A- is an Asian F

You speak Glee? I know you know this infamous quote already. You don’t speak Glee? It’s okay, I know you know this prognosis already.

The infamous Glee scene: A- is an Asian F.

Do you love to compare your grades with those of others?
Do you always want to know what others scored on that test?
Would you be devastated for a month if you didn’t pass a test?
When you get an A- for supposedly A-graded subjects, do you consider it a fail?
Do you dislike sharing your knowledge with your peers, worrying that they might end up getting higher grades than you?
Do your parents have high expectations of you in terms of grades?

If you are generating these symptoms, here’s the diagnosis. It’s likely that you are (but not limited to being) Asian. Bias and generalisations aside, it is a widely known norm that Asians are more prone to being grade conscious, rather than excellence conscious. We learn not for the joy of studying, but to pass a test, and pass it successfully. Why? Is it a cultural thing, perhaps, or an individual thing?

As an Asian, I have experienced every symptom listed above. In high school, I loved to compare my grades with others. I would actually need to know what others scored on that test, just so I knew where I was standing compared to them. I have never failed a test, but I got a red mark once, and I was devastated for a month, crying for an hour while talking on the phone with my older sister who was overseas at that time.

When I received good marks, but I thought I could have done better, I would consider it a failure. When I knew something extra, I tended to keep it to myself unless asked, because I was just afraid that the one I told would ace and I would come home in despair. And my parents? They sure have high expectations, but in my case I don’t think it’s them who are more grade-conscious. I think it’s me.

Coming to uni for the first time was a grade-shocking time because hey, I used to be a good student, and suddenly it was damn hard just to get a borderline H2A. I was so used to good grades that the first time I received 46% for my assignment, I broke a plate (no), ate a whole bucket of ice-cream (no), and stayed out karaoke-ing all night (not really).

Well, okay, I imagined I was doing these things, but in fact I just went home and stared blankly at my papers, and after two hours of emotional distress I turned on the TV, and watched every chick flick movie in my hard disk. This camouflaged my tears perfectly.

When studying for exams, I listened to the song ‘Win’ by Brian McKnight over and over again, reassuring myself that “I’ll never give up,” and that “I’m gonna win” over these 120 multiple choice questions, 9 short answers, and 3 essay questions that were attacking me from every angle possible. This was war. But halfway through my degree (in my second year, towards the end of my first semester), I have finally made peace with grades. Common sense kicked in when I watched the Bollywood movie ’3 Idiots’. This is my favourite quote from that movie:

“Most of us went to college just for a degree. No degree meant no plum job, no pretty wife, no credit card, no social status. But none of this mattered to him, he was in college for the joy of learning, he never cared if he was first or last.”

As if it was made for me, the movie specifically tells me to “pursue excellence, and success will follow”.

I have never pursued excellence. I have always pursued that certificate of excellence. But even when common sense finally kicked in, it was quite a process for me to change my values and the paradigms that I have lived for the past 18 years. It still is.

Why do Asians tend to be more competitive? A cultural thing, perhaps, but you do have a choice. You can either look at your grades as an Asian F, or just to be happy with an A- or whatever grades you have, knowing that you have done your best.


Tutorial 101

Published on Farrago.

It was Friday, 9am. I was a first year student, in the first week of my first semester. I held the university map and studied it like the Bible, and brought four different subject guides to every class. So what could possibly be a worse way to enter your first tutorial? Oh yeah, being the only Asian in the room.

The subject of my first tute was ‘From Homer to Hollywood’, and frankly, I only took this subject because it was compulsory for Arts student. And having the word ‘Hollywood’ made me thought that it would be an interesting subject. Well, it turned out to only be half-interesting, but that’s a different story.

So imagine me, a 17-year-old girl who has never spoken in English for more than ten minutes, let alone for a full one hour, being stuck in between another 10 or so Westerners.

It was a nightmare.

Luckily, my other tutorial classes were better. Well, at least, I was not the only Asian-looking girl in class. There were some ABCs, and that also counted, right? Wrong. The ABCs are Westerners in different skins. They may look like Asians, but they have Western heart and soul, plus a very good Western tongue.

So here’s the million dollar question: what’s so hard about speaking up in tutorial? Well, as an international student, sadly English is not my cup of tea, and I need to do constant translation in order to utter a seven-word sentence.

Well, despite all efforts to make international students speak in class, we are still not that keen.

During my first year, it took me double the effort to actually listen to the tutors, let alone to speak up my opinions. Others need to listen, to think and to speak. I need to listen, to translate, to think, to translate back, to grammatically check the words that I’d like to say, and to speak. So I did what I do best – I diminished my work by not asking questions or saying comments in class.

In sum, here are my seven good reasons of why international students don’t really want to talk in tutorials:

  1. Because English is not our first language, and as I said, it is hard to even speak in broken English, let alone speaking in proper English for others to understand.
  2. And when you do want to talk, you start rehearsing the sentence about three times before you actually say them. By the time you finished rehearsing, another student has spoken up about something else and your momentum is gone with the wind.
  3. Frankly speaking, it is quite embarrassing if people ask you for the third time of what you are trying to say.
  4. Because it isn’t our (or specifically saying, my) culture. My culture says to listen to the nice teacher and to believe in him – we are not really taught to dispute or to have a debate of what being taught. Blunt memorisation is our best friend.
  5. Laziness – we don’t really see the point of talking in tutorials. Not commenting on certain things doesn’t mean that we lack the understanding of the subject. And hey, we still got decent marks.
  6. Because we are way too much comfortable in our own skins. Speaking our own languages with people who share the same culture is our heaven, and one thing that most people hate is getting out of their comfort zones. That’s why we tend to sit in groups in tutorials. That’s why we have arranged to be in the same tutorial class beforehand. We are interdependent beings, not independent ones.
  7. Because we literally don’t have anything to say.

And what do my international friends think? They pretty much share the same thoughts. Some of us even have that ‘I only need to fill the attendance thingy in tutorials’ attitude.

Okay, I admit that not speaking up does make you invisible. For four straight semesters, not even a single tutor remembers my name (well, maybe one tutor does remember me). They mispronounce my name every single week (yes, it’s Mar-sel-la, not Mar-khel-la or Mar-chel-la). When addressing me, they don’t call my name, instead, they have one of those blank looks and politely use their hand gesture to indicate that they want me to answer the next question. What a sight.

Two Australian academics, Jeremy Novak, a lecturer with the South Cross Business School, and Michael Cowling, from Central Queensland University, have found that Twitter could actually help shy international students to speak up. Clearly, not speaking up in tutorials has a bit of negative stigma; it is an issue that needs to be addressed – something to be helped, or fixed even.

But not speaking up in tutorials doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not able to practice English. You can do this with your other friends who have different nationalities. And it doesn’t mean that you’re academically disadvantaged either (except for that 5% class participation mark).

Rather, not speaking up just makes you stay at a stagnant point on which disables you to go to the next level. At least, that’s what happens to me, and I know that if I want to upgrade my personal skills, I actually need to get myself into that vulnerable state and practice.

Should international students be forced to speak up in tutorials? Maybe. Maybe not. Of course each student has a different case – some actually could talk but wouldn’t, others would like to talk but couldn’t, while the group that I’m usually in is would like to talk but don’t actually have anything to say. Whatever it is, encouraging students to speak up is the best people can do, but I believe the change needs to come from within. Students have to understand why they need to speak up in tutorials.

I always think of speaking up as a plus point for it builds your confidence, and not doing so is not necessarily a minus point. If you want to challenge yourself, speaking up will be a very great asset when you go into the workforce. After all, you are the one who needs to approach the employers, and not the other way around.

Saturday’s Story: The doctor

by unknown

A doctor entered the hospital in hurry after being called in for an urgent surgery. He answered the call ASAP, changed his clothes and went directly to the surgery block. He found the boy’s father pacing in the hall waiting for the doctor.

On seeing him, the dad yelled, “Why did you take all this time to come? Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?”

The doctor smiled and said, “I am sorry, I wasn’t in the hospital and I came as fast as I could after receiving the call…… And now, I wish you’d calm down so that I can do my work”

“Calm down?! What if your son was in this room right now, would you calm down? If your own son dies now what will you do??” said the father angrily.

The doctor smiled again and replied, “I will say what Job said in the Holy Book: ‘From dust we came and to dust we return, blessed be the name of God’. Doctors cannot prolong lives. Go and intercede for your son, we will do our best by God’s grace.”

“Giving advises when we’re not concerned is so easy,” murmured the father.

The surgery took some hours after which the doctor went out happy,

“Thank goodness!, your son is saved!” And without waiting for the father’s reply he carried on his way running. “If you have any question, ask the nurse!!”

“Why is he so arrogant? He couldn’t wait some minutes so that I ask about my son’s state”, commented the father when seeing the nurse minutes after the doctor left.

The nurse answered, tears coming down her face, “His son died yesterday in a road accident, he was in the burial when we called him for your son’s surgery. And now that he saved your son’s life, he left running to finish his son’s burial.”

Friday’s laugh

It’s been a tiring and long week (at least for me it is), so let’s chill down and face the weekend with a smile, shall we?

The image below is given by a friend, and I would really love to see one done about man. It’s just for fun though; if you are a feminist, it’s not aimed to insult you – hey, I’m a woman and I find this amusing!

Are you good at “draw something” game? Check out which type of “draw something” drawer you are!

Have a great weekend ahead everyone! :)

Attitude problem: is it them, or me?

Sometimes we start blaming others for our problems, without really looking at our attitude. Maybe, the problem is not caused by them.

I know I do have some attitude problems. One, and the only one that I will talk about here, is that I HATE calling service center. I. Just. Simply. Hate. Calling. Them.

Just. Hate. It.

Earlier this semester I realised that my 3 (3 is a mobile network service in Australia) 24-month-contract would soon come to an end. I would finally be free from the dodgy 3 network service once and for all. Then I made what I thought of as a 5-minute-trip to the nearby 3 store. Oh boy, how wrong I was.

As 3 has merged its company with Vodafone, I have decided to just “migrate” to Vodafone: they are technically the same company now, but I heard that the network service by Vodafone is way much better. (muttering under my breath: how odd is it…)

So I went to the store, only to find out that I need all my passport details to do the migration. All was done after 20 minutes of queuing.

The next day, I went to the store the second time with my passport, asked for the migration to be done, and after waiting for 15 minutes for the queue and explaining everything, the store assistant finally managed my migration. After 10 minutes of trying to make everything ready, he suddenly asked his co-worker, “If you have an existing plan, and I go through with the migration now, would it mean starting a new 24-month-contract?”

I thought to myself, damn.

Yes, it turned out that I wouldn’t be able to the migration at that moment, and after wasting 40 minutes of my time, the store assistant gave me my most feared suggestion of all: “You should call the 3 service centre and ask them to do it for you.”


I know I have some bad experiences with service centers. It is just so long to reach a live person who can handle my problem. Plus, you wouldn’t really sure on which option to choose. Oh, it’s for my mobile service, so is it 1? Then it’s about a plan, so is it option 3? Oh no, I don’t want to start a new plan, this is horrible, I just want an assistant to talk to me so that I can tell my personal matter straightaway!

And 40 minutes later, you finally got a hold of a real person. Like, someone who talks literally like a human being.

I know they look all nice in the photo and all that, but oh boy, they do give me pain...

So after giving 3 a call, and after reaching a real live person in about 20 minutes, I explained my situation, and yup, granted, I would able to migrate to Vodafone. However, there was another problem.

When I first started a contract with 3, I was underage (not yet 18 at that time). Thus, 3 asked me to use my sister’s (or guardian’s) name instead of mine. So here was the thing: I need to change the registered name from my sister’s to mine first, before going through with the migration.

After 30ish minutes, I hung up. Why? Because my sister wasn’t there, and the person needed to talk to my sister to give her permission about the name changing.

Long story short, a couple of days later I called the 3 service again, now, with my sister sitting beside me. We went through all the procedures, and my sister talked to the call centre person. Yep, more procedures, more rules, and 60 minutes later finally the caller asked me for my passport details and home address to complete the last point of the lengthy procedure. Finally, the worst part was over.

Well, I was not even close.

After all was done, the service clerk explained that the migration needed a month’s time to be done (okay, why didn’t you tell me earlier?). I told her then, “Oh, but could you manage my migration to Vodafone first so that I would able to change plan from the $49 cap to $19 cap in two weeks, just because my 24-month-contract would be ending soon?”

In the nicest go-to-hell tone ever, she said, “Oh, you didn’t tell me earlier, all’s processed and you can’t change anything until it’s done.”

Dot. Dot. Dot.

So I was stuck with 3 for another month, I needed to pay for a month’s extra plan, I couldn’t even migrate to Vodafone, which literally IS the same company with 3, and I have wasted so many hours just to change my sister’s registered name to mine. It should be (I believe) something that can be managed over a short period of time on the store.

So after thanking her (I’ve really, really, really tried to become a good customer, okay?), I hung up, and literally almost cried to my sister. Not only I have invested too much time, both in phone and real life, in managing my stupid phone plan, I was getting nowhere.

Right after my contract ended, this very, very unsatisfied, hot-blooded customer migrated to TPG. No more 3. Heck, I don’t even believe in Vodafone now. I paid a $9.99 plan, with exactly the same benefits as my $49 plan (minus the iPhone, of course). Not only it worked beautifully, the network connection is like 100x better than 3.

But on my way home today I listened to a podcast by Joyce Meyer. Do you know what she said?

1. You will always meet the same problem over and over and over and over again until you manage to go pass that stage.

Or in Joyce Meyer’s words: “You will keep meeting those people, until they no longer bother you.”

When I heard this sentence, I laughed (sarcastically) on the tram. Why? Because I have a recurring thing going on with service centers over and over and over and over again. Now I realised why it will always be there. Because I haven’t graduated from the problem.

2. When you are about to do something, and you already believe that it will go wrong, it will. You just have the wrong attitude.

And every time I am about to deal with any of those service centers, I admit that I have the wrong attitude. I believe that I will have some bad experiences, and even if there’s nothing wrong, I will think of something. Just for the sake of reassuring myself that those call service centers do have a problem.

So is it me, or those-poor-service-center-assistants-that-I-have-sworn-to-hate-until-death-do-us-apart? I would really, really like to say it’s them, or at least 90% them and 10% me, but okay, I’m done with thinking that way. It is me.

It is my attitude that gets in the way.

And until I’m able to change it, I will keep on facing annoying service center assistants, I can assure you that. And if I do not want to change, I will keep on facing those annoying service center assistants even more often, literally until death do us apart.

So next time I’m dealing with annoying service clerk, I will remember the sarcasm in Joyce Meyer’s voice, and remind myself that it is me, not them.

Ps. If you are interested in listening to the podcast, it’s titled Seven Characteristics of a Perfect Heart. You can access the Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking the links. The specific part that I said in this blog was in the Part 2 at around min 12.

Do you believe in platonic relationships?

Published on Meld Magazine, Friday, 20 April 2012.

WHEN it comes to the opposite sex, how many times have you heard friends chime, “Oh, we’re just friends”. Marcella Purnama explores the topic of platonic relationships and explains why she is a skeptic.

Photo: Andrejs Pidjass

Platonic relationships form when boy meets girl and they become best friends. While some believe it can happen, others are a bit skeptical about their existence… including me.

For girls, the norm is to have another girl as your best friend. For boys, it’s pretty much the same, which makes life difficult for girls (like me) who have boys (like them) as best friends.

I’ve always liked to be friends with boys. Why? Gosh, their lives are so simple! No gossip, no celebrities, no fashion. It’s more about sports, fun and games.

When I hang out with the boys, I don’t need to pretend to look excited at their new notebook and say things like, “Aww, that’s so cute.” I don’t even need to think about not hurting their feelings. If I don’t like it, I’ll just say it, and somehow, guys can handle that kind of honesty better than girls.

I can challenge them to a game of Mario Kart, talk about superhero movies and argue over the latest match between Federer and Nadal without even trying to remember who the hell Kim Kardashian is.

You can be as frank as you want and they won’t backstab you because boys usually don’t want to talk about private stuff. There’s no messaging, no chatting on a day-to-day basis with other boys, unlike girls, so the secrets you share are safe(r) with them.

Boys use logic, so when I am clouded by my emotional blues of sadness, their words strike me like lightning.

And for a girl (like me) who doesn’t want to know about the latest trend in fashion, be in touch with America’s Next Top Model or gossip about the dress Jessica Alba wore to the Academy Awards, boys are just plain easier to get along with.

I love playing badminton, but sadly none of the girls in my friendship circle play, so I end up playing with the boys. I love playing table tennis, but it’s hard to find girls who will agree to doing anything other than grabbing a cup of coffee or window shopping, so I end up playing with the boys.

I love doing outdoor activities, but not many girls do. So when the choice is between going to the shops and going to Seaworld, the shops will always win for girls… every single time. So I end up going to Seaworld, theme parks and the zoo with the boys (again).

In a sense, boys are easier to talk to and easier to handle (boyfriends are different stories, but don’t get me started). They won’t comment on your weird sense of fashion (at least not out loud), your branded or unbranded bags or how much weight you’ve gained during the weekend.

But is there such a thing as a platonic relationship?

In my humblest opinion, when you befriend the opposite sex, it’s either because you’re just “sometimes-friends” who occasionally go out in groups and chat about random topics or you’re lovers. You can’t really be best friends with the opposite sex. On what do I base this belief? Personal experiences, mainly, but the opinions of my guy friends too.

When boy meets girl and they spend too much time together talking about private matters, sharing too many laughs and exchanging too many smiles, one or the other will end up having amorous feelings and the friendship will crumble. And then you can’t go back to being friends once more.

Looking back, every single one of the male friends I considered to be my best friend eventually did something to destroy that platonic relationship. One gave me a flower on Valentine’s Day. One gave me a love poem, twice. Another asked me out on a dinner date. The other gave me a bouquet of roses after prom night.

As yet, up until this time last year, I was still a believer in the platonic relationship. Then I had dinner with some skeptical guys who were convinced friendships between boys and girls do not exist. I began to question my belief as well. When they asked me, “Do you have a good male friend who has never fallen for you before? Or vice versa?” I couldn’t say yes.

And so today, my relationships with the opposite sex can never cross that level into becoming good friends. It’s either being just friends or being more than friends. It’s harsh, but it’s completely and utterly true.

Do you believe in platonic relationships? Share your views in the comments box below!

Turning 20, is there even a manual to it?

Goodbye teen years, goodbye freedom. Say hello to my new best friend: responsibility.

After getting the forever-dreamed driver’s license, the legal contract saying that we can drink alcohol, and the new taste of freedom as a young adult, now it hits me by surprise (again) that the two-year-promotion time is over. Voila, welcome 20.

This is what 20-year-old Marcella looks like.

And here’s another good news: I’ll be graduating in a couple of months’ time.

It’s not that I don’t want to graduate (well, maybe I don’t), but graduating means receiving a new sets of responsibilities. No more studying, I need to work. Or no more merely studying for getting a pass, I need to attain the knowledge needed for work. No more skipping classes, I have deadlines. And soon there will be bills to be paid, dream jobs to be pursued, mortgages to be thought about, and boyfriend to be married. Life is good.

And at the age of 20, you can’t help but revisiting your before 20 bucket list and trying to cross some points. So here is mine:

  1. Getting an internship
  2. Get paid (part-time jobs count, right?)
  3. Publish my own book (maybe in another decade…)
  4. Getting your writing published
  5. Do bungee jumping (I’m afraid that age will catch up with me soon)
  6. Watch a Broadway show (even better, I’ve watched two)
  7. Traveling to the most bizarre places and learn their cultures
  8. Watch Roger Federer playing live at Australian Open (please, Federer, don’t retire too soon!)
  9. Become a barista
  10. Learn how to do ballroom dance (waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep)
  11. Getting married at the age of 20 (maybe not)
  12. Graduate at the age of 20 (soon!)
  13. Learn proper English
  14. Meet ‘someone’
  15. Discover your passion and your dream job
  16. Getting your dream job

And somehow you start to see the neighbour’s grass and realise that your before 20 friend has already gotten into five different internships in three different countries. Another has interned in Bulgari Hotel in Bali. One is on a scholarship in London to study MBA. The other got a scholarship to study in the University of Tokyo, which ranked 21 according to Academic Ranking World Universities.

Now, I wonder if I can ever have my own house and pay that 30-year-mortgage money. Now, I wonder if I can have a decent job that will enable me to live on my own. Now, I wonder if I (along with my future husband) can get our kids to school and pay for their tuition, especially in the middle of this horrible economic crisis.

So now you are 20 and trying to get a job. Tomorrow you’ll be 23 and (hopefully) already having a job that you like. Next week you’ll be 25, (probably) already walking down the aisle with the man of your dreams. Next month, you’ll be 30, nervously consulting the doctor of the birth of your first child. Next year, you’ll be 50, and then 70, and 80, and…

And life goes on.

I’m not what you call the ambitious type, but I do have my own ego – the ego to be wanting to have something to be proud of. To be able to look back, and call my past as a series of accomplishments.

Maybe discovering your dream job, getting married, having kids are still very far in the future. But at the age of 20, somehow you start thinking about it. I guess, the planning starts now.