Once in a while, I miss Chicago.

I left Chicago one week after my ex-boyfriend told me, “I love you, but not enough to move to Toronto with you. And that, to me, means I don’t love you the right way.” Days before, you could not have separated us (he asked me if I judged him when he picked the stems off vine-ripened tomatoes before bagging them). It was too easy for us to be that way and moving was just the hurdle to flag the inevitable. We broke-up that day, and I departed alone with orders from the U.S. Border Control to do so by the end of the month.

Those last days packing and preparing to leave were torturous. My half empty apartment and everything about Chicago represented our relationship – did I just accept and leave? Of course. If this was tough enough, then that was enough of us. I chalked it up to a ‘bad fit’. Nevertheless, I cried a lot. It was the first and only time I lost my appetite for food. I needed to grieve more, but had to get across the border first. Arriving in Toronto, I told myself that there was nothing left for me in Chicago and it was only a reflection of our good times together.

For months, I had nightmares and the ringer for long distance calls made my heart race. It wasn’t a secret; I thought about us all the time. The radio annoyingly announced Chicago’s weather, hockey results, baseball scores, and of course, Obama’s race. And then there was also the matter of finishing my thesis, based on ethnographic study in Chicago.

I returned to Chicago to graduate, and even spent some time with the Ex. I considered telling him (but didn’t) that this trip was to ensure for myself that I wanted neither he nor Chicago in my life. I was wrong, then right, wrong again, and I’m now only 97% over us and that’s ok. He was the romance of my youth (we sped on bikes down Magnificent Mile through the rain, jumped into Lake Michigan fully clothed, made ketchup from scratch). It was too sweet, I’d gorged myself full of every beautifully in-love moment. Actually, just before his revelation, I was on a diet to prep for more feasting in Toronto. (By the way, I am noticing the food-conflict analogy running through this post, as I’m sure that you have.)

On the other hand, Chicago – before and after him – bored me. It was everything I saw on TV. Once I’d become accustomed to seeing outlandish stereotypes in real-life, I felt that I understood Chicago. I was jaded once again and told him so. He said, “those things you liked about Chicago with me are still here, as they’ve always been in you.”

He was right, though I’m not sure about our friendship.

This is my list of things I miss about Chicago:

  • Bike-friendliness, and especially the lake side bike path in the early morning
  • Seminary Co-op and Gerstein Library at UChicago
  • Race reversals in Hyde Park
  • Intelligentsia coffee and garbage cookies, as they are served at both Istria Cafes
  • Abundant and less-expensive cheese choices and alcohol… and cigarettes
  • Multi-grain demi-baguettes at Medici and sunflowered bread from Red Hen
  • Brownstones (and architecture, in general)
  • Blommer’s aroma at the oddest times
  • Outlandish and gawdy stereotypical characters and neighbourhoods
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sorry, i didn’t mean to startle you. please please!, don’t get mad and send someone out to get me, i know that in many places such utterances would signal troops for my arrest. continue reading please to see where i’m headed with this one…

the above statement was told to an audience of approximately 45 undergraduate students (including myself) during a lecture on the morning of 9/11. the professor rationalized, “if you really want to shake a country, you hit’em where it’ll hurt most – [in canada,] their kids, future leaders. and for greatest impact,” he continued, “it would be right here or x”. 

since x was only miles away, and in the same city, you can imagine the horror this professor incited upon students who were already awestruck by the morning’s news.

thereafter, academic institutions across canada and in the u.s. announced implementation of security measures. this was surely also affected by columbine shootings and other violence covered in the media.

nonetheless, i believe that in canada, we continued to believe nothing so sensational could happen. the shootings, injuries, and deaths at montreal’s dawson college changed that.

the flurry of media attention was, for the most part, deserved and well-communicated. in recent years, pre-cautions have been taken to avoid mongering unwarranted fear amongst the public, exploiting victims, and raising the status of criminals.

HOWEVER!

i have observed over the years many, MANY incidents and threats of violence to the university community that never hit major news outlets. of course, i am especially keen on university security since i have been involved as a student since 1999. during my attendance at various major universities in canada and the u.s., including living on campus or very near it, i have become aware of a significant divide between: a) mass media about university safety affairs; b) affliate-oriented security briefings, c) what really happened.

sure, this gloss of the news occurs in the coverage of many events (although, the press tends to be quite thorough when i comes reporting certain things like restaurant reviews). but how does one assert the ‘truth’, or more specifically, how do i know we’re getting told the whole story, if at all? the presence of “added” security measures is an instant indicator, since in my experience it’s always been “added” retroactively. but i have personally witnessed such unannounced occurences and threats of violence in the hall, gym locker room, dining hall, etc.

for instance, a few years ago, my friend was tearfully shocked after having been nearly pulled into a passing car as she returned from skating practice. i went with her to report the event to campus security but never saw any press about it at all. i’ve heard many stories about sexual assault that never hit the news either.  campus rape tends not to make news unless in multiple numbers. what about the first, or the second…

interestingly, of all campuses t which i have spent longer durations of time, they are all located in (or just on the cusp) of neighbourhoods considered to be very dangerous relative to the rest of the city. the populations are often black, which has, in my opinion played out in many ways. one of the most important is tendencies toward hostile othering based sheerly on first impressions of race. while i cannot be sure, (even my nosiness and sleuth-skills won’t allow me to), but i suspect the murder of graduate student Amadou Cisse was racially influenced. i suspect the thugs did not identify him as a student because of his darker skin tone. sadly, if he had been white, i think he would be alive today. the irony of a predominately white-populated school coming in to a black neighbourhood to “revitalize” it, makes its white students seem “untouchable”. very unfortunately, Cisse’s black appearance did not provide this university-affiliated glow and thus shield of protection.

i’ve said so much and yet there is much more. mid-terms are this week and i really must get on to wrapping up here…

in a roundabout way, i just started thinking about all of the above in relation to the tightlipped “news release” about the University of British Columbia’s lockdown. read the article if you wish, but basically the RCMP can’t and won’t say or deny what happened on campus at the Biological Sciences Building.

for now, i ask that you question the intent behind secrecy of these and other campus related events. who is really benefitting in campus-community partnerships? what root problems have been superficially covered with the pretty academic landscape? 

how many threats are necessary before the university puts it’s reputation on the line to admit it’s not just admission requirements and tuition rates that are scary?

oh, canada…

January 31, 2008

oh canada!

what’s been going on since i’ve left? yes, i’ve been being skimming the headlines. but i never thought that some of the outlandishly proposed or cautioned would actually materialize.

in the news today:

afrocentric (black-focus) schools have been approved in Toronto, starting 2009 – news articles HERE! and HERE TOO!

  • personally, i’m worried about the consequences. living in chicago now, i can only think of greater neighbour segregation, racism, and all that bad stuff down the road. admittedly, i haven’t read all of the literature, but for now: oh dear…

lockdown at UBC – cbc report HERE!

  • i haven’t been able to find an update, but i’ll prolly post it RIGHT HERE since i want to write a separate post about it anyhow.

i was recently asked by a black man in Chicago: “do asian women like black men or not?

he continued, “if so, how do you know?” and then quite confidently stated that he knew when white, latina, and black women were interested. (we didn’t get to his reasoning though)

i had a million things to say and to ask, since i’d been wondering something similar myself (i have a good hunch that black men are checking, but not approaching me. causing me to wonder if maybe they think i’m off bounds?).

given that i find race relations to be different in Chicago, as opposed to where i’ve recently lived in toronto, my answer below is very open to others’ opinions – so please, your input is welcome!first, i warned him that the things i told him were based on my own observations – not necessarily local, and certainly generalized. i also cautioned him to be considerate of variation and focus on the individual. then, i told him in no particular order, the following:

  • “asian women” covers a whole wide range of females from many countries – in the UK, “asian” refers to southeast asian (e.g. indian, pakistani, etc.)
    • he said meant “oriental” – i said: NEVER refer to asian women as oriental. an educated AW (from anywhere over there, or born here) will at the very least know about orientalism, the west made up the orient to “other” us. 
      • some AW will take offense too (i don’t, but i will roll my eyes and you’ve revealed yourself as ‘likely someone who has an asian fetish’).
  • general groups of AW:
    • group a: – these AW have ethnic origins in 1 of 3 countries (Korea, Japan, and China (and arguably singapore))
      • they are especially good at sneaking peeks at the opposite sex (it’s partly the eyes, but partly just b/c they’re just good at being inconspicuous)
      • most of these AW are not looking at black men, they tend to date intraracially (amongst these countries) or white men
        • there’s actually studies about this. they consider it “dating up the racial hierarchy” based on stereotypes, fear, ignorance, culture, etc.
      • a few of them are open to black men, but know that you are expected to talk to them, a holla will not work!
      • group b: – these AW have ethnic origins in the phillipines, malaysia, laos, etc.
        • these AW that like black men fashion themselves to give cues
        • garish presentation of economic wealth and social prestige works for all men
        • i’m not sure a holla works here, or if it works anywhere actually
      • he asked: “OK, aside from the AW wearing baby phat and such, how do i know?”
        • eeep! this one is tough, very tough.
        • consider the above, plus: AW and asian men often have seriously platonic relationships that appear as though they are dating (e.g. they eat out together, go to movies, etc). Two AW may also do this – no they are not necessarily lesbian though they’re holding hands.
        • your best bet, and this may sound bizarre, but just talk to her!
          • you should know immediately if she’s scared (i would caution you away from this one).
          • if she’s open to convo, take it slow. during this time you can figure out her as a person and not just an AW and hopefully find out if she’s ‘involved’ with someone (can’t promise this one, you may have to just come out and ask)
      • NEVER say: “i always wanted to date an AW”
        • it may be true and you may be genuinely interested in learning all about asian culture blah blah blah, BUT! for most AW’s it’s the equivalent of saying ‘i always wanted to dominate a quiet, exotic, insert stereotype here’
        • to which he said, “but what if i really am interested in learning – it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl, i just want to learn?!”
          • first, make some asian dude friends – they might help your game
          • second, i don’t care! pretend if you must! you have to make her believe it’s HER as an individual that matters and not her asian-ness
      • and finally (for now), i recommended that he should watch or read “the Joy Luck Club”, by Amy Tan
        • sure the acting is terrible
        • but the stories within are representative of many of the issues AW face in north america

      dirty U.S. customs dude

      January 5, 2008

      there’s always gonna be the international student who, despite a bazillion emails from the office of international affairs, forgets to bring her documents when crossing the border to go home for the holidays.  this is my story:
      normally, i’m neurotically organized about travel stuff (i think i drove my brother a bit nutty on our portion of the backpacking trip!  that is, until he got robbed and saw i’d dog-earred the page about “travelling through” slovakia). but in a rush, i made my way to the airport. 
      i was ambivalent about going home since i had school stuff to do while visiting friends and fam.
      at the airport on my way home, my int’l student visa stuff never came up.  i must have just said “i’m going home” at the inspection desk, which i was. either way, there was no problem. 
      i almost wish there had been a kurfuffle though, because on the way back…  I couldn’t lie to the customs officer on the way back, who was going on break and just sent me off to “office of customs assholes”.
      still, i’d arrived at the airport early.  even waiting in the first two lines for over an hour didn’t faze me.  i wasn’t frazzled about the sitch… yet.
      now, usually in the airport, and other public places, everything is made dummy-proof.  not in the OCA though.
      i entered through double doors and walked straight, past the waiting area of probably 30-40 ppl and their suitcases, to the desk facing me .  but there was no one at this desk and when a man gestered to me from one of the other six desks, i obliged.  i wasn’t worried at all as i approached and spoke calmly, maybe even with a hint of humor, when i shrugged and said, “they let me through on the way in?”
      at first, i thought his response was a joke.  he looked serious and spoke sternly, as  he said, “you’re gonna have to hope a reeeeally nice officer lets you through”, and immediately dismissed me to the waiting area.
      i waited another 1.5 hours in the OCA, until the same stern customs dude gestered to me again (everyone else was called by their last name).  this time when i approached, he looked at his screen and said, you really shouldn’t be up here yet (but i saw people arriving after me come and go already).  then he probed and poked at my choice of school, grad program, quizzed me about work, and, after telling him i wanted to prof, he told me that i’m “no spring chicken” and my “biological clock’s ticking”, implying that i wouldn’t get to my goal.  i must have satisfied his curiousity, because after berating me, he slipped me a sheet of paper and commanded me to write down my phone number.
      wow.
      of course, i wrote it down (remembering my brother’s advice to ‘just play along’).
      but, i felt royally dirty.
      i suppose i could’ve wrote down the ‘wrong number’.  i even thought of it.  but i don’t know how these things work! he has all of my citizenship records, etc!
      by the time i finally left the OCA, i’d already missed my flight and the next.  then i got stuck behind 4 families, with 3-5 kids each, also trying to re-book their flights. at one point i was pacing in circles and unabashedly crying out of frustration. the flight i finally got was another 2.5 hours away!
      the only pro of yesterday is (prolly cuz my eyes were red and bleary) the starbucks lady undercharged me for my drink.
      total time in pearson: 10 hours!
      (at least it was pearson, so much better than o’hare).
      oh, and OCA dude actually called, this time with a sugary sweet voice.  i said i had a deadline and hung-up.  he also texted me to apologize for interupting my work!?  wtf!
      is this sexual harrassment?