I Hated Sweeney Todd

I generally like seeing live shows. They tend to be fun, funny, and/or engaging.

This past Wednesday, however, we saw Sweeney Todd, and both my wife and I were thoroughly bored. It was a huge waste of talent. The set, the costumes, the actors-singers-musicians were all impressive, but the musical just went at such a slow pace. I didn’t care about the characters. The plot seemed to go nowhere. Everything was too melodramatic. What a bummer.

This was no Spelling Bee or Jersey Boys.


Losing Touch with Friends

When I was in high school, I never understood how my parents could see friends of theirs after thirty-some years and act as if not a day had passed. After all, I hadn’t even been alive for thirty years and the idea of not seeing my friends for even longer than two weeks was frightening to me.

Once I went away to college, months of not speaking with or seeing friends seemed reasonable and normal. Shortly after graduating college, I got used to the idea of being out of touch with friends for years at a time and not being sad about it or feeling awkward when we finally did speak.

Recently, though, I’ve gotten back in touch with a couple of friends I haven’t spoken to for years, and it has felt like a long time (not just normal or something to get used to). In my new job, I’m working for someone I was friends with back in high school and hadn’t been in touch with for probably 12 or 13 years previously. And I just recently got back in touch with a best buddy of mine from high school who came out to the Bay Area for her residency. We probably hadn’t spoken to each other in 5 years. When we finally did catch up on the phone, she told me how Facebook had gotten her in touch with two other friends of ours from high school who are now married (one of them with kids even).

The one who is married and with kids I lost touch with about seven years ago, and I was sad about it. We had traveled through Europe together during college. We’d had some great times and shared a number of inside jokes together in high school. But that’s one of those facts of life—you lose touch with people. Sometimes, you lose touch and it seems natural, since you were starting to grow apart anyway. Other times, you lose touch and it’s jarring. They became too busy, but you weren’t busy at all. They ended up not caring as much for the friendship as you did. They moved away and weren’t great about keeping in touch with people who weren’t physically close to them.

I suppose it’s one of the bittersweet pain-joys of being older—the ability to wonder about your old friends: What are they doing now? Why did we lose touch? Is it even worth reconnecting? Would it just be awkward? We would no longer have anything in common?

I may give in to the pressure and sign up for Facebook. Or maybe I’ll just keep wondering…


Swearing: it’s all in the timing

When I was growing up, my family attended a rather conservative church (I fondly refer to it as The Chinese Republican Church), and we were taught it’s un-Christian to swear (i.e., cuss or curse). Of course, there’s no biblical support for such a teaching. The closest anyone can come up with is a passage in Matthew 5:33-37 referring to “swearing” as in oaths, not curses:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

which basically means it’s unbiblical to swear on the Bible to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.” And I always swore to myself that if I had to testify in court that I wouldn’t swear on the Bible as instructed, but I would open the Bible to be sworn upon and point to Matthew 5:33 as my reason for not swearing. Oh, wait… I guess I didn’t swear to myself… I just decided and then said “yes” to myself.

Then, of course, there are some portions of Paul’s epistles in which he talks about being considerate of others and their cultural values, and I think that jives more with my experience with swearing—it’s about what’s appropriate or inappropriate, not what is sinful. I probably swore once in all four years of high school. I’m not kidding. I was disciplined then. I did what good Christians were supposed to do at the Chinese Republican Church. I did my quiet time. I didn’t engage in sexual… anything, really. I didn’t swear. I went to church regularly. Well, all that did was basically prove to myself that I can be disciplined. In fact, during that time, I didn’t even watch any TV. I recommend that to anyone—be disciplined, give up some things—try it. It’s fun. It teaches you about how strong and weak you can be. It is not, however, a permanent state of morality or immorality. It’s an exercise, albeit a long one.

Now, I swear and have no qualms about it. I don’t swear while I’m at my job. I don’t swear in church. I don’t swear at formal events. I swear with my friends. I swear in informal writing. There are good times to say fuck and shit and bad times to say them. As David Ives would say, “It’s all in the timing.”


Physiological Normalcy?

When I was a child, I thought everyone (except those with an obvious physical handicap or health condition) was “normal.” Now that I’m older, I realize that almost everyone has something wrong with her physically, and the only norm is having some form of physical “abnormality.”

I look at my friends (in their mid-twenties to early thirties), and I see people who have diabetes, Leukemia, receding gum lines, hormone deficiencies, severe food allergies, premature hair graying, and any number of other conditions.

I feel as if this is something that young children should be taught more often, not that “handicapped” people are just like “us,” but that almost everybody is going to encounter some kind of health problem sooner or later, and probably sooner. You’ll find out you have an eye infection, a blood clotting problem, a cancer diagnosis, an incurable venereal disease, or lactose intolerance. Why not be prepared for that? Why not realize early on that others won’t judge you for these things, because they too have physical ailments and conditions?


Listening in the dark

My college’s Christian fellowship was quite diverse (in religious traditions, geographical origins, and race, among other aspects). We had a number of people who spoke various non-English languages, and no one seemed to sweat it except for this one guy who would always get really upset anytime anyone said anything in a non-English language. I sort of understand where he was coming from, especially since he didn’t grow up in a bilingual household. Even when I didn’t understand people talking in Tagalog or French or Korean, I could still understand the pleasure people got in being able to speak their native or inherited tongues. Not being able to understand what people are talking about can be frustrating sometimes, maybe even a little annoying, but it isn’t worth flying into a rage over.

Of course, sometimes this “secret” language is used for less than noble purposes—to make fun of people or to discuss what to do about a situation while the situation is occurring. The risk you run when trying to undertake a covert operation by speaking a language other than the common one (which, in most contexts I view, is English) is mistakenly assuming that the parties to be excluded actually are excluded. While you’re calling that person fat or ugly in ________ language, you may not realize that she actually understands ________ quite well.

There was one situation I encountered (in which I was the odd person out language-wise) where I enjoyed being left out. I was traveling Europe with a friend of mine, and we stayed with a French family she knew. The family, being French, spoke French fluently and also knew English functionally. My friend was American but spoke functional French. While at dinner, they would keep “checking” themselves when French slipped out and would make a point to speak in English for my sake. Their intentions were good, but I felt a little awkward, because I felt as if too much attention was being paid to me. Knowing that they were going out of their way to speak English prevented me from sinking into the background. Sometimes you want… not to be ignored, exactly, but to just be. I wanted to sit there and eat, have them ask me the occasional question in English, and listen to them all bantering in French, even though I didn’t know any French, but when I told them this, they just wrote it off as me being polite. We were fighting a politeness war, and I lost.

I haven’t had a chance to fully analyze this phenomenon, but I am intrigued by the ways—when left out of conversation linguistically—I react positively, negatively, or ambivalently, depending on the situation. Linguistic exclusion isn’t always good or always bad.


New trend: self-undertipping?

My wife and I ate out dinner tonight and an odd thing happened: the waitress tipped herself. That’s right. She filled out the credit card receipt herself. It’s just the two of us, mind you—we’re not a party of eight or more. And the weird thing is that she undertipped herself. The receipt was one of those that include recommended tips (telling you what 15% is, what 18% is, what 20% is, so you don’t have to do the calculations yourself), and she gave herself less than 15%. No, it wasn’t a round number. It was a completely mysterious tip.

The service wasn’t bad, actually. My wife and I were probably going to give her closer to 18%, but she chose to give herself 14%, so we just signed the receipt and gave her the self-induced under-tip. Weird. We’ve never experienced anything like that before.


It takes one black kettle and one black pot to tango

Ever since I was very young, I’ve been called stubborn by people I’ve argued with. I don’t really understand why. Stubborn to me means unwilling to change your mind even when you are rationally convinced of something. Otherwise, you just believe what you believe. And if these people calling me stubborn aren’t stubborn, why are they still arguing their points? Isn’t that a bit arrogant to believe that you are right, not stubborn, and obviously more rational; and that anyone who disagrees with you must be “just stubborn”?

Quite the contrary, when proven wrong, I am the first to admit it and say, “You know what? You’re right. You’ve convinced me.” I’m not perfect about this. Yes, I can be stubborn, but maybe only about 1% of the time that I’m accused of being so. I strive to be like Malcolm X, who believed strongly in whatever ideology he embraced at the moment and, when finally convinced he was wrong, would switch to a new ideology without fear of being called indecisive or fickle. I’m not quite there yet, but I don’t see the people who accuse me of being stubborn as being any less stubborn than I am. If they aren’t, we really shouldn’t be arguing any more, right? They’d have given up, and I would have “won.”

Over the years, of course, I’ve gotten far less argumentative. I’ve seen too many arguments end up with both parties just blowing steam and basically talking to themselves or seeing who can yell louder. Neither really wants to understand the other’s point of view or come to an agreement on anything. It’s really a mental exercise, a way for one “iron” to sharpen another. If you go into an argument thinking that’s what it’s for, you’ll be a happy arguer. If not, you’ll be very frustrated, because you’ll rarely win or lose.

When I think back to all the times I’ve significantly changed my outlook on life, it has almost always been out of my own curiosity and desire to read about others’ viewpoints. I can’t remember many times someone has actually argued me into a different stance, and I don’t believe I’m alone in this regard. This is one reason I write. If you write, you can be found by people willing to explore, people with open minds. If you argue, you immediately put people on the defensive.


Best Buy Service Scams

You know how Best Buy has these “service plans” that are some percentage of the actual price of the product? I guess if you buy these, they’ll replace your purchase in case anything goes wrong, and you get some kind of guarantee beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. Well, after my wife and I naively purchased a few of these years ago, we realized that they were not worth it. The money you save by not purchasing the “service plans” can be used to buy something else, and we have yet to have an electronic product last beyond the warranty and then suddenly malfunction.

What got a good laugh out of us yesterday was buying a phone for US$20 and being asked by the cashier whether we would want to buy a US$6 “service plan” for it or not. Seriously? Come on. It’s a $20 phone, and we’d pay a third of that cost to get a “service plan”? Service scam is more like it. Geez.

Life Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Assumptions get in the way of intimacy

I’m one of those people who is friendly with a lot of folks and close with only a few. There’s quite a simple explanation for this phenomenon, and I experienced an example of the reason just this past week.

I was in mixed gender company—one of the women assumed that I, as a man, wouldn’t care about what her wedding dress looked like; and one of the men assumed that I, as a man, would care about football. Neither asked if I cared about wedding dresses or football. Both just assumed that I would fall into stereotypes. (By the way, I do care a lot more about what someone’s wedding dress looks like than what’s going on in American football.)

As I’ve said in previous blog entries, I don’t appreciate being put into a box. I won’t fight to stay completely outside the box. And I won’t be kept completely inside the box. I will fight to be at all times in, out, and all around the box. I will fight to be the box if I have to.

Some people, who think they know me, try to put me completely outside the box. They think I am a total weirdo, that I do nothing normal and only weird or non-stereotypical things. These people know me no better than those who have just met me.

The people I am closest to—my wife, my best friends—are those who have bothered to really get to know me and haven’t assumed that I fit into a neat little sociological picture of what “most” men or Asian-Americans or Christians or feminists or [fill-in-the-blanks] are. They also know I am not the anti-stereotype either; I am a mixed bag. After all, aren’t we all? Who is completely “typical” or completely “atypical”?

The getting-to-know-me process usually takes several years, and I am grateful to those who have made the effort and been open-minded enough to appreciate my quirks… and the ways I am also conventional. I hope my efforts to do likewise have been equally successful.


Is passive-aggressiveness ever okay?

I get annoyed by people who are passive-aggressive. If you have a problem, deal with it explicitly or suck it up.

I’ve given a little thought as to where passive-aggressiveness comes from, though, which makes me wonder: Is passive-aggressiveness ever okay? Why are people passive-aggressive to begin with? Why can’t they just say what their problems are and voice their opinions or objections? Passive-aggressiveness comes, as far as I can tell, from fear of confrontation and the desire to avoid accountability. The benefits of passive-aggressiveness are two-fold. You are able to either keep in the good graces of everyone or at least appear to be in everyone’s good graces. You also cannot be called on your actions. If anyone confronts you, you can plead ignorance.

As an example. Let’s say you yelled at a co-worker in a moment of anger. Rather than the co-worker saying, “Hey, you really hurt me with what you said yesterday when you were yelling,” he just stops being as responsive to your email requests. He also objects to every idea you bring up in meetings when he never used to do that. By taking subtle actions to get back at you for yelling at him, he doesn’t have to confront you with his hurt, and if you say, “I think you’re reacting differently to me than before,” he can continue to act differently and deny it the whole time, “No. I just didn’t happen to agree with you at that meeting. Geez.”

This is, of course, annoying behavior, but it is possible that your co-worker isn’t trying to be annoying or devious. In this case, fear of confrontation may not be a general fear of any kind of confrontation. It may be a fear of confrontation with you. It may be that he doesn’t feel you’ll be receptive to a confrontation (that, in fact, the confrontation will make you angrier than before), or he may feel that you wouldn’t pay attention to a legitimately expressed complaint—in other words, you need to be noticeably inconvenienced in order to realize you might have done something wrong.

The real test of intentions is “the call.” If someone is being initially passive-aggressive, he may feel too timid to bring about a confrontation (either because you’re intimidating, or he is just afraid of confrontation in general), but if, after you bring up the subject, he continues to be passive-aggressive and pretends nothing is wrong, that’s just annoying and beyond justification.