Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jet Lag

Dear Eiji,

I am intrigued.  I mean, let's face it: a million things can go wrong in an airport and cause you to miss your flight.  But for some reason, we never expect those million things to go wrong for household names like your own.

So, I'm sure everyone in the airport was slightly shocked when they heard the following over the intercom: "Eiji Kawashima, please get to gate 31 as soon as you can."  (In fact, it shocked some fans so much they all quickly posted it on their twitters)

But I think what makes me chuckle more is the story in comparison to my sister's recent first class experience on an airplane with her seat partner who heckled passengers on their way to their seats because, "No one ever waited for me."

Coincidentally, my friend this week also told me a story about how he was walking onto an airplane one time and thought someone looked just like Nolan Ryan.  And then he turned to say something to his mother behind him and accidentally clocked the look-a-like with his backpack full of schoolbooks.  He found out later that it really was Nolan Ryan.

Here's to hoping that you didn't miss your flight.

And that you weren't heckled.

And that some little kid didn't hit you with his backpack on the way to his seat.

Love,
Me

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Symphonic Switch-Up

On Saturday, I attended the symphony.  It was a wonderful experience.  I truly truly love music in all its forms.  And symphony music helps me raise my normal standards.

As I sat in the concert hall, folded into my little seat, between two people that I had never met, I tried to recall the last time I had attended the symphony.

New Year's Eve or rather Silvester.  Philharmonie Essen.  The music of the evening?  West Side Story and Porgy and Bess.  The concert hall was brand new, beautiful, large and bright with not a bad seat in the house.  The hall was completely filled, mostly with white-haired married couples.  Looking over the audience, I noted that most of them looked like my own grandparents.

The orchestra itself was superb.  The orchestra director, although I did not understand a word he said, was animated and lively.  His concertmaster was young but so much fun to watch.  The soloists were excellent although I must admit my sister appreciated them much more than I did because of her classical vocal training.  As the orchestra played the American music so familiar to me, I looked around the audience and wondered what everyone else thought about it.  When the orchestra played, "Mambo" the director turned around for the audience to yell, "Mambo!" and the response was less than enthusiastic.  But the violinists made up for it by yelling and even jumping up a little in their seats.  And my sister and I cheered with the violinists.  I wondered if the German audience somehow felt the animated and the not-quite-the-classical opera music below their normal standards or just that they somehow did not get the feeling of American music.

Ironically, part of the music on Saturday's programme was German composer Gustav Mahler's Rückert-Lieder which consisted of lyrics sung in German by a talented and wonderful soloist.  Listening to her German, I thought back to my experience in Germany and looked around the audience.  This audience looked entirely different composed of as many young students as white-haired season ticket holders and people strolled past me during the breaks spoke in multiple languages and multiple forms of dress ranging from flannel pajama pants to furs.  But looking around the audience and hearing the beautiful words and reading their translation, I wondered if we truly understood the beauty of the music or appreciating it as those in Essen would have.  I wondered if the soloist looked at us appreciating the music and wanted us to liven up a little at her words.  And yet, I also thought about how much those words spoke, in many ways, the exact thoughts and hopes of my heart and I wondered if perhaps I had underestimated the response of the audience in Essen.  


Music, indeed, can and does transcend language and culture.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Which thing I had never before supposed...

My sister, who just finished her fourth marathon on Saturday, thinks that running is boring.

Another sister - the musician/lawyer who also has an affinity towards math - writes stories and poetry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Down the Road A Bit

Progress... how do we measure it?

I've been trying to figure that out for a long time now.

I've been running regularly now for 3 months and I hate it. It never gets easier.  It never gets less painful.  Apparently, running is painful for everyone - I've been asking around.  You need to run longer than 40 minutes or something for the endorphins to kick in and give you a sense of accomplishment.  But since I'm so busy, I only get about 30 or 40 minutes in before I'm done and thus it's just frustrating the whole time.  Even marking the 'X' on my calendar is starting to lose some of its luster.

Further, in Chinese, no matter how much I study, every time I get a chance to speak, I trip over my words so much, I wonder what it was I was studying.  Meanwhile, my English gets progressively worse.  (I actually said, "We'll hit that bridge when we get there.")

Don't even get me started on research.

For months now, when I go to The Park - good ol' UVA - there is a woman in pink who runs around and around.  I've been constantly impressed by her diligence in running.  Usually, she and I are exactly half a lap apart and she gains on me for my three or four laps around The Park until I head off to finish my run elsewhere.

But today, I actually matched her stride for stride.

I also went and listened to a Chinese song I haven't listened to in about a year.  Thanks to the characters I could read and understand almost the entire song whereas last year I only understood some of the chorus.

Is this progress?

一步一步

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Puddle Jumping

Dear Self,

Do you remember that one time, back in high school?  It was the night after hurricane-like weather blew through, leaving the most massive beautiful puddle out behind the cafeteria.  The puddle was so large and so tempting that it was second nature to take a running start and just JUMP!  

Taken in Taroko National Gorge, Taiwan
But of course, mid-air, you realized that your roommate was standing right there and was going to get soaked!  Too late, of course, you fell into the puddle and while you only managed to get a little wet around the ankles, Danielle was soaked and muddy from head-to-toe.  

Since then, you have avoided indulging too much in your love of puddle jumping.  Unfortunately, you have yet to learn that principle in the rest of your life.  It seems most of your interests are like your love of puddle-jumping: you are barely getting your ankles wet and drowning everyone else.  

Think about it.  A year ago, your roommates knew nothing about Super Junior and now they are decently conversational.  They know much more than the average American and possibly even more than the average Korean their age.  Before that it was Ashin and Mayday or Jay Chou and Gary Yang.

Six months ago, your friends knew nothing about the Bundesliga or Japanese National Team soccer.  Hasebe, Okazaki, Kagawa, Uchida, Nagatomo, Zaccheroni - these might as well have been random noises I invented to pretend I spoke Japanese as names of some of the people that I now keep up on.  

The list goes on and back through the history of your whole life.  It seems you can't love anything halfway and when you do fall for something, you must drown everyone else with facts, opinions about these people no matter whether they consented to it or not.  

Here's praying to the hope that friends and roommates react to your not-thinking-before-I-jump in the same way that your dear roommate did so many years ago: Smile at your spontaneity, laugh at the result and live to tell it to others as a good story. 

Love,
Me

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

Dear Shinji,

I always think of you as "the Kid".  (This shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me since I refer to practically everyone as a "kid", including the President of the United States.)  You were the youngest on the JNT and everyone expected great things out of you.

A reasonable request -- you were expecting great things out of yourself.

Your debut year at BVB, in only half a season (16 games) you managed to score 8 goals, seizing the adoration and attention of BVB and non-BVB fans alike.  When I mentioned your name to a die hard Schalke fan, he exclaimed, "He is GOOD."  Your spot as Rookie of the Year was practically "in the bag".

With your team holding a strong lead (10 points ahead of the nearest team - that's more than 3 wins - and a goal differential 18 points ahead of the nearest team), perhaps it was no wonder that you teased your other JNT teammates who were in or would soon be joining the Bundesliga. "I'll be playing for the Championship and you'll just be fighting with relegation.."

Your teasing led me to start to think of you as the "punk kid".  You were that annoying younger sibling who does everything better and then likes to laugh over it.  And despite the fact that we all love you for your success, do you really have to be so "in your face" about it?  Your bravado and your big head was getting a little too much to take.  I wasn't alone; it seems your teammates felt the same way.
Source: Tumblr
Source: Tumblr
Then you broke you foot and you would be out the rest of the season at BVB.  Disappointing to say the least.

Then the earthquake hit the Miyagi Prefecture where you grew up. Words don't seem adequate to describe the shock and the sorrow such an event invoked.  

The Shinji that celebrated his 22nd birthday was a different one than the one who had celebrated with Makoto in his 27th.  Humbled, a little worried about the future.  Frustrated about your inability to play.  Heartbroken over your homeland.  You weren't on top of the world - you weren't "golden boy" any longer.  You had a long hard road ahead of you.

I almost wished that the "punk kid" would make a reappearance.  I almost wished that I could take away all those times I got annoyed with your bravado, that I would rather have confident Kagawa over uncertain Shinji.  But this is life.  And this is where we make our life.  It's part of growing up.

Today you head back to Germany where you will start all over again, a different man than you were even 3 months ago.  Do not be afraid to lean on those teammates that you annoyed just a short time ago.  They will be your support.

Because despite our annoyance at having our younger siblings outshine us in everything, secretly, we're proud.  And we want to see you succeed once again, this time, showing more to yourself than to anyone else, that you are capable of overcoming difficult trials and of accomplishing great things.

Love,
Me
Source: Tumbler

Monday, March 21, 2011

You learn something new everyday

I just found out today that I've been pronouncing Okazaki wrong all this time.

It's o-KAH-zah-KI not O-kah-ZAH-ki.

Its amazing what can happen when I open my ears and close my mouth.  A good lesson, yes?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Silly Love Songs

(I) I love people
(II) I love music
(III) I love Chinese
(IV) I love writing.

The situation:
Recently, my friend and I decided that we want to perform in an upcoming acoustic night performance together.  So, I started hunting through my music and found what I decided was the perfect song: Hey! by Evan Yo.  Since my friend does not speak Chinese, it would only require a little translation and rewriting to make rhyming lyrics for the chorus.

It seems like the perfect combination right?  Me + friend (I) + Chinese song (II,III) + Rewritten English lyrics (II,IV)  If I were to give each Roman numeral 100 utils of happiness, you'd think this would just break the bank.

Except not.

It seems that I have a penchant for writing horribly cheesy rhymes doing neither the song, or the Chinese or my writing abilities justice.  Don't believe me?

Original Lyrics:

**Hey!
請把你的手交給我
請你不要害羞
跟我一起點點頭
這屬於我們的節奏


Rough Translation:
**Hey!
Please give me your hand.
Please don't be shy.
Nod your head with me.
This is our rhythm.

What I came up with?
Hey!
The melody of you and I
Two heart that beat as one.
Take my hand, boy, don't be shy.
...

And then I was at a loss.  I thought it was brilliant, at least until I sang it out loud and then I groaned and threw it all out.  If I'm this bad when I'm not in love with anyone, I shudder to think what mush awaits me when I am.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm...oh Wait.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Remember to wear green or you'll get pinched.  Dye all of your food green and your lakes and rivers too, eat corned beef and cabbage and, if you're so inclined, drink yourself until you're green in the gills.   At least, that's what you do in America.  In Ireland, apparently, they wear orange.

Thus the story of my life:

I never thought I had Irish ancestry but with my first name, I still felt a kinship to Ireland only to realize that our customs of celebrating the Irish are not Irish at all but American.   It turns out, I might have some Irish in me after all.  (Still doing the research)  

I always thought my last name was Scottish.  Sorry family, but, it's not.  I have someone who is really interested in genealogy who shares the same last name but different spelling tell me every single time he sees me, "Ahhh, your name is English.  Mine is Scottish."  (I really need to do the research) 

Previously, I thought I was German, only to find when I traveled to Germany that, in fact, Germans don't think I'm German at all.  (Really, how does a person misunderstand her family history this much?)

And I must not forget the research that I actually have done that traces one family line back to the Posey family who originally went by Poschet, back before they had to escape France due to religious persecution.  (French!  That makes me partly French!)    

A friend in high school laughingly called me a mutt.  (Of course, she was Anglo-Polak or so she liked to tell me. According to Wikipedia, because she is a girl, she would actually be Anglo-Polka but that just makes her sound like a dance) I was okay with it because I figured that I would just hold on to all of the traditions of my ancestors and be the richer for it.  

They call America the melting pot for a reason.  Not simply because we marry and intermarry so that people like me are in constant confusion about which culture to feel akin to but also because we take each culture's traditions and make it distinctly our own.  St. Patrick's Day as Americans celebrate it is quite unrecognizable to the actual Irish.  The Mayday I celebrated as a child almost has no connections to the Mayday poles of England.  I am not even entirely sure that we celebrate Santa Claus Coming to Town on the same days that they do in Europe.  And that's just the start of it...

The conclusion then of all of this madness?  

The fact that I like to take parts of Asian culture and integrate it into my life actually makes me?

Most decidedly,

American. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Uchida Atsuto (内田篤人) says it best:

日本の皆へ。少しでも多くの命が救われますように。共に生きよう!

"Liebe Freunde in Japan, in der Hoffnung, dass viele Leben gerettet werden, lasst uns zusammenstehen!"

"To our dear friends in Japan, in the hope that many lives may be saved, let us stand together!"  

Source: Tumblr
For this and all other disasters great and small in our lives, may we remember that in each other, we find great strength and help and, above all, great joy.  


Friday, March 11, 2011

Ripple Effect

Area of a circle = pi * (diameter/2)^2

This means, the wider the circle, the larger area that it encompasses.  Yes, I realize this is a basic concept.  But think about it this way: a 25% increase in diameter results in a 56% increase in area and a 50% increase in diameter results in 125% increase in area.  Widening the circle just a little encompasses so much more.

When I was a child, my world was small.  It barely extended beyond my yard and didn't include much more than my immediate family.  But to me it was big and full and exciting.

Now here I am, only a few years later.  My horizons have expanded.  Now there are many people, even many that I have not met that I am concerned about and care for.  My world is still big and full and exciting.

Just like the ripples continue to expand ever outward, it seems the longer I live, the more people I will learn to love and care for.

日本がんばって!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Smart Girls Cease to Be Smart

I recently watched Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service.  (I highly recommend anything by him by the way.) For those of you less familiar with the movie, it's about a witch who has to spend a training year starting sometime after she turns 13.  Kiki sets off and ends up in a town near the ocean where she sets up a delivery service and has a number of setbacks.  And amidst the discouragement, she forgets how to fly.

And thus the movie raises a good issue: What do you do when something that has always come natural to you is now something you are incapable of?

I have a friend who recently suffered a mild concussion in a pick-up soccer game.  When she admitted this to her professor, he chastised her: "If you were going to be a professional soccer player, I think you would have made it by now.  Meanwhile, your greatest asset - your brain - should not be coming into contact with a soccer ball."

So, here we have this case.  Graduate student = smart girl (I'm not saying all smart girls are graduate students nor that all graduate students are smart girls but in this specific case, yes) And so, greatest asset = brain.

But what if being smart is no longer natural?  What if said smart girl struggles for hours and hours and hours and can't seem to get anything out of her brain?

Of course we must modify it.  A smart girl isn't just smart; she's hardworking.  I mean, that is what distinguished her back as an undergraduate.  She spent large amounts of time on homework and in understanding the material and getting the appropriate help to understand the material she can't.  This included making social, physical, and emotional sacrifices in order to learn and master the subject matter.

And now, she can't bring herself to do it.  Instead, she spends hours learning new languages and studying new cultures.  She finds she would rather talk to new people and ask them questions and pick their brains rather than pick her own.

What's a girl to do?

Because its only when she ceases to be smart that she realizes that she has placed her entire self-image on the idea that she is smart.  Sadly, so has everyone else.  But now that she has lost faith in her ability to be smart, she feels like she is just fooling everyone around her.  Overwhelmed by this discrepancy between what she is and what she is perceived as, she feels this need to correct everyone's misconceptions.  However, all attempts at honesty simply are waved off as, "You're just saying that."  Now, she's strapped with the idea of being smart AND humble.

Is this girl living a complete lie?  What actually makes a person smart?  And once a girl ceases to be smart, can she ever go back?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Tracksuit and the Cardigan

A few months ago, I was watching some Super Junior stuff and I happen to see Eunhyuk sporting this:
Yes, I know -- Words do not even begin to describe how wrong this is.  But Eunhyuk was proud of his outfit.  Even when a friend said, "You look like a turtle," Eunhyuk proudly strutted around and even insisted while pointing at his tag, "This was handsewn by an Italian tailor."  I wondered how Eunhyuk had managed to bring THAT back from his trip to Italy.  What were his friends thinking letting him import that back to South Korea?

Until... I noticed that someone was cracking up over his comments about the Italian tailor as a reference to a show then airing in South Korea: Secret Garden.  Curious, I did a little research and found this: Eunhyuk's comment was a direct quote from a man who, in the show, sported an equally atrocious tracksuit.  I present here for your grimace, Hyun Bin in the role of Kim Joo Won.
And thus, began the craze that swept South Korea.  Everyone started wearing ridiculous tracksuit with sequins and flowers and bedazzles all over them.  After a while, you start to try to convince yourself that it's not so bad.

But really, it is.

Aren't fashions funny?  In the show that started the craze, everyone constantly makes disparaging comments about the man's fashion sense.  However, it was this very outfit that everyone, even kids and dogs, started to imitate.  Is it because the character, despite - or possibly because of - his quirks, is quite likeable?  Do we somehow hope, secretly, that if we are similarly quirky that people will similarly like us?  So, why do we insist on the identical quirk and forget that the quirks we hope people accept are those that make us unique?

Now, you ask, what does all of this have to do with the cardigan?  My sister recently put up a post about how she dislikes it when Cho Kyuhyun wears cardigans.  I laughed when I read the post because it just so happens that my favorite soccer player's favorite piece of clothing is none other than the cardigan.  And not just any cardigan - cardigans that are pink and purple.
Source: Tumblr
And despite what my impeccable <cough> fashion sense would convince me, I really like it.  But why?  Because I like the person.  And so, if the person I like wants to wear pink and purple cardigans, so be it.

So, the moral of the story?  Be yourself.  People ultimately love you for what's on the inside.  And when they love what's on the inside, they'll love what's on the outside, quirks and imperfections and all.  Especially if those quirks are handsewn, bejeweled tracksuits or cardigans.  :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

小世界

今天,4位刚認識的人一起去玩。一位南韓國人,一位德國人,一位本來從中國的美國人和我。一位是要上醫學院的一位是在學經濟學的一位是學佛教的一位是學航空工程的。他們相处怎麼了呢

非常的好


(As per request, here is the translation of the above: 
Small World


Four people who had just met went out to play today: a South Korean, a German, an American who was originally from China and me.  One had plans to attends medical school, one was studying economics, one was studying Buddhism and one was studying aerospace engineering.  How did they get along?

Very well.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Laughing Matters

Dear Custodian,

Sometimes, it's only when I run into other people that I realize how ridiculous I look.  And let's face it - a girl walking through a parking garage with a huge bottle of soy sauce in her hands singing Chinese songs is about as hilarious as it gets.  Especially since I'm not Chinese...and you are.

Love,
Me

Friday, March 4, 2011

Five second friendship

Here's the scene:

Picture me standing in front of the holiday section of a grocery store, contemplating if I want to buy jelly beans or the malted robin's eggs...and by the way, where are those wonderful peanut butter cup eggs that I loved so much as a kid?  

Here's the conversation: 

"Green Peeps!!!" 
<I look over in surprise to see a smart, well-dressed woman in heels and skirt>
Me: ??
Lady: I'm potty training right now and these seem to be the only thing that work.  Not even any other color, just green.
Me: Wow, those work, huh? 
Lady:  Isn't that just the funniest thing?
Me:  Well, if it works, then it works.  
Lady: I haven't found any other place in town that sells green peeps.  I'm so glad I found these.  I'm buying two of each.  
<She picks up two packages of the rabbits and two of the peeps>
Me: That's just amazing! It's nice to know that this place sells green peeps!  

And the result? 

Okay, so I'm realizing now that I definitely didn't contribute anything brilliant to this conversation.  I think I was still marveling how green peeps would be effective potty training tools.  (Do kids actually want to eat them??  And why green??)

But what was amazing, was this:  Her joy was mine.  Suddenly, I was cheering along with her.  So much so that after loading her arms up with green sugary sweetness, she walked away.  But then turned back to say, "Have a nice weekend."  And I responded in kind.  Although I knew nothing about her, or at least very little, departing without some kind of farewell seemed inadequate.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Super Junior 101

In honor of starting to like Super Junior a year ago, I decided to post some conversations I shared with my sister about these boys back when we knew, oh, so very little.  (And now we know, oh, so much more but. as exemplified below, we set that bar pretty low).  I thought that since life has been pretty serious lately we're all about due for a good laugh.


On fangirl phrases: 
Sister: What does Oppa mean?
Me: Oppa means older brother but also refers to men that girls want to date
Sister: ohhhhh
Me: It's a cutesy phrase to mean boyfriend
<later in same conversation>
Me: I do hear 'saranghae Oppa'
Sister: Which one is saranghae?
Me: It means 'I love you'.  You hear it a lot in their songs.
Sister: Ohhhhh, I see.  I thought that was a person.

On who is who:
Me: Who is the oldest?
Sister: I dont remember
Me: Is it Leeteuk?
Sister: Maybe.  Hold on, I think Wikipedia orders them from oldest to youngest


Sister: I'm still learning the differences between them.  I can tell they're different now but I still can't remember who is who but its just because their names are so similar!
Me: Let's see if I can name them all: Kangin, Heechul, Siwon, Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Shindong, Eunhyuk, Hangeng, Kibum, Leeteuk, Yesung
Sister: Close! There's 2 more right?
Me: Donghae.  Who is the last one?  I can't believe I'm forgetting.
Sister: I don't know.  :( 


Descriptions of the boys: 
Donghae: The one with the gray suit in the Super Girl video
Siwon: The Mulan-looking guy
Kyuhyun: (Let's face it.  We ALWAYS knew his name)
Hangeng: Weesnokneak



On speaking Korean: 
Sister: How do you pronounce Kyu Hyun?
Me: Umm...still not sure.  I think I've been saying it wrong.

On learning how to dance hiphop:
Me: This would be really fun to take one long weekend and just practice it.
Sister: Yeah, same.
Me: And it repeats the same dance moves so once you learn the first half you're pretty much good.  How awesome would that dance be once we got it down?
Sister: So awesome except I can't dance at all so it would take a while.
Me: Yeah, so next Christmas when Super Junior is no longer cool. 


On my love of Asia: 
Me: I honestly don't know anyone in my life who likes Asia even partly like I do.
Sister: Me neither, not even Asians.


Asian pop stars v. American pop stars: 
Sister: Let me show you something. 
That's Kyuhyun and his sister.  Tell me who he looks like to you.
Me: Michael Jackson
Sister: ...? I don't see that.  But I DO see Justin Bieber!
Me: Who is Justin Bieber?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hard Decisions

My life has too much going on.  The process of cutting down on the non-essentials in my life has been a growing experience, to say the least.

Two months ago, I sat down to write an email to First Harmonics, my acapella group, announcing my departure and thanking them for all the good times.  And then, just as I was about to hit 'Send' I couldn't do it.  It didn't sit well.  So I waited and said I would ponder it for a few more days.  The email was never sent and when the meetings came around, I attended and participated.  In fact, the first song back, I was chosen as percussionist.  

Saturday night, while sitting my car, I was thinking again about the list of to-do and longer list of things I'm not getting done, I brashly declared what needed to go.  Except this time, that thought stayed with me.  All through the couple of days when I pondered it and thought about it.  All through the drive up to DC.  All through the shift that I worked, even to the courage of going and haltingly explaining my reason to leave to a man to whom I look up and admire.  Before I knew it, I was filling out a piece of paper, requesting my release and putting March 1, 2011 as my last day of service.  And even as the thought of, "What am I doing?!" filled me with sorrow and horror, I kept writing.  "Why couldn't I have had this resolve two months ago?" I wondered.  "Why couldn't I quit First Harmonics but now I'm quitting service at the temple?"  After I filled out the paper, I sat there for a minute, wondering at my audacity.  The temple service has been some of the best experiences from my life in the past year and few months.  Just when life got too hard, I would have a day up in DC serving and I'd come back ready to face the challenges again.  But now, I was walking away, in what seemed like to everyone else, a snap decision.  As I turned in the paper, still marveling at my ability to turn away from the greatest thing in my life, I found the only thing I could do left was to go get away from people and quickly because the tears were coming fast and strong.  But still, I kept on, not turning back or saying, "Just kidding!  Haha."  Because deep down, I knew it was right.  

Dear Research,

I've sacrificed something I truly, truly love for you.  That means that I think you are worth it.  Please don't let me down.

Love, 
Me