Monday, December 24, 2012

A Story of Bear Grandma

Every night since last Friday, I have been reading about the massacre.  Sadly, journalists start to cool off.  But I truly wish that we do not put this behind so fast.  We should hope for some good things come out of this horror, such as establishing more stringent gun control laws.  I am so disappointed to know some people in this country have such a strong resistance to better gun control laws.  I am so worried about the fact that in this country, 9 out 10 people own a gun!  Guns are so deadly, why they should be carried around by people whose jobs have nothing to do with guns?  I am from China and used to seeing that guns are carried around everywhere, but those are carried by security providers, such as the police, who are trained to use guns safely.  Chinese army soldiers are not allowed to access guns unless they are at their training fields.  It's scary to think about guns in this country really.  Last time I went a dinner party and met one of the guests carrying a hand gun.  The party had plenty alcohol, what if he drank too much and then lost his control...It bothered me quite a bit.  Not only did it bother me that someone carries a gun to a alcohol-served gathering, but also this mentality - why in the world some people feel so strongly that they need self-protection at friends' party where only friends are invited?!

Anyway, let's take a break from these serious issues, shall we?  It's holiday and I am in a relatively relaxed mood.  I wanted to tell you a story which haunted me for life.  Consider yourself warned. 

My brother and I grew up without seeing much of our parents.  Mom and Dad had always been very busy with their jobs when we needed them the most.  They both were members of The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which means on the top of working full time, 6 days per week, from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, they also needed to go back to work after dinner, say around 7:30 pm to 10 pm or later.  The nightly meetings were for those special CCP members to learn government's top secrets or to study The Works of Mao in order to build a strongest socialist country in the world - the biggest ambition of Mao.  Sorry, I mean Mom and Dad went to 
have their brains washed nightly, pretty much like every religious person here in the U.S. who goes to Church every Sunday.  Except my parents worshiped Mao, instead of God.  They were absolutely devoted to follow Mao's CCP party to march towards ultimate happiness!

China as a country was quite poor 40 years ago.  Majority of the countryside did not have sufficient electricity.  Imagine that you need to pass one whole night without electricity here?  Well, let me tell you, that was our life almost every night at that time.  When night comes, older kids would lid oil-lamps or candles to do their home works.  The younger ones including me would just play hide-and-seek until we saw absolutely nothing outside.  

It was then I came to know Aunt Tang, my nightly "Mom".  She was a very diligent and kind woman who worked every night to my knowledge.  She sew buttons on clothes.  Aunt Tang had 4 kids of her own, two girls older and one boy and one girl younger than me.  Since Aunt Tang's husband was also a CCP member, he was not home at night either.  Aunt Tang 
and her children thus were a perfect sitters and companies for my older brother Bing and me*.  After dark, Bing and I would come by her house sitting or lying in a big bed beside Aunt Tang's working station together with her younger children who often already fell in asleep at that time.  Bing and I loved to listen to her endless stories and I also loved to watch her sewing buttons.  Night after night, her stories never failed to keep us entertained.  She knew so many interesting stories that Mom and Dad never seemed to know, classic Chinese folk tales, European classic children stories, maybe even few American ones.  I believe I know of pre-Disney versions of Mulan, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping beauty, and Mermaids from her.

One of the stories that I heard from Aunt Tang is "A Bear Grandma" that every little Chinese of my age would know.  It has many versions with small differences - you can google with these words: 
熊外婆的故事.  As I said, it has haunted me for life.  Test yourself and see whether you will be scared.

Here is goes.

"I am going to visit grandma and
 I'll be back until morning, so you two be good at home.  Don't open doors if anyone knocks.  There is a bear in the forest and she often comes to hunt children when their parents are not home.  So, remember what I said.  Do not open the door!"  The mother told her two children, Lan and Hu, while they were eating dinner.  After the dinner, she left home and shut the door tightly behind her.

The bear was hiding under the window at the dinner time outside, so she heard all what the mother said to Lan and Hu.  As soon as the mother left, she went back to her cave, put on some clothes and a hat to cover her fur and then came to knock on the door.

"Xiao Lan and Xiao Hu, open the door, please.  I am your Grandma and your Mom told me to come to look after you while she is away."  The bear said. 

Hu was excited so he ran up to the door and ready to let the bear in.  But Lan was a bit older and more cautious.  So she asked the bear before letting Hu to open the door, "Grandma's voice is a lot prettier.  You sounded rough."  

The bear said, "Oh, that was because I caught a cold."

Lan then asked the bear, "Could you put your hand in and let me check." and then she opened the door just wide enough for the bear to stick her hand in.  Lan touched the wrist of the bear and said, "You are not our Grandma, because she has a jade bracelet." 

The bear went to the crop field and got a long bean circling around her wrist to made herself a bracelet.  And then she came back said, "Oh, the bracelet was on the other hand.  Here it is."

Lan checked and confirmed that the bear had a bracelet so she let her in.  While Lan was offering the bear grandma a chair to sit down, the bear refused.  "Grandma hurt the back and cannot sit on a chair."  The bear said to Lan and requested for a cage with holes.  Lan gave the bear a chicken cage.  The hear sat on the top of the cage and let her long tail sticking into a hole of the cage.  This woke up the chickens inside.  

Lan and Hu asked why the chickens were making noises.  The bear said, "Oh, they are just like you happy to see me here."

Lan was still a bit skeptical so she went to light a lamp.  The bear said, "Oh, grandma is very old and the light would hurt my eyesI"  So, she stopped Lan. 

Then it was time for bed.  The bear and Hu slept on one side and Lan slept on another.  

In the middle of the night, Lan woke up and asked the bear why the bed was wet.  It was the blood of her brother Hu but the bear told her that was Hu's pee and Lan went back to sleep.

Soon Lan woke up again, because she felt a soft and long rope-like stuff tangled her feet.  It was the interesting of Hu, but the bear told her that was a rope that she used to tied Hu to her so that he won't fall out of the bed. 

Lan then went back to sleep and soon she woke up again.  This time, she heard some crunchy sound as if someone was chewing bones.  She could not go back to sleep anymore.  She was totally scared this time, and nervously asked the bear, " Grandma, what are you eating?"  The bear said, "Oh, I am eating some fried beans."

Well, I cannot remember how this story ended now.  If you are Chinese and interested in finding out the end, you can read it here.  For English readers, you are out of luck, because this story is so scary, nobody is willing to retell it.  To brief you here, Lan lost her little brother to the bear but herself did not die.  She had found many ways to escape and finally, she lured the bear to a well in the yard outside.  The bear fell in the deep well and died. 

Again, because this story is passed on by word of mouth, many versions exist.  So I only can tell you my version.  
I wanted to tell my kids this story so many times, but I never managed to do so because they are only 5 and 3 and still are afraid of going to the toilet in the house alone.

* Aunt Tang did not get paid to take care of us.  She did that out of her kindness - that was common in China.  We all helped each others out based on our kindness.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Function of education

A school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT occurred last week.  We are sad.  We are grieving.  We are scared.  We are angry.  We are seeking for answers...

And the answers are starting to unfold: Adam Lanza was eccentric and an extreme introvert; he did not like any other human beings; his mother, Nancy Lanza, was out of her mind to keep guns at the places where her mentally ill son could access; she was wrong for taking her son with her to fire guns; for shielding him from the public, for trying too hard to make him "fit in" the mainstream, for not trying hard enough to get him helped by professionals...

However, we must remind ourselves this soulless killer once was a loving child.  We must understand that any children, regardless what type of the genetic makeups they are bearing, they should have been raised and influenced by a village of people.  Adam Lanza was like everyone else with a unique genetic program, which told him to act differently from the majority of us.  Just imagine if the majority of us had sufficient knowledge to recognize and accept the way he was, would he still have been eccentric to that extreme level?  Imagine his parents, school teachers, and whoever else that were mattered to him, had been equipped with some knowledge of mental illness so that they would have sent him to special schools to satisfy the special needs of his growth and development, would he have acted differently?  Imagine he, like most of us at that age, had been kept busy by his friends, would we have had a different outcome?

We have failed spectacularly at many levels as a human race.  We have paid, with a price we cannot afford!

Yes, I am talking about that we have all contributed to the massacre, one way or the other.  We have failed Adam and Adam-like people, time and time again.  We, the society as a whole, failed him.

It's us.  We are all responsible for what the tragedy, whether you admit it or not.  If we continue to pretend that the mass killing had nothing to do with us, we will continue to fail.  If we live in a fantasy wishing mass killers would not show up in front of us, the frequency of such tragedy won't go down.  We have already experienced too many of this mass killing, we truly don't need any more to learn our lessons.  We cannot afford to wait for another 50 years for the society to change itself.  We need to act now.

What can we do to minimize this type of tragedy?

First, don't freak out when you meet people who act differently from the mainstream.  Showing them your willingness to connect with them.  Making eye contact with them, smile to them, make them feel welcomed.  Come on people, have you learnt already that we are all unique?  

Second, try to get close to whoever you meet in your life.  Believe me, making friends with "normal" people is fun and interesting, but making friends with "abnormal" people is extraordinary and exceedingly exciting!  As a middle school teacher, I had first hand experience to be friends with the most difficult students.  What I had done was very simple, I do NOT try to normalize/neutralize them.  I did not impose my own standards upon them.  I was genuinely curious to try to understand why they did not live in the same moral standards as the majority of the others and what they felt and saw in others?  With repeated efforts, I did succeed to make friends with bunch of kids who were labeled as hopeless students.  But I must admit that I had never met anyone with similar level of eccentricity to Adam Lanza.  But this is not the point here.  My point is to get close to mentally ill people BEFORE they become ill!  Yes, I do believe making friends with everyone you meet is one of the effective way to eliminate hatred towards others.  

Those two steps are easy to follow.  The bottom line is not to alienate young kids who are different from the mainstream.  This world needs more Alan Diaz to hang out with Adam-like kids.  I know it would be so much easier to turn our heads another way, to get far away from them, especially it was Adam who alienated himself from the rest of us.  But we can do better as a whole.  We could have reached out to him through the mother, for example.  It's not nosy, it's our responsibility to make the the world a warm, loving, and caring place.

However, sometimes making friends with people like Adam when they are already 16 or older, it could be too late.  In this case, we still can do something about it, such as, 

Third, follow up to with your gut feelings.  If you feel someone with dangerous thoughts towards others and themselves, don't let your busy schedule to delay to act accordingly.  If you think that's not your business, you are irresponsible.  You need to take proper procedures to have them watched.  

Sure, we must limit the general population to access machine guns to eradicate mass killing.  However, in my opinion, that was only the surface of the problem.  The ultimate and effective solution is to improve general educational and emotional quotient (EQ) of each and every one of us by education.

It's time to remind ourselves that the primary function of education is to gain knowledge to understand our surroundings and ourselves.  Education opens our minds to understand and embrace people with different and non mainstream characters.  With this knowledge, we are able to love, support, and care for others in need effectively.

Remember, education does not start at the day a kid goes to school, nor does it stop at the time a person is out of school.  It starts at the moment a child is born and continues for life. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A genius is born not made

The day our son was born, Fabrice whispered to my ears, "I think we have gotten ourselves a little smart fella."  The proud Daddy claimed that he saw a smart look in the eyes of our newborn!  Fabrice must have been delusional, I thought.  The infant was heavily sedated by the epidural and pictocin, he could not possibly show any signs of intelligence.  However, knowing that bragging is simply incomparable with Fabrice, I have kept his out-of-character remark in mind.  The next few years following his "genius" son's birth, my observations have proven Fabrice wrong, time and time again.  Since our Niuniu - 

- did not care to learn any letters even at age 2;
- had no interests in puzzles at any age (the Daddy just told me today that he stared to play with the 12- piece one and he is almost 4!!!);
- is still in diapers at night, occasionally, he even puts diapers on himself at nap time (he had been diaper-free in day time ever since he turned a little over 1, just for the record);
- cannot draw straight line, shape, pattern, or anything, really;
- ignores constantly our teaching attempts;
- still cannot tell the difference between people's size, color, or age;

All in all, he demonstrates no sign of super intelligence.  

Zhuzhu, on the other hand, has always been the smarter one between the two of them.  She -

- could tell the difference among people (height, look, smell, and color) at 4 months;
- walked without assistance at 10 months;
- knew A-Z and was able to sing songs with words at less than 20 months;
- was able to hold the urge of pee and poop at 3 months, diaper-free at day at around 16 months;
- was able to solve simple (8 pieces) puzzle at 16 months and complicated (12-36 pieces) ones at 2;
- had accurate memory of places and people at 18 months;
- understood and spoke 3 languages at less than 2;
- was able to draw many shapes and objects at age 3;
- had sense of color and beauty at younger than 2;

Sure, she is just a typical girl.  I heard this before.

But not according to child psychologists.  This summer and fall, Zhuzhu and Niuniu were both evaluated, sequentially, by two different child psychologists to determine whether they were gifted kids, as part of the process for the enrollment of a Encore Program - an enrichment program for gifted and talented students.

Why are we bothered to have them evaluated for the Encore?

Let me explain.

Neither Fabrice nor I believes our kids are gifted.  Don't get me wrong, we don't think the kids are retarded either.  We simply take a passive approach to parent them.  As long as we feed them, dress them, and drop them to school on time, everything else would fall right into places.  The Daddy is a big fan of keeping our kids to be kids.  We are also strong believers and supporters of public schools: we rather have them learn less than more at young ages so that they won't be under challenged later in Metro Public Schools.  Additional important idea behind our passive parenting approach is to let the kids to have a chance to look for their own inner drives.  Curiosity comes within - if they don't ask, we don't answer.  We fully expect that they learn how to cope with their imperfections along the way without the need of special interventions, such as this "gifted program".

In addition, both Zhuzhu and Niuniu grew up in the daycare owned by our University.  They started as full time infants at age of 5- and 3 months, respectively.  They have played with and learned from the other kids who are mostly high achievers - well, being the kids of high achievers, you see.  Apples do not fall too far from the tree?!  Naturally, they often come home surprising us with the vast of knowledge covering Disney Princesses, Star War Characters, and Super heroes...   

All these are to say that The Encore was naturally out of the realm of our knowledge.

However, it turns out that we don't live in a big bubble.  Kailyn and Elena, two classmates of Zhuzhu in "the Explorer" preschooler class, have introduced her Ballet lessons last fall.  These two girls started to becoming ballerinas like, oh, 1 and half year earlier than that.  Zhuzhu and Elena were in the Sunshine toddler's room together (from 1.5 to 2.5 years old) and good friends then.  Later Zhuzhu was singled out with Marie to joined Rainbow preschooler class (for 3-4 yr olds), whereas Elena was left behind and then was advanced to Annex toddler room (for 2.5-3.5 yr olds) with majority of the original Sunshine room friends.  Poor Zhuzhu might have been separated with most of her toddler friends too early.  She had hard time to adjust to the Rainbow room (our daughter requires high level of acquaintance to feel comfortable).  Last Fall, Elena and Zhuzhu both finally were advanced into the Explorer together, however, to Zhuzhu's advantage, she had plenty other friends from the Rainbow class.  Thus, Elena was closer to Kailyn who was also a new comer than to Zhuzhu.

Okay, I know this is too long to tell you why we came to know Encore.  I get to the point now.

Zhuzhu since then clearly was feeling rejected, because she often would answer my question of "How was your day?" with an answer of "Kailyn and Elena did not want to play with me.  They were not nice to me."  Our poor precious already experienced jealousy at that age.

All these is to say that it's not surprising Zhuzhu would want to join Kailyn and Elena at the ballet lessons and everything else they were doing.

In the early Spring, Kailyn's Mom kindly told me the Encore finally informed her that a specialized in child psychologist finally would evaluate her daughter soon.  She said they had waited for such opportunity for the last 5 months.  She was excited since they just got a definite "test" time.  She is a professor in psychology of our university and I certainly would not ignore her recommendations.  Thus, I relayed the news to Fabrice yet he could not care less about the news.  But I acted on it few months later and got our application forms filled all up at the end of the Spring.

Soon, Summer sneakily arrived, Zhuzhu started to become agitated, easily.  Her classroom was having frequent changes: friends went and new friends came.  Some of her old friends joined Summer camps in their future "big kids" schools, others took the chance to take long vacations.  Due to high demand of this daycare, each graduated kid was immediately replaced by a new comer.   It broke my heart when Zhuzhu at that time period would come home humming, "We love you, Lauren, oh, yes, we do..." her class dedicated this song to every graduate on their last days.

Other than the song she sang, she would also came home with various requests or complains, "Mommy, could you sign me up for Summer camps?"  "Marie has gone to New Orleans for a vacation.  I never get to have fun!"  "Elena went to Germany for a month, where are we going to go this summer?"  "I really don't want to be the last one to leave the class!"  "Kailyn and Elena get to go the Encore and swimming lessons together, I have got nothing.  It's not fair!"...  

We did not plan for summer vacation, so, told the kiddo to suck it up.  Life isn't always fair.

In the mean time of dealing with Zhuzhu's anxiousness, we also need to deal with her "giftness".  Sometime around mid of the June, we heard back from the Encore and had Zhuzhu scheduled for the test.  The psychologist informed me that Zhuzhu did not want to open up to her.  She said eventually Zhuzhu did answer her questions.  Then she showed me the following scores:

75% on reading;
91% on Math; and
80% on science/social studies

Good scores, right?  That was what I thought too.  

But these translated into an overall 0 for educational performances (required score is 10 or higher), 10 for creativity (required score is 16 or higher).  

Our daughter was not smart enough to make it in the Encore.

I was shocked and immediately asked the psychologist whether she could re-test our Zhuzhu since she was EXTREMELY shy!  But the psychologist said, "Mia did not do badly on the test, she is still better than average.  She just needs way better than average to make it.  You can always have her reevaluated later."  Then showed me the way out.

I must admit I did not doubt her competency at that moment.  But I certainly suspected the fact that we were an hour late on our appointed test time had imposed extra stresses to our sensitive daughter.  

The Daddy was calm, however, "I think the test score was acceptable."  He tried to make the sense of it to me.  "What, you mean Kailyn and Elena are smarter than Zhuzhu?" I cannot believe it, he was trying to tell me that our daughter was not the smartest in the world!  "Well, I don't know, they may well be.  Look, we've never prepared Mia for such task.  Kailyn and Elena's parents may have taught them more at home."  Alright, let's try to be objective then.  I should have known better and I shouldn't need a standardized test to tell me how smart my kids are.

But I was absolutely bothered by the lack of words to break the news to Zhuzhu.  Who knew parenting can be so challenging?!

The following weeks we tried very hard not to mention a word about the Encore, nor the test, to Zhuzhu.  Luckily, it was on summer break, Kailyn or Elena had not much chances to talk about it in front of Zhuzhu either.  Now she has been admitted into a private elementary school*, which disqualifies her from the Encore.  We are glad that until today Zhuzhu has not found out the fact that she did not pass the screen test for the Encore!

Having experienced the rejection by the Encore, we had decided not deprive Niuniu of this opportunity.  Thus, sometime in the mid of Sept, we had Niuniu evaluated.  Since he was only 3, his examine was done in another school by a younger, prettier, and friendlier psychologist with whom he immediately fell in love.  Yes, you guessed it, his test results were excellent:

89% on reading;
99% on math; and
88% on science/social studies.

These scores translate into the following: 10 on educational performance and 30 on creative thinking.  He was immediately referred to a comprehensive IQ exam, which eventually defined him a genius (IQ=139) and he started the Encore few weeks after that.

Now, where I stand?  Am I happy to know this?  Honestly?  Yes and No, but mostly it made me thinking.

If I believe that a genius is supported by his genetic makeups with which one is born, how do I explain the difference between our 2 kids who share 99.9% of the genetic makeup but do "not" share a similar level of intelligence?  They do, I believe, but Zhuzhu's test results could be skewed by her personality whereas Niuniu's could be inflated also by his superb expressiveness.

Zhuzhu is a mini Daddy, a stereotypical introvert*, appearing quiet and shy in public.  But she demonstrates strong 9 of the 9 types of intelligence.  Niuniu, on the other hand, is a mini me who lacks types 5, 6, 8, and 9 intelligence.  Maybe that is exactly why he is a certified genius - exceptionally deficient in some areas yet extraordinary great in other areas.  In other words, he can be dumb but appears smart because he is so eager to tell others what he knows!

Basically what I am trying to say is that one's fates can be sometimes determined by standardized tests.  And this is just the beginning for our kids.

The Daddy said, "She'll be fine.  She has years to grow out of her shyness."  To which I responded, "What if she will be rejected by another Academic Program that selects by standardized test scores?!"  I reminded him that many ivy league schools have minimal required test scores.  But the Daddy was not bothered at all, "None of us went ivy league schools, but we are happy, aren't we?!"

Told you that between the two of us, he is the smarter one!
* One of the primary reasons that we (alright, I) have decided to send Zhuzhu to a private school was because her introvercy.  The daycare manager (a great educator) and Ms. C (Zhuzhu's favorite preschool teacher) both strongly suggested us to do so.  They were worried about our girl would be treated as one of "the grey zone kids" in the public schools.  For the record, the daycare manager did not think that Niuniu is smarter than Zhuzhu either.    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eastern vs. Western Education

Have you missed me?  I have missed you all, seriously.  I missed our talk times, although I seem to only talk to myself here.  

Today I heard a report on NPR that the reporter discussed the differences between Eastern and Western Cultures.  I agree with most of the content, especially the following:

"Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you're less likely to put up with it (note: Western point of view).  But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you're more willing to accept it (Note: Eastern point of view)."

However, I sort of disagree about the "view" that the article raised in the end.  Dr. Jin Li quoted what Eastern educators say about Asian kids, "Our children are not creative.  Our children do not have individuality.  They're just robots."  I am not sure which Eastern countries those Asian educators were from, as a Chinese one, I have no such concern about our kids.  Contradicting this view, I even believed our kids tend to be too creative as they are raised in a culture in which people respect authority much more then they respect laws.  Unlike Westerners, we Chinese are not sensitive to or respect laws, because our leaders often show us that they are above the law.  To survive in a country where legal system is paralyzed, people invent rules to live by as life goes on.  As a result, we are more creative...  But serious though, I work with purely products of Chinese education system closely here in the U.S..  What I spend my time mostly on training them is to teach them how to analyze their data with a pair of objective eyes - they are not at all lacking of imaginations, if I do not check their data myself, the wishful thinking style of my trainees might unintentionally come up with biased or false results!

All I am trying to say is generalizing/stereotyping can be troublesome!  Not all the Asian kids are robots, not all the Western kids are creative.  Of course, Dr. Li only quoted a generalized view to make a point.  But this sort of stereotypic statement is often misleading.   

I even had some life experiences to prove the point.  

About 20 years ago, I came from China for my graduate study in a third-tier university for my Master's degree.  Just so you know, I barely could understand what professors said in the classrooms, especially in the first semester.  I had to drop one of the classes to avoid getting a B in my record.  More often than not, I had to borrow other people's notebooks after lectures to catch up.  Among the list of required courses, I had to take Physical Chemistry and Biomedical Statistics, two classes of which even the most intelligent native students were afraid.  I was totally scared.  But to my major surprise and delight, I got As in all the quizzes at relatively ease.  When the final came, I even felt under-challenged because the the questions were either shown by our instructors in the class or identical to those in previous quizzes.  In another words, our instructors intentionally made the exams easy for us to pass.  What's shocked me even more was the fact that there were about 50% of my classmates failed the classes.  "American students are very bad at math and science."  I concluded and shared this view with my cousin, who came to the U.S. 8 years earlier than I.  She had graduated from a better (second-tier) University and served as my go-to-person at that time.  "Don't generalize."  She disagreed, "Your classmates are not representatives of all American students.  Your school is not Harvard or Yale!"  I was disappointed that she did not hold the same view as I.  But I believed that my observation was well-supported by strong evidence.  

4 years later...  

I got myself into a bigger trouble.  I was pursuing my PhD in an institution that ranked among the top 20 Universities in the U.S..  This time, I had already gained quite a bit of experience in both course and lab work.  I maintained outstanding grades and made progress on my PhD project swimmingly.  In fact, the only people whose grades were comparable to mine were my Chinese fellows, which naturally made me believe that I was right all along about American students being bad at sciences.  One day, when the topic came up during one of the graduate student meetings, I said nervously in broken English, "Chinese students (are) doing better at graduate schools because they (we) work harder."  Many Americans nodded their heads agreeing with my view yet later I was called to the GPD's office (GPD stands for graduate program director).  He told me that my statement was found humiliating and racist.  Later my PhD mentor told me what I did was politically incorrect.

Did I learn this important life lesson?  No!  Why people ignore the obvious!

It took additional 4 years of experiences accumulated by living in the U.S. for me to realize why "generalization can be wrong" - important life lessons take a whole life to learn, don't they?      

After PhD study, I went on for my postdoctoral training, which is an essential process towards an independent principal investigator position.  To ensure landing professorship in biomedical research field, one needs to get in top labs so that he can publish in prestigious journals, namely CNS - stands for Cell, Nature, and Science.  BTW, for the nonscientists out there, CNS also stands for the Central Nervous System, which makes perfect sense to me that we use it to describe top journals in biomedical sciences.   

What helped me the most was the diversity of this lab with a total mixture of Easterners and Westerners.  During the 4 years of my postdoc era, I have worked closely with 3 Japanese, 2 Germans, 2 Chinese, 4 French, 3 Canadians, 1 Bangladesh, 1 Lebanese, 1 Bahamian, and finally 2 Americans.  Since we practically lived in the lab, the intense interaction among us provided me an unique opportunity to learn the inner logic behind the behaviors of each and everyone of them.  At the beginning, I kept making stereotypical comments, based where they were from.  After being constantly proven wrong, I started to pay attention.  Slowly, I learned that generalized views of cultural differences may be useful for us understand a culture, but they certainly do not apply to characters of each individual.  We definitely cannot predict anyone's creativity and productivity based on where he/she is educated.  We have Western robots and Eastern creators in the lab.

Granted that the aforementioned concerns of Asian educators were referring to young kids, which may not apply to adult graduates that I have come to know.  One should take this generalized view with a grain of salt.  Never assume every single Eastern teacher is demanding and similarly, do not count on Western teachers cultivate creative talents.  Regardless, educators cannot make chicken fly - I mean one's creativity is predetermined by his genetic registry.  Culture differences may regulate the expressivity of this trait - that is why so many Asian-educated geeks have become the CEOs in the Silicon Valley!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mentoring equation

While I am in the train of thoughts about my work related issues, I think it would be easier to discuss further about my mentoring philosophy following my last post.  Nowadays, teachers cannot spank kids anymore, nor criticize them in obvious ways so that we don't running into the risk of killing their self-confidence or esteem, whichever words that are usually used by people who deal with mental health issues.  As a combined tiger mother and educator, I try my best to push my kids to reach the highest possible bar that suitable for their potentials.  One day when I was surfing the Internet for mentoring tips, I found the following equation to define great leaders:

80% praises + 20% criticisms = success

Some wise man said also to focus on top performers and challenge them often since "Learning by itself is highly motivational.  If you focus most of your attention on mentoring your weakest links, you will accidentally place an artificial ceiling on the performance of your group.  Your top performers will be bored and jump the ship, leaving your team with a talent drain that reinforces long term mediocrity."

I need to take this to heart!!!

I started my teaching job at a boarding school in China in 1982.  The general formula for us teachers at that time and place was 80% criticisms and 20% praises - exact the opposite to what is shown above.  Because we were taught that modesty makes one progress yet conceit drags one behind (谦虚使人进步, 骄傲使人落后).  Thus the 80% of criticisms is there to keep you from being dragged behind!

The first school that I taught at is one of the only two key schools in the city and the kids were selected based on their academic excellences from various schools of the city of Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province.  I was a "class master" then, which means that on the top of teaching subject of biology to 2 different age groups of kids (13 yo middle schoolers and 16 yo high schoolers), I had also to babysit one 13-yo-class of 64 kids.  Teaching subject in a classroom setting part was a piece of cake as I was born a stereotypical extrovert who feared/respected/admired teachers - see their impact on my career choice here?  I have treated many of my teachers as role models growing up and must have subconsciously trained myself to be one of them.  By the time at the senior level in Guangxi Normal University, I was already chosen to show my peers how the job should be done.  The babysitting part, however, was a bit difficult.  It required me to get up early in the morning to make sure that all my 64 kids were out of the bed on time and to sleep late in the night to check out whether they were quiet after the light out.  I am a night person and could hardly get up on time myself most of the mornings!  Therefore, I often skipped the morning routine.

Part of the job duties as a class master is to infusing moral and social values to the little minds of my students, by which I mean that I washed the brain of my kids with Mao's moral standards.  Mao had banned all forms of religion ever since he took over the political power in China in 1949.  One of the many important slogans written by Mao was/is, "hao hao xue xi, tian tian xiang shang! 好好学习,天天向上!" [study (xie xi) well (hao), progress (xiang shang) daily (tian tian)]."  I developed numerous ways to recite this repeatedly, at least weekly, if not daily!  The most common way to do so was going through the following routine every week: each weekend before I sent them home to their parents, I would have a "summary/conclusion" meeting with the whole class.  It usually took about a good hour or two for me to do so.  I would often start with a short talk preaching about my view of life happiness, follow by how I would like to pursue it by setting realistic and achievable goals, and then ask my kids to reflect themselves.  They would need to do so by writing.  They recorded the "goods" and "bads" of themselves and importantly the aspects that they would need to improve in the week to come.  Finally, it came the high of the meeting: naming my kids as famous people.  Kids and I all had a lot of fun doing just that!  Like in a comedy show, I would call my kids with some names that they knew, they would just simply laughed at that the entire time - they enjoyed being called Einstein, Seiji Ozawa, Beethoven, 陈景润 (Chen jungrun), Michael Jackson, Maradona, 郎平 (Lang Ping)...  Unlike Americans, we did not have "Chinese Dreams".  We Chinese are generally practical and realistic and usually do not think famous people are real - they seem to be made-up characters, thus, laughable.  After a round of laughs, they would be quiet down to expect me to become serious.  They knew that I would not let them go home without the delivery of my criticisms.  To criticize them, I tried to be emotionally serious but keep it simple, quick, and specific.  One of the many advantages working in a key school is that most of the students are already quite hard on themselves, they usually only need to be reminded not be criticized.  Thus, I simply played with their natural guilty consciences by touching upon issues without naming anyone specific - "pointing at problem not at person (对事不对人)".  As far as I remember, my bike tires only were flattened once in the years of my teaching period.  This is a great accomplishment since letting go of the air in teachers' bike was a common way that our students' demonstrate their frustrations with us in China at that time.  

I no longer follow the 80% praises and 20% criticisms nowadays.  The new equation is:

80% praises + 20% exaggerated praises = working my own ass off!

Teaching graduate students to conduct medical research in U.S. medical schools nowadays is almost not rewarding.  The problem is that we are not paid to teach, instead, we need pay our students to learn from us.  What the hell?!  Alright, let me clarify.  Many of our students are already trained in their undergraduate school.  By the time they are in graduate school working in our research labs, they have already acquired quite a bit of skills, thus, are deserved to be paid with minimal wages.  In order to maintain an active research lab so that our students can have a platform to learn, we need to get funds to pay our students' stipend, tuition, and and health insurance.  Since I work at a private institute, I also need to come up with almost 100% of my own salary.  Therefore, you can imagine my job duties are mainly acquiring and securing funds.  My daily life is now sitting tight in front of computer, staring the screens either writing research grants, reviewing grants, writing manuscripts, or reviewing manuscripts, day in and day out!  There is not much of "teaching by demonstration" time interacting with my students anymore.  They need to make appointments with me, if they want my undivided attention and time.  So, the best students are the ones who are willing to practice trial and error - the autopilots.

Not so bad, you say, given research work is repetitive and experimenting anyways.  Right, I cannot agree more.

When do we teach, exactly, you ask?

The answers is we teach at the meeting time with our students.  We usually sit down with them, one-on-one, to review their experimental data, adjust the hypothesis, and most importantly to easy their frustrations from unfamiliar techniques.  Because experiments often fail.

This also means that we need to a new set of teaching skills.  Ever heard of "the art of leadership is the art of getting things done through other people"?

Getting things done through other people requires us to trust others to be as competent as us who have been trained for years on the bench!  The competency in performing biomedical research comes with practice.  It requires more resilient than intelligence because easy and obvious experiments are mostly done by our previous investigators.  Our students' daily life is usually consisted of demonstrating their capability to repeat published works in the beginning for a year or two, then to acquire novel and unpublished data in the subsequent years, and finally to publish their data.  To live a life like that, they have their own shares of frustrations.  They need us to work side-by-side with them from time to time to show them how experiments are done, yet they do not get enough of our presence because we do not work at bench anymore.  We are hiding in our office struggling with our research dollars to feed them!

Therefore, the 20% exaggerated praises are used to encourage the willingness of our kids to get over the frustrations of failing yet another crucial set of experiments.

Is there any drawback of such exaggerated praises, you ask?  Of course.  My improper praising weak performers may lead to long term mediocrity.  That is why I am here writing about this.  The quality of research work can also be dangerously deteriorated because of my decreased times shared with my mentees.  I need new workable strategies by replacing the 20% exaggerated praises with carefully delivered expectations, goals, improvements that I would like my mentees to reach.  Maybe this elaborated formula about mentoring could work (adapted from an old article)?

M - Model (Boy, we are making little clones of us)
E - Empathize (Sure, as long as you are not discouraged!)
N - Nurture (Food and money, where are you?)
T - Teach (Wake up, kids)
O - Organize (You too, be prepared when you come to my office)
R - Respond (Listen up, if you are one of the introverts)
I - Inspire (with my charming persona, Ha ha!)
N - Network (with our published papers, so work hard to get more data!)
G - Goal-set (and share with me, kids)

There you have it!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Knowing when to shut up!

Asking provocative questions with an authoritative tone is my standard style when I comment on others'  work at scientific meetings.  I am often even too lazy to sugar coat what I have to say when I spit out negative critiques.  Part of it is the side effect of my job and my underlying belief is that provocation is the most effective way in getting the message across to a group of staff.  According to my ancestors, "bitter medicine is better cure for illness (苦口良药利于病)"!  No, you have not heard about this wise Chinese Saying before?  Well, now you do!  Indeed, a provocation delivered in a constructive manner engages and inspires meeting participants.  It's an art to be able to bring about a perfect provocation without being taken as an offensive remark and leading to overreactions.  Another part of it is my personality, which I can hardly do much about it.

We, several principal investigators, hold a joint lab meeting regularly every Friday to discuss about our research projects and report our progresses.  At such meetings, 1-2 persons, mostly our students and postdoctoral fellows (the trainees) and sometimes us PIs, give presentations while the rest of the participants challenge the speakers with critical questions.  This type of meetings is very important part of our professional life since they sharpen our presentation skills and equip us with public defense capabilities.  If you are a scientist, you probably are attending such meetings regularly and you understand that in order to take full advantage of these meetings, speakers need to spend good amount of time to prepare slides, organize data, and even practice a few times to make sure they can attract the attendee's attention.  A good reason to invest time on preparation is because a well-prepared presentation invites constructive and critical questions sometimes are worth of millions of dollars whereas a poorly prepared talk usually leads to futile arguments resulting a total waste of time.  In this respect, speakers do have some level of controls over the range of questions they receive.  I personally value people's criticisms and I welcome them with open mind and arms, thus, I have no inhibition to provide mine.  I consider I am providing a service to help others by being one of the tough audience.

My frankness at our weekly meetings had worked well for years and people within the group had been benefitted from it, okay, people have gotten used to it.

But a little more than two years ago, the big boss of the group passed away prematurely, which led to a drastic change in the dynamics of the original group: some of us PIs automatically gained seniority whereas others, particularly the trainees of the big boss, were facing uncertainties of their future, they either needed to claim their independence by quickly acquire research funds to become PIs or to move away to work for other PIs.  Also, the group somehow gets bigger and unfamiliar faces show up each time.  My continuing speaking critically with a bossy tone in this case would have been out of place and time.

Therefore, I had decided to change the style of my public speaking at that time.

You guessed it, that was impossible!  I cannot sugar coat what I have to say.  It conflicts with my personality and is against my teaching philosophy.

An alternative was to keep my mouth shut tightly.  But this is also a dilemma.  After all, it is my job to provide feedback to the speakers, I have to say something!  Plus, keeping my mouth shut kills my brain activity - remembers introverts, we extroverts usually require speaking to stimulate thinking.

What to do?  How to shut up or to speak without sugar-coating things?

After trying my best to keep myself invisible for a while, I'd developed a strategy: I simply just waited for a few seconds to dissipate the urge of my questioning and commenting "critically".  This small amount of waiting time usually allows others who are less critical to ask questions.  By the time I open my mouth, the speakers' have already been primed for tougher questions thus the likelihood of their taking my comments as an offense decreases.  I then could just safely sail with my critical but necessary critiques.

By playing with this wait game, I have gained quite a bit of control.  I've felt easier and easier as time goes.  I have started to enjoy the new me who is sitting quietly at the back row listening others.  Sometimes I even can laugh inside at those who act like the old me speaking authoritatively without inhibition.  Now more than two years have elapsed and I've begun to harvest the fruit of my efforts.  I've noticed that my change counteracts the negative energy around me.  It is worth of mentioning here that my "personality change" has certainly been noticed - people sometimes look for me at meetings and often amused when they find me sitting all the way back in the room.  More importantly, they sometimes even invite me to speak up!

Problems solved, right?

Not so easily, especially not today!  Today, however, I sort of let go of my self-control at our joint lab meeting.  And I am not proud of myself today.  Now I am sitting here wishing that I had not flushed my past few years of efforts down to the toilet!

It's definitely more important to know when to shut up than to know when to speak up.

Don't you agree?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tiger mother - Part IV, Mom's cry

Like all mothers in the world, Mom almost never cried in front of us.  So when she did cry, that made an impression.  I remember seeing Mom cried only twice in my entire life.

The first time was when she thought that she'd lost my brother Bing and I.  When we were in elementary schools, we did not need to attend schools everyday for full days.  Wednesday and Saturday afternoons we got to stay home (we had 6 work days prior to year 2000).  At those times, the little kids usually played within the boundary of the work unit where their parents worked and lived - the work unit in China also means "live unit" for many families.  Chinese government provides housing to its employees*.  At the time, Mom and Dad worked for the same unit, which allowed one of them to check on us on their breaks**. Although kids playing free of supervision usually were not longer than 2 hours per session, the free time, was sufficient for us to get in some serious troubles.  We would escape to go outside the boundary, exploring flee markets along the streets, shops, food courts, and even railways watching the passing trains - one of our favorite activities: I still remember our skipping over the railway logs, losing balance while walking on the metal rails, and jumping out of the way for the passing trains whenever we heard the train whistles... thinking about these now sends a chill down my spine!  How and why those passing trains did not kill any of us then is beyond me.

One day, Bing asked me to get out the unit to the roads again.  He told me that some new roads were being made and it would be constructed with a new and cool material called asphalt.  We heard of asphalt before because some kids at school had used those asphalt-headed sticks as weapons to fight, which got them in troubles.  Bing was a famous trouble maker at school and he must have felt left out without those sticks.  Thus, he wanted to make his own asphalt-headed weapons.  At that time, most of the roads in our city were covered by pebble gravels or cements.  Asphalt was something totally new and sounded fascinating to me.  It did not take much to convince me to play naughty anyways, since at that age, I often needed to beg him to take me to those mischievous "adventures".  If you have a sibling who is two years older, you may remember that he/she does not like you to follow him/her around, particularly when she/he is a teller?

So, it was the very first time that we saw asphalt was being laid down.  The big heavy dumping truck looked so amazing and the new roads smelled so wonderful.  Bing and I were watching and following the trucks and workers along the newly paved roads.  We completely forgot about the time.  When the sun went down, the workers were long gone, and numerous asphalt-headed sticks were made and hid in safely in between the folds of our sweater (I know, we were little and kind of dumb, you see), we thought about home, Mom, and Dad.  They must have been looking all over the world for us!  Bing and I tried to get home as fast as we could, but only one problem: our hands were completely black and we could not wash the stains off!  Now we left "evidence" for our misconduct and we knew we would be punished if Mom and Dad saw those black hands.  Bing suggested that we could wait until it became completely dark.  With no other better ideas, I followed his lead.  We hid close to home behind the bushes, listening our names were called by Mom and Dad, watching them passing in front of us countless cycles...

Finally, my hunger and fear of Mom and Dad became increasingly larger than my obedience and fear of Bing, I caved and came out crying when Mom and Dad once again were passing in front of us.  Mom and Dad did not say anything.  They might be contemplating their next move, or they might be having hard time to decide which was better: finding us back alive or losing us to those passing trains - they knew of our habits by then.  They had warned us the dangers repeatedly and made us promise not to do that ever again!).  They quietly took us home and shut the door.  As soon as we went inside the house (apartment, I mean), and Mom picked a wood long stick starting to whip Bing's butt with it.  Bing is someone who never ever cries.  He did make any sound, he would not say a word either.  Mom asked him whether he would still do such things ever again, he would not answer.  Mom, while whipping her son, she mumbled some words like, "I hit you, naughty boy.  You are the older one, you must be the one led your little sister to this.  You could have been killed by those passing cars.  If this happen again, I'll beat you to death..."

I was about 7 years old at that time, as far as I remember, I was never whipped by any of my parents.  Bing was the one who often got the blame for every naughty things that we did together.  Of course, I was the one who always cried when he was whipped.

Those whips were not the ones that Bing was afraid of.  It was Mom's tears, I later found out.

After the Mom's whipping, my crying, and Bing's silent admitting his fault, we had our dinner and bath.  Then we were sent to bed.  While in bed, we saw Mom cleaning our sweaters with the black stains in the living room.  What's shocking was that we saw tears running down her face.

She was not mad about what we did any longer.  Instead, she was sad, she cried.

Mom cried. Why?

Mom never cries!

Shortly followed puzzled, I was scared.

Bing did not say a word, still, but that sure was the last time ever he was whipped!

The next afternoon after our nap, each of us had one big red apple*** beside us.  We usually did not take naps.  Often, we wait for our parents to fall in sleep, and then we would sneak out to play.

I knew then that Mom was saying "sorry" to Bing and "I love you" to us.  It was the most beautiful and delicious apple that I have ever had!
* It was more than 40 years ago. At that time, almost everyone in the cities works for the government since all work units were owned by the government then.  Each work unit is demarcated by brick walls covered with sharp glass pieces at the top to prevent kids or thieves from climbing over.  People get in and out of the unit through only guarded gates.   

** The chinese has 3 breaks at any given working day: 9:30 - 9:45 am, 11:30 am - 2:20 pm, and then 3:30 - 3:45 pm. The noon break is long since we need to eat a formal lunch and a nap following that! No wonder we do not get much done, right?! Fabrice said the best time to invade China is at noon, every time he goes to China, he was amazed about the fact that the whole city is in silence from 12-2 pm! We Chinese do not work hard at all.

***  Apples in Southern China were very expensive since they were "imported" from Northern part of China, which took days at that time.  Most of the apples could not stand the abuse of long distance travel.  People like Mom and Dad would only purchase those expensive apples as special treats to us.
The second time Mom cried was when she received a telegram, which informed her that Aunt Er, her oldest sister who raised her like her mother, passed away. But that, my friend, you will need to wait for me to find time to tell the story in details. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Discovery of manhood

Today at bath time, I noticed that our 3 yr old son Niuniu was scratching/playing with his private part.  Concerned about his spreading bumps (molluscum contagiosum) from his upper tight to his genital area, I asked what did he have down there. He answered with his signature mischievous smile, "I have a ball in my Zizi" (penis in French).  His tone was playful and even a bit of proud.  Niuniu cannot speak as clearly as his sister, worst of all, he has this thick Southern accent that often confuses me.  I was so convinced that these bumps of molluscum contagiosum have developed so big that he thought they were little balls.  "Oh no, can I see what does it look like?" I requested with such obvious worries.  "Yea," he answered dutifully, "it moves!" he added.  From his curious/trying-to-understand look, I suddenly realized that our little man was fiddling his balls, those moving testicles, inside!  So, I told him to go and tell his daddy what he found down there.  He went and proudly announced, "Daddy, I have a ball in my Zizi!"

What a discovery of his manhood!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Subconcious racism and sexism

As you have probably figured out already from what I have written so far, I am quite insensitive to insults, which means I DO NOT usually think that people are being judgemental or insulting when they comment on what I do and who I am. This insensitivity of mine is protective of me being hurt. The downside of this trait of mine, however, often gets me in trouble, because I am equally insensitive to other people's feelings and often say things judgemental and hurtful without knowing. Therefore, I was given a name of Ma Da Ha (马大哈 as scatterbrain), have very limited number of friends, and only got married when I was 42! I have been asked to change as I grew up and older, but no matter how hard I tried, I'd failed. Therefore, I had developed mechanisms to cope with this by treating it as my characteristic or trait rather than my defect or shortcoming.
Here is one example which happened recently:

"How was your grant, was it scored well?" I asked a colleague of mine in a hallway one day.

"Oh, I got 10%, which may be fundable in XYZ institute." He answered, without any sign of happiness or emotion, while accompanying me walking towards the elevator.  Nowadays, getting a grant scored at all is a big victory, let alone he scored so well, a 10% and fundable, wow!

"Congratulations! That is fantastic news." I said, truly excited and happy for him. But cannot help feeling left out, because I had a triaged grant that had been submitted in the same time as his fundable grant! Then we reached the end of our shared way where normal people would end conversations, but I did not. I continued on, "I don't believe the NIH study sections actually score grants by their merits anymore!"

What in my mind really was his 10% grant could have been between 1-5% among the top grants that had been scored.  Yet I did not have time to elaborate and I heard,

"Oh, thanks!" and he walked out of my sight.  I lost his trust for good!

That, my friend, is how stupid I can be.

The secret is that I am not alone. Many of my colleagues are PhDs who are quite fitting into the category of permanent head damaged well! The following is what I experienced last night when one senior professor showed his subconcious racism and sexism.

Last night, I went out for dinner with 2 male "colleagues" and one female Asian honored guest. It was one of those business dinners that I usually reluctant to attend because they often make me feel awkward. But since the dinner invitation came at the last minute, together with the fact that our honored guest Ying was a female and Asian, I'd decided to answer the dinner invitation favorably based on two assumptions: the host Matt might not have enough time to get anyone who could go with him; and as a female and Asian, I might be able to help out to entertain Ying.

I intentionally arrived at the restaurant a bit earlier. After I situated myself at the bar a little while, just long enough to finish reading the wine list, I felt a gently tap on my shoulder - it was Ying. Since she and I had met earlier at my office after her seminar, we considered ourselves acquainted. A gentle tap on the shoulder as a form of saying hi was quite well received and we immediately started to chat like old friends. Matt, our host, happily joined in and the three of us carried our conversations enthusiastically all the way from the bar to the designated dinner table!

We would have a great time tonight, I predicted to myself.

After we settled in, however, the conversations turned South. It started the moment of our last guest Albert walked in the door. He was late by 10 minutes! I was seated facing the restaurant entrance so I spotted his inquiring expression and waved at him. He ignored me, of course. He and I had met at the seminar earlier, but obviously that did help him to recognize me. He was led to our table by a waitress and sat down right across from me. Matt introduced us and then he asked, almost immediately, "Who are you work for?" I was not prepared for this question, so I said, "What do you mean?" He then elaborated, " I mean whose lab you are in, who you are working for, who is your boss?" Good gracious, I finally understood he assumed that I was not his equal! "I work for myself, I guess. I mean I have my own lab." I simply put that way.

So, what do you feel if someone asks you,"Who are you working for?"

I must point out that I get this question a lot. But it usually happens at other locations. At a formal dinner table, that was the first time. What has gotten into his head that I was not like him who runs a productive lab? Was it my Asian race, female gender or the combination of both?

Clearly, the presence of Al would not help to turn the dinner conversation back to interesting topics like where we lived and how we lived. The whole time we were talking about science and work! I attempted to turn the situation around by asking Ying about her children and family and things that she did after work, Al kept pulling them back to work, work, and more work. The rest of the dinner conversations were all about Al's work, from what he had discovered 30 years ago to what he is working on now.

I finally gave up and simply kept my mouth shut, focusing on finishing my dinner quickly and leaving!

At the end, while we all walked out the restaurant, I said to Matt, "If you live far away, let me drop Ying back to her hotel."  Matt was smart and nice, he did not insist.  Ying was understanding and she probably sensed that I had something else to say.

As soon as Matt and Al were out of our sights, I said to Ying, "It's still early and I live close by, would you mind having a cup of tea with me and my husband?"

She said, "Not at all."

Off we went to our house and we then compensated the loss of our time in the restaurant and had a wonderful rest of the evening. I got to know her much better in that 30 minites then the 2 hours' dinner time.

With the nice time we had, I completely forgot about the bad interaction between Al and me, but Ying reminded me of it on the way back to her hotel, "How did you feel when Al ask you that question?"

"Which question?"  I had truly put everything behind me. Insensitive, you see?

"Who are you working for?" she explained.

"Oh, that one, I got that a lot." I said, but then I added "It was a strange dinner, the topics that we talked were so boring, why do scientists insist on talking about sciences after work? I thought dinner time is for us to relax and forget about work."

"It's was unusual." Ying said. "But I just wanted to make a point that many, but not all, white men like to assume that we Asian women are not running our own businesses in academic settings." She then gave me few examples when she was asked similar questions on campus.

Now I hear that the U.S. colleges have already started to require higher academic achievements for Asians, particular Asian girls, in the admission office. Ying's daughter went Johns Hopkins School of Engineering. I wonder how she pulled that off!

Our conversations ended up by Ying explaining to me why applying for American citizenship might not be a good idea. I did not have enough time to find out why, but it made me thinking: do I want to become an American if I do not share the same moral standards with some of the Americans?  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Romantic dates with your partner?

Before Fabrice and I were married, we went out often, our dates were usually random and unplanned.  We would go out several nights per week, mostly just for dinners.  If it's weekend, we would complete our dates with additional trips to movie theaters.  Occasionally, we also drove out of the city for some rock climbing, river canoeing, and hill hiking.

One Saturday morning, I woke up feeling an urge of getting out of the lab for a change.  So I suggested Fabrice to drive out of town.  He asked, "Where to?".  I said, "I don't know.  As long as it is not the lab!".  Then, we went to San Antonio (we lived in Houston then), visited the Alamo, took a cruise to enjoy the River Walk, spent a few hours wandering from one local store to another to experience being a tourist and to understand why so many people consider this city tourist worthy.  We even spent a night there just for the night life along the River Walk!  Next morning, I woke up depressed because I did not want our fun trip to end.  Then I suggested Fabrice to take a detour back to Houston via Austin.  He must have thought I was more worthy of his time, so he went along with the "unplanned plan".  So, there we were, visited the capital of Texas, stumbled in a finest French restaurant in the downtown area for lunch, and then completely lost ourselves on the streets.  While walking randomly on UT-Austin campus, we noticed a stream of people: they all nicely dressed walking towards one direction.  Curiously I followed them, Fabrice followed me, eventually, we all arrived a theater.  It was already quite late and Fabrice wanted to head back but I insisted to check out what show was on.  He and I looked at the bulletin and could not decide what to do - the ticket was very pricy and our unplanned trip already took longer than intended.  Our responsibility started to take over our curiosity by then.  It was then, we were approached by a group of people.  They told us the show was something one should not miss.  Best of all, they made decision for us by offering us a free ticket.  So with mixed feelings, Fabrice and I bought another ticket.  When we went in, the theater was already packed with people, a first sign of a good show, we thought.  Even then we still decided to stay on the back in case we needed to leave early if the show turned out to be was not worth of our time.  Pleasantly surprised however, that was absolutely the best Contemporary/Modern Dance Performances and the Concussion Music that I have ever watched/heard!  It was a night to remember.

The whole trip was a date to remember!

After we got married, especially after we had kids, our life becomes highly predictable: we now own a Toyato Rav4 and then my little new green beetle retires.  Our driving routes have changed from all over the city to home-daycare-work-home on weekdays and home-Costco-home on weekends.

We don't even shop for food in various grocery stores anymore.  We also have completely forgotten how to have a date with each other.

One day at about 8 months after I became a mother, I had made a major discovery: we were not an isolated case.  So I decided to make our married life a bit more fun.  Married couple should not be deprived from loving and fun dates!  I told Fabrice, "Let's ditch the kid and get out for a date." He looked at me as if he saw a pretty young girl, "Really, when?"  The poor husband of mine was clearly excited.  He must have been happy to find that I was willing to leave our infant with someone else - I was a new mother at 46 for the first time, can you blame me for not willing to separate with our lovely Zhuzhu?  Poor Fabrice, his weakness is too understanding of others.

So I asked Ling to babysit Zhuzhu for a whole night - from 6 pm to 11 pm, we said to her.  Fabrice and I had planned to have a real date, which should have included a good meal in a fine restaurant followed by a good movie.

The moment that we walked out of the door, however, I wanted to turn back - I could barely keep my eyes open.  All I wanted was to have a good sleep.  But that was our first night out for fun ever since the kiddo was born, I could not ruin it by telling Fabrice that.  So, I stuck with our original plan.  Our meal was a bit rushed though, because I was too afraid of falling my head down to the table.  Seriously, I almost did fall in asleep!  Interestingly, Fabric was not much more excited than I either!  So he finished his meal without any delay.  We acted like we only wanted a sequence of events involved in the concept of date to end, as quickly as possible.  We should have stopped right then, without a movie.  But we had planed to watch a movie, so we continued to go on our date.  When we made it to the nearest movie theater, both Fabrice and I looked at the bulletin boards and then each other.  Almost simultaneously, we said, "Let's go home."

Ling laughed her ass off when she saw us coming back home before 9 pm.

Second dates - staff night out nights.

First let me give you some background. Apparently, we, Fabrice and I, not the only ones who understand the problem that married couple don't have much time for each other.  Our employer does too.  To solve it, our employer provides us "staff-nights-out" nights.  In those nights, we can simply drop our kids to a "night care".  A bunch of college students then babysit them for us.  We can then have our dates for free from 6-11 pm!

On the first staff-night-out night, Fabrice and I ended up going back to our offices - he continued working and I visited my favorite blog sites.

The second time I went shopping with Ling while Fabrice was out of town.

Those, my friend, are what I call romantic evenings.

Pathetic, don't you think so?

Well, not really, if you know that Fabrice and I have our offices on the same floor.  His office is about 20 meters from mine and we lunch together almost daily.  Compared to other couples, what we need more may be alone date, except we do wish to go out for good meals without kids, from time to time.

At the last staff-night-out night, we decided to do something different.  We have recently had a lot of changes in life.  One of which was that we have moved to a new house.  I am having a love and hate relationship with it, even though its noticeably bigger and nicer.

At around 5 pm, Fabrice walked in my office and asked, "So, what we are going to do for our date tonight?" - it usually irritates me whenever he asks this type of question - it's his job to provide ideas to have fun: he picks up movies from Netflix, he choses places to go for skiing, rocks to climb, routes to run, restaurants to dine (ok, I contribute to the last one too)... For the man readers out there, never ask your woman what to do on your dates - it's the man's job to find fun things to do with the woman!

Anyway, back to our romantic dates.

"Why don't we go to have our house cleaned!" - I still love our old house that we moved out slowly but never get it completely cleaned.  I hate to leave it unattended even though no one is living in it at the moment.

Fabrice was disappointed but he could not find any better things to do.  But he suggested to at least get some food first.  Then we found every single restaurant close by our old house was full, even the bad ones.

Eventually, Fabrice and I cleaned our house with empty stomach!

What do you do with your spouse of 10 years?