Nomads

There is a species of people who are nomads, by that, I don’t mean in the scientific sense but more as a state of the mind.

I always thought I was one of the nomads, a borderline do-what-I-want junkie. I always thought (at least sentimentally) my nomadic tendencies originated from my Dad who grew up in inner Mongolia. I always imagined myself racing down the vastness of the prairie at full speed on a horse towards the tent which I called home, feeling the full force of freedom. Imaginations can go far at influencing one’s mind.

As I grew older, the urge of breaking free evolved from a nudge to a push and eventually insisted on taking over. I used to be obedient, I used to follow rules, I used to be who I think people would like me to be. Sorry, I was wrong. The only thing that was and is going to make me happy is being free to do what I want do, to be who I want to be, no matter how queer and strange it may be. Unfitting for the world perhaps, but fitting for myself.

Part of being nomad is not by choice, but by events that has transpired and carried me with them. In the decade I spent over the ocean and longed to be home, the place I called home has transformed into a place more foreign than the foreign land where I am standing. I no longer belonged, anywhere really. When you leave your heart in your homeland 8,000 miles away, where does it go when the keepers are no longer there? Leaving me aimlessly wondering, if I will ever feel like home again.

Wanderlust is not a myth. I been constantly moving for the past few years trying to make up for the time lost standing still. The addictive and invigorating feeling grows each day. When I am perfectly happy being alone, or even prefer being so. When I consider the present time and place the only moment in life, and forget about every other time and place. At such a time, I wonder if people are not really social creatures like they all say, or I am just of a different species.

Somehow, this feeling reminds me of “Call of the Wild”.

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If Oneself is Comprised of Random Facts …

These would be me. [Inspired by a friend]

I love plushies and animals because they are furry, warm and pettable.

If/When I retire, I would travel the world, eat delicious foods and practice yoga in every country I visit.

I’m thankful for having the mind of an engineer and the heart of an artist – from my parents.

I value quality over quantity, always.

I am an avid introvert and spend about 83% of the time daydreaming and introspecting.

Long time ago I used to make myself talk a lot for the sake of appearing gregarious, I have given that up since 10 years ago.

I have done 48/95 things on my 100 things to do before I die list.

I am eccentric, silly, and painfully honest.

I love kids and animals for their innocence and honesty about what they give and take.

A few people in this world carry a piece of my heart with them with the promise I’ll be there at a moment’s notice.

You can love me or hate me, I prefer to know the truth but I won’t change myself to make you love me.

The two most life changing classes at MIT for me were not even remotely associated with my majors:
‘Economics: Poverty’; taught me to strive to do good in a larger context and never ever take anything I have for granted. ‘Reading and Writing the Essay’; Taught me how to communicate and convey exactly what I’m feeling in any situation.

I either fall asleep (0.95%/1%) or cry a river (0.05%/1%) in chick flicks and romantic movies. Rest of my theater time is distributed between sci-fi (33%), action (33%) and fantasy (33%).

The most exhilarating image in my daydreams is spreading my arms standing on a tall cliff facing the ocean, assaulted and engulfed by the power of the ocean winds and sea salt.

I prefer nature over cities because seeing them make my heart swell.

I am always looking for more seconds in a day.

I am jack of all trades and master of none.

I get bored easily, very very easily. I am also OCD and ADD.

A few year ago the most dreaded day of my life happened, I survived and now all fear has abandoned me.

I prefer interaction over passivity; value talent above looks; hardwork over innate brilliance; creativity over orthodox.

I dream almost every night, they are more elaborate than Christopher Nolan movies.

I would like to try everything at least ones.

I rarely make promises, but I never break a promise when I make one.

I cried in every single Pixar movie.

Blood is thicker than water. No questions asked.

My friends are those who are unpretentiously sincere, makes me feel comfortable, and can share my jokes and enable my thoughts.

Change and transience had been a constant in my life, now I can’t live without them.

There are two places I visit at every city – Zoo and Art Museum.

I have wandered a lot, got lost and found my way back or made my own way in life. Now I wander a great deal more.

I am half robot and the other half is arguably of alien origin.

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Running, Running, Running …

My latest obsession is Running.

I have obsessed over it a few years ago (very ambitiously wanting to train for a marathon) and stopped because of my back/hip pain that seemed to be in danger of becoming chronic. Fast forward to a year ago, when Yoga fixed every pain and ache in my body and increased flexibility and strength in my muscles, I have never felt better. More importantly, I have found in Yoga an exercise I love and can be serious and self motivated about, and through my progress as a Yogini, it dispelled my firm believe that I simply had a weak physique that doomed me to never be good at any physical activity. Empowerment.

Now that another winter hibernation is over, I picked up running again. Partly because I want to be more fit, and partly because I wanted a goal that I can move towards.

So why Running?

I want to do something more demanding. I love Yoga and would love to do it 24/7 if I could, but Yoga is comfortable, it eases me but doesn’t demand me to do more in other aspects of my routine. Running is a demanding sport, to lessen the chance of getting injuries and alleviate the stress, I must do much more beyond running to strength my core, increase flexibility in my muscles, and eat the proper diet. Running is the sport to bring it all together.

I want to do something that I’m able to do on my own time. Running is a simple sport, I pick up my sneakers, grab a sweater, and I’m off. There is little or no preparation time (minus stretching), requires little or no equipment, and I can run just about anywhere and anytime (even jogging from my car to the grocery store).

I want to do something goal oriented. I’ve extremely goal driven, – 1 min/mile? Challenge accepted. Running have an inexhaustible range of goals, whether it’s being able to run a half marathon or running at a speed of 7 minutes / mile or simply to gain some impressive leg muscles and strength.

I want to do something that requires skills. One thing I’ve gathered over a lifetime of obsessing over this or that, is that doing something smart always trumps doing something with pure brute force. Running is as much training as it is a skill set, smart running beats hours of training with the wrong stance at the wrong pace with the wrong training program. It’s also in sync with my obsession of optimizing everything and doing everything right.

Challenge = On.

Over the past two weeks, I poured over materials online as to smart training to optimize performance. During which, I’ve also gathered a few miles under my belt and tried to incorporate these theories into training.

I have learned that cadence matters over stride length, 180 steps/min is the most optimal. I have learned that heel striking makes running a lot harder and creates too much impact on the joints. I have learned that anaerobic training is important to increasing speed and aerobic training is important to increasing endurance. I have learned that a few days of rest after a strenuous and painful calf is much better than pushing through the pain. Don’t let ego beat good judgment.

Currently weekly program consists of 3 days of running: 1 day of race simulation, 1 day of interval training for speed (anaerobic), 1 day of endurance training (aerobic), with Yoga for flexibility after running and Yoga for strength on rest days.

Though it’s difficult to come back from Snorlax mode during the winter, I am making progress and things are getting easier. Goal is to be able to run 10K at 7 minutes per mile and to be in shape enough in 2 months to climb a few mountain summits. Wish me luck.

Snorlax

P.S.: I leave you with my favorite pokemon. The bubbly pokemon who loves to eat and sleep.

Snorlax Bubz Out

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Pre-Trip Anticipation Mounting

T – 19 hours till China! My smog filled but I still love you Beijing, here I come, again. Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei, nice to meet you for the first time soon!

I’m getting seriously excited, the swelling of my heart is mounting and on the verge of bursting. Actual work is on a pause since I’m leaving (even if I had to do work it would have met an utter failure since I’m completely overtaken by positive anxiousness), giving me time to perfect plans of action, mapping out details and routes, do proper budgeting, all the while chattering with various people on destination ideas and foods.

This year’s Hong Kong trip is regrettably missing the third musketeer (Dad), but there are still two (Mom and I) to surround and protect Grandma (3-generation musketeer). Quite ambitiously, one day after landing in Beijing, I’ll be flying out to Hong Kong, covering Macau, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in three days and then popping over to Taipei to meetup with Gloria and Antonio for a ~72 hour trip to the ancestral land of bubble tea and beef noodles, before returning to Beijing for some (long overdue) catching up with Bro and some famous Peking duckies at the same level of expense rivaling that of a fine dining French restaurant, wrapping up with a whopping ~17000 miles in the air in two long weeks.

Boston, bye for now, I’ll miss you but I’m glad to miss the Snow.

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Birthday Tripping at Washington D.C.

This past weekend (oops, after procrastination so much, it’s actually now 3 weekends ago), I spent the first two days of my 28th year Birthday Tripping in one of my favorite cities – Washington, D.C.

A few years ago, D.C. was the rendenvous point of Mei and I on our first trip together and alone (it only took 25 years …). The stronghold for the government of a powerful nation was not at all what I had expected, it beholds a kind of quintessential beauty and charm. There is no nerve racking crowds or security at every corner, instead, it’s a city where the air is comfortable and relaxing, along with its endless reservoir of cultural gems, towering monuments, and world famous museums (most of which are of free admission), D.C. makes for a perfect destination for an introverted escape to appreciate and observe.

I *think* this is my fifth time visiting the city and I was still torn between the so many sights and museums to see. With the diverse food scene in D.C., food spotting inevitably made to the list, so did an eye catching Livingsocial deal featuring the mesmerizing photographs of the National Geographic Museum and Panda (insert infinite number of exclamation marks)-spotting at the National Zoo.

The Eats

Trips are the best excuses for pigging out, the amount of walking and travel induced exhaustion are more than enough to justify the excess calories and after spending money to go somewhere, the budget for food seems minuscule.

After food stalking yelp extensively, I decided to have my first Ethiopian foodventure at Keren Restaurant, semi-near the Dupont circle, I will spare the details since my review on yelp already contains all my raves and rambles.

Chicken Tibsi from Keren’s Restaurant – Spinach, Chickpea, Salad, Chicken with Tomato and Onions

Breakfast Fuul at Keren’s Restaurant – Egg, Tomato, Chickpea, Onion

  • Great Ethiopian food and spices are exceedingly flavorful and comforting, the chickpea concoction (in both fuul and tibsi) is especially savory, warm and soothing to the stomach. The tibsi chicken made me willingly devoured the accompanying onions.
  • Injera bread (a porous bread) is for both consumption and functions as a utensil.
  • Ethiopian people are exceedingly down to earth and hospitable. Instead of laughing at our dumbfounded expression at the lack of utensils, the waitress patiently showed us how to piece the injera bread and eat tibsi with our hands. The chef asked us if we liked the food (as first timers) and said she could conjure up something else if weren’t used to it.
  • The atmosphere is pleasant and made even better than the locals greeting each other with hugs.
  • The portions are huge. The tibsi is enough to feed two. Very inexpensive, $15 with tip and tax.

The second stop of the foodventure happened in Adam Morgan. Oh god, how can I have missed this place before? A street so lively and so filled with rows and rows of food, Food, and more FOOD. Donburi takes up one of the spots in this foodie heaven, a Japanese restaurant specialized in katsudon (rice topped with variation of condiments and fried pork cutlets) and variations, 14-seater around an spotlessly clean open kitchen. I have to admit, in most restaurants, I avoid sitting at the bar because of the inevitable elbow to elbow, but I thoroughly enjoy such an experience at Japanese ones. A Japanese restaurant with a open kitchen bar is a culinary experience from sight, to smell to taste. Who doesn’t want to watch the mouthwatering dishes to be made and be tantalized into deeper hunger cravings before gobbling down a fantastic meal?

Chef Plating – Seriously when someone is plating all that yummy in front of you, you become desperately 10x more hungry

Mixed Katsudon – Pork cutlets and ebi (shrimp), with pepper, pickled veggie, and half cooked egg

  • Full view of the kitchen. The chef prepares the dishes in front of you, mostly plating rice, condiments, proteins and eggs, but including some final searing of unagi pieces and masterful cutting of sake (salmon) slices.
  • The fried pork/chicken/shrimp are very lightly battered, afterwards, they are boiled along with onion and sauce, topped with an egg (which comes out half cooked and fluffy).
  • Blazing fast service but nevertheless meticulous. The chef never misses a pouring of extra sauce before plating the meat, ever misses a single second searing an incomplete unagi, and never misses laying perfectly the overlapping sake (salmon) pieces on top of the rice.
  • Be prepared to get very hungry (even with short wait time) from all the delicacies being tossed up right in front of you.

The Dos

Being Chinese, loving Panda is probably a genetic predisposition, though I haven’t seen these Little Giant guys in nearly two decades. The National Zoo is the temporary home of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, along with their new baby, properly named Bao Bao. The popularity of these bamboo eating, sad eyed, chubby cute endangered creatures are overwhelming. It seemed that everyone who went to the Zoo that day (and I’m sure any other day) have their eyes on the Giant Panda House. Many checkpoints are setup from the entrance of the walkway to the panda house to the actual house itself for crowd control. The pandas are the celebrities and we are dangerously anxious panda fans.

… 40 minutes later. PANDA! (Inside-voice screams) Only Tian Tian showed himself in full view that day, though Mei Xiang was sleeping half laying inside the door to her ‘bedroom’ and half outside in a not so lady-like posture, while Bao Bao retired completely to his crib. Tian Tian was handling a giant bamboo masterfully and chewing from it in a half-sitting half-laying position. It really looked like he was savoring the world’s best delicacy and he did little to hide his delights. Needless to say, the obligatory video of Tian Tian being his happy chubby eating self made onto my phone. Oh ya, there are other animals too, who were too easily forgotten in the shadows of Giant Panda.

Tian Tian Bambooing – Totally reminds me of myself earlier that day piggin .. panda-ing out

The most enlightening experience for me on this trip is probably the visit to National Geographic Museum. It goes beyond the primitive pleasure of sighting fuzzy cuteness and tasting delicious food and reaches somewhere deep.

I have always appreciated great photography, Nat Geo’s photography is no doubt one of the most renowned, often capturing animals and people in their most natural state of being, with stunning clarity and at impossible angles and incredible lighting. Naturally, one would think the photographers at Nat Geo get royal treatments to the best photography equipment, ample expedition funding and the best anything-else-that-makes-the-job-easier, maybe even a personal chopper or two at their disposal.

But that’s far from the reality. A glance into the lives of photographers on the big screen told the truth behind the glorious photographs. The expeditions usually involve the most dangerous and abrasive environments: thousands of mosquitoes and flies that revolve themselves around the photographers in the Amazons when they cannot flinch while photographing movements in the trees (though that would be futile as there are enough flying insects to cover their entire hands); hoarding up a dozen snakebites, being dropped off in middle of nowhere alone, and chasing after a herd of buffalo; and quietly and calmly laying down photography equipment just a feet away next to a lioness nursing her cubs .

Wildlife Photography at Risk of … Life

Seeing all these not only made me appreciate their works even more, but I also finally understand unique and ingenious nature of their photographs comes from their passions and dedications to risk and do what normal people cannot do and go where no man has gone before.

And finally, I discovered my self chosen totem animal at the Museum, the Spirit Bear (!!! aka. Kermode Bear): a misplaced polar bear in the jungle, a white black bear, and a genetic rarity produced by two black bears carrying the same recessive gene. There are only 400 Spirit bears left in the www (whole wide world) and they all live in the Great Bear Rainforest in BC. (Yup, one more reason to visit there.) Please support the preservation of these lovely beings!

Spirit Bear – Hail to the Cuteness!

The Nat Geo Museum really throws in a bit of everything in there: the stunningly mesmerizing hall of photographs recounting the history of the Nat Geo, Flying Monsters in 3D where David Attenborough narrates the evolution of flight in dinosaurs and birds, and even a XBox Kinect where you are transformed into a bear (or a tiger) on screen and needs to defend cubs or foods or shelters from other animals, here we practiced and honed our bear slapping skills.

Hall of Photographs in National Geographic Museum

Till next time, DC.

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Too Often Labeled

This isn’t my intended blog post this week (that one is in the works), but sometimes I come across something that speaks volumes to me and the lingering writer’s itch takes over.

Yesterday I came across this video about education, a rather powerful piece.

The speech is about the rigidity of the US education system and how readily it is used to label every student with a score, which seemingly seals their fate of being success or not successful in the real world after school. The scores are often taken out of context and in many ways does not reflect the talent and individuality of a person, but rather a lump sum label of who’s a good student – and likely to succeed and who’s a bad student – and unlikely to get anywhere.

This inevitably leads me into thinking back to my childhood education experience in China. While US education system does rate student based on performance in many aspects, it also goes out of its way to protect the self esteem and dignity of its students – as much as possible, particularly when they are young. This is completely absent in elementary schools of China (at least when I attended 20 years ago). When we were still just a bit older than toddlers and just began to learn how to run. We were heavily bombarded with the notions of being a A student or a F student. The class caste start being apparent right away, after the first of the many tests throughout the school term. The A students are automatically treated as the upper class and the F students are associated with not only bad grades but awful behaviors and assumed mental incapability. The most disheartening of all is the fact the scores and rankings are made public and displayed after each exam. What seemed to be the norm then, I now cringe at the thought. Did the ranking encourage students to do better or somehow humiliated those who did not score well and thus lowered their self esteem at such an early age? I would think it did more harm than good, though I was never at the bottom of the list but I remember the self conscious feeling of guilt and failure when I occasionally scored ‘somewhere in the middle’. After all, when we were just learning 3 + 3 = 6, did the ‘A’ or the ‘F’ really mean anything? Some of us were born before others (school cutoff is at September) and had more than a year advantage in age and therefore maturity, which at a young age is significant. And some of our families decided to push us forward by educating us at an earlier pre-school age. That difference, ideally should reduce while we all advanced with equal footing in the same classes during the six years of elementary school learning, though I can’t help but think that the ranking system and the labeling system, inevitably made it diverge, until the differences are too big to reconcile.

We are all prone to self fulfilling prophecies, even as adults, and as kids who are trying to navigate through their first social scenarios, their labels or how their teachers and peers regard them become of even more importance. While the speaker above can make his own decision and reject the labels placed on him by the education system, how could a child do that? By labeling them ‘F’ students, did we not so cruelly destroy the self esteem of 6 or 7 year old kids? Did ‘F’ students need help from the ‘A’ students or simply words of encouragement or affirmation? Did we not MAKE them believe they are worse than others and therefore they played out rest of their childhood years in the role carved for them by those they interacted with the most? Did we not seal the fate of so many while they had the potential to have been equally as successful as the ‘A’ students?

We are all individuals, from the day we were born. We have talents and values that benefit society in so many different ways, some may be more artistically inclined and some may veer toward logical minds of mathematicians and scientists. If we ask any parent, they would proudly tell us the talents and unique qualities of their kids, isn’t that what our education system should embrace and nurture? Why then do we try so hard to make kids feel their non-academic talents are useless and unimportant, and their academic talents are worse than their peers? Why then do we treat them as robots on an assembly line with different qualities and grades?

Though I cannot comment on what happens later on in the Chinese education system (I left after elementary school), but from what I heard it is evidently many times worse than what I was subjected to as a kid. I was lucky enough to escape and did not have to struggle further to hold onto my identity and dignity, but I sincerely I woe for my little friends many years ago and the little ones today.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is for you, the one and only Guo LaoShi in my life who has been nurturing the young futures of China.

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The Meaning of Happiness

This was suppose to be another 2013 Year in Review post, but scratch that, I want to write about some random compilation of thoughts on happiness.

The Immaterial of Happiness

My childhood as I can remember, was a very happy one. Despite the fact I did not have tons of electronics, plushies and fancy toys like the kids today in the US, I loved what I had, scarcity meant that I valued them that much more. We didn’t have video games or internet available back then, which meant we ran around outside as often and as much as possible,we were creative with ways to entertain ourselves – kicking bean bags, dancing between stretchy elastic bands, climbing artificial mountains and using mud ditches to fight ‘wars’ against the boys. Collecting tiny comic strips from the wrappers of a 10c bubble gum was one of our most treasured hobbies and picking out the strongest maple leaf stem in order to win vs. another’s became our pride of the day (and perhaps as thrilling as UFC for people today). On one of my birthdays, I got my first stuffed animal – a giant rabbit that my parents bought from Canada and was brought back to China by one of their closest friends, I remember it being as big as me at the time and as I stroked its fur and carried it everywhere I went, I loved it (which marked the beginning of my  never-ending infatuation with plushy).

Now, I’m a certified tech junkie. I’m surrounded by my gazillion gadgets everyday – iPad, iPhone, Kindle, PS3, Ultrabook and Super powered desktop. They make my life more convenient, more connected, and happier. But the happiness I experienced back then and now made me equally as happy, with the former being more colorful and adventurous. When I recall the happy moments in my life, the former easily floats to the top of my memories. “I used to climb fake mountains when I was little.” I would proudly tell people. I like to think that in this world so preoccupied in obtaining higher material needs, that happiness is immaterial, and that I retained some of my childhood resourcefulness and fearlessness that’s ready to be equipped for my grand adventures at anytime.

Happiness Given = Happiness Received

Over the road of the last two decades, there are critical moments (most of them good) that has forever changed the direction I’m taking in life. 10 years ago, when I was clutching onto a piece of acceptance paper and wondering whether it’s been delivered to the wrong mailbox – it marked the beginning of my journey at MIT and the next ten years fighting New England winters. Among others, this is probably one of the happiest and most impacting moments in my life, I received an affirmation for all the hard work for the first 18 years of my life.

As I look back on the years of my life, many moments incited the same awe inspiring feeling in me. In the many moments I spent volunteering at the ER of BIDMC, between the chaotic array of pain and sickness, I saw equally as much love and compassion. The minuscule amount of comfort and human companionship we were able to provide to a lonely patient with no relatives or a patient who cannot speak a word of English while in agonizing pain, is monumental. When they held your hand (a stranger just a few minutes before) and pouring out their hearts to you, you knew that you gave happiness in a moment of suffering to another person and in turn, you have received happiness, the happiness of knowing you’ve made a difference, however slight, in someone else’s life. Happiness is a resource that we never run out of, because giving happiness is equivalent to receiving it and just as life changing.

Ourez Les Yeux (Open Your Eyes)

I borrowed the phrase from the Dutch illustrator Tineke Meirink for her work of ingenious creativity in the ad for Samsung France (see below).

Like many others, I used to be preoccupied with the singular grand dream of earning enough money so I can be happy and do what I want many years down the road. My vision was linear, looking narrowly ahead only noticing my academic and career accomplishments. I chose to not do many things because spending time on them seemed irrelevant to my end goal and thus a waste of time. And in that process, I have walked unseeing and ignorant of the spectacular landscapes buzzing around me. In the recent years, that would all come to change, I would come to appreciate and value the beauty of the forest as much as the trail I’m taking.

Happiness is a creation. It is a force of nature that every living being is inevitably capable of and capable of creating. While the modern world is filled with busy lives of dream chasing and money making, sometimes we forget to do the simple thing of opening our eyes to the many unexpected and spontaneous cues of happiness all around us. As we are able to create elephants out of shapes of clouds, imagine trapeze performers on telephone poles, we are equally able to turn a simple act of kindness to a moment of appreciation for humanity, and a lovely performance of a subway artist into a few minutes of enjoyment. I found smile on my own face as kids smiled at me, serenity in the quiet moments spent with my puppy, the blissful pounding in my heart as I stood below the Panthenon, poetic romance as I sat in a coffee shop sipping a cup of locally brewed coffee, and many moments of laughter at a dancing porcupine at the Woodland zoo. This is happiness, simple as it can be.

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