Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So I have this new job.

I'm the "TA Mentor" for journalism. Basically, the idea is that an experienced TA helps new TAs with training and support. I was invited to apply for this job in the spring and I did, without having much information about what I was getting myself into.

Here's the thing: In other departments, the mentor's main job throughout the year is to organize workshops and informal meet-ups for the TAs. I said in my application that this absolutely will not work for journalism, because every hour of free time is precious. If somebody had tried to schedule monthly meetings "just to chat" about how our TA jobs were going, we would have spat out our red bull as we burst out laughing and gone back to our laptops. If someone had tried to force us, there would have been blood.

I repeated this in a meeting I had yesterday with the new graduate supervisor and the director of this mentor program. I suggested that if I was going to run workshops, the best time to do it would be during orientation week, before the insanity started. This seemed like an especially good idea since this year they're not doing the three-hour giant lecture that's essentially an introduction to being a TA. Instead, they get a one-hour pep talk on why being a TA is important and why you shouldn't slack off, and that's it.

"Great," they said. "We can schedule you in for one hour."

That's right. I have one hour to teach people who have never taught in their lives how to be a TA. One. Hour.

"So what else do you think you should do throughout the year, since you don't think anyone will come to workshops?"

Blink blink.

So here's what I have to work with: One extremely short hour with a captive audience, and one extremely long year with a group of people who are likely to react with murderous rage to anyone trying to add anything else to their plate.

Here are my extremely vague ideas for how I will justify my existence and paycheck:
- Make a lot of it web-based. There's a WebCT site that I'm supposed to run, but WebCT sucks and no one remembers to check it. So I'm thinking of starting another blog, with links to resources on stuff like time management and basic teaching skills, and inviting people to post on the blog as well. It would be nice if there were a way to make this private so that people can actually be candid about problems they're having, but I'm not sure how to do that. I think Yahoo Groups kind of work like that, but that would, again, be something you'd have to remember to log into. Is there a way to make a blog private? Or I could make it a Facebook group?
- Get people to write down what their teaching schedule and office hours are, so I can drop by and see how they're doing. Creepy? Helpful? What do you think?
- Get the MJ1 TAs in J1000, media law, and multimedia journalism together with the MJ2s who had that job last year together for a drink at Mike's Place
- Technically, since they're getting rid of that 3-hour lecture and there's no Gatineau retreat this year, the TAs will have those five hours of training that they're supposed to finish. So technically, they are supposed to go to workshops. What kind of workshops would be the most useful?

Last year after the "intro to being a TA" lecture, I remember a lot of people saying: That's it? That's all the training we get? I'm supposed to go and run a discussion group and decide people's marks now? So seriously: What kind of training and support do you wish you had, and what's the least annoying way to deliver it?

Seriously. Please tell me. I didn't realize when I was applying for this job that I wasn't just applying to be a "TA mentor," I was applying to DESIGN the TA mentorship program for journalism.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reporter Barbie gets a makeover

Alright, this is getting ridiculous. First I started actually wearing makeup and non-sweat pants to class last year, and getting my hair cut more often than once every six months. Then it was the Lulu Lemon yoga pants. Now I find myself seriously considering taking things to a whole new level. I might just get a pedicure tomorrow.

I know, I know. But they're so cheap here. And my feet have taken quite a beating over the summer. I haven't worn socks in months, except to go running. I think they could use a little more care than my usual DIY amateurish slop of nail polish.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize I have questions. So many questions. Questions such as:
- Should I remove the aforementioned slop of nail polish before I go, which is now chipped to hell and embarassing?
- Should I clip my toenails first?
- Do they clip your toenails FOR YOU??? Ew.
- Will they judge my cracked heels and blisters?
- What kind of bourgeois monster am I, taking advantage of my powerful Canadian dollar to make some poor soul touch and stare at my horrible feet for that long?

I have heard that you're supposed to shave your legs before you go. Suddenly, I have a reason to be thankful for the months I spent last summer working at a pool store with a bunch of Oakville rich kids home from business school. Most of that summer was spent trying to keep my eyes from glazing over as my co-workers talked about pedicures. "I hate it when customers don't clean their automatic vacuum cleaners before they bring them in to be fixed. That's like going for a pedicure without shaving your legs first," is one gem of wisdom that has for some reason stuck in my mind.

That's about all I know, though. Help.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Things are wrapping up here in KL. The second annual sexuality rights festival, Seksualiti Merdeka, finished yesterday. Merdeka means independence, and it's timed to occur during the same month as Malaysian independence day.
Volunteers painted the walls of the art gallery where it was held. A lot of the art had political messages. It was a really lovely thing to see.
"I am HIV positive. So what??? Don't let me down... my friends, my family and my lover."

There were two bulletin boards where people could write stories of discrimination or acceptance on pieces of cloth and pin them to the wall.
"I was put in prison just because I'm a transsexual under the syariah law. In prison I was molested, teased, bullied, humiliated, just because I'm different. Why are people so cruel to us?"
"When I was nine, at the school assembly, a girl told everyone loudly that they would sin if they look at me because I don't wear a tudung (head scarf). My non-Malay friends asked if they will sin too, and she said yes. No one looked or talked to me for a whole week."

I really felt I was witnessing the beginning of something exciting. The air practically crackled with energy. It was a safe space, but it was also an open space. Straights, gays, transpeople, queers - the event brought all types together.

On a rational level, I don't believe in things happening for a reason. On a non-rational level, though, it's amazing how often things just... work out. I didn't plan to be in Malaysia for Seksualiti Merdeka. I didn't know the story of a budding activist movement was going to unfold right before my eyes. I didn't know anyone here at all - all my contacts were made over the internet.

In a way, Kuala Lumpur reminds me of Toronto. If you're only here for a few days and only see the obvious sights, it seems pretty dull. It's only when you scratch the surface and get to know the art, activism, and music going on underground that you really start to appreciate it.

And, like Toronto, I've started to think of it as home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jalan Jaksa

I planned my one-week trip to Indonesia with no guide book. I made my decision to spend half of it in Jakarta based on nothing other than the fact that it seemed to make sense to visit the capital city. A few days before I left, I did some research online to see what there was to do there.

This is how the Lonely Planet online describes Jakarta: “Whether you love it or hate it, there is no escaping Jakarta, Indonesia’s overweight capital. This ‘Big Durian’ is filled with all the good and bad of Indonesian life... The first – or only – thought on most travellers’ minds is how quickly the city and its polluted streets can be left behind.”

I am fluent in Lonely Planetese. This is the translation in normal English: “Jakarta is a polluted, noisy, crowded and stressful city with not much for tourists to do. Bet you wish you read this before you booked your flight. Enjoy. Sucker.”

The Lonely Planet was right. The very first thing that happened to me was my taxi driver from the airport misunderstood or ignored my directions and dropped me off at an overpriced guest house in the middle of nowhere. I debated wandering around the city with no map and my heavy backpack looking for somewhere cheaper. Laziness won.

After I went to the film festival and met the organizer for lunch the next day, I found myself wandering around the city getting cat called and nearly run over. Not sure what to do with myself, I wandered in to a cafe to order an iced coffee and read a book.

Two Dutch sisters, Dionne and Lianna, sat down at the same table as me. We drank martinis. We went for dinner in the market food stalls. They invited me to come for a drink at a bar on Jalan Jaksa, the main backpacker street where their guest house is. This is the street I was trying to find when I was leaving the airport.

“Our guide book said it’s like Khao San Road in Bangkok,” said Dionne, rolling her eyes. “It is NOT like Khao San Road.”

Oh man, were they ever right.

Khao San is famous/notorious for being a 24-hour circus, where you can drink on the street and can’t escape the blaring techno music or people trying to sell you gigantic lighters. In a way, Jalan Jaksa IS sort of like Khao San - if it stuck around partying in Southeast Asia for a few too many years and woke up one morning realizing it was bankrupt and suffering from arthritis and alcoholism.

On Khao San, you can’t escape the neon signs and seizure-inducing strobe lights. On Jalan Jaksa, all they have is one sad looking banner spelling out the name of the street in sagging and half burnt-out Christmas lights. On Khao San, everyone drinks like it’s New Year’s. On Jalan Jaksa, everyone drinks because if they stop drinking, they’ll remember they’re on Jalan Jaksa.

Anyway, so there I was, sitting on a plastic patio set drinking beer with two Dutch sisters, trying to forget I was on Jalan Jaksa.

One of the bar owners took a liking to Lianna. Dionne and I resisted their attempts to get us to sit at their table until they started brandishing a bottle of tequila.

So there I was, sitting on a wooden bar stool, doing tequila shots with two Dutch sisters, a Brazilian guy who came out of nowhere when he saw the tequila, and the two gap-toothed and robustly moustachioed men who own the bar. One of them decided I was his new friend. “My daughter, my daughter,” he kept calling me.

So there I was, dancing at the front of the bar because Lianna had taken over the microphone. The ladies of the night were linking arms with the cockroaches and doing the can-can. The sewer rats were clinking shot glasses with the bar owners and the Brazilian guy.

So there I was, in my bed in my overpriced guest house far away from Jalan Jaksa. Afternoon sunlight was peeking in through the curtains.

Jalan Jaksa, man.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it.

Part of the reason I came to Indonesia was because I wanted to do a little research into what gay life is like in Malaysia's neighbouring Muslim majority country. I discovered through some online researching that a queer film festival was showing its closing film on the night I arrived in Jakarta.

I emailed the head organizer, explained what I was doing in Malaysia, and asked if I could get on the invite list. He said sure - but the film was going to be in Indonesian with no English subtitles.

I decided to come anyway, figuring it would be a good way to meet people. I imagined the movie would be something weighty and serious. I didn't expect to understand what was going on except during the sex scenes.

Instead, I got Benci Disko.

Benci Disko is about... well... it's about a sailor and a really over the top gay guy who wears a leopard print tank top and heart shaped sunglasses for most of the movie, who I think are brothers, and this girl, who I think is their sister, and they enter a disco competition, for some reason. That's about all I know, and that's about all I needed to know. And I haven't actually watched the trailer above because the internet here is too slow, but I sincerely hope it gives you some sort of idea of how hilarious this movie is.

I met the guy I was exchanging emails with for lunch the next day and asked where I could get a copy. Sadly, it hasn't come out on DVD yet, but he said he would mail me one when it does. I'm going to email him once a month until it does. Then I think we should have an Indonesian disco theme party and watch it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kuta Beach in Bali kind of sucks

As my taxi drove me from the airport to my hotel in Bali's Kuta beach, I looked out the window and judged it within 10 seconds with a sigh and a shrug.

I knew I was staying in Bali's most touristy area, but I guess I was expecting it to be a little bit less... lame. Giant signs for MacDonalds, KFC, and overpriced boutiques jut into the sky like the novelty wooden penis carvings you find at every tourist stall lining the streets. The resorts and restaurants are all designed to look like temple ruins, which gives the place a weird Vegas-y feel. And the place is overrun with families with children. I have never seen so many sunburned knee high mini-people.

Last night I went on the hunt for 20-something backpackers looking to go on the piss (a charming English expression for getting wasted and dancing). I knew they had to exist - beach + $1 beers + Southeast Asia = backpackers. I wandered in to a restaurant, overheard mixed accents at the table next to me which meant they weren't travelling together and had probably met that day, and joined them.

This is how I found myself at a cocktail stand in a back alley drinking something neon green and lethally strong out of a plastic cup with a lid and a straw. These holes in the wall are Bali's version of Thailand's bucket stands, and if you're ever in Bali wondering where the backpackers are, this is your answer. And this is also how I became aquainted with Bali's community of a very specific type of backpacker - the kind that never leaves.

This is globalized capitalism's little loophole. The western dollar is worth so much more in these countries that you can spend your life working for a few months at home, then living the life of a Southeast Asian beach bum for another few months until your money runs out. I'm a millionaire for the third time in my life right now - I've also been a Vietnamese millionaire and a Laotian millionaire. Sure, it's a life of alcoholism and instability, but it's basically a philosophical choice about the meaning of life. If you don't think slaving away at 9 to 5er for 45 years to scrimp and save for a meagre retirement is a particularly meaningful way to live your life, either, you can literally just drop out and run away.

This is a totally rational life choice to make and, quite frankly, I don't understand why more people don't make it. What does bug me, though, is when this type deludes themselves into thinking they're having some kind of deep cultural experience. "There's just something about this place that draws me in," I kept hearing. Yeah, dude. The thing about this place that keeps drawing you in is the fact that it's intentionally designed to cater to your every desire. You want cocktail? You want massage? You want girl? Of course you do. Cheap cheap.

Personally, if I were going to drop off the face of the earth in Bali, I would do it in Ubud. Ubud is a little town north of Kuta that I drove to on a motorbike yesterday. You have to brake to let chickens cross the road. It's surrounded by rice paddies. And this is no exaggeration - every other building is an art gallery. A lot of the art is mass produced souvenir crap, but there are also a lot of serious gems. I biked away with a backpack full of paintings and a big smile.

I would love to spend more time here and bike further afield to the volcanoes and tiny villages and jungle temples. But sadly, I'm only here for three days, and I'm too hung over to do anything today besides blog and go to the beach. Next time, maybe.