Dear Scholarship Committee

Dear Scholarship Committee,

There are many reasons why I deserve a scholarship to study at this prestigious institution. I have decent grades, a nice range of extra-curriculars, and I am really good during networking cocktail parties with your donors1. To be fair, I do not know how well this will set me apart from other candidates, so I will stop trying to write a cover letter and instead go about this application in a need-based vein.

You should give me a scholarship because at this point in time, I need one. I have just been discharged from the hospital after a 4-day stay, slightly anaemic, dizzy in the head, and completely behind on all my work. I have been… not quite right for the past month — some undiagnosed female issue to do with hormones or endometriums that no doctor seems to take as seriously as I do. I’ve had intense pains and some other grossness I will not write about here2, so my schoolwork, gym sessions, and cocktail party-schoomzing have all taken a hit. I haven’t forgotten about your scholarship however, because I really need the win right about now.

It doesn’t seem like I can rejoin the land of the living any time soon. I am jealous of anyone who can have a beer without having intense stomach pains, go for a run without feeling light-headed, or stay awake past 10pm. I no longer dominate after-work-drinks and Friday night party routine. I have spent most of the recent money I have earned on doctors, ultrasounds, and health supplements, but at least I am no longer paying for fancy cocktails and expensive meals3. And while the doctors have shrugged me away, all the other advice I have received seem to be versions of “take care of your body!” This is baffling — I haven’t had a drink in over a month, I sleep more than 10 hours every night and eat all balanced meals. I do not consume anything oily, spicy, or icy. I drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas and use a hot water bottle (instead of take painkillers) to keep the cramps at bay4. But I can study, I promise. I can sit at a desk (or if need be, propped up in a hospital bed) with my laptop, working on some intense piece of historical research.

I could give you an argument that addresses the intersectionality of my status as a minority — I could make something up about being a female ethnic minority who had to, at some point, learn English from scratch5. The truth is that I have never felt discriminated against because of my sex or my race. However, I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, helpless, and scoffed at in a city of 7 million. Friends who, inadvertently rubbing it in, send “are you out tonight?” texts at 2am. A man-friend who disappeared once the sex was put on hiatus. Doctors you can’t help but cry in front of, not because you are trying to use your feminine wiles for better treatment, but because you are frustrated that they do not seem to care.

And then, a half-finished thesis and a bunch of applications that stare at you, sending the subliminal reminder that if you fail this, you will have nothing, not even your once-dependable health.

When the media discusses whether women can have it all, it comes down to three main things — career, family, and active social life. Health never seems to come into the equation, and generally with good reason. We are living in 2015! There’s medicines and cures for pretty much everything! Eat organic and practice mindfulness and you’ll live to be 100! If I had been suffering from a broken bone, I would have been given time off work. If I had contracted an STI, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. Instead, my first two visits to the emergency room were met with sneers and nary a doctor certificate. My undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction left doctors dismissive, my uterus in pain, and me uncomfortable and embarrassed to talk about it. Writing a short email to a supervisor asking to be excused from a meeting became a nail-biting affair, with no sick note nor visible symptoms to prove my distress. Explaining my inability to drink at an alumni social left me exhausted and finally pretending to sip from a glass of wine.

This scholarship would at least enable me to achieve some kind of self-pride, and empower me to redirect a conversation with coworkers from blood tests to, finally, a piece of good news. I want to earn this scholarship because I need to regain control over my life. I want this scholarship because I want to feel like I’m being accepted into something bigger and more important. Most importantly, I need validation that I’m not going crazy — that whatever is happening to my body will pass and leave no lasting damage, and that it’s ok to feel right now that my work, which I love, is the only thing that matters.

“Undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction” needn’t define my life right now, and nor should I let it6. I would be honoured, instead, to call myself a scholarship recipient.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

The Bun

 

1. I can small talk about anything from the The Matrix to The Republic, from hashtags to the value of hashtag activism, from Isis the dog in Downton Abbey to ISIS in the Middle East. Just try me!

2. I understand appropriateness, how to change the tone of my words for different situations, and how to channel respect for my readers. I’m really mature, I promise.

3. This shows, dear scholarship committee, that I can be responsible with the money that you give me! I’m also too unwell to go stumbling around drinking in the middle of the week — pick me, and you’ll be guaranteed one candidate who does not embarrass.

4. I lead a very wholesome lifestyle, and I listen to my elders. While I trust western medicine (and science!) wholeheartedly, I embrace the colourful background of my eastern community, and take its beliefs and values to heart. Supported by your scholarship, I hope to continue my investigation into how east and west can grow together, harmoniously.

5. But because I learned English from scratch, I learned it the right way! Grammar doesn’t phase (or “phrase!”) me; neither do semi-colons. I have submitted a writing sample for your review — I hope it demonstrates my strength as a communicator.

6. I am an advocate for clear, specific writing that helps my readers understand exactly what I am talking about. This term does not meet my standards, and I would like you to know this.

Not enough to go around

Since this blog discusses things like technology in dating, the Bean and I have to seriously keep up to date with news and developments in this field1. This new article in the Guardian seriously needs to be discussed, a challenge which I’ll take on in this post. It discusses Jon Biger’s new book Date-onomics and its findings that “there may not be enough educated men [i.e., those who have a university degree] to go around”.

The article postulates that the “pool is smaller” for women looking for college educated men to date. Of course, after reading this, I started to think about my own pool — am I having trouble finding university-educated men? Or am I just having trouble finding men that I like?

Considering that my cohort of the university-educated meet new people primarily through work, school, and friends of friends, the possibility of our even making small talk with someone without a college degree is miniscule. I can count on one hand the number of non-college graduates I have met and become somewhat friends with on one hand in my 10 years of living in Hong Kong2. College graduates, especially those from foreign universities, congregate at the same bars, cafes, and restaurants. We go to the same house parties and probably know a lot of the same people. In other words, for most of our peers, our entire pools — whether for dating, screwing around, paddling — are university-educated. What’s more, the customisation of online dating for users helps us pre-select only the “like-minded” types of people we want to see — you can toggle your settings on Coffee Meets Bagel, for example, so that no non-diploma-holding individuals ever get presented to you on your phone screen3.

If we only meet college-educated, somewhat “like-minded” potential partners, saying that we are “looking for someone with similar education” doesn’t mean very much at all. In fact, it becomes a given, controlled variable in all of our social interactions — trying to find someone who doesn’t actually have a degree is hard!

The question I’m attempting to answer today is this: is the bachelor diploma the single utmost, dealbreaker-esque criterion of young women looking for a potential partner, or even a date?

I can imagine that many young women would say “yes” to the above question. After all, we don’t want to seem like we’re selling ourselves, nor do we want to see too arrogant about what is within our leagues. But the reality of our little criteria checklists is much more messy. Last night, I indulged in a little Gilmore Girls binge and watched the episode where Paris goes to a speed-dating event hosted by a Yale University student club. When the first guy reveals that he’s an art major4, she immediately jumps up and moves on to the next station, pushing another girl out of the way.

So let’s put it bluntly — would you rather date a painter who graduated with a visual arts degree from Yale and has no steady income, or someone in a profession that does not require a college degree — a flight attendant, perhaps, or a chef? Now, an individual answering this question would probably say “that depends”, and proceed to list off a bunch of additional criteria5. These selection factors are unique for every person, and while they probably exist in addition to “college-educated”, they have got to be more important.

Dating is very often not about finding someone “like-minded” — it’s about optimisation of several different criteria, in a highly personalised matrix, in a radar chart6. Articles and books about the lack of college-educated men isn’t doing any single women any favours. I’d like to see, instead, someone take on a population study of single men who have jobs and are not in debt. Or have been promoted more than twice in the last five years. Or can perfectly demonstrate the use of a semicolon.

1. I also recently started following many many news outlets on Facebook so that I can jump over the paywall by linking through social media; goodbye to productive thesis writing days in the office!
2. Of course, I realise that this situation may be specific to metropolis living, and even more specific to metropolis living for expatriates. In Hong Kong, even the bars are opened by Ivy League degree-holding ex-investment bankers. It probably won’t be the same if I were living in a small American town.
3. CMB also asks why a user likes or passes on a particular profile. One of the drop-down menu options is “well-educated”. I’ll be the first to admit that I have clicked on this particular bubble many times. On the contrary, when I pass on a profile, I often write in “too many typos” or “bad grammar”.
4. I feel like I have to emphasise that he said ART major, not ARTS. I am in the ARTS faculty of a major university, but I will not come within 10 feet of a paintbrush unless it’s for DIY purposes. Excuse me for my self-delusion, but I do believe that the ARTS discipline that I am in is a lot more useful.
5. The analogy I used earlier when trying to discuss this with a friend is that it’s like economic regressions: If <college educated> then <x>. If <not college educated> then <y, z>. All my regression knowledge comes from an econometrics course I took in my sophomore year of college, so it’s not very good but I still think the analogy is apt.
6. This is becoming the post in which I expend all my possible Excel/data analysis knowledge. For a historian, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Welcome to America, Land of Mediocrity!

I’ve been back in the US for almost a year now, and this transition has not been the easiest. While I initially came back more outgoing and open-minded, I’ve found that I’ve since regressed to become a bit more standoffish, more judgmental, and most alarmingly, more bitter. Coming back to the US has made me a more bitter person. Why?

The answer is mediocrity. When I was abroad, I was surrounded by high achieving people who inspired me in one way or another. My co-workers were all great people with either high academic achievement or savant-like people skills. The gym community was populated by multiple managing directors of major international banks, high flying lawyers, hedge fund owners, artistic entrepreneurs, and airline pilots. To be honest, I normally felt the odd one out at the gym work-wise, but then, not many 21 year olds1 are able to have their acts together enough to graduate college and land a cushy job outside the country, so I was in good company. Perhaps it’s just that the people who are normally living abroad as expats usually choose to go abroad and teach English2 or are sent by their companies to head up some new office or another.

While traveling, I had the luck to meet some fascinating people, who were not the textbook definitions of success but were interesting and intelligent in their own way. I will readily admit now that I probably would never have met a commercial fisherman who indulged in motorbike racing and entirely too many prescription drugs3 in the normal course of my life. I find that most people, myself included up until this point, choose not to socialize with those who we perceive as different. As my brother plans for his wedding, he and his fiancee are realizing that they don’t know any creative people who they can ask for favors to help with flowers or photography or anything else associated with a wedding. All they know are young finance professionals like themselves, and sadly enough, they are ok with it.

Since being back in the US, I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t want to be better. They want to blame the system instead of working hard for themselves. Others I find are just plain lazy and subpar.  I see this in the classes I’m taking at Chicago’s public research university4, at the my new Crossfit gym5, and in people I’ve met doing various things around the city. The Chicago Transit Authority is just as bad. When I complain, others merely shrug and say this is how all public transportation is like. They don’t believe me when I say I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes for a train in Hong Kong, even at 2am on New Year’s Day. They choose to be in denial. They choose to be second-rate.

Perhaps I just care too much about the people around me, but I just don’t understand why people don’t want to better themselves. And the result of all this? I snap at those who ask stupid questions6, I’m constantly annoyed with late buses, trains, and cell phone outages in tunnels7, but mostly, I think I’m bitter at myself for choosing to leave behind a life I built in Hong Kong that I could not have8.

1. At Crossfit gyms, there is a tradition of doing birthday burpees. You do as many burpees as the age you’re turning. On my first birthday I celebrated in Hong Kong, one of the other members called me out because she noticed on Facebook that it was my birthday. I was then asked how many burpees I’d be doing. After my reply of, “22,” I had to show my Hong Kong ID card to prove that I indeed was that young.
2.Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. Those are who are derisively referred to as “Losers Back Home,” especially in Asia. Losers back home normally couldn’t hack it for some reason or another and profit from the mere fact that they are white. They are a lesser breed of expats who mostly wallow in a very colonial sense of white entitlement while abroad.
3. I traveled overland from Thailand to Malaysia with him and the travel buddy. The fisherman passed out on 8 Xanax.
4. A girl who is currently in my lab group for chemistry is struggling to maintain a B, even though she has taken the class previously with the same professor and has all her old exams. Instead of studying, she tries to memorize answers from previous exams and tries to copy her old lab reports. I don’t understand why she would choose to copy from her previous assignments considering that she failed the course the first time around. She gets mad at the TA and the professor instead.
5. Most of the other girls I’ve met at the new gym are very averse to practicing stuff they suck at. The coaches don’t seem to push them too hard into improving their suckiness though. End result? I’m near the forefront of the leader boards at the gym, which is pretty disheartening.
6. A girl in my biology class asked me in all seriousness, “Which one is the x-axis? Is it the vertical one or the horizontal one?”
7. Seriously America. Figure it out. I had cell reception while traveling in a tunnel under the Hong Kong Harbour. Yes, that’s right. I had cell reception underwater. I also had cell reception in the middle of a jungle on an island off the coast of Thailand.
8. Dear Reader, you are no doubt asking yourself, “Why did The Bean leave behind this life she built and liked so much?” The answer is that Hong Kong is not the place I’d like to be in 10 years. The dilemma that most expats face around the 2-year mark is whether to stay or go. If I’d have stayed for 3 years, I would’ve been half way to my permanent residency in Hong Kong, which takes 7 years to get. At that point, I might as well stay. By the time the 7 years were up, I’d have put down roots there. Hong Kong, though, is not somewhere I’d have liked to stayed. While it’s all fun and games, especially in your 20s, the ultra-segregated environment colored by elitist condescension is not somewhere I’d like to have a family.