Reading biographies

My kids and I have always enjoyed reading and visiting library.

Since I announced incentives to my kids for reading nonfiction one month ago (see 1/31/10 post), visiting library has become a little bit more exciting.

They have been reading more biographies and have accumulated enough page numbers to be rewarded for an ice cream at every visit.

Now it has become a routine that we go to the library every Sunday afternoon to read and have ice cream. We stay for one to two hours till the library closes.

I check out lots of biographies about writers, artists, politicians, celebrities and historical figures and hope my kids will read them all.

My daughter reads some of them. She especially likes the “Who was …” series and has probably read most titles in the series.

But my son is not interested in the books I checked out for them. He reads almost only biographies about athletes whose names I do not recognize.

Since I don’t like books being checked out and returned without being read, I end up reading some of the books none of my kids wants to read.

As the result, I have been reading more biographies myself. It’s interesting to read about famous people or people I admire, William Shakespeare, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa, Condoleezza Rice, J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Kate DiCamillo, etc.

I wish I had read biographies years ago while growing up.

One common thread I find among the famous and successful people, especially writers, is that they love to read at a young age.

Today I read a biography about Oprah. Winfrey was born into poverty, but her grandma taught her to read before the age of three. I am sure that early reading and her life-long love to read played an important role in her success later in business and life.

Tha’t what I am trying to do with my kids. Instilling in them the love to read and helping them build a solid foundation for future success.

Just a game, win or lose

Today my 10 year old daughter Amy had her Year End Basketball Tournament.

This was the first time that Amy participated in a team sport. She has enjoyed playing the ERAA 4th grader in-house basketball. She had a great team and two wonderful coaches.

For the whole season that started last November, her team was unbeatable. As the result, the girls expected to win the last two games today at the tournament.

They won the first game against a Cottage Grove team pretty easily.

For the second game against another ERAA team, it was more challenging, but for the first half of time, Amy’s team was ahead of the other team. It really looked like that finishing the season with an unbeatable record was a done deal.

Then the other team scored their first two points. Quickly they gained momentum and more points. Within a few short minutes, Amy’s team lost ground and the game, to everyone’s surprise and disappointment.

It was hard for a few girls to accept the reality. They were emotional and cried.

The girls were really passionate about the game and had high expectation. Therefore, it was hard for them to take the loss.

The more passionate you are about something, the harder you crash when it fails.

I am not a sport fan at all. I don’t know anything about sport and don’t watch sport. When I take my kids to practices or games, I always have something to read with me. I am not as attentive and involved as other parents are when it comes to cheering for the teams.

But just being in the gym, watching the kids play, surrounded by excitement and disappointment, I could feel my body get tense from time to time.

No wonder watching or playing sport can be such an emotionally charged experience.

I certainly wish that Amy’s team could have won the final game and finished the season with a perfect winning record. But I think losing a game was not necessarily a bad thing. It could teach the girls some important lessons.

  • You don’t always win, whether in sports or in life. Success and failure are all part of life.
  • Past performance is not a guarantee of future results, as almost all investment literature tells you.
  • Don’t take things for granted.
  • Don’t be too proudful when you win; don’t be too discouraged when you lose. Things can change in seconds.
  • Don’t take the game too seriously, play and have fun.
  • Win or lose, it’s just a game.

My daughter had fun playing basketball, enjoyed her classmates and coaches, learned some skills and team spirit, and got good exercises twice a week for over three months. For me, it was a winning game from every aspect. It doesn’t really matter what the score says.


100 blog posts, 100 words

For my 100th blog post, I would like to share 100 words that are meaningful to me.

These words describe something or somewhere that are close to my heart – places where I have lived, things I like, desire and dream about, or things I do not like.

I think these 100 words will give a good picture of who I am, where I am from and where I am going – the essential questions in life.

Suzhou, Beijing, China, Heidelberg, Germany, Madison, Chicago, St. Paul, Woodbury, America, parent, brother, wife, husband, son, daughter, writer, author, columnist, librarian, Bible, Christianity, spiritual, supernatural, mindful, soulful, humble, inspiring, transforming, quietness, spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, healthy, fruit, vegetable, raw, yoga, simplicity, content, gratitude, friend, conversation, book, nonfiction, poem, biography, language, Chinese, library, Internet, newspaper, radio, reduce, recycle, reuse, green, frugal, resourceful, sharing, environmental, natural, community,
perfectionism, negativity, vanity, arrogance, ego, prideful, materialism, selfish, wasteful, TV, reading, writing, blogging, learning, growing, walking, gardening, volunteering, listening, networking, informed, educated, accomplished, published, connected, understood, validated, appreciated, respected, loved.

In a few days I will post something to help connect some of the dots.

City works

What makes our living in a community like Woodbury possible and comfortable?

If I ask people this question, I bet not many people will think about public works. I didn’t either.

But that changed today after I attended the session four of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy held in the Woodbury Public Works building. We learned about some of the city works.

Dwight Picha (Community Development Director) and Janelle Schmitz (Planning and Economic Development Manager) gave a presentation about Woodbury city planning including the new 2030 Comprehensive Plan, development review process, environmental management and inspection services.

David Jessup (Engineering and Public Works Director), Klayton Eckles (Deputy Engineering and Public Works Director/City Engineer) and Dick Riemenschneider (Public Works Superintendent) talked about public works and gave us a tour of the building and garage.

By the way, I was very impressed by how orderly and clean the Public Works fleet and garage are. My family has only two vehicles in our garage. They don’t look nearly as clean.

Learning about public infrastructure, the transportation, water and sewer systems, and how public works work has given me a new sense of appreciation for something I have taken for granted and don’t think about.

I felt more appreciation for the people in the Public Works Department who get up in the middle of night to plow snow so others can travel safely on the road.

Imagine living in a place with no roads, no clean water and no sanitary sewer system, how would that be like?

If we could know what that would be, I am sure we would all be more appreciative of what city works have done for us.


Interview with MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel

Recently I have the pleasure of working with Minnesota Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel and his staff to create the Commissioners’ Reading Corner to promote reading, learning, and servant leadership within MnDOT.

Sorel’s article “Enhancing our leadership skills, one book at a time,” a list of his recommended books on leadership, and my interview with him on the first book in the series titled “Drawing leadership inspiration from Muhammad Ali and other” are available in the Feb. 24, 2010 issue of MnDOT Newsline, a biweekly employee e-newsletter posted on the MnDOT Newsline website.

More information including my complete interview with Sorel on reading is posted on the MnDOT’s internal website which is not accessible to the general public. I have posted it below.

A previous interview I did with Sorel published in Woodbury Bulletin on June 11, 2008 titled “Meet the new MnDOT commish” can be view here.

I created an account on and posted the list of Sorel’s recommended books here.

Interview with Commissioner Tom Sorel


Tang: Commissioner, I know you are an avid reader. You read a lot and often recommend books to others at meetings. What has influenced you to be a reader?

Sorel: I was a typical boy while growing up. I was active in sports and other things. I didn’t read a lot. Reading came to me later in life.

Tang: What was the turning point?

Sorel: The turning point came when I was working on my MBA at Thomas College in Maine. I had to read a lot of books on leadership, management, organizational development, business strategy, etc. Reading expanded my mind to other areas. At one point in my life I even read a fair amount of poetry. The more I read, the more I enjoy reading. I became addicted to it.

Tang: When it comes to reading, who has influenced you the most?

Sorel: When I was at FHWA, I noticed that I respected certain kinds of people who had some common traits. They were leaders in upper management who were avid readers and good storytellers, people like Federal Highway Administrators Thomas Larson and Rick Capka, U.S. Secretaries of Transportation Rodney Slater and Mary Peters. Because of them, I was inspired to read more.

Tang: How has reading and books helped shape your thinking and your life?

Sorel: When I read, I pick up thoughts and ideas that apply to work or personal life. Reading about the journey of others can increase knowledge, enrich lives and even save marriages. Reading makes me a better rounded person, positively affecting my work and family life. I am a better leader, a better communicator, a better husband and a better father because of continuous reading, reflection, and learning.

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Sorel: I read every day, and more when I travel. I read trade publications to keep myself informed about what’s going on in the industry. I often take my 8 year old son to book stores (he reads everything there is to read about the Vikings!) and pick some books on leadership for myself while we’re there.

Tang: Do you have any favorite author?

Sorel: Not really. I will generally pick up a book for the topic. One of my favorite business books is “Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.” For leisure reading, I like mystery, and my favorite author is James Patterson.

Tang: What do you want to achieve with this Commissioner’s Reading Corner?

Sorel: I want to encourage Commissioner’s staff and all MnDOT employees to read or read more, to help MnDOT become a learning organization. I would like this to reflect what we are trying to do at MnDOT, to build servant leadership and to serve the citizens in Minnesota.

I hope the Commissioner’s Reading Corner can provide a central place, a focal point for people to find books, and provide a more personal and safe environment for people to come together to share their thoughts and ideas. It will also provide an environment for people to “explore” and expand their thinking on various topics.

On the 1st recommended book:

Letters from leaders: personal advice for tomorrow’s leaders from the world’s most influential people by Henry Dormann, 2009.

Tang: Why did you pick Letters from Leaders as your first recommended book in the series?

Sorel: This book is a collection of letters and advice from some of the most successful leaders around the world. Each letter is very short. It’s easy to read and discuss. So I think it is a good start.

Tang: What part of this book inspired you the most? Can you share some quotes from the book that struck you personally, left a big impression and made you reread it, pause and think for a moment.

Sorel: Three individuals and their letters stand out for me.

Muhammad Ali was my hero when I was a boy. He talks about life as a journey and a great adventure. We should have fun and laugh. He says:” I worked hard and then worked some more, trying to be the best that I could possibly be at what I was doing. I learned that tough times are a part of our journey in this life, but that challenges make life interesting. Even though it can be painful and frightening at the time, the greater the obstacle, the more glorious the moment of success… It is also important to have fun. I enjoyed my life. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I took the positive from the experience and lived in the moment, connecting with the people around.”

Dalai Lama talks about love and compassion that we don’t hear much in the business world: “The key to a happier world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. What is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. We must all learn to work not just for our own self, family, or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind.”

US Congress representative Diana DeGette talks about the benefit of changing lives. She says: “Whatever your interest is – whether science, public health, military affairs, or the environment – you can immerse yourself and have a fulfilling career that also has the benefit of changing lives.”

Tang: How has reading this book opened your mind and broadened your perspective?

Sorel: It made me think what I want my legacy to be. I want to share knowledge. I feel a sense of social responsibility and obligation to share what I have learned and know, to pass on the knowledge to the younger generation, at the same time learning from them. We are all leaders in some way, with opportunities to influence and change lives.

Tang: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I am looking forward to reading with you, learning and growing, and making Mn/DOT a learning and growing organization.

Sorel: I am very excited about this new initiative.

Overcome depression

Today I went to a brown bag lunch presentation on overcoming depression.

Not that I have any kind of depression myself, but I know people who have depression. So I am interested in learning about depression, a mental illness that is so common in our modern society nowadays.

Depression was a foreign concept for me while growing up in China. People were poor and life was hard back then, but I don’t think people were depressed as they are today. We were happy if we could get enough or something good to eat.

Recently I heard comments from my brother and a friend from China saying that most people in China are depressed to some degree. Living standards are so much higher now, but there are also many social problems.

The gap between rich and poor is growing bigger than ever. Some can’t afford food or housing, while others have so much more to waste. People always want more than they have. No one is happy any more.

Depression has become a universal problem.

One of the books that was highly recommended by the presenters is The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom. I saw some good reviews about the book on Amazon.

I hope others who are suffering from depression can benefit from this book.

Ask and you shall receive

For the last few months I have been helping the Transportation Division of the Special Libraries Association, of which I am a member, to do fundraising for the upcoming annual conference in New Orleans.

Two years ago I did fundraising for Minnesota Jinglun Chinese School, a new Chinese school located in Woodbury. I even wrote an article about fundraising lessons learned.

So I do have some fundraising experiences.

Finding potential vendors to contact and writing an email request are not hard for me to do.

Yet, making a cold phone call isn’t as easy as writing a letter for me. Procrastination is my solution to anything I do not enjoy doing.

Since I haven’t got responses to all my email requests I sent out in the last two months, I felt it’s time for me to pick up the phone and talk to people.

So this afternoon I made up my mind to do that. “Nothing to lose, just ask.”

The first company I called is an international company with multiple offices in the United States. I called the general number and talked to the receptionist. She gave me the phone number for the Director of Sales and Marketing in a different office. He is the one I emailed two months ago and hadn’t responded.

I dialed his number directly. Luckily he picked up the phone. I told him why I called and mentioned the email I sent him.

He quickly found my email and said, without any questions and hesitation, “I am responding to you right now.”

“Are you saying yes to my request?” I wondered.

“Yes, I am sending it now.”

That was the conversation we had.

Seconds later, I got his response, in which he committed $100 to our annual conference.

$100 is not much for a big company like his, but for me, something is better than nothing.

“That was easy.”

The first successful phone call boosted my confidence instantly.

I make a couple of more calls.

I had one “No” response because it’s too late in the game, the money had already been committed to other requesters. The other response I had was “Send me something in writing.” Still looks promising.

The fundraising experience I had today reinforces the few lessons I learned two years ago.

The most important one?

“Ask and you shall receive."  

Think about it.

If someone had not asked Dorothy Merrill for donating $1500,00 to the arts center in the first place, it’s unlikely that she would leave $2 million for the arts center after her death. (see 2/17 and 2/19 posts)

It all happened because someone took the courage and time to ASK. 


Buy energy-saving light bulbs

For two months in February and March, Xcel Energy is offering Minnesota consumers energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs for $1 each.

I am all for saving energy and saving expenses. I have been gradually replacing old light bulbs with these energy efficient ones. Yesterday I took advantage of the offer and bought 12 new ones. I went home and put some of them to use right away.

Xcel Energy estimates that switching can mean a savings of up to $50 in electricity costs over the seven-to-10-year lifetime of a 60-watt-equivalent bulb.

Xcel has made this offer twice a year for the past several years as part of a program of reducing energy consumption by its customers.

The bulbs are available at participating stores including Ace Hardware, Byerly’s, Costco Wholesale, Cub Foods, Eastside Food Coop, The Home Depot, Lund’s, Mississippi Markets, Rainbow Foods, Sam’s Club, Target, Wal-Mart and Wedge Community Coop stores.

The low price is available only while supplies last.

One word of caution:
The compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury and must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Woodbury residents may bring household hazardous waste to the Washington County Environmental Center at no charge. Please bring a proof of your residency in the county.


Sharing space with uninvited guests

I didn’t know that I was sharing my office space with uninvited guests.

Yesterday afternoon in my cube, I found out that I was not the only one occupying the space. I had visits from uninvited guests without my knowledge and permission.

Recently I left a bag of cereals in one of the overhead cabinet. The last time I ate from it a few days ago, I didn’t notice anything wrong. But this time, when I grabbed the bag, something looked different. I noticed some small holes in the bag. Right away I knew something was wrong.

Who touched my cereal and stole my food without permission?

When I dug deeper and looked closer around my desk, I found that my uninvited guests had not only eaten my food, but also left behind unpleasant stuff everywhere for me to clean up after them, in the cabinet, on the desk around the wall, and near my plants.

I confess I am a pack rat. I like to keep stuff. That’s probably one of the reasons why I got companies. These little creatures must like pack rats.

My desk counters are pretty cluttered with books, magazines, newspapers, articles and scratch papers scattered everywhere. Some of them I should have thrown away, but I thought I will read them or use them some day. I hate to throw usable stuff way.

My cube is on the first floor of the building. It has a shallow floor covered with square pieces of carpets on top of removable floor covers, with electrical wires running inside. I guess it is a pretty comfy place under the floor covering for the little creatures to spend the cold winter months.

When I go to work, these little creatures go to sleep. So I never see and hear them. When I leave, they come out of the hiding to roam the space and find food. 

In terms of space sharing, this is very efficient. 

I was really impressed by how smart the little creatures are.

They know where the yummy stuff is. Their sense of smell is so much better than that of our human beings.

And they know how to get what they want. I couldn’t figure out how they could get into my overhead cabinet. It is closed and there is no hole that I can see. How did they get in there? They must have some magic tricks to make themselves really small if they have to.

They also have an amazing ability to shred papers. I found shredded papers so fine and small. I think they can do a much better job than any paper shredders I know.

In some aspects, my uninvited guests are smarter than I am. It would be nice if they could agree to some work sharing, in addition to just sharing office space and food.

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A hero behind the scene

The name of the woman who left $2 million for the arts center to be built attached to the Loft Theater at East Ridge High School was released at last night’s District 833 School Board meeting. She is Dorothy Merrill.

Merrill‘s donation may represent more than 80 percent of the construction funds.

Because of the large financial support from Dorothy Merrill, the arts center will finally become a reality.

As the biggest donor, Merrill certainly deserves the name recognition. When the arts center opens in October of 2011, it will be named the Dorothy K. Merrill Center for the Arts.

I called the woman “A hero in the community” in my blog posted on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

While we give the name recognition to Merrill, we can’t forget that there are more heroes behind the scene who have worked hard to make the arts center a reality.

Personally I don’t know anyone else who deserves more credit than Michelle Witte, Arts Connection vice president and fundraiser for the new 10,000 square-foot facility.

Witte is actively involved in the arts community in Woodbury. She is also Woodbury Community Theater president.

I first met Witte at her church, Woodbury Baptist Church where my kids went for VBS in the summer for a few years. Witte was the VBS director.

Since then I have read her letters to the editor in the Woodbury Bulletin and saw her name in the paper a few times in connection with the arts center. I was impressed by her passion for the arts, her active involvement in the community.

Now her fundraising efforts have paid off in a big way. Thanks largely to her hard work and great efforts, Woodbury will have a nice facility for the arts center.

I want to say to Michelle Witte, “Congratulations! Thanks for all you have done for the community. You are a hero in Woodbury!”

Learning about community activities

Woodbury Citizen’s Academy held session three today on community activities.

We learned about various educational and recreational opportunities offered by different organizations in Woodbury.

The presentations included:

  1. City of Woodbury Parks & Recreation Department – Jodi Sauro, Recreation Supervisor
  2. Community Education – Cristeen Lamberty, Community Education Manager
  3. Woodbury Athletic Association – Gene Johnson, WAA Executive Director
  4. East Ridge Athletic Association – Tami Rein and Tony Ronquillo. ERAA President and Vice President
  5. Woodbury Youth Althletic League – Mike Schaffer, WYAL

I learned something new from each presentation.

I knew the Eagle Valley Golf Course is owned by the City. Since it is open for only half of year and requires high maintenance, I always wondered how it is funded.

I was glad to find out that Eagle Valley Golf Course as well as Bielenberg Sports Center are actually profitable business enterprises for the City of Woodbury. Eagle Valley Golf Course generates more revenue than Bielenberg Sports Center. They don’t need any funding from the City.

The presentations gave me an opportunity to clear some confusion regarding WAA and ERAA.

WAA is an independent, nonprofit, youth organization administered and managed mostly by volunteer adults. WAA is not affiliated with the Woodbury High School, or only very loosely, while ERAA is affiliated with East Ridge High School and run by all volunteers.

Any youth can participate in WAA programs. But for ERAA football, baseball, basketball programs (both in-house and travelling), they are targeted at student athletes in the ERHS attendance boundary. ERAA does offer other “club” sports (like soccer, wrestling, track, etc.) that are “open boundary” and as such, will include athletes from outside of the East Ridge attendance boundary.

The presentations gave me a big picture of what Woodbury has to offer to its residents for educational and recreational opportunities. It was a great opportunity for me to learn something new about the Woodbury community.

A hero in the community

In my 12/15/2009 blog “Who are your heroes?” I wrote about one of the people who are heroes in my mind. Their stories of living frugally but giving generously always touch me deeply.

Such a hero also existed in our own community. I was happy to read the following story titled “$2 million donation may make arts center a reality,” posted on the Woodbury Bulletin website on 2/9/2010.

“The woman was a child of the Great Depression.

She lived frugally. People told the story of how she would reuse Kleenex boxes, evidence of her thrifty lifestyle.

She spent 40 years in Woodbury, but was not known as a socialite and had no strong connection to the arts community.

But local arts enthusiasts are indebted to the woman, who directed that upon her death last year roughly $2 million from her estate go toward construction of a long-awaited community arts center at East Ridge High School.”

The woman is a hero in my mind. Her generous donation will make a difference in the community and touch lives.

China on rise in Olympics

Yesterday at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Chinese couple Shen Xue (31) and Zhao Hongbo (36) won the gold medal in pairs figure skating.                   


The event has historic significance. It is China’s first gold medal in figure skating.

Shen and Zhao are the first Chinese champions in Olympic figure skating, the first non-Russian pair to take the Olympic figure skating gold medal since 1964.

Evora and Ladwig from the U.S. finished 10th in pair skating.

China’s winning was a surprise to the world.

I am sure there are many reasons for China’s rise in sports. One thing I know that makes a big difference lies in the way how athletes are raised in China.

In the U.S., parents have the sole responsibility to raise a young athlete. They have to sign them up for practices and games, drive them to practices and games, and pay everything out of their own pockets.

In China, I think the responsibility of raising young athletes is in the hands of the government. Talented kids are picked out at a young age to join the local municipal teams and get special training. The best athletes are then selected to move up to the state teams, and then up to the national teams. The government pays for all the training and expenses.

The talented and selected ones become professional athletes at a young age. They work hard for many years before they can compete in the national or international events. They live away from their parents and visit their families only for special holidays. It is really hard work and hard life.

As the result of many years of concentrated training and hard work, Chinese athletes are achieving more and higher.

Presidential memories

Today is Presidents’ Day.

Speaking of presidents, I have some fond memories of reading and learning about presidents with my son.

When Andy was a first grader (2004-2005), he liked presidents. So we checked out biographies of every U.S. prescient from the library and read together. He memorized all 43 presidents’ names and their order.

In second grade (2005-2006), Andy became interested in the 50 U.S. states. We read at least one book about each of the 50 states. He memorized all the states and capitols.

In June 2006, our family took a trip to D.C. We visited the Smithsonian Institute’s American History Museum.

During a break we sat on a bench resting. There was a TV monitor nearby with the presidents flashing on the screen. Andy named all the presidents as fast as the pictures appeared.

When we were ready to leave, a woman sitting next to us said to me, "I was amazed by how much your son knows the presidents. I am a teacher and my six grader students don’t know as much as he does."

Among all the presidents, Ronald Reagan is Andy’s favorite president. For one reason only, because President Reagan liked jelly beans. He always had a jar of jelly beans on his desk.

In 2009, we visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, California.

We toured the Oval Office that is a replica of the real one in Washington, D.C. We boarded the Air Force One 27000 that had served seven past presidents from Nixon to W. Bush (1972-2001) and is now on permanent display at the Reagan Presidential Library.

Here is another fun memory.

Once Andy told me that his teacher asked the class a question related to a president. Andy was the only one who knew the answer. His teacher was surprised that he knew more about the U.S. presidents than the full blooded American kids in the class.

I thought the teacher’s comment was interesting. Andy is an American, because he was born here. But with both parents from China, he just doesn’t look like a typical American.

Nowadays Andy’s memory about presidents is getting a little rusty, but I think he still knows more about presidents than most full blooded Americans do.


Lucky number, special day

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year – the Year of Tiger.
I went to a Chinese New Year party at a friend’s house. We made dumplings.

Today is also Valentine’s Day.

Since tomorrow is President’s Day and I don’t have to go back to work, I can stay up late tonight.

It all made today feel fun and special to me.

In addition, today marks my 88th blog posting.

People who are not familiar with Chinese culture must wonder, what’s so special about the number 88?

In Chinese culture, the number 8 is considered to be the most auspicious and luckiest number of all.

The main reason has to do with the pronunciation of the word for the number 8. It is pronounced "ba" and sounds like the word for prosperity and wealth which is pronounced "fa."

"8" symbolizes fortune and good luck in Chinese. "88" symbolizes double fortune.

Another reason why the number 8 could be considered lucky is because it is a perfect symmetrical shape. You can cut the number 8 in half vertically or horizontally, and both halves mirror themselves perfectly. Perfect symmetry lends itself to perfect balance.

There is also a visual resemblance between the two digits "88" and the Chinese character for double joy or happiness. 

In China, you have to pay extra to have the number 8 in your phone number or license plate. In addition, home and business owners like to have the number 8 in their addresses.

In China, a telephone number with all digits being eights was reported to be sold for USD 270,723. The Chinese government has auctioned auto license plates containing many 8s for tens of thousands of dollars.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics opened on 8/8/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm. Now you know why. 

When I noticed that my blog entry today hits the number 88, I can’t help but feel a little special and lucky. 


The Year of the Tiger


Today and in the next few days, Chinese around the world are celebrating the Chinese New Year which starts Sunday, February 14, 2010.

This is the Year of the Tiger.

In China, years are named after animals based on the rotating cycle of “Twelve Animal Signs.” Every year is assigned an animal name according to a repeating cycle: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Therefore, every twelve years the same animal name would reappear.

My son was born in 1998, the Year of the Tiger. This year he turns 12. It completes a full cycle of the rotation. He will be 24 years old when the next Year of the Tiger comes.

People born in each animal’s year are said to have the personality of the animal.

Tigers are brave, daring, independent, kind, friendly and generous.

The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The Chinese calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. It starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning of the year falls somewhere between late January and mid February.

Chinese New Year is also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival. In China it is commonly known as the Spring Festival. It is celebrated after the fall harvest and before the spring planting season. 

Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the Chinese New Year is the most important one. It’s like Thanksgiving or Christmas here. It is a time of family reunion.

It is also a time of heavy travel. During the Chinese New Year the largest human migration takes place. Millions of Chinese in China and some all around the world set out to return home in order to have the traditional reunion dinners with their families on New Year’s Eve.

To prepare for the New Year, people do housecleaning. They sweep the dust and dirt out the door, along with all the bad luck that has collected in the house.

Houses are decorated with plants and flowers. The living plants symbolize rebirth and new growth, wealth and prosperity. 

At Chinese New Year celebrations people often wear red clothes, decorate house with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire and good luck.


The family reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve is the most significent feast of the Chinese New Year celebration.

The tremendous amount of food prepared and consumed is meant to symbolize abundance and wealth.

A whole fish, a whole chicken to represent togetherness and abundance are served. Tangerines and oranges are symbolic of good luck and wealth.

In South China, the favorite dishes are nian gao, sweet steamed rice cake. In the North, people eat dumplings.


On New Year’s Eve, firecrackers light the sky, which symbolizes driving away evil spirits.

As the New Year starts, people begin going out to visit relatives and friends, taking with them gifts and good luck money for the children.

The New Year celebrations end on the 15th of the First Moon with the Lantern Festival. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

The highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon, which might stretch a hundred feet long, is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets.

Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world in areas with large populations of people of Chinese origins as well as ethnic groups who are strongly influenced by Chinese Culture.

The two most commonly used greetings during the Chinese New Year celebrations are Xin Nian Hao! (Happy New Year) and Gong Xi Fa Cai! (Congratulations and be prosperous)                

And that’s also my wish to you all in the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Tiger.

The Five Love Languages

Have you ever read a book and liked it so much that you say to yourself, “I wish everyone would read this?”

This happens to me whenever I read a good book.

One such book I highly recommend to everyone is “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” by Dr. Gary Chapman. 

Chapman, a renowned author, speaker and marriage counselor, has more than thirty years of experience in marriage counseling. His books are widely popular.

Based on his work with thousands of people, Chapman comes to the conclusion that problems and unhappiness in marriage often have a simple root cause — we speak different love languages.

If couples don’t speak the same love language, they can’t communicate effectively. The result is miscommunication and misunderstanding and feelings of not being loved.

Chapman believes the need to feel loved is a basic human emotional need. At the heart of every human being is the desire to be loved and understood by another human being. However, what makes one person feel loved is not always the thing that makes another person feel loved.

In the field of linguistics, there are many different languages: English, German, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, etc.

Most people grow up learning and speaking a certain language which becomes our primary or native language. We are most comfortable speaking this language.

Naturally, if one person speaks only English and another speaks only Chinese, they can’t communicate with each other. At the very least their communication will be limited.

In the area of love, there are also different languages.

Chapman identifies five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. They are five ways that people speak and understand love.

A language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects.

If you like to use kind words and verbal compliments to express love, then your primary love language is words of affirmation.

If being together, doing things together, spending focused time together, having quality conversation with each other, and giving each other undivided attention is important to you, then your primary love language is quality time.

If you think giving and receiving gifts is the way to express love, then your primary love language is gifts.

If you feel most loved when your spouse does something for you and if you seek to please your spouse by serving her/him, then your primary love language is acts of service.

If holding hands, kissing, embracing and being intimate makes you feel loved, then your primary love language is physical touch.

As we grow up, we develop a primary emotional love language based on our unique psychological makeup and the environment. We will speak and understand one primary love language.

We often love our spouse the way we’d like to be loved, and so does our spouse love us the way they’d like to be love.

But husband and wife rarely speak the same primary love language. We become frustrated when our spouse doesn’t understand what we are communicating. We think we are expressing love, but the message doesn’t come through, because what we are speaking is like a foreign language to them.

If your love language is different than your spouse’s, then no matter how hard you try to express love, you will not understand how to love each other.

Chapman uses the concept of the emotional love tank. When our love tank is full, we feel secure and loved. But when our love tank is empty, we feel used and not loved.

If we want to fill our spouse’s love tank, to meet their emotional need for love, and to be effective communicators of love, we must be willing to learn their primary love language. If we want our spouse to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.

Once we meet our spouse’s emotional need and fill their love tank by speaking their primary love language, chances are they will reciprocate and speak our love language.

Chapman believes that learning and understanding the primary love language of yourself and your spouse is one of the keys to a loving relationship.

If you are interested in learning more about the five love language and discovering your and your spouse’s love language, if you long to improve your relationship with your spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings, then you will benefit from reading the book.

You can find the book at the Washington County Library, local book stores or online.

The book will also make a great Valentine’s gift for your loved ones.

For more info:

[Originally published in Woodbury Bulletin on Feb. 11, 2009]

Visit Woodbury Public Safety Dept.

Today I had an informative and interesting visit to the Woodbury Public Safety Dept.

Learning about Public Safety was the topic of the second session of the 10-week Woodbury Citizens’ Academy, a  program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation.

Woodbury Public Safety director Lee Vague welcomed everyone and gave an introduction of the Department.

The unique thing about the Woodbury Public Safety Dept. is that our Police, Fire and EMS are all under one roof. As one organization they work closely together. We have some police officers who are also paramedics or firefighters.

According to the City of Woodbury web site, currently the Police Department has 62 sworn officers and 17 civilian employees that include community service officers and support services personnel. In addition, there are approximately 30 volunteers who participate in the Reserve, Explorer and Park Patrol programs.

The Fire Department has three full-time fire chief officers, one part-time chief officer, a full-time fire inspector, nine full-time firefighters, support staff and 85-plus on-call firefighter/EMTs.

Woodbury Public Safety Dept. is well supported by the community. We have the Woodbury Public Safety Board, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote crime prevention and public safety by supporting the Woodbury Public Safety Dept.

I had the opportunity to check out the police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, to watch demos of how to save lives, to try my hands on a gun and a fire distinguisher.

The tour of the Public Safety Dept. with demos and hands-on was fun.

I got to ask some questions and learn something new.

All the guys who were present to do the presentations and demos and to help with the tour were really nice and great to talk to. I was very impressed by them. They are proud to serve the community and to do the job well.

I want to thank them all for their dedication and service.

I feel safer now knowing that we have a well run Public Safety Dept. with well trained police officers, fire fighters and paramedics who can respond to emergencies quicker than in most others communities.

Disappointed and disillusioned

A woman president for the United States? Yes! 

How about Hillary?

I would have voted for her during the last election if she were the democratic candidate. But not any more. No, not after I have read books about her and know more about what kind of a woman she is.

I have been encouraging my kids to read more biographies. Recently I picked out a book about the Clintons for myself.

There are more books on Hillary Clinton that any other first ladies in recent history.

I know you have to read a book like Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton with a grain of salt.

Even if not everything in the book is true, it still gives me enough reason to believe that Hillary doesn’t have the character and integrity to become a president and the leader for this country.

Some of the things described in the books were unbelievable. Having held the US government at a higher standard, it’s disheartening to know what was going on in the highest office during the Clinton administration. And it is disheartening to know that what usually happens in other more corrupted countries also happens here.

I felt disappointed and disillusioned.

Hopefully a better female candidate for the US presidency will emerge in the future.  


Lost & found

This is a true story happened to someone I know.

A Chinese doctor came to visit the University of Minnesota for six months. Recently he returned to China.

At the Minneapolis International Airport, he forgot his carry-on bag when he boarded the plane. After he was in the plane, he realized the bag was missing, but it was too late.

The bag contained a digital camera and a camcorder. They were expensive.

He didn’t feel much hope to find the lost bag. Still, he wanted to try. He asked a friend to contact the airline and airport. To his surprise, the bag was turned in. His friend was able to get it back for him.

The Chinese doctor was very moved by the incident.

He was impressed by many things during his very first visit in the US. But finding his lost bag was probably the most impressive thing that happened to him personally.

An act of kindness can have a ripple effect. I hope this act of kindness has a very positive impact on him and will start a ripple effect. It could mean that he has a more positive opinion about the United States and a higher respect for its people. It could mean that he will treat his patients more kindly in the future.

Who knows what can happen because of one act of kindness.

I was happy to hear a story like this one.


He or she

Growing up in China, I learned some English in high school. When I went to college in Beijing and then Heidelberg to study German for a total of 9 years, I almost forgot all my English.

So when I came to the US in 1991, I had to learn English from scratch. I started from reading preschool books. Through a lot of reading, my English has improved.

Judging from my writing, you probably can’t tell that English is not my native language.

But if you hear me speaking, you can probably tell.

Oddly enough, my difficulty is not so much with accent or the use of language in general, but it is in my inability to use “he” and “she” correctly.

In writing, I don’t have to think. I know when to use “he” or “she.” But in speaking, I can’t differentiate between the two.

Sometimes my kids tell me: “Mom, that’s a he, not a she” (or that’s a she, not a he.)

That’s really the only time my American born kids correct my English. When it happens, I kind of shrug it off, “Ok,” thinking to myself, “No big deal. You know what I mean.” My kids get used to my mistake. And I never thought much about it.

Until one day my supervisor brought it to my attention. She wanted me to be aware of the mistake I made. Even though it’s not a big deal, but it could affect my credibility.

I was thankful for her honest comment. Now when I talk, I try to use “he” and “she” correctly. I have to make the conscious effort.

But I still make the mistake, probably more often than not.

Our brain is amazing. We can do so much without thinking. My kids don’t have to think when to use “he” or “she.” It comes natural to them. In writing, I don’t have to think, but in spoken language, I have difficulty with these two little words.

In Chinese, we have different characters for “he,” “she” and “it,” but the pronunciation is the same for all three forms. That’s the only reason I can think of why I use “he” and “she” interchangeably when I talk. But I haven’t heard from other Chinese who also make this mistake.

So I really can’t explain why. I can only say, this is one of the small mysteries in life that can’t be explained. I just have to make an effort to be conscious when I talk, and also hope that others don’t judge me and question my intelligence or credibility because of this mistake.

If English is not my native tongue, then it’s understandable that it is not natural to me. I guess this makes something illogical logical.

On writing and blogging

Since I started writing this blog in Nov. 2009, I came to know a few people, virtually, through their blogs on Areavoices. Among all, my very favorite blogger is Roxane Salonen (Peace Garden Mama). She has a beautiful way to put her ideas and thoughts down.

Today I went back to visit a few of her old postings. The one titled The deception of blogging (8/25/2009) really caught my attention.

She was so right. As writers, we often choose to write about things that are good and positive. When we write about the good and positive things in life, we can not only inspire others, but also uplift ourselves.

It doesn’t mean though life is all good and rosy.

I would like to add that when we open our heart to share life’s challenges and trials, we can win people’s heart. The tough stuff resonates with people. It makes us more real and human. We are just like everyone else.

I also think it takes more courage to write about the bad and tough stuff than the good and rosy stuff. It takes courage to admit that we are not perfect, we have experienced difficulties in life, we have made mistakes, we have failed, we have pain and suffering just like everyone else.

Yesterday after I read Roxane’s interview with Mary Aalgaard in Spotlight’s on Mary Aalgaard (2/2/2010), I visited Mary’s blog.

In May’s posting Focus (1/6/2010), she shared her smiling picture and life with her four boys, and mentioned in one sentence the challenges she went through. Even though that wasn’t the focus of her writing, but somehow it touched me more deeply.

This is what makes a writer a great and inspiring one, she can find good and rosy things to write about even in a bad and tough situation.

Thanks Roxane for this excellent posting and your writing. No wonder this is on your 2009 favorite posts list.

Woodbury Citizens’ Academy

The Woodbury Citizens’ Academy, a 10-week program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation, started today. I was one of the 25 participants in this very first class.

Our first session was held at the Woodbury City Hall.  

Woodbury Community Foundation’s executive director Alisa Rabin Bell welcomed everyone and gave an introduction of the Foundation.

Then we learned about Washington county and Woodbury city governments from various officials. 

County commissioner Lisa Weik talked about the role and responsibilities of county commissioners.

Deputy county administrator Molly O’Rourke gave an overview of Washington county structure, operations and services.

City council member Paul Rebholz talked about the role and responsibilities of city council members. 

City administrator Clinton Gridley gave an overview of city structure and operations, city budget and other isssues.

All participants are interested in the Academy to learn more about the inner workings of the local government and to get involved in the community. Some have lived in Woodbury for 30 years or their whole life, others moved here only a couple of months ago. Many expressed interest in giving back to the community.

A community can only thrive when its people are informed, involved and engaged.

Woodbury Citizens’ Academy is a great program to inform, involve and engage its citizens.

I am sure by the end of the program, we will all be more informed, involved and engaged. 


Label your belongings

I want to share a tip that could save you some grief of losing valuable things.

Always leave a business card or just a name and phone umber in your wallet and bag you carry around. If you lose them and someone finds them, he will be able to contact you. You have a better chance to get them back.    

The same goes with other valuable things we use regularly, cell phones, cameras, keys, etc.

Put an address label or a sticker with your name and phone number on these things you carry around with you and can easily misplace.

Be careful with house or car keys, we probably should just leave the phone number without the address. 

If a lost item is not labeled and an owner can’t be identified, it might be turned in to "Lost & Found" somewhere. But if you don’t know where you lost it and where to look for it, it will be just lost in "Lost & Found." 

A lost item without any identification can not find its way back to the owner by itself.

Recently I lost my badge while running errands. When I realized that I lost it, I went back to the businesses that I had visited. I checked inside and outside, couldn’t find it.

The next day I got a call in my office. Someone found my badge on the street. Because it has my name and also the name of my organization, he was able to find me and return it to me. 

Had I lost something without my name and phone number,  he won’t be able to contact me.

I was so thankful that I got my lost item back.

Labeling your belongings doesn’t mean you will always get your lost item back, but it certainly increases your chance. If someone wants to keep what he found, then no matter whether there is a label or not, he will not contact you and return it. 

A few years ago I lost a library book. I took it with me while waiting for my kids at Macalester College. I must put it down somewhere and forgot.

The book didn’t have my contact info, but it did have the label for the Washington County Library. I had hoped that someone would return it to the library for me, it didn’t happen. 

That was the only time I lost a library item. I had to pay for it.

I have learned my lesson. Now I label my belongs to prevent some future grief.

I love library

Last Sunday when I was in the library with my kids, I run into a good friend of mine, also a Chinese. She was picking up three books on hold for her. We both love reading, so we always enjoy talking to each other about what we are reading.

We sat down and chatted for more than an hour.

Being in the library and surrounded by books, we couldn’t help but reminiscing about growing up in China with no books to read during the Cultural Revolution.

My parents could barely make ends meet. They have to work hard to support a family of four plus grandparents. We couldn’t afford to buy books. They weren’t many good books to read anyway. Most good books were banned. For pennies, children could rent books to read. Even that was too expensive for my family.

So I didn’t read books while growing up. I started to read a lot after entering college.

One of the books I read in college that made a great impression on me was The Diary of Anna Frank in German. I don’t remember any books I read before this one.

Now I am trying to get my daughter to read this same book.

My friend and I sat there talking, marveling at the wonderful libraries and services they offer, feeling so grateful for being in this country and for our children to be able to grow up in a different time, with unlimited books to read.

When the library was closed at 5 pm, we lingered around for a while and then we had to leave, my friend said: "It was so good talking to you."

Yes, it was so good talking with someone who shares the same interests and talking about something we both love.

Read my article from Woodbury Bulletin: There is no place like the library.

Wonder what libraries have your books?

If you are a writer or a reader and wonder how many libraries have your books or the books of your favorite authors, you can go to WorldCat and find that out. Though it is not an accurate measure, it still gives you a pretty good idea of how popular your books are as measured by how many libraries have the books.

WorldCat is the world’s largest bibliographic database and network with holdings from 71,000 libraries in 86 countries, in 470 languages and dialects. WorldCat is a free to the public.

When you search and find an item (books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, videotapes, etc) in WorldCat, it also tells you how many libraries have the item.

If your local public library is a member of the network, then the librarians at your public library have access to the same database, but it’s an enhanced version called FirstSearch, with more content that is only available to the public via the library computers or if you sign up to your library account with your library barcode.

Let you show you an example.

Today I did a search for the book titled P is for Peace Garden by fellow blogger and writer Roxane B. Salonen (Peace Garden Mama).

In First Search, I found 285 libraries have the item, but in WorldCat, there are 236 libraries.

All libraries that are members of the network and own the book will be listed in FirstSearch, but only the libraries that want to have their info shown to the public and are willing to lend their books to other libraries will show up in WorldCat.

Next time you want to know how many and which libraries have your books. Try WorldCat yourself first. If you need more accurate info, ask your local librarians.

But remember, not all libraries in the US are included, even though most libraries are. I think in Minnesota, almost all public libraries, academic libraries and many special libraries are part of the network.