My reply to the explosive Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

One year ago, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother exploded into public attention, mostly with critics firing derogatory statements at her parenting methods. Being a Chinese-American and the product of Asian parenting, I was curious.  What was this buzz about?

I was too inundated with college applications (go-figure) and my hectic senior year (contrary to popular belief, senior year is what you make of it, and if you decide not to slack off, it’s just as tough as junior year) to read it. But I finally managed to read the entire book in just two days, finishing off as we are on the road to Philadelphia.

My first impression was that the style of writing was quite personable; she didn’t use the pedantic language of a Yale Law School professor, but rather of a mother. The second thing I noticed was that she kept on making references to the “Chinese” way and the “Western” way of parenting, and although she disclaimed any stereotypes, it still irked me. She often seems derogatory towards “Western-style” parenting, as if it leads to decadence and drinking and partying.  Of course, this is often not the case.  As she found out with her own children, whether you grow up to be a successful doctor-lawyer-professor or a drug addict depends on a combination of genes and environment.

Let me digress for a moment.  Coincidentally, the book I read before this one happens to be Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about success.  More than that, however, it points out how the source of success is neither genes nor environment alone but rather the fortuitous alignment of the two.  Bill Gates would never have been a billionaire if he hadn’t had the chance to program 12 hours a day as a teenager. Canadian hockey players are often born at the beginning of the year because they are picked for their physical maturity before the deadline. Etc. More interestingly, he notes that in order for a person to become an expert in one discipline, he or she must spend more than 10,000 hours on it. I have no doubt that one of the reasons why Sophia and Lulu were so good was not only due to the fact that they were natural musicians, but because their mother beat hours upon hours of practice, at home, in hotel rooms and in foreign countries, into them.  Furthermore, if you read through the book, you realize how Chua pulled a lot of strings for her daughters—famous music teachers, money to pay for their teachers, safety of the New Haven (and thus Yale) suburbs–something many children do not have. So of course all of those would be a lethal combination shooing Sophia in as a Carnegie Hall player/ Lulu as a fantastic violin player.

All of those practice hours were without waste. That’s why I also understand why some Asian parents take their kids to Kumon, SAT prep courses, music lessons, sports game, etc.—all without their children’s consent or approval.  They do that because, although their children do not know it yet, they will capitalize on those skills as conscious teenagers.  What were with waste, however, was the hours spend arguing and the traumatic screaming matches.  Chua coerced her children because she knew they could succeed, and succeed they did.  (Also, note here that Chua only refers to her parenting technique in the book when she is talking about her daughters’ music—I do not see much trace of grades or other events.)  Here, however, is where I disagree with her—I, as a teenager, would never want to be yelled at by my parents as being lazy or pathetic. I, like Lulu, would hate violin if my parents forced it upon me, which was, I think, what happened to me with swimming.

I was a pretty good state-level swimmer at the age of ten, but already eleven or twelve, I was fed up and tired of my mom’s nagging and constant critique. She would wear me down just as Chua wore down Lulu, and I ended up hating swimming.  It was exhausting and I had my parents on top of me as well—the worst combination. Now that I look back on it, I have regrets; I wish I could have continued because who knows where I would be?  Top swimmer?  Good enough swimmer to get to college?  At the same time, however, I’m glad I quit because I wouldn’t be able to stand my parents—they would come to my meets and all, but I never felt like they were supportive. So on one hand, parents can give you the opportunity to become something great, and, at the same time, tear that opportunity down with psychological warfare.  I always envied those Olympic athletes (usually Caucasian) you see on television crying and hugging their parents in the stands—thank you Mom and Dad…I love you, I can imagine them saying.  Why can’t “Asian” parents be the same?

So indeed, why can’t Asian parents be the same?  Although Chua claims that even through harsh parenting techniques, her children will love her, I claim: that depends.  It depends on your temperament.  You can learn to despise your parents for oppressing you or you can learn to bear through it and then thank your parents later for forcing you to do xyz.  At the same time, you can have “Western” style of parenting and have your children hate or love you.  You just need to be able to figure out the mechanics of your children’s inner workings and seize upon it.

By all means, I am not a mother yet.  Still, I imagine myself as, not as a Tiger Mother, but as a mixture of the two worlds, for, after all, I am mixed (Chinese genes, Asian parenting, American environment). I have been through Asian parenting, and I don’t want my children to go through the same. So, how would I parent my children? Certainly I would sign them up for music/sports lessons and push them to be as good as they can be, but I wouldn’t go to the extreme of using psychological warfare (like she did on Lulu).  By instilling resentment, you inject mistrust into your relationship and your child feels oppressed rather than liberated by your tactics. And it was, indeed, this way with Sophia and Lulu. I have read Sophia’s blog and side of the story here, but I have not heard from Lulu, and I would like to.  How does her view of her mother differ from her sister’s?  And I mean truthfully—without her mom listening or the media listening. I want to step into Lulu’s shoes and see how she really liked her mom.

Wow, this was quite an essay.  I ramble on too much.

P.S. How did Amy Chua have time to be a law professor/writer/professional mom-who-can-attend-all-her-children’s-lessons/chauffeur?  She seemed like supermom in the books. Well that’s what you get when you have a Harvard graduate—a super motivated and successful adult.

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Microsoft store

While I was roaming about in Tysons Corner Mall in northern Virginia, I came upon this logo…

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…peeked inside and saw this:

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A Microsoft store! In an Apple almost copy-cat kind of style, Microsoft has stepped up its game with its own touch-and-feel-our-products stores. Sleek screens lined the store walls, with Windows 8-style font and maneuvering displayed. There was a luxurious leather chair in front of a TV hooked up to an Xbox. Microsoft workers with green T-shirts tried to lure customers in with these Microsoft challenges in which if you used the Photo Editor on Windows to fuse two pictures together in under 60 seconds, you got a free t-shirt and a chance to get a laptop. I figured, free stuff, why not?

I’ve always been a Microsoft/Windows person, and the fact that it is stepping up its  direct-to-consumer marketing is exciting. No longer is Windows merely for business and Mac merely for personal use…the two are becoming more and more alike. I know there are essentially cults out there, or more like “Applebots” who only buy Apple products. Windows vs. Apple. iPhone vs. Android. Etc. But now with the release of Windows 8 in October–during which I can buy a tablet PC (a tablet, and a PC)–and my new smartphone (a Galaxy Nexus…more details later), I feel like Apple is not somehow superior. In fact, I like my Nexus a lot more than my iPod Touch; maybe it’s a sense of novelty, but I like it because it’s more customizable. And although maybe it’s not as clean or sleek as Apple’s beveled app buttons and such, it’s just as good, even better for utility’s sake. Score one for Microsoft.

From this…

..to this. Much sleeker and Apple-like.

 

Ai lin and my favorite jewelry at the moment

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While I was in Nice, France, my friends and I stumbled upon a cute store called La Droguerie (means the hardware store in French). We were walking along the streets of Nice when Rachel remarked: “is that a store that sells buttons?!” because there were buttons displayed. We were intrigued, and thus, impulsively went inside. Little did we know that the store was not a button store, but a do-it-yourself store, selling everything from jewelry parts to fabrics.

We were pretty impressed, but I was a little misled. I thought we would simply pick the parts that we wanted, tell the store employees how we want it made, and they would make it on the spot. It was not until after I picked out the jewelry parts that I realized that we would have to use our own hands and finesse to create what we want created.  I loved it; no longer would I have to stand in a store for an hour debating whether to buy some piece of jewelry for thirty bucks, only to buy it and then decide I didn’t like it. Here, I could just buy everything, and then figure it out at home. Not only that, I could tailor my own jewelry to my own liking: custom-made jewelry at a cheaper price than a retail store.  Unfortunately, we could have spent, literally hours, trying to decide what we wanted (I could tell the employees were a tad irritated as we flitted around the store telling her what we wanted and how we wanted our end product–not to mention some linguistic problems). Although we had a limited time, I was satisfied with what I picked.

Here’s an example of my favorite piece of jewelry that I made with my hands and pliers. 

I absolutely adore simplicity in jewelry. The simpler, and the less flashy, the better. This tree particularly caught my eye because #1) I have some kind of attraction towards nature, trees and leaves in my jewelry. #2) Trees traditionally have the symbolism of “tree of knowledge” or “tree of life.” #2) My name has a special meaning that makes trees all the more appealing. My Chinese name, that is. Ai lin, or 艾琳 means “evergreen” or “love nature” (ai meaning love, and lin meaning trees/woods). My parents infused this meaning into my name, hoping that I, too, would grow into an evergreen (not literally). There’s really no English equivalent into instilling such a symbolic meaning into a name.

Anyway, I wear this necklace every day when I can, for its symbolism, its ever-reaching branches, aiming for the sun, and for what I discovered in France: simple beauty.

Going to college? DIY!

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College time means dorm-decorating time. And dorm-decorating time means time-to–dump-out-your-bank-account-and-buy-everything-in-Bed-Bath-And-Beyond. To be honest, I’m a low maintenance girl. Heck, I don’t care that my comforter does not match the pattern on my pillows, or that same bright azure comforter spattered with flowers does not match my coral pinboard. Still, I think you have to have some form of pictures, photos or posters to liven up the bland, white walls. You can go with that One Direction or Justin Bieber poster you found at Walmart– or perhaps some photo frames from the Dollar Tree with a awe-inducing prom photo.

Not to be cliché, but you can also think outside of the box. For example, my friend recently wanted a Matt Bomer poster for her birthday.

Matt Bomer, the star of White Collar. And, sadly for us girls, gay and taken.

I don’t think it’s possible to buy one, so…why not make it yourself?  Go on zazzle.com, walgreens.com, walmart.com, or search on Google:  custom posters. You can make them anywhere. Find some promo codes on retailmenot.com, and voilà you have your own poster.

What if you want to make it more personalized? Well, I recently discovered iPhoto for Windows (and Apple if you want it): Google Picasa. I found a feature called “Collage” which allows you to make a collage or mosaic of all the photos you want to put in your collage. This sparked an idea–why not make a custom collage poster? You can see my result below, but you can also make collage posters online like at shutterfly.com or walgreens.com. Not only that, but you can make whatever Photoshop designs you want (I used to be a Photoshop junkie) and blow it up into a poster. Yay for customization! I am also printing out 50 Things (see previous post here) onto 20″x 40″ poster paper so it will stare at me in my sleep in college. It will be like my Ten Commandments for college life.

My collage poster

What DIY college ideas do you have?

50 Things

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I am going to repost this from the MIT Admissions blog, which you can find here

I find it so incredibly insightful, especially because I am leaving a week from today for my first year at UPenn, for college.  From what I hear, years that will be the best four years of my life.  So I might as well take advice right now rather than wait for myself to stumble my way through the dark, only finding myself lost and have to retrace my steps.

  1. Your friends will change a lot over the next four years. Let them.
  2. Call someone you love back home a few times a week, even if just for a few minutes.
  3. In college more than ever before, songs will attach themselves to memories. Every month or two, make a mix cd, mp3 folder, whatever – just make sure you keep copies of these songs. Ten years out, they’ll be as effective as a journal in taking you back to your favorite moments.
  4. Take naps in the middle of the afternoon with reckless abandon.
  5. Adjust your schedule around when you are most productive and creative. If you’re nocturnal and do your best work late at night, embrace that. It may be the only time in your life when you can.
  6. If you write your best papers the night before they are due, don’t let people tell you that you “should be more organized” or that you “should plan better.” Different things work for different people. Personally, I worked best under pressure – so I always procrastinated… and always kicked ass (which annoyed my friends to no end). 😉 Use the freedom that comes with not having grades first semester to experiment and see what works best for you.
  7. At least a few times in your college career, do something fun and irresponsible when you should be studying. The night before my freshman year psych final, my roommate somehow scored front row seats to the Indigo Girls at a venue 2 hours away. I didn’t do so well on the final, but I haven’t thought about psych since 1993. I’ve thought about the experience of going to that show (with the guy who is now my son’s godfather) at least once a month ever since.
  8. Become friends with your favorite professors. Recognize that they can learn from you too – in fact, that’s part of the reason they chose to be professors.
  9. Carve out an hour every single day to be alone. (Sleeping doesn’t count.)
  10. Go on dates. Don’t feel like every date has to turn into a relationship.
  11. Don’t date someone your roommate has been in a relationship with.
  12.  When your friends’ parents visit, include them. You’ll get free food, etc., and you’ll help them to feel like they’re cool, hangin’ with the hip college kids.
  13. the first month of college, send a hand-written letter to someone who made college possible for you and describe your adventures thus far. It will mean a lot to him/her now, and it will mean a lot to you in ten years when he/she shows it to you.
  14.  Embrace the differences between you and your classmates. Always be asking yourself, “what can I learn from this person?” More of your education will come from this than from any classroom.
  15.  All-nighters are entirely overrated.
  16. For those of you who have come to college in a long-distance relationship with someone from high school: despite what many will tell you, it can work. The key is to not let your relationship interfere with your college experience. If you don’t want to date anyone else, that’s totally fine! What’s not fine, however, is missing out on a lot of defining experiences because you’re on the phone with your boyfriend/girlfriend for three hours every day.
  17.  Working things out between friends is best done in person, not over email. (IM does not count as “in person.”) Often someone’s facial expressions will tell you more than his/her words.
  18. Take risks.
  19. Don’t be afraid of (or excited by) the co-ed bathrooms. The thrill is over in about 2 seconds.
  20. Wednesday is the middle of the week; therefore on wednesday night the week is more than half over. You should celebrate accordingly. (It makes thursday and friday a lot more fun.)
  21. Welcome failure into your lives. It’s how we grow. What matters is not that you failed, but that you recovered.
  22. Take some classes that have nothing to do with your major(s), purely for the fun of it.
  23.  It’s important to think about the future, but it’s more important to be present in the now. You won’t get the most out of college if you think of it as a stepping stone.
  24. When you’re living on a college campus with 400 things going on every second of every day, watching TV is pretty much a waste of your time and a waste of your parents’ money. If you’re going to watch, watch with friends so at least you can call it a “valuable social experience.”
  25. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. When it happens, don’t take it for granted. Celebrate it, but don’t let it define your college experience.
  26. Much of the time you once had for pleasure reading is going to disappear. Keep a list of the books you would have read had you had the time, so that you can start reading them when you graduate.
  27.  Things that seem like the end of the world really do become funny with a little time and distance. Knowing this, forget the embarassment and skip to the good part.
  28.  Every once in awhile, there will come an especially powerful moment when you can actually feel that an experience has changed who you are. Embrace these, even if they are painful.
  29. No matter what your political or religious beliefs, be open-minded. You’re going to be challenged over the next four years in ways you can’t imagine, across all fronts. You can’t learn if you’re closed off.
  30. If you need to get a job, find something that you actually enjoy. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean it has to suck.
  31.  Don’t always lead. It’s good to follow sometimes.
  32. Take a lot of pictures. One of my major regrets in life is that I didn’t take more pictures in college. My excuse was the cost of film and processing. Digital cameras are cheap and you have plenty of hard drive space, so you have no excuse.
  33. Your health and safety are more important than anything.
  34. Ask for help. Often.
  35.  Half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at any given moment. Way more than half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at some point in the next four years. Get used to it.
  36.  In ten years very few of you will look as good as you do right now, so secretly revel in how hot you are before it’s too late.
  37. In the long run, where you go to college doesn’t matter as much as what you do with the opportunities you’re given there. The MIT name on your resume won’t mean much if that’s the only thing on your resume. As a student here, you will have access to a variety of unique opportunities that no one else will ever have – don’t waste them.
  38.  On the flip side, don’t try to do everything. Balance = well-being.
  39.  Make perspective a priority. If you’re too close to something to have good perspective, rely on your friends to help you.
  40.  Eat badly sometimes. It’s the last time in your life when you can do this without feeling guilty about it.
  41. Make a complete ass of yourself at least once, preferably more. It builds character.
  42. Wash your sheets more than once a year. Trust me on this one.
  43.  If you are in a relationship and none of your friends want to hang out with you and your significant other, pay attention. They usually know better than you do.
  44.  Don’t be afraid of the weird pizza topping combinations that your new friend from across the country loves. Some of the truly awful ones actually taste pretty good. Expand your horizons.
  45.  Explore the campus thoroughly. Don’t get caught.
  46. Life is too short to stick with a course of study that you’re no longer excited about. Switch, even if it complicates things.
  47. Tattoos are permanent. Be very certain.
  48.  Don’t make fun of prefrosh. That was you like 2 hours ago.
  49.  Enjoy every second of the next four years. It is impossible to describe how quickly they pass.
  50. This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day.

Be yourself. Create. Inspire, and be inspired. Grow. Laugh. Learn. Love.

Welcome to some of the best years of your lives.

Homemade lattes and cappuccinos

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Mmm…

So coming back from France, I rediscovered my favorite drink(s) ever…

Lattes and cappuccinos.

I first discovered them in the food court of VCU, from one of those automated café machines–hit the button, and out comes squirting a delicious blend of coffee, sugar and steamed milk. Who knows how many calories were in that thing, but it was heaven.

Parisians like their coffee; I mean, what’s café time without a tiny cup of coffee (which essentially looks like an espresso shot mug)? While I was staying in Paris at the hotel, they also had a café machine with options of café au lait, cappuccino, and steamed milk. I tried all three and ohh man, it reinvigorated my love of coffee. Moreover, I discovered delicious, creamy steamed milk. Now, I always drink my skim milk cold. When I was little when my parents would give me microwaved milk to try, but I thought it was disgusting and it always had that layer of film which was not the most pleasant thing to taste. So it didn’t occur to me that on the scale of deliciousness, there was something even more superior to cold milk: steamed milk. Its frothiness kissing your lips, the sense of warm cream sliding down your throat, accompanied by that oh-so-scrumptious Nutella baguette sandwich. Yes, that was a masterpiece breakfast right there.

Now that I’m home, I didn’t want to go to Starbucks to splurge four dollars on a cappuccino or latte, so I tried to recreate that feeling. I think I found it.

First, make your coffee. Then take milk and put it into a shaker, usually for cocktails or protein shakes, I think (okay, I admit, I stole it from my brother, but it was lying around in a cabinet).

A shaker.

Cover it up tightly, and now shake for 30 seconds. Put the milk and its accompanying froth in a mug and then into the microwave. Microwave on high for 30 seconds to a minute, depending how hot you want it (be sure to stop every once and a while so that the foam does not spill out!
Happened to me the first time). Then, taking the milk, pour it into the mug, halfway filled with coffee. Scoop out the froth onto the top of the latte. Add sugar or Splenda and stir. Add some ground cinnamon for some extra flavor. Voilà! Pure deliciousness for which you can count your calories. With skim milk and Splenda, this drink could be yours for fewer than 100 calories. Good for your taste buds and your waistline.

Just take a leap…

I really don’t know why I’m starting this blog; the idea started unconsciously incubating while I was in France the summer between high school and college, and then one night at 12am, after I had returned home, it exploded into my head. It seems as if I never have those moments unless it’s late in the night, and I’m in my bed, just letting my mind wander.

I began thinking of my weird attraction towards global health and anthropology, and of my recent experiences in France. I thought of how I had fallen in love with France, and that I just felt like French culture was the culture for me. Thoughts stream into more thoughts, and it came to me that I had found my favorite quote  (“Celui qui se perd dans sa passion perd moins que celui qui perd sa passion.” – St. Augustin; Translation: Those who get lost in their passion lose less than those who lose their passion.) and word (se dépayser; to get out and see new things) in France, both of which were missing from my life until then (if only I could write my UVA college application essay now…).

Se dépayser.  Literally (and incorrectly), it translates into “to exile oneself” but idiomatically, it means “to see other things, to get away.”  And that is so me. I am so anxious to see other things, to get away, se dépayser. I want to go see France, Germany, China, Africa, South America…I want to experience new cultures. And I’m not exiling myself—I’m merely becoming more…cosmopolitan. The fact that it has a literal (false) translation and an idiomatic translation adds another layer to the word. The fact that it is also a reflexive verb in French, a type of verb that is not present in the English language, also makes it coy and surreptitious, like it’s hiding a secret from the English language.

It is a verb with absolutely no equivalent in English, which I find fitting and which makes it all the more beautiful and valuable. The closest thing to that was wanderlust, which, according to Dictionary.com, means a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. Of course, wanderlust quickly became my favorite English word. Lust, such a strong, passionate word usually taken in the sexual connotation, combined with wander, a verb that resonated a sense of freedom, of liberality and of travel. Together, they were perfect.

By no means am I a linguistic major; I am merely a college student who enjoys finding these little quirks in life. It was merely by chance, fate, or whatever you call it, that Sirine, my French Conversation teacher on the Abbey Road trip, mentioned it. My brain picked it up, rolled it around and declared that it really liked it. So there it was.

Okay, back to the bedroom. 12am, brain whirring. Maybe I should start a blog with dépayser or wanderlust as the title. Sounds good. Go back to sleep.

It wasn’t until I started playing on wordpress and right about now that I decided what this blog titled dépayser would turn out to be. I had to choose an address, and I felt like dépayser was more compact that se dépayser. And dépayser means to provide somebody with a change of scenery (add the se, and you’re talking about yourself). That fits anyway because since this blog is public, and I will be blogging, I will not just be providing myself with this “change of scenery” — I will providing you with this escape as well. I will be blogging about anything that pops into my head; books, recipes, articles or news stories I read, life problems, and, above all, travel. Perhaps not just travel in the sense of traveling to new, exotic countries; maybe it’s a new café I find in Philadelphia, or a vacation I go to in the mountains of Virginia. Of course, I hope to add stories and photos from if and when I do go to France or China or South America–they’ll just be weaved seamlessly into this blog.

What is the purpose of this blog? I don’t really know. But that’s the essence of dépayser, of wanderlust. It’s to wander, without a clear goal, and to just take a breath before cramming yourself into a 12-hour work- or study-day.

On a side note, the different pictures you see as the headers of this blog were all taken by me (or a friend) with my camera in various locations of France. The photos capture the artistic beauty I found in France and was able to, I found out, appreciate. Everywhere you look, there’s a sense of hidden beauty you just have to absorb and appreciate.

I hope you’ll wander with me.