Sunday, August 31, 2008

Week Before Grad School: the Bad

Now, for "the Bad" of this week before grad school. And believe me, the crappy things that have happened far overshadow the good.

The Roommate
I met my roommate for the first time in the leasing office. He seemed nice enough, but he was very indecisive! It took him like half an hour to sign the lease that he had agreed to sign with me. He kept going, "Yes . . . umm . . . maybe . . . I think." No, none of that, this is America. Either yes or no, and if no, I will strangle you for bailing on me. He wanted to sign a lease that was shorter than a 12-month lease, but that doesn't really exist around here. So he had pretty much no choice.

Later, once we were in our apartment, we were deciding on who was to get the larger bedroom and who was to get the smaller bedroom. I could see he wanted the larger bedroom, but I was entitled to it seeing as I went through the trouble of finding the apartment, looking at the bus routes, putting the electricity in my name, and now have the internet in my name as well. So I wasn't just going to let him have it. He attempted to passive-aggressive me into giving it to him. But I don't yield to passive-aggressiveness, I just get pissed at it.

Eventually, we settled on an agreement. If I were to have the larger room, we'd split rent 50/50. If he were to get the larger room, we would split rent 60/40 with him paying the 60% part of the rent. 2-3 days after being in the large room, I realized that I don't really need it, haha. It was actually too large for me. It was large enough to fit ALL of my stuff (also every sound I made echoed in the room). So I made a new agreement, as I feel bad for him paying 60% of the rent. I would take the smaller bedroom and pay 44% of the rent and he would pay 56% of the rent. All utilities would be split 50/50. Oh yeah, my roommate pretty much left everything up to me. Sigh.

School of Public Health
So I talked to my advisor about my "unique" situation, being that I would only be here for 1 year for my MPH before going to MCW for medical school. I wanted to still get my MPH degree in this year, or somehow stretched out over the 4 years of medical school. The fact of the matter is, an MPH from my school is far stronger than an MPH from MCW, so I really would like to get my MPH here.

In any case, my academic advisor told me to speak to the epidemiology academic coordinator and the cirriculum committee. Well, that's a daunting task - speaking to the esoteric cirriculum committee. How do I even contact them?! Well, hopefully I'll be able to get an appointment to talk to my academic coordinator on Tuesday or something. Honestly, sometimes I'm going back and forth about doing my year of MPH and abandoning this degree, and fighting on to get what I want for myself here. Whatever, I just can't seem to get a break in anything!

The Apartment
Okay, now for the real rant. All the problems above are overshadowed by this. So I signed my lease on Friday, August 22nd. Note that all leases end July 31st and begin August 14th, giving the cleaners 2 weeks to clean all the apartments. Now the kitchen floor and the bathroom of the apartment I signed the lease for was incredibly unclean. By that I mean dirt, mud, rusty nails, and some kind of algae or something growing in the toilet bowl as well as dried urine on the toilet seat. Now that's all disgusting and the leasing office told me they'd try to get it done by Tuesday before we moved in that evening.

On Tuesday a few hours prior to move-in, I called the leasing office asking about the state of the apartment. The leasing manager tried to get us to hold off moving in until Thursday morning because it wasn't cleaned yet. We could not accept that as we both had orientations all day on Wednesday and Thursday, and we live too far to commute. So we moved in on Tuesday, expecting them to clean our apartment on Wednesday.

Well, Wednesday came and went and the apartment was untouched by any cleaning people. I sent a rather polite email to the leasing manager and called her twice on Thursday. She assured me that someone was scheduled to come and clean the apartment on Friday. Now know that I'm unable to unpack my kitchen stuff as I don't want to walk on the kitchen floor and my roommate and I can't use the toilet due to the filth.

So Friday came. And I kept going to leasing office to use their toilet, making sure they know I've been inconvenienced. I spoke to the leasing manager 2-3 times and each time she assured me that someone was going to show up by 6pm. 6pm came and went. I stormed to the leasing office (and the leasing manager had left) and I yelled at the employee there. Nothing she could do, but I did bully the property manager's email out of her. I returned half an hour later and yelled even louder. I left and came back 15 minutes later and my dad called them to yell, then called me to yell at me to yell at them. It escalated to the point where I was practically screaming, banging on the table, and kicked over a chair. The employee almost had to call security on me. I hope that was sufficient to get their attention at the urgency of my situation. You see, I'm unable to cook or use the toilet due to the filth left in my apartment - the filth that was their responsibility to clean. Also, I don't know if some things are damaged or simply unclean, so I can't assess all this on the form and get my mail key.

The time for politeness and passive-aggressive has passed. This is now nearing open war. I have sent 2 very angry emails to both the leasing and property managers demanding our August rent back - as we haven't been able to really live in the apartment - and that our apartment be cleaned by the time we returned from classes on Tuesday. No exceptions. I took pictures of the bathroom and kitchen floor and attached them to the second email. Tomorrow I'll send another email, and Tuesday morning my dad himself will call the leasing office to yell.

This kind of treatment is unacceptable. The apartment should've been cleaned before I even signed the lease. And I've been assured that the apartment will be cleaned the next day every day for a while now, but nothing has happened for a week now. And due to Labor Day, I need to suffer this longer. In effect, I've had to go across campus to use a toilet at a friend's place or a public bathroom. I have to tiptop around the bathroom floor to get to the bathtub, which is "clean enough" for me to use. My roommate and I have been MORE than patient.

If they don't clean my apartment by the time I return from classes on Tuesday, I will hold a grudge and I will get more than even. I will withhold September rent, I will ruin their reputation, I will tell everyone I know not to lease from them, I might call the city health department and show them what we had to move into, and I may find ways to get both the managers fired. One way or another, I will have my vengeance. You don't cross me when I'm this frustrated and angry, as I tend to become someone even I don't recognize.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Week Before Grad School: the Good

I finally have internet in my apartment (albeit, I'm at a friend's apartment blogging this)! I have been plugged into the wider world again, yay!! How I have missed everyone. This week has been FULL of ups and downs, but I'll share the ups first.

The roommate
So my roommate did, in fact, pull through. I haven't interacted with him much, as he wakes up and leaves early and returns late at night. So he's been an almost non-existent presence in the apartment. Which isn't so bad because I've also been a rather non-existent presence in the apartment as well.

School of Public Health
I had my orientation on Wednesday and Thursday. I met a lot of new people from all over the place and several people I haven't seen in a long time. Commuting to class isn't so bad, as I'm about 10 minutes away from a bus and the bus ride is about 20-25 minutes. Could be worse . . . there's apparently one person who's currently commuting from the other side of the state (ouch).

I'm looking forward to some of my classes. I've decided to apply for a sub-program of sorts for public health genetics, as I'm interested in genetics and have a fair amount of background and experience. There are wonderful internships and volunteer programs to help people. For example, there is a group going to China over Spring Break to work with their CDC on things such as SARS, influenza, and measles. How sweet is that?! Too bad my program is very lab-oriented, so I can't get some of the more "interesting" internships doing other things. Oh well.

At least at orientation we got TONS of free food. Lunch and dinner the first day was from Qdoba. There was so much leftover food after dinner, that they told us to take entire trays of stuff home, haha. Oh! And all the SPH students got a free 1Gb USB drive. Neat!! Apparently, about 69% of public health students are women. Usually it's about 75% women, this year just has more men than in the last decade or so. Who says women aren't dominating in some fields? Pfft.

My Cohort
I really like the people I've met so far. On Thursday night, several of us went to a local bar for a drink. It was great interacting with them, talking with them, and drinking some beer. Funnily, all the "real Chinese" people (people from China) are in the Biostatistics department. I feel so unloved in my tiny 11-12 person Hospital & Molecular Epidemiology program. Oh well, those people are great too. XD

Anyway, while we were at the bar, we talked about all sorts of things. Being the nerds that we are, we started talking about public health and the classes we were taking, to see who we shared classes with. Then we talked about sports for a while. Then we talked about Obama and how Michelle Obama will be the trend-setter for women all over the US. Because the past few first ladies dressed in suits and were old, but Michelle isn't and doesn't dress in suits. We then talked about sports, as my university is a football Big Ten school. And I thought, "Hey, I could see myself hanging out with these people on the weekend, drinking in a bar and such."

Now, I also have the strange situation of only being in public health for 1 year before going to medical school at MCW. When I told some of them this, they were all really supportive and genuinely happy. I didn't get any of the "Oh, you're one of those epidemiology students," that some people say with distaste about epidemiology students that are only doing it to get into medical school later. But it's great to get to know them, and it's also amazing to know that some of them will be public health officials one day and able to enact change in our system. And it's good to know I may one day have such contacts all over the US, and indeed, likely all over the world.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Apartment/Roommate Saga

Okay, things haven't been happy happy in my life this week. I'm amused how this complemented my really happy happy week last week. So let me elaborate on what I now call, the "Apartment/Roommate Saga."

On Monday I called several people who were leasing apartments to schedule a tour of the apartments I'm interested in on Tuesday. I go in on Tuesday and came home with my eyes almost dead set on this one apartment. I eagerly email my Japanese roommate-to-be.

On Wednesday I hadn't heard from my roommate. No matter, he's busy, I understand, I'll just email again. On Thursday I still hadn't heard from him and the person at the leasing office called me to tell me that the one apartment I wanted had just been leased, leaving me with units further away from the all-important bus stop. I email my roommate with this information at once, demanding that he reply to my emails.

On Thursday night he still hadn't replied. I was getting worried and in an instant, my brain went into overdrive and 3 tiers of backup plans flash before my eyes. I contacted someone who I thought might need a roommate, but in the end that option fell through. I email my Japanese roommate with an ultimatum to let me know if he's in or out with signing a lease, as I refuse to sign a 2-bedroom apartment without a sure roommate.

On Friday (today) I waited for hours. The "deadline" of my ultimatum passed and he hadn't emailed me. At this point I was pretty much panicking and going into searching frenzy mode. I found several rooms for rent, a co-op or two with room still, and 3 people who were looking for roommates. I emailed about half of the people/places I found with faint glimmers of hope. At this point my eyes were exhausted and my head hurt a little, and still no resolution to my problem.

Then, about 2 hours after the "deadline," my Japanese roommate emails me favorably. So I go ahead, drive to campus about an hour away with my parents, and signed a lease. It is done. Finally. I emailed him the details and now I wait until I move in Tuesday night (as opposed to Monday, apparently maintenance wasn't finished on that unit). Thus concludes the Apartment/Roommate Saga.

Now, I just need to get my financial aid worked out as well as email my old PI again about the work-study offer she was willing to help me with. Ugh, it never ends! And next week I'll probably have to help my roommate furnish our apartment. This will be amusing, as I intend on living as a minimalist. Why? Because everything I buy I will have to take with me to MCW next August, and I don't want to travel with a ton of crap. I'll be sure to take pics of my minimalist apartment-to-be.

I'm just a little bit bitter and a whole lot frustrated/tired. Thank God for the weekend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mask of Friendship

I just talked to my friend SA-F online. I rarely get the chance to talk to her because she goes to a different university than I do and she rarely signs online to chat. She's been having difficulty with getting into nursing school. Her grades aren't high enough as a pre-nursing student and she just found out that recently most nursing schools require so many hours of community service in a health care setting. Although the community service isn't a problem at all, as she was going to do it anyway, she still wished she had known ahead of time.

Being the worried person I am, I helped her think of options. Plan alternative paths to nursing, if you will. She's clearly passionate about becoming a nurse and helping people, it's just that classes like orgo daunt her (and really, when will a nurse need orgo anyway?). I helped her look at ways to change her major, so she could improve her GPA as well as buying her more time to stand out from a community service point-of-view. She apologized for ranting about her problems, but I don't really mind. I mean, really, as a future physician, isn't that what patients do? And isn't it a doctor's job to listen to all that and then help determine the best course of action? In any case, she thanked me for listening and helping her come up with ideas.

I don't know, I'm pretty much always willing to listen to a real issue if a friend brings it to me. I kind of pushed her to tell me more so I knew enough to be of some (albeit, potentially minor) help. Maybe that's part of my Mask of Friendship, part of that package when one becomes friends with me. Or perhaps it's just some underlying need to help, I don't know. In any case, my Mask of Friendship is an ironically lonely one sometimes. See, the reason is that I distinguish between multiple levels of friendship. I have many friends at the "acquaintance friends" level, where it's great if we hang out and talk, but neither of us will feel pained if we don't see each other for months or even years at a time. I have several friends at the "good friends" level, where I will sometimes actively seek out to hang out and such. I have a few at the "close friends" level, a group of friends who I'll see at least once a week and talk to many more times than that. If you were to consoladate everyone in the "close friends" level, you would create my "best friends" level. However, I don't think I have anyone I could call a "best friend."

Part of it might be my fault, I've spent all my life keeping a part of me distant from everyone that perhaps I've never let anyone close enough to develop that "best friends" relationship. It could also be my inane idiosyncrisies. I have a very eclectic tastes in all my interests that it's hard to find a single person who can talk about anything at length in all those many subjects (but perhaps I'm being too picky). It's even possible that I do have a best friend without even knowing it.

And so, let me recount my relationship with two friends who I consider the closest to the "best friends" status. Warning: long post below.
1. JR-M
I've been friends with JR-M since I was about 7- or 8-years-old. He was my next door neighbor for about 8 years and he was a year younger than me, and thus a grade below me. We would often play after school in our made-up fantasy/sci-fi/adventure games. We had a rather vast imagination encompassing magic, mutant powers, Power Rangers, sci-fi technology, etc. Our interaction was mostly thus for all of our childhood. We've had our deep discussion about life and school and the future and such things, but the lasting memory of our friendship was one of outdoor fun.

I was also friends with his older brother, TR-M, who was in my grade. I believe I became friends with JR-M first simply because I met him first before I met either of his older brothers. Often it would be JR-M, TR-M, me, and my two younger brothers playing one great game for hours outdoors. To an adult I'm sure it looked like a strange game of tag with an attempt at acrobatics and sometimes with racing back and forth. Truly, it was a wonderful thing that there were no fences or barriers separating our backyards.

I also believe our relationship might've gone further and deeper had my parents not been as Asian-strict. Often my brothers and I were limited in how long we could spend outside playing, and were always yelled at and called inside to do homework and extra work. For a long time I envied the perceived freedom of my next door neighbor friend. If he had been allowed in our house and had I been inside his house more, who knows. Yeah, it was strange, come to think of it, as our friendship only really existed outside in the backyard and around the neighborhood. The thing about his house was that at the time both his parents were heavy smokers and I could not stand to be inside his house, or near where I could smell smoke, for a very long time. I would hold my breath (and still do) when I'm near smokers when they're smoking (and if they reek of smoke). One can only hold one's breath for so long.

When I moved away we drifted apart quickly. We seldom called each other and neither of us had email back then (and really, what use would it have been with dial-up connection?). He visited me a few times and I visited him a few times and that was that. The next time we saw anything of each other was in high school where we both attended. His schedule was - unsurprisingly - different from mine and so we didn't interact all that much. He had his group of friends and I had mine. He also had a single steady girlfriend for most of high school. This separation grew somewhat after high school as we attended different universities in the state and pursued different majors.

There was really only one thing binding our friendship, and that was (and probably is) an unfinished book. See, in middle school, TR-M and I were bored in class. So we decided to draw little stick figure aliens attacking each other on the brown paper bag covers of our books. We eventually developed different physiologies for our aliens, different technologies, different names, etc. When we went home (this was before I moved) we would tell JR-M about it. He soon joined in with a race of his own. We decided it would be an interesting idea if we were to write a book, with each of our aliens comprising its own chapter through a rotation.

Over the years apart, we have each thought more and more about our created aliens. We developed culture, architecture, language, customs, more "realistic" sci-fi technologies, etc. Meanwhile JR-M took over the writing of the book itself and now it's become his project. None of us cared as he had writing style most suited to writing a book anyway. In a way, our dorky sci-fi aliens tied us back to a childhood together. I have missed his company over the years and I've grown a little reserved around him of late . . .

But when we talk about "the book," and eventually about life, future plans, etc, it's as if we were never apart. True we are updating on each other's lives, but it feels as if nothing had fundamentally changed all these years. There are few people who I've felt such little change in friendship over the years, especially with the distances that separate us - both physically and communication-wise.

2. JW-M
I met JW-M randomly. We were roommates freshman year. I suppose one might say our meeting was thus fated. We had been looking forward to meeting each other ever since we were give the other's contact information. He was a poli-sci major who was also taking Chinese. And I was a biology major and Chinese. Also, he had taken Calculus 3 and that was one of the courses I was worried about first semester freshman year (it turned out he was useless for help in Calc 3).

I don't know what kind of first impressions either of had when we physically met. Here we were, two overweight dorky freshmen, not knowing what to do with ourselves on campus (at least I didn't have the inconvenience of lusting after him). We got along surprisingly well. True, we had our little annoyances - I think I had more qualities that annoyed him than he had that annoyed me - but we never had any real problems. We even had our morning schedules syncronized somewhat.

Let me explain. We both had our first classes either togethere or at the same time all of freshman year. We set our alarm clocks about 5 minutes apart, both to NPR (he got me into NPR . . . also it was the only decent radio station we got in our dorm room). Mine would go off, I would hit snooze. 5 minutes later his would go off, and then mine would go off again shortly afterwards. We then got out of bed at about the same time, went to the bathroom, brushed our teeth, got dressed, and went to class. All of this taking about 15 minutes. We had mastered getting up later and close to when we had to be in class. We were always on time too.

At night we would go to sleep very late. It was unusual for either of us to get more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night. You see, while we both would've dearly loved to go to sleep before 2am, that simply was not possible most nights. And if we stayed awake until 2:30am, the drunken people from other floors would migrate to our hall and stand very near our door, and sing very loudly and off-key. For about half an hour to an hour. It was like they were trying to serenade us to death or something. So we had to wait until they left. It also didn't help that one of our neighbors across the hall had a tendency to wander around with his guitar singing badly - we think he thought it attracted the girls (which surprisingly, it did attract a few, they must've been hard of hearing).

One night we went to bed around 2:15am or so, and the drunken people hadn't arrived. We were cleared to sleep - if we could sleep before they came, then we were both out until our alarms the next morning. Well, just as we turned off the lights and our heads hit our pillows, they arrived. Oh how we cursed. Instead we decided to have a chat because we tended to be very busy throughout most of the day, and we often studied in the room together in silence. We found out that we both loved Arby's (a fast food chain here in the Midwest, and probably elsewhere in the US, for those who don't know). That was an instant bonding moment that we would forever remember. No seriously, if you asked us now the one bonding moment we had together, that would be it.

After freshman year we were no longer roommates but we remained very good friends. While we were in the dorms sophomore year, we would knock on each other's door to eat lunch and dinner down in the cafeteria. That year we also started going to the campus gym on and off together. We might've gone more if we didn't have to trek about 20 minutes across campus in the snow and biting wind during the winter months. Nevertheless, our friendship grew into a strange one that our personalities fed off each other only in each other's presence.

For example, he would begin to act really silly around me. For the last two years, whenever I went to his apartment to study, he would spontaneously break out in made-up song. His songs usually included my name and phrases in English and Chinese that made no sense when placed together. Throughout the course of my undergrad, I've been given my own theme song no less than 2-3 times. One of them was a very cheery one about me being the Lord of the Underworld. In any case, I would often stop him with my Asian glare (the one where the eyes narrow to slits very rapidly). I believe he did these silly things to elicit a reaction out of me. It was all in fun though.

We had our deep conversations and we hung out quite a bit. For the last year or so we went to the gym quite frequently (I should hope so as we lived literally right next door for the last year). He was a very intellectual fellow who I could talk about anything non-biology. Too bad biology and medicine consisted a large part of my discussions with people sometimes. I had often asked him if he found me or my presence annoying. I asked because we would sometimes complain about other mutual friends who we could only stand in small doses, and if we were around them for too long, it would make us want to suicide ourselves or kill them. Okay, I exaggerate, but I hope you get the idea. His response was that I knew when I become too annoying and I stop whereas others keep going. So my presence never made him want to vomit and at least I could hold intelligent conversations at length. I'll take that as a compliment.

He's been a good friend these last 4 years. He was actually one of I believe 3 people I came out to. My relationships with everyone I've come out to hasn't changed at all, and in fact, it's as if I never came out. But he's been supportive when I needed him these last 4 years and I've been there to listen to his problems too. Thankfully he always had the answers to his problems so I never had to help him with anything. I think I'm a kind of wall that he can rant to sometimes. In reflection, meeting him has been a good thing. I've changed a bit thanks to him. I've loosened up a little, I've been able to hold more intelligent conversation, and I've become more tactful in what I say. He's truly a friend amongst friends, and everyone who's friends with him feels that way. Too bad it causes him to be stretched thin amongst his friends sometimes (many of them mutual friends).

You know, there were things I wanted to say to him, things to thank him for. But in such instances I'm always at a loss for words. Perhaps that last handshake said it all. Some of his last words to me in person before he left for China to study abroad this year were, "Well, you're officially more knowledgeable [in medicine] than any of us, Dr. Aek." I must say, that elicited a sincere smile.
I apologize that this post has been so long. I just kept typing, haha. I don't know, perhaps I've had best friends all along, though neither of us have used that terminology about the relationship we share.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Conclusions of Summer

It suddenly struck me that summer is beginning to draw to a close. It's been a fairly boring, yet stressful, summer. However things are starting to fall into place.

1. Today, in the mail, I got my acceptance letter to the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) . . . for the entering class of 2009. I guess I wasn't fated to go to med school this year. Oh well. Point is, I'm in! Hurray!! ::waves a little flag of victory::

2. This means that I indeed will continue with 1 year towards my Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Hospital & Molecular Epidemiology at my alma mater. It has a very strong school of public health, 5th in the nation I believe. Apparently the Epidemiology department only has like 75 incoming students (some of whom I know) and my sub-program is obviously much smaller than that. I'm kind of excited to have smaller and more interactive courses. Unfortunately most of my friends graduated with me and are now strewn across the world, but mostly somewhere across the US.

3. Thankfully I also found a roommate to live with me. He's a 30-year-old Japanese guy from Tokyo who will be an incoming grad student at the School of Public Policy this fall. I don't know if he's found an apartment for us yet and he hasn't returned my last email. I sent him another email earlier today. Yesterday I was made aware of another person who needs a roommate and an apartment. So if this Japanese guy doesn't respond to my emails in a timely manner, I may have to abandon him and go with the other guy. Now, I know this other guy, and he's kind of annoying so I think I'd prefer to live with the Japanese guy if possible. But I'm going to keep my options open about roommates and housing for the next week or so.

4. Yesterday a bunch of my friends from campus came to my city to have dinner. So I got to see JW-M and DJ-M (his roommate) one last time before they go home on the other side of the state. And next week JW-M will be heading to Beijing for a year, studying abroad. It was nice of them to come by, and it reminded me how much I missed and will miss them. I should write a post on JW-M as a roommate and as a friend . . .

5. Tomorrow I'll be going to my friend JR-M's cast & crew screening of his movie. I'm part of the crew, as I was the cellist for the soundtrack composed by our mutual friend, CM-M (in this post). Granted I won't know most of the people there, but hey, at least I get to hang out with some of my old friends who I haven't seen in a while. He gave me a relatively unedited DVD of his movie, but he'll have the full DVD (with director's cut and all) at this premiere.

6. This isn't really anything interesting, but I'm kind of a planning whore. Yes, I do get a little stressed when planning things, but I think I secretly enjoy it. I have pretty much my next 1-2 years planned out (coursework-wise) as an MPH and I'm starting to plan what I should bring with me to my new apartment (when I get one) as well as next summer's plans. Maybe next summer I'll finally be able to visit Beijing and other parts of China. At least JW-M will still be there, he can show me around! Yeah I'm lame, don't judge me.

7. My cousin's back in Chicago! Which means I got my room back and my privacy to enjoy certain activities. I'm doubly happy at reading another news article on a study supporting the health benefits of this particular activity. Oh yeah, my cousin was able to improve his ACT score from 21 to about 26-27 in the two weeks he was here. That's right, hardcore academic improvement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fragments of the Past III

The Preamble to the Present

My parents aren't the kind who go on and on about their lives. What they do tell us come to us in short fragments, usually to highlight a point or just a fleeting moment of remembrance. Here I've pieced those fragments in a semi-linear fashion.

I don't remember the circumstances under which my parents met. Actually, I'm not entirely sure I know how they met. It wasn't in high school, it wasn't in college, it wasn't through work. I suspect it might've been through a mutual friend somehow . . . or I could be mixing that part up with how my uncle (mom's younger brother) met his wife. I do know that they were always spending time together like any other young couple in their early 20s. I wish I could remember some of the semi-interesting stories here, but alas I cannot.

Once my parents tried to impress upon us the importance of academia. When my dad was dating my mom, he called her every day. One day he asked her to put their relationship on hold for 2 months so he could study for his finals. And so, instead of seeing each other after work, my dad went directly to the library to study after eating dinner. My mom didn't begrudge my dad and instead went on a trip throughout southwestern China with some of her friends, climbing mountains, visiting the cities, and seeing sights. And so my parents pointed this out that academics was so important that it can sometimes supersede a relationship. Figures as much.

Moving on, my parents got married in Hong Kong about 2-3 years before I was born. I don't remember the exact circumstances that brought them to the US. My mom's family all moved to the US first ahead of my dad by almost half a year. My dad had to a lot of paperwork to complete in order to attend graduate school in the US. On a handful of occasions my mom mentions how I am the only one of my brothers who is "truly Chinese" as I was conceived before my mom came to the US, though at the time my mom didn't know she was pregnant (I was born in Chicago, however).

My mom's family moved to Chicago. Everyone lived in the same apartment near Chinatown. My mom's mom worked as a nanny/maid for a Chinese doctor's family, who we have become quite close with over the years. My mom's dad worked doing I don't remember what. My mom's older brother worked as a chef while his wife worked in a hotel. My mom's younger brother continued his studies at U of Chicago - Champaign. Once he got his Masters in electrical engineering he moved to California where he still lives. My mom worked in an assembly line for General Electric, I believe. When my dad came to the US, he went directly to live with my mom with her family all in that one apartment. (My mom believes my dad's mom doesn't like her much becasue she "stole" my dad away from Hong Kong to faraway US.) It would be over a decade before the last person moved out of that rather low-income apartment and into the ranks of middle-class America.

Both of my parents' families have worked harder throughout their lives than I can really even imagine going through myself. From practically nothing to middle-class in about 2.5 decades is really . . . okay, I don't have adequate words for what I want to say about how far my parents have come in life. But if my parents can do it, I believe almost anyone can if they have the motivation, the work ethic, and find the right opportunities. I think when my dad's dad named me when I was born (well, my Chinese name, as I explained in this post) he had in mind the importance of what his family and my mom's family were achieving - breaking free of the past and progressing towards the future.

And while my brothers and I were growing up, my mom worked nights part-time as a florist at a nearby supermarket. So for a few years my brothers and I would only see our mom for about 3 hours a day or so on weekdays. Eventually my mom worked a bit less so she could take courses at a community college, getting her Associate's Degree. Now she works for an architecture company detailing the electrical work on the floorplans. All those long nights and long hours . . . the so-called "American dream" is not an easy thing to achieve.

So I know and fully understand where my parents are coming from and why they put so much pressure on my brothers and me. Why they push us to excel and will us to succeed. For them, anything less than what they've achieved is a huge slap to the face, a dishonor upon the family. A "loss of face" as the Chinese say. It's just where they come from. But I have no intentions of taking a step or two backwards anyhow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fragments of the Past II

Mother's Past

My parents aren't the kind who go on and on about their lives. What they do tell us come to us in short fragments, usually to highlight a point or just a fleeting moment of remembrance. Here I've pieced those fragments in a semi-linear fashion.

First a random fact: my mom's dad was born in Indonesia and was one of 3 brothers (I think he was the youngest). My mom's parents were pretty well off and could have probably been considered among the middle-class. My mom's mom liked to read and practice calligraphy and such. Then the Cultural Revolution came. Many of my mom's parents' friends were imprisoned or killed during the Cultural Revolution. No one spoke of anything intellectual. Children were brainwashed and trained to turn in anyone who dissented with the government: their neighbors, their friends, and even their own parents.

I think my mom's family lost a lot as my grandma had to hide her books or throw them away. Like everyone else who lived in/near the cities, they had to go to the countryside. My mom and her older brother worked the fields. She would tell us that there were no bathrooms in/near the fields. Instead, there was a large pit in the ground with two planks spanning it in parallel to each other. When you wanted to go, you would crouch by standing on those two planks and try not to fall in. Sometimes this was difficult as the heat of the sun would cause the smell to fume up and could make one dizzy. This waste matter wasn't "wasted" but rather used as fertilizer sometimes.

My mom wasn't the healthiest child. She suffered from random maladies and hated seeing the doctor. She would hide or throw away any pills given to her. Her parents would try to trick her to take her pills by crushing them and hiding them in her food, but my mom would just throw away her food if she detected medicine. Eventually she would have to get a shot to the butt full of the medicine she should've taken orally. At this point the doctors were still "in hiding" around the country, though I think people knew where one was if their services were needed. My mom was also a very picky eater as a child and her parents would sometimes worry that she was malnourished. At one point my mom actually started to eat a lot but mysteriously lost a lot of weight instead of gaining weight. One day when my mom was like 7, her dad saw something poking out of my mom's butt (gross, I know) after she went to the bathroom. So he pulled on it and this really long tapeworm came out. He promptly took my mom to the doctor who administered some medicine to kill what the parasite might have left behind in her digestive tract. I still shudder at the thought of it.

My grandma's health deteriorated and she could barely function. She smoked and suffered from asthma as well as a number of other illnesses. My mom's family didn't make enough to break even so my mom's dad spent years as a traveling salesman around China, sending back all the money he made. My mom's older brother was left as the head of household while her grandma took care of my mom's mom. There are some messed up stories there (concerning traditional Chinese medicine) that I won't get into here. Also my mom's younger brother was just a toddler. Every week my mom and her older brother would go buy groceries, not at a local store, but rather at an outdoor market where other farmers brought their goods. To get there, my mom and her brother would wait until a truck passed by along the road and would jump on with other people as it went by. If you couldn't make it then you didn't go that day.

My mom did recall going to school periodically during this time, somewhat on and off. She remembered having to memorize the Little Red Book (that she says was full of stupid propaganda) as well as other Communist ideas. Soon things were looking up though. My mom's mom took control of her health and started walking several kilometers a day and eventually even ran about 3K a day. She literally walked/ran herself back to health. My mom's dad earned and saved enough money to take bring his family to Hong Kong.

Within a month my mom started working part-time (I don't remember what she did, but some factory work I think) while going to school. She only made it as far as 10th grade. Like my dad, she went from no knowledge of Cantonese to functional and soon became fluent - what can you do, it was a necessity. My mom's older brother also had to stop his schooling a bit early I think, but my mom's mom wouldn't allow my mom's younger brother to stop his studies. In fact, he never had to work and was instead burdened with all the pressures of studying and doing well in school.
Part I Add-on: There was something interesting I forgot to say yesterday. As a kid, my dad once stepped on a rusty nail and got very sick. He became feverish, lost control of his muscles, and then his muscles started to spasm and contract violently. His dad took him to the local doctor in India who diagnosed it as tetanus. There was nothing the doctor could do and he said my dad needed to be taken to a doctor in the city about 3-4 days away. My dad's condition worsened and the tetanus was creeping closer to his lungs. Obviously, he made it, got the medicine, and survived without any lasting repercussions. Otherwise I wouldn't be here today.
That was the end of part 2. Tomorrow, part 3.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fragments of the Past I

Disclaimer: this post and the subsequent posts can be quite long. While few things said in them will be directly about me, it may be easier to understand where I come from sometimes after reading the following. And before I begin, how many people care or remember about their parents' past and/or even wonder how that affects their lives? Keep that in mind . . .
Father's Past

My parents aren't the kind who go on and on about their lives. What they do tell us come to us in short fragments, usually to highlight a point or just a fleeting moment of remembrance. Here I've pieced those fragments in a semi-linear fashion.

Interestingly my dad was born in India (where exactly I forget). My dad's parents moved to India from China before he was born. My dad's dad was a dentist. And so my dad spent the first 14 years of his life in India where he learned Hindi, the local Indian language, English, and Chinese. Like me he went to a Chinese school (with the very few other Chinese kids in his town). He claims at that point in his life his Chinese was far inferior to what mine ever was.

His house was not huge but respectable. Since they didn't have an in-door toilet he had an outhouse. He recounted once that there was a lizard on the door of the outhouse and he wouldn't go for days as the lizard was just there, stuck on the door. He also said he used large leaves as toilet paper. Monkeys would also wander through his house like everywhere else in India. As a kid, he told us he and his friends would take a stick, twist the end of the stick in a spider's web so the web was wound around the end, and go up to a cicada and poke it so the cicada was stuck to the end of the stick. Then they would run around trying to touch each other with the cicadas stuck to the ends of their sticks. He also told us how he would take the excess wax from his dad's office (that was used to make molds of the patients' teeth) and make candles with them.

Then when he was 14, all the Chinese living in India were exiled. You see, China and India has fought a war and as a result all the Chinese in India had to be exiled (or many of the Chinese living there anyway). So my dad and his family (consisting of an older sister, 2 younger brothers, and his parents) moved to a China that had just experienced the Cultural Revolution. They had to live in the countryside. Since all "intellectuals" had to "return to the land," doctors and dentists weren't allowed to practice or they were jailed or killed. The country's hospitals were left in the crappy care of only nurses and quickly deteriorated. And so my dad's dad practiced dentistry in secret while doing other "legitimate" labor.

During this period my dad worked as an apprentice in a factory that made vehicle parts. My dad never finished middle school as all the schools were closed in that part of the country. No teachers - at least none "government approved," go figure. Everyday at lunch, everyone would stop working to listen to Mao Zedong broadcast over the radio about the wonderful changes the country was undergoing (aka, propaganda). My dad would get a newspaper from his boss which he used to follow along with the radio to improve his Chinese skills.

One day he heard Nixon on the radio berating the Chinese government for being so closed. This was the momentous visit by Nixon to China. After that, the Chinese said they would be more open and would allow some people to travel out of the country, and by that they meant Hong Kong (which was technically Britain at that point still). So my dad's family took this opportunity to get out of China and into Hong Kong. They were only allowed to leave China with $5 (obviously worth much less than the US dollar) and one suitcase between all 6 members of the family. Imagine getting a start somewhere with only $5 and a suitcase between you and your family! Thankfully my dad's parents had a few friends in Hong Kong already who were willing to help out a little (but only a little).

Within a few months they were established, which wasn't easy when everyone spoke Cantonese instead of Mandarin. My dad was able to go back to school though he continued to work. Eventually my dad graduated high school. He had wanted to follow in his dad's footsteps and become a dentist, but at the time there were too many dentists in Hong Kong (or something?) and they closed all the dental schools for 2 years. Not wanting to wait, my dad found a job making mechanical parts. After a year or so, he so impressive his superior that they gave him a scholarship to further his studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic, which at the time was a really good school. I believe he managed to somehow get his tuition was waivered or something. But my dad still worked part-time to make ends meet for the family. And so he studied mechanical engineeering at HK Polytechnic for 2 years and attained some degree (it wasn't a Bachelor's).
That brings us to up to his life in Hong Kong. Tomorrow, part 2. But one last word, imagine a time without the internet, without computers, without TV. Imagine the excitement of the world delayed a day, a week, or however long it takes news to reach around the world. Imagine what it must be like to hear that the Russians sent Sputnik out into space. Then imagine what it was like when it was annouced that the US sent a man to the moon . . .

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mush . . .

My brain feels like it has rotted away from disuse this summer. And the following exemplifies my life of late:
Oh well. I really need to get out. And my morning run doesn't count. Too bad there's really nowhere to go in my city, especially without a car . . .

So apparently, the Amtrak is closed on August 11th for maintenance or something in my state. Thus my cousin will be staying until August 13th. Which is okay except I want my room back! I want the ability to jack off in the (more or less) privacy of my own room (my stupid door doesn't have a lock on it). Come to think of it, I haven't jacked off in about a week. Go me and self-restraint!

And I think my cousin has that "stinky Asian" smell. I don't know how else to describe it. It's weird! He's been here 6 days already. At least half of his clothes have gone through the laundry rotations. My house is pretty open with high-ish ceilings, so it's not like there's no air circulation or anything. Yet he has a distinct smell that's a bit off. My youngest brother also kind of has that smell, but he minimizes it well by not spending too much time in small enclosed rooms where you marinate in the same smell for a long time.

Yesterday my dad was teaching my cousin some algebra that, for the life of him, my cousin just couldn't get. Seriously, how hard is the equation: y = mx + b?! Anyway, my dad kept challenging him intellectually, having him work through the problems himself. After a while my cousin started to cry a bit. Which is sad as my dad was being unnaturally patient and wasn't even yelling. If it were my brothers or me, my dad would've proclaimed us useless and stupid long ago. My cousin's really not good at math. His English skills are lacking too. I'm surprised he hasn't entered an academic coma yet from all the SAT/ACT he's been doing.

On a slight tangent, I read a while ago that we need to focus more on math and the sciences in school. It's almost a double-standard when people say "Oh I'm not good at math" and that's okay, but when people say "Oh I'm not good at English" (or whatever primary language) they're seen as dumb and/or illiterate. So why's it okay to say one's bad at math while it's not okay to say one's bad at English? It's kind of lame when you don't have the ability to do simple math and simple algebra problems, assuming you don't have a learning problem and aren't mentally retarded. We're not talking about calculus here, just as we're not talking about analyzing John Milton (probably not the best analogy, but whatever).
---end mini-rant---

Anyway, Hish found out the identity of the guy in the yellow briefs in my last post. He's fitness model Bryan David Thomas and apparently he has his own blog!

Here are some more gratuitous pics of him. :P

Oh, on a final note, Chinese food is good for you. W00t!! Also, the sense of smell is totally underrated. Just a couple good articles in those links.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Random Pics

I'd rather post something more meaningful, but I need to think of what first. That could take a while . . . So instead I'll just post some random pics I found on my laptop when I was preparing to reformat it a few days ago (but thankfully was able to avert such an arduous task). I don't even know where I got most of the following pics from, haha.
I don't know who this is, but he has a cute smile and a hot body.
Wang Leehom smile progression. ::swoons:: lolWang Leehom and his coffee. :P
Hmm, some Jessica Alba pics. Her top is see-through . . .
Now on a totally unrelated note, I simply can't wait until the Summer Olympics start!!

Here are two YouTube vids with English subtitle translations. The first is a "less literal" translation than the second, though the second somehow actually makes it easier for me to understand (and makes more sense, as well as sound more poetic).

Next time I post I'll have something "substantive." Until then, enjoy some of the randomness I found on my laptop.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mission Accomplished

Today my friend SP-M came over. I was set to move all of my files onto his external hard drive and then reformat my laptop to get rid of that damn file.

Then he told me to download a program called "Unlocker." Amazingly, it deleted the undeletable file! It was so simple. Wow. After this, he showed me how to make my Windows XP look basically like Windows Vista, which was pretty cool. I actually rather like the Windows Vista theme - it's rather sleek. Also, he directed me to a download that allowed me to change my boot screen and logon screen.

Now my boot screen currently looks like this:

And my logon screen looks like this:
Pretty cool eh? (No, my real name isn't Paul, that's just the pic the site had.) It's good to have friends who're good at things you aren't. SP-M: 3. Technology: 0.

And here's a funny pic my friend SN-F sent me: