I often joke with my friends that the traditional view of jobs, especially when parents compare their children during Chinese New Year, is only limited to five specific career paths – Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer, Accountant, Public Servant.
Different people will have different variations on which jobs will earn you a nod in approval from your relatives with regards to what you are doing with your life but you get my drift.
Casting the fact that you probably only see these relatives once a year and the possibility of them asking you a totally different question depending on your gender (Are you attached? Are you getting married? Why haven’t you gotten kids yet?), you actually wonder what motivates such a question.
I’m fairly lucky, especially when it comes to visiting because I stick with my mum who question-blocks any “small talk” questions for me. Usually with a curt, “Aiyah she just graduated only!” or “No job how to find boyfriend?” The fact that she takes after my grandfather (who has this stern, somewhat fierce look) does kind of help as well.
But back to the topic – What I meant with the limited career paths is this: Most of the time, anyone in the family who states that their son or daughter is any of the five professions will immediately get approving nods and comments like, “Hmmm… good, good, it’s a good job, good job,” regardless of job scope or what the person’s really doing at work.
But any job that goes out of that spectrum may be met with a few, somewhat weird expression, especially if this particular relative is not that savvy. Let me take you through the process:
Stage 1: Confusion
I can understand this. With evolving technology and the progression of the workplace, some job descriptions or scopes can be quite vague.
I’m actually very grateful that my maternal family has been blessed with the understanding of “a decent job is a decent living, regardless” but sometimes I get relatives from my paternal family going, “Harh?! Do what one?” with this utterly weirded-out or confused look. I don’t blame them but what I find slightly irk-ish follows.
Stage 2: Questioning
Usually “Harh?! Do what one?” is easily rectified. Most relatives I know go, “Ohhhh” after a quick explanation and they nod their heads before going on to other lines of conversation or other people. Like Stage 1, I totally understand this because like I said, some jobs are quite vague.
But it gets quite irk-ish when they try to over-simplify what you do or associate your company to just one thing (E.g. You could be editing academic journals but they assume that you are the one delivering the already made journals to the universities). Of course this depends very much on how you communicate your end of the story but some things cannot get through some times.
Better just to brush it off quickly and hope that line of conversation does not continue if you’re uncomfortable.
Stage 3: Judgment
NOW it starts getting very irksome. Usually most relatives leave you alone or change the subject of conversation after Stage 2 (some subjects more irksome than this but we shall save that for another day). Those who don’t usually go into this stage, where the question now becomes:
“HARH Why are you doing that?” or “But you’ll make a very good <insert “prestigious” career path here>!” or “Eh? I thought you were studying <insert “prestigious” industry field here>? How come you go and do something else?”
It becomes a tad worse when they go, “Aiyoh so wasted! You waste your father’s money studying law then you never become lawyer!” or if they have children that fall within the five career paths I mentioned above.
Usually I end up solving it by going, “What to do? People don’t want to hire me…” before it irks any more.
Stage 4: Advice-Giving
I’m actually very blessed that I have people coming to my defense if anything comes to this stage. I’m all well and fine with friends and family giving advice (even if it’s not requested) but what I’m very irked about it when relatives who probably don’t know whose kid you are, start to do so… ENDLESSLY.
I’m talking about lines like these:
“You want me to help you not? My son is a lawyer! I think he can get a job for you at his law firm (even though half the time it probably isn’t his)”
“You like to do but you can do this part time and get a better job full time what!”
“Aiyah you listen to me, I’ve been through this more than you so I know. Your exam results so good but you go and do something else you can regret you know!”
First thing, WHAT THE HELL SERIOUSLY?!
Second thing, I do not blame you for being confused or questioning about what I do at work. But what I do not understand is the question of why are you so bothered by how “badly” I’m doing? Just because I’m not a public servant, engineer or doctor? Should you not be worrying about your own children? I can hardly believe the “out of concern” reason since the first question you asked me the moment I greeted you was, “Whose kid are you?”
Third thing, and this is usually articulated by my maternal grandparents and my parents – it’s a decent job, I earn my living honestly. What is there to fuss about? My mother told me, “Success is relative. No point having lots of money and status but with no time or freedom to do what you want.”
To be honest I really love it when my maternal grandmother or mother answers my CNY questions for me. It’s really amusing to see the change of expression on that particular relative’s face. HAHA, okay I’m so mean, I know.
But that on its own is its own. Of course I’ve heard stories where relatives fawn and give unwanted attention to their “once-a-year” nieces and nephews the moment they fall into the five career paths (E.g. When my dad found out about my job with a certain statutory board, his first reaction was, “Wah! Now can you help us do <insert stat board function> stuff? Give priority hor!”) but I shall leave those for another day.
Thus comes the end of my wonder-out-loud taking the form of BEDA. So what do you do when you’re met with stereotype-fuelled questions from people?