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The Bitter Regrets of a Useless Chinese Daughter (nytimes.com)
487 points by bitcurious 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 297 comments

The harsh reality of 1st or 2nd generation Chinese is that while many of us went to the top universities and grew up with a modern, 1st world mindset, we can't escape the fact that our financial and family background is from the developing world, and we live in both worlds at once - our mindset is modern, but the issues and problems of the developing world are still very much things we have to deal with.

I first encountered this dichotomy at a young age, when I was invited to my friend's house. It was a mansion in Bel-aire. Then another friend - a beach house overlooking Santa Monica. I was too young to know at the time, but we lived with no savings in a small apartment, and eventually bought a modest house, but even then, our furniture was mix-mash, we did a lot of poor quality self repairs, and were extremely careful about spending. Our life was focused on frugality - I remember a lot of small things I found particular, like my mom would reuse the paper towels to clean the dishes, and our TV was older than me by 1 year - it was my mom's TV from college.

When I was in high school, I visited my grandparents back in Taiwan, and I vividly remember the experience, not in a good way. They used to be rich but gambled most of their wealth away, including most of their house. It left them with this pitiful structure, a corner skeleton of what was once a majestic courtyard house that had fallen into disrepair and was never modernized. The structure wasn't fully enclosed so you had to sleep in a mosquito net, and there was barely a modern kitchen and bathroom. Needless to say, I did not want to go back.

I eventually worked at a real estate company and got a chance to view many houses on the market in SoCal. One step into the house and you can immediately tell a lot about the family's background. I remember 2 houses distinctly - a rich Asian immigrant's house, and a rich Caucasian's house. The Caucasian's was filled with relics of community - pictures of their involvement on sports teams, pictures of grandparents leading town hall meetings - it felt like they were rooted into the city and were an integral part of the community there. In contrast, the Asian immigrant's house was filled with relics of achievement - the doctorate was posted on the wall, lots of trophies and awards for their kids. The imagery offers a lot of insight into family and community development lagging behind income development in immigrant families.

From developing world living conditions, to a small apartment, to a modest house, to seeing rich houses and mansions in Bel-aire - each of these provides me a snapshot of way more than just income. Beyond wealth, there is poverty of taste, standards, and expectations, family practices and emotional intelligence that define many Asian family backgrounds. Beating your kids is not the right way to raise them. Yelling louder is not the way to win an argument. Hiding your faults hurts your family more than it helps. Our parents came from humble, uneducated backgrounds, and modern society and the cultural values it instills - while a gift from them - is something they themselves lacked.

Interestingly enough, I have a lot of friends who feel a similar regret as this article implies. Our parents have done such a good job of creating a modern world environment for us that we don't see the developing world heritage until much later. What it means is that it is hard to understand the advice and mindset of our parents growing up, and only much later do we appreciate their perspective and effort - when it feels too late.

Your testimony reminds me of a kid I met in Mali. The guy was our guide, and he spoke 6 languages, including 4 local dialects, french and english. He had a cellphone and knew how to drive a 4x4.

He drove us to the desert, in a place at the north of Bamako known as the Dogon's country. There, he asked us if we were ok to take a detour by his parents village, and we agreed.

His parents were living with no electricity, using water from a well, in a small mud-made house. They slept among the goats and chickens.

It made me realized he had to live between those 2 worlds, and it felt so unreal.

When Asian parents says, don't get a literature degree, become a doctor, they have a good reason to say it.

It's not necessarily this bad in terms of standard of living (the above description would be subsistence levels, maybe less than 200$ a year), but the median household income in China is about $12-15k US a year compared to $56k in the US. And it's not that in China everything is cheaper so 12-15k goes a long way - no, they just live with less. Things that we take for granted, like insurance, available hospitals, quality goods, good customer service, safety of food & goods (a big one we don't even notice) - these are the result of a developed economy, and we definitely pay for it - we (as an economic whole) have the additional income to allow for these things to exist.

Even with a 10% GDP increase per year, it would take China another 15 years to get to US level standard of living. With a 5% GDP growth, it would take 30 years. These are just numbers to me (12k vs 50k living, I can see one is 4 times better!), but my parents know firsthand what the difference feels like and it makes their urgency much stronger.

For reference, I think my grandparents would be living on an equivalent of around $2-3000 a year based on what I know my mom gives them (and maybe other family members).

The term you are looking for is called Abundance.

A few days back I was discussing this with my friend who immigrated to the US and settled there. I'm an Indian. We were discussing how his wife and kids, who are Americans just do not understand his perspective of things from a living standards stand point. The thing is sometimes its impossible to erase the effect poverty has on you. When you go through tough times, your benchmarks to save and invest get set based on the worst times your life has seen.

And then that spills over to every purchase or life style decision you will ever make. Be it clothes to car or whatever.

In India I've seen people who have been born in well off families a generation early just fail to understand why the people who have just come out of lower middle class/poverty don't take vacations, or don't buy expensive sneakers or gadgets or even dine at good restaurants.

When I worked in the US, I used to be totally floored at the amount of opportunities and abundance of every thing the country had to offered. To me most of the complaints US citizens had looked like cry me a river themed whining. Eventually I realized every one just get seasoned to whatever they have and that sort of becomes their new reality over time.

Both my wife and I grew up quite poor (for US standards). We didn’t quite fit in at university and had a hard time relating to our peers who grew up with money (my wife’s parents encouraged her to not go to school but just stay and marry local).

We’re doing well for ourselves, but still don’t really fit in among our peers. We’ve coined a phrase for it: “your poverty is showing.”

It doesn’t matter how much I make: at the core I’m still a poor kid in a rich world. Which I’m fine with; it’s what gives me drive. But I do worry about my kids who are growing up like the rich kids I never liked...

My parents didn't have a lot of extra money for things, so I rarely asked for the moon. I only asked for things I thought they could provide. But when they couldn't (not enough $), they couldn't and that was how it was explained. "I know you want this, I want you to have it, but I can't." As a child that is disappointing but understandable.

For my children, when they ask for something I'm rarely not able to buy it for them. Instead of saying I can't, I have to say, "I won't" because, well...many reasons but mainly because kids shouldn't have every damn thing that catches their eye. But it is a harder case to make. I'm telling them it is in my power to give them what they ask, but I won't do it.

That is harder to do.

"We can't afford that" was the default phrase growing up. I didn't push back, but I also didn't really learn (so to speak). Every one of my siblings (myself included) followed a similar pattern: as soon as we started making money, we bought what we wanted (because we finally could). We were only really taught that "no" was because one couldn't, not because one shouldn't.

My social experiment with my own children is still very early, but we've taken to using the phrase, "we don't think that's worth our money." Typically followed with, "you can spend your own money on it if it's important enough to you." Cheap crappy plastic toys that they're going to forget about in a matter of hours? Not worth my money. Candy at the checkout line? You have a 50/50 chance of convincing me (see above; I'm still a sucker for candy).

The other side of this was growing up we bought the cheapest of everything. On one hand, I can't go to the grocery store without looking at per unit pricing (which is advantageous). On the other hand, I have a hard time choosing between more expensive quality and less expensive junk. Some things are worth spending the real money on (our tent that we bought from REI will last forever; the Coleman tent we bought early in our marriage lasted for one season). But in all honesty, I'm still learning which things fall into the "buy it right and you only buy it once" category.

And when we're invited to fancy dinner parties and eating fancy food, I can't help but think, "I wish they just had a stack of pepperoni pizzas..."

It's hard to hide one's poverty.

>My social experiment with my own children is still very early,

So I had a profound life lesson at around 7 or 8 years old. I had grown up near a corner store with a lot of nickel candies, so most of my weekly dollar allowance went to candy. I had learned how to optimize that dollar, how many laffy taffy, vs tootsie rolls, vs licorice, vs jolly rancher... so I knew how much satisfaction a dollar could buy. One day, we were going through a jack in the box drivethru and they had an ad for a stuffed Pinocchio for $5, and I begged my dad for it. He in turn said something to the effect of, "if I give you the $5 dollars would you still buy it?", and my mind immediately started thinking about all the things I could buy with $5. I could buy all the candy I could want, and still have some quarters left over for the stand up arcade games. Needless to say, I didn't really want the Pinocchio doll, certainly not for the price when it was my money.

Sadly, I have no idea how to reproduce this lesson with my daughter. She has so many people showering her with stuff, that she has no concept of how to maximize her utility with the money she has. And no one seems to keep the diverse array of cheap candy anywhere any more, which makes me kind of sad.

somehow this reminded me my father, we were pretty poor until my parents got divorced and necessity forced my father to be successful in his field, so nowadays he is living in opposite extreme despising cheap things even when it's not rational and difference between top notch product and cheap/budget it's negligible

he had new door installed including electronic peephole and I fail to understand single benefit of having camera instead of peephole -viewing angle it's worse, visibility in darkness it's worse, frame rate it's inferior and you have to occasionally charge the battery (it's really just cheap phone in different package with external camera), so he paid 5-10 times more for inferior but modern looking product. same could be said about his smart watch which cost like 4-5 times of my watch, but functionality it's pretty same, some even worse, especially battery life, he need to charge his watch every other day if he dare to use them, half of the time it's just more convenient to wear his old analog watch, while i wear mine 24/7 and charge battery once in 3-6 weeks and don't use my watch as some thing to show off

Western cuisine peaked with the pepperoni pizza. Anytime you serve it, it's always the first to go.

When I say that my parent's couldn't buy some certain things it kinda makes it sound like I had a deprived childhood or lived in want. There's a whole host of things that were always there: safe food, clean water, AC in summer, heat in winter, clothes fit me and were seasonally appropriate, proper footwear, lights always worked, dog always fed, an adequate public school, shelves of books, an Atari 2600, at least 1 bicycle, a freaking 3 bedroom house, two cars, an attic full of Christmas decorations, parents never beat me, neighbors that could be trusted. I could go on.

Writing all that out makes me wonder why even as I child I was bummed about not getting the Kenner Millenium Falcon or the GI Joe base.

I don't know if saying no just for the sake of it is the answer lol. My parents were similar to what you were describing and if I wanted something I would have to pay for it myself. Even when I was too young to work, I'd skip lunch in school just to save enough money to purchase the things I'd rarely get otherwise. In the long-term it's turned me into a fiscally responsible adult, but sometimes I think it's made me too frugal in the long run. It may just be the people I hang around who are on the irresponsible end of the fiscal spectrum, but it's always on my mind whether it's me or them.

I used to dislike "rich kids." What worked for me is to look inside and ask myself exactly why I don't like them.

It turns out that, at least for me, there isn't any valid reason. It boils down to me being upset at their 1) privilege, or 2) difference.

I was upset that they had privileges that I didn't. But was that their fault? Not really. We can't really fault individuals for having advantages in life---indeed, my intellect and work ethics are also things I were born with.

I was upset that they are different from me. Put into words, this sounds mean and petty, but that's really the root of much hate. They eat differently, wear differently, play differently. But being different is certainly not wrong! If I hate on rich kids for being different, that's just pure bigotry, no more no less.

So I try to judge "rick kids" just like I do everyone else. Do they treat others nicely? Do they elevate people around them? And despite the stereotype, I've found that many rich kids are just as nice. Indeed, I certainly plan to raise my kids, who are born wealthy, to grow up as nice people.

I'm not a parent so take this advice with a grain of salt but I think holding your kids accountable for their actions can go a long way.

Like if they break their phone you give them an old flip phone so they are still reachable but they have to earn money (mowing grass, do the chores...) to pay for a new one (even if paying them a new phone doesn't make a dent in your budget).

It's not the same.

My parents grew up very poor. We were comfortably middle class until my dad died while I was young. I helped my parent with bills from the time I was 18.

Even in me, you can see the difference that never going hungry makes vs my mother, who regularly went hungry growing up. And will still drive 45 minutes across town to save $2 on gas.

I’m all for frugality. But you wouldn’t pay $2 for the freedom to use those 45 minutes in some other way?

It is habit even if it isn’t the best choice.

"Habit" isn't even a strong enough word, as that implies it has a chance of changing. It's more like an outlook/heuristic that was formed in one environment, and now that environment has changed but there's no acceptance/reasoning about that change.

Sorry, I meant my mother. My writing was unclear.

But yeah, despite the fact that she'll never struggle to eat or pay rent or a mortgage, she remains incredibly savings obsessed.

Get a Costco gas membership friend

> It doesn’t matter how much I make: at the core I’m still a poor kid in a rich world.

Does this tend to bring destructive tendencies? I earn well over median income and have investments etc. I still live cheap enough to be self-sufficient on less than $12K a year (inclusive of rent). I am so scared of what's going to happen when it all ends that it keeps me up at night.

Edited -> $12K/year not month!

"I still live cheap enough to be self-sufficient on less than $12K a month "

Yea, well, I am so thrifty that my car costs less than a 2 million USD.

There's a mix of being over-cautious and buying all the things you were ever deprived. But really it means that I don't really fit in socially. Really the only people I tend to enjoy for long periods of time were others who came from a poor background but have found success.

Do you mean $12K a year?

Sorry I meant $12K a year!

In your opinion what do you think of the abundance? In my opinion this abundance is nice to be kept aside for tough days but should not be used/exposed on a day to day basis.

I too am an Indian and I see not only the well off but even the middle to lower middle class who look at the well off and set the standards based on them. So many of them buy so many useless stuff and waste a lot be it food or some other material things.

My earliest childhood memories are of the varied households we bounced around in because my mom couldn't keep the rent paid reliably after she threw my alcoholic father out. She remarried a Marine and that experience of poverty, along with the constant familial abusiveness, never directed at me but rather my mom, went away overnight, to be relived once a year when we took summer trips back.

Abundance to me is something you need to fight for in order to keep in your life. I'm the first one to notice and complain at my job when the team lunches start to go away under the pressure of meetings, the first one to start playing ping pong again when time pressures keep us from going.

The little abundances we have in life are to be managed, never vilified. There's an amazing soul food restaurant that's a little ways away, the portions are huge and the taste is so decadent. I'd go there every day almost if it was closer. I'd take half the food home or get less carb-heavy sides. But when I suggest going as a team there's just so much pushback.

Every time I find a new form of abundance I need to also find a way to integrate it into daily life, otherwise it goes away.

> Abundance to me is something you need to fight for in order to keep in your life.

> The little abundances we have in life are to be managed, never vilified.

This is true. In case of money too it has to be managed well. Otherwise it just goes away.

Well said and very true.

Very well put!

Related: Rich Kids Study English

"New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics."


Yes. The liberal arts are “the objects of study worthy of a free person” as opposed to a wage slave. The public university system was meant to make these aristocratic pursuits available to the masses. Until costs exploded, it worked.

Even if it was free, the ability of the non nobles to provide for themselves as they don't have a family to live off of is something they really should take into account when pursuing a degree. And one can always earn two degrees in 4 years, one for the aristocratic pursuits, one so that retirement is possible.

> Until costs exploded, it worked. What costs are you talking of, specifically? Moving manufacturing to lower wage countries has actually reduced costs of goods quite a lot, and productivity gains throughout the world have consequently increased wealth.

The real problem seems to be income inequality; whereas right after WW2 inequality was low, it has recently exploded with the implementation of reckless tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting down on essential social security nets.

Its a shame really: the US has its problems, but the American middle class has generally been a source of prosperity and stability, and it seems to be rapidly fading away.

Reminds me of the Paul Erdős quote: ”Hungary was a poor country - the natural sciences were harder to pursue because of cost, so the clever people went into mathematics.”

As opposed to doing a "soft" degree like a PPE which will lead to a much more financially rewarding /powerful job :-)

Reading the article give me the impression that the authors just didn't understand the UK class system when looking at who does what degree.

The article was American and focused somewhat on the Americas, although much of it could be generalized on other countries.

But what aspect of the UK class system in particular do you see as not fitting what was written?

> Even with a 10% GDP increase per year, it would take China another 15 years to get to US level standard of living

..as of now. Who's to say the US' standard of living won't fall in years to come? Certainly wealth inequality seems to be growing, if anything.

Without being too much of a prick, my dad grew up in a first world western country in a house with a dirt floor, had no power until after 1970, ate a diet of mostly potatoes a few months before they were due to be planted and 10 months since they were picked, slept with the cows because it was more comfortable than sleeping in a bed with the other male children, and ended up a comparatively wealthy amateur entomologist only because he got a free studentship and became a teacher. They used to store meat in a Coolgardie safe before they bought a kerosene fridge.

Anyone in a developed country has an insane level of wealth even compared to our parents, for the most part. I'm reading High Output Management right now, and it's basically the opposite of every strike and industrial action my parents found themselves in. There's an inherent tension between a stable life and a rich life that I find hard to resolve.

I dunno.

Lots of people from North Africa are leading this life too. North Africa is richer but the inequality is sometimes is surreal.

The countries' bad infrastructure and the lack of options to move to better countries (visas restrictions) give them no choice.

I was brought up in a middle-class+ family in France. We read what we needed and my parents lived a simple life.

I am now much better than them, financially. I still live a simple but comfortable life and my children somehow get infused with it (they have everything they need to the point that I never know what to get them for xmas).

I was very surprised when the 12 yo one told me one day "rich people are rich because they live a life of less welthy ones, and the less wealthy want to live a life of rich". He was referring to his friend whose parents have a hard time making the month buying him the latest iphone because his friend insisted on having the latrst one (while my son has a mid level phone he is genuinly happy with)

What do distinction do you make between "dialects" and other languages? I understand "dialect" to mean something like "one of several (usually regional) variants of a language", but that is only really meaningful when the language is referenced. Do you mean he spoke 4 local dialects of the same (unspecified) language, or of French or English? Both of these seem to be the wrong interpretation, since you count them as six languages in total.

What you both describe is large cultural division between survival values and self-expression values between two generations.

In quickly developing countries some people already live modern life but their parents come from very traditional valued society. What in the west is cultural division between grandparents and grandchildren can be division between parents and children.

Political scientist Ronald Inglehart (known for Inglehart-index and Inglehart–Welzel cultural map used in the World Values Survey) noticed the same difference between post-war generations and their parents. His book 'The Silent Revolution' (1977) was the first attempt to map these differences between generations and cultures.

I noticed similar cultural division after Soviet Union collapsed in 1992 and I made friends with Russians of my age who moved to Finland, I realized that they shared the same values as my parents (and I have old parents).

this is very good point about generational differences based on how fast it's country developing

when I compare household of my Chinese parents in law with my parents households it really seem like we skipped generation, because their household it's closer to my deceased grandma's household with few exceptions and same can be applied also about opinions and thinking even when i compare my wife with them and even she has to admit the have really old school opinions closer to generation of my grandma than my parents and these are quite educated urbanites which are almost middle class (and didn't object their daughter marrying foreigner it expecting some money from me as happened to many of my colleagues in China), not some poor uneducated farmers where the difference must be even starker

"Survival values" is just right, and key. I've lived this divide (1st gen Russian), and as a teenager could not comprehend why my parents constantly pressured me to study physics and maths, which did not come naturally to me, and why they did not see any value in my achievements in the humanities, or even recognise them as work at all.

As a young adult I understood that from their perspective, physics and maths was the most sure-fire way for Soviet Jews to gain a modicum of stability and security in a country whose industrial and military sectors were prestigious and financed above all else. But I still resented them for not truly internalising that they were raising their child in a different culture and a different economic reality.

As an adult, I eventually came to see how a life that started in Stalinist Russia had robbed my parents of the cultural and emotional intelligence that would have allowed them to empathise with a child growing up in such radically different circumstances. And how instead of those intelligences, there was an unsleeping instinct for survival and a permanent anxiety, knots that are just starting to show signs of loosening in what are probably the last years of their lives.

Except that math background still gets you work in the US. There is a reason why a lot of Russian immigrants that were born in the 60s are directors of departments in the US. You gotta give the USSR its due - it had the best education in the world for a bit.

The USSR also completely shut down the humanities. Generations without philosophy or sociology or anthropology or psychology, it impoverished the culture.

Grew up in USSR. We had a good deal of humanities in the school, it was just rather ideological though.

Thanks for sharing this, I have seen the same loosening in my own parents as well.

> "Beyond wealth, there is poverty of taste, standards, and expectations, family practices and emotional intelligence..."

This insightful post really hit home. I'm first-generation Russian, my parents arrived in NYC in the late 80s. The cultural and mental gaps between us are vast, it feels like we're from different planets. It's only in my 30s, with some emotional maturity and pointed study of history, that I'm starting to understand it, and what I'm starting to understand is very similar to what you wrote. That probably explains why, growing up in 90s NYC, I felt an easy and immediate camaraderie with first generation Chinese kids.

"Russian" diaspora living in NYC is quite different from the Soviet people who settled in the other parts of the US. Living in Brooklyn actually had caused a significant amount harm to the immigrants, ended up living there, because it sheltered them from the normal, mainstream American culture.

"Beyond wealth, there is poverty of taste, standards, and expectations, family practices and emotional intelligence..."

This is beautifully written, thanks for sharing your experience.

I don't think this story is particularly limited to immigrants. I remember that when my grandfather died, I didn't know about it for two months because I was studying abroad and my mother "didn't want to upset me". Our family has been living in the Americas since the 1600s.

Coming from a smaller Southern town that existed to produce textiles--none of which are produced in the US anymore--I grew up relatively poor and without guanxi or even any role models and mentors to advise me. Only in the past decade since leaving college and living in a large US city do I see the huge deficits in my understanding and network that such a background creates.

pff, only two months, my wife (Chinese, if it matters) just learned her grandfather passed away last summer year ago, because they didn't want to upset her when she was like 5 months pregnant and this was almost 90yo guy with health issues, so not much surprise there to upset anyone

as I pointed to her if they lie about such big thing how can you trust them even with smaller things where they would not hesitate to lie at all

> a modern, 1st world mindset,

Yours was a valuable testimony. Let me just comment on one aspect of the mindset bit. Class, as you noted, still very much exists, but modern day aristocrats don't expose themselves to snipers as they did two or three centuries ago. Instead we get celebrities and players and self-made rich critters out there to catch the limelight and flak. And family, the key base to aristocratic wealth and power, is played down as unnecessary, because a meritocratic system needs no more than individual prowess to succeed.

  Instead we get celebrities and players and self-made rich critters
  out there to catch the limelight and flak. And family, the key base
  to aristocratic wealth and power, is played down as unnecessary, 
  because a meritocratic system needs no more than individual prowess
  to succeed.
Terrific observation!

Although I think I get what you mean by this I'd love for you to expand on it. I'm sure you have dwelled as I have and arrived at some keen insights.

Also who or what did you mean by

  snipers as they did two or three centuries ago
Were aristocratic families the object of scorn back then? All the attention they received from society eventually led to bad stuff? Bad actors?

> Were aristocratic families the object of scorn back then? All the attention they received from society eventually led to bad stuff? Bad actors?

Not scorn, but definitely resentment. Worst case for that aristocracy was... the french revolution ;)

French revolution was more of a bad case scenario, I think the Russian revolution was more of a worst case.

If you look at XIX century sources, you'll see there were groups whose idea of fostering human progress was to terrorize the ruling class, mostly by piecemeal killing of its members with guns and bombs.

Can you suggest a piece of writing that specifically delves into this? Even if not a whole book but a chapter somewhere?

I'd suggest giving a look to the Wikipedia articles on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narodnaya_Volya and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_terrorism.

Chesterton wrote The Man who was Thursday (1908) spoofing the policial mindset about anarchist plots that was pervasive at the turn of the century. If you search for "XIX century novels about terrorism" you'll find more material.

You speak so eloquently of Chinese diasporic issues. Being Chinese American myself, I would literally sign up to read more, since you hit the nail on the head so well. Would it be possible to get your contact info? - if just to buy you a coffee if I'm ever in your area.

Really flattered by all the responses, did not expect it. I currently live in Hong Kong. You can reach me here - spencer @ terminal1.co

For blogging, I prefer interjecting my thoughts into existing conversations rather than starting them, so I don't write my own blog pieces that often. But I would be happy to receive emails with questions, encouragement, or further discussion.

If I do write something related to Asian American issues, I can add you to a simple mailing list - just let me know you'd like that, although don't expect to receive much content.

Likewise here! It's rather comforting sometimes to have one's inner thoughts and worries laid bare in the public by someone else. One of the many benefits of the arts and writers -- especially those who shared a common experience with you.

Likewise here too. How do people exchange contacts here?

Usually, people put contact info in their profile (click username to get there). Other than that...

Well, until a response is forthcoming, if anyone wants to contact me for any reason, you can reverse this string: zyx.gnuknairb@swenrekcah

Interesting you would call Taiwan developing world, it is one of the most developed countries in the world--21st out of 188 according to the UN.

Source: http://focustaiwan.tw/news/asoc/201409180039.aspx

As others have said you are actually describing class and cultural differences which don't depend on country. I moved from the Midwest to LA and am still in shock and awe at the displays of wealth here. I grew up with a much more frugal mindset and in a place with much more modest homes. Keep in mind even in the US, the fraction of people living in Bel-Aire mansions, or anything even close to that wealth, is very, very small.

Also, I suspect that there are plenty of very wealthy people and luxurious residences in Taiwan that would be equally jarring to you. My point is it's not the country, it's class and culture.

> The harsh reality of 1st or 2nd generation Chinese is that while many of us went to the top universities and grew up with a modern, 1st world mindset, we can't escape the fact that our financial and family background is from the developing world

The harsh reality of a large number of people (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation and beyond) living in Los Angeles is that they did not go to any universities, don't have any family or friends in Bel Air / Santa Monica, eke out an existence in a series of apartments (sometimes with their extended family, or in a car, or in some sort of civic transition shelter or on the street), and have a close relative with a chronic drug abuse problem or a chronic disease.

"Beyond wealth, there is poverty of taste, standards, and expectations, family practices and emotional intelligence that define many Asian family backgrounds."

This is a great insight and I see it all the time in the Asian community. The comparing of children's credentials and achievements, the psychological terror of getting less than an A in class growing up, the the keeping up with the Joneses w.r.t. other Asian families. This stuff really messed with my head growing up and now as an adult, I appreciate the work ethic they instilled in me but I will never raise my kids like that and I appreciate the simple things in life and spend more on quality not quantity. I never faced the horrors and atrocities they faced in their respective countries growing up and I'm forever grateful for their sacrifices in dropping everything to immigrate here and being born and raised in America. I simply would not be the person I am today if I had to come here via H1-b visa so I'll take my odd childhood in the best light possible, my first generation parents made the best of their situation compared to the educated and stable parents of my peers.

Can anyone here first generation American relate? I may be younger than most, turning 30. Would love to hear your experiences and relationship with parents w.r.t. culture and practices growing up in America (or immigrating young) and how it effected how you raise(d) your children.

I can certainly relate to some of this stuff coming being a child of immigrants from the Balkan countries (not born in the US) but having grown up here most of my life. My father grew up on a farm with no electricity and a well for water. And my mother grew up in a tiny apartment in the city.

Oddly, I see a ton of advantages from my background. The focus and hard work ethic of my parents was easy to replicate and I didn't take anything for granted which I think makes successes sweeter. I found seeing their perspective helped me complain less and feel more confident in myself. Sure my parents weren't perfect but I super appreciate them.

I don't think your perspective is uniquely Chinese. I think it applies to every Immigrant Family.

Most grow up poor and parents typically sacrifice their lives so their children can go on to be successful.

The Chain of Poverty requires an Epic amount of sacrifice to set the next generation free. Unfortunately it leaves the next generation with a feeling of loss. It's tough to see a parent give his life so his children can live a better one.

Especially when there's no guarantee that the next generation won't revert to poverty through no fault of their own. Or the generation after that one.

You are conflating cultural difference with class/mental health.

It sounds like your parents are raised by grandparents with addiction problems, and either in poverty or in unstable financial conditions. So they put an extremely high value on stability. This contrasted your experience and worldviews, because growing up financially secure gives you different take on life. On top of that, now you're peers with some ultra-rich, you see how different you are with your ultra-rich peers and somehow contributed the differences to being Asian.

If your grandparents are poor Americans with addiction problems, I don't think you will magically grow up with wealthy taste, standards and expectations, nor will you have pictures of them leading city town-halls in your house.

On the other hand, if you keep doing well, then in a couple generations, your grandchildren will grow up with those taste, standards, expectations and possibly with a picture of you leading some important events somewhere.

That experience is not restricted to "3rd world". I think what you describe could be simply called "class differences".

Even what we now call 1st world countries had incredible poverty some 60 years back and it's not so long back, even if the face of poverty has recently changed from lack of opportunity to lack of achievement.

Up to 1980's, in the Finnish welfare state where I grew up, you would see men who slept in trash boxes through the -30°C winter nights. Men broken by war, alcohol and unemployment. Some women, too. With the minds, bodies and experiences they had, they did not have opportunity for anything better.

> could be simply called "class differences"

Yeah, seriously. My family has been American for at least four generations. I can tell by looking in the mirror that I'm at least 95% European, but I have no idea from where - before about my great-grandparents, there isn't much genealogy to follow, and for the most part that's because most of my ancestors were trying to keep a low profile and avoid having any records that the police could follow. I'm doing OK for myself now, but I grew up at the end of a dead-end dirt road that was connected by another dirt road to the actual paved roads. There's poor everywhere.

True enough, but having a history doesn't make one "high-class". I do know part of my genealogy up to a landed gentry nobleman who wreaked havoc in Germany and Prague in the 30-year war on behalf of the Swedish king, but still my father was born to a tenant farmer family.

But you may have a point that apparently the social differences are smaller small countries and communities where genealogy is better known. To take an example, in Iceland, there is extremely good genealogical data about everyone for over a millennium. Social differences are not very big and were not that big even before the adoption of modern welfare state.

Actually it probably does a "poor" kid from the right back ground (minor nobility landed gentry or even middle class ) will find it easier to get into Oxbridge / Harvard and also grok the social aspects as your parents told you how it works - Boris Johnson is a good example originally not rich but had a lot of connections.

For example know why not to wear "brown" shoes in town to an interview for a high paying job / internship.

What's the issue with brown shoes?

"When in town, don't wear brown" is the adage.

I'm not British, but I've worked for several British companies and this topic has come up in conversation when I complimented someone on their black shoes with a Navy suit, as it's a combination that I never thought to pair (I hate black shoes).

My understanding is brown shoes are considered to be sporty or informal Britons. It's something you'd wear to go hunting or on a picnic, never to a work. So I think wearing brown shoes with business attire is seen almost like an American wearing hiking boots.

Interesting, thanks! My only dress shoes are brown, so that should help me stay out of fintech at least. :-)

I deliberately wore hiking boots to my faculty interviews >.>

> For example know why not to wear "brown" shoes in town to an interview for a high paying job / internship.


Because it shows that you don't know the rule not to wear "brown" shoes in town to an interview for a high paying job / internship and thus are not of the right class to get a high paying job / internship.

Though here perhaps the "class" is not exactly the right word. To know etiquette is not quite the same as belonging to a social class.

Question: do upper class Americans eat with fork in the left hand and knife in the right? Because I notice most everyone in America that I have met eats with the fork in the right hand, and I am almost unable to eat that way (except dessert).

It's curious, as a lot of etiquette norms are grown out of simply practical considerations (in this case, dominant right hand considered safer for knife).

If you are 4th generation, you probably are from a bit of everywhere given the way mixing works. But then even Europeans might ask themselves this question, since migration was/is a common thing in Europe as well.

Europeans know where they're from, their biggest question is what do you call the place they're from. "The conglomerate of free counties of supreme holiness", or "the post WWII ethnic safe districts masquerading as countries"

> I can tell by looking in the mirror that I'm at least 95% European, but I have no idea from where

A distinctly American experience

I mean I think the Europeans are probably lying to themselves if they think they're utterly ethnically homogeneous within one country.

in a lot of the world there are good reasons to only talk about the current national identity, but that doesn't mean they don't know where their family is from.

Going back four and five generations, unless you're from a prominent family or living in a family register-using country or something like that, the records are probably pretty spotty

don't think so, coming from small country which was part of empire until WW1 there was not much issues to track records back to around 1750 mostly thanks to church (i remember national census around 1850) and it was family of farmers and guys doing odd jobs, nothing prominent, heck i remember one couple in family tree which had even birth date hour, both born between 2-3PM it got stuck in my head or poor fella having 14 children but only 5 of them surviving and their mother dying in 42

> I'm at least 95% European, but I have no idea from where

Try 23andme?

My mother did 23andme. It came back with:

Northern European with some probability of Southern European as well.

Well, duh.

There are lots of issues with the accuracy of that stuff, but even if there weren't, really, what does it matter, if you don't have any sort of connection to the places your forebears were from anymore?

I don’t know, I feel it connects and grounds us to know a thing of our past. I like to ask people about their ancestry as part of bantering and I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations that way.

I’m a fourth generation American of Eastern European Jewish background and I’ve been able to track my ancestry back into specific countries in Eastern Europe via documentation I’ve dug up on ancestry.com but haven’t gotten further. I’ve found it a fascinating exercise. I have not been able to determine the source of my surname (Soffian) which still remains a curiosity for me. Sometimes you uncover interesting artifacts. I learned I had a great uncle who immigrated to America from Romania aboard the RMS Carpathia in 1904. Eight years later in 1912, this would be the first ship to come to the Titanic’s rescue, and six years after that would itself be sunk by a U-Boat. My great uncle had left Romania likely to escape anti-semitism. He’d eventually find his way out to Denver. Sadly, he’d die in 1918 (the same year the Carpathia was sunk) at the age of 25, very probably from the flu.

This was him btw, along with his headstone and declaration of intent to become a citizen:


I apologize for the digression, but I just find this stuff too neat not to share.

this stuff is fascinating to me too, thanks for sharing.

My wife convinced me to do one of those this year actually - not 23andme, maybe ancestry.com? It's the one where you spit in a tube and mail it in. The results came back 98% Caucasian, northern Europe, and a lot of other stuff that looked like they just randomly made it up to make me feel like they really did something. I told one of my (Mexican) wife's (Mexican) friends that the results confirmed that I'm the whitest white guy in town and he said, "I could have save you $200 and told you that!"

I’m Finnish too. My entirely anecdotal experience of both Finland and USA is that America is about 40 years behind in responding to poverty.

To see men sleeping in trash boxes in freezing weather, you only need to walk a few blocks around midtown Manhattan in the winter.

The USA has a lot of room to improve for sure. But solutions that work for Finland, which is a small, ethnically homogeneous, high trust society, simply won't map to the USA which is the opposite of all those things.

It won't map because of our national obsession with crime and punishment. I'd bet dollars to donuts that it's far cheaper to put a drunk in a homeless shelter AND give him treatment (AlAnon, etc) than it is to lock him in a cage with a herd of sociopaths. But the Prison Industrial Complex has got to look out for its own, after all.

> a herd of sociopaths

I agree with everything you said except for this. The idea that many/most/all prisoners are violent or sociopathic is a myth propagated by those who stand to benefit from the prison industrial complex. Prisoners are human and prisons are inhumane. For another take, here's the IWW IWOC[0]:

> Incarcerated people are legally slaves as per the 13th Amendment which abolished "slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime". We are legally slaves. If you've been to prison you'd know we are treated like slaves. Billions are made annually off our backs. Outrageously priced or grossly inadequate privatized 'services' like health care, food, phone calls, assault our humanity - they feed us like animals, suck our families dry, and when sick leave us to die. The government spends as much as an elite college tuition per person to keep each of us incarcerated, but this money does not develop us as human beings, reduce crime or make our communities safer.

[0]: https://incarceratedworkers.org/about

I wasn't making any claim to the tendencies of many/most/all prisoners. My point was that putting non-violent petty offenders in jail/prison puts them in the path of a concentration of sociopathic people, those who really should be kept out of society.

The intention isn't so much crime and punishment as is the justification. The need to reallocate idle citizens producing no economic value is the systemic reason to high prisoner count domestically. America's prisons are largely forced labor camps recycling rebellious, able-bodied men into a working, productive labor force. One local example for me is paying californian prisoner's $1/hour to fight forest fires in the American west.

In fact policies that involve the government administering social services are easier, not harder, in a populous country.

Sure these solutions would work. Institute free universal healthcare paid for through the tax system, spend money on empowering women and helping families with children (including family planning), and make education free up to and including college.

To finance it, tax the rich, dismantle 4/5ths of the US military and stop fueling wars overseas.

But that's called socialism and is (unlike actual treason) treated like it would be high treason by the US political parties; mostly because they are all in the pockets of wealthy donors who would not like this new regime.

You can’t force people to accept treatment in US. While these might slow growth of the homeless population in dire need of medical help, it won’t prevent it.

To have no homeless, you have to have both resourcing for housing/medical, but also be willing to use force to compel those unwilling to get treatment/be housed where they have little choice. That’s a very tough leap to make.

The choice part never made sense to me - why would anyone want to live like that? But, as a society we value free will and therefore must respect the choices we do not agree with.

You don't generally have to force folks to get help. We (the US) do it in a small portion of the population: Severe mental illness, dementia, and substance abuse. They aren't talking about forcing folks to do things. You can encourage folks to do such things, though.

Most folks don't actually want to live like that, but some really do want to shun society. You can offer folks things like primitive cabins to help them shun society. Substance abuse, mental illness, and job loss are real problema with real solutions. Heck, if you can't solve someone's substance abuse or alcoholism, you can at least make sure they have shelter and food available to keep them safe even if they won't pay for such things. For a single person, it doesn't have to be luxurious: A dorm setup with private bathrooms and shared kitchen can work out.

You can force someone if that person is dangerous to self or others (mental health treatment).

To those bringing the downvotes: please elaborate why you disagree instead of blindly burning this comment into the ground.

Or maybe USA has way more people or other factors that make it a harder problem.

Some homeless people can't be helped since they have mental illnesses and break away from hospitals (USA has 70 times more people and homeless people are concentrating themselves in population hubs - that could make the problem more visible), and so on.

Let's not assume things without proper analysis.

Something I've noticed about developing countries, people never attribute poverty to a character failure. People in developing countries come face to face with poverty every day, they have poor friends and poor family members, so the idea that poor people are unintelligent or not hard-working, never occurs.

When countries become rich (it's not just America), people lose their connection with poverty and start to blame poor people for being poor. This lets them justify voting against social security programmes because they believe "it will never happen to me, I'm not the kind of person who becomes poor".

Is saying that many of the homeless in America are mentally ill blaming them? It's our health system that can't handle them, for a plethora of reasons. It's not the homeless peoples' fault for having schizophrenia or PTSD or whatever mental illness, which many of them do.

Homelessness can't be fixed "at source". People become homeless simply by losing their job and defaulting on their mortgage.

Walking around San Francisco you would get the impression that most homeless people are mentally ill, but you'd be missing all the people sleeping away from busy streets, in tents, in their cars, squatting in unused buildings, couch surfing between friends, etc.

Funny thing though: if you default on your mortgage bank gets your home, you become homeless.

What happens when bank defaults? You become homeless!

It’s a win-win (for the bank).

On a more serious note: a society which has homeless ppl, in 2018, cannot be considered “civilized”.

Poverty isn't caused by mental illness though it may be correlated with it. How many were mentally ill before becoming homeless? At what rate would wealthy people develop mental illness if you force them into the same situation?

In a lot of ways America is undergoing a "Caribbeanization" where there are two strata of society who rarely interact with each other except in contexts like buying something from a store and so have little concept of the other's way of living.

Not all social security programmes are good. Some of them are unrealistic, some of them are unfair to other people, etc. Voting against a particular social programme doesn't imply the person doesn't feel solidarity in general.

Maybe they're voting against it because while they're not poor, they still don't have more than enough - you can solve that by funding it through a progressive tax, but that makes it unfair in the views of many people.

That is true as well, including things like slavery, historical and recent immigration waves, and generally a rather different approach to social security, and much much more diversity.

I'm a Caucasian American whose family has no records of where we came from, not even where in the US my ancestors lived before they moved to the farm in middle of no where. My parents grew up on farms where the food they grew was the food they ate, and while my own childhood wasn't improvised (probably upper working class, if that's a thing), a lot of OP's post resonates with me.

For example the following feels like it was describing my own childhood.

>Beating your kids is not the right way to raise them. Yelling louder is not the way to win an argument. Hiding your faults hurts your family more than it helps.

When one focuses all their efforts in and before college in the sciences, neglecting a rounded, liberal education in the process, I am not all surprised by the lack of class knowledge.

Thank you for providing your perspective.

Same here in Germany.

My grandparents were born end of the 1930s. They grew up in the second world war and lived through the rebuild. The mother side in the west the father side in the east, so they even lived through socialism.

Their views on life were so removed from what I encountered in the world...

Even a smaller generational gap here: my father was born in 1920, my uncle in 1918, at time of civil war in my country (Finland). The family was not the poorest but getting food on the table was a concern. Boys went to work in the forest at the age of 12. Uncle went through prisoner of waonr camps in Russian in 1940, father spent 1941-1944 the front, looking for bread crumbs in the pockets of any Russian KIA he'd find.

I was born in 1960's and even though the world has changed hugely since that time (mostly for the better), I never worried about having enough food. I was frustrated by my parents' need for hoarding: no old piece of cloth or broken tool or piece of scrap metal was too worn out to throw away. But I notice I have mental trouble of throwing away scrap metal or old pieces of electronics myself.

This is just being rational - measure the time and cost of keeping something. Any time you keep anything, it collects dust, causes a mess, takes up space, and costs you time considering whether or not to toss it every time.

My grandparents always forced us children to eat up. I had to sit hours on the table.

The joke's been around for a long time, I was not very old when first time hearing sarcastically "eat your plate empty, because if you don't, some kid in Biafra will starve".

You are the only person besides my mother (born in the late 1950s in the Southern USA) that I've seen/heard mention Biafra. Her knowledge of Biafra was due to her being told a similar thing as a child, "eat everything on your plate because there are Biafrans starving."

I was less than 4 years old when the Biafra war ended, but it lived in public consciousness here longer due to a church [1] being built at the time, and some students spraying big red letters BIAFRA to the rock wall to protest church construction when people were dying of famine over there. It's an iconic photograph of 1960's here.

Not that it would have been very easy to relieve that famine with whatever amount of money, without military intervention.

Biafra received also special attention from my country because they adopted "Finlandia" by Sibelius as national anthem of their short-lived nation (with different lyrics, but same theme about rising from oppression.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temppeliaukio_Church

Biafra only existed between 1967 and 1970, so it wasn’t from her childhood in the 50s.


cool, cool. If you were born in 1958, how old would you be in 1967?

I remember 2 houses distinctly - a rich Asian immigrant's house, and a rich Caucasian's house. The Caucasian's was filled with relics of community - pictures of their involvement on sports teams, pictures of grandparents leading town hall meetings - it felt like they were rooted into the city and were an integral part of the community there. In contrast, the Asian immigrant's house was filled with relics of achievement - the doctorate was posted on the wall, lots of trophies and awards for their kids. The imagery offers a lot of insight into family and community development lagging behind income development in immigrant families.

Nicely written but I somewhat cringe because it's just an anecdote feeding a narrative about immigrants and we always have to be aware of it.

I also feel this narrative has a strange tone about praising the caucasians of being "rooted into the city and were an integral part of the community", and softly blaming the immigrants for lagging behind in community development.

I mean, isn't it normal that the immigrants do not have influential grandparents running town-hall meetings in the city they immigrated to?

This immigrant didn't hear that overtone. What I heard instead was the chagrin of recognition. It's not only a lack of influential grandparents, but also the attenuation of communal bonds and instincts that comes with being poor, aggressively upwardly mobile, and originating from a traumatised and turbulent society.

Not praise, just a noticable difference in investment. If you are climbing out of poverty you focus on yourself and your family rather than integrating yourself in your community. For example, representing your school by being on a sports team is not something Asian families promote.

True, my parents are I were the only in our family to move to the US but we still had pictures of ourselves on the wall. Hehe.

What an incredibly well written comment. Thank you!

I've been struggling with dream fulfillment vs. pragmatism for weeks now. The dillema is this: I only have a finite amount of time on the weekends and after work -- should I work on this side project idea that I want to turn into a start up or dedicate the time to study for interviews and secure my future with a high salary.

Its been gnawing at me for weeks now and I think after reading this I've made my decision.. my parents are old and sick.. I'm the most successful child and have been covering medical bills for the past year.. it seems irresponsible to try to start a start up that will most likely fail instead of trying to secure a higher paying job so that I can cover their bills and live more comfortably. It may not be the glamorous thing to do but we all have responsibilities...

From a 35 yo, with a child, background dirt poor parents who has basically been struggling my entire life (to give you a point of view of my comment). Go for the higher paying job.

Something that is secure, and has a smaller chance of everything collapsing on you, is a main requisite. I have similar issues (family to support, more bills than income).

You don't want to be in this position. It's more difficult to claw your way from the bottom than it is to keep afloat.

Unless you are certain that you can find your idea and keep afloat enough to cover everything, I wouldn't risk your current position.

But take this with a bag of salt, but remember my warning - if there is no safety net, you are not the only one to suffer.


Is it somethig. You are able to start in your free time (you're lucky to have any, so use it wisely!) If so I'd say keep working on it u til you get some sort of traction.

Second edit : it's what I'm doing. 70+ hours a week to support my family, and what time I can scrape together to work on my side project.

I've made a career of chasing other people's dreams: I look for opportunities at well-funded or well-positioned small companies and insert myself into the opportunity to help others achieve their dreams. It's fun, and sometimes it's fortuitous, but most of the time it just pays the bills and keeps my life interesting.

The key is that it pays the bills and remains interesting. If I were to chase my own entrepreneurial ambitions I suspect that the latter _and_ the former would give way to stress and poverty. With kids, that's not particularly desirable.

The people that made the most money in the California gold rush were the ones that sold equipment and clothing to the gold prospectors.

e.g. Levi's

I am just entering the job market and I would like to try and make this my career as well. I'd like to go from early stage company to early stage company and help the founders build something cool. Any tips or advice?

Probably nothing you haven't heard before. ;)

1. If the pay cheques stop clearing then you stop working and move on.

2. Always eat broccoli, metaphorically: every company wants for someone who is happy to do, and able to do, the work that others cannot or will not do.

3. Don't be afraid to ask how they're funded and what their business plan is; you are, in a sense, an investor who supplies labour.

4. Stock is _usually_ worth less than the paper it's printed on.

5. Manage your managers; they'll push you hard and squeeze blood from you, and only you are able to ensure work/life balance.

It's trendy to run your own start up but honestly I'd rather work for an established company on a decent wage and have my startup idea as side projects for fun. If they become profitable then I get a little extra pocket money. However more often than not it's just something to scratch a personal itch so I'd rather just give it away to the open source community since it has already been so generous to me and my career.

This seems a rather unpopular (at least if you read HN) philosophy these days but it keeps me financially secure, my skills sharp and my attention focused on the stuff that actually matters (family, personal health and happiness etc).

Startups and regular jobs are really different experiences; some people enjoy the thrill of being weeks away from running out of cash, or crunching hours after hours to get the product out to the market and potentially making a ton of money in a short period of time. Others like to have a more regular schedule which for them is more productive. So people kinda naturally gravitate towards either kind of job when they really follow their instincts. But many people often don’t and the mismatch does create frustration.

Life is suffering. And I don't mean that in some existential sense. The lifestyles people choose is summed up by how they want to suffer.

I consider myself an optimist, but I do also agree with you. The interesting thing for me has been that often people try to avoid a certain kind of suffering but end up suffering in a different way. So you just can't get away from that fact.

I absolutely agree. Sure if someone is young, try running your own startup and when that fails you can get a normal job. Everyone wants to claim they are an entrepreneur but that means you are a sales person. Your technical abilities don't mean much.

This may sound obvious, but have you considered part-time work? If you look out for it, there's a good chance you might find software companies supporting it. Compensation might not be as stellar though, but at least it's a guaranteed income and you still have some time for your side project.

Try this exercise: Write down what will happen if you were to die right now. For me, this answers most questions about what I should do.

Pretty much nothing will happen, unless you have dependents. Whatever will happen might have mattered for you, but you're dead.

Quite a lot of people have died already with not a lot of consequence.

I agree that on the whole, nothing matters. But in a felt sense, my life matters more when I have other people to care for and interact with or some goal that needs to be reached. Reflecting on my inevitable end gives a sense of urgency and an appreciation of the people around me.

Life insurance pays out. This doesn't answer much for me.

Don’t view it as an either-or. Figure out the best step now for you, perhaps a higher paying job. But that job can lead to opportunities and you may have more cushion and connections to make a better jump into whatever else you want to do later. Think of it as risk management [1]. Too much stress and you won’t function. Manage risk and manage stress to a level that works best for you. Somewhere past perseverance lies adaptability & flexibility at number six on the life checklist. [2]

[1] https://www.public.navy.mil/NAVSAFECEN/PublishingImages/ORM/...

[2] https://slideplayer.com/slide/8751842/26/images/15/CRM+Situa...

Does it have to be an either/or situation?

2 months of spare time is probably the upper end of how much you should spend preparing for coding interviews, once that is done you could start working on your side project?

It is generally better to use a spaced repetition schedule than cram in 2 months... So, taking say 4h each week or perhaps something even more adaptive would be better.

Go for the higher paying job, but do not raise your standard of living. Start building you ability to save. You can grow wealth in a salary job if you are smart about how you spend money.

If I may bluntly say: Go with the higher paying job, then continue with your dreams. You'll have much more energy to put into your idea if you don't need to worry about finances so much.

If you are unsure, read Adam Grant's "Originals". Many of the high achievers he documents there we not in fact risk takers, but extremely careful about many things.

You can take risks, but not all out risks. Have a solid basis, and then use that as a foundation to build something new. I.e. be totally conventional and security seeking in everything else except in your dream project. That way you have the capacity to fail and learn for a longer time while working on your idea, hence increasing the likelihood of eventual success.

Are you a "Type A", driven, aggressive, visionary, take-the-lead type of person? If not, you will not do well running a startup. Having a dream is not enough.

It's not for everyone, and it takes a strong leader to make a startup successful. No shame admitting that it isn't for you, the world needs leaders and the world needs people who get the work done.

Don't give up. Find a time slot - few hours a week maybe. If you're disciplined and can stick to it you'll accomplish a lot while still working full time.

weeks!? ...

Haha, actually now that I think about Ive been stuck in this rut for a year. But the past few weeks have been really intense.

Here is a practical thought experiment that might help you: picture yourself many years from now, on your deathbed; would you have more regrets of having gone down path A or B?

That is not very practical, as you don't know how the future will turn out. If they start a startup and succeed they'll likely be happy about that decision. It's very hard to figure out expected outcomes for actions, and it's not very productive to think about worst-case (or best-case) outcomes.

I don't think I explained myself very well. You don't need to predict the future. You just need to estimate the amount of regret you would have by NOT doing something.

Living a fulfilling life is about minimizing regrets. People regret not trying to initiate relationships with potential soulmates. People regrets not trying working on a business idea that could have been very successful. People regret not spending more time with family. Etc. The regrets you will have on your deathbed are probably regrets you will have carried your entire life, and thus regrets that will have haunted you and hampered you from living a fulfilling life.

It turns out that in many cases, regrets are independent of the outcome. For example you may not know whether a relationship with a potential soulmate will fail or succeed. But you will probably have more regrets by NOT giving it a shot at all.

>Living a fulfilling life is about minimizing regrets.

While I very much agree with your advice on thinking of how you'll feel on your deathbed, I would be careful in your phrasing. People often make poor decisions about the future because they are overly concerned with whether they will regret a decision or not. You will find many who believe that focusing on regret will get in the way of life satisfaction, and it is a perspective worth considering.

For me, it makes sense to make some achievable goals (relationship, career, hobbies/activities, etc). Then start paring and prioritizing. Without the latter, I will always have more things I would like to achieve than is possible, and will always have regrets - it's rather pointless.

I don’t look back on decisions I’ve made and evaluate them based on outcome. I evaluate them based on the experience and my decision making.

My issue with this thought experiment is that I'm not convinced that one's thoughts at one's deathbed have a lot of value.

Being lucid at one's deathbed is already a positive situation that might simply not happen under some circumstances.

I think you're taking it too literally. Let's say you are 60 years old, in perfectly good mental health, and are diagnosed with a terminal illness and will not live longer than a few months.

I rarely do this exercise, but it has been helpful at times. It's a lot simpler to do if you're older (late 30's or higher). You can look back at your pursuits over the last few decades and can actually see things like "Oh, I've been learning new programming languages for so many years now. How useful has it been?" If I extrapolate for another decade or two, will I be happy at age 50 or 60 with the outcome if I continue with these activities?

I have many more pursuits than I can do in this life. When you're younger, you usually don't limit your options because you feel you have a lot of time. When you're 40, you can easily say "I've been doing this for 20 years. If I don't change/prioritize, I'll soon be at 60. Is this stuff worth doing at the expense of other pursuits?"

This year I ticked off two bucket items. I had been putting them off for too long. IMO, it is worth thinking that way.

I had the same reflection, but I think it’s still useful for framing the situation. Don’t think too hard, think Hollywood movie situation.

I had these thoughts before...but realized there is no point optimizing life for the last six months.

The other answers to your question really seem to indicate that we live in the age of the last man.

> I only have a finite amount of time on the weekends and after work..

No mortal being have unlimited time at their disposal. Very few have the fortitude and discipline and above all, guts, to use it for realizing what ever "dream" that they have.

We all have responsibilities. But some does not hide behind them.

This resonated with me as an introvert and I'm not Chinese. There have been many times that I've realized, I should have spent more time collecting connections and less time working in front of the screen.

I think this also relates to the values my parents gave me that I should work for everything I have and hard work pays off. They never asked anyone for a favor or special privileges, so I never put much value on networking. When I get in a tough spot my natural instinct is to put my head down and solve the problem on my own.

Calling in a favor requires future planning because you need to collect the right kind of friends who also understand the value of passing favors. My observation is that it's much more common for business types, not engineers to think this way.

You don't need to collect the "right" kind of friends. This kind of thinking strips the humanity out of the process. It's an understandable conclusion but highly misleading.

The simplest heuristic to use that will get you to a better place - is to maintain/grow the connect with people you care about. What does that mean? Why do you care about certain ppl? How do they make you feel? What needs of yours are they meeting? How well do you understand/misunderstand their needs?And what is involved in maintaining and growing the connect through good and bad times?

The world can be divided into people who think about these questions all the time and those who don't. No guesses to who has more connections and is more comfortable calling in favours.

The good news is you too can spend time on those questions even if you currently don't. The more you do and deeper your answers get the more satisfying your life gets.

A large part of the human brain is devoted to social connection. But you have to learn and exercise it for the best results.

> You don't need to collect the "right" kind of friends. This kind of thinking strips the humanity out of the process. It's an understandable conclusion but highly misleading.

I hate myself writing this, but I'm also going to say that you sometimes don't have the privilege of making friends for friend's sake. I'm Chinese, and in college I went out of my way to collect "useful" friends and curry favors because I knew that my parents (poor immigrants from Shangdong) couldn't support me if something happened, and I would rather die before asking them for more than they've already given me. It felt slimy and grotesque to work relationships in this way, but for me it felt like the only way to survive and build a safety net.

Not sure favors can really save someone in time of need. They tend to help when one's trajectory is up, not down. Like banks love to loan to people who don't need to borrow.

And they may solve this problem only emotional point of view.

I feel the same way. As I think about my own network, I feel like it's dangerously small and can't bring much to bear in times of need. As a fellow introvert, I didn't work hard in the past to build more and stronger connections. Only now am I seeing the problems that arise from not doing so. If only I had known...but then, I still would've been an introvert.

I am not familiar with nuances of Chinese culture, but I was so intrigued by the "guanxi" phenomenon that I immediately and gladly spent half an hour reading about it and watching Youtube videos of the "guanxi" culture in China.[1]

"Guanxi" is nothing other than socially institutionalised networks of non-monetary favours and counter-favours. It happens in every culture actually but the thing that makes "quanxi" uniquely Chinese, in my very recent opinion, is that the folks living there have removed it from their subconscious, their latent and dissonant reality and made it front and center of their everyday thinking and living philosophy. They gave it a name! It seems they've accepted it as part of a means of survival in a world of scarcity and in so doing have collectively abandoned the shame associated with relying on favours. They've removed the shame of accepting that it's not only merit or competency alone that gets you ahead - because there are many competent in a land of 1 billion citizens - but also who you know to get you to ply your skills.

Now it seems meritocracy, as it is explained in Jianan Qian's excellently written article, is about how _competent_ you are with your "guanxi". Next level shit, this.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2GBL-IfY3Q

Though there's no word for it here, this is also how the poor in the US get things done. Where the middle class become insular, and simply buys someone's time to do things they don't want to do, the poor trade favors with a large network of contacts to do the things that they need to get done.

In the UK it's known as the "Old-boy network" between former students of all-male elite schools (Eton being the most prominent). In the US, I'm guessing the closest is frat-bros?

The right frats and societies at the right university's I would imagine.

poor trade favors with a large network of contacts to do the things that they need to get done

This happens in rural Ireland too. I was visiting friends there, we started in the morning with fenceposts and sardines and 4 or 5 trades later by the evening we had a turkey.

My SO and I were discussing her former boss who was an amazing people person. She would flatter people and curry favor, but it totally worked. It was hard not to like her because she was so good at it. Bringing those skills of building connections and favor up into the business world seems highly effective.

> "Guanxi" is nothing other than socially institutionalised networks of non-monetary favours and counter-favours.

People like to focus on the favors part but Guanxi isn't really about exchanging favors and in fact you mostly never see any kind of explicit quid pro quo. Westerners tend to be "transactionally oriented" and never quite grasp that transactions are always a means to a greater end. In fact if you are seen to be "banking" favors people will quickly lose all confidence in you. There's two very simple ideas here: (1) if you want to succeed in your own endeavors you must make yourself useful and help others succeed in their endeavors and (2) non-monetary ("personal") obligations are much, much more important than monetary ("public") obligations. The "favors" aspect is kinda beside the point. Someone with really good guanxi will actually find others eager to help without even needing to ask!

Everything you've tried to contrast a system of favors with in correcting the grandparent is exactly what a system of favors usually means.

I think the main difference of guanxi is that it's bilateral.

In order to survive good in China you need some kind of in brain CRM

Where as "institutionalised networks" more or less implies like-minded people sharing the some common value.

Just my two cents.

I'm not so sure. There can be very strong and specific, sometimes illegal favours done for people within one's network that one is obligated to repay and there seem to be specific rules.

We might have the term 'favours for favours' but I don't even like that.

I do favours because if it's easy for me to help someone, I do that. I don't expect anything in return. Maybe if one day I need something obviously it makes it easier to ask, but it's not what I'm thinking of.

I think most regular people are thinking in these terms, i.e. we're not constantly keeping track of sour social clout within a specific network. Frankly I don't even like the people that do.

The author's self deprecation is brilliant. She uses her "meager useless" writing skills to broadcast to the one of the world's largest wealthy educated (kind?) audiences, readers of the NYTimes (not to mention HN), also subtly shaming anyone responsible for her mother's poor care past or future to the broadest most influential audience she can reach. What more can a mother ask for? I'm proud of her. Guanxi is not the only form of human influence in the world... isn't the "pen mightier than the sword?" (Sometimes). I wish the best for her and her mother.

One of the least useful pieces of start-up advice I received in college was, "if your startup fails, don't worry, you can go live in your parents' basement."

Well, fine, if your parents owned their home, the worst you have to deal with is the shame of failing. If I did a start-up and it failed, it's probable that my parents wouldn't even have a basement for me to return home to.

Hence you don't have a safety net and can't be an entrepreneur. If you can take the chance of getting rich or becoming homeless, good luck with that. Otherwise, 9-5 jobs are the only option.

If you are middle class (~$30k-$70k per annum) you can be wealthy* by focusing your spending on freedom, aka capital investments. I did not understand this was an option before reading the blog of Mr. Money Mustache[0]. Reading that and the Living a FI blog[1] may hopefully be as life-changing to you reading this comment as it was for me.

* Wealthy in time to spend with those you love

[0] https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

[1] https://livingafi.com/

I didn't know about MMM, thanks for that. I've learned about this phenomenon on a different website [1] and amazed by it. Small investments over a long period makes a huge difference but still, you need a long enough period or put huge amounts at the right time of the market. S&P 500 has worst performance of -3% over 10 year period. It gets better after 15 years and so on. Investing and hoping to retire early during this window is certainly not going to work.

I think everybody who works 9-5 should read the story about Grace Groner in [1]. It was a real eye opener for me.

[1] https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/the-psychology-of-mon...

Woah, I've encountered me 4 years ago online. You sound just like I did.

To past me, I highly recommend audiobooking "Millionaire Fastlane". Do not let the awkward title turn you off. It'll put you in a much more productive mindset than Mr. Mustache.

What impact did this book have on you? What have you achieved since reading it that you otherwise would not have? Investments? What other books do you recommend?

I've adopted less of a scarcity mentality, and it reinforced the notion that I'll never get rich and achieve my goals by staying the course in my career. Not rich before age 65 at any rate.

Another book I recommend is "How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big". Adams has a great approach of using systems instead of goals.

I like MMM as much as the next person, but saying that his project of "live cheaply on dual, 6-figure incomes" is a workable path to FI for people making $30k-$70k is disingenuous.

Right: It's really annoying when some people peddle "rags to riches" stories where -- upon a bit more digging -- you realize that the protagonist was actually nowhere near "rags" status and that their family's affluence or connections were key factors in them being able to event attempt their lucky moon-shot.

This is a really great point. "Following your dreams" tends to come at the expense of your parents and not yourself. Which is fine if your parents can afford it I guess, but the idea that following your dream is a noble and brave act is seriously flawed.

This also applies to taking a low or non paying internship at a big company: free labor, subsidized by the dream-seeking intern's parents.

In LA, very often the dream is a job in the entertainment industry.

If its anything like the UK having family connections helps a lot.

I came to US about 10 years ago. Finished my PhD and spent about 4 years in Software Industry. Saved some money. US has taught me a lot about entrepreneurship and software. Now moving to India for good to work on my own startup, spend more time with my hobbies and to stay close with my parents who are in their 60's. It took me more than an year to convince my parents (hardest to convince was my Mom) and my Wife. Looking back, I feel that is one of the best, courageous and hardest decisions I have taken in my life.

Also thanks to YC for accepting my Startup in to their Startup School Advisor Track. Namaste!

Good luck! You taking in any tiny amounts of seed funding? (10K or less?)

Are your parents in the US or India?

My parents are in India.

It’s the right decision. You will be able to take what you learned home and create wealth for thousands, if not more. India is going to surpass China in the next century.

India is one of the hardest countries to do business in. On top of that, many businesspeople (not to mention the government) are dishonest and will happily run with your money. The "guanxi" situation outlined above very much applies in India.

I'd be curious to see how someone educated on American entrepreneurship performs.

India is going to surpass China in the next century.

Might need some anti-corruption startups to make that happen outside of cricket...

What is with this constant obsession with surpassing China. This is just so stupid.

India is going to surpass China in the next century.

Just curious, but this statement surprised me.

Surpass in what ways? GDP? Per capita income? Standard of living? Population? Level of honesty? Level of corruption? Level of transparency?

Any studies you can recommend that reach these conclusions?

Apart from population, in which factor ? India needs to reduce brain drain and population before even starting imaging compete with anyone.

India is going to be buckling under overpopulation, whereas China had already tackled that decades ago. Parts of India will be uninhabitable due to climate change, and there are already major water shortages.

However the Government does seem to be on the right track with their moves to introduce GST (replacing myriad taxes and duties from state to state) and cracking down on illegal cash.

We all know that diversity drives positive economic outcomes. India is by far the most diverse large country on the planet. That combined with her diaspora to the west and the consequent knowledge transfer, in addition to not being a major strategic rival to the USA, adds up to an extremely positive medium to long term outlook.

Yes there are major problems with corruption, it's true, but there are major problems with corruption in China and the USA for that matter. It's just in the USA the corruption is much more sophisticated and genteel. I mean this positively and I honestly believe Indian corruption is going to move toward the US model thanks to the large numbers of Indian nationals who have seen how much better that kind of corruption works. It's a classic case of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the less bad.

Do you have sources about diversity driving positive economic income ?

It seems to go without saying for you, but it's not that natural for me. There are several examples of very homogeneous countries, such as Japan or Korea, doing economical prowess.



There are many many other studies, all easily queried. There’s also the largest and richest country in the world as a case study.

The largest country in the world is Russia, and the richest is Iceland. Do you mean the US ?

If so, what makes you think the US got successful because of diversity instead of other factors ?

Similarly, there are studies showing that skill diversity is important, but not bio diversity. For example this meta-study[1] : "Support was found for the positive impact of task-related diversity on team performance. In contrast, bio-demographic diversity had no relationship with team performance"

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228389271_The_Effec...

>The largest country in the world is Russia, and the richest is Iceland. Do you mean the US ?

I suppose this must be meant to be clever?

Thank you and I too hope so!

As an Asian-American, I'm struggling through the same dilemma as well. I've been given a huge opportunity to move to Asia and to initiate a program at a Fortune 100 company, but recently my parents have gotten very ill. My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer, and has had multiple surgeries. My mom has a myriad of health issues, and I feel painfully selfish by not helping them. They would never burden me, and pushing me to go pursue my career dreams.

I think this is an experience that most people will face in their lifetime. I don't necessarily know if this is an Asian experience, and the discussion of family burdens because in our culture the parents would never say a thing about their illness. But, I don't think what they realize is that it puts even more pressure on the children on accepting the right path.

I'm asian. I'm not american. I think weighing career dreams (a stereotypical american thing) versus taking care my parents (a stereotypical asian thing) is not even a close decision. When I look back at my life, I'm not going to regret spending extra time in the office.

I'm in no way saying my opinion is correct, because everyone has different values. I'm just sharing my surprise of the dilemma in your post and the original article from my point of view.

In fact, my wife and I are a 1000 km apart because she has to take care of her parents and my parents and job are here. we've lived like this for 6 years.

For me, it's about chasing after an opportunity that will potentially change my career and life. I grew up with nothing, so I chase after everything. My parents were illegals and watching the struggle was very impactful. Even if I decided to go back and take care of them, I would get an earful.

> When I look back at my life, I'm not going to regret spending extra time in the office.

Did you mean you're not going to regret not spending extra time in the office? i.e. family > work or did you mean work > family

I think GP meant “I have made the correct decisions in life by prioritizing family over work so that I will not later regret spending extra time in the office”.

There are two sources of non-regret:

Not valuing the thing you would sacrifice is one.

But not sacrificing the thing is another.

Thanks for understanding despite my unclear comment.

Yes, sorry, i couldn’t edit my comment after. I prioritize family over my career.

To what end?

We are working on our own businesses. She will be at a point where she can hire staff soon to provide her more flexibility to travel here more. I'm running a side project which may change my career, allowing me to move. Other plans/alternatives too... situation is temporary even though it's measured in years.

How big is the opportunity? If it raises your income significantly will you be able to hire help to take care of some of the needs of your parents? Make your parents proud of your achievement can be an important factor to consider, esp. in the context of Asian culture.

In terms of medicine I think it is important to educate yourself about the particular problems your parents are facing. Medical books and journals are not that inaccessible to a well-educated person and not that time consuming to get a decent understanding of if you focus on problems at hand. Helping them understand their diseases and the medical system and set the right expectations may alleviate some of their anxieties.

Is bringing them with you an option and/or something you would consider at all? I will possibly be in a similar situation as yours soon.

Some wisdom that's not easy to imagine for ourselves, but statistically..

"Looking back on my high school years, all my relatives tried to talk me, a top-ranking student, into majoring in science or finance in college. But I was stubborn enough to stay with my favorite subject, literature.

Now I understand them. They knew very well that in life, things can easily fall apart, and that those degrees are a promise of a steady, good-paying job, and perhaps a ticket to freedom, too."

Feeling the shadow of how things can fall apart easily can be delayed until one's 30's or 40s for the privileged, but everyone will see it.

What did you end up doing with your literature degree if you don't mind me asking. I hope you found your profitable niche, if not what is the barrier to success?

My point was the increased awareness of fragility as time goes on, regardless of a science or arts education.

I didn't take literature, I was in sciences. Today those who are read, and can write are able to write marketing, copy, communication and are valuable where techies struggle to growth hack.

In university, it seemed friends in sciences had less of a sense of themselves, but found a career easier. It was also noticeable that friends in arts may not have had a clear path to a career, but seemed to have a clearer sense of themselves, or at least an ability to explore and articulate it.

The need for money and/or guanxi might be worse in China, but it's certainly not China-specific.

Every time I see an example of police and the justice system running roughshod over somebody I think "I need to be rich and well-connected so this won't happen to me". The ability to get top medical care in America is also dependent on having good connections, insurance, and/or deep pockets.

Of course, as an introvert, I'm relatively bad at creating and holding on to a wide net of connections, so I have to make up for it with more money.

"I tried to secure her a specialist appointment at Huashan Hospital, one of the best public hospitals in Shanghai, only to discover that they were full till the end of August. "

I am a little confused. Why is getting an appointment at the best hospital by the end of August not good? Take the appointment. See a competent doctor you can find now and then go to the best hospital for a second opinion.

If it relies on guanxi, your appointment probably would have been rescheduled whenever convenient to those with better connections to the hospital. You might schedule for August, but it's essentially meaningless if someone's always a higher priority than you.

If I do a search and replace of China with India, this article would still be real and same.

I read it as a commentary on corruption, contacts and money governing access to things that should otherwise be accessible. People are so bogged down in trying to survive the system, often for the sake of dependents, that they don't have the time to change it.

Edit: Added bit about dependents.

If every patient demands the "best" doctor then indeed no system could satisfy everyone. If instead one settles for a competent doctor, esp. for a standard case I don't see why such care can't be routinely accessed in a place like Shanghai. Rural China is another story.

I am experiencing similar problems with my parents in China right now... it is super stressful. Being a nerd throughout my life, I disdained people using each other for achieving anything - I didn't think it's real friendship. In a way, I was right, and in other ways, I couldn't be more wrong... I was just too stubborn and selfish to accept their social rules. Now I don't even know how to help my parents to do simple things like getting them a good doctor...

> Why do we need to be rich or have guanxi merely to enjoy access to very basic public services?

I can't speak about China, butt this question was quite pertinent in communist Romania. The answer should be fairly obvious. Because it's communist and the government doesn't give a fuck about its people. That's likely why the daughter is in America. That most certainly is how I ended up here. When it's necessary to have connections in high places or a ton of money or both just to get the doctors to not let you die or to get any decent healthcare, that's the sign of a system that has failed most if not all of its people. We should learn from this here in America because we are only a little ahead of this type of situation with healthcare here. Instead of connections though, the privileged here have good health care and the money to pay for it.

> After every social tragedy, victims are subjected to disdain on social media, rather than sympathy: “this happened to you because you are a loser; because you don’t have the right connections; because you are not making enough money.

Not true. People's reaction is same as ordinary people, sympathy and pity.

It has less to do with China but more to do with the Author being so far from the home. Tomorrow her Mom might need her more and the government can only help that much. These are all the choices people make in life..

The author is too pessimistic about the healthcare system in Shanghai or China. That's to say, the article is way too exaggerated and involve too much mood. I think one of factor she thinks so is she is too far away from her mother geographically. The lesson from her article: if you get sick, go to hospital as soon as possible, don't wait.

You have this same problem as non-chinese or as non-daughter (son). It's the issue of living far away from your parents and family, they get old, sick and will die at some point and you can't do much, besides feeling guilt and frustration. Whether your family is in China, Europe or wherever, same feeling.


spoilers ahead

The author discusses her lack of guanxi and her decision to major in literature as a detriment to her career path ... in the new york times. The postmodernism is striking!

Detriment to her career path? Did you read the right article?

More like her lack of networking deterred her from getting the benefits of knowing people, benefits her peers can enjoy.

No, you should re-read the article.

She states that if she lacks networking, then she'd need to get by with wealth -- which then she follows up in a significant part of the article with why she doesn't have wealth due to taking up a less privileged career path.

You're mixing success in career with success in life (wealth/status). She's doing fine in her career path, right? If I want to be an accomplished historian of e.g. Tibetan architecture, I can know everything in that field, but it's probably not going to pay well because society doesn't care.

Then again, googling what "career success" means, the results say it's a personal definition, so maybe we're both wrong.


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