The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: journalism

So many questions asked, no answer provided

Singapore bus death triggers riot

_71617840_020280696afp[1]

Photo credit AFP, taken from BBC News

Most people who have a connection to Singapore would probably have known that on the 9th December, 2013, a riot broke out. Initial reporting from Singapore media Channel News Asia reported on the incidence plus with an advisory to stay away from the scene, stating the number of participants (about 400) and whether there were casualties or not.

That is all very well, but I think as with any credible news medium, not only is reporting what happened sufficient, but some sort of investigative journalism as to why the riot happened is required, isn’t it? Even as things have died down, there is scarcely any definitive work as to the cause of the unrest. Soon, alternative news sources began filling in the gaps where state media had failed to furnish what the people wanted to know.

People on Reddit provided a time breakdown of the chain of events, as did some blogs, although their sources referenced each other. Of course, vitriol against the prevailing ruling party started pouring in on these threads, drowning out possible discussion as to why the riot started.

The Real Singapore, another alternative news source, started editorialising, which in itself isn’t too bad, but TRS having a streak of being anti-PAP, their contribution was a rehash of a populist anti-immigrant stance that disenfranchised Singaporeans had with the PAP’s lax immigration policies. I quote:

On the surface, this could easily be put down to the foreign workers being more rowdy and less law-abiding than Singaporeans but in reality everyone has a boiling point and people are not naturally very violent or blood-thirsty.

The big difference might be that we are taught from young to be fearful of the government and listen to authority.
When foreign workers come to Singapore, they do not have the same “training” and can become more rowdy more easily.
This is particularly a problem when the government brings these FTs (FT: “Foreign Talent”/i.e. immigrant workers) here in large numbers and they bring with them their values and cultures and do not learn from Singaporeans how they should act here.
Last night, this was clearly a problem with a large, rowdy riot breaking out.
Many netizens commented that the photos and videos looked like they were not taken in Singapore and further raised concerns that if this is happening, it is not a far stretch to say that other problems such as higher crime rates and more occurrences of rape might be happening soon too.

Effectively turning the discussion into a “These foreigners are not as well-trained/subservient (double jab at 0our over-policing AND at lacking discipline standards of those overseas?) us, and hence are prone to violence and lustful acts.” The author further adds:

These people must have been stressed out and otherwise frustrated with their lives to so eagerly break out in a huge riot.
This could be due to work-related factors such as long work hours, low pay, no welfare and other forms of exploitation from their bosses. Singapore has many reported cases of foreign worker exploitation so this is really not an unrealistic possibility.
Singapore has no effective workers’ unions and so workers’ complaints and concerns are very rarely heard.
When people are oppressed in such a way with no way to vent their frustration or get recourse, they will eventually boil over. All their frustration and stress is like fuel awaiting a spark to ignite the flame. Perhaps this is what happened yesterday evening.

That still does not shed any more light as to how whatever transpired that night, merely speculation that unfair work conditions and pent-up frustration formed the powder; how, then, was the accident the spark that ignited the riot?

Rather than we all just sit here twiddling thumbs, throwing blind guess, why isn’t anyone interviewing the rioters? Surely the rioters would know best why they were rioting? Without any actual word from those involved, all these theories require a leap of logic from “overworked, unpaid, labourers” to “bus accident killing a fellow national leads to a riot.”

Someone should be asking these questions, to the rioters and by-standers:

  • Did you witness the accident?
  • If yes, what did you witness? How did the accident happen?
  • Did the deceased seem intoxicated? Was the bus driver driving recklessly?
  • Who was the first person who discovered the accident?
  • How did the crowd of Indian nationals gather at scene? Did someone call upon them?
  • Did anyone else other than the Indian nationals gather at the scene?
  • If he called upon the others to gather, why did he do that?
  • Who called for the ambulance/police?
  • What happened while people were waiting for the ambulance/police? Was there a crowd by the time they arrived?
  • How did the police handle the situation? What words were exchanged? Did they physically move people around?
  • Who started the fire? Why did he start it? At what juncture did the smashing and torching start?
  • What were being yelled during the riot?

I’m sure there are a lot more questions that can be asked, all of which would answer a lot more questions than the “coverage” we’ve received so far.

Understanding what the “God particle” isn’t

Particle tracks from a proton collision, image credits LiveScience

News of the Higgs boson came out a long time ago, and has been nicknamed by the media as the “God particle” as an accessible way of understanding what the particle is, much to the chagrin of many scientists. It has also been touted as the particle responsible for giving things mass.

Frankly, I didn’t quite understand it back then. Thus I sought to read up on it, and I learnt many surprising things about how it worked, and how many of the things the media said it did were untrue.

I stumbled upon the blog of theoretical physicist Matt Strassler, who tries to explain big science as painlessly as possible. His article, The Higgs FAQ 2.0, was immensely helpful in parsing out what the discovery of the Higgs boson really means and what the media touts it to be.

  • First and foremost: scientists aren’t particularly interested in studying the Higgs boson (particle). What they are really interested in is the Higgs field, which the discovery of the Higgs boson can help confirm that the field at least exists.

The media has been touting how the discovery of the particle will explain the building blocks of life and how matter come to be, but that really isn’t true. It isn’t the Higgs boson that gives mass to other particles, but the interaction of the other particles with the Higgs field itself.

  • What is the Higgs field then? The Higgs field is something that’s everywhere, measurable, and can be what’s called “zero” or “non-zero” on average. If it’s “non-zero,” it can have tangible physical effects on our world.

What’s so important about this is that because the Higgs field is non-zero in the universe, many particles have mass, including the electron, quarks, among others. “If the Higgs field’s average value were zero, those particles would be mass-less or very light. That would be a disaster; atoms and atomic nuclei would disintegrate. Nothing like human beings, or the earth we live on, could exist without the Higgs field having a non-zero average value.” Strassler writes in his FAQ.

  • The Higgs boson has been hyped up, while what’s really important, the Higgs field, has been ignored by the media

Strassler writes,

On the one hand, finding the Higgs particle is the easiest (and perhaps only) way for physicists to learn about the Higgs field — which is what we really want. In that sense, finding the Higgs particle is the first big step toward the main goalunderstanding the properties of the Higgs field and why it has a non-zero average value.

On the other hand, our modern media world insists on generating hype. And since explaining the Higgs field and its role and its relation to the Higgs particle takes too long for a typical news report or interview, journalists, and people talking to them, typically cut the story short. So the Higgs particle gets all the attention, while the poor Higgs field labors in obscurity, protecting the universe from catastrophe but getting none of its deserved credit…

  • The many simple explanations of how particles, such as electrons, gain mass by moving through the Higgs field is wrong.

Strassler writes,

And so a particle’s mass is the same no matter what it is doing — stationary relative to you or moving relative to you. And that’s important, because a particle is always stationary relative to itself! so it always, from its own point of view, should have the same mass.

Analogies which refer to the particle’s mass as having something to do with the field being like molasses, or a room full of people, are problematic analogies because they make it seem as though a particle must be moving in order to feel the effect of Higgs field, whereas in fact that is not the case.

I started by looking at those analogies, but the one below explains it the best, even though it still has to use the analogy of “moving through it” to achieve the idea of achieving mass.

 

I would say a more accurate analogy might be: There is a room full of magical fat that coalesces onto people who exists in the room. A person X exists in this space, and he coalesces a light amount of magic weight on from the air; he can move around lightly. A person Y also exists in this space, and in his existence, he coalesces a lot weight on him; he moves around less lightly. A person Z exists in this space, but he is special and coalesces no magical fat on him at all, and he is able to zip about at speeds unthinkable to X and Y. The encumbering of the coalesced magical fat on the persons are the given mass. Thus, X has less mass than Y, and Z, akin to the speed of light, and having no magical, cumbersome fat on him at all, is mass-less.

  • The Higgs field is not the universal giver of mass

Strassler writes,

…the Higgs field is not the universal giver of mass to things in the universe: not to ordinary atomic matter, not to dark matter, not to black holes. To most known fundamental particles, yes — and it is crucial in ensuring that atoms exist at all. But there would be just as much interesting gravitational physics going on in the universe if there were no Higgs field. There just wouldn’t be any atoms, or any people to study them.

He wrote in another post, titled “Does the Higgs Field Give the Higgs Particle Its Mass, or Not?

  1. The Higgs field does not give an atomic nucleus all of its mass, and since the nucleus is the vast majority of the mass of an atom, that means it does not provide all of the mass of ordinary matter.
  2. Black holes appear at the centers of galaxies, and they appear to be crucial to galaxy formation; but the Higgs field does not provide all of a black hole’s mass. In fact the Higgs field’s contribution to a black hole’s mass can even be zero, because black holes can in principle be formed from massless objects, such as photons.
  3. There is no reason to think that dark matter, which appears to make up the majority of the masses of galaxies and indeed of all matter in the universe, is made from particles that get all of their mass from the Higgs field.
  4. The Higgs field, though it provides the mass for all other known particles with masses, does not provide the Higgs particle with its mass.

That post becomes hard to understand further down the line, as Strassler uses mathematical equations to demonstrate how even if the Higgs field became zero on average instead of being non-zero, while electrons, quarks, neutrinos and W and Z particles, which are dependent on the Higgs field for their mass, would then become massless, Higgs particles still have mass, indicating that their mass must come from a different source, other than the Higgs field.

In all, understanding scientific breakthroughs is hard, especially when the media, in its bid to make it accessible to the general public, obfuscates or places unnecessary emphasis on the wrong things. This actually impedes the understanding of what’s actually important, and learning about how our world works.

“Quitting journalism”

In recent viral video news, Marina Shifrin, who worked as a content editor at Next Media Animation, Taiwanese news animation company responsible for animated news hits such as US-Sino Currency Rap Battle or the one on US airport security body scans, quit her job with a bang, by releasing the above-embedded video.

Shifrin also wrote a post on her blog about her departure, and how journalism is “dead” to her.

I dropped everything for work. I spent hours in the office perfecting my headlines, my voice overs, my stories. But as the workload increased, I found I could no longer keep up. I tried. I came in earlier, I stayed later, I worked on weekends. Scared I wasn’t pulling my weight, I went to my boss and told him how I felt.

“Make deadlines, not art,” was his response.

After I admitted that I could not hit the deadlines needed to put out our long-form, satirical news pieces, I was moved to our serious stories. Guess what I figured out? Journalism is the worst! I mean if you’re not reporting about which Kardashian is pregnant, then you’re reporting about a baby that was shot in the head.

I understand Shifrin’s frustration with writing what she calls “fluff” pieces — after all I once tried writing for Buzzfeed, and it was the most excruciating animated-gif-laden piece I’ve ever produced, and was not proud of it when it was finished. However, what I don’t get is if she can’t keep up with journalism deadlines, where news is produced every day, what was she expecting journalism to be when she decided to embark on that journey in college? Was she not expecting a breakneck pace of work?

J-school tends to give the impression that people have the luxury of time to slowly craft and follow a story, but at least through internships and having to produce content daily, journalism students should know that a lot is expected of them in the span of a day. Shifrin’s beef with her boss’s rather reasonable expectations of her to make deadlines is rather unfounded.

Also, did she not know what she was getting into when she entered Next Media Animation? Perhaps she did, and thought she could outlast the content NMA produces. But she calls having found NMA “different.”

It was for an animation company where I was free to make jokes and put my personality into my writing. I loved it! I found the perfect combination between comedy and journalism. I was having my cake, eating it AND going in for seconds.

She apparently knew what she was getting into, and the whole “NMA produces only fluff” stand seems rather dubious at best.

Her quitting has attracted coverage from quite a few major sites: Wall Street Journal sees her dramatic exit as the product of Millennials’ cynicism, Huffington Post sees it as internet win, and Gawker merely touts it as a young person unable to news aggregation and quitting.

From a Singapore popular opinions site, The Real Singapore has also picked up on the story and wrote their own scathing take on Shifrin’s resignation. They called it a quitting in the “most narcissistic, viral way possible.” They also wrote:

This is the big villain of Shifrin’s piece, the boss who wanted her to hit “deadlines” instead of crafting the “art” of her journalism. Well guess what? Journalism isn’t art.

This is why there is no respectable journalism in Singapore; even sites such as The Real Singapore, which purports to deliver news and journalism as an alternative to the mainstream Singapore media, don’t even respect journalism themselves.

I’ve gone through school to study journalism and how to be a journalist, I want to be a journalist. But it is very easy for many to dismiss journalism as being art, or even fail to see how it can possibly be art. I don’t see how the connecting of the lives of others around the world in as succinct a piece as possible isn’t a form of art.

When Shifrin says she “quits journalism,” it really makes one wonder if she’s meant for journalism in the first place. Pursuing journalism has always been akin to some sort of willing self-debasement — one expects to lose time, friends, and relationships to journalism. But being a journalist is about despite knowing these and still staying on, because one really loves the news. That’s really why anyone would willing put themselves through such torture.

Surviving journalism is all about being in the right news sector.

Why I choose to do journalism

A friend had dinner with a business partner, and asked me to tag along. I did, and eventually we talked about what I do. I said, I am trying to do journalism, but have had no luck breaking into the field yet.

Inevitably the question of “Why would you want to do journalism?” came up.

Frequently in the past, I would say, “When I was in high school deciding what I wanted to do in college and after that, I sat down and thought about what I liked. I was good at writing, and I liked travelling, and putting the two together, I came to the conclusion of journalism.”

However, that seemed like I wasn’t really all that interested in journalism, and that I was merely treading a path borne out of reasoning from what I was good at, passion notwithstanding. That night, at the dinner, I surprised myself and when I found myself giving a different answer.

“Why did I choose to do journalism? As I did my internships in journalism, and having to do research and keep up with the news, I realise that I really do enjoy knowing things about the world and telling people about it; I guess that makes me a news junkie. Reading and finding information, piecing them together to unravel threads of a story and being able to tell people about it is exciting to me. Only in a career in journalism do I get to grow along with it, and work isn’t merely work but a daily opportunity to learn and grow, and that is ultimately very satisfying to me.”

In this time that I am still not employed in the journalism industry, I am still trying my darndest best to keep abreast of the news, and producing content on this platform, keeping verisimilitude that I am doing journalism, still.

Would it have been easier to fold, and throw in the cards and go back home? Certainly, but I didn’t spend four years in college pursuing journalism (and linguistics) in the United States learning about journalism and the free press, only to go back home in an environment without free press and a general freedom of speech and expression. I didn’t travel over 9000 miles to learn to question, and to find answers, only to go back to a system where reporters have to be wary of reporting the “wrong thing.”

I left to feed my hunger and passion — I’m certainly not going back to kill it.

Journalism is killing journalism

I am out of college, trying to enter the field of journalism. “Are you crazy?” my friends and peers tell me, “Journalism is dead!”

But who are the ones killing journalism?

Journalism isn’t solely dead because people are reading physical newspapers less and less — people go online for their sources of news. People still need the news, and all that is happening is that newspaper journalism is simply undergoing a transformation, not death.

It is the journalism industry itself that is killing itself by being unable to change simply because they’re not letting anyone new in.

Having spent nearly three months job-hunting for journalism jobs, all entry-level positions have a minimum requirement of three years of experience, and that they’re only looking to do experienced hires only. This locks out an entire generation of people with fresh ideas and enthusiasm who have not yet been tainted by the whole “journalism is dead” creed yet, but rather cycles around existing journalists who are even deadbeat about their own prospects.

Other industries in IT and finance constantly take in fresh hires and in its young blood, is able to reinvent itself and stay on top of changes.

Journalism tries to protect itself by holding on to its existing assets and shuns acquiring new people, landing itself slowly into attrition and becoming irrelevant.

How can we make news accessible to the future generation? The easiest way to that answer would be to ask people in that generation, wouldn’t it?

Of course, it is easy to say that as much as papers want to hire, they are unable to because of finances. Well if they keep up in this way, eventually they will go the way of the Boston Globe, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune; sold off to people who are less interested in producing journalism than in serving their own financial interests.

So for the sake of the future of journalism, start hiring already.

The forgotten news

Today, we have two headlines from Asia:

North Korean Defectors Tell U.N. Panel of Prison Camp Abuses

Tank Has Leaked Tons of Contaminated Water at Japan Nuclear Site

When was the last time the news talked about either North Korea or of the Fukushima nuclear plants? After the buzz over Kim Jong Un succession and vague threats made died down, after the outcries at the displacement of citizens and the following nuclear contamination have but settled, what now? No one pays attention to these countries any more, because these stories are not shared around on the internet as much as they were when the events freshly happened.

That is the way the news work, I suppose. It is as much the news creating what the readers want to read as it is the news telling readers what to read.

It makes one wonder what is the point of being up-to-date with global news unless one was directly affected by it, or has vested in it. What is the point of me being aware that the Fukushima debacle isn’t yet resolved, and that Kim Jong Un, while no longer relevant to the current interest of the American public, represents a continuation of a long history of human rights abuses?

Other than the self-satisfaction of knowing that I know what’s happening around the world, what’s the value of that knowledge? Conversation fodder? Surely the news must be worth more than that.

I think being involved in world news is part of what being a global citizen is about — that we’re connected, and that as humans we care for each other, no matter how remote.

To be driven to despair

Job seeker, 21, with 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs, kills herself after she was rejected for 200 jobs

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1267953/Job-seeker-Vicky-Harrison-commits-suicide-rejected-200-jobs.html#ixzz2bABkpoVL

After being unemployed for two years, and after over unsuccessful job application, 21-year-old Vicki Harrison kills herself. I read this today and I felt immeasurable sadness for her family, and empathy for her situation. While I have not been unemployed for two years, there are times when my mind have wandered into the similar regions of despair, self-loathing and frustration.

Every day gained is an extra day lost.

Time is ticking out for me; I’m currently on a visa that gives me a year’s grace to be employed in my field of study. A sixth of it has gone. Unlike Harrison, I don’t have two years.

Today, I bumped into the unemployed friend of mine on my way to circus. He told me that in the two years since he graduated from college, he has been unemployed for a total of 15 months when all his unemployment periods are added up. That’s more than a year, more than half of how long he has since graduated. It did not hearten me to hear that he could have been unemployed for that amount of time.

What if it happens to me? What if my year runs out and I still have yet to find a job?

The problem with being college-educated and being told that you’re good at what you do only sets you up higher for a bigger fall. Harrison has 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs. I have 3 A-levels and 9 or 10 GCSEs, and a college degree. But these alone do not get you a job. Jobs these days want a minimum of “3-4 years work experience” for junior, associate or entry-level positions. Well, what are fresh-graduates supposed to do to get this magical work experience for entry-level jobs that are supposed to help them get experience? What’s the level below entry-level where graduates can glean experience from then? Friends have told me that internship experience counts, but I can scarcely imagine a hirer choosing a fresh-graduate with only internship experience over someone who has actual work experience from a time when entry-level was really meant for people to enter into the industry.

I wonder how long I can hold out before my font of optimism snuffs out?

Le regard neuf de l’enfant sauve même les trottoirs de l’usure

enfantThe fresh perspectives of a child will save even the sidewalk from attrition — Romain Gary

I learnt this phrase from a friend from France who turned up at my weekly circus. We talked about haiku and I mentioned about the naive perspectives of children being one of the most beautiful things about it, and he told me about this quote. I found it poignant and decide to illustrate it.

Every day I wake up less and less sure of myself — I open my email inbox with my breath held, expecting to be disappointed. Expectations were met. No response from any of the jobs I have applied at.

Every time I write I become less and less sure of my ability — I used to think that being capable got you places, and I was sure that I was pretty capable. Now am I less confident that that is the case, or that maybe I’m not that capable after all.

And then I realise that perhaps what I need is a fresh perspective to stop this attrition of the self and of the mind. I left college with a font of hope and optimism, and thought that sufficient to last me till I transition into the next phase of my life; where I start working. I guess I did not consider that this transition might take longer than I expected, and hoping to merely brave this foray with what I had would not be sufficient.

I will need to renew my view on how I take each day that does not bring me the news I so fervently wish.

Sorrowful Rice 黯然销魂饭

Sorrowful rice

I tried making my own char siew, or Chinese barbecue roast pork, for the first time today. People usually buy them because nobody owns a spit and a fire pit, but I learnt that you can actually cook it in the oven, and char it on the stove top!

Given that I now have a batch of char siew, a natural dish to make with it would be what is known as “Sorrowful Rice” or 黯然销魂饭. The dish is essentially regular ol’ char siew rice, or char siew over steamed white rice, with a side of a sunny-side up and some vegetables.

“Sorrowful Rice” is actually the name of a dish from a movie, God of Cookery (食神).

In it, the protagonist Stephen Chow competes in a competition and strives to create the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. He reaches into his sorrow and memory of a woman, who made him a bowl of char siew rice when he was downtrodden, and she supposedly took a bullet for him. With that, he created the “Sorrowful Rice.”

The sorrow is apparently onions.

I reach into my sorrow and create my own “Sorrowful Rice.”


Grandma, you never got to see me graduate college. You never even got to see me off as I left for New York later that year. You never got to see me do the ‘triumphant return.’ I have yet to return, and it seems I am becoming quite the prodigal son. Will you still be proud of me, even if I am struggling to make something of myself and having racked up a colossal collegiate debt?

What will you say, if you learn that I do not wish to return to the land where you are buried?

On 28th May, 2009, at around 5 AM, you passed away in the hospital. I remember, because I wrote it down.

I also wrote down having heard you cry when Great Grandmother died. It was really painful.

A grandson should never live to see his grandmother cry. Or any old people cry.

I wrote that down in my logs. In my mind, it seemed impossible that you were one to sob uncontrollably, for you were my stoic grandmother; frustrating at times, but always well-meaning and grandmotherly.

I also remember, and wrote down when your youngest son, my uncle, passed away. By traditions and customs, you were not allowed to attend his wake. I can only imagine what grief it must be — grief I didn’t want to imagine, because I remembered the grief you had at Great Grandmother’s funeral.

Many times whenever I am doing something, I would think, “What if she could see me now?” And then I remembered that you can’t, and I am reminded of the finality of death.


Uncle (叔叔), I wrote down what you told me when I visited you on 12th April, 2008.

The first few things he said to me were, “Is the army stressful?” and then he went on about how I should learn to take things easy and learn how to let things go. However I feel that it was more for the benefit of himself, as if he were repeating these to remind himself exactly what he has to do.

But he seems ailing in his road to recovery. He doesn’t wish to pick himself up, saying how exhausted he is and all, and all he does is lie in bed. He doesn’t move much, not even to leave the room or to sit on a sofa. That is bad.

Hope he perks up soon? I’ve even offered going out with him for photography as bribes.

What I did not write down, but I always remember was when you asked me that day, “So what are your plans for college?”

“I’m probably going to apply for college in the United States,” I said.

“That’s nice. What are you going to be studying there?” he asked.

“Journalism.”

“Journalism? That’s good. I wanted to be a journalist too when I was younger, but I never studied hard, and I couldn’t be one. You should study hard and become one for me.”

You passed away a week later.

I graduated journalism school, but I have yet to find a job in journalism. I am going to keep trying, uncle. With the memories of that robot dinosaur you gave me as a kid, and also that toy guy that you disabled the recoil feature for because it scared me, I will become the journalist you couldn’t be. I could not keep the promise to go do photography with you, but I will try my darndest best with this one.


I should ease up with the onions. This is too much sorrow for me.

Graduation: We did it! What is ‘it’?

About a month and a half ago, I graduated with my bachelors from New York University. It was a pretty grand affair. The Yankee Stadium was awash with a sea of purple and camera flashes, and while a sizeable portion of the student body was not impressed that their commencement speaker was David Boies, the lawyer who got Prop 8 overturned, I thought it was pretty rad.

However, I just could not muster up the enthusiasm to enjoy the ceremony. Around me, friends were congratulating each other, high-fiving, taking pictures of themselves in graduation regalia.

diditI just didn’t feel it. People were telling each other, “We did it!” But, what is it about “it” that we did that is so worth congratulating?

Perhaps I was reluctant to be ending a period in my life where I didn’t have to worry about finding jobs and entering the “real world?” Perhaps I was unhappy to be leaving friends I’ve made in my four years?

No, not really. University for me has always been a gateway for me to enter the world of journalism. I practically entered college with my major declared. No fudging around classes, wondering what life was going to be for me when I left college — no, I did college for what lies after. I was eager to start my foray into professional journalism. And no, while I had a handful of friends at college, my closest friends in the city were mostly outside of college (circus, online communities, etc), and the close friends I made in college are still in the city anyway. Also, it is not as if I am one to bemoan having to leave people behind; after all I am not stranger to uprooting myself. I left a lifetime of friends and family 9000 miles behind to be here.

What I was not enthused about was of the zeitgeist of “We did it!” What was particularly hard about college that surviving it made it an ordeal worth congratulating? A student who puts in conscientious and regular effort into his or her school work will find that making it to graduation is not that big a deal. Perhaps we now live in a culture where “keeping up the good work” has become a rarity and that one who displays it should be congratulated.

Or perhaps I grew up in a culture where such things are expected of you. Insert Asian stereotypes here, but verily making it to the finishing line doesn’t turn heads, doesn’t make eyelids bat. Distinctions do. I was not a spectacular student, and I even lapsed at school work at times, but I can say that I consistently put in effort in college, and I came out okay. I didn’t graduate with Latin honours, but my grades were not abysmal (3.5 out of a 4? I’ll take it.). I am sure if I put in more effort, I’d have gotten better grades and all that but that is no more than a numbers’ chase.

One’s path in college, no matter the classes taken, is predictable. One is expected to put in a certain amount of work into it, and at the end of the day, you come out unscathed and meeting expectations. Do we congratulate people for meeting expectations? Maybe we do, but people at graduation make it out to be such a big deal it is as if people enter college with the expectations that they are all going to flunk out, and that having made it to graduation actually is exceeding expectations.

Why would anyone want to enter college expecting to fail anyway?

What I would say “We did it!” to would be more of the unexpected things one does in college; things that a student endeavours at his or her own risk with no idea what the outcome would be. Things I would celebrate are:

  • Having started a community of my own, the NYU Violet Circus Arts
  • Making the effort to immerse myself in the local cultures, such as having performed at the Howl! Festival
  • Learning to extend myself in ways I’d never have done back home, such as forming friendships online, etc

The common denominator of the above seem to be about forging and integrating into communities, and they don’t seem like much, but these are things that were quite unknown to me back home. Going to gaming meetups from Reddit groups? Would never even have touched Reddit back home. Talking to random poi spinners in the park and subsequently being introduced to the local scene of fire spinning and circus arts? People scarcely even publicly practice circus arts, and that’s not to say that there are very many.

In comparison, having done these as a student was above and beyond what I felt was expected of me as a student. The true growth came not understanding of linguistics and journalism in the classrooms, but from what I made myself do outside of them.