Friday, April 24, 2009


WARNING - some readers may find this post distressing

I am a very open person, on occasion too open I think. But last night I was glad that I'm an open person and that I come across as an open person. Someone I've met on only a couple of occasions asked me to do some research for them - they knew I was good on the internet and knew how to find things out. They asked me to look up some information for them on date rape - as their daughter had just been the victim of a drug facilitated sexual assault.

Their daughter, let's call her Kirsty, she's 26. Kirsty had been out with a couple of girlfriends dancing in a club in London. Kristi is married and has a little child but she loves dancing. A guy began hassling them, when he wouldn't go away a 'knight in shining armour' stepped in and got rid of him. The Knight wanted a reward and he asked for a drink using that phrase . They felt obliged so they went to the bar and bought drinks for the Knight, his friend and themselves. They don't remember anything in detail much after that until they regained full consciousness in a bed, together, with a used condom nearby. Kirsty described the events to her mother as if she was aware of what was happening but was very detached from the experience and wasn't able to stop it. She knows that someone had intercourse with her that night.

Kirsty has been to the police and the STI clinic and has decided she doesn't want to press charges. She hasn't told her husband yet but he is a very difficult and emotionally abusive man. At the moment Kirsti doesn't see what happened to her as sexual assault or rape and is blaming herself for the entire incident.

My acquaintance and I talked for nearly 2 hours - about Kirsty, about her husband, about my acquaintance's family and life. I told her about my life as well. For two almost complete strangers it was a startlingly honest conversation. That's when I don't think I'm too open - when it helps.

I've done the research. Pulled off details from the national rape crisis website and the equivalent in the US which had a lot of details on the drugs that are used to facilitate sexual assault - and I've emailed them to my acquaintance suggesting that even if her daughter won't get in touch with the local rape crisis centre than she should for herself.

I honestly don't know what else to write. Reflecting on it, last night was one of the most surreal and interesting of my life. I hope Kirsty survives, and my acquaintance finds a way to help her. And I hope I never have to go through anything like they are going through.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Updates - Chinese and Saudi Arabia

So I've been studying Mandarin Chinese for a few weeks now so I thought I'd write an update. I'm still loving it - studying for 1-2 hours a day, mainly utilising my long commute. Progress is slow but steady, I'm up to around 250 words and about 200 characters. You need at least 1000 characters to give you some kind of fluency in reading. My pronunciation and verbal fluency is of course leagues behind, but I'm hoping that once I've got a decent grasp of it I might be able to find a private tutor to help me with the verbal aspects - or bribe my colleagues with cake.

It isn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. It's hard, learning any language is hard, but I don't think Mandarin is as bad as it is made out to be. You do have an extra step as you need to memorise the connection between the English-Pinyin-Character trio but using the wonderful Anki that seems to be happening. I'm pretty good at recognising characters and I'm starting to remember the most frequent ones enough to write them from memory when I see the English phrase. I think truly memorising them enough to reproduce them easily will take some time.

I do love the simplicity of the the language. A far simpler grammatical system - no verb conjugation, past tense and questions indicated by the addition of a syllable at the end of the sentence or after the verb, very little us of 'is', 'of' and 'and'. Simple sentences just run pronoun-noun-verb-question participle i.e. You today go out? which translates into normal english as Would you like to go out today?

I've bought a couple of books to help me understand the context of the language, particularly the written characters. A small percentage of characters do have their origins in pictographs (although not as many as you might believe) and understanding how these evovled is useful to me in understanding the structure of the language. So the two characters for morning relate to 'sun rise' and represent the sun above the earth and up.

On the other matter.... I have only found one other colleague who feels the same way as I do. Most just didn't see the problem. I did quite a lot of research and soul searching after writing that last post, just to confirm that women really are in a pretty poor situation in SA. I've decided I don't agree with academic boycotts because I don't think in 99% of cases they are justified - economic and political boycotts are a different matter. But I don't think we should enter into a partnership with any University in a country where we are forced to compromise the way we work and our own obligations under UK equality legislation i.e. how would we handle an admissions process where women are automatically excluded? If I can be convinced that working with a SA University does not force us to do this, then I might be able to reconcile myself with it, but otherwise I'll take a personal stand.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Two words

I've done pretty well not to think about work this week. I've been at home, chilling out, attempting to drill some more Chinese into my head, baking, and hanging out with friends. And then two words popped into my head, two words that really make me stressed. They are a rather strange couple of words, and they've been coming for a while - I knew they'd pop up eventually.

The two words? Saudia Arabia. I work for a University helping it to work with other Unviersity's around the world. I'm not entirely comfortable about the human rights, equality of opportunity and democracy records of all the countries we work with. But somehow I manage to rationalise myself out of the problems with most of them: China, India, UAE etc. I argue that they're on a course towards improving the situation in which their populations live, my favourite is China - and despite what you read in the press - visiting and working with Chinese Universities gives me a lot of hope.

Before I headed off on annual leave we had an approach from a Saudia Arabian University, and I had a discussion with a colleague about a scholarship scheme operated by another. I'm not sure everyone thinks that working with Universities from this country is problematic, but I seriously have to think about whether I'm willing to work with them at all. It's an Islamic monarchy. Women's and children's rights are not recognised. There is no democratic involvement whatsoever. I believe that by working with them my employer might breach its duty under the various pieces of equality legislation.

I don't want to be a trouble maker, but I know that this isn't something I'm going to be able to let lie. Obviously nothing has happened yet, but the approach is a genuine one, and they will be visiting. I want to work for a University that is true to itself as a bastion of free thought and academic critique, and I hope that I will be able to raise this issue for debate and have the senior staff engage with the complexity of this issue - rather than being blinded by the glamour of the opportunities that might present themselves. Fingers crossed.