Blant and honest

Today while walking with my mom in the neighborhood during our shopping trip, we had to stop a few times when my mom met people she knows and had a little chat about me and my home visit. I didn’t know and remember those people.

Two times, someone told my mom in front of me the same thing: "She looks old/aged."

I had an initial shock.

"Am I really old?"

In the US, everyone told me that I look young for my age. Now suddenly I become like an old woman in China.

Honestly, it was not a good feeling.

But I quickly recovered and got over with it.

I am back home. This is a different place with different culture and customs. People talk openly about things that are taboo in the US. They are not shy to comment on your age and weight, with no negative intention.

"Oh, you look fat (or slim)." "How old are you?"

People don’t get offended by such comments/questions.

In my case, the comments were simply a fact. If they haven’t seen me for 20 or 30 years, I certainly have got older and aged. To say that I am still like 20 or 30 years ago as they remembered would be a lie.


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My daughter asked for a pair of flip flops before our trip. I told her to wait and buy a pair in China. You get more choices for a less price.

Today I took her to the street market near my parents’ home to buy flip flops. At the second shoe stand, she found one pair she wanted. I paid 20 Yuan for it, about $3. The owner said: “No discount, they are very popular.”

Then two stands down the street, we saw the exact same pair for 15 Yuan. My mom reminded me that I needed to do more comparison shopping and hard bargaining before buying anything on the market.   

My kids do not speak the local dialect. Merchants can easily tell and play hard with you.

A few comparisons

Traveling offers the opportunity to broaden one’s viewpoint and to see things from a different perspective, to make some conparisons. Here are a few observations I gained from my China trip on the first couple of days. 

My first part of the flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was with Delta Airlines (DA) and the second part of the flight from Tokyo to Shanghai was with Japan Airlines (JA).  

Everything from service to food, JA was better than DA. The DA flight attendents were middle aged or above and not so warm and friendly, while all JA flight attendents were very young and more friendly. When the customers unboard the plane, the DA flight attendents were not even at the door to say thank-you and good-bye. I was surprised by their unprofessionalism and poor customer services.

Overweight people are everywhere in the US, but in Japan and China, I haven’t seen a single one yet. I have to blame this on the SAD (Standard American Diet), I can’t think of anything else.

The continental breakfast in the US hotels are mostly very sweet stuff, donuts, muffins, cereals, etc. In Japan and China, most breakfast items are not sweet.

When we had the continental breakfast in the hotel near Narita Airport (provided complimentary by DA for messing up the flight schedule and causing most customers missing their connections) , my daughter said it was the best breakfast she had, even thought it was just so so comparing to some nice hotels I know in China. But eating the Asian style breakfast did make me feel more at home. It was good.


Greetings from China

Greetings from Suzhou, my hometown in China.

My trip from Minnesota to China was a safe one, but definitely not smooth. I had to wait in the airplane at the St Paul-Minneapolis International Airport for 4 hours while a mechanical problem on the Boeing 747 was being fixed.

Most of the people on the plane needed to transfer in Japan for their final destinations to other Asian countries. We all missed the connections. We had to stay in hotels near the Narita Airport in Tokyo. It took us more than two hours to get out of the Narita Airport. We had to fill out the immigration and custom forms. 

The original flight should take 17 1/2 hours. It took us almost twice the amount of time. I left Twin Cities on Thursday, May 27 and arrived at the Shanghai Airport on Saturday, May 29. From the time the plane landed to the time I arrived at my parents’ home, it took three hours.

My flight ended in Shanghai, but there were some who had to continue their flight within China. They were on their own if they lost their connections in China. I felt sorry for them. Delta didn’t provide compensations for messing up the schedules. Delta did provide free hotel and a three minute free phone call for us in Tokyo. That was not enough in my opinion for having caused so much trouble and problems for people. 

It was a long trip.

However, I was thankful that the mechanical problem was found and fixed before the plane took off. It could be much worse than spending extra time if something happened during the flight.

Spending one night in Japan wasn’t so bad either.

Now at least I could say that I have been to Japan and tasted some authentic Japanese food :-)

Photos are posted on my Facebook page.

Creating Magic – book interview

This week I interviewed Rebecca Fabunmi, Mn/DOT Special Assistant to Commissioner/Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the fourth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Rebecca: Even though I am an engineer by training, I am also very creative. I like to create things, such as hand-made cards and other gifts. I used to dance and play music instrument. I like to write poems and stories. So this title “Creating Magic” was very appealing to me.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Rebecca: I like the author’s style of writing. He shares his life journey, where he comes from. He uses examples from his own life, both his achievements and mistakes, to illustrate his points.

I like the author’s honesty in sharing his failures and mistakes. I found that I learn the most in my mistakes.

Tang: In the book Cockerell talks about 10 common sense leadership strategies: remember everyone is important, break the mold, make your people your brand, create magic through training, eliminate hassles, learn the truth, burn the free fuel, stay ahead of the pack, be careful what you say and do, develop character. Which strategy do you think is mostly needed at Mn/DOT?

Rebecca: The 10 strategies are all important. I would say the first one, everyone is important, tops my list.

We need to foster a caring, respectful, people-oriented culture within Mn/DOT. As Cockerell says, when you take care of your people, they will take care of your business, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Cockerell uses the acronym RAVE for Respect, Appreciate, and Value Everyone. No matter what job each one of us does at Mn/DOT, we are all special and important.

Being a leader means you have to get to know everyone on your team, reach out to everyone, respect and appreciate everyone, connect with and care about people, make yourself accessible and available, listen to understand, be a good communicator, and don’t micromanage. It’s good to involve people in the decision-making process, and give them responsibilities and authorities to make certain decisions.

Tang: What other strategies would you like to highlight here?

Rebecca: Make your people your brand and create magic through training.

People are the most important assets in any organization. Cockerell says you can’t achieve true excellence unless you attract, develop and keep great people.

We need people who have competencies in technical, management, technological and leadership areas. We should look for people in unlikely places.

We need to give people resources and tools they need to excel by developing effective training processes and learning opportunities.

As a leader, being a teacher, coach, counselor and mentor is far more effective than just being a boss.

Tang: What challenges do you see in implementing some of the 10 strategies at Mn/DOT?

Rebecca: As a state agency funded by tax dollars, we have to deal with the public misconception of misuse or abuse of tax money. This can at times lead to creating a fear based mentality. There are a lot of things we can’t do that the private sectors do well, such as have social and special events to get people together, and to celebrate achievements.

Tang: What can we do about it?

Rebecca: We should encourage people to do things that can create a community and a culture of belonging. It’s good to invest in people, in their development and well being as a whole person.

Mn/DOT should do more for employee recognition and appreciation. When we give out achievement awards, we can make it a bigger deal instead of keeping it like a secret. Share the success stories in Newsline so people know why someone gets an achievement award and so they can get inspired.

Tang: What other suggestions do you have?

Rebecca: We have a common purpose and vision at MnDOT. I believe manager’s ability to be more accessible to employees, getting employees involved in the decision making process and be more transparent always make an incredible difference that is reflected in productivity and one’s desire to come to work. Also having more one-on-one conversations to connect and get feedback on a regular basis, not just when there is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Tang: Cockerell talks about giving people a purpose, not just jobs. I know you worked on the Mn/DOT strategic vision with a group of Seeds workers in 2008. How important is the vision?

Rebecca: Communicating our vision and mission to the frontline employees is very important. I agree with Cockerell. If we can connect our daily work with our organizational vision, our mission, see our own work in the bigger picture, and have a purpose in what we do, then our work becomes more meaningful. We work collectively to make Mn/DOT a better place, and to provide a safe and effective transportation infrastructure to the citizens.

Tang: Disney has a culture of inclusion and diversity. I know you have a diverse background yourself. What is your experience at Mn/DOT and how are we doing in this aspect?

Rebecca: I was born in Lagos, Nigeria to a British Mother and a Nigerian Father. We came to the U.S. when I was three years old. I have lived in Massachusetts and Hawaii. Diversity is a natural part of my life.

I am a product of the Seeds Program at Mn/DOT. I came to Mn/DOT as a Seeds student and stayed on after graduation. Mn/DOT is a great place to work. I believe Mn/DOT is hard at being inclusive. However, we can always do better.

Tang: Please share a quote from the book that you like.

Rebecca: (p.81) “…excellent structure has built-in adaptability. If you have created a culture of change, in which everyone from the top to the bottom is empowered to find creative ways to improve the organization, you’ll be better able to adjust to unexpected events and emergencies.”

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

Rebecca: Both of my parents were educated in the U.S. They valued education. My mother was an avid reader. When I grew up, I always got books as presents from my parents. My life has always been around books and reading.

I like to read self-development books. I also like to read fiction with good stories. I plan to write a book some day. But I am not saying more about it at this time.

I wish I would read more history and classics.

Tang: You just graduated from the Executive MBA program at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. Congratulations!

Rebecca: Thank you. For two years I worked full time and went to school full time. Now I feel relieved that I have only one full-time job. I am also excited to put my new learned knowledge to work at Mn/DOT.



The most interesting part of my job as a librarian at Mn/DOT is writing articles for Mn/DOT’s employee newsletter Newsline and for the Library’s newsletter New Library Materials.

Recently I attended an online conference on innovation and wrote the following summary for NLM.


Innovation is a buzzword at Mn/DOT. There is a lot of talking about innovation. It is one of the six shared competencies (i.e. Be a person of good character, Be an innovator, Be a leader, Be responsible, Be a team player, and Be a technical expert) from our current B Campaign.

So what is innovation and what do you need to become innovative?

According to Wikipedia, innovation is a new way of doing something or new stuff that is made useful. It may refer to incremental and emergent or radical and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.

Innovation is curiosity. It is about asking questions, challenging the world and creating something new out of old.

Last week Alliance Library System and Learning Times sponsored an online conference about Innovation for Libraries in the 21st Century.

In her presentation “Innovation starts with ‘I’,” Helene Blowers talked about three levels of innovation:

  1. Efficiency innovation – improve on what already exits
  2. Evolutionary innovation – Create something distinctly new and better
  3. Revolutionary innovation – Radically changes business and culture

Blowers mentioned the four components of innovation:

  1. Creativity -Be an idea generator
  2. Strategy – Be the change agent, have clear mission and vision
  3. Implementation – Have resources, timeline and scope, provide time for exploration and a safety net, make failure an expectation
  4. Profitability – Outcomes and outputs

Kitty Pope said in her presentation "Building a Culture of Innovation," innovation requires trust, talent, an inquisitive mind, passion, organizational will, team support, discipline and tenacity, willingness to hear “no” and a great sense of humor.

In an organization, innovation requires forward looking leadership. At Mn/DOT, we are fortunate to have leaders who value and encourage innovation.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” –William Pollard


Decluttering for a good cause

Spirit of Life Bible Church will have a garage sale on June 4th and 5th for the benefit of missions and sound/video equipment.

Spirit of Life is located near Sam’s Club at 690 Commerce Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125.

In the last few days I have been decluttering my house to find some items to donate to the sale.

My family has lived in the current house for 10 years. We have accumulated a lot of stuff during the 10 years, especially kids’ stuff.

I collected several bags of stuff animals, boxes of games, clothes. I gave some to friends. Today when I went to church, my van was loaded with junk (or maybe treasure for others).

It feels good that I can see more floor space in my basement now instead of having to maneuver my way around boxes and bags.

I have barely scratched the surface in my house. There is much more work to do.

Decluttering for a good cause benefits not only the church, but also my own well being.

I just realized that I wrote a column in Woodbury Bulletin about decluttering my life back in June 2007. 

Oh my, it took me three years to get started with decluttering in a serious manner.

It would be nice to declutter my life

Reduce clutter: use Feng shui


The joy of gardening

What’s so special about this bowl of salad?

Nothing, except it’s from my own vegetable garden and it is the first salad of the growing season I got to taste for lunch today.

I love gardening and eating fresh vegetables directly from the garden. 

The following two articles are from my Woodbury Bulletin columns.

The joy of gardening  

Lessons, garden style 


Local auto repair shop recommended

When it comes to vehicles and driving, I am not only directionally challenged, but also mechanically challenged. I don’t know much about cars and how they work.

I found it is not uncommon that some repair shops take advantage of female customers by overcharging us for repair and maintenance work.

In fact I had a couple of bad experiences in the past.

Many years ago a shop in Madison overcharged me for some work they did on my car. When I found that out, I went back to ask for a refund.

The owner not only didn’t apologize for what they did, he acted like I did something wrong. He put $40 in overcharge on the table and said to me in an angry tone: “I don’t want to see you again.”

Why would I want to go back and see him again? I couldn’t believe they run business like that.

Another bad experience happened in Woodbury several years ago with a business that does oil change and some other services. They did something to my car that was not necessary. When I went back and talked to the manager, she admitted it was wrong and refunded $20 to me.

Needless to say, I never went back to that business again either.

As the result of the bad experiences, I don’t feel comfortable working with auto repair businesses.

But that’s not the case with Crossroads Collision Center. This is a business I feel I can trust.

A couple of years ago I picked Crossroads Collision Center for a minor repair work after a friend did some comparison shopping and recommended this business as offering the best deal. I was satisfied with the result.

Last week I had a fender bender incident. My van needed to be fixed. I drove it to Crossroads Collision Center for estimation and repair. I didn’t do any comparison shopping because I trust that they would offer the best price and quality service.

I liked Crossroads Collision Center so much I even asked Tim Brown, the guy in the office, if they would do all repair and maintenance work for me. I wish they could.

If anyone has the unfortunate need for an auto body shop, Crossroads Collision Center is the one I highly recommend.

Crossroads Collision Center is a local family owned business for 26 years. They offer free loaner cars which is very convenient for customers. You can drop off your vehicle for repair and use one of theirs as long as it takes to repair your vehicle.

The business is located at 8910 Hudson Blvd. in Lake Elmo. Since it is right on the other side of I-94, separated from Woodbury only by the highway and conveniently connected to Woodbury by the bridge on Woodbury Drive or Radio Drive, it feels like part of Woodbury to me.

If you know any other auto shops in the area that you highly recommend, please leave a comment and let me know.