Monday, February 27, 2012

Rice Reader: Ed Yau and Sage

Responding to a call for personal stories about school at my K2twelve blog, Ed Yau wrote me about the challenges he faced getting his son into a Pre-K in New York City. Sage, the app that resulted from his tackling the difficult process of placing his son in a public Pre-K program is the running for NYC Big Apps 3.0. Click Here to vote for it.

Guest Post: “Sage” by Edward Yau

It still blows my mind that my 3-yr old son is ready for Pre-K in the Fall, but the reality was even more stark when it came time to figure out how to actually get him into a school. I started this research process with nothing more than a few vague notions from friends and family. The fact was I knew absolutely nothing!

I hit a wall as soon as I started. The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) website is jammed pack with information and I didn't even know where to begin. Since I wasn't familiar with the terminology, it took me awhile to even figure out how to find the school I was 'zoned' for. After reading up on eligibility and following the recommendation that we visit at least several schools, I came up with a list of schools that are geographically convenient to our apartment. However, it was clear that we couldn't just tour every single one of them. So I painstakingly started downloading school progress reports and putting together spreadsheets in order to somehow narrow the list down. Once it was time to tour some schools, I found myself printing out the school information I had compiled before visiting, just to remind myself what I had thought and to come up with questions to ask.

I got tired of the cumbersome process and decided to use my geek powers to build a mobile website called Sage (See: I figured I couldn't be the only one suffering through this research process, so I designed and built Sage as a tool to help parents quickly find the schools that they are zoned for or close to. School performance data is neatly presented. Sage could be used by parents searching for schools as well as those looking to monitor their school.

Even though Sage helps you find a school's performance easily, it's important to remember that the letter grades given by the NYCDOE need to be taken with a grain of salt. The worst part is that these letter grades are highly political and no one seems to want to talk about them. I had to grill at least three educators before I could get a straight answer about what they mean. Statistics can be massaged until you get the answer you want and the NYCDOE includes many subjective factors when they come up with the letter grades. Whether or not it's fair, schools that improve year over year are given a lot of credit, which means their overall grade may not reflect how the students are actually doing. I found that the best thing to do is to compare the letter grades against the actual state test results, that way you can gain a little more insight on what's behind them.

Letter grades and test scores offer useful information about school, but there is no replacement for attending a tour and getting to know the people that run it. There is much more to a school than its test score.

More about Sage:

Sage ( Check out for a brief video and description. It’s been submitted into the 2012 NYC Big Apps competition, so please check it out and cast a vote starting on before March 9th! There are very few apps for parents on the competition, so it's important that the tech community knows that we have a voice. You can use it on your Android or iPhone device, but it will also work on Chrome and Safari on your desktop.

Here the resources that I found myself using the most:

NYC Department of Education: Obviously you’ve got to start at the source of it all!

Inside Schools: The best resource guide for schools. Provides reviews, parent comments and more. A must see.

School Book: By the New York Times. Another awesome resource for finding school information. Lots of stats, charts, graphs, articles etc. Another must see.

Demystifying Pre-K Enrollment in NYC: An insightful look into one mom’s experience getting her child into Pre-K.

I wrote up my search in bloody detail here:

Thursday, February 23, 2012


El (7, Chinese/Japanese American): I'm rooting for the Miami Heat.

Me: You're not rooting for Jeremy Lin?

El: Why would I?

Me: Well, he's Chinese American and you're Chinese American.

El: I don't like Chinese.


Monday, February 13, 2012

APDA: Asian Parental Displays of Affection

Am I the only one who thinks about the infamous battle between Kirk and Spock in “Amok time” (Star Trek Season Two Episode One) when it comes to Asians and public displays of affection?

It’s OK. You don’t have to admit to anything. I’m not trying to out anyone. Let me take the brunt of the ridicule and taunting. But at minimum admit that the rigid ritualistic act of dating in traditional Asian cultures is very… Vulcan.

Wandering Apricot has a funny post about it. (You might say, it’ll “bowl” you over – read her post, you’ll see what I mean.) And I’ve written about how the older generation of Asians aren’t a particularly touchy-feely crowd. I cited a 2009 BBC article called “No Kissing Please, We are Indians.”

There’s a lighthearted post on the Mom N-Stinks blog pondering why her children get “grossed out” every time “me and Adam hug and/or kiss.” The Nickelodeon Parents Connect blog says “the fact that your kids have begun to see your displays of affection as "gross" is probably all the more reason to keep it up.”

They go on to say appropriate relationship behavior is one of the life skills parents teach. Julie Hanahan at the Chicago Parent offers a glossary of romantic gestures parents might consciously model for their children. They include holding hands, hugging, kissing, and flirting.

I can safely say my parents never “gestured” (at least not in my presence – I mean they had me and my sister, so they had to have at some point.)

I can also safely say, I’m not going to win any awards for having healthy relationships.

But I’m hesitant to say that the two correlate. I just can’t with a clear conscience blame my bad relationships on the lack of “gesturing” between my parents.

Instead I’m going to copy and paste a chunk of text from a 2003 commentary by Jonathan Le:

Americans associate affection with compassion and openness. American affection happens instantaneously -- you hug your sister, she hugs you back, everybody is happy. Asians associate affection with keeping appearances and being loyal. Asian affection is more patient. It could take as long as a whole lifetime to manifest itself. It's more implied than shown outright…

These parents assume that because they have taken care of their children since birth, it should be obvious that they care about them, that they love them. And there isn't really any need for them to smother each other with hugs every day. Though, they tend to forget that, "not every day" does not mean "never again."

I think his closing lines say it all: "not every day" does not mean "never again."

He’s talking about displays of affection between his parents and him, but the conversation can be broadened to include “gestures” between husbands and wives, partners.

While he admits to being jealous of his American friends hanging on their parents like monkeys, I don’t think Jonathan is proclaiming the Kirk-style full on hug  superior to the Spock-style “Con, Good Job.”  I think he appreciates the uniqueness of the expressions and wonders every now and then what the fruit tastes like on the other side of the orchard.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Daytripper: Recommended Reading for Dads

If I were to put together a “Recommended Reading” list for dads, Fàbio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper would definitely be on it.

It’s tough for me to talk about it without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it yet. I suck at being coy with the details – especially when it comes to a story like Daytripper -- where I’ve been so eager to tell to anyone who’ll listen about it.

So let me warn you now: POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

If you are the type that gets put off when an ending is prematurely revealed, STOP HERE. I’m more of a “process guy”. I’m more interested in how the story got to where ever it ends up than the ending itself (though in this case, it is the ending that makes sense of everything on the “trip”).
Daytripper is a surreal journey that might immediately be mistaken as one man’s life flashing before his eyes but after the second chapter it might be that the man being shown alternate lives so he can pass in peace. Providing an itinerary for the “trip”, each chapter is named after the man’s age as it relates to that part of the story.

The story begins with the grown (32 year old) son of a famous father waiting across the street from the auditorium where his father is to receive an award. He is in an empty bar killing some time before the start of the event. He starts out just wanting a pack of cigarettes, but the bar is empty and the bartender seems friendly (Conducive for “just one drink”).

The bar is named “Genaro”, so it is natural for, Bràs, the son of the famous father to ask the bartender: “So, are you Genaro?” The bartender responds: “That’s what most people think. But, Genaro, was my father’s name… He named it after himself. I just inherited the place.”
“You could have changed the name of the bar,” Bràs says.

The bartender, Genarinho, responds, “It would still be his bar and I would still be his son.”
Bràs: “We’re all somebody’s son, right?”

Genarinho: “Right. We just don't get to choose our family.”

Genarinho’s nephew enters the bar. This is where the introduction ends and story begins.
Bràs is a writer like his father. But unlike his father, no one recognizes him as a “cultural icon”. He writes obituaries, which either Jorge, Bràs’ best friend, or his girlfriend (I can’t remember) tell him is as equally important because of the sense of closure they offer to the surviving families of the deceased.

I wouldn’t say Bràs is jealous of his father (at least not in the poisonous way that drives soap opera plots). I would say Bràs wants to be a peer to his father. In the events leading up to the start of the story, you are told that Bràs’ father has forgotten his birthday and has forgotten to invite him to the ceremony being held in his honor. It is his mother, who urges him to go and it is Bràs who leads you to believe father has done this before and that Bràs does not interpret it as a personal slight but as a slightly painful part of his father’s personality. So of course he is going to the gala honoring his father, direct invite or not.

Among the many themes possible in Daytripper is the one of “action”. Bràs struggles with his inertness. The example that comes to mind is how, when you were a young child, you were told to stay where you were, if you were ever separated from your parent and lost.

Bràs is lost. He is not unhappy about his job as a obituary writer but he is uninspired by it. He wants more. Bràs is lost and doing what that lost child was told to do – staying right where he was when he realized he was lost and waiting for a parent to find him and set him back on his way.

His friends – Lemanja (goddess of the sea and protector of children)  – even his parents – all tell him to take action – to decide – and be on his way. But he has many reasons – both real and invented -- for hesitating. In the context of the story, you are never told whether the events that happen to him after the bar are real or imagined.

Another possible theme in the story directly addresses the relationship between father and son – legacy?

There is no doubt about the influence Bràs’ father has on his life, though it is not an intentional or direct influence. Bràs’ father is not depicted as being overbearing or domineering. It is more a condition of how Bràs empowers the image of his father in his life. I say “image” because his father probably has no clue about the weight of his actions on his son.

As a father of sons, it is the ending of Daytripper that makes it a must read for fathers. I wish I was smart enough to properly convey the sense of its profundity I felt when I read it. I can say though that it is a lost letter from his deceased father found within the pages of Bràs’ first book. And add that the way the letter was found and who found the letter is very symbolic of the relationship between fathers and sons.

As a father to son(s) and/or daughter(s), what books or movies would you recommend to new dads? In addition, to Daytripper, I think all Rice Daddies should watch Jack Neo’s I Not Stupid and I Not Stupid Too.