Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Evolutions Of Hot Chocolate

I love a cup of steaming hot chocolate almost any day or any season, as it has been with me through thick and thin.

When I was little, I had a sweet tooth but not much sweets around my house, as food was still rationed by that time in China.  My older cousin Kelli invented this drink by putting two tablespoons of cane sugar into a glass of hot water.  It was hot and sweet, the closest thing to hot chocolate I ever had growing up and I treasured the moments I spent sipping it slowly to make the sweetness last as long as possible.

I first learned about "the real thing" from Larry, my university friend here in California.  I was curious to see what it looked like when he tore open the bag containing the powder, and I thought it resembled a couple of tablespoons of sugar but only darker.   As he stirred hot water into the mixture, I was attacked by the sweet aroma that instantly filled the kitchen.  I curve my hands around the cup and held it close,  able to contain neither the constantly rising steam nor the marshmallows swirling in miniature chocolate rapids. It tastes like melted sugar but is more complicated than my childhood standby.  I fell in love with the drink at that first burning sip.  Since then it had comforted and picked me up on many a cold and gray or down and blue days long after Larry and I had lost touch after the university days. 

A few years later as a customer ambassador I went to Paris for a work assignment.  It was a November day when wind had swallowed Paris and spit it out as distorted and tortured pieces.  Trees bowed deeply to the invisible yet powerful force that was whipping their branches about, pedestrians dove into nearby cafes hidden behind plastic wind barriers or glass windows.   I followed suit and found myself in a cafe across the Louvre ready to be fortified by a steamy cup of hot chocolate before the day's windy journeys.

I was surprised to find the drink served me to have none of the powdery sweet aroma nor swirling mini marshmallows.  Rather it looked literally like a cup of melted chocolate, so thick it threatens to congeal.  Besides the generous sized cup is several squares of dark chocolate,  sugar cubs, a pitcher of steamed milk,  and a tiny hand whisk.  I took a tentative sip of the drink, it was warm but not burning.  It was sweet but not overwhelming so I could taste the tangy, rich, slightly bitter signature of coco and detect a hint of spice.  I could even feel the smooth softness of the milk taming and combing through everything, not so much diluting but bringing it all together.

It was so elegant and sophisticated that I could hardly recognize it.  I could not decide between feeling elated at the new discovery, indignant at the transfiguration, or rural for my love of the humble American powder.  Yet I suddenly remembered that old childhood drink of sugared hot water, of how it had carried me through many belly aching days, when there never was enough food to sustain my growing hunger and it the only reliable cheer and comfort, food wise. 

I made two more cups of the delicious french drink out of the excess provided, enjoying it to the last drop and feeling strengthened against even the harsh howling wind outside.   Foreign as it seemed, it came through for me just the same.  I have since then discovered many varieties of hot chocolate drinks and welcomed them all into my life.  I guess sometimes old favorites can put on new costumes or masks that surprise, confuse or test us.  But humble or elegant, the unchanging familiarity of this old friend's warm sweet comfort lies just beneath any fancy disguise; and it is never just beyond my reach, for which I am so glad.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Wish and A New Year's Resolution

Dear Family and Friends -

Happy Holidays!
It has not been the most successful year with the expected and unexpected loss of many things I used to hold dear.  I found myself on the verge of depressive thoughts, crying spells and health problems more often than I like to admit (unless it is on the internet of course).  Yet now at the year's end, I seem to be on solid ground.

To be sure, I don't suddenly know what my future will hold, all my problems in the physical world is still here, as real as that last piece of chocolate laying in an empty box.  Yet I know I am holding onto the right kind of support, faith, hope and unconditional love.   My one wish then, is to remember to never let go, not so that I will forever now be faultless, or even get close to it.  I know more than ever that I am still wobbling like a toddler with many cuts and scrapes, but will run off into the danger and the wild at every opportunity that entices.  I just count on that steady hand of love to wave, and a still small voice to call, whenever I did find myself back into those dark and foggy traps.

I count also on your continued patience and understanding, not only to forgive all my past angst, mood swings, and irrational at best, unthinkable at worst behaviors, but future ones too.  I know I will continue to disappoint you at one point or another, like I have done so many times over the years.  However I can also tell you I am relishing at life's every moment as an opportunity to grow in maturity and steadiness.  The kind of maturity that exudes peace, understanding, patience, joy, love kindness, and self control, the kind that fills me with thankfulness and grace until it overflows, the kind that finally patches up all the hurt and emptiness, so long collected from the vanity of my youth and nurtured by the pride of independence.

A snowy white Christmas
I know that in every human relationships, the cost of past mistakes is lost of that all so mysterious and unfathomable thing called "trust".  I will have no more short cut that anyone else to earn it back without the test of time, consistency and a true change of heart through faith and allowing forgiveness to grace my own heart.  The moment I lose grip on this reality and fall back to my own ways, I lose myself in the process of controlling things over which I have no control, harboring anger and resentment into relationship nuances.  So for that one resolution I am aiming,  it would be to learn to let go of any past brokenness and learn to leave somethings in life alone.  This is not unlike a little story about never stir when you cook oatmeal a dear friend taught me recently.  When the tone of my spirit within is rest and peace, all seem to fall into place regardless of the stormy weather that may come and go outside.

So in this time of Christmas and New Year, I rejoice for your health, happiness, and peaceful minds as my own.  I pray that you know how much I celebrate the moments we spend together, past, present or future, as droplets of honey sweetness into that treasured jar labeled "blessings" close to my heart.  I pray that you will find moments of closeness in the days ahead, with someone that you love or need to be loved, into which you can forever look back, and smile like I do as I think of you now, thanking God for having placed such unbearable richness in my life.


PS: I hope you don't think this is my new found skinflint way of cheating you out of a gift gift this year.  How could you?  You know I can't resist a good gift giving opportunity, but as a hopeless procrastinator, they are likely to arrive just a bit late, with perhaps just a bit of a shabby wrap, if at all.  A small price for peace and a novelty to appreciate don't you think?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Award

My First Award
In a quick review of my recent entries I can see I have veered horribly off course from the original theme of counting daily blessings.  True to nature, I have a difficult time focusing on one thing only (see my profile) for a while.  But at the year's ending, I also revel at the knowledge that I have come across the likes of  Christine, whose blog  The Silver Lining
and moreover whose conduct reminds me almost daily that blessings are indeed within the grasps of a searching heart.

In my recent snowboard/ski vacation with friends, we were blessed by countless strangers who stepped forward to help in the scary uncertainties of darkness, ice, snow storms, and freezing temperatures. 

In the weeks before that, I was blessed with the company of new friends and with cookies and ciders no less.  This was after I had spent a wonderful thanksgiving holiday with a dear old friend resting and relaxing, and learning how to make oatmeal the right way, among other things.

So it has been a good year after all, though I would never underestimate my ability to get into further trouble in the blogging or real world.  Though in those times, I like to think of and remember a Frank Sinatra quote brought to me by my friend Trish:

As an avid drinker he commented, "I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."

Anyway back to Christine and her blog The Silver Lining, as I had discovered she had passed me a "Honest Scrap" blogging award just before my adventures in the snow.  Wow, I am so excited and grateful.  Thank you Christine!

I also learned that I should share five random facts about myself, and pass down the award to five other deserving blogger. Hm, this is getting interesting, as you can probably see from my blog posts, I am weary if not downright incapable of revealing myself but let's try it shall we?

Five random facts about myself:

1.  I am lactose intolerant, but I love milk so I drink those special lactose free milk which tastes sweet and I get pretty addicted to it.  I tried becoming a "vegetarian" who eats fish but didn't last for more than a week.  I am not a steak and potato only person but I did not discover how much "meat" I eat daily until I tried to stay free from it.

2.  One of my legs seem so significantly longer than the other that I sometimes feel a bit crippled by imbalance. Though a recent chiropractor visit revealed the legs are even but the bone is simple much more protruded on one side due to my poor postures. 

3.  For around five years in a row, I woke up everyday at 3am thinking jumbled thoughts and in many of the days I started working (My company have offices in Europe) at this hour.  Eventually I changed my job and learned to pray for sleep, and now I can typically sleep pass 4:30-5am uninterrupted.  If I do wake up prior to that, I can usually pray myself back to sleep.

4.  I am generally considered a "Korean" in China, a "Chinese" in the United States, a "Japanese" in Japan, and "American" in most European nations but some also think I were an Italian.  I look a lot like a Korean but only in China do they seem to notice and announce this regularly.  Whereas in Japan I am usually mistaken as a translator, as I often traveled with a colleague of European appearance but in fact is fluent in Japanese.  I speak with a fairly thick American (Cali) accent so that gets picked up before anything else in Europe.

5.  I am rated as an ENFP (56%E, 12%N, 100%F, 89%P) in one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests.  This surprised me as I always thought I was an introvert.  But I do often leave conferences or trade shows with hundreds of business cards (new contacts) by just letting go of any perceptions and be myself.  I have since then noticed around people who have decided that I was very introverted (usually an extreme extrovert who needs no help in carrying a conversation), I do tend to become quieter naturally. I am nothing if not flexible.

Whew! Now onto the five deserving blogger.  Since I am so new in this world, and some of the really well deserving ones have been chosen (Sharon, Maria, and ...Christine herself etc).  I really had to think about this, and at the risk of miss remembering some brilliant blogger I truly love here are my picks:

The Runaway Bride (hard to get more honest than this, in my opinion):

You. Me. No adult supervision (Her writing is always heartfelt but I especially favor this one):

Mr. Londo Street (A literary blogger in the truest sense, this piece also exhibits his ability to think and write about something seemingly clichéd in breathtaking freshness and eloquence):

Never A Dull Moment (I seem to share many interests with her and one of which is a blog about our respective loving father's birthday, a truly honest and touching piece):

Memoirs of a Word Nerd

Please check out their blogs, some of whom are actually not followers or regular readers of my blog.  That is how you know I truly respect their writing and think it will be an asset for anyone to discover the same.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Snow Day

We drive all day in the rain until we arrive in town.  The world is white all of a sudden.  Evening lights turns wind blown snow flakes into a tunnel of sparks, star trek warp speed style.   We pass by several cars stopping on the side to install chains but the ski condo is seconds away so we push on.

Big mistake.  A short but icy slope we didn't anticipate separates us from the condo parking lot.  It would have made an excellent ski run.  We must look sufficiently sad, dangerous or both, sitting in the snow installing chains on a slop.  Several dozen stop to help us with advice, giving the car a push, or both.

We move a little further each time.  But finally admit the chains aren't working and the hill too steep and we need professional road assistance.  We longingly look to each passing tow trucks on the main street, even waving one down to ask for help, only to find someone had called him to duty from another car, at another road side.

So we call for our own, and then there is nothing else to do but wait.  Helpers are departing one by one for the evenings festivity of music and lights.  I am so grateful for them, but fear is setting in.  It is dark and freezing with snow pelting continuously, and my gloves wet through.  I send the rest of the party to walk up to the condo office so they can check into a warm room, and get dinner started.

This is the longest fifteen minutes of my life.  I brood miserably while kicking the snow under feet as a gentleman walk up.  He is wearing a blue hooded parka, his hands tucked into the sleeves of the opposite arms.  I must have looked at him with such despair he stops.

"Do you need a push?"  
Never have I heard a single sentence so many times in one night. I shake my head, and tell him the story.
"Oh, are you just here by yourself?"
I nod with determination and tells him the rest of the party are working on "something else".
"I will stay here with you then, until the tow truck arrives."
I nod again.  Not quite sure what else to say, but I forget about the tiny frozen bullets hitting my eyes and nose for a brief moment.

He breaks the silence with chats that are not of specific topics, allowing my frazzled mind to follow easily.  So it seems the truck arrives in no time.   I suddenly realize that I have no idea how to be the driver of this car, especially under the circumstances.

"Can you put it in neutral?"  The tow truck driver's question freeze me solid on the spot and I murmur: "well..."

"Do you want me to drive it for you?"  He reads my mind again.
"YES please!"  I nearly shouted out the answer.

My limbs and face are numb as he bids me good night after pulling the car safely into a parking spot.  I thank him, yet it seem meek and pale against the falling snow,  roars of the music in the background, and small acts of kindness filling the evening.  I feel a hug coming, but he has already turned with a wave back, as if shying away but indeed he is in a hurry.   All I see now is his blue parka moving across a world spinning into the darkness, and light.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookies and Ciders

When an "eVite" came announcing an opportunity to eat cookies, drink ciders and meet a variety of new friends, I stopped to hesitate a few seconds on whether I'd be able to handle the sort of the high brow friends of the hostess Patty, a recent Ivy league MBA graduate.  But I couldn't pass up the novelty of it all and clicked "yes" before wikiLeaks could steal my thunder.

I carpool with another friend Amy; and we notice we've forgotten to coordinate our looks.  Her ensemble is rocker chick going for a hike, complete with ripped jeans and orange flash trimmed sneakers.  Mine is confused corporate mom, wide legged black slacks and a purple sweater.  Good thing no one in the party seem to really know anyone else, or at least not well enough to form groups yet when we arrive.

We find two college aged guys slouched against the only two chairs in the dinning room, their long legs outstretched to take up much of the rest of the room.  They stand to greet us and I quickly dub the slightly shorter one as "the poet", as he has that soulful dark eyed yet pale skinned anemic and tortured look about him.  The other towers over me in conversation, works in a graduate school program, and rids a motor cycle.  He seems to blush occasionally, or quite often actually, as the neighboring conversations rise and fall, the roomful of people ebb and flow, energy surges and drains all around us.  In fact there are such interesting weather patterns on his face I hardly remember to scan and work the room until I drain my third cup of cider and have polished off another plate of cookies.

I run into a pack of three friends, colleagues of the hostess near the cider dispenser in the kitchen.  The boy in the middle has retro chic sideburns and dark eyes that belonged to another time. I wondered if he was related to his friend on the right, a girl with the same dark eyes, cheek bones and long dark curls tumbling down below her shoulders.  But they are not.  His girl friend who is studying in another state would visit soon and the dark haired girl used to be her roommate.  The girl on the left has the kind of pale complexion, soft voice and golden hair that reminds you of sunshine or melting butter. Or if you were me, she'd remind you of an incredible caregiver. She is also in graduate studies after working for a few years.   Moreover, the  four of them have all worked or been roommates (the girls) at one point or another and have all been good friends for a long time.  I feel a twinge of envy as I hear this, never having been good at carrying long time friendships, especially in a "complex mixed group (as they say)" scenario as this.  They exudes the kind of confidence you see in young professionals who has graduated just long enough to be considered experienced, but still too young and passionate to be thought of as jaded.  They are the core of their teams and wherever they maybe they will be the last included in any "down sizing" discussions. Having been there made it that much more bittersweet to see my past reflected in all the promises and heartbreaks a youth, like theirs, will bring.

I move to fetch some more cookies and encounter a girl in an orange red maxi dress with long curly blond hair and blue eyes. She is talking to an athletic looking guy who mirrors her hearty laughs, dancing eyes and wild gestures in conversation.  They talk with the kind of abandon that make you think a fascinating story is being told, then you realize it may have been about the weather and you don't care.  You want to join and be part of this group to share all the fun they must be having, then you wonder if you will look like the awkward new kid in school trying to join the cool kids circle.  I stand on the fringe not sure whether to look on or move on, surprised when they throw a smiling glance and invite me into the conversation with a touch on my arm and a slight shift of their stances. As I have not quite mastered the art of conversation when you talk about nothing yet everything, where you gesture and wink and bend over laughing at the slightest hints of humor, I smile and listen and laugh with them as best as I could but I move on after a polite amount of time has passed and an opportunity presents itself.

Soon it is time to say goodbye, and I tally the guests to see I have talked to most of them if not all.  Amy had a good time talking to a guy named Vincent, chatting up a storm about LA culture and the finer nuances of the "valley girl" lingo.  Except one young couple wearing red who addressed each other as "my finance", everyone seem young, single and lovely.  I picture myself from their cloudless eyes and I fail to conjure anything up.  This is an oddly familiar scene, from long ago and more recently, and a part of me had thought I would never return when I said "I do".  Yet another part is glad the pain of breaking that vow is no longer fresh, that I can mix and mingle anywhere as if I belonged, though I know things to be different and will never be the same.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I stayed with my friend Lin in Colorado for Thanksgiving break, I discovered a little known truth about oatmeal.

--- Nov 26,  Lin's Kitchen in Colorado ---
The sun has risen above the tallest window panes. Yet it is still early and the only sound from the rest of the house were the occasional hum of the heating vents. 

Lin is cleaning and preparing for our trip today.  Something is simmering on the stove, the kitchen filled with its gentle aroma, sweet but not overpowering.  I stop myself from checking it out and talk to Lin about the plans for the day.

A soft hiss beckons me from the direction of the aroma source, and I finally walk up to see it was a pot of oatmeal.  Picking up a spatula I stir the content, or I tried.  Lin dived and declared louder than I am accustomed from her:

"It will stick! Don't stir it!"

Well that was kind of my point really.  Puzzled, I remind myself this is not my kitchen, nor my oatmeal. I relent to lay down the spatula and walk back to our conversation.  Lin see my face and explained, in her normal voice this time:

"With oatmeal, if you stir it, it will stick to the bottom.  So just don't stir and it will be fine."

"I thought it was the other way around..."  I add a smile to soften my contradiction.

"No, it will stick if you stirred."  She nod for emphasis, proving in the face of stubborn resistance there is just no better strategy than consistent messaging.  We switch our conversation back to fun places to hit today.

--- Present Time, My Kitchen in California ---
I get up this morning with a taste for oatmeal.  I boil water in a pot and remember my conversation with Lin.  What the hack, it is just one bag of lousy oatmeal, I could afford to experiment, couldn't I?   I push away any further doubts and steel myself to watch those little flakes swim around in the heat for just seconds before sinking resolutely to the bottom.  I look for dirt on the floor or dishes to wash but everything seem miraculously clean for the first time in years.  Even the bunny is off duty from her morning patrol of making troubles, sitting contently in her condo nibbling hay.  The house is quiet except for the soft hiss of the simmering pot beckoning for me to stir, louder as time dragged on, seconds at a time.

After an eternity (5 minutes) I check on the pot. The oatmeal has melted nicely into a caramel colored goo with cream and brown colored specs.  I tentatively touch bottom with my spatula, and found nothing.  Everything is in suspension, free from the law of physics as I thought I knew, obeying instead the timeless truth of "if it ain't borken, don't fix it."

--- Back Story ---
I make a second pot later, thinking that worked nicely but surly an occasional stir won't change anything.  Suffice to say once I started, I was stirring constantly.  In the end I find myself scrubbing a horribly sticky pot pondering the irony of blessings in disguise.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Well Read MEME

Found this from the pages of Memoirs of a Word Nerd, who started it with "Legend has it that the BBC have asserted that the following list will make you ‘well read’, but that the average person will only have read six – six! – of these novels."

The instructions are:

1) Copy this list
2) Bold the books you’ve read in their entirety. (As in, all the way through.)
3) Italicise those you’ve started but didn’t finish, or have only read an excerpt of.
4) Tag other book nerds.
5) Highlight any books from the list you own, but haven’t read.

I don't normally do this, but I can always make an exception for books. Here's my result:

The Books
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling                             (5 out of 7!)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Phillip Pullman
Great Expectations– Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy 
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

30 read
16 half read
4 unread on the shelf

While I have many more unread books on the shelf, I am slightly disturbed only 4 are on the list.  I seem to need some help picking out better books. Hm.

Like Emma, from whose blog I copied this, I seem to have a commitment issue.  My excuse is about half of this list I did read at one point when I was fairly young from a translated version, so I don't want to count them as "fully read" until I can go back and complete the English version, which may not ever happen seeing I've already learned the plot and the ending.  I do intend to go back to quite a few of them, such as the Great Gatsby,  which is open midway on my nightstand right now. 

All in all, this is a lovely idea, and I enjoyed going through it, albeit a bit nervous seeing so many titles about which I don't have the faintest idea.  Others though looked truly interesting and will be on my Christmas list.  I was very tempted to mark them off if the list weren't so long and the thought of going through it again so...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Beautiful Things

Another 3BT style blog as inspired by Clare Grant's original.

(you can find all my other 3BT articles by selecting the 3BT label from the cloud on the right)

Today's beautiful things are about: shoulder to cry on, crossing guards, and cards.

1. Shoulders.  Terrible things happening at work, and got a shoulder to cry on.  People making time for my sob stories even though it was the upteemth time they have heard it.

2. Crossing guards are volunteers who have just as hectic and problem filled lives as mine, but they get up early, put on a smile, and help kids cross the streets safely to school.  Plus they have to wear that hideous orange and reflective west yet they still happily greet everyone.

3. Appreciation card.  Got an appreciation card for a undetermined amount of Starbucks for my AWANA work.  I dreaded going in the beginning, thinking why did I get myself into this?  Just when I started to get into the groove and the kids and I began to laugh and high-five rather than nodding off or running off, this came.

Thanks for all these wonderful bloggers I follow whose words have inspired me to keep thinking positively and persevere in the face of trials.  If you ever need a pick up, go visit these pages (and tell them I sent you):

The Silver Lining - Find the silver lining in every cloud, words wise beyond her years
Endless Eats - Comforting thoughts of food, beautiful photos of places to eat and witty words,
My World and How I see it - Thoughts about being blessed and be a blessing
It's A Beautiful Life - Brenda encourages new bloggers and recommends other beautiful blogs
A Life of Color - Wise words that everyone could use and follow
The Three Beautiful Things - As mentioned, the one that started the finding 3 beautiful things in every day life a few years ago and has inspired many to do the same

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Taming of The Eternal Wanderer

I am perpetually seeing immeasurable charms in other continents, other countries, other states, and other cities.  As a travel junkie, I hungrily soak up the local culture at every destination.  French wine, Italian coffee, Chinese tea, Japanese sake, Korean barbecue, South American dances, Australian ease, Canadian friendliness, British pubs, Island hospitality, and of course, all the wonders of the other American states, never cease to beckon me further on the edge of yet another discovery trip. 

One thing I miss while living in Cali is the feeling of four seasons.  I'd nearly forgotten what it felt like to dread adding yet another layer as the day draws shorter, and the relief of ripping the leaden layers off come spring, as flowers blossom and we (kids) jump for joy, literally jumping ropes until the cows come home.

I miss seeing the dramatic changes in trees, sprinkled in our court yard and neighboring streets of my childhood home in Beijing, a city dripping with seasonal characters.  Winter, marked by the despair of seeing brittle, naked branches hanging on until the westward Mongolian wind had ripped them raw, the melting snow had frozen them solid, and the sun had parched their already thirsty core.  We watch inside from a spot near the only stove, with a exposed chimney runs along the walls of the house to bring heat. Our only purpose outside seem to be fetching a bowl of hot milky tea for mom from the festivals, and a sour cherry kabob drizzled with sugar icing for us. Then as the spring festival celebration fireworks drift off the morning after air and eventually cover every trees' base with their fallen red pieces, as we prepare sweet rice desert for the coming lantern day, a spot or two of yellow-green buds would emerge. Over the next few weeks, they expand to cover up branches, and explode into flowers en mass. Snowy and fragrant, as if winter returned yet again, except the air is warm, and dizzying.

Beijing has extremely short springs.  A day, two days, a week at the most was all we got between full snow suits and a cardigan over muslin skirts.  Summer trees would bring us endless fun as dozens of critters rest in the giant 梧桐 tree in the center of the court yard.  My brother and his league of boys invented a glue made with melted sections of old tires.  They dipped a Popsicle stick in this glue and then tied it at the end of a tree length bamboo staff.  Then it was raised up into the thick of leaves ever so gingerly to touch the back of some poor colorful dragonfly or singer bug, rendering it flightless until they remove the catch and release it into a jar or  a spare room (in the case of a dragonfly).  We climbed up and over the trees lining the street, for hide and seek, for knight and castle, and plain jumps. As we got older, they became soccer goal posts.  We usually ran right to them after the evening shower, faster than the sound of our mothers pleads and lectures, whom had only labored to see us free from mud and insects streaks for one entire second.

Then again for some reason I miss fall the most. It couldn't have been the hand operated pop corn "exploder" that came after the Popsicle cart vendors disappear with the summer heat,  as I was always afraid of the sudden "pop!" sound, covering my ears and standing at the far corner with only one eye peering over the raised elbows.  It couldn't have been the start of schools and the forming and reforming of the walking lines, allowing neighboring kids to keep company over the unchaperoned blocks from home to school, as I had the habit of sleeping late, talking too much and never turn in any homework, so school hadn't been the brightest aspects of days.  Nor could it have been the mountains of apples, cabbages and tomatoes we'd began clean, pickle and store for the winter, during which time father would read Dickens, A thousand night, or Three Kingdoms, just so he could get out of the bulk of the work in my opinion; as my hands would get raw from constant washing and my backs sore from bending and lifting, though I did routinely enjoy the sparkly fruit of these efforts during the depth of otherwise colorless, seemingly endless and joyless winter breaks.

I think it was the fall colors.  Beijing was known for summer rains and fall skies.  With all the moisture wrung out by the summer storms, the sky was cloud free for the first time in month, and it felt miles higher, unimaginably bluer and spreading into infinity.   It was a tradition to climb the nearby Mount Fresh (香山),  as its hills would be dotted with the special perfume of a red leaf tree in autumn.  They were grown among maples and other fall color varieties, yet rendering the entire area fragrant, a sight to see and be seen, when all were submerged in waves of gold, yellow, orange, burnt, sienna, red, scarlet, cranberry and auburn.  We played and invented numerous games with fallen leaves, bookmark making, more insect trappings, stem pulling contests, and...more.  Crickets, lightening bugs, tadpoles that had disappeared overnight, stink bugs made toys in thousands of ways.  At night, it was finally cool enough to sit out after dinner, we hang onto our parents legs and gaze into the velvety sky when we hear for the thousandth time the same fairy tale stories about the stars, the moons, the milky way and how the beautiful and beloved princess 嫦婀 stole an escape to the glamorous but chilling moon palace, where she spends an eternity in regret and loneliness..."   We learn a lesson in humility, perseverance, and the dangers of unguarded desires.

Yes, it was definitely the colors.  Even today, when I hear of friends reports from New England, Chicago, Europe, and Canada of their fantasy fall leaves, I am green with envy.  I dream, I plot an escape, I sigh with longing and then I am blue with whatever grounding me in the sunny balmy suburban sameness. 

Until I look up, and find the street outside of our community dressed neatly in rows of gold, orange, and cranberry - our very own California fall solute, to resting wanderers, to seasons be darned, to eyes opened, goodness in our grasps, and a humbling heart.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Furry... Santa? 圣诞毛人

--- This story is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. ---

He was not the sort of fellow you would expect as a superior.  Though he took pains to impress upon me that he expected to be treated as no less.

We called him "Furry".  Not, not because he had hair sticking out of his forehead or ears, not that there is anything wrong with that either.  He simply had a face full of beard, no trimmed neat but not falling down smooth either.  They were just long enough to seem to stand up a little in your face as a tangled mass, stars to be addressed directly rather than mere stage decorations. 

His cheeks tended to be rosy, maybe from the wind chills of Canada, where he lives and spends half of his time. His eyes didn't exactly spark, but they were animated, so often there was at least a twinkle.  It was no surprise then, with a beer filled belly and laugh that was fitting to its size, he was a Santa doppelganger amongst us, only a red outfit missing.

He could be less than jolly though when it comes to work topics.  In fact we argued almost whenever we talked.  Me, the young upstart looking for validation with my hard earned skills, knowledge and smarts.  Him, seasoned, established, and quick witted slyness, dotted in his funny expressions like "bob's his uncle!" or "A quick whack upside the head" or...  In the heat of a debate, you never know when one of these are coming, halting you just long enough for him to think of an answer that silences you, red faced, panting, and looking for a rebuttal but coming up short, as you are still too distracted from trying to figure out what the saying meant, and have forgotten completely what the argument was about.   This worked repeatedly over the years, as no one did ever figure out the meaning, and when they appeared in the oxygen depleted meeting rooms, they never failed to lure us away from sanity to try.

Furry would get redder than most in an argument, eyes slightly bulging and breath quicken so he literally puffs, like a bull in the china shop.  Yet the few times we caught him in a dead end, he had the ability to turn 180 in under a second.  Like he hasn't just heard you scream the idea out loud for the past hour, he would restate it in terms of his words, and smugly turn to you with twinkling Santa eyes, and say: "now that, is a great idea!"   Since you can't tell if he is talking about you or himself, it leaves no room for argument, and that tends to sizzle any further debates and deflate the room instantly.    For me, he has an especially nice treat, smiling like a true jolly saint, he'd say: "you know what your problem is?"   Before I could answer, he'd continue: "You are way too damn much like my daughter."

It was a brilliant ploy.  As we couldn't resist his jolly nature, his red neck jokes, and the wind he seems to blow into a room just by entering it,  I could never bring about a reply to that condescending, yet somehow warmly dressed quip.  It doesn't help I lean on the ESL fact way too often I have bought into it myself, faithfully coming up with just the most clever come back 5 minutes after the fact, much like George in Seinfeld, though the poor guy didn't even have ESL as an excuse.

I don't know where it all went so wrong, when one day I heard he was leaving us, and a dozen or so colleagues showed up to send him off.  I had not seen him for a while, having transferred to another division long ago.  He gave us a jolly goodbye, no tearful speeches or heartfelt memories, just more beer, jokes, and belly laughs.  I wondered what happened, perhaps the economy, perhaps HR finally caught on, perhaps a better offer, or perhaps he was just tired.  I may never know, but after all those years of abuse I had gotten used to him, not the arguments, but the eccentric antics, the offbeat comments, the bit of color, that is so rare in a white on white office building.  We seem so much the paler without that salty, pungent air blowing in once every two weeks.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Death By WSJ 华尔街之死

 Having traveled extensively for work and usually too busy for vacation, I collected a lot of airline mileages that can't always be used.  So the friendly sky sent me a note saying "Your mileage is about to expire! Don't let it!  Here is how you can use it!"  A long list of publications was there for me to buy with miles.

I don't know about you but the friendly people around me use a lot of explanation points in their sentences. Anyway I chose the Wall Street Journal as it used the most of my remaining miles and promptly forgot about it.

Weeks later, while I was driving to work, I discovered a rolled up newspaper by my garage doors, protected by a red plastic bag.  It had been a long time since I'd gotten any paper deliveries and I didn't remember subscribing to anything, so I figured it was one of those clever adverts safe to be ignored.  A few days later though,  several more had piled up, a little puddle of red on my drive way. I decided to take a look just to be sure.

It turned out to be the WSJ for me, though I hadn't realized until then that it was a daily publication. Loving the idea of reading the paper again during breakfast, I was quickly absorbed into articles with eye popping headlines:

"Google giving 10% raise to retain work force!" or
"Ailing Ireland Accepts Bailout", or
"US Korea Press for Trade Pack"..., 

Trouble is, breakfast is short and work, life, classes, and other holiday related activities soon took over. Yet just because I couldn't finish the paper on Monday, it didn't stop them from coming on Tuesday, Wed, Thursday and Friday. The world of business, finance and general order of things seem to be constantly going wrong, in report worthy magnitude.   I resolved to tell myself that just because they were there, it didn't mean that I had to read them.  I was not being wasteful and all the other things I had to do really were more important.  Yet I could not bring myself to throw perfectly pristine unread words away.

The effect, however, is showing in my house, everywhere I turn, the paper is there, as if following me, on the bed, coffee table, dinner table, kitchen counter, passenger seat of my car, desks at work, and even bunny's once snowy paws were getting stained with inky spots.  One day I tried sitting down and reading several days of news, but much as I intended to scan and move on from reach story, they captured me, and soaked me into their tiny twisted plot lines, of international intrigue, politics, high finance, business struggles and so much more.  To think I used to believe I'd just get some stock quotes from this!   I gobbled and ogled like a street kid taken to a candy store, hesitating to let one juicy delight go unread - "what does that next story say?" I always wondered aloud and promptly became drawn in.

I began to bring them with me everywhere, in case I got a moment waiting in the Doctors, by the cafe for a friend, or sometimes, in front of a traffic light.  Secretly I reveled at the distinction this brought me, as no one seem to read the actual papers anymore.  I was quickly known as the "WSJ lady" by a circle of friends, who chuckled as they see me saunter in with  a roll stashed under my arms, and a slightly dazed look.

I soon realized that there is no finish in sight. That if I didn't cut them loose they'd drive me crazy, if they hadn't already.  So Thanksgiving break, just before my flight to Colorado, I collected all the unread papers and dumped them into my recycling bin.  Leaving the keys to the bunny caregiver, I took off feeling light and relieved.

Despite of some friendly warning of the potentially interesting screen process, I got off without too much delay even after a full search on the baggage, triggered by a roll of quarters and a forgotten cell phone left in through the X-ray.  Dreaming of fun and belly fulfilling times with friends just around the corner,  I closed my eyes to get some rest at cruising altitude, when a gentle bell sounded and I was greeted by a soft friendly voice:

"Ma'am, would you like a copy of the Wall Street Journal for your flight?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crowd Control 群乐

Beijing in line to get in metro to go to work
I was feeling blue today.  No matter how positive one tries to be everyday, there will be that little voice of negativity that edges its way backup, slowly some days, suddenly most others.  Squashing this voice too much, for too long, is just as unhealthy as letting it out all the time.

Well, I was feeling sorry for myself, when I received this photo from mom, who just returned from Beijing.  It gives a quick glimpse of the crowding problems China has been facing.  Taxis were not available for two hours though they practically covered the streets during rush hour.  I also heard that hundreds of thousands college graduates could not find jobs *each year*,  and more who could not even go to colleges face even less choices. 

After dinner, I came across an article on Marie Claire international reports.  It detailed a story happening in a village in Southern China where some brute force approaches were used to enforce the infamous "one child policy".

So on one hand, over crowding have caused significant pain not just for China but (overtime) severe resource depletion to the whole world.  However, iron fist style policy enforcement is also problematic, to say the least, when it affects the very personal well being the government had once set out to serve.

I do not have a solution today, but in light of the world, of 1.4 billion people crowded into 1/3 of the space we live in the US, (as a good majority of western China consists of uninhabitable land,) my problems loom smaller, like dust even, blown away with just the slightest breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It's the first day of December, and there is no longer any denial of the arrival of Christmas season.  The corner Rite aid being my north star for such things, have filled their front walkway with what seems to be Christmas trees, except only a few inches of green is sticking out of moving boxes, labeled "this side up".  Are we doing miniatures nowadays?

The mall had been torn up just not too long ago, loud and clunky vehicles constantly knocked at some patches of concrete.  Mazes were built for pedestrians, and curiously stop signs were manned 7/24 to direct cars carefully around the cranes and tractors, as if anyone would have tested their bumpers against the thousand pound jaws of those babies.  The noise alone drove half of the traffic away to other alternatives, it shook up the ear drum so much you instinctively held your hands up against the side of your head to keep them in place.  A "digger" coming up from behind and starting on a new hole could well have been a machine gun firing squat,  fumes of rock dusts and men squawking in parched throats complete the unerring effect.

Stores all but appeared sealed behind the construction crew, but their doors remained open in fact, for those brave enough to enter the Winchester house style mazes,  without a hard hat, braving darkness, in search of a cup of joe, a sandwich, or a hair cut. 

The overhaul isn't for naught.  Just in time for the holidays, everything seems brighter, the walkways are wider and stores all look uniformly ready for lights and festivities.  The few left undone look gray and worn, somehow this escaped my attention before and during all the reconstruction efforts.  Suppose that's what's keeping us forward, this constant renewal and rebuilding, the keeping up with latest and greatest.  Are we better off in the end?  Where is the end?  Is there one?

Meanwhile, I check out one perky miniature tree, and soak in the tiny bubble of nature it emits towards me.


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