Introduction to Hanoi

I'd like to thank Simon for modelling his face in this picture

I’d like to thank Simon for modelling his face in this picture

Welcome to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam where almost the entire population seems to cook and eat on the streets. Families sit down to eat a meal compromising of about 10 different dishes, sitting on red and blue kindergarten stools and low plastic tables on the sidewalk. I’ve joined the club.

Not knowing how to use chopsticks really is a burden but with a lot of practise, I will soon become a pro. The focus on freshness (for the most part) and food cooked and served quickly makes Vietnamese food accessible and light.

The city’s six million population travels on over five million motorbikes. Honking and the sounds of screeching brakes is common and lasts all day and all night.

Hanoi is gritty and dense and has an intoxicating mix of tradition and modernity- fighting for space. In the midst of the street vendors, shops and markets, there will lay a French architectural building, towering over everything else. Must be a luxurious hotel, embassy or office building.

Loudspeakers sprout all over the city. Once used to air crucial warnings about bombing raids are now being used to broadcast an odd mix of local news, weather, government ideology and patriotic songs.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand this city. Every day is a new day, a new challenge, a new adventure.

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Tackling homosexuality in sports

Football, along with other professional contact sports, has long been characterized as a ‘man’s world’; a ‘man’s game’. The game resides in an arena whereby physicality, skill, and toughness define who you are, both on the field and off the field. Couldn’t make that crucial tackle? Weak. Dropped the potential game-winning catch? Soft. Misfired on a critical throw late in the fourth quarter? Choker.

You see, professional athletes are commonly defined by what they are not, rather than what they are. Nitpicking and pointing out tiny flaws and mistakes, rather than celebrating the triumph and glory of raw talent and athleticism.

We take many of their skills for granted; stamina, muscularity, energy, physical and mental strength, agility, the list goes on and on. They’re athletes, they’re supposed to have all those things, obviously. We sometimes forget there are indeed human beings inside those bodies, underneath the sweat-laden jerseys, the layers of thick padding. As perhaps the most polarized figures in the public sphere, we sometimes forget that athletes are just like us on the inside; they have feelings, emotions, thoughts, worries, concerns, and above all, a heart.

But see, the problem we have as sports fans, or even regular citizens, is that we have predefined and preconceived notions of what we believe an athlete is. Like a cookie-cutter, we presume athletes will fit into these notions that are already in our heads. Brawny, hard-nosed, tough, competitive.  Oh, and they’re obviously straight. Right?

Wrong.

Michael Sam was a standout college football player at Missouri. Named the SCC’s defensive player of the year. Prior to the NFL Draft, he publicly announced his homosexuality, sending shockwaves throughout the sporting world. Sam became the first active athlete to proclaim he was homosexual; the handful who had done so only revealed this upon retiring, opting to hide their homosexuality throughout their playing careers, in fears of creating a stir.

The sports world could not wrap its head around it; the best defensive player in college football is gay? Really?

Yes, really.

The fact he was only projected to be a third to fifth-round pick as the best defensive player in the nation is what was undoubtedly more surprising here. NFL officials scrambled to rapidly leak to various media outlets word that Sam would plummet in the draft, with teams supposedly being extremely opposed to taking on a gay player because ‘he wouldn’t fit in.’

Heck, Sam did slip alright; he was drafted in the seventh and final round by the St. Louis Rams, 249th overall. But that didnt matter. What Michael Sam did, by announcing he was gay before he was even officially taken on by an NFL team, was his own permanent legacy.

It opened the doors for other athletes to come out, feeling a sense of solidarity in light of Sam’s revelation. Just over a week later, NBA player Jason Collins announced he, too, was homosexual. And in fact, that same day, the Brooklyn Nets signed him to a contract. It increased the comfort level for all non-heterosexual athletes in all professional sports, with an enhanced sense of acceptance and tolerance finally making its way through the confines of the locker room. But most of all, it showed that we, as a society, need to change the way we regard athletes. Not by what “gaps” and “deficiencies” they may have, but rather what makes them unique and beautiful.

Finally, after centuries of regarding sport as an avenue solely for hegemonic masculinity, we have knocked over the barrier between sexuality and sport, welcoming those with all different sexual preferences with open arms. Rather than looking at non-heterosexuality as a deviance away from our preconceived norms of sport, we have now learned to appreciate it as an additive, summative, aggregate mosaic of human nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thrifting: So much more than a Macklemore song

A few weekends ago, I was walking up Queen Street in Toronto. Exhausted from shopping, I decided to go to one last shop- a thrift shop. And it was the best idea I have ever made (just a slight exaggeration). You know those $90 American Apparel jeans? Well I got those for $20. In my size. In perfect condition. Thrifting is one of the few things that you can do that is good for the earth, cheaper than the alternative and much more fashionable!

Why should you start thrifting?

1. Price: Being on a student budget is sometimes difficult when all you want to do is splurge on a whole new wardrobe. In most thrift stores, you can buy entire outfits for less than $10. It may be overwhelming at first, but it is completely worth it. Take the time to search through the racks, you will find treasures!

2. The environment: By buying clothing second-hand, you are reducing the demand for cheap labour (yes, one person a.k.a. you can make a difference). ABC news estimates that 98% of the clothing purchased in the U.S. comes from abroad. That means that a sweater hanging on the rack at a department store traveled thousands of miles, using up energy and polluting the planet with coal and natural gas along its way to the store and ultimately inside our closet. In contrast buying second-hand clothing produces a significantly smaller carbon footprint. While the sweater may first have come from thousands of miles away, it likely made itself into the shop after someone made use of it and then sold or donated it to the shop. The only carbon emissions associated with that sweater is the fuel it took the donator and the shopper to make their way to the store. By thrifting, you are supporting a sustainable model where clothing doesn’t end up in the landfill.

3. Community Development: Most thrift stores are run by non-profit organizations who use the money they raise for good. Consignment stores such as Value Village and the Salvation Army employ financially unstable people so just by shopping there, you are providing jobs for them. For example, HANDmeUPs thrift shop (operated by the nonprofit organization, The Power of the Dream) trains and employs teens and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Plaid, high-waisted jeans, oversized sweater and the general recycling of fashion (no pun intended) has made it easy and enjoyable for people to add to the wardrobes they love without spending a fortune.

I am excited to say that INDEVOURS will be having a Community Trunk Sale on July 26th at St. Pauls University College in Waterloo where I will be selling a LARGE chunk of my closet! Come check it out!

The Beautiful Game- colourful, dramatic…. and racist?

 

“Football is a religion that bonds nations divided by race” says Sarah Husain. With eyes, hearts and minds of billions of people across the globe fixed on Brazil, we sometimes miss the flaws that are hidden within the crowd and the screams. This World Cup (like many others in the past) has seen many discriminatory acts by fans such as the chanting of the homophobic word “puto” by Mexican fans at opposing keepers. No action was taken against Germany who painted their faces black at the game against Ghana. No action was taken against fans of Croatia who waved neo-Nazi flags at the game.

Well the good news is that the world’s most powerful soccer organization, FIFA, has taken action against such transgressions, right? FIFA launched their “Say No To Racism” campaign and hold Anti-Discrimination days in which team captains read pledges against racism before games. As we have seen in this weekend’s games, this campaign continued in Brazil. July 4th and 5th marked FIFA’s 13th annual Anti-Discrimination Days.

Do you think speeches by the captains and an anti-discrimination press release is enough? Should FIFA be doing more to discipline such actions? Do they have the right to intervene? Many debates have been sparking about the action being taken against these discriminatory acts.

FIFA is a way to unite nations under one common language but how do they control the actions of billions of fans? Their solution is through education and media releases by influential players in hopes of inspiring fans to act respectfully and create bonds.

For more juicy FIFA news check out my fellow INDEVOURS blog posts:
The FIFA Indicator by Jon Self
Who Knew Soccer was so Interesting by Simon Jefferies
The Joke that is FIFA by Josh Suderman
FIFA 2014 by Jasmine Lapalme
Let the Games Begin by Meagan Shantz
Viva o FIFA by Margaret Dyck

8,000 miles away for 8 months

It is official. My very first job will be in Hanoi, Vietnam. An 11-hour time difference, 4 million people in 1 city, the heart and soul of Vietnam. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city.

I am so excited to say that I will be working at an organization called Centre for Creativity and Sustainability (CCS) in the Hai Bà Trưng District. CCS is a non-governmental organization working to promote sustainability in Vietnam by applying creative methods and solutions to contribute to the greener pattern of national development. Its vision is to become the leading research and development, consulting, and capacity building organization on clean technologies, sustainable production and consumption models. As someone who strongly believes in continuous innovation and green/sustainable technologies to solve the world’s most pressing issues (cough cough…oil), I am very excited about this opportunity!

I will be leaving in September of this year for 8 months. Excited? YES. Scared? Even more! I have been getting very mixed responses by family and friends when I tell them what I am going for. Most comments are along the lines of “Wow, but do you actually think you will be of much help/use?” and my answer to that is “I have no idea, but I hope”. I understand that I am entering a foreign country for 8-months, barely knowing the culture, the language, the way of life. I do feel like I can contribute usefully but those initial feelings of doubt when I first get there will for sure be present. I feel ready… I think… I guess I will never know until I am actually standing in Hanoi, surrounded by the millions of people and zooming motorcycles.

In preparation to departure, I have been doing several Google searches on Vietnam, Hanoi, the culture, the food, the way of life, the local cafes and bars, etc. I am also taking a Vietnamese language course where, for the first half of the 3-hour class we focus on conversation and pronunciation and for the second half, we sing karaoke. Yes. Karaoke. In Vietnamese. Because that is the culture there, that is their nightlife! How awesome is that? So if any of you want to come visit me in Vietnam, get prepared, we will be singing Vầng Trăng Khóc!

I will feel a sense of displacement. I will feel out of my comfort zone. But what is the point of development studies if you do not push yourself to experience life in a whole different world? It is about the everyday life, living one day at a time, absorbing everything around me (including the food!). This will be an amazing learning experience and I live by my motto of Love, Lead, Inspire!

(This blog will be the main way of updating everyone about my placement so keep in touch!)

What does being Canadian mean to you?

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Equality. Acceptance. Timbits. Nature. Hockey. Diversity. Culture.

The Guardian has asked Canadians what it means to be a Canadian. And now I’d like to hear from you!

In my opinion, being Canadian means you are part of an intricate mosaic. Canada is composed of all sorts of cultures, religions and languages. In my household, being Canadian is semi-new. Both my parents moved to Canada from East Africa when they were children due to better opportunities and the potential risk of living through Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda (in my mother’s situation). It was Pierre Trudeau who opened up Canada’s doors to families such as my parents. Canada gave my parents the opportunity to go to a world-renowned university and become pharmacists.

Growing up, I’ve started becoming more and more interested in the environment. Canada is defined by our nature- the maple leaf is on our nation’s flag! Surrounded by the world’s longest and most diverse coastline, our mountains, forests, prairies, lakes, and skies define us and instill pride and wonder. As David Suzuki puts it: Canada is nature. And nature is life.

After reading Here’s to a Radical Canada Day, I question if Canada’s definition is slowly changing. Suzuki points out that our leaders are scarring Canada with pipelines and mines. In 2007, our prime minister called climate change “perhaps the greatest threat to the future of humanity.” Now he says, “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country”. This sentence baffles me. Wouldn’t investing in the future (ie. clean energy) create jobs, innovate our nation, educate our citizens, and create a sustainable future? But no. Sorry, I forgot that a Prime Minister’s term is 5-years so Harper needs to do as much as he can to make short-term “success” in Canada and to the economy.

“Canada was once seen as a country where respect for each other and our land, air, water and biodiversity were valued. Now, some government leaders and their industry and media supporters threaten those who dare question the mad scramble for short-sighted, short-term profits at the expense of the environment, our health and the world’s climate systems, and label us “radicals”. If it’s radical to insist on maintaining and strengthening values that have long defined us as a nation, then we’ll wear the label proudly. We are radically Canadian!”  

So my question to you would be what kind of Canada do you want? What does it mean to be a Canadian?

Have a great Canada Day and stay safe my friends 🙂 

 

Don’t Vote? Don’t Complain!

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On Sunday afternoon, I left the polling station in Hamilton with a smile on my face. I just voted in Ontario’s election and I felt OH so proud.

Voting in an election is the act of choosing a political candidate to represent you in government. You make this choice quite simply: by marking your ballot and placing it in a ballot box. Voting turns the concept of democracy into reality. What I do not understand is why doesn’t everyone know about politics (not saying that I know everything about it… because I do not…at all)? But why isn’t politics mandatory to learn in every high school- like before one turns 18 and even after that! Politics play such an important role in Canada, it is what shapes our lives (our work, our education, what we can and cannot do, etc).   

Why people refrain from voting is no puzzle. They either think that their vote will not make a difference in the large scheme. Or that they do not know enough about politics to care. Or they have given up hope in Canadian politics.

Democracy does not exist in many countries around the world. Free elections do not exist. But this is not the case in Canada. In Canada we are all equated fundamental rights that are unquestioned (free speech, religion, etc). In Canada we have the right to freely vote in an election (once we turn 18, of course). You can moan and groan about the electoral system we possess. Yes, there do exist flaws in it. But what you cannot deny is that you have the right to cast a ballot on a number of different occasions: be it federal, provincial, and municipal. And that right is uncontested. Your vote counts.

The current system and the level of turnout (61.1% of Canadians voted in the 2011 elections) has suited politicians perfectly, resulting in little to no positive changes. It is possible that if Canada experienced a consistent wave of high turnout in elections, politicians would feel obligated to create positive change. With higher voter turnout, a collective expression of dissatisfaction with the electoral system could lead to actual change. How do you think we can raise the level of voting turnout? Education? Mandatory voting?

Regardless of your political ideologies or beliefs, voting is a right that you are given as a Canadian citizen and you should do your best to exercise it. Take the time to learn about politics and your options, and make a decision that you feel comfortable with. If you feel that it is in your right to not exercise your right, so be it. But remember, everyone’s vote counts and it is important for individuals to collectively exercise their right raise their voice and to vote.

I know at times politics can seem discouraging and evil. And it often is. But what is amazing about it is that, ultimately we have a choice. We have a choice to vote in an election, with the confidence that our vote will be cast. Something that millions of people around the world would love to have. I have always made it my personal duty to vote in every election, and every time I leave the voting booth, I leave with a smile on my face and faith in Canada that we will soon see change.

Go ahead! Take the first step! And claim the knowledge that is rightfully yours.

Ontario’s Election Day takes place on June 12, 2014 and I hope each and every one of you takes the time to make your voice heard. Visit http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/Voters to find out how and where to vote, if you are eligible, and even information on how to vote before Election Day if you cannot make it to a polling station.

 

Did I hear that right? Cock in a Sock?

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Well, well, well—we never turn a blind eye to charity. If you take a look at your Facebook Newsfeed, I’m sure there are tons of pictures of girls posting “no make-up” selfies in response to a breast cancer awareness campaign in which a fellow INDEVOUR has explained in her post. Surfing through my newsfeed, I felt a moral obligation to inspect this latest cause: Guys are posting selfies of themselves, fully nude except for a sock covering their junk, and it’s all for cancer. And that is officially the weirdest sentence I’ve written on the Internet… Just yesterday I saw someone share an article about the #cockinasock campaign to raise awareness and money for testicular and prostate cancer.

The Cock in a Sock campaign was started in UK by a man named James Brown in an attempt to raise money for Cancer Research U.K. The campaign has gone viral in Europe and is now making its way globally, pictures of men with socks on their penises are appearing on my Facebook newsfeed. They’ve even made it in GQ magazine! Interested parties are encouraged to take a nude selfie with a sock covering their penis and donate money by texting SOCK70 to the number 70070, the way you’d donate money to the Red Cross. Testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting men between the ages of 15 and 34 and is highly treatable, especially if detected early through self-examination, which makes awareness of the disease all the more important So far, Brown has raised roughly £2000 from over 400 people and has raised awareness around the globe.

Many individuals have received warnings for “violating community standards” on Facebook but such a large campaign is hard to control. For those whose images have been flagged, they are encouraged to share this photo. What is interesting to note is that the Cock in a Sock Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account have not been shut down.

This highly debatable campaign has spurred controversy with people even going so far saying: “There are ways for raising lots of money for cancer research without having to resort to ***** This is about as ridiculous as the woman I saw on CNN’s Dr. Drew show that allowed her son to sell himself for gay sex over the internet in order to make money to help her pay her bills. Pathetic in both instances. But then again SOME PEOPLE always have an excuse for the nasty shit they do” and “LOL! Where will we go next? Wanking for Children in Need? Don’t be a hater! Be a masturbator!” and “All this cock in a sock rubbish is starting to degrade Facebook. Surely the cancer awareness is something really serious yet all these disgusting perverted people are getting a chance to flash themselves”.

I shouldn’t be the one to judge but I just think posting nude pictures on the Internet is a bit extreme. If you were to look at some of the captions guys are titling their selfies, I do not see the connection to cancer…it seems to me that this campaign has gotten out of hand (ie. Letting It All Hang Out, Hey Ladies, That’s Huge, Gay, Homo, Bromance, My Cock is Too Big for a Sock, etc). It’s also interesting to see how raising money and awareness has evolved overtime. I still remember when it used to be selling lemonade in your front lawn and now it’s taking nude selfies!? We are living in a world where we are bombarded by advertisements and brands, and in order to stand out and make your message “stick” in the minds of individuals is to create something original and unique. The Cock in a Sock campaign is definitely “sticky” (props to the social media marketing team) but I just feel uncomfortable by it. By all means, I am very glad that they are raising thousands (even millions) of dollars – I just find it strange, for some unexplainable reason.

So I guess my question to you would be, do you find this disturbing, effective, or a combination of both? Do you think social media marketing (or just marketing) is evolving to such a point where we have to do something like this in order to stand out?

 

Baby, It’s STILL Cold Outside!

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Call it the polar vortex or the arctic invasion. By whatever name, we are still seeing negative temperatures in March and random downfalls of snow.

Your logic may fall upon the following lines: Global warming means that temperatures should be rising, not sinking. It’s March…and there’s still snow out. So…global warming is a sham!

Well no, not at all. An extended winter (or a cold spring.. whatever you want to call it) does not disprove global warming any more than the record heat waves hitting Australia right now. But since critics- like Donald Trump – seem confused on this point, it’s worth recapping a few basic points:

  • Local isn’t global. This year’s severe cold isn’t affecting the whole planet. The term “global warming” typically refers to the rise in the average temperature of Earth’s climate system since the late 19th century, as well as predictions for future warming. A key bit there is “Earth’s average temperature.” It can be very cold in one part of the world and very hot in another at the exact same time. Yes, December might have been unbearably cold but when you add up all the data, December 2013 was tied for the 2nd-hottest December on record since 1979.
  • Weather isn’t climate. Weather is what happens moment to moment in the atmosphere; climate is the long-term average of weather over time in particular places. Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get. Global warming doesn’t prevent cold snaps or snow storms.
  • Heavy snowstorms are still possible as the planet warms. This may sound odd, but it makes some intuitive sense. Global warming isn’t going to eradicate winter temperatures (as we have seen over the past several months). But a warmer planet will allow the air to hold more moisture on average. So, in theory, you could have the ingredients for more intense winter storms.

So yes, global warming does exist. It’s worth noting that global warming will have different affects on temperatures in different parts of the world, hence the shift from ‘global warming’ to the more appropriate ‘climate change.’ While the first term is still correct, since the planet is on average seeing warmer and warmer temperatures, some regions may see wetter and colder weather. The basic explanation for this is that as heat increases, more water evaporates around the world, putting more vapour into the atmosphere- which can cause heavier rainfalls and worse storms, and create cooler weather patterns. The warming of the planet is already raising sea levels, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and intensifying heat waves, downpours, droughts and wildfires.

So there you go. It’s cold outside. The planet’s still warming. Strange but true.

Defending Climate Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City defends climate science against a former General Motors executive. Many companies’ profits depend on the continuous burning of fossil fuels. These companies assert that the climate isn’t changing and will defend their stance until the last ice shelf melts. Even then, they may still blame the melting on something else.

Out of the tens of thousands of climate science peer reviewed papers, an overwhelming majority of them show that there is a human influence to the growing climate issue. Along with these statistics, 95% of climate scientists believe that there is a human cause to climate change. Some skeptical people don’t think that humans can change the environment in the short amount of time that we have been burning fossil fuels, but history has shown otherwise.

In the 1970s, aerosol cans with a chemical known as fluorocarbons were widely used everyday. From hairspray to air freshening, people would use these cans with no thought of the effects that a single chemical would do to the environment. Over the years, scientists started to notice something going wrong over the atmosphere of Antarctica. The ozone, the protective layer from the sun’s UV rays, had a massive hole in it. Scientists released information and reports about what was happening, but companies such as Dupont, who had a major stake in the use of fluorocarbons in these spray cans vehemently fought the allegations. Dupont hired scientists of their own to perform their own biased research to show that there was nothing wrong with their spray products. It wasn’t until there was a large consumer boycott of the spay cans that Dupont and other companies reversed their view on the issue and made changes to their products. Consumers hit them where they would notice: in their bottom line.

Today, we fight the same kind of fight. Today, its oil companies, and instead of fluorocarbons, its carbon dioxide. It’s worse than a hole in the ozone layer in Antarctica. It’s rising tides, more deadly storms, floods, increased temperature, and a multitude of other global issues. The company-backed scientists are still there, making the sound data seem questionable by showing only bits and pieces of scientific data. Luckily for us, the ozone is expected to make a complete recovery, but unfortunately, to date, we have caused irreversible damage to our climate that will affect us on a global scale.

Society has changed before; it has been proven throughout history. This time, society needs to change on a global scale, in order to protect where we live and our way of living. Every person wants to leave a better home to their children. Here is our opportunity to do so, for all of humanity.

Humans have changed before; its been proven all throughout history. This time, it’s on a global scale, to protect where we live, our way of living. Every person wants to live a better home and a better place to live to their children. Here is our opportunity to do this on a global scale, for all of humanity.