Last day of the year 2012


The end of year 2012.
For some reason, I tend to have bad associations with ending. As far as I can remember, it all started when I was in elementary school. I always felt sad at the end of a semester when we were supposed to leave school and go home.

Perhaps it was because I grew up spending more time outside home than inside. I started with a boarding daycare, followed by a boarding school, where we stayed for 6 days every week.

Until now, the end always brings back that part of memory. Well, I hope my readers have some good associations with the end of the year. At least, the end is always followed by the new.

I hope for all of us, the turn of the year is a moment of reflection — pause for a second, look back, then look forward with a renew energy.

Rejoice as the next day is the New Year.



New year resolution, part II


New Year Resolution of 2013

I am still working on this right now, as this is not the last day of the year yet. As always, my resolution will consists of at least three aspect:

(1) My career/hobby/achievement — I am not going to look around for internal transfer anymore. Instead, I am going to exploit deeply any writing opportunities in my current position. This is going to be my priority. In my spare time, I will continue contributing to both KCStar and PolicyMic.

(2) Exercise.
(3) Something else, like identifying and limiting the time lost on my guilty pleasures, parenting, volunteering, more reaching out, etc.

Things I am not going to include in my resolution:
(1) Lose weight as it is hard to lose it without losing something else.

(2) Learning a new foreign language. I have included it many times before and seldom kept it, so it has become an empty promise. This does not mean I am not going to keep my language learning.

(3) Be nice to this or that. I have made constant efforts trying to be a better me, even though I know it is getting more and more difficult to change oneself as one gets in age. The fact that I am going to leave it out does not mean I will stop trying. It is just something that we all try to do all the time throughout our lives.



New year resolution, part I


Yes, once again, it is this time of the year when the turning of the year forces us to both look back and look forward.

Some people hate to look back as they feel they have not accomplished anything worth a second look.

Some people look back with a feeling of immense pride. Some are filled with a deep regret. Of course, some end up with a mixed feeling.

I never feel completely great when I look back as I always find something missing. I always feel that I could have done this or that or I could make a better use of my time during the past year.

I think no matter how much I have accomplished, I will always feel this way as it might be ingrained in my nature.

For the coming new year resolution, I will add one thing to my list — when I look back at the end of year 2013, I will have something that really makes me proud of myself.



The year 2012 is becoming old as we welcome the new year


rush-rush by Zhu ziqing

I still remember a friend of mine sent me this short essay by Zhu Ziqing at the beginning of this year. I thought this one was a bit depressing as I was embracing the new year and ready for new challenge ahead. But before long this new year is on the way out, as another new year is coming in.

With the end-of-holiday blues, no matter how buoyant I have tried to be, I cannot totally shield my mind from the depressing tone that Zhu Ziqing expresses in his essay.

Let us remember the message in Zhu’s essay and value every moment in the coming year. That is, make something happen before this new year becomes old one.



Wish we can be together all the time


Yesterday after we sent my son and his girlfriend to the airport, my daughter and I exchanged very few words as we tried to bear the weight of an unspeakable sadness over his leaving.

I did go to office and she did go to Barnes & Noble’s trying to get something done. On the way back from bookstore in the evening, we talked about her brother and how much we missed him.

I told my daughter that there is a Chinese saying, which goes like this, turning sadness into strength. She certainly understands what it means. This might be the only thing that we can do at this moment.

wish we can be together all the time

 



End of holiday, back to work, everybody


Alas, good time always rushes by faster than we wish. I still remember how I looked forward to my son’s homecoming and how we drove to the City Market to get his girlfriend back. Now both of them are back to their work in New York. And I, back to my office, after sending them to the airport this morning.

We got up around 4:30 AM this morning, trying to leave the house at 5. We actually left the house at 5:15 and still had enough time to get to the airport. My daughter went back to sleep after we got home and I went to the office.

The year 2012 is also coming to an end in less than a week. I talked to my children about the coming year and their plan the day before, and of course their New Year Resolution, just to keep the house tradition. They all agree it is a good one and should be kept.

 



Happy holiday season…for all


Today is Christmas. I know I should say “Merry Christmas.” Instead, I am sending out holiday greeting. You never know who is or who is not celebrating Christmas.

It is a happy day for me because my son and his girlfriend are home and I stay home with them. Of course, I stay home because the office closes today.

A friend family invited us to her house. So we plan to go there, even though I have told her that my son will leave early next morning to catch 6 AM flight back to New York and we cannot stay there for long.

I am going to enjoy my good time while the time is great.



Cooperation more than competition in the fight for survival


On 12/16, my daughter and I went to Barnes & Noble’s as usual to prepare for her finals. There I read something on Scientific American magazine, special collector’s edition with the theme on the question “What Makes Us Human.”

One human behavior, Martin Nowark question, “why we help each other.” Cooperation, he notices, instead of being “a nagging exception to the rule of evolution,” has been one of its primary architects.

When people often think of evolution as a severe cutthroat, dog-eat-dog struggle for survival, cooperation is found to be a driving force in evolution.

The author talks about the five mechanisms by which cooperation may arise in organisms ranging from bacteria to human beings. Humans are especially helpful because of the mechanism of indirect reciprocity, which is based on reputation and leads us to help those who help others.

It is heartening to learn that “life is not just a struggle for survival –it is also a smuggle for survival.” A nice thought on the eve of Christmas.

People cooperate either for their common interest or for their own interest, which makes sense since we are all interdependent.

Is it really something new? I am not sure, but I am sure there are many implications for any fields that involve human dealings.



Where is the American dream?


Yesterday I talked about college degree and its following debts for many graduates. On 12/3 I read another even more depressing piece of news “Downward mobility haunts US education” by Sean Coughlan.

For many people, a part of the American Dream is the upward mobility through education. If they didn’t have college education and have been trapped in their economic status, their children will move upward through college education and that the children will always be better educated and more prosperous than the previous generation.

With the depressing job market, the prolonged economic downturn, and heavy student debts, that American dream, that upward mobility in the next generation is under serious threat.

“Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says the US is now the only major economy in the world where the younger generation is not going to be better educated than the older.”

Instead of moving upward, are we going to see “downward mobility?” as some people suggest. The author cites many examples to reach this conclusion — yes, we will have “the opposite of a Hollywood ending.”

This is a serious matter for the future of U.S. economy and of course for the coming generation.



College degree, cost, investment and returns


On 12/10/2012, I read an article by Jill Martin “US student loans: The trillion dollar debt trap.” The article cites some depressing yet also familiar examples of young people heavily burdened by student debts.

One 27-year-old with a PhD and $150,000 debt. She is expected to pay monthly payments of $1,600. “I just cannot pay that amount,” she says, and having tried to negotiate with several lenders without success, she is losing her will to fight. When I read this, I was thinking “If you cannot make that much to pay for this degree, why did you borrow for that degree in the first place? Why couldn’t you get scholarship for it?”

She is very much representing the widespread student debt problem of the nation, a one trillion dollar headache for the US economy – and it is only getting worse.

“As the cost of a university education soars, default rates are on the rise. Some estimates say that more than five million borrowers in the US have defaulted on their student loans. Almost 375,000 people defaulted in the latest year alone, the US Department of Education says.”

Indeed, if the young graduates cannot find jobs to even make a living, they have no other choice but defaulting their debts.

This once again forces us to consider the question of investing in a college degree, its cost and its return, and for some people, whether or not this investment is worthwhile. If you cannot recoup the cost of that degree in the next decade or two, ask yourself if you are better off investing your time and money elsewhere.



Remembering the Sandy Hook school children


some of the victimsSix of those being killed during Sandy Hook’s tragedy. It hurts tremendously seeing these lovely faces, knowing they are gone forever. I know nothing can fill the emptiness that these children left in the hearts of their beloved ones.

It’s been a week since the infamous Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. There has been talks about this mass killing on TV, in the office, at home, with my mother over Skype, and nearly everywhere.

Insane people can be found in all countries, but insane people equipped with semi-automatic guns or some other assult weapon are uniquely American products.

While we mourn the death of these innocent people from Virginia Tech to Colorado theater to Wisconsin temple to Columbine high school to Sandy Hook elementary school, we live in dreadful fear that someday something similar would happen again.

Now there are more police on high school campus, probably more at elementary schools. Unless we restrict gun ownership, unless there is a drastic change in this gun-obsessed culture, unlike all civilized countries, the U.S. has to live with constant fear and high alert.



The homecoming boy and his girlfriend


Ever since my son left for college in 2007, the high point of each holiday is always the same thing: my son’s homecoming. Today is the day for this holiday.

During last weekend, we cleaned the room, got his bed, blanket, pillow, and other stuffs ready. As he often eats outside when he is away from home, he prefers homemade food instead of restaurant one. So, last weekend I went to costco and Korean grocery store nearby to do some grocery shopping.

There is no exaggeration that his homecoming is the key ingredient to the joyful festival atmosphere at our house.

P.S. my son told us yesterday that his girlfriend was coming over for the holiday today. She flies from New York City while he is coming from Arisona. Joy never comes singly.



Sending holiday greetings to two of my colleagues


On Monday I sent Christmas greetings to two of my colleagues at another site. To one of them I owed her an answer. To another, I owed her a thankyou letter.

One of them once asked me over the phone what I ate to keep myself in shape. She is one of my favorite colleagues, so I promised her that I would write to you in detail. That was about two months ago. I kept postponing writing to her, though I have not forgot my promise and have been thinking of this. Of course, now is the good time to both keep my promise and send my holiday greetings.

I wrote on my holiday card to her some steps that she can take in order to lose weight and how she should make a feasible plan, say losing one pound per week, and follow it through for a year. She was thrilled when she received my card.

Another colleague is a very nice and helpful one. I never hesitate to contact her if I have a question. She is so nice that I wish there is a medal for her. Of course, she was surprised when she received my thankyou+holiday greeting card.

I know holiday is for family reunion. As I look forward to my son’s homecoming, I thought I could add a little joy to someone nice, someone whom we are lucky enough to have met on our life journey.



Three questions one needs to think hard in life


During last weekend, during my early morning walk, I was listening to a Modern Scholar book, Ethics: A history of Moral Thought by Peter Kreeft. To be sure, this is not the first time that I listen to his book. It is simply worth re-listening.

At some point, the author mentions three questions that all of us need to treat seriously in life.

(1) What do you believe? This impacts everything you do — your motivation, your treatment of others, your attitude toward your work and people around you. Basically, this is true.

(2) What life partner do you choose? This is important not only because your partner can bring either happiness or misery to your life, but also because, like it or not, we are all, to certain extent, influenced by the partner we choose to live with, just as your company can change you. Alas, this is also very much true.

(3) What job? This is an easy one as we have to throw one-third of our life into a job. It is as important to our mental and emotional health as the life partner that we choose.

Now, are you convinced?



The stove that sings, a woman’s memory of her childhood


On 12/13/2012, a friend of mine sent me this story by Chi Zijian. Below is the beginning and the ending of this short piece.

The stove that sings

The author records a piece of her childhood memory, a sweet one in hindsight, when her father took her and her sisters to the snow-covered mountain in winter. I am not sure if the father was aware of this far-reaching impact on his daughter. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether or not he was aware of that. What matters is the result.

Reading piece like this often leaves me with a feeling of regret and then of sadness because, once it’s gone, I cannot relive those precious childhood with them. I should have done this or that with my children to make them happier.



Take pride in your accomplishments and others


My colleague’s 22-months-old granddaughter already shows competitive traits — when she is doing puzzle or some challenging task, she keeps telling herself “Do it.” When she completes a task or a challenge, she proclaims “I did it!” with a proud smile on her face. I must mark this down.

Two of my daughter’s Vietnamese friends are going to major in pharmacy in college. I told my daughter they are mostly interested in making a living, that is, getting into something that can get them a job upon graduation and then hold on to that position until retirement.

For some people, education is all about making a living like this, For some others, it is for making a career. Of course, one could say that people still need to make a living even if they chase a career. I hope people can see the difference between the two.

 



When can we or if ever we can end this senseless killing?


Last week seemed to be the bloodest one in American history, as far as I remember. First we learned of mall shooting in Portland, Oregan, next there is this Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, killing 20 children and 6 adults. Recently the country has witnessed too many senseless shootings like the one at Sandy Hook. I cannot imagine how their parents deal with this loss.

Easy access to gun is a big contributing factor here. Yet, no matter how many people have been killed, to protect the interest of weapon industry, the politicians will not do anything to restrict gun possession. Next, the killing hopelessly continues, really hopeless… This often reminds me of this song.

Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.



Watching “Letter to Juliet” movie


On 11/29, I got back home, my daughter told me she had a bad day today. She didn’t tell me all the details as it was the buildup of all the small unpleasant things. I tried to humor her saying “We can get a movie and watch it together.

That night we watched “Letters to Juliet,” a 2010 American romantic drama. After watching it, we talked a little bit about the character.

The main characters Sophie and her fiance Victor went to Italy for their honeymoon. Both of them are very dedicated to their respective career. The irony is Victor’s dedication alienates Sophia and provides her an opportunity to broaden her career. In the process of this, she meets another guy when she follows her journalist instinct to a feature story.

In the end, her feature story is accepted by New Yorker magazine. Victor and Sophia separated. Sophia finds someone who truly appreciates her.

Just as Sophia’s letter to another character in the movie, the movie provides many what-ifs for people to reflect.



Sleep restores your brain power


Sometimes in July 2012, I read this article from Scientific American Mind, May/June 2012 issue “Sleep’s secret repairs” by Jason Castro. I forgot if I have posted this piece.

“Slumber may loosen the links that undergird knowledge, restoring the brain daily to a vibrant, flexible state.”

“Emerging evidence suggests that sleep also serves as a reset button, loosening connections throughout the brain to put this organ back in a state in which learning can take place.”



Looking ahead, without looking elsewhere


On 12/4, a colleague of mine asked me about my job application within the KU system. I told her I had given up trying. Yes, I gave up.

When I decided to get a large screen laptop, I made up my mind that I would not look elsewhere any more. Instead, I will take advantage of my current job.

There are at least three things about my current position that are very dear to me. Number one, medical insurance. Number two, not crazily busy and absolutely stress-free. I can always squeeze two third of my daily office hour on my stuff. Number three, it is only 10 minutes drive from my house.

As the year 2012 is winding down and as I have decided to reorient my direction, I am going to exploit more writing opportunities in the coming year. I hope by this time next year I have done something that makes me proud of myself.



Walking on a cold Monday morning


It was bitterly cold yesterday morning, feeling like the coldest day of the year. I knew it before I got up, that is, when I watched TV the day before. Usually, I feel certain resistence on Monday morning as I got too relaxed on weekend.

A cold Monday morning is especially discouraging to me. I thought I had enough excuse if I did not get up and take my morning walk.

For some reason, the whole thing seems so familiar, the weather, Monday morning, the dark outside, and the inner dialogue. It is like a replay of the whole scene. If I don’t take morning walk, I might have no exercise for the day, then for the week, etc.

Next I knew better than not to drag myself out of the warm bed into the dark, cold morning. And there I went again.



A holiday mother


A friend of mine sent me this writing by Yan Lian-ke. It describes his mother’s reaction when she learns of her son’s home coming.

In the past I would relate this to my mother’s reaction to my trip home. Situation is different now. Ever since my son left for college in 2007, I have experienced the same excitement and expectation when holiday is getting near.

Of course, this year as he will be home in ten days, I am as excited and busy as before. Look forward to this simple joy of reunion.



What do you want to do with your life


During Thanksgiving break, a friend of mine asked me about high school. “What should the kids do in high school?” To be sure, this is not the first time that this question was brought up to me. The answer is simple. Ask the kid “What do you want to do with your life?”

Why do I ask this question? Because high school is one of the transitional years during which a child tries to find out where her passion lies and what she wants to pursue in college. If a child cannot answer these questions, she’d better start thinking about them now

“What do you want to do with your life?” Nobody ever told you not to think or postpone thinking about this question during your high school years. In fact, if you don’t have any idea about how you want to live your life, chances are you are more likely to drift away beyond high school.



Listening to recorded books lifts me up everyday


On 11/29/2012, I went to Leawood library with my daughter in the evening. I checked out many recorded books by Modern Scholars. My daughter asked me “Why do you borrow these? You don’t have the time for them.” On the way back home and also the next day, I gave her this explanation.

Yes, I do have the time for these audio books. I listen to them when I am walking in the morning and while working at office during the day.

Since I don’t have as much time as I want to read these books, these recorded books enable me to listen while doing something else. It is also good for my eyes.

Why am I interested in these books? It is more than learning what they have to teach. I have to relate this question to my job, which is, first of all, not something I am interested in. Secondly, it is not intellectually challenging enough to keep my mind occupied. In fact, it can be so boring that I am afraid of dulling my brain. I always feel like a fish out of water in that environment. Listening to modern scholars books seems to put me back to where I belong.

In fact, books always provide some kind of transcendental value to the readers, adding wings to their imagination, seeing beyond their vision or taking them away from their immediate environment.



The Tragic death at New York Subway


By now the whole world seems to have learned of the 58-year-old Ki-suck Han’s death at the hand of 30-year-old Naeem Davis who pushed Han down there and watched him crushed to death by the train.

Crime like this is not a rare occurrence. But this one seems to punch hard on people’s conscience, causing us wonder why there was no one who would lend him a hand. Perhaps people were afraid that Naeem Davis, a huge black guy, might throw them down there, too if they went to help Han.

I don’t have the details and don’t have the answer. I am simply saddened in my heart over the loss especially during this holiday season.



Record not just what happens but your responses to the happenings


When my children were at elementary school, I asked them to write journal. Very often, their journal entries remain at the level of description. This is what I once told them.

Record not just what has happened during the day but your responses to these happenings. Both your descriptions and your comments are important.

You are not simply a story teller or a record keeper. Everything seen through your eyes must also go through your brain and be accompanied with both your naked observation and your brain power, that is your analysis or your expression of like or dislike and why.

This is the only way to sharpen your analytic and observational ability in your writing.

Of course, when you become a skilled writer, you can present your view through your choice of word or choice of fact.



Your everyday habit and your mental health, part 2


Continued from yesterday…

Tips for building physical activity into your daily routine:
1) Walk instead of driving when possible.
2) Set aside time each day for exercise.
3) Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
4) Plant a garden and tend it.
5) Take an exercise class or join a health club.
6) Swim regularly, if you have access to a pool or beach.
7) Learn a sport that requires modest physical exertion, such as tennis.
8) Go Mediterranean diets



Your everyday habit and your mental health


I read this research on “your daily habits, lifestyle and your mental health” during Thanksgiving break. In the long run, your daily habits — what you eat and drink, whether you exercise, how stressed you are, and more — affect your mental health every bit as much as your physical health.

Physical fitness and mental fitness go together. People who exercise regularly tend to stay mentally sharp into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Research suggests that the exercise should be moderate to vigorous and regular. Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, stationary bicycling, water aerobics, and competitive table tennis. Vigorous activities include jogging, high impact aerobic dancing, square dancing, and tennis.

Exercise helps memory in several ways. It reduces the risk of developing several potentially memory-robbing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

Exercise is good for the lungs, and people who have good lung function send more oxygen to their brains. There is some evidence that exercise helps build new connections between brain cells and improves communication between them.

Finally, exercise has been linked to increased production of neurotrophins, substances that nourish brain cells and help protect them against damage from stroke and other injuries.



A song, a picture, a thing of beauty always cheers me up


A friend of mine sent me this song a few weeks ago. Since then, I have been listening to it whenever possible because it is so beautiful and it has stuck in the back of my mind. I have this tendency, that is, when I am exposed to either audio or video beauty, I tend to forget all the unpleasant things around, reach to a surreal stage and see the bright sky again. Here’s the lyric of the song. You have to listen to it to appreciate the song.

Some say love it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love it is a flower
And you it’s only seed

It’s the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance

It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live



Writing for your life, serious or not?


My daughter received many letters from universities and colleges throughout the country, all asking her to apply to their place, which reminds me of the winter of 2007 when my son was in the process of college application. It seems like yesterday.

I read one from Swarthmore with the title “Write for your life!” written by Nathalie Anderson, professor of English literature. It is interesting as normally we run for our life or fight for our life, even eat for our life. The author raises the importance of writing to the level of our life. “It’s your own intellectual life you are writing for, and nothing you write can be wrong for you.”

“Even in apparently placid lives–and few lives, actually are precisely placid–writing can help us define and refine our emotions, can help us clarify and strengthen our thoughts, can help us to make sense–or, even better, nonsense–out of unfairness.

“So, writing for your life, for most of us, most of the time, is a lot like working out at the gym: the more you do it, and the more regularly, the more skillful, powerful, complex, and elegant your writing will be.”

What does it mean to us? Well, write whatever in your mind, either serious or playful, truthful or fictional, first person or third person, present or past, descriptive or analytic, ourselves or others. Anything is better than nothing.

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