The Tao of Faking It

A friend and I met in a coffee shop where she also had another meeting with a girl who aspires to go to the Chinese art school next year. 

I brought my laptop so I kept myself busy while my friend summersaulted to her other meeting a few feet away. (Before you say anything, my friend is a career mum with two kids and she’s recovering from a bad cold. So cut her some slacks.) I inadvertently overheard things my friend said to the girl who was sandwiched by her tiger mum and possibly lion aunt.

Here are some of my observations:

  • The trio had suitcases with them.  
  • They were here during the Chinese New Year.
  • They’re originally from Tsingtao (think Tsingtao Beer). 
  • They have some impressive Shanghai connections to find my friend to be the girl’s coach for a few secessions. 
  • The family is quite well-off to pull off this kind of stunt, and to support the girl to pursue her dream in fine arts. 
  • The girl has years of rigorous training in whatever art she’s doing. 

Albeit all these vantage points, the girl seems to have trouble in speaking for herself. “If the examiner can’t feel your confidence, you’re in danger.” My friend warned the girl, who then tried a few times. But in vain. 

I don’t blame her.

In traditional Chinese culture, speaking up is something to be frowned upon. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” is our version of the tragedy of Icarus. It’s how we teach kids to play safe, keep in the comfy zone, and to stay out of trouble. And it works beautifully for the first 17 years of the kid’s life. It’s become her truth. Now all of a sudden, because she needs to get into some school and the system requires her to speak up, you think hiring a coach would rewire her within a week of intense and immersive training? “Listen umm, kid, forger all that you’ve learned in school. Now, I want you to speak up, say it out loud. Now, go!” If I were the kid, I’d be like “The King’s Speech” and a hundred times over. “Hell, nooo.”

Coaching may get you some edge over other less eloquent candidates in college interviews, but it can only get you this far. What about life after college? Hire a life coach to teach you how to lead an adult life? Yeah, good luck with that – that is, if your parents are loaded.


Yours truly,