American Culture — Apology or No Apology


On many postings I express my scathing criticism of the extravagancy of American consumer culture and the destructiveness and corruption of American politics. I have to admit that I have been rather uneasy each time I touch this topic, because it sounds so unpatriotic to speak unfavorably of America, even if everything said is true, that is, to the best of my knowledge.

To balance the two sides of America, I feel the need to emphasize the fact that, despite the recent unfavorable image of America brought about by Bush wars, I still hold dear the memory of an America imbued with idealism, represented by the Civil Rights and the antiwar movements of 1960s, by JFK’s call for “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” and his Peace Corps; and the humanitarianism demonstrated in the Hands Across America in 1986, Habitat For Humanity drive, and the life skills taught at public schools to both of my children, etc.

America has changed so drastically from the one lived by JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. Not that we like all these changes but we cannot help whatsoever. Yet, it is always soul-comforting to retreat back to your history book.



Snow Shoveling–Pollution, Waste, American Culture


Yesterday morning, a bright sun greeted me as I took the shovel heading for the 6-inch snow. A deep breath gave me such a good feeling, knowing the air was just cleaned by the snow. As my eyes were fixed on the driveway and I was preoccupied with the snow, a loud noise jolted me up, followed by a strong gas smell invaded my nostrils. It was from the gas-fed snow-shoveling machine that our neighbor used. Imagine how upset I felt when the air was polluted and all the waste thus incurred. Imagine the impact on the air in general if every family uses gas-fed machines. Mother Earth must be really mad!

It forever puzzles me why a 6-foot muscular male uses a machine instead of his muscle for the snow on the driveway. Not just one, three of them just in our small neighborhood! This is just a glint into the wasteful nature of American culture.

I felt strongly about going to those people, telling them how good it would be to the environment and to their own health, a nice boost to their arm muscle, if they could use shovel instead of the gas-consuming machine. But I know it is too un-American to be so frank. Do I have to write all this? Am I offending my readers for being so offensive? You can see I am confused again.

All I could do is to tell my children — do not do in Rome as Romans do, when we wish the Romans could change their way. Another daylight dream!



A Pleasant Update On the 10-Year-Old Nephew


I am sure some of the readers, whoever that may be, want to know what happens to the 10-year-old boy. Such a dramatic boy! I learned with great relief from his mother that he is doing okay after getting back home. Like fish back to water, so darling and life-saving. He has never been this happy before.

First, he is happy being with his classmates, who envied him greatly for having the opportunity to go to America. They like the American chocolates that he brought back. While in America, he seldom communicated with his English-speaking classmates, back in China, he is able to talk all the time in his native language. Language problem disappeared. Feeling on top of the world now. A plus point.

Back home, his mother is sitting by him all the time when he is studying and his father plays tennis or some other sports with him. The grandma (my mother) comes to see him very often. He often has another aunt and another big cousin, bigger than my son. He is never without company. While he was in America, I never had this much time for him, either busy at work or doing household work or something else. I don’t even have time for my own children. To further enhance his sense of loneliness, my daughter and he were not even talking to each other. Poor baby. Now all the loneliness is gone. Another big plus!

There are more varieties of food in China than here. He always gets what he asks from his mother. Not with me. I am not used to spoil anyone. Plus I am more stingy than his mother, though I had improved a lot with him. More weight gain. Oops! A minus if he is not already on the heavy side.

The biggest plus is the greatest relief that I have felt since he left! Too great to be expressed in any language! Like a mountain taking off my back, I feel as light as a swallow, true to my name. Sometimes, I feel like screaming out of the maximum capacity of my lung, just to express how relieved that I feel. Yes, I know how selfish I am. It is called self-preservation, that everybody is entitled to.

East or west, home is best. No wonder E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial wants to phone home when he first sees a telephone. I am happy so far.



Key To Getting Back to Workforce — Time Management


Referring to my 3/26/2009 posting, “Pluck Up Your Courage and Rise Above Any Adversities” It would not be that hard to jump back after layoff in normal economic times. As it is now, we are so far below normal times when massive layoff takes place everywhere. A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me nowadays even a janitor position in KU attracted over a hundred applicants.

For those who opt for taking classes to further enhance their skills, time management is often not a big issue. When you choose to read and prepare for job market by yourself, your time will not be well-structured and this will call for well time-management by yourself.

Here are something to share from my own experience.
(1) Set a timer when you start certain housework so that you don’t get adicted to it and be carried away with over-enthusiasm. e.g. if you allow yourself 15 minutes cleaning off after a meal, set 15 minutes timer and stop yourself when time’s up, even if you are half-done. Do this for all kinds of housework. Trust me time runs away faster than you prepare.

(2) Turn off TV while working. Back at graduate school years, a friend of mine got to watch some soap shows everyday. It all started as an excuse, “I don’t just watch it, I am doing housework while watching.” Pretty soon, addiction was formed and watching became as much a must as household work. Imagine that. It is another story if you want to hear news.

(3) Try not to fall victim to the expectations of other working adult at home. To be sure, expectations of you are naturally built up when you are home, as if you had nothing to do at home, while the other adult is busy working outside. If you try to live to these expectations — cooking, cleaning, child-care, and tons of other drudgeries — you will find no time for job preparations and will feel frustrated by the end of the day for not having done much. Not a good feeling.

(4) I have nothing against being homemaker, if that’s your goal. But if you don’t want to end up being a homemaker, watch out for homemaker habits and pitfalls. There are too many of them to be listed here. You know behavior leads to habit and habit leads to your life course.

(5) Stay away from home if you find yourself wondering around doing nothing but endless non-urgent housework, answering calls and cleaning here and there. You can either go to a local library or a bookstore, where you can be more focused. Both of my children move themselves away from computer when they need to concentrate on their homeworks. Adults can do the same. Note, thanks to a friend of mine for mentioning this.

(6) Go on the Internet with a specific purpose and stick to your original purpose. Get off the line once you get what you look for. It is so easy to get sidetracked once being online. Before we realize it, the whole day is sadly gone.

(7) Avoid being the slave of your own creation. It means the amount of cleanup depends on how much you mess up during your cooking. You want to create as less mess as possible so that you have less to clean up afterward. A lot of time can be thus saved by forming this habit — less messup, less cleanup, small house, less cleaning. Alas, life would be much simple and beautiful if we were not buried to the neck with useless junks that we once willingly exchanged with our hard-earned money.

(8) Goal-setting using the SMART rule. We know the restrictive function of any rule. We need it especially when self-control and self-discipline are in short supply.

One last but not the least, perseverance, and mobilize all the fine qualities that you can summon in you. Make it a job to find a job.

Good luck, my dear friends!



Like Mother Like Daughter — Happy Birthday!


Happy birthday!
Yes, my daughter turns 14 today, 5 days after her brother’s birthday and six years behind. Indeed, it was all well-planned so that I could save money by holding one birthday party for two of them, wasn’t it? Today she will have dinner with her friend and then go skating. And I will be her loving driver.

For some years, I have got into the habit of writing a long letter of appreciation to her. I always think writing will last much longer than any presents that I can give. That was before I have this blog.

When I first had my daughter, I thought, “Gee, the complementary part of the old saying ‘Like father, like son’ should be ‘Like mother, like daughter.'” If that was the case, I would be a happy mom. In fact, I am a happy mom no matter what. Three years later, I bumped into a book We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters by Cokie Roberts. Here again comes the new version of an old saying, “Great women think alike.”

As the year turns, I often find myself wondering, “Are you sure this is your daughter?” Last week, we had a true color exercise at work. There are four colors, orange, gold, blue, and green. Each of them is associated with one of the four types of personality. My daughter and I don’t even belong to the same color group, not even near to each other.

Next I explained to her the main difference between introvert and extrovert people lies in where you get your energy and find your happiness. Introvert people find it from within while extrovert from without. At this point, we finally found something alike between us.

She asked me if I ever felt depressed. This reminded me of my graduate school years. After I handed in all the term papers and finished all the exams. I suddenly found myself having nothing to do. And that was the moment when I felt rather low in spirits or depressed. So I told her, “It is when I found myself going about the life without any goal or pursuit that I feel depressed.” She said she felt the same way. “I must have a goal to live on,” said she. Finally and truely, like mother, like daughter.

Similar or different, we have been always very close to each other. I find no word that can adequately describe how grateful and blessed I am for having a wonderful daughter like her.
Happy birthday!

P.S. An anecdote on the date of her birth. Her due date should be April first. Since I chose to have her by c-section, I said, “Let’s not do it on Fool’s Day. And we cannot wait after the due date as she seems so anxious to come out now. Date 3/27 sounds a lucky date to me because 3 and 27 are so happily double-related as in 3 x 9 = 27 and 3 to the third power = 27.” The fun started even before her big date.



Pluck Up Your Courage and Rise Above Any Adversities


If I could sing a beautiful song, I would dedicate it to those unremitting souls. This is how I felt after chatting with a friend of mine over the phone early this week. She is a single mom with two youngsters, approaching mid-age, just being laid off by Sprint. I was worried about her before. But now I felt greatly buoyed up by her high spirits and determination to bounce back. And I am so proud of her! Too bad I cannot sing and find myself badly handicapped when it comes to writing.

She told me of her plan to get a degree in health care. In fact, she has already started taking courses. When I told her story to one of my relatives in China, that relative said, “Why doesn’t she just stay home and take care of the kids?” For some people, the task may seem unsurmountable and they will simply chicken out. After all, they seem to have ample excuses not to try anything new. The inertia in each of us is simply too strong to make a slightest change, not to speak of a career change.

To be sure, it takes an extraordinarily strong will for people under her situation to go back to school, get re-education, and make a successful career change. Where there is a will, there is a way. I have nothing less than the highest prediction of her success. I just know many of my friends are like her and they will come back fresh and strong. To people like her, here’s my unreserved cheer!

This is how people with strong wills can pluck up their courage and rise above any adversities. This posting is dedicated to those who refuse to be crushed under the burden of misfortunes.



Learn Job-Hunting as Early as Possible


My son dutifully sent back emails as he travelled from Boston to Paris, then to Amsterdam, then back to Paris, next to Johannesburg, finally to Cape Town. Have no idea how many pictures he has taken all the way there.

He first started making money when he was in 6 grade, selling game programs that he made among his classmates. His first outside employment happened when he was 14 years old teaching Chinese to a family of two children, joined by their parents. I wouldn’t say he was qualified for the job as he could not read and write Chinese as well as he should be. Still, he got the job and managed to keep it for 4 years till he graduated from high school. He also started his internet venture during the same year.

Now, as my daughter is turning 14 years old this Friday, she is very serious on finding a job, the one that will make her look good on her resume. She also looks for money as she likes spending money. She did her research and started calling for any openings, not successful so far. But I have to give her tons of credits for initiating the efforts.

Whether or not she gets a job does not matter as much as what she learns in the process. There are so much to learn when it comes to presenting yourself and convincing the hiring manager you are the one for the position. An job offer means loads of trust and responsibility more than money or everything else. It is not a joking matter to win people’s trust.

Trust me job-hunting process can be very agonizing, discouraging and sometimes even feeling dejected, depressed, hopeless, desperate, all spectrums of negative feelings that you can imagine, as you bump into rejections one after another, to the extent of committing suicide as in the case of a Chinese Ph.D holder jumping over a California highway bridge after a long list of rejections.

My daughter will certainly appreciate the hardships involved in job hunting, hopefully not the full spectrums of unpleasant feelings. Not fun, especially in today’s shrinking job market.



Parenting — You Reap What You Sow


Spring sowing season always reminds me of the Chinese saying, Sow bean, reap bean; Sow melon, reap melon. Don’t complain if you see other people’s plate full of delicious fruits while you don’t have any. You know I am talking about parenting, don’t you? It is both similar to and different from actual spring sowing.

They all emphasize the consequence of our actions in early time. The difference lies in the fact that you can always sow next time when spring comes around and there is always next spring as long as you live. Not with parenting, sadly to say. Once the child becomes an adult, we don’t have the magic to turn back the clock.

I know of two fathers, both being long-time friends of mine. One father has a son of my son’s age, about one month younger. He sounds such a grumpy dad, never writing to me without complaining about his son. The boy either failed in school or did not go to class after the dad had paid for the tuition. His negative attitude is very discouraging.

Honestly, I don’t have patience hearing him out and don’t even want to read his emails. To garbage, it often goes. Toxic and time-wasting. I know how cantankerous I sound to be. My questions are: where were you when the boy was little? Did you spend time making sure the boy on the right track? No, nothing like this. Then, as you sow so shall you reap. Don’t act like a whining baby.

Opposite to this is another friend of mine, also from high school, in fact, the dad of the girl who wrote poems posted on 3/4, 3/7, and 3/8 of this year. His writings of the girl are thoroughly exuberant with joy and content. You can even see his smile and happiness on his face just from his writing! Well, with your imagination. I am sooo happy for him!

If you spend your time going fishing or playing games while your child is little, in formative stage, think again. You might be better off postponing fishing or gaming till your child is in college, that is, till the fall of your season. Why? For your own happiness. Are you happy with a bitter melon in the fall?



Enjoy the Spring — Sow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables


Last Friday, 3/20/2009, was the first day of spring, when the sun was directly overhead at noon on spring equinox. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty at yard, as some of the vegetable plants started indoors this year were getting ready to go out.

My children can never understand the joy that I experience in gardening. It all started when I was at primary school. I don’t remember how I learned it, somehow I started growing hot peppers, green beans, and tomatoes from the seeds I saved. We never had money to buy toys or pots or anything above basic necessities. So I used broken woks, basins, and also made my own pots using leftover wood pieces tied with wires. The little plants did thrive under my tender loving care. I must have too much time and patience back then.

I admired those who could afford any luxuries. “I would be a happy child if I had …,” I used to think this way. Now when thinking back, I had genuine good times back then. It gave me so much joy watching little plants cracking out of the dirt and growing bigger, even though we were rather deprived at that time. I was a whole lot happier and more carefree than I am now, even though I can now afford a million more stuffs than before.

Gardening today often brings me back the cheerful childhood memory, adding sweeteners to whatever toil I have today. Call it nostalgia or whatever. It is perhaps only after you have it can you appreciate the time when you are without. Or rather, having it does not necessarily means enjoying it.

Enjoy the spring — sow your own fruits and vegetables, but not your wild oats.



On Children’s 20th Birthday


Happy 20th Birthday!
My son turns 20 today. I wish I could spend the day with him on his special day like when he was 2 years old, cutting the birthday cake and taking pictures while he was blowing the candles. But today he is on his way to South Africa, staying there for a week to organize a global startup workshop there. I told my daughter I would go to her 20th birthday. She told me she would be far out of reach then. What a comfort. Well, nice try.

My colleague’s son moved back home after college, unable to find a job elsewhere. How we love to welcome them back home after four years of separation! Yet I don’t know how long that fuzzy warm feeling will last with an adult child supported by the aging parents. This is the nature of parenting–we wish the adult children are close by, yet not without their independence. It would be nice if we could have both, like having a son who is a millionaire neighbor. At least, in the same city. Aren’t we too selfish?

I am going to book an air ticket for my son from Boston to Beijing this summer, where he will meet some of his friends, then back to Boston. I know he is too busy to spend some time with us here. I wish I could go with him but I have commitment here with my daughter’s summer school. Thus, I will happily keep my commitment here while he will be on his way to his.
Have a safe trip to Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
Happy birthday!



An Opportunity to Exploit Future Generations


The latest not-really-new news about US deficit, according to US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the deficit will hit $1.8 trillion this year, $93 billion more than foreseen by the White House. That would equal 13 percent of GDP, a level not seen since World War II.

What does it mean to us? Simple. Raise tax to pay the debts. The government got to raise money in some way at some point, probably after the country climbs out of recession. It is simply unsustainable in the long run to maintain this debt-to-GDP ratios.

Funny everybody talks about borrowing money and never worries about the heavy burden on the future generation. Whatever package the government tries to sell, it is all funded by borrowed money. No one ever thinks of cutting expenses everywhere to save money, then use the saved money to fund the package. That’s how we have event like AIG using government $170 billion aid for $165 million bonus, as ridiculous and outrageous as the government. This only shows AIG did not need anything extra to survive at all. This is how the borrowed money is spent!

The package is nothing but an opportunity to exploit future generation. Whatever we spend and waste today will be conveniently taken care of by our children’s generation. How irresponsible can we become? A sweet legacy to future generation — a big and deep dip into your paycheck to pay your granddaddy’s debts. Oops, sorry, there are five Dips.



An Interesting Observation on Identity, Assimilation and Happiness


Of eight doctors in our clinic, two are Chinese, one from Taiwan, the other from Philippines. Both of them are very diligent and professional, well liked by all. Both talk with foreign accent, not like native Americans.

What interests me is their differences. The one from Philippines grew up and earned both her undergraduate and doctor of medicine degrees from a Philippine university. She behaves more like a Chinese to me, approaching me like one of the same kind, though she cannot speak standard Chinese.

On the other hand, the one from Taiwan, finished high school here in US and is very Americanized in her behavior and her approach. I did not know she is a Chinese until a few days before I went back to China last year. She certainly has merged seamlessly into mainstream American culture so that you cannot even tell of her racial identity! A wonderful case of assimilation.

Sometimes, while reflecting upon these two Chinese doctors, I have a mixed feeling about my children when they grow up. Which is happier — the one from Philippines or the one from Taiwan? You don’t want them to feel alienated either from mainstream or their family culture. On the other hand, are they happy when they lose their cultural and racial identity and feel like one of the white?

A friend of mine told me of a Chinese who, after becoming a naturalized French citizen, refused to identify himself as a Chinese. “I am a French,” as he insisted so proudly and happily. I wish the world were as simple as it is seen through this French un-Chinese. Then all psychologists would be out of job. Here comes the recession.



Can We Convert Our Useless Stuffs Into Cash?


Last weekend, 3/14, I learned from a friend of mine that some of the Chinese that I know of just got laid off from Sprint’s recent massive RIF drive. Among them is a single mom with two young children. My thought has been with her all the time since I learned of the news. I know both of her children are like mine, involved in many extra curricular activities like music and sports. They also go to Sunday Chinese school here. How could she manage to pay her bills and all their activities now that she lost her job?

I have been to some of my friends’ houses before, with piano, treadmill, and plenty of toys, large and small, its crowdedness being so typical of average American families. I learned that some of them like shopping. I wish I had cash in hand instead of so many stuffs. Too bad this is only one-way traffic from cash to goods, that is, once you transform your hard-earned cash into stuffs taking up space of your house, you cannot convert them back to the same amount of cash you originally paid.

One of my neighbors often holds garage sale, trying to salvage some cash from all the junks that she once feels compulsive to buy — a rather time-consuming and futile activity. My children once commented how rich they were just from the amount of stuffs they bought. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if we had not bought these junks in the first place and not have to hold these garage sales?

Once again, bad economic time = good learning experience, only the tuition is too high for those who have to sell stuffs. I will make sure my children read this posting so that they can learn something without having to pay for the tuition. Cheaper by double.



How Parents Can Help Late Bloomers


A friend of mine talked to me about her 7-year-old son. He is a kind boy by nature, yet his kind-heartedness is not returned by his playmate, a neighboring child who mistreated him. He is not aware of the non-reciprocal nature of his kindness. Sounds so familiar to me. Yes, I had this experience when I was little.

I told my daughter of this last night while walking outside. She was rather vindictive, saying the boy should ditch that playmate. I told her that both she and her brother behaved like this when they were his age or even older than this. Even worse, I was not better than that boy even when I was in middle school.

This is my experience when I was in middle school. I remember a classmate who was a whole lot less friendly than this playmate. We had been together since daycare years. She was far more mature than her peers, being the lead of the group wherever she went, with me being the opposite and serving her like a small pawn in her big plan.

When I was in 7th grade, she, being the so-called cadre of the class, often had late night meeting at school which often ended around 10 PM and I, being her friend, never failed to wait outside classroom and accompany her all the way to her house. We passed her home on the way to my home. I remember exactly that I was scared after I sent her to her home and ran all the way through a long narrow lane, across the street, through another long block, non-stop dashing the home run all by myself, chased by the memory of ghost stories so popularly circulated then.

Upon being asked why I came back home so late, I told my parents, “She had a meeting and she was afraid to go home by herself, so she asked me to wait for her.” My parents knew there was still a distance between her house and mine and told me not to get home so late by myself. “It is not safe for you to walk all by yourself after dropping her to her house.” Still, I wouldn’t listen, for I thought I would do anything for a “friend.”

This girl also took advantage of my parents. When I went to a foreign languages school in Tianjin, she wanted to go, too, so she asked my father to send her there. So he did. Because of her busy extracurricular activities, she wasn’t able to give adequate attention to her study. Therefore, around mid or final exams, she sought me out to help her. I remember clearly how I helped her with her school work, giving her my class notes and sharing with her my talents and cool brain. During a school outing into wilderness, we stayed over a month outside home. By then she had become rather unpopular so that nobody wanted to be her neighbor. Again, she turned to me, knowing too well of my good nature. Again I did what she asked.

By the time I was in high school, nearly everybody had joined the so-called progressive organization of the youth The Red Guard. This girl, together with other class leads, decided who could become the member of this organization. She knew I was very anxious to be part of the large group, well maybe parents were more anxious than I was; still she voted against me because, according to her, I was not active politically and I placed study above politics.

I had served her in numerous ways. This was what she did in return. As far as I remember she had never done anything in return. I never realize I could be such a good servant, though not for any noble cause. I must have been eager to please others at that time. A sign of extreme immaturity or low self-esteem or whatever it is.

I would say I am one of those late bloomers, like a bad investment during a prolonged economic downturn, taking forever to mature, if ever as mature as some over-riped people. Now I don’t feel anything about that part of my experience. Or rather, I had never really suffered from it as I was not aware I had been unfairly used by a so-called friend. It might be a twisted version of volunteer service during my youth, as nobody ever told me to be this silly. Too bad nobody ever told me not to either.

I only wish my parents could have spent more time with me, opening my eyes and prepared me well for the diversities and the ugliness that inevitably ravage us on our life’s journey. In fact, I record my experience with this girl so that readers will know better and can serve their children better than my parents. No blame, no hard feeling so far. Peace prevails as long as nobody feels disturbed.



A Heart-Warming and Inspiring Book


I just finished a book by Atul Gawande, titled Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, 2007. I was hugely impressed by the overarching idealism throughout the book, felt like a warm current going through the body, so much like last century’s vintage, reminding me of JFK’s Peace Corps and “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do to your country.” A must read for all doctors!

The book goes into great detail with abundance of examples the “three core requirements for success in medicine–or in any endeavor that involves risk and responsibility” — diligence, do the right thing, and ingenuity.

It is easy to be diligent — pulling the cart as long as the cart is pullable. But it means a little bit challenge not to fall victim to our own human sins, failings or weaknesses, like avarice, arrogance, dishonesty, coverup of one’s mistake, knelling before a White House intern, even committing massacre currently going in Iraq.

The last one–ingenuity– “is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change. It arises from deliberate, even obsessive, reflection on failure and a constant searching for new solutions.”

How I wish more people could be like this. Well-intentioned dream. Well, at least, I wish to share it with my children and wish they will keep them in mind, no matter they will pursue in their life’s journey.

A good book, heart-warming and inspiring! Nice effort in cold weather.



Do It Yourself –Making Maki-zushi, a Sushi Dinner


Last Saturday, my daughter wanted to eat sushi, so I bought a tray from an Oriental store for her. On Sunday afternoon after her figure-skating lesson, upon her insistence, we went to buy the ingredients for making sushi — bamboo mat, seaweed sheets, crab meat, avocado, cucumber, pickles, and some others.

After getting home, she started trying her hand at making sushi, with a rare enthusiasm and total involvement. The first try turned out not as satisfactory as she expected. Plus, the preparation process created a huge mess for us to clean afterward.

In the end, she declared things looked easy until you try it. It was a whole lot easy just to buy sushi than do-it-yourself. For me, the end result does not matter. What really matters is her effort, her attitude and willingness to give it a try and her participation in cooking. The process of preparation was full of talks and laughter. I wish children could take this attitude at whatever they desires to do.

I was talking as if I were any better than she is at trying something new. I wish. In fact, don’t we all need this attitude before declaring, “I can’t do it” or “I am not good at it” or any other excuse we are so good at finding for ourselves?



Children Growing Up in China are More Complicated Than ABCs


Yesterday, my son called and talked about going to China this summer. He asked if I could go with him. I cannot because my daughter wants to take high school course in summer. Then he talked about his meeting of the Chinese students visiting MIT and his plan of seeing them again in Beijing.

I told him of the difference between children growing in China and American born Chinese like him. He agrees that the former are a lot more complicated than ABCs, but not necessarily more mature and independent. He admitted that it was more challenging to deal with students from China than with American ones.

It so happened that a friend of mine called me yesterday afternoon and also talked about a relative of hers, actually her 25-year-old nephew who came to America for his graduate study. She noticed that this boy accepted whatever service she did for him, without even saying a thankyou, as if he should be well served. It is so annoying to do something for him when he does not even know to appreciate your service.

I have to admit that many children from single-child families are rather self-centered and also children growing up in China face a more intense competition and thus are more complicated than ABCs here. If both are put to test, I have no doubt children growing in China will survive better than those ABCs. Doesn’t this tells us something about the two countries in which the two groups of children grow up?



He Who Travels Alone Travels Fastest


Friday evening I took my daughter to ice-skating from 8 – 10 PM. Every time I take her there, I always see groups of teenagers, in three or four or even more, standing outside the rink, chatting, joking, laughing roaringly, and of course eating. On the other hand, my daughter is on the rink almost all the time until the session ends. She started Basic 1 figure-skating on 2/7/2009, the 6-week session ending this weekend. Her coach told me she was doing so well that she could skip 2 and 3 and move to Basic 4 in next session.

On the way home I mentioned those playful teenagers to my daughter, she said, “Oh yeah, what are they here for? They don’t skate even inside the rink at all. They stand there chatting, taking up the space, and just getting in the way. They are SO annoying.” I guess they were standing in her way when she tried to skate. Indeed, didn’t they pay these sessions to skate instead of anything else? And they are expensive. When I asked her if she could make such big progress if she were here with her friends, she said, “I guess not. I would probably spend a lot of time chatting like them. I might have some fun but not much progress.”

Which is better — travel with friends at your leisurably speed or travel by yourself and reaching your goal sooner? I wouldn’t mind if time were an unlimited free resource. Am I getting too serious again on this lovely Saturday?



Playing with a Two-Year-Old, Parenting and Socialization


Last Saturday, 3/7/2009, while my daughter was having her weekly art lesson, I was waiting at another room, enjoying the company of the two-year-old girl of a friend of mine. After all, people don’t get the chance to play with a two-year-old that often. Plus, it was a fun challenge to observe how she took sweets from me but not gave away her food, without expected reciprocation, despite of her mom’s kind insistence. It is our natural reaction to keep our food, the natural instinct for self-preservation. She reminds us how all of us were before we were socialized. It is cute and lovely at her age but worrisome for anyone beyond age 10.

Parenting is the first form of socialization. You can also call it the de-naturalizing process, in which we learn how to share, to behave according to social norms and to co-exist peacefully in a social group. We can see how the behavior of the children is thus shaped or to some extent determined during this first socialization process.

Observing the behavior of a two-year-old makes me once again appreciate the socialization process that our parents made us go through when we were this little — not an easy task as it runs against our nature. She is so much true to herself, before being first socialized. And this is what we were before. So next time when we refuse to share, we should ask ourselves, “How old are you?” Happy Friday!



A Good Plan with Kind Intention Went Sour In the End


Early this morning around 3:45 I drove to the airport, sending both the uncle and the nephew to China; thus ended the boy’s 8-month stay in America, from 7/20/2008 to 3/12/2009. I feel like unloading a super-size bag off my back, more responsibility than any size of a bag. A much needed break, especially after some last-minute shopping and packing!

On the way to the airport, I asked him if he could understand his teachers at school. He told me he could pretty much figure out what the teacher meant even if he could not understand all the words. “How about your classmates?” I further asked. “No, not a single bit. They talked too fast. Also, I cannot understand my teachers when they talked to each other.” At home when we watched TV over the dinner table, he would not join us because he could not understand it.

I know his mother is not satisfied with his progress in English. I would think things might have been different if he had spent more time interacting with my daughter and us at home, as I had instructed my daughter to talk to him in English. In reality, at home he was on the computer all the time, either playing games or watching Chinese movies or visiting Chinese websites or being with his mother over the Skype. He would fight unpleasantly over any attempt to interrupt his indulgence. He and my daughter are not on speaking term especially after he threatened her with kitchen chopper last November while I was in China. I wish she could forget it.

When I looked back, I realized I was rather naive and unrealistically optimistic at first, without ever anticipating any bad turn of event. Because I did not really know the boy before he came to America, I was not prepared for the drastic changes demonstrated by the boy upon his mother’s leaving for China. Well, another plan turned sour in the end, much as I have tried to add more sugar into it. Don’t we do this all the time? For me, enjoy the break and the relief.



America — A Culture of Extravagant Waste


I had two monitor visits yesterday and had a real nice chat with the second one from New Mexico. We talked about American economy, lifestyle and the culture of waste. I am glad to have found someone as old-fashioned as I am — we seem to be endangered species in the land of gigantic waste.

Talk about the waste and American culture, I think of a Chinese friend of mine who seems to have become a thoroughly Americanized consumer. So disturbing! She has three children, two girls and one boy. The two girls used to share one room. She recently spent around $200,000 remodeling her house to nearly double its original size, because the older girl needed a room of her own.

Upon hearing this explanation, I knew better than expressing my disapproval, though I could not put the thought out of my mind afterward. Why can’t she share a room with her sister? Even if the girl demands a room of her own, how can the parents encourage this luxury by spending this sum? One room each person, refuse to share a room? Imagine how crowded it would be if each one of the Chinese people demand the same!

I have learned from the monitor that the French people are a lot frugal than Americans in living quarters and daily expense. They use their feet and public transportation way more than individual cars. Indeed, the total wastes generated by Americans are more than the sum of all European countries do.

This demand for total ownership of house and car, lacking of public transportation and sharing fully demonstrate the rampant individualism in American culture, resulting in flagrant pillage of all forms of resources — natural and man-made. And that’s how we find ourselves in this stupid plight now.

I talked to one of the supervisors of our practice of the disposable cups and plates in our break room. Why can’t people bring their own mugs instead of producing waste cups everyday? This will save money from buying these cups and help environment by throwing less disposables. I was told people would complain. Yes. Spoiled cats!

Nothing can stop the current downward turn if we stick to the same culture of extravagant waste, of impulsive spending, of lack of fiscal self-discipline, of childish consuming behavior.

OMG, what a heavy indictment for these innocent American baby-like adults! So unfair! It is getting too serious to be even funny and to be correct. Oops, I just used a term gleaned from my daughter. Here’s another one, from my son — LOL, as long as you can.



Maintain Physical Fitness by Following Our Chosen Path


Last Friday evening, 3/6/09, on the way back from Border’s, I told my daughter that I met one of the neighbors in our neighborhood when I was walking back from Auntie Aiju’s house. This neighbor was jogging, wearing athletic top and shorts. I often see her jogging like this. A few years ago, her husband lost job and she was a stay-home mom. So they put their house for sale for many years and could not find a buyer. We were always wondering how they made a living when the only bread-earner lost his job with three children and a stay-home mom. I know they are close to a catholic church, which must be of some help.

I asked my daughter, “Would you be happy having no job but all the time for your exercise?” “I would kill myself if I were living like this,” was her answer. “Please don’t,” I said to myself. Obviously, she is not a stay-home type.

Indeed, people are so much different in their choice of life. It is hard to maintain our physical wellbeing without following our own chosen path. While some cannot live without a goal or a pursuit or a job to engage, some are content without. What matters most is you are happy with your own choice. Live and let live so that everybody can live happily ever after.

What a serious topic for this gloomy day. I wish I could be less serious.



Weekend Fun and Activities


Last Saturday was a busy one for both my daughter and me, driving her to art lesson in the morning, then to a skating lesson in the afternoon. She went skating by herself in the evening. The 10-year-old nephew wanted to skate too, so he went with us. There are some game machines, snack and pop vending machines. Many American children like to hang around these machines, eating and drinking pops, so does this boy. “I want to play games on that machine. I want to buy some drink. I am hungry, too,” he asked. He told me he likes American food better than Chinese one.

“You are more Americanized in this area than my daughter. I have already spoiled you with too much fun here and your mom will blame me for it after you get back,” I told him. It is so easy to pick up eating and gaming part of American culture for young children. And no doubt he has been on the loose while his mother is away. “I will miss this place after I get home,” he told me. He will surely need some adjustment after he gets back to his mother.

This is the last weekend before the boy leaves for China next Thursday — last one to shop for his take-home goodies and to pack in all his belongings, last time for him to go to church here, to take him around the town and take pictures, to go through the life skills that I have been teaching him, etc.

Yesterday, he went to church in the morning. I reviewed with him who Jesus is afterward. In the afternoon, we drove around to library, to Hen House, to his school, to Border’s, to Barnes & Noble’s, to Wal-Mart and took many pictures everywhere we went. In the evening, I played chess with him and taught him some tacts, telling him to keep playing with his parents after he gets back home. I also reminded him of working on his temper-control and all the life skills he has learned so far.

I am so glad to hear him saying “I am sorry. please. thankyou –” words that he has just got used to saying. He has learned politeness and respect of others will make everybody happy. He has changed a lot since this year. I wish he could take home all this and keep them with him.

I told him I was glad to see him returning to his mother because it was a huge responsibility for me and I did not have this time and energy to take care of him. Call me selfish or whatever. I am too old for another baby like him. I was already tired in the afternoon but I thought I would be relieved after his leaving. Just hang on there till this coming Thursday.

Exhausted but happy I could have done this for him and to know this is the last busy weekend, hopefully. The experience might be his last one and also once in his lifetime. So much fun, indeed! So glad to get back and relax in the office this morning.



Books Are Our Best Friends


Continue my obsession with the little poems written by this Chinese girl. She wrote it nearly two years ago. The poem shows her love of books and how much she has benefited from her dear friend — books. Books are window to the world of fun, knowledge and strength, enlightening us and uplifting us from whatever unpleasant state that we are in. So, take your child to the library or a bookstore, grab a book and read on this lovely Sunday.

“Books

Books are my best friends —
They aquaint me with plenty of knowledge;
They tells me —
Why swallows fly from south to north in Spring,
Why mosquitoes bother people in summer,
Why leaves turn yellow and fall in autumn,
And why snakes hibernate in winter.

I learn from books —
The fastest animal runner in the world is cheetah,
The largest fish species in the ocean is whale shark,
The Wright Brothers designed and piloted the world’s first airplane,
Da Vinci also contributed to the invention of bullet proof vest,
And the root of a fig tree can be as long as 120 mi!
6/18/2007″



A Happy Saturday Singing Poem


On this Saturday morning, there is nothing more agreeable and relaxing than this small poem written by the same poet who wrote “If I were a lotus flower.” She wrote it about two years ago, before she turned 6. The poem reveals a lovely carefree child with a cheerful imagination, rendering readers a vivid picture and a feeling of immense happiness.

“Singing

I like singing.
When I am singing,
I think of a lovely bird,
Flying freely in the sky;
I think of a bright star,
Its shining eyes twinkling at night;
I think of a soft bunny,
Gently sitting by my side.
I want to loudly sing.
5/17/2007”

Don’t you want to sing with her?



Work Experience Is Like Investments–Start as Early as Possible


Recently, my daughter and I have been talking a lot about her job, her eagerness to make money. When she was 12 year old, I told her to start working as a volunteer in the field she was interested in and continued into the end of her college years. By then she would have 10 years work experience and would place her far above her peer in job market. Time is on your side when you are so young. Nothing has been done so far.

Now she is eager to find a paid job in an attempt to fund her own summer school and other high expenses. While it is a good thing that children want to earn their own spending, I still find it hard to see kids taking any kind of job just to get paid. I told her that she should expect at least three gains from her job, money being the least important of all.
(1) Accumulate work experience
(2) Learn the skills so that you can get job done.
(3) Money.

Work experience is like investments — start as early as you can. Also like investment, it takes a long time to mature and to be experienced. My son started his internet adventure at age 14 during the first year of high school. You can never under-estimate its long-term benefit. I know my daughter will soon find something of her interest. To be continued…



My Middle-School Age Daughter Is Smarter Than The US President


No kidding. Yesterday while taking our evening walk, we talked about the president’s $800bn stimulus plan. I said it was like tearing down the eastern wall to amend western wall, giving people more money so that their consumptions will stimulate production. My daughter responded with the depth of wisdom that is so much lacking in president.

“Worse than this, you don’t even have the eastern wall to start with. You have to borrow walls from other’s to amend all your walls. Americans have to change their lifestyles in order to get to the root of the problem. Otherwise, it is like a vicious cycle — they borrow more and spend more and are locked in this borrow-consume cycle. It is simply not right to spend more than you can afford. Those who spend more than their income should not be helped and should be held responsible for their failure. After all, they made bad decision and should suffer as the result!” A tough punishment, yet fair enough. The president never advises the people against spending more than their income.

There is a naked folk truth to what she said. Responsibility is one of the life skills that we adult constantly hammer into children’s head. Yet, how can we teach our children to be responsible for the consequence of their decisions if we adult fail to do the same? I feel like a double-faced hypocrite.



Enjoy the Beauty of the Nature Amid Cat-and-Dog Competition


A friend of mine sent me a piece of literary work done by his 8-year-old daughter. I was stricken by the beauty naturally expressed in her writing and amazed at her ability to imagine and appreciate what we adults tend to overlook or dismiss as inconsequential.

I read to my daughter yesterday. She said it sounded so beautiful. I wish we could all appreciate the simple beauty that naturally provided to us even amid the most severe cat-and-dog competition.

“If I were a lotus flower,
I would clothe myself in white,
Releasing pleasant fragnance,
Holding the hands of mom and dad,
Dancing in the wind.

I would chat with the fish for a while
Or play games with dragonflies,
Having endless fun.

Suddenly I heard a child’s loud uttering,
“Ah, how beautiful and sweet these flowers are!
Come and look at them!”
With that, a group of children come over,
They are looking and voicing their admiration at us

Hearing this, I feel so pleased.
Thus ends a happy day.”
3/2/2009



What Can We Learn From President’s Address to Both Houses


Not much actually, though I love hearing the speech of this president, his optimism being so contagious and encouraging. After all, who likes hearing a whining baby? Plus, what an educational entertainment to go through his speech!

“…it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.” I wish I knew how by the end of his speech.

“And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.” Didn’t we know that we are a nation thoroughly soaked in red, redder than Red China, not so red after she amassed so much wealth?

This is what I want my children to avoid — “we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.”

“People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway.” How stupid do we have to be before we ever grow up, mentally I mean?

How dreadful to learn that either action or inaction is going to be costly when we have nothing to spend! — “… while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation.” How much “worse” do we need?

Finally, cheer up — “We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.”

A compliment on China — once in a blue moon. I am happy by now. Good for today.



Make Sure Your Kids Fall Into the Right Group in High School


It is a nice Monday morning, a lot nicer than last weekend with thick snow flying around. I felt or rather looked like a polar bear, not so cute though, driving my daughter around to her activities.

I opened an email this morning from a high school classmate, which brought me back to those long-gone years, of which I had always felt more like an onlooker or outsider than a participant. I observed, laughed, and questioned silently, more than airing any expressions.

Talk about cultural marginalization! You can feel like an outside even in your own culture. This is very much true for people having introvert tendency. Not so bad in the end if you cannot find your fit.

In high schools here, everybody belongs to one of those cliques, good or bad. It is extremely important that the children fall into the right group during the four high school years. I am so glad that my son bundled up with a few kids who were like him taking all the hardest courses in high school, single-purposely going about everyday–shooting for the star, one of his buddies got admitted into Harvard, another into Stanford and other top-class places. He hanged out with kids from orchestra team, tennis club, and his regular courses class, one party after another and endless fun! The envy of all!

Funny I have a clearer memory of my son’s high school experience than that of my own. Finally, I moved to the center!

Next Page »

Today I Learn… is proudly powered by WordPress and themed by Mukka-mu