Downtown Toronto Tourism Spotlight: Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)!

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The Royal Ontario Museum is definitely a sight to see, and one that you likely pass by frequently walking across campus to different classes. It is located between St. George and Museum subway stations and is one of the most convenient tourist spots location-wise for University Of Toronto students in particular. Even Museum station itself is beautifully designed as a nod to the institution’s collections. Not to mention the fact that General admission to the Museum is free to full-time students attending a Canadian post-secondary institution on Tuesdays when valid school ID is presented. Talk about a sweet deal!

The ROM originally had one major gallery for archaeology, geology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and zoology. Nowadays, there are frequent new limited-edition exhibits that are not covered by our student general admission, such as the tattoo exhibit recently launched.

You can view that entire museum at an comfortable pace in one afternoon. I really enjoy a visual representation of history rather than how school introduces students to history via mandatory boring history classes in high school. The first thing to notice about ROM is the beautiful architectural design from the outside that has a modern asymmetrical vibe. Inside is very easy to navigate with a map pamphlet, although I would encourage you to view the museum at your own pace and not necessarily stick to a single planned route. The fun part of the museum is discovering the exhibits on different floors and taking as much time as needed to enjoy the full experience.

I hope this blog article gave you an honest student perspective on this tourism spotlight of the ROM. Happy exploring!

A Lesson from Water: Polarization to Radicalization

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Water is ubiquitous and everywhere we look, even in the least expected places. In the desert or on Mars, we still find water.

Water is polarized. Its polarity stems from the fact that a water molecule carries both a partially positive and partially negative charge. Positivity and negativity, like yin and yang, result in its polarized nature. Its properties allows water to “shake hands” with the essential building blocks of life, like our genetic materials (DNA/RNA), proteins, and fats (lipids), thus sustaining life on earth. At important moments, it also willingly sacrifices itself for our metabolism.

However, at other times water molecules can become excited (charged), brandishing its long arms to grab one more negative charge, which turns itself into a radical. The water-derived radicals damage all building blocks of life, and are thus destructive to all life forms, producing effects ranging from the fishtail wrinkles to liver cirrhosis to cancer.

The radicalized transformation of the polarized water molecule exemplifies the violence in our society.

Polarization is the representation of two sides on the premise of a whole. Canada is a polarized country. We get rid of the Conservatives to elect the Liberals; we discuss the pros and cons of the legalization of marijuana and assisted suicide openly. On the passing of our former mayor, Rob Ford, we put aside of his distasteful past, and remember what he did well for the city of Toronto and her people. A polarized society is a sustainable society that balances the weights from both sides.

Radicalization differs from polarization by its gluttony. A person becomes a terrorist by gaining a bomb; a rancher become an armed militia when he put his own ends above the federal law; a presidential candidate arises from a narcissist offering to build a wall. Our body deals with free radicals in a two-pronged approach: on one hand, it eliminates them; on the other hand, if the cells became overwhelmed by radicals, the cells commit suicide. Either way, our body tries to get rid of the radicals and minimize the damage.

In regards to national and international security, we are trying to do the same to the violent terrorists; however, we are strained both ways. Currently, we are at a crossroad: on one side, we try to eliminate terrorism; on the other side, we try to prevent the heartless and amoral attacks. We cannot stop, because if we did, we would then lose both battles. Our inactivity shows our weakness and reluctance to collaborate, and that only means encouragement to the terrorists.

To root out the radicals, one needs to understand the root cause. Jealousy of our wealth, envy our democracy, or hate of the fact that we are happy and free are often touted as the reasons for terrorists attacks. However, such thinking only represents our ignorance of the past and arrogance to learn.

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Terrorists are created by no one but us, the West. Let’s use Taliban as an example. When the British realized that they could no longer sustain the Indian subcontinent, they drew lines on the map to separate the subcontinent based on religion: one country for the Muslims and one for the Hindus. For Muslims, there was the East and for West Pakistan, and later the East of Pakistan became Bangladesh. India was left for the Hindus. Since the separation, Pakistan and India have been fuming and fighting. The smaller state of Pakistan had no space to fall back on once India attacked, so they decided to butter up their backyard neighbours- Afghanistan. In the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, India supported Russia and thus Pakistan decided to work with US. Eventually, the Soviets pulled out from Afghanistan and Pakistan took over Afghanistan. This was the key moment in which Pakistan started to train local militias against their neighbour, groups which later became Taliban. A similar pattern is observed in almost all tumultuous places: Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Somalia. In every case, the West decided to destabilize a region for its own gains and created a void that could only be filled by something worse: radical terrorists.

When can we learn to keep our hands in our own pockets? I understand the urge to tell people how to be good, but this does not solve any problems. We need to let trapped people to find their own ways out. We should only assist from the outside. Our foreign policy is like a stud walking into a case of domestic violence. We beat up the husband and leave. Surely, he won’t torture his wife in for a while, but the violence will resume. It’s only when the wife wants to change that such violence can be quenched.

Life Lessons from a Cabbie

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The day before I would take the taxi ride that resulted in my learning the story below, I was in a fourth-year English seminar discussing The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. The professor talked about how the Orient tale was often used in the eighteenth-century as a fantastical narrative form by Western writers concocting stories that commented on their own domestic circumstances. Orient tales like Nights were then often abridged into children’s books imbued with bourgeois morals designed to educate Western readers on how to be good, upstanding Britons.

I don’t drive, and living in Toronto I’ve been happy to take public transit wherever I go. Yet my family doctor is in Oakville, so when I need to see her I go home for the weekend and take a cab to my appointment on the days when my parents can’t give me a lift. So it was that the day after my class I found myself speaking with a middle-aged cab driver who told me that he was from Turkey.

After talking for a while about his family and kids, he then asked about me. I told him that I was about to graduate from U of T in June.

“You are entering your donkey years,” he said.

I thought that I had misheard him, but when I saw him looking at me through the rear-view mirror, eyes smiling, I realized I hadn’t. I asked him what he meant, and he told me this story.

Once upon a time there lived a donkey, a dog, a monkey, and a human. The donkey, dog, and monkey each had a life expectancy of forty years while the Human’s was only twenty. Yet each animal had their unique grievances: the donkey was weary of a life spent working hard for others and being treated poorly for little compensation. The dog was weary of guarding his property and spending its days barking to protect it. The monkey was upset because all anyone ever did was make fun of how silly it was. Yet the human had no grievances  because it’s life was easy and pleasant; its only complaint was that it was so short.

Watching from above, God saw their grieving and transported them to Heaven. He listened the donkey, dog, and monkey’s complaints in turn before turning to the human.

“The other animals say that they wish their lives were shorter because their lives are so tedious and difficult, but your life is good,” God said. “What is then is your grievance?”

“Nothing; I only wish that my life were longer,” the human replied.

Thinking for a moment, God at last announced that he had a solution to all their grievances.

“The donkey, dog, and monkey are all weary of their lives and wish them to be shorter. So I will cut each of their lives in half, and give these extra years to the human,” he said.

The cabbie said that I was now, at twenty-one, one year out of my human years and into my donkey years. My human years were easy, carefree, and pleasant. Upon graduating, my donkey years would involve my taking jobs where I worked hard for long hours with little pay as I climbed my career ladder. When I turn forty, he said, I will enter my dog years, where I have made it to the top of my career and am now barking orders at people below me and guarding the success that I earned in my twenties and thirties. When I turn sixty, I will spend the rest of my life in my monkey years, when my grandchildren will make fun of me for being so silly.

“In all my life, I have never met anyone who was able to disprove my story. Can you?” He asked me. I said I couldn’t. He was exactly right.

When we arrived at the clinic I told him that I would share his story, and I did, with my family and friends. Now I am sharing it here, so you too can share the wisdom I learned from a cabbie.

Why It’s Okay to Accept Change

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In Eden Robinson’s short story “Traplines” the main character, Will, goes on to say the famous quote “I’m losing a lot this week.”

We’ve all been there, letting our fellow peers, classmates, friends, and family tack a label onto us. “The Science Whiz”, “The Book Worm”, “The Businessman”, “The Jokester” “The next Da Vinci”. It’s fun and games at first, being able to relate to an archetype helping us to identify ourselves through our long, endeavouring lives. But these labels are also the cause of so much confusion and wasted time and effort.

Imagine you’re in your final year of high school and you’re racking up the 95s in all your courses, including the core sciences and mathematics. You’re pretty modest about it, but everyone says you’re hot stuff, even your relatives saying you’re set to hit the big leagues. Eventually, word gets out about your achievements and everyone starts calling you a future doctor or dentist. So you all decide to enrol in the highly-populated life sciences program at U of T St. George. Lectures seem like high school review and everyone is aiming towards an MD, PhD or both. Life’s going pretty well. Until the first midterm, and surprise- you end up with a 60%.

You’re shocked. You thought you were smart. You really believed it. Everyone said so. You brush it off though, and decide to keep going, trying harder, studying more. You cut off time with your friends and family. First semester ends and you’re left with a GPA that almost every average student has. Second semester rolls around, and it’s all the same. You start to think that science isn’t for you. But luckily summer rolls around and school is finally over. You decide to enjoy the holidays and make a striking comeback next fall. But unfortunately for you, things are just getting tougher. Fall arrives and all your friends have either done research at a lab, volunteered at a hospital, or travelled halfway across the world to save Dr. Dhillon’s ailing cousin in India. At this moment, you realize that you hate science. You don’t like the competitive field. You don’t like research. You don’t like the concept of sitting in lecture for a few hours, going home to study some more and then coming in to fill in a scantron sheet only to spit out a few numbers jabbing at your already overly-sensitive GPA. So you finally decide to sit down and really start to think about life, who you really are, what you really like and what you want to live for.

It took me two huge paragraphs to only touch the surface of a bigger issue. As a life science student, I might not hear these stories from everyone, but I have heard of them on multiple accounts and in many different forms. I can’t help but think of what could have been done to prevent these anxieties, to prevent students from wasting time of the wrong life paths, to prevent the waste of effort and money. To prevent these feelings of dismay and unworthiness. To prevent the imagined judgement of people saying of you “They couldn’t handle the life science program”, “Guess they weren’t smart enough”, “Hah, I remember when they wanted to be a doctor, what a joke”. It’s because of this stigma that many students are unable to open up about their ambitions of pursuing a career in science. Even the words “MCAT” are taboo. No one wants to be labelled a failure.

But it’s okay.

You’re not a failure and you’re not going to let their discouraging words manifest inside you. You’re going address your insecurities now. I understand that it isn’t easy to do so, but we have to do it now so that these worries don’t turn into a bigger problem, like mental illness, later. You could even turn into the person you didn’t want to be, someone who puts others down for not succeeding, if you’re not careful.

Before I log off, I just want to mention that I didn’t make up the preceding story off the top of my head. Most of it was inspiration* from a fellow classmate of mine. She’s a fourth year student and managed to find out that science wasn’t for her and that theatre was her real calling in her early undergrad years. She was happy for me, hearing that science was something I was and am still interested in. She was genuinely glad that I picked the right program for me despite external influences. I wish her all the best in her future endeavours, because if she hadn’t told me about her hardships I wouldn’t know to look out for them in myself. I wouldn’t understand what half the students in my class are going through. If she hadn’t expressed the kind of encouragement she did for me, I wouldn’t have gained the insight I know now.

*Although the bulk of the story was inspired by her, many bits and pieces were fragments I took from other people’s stories as well.

UTSU Spring Elections 2016

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As the semester comes to an end and elections season has been intense in all of the faculties and colleges, the election that affects all students at UTSG and UTM has now begun: the UTSU Spring Elections. For the next few days, students can exercise their right to vote for a UTSU that they feel will make a difference for them and cater to the needs that they want. As the Architecture, Landscape, and Design Director running on the slate HelloUofT, I wanted to talk a bit about my experience and why I think that it is extremely important to vote in these elections.

As a first year, I did not involve myself in and around campus simply because I did not think that I had neither the personality nor the courage to speak up about the lack of representation and involvement of my faculty. It was only after my friends invited me to join their group that I took the steps to put myself out there. Working with the slate has definitely been a lot different than just listening to them talk to me at a public place on campus. I have seen the raw, intense emotions of individuals who truly want to make UofT a place where the students feel included and engaged. I have seen a group comprised of seven executives and over fifteen directors instantaneously care for each other as soon as we all met. The experiences from our leaders inspires us to push harder and fight for the things we believe in, and I can honestly say that if these group of people can care immensely for people they’ve only just met, I am confident that they can put this love and strive into a UTSU that will not only listen to their students, but give back and give more reasons as to why UofT is such a fantastic school.

I encourage everyone to vote these next few days. Online voting is open until 6:30pm on the 24th at www.utsu.simplyvoting.com .

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Exercise your right to vote and get ready to say hello to a UofT that says hello back!

An Extremely Short List of the Top Shows on Netflix Right Now

NOTE:  there is no specific way in which these TV shows are ordered; they are all amazing in their own way.

Master of None
This new Aziz Ansari comedy is undoubtedly the best new show on Netflix right now. So, you know, start off with bang right? What I like about it is that it’s fresh and unique. I can guarantee you will not find another show on TV (or rather Netflix) comparable to this. While most shows attempt to grasp every single tiny laugh from its audience, Master of None is confident enough to let the viewers decide on their own terms what’s funny and what’s not. And it works. This hilarious and thoughtful TV show about an actor navigating through the world of show biz and his personal life is a must watch for all.

House of Cards

When I talk to people, some of them still tell me they haven’t seen or heard of House of Cards. Others don’t say anything about House of Cards because, well, I don’t always talk about TV to other people. But that’s not the point. The point is that people still haven’t watched this show, and that’s a scandal (haha Netflix reference). House of Cards is Netflix’s Mona Lisa. It is, in all its essence, its masterpiece. Politically charged, this is a story about a man’s rise to power, and all the immoral, illegal paths he takes to get there. With Kevin Spacey as the lead, they can do no wrong. Please do yourself a favour and watch the first season. I promise, you will not regret it.

Chef’s Table

For those who enjoy learning about food and the chefs who make it, this is the show for you. Chef’s Table is a documentary-type show that explores the idea of beauty in food. The show brings you around the globe, each episode interviewing different world-renown chefs and showcasing their unique take on the food they create. It’s amazing, highly educational and you will finish watching it with a new sense of admiration towards food.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

While this show isn’t as intellectually stimulating as the previous two, I can assure you B99 is just as much of a joy to watch. Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows a team of detectives led by a newly-appointed captain in the 99th precinct of the NYPD. The nonstop goofy humour produced by the show’s cast, including Andy Samberg, never fails to make me laugh. If you’re in for a good time, this is the show to watch.

Well there it is, my extremely short and indisputable list for the top shows on Netflix right now. Get watchin’.