Sunday, November 20, 2005

Asian, too smart for the rest; so the others leave; in-your-face rudeness

Was alerted to this WSJ article (Nov 19): The New White Flight by l'oiseau rebelle. Initial response: Piece of racist, stereotyping crap.

Sometimes we (as in Asian - Chinese, Korean, Indian, Jap) try to mingle with the rest (blacks, whites and hispanics) and we get shown the cold shoulder. Or we get sarcastic remarks/comments on our academic achievements from non-Asian peers or the departmental secretaries.

Two experiences etched in my memory:

1. At the undergraduate studies secretary's office, to get my schedule plan signed.

"Oh, so you are petitioning to graduate this sem, and you have only spent 5 semesters in the college so far?! *Oh the horror! look* Wait, let me pull out your file."

"No wonder, you are from Singapore."

Ed: Singaporeans had always done well in this dept (and the university in general). No thanks to a huge influx of *scholars* from several high profile stat boards. Graduating early (~3 years on average) and topping the class. Probably the same case in other heavily Singaporean populated colleges, as shown here.

2. Grad school, at a social gathering for first years and the dept's profs. Topic somehow drifted to the GRE scores. It was still under the old format, with 2400 the maximum possible score. (800 for each of verbal, quantitative and analytical)

A minority (non-Asian) friend, A: "I didn't do too well for them (GREs). Thankfully I still managed to get accepted. About 1900 for me."

Another minority (non-Asian) friend, B: "Me too. My score was in the 1800s. So what did you get? " *points a look finger at me*

Me: "2X00."

Silence, then

A, B (almost simultaneously): "Yeah, you are supposed to get that score. You are Asian (read: good in Math and Science) you know."

A short while later I got to know almost all the Chinese and Korean first years had 2400. This puts my score somewhat average. heh.

Wikipedia has an entry on the model minority.

Recommended readings: Wind's Cornell experience, Xue's thoughts. Sometimes, you end up spending more time *with your own kind* (how I hate this term, and by own kind I mean Asians in general, the Chinese, Koreans, Japs and Indians) not because you want to hang out solely with them, but because others don't really welcome you into their circles. In a sense, I can empathize with those French rioters.

On a final note, I don't hang out often with the Singsoc people, but I admit I have more Asian (including Asian-American) friends here than non-Asians. But it could also be a result of demographics - since Asians are overwhelmingly represented in the engineering and physical/biological sciences.

Edit: Olandario sums it up for me.


Alwyn said...

what you say here.. is very true. I note that after going through the lists of my various friends all around the universities in the states, some ivy league, others a little less prestigious. There is one thing they all share in common. In their pictures. You see nothing but "asians" or "Singaporeans" or "international students". Its very sad.

Perhaps someone put it very succintly.. that.. well.. its not that we don't want to make friends. At times, we aren't even welcomed into their circles. I've a good friend at a very good LibArts college and she's incredibly nice and incredibly friendly. Yet even she... finds it difficult to make friends with her American Brethren. I don't blame her.

I wonder how we get all these warped ideas.. about going abroad and getting "a hot ang mo chick" to sling one's arm over. Theory and Practical are often world's apart. Differing cultures is one thing. Perhaps our nature to live in our own cocooned comfort zones, where everyone else knows the meaning of "laksa" and where sambal is a necessity, not a delicacy. Perhaps too.. our "strange british accent" or "fake englishness" does have a part to play.

strange that we look up to all the models of the west. Yet each year as I see them return on their summer droves. They're happy. But burnt.

-ben said...

I guess I am the odd-ball here. I have more friends of other nationalities and cultures than Singaporean / Asian.

IMHO, I think it is the mindset. Planning for the future is important, yes, but a fair--if not large--proportion of Asians I have met, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, measure out their lives with coffee spoons. Academia and career advancement are important, yes--those are the primary reasons why we are here, but there is more to life than that.

Try to explain to the average Asian about how blasting down a mountain track at 47 miles an hour makes you feel alive; try to explain to the average Asian why solo diving for 2 or more hours in the Pacific Ocean, beneath the kelp, in the feeding grounds of the Great White, grants you liquid peace; try to explain how riding solo at night in mountain lion territory tempers your fortitude (every pair of luminous eyes in the bush may belong to a predator); or, how, having to role-play Gilligan for real when equipment breaks down on the trail and you are forced to come up with ad hoc, stop-gap measures to restore functionality before inclement weather sets in; and the likely reply from most Asians would be, "I don't know why you engage in boh liao activities like that. I rather check out the latest threads (clothes) at Banana Republic."

Go figure.

When we have gatherings with slide shows showcasing our adventures, I can count the number of Asians in the group on one hand. Most of them are probably in some karaoke joint.

Like I said, I'm probably the odd-ball here. Instead of Sim Wong Hoo, my model is Dr. William Stone ( ).

Ultimately, it's all good though. Diversity is good. We do the things we are good at. And, hopefully, those that we enjoy.

Unknown said...

Could possibly be demographics.

But of course, it could also just happen that "you" were unlucky and got stuck in a very racist place.

I hang out with a lot of non-Asians, and I have never been "racially" degraded (except for a few, model-minority, racist comments, such as, "yeah, you can help her out 'cause you're good at math," - referring to my Asian-ness.)

Those comments were made by people I don't hang out with, 'cept on a regular, school basis.

So -ben, you're not an oddball. hehe.

My own group of friends, other than the few, awesome Malaysian friends I have back in Malaysia, I have a lot of other friends from various ethnicities.

To hang out with Asians, it's usually friends (Chinese-speaking) my parents made - so I speak to them in Chinese and all.

I don't hang out with a lot of Asian Americans, and it is because I don't usually have the chance to meet them enough to further our relationships

L'oiseau rebelle said...

Academically, since I'm in the Department of Impracticality and Possible Eternal Poverty, most of my classmates are non-Asian males. I just had to learn to cross the cultural and gender barriers, or else I'd end up doing homework on my own and will never finish them on time. It wasn't easy at the beginning.

Interesting reading the perspective of Singaporeans who are in majors with many other Singaporeans - I just realized that most of my closest Singaporean friends here are in majors with very few Singaporeans, and hardly hear the other perspectives.

Admittedly, I've heard the other side of the story (coincidentally, from Cornell EE), and it's far less than laudatory. Let's just say, it is true that many Americans (in these majors and colleges) view the Singaporeans the same way many Singaporeans view PRCs on their home turf.

-ben said...

>Let's just say, it is true that many Americans (in these majors and colleges) view the Singaporeans the same way many Singaporeans view PRCs on their home turf.

OMG, that's so true!

Speaking of racial stereotypes, have you ever have the experience of other races pantomiming to you when speaking to you? And they repeat themselves and speak v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y in English.

Up to now, I don't know whether to be offended or amused.

One of these days though, I will be tempted to pantomime in return. Maybe do a "cow fly over the moon" routine. :D

L'oiseau rebelle said...

I haven't had anyone commenting on my spoken or written English, except in my freshman comp class, when my instructor went, "You really have a good command of English." And she has taught a Singaporean before.

The times that I felt that I was treated differently because of race was when dealing with the bloody administration (in many different ways) and was quite vocal about my complaints. The attitude (implicitly) shown to me was, "Aren't you Chinese supposed to be quiet and docile?"

Hardly anyone has attributed my math abilities to my ethnicity, but then, those who have any interest in my math abilities are either fellow math majors, or non-math major classmates who think that all undergrad math majors are overachievers anyway.

Re-read Wind's post, one interesting comment I noted was "Most Singaporeans paired with each other for the labs. There are strategic advantages at first, we know that Singaporean partners are mostly quite good in their studies and wouldn't drag you down". Eh, isn't this a stereotype, and a pretty terrible one at that?

Maybe that's why for some engineering classes in my university with group projects, the groups are formed by the instructor.

thecrazzybugger said...

in the context of an overwhelmingly White dominated society, you can't blame internationals and minorities from self segregating can you?

and while in university you're sheltered from the vagaries of real working life, "hanging out" and doing the de regieur "inter-cross cultural" understanding in a "diverse" atmosphere that seems to be catchphrase in university propectuses nowadays, of course is affirming and not to mention fun.

Sure its colorful and diverse, but is it culturally diverse?

and what happens when your buddies are competing with you in the job market.
what happens then?

Alwyn said...

I ought to update my terrible comment posted up there. I'd say now that as I complete my 6th semester in college with a year to go (the horror! the horror!) life has certainly changed quite a lot - I've more american friends than asian friends and for the most part, I can't even be bothered with the singaporean students on campus - seeing them is no more than just a quick passing by.

its certainly not been an easy journey trying and struggling forever to fit into western society - especially at the collegiate level. but it has been a very good experience. painful, but well worth it in the long run.