Openness –The Only Promise of American Society


On 9/12/2009, one day after 9/11, an interesting event occurred in Washington DC. Taxpayer March on Washington of 9/12/09 is an amusing phenomenon, though rather expected one from conservative forces in the nation. It was expected because we are in the times of extreme economic hardships for many people, the best times for a leader of whatever kind to arouse discontent. It was said to have attracted 600,000 to 800,000 participants to Washington DC on that day.

Their positions are:
Down with Obama’s healthcare reform
Down with big government
Down with federal spending
Down with anything seemingly un-American
Down with almost anything the president proposes and represents…

The funny thing is we never see such a huge gathering when billions of dollars went down into war efforts like the two wars waged by Bush. Guess money spent killing Iraqis and others were worthwhile.

Obama has demonstrated the greatest political courage to fight for public welfare at the risk of losing the chance of winning second term of presidency. He gives full energy to causes that he believes, even if it could mean political suicide. That was a rarity in politics.

One salient redeeming feature of American society is its openness, allowing its door widely open to everybody around the world who are willing to give their best to America. That’s why America has garnered most of the Nobel Prizes. That’s why American political stage has the largest non-white representation among white-dominated western nations. It counterbalances the conservative and reactionary forces in American culture. This is the only promise of American society, not the 9/12 Taxpayer March or anything of this nature. Otherwise, America will go downhill at a much faster speed than the Roman Empire.



Work Hard, Spend Harder, the Material-Oriented American Culture


It would be unfair to say most Americans do not work hard. On the contrary, most of them have over-worked themselves. On 10/20 a monitor from a southwest state came to our office. As usual, we chatted a little bit, then started the real business. While chatting, I shared with her the definition of happiness posted on 10/17 blog. She paused for a second and said, “You know what. It really makes sense.” Next she told me of someone that she knew of. Her acquaintance, over 60 years old, plans to work for another 10 years before she can retire, in order to pay off her mortgage.

Leaving the monitor room, I entered a room filled with cancer patients, most of them being senior citizens. A feeling of sadness overwhelmed me as I reflected on the words of the monitor. It is a rather sad reality when you think of the fact that for most people, they work hard all their lives and finally they can afford to retire, a disease like cancer strike them down, rendering them incapable of thinking of anything but how to stay alive.

One might be wondering why people do not retired earlier. Don’t they work hard all their lives and should be able to afford an early retirement? There is no doubt that most Americans work hard. As a matter of fact, it is a known fact that Europeans work less and enjoy more vacation than Americans do. A report from International Labor Organization reveals that Americans worked 1815 hours in 2002 while French 1545, Germans 1,444 for that year.

I can come up with two explanations for this– either most of Americans do not make much for their work or they spend more than their earnings. Considering the material-oriented American culture, I am more gravitated toward the second explanation. That is, Americans, being the most improvident people of all, work hard and spend harder than they are at work, saving nothing but garage trash for their advanced years. It makes zero sense when a man toils his life away for a huge house, a giant car, and other superficial materials, but never has the time, the health and the state of mind to enjoy. It is more like a life of slavery of our own material possessions. How much can you expect of civilization existing on this lifestyle?

For my children and my dear readers, life should not be made up of this endless toil and moil. It got to have some joyful meaning. Work is only a means to an end, whatever the end may be. We will definitely be able to enjoy more of life with early retirement if we can value time more than material possessions.

The same idea was articulated in 9/14/09 posting.



Practice of Hypocrisy and the Want of Consistency


This was written as we entered the 8th year of the US invasion of Afghanistan. It troubles me to see no end of this senseless war and troubles me even more when I observe that some of the discrepancies in American culture have been so conveniently accepted without ever being challenged.

On the one hand, the strong pro-life fundamentalist voices who backed fully behind Bush’s power usurpation give people an impression that these seemingly pious Christians love God-giving lives above anything else, even before their birth.

On the other hand, the majority of the same people have supported wars, the killings in thousands. Their support is indicated by the 4/2003 poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, showing 72% of Americans supporting the Iraq War, despite finding no evidence of chemical or biological weapons. Love of God-giving life and the act of aggression and adoption of the most efficient way of killing innocent lives — all in one people, one culture. All this defines a culture of hypocrisy of the highest degree!

It is equally disturbing to see those against the war were only concerned that the war has not been worth its financial cost, placing money above human life. If the majority of people sincerely value human lives as they claim, they would not have supported the Bush wars or would have stage strong protest against wars as it is. Well, you can say it is un-Christian without war. That’s how we got the word of Crusade. Alas, the practice of hypocrisy makes every killing possible and anything good impossible.

As with LBJ-Vietnam, so down will be Bush-Iraq and Obama-Afghanistan, together with the culture behind them all. Yes, I know how people hate to be told that they are hypocritic, even if it is true. Because nobody likes ear-stinging truth and nobody cares.

P.S. Early this morning, this piece of news came in the air, “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.”

This is a confirmation of Obama and a denunciation of his predecessor from international community, a victory for Obama supporters and a slap in the face of his opposers. Now whether or not he will go down in history as one of the great presidents depends on his handling of Bush wars, economy and health care, other matters being totally irrelevant.



Hurrah for Rio — Hosting Olympic Games


An unwise move again by our President.
Perhaps the President was caught in a Catch-22 situation as whether or not he should go to Denmark for his Chicago or maybe he over-estimated his political stardom or personal charm, whichever he believes that he possesses, when he and his wife made such a high-profiled personal appeal at Denmark for his Chicago hosting. Even if the world sees him in a more favorable light than the previous president, people outside the US has not forgotten what the US has done in the past 8 years. And no one person can erase the undesirable image that the US is enduring now among international community.

I was hoping Chicago would be kicked out and Rio would win when I learned of the President’s appearance in Copenhagen. I thought the trip was an unwise step, even if he felt he had to go for political expedience. I was wondering if he had already known that this trip was so futile, like a waste move in a chess game. If anything, this president is very flexible and resilient. He seems very capable of bouncing back after each faux pas. Probably he had no other choice, politically.

Ability to host the game is like the symbol of a country’s political and economic status and approval rate by world community. It means so much to a country that has never hosted before. It’s like coming of age, being accepted, the kind of feeling that US does not really appreciate.

It is a privilege rewarded by an international organization, which US deserved nothing of this kind. If anything, by denying Chicago, IOC sent a clear message of disapproval of US past behavior, two wars over UN rsolution and environmental records.

OMG, I sound so unpardonly unpatriotic. Oh well, let truth be.



4th of July, Waste, and Extreme Form of Triviality


The world is never poor in providing weird forms of entertainment. Yesterday I learned that a man ate 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the annual 4 July contest at Coney Island in New York, shattering his old record of 66. Once again, the world record for competitive hot dog eating has been proudly broken by an American.

It beats my limited brain to try to understand why people go through such a torture cramming down their necks so many hot dogs. I can never drag myself through this eating process unless my head is absolutely empty and all my brain power has been put off.

I read it somewhere as a true story that some Americans truly believe the only America has 4th of July. This story always shows up in my mind during 4th of July.

By the way, my son came back on 7/3 and will be leaving next Monday. The nephew also came back for the long weekend. The house has been full of life and laughter ever since.

Happily ended a 4th of July Saturday.



Michael Jackson, a Sad Reflection of the End of a Talented Singer


It was a great pity that he was only a talented super-star singer. A sensation at that, but no more no less. Why was he a great pity?

First, with money and world-scale fame, he could have made a monumental difference and touched the lives of millions of people; like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (gatesfoundation.org). When you have this sky-high potential to do good for the mankind, it was border-line idiotic to turn away from it.

Instead, he bought in 1987 a 2,800-acre property northwest of Santa Barbara for $14.6 million, naming it Neverland after Peter Pan movie, attracting thousands of children to come and entertain him. Can you think of anything more bizarre than this? Once again, his limited brain power got him into a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for molesting young boys and other indecent behavior issues. How far-away was he from being sane and sensible when he squandered millions like this? Light years away. I cannot think of a single good word for him now. In fact, I am better off keeping all my bad opinions to myself.

Second, it was a great pity to see a cute decent 5-year-old black boy (I saw a very old picture of him) being transformed into a snow-white, long-haired stranger with multiple plastic surgeries.

Third, there was an obvious absence of a wise and sensible adviser or guide who might helped him stay on a normal track. People around him giving him advice and influencing his decision must either have an IQ of a third grader or deliberately lead him to go to his ruins for their own interests. I am sure there are tons of people who were eager to capitalize on his talent.

The list of great pities could be endlessly long and I could write a long posting on this super-star, but I decided against posting every single word of criticism. A lesson heavy enough for all of us to learn!



The Culture of Non-Confrontation with Language of Ambiguity


Another great American experience of mine.
This incident occurred many years ago when I volunteered at my children’s elementary school’s chess club. When I offered to play a chess game with a boy, he said, “I’m fine.” I interpreted it as “Okay, I agree.” “So, where shall we play?” I asked. “I’m okay. I’m good,” he said. What did that mean? After one more exchange, I asked him directly “Yes or no.” Still, without a direct answer, he told me he had agreed to play with another boy. Finally, it dawned upon my thick head that he had meant NO all this time while I kept associating words “fine, okay, good” with positive YES. Afterward, I kept thinking of this incident. Why did the boy never answer NO directly? Not that he couldn’t but he wouldn’t.

From then on, I have observed this and found out people always never say NO to your offer. “Can I help you?” a salesperson asks you. “I’m fine” should be the answer instead of “I don’t need your help.”

Another incident, I brought something delicious to the office and told one of my co-workers to try it, “I’m good” was the answer, instead of telling you “I’m not interested” or “No, I don’t want to try.” They don’t want to hurt your feeling by giving you a direct NO. Such a civilized polite answer! From such a considerate heart! Yes or no. I have no explanation.

All these statement — “I’m fine.” “I’m good.” “I’m okay” means NO, or leave me alone, I am good without your bothering me, I don’t want your offer, etc.

More on the language of refinement. Instead of saying the child is stupid, an idiot, a parent describes her retarded child as “mentally challenged”, “mentally handicapped”, having “mental disability”, or an 18-year-old having an IQ of a 5-year-old. So lovely and humanely put it.

I have observed people are very much non-confrontational to each other, another feature of American culture. When they have something unpleasant to say, they choose not to say it in front of you. As soon as you are out of sight, the behind-back talk or gossip begins. Passive aggressiveness, a rampant practice from some over-fertile minds.

After being in this land for 1/4 of a century, I cannot say I have got used to it and become part of the practice. I can say I am comfortable with non-face-to-face confrontation. Without realizing it, putting on a polite and happy mask has become my second nature.



Welcome to Green Day’s American Idiot


I can’t get American Idiot off my idiot head. Mind you these are not my word. I would use a much polite language though not as to the point as Green Day’s. I have not done any research into the making of this song, but American culture as it is, is one of vulgarity, trivialities and all the words you can think of to that effect. What can you say of a culture when they turn away from burning issues like global warming and mass-killing wars, but fix their laser-sharp eyes on gay marriage, abortion and what was going on in other people’s bedroom? The popular minds of mainstream America simply cannot grasp or care anything happened globally. Here are the wonderful song by Green Day.

Don’t wanna be an American idiot
Don’t want a nation under the new media
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mind fuck America

[refrain]
Welcome to a new kind of tension
All across the alien nation
Where everything isn’t meant to be okay
Television dreams of tomorrow
We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow
For that’s enough to argue

Well maybe I’m the faggot America
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda
Now everybody do the propaganda
And sing along to the age of paranoia

[refrain]
Don’t want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
It’s going out to idiot America.

[refrain]

Encore! Isn't that a wonderful song? Let's sing together, shall we?
Thus ends the song of idiot America or American idiot and the day of a happy idiot.



Never Underestimate the Killing Power of Belief


Yesterday was a sad day for people who happened to be in U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, witnessing the killing perpetrated by an 88-year-old white supremacist. Another hate crime, driven by a belief, too crazy to contain itself.

When you expect people to become sweet and mellow, reconciled with the world, as they reach age 88 and are ready to say goodbye, unfortunately not with this one who has harbored a lifelong hatred against Jews, blacks and any non-white beings.

When we chased madly for terrorists aboard, we expect least hate-crime terrorists dangerously living among us — anti-abortion (George Tiller), anti-gay (Matthew Shepard), anti-nonwhite, and who-knows-what-else. It is so disturbing to see what people, even at this age, would do simply because they believe the world is wrong from their perspective. Once again, never under-estimate the power of belief.



The illusion of Free Will and the Power of the Group


At least two of my relatives smoke, one of them saying that “I can quit it any time I want.” That did not actually happen, not because he does not want, but because everybody around do it, the force around being stronger than his will power.

This incident often leads me to think about the assumption that our actions and behavior are all driven and controlled by our free will, at least that’s what we like to believe. Nobody wants to admit that they are subject of herd mentality or herd behavior. “I am my own master. I do what I want to. I don’t do it because everybody else does it.” I can even hear people protest like this.

In fact, that free will is a pure illusion. Every time I hear people say — It is cool. It is supposed to look like this. You look dorky. — I say to myself, who determine what is cool or what is not? Why do people allow themselves to be the slaves of the group opinion? Why do people do what those around them do, like smoking and drinking, regardless of their damaging effect? Why don’t people follow their own style instead of adapting themselves according to the fashion? I often challenge my daughter with these questions. What about those pants that shamelessly show to the world part of their butt crack, that most of the pretty girls wear? It’s so cool, so sad. Why?

Ever think of this?



Killing by Pro-Life: The Murder of A Doctor and American Extremists


This is another glaring paradox in American culture — the claim of extreme individualism, one can do whatever one wants to, on the one hand; the actual extreme religious intolerance on the other hand. The victim, George Tiller, was “A hero committed to women in need of help,” who did abortions on “girls as young as 10, rape victims, alcoholics, drug addicts, depressed women, cases of severe foetal abnormalities, etc.” Who would want their 10-year-old girl to become a mother?

What actually happened is not any claim of pro-life but the claim for your life if you don’t listen. If you don’t live by their rule, they will terminate your life. How dreadfully absurd and perverted!

Pro-lifers had been threatened Tiller’s life all the time. He must be a rare courageous fighter not to change his career! Can’t we go by the simple rule — live and let live? Can’t we be more tolerant? Guess not.

Finally, imagine what his family has to go through now!



Dream and Hope, Past and Present


In the past, when founding men wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it was beyond their wildest dream that a person from the slave class could someday become a US president and women without the legal right to vote could be nominated for the highest legal position of the land. It is so exciting to read these words and witness the changes today.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, with these equally exciting words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

To some Americans, the words of Emma Lazarus, 1883.

So nicely put at that time. Yet, the year before that, this country of immigrants witnessed for the first time in its history the passing of The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the very first time that a legal act was so flagrantly named and targeted at one single ethnic group. Today, this group becomes one of the most highly educated groups in the country, thanks to the long-cherished Chinese tradition on education and hard-working. My son told me Asians makes up one-third of student body at MIT and Harvard, huge one considering they only make up four percent of the total population.

So much progress and so much have accomplished, guided by the dream, the promise and the hope of equality, freedom and democracy, since the days of the first uttering of those unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This is the best part of America.

I have told my children that history, more than anything else, always makes us appreciate what we are today, put us in a broad perspective, raise us above and fills us with hope and dream when we face today’s challenge and beyond. No matter what you will engage in, grab a book of history and read… whenever you have a moment.

OMG. Today is the first day of the last month before half of 2009 is gone. Time’s zooming away.



Your Multiple Degrees, Gift of Mind, and Miracle


I received this commercial message email from Nightingale,
“—
No matter if you have multiple degrees lining your office walls or if you have none … you have a gift. It’s the gift of a mind that is capable of truly remarkable endeavors. Miraculous even.

You see, your IQ doesn’t define you. Your salary doesn’t define you. Likewise, your level of fitness, your current career position, and your number of friends don’t define who you are either.

Rather, greatness does exist within you. Incredible ability is there, just waiting to be tapped. You’re on the cusp of realizing fantastic achievements. And it’s all within your mind … and it’s all within your reach!

So the question has never been ‘Do you have the skills, the talent, and the ability to be great?’ The question is … ‘How will you begin to reveal your greatness RIGHT NOW?’
— ”

What followed is asking you to buy something from them. What interests me is “multiple degrees lining your office walls.” It brings up what I often see in doctor’s office. Very often, I ask myself, “Why do you hang them up there? Just for people to see how old you are when they see your college graduation year is 1969 or how young and inexperienced you are when your date is 2009? We all know that degrees mean no more than your past effort and your major. It is our daily behavior and interactions with people that most thoroughly reveal us.

I learn that health care is one of the most undefined hierarchical fields all because of “multiple degrees lining your office walls,” with doctors’ parading most — four-year college degree, four-year medical school degree, three-year resident certificate, three-year fellowship certificate, board exam certification, and so on… A person with a RN title can act like 100% snobby highbrow. I have some RN being kind enough to enlighten me with a high-pitch voice, “Education is very important. You should at least have high school degree.” Indeed, without bragging around, I am considered a high school dropout. Worse than this, that person’s behavior betrays her as even less schooled than a middle-schooler.

Health care field is also the place where passive-aggressiveness is most practiced. Being there and having experienced it, now I know why. What’s my point of knowing it all? Forget your environment if it is negative, find the gift and the greatness within you, without spending a dime if you can. Enjoy this last beautiful May Saturday.



Epochmaking Event for Hispanic Female


Hurah for Sonia Sotomayor! So inspiring!
It is Tuesday morning, though felt like Monday morning since we had yesterday off. The U.S. President, first African-American to be in this place, will nominate today Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic female, to serve on the Supreme Court.

With this president, we are expecting epochmaking event everyday, not exactly. Physics Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu, an Asian American, the first of its kind for this position, was confirmed as his energy secretary early this year.

If the president looks for the really brilliant with empathy, look for them among Asian Americans. I know many Asian Americans go into law practice. The day will not be far away when the first Asian American will get nominated for the highest court of the land. How exciting, well, the thought of it!



My Great American Experience


I was once asked if I owned or worked at a Chinese restaurant. The assumption behind is all Chinese are related to Chinese restaurant. The person who asked this question has never been to college and thus has no way of knowing Asians are over-represented in higher education teaching position. She has not been to any college labs where Asians are the majorities.

When I first arrived in America, Waco, TX to be exact, a kind-hearted Christian lady tried to show me how to eat apples. Indeed, people from Beijing have no idea how to eat apples. Trust me some readers truly believe it. She was such a darling.

Also in Waco, Texas, I had to call a manager to get a meager service from two southern girls. They always made me think of Gone with the Wind. Everything, brain and bread, seems to be gone except their southern pride.

Once I had an interesting conversation with an extremely nice American lady. After that, she thought I was hugely “complimented” when she told me, “You are so Americanized” without asking me if I ever wanted to be Americanized. Nice people like her simply take for granted that every foreigner wants to be Americanized or consider it a bliss to be Americanized. Such assumption is like a sweet dream in a wrong time or rubbing my back where it does not need rubbing.

To be sure, I have been so much blessed by ever meeting people of great heart and kind intention, filling my heart with fuzzy warmth. Still, I would think it takes some intelligence to recognize the intelligence in people. And this intelligence is so sorely missing.



Progress in Human Civilization, Tolerance, Acceptance and Co-existence


We know early February of this year Iceland Prime Minister, the 66-year-old Johanna Sigurdardottir, is the first openly lesbian head of government in modern history. Before that, no gay man or woman prime ministers have ever come out of closet, hence the world has no idea if there were any of them.

Who could expect Iowa becomes the first Midwestern state and the third state to legalize same-sex marriage, after two New England states? This is surprising when you expect coastal states to be the bellwether or less provincial to first legalize gay marriage. Or, if it ever happens, it should be one of the more advanced European countries.

What difference does it make to both sides? I am not sure as I have not done any reading on it. Yet, I know it will certainly have impact on the children living in such a household. A lesbian couple gave an account of their effort to find a daycare for their child. I don’t remember where the child came from, though. I only remember when the daycare teacher was asked something like this — suppose the children were asked to talk about his or her family in a group, would you allow my child talk about his family? — the answer is no. “Your child will not join the group. He will sit by himself.” Because legally this child does not have a family defined by law and thus is not allowed to talk nonsense. Talk about discrimination! So fair to the child. This happened in Iowa.

Now, the teacher cannot exclude this child from talking about his version of family, recognized by law at least. Hurray for tolerating diversity. Well, what will happen in reality? I don’t know. And no one can guarantee there will not be another Matthew Shepard or another hate crime. So much for the progress in human civilization, tolerance, mutual acceptance and peaceful co-existence. Dream on.



“You Shall Not Murder” but Tally Counts 87,215 Iraqis Killed


While my daughter was working on a school project on Japanese aggression during WW II, I was reading online about Iraqis dead since Iraqi war, with equal indignation. “Iraq’s government has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics obtained by The Associated Press that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.”

This number is greatly dwarfed by the number the Iraq Body Count organization provides — between 91,466 and 99,861 lives lost. And we see no end of its increase. All men are created equal and every life has its intrinsic value — American or non-American life.

Even with this conservative count, I am already choked with sadness, seeing with my heart thousands of families crying over the loss of their loved ones, too ugly to describe and too horrified to put myself in their position.

Ever since the killing started with the war, I have been troubled with confirming the existence of justice of morality. To be sure, it goes without saying that it is morally wrong to kill and hence we expect justice to be done regarding the morality of our action, that is, reward us if our action is moral while punishing us if otherwise. With such a large scale of murdering caused by the war, surpassed only by Hitler and WW II Japanese, do we ever see justice this time? Or is there a justice at all? Puzzled and confused, at the same time, I feel depressingly hopeless when I imagine myself living in that beautiful ancient land of Baghdad, where I read so much from my youth day — stories from Arabian Nights.

Yes, I don’t have to imagine and I am too numb to feel the pain of their loss. I wish.



A pond will be void of fish if the water is too clean


This is what I learned from my daughter yesterday while walking with her in the evening. I talked about the gossip and the negativity that were raging in one of the offices, with curse words flinging freely, so rampant that one co-worker moved out of that office and into mine. Because she did not want to be dragged down by the negative environment. she told me of the gossips that centered around me. I felt honored, getting so much attention.

I said to my daughter, “Things like these seldom get my attention. Because I am too busy to be bothered with such a trivial.” My daughter told me something like this, “You can make some non-committal comments, without hurting anybody, but do not shrug it off as if you are superior, so above small talks. If you do, you will be isolated. And people will not talk to you.”

Make sense. What my daughter said reminds me of a Chinese saying. It goes like this “A pond will be void of fish if the water in it is too clean. A man will be friendless if he is too smart (or calculating).” I am sure she has not learned of this saying, but she certainly knows how to teach her mom to do in Rome as Romans do, on the surface at least, so that people can co-exist peacefully and happily ever after, if that’s one of the ways to keep your job during the season of downsizing.

P.S. I used to tell my children, if you have nothing good to say, say nothing. Now she is telling me to say something either good or bad. It is up to me to figure out what that means. What a challenge!



Distance Enhances an Appreciation of Beauty


Yesterday I talked to my relatives in China over the phone. When I mentioned my criticism of American culture, she told me, “When you are experiencing that culture, you are more likely to see the dark side of it. You will be able to appreciate the bright side when you are out of it.” So rightly said! I was told children in China and in America experience the two extremes — extremely busy in China while just the opposite here in America, the most heated competition in school in China while the least here.

To be fair, children are a lot more respected as individuals in America than in China. I learned that some Chinese teachers make improper judgements of the students on their class weblogs, commenting some are smart or not so smart without being anonymous. Corporal punishment is still practiced in some parts of Chinese schools, where the belief “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is widely held true. Those teachers have no idea what defamation or libel means.

Parents often act so naturally in a disrespectful manner. e.g. at gathering with friends, instead of talking with the children, many Chinese enjoy talking about them right in front of them. Ouch, it hurts, that is, hurt their self-respect. Some parents even cannot understand how it can hurt the children.

To be sure, Chinese parents on the average devote more time, energy and money to the welfare and education of their youngsters, the level of this devotion is not matched among American parents. It is normal for a Chinese kid to have more than two extra-curriculum activities. Imagine the cost of all the educational investment.

Yet, this level of devotion is not good all the time. Some Chinese parents view their children more as their private property than individual human beings with their own wills, to the extent that the parents make decisions for the children without even consulting the children.

An example is given by one of the relatives coming to our house. The boy was 23 years old when his parents and his uncle decided that he came to study here. This results in a marked missing of responsibility and independence on the part of the children, well, adult children, enjoying a prolonged childhood into 20s or even 30s.

The world would be really bright if we can magically combine the strengths of the two cultures.



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!



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.



“I work my butt off to pay these bills”


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
2) Electricity
3) Gas
4) Water
5) Telephone
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.”



Responsibilities and Social Class: The Correlation


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.”



Habitat for Humanity and Foreclosed Properties


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.



An idiot’s Dream–Californian Model


The state of California faces a projected deficit of nearly $42 billion by the middle of next year. To save money, its governer issued an executive order requiring 238,000 state employees take two days off without pay each month. A Sacramento state court judge orders officials to immediately implement this plan. This equals to a 9% pay cut and a saving of $1.3 billion for the state through June 30 next year.

Instead of giving out money for more spending, this is taking away so that they don’t have anything to spend. Of course, less consumer spending will cause contraction. But why spending on borrowed money?

This is the brightest idea and a very courageous act that I have heard of so far since the nation’s economic crisis, even at the risk of his political career. It is like a political suicide to even mention it because people hate to the guts even the idea of a penny cut from their paycheck. When I talked to the monitor about this yesterday, he thought American would never accept this. Personal sacrifice like this simply runs against the cultural gene.

The United States would be immensely better off if we had a revolutionary president like this governer. Imagine how much saving it would mean to the federal government if all federal employees could take the similar action! Well, another idiot’s dream.

Yesterday, I learned of two suicide cases happened in Los Angeles, both committed by unemployed fathers. In one case of an Indian family, the father took away the lives of three children, his wife, mother-in-law before he ended his own. In another, also a minority family, the father finished the lives of his five children, his wife and his own. There are many cases of individual suicide lately, but it is too tragic to take the whole family.

These crazy family killings must have sent a scary message to the children. My daughter said jokingly to me, “Don’t kill me if either of you loss your job. I still want to live.” She has learned the company was going to lay off people soon. I told her not to worry because we can manage over 2 years in case the paychecks were cut, without touching our retirement funds.

So much for an American dream or the end of it for those Dear Departed. Should we call it an idiot’s dream?



Perpetuating the Cycle of Borrowing and Consuming


The president asked the nation to make sacrifice. In what way? What kind? Driving less? Eating out less? Live in a smaller house? Consume less? Change of lifestyle to more saving? None of the above.

What he actually plans to offer is this: we government borrow trillions of dollars and create jobs so that you consumers can make money and further consume to boost up GDP, because consuming spending makes up over 70% of our GDP and large part of that spending is on housing. In essence, this is the same thing as I borrow money via credit cards to maintain my consuming spree and go on like this as long as I have places to borrow.

But who are actually paying for this? Who are in reality making sacrifice? Not Americans, as far as we can see. Well, do we care to know who are supporting the government and our consuming habit? No, we are not that sophisticated to care about that. We are far more cheerful than this.

In summary, smart solution to recession: borrowing from creditor countries and going deeper and deeper in debt. Consume and forget “trillion dolloar deficits for years to come” as the president told the nation. How smart can we be?

With job loss everywhere and economy going downhill, how can we pay back the long overdue ancient debts, not to speak of the mountainous new debts? Well, we don’t and the creditor countries have to make real sacrifice by keeping lending.

What can parents tell their children about our dear president’s call for sacrifice? I am speechless.



A 8th Grader Took His Own Dear Life


Yesterday as soon as my daughter got on the car, she told me she had a very sad day, which was rather alarming to me because she had never sounded like this before. A 8th-grade boy took his own life at home and she knew this boy. “He looked fine yesterday and did not seem to have anything wrong. Nobody knows why.” she said. Many students was shocked and cried over his death. As they found it hard to handle it, the school set up a councillor in library for them.

I did not know the dead, but my mind ran through many things, a 13-year-old suicide, his family, teenager suicide, his little sister, what was going on, teenager problem, conflict, etc. It is shocking and indeed very hard to accept the fact that such a young life was here yesterday, gone forever today. Suicide for any age group is awful; for young life like this, it is exceptionally sad and tragic, hard to comprehend and accept.

I learned that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24 and the 2nd among college students. This incident should be enough to alarm the parents of the special needs during teenager years.

We know adolescence period is the most volatile one of all, changing physically, psychologically and emotionally, feeling of isolation, unable to communicate how they feel and to handle their own emotions, an experience that is too painful to go through — leading some to seek the seemingly simple solution — suicide.

Without even learning the whole story about his death, I still assume his family is mainly culpable for his death. Family should be a safe harbor for children of this tender age, where parents are expected to be wise enough to identify and catch any early signs of problem that led to this end. How could they have such a tragedy happen under their roof? Why? Lack of communication? Or because of bad communication? Fight with parents? Bad match in personality? We might not know the whole truth about his death, yet we parents should have known better now. At least I have.



Shopping Spree on The Day after Christmas


Friday evening is always busier than other weekday evening. Yesterday was  day after Christmas when many stores normally offer deep discount on that day. The two youngest ones in my family have been looking forward to shopping today. The little boy has been asking for an MP3 player ever since he saw many of his classmates having them at school. I promised him I would buy one for him right after Christmas.

The girl asked her brother to take her to Town Center as she believed she could get some good deal for her clothes. Too bad my son did not have the car key to drive them around. They waited for me to get back from work.

I took them out immediately I got back before 4 PM. The boy got what he wanted and the girl did not find any good deal but asked to go to Border’s. So I dropped her there and got back home with the 10-year-old and my son.

My son had a dinner gathering with his friends and then they went to one of his friends’ house and stayed there till a little after midnight.

Seeing them so eager to buy and spend, I found it highly necessary to share with them my thought on the plight of the couple that we met at Christmas dinner. My son told me not to worry about him, while my daughter shrugged it off as if the topic were so irrelevant. I surely hope they will eventually truely understand why we need to save while we have instead of spending it all.  Right now, they remind me so much of the couple we met at Christmas dinner.  Only they are a lot younger.



“It always takes two palms to slap a sound”


I have found it a huge waste of time flipping through Pete Navarro’s book, but I did flip and for this time wasting, I have to waste more time to make me feel better.

The author’s intention is too glaring to the eye — that is, the book serves as a battle cry to rally forces around the world to send the dragon to sleep or whatever worse than this. Sadly to say, before you reach your set goal, you destroy its credibility with your bias and thus the book itself. A question naturally arises in readers’ mind — why is love so much absent for ordinary people living in China who need to make a living, the kind of love shown in the form of constructive suggestions and genuine concern for majority of people living there?  When your mind is too full for negative thoughts, it is left no room for anything else, isn’t it?  You torture yourself with these negative thoughts before you ever torture others.

A Chinese saying goes, “It always takes two palms to slap a sound.” This wise saying recognizes  interactions between two parties for anything to ever happen, especially it is true with demand and supply rule regulating world market. Sadly to say, Pete Navarro so woefully fails to understand this when he attributes many of US economic problems to “China price.”

If nobody buys from China, China has no place to export and will cease manufacturing whatever US wants.  Who ever asked the buyer to come to the door of the seller? If you think it ridiculous to blame seller for buyer’s problem, congratulate yourself because you are in your right mind, unlike Pete Navarro.

You have the choice as what to buy and what not to. If you cannot control the seller, you can control what to import and what you can buy or can boycott.  Why blame China?

Indeed, it is really a huge comfort to the feeble-minded who can do nothing with their own problems but easily shifting blame unto others. I certainly would not want to see this in my children. Thanks for being an excellent negative example.



Huge Waste during Christmas Spending


Yesterday morning, the 25-year-old nephew left for China. This Saturday, 12/20, my son will be back home for winter break to add to the joy of holiday.

Yesterday at office I heard people talking about Xmas gifts. One person asked for ideas on gift to the parents. “He doesn’t need anything. I mean he has everything. I don’t know what to buy for him.” Buy nothing, unless your parents want you to waste money on something they don’t need. It is just this simple. I am totally down to earth and against the tide and trend.

This is what I practice to my children and to my parent. I don’t give in to this commercialization of a religious holiday or any holiday or encourage any expectation of anything extra when nothing is lacking.  Bottom line is I do not agree with wasting.

Talk about the waste. How much money people dissipate on things they don’t really need during this religious holiday in this country. Look at the spoil child who only knows counting his/her presents but not his/her blessings. Does this what Jesus taught people to do? Preaching one thing, practising another. You can define what Hypocrite means.

Yes, I do give money to my daughter, only for her to drop in Salvation Army’s bucket. Not much but better than nothing.



The Salesgirl Thought I Used a Fake Credit Card and Driver License


Yesterday after work, I went to Tune Shop to buy two pieces of violin strings.  It did not cost much, still I preferred to use my credit card just to accumulate bonus points.  This would be nothing out of commonplace if it were not for the extra-watchfulness of the salesgirl.

At first, she asked to see my ID to make sure I was the legitimate owner of the card, which she did not ask from the previous customer.  I already felt offended because it implicitly said I might be using some other’s credit card, as if I were not old enough to know that stealing other people’s credit card is not right.  Still, I behaved obediently by taking out my driver’s license, thinking she was just doing her job.  I must look worse than a beggar because salesgirls often pick me out for ID check and I have noticed that this checking is not a random practice.  The experience should have calcified my already thick facial skin.

What happened in the past was the ID was returned to me immediately after they saw the name on the ID matched the one on the card.  Some people even apologized for the checking.  I understand they do their job, so I shrug it off.

Not this time.  She took time scrutinizing my picture ID, credit card and the signed receipt to make triple-sure that none of the three is a fake, and then confirmed with another salesperson.  This was enough to make me do something to express my discontent.  She gave me my ID, credit card, receipt and the 2 strings and quickly turned away.  She thought she had done with me and off I should go.  Hold on.  I said I wanted my money back because I did not want to buy it any more.  She looked puzzled.  She was too hopelessly  insensitive to notice my upset.  I repeated myself nicely and got money back.

When I was at Tokyo Narita airport, I made over a hundred dollar purchase without going through a slightest checking.  What a trust in customer!  Upset a little bit?  Not really, for it was an interesting episode to an otherwise boring day.  Still, I hope my children can be immune from this scrutiny.  At least they should be as nice as I have been today if they have my luck.



Halloween, Ghosts, Spirits or Not


Yesterday, 10/31/2008, was Halloween.  I took the 10-year-old to go trick-or-treating inside our neighborhood. He was overwhelmed by the amount of candies that he thus got.  This is his first Halloween here.  It reminded me of the time when my children were small and how I took them out on Halloween night.

I remember reading with my children about ghost stories around this time of the year. They were all familiar with many famous western ghost stories or scenes of ghost, such as, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the ghost telling Hamlet the truth about his father’s death. The ghosts, brought to life by authors, always fulfil certain mission that the living cannot do.

To be sure, ghost stories are people’s favorites everywhere around the world. There are many ghost stories in Chinese culture. One coming up to my head is Liao Zhai by Pu Songling. I hope someday my children will be able to read these stories and understand that the ghost stories are not for ghost but for us living. You can also say Halloween is not “All Saints’ Day” as it was originally meant to.



How to tell or not to tell the truth


On 7/30/2008 I took my nephew to have an English language evaluation test. His English is as good as my Russian, which is below sea-level. After the test, the instructor told me “He may not know everything, but he certainly has the potential to learn it all.” It was so pleasant to hear these words. I would not feel this way if he said truthfully, “He knows absolutely nothing.”

This reminded me of an incident with my children. I remember it was my daughter who broke something. After that she looked at me with her big frightened eyes, motionless. I told her “That’s okay. Mom did that before, and mom was as silly as you are at that time.” She felt relieved, thinking “It turned out I am not the only one who did silly thing.” I was just trying to calm her down but, to be sure, I was never that silly.

I know I am not as honest as the little child who shouts out “But the emperor has no clothes.”  And I have never had an opportunity to be around the naked emperor telling him how handsome his clothes is. This is the wonder of an adult.



Christmas gifts — Absolutely no


Yes, it is true I don’t give Christmas gifts to my children.  What a bad mom!  Yes, I know how bad I am, hopelessly and honestly bad.  We often spent time at Border’s or doing something else when other people were busy holiday shopping.

First, I don’t want to give the children the illusion that Santa Claus has a fathomless well of free money to give away.  I told them, “See the Christmas shopping spree. It is not Santa but the parents who buy and give toys.”  Plus, my children are too critical to accept the idea that an overweight Santa can squeeze through that slender chimney.

Second, they were surrounded with mountains of toys and never felt the need for it at all. They did not appreciate an over-supply.  Why wasted money?  My son never felt deprived when he saw one of his American friend’s room was tightly jammed with toys.  I have kept drilling into their heads this idea — “Count your blessings not your presents.” My daughter has learned from very young that Christmas is the season of giving not receiving.  Until now she never passes a Salvation Army bell without giving something.

By the way, if I ever bought toys for them, on most occasions, I waited till they were on sale, or even better, during clearance season, which, too bad, was during not Christmas time. 

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