Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Great News! My Baby Is Vaccinated!

A doctor examines a baby. Image source.
You guys you guys you guys, I have such amazing wonderful news! My child is never going to get sick from hepatitis B. Yeah, see hepatitis B is a disease which can cause liver damage and a whole lot of problems. But guess what! My little son, Square Root, is not going to have those problems. He is vaccinated.

Also, rotavirus. Oh my goodness you guys, I have great news! My child is never gonna get sick from rotavirus. It's a really nasty virus that causes diarrhea and can even lead to death. (Mayo Clinic says it causes 215,000 deaths annually. And "Before the development of a vaccine, most children in the United States had been infected with the virus at least once by age 5.") 

Sounds awful, right? Well I am very happy to tell you that little Square Root is vaccinated for it. He's not going to get rotavirus. Ever.

And more good news: He's not going to get polio. He's vaccinated for it. He's not going to get Japanese encephalitis. Or pneumococcal disease. Or tuberculosis. Or a whole bunch of other diseases. He's vaccinated!

Well this is awesome. We don't have to worry about him catching any of these diseases.

It's astounding to think about how different the world is now from the world before vaccines. Nasty childhood diseases were common and could cause life-long effects or even death, and that was just the way it was. Can you imagine telling parents 100 years ago that in the future we won't have to worry about any of those things at all? Like, all those childhood diseases will just *be gone*. Polio, measles, whooping cough, and so on- they just won't be a thing anymore. Can you imagine trying to tell that to parents living back then? It would be unbelievable for them.

Hundreds or thousands of children used to die every year from those diseases, and now they just ... don't.

Like, they just don't.

You can just, like, opt out. You read a description of what polio is, you say to yourself "how bout we don't do that" and then you just get your kid vaccinated and that's that.

Like, holy crap. That is amazing news.

It should be completely mind-blowing to think how good vaccines are- but most people don't really think about that, because vaccines have so effectively eliminated these terrible diseases, that people aren't even aware of how terrible they were. 

But anyway. Just wanted to share my good news. My baby is vaccinated. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020


1. Aces in Space: An Asexual Reading of Star Trek (posted June 26) 


And 2 reminders about things I've posted before:

1. Vote From Abroad: If you are an American living abroad, request your ballot for the November elections.

2. My 2020 Reader Survey will be open until July 20. (Or, probably actually a few days longer...? I don't even know when I'll have time to write a wrap-up post about it...) Thank you to everyone who has already taken it!

Sunday, July 12, 2020


1. ICE says foreign students taking online-only classes in the fall can't remain in the U.S. (posted July 6) Well I'm MAD AS HELL. ICE is evil. Like, this is so mind-bogglingly evil I don't know what to say. Just because someone's an immigrant doesn't mean it's no big deal for them to just move back to their home country. I'm an immigrant in China; I've been living here 7 years. And you know what, one of the biggest reasons I came to China was I was inspired by the international students I met in college in the US. It is a hard life, being an immigrant- I know because I am one. There's always that worry at the back of your mind that you don't really have rights and they could kick you out of the country- even though you've done your best to follow all the rules and do everything legally. Kick you out of the country IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC.

They fucking live here. ICE is evil.

2. Not Everyone Has Accepted Women’s Suffrage (posted July 8) "It was fairly clear to me that this dad was sizing me up as a possible wife for one of his four teenage sons."

3. The “Purity” Hoax (posted 2019) So uh, if you actually read Jim and Elizabeth Elliot's letters and journals, you realize they were super-repressed. Why is this portrayed as a perfect fairy-tale romance in purity land?


And 2 reminders about things I've posted before:

1. Vote From Abroad: If you are an American living abroad, request your ballot for the November elections.

2. My 2020 Reader Survey will be open until July 20. Thank you to everyone who has already taken it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

On HR and Being a Legal Immigrant (Don't Turn the Other Cheek)

Meme that says "Brace yourself: HR just sent out another email." Image source.

Recently at work, HR sent out an email about an annual tax form that everybody has to submit. I've done this in the past- there's an app, you just log in and your salary and tax information is already there, and you click "submit." It's quite easy.

So I tried to log in, but I couldn't. A week later, HR sent out a reminder about it, and I tried to log in again- 1 day before the deadline. Still no luck, so I emailed the HR manager, Jessica, to ask for help.

I got a reply from another HR employee, Anna, telling me that foreigners can't do it on the app, and I have to go in person to some tax office and bring my passport, work permit, etc. And as I said, the deadline is tomorrow.

Ugh, I was so mad! The way she just dumped this on me like it's no big deal, like oh guess what, because I'm an immigrant I have to do this whole complicated extra task, and she just leaves me to it and moves on with her life, while I try to figure out what the hell I'm supposed to do. Like it's totally fine for HR to just tell me, 1 day before the deadline, oh by the way here's the address for the tax office, have at it.


Here's the way I see it:
Things that are my job:
  • Be a software engineer
Things that are not my job:
  • Understand all the legal implications of me, an immigrant, working as a software engineer in China
Nope, not my job. That's HR's job. And I've worked at several companies where I was the only international employee, so I've run into this kind of problem a lot. Something I have to do that's different than the Chinese employees, and HR doesn't have a freakin' clue. (A while back I wrote about the worst one.)

I believe in boundaries now, and that means, since I'm the one who will suffer if this bureaucratic stuff isn't done correctly, I have the right to push HR about it as much as I feel is necessary. If, for example, my residence permit doesn't get renewed on time, which of us is worried about getting deported- me, or Anna? See, even though it's Anna's job to do it, I'm the one who suffers massively if it doesn't get done right. So I no longer just "trust" that HR knows what they're doing and they're going to take care of it. No, I tell them "it's time to start the process of renewing my residence permit" and then Anna replies "we don't have to start yet, it only takes 2 weeks" and then I get angry as I remember all the past renewals where various bureaucracy problems came up and it definitely took MORE THAN 2 WEEKS- but I don't show her I'm angry; I need to be polite and calm and professional. But I don't accept her nonchalance about it, and I push her to get started on it now. And if she doesn't, then I bring my manager into it and tell him that the process of renewing my residence permit every year is very stressful for me so I want to get it done as early as possible.

I'm the one whose worst-case-scenario is getting kicked out of the country- even though it's HR's job to do this stuff. So I get to decide how seriously HR needs to take it. That's boundaries.

Anyway, I'm usually good at guessing which legal policies won't apply to me and then asking HR to clarify what I should do. (Even though it should be THEIR JOB to notify me, without me asking.) This tax thing caught me off guard, though, because in previous years I just used the app like everyone else and it worked. Apparently this year the system is different. 

So, as I said, I was SO MAD.

Going to the tax office isn't a big deal. I can do that. I can accept that I need to do that, as an immigrant, even though the Chinese employees don't. That's fine, I understand that for practical reasons, that's the way the world works. The reason I was mad, though, was because THIS IS NOT MY JOB. Figuring out how my specific situation as an immigrant should be handled is NOT MY JOB. That's HR's job. If they had told me 2 weeks earlier, that would have also been fine. But 1 day before the deadline, just mentioning it like it's no big deal, no, that's not okay. That's not fair to me. I deserve to be treated better.

And then I thought, you know, if I was still in a "personal relationship with God," I would have accepted it. "Submit", "turn the other cheek", "put others first" and don't stand up for yourself because that's "selfish." I would have just told HR "okay" and gone to the tax office. And then I would remember, and be mad about it again every time HR acted like it was no big deal to just put new requirements on me because I'm an immigrant. Get more and more mad about it every time, as the accumulated list of injustices against me that HR never even acknowledged grows longer and longer. Every time, remembering every single previous incident and how I was wronged and I just suffered it without standing up for myself.

I would have thought that's what a good Christian should do. And that I'm even more sinful for continuing to have feelings about things that happened years ago.

No, now I believe in boundaries and standing up for myself. Now I believe in "that's not my job" and "I deserve to be treated better than this." I didn't know about those things before. I used to just trust whatever HR said, and do whatever HR said.

So anyway, continuing on with my story. Anna came to my desk to ask me if I'd gotten her email, and I tried to take the polite approach of "I'm concerned about if I go there tomorrow and there are problems and I can't get it done" rather than the more blunt "this is your job, not mine." Anna said oh the tax office isn't that far away, you could go and come back in less than an hour, hey how about today you go there and confirm what materials they need you to bring, and then tomorrow you go again.

And I was like "... you want me to go twice?"

And I was like "how about YOU go today and confirm what materials I need to bring, and then I go tomorrow?"

And she said she can't go, she doesn't have time. And I said WELL YEAH I can't go, I don't have time.

(But, actually, I did have time. Or rather, by "I don't have time" I did NOT mean "there are extremely urgent things I need to do today and it's just not possible to rearrange my schedule", I meant "I am not willing to treat this as a higher priority than the other things I was planning to do today [because, even though those things aren't very urgent, this is NOT MY JOB]." So. That is also boundaries.)

So then I was more mad at Anna, and I said she should have told me about this 2 weeks ago.

So later I went to the HR director, Jessica's, office to talk to her. My manager, Han, happened to be there, so that was good. So I told them "I'm concerned about what if there are problems when I go tomorrow and I can't get it done" and we talked about it and they offered suggestions and help, and Jessica called Anna in and told her to call the tax place and get a better idea of what exactly I need to do. I really felt a lot better after this conversation, because Jessica and Han acknowledged that this really is a lot of trouble for me, and really I should have been told about it earlier (but that HR didn't know either because it's a new policy).

Then I was not mad any more, because I felt like they understood my situation and how it's not right to suddenly spring this task on me 1 day before the deadline. See, that's really all I wanted- for them to acknowledge that this is an inconvenience for me and try to help make it easier if they're able.

Anyway, the next day I went to the tax office and submitted the form, and it all went well. And when I got to work, Han asked me how it went. Very nice of him to ask and show he cared.

So, in the end it worked out.

And I'm left thinking about what if I didn't stand up for myself. What if I didn't go talk to Jessica and communicate (politely!) about how stressful it is for me to suddenly be told I have to do these things. I think about things that have happened over all the years I've worked in China- things that HR screwed up and left me to deal with, and I just did what they said and didn't stand up for myself and didn't escalate to their manager. And so I felt like nobody cared, and life just moved on without anyone acknowledging it, and so I'm still mad.

That's what happens when you "submit" and "turn the other cheek" and "trust God to meet your needs."

But instead I communicated about how I felt, and people listened and helped me, and I feel better now. The problem is resolved- and I don't mean the tax form thing, because I would have resolved that anyway. I mean the problem of HR suddenly dumping a new inconvenient task on me just because I'm an immigrant, and acting like it's fine to treat me that way.



Sunday, July 5, 2020


1. The Lion King Sequels Are Okay...I Guess (posted June 23) "... this was the first one that really did something different, a really fourth-wall-breaky story."

2. The Scandal of Pastor John Ortberg and Menlo Church (posted July 2) "I grew up in an evangelical community where the adults around me visibly shuddered when transgender identities or people came up, and then turned around and defended confessed pedophiles within the church."

3. Opinion: How Defunding the NYPD Can Help End Subway Homelessness (posted June 24) "Listening to homeless New Yorkers would make it clear that involving the NYPD in homeless outreach destroys trust and drives people further from the help they are asking for."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Taking My Kid To Church: "We are so happy to know Jesus, we want to share that with other people!"

A group of kids in Sunday School, near a poster that says "God is love." Image source.
"Taking My Kid To Church" is a blog series about how I plan to handle my child's contact with church/ Christian culture.


So what if my kid goes to a Sunday School class, and the lesson is about evangelism, and the teachers say, "We are just so happy about knowing Jesus, we can't help telling people about him! When you're really excited about something, it makes you want to tell people, right? Well that's how we feel about Jesus!"

As an ex-evangelical, I cringe so hard at this. But, hang on a second, if we just take it at face value, there's not actually anything wrong with that statement. Yes, certainly, it is possible that someone might be very excited about believing in Jesus, and therefore they want to tell people about him. Sure, of course that could happen, and it's totally reasonable and fine.

And furthermore, we might acknowledge several different possibilities concerning one's beliefs about Jesus and emotional response:
  1. You are very happy about believing in Jesus, and so you just want to tell everyone.
  2. You are very happy about believing in Jesus, but you don't necessarily want to tell everyone. Maybe because you're shy, or because it seems too personal to talk about, or because you know your friends have different beliefs and you don't want to come across as disrespecting their beliefs.
  3. You believe in Jesus but aren't sure if it makes you happy or not. It's not exactly clear that it's a good thing you'd want to recommend to your friends.
  4. You don't believe in Jesus.
(And there are other possible combinations of beliefs and emotions too! I'm just listing these here because they're the ones that came to mind for me.)

Any of these options are totally fine! It's totally understandable that someone might have those beliefs and that emotional response. Great!

So yes, taking the hypothetical Sunday School teacher's statement at face value, there's nothing wrong with it. Indeed, it is certainly possible that someone is excited about Jesus and therefore wants to talk to everyone about him, and that's fine. Sure.

Here's the thing, though. I grew up in the church, and I know that when people say things like that, what they actually mean is "Christians are supposed to do evangelism, and here's one way to guilt them into doing it. You're supposed to love Jesus so much you just can't help talking about him. And if that's not the case, well you're not a good Christian, and you should feel bad."

It's about policing people's emotions. If you internalize this teaching, you can't be honest with yourself about what you actually feel. You can't know yourself and identify your emotions/desires/motivations and handle them in a healthy way. The most you can do is "I feel like... I'm ... not ... excited about knowing Jesus OH NO REPENT REPENT REPENT God help me oh the depths of my sin, how could I be so ungrateful after everything that Jesus has done for me, ah truly the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked."

Whereas I now believe a healthy way to handle one's emotions would look more like this: "I feel like... I'm ... not ... excited about knowing Jesus. Hmm okay, why would that be? Perhaps because I feel like XYZ? But why do I feel XYZ? Hmm, maybe because A is important to me and B is not... well is A actually important to me, or do I just do it because it's easy but it's really not what I want to be doing in the long term..." and so on. The feeling itself- "I'm not excited about knowing Jesus" - is not a good or bad thing. Now, it may be the case that you wish you felt differently, and so it might be helpful if you explored your reasons for feeling that way (maybe related to your own desires and priorities) and evaluate if they make sense or not.

I want to teach Square Root that whatever feelings you feel are okay. Now that doesn't mean if you feel like you want to do something, it's okay to do it. No. We have to manage our emotions and handle them in a healthy way. For example, feeling mad about something is fine, but it's not healthy to keep thinking about it all day and making yourself feel more and more mad- probably it's better to focus on something else that's more positive.

And feeling driven to tell people about Jesus because you love him so much is fine, but it's also fine if you don't feel that way. And if that's the Sunday School lesson Square Root hears (whether or not that's what the teachers intended...) then there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But I'm going to make it very clear to him that if anybody says you "should" feel some certain way, and they try to make you feel bad for not having certain emotions, well they're wrong. And if I give him that as a foundation, he might not hear the "you should feel bad if you're not excited about knowing Jesus" message in church. Or if he does hear it, he'll know it's obviously not true.


Christians Are Supposed To Feel Bad Over Not Reading the Bible Enough (and Here Are the Receipts)