Saturday, May 27, 2006

T Plus 341 Days

In less than a month, I'd have spent a year in the United States. I do not have a happy ending to report. Indeed, I do not have any sort of ending to report - hence, the lack of a natural pause to sum up changes to my life since I've got here.

Instead of a coherent narrative, I can only provide non-sequiter mental impressions. Any attempt at coherency feels like a giant game of connect-the-dots without knowing the sequence by which to draw in the lines.

Bear with me, please.


I've graduated from my LLM a week ago. I did not attend my graduation. I told my professors it was because I planned to go on a trip out of California at the time. I did no such thing. In truth, I was ashamed to admit that I did not want to spend the US$50+ to rent a gown. It felt like a frivolous expense at this stage where I feel the need to make every penny count.

I regret it of course. That may have been the last opportunity I had to see some friends in the LLM program. One will return to China in short order. Another will be heading to New York to take the bar exam there, then head back to Japan. I have no doubts that another will be buried in work, and another is preparing to deliver her first child. And then, there is me.

And thus, this phase of my life ends without ceremony, because I refuse to pay for ceremony.

I guess my feelings of isolation were exacerbated because I had also recently started my bar review course in Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley. Logistically, this represented an extra hour of sleep and not having to fight with the I-880 morning gridlock. Emotionally, I feel like I'm stepping into Berkeley again for the first time - there's almost no one I know at the Bar Review. This, and the fact that I'm getting my a$$ kicked in my practice questions, does not make me a happy camper.


If I had to sum up what the LLM program taught me in a word, it would be "respect". In many ways I've always appreciated that Singapore's legal universe is smaller than many Singapore lawyers would like it to be. However, it's a whole different deal to be confronted by the sheer puniness of Singapore's jurisprudence. 50 states plus a federal government plus a country that actively engaged in shaping (not copying) international law generates a lot of legal thinking.

More so than black letter law, the differences in how people of a certain country approach legal thinking is fantastic of itself. I'm not sure how to describe it, except that in Santa Clara University, I was afforded more freedom to explore than I've ever been afforded. I cannot say it is purely a product of postgraduate education - I've had contact with postgrads in NUS Law that were not nearly afforded the same level of exploratory freedom.


Living in a foreign country reinforces the fact that you are the foreigner, that you are the one who speaks with an exotic accent, eats foreign foods, and imports foreign ideas. I bring this up because of this incident.

I have two things to say about this.

Firstly, regardless of how uncouth the behaviour of natives are, complaining about them on a public forum belies one important fact - you are the guest, not them. You are here by their leave. They are not here by yours. This remains a fact even if the natives behave uncouthly in your own country, because their behaviour in your home country is not the point.

Secondly, I ask Singaporeans anxious to make a distinction between themselves and China nationals - Do you have more in common with a national from China, or an Indian, Malay or Caucasian living in Singapore? Do you have more in common with a university graduate from China than a Chinese-educated manual labourer who grew up in Singapore? I ask these questions to illustrate a simple fact - as Singaporeans, we may have less in common between ourselves than we think. If so, then on what basis do we have to infer generally superior social graces, culture, education, or social standing?


It feels good, however, not to have to travel an hour a day to school on a long dreary highway with nothing to see but sound walls and other cars. Berkeley is a beautiful place to live. Thanks to my schedule last year, I've been unable to take advantage of that. I've resolved to discover more about Berkeley this year.


My job situation is holding up okay. If nothing else I will have something to tide me through my 1-year employment authorization. I'm still looking for an employer willing to sponsor my H1-B, but I recognize that it's not an easy deal.

The dealbreaker, of course, is the Labour Certification. I've spoken about this a while back. Essentially, the Labour Department must make a determination of what your wage is. This determination tends to err on the high side. My problem is this - I'm too "exotic" for most law firms, as I do not carry the traditional JD degree. They are the firms that are most likely to be -able- to sponsor me, but they are not willing to give me the time of day in the first place. The smaller law firms who -want- to sponsor me tend not to be able to sponsor me, because the wage determination tends to be a lot higher than what they are willing to pay.

I'm still working on it. I figure that if I knock on enough doors, someone will eventually take notice.


A lot of my recreation time over the last year has been on World of Warcraft. I play it because there doesn't seem to be anything better out there. I may switch to another MMORPG once I make enough to afford another MMORPG - or not.

I've just joined a raiding guild - which means spending inordinate amounts of time in a large dungeon, hoping for ultra-valueable items to drop. I'm not sure this is exactly what I -want- from my gaming time, because it's starting to feel a lot like work.

So, even my online life is at a crossroads. The irony does not escape me.


One thing that I've noticed over the past year is that I've provided far less Singapore-related commentary than I used to. At risk of sounding lame, it's because I'm not there anymore. At best, what I can read about Singapore is second hand from blogs (and since I don't trust MSM coverage, blog news is about all I get). Speedy and timely commentary seems impossible when someone else has already written what you want to write.

There is also the emotional distance from Singapore. Things that would set me off while I was in Singapore are now mere irritants. I notice the growing gulf between what happens in Singapore and how it affects me. The sad thing is, I'm not sure if I care about this gulf. I know it won't grow to a point where I will not feel anything, so long as my family and friends are still there.

Nevertheless, the shadow of Singapore still affects how I define my problems. I still plan in terms of material growth, career, children and what not. That I've got to execute my plan here and not in Singapore is by-the-by. There's still no divine revelation, no inspiration, no grand narrative that has made itself apparent to me, save one - the nagging doubt that perhaps, for me, the journey -is- the narrative.

So much for the Singapore Dream.


Zachary Drake said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It's too bad about the graduation ceremony. It does seem ridiculous to pay hard earned money for some funny looking gown. But we need markers to tell our subconscious minds that something important is happening.

I hope your job search goes well. If you are as good at legal work as you are at coming up with kick-ass D&D characters, your future should be bright.

Mr Wang Says So said...

One year already? Wow ...


About the graduation gown ... don't sweat it. You're a Type 5 and an INTJ. Your decision was -extremely - you.


The tiny-ness of Singapore's legal universe ... well, you must know that many Singapore lawyers don't work exclusively within the confines of Singapore law. So much of our work is international / crossborder.

Myself - still doing Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand, all at once.


On this:

"Do you have more in common with a national from China, or an Indian, Malay or Caucasian living in Singapore?"

my answer is "probably the latter".


Take care, best of luck, and all that ...

Zachary Drake said...

I'm an INTJ as well!

Tym said...

The emotional distance sets in after a while --- that's perfectly normal, I think, living away from any country, not just one's "homeland". Just enjoy the ride :)

Good luck with the job search!

-ben said...

Congratulations on your graduation, Anthony! I wouldn't sweat about the ceremony. Unlike many public universities (which are run like charities), SCU is run like a business. Its point is to make money and they do it well. (Nothing wrong with that though. It's better to have a school in the black than one that hemorrhages money and cuts back on essential services. I am shocked each time I visit some of the public universities around here. The restrooms resemble sets from 1950s horror movies.)

What you wrote about uncouth natives and having to be the individual with a better sense of discretion is is so true. As an alien, all it takes is the conviction of anything more serious than a traffic infraction to have one's visa revoked and deported.

I had a confrontation with one such odious specimen just the other day. It was a 21-year-old high school dropout from San Jose (for some reason, all my negative encounters had come from denizens from San Jose. Hmm... one might be tempted to generalize).

Upon discovering that I'm a college graduate, he started sprouting nonsense about how "people like me" steal their places in universities. I must admit I was beside myself when I heard that. How is a high school drop out going to get into college, pray? And then there's the issue of the US$10,900 a quarter tuition for SCU undergrad. Not being elitist here, but it really gets my blood boiling when I run into idiots like these. Anyways, enough of this.

If your wife enjoys culture and hikes, check out the Mountain Theater on Mount Tamalpais. After the play, the audience can embark on a 6-mile, 1900 ft descent down the mountain. (Don't miss the shuttle bus back up to your car. It's an expensive taxi ride.)

At the end of each Mountain Play performance, after the cast has taken its final bows, its time for the splendor of Mt. Tamalpais to take its turn in the spotlight. The six-mile trail from the Mountain Theatre puts on quite a show as it winds through wooden areas, across scenic vistas with breathtaking views, passes historical sites and descends 1900 feet to downtown Mill Valley.

Once again, congratulations.
Enjoy your spring.

Mythical said...

It's non sequitur!!