Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Ends

For a while, I've been wanting to write about the books I've read this year.  I always keep a list on the blog of books I read each year but I don't really make any comments about the books themselves.  I thought this might be a fitting end to look back on my year.

The Book of 2012 that Changed my Life:

Why We Can't Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One-liner blurb: The Civil Rights Movement.
My thoughts: I thought it would be an interesting mental exercise to read a book about a significant American event while living in a foreign country.  Instead, I found myself thinking that not only every American, but every person, should read this book.  It's a book about the Civil Rights Movement, yes, but it's also a book about what we should hold dear, what issues we should be willing to fight for and what means we should fight for them.  I learned a lot about love and long suffering and the beauty of the human spirit.  I recommend this book to anyone.  Read it.  And then read it again.  

Books of 2012 that Changed My Perspective: 

Sky Burial by Xinran
One-liner blurb: A woman in China goes to Tibet to look for her missing and presumed dead husband and ends up spending the rest of her life there.
My thoughts: I love everything written by Xinran - this is her third book that I have read.  There is something about her writing style and her voice that just speaks to me.  However, this isn't really why this book made the list.  This book asks a very serious question, "What if something you spend your whole life working towards is for naught?  Is it really for naught?"  After reading this book, a friend and I went on a long walk and discussed this issue, back and forth and back again.  We didn't come to any solid conclusions but we definitely had a greater appreciation for being human.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks-
One-liner blurb: A boy with famous scientist family members almost blows himself up several times.
My thoughts: After reading this book, I feel like I would like to repeat my chemistry courses.  I want more explosions and more experiments and more scratching my head over how the elements fit themselves together.  Life before the periodic table?  I used to think it was all about the plum pudding model but I have since realized that it was a lot about understanding physical properties and gaining an intuitive sense of how the world was put together.  By the end of the book, I was singing the praises of science all over again - we live in a beautiful, beautiful, chemical world.  

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore -
One-liner blurb: Rhodes scholar finds himself sharing the news with someone of the same name, similar age, similar background but entirely different circumstances and writes their stories
My thoughts: The message of this book was really, "We all have so much to offer the world."  There is so much we can/should do to help and lift each other to reach our potentials because when it comes down to it, when we fail to meet up to the best of who we could be, the consequence is that everyone misses out.  This book also, interestingly, raised good issues about taking responsibility for our own actions and choices.  

The Girl I Left Behind by Shusaku Endo - 
One-liner blurb: Man drops a girl after a one-night stand but continues to keep tabs on her throughout a misdiagnosis, a life of service in a leper colony and her tragic death in an accident.
My thoughts: Disclaimer: I actually read this in 2011 but it was so moving that I still find myself pondering on it.  It's a book about loneliness.  At the end of the day, the girl who was abandoned by everyone ended up being the most Christlike.  How can that be?  I've come to the realization that while I (and the characters of the book) believe that when we suffer, our God suffers with us, there is something refining about being left to ourselves.  I'm not saying that God isn't with us when we suffer, but perhaps, perhaps, we will all have moments when we suffer alone, when we feel that we have been forsaken.  It is in those moments that we gain something we never gain otherwise.   

Books of 2012 that Raised Questions: 

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - 
One-liner blurb: Missionary family tries to make a difference in Africa and finds it changes them in ways they never anticipated
My thoughts: This book left me breathless.  The book takes you into this world and you find yourself swept along on a scary and unsettling ride through the lives of the Price family.  Who is right?  Who is wrong? What is the 'best' way?  At the end of the day, who is the happiest?  None of those yield easy answers.  I'm still asking questions.

I am the Clay by Chaim Potok - 
One-liner blurb: A starving boy is taken into the care of an elderly refugee couple during the Korean War
My thoughts: I loved the boy.  I loved the mother.  I struggled to understand the father.  But most of all, I wondered, "What does it mean to love?"  "How do we express it?"  "What makes a family?"  I want to discuss this book long into the night with some good friend who has read it.  Please, what does this beautiful and moving, sad little story mean?  

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M.Forster - 
One-liner blurb: English woman marries Italian man rashly and confuses everyone (including me) 
My thoughts: What the what?  I'm not even entirely sure what this story was about.  I wandered around for days after reading this book.  Words cannot express my confusion.  I waffled between liking and disliking the main narrator and settled on simply leaving him be.  The woman he falls in love with, on the other hand, throws me through a loop.  

When I Whistle by Shusaku Endo - 
One-liner blurb: Old man thinks about his past; his son worries about his future
My thoughts: Endo, you brilliant man.  Why do you always leave me wondering?  What does it mean to live?  What makes life what it is?  What will make life worth it?  The juxtaposition of a father who is a failure and spends his life thinking of his high school friend and that high school friend's crush and the son who spends his time fighting to get ahead is fascinating.  What does it all mean?  Who should I want to be like?  Why can't father and son communicate?  Is life something we must all just figure out on our own?

Dear Faithful Friends of 2012: 
Jean Webster (Wheat Princess and Dear Enemy), L.M. Montgomery (Blue Castle), Charlotte Bronte (The Professor), Maud Hart Lovelace (Emily of Deep Valley) - kindred spirits, every one.  

Author I found in 2012: 
Ann Patchett.  I read both Bel Canto and The Patron Saint of Liars.  She has a fascinating narrative style but I wouldn't put either of these books on my 'best reads' list.  However, I thought it might be worth mentioning.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snowflakes and Swings

Baby refuses to be associated with babies.  If you mention babies, she gets very defiant, "I am not a baby."  If you mention that she was once a baby, she asserts again, "I am Not a baby."

For an aunt, it's difficult, not because I don't want to see her grow up, but because babies like to cuddle and nieces, who are asserting themselves as independent beings, less so.  

But still, we have fun. 

On Christmas Eve, I looked out the window and noted it was snowing.  "Baby, get your boots and coat on! Let's go play in the snow."  She went and put on her boots, adorably on the wrong feet, which I didn't correct because it was too cute and it didn't actually matter.  She put on her coat and out we went to turn our faces up to the falling snow.  

I tried to show her how to catch snowflakes on her tongue but she just laughed at me as I dodged around on my knees trying to catch one so she could see.  

Then we headed over to the playground nearby where I pulled off a layer for her so she could sit on a dry swing and I swung her.  For her, the higher she swung, the better.  However, I wanted a picture of her swinging with the snowflakes swirling around so it was a race to push her high enough to appease her and try to get a picture at the right moment (and of her smiling) before she demanded that I return to my pushing spot and resume my duties.  

Soon enough, she was tired from the swing and tired of having snowflakes hit her in the face.  (She kept saying, "Eww.  Icky"  whenever they landed on her)  So, I suggested she try the slide next.  I took my shirt and carefully wiped down the slide so it wouldn't be wet.  She boldly marched up the stairs, took a few cautious moves towards the slide and let me convince her that it would be fun.  

Down she went, faster than she had ever gone down it before and she flew off the end of the slide and landed on the ground with a plop before I even had time to put out my arms and catch her.  She started crying, more from shock than from being hurt.  Immediately, I scooped her up in my arms and apologized for convincing her to go down the slide.  I rubbed her back and kissed her cheeks and then I paused and realized what I was doing: my little miss independent was letting me hold her and coddle her!  She let me carry her all the way home and we made comments to each other about the snow and the slide and the swing.  Then, when we got home, I told her that the thing to do after playing in the snow was to drink chocolate so she settled down to a glass of cold chocolate while I settled down to a mug of hot chocolate.  

She and I went downstairs to try to settle down for a nap in which we watched one episode of Dora and one episode of Diego because I told her that Diego was my favorite and she insisted on watching something I liked.  

Baby may be growing up but she'll never stop being my Baby.  I love being an aunt. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Baby Alive

You know those Baby Alive dolls?  The kind that you can give a bottle too and then they wet their diaper.  Baby got one for Christmas and I just chuckled.

I used to think they were unrealistic.  Babies don't wet their diapers the moment you feed them.

I have since changed my opinion.

This week, I have been able to help take care of my newest niece.  She is adorable.  But she gets fussy when she needs something.  She's a baby so she only needs a few things: to be fed, to be changed, to be burped, or to be put to sleep.

Last night, I babysat her by myself while her parents went on a date.  It went kind of like this.

Niece fussed.  I changed her diaper.  I fed her.  I burped her.  I tried to rock her to sleep.

Niece fussed.  "Well, I already fed you."  I changed her diaper.  Tried burping her again.  I tried to rock her to sleep.

Niece fussed.  "But I just changed your diaper, two minutes ago.  It can't be that!"  I changed her diaper - it was wet again.  I tried to rock her to sleep.

Niece fussed.  "It is NOT your diaper again, is it?  Oh, yes, it is."  I changed her diaper and rocked her to sleep.

The niece slept.

It's funny - I spent all this time trying to get her to sleep, so that I could go get myself some food or get some laundry done or generally do things I wanted to get done and when she was asleep, I just found myself watching her, amazed at how absolute perfect she is.

 Doesn't she look just like a doll?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bad with Goodbyes

I found this old post that I wrote but never posted.  It still rings true.

Old post:

Who is good with them?  Movies.  I've decided it's much easier to be poignant and touching and everything you wish you were when you have a script and a director who tells you to do it again if it's not right.

On Friday, after the Conference, Fujita-san came up to me while I was working on the computer.
Fujita-san: I'm going to Australia tomorrow so I won't see you again.
Me: ??  (I was still in denial)
Fujita-san: Anyway, I just wanted to give you a little gift.
Me: What?  A gift?  <Thinking, 'I should be the one giving YOU a gift'> Can I open it?
Fujita-san: Yes, please.

I open it - it's a calligraphy pen.

Fujita-san: So that you can practice writing characters.
Me: This is so great!  Thank you!  <At this point, I really just wanted to jump up and throw my arms around him to thank him for being such a great person and friend but since that would only end awkwardly, in the middle of the conference no less, I stayed seated and pinned my arms down by my side lest I give in to my impulses>

The result was:
Fujita-san: Well, good bye.
Me: Thank you so much for everything.  Good bye.

Except, three seconds after he left, I wanted to chase him down and do it all over again, with a better script.

Back to our regular programming:

The other day I ran into one of my English students.  He was one of those students that I felt an instant bond with.  Our first meeting I ended up talking to him mostly in Chinese (and sometimes in fake Japanese/Chinese - yeah, it's as awkward as it sounds) and I just marveled once again in the joy of kindred spirits.

Each week, he never failed to bring a smile to my face, to say something that had me nodding in agreement.  One time, during a role play, he announced he had no friends and I teasingly took issue with it.  So he changed it: "Oh, I do have one friend - Erin."

Well, English class is over the semester and he is returning to China before it starts up again.  Running into him was absolutely fortuitous, a great chance to say goodbye.

The result was similar to above:
Me: So, you're going back to China?
Friend: Yes.
Me: I wish you the best of luck.  Take care!
Friend: Ok, bye.

So casual, so carefree.  Except that, again, I wanted to run after him and say, "Just kidding!  Don't say good bye.  Be my friend forever!"

Because that's really what I want.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Weird Request

My research is all about adaptation. 

Recently, a pump started acting up in my lab.  So I pulled the system apart (with the help of someone who might have an idea of how to put it back together) and ordered a new pump and new hoses to go with it. 

Except the new fittings on the new pump now don't match the old fittings.  And one of the new hoses won't work in the system.

So, today I ordered some bushings that simply will allow us to screw the old fittings into the new fittings. 

And then, I went to the auto parts store.  This is how that conversation went:

Me: Hi, I'd like to buy a straight radiator coolant hose.
Attendant: Ok, what size do you need?
Me: 1 and 3/8 inch inner diameter.
Attendant: ... What kind of car is it going into?
Me: It's not for a car.  It's for a water pump.
Attendant: Oh, so not something I can look up for you.  This will take a while to find for you.  Can you wait a few minutes? 

She handed me over to another attendant.

Me: Hi, I'd like to buy a straight radiator coolant hose with 1 and 3/8 inch inner diameter.
Attendant2: And you don't know what kind?  Where's your car?  Let's go look at it.
Me: It's not for my car.  I recently had a pump break down in my lab and when we took it apart, it had a radiator coolant hose for part of it.  We tried another type of tubing but it just won't work as well. 
Attendant2: Well, ok, then.  Let's go to the back and see if we can find something. 
<He took me to the back and pulled out a tape measure> 
Attendant2: Nowadays, the tubes are never straight but are shaped to fit exactly around the engine so let's see if we can find one that has a long enough straight section that has the diameter you need. 
<We looked at lots of different tubes>
Attendant2: How about this one?  Is this straight section going to be long enough?
Me: Yep, it looks like it will.
<He whips out the tape measure - it looks kind of close enough>
Me: Wow, thanks. I guess this isn't the weirdest request you've ever had.
Attendant2:  Definitely not. 

All in a day's work. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heart Broken

I have no words.

I feel numb- there is a large storm of emotion lying underneath the surface but I'm almost afraid to let it out.

I try to dispel the clouds with the reminder of the words from one my English students who I greatly respect.  We were talking about what you teach your children when they encounter bad people:

"Yes, there are bad people in the world.  Those people will do things to hurt you and others around you.  However, the world is also full of good people, people who will inspire and help you.  Become friends with the good people.  Become a good person yourself."

I wonder though if I'm capable of good.  If the little good I'm capable of can ameliorate in the smallest part some of the bad.

Praying for the families in Connecticut and in China.  Praying for the world. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012


It's been a few months since I last saw my niece.  I keep hearing stories though - how much she talks and most especially, how much she voices her opinion.  Seeing her this weekend gave me a chance to look at the world through a two year old's eyes.  

(1) My niece's (she actually still lets me call her Baby) favorite color in all the world is purple.  She not only feels the need to tell you this multiple times a day and insist on wearing, watching and using purple things but she likes to just say Purple!  at random points during any conversation.  It comes out sounding like some awesome version of beat poetry.

(2) Last week, while doing some shopping, my niece fell in love with some Dora Necklace.  When they got home, the Niece kept asking for it and her mother told her, "If you want it, ask for it for Christmas."  Now if you ask her what she wants for Christmas she immediately responds, "Dora necklace!"

(3)  My niece now carries around a rather large collection of toys with her at all times.  She has always carried around Teddy, a now ragged pink bear that has been washed and dried so many times, I marvel that it still has some life.  But to add to that, she also insists on Baby Teddy (a smaller version of Teddy), Purple Baby (it's given name is Purple) and Princess Tiana.  It's quite a lot to keep track of.

(4) When my niece met my newest niece (four days old and quite the cutie although I still haven't settled on a good nickname for her), we all wondered how she would take it.  On the way up to see the little one, we would have these kind of conversations...

Me: Where are Sarah and Marc?
Baby: At their house.
Me: Where is Baby Naomi?
Baby: In Sarah's belly.
Me: Nooo...she's not in Sarah's belly anymore.

When we got to the house and my niece got to meet Baby Naomi, we all watched her cautiously.  She didn't say anything for the first several minutes and then very wide eyed announced, "I have a baby too!"

I looked around for her toys, thinking she was referring to Purple Baby or Baby Teddy.  Instead, she lifted up her shirt, "In my belly!"

We all laughed so hard, some of us (i.e. me) cried.  I think she was so excited and shocked that babies simply come out of someone's belly that she wanted one too.  Once she realized the baby took a lot of attention away from her and was a lot of work overall, I think she quickly dropped the opinion that she had/wanted a baby of her own.

(5) From then on, my niece started calling Baby Naomi, "Pink Baby" because she was in pink.  "Mommy is holding Pink Baby and I am holding Purple Baby."

(6) To give the niece some attention, I took her downstairs to watch a movie.  She found a tube of lip balm and came over.

Baby: What is this?
Me: It's lip gloss.  [I didn't think she knew what lip balm would mean but I know she knew what lip gloss was]
Baby: Oh, good!

She takes off the lid and starts applying the balm to her lips as we watch the movie.  I watch her and silently chuckle to myself.  She applied that lip balm for a full ten minutes, running it back and forth from one check to the other, mostly missing her lips.  Baby looked over and saw me watching her.

Baby: How does it look?
Me: Pretty
Baby: Want some?
Me: <laughing> Nope.  Thank you.
Baby: <self-satisfied smile> You're welcome.

I cracked up and she found the lid and put it away.  Then three minutes later she pulled it out again.  "I think I need some more."

(7) She loves making phone calls.  She found a remote controller for some baby monitor and carried it around as her cell phone.  She kept calling, "MY Papa" where she would have short conversations that were short, included a lot of uh huhs and ended in "Okay, I love you, Bye bye."

(8) She is snarky but I can't figure out if it's on purpose or not.

Marc: Is your mommy holding you?
Baby: Un-uh
Marc: Did you have pancakes for breakfast?
Baby: Un-uh
Marc: Did you have fun?
Baby: Un-uh
Marc: Can you say un-uh?
Baby: <shakes her head>

Me: What color is that?
Baby: Blue
Sister: How do you say 'blue' in Spanish?
Baby: Ummm....
Sister: You know this, it's 'azul'
Baby: Azul
Me: Can you say 'white' in Spanish?
Baby: White in Spanish.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For the Love of Mayday

I know I've written tribute posts to my favorite of Taiwanese bands, Mayday.  Well, here's another one - in a different kind of sense.

I used to be over the top crazy over Mayday.  I picked up the guitar so that I could learn to play their music.  I created dream vacations that focused around their concerts in Taipei.  In fact, one year, for Halloween, I straightened my hair, dressed as a boy and went to a party as their lead singer and lyricist, Ashin.  I didn't really look like the Asian popstar but I certainly didn't look like me.

And then, as suddenly as I went over the top crazy over Mayday, I stopped...being over the top crazy for them.

It wasn't even really crazy anymore either.  It just was. Mayday.

Yesterday, Mayday played live on the Google stage in California.  I tuned in to watch.  It was my first time ever watching them play live.

It was a little funny to realize how much things hadn't changed since my crazy over the top obsession over them.  Ashin still looked 23 (although Wikipedia reminded me that he turns 37 next week).  Masa and Monster and Ashin were still bachelors.  Stone and Guanyou were ever the solidly married ones with their children.  I was still the graduate student living in Charlottesville.

The concert wasn't really much to be surprised over either.  I knew every single song they sang and even remembered most of the words.  Ashin turned the mic over to Stone to speak English, as I knew he would.  Ashin also sang slightly off key throughout most of the songs, as expected.

In fact, the only surprise was when they sang 戀愛ING (lian'ai ING) and didn't say "ello" for "L" so that it actually spelled L-O-V-E instead of LO-O-V-E.  I was so delighted that I actually clapped my hands and cheered.  Biggest props actually go to Ashin who has spent the least amount of time in any English speaking country.

During the concert, I kept looking for someone to share this exciting event with.  My Taiwan traveling buddy was at a concert of her own.  Another fan of Mayday I couldn't get a hold of.

And then came the big shock of the evening.  It was this realization:  "Most of your friends don't understand a word of Chinese - it just wouldn't be the same kind of wonderful experience for them."

You'd think I'd have realized it before - that my friends don't speak Chinese.  Or that I do.  But somehow it didn't really hit me before.

Which got me thinking:

During my Mayday days, I would come home every day with new stories about Ashin and tell them all to my roommates.  I would insist on putting in Mayday CDs when we went anywhere in the car.  I sang Mayday songs once at a talent show.  I even convinced one of my friends to sing a Chinese song with me at a talent show and she heartily went along with it by translating the verse into French and the chorus into English so that we could trade off and make it a tri-lingual version.  And I'd put on music videos, "Isn't this the best song ever?  No, really, but then there's this song which is the next best song ever."

Wow, I thought.  I have some pretty amazing (and long-suffering) friends.

So, to my dear friends who have survived my over the top crazy love for Mayday, for Jay Chou, for Khalil Fong, for Yan-jue, for Evan Yo, William Wei and all of those many other Chinese artists that I've begged you to listen to.  To all of you dear non Chinese speaking friends who listened to all those songs even when you didn't understand a word:

Thank you.  I love you.  You're the best.

And I hope to be as supportive in your crazy over the top loves as you have been towards mine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge

Here are some pictures.  Sorry, they aren't amazing.  But the view was. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

NY and Courage

Let's make this one fact clear - I am a coward.

When I was in Japan this summer, I wanted so badly to visit an area affected by the tsunami.  I settled on Ishinomaki - mostly because it was the furthest place I could reach via train.  However, once I found out that   it had not only lost a lot of its community but an entire elementary school in the tsunami, I lost my courage.  All those suffering families with their children gone in an instant - it broke my heart.  The last thing I wanted to do was to go and have those victims think that some foreigner was there to gawk at their pain.  I still wanted to go - I wanted to feel and to mourn and to help those who were hurting.  But since I felt that I would only be seen as an outsider, I didn't dare.

Last week, in church, our bishop got up and announced that the stake was trying to organize a trip up to the Hurricane Sandy disaster area to help with clean up.  My stomach got really tight - I realized that while I wanted to go, I was also absolutely terrified to go.  All during church, I thought about that opportunity and whether or not I should take it.  I'm young and strong.  I can work hard.  I have no dependents.  I told my bishop I could conditionally go.  And then the pieces started to come together and I told my bishop a few days later that I could definitely go.  Even as I made plans and packed and prepared, I couldn't let go of the feeling that I was absolutely terrified.  The last thing I wanted to do was to inflict pain on the victims - to have  them think that I was there to gawk at their pain or that I was condescendingly offering my services.  However, I kept thinking of Ishinomaki and that lost opportunity - how much I wished I could have helped.   Here was a real chance to help my own people, my countrymen and also a way of hopefully making up for my cowardice in Japan.  Right?

I learned a few things about courage this weekend.

(1) Courage is not some big thing.  It's the culmination of a million little things.
(2) Every person I met this weekend was an example to me of great courage.

Every location that my team and I helped this weekend were individuals who were seeking for help on behalf of someone else.  I have no idea about the state of their own homes but there they were, working alongside us through the long hours with a zeal and energy that surpassed even our own.  They were optimistic and kind and took the time to tell each of us a little of why they were involved and why they cared about the person they were helping.  It was quite inspiring.

In fact, generally, everyone we met kept an eye out for each other.  Some homes we stopped by, no one was at home but their neighbors would show up next to us to help us get a hold of the owners by cell phone or to explain which of their neighbors had returned and which ones hadn't, which ones were in need of help and which ones had already been taken care of.

People driving by in their cars would yell out at us, "God bless you," even though we had never helped them. Even the stake president from the church building we were staying in attended our quick sacrament service to tell us, "I don't even know if you are serving in our stake boundaries and frankly, it doesn't matter, but thank you, thank you for the service you are giving to our people."  This from the man who opened his church to us, this from the man who helped clean up after we left in preparation for his own Sunday services, this from the man whose stake members filled us with leftover lentil stew and french bread.  Even the people who helped organize our services were locals themselves who gave up their weekends to tell us where to go and stay in contact with us as we worked and traveled from house to house.  I never found out their own situations but I can't help but think they were affected as well.

(3) It doesn't just take courage to survive hard times - it also takes kindness, cheerfulness and mostly, love.

I think I always thought that it would take a lot of bravery to survive and deal with the aftermath of a disaster like this.  But I learned something entirely different from the people that I met.  It does take bravery but our acts of courage come in the form of something with less bravado and more compassion.  The kindnesses that I saw among everyone I met helped to lift the weight and burden of the aftermath.  It was overwhelming at times to think about - almost crushing.  However, all of these little things helped to infuse sparks of hope into the situation.

Their road ahead is not going to be easy.  It will continue to take a lot of courage to face all the tasks of putting a house and a life back in order.

I think Mormon was right when he said, "perfect love casteth out all fear."  Let's not forget to show each other love and to learn better to love.  There is nothing that helps us to gain courage so much as that.

NY and Architecture

New York is a great study of architecture and architectural history.  I think most of the time that my friends and I spent in New York sightseeing, we were carefully looking at all the different buildings and their various styles.  One of my friends tried to walk into almost every building he saw an impressive ceiling in but was shooed out by doormen.  (At other buildings, he didn't try to walk in but greeted the doormen in the lobby ways with a wave and a smile.  One doorman was so excited that they ended up exchanging an air hug)

When we first started our walk:
Friend: What building is this?
<It was some sort of government building>
Friend: Why does it look like something the communists would have built?

The next building was truly impressive:
Friend: What building is this?
Me: <reading> Bankruptcy Building?
Friend: Wow
Me: Why is it so pretty and fancy?
Friend: I have no idea

Then we saw a statue:
Friend: <reading it> Henry Ward Beecher.  Who is that?
Me: He was the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  [Disclaimer: this is incorrect - he was actually her brother]
Friend: Well, what made him famous?  Why was there a statue of him?
Me: Uhhh....
Friend: <reads the inscription> ...honor the great apostle of the brotherhood of man
Another Friend: So?  What did he do?
Friend: He was a good man?

Don't we lead the best self-guided tours?   :)

The church we stayed at was architecturally different.  Every building around us was red brick but ours was white and blue brick.  We lovingly dubbed it our "bathroom church" because the design of the bricks made it look like the tiles of a bathroom.

In fact, all of the churches were very interesting.  We spent most of our time looking at churches but most of these were locked.  Only one was open - St. Patrick's Cathedral - which we were excited to enter and look around and sit and appreciate the beautiful building.  I prayed while the others chatted and then we all walked around to examine the relics.

But somehow, with all of the churches closed, I started examining the schedules for mass and services and would declare at every church, "Let's attend this church on Sunday!"  Everyone would laugh at me since we had our own church to attend (short meeting) and then we had work to get to.  But for some reason, I kept it up.

One of the days while we were getting on the bus, I realized that there was a church really close to the church we were staying at.  "We should attend this church on Sunday!" I declared while everyone laughed and I looked eagerly around for the schedule of services only to find a sign that announced the church was, in fact, owned by a law firm.

Friend: I heard about this.  Apparently, it's a 'thing' now to sell churches.
Another friend: But what can you do with a church when you buy it besides make it a church?
Third friend: Apparently, you can turn it into a law office.
Me: So interesting.

Later, we got on the subject of our own church architecture as we sat in the hall talking late into the night.
Friend: Why do we put burlap on the walls of our churches?
Another friend: It protects the wall from scratches and dents and grubby hands of children?
Friend: Yeah, but it also scratches those children up if they were ever to run into it.
Me: Yeah, it could serve as a great scratching post for cats.
Third friend: Well, just think.  If we ever have to sell our church, let's sell it to someone with cats.

But my favorite building that we happened to see and walk into?

Grand Central Station.  It was stunning.  We all marched in and then stopped in awe to look around - even those of us who had been to this place several times before.  In one word: magical.

NY and Designer Everything

The next few posts will be about my recent trip to New York where I went to help with Sandy cleanup.  It was a good trip and taught me a lot about courage which I will share in a later post.  But first, we will start with some of the things that made me chuckle.

I spent my weekend with a few of the singles from my old ward and we had a lot of fun working together and walking around the city together.  On our first night in Brooklyn, we walked all the way to Central Park in this nice, long, zigzag three hour walk.  We calculated it out later and realized that night, we walked about 10 miles.  Walking through so much of Manhattan, I realized that everyone was dressed up.  We weren't - we were all dressed in jeans and old clothes since our trip wasn't for pleasure.  I felt especially out of place strolling down Park Avenue.

The next day, we had another unexpected encounter with name brands when one of our team members stepped on a nail and had to go to the mobile hospital and get a tetanus shot.
Team Member: The woman who took care of me told me I was wearing expensive socks.
Friend: Huh?  Expensive socks?
Team Member: Yeah.  When she saw my socks, she said, 'Whoa, boy.  Why are you wearing name brand socks?'  I looked at her and asked, 'Are they?'  She answered, 'YES!'
Me: What kind of socks are you wearing?
<He lifts up his pant leg to reveal his socks>
Me: DIOR?!
Team Member: Is that a name brand?
Me: Yes.  Hahahaha.
Team Member: I just picked out a pair from my roommate's drawer.  But the lady was shocked.  'Your socks are $30' she told me.
Me: No kidding.
Team Member: Well, I didn't know so I told her, 'They might be name brand socks but the nail went right through them!'

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanking!

I spent the day watching people.  It was quite delightful.  I passed people in the grocery store, busily getting things on their lists for the big Thanksgiving dinner.  One lady had written on her paper, "Thanking dinner."  I wasn't sure if she was shortening it or coining her own word.

I also ran into a father and a daughter closely examining cans in the vegetable aisle.
Daughter: [picks up can and hands it to her father]
Father: [takes it and looks at it.  Then he tells the truth to his daughter gently]  No, we should put that back.  I don't think you'll actually like it.

I look at the can: This little three old had picked up a can of butter bean succotash.  The picture on the can kind of looked like this:
The little girl gave her dad a look that seemed to say that she instinctively trusted his opinion but she really wasn't sure why he had turned her down.  

Meanwhile, the dad went back to studying the cans in front of him, trying to find the exact thing he was sent to go look for.  

And I laughed because I had never even heard of butter bean succotash before but it turns out - according to Wikipedia - that it is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  

My brother-in-law's nephew and nephew's roommate spent a lot of time today playing soccer on the X-box.  Because I was interested in it, they even pulled up Wolfsburg and played a few games with that team so that I could see the Hasebe avatar run around a soccer field.  It was so exciting to cheer on not only mein lieblingsspieler but also mein lieblings-fussballmannschaft.  I almost felt like I was watching a game. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Every day that I was in Japan, I always made a point to say, "I'm so grateful to be in Japan." 

Despite its challenges, I truly was grateful.

I think I need to make a better point to do that in Charlottesville as well.

Because, it's just as true - despite it's challenges, there is nowhere else I would rather be right now.   

"I'm grateful to be in Charlottesville."

Friday, November 16, 2012

False Friends

False friends - that might be a way to describe my relationship with languages.  Sometimes we get along quite well but then I realize that I wasn't entirely apprised of the situation.

I recently read a friend's post about false friends in language in which words look (or sound) similar in other languages but have entirely different meanings.  

The best/worst example is shown here (from Wikipedia): 
It means, "Mama, this one, this one, this one....please."  But obviously, it looks very different than that to us English speakers.  

Once I heard about this, I realized I already had a certain fascination with false friends in Chinese and English.  The word for hymn book in Chinese sounds like "sugar bun".  And my use of the word "that" in Chinese has gotten me in so much trouble in America that my friends just glare at me now rather than try to make excuses for me.  "You really need to stop using that word here," they tell me for the hundredth time.  

But this post is not about false friends in Chinese/English.  This is about false friends with Japanese.   

Japanese and Chinese both share a lot of kanji/characters which has made it much easier for me to get along and understand certain meanings.  However, there are some differences that have led to some confusion.  

Here are a few examples: 

(1) 非常: (feichang/hijou) What means 'extremely' in one situation means an 'emergency' in another.  It was slightly confusing until I figured it out.  At least, I could understand how they each interpreted the words in the ways they did --An emergency is an extreme situation.

(2) 先生: (xiansheng/sensei) I say it in Chinese and it means, 'Mister' but when I say it in Chinese it means 'Professor'.  I never had any idea what to say to random strangers when I wanted to get their attention.  In English?  "Sir"  In Chinese?  "Mister" In Korean?  "Uncle"  In Japanese? ???? For the formal language that is Japanese, I couldn't just say, "You" could I?  And I couldn't call just call him "san".

(3) 大丈夫: (dazhangfu/daijoubu) I first learned this word in Japanese.  The characters looked vaguely familiar in Chinese but I did not think about that when I was in Japan. In Japan, it means 'alright'.  I noticed Japanese people use this word a lot and so I quickly followed suit.  Pretty soon, everything was alright.  I thought of it more like, "I'm fine" or "I'm all set" in English when people asked me if I was 'daijoubu' when I was hiking, settling into my apartment, adjusting to the time difference, the food, etc., I learned to smile and respond, "Daijoubu".  When I got back from Japan, I was looking through some Youtube videos and I noticed this video by Jolin Tsai.  "Oh yay!"  I thought.  "She's going to sing a song in Japanese."  "I'm alright" sounded like a legitimate song title to me.
"Real man" What?! Yeah, it turns out that's what it actually means in Chinese.  'Zhangfu' means husband.  I knew I'd seen those characters before but the context was so different that I didn't put two and two together.  So much for a song in Japanese but at least it works perfectly with the Shinee magic dance.

(4) Turns out any terms referring to wife, lover, mistress, old woman are all confused between the two languages.  It seems like you need to be careful how you refer to people or you might offend someone.

Of course, there are examples of this between English and Japanese as well.  Japanese picks up a lot of words from English so that makes sense.

(1) Mansion: It's a huge house that only the rich of the rich can afford in America but it's an apartment in Japan and apparently includes even the smallest of apartments because I was asked many, many times how much I liked my 'mansion'.  I would also try to hold back a smile but I must admit, I liked to think that my tiny closet of an apartment counted as a mansion by someone's standards.

(2) My boom: Hasebe-san was asked in a TV interview what 'My boom' was.  He spent a long time mulling over the question. 
Makoto-san: My boom?  My boom?  My boom?  
Me: What is this 'my boom' of which you speak? 
Because it was an English word, Google translated it as 'My boom' which was absolutely no help at all since that didn't make sense in the context of English at all.  Hasebe-san ended up saying that it was Mr. Children which I know as his favorite music group.  I tried to figure out if 'My boom' referred then to music as in 'boom box' or something to do with sound.  It turns out 'boom' refers to the rapid increase in popularity - so essentially someone's short obsessive interest.  Mr. Children was the only obsession he could think of - he said multiple times that he was a boring person so he couldn't think of anything.  Boring?  Hardly?  Predictable, yes.  (But is this just because 'my boom' would be Hasebe-san and if he defines himself as a boring person and that said boring person is my 'my boom', what does that say about me as a person?) 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Faith and Hope

I'm not sure when I first learned about the Prayer of Faith.  I know I was on my mission.  I know that when I learned about it, I was excited and determined to try my faith and the promises of the Lord to make miracles happen in my area.  I know that my companion and I knelt and plead with the Lord and then we got up and went to work, hopeful that things would work out.

What was the result of our prayers and our faith?  As far as I could tell, nothing.  I chalked it up to lack of faith, lack of effort, lack of understanding the Lord and His purposes and sadly, soberly moved on.  It still nagged me, though, for years afterward.  

I think that I learned about the Prayer of Faith while I was serving in Beitou.  Beitou was my hardest area, my darkest days of the year and a half service period.  In fact, I was there from October to February so those literally were the darkest days of my mission thanks to winter daylight hours.  To describe the work in Beitou, here is a theory one companion and I came up with.  You know how some people lay the foundation of  great work to come?  Well, we figured that someone had to dig the ditch (and the pit really) to lay that foundation.  We were those people - the ditch diggers.  It was hard and often a thankless task but someone had to do it.  So we worked and worked and worked.  And in the meantime, we did all we could to keep up our spirits.  

One week, my companion and I were particularly concerned about making this Prayer of Faith work out.  We had no one to teach and a full evening of just knocking doors.  So we prayed and went to work.  And then?  We went home, unsuccessful.  Even though I was senior companion and often felt the need to be optimistic and hopeful, I let myself show my true feelings and simply threw myself onto our couch and cried.  My companion stood a few feet away and watched me awkwardly, unable to say anything to cheer me.  What was there to say?  We had no answers.  

This week, I was sitting in Institute when the Prayer of Faith was mentioned by our teacher.  She wanted us to consider the possibility of the power our faith could bring.  I thought back to my previous experience with the Prayer of Faith.  While everyone else figured out the blessings of such faith, I sat in silence.

Suddenly a memory came to me - a cold rainy, evening when my companion and I were heading to an appointment.  We stopped and talked to a woman who gave us the same sorts of reasons why she couldn't meet as everyone else we ever talked to.  Nonplussed by the "rejection" we continued onward, in good spirits.  It's a vague memory and not particularly unique in the experiences of missionaries.  The only reason why it is worth remembering at all is that several months after I left that area, some missionaries working in that area met me in the stake center.

"We have a story to tell you.  Do you remember Miss Chen?" (note: I do not remember her name so we will use Chen)  I shook my head.  "Well, she remembers you.  You're all she talks about.  Apparently, she met you sometime and she couldn't meet with you because she was busy.  Well, she called our phone number, looking for you.  She said that she was available to meet.  She started taking the discussions, started reading.  The members in the ward all love her and she was just recently baptized.  But all she ever talks about is 'Sister Reed' and what an impression you made on her."


The missionaries continued, "Well, she's here today with us and we want you to meet each other."
"Sure!"  I followed the missionaries over to the new member.
"This is Sister Reed," her teaching missionaries explained.  "Sister Reed, this is Miss Chen."

Miss Chen looked at me and then looked at my companion and then over at the two other sister missionaries next to me.  There was no recognition in her eyes at all.  She even looked at the missionaries as if to say, "Why are you introducing me to this random person?"  I smiled at her, shook her hand and said, "The sisters told me that you just joined the church in Beitou.  Congratulations!"  She gave me a polite response and then moved over to my companion to receive her congratulations as well.

The missionaries looked at me in surprise and I shrugged.  "I guess the Lord just used my name to help her find you.  She seems like a really great person.  I'm glad to have lent my name to the cause."

I had never made the connection before but now I could see it.  Our Prayer had worked after all but it took a few months to make it happen and took me nine years to realize it.  There is something we mustn't forget and that is the timing of the Lord.

When Enos prayed in faith that the Lamanites would accept the Gospel, when Enoch prayed that the Earth would find peace and rest, they had mustered all of their faith for blessings that they would never see in their lifetime or even their children's children's children's children's lifetime.

So, what do we do while we wait for our prayers of faith to be answered?

We hope.  

What the What?

Did I miss the memo?  Is it random Youtube video day or is it just me?

Here is what greeted me this morning from my Youtube subscriptions:

"How is this a common google search?  Let's set the record straight."

"We've specially chosen you to push this button.  So, please, push the button.  Push it!  NOW!  And when you do, we're going to dump water on you."

"Life is awkward, no matter how you spin it."

To go along with it, here's an awkward soccer photo from the Japan/Oman game:
Hasebe-san, why are your fingers in Kiyotake-san's mouth?  And how are you both happy about this?

I think this bodes well for an exciting and unexpected day...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Awesome starts NOW

After Toyota's One and Only campaign ended in utter confusion, Toyota went back to the drawing board and wrote up a second season (AKA Epilogue).  

At one point, Joon/Kwon - I can't keep them straight anymore - was driving a car and talking about one of it's internet search capabilities.  

Mystery Man: Wow!  That Camry SE really IS amazing.  
Joon/Kwon: No, Amazing starts NOW.  
Me:  Hahahahahahahaha.  (I can't stop laughing...ever)  

In other news, my boys Samurai Blue are one win closer to the World Cup.  I'm so proud of Kiyotake-san and Okazaki-san for their goals and of Nagatomo-san for his two amazing crosses that helped those goals happen.  

I think I should buy myself a pack of gold stars and start rewarding myself for little victories in life.

Because gold stars are awesome.

And awesome starts now.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Again?

Life just never lets up.

I arrived at work today and noticed some water puddles in our parking lot.  "It rained?"  I idly wondered before hurrying into my lab to get started on the list of thing I needed to do.

Then my coworker walked in, "Do you know if some pipe burst in our lab?"

Me: Wait, what?!
Coworker: The alley near our nitrogen is flooded.

I sprinted downstairs to check on my equipment.

It turns out our water main is leaking.  Now we have workers all over the place, no water in the building and a huge hole in the parking lot.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I got to work late today and found an exciting email waiting for me to this effect.  "Dear lab, these are items we cannot find on our inventory.  Please go find the ones assigned to you and report back to us."

This is one of those exciting scavenger hunts where you walk up and down the halls, talking to one person who directs you to another person who directs you back to another person who just went to take their lunch.  Sadly, most of this equipment is stuff I've never used and never even heard of but I was assigned to these items because the student who originally bought them worked in my lab...25 years ago.

It's like finding a needle in a haystack but you don't even know if the needle is in the haystack to begin with.

To offset the frustration, I recently discovered to my utter delight that my dear William Wei(bird) actually did put out a video for the song I was wondering about the other day, called Someone is Waiting for Me (有人在等我).

The video looks like one of those typical tour music videos.  However, the story, which includes what I assume is real footage of baby Weibird, starts to show itself partway through.  It's quite beautiful especially when you consider the words of the chorus, "Someone is waiting for me.  Someone is thinking of me.  There is someone sitting at the TV but not really watching it while they wait.  Someone is waiting for me.  Someone is missing me.  There is someone keeping watching for me before dawn, the last light in the city."  (Sorry, it's a rough translation.  But you get the idea)

I kind of like the idea that although it's a video about a man who travels all over and performs in front of adoring fans, his thoughts turn repeatedly back to returning home to the person who has always been there for him.

Here's hoping that each of us, whether we are walking on the paths of success or struggling through some hard times, knows that someone loves us and waits for us.  May each of us strive to be that person for those we love as well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why I Don't Talk about My Research Very Often

Every so often in my graduate career, I have days where I make brilliant strides in my research.

Today was not one of those.

  My accomplishment of the day?  Sawing this bolt in half.

Yes, I lead a charmed life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post Haste

Three weeks ago, I visited my sister for her baby shower.  It was a lovely time had by all.  When I returned to Cville, I realized that I had left my keys under my sister's guest bed.

Now, the pre-Japan me would not have made such a mistake.  My mantra before leaving for any location was always, "Phone, wallet, keys."  Keys were valuable - I never left them behind.

In Japan, I didn't carry keys per se.  I had a wallet that allowed me to attach my two keys - apartment and lab - to two little chains that zipped up inside its main pocket.  It was quite convenient and so, in Japan, my mantra before leaving any place became, "Phone, wallet."  But since my phone was only operable as a clock and a camera, I often would get along just fine with "wallet".

You can imagine, then, how easy it was for me to make a mistake when I got home.  I put those keys under the bed, hoping to keep them out of the confusion that is helping Baby to get dressed and ended up leaving them behind, even though I checked the room at least twice.

As soon as I returned to Cville, I realized my mistake and called my sister.  She promised to send them right away.  "Will you be okay without your keys?"

"Sure," I said cheerfully.  "I can survive for a few days without them."

My sister went out the day after and sent out my keys.  A week and a half later, they got sent back to her.

She sent them out again.  Two days later, they were sent back to her again.

She sent them out a third time.  Third time's a charm, right? This time, the postman lost them in his effort to return them to her.  My sister had to go the post office and call them several times to track them down again.

When they finally got them officially sent off, it was Saturday afternoon.  When did I receive them?

Monday afternoon - the same afternoon that Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the same afternoon that all of Cville shut down and boarded themselves in anticipation of the storm of the century.  Only one business day after they were sent.

It turns out, a person can survive without their keys for longer than a few days.  Well played, life.  Well played.

I also have another adventure to add to the other about my experiences with the postal system (although this is my first domestic mishap).
This picture was taken on my walk to work today.  A lot of the leaves were blown off by the storm.

In other news, I played this song on repeat yesterday although I don't know why.  I also can't figure out what the title or the song means.  Google translates it as "Woman Daejeon Small power"  by Evan Yo.  (I mean, who knew before this song that Daejeon actually means "Big (rice) field"?)

My thoughts about it:
(1) It sounds very "Chinese" in the melody and beat.
(2) How does Evan Yo looks the exact same as he did when he was 19?  (He's now 25)
(3) Evan Yo really reminds me of Atsuto Uchida.  It's as though one of my favorite soccer players can sing and dance.  Or is it as though one of my favorite singers can play soccer?
(4) The girl in the video panics over a cockroach.  Yesterday, I found a spider curled up in bed next to me and I didn't even flinch.  I simply shooed him away and went to sleep.
(5) Yeah, not understanding the title or main line of the song really does put a damper on what I can comment on.

And yet, I'm still playing it on repeat.  Is it addictive to anyone else?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Pretty

Real conversation the other day with friends:

Friend 1: Hey, are you going to prepare for trick-or-treaters?
Me: I don't know; should I?  Do you think they'd come?
Friend 2: It's always good to be prepared so make sure you buy candy at least.
Friend 1: Yes, and be sure to put your porch light on.  And maybe, since you live in a basement apartment, you should put something Halloween-ey on your steps to lure children down to your door.
Friend 1: You know, when you think about it, Halloween is a pretty creepy holiday.

Another thought: In the fairy tales, all the witches are shown as women who own lots of cats and lure children to their doors with promises of candy and cookies.
But you know what else that description perfectly fits?
Old maids.  Yep, that's right.  Old maids are notorious for getting a few cats themselves to keep themselves company.  And sometimes, yes, old maids even use sweets to bribe children.  (Let's be honest; parents sometimes use sweets to bribe their children)

Do you see the problem with this stereotype then? Do you realize how hard it is to get the kids at church to like me if their storybooks are telling them that I am the woman who wants to take them home and put them in my soup?

Maybe that would explain why the little girls in church today kept giving me strange looks.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indian Summer

Overheard today:
Person 1: You really can't beat this weather lately, right?
Person 2: Yes, it's just so beautiful.
Person 3: Isn't this what we would call an 'Indian summer'?

Turns out, the phrase "Indian summer" has been in usage for over two centuries in America but it's origin is unknown.  The earliest uses of it in writing treat is a commonly understood term.

When I was a young elementary school student, I remember using that term but I didn't really know what part of autumn it referred to.  In my elementary school head, I defined "Indian summer" as "that time of year when you have to wear sweaters and coats to walk to school in the morning and when you only need a short-sleeved shirt to walk home.

It's that time of year. Bring on the layers.

In other etymology, did you know that "jerry-rigged" and "jury-rigged" are words that sound similar but have completely opposite meaning?  Jerry-rigged means shoddy craftsmanship.  Jury-rigged means ingenious temporary fix.

Also, why are "farther" and "further" so hard to use properly?  Ever since I have started making an effort to use them correctly, I find myself choosing the wrong one, almost consistently.  Then today, I saw a Ford commercial and the tagline was "Ford: Go further."  My first thought was, "Shouldn't that be 'farther'"?

Coworker: I thought of you earlier.
Me: Really?  Why?
Coworker: Bob was telling some visitor about the jets on the scramjets and said they would allow us to travel to Japan in 45 minutes.
Me: Ah, yes, the connection to Japan.
Coworker: You mean, boyfriend in Japan.
Me: Hahaha.  That would definitely benefit an intercontinental relationship.
Coworker: "Honey, I'll be home in an hour.  Keep the sushi warm."
Another coworker: So, this is why you're in this field!
Me: Haha, yes!  Scramjet technology needs to happen NOW.

And to add to this random post, here is a video of me singing in Japanese.  Headlight as performed by Monkey Majik.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More of Autumn

Living in a basement has its downsides.  But one upside is this: whenever I leave my house in the morning, bracing myself for a cold day, I find, instead, a nice warm day awaiting me.  It's a welcome and pleasant surprise and good motivation to leave my cold apartment.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Yesterday, I substituted as a visiting teacher for my new friend in my ward, who happens to be Japanese.  Last time, we visited her, she prayed in Japanese and so this time I asked her if she could teach me to pray in Japanese.  She brought me a sheet of phrases already printed out that she had previously used in some Japanese lessons for a church activity.  We quickly reviewed the grammar associated with the basic phrases.


VT companion: So, you're going to give the prayer in Japanese right?
Me: Wait, what?
VT companion: Sure!  Why not?
Me: <gulp>  I, uh, wanted to practice.  What if I did it next time?
Friend: That's ok too.
Me: <deep breath> Ok, I'll do it now.

Everyone bowed their heads and I started in on my first prayer in Japanese.  It was painfully slow and extremely hard (which thinking back, is pretty funny, considering that I was practically just reading from the paper in front of me) A number of times, I had to stop and ask my friend how to say something in Japanese.  At the end, everyone raised their heads.  My Japanese friend smiled at me and reached for a tissue and then wiped away tears that started streaming down her cheeks.  "Thank you," she said between her tears.  "That was a very powerful prayer."

When I took Welsh in college, I learned that even though Welsh people all spoke English (so much so that Welsh became a dead language although it is now reviving), when it came to religion, they preferred to hear and learn things in native Welsh.  They called it their "heart language".

I think things strike us deeper in our heart language than in other languages. Somehow, my stumbled little halting attempt in her language was enough to touch her heart in ways that fluent eloquence in mine never will.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun

Can we get a hip-hip-hooray for cleaning out the wind tunnel on a Friday?  Yep, that's right.  I don't know if life gets better than spending a beautiful autumn day wearing a gas mask and getting myself covered in iodine while listening to One Ok Rock.

No, really, I'm being serious.  There's something satisfying about doing physical work.

Good thing I feel that way since I have an entire apartment in need of a good thorough cleaning.  While eating breakfast, I marveled that people live in houses and keep them clean.  So many rooms...

On another unrelated note, here are some pictures I took on the way in to work today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lab Clean Up

After being here for six years, I honestly thought there were no stones left unturned in my insatiable appetite to discover all of the awesome in my lab.

You see, my lab used to be a Naval Ordnance Research Laboratory.  This means that aside from being used as a facility for highly secretive research on artillery, this lab used to have a lot of money.  The marks of previous wealth are quite distinct: we have a machine shop that would make most machinists green with envy, we have entire rooms full of old electronic equipment that (back in the day) was state-of-the-art, we even have a room that we call the "lunch room" although it has long been relegated to neglected office space.

Now that my lab is acquiring a shock tube, we are doing some major lab remodeling.  The process is yielding new things to explore and discover.

Last week, I went out to our wood shop (who knew?) to help one of our lab guys clean it out for storage.  To protect my hands from the rusty scrap metal I was hauling away, I found this awesome pair of thick, protective, leather gloves.  I called them my "astronaut gloves" because they looked very much like what the astronauts wear.  However, my dexterity was severely limited and so I spent most of my time marveling at the fine motor skills that astronauts manage while performing their missions in full space gear.  I also got to use our glass blaster to clean off a few rusty wrenches.  I'm afraid that actually created a monster out of me - once you get started, it's hard to stop.

Today, I went up to the lunch room to look through old cabinets before they get hauled away in preparation for a new researcher.  One cabinet yielded the usual haul of expensive but confusing jumble of optics.  One cabinet yielded piles of old Scientific Americans (we're talking 1950's and 1960's).  One cabinet yielded data that I have been looking for for 6 years although the media is now obsolete.  One cabinet yielded a lot of flasks and beakers.  The last cabinet smelled like a sterile hospital and was full of pipets and syringes.  I know that this was post ordnance research but what kind of research was conducted here that hundreds and hundreds of dollars were spent on sterile lab equipment only to be abandoned for 25 years?
Circa 1959 - we hadn't even taken a picture of Earth from space yet

Alternate career No. 65470: Lab historian.

What do you think?  Doesn't that sound like a ton of fun to go rifling through old documents and hardware and figure out exactly what previous research has been done in a facility?  It's like archaeology meets rocket science.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Elephant Never Forgets

Now that I found an apartment (yay!), I have started walking a new way to my lab.  

Every day, I pass what I have dubbed The Tree.  If I were an avid photographer equipped with a camera better than a camera phone with a crack in it, I would undertake some marvelous daily photography project of this tree.  Then I would have a record of the changing seasons and documentation of what should/could be my last autumn in The Ville.  

One day I will go far away and I will want to visit.  It will simply be a matter of closing my eyes and remembering all the thousands of memories of the beauty that is here.  With the pictures, though, even when my memory fails me, I will never entirely forget. 

I have come to realize, upon returning to the States, how fragile memory is.  I came back and realized I had forgotten people's names.  I try to give directions to places and realize I've forgotten street names and where stores and places are located.  When people speak to me in Chinese, I find myself struggling to understand simple phrases.

Once my memory is jogged, I can feel the memories slowly start to make their way to the forefront of my mind but it still lags behind my necessity of that knowledge.

Now, I can see my memories in Japan start to fade away.  The other day I was telling someone that the only Japanese I really knew was "Thank you" and then I paused as I waited to remember how to say that phrase.  For some reason, my brain kept supplying the Korean word for Thank you rather than the Japanese one.  I panicked.  I only know two phrases in Japanese - I can't afford to lose even one!

You can imagine, then, my shock when I close my eyes to pray or simply to think about my schedule and a vivid sharp image of a location in Japan comes into my mind.  Where did this image come from?  Will it fade too?  Will I forget I even went to Japan?

Most importantly, will I forget the lessons I have learned and the people I have loved?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Something about Ryo

He's young.  So young that he had to get special permission to be given a work permit to play in the UK.  

He's fast.  So fast that you just gape at the videos of him sprinting past defenders on the soccer field.  

He's pretty.  So pretty that when he and Shinji Kagawa attended a soccer game together, one of the commentators noted, "Ah, there's Shinji Kagawa and his wife."  
(I have to admit, I can see why people got confused)  

Turns out, he's also a bit of a surprise.  

Apparently, a few weeks ago, for initiation into a new team that he was loaned out to, he sang We Will Rock You so well that everyone demanded that he sing it twice and now play it before every single home game despite the fact that Ryo did not even know the correct lyrics.    
I hope he continues to surprise as Japan NT takes on France tomorrow and Brazil on Tuesday.  


It's been almost 2 weeks since I returned to the States.  I think I thought I'd be back to "normal" life by now.

My first week back, I realized how different my life had been in Japan.  Over there, I lived in an apartment the size of my friend's living room, never touched much less hugged another person, spent all of my spare time walking in the streets, and could travel anywhere I wanted by myself.  Suddenly I was living in my friend's spare bedroom, eating meals with her and her husband, receiving lots of hugs from her (to make up for my lack in Japan, she insisted) and there were lots of places I simply couldn't get to unless I asked for a ride.

In this second week, I've started bashing my experience in Japan.  I promised myself I wouldn't do it but somehow it just spills out.  Japan was wonderful - no doubt about it.  I learned some hard lessons though.  And for some reason the bitter struggles from those hard lessons are now showing themselves in unwonted ways.

When I first got back, Charlottesville felt the same.  Eerily the same.  However, now I'm seeing the differences.  Some of them, in fact, are so stark that I just marvel that change can happen so quickly in 3 short months.  The JPA bridge opened up.  Newcomb Hall got such a new facelift that I ended up wandering around it in, lost.  Even my lab - I showed up the first day to find that a shock tube experimental facility waiting out in the parking lot, just waiting to be installed into our machine shop.  People too, have changed.  Friends start dating, get engaged, move away.  Those things don't just happen overnight.  Then again, they do.  People adjust and move on but somehow, I'm still reeling in shock.

Some of my old annoying habits have come back.  Mein lieblingsspieler held a minor place in my conscious thought in Japan.  Here, he occupies a decidedly much larger part of my life - do I even get through a day anymore without bringing him up as though he's my best friend?  I feel like I'm clinging to something.  It all feels so desperate.  Where does this desperation come from though?

In Japan, I was always alone and often lonely.  Here, I am surrounded by people and never lonely.  However, in so many ways, I've never felt so alone.

I think I like to pretend that Hasebe is the kid from two years ago who was lonely himself and admitted so on his blog.  (Although now I'm realizing it might have been a Google (mis)translate).  He's not that kid any more though.  His life is full and happy and good (although he later edited the Good!  GOOD!  words off his blog and I wonder why).

All of this, then, leaves me trying to pull a life back together and realizing that none of the pieces are the same.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Administrator: What are you doing in this building?
Me: I'm looking for Post Awards.
Administrator: They aren't here.  You know that.
Me: Yes, but they move around so often, I don't know where to find them.  I thought if I came here, I might find someone who could tell me where to go.
Administrator: They're in Small Hall now. 
Me: See?  It worked. 

Me: Time to take a nap Alexis.  Here, lay down next to me on the couch and watch this episode of Dora.
<I doze off>
Minutes later...
Alexis: Catch the stars Dora!  <claps her hands>
Me: <waking up> Well, I guess I'm the only one sleeping in this arrangement.

Me: What number is on my shirt?
Alexis: (whispers) Seventeen.
Me: WHAT?! Seventeen?
Alexis nods.
Me: Did you really just say Seventeen?
Alexis nods.  
Me: Baby!  My love!  You got it right!!  How did you know??

Talking with a new student in my English class:
Student: (in Chinese) Do you get to practice your Chinese much?
Me: Nai, nai, nai.
Me: <thinking> Uhhh...that was not English or Chinese but more like pretend Japanese.  Oops.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gulliver's Travels, Part II

Unedited shots from my camera.  

Sendai Castle and Date Masamune Statue

Near the Hirose River in Sendai

Zuihoden - Date Mausoleum

In front of the tennis courts near Sendai City Museum


Tokyo Temple