Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heat Wave

Dear Virginia,

It's only May and it's already upper 90's?!  While I love the reminder to Taiwan, I also miss cuo bing (剉冰) and bing sha (冰沙)

So, until you start opening up ice stands on every corner, please return the heat to Taiwan where it belongs.  (In fact, let's trade.  Taipei is expecting a high of 81 tomorrow)


Mango and Strawberry cuo bing (剉冰) with Melinda and David

Monday, May 30, 2011

First Things First

Dear 長谷部さん、

I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I read in a book review that you wrote, "Order is the spice of life."  Order is great and all, but the "spice" of life?  Now granted, this book review had been Google translated from German to English on a book written in Japanese.  But still, I couldn't quite push the idea that when your friends approached you on a Friday night with, "You up for some fun?"  you would reply in a sort of nerdy excitement, "Yes!  Let's organize our sock drawers by color!."  It was enough to send me into gales of laughter. (It still is)

But then last week, I attended a church meeting where I learned that antitheses of fear, commotion and confusion found so prominently on our society are faith, order and love.  Order as in antithesis of commotion?  Not peace?  Not meditation?  Not any of those things that indicate not moving?

It gave new credence to your mantra.

Then again, I finally reached the part of your book where you were "quoted" to have said "order is the spice of life" and found that that's not what you said at all.  (Now granted, this is a rough translation supplied largely by Google and partly by the fact that "Miregi" isn't an English word - so I've improvised based off of my understanding of Japanese and mostly of Chinese characters.)  "While in Germany, I've adopted the attitude that 'Organization is half of life'.  If you try to stay organized on a regular basis, then your life and work will have order and discipline as well.  So, staying organized is an important part of my life.  I hate the feeling of not being ready.  The day after a game is lost, sometimes you just get frustrated and do not to do anything and the result is a messy room.  But the mess of the room will just lead to more frustration and despair.  If, instead, you start to organize, then your mind will also become organized in the process and your mood will lighten."

Okay, so, pardon my horrible translation.  One day I will understand you more than the gibberish that Google spits out at me.  It made sense now why you felt the need to be organized and I started to understand how you accomplish so much.  It's because you first focus on being organized and staying organized rather than my own method of living life, which involves running around endlessly trying to do everything while the upkeep of my own self and my own life falls into such disarray that I often fail to accomplish much of anything and if I do, it's much less than I what I had hoped for.

Saturday, I got up, with a long laundry list of things I needed to do but I started first with cleaning.  And organizing my life.

It was a great start.  In the process, I got my choir piece arranged.  I found a way to charge an old computer of my sister's.  All of this allowed me to talk to my sister in Paris without being overly worried about the things I hadn't yet done.

The spice of life?  Definitely.  

But since then, I've found that I could clean day after day after day.  And have you seen my lab?  I'm not sure it's been perfectly organized since the day it opened.  Meanwhile, research is just waiting and waiting and waiting for me to do something with it.  Any hopes of adopting the phrase, "Labview is the spice of life?"

No, this isn't Hase-san but I found this
image in a folder that I use to post-process
images for research.  Apparently, at one time
I used this in a Matlab program.  Hilarious, no?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ditch Digging

"I don't know if I can help, but I want to lend a hand" - Pretty People by Monkey Majik

Sometimes, I cry myself to sleep because I want more than I feel capable of.

I wish to help, to lift, to inspire.  I want the world to be a better place because I lived in it, even if no one remembers or notices what I have given it.

I am so small, so little, and my sphere of influence so insignificant.  My abilities are limited.  Despite my greatest wishes, I have no talents that I would say ever set me apart and distinguish what I have to offer.

When I would seek to change the world, I struggle simply to change myself.  Where I would hope to counsel, comfort and cheer, I find myself stumbling in my anxiety and often hurting those whom I seek most to help.

Would that the the desires of my heart could translate to something more than just a wish.  Would that the music, the beauty that I feel inside could express itself.

Instead I look in the mirror, I look at who I am, and what I accomplish and I marvel that I could ever dare to dream so much.

Would that I could be content with this simple work that I have been given.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Lab

My sister came to visit me a few weeks ago.  She was pretty excited to see my lab...until she saw it, "Oh,"  That is, until I opened up a hole in the floor and suddenly she saw my lab for what it is - a wonderful jumble of old equipment mixed with new technology and research uses.  After five years here, I would still not be surprised if I found another door, another room that I had never explored before.  Scope for the imagination, indeed.

Stairwell to my office
My jumble of a lab even though I just cleaned it
As seen from just outside my office
This randomly showed up one day on my office door. 
I have no idea what it means
Your guess is as good as mine
The graveyard of old electronics.  Just stacks and stacks
of old equipment.  I go here to explore when I get frustrated
with my current equipment failures.  
The view outside our machine shop
I'm pretty sure we have the first generation candy
vending machine.
A lever lifts up and slides the candy out.  I love it.  
Outside a room that doesn't have a laser in it anymore... I think
The microphone for our intercom
system.  Isn't it fabulously old school?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Justice of the Peace

Dear F4,

It's happened!  I told you that you would fall in love with me and my roommates.  Just like in the drama, the F4, who once were their greatest bullies soon became their biggest allies.

You knew that on certain mornings for the past few months, construction workers have been outside our apartment, making a racket and keeping us from sleep at early hours.

The other day, your smoke detector went off - blaring long and loud for a few minutes.  It wasn't like I wasn't already awake - the construction workers had been hammering for an hour already. 

Just at the alarm finished, outside my window, one of the construction workers stopped and turned to his coworker with an uncertainty in his voice, "What was that?" And I laughed - it was as though you were trying to retaliate.

Thanks for the thought, even if your bark is worse than your bite.


Dear Law School,

When I walked past the night of graduation and saw everything still set up and in place, especially the X taped on the stage floor - it was really the X that did it for me - I couldn't resist making the careful walk up the ramp.  I walked carefully over to the X (lest I trip of course - this, after all, is what a degree boils down to) and received my imaginary law degree from the imaginary person who hands them out.  I waved out at the sea of black chairs.  I cheered and even thanked the Academy.  And then I turned around and bowed to the bigwigs on the stage.

My friend who was with me started laughing.  "It's not like you haven't graduated before," she reminded me.

"Not from law school I haven't," I responded with a certain amount of newly gained satisfaction.

But really, I kind of wanted to see what it would be like to graduate from UVa.  It sometimes seem as realistic as my high school mascot (unicorn).

Thanks for the stage - it made my little session of 'make believe' feel a little more tangible and a little less fantastic.


Monday, May 23, 2011

My Boring Life

Last week, I sat at a computer for an average of 12 hours a day where I worked on Labview examining iteration after iteration of the same computer program.  In order to have something to talk about, I would look up everything I could about my favorite soccer player who just started summer break and so fell off cyber-radar, which led to more-boring-than-usual commentary.

Meanwhile, one of my sisters started her job as a barista in Alaska.  Another of my sisters has been adjusting to her life as an avocat in Paris.  And yet another went on a week long tour through New England.  *And the last one (as of May 31) just spent a week in California.

Every day I passed the University buildings on my way home, as chairs and tents and stages were set up in preparation for the thousands of students ready to take their diplomas and start on their new post-graduation adventures.

By Friday, as you can guess, I was feeling as drab and colorless as my newly cleaned lab.

It was with some relief then that my roommate asked me to accompany her to Richmond to pick up her parents from the airport.  We were early so while she stayed in the car to finish a thoroughly gripping book, I lay on the grass, and dreamed about life while staring at the wonder that is the SR-71 Blackbird.
VA Aviation Museum
It was equally nice to have a friend call me Saturday morning and rouse me from sleep, begging for a ride in the country.  We moseyed along until we reached one of her favorite lookouts on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  And then we sat and talked as we watched the butterflies.
Blue Ridge Parkway
And then another friend convinced me to go spend some time on our friend's farm, where we alternated between doing nothing in the shade and playing sports of all kinds in the sun.
Snow Hill Farm, VA
After that, we headed down to Richmond where we got to listen to some great talks from some great people. I even got to speak some Chinese.

And that was just part of my weekend.

Thank goodness for friends who like to save me from myself.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Time Capsule

Dear Self,

Remember playing pool at Grandma and Grandpa's house?  It was the best pool table you've ever had the chance to play on with the kind that allowed the balls to roll to the front after they dropped into a pocket.  You usually never made it past the first round of the brackets since that required you to beat your younger sister who was taller and bigger and better.  

While you watched the rest of the family run through the brackets of games, you would beg Grandpa to put in record after record on the nicest record-player/tape deck/CD player that you could buy in the 80's.  

Grand memories, all of them.

Here are some of the gems in Grandma and Grandpa's record collection:

Tommy James and the Shondells -  Sweet Cherry Wine (1968)

Elvis Presley - Witchcraft (1963)

The Ran-dells - Martian Hop (1963)

I dare you to listen to these and

(1) not tap your feet
(2) not dream of playing pool
(3) not wish you are eating Grandma's monster cookies
(4) not pretend you are sitting in Grandpa's leather chair

Welcome to the summer of Oldies.


This recently came to my attention: Dixie Cups - Iko Iko (1965)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I once had a friend whose mentor was L. Tom Perry.  L. Tom Perry was especially interested in her dating life.  One day he decided to bestow upon her his words of wisdom regarding finding that 'special someone'.  "Two words: nursing homes.  You go home and think about that."

She did go home and think about it a LOT.  She went back to him a week later.  "Um... that advice you gave.  Don't you think that would work more for someone your age?"  (Elder Perry is 88 now)

Then he laughed and explained that the way to find someone is to go out and do service and then you will meet someone along the way who is doing service too.

Except I think there might be something to nursing homes.  I've been visiting nursing homes regularly since my mission 8 years ago.  In that time, I've come to realize no one likes to matchmake quite like the residents of nursing homes.

When I visited Richard in Provo at East Lake Care Center, he would always ask my friend Paul.  "Where's Paul?  Why isn't he here with you?"  I would respond with something vague.  And then he would snort in frustration, "Why does that man want to go looking for a wife when you're right here in front of his face?"  It was really quite flattering, that is, until I remembered that Richard's marriage proposal to his first wife consisted of three questions and the words, "Well, I don't really quite love you.  But I think I could love you.  Will you marry me?"

Then there was my boyfriend at Morningside Residence Center.  It was a monthly ritual to go and sing with the residents there.  This was like any other visit until a man hobbled in and sat down.  He took one look around the room and then interrupted the song to point at me, "I want you to come sit here next to me."  A little embarrassed, I complied with his wish, only to have to avoid getting kissed by him the rest of the time, especially when we sang, Tiptoe through the Tulips.  Up until he died, every month, that man would seat himself at my side. (Even when I played the piano, he would scoot his chair next to mine and put his hand on my knee)

You can imagine my worry then about a year later when, during our visit, some man came up next to me and started asking in a not-so-quiet voice, "Who is that looker sitting over there across the way?  What is her name?"  I looked over to see my friend, Kelly, innocently singing away.  I decided to play dumb.  "What girl? The one in green?"  "What?! I don't see any girl in green.  She's wearing brown."  I looked over again and saw a resident sitting next to Kelly wearing a brown sweater.  With a relief, I laughed at my mistake.

Yesterday can now be added to the annals.  It was really nice to meet Lois' cousin, Phyllis.  She was friendly and chatty.  She had this wonderful, endearing ability to refer to her husband always in the third person, as though he was far away, rather than just sitting right next to her.  "George this" and "George that".  I would look over at him and he would smile at me and add his comments, all the while, Phyllis is still chattering away.

When I told her I was Lois' friend, that I met Lois through Lance, she glowed.  "Ohhh.  We've been wondering if Lance was a beau of Lois'.  She talks about him all the time."  I smiled, since that's all Lois talks about with me too.  Phyllis beamed, "So, is Lance your special friend?"  I laughed.  "Oh no!  He's engaged to a girl from Minnesota."  That promptly dropped Lance from her list for me of potential suitors...

...But not, apparently, anyone else.  Because a few minutes later, the only male in the entire building under the age of 50 walked past and Phyllis nudged me.  "Is that a doctor here?"  I looked up to see a man in a shirt and tie walk past the lounge area.  "He smiled at you!   I think he must like you!"  She practically squealed like a 13 year old.  I just shook my head.  And then when she was getting up to leave, she said, "Oh!  I haven't introduced you to George.  This is George - he really likes women."  I looked between her and George, suddenly feeling like I wanted to run as George took my hand.  George mumbled something about "only liking much older women - curvy, black ones" so I assumed he was as harmless as I always believed him to be.

It was all so surreal that you just leave shaking your head in astonishment.  Did that really happen?

But it did.

Nursing homes.  Really, Elder Perry?  I think you might be right.

On another 'match-making' note, Hasebe and Co. are playing BVB in a BVB v. Japan Europe Charity Match today.  I'm so proud of him for helping to organize it.  It also makes me laugh a little since most of the players from the Japan Europe team are members of the Bundesliga, which means that, at multiple times or another, they were creamed by Deutscher Meister BVB.

On another anti-matchmaking note.  I keep playing these two songs on repeat.  I don't know why.
Greeeen キセキ - This song is the ultimate upbeat mushy love song.  It means, I think, Miracle.  The lyrics are all about how much it's a miracle that they are in love and walking hand and hand through life.

BIGBANG - Love Song.  I don't actually know what this means but I think it must be the anti-love song since the English part is, "I hate this love song.  I hate this love song."

I think the end result is that I'm romantically 'meh'.

Monday, May 16, 2011


It's raining cats and dogs outside.
But I am just peachy keen.

I will stay in my lab, snug as a bug in a rug

And burn the midnight oil.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Facing Cowardice

The other day I lay on my bed, giving myself a chance to just relax my mind and unwind from the day, I started thinking about Cyrano De Bergerac.
Did you know the Cyrano was a
real person?  It's true!  This is he.
The play relates only partly his life
 and not at all his love story
When I was a freshman in college, I stopped by the library  - Harold I would later affectionately call him - on the way home from classes.  My friends were heading out of town for the night and due to my later class, I could not go with so I was intent on enjoying my quiet evening alone.  Browsing through the classics, I came upon Cyrano De Bergerac.  Immediately I was hooked.  I read while I walked back to my dorm.  I think I even skipped dinner as I pored through its pages, marveling at the story, wondering why I had never found such a gem before.

And I loved the ending of it - the fight that Cyrano has with prejudice and cowardice, against treachery and falsehood, while the last of his life drains away.  I always thought to myself, "This must be what it means to endure to the end.  Even at your last breath, you are fighting against evil."

This week, when my mind went to the play, I went back to that favorite of scenes only to discover to my absolute horror that I think I've entirely misinterpreted this play for the past 10 years!

Now, I could be misinterpreting all over again, swinging wildly from one wrong conclusion to another, but isn't it ironic that Cyrano was fighting cowardice and deceit in his last moments?  Especially since in some sense he exemplified those?

Here we have Cyrano, a brave and bold fighting man, who does not have the courage to tell Roxanne that he loves her.  He hides behind the face of Christian who, heaven help him, is really nothing more than a pretty face, and woos Roxanne with his sweet words.  None of this is Christian, of course.  The scene where Christian tries to woo Roxanne alone is painful to recall.

Well, Christian, dear one that he is, starts to wonder if Roxanne really loves him or his Cyrano-provided poetry, and so he asks her and approaches Cyrano about it.  "Roxanne says she would love me even if I were ugly.  Find out which one of us she really loves."  (Forgive my summarization.  I don't have the play in front of me)  For a second, Cyrano hopes that his dreams are about to come true.  But then Christian gets mortally wounded and so Cyrano decides to forgo the truth to bring joy to a dying man's last moments and tells Christian, "She only loves you."  Selfless, right?

Except that for the next 13 years, we have Cyrano who is in love with Roxanne and Roxanne who is in love with Cyrano who are both alive.  And Christian who was merely the pretty face is not . But does Cyrano ever admit the truth, ever admit his deceit, or overcome his cowardice?  NEVER.

Not even when Roxanne figures it out in their last scene together does he admit to it.

So, back to me.  Here I am, holding up Cyrano as a defender of truth and all things noble and good and wanting to emulate him.  And realizing that he might have been the biggest coward of all.

So now, I'm wondering, what does this mean?  Am I simply just a coward, hiding behind the bravado of a strong sword?  Or a brave man hiding behind the cowardice of a big nose?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Dear Self,

Three days until relegation.  And you're not ready.  Not even close.
Hasebe's team is also fighting in these last few days before relegation
Source: VfL Wolfsburg Official Website

Your professor came to ask you about the program today and you gave an unintelligent response.  You have no answers.  The closer you get, the farther away the goal.  It's hard to even comprehend what success will look like.  Perhaps you've already lost - already relegated yourself to 2.Liga.

The odds are against you.  Time is not on your side.  (Especially since every evening is taken up by acapella rehearsal practice - concert Friday!)

I should just be telling you to give up already.  You've spent a year on this and it's not going to resolve itself in a day.  Or two.  Or three.

I should just tell you to hang your head in defeat and start working on life after the failure.

But do I?  Will I?

You cannot give up!  You must not give up!  


Some inspiration.

And some more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


A person can jump on an airplane (or three) and fly 2000 miles west and two time zones over and the shock that it gives to their system one can explain away as simply: "jet lag".

But somehow, it always feels like more than a two hour difference every time I return back to Utah.
One of my favorite places to visit in Utah

Stepping off the elevator for Deseret Book, I immediately ran into Jake who was in my MTC district.  Somehow it felt like the most normal thing in the world to see him there even though the last time I saw him was 8 years ago.  And now here he was with a wife and two kids and a real job.

Watching over the sign-in book for the wedding reception, I finally just blurted out to the groom's sister, "I don't mean to be rude, but you seem very familiar to me."  She admitted I looked familiar to her too.  It only took a minute before it clicked.  "You were a welfare missionary with me in the MTC.  You didn't like to be called Sister."  And I repeated to her, her entire name.  We laughed and compared notes since the mission.  Again, 8 years since I last saw her.  She now had a husband and 2 kids.  And a brother who just got married to my friend.

Then there was the girl who gave a lesson in church.  She mentioned she spoke Chinese so I went up to her afterwards and asked about where she served her mission.  Taiwan Taipei.  When?  A year after I ended.  But when I told her where I served and what my name was, her eyes got very wide.  "I know you!  I know your name!"  Apparently, there was a family Zhang that I contacted who later joined the church.  And her companion was very excited or grateful or something because of my service.  I wanted to start crying.  I wanted to know who this family was.  7 years.

5 years since I lived in Utah.  A year since I was there last.

I still feel disconnected from reality when I tell people what I've been up to in the interim - "I'm getting a PhD in Aerospace Engineering."

When they ask why it's taking so long, why I haven't graduated, I laugh it off, "Apparently, PhDs take a while."

But it doesn't feel like a while on those trips back -  just a moment.

When there's no other word to describe that difference in time, that loss of minutes, days or even years -

Jet Lag.  

Two best friends forever playing.  Sometimes I still feel only this old. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Memories of Yesterday

Dear Lois,

When I was a freshman in college, my maternal grandmother became very ill.  She was in and out of the hospital.  Of course, no one in my family told me this because they didn't want me to worry.  When my grandmother passed away, I was too far away to return home for the funeral.  The process of losing that grandmother was difficult.  She did not feel dead to me because there was no closure.  She was just suddenly missing from my life.  I was such a shy child around my grandparents.  I count it one of my greatest regrets as not being better acquainted with my grandparents.

Then you came into my life.  You are you and not my grandmother.  And I love you for being you.  But I felt that somehow heaven had granted me a gift.  Here was a wonderful woman with stories and advice and friendship, asking for me to call her grandmother.  I enjoyed being your friend and wondered if this is how it would have felt being friends with my grandmother.

I so truly loved visiting you.  You were the highlight of my week.  I came to you, world-weary.  Despite the fact that you were usually confined to your bed, we would talk about dating and marriage and your hometown and family until we were both so cheered and lifted that we were both laughing and counting our blessings.

Thanks to you, I made my first homemade from-scratch coconut cake.  It was delicious and quite the adventure for my wonderful roommates.  I don't think it was as delicious as the ones you made for your husband but it was fun to do nonetheless.

You were always so kind about my voice.  You never tired of hearing me sing, either in English or Chinese.  You clapped at my guitar playing and cheered when I sang old songs from the 1940's that I had picked up from my maternal grandmother's sheet music.  And when I sang hymns, you would sing along.  I loved that most.  Your voice was so beautiful for me to hear.

You were also so encouraging in terms of my life's path.  "You don't want to get married just yet," you would always comfort when I was getting discouraged that I was not seeing anyone in my life.  "I hope he makes the right decision," you spoke aloud when I talked about some boy that had caught my interest.  "You are just so wonderful.  I am so glad for a friend like you.  I knew just from the beginning that we would be good friends," you always said as you held my hand, with a smile in your eye, whenever I was discouraged that I was really becoming what I hoped.

When we prayed at our parting, I was always overcome by the miracle of a friend like you.

When I saw you today, you did not recognize me.  It was as though you had never heard of me, never seen my face, never told me about yourself.  When I sang with my still recovering voice, and had to give up in a fit of coughing, you smiled distantly, "You have a sweet voice."

I realize that in your many long years, the two years that you have been my friend are practically nothing.  As your mind slips back to the past, I am not there.  Even if you mind comes back to the present, I may never be there again.  It's hard to accept.  Even though I pray that you will not be long with us and in pain, the words still stick in my throat.

I love you.  Thank you, my dear adopted grandmother.  How sweet to have a friend like you!

God be with you until we meet again.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Situational Asides

Dear Voice,

You packed and left without giving me a chance to say goodbye.
Or even to beg you to stay.
Or to hold out for a little longer.

 I don't mind the new tenor voice that came to take your place too much.

But it is a little frustrating that I can't talk well.
The coughing is not ideal either.

I know that you will return and when you do, I will have forgotten what all of this weirdness feels like. But right now, it feels like I will never sing again.  And that breaks my heart.

Please return, and quickly.

And more quickly.


Dear Laser,

Please, please, please, please let me find flashpoint today.

Relegation is in a week.  Hasebe's team is out of danger.  I'm still lingering on the brink.

I won't give up.  But it would be nice to get something right, for once.


Dear Life,

I know that research is very important.  It's my greatest priority right now.

So, how is it that the moments when I think life is sweetest are when I forget that I am a rocket scientist at all?

I can't believe how "eternal" it felt plugging away at a book in Japanese while my sister read a book next to me on our random non-beds in my room.  You could have continued on just as you were and I would have been content.

Just waiting for that moment in my work...