Friday, January 28, 2011

Non Snow Days

Dear World,

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  Really, truly, on the wrong side of my single-person-pushed-up-against-the-wall-non-bed.  I was angry and ready to deal some blows in response to the blows that you've dealt me.

Until I looked out the window and saw,


And suddenly I was happy and relaxed.  I wouldn't have to go into work and I could take the day to play catch up.

So I pulled out a book and started reading.  Until it hit me...

The snow was scheduled to stop soon.
The roads were mostly clear for everyone.
Charlottesville has definitely gotten more snow savvy in the past few storms.

Business as usual -- But now I was an hour and a half behind schedule.

And despite this frustrating turn of events, I just can't stay mad at you.  And that, dear friend, is the miracle of SNOW.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Culture Shock

Last night, for the first time in my entire life, I watched West Side Story.  Whoever told me that it was Romeo and Juliet did me a great disservice.  The current opinion about Romeo and Juliet as this romantic love story just makes me cringe.  How did we get Shakespeare so wrong?!  But West Side Story was poignant and the music and choreography were brilliant.  And it was just real enough to make me grimace and marvel at the way America presented itself with all of its promised glory and tainted conflicts.  For all the progress I like to think we are making as a country in integrating others' into our culture, I realize this musical still hits too close to home for me to think we have 'arrived'.

Have you heard the new controversy arising from an article and a book published touting the value of raising children "the Chinese way"?  Apparently the appearance in the Wall Street Journal of the article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"  has attracted over 1 million views and almost 8000 comments, as well as other published responses.  Although Amy Chua herself was born and raised in America, she insists that Western-style parenting yields children who waste time and do not live up to their full potential.  And so, she stalwartly defends the opinion that raising children to get straight A's, to play the violin and the piano, etc. by strong persuasion (to put it mildly) is the way to go.  I think though that what makes her article so dicey is not she insists that it works  - because frankly, her children are doing just fine - but that she seems to attack and make other women feel less for raising their children differently.

As an adult  I cannot believe how non-adult I feel.  As I told my sister the other day, "Life is funny and I feel like we're just pretending we're adults."  She responded, "That's all anyone is doing; just pretending."  In light of this, in a society where families are already over-scheduled and over-committed where the mothers in these families feel that they are doing the very best they can to hold their families together and raise their children, I wonder if such comments hit right into this deep often unexpressed thought, "I have no idea what I'm doing."  Having someone tell us, "I know what I'm doing and what you're doing is not enough" would be enough to reduce some of us simply to tears but others to roar back in self-defense.    

I wonder though too, if this goes back to one of the underlying themes touched on briefly in West Side Story. Although the Jets are American by birth, their parents are immigrants.  And so the Sharks are fighting the very same battles that the Jets' parents fought when they were their age.  I wonder, if one of the reasons 'Americans' fear new cultures, new peoples and new opinions is that we sometimes worry that the new way is actually the better way, that the new people will rise up and take our place in society and we will be left out in the streets.  And in a global society where America is watching its political and economic power give way to the new up and coming powerhouse, China, it can be easy to see how those fears give way to the reaction garnered by Amy Chua.  Keeping up with the Joneses has just gone global.  And it seems like a race that we don't really know how to win.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Dear Shinji Kagawa**,

Aren't humans funny things?  The world is left open for interpretation and it is often my privilege to get it completely wrong.

When I found out that Makoto had been taken out in the 117th minute for a person that I had never heard of, I got a little worried.  Especially when I saw this:
I love the Korean's reaction; I can just hear him say, "It wasn't me.  Honest!"
Is it possible this Korean man is none other than my favorite head patter from the World Cup?
So I fretted and worried and wondered what injury Makoto had sustained (besides an elbow to the face in the first half).  It wasn't until today that I found out that he was still struggling with those recurring leg cramps, which I should have guessed from the picture above but didn't.  Because apparently, I was ready to expect the worst.

But then we come to you...

I didn't think anything of it when Hajime Hosogai came on for you in the 87th minute of play.  I just assumed that we were moving into a more defensive game for the last few minutes.

I didn't even stop to think about the fact that Hosogai made a goal and that that could have been you.

I didn't even think about the fact that later comments were made about how your reaction time had been slower than we needed it to be.

I did wonder why you hadn't participated in the penalty kicks.  (I mean, Yuto Nagatomo is a rock star but not my first choice in PK) But I assumed it was because they were holding you off for last as an anchor man (although that never made sense in my head either).

I never dreamed that all of this happened because you BROKE YOUR FOOT.
We all make mistakes and jump to the wrong conclusions.  And sometimes our concern is misplaced.  Please know my heart is in the right place even if my head is not.

Forgive Me?

**And by Shinji I mean, anyone that I have misunderstood and hurt unintentionally by my often blunt and not helpful words.

All images from Tumblr.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blessings in Disguise

Life doesn't turn out as we thought.  My life is the perfect example of that.

And sometimes things that seem like big disappointments prove to be our greatest blessings.

Exhibit A:

I failed kindergarten.  For those who know me simply as the always reading, opinionated and conversational engineer scholar, that may be hard to believe.  But it's true.  When my parents and teacher were making the choice whether to let me move on to first grade, they counseled and chose to hold me back a year.

Exhibit B:

I fail IQ tests.  I'm not sure that people can fail them.  But if there's such a thing, I've done it.  Every time I've moved to a new school system and people have given me those weird tests that require anagrams and timers and just random pattern games (doesn't this sound like an IQ test?) I never test in the "gifted" range.  As a result it always took a few years to convince anyone that I could do okay in the advanced classes.

Exhibit C:

While in Taiwan, I never got to serve on the East Coast.  That may not seem like a big deal for those who don't know what the East Coast of Taiwan looks like.  But it was most often described as "Paradise" and "Heaven" or "The Garden of Eden".  Seriously.  And aside from my trainer, every single one of my colleagues spent some amount of time serving there.

Exhibit D:

A few months ago, right after I had spent considerable money on getting Kato fixed and his worn out front tires replaced, I got a flat tire.  And so had to get Kato a new wheel and a new tire which meant Kato got the bulk of what I was planning on spending for Christmas.

And the result of all of this?

Everything in my life was pushed back a year so that when the moves happened, I was in such a grade that I met all the wonderful people in my life that I met.  I could never have asked for better friends in middle school and in high school.

And all of this moving led to the fact that while in the "normal" biology class in 10th grade (oh I was so upset I was now a year behind everyone else) I was nominated and alerted to the fact that there was a school that I would later attend and which school would change the course of my life.

While I never served in Taiwan's coveted spot, I was able to be in the same Stake for over a year and get to know one section of Taipei really well.  Plus, I got to attend the temple every six weeks which has marked a distinct pattern in my current life.

While driving through a snowstorm and taking 8 hours to drive something that normally takes only 4, I was extremely grateful to have 3 brand new tires on my car rather than just 2.  Just knowing that I had just that much more traction helped.  Safety trumps amazing Christmas gifts any day.  (In the words of Heber J. Grant, I'd rather be hours late to a meeting than 50 years early to eternity.)

It puts life in perspective.  It puts my current disappointments in perspective.

Don't judge a book by its cover.  Don't judge the end by the beginning.  And don't declare yourself a failure EVER.

Words to live by.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Different = Doughnuts(?) = Delicious

Dear Self,

I know that you think you fit right in; I mean all people have a secret weakness for doughnuts, right?
Surely, most people make a beeline for the bakery section of the grocery store to see if any good doughnuts are available.

Lots of people poke through the Krispy Kreme boxes just hoping that they'll have a box of the Signature Doughnuts that indicate the chocolate covered custard filled (Boston Cremes)...maybe?
Many post pictures of them eating or thinking about doughnuts on almost every trip they take....don't they?
JiLong, Taiwan
Boston, MA, USA
Koln, Deutschland  
Nope?  It's just you?

Well, who said being different was a bad thing?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Its in the Stars...According to Wikipedia

Dear Self,

It's that time again - when the Chinese New Year looms near and you start wondering yet again, what your supposed Zodiac says about you.  

Apparently this year, you've found that you not only have a year zodiac but also a monthly and hourly zodiac (known as inner animal and secret animal).  
Let's take a look at what your birth year, month (day) and hour are supposed to tell about you.

How others perceive you: rooster
Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible. Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, proud, opinionated, given to empty bravado.

Your inner animal - uhh...what you are actually like inside? : monkey
Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, artistic, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual. Can be egotistical, vain, arrogant, selfish, reckless, snobbish, deceptive, manipulative, cunning, jealous, suspicious.

Your secret animal - no idea what this is...perhaps your subconscious? : rat.
Forthright, tenacious, intense, meticulous, charismatic, sensitive, intellectual, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, artistic, and shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, self-destructive, envious, mendacious, venal, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, and scheming.

So, if we examine what is similar about all of these...nothing.  

But if we examine those words that show up in at least two of the animals, then you are:

Meticulous, Self-assured, Sociable, Artistic, Intellectual.  

But also Egotistical, Deceptive, Manipulative and Critical. 

Ouch.  What a list.  

It must be hard to live with such a person like that.  :)


Monday, January 17, 2011


Dear Self,

You've had your share of fun on Google translate's account.  From Chinese articles on the likes of Jay Chou, 五月天, 等等 to Kpop Suju-ness and enough Lees and Kims to confuse even the best of us and on to Japanese soccer with its all too necessary connection to German Bundesliga.

You had it just so that every time you did a search on something Google wouldn't know what language  to pull up and then wasn't even sure what language was being shown at the time.  And you just laughed, "Haha.  Google has NO idea what language I speak."

But don't you think the tables have turned now?

Because last week,

You passed two men smoking outside of the grocery store and you were pretty much positive they were speaking German until you realized that no, they were speaking English in a Southern drawl no less.

And not thirty seconds later you passed another couple talking outside a cooking store discussing whether or not they wanted to go in an look in what you were pretty certain was Korean, except again, it wasn't.

Until now, you pass people and hear conversations and your brain, Google translate confusion-like, doesn't know which language you're trying to hone into.  Because apparently the same sounds can be translated into a multitude of tongues.

Of course, your brain's confusion isn't limited to languages alone.  With the time change you're always keeping track of the different places: Taiwan (EST + 13), Korea and Japan (EST + 14), Germany (EST + 6), Qatar (EST + 8) and now Uganda (EST + 8).

So it was only a matter of time before you got so confused that you missed something ... like the Japanese soccer game.  While looking for predictions of how the game would go, you found instead reports on how the game had already been won.

Joke's on you.  Must you continue so to confuse yourself?




Friday, January 14, 2011

Political Potpourri

On the Arizona shooting:

"I would like to visit America but I don't want to get shot."

When my friend told me this was the common opinion of the Japanese towards my native country, I laughed.  As did he.  How could these people be so misinformed?

And then I read a book about Asian perspectives of America.  (To make this experience even more surreal, try reading such a book in a place far removed from either of them -- I recommend Germany.)  I wanted to discredit the book - It's outdated, It isn't reporting accurately on the state of things in Japan, The incidents of crime are just hyped up by the media - all of these thoughts crossed my mind.  I even told my roommate over dinner after finishing the book and returning home that this book was completely false and almost laughable.

But then I realized that in my small town of Charlottesville, in the past two years there have been two national media-covered murders of Morgan Dana Harrington (I pass the plaque dedicated to her every day on my run) and Yeardley Love (I used to live on that street).  Plus there is that unexplainable crime spree that the city and university have experienced this past semester, making everyone nervous.

I thought about my friend who is from Blacksburg and how much she was shaken up by the idea that her small and friendly hometown suffered a massacre shooting 4 years ago this April.

The lectures I have given friends about going out alone at night and how we continually pass along those emails about ways to avoid getting attacked. The times I have had male friends walk me home or even drive behind me as I went home to make sure I got in safely.  The Friday night I spent riding a bus with my bus driver friend to make sure she stayed safe despite the late hours and the students returning drunk from parties.  --- All of these are second nature.  We watch our back and keep alert.

And then the Arizona shootings happen which shock even Jon Stewart into solemnity.  Have we just learned to accept violence as a horrific but all too common aspect of our lives?

On the Asian Cup 2011:

It's been exciting to cheer for my team - Japan Samurai Blues! - and watch them win.  However, as I looked at the teams participating, I started wondering why the rest of the world isn't sitting up and taking note.

North Korea and South Korea.  China.  Japan.  Iran and Iraq.  Kuwait.  Shouldn't this be a politically charged tournament?  Here we have a mix of cultures and governments and religions that somehow think coming together for a competition in soccer is a good idea.  And are successful in it.  Now granted, South Korea and North Korea haven't competed head-to-head yet.  And the heat Japan and Syria game was really nothing about outside politics.  But still, shouldn't we be trying to understand how Asia gets along with Asia before we try to figure out how America gets along with Asia?  I think the value from these lessons to be learned are incalculable.

On German opinion of US and Taiwan opinion of Japan and South Korea:

While in Germany I asked a friend there what the Germans thought of our President Obama and our government.  Her response was encouraging: "We really like the Americans but we feel that President Bush made you look too power hungry and desirous to conquer everyone.  We didn't like to see America looking so bad to the rest of world so we didn't like President Bush."  It definitely gave some insight to the criticisms America has been receiving from many other countries.

Meanwhile, I recently asked a friend if it would be okay if I cheered for the Japanese team since my loyalties tie most closely to Taiwan.  I know that Japan itself was once a formidable force and had China, Korean and Taiwan all under its power in recent generations.  By this point I have read a lot of books expressing the underlying anger that simmers under the surface between these countries and so didn't know if the Taiwanese people would even acknowledge the Japanese.  His response was interesting: "Taiwan has no complaints against Japan currently.  We do have some problems with South Korea though."  In the Asian games a Taiwan athlete was disqualified in Tae kwon do on decidedly unfair claims and so the whole of Taiwan was in an uproar against the Taekwondo President who happened to be a South Korean.  And despite the fact that I don't seem to understand why South Korea is at fault for this, it makes me realize that there are so many political thoughts and undercurrents that I simply have no grasp of.

America after all is so young and so small in the history of the World.  And yet, if America as a whole is in any way representative of my own personal feelings, despite its youth, despite its weaknesses, despite its personal battles, it is desirous to make a difference, to leave its mark and to truly improve this world that we live in and share.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some Things We Never Outgrow

Dear Hasebe,

You probably made the cutest little soccer player when you were younger.  I can just see you with your little 3 feet tall self in tiny little clothes and cleats and socks that continue to want to sag down to your ankles.  Your parents probably loved watching you as you ran with the rest of the pack of kids around the field and cheered every time you kicked it.
Makoto at 11

And just like your little adorable self, you would grip your hand in a fist from concentrating.  But not in a normal fist with your thumb outside of your fingers.  Instead, with your fingers gripped tightly around your thumb.

Later, your parents will break you of that habit and tell you, "Putting your hand in a fist like that will break your thumb."

And you'll realize they are right and you'll STOP...
Exhibit A: Normal fist grip

 EXCEPT for when you are concentrating really hard as you kick a ball.
Exhibit B: Mako-chan fist grip
And again
Are you starting to see the pattern?
Has someone ever told him of this?

It's nice to see that some little part of you will always be six years old.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Clean Floors and Cleaner Floors

My roommate scrubbed our floor down the other day.  I helped for a few hours.  Of course we had been cleaning our floors all semester but we wanted a deep deep clean.  At first it took us a while to figure out how to get the dirt off the floor.  Then when we figured it out, we had to use that method over and over.  The progress from one section to another was noticeable with a line of dirt demarcating where we can already cleaned and where we had yet to work.  It was so satisfying to see the progress.  But after a while, the whole floor was cleaned and there is no more line of progress.  You look back hoping to see a sparkling white floor and instead you see something that is still dingy and in need a clean.  Meanwhile, your arms ache and your knees are red and raw from kneeling.

I wonder if life is like that.  We work towards becoming better but as soon as we get closer to 'better' we forget what we were like before and we only see ourselves needing another cleaning.

Playing catch up with our continually improving expectations can be exhausting.

Perhaps we should be kinder to ourselves and know that sore arms and knees are signs that we are doing our best even if we can't see it.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

East is East and West is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet...

...But there is neither East or West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!
~Rudyard Kipling

Dear Deutschland,

Amid all of cultures that I have blood ties to, I can honestly say the one that I most identified with was yours.  Never mind the Scottish last name and the Irish first name.  Kindly disregard the French Poseys or the English Blakemans and Taylors as significant parts of my genetic make-up.  And please overlook that my German-speaking ancestors actually came, more or less, from Switzerland.  Deep down, I still always felt that the majority of my culture and heritage was German.  The stories, the names, the traditions that most traveled down to me through the generations had ties close to Germany.  

So it was with great anticipation that I came to your fine country.  I kept thinking to myself, "Here I go, returning to the land of my fathers."  

Shamefully, I admit that when I saw myself returning to Germany, I imagined that people would even say, "Wow, you are so like us, I almost didn't recognize that you were American."  (This is shameful because they are the almost exact words that someone told my friend in Taiwan - words that broke my heart when I heard them - words that told me that I would never be anything but a 'white girl' to those whom I considered friends and family)  

You see, in Asia, where my heart ties run as deep as any blood ties, while I fought that and still fight their view of me, I understood it.  My roots weren't actually rooted in Eastern culture; my genes didn't have ties back to ancient China.  No matter how hard I tried I would never be one of them.  

But not in Germany, I proudly told myself.  I am German.  And as I looked around your country, I literally saw the family resemblance - so much so that one dear woman I came into contact with had features remarkably like my great aunt.  And how did you view me?  When my sister - who appears very German - introduced me, the reactions were varied but similar in strain, "You? German?  No!"  "But you look English not German"  "Your sister?!  Impossible...impossible.  No, really?"  You saw me as an outsider - as someone who never could have roots in your land.  It was a shocking wake-up call to say the least.  

Haha.  Serves me right for my conceit.  


Curiosity soon got the best of me and I wondered how Makoto fares in your midst.  So I eagerly looked around with the eyes of someone who doesn't belong.  I marveled at the people who looked Asian in ancestry who spoke to each other and others in flawless German.  I watched others interact with them and saw no indication that they saw them as outsiders or not a part of their culture.  Despite my few halting words in German and my sister's fluent German in an American accent, not one person blinked or smiled as though it was anything out of the ordinary.  

I could see Makoto making his place in your society - And fitting in -  despite his non Western European ancestry and his steadily-improving-but-not-perfect-yet German.  I thought about how he considers you to be his second home and how his love for you grows deeper the longer he remains in Wolfsburg.  And I understood it.  I could see it.  

And I wonder, if I were to come to live with you permanently, would you be as welcoming and kind to me as I feel and know you have been to Makoto and to Uchida and Kagawa?

Yes, definitely.