Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Politics

History in the Making

It’s Election Day, 10:00pm Pacific Time, and the future of the country hangs in the balance.


How did we get here?

Did anyone realize how divided a country we are? Along race lines, gender lines, values, beliefs, ideas of democracy and what the United States of America stands for?

It’s been a long journey, seeing the two main parties arrive at the two candidates who are fighting for their lives and our futures. and I really never thought it would come to this.

What do the next four years hold for us as a country? No matter who wins, it’s clear that there is a large number of people who won’t be happy with the result. How do we move forward as the “UNITED” states, not the “DIVIDED” states?

This campaign has been eye opening for me in so many ways. I’ve been surprised at what people will believe. I’ve been surprised at how much racism and sexism still exists at very deep levels all over the country. I’ve been surprised at what people will ignore or dismiss to be able to justify their choices. I’ve been surprised at how people will make decisions that go against their own interests.

How do we move forward from here? What will the history books say about this election? What will tomorrow look like?

The Joys of Job Hunting

So I've been wanting to do a blog entry on job hunting that is specific to me and those who might fit the same profile:

  1. late 30-something
  2. woman of color
  3. nonprofit sector
  4. youth work/ social services
  5. middle to senior management level background
  6. elite liberal arts school education
  7. master's degree in something (education, in my case, or social work, counseling, humanities…)
  8. new to a city
  9. with some degree of connections in other cities (not in the new city)
  10. wanting a job situation where skills are maximized, where creativity is encouraged and fostered, and where there are other smart, innovative people working together

Pretty specific, but take out some of the items (3, 4, 8), and I feel like I know others who are in a similar boat. Why is it hard for us/me?

How I articulate the difficulties to others is in this way: when you're at the beginning of your working life, your own merit and accomplishments matter more than connections. Connections always help, yes, but if you have a good solid resume with some good experience, you can find a job. It might not be the perfect fit, but you can get employed somewhere. (Well, at least that's how it used to be. Maybe the rules have changed now with unemployment still being pretty high… But anyways…)

If you're at a middle to upper management level and seeking positions, your merit matters less than the connections you have. It's less likely that you'll get a job through the cold contact (i.e. traditional) approach (finding a posting, writing up a cover letter, sending out said letter and resume and waiting for a response) because those doing the hiring don't know you at all, don't know your track record, etc. And if they have a candidate with a similar set of skills and resume (which is highly likely because there are a lot of smart people out there, and it only takes one other to compete with you) AND connections that can positively vouch for him/her, then the person doing the hiring will hire the known entity. Even if it's “knowing through a connection.”

I've sent out over a dozen cover letters and resumes for the last four months, and I've gotten only four first round interviews, and of those four, two were through connections. And I can't believe that I'm any less qualified than others that HAVE been offered interviews. But I think it really has to do with my not leveraging my connections. And I DO have them. We ALL do. It's just about looking at our relationships with a different lens.

I hate looking at my friends with this “different lens,” but I guess if I'm not ONLY looking at them in that way, then it's OK. And this “different lens” involves seeing that person as someone who can help you get what you want. It sounds shady and exploitative, and I guess it's about where you put the focus: on the “help” or “you want.”

If I spin the issue around a bit and look at myself with this “different lens,” then it's easy to focus on “help.” I WANT to help my smart, capable friends and colleagues get good jobs. I want to put in a good word for them if I mean it. I mean, I didn't work my way up to where I am just for myself. I want to get others in good positions and use whatever social capital I have for the benefit of the greater good, not just for myself.

If I look at others in the same way, then it doesn't feel so bloodthirsty or utilitarian. And since often people don't know that you need their help unless you ask them, then you just have to ask them to help and most likely they will!

I've been trying to be better about asking my friends and colleagues for help in this job hunt, and that has only happened in the last month or so. I'm learning how to use LinkedIn better to see who I'm connected to who might be connected to someone at an organization where I want a job. And I'm just making it a priority to put myself out there and ask for help!

This whole job hunting process has put into perspective big picture issues that are sobering and enlightening. There are lots of examples of institutional oppression in so many arenas that I both benefit from and am shafted by which makes for a very complicated analysis.

For example, I am a person of color from an immigrant family. Growing up, I knew about the importance of having a strong work ethic, but my parents were not well connected and did not know about the importance of networking and using connections. Because of that, and because of my introverted nature, schmoozing is really hard for me, and I really don't like it. At the same time, I went to an elite private liberal arts school, and I got access to a lot of resources that could help me climb the proverbial ladder. At the same time, I am physically petite, and I look really young, both of which I have felt give me a different presence in a room than a tall white man or woman. Taking up more or less physical space has interesting psychological effects.

Taking a step back from this whole process makes for an interesting case study in social processes.

The bottom line, though, is that it's hard to find a job. Anyone got any leads for me? 🙂

An American Traveler in a Developing Country

Since touching down and going through the airport in Denpasar, Bali, I was reminded of the challenges dilemmas of being a tourist-American in a developing country. The last time I faced the feelings I’m now having was when I went to the Dominican Republic during a college spring break with some girlfriends. I remember how weird and guilt-trippy I felt being in a resort where everyone was brown-skinned, in service to people, mostly white (except for me and my friends, but the American passport basically made us white), tourists. I couldn’t fully enjoy myself, especially when we went out to the town, outside of the resort, and saw how poor people were. And I mean Third World poor, not U.S. inner city poor.

According to wikipedia, tourism accounts for 80% of Bali’s economy. But interestingly, agriculture (which used to be the biggest moneymaker) employs the most people. Does that mean that tourism only really financially benefits a minority of the population? I wonder.

It’s a strange feeling driving and walking around Bali because one can’t be sure if things are there as a tourist attraction or because it’s naturally/ culturally there. For example, there are all these really interesting statues at various street roundabouts and randomly in the middle of an intersection. They have to do with the Hindu gods and religion. I’m not sure if those were built recently or have been around for 100s of years. Another example is all the batik shops and coffee plantations and woodcarving shops that exist, right next to each other for miles down a street. I can’t tell if those are traditional farms and crafts workshops or if they’ve been built just for tourists.

At any touristy site or area, there are women peddling their wares, begging you to buy a wooden pipe or plastic pinwheel. And all along the street in Ubud (which is a touristy area), men sit on the streetside with their buddies, waiting for tourists to walk by and asking, “Do you need a taxi?” or “Do you need a motorbike ride?” I mean, it’s relentless, the solicitation by the Balinese of the tourists. And of course, we’re all easy to identify– even me, of Asian descent– I have my backpack and walking shoes.

Everywhere I have been (granted, I AM a tourist, and I’ve only been to places accessible to tourists), there are signs that everything is for the tourists’ eyes and wallets. Signs in English EVERYWHERE; menus with Western food; souvenir shops EVERYWHERE (next to temples, rice paddies, farms).

I know that tourism is a big part of the economy here, and it hurts me to see the lengths people will go to make even a few thousand rupiah.

And as an American and a millionaire in this country (I’ve taken out 1 million rupiah from the ATM at a time– that’s only $100USD), I can’t help but want to buy things or tip extra, but I’m on a budget, too.

It’s amazing how you feel the relativity of things, like money, when you’re in a country where there’s a huge disparity with your own.

It makes me squirm when I see well-dressed older white women bargaining down a few thousand rupiah with a store clerk for a scarf or other little trinket. Come on, lady, it’s only a few dollars you’re bargaining down, and that few dollars is nothing off you, but it’s a lot for the Balinese.

I’m just like the next tourist who gets all excited that I got a meal today for about five US dollars or that I got a haircut for the same amount. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited at that kind of “bargain”? But I get the immediate pangs after that moment of excitement thinking, “Wow, what a different life.” My plane ticket from New Zealand to Bali was about $700USD. When I told my driver yesterday that (Balinese like to ask tourists how much we pay for things– I’m not sure if it’s just curiosity or their way of getting a sense of how “rich” you are or what… It makes me a little uncomfortable.), he said, “Wow, you could buy a used motorbike with that money.”

The few Balinese people I’ve talked to– taxi drivers, my guesthouse owners– have never traveled out of Bali before. What a contrast to the many travelers I met in New Zealand, most who were European, who had traveled to multiple countries, not just in Europe but around the world. I think Balinese folks can’t even conceive of how much money it would cost them to travel just outside of Indonesia. And these are hardworking people, too.

I guess what I’m getting at is this privilege that comes with being American, with having a blue U.S.A. passport. Something that one takes for granted until faced with the stark inequities in the world.

Do other travelers here in Bali notice that this culture is built up to serve First World tourists? Does it bother anyone else? Would it be better if I just traveled in countries where the currency is more on par with the U.S. dollar?

I think this is a big part of the reason (in addition to the weather) that I can’t fully enjoy this part of my travels. I’d much rather be helping in the guesthouse, working in a temple, doing something useful to help the people here…

I could go on about this topic, but I’ll leave it at that. Food for thought for you and me.

Growth: For Better or For Worse?

Off the topic of travel, but something that I'm coming across in my travels are these interrelated questions, “Is growth always necessary or desired? Does progress equal growth?”

I first came across this idea a few months ago, having a conversation with a friend who was working for a food truck in Boston. She was talking about some of the good things about the food truck and some of the critiques she had of this particular food truck owner/ founder (this friend wants to start her own food truck someday, which is why she's been working for one). She was critical of how this food truck owner was so bent on growing and expanding the food trucks– creating more and more trucks with the brand and even opening up a storefront, I think– that my friend felt the quality and the essence of the truck was being lost. And along with that, the owner was just working like crazy.

We both commented that growth doesn't always need to be the goal in business (although in a capitalist, and American, system, it seems that IS the goal). What's so wrong with building a good solid food truck with good products and a stable customer base? Why is the goal always to grow and grow until you cannot grow anymore?

Since that conversation, I've come across this idea of going local and staying small (family gardens, for example), where sustainability is the goal, not profit. And I'm of the mind that growth is not always key. Of course, this can't be applied to everything, but I'm feeling in terms of business, lifestyle and living, it is kind of a radical idea.

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, and came across a chapter about David Chang, of Momofuku fame. He's a workaholic (seems to be a common thing among us Korean Americans) and is driving toward perfection. He's grown his business with multiple restaurants, a book, and other things, and yet he is still restless for more. Bourdain asks him what makes a good day for him, and Chang talks about going from restaurant to restaurant and seeing people working hard and diligently, all aiming for excellence in service and food delivery. And he said that's rare, especially because he can't be at every restaurant every minute monitoring as his businesses grow.

My thought is, when things grow to larger and larger proportions, you lose quality because you, as the founder/ owner, don't have as much ability to keep an eye on everything. Yes, it's a bit of a control thing, but it's also the idea that as things grow, they tend to get diluted. And then people start to cut corners. And then you do whatever you can to keep costs down and profits up, often at the expense of the quality of the product itself. Then it becomes an industrial system. At least that's my analysis of it. We see that happen to any product where it becomes more of a commodity (food, clothes, ideas, things) and the essence of that product is gone.

How do we change people's thinking to not always focus on scalability and growth and more focus on sustainability and consciousness of human and earth health?

Just some food for thought. At least for me!


Road Trip, Day Four

This was my solo marathon driving day. In some ways the first three days were training- different mileage, with the help of a friend, and with cool destinations as carrots. But this day was looonngggggg.

Itinerary: St. Louis, MO to Centennial, CO

Miles driven: ~850 miles! Wow, never thought I could do that on my own! I guess that's what they say about marathons. When you train, you never do the full amount, but on the day of, you push to that 26, or in this case 850, miles!
Highlights: I really was dreading this long ride in some ways, gearing myself up for it over the last week or two because I knew that I would have this long drive. But it ended up being pretty painless. I just rested when I needed to and drove when I felt I could. I took several breaks along the way, and I just enjoyed the scenery. The scenery really was pretty beautiful, especially a lot of amazing cloud formations. I was running in front of a storm and so there were huge cumulus clouds all around me.
Food eaten: nothing special. Hash brown with iced latte at McDonald's, snacks in the car, half of a foot long sub at Subway, and finally some Korean instant noodles with kimchee when I arrived at my uncle's house in Centennial, CO.

Some of those clouds I was talking about – above the McDonald's in Missouri where I overhead some older white folks talking politics. I was a little afraid that I stuck out– a young, Asian woman… It would have been interesting if I started talking to them!
This a nice view from a rest stop in Kansas, maybe, off the side of the highway.

As I was driving, I passed two categories of things that made me reflect: fields and fields of corn and what I think were soybean plants AND billboards with some sort of religious content. Oh, and one more thing in Kansas were oil drilling platforms scattered in the midst of the crop fields.

I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma a few years ago and started to get really interested in food systems, and just seeing the vast fields of what I'm assuming were mono-crops for the purpose of money and not of food, I was struck by the reality that everything is so interconnected and that to change the current industrial food complex, it would take huge overhauls– government provides subsidies to farmers which encourages (or even forces them) to move to cash crops like corn and soybeans; many of our systems (food, energy) depend on these cash crops; farmers and town economies depend on these cash crops; and yet the whole system really doesn't produce healthy food for the people both right around those farms as well as the rest of the country. What would it take to change this system that has been handcuffing us for the last only 30-40 years? I saw that many of the fields were bone dry because of this drought and it stresses again the interconnectedness of this whole system, one that isn't meant to be nimble or responsive to environmental or other external factors.

And then on the issue of the religious billboards. I knew I was in a red state just by driving on the highway, red in a way that I was definitely not used to. It made me think about how I would have conversations with folks in these states. Would we be able to have a conversation about politics and religion, which have become so intertwined in the last several years in a way that worries me a little? Would we be able to find common ground despite some major differences in our views on the role of religion in politics, the role of religion in individual's lives?

Since I became increasingly politicized in my mid 20s, I notice I have moved not only farther to the left but also, I get more frustrated when hearing pundits on the right talk their talk. It sets up a wall where I can no longer listen to them speak and shut down any potential for discourse and dialogue. Is this what our country is coming to? Walls between people who have differing views? Where are our models of civility and reaching across differences? And am I a hypocrite who talks about racial inclusion and diversity but can't apply the same lens and approach to political differences?
Well, food for thought anyway.


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