“You’re not on the guest list.”
“He flew in from New York for his birthday. Can we come in, please?” We all look at him, saying “please” with our eyes.
The bouncer waves us in. We mingle with the others in the loud music and strobe lights while I rest my legs for half an hour.
We then try to hail a taxi but wander the streets for what feels like hours—lines of red cabs but none of them would take us—not even after my friend’s classic cab-hail whistle where he sticks his fingers in his mouth.
All the cab drivers are heading to Kowloon, where everyone is trying to get back to Hong Kong Island, and they’d pocket three times the amount we’d pay. We are travelling a small distance in the opposite direction of Kowloon to a semi-secluded area, where, on a good day there’s a slim chance of picking up a client on the way back. But it’s early morning.
In short, unless we pay at least three times their rate—which none of us would do, on principle—a driver would lose money by not heading over to Kowloon.
We are all exhausted until someone points at a bus. Through some birthday miracle, that bus is the one bus going to our district. We sprint for it.
When we arrive at the dim sum restaurant, the waitress takes forever to seat us, with utensils brought in a steaming basin of water. There are balding men having the time of their lives at our table at 4am, for goodness’ sake. We shift our table to fit the group’s mismatched plastic stools and not jostle the table behind us.
Without warning, the waitress slaps wooden cages of dim sum on our table, and say (assuming we can’t speak Cantonese), this is what you get because you do not know better. The birthday boy is a blonde, dark-skinned New Yorker wearing a Chinese robe, my friend has Sri Lankan mermaid hair, and, well, you get the picture
I stand. “No,” I say, shaking my head. “We don’t want these.” I speak English to make a point, if I remember correctly. I remember being angry.
There is an area at the front of the tiny restaurant where you pick what dim sum you want and bring the cages back to your table. The dim sum isn’t very good and I can only eat the same 2 dishes over and over again, being pescatarian. We must’ve grabbed three shrimp dim sums. My friend Steph might’ve reviewed the restaurant on her blog and given it a sorry grade but I would’ve failed it.
Anyhow, I burn my fingers twice while perusing the wooden cages, and the waitress screams at me for inquiring on variety. She calls me one of the few mean Chinese names that I know, which I’m not going to repeat.
In James Altucher’s piece titled “How to Break All the Rules and Get Everything You Want,” he outlines the night he took his daughter to a fashion show and a ping-pong game. Using clever choice phrasing with the staff, he scored front-row seats to the show and entry to the club despite being on neither guest list.
He is getting backlash for flaunting his status as a privileged white male.
But I argue that you play the cards you’re dealt and sometimes you get lucky. Most people don’t shed tears for those who sit around and whine. James Altucher could’ve stumbled upon people who are rude or jealous and who throw him out of the club which he had no business being in, in the first place. But he was polite and grateful—who wouldn’t want to help a pleasant person out of confusion?
You should know your strengths and play them to your advantage—I think you owe it to yourself to do so. Why cry over something you can’t change? Sometimes it’s just luck, but you can try to stack the odds in your favour.
Upon being told that he wasn’t on the fashion show guest list he was supposed to be on, James could’ve spent the night being salty over vinegar chips. He kept looking for openings, because, what is there to lose—they could’ve stayed standing at the show all night? He was pleasant to the usher and his daughter ended up getting a front row seat.
So James had a great night. Sometimes people get lucky. We have great nights and not-so-great nights. He could’ve had a bad night where he was denied everything and he still could’ve turned it into a story. Recall that his night started not-so-great, what with almost being denied entrance to the fashion show that he promised his daughter.
Yuja Wang is the Classical pianist whose dress code is short and tight, because she is tired of stiff men in suits dominating headlines. And, why not? Are you going to spend your 70s wondering why you didn’t wear that hot dress when you were young? Classical music is such a niche interest that it takes a bright pianist with an interesting wardrobe to catch the rest of the world’s attention, and frankly, this makes Classical music a tiny bit more relevant.
Okay, I am neither white nor male, but I bend the rules anyways. Sometimes it works. I think you can change the trajectory you run on, and in fact you have a responsibility to do so before joining the whiners.
I am a great serial rule-bender if only for the fact that I don’t care enough for the issue at hand; when I do care, I give it 110% (which, again, is grounds for rule-bending).
The fact of the matter is, we as a society have pre-conceived notions about people’s characters based on appearance and mannerism, and we behave accordingly. That is not going to change, ever; we are all different and should celebrate our differences. We don’t get our way all the time, but we can try to stack the odds in our favour.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the brain’s two systems for forming thoughts, where System 1 is fast and automatic and subconscious and what we rely on for snap decisions. Everyone is prejudiced—we are continually forming judgement based on appearance, race, gender, within miliseconds of meeting a person.
But we can turn that around; maybe your initial reaction to being denied entrance to an event which you should be on the guest list, is to raise your voice at the bouncer, because you’ve done that before and half the time it works. This time, you’re thrown out and so you find things to blame it on—you weren’t wearing the right clothes, you’re not the right gender. What if you try being polite and asking again?
Statistics show that simply posing the question again, raises the odds of getting your way about 50%.
Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes, all we have to do is, ask.