Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cast-outs or the chosen ones

I always think that people choose to come to the US because they believe what this country stands for. But I was reading George Carlin's "Brain Dropping" and realized that you can look at this another way: that we're all cast-outs from other countries. We can't fit into where we were born. We choose to leave because we can't stay with our own people any more! I think both reasons are plausible and probably both are true. Of course the synergy of these cast-outs is amazing, so maybe it's not too bad to be not conformed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independence day

Last Saturday I went out for a walk like I always do after dinner. Just watched the national celebration at the Mall on TV, I didn't expect much for the lakefront of Chicago because Chicago has its Independence Day firework on 7/3, a smart move to avoid conflict with the much bigger firework extravaganza in the nation's capital. But much to my delight and surprise, fireworks were being displayed all along the lakefront on 7/4! I reckoned it might be the Aldermen who organized it. There was no public announcement. People just knew and they gathered, with blankets and beach chairs. The lakefront was flooded with people but it was not as congested as the area close to Navy Pier on the previous firework night. I realized that was the first time I spent 7/4 in a big American city.

The funny thing I've noticed was that so many people who were out there enjoying the celebration were speaking a foreign language. It's amazing how many immigrants are in this big city. I bet half of the people can't sing the American National Anthem (like me!).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The conspiracy of Green card

This month the priority date of EB2 green card application has fallen back to 2000. I am in this category and that means I will need to wait another 8 years according to the current processing speed. My H1B will be extended next year for another 3 years so I won't be worried about my staying just yet. But what about after that? I've heard that the longest time a person can hold H1B status is 9 years. By then, I will still be waiting for my green card! This is happening to thousands of people who were educated in the US, often obtained an advance degree, and want to stay here. Probably most of us will have to leave after working for this country for 9 years due to the visa situation.

This is brilliant, from the government point of view. First of all, the most productive time of these highly educated people is used by the US enterprises, creating billions of profits for them and equally large amount of tax revenue for local governments. Then, if these people can't stay, their social security benefits won't need to be paid in the future. In the long run, when these people go back to their own country, they will bring with them the American ideology and business ties. It's a no lose situation for this country! Squeeze the hell of them and kick them out, great capitalism.

But how about those illegal immigrants? Sure it looks like this country needs more low-skilled labor more than the better educated crowd (except the cream of the crop, who can apply for EB1 without a waiting period). Every one should start pumping out American citizens so we can stay here, I guess.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Banana Effect

Chinese call those who have yellow skin but westernized minds "banana". Am I also a banana? I started to listen to western music since I was 10, before I could even speak more than 10 English sentences. But isn't it too restricted to label a person? Who can tell what is strictly western or eastern? There are people everywhere thinking differently, regardless of skin colors, age, or gender. People also grow and mature, change every day. Nobody thinks the same forever.

Well, I guess this perception of conformity of minds is quite "Eastern"!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Glass Ceiling?

I haven't got to the top of management so I haven't really encountered the "glass ceiling" issue that many immigrants complain about. However, I do feel frustrated from time to time when fighting with the stereotyping of immigrant. Somehow some Americans just automatically assume that as a foreigner you are not as competent as an American. Of course, there is the language barrier. I still learn new English words every day, probably will never speak as well as a native born. Just as a stutter will not earn much respect, neither will a foreigner who is trying hard to communicate in a very different language.

As an immigrant from a developing country, I can't help but being very sensitive about other people's respect, sometimes even over sensitive about it. But if I am comparing myself with my colleagues, race is inevitably an issue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The great pretender

Today two Tibetans got on the train I was on. One of them wore the traditional Tibetan costume so one could not mistaken where they were from. They sat right before me. I immediately felt a bit nervous. Would they recognize my Chinese face? They looked so attached to their tradition, like the Northern Africans living in my neighborhood who still wear sandles and dresses in the bitter winter of Chicago. Would they try to start a debate with me?

Of course they didn't. The old man just took off his shoes right after he sat down and put his feet on the chair. That was so Asian. It seems that in a place so crowded, people have to treat public space like private space. Only Chinese waiters and cooks will eat in front of their customers. That was the first time I saw anybody in the States put their feet up in public. Interesting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tour of a Lifetime

I subscribed to the Traveler Magazine by National Geographic. I saw a picture accompanying the article about Machu Picchu, one of the 50 Tours of A Lifetime they concluded on the magazine cover. In this picture, a white female hiker is laughing in front of an old Peruian and his great-granddaughter who were both sitting in a bench. The man was 100 years old. The writer captioned: "The family is proud of his age." Neither the old man nor the baby seemed to be interested in the hiker or the camera.

Seemed innocent enough right? Well, when I saw the picture, I couldn't help but staring at the two big patches on the old man's pants.

Authentic traveling, indeed. How come I feel so sad then?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stripped for Freedom of Speech

I was reading the Chicago-commuter-free newspaper Redeye, AKA trash media source, on my way to work today. There was a column discussing the recent drama surrounding Miss California. I was surprised to see there wasn't even a second opinion! They just pretend they had. Both of the columnists despised Miss California. One stated she is an example of intolerance. Wait a minute! When did freedom of speech become "intolerance"? She was not afraid to say what she believes, good for her! There are a lot people don't eat pork in this country, should we also stop eating pork because we need to "tolerate" others' belief? This whole argument is so ridiculous. When it comes to one's preference, some people don't care about the basic rights of others. Selfish and stupid.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

10 Years of Punishment

Precisely because I am jumping through all the right hoops for my green card, I oppose changing the laws to let illegal immigrants get ahead of the legal ones. There is a story on NPR today about an American man's South American wife. She over stayed her visitor visa and was discovered by the USCIS. Apparently not knowing what that meant, she didn't realize that counts as an arrest and she needed to go to court to appeal. She was denied green card years later when she got married and tried to go through the legal channel. She was deported and not allowed to come back for 10 years. Amazingly, this didn't break the marriage, her husband goes down to see her and her kids every 3 months.

Don't want to sound insensitive here but she broke the law, as all the other illegal immigrants. If you over stayed your visa, knowing that your status is illegal, and don't even bother to find out how the law will punish you, maybe you shouldn't stay in this country. Because you don't respect the law. I understand people come here for opportunities, but if this country is overwhelmed by the lawless, then it won't provide equal opportunity to everyone anymore.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Yell at me please

Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers" mentioned that people from lower income or minority families tend to be less aggressive in a conflict and more submissive in front of authority. It's a lack of entitlement. I've witness that a lot. One time I was in the open computer lab, an Asian looking student was talking loud (without knowing because he had his earphones on), I have to admit it was a bit distracting but he didn't do it continuously. One older white woman seriously told him to shut up. But when I left, she was playing youtube videos on her computer and let the noise out too!

A couple of days ago, a young black mother and her daughter got on my train. The daughter was eating a candy bar, the wrapper fell on the ground. She was making faces to her mother, which showed that she obviously knew it was wrong to litter. A white woman behind them promptly asked the girl to pick the trash up and said sth more about don't litter. While I certainly hate littering, I didn't think I was in the position to educate other people's kids in front of them. Well, it might just be the Chinese in me.

Interesting, the mother didn't say a word the entire time. She seemed to be so indifferent to the situation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pets for Dinner

A friend of mine and I went to a mechanic owned by a Chinese. There was an aquarium in their office. I said it's a popular thing to have aquarium at home because water means "fortune". We like them to be flowing in like flowing water. There were koi in the tank and that reminded me of an accident a few years ago when the heater of my dad's aquarium malfunctioned and boiled all his koi alive. Since we knew how those poor thing died, we actually ate the fish...Nothing goes to waste! My friend was of course surprised to hear that. I proceeded to tell him that we used to keep pigeons for pets and when there were too many of them, we would eat them...

I think that scared him a bit, lol.

On our way back, he pointed out to the pigeons on the street: "Hey, DINNER!"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Funny Chinese Comedian

This guy is really brave and funny! He came from Rice University, made a very unusual career.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu & SARS

This morning the breaking news was that there is a suspected case of Swine flu in an elementary school in Chicago. It reminds me of SARS. I was in the center of that pandemic a few years ago. Guangzhou was close to Shenzhen, where the disease was originated, and had a lot of casualties. But unlike Beijing, our metropolitan area wasn't shut down. Southern Chinese just have a much pragmatic way of dealing with sufferings in life. I still needed to take the bus to go to work. Few people were wearing masks on the street. It seemed to me that after the first couple of weeks of panic, people just realized that life has to go on. Everybody dies, one way or the other. What is the use of being afraid all the time?

More importantly, it's the lesson we need to learn as a species. Those whom were infected with SARS and didn't die ended up being disabled the rest of their lives because their lungs were collapsed by the disease. It's their lives we need to care about, not the sensational death tolls.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Continent and New Allergy

There are a lot more allergy medicines on the American market and I was wondering why. First I thought Americans are a bunch of spoiled kids that complain about everything, even the slightest irritation in life. Come on! You can't be seriously allergic to water melons!

However, something must be quite potent on this continent. The second spring after being here, I started to have dry, itchy eyes, coughing, runny nose, stuffy throat, slight headache: all severe symptoms of allergy. I've caught the "Chinese immigrant disease": spring allergy.

Interesting thing is, I was perfectly fine the first year. When you think you should have been assimilated to the surroundings, bang! This irritating thing hits you out of the blue. I still don't understand why there is a delay in the reaction.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Helping Others and Felt Stupid

A few months ago I was buying breakfast at a McDonald's at O'Hare Airport. A Chinese man, who spoke no English at all, was trying to buy a hamburg. Seriously, he couldn't even say "hamburg", he said "han bao" in Chinese! The cashier seemed to be quite experienced with international travelers so he just brought out a menu with pictures. Of course, this man didn't know there were so many different "han bao" in the US. So being the good Samaritan, I tried to help, talked to the cashier to help him make the order while talking to him in Mandarin.

This man didn't look at me at all the entire time, nor did he talk to me directly, let alone saying "thanks". He's got his food and went back to his table, where a couple of same mid-age Chinese men were sitting, without food.

I don't know if he felt "losing face" because a young Chinese woman helped him, or he was used to have others' service, or he was just not used to express appreciations like many Chinese, whatever reasons, I felt really stupid for helping this stranger. Well, it turned out that I didn't stop helping wandering Chinese tourists later, but I was deeply saddened by this incident.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunny! Better carry my umbrella!

This is the first real hot day in Chicago (80F) this year. It was very sunny and I saw a lady holding an umbrella walked down the street. Hey, that must be a new immigrant from Southern Asia! People here rather put chemicals on their skin than holding an umbrella to protect them from ultraviolet. They even think getting artificially tanned is normal. It takes a lot of courage to hold up that umbrella and insist on the Asian aesthetics: pale skin is beautiful.
I have mixed feeling about this: I love the diversity of aesthetics in this new country. But people are still conforming to a certain set of standards.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watching Hometimes so I could be a good immigrant

My boss was chatting with me one day: "You know, over 70% immigrants are doing hard-labor jobs in the States, such as construction and farming. No Americans wants to do those things anymore. That is really a problem".

I smiled and replied: "Oh yeah, that is why I am watching Hometimes DVD at night so I could be prepared for that."

There are less than 1% of the populations have a PhD, the same applies to immigrants.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Not a Penny Less

While walking with my American friends, I am always amused by our encounters with the pan-handlers on the streets of Chicago. The beggars never ask me for money, they usually bother my friends. One of my white male friends was very pissed about it when he realized that I can just walk on by while he will be stopped every time. He actually yelled at the beggar for not bothering me.

I reckon the assumptions that's critical to beggars survival are:

A. Chinese people can't understand what they were saying (slang or plain English).

B. Chinese people are poor and have no change.

C. Chinese people have money but they never give to the beggars anyway.

Oh yeah, I can pretend that I am all of the above.

While I am digging hard on this land of gold, your Americans citizens take my tax dollars without extending me the right to vote and threaten to throw me out if I lose my job. Now you want my sympathy too?

Hell no.

Stop holding my hands, I know how to do it!

Last weekend I was in a pottery shop for a friend's show. The shop owner (I assumed) kindly showed me how to use some of their salt & pepper shakers. Oh yeah, you've guessed it, that ain't no rocket science. I was just curious about their shapes (being a designer you see). After he demonstrated how to put salt into that little hole in the bottom of the shaker, he poured some out in my hand, and I rememebered that Chase commercial I've seen on TV: one is supposed to throw the salt over his/her shoulder. Trust me, I was about to do that when he firmly grabbed my wrist and "helped" me throw the salt in the "right way".

As always, I smiled and said "thanks" while deep down inside I was insulted. So what if I didn't do that? So what if I didn't throw the salt over the "right" shoulder and it will bring me bad luck? It's my own fate and it's of no concerns to him! OK, OK, here is the point: just because I am a Chinese woman, look much younger than I really am, and always smile at strangers, doesn't mean I am an idiot.

Welcome to Daily Immigrant Blog Site

I was at an interview dinner with a few of my colleagues a few days ago. One of my lovely, highly educated colleauges was talking about a book she has been working on. It was about the African American immigrant experience in the US. As the usual observer, I didn't say a word and was patiently waiting for her to take notice the fact that if she needs the firsthand data about race, identity, and everything comes with being an immigrant in the US, she could just ask me about my daily struggle. Well, I don't know if she was trying to avoid offending me, she didn't seem to raise any questions. Of course, being the non-typical Chinese, I started to talk about my visa situation, my fear of being kicked out of the country, etc. etc. That always seems to fascinate people who have no idea of that daily experience of being an immigrant.

Hey, I thought to myself, why can't I start a blog about it? I like to document this experience before I am completely "assimilated" into this society and it might someday become an interesting book. Someone needs to know the price we pay for working and living in this "free" country, of course, nothing is free, anywhere.

This is not a blog about "political correctness", warn you. But I promise you this will be an interesting journey.