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UBC’s Response to the Sex Assault Cases

Today, I received two emails, one text message, and a voice mail within a span of maybe three hours, all directed to communicate the same information to me. And I am not annoyed at all. Actually, I am glad that I am receiving the information through so many different channels from UBC, because that means UBC is doing something right and making sure that I know what’s going on.

Due to a series of sexual assault incidences that happened on campus recently, the entire campus is in a sort of an alert mode. Apparently, there have been six assaults on campus since April of this year that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) now thinks are related.

This is definitely off the charts for such on-campus assaults. I mean, UBC really hasn’t been that dangerous of a campus in my mind. There was one incident that was reported a couple of years ago, based on my iffy memory, but that’s about all I can remember in the span of four years I spent on campus (yes, more of the hours were spent on campus than outside of it). Yes, we get regular tourists going to the Wreck Beach walking across the campus to get to the bus loop topless during the summer, but none that made me feel super unsafe. So it’s really unfortunate that these series of incidents happened and it really seems to have affected female student’s sense of safety on campus these days.

After each incident, the university sends out an email reporting it as a safety alert. And those of you on campus email list would know by now that we’ve received three such emails in the Sept/Oct period — scary and very unfortunate news.

The message is obvious, clear, and loud. Don’t walk alone at night. Use AMS SafeWalk service, or get someone to walk you. Carry a whistle etc.

These are simple messages, and they don’t really help in terms of how can an on-campus female actively protect herself other than locking herself in her room when it’s dark. But it does help in the sense that it raises people’s awareness of what’s going on, and get people to be more cautious. I tend to be on the overly cautious side, so don’t blame me if you don’t see me at the lab at 7pm any more. But how could I not? I hear the incidents being discussed everywhere, everyday. On top of that, based on CBC’s report, the locations of the assaults are super close to the areas I hang out on campus, yikes!

I’ve been hearing people talk about it at coffee line ups, walk to the bus loop, at the pottery studio, and also head about it on CBC radio this morning. This actually means the messages are being sent to the right people, and the news being heard by the right audience — that’s a good thing. I do feel that there’s more police presence on campus after dark, although that doesn’t mean I’ll feel safer walking alone at night. But it also means that people are just really looking forward to thinking about UBC as a safe campus where vigilance when alone at night is obviously necessary for both women and men as everywhere else in Canada, but not to the point of knowing that there’s a serial groper loose nearby.

For my dearest lady friends, please do take a look at the map of assaults and identify areas that are dark near your usual paths on campus. The places marked on the map are certainly areas that I didn’t consider as dark or sketchy before.

For those of you looking for a bit more information about this topic, has a tip they think may be useful to the police in their efforts to find the suspect, watch Sgt. Peter Thiessen’s video reporting on the incidents (below, from CBC), what the RCMP is doing about it, and how to stay safe.

The weather here.

One of the dear readers of iMech asked me to comment on the weather in Vancouver. Hmmp! Let me start with a photo of the campus when it’s sunny and beautiful. Yup, right there. That’s beautiful. You see the ocean, the forest hugging the shoreline and the rest of the campus, and the nicely built buildings cozily tucked in it all. But that’s the summer, and odd parts of the spring in some odd years (such as this and last week — we were sunny all day everyday!! wow!!).

Here’s the reality.

If you want to be one of those people who really learn to wake up in the morning and appreciate the fact that sunshine is coming through your window, then Vancouver is the right place for you.

I’m not saying that Vancouver is sunshiny all the time. I’m saying that it isn’t.

Hence, any rays of sunshine or even just clearing of the sky really makes people happy and appreciative of the weather. It does rain lots here. It does snow sometimes in the winter (only a few days in a year max).

Because of the long periods of overcast skies, it does get to the point where people feel depressed during the Fall and Winter seasons.

If you want to take a peak at my state of mind during this season, my previous post will probably help. And of course, because the rain and the ever overcast weather can really get to people, there are different ways to remedy it. Mind you, I was way more affected by the rain last year than the year before that when I was attending a conference held in Vancouver and laughing at the number of umbrellas lying around the conference venue in a super cheerful way.

But the campus itself is awesome regardless of the weather I think. Of course, if you’re not the rain and overcast sky kind of person, planning to be in Vancouver for a long time (like doing a PhD) may not be the best for you. But if that’s not a big deal and you don’t mind tackling it as a challenge, then you’ll soon learn that quite a few people jog in the mornings at 6am even when it’s super dark and rainy outside. If you’re not one of them, like myself, and enjoy running in the mild and sunny weather, then UBC campus is amazing for that too — but in the spring/summer times. I went for a run this morning around 6am down the Main Mall, and it was as though the temperature indoors and outdoors didn’t have much of a difference. The newly paved roads on campus also make it really easy for you to plan your runs. Wherever you go, there are green stuff everywhere, or parks and museums you’re bound to pass by during your runs. If you’re more of a run on the beach kind of a person, there’s always the wreck beach on campus that you can run/walk down to. If you feel like switching things up a little bit from your morning beach run, then you are only minutes away from entering the woods.

But I gotta tell you about the summer though.

Contrast to the weather in the Fall/Winter, Vancouver in the Summer is really awesome. Like I mentioned, the abundance of the forests, gardens, parks, beaches, and the mountains make me feel like I am living in some sort of a tourist resort area, although I never end up enjoying all of it as much as I should. And did I mention the sun? Yes! The sun comes out in the summer! It’s never humid/sticky during the summer and the temperature rarely gets uncomfortably hot. Because of the fabulous weather and the surprising lack of bugs, Vancouver summers are definitely more than bearable to enjoy the outdoors while watching the snow capped mountains nearby.

And of course, Vancouver summers are awesome for gardening if you’re into that as well — my blueberry shrub is starting to bloom already, woot woot!!

I hope this solved some of the mysteries of Vancouver weathers for you.

Some people also had questions about using the U-pass, bicycling, or scooter to get to campus, and my answer to that question is you don’t really have an option out of U-Pass unless you qualify as one of the legitimate opt-out cases (check the U-Pass Opt Out form here — may not be up to date). But U-pass in general is useful to have. I live on campus and I use it to go grocery shopping, visit friends, go off campus on weekends etc. Since each ride is $2.75 these days, and people usually ride the bus on their way out and their way in, it will cost you $5.50 per trip. That means, if you plan to go somewhere via the transit more than about five times a month, you’re better off having a U-pass than not — a good deal, no?

U-pass is also definitely cheaper than paying for parking on campus — parking is super expensive on campus in my opinion, not to mention the high gas prices in Vancouver if you’ll be getting a scooter/car here. Biking to campus is not a bad option. A good way to get some of that mandatory daily exercise out of your task list. The campus is quite bike friendly in the sense that lots of buildings have showers you can use if you come biking to the lab stinky and need to wash up and change before you start working. The whole city is bike friendly and has bike paths all around the city. But then again, think about it this way. Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t mind biking in the rain everyday for many many months? I think it’s a valid question.

Anywho, I’m just glad that the weather has been super nice in Vancouver lately. Totally makes it easy to start your day happy and energetic.

2012 is Here!

Arriving at the YVR airport, a strange feeling came over me.

I hadn’t stayed at my parents’ place for such an extended period of time (exactly a month) ever since I started my masters. Coming down the escalator and going through the now-all-too-familiar automated customs booth, I felt a sense of reality sink in. Even just a few hours ago, I had this illusion that I could do everything I wanted to do. For example, I was sure that I could carry back two suitcases, my ski, and ski boots, and my carry-on bag all by myself. When I got to the Toronto Pearson airport though, I had to leave my ski and ski boots behind because of the realization that carrying five heavy and bulky things with my two hands is not going to be easy. I no longer have access to a car, my family conveniently sharing the load with me, and other things from home that make me feel as though I am invincible in some way. I contemplated taking the skytrain and bus 99 back to campus with the three bags full of stuff, but decided against it. There was no guarantee that I would find a seat in the busy bus.

I let out a sigh.

After a taxi driver dropped me off at the residence, I fumbled for a moment before opening the door, and entered the house that is now quite obviously lacking human presence.

I was glad to find the house tidy though. I don’t know about you, but cleaning the house before leaving for a trip is my number one rule. Because I find that coming back to a messy house after a tiresome journey is one of the most disheartening experiences — the reality just screams out at you, saying that you made the mess, you are the only one to blame, and are the only one who gets to clean it up, on top of unpacking and cooking and feeding yourself from the fridge that is certainly empty of useful ingredients.

Anyway, my friend Jee understands this feeling of ‘coming back’ very well and takes a good care of me whenever I come back from a trip. She and I ended up going for groceries and having dinner together that day, making the ‘coming back to an empty house’ type feeling a little less obvious.

There was no time to remain droopy though. Over the winter break, I had written a gigantic journal paper that needed a lot of work before the late January deadline. After quickly unpacking and washing up, I headed to the lab.

My footsteps on the fresh snow outside my rez! Yay snow!

Tagging my fob by the lab door and hearing the familiar beeping sound, I felt another sense of reality sink in. Just steps away from the door were my labmates busily typing away on their keyboards, chatting away about something funny they found on the Internet, and putting on a serious face by a robot that sat speechless and immobile. Soon enough, I found myself happily chatting with them about my winter break, my trip to New York, and my upcoming deadlines, and the events from their winter break. The reality that sank within me was that, despite being away from home, this is a great place to be.

Since my coming back to Vancouver, not everything remained the way I had left it back in December of 2011.

I have decided to change my routine and to not consider deadlines, papers, and projects as occasional things that suddenly take over all other items of priority in my life. I mean, if I am to go on and successfully finish my PhD, then I should consider my research life as a marathon rather than a 100km race. This is my long winded way of saying that my new year’s resolution for 2012 is to learn to pace myself.

I am going to try and wake up consistently on time everyday. Rather than going to bed super late and waking up late just to feel the guilt of having wasted a half a day sleeping, I am going to wake up by seven at the latest. AND I am going to try and exercise a little more often. Crazy, eh? These two things are going to make me feel so much healthier! 😀

Man, these things sound like something that other people take for granted.

Waking up to find snow outside my window was just epic. JUST what I was missing in the unusually warm Ontario this winter.

Well, whatever. It’s hard enough for me to wake up at seven every morning, so give me some credit here.

Anyway, I am taking small steps to keep up with my new year’s resolutions and really looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year at UBC has in store for me. And I am really looking forward to spending another year with the MEGA members (although I am no longer part of the execs), CARIS lab members, and my Vancouver friends. It will also be exciting to meet new members to our Department in September. Oh, oh, and did I tell you about the new summer course being offered from our Department? It’s a course on Roboethics (MECH 550R) — crazy awesome is what it is! It’s going to be an epic year. I know it!

I hope you all have had a chance to think about your plans for 2012 and are also excited about what’s to come (despite the rumours of the world ending this February or something). 😀

For those of you who weren’t here for a couple of weeks in January, I took a couple of pictures of the beautiful snow that coloured the campus in white. I was absolutely delighted to wake up to snow, although those of you commuting may have had some difficulty getting in.

With best wishes for the new year,