Saturday, August 31, 2013

VAGINA! Oh, and MLKJr, the election and all that: A list of links

1. Vaginas! Vaginas! Vaginas! This was a really interesting piece on the role of porn in making women self-conscious about their vaginas and why the author will be showing her kids pictures of uncensored, normal vaginas from a censored student publication (there are no vagina pics if you click on this link – it’s work friendly – but there are links on that page where you can go and see the censored and the uncensored version of the vagina cover). Here’s a quote from the piece that made me get all up on my soapbox and shout VAGINA in this post title:
“In Australian magazines, all vaginas have to be ‘healed to a single crease’ according to the censors. I’ll never forget that description. Anything ‘outside’ the crease has to be photoshopped away.”

No, seriously?


2. It was the 50 yearanniversary of the Martin Luther King’s 'I have a dream' speech. In a recent episode of The Newsroom, there was an interesting bit of dialogue from Will McAvoy about the rise of Martin Luther King Jr, who made his name fighting Rosa Park’s arrest for taking a stand against segregation on buses. But nine months earlier, it was a 15 year old, unmarried and pregnant Claudette Colvin who was the first to be arrested. She was judged entirely unsuitable as a representative of the African American fight for equal rights... because, you know... unwed teen mother and all that. Birmingham’s African American community’s committee looked into the case but decided to wait for a better case to pursue. Had they run with it, had they taken up Claudette Colvin rather than Rosa Parks as their catalyst, King may never have reached such political heights. We may never have heard ‘I have a dream’.

3. It’s getting closer to the election and there’s more and more stuff to read and listen to. I’m still having a love affair with Antony Green and he’s still fired up about preference deals in the Senate ballots. It’s an increasingly ludicrous system where not only is that ballot paper enormous with about a million minor parties, but preferences deals might see Pauline Hanson gaining a Senate seat. For those not playing in Australia, Pauline Hanson is… well, she’s just… interesting.

4. On the topic of gay marriage, ABC's Vote Compass, which I’ve talked about here, has found the majority do not believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Yay, that’s great. But the breakdown of ideology and demographics is interesting. Click through and have a squizz. In the religion category, for instance, I find it interesting that Catholics are increasingly supportive of gay marriage over some of the other Christian denominations. Wonder if that has anything to do with a loose interpretation of the new pope’scomments on homosexuality

5. The coverage of the election has also been getting its own airtime. Rupert Murdoch is not a fan of Kevin Rudd and the current government and his papers are making no bones aboutwhere they stand. The headline of The Daily Telegraph after the announcement of the election date: “KICK THIS MOB OUT”; a few days later Rudd and crew were depicted as Hogan’s Heroes charactersin Nazi uniforms. Charming. Newspapers are allowed editorial comment but front paper headlines like this benefit no-one, certainly don't do journalism's reputation any favours. This ad from Get Up Australia, makes the point nicely, I think.

6. And my favourite political story - the deputy leaders have been guesting programming on RAGE, picking 20 of their favourite songs each. It is vaguely disturbing that Julie Bishop's list includes Madonna's 'Like a Virgin'. Here's tonight's full playlist - I'm going to check out if there's anything new I can put into my New Songs Playlist.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ten tips for being a better house guest

We've just had a trail of house guests, one after the other over four weekends. And it got me thinking about what makes a good house guest, one that you want to come back again and again because having them here is just plain awesome.

I tend to think I make a poor to middling house guest myself when I'm visiting family. We usually have an awesome time but I don't think I do the dishes or help out often enough. So these ten tips are a combination of what I've liked people doing when they come here, what I wish they'd do when they came here, and what I acknowledge I should be better at myself. I'm not pointing fingers, Mama, I promise.

  1. Please don't assume you can stay with us because, hey, we might be busy or have other guests. If you book your tickets without consulting with us about dates, please don't be surprised if you end up having to book a hotel as well.
  2. Please don't expect my toddler to cuddle or talk to you right away. If you haven't seen him since his functional memory kicked in, you are a perfect stranger. He might take a little time to warm up to you.
  3. Please don't sleep nude. My boy doesn't need to see your junk. I don't either.
  4. If you are sleeping in a shared space, please don't sleep in. I really can't keep Dear Boy at bay in his bedroom when he's up and ready for the day. Also, please pack up your bed and bedding (and keep your stuff neat) so we can use the space on a day-to-day basis. A big old mattress in the middle of the room doesn't work for anyone; not even Dear Boy wants to jump on it for that long.
  5. If you're staying for several days on a non-work trip, please come with a vague plan of what you'd like to do with your time. I'm happy to consult on places to go and things to see and do but I am not a tour guide or the entertainment director. If your preference is to sit on the lounge, please don't expect us to be with you the whole time. Dear Boy needs to run free.
  6. If you borrow my house-key, please be home to let us in when you say you will be. There's a lot of stuff in my bag but I don't keep an infinite supply of nappies, snacks, water or toys in there.
  7. Please cook, pick up a take-away, pack the dishwasher, watch Dear Boy, hang out the laundry, etc. Just do it, don't even offer because I'll likely say 'no' but really want to say 'yes, please'. You might feel like you're on holiday, but having a house guest adds to my work load. I really do love having people to stay, but even the most entertaining house guests can be a pain in the bum if they don't help out.
  8. Please don't tell me what you think I'm doing wrong. This applies to my parenting, my cooking, my housekeeping, my crafting... you name it. Unless I've specifically asked for your advice, it's likely that I don't want it.
  9. Please strip the bed and chuck the bedding into the laundry before you go. I don't expect you to wash and iron it all before your jet off; I'm just not a fan of handling other people's sheets.
  10. Please don't announce you need a ride to the airport the morning you have to go. If we haven't worked it out previously I'll assume you're making your own way and make other plans. Train station is that way. 
Look, I said please.

Oh, that reminds me: say thank you. I would have thought that was self-explanatory, but apparently not.

How would you rate yourself as a house guest?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I voted. Sound the trumpets.

I’m jetting northwards with Dear Boy over the election weekend, so I voted early. I’d assumed I’d just rock up to my old polling station in Newcastle and cast an absentee vote on the day, but was disabused of that notion. That’s only do-able if you’re within the same state. Interstate voting only happens at a small number of specially designated Interstate Voting Centres, none of which were located near my hotel in the heart of the city. Go figure.

Postal voting lacks all the fun and interest of doing it in person, so I looked up the location of my nearest (or not so ‘nearest’**) Early Voting Centre and went to cast my ballot.  

I wheeled Dear Boy up to the Masonic hall and found stairs. Just stairs. Handy.

I asked the Liberal candidate, who was closest (and who I only know is a candidate because his big smiley face was on a poster right behind him), if there was a ramp and received only a blank face for my query. He couldn’t quite make the connection between me and the need for a ramp. You could see his brain was clicking over. Voter. Ramp. Voter. Ramp. Smile. Not even a nod down at the boy kicking away in his stroller seemed to clue him in.

The Greens spruiker leaned over, laughing. “No ramp, but I’ll give you a hand up”. With one hand full of preference leaflets, he wrapped the other around the stroller’s foot strap as I hauled stroller and child backwards up the flight of stairs.

At the top, a wild-haired woman who had clearly suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury yelled at me to “Vote Family First! Okay?!”. Then she yelled it again. Dear Boy scrunched down in his seat to escape her; I wondered if she was complying with the distance-from-polling-station-door rules.

Does anyone else think it’s weird that you don’t have to show ID to vote? You just give them your name and address and they slide that little ruler down the page and mark you off. Anyone… well probably anyone of the same sex… could rock up and cast your vote with or without your consent.

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get to stand for half an hour in that little cardboard booth and number each and every one of the million 90-odd senate candidates below the line, but Dear Boy was getting impatient before I’d even numbered 1-6 on my green ballot paper. Where would I have ranked Labour, The Greens and the Coalition against Julian Assange and the Wikileaks Party, Bob Katter’s Australian party, the Pirate party, the Sex party, the Palmer United party, Family First, the Stable Population party, the 21st Century Australia party and so on? Probably not in that order… but WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE? 

I'm also a little annoyed I didn't get a sticker. Dude in the picture got a sticker.

Do you like voting in person too? Are you a one-above-the-line or an all-below-the-line Senate voter? 

**I am giving no props to the Australian Electoral Commission’s organisational skills and web updates because they sent me to the wrong location and it took me half an hour to find the polling station.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Triangle quilt: all quilted

I've developed tiny calluses on my stitching fingers, little points of toughened skin from pushing and pulling and wrestling a tiny needle through layer after layer of quilt. The quilting's done. It feels like it's taken quite a while but maybe it's been a month or two, with an hour here and there, stitching triangle after triangle and line after line and wrangling all the fabric in this direction and that.

I ended up choosing a similar simple quilting pattern to my baby sampler quilt, stitching parallel lines along the triangle seams. I left the 'planets' un-quilted, but might need to stitch in the ditch at some stage if the patches of un-quilted fabric start to slip and wrinkle too much.

Because of my uneven stitching and obviously dodgy measuring skills, there was some trimming to be done: a few centimetres here and hardly any there. There was also some seriously awkward trimming around the back piece I had to add in to stretch the black fabric (and make it a little pretty), essentially seams I couldn't cut and will have to fold and stitch into the binding.

The quilting is far from perfect. Because of my bright idea to add in the back piece and not pay a lot of attention in the early stages of quilting, I ended up with these ugly patches on some of the coloured planets on the back. I managed to quilt around the ones with the lightest coloured fabric though, so from a distance, it isn't obviously hideous. Lesson learned there.

On to the binding. And then I'm done. Eeep!

Are you in the middle or near the end of a big project?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Tricks 13/26: Adding an (ugly) 'pin it' button to single images

I like Pinterest and I pin like a crazy person when I find a website I like. Having a built-in 'pin it' button on photos is a big help and saves a few extra clicks. But I'm not all that keen on offering pins on every single picture on my site. I don't particularly want pictures of Dear Boy pinned all over the internet and figure, probably naively, offering 'pin it' buttons on the ones I don't mind sharing will help prevent a bit of that (I know people who want to pin will find a way even if I build in code to prevent pinning on my site - easy enough to cut corners on that one).

I went in search of a tutorial or a coding page. There are quite a few that explain how to do it for all photos (e.g. adding code or a widget into the HTML of the template in Blogger). After a few Google refinements, turns out single photo buttons are pretty easy. In fact, Pinterest does it for you. I have to warn you, they are pretty ugly but hey, a new trick is a new trick even if it's an ugly one.

To build your own individual pins, you need to publish your blog post first, so you have a post URL that will connect to the pin and an image URL so the 'pin it' button connects to the right image. After that, head on over to Pinterest where they have a widget builder in their 'Goodies' section.

There are a few options, but the highlighted sections are the choices you need if you just want to build 'pin it' buttons for individual images, not all of your images throughout your blog. You can also pick where or even if you want to include a pin count with the button so you can see how many times it's been pinned.

Copy the post and the image's URLs. I'm using this weird dinosaur picture from my post on our trip to the museum because it's already been posted and generated the URLs I need. You can find the image's URL by right-clicking (sorry Apple users - you're on your own here) and choosing 'copy image URL'. Paste the URLs into the right slots in the widget builder.

Fill in the 'description' slot with whatever text you'd like to travel with the pin. Some people will change this to their own text but others will leave it as is, so make it descriptive and include your blog name.

Now hit 'Build It'.

When you hit 'Build It', you get both a preview and a chunk of code to paste into the HTML editor for your blog post. Make sure you place the code after the correct image's code or the button could end up anywhere.

The preview doesn't really preview what it looks like on the site. Mine certainly didn't come with a picture frame and a title underneath like this one does. This is what I got:

It's a small plain button and, as I mentioned before, it's ugly. I made it a bit prettier adding a centring bit of code around the chunk given by the widget builder, but it's still ugly. I'd really like to be able to add one of those cute little P-circle hover buttons to the individual picture but so far my coding and Googling skills have failed me. I know how to add the hover button to all images and even how to de-apply the button on specific images but that's a bit more arse-about than I want. I don't want to have to retroactively go through all of my posts and take the pins off all those images. The search continues.

Are you a coding or design pro who knows how to pretty up my single 'pin it' buttons? I'd love to hear how.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New songs on a Saturday morning (711-720)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

711. Polly Scattergood - 'I Am Strong' - Quirky and cute -just need to wait for the middle of the song for the good stuff.
712. Polly Scattergood -'Wanderlust' - Much less quirky and cute. In fact, not at all quirky and cute.
713. Imagine Dragons - 'Radioactive' - Meh.
714. Super Best Friends - 'Round and Round' - The song appeals to me not at all but the use of Australian politicians in the film clip amuses me so.
715. Lady Gaga -'Applause' - Beautiful 80s vibe through the chorus.
716. Katy Perry -'Roar' -
717. Lucy Spraggan -'Mountains' - Thanks for recommendation You Tube - you finally got one right. Gorgeous.
718. Lucy Spraggan - 'Lighthouse' - Foot-stomper.
719. Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan - 'Flatline' - Sorry You Tube, no dice.
720. Elton John - 'Home Again' - Why does it feel so strong that Elton's released a new song? Nice tune. Love the piano, as always.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Academia: Are students customers?

My university is large. It has tens of thousands of domestic and international students and thousands of academic staff and millions upon millions of research dollars. It's a public university funded by governments and it profits from monetising its staff's discoveries and inventions and ideas and services and from student fees.

My current question is this: are students customers?

Are they always right? Uh... no.

But it gets a bit complicated after that point. Students pay quite a bit for their education, even if they're eligible for deferred fee payment plans like HECS or HELP or whatever it's called these days. Full-fee paying students pay more. Like, a lot more. Like, way, way, way more. And they pay it up front. So for all those thousands of dollars, are they paying for the education process or the piece of paper at the end?

I've taught a range of students, from first years to postgrads, from slackers and stoners to the deeply inquisitive and hard-driven, from the barely literate to the intensely intelligent, from those that are there because their parents forced them to be and those who've have clawed their way into the degree come hell or high water. And some of them fail.

They fail to hand in their work, fail to attend, fail to listen, to learn or understand. They fail to pass. Some of them fail to do as well as they expected. They storm into my office - grades in hand and demand I change their distinctions to high distinctions because they've NEVER EVER gotten lower than a high distinction before. Some of them fail to comprehend the gravity of plagiarism and after first and second warnings they get their names placed on a register; they get taken before a review board if they do it again. Some of them cry and turn pleading eyes to me to please, please take it away, to make it better. I pass them the tissues.

If my students are customers, do they have the right to have their education provided to their satisfaction? Do they have the right to pass or achieve high marks regardless of their actual effort quality of work? Do I have an obligation to ignore their misdeeds so they can continue on into their chosen careers unimpeded? How much am I expected to value their dollars over the reputation of the degrees they're paying for?

What do you think? Is my university an education institution or a business?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (701-710)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

701. ABC and Achoo! Bless You! - 'Hoot! Hoot! It's a Lovely Day' - Not sure how I've missed it until recently but have fallen in love with this tune from Giggle and Hoot.
702. ABC and Terry Mann - 'Giggle Galaxy' - Another relatively recent addition to Giggle and Hoot. It's unlike the others they've put out - with more electronic pop and less folksy charm. But Dear Boy loves it - not only does it mention the moon and the stars but Jimmy Giggle, Hootabelle and Hoot are up there having a ball.
703. Achoo! Bless You - 'Before We Say Goodbye' - Beautiful harmonies.
704. Achoo! Bless You - 'Necessary Space' - Gorgeous soft little xylophone. Love his lyrics; love her voice.
705. Achoo! Bless You - 'No Way Of Knowing' - Doesn't hit the same stride for me as the others but still lovely.
706. Zee Avi - 'Bitter Heart' - This little baby tinkled its way out of my speakers after opening a flurry of webpages. It took me almost the whole song long to find which page had it on auto-play, and by then I was delighted. All simple sweetness with a gorgeous trumpet solo
707. Zee Avi - 'Concrete Wall' - There's a little hint of Kimbra's looping background vocals, but a far more sweet layered main line.
708. Zee Avi - '31 Days' - More of the island feel and ukulele in this track. Still sweet; still features a little subtle trumpeting.
709. Selina and Sirinya - 'Our' - Ummmm... Thai folk, I think.
710. Lenka - 'Nothing Here But Love' - Happy rooftop performance.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Day at the Museum

The museum is made for crazy blustery days. It was blowing a gale outside (quite literally, I think, with winds of up to 100k/hr) so we went dinosaur hunting in Melbourne Museum's exhibits.

The Melbourne Museum has a great children's gallery where the little kids can blow off steam after time spent not being able to touch anything. It has an indigenous puppet theatre, a Mesopotamian market and a Roman construction suit complete with dress-up togas. It's got the usual nature displays with buttons to press and sounds to listen to and videos to watch. It's got things to climb on and things to loll over. It's got weird mirrors and a mirrored triangular prism you can sit inside.

The museum also had cake... okay it was banana bread, but that counts as cake when you're 19 months old and you're stuffing it all in your mouth before you really take a good look at it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sneaky reading

I've been doing some sneaky reading. You know the kind - five minutes here while Lovely Husband does the bath time routine; five minutes there in bed before my eyelids start to weigh a tonne. All those little five minutes means I've actually finished a few books in the last couple of weeks.

The top two books, I've read before and picked up again when I'd run out of the unread ones. Fear and Trembling is a beautiful book - the story itself is a little 'meh' but the writing is elegant and lovely. It was originally written in French, so I'm not altogether sure whether it's an effect of the translation or the original writing. I suspect both. Q's Legacy is a book nerd non-fiction story about finding your reading niche, your reading mentor (of sorts) and also how she came to write her most famous book, 84 Charing Cross Road. Helene Hanff pretty much leads the charge in my non-fiction reading - I reread all her books regularly (especially 84 and Letters from New York). This is the one I've read the least times but occasionally it calls from the shelf.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris was a tax-refund treat, the very last of the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) mysteries. Even though the last few in the series were getting a bit same-same, I wanted to see it out. And, really, it was pretty same-same itself, but I needed the emotional payout after the investment of time and brain space I'd put in over the last couple of years.

The Rosie Project was a surprise book that my Mama smuggled into the house in her suitcase when she came to visit. She pushed hard for me to read it, following me around that first night while I cooked dinner, reading the first few chapters . It worked because I liked it. It's a Melbourne book. It's funny. It's got academics in it. It's got a strangely unlikeable but likeable lead character.

Have you read anything good (or not so good) lately? Are you a sneaky reader too?

Friday, August 9, 2013

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (691-700)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

691. April Smith and the Great Picture Show - 'Movie Loves A Song' - Oh my goodness. This song is exactly why I started this project so many, many months (years?) ago. It's listed in various places as folk rock and indie pop but I'm not altogether sure it's any of those things but then I'm sure it's all of them. It's that modern folk that abounds these days but less woodsy and more girly. April Smith's voice is lovely - just wait for that note at the end.
692. April Smith and the Great Picture Show - 'Terrible Things' - Great. Ms Smith sounds a touch like Gwen Stefani a la a No Doubt here.
693. April Smith and the Great Picture Show - 'Dixie Boy'.
694. Idina Menzel - 'No Day But Today' - I saw this lady performing in Rent in London many, many years ago. She was blonde. She mooed. When I heard her singing this - a song she was singing as an ensemble piece back then - I was a bit stumped. But she's good. Always was.
695. Alicia Keys - 'Tears Always Win' - Love the old school vibe.
696. John Legend - 'Made to Love'.
697. Club des Belugas - 'Straight to Memphis' - Loved 'Hip Hip Chin Chin', this is pretty good too.
698. The Afters - 'What We're Here For'. Blecch.
699. Charlotte Martin - 'Veins' - That raw, home-done percussion is fantastic.
700. Pink (feat Lily Allen) - 'True Love' - Hehe.

Where does your political compass point?

When I was pregnant with Dear Boy, I had an insane semester with a massive teaching load including a subject I'd never taught before, filling in for an academic on research leave. It was a 2nd year Communications and Media subject but with a primary theory that was deeply embedded in ideas of politics.

So we discussed politics in class.

And that scared the hell out of me.

I taught the course a year after a federal election, when most of these students had voted for the first time. I asked them what they knew of politics, their political beliefs, how they developed those beliefs and where their information about politics came from.

A much bigger percentage than I would have hoped admitted they just voted for who their parents voted for.

There was no - "oh we have a farm and the Nationals have always done well for us in our electorate" or "We're socially conservative so vote Liberal" or "Ethical treatment of refugees is one of my primary concerns and The Greens policy is the only one I've found that matches that" or "the workplace reforms of the previous Liberal government really hurt my family, so we vote Labor". None of that.

Most of the students had no clue what those parties stood for. Had no idea what their preferred party might do with our country if they came into power.

I am not normally a political animal but I know where the parties stand on the issues that are important to me. I know who the leaders are. And I know that I live in an incredibly safe Liberal seat where Labor and The Greens don't even bother putting up serious contenders. But I still vote and know who I'm voting for.

This year, I thought I'd get even more informed and see where I sit on a range of issues compared to the main parties, even the issues I don't particularly care about or impact on me and mine.

Enter the ABC's online Vote Compass where you answer questions in a dozen or so categories and find out how much you agree or disagree with the ALP, GRN and L/NP pollies. I also chose to weight the categories according to how much importance I place on them and got a slightly more detailed result (but it was essentially the same percentages).

So this is me. Apparently.

I don't think I've made any secret about my dislike of well... not the Liberal Party per se, but Tony Abbott. I would vote for a hell of a lot of other people before I'd give him my okay to be Prime Minister. I could probably even be convinced to vote Liberal if only they guaranteed Abbott wouldn't be PM (Malcolm, are you listening?).

Going through the results, though, and comparing my responses with where the parties sit, I was surprised by the overlap, not only between the Greens and Labor but also between the Liberal/National Party and the others on occasion. On a few questions, there we all were... piled together in a great big heap of agreement. Makes me wonder why more stuff doesn't get done about those issues when everyone is essentially on the same page.

I would love to get hold of those students now and make them take this quiz if only to learn something about their own government.

Where does your political compass point? Have you taken this quiz yet?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stick and song

Dear Boy has rediscovered his xylophone, which today he was taken to calling 'stick' and 'song'. He carried it around the house, tapping it top and bottom and occasionally running scales up and down and up and down. It's a beautiful tinkly sound running through the afternoon.


In the last few days he's also started singing his own songs, making up lyrics and rocking side to side. There's a lot of "mummmeeee" and "dadddeeeeee" going on, along with the odd "splash", "dinosaur", "doing it" from some of his current favourite tunes.

While I was cooking dinner, he asked me to turn on the CD player, then squealed with delight at the opening strains of lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'. It might be the "ra ra" or the "oh la la", but he just digs on that song. Don't think I'll be showing him the film clip anytime soon.

Monday, August 5, 2013

July in insta-photos

At the beginning of the month, I flew to the other side of the country for work, leaving my boy for the first time. It was a little rough all round - Dear Boy came down with a snotty, chesty cold and my internet connection wasn't fast enough to Skype. Lovely Husband was a trouper.

A break-in at my office, a few toddler tantrums and a couple of visits to the Emergency Department. I'll be happy for August to be a much less eventful month.

We ended the month with sunshine, with rainbows and the zoo. Oh, and broccoli, but that doesn't seem nearly as joyous.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Songs on a Sunday Morning (681-690)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

Bill Odie guest programmed Rage last Saturday night and I'm only just now getting around to checking out his playlist. I watched The Goodies as a kid and caught a few programs with Bill watching birds when I lived in the UK. There was a particularly memorable episode about the puffin. Good times. Now I'm a little curious about his musical tastes.

681. Little Feat - 'Rock and Roll Doctor' - Heh heh. This makes me think of my father, whose PhD technically makes him a Doctor of Rock.
682. Shelby Lynne - 'Your Lies' - Not a great video but such an amazing voice. 
683. Carole King - 'Love Makes the World' - I fell in love with Tapestry as a limp and moody teenager but have never really listened to much else of hers. This is a little odd - it's the same voice I knew, the same swelling melody to the chorus, same gorgeously sad and soppy lyrics - but it's relatively new. And by relatively new, I'm talking 2011, which is definitely weird when Carole King is all 70s all the time for me. 
684. Janis Ian - 'At Seventeen' - Such a sad tune. That sad sack teenager in me who loved Carole King and listened to The Doors in the dark, wants to cry at this.
685. Marvin Gaye - 'Lucky Lucky Me' - Go figure there are Marvin Gaye songs out there that I've never once heard played on the radio.
686. Joni Mitchell - 'Chinese Cafe'.
687. Lyle Lovett feat. Ricki Lee Jones - 'North Dakota' - Don't think I've ever heard a single one of this man's songs before. It's a gorgeous song, especially when Ricki slides on in.
688. Bill Withers - 'Use Me' - Oh Bill. Loving the age of this song, the dark glasses of the organist, the funk of the guitar and the guitar player.
689. Eric Church - 'Smoke a Little Smoke'. Errrm... far more country than I'm comfortable with. 
690. Bonnie Raitt feat. Ben Harper - 'Two Lights in the Nighttime' -... and yet, totally comfortable with country when Ben Harper's playing lap guitar and adding his gravel to the chorus. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cultural minefield: International students and gifts

I work at a big university. It has a lot of students.

And a lot of those are international students.

They come from all over the place and have any number of cultural assumptions and norms about learning, life as a student and interacting with their teachers.

Yesterday, a Chinese student gave me a gift. And I was not comfortable with either accepting or rejecting it.

Because of the large number of Chinese students in my classes, I've adapted my syllabus, changed readings, altered assignments and done quite a bit of reading about their cultural norms in academia as well as the research done on Chinese perspectives on my area of study. These are little alterations and not ones that disadvantage domestic students. No big deal.

But gifts... well gifts are a bit of a cultural minefield.

Traditionally, it's just not the done thing to take gifts from students. There are issues of power and influence there that make it a no-no. But we're also told to respect the cultural traditions of our students and where gift-giving is a tradition, where am I meant to stand?

One of my Chinese postgraduate students had recently returned from a visit home and asked to stop by to give me a small Chinese gift. I said okay, thinking it might be a card or a decorative coin or a red-stringed 'luck' or 'fortune' hanging thing-a-me (I have a few of those in my office already). But it wasn't a little gift at all but a blouse - a velvety, beaded, flowery, ruffly blouse.


Cue complete awkwardness.

I am not sure about the 'traditional' nature of this gift but I do know it feels entirely weird for a student to give me clothing. It is also a little weird to receive this particular item of clothing given I have never worn any item of clothing in her presence or elsewhere that is either velvety, beaded, flowery or ruffly. It's also on the *ahem* largish side.

I said thank-you, of course, but I am still thoroughly confused about the protocols here. I actually need to go and check the university policy on accepting gifts and whether I need to declare it to some authority or even if I need to return it.

What an awkward conversation that would be.

Have you had to navigate any cultural minefields in your line of work?


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