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.