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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

Category Archives: Musings

I haven’t written about my dental school journey in a while because honestly, I’ve experiencing a lot of doubt, disillusionment, and uncertainty again. I debated whether or not to share my thoughts, but I’ve never shied away from being completely honest about my feelings, so here goes. At the time of my last post, I was feeling pretty good about dentistry. I had gotten over the giant hurdle of transitioning to clinic, and I was looking forward to graduating. Over the past summer I was busy working on my applications to orthodontic residency programs, and in the fall I was busy interviewing. It felt good to be working towards something I really cared about. Then on December 1, match day, I found out that I had matched at Columbia. I was going to be an orthodontist! Great news, right? All my hard work over the years was all for this. So why have I been living in a constant state of existential crisis since that day?

I know how lucky I am to have gotten accepted into any ortho program. It is extremely competitive and I should feel incredibly grateful. But the truth is, I’ve been having a hard time feeling truly happy about it. I know this is what I wanted all along, and that hasn’t changed, but once it actually happened, the reality facing me finally revealed itself in its stark nakedness.

For one thing, I know before I applied that I needed to apply widely and that it was a real possibility that I could end up anywhere in the country. I ended up applying to 10 programs (a very small number compared to the average number of programs most people apply to for ortho), in California, Washington, Oregon, Boston, and the New York area. Since I consider the Bay Area home now, I had hoped that I would be able to stay at least in California. With 4 of the programs I applied to being in the state, I thought I had pretty good chances. However, with each passing interview invite that didn’t end up in my inbox, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. I was going to have to leave my family and boyfriend and go to a different state. With the University of Washington being the only west coast program I received an interview at (in addition to being an amazing program), I ranked it as my first choice. But you already know that this story didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I got my second choice. Even though Columbia is an excellent program (and my alma mater) and I love New York City, my heart still aches knowing that I would have to leave the city I’ve called home for the past 5 years be apart from my loved ones. It didn’t help that halfway through my interviews, when it had become clear that I had to leave California, I had a big fight with my parents, who thought I should give up on ortho and just stay in the Bay Area to practice instead. I was already disappointed in myself for not getting interviews closer to home, and I felt like I had let my parents down. And even now, sometimes I still catch myself wondering what if. What if I had tried harder? What if I had done better at my UW interview? What if I had emailed the program directors saying how much I wanted to attend their program? What if I had gotten to know the faculty better? IF ONLY I had done these things, then maybe things would have turned out differently. But I know that such thinking is futile and destructive. I try my best to push these negative thoughts out of my head when they rear their ugly heads, but they still nag me from time to time.

On a more fundamental level, I’ve also been having second thoughts about the future of dentistry and orthodontics in general. Most people don’t realize how exorbitantly expensive the training in dentistry is. And now I was about to take on yet another 3 years of schooling to become a specialist, while having to pay even more. My med school friends couldn’t believe that many dental residencies not only do not come with a salary but require high tuitions. High levels of debt coupled with increasing saturation of dentists and dental specialists in most cities does not bode well for our future. And with more and more general dentists doing ortho via Invisalign, the growth of corporate dentistry, new services like SmileDirectClub, and even people who try to DIY their ortho treatment, it seems like the slice of the pie for actual orthodontists is ever shrinking. It all leads me to ask: would this enormous investment, not just of money but my time, my energy, and the bulk of my twenties, pay off in the future? Which feeds back to my second guessing myself and wishing that I had applied to more programs that cost less or paid stipend. All of which is further complicated by the fact that as a Canadian citizen, it is extremely difficult to obtain student loans in the US (that’s a whole other can of worms).

You may know that once again this year dental professionals made the list of 100 Best Jobs, with dentist coming in at #1 and orthodontist at #5. In previous years when dentistry made that list, I felt proud and confident that I had made the right choice for my career. But now I couldn’t help but feel cynical. A more realistic picture is painted in this article instead. I know that it was written by someone who runs a business helping people with student loans, but it makes a lot of valid points. I wish I knew all of this before deciding to go into dentistry, and I sincerely hope that every pre-dental student do as much research as they can to get a realistic picture of the future of the profession. Honestly, if I were to go back in time knowing what I do now, I’m not sure if I would choose dentistry again. Don’t get me wrong, I really love what I do and I’m passionate about orthodontics. I think it’s an incredibly rewarding job that fits well with my personality and skills. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is such an enormous investment, all the while it’s losing prestige and respect in the eye of the public due to the various recent developments I outlined in the previous paragraph.

I guess it all comes down to one question: did I make the right choices in life to take me where I want to go? It is such a big question and I don’t know if we ever find out the answer until we get there. It seems to me that the older I get, the more doubts I have about my choices (I guess it makes sense in a purely statistical sense: the further you progress the more branches there are on the decision tree of life). So far in my life, everything has pretty much gone “according to plan”. I’ve always more or less gotten what I wanted, and I believed that if you put your mind to it and work really hard, you will get what you want. But I think this whole experience of applying to residency has been a kind of wake-up call. Even if you do your best, you still might not get what you want. I’ve always lived by a personal rule: there are no such thing as regret if I’m happy with my life in the present, because everything that’s happened and every decision I’ve made had lead me to this point. Recently it’s become more and more difficult to live by that rule because I’m no longer so sure if I’m 100% happy with where I am right now.

To end this post on a somewhat positive note: there are certain truths I know. I know that I love orthodontics. I know that I’m intelligent, hardworking, and kind. I know that life is unpredictable. And there are certain hopes I have. I hope that I will become a great orthodontist because of my passion, intelligence, hard work, and kindness. I hope that I will achieve success despite life’s unpredictability. The future is still a scary and uncertain place, but armed with these truths and hopes, I approach it with a cautious optimism.

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I’ve been baking a lot this summer since my schedule was so flexible with studying for boards and research, so I wanted to share some of my sweet creations as well as their recipes here on the blog. Get ready to drool!

1. Hot chocolate cookies

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I found this recipe when I searched for something that had marshmallows as an ingredient because I still had a lot left over from the last time I made fondant. These cookies used mini marshmallows and hot chocolate packages! I also used a mixture of regular and white chocolate chips. These turned out amazing, and they’re best eaten when fresh out of the oven, when the marshmallows are still gooey! Recipe here.

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2. Salted Nutella peanut butter thumbprint cookies

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Made these for 4th of July with red, white (sea salt), and blue sprinkles. They were really ricj and creamy tasting! Recipe here.

3. Nutella marshmallow fruit toast

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I invented this super easy and delicious snack when I was studying for boards. Makes a great nutritious snack or even breakfast! I simply spread Nutella on a slice of toast, topped it with strawberries and banana slices, sprinkled some mini marshmallows on top, and put it in the oven under the broiler for like 30 seconds until the marshmallows are golden and melty. So good!

4. Devil’s food cupcakes with Nutella filling and toasted marshmallow frosting

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Starting to see a theme in the ingredients? Yeah… I had a lot of marshmallows and Nutella to get rid of. For the cupcakes I just used a cake mix, and then I filled them with Nutella, and the recipe for the frosting you can find here. I made these for Yufei’s birthday and he took some to work and they were a hit!

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5 & 6. Egg yolk sugar cookies and chocolate coconut macaroons

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I wanted to make my coconut macaroons (i posted the recipe here a while ago) but they only called for egg whites, so I had to find another recipe that used the yolks. These cookies are what I found! The recipe is here. I didn’t have cream of tartar so I substituted 1 tsp baking powder and some lemon juice instead. They turned out really well; slightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, with just a touch of lemon flavor.

I also wanted to share a kitchen gadget that’s made my life so much easier as a baker – a cookie scoop! Well, actually it’s a set of 3 scoops in different sizes, and they can be used for so many things. I use them mostly for cookies, they create such nice round even cookies! Here’s when I used it for the egg yolk sugar cookies:

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I’ve also used the bigger size for cupcake batter (to distribute it evenly among cups), and the smaller size for meatballs. Of course, they can be used to scoop ice cream too. You can find them in any store that sells kitchen stuff or on Amazon.

Lastly, a bit of reflection on baking. I’ve always liked to bake, but since dental school started I’ve been doing it a lot more. I think it has to do with finding a hobby that you can turn to when you’re stressed out, something you can escape to. My classmates are often surprised that I find time to bake during finals, but really, it’s a form of stress-relief for me. I’m just really happy and energized when I’m creating something sweet and delicious with my hands, something that I can then share with my friends and loved ones. During a stressful time like dental school, it’s more important than ever to have that hobby, just so that you feel like you have a life outside of school. For me it’s been baking; for you it could be something else. I’ve seen classmates and upperclassmen turning to so many cool and creative outliets: soap-making, biking, painting, jewelry design…. the possibilities are endless. So that’s one piece of advice I would give to anyone entering a challenging time in their life: just find something you love doing and keep doing it no matter how crazy life gets, because it’s what helps you stay sane.

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Yufei and I are going to New York for a few days over my spring break next week and I’m so so so excited. This would be the first time I’ve properly been back in NYC since graduation almost 2 years ago (my NYU interview doesn’t count… I barely had time to do anything). As much as I like living in San Francisco, New York will always holds a special place in my heart. Here’s why:

1. The subway. You know, an actual functional, reliable public transit system that gets you where you need to be, when you need to be there. Unlike whatever you call Muni.

2. The subway (and subway station) performers. Steelpan players, mariachi bands, a capella groups, break dancers, string quartets… so much talent all within the subway system. Commutes are never boring.

3. HALAL CARTS. The first thing I’m eating in New York is a good combo over rice. With lots of white sauce.

4. The food in general. Actually, we planned our entire itinerary around food.

5. The fact that it’s where Yufei and I met and fell in love and had a lot of our relationship milestones. Our story will always be inextricably tied to New York.

6. It’s truly the city that never sleeps. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been stuck in SF with nothing to eat at a very reasonable hour of 10pm. That would NEVER happen in New York. The city never feels dead or lonely and you’ll never find yourself with nothing to do at any hour of the day.

7. Columbia. I loved (love) everything about it. Low steps at sunset. The lawns on a warm sunny day. The trees lining College Walk transforming from lush foliage in the summer to golden flurries of falling leaves in autumn, from barren branches wrapped in thousands of sparkling lights in the winter to pink cotton candy-like blossoms in the spring. The hallowed halls of Havenmeyer and Hamilton and the shiny new ones of Lerner and the Northwest Corner Building. And, of course, the people who made my time there so memorable. Oh, and the top notch education I got.

8. Throughout the 4 years I spent in New York, I’ve flown in and out of the city more times than I can count. But every single time I return, when the plane descends and the island of Manhattan comes into view, my heart skips a beat. Every. Single. Time.

9. The fact that there’s nowhere else on earth where life feels more vibrant, magical, and full of possibilities than New York City.

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I’ve begun reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and I’m only a few chapters in, but what I’ve read so far has already struck a chord with me. In chapter 1, Sandberg’s description of our society’s and families’ expectations of how girls and women should behave touched on a lot of topics that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time and really made me re-examine my own experiences with such expectations.

I’ve always felt lucky that my parents have always encouraged me to focus on education and achievement. Since I was young, they have emphasized intelligence and academic success over more superficial traits. When we lived in China (until I was 10 years old), both of my parents worked demanding full-time jobs and contributed financially to the family. I always knew that it would be a given that I would also one day have a successful career and be an equal partner to my future husband. In fact, when we were discussing what I wanted to do with my life one summer early in my college years, I joked that I can simply forget about a career and find a rich husband instead. My parents did not take that well, and re-emphasized the importance for me to be professionally ambitious and independent. From all of these things, it certainly seems like I’ve grown up in the ideal environment that championed gender equality and encouraged professional achievement for me.

However, as I thought more deeply about my childhood, I began to realize that things were not quite as perfect as I had previously thought. Even though I was encouraged to be curious and open as a child, I was also often reminded of the need to “act like a girl”. I was quite the tomboy as a kid; I liked to climb trees and run around in the dirty construction/demolition sites that were around where we lived. I didn’t play with Barbies and was instead obsessed with dinosaurs and science. My mom called me a “疯丫头” or “wild/crazy girl” and often lamented the fact that I wasn’t more ladylike. One of her favorite mantras was “girls should act like girls”. Would she have objected to my antics if I were a boy? I doubt it. I remember vividly that the mothers of my friends who were boys would simply excuse their behavior because “that’s how boys are like”. So despite everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I was taught from a young age that boys and girls are treated differently and different things are expected of them.

What’s even more distressing is what I’ve been hearing in the last few years. As I entered my twenties, my parents seem to have shifted their focus on me from career success to family planning. When I told my parents that I was going to take a gap year before dental school, my mom thought that this would have been the perfect time to get married and pop out a baby. She was almost disappointed when I didn’t get engaged on our trip to the US Virgin Islands after graduation. I was shocked. What happened to the parents who were worried my grades would suffer because I had a boyfriend? Nowadays, my parents ask almost as much about my plans to start a family as they do about my future career. They bring up distant relatives back in China who are younger than me and are already married with 2 kids, as if that somehow made them more worthy than me. That I will eventually have children is not even up for discussion. Because as a girl, I’m “supposed to” get married and have children. That’s just what girls do. How am I supposed to react to this change in tune when my whole life before the age of twenty they have taught me to focus on school and worry about boys later?

And I know that I am not alone in this either. I was talking with a friend who was applying to medical school last year, and she told me that her mom said that if she doesn’t get into med school this cycle she should just get married. Really? Is this the message you want to send to your daughters who graduated from an Ivy League college with ambitions to become doctors? Is it such a crime for my friend and I to want to get our white coat before the white dress? Our experiences echo Sandberg’s own: “as much as my parents emphasized academic achievement, they emphasized marriage even more.”

I think that the plight of me and my friend have a lot to do with our culture, specifically the Chinese/east Asian culture we come from. Though the days of really explicit gender discrimination are mostly behind us, at least in the more educated populations, there is no doubt that biases against women and girls are still deeply engrained in traditionally Confucian societies where males dominate. Boys are still viewed as more valuable than girls, since they carry on the family line while girls get married into their husband’s families. Many baby girls in China still face selective abortion, infanticide, or abandonment. Also, while my and many other families explicitly encourage girls to reach for academic and career success, many others don’t, seeing such pursuits as unnecessary for women. And even in families like mine, there are still certain expectations for a girl’s behavior. As I mentioned before, girls are supposed to be quiet and sweet, neat and clean, demure and submissive.

These values are so entrenched that they’re even embedded in the Chinese language. One of the highest compliment you can give to a woman is “贤妻良母”, which translates to “virtuous wife and good mother”. An ideal couple is described as “郎才女貌”, which means that the man has talents and the woman has good looks. (Reminds me of the “Smart like Daddy” and “Pretty like Mommy” onesies mentioned in Sandberg’s book) It makes me so angry just to think about it. Really? The absolute best thing a woman can be is a good wife and mother? Why don’t I get to be the talented half of the couple?

I’m not saying that these challenges don’t exist in western societies. Of course they do. I simply wanted to think about them on a personal level and view them through the lens of my culture. But I also feel that these issues exist in a much deeper level and on a larger scale in China and other east Asian countries. I remember coming to Canada when I was 10 years old and seeing how it was okay for both boys and girls to roll around on the grass and play with caterpillars. How the girls too could be loud and rambunctious and not be scolded by their parents or teachers. It was at once shocking and liberating.

And I’m sure that that was part of why my parents decided to move our family to Canada, to take me away from some of the more blatant sexism in Chinese society. I give them credit for that, and for a lot of other things. Like allowing me to climb trees anyway even when I get my dress dirty, even when they don’t approve of it. Like supporting my education from day one until now. But I think this also goes to show that even when on the surface my parents seem to unequivocally support female empowerment, some of their actions and words are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) undermining their message. And just because they’re not as overt, it doesn’t mean that they’re any less damaging.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this whole thing right now, and I don’t know if I ever will. But one thing is for sure: if I ever have a children, I will try my hardest to hold them to the same standards and expectations regardless of gender. If I have a daughter, I won’t be telling her that it’s not okay to behave a certain way simply because it’s “unladylike”. I will encourage her to achieve her biggest dreams, and if marriage and children are not a part of those dreams, that is okay too. It’s been so frustrating for me to deal with the expectations of my family and society in general, and I would never want the same for my daughter.

But I believe that simply realizing the hypocrisies and mixed messages I and other women have been receiving regarding what we should prioritize in life is the first step towards combating them. I’m fighting them as hard as I can, not just for myself, but so that the next generation of women don’t have to. After all, no girl should be told to “act like a girl”. Because being a girl or a woman means being strong, independent, creative, ambitious. But perhaps more than anything, being a woman simply means being true to yourself and the choices you make in life, without the threat of feeling like you are any less worthy of your womanhood.

Since my last post, I have made it through graduation alive and relatively sane. Although all the worries and doubts from before were still there, I tried my best to focus on graduation for what it was: a celebration of the achievements of me and my peers over the past 4 years. It was a hectic and frenzied 3 days, but sitting among the sea of light blue in my own matching cap and gown, I was happy and proud to be graduating from such an amazing university and share the occasion with my family and friends.

I don’t think the fact that I won’t be returning to Columbia in the fall has quite sunk in yet, but hints of nostalgia are already beginning to peak above the surface from time to time. But with so much change on the horizon I’m forced to look forward and not back. Right now I’m back home for a bit, before moving to San Francisco on June 9. So I’m busy looking for jobs and apartments and procrastinating on my dental school applications. I know I’ve said this for just about everything this past year, but I’m both scared yet excited about all this change. Look forward to more posts about starting this new chapter in my life soon! But not before a post about Yufei and my post-graduation vacation to the US Virgin Islands!

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It’s a little more than 2 weeks away from graduation, and I’ve been feeling like I’m at the lowest point in my life ever. Isn’t this supposed to be the best time of my life? Then why do I feel like I’m going to have a mental meltdown every other day? Am I the only one who’s feeling this way?

Let me back up a little. I have had an absolutely incredible time at Columbia, met some amazing people, and I’m truly excited about graduating. But I’m also more anxious and uncertain than I’ve ever been. Over the past few months, I have seen my peers get into fantastic graduate schools, get great awards and scholarships, accept jobs and fellowships, get engaged and married. They all seems to have it TOGETHER and have life FIGURED OUT.

And here I am, this close to walking across the stage, and I feel like everything around me is falling apart. In a few weeks, I will be thrown out of my dorm and I have nowhere to sleep for a few days in New York City. Then I have to move across the country to a city where I know no one and start living together with my boyfriend. And I will have a super expensive and hard earned degree but still no job (and trust me, it’s not because I haven’t tried). And now parents tell me that my dad might switch jobs in the next few months and they might have to move again. Everything is changing and shifting and the future has never been foggier.

While I’m happy for all the successes of my peers, they are a constant reminder of the things I don’t have. Why don’t I have those things? Don’t I deserve them too? Shouldn’t I have something to show for at the end of my 4 years at an Ivy League school? Why can’t my life be at the point where everyone else’s seems to be in? I wish I, too, had good and exciting news to share with my friends and family when they ask about my post-graduation plans, instead of just a forced smile and admitting that I’m “still trying to figure it out.” I just feel lost and stuck. Stuck at the edge of a great precipice, forced to move forward with no paths to follow. At this point, I don’t even feel the need to “have it all” anymore. I just want ONE THING to go right, to be certain, to hold on to.

I have no conclusion to this post. I wish I did, I really do. Just like I wish I had the answers to the next chapter in my life.

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My ceiling light stopped working last night. It turns off by itself after 2 seconds of being on, and I have no clue what’s wrong. My room is already dark since it’s shafted, and now I only have my little desk lamp for illumination. And knowing Columbia, facilities will take at least a week to fix this. And I HATE the dark. After daylight savings last week, I’m already feeling a little SAD-ish, and now this just makes it worse.

And then last night I left my window open just a crack, and somehow despite the fact that it’s already mid-November, there are apparently still mosquitoes in New York, and I got bitten in at least 10 places. Consequently I barely slept. And I woke up this morning with 6 bites on MY FACE. And they’re itchy and they burn and they make me look like I’m breaking out like crazy.

And when I got up last night to spray bug spray on me and accidentally got some on my glasses, and this morning I find this huge crack on one of the lenses of my $700 Prada glasses. I have no idea if it’s the bug spray that somehow did it, but it makes no sense. And I have to wait until Christmas to get new glasses. And now I know I HAVE TO get glasses, instead of having the choice of getting sunglasses or prescription sunglasses. And I just used the word “glasses” way too many times in this paragraph.

And then I was looking forward to watching HIMYM tonight because I thought it might make my day better, but NO. Gosh it’s so heartbreaking. Especially after the ending of last week’s episode. I feel so awful for Barney… ugh.. I can’t even. And Robin… homegirl needs to sort things out. Seriously. And even though I still have faith in the writers to turn this around, I also have no idea what’s going to happen next, and it scares me. Robin’s really going to have to redeem herself. She has some soul-searching and growing up to do before she can do that though. But gosh… so sad for Barney. Would he still believe in him and Robin after this? I’m scared. Ted, please fix this! :(

And then I hear that Community is being pulled from NBC’s mid-season schedule. WTF. Why don’t more people watch this show?! It is so funny and so clever and so original. UGH. Praying it doesn’t get cancelled.

So pretty much tonight I’m sitting in my dark dorm room wearing my cracked glasses with red itching bites all over my face being sad about TV shows.

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