Visiting Minnesota State Fair

Today I spent the whole day at the Minnesota State Fair.

In the morning I volunteered for Mn/DOT booth in the Education Building, greeting visitors and handing out maps and fans, our two most popular items. This is the third year I have worked at the booth.

In the afternoon I visited the Fair with my kids. We went to see the displays of their winning art works and poems in the Education Building. I took some pictures.

We walked a lot. At the end of the day, we were tired.

As for the State Fair food, my kids had a hot dog, root beer floats, snow cones. I wasn’t interested in the junk food. I had fruits and veggies from home.

 Amy’s 1st place in poem collection

 Amy’s 2nd place in pastel.

 Andy’s 1st place in markers

 Andy’s 4th place in water color.

 Andy’s 4th place in poem collection

Volunteering at Woodbury Days

Today my kids and I went to Woodbury Days. We had fun volunteering for the info booth and visiting the business fair. 

Every year since we moved to Woodbury in 2001, we have visited this fun community event. We like to walk around and get to know the local businesses.

I found our home church Spirit of Life Bible Church through Woodbury Days in 2004. They were giving away Rick Warren’s popular book “The Purpose-Driven Life.” I singed up for the book drawing, went to the 10 week book study offered by the church in the fall, liked it, and stayed with the church ever since.

During the 2006 Woodbury Days, I stopped by at the Woodbury Bulletin booth and inquired about how I could become a regular contributor for this local paper.  A few months later, I became a columnist for Woodbury Bulletin.

My kids like the coin hunt, parade and other fun activities and games. There are usually a lot of goodies to take home. They have become less though as the economy tanked.

In the past I had volunteered for my church booth and the local Chinese school – Minnesota Jinglun Chinese School

Since 2008 I have volunteered for the Woodbury Days Info booth.

This year was the first time I signed my kids up for volunteering at the Info booth. I saw other junior volunteers who were younger than my kids. So I thought it’s time that they join me in volunteering. I think it was a good experience and we will continue next year. 

The 2010 Woodbury Days started Friday, Aug. 27 and will end Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010.

2010 Woodbury photo contest

Today I submitted a photo to the 2010 Woodbury photo contest.

I really like the change made in how the entries are submitted. In the past I had to get the photos printed, mounted and mailed/delivered to the City Hall.

Now I can submit the entries online, without any hassle. It is the advantage of technology.

The 12th annual “Focus on Woodbury” photo contest is accepting submissions through the month of August. Entries are due by Aug. 31. Rreaders will select the winner during the month of September.

The contest is open to people who live, work or go to school in Woodbury. Entries are limited to three per person. Photos may be submitted in the following categories: people and families; activities and events; landmarks; pets; wildlife and nature.

The contest is sponsored by Woodbury Magazine and the City of Woodbury.

In 2005 a photo of my son won the first place in the Woodbury photo contest. It is currently posted on the City of Woodbury Parks & Recreation Online Class Registration website.

 Woodbury photo contest 1st place winner in 2005.

Something to be treasured

Lake Middle School held its Back to School Kick-Off in the last three days. My son Andy and I went today after I got home from work. He is going to be a 7th grader.

Andy brought his school supplies, picked up his schedule, found out where the classrooms will be, and had his school picture taken. He also got his 2009/2010 yearbook that he missed at the end of the last school year due to our trip to China.
Every year my two kids get their new yearbooks at their schools. They like to look at their old and new yearbooks. Yearbooks are really nice and something to be treasured.
I wish I had yearbooks, but I don’t have a single one.
When I went to schools in China, we simply didn’t have yearbooks. Memory has faded over the years. Now I hardly remember my teachers and classmates from schools. I don’t have any pictures to remind me of my school years. They are history, gone, leaving no trace and no record.
It feels like my life was broken and lost for a number of years.
My kids are lucky to have yearbooks. I have kept all of their yearbooks safely for them to enjoy in the years to come.

Winning at 2010 Minnesota State Fair

The annual Minnesota State Fair started today.

I was really excited to find out that my kids won several prizes at the State Fair.  My daughter Amy got the first place in her age group for her poem collection and the second place for her pastel drawing.

My son Andy won the first place for a marker drawing and two fourth places for his watercolor drawing and poem collection. I was especially happy for my son to win this year. Because last year my daughter won four prizes at the State Fair for her drawings and poems, and Andy didn’t win anything. He was disappointed.

I hope Andy got some encouragement with this year’s winning and will continue to draw and write poems.

 Amy’s pastel drawing

A love/hate relationship

Love and hate often go hand in hand in relationships. Some people also use the term to describe their relationship with food.   

Do you have a love/hate relationship with food? Do you love and hate food at the same time?


We love certain food, but then hate what it does to our health and waistline. We love junk food because it tastes really good and makes us happy, but then we hate it because it makes us fat and unhappy.
Personally I don’t have a love/hate relationship with food, because the term is too strong to use for me. There is really not anything that I love so much or hate so much.

Yes, I like certain kinds of food better than others. I like to eat any kind of vegetable or fruit, and don’t like meat much. I won’t try any beef or lamb. That’s all.
But I can’t think of a better term or analogy for what I want to say. So let me just borrow the term here.
I am not fond of American food, because I am not used to it.
When my son tells me that he eats hamburgers and cheeseburgers at school, I often say to him: “Why do you eat that stuff?” 

For me, Chinese food is the best in the world.
Interestingly, when we were in China visiting different cities, we were invited to many banquets and dinners at the restaurants, excellent restaurants with delicious food. Lots of seafood, because seafood is considered the best and is the most expensive food in China.
During those meal times, having in front of us the big round table full of yummy dishes, my kids usually complained: “There is nothing good to eat. I am hungry.”
They didn’t like the delicious food on the table. McDonald’s and KFC would be much more desirable for them.
What we eat as kids affect what food we like and don’t like.
When it comes to going out to eat in the US, my favorite place is Chinese buffet. Any time I choose, it’s the Chinese buffet.
I like it because it’s cheap and fast. Not need to order, no need to wait. The moment you walk in, you can start to load your plate and eat. It’s faster than the fast food at McDonald’s.
I can try different varieties of food. If I go to a conventional restaurant in the US, I have no way to try different things. I get stuck with one or two dishes ordered, even if I don’t like them. At a buffet restaurant, I can pick and choose, taste something and get more if I like it.
I can try and have everything I want, from drinks, soups, appetizers, hot and cold dishes to fruit and desserts. Everything included in a reasonable price.
The only problem is I tend to eat too much, way more than I normally eat at home.
Today a few colleagues in my office went out to eat to celebrate a retirement. That was my idea, so naturally we went to a Chinese buffet.
I ate two plates of rice noodles, veggies, salmon, shrimps, and one plate of fruit. I was stuffed. I knew I had to skip dinner. That’s usually what I do.
I “love” Chinese buffet, but “hate” it afterwards when I feel the effect of eating too much. My tummy feels overloaded and overworked. It gives me an unusual bad taste in my mouth. I have to drink more water, because the food makes me thirsty.
So I have a love/hate relationship with Chinese buffet.
That’s why I don’t go out to eat much. I usually have home-cooked meals, light and healthy. It’s good for my waistline, my health and my wallet.

IBC – what every woman should know

IBC (Inflammatory breast cancer ) is a kind of breast cancer that not many people know about. A friend forwarded me the following video link.

Please pass it on to the women in your circle of friends and influence. This is something every woman should at least have heard about and know something about.

Also check the following links for more info.

National Cancer Institute


Mayo Clinic

IBC Research Foundation

IBC Foundation

IBC Association

IBC Support

More school days

Lately several people have asked me casually: “Are your kids ready for going back to school?” 

My response is: “I am more than ready for them to go back to school.” 

We spent seven weeks in China this summer. When we came back in mid July, we still have almost eight weeks to go before school starts on Sept. 7. 

My kids have been staying home with grandparents, sleeping in almost every day, playing, reading, doing some homework. They are watching more TV than ever before.  

For me, three month summer break is a loooong break without school. It’s too long. It’s getting boring for them (or maybe not, because my daughter said she likes to be home). But honestly, I am getting tired of them wasting time in watching more TV, playing video games and fighting with each other.  

More importantly, I want them to spend more time at school learning. That’s why I want a longer school year (read my Woodbury Bulletin column 9/5/2007).

Too many school supplies?

Summer is almost over. It’s time to get ready for the new school year which means to buy school supplies. 

My daughter is going  to be a 5th grader this fall. There are about 20 items on her school supply list. Among them are: 

  • 10 single subject spiral bound notebooks
  • 10-12 colored pens 
  • 4 dozen #2 sharpened pencils 
  • etc. 

Since my son started school in 2003, I have to deal with school supplies. My impression has always been that schools ask for too many supplies. It seems excessive. When kids have too much, more than they need, they become wasteful. 

I don’t know how many used notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, etc. I have at home. My kids bring them home at the end of the school year. Some of the notebooks are like new, or used only a few pages. Pen and pencils are still fine to use, but they are abandoned. When a new school year comes, we have to buy everything new again. 

No, I don’t have any problems buying school supplies. They are dirty cheap. In fact, they are literally cheaper than dirt. You can buy notebooks, papers, pens and pencils for pennies when they are on sale in August.  

But I do have a problem with wasteful behavior.  

How can a student use 4 dozens of pencils in one school year? Kids learn nothing but wasteful behavior when they have too much. 

Two years ago, my son helped a kindergarten teacher do cleanup on the last day of school. When he came home, he brought several packs of colored pencils and markers. They were practically new. He said the teacher was giving or throwing supplies away. I was surprised. Why didn’t the teacher return the supplies to students? 

For people who can’t afford school supplies, here is a tip. Visit your kid’s school on the last day of school, you can find lots of supplies in the trash. 

I didn’t make this up, I actually read the tip somewhere. 

Every year, my kids ask me to buy them new backpacks, because “everyone gets a new backpack and new supplies.”  

My son has used his current backpack for at least three years. It is still in good shape. I keep telling him: “You don’t need a new one, just because everyone else gets a new one.” 

It bothers me. Not that I can’t afford a new backpack once a year, but I don’t want to buy a new one while the old one is still in good shape. 

I don’t know how long I can hold my ground. 

When I was in school, things were simple. I didn’t have any school supply list. My parents definitely didn’t buy me a new backpack every year. I don’t remember, but it’s safe to say, I probably used the same one for several years. I probably just had a couple of pencils and a bag to carry books and notebooks. I used everything till there was nothing left or totally worn out. We had no extra half used notebooks and pencils in the house. 

I do remember once I had to stay in line for a long time to buy new erasers that were not the plain kind and just came on market. I was so excited to get a new eraser that looked pretty with some design on it.  

Nowadays, we have so much extra in everything, from school supplies to clothing, shoes and food. No wonder every house is so cluttered.  

And I don’t think school age kids in the US will ever get excited to get a new eraser. The bar is much higher now.    

A lot of waste is going on in our society, not only in our schools, but also in our offices and in our own homes. 

That’s a concern for me.

Glamour shots

When my kids were little and had birthdays, I used to take them to JcPenny in Roseville to have their birthday pictures taken. When Walmart opened a store in Woodbury that includes a portrait studio several years ago, I started going to Walmart to have their birthday photos taken. It is much more convenient for us locationwise. 

As you can imagine, the photos from both studios are not the best. They are just OK. Sometimes the school pictures my kids do twice a year at school look better to me.
The Walmart or JcPenny photos certainly cannot be compared to the photos done by a professional photographer. But I am too cheap to go to a professional photographer. That’s too expensive for me. Yes, I can afford it, but I won’t do it. It is an expense of want, not need.
In China, portrait studios are popular and everywhere. Many specialize in children portraits or wedding pictures, because people are willing to spend anything for their children (Remember one child policy in China!) and their wedding. They are Glamour Shots portrait studios. They provide outfits for change and do makeovers.
When I was in China this summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take my daughter Amy to a portrait studio to have her 10th birthday pictures taken. She never had any glamour shots in her life.
I paid attention when I was out and about. I saw studios when I was on bus or in shopping malls, but I never saw one in the neighborhood when I was out walking and shopping. So I didn’t actively pursuit it.
I took a lot of pictures of relatives and friends. My mom said I should print some out and give them to those people.
Six days before we were going to leave for the US, I was looking for a place to get some pictures printed.
Mom mentioned that there is a photo store in the neighborhood we could try. So we walked there after dinner. It was less than five minutes away. Inside the neighborhood park wall is actually a portrait studio. I walked by the park all the time, but didn’t know there is a studio inside.
It was already 8 pm. There was no customers. Only the photographer was there at the desk working on his computer. I thought here was the opportunity I was looking for. So I decided to have him take some photos of my daughter.      
I was concerned about how Amy would look like. My kids went with me to the small park to practice their ripsticks they just got the day before. Amy was wearing a top and basketball shorts. Her hair was sticky from the sweat.  
The photographer said: “No problem. We can do it.”
He called his wife in from home to do the makeover. She also picked 6 outfits for Amy to change into. 
Within two and half hours, everything was done. Amy had a total makeover. She had light makeup, changed 6 times, and had almost 50 photos taken. Everyone of them was good to keep. None of them needed to be deleted.
We were happy with the qualities of the photos.
No wonder when I was in China in 2005 and showed my classmates some of my kids’ photos taken at JcPenny, the comment I got was: “Were they done at a portrait studio?Looks like I can take those photos myself.”
How much did we pay? It was 680 RMB ($100).
Yes! It’s more than 1/3 of my Dad’s monthly income. 
No! For me, it’s worth it. For $100 in the US, I can’t get anything close to what I get.
What did I get?
All the 50 photos on a CD that I can print however I want. There is no copyright protection. I got a big photo album and a mini photo album.
The photos, selected and specially designed with additional background by the photographer using special software, were made into a big photo book. They look nicer than a nice picture book. I also got two photos in frame, using the two best photos we selected.
Once the photographer was done with the design,  he had to sent the order (rush order in our case) to a company to produce the photo albums and the framed photos.
I got the photo albums and the CD the day before my departure, but it takes longer to make the framed photos. So I asked my mom to pick them up when they were done.
A week later, when my mom went to pick up my daughter’s two framed photos, she didn’t recognize her granddaughter. She said it was not her. I can understand that. With makeup, different outfits and special effects, Amy looks like a totally different person, more like an adult.
I was very happy with the results.
Next time when I go back to China, I will try it myself. I have never done glamour shots. I am going to have some fun too.

Office fridge mess

In our office of a little more than 20 people, we have a fridge, microwave, toast, coffee machine and sink. We have four teams taking turn to do kitchen duty once a week. It comes down to once every four week for each person. 

As the captain of my team, I sent out email every four week to remind my team members when it’s our turn to do the kitchen duty. My kitchen duty day is always on Friday, because I like to do some cleanout of the fridge on the last day of the week. 

It’s hard to believe how messy and gross the fridge can be. 

On Friday four weeks ago I emailed everyone in the office that I was going to clean out the fridge and asked people to label or take their food home. I threw out several items that were moldy. But I left two reusable containers that had been in the fridge for a while, even though they contained very suspicious looking home-made food. I emailed everyone again to ask people to check the fridge and take those two containers home. I specified what and where they were. 

Four weeks later today, when it’s my turn again to do the kitchen duty, the same two containers were still in the fridge. But this time the stuff inside was beyond suspicious, it was gross. I had to threw the food away and clean the containers. 

And there were other items I had to throw away. 

I don’t mind cleaning the fridge and washing dishes. What bothers me a lot is I don’t understand why people are so careless and wasteful with food. 

I don’t buy what I don’t eat. If I buy something, I will consume it. Wasting food is a No-No for me. 

As I get older, I become forgettable too. Often times I have a hard time remembering what I did yesterday. But I never forget what food I have in the fridge. If I bring something to the office, I will eat it. I don’t let anything go bad and waste. 

Obviously, some people in my office bring food to work but forget about it all the time. They don’t even recognize their own containers. We have plenty of containers that no one claims. How can that be? 

Throwing away food is something that bugs me every time I do my kitchen duty. I wish people are not so careless and wasteful.

Leadership principle – book interview

I recently interviewed Mike Barnes, Mn/DOT Division Director for Engineering Services. We talked about the sixth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, The world’s most powerful leadership principle : how to become a servant leader by James C. Hunter.



Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Barnes: After I heard a talk by Commissioner Sorel on servant leadership, I read the first book by James Hunter titled “The Servant” and really liked it. It puts servant leadership into more of a story. I also liked Hunter’s writing style. So I picked his second book to learn the practical side of servant leadership principles.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Barnes: The book is practical and helpful in both format and contents.

The first half of the book is about WHAT good leadership looks like, what servant leadership is, what the principles are. The second half of the book is about HOW to implement what you learned, the steps necessary to becoming an effective servant leader. It’s easy to read and understand.

The principles taught in the book relate to our everyday life and are applicable to everyone whether you are someone in a leadership role, or a parent, teacher, coach, etc.

Tang: What are the principles of leadership that Hunter talks about in the book?

Barnes: Hunter talks about the following eight principles of leadership: patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, honest and commitment. He also does a great job comparing leadership and the action part of love.

Tang:  What are some ideas or concepts from the book that stood out for you?

Barnes:  Leadership is not management. You do not manage people. You manage things, and you lead people.

Leadership, love, and character are all about doing the right thing.

Leadership is influence. The foundation of leadership is not power, but authority and influence. They are built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.

One cannot love people without serving and sacrificing for them. When we serve and sacrifice for others, we build authority (influence), and when we build authority with people, when we can influence and inspire people to action, we become leaders.

The whole book and the idea of servant leadership can be boiled down to this: To lead is to serve.

Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?

Barnes:  I have read many different leadership books. What I found refreshing and interesting is that Hunter compares love and leadership, character and leadership and brings them all together. They are about the same thing – doing the right thing for others and for the common good.

Love is not just a feeling, more importantly, love is an action word. Love is a state not of the feelings, but of the will. It is the will, the choice, the willingness of a person to be attentive to the legitimate needs, best interests, and welfare of another regardless of how he happens to feel. That’s what love is really about. I hadn’t thought of love in this way as Hunter talks about in the book.

Tang: The idea of servant leadership has its origin in Christianity. In this book, Hunter references to Bible and Jesus as the great leader a few times. What would you say to people who have a different faith or are atheists and therefore might be put off by the religious tone in the book.

Barnes: I have read other books on servant leadership that have a much stronger religious overtone than this book. Yes, this book refers to Bible and Jesus a few times when it talks about love and serving others. But the book is about leadership and is targeted for the secular readership. The ideas and principles in the book are fundamental laws that are universal and unchanging. They apply to everyone regardless of your backgrounds and ideology. Everyone can benefit from the book.

Tang: The author talks about examples of great leaders who are well known around the world, such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. Do you know someone in your own life who is a true leader?

Barnes: I think my grandmother exemplified the servant leadership principles. She loved our big family, church and community by serving and sacrificing. She has influenced and inspired me with her character and authority.

Also Dan Dorgan, Mn/DOT’s bridge engineer for many years and recently retired, is an excellent example of servant leader and set the example to follow.

Tang: Motivation is an important component of leadership. To influence and inspire people to action and greatness, you need to know how to motivate them. What can you as a leader do or what can Mn/DOT do to truly motivate employees?

Barnes: As Hunter says, true motivation is about lighting a fire within people, and moving them to action because they want to act. We need to understand the deeper needs that human beings all share – the need to be appreciated, recognized, and respected. We should take time to say thanks more often and find more ways to say thanks. People appreciate personal thanks, written thanks, public praise and promotion for good performance. That’s what we should do better.

Tang: Often times people go to leadership training, learn some great ideas, feel energized by the new knowledge. But afterwards, not much changes. As Hunter says, nobody becomes a better leader by reading a book or attending a class. We become leaders by applying our learning, knowledge, feedback and experience to our everyday lives. To become a better leader, one must be willing and motivated to change and grow. How do you plan to take what you learned to the next level?

Barnes:  I totally agree, head knowledge without application isn’t worth much. We can’t change overnight, but we can take small steps one at a time and make incremental change. I have sat down and created an action plan for myself. I need to work on myself every day. Building up character is a work in progress. We can never stop learning, change and grow if we want to be leaders.

Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you.

Barnes: “Leadership development and character development are one.” (p.23)

“Managers do things right while leaders do the right thing.” (p. 31)

”Management is what we do. Leadership is who we are.” (p. 32)

“To lead is to serve.” (p. 73)

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

Barnes: I read a lot while in military and in college. Basically I read two types of books. One is the technical and professional type of books. The other type is management/leadership and personal development related.

I have been reading more books since Commissioner Sorel came to Mn/DOT to try to stay ahead.

In terms of favorite books and authors, I don’t really have any. But I would say, Home Depot’s Home Improvement Series are my favorite how-to-do books as I enjoy working on fixing things around the house.

Love to read

My daughter loves to read. Reading is on the top of the list of few things she does without being reminded or asked. The other thing that comes to my mind is eating candies. Even though I don’t let her eat a lot of candies. I can easily find candy wrappers hidden here and there.

Since we came back from China in mid July, Amy has read hundred of books, according to her own estimation. She can read several books a day.

We visit the library every week to get new books to read.

Yesterday I asked Amy to email her 4th grade teacher, for two reasons.

First, to thank the teacher for being her teacher and mailed her school papers home since we left school before it ended. Second, to let her teacher know that Amy has finished the summer reading challenge.

Her teacher offered a summer reading challenge at the end of the school year. Every student who finishes reading 8 chapter books will be invited to a celebration of root beer floats with the teacher and her daughter.

Amy sent the email yesterday. Today (8/18/2010) she got the response from her teacher. The celebration will take place tomorrow at a swimming pool. About 10 kids from two classes will join the celebration.

Amy was so happy that she contacted her teacher just in time for the event. She was excited to be able to meet her classmates again.

Today I also received a letter in the mail from Alisa Rabin Bell at Woodbury Community Foundation. She asked me for permission to use the picture I submitted to Woodbury Photo Contest for WCF’s website and promotional materials. The picture “Love to read” shows Amy reading in the stacks at the R.H. Stanford Library.

Gladly I gave Alisa permission. 

When I told Amy about it, she asked me: “Will I be on the website and brochure?”

“Sure.” I said.

So here are a couple of Amy’s “Love to read” photos. Now her photos are on the website.


It pays to check your bills

Most of my family’s bills are paid automatically either from our credit card or bank accounts.

Whenever possible, I set up an automatic bill payment plan using a credit card. For companies that don’t offer automatic credit card payment plans,, or charge extra fees for paying with credit cards, they can usually be paid automatically from our bank account. 

This saves time and money. And I don’t have to worry about late payment and late fee. I only need to make sure that there is enough money in our bank account to cover the credit card bills and a few other bills. 

I usually check all the bills I receive. I like to get a clear picture of what I am paying for what.  

I found mistakes with double charges. I had charges made from an Arabic country on my statements that I didn’t recognize. I also disputed charges because of bad services or products. When I contact credit card companies for any of the problems, they are very good at helping me and getting the problems resolved.   

I also look at my receipts when I do grocery shopping. Over-charging happens. At one oriental food market I frequently shop, the error rate is unusually high. I had to bring it to the manager’s attention.

Today I went through my bills for the last couple of months. There is one subscription renewal notice from the Pioneer Press. When I put it in my file folder and took a look at last year’s notice, I noticed two things.

First, this year’s renewal date is one month earlier than last year’s. Second, this year’s price has doubled from last year’s, from $26 to $52 (My subscription covers three days a week).

I had to call Pioneer Press to find out why.

It turned out that the renewal date was indeed wrong. It was one month earlier than it should be. I don’t know how it happened. I got an apology.

I wonder how many customers have the same error on their renewal notices and how many people would notice this.

When I was told that the subscription price has increased, I simply said I wanted to cancel the paper when the current subscription expires next month.

The customer service representative said she didn’t want to lose me as a customer and she wanted to check with her supervisor to see if she could offer me a better deal.

Seconds later, she told me that I could keep my last year’s rate.

OK, then I’ll keep my paper.

I felt like I was talking to a car sales person.

It took me a few minutes of time, but I think it definitely is worth it.  It pays to check your bills and receipts, and take the time to ask if you notice any problems.

WordPress tutorial

For people who want to learn more about Wordpress, the new Areavoices blogging software, you can take the tutorial found on WordPress website

The tutorial provides step by step information. You can learn as little as you want to get started or as much as you want to be a pro.

Lingshan Buddhist Palace

Here are some more photos from our trip to Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot, located in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, on June 3, 2010.

The Lingshan Buddhist Palace is big. It is an amazing place of art. I was very intrigued by the beautiful art works. The lights in the Holy Altar are awesome. They change colors every few seconds.

Change is not easy

I got an email announcement yesterday from Forum Communications Company that hosts my blog with the surprising news that “Big changes are coming to will undergo a major upgrade.”

Today when I logged in to my new blog that has been switched to the WordPress blogging software, everything looks unfamiliar and new.

All the blog posts were transferred over to the new site, but where are my profile and readers’ comments. Are they lost in the migration process? I don’t know.

I wish more information were communicated to me in advance. I feel like in the dark right now.

“Change is good,” but certainly not easy. It doesn’t even look good right now. I hope it’s a good change. Only time can tell.

Meanwhile I have to figure out how to blog on this new site.

Lingshan Grand Buddha

Among the five largest world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, Buddhism is the largest organized religion in China.

Buddhism has a big influence on Chinese culture. This is also reflected in the travel and tourism business. Buddhist temples and Buddha statues are big tourist attractions in China.

We visited a couple of them in China during our recent trip.

On June 3, we visited the Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot, located in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.

Among several well designed scenic spots are Lingshan Grand Buddha and Lingshan Buddhist Palace. The Lingshan Grand Buddha, 88 meters high and weighs over 700 tons,  is the world’s tallest copper standing statue of Buhhda. It is one of the world’s largest Buddha statues.

The Grand Buhhda is the symbol of Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot. Its size is really impressive. Standing next to it, I felt so so very small. 



My kids resting in front of the Grand Buhhda 

We are small comparing to the Grand Buhhda. We were touching Buddha’s toe nails.

Corruption – the biggest problem in China

Economically speaking, China is flourishing and doing well. But in many aspects, China is facing big challenges, among them are corruption, injustices, unemployment, waste, pollution, human rights, etc.

Personally I think corruption is the biggest problem in China.

Corruption permeates the whole of government and society. Government officials, judges, lawyers, police officers, doctors, teachers, businessmen, you name it, every profession is affected. Big power, big corruption; small power, small corruption.

If you have connection and money, you can still, even if you are not officially qualified, to get a better job or to go to a better school/college. Patients bribe doctors so they can get better treatments. Parents bribe teachers so their kids can get better learning.

If you want to get something done, you need connection or need to bribe someone. You have no choice.

It’s a sad reality in China. People feel insecure, helpless and hopeless unless you have power or money. People don’t trust each other as they used to.

Morale is all time low. It gets worse over time.

My brother told me a few times: “I used to wish that you would come back to China. But I have long given up that idea. You are better off living in America. China is hopeless as the result of corruption.”

I agree with what Dr. Peter Zhao Xiao, an Chinese economist, recently said in his speech “Beyond Economy: China’s Transformation with the Cross” at the Global Leadership Summit, China should learn from the Christian values and embrace Christianity.

Only then, China’s economy can continue to grow. And China will have a better future and become a more harmonious society.

Gratitude well received

This morning I accidentally left my car key in the car. The moment I shut the door, I realized I was in trouble. But it was already too late. 

I called a friend, also a state employee, to arrange a ride home after work. I was planning to get a ride home and then find someone to come back with me to get the car. My friend suggested to contact Capitol Security for help. 

What a good idea! 

I called Capitol Security and asked if they could help me unlock the car. 

"Yes, someone will pick you up shortly." 

A Capitol Security officer came and picked me up. He drove me to where my car was. Using the computer in his car, he verified my ID, that I am the owner of the vehicle. Then he unlocked the car for me. After I got my key, the officer drove me back to my office building. He was very professional and courteous. 

I was so thankful for the help I received. I told the officer: “You saved my life today.” I felt like so, at least he saved or made my day. His help saved me a lot of time and trouble. 

Later I sent an email to the Capitol Security Captain John Mock to express my sincerely gratitude for the help they provided. 

Captain Mock was very appreciative to receive my call and email. He said: "Thank you for your kind words. It’s always nice to hear the positive things, too many times we only hear about the negatives. The Officer’s name is Denny Trettel, I’ll forward your comments to Denny’s direct supervisor. Feel free to call us any time, we’re happy to help!" 

Captain Mock was right. People often hear more negative comments. It’s nice to hear some positive ones. 

I was glad that I provided positive feedback. I know everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated. Today’s experience was a good example. 


Walking down the memory lane

On Thursday, July 1, 2010, I visited my childhood residence with my Dad and kids in Suzhou. 

What I remembered was quite different from what I saw. Here are a few pictures.

We lived on this street. It was much longer in my memory. I guess everything looked bigger back then since I was young and small.

From 1970 to 1980 we lived inside this house. During the visit we met this lady whom we didn’t know. She said she has lived there for 30 years. Some of our old neighbors are still living there.

Behind me is the back door of our old residence. On top where the red bricks are is the balcony where we had clothlines to air dry everything.


This street along the river took us to Grandparents’ house. The street was narrower and without rails back then. I was always afraid that I would fall into the water. So I tried to walk very closely to the wall. The trees and plants make the area look better. There used to be houses on both sides.

The old main street in downtown is now a pedestrian street.

More photos are available on Facebook.

A quiet moment

Yesterday morning at about 11 am, the power in my office went out suddenly. What happened was a transformer exploded outside a hospital in downtown St. Paul, causing an hour-long power outage to the state Capitol and the surrounding area. 

The moment the power went out, everything stopped, the computer, the ventilation system, the radio, the light. All of a sudden, it became very quiet and dark (not totaly dark though because I still have window light). 

I didn’t realize how noisy the environment was until the moment the noise disappeared. All the time I am surrounded by the humming sound that comes from the computer, the ventilation system, and the radio. When the humming sound stopped unexpectedly, it felt like I was in a different world. I hadn’t experienced such a quiet moment for a long time. 

I used the quiet time to finish reading a book that I needed for an interview. 

It was a moment of serenity and peace. It felt really good. 

It made me think that if it’s good to have a quiet moment free of external, physical noise that surrounds us every day, it will also be good to have a quiet moment free of internal, psychological noise. We need to give our body and mind a break to rest and refresh. 

Isn’t that what meditation is for? I really should and would like to learn and do meditation someday.

My in-house editor

Sometimes when I am writing my blog or have my blog on the screen, my kids are interested in checking what I am writing or have written lately. 

My daughter likes to say: "Mom, this is not correct." She likes to correct mistakes I make. Usually they are minor mistakes that I think only native speakers would easily notice. 

Since English is not my native language, I don’t have a perfect natural feel for the language like the native speakers have. Native English speakers don’t necessarily have to learn grammar to use the language correctly. When they hear or read something, they can tell whether the words are used correctly or incorrectly based on how they sound like. 

Amy told me: "Mom, it’s not fried chickens. It’s fried chicken." She deleted the "s" from fried chickens in my post "KFC vs. McDonald’s in China." 

She added a "s" to "food scrap" I used in my post "Greening the workplace." 

Today Amy added a "s" to "getting on my nerve(s)" I had in my post "Parents, there is hope." 

I trust Amy’s judgment. Although she is only 10 years old, she is a native English speaker and a good reader, therefore has a better feel for the language. 

So I told her, "Go ahead and make changes if you find any mistakes I make." 

I like to have her read my writing and tell me what’s wrong. 

I hope someday Amy will be a writer and love to write like I do.

That’s Not What I Meant! – book interview


Here is an interview I had with Julie Skallman, Mn/DOT Division Director for State Aid, about the fifth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, That’s Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships by Deborah Tannen.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?       

Julie: I am interested in learning about different communication styles and how to improve communication between people, especially people from different cultural backgrounds.

My daughter recently got married to a young man from India. I thought this book would be helpful in giving me some insight to be a better communicator and to be able to understand other people better. It’s very applicable to my personal life as well as professional life.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Julie: The book uses real life examples that I can very well relate to. When I read some of the conversations used in the book, I could see myself or someone I know in there.

Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?

Julie: Being a woman and engineer, I like to be direct. Tell me exactly what you want me to do, and I will do it. So I can easily get frustrated with people who are not direct and don’t have the same conversational style as I have.

The book has a chapter on why we don’t say what we mean. It talks about two big payoffs to being understood without saying explicitly what we mean.

The first payoff is in rapport. Tannen says it is far better to get what we want, to be understood, without saying what we mean. It makes us feel the pleasure of being on the same wave length. This is the pleasure of those magical conversations when we say just a few words – or no words at all – and feel completely understood.

The second payoff is in self-defense. If what we want does not meet with a positive response, we can take it back what we meant. Indirectness provides a protective armor and avoids direct confrontation.

Now I see value in indirectness and have a better understanding of why some people use indirectness. I will get less frustrated with people who are not as direct as I want.

Tang: Give us another example of something you learned that is interesting and worth sharing?

Julie: Asking questions can be interpreted as either showing interest and appreciation, or being nosy and overbearing. Asking too many questions make some people feel interrogated, asking no questions make others feel ignored. On the other hand, some people welcome questions, because it shows you are interested in them and you make them feel important. And for people who value privacy, asking no questions shows that you respect their privacy. So there is a fine line here.

This tells us, when we ask people questions, it is good to consider what their cultural backgrounds and personalities are.

Tang: How has reading the book opened your mind and broadened your perspective in some way?

Julie: When we talk about differences and diversity in the workforce, we often think of immigrants and minorities, people who come from different countries and from different ethnic backgrounds. Yes, there is obviously a cross-cultural difference.

The book talks about cross-cultural communication between male and female. We could be growing up in the same neighborhood and even in the same house, and still have cross-cultural difference. So it made me think of diversity from a broader perspective.

Tang: How has this book changed your life in a positive way?

Julie: I grew up in a small town where I learned manners such as “Don’t talk in a loud voice,” and “Don’t interrupt conversations.” I have a relative who talks fast and interrupts others a lot. I used to think that she was rude and felt uncomfortable around her.

But now I realized that we are just different in how we use conversational signals – pacing and pausing, loudness, pitch and intonation.

Tannen says we almost never make deliberate decisions about whether to raise or lower our voice and pitch, whether to speed up or slow down. But these are the signals by which we interpret each other’s meaning and comments. When speakers have different habits about how and when to use conversational signals, it can cause frustrations and problems.

Because I am a soft speaker and don’t consider it appropriate to interrupt, I can come across as not assertive and indecisive in the workplace with people who are different. Now that I am aware of the different conversational styles and signals, I feel more comfortable to speak up and to get my points across.

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

Julie: “To many women, the relationship is working as long as they can talk things out. To many men, the relationship isn’t working out if they have to keep working it over. If she keeps trying to get talks going to save the relationship, and he keeps trying to avoid them because he sees them as weakening it, then each other’s efforts to preserve the relationship appear to the other as reckless endangerment.” (chap. 8, Talk in the Intimate Relationship: His and Hers, From Children to Grown Ups)

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

Julie: My mother was a voracious reader. So I grew up with reading. I usually read two books a week. I always have a book with me in my bag.

I enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy and mysteries. For me, reading is relaxing. It’s the best way to escape from the stressful reality.

Two of my favorite local Minnesota authors are Vince Flynn and John Sanford. I also like Janet Evanovich. She uses a lot of humor in her mystery books. If you need a good laugh, read her books.


I love Google

In English language, "love" is a very commonly used word. You can hear people’s love expressions in daily conversations:

"I love you."

"I love pizza (chocolate or ice cream)"

"I love Sam (dog or cat)"

‘I love this jacket (t-shirt or car)."

"I love winter (Minnesota or Hiwaii)"

In Chinese language, the word "love" is not used as much, because people usually do not express their feelings openly and easily. My parents have never said the love word to me, though I know they love me. 

And love in Chinese usually refers to a person, not a thing.

So love is not a word I use much myself. I’ll say "I love my kids," but I don’t usually say "I love something."

There is not a lot of things in life that I like so much and can’t live without that I will use the word "love." Yes, I like to eat watermelon, but I don’t love watermelon. 

However, when it comes to Google, I won’t hesitate to say: "I love Google."

I use Google almost every day when I am online.

Just today, I used Google to find the website for my high school in China. I googled in English and was able to find the website for my high school in Chinese. I googled someone in China and was able to find his Curriculum Vitae online.

Isn’t Google cool?

Google is a great search engine and research tool. It usually gives me what I need in a quick way.

Google is also very handy and helpful for my writing. When I am not sure how to spell a word correctly, when I need a phrase but not sure how to say it exactly in English, Google comes to my rescue. Google is like a faithful friend.

I really love Google. I don’t know what my (writing) life would be without Google.  

I hope someone from the Google company will read my blog and feel very appreciated. Thank you very much for making my life easier.