Running Thoughts

A per-kilometer check-in on running the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon for the second time, on May 25, 2014.

Starting Line-      Apparently, there’s a man here running his 728th marathon. He is 88. Amazing.

Kilometer 1-      Yay, crowds of runners! (5min06 sec)

2-      I can’t believe these people woke up to cheer us on. It’s 7AM. Go back to bed. (9:52)

3-      The Rideau Canal is beautifully misty. (14:41)

4-      So I just gotta do this like 10 more times…

5-      Poster reads: “Pain is just a sign of de-feet.” Puns. (23:56)

6-      You know what? I’m not feeling too bad. Surprising given how much sitting I’ve been doing. (28:37)

7-      The sound of so many feet running is spectacular. And a bit frightening. (33:19)


Let’s talk business

During Winter 2014, I participated in Basic Business Skills for Non-Business Graduate Students (BBS), offered through SKILLSETS. Recently, I sat down with David Syncox, Graduate Education Officer, to learn more about the course.

Could you give me some insight on how the course came about?

It really is a fairy tale story. Two PhD candidates, one from Experimental Medicine and the other from Human Genetics, had the idea of setting up a lecture series on basic business skills. Unfortunately, even though they were part of a student consulting group at McGill, they experienced difficulties in doing so.

These graduate students came to me in 2009, right after SKILLSETS had been founded, and together we created BBS. To their credit, they worked tirelessly to coordinate the series, picking topics, determining the cases, booking rooms, and inviting presenters. During the first session, in Winter 2010, we had 30 students. By Fall 2010, we had 150 people apply for 50 spots. We quickly realized this was going to be a very popular course, and we needed to scale-up our capacity to accommodate students.


Unconformity: the Sixth McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Conference

POSTER-Final[Resize]What is the role of the ‘what-is-no-longer-there’ in shaping the present?  How do anthropologists, and other academics, engage with residuals, traces, and artifacts? How do intrusions, differences, ruptures, and discontinuities speak to investigative areas of inquiry?

Such questions will be addressed next Friday (March 21st) at the McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Association’s (AGSA) sixth annual Anthropology Graduate Student Conference: “Anthropologies of Unconformity: Erosions, depositions, and transformations.” The conference will be held in the Thomson House Ballroom, from 9AM to 4PM.



Snowy day atop Bromont

Snowy day atop Bromont

Winter is hard. Cold weather breeds antisocial behavior. The lack of daylight drives down energy levels. And the snow and ice further hamper any activity that requires even a minimal effort. This year, with its record-breaking lows, has been particularly difficult, even in a Winter-friendly city like Montreal.

In an attempt t to stave off the S.A.D.s (ie., seasonal affective disorder), this year I decided to join the SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club.


Until the Fat Lady Sings

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

Many people regard opera as elitist, boring, and on the wane. A relic of past grandiosity that is out of touch with present aesthetics and popular culture. Something that soon will go the way of the dodo or Hostess snack cake

As the saying goes, however, the future of opera is not so easily prophesized. The “fat lady” might in fact be singing, but it most certainly is not over. (more…)

Removing the Dust of Daily Life


Ermahgerd: The author as Frida Kahlo

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

– Pablo Picasso

Over the years I’ve found that I increasingly spend more and more time on my computer, and have less and less time to devote to art projects. I used to paint, sketch, and visit art museums constantly. Now, my schedule is too full given my academic workload, and extracurricular physical and social activities. Further, the high cost of art material and difficulty in transporting such material has meant that I have regrettably not done anything for a very, very long time.

Thus, much of my creative urges have found a home in the corners of my academic work. Graphs and tables can be beautiful. Fieldwork photos demand editing to maximize their aesthetic poignancy. Even spending hours composing PowerPoints was refreshing. Still, my soul seemed to be getting lost in the dust piled on by daily life.


Professionalization the CAPS way

images (1)Confession time: I’ve never applied for a job.

Sure, I’ve applied for graduate schools, grants and scholarships, teaching assistantships, and once, a course lectureship. And I’ve had  jobs outside of the academy too, ranging from gymnastics coach to in-China program instructor. Some of these applications required CVs, a cover letter, or interview, but none required all the elements (that I’m told) are part of getting a job. Needless to say, as I near the end of my doctoral degree, it’s time to start wising up about getting a job.

In a bid to professionalize, I registered for McGill’s Career and Planning Services (CAPS) workshop series.


Breaking the Shackles of Freedom

shackles There is a widely-shared perception that life as a graduate student is relaxed, romantic, and carefree. Sure, we might face the occasional stress-inducing deadline, committee meeting, or funding application, but what else do we really have to do? Of course, not all graduate programs are created equal, leading to a valued stress gradient, ranging from those in the Sciences, with their rigid laboratory schedules and tedious calculations, to those in the Arts, who may choose to go to a cafe to work, if they work at all. Life as a grad student (in the Arts), it would appear, is easy-breezy beautiful.

Why then do grad students seem to be so stressed out?


It’s like running a marathon…

Sitting Pretty Post Marathon

Sitting Pretty Post Marathon, 26 May 2013.

More than a month on, I can barely remember any of the nearly three hours and fifteen minutes it took me to complete the Ottawa Marathon this past May. I do remember: the moment of silence for the Boston Marathon victims at the race start; the feeling of my left pinky toe swelling-up beginning at kilometer 22; feeling jealous as I passed on-lookers drinking mimosas; the folk band’s rendition of “Everybody Dance Now” at kilometer 38; the crowd’s cheering during the last three kilometers when I really just wanted to give up.

What I recall the most was not the race itself, but rather the state of utter joy-exhaustion-emotion upon its completion, and the great group of friends that waited patiently at the finish line to (literally) scoop me up and begin the celebrations. (more…)

From West to East and Back Again: What I’ve learned about setting up research away from McGill

Travel Stamps I’ve spent almost two years in China researching tuberculosis control. Along the way, I’ve garnered a lot of experience in setting up research abroad. Here, I lay out ten points of advice for Grad Life readers that are on the road to do research away from McGill:



In Our Lifetime?: World Tuberculosis Day 2013

Distributing education material at a World TB Day event. Kunming, China

Upon first describing my research—on tuberculosis (TB) control in China—I’m generally met with glassy stares or feigned interest. When people ARE instantly captured, I get the feeling that much of it comes out of an anxious hypochondria that’s more about themselves than anything that I have to say. A bit of an exaggeration, okay, but to be sure: TB is not the “sexiest” of research topics.

And that’s part of the point of my work.

Did you know that approximately 30% of the world’s population is already infected with the TB bacillus? Or, that TB is seventh on the list of top causes of morality worldwide, at 1.4 million deaths (4.3% of all deaths)? Or, that 8.7 people fell ill with TB in 2011?


Changing of the Red Guard

President XI Jinping will have to contend with a increasingly technologically savvy China

Over the last two weeks, Chinese government officials have gathered in Beijing for the National People’s Congress (NPC), and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). In Chinese, this gathering is known as the “Two Meetings”— an annual assembly that puts forth national-level political decisions.

This year’s meetings marked the once-in-ten-year transition of state figureheads. Under President HU Jintao and Premier WEN Jiabao, the past decade has been most notably characterized by large-scale growth. There’s been the darling infrastructure projects,  like the Three-Gorges Dam and the high-speed railway network; the push for increased global prominence, such as China’s entry to the World Trade Organization and the 2008 Olympics; and of course, the  high national GDP growth, which averaged 11%. Canada’s average for this period, by the way, was roughly 2%.

Last week, President HU (pronounced “WHO”) handed over the reins of power to XI Jinping (last name pronounced “SHE;” hopefully his name will not engender too many headline jokes a la Michael Scott). XI brings to the table a charisma that the previous two generations of Chinese leaders severely lacked. Plus, a modern political PR machine that has aided in molding a much more affable and “of the people” narrative. AND, a super star wife, who, in addition to her singing fame, has been working on HIV and TB issues since 2005, most recently as the World Health Organization’s Global Ambassador.


Got a Ticket to Ride?

To Infinity and Beyond! Source.

Long, slow-moving lines in China are never a good sign, especially when preceding a lengthy journey in a cramped space. Such was my luck last Saturday night, as I prepared to go back to my research site after a short work-ation during Spring Festival (a.k.a., Chinese New Year). It had been a restful and productive week in a small Bai minority village, surrounded by the Cang Mountain panorama and Erhai Lake, and only a three kilometer walk through emerald fields to the old town tourist area. If there was a better place to start my dissertation writing, I would be hard pressed to name it. I felt the tension return to my shoulders as I waited for the serpentine crowd to move. And then the whispers caught my ear: “Those people have standing tickets.”


A Kunming Carole: Reflections on the Holidays in Five Scenes

Street Performer, Jinma Fang, Kunming, 25 Dec 2012

Scene One: Christmas Light Bulb

I knew I wanted to write a blog post about spending the holidays in China, but couldn’t  find a thread to tie my thoughts and experiences together. China, being an atheist state (opiate of the masses and all), does not officially celebrate Christmas. This has not, however, stopped the incursion of a certain jolly resident of the North Pole, or market capitalism from incentivizing a growing red-and-green presence starting in early December. Some of it is right on, like the decked-out Christmas trees that occupy the front of major department stores. Some of it is slightly off, like the Chinese translation of Christmas as Shengdan Jie (圣诞节), which literally translates to “Holy Birth Holiday,” but might also be confused for “Santa Holiday.” And then there is the downright funny appropriations, like the balloon-and-stilts payaso Santa I came across in one of Kunming’s main public squares. Cobbling these images together in a coherent manner seems at once forced and yet inefficient in capturing this unique collage.

I’ve gotten into the habit of going to a nearby Cantonese restaurant on not-just-Saturdays to indulge in dim sum, and catch up on some reading on my Kindle. The food is delicious, the location is convenient, and the clientele is exclusively Chinese. I found myself heading there, thinking about how best to describe the holiday experience. Busy as always, I walked into the restaurant, and couldn’t help but smile: my familiar servers were buzzing around, carefully balancing little delicatessens on bamboo steamers, all the while wearing Santa hats and moving to Jingle Bells. In Chinese, of course.


Of Elephants, Donkeys, Dragons and Men: Thinking about how China Perceives the U.S. Perception of China

Street-side advertisement for the November issue of Vista Magazine, Kunming, China 2012

It’s been over a month since U.S. citizens went to polling stations and exercised their right to elect representatives to office.  Having cast my absentee ballot in September, I watched the lead up to the election half-heartedly, frustrated by bad Chinese internet connections, and without the possibility to change my vote. Thirteen hours ahead of EST, I woke up on Wednesday, November 7th to hear political pundits on NPR (the only reliable stream available) go on about the feasibility of a Romney victory. And then, quickly it was over.

For U.S-observers here, it wasn’t entirely surprising that China played a significantly more prominent role in comparison to previous presidential elections (see graph below). For example, in the third presidential debate on foreign policy, “the China question” even closed down the show (what no Europe?). Obama and Romney’s responses differed only by degree, both highlighting the precariousness of Sino-U.S. bilateral relations and recapitulating a tried image: China, while a potential global partner, is mostly a threat, to the economy and trade, national and regional security, intellectual property, and the list goes on. Strangely, (perhaps even tellingly?), in his introduction to this line of questioning, Bob Scheiffer, the debate moderator, seamlessly sequewayed from an initial China reference to ask the candidates: “What do you believe is the greatest future threat to national security?”

Excuse me? (more…)

Grad Life: Hutong Edition

"In with the New Old: A reconstructed Hutong in Beijing" by E. Dirlikov

Throughout much of my doctoral field research in Beijing, I have been staying in an old Chinese courtyard (siheyuan’r) that a few old friends of mine share. Such courtyards were originally familial compounds, which were highly ordered (e.g., in their construction, lay out, etc.), and ordering, both within (e.g., gender, birth order, etc.) and outside (e.g., professional rank, economic status, etc.). Today these courtyards can house several families, who all share the open spaces to dry clothes, eat food, park bicycles, and of course, gossip.


Walking the Great Wall for AIDS Awareness

China's first AIDS Walk, Great Wall-Jinshanling Section October 13, 2012

Grad Life blogger Emilio Dirlikov is currently completing his Doctoral field research in Medical Anthropology in China.

It was Friday evening,  the eve of China’s first AIDS Walk. I sat at home with Xiaogang, the Walk’s director, awaiting a phone call. “You know, every time we organize such an event, we get a phone call from the public security bureau at the last minute to tell us we cannot hold the event anymore” he told me. He had been expecting the call for several days, but this time he hoped that things would be different. (more…)

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