Thursday, March 22, 2012

Subconcious racism and sexism

As you have probably figured out already from what I have written so far, I am quite insensitive to insults, which means I DO NOT usually think that people are being judgemental or insulting when they comment on what I do and who I am. This insensitivity of mine is protective of me being hurt. The downside of this trait of mine, however, often gets me in trouble, because I am equally insensitive to other people's feelings and often say things judgemental and hurtful without knowing. Therefore, I was given a name of Ma Da Ha (马大哈 as scatterbrain), have very limited number of friends, and only got married when I was 42! I have been asked to change as I grew up and older, but no matter how hard I tried, I'd failed. Therefore, I had developed mechanisms to cope with this by treating it as my characteristic or trait rather than my defect or shortcoming.
Here is one example which happened recently:

"How was your grant, was it scored well?" I asked a colleague of mine in a hallway one day.

"Oh, I got 10%, which may be fundable in XYZ institute." He answered, without any sign of happiness or emotion, while accompanying me walking towards the elevator.  Nowadays, getting a grant scored at all is a big victory, let alone he scored so well, a 10% and fundable, wow!

"Congratulations! That is fantastic news." I said, truly excited and happy for him. But cannot help feeling left out, because I had a triaged grant that had been submitted in the same time as his fundable grant! Then we reached the end of our shared way where normal people would end conversations, but I did not. I continued on, "I don't believe the NIH study sections actually score grants by their merits anymore!"

What in my mind really was his 10% grant could have been between 1-5% among the top grants that had been scored.  Yet I did not have time to elaborate and I heard,

"Oh, thanks!" and he walked out of my sight.  I lost his trust for good!

That, my friend, is how stupid I can be.

The secret is that I am not alone. Many of my colleagues are PhDs who are quite fitting into the category of permanent head damaged well! The following is what I experienced last night when one senior professor showed his subconcious racism and sexism.

Last night, I went out for dinner with 2 male "colleagues" and one female Asian honored guest. It was one of those business dinners that I usually reluctant to attend because they often make me feel awkward. But since the dinner invitation came at the last minute, together with the fact that our honored guest Ying was a female and Asian, I'd decided to answer the dinner invitation favorably based on two assumptions: the host Matt might not have enough time to get anyone who could go with him; and as a female and Asian, I might be able to help out to entertain Ying.

I intentionally arrived at the restaurant a bit earlier. After I situated myself at the bar a little while, just long enough to finish reading the wine list, I felt a gently tap on my shoulder - it was Ying. Since she and I had met earlier at my office after her seminar, we considered ourselves acquainted. A gentle tap on the shoulder as a form of saying hi was quite well received and we immediately started to chat like old friends. Matt, our host, happily joined in and the three of us carried our conversations enthusiastically all the way from the bar to the designated dinner table!

We would have a great time tonight, I predicted to myself.

After we settled in, however, the conversations turned South. It started the moment of our last guest Albert walked in the door. He was late by 10 minutes! I was seated facing the restaurant entrance so I spotted his inquiring expression and waved at him. He ignored me, of course. He and I had met at the seminar earlier, but obviously that did help him to recognize me. He was led to our table by a waitress and sat down right across from me. Matt introduced us and then he asked, almost immediately, "Who are you work for?" I was not prepared for this question, so I said, "What do you mean?" He then elaborated, " I mean whose lab you are in, who you are working for, who is your boss?" Good gracious, I finally understood he assumed that I was not his equal! "I work for myself, I guess. I mean I have my own lab." I simply put that way.

So, what do you feel if someone asks you,"Who are you working for?"

I must point out that I get this question a lot. But it usually happens at other locations. At a formal dinner table, that was the first time. What has gotten into his head that I was not like him who runs a productive lab? Was it my Asian race, female gender or the combination of both?

Clearly, the presence of Al would not help to turn the dinner conversation back to interesting topics like where we lived and how we lived. The whole time we were talking about science and work! I attempted to turn the situation around by asking Ying about her children and family and things that she did after work, Al kept pulling them back to work, work, and more work. The rest of the dinner conversations were all about Al's work, from what he had discovered 30 years ago to what he is working on now.

I finally gave up and simply kept my mouth shut, focusing on finishing my dinner quickly and leaving!

At the end, while we all walked out the restaurant, I said to Matt, "If you live far away, let me drop Ying back to her hotel."  Matt was smart and nice, he did not insist.  Ying was understanding and she probably sensed that I had something else to say.

As soon as Matt and Al were out of our sights, I said to Ying, "It's still early and I live close by, would you mind having a cup of tea with me and my husband?"

She said, "Not at all."

Off we went to our house and we then compensated the loss of our time in the restaurant and had a wonderful rest of the evening. I got to know her much better in that 30 minites then the 2 hours' dinner time.

With the nice time we had, I completely forgot about the bad interaction between Al and me, but Ying reminded me of it on the way back to her hotel, "How did you feel when Al ask you that question?"

"Which question?"  I had truly put everything behind me. Insensitive, you see?

"Who are you working for?" she explained.

"Oh, that one, I got that a lot." I said, but then I added "It was a strange dinner, the topics that we talked were so boring, why do scientists insist on talking about sciences after work? I thought dinner time is for us to relax and forget about work."

"It's was unusual." Ying said. "But I just wanted to make a point that many, but not all, white men like to assume that we Asian women are not running our own businesses in academic settings." She then gave me few examples when she was asked similar questions on campus.

Now I hear that the U.S. colleges have already started to require higher academic achievements for Asians, particular Asian girls, in the admission office. Ying's daughter went Johns Hopkins School of Engineering. I wonder how she pulled that off!

Our conversations ended up by Ying explaining to me why applying for American citizenship might not be a good idea. I did not have enough time to find out why, but it made me thinking: do I want to become an American if I do not share the same moral standards with some of the Americans?  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Romantic dates with your partner?

Before Fabrice and I were married, we went out often, our dates were usually random and unplanned.  We would go out several nights per week, mostly just for dinners.  If it's weekend, we would complete our dates with additional trips to movie theaters.  Occasionally, we also drove out of the city for some rock climbing, river canoeing, and hill hiking.

One Saturday morning, I woke up feeling an urge of getting out of the lab for a change.  So I suggested Fabrice to drive out of town.  He asked, "Where to?".  I said, "I don't know.  As long as it is not the lab!".  Then, we went to San Antonio (we lived in Houston then), visited the Alamo, took a cruise to enjoy the River Walk, spent a few hours wandering from one local store to another to experience being a tourist and to understand why so many people consider this city tourist worthy.  We even spent a night there just for the night life along the River Walk!  Next morning, I woke up depressed because I did not want our fun trip to end.  Then I suggested Fabrice to take a detour back to Houston via Austin.  He must have thought I was more worthy of his time, so he went along with the "unplanned plan".  So, there we were, visited the capital of Texas, stumbled in a finest French restaurant in the downtown area for lunch, and then completely lost ourselves on the streets.  While walking randomly on UT-Austin campus, we noticed a stream of people: they all nicely dressed walking towards one direction.  Curiously I followed them, Fabrice followed me, eventually, we all arrived a theater.  It was already quite late and Fabrice wanted to head back but I insisted to check out what show was on.  He and I looked at the bulletin and could not decide what to do - the ticket was very pricy and our unplanned trip already took longer than intended.  Our responsibility started to take over our curiosity by then.  It was then, we were approached by a group of people.  They told us the show was something one should not miss.  Best of all, they made decision for us by offering us a free ticket.  So with mixed feelings, Fabrice and I bought another ticket.  When we went in, the theater was already packed with people, a first sign of a good show, we thought.  Even then we still decided to stay on the back in case we needed to leave early if the show turned out to be was not worth of our time.  Pleasantly surprised however, that was absolutely the best Contemporary/Modern Dance Performances and the Concussion Music that I have ever watched/heard!  It was a night to remember.

The whole trip was a date to remember!

After we got married, especially after we had kids, our life becomes highly predictable: we now own a Toyato Rav4 and then my little new green beetle retires.  Our driving routes have changed from all over the city to home-daycare-work-home on weekdays and home-Costco-home on weekends.

We don't even shop for food in various grocery stores anymore.  We also have completely forgotten how to have a date with each other.

One day at about 8 months after I became a mother, I had made a major discovery: we were not an isolated case.  So I decided to make our married life a bit more fun.  Married couple should not be deprived from loving and fun dates!  I told Fabrice, "Let's ditch the kid and get out for a date." He looked at me as if he saw a pretty young girl, "Really, when?"  The poor husband of mine was clearly excited.  He must have been happy to find that I was willing to leave our infant with someone else - I was a new mother at 46 for the first time, can you blame me for not willing to separate with our lovely Zhuzhu?  Poor Fabrice, his weakness is too understanding of others.

So I asked Ling to babysit Zhuzhu for a whole night - from 6 pm to 11 pm, we said to her.  Fabrice and I had planned to have a real date, which should have included a good meal in a fine restaurant followed by a good movie.

The moment that we walked out of the door, however, I wanted to turn back - I could barely keep my eyes open.  All I wanted was to have a good sleep.  But that was our first night out for fun ever since the kiddo was born, I could not ruin it by telling Fabrice that.  So, I stuck with our original plan.  Our meal was a bit rushed though, because I was too afraid of falling my head down to the table.  Seriously, I almost did fall in asleep!  Interestingly, Fabric was not much more excited than I either!  So he finished his meal without any delay.  We acted like we only wanted a sequence of events involved in the concept of date to end, as quickly as possible.  We should have stopped right then, without a movie.  But we had planed to watch a movie, so we continued to go on our date.  When we made it to the nearest movie theater, both Fabrice and I looked at the bulletin boards and then each other.  Almost simultaneously, we said, "Let's go home."

Ling laughed her ass off when she saw us coming back home before 9 pm.

Second dates - staff night out nights.

First let me give you some background. Apparently, we, Fabrice and I, not the only ones who understand the problem that married couple don't have much time for each other.  Our employer does too.  To solve it, our employer provides us "staff-nights-out" nights.  In those nights, we can simply drop our kids to a "night care".  A bunch of college students then babysit them for us.  We can then have our dates for free from 6-11 pm!

On the first staff-night-out night, Fabrice and I ended up going back to our offices - he continued working and I visited my favorite blog sites.

The second time I went shopping with Ling while Fabrice was out of town.

Those, my friend, are what I call romantic evenings.

Pathetic, don't you think so?

Well, not really, if you know that Fabrice and I have our offices on the same floor.  His office is about 20 meters from mine and we lunch together almost daily.  Compared to other couples, what we need more may be alone date, except we do wish to go out for good meals without kids, from time to time.

At the last staff-night-out night, we decided to do something different.  We have recently had a lot of changes in life.  One of which was that we have moved to a new house.  I am having a love and hate relationship with it, even though its noticeably bigger and nicer.

At around 5 pm, Fabrice walked in my office and asked, "So, what we are going to do for our date tonight?" - it usually irritates me whenever he asks this type of question - it's his job to provide ideas to have fun: he picks up movies from Netflix, he choses places to go for skiing, rocks to climb, routes to run, restaurants to dine (ok, I contribute to the last one too)... For the man readers out there, never ask your woman what to do on your dates - it's the man's job to find fun things to do with the woman!

Anyway, back to our romantic dates.

"Why don't we go to have our house cleaned!" - I still love our old house that we moved out slowly but never get it completely cleaned.  I hate to leave it unattended even though no one is living in it at the moment.

Fabrice was disappointed but he could not find any better things to do.  But he suggested to at least get some food first.  Then we found every single restaurant close by our old house was full, even the bad ones.

Eventually, Fabrice and I cleaned our house with empty stomach!

What do you do with your spouse of 10 years?