Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dirty Jobs

Yesterday, I cleaned out one of the vacuum pumps in our lab and got covered in pump oil and iodine (See Figures 1 and 2 below)  
 Figure 1: The Aftermath - note the clean divide from arms to hands thanks to gloves 
  Figure 2: Close up 

I would like to report after much scrubbing with soap and dish detergent, I still have skin.  And it's almost back to its normal color.


Let's say life decided to put you in a position where you had the opportunity to make things happen, both for yourself and for others.  Let's say this position came, not by luck, but because you are the sort of person that works diligently at everything you do, you have an ability to think through situations clearly and to interact well with others and anticipate their actions and even the consequences of those actions.  Let's say then that having all the qualifications for being successful, at your first go-round, you are a little unsure on your feet on how to step up to the task.  Let's say that things happen but not as you would necessarily or hope or plan.  The deadline passes and you miss it; you haven't met your goals or helped others meet theirs.  Does this mean that you aren't cut out to be in that position?  Or that you will never be successful in that position?  Or that you should go and beat yourself up because you fell short of the mark?  Definitely not - give yourself time.

Keep your head up, kid - you'll pull through. 

「人間、苦しい時や落ち込んでる時にこそ、普段の生活、行動をする」   ~長谷部誠
(Something along the lines of: When people become frustrated when met with difficult circumstances, the key is to keep living, keep going.) 

I couldn't say it better myself. 
Source: Wolfsburg Seite

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Short and Sweet

I realized that I have a problem with being verbose.  I can talk on and on and on about something that should only take a few words to say.  Perhaps it's because it's because I haven't quite solidified my opinion.  Perhaps it's because I'm afraid to express an opinion.  Perhaps it's because my English struggles enough lately that I am still searching for the words to express my opinion in a way that would hopefully not be offensive to those who disagree.  (I am, after all and in spite of my best efforts, a people pleaser.)

So here's an exercise in brevity.

10 Words Or Less:

On Research:  Nothing significant yet - adviser pushing for graduation in June. 

On Femininity: I am who I am - and in everything still female.

On Wearing Makeup: It's still just me - I was hoping for something better. 

On Kpop: Sometimes it's so fake that it all just annoys me. 

On Super Junior: The sight of you makes me sick right now --- literally.

On Kdramas: Only your pretty cameras make you addicting - You're overly predictable.  

On Chinese (language): Recently, we've been close - let's stay that way.

On Japanese (language): Signing up for podcasts was a bad idea.

On Bundesliga: New season starts tomorrow - where can I watch games?

On Makoto Hasebe:  Google translate struggles, but at least awesomeness needs no translation. 

On Ward Choir: You take what I give and make it beautiful. 

On My Birthday: I am not ready to face it.  Time machine anyone?

On American Politics and the Economy:  I can't bear to watch but can't afford not to.

On Family:  Surprisingly, still surprised to discover how related we really are.

On Reading: Nothing quite feeding my soul lately - what am I missing?

On Marriage: It's a great idea - But how does one get there?

Jason Hakka: Short and sweet
 Alexis: The sweetest little shortie

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chinese Inspires Me

 Do not fear.
 Just take one step at a time.  
You'll reach success.  

Put it all together: 别怕一步一步地走到成功
Don't be afraid of each step you take on the road to success.  

It's beautiful either way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jelly: A Love Story

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Not my favorite meal by any means but there are times when nothing suits better than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  And I must say, I am continually amazed that out of all the foods that I ate a lot as a childhood, this is one that I'm not sick of yet.

Yesterday, I was going to choir practice and needed something to eat.  My carpool friend kept insisting on finding a use for his apple so we cut them up and put them in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  (He insists this is a great way to eat apples)  At some point during our car ride to choir, an apple piece fell out onto my lap.  When I picked it up, I noticed the apple piece had left a trail of jelly down my shirt and on my pants.  Spilling food on oneself is embarrassing enough as it is.  With some food, however, usually people are understanding.  I mean, with spaghetti sauce everyone is usually pretty understanding - "I do that too.  You're wearing a white shirt.  Isn't there a rule that it's bound to happen?" But with jelly?! I felt like a 3 year old who still was getting the concept of "food should be eaten, not worn" down.

I jumped out of the car to go get another friend for our carpool and met him laughing about the pink jelly on the front of my shirt.  As we walked back to my car, he stopped me, "Um....There's some jelly on your elbow."  I looked and discovered that when he said, "elbow" he actually meant "entire arm".  An entire line of jelly had formed down the length of the back of my arm, almost too straight to be quite by accident.  I walked back to my car and found that I didn't just have jelly on my arm, I had it ALL OVER MY SEAT!  It was smeared on my seat and my seatbelt. 

Now I know I can be a messy eater but I'm not that messy.  I could only come to one (albeit irrational) conclusion: Jelly really loves me.  Which is kind of sad since I personally like peanut better more.  But I guess we all get to be on the other side of unrequited love every so often - I just never expected it to be with my food. 

This story has a happy ending:

I got to choir needing a clothing change and went rifling through my car trunk for any spare clothes.  Aside from my lack of appropriate shoes (tennis shoes and socks) the shirt and skirt that I found amid the clothes my sister had wanted me to donate to Goodwill for her made a nice enough outfit that only those in my carpool ever knew I didn't purposely dress up for choir.  (Okay, yes, the shoes were also an indication)  It was nice to dress up for a change even if it was forced upon me.  

So, I've decided that I love jelly too.  But I love my sister (and her clothes) more.

I finally did it

I got my first full-fledged F in a course.  It wasn't intentional.  I really tried hard to avoid it.  But I have officially failed a class and in graduate school no less.

Failure and I are just becoming more and more acquainted these days.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Awkwardness can be good for the soul

Once upon a time, I had a friend who decided to bring apples to a breakfast that my roommate and I made for him.  He brought red delicious apples.  It was a very, very kind gesture and I was really grateful.  I searched exactly for the right words to express my feelings.
Me: (thoughts) Thank you so much for the apples!  What a nice thought!
Me: (words) (yes, actually what I said): I think red delicious apples are the grossest apples in the whole world!

My roommate stared at me, aghast.  I stared at my friend in shock and then clapped my hand over my mouth.  Did what I had just heard coming from my mouth really just come from my mouth?  It was true.  I don't know how I got out of that horrible situation.  But I'm still alive and the last time I saw that friend, he greeted me warmly.  I guess I managed.   

It is exactly on this subject - awkwardness - that I would like to discuss.  As you can tell from the example above and so very many others, I am what I would classify a verbally awkward (VA) person.  One of my sisters who claims that she lives a very awkward life (her words not mine - I'm not classifying my siblings out of turn), I would classify a situationally awkward (SA) person. 

It has recently come to my attention that some persons in this world - I will not use names because I do not know names (ah, the virtues of anonymity in the cyber world) - think that when certain persons (namely myself) smile or even laugh at the hilarity of the awkwardness at others, that this can be construed as a bad thing. 

Take, for instance, a post I put up about the awkward pictures of Shinji Okazaki while he plays soccer.  (Definitely an SA.   Maya Yoshida on the other hand definitely a VA)  I have yet to see a good picture of Okazaki while playing soccer.  I think the world of soccer must just have some photographers with impeccable timing.  Do I smile when I see awkward pictures of soccer players?  Yes.  Sometimes, I even laugh.  (Let's be honest - most times I laugh)

So, what of it?

I present for your perusal 4 examples:

1. Lee Min Ho (VA): "Thanks for letting me happy birthday.  Today, let's celebrate your birthday too" 
Can't take a bad picture to save his life (Believe me - I've looked) A great actor and a good singer.  He is kind and friendly and he has over 3 million fans on Facebook.  Awkward English tweeter

2. Jung Yunho (SA)
 Singer, dancer and leader of one of the most successful Asian boy bands, TVXQ.  He trained in destitute circumstances so that he wouldn't be a burden to his parents.  No matter what he wears, even if on anyone else it would look hideous, he looks good.  He also acts, plays sports and even ice skates.  Awkward puppy holder

3. Hasebe Makoto (SA)
Soccer player, Unicef supporter, bestselling book author and devoted uncle.  Captain of the Japanese National team, he led his team to a top 16 finish in the World Cup and an Asian Cup championship.  He is known for his discipline and dedication and team loyalty.  He helped organize multiple charity events to bring in support and help for the victims of the Japan tsunami disaster.  Awkward model (in the men's bathroom - ほんとに)

4. Cho Kyuhyun (SA)
Maknae on Top, Kyuhyun's good looks and exceptional voice (I have yet to hear him make a mistake) make his elders in the Asian pop sensation Super Junior jealous.  Kyuhyun is well known for his dedication to his music and for surviving a horrible car accident not long after joining the group.  He loves gaming and is constantly surprised and impressed to discover that he has fans.  What is he not awkward at? 

Presented here is the elite and exclusive IGA club. See?  A little awkwardness never hurt anyone.  It makes for a good story.  And it helps us all realize we're all human.

So embrace your inner awkward.  I'll love you all the more for it. 

Image sources:
Lee Minho:
Jung Yunho:
Hasebe Makoto:!/photo.php?fbid=10150133306907160&set=a.422353692159.212778.386992377159&type=1&theater
Cho Kyuhyun:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On Being Famous

Taking a break from cleaning my room - it's times like these that make me want to just toss all my belongings - I started randomly just looking up stuff on the Internet.

I found a Japanese TV show where contestants had to match other contestants with their celebrity doppelgangers.

I found an article that proclaimed that Rupert Grint (who plays Ron Weasley in HP) (Off topic: Did you know that there's a Harry Potter wiki?) fancies Queen Elizabeth.

I started to wonder: I wonder how much it would freak me out if I found videos of me posted on Youtube.  I wonder what it would be like to actually have a Wikipedia article about me.  Or to be a trending topic on twitter. 

(Just to be safe, I did check.  I share the same name as an actress, a figure skater and a rocket scientist at NASA so all the stuff posted had to do with them.  Phew!  ...)

Honestly, though, what would that be like?

This week I've struggled a little with reputation.

On one hand I think there might be some strange reputation about my apartment wandering around.  For the life of us, we can't find a third roommate to take our open spot - even though there are people moving in and in need of housing.  I know it's silly but part of me is paranoid that people have been whispering, "That apartment - those girls...You just stay away from them."  You see, I can't actually fill in what reputation they think we have because I have no idea. 

On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if people think more highly of me than they should.  Randomly, sometimes, in life, I find people saying things to me or about me that lead me to believe that they think that I am perfect at pretty much everything I attempt to put my hand to.  It's very nice of them but I find I start to give myself pressure and pretty soon I'm floundering under my supposed expectations of others on top of already high expectations I've established for myself.  I start to cringe away from any compliments and pretty soon any time someone is kind to me, I get the feeling that I want to run for the hills and never return.  WHAT IF THEY FIND OUT I'M NOT <gasp> PERFECT?!   

Now what does this have to do with being famous?

Let me just say, that after much thought on the subject, I am so glad that in the world view of things, I am a nobody. 

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

~ Emily Dickinson

Friday, July 15, 2011

The End of an Era

There we were, my friends and I, sitting in a packed theater, all excited for the movie to start with a full 30 minutes left before even the previews - yep, the midnight showing of Harry Potter 7.2.

As we waited, my friend and I admired the wand she had fabulously whittled down from a normal stick in her backyard and wondered what we were going to do with it.  

Friend: "This is the very last Harry Potter premiere that I will ever attend for the rest of my life."

I tried to be cheerful, "Maybe in 20 years, they'll re-release the movies into theaters.  You could bring the wand to that then." 
Friend: "Haha.  Yep, and knowing me, I'll still have the wand.  I can tell my kids - I made this wand for its original release in 2011.  Wow, my kids will think I'm so OLD." 
We both laughed at the idea of it. 

I'm not normally sentimental about movies like that but waiting outside the theater afterward, on Harry Potter movie high, and watching all the clever and fabulous costumes of those in attendance with us, it was a different feeling to realize that this really was IT. 

That got me thinking to other endings in the past few weeks.

The retirement of Yao Ming - this came across my desk just today, actually, even though it's been in the news now for a week.  He was the first international to ever get a 1st draft pick in the NBA without prior US basketball experience.  He is impressive as a strong basketball player and an all-around good person on and off the court.  He will be sorely missed.
The launch of the last shuttle, STS-135: The first launch happened in the very year that I was born.  That means that anyone my age or younger has never known life without the space shuttle.  It was a matter-of-course growing up.  Gone were the days of stopping all activity to breathlessly await every detail from space (found in the earlier missions of Apollo).  Instead, we just accepted it as almost routine - the US launches shuttles, those shuttles do important stuff in space and then they come back down.  Until, suddenly, the era of the shuttle is over.  And we're all grasping at straws, wondering, "What's next?"

While waiting to start teaching Chinese today, my friend and I discussed languages.  I asked him about languages that were dying.  He explained his philosophy, "I'm not one of those people who insists on maintaining the culture we have right now forever.  Things change; cultures change; languages change.  It's always been that way."

Good philosophy: culture changes.  The end of one era only means the beginning of a new one.  What's next?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Come Sunday, I get the showdown I've been waiting for in a FIFA World Cup since...well, the World Cup.  As my roommates and I sat on the couch yesterday, contemplating the possibility of Japan actually playing in the US in the Final, they both looked at me, "Who are you going to cheer for?"

I panicked as I tried to figure out deep down where my true loyalty lay.  I am not very good at thinking on my feet so it went more like this - "Ummm....umm....umm...."  Meanwhile, trying to get any coherent thought to enter my brain.  (Think, girl, think!)

Until finally, one roommate saved me from myself by saying, "Who says you can't cheer for both?  Then it's a win/win!"

Problem solved.

Go USWNT!  がんばろうニッポン!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Paris with Love

The advantage of getting my sister's computer second hand is that she left a few pictures of herself on it.  (She may not think so but I love how she looks in this picture - so happy and beautiful)

To my dear oldest sister~
Joyeux Anniversaire!  生日快樂! 誕生日おめでとう! 생일 축하합니다! ¡Feliz Cumpleaños!
All the languages in the world (and Google translate) cannot express how much I wish for good tidings on this, your birthday.  I love you more than words can say!  

Your younger sister who probably annoyed you a ton as a kid and still probably annoys you a ton...but now in a good way, right?  
Us in Koeln, Germany, December 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Wanna Be Like You

Dear 長谷部さん,

You spent your summer break appearing on TV shows and radio shows, hosting charity events for the earthquake/tsunami victims, oh and giving 50 M yen to Unicef. 

You come back to Germany only to get a "minor" injury that required stitches on your eyelid.  (I'm still baffled how an eye injury of any kind is minor)  Two days later, you score a goal in a testspiel - a beautiful header into the net at 12 minutes - as though you weren't still sporting a bandage. 

Are you for real?  

Were you one of those kids - the kind that teachers and adults all adored?  While trying to coax all other normal people into doing something, too often adults pull out the "Why can't you be more like <insert perfect child's name here>?"  Despite our best intentions, the very mention of such a question immediately set up a standard that us normal kids could never follow and we started resenting that perfect kid. 

The only time I was the <insert perfect child's name here> that I can remember was back in the day when I played softball.  The star kid's mother/coach asked the star kid, "Why can't you be more like Erin?  She warms the bench the entire game without complaint.  Can't you just sit out half an inning?"  That was the first time, sadly, that I realized that warming the bench was a bad thing.

Well, despite the fact that I keep shaking my head in disbelief and asking myself, "Why can't you be more like Makoto?"  I find I really can't resent you...especially since you're so giddy about the Japan/Germany Women's World Cup game today in Wolfsburg, especially since you couldn't contain your excitement in receiving a signed copy of a Mr.Children album, especially since deep down, I realize that all that resentment as a kid towards those perfect children really just stems from admiration and awe.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Hometown Musical

Last weekend, my roommate and I were discussing 4th of July celebrations nearby and she mentioned that her hometown of Waynesboro always did their celebration a week later because they didn't want to compete with Staunton and the Statler Brothers.

I looked up the Statler Brothers and found out they were a band that started in the 50's and have been a pretty big deal for a long time.  And bonus!  They even wrote a song about their dear hometown Staunton, VA.
"We've got a bumper crop of happiness."  I just don't know if anything could get better than such fabulous lyrics.  With some amount of pride, I smiled to think that I knew where Staunton, VA (this magical place of happiness and smiles) was located and in fact, I had been there.

A few days later, I remembered another fabulous song about a random place that I had visited and I shared this classic with my roommate.  I present here for you, Wir sind das Ruhrgebiet.   Sadly, I don't know any of the lyrics.  But definitely a fabulous song that should go into anyone's music library.
Iconic symbol of the Ruhrgebiet: the Zollverein
Sorry, it's blurry but it says Ruhr
I started to wonder how many other random places have songs named about them.

Well, last night, I was discussing with a friend about my Illinois roots and mentioned the years I spent in Jacksonville.  She was curious, "Like the song?"  Baffled, I gave no response.   She went on to explain further.  "There's an artist named Sufjan Stevens who made an album all about Illinois and one of the songs in it is named Jacksonville."

I went and did a little research.  And sure enough!  There's a song about one of my hometowns - Jacksonville,IL!  They mention Andrew Jackson (our namesake) and Nichols Park and lots of other things that brought back a flood of memories about my childhood.

Any other small town songs that you know of?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Give a Little Love

On the 4th of July, my sister, my mom, my niece and I went on a drive and ended in us wandering through the gift shop of James Monroe's plantation (Ash Lawn-Highland).  Random, right?  As I was looking at the various overpriced items on sale, I couldn't help but think about the much nicer and bigger gift shop over at Monticello (only 2 miles away) and the much nicer and bigger Independence Day celebration happening over at Monticello. It got me thinking about the much nicer and bigger role that TJ played in our Independence and pretty soon, I was feeling pretty sorry about this President that I knew almost nothing about.  In fact, as I confided to my sister,  "I'm not even entirely sure I know which number President he was.  Was he Our fifth?"  (Yes, in fact, he was)
Ashlawn-Highland: Home of James Monroe
So, we splurged a little and decided to go on the tour of his house.  Alexis was tired and in need of a nap so I was pretty much the only one who benefited from the tour (although a definite highlight was when Alexis caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror and started giggling at the cute baby looking back at her)  (Oh!  and we got free cucumbers - never turn down free cucumbers from a presidential garden)
But this is what I found out about James Monroe:

He spoke fluent French and often spoke French in his home.

He was good friends with Napoleon Bonaparte and even received a gift of a large life-size marble bust of Bonaparte from Bonaparte himself.

James Monroe is pictured in the depiction of Washington's Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze as the one holding the flag.  In real life, he went ahead of Washington to help with surveillance.

James Monroe was once talked out of a duel with Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr.

James Monroe gave up his lower farm - Monroe Hill - to the cause of the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson helped James Monroe pick out the land for Ash Lawn- Highland and in fact, even helped build the house (proof is in the nails that came from Monticello)

While President, Congress gave him a sum of money to furnish the newly built White House.  That was all Congress gave him his entire time in office.  So, essentially, James Monroe paid for all of his Presidential expenses out of pocket.

The Monroe Doctrine that Monroe established in front of Congress has served as one of the most fundamental speeches outlining American Public Policy until well into the 20th Century.

And suddenly, I'm wondering: WHY HAVEN'T WE MADE A BIG DEAL ABOUT THIS GUY?!

Seriously.  He was friends with Napoleon Bonaparte?  A guy who gave his daughter the entire country of Holland for a wedding gift?  And somehow this man who is well known for his ego found cause to befriend James Monroe?

James Monroe was talked out of a duel by the very man who would later kill the man he was supposed to duel?  Really?!  How did we not notice the irony of such a fabulous moment in history?

Thomas Jefferson saw it fit to take James Monroe as his protege.  And I mean, I really think he took charge of his life.  James Monroe didn't faithfully live at Ash Lawn-Highland for the time he owned the plantation so I take this (probably incorrect assumption but let's go with it) as Jefferson deciding for Monroe, "You know what?  You need a house near me.  There's a great spot of land only 2 miles away.  In fact, all you have to do is sign here.  Oh, and I'm sending over my carpenters today to start building the house."  Thomas Jefferson - one of our most famous founding fathers, the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I'm starting to think if some of the crucial men of the day took avid notice of this president that there's definitely more to this man than my history books ever led me to believe.

So, here's a shout out to our Fifth President of the United States, James Monroe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What My Niece Did This Weekend

Tried on her mom's sunglasses.
Took books off the shelves in the bookstore.
Played with my calculator rather than all
the other toys available to her.
I have grand plans for this little one
Hung out in her stroller with her pink teddy and her sippy cup.
Hung out with me.
Got her hair fixed by her mom while hanging out in her favorite
 place in my apartment - underneath the coffee table
Slept away her exhaustion (and her grumpiness)

What I did this weekend: Yep, you guessed it - I pretty much obsessed about my niece.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Disney Princess Mentality

You know how they say animals and children don't lie? 

And you know how Disney princesses always have animals of all sorts befriending them? 

I sometimes pretend that the beetles and cockroaches and stink bugs and caterpillars that like to crawl all around me and the children who smile at me or just even stare at me wherever I go, is because they can all "sense" that I'm a fabulous person. 

Now all I need is a familiar who is smarter than most humans and I'm good to go. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Strange Phenomena

Yesterday, after teaching rising 9-11 graders the basics in Chinese, the teacher I was helping out asked me if I wanted to come watch them play foursquare during their recess time.  Foursquare?  High schoolers?  But sure enough, all the students quietly lined up without any deliberation of rules and played four square in boxes much smaller than the usual four square setup.  My friend told me that no such debate had ever occurred - the kids just played.  We watched them and couldn't quite figure out the rules.  Sometimes there were 2 bounces allowed and for some reason, slams were heavily avoided.  Surreal?

Intrigued, I asked some of the administrators there.  One of them told me about how foursquare time was, for lack of a better word, "sacred".  For a teacher to set up a recess outside of everyone's appointed recess would be enough for the entire class to mutiny.  Another said that it has it's own name, Larryball, after a counselor who created the game and the phenomena over 10 years ago, and its rules could be delineated on Wikipedia.  (No such luck - the article did not exist)

On a completely unrelated note, here is a basic (and not an entirely scientifically sound) study that I conducted after Ashley's class activity.  We roughly (very roughly) assume an equal distribution of the orange, green, black, and blue "bugs" (pieces of paper on the ground) initially as shown in Image 1.  Image 2 shows the new populations distribution after four generations of predators (students).  What do you think accounts for this phenomenon?  The phenomenon is correct even if other things aren't. 
Image 1: Initial Population Distribution
Image 2: Population Distribution after four generations