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.