Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Where do you work?

I ran into this woman in the elevator in my apartment building. She looked to be in her thirties, was smartly dressed, and was checking messages on her cell phone when I stepped in. Summer was in full swing in New York, and the elevator felt like a preheating oven. The woman promptly piped up: "It's hot in here." She spoke without looking at me and in a tone of soliloquy, as if talking to a phantom in the air. But I knew better and chimed in. It turned out that we lived on the same floor. She complained how she never got to know any of her neighbors. I assured her that it was not her fault since I had just moved in and would soon move out. Just as we walked out of the elevator, she asked me:

"Where do you work?"

Never had I been asked this question by a total stranger after 30 seconds of conversation. I told her my employer and reciprocated: "How about you?"

"I am a partner in Deloitte Touche." She said.

Partner, according to my knowledge of consulting, is the second highest rank one can hold in a firm. Now I understand the true meaning of her question. In the fast-paced business world in New York, it translates into:

"Are you worthy of my company?"

Friday, June 03, 2005

Dinner in Color

On the second night in my new apartment in midtown Manhattan, I prepared dinner for myself. This is my signature dish: Steak with Asparagus and Mushroom, garnished with Strawberry. I may well be a chef disguised as a chemist.

Inspection and Introspection

I am better, am I not?

Today, I took E train from Queens to Manhattan. Across the aisle from me, a woman took out an eyelash curler and a small mirror and started shaping her eyelashes. She appeared to have made the effort to look pretty, for she wore heavy make-ups and seemed to be dressed in the best fashion that she could afford. She kept pulling and curling her eyelashes for twenty minutes. First the right eye, then the left, then back to the right, for she scrutinized herself in the mirror and felt unsatisfied with the result. We got off at the same stop. That’s when she stopped eyelash-sculpting.

I thought to myself. Hmm, she just wasted twenty minutes on her vanity. She could have read a book, or a newspaper, like the respectable-looking passengers did. She could have taken a nap, which would leave her refreshed when she got off the train. Or she could have been like me – I usually pick a scientific problem and turn it in my head when I am on public transportation. Instead, she spent twenty minutes curling her eyelashes.

Maybe that is why I am well-paid in a technology firm and live on the 36th floor in a full-service apartment building, whereas she is probably a cashier in a grocery store and live in some rent-controlled building in Brooklyn.

Then I thought to myself. Wait. I just spent twenty minutes WATCHING her curling her eyelashes! I was not reading or thinking. I just wasted twenty minutes watching a woman wasting the meantime on her vanity.

Last Sunday, I had dinner with a few friends in Le Colonial, a posh French-Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. A man and a woman sat at an adjacent table. The woman was very pretty. The man, on the other hand, was plain looking and balding. Kings, one of my friends, made a joke when the woman and the man posed together for a picture. “That’s as close as the guy is going to get tonight.” He said. But he was wrong. When they stood up to leave, the woman kissed the man on the lips. I whispered to Kings, “Your prediction was wrong – by two miles!” My whisper was a little too loud. As soon as the couple vanished from our sight, we heard the man’s angry voice:

“Try to judge yourself, not others!”

That is exactly what I should do.