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On role models

Posted: - Modified: | love, reflection

Mel Chua’s comment about relationships and role models made me think. She’s right, you know. It was something that had felt very alien before, and I’m gradually coming to terms with it.

Growing up, I remember feeling anxious about relationships.  I knew my mom and dad had managed to raise us and do well in entrepreneurship at the same time. I was surrounded by godparents whose loving relationships also served as good examples. But as a bookworm, I’d also read lots of scary statistics.

All of the happily-married couples I knew were of previous generations, of course. Towards the end of my university degree, as I heard of high school batchmates starting to marry and have kids, these early matches were spoken of in hushed, gossipy tones.

The thought of relationships really only started becoming more “normal” for me over the past couple of years. In graduate school, I met people who pursued their degrees while raising kids. Thanks to W-, I got a sneak preview of parenting (turns out to be pretty good), and I saw that separation and divorce could stabilize into amicability. At work, I saw people with different kinds of family situations do well. I looked for stories of executives who valued work-life balance and other people who’d left and rejoined the corporate world. I listened as people told stories about their families. I listened as people who chose not to have families talked about their relationship and their other priorities. I learned that people have figured this out before, and things will be okay.

It’s pretty interesting to think about this in terms of the diffusion of ideas, too. In this, it turns out that I’m a mainstream adopter, opening up to a idea once I see that lots of people around me are exploring it with good results. W- makes it easier, too. We’ve probably got the best starting point for this kind of an adventure.

So, yes, role models. Very important. More common than people would think, and more mutual than people might expect. A great benefit of having a diverse workforce, too. I’m looking forward to exploring, to sharing what I’m learning with others, and to learning from others along the way.

A little less wise, a little more awesome

| life, love

I had all four of my wisdom teeth taken out this morning to avoid complications later on. The anaesthetist (a woman named Sandra) wired me up with a blood pressure monitor, two heart rate monitors around my forearms, and an oxygen-level monitor on the tip of my finger. She numbed me with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which brought on a stronger version of the light-headedness I feel when I hyperventilate. She then stuck an IV into me and gave a powerful sedative. As promised, I was completely out, and I woke up in the recovery room with W- holding my hand. (Win!)

I’m sure I’ll find out what the oral surgeon was like over the next few days. I hope he was great. Although it’s hard to imagine anyone being as great as W-. If you need to be stuck on a liquid/creamy diet, I recommend finding someone like him, because he’s going to make it awesome.

Lunch was congee made with the chicken/turkey stock, soft glutinous rice disintegrating on a still-numb tongue. I ate it very carefully because I didn’t want any rice getting stuck in places  that would be hard to clean, cooling my congee to avoid burning myself. For dessert, there was leftover filling from a lemon meringue pie.

Two acetaminophen-codeine phosphate painkiller pills and a nap later, it was dinner time. (Just like Timecat!)

When I woke up and headed downstairs, I found egg custard and egg tarts cooling under cookie sheets (to protect them from curious cats), lemon filling in the making (to use up extra tart shells), Jello in the fridge, and rice pudding in the planning. W- had been busy.

There are all sorts of soups in the pantry, too. I’m looking forward to raiding our stash of cream of mushroom soup.

Dinner will be congee (pureed this time), and there are all sorts of things for dessert.

It would be such a hassle to go and find restaurants that could accommodate my eating restrictions, taking the painkillers, and making it back to the car and to the house despite the drowsiness.

This would have been even less fun on my own. Or worse: battling for fridge space with housemates.

It still hurts to swallow. I’m still looking forward to my next dose of painkillers. I still hope don’t end up with dry socket, which appears to be the major complication. It’s reassuring to know that dry socket only happens in about 5% of cases and I don’t have any of the aggravating factors that typically bring it on.

All of my work is taken care of, I’m being taken care of, and life is good.

Now to explore the food options

Getting ready for a new adventure

Posted: - Modified: | life, love


I didn’t think about weddings when I was growing up. I didn’t clip pictures of pretty dresses or fantasize about flowers. I thought I had to choose between making a big difference and living a “normal” life—with a great relationship, perhaps, but still constrained by the obligations of joint decision-making. I didn’t dream of white gowns and lace. I dreamt of living in an apartment, perhaps near a university or a library, and perhaps with two or three cats.

I was surprised to learn that a great relationship can help you grow in unexpected ways.

For example: I was beginning to feel the tic of stress building up around the typical tensions of planning a wedding. We had wanted to keep the guest list small in order to avoid overwhelming ourselves and our guests. Limiting the guests to just our families seemed to be the easiest and least stressful way to do it. A clear boundary. No difficult decisions about who to include and who not to. And perhaps W-, I, and our two families would get to know each other better without the distraction of other friends. I still wanted to host a get-together thanking my friends for helping make Toronto a second home, but a second party could do for that. Limiting the wedding and the reception to family seemed like the least stressful way to plan that day.

Then my mom asked if we could invite four close family friends, people she hadn’t seen in a while but whom she has kept in touch with and who have been wonderfully supportive throughout the years.

I wavered. Should we offer to host another party? Should we include them, even if they might feel a little left out? Should I then go ahead and invite some of my closest friends as well?

I explained the situation to W-.

He said: “It’s their wedding, too.”

In that moment, all that stress went away. All it took was the right perspective.

As much as all those wedding planning websites and blogs would have us believe that it’s our day—or worse, that it’s the bride’s day—our families are the reason why we’re celebrating a wedding instead of heading down to City Hall with two witnesses.

It’s our wedding. By that, I mean it’s not just W- and my wedding, but it’s our families’ too. And friends. And worlds.

(Friends are wonderful and I’d love to include as many as possible, too, but once I start including friends, I get tempted to throw a party for 150+ people, and then my introverted side hides under the imaginary table and eats chocolate. So we’ll plan one party at a time, and maybe have lots of small parties instead of one big one. =) And there are even more friends I’d like to include as a way of thanks for helping me get here as well as for future insights and advice. Challenge: I don’t know everyone. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, and y’all are an amazing village.)

English is quite limited when it comes to this idea of “ours”. A tangential story: My mom once told my sister, “We’re going to Hong Kong.” My sister was excited about the idea of going there. My mom clarified: “No, we—your dad and I—are going to Hong Kong.” In Filipino, it’s the difference between kami and tayo. We-exclusive versus we-inclusive. Namin versus natin. Our-exclusive versus our-inclusive.

And I love that W-, for  whom English, Cantonese, and French do not capture that distinction between our-exclusive and our-inclusive,  reminded me of that and helped me get an even better perspective on things.

See, this is one of the wonderful things that gives me a lot of hope about the scary thing called commitment. Making decisions with another person, having another person’s perspective, sharing experiences with another person, and being inspired by another person—by golly, that really can make life even more amazing.

How not to propose marriage

Posted: - Modified: | life, love, story

More correctly: How to not propose marriage

During the formal meeting of the two sets of parents, my mom asked us to tell the story of the engagement. W- and I looked at each other, puzzled. Fortunately, our videoconference ran into some technical problems, and we took advantage of the break to formalize the proposal. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Tada!

What? No dramatic tension? No wondering about what’s next? No getting down on one knee and not knowing what the answer is?

The most Hollywood-uncertain moment we’ve had was at the start of the relationship. We had just watched Rigoletto, and we were talking about how reading the libretto with English translations had helped us recognize some words during the opera. “You can call me buffone,” he said. “Or even buffone mio.”

His last word couldn’t have been accidental, knowing the delight we take in the subtleties of words. We had been good friends for a while, and I was resolutely ignoring a crush on him. In a movie, this would have been the point at which soaring music would play, we’d kiss, and then credits would roll.

None of that happened. Instead, I blinked a few times and babbled, preoccupied with figuring things out. Later that evening, when I was alone again, I mindmapped what I wanted to say and wrote him a letter to clarify what he meant. On gridded paper, too, as that was all I had. The next day, I read his reply confirming his feelings. So that’s how our formal relationship began.

Since then, we’ve had many, many conversations, which gradually included longer-term plans. Marriage isn’t so much a big change as it is a useful formalization of our plans and a commitment to work things out together. I might have even started the process by bringing up long-term thoughts. Technically, I guess that means I proposed to him, but it was less of a “Will you marry me?” and more of an “Okay, let’s look at where we want to go with this. If we want to do B, we should probably do A first.”

No fancy engagement story. No engagement ring, either. (I think diamonds are overpriced and there are better ways to use that money, such as saving for long-term goals.)

The difference between “Will you marry me?” and “So, when do you think we should get married?” is fascinating. I love how our conversations grew into the second question rather than the first.

So that’s how it happened!

(Reflecting on it now, I remember those lessons on assuming the sale: instead of asking people if they want to buy something, ask questions like if they prefer to pay cash or use their credit card… ;) )

Thoughts on the brain drain

Posted: - Modified: | love, philippines, reflection

The specter of brain drain has haunted me since high school. As students at Philippine Science High School—one of the best schools in the country, and publicly-funded at that—we were regularly reminded of our responsibilities as scholars of the nation. Our names were on hold lists at airports, and we needed to post bonds assuring our return before we travelled. Throughout university, too, I heard from frustrated teachers who’d seen their students settle down in far-off countries.

I decided that I could just as easily create opportunities in the Philippines as I could in North America. Although my alma mater and the competing schools I asked gently encouraged me to take my masters overseas so that I could learn, I resolved to come back and make things happen. I was really uncomfortable when some of the Filipino immigrants I met in Canada dismissed the Philippines and said it didn’t matter to them. I didn’t want to be like them.

Towards the end of my master’s degree, I fell in love with someone who could not move to the Philippines with me. So I chose love, even though it meant being away from family and old friends and becoming part of the brain drain I’d felt so strongly about. Besides, after having gone through the trouble of uprooting myself and making myself at home in an new environment, I wasn’t about to insist that someone else go through the same ordeal.

Still, there’s the occasional twinge of guilt, of uncertainty, of negotiating my identity between worlds. Not many people are caught in between like this—most people seem to have just embraced their new lives—so there aren’t that many people I can talk to. But the tension can be creative, too; it helps power my passion to make it easier for people to learn, collaborate, and lead from anywhere. That way, people don’t have to go through being between worlds like this unless they want to, and they can build roots more quickly if they do.

So it was good to read this analysis of brain drain from a magazine about foreign policy that concluded it wasn’t all that bad, and that it could even strengthen source countries.

I am not lost. I am not mis-placed. I am here, and I’m making things happen.

Scenes from a geek life: Duel

| geek, life, love

W-: I just have some more to do.

Me: Can I help?

W-: It’s okay. I’m faster in vi than you are.

<I do a mock eye-narrow emphasized with hand gestures> <we both do the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly>

Me: <laughing hard>

W-: Our kids are going to roll their eyes. “Ncurses was so fifty years ago!”

Me: <laughing even more> <mock-crying> “Oh no, I just had an integer wrap!”

W-: 16-bit or 32?

Geek love. It’s like xkcd with much less angst.

In-jokes and shared experiences

| life, love

W- helped me put together some wire shelves for plants. One of the rods was deformed, so he brought out a mallet and started reshaping it. While he pounded away, he hummed something familiar, and I joined in.

“Isn’t that the Anvil Chorus?” I asked.

He grinned.

It’s great to be able to make little jokes like that, based on shared cultural experiences. It’s like the time that I was up at 4 because of jet lag. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so he decided to wake up to keep me company. As we were going through our morning routines, he suddenly broke into song: “Nessun Dorma“. I laughed so hard.

Don’t worry, it’s not all high-brow entertainment. We make horribly bad puns, too. We laugh every day because we have all these moments to build on.