adulting no. 3: little household things

adulting is a series on ilam that talks about doing new “adult” things, and what I’ve learned, which hopefully, may help you navigate adulting as well.

Some sundry things I’ve picked up:

  1. Don’t sign an apartment lease without looking at the apartment in-person first. If you can, try to visit places before signing a lease. If you cannot visit beforehand, sublet for a month or two, and spend those two months exploring neighborhoods and visiting places to live. The neighborhood counts for a lot, and it’s not always easy to discern what type of neighborhood you’ll like just by browsing the internet. Apartment photos may also obfuscate the “not-so-nice things,” so it’s best to visit in-person and confirm for yourself.
  2. There’s no substitute for doing a thorough clean-up at least once a month. It’s important to take the time to do a thorough cleaning regularly, as cleaning gets much harder over time, and sometimes impossible without professional tools. The bathroom is especially susceptible to this, because of the moisture and humidity that encourages mold.
  3. Toilet bowl tablets: I despise cleaning toilets. With a toilet bowl tablet, it disinfects and keeps the toilet bowl cleaner between the more-thorough cleaning. Get the uncolored ones, because sometimes the colored ones (most often it’s blue) can sometimes stain your toilet if not flushed enough.
  4.  A microwave is dead useful for things other than Easy Mac. Many nights, I come home around 8pm, and still have some things to do, so I can’t spend that much time preparing my food. I keep on hand an assortment of fresh and frozen vegetables, and I can steam them in the microwave, put in a bit of seasoning, and have a delicious dinner ready in less than 10 minutes (paired with the rice that I’ve kept warm in my rice cooker). I also have to clean less things- I generally microwave food in the same dish I eat with. Microwave cooking isn’t sad and can be quite healthy and fresh, unless you’re microwaving things like Hungry-Man dinners.
  5. A winning combination for hot-water lovers: S’well and a hot water boiler. The regular-sized S’well is $35 for most designs– while a little steep, I’ve found it to be a reasonable price for how it performs. As it claims, I’ve regularly filled the bottle with hot water and it still piping hot after 12 hours. It never smells, does not get hot (except for the cap, since obviously the insulation is weakest there), and the water never tastes of metal. I was skeptical at first, because all the hot water thermai I’ve ever had lost significant heat after an hour or so. S’well has turned me into a believer.
  6. Sign up for accounts/emails/mailings from stores you visit regularly. Grocery stores and pharmacies are the prime examples. They will alert of you sales and coupons. Every little bit saved is something, after all. Some will even give you personalized offers according to your buying history.
  7. If your credit is good, (prudently) sign up for other credit cards in order to take advantage of their signing bonus and other rewards. This one is from one of my colleagues, who told me that since he knew he would be spending a lot of money on graduate school applications, he opened up another credit card to get their signing bonus. Most bonuses are something like this: spend $x in the first y months, get $z reward. The new credit card that I received also has revolving reward categories with higher reward amounts, so I can allocate my spending more optimally to maximize my rewards. You don’t need to stick to one credit card, it’s fine to use more than one.
  8. When possible, use credit cards instead of debit cards and cash. Three reasons: (1) Rewards are usually non-existent or smaller on debit cards. (2) Debit cards are directly linked to your checking account. If a fraudulent transaction goes through, the money in your checking account will be missing. By law, it eventually will be “back”, but in the short-term, you’ll be out of this money. However, with a credit card, your money hasn’t already been “spent.” Earlier this year, I had a series of fraudulent transactions, which ranged from a dollar to the hundreds (all declined, because Capital One caught the first suspicious transaction right from the start). I was very glad that I hadn’t linked anything to my debit card, because who knows how fast my debit card company would catch these sorts of transactions? By then, I could have been out a few thousand dollars. (3) Lastly, by using a credit card as opposed to cash, expenses can be easily tracked by looking at the statements.
  9. Track your expenses (somehow). I use Mint and the various services my banks provide. If you prefer not to do things online, you’ll have to use a system involving paper and pen. Any way you choose to do it, you need a good record for when you file taxes and when you want to do some budgeting. Like cleaning, it’s best to set aside time each month to look over your finances and straighten it up, or else it gets hard to remember what happened and even muster up the motivation to “straighten it up.”
  10. Life’s too short to frequently be shopping for flimsy clothing at fast-fashion places like H&M and Forever21. It may be a higher upfront cost, but with the cost spread out over a longer period of time, it’s more cost-effective to buy clothing that is well-made and will last longer than a few washes. Lately, I’ve really liked Everlane, and Uniqlo is always a perennial favorite.

adulting no. 2: shampoo

adulting is a series on ilam that talks about doing new “adult” things, and what I’ve learned, which hopefully, may help you navigate adulting as well.

I have straight, fine hair, prone to oiliness if I don’t wash it every day. Forget about limp hair without volume– which I find to be the most common complaint amongst people with this type of hair– I just want hair that doesn’t get icky and oily and tangled by 5pm. In college, I would often wear braids to cut down on the tangles, and couldn’t wear my hair down or else it would inevitably knot itself. The oiliness would also cause me have incredibly painful bumps in my scalp from time to time.

Because I was relatively broke and focused on school, I shrugged it away for a while. However, with more disposable income now, I began my foray into buying “costs more than $2” array of hair products. I used them all– the typical drugstore brands by the likes of Dove, L’Oreal, Pantene, OGX, John Frieda, RedKen, Tresemme, etc. I also had a brief stint with salon products (my wallet cried very much). They all had a honeymoon period of a few days in which my hair was mercifully oil-free but then it returned to the same old pattern.

While mulling this sad existence at the supermarket shampoo aisle, I noticed that Renpure‘s coconut shampoo and conditioner were on sale. It advertised that it was made without parabens, sulfates, and synethetic colors. All right, I knew I was heading towards the young professional stereotype, so why not dip one more toe in?

Compared to what I had been using before, Renpure was amazing. My hair no longer tangled, but alas, after using it for a few months, it too began give me somewhat oily hair. I switched to another shampoo and conditioner to “reset” my hair, and used Renpure again after a few days– still no luck, the oiliness returned.

Then, like the yuppie I am, I was shopping at Whole Foods and I saw Jason on sale. Again, it was touted as having no “chemicals”, and made with botanical extracts (it smells like herbal tea). I bought the duo for $16, and heck, I threw in a Dolcezza pint of cococut milk gelato for $8 because when you’re at Whole Foods, you throw away the pretense of saving any money.

My problems have been solved.


My hair is always straight, easy to comb through– sometimes I even forget to brush my hair in the morning because it is no longer a rat’s nest– and the oil has vanished, along with the painful bumps. Also, even though I haven’t had a haircut in over six months, I cannot feel split ends. I think the harsher chemicals in the industrial hair products were too strong and stripped away the natural moisture in my hair– in turn causing dryness, split ends, and forcing my scalp to produce extra oil. Due to less oil in general, the incidence of acne along my hairline and the painful bumps on my scalp have been at an all-time low. This experience with shampoo has made me think more about the other stuff I’m putting in or on my body– we only ever have one body, and it’s important to treat it with quality products that fit our needs. It doesn’t have to be $8 shampoo from Whole Foods, of course, it could easily be just making this simple homemade shampoo.

Lessons Learned: 

  1. Go off the beaten path and try the “natural” and “without chemicals” products.
  2. Occasionally “reset” your hair from your current regimen by using different products for a few days.

adulting no. 1: could I love this supermarket?

adulting is a series on ilam that talks about doing new “adult” things, and what I’ve learned, which hopefully, may help you navigate adulting as well.

Now that I’ve been a city-liver for a little over a year, I’ve realized the one thing most important to me: the proximity of a well-stocked supermarket. I’ve put together an internal list of what I look for in a supermarket, and I’m never happier than visiting a new supermarket for the first time.

  • How is the quality and selection size of the produce? Is it arranged nicely, reasonably stocked, and is it fresh at least 6 days out of 7?
  • What does its international section look like? Does it carry mirin, rice vinegar, and Golden Curry? Do they have bok choy, sugar snap peas, and daikon? Do they stock green tea ice cream? For a supermarket in a large metropolitan area, these should be all standard.
  • Does it sell arugula separately (i.e. not within a salad mix)?
  • Does it have a pharmacy with convenient hours?
  • Do they bake in-house? How much is a French baguette and how large is it?
  • Is the overall feel clean, modern, and pleasant?
  • When ordering from the deli, do they look you in the eye when you order?
  • What is the supermarket’s brand? Do they focus on organics? Sustainability? Cheap prices?
  • How do the prices and quality compare to other supermarkets in the area? How much are the dozen eggs (organic and free-range)? How much are cucumbers? How much are tomatoes?

Lessons Learned:

  1. Always check out the neighborhood supermarkets before moving into a neighborhood.

inadvertently athleisure-ly

Catching up on my Economist backlog, I read an interesting article on how the sales of jeans have been going down, partly due the fact that women are now embracing athleisure– wearing athletic clothing as leisure wear, even if they have no intention to work out. I was surprised there was an actual term for this movement as that meant I was an unwitting disciple.

In college, I had gone through three distinct phases of dressing. First the awkward I’m-still-wearing-Aeropostale-and-actual-colors-i.e.-wardrobe-from-high-school-that-I-put-together-from-copying-others lasted me for a year until I discovered Zara. Then I spent the next two years looking sharp in blazers and skinny pants. My last year I gave up caring and wore athletic wear pretty much every day; on the off days, I would don a pair of Uniqlo skinny pants and a hoodie. Even now, I am wearing running tights despite the fact I have no intention of exercising.

What changed? I suspect the things that changed for me changed for most of the women in the athleisure lifestyle. First, it is trendy to work out, to be healthy, to down that chia drink with gusto! As such, it is socially acceptable for a woman to walk down the street in tight athletic wear and sneakers without being looked down upon as a mess. She is taking care of her body and she looks great without her makeup on, right? Ah, she’s going into Whole Foods now, her life must be so great. Celebrating the body of woman like the temple it is.

I used to wear athletic clothing only when exercising, too. But after exercising, I realized something: that exercise clothes are comfortable. Sounds stupid, but yes, good exercise clothes are constructed in a way that makes moving very easily and will constrain all of those fat pockets if so needed. Generous amounts of clingy and stretchy fabrics makes it so that sizes fit well even slightly too large or too small. So, two points for exercise clothes: they are comfortable and more universally flattering.

As for styles, shapes, and colors, exercise clothes tend to have less choices and gravitate towards being color-blocked and simple. As someone whose choice of store for real clothes is increasingly now Uniqlo, having a limited set of basics is incredibly appealing. Everything mostly matches and doesn’t have the frills or frightening patterns that regular clothes can have. I do appreciate regular clothes and the people who have the mindset to wear them, but the hassle of choosing them as a set and wearing them is sometimes too much for me. If I wear a patterned dress, I need to be in the pattern mindset, by golly, before I can wear it. Most of the time I’m not in the mood to be orange and blue birds nor Victorian lace. Most of the time I want to be nondescript and low-maintenance, which usually means color-blocked, dark and comfortable.

I do think that athleisure is not simply a style, but it a strong lifestyle statement– I don’t care what people think of me if they see me in exercise clothes all the time (and by extension, how well/poorly toned my bottom is) because ultimately, I want to be comfortable. The same can be said of regular clothes, of course, but wearing mainstream regular clothes mostly does not have a negative connotations of being a slob or a wannabe. I like athletic wear and if I am a slob or exercise-wannabe to some, then whatever. I will work hard to please those that are in my purview, but for those who I may see once in a fleeting lifetime.. excuse me while I go put on my running tights.

[college] the trials and tips when applying to jobs.

The years have passed by quickly, and I soon became a senior in college looking for employment. I had numerous friends who had worked in investment banking over the summer and returned triumphantly with full-time offers. As fall semester quickly ran past, I went to dozens of interviews, watching in despair as my fellow classmates were offered the second-round interviews and finally, an offer. Without an exaggeration, I would say close to 70% of my mathematics-economics circle were already gainfully employed, and I felt incredibly inadequate in an environment that prizes the ambitious.

January arrived, and I was unprepared to meet it. January signaled the end of the recruiting season for most large companies I wanted to enter– economic consulting firms, investment banks, equity research firms. However, after much scrutiny, I discovered another recruiting season that had just started: economics research assistants (RA). I sent off shamelessly many applications to think-tanks, top universities and economic institutions, and anything that had “STATA” in the job description. I knew a PhD could be in my future, so becoming an RA could be an incredible asset when it came time to apply to graduate school.

The year started off slow, despite my renewed resolution to apply to RA jobs. I was rejected or never heard back from UPenn, Yale, American Enterprise Institute, Columbia Business School, MIT’s J-PAL, Brookings, and the list goes on. However, the ball started rolling inexplicably in March. I received numerous interviews from the Federal Reserve— Philadelphia, Richmond, Boston, Washington DC (I did have a prior one in December at Kansas City). After a whirlwind two weeks, I am extremely grateful to say that I landed an dream offer with one of these locations and have accepted.

There is a fair bit of irony in how the world works, because this position is probably the most prestigious one I could hope for– ever. No other job I interviewed for can compete, though perhaps Goldman Sachs would be a distant second. I won my dream job after almost nine months of uncertainty, agony and grueling work applying and interviewing.

I hope by sharing my experience, others who are in the job market for the first time as a college senior, or will be in the job market soon, will find some helpful pointers. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me via email, or using anonymous

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

Don’t give up. This sounds stupid, I know. Everyone will say this to you. However, rejection is hard. It is so difficult to read “We have decided to pursue other candidates” or “We did not feel you were a good fit” and not feel depressed that you are just not good enough. Let’s also be honest– very likely you will have classmates who receive the job offer instead of you and you think, “why did they get an offer? Aren’t I as qualified as they are?” In my case, I had these bad thoughts especially often since on paper, I have impressive grades. It is incredibly hard to remain optimistic and continue applying because you fear the rejection and you think that it is not worth it because you will be rejected anyway. Some of my friends have missed out on great opportunities because they got discouraged too early and decided to “focus” on school instead. Right up until March, I was applying to at least 2-3 jobs per week; in busier weeks I applied to as many as 10.  Continue reading

angry asian woman

I woke up feeling pissed today. There is no other word to describe it properly– angry, annoyed, affronted, indignant, irate, resentful– I felt all the ugly rawness of being pissed.

Last night, I had attended a cocktail hosted by my workplace, and towards the end of the night, one of my fellow coworkers drawled out his advice to me. I honestly appreciated his pointers, and thanked him sincerely for it. I thought that was the end of the conversation.

Somehow, he started to ramble on how about at age 32 is your peak earning period and how when “When you’re 32 making $100,000 and have a husband and children..” at which point I could not contain my irritation and butted in, saying, “Who says I will have a husband? Who says I will have children?” He then immediately replied, “Michelle, you just have no confidence in yourself!”

If I was drinking something, I would have spluttered all over the place. I was outraged. He had assumed that my very obvious irritation was my fear at an inability to attract a husband. He implied that women fear the life without the husband; that having a husband is one of our end goals. That is, the pinnacle of a woman who “has it all” must include the career, husband and children in tow, and of course, if I had the ‘confidence’, my reward would be a family life. This, coming from a person that is only four years older than me. The ugliness of gender typing reared its head even in a ‘young’ person, in a generation that is supposed to be for progressive equality.

Plenty of women with low self-esteem get married and have children every day, but I am not one of those women who will demean my self-respect and do something that I do not truly want. Perhaps I am gay. Perhaps I am asexual. Perhaps I do not like children. Perhaps I am a sociopath. Perhaps I just have no time. The bottom line is– if I do not want or have a husband or children– others should shut up and march on. Life is a series of priorities, I’ve ordered mine, and you focus on yours.

Confidence or a lack thereof has nothing to do with it. At the end of the day, you die alone, and you feel your own happiness alone. Betting your happiness on a set of antiquated social standards can only be self-defeating.

[college] orientation for introverts

In just a few weeks, orientation will begin for college freshmen. At most colleges, especially small ones, orientation can be an intense bonding experience, and a positive experience that makes your friend circle for all four years. Yet, for introverts like me, orientation was torture. Having to go to mass events teeming with overeager first years, then being encouraged to spill my secrets to strangers, and everywhere, people plastered with sweet smiles. I know they were all very nice people, but the relentless onslaught of cheeriness made me feel even more depressed.

the kind of people I typically get along with understand this joke.

the kind of people I typically get along with understand this joke.

At my college, we did most things in our pre-assigned “first year mentor” groups. Being an introvert, you can usually immediately pick out who you do not get along with well; in this case, this was my roommate and my entire first year mentor group. For the first week, I tried so, so hard, despite that. I felt even more alone after that, as I realized time and time again, our thoughts did not align.

Some people have asked me on some advice for college, and my number one advice is always “do everything”, which seems like a contradiction on the surface. It’s not. Try everything that you’re interested in at least once– at those activities, make an effort to talk to others.

I wish someone was there to tell me that I did not have to sit through the onslaught that was orientation. It is perfectly all right to shun and skip out on orientation events– there are plenty of ways to make friends, through classes, through extracurricular activities, and even through work. All of my good friends at college have been made that way; I knew none of them during orientation. Everyone has their own pace of finding and making friends, and do not let it bother you that perhaps you may not have a huge circle of friends by the time school starts. Tend to your own interests and your garden of friends will naturally grow.