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Swimmer’s high May 2, 2009

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I finally made it to the pool again after months on inactivity.  Though it felt awkward to try to work out in a bikini (pity I didn’t bring my competition gear with me), I managed to still get some decent exercise in.  I’m so used to the comfort of a one-piece suit, cap, and goggles that I didn’t exactly know what to do with myself without.  I figured I could just tread water and do some endurance exercises that way, so I started off just doing a casual freestyle kick, keeping my chin just above the water.  After awhile, that got boring, so I curled up my knees and tread with just my hands.  From there, I did variations of strokes, from a breaststroke with my head above the water to doing some freestyle kick drills on my sides.  Every time I get in the water I’m tempted to do the butterfly, which is my favorite stroke, but alas, in a suit like mine today, I was in great danger of losing my top half that way.  So instead, I satisfied myself with some simple exercises that may not raise my heart rate a great deal, but certainly required a certain amount of strength and endurance.

By the time I got out, I felt great.  My face was flushed and my heart rate had increased.  That’s one of my favorite parts of working out – getting to that flushed stage where you know you’ve pushed your body beyond its normal resting state.  I felt so at peace that I began to wonder if there’s such a thing as a swimmer’s high.  It seems pretty commonly recognized that there’s a runner’s high, but does the same go for swimming?  I have not been able to find anything online to back me up, but there’s a certain feeling that I get when I’m doing the fly and everything is in sync.  You get into a rhythm and inertia kicks in.  It’s almost harder to stop that flow of action than to continue on with it.  Unfortunately, the pool can only be so long and that stroke tends to be very taxing on the body, so at some point gravity’s influence becomes more apparent and it slows things down.  But for those couple of beautiful seconds, everything just feels so right.

If there was such a thing as a swimmer’s high, it could only really be achieved in freestyle (at least that’s how I feel).  Fly is too demanding, breast is too technical, and backstroke is too disruptive.  I’m not saying it’s not possible, but from what I understand, it should last quite a long time and for any of the other strokes, it’d be more difficult to accomplish.  To start off with, people tend to swim proper strokes in a pool, which of course requires flip-turns every couple of seconds.  That in itself, though integrated into the process, can be disruptive.  Runners can get themselves to move to a beat and maintain that for virtually as long as they want.  Swimmers must pause their rhythm to add in the occasional glide, flip, push-off, kick-off, and resurfacing.  In open water swimming, this phenomenon might be easier.  At least for freestyle, the stroke motion going into a flip-turn is similar to what you are already doing.  Maybe it’s just the way I swim, but I think it’d be easiest to get into a groove with freestyle.

I miss the lull of the water, the smell of the chlorine, and the whole atmosphere surrounding training and competition.  From wearing swim parkas and Uggs around the pool to helping be the counter for those swimming the 500 free, I really enjoyed being on swim teams.  I liked how it felt to have the water rushing by me and bubbles flowing around.  I loved playing with Sammies (those super absorbant towels) and the beauty of a perfectly executed backstroke start.  I enjoyed practicing my dives and finishes, especially when there was a touchpad present!  I liked how professional I felt when I wore a drag suit for added resistance in training.  I even had a blast at the swim camps at Mt. Holyoke, where we did dryland circuits until I could barely move, then hopped in the water for more working out.  It was a lifestyle that I will always miss, just like my track and field days and my military training days.

Back when I was a sophomore in high school, I got invited to go to Australia with other swimmers from around the country, to compete against some of the swimmers down under.  This was with the International Sports Specialists, Inc. who run Down Under Sports.  It was an awesome time, from the places that we went (Sydney, Gold Coast, and then Waikiki Beach in Hawaii) and the people we met (these guys who were there playing soccer took us around).  I don’t remember much of the meet, except that Aussies are freaking fast and we couldn’t beat them, but we had a great time and it was a great bonding experience.  I used to have a t-shirt with all the people from the New York team on it, but I lost it long ago.  I also managed to misplace the sweatshirt I bought from them, as well as the Bond University one that we girls decided to get when we went there for a visit.  It’s a pity – those were great memories of an unparalleled two weeks.

I have always had a pleasant experience with the water, from my childhood splashing around in pools to middle school when I first learned the four strokes to high school where I helped start the swim team at Brewster High School and finally when I competed on the varsity team at Valencia High School.  Though I got a late start, learning stroke techniques when I was thirteen, I wasn’t too far behind and always managed to be good enough for varsity level, even if I wasn’t a star in that realm.  Nowadays, without a team to practice with and keep me motivated, it’s hard to complete a workout like I used to.  Once I settle down somewhere, I’d like to make sure I visit the pool frequently, even if I don’t do a real workout.  Perhaps one day I can join a club or something, just to get back into it.  For now it will just be my therapeutic experience; something I can always count on to make me feel better.

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TV’s lack of appeal April 19, 2009

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I can’t recall where our household TVs were in most of the places I grew up.  In fact, my first memory of really consistently watching TV was back in middle school, around 7th grade.  That was when we had moved to New York and I remember coming back from school to watch trash shows like Ricki Lake and then classics like Fresh Prince of Bel Air as I ate my way through a few bags of instant chicken ramen.  I never really cared for cartoons and other animated shows, so I pretty much just stuck towhatever was on when I got home from school.  Prior to that, I had always read books for fun.  I think the change began when I started to come out of my shell and be more sociable at school.  Coming out of my own world and integrating into the larger one introduced me to this phenomenon that seems inescapable in the American culture.

Well, by the time I left New York three and a half years later, I had given up TV other than whatever was on that my dad was watching during dinner, which was usually 60 Minutes or 20/20.  The internet was booming and I could entertain myself far more with that than any TV show could ever provide.  Plus, I had much more control over what I would be exposed to, versus being at the mercy of some channel’s scheduling choices.  I can’t even remember what I used to watch, other than Gilmore Girls and Charmed.  I never really got into the whole TV or movie thing.  I’m not sure why, but I guess it was something about how unenlightening they seem and how they tend to encourage vanity.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten worse, from what I know, what with shows like Damages that I’ve seen commercials for and Gossip Girls that I’ve heard about.  Why would you spend hours of your life watching people be terrible to each other?  I hope this doesn’t produce a pathological society intent on revenge, greed, and other traits that will pick at our morals.  Entertainment is widely influential and the messages being sent these days are often questionable.  I’m not sure I want to know how this is affecting the younger generation as they grow up with their role models watching that kind of junk.

At the same time, there are some shows cropping up that I don’t mind, such as House and Lie to Me.  Initially my obsession with House started when I was moving in my second year of college and my friend was watching the season one DVDs.  The abrasive humor, fast-paced discourse, and insightful tidbits into the human body and mind attracted me.  Enough for me to decide to buy the first four seasons on DVD when I joined Columbia House.  As I spent the tail end of last year watching episode after episode, I started to notice the trends and patterns and slowly my interest waned.  I am still fond of the show, despite all its peculiarities (or maybe because of them) and I find it interesting because Dr. House is just so odd.

As for Lie to Me, I saw bus stop ads for it all over Westwood in the early parts of this year, as I was enjoying life with no schedule.  I decided to go check it out online once the show started airing and found it to be quite intriguing.  The entire thing is based on research done on microexpressions and body language, and how they can tell us when people are lying.  I have heard of this type of thing before, and having studied psychology as one of my majors, I find this fascinating.  There were a lot of facts in the show about how it all works, plus audiences get to see how what our behavior tells you is just the what, but not the why.  A lot of unexpected motives for lying are unveiled throughout the episodes, which makes you think before you assume.

I am also glad that the newer reality shows I’ve seen are getting more positive, rather than taking the dramatic approach by throwing a bunch of strangers to live together just to watch them fight.  I mentioned beforewatching some of the episodes of The Biggest Loser, which encourages people to take charge of their lives and finally get around to losing the unhealthy weight they’ve been bearing for years.  It’s not that I don’t have gripes about certain details of the show, but overall they are trying to send a good message.  I also like this one show I saw five minutes of, which pairs up children with their dads in a competition.  Done right, it encourages the parent-child relationship to be stronger and allows them to outperform by doing teamwork activities.  Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? can be positive too, by making being smart look cooler.  What kid doesn’t want bragging rights to knowing the answer that the adult didn’t and "saving" them in the show?  Though the show makes some adults look like fools, it also encourages kids to do well in their academics.

Even the good shows out there have their flaws, but I guess that is expected, since they can’t be perfect or they’d be uninteresting.  The main problem with TV shows for me, however, is that I bore of them easily.  For both House and Gilmore Girls, which are the only two shows I own on DVD and the only two shows I have ever watched every episode for, there came a point when I started to tire of the plot or the characters.  When you see a pattern or things become predictable, it’s just not fun anymore.  I like to be challenged to never expect things at face value, to have to think about things that are going on in the plot.  Perhaps that is why I also quite enjoy watching CSI with Marylin on the weekends, whenever she has it on.  There’s always mysteries and twists to look out for.  Yet, whatever draws most of the population to their television sets each day baffles me, for I could live perfectly well without it.  Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I turned on a TV; in the past few years I’ve only ever turned them off after people around me have finished watching and I am still left sitting there.  To me, TV is just unappealing.

Family life April 10, 2009

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At times I wish I had more family living near me, or a greater extended family sprawled around the world.  I have always dreamt of having an older brother to rely on (or a gay best friend).  Since I tend to connect a lot better with guys, I have always wanted to have one who was very, very close to me in a platonic way.  Unfortunately, though such figures have come and gone, I can’t really claim one guy who I can run to when I am hurt or scared or just have a great secret to share.  More than that though, I wish that my cousins and I were closer.  When I was young, I would always follow them around so closely that they nicknamed me their shadow.  It was true enough, since I only got to see them once a year for a few weeks and that was my only tie to my background.

I have lived my life very much alone, or in a tiny family unit consisting of me and my parents.  I always love to have people over to my house simply because nobody ever visits!  It’s always just me, my mom, my dad, and for some years, my cats.  There are no random second cousins or great aunts, twice removed who can swingby to say hi.  In fact, there isn’t a single other person in our family in the country, from either side of the family.  So, other than the summers that I got to go back to China in my childhood, I’ve hardly ever seen my relatives.  Lately, I have also spent a lot of my time on my own, first as I went off to college, then as my dad moved back to China, then as I studied abroad in England, then as my mom moved back to China as well, and finally as I moved out to Singapore to work.

Granted, I am not alone alone.  Yet, I have had nobody I can call family in the same country as me for the past two and a half years, but for the few months my mom came to visit, the couple of weeks my dad has spent back, and the lucky few days that some of my aunts and uncles got to come watch me graduate from UCLA.  Family, after all, are the only people who are linked to you from day 1.  And in my life, they are the only ones who have always been there, even if it was largely in the background and rather out of reach.  But year after year, they are there, growing in their own ways, and eventually we will catch up again.  For me, friendship has not worked out quite that way, since each move brought another group of people to leave behind.  I can never claim a best friend from my childhood who watched me grow up.  The only people who truly watched me grow up were my parents.

I have certainly been blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my life, but once again I find that they come and go.  I’m so used to people leaving my life and becoming a great memory that I didn’t even notice I do that, until a close friend pointed it out.  Perhaps I got too conditioned to having to leave people behind with every move we made over the years.  I don’t have the mindset that makes me think of someone, pick up the phone and call them, or drop them an e-mail to catch up.  Instead, I just wonder whatever happened to them and how they are doing.  I am always grateful when I do hear from a long-lost friend and get to see how they are doing in their lives.  I love that we are becoming a more globally connected world now and facebook was the first social media tool that allowed me to get in touch with friends from lives past.  I also love that you don’t need to be maintaining a conversation with each other to keep tabs on and be able to find each other years down the line.

I like to dream about a handful of aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins bustling around during Chinese New Year, as the whole family makes time to be together.  Sadly, I’ve only been in China once during that time of year since I left (which was when I was too young to remember anything anyway) and I don’t recall a thing about it.  My dad has told me that to truly experience Chinese festivities, I need to spend Chinese New Year back in his hometown, the little place that he grew up in.  Now that truly has small town flair in its celebrations, with all the stops pulled!  Maybe if I have time next year, I can make it come true, in the second Year of the Ox that I will experience since the one I was born in.  2010 will be an important year for me because I will have gone through two full Chinese zodiac cycles.  I’m sure that has some sort of significance.

Someday, I’d like to be able to gather with all my relatives (or at least one representative from each family unit).  But over the years, even our not-so-big family has had trouble reuniting as my cousins married off and started to create their own little families.  Between work, children, spouses, and friends, it’s hard to find time to get together like we used to when everyone lived in the same town and the only ones missing were me and my parents.  Now I’m embarking on my own life as well, sacrificing time with loved ones in hopesof building a strong foundation for a successful future.  Work is hardly as flexible as tertiary education was, with more hours and less ease of changing schedules.  Plus, there’s a lot less time off per annum.  On the other hand, I am very fortunate to be working for a company that would, like no other, work with me to try to make it happen, if I so chose.  One of the things I will miss most about education is the lovely summer months filled with enrichment learning, extracurricular fun, and personal fulfillment.

Despite all this daydreaming about a huge family, I still don’t want more than two or three kids, if only because I don’t know if I can handle any more.  Growing up so independent and with all the attention focused on me makes it difficult for me to conceive how it would be with a handful of children running amok.  The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?  And that is why I wish I had a companion to grow up with, whether sibling, cousin living nearby, or best friend from childhood.  But, because I know there is this tendency to think that the other way is so much better, I do recognize the benefits of only childhood.  Thus, I don’t want to overcompensate by having so many kids I don’t know what to do with myself.  Instead, to create that feel, I’d like to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other and the kids can play together.  This would also be a great way to expose them to how others live their lives, especially if it’s a multicultural communit

Camera eyes April 7, 2009

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Every now and then, I come up with some outrageous idea that I really wish was possible.  One that I’ve been thinking of is if our eyes could be cameras.  I absolutely love to take pictures and I try to keep my camera on me at all times.  Sometimes, things just happen too fast for it to be pulled out, turned on, aimed, and shot.  So many brilliant pictures and shots have been lost that way.  To some extent it preserves the beauty of life, making living in real time worth so much more than trying to live through still shots.  However, those are often the very moments you really want to remember and be able to look back and share with others.

So my idea was that if there could be a pressure point with the shutter button at your temple, so whenever you want to capture something, all you need to do is press your temple.  Shots recorded from there would be taken exactly as the eyes see, with no altered colors and all the details we would normally distinguish with the naked eye – none of that distortion junk that happens with most cameras.  The downside to this would be not having a flash to illuminate things when it’s just too dark.  But generally, I find that I like things just the say my eyes see them.

Of course, this begs the question of how technology could possibly make this happen.  And in short, that is why this goes under my "ludicrous" ideas bag and gets stuffed away in a dusty corner for an indefinite period of time.  The plausibility of converting your eye into a camera without damaging your vision, making things captured just the way you see it (which would likely require access to your brain), then finding a way to store it without all kinds of crazy equipment is just nil.  Even if it could be developed, the legal issue of recording things without consent could crop up as a greater and greater issue.  Plus, the time and resources would likely not be worth the investment.

Sadly, I have to resort to just pretending, in my mind’s eye, that I can capture a moment so beautiful and memorable just the way it is to me.  I’ll never have anything concrete to share with others, so I guess I’ll just have to work on improving my memory.  This type of thing is borderline robotic, almost as if you’d have to start to convert the human body into a machine.  Now that is certainly not the direction I think we should be going in (or ever go in).  I guess we have an imagination for a reason: to let us live out all those silly things that cannot be, should not be, or will not be.

Detailing experiences March 29, 2009

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I feel (and have often felt) like I should write more like I am storytelling, relaying the details of my life.  From the feelings to the specifics of names of places, these are all things that I tend to leave out.  I usually write what I did, plain and simple, in my daily journal.  I’ve been making an effort to include more of what I think and feel for a couple years now.  It’s getting a lot better, but there’s still a lot more to be done.  Then on the blogging side, I tend to only write about what I think, but not really related to a certain event.  Granted, an event may have triggered my idea, but it’s usually something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile or have at least considered before.

Part of the problem is the trade-off between the time spent in using so much detail and the time I could be spending out, living a life to write about!  This is a very familiar tug-of-war for me, after thirteen years of keeping a personal journal.  I’m afraid that I am slowly drifting away from maintaining it, just because the quality that I want to have takes far too much time to fit into my life.  Yet, I still can’t quite put it down.  After all, I’ve been faithful for a good twelve years and some with little faltering!

This struck me as I was replying to an e-mail from one of my pledge brothers, asking for advice from anyone who had traveled to Europe before.  I can still recall all the places I went and most of things I saw, but what was that website I used to book my hostels?  What airline were those cheap flights taken on?  These are all details that have started to escape me.  Thankfully, a quick search and refresher took me back to the information I wanted, but can things always work out so well?  I’d much rather have solid entries I can refer to from that time, with all those details in there for me.

I don’t have a very good memory and those are one of the most precious things to me, so it’s sad to realize what I have forgotten.  It’s the very reason why I stubbornly continue to document my life, despite the time that it takes.  Between all the things that I have recorded, I think I have a good database of my life.  I want to be able to look back on my life and actually know what happened.  I don’t just have trouble throwing away physical things – memories and knowledge are the same for me!  I hate that my French and Chinese language skills have deteriorated so much over the years and that I probably can’t remember the way to get from my house to the local library back in Topeka.

So, I love to have all this information.  Plus, it will all be very useful for writing my autobiography!  😛  I’m going to have to get the nearly 50 volumes of handwritten journals to be transcribed.  The benefit of electronic copies is the searchability and accessibility they offer.  Though most of my entries aren’t very exciting, there are definitely some jewels hidden in there that could be really great material.  I’d also need my thousands of pictures and videos to be consolidated and put into some sort of a timeline corresponding to my written entries and life events and experiences.  How cool would that be?  Then I could virtually relive my life (to some extent)!

For now though, I will take to my friend Ninja’s philosophy: live a life worth writing about!  (Or, in his case, worth making a movie about.)

Packrat tendencies March 1, 2009

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I have a habit of collecting things and never throwing them out.  I just can’t bear to.  This has been a problem since my youth, when I couldn’t even throw away homework that I wrote.  I blame it on my intense sentimentality.  Everything is a memory to me, good, bad, or otherwise.  Well how do you throw that away?  However, though I do love to keep things around, I would like to cut back on the superfluous things I have lying around the house.  After all, who needs clutter?  So whenever I move or pack, I try to clear out some of my stuff in an effort to stop the growing piles of boxes.

I am finally getting to the point in my life where I have outgrown some of my clothes, yet I still haven’t put them all together to donate.  Some are just a tad bit small now, but mostly they are just not a style that someone my age would wear.  Despite the fact that I will never need them again, they sit in my closet, reminders of my high school days.  Perhaps one day I will start an electronic photo album database with pictures of all the items that I’ve owned, so even when I get rid of something, I’ll have it stored away in a memory bank of sorts.  At the same time, I recognize that once that stuff is gone I will hardly ever think of it again.

This goes for a lot of things I own.  My mom is always doing some spring cleaning in my room, rummaging through my things and throwing them out as she sees fit.  Many of these items I don’t miss for a long time, which should indicate just how much I don’t need them.  Yet, it doesn’t make it any easier for me to let go, since the moment I do remember, I feel a great loss.  Why do I have such an attachment to my personal items?  Maybe it’s because my memory is not as good as I would like, or that I fear losing it too soon.

Right now it’s been hard to not pack certain things, since I can almost always convince myself that there will be that one circumstance in which I would need to use that item.  I had to constantly remind myself that I really won’t be needing a dozen jackets in Singapore, seeing as my research into their weather patterns has shown very consistent results: hot, humid, non-jacket conditions.  It’s a pity, since I have suddenly been rediscovering jackets that I have not worn in ages and would love to!  Alas, I will just have to console myself with the thought that I can make up for that when I get back.

I even had trouble deciding what office supplies to bring – how many highlighters?  What color pens?  How about pencils?  Erasers?  All of this is largely irrelevant, since I will likely be using a rather plain black or blue pen most of the time, which I’m sure the office is abound with.  Besides, how long does one pen last you?  Ages!  So it’s not like I’m going to be pumping through them, but nonetheless I took special care in deciding just what to throw in my suitcase and what to leave out.

So there you go, I confess my packratting habit.  It could be worse… right?

My favorite moments in college February 28, 2009

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As my departure date approaches, I am frantically taking advantage of the time I have left to visit my friends at and around UCLA.  The other night, I met up with a friend for tea and two and a half hours later, I left campus with a nostalgic feeling in my heart.  I miss the days of staying up late with my friends, discussing all sorts of ideas and lamenting the work we had to do.  One of the things I will miss most about college life is those late night chats in the hallway or lounge.

That is the reason that I stayed in on-campus housing for as long as I could; I loved the atmosphere there that cannot be replicated.  When else can you go knock on a random stranger’s door and make a friend without seeming too forward?  Where else will you find so many doors kept open and people weaving in and out of the hallway?  College residential life is the best buffer for meeting new people who may have nothing in common with you.  In every other social situation, you are brought together by some shared interest, but in this one, your choice of living situation hardly dictates the type of people you will be living around.

It was the nicest thing to be back in that environment I adored so much, doing what I do best – livening up the quarters!  In fact, as we stood in the hallway chatting, the duty RA came by and told us how he had just been thinking how he hadn’t heard the place so chatty since I was last around when he rounded the corner to find it was actually me there!  We caught up briefly and then he left to continue his round, jokingly warning us to keep it down or else he’d have to come write us up (he’s a friend of mine, so it was only half serious).  I thought about it and you know what?  I’d much rather be the type of person up way too late interacting with my peers and possibly getting written up for it than the type of person always holed up in the my room, hardly ever socializing with fellow students.

College is a time of great growth, academically and socially, and everyone should take advantage of it in all aspects.  I will always fondly remember the feeling of sitting around with my friends, exchanging our thoughts throughout the night.  And I will miss that, as well as having such a huge concentration of friends in a small area.  Life is changing quickly.

How I was molded into an independent person February 26, 2009

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I just overheard my mom on the phone, booking her plane ticket to Mongolia, due to leave just about 12 hours after mine to Singapore leaves LAX.  The past couple of days she has been lamenting what to do about our mail, since many statements cannot be sent to P.O. boxes and there is no one in our family here to take care of it for us.  We used to get it forwarded to a family friend’s place, but that’s such a hassle to do for just a month or two.

Now that I’m leaving the country, my mom is left to figure out what to do with the house (and her life) again.  When I was studying abroad in England, she rented it out and moved back to China with my dad.  Should she do that again or stick around to try to pursue a career in aerospace, as she’s dreamed of doing?  Strangely enough, my life is what gives her some stability – whenever I’m around, she can stay at home and do various types of work happily.  Yet, once I leave, she needs to figure what her life is about, sans moi.

All of this made me think of the fragmented time I spent with my parents growing up and how multiple moves affected my sense of independence.  It’s no wonder I did become so independent, what with one parent or the other often away and our family hardly ever staying in one place long enough to make lasting friends.  As I grew older, it became my time to be away from home and friends on my own – to swim camps, to boot camps, to a swim competition in Australia, and the frequent visits to my relatives in China.  Another factor contributing to my independence was early on: I didn’t even meet my parents until I was three and a half (my dad left six months before I was born and my mom left six months after I was born, so I hardly remembered her).

In the early days, my parents were busy finishing up their graduate degrees at Penn State – a Master’s for my mother and a Doctorate for my father.  To support us, they had to be research assistants and my dad worked as a teaching assistant as well.  From there, it was off to Kansas, where my dad worked for the government and my mom found a random job with Payless Shoes.  I would come home to an empty house and do homework or play by myself.  I think that’s when my desire for a sibling or pet began to grow, as I spent many quiet afternoons alone in the house, waiting for my mom to get home from work.  I had one or two good friends, but mostly kept to myself.  I enjoyed playing around during recess, but I rarely mixed home life with school life.

Three years later I was sent back to China for a year to reacquaint myself with the culture and language.  It was a blissful time of no homework, no worries, since I was so far behind in all the subjects – except for English, where I was so far ahead – that I was kind of just a dead weight in class.  Nevertheless, the kids loved me because this little 3rd grader was stronger than the 6th graders, and faster than anyone in school.  I didn’t really contact my parents much during that year and when I returned to the US, I had no viable way of staying in touch with my friends from that school.

When we moved to Missouri, my dad had been working there for awhile.  He had secured a position with a company that kept him traveling as he and my mom started their own company, so my mom went back to China for two or three years to work on that.  The internet had just gone public and I was immersed in the world of HTML, making a variety of websites that I have since forgotten about.  I was also an extreme bookworm, preferring to spend time poring over novels to that of physical company.  At school, I was a social butterfly, known by everyone but not close to many.

By the time we made the move to New York, I was in the smack middle of my middle school years.  Afraid that I would get gaps in my knowledge if I took the honors track for math and science, my counselor advised me to follow the normal track and then test out of it after 8th grade.  The classes, unfortunately, were far too easy and filled with immature peers who I did not connect with.  My close set of friends didn’t have many classes with me, since they were all on the honors track.  After finishing middle school, I found that this test that my counselor talked about did not exist.  I was stuck.  Meanwhile, my mom busied herself with the stock market as my dad worked hard at his new Vice President position, often going on business trips.

During my freshman year of high school, I took a math class that was nearly a joke for me – algebra.  I aced nearly all of the tests and quizzes and got a disappointing 99 on my final.  Frustrated with the lack of challenge, my mom had me talk to my teacher to find out what I would need to know for the next level of math.  I spent that nextsummer learning geometry with my mother, meticulously practicing, learning, and writing out homework.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, we took all the paperwork to the principal and my new counselor to show them that I had mastered the material.  It was agreed that I should be allowed to learn trig at that point, however, I still had to attend geometry class.  (Apparently a New York State law that I needed to spend a certain number of hours in the classroom – utterly useless.)  So, I took two math classes simultaneously that year (along with either other classes, ensuring I never had a lunch period).  Though I finally caught up academically, socially it was a bit too late – the honors track students had already formed their cliques.  And I was not a part of them.

My dad had moved to Texas when his company moved headquarters and waited there for us to move there to join him sometime in the future.  Instead, a headhunter found him and convinced him to take a new position as VP over in a Californian company.  So, with just two weeks notice in the summer following my sophomore year, we packed up and moved across the nation.  Being that it was summer, not many people knew what had happened to me and why I left.  Once again I had been the social butterfly, knowing everyone in my grade, but hardly close to any of them.  Only my closest group of friends saw me off and the rest of the school I didn’t know well enough to call up to inform.

I started life anew in California as a junior.  With just two years of high school left and a lot of focus on college prep work, I made friends only with people in my classes, on my swim team, and in my JROTC unit.  This was the most present my parents had ever been, but I was far too busy with schoolwork, SAT prep, ROTC training, swim practice, and meets to really spend time with them.  For the last blissful weeks of high school, I lived it up driving around with my friends and enjoying life after APs and before college.

Then came UCLA, where I was so busy with being a college student that I only went home when I needed to do laundry.  When I was about to start my second year, my dad moved back to China to work and has been there ever since.  My third year of college I went abroad and by the time I returned, my mom had joined my dad in China.  I spent my fourth year and extra quarter on my own in this country before my mom came back to join me until I found a job.  Now I’ll be off to Singapore and by the time I get back, who knows how things will be.

So you see, much of my life was spent with my parents traveling around or busy at work.  I had a lot of time to myself in the afternoons when I came back from school and spent many years away from them.  Even when we are together, we all are busy with our own obligations, so I don’t just hang out with them much.  In fact, the only true bonding we get is the periodic family outings we go on – road trips my dad concocts to all kinds of places.  It’s been an interesting lifestyle and it just amuses me that in a week, our family will once again be split amongst three different countries.  I do love being independent and traveling a lot, but eventually I’d like to settle somewhere long-term to have as a home base.

Thoughtful friends make my heart sing February 25, 2009

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You know when you think it’s just another meet-up with your friend and then BAM you arrive and it’s a surprise party for you?  Well if you haven’t experienced this, it’s just about the coolest thing ever.  If you have, then you know the utter shock and amazement that washes over you when it dawns on you what is happening.  And yes, I am writing about this because it happened to me today (well, I guess technically yesterday now).

February 24th was cut out to be a special day.  I thought it was because it was my boyfriend’s birthday.  I thought it was because it’s Mardi Gras.  But more than that, it turned out to be a special day for me!  After spending as much time as I could with Panda this afternoon, I had a few hours to kill before I was scheduled to meet up with my friend "Shadow" for dinner.  I decided to head over to the student store after parking my car, which turned out to be a fortunate decision – I ended up running into an old friend and an alum from my co-ed business fraternity, AKPsi.  It was great to catch up and I was happy that I didn’t end up bored out of my mind for three hours.

Eventually I headed back to the residential halls to get ready to meet up with Shadow, but since I was early, I decided to drop by and say hi to some old friends.  They weren’t in, but luckily, I happened to see them in the window of one of the eateries on campus.  As if that wasn’t enough excitement for a day, I also ran into another friend there!  We all made some plans to meet up later this week before I fly out on Sunday.  Eventually, it came time to head down to the restaurant that Shadow and I were going to eat at.

As she and I walked to the car, I babbled about how I didn’t want to walk down so I’d drive the car and try to get a metered spot in front.  Then we could get our food and park somewhere else to eat in the car.  She calmly agreed to this silly plan and we drove down, coming across a 30-minute spot that had 30 more minutes until they stopped checking meters.  Perfect.  I even babbled out loud about how I could keep the spot now, even though we shouldn’t need it since our food shouldn’t take that long.  Well, I didn’t realize just how fortunate that was!  It freed me up to stay happily put at the restaurant once we did arrive and she hurriedly pushed open the door to reveal three other friends, waiting there for us!

I was completely oblivious this whole time, haha, which worked out just as it needed to.  It was so amazing to see those lovely faces that I haven’t gotten to see in months!  Gosh, I am still thrilled about it now, hours later and even as exhaustion kicks in.  Additionally, Shadow got me this amazing gift baggie with UCLA gear to remind me of my alma mater, some candy for my sweet tooth, and even some gum, since it’s banned in Singapore.  I’m not sure I’m allowed to bring it in, but it’s cute.

A few years back, Katana also did something similar for me, arranging a surprise birthday party.  Sometimes I can’t believe I actually thought I was going to her house for lunch with her parents!  Haha, I can be so gullible when it comes to social gatherings.  Instead of a warm family gathering, I walked into their hosue and found a dining room overflowing with gifts and food, and most importantly, good company!  What a special day that was.

The point of all this is just to express how grateful I am to have friends like this.  Those who take the time and care to arrange these get-togethers and lure me to them.  I feel so blessed that they would go to that trouble and I really wish I was better at these things.  I am a hugely sentimental person and I appreciate thoughtful gifts so much more than anything of great value.  That is why these things speak so much to me – it takes careful thought to plan and execute them!  That sort of effort means so much more to me than anything that can be bought.

I want to explore what I am good at and find a creative way to turn that into something that I can do for my friends, in turn.  I remember when I used to be the picture-taker, Katana used to be the writer, and Elle used to be the CD-maker in our little trio.  We each had our own niche and that is how we shared with each other.  I want to do something special akin to the whole party-throwing thing, like make an artful collage or mini photo album or scrapbook.  Something that will be signature "me."  At the same time, these little meaningful gatherings are a classic and I’d really like to do them.

Happy Valentine’s Day! February 14, 2009

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Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day has arrived!  I’m stoked because this is my first time spending it with someone special.  Not that my friends aren’t special and I didn’t have fun going out with them, but… you know.  And though I’m not into the whole gift-giving thing (nor do I expect Panda to pay for my meals), I do like this holiday in the sense that it is supposed to be a celebration of love and loved ones.  Granted, this holiday has undergone a fair share of commercialization, but when it boils down to it, I hope people realize that it’s really another time to appreciate the people you care about.  Would it hurt to do it in a cheesy, gaudy way occasionally?

Remember those cheap little cardboard Valentine’s cards from elementary school?  As I a child I always made sure my mom got me more than enough, just in case…  I even spent time to decide which card design would best fit which friend as I gingerly traced out their names on the cards, hoping I didn’t mess up.  There’d also be the lollipops or Sweetheart candies to distribute along with the little note.  Then came the day to bring your baggie to class and exchange them with your classmates (and just to be safe, you could give one to everyone in your class, whether you wanted to or not).  It was always fun to see what themes people chose and any special messages they may have written for you.  I secretly hoped that my crush would give me a unique card and use it to reveal his feelings for me, but alas, it never worked out.  So at the end of the day, you’d return home, baggie now filled with cards from your frinds and classmates.  At what age do you stop doing this?  I can’t seem to remember, but I think it was 2nd or 4th grade for me.

More recently, I had celebrated by gathering with my single girlfriends to enjoy an evening together.  Here and there there’d be a guy on my mind who I was loosely interested in and reminded of as I watched lovers throughout the day.  It generally wasn’t a big deal to me and I even spent the day taking three midterms last year!  To reward myself for that rough day, I went online and bought a longboard from Loaded.  Other times I was wrapped up in helping with fundraising events centered around the day with Valentine-grams and roses to deliver to students around campus.

This year, though, I am spending Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart.  We don’t have any fancy plans and I think we might even wander around Costco, just because he has not gone in years and it’s one of those things we’ve been meaning to do.  Whatever we do end up doing, all I care about is that I get to spend the whole day with him.  And that is what counts.  🙂

So no matter what plans you may or may not have for the day, just remember the loved ones who surround your life.  And why not play, "Single Ladies" and get your groove on too?  😉