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.

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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.

[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 ask.fm.

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

in his own words, Macklemore was fucking awesome.

Last night, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis held a concert at my college.

if you can spot me, I'm in all black, head to toe. 1300 guesses where I am.

if you can spot me, I’m in all black, head to toe. 1300 guesses where I am. from Macklemore’s Instagram

Let’s get rid of the not-so-great things– Macklemore sounded a bit scripted, as if he said the same phrases over and over leading into his set lists. However, this is quite pardonable, because he does hold concerts for a living and there are only so many things you can say to lead into your song. Also, Macklemore’s opening act was way too long– it was DJ Eklipze (Walter Baker Bridgforth, a local student from Berklee), and then the time it took for Macklemore to actually get on stage was around 3.5 hours (minus one hour of standing on line).

Now to focus on the good things! As I was walking to the library after the concert (because a Wendy’s got to study even after flipping her shit several times at a crazy concert), I overhead someone on her phone say, “Was the concert good? Well, it about hope and shit. You know.” But hope is always a good message, and especially so when the performer is so enthusiastic and sincere. Macklemore truly means everything he raps; one cannot feel strangely unmoved when he slips into his speakeasy style, and even amidst a hall of 1,300 screaming women, at the more serious parts, Macklemore feels like he’s just having a conversation with you.

One of the best things about Macklemore is that he does not rap exclusively about booze and sex– like the majority of popular rap and hip-hop artists out there– he actually raps about things that do matter to everyone, our fears and our aspirations, and beating the odds. So yes, “hope and shit” is an amazing topic for a rap and hip-hop concert; it makes you appreciate Macklemore for beyond just a few sick beats.

It was a bare-bones concert, just a few fancy lights; Macklemore rode out on the crowd for a bit, and sprayed the crowd with water several times, and put on funny hats twice and did a silly encore with a cape. The focus of the concert was on Macklemore, and he is a dynamic performer as he mesmerizingly moves around with quite large and exaggerated motions and exhorts people to dance with him. In fact, his preternaturally long and pale arms reminded me of Michael Phelps. Perhaps Macklemore should have tried his hand at swimming before Little League? His trumpet and percussion bud, Owuor Arunga, was quite captivating as well, as they both jammed together, incredibly in sync with each other. Overall, Macklemore is enthusiastically fun to watch on stage.

Another thing I loved about Macklemore’s performance is the time he took to talk to the audience, and show appreciation for them. Macklemore shared with us his impression of my college: (1) Women everywhere he was (2) Harry Potter (3) The most beautiful campus he had ever seen. He also confessed he went skinny-dipping in Lake Waban, which is crazy, since I was doing homework in the library with fantastic a view of the lake when he apparently went skinny-dipping. Of course, in turn, we screamed our guts out for him, and unlike his last five concerts, we did not drop him when he went crowd-surfing.

mmichlle is my private Twitter account; theinnocentlam is my public one. 

As someone who is used to Asian concerts in which the performers bow incredibly low, I was extremely touched at the conclusion of the concert, where Macklemore exceeded a 90 degree bow for more than a minute. His humbling, despite his great success– despite performing and being at the MTV Movie Awards the previous night and flying out on a red-eye flight to Boston– really humbles us all. I hope Macklemore never finds a reason to sign with a label, and that he can remain an independent artist. As he reminded us, it is 2013, and he was just certified gold without a label. For college-age students who are just beginning to find their bearings in the real world, being able to follow our dreams even without institutional support strikes a strong chord with us. Beyond his music, Macklemore is thus even more of an inspiring figure.

Just one last, tiny, inconsequential thing. Macklemore is gorgeous. Aside from wearing a wife-beater for 80% of the concert which showcased his well-defined arm musculature, he did a few push-ups on stage and you could clearly see the outline of his backside. It is safe to say, in little under two hours, never has a man satisfied so many women at once.

[lifestyle/review] must-have pants from Uniqlo.

Uniqlo’s easy knit legging pants

Everyone who sees me about in the physical world knows my fashion palette is rather dark black. One of my favorite pieces of clothing ever is Uniqlo’s easy knit leggings pants. So favorite that I actually bought another pair last Monday I was in NYC.

Yes, they do not look too appealing by themselves (on the right)– which is exactly what I thought the first time I saw them. The elastic band looked a little grandmothery and overall, the pants looked very baggy.

However, as I began wearing these pants, I fell really hard in love. First, the pants are very tight– but not in a way that makes it hard to move in them. The pants just feel like an comfortable extension of your legs, just like an extra layer of skin; even around the ankle, the pants are very tight-fitting. Therefore, Uniqlo’s easy knit leggings pants are ideal for a lot of body sizes. Some people may have larger thighs or calves, but these pants will fit everyone perfectly no matter what– provided the person has picked up the right waist size. Second, these (black) pants match everything. I suppose this can apply for just about any black pants, but these pants match everything and makes one look marginally more in style. With these pants, one can dress up and dress down– pair it with stiletto heels or Converses, and still look fine. Moreover, because these are actual pants and not leggings, we can all avoid looking like our butts are hanging out and jiggling when wearing those thin leggings. Lastly, the price is a huge plus: only $19.90. I have never bought a pair of pants for that price and have them last this long– over one year of repeated washings– and still look like they came off the shelf.

Nonetheless, there is one con: it has no front pockets. The pants have back pockets but honestly, as females, do we really use back pockets?

For me, nothing is more rewarding than finding a classic piece of clothing that can be worn over and over again. Other fashionistas make this argument for investing in a Chanel in the thousands of dollars, but hey, $19.90 from Uniqlo is not a bad deal, either.

[lifestyle] all my doctors are women.

Sparing you the (unsavory) details of all that is wrong with me, I’ll just comment that I have many, many doctors in my phonebook. They all happen to be female. I say “happen to be”– except I do not think it is truly a coincidence.

Studying at a college which requires more than eight hours of travelling to reach home has meant I have had to find my own doctors in the local area. I like to believe I am impartial as I choose a doctor to see– I first consider location and the convenience with which I can visit them. Second, I look up their credentials and if possible, patients’ reviews. Then, I decide.

I decide on women, almost unilaterally.

But wait, are not men usually the better doctors? Let us phrase that in a more correct manner. The better doctors are those who have had experience, preferably 10 years but not so much ‘experience’ that they are out of touch with the newer technology, and those that have matriculated from top universities. In 2002, the gender ratio of medical school graduates, male to female, was 56 to 44. The kind of doctor I usually seek are in their mid-30s, and so I have no doubt that in the 1980s, the gender ratio was even more skewed. Therefore, in general, there are just more male doctors that fit my ‘experience’ criteria, and have graduated from a prestigious program. Thus, it is more likely that a male doctor is the best possible fit for me. Case in point: before I went to college, all of my doctors were middle-aged Jewish men.

Yet, in college, I ended up with all female doctors.

A doctor is someone whom you confide in, share your darkest secrets (I don’t exercise,  I don’t floss every day), someone that you should feel comfortable bringing up anything with (god forbid I ever think I contracted an STD). Plus, they look at your sensitive parts from time to time, and you have to trust they are not going to snigger or anything. I think this is my problem– when I consider male doctors, I think about him, listening to my problems, trying not to look patronizing and condescending, but I know, that for some reason, he thinks that I am silly and have silly problems because I am an ignorant female.

That was really hard to type out, for it is one of my irrationalities lurking underneath my perfect rational facade. I realize that when I was with my parents, they could stand up for me and mediate and ask questions of the male doctor, but now that I have to fend for myself, I find questioning and submitting to female doctors much easier.

I do not know what it is about females– it certainly is not the ‘motherly’ or ‘matronly’ air– that draws me to them. My dermatologist is the most curt and stoic doctor I have ever met, yet I adore her. She is to-the-point, and she does not waste time; I have never had to wait for an appointment. Nonetheless, I do know that I can be more of ‘myself’ with female doctors, and interact with them on an equal basis. I know that when they peer at me beyond the edges of their glasses, they may be judging me, but I can offer my two cents anyway.

Perhaps it is the result of studying at a women’s college; I have become unaccustomed to men and sensitized. Yet, I cannot say it is because I have many male professors, and I see them personally no more and no less than my female professors, and am equally intimidated by both sets. I have no trouble talking to males my age, save for the random thought, “Wait, males go to college too?”

Perhaps I have turned into a feminist because of the whole ‘studying at a women’s college’ thing. If anyone ever says that to me, I will probably launch into an angry tirade. This is one of the oldest stereotypes concerning women’s colleges. Please spare me. Besides, being a feminist does not mean sticking exclusively to women.

Perhaps it is the result of a patronizing father; he has instilled in me the dominance of males. I waver on this, for while my father was strict, he never lay claim to authority for the sole reason he is male. He is my parent, and so he derives authority that way.

Perhaps it is the result of my overactive rationality. Even before going to a women’s college, I have always been distinctly aware of a difference between the two sexes, and the subjugation of one under the authority of the other. I know that there will always be some males that will always view me as a silly female, no matter how learned they are and where they earned their MD, Harvard University or University of Texas. So, by choosing female doctors exclusively, I minimize this risk of prejudice on the doctor’s side, and so I will get the best attention and care possible.

Perhaps it is because females had to fight to get into medical school in those days, fight the patronizing professors, fight the societal norms, that the few experienced female doctors out there happen to be some of the smartest and driven in their field. So while there may be more great, experienced male doctors, the few female doctors really are worth their salt.

In the end, I do not know why I chose to have all female doctors. All I know is that I do not regret any of my choices, and that I will be consciously choosing females for a very long time.

[Lifestyle] The couch sleeper.

This is brilliant. Just replace the book with an iPad. Did I mention I am posting this via iPad?

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