Friday, April 29, 2011

Renewed Awakenings

In the midst of this "relegation" period, I have realized one thing: I like engineering.

Let me repeat that. I like engineering!

It came as a bit of a surprise.  What, with my zealous interest in all things Asian and Fußball, I was starting to merely look at engineering as a vehicle to get me to Asia or Germany.  I spent a lot of time wondering what I was doing in a PhD in Aerospace Engineering when great joy lay in studying cultures and languages.    Everyone else around me wondered too.  

A few weeks ago, I was attended a seminar:  Large-Eddy / Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes Simulations of Compressible, Wall-bounded Flows presented by Jack Edwards of NC State.  I had brought a few books to make myself not look like the slacker graduate student that I felt I was - a book on North Korean ideology and a journal from an organization of my profession - AIAA.  But do you even have to guess what reading I pulled out while waiting for the seminar to start?  

To be completely honest, I must divulge that some of my motivation in attendance was (1) to impress another graduate student I had met few weeks prior at a classical concert and (2) it would reflect poorly on my professor if I never attended seminars.  Other motivation actually included learning something but it took backseat.  

While sitting in this seminar though, I was interested.  It wasn't just because this speaker was good, although he certainly was.  It wasn't just because I actually understood part of what he was talking about, although that probably helped.  

I really truly wanted to go and read everything about the subject and study it more.  And this wasn't the only time.  It happened the next week.  And the next week.  

Is it true that I am actually meant to be an engineer after all?  

Definitely.  Maybe.  Here's hoping.  

This is a Karman Vortex Street off of Sorrocco Island.  Isn't it amazing?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Cross Cultural Bucket of Chicken

Today I went through and counted how many Asian dramas I have watched in the past year and a half - it's a little too embarrassing to care to admit here.  However, it has been an interesting experience to watch media of a culture I know only a little about.  It raises the questions of how culture is different than from what is portrayed and what are simply traditions of media.

If I were to take these dramas at face value of how the culture really is, this is what I would think about East Asia: 
1. Everyone is terrified of water and no one knows how to swim.  
2. No one ever sleeps.
3. The way to show you care for someone is to cook for them, especially amazing, adorable bento boxes. 
4. When it comes to relationships, opposites attract and it is best if the first time you meet, you get in a fight.  
5. Drinking soju is an almost daily occurrence. 
6. Communication over basic things such as "I have a job" or "I had to miss that important event because I was in a coma in the hospital" doesn't happen.   

And a million other little things.  

We use cultural media symbols all the time that we don't even think about.  For example, in American movies, there are common wedding marches that are used to indicate weddings although I have never actually attended a wedding that played those themes.  Also, there are some things that are actually true in America that some people don't realize.  A friend recently told me his cousins from somewhere in Europe were amazed that our school buses really are yellow.  

In any case, our perspective towards our own culture affects how we view others' cultures.  A few months ago, I was watching a Taiwanese drama.  It was Christmas Eve - in American culture, think New Year's Eve - the one day that you definitely want a date to stay out past midnight with.  In the drama, the girl had plans to spend the day with her two good friends.  But then those two good friends ended up having dates and so left her alone.  The guy the girl has a crush on went to a Christmas Eve party for his dad's work but when he realizes she is left at home alone, he goes to meet her with some lame excuse about hating parties.  He brings along a cake and

 that's right, a bucket of KFC chicken.

I didn't think anything of the KFC chicken when I watched the episode.  The man obviously felt obligated to bring home food - he probably went to one of the only places open on the way to her house.  Pizza might have been a better choice in my opinion but hey, to each his own, right?  I was excited about the cake though.  The cakes they make in Taiwan are amazing.  

Reading a book about Asian culture a few months later, I found out that somehow KFC convinced Taiwan that what Americans eat on Christmas Eve is KFC chicken.  So, in Taiwan, if you want to eat KFC on Christmas Eve, you often have to make reservations for buckets of the Colonel's Original Recipe weeks in advance.  

I laughed when I found this out. 
1. How did KFC convince Taiwan this fact about Americans?
2. What I thought was a typical guy attempt at being somewhat awkwardly kind was actually a gesture that he liked the girl and had plans to spend the evening with her weeks previous.  The message was completely lost on me.  
3. Do Taiwanese people REALLY think we eat KFC at Christmas?  

I wonder what subtle messages in media my culture gives that others would not understand. And how often do we send out messages that we never meant to give?


Random thoughts on my questions about media and Asian culture representation: 
I started to have real questions about how Asians view relationships and wondered if the media was a reflection of that or not, or if the media was actually affecting how Asians view relationships.  For instance, if you watch a drama and two people are 'soulmates'  in that they are close friends and can communicate with each other and discuss important and personal things, then they will never, ever end up together.  However, in my own life, I feel a lot of people around me who are seeking for a 'soulmate'.  Honestly, I think I might be too.  So I wonder, do Asians believe that marrying a 'soulmate' will lead to a safe and secure but stale and loveless marriage?  What qualities are people really looking for?  Are they distinctly different by culture?  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Through a Glass, Darkly

There are two men outside my office window, painting it white.  We are literally only a foot apart.  Here I am, in my office, on my computer, reading an article on Planar Laser Induced Fluorescence.  There they are, precariously perched on the pressurized gas tanks, scraping away flaking paint.  If it wasn't for the window, I could reach out and touch them.  If it wasn't for the window, we would feel obligated to talk to each other, strangers thrown into such close quarters.  However, one single pane of glass delineates the world outside from the world within.  They concentrate on their work and I concentrate on mine.

Looking through that window, I see the beautiful bright spring green trees.  I hear the sound of them talking quietly, comfortably, to each other in their work.  I can imagine how the spring humid air feels and I wish, wish, wish I could be outside.  I suddenly long to spend a day painting windows.

One of them gives me a smile.  I smile back.

Perhaps this window, which prevented us from spoken communication, allowed us to get a glimpse of another life, another world.

The men move on from their work, taking their ladders and their paint brushes and buckets with them.  I finish reading the article and move on to other things.

And though nothing is really quite different, nothing is really quite the same.

1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glassdarkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Baby, baby

This is my niece:
Isn't she adorable?  Yes, I know.  She really is the cutest thing.  And thanks to her, we can't go anywhere without her getting a lot of attention and comments and wonderful kind people willing to help with anything.  We get free parking, free advice about putting her into baby modeling, and plenty of free compliments.

This is my niece at four months:
Yes, that is Super Junior.  Yes, we pretend that she is in love with Kpop.

Lately, though my niece has been learning to speak English.  Currently, her level of English is on the same level as a lot of the Kpop world.

Last weekend, this was our favorite song to sing to her.  And laughingly, she would sing along: (Start at 0:26)

"Lalalala" "Yayayaya" "Ahahahah" Fabulous lyrics by the way.

She also really loves Super Junior's All My Heart.  You can never outgrow the timeless lyrics of "Nananana"

And then of course, this one was sure to get a smile from her. (1:26 but especially at 1:48) (You can ignore the rest of the video.  It's a good song and all but their outfits...ohhh, their outfits)

We wanted to get video of her smiling at this (and send it to JYJ) but she kept getting distracted with the camera.

And just because this post is about my niece, here is her theme song.  I can't really help it that this was the only song that came to mind the first time I held her in my arms.  It stuck and now we all sing it to her. Baby, this one's for you.

Have a great weekend, all.  Have a wonderful Easter.  


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our Treasures

While looking through the news online today, I found an album depicting Japan quake survivors holding items that had survived the disaster which they considered treasures.  The images were poignant as people displayed items that they had found in the rubble even after losing everything else they owned.  When I saw this picture, I started to cry.  Although his facial expressions are subtle, this man looks like he's the richest (and happiest) man in the world.  No doubt his children certainly feel that way.  
A 42-year-old father holds his three children at an evacuation shelter in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on April 8, 2011. Their new home was washed away by the tsunami, but the man said he was relieved his family survived the disaster. (Mainichi)

You can click here for the full album.  (courtesy of Mainichi Daily News)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Intelligent non-smart phone

Dear Phone,

Yesterday, you took the plunge, sliding around the floorboard of my car onto the sidewalk and into the gutter and right down into that manhole.  I heard you hit the ground with a clatter.  And there you were, at the bottom of a manhole, where I couldn't reach you.  It's like you put yourself in permanent timeout - your own little deserted island all to yourself.

You served yourself well, as in, you didn't really serve me much at all.  Sure, you had the cool slide up aspect that drew me to you.  Sure, you took some great pictures.  But when it came to actually being a phone, you failed...all the time.

For not being a smart phone, you were the smartest phone I've ever had contact with.  You had this knack for always going 'out of service' when someone needed to get a hold of me.

Example: the night of Christmas.  I drive through 8 hours of horrible snow conditions.  While I slept off my exhaustion, my sister goes into a panic.  Why?  She never received the text I sent her saying that I got home safe.  When she called my phone, you gave a trite little message, "Cannot find this person.  Please wait while this person is located."  Do you realize what such a message sounds like to a concerned loved one?  I'm sure she imagined me in a ditch or worse.  It was only after calling all of my friends and my roommate driving over to come find me at home that I realized that you had temporarily signed yourself offline.

Forgettable, even forgivable, if it was just this one time.  But No!  It was EVERY single time it was critical that I have access to a phone or someone have access to me.  I started to become impressed, actually, by your 'impeccable' timing.  You were brilliant in your laziness.

So, when you fell down the drain, I marveled again - I still had 7 hours ahead of me in my weekend of driving.  A phone would have been nice, important even, for the hours ahead.  And instead, you gave yourself a one-way ticket to retirement.

My sister marveled that I wasn't sad for my loss.  I was sad...and angry..and in awe.

Shouldn't I be thrilled you gave your notice?  Shouldn't I have fired you months ago and returned back to my old phone?  But instead, even now, I'm just keep wondering about that little phone all by his lonesome in that manhole.

Serves me right for loving you in spite of your faults.


Friday, April 15, 2011


This is me.

The girl who wandered around her backyard with a book in her hand, acting out scenes for her next great movie.
The girl who woke up hours before she actually got out of bed and spent that time thinking and dreaming.
The girl who wanted to grow up and do something great.

This is me.

The girl who carried her violin everywhere she went in fourth grade.
The girl who struggled to enjoy it when she started taking private lessons.
The girl who switched to viola.

This is me.

The girl who never had the courage to tell her parents she wanted to play soccer or take dance lessons.
The girl who took tap dance her last semester of college.
The girl who played rugby her first two years of college.

This is me.

The girl who dreamed of being a voice-over in an animation or making it to Broadway.
The girl who never passed a high school audition in her life.
The girl who now sings in a science and engineering acapella group.

This is me.

The girl who applied to a math and science high school on a whim.
The girl who fell in love with Physics her junior year.
The girl who has never changed her major from Engineering.

This is me.

The girl who wanted to take German in middle school but had to stop in order to continue in orchestra.
The girl who took Chinese instead.
The girl who now misses Taiwan every day.

This is me.

The girl who wanted to have 50 kids.
The girl who quickly changed that number to 5.
The girl who still hopes for one.

This is me.

The girl who does not remember life before she could read.
The girl who started writing stories in middle school, with her other aspiring authoress friends.
The girl who still writes stories.

This is me.

The girl who just KNEW her daddy was Superman.
The girl who grows up to realize everyone is human.
The girl who still wishes she was small enough to crawl onto her father's lap when life gets tough.

Matthew Arnold once discussed touchstones as something used to measure experiences against.  I am my only touchstone.  The person who feels like she has already lived a thousand lifetimes in a hundred different places.  I've changed a million times only to find I've never changed at all.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Principle of Happiness

Dear Self,

Today I would like to express something that has been of  great concern to me lately.  Life seems to hit harder these days, yes?  You go to bed with a sick, sinking feeling in your stomach.  Your temper flares up over minor setbacks. You awake with a great feeling of emptiness.  Occasionally, even, you sit for hours without the ability to move or do what you need to.  Meanwhile, time slips quickly past, which only adds to your frustrations.

I've noticed these tendencies for a while.  I think I have come up with a solution.  I call it "Eating: A Principle of Happiness."

It's a very simple concept.  Eating makes people happy.  And by people, I mean you.  When you eat, you have the energy to face life and research and relationships.  When you eat, you can concentrate on your work and do it rather than listing away hours sitting in front of your computer berating yourself for not being able to work.  When you eat, exercising actually sounds fun and then you get to run away other stresses in your life.  When you eat, you can handle confrontation and criticism with a measure of humility rather than just getting defensive.  Essentially, when you eat, everything goes better.

How you forget to eat is really beyond me.  But next time, you're struggling along in life, I want you to stop and consider this hymn:

"When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?"

As the song suggest, Count your blessings.  Counting your meals of the day is also a good thing.  In your case, we'll say they mean the same thing.  (I.e. Blessings = Happiness and Eating = Happiness ergo Blessings = Eating)

Think about this recent conversation with a friend:
Friend: Did you eat today?
You: Yes of course.  Remember, we had lunch together.
Friend: People usually eat three times a day.
You: I did!  <thinking back> Oops. I guess I forgot to eat breakfast.
Friend: And dinner?
You: Oops, well, so make it 1.5 meals.
Friend: 1.5/3?  That's 50%.  If this were a test, you would FAIL.

In case you missed the point, Not Eating = Failure.  Failure = Bad and Bad = Unhappy.  Thus, Not Eating = Unhappy.

I realize that you are doing your best.  Don't start comparing yourself and making yourself feel worse because most people seem perfect in this area in their lives - that is, they remember to eat 3 meals a day.

But I think you can do a little better.  It might help to ask, "'Ere you left your house this morning, did you think to eat?"


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Dear 長谷部 誠

I thought my idea was brilliant - and that I could do some good to someone who had done good for me.  Perhaps, somehow, I could cheer and lift where I could.

I must say, I am not sure why I didn't realize before that including the postal service in my plan to 'make your day' was doomed from the beginning.

It's not the postal service's fault at all - at least, I don't think so.  The people I deal with at the Post Office are so kind and knowledgeable that I actually enjoy posting mail.  No, I place the blame squarely on my shoulders.

It was one thing to send packages to Taiwan that cost an arm and a leg.  It was another to get the largest and most expensive package returned to me six months later, because it had remained unclaimed.  Not, certainly, the fault of the postal workers in Taiwan who had written the entire account of trying to find the owner all over the box and had even repackaged up all of the items in the box after the pancake mix exploded all over everything.  Nope, that was my fault for trying to surprise Nick with a package without asking him if his address had changed in the past few months.

The second recent posting problem happened when I tried to send a letter to my sister in Uganda.  Now granted, this one was just an experiment, but I still kind of hoped.  After three months, my sister returned without the letter i.e. the front poster of your calendar.  "Next to the African Paradise" probably never has and never will count as a real address.  Shame, really, since it was your best picture.

I thought your case was different: I had a real and tangible and updated address.

If only I hadn't miscalculated the postage.

If only I hadn't underestimated the generosity of the post office to send things that don't have sufficient postage.  (and then boldly demand the postage payment from the recipient)

If only I hadn't done this five weeks in a row.

The postman told me, "Your friend might not be too happy with you," when I gasped in horror after realizing what I had done.  Then to cheer me up, he tried to comfort me, "Maybe he'll just return the favor for your birthday card."

If only I lived in a world where my laughable blunders were rewarded with birthday cards from strangers.

We can only hope right?  It's August 7, in case you were wondering.  I'll be waiting by my mailbox.    

Meanwhile, I'm going to go hide my head in shame and try to recover what little bit of dignity I have left.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


As I lay on my mat on the bedroom floor that I like to call my bed, absorbing the humidity of the warm spring day, I think to myself...

If I just close my eyes, those construction workers outside my window, calling to each other as they work, with the cars and buses that pass by on the street below, could easily pass as the sounds I heard every day in Taipei.

If I just close my eyes, this humidity would feel just like it does on an early spring morning in Taiwan.

If I just close my eyes, this bed of mine would almost pass as those hard straw mattresses that Melinda had to put extra blankets down so she could endure them.

If I just close my eyes, I could just pretend I was there, in Taiwan, sleeping in on a lazy morning.

I close my eyes.

When my roommate walks in a few minutes later, thinking that I had left for the day and left my light on in my bedroom, I have traveled around the world and back.

I get up off my bed and listen to the sounds of Charlottesville, feel the spring of Virginia.  I am glad that my imagination has allowed me to satiate a little of my homesickness.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Dear Isao,

It's been over a year since I last heard from you.  By now, you've graduated and started your new job.  Perhaps you married that girlfriend of yours.  I can only imagine great things for you.

I laugh now to think about the fact that a year ago, on the reviews for certain conference presentations, I brashly wrote on yours, "This presentation changed my life."

Except it did.  You did.

The morning I marched into your session, immediately noting the lack of familiar faces, I wondered if I had mistakenly chosen a session that would be of no help to my research.  While you spoke and shared your research, for the first time in a while, my own research came alive - I couldn't seem to wait to get back to my lab and test new things and examine my work through new eyes.

During the months that followed, your example was motivation: "If Isao can do it, so can I."  Despite the number of times I threw aside my work in haste, I always came humbly back, ready to try again.

Sometimes I still think about that smile you gave me when I ran into you in the hallway hours after your presentation and the way you said my name.  We weren't simply strangers but friends.  I had hopes then that it was always meant to be so.

But a year has passed and we have no contact, no reason, even, to contact.  You are no longer in research, no longer in aerospace -  I don't even know if you are still in engineering.

I keep wondering, hoping if some time in the distant future, our paths will cross again.  Will I see you at the little cafe you wanted to manage with your wife?  Will we recognize each other?  And talk as we once did, as if we were old friends, even though we were really little more than strangers?  Will I see your family and see your face light up, just looking at your little ones?  What would cause me to see you again?  Will I still be doing research?  Will I be in Japan working or just visiting?  Will I be able to speak more than just the basics of Japanese?

But in the meantime, this will have to suffice:

Thank you for your excellent work in research.
Thank you for treating me as a friend.
Thank you for showing me that good things are worth our effort.
Thank you for showing me that the best things are worth our best efforts and even our greatest sacrifices.

From the bottom of my heart, arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not-so-Small Miracles

Last night, as my roommate and I sat at our dining room table and chatted, somehow the topic came to our missions.  We talked for a long time about our relationships with our companions, about each of our areas, about the members, our investigators and our numbers.  We both wondered, truly wondered, even years after the fact, if we had been successful.  

At one point my roommate told me about the transfer where she spent part of it without a companion, which required her to leave her area without any missionaries to serve in it while she tagged along with another companionship in another area.  And then for the last part of the transfer, she found a member who was willing to be her short-term companion for a few weeks.  My roommate shook her head sadly, "Our numbers were horrible during that time."  

I nodded in understanding.  

But then I thought about it again.  Here was a 21 year-old girl in the middle of the Philippines.  She had been there for probably about half a year.  In any other situation, these are the things she should have counted as successes: 
"Yay!  I actually had a conversation with someone in Tagalog today."
"I made it across town to this address the person gave me and made it back home without getting lost." 
"I think I'm finally able to understand the gist of what people are talking about at church."  

But instead, my dear roommate was worried because she hadn't been talking to enough people, or teaching enough people about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  My roommate was stressed, even years after the fact, that she hadn't helped more people.  

Something clicked inside of me.  "Don't you think it's kind of crazy?  We were 21 year olds in foreign countries, actually responsible for and assisting in the work of God!"  

She looked at me and I think we both realized, our missions, even on the most basic level, were no small miracles.  

Monday, April 4, 2011


Dear Hasebe,

I really like your posts about your cleats and your book and your new Mont Blanc pens.  I'm sure my own posts about green Peeps, Japanese soccer players and Asian fashion statements are equally interesting.

However, I think you and I both might be missing the point.

As your coach recently said in a press conference, "We need a new mentality. Some don't seem to realise we're in a relegation place. We've got plenty to do before we get out of there. There's going to be plenty of fitness training over the next few days."  (Bundesliga website, "Magath's Methods Revive Weary Wolves") 

That was a few weeks ago.  Since then, you still haven't won a game.  The situation for your club is getting downright critical.  Relegation is slipping closer and closer towards reality.  But from your blog, could a person ever tell?  Not a bit.

It's not that you don't have opinions.  I've definitely seen pictures of you yelling at people (a 3 foot poster of it, in fact) or directing people to where you think/know they should be.  And when asked about Inoha's amazing comeback goal in the Asian Cup, you were bluntly honest. "I don't know what Inoha was doing there.  The manager has told him to stay back and I was telling him the same thing. So I was surprised to see him there. I guess he felt like he just had to get forward." (Associated Press, "Inoha the Unlikely Hero as 10-men Japan Knock Out Hosts Qatar+")  

It's not that you don't care about Wolfsburg.  You "chastised" your own JFA teammates, "I'm thinking now that I'm here, I should be spending my days off with my teammates as well. So please do tell those guys to stop grouping themselves as 'the Japanese' in this part of the world" ("What is in Germany?"  Translation provided by Calvin)  Joking aside, though, you've invested the time to learn German and you spend a lot of time with your teammates and you're dedicated to your team.  When you returned from Doha, Qatar, a winner of the Asian Cup, you were asked about the transition back to VfL.  Your response? "In my head I am already completely with VfL again and physically I am feeling good" (VfL Wolfsburg site, "Hasebe Returns: "A Worthy Champion")  And you even had ideas about what you and the 'lads' needed to do to prepare for the next game. 

It's not that you're not putting in the time or the effort.  Sean Carroll in his article for the Daily Yomiuri Online talked about your abilities in glowing phrases such as, "Hasebe has quietly established himself as the pulse of the team, and almost everything flows through him."  and "The Wolfsburg midfielder is a wonderfully cultured player who possesses all the attributes to succeed in the center of the park." ("The Back Post/Okada Laid Base for Zac's Success")  He also mentions that even before the World Cup, Uchida (another Bundesliga profi) selected you as the most important player, citing your improvement specifically to your time spent in Germany.  

So, kid, why not talk about your career on your blog?  Why not admit the difficulties?  And your determination to succeed?  Go ahead, talk about the impending deadlines, the burden your shoulders bear and that nagging little fear that perhaps it will crush you rather than mold you into someone better, stronger and more able.  

I'll admit to it if you will.    

Wir stehen zusammen.


Friday, April 1, 2011


Dear Self,

You finally did it.  You broke down and bought a bookshelf.

It was possible that already owning three bookshelves + closet shelf that caused you to put it off as long as you did.  In a room your size, there just isn't much space left.

You can make do, you kept telling yourself.  Except that whenever you cleaned your room, you found on average 40 books piled up in stacks around your bed and at least a pile of 10 books on the dresser just inside the bedroom door.

The mess is due to all my clothes.  Or because I'm disorganized.  Or I just don't have time to clean.  All of these funny little things you kept telling yourself as you carefully stepped over the minefield of books to get to your bed every night.

Why it never occurred to you before yesterday, I will never know.

Because, let's face it, when you have enough books to already fill the entire shelf, you've just waited too long...