Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dear Home, I Miss You. I've Booked My Flight Home. The End.

Have I mentioned that I've booked my flight home?

As of right now, there are 46 days, 1119 hours, 67179 minutes and 4030787 seconds left until I go home for Christmas.

Oh, no, I'm not homesick at all. ;)

Sort of reminds me of Joey in London in this clip. Ah, Friends. Such valuable life lessons.

I can't wait to get off that plane, jump into my parents' arms, and proceed to shower them with gifts from Selfridges. And Primark. Alway so trusty, that Primark. My mother has already made several requests.

I miss Tim Horton's. I miss paying a mere 85 cents for a maple glazed donut. Cheap snacks, my solace. I miss gulping down an ice capp on a sunny day. (Which have been really common the past month - and here I was warned that rain was a staple to English weather. Please, I haven't had to wear my rainboots at all!). Well, knock on wood. I also miss Tim Horton's turkey bacon club sandwich for $3.99. Because, that's what's up. And it tastes like home. *cries*

I miss Starbucks. Mind you, there's a Starbucks on campus. But, did you know they don't make tea lattes here? I've requested my usual London Fog at three different Starbucks locations and they had no idea what I was talking about. *cries* I can't wait to go home and order a Grande. Everyday.

I miss walking into a store and not having to stop and calculate the price conversion in my head. Because, obviously. I always forget to convert. And I end up happily skipping along the mall not really realizing the extent of how much I spent - the numbers just sound so much smaller here, yea?! It's a shopper's dream. Sheer oblivion.

I miss heading home for a homecooked meal. Why don't the meals I cook ever taste the same as my mother's? Maybe I need more salt...

I miss Dollarama. Where everything is actually a dollar.

I miss watching television on an actual television. Watching shows on my laptop just doesn't cut it.

I miss cheap Chinese food. Seriously, a smaller order at a Chinese restaurant around here is like 7 pounds. Mind you, that seems small. But with the price conversion, it's like $12. Is that not expensive? If you don't think so, you should check out Pacific Mall in Toronto. It'll blow your mind.

I miss plugging in an electronic without having to switch a "turn-on-your-electricity" button. Yeah.

I miss my parents. I really miss my mom.

I miss Tim.

I miss my friends.

I miss my lovely, amazing, beautiful friends!!

I miss my amazing church.

I miss my car. The 20 minute walk to school everyday makes me appreciate my trusty Asian Corolla so much more.

I miss my clothes. And my shoes. And my boots. And my purses. And my collection of heels. I may have brought a sufficient amount to England, but my closet just isn't the same without all my babies in there.

I miss hopping into a cab and not fearing for my life. Or not fearing that the cab I just got into was really a fake cab designed to cheat me of all my money. Oh, Birmingham cab drivers. I won't miss you when I leave.

I miss drinking Canadian cow milk.

I miss Toronto. Where people actually know where the Philippines is. Or who Filipinos are.

I miss cable internet. Did you know they don't have that here? Please, it's called ~broadband~

I miss competent banking services. Friends, whatever you do, don't bank at Lloyds.

I know I shouldn't be homesick. But right now, at this very moment, I am.

I'm sure this is just a lapse. I'll be fine. But sometimes, when you pause and think, you realize just how much home means to you and how much you appreciate it now that you're gone.

Right now, I miss home. So much. The end. 46 more days! Someone please greet me at the airport with Tim Horton's. I'll love you till the end of time.

"The romantics would call this a love story, the cynics would call it a tragedy. In my mind it's a little bit of both, and no matter how you choose to view it in the end, it does not change the fact that it involves a great deal of my life and the path I've chosen to follow."
- Nicholas Sparks, 'The Notebook'

"When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home."
- Winston Churchill

"Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration."
- Charles Dickens

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
- Robert Frost

The Problem With Law School - Competition and the Importance of Friendship?

You know that kid in Grade 9 math class who would turn around, ask you what your answer is, then proceed to tell you exactly why they're better than you? You know. Something about how your x and y axis was blah blah blah blah and thats why you're dumb and they're not blah blah blah?

Kid, relax. You wanted to roll your eyes at their self-righteousness when you were 14 years old - and you'd probably want to do the same now.

Just. Relax. Make a friend instead. It's that easy, no?

Maybe this is just rhymeless reason. Or just minor food for thought after a long, tiring day. And maybe this is just long-accepted reality many before me have come to realize and accept. Maybe this is just how law school is. So, you know, grow up, Barb. Deal with it. And maybe this is just human nature - to compete, to get ahead at all costs. To make friendships but to always always always just look out for yourself. To be extremely aware of everyone's "level of intelligence." Then proceed to rationalize how your own "level of intelligence" stacks up against your peers. It's a constant game of self-indulgence and silently malicious culture where people rationalize their own worth by belittling other people.

Seriously. We're grown ups. Do students really have to be so mean to their peers?! Why do some students have to be so mean to each other in an attempt to get to the top? I just don't understand it. Please. Save your words and let your grades do the talking.

Does law school really have to be that way? Is that type of scornful behaviour necessarily ingrained in law school culture?

Friends, it doesn't have to be that way if you don't let it.

Before I came to law school, friends warned me about what to expect. I waved their concerns off. I said, please, I've watched Legally Blonde. I know what law school's like. I know you have to work hard. I know you don't show up to a party as a Playboy Bunny. I know I need to run away if I see Professor Callahan (okay, I seriously need to chill on these Legally Blonde references). I know. But I wasn't always so sure about believing the nature of law school culture - the outward friendliness but inward, silent malicious competition.

It's kind of sad, really. Did I put too much faith on genuine kindness?

Hey, don't get me wrong. As I've said before, I love it here. I love my program, the friends I've made. I've met many wonderful, kind people - many who don't fall under the category I'm writing about today. I love the independence, I love what I'm learning. But, you know, law school also carries with it a certain stigma. That stigma where everyone silently one-ups each other in a game of outward friendliness but inward, silent competition. Where inner rationalization of your own self-righteousness makes you think you can belittle other people.

It's sad. I just wish kindness was still a staple these days.

I'm not saying we should hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I'm not naive. Law school isn't about dancing with unicorns under a rainbow. Neither is life. There's absolutely nothing wrong with competition and trying your absolute best - that's how success is born.

But competition doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with kindness. With friendship. With loyalty, affection. Constantly rationalizing why you're better than your peers or why your answers are better than other people's won't bring you friends. Big surprise.

It won't hurt you to be nice to people.

Aesop said so. It must be true. And is that honestly, really, truthfully, so hard? It shouldn't be. Whether you're in law school or not.

Wanna hold hands? Wanna sing Kumbaya? No? We don't have to go thattttttt far, don't worry. (I don't know the words!!). But what we can do is become friends, help each other out when problem cases are a confusing puzzle, give each other a hand when you skip the Misrepresentation and Negligence lecture because you couldn't stand the professor, and to just be kind, thoughtful human beings.

Is that really so hard?

Why burn bridges when you can be kind, tactful even, instead? It shouldn't be that hard, yea?

Just a thought for the day. I'll go play with my unicorns now.

"It's just something that happens as you grow up. You realize it's less important to have more friends and it's more important to have real ones."

"Are you upset, little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, dont worry. I'm here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end. The sun will shine tomorrow. And I will always be here to take care of you."
- Charlie Brown to Snoopy

"People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their guide."
- Will Rogers

"A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval."
- Mark Twain

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

- Mark Twain

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I guess I'm Not British Yet - Culture Shock in England (From A Canadian, With Love)

Did you know the British don't tip?

I know. I didn't either.

Apparently, tipping is an "American thing."

Speaking of - did you know the British think I'm American?

If I could count how many people have asked me whether I was American the minute they heard my accent, I'd have the money to pay for next year's tuition. True story.

So. About this tipping business.

A few weeks ago, after an evening on Broad Street, I hopped into one of the cabs (which, let me tell you, are pretty shady in this country) patrolling the area, and directed him to my residence. Upon arrival, I handed him my cash and waited for my change. He gave me 5 pounds in return, and ruefully, playing the part of the cheap student, I handed him 3 pounds.

I felt horrible. I felt cheap. I thought I should be tipping more. Back home, we pull out our Tip Calculators like it's second nature. When I told my British flatmates that we usually tip 10-15% of the bill back home, they looked at me like I grew a second head. But, that's the thing. Back home, we tip because it's social convention. Because it's rude not to.

"Keep the change," I told my cab driver apologetically, "It's not much, but enjoy the tip!"

Cab Driver looked at me in surprise, chuckled, then pocketed my 3 pounds, shaking his head.

I thought he shook his head in disapproval. You know, cheap student. Ergo, lack of common courtesy. Ergo, measly tip. I hung my head in shame.

No. Sit down, Barb. He was chuckling at your naiveté.

And so, there I was, a naive Canadian tipping EVERYWHERE. For TWO weeks. Because I didn't know any better. The hair salon, bartenders, cab drivers, restaurants - you name it. I was a freaking tipping machine. I think I tipped the hair salon 5 pounds - even though I hated my haircut and thought it looked like someone sawed my hair off. Oh, my beloved hair. They ruthlessly chopped off three inches. It broke my heart.

No wonder every country in the universe thinks Canadians are nice.

Please. Sit down. Sometimes, we're just suckers.

Because, well. It wasn't until a few weeks after my arrival I was told that shocking truth: Barb, they don't tip in England. Here, tipping bartenders is an oddity. Here, tipping cab drivers is just weird.

Oh, god. My cab driver probably thought I was hitting on him.

*face palm*

I never anticipated how much culture shock I'd experience when I arrived. What can I say? I'm naive. Pre-law school Barb thought: they speak English here. Of course their culture is similar. But it isn't. Boy, is it different. Those shocks of difference reverberated, echoed my first few weeks here.

Mind you, in many ways, the culture is very similar. Birmingham and London remind me of Toronto in many ways - the city's hustle and bustle, the quiet busyness, the individualism - these characteristics are what you can expect with any big city, I suppose.

But in other ways, I've had to adjust to a lot.

Like, did you know British eggs don't turn yellow here? I spent half an hour trying to fry eggs on high heat a few weeks ago, wondering why, pray tell, my eggs stayed completely white. They wouldn't turn their familiar bright yellow. Because apparently, they have different chickens here.

Different chickens.

DIFFERENT chickens. That produce white eggs apparently.

Their white sugar is different. They have two-ring binders instead of three-ring. Ergo, they use foreign two-ring hole punches instead of three role punches (this REALLY got to me, I tell you). They get on the bus on the OTHER side of the vehicle (obviously, I knew this coming here, but it still trips me out how opposite the roads are). And did I mention that I still don't know how to cross the street in this country? I never know where to look. Let me tell you, I've had a number of close calls with oncoming vehicles in the last month. Especially since a number of roads dictate that pedestrians don't have the right of way.

I know these seem like little things. And that I'm complaining over nothing.

Stop being such a baby, Barb.

But when you move to another country, all by yourself, where you know absolutely nobody - it's those little things, those little shocks of difference that get to you. When your eggs don't turn yellow, when you have to buy a brand spankin' new foreign two-hole punch, when you make do with foreign sugar, when your milk tastes funny and saturated and weird, when your wallet's bursting full of funny looking coins, when you get on the opposite side of a bus.... when everything just suddenly feels different.

So different that it scares you.

When everything just feels so peculiar - so foreign, so unlike home. That's when the homesickness hits you. And that's when the truth really dawns on you: that you're halfway around the world, across a major ocean, away from your family, your friends, your boyfriend, and everyone you love. You're in Europe. A brand new country. Starting life over.

That's when culture shock electrifies you.

I admit - the first week here, I was scared. I didn't know how to adjust. Every shred of independence I had in me risked decapitation. Everything was different - I was homesick.

But, you know what? Despite the shocks - I think the true test of growing up comes from being able to adjust to new circumstances. And I think I'm doing just that. Learning, Settling. Adjusting. England is amazing - and it would be a shame to hide in my own comfort and risk losing the opportunity to learn everything about it.

A month after moving here, I think I've settled in. I've gotten used to the differences and quirks this wonderful country has to offer. I've gotten used to the milk. But, mind you, I haven't been eating eggs.

At first, the culture shock threw me off. It made me miss my security, my comfort, my home. I missed everything I've known my whole life - my neighbourhood, my car, my trusty fried yellow eggs.

But, after spending the past month shaking off the shocks, I've realized that living in England isn't something I should be so afraid of - how many people get this opportunity in their lifetime? To live in Europe? To experience something more than the comforts of home?

This is an opportunity. Not something to be apprehensive about. The differences in culture might be unsettling at first - but it's an opportunity to learn about a whole new world, a whole new country that can give us life experiences which set us apart from people back home. Life experiences that change us, helps us grow up, and toy with that thing called independence.

I live in Europe now. OMG. I live in EUROPE now. Isn't that a wonderful thing? It's amazing. If there's one thing I've learn so far, it's this: we should embrace the shocks and learn about them, yea? Adjust to them, integrate ourselves, learn as much as we can! Exhibit A: my first mission is to learn why my darn eggs won't turn yellow.

So, in essence, I'm not British yet. But I'm learning to live with and embrace British culture, British quirks, British slang, British sayings. I'm not quite there yet - but I'm adjusting. And I'm ready to learn everything this wonderful new world has to offer.

"Ask most people what they want out of life and the answer is simple – to be happy. Maybe it’s this expectation, though, the wanting to be happy that just keeps us from ever getting there. Maybe the more we try and will ourselves to states of bliss, the more confused we get to the point where we don’t recognize ourselves. Instead, we just keep smiling trying to be the happy people we wish we were until, eventually, it hits us. It’s been there all along. Not in our dreams or hopes, but in the known, the comfortable, the familiar."
- Grey's Anatomy

"Every cell in the human body regenerates on average every seven years. Like snakes, in our own way we shed our skin. Biologically, we're brand new people. We may look the same - we probably do. The change isn't visible, at least in most of us. But, still, we're all changed - completely, forever."
- Grey's Anatomy

"These are my words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create that fact."
- William James

"You don't have to be a 'person of influence' to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me."
- Scott Adams

Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Month of Law School - Summer's Over, New Beginnings, Prepping For Life-Changing Decisions

My dear loyal readers,

I've neglected you.

What can I say? I'm sorry. What do I owe you? A hug? A drink? A nice cup of steaming hot cocoa the next time I see your lovely faces? As much as I loved blogging regularly this past year, life as we know it caught up to me this summer. I'm sorry. C'est la vie.

Clearly, my last blog post was ages ago. Three months ago to be exact. A lot has changed in the last few months of this grad life of mine - it was a life-changing summer, to be sure. I last updated all of you whilst frantic on the floor of my home in Kingston, Ontario, surrounded by boxes and garbage bags, packing up my life as a Masters student at Queen's University. And, side note, I ended up having to leave some furniture behind because I had too much crap to move back home. How did I end up moving more stuff back home than I brought to Kingston?

Curses. We should have hired a U-Haul. Ah, summer memories.

These days, my life at Queen's seems like an alternate reality. My year in Kingston feels, honestly, like a distant memory these days. Running to class, grading essays, slaving over TA prep work, reading, researching, reading, and more reading. It just feels like so long ago. It's funny how time flies by so quickly and life as we know it changes so drastically with every new decision we make.

And, yes, decisions. I made them. Boy, did I make them. Remember how you left me last? Agonizing over which school to go to? It was a tumultuous summer deciding which law school to inevitably accept. And, fast forward over the tears, the panic, the reservations that plagued me over July and August, I'm here - right now, I'm thousands of miles away from Mississauga, from Toronto, from my grad life in Kingston.

Hundreds of thousands of miles away in jolly old England.

Why England, you ask? Why not the US schools I agonized over for so long? That's a blog post for another day.

For now, I'm just glad I've decided to start blogging again. Because, well, what can I say? I've missed you all! i'm not going to lie and say I can blog regularly this year. But I will say that I'll try to regularly blog. How many of us can document their years of law school on a blog like this? I'd like to keep it up, as a compilation of memories, if nothing else.


So, yes, in the last few weeks before the start of school, I was in a state of panic. The weeks I spent getting my visa, purchasing all the items I needed for a trans-continental move, saying goodbye to friends, family, and loved ones. Booking my flight, packing my life away in several suitcases (do you KNOW how much it hurts to leave your precious wardrobe at home?!). And, basically, panicking for no reason. Because trans-continental moves do that to you.

Honestly, you cannot imagine my state of mind the last couple of months before this move. I was scared out of my mind. Moving to a US law school wouldn't have been as scary, I admit. It's just across the border. I could run home whenever I wanted. But, here, across that pond they call the Atlantic Ocean, I can't run home. I'm all by myself.

I was petrified to move to another country. To another continent when I've lived in Canada most of my life. And yet, I'll admit that it's an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. The life experience of living in Europe for a couple of years is indescribable - if moving away to Kingston did something for my independence, a move to Europe could sure as heck do wonders to a mommy's girl like me.

Well, after getting my visa, packing, flying, stopping over in Brussels for the longest layover known to man, I'm here. Safe, sound, if not a little home-sick, thrown off by culture shock, and missing the comforts of Canada. Because seriously, the minute I land in Toronto for Christmas, I'm heading over to the nearest Tim Horton's to nurse a beloved iced capp.

And, oh, believe me. You wouldn't think the British were capable of giving you culture shock. But they are. It takes awhile adjusting to another country - even if they also speak English. But that's a blog post for another day.


Okay, so I know I have a tendency to gush over how much I loooove everything (See: posts on my first day of my Masters program, etcetera etcetera).

So, it shouldn't be a surprise to read about how much I've loved and enjoyed my first month here. My first month as a law student has been nothing short of interesting. Friends have told me how much they hated Contract Law. But, you know what? I actually love it. I don't mind running home on a Friday night to slave over problem cases about Offer and Acceptance.

That isn't sarcasm.

And, hey, even if I don't understand Consideration just yet - I don't mind slaving over the 100 page chapter about it.

That isn't sarcasm either.

Don't give me a lecture about how boring this stuff is. You put that away! I love it. And I'm glad I'm learning it. There's nothing more amazing than living something you've always dreamed of.

Mind you, it's a crapload of work. My sleeping habits are nothing to be desired. I'm pretty sure I need to purchase concealer to hide the bags under my eyes. This first month of law school has worked me harder than the first three months of my Masters program. But, I enjoy it. And that's what matters, yea? The hard work - it'll be worth it in the end. And believe me, it's a LOT OF WORK.

If there's anything I can say right now, it's this: everything happens for a reason. And this transcontinental move to Europe is something I hardly regret. I'm enjoying law school more than I could have imagined.

Although, side note. Law school also breeds competition. And there's nothing worse than having to watch your back around your peers. But unfortunately, you'll find that people may will belittle you, your qualifications, and your education for the sake of looking better than you.

Law school is great. But, you need to be careful. Take my advice. I've seen it. And it's only Week 4. Unfortunately, that's the truth.

Anyway, aside from that negative note, I love it here. I love the friends I've made, and I'm enjoying school. It's funny how much my grad life has changed this past year. We're growing up, we're making decisions. We're changing careers, we've left for different schools.

Enjoy your life-changing decisions as you live them, my friends. Every minute is something to treasure!

With all my love,

Your resident grad-life-blogger-who-started-to-blog-again-woot!

"I chose to go to law school because I thought that someday, somehow I'd make a difference."
- Christopher Darden

"Unless it's extraordinary love, it's a waste of your time. There are too many mediocre things in life. Love shouldnt be one of them."

"It's my favourite class to teach. Usually, someone cries."
- Civil Rights Litigation Professor

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dear Kingston, I Move Out In 2 Days - Goodbye Queen's!

I can't believe I'm leaving.

My life as a graduate student is almost over.

For all my complaints and worries (and blog posts dictating my complaints and worries) throughout the year, I have to admit that I'm quite sad to be leaving this place. I remember moving in last September, scared out of my mind that attempting a Masters degree was the worst decision I'd ever made.

It wasn't. This year at Queen's was more than I imagined it would be. And now, in about 48 hours, it'll be over.

My parents are heading here on Saturday to help me move out, so I woke up early this morning to start the daunting task of packing up my room. Can someone remind me why I brought so much stuff? I'm actually starting to panic. I have no idea how I'm going to fit all this stuff into my parents' car. It took two trips to bring my things to Kingston - and somehow, we're supposed to bring all this stuff back home in one trip. This is going to be... interesting. Books, clothes, shoes, books, books (why are there so many?!), some random furniture, and other miscellaneous items. Not to mention the fact that I haven't cleaned out my office yet.

UM. Why do I have so much stuff?! Good thing I didn't decide to pack the night before I moved out.

My closet now looks empty, with most of my clothing packed away. My walls look bare, with all my posters and pictures taken down. My desk is empty, with all my study items packed away in boxes.

Oh, this is bittersweet.

And, to top it off, amid all this packing hoopla, I'm also editing my MRP.

Too much stress! Not enough time!

And, to top that off, I've come down with the flu. Packing and editing my MRP with this cold hasn't been easy, when all I want to do is hibernate under the covers and sleep away my cold.

Kingston, I've grown pretty attached to you. You were the first city I moved to where I knew absolutely nobody, leaving behind the life I knew, the people I loved, and the family I've never left. People complain that Kingston is a dump - a small town where you have absolutely nothing to do. Well, you know, I'd beg to differ. I actually quite like this city - I've grown to love it, actually. Kingston, you've been everything I would have wanted in a university experience away from home. Queen's provided something UofT didn't: a wonderful, close-knit student community (grad students included) who I've had the pleasure of getting to know, and I greatly enjoyed every moment of my time here.

I'm not going to pretend that life in Kingston was perfect. That this grad life was stress free, that the workload was easily manageable. There were inevitably bouts of homesickness, Skype dates confessing how much I missed home, late nights working away on papers, hours and hours spent at the library and the office, hours spent slaving away over essays that needed to be marked.

But, you know, if I could go back and re-live the moment I decided to come to Queen's, I'd still make the same decision.

We're too smart to be overly cynical. And so, while some moments of this grad life were more stressful than others, I will say that this whole year has been an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. I've learned so much and experienced more than I thought I would, more than I bargained for.

As for the friends and people that I've met and grown to know this year, I will say that you have all made this year a wonderful experience - and a lot more bearable, given the stress and workload we were all under. It will probably be a very long time before I see you all again. And so, I will say that I've been so very blessed to have met each of you, and that I consider myself lucky to have befriended each of you, even if it was just for a year. And, wherever we all end up next year, always remember that I'm just a phone call or a message away, should any of you need anything! :)

Kingston, I will remember my time here fondly. I'll probably never have the chance to live here again. But, rest assured, I will always have a special place in my heart for this charming city.

Goodbye, Kingston!

"Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time."
— Maya Angelou

"All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time."
— Mitch Albom (The Five People You Meet in Heaven)

"The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof."
— Barbara Kingsolver

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Back To Kingston - One Last Time!

Oh, this is bittersweet.

So, I hadn`t planned on spending this much time in Toronto. I came back on May 19 to be around for a family reunion over the Victoria Day long weekend, and then, of course, I stuck around for my New York trip at the end of May. I had intended to go back to Kingston a few days after I arrived back from New York. But, of course, things didn`t end up that way. One event was planned after another - another family reunion (on a smaller scale), my uncle`s birthday, events with friends. And.... I ended up staying in Toronto for the first couple of weeks of June.

So, basically, I`ve been home for almost a month. It almost feels like I`ve already moved out of Kingston. But, I haven`t. Yet. I need to keep reminding myself that I`m still a resident of Kingston, Ontario - for about two more weeks.

So, here I go again. One last time. Running around, packing my bags, stuffing my suitcase with shoes and clothing I`ve lugged back and forth from city to city. I`ve done this a number of times this past year - going back and forth from Kingston to Mississauga, from Mississauga to Kingston, on Thanksgiving, Christmas Break, Reading Week, Easter Weekend, and various weekends in between.

I can`t believe this is the last time I`m doing this. It seems just like yesterday that I was moving in, scared out of my wits that my year at Queen`s would seem like an eternity.

But it didn`t feel that way at all. And now, I`m moving out of my Kingston home in exactly two weeks. It went by so fast. Unbelievable.

So, time to make my last days in Kingston count, right? Exploring places I didn`t get to during the school year? Plus, I`ll be spending my birthday in Kingston on Saturday, so it should be fun times, celebrating with Kingston friends!

So, I board my bus tomorrow morning. Here we go, two more weeks, Kingston. Let`s make it memorable.

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
— Albert Einstein

"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
— Jack Kerouac

"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you."
— Victor Hugo (Les Misérables)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Credential Inflator - The (Worst?) Way To Someone's Heart

Okay, funny story time! Actually, I should say stories, plural. But, they're funny stories with a moral. Aesop would be proud of me, no? By the way, these are all true stories.

First, the side stories.


This is a story about a friend, but I won't use her real name on this post. Let's call her Jenny for the sake of anonymity from the rest of our friends out there reading this. One afternoon, Jenny was pumping gas at the gas station, texting me while she was doing so (WHICH IS NOT SAFE, JENNY, BEE TEE DOUBLE YEW). Yet, while she did so, a man dressed in carpenter overalls pumped gas beside her - blatantly checking her out. Rolling her eyes, she headed in to pay, grabbed a chocolate bar (upon contemplation), and walked out. Yet, as she headed out, Man In The Overalls walked up to her, grinned conversationally, and winked "Hey, Beautiful. What's up?"

Jenny rolled her eyes, grabbed her keys, and walked past him. As she did, she heard him chuckle behind her. He called after her, "Hey, I noticed the UofT keychain on your keys. So, you're one of those educated types, eh? Is that why you won't talk to me? 'Cause I'm a carpenter? What if I was wearing a suit? Would you talk to me then?"

Uncomfortable, Jenny jumped into her car, and booked the heck out of the gas station. She called me later that day to relay the story.

The nerve, right?

No, Overalls. She won't talk to you because you're weird.


So, one autumn afternoon last October, coming home from Queen's for the Thanksgiving long weekend, I sat at Union Station waiting for my Dad to pick me up. Seated beside my suitcases, I played Sudoku (because I'm a nerd) and constantly checked my watch for the time.

Then, a relatively good-looking guy in a security uniform sat beside me. Thinking I was in his way, I moved over to give him more room.

Except, ugh, this happened. Security Uniform smiled, nodded at my Sudoku book, and tried to make conversation. "So, cool game, eh?"

Oh, for the love of all that is holy.

I was a little sketched out. It was late at night, I was by myself. Safety first, right? And plus, I know I watch too many movies, but what if his security uniform was FAKE?! No one hits on customers on the job! Uncomfortable, I stood, I smiled, nodded yes, grabbed my suitcases, and began to roll them towards the Exit.

"Hey," yelled Security Uniform, "You're wearing a Queen's University sweatshirt. Just because you go to Queen's, you think you're too good to talk to me?! Huh? Because you're more educated?!"

Good call on running away, Barb.


So, Jenny and I, along with a bunch of other friends, had a fantastic weekend. Movies, outings, went out in Toronto, breakfasts, etc. It was a wonderful (yet obviously unproductive) weekend.

But, so, here's the scenario for you. We're at a club/a restaurant. It's fun times, right? (Actually, so much fun!). And, of course. My friends are gorgeous, so situations like the ones to follow happen more often than not. And so, the traditional ritual of mating dance begins with introductions ensuing between prospective admirers and my friends, among those invited to the party. Mutual friends are a good way to meet people, right?

Yet, hilariously (and actually kind of interestingly) the following conversations happen. Note: I'm not using real names here.


My friend, Sarah: So, what do you do?
Guy #1: I actually work at a call centre in Toronto. You?
My friend, Sarah: Oh, I just graduated from UofT. I'll be going to med school in September.
Guy #1: Oh... you're one of those.
My friend, Sarah: ......

My friend, Jenny: So, what do you do?
Guy #2: I work at a gym. I'm a personal trainer. What about you?
My friend, Jenny: Oh, I'm about to start my pharmaceuticals Masters program this Fall.
Guy #2: Oh.... you're one of those educated types.
My friend, Jenny: Um, okay....

Guy #3: So, Sally, what do you do?
My friend, Sally: I'm in Pharmacy at UofT, I'll be done in a year. Pretty pumped!
Guy #3: Oh, yeah?
My friend, Sally: What about yourself?
Guy #3: Um..... well, you see, I'm actually a co-owner of a major, huge, large corporation here in Toronto.
My friend, Sally: Oh, which one?
Guy #3: Well, it's a major corporation that deals with investments and banks and such. I get to fly all over the world. I have my own private jet since I'm an assets manager, you see. And I handle all the private accounts.
My friend, Sally (skeptical): Oh, yea? And you're pretty young, that sounds awesome. Where did you go to school?
Guy #3: Yes, it is. And, I attended McMaster University's Rotman School of Business.
My friend, Sally (rolls her eyes): You mean UOFT's Rotman School? McMaster doesn't have a business school.
Guy #3 (nervously): Oh... crap, yeah.

Guy #4: So, what are you up to for the summer now that you're done your Masters?
Me: Just taking it easy, before I go to school in September.
Guy #4: What are you doing in September?
Me: I'm going to law school! Pretty excited. What about you? What do you do?
Guy #4: Oh.. law school, eh? Um... I'm, um, I'm actually the new owner of a business set to gain about a million dollars next year.
Me: What?!
Guy #4: Yes, I'm starting a new business that should be bought over by Amazon.
Me: Oh.... (*thinks to myself* this doesn't make any sense)
Guy #4: I'll be working for a Fortune 500 company soon. And plus, I'll be heading to medical school in September, so I'm planning to be a neurosurgeon. I'll be going to Princeton Medical School.
Me (Ivy League spidey senses on alert): Um, Princeton doesn't have a medical school. Or any professional school, for that matter.
Guy #4: *silence*

Do we see a pattern starting to emerge? After our night at Rockwood, Jenny and I have come up with a new term: Credential Inflators.

We laugh about it all the time (incessantly, almost). But, it's true, no? We've seen this happen so often - to our friends, to us. It's almost a common occurrence, in fact. That learning about a prospective love interest's education is a topic that can make someone back off, to even feel angry or insecure, or lead someone to lie blithely about their own education or occupation. Like the last two guys above. Hence, the term Credential Inflator.

You know what I'm talking about.


"Hi Sarah, my name is Bob. Oh, you're in Pharmacy at UofT? Well, I'm a cardiovascularmortologist at the Toronto Medical Centre Hospital. I'm a doctor of brains and hearts and legs. I'm the bestest best doctor. And I went to Harvard Medical School. I have lots of credentials. Please like me."

Oh. *face palm*


We've noticed this happen a lot. Men or women back off from a potential love interest once education comes into play. Really? Really.

But, here's the thing.

As my dear friend Mary (again, fake name!) puts it, "You can be a jerk with one degree. And you can be a jerk with five degrees. There's more to a love interest than credentials."

So true, M. So true.

Obviously, from the above stories and scenarios, a couple of themes reveal themselves. Scenarios where my friends were called out for being "too good" for certain men because of their education OR my friends being subjected to men inflating their credentials in order to look like a valuable suitor/potential significant other.

Oh, boy. If there's anything that annoys me more, it's the above two scenarios. Really? Picking on someone for not responding to your lame pickup line by accusing them of being elitist because of their education? What if she just doesn't like you? Like, what if she just genuinely doesn't hit it off with you? And, secondly, really? Inflating your job position or education to look good for a girl? I understand you're doing so because you like her, but that's not cool either. Not cool. Especially WHEN YOU'RE BLATANTLY LYING! Like the last two guys in the scenarios above.

But, I'll be the first to admit it. We can be guilty of looking at credentials all too carefully, if you know what I mean. School? Profession? Education? Income? Family? There's that infamous list. Don't scoff, you know these have crossed your mind.

And in this grad life of ours, going through life as 20-somethings, with the reality of "settling down" closer than when it was when we were teenagers, you tend to think of these things, no?

But, here's the thing. Credentials can be part of the picture if you want it to be. But, you know. When you get right down to it, it isn't the ENTIRE picture. You don't have to bank chiefly on credentials or being a certain profession to be appealing. Education is one thing - but being a good person that someone genuinely wants to get to know, that someone would want to pursue a relationship with, is completely another.

And, so, back to stories of my friends and I's experiences up. Guys, really? Backing off from getting to know a girl because she has more degrees than you do? You can call her educated, but she isn't stupid enough to let go of a great guy if he doesn't have the education she does. It isn't all about the education. And, on the flip side. Guys, really? Lying or inflating your education and/or career to look good for a girl? Really? Have more self-respect than that. What happened to being honest?

The lessons here? Let me go a little Aesop on you, friends.

Be yourselves.

To the MEN reading this post: Don't let your credentials, her credentials (or lack thereof) make you hesitate from getting to know a girl you're interested in. If you feel insecure about not having the "education" she does, or if you feel like she doesn't have the "education" you think you'd want in a girl, just take a chance anyway. Throw those insecurities aside. Get to know her first. And go ahead and get to know her beyond those typical "requirements" you have in a partner. You may be surprised at what you find.

To the WOMEN reading this post: Girls, I know there's that saying where we shouldn't "settle." And, of course, if you aren't completely into your prospective admirer, then, fine, backing off is totally understandable. But, what if you actually meet a really, really awesome prospective partner? Someone you'd actually love to get to know? Are you really going to let them go because they aren't a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, etc? Don't regret it and let them get away. Take a chance. It's as easy as agreeing to a coffee date. And if it doesn't work out, then, hey, at least you tried. But, I feel like we need to be more open-minded (myself included), beyond those strict superficial "requirements" we usually have in a partner.

Love is more than just someone's profession. Love is more than where someone went to school. Love is more than just someone's income bracket. When you look for a partner, you don't engage in a relationship just because of their education or income (unless you're a, well, gold digger, obviously), right?

You want to love the actual person, not where their diploma came from.
Because at the end of the day, you come home to someone you love. You don't come home to a credential.

So, be yourselves. Be your wonderful, kind, normal, thoughtful selves. Education is one thing - but in a prospective love interest, boyfriend/girlfriend, life partner, it isn't the only issue on the table. Showing yourself to be genuine, interesting, and nice person matters more than your profession.

Your heart, your personality, and your actions, speak more about you than a university degree ever will.

Remember that the next time someone catches your eye, yea?

"I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff."
— Jon Katz

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain."
— Emily Dickinson

"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."
— Oscar Wilde

Tough Life Decisions - You Know You're Growing Up When...

This blog post is going to be a bit somber. Probably because this weekend was full of decisions I struggled making and also because I literally haven't slept in the last two days (uh, it was a busy but super fun weekend, doot doo doo doooo...). See: bags under my eyes.

Side Note: Just to throw a wrench into this melancholy blog post, here's a super sad story that was so heartbreaking I just had to share it:

Last night, after a night at Rockwood with Esther, walking to a Vietnamese restaurant on Spadina and Dundas, we encountered an older gentleman on his knees, asking us for change. Automatically reaching for our wallets, we forked over what we could. While my friends walked away, I lingered back for a few seconds. Because, well, I felt so bad for him. Dropping my change into his hands, I asked him if he had a place to stay for the night, whether he had a job, and what he did for a living. Confused, he shook his head to all my questions. I wasn't sure if he understood me. Backing off, and walking away towards my friends, I glanced over my shoulder and saw him crawling under a blanket strewn on the sidewalk. It was actually quite heartbreaking. And I know scenes like this are a common occurrence in Toronto, but it's still so sad to witness it when you do, you know?

Anyway, back to my post. Sad story over, yet moving on to an equally unsettling topic.

I know many of us are going through a phase in life where pretty crucial decisions need to be made in the next few months. Be it where to go to grad school or med school in September, what job to apply for, when to start our own businesses, whether to accept a marriage proposal (please, I know several going through this!), are just some of the crucial decisions my friends are going through. And it's a big deal. Plus, like most of you know, my own life changing choice at the moment is the decision of where to go to law school in September.

Allow me to try explaining this decision making crisis in words.

It's like you've been given multiple forks on the road. It's like you've been given several options for your life, and you're scared to death that you'll choose the wrong one. What if I choose and I turn out to be completely, utterly wrong? What if my life is screwed up as a result? And again... what if I'm wrong? What if I choose and end up completely hating it? What if I shouldn't even be doing this?

I actually have a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I think about having to choose a law school.

I can't even count how many people have asked me which school I've picked, in this weekend alone, in the last two days. And, each time, the moment someone asked, I could feel the rising bubbles of panic in my tummy. And, as always, I end up laughing uncomfortably for a few seconds, give a them a quick vague answer, and walk away feeling like an idiot.

I know we're all welling up with uncertainty. We're at the point in life where drastic changes happen regularly. We aren't just choosing which schools to go to in September (although I know many of us are), we're choosing where to live as we move out on our own, we're choosing which jobs would best fit our career paths. We're choosing who to date, who to avoid like the plagueeeee (oh, the stories). We're deciding how to let go of friends, how to reconnect with friends. This life, especially this 20-something age bracket we're in right now - it's full of decisions that boggle and hurt my mind.

Sometimes, it's just so much easier to curl up in a ball and cry, no? Or does that make us wimps? Because then I'd definitely have to call myself a wimp.

I have no advice to offer you guys today. I'm in a state of crisis myself, if you couldn't tell. I'll just end here with yet another rhetorical question before going back to my work, and perhaps a small dose of optimism.

When did life get so hard?

But, let's be optimistic, friends.

Decision time is almost near. It'll be over soon. And, when all else fails, go with your gut instinct - go with your heart.

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."
— Dr. Seuss

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
— Mother Teresa

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Ripe Old Age of 20-Something - "Why Aren't You Married Yet?!?!"

Hi, friends! I've been MIA the last couple of weeks, especially since my New York trip. I'm sorry! I've been holed up at home trying to finish this thesis, with no room to blog, to eat, to blog, to breathe. But, thank God, it's almost done. I'm so glad it's almost done. I hand in my draft this week. And not a minute too soon, since I'm starting to lose grip on my sanity, I'm telling you.

Anyway. I'm taking a break from editing my thesis to mention something that happened over the weekend. It was an.... interesting encounter.

So, my parents and I were at a social function. It was fun, it was great, the food was good (that's always important. Who else makes a beeline for the canapés? Anyone?). And, as per usual, as my parents and I mingled, I was asked what I was doing in school, where I go to school, etcetera.

And, as I did, the following conversation occurred between myself and a middle-aged couple - with a number of people within earshot. Mr. A and Mrs. A are in their mid-40s, with a couple of teenage children.

Mr. A: So, Barbara, are you almost done your Masters?
Me: Yes, I'll be done in 2 weeks!
Mr. A: Oh, I see. But... how old are you now?
Me: I'm 23 years old.
Mr. A: Don't you turn 24 years old soon?
Me: Well... yes. In a few weeks.
Mr. A: So, you're 24 years old. And you're still going to law school after?
Me: Well... yes.
Mr. A: So how old will you be when you're done?
Me: I'll be 27 years old.
Mr. A: (a little condescendingly, a little knowingly, a little concerned): Oh.. I see.
Me: Why do you ask?
Mr. A: Well.... you know... you're getting old. Shouldn't you be getting married soon? Why waste another 3 years in school? In the Philippines, girls your age are already married with kids.
Me (looking for an exit, trying to be polite): Oh... okay.
Mrs. A: Don't you even have a boyfriend yet?
Me (desperately trying to find my way out of the convo): Um... no. I've been busy with school.
Mr. A: Well, you know. You're getting old. It's something to consider.
Me: *splashes water on his face*

Haha. Kidding. Okay. That last line didn't happen. I eventually spotted my parents and excused myself from the conversation, more baffled than anything. And a little irritated, I'll admit. Am I really, really that old? In this grad life of ours, are we really at that age where we're already hounded about marriage? Hello, the 19th century called. It wants its life back.

Because. Wow. Way to make a 23-year old feel like a spinster, no? As I stood, listening to Mr. A's rant above, the following thoughts immediately crossed my mind: Mr. A, this should not be happening. Comments implying that something is wrong with a woman if they're not married by their mid-20's should not be happening. And most importantly, belittling someone's pursuit of education in favour of marriage isn't very tactful, bee tee double yew.

I shouldn't be introducing you all to my ten cats and twenty parakeets until I'm at least done law school with a job to throw myself into. (Although, when I do acquire said animals, I promise to upload pictures to this blog. Wink wink). Anyway, sarcasm aside, I'm not an old maid, folks. Please get a grip. At least, by my standards anyway.

After that conversation, I had to take a step back and remind myself that I'm not a minority. That I'm one among many friends who want to finish their education (multiple degrees, if desired), who want to travel, to work abroad, to start their own businesses, to experience life ---- before even considering settling down the way Mr. A implied above.

And, from my perspective anyway, there's nothing wrong with wanting to experience life as a 23-year old without the worries of a family to support and a mortgage pay, right? That's for a few years down the road. Not now. And, if we don't feel led to, if we don't desire to, we shouldn't be in such a hurry. Age shouldn't dictate when we want to "settle down."

Is that really so wrong?

That's my own mantra, anyway.

But, after a few days, and a more stable blood pressure rate later, I have to admit something.

Because, okay. Though the conversation irritated me, I understand where Mr. and Mrs. A were coming from, and I respect what they have to say. And I'm not talking about being a good little Asian girl and respecting my elders' opinions (although there's probably some of that thrown in there, let's be real). I respect that, while their opinions aren't in line with my own, I know many people think differently from me. And I accept that.

Taking a step back from my annoyance, I completely respect what they have to say.

Because, like. On some level, I understand where they're coming from. I know that sounds ridiculous, a little crazy. I'm spewing out all these ideas about choice, and experiencing life, but in other cultures and contexts, I accept that I actually am an old maid.

Because, let me put this into context. Mr. and Mrs. A, along with their teenage children, only arrived to Canada a few months ago. From the Philippines. Where, like he says above, it's true - a number of girls my age already have families, married for several years. I don't think they've been in Canada long enough to absorb or understand how different North American approaches to "settling down" are.

I was talking to Mr. and Mrs. A's 16-year old daughter later that evening, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Are you excited for high school in Canada?
The A's Daughter: Yes, I am. I really like science.
Me: Oh, do you have an idea of what you'd like to do in university?
The A's Daughter: Yes, I want to be a doctor. To go into medicine.
Me: Oh, I see! That's great!
The A's Daughter (glancing at me significantly): But, Ate Barbara (Filipino endearing term for older sister), unlike you, I want to be married when I'm 24 years old.

Ohh, snap! Daughter taking after Daddy, no? Bless your heart, sweetheart. Thanks for your concern. Oh, and medical school and marriage by the time you're 24 years old? Erm. Speaking on behalf of a number of friends in medical school right now.... well, no comment. Good luck with that. Keep me posted.

I always wondered why Asian families pushed their daughters to be married so early, particularly in the Philippines, China, Korea, Japan, etc. But, the thing is... 20-something isn't early. It can also be considered late. Very late. Getting married at 18 years old isn't uncommon in other parts of the world. And while conversations like the one above may irritate us, we should probably put ourselves in check before we judge. We might think they're way off base - but they're acting on what they think is common sense too, you know?

I don't think my conversation with Mr. and Mrs. A is just an example of different generations clashing, or a random difference in opinion regarding that oh-so-sensitive topic of marriage. I think it's also a clash of cultural expectations. And I don't think such cultural expectations are wrong, per say. Just different from what we're used to. And, growing up in Canada, we might think what they say is wrong, debasing, and even insulting. But they're acting on what they think is common sense. And cultural common sense isn't necessarily wrong, right?

I guess I'm saying - before getting offended by these kinds of comments (and, let's face it, in this grad life, as we continue life as 20-somethings, we're sure to get these kinds of comments as we get older, especially from older crowds who think we should get married ASAP), take a step back and see where these people are coming from.

Don't get offended right away - understand them instead. And politely decline and turn down their hints to "settle down" or, uh, their requests for you to "meet their sons" (*face palm*). There's nothing wrong with saying no, saying you'd rather concentrate on school for now, doing it without irritation.

So, Mr. A., lay off calling me an old maid, and I'll help your daughter buy her MCAT study guides when the time comes, deal?

Life would be so much easier if we just understood each other a little better.

"Accept who you are; and revel in it."
— Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie)

"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."
— Carlos Castaneda

"I wouldn't describe myself as lacking in confidence, but I would just say that - the ghosts you chase, you never catch."
— John Malkovich

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Travel & Luggage Paranoia - Packing Packing Packing For NY

I leave for New York in eight hours.


Nothing says I'm-so-relieved-get-me-away-from-this-thesis like a vacation. And the grad life needs a vacation once in awhile, no?

Esther, Lenita, Mishal, and I are taking a Porter flight to New York in the early hours of the morning, and will be spending the next four days frolicking under the New York sun. And, this time, contrary to our last trip to New York two years ago, we'll be staying at a hotel right in the middle of Manhattan, so this maximizes the opportunity for blog-worthy adventures, no? Marriott for the win.

I will definitely be blogging about this trip when I get back.

It goes without saying, of course, that I'm excited. However, as usual, because I'm a travel worrywart, I'm also a bit nervous. And not for the reasons you'd think.

Because, you see, I have a certain travel phobia.

Apart from my usual phobias (i.e. you know, failing at life, or failing law school, or tripping in front of crowds of people because I can't walk in heels), I have a weird, OCD-like tendency to think that my airline will lose my luggage.

Am I the only one who gets paranoid about this?!? I can't even explain the meltdown that would ensue if I ever lost my luggage. Meltdown to the nth degree, particularly if, for any reason, I lost my sanity and left my Kate Spade purse in my luggage.

I always worry, what with all the stories about airlines putting the wrong tags on luggage, and having your possessions end up in, I don't know, Australia or something. And inevitably, lost luggage has the ability to cause unwanted stress - something you don't want during a vacation.

Last year, when my friends and I went to Europe for a couple of weeks, I remember stuffing my carry-on backpack with all the clothes, shoes, and toiletries I needed because I was so paranoid that Air Transat would somehow lose my luggage.

Plus, there was that fear of potentially not having anything to wear in Paris. So I lugged half my wardrobe onto the plane. Oh, my. I would have had a meltdown if any of that got lost, I'm telling you. There's just something about not having things planned out, right down to every last detail, that gives me a bit of a nightmare.

I know I have nothing to worry about. My flight to New York only lasts two hours, and Porter has a great reputation for being reliable.

But, still. I worry.

Which is why I've decided to take certain precautions.

Fr example, I've attached three luggage tags to my suitcase, detailing the exact location of our hotel, emergency numbers, flight information, etc. I made photocopies of our itineraries, identification tags, triple checked the contact information of our hotel on my suitcase. Plus, I've included a travel itinerary inside the suitcase. I just thought I'd throw that in there. It never hurts to be prepared, no? Anyway, that's my tip for the day. Be prepared. For anything. A travel tip from your neighbourhood worrywart. Precaution, precaution, precaution.

But, anyway. Enough with the worrying. Enough with my paranoia. I need to stop being such a worrywart about, well, everything. I go through this everytime I travel, and it's second nature now. Bad habits, Barb. *slaps wrist*

So instead, I'll focus on sending positive vibes to my luggage.

Please pull through, Porter Airlines!

Because I'm going to New York in T MINUS eight hours!!! WOOOOOOOOOO.

The packing is done, everything's set. I'm leaving for New York in a few hours! Exciting! The Museum of Modern Art, the MET, Guggenheim, Museum of Natural History, Central Park, 5th Avenue, Broadway, SoHo, New York University, Times Square, Little Italy, Wall Street... Big Apple, here we go!


“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
- Saint Augustine

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
- Maya Angelou

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Asian Sons Live (Keep Living) At Home - Why The Hate?!

I don't know why I keep blogging about Asian people. It just worked out that way, I guess. Last post about Asian people for awhile, I promise. *peace sign*

Okay, so, let me tell you about something that bothers me.

And bear with me here.

About a year ago, I was hanging out at a friend's house. No big deal. I think we were having a Games Night of some sort. But, anyway. It was an evening where I was hanging out with some of my friend's friends, who were a bit older than me. Most of these individuals were in their mid/late twenties. I think the oldest guy there was about 28. Which, whatever. I didn't mind. They were cool people. And it was a fun night.

But, ever meet certain people who just rub you the wrong way? I was chatting with one of the guys sitting near me, and he was telling me about how he had just bought his own place. A condo downtown, you know? Awesome. It's always nice to hear people getting places downtown.

But, this is when I started getting annoyed. Aside from the fact that I already privately thought he was a cocky, self-indulgent narcissist, he leaned over and started talking about a mutual friend of ours. In the absolute worst way possible.

Our mutual friend is in his late 20s. He's a really nice guy. He`s Chinese. A little quiet. But really cool. He works downtown, plays sports, into video games. The usual. But, you see. Here's the thing. Mutual Friend still lives at home with his parents.

So Cocky Narcissist (hereafter known as CN) leans over and says, "What is it about Asian men living at home even when they're older? The guy is 27 years old. Why doesn't he move out? I always notice this with my Asian friends, I don't understand it. That's weird, man. And kind of gross."

I had to resist the urge to lean over and smack him.

Here`s another story. I have another friend in his late 20s. Pretty cool guy. I`ve known him for years. Our families are friends. He`s Filipino. Etcetera. He works downtown, plays sports. He`s into boxing, video games. The usual. But, again. Here`s the thing. Friend lives at home with his parents. And has no plans on moving out.

Except, he`s been getting tremendous flak from the guys at work. Apparently, it`s "weird" that he doesn`t have his own place now that he`s older. Why aren`t you moving out already? You`re 28 years old, why don`t you live on your own? Why do Asian men tend to live at home longer than they're quote on quote "supposed to"?

By all means, I know this "living at home" business isn`t a racial thing. I know this can be an issue with non-Asian 20-somethings in general, men or women. But, for the sake of specificities, cultural implications, and focus for this blog post, I`ll deal with Asian men for now. And, mostly for the sake of dealing with the comments of the above mentioned CN, I`ll deal with Asian men for now.

In this grad life of ours, as we grow up, and many of us move away from home, I notice that we tend to pass (often negative) judgement on those who still live with their parents. Unemployed? Lazy? Gluttons who mooch off their parents? You know it crossed your mind. And I find that this sort of judgement is, at times, harsher on men.

But, see, sometimes actual reality is far from that judgement.

Let me clarify and explore a few issues here.

First, I'm not surprised (though nevertheless annoyed) that people make this a gender issue. Why zero in on men? If a 28 year old woman still lives with her parents, would it still be this much of an issue? The individuals I mentioned above don't seem to be harassing women in their late 20s about moving out, why are men being pressured to move out instead? Particularly by their friends? Is it some kind of "man thing" to have your own condo by the time you're 28 years old?

Oh, god. Please. Spare me the gender specific responsibilities. I already get enough flak from people who think I shouldn't go to law school because I'm a girl.

Second, and more pertinent to what I want to focus on today, I was initially surprised (or maybe not?) that people make this a cultural issue. Like I said above, isn't the move-out-you're-getting-old issue pertinent to any 20-something, regardless of cultural background? Yet, I've started to notice that people tend to assume that Asians are more likely to live at home in their later 20s than their non-Asian counterparts. Is there some truth to this?

And, in response to CN's comments above, are Asian men more likely to live at home in their late 20s (versus non-Asian male counterparts)? And if so, why?

Well, let's try to answer that.

Because, well, it`s funny. I find it ironic that my friend described above gets flak from his coworkers about moving out, yet doesn't hear a word of it from his parents. You`d think it would be the other way around, no? That his parents would kick him out because he's older, self-sufficient, and therefore ready to move out? Yet, from what I`ve witnessed with my own friends and family (and, uh, I have a lot of Asian friends), Asian parents don`t tend to mind if their 20-something son still lives at home with them. Even when they've reached their 30s.

In response to CN's comments above....

The truth is, Mom and Dad don't mind if he stays home. He may have a job, a steady income, and with the capacity to move out - but, he wants to live at home. And he most likely will for another little while, until he finds a reason to move out (i.e. job location, school, or perhaps just an urge for independence). Of course, if their son wants to move out, his parents wouldn't stop him. But, in general, I don`t think I`ve heard a story where Asian parents harass their sons to move out simply because of his age or because he has a steady income.

I have a 30 year old friend. Asian. Male. Still living with his parents. Perhaps even until he gets married. And both parties are completely content with the arrangement.

Some people find that disgusting. Or disturbing. I find it normal. His friends, of course, make fun of him mercilessly for living with his parents when he's clearly an adult. He makes good money. He has a steady job. So why doesn't he move out, you know?

We tend to assume that people live at home with their parents because they have no other choice. That they don't have the income to move out, that they just don't have the ability (yet) to independently buy their own property. That they would rather live elsewhere than home. (And sure, in many cases, this could totally be the reason why they stay at home). But the thing is, others who have the ability to be self-sustaining have a choice. And sometimes, they choose to live with their parents. Because they want to.

Can't you be independent and live with your parents? Can't you have a job, pay for your meals, pay for your clothing (or whatever independence entails) and stick close to your family?

Is that such a foreign concept?

I hesitate to make this a cultural thing. But I kind of, sort of, will. I think the pressure to move out for 20-something Asians is lower in Asian families, simply because of the huge emphasis placed on collectivity and family. To put it bluntly, culturally, I've noticed that many Asian parents see their children living with them until marriage (and even beyond that). Of course, if their kids want to move out, they wouldn`t stop them. If their son or daughter wants to move downtown for work purposes, or for other reasons, they wouldn't stop them. But, until their children make that choice, or until it's absolutely necessary, Asian parents quite rarely kick their children out of the house simply because the closeness of family will always come first. We've heard enough about Confucianism.

In response to CN's comments....

I don't think our mutual friend is weird at all. Sure, he has a steady job. Sure, he could move out if he wanted to. But he doesn't because his family is closer than you know. Because he loves his sisters and wants to watch them grow up. Because he would rather stick around and live with the comfort of his parents. He'll move out when he wants to, got that?

Reader, does this sound weird to you? From what I`ve witnessed growing up, it`s completely normal to see Asian men and women in their late 20s still living with their parents at home until the day they get married or move in with a significant other. It wasn`t until people started pointing out its "weirdness" that I started thinking about the cultural implications of all this. I've stressed enough times on this blog how important and emphasized family values are to Asian families. On keeping the family together.

So, why the hate and ridicule placed on Asian men (or, I guess, to a lesser extent, women) who live at home? If they choose to do so, is it really our place to pass negative judgement? It irritates me, it really does.

Third, on the practical level, on the whole, living at home is the cheaper, no? So, why the hate on living at home when you're older? If it saves money, cut these guys some slack, yea?

So the next time you encounter a friend (or, anyone, really) living at home - think twice before you judge them as lazy, good-for-nothing, unemployed sloths. There may be other reasons why they live with their parents. To some people, family is more important than you know.

But, anyway, I guess that`s my semi-defense of 20-something Asian men still living at home. I understand you, friends. I really do!

"I don't care how poor a man is; if he has family, he's rich."
- Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford, "Identity Crisis," M*A*S*H

"Our most basic instinct is not for survival, but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted."
- Paul Pearshall

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you."
- Kendall Hailey, The Day I Became an Autodidact

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Why Asian Mothers Are Superior" & Why I Love My Asian Mother - Reflections on Amy Chua

Awhile back, I blogged about Asian parenting and my momentary exasperation with the Asian community's emphasis on image in order to be perceived as successful.

Honestly, this was one of the few aspects that used to annoy me about the Filipino community. I've grown up watching my parents' friends perpetually talk up their children to make sure their children looked successful. Back then, to me, it looked like the success, beauty, and ability of their children was validation of their worth as a parent. And I was sorely annoyed.

Image and success. It seemed to be everything.

And so, for their children, there was pressure to, basically, look and be perfect. You're always consciously aware of what people think about you: from the clothes you're wearing, to the type of designer purse (or lack thereof) slung over your shoulder, to where you are at in school, what career path you're taking, how your hair is styled, how you bow and shake hands with elders, etc. You exemplify how your parents have raised you.

Everything I'm describing sounds enormously superficial. And I admit, to an outsider, it really does. Why do you think knock-off Gucci purses are all the rage in Hong Kong? Why do you think Japan and Korea have the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world?

Because success and perfection. It seems to be everything.

But, as I grew up, I realized the true motivations behind the behaviour of this particular community.

To someone who hasn't grown up in this community, the strict parenting I'm about to describe sounds ridiculous and out of hand. But, you know. There's more to the Asian community than what meets the eye. And, while I complain about it sometimes, if you dig a little deeper, you learn something about why the community functions the way it does and why Asians parent the way they do.

So. Ever wondered why this community functions the way it does?

Image and success. It seems to be everything. But, why?

Here's the thing. I'm glad I was brought up the way I was. This is the world, the community I've grown up in. And, personally, I'm used to it. I'm accustomed to the rhythm and routine of social functions in the Asian community.

But, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wondered why the Asian community places so much emphasis on perfection? Ever wondered why Asian parents emphasize so greatly the value and concept of success?

Confucian values aside, I think Asian parents act the way they do because they know their kids can be the best if they tried their hardest to be the best. Emphasis on Try and the value of Hard Work. And they'll push them to perfection because they know they're capable of it.

Wait. Disclaimer. I'm not saying that Asians are ethnically superior because they're the only race that can be perfect. God, no. Don't misinterpret me.

I think the MacLean's article published a couple of months back speaks volumes. Where complaints were being lodged that the University of Toronto was "TOO ASIAN." CLICK HERE to read the article. Trust me, I know all about how UofT is too Asian. Ever been to Sidney Smith Hall? These Asians. They're everywhere.

I know the value of strict Asian parenting. I know it, because I've lived it. I've grown up with parents who didn't accept anything less than an A on a report card. Who put me in piano lessons when I was six years old. Who put me in ballet lessons when I was eight years old. Who made me practice multiplication tables, cursive writing, when I was in kindergarten. Who gave me extra homework assignments. Who made me practice said piano and ballet, even when I wanted to quit.

They knew I could do it. And so, they pushed me to do so. And, quite frankly, I'm glad they did. I was taught that I needed to try. That I needed to work hard. I was taught that I shouldn't be lazy. And, honestly? I'm so glad they did. I wouldn't be where I am today if I wasn't pushed the way I was.

Strict Asian parenting is a strange concept for individuals who didn't grow up in this community. But, let me tell you. There's method behind that perceived madness. Asian parents instill their love for their children by pushing them to work hard - because wishing and hoping for their success is a reflection of the hope and unconditional love they have for their children.

Pushing for success. It's a reflection of love. Ever think of it that way? That success is something parents want for you because they know you're capable of it?

So, are you yelling at me yet? People who haven't experienced this are going to freak out. I know it. I know what's been said behind my back. That I work too much. That I go to the library too much. Complaining that I shouldn't get ahead with my readings or my work. Encouraging me to skip class. Oh, really? Frankly, I don't care what you say about me behind my back. Because, sorry. I couldn't hear you over my law school acceptance letters.

I said above that image is everything. And it is. For a community that knows they can attain the best, that image of success and perfection, if the values of hard work and trying are exercised, if you try your best to pursue it.

This is a reflection of how I perceive the Asian community I've witnessed and grown up with. Others may have different perceptions, but these are mine.

Which brings me to a brief reflection on Amy Chua's article "Why Asian Mothers Are Superior." To read the famed article that stirred parenting wars all over the world, CLICK HERE. Honestly, I think the sexist and racial attacks on Chua are ridiculous. Yet, the scathing attacks on the motivations behind her strict parenting is something I disagree with even more.

So, here's the thing. I love Amy Chua. And, this article? If you're about to yell at me about how ridiculous it is, I have a few words for you: READ HER WHOLE BOOK. This article is merely an excerpt from her parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She depicts her failures as a parent and, most importantly, the need to instill Asian values in the education system today.

Personally, I wholeheartedly agree. To read her op-ed on US education today, CLICK HERE.

Amy Chua has been criticized worldwide for her strict parenting methods. She's received death threats. She's received numerous hateful comments and emails telling her what a horrible parent she's been. Commentators have decided her children are mindless robots, that they'll grown up psychologically impaired. That they aren't normal because they grew up this way.

Um. Okay. Almost 90% of people I've talked to about this article have admitted that they grew up in a similar environment.

Is an environment with high expectations so evil? For some people, it is.

Parenting touches a nerve for a lot of people. Especially crazy moms who think their way to parent is the only way to parent. Or for people who grew up in a different environment and think strict parenting is for nutjobs. (See: attacks on Amy Chua).

I'm not saying everything Chua did was right. I'm not saying the specific tactics she exercised should be followed to a T. I'm saying that I understand the motivations behind her actions. I understand why she parented the way she did.

Like Chua's own children, I'm glad I was given high expectations by parents very similar to Chua. Because I was taught that I could reach them if I put in the hard work to do so.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

When I was seven years old, crying that I hated playing the piano, yelling that I hated memorizing piano music because it was freakin boring, my mother made my practice piano for an hour everyday so I could memorize those classic pieces. Some people call rote learning ineffective. Others call it child abuse. But, to me? It worked. And I'll forever be grateful for being pushed to memorize piano music that I truly did love but was too lazy to practice if I hadn't been pushed to. I would have regretted not knowing how to play it, knowing I had the chance to.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

Two years ago, my mom took a day off work from her busy schedule and took the subway with me down to the University of Toronto campus. It was the day I was writing the LSAT. The test that would determine whether I was going to law school. Prior to signing up for the LSAT, I didn't want to take it. I dragged my feet for a year. But, my mother. She knew I could do it if I tried hard enough. And on that day, my mother. She sat at a nearby coffee shop for four hours while I wrote my test, waiting for me, giving me the support I needed when I walked out of the test room. She knew I could do it, even when I didn't believe in myself.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

When I was younger, I took a ballet test and failed miserably on my first try. I was eight years old. After failing, I wanted to quit ballet. My ballet teacher told me I had terrible posture and needed to fix it. I was humiliated, and I wanted to run away. I begged my mom to let me quit. But, my mother. She firmly told me to finish what I started. That I needed to do my best, because she knew I could be the best if I really tried. And a week later, I trudged back to ballet school, re-took the test, and months later, eventually fixed my posture. She wouldn't let me quit. And I'm glad she did that. Without my mother, I wouldn't have fallen in love with ballet.

I could go on, but I won't. This post is getting way too long.

Say what you want about strict Asian parenting. But, for me. It's a community I will fiercely defend and protect no matter the criticisms. Because it's pushed me to be what I am today. And I will forever be grateful for it.

"All the so-called "secrets of success" will not work unless you do."
- Author Unknown

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
- Thomas Jefferson