Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Not Alone



I was single when I was introduced to Maddie in an LGBT networking event on campus. I was in the middle of studying for three back-to-back finals then, and she was a business graduate student. I noticed her immediately; she was tall, with long blond hair tied into a ponytail and bright blue eyes that appeared to light up the room. I stared at her from a safe distance, and after a lot of convincing from my friend (and maybe some liquid courage) I positioned myself in her space and after introductions, we gave each other our numbers.
I saw her again later that evening (or night rather, it was around 8 or 9 pm). The friend I went with had already started to head home. Being the only familiar person left, she walked up and we talked for a while. One thing seemed to lead to another, and pretty soon I heard myself (I felt like I was having an out of body experience) inviting her to my dorm.
 She smelled really nice, that much I could remember. Anything else I don't because apparently, I fell asleep while she was talking.
(I was cramming around 300 pages of tiny text every day. I swore I was just going to close my eyes for a few seconds.)
So anyway, long story short, I woke up to a bright morning light coming through the thin university-issue curtains, and I saw her sitting across from me on my black chair a few feet away from where I was lying on the couch. I immediately realized that I had fallen asleep, and I apologized while feeling extremely embarrassed. She smiled at me and told me she didn't mind. She said that she was glad that I didn't talk that much before falling asleep.
With anyone else, I would have laughed out loud because that sounded so cheesy, but somehow she managed to pull it off. I felt like I was falling in love with her already.
I asked her if I could make her anything to eat for breakfast. She said that it was already a little past lunchtime. I checked my watch and saw that it was already 1:30pm. My face turned a bright red. This whole situation was just so mortifying.
So we walked down to her car, and headed to Tyler Mall and grabbed lunch at one of the small restaurants there. She was extremely easygoing and really charming such that the whole date (was it a date?) passed by in a very comfortable and relaxed way. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon before I realized how much time had passed without me realizing. I told her that I needed to study for my classes because midterms were right around the corner, and she said that she understood. She drove me back to my dorm and hugged me goodbye.
On the way back to my dorm, she asked me quite bluntly if what had happened between us (or not happened) was a one time deal, or if I had wanted to see if I wanted to take our date to the next level. I didn't know what to say. I didn't how to explain how to explain that she was too good for me and that I didn't feel like I deserved her. Or that even though I thought she was amazing I didn't think I wanted anything more. She was amazing, but at the time, I wasn't ready for anybody to be in my life. And after getting to know her, I didn't want to lie to her and lead her on. I didn't want to be "that person" in her life who lied to her about what I was looking for in a relationship.
And for whatever reason, I told her all of that. She said she understood.
***
I saw her again about a year later during another event campus. As things would have it, we were both still single, and she was still as pretty as I had remembered. I asked her how she was doing, and she said that her friends had asked her to move to New York to start a small business with them. She had thought about it and decided it was worth a chance. I told her that I was happy for her, and I truly was. She deserved to be happy and achieve her dreams. We talked some more, and it was as if we were old friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time, not strangers who had one date and (almost) a one night stand.
She asked me if I had come with anyone. I said that I had come with a friend, but she had left. She met with someone that she knew from another event, and they had gone somewhere else. I told Maddie that I was alone at this event, which was kind of lame and pathetic. And she told me "Of course you're not alone. You're here, with me."
I smiled at her and forced myself to looked away. To this day I'll never know how she managed to pull off these cheesy lines.
It's been almost three years since I've met Maddie, but I never saw her again. But to me, she will always be that girl who reminded me that I was not alone.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How I Failed at College But Aced at Learning

Titles can sometimes be deceiving: I did, in fact, successfully graduate from college and get a degree. One year earlier than I expected, but not with the academic record that I wanted.

Finals: a series of tests that collectively make up around two and a half weeks of hell on earth with a rather large portion of your final grade at stake. Screw up one of these tests, and you most likely will find yourself retaking this course during the next quarter.

Now that I am successfully applying to medical school and writing up my secondary applications, I thought I would give myself some time to reflect on why I believe that even though my GPA is abysmal compared to most other applicants to medical school, I still succeeded at learning.
I could go on and on about how science courses don't come easily to me, or if I applied myself more, I would have gotten a better grade. But I would like to tell everyone about a class that I did well in, academically at least -- an upper-level political science course. The professor was young, never assigned any homework, never took attendance, and admitted in our first day in class that reading the assigned book was pretty much useless. To this day, I couldn't honestly tell you if I loved her or hated her. But I'm getting off track here.

The responsibilities that a student had to take in order to pass the class were pretty basic: one group paper, a midterm, and a five-minute group presentation that counted as a final. I found people who I knew to be responsible, so in other words, no real room for error. For our midterm, we were not only allowed two pages worth of cheat sheets, but we were also allowed to work with a partner. It may sound too good to be true, but at the time, it felt like I had scored a gold mine.

After going through all the lecture slides, flipped through the "useless" book in the library (thus saving myself $150), I started copying down the main ideas on my cheat sheet. I didn't really understand all of the concepts that I was copying down or why some concepts were more important than others, but I knew for a fact that the question "why was this event important" would never be tested on for a grade. To be honest, I copied down the ideas and promptly forgot about them until test day.

But as I looked up my grades online, I had to take a moment to laugh to myself: even though I received an A in this course, I just failed. The only thing that made my grade was an ability to manipulate the system. I didn't know what I was doing for the majority of the course. I didn't know the importance of the various figures that were in the textbook. And I definitely would not have gotten an A without copying down the concepts.

This brings me back to the title of this post -- more often than not, the grade that we receive is not indicative of the amount of material that we learned. After I let this sink in, I realized that this is not the first time that this has happened. In fact, after talking to a few friends, I realized that this is a pretty common occurrence. We will sit in these huge lecture halls without paying attention to a word that the professor is saying until it's a week before finals. Then, we will finally crack open the assigned book and spend a few restless nights cramming the subject material as best we can.
This, of course, is not indicative of every course that I took in college. I took a second-semester organic chemistry course at my local community college where the professor was fantastic. I managed to pass the class, but it was only through daily practice and several sleepless nights that I managed to do so. There were no cheat sheets, you either knew the content or you didn't.

Sadly, for most classes, there are not many great professors -- at least not in my three-year experience. Which, then begs the question: is getting a college degree worth it? It just doesn't happen often. More often, there are professors who are tenured or land themselves as the head of their department and are then content with being a mediocre professor at best. I remember watching a Youtube video of a professor who was complaining (that's putting it in a very diplomatic way) about students in his class using the test bank provided by the college to land a good grade on his tests. He said that the students (who got these tests through a legitimate service provided by a department which was funded directly by the university) should be sent to the dean's office for academic dishonesty. I had to pause the video and take a moment to laugh at this man's ignorance. This man -- who's getting paid more than $100k a year to teach a few classes per week -- is complaining about having to work harder for his money whereas there are students who are honestly drowning in student loans.

So instead of using the sixty or so questions from the textbook (which I assume he didn't have to buy or even know how much it costs) he now has to choose between two options:
  • A) Actually coming up with a list of questions that he wrote on his own time using his "intelligence" as a professor
  • B) Continue using the test bank and be angry at students who know how to use the resources provided to them by the university
In my opinion, he can think what he wants, but the fact that these students know to use what resources are available to them shows a lot more character than his little temper tantrum.
This brings me back to this massive question that I have been asking myself for the past few years: what do grades mean anyway? This is a scary thought, especially since my parents had paid quite the pretty penny to send me through school. I keep thinking about all the money that went into renting me out a dorm room in college, and how that money essentially became wasted in the seemingly endless bureaucracy that clogs up our college experience.

I realize that my thoughts of choosing "pointless" classes that I feel will never help me in real life is a common experience amongst students across the United States. Sometimes I think (or maybe it's coming from being young and inexperienced) that I would have been better off majoring in something like Sociology or English, something that didn't require pure memorization or knowing how to work an equation. Sure, these majors are not as "competitive" in the workforce, but I know for a fact that I would have gotten a higher GPA if I had majored in a "soft" humanities subject.

Whenever I ask my mom about what the point of all these classes are, she simply tells me that loving what you do and doing what pays the bills are usually two completely separate things. Even though this is incredibly annoying, it's also an extremely accurate statement. As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. As controversial as this is, choosing a major that will get you a steady (or very good) job is typically more "useful" than studying something that you "love" but won't pay you a dime. That's not to say you shouldn't follow your passions, far from it. But the reality of graduation is this -- how will you survive in the real world when all hiring managers have to go on is a resume?

I know that this post most likely sounds like me complaining about how I should have done things differently when I was an undergrad (and a little bit of this post is). But I don't believe I am alone in the sense that I felt that the majority of the classes I took were of little consequence to me. I can't possibly be alone in thinking that just because someone has a higher GPA, it means that they are somehow better qualified for a job. I have met many people who are considered successful but don't have a fancy degree from an upscale university. Again: is having a degree worth it? Or is it just another piece of paper?

So what's the point of this rather long post? I guess my point is that my core belief of numbers (birth year, SAT scores, GPAs, etc) are not the full measure of ability, intelligence, or knowledge of subject material. Sure, they're a good measure of what you may have learned, but it's finite. I remember a class where I got low B's on all of the tests, but I went to class every day and got "extra credit" points just for being there. I ended up getting a high A based off nothing else but the "credit" in the class. So, what grade did I really deserve? I honestly couldn't tell you.

So the next time you look at a B grade (or lower), ask something of yourself: is it better to receive an A and walk out remembering next to nothing or receive that B and walk away having learned something? If you ask me, I would rather have had learned something than get a "good" grade and remember next to nothing about my class.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Masks That We Wear


I was in a club in West Hollywood with my friend Allison, looking down from a balcony at the large group of people dancing on the main floor. Allison was not in a good mood, mainly because her boss was giving her a hard time. When she was in a bad mood, she tended to rant.

"Look at them. It's so gross."
Raising my eyebrows, I looked at her and asked, "What do you mean?"
"Everyone is fake. They're all just pretending down there."
"Pretending? I still don't understand."

"Fake. Pretentious. Example: look at that dude over there." She pointed at a guy wearing a thin tie dancing on a table on the right side of the dance floor. "I'm pretty sure when it's not the weekend, he's hauling ass at a minimum wage job who probably had to save up a week's worth of money just to afford to be in here. But look at him! He acts like he's the coolest guy in here. It's just so annoying."

"I'm sure he just wants to have fun. Besides, we don't know his history."

"Of course he isn't. Just look at him. That annoying posture. That fake swagger. He acts like he's a gift from God."
  
I didn't really know how to respond, so I decided to keep quiet. 
"Look, here's my theory. A lot of people who act cool, composed, and perfect, both here and on social media tend to be such losers out in the real world."
She now had my full attention. I looked at her seriously this time, trying to see if she actually believed what she was saying.
"That's what frustrates me so much. Why we wear the masks that we do."
"We all wear masks to some degree Ally. You should know that better than anyone else here. Hell, your job is to make people look better than they really are. I believe that you call that advertising or something. But here, in the real world, we would call that lying."
"Haha, Gina. I don't know how to respond to that because there is some truth. But here's the thing, it's one thing to wear a mask and know that it's not your true self, and really it's quite another when you start to believe your mask is the real thing."
"That's true. But the thing is, I think we all need to wear masks for our own reasons sometimes."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Family


A few weeks ago I had dinner with a few friends, most of whom I haven't seen in a long while. To put into context: I used to see them at least once a week, and this time around I haven't seen them in a couple of months. I missed them very much. They were practically my family when I was in college.

 The idea of what a family means has always been interesting, in the sense that it implies so much: love and responsibility, affection towards one another. Parents. Perhaps children. And we hold the ideal of a family like a shield against everything else; that is to say, we assume that family members are not capable of hating one another, or not be responsible, or that it requires two parents instead of just one, right along a lot of other notions that we associate with the word "family". So many people are surprised, or even angry, when a family does not resemble their ideals. A family is supposed to look like this you say, because families just are supposed to be like this. People say this as if all families are supposed to be cut from the same cloth. People say this like families cannot be as different as the people who make them.
But what about the other kinds of families? The families that you create when the one that you were born into are too busy, or just don't care to spend time. The standards that we place aren't the same, because they're not our real family. But what does a real family  mean?

For many people who are naturally inclined for something else, and being pressured by society to be similar to everyone around them, they are chained, and rebel because they feel as if they have no choice in the matter. Some people are quiet about it, fearing the consequences of being different. Some do it loudly, putting a finger out to what the world may think about them. And there are those who choose to simply live, and hope that no one bothers them and they can be left in peace.
In a sense, we are all different (hopefully not in fundamental qualities like love or a capacity to care for others) because of the lives we live. Many of us have an ideal of what the term family means, but what reality is tends to fall short of the ideals most people set forth. It's the same with everything in life, I think. We start out with an ideal, and when reality sets in it always surprises us when the person or object that we idealized falls short of our expectations.

When I was growing up, I always felt like there was something different about me. I couldn't put a finger on what it was, but I always thought that I needed to fit in to whatever image other people expected me to be. I was taller than many of my peers growing up, so I hadto play a sport. I was a girl, so I hadto be attracted to guys. I was Asian, so I hadto do better at school so my mom could tell other families in the neighborhood my grades. All these chains that held me down chafed at me, and the endless barrage of what was expected of me morphed into resentment towards my parents, some drinking problems, a sense of having to prove myself to the world, and a lot of anger. All these expectations and the feeling of never living up to what my parents wanted led me to seek approval in all the wrong places.
  
But who knows where I would be if these expectations weren't there in the first place.
Tying all this back to what a family means, it blows my mind that we put so much pressure both on ourselves and on each other to fit an ideal that we made up in our heads of what a "family" means. This isn't to say that there's something wrong with a family that does fit the traditional ideals of being loving and compassionate to each other; all I'm saying is that if we broaden our minds a bit, maybe we can at least believe to a degree that all a real family needs is to be loving and caring towards one another. Maybe nothing else is needed. In other words, why should the concept of a family be tied down to a few superficial standards?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

This Way, Not That: A Letter to My Mom


I remember sitting in the car with you, and you were talking about my future, and how you wanted me to be this way, not that. What you meant by these phrases, you never fully explained, but I remember you putting your point across by flipping your hand back and forth. And that flip-flop of your hand spoke louder than words to me, because in that one clumsy gesture with the flick of your wrist, you summarized to me what it meant to be gay.

And I remember feeling awful for both of us, and how difficult it must have been for you to even broach this subject considering the fact that you couldn't even say the word out loud. So instead of saying it, you flipped your hand over and over again, knowing that I would know what you were talking about, because I knew where you were going with this conversation, and because I knew your daughter.

Maybe you couldn't say the word out loud because saying them would make it true. And I know that to this day, you want so much for the opposite to be true. Maybe you regret ever bringing the topic up in the first place, like ignoring the problem would have kept the issue away.

I also remember not knowing what to say, or whether or not I should lie to you, someone that I've never lied to before.

So I decided to say nothing. As you were talking, I wanted to hold your hand and say to you that your daughter would turn out to be more than just okay, she is a caring, decent, thoughtful human who is in the process of possibly becoming a fine adult, and that this, the word that you couldn't even make yourself say, it doesn't matter because it shouldn't matter. In the grand scheme of things, it is a defining attribute but is also the least important attribute your daughter has been blessed with.

And I also wanted to say that I know you are worried about her because she lives in a society where there are people who would think of her as abnormal and weird, for something that she has no control over and that differentiates her from the majority of the population. And that worry you have only comes from your love, but that it doesn't change the fact that your daughter would rather have you support her because, at the end of it all, it is only when she accepts herself for who she is, and when the people she loves accepts her, will she be truly happy with her life.

And I wanted to say that you did not make a mistake with parenting, that you did not do something "wrong" to make your daughter feel "that way" about girls, and that she is simply who she is.

But instead, I remained silent. Because, to this day, you would rather believe a lie than to hear the truth about your own child. Your only child.

And so we continue to live our lives, my thoughts a blur, you in your seat worrying what you did wrong to make your daughter go "wrong". Yes, the world can be a terrifying place to live in, but it is even more so when the people who claim to love you the most are the first to reject you for the person you are.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Being Preppy



The word "preppy" means different things to different people. But what image comes to mind when the word is said?

Do you think of someone who is well off, dressed in pastel colors, with gelled hair? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the word as "Someone who dresses or acts like a student at a prep school (such as by wearing neat, somewhat formal clothing or by using particular words and phrases)".

Since starting college, I've been looking into switching up my style. After two and a half years, I felt as if I had found the style that fitted my personality. In the past year or so, I've described myself as being preppy, not only in terms of dress but also in the morals that I believed in. To me, being preppy meant setting yourself to a higher standard and putting yourself second, if not third. I guess I've always had these inner standards. It just took time for my outer self to match my inner one.

In many ways, I see being preppy as being respectful of traditions and history. It is being respectful of where you come from, and the belief that just because something is new does not mean it's necessarily better. But most of all, being preppy means embodying charity, compassion, and the desire to help others without wanting something in return.

However, this leads me to what we see online: Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest. What do we see when we type up "preppy"? We see guys with monogrammed polo shirts posing in front of "their"sports cars that their parents paid for, girls lying on beaches sipping on some tropical drink. In short, we see people with backgrounds of privilege, affluence, and the attitude of getting more than what your neighbor has.

How about all the other things that are behind these pictures? Is being preppy having a closet stuffed with clothes and accessories? Or having money/property passed down from generation to generation instead of having a work-hard ethic to get where you are? Is that what preppy means?

There may be an endless number of attributes to what being preppy means, but at the end of the day, what does it all mean?

Am I guilty of playing into this trope of wanting to be preppy? Of course -- but who isn't? In the past 20 years or so (or should I say in the last 2-3 years), I've definitely tried to fit in, materialistically at least. In the attempt to find my own style, I had lost myself in a cycle of consumerism.

In short, it seems as if being preppy is not what it used to be. The word has been photoshopped, filtered, and edited to the point where the word has more extrinsic meaning than it does intrinsic. However, this doesn't mean that I don't respect the term --I did at one point in time, but it's been changed to the point where it's hard for me to find any part of the word that still relates to who I am today.

And what does this mean for me? I can't give you a clear answer. Based on how the term "preppy" is defined by pop culture, I definitely do not fit this definition, and I don't want to. I don't go on vacation in Southampton. I don't come from a rich background, nor do I have a plush bank account. My parents were foreigners from China. And my style of dress? It's a mix of everything.

So if there's one thing that you take away from this post, it's this: large brand names, big houses, and fast cars doesn't make a person better than the next. The best style is being true to who you are. At the end of the day, each one of us will be remembered for the kind of people we were, not what possessions we had.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Performance Art



I'll put this out there: I'm not good with kids. If you leave me around with a kid for more than half an hour, that is a minor inconvenience to me. If you leave two kids or more with me, then you either hate your kids or you hate me.
Don't get me wrong, I love kids. I really do, it's just that I'm not good at dealing with them in a mature manner. I'd make the worst parent because I don't have the nerve to say "no" to them or do what has to be done. And speaking of that, teenagers? Don't even go there with me. If you think I'm bad with little kids you should see me try to deal with a teenager. It's a joke.

But kids are great when they're supervised by their parents or if they are with a nanny. In that situation, they can be pretty entertaining and I can put up with them. Put that kid in a public situation with people they don't know and you get double the entertainment. That's your entertainment for the night.

Marina Abramovic once said that performance art was all about context and that the context of what you do is different in a museum than out in the real world. For example, if you bake bread in a museum, it is considered art, but if you do the same exact thing at home, you're just baking bread. Children have no sense of what "context" really means, which makes them the best performance artists in the world.

I was running around the track with the kid of one of my friends when she says to me "My mom told me that you're different from other people.""I...uh...hmmm." "She says it's okay to be gay. Are you single?""I....um.......no...uh."

I have another theory. I once read some commentary about what art should mean (I read this in a required reading for one of the classes that I took while in college). The author, who was quite prominent in the art community in San Francisco, said that "good" art should be disruptive; in other words, the goal of "good" art should disrupt people's perceived idea of what "reality" means to them. I wanted to see if the author had kids because if that was true, then kids would fulfill that purpose to a T.

To back this up, I would like to bring up an example. I was celebrating my birthday with a few friends in West Hollywood. I have friends of all ages: those old enough to be my parents to those just entering college. One of my friends brought her two children with her: one son and one daughter: the son was two years old and the daughter was 7 months. If there were ever an embodiment of hyperactive energy and restlessness, it was these two children. In the restaurant that we were in, there were several other large tables with people focused on their own events.

 Now, the two-year-old boy decided he wanted to run around all over, and my friend, after half an hour of running after him and trying to get him to settle down, gave up and thought that it would be best to just let him run until he was tired. This situation was already bad enough, but then the 7-month-old little girl decided that this would be an appropriate place to practice these bloodcurdling screams that she was passing off as human conversation. It felt excruciating. My friend tried to have her stop but this kid just wouldn't stop screaming. When I looked over at the other table I saw the disapproving stare of a teen. I gave her a fake smile and pretended that having a screaming kid at your lunch table was the most normal thing possible. Disruptive indeed.