Monday, March 28, 2011

The Muslim community in Canada

The title there is a bit glib; what I am trying to get at is how Muslims as a whole are perceived in Canada.

I live in a very Muslim part of town.  There is a mosque right next to my building.  I am clearly an outsider in this community, yet no one has been anything but polite and cordial, or at the very least neutral, towards me.  I have felt slightly self-conscious about doing things like bringing home a case of beer to stock the fridge (and there's no hiding that), but no one has paid it any mind.  The women smile at me; we do our laundry alongside each other.  The children sled down the nearby hill when it snows and shriek and act like children do.  The men hold the door open for me, and I for them.  I even shared an elevator ride up with an imam tonight.

I think of myself as tolerant of other cultures and willing to try new things.  I wholeheartedly believe that a smile is universal in any language.  But I am clearly still at heart quite American.  I remember 9/11 very clearly, and I remember crying that day and in the days after.  My country has many, many problems, but it is still my country, and it was attacked.  A part of me, so ensconced as I have been in American society for 28 years, slightly flinches when I see overt signs of Muslim culture.  I will be the first to admit that this unconscious reaction I have greatly bothers me.  No one has ever done anything directly to me.  And it is the extreme minimum percentage of the population that desires to hurt my country.  Yet I think that there is an extreme anti-Muslim sentiment that is ingrained in America, despite efforts of some to downplay it.  So pervasive is it that it has even infiltrated the ranks of the most broad-minded and tolerant Americans.

What encouraged this post was the fact that I finally was able to catch I show that I've been wanting to watch called "Little Mosque on the Prairie."  This is a Canadian sitcom focusing on a Muslim community out in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan.  There is no laugh track, and the humor is clearly different from an American sitcom, but I was surprised at how delightful the characters were.  The main character, a liberal imam, even has a smart-ass Anglican priest as his close friend.  His wife (in the episode I saw, they were just married!  Aw!) is an Islamic feminist and a doctor, and her Canadian mother converted to Islam to marry her Lebanese father, etc.  The show is just very sweet, showcasing the camaraderie of the community, but also highlighting the hardships (the conservative pundits who aren't happy about the community being there).  When I first saw an ad for it in the subway, all I could think was, "Holy COW..... I am not in Kansas anymore!"  Having seen the show, I could only think that there is no way anyone would ever agree to run it on American television.  It's kind of sad, too; it's a lighthearted look at the everyday life of Muslim families, and it pokes fun at everyone.  Perhaps America is still a bit too sensitive for that yet, though....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Importing a car to Canada (Ontario) *groan*

This post is fueled by frustration.  On-the-phone-for-hours-being-kicked-between-3-government-agencies frustration.  I now know that I needed to import my car into Canada; however, the people at the border crossing didn't put the proper paperwork in order, so now here I am scrambling around to get it all done.

Taking a vehicle into Ontario for >30 days (or is it 60?  It's one of the two.) requires that you actually import this vehicle into Canada and get it set up with Ontario plates.  To get Ontario plates, you need Ontario insurance, an Ontario license, and basically all of the stuff listed here.  The notable part here is Vehicle Form 1, which you get upon entering Canada, except in my case, where they told me I didn't need it when I asked.  Whoops.  Wrong-o, border agents.  So I've got to drive out to Pearson airport and get that set up, which is a pain, because I live on the other side of the city from Pearson.

My view of Toronto when I first drove in here last September.... didn't know it'd be so hard to bring Princess here for real!

The rest of the stuff on that checklist is simple and obvious, like a safety inspection, emissions test, etc.  Vehicle Form 1, however is a beast, and you can read all about it here.  Luckily, because I am on a temporary resident work permit, and I will be returning to the U.S., the RIV registration fee is waived, so there's $195 back for me.  Nevertheless, there are taxes on EVERYTHING, even air conditioning, as can be seen here and here.  There are even taxes on the taxes!  That sample calculation scares me; a $50k vehicle from the U.S. would cost almost $4k to import to Canada if it was fuel inefficient.  Princess thankfully isn't worth nearly that much, only a bit more than $4k herself, I'd say.  Because she's 12 years old, she'll be duty-free (yay!), and she's relatively fuel efficient.  Her city mileage is 10.2 litres/100 km, and her highway is 7.4 litres/100 km.  Note there is a HEFTY tax starting at 13 litres/100 km and higher.  Canada's trying to be green, yo.

That's my (somewhat buried in the Pennsylvania snow) girl!

All in all, with the AC excise tax, the GST (which I can perhaps get waived b/c I won't be leaving Princess in Canada), the safety/emissions inspections, the registration fee, and the cost to get a plate-holder on my front bumper (Ontario requires a front plate, and neither Georgia nor Pennsylvania did), I'm guessing it's going to be around $500 just to get Princess into the country legally.  Insurance is a whole 'nother can of worms.  Therefore, this will have to wait until I get paid this month.  I never thought I'd say this, but thank goodness for my postdoc's salary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Being quietly American (and southern) on the Toronto subway

I take the subway to and from work every day, and from my front door to my office comprises 45 minutes of walking to/from the station, elevator rides, transfers, etc.  After a couple of days of boredom with only my ipod to turn to for help, I decided to start reading on the train.  My first conquest was the very southern novel by very southern writer Flannery O'Connor entitled Wise Blood.  I first read Wise Blood in high school for class, and my notes are still scrawled in hot pink pen in the margins.  I couldn't help but think to myself that it was quite a wonderful thing, bringing something that was so innately southern into the subway system of the largest city in Canada.

Since then, I've become somewhat of an American rebel.  I downloaded Pete Seeger's American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 1, put it on my ipod, and have been bouncing away to favorite childhood songs ever since.  Pairing those with Roger Miller songs makes for a merry time, and they make me want to be out in the middle of America in a field, strumming away on a banjo.  Or listening to someone else strum.  String instruments elude me.

I eventually come out of my reverie and get off at my designated stop, but those little times with America and songs reminiscent of small-town America are pretty valuable to me.  They remind me that America ain't gone.... she's 140 miles away if I really needed to go, and it would only be a few hours until I'd be back amongst either family or friends.  I can be all business in Canada, if you'll just let me have my subway ride with "Oh, Susannah."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Separating people from their science

On a daily basis, graduate students and other researchers get figuratively beaten down by experiments that don't work, and they take it personally.  This can lead to depression, an unpleasant work environment, and even a poisonous aversion to science that can spread all too easily to others as they fall into the same trap.  We all get a little self-deprecating when we run into a spate of bad laboratorical luck, but when do we cross the fine line of failures in the lab extending to our views of our self-worth?

Back in the day, I heard about a professor who had some dubious dealings, and being a young scientist, this shook me down to the core.  I recall the poignant memory of feeling physically ill and shutting myself away for a few hours after hearing the news.  I remember calling my parents while taking a walk to clear my head, and my mom telling me, "Krissy, if you're going to be in this business, you've got to learn to separate people from their science.  They're people, too, and they make mistakes just like everyone else."

This advice from my mom, who is quite the scientist herself, was some of the best I have ever received, and it came at the perfect time (i.e., early).  Since then, I have encountered professors, researchers, and colleagues that  might choose different paths than I would in life, but I don't associate our disagreements with their science.  Their science and work is independent of and not influenced by their personal decisions (hopefully).  More, I don't tie in failed experiments with my self-worth.  If it didn't work, I 1) still try to salvage some knowledge out of it (a subject for another post, for sure), and 2) dust myself off and start another day.  It's amazing the insight a good night's sleep can provide.

This advice might be why I only had very minimal inklings of imposter syndrome just at the beginning of my graduate career (i.e., feeling like you don't belong or are not good enough for a certain professional setting), or why I have no problems talking to famous professors on a casual level.  I also have no qualms calling professors by their first name if they ask me to; I know a surprising number of people who struggle with this.  They are just people, and they are just as fallible as I am.

On the flip side, I am relatively disinclined to throw my proverbial professional weight around.  "Doctor" is reserved for formal introductions and solicitations of my money from my previous academic institutions.  I believe making myself approachable facilitates discussion and promotes teamwork.  Looking around at my environments past and present, this seems to be the direction that this new generation of science is taking, and I have to say, I'm liking it.