Saturday, December 31, 2011

At Year's End

The last day of the year is here.  Tomorrow I pull off the Makoto Hasebe calendar off my wall.  

Despite the fact that it rarely if ever functioned as a calendar, it brought me a year supply of smiles.  Every time I looked at that "calendar" on my wall, I had to chuckle at the hilarity of a calendar that doesn't do much, at my impulsiveness to buy such a thing in the first place, at the fact that I still kept it on my wall.  

This year has kind of been that way.  I've made a lot of mistakes.  I've been foolish and impulsive.  Sometimes, I feel like I've done little to serve in the capacities to which I've been called.  However, I've learned from my mistakes and laughed a lot at myself in the process.  I've continued to do my best with what I've been given.  I've never given up.  

Thank you 2011.  

And I never thought I'd say it, but I think I'll miss having a non-functioning calendar on my wall.  

On to 2012.  


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Waylaid

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry...

One of my sisters taught my niece how to fist bump.  It is the most adorable thing, with her little fist held out and her eyes looking at you expectantly.  And when she fist bumps one person in the room, she has to fist bump everyone.

Over the weekend, my brother-in-law tried to teach Baby how to fist bump her beloved Teddy bear.

Now it goes more like this:  Baby fist bumps someone and then pounds her teddy bear in the face a few times.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Verbal Awkwardness: Holiday Edition

In case I ever think that I'm starting to make headway in maneuvering in the world of speaking, something always comes back to remind me how verbally awkward I really am.

Scene 1: While my sister is out with my niece doing some Christmas shopping, I hear a knock on the door.  Assuming it's the mailman (or someone like that) I skip over to the door and open it to find some vaguely familiar person holding out some gifts.  She smiles, "For Anna and the baby."  I look out at her van in the driveway and dumbly nod.  She looks past me and waves to my mother who she knew from previous visits.  Still struck dumb, I just nod.  I don't invite her in.  I don't explain that my sister is out along with my niece.  Instead, I just stand there, awkwardly holding these gifts.  The woman waves again, wishes me a Merry Christmas and runs back to her car.  I walk back inside the house to find another sister laughing at me.  "Why didn't you say anything?  Why didn't you explain that Anna and the baby were out?"  I shake my head.  "I have no idea.  Should I go tell her now before she leaves?"  My sister laughs again, "Yes!  Go run outside and chase her down the street. 'Hold on!  I can explain everything!'"  I laughed back, half ready to do just that.  Instead, I just waited until my sister got home, explained the situation to her and told her to write a really nice thank-you note and apology for her sister.

Scene 2: While waiting to leave church yesterday, a woman walks up to me, "I just want to tell you that you look so much like my daughter that I thought she had driven all the way up here to surprise me at church."  I look at her, take a deep breath, and fight for words to say.  But what can I say?  Struck dumb, I just nod at her and try to look as optimistic as possible.  She smiles at me, still kind of hoping that I was her daughter.  I nod, hoping that her daughter was sitting somewhere else in the chapel.  After this awkward exchange, her other daughter jumps in to save me, "Mom, do you really think she drove all the way up here to sit with another family?"  The mom laughs and the family moves away.  I turn to see my family looking at me curiously.  My sister speaks up, "Why didn't you say anything?"  I look at her, "What could I say?  'I'm sorry your daughter is not here for Christmas?'"  She shrugs.  Is this another one of those moments when you run after them to explain your awkwardness?

I should start just wearing a shirt that reads: Verbally Awkward.  Please excuse.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Niece the Adorable

Yesterday, I picked up niece up from her daycare in place of her mother.  It was the first time she has seen me in a while.  She just stared at me as I gathered her up, and her coat and took her out to my car.  She didn't mind being with me - in fact, she chose me to hold her over others at some points.  However, I wasn't sure that she knew which aunt I was.

Then, we had a moment alone.  Alexis looked up at me and put her hand on my mouth.  I looked at her confused, so she did the same thing to her own mouth.  And I recalled a funny little trick I had taught her over the summer - Yayaya.  I looked at her and laughed.  "You do remember me!"  She smiled and then giggled.

In the time since I last saw my niece, she has changed a lot.  She has new teeth, she no longer has a turning radius of five feet and "Baby" has almost completely left her vocabulary.  She also knows how to perform simple tasks, "Take this to your Mommy."  "Here, Baby, help me hold this."  "Make sure you hold my hand."  "Riley is trying to go outside - go get him!"  (For that one, I ran after her to find her trying to close the door to make sure her beloved cat did not run outside)  She also says, "Oof, oof!"  when she sees an animal that resembles a dog and can make the sign language sign to tell you that she's hungry.


Tonight, I pulled out my camera and she spent the evening taking pictures of herself.  After each photo, she would flip around the camera to look at the digital display of the picture.  "Who is that?"  I would ask.  "Mama," she always said back while pointing at her nose.  I laughed at her and she'd turn the camera around again and take more pictures of herself.  I tried to teach her to say, "I love you" tonight.  It ended up with her pointing at me and saying, "I, I, I"  I think nouns and formal names are not her forte.

Here are some selcas (self-portraits) of the baby.  She thought they were all masterpieces.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Idle Thoughts

A few thoughts I had while driving today:

<while listening to Hairspray, the movie soundtrack> The speed of sound?  At atmospheric conditions, that is 343 m/s.  But of course at lower temperatures, that would be much lower.  Next time I fly, I should find out the airplane's external temperature so I can figure out how fast the the airplane would need to travel in those conditions to be traveling at sonic speeds.

<while driving on extremely wet roads> I always assumed that speed limits were something designated by the engineers who designed the roads, accounting for a safety factor.  i.e. a speed limit of 65 mph would actually correlate to safe driving at speeds up to about 90 mph.  However, now that I think about it, I wonder why I ever assumed engineers had any say in this.  Isn't it lawmakers who set speed limits?  Do they understand/know the parameters the roads were designed for?

Nerd much?

Yes.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To be James...

This morning, over breakfast, I idly flipped through a calendar of upcoming events at the Kennedy Center in DC.  I happened upon the picture of James Gaffigan (shown below) who is scheduled to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in a few months.  
I was surprised by how young he looked.  After breakfast, I did a little searching on this conductor and found the 32 year old studied a Julliard and has conducted for a number of orchestras all over the country.  That searching led me to his blog where his latest post told about his adventures in conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.  His tone was conversational - he seemed like a good friend sitting down to a cup of coffee with me, describing the rush of pulling together a piece of music at the last minute.  I understand that to some extent - as conductor of a ward choir, I am learning above all things how to be flexible.  However, I also have no concept of his life.  We're not talking about ward choir here; these are professional musicians who actually can pull off Boheme at the last minute.  I just stared at his blog post in shock.

You see, lately, I've realized, I don't often share much about my day-to-day life on my blog.  I don't write about the latest work in research.  I thought about trying to include more of the normal goings-on of my life.  When I think about what to write on a blog post, though, I often find myself grasping at straws.  What did I do today?  Ummm....

And yet, when this man goes to his computer, creates a new blogpost and asks himself the same question, the answer is something like, "I conducted professional musicians in Vienna."  I can't even imagine having those memories and images captured in the bank of my brain called, "my personal experiences".  It's baffling.

People like James Gaffigan actually lead lives like James Gaffigan.

This isn't jealous even though it may sound like it.  It's such sheer amazement.  As small and connected as this world sometimes seems, it still is so vast and diverse that one lifetime is not enough to even traverse the smallest fraction of it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

International Relations

Dear Bulgarian,

After my brief stint with you back in 2000, I never thought I'd use you again.  And yet, somehow in my very last assignment for my very last class EVER in my academic career, there I was, relying on my understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet to study and analyze an engineering paper in Russian.  I'm kind of looking forward now to seeing where/when Welsh will pop up.  Life continues to twist and turn ...

Love,
Me


Dear North Korea,

Your Dear Leader is dead.  It's so funny to realize where people stand on the issue by their reactions.  Some people wonder what this mean for Beijing.  Some people wonder what this means for Kim Jong Eun.  Some people simply wonder what this means.  I feel like I'm about to burst, anxious to understand what your future will hold.  Here's hoping for good things.

Love,
Me


Dear Eiji-san,

You've only been on your team for a year, you aren't even from Europe and you're already the team captain?  If that was not impressive enough, there's the fact that you bought season tickets in Frontale for underprivileged kids to attend games for free and you see nothing wrong with sleeping in on a Sunday.  For the record, if you're going to be teased about looking like a Pixar character, you have to admit: Buzz Lightyear is lightyears ahead of Mr. Potato Head on the 'attractive' scale.  

Love,
Me


Dear MH,

Your dirty, stinky cleats are worth more than I make in 3 months.  How does that even work?  I mean, soccer is soccer, but it's not exactly rocket science.  ;)  No, seriously, kid, all my love.  But would you please update something about your life other than the already well-documented TV spots on you?  I'm starting to think you actually enjoy having your face blown up and plastered on people's walls under the ruse of being a calendar.

Love,
Me

** edit.  Dear Hasebe-san, looking at you arrival in Narita, I realized how exhausted you must be.  Go home and rest up.  Love, Me.


Dear Julian,

Thanks for making me realize how much I miss Germany all over again.  Even if I can't express my love in words, I promise it's there.  Germany is special.

Love,
Me

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Things to do in the middle of Virginia

One of my friends (not so) recently moved to Lincoln, Nebraska.  She puts up blog posts about things to do there.  I decided to copy this post after that.

You can travel around the world and back:

1.  Wear a Yukata.  (Sorry, there were two robes but only one obi)



 2.  Visit Foamhenge.  Yes, this little place is about as fabulous and random as it sounds.  Some artist decided to construct a Stonehenge replica entirely made of styrofoam.

Jumping!
Playing with the shadows

Jumping!


My sister's 'zen' picture

3. Take pictures next to an elephant statue (outside a zoo that was closed for the winter)


4.  Visit a bookstore.  One of the best ways to travel around the world and back is to get into a good book. In the middle of Virginia, there is a book fair that comes a few times a year with thousands and thousands of books on sale for extremely cheap.  I avoided buying everything I wanted/saw.


And because I miss this little one, this is what Baby currently chooses to do with my nice pens.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Relegation Revisited

I woke up this morning with one thought: I was here once before, six months ago, facing relegation.  But this time, it's real.  It's not some self-appointed goal I would like to meet to save face.  If I don't pass my proposal defense, then...

Six months ago, I was a sad little soul, working her heart out in her lab with nothing to show for her efforts.  Except this: that people loved her, that she would never give up, and that, in the end, things have a way of working themselves out.  (If it hasn't worked out, it's not the end)

I've been struggling for the past 6 months since then to keep myself going despite my exhaustion.  Yet, so many people have done so much to keep me going.

A very small example of this: I need a computer for my proposal tomorrow to Skype in a professor for the defense.  My own computer will be used for the presentation and it's doesn't have any Skype capability anyway.  I sent out a random request to the people in my ward.  Within 5 minutes, I had multiple people write me back, offering their services.  In fact, even hours after the fact, I still have people texting and emailing to make sure I am set.  People that I love, people that I know well, people that I don't know well, people that I wished I knew better.  How does a girl get so lucky?

Despite my worries about "relegation" I have to keep these things in my mind.
I'm not alone in this battle.  I never was.

12 hours.  12 hours.

I can do this.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our Last Moments

Me: Who would you call if this were your last day on earth?
Friend (contemplative): My lawyer
Me: (reeling): Y..you..your lawyer?
Friend: I have no idea why I just said that; I don't even have a lawyer.
Me: I was wondering.

Sometimes we wax profound and sometimes?

This is more along the lines of what I had been thinking.  If Tomorrow Were the Last Day of the World by Magic Power.  What things haven't we said?  What things haven't we done?  What dreams haven't we fulfilled?


This song has also been stuck in my head lately.  Not Again by Jeffrey Kong.  I think I might be getting sentimental in my old age.  :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Burn Out

Dear Germany,

The weirdest things have been happening - you have been coming up more and more in my conversations.  It's not enough to drink hot cocoa - I have to compare it to yours.  I idly think about traveling distances and times on the trains.  I find myself craving German torte.  I wonder if I could learn how to make schnitzel.  I keep making plans about what I want to go and see and do when I see you.  I have to keep reminding myself that it's not last year - that I'm not going to see you soon.  I think it's safe to say I miss you.  When will I see you again?

Love,
Me


Dear Subconscious,

Last night's dream was an utter nightmare.  Sure, it was nice that someone decided my lab looked old and dilapidated and I appreciated the remodeling.  However, when I saw the result of remodeling was that my own lab was now strewn across several offices and that the equipment was rendered useless through the carelessness of hasty remodelers, I couldn't stop the tears from coming.  There I was, with some new secretary at her desk, gawking at me while I bawled my eyes out, helplessly aware that my PhD degree was getting pushed back indefinitely.  Thanks for the (unnecessary) reminder that so many things could still prevent me from getting my degree.  Some friend you are.

Love,
Me


Dear Semester,

How is it that I only have two weeks until Christmas and yet I still have a semester of work left to do?  I promise I've been working hard.  So where did all that effort disappear to?  I would beg you to slow down so I can get something done but I don't know if that will even help at this point.  I'm just going to keep going until I can't anymore...

Love,
Me


Dear はせべさん,

The fact that you take a picture of every meal you eat, that you played babysitter and peacemaker the entire North Korean game, that you showed the camera men that you enjoy reading books out on our balcony and sometimes, you even rest your feet up on the balcony's railing/ledge when you do so, that you always manage to walk around with your glasses perched up on your forehead - when I see these things, I think, "How your mother must love you!"  I think I was supposed to see a mature 27 year old in all of these things but instead, I kept seeing a little boy who is good and doing his best, but little boy nevertheless, with a vulnerable little heart and plaintive eyes.  So, why is it that this week, with pictures on your blog of you losing your sled halfway down the sled run, and pictures of you riding on the children's carousel by yourself twice -  that which would assure your ever-present boyishness - why do I feel instead that we are just the same age after all?

Love,
Me  

From Tumblr, AP Photo
From Tumblr

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Be a Man

On Saturday, after cleaning my entire house, I celebrated my long week by watching Mulan - not the Disney version but the live Chinese version that came out in 2009.

For those of you unfamiliar with anything but the Disney version (which I also love), the story of Mulan is based off a poem called The Ballad of Mulan that was written during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 - 534)  about a girl who goes to take her father's place in the army and fights for 12 years.  Just like the Disney version, this girl steals away in the night, joins the rest of the recruits and makes a few very close friends and starts out with a slightly light-hearted mood which is quickly changed with the reality of war.  Unlike the Disney version, the live action version never regains its humor and it doesn't have a happy ending either (in the romantic sense).  Furthermore, rather than examine the issues of gender roles, the live action version examines the issues of war, told through the eyes of a girl who expresses and verbalizes the same thoughts as the men round her.

The result is a thought-provoking dialogue on duty, love, self (one) vs. others (the whole), and sacrifice.  It's interesting to contrast its thoughts and opinions with my own.  It's even more interesting in light of the highly different cultures and values upheld by the differing cultures.  However, I didn't feel that I was watching a movie about "Chinese" thoughts or that I was examining the movie with an "American" perspective.  Instead, it felt simply and profoundly "human", applicable in ways that all humankind can feel and understand.

There are three scenes that made this movie for me.  These aren't the only good scenes in the movie, nor do they encompass all  of the issues mentioned above.  These are simply scenes that I 'liked', without reference to the details that make any movie review actually worth reading.

(1) The scene: We've just been introduced to the three main characters and the other endearing side characters when a brawl breaks out among some of the soldiers (one is crying because sold himself to fight in a nobleman's son's place in order to hopefully get the money and medicine necessary to care for his sick mother only to find himself facing the chance of death in war while his mother's health continues to decline.  Another soldier jumps up to beat him up for being such a 'crybaby'.)  Ever the honorable one, Little Tiger jumps in to the defend the crying soldier and break up the fight.  Too quickly, he finds himself over his head when the bully brings in his cronies.  Mulan jumps into the fray and silences everyone with her/his skill, easily ending the brawl and further tussles.  ("Save your fighting for the battlefield.")  Little Tiger gives a wry little smile with a glance at his new friends, "That's my brother, Mulan."
Why I love it:  Little Tiger already knows Mulan's real identity; they are from the same hometown.  That means he knows it was a girl who just showed him up on fighting skills and it was a girl who just beat the bully and his cronies soundly.  However, there's nothing but pride though that this person is on his side, and counted as not only his friend but as a family member, a brother.  This was the moment I started to adore Little Tiger and that feeling only grows throughout the movie.  I can't say enough good things about Little Tiger.

(Interesting side note:  The man who plays Little Tiger in this movie is Jackie Chan's son.  The fact that Jackie Chan's son was just shown up in fighting by a girl also add a clever little commentary probably not intended but entertaining (and worth the wry smile) nonetheless.)

(2) The scene: Mulan the general gets up in front of her men and says, "Your general Hua Mulan honestly is a person who is very afraid of fighting in war.  I am always afraid.  I am always avoiding it.  But my fear and my running away from the war has caused me to lose my most important friend.  His leaving has helped me realize that avoidance does not end the war and that fear has only caused me to lose even more.  From now on, I will become stronger and protect each of you.  You also need to become stronger and protect the people at your side.  Will you do this?"
Why I like it: How often in war movies does a general over the army admit that he is afraid to kill?  And that he has made mistakes?  It's real; it's very real.  This is the scene that makes the army and defines Hua Mulan as a good general - not because of her good tactics, although she definitely has those - but because of her devotion to her brothers and their determination to stand by each other for the sake of each other.  Also of note, in this scene, she is wearing two fellow soldier's dog tags on her armor - the tag of a friend who died because she too zealously jumped into a battle to protect another friend and the tag of the most important friend who died because she didn't have the heart to face another battle and stayed behind.  Both are interesting lessons - to know when to fight and when to stay still.

(3) The scene: A dust storm interrupts a very serious battle between Mulan's outnumbered army and the enemy's army.  Minutes before the storm, Mulan was pulled off her horse because she had received two arrows to the chest.  When the dust settles, the air is eerily quiet and it looks like everyone has died.  Wentai jumps up and starts turning over soldier and soldier.  He panics as he fails to find who he is looking for and finally just starts wandering the battlefield while yelling, "Hua Mulan!  Hua Mulan!"  It's a desperate plea from a man who is hoping the person he cares most for is still alive.
Why I love it: I'm a romantic.  We all know that about me.  But this isn't romantic in a 'I wish this were my life' way.   It's romantic in the sense that here is a man who, having learned to govern his life with self-sacrifice and emotional discipline, is now staggeringly overcome with emotion and selfishness.  You see, Wentai is that important friend in the second scene (above) who Mulan lost.  She was told he had died and he meant for it to be that way, partly because he wasn't sure he would survive his wounds, partly because he wanted her to become the general he knew she could become.  That would require her to learn to put aside her feelings for Wentai and learn to truly lead on behalf of the thousands of men under her stewardship.   Wentai recovered and remained in the army as a mere foot soldier, never returning to his role as general, never revealing to Mulan that he still lived.  He remained on, lonely and separated from his best friend, for Mulan and her army's sake.  However, in this horrifyingly beautiful scene, suddenly Wentai is faced with the very real fact that Mulan might be dead.  He loses it, in one fell swoop, betraying both his emotion and his identity.  It's agonizing and it's beautiful.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reinvented

"Toyota recently put out an ad campaign for their "reinvented 2012" Camry.  They essentially created their own Korean drama over this car.  It was melodramatic, outlandish in plot line, unrealistic in portrayal, and starred a cast of gorgeous male leads: Lee Minho and Lee Minho.  In a word?  Brilliant.  Toyota wasn't taking themselves too seriously with this in the most "we take ourselves too seriously" manner.  It was hilarious.  For a company to laugh at themselves, tongue-in-cheek, the way Toyota was, suddenly made me more interested in the company.

I wish I had been a fly on the wall when the company's advertising division came up with the idea and the plot line.  Someone(s) obviously knew their Korean dramas because they pulled out all the cliches.

The Ad Think Tank - synergistic thinking at its best.
"Let's have the biggest star in the Korean drama industry..."

"Yes!  And let's have him wake up out from a month-long coma."

"With perfect hair and hooked up to no machines with simply an IV in one arm."

"Of course!  This is a Korean drama, not reality!  This means of course the man has amnesia and all his phone contacts have been deleted and his wallet is emptied."

"Did you even have to state the obvious?  And then...the CAMRY will help him regain his memory."

"Brilliant.  What does he need to remember?  The girl!"

"Of course the girl!  She'll be as beautiful as he."

"More beautiful than Lee Minho?"

"Okay, so maybe not as beautiful but close.  And he'll be engaged to this girl but...there has to be a catch...and an evil long lost twin somewhere."

"He has to stop the evil twin who just broke out of prison from pretending to be him to marry his fiancee."

"I think we're onto something here."


And really, they were.  (You can see the trailer below and the entire series here)

I laughed over each episode and appreciated all the Camry points they threw in.  Sure, it would have been more helpful to have Lee Minho recall who he was by the fact that Sohee (his fiancee) was on the list of recently visited places but showing off the Pandora app was definitely cooler.  Sure, Lee Minho insisted that he could get to wherever he needed to go in an hour and ended up driving for what seemed like days, but the car needed to be shown with the backdrop of the mountains in the day and at sunset.  Sure, it was kind of weird to have motorcyclists randomly follow him during this long journey but it showed off the new blind spot monitor.  All of these little quips just made me laugh more - the melodrama of it all was perfect given the setup.  (They just needed a random U-turn in the middle of a six lane street in a busy city to seal the deal)

Yesterday, the last episode came out.  "The Camry will prove everything!"  Lee Minho insisted as he pulled out his cell phone, synced it with the car and turned on the Pandora app to blare out the theme song.  For some reason, his spoken Korean and that song were enough to convince the English-only speaking police officers who turned tail and chased down the evil twin and hauled him back to jail.  All that was left then was the happy ending.

But what's a Korean drama without a twist ending so that the audience is left reeling.  The reactions? (from the website; I'm only putting initials of the commenters)

"What the what?"  ~ TH
"So Kwon is with sohee and Joon is in jail? o_O
Confusing ending... the Toyota proved nothing -__-"   ~ CY
"No matter how much we love Lee Min Ho, this doesn't make me want a Camry. It puts innocent people in jail. LIES!"   ~ VM 

"Darn you Camry! I'm buyin' a Ford!"  ~ LC

"Lee Min Ho is an extremely talented actor and outrageously handsome man! I'm sure he got a good laugh out of doing this advertisement! It shows the mischievous, prankster side of his personality! Well done! I will buy another Camry! I wish these commercials would air on American TV! Lee Min Ho please come to Northern California next time!"  ~LC (different one)

"WHAT? He's actually Kwon and the real Joon went to jail? THIS PROVES NOTHING! what is Toyota trying to say? I'm so confused. First, they're giving off the image that a Camry protects and keeps you safe, then they show the owner/real joon going to jail. *sigh* I did enjoyed the mini series though :)"  ~ NN


Did Toyota go a little too far in their replication of the Korean drama?  You tell me...


(For those of you who watch the series and want to tell me what you think it means, please feel free to post your ideas or contact me.  I have some theories...)