure, some goals can be incredibly shallow. But others can also be quite meaningful.

I remember creating my own bucket list when I was 11 years old. Granted, I should probably update it. There are, most likely, some goals I`d like to erase. Like, for example, meeting Nick Carter (actually, on second thought...). And I`m sure there are a number of items I can probably cross out since my initial list in Grade 6.

Yet there are still some life goals I haven`t accomplished yet. And as I continue this grad life (as many of us are), I`m sure we`re all thinking about what we`ll be doing beyond this degree. Beyond the end of this school year. And so, on that note, behold, my potential bucket list items. I have no idea if I`ll ever accomplish any of these, but I can try my best, right? For the purpose of being realistic, I`ve separated these items. First, a list of 5 not-so-realistic items and another list of 8 more realistic items.


5. Attend the Oscar Awards
What? Don`t judge me. I think I`ve watched every single Oscar Awards (because I`m a slave to pop culture) since I was in elementary school. Seriously, I remember staying up to watch James Cameron make his epic speech upon his win as Best Director for Titanic. What would I give to attend the Oscar Awards? A lot, friends. A lot.

4. Be a contestant on a game show
Those who know me well are aware of my unexplainable desire to be a contestant on Jeopardy. I know, why Jeopardy? I could have picked a more exciting game show, right? Wrong. Jeopardy is made of win. Nothing beats good old trivia.

3. Be interviewed by Larry King
Which will probably never happen, given the fact that his last show on CNN will be on December 16. But I can dream, right? And plus, this presupposes that I`ll be doing something incredibly substantial with my life, enough to garner media attention, which is entirely contestable and probably not as realistic as I`d want it to be.

2. Shake hands with Aung San Suu Kyi
Don`t know who she is? Here`s an opportunity to read about an amazing woman. Hands down, one of my favourite political figures.

1. Learn to swim
Not. Realistic. At. All. I know this is a necessary life skill, but my fear of water will probably deter me from ever learning how to swim. People have tried, friends. Trust me.

a.k.a. Goals I can actually accomplish realistically

8. Complete my Master`s degree
8 more months till completion! 8! 8! 8!

7. Read the top 100 novels of all time.
See: Time Magazine`s TOP 100 Novels list.

6. Visit Disney World
I know, right? I have never been to Disney World (or Disneyland for that matter). I remember watching that Full House episode when the Tanner household visits Disney World and wanting desperately to go. One day, I`ll get there. And, I promise you, I will ride that elusive teacup, no matter how old I am.

5. Go on a Global Expeditions international missions trip.
I don`t know when I`ll have time to actually do this, but I hope that, perhaps one summer a couple of years from now, I will.

4. Get into law school
I`m not going to expand on this. I`m sure if you`ve spoken to me lately, the words `law school applications` induce a semi-deranged panic attack.

3. Travel to every continent
I want to travel. Everywhere. And while that may not be feasible right now, I will find a way to make sure I visit the island of Santorini, visit the Grand Canyon, watch a soccer game in Madrid, ride a gondola in Venice, and more than I can probably list on this blog post. EUROTRIP 2011? Here we go!

2. Go on a shopping spree at Harrods
Because I`m shallow like that. Although I don`t know if I`d actually be spending time purchasing actual clothing items. Because I`d be sorely tempted to sit in Harrod`s location of Laduree to eat macaroons all day (which, by the way, are amazing. My parents ate the entire box of Laduree macaroons I brought home from Europe the minute I arrived back in Canada).

1. Write a book
I want to write a book. I don`t know what it`ll be about. I don`t know if it`ll end up on the shelves with fiction novels or if it`ll lean towards non-fiction. I definitely know I won`t write about why America is evil (we`ll leave that to Naomi Klein) or on aspects of political theory I know nothing about. All I know is that one day, I want to write a book. One day.

As I`ve said, we never really know what this life will brings us. Perhaps one day, the not-so-realistic will actually become more realistic than I can currently imagine. Or, perhaps one day, when I kick the bucket, not all my realistic goals were fulfilled. I suppose the main point of creating a Bucket list is to have something to look forward to. And the most important thing is to try our best. At the end of the day, that`s what matters the most, yea?

If you so choose, Happy Bucket List writing, friends!

"When we truly discover love, capitalism won't be possible and communism won't be necessary."

“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
- Anne Frank

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bahamas On A Friday Night

Bahamas? What? No, I didn't go to the Bahamas on Friday. Beaches? Sand? Unfortunately, my life isn't that glamorous. However, I did experience something just as great on Friday night.

This blog post really has no purpose other than to mention (read: rave about) my Friday night at the Grad Club, witnessing the talented Afie Jurvanen put on a pretty fabulous show. Seriously, how is he not more well-known? This guy is going to be a bigger hit in the future, my friends. He has stage presence like no other.

Overall, the indie fan in me had a fabulous night (I just realized how many times I used the word `fabulous` in this blog post. What can I say, I have no excuse. I`m tired and I marked all day). And did it help that a friend of mine totally walked past him by the bar? Where he stood, so casually, like a rock star? No big deal, right?

Actually, after witnessing his guitar skills, it`s a semi-big deal. Excuse me while I sit in a corner to wring my hands fervently like an excited (read: manic) fangirl.

Anyway, I liked Bahamas so much that I've decided to pimp him on my blog. For those who don't know who Bahamas is, check him out! He won't disappoint. The Bahamas MySpace page isn't very user friendly, so if you desire an evening of relaxing (read: awesome) music, here are a few YouTube links to some songs he played on Friday:

Bahamas - Whole Wide World (My favourite, hands down).

Bahamas - Already Yours

Bahamas - Hockey Teeth

Bahamas - Till The Morning (Click on the playlist on the right).

This has to be the shortest blog post I've ever written. But what can I say? Good music speaks for itself. It never ceases to amaze me how Kingston is such a haven for live music. Love it.

"Life can't be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years."
- William F. Buckley, Jr.

“I think just working as hard as we possibly can, without dying! And always, always trying to write the best songs we could possibly make. And just to come out of our shell a little bit more.”
- Billy Lunn

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Appreciation of TAs - Recognizing the Efforts of Teaching

Despite several requests the last couple of months to blog about the topic of TA-ing, I've refrained from blogging about my job as a TA here at Queen's due to contractual issues of professional conduct. And in accordance to those restrictions, this post isn't about the specificities of my TA experience. It's about teaching in general and my appreciation for the career. Because, quite honestly, it wasn't until my time at Queen's that I truly appreciated the work of my TAs in undergrad in addition to my professors who teach alongside their own work and research.

So today was the day. What day, you ask? Today, I realized how much I love being a TA. Or rather, I think I've fallen in love with the idea of teaching in general. And trust me, I've come a long way from my position at the beginning of the year. I know I'm not the only TA who was more than a little nervous about the position back in September. At TA Development Day in September, 85% of the Biosciences auditorium raised their hands admitting their nerves about TA-ing. We all had similar reservations. What if I didn't know the answer to student questions? What if I blank out? What if no one participates and tutorial is dead? Or worse, what if they hate me?

Trust me. That last question is the real kicker.

The keynote speaker went on to talk about her first few years as a TA and a professor. She openly admitted to being so incredibly nervous that she would vomit (excuse me, I'm being graphic) before every class. I don't blame her. It's incredibly nerve-wracking standing in front of a large group of students who expect you to lead tutorial. That's a long 50 minutes in your hands. No matter how much you love the topic (and I love the topic, I really do), nerves can potentially get the best of you. Nerves. That sinking feeling at the pit of your stomach moments before class, encouraging heart palpitations and sweaty palms. That Wow-I-Don't-Know-What-I'm-Talking-About-Therefore-I-Suck moment just before you enter the room.

Trust me. If you're a new TA, nerves are more than mere acquaintances. If you're a (new) TA, you go through a lot. Beyond what your students can see.

A few months ago, I blogged about the types of TAs I had in undergrad. Over the summer, I wondered who I would be myself. The Quirky TA? The Bitter TA? The possibilities were endless. Yet it wasn't until I started TA-ing that I had the following revelation. I've come a long way from writing that blog post.

Let this blog post serve to appreciate the efforts of all TAs: quirky, bitter, obnoxious, regardless of the type. Because quite honestly, being a TA is challenging. Particularly for those who haven't had much experience, it can be hard. Marking under a deadline, hours of tutorial preparation only to find that no one did the readings, the time spent responding to emails, the great (read: draining) appointment blitz when assignments are due, the time spent dealing with challenges to your marking. The list is endless. Honestly, it can be a lot of work.

Yet despite this, I've come to love being a TA. And I'm trying my hardest to be the type of TA that my students can learn from, that my students can approach without nervous reservation. It never ceases to amaze me how awesome it feels to realize that your students are actually learning from you. To watch your students listening intently to your every word, with genuine interest and eagerness to learn. To watch a confused student suddenly understand a concept, finally getting it. It's an awesome feeling. As TAs, we influence these kids more than we realize. It's so important to put an effort into what we do in order to fulfill this responsibility.

I'll stop being absolutely cliche and corny now. But I'll leave you with these thoughts, dear readers. We all have memories of our own TAs from undergrad. And while there are a number we didn't necessarily like, I think appreciating the efforts of these individuals beyond their quirks is still necessary. Teaching (and marking!!) can take a lot of time and a lot of work. And if there's anything I've learned from my time as a TA, I think appreciating the time and the efforts of the individuals that teach us go a long way to understanding them.

“The strongest influences in my life and my work are always whomever I love. Whomever I love or whomever I remember most vividly. I think that's true of everyone, don't you?”
- Tennessee Williams

“What interested me was not news, but appraisal. What I sought was to grasp the flavor of a man, his texture, his impact, what he stood for, what he believed in, what made him what he was and what color he gave to the fabric of his time.”
- John Gunther (American Writer and Journalist)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Thrifty Grad Student Exercise - Vanity On A Budget

I realized over the weekend that I was in dire need of a hair cut. Unbeknown to me, my hair grew far too long since I've lived in Kingston. In the midst of writing essays, marking essays, keeping up with readings, along with daily sleep deprived delirium, I've paid very little attention to physical appearances, much less the state of my hair. Really, I'm surprised. I would have thought I'd pay more attention, in light of my penchant for vanity. (What? I admit it. We all have some vanity in us!).

However, I was in a dilemma. I couldn't bring myself to justify spending my usual amount on a haircut at a strange salon in downtown Kingston. What can I say? I have trust issues when it comes to my hair. Perhaps it has to do with the number of horrifying experiences I've had at different salons over the years. One of which includes a visit to First Choice Haircutters (Never go there. Never) where one "hairstylist" (and I use that term with quotation marks since her work deserved no such title) cut bangs way above my forehead. To the point where I was forced to wear a headband for almost a year until it grew out. Terrible experiences, terrible! Three hours away from Toronto, I sit here in Kingston missing my usual salon haunt. Fiorio's in Yorkville or Square One has been my re-assuring solace in the midst of haircutting dilemmas. But it's three hours away.

In addition to these reservations, I also couldn't justify the cost of a haircut in a strange salon in Kingston. We're grad students on a budget, folks. In addition to issues of trust, I couldn't bring myself to spend $50 to $80 on a mere haircut that had huge potential to go awry. Plus, that's $50 to $80 on potential grocery money. Or Christmas shopping money. Or utility bill money. I couldn't justify the cost, friends. And after a couple of months living as a grad student away from home, I don't know if I can ever justify spending that much on my hair ever again. Is my hair really worth that much? Really? Let's review. It's hair.

And so it dawned on me that for the thrifty, cost-efficient (and suspicious!) grad student, grooming can still occur on a budget. Behold, I came up with my brilliant (or perhaps not-so-brilliant?) idea in a matter of seconds. I decided, dear readers, to cut my own hair.

I did it. I really did it. I chopped three inches off my own hair while standing in front of my bedroom mirror. Classic.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps this insane idea came in the midst of sleep deprived delirium. And so this past weekend, I opened the drawer that held my kitchen scissors, stood in front of the mirror, held up half my hair, and chopped off three inches in a single snip.

As I continued, I became ruthless. To the point where, dear readers, I had chopped almost 4 inches off my long, waist-length hair. As I held an entire lock of hair in my left hand, my eyes widened when I realized how much I chopped off. That was a lot of hair. I panicked. I had snipped away the source of my vanity in a matter of minutes. What had I done?

A few days later, I'm a tad bit calmer. A tad bit wiser. And a tad more accepting with the current state of my hair. Hair grows, right? Overall, I'm actually rather pleased with myself. My own personal how-to exercise on grad student thriftiness allowed me to do something I would never have imagined doing. More importantly, I'm learning to be cost-efficient to save for activities and items that deserve those funds more (i.e. EUROTRIP 2011 to Madrid and Barcelona. But that's a blog post for another day).

And so what can we learn from this? As grad students, there are a number of ways we can cut costs, if we choose. That coffee we purchase in the mornings can be made at home and placed in a Thermos. That lunch (read: pizza) we purchase in Mac-Corry can be made at home. That water bottle we purchase can alternatively be a refillable water bottle that contains filtered tap water.

And the result? Friends, we can be cost-efficient if we try and if we desire to be. Really, pushing beyond our inner vanities, I think we can do it!

"Don’t let go too soon. But don’t hang on too long."
- Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beyond Morality - Should Prostitution Be Legalized?

Debates aside for a moment, how many people loved Pretty Woman? I'll admit it. I think I've watched this movie over ten times. I remember sitting in my mother's clinic when I was in middle school, bored and waiting for her to finish her last few appointments, when the TV in the waiting room started to play Pretty Woman. Seriously, Richard Gere? Captivating. It was also the first time I ever saw a Julia Roberts movie, and I remember loving the scene where she owned that catty salesperson on her second shopping trip. Made. Of. Win.

Yet I'm sure we all know that the sex trade is more than Hollywood's glamorized depictions. I attended a discussion panel this evening on campus (presented by the Queen's Law and Public Policy club) regarding the legalization of prostitution in reference to the recent Bedford v. Canada case. On September 28, 2010 Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice gave a verdict that essentially struck down anti-prostitution laws in Canada. A good overview of the case can be found here. Panelists for tonight's discussion included Alan Young who represented the apellants in Bedford v. Canada. I have to say that he presented a pretty compelling case in defense of de-criminalization. It was an such an awesome (and intense) discussion, I'm glad I attended.

From the outset, I'll admit that I really don't know where I stand on this issue. Tonight's panel educated me on the debate, but it left me on the fence. I know, my moderation isn't helping you decide either, is it? After hearing the panelists from tonight's discussion, I'll admit that I sympathize with both sides of the debate. What can I say? I can't make up my mind. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with the case, nor have I studied this issue at great lengths. Dear readers, I can only offer you the following brief ideas regarding an issue I don't know too much about.

In the words of organizations (such as the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Christian Legal Fellowship) who challenged the case, does Bedford v. Canada undermine Canada's social and moral fabric? Alan Young doesn't think so. According to Young, the case "didn't aim to solve a moral question." In fact, we need to consider this as a legal issue. By de-criminalizing prostitution, the law is being used to defend women from a profession that undermines their safety. Yet in the words of Natasha Falle (Executive Director of Sex Trade 101), prostitution shouldn't be legalized. We shouldn't de-criminalize a profession that isn't healthy, a profession and business transaction based on violence.

I suppose (actually, I don't doubt) that many consider (the legalization of) prostitution from the perspective of morality. Growing up in a devout Pentecostal household, I completely understand the basis of Christian groups who opposed the Bedford decision. Oh, I completely, absolutely understand. From a personal standpoint, I can see why individuals see the issue from the context of moral and religious inclinations. In fact, my mother is probably appalled that I've written this blog post.

Yet in the context of "rights talk" (Professor Ran Hirschl's influence, what can I say?), perhaps we should consider this issue beyond the context of morality and religiosity. I recognize that we're discussing this in the context of rights, of legal protections (or lack thereof). And here, in brief summary, were the arguments presented tonight:

Beyond the debate on the morality of the profession (let's set aside whether the sex trade is "wrong" or "right"), we are talking about rights, about the safety of women (many who are underaged) and children engaged in the profession. In the words of Alan Young, constitutional law is about protecting those who are vulnerable, those who actually opt to work in the trade by choice. Young pointed out that some would argue that sex workers don't choose the profession. But as a sex worker in attendance tonight claimed, some women do. Financial and material gain is a large incentive, whether you need the finances or not. Don't women who choose this profession deserve the protection of the law? Without providing these rights, we defeat our social contract to protect, to defend. And in the words of Alan Young, "personal morality should therefore take a backseat."

Beyond the debate on the morality of the profession, can't rights and supports for those engaged in the sex trade be obtained elsewhere? In the words of Natasha Falle, those in the sex trade seek material gain because it's a real job. But it isn't a healthy job. It's a job based on violence and fear, and the legalization of prostitution only legitimizes this violence. Many who enter the sex trade are underaged teens or young mothers who cannot support their children from welfare cheques alone. How, then, is sex trade a choice when it is an arguably appealing financially viable option? Secondly, the de-criminalization of prostitution also de-criminalizes men (read: pimps) who (perhaps violently) reap gains from the trade.

Can we ever unite the idea of morality with legal rights for sex workers? I'm not sure. What I do know is that while I sympathize with the struggle to see the issue beyond the context of moral judgement, I also sympathize with the idea of "rights talk." With the idea of safety and, by association, legal protection. I'm on the fence, folks. And, dear readers, that's all I can give you.

"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights."
- Desmond Tutu

"You can ask the universe for all the signs you want, but ultimately, we see what we want to see when we're ready to see it."
- How I Met Your Mother (Season 5)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Defense of the University of Toronto - From Alumni, With Love

I love UofT. No, I don`t think love is the correct adjective here. Let`s rephrase that. I adore UofT to the point of emotional and academic attachment. What can I say? I`m an appreciative (read: loyal) alumna.

I love UofT. There. I said it again. I know I`m not the only one who shares these sentiments, so I take comfort in the fact that I`m not alone in my academic fandom.

What has triggered this sudden blog post in defense of an institution I`ve already graduated from? Don`t get me wrong, I love Queen`s. Actually, let me further re-phrase that statement. I adore Queen`s. It`s everything I would have wanted in a university experience away from home. However, I feel the need to defend the institution I received my undergraduate degree from due to several conversations I`ve had in the Queen`s community. Because really, when you`re as awesome as UofT, there`s a tendency to be misunderstood (read: hated). This blog post aims to convey, dear readers, why I think UofT is awesome. And I`m not just saying this because I`m Asian.

Unfortunately (and I will probably receive some anonymous defensive hate mail for this a statement), I`ve run into far too many people in Kingston who despise UofT. Yes, despise. Utter derision, really. Accusing UofT of elitism? Behold, Exhibit A. A conversation I had with an individual I met at the beginning of the year. Let`s call him Anonymous.

Anonymous: Where did you do your undergraduate degree?
Me: I went to UofT.
Anonymous (completely serious): Oh. I hate UofT. We`ll have to undo the damage it did to you.
Me (taken aback): Excuse me?
Anonymous: I said, I hate UofT. It`s a stuck-up, elitist school who think its ivory tower is better than everybody else. It`s a right-wing machine producing elitist snobs who do nothing but contribute to the world`s unequal distribution of wealth.
Me: Well, I--
Anonymous (interrupts me): God, I hate UofT. It`s the best school if you want to get rich. It`s not the best school to save our planet. UofT thinks its better than everyone else, I hate it.
Me (indignant): I loved my time at UofT.
Anonymous (stands up and walks away): Then there`s no hope for you.

Really? Well, I think you`re a maniac.

It pains me to say that this wasn`t my only encounter of professed spite for UofT. Believe me, I`ve had several of these encounters in Kingston. I don`t fully understand this academic hate-on, but it`s irritating. And I will publically say that for every eye-roll I received, every face that was made when I admitted that I`m UofT alumni, I roll my eyes back. In exasperation. And pity for such blatant disrespect.

Elitism? There were 2000 students in each of my first-year classes. Fostering elitist attitudes and snobbery? I highly doubt that each student who attended UofT has aspirations to take over the corporate world. Assumptions much?

Purely from the context of the life-changing experiences I had at UofT, I (obviously, subjectively) think it`s an incredible school, both in terms of academics and overall environment. I will forever remember my years at UofT as some of the best years of my life. I met unbelievable individuals who have changed the academic world with their ideas, their thoughts. I made lifelong friends who adore this institution as much as I do. I met and befriended renowned professors who challenged me more than I anticipated. I learned so much from these individuals, and I would never regret my choice of attending an institution that provided me with such quality education. Is it really such a crime to be educated by individuals who have taught at and attended Harvard and Yale? And if that`s what makes individuals hate UofT so much, I roll my eyes in exasperation. Learning from these individuals was a challenging experience I`ll never forget. It was a life-changing experience that I`m (humbly) grateful I received. No need to hate (link), really. Shhhh, the Black Eyed Peas wouldn`t approve.

I`m not claiming that UofT is better than other universities. I just (subjectively) claim that (cue Barney Stinson) UofT is awesome. And if you tell me otherwise, just provide me with sufficient (read: respectful) justification. Which I will honestly accept and respect, given that you give me yours. Respect(ful) being the key word. It`s an ingredient missing from these conversations. What`s that, Aretha? Please and thanks.

I love UofT. And if I`m negatively judged for doing so, then so be it. Nothing will change my mind about an institution that will forever have my loyalties. And if that makes me a stuck-up, elitist snob, then we don`t have to be friends. Really, I have no problem with that.

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”
- Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Grad Life & The Never-Ending Flu

Dear Readers,

You may have noticed that I've been MIA from the blogosphere for almost two weeks now. And for this, I'm sorry. I've completely shirked blogging priorities for the mere reason that I've been fighting the ever-so-irritating flu. For almost two weeks. That's right, I've had the flu for two weeks. Perhaps that 5AM jog at the crack of dawn (as described in my previous blog post) in 5 degree weather, no less, wasn't the best thing for my immune system.

Friends, fighting the flu in the midst of busy grad school season is awful, to say the least. There's nothing I want to do more than crawl into bed for an entire day to watch episodes upon episodes of How I Met Your Mother with (multiple) bowl(s) of soup and cup(s) of tea to tide me over until the cold weathers away (and maybe throw in a couple of hours of blogging in there too. Yes?). That's probably what I need most at the moment.

And yet I can't.

Essays need to be written. Emails need to be responded to. Students need appointments. Tutorials need me to be their TA. Readings need to be completed. Presentations need to be presented. I really don't have the time to rest. My reasoning lacks common sense, and yet it makes the most sense. Make sense?

And so today, I did what I should have done a week ago. I walked to the Queen's University student walk-in clinic and booked an appointment to see a doctor about this never-ending flu. The good news? Well, I don't have pneumonia. Let's pause for a round of fist pumps. The bad news? Well, behold the conversation between my doctor and myself:

Doctor B: Well, you don't have pneumonia.
Me: That's great!
Doctor B: The bad news is that it'll take more than a week to fully heal your body if you don't get enough rest. You need to take it easy and relax for a few days or your virus won't go away.
Me: (with a hint of uncertainty and denial) Oh. So what should I do?
Doctor B: (with a hint of exasperation) I just told you. You need to rest and relax. You don't need anti-biotics. You need to eat and get enough sleep.

Sleep? Rest? Relax? The words are foreign to me. After a week of writing an essay and preparing a presentation worth 40% of my mark, I haven't had time to rest. Let alone breathe. Or eat anything beyond pasta and oatmeal. But, grudgingly, I suppose I'll take this weekend to do just that. Doctor knows best.

Words of advice? Take care of yourselves and don't catch the flu. You'll end up wasting more time trying to get rid of it than being productive. It isn't worth it. Take your vitamins. Eat. Sleep. It's the best advice I can give you, coming from someone who spent the day in my office coughing up a lung. You'll end up giving up activities you really enjoy. Like dodgeball. How sad am I that I can't attend my dodgeball game tonight because of the flu? Extremely disappointed, actually. True story.

In other news, I have much to blog about, my friends. And I can't wait to get back into the blogging swing of things. As I'll sit forlornly in bed this weekend, trying to get over my flu, I plan to begin blogging away about my adventures from the last couple of weeks. Halloween adventures? My meltdown at Fort Fright? My second meltdown after watching The Shining for the first time? My moment of epiphany after a lecture (I initally wasn't looking forward to) on the evils of neoliberalism? My absolutely fantastic weekend at Skate Canada? There's much to write about, friends! Back to blogging I go!

Yours Truly,

Your Apologetic Blogger

"Were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults in the first."
- Benjamin Franklin

"You know why the French don't want to bomb Saddam Hussein? Because he hates America, he loves mistresses, and he wears a beret. He is French, people."
- Conan O'Brien, 2003