Thoughts

Book I’m Reading Now: Amy Chua’s “The Triple Package”

Note: This isn’t meant as a review per se, more of my annoyance with many arguments the authors’ make in the (ultimately flawed) book.

 

First off, how does one even define “success”? Chua and Rubenfeld promise to use only conclusions supported by data. As such, they bring up measures like the SAT, how many members of a certain ethnic group are in charge of Fortune 500 companies, and other things.

 

But here’s the problem – those are inherently unobjective metrics! The SAT isn’t a static test that objectively tests your academic success – if you have the money to take SAT classes or get tutoring, your score is bound to improve. SAT scores are as more a function of wealth than academic success/intelligence.

 

Chua cites Mormons in the Fortune 500 as another success story. “Before 1970, there appear to have been no Mormon senior executives in any Fortune 500 company. Since 1990, there have been fourteen, including twelve CEOs, one president, and one CFO.” Mormons make up 2% of the US population. Even if all the Mormon CEOs were CEOs of their respective companies at the same time, they’d make up a mere 2.8% of all Fortune 500 CEOs, barely exceeding their own demographic proportions.

 

With this rationale and logic, Chua could say that men are innately superior to women because 95.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are men, exceeding their demographics by almost 200%! Which is of course, a patently ridiculous argument. Perhaps the real reason that there were no Mormons in the top elite before 1970 was due to religious discrimination and pervading stereotypes of Mormons – not necessarily any innate cultural superiority?

 

I haven’t even touched the three elemental parts of “The Triple Package” yet. Chua and Rubenfeld argue that cultures which have 1) an superiority complex, 2) insecurity, and 3) impulse control are those cultures that have “The Triple Package” and are uniquely suited for success. They argue that these elements are a “counter to modern American culture” and these groups as outsiders succeed because of these traits.

 

I can’t argue too much against 3), impulse control because there’s a lot of research for and against the Stanford marshmallow study and its ramifications (that children who are able to delay gratification do better in life). That’s a hotly-debated issue in and of itself (Chua herself mentions it on pg. 179 as an example).

 

I’d like to specifically examine the first element, the superiority complex. She notes that these groups share “a deeply internalized belief in your group’s specialness, exceptionality, or superiority.” She specifically cites Chinese and Persian immigrants as cultures whose belief in their own superiority is “rooted in a story about the magnificence of [their]… history and civilization”.

 

I’m not Persian, so I can’t speak to the superiority complex (if any) of the culture that gave us Zarathustra and Ferdowsi.But I can speak to Chinese culture, as a lover of Chinese history and its classics. Interestingly enough, I am of the same cultural milieu that Amy Chua is part of – Southeast Asian Chinese (Philippines for her, Malaysia for me). Chua’s primary writing on Chinese culture comes in her chapter “Impulse Control”, and that’s where her argument and her basic facts falls apart to anyone who has taken even a basic course in Chinese and East Asian history.

 

She calls Japan historically a “vassal state” of China (in a long list of examples about how Chinese supposedly think everybody ripped off their culture). This is wrong. Prince Shotoku sent Emperor Yang of Sui a letter in 607 that was signed “東天皇敬白西皇帝” – the emperor of the East (tennō) send his respects to the emperor of the West (huangdi) – it’s clear even then that the Japanese government saw itself on an equal footing with China. Japan was never part of the official vassal-state system of imperial China, either.

 

She further notes how Chinese supposedly are taught how amazing and wondrous their civilization has been; that it is the originator of everything. That history and culture alone serves as an uplifting guiding star for every young Chinese-American (but seriously, less than a quarter of Chinese-Americans I’ve met can even name the last imperial dynasty of China). It completely neglects the fact that during the late years of the Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Republic of China and the People’s Republic, Chinese history was seen as a liability – not a source of strength. Mao Zedong sponsored the 批林批孔运动 (Anti-Lin [Biao], Anti-Confucius Campaign), and exhortations were made to remove the “dust” and the “poisons” of the “old society” (舊社會), for only then could China be strong. Even noted Chinese intellectuals like Qian Xuantong declared that “without the abolishment of Chinese characters, China is doomed” (漢字不除,中國必亡) and supported instituting Esperanto as a second language for Chinese. Hu Yuzhi was convinced that Esperanto was the solution to “Chinese isolation” – in fact, the Chinese language itself was a liability! Clearly, intellectuals and policy makers of China less than a century ago were ashamed of Chinese culture – some saw it as their greatest weakness, not their strength. The resurgence of adoration for Chinese culture is a fairly recent phenomenon in modern times, not a long-held belief.

 

I wish I could write more, but it’s getting late. Suffice to say that Chua’s and Rubenfeld’s “The Triple Package” is the classic example of a book that overreaches. It claims to find a defining theory about success without identifying what success actually is. It ignores the role of the civil rights movement in bettering the lives of recent immigrants vs. older ones (their citation of Nigerian immigrants, for example), and the self-selecting role of immigrants who arrive with high academic and business credentials vs. those that don’t.

What’s In My Name?

It’s really funny, thinking about how people choose their English names (or don’t actually choose one.) Why do some people choose to get an English name?

I remember when I was about 7 years old there was a time when yes, people thought I should indeed get an English name. Turns out, I think, that the kids from Taiwan in our school get English names much more readily than others (say, from China.) Plus, we give students an English name when they come to the school (whether they like the name or not, usually). So really, my Chinese-pinyin name is actually a rarity in the school. There’s only a couple other students who didn’t have an English name.

Alfred

So I have a dim memory of someone telling me I should get an English name of “Alfred.” Funnily enough, it sounds absolutely horrid to me now, but back then I think I had a vague idea that it was actually good. (Don’t ask me how.) Alfred, hah. I also remember a recommended name for my sister at that time was Wendy or something like that.

George

Therefore I didn’t pick a name then. Then in 3rd grade, one of my teachers, Jason decided to force a name upon me – George. Urrgh, how I hated that name, and I refused it. Unfortunately, my classmates noted my hatred and would use that name from then on just to peeve me, something that lasted until someone whose actual name George came to school. I still hate that name, no offense to anybody whose name is George.

Something that sounds like Qin Zhi

Some people choose their name based on the closest Western name that sounds like their Chinese name. Witness my cousin’s son: Chinese name: Diwen. English name: Desmond.

What’s the closest thing to my name in English?

Quincy.

Yuck, end of discussion, it was probably last popular when people thought we had humours flowing throughout our body. My 80-year-old neighbor calls me that, however, and I can’t bear to correct her.

Ginger is another one that sounds close, though to the Chinese pronunciation of my name.

Bleargh.

One time we were making up feminine names for everyone in our class, and that was what I got. Others: Michael –> Michelle, Simon –> Simone, and so on.

QZ

Considering how hard it is to pronounce my name, it’s a wonder that I didn’t get called by my initials earlier. The first time I remember someone calling me QZ was Mr. Kellerman, my Algebra teacher. I recall I actually got pissed off at him for calling me QZ, and for a few years after that, even after everyone started calling me that, he didn’t dare.

But I don’t think I really started using my initials to introduce myself to Westerners until summer camp in 2003, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University. There, I had a huge problem. While most people in my school were Asian and could pronounce my name perfectly fine, when I got to summer camp, it was a big change. 50%, I think, were non-Asian (and even among the Asians there were a lot of Koreans). And the 50% who were Asian were mostly Twinkies.

Whenever there was a roll call, I knew it was me whenever the counselor paused and squinted at the sheet of paper. Or, they would grab the nearest Asian person and ask them how to pronounce it. Or they would simply say “I don’t know how to say this – ummm, is it Quinn Zheee?” Then came an awkward moment. In the end, I learned to say “here” whenever someone paused. People thought I had psychic powers or something.

Someone also remarked that QZ was cool, because “it sounds like Jay-Z.” I had no idea who was Jay-Z was at the time. Now I know who he is, and I think it’s hilarious.

Experimenting

But about 10th grade I decided that I would never want an English name. Another one that came up often (I’ve had three different people tell me this) was James. Sounds a bit too Harry Potter-ish for me. For a while I liked the name Aaron as well. In hindsight, I was lucky I never chose it, because then I would be inundated with Facebook application requests, as Aaron would be at the very top.

More recently (two years ago?), I began thinking about a Sanskrit name. Kshanti I like (it means patience) but then people would think I was related to Ashanti or something.

One Black Coat

One black coat – for lack of a better article of clothing, that’s been what I’ve been wearing in this extreme cold (for someone from Malaysia/California) of Princeton. Really, I don’t think it’s a particularly good trench coat – it’s thin, does not insulate well, and frankly, it’s way too big for me. It’s wide enough to probably fit someone a hundred pounds heavier than me. I’ve called it a “Stalinist-esque” jacket, and when I wear it, it sometimes looks like I’m wearing a big garbage bag.

But I’m never going to throw it out, no matter how dowdy it looks or worn it may be. Clothing has always been a vexation for me, but for different reasons than most.

Perhaps the reason why that coat is so ill-fitting is because my mom bought it for, secondhand (or third or fourth) from a Goodwill store. I guess a real good one would cost $100+, and as this was only twenty bucks, my mom got it. I can’t complain about it, my mother got it. Twenty dollars may seem insignificant, but as I learned since young, saying something was only a certain amount of money (say, 5 dollars) got the response in Manglish: “Only five dollars one ah? Do you got any idea how many papers I need to deliver for twenty dollars?”

That leads me to the first of two points I wish to make in this post. Really, sitting here in Firestone, listening to music (via iPod) and typing, sitting down comfortably, I feel guilty. I make $10.60 an hour. But what about my sister, who makes something like $8 an hour, has to stand and run around helping people at Staples’ copy center, and comes home completely exhausted? On what basis should I receive a higher pay? Or my mother, who has to get up at 2AM every morning to deliver over 800 papers in the freezing cold and rain, all for minumum wage? I don’t feel worthy. Comparatively, my life is luxurious and my job, non-chalant. Every dollar is important, yet I have not been a good steward of my money (luckily, I haven’t become a horrible spender here). It’s not the money that’s important – it’s knowing the energy and work that goes into getting that money that’s truly important.

The second point is related to my coat. It reminds me of the time when I was about 9 or 10. Kids at that age can be particularly mean to each other, and my classmates were no exeption. From the age of 8-9, I had studied in the monastery (not to become a monk, BTW) learning Chinese. As a result, I had no idea of anything that was cool or popular by the time I went back to regular school at DVS. For example, I did not know who Jay Chou was at the time (vaguely, I remember them discussing him) or any other music for that matter, didn’t know what movies were “cool”, or anything trendy whatsoever. My clothing as a kid was looking back, really sad. My pants were home-made out of some thin cotton fabric, and my shirts mostly came from Goodwill and garage sales. This sort of clothing ripped very easily, which made me an even greater target for ridicule.

Of course, I’m not saying that people have ridiculed my jacket here at Princeton, for no one has. But I think it’s a funny all the same. It reminds me of my family’s love, and how far I have to go in attempting to repay that kindness.

Keep your eyes peeled for the walking garbage bag on campus! 😛

Another Year?!

1990+18=Me now. Most people use the New Year’s to make their resolutions for the new year and as a marker for personal achievement. On the contrary, I think by ages. Even though I will likely be no different on the first day of my 18th year as compared to my last day of being 17, there’s a palpable feeling in the air.

I think I’ve sounded like a broken cassette recorder for the last few months, but I really want to become 18, and I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because then I’ll have an actual license to drive with, instead of a “provisional” one that prevents me from carrying anyone under the age of 20. Maybe it’s because I’ll stop having nagging things online asking me if I’m 18 (like, say, a game website). Maybe it’s because I’ll not have the weird looks from fellow students and professors when I say I’m 17.

But mentally, where was I, going from sweet sixteen to serious seventeen? About a year ago, I was still reeling from my acceptance is wondering what my future was in high school and in Princeton – and especially, how I would cope in a radically different place from where I grew up and with different people that I lived with. Uncertainty was the keyword.

I’m tempted to use that word again for this year, but in the end, uncertainty is a part of life, and I can never change that much as I try to chart the un-navigated waters and rapids of existence on Earth. So, I’d say the keyword I hope going into another undoubtedly weird year of my life is confidence, to gain the confidence that I need in life, and go from a worrisome kid and stop letting things from the past cloud myself and my thinking.

One more year from now, I’m going to look back at this and wonder in wonderment.

It’s the Journey That Counts

When you finally reach the end, you look back at the long road that you have just walked. You crane your head, searching for the beginning of the journey – the source of your great cause. It can still be seen, yet it seems so far away that it is as if another world – another time and place.

The road’s surface is covered with your sweat; it is flooded with your tears. It is overrun by your footprints, and it is soaked with your blood. The road has been blazed by you – obstacles and barriers hacked away, discarded, and broken through. You are a part of the road as much as that road is part of you.

Then you realize that the journey was what had brought you here. You came seeking knowledge and wisdom; strength and courage. You awaken to the fact that such qualities are not found at the end, but rather, they are forged through your journey and created by your toil. They are obtained through your way.

Finally, you understand that life is just that way. What counts is not that you have reached your end, but what you did along the way to that wonderful and blissful accomplishment.

What’s life?

I’m looking for something – I just don’t know yet. For life is full of twists and turns, and in every turn there is something new.

I mean, this year since last November has been really, really brilliant in that absolutely everything I could have possibly asked for has come true. I don’t mean it in the sense that seeking everything, but rather, in the sense that I just feel so blessed by the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, and of course, the Venerable Master. Everything has happened well.

In fact, this was part of the reason I actually considered writing a book called “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is My College Counselor.” Sure, it sounds really stupid, but in fact I still intend to do something of the sort someday.

First off, for example, there was the English 200 class fiasco in fall 2005. The instructor was such an incredibly abysmal teacher that I did not learn anything in the class and even refused to turn in the final. It is really hard to explain how down and depressed I was during that time. I felt as if everything was going to go really badly.

But yet, that turned out to be a good decision because in the end, I was able to take it under a different instructor in the following summer. It was a brilliant class, and I really learned a lot. It helped me for my college apps, as a plus.

And then, there was my decision to not got to CTY/JHU for the summer, but instead help out in the summer camp at CTTB and volunteer at the library. Sure, a summer all in Ukiah is not really that fun, but I think I learned a lot more there than I would have had at CTY.

This is all random nonsense, however. I remember a year ago writing college apps. Looking back, I am surprised at how little time I spent writing them. I could not have spent more than 45 minutes to an hour on each essay. I didn’t get them revised for the subject matter. Apparently, that’s very different from the usual revise, revise, revise.

My basic point here is that everything seems at least to have had the Bodhisattva’s guidance in this. Logically, I would not have done any of these things, and also, the bad things that I thought would be disastrous for my academic future turned out to be good things (another was dropping AP Physics). I would never have had that foresight to be able to contemplate that far into the future.

Personally then, I think that those who do not seek what they are seeking for will ultimately find that which they seek for. It is an illogical argument, but it makes sense. That’s what I’ve seen in life so far. Even if one is obsessed with something to the point of being anal-retentive about it, they still might not get it. Rather, one should be as “cool as a cucumber.” Then, everything will fall into place naturally.

May everyone be well and happy.

Against Butchery

When I moved to Ukiah in twelve years ago, I was impressed by the serenity, peace and tranquility of the valley. The air was clean, and the water pure – the Yokayo Valley was indeed much different from the pollution, filth, and crowds of urban and metropolitan areas.

Recently, plans for construction of a slaughterhouse in Ukiah have begun to materialize – up to 50,000 animals per year. I am appalled at the amount of support the project has received. As progressive citizens, we should not permit such a facility of cruelty and ruthlessness to even exist anywhere in Mendocino County.

Proponents of the slaughterhouse state that the many dangers and problems of slaughterhouses and butcher shops (as so famously described by Upton Sinclair one hundred years ago) have been resolved, and that the facility would bring many much-needed jobs to Ukiahans. But as numerous reports, articles, exposés, and papers have described over the past few years, none of these benefits are true.

Today, slaughterhouses cause endless problems for the communities in which they are located. During the last five years, there has been extensive deregulation of the meat industry. For decades, the industry has fought and attempted to block government-mandated testing of meat for lethal microbes, like E. Coli and salmonella, but due to the government’s lax oversight, it is now perfectly legal and lawful to sell beef tainted with salmonella – resulting in 1.4 million Americans being sickened by the pathogen every year.

But how does salmonella get on the meat? It happens when manure or intestinal contents are splattered on the corpses.

Slaughterhouses also create huge amounts of pollution – a single steer can produce up to fifty pounds of urine and feces every day. Air pollution is also generated in large quantities, with the odor of the animals and their corpses, waste, and offal matter pervading throughout our city. The butcher shop will also further cripple our city’s water supply, stretching it thin. And ultimately, how will this affect tourism to the Valley? Families and citizens come to Ukiah to see the grape vineyards, the pear orchards, the majestic redwoods, and the grand mountains – not to see a slaughterhouse churning out two hundred dead corpses every day.

I haven’t even begun to take into account the cruelty and heartless treatment of animals in slaughterhouses. Are we to let innocent animals be tortured, electrocuted, suffocated, gassed, and poisoned – all in our own backyard? Are we to let fellow citizens of our planet Earth be crammed into filthy, foul, and cramped pens?

As for “good jobs” that the slaughterhouse will provide, keep in note that the meatpacking industry had the highest rate of serious injury in the entire country – three times higher than that for factories, and despite the fact that most slaughterhouse injuries are not reported at all. Meat companies have had a long record of violating labor laws and intimidating workers to keep workers from organizing unions. Are the Ukiahans who would work at the slaughterhouse really getting “good jobs”?

We can do better, Ukiah. As common sense has dictated for years: Read the fine print before committing to anything. Before rushing enthusiastically to support the slaughterhouse, let’s pause for a moment to recheck the details. Just what are we getting ourselves into?