Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ailee the anomaly

My freshman year in college, people persisted in asking me 2 things that got on my nerves. The first (and more popular) query was "ICA ka?", which was invariably followed by a look of shock and bewilderment when I replied in the negative. What, a Chinese girl living in Greenhills who didn't study in ICA?!? How is that possible!?! Eventually though, I got used to it (indeed, 10 years later, I'm still getting that question occasionally, with the same look of bewildered shock I now find amusing), and after my teaching stint in ICA I've learned to take it as less of a slight (given all the preconceived notions and "hin-deh noh!" jokes about ICAns) and more of a compliment.

The second (and more annoying) question that I regularly encountered was "Chinese ka, e di magaling ka sa math?" This presumption peeved me a lot, not only because of its implied racial stereotyping, but because well, quite frankly and simply put, I suck at math. So it was somewhat huffily that I would reply, "Actually, allergic ako sa numbers."

This was almost physiologically accurate. Whenever I sat for a Math or Accounting exam, either my arms would feel strangely itchy, or I would get the strongest urge to vomit. I have always struggled in subjects that involved numbers in any way: Math, Statistics, Accounting, Finance, even Chemistry and Physics. Somehow my brain is just not programmed to process figures and equations properly. Even now that I'm vice president of our company, I have trouble computing for salaries and deductions, cost prices and SRPs, taxes and expenses, and I regard invoices and financial data and bank statements with the same dread and loathing as a Math midterm exam paper. This is to the undying frustration of my mother, who once taught high school math part-time while earning a degree in BS Mathematics, which she eventually finished magna cum laude. During our schooling years, I imagine she sometimes looked at her 3 mathematically-challenged children and wondered despairingly where her numerical intelligence genes went, the genes she inherited from her father, a man who can compute stuff on an abacus faster than most people can on a calculator. I am a disgrace to my family, as well as to my entire race.

Which wiseguy first propagated the notion that all Chinese are good in math anyway? Granted, a lot of people who do well in math are Chinese, but that doesn't mean all or even the majority of our kind are math whizzes.
My mom has a theory that it's because the multiplication table is easier and faster to recite in Chinese, so Chinese kids learn it better and consequently solve math problems more quickly. This theory wouldn't be so lame if it weren't for the fact that I can recite the multiplication table in Chinese at machine-gun speed, but I'm still pathetic when it comes to more complicated equations. My mom, grasping at the straws of genetics and linguistics, tries to blame my mathematical deficiencies on my education, saying both my grade school and high school were weak in Math, but that's just laughable because Uno has a reputation for producing some of the brightest math nerds in the country, while Jubilee... ok, so I did win a "Best in Algebra" award from the Math Club during my senior year, but that was a fluke, and largely thanks to my best friend (who IS a math whiz) unexpectedly screwing up the last question of the quiz.

Or perhaps I should consider the possibility that I really am just an abnormal freak of nature. The other day I saw in the news that a group of Filipino students brought home dozens of medals from the 3rd International Mathematics Invitational Competition held in Singapore. The list of names of medal-winners reads like roll call at a school in downtown Binondo: Uys, Chuas, Cos, Tans.... I know it's a noteworthy achievement and something to be proud of (hooray Philippines! hooray Chinese-Filipino students!), but it's stuff like this that makes it hard to dispel the "all Chinese are good in math" myth, and makes me look even more like a defective product off a China factory assembly line.

But hey, this is how I'm wired, faultily or not. And if in exchange for the lack of math skills I got the innate ability to write with flawless grammar, that's not such a bad deal (you wouldn't be enjoying reading my blog so much otherwise... assuming you ARE enjoying it). So yes, I'm a Chinese girl who sucks in math. Yes, we do exist, much like non-ICAn Chinese girls living in Greenhills also exist. So please, wipe that look of bewildered shock off your face. :p


At Thursday, August 23, 2007, Blogger sugeina said...


if i may share a classic blooper here in the office:

officemate1 who didn't know what a "walrus" was, decided to keep his dignity by opening up google to search for himself instead of asking. he entered "walros" in the search field. officemate2 corrected him by emphasizing the "rus"-part in pronouncing the word, attracting the attention of everyone else in the office. with everyone watching, officemate1 corrected the search entry to "walroose".

he defended himself by calling it the "balance of nature", that while he lacks basic vocabulary, he has excellent skills in programming and problem solving. known as one of the more promising young developers here, everyone just laughed in agreement.

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Is Officemate 1 Japanese like your boss? If so I think we can pardon him for not knowing how to spell "walrus". :)

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Anonymous pamy said...

hi there ms lim! i stumbled upon this on the internet and would like to share it to you. its about that writer who bashed OFWS. due to public outbursts, i think she resigned.

what goes around comes around.


dont worry ms lim! i have very poor math skills too! my mom thinks i do basic operations too slow (i think im in the wrong course haha) but that's why they invented the calculator to make life easier for us numerically challenged people :D

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Anonymous Christa said...

Even until now, I also feel somewhat discriminated. The whole "Oh ICAn ka?" and yes, the ever lovable ICAn accent that we are all said to possess. In some way, it's very much amusing and irritating at the same time. But you know Ms Lim, I've also got friends living in Greenhills who don't study in ICA. I think it weird, but it's more norm now than before. Haha.

You know what, my blockmates have this thing about singling me out when it comes to things Chinese-related. It can be quite annoying since I have 3 other Chinese blockmates, but the thing is they didn't study Chinese so I'm like the loner. feels so odd at times. And I feel like I'm singled out in some of my classes too, like in SA21.

Oh, I feel the same way in Math..somewhat. It's like I love numbers but they don't love me. I don't think much of my parents skills from their accounting majors or their MBA's had any effect on me whatsoever.

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some see them as the crazy ones,
We see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world,
Are the ones who do.

-Apple ad

*I like this add. XD

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Pamy, I saw that "apology" featured on TV Patrol last night, but apparently it's not an official statement (it's only a Geocities page after all) and might just be a hoax to appease Malu Fernandez's critics.

And yes, thank goodness for the invention of the calculator. Haha.

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger sugeina said...

Officemate1 is a BS Computer Science graduate of University of the Philippines (like almost 75% of my officemates).

that incident was almost 2 years ago, we were still in the philippines then.

@pamy: (if i may butt in)
thanks for sharing the link. her statement seems sincere enough for me.

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Christa, I love that Apple ad! :)

And I know the feeling of being singled out in a class because of ethnicity. My freshman Theo teacher once used a Chinese-Filipino stereotype as an example in class, and as 1 of the 5 Chinese students there, it made me uncomfortable, so I wrote to her about it. She apologized. I think you can do the same with your SA teacher. S/he should know better.

As for your blockmates, give them the benefit of the doubt. Most of them are probably operating on sheer ignorance or acting out of pure curiosity, and don't really mean anything bad about it. Given time, they'll realize you're not so "different" from them after all. :)

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger sugeina said...

a hoax?? (roll eyes)
and i thought that was the end of it already.

i think i'm becoming too optimisitic for my own good.

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

"Officemate 1 is a BS Computer Science graduate of University of the Philippines" -Oh dear. Well, I'm sure he is a brilliant programmer. =D

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

"i think i'm becoming too optimisitic for my own good." -A flaw most Ateneans possess. :) But we can still hope the real thing will come eventually.

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Sugeina, if it's any consolation, I fell for it too. This is the blog that set me straight:

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger sugeina said...

ahh, thanks! that was of great consolation.

...reading the cmfr link now...

At Friday, August 24, 2007, Blogger sugeina said...

“I take full responsibility for my actions and my friends and family have nothing to do with this. To date I have submitted my resignation letters to both the Manila Standard and People Asia, on that note may this matter be laid to rest," Fernandez said in the statement forwarded to GMANews.TV Thursday evening.

i'll keep my optimism and consider this issue over.

now i have to get back to work. this blog of yours is a vice, i swear.

At Saturday, August 25, 2007, Anonymous Christa said...

Thanks for that Ms. Lim. :)

Actually my prof likes using Chinese-related issues as an example in class. It's just that he uses me to confirm statements for the class, and it feels odd and uncomfortable.

But yea. I have this friend who likes teasing me about "going back to China"...I'm kinda getting used to it. No point in arguing against someone who does those kinds of things.

I really like that ad. :) Glad you like it too. Haha. It's very true.


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