A wonderful habit! A wonderful finding on this wonderful Saturday morning.
While I was reading this article on yahoo!, I thought of my own experience and also inattentiveness problem of the 10-year-old boy at my house.
The article claims that doodling while listening actually helps you pay attention and enhance your memory. The research was carried out in the United Kingdom and published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.
“If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream … Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task,” said the researcher. A wonder pill! I was thinking of sharing this with my sister who can use this pill on her son’s hard-to-cure attention problem at school.
“In psychology, tests of memory or attention will often use a second task to selectively block a particular mental process,” said the researcher. “If that process is important for the main cognitive task, then performance will be impaired. My research shows that beneficial effects of secondary tasks, such as doodling, on concentration may offset the effects of selective blockade.”
I like doodling, in a better word, note taking, while at a meeting, a habit formed while I was at school. It might have prevented attention-deficit problem or might have helped me to write more. Up to now, I still find it hard to give constant full attention when a meeting is getting boringly long, thus starting taking notes. Old habit dies hard! It at least helps keep my eyes open and give due respect to the speaker. Now the benefit of doodling has been confirmed through research — a piece of good news to parents whose children are in need of giving attention in class.
I just completed the required annual safety courses today. Nine of them, course and test, in one breath!
Some of them are beneficial to all, especially for aging parents. Such as courses on Fire Safety, Driver Safety, and Back Safety. Honest, I was thinking of my backache and some of my friends who suffer from it when I took the course on Back Safety.
Here’s some highlights on Back Safety.
Low back pain is the most common work-related medical problem in the US and the second most common reason for doctor visits.
If affects more than 20 million people and is the leading cause of disability among people ages 19-45.
Low back is the No. 1 leading cause of missed work days, costing Americans $60 billion per year in treatments and American businessess about 15 billion annually.
At least 80% of all Americans will experience some form of low back pain at some point in their lives.
Your back consists mainly of spine, ligments, tendons, discs and others. Very often, it is disc herniation that causes your back pain.
Here are some factors that can cause disc herniation.
1) Lifestyle choices — tobacco use, lack of regular exercise, and inadequate nutrition contribute to poor disc health.
2) As the body ages, natural biochemical changes cause discs to gradually dry out affecting disc strength and resilliency.
3) Poor posture combined with the habitual use of incorrect body mechanics stresses the lumbar spine and affects its normal ability to carry the bulk of the body’s weight.
4) Lifting something heavy incorrectly can cause disc pressure to rise to several hundred pounds per square inch.
Well, we just try our best to avoid disc degeneration.
Here are some rules for heavy lifting:
1) Always think before you lift.
2) Never bend, Lift and Twist at the same time.
3) Use mechanical aids or assistance when possible.
4) Bend your knees and use your legs to lift.
5) Get help if needed.
6) Avoid jerky movements. Keep the natural curve in the spine;
7) Do not bend at the waist.
8) To turn, move the feet around by pivoting on the toes, not twisting at the stomach.
Happy fat fun fry day!
I have to constantly share some ugly facts with my children:
(1) The mountains of national debts — up to $10 trillion by last September and are still endlessly growing. Who will pay the debt? You and your generation.
(2) The unprecedental large army of babyboomers who are going to retire in the coming decade. Who will support them and their medical cost? Again, lucky you.
(3) First and foremost, the future generation will have to clear up the Bush legacy — the extreme fiscal irresponsibility, his pet war, unbridled spending, and outrageous abuse of mother nature.
Keep in mind the best part is these babyboomers — well-educated, well-fed, well-groomed– will be the dominant political force. They will leave no stone unturned to out-vote the young blood so that their voice will be heard in all levels of government and their interest be served to the utmost. Yes, politically and financially, they will be in control of your pocket so that you will be lucky to be able to take home half of your paycheck. That’s how the first three tasks are taken care of.
The next generation will be inflicted with the heaviest financial burdens of all. Don’t you want to unload this burden to the next or next generation? That’s why I have kept telling my children to learn foreign languages. When push comes to shove, at least they can land on some jobs on some land and keep most of their hard-earned money. Call me alarmist or selfish or whatever. I think it unfair for the next generation to clear up after Bush. Don’t we always take a bag to clear up after our dog poops? Well, not this one.
The sun will burst out today. Well, it doesn’t take much for me to see a rosy future for our sons and daughters, does it?
It is always good to hear this president talk, young, energetic, positive, intelligent, articulate, and overly optimistic. As I expected, he was totally sincere, honest, with all the good intention to do the right things for the majority of people.
He hit the heart of all the right targets when he said, “The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care, the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit.” I guess people from other countries would ask, “Why should it be ‘another American century?'” No offense.
This looks very much like a one-person-fight against a culture of “extravagant spending” and gigantic waste, a society of skyrocketing healthcare cost and decreasing educational achievements, and a country already having lost millions of jobs overseas.
Just as one black president cannot change the culture of black Americans, neither can he reverse the momentus of this wasteful culture being formed during the last 1/2 century. It takes a whole nation to complete this Sisyphus task, yet do we see the nation is behind him?
Good wish and hope are one thing, conrete action plan is another. Unless we can get to the root of the problems that we want to tackle, we are not anywhere near to the solving of these problems. For example, on our failed education, tons of dollars were already infused into schools for “No Child Left Behind” dream, do we see any advancement? Yes, comparing to colonial America, no comparing to other developed countries now.
Time will tell how much can be accomplished during his presidency. Better be positive than negative. If nothing else, it is good to your dear health. Cheer to your health!
How young a person must be before a serious offense can be committed? We are kept being bombarded with shocking news of extreme cruelties –its bizarre and abnormal nature one surpassing the other. Last weekend, I was shocked over a piece of news. “This is something that you wouldn’t even think of in your worst nightmare, that you’d have to charge an 11-year-old with homicide,” according to CNN news. It was even sadder to see the picture of the victim — a young, happy 26-year-old mother-to-be. The killing of this heavily pregnant young woman by a 11-year-old boy took place in Wampum, PA, about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, USA.
I see it as another tragedy brought about by some kind of failure on the part of the adults–both the father and the victim. The boy must have had some insurmountable problems with the dead, yet his father was too careless to ever notice something wrong in the boy.
As the adults enjoyed themselves or celebrated the arrival of a new baby, they must have ignored the needs of this young boy or even care to pay attention to him. Thus, the boy determined to get some national attention in his own way. We can trust his way, right? Wake up, adults! So sad! So stupid that it ever happened!
The adults must have grossly under-estimated the boy’s ability to solve his own problem by himself or must have failed to realize how much pain they had inflicted upon the young boy simply by their having good times with each other. They may be now punished for their ignoring the boy. Or when the father taught the boy how to shoot he failed to instill in the boy the teaching of thou-shall-not-kill together with other good virtues.
There are so many things that we parents should learn from this tragedy if we don’t want to see it happen. Yet, we parents are often too stupid to learn anything from other people’s experience. Well, time to wake up. Get smart and read my forever bona fide postings here. It’s true.
As if I have not done with my complaints and must continue with it today. Now here I am, keeping on sharing with my readers about the current situation of our lovely economy.
My second major concern, which might not be warranted according to some people, is the changed job market, not a numerical one, but a structural change or a color change from blue to white collar with many jobs being gone forever through outsourcing and factory going overseas. If anything, outsourcing force is growing fast and strong. Don’t you hear all the foreign accent each time you call customer service? My colleague said, “Get me an American to talk to me.” Too bad it is not going to happen. This entails a new set of skill — the ability to work with or manage people from all parts of the world or even go wherever job market thrives. Here’s the importance of speaking many languages. I wish we were this smart!
My third one concerns American politics, one of the least pragmatic ones. Politicians would resort to any means for political gain, regardless of its dire economic consequences. The last US president cut tax in 2001 and 2003 for political expediency, then threw the country into this billion-dollar war. It never makes economic sense to decrease income and increase expense at the same time. Yet, it is so typical of American politicians to behave this way, at the risk of depressing the country. Aren’t we already depressed? They are so good at dethroning the country from its once powerful position.
What does it leave to us? Well, taking care of your own checkbook before it is empty. Share it with our youngsters so that they will be motivated to learn more foreign langauges which will open more doors to them in case they need to run somewhere. Well, they might not find it necessary if it turned out I were wrong. We certainly have a great nation — “I have a dream …” Keep dreaming!
I have kept telling my children to learn at least three languages so that they will be better positioned if they need to go global in the future. I simply do not have enough confidence in the future of US economy. Here are some of my probably unnecessary concerns.
The first huge concern is our gigantic trade deficit. To be sure, tons of writings have been generated on our this topic. There is an interesting article that asks a rhetorical question on trade deficit — “Are We Trading Away Our Future?” Well, isn’t the answer self-evident enough? This is on 2/11/2009 Foreign Trade Statistics site.
Another one on Peterson’s IIE site, written 2 years ago, “The huge and growing international trade and current account imbalances, centered on the US external deficits and net debtor position, represent the single greatest threat to the continued prosperity and stability of the United States and world economies.” Too bad the then president fixed his eyes elsewhere as “the single greatest threat.” Funny he is so famously smart!
It is not that we don’t want to export more, but we cannot create anything better and cheaper to attract other countries to buy from us. Worse than this, we have to buy tremendously from other countries because we Americans simply cannot produce goods of this price and quality. To be utterly realistic, the day will never come when we can sell more to foreign countries than we buy from them. We would be blessed if we could narrow the gap.
Don’t be so pessimistic. No country can beat us in our annual generation of garbage. We can beat all European countries combined in our production of garbage! We got to be number one on something!
Yesterday evening, on the way to ice skating place with my daughter, we talked a lot of about championing a worthy cause in our lifetime. I used to talk a lot with my son on this topic. People are often gauged by how much money they make and how large their house is or the luxious car they drive. People are so afraid of being perceived as a “loser,” hence comes the conspicuous consumption so as to wear the millionaire appearance. Talk about the hardships of living when you have to put on that expensive appearance!
I have tried hard to steer my son away from this popular conception. Try not to be enslaved by the opinion of others. Yes, money is important but it is all for a purpose. It never is the purpose in itself.
I once wrote to my son these words in my letter to him and now I shared them with my daughter. “Fling yourself to a good cause and you will find no obstacles that you cannot surmount and no suffering that you cannot endure. Identify and hold fast to a good cause that you believe worthy of your dedication, a good cause like saving the earth, feeding the hungry, education for all, protecting the endangered, sustain life on earth, finding a cure, etc. Make sincere and consistent efforts to explore the way to donate, to give and to maximize your contribution to this cause.”
Today on the way back from her art class in the morning, my daughter told me she would make efforts to protect environments. I realize the insignificance and the powerlessness of an individual’s effort in the fight against global warming, yet, if you believe it is the right thing to do, go for it regardless of what. Beside, trust me there are millions of like-minded people on this cause.
Yesterday was a busy day for me. After rushing through dinner, I took the 10-year-old boy to his school for a jump rope show at 7 PM, of which he was a part. After that, I stopped at his classroom, meeting and talking with his teacher.
The kind teacher who is not in the habit of reporting bad news told me hesitatingly that the boy could not pay attention for long in class, even during one-on-one tutoring session. He kept looking here and there or playing by himself, while teacher was talking in class. The teacher had to stop herself in the middle of teaching to get his attention back to class. I told her that we were aware of this and would work on this with him.
I did not tell his mother of this issue as she was fully aware of it already. Also, my main concerns are of his temper and his lack of self-control, both of which could be potentially destructive and dangerous. Inattentive in class? No big deal. Suck it up. Yes, I know I have been mean, as always, right?
With our limited energy and time, sometimes, we got to pick and choose where our major battle should be fought.
PS. To be fair, I must say something good about the boy. He is neat and clean, having zero tolerance of dirtiness and disorder. He cannot sit down and do his homework until his room and desk are spotlessly clean. This is far better than two of my children and I. We can grab a book and read even sitting in a pigsty. I am mainly responsible for my children’s lack of order and cleaniness. Really, I can find no excuse or explanation for myself on this not so glorious page.
Yesterday I took my daughter to her orthodontist appointment at 4 PM, then to Town Center, where she wanted to purchase a jean using her aunt’s credit card. Her aunt wanted to give her a present, but did not know what she wanted. So she was free to buy whatever she wanted, as her aunt told her.
We first went to American Eagle, her favorite hangout. She tried a pant and liked it, but walked away from it. “$35 is too expensive.” Indeed, money is money, no matter whose money it is. Next we went to a health and beauty store on Town Center. In the end she spent $10 for a bottle of lotion at Bath & Body Works. She had a chance to spend way more than this, but she didn’t. I am so proud of her for her maturity.
At Bath & Body Works store, I observed the salesgirl’s interactions with customers. She had tons of nonsense with a white customer, so natural and spontaneous; but did not waste a single word dealing with us. So laconic. I have long got used to this xenophobic behavior, or some other terms for lack of a better one. No matter how long I have been residing in this country, I am always conveniently perceived as non-American. Clear-cut category. Easy to be identified. We see categories or large classifications. Who cares the individuals within the large category? When my son was home and we went out together, people talked to my son, then asked him to explain it to me. So darling and so considerate! I should feel touched, indeed.
It is only natural when you think of “Birds of a feather flock together” and should not be surprised to hear birds of a feather singing together. Even if you can sing the same song, you are still not one of the flock. Let different birds sing their different songs, separately but happily in their own way. What we learn from this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
Some children of minority families growing up and having socialized in white-dominant American culture might invariably experience certain degree of identity issue or that of belonging or cultural rootlessness.
I have observed this from the time when my son was at daycare to now as he is going to stand on his own. He expressed the wish that he wanted to be a white when he was 3 years old, playing with white kids of his age. By the time he was in high school, he was able to basically accept himself. Well, what can you do if not?
When he first left for college, he told me he would have one house in China and one in US. I realize he thought he was culturally rooted in both lands. I did not say much as I had doubt if he would fit in China.
From what I have seen there has been a severe lack of interactions and communications between my children and the two relatives from China coming to our house, one being 23-year-old at the time of his arrival, the other being 10-year-old. At first, I thought it a good opportunity for them to learn from each other, Chinese language for my kids and English for them. Can’t believe I am so simple-minded!
They grew up in two different culture environments and have next-to-nothing in common. My son kept chatting with his friends while his big cousin kept the chat via Internet with his. Right now, my daughter and the 10-year-old simply don’t talk to each other at all. “I have nothing to say to him,” as I was told. Living under the same roof like two strangers reminds me of John Higham’s book Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. Now I witness the book comes to life.
From this observation, I would think my American-born Chinese children would feel more alienated than a sense of belonging if they decide to live in China. The same can be said of us — we moved to America after we became adult and forever have this feeling of alienation from mainstream culture. Well, some did become Americanized when they go shopping like mad hares.
After more contacts with children from China at MIT, my son realized the difference between him and these Chinese children. Yes, you are a Chinese only in appearance and that can be deceiving. He told me during his last home visit that he gave up the idea of living in China.
How I love those serious-sounding topics of identity, belonging, and even to the point of crisis if not handled wisely! This may be part of growing pains, which might be outgrown like old shoes or the pains might be cured or dulled with the passing of time and gaining of experience and wisdom, if they ever gain.
There are more serious topics than this — how you are perceiced by others, how this perception influences you and the marginalization of living in America. This is too gloomy to talk about in this sunny day. Enjoy while the sun is not out-of-office. Well, actually it is sunny but very cold today, beautiful to look at from inside but not funny to go outside.
I read this last month, 1/20/09. Every time I read something like brain workout, I think of the paternal grandfather who dropped off from senile dementia. I worry that something in the gene would re-surface in my children.
Here are the some of the simple ways to keep your brains sharp.
(1) Teaching helps power your brain. Teaching is in essence a form of sharing of ideas and knowledge or anything good and useful in your brain. You have to clarify your own thinking before you can clearly pass it to your listeners.
(2) Be a lifelong learner. I keep telling my children real learning often takes place beyond your classroom. Whatever you are crammed in that confinement are mostly passive, grade-oriented, and disconnected from real world experience. It is a must to keep the learning momentum wherever you are.
(3) Keep doing tough task to challenge yourself. There is a Chinese saying, you cannot pump oil out of the earth without applying pressure. So is it true with our brain if you want it to continue functioning efficiently. Don’t ask me how to apply pressure.
(4) Feed brain food, vegies and other healthy stuffs.
Lastly, try to stay in good moods so that you can often laugh to your heart content, a cure-all panacea. Tell a joke. Humor is the sign of intelligence, or rather social intelligence. It is your ability to see and catch the funny side of everything. I know it is easy to say, right? That’s why I say you have to try to be in good moods or turn bad into good. Good thing never comes by itself, just as bad thing always comes without being invited.
By the way, obesity, alcohol and any undesirable lifestyle decrease your mental ability. That tortured exercise increases it. So much for today’s sharing, number one thing for keeping your headquarter bright and sharp.
My son told me last weekend of certain China Development projects at MIT that he planned to enter. To be sure, while US is wallowed miserably in mountains of national debts, China is in the position to open her fat checkbook to lend and spend. But I always have doubt about the sustainability of this development. It bothers me each time I learn of development in China.
I read from Auto Observer news last year that China had surpassed Japan in 2006 as the world’s second largest car market, chasing the United States, with sales of 7.2 million units. China was then the third largest vehicle producer, after Japan and the United States. Three years ago, auto ownership in China was 44 for every 1,000 people, while the United States had 750 vehicles for every 1,000 people. This year, China is going to lead the market.
While it is not fair to tell China not to follow the beaten path preceded by developed countries, it is both environmentally unsustainable and catastrophic in the long run if China followed this path to the letter. Imagine what China would do in order to meet the huge craving for and the frenzied search for the limited world fossil fuel reserve? Imagine what the sky would look like if millions of cars were polluting under it?
When I first came to the States, I thought it a huge waste to drive to the fitness center and ride a stationary bike there in order to shed extra pounds. Why didn’t people use their muscle by riding the bike like the Chinese people? That was back in 1984. Riding a bike is like killing many birds with one stone — losing weight, transporting you to wherever you need, gas saving, without polluting the air. I wish Americans could do the same. Now a quarter of a century later, the opposite came true. How sad!
How I wish I could tell people the old way is still the best! Don’t follow the lead. Well, as if people listened to me.
PS. my daughter said riding bike could also save a lot when you did not need to pay for car, auto insurance and high gas price.
Recently I have been writing a lot on economy or a bad one, not only because it is the focus of national attention, but also out of a genine concern for my children.
American-born Chinese children grew up in America, fully soaked in the American consumer culture — shop until you drop, enjoying while you can, as if it were their birth right to consume, being spoiled in every commercialized holiday.
I have long realized the folly, the wantonness, void of discipline, brainlessness, and short-sightedness of such consumer behavior, but have not been effective enough to curtail it.
It would be a shame if I failed to take advantage of current economic situation and pass some indelible lesson to my children. After all, recession of this scale does not come often, probably once in half a century. I remember a couple that I met back in Waco, TX, in 1984. The husband told me of his parents living through Great Depression. “They never wasted a tiny bit of bread crumb. They drilled the concept of thrift at every dinner table.” Isn’t that what we should tell our children?
My intention lies in seeing my children avert the senseless conspicuous consumption demonstrated by a retirement-fund-poor BMW-driver, the extreme irresponsibility headed by Uncle Sam down to nearly every household.
A parent can never over-emphasize the need for financial discipline and can never relax in educating the youngsters about responsibilities, starting as early as they can take it.
I talk with my daughter everyday about it and really have seen delightful change in her. “Do you think it makes sense to borrow and spend more money instead of cutting down cost when you are deep in red?” I asked her. “It is stupid!” The answer is always short and sweet.
It reminded me of the words from a little child, “But the Emperor has no clothes.” Who is really smart here?
Recently, two of my previous friends called me asking me about how I entered into healthcare industry. I explained to them how to pass the certification course on medical coding and billing a few years ago, but I had long ago moved to clinic research, because coding and billing were on the way going outsourced. Now they know better.
The phone chats reminded me of American labor force structure. The average Americans are supported by labor forces from the following sources:
(1) Any jobs that is in service industries and that need direct contact, from doctors and lawyers to restaurant waitress and hair-cutters.
(2) Any workers residing in foreign land like India and any English speaking countries. In fact, anything that can be digitalized as a file and transferred over the internet have been or have the potential to be outsourced. Call centers of many State government and big companies have moved overseas so that you always heard foreign-accent speakers when you call customer service. Radiological images are transferred overseas and the readings can be sent back in half an hour. Software developments have been packed out of the country since early 2000s. Medical coding and billing job has also been outsourced as you can cheaply transfer the images of medical bills and get the results.
Even some sections of education have already been obtained overseas. How? I learned that medical schools in India cost only a tiny fraction of that in US, therefore more and more doctors having educated in India come to America, pass the board exams and practice here. I am sure the list of going offshore will get longer in the years to come as education becomes standardized globally and we know China is going to produce more Ph.D soon, which opens another channel for US employers. More and more jobs will go overseas as US, running bottom-low in cash, is searching up and down for low-cost service and for maximizing profits.
(3) Workers all over the world who engage in goods-producing industries from apparel to toys, kitchen utensils to electronic appliances to anything smaller than airplane.
(4) Over 6.5 million undocumented immigrant workers who are severely under-paid and are working silently in lawn care, construction sites, office building or any cleaning crews, back-kitchen in fast food restaurents, farms and ranches picking strawberries or apples, beef and pig slaughtering halls or any place that average Amercans avert.
This is far from being the whole picture. Still, it is enough to make you think about the implications to the labor force or would-be labor force here in US? I have to leave it to my children or their generation to ponder upon.
My daughter said I should change the sub-title of the blog. She told me how it should be, so I did as she said. After that, I reflected on my writing, questioning myself, “Why did I start this blog? What is the purpose of writing at all?” Indeed, she is right. I have too many random thoughts to focus on one niche.
Before I started this weblog, my son told me to find my unique niche in this cyber community. I thought I had found it — my experience in raising American born Chinese children who are exposed to both American and Chinese cultures. Gradually, I blended my own experience in the blog, under the excuse of sharing with my children. Indeed, I find it hard to suppress my desire to share, every time I bump into a good book or make some noise when some ideas or thought crop out. Yes, you are right. I am making noise now.
From very beginning and all the way up to now, I have been immensely encouraged by friends, relatives, and very accepting readers — they keep coming back to my blog. I am keenly aware of my limitations in language and experience as a writer. Still, the thought of these lovely readers warms my heart, pampers my existence, and makes me going on like an Energizer Rabbit.
I would love to run like an Energizer Rabbit, capable of giving light and working ceaselessly. Yes, the desire to give light or share insight — the road thus far taken should have been paved with this lofty intention. Too bad I have not been so clearly dedicated so far. In the end, my mind is becoming clear as mud. Again, I will leave it to my children to find or give meanings to this writing experience.
I always take advantage of the time when I walk with my daughter for sharing ideas. A few days ago, I introduced to her some ideas of Karl Marx. e.g. according to Marx, the whole capitalist system serves the interests of the ruling class; it tries to keep the people of lower class down where they belong, restricting upward social mobility using laws and rules which were laid out by the ruling class, etc.
In other word, if you are trapped in serving food at McDonald’s and cannot move up social ladder, it is the system that is responsible, not the individual. That’s how he called “Workers of all countries, unite!” Strengh lies in unity. Marx certainly could not anticipate individual success like the current president, C. Rice, C. Powell, celebration of M. L. King, and so many famous black superstars in all fields of life, etc.
My daughter thought Marx’s idea was stupid. I told her American society was still an open one, that is, opportunity to move up is still there, though not equally given to everybody. Marx might have under-estimated the power of dream, ideal and thinking.
The important thing is not where you work but what you are thinking while you are working. You have the potential to greatness if you can think like Bill Gates or Obama while working at McDonald’s. The real tragedy is very often people cannot transcend the present state to think and plan beyond their nose. It is not their position, not any rules and regulation but their mind that restricts them and keeps them down there.
Back to Marx, to be fair, he was a very intelligent and kind-hearted person, with highest level of social responsibility. His thoughts are a whole lot more complicated than what I told my daughter.
At least he cared for the poor, the underpriviledged and was a hugely less greedy than the big bankers, 8 of them, who, without tiny bit of social responsibility, still have the hearts to indulge themselves while receiving $125 billion bailout money. To be sure, the poor would not be poorer and rich not any richer if our leaders were as great as Karl Marx. How I miss the old Karl! Sound so distant in a far corner of human memory.
Excuse me for using slang here. Yesterday at my office I overheard co-workers talking about cutting expenses. The monthly bills for an average American family includes the following; I listed them below so that my children will have some ideas about where all the paychecks go.
1) House mortgage or rent
6) Cell phones
7) Internet service
8) Cable TV
9) Property tax
10) Car insurance
11) Medical insurance
12) House insurance
13) Car payment if they haven’t paid it all
14) Waste collection fee
15) Waste water management fee
16) Home association fee — a good neighborhood cost more to maintain
17) Recycling collection fee, if they care to recycle
18) Credit cards, many of them
A colleague of mine has four car payments, for two adults and two teenager children. One of the girls who got laid off on Monday just bought a new car not long ago with a monthly payment plan. The sum of the above bills could run up to $4,000, and much more under extreme weathers (heating and air conditioning bills). We don’t have number 8, 13 and 17, but we have a college student to support and some extracurricular activities for the child at home, and the cost of maintaining this site.
China was once described as Red China. America is now equally red financially, living with a deep deficit from the government to average household. Using the words of my co-worker, “I work my butt off to pay these bills.”
I wrote down some key points from reading at the bookstore during last weekend. These are very much self-evident. Still I would like to share them with my readers.
Let’s get serious. We cannot prevent the process of aging. Don’t become despaired. We can control the rate of aging, because different lifestyles and other aspects of our life can play a decisive role here, so that we can appear as young as our 10-year-old offspring. (Or maybe not). On the other hand, we cannot blame our genes if we look like a 100-year-old when we are only half of that. (Or less. Or more.)
Here are some examples of an unhealthy lifestyle:
—Drinking as if you belonged to the bovidae family (alcoholics)
—Never go beyond your “gentile sufficiency” each time your eyes land on good food
—Cut off your love affair with your couch or any comfortable chair that you often find yourself in. Go out and run or jump the blood clots out of your cardiovascular system!
—Be a lifetime student just to keep yourself as smart as monkey.
—Be money wise so that you will not put your dignity and health in danger. Remember money generally also means health.
It is actually not that difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Just kick off some deep-rooted bad habits, if you happen to have them. Okay, don’t ask me why we need to be healthy. Even the 10-year-old knows this — “We don’t need to buy medicine.”
Health comes before anything else. There is a Chinese saying — “We don’t to need to worry about not having enough fire wood as long as the mountain full of trees is there.” In other word, we don’t need to worry as long as we are in good health.” This is very much true to us today when we are so consumed with worries and concerns about jobs and paychecks.
Yesterday morning, a department meeting was called within less than one hour of notice and everybody must attend it. We all sensed something bad was going to happen, but I thought normally bad news was passed in a private setting, not in a meeting. The thought calmed me down a little bit. Indeed, it turned out the meeting was to inform us that a reduction in force had been implemented, reducing 21% of our department employees.
Although we had guessed something of this nature would happen and had prepared for it to some extent, we still felt very uneasy and could not go back to our work after that. Those impacted left the company immediately. It could be any one of us. It could be just the beginning. People started talking about next round of headcount reduction.
This is actually expected. With people being laid off everywhere, patients without money and insurance cannot pay their medical bills and thus medical practice cannot carry on as usual.
A few weeks ago, I bumped into a book entitled Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out On Top at Work by Stephen Viscusi. Flipping through the pages, I didn’t give it much attention.
I think the book does not offer anything new. It only reinforces the obvious unpleasant fact that we must keep in mind everyday, that is, no job is secure and no job is bulletproofed, especially during this all-time downturn. The simple solutions or rather the author’s advice are four words: visible, easy, useful and ready. I wrote down mostly for my children in case they are fortunate enough to find themselves in need of them.
(1) Be visible. Not just do your work but show your work. A toughest one.
(2) Be easy to work with. That’s easy.
(3) Be useful.
(4) Be ready to do whatever is needed.
Here’s the most challenging task –“keep friends close and enemies closer.” The thought behind it must be: the greatest harm comes from our enemies. But what if we cannot tell who’s who? Beat me. Back to work.
Isn’t this a self-evident truth? Not if not everybody agrees on it.
Jackie Chan, a world-known martial art actor, was one of the quartet, singing a song called Stand Up during the 2008 Summer Olympics ceremony and in 2009 Spring Festival entertainment show. Last weekend, my daughter and I watched the festival show together. We talked about this actor during our evening walk.
He was so natural, not seeking limelight, high achiever yet hugely humble in his appearance. “He would not have so many fans if he acts like VIP,” My daughter commented. We talked about celebrity and humility. Sometimes, we talk about people whom we both know so that they are like a mirror to us.
Children growing up in America seldom learn that true humility, an earmark of true greatness, is considered a virtue in traditional Chinese culture. This is not the same as appearing modest but inwardly arrogant.
Yet, kids here behave a lot better than many of their counterparts in China. To counterbalance their lack of self-confidence, many parents in China teach children to do the opposite to the point of overblowing the children’s ego, like a young child who practically looks down upon everybody around. The world would be disfiguringly bizarre if we were surrounded by people like this youngster. What has gone wrong?
The weekend rushed by so quickly with so many things still left undone. My daughter had a volunteer task with school on Saturday morning and skating lesson on Sunday afternoon. I had to go to bank and to library on Saturday. I was with her at the bookstore three times this weekend. We watched 2009 Spring Festival entertainments together in the evening. I recorded her favorite songs from this entertainment, converted it into MP3 format, then transferred it to the cell phone since she displaced her MP3 player.
I know I need to attend to many business but I have kept putting it off whenever my daughter asks me to do something for her. She will be first-year of high school, only four years before leaving for college. By the time she is off on her way, all activities happened today will become memory of the past. Thus thinking, I am willing to do whatever she asks me. This must be a shared experience by most of the parents.
On my posting 12/13/2008 “How To Put a Safe Brake on Teen’s Expense,” I wrote, starting from year 2009, I would put a cap of $500 on her total yearly expense on clothes and other luxury. This and the current economic hardships that my daughter has heard of so much lately have, to some extent, changed the youngster’s spending behavior, for the better.
Yesterday evening, Friday 2/6/09, we went to Town Center where she could not suppress the urge to try and buy some clothes. After trying some clothes, she really wanted to buy one or two, then on second thought, she held herself back, saying “It is still too expensive.” It is a little over $10, a hugely less expensive than what she used to buy in the past. The only difference this time is she will use her own money.
The teenager used to spend very much on impulse, making no distinction between need and want, much as I had emphasized this distinction to her. To be sure, a typical big spender is the one who wastes tons on impulsive purchases to satisfy the desire or want for more and more. Basically, we don’t really need that much, it is our want that is like a bottomless well.
When my daughter becomes this budget-conscious, I find her more like a Chinese than an American. What is the difference between the two? The Chinese are over-saving-under-spending while Americans are over-spending-under-saving. Some fun mathematics need to average this out (1 + 1)/2, in theory only.
Here are some facts regarding recent economic turn. Just as one black president will not change the black culture, don’t expect one recession will make a dent in the existing consumer culture in the long run.
—saving, nearly 3% up
—government’s debt and spending, the only big spender now, uncle sam never changes.
—property value, with too many foreclosed houses on sell
—trade deficit, resulting from falling imports with less domestic demand
—consumer confidence, that’s what more saving and less spending means
Just heard the news today– “More than 200,000 [California] state government employees were expected to stay home without pay Friday as California began its first-ever furlough, a move intended to save money during an ongoing fiscal crisis…. The governor ordered the two-day-a-month furloughs, reducing the average state worker’s salary by 9.2 percent to solve the state’s $42 billion budget shortfall.”
How much could the federal government save if the same would be carried out on federal level? Talk about sacrifice when no one really is willing to make a real one.
On personal level, my daughter has been very conserving since this year, contributing to falling consumer confidence and painful contraction. Is it an enhanced personal responsibility or a lesson we have learned from this crisis?
Yesterday evening while taking a walk with my daughter, I brought up a topic that was used to the debate topic during one of my graduate seminars back in 1990’s. I remembered it was not politically correct to talk about correlation between responsibilities and social class, especially personal responsibility.
To be sure, there are many levels of responsibility. For most of us, we have personal and social responsibilities. On this personal level, we first study diligently so that we can find ourselves the kind of job that is correlated to our education, and then become financially independent. We are also responsible for ourselves mentally and physically. If you end up being too high on your bathroom scale, do not blame others for your extra pounds.
On the social level, the higher you climb up, the greater is your responsibility. Different profession also holds different level of responsibility. For a medical doctor, he/she must have a higher level of both personal responsibility to pull through those long years of medical training and layers of rigid exams and a professional one, which is as heavy as a mountain, for the dear life of the patients.
If you cannot hold responsibility for your own life, how can you be held responsible for other people’s? If you cannot hold yourself responsible for a high standard, how can you hold others of the same? If you can only father or give birth to children around and desert your offsprings, you have zero personal and social responsibility and you are only a burden to the society as the whole.
The tendency to blame others for your personal problems is in essence shifting personal responsibility to others, as if you are not responsible for your own life. I am glad that my daughter sees the absurdity of this blaming game.
I once told my children, “Whether you end up flipping burger or end up being a millionnaire CEO of a company, healthy or overweight, be happy with it. Because it is you who make it happen. Nobody has this power or control over you. Take personal responsibility before you can think of anything bigger than yourself.”
Yesterday, 2/3/09, founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller, expired. He dedicated his life and his fortune to what he believed to be Christian charity at age 30, a young millionaire then, and had built more than 300,000 houses, sheltering more than 1.5 million poor and underprivileged. Huge accomplishment in one’s life’s span. How many of us can achieve a good deed on this scale in our lifetime?
This reminded me of a talk between my daughter and I on Monday evening, 2/2/09. I shared her a piece of news that I read on that date. “The City Council’s Housing Committee endorsed a proposal to require that [bank-owned foreclosed] properties vacant for more than 120 days be registed with the city.” Because “they want to make sure owners of vacant properties don’t just let them rot.”
To be sure, a few dilapidated houses will de-value the properties of the whole neighborhood and trigger more departures. I told her my thought was more with people who had to move out. What happened to their children if they had them? Where did they move?
My daughter said, “Why don’t the banks let people live there until they can sell the houses. This is like killing two birds with one arrow. The previous dwellers can still take care of the house on the one hand; on the other hand, the banks have the opportunity to serve the public by this charity so that people still have a place to live in this cold weather.” She certainly has a bigger heart than those of the bankers.
One thing for sure, these bankers, many of them being millionaires, do not share the same belief as that of Millard Fuller. People might have a big piggy bank but a small heart.
We have a very limited time on earth with very limited capacity. It is very hard to accomplish one real good thing in this short span. I want my children to remember Millard Fuller some day when they have a chance to be that rich.
Last Saturday morning, on our way to her art class, my daughter and I talked about those homeless people from foreclosure. I told her there were 3900 bank-owned foreclosed properties just in Kansas City. Imagine where the previous owners live now after moving out of their houses. They would be lucky if they had relatives, but we don’t have any.
My daughter said, “When I grow up, I will pay off my mortgage.” Well, good thing that she does not want to get into a heavy debt like our dear uncle. Still, remember it is not a good practice to put all your money in your house.
I have not read much on economics, but from my own experience and from what I have read so far, I feel a strong urge to share a few common sense with my children. I bet they have heard me talking about these all the time and have zero patience with me now. Still, here they are.
(1) Invest as early as possible so that money will give birth to more money. It is like the birthing of a baby, tiny at first but, given enough time, will be bigger than its parent. Time is one of the decisive factors. Don’t lost it.
(2) Diversify. Imagine what will happen if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket suddenly smashes to a rock. You don’t need to be absolutely evenly balanced out. If you want above-average returns, you can invest a larger part of your money in high risk and high yield stocks and have a little bit ill-balanced investment. But never become too greedy to pour all in one basket.
(3) Do not pay off your mortgage before you have enough savings in reserve. Why? If you put all your money in your house without any cash reserve left, what would you do if you find yourself suddenly in dire need of cash? The only way to get cash out of your house is to sell it. Imagine how your life would be if you have to sell your house under that circumstance? The smart way is having money in both your house and your investment.
(4) NEVER spend more than your earnings, that is, living on credit, with an exception of your house mortgage. Always have at least 10% left from each paycheck either as investment or saving for a treat for yourself like a vacation or a trip overseas or to see your senile mom and dad before they become “dear departed.”
I wish I knew better and could offer them more advice in money management. These are the rules that I have followed and have found it beneficial to me. When they grow up, they might be able to hire professional financial counselors. Still, I wish they could give some attention to my words. Right now, I find it hard to get their attention, especially that of my son’s.
Recently when the weather is cooperative, my daughter and I take a walk in our neighborhood in the evening, chatting and laughing with me dragging my feet trying to catch her up.
Yesterday while walking outside in the evening, I talked to her something happened during the day.
In the morning I introduced the word “humble” to the 10-year-old nephew. I emphasized the benefit of being humble and unassuming in interactions with people, specifically in making friends at school. He argued with me, saying being proud and assertive helps you boost up your self-confidence. He knew that I was referring to his “kuang” (an exaggerated expression of assertiveness and arrogance). He suddenly became very defensive of his “kuang.”
One example of his “kuang,” he practically looks down upon everybody in my house because he believes he knows a lot more than all of us. Lately, he gave up a little bit, saying “Well, I must admit the only thing you are better than me is your English, but once my English is good, you are not better any more.” I appreciate his frankness and bold thinking.
I calmed him down, saying, “It is okay whatever, if you think kuang is good and humble is bad. I am not enforcing my view on you. I am only sharing it with you. You can turn a deaf ear if you think it nonsense.”
Then I asked him, “Do you like people who are boasting, arrogant or pretentious, going about like a VIP when they are just a small potatos? Do you think it easy to make friends with these kind of people?” He admitted he didn’t like it. He learned that he would be ignored by others and be without any friends if he insisted on being “kuang.” Still, he thinks being humble is not a virtue. I told him it was good that he had his own opinion and I respected his way of thinking. We ended the conversation happily for both of us.
Later I was asked if the 10-year-old was a kind of burden to me. I told my daughter that I was least disturbed by things like that.
“There are not many things that are really important in our lives. This has never been one of them.” I told her of three things that I cared most at this point of my life. Yes, only three things. When you think it through, we really have only a few important things in life. The difficult task is to leave out of our minds anything that is not important, resulting in a lot simpler life. Life is really not that complicated if we don’t mess it up like one of our ex-presidents with one of his interns. I know I have been unkind in mentioning those ex-ex.
Higher education is getting more and more expensive and is more and more like an investment. You want to major in something you are interested in, but you also look for returns for the money you pour in your education. As higher education cost is skyrocketing, it is too naive to ignore to this stark fact.
Here’s the story of a monitor that I met last week. He received Ph.D. in Epidemiology on heavy student loans, but could not get a well-paid job to pay off the loan. After some training and re-education, he received CCRA and started working as medical monitor now, still paying on his loan now after a decade. I am not sure if he is typical of some people. With a PhD, MPH, and CCRA, he is certainly a very assiduous student. But I am sure there must be many better ways of investing so much time, money and energy in getting this Ph.D. Would you think it has been a good investment from very beginning?
Here’s another real-life story on a girl whose parents paid her through a very costly private college, over 50K per year, getting a degree in music. By the time she graduated her parents had to sell their house and found themselves heavily in debt at the point of their lives when they should retire. The daughter had to get whatever job available on the market, like fast food restaurant, before she started doing what she enjoyed. This is more an enjoyment than an investment, only if you can afford it.
Why didn’t she do some research on the annual job openings for a musician and the entry level salary for this major before throwing a huge sum into this education? I wish we could get smarter from learning other people’s experience so that we can avoid experiencing it in our lives.