“I don’t want to offend you, but…”

“… I like you. Is that ok?”

A friend revealed last week that he has not yet told a girl that he “really really likes her” after several years of casual friendship and no less than ten recent dates. His reasoning? He knows that she attends church every week. His assumptions, based on this one fact? That a) she is uber-conservative, b) does not believe in sex before marriage, and c) will be offended at his suggestion that they date.

“If you remember,” I yelled at him him loudly, waving my beer in his face, “this sounds exactly like that time that [boyfriend] waited to tell me he was breaking up with me until after I took the GRE because he thought I couldn’t handle all the stress!”1

What is an appropriate way to make affections known to the object of said affections? More generally, what is the best way to inform someone else of a decision you have made that may affect his or her life, without being presumptuous and revealing your own prejudices?2 How does one say “I’m attracted to you” with absolute guarantee that the other party will not take it as objectification? Can we ever believe that “it’s not you, it’s me” will ever indicate complete, honest, self-awareness?3

I got mad at my friend. I was perhaps a little too critical, perhaps projecting my own frustration after hearing so many unclear messages for so long. I told him that he was patronising, and offensive. I told him that he was being ruled by his (definitely sexist) assumptions about her preferences. There is a distinct possibility that she is not interested, I acknowledged, but let’s give her some credit.

No one, I said, should ever be offended by a simple “I like you”.4 If she is, I continued, you owe her the opportunity to explain her own assumptions, prejudices, and circumstances. I walked away from the conversation in a huff, but I was only halfway across the room before I realised that my response was probably just as informed by my opinion of my friend, who I’ve known since the age of nineteen. My own dismissal at his ability to responsibly, and maturely, begin relations with the fairer sex was a result of many years of witnessing his mistakes.

Our wimpy selves often take over before we get the chance to say something that we really mean. Sometimes we end up saying nothing at all, but on occasion, we lash out, blurt, and ramble. Our old uncertainties, morals learned from past experiences, and values transmitted to us from our respective cultures — in other words, all the things that make us the way we are — make us project our assumptions onto others. We can move to new countries, date different demographics, and shop around for new religions or political allegiances, but these factors will still nag.

I’ll give both of us some advice here. Make your own life, with your relationship history, physical insecurities, and yes, your prejudices, your normal. Acknowledge it, deal with it, present it as such, and own it. I’ll go first. I am a thoughtful but somewhat insecure internet blogger who calls herself The Bun.5 I have a fake tooth and weirdly fat fingers. I have a finnicky uterus and the weirdest health problems. I have some trust issues, care too much about what people think, and have serious imposter syndrome. I probably drink too often.

It is a pleasure to meet you. This is my normal, as of May 2016. What is yours?

 

1. I’d actually heard about his decision from another friend as I walked happily towards the campus bar to celebrate my 99th percentile score on the GRE. Funny how things work out. Also, beer.

2. I use the term “prejudice” here rather loosely. I don’t mean it as something that is intended to be negative — rather, an assumption about another person often arises out of one’s desire to protect. But, I’m sure we are all aware, protection can quickly turn into offence when expressed in a patronising way.

3. Long-term readers of this blog will remember that I question every verbal utterance that comes my way. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this speech one too many times, I often wonder about sincerity. More on this later, I hope.

4. Let’s put it another way — how many of us have waited, hoped, and pined to hear these words come out of another’s mouth? How nice it is to know that another individual is willing to put him or herself out there to reveal some (albeit tentative) feelings?

5. Therapists would probably look at this symptom and diagnose several different personality abnormalities from this one fact, including, but not limited to, inflated sense of self-worth, love of being talked about, and obsession with food.

Recreating Lives

When I first moved to Hong Kong, I didn’t have any expectations on how it would go. I didn’t know anything about the city, and quite frankly, I only took the job because nothing else remotely as interesting had panned out1.

When I landed and was picked up by a driver sent by my then boss, I was in (a very sleep deprived 2) awe of just scale of humanity in the city. Up until this point, I don’t think I’d ever stepped foot in a city as vertical as this one 3. I knew no one in this city of 7 million, a sobering idea when I nearly got hit by a bus on my first day because traffic goes the opposite way 4.

Because I had no notions of what to expect, I was able to build a completely new life there with new people, new hobbies, and new interests. The only thing I really wanted to find in Hong Kong were good American craft beers 5.  That was it. This is not to say I wasn’t homesick. I was, for about the first 6 months, but that went away surprisingly quickly.

Moving back to Chicago has been an entirely different beast. From having spent 4 years for school here, I had an expectation of how the city would be like, and it was romanticized in my head as being the place where I first felt at home, where I belonged. I forgot that what made places feel good to me were the people there 6.

I find that I’ve fallen into a trap where I’m trying to recreate the bits I loved about Hong Kong (reliable public transportation, people who were ambitious in some form or another 7 or just did really cool things, gym community, British beers, boyfriend), but nothing is coming together. The CTA is notoriously, conspicuously, and frustratingly slow 8. I’ve made some new friends, but I don’t feel like I’m learning much about anything from them. My current gym is seriously subpar9. Not pining too much for British beers as I’ve found a couple of others that are pretty nice.

And yes, now addressing the boyfriend. Notice how I’ve been silent for quite a way on anything romance related? It’s not that I’m keeping things from you, reader. It’s just that there’s absolutely nothing worthwhile to write about. The dates I’ve been on have been so unremarkable that I have even been unable to spin any sort of remotely interesting story about any of them.

A friend of mine (she shall henceforth be referred to as Burrito Friend because our friendship started by pursuing a top 10 list of best burritos in Chicago 10) remarked a bit offhandedly to me that not everyone can be lucky enough to still be in love with their ex. And that struck me. Maybe it’s true, though it’s been a while since we split up, so it shouldn’t be the case, right? Am I enough of a sap to still be hanging on to this slightly more romantic image of him? Though I suppose it also says a lot that if we ever find ourselves in a similar locale and are both still single, I’d go after him in a heartbeat. Yes, I understand that we wouldn’t be the same people as we were when we were in Hong Kong, but why not try?

The Bun also weighed in on this for me since it threw me for such a loop. She thinks it’s ultimately a good thing that I haven’t demonized him in my own recollection. Though, it’s pretty hard to demonize a cute guy with a British accent who brought me all sorts of food, even when I was in the hospital. He even visited everyday.

Ok, maybe Burrito friend is right. But I should be able to find someone similar in Chicago right? Doesn’t necessarily have to be British or look like he did. I just want someone nice who will bring me food.

1. 4th year for me was weird because when everyone else was going crazy with recruiting, I was putting together an application for the Army’s officer candidate school. That didn’t pan out as I didn’t manage to heal from a nearly torn through tendon in my foot, leaving me scrambling around March and April for a job. The other places I had on site interviews at were completely horrifyingly soul sucking enough that I took a job at a small company I couldn’t find much information on in a city I knew nothing about. That should say something about how I felt about those positions.

2. Contrary to popular belief, I am not completely unflappable. I just prefer not to have many people around when I have my meltdowns. Someone I know once told her girlfriend that she was modeling her lack of expressed negative emotions after me. Anyway, I digress. That flight was super sleep deprived because I was an absolute ball of anxiety during the 12+ plane ride over. I was nervous enough to have gotten sick the second I landed in San Francisco from Dallas to catch the connecting flight over to Hong Kong.

3. Sure Beijing had been more populated, the city was also much more spread out.

4. When I drive back stateside now, I still have to remind myself that I need to drive on the right side of the road. Funny how just 2 and a half years abroad can have such an impact on my life.

5. But then American beers got crazy happy with beers that supposedly are flavored by jasmine tea,  blackcurrant, vanilla or something else equally as heinous for a beer. I now find myself pining for a glass of clear British pale ale.

6. I find that I’m saying I don’t feel particularly strongly about people very often now. But really, if you’re a friend of mine in person and are reading this, you know that isn’t true.

7. I have only met ONE new person in Chicago so far where I had the initial reaction of, “OMG you’re so cool. How can I be more like you?”

8. I have outpaced 3 buses on a certain route while on my bike recently.

9. Everyone there is perfectly nice, which is why I stick around (that and it’s close), but I’m not entirely convinced the coaches know exactly what they’re doing. It’s also a nice place for me to get a much needed ego-trip and feel superior to others.

10. Carbon Live Fire Mexican was the winner. Get the Motherclucker, Stelotes, or Fish named William burrito. Their elotes are also great, as are their flour tortilla chips that come with the guacamole.

The Ubiquity of Headphones (and why it’s a terrible thing)

Dear Missed Meet Cute,

It’s quite rare for me to want to strike up a conversation with someone random1. I normally don’t know what to say, or if I’m intruding, or if I’m being very awkward. I can’t seem to make mundane small talk2 without either being bored out of my own mind or worrying that I’m boring the other person out of their mind.

Now, imagine my surprise when on my way home from work, I spied you, on the train in your scrubs like a baby doctor3, a nurse, an orderly, a phlebotomist, or a hospital lab technician. You even had a bit of a 5 o’clock shadow4, brown hair, and smelled really good5. We even made eye contact! All good right?

NO. A resounding NO. Why? Because you had your earbuds in. Earbuds and headphones are the number one killer of spontaneous conversations. Yes, I understand that you probably had them in to avoid having a conversation with someone rather unpleasant on the train, or to be able to ignore the man pushing a stroller around (which may or may not have had a kid in. I couldn’t tell because it was completely covered) asking for money for him and his child with Down Syndrome. But you missed me! Awesome, not so little me! I could’ve dazzled you with my wit, my stories of travel, and my terrible (but amazing) one liners and puns!

Instead, you sat there, hunched over on your phone with your earbuds in, trapped in your own little bubble of solitude. What do you headphone wearing people listen to all the time anyway? There can’t be that much music in the world to listen to over and over again, every day on your commute. A podcast maybe? Still! There is only a finite number of podcasts. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to pay attention to your surroundings? How do you even know if a car, much less another person, is coming up behind you6? What is so terrible about the world that you have to incessantly seclude yourself in your imaginary bubble? I promise that the world is not that scary or nasty all the time!

And the worst part of our very ephemeral encounter? You even held the door open for me as I came out of the same station as you.

-A very disappointed Bean.

1.I used to have the worst anxiety about talking to random people to the extent that I would rarely even ask for help or directions when lost. Doing quite a bit of traveling (some solo or mostly solo) has changed that a lot, mostly because I’d have gone a week or so without speaking otherwise.
2. This is also why I’m absolutely terrible at real networking events. I can’t seem to get the small talk out of the way to talk business with someone.
3. Not a pediatrician. I’d say pediatrician if I meant a doctor who cares for babies. Rather a doctor in training. I tend to refer to a lot of entry-level people as “babies.” As in, I have quite a few friends who are baby investment bankers.
4. Men who read this blog take note: I really like guys with a respectable 5 o’clock shadow. I’m also single.
5. Smelling good is a HUGE pre-requisite for me. I think I’ve mentioned this before.
6. This is a big one for me since I also tend to bike everywhere. I’ve had people ask me how I can bike all day without listening to music. I like living.

New Year, new profile, new image?

Hello, my name is The Bun. I am a twenty-something Western-educated graduate student in the humanities, perpetually single, and politically moderate. I like eating bread, wearing skinny jeans, and reading works by Oscar Wilde. When I grow up, I want to write a book1.

In 2016, I will endeavour to spend more constructive time (and enjoy spending this time) alone. I will try to become less invested in other people’s problems when they ask me to give them advice. I will also kick off the year in this post by walking readers through the excruciating art of profile writing. The Bean has discussed the effectiveness of Tinder profiles and greetings on the recipient of a message, at good length, with good detail, and in good humour2. I am here to take on the process of writing a profile for myself.

I have always been the kind of person who spends a long time thinking about how to represent myself, in a variety of different situations, to achieve maximum impact with those around me3. But my recent experiences writing scholarship applications was entirely too draining. Did I want to sound smart? In need of financial support? A potential leader among equally smart and qualified individuals? Writing about my achievements in the professional world began to sound disingenuous, and I ran out of synonyms for “opportunity”. I am not shameless enough to exaggerate a story about the plights of being a woman or a not-quite third culture kid4. I could not go over the word limit, yet did not want to write too little.

Curating a Facebook page or Twitter account is just as troublesome. How can I sound socially aware, but quirky and follow-able? But when we move onto online dating profiles, the “follow-able” criterion becomes “date-able”, the space to express ourselves becomes smaller, and the stakes, at times, are higher. We may also never know how our profiles are perceived by a viewer; currently, my Tinder information is a Zoolander quote. No one bites5.

And let’s not kid ourselves — profiles are not always representative of the people they are supposed to represent. Scholarship applications can be ghostwritten and profile photos can be touched up. The ease of curation is, often, a myth, and it never stops with just creating the one profile. When we don’t get the attention we believe that we deserve (too few likes! The “we don’t have any more matches for you” message on Coffee Meets Bagel!) is to change the profiles themselves. Do I switch the order of my photos? Try to sound less smart? Hide my super fancy undergraduate degree?

As an experiment I will be writing into a magazine’s dating contest as a part of a Valentine’s Day promotion. To do this, I will need to submit a profile — a photo of myself, my age, my occupation, and some information about myself. As The Bean has already demonstrated, first impressions really do matter. Maybe I should write in that I would need a glass of wine, a bit of inspiration, and a spot of courage to get this one done.

 

1. I’ve got some half-baked drafts of teen romances somewhere in the depths or a USB memory stick. At the age of 15, I was wannabe-precocious and thought that I was pretty funny. I guess nothing has really changed, except that I now write postgraduate-level thesis chapters.
2. And with pictures, scathing remarks, and just a tad of sentimentality. Pretty good, I think!
3. On my first day of college as an international freshman, my chosen fun fact at my dormitory orientation event was “I had my first ever bagel this morning! It was delicious, just like they say on TV.” I became “the exotic one”. I had instant friends.
4. Really, I prefer the term “worldly”. Or, “not allowed to register to vote anywhere”. 
5. No one also cares about my super duper fancy university degree or the fact that one of my photos is adorably goofy. What’s up with that? We’re really going to have to get a male Bean in here one day to discuss the other side of Tinder profile perceptions!

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.