Woodbury Photo Contest – update

This is an update to the Woodbury Photo Contest I wrote about in a previous post.

The results have been published in the Oct. 2010 issue of Woodbury City Update, see below.

Here is one of the entries I submitted, taken from the deck of my house after a rain shower. It was not selected.  But I still think it’s a good one. So I want to share it here.

Judges select winners of 12th photo contest

The judging is complete and 29 photos were awarded prizes in the 12th annual “Focus on Woodbury” photo contest.

First place winners are Kimberly McDonough in the people category; Steven Shor, nature; Carolyn Leckey, pets; Kevin Wood, events and activities; and Cindy Lane Poch, landmarks.

Second place winners are Colleen Davis (people), Todd Sherrill (nature), Alyssa Anschutz (pets), Tom Dunn (events and activities) and John Mullally (landmarks). Taking third place honors are Sandra Stephens (people), Kerry Navara (nature), James Smith (pets), Mike Tuckner (events and activities) and Wendy Foslien Graber (landmarks).

All place winners will receive a gift certificate to a Woodbury restaurant or business.

In addition, judges awarded honorable mention to 14 photos. Winners include: Jeanne Berget, Dan Dawiedczyk, Jenna Guiton, Sue Hofacker, Ron Long, Fay Luthe, Judah Olive, Sameer Pai, Steve Saxe, Gloria Shaffer, Rajesh Singh, Joe Sobota, Doug Vetter and Mark Zitur.

This year’s contest, sponsored by Woodbury Magazine, drew 331 entries, the most ever received for the competition. Judges were Laura Haraldson, Bret Ryan and Karen Seashore. The winners will be recognized at the Oct. 13 City Council meeting.

Photos of Hangzhou Bay Bridge

 On June 4, we left my hometown Suzhou in Jiangsu Province to go to Ningbo in the neighboring Zhejiang Province. We traveled by car via the Hangzhou Bay Bridge (杭州湾大桥, also see Wikipedia).

The amazing Hangzhou Bay Bridge, opened to the public in May 2008, is the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world – 36 kilometres (22 mi) long. It took us about 30 minutes to cross the Bridge from the North shore to the South shore.

The Hangzhou Bay Bridge shortens the distance between Suzhou and Ningbo by at least 100 km (see the map) and reduce the travel time by more than an hour.

We had a smooth ride over the Bridge. However it didn’t come without cost. The toll fee is 80 yuan (ca $12) per vehicle. It is about one day’s income for a worker in China.

No wonder there were not many people driving over the Bridge.  

Photos of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge along with several other new bridges were posted in a previous blog post about toll roads in China.

Today I posted several photos of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge on my Facebook page.

A lot of images of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge are also available on google: http://www.google.com/images?rlz=1T4ADRA_enUS400US400&q=hangzhou+bay+bridge&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=n8uzTKjzKdOgnQet-eC_BA&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CB8QsAQwAA&biw=1259&bih=489


Just remember now that today is a special day, at least on the calendar.

It’s Sunday, October 10, 2010 – 2010.10.10.

Two years ago, China picked the date 08.08.08 and the time 8 minutes past 8 pm to start the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Did you do anything special today?

I wrote a thank you note to my pastor Frank Sanders and his wife Kathy from the Spirit of Life Bible Church. Pastor Frank is a great pastor. His sermons touch me week after week. He and his wife love people and serve God with their hearts.

I know I don’t thank them often enough. October is Pastor Appreciation Month. At least I wrote a thank you note and expressed my appreciation. I felt good doing it.

You can read more about Pastor Frank on my blog or on Wiki.

Only a couple of minutes left on this special day, 10.10.10. Hope you did something special and had a good one.  At least you were outside and enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.

My girl

Last Friday my 10 year old girl Amy was invited to a birthday party by the daughter of a good friend of mine. A group of 6 girls went to Mall of America after school for fun rides and shopping.

Personally I don’t like to go to Mall of America. I haven’t been there for  a few years. Shopping is not my way of spending time and money.

I have a deal with my kids. If they want to go to birthday parties, they need to pay themselves for birthday presents. When they want to go to birthday parties, they are happy to obey and pay out of their own pocket.

So my girl paid for the birthday present. She made a birthday card and included cash. We thought cash is better than a gift card. You can spend it anyway and anywhere you want.

Amy also took $10 of her own money with her to Mall of America.

When she came home at night, I was eager to find out whether and how she spent her money, since it  was her first shopping trip without a family member.

“I didn’t spend any money.”

I was  surprised by her self-control.

Then she told me that one of her friends brought $40. Everyone bought something – silly bandz, perfume, etc. Everyone urged her to buy something as well.

“I wanted to buy the fragrence too, but they ran out of the flavor I wanted. Then I didn’t feel like buying anything. When I wanted to buy something, I thought of you. I didn’t want to make you mad.”

The word mad was a little harsh to hear for me. I won’t be mad in this case, even though I might not like what she bought. She already has enough silly bandz, she got more in her goody bag. She doesn’t need perfume or other cosmetic products at this age.

Yes, mostly times I don’t approve my kids’ request of purchase, even when they are willing to pay themselves.

“Mom, can I buy this?”

“Do you really need it?” is my usual response.

I was very proud of my daughter for having self-control and not giving in for any peer pressure.

That is my girl.

Photos from Li Garden in Wuxi

On June 3, after we visited the Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot, we stopped by at the Li Garden(Li Yuan Garden, 蠡园) in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. 
Li Garden is  a famous garden and a major Chinese tourist attraction, similar to those in Suzhou, my hometown. The two cities are very close, no more than an hour away from each other.  

Photos from Maanshan and Wuxi

I posted over 60 photos taken in Maanshan and Wuxi during my China trip to my Facebook account today. A few of them were posted in a previous blog post.

I apologize that the photos can only be viewed by people who have a Facebook account and are signed in. They are available for anyone on Facebook, but not for anyone on the Internet.

The reason I didn’t want to post the photos on my blog is there are too many to post and I don’t have time to resize very photo before I upload it, as it is necessary on this blog. There is no such problem on Facebook. I can simply select a bunch of photos and upload them.

I do hope you have a chance to look at the photos. They are great. You will be impressed if not surprised by what China looks like today.

Chinese dissident wins Nobel Peace Prize

This morning I was really happy to find out that the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who is currently serving an 11-year prison term in China.

As a native Chinese, I am proud for him and for the country to receive the honor. I only wish that the Chinese government had embraced this decision and would release him from the prison soon. 

Dalai Lama, the religious and political leader in exile of the Tibetan people, is the other Chinese who won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1989.

The following is the official announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee posted on its website today.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

Photos from Nanjing, pt.2

Today I uploaded a few pictures I took in Nanjing in June to my Facebook account.
While in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province, we visited the BenQ Hospital which opened in May 2008. It covers about 600 acres and so far has completed 1500 beds in its first stage. When the second and third stages are completed, it will have 3000 beds.
We toured the birth center at the hospital. The rooms are divided into different areas based on four different levels of charges. There are different levels of services to meet different levels of needs and affordability. You get what you pay for. That’s for sure. 
The VIP rooms are very spacious and nicely decorated, have additional beds and sofas for family members, and are equipped with TV, computer, microwave, etc. It feels more like at home than in the hospital.
There are private single bed rooms, semi private double bed rooms, and rooms where several patients share.
BenQ Hospital provides free shuttle bus services to certain neighborhoods around the city. It’s a way to attract customers who otherwise might not come to the hospital.
BenQ is also building another hospital in Suzhou, my hometown.
In Suzhou, I didn’t see any hospital shuttle buses, but I saw shuttle buses provided by supermarkets. It works the same way. The buses run on schedule to designated areas around the city to attract customers. 
While in Suzhou, I went to grocery shopping with my parents to some huge supermarkets. We rode the city buses that took us 45 minutes one way. Then we rode the buses back home with bags of rice and groceries. We wished we could have those free shuttle bus service. But they don’t come close to where my parents live.

The Southwest story

Today I helped Bernie Arseneau, Mn/DOT Division Director for Policy, Safety and Strategic Initiatives, facilitate the book discussion on Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.  It’s the 7th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series.

I really enjoyed reading the book myself.

Before I read the book, I hardly knew anything about Southwest Airlines. I had flown on most of the airlines in the US, but never on Southwest.

After I read the book, I was so intrigued and inspired by the Southwest Airlines success story, I decided I will only fly with Southwest in the future if possible.

The good news is Southwest does have flights from Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Humphrey Terminal. The not so good news is the choice is very limited. I can fly to Chicago, but not to China on Southwest.

If you want to experience some Southwest spirit as talked about in the book, go to YouTube and search Southwest Airlines, you will find thousands of videos, including some popular ones with Southwest Airlines flight attendants doing raps or songs. It’s really fun.

Photos from Nanjing, pt.1

I had fun posting my China trip photos to my Facebook page yesterday. I added more today. They were taken in Nanjing on 06/02/2010.

On that day we visited the Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum (ZhongShan Ling, 中山陵) and the Nanjing Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao). While visiting the Confucius Temple, we took a boat ride on the Qin Huai River. It was a beautiful ride with breathtaking scenery.

Photos from my China trip on Facebook

Finally, I took some time to post some of my photos from my trip to China this summer to my Facebook page. I posted the first batch today. They were taken in my hometown in Suzhou. I have about 5000 photos, more to come …

Initially I thought to post my photos here on my blog, but then decided to do it on Facebook. It’s so much easier to upload, rearrange and edit photos on Facebook than on this blog.

Nuts! – book interview

I recently interviewed Bernie Arseneau, Mn/DOT Division Director for Policy, Safety and Strategic Initiatives. Berine is my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss :-)

We talked about the 7th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg 


Tang: Why did you pick this book? 

Arseneau: I like the idea of having fun at work. Being professional does not mean being serious all the time. Professionalism does not exclude fun, humor and celebration in the workplace. “Nuts!” resonates with me for what I value and appreciate.    

Tang: How did you like the book? 

Arseneau: The first six or so chapters were hard to stay interested in. They are about the history and background of Southwest Airlines. But then starting with chapter seven it gets much more interesting. I really like the last few chapters. They are more of the climax of the book.   

Tang:  What are the last few chapters about that you really like? 

Arseneau:  In chapter 20, “Employees come first,” Southwest’s mission statement is presented. It is not the typical mission statement you find in many organizations. 

The first part is addressed to customers: “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” 

The second part addresses the employees: “We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer. 

The point is that great service begins at home. Putting employees first is really important. When we take good care of our employees, they take good care of our customers. 

Chapter 21 “Leaders leading leaders” talks about leadership. 

Leadership is not a one way communication where one leads and the others follow. Leadership is two way communication. Leaders collaborate. At Southwest, leadership is practiced through collaborative relationships. In a collaborative relationship, the roles of leader and collaborator are interchangeable. They are partners in solution. Leadership is something all employees do together. 

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

Arseneau:  Chapter 18 “Unconventional advertising” mentions three things that Southwest Airlines strives to do in its advertising: aiming to intrigue the audience, to entertain and to persuade. Southwest communicates its mission in a fun, zany, yet highly effective way. It told its story to the public and captured the attention and hearts of many. The Southwest story shows that you can have humor and fun at work. It not only increases productivity but also builds a great spirit. 

The chapter also talks about making every employee a living advertisement. I really like that. I like to see every person at Mn/DOT as an ambassador and leader for Mn/DOT.

Tang: The author talks about the Southwest Spirit. It’s the spirit of liberty and freedom that encourage employees to use their imagination, express their individuality, and exercise leadership. It’s the spirit that engages the minds, hearts and souls of the Southwest employees to do the right thing. It’s the spirit that ignites the burning desire in every employee to excel. Do we have a Mn/DOT Spirit? 

Arseneau: Within Mn/DOT, we have groups of people in functional areas of work, such as maintenance or safety, who work together with incredible dedication and a great spirit. But sometimes it seems that we are not as strongly linked together as a complete organization. It would be great to grow our organizational spirit into a robust, overarching Mn/DOT spirit, across all Mn/DOT functional areas, like the spirit that is so evident at Southwest Airlines. 

Tang: How can we foster such a spirit? 

Arseneau: First we need to help employees understand that no matter what you do, where you work and what position you hold in the organization, we all work for a common purpose. Each brings value to the organization. Each can make a big difference. We are one family striving to be the global leader in delivering a safe and efficient transportation system for the public. We need to go beyond our functional areas and work together more closely throughout the organization. 

Then, we need to do a better job communicating internally. Like Commissioner Sorel always says, tell our stories, acknowledge our successes, and celebrate our achievements. We should publish stories of extraordinary service in the newsletter, focus on the positives as learning opportunities more than the negatives.      

Not only we should engage all employees to be leaders, we also need to engage their hearts and minds. You can’t foster a spirit without people’s heart and mind engaged and without their being passionate about what they do. 

When we put employees first, practice the collaborative approach of servant leadership, the spirit will grow. 

Tang: The current Mn/DOT leadership team has been doing a better job in terms of creating opportunities to make Mn/DOT a fun workplace to work. This has definitely raised moral and team spirit. I have heard very positive feedback from fellow employees. What can you do better as a leader?  

Arseneau: One way is to reach out and connect with employees more regularly and nontraditionally. Our calendars are filled with meeting appointments. By learning to delegate, time can be opened up so that employees can be engaged  and empowered to be more independent and to be decision makers. Our job is to help people understand their purposes and roles in the organization and then empower them and support them to do their job. By having trust and confidence in people, they will rise to the expectations. 

Tang:  Can you share some insight you gained from reading the book? 

Arseneau:  An old saying is that, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I once learned that a good leader’s job is not to lead the horse to water or to make him drink, a good leader’s job is to make the horse thirsty so that he will go to water and drink by himself. Each person needs to take ownership of his own work and life. The desire has to come from within the individual, to drink, to thrive and excel. 

We need to allow, encourage and empower employees to think creatively and risk intelligently, so they can come up with innovative ideas and solutions, be the leaders and decision-makers in whatever they do. 

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

Arseneau: “Make rules, systems, and procedures your servants, not your masters.” (p. 95)

 “Humor and creativity go hand in hand – ‘HA HA leads to the AHA!” (p.212)

“Love chooses service over self-interest. Love uses power to serve and wealth to expand its capacity to serve.” (p. 234)

”The customer is not always right. Employees, not customers, come first.” (p. 268)

“True happiness is found in serving a cause that we believe has lasting significance.” (p. 281)

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

Arseneau: Comparing to my wife who can go through a couple of books a week, I am a light reader. Outside of work, I like to read mysteries, books that are light and action packed for a mental getaway. One of my favorite authors is John Sanford who wrote the Prey Series.

Day 30 – Last day thoughts

Today is Day 30, the last day, of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 30 is about reviewing and reflecting on the past 30 days, setting goals and creating a plan for the next stage ahead.

Celes asked for feedback regarding the challenge in her follow-up post.  So I took the opportunity and sent her the following feedback. 


Participating in this 30 Day challenge has been a really amazing experience and journey. It’s one month of self learning, self discovery, self awareness and self realization. It’s one month of connecting with my inner self and with others around the world.

In these 30 days, I have discovered and rediscovered myself on a new level, reached a new level of awareness, learned new things. I am a little different from 30 days ago. Hopefully I am better too.

The biggest thing for me is 30DLBL opened my eyes and mind in a new way, in more depth. You brought so many meaningful tasks in one place. They are all useful.

I got to think about where I am and how I am doing (life wheel), what I want (ideal life, vision board, mission statement, values, goals, passions), how to get there (action plan, to-do list, bucket list, declutter, getting feedback, reflecting, gratitude, acts of kindness, life handbook, inspiring environment, earlier riser, meditation, connecting with friends and future self, inner dialogue, uncovering limiting beliefs, letting go, rest, planning).

My favorite tasks are creating the life book and bucket list. I am sorry we missed three days (9-11) of tasks. They were used as catch up days. Would you just tell us what the three tasks you had planned for us?

The 30DLBL is over, but I view this challenge as the new beginning of my personal growth. There are tasks I still need to do, to revise, to update. So even though the challenge is over, but my journey of growth just began.

Celes, you are just amazing, a super woman, wise beyond your age, a true inspiration for me. I don’t know how you can do so much so well. I would like to express my sincere thank you for your —

– challenging us to live our best life,
– providing this invaluable learning experience,
– giving us so much food for thoughts,
– taking the time to give us feedbacks and comments,
– sharing your wisdom and insights,
– creating this online community for like-minded people to meet
– your inspiration and love for everyone

I am sending love and hugs to you. Make sure that you will open your schools in the US and other countries. Maybe we can meet in person some day.

Day 29 – Take the day off

Today is Day 29 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 29 is about giving yourself a break, to reward yourself, to relax and recharge.

I didn’t expect this as today’s task, but I certainly like it.

I took the time to explore the new The Personal Excellence Forums(TPEF) that Celes just created today in response to the interest in building an online community and providing a place for the 30DLBL challenge participants and like-minded people to stay connected.

An organized life

The following article of mine was published in the e-newsletter “Dollar Stretcher Tips”  on June 14, 2010 [Volume 15, Number 24]. It’s available on the Dollarstretcher.com website.

Keeping an organized life with three-ring binders

I love three-ring binders. They are a lifesaver for me. I use them to keep an organized life. I also use them to help my kids keep an organized life.

I use three-ring binders and sheet protectors to keep related items together. For example:

  • My published articles in newspapers or magazines
  • All the appliance manuals
  • Retirement and financial statements
  • Recipes

For each of my two children, I gave them a three-ring binder with plastic sleeves when they were born. I have been building a portfolio for each of them.

Each binder contains important documents from the birth to present, such as birth certificate, graduation certificate, school report cards, test results, yearbooks, awards, letters from teachers, etc.

My son’s first binder was full when he finished fifth grade at age 11. So when he started sixth grade last year, I gave him a new binder. The transition from elementary to middle school was the perfect time to start a new binder.

I have a few binders that contain all of their birthday or school pictures. Another binder contains all current information about their after school activities, practice and game schedules for sport. The binder keeps all papers in one place and is handy when I need to know quickly when and what about their activities.

When my kids grow up and leave home, each will have a portfolio to take with them. Their life will be summarized in a few binders, neatly and orderly.

Qin Tang is a librarian and writer (columnist, blogger). She has a passion for healthy, green, simple, frugal, mindful and soulful living.

Day 27 – Letting go

Today is Day 27 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 27 is about letting go. If we want to live better lives, we need to let go of things that are holding us back and limiting us before we can move on, receive and embrace new things. When we let go of the past and the old baggage, we open the door for the new possibilities to enter into our life.

This is a great task. It is an important step in our journey of personal growth. 

We all have something we need to let go. I need to let go a lot of physical stuff in the house, and regrets, hurts, pain, resentment, and anger in my mind.

From my experience, it’s easier said than done. It’s easier to know and understand than to act. Letting go requires a great deal of soul searching, a willingness and determination to change for the better.

Ultimately, letting go, forgetting and forgiving benefits ourselves more than anyone else. It is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves.

Day 26 – Create your bucket list

Today is Day 26 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 26 is about creating your bucket list.

Celes explains well what a bucket list is: It is a wish list of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill and life-experiences you desire to experience before you die. Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them. 

Now what are the things I want to achieve, do, see, feel and experience in life before I die, if I have unlimited time, money and resources?

  1. Be generous to others and to myself
  2. Establish a scholarship, in honor of my favorite high school teacher
  3. See my family members embark their spiritual jouneys 
  4. See my kids grow up and live a happy and successful live
  5. Take writing classes
  6. Write and publish a book 
  7. On the bestseller list
  8. Publish in Newsweek
  9. Join a writers club
  10. Keep journaling every day
  11. Write every day
  12. Interview anyone I want to (mostly authors and leaders)
  13. Help and encourage my daughter to become a writer
  14. Join a book club again
  15. More all the books I want to read
  16. Develop better public speaking skills
  17. Live a simple life
  18. Become a minimalist
  19. Downsize and declutter
  20. Grow in my faith
  21. Read through the Bible
  22. Speak in tongues
  23. Meet some soul friends
  24. Visit Germany again
  25. Pick up my German language skills again
  26. Develop psychic ability
  27. Learn more about energy healing
  28. Holistic approach to health
  29. Start doing yoga and meditation regularly
  30. Go on a meditation retreat 
  31. Create an inspirational space for myself
  32. Go on a spiritual woman’s retreat
  33. Be an inspiration for others
  34. Help someone in need
  35. Eat more organic food
  36. Go on a cruise
  37. Play a musical instrument
  38. Take up dancing
  39. Walk more every day
  40. Bike again
  41. Be a better swimmer
  42. Connect more with Mother Nature
  43. Camp out in the wilds
  44. Learn to bake better
  45. Become a vegan
  46. Juicing for better health [That’s for today, one for every year of my life. I am sure I can add more to make it to 101 when I have more time to think about it.]
  47. Write a letter to my kids (every year)
  48. Say an encouraging word to someone or send a positive comment to someone I know or don’t know at least once a day

Day 25 – Meditation

Today is Day 25 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 25 is about meditation. One of my life goals I wrote for Day 6 is learning to meditate.  So today’s task is just what I need.

I read the following articles by Celes:

  • Part 1: 10 Reasons You Should Meditate
  • Part 2: How To Meditate In 5 Easy Steps
  • Part 3: Vipassana Meditation 10-Day Course
  • 21 Days To Cultivate Life Transforming Habits
  • Celes shared many benefits of meditation – clearing out mental clutter, purifying our mind and body, raising our consciousness, increasing concentration ability, being present to the moment, healing, visualizing the future, communicating with our subconsciousness, inner calmness and peace.

    I will definitely try meditation so I can experience the wonderful benefits.

    Day 24 – Uncovering your beliefs

    Today is Day 24 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 24 is about examining our beliefs and understanding how they came about.

    Our beliefs came from our past experiences. The inner dialogue we have are rooted in our beliefs. If we want to eliminate our negative self talk, we need to uncover and uproot the beliefs that give rise to those negative thoughts.

    What are some of my beliefs that I need to clear out of my mind?

    One that comes to my mind quickly is this – I have to keep everything. Almost everything can be used or reused.  Getting rid of stuff is a waste of money. It makes me feel guilty. This belief leads to accumulation and clutter.

    Why do I think this way? Where does the belief come from?

    • Poverty during childhood
    • Difficulty with letting things go
    • My wish to be resourceful, frugal and responsible

    I know it is not good to hold on to this belief. My new belief should be:

    Every item serves a purpose. If it’s no longer useful to me, I should let it go. Holding on to it will only cause more clutter and stress. 

    I’ll think more about it when I have time.

    This belief

    Day 23 – Inner dialogue

    Today is Day 23 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 23 is about examining our self-talk, the inner conversation we have with ourselves that is running inside our heads all the time. Doing so will help us become aware and conscious of both the positive and negative thoughts. By uncovering and addressing our negative thoughts and increasing positive thoughts, we can do better and live better lives.

    Why is it important to have positive thoughts? Here is the answer:

    “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.

    Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

    Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.

    Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.

    Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

     Author unknown

    I think I am more on the porsitive side as a whole. My self talk is probably about 60/40 on positive and negative sides. Some days, when I feel good, I have more positive thoughts. Other days,  when I am down, I have more negative thoughts.

    This is an excellent exercise to do. If we take the time to uncover and write down all of our negative thoughts, especially those that are deep rooted and keep coming up in our heads, we can release them and let them go. Once we have decluttered our mind, we can have more space to embrace the positive thoughts. That’s when our mind will become more clear and our creativity will flourish.

    This exercise reminds me of the morning pages I did while reading “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron four years ago. It was very help. It changed my life in some way. 

    Day 22 – Advice from your future self

    Today is Day 22 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 22 is about getting the best advice on how to live your best life from someone who knows you the best, Your Future Self.

    I like what Celes said: “The reason why I love this exercise is because it takes you out of the present-situation perspective, and puts you in the role of the mentor, the adviser, someone who is supposed to know the answers. And you do know the answers. You know all the answers you seek. If you allow yourself to fill that capacity, if you learn to tap into that source in you, you can get all the answers you want, and achieve everything you want to achieve.”

    I heard about this kind of exercise, but have never done it. It will take me some time and thoughts to do it.

    10/14/2010 update

    I have been thinking about this in the last 2-3 weeks. Finally I came to the answer  I was looking for when I was reading about John Maxwell’s new book ” Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently” and came upon this phrase: “Connectors inspire people to move from ‘know how’ to ‘do now.’

    Move from “know how” to “do now” to “wow.”

    That is probably the best advise my future self can give me. And if I take it to heart and follow it, I will live a better life as the result.

    As someone who loves to read, learn and grow, I find myself pretty knowledgeable about a lot of things – what I should do, how I should do it. But knowing more doesn’t necessarily make me a wiser person. If I don’t put what I know into practice, if I only keep knowledge in my head and don’t show it in my action, what good is the knowledge?

    I know my life would be far better if I do what I know I should do. If I can move from “know how” to “do now,” my life would result in “Wow! what a wonderful life!”

    It’s all up to myself to break through and move forward, instead of being stuck in the “know how” stage.

    Day 21 – An act of kindness

    Today is Day 21 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 21 is about doing acts of kindness to others. How can we extend a helping hand to someone in need or simply offer an expression of love/kindness/gratitude to others.

    I usually write my blog and check Celes’ blog late at night after my kids go to bed. So I don’t see the 30DLBL challenge tasks until the day is almost over (I know that’s not the ideal timing).  

    Today’s task is to do an act of kindness to 5 People. It’s too late to do anything new now, but reflecting back on my day, here are five acts of kindness I did.

    • I am part of the planning committee that organized the 2nd Annual Minnesota State Capitol Run @ Work Day 5K event last Friday. Today we had a post event evaluation meeting.  At the meeting we expressed our appreciation for the leadership that our committee chair demonstrated. Afterwards I emailed her and told her: “You really deserve a lot of credit and praise.” She responded with: “Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.” (Carl Jung) Thank you for being my friend.”
    • I nominated Celes Chua, the person behind the 30DLBL Challenge and the Personal Excellence Blog, to be one of the world’s top 30 coaching gurus on this coaching gurus website, also linked with this leadership gurus website. I think some day she will be on the same stage/page with John Maxwell, Stephen Covery, etc.
    • A friend has a family emergency and will be out of the country for 10 days. He asked for help. I will drive his daughter home after school because she has no bus service. I offered to do more, to have his kids eat dinner at my house, to drive them to their activities if needed. But he said just driving his daughter home from school is a big help. I was really glad I can help him in times of need.
    • I am organizing a private art class for my kids and kids of some friends. Over the last 10 days, I emailed people I know, asking for recommendations, I found the teacher, did all the emails back and forth with him, set up the time and tuition, contacted parents who are interested. Tonight I am still working on finalizing the schedule and payment. It took me a fare amount of time and effort to get this all organized. I did this for my kids, but also for other kids, so they can also benefit.
    • I called my parents in China to wish them a Happy Moon Festival (on 9/22/2010). I also let them know that a friend’s father passed away today and asked them to call to express their condolence.      

    That was my list of 5.

    In January 2010 I did the 29-Day Giving Challenge after I read the book titled “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change your Life.” Every day during the month, I tried to do an act of kindness.

    Now I keep doing it consciously or unconsciously.

    Day 20 – Make a new friend

    Today is Day 20 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 20 is about making new friends while yesterday’s task was about (re)connecting with old friends. New or old, friendships and relationships can enrish our lives.

    In the morning I had a meeting with Linda who is a business manager at Mn/DOT for over a year. I didn’t know her at all. When her name was first mentioned to me, I thought of another Linda, someone I knew. 

    Linda initiated the meeting to give me some feedback regarding an application I submitted (see Update to Day 13). A god-sent to fulfilling my Day 13 task of getting feedback from others! I was excited.   

    Linda gave me great ideas and suggestions on how to improve my application. My mistake was I did my application in a very non-personal way. It’s all too short and too general. From what I wrote, people can’t tell who the applicant really is. There is no personality and individuality shining through and standing out. No wonder, even though I got excellent recommendations from my supervisor and our Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, my application was not selected.

    Getting the feedback was great. I was very grateful for Linda and  Commissioner to take the initiatives to give me feedbacks. 

    During our conversation, I found out that Linda and I both love books and reading. This brought us closer and gave us more to talk about.

    I felt I made a new friend today, before I even read today’s challenge task – make a new friend.

    What an easy task! I have already finished this task without even knowing the task in advance

    I saw synchronicity at work again today.

    Day 19 – Connect with friends

    Today is Day 19 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 19 is about connecting or reconnecting with friends and building relationships which can nourish our emotions and our soul.

    It just so happened (talking about synchronicity) that today I met with a good friend whom I asked for feedback on Day 13. She wanted to have a face to face meeting instead of writing or calling to share her thoughts. We took a long walk after dinner.  

    It was refreshing to have a heart to heart conversation, a conversation on a meaningful level.

    Most of our daily conversations are on a very superficial level. They are about facts and opinions.

    A heart-to-heart conversation goes on a deeper level of intimacy. It goes beyond facts and opinions. It’s about opening our hearts, sharing our hopes and dreams, our deep feelings, and our fears and failures.  

    My friend and I had such a deep and meaningful conversation. It’s a blessing to have such a friend with whom you feel safe and comfortable to share your true thoughts and feelings.  It definitely nourishes our souls and warms our hearts.

    Day 18 – Create Your Inspirational Room

    Today is Day 18 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 18 is about creating an environment that is inspiring and creative.

    My inspirational room would be a room with less furniture (more empty space), some bookshelves, plants and photos.

    Right now I don’t have a room that is inspirational. All the rooms are pretty cluttered.    

    So this is a task that I need to work on with intention. It will not only take a lot of time and effort, but also a lot of determination which is lacking now.

    Soy – good or bad?

    When it comes to health and nutrition, we often get confusing and conflicting information.

    Take soy for example. Some say it is a miracle health food, while others say it is dangerous.  

    When I first read about the dark side and the sad story of soy some time ago, I was really surprised. I always thought of soy as a healthy food.

    I eat tofu as a side dish about once a week. I also eat fermented bean curd in very small amount (because it’s very salty) a couple of times a week when I eat rice soup for breakfast.

    In China and other Asian countries, people have been eating soy and various soy products (there are countless varieties) for thousand of years. Tofu is one of the popular food items in China.

    In the U.S., soy has been marketed as a healthy food not too many years ago.

    Today I read another article by Dr. Mercola on the danger of soy. The article along with the references and comments make me think again about the topic.

    I don’t eat a lot of soy products to be too worried about its effect on my health. But I certainly like to recommend this article to readers who may have health problems due to their consumption of soy and don’t know about it.

    Day 17 – Be an early riser

    Today is Day 17 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 17 is about cultivating the good habit of being an early riser. 

    I believe there is a connection between waking up early and having success in life.

    When I read self help books or books about successful people, I noticed that successful people are early risers. 

    One of the life goals I set for myself on Day 6 is “Be an early riser, even on weekend (I tend to sleep in on weekends)”

    I get up early on weekdays to go to work early and beat the rush hour traffic. But on weekend, I turn off the alarm. I give myself a break and sleep until I wake up naturally, usually around 8 – 9 am.

    On weekdays I have to use the alarm clock on my cellphone to wake me up. I know this is not good. It means I don’t get enough sleep.

    The ideal would be to wake up naturally, without any external intervention. When you have enough sleep, you wake up naturally. If you need an alarm to wake you up,  it means, you need more time to sleep.

    I spend my late evenings doing blogging, writing, reading and Internet surfing. Time flies by really fast when I do something I enjoy. It’s so easy to stay up past mid night.

    I think because I get good quality of sleep every night, I can get by with less hours of sleep.  

    Do you want to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Then listen to Benjamin Franklin’s word of wisdom: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.

    This is a quote that I often say to my kids.

    Update to Day 13

    Today I bumped into Tom Sorel, our Minnesota Dept. of Transportation Commissioner. He is a leader I really respect. I have worked on some projects with him/his commissioner’s staff.

    Commissioner Sorel recently wrote a nice recommendation for me for my application to the Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute. My application was approved by Mn/DOT, but was not approved by the selection committee due to the high volume of applications received this year.

    I was very confident that I would get into the program, naturally I was disappointed by the news, but it really didn’t hurt me in any way. I took it well and forgot about it.

    For me, learning opportunities are everywhere. There is always another time, another chance, another opportunity waiting for me somewhere. This Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge is just one such example.

    Well, Commissioner Sorel said to me today as he passed by: “Qin, I’ll ask Linda (his business manager) to set up an appointment with you to give you some feedback.”

    Wow, that’s just what I need. I was so happy and thankful that I will get some feedback, without my asking. I never thought about asking him. But knowing that he is a good mentor to people around him, I really should not be surprised by his action.

    Now I feel really excited about it and am looking forward to a feedback session.

    Isn’t it called “synchronicity?”

    And I am still waiting for feedback from the people I asked for on Day 13.

    Day 16 – Creating life handbook

    Today is Day 16 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 16 is about creating  a personal handbook – your manual, your life’s blueprint, your guiding point to live your best life.

    Life handbook is a term Celes created:

    “A life handbook, to put it simply, is your manual that contains anything and everything important in living your life, from your life purpose, adages, life learnings, long-term goals, short-term goals, strategies, plans, right down to your daily tasks. Just like you need a driving manual to learn driving, your life handbook is your manual to progress in life. Just as the Bible is the guidebook that reflects the doctrine and creed of Christianity, your life handbook is your map towards living your best possible life.”

    In her article Create Your Life Handbook, Celes says your life handbook should include the following sections:

  • Life purpose/vision/mission
  • Values
  • Strengths and improvement areas
  • Life adages
  • Vision board (visual representation of what you want in life)
  • Life goals: Long-term (5, 3, 1 year) and short-term (monthly) goals
  • Plans to achieve your goals
  • My overall life purpose/vision
  • My life-long goals
    • 5/3/1 year goals
    • My 1 year goals, break down into months
  • Below is a partial outline of Celes’ handbook:

  • My vision board
  • My values
  • My overall life adages based on what I have learned in life
  • My strengths; My improvement areas and blind spots
  • Things that motivate me in life
  • My strategies, plans and tracking for my goals
  • Daily to-do list (Updated on ongoing basis)
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Reflections I get every year
  • Miscellaneous information which I access frequently: My finances, my credit card info, grocery lists, etc.
  • Life handbook is such a great idea! I am excited to create my life handbook.

    The good news is I don’t have to do everything from scratch, I can do some copy and paste from what I have already created.

    The tasks I did in the last 15 days for this Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge can form the base of my life handbook. In addition I would like to add the following sections/lists:

    • Biographical data
    • Family history data 
    • Education background (graduation certificates)
    • Employment history
    • Awards and achievements
    • Important dates and events every year
    • Will/living will (if I can get to it)
    • and some more

    My life handbook will surely be a treasure for my children when I pass away, maybe more valuable and important than leaving them some money, hopefully.

    I plan to create my life handbook in Word, with folders and subfolders for better organization.

    You can also use a three-ring binder. With a three-ring binder, you can easily add and remove pages or change orders of the pages/sections.

    A soft copy is easy to edit and update. But it’s not so convenient to look at and review.

    I know the three things that we should do after we created our life handbook will be a little challenging for me:

    • Look at your handbook every morning before you start your day.
    • Refer to it through the day to remind yourself of what you want.
    • Update it constantly. 

    Day 15 – Gratitude

    Today is Day 15 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 15 is about giving thanks to what we have. This is one of my favorite topics.

    There is so much to be thankful for. The list is endless.

    I am grateful for

    • God for my perfect body and good health, for opening my mind, and giving me hope;
    • my family, friends, coworkers;
    • my high school English teacher who was the most selfless person I have ever know. I was grateful that I told him many times before he passed away that I was grateful for what he had done for me;
    • my pastor and church family
    • having financial security and freedom;
    • having peace and contentment;
    • the house I have to live in;
    • the country I live in;
    • the food, fresh air, water, sun … that sustain my life;
    • books that enriches my life;
    • my love for writing and reading
    • a job that allows me to do what I like to do;
    • Celes for this challenge, for her wisdom, blog and excellent articles, for her generous and gentle soul;
    • the blogging friends who share and encourage each other;
    • the technology (computer and Internet) that made our vitual community and online learning possible;
    • lots more

    Day 14 – Reflecting on life

    Today is Day 14 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 14 is about reflecting on our whole life and seeing how far we have come in life.

    1. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with where you are today in life?

    I would say 6-7/10. I am very satisfied in some aspects, but not so in other aspects. There are many things I need to improve to be able to live the best life possible. I am far away from the ideal life.

    2. Some of my biggest milestones that I am most proud of are:

    • Passed the national college entrance exam with a high score despite the fact that I didn’t have a head start and went to one of the best universities in China.
    • Received a German government scholarship and studied 5 years in Germany
    • Received my second master’s degree in the U.S., three years after I came to the U.S., considering my English was initially at the pre-school level.
    • Became a columnist for Woodbury Bulletin.
    • Started a book club at work and interviewed most senior managers in the organization.
    • Writing professionally and personally (Blogging). Had ca. 150 articles published in books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters and and e-zines.
    • Raised two great young readers (my son and my daughter who love to read)
    • Actively involved in different projects and events in the community (started a new Chinese school in 2007) and at work (CRC, Brown Bag learning, http://www.active.com/running/st-paul-mn/minnesota-state-capitol-run-work-day-5k-2010) that have made a difference.

    3. What are the significant events that have shaped you to become who you are today?

    • Grew up in extreme poverty in China.
    • Met some Christians and became a Christian in the U.S.

    4. What are the realizations you got in each event that helped you become who you are?

    • To be grateful and content with what I have. I want only what I need.
    • There is more to life than what I can see and touch physically. There is life after death. There need to be a balance in life, body, mind, spirit.

    5. What are the biggest things you’ve learned about yourself, looking back in the past X years?

    • Knowing is easier than doing. Putting what I know into practice is one of the biggest challenges for me.

    I have to think more about the answer.

    Day 13 – Getting feedback from others

    Today is Day 13 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 13 is about getting feedback from others for some external perspectives and to uncover our blind spots, so we gain new levels of knowledge/awareness about ourselves.

    The task is not about pinpointing faults or pulling someone down; it’s about being a better person and being the best we can be. Others’ feedback is meant to be an agent to help us improve and grow.

    The more we know about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the better we can be.

    What a great idea, I thought. 

    “But this is hard to do.” Here came my second thought right after.

    Whom should I ask? Who will share honest, objective feedback and not sugar coated one? Do I put myself and other people in an awkward position?

    Questions like that were popping up in my mind.

    I could feel some resistance and fear.

    I am not afraid of hearing negative feedback about myself. In fact I always welcome negative comments if they are offered in a constructive manner and with good intention.

    I guess I am just a little bit uncomfortable bringing the topic up, opening up myself more, and putting people in an umcomfortable position.

    I think I am an extrovert when it comes to talking with strangers or people who are not close to me.

    Yesterday the weather was perfect. I took a walk around the lake in Wedgewood Park. I saw quite a few women walking alone. Since I like to talk and get to know people, I initiated a conversation with a middle aged woman. I found out that she works at 3M and just came back from her trip to Shanghai. We talked about the Shanghai Expo. We had a great time talking and walking together, for a very short time.

    After she left and during my second round of walking, I initiated a conversation with another woman who was listening to her music. I found out that she works for the school district, so we talked about different schools in Woodbury. Obviously the woman enjoyed our talk as well, because she walked some extra distance than she planned. It was so much more interesting when you have someone to talk with while walking.

    I could struck a conversation with people at the airport, in the airplane, in the checkout line, at parties. I am not shy in that aspect.

    We live in a society that is dominated by shallow conversations. At least that’s how I feel.

    We talk a lot, but mostly about not so important stuff, even among family members and good friends.

    I grew up in a family where we didn’t talk a lot. My father is the best handyman I know. He can do and fix almost anything in the house. But he is not a man of word. Growing up, I was definitely an introvert.

    I am still an introvert when it comes to talking about feelings and inner most thoughts. Writing comes so much easier for me. The hard part is not keeping such conversation going after someone takes the initial step, the hard part is for me to take the first step.

    Asking for feedback requires some time and thinking on the other party. Nowadays everyone is so busy. It also requires courage and trust to say the truth. I feel hesitant to ask for such a favor tht’s not so easy to do. 

    But I believe this task of getting feedback is an important one. I will overcome any resistance and do it. Ideally, this should be something I do regularly as Celes does.

    I so admire her wisdom and passion in becoming the best she can be.

    I just sent out my request to a few people via email. Now it’s time (1 am 9/14/2010) for bed. I am already feeling better and energized for having overcome my initial resistence.

    Day 12 – Declutter

    Today is Day 12 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 12 is about decluttering. This is a topic that is both easy and difficult for me.

    I say easy because I think I know all the what/why/how. I have always liked to read books/articles/e-newsletters on decluttering and getting organized. I have written articles about it myself. So it’s something I am very familiar with.

    On the other hand, it’s also something difficult for me, because I struggle with putting what I know into action.

    Among the 9 areas suggested for decluttering by Celes, email is the easiest one for me to tackle. So today I spent most of my time clearing my cluttered email inbox.

    I subscribe to numerous e-newsletters and blog updates. As the result, I get quite a few emails every day. Since my 7-week vacation in China, I have accumulated a lot of emails.

    Today I deleted more than 100 emails from my inbox. But I still have almost 500 emails to go through that I will either delete or file away in folders.

    It’s a start.

    Armless pianist

    A 23-year-old man from China has made headlines after he appeared on China’s Got Talent show last month. He played “Mariage D’amour” with his toes, and he made beautiful music. 

    Liu Wei lost both of his arms to amputation after a childhood accident. He uses his feet to do pretty much everything, including brushing his teeth. He started playing piano with his feet at age 19. 

    It’s an incredible and inspiring story. 

    You can view Liu Wei’s performance on Youtube.

    My favorite blogs

    If you have time to read only one or two blogs, what would that be? In another word, what is your absolutely favorite blog(s)?

    My answer today is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, creator and writer of not only Zen Habits, but also mnmlist.com (on minimalism) and Write To Done (for writers and bloggers).  Zen Habits is one of the Top 25 blogs in the world, with about 200K readers. It is on the Best Blogs of 2010 list.

    Babauta’s blogs cover topic such as simple living, frugal living, health and wellness, vegan, writing, blogging, books, creativity, finance, productivity, etc., all favorite subjects of mine.

    And what I also love about this guy is his sharing spirit. He writes in Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content that he grants full permission to use any of his content on his blogs or in his ebook, in any way you like. He releases his copyright on all content.

    I spent some time today reading Babauta’s blogs. What he writes resonates deeply with me. It doesn’t take long to win me over as a fan. I signed up for updates. I am going to spend more time reading his articles.

    For me it is something very exciting when I find like-minded people in the blogsphere.

    Babauta is also the author of The Power of Less.

    My another favorite blog is The Personal Excellence by Celestine Chua. I wrote about that here.

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    BFSU anniversary celebration

    From 1981 to 1985 I went to the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) to study German. Today I received an email invitation from the university’s German Department for its 60th anniversary celebration in October.

    I would love to go back and meet my college classmates. There were about 40 of us in two classes. We studied together and lived together on campus dorms for 4 years. It was definitely one of the most important time in my life. But too bad I can’t go back for the anniversary celebration.

    We had our first and last class reunion in Beijing in Aug. 2005 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our graduation. I went back for that purpose. Most of our 40 some classmates attended the reunion. It was great to meet friends again after so many years. Some didn’t change much, some changed more due to added extra weight.     

    This summer when I went back to China, I met a few classmates again in Beijing, but not a lot. Most of us are now scattered around the globe, some living in different cities in China, some in Germany and other German speaking European countries, one in Canada and one in the US. It’s hard to get together.

    I certainly wish BFSU a great anniversary celebration and those who can attend a great time.

    Art teacher needed

    I am looking for an art teacher who teaches private or small group art lessons to elementary and middle school age students.

    If you know an art teacher or artist in Woodbury who can teach private lessons on weekends, please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email.

    Thanks a lot.

    Photos from Shanghai Expo

    I took about 5000 photos during my trip in China this summer. I am going to share some of them when I have time.

    I visited the Shanghai Expo on July 2, see my blog post here.


    We were following the tour guide and waiting with a huge crowd of people to get into the Expo.

     At the security checkpoint.

    The line at the US Pavilion was so long it would take about 4 hours to get in. And this was not even the most popular Pavilion. The most popular one is Saudi Arabia which could take up to eight hours in the waiting line. I didn’t even bother to check it out. So I had no photos. Recently I heard that people are not standing in the line, they are laying on the ground in the line. Crazy!

    We waited for half an hour at the Canadian Pavilion, the longest time we were willing to take. 


    The only goody my kids got at this huge Expo was this paper Canadian flag.


    We couldn’t get into the China, US and Germany Pavilions as we would like to, but at least I took this photo in front of the China Pavilion. 

    In the 10 pavilions we visited, we mostly saw pictures …

      Or TV screens like this. 


    I liked the fense made with the plants.

     My brother went with us.

    Days 9-11 – Catch up days

    Today is Day 9 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 9-Day 11 are set aside as catch-up days due to the fact that many people have fallen behind with their tasks.

    I have completed the previous 8 days’ tasks. However, on some days, I didn’t do a complete job. But still, they consumed most of my free time at night. So it’s good to have a break.

    Maybe I will have time to post something else.

    Day 8 – Creating your 80/20 To Do list

    Today is Day 8 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 8 is about how to spend your time wisely and prioritize your daily activities.

    Today’s post and tasks are a good reminder of the 80/20 principle and the 4 Quadrants time management matrix (see Putting First Things First). 

    When creating your to-do list, focus on the 20% tasks that have 80% value and impact. And focus on Quadrant 2 (Quadrant of Quality and Personal Leadership) tasks, things that are not urgent but important.

    I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First by Stephen R. Covey several years ago. They are excellent and highly recommended. I should reread them when I have time.

    Day 7 – Creating your action plan

    Today is Day 7 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 7 is about creating a plan to achieve the goals you have set for your life.  Your action plan is like a guide which brings you from where you are to where you want to be.

    Following Celes’s instruction and steps for creating the action plan, I came up with the following example of an action plan:

    Pick my goal:

    One of my goals I wrote yesterday but has been on my mind for at least more than a year is to help my daughter get her poems published.

    Set my project title: “Aspiring  Young Poet”

    Establish my goal:

    What and why of the goal? My 10 year old daughter has written several hundreds of poems in the last two years. She won the 1st place for her poem collection twice in the row in the last two years at the Minnesota State Fair. I was so proud of her. Her ability to write poems is quite amazing to me. As an aspiring writer myself whose biggest dream is to be an author, I definitely would like my daughter to become a writer and author too. I know she has great potential. I want to get her poems published to encourage her in her writing and to prove that she is good at writing poems and she will be an author someday.

    How will I feel? I would feel even more happy and proud of my daughter if I can help get her poems published. It’s a dream come true for her and more importantly for me.


    Obstacles: Rejection from agents and publishers will happen.

    Be prepared for that. Don’t get discouraged and quit. Remember most authors get rejected many times before they become successful. Persistence is the key.

    Understand that publishing is a very tough business. The market for poetry is even more tough. Most agents and publishers are not interested in poetry because it is not profitable.

    I will explore the commercial publishing, but also see self-publishing as an alternative. 

    Resources: Books and Internet.


    Sept.-Dec. 2010 – 

    • Read books and surf Internet to find potential agents and publishers who are interested in poetry.
    • Learn to write query letters.
    • Learn more about self publishing.
    • Help my daughter pick the best poems and more editing

    Jan. 2011 or earlier if I am ready –

    • Contact agents and publishers

     2012 –

    • Book published
    • Create a website for Amy and her book
    • Selling copies at school fundraising events and donate some profits to school

    Day 6 – Setting life goals

    Today is Day 6 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 6 is about setting your life goals. What do you want to achieve in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years? What are your goals in life?

    Setting goals is planning for your future.

    Alan Lakein, a well-known personal time management guru, author of  How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, said the following:

    “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

    “In all planing you make a list and you set priorities.”

    “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

    Alan Lakein’s three questions for setting goals are:

    1. What are your lifetime goals?
    2. What are your goals for the next 3 years?
    3. If you knew now you would be struck by lightning six months from today, how would you live until then?

    Now how do you set goals?

    The short answer is think SMART.

    • S = Specific
    • M = Measurable
    • A = Attainable
    • R = Realistic
    • T = Timely

    For some more explanation, please visit Arina’s Goal setting guide website.

    I have not created a detailed list of my personal goals for 1, 3 and 5 years. I am just throwing out a few that come easily to my mind. Excuse me that I am not doing it in the SMART way.


    • Finish a project that I started a few months ago but have kept putting off.
    • Continue working on the book club (Commissioner’s Reading Corner) and interview every senior manager at Mn/DOT (I am more than half way through)
    • Get my position reclassified (The request was submitted a few months ago, but it got stuck somewhere)
    • Publish at least one book, a bestseller is the dream (I have a couple of books with my name in them, but I am not the sole author)
    • Publish more articles in magazines/newspapers   


    • Get my mortgage paid off earlier and be debt-free
    • Buy a newer van to replace my current 10 year old van
    • Get a raise


    • Take time to write letters/notes to people (I often think of some people but fail to express it)
    • Get together (in face or virtually) with like-minded people and develop more friendships
    • Keep in touch with old friends more often


    • Be more patient and loving with my kids (I demand a lot from them and get inpatient when they don’t follow my instruction and meet my expectations)
    • Show more love and respect for people in my life and family (I tend to be more critical and less tolerant with people around me)
    • Help my daughter get her poems published (She won the 1st place for her poem collection twice in the row in the last two years at the Minnesota State Fair. I want to get her poems published to encourage her in her writing)


    • Keep volunteering for different committees and events at work (Health & Wellness, Run @ Work Day, Brown Bag Learning) and in my community (Woodbury Days, Writing this Areavoices blog)

    Personal growth:

    • Continue working on the 30DLBL challenge even after it’s over (catch up on unfinished tasks, review and revise)
    • Continue read books and articles on personal development
    • Take workshops and classes on topics of interest (writing)


    • Be an early riser, even on weekend (I tend to sleep in on weekends)
    • Do walking, yoga or other activities daily (It’s hard to keep doing these important, but not urgent things. Other urgent tasks tend to grasp my time and attention) 
    • Go from current 90% vegetarian to 100% vegetarian (I mostly gave up on meat, but still like to eat seafood occasionally) 


    • Read Bible daily (again, important, but not urgent things get pushed aside)
    • Learn to meditate

    Day 5 – Identifying your values

     Today is Day 5 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 5 is about identifying your values.

    What values/qualities are important for you in life?  What are the traits you want to embody? What kind of person do you want to be?

    I came up with a list of about 40 that are important to me.

    I narrowed my list down to the following five values/categories:

    • Authenticity – Passion, creativity, mindfulness, consciousness, confidence, honesty, truthfulness, integrity 
    • Diligence – Responsibility, Discipline, self-control, resilience, perseverance, independent
    • Contentment – God, faith, love, kindness, gratitude, thankfulness, generosity, abundance, compassion, giving, simplicity, resourcefulness, frugality 
    • Open-mindedness – Positive, optimistic, diversity
    • Humility – Wisdom, knowledge, life-long learning, growth, self-improvement, inspiration, encouragement

    I have to confess that valuing something and having it on my list of values does not mean that is already what I am or what I do well. No, it is something I value and strive for. I am a work in progress. I can always do better.

    Working on the life wheel, goals, vision board, mission statement and values in the last few days was a lot of work of thinking and soul searching, but it was fun. And it was great.

    Today after dinner and after I finished my task early in the day (instead of at midnight as usual), I went out for a walk. I felt clarity in my mind, joy in my heart, lightness in my steps and more energy radiating from me. The world around me looked more beautiful.

    BTW, If you need some ideas to help you identify your values, you can check out the list of values available on Steve Pavlina’s personal development website. I found it pretty comprehensive.

    Day 4 – Mission statement

    Today is Day 4 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 4 is about creating your mission statement that answers the question: “What is my objective and purpose of life?” or “Why am I here for?”

    I created a mission statement last year when I went to a personal/leadership development workshop. I am ashamed to say that I have never looked at it again after I wrote it.

    When I can dig it out, I will compare it to what I write today. My guess is they are pretty close.

    Here is my mission statement. Now I want to share it with the world and keep it open, not hidden again somewhere.

    • To learn and grow
    • To inform and inspire
    • To love and give
    • To live an authentic and purposeful life

    Day 3 – Vision board

     Today is Day 3 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 3 is about making your dreams, your wishes, your ideals, your deepest hopes and desires, your truest passions in life come alive visually.

    Using pictures to visually represent your goals, to serve as an immediate reminder of what you want , is a powerful driving force in reaching your goals.

    The pictures below represent some of my passions that I shared yesterday. This is my vision board.

    Day 2 – What I am passionate about

    Today is Day 2 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 2 is about living your ideal life. What are your dreams, your wishes, your ideals, your deepest hopes and desires, your truest passions in life?

    I want to share a few things that I feel passionate about.

    • Writing – Writing is the thing that makes me forget time and everything.
    • Reading – Reading gives me joy. It is the best entertainment, free for all.
    • Library – I love libraries. Libraries are the best place to go and visit. There is no other place like library.
    • Lifelong learning – Learning is a lifelong process. It should never stop as long as we are alive.
    • Personal growth – We may stop growing physically, but we should not stop growing intellectually, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
    • Green living – Being resourceful and protecting the environment is our human responsibility.
    • Frugal living – Living below our means will bring financial security.
    • Voluntary simplicity – I choose to live simple, not because I have to, but because I want to.
    • Healthy living – Health is a choice. I choose to eat healhty and live a healthy lifestyle.
    • Financial freedom – Financial freedom allows me to pursue my interests and passions.
    • Gardening – Gardening brings me joy, in addition to fresh food.
    • Volunteering – Sharing your time, talent and treasure will multiply what you have to give.
    • Spirituality – We are more than our body. There is more to life than what we can see. Finding balance in body, mind and spirit is important.

    Day 1 – Life wheel assessment

    Today is Day 1 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge. If you have not signed up for the challenge, you can still do so at the Personal Excellence Blog website.

    The first task in today’s challenge is to assess where you are using the life wheel. The purpose of the task is to become aware and be clear about where you are in life now.

    I have to say it is not easy to score myself. While I do OK or well in some segments, my scores are very low in other segments.

    But no matter how terribly we fail and feel today, knowing where we are and where we want to go is the first step in the right direction.

    Middle school challenge

    Lake Middle School had open house at 4-6 pm. I went with my kids after work.

    Andy didn’t want to go at all. He said he had already been to Back to School kick off last Thursday, “Why do I have to go again? It’s a waste of time.”

    I had to talk him into going, so we could meet his new teachers.

    We listened to a brief presentation by a group of his core subject teachers. I still don’t remember who is who, but at least I have met them.

    I filled out the emergency card and Andy bought a Lake t-shirt and shorts for his gym class.

    That’s all we did.

    After three months of break, Andy is not looking forward to school. I would be very excited to going back to school and learn new things, but he is not. That’s a concern.

    I do hope that after he gets back to the routine of school life in a few days, he will like school and have a wonderful and successful school year ahead of him.

    I think the middle school (or high school) environment in the US can be challenging for some young kids. They no longer have a home room where they take the same classes with the same group of students all the time, as it is in elementary schools. Now each student has his own schedule. He goes to different classes, his classmates are different in each subject class.

    While there are advantages in individualizing every student’s schedule, I think there are also some disadvantages. One of them is lack of bonding between students.

    From elementary school all the way through college in China, I had fixed classrooms with classroom teachers and the same classmates for each class. 

    Even at college, most of my lessons at that time were in small classes with about 20 students. Over the four years of studying together and living in the same dorm together, we got to know each other really well and built a strong bond. We stay in touch long after graduation.

    When I went to universities in Germany and the US, I had to select and take classes by myself. I lived off the campus and was a come-and-go student. I didn’t get to know any classmates who were different from class to class.    

    Having no relationship with any classmates or teachers at either universities I went to in Germany and the US, I don’t feel any strong connection with either institutions.

    When I think of my middle school and college in China, I feel a stronger connection, because I had a closer relationship with some classmates and teachers. Better connecting and bonding with people lead to closer association and bonding with institutions.

    Our middle schools did try to create a more intimate environment by dividing students in each grade into two smaller houses, so they don’t feel totally lost and alone. It’s good to see some familiar faces wherever you go.

    That’s the comment I heard a couple of time today. “Oh, good, our kids are in the same house. At least they know someone.”

    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 AreaVoices.com. AreaVoices.com 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.  


    Cultural shock

    When I came to the US in 1991 after spending 22 years in China and 5 years in Germany, I had this one word to describe my first impression: "big."

    Everything looked big to me: big milk/juice containers, big stores, big houses, big people, etc. I had never seen milk/juice in a gallon container. I had never seen so many obese people.

    This time when I went back to China, I experienced a similar cultural shock, even though it was only five years from my last trip to China.

    The word that keeps coming to me during my seven week stay in China was: "over."

    So much is over-priced, over-packaged, over-consumed. It’s over and super(ficial) to the extreme.

    Gifts are extremely over packaged to make them look big, nice and expensive. A few ounces of tea leaves could be packaged in layers and layers and end up weighing several pounds. Often times the packaging looks more costly than the contents in the packages.

    I could care less if someone carries a $1 bag or a $2000 bag, or if someone wears a $10 watch or one that costs a Mercedes Benz. But in China nowadays, plenty of people do care about what they use and have. Expensive brand name products are in high demand. They spend big money on consumer products and housing.

    The way how some people consume and spend is beyond my understanding. It’s just crazy in my mind.

    Parents, there is hope

    My cubicle got a face lift today. It was painted fresh with a new color.

    The painter is a nice guy, a grandpa with two grown up kids and two grandkids. I had a casual conversation with him, about kids.

    I told him that my kids are getting on my nerves more than ever this year. They are 12 and 10 years old. They used to get along OK, they fought but not that much.

    This year, things have changed for the worse. My son is getting very naughty. He likes to be sarcastic, say silly things to deliberately tease and annoy his sister, to make fun of her and provoke her. In his own word: "I like to torture her."

    When I asked him, "Why do you do this to Amy? Do you behave like this with your friends?"

    He said: "No, only with Amy, because we are family and she won’t mind."

    My daughter is quick in response and action. When she gets annoyed and mad by Andy’s comments, which always happens, she reacts immediately and starts to chase him down and hit him. He let her hit, laughing or crying. 

    I told Amy numerous times: "You do not need to react to his comments. The more you react, the more funny it is for him, and he will do more. If you ignore him, it won’t be fun for him and he will stop doing it." 

    But my advise has fallen on deaf ears. 

    Meanwhile, they are still fighting and chasing each other every day. 

    It’s getting frustrating for me. 

    Just last Sunday I told them when they were fighting in the car for no reason: "You guys provide the best entertainment. You don’t need TV or games at all. Just watching yourself fighting is more entertaining than anything on TV." Yelling won’t help. I tried to take it easy. 

    Is this a teenage phenomenal? 

    I asked the painter, "What about your kids?" His son and daughter are two years apart as well. 

    He responded, "That happened to us. I remember a couple of times I had to pull the car over. I almost lost it. But don’t worry, there is hope. It will pass. When they get into high school, they will change. My kids are getting along just fine now." 

    My brother witnessed my kids’ bad behaviour when we were in China recently. He said the same thing. "Don’t worry. They will stop fighting in a couple of years." 

    I know I have hope. It’s just getting through it right now is not so fun and easy. 

    Just like for my daughter, it’s hard not to react. 

    I don’t remember ever fighting with my brother who is three years old than I. A few times my brother got into fights with boys in the neighborhood, and many times he got into trouble with our Dad who had a hot temper, but he never fought with me. We never fought for anything. We were pretty quiet kids. 

    He told me recently: "I hit you twice when we were kids, because you cried and it annoyed me. I have regretted it ever since to this day." 

    I would never know it had he not told me. 

    Won’t it be nice if my kids were siblings like my brother and I?

    One minute they were having fun playing together, laughing.


    The next minute they were fighting like the worst enemies, punching and yelling at each other.

    (Photos were taken 7/27/2010) 


    Public transportation in China

    If you think the United States is still the #1 in the world, you need to wake up a little bit. At least in some areas, US has been left behind by other countries.

    During my recent visit to China, I traveled by car, bus, taxi, subway, train and airplane. I felt that public transportation and multi-mode transportation in China are far more advanced than in the US.

    Beijing used to be the only city in China that had subways. Now many cities have or are building subway systems including my hometown Suzhou.

    Getting around in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai by bus and subways is convenient and often faster than by cars due to congestion.

    To travel long distance from city to city, you can take bus, train or plane. The slow trains I knew in college years are being replaced by high speed rail in China. China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network.

    In the 1980’s, when I visited my parents’ home during summer and winter breaks by train that ran from Beijing to Shanghai, the train ride took over 20 hours. It was very crowded and always packed to full capacity, with no room to move around. Many passengers had no seats and had to stand.

    Now the whole train ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes less than 10 hours. When the new high speed rail that’s under construction is completed, it will take probably 6-7 hours only.

    When I traveled from Xian to Mount Hua, I took the high speed rail train that can reach top speed of 350 km/h (220 mph). Everyone has seat. It was very clean and nice. It took only 45 minutes to get to the destination. It could have taken a few hours by car.

    The US definitely needs to upgrade its infrastructure to keep up with the world.

    No more big crowd waiting for the high speed rail train. It stops for only one minute at the Xian Railway Station. Every passenger needs a ticket with assigned seat to get on. 



    The train is dusted and cleaned during its short stop.


    It’s comfy inside the high speed rail train.

    Freeways in China, free, but not free

    In urban areas in China, roads are very congested. Especially in the old areas of cities, where the roads are narrow and were not built to handle the car traffic that didn’t exist years ago.

    But in the newly developed areas of cities like in Suzhou and Wuxi, roads are much wider with multiple lanes, I didn’t see any congestion.

    In my experience, freeways or highways in China are really free in the sense of traffic flow. However, they are not free in the financial sense. Actually driving on highways is very costly.

    The 90-minute driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport costs 180 RMB (ca. $26) in toll charge. It is more than two days of income for an average worker in China.

    I think the hefty tolls on freeways is the biggest reason why freeways in China are not as congested as in the US.

    I took the following photos because of the impressive bridges. They also show the free traffic on freeways.

    On my way from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to my parents’ home in Suzhou. No vehicles in front of us at 1 pm, Saturday, May 29, 2010.

    On my way from Suzhou to Ningbo, 3 pm, Friday, June 4, 2010.          The Hangzhou Bay Bridge, at 35.673 km (22 mi) in length, is the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world.

    On my way from Ningbo to Putuoshan (Mount Putuo), 4 pm, Saturday, June 5, 2010. I passes several bridges because Putuoshan is one of the 1000 islands of the Zhoushan Archipelago in the East China Sea. Newly constructed bridges are connecting the islands.

    My favorite crocs

    Last year I bought a pair of crocs , my first pair, at Walmart. I saw everyone was wearing crocs. It must be good. I should give it a try too.

    It was on sale for less than $5. I loved the good deal. So I bought it. But I didn’t use it that much.

    When I went on my trip to China two months ago in May, instead of wearing my athletic or tennis shoes as I used to do for trips, I took my crocs plus two pairs of slippers.

    In China men and women mostly wear dress shoes, not tennis shoes. They wear dress shoes not just to work, but outside of work too. I even saw women wear high heels in parks doing sightseeing. Tennis shoes are not as popular as in the US. My brother does not even have tennis shoes. He wears dress shoes or cotton fabric shoes.

    So I thought I would take and wear my crocs instead of tennis shoes. My crocs are very comfy and extremely lightweight. They are good for sunny days and rainy days. They can be used outdoor and indoor when I take a shower. I could use them all the time. It would reduce my luggage weight. And I took two pairs of slippers just in case, for more formal occasions.

    It turned out that my crocs saved my life, well at least my feet. I used them during my seven weeks in China almost exclusively. I hardly touched my other two pairs of shoes.

    I wore my crocs when I climbed the Mount Hua. As you can see from the following websites (http://www.zoomstart.com/huashan-teahouse-hike http://www.ssqq.com/ARCHIVE/vinlin27d.htm), it is not an average mountain. Even though I took the cable car up and didn’t climb to the very top of the mountain. I still had to do a lot of walking and climbing. My crocs served me well all the way to the North Peak. It was more comfortable than my tennis shoes.

    I wore my crocs to the Shanghai World Expo. I was on my feet the whole day walking. my feet were tired, but they could be worse without my comfy crocs.

    I also wore my crocs to many formal dinners in restaurants with relatives, classmates or other people I didn’t know who are my husband’s friends.

    When I went out with my mom to visit relatives, she would say something like: "Don’t you want to change your shoes?" I knew she didn’t think highly of my crocs. It’s too informal and not very respectful when meeting people. But I didn’t care so much. I just loved the comfort.

    By the end of my seven week’s trip, my crocs were pretty beat up and worn out. It became slippery when the streets were wet. I could feel bumpy rocks when I walked on unpaved roads.

    I wanted to buy a new pair to replace it. I looked in different stores and street vendor booths, but couldn’t find a pair that is as good as the one I have. They are mostly more hardy and plastic, not as soft and rubbish as my crocs. So I couldn’t get a replacement.

    I wore my old crocs back to the US, it was almost new seven weeks ago, hoping when I go back to Walmart I can still find a new pair of corcs just like mine, and better yet, at the same price.

    Wearing my crocs to the North Peak of Mount Hua that is at 1614 meters above the sea level.

    I climbed on my hands and feet on to the rock. I had to hold tight to the post for fear of falling down from the rock.

    Recycling in China

    When it comes to protecting the environment, people in China don’t care about it as much as people in the US do. But when it comes to recycling and reusing, Chinese probably do as much, if not more, than Americans.

    They do it mostly for a different reason. They can make some money for recycling.

    My parents in China save all newspapers and water bottles. Once they accumulate enough, they take them to a collection center. They get paid for the papers and plastics by weight.

    When my parents got a new microwave recently, they sold the old one to a repair shop in the neighborhood. The parts can be reused.

    There are all kinds of repair shops on the streets in their neighborhood. You can have electronics and watches repaired. You can have new clothes made or old ones amended and fixed. You can also sell furniture or other stuff to people who collect them on the street.

    Many times I saw people who were picking plastic bottles from trash cans on streets, at bus stops or in parks. They are not motivated by environmental concerns, but by a desire to make money. Some make a living from doing that.

    In China recycling is considered an activity done by poor people with low social status. That’s why my brother is not very supportive of my parents doing recycling. In his opinion, they don’t lack that kind of money to be bothered with recycling.

    I, on the other hand, thought it was a good idea. So I supported my parents’ recycling efforts during my visit with them by saving my water bottles.

    I believe everyone can make a difference. Every little bit of effort counts. 

    Greening the workplace

    I am kind of peculiar when it comes to living green. 

    I recycle and reuse to some extreme. I would take a small piece of paper that my kids throw in the trash and put it in the paper recycling bag. I would clean a plastic food container or a sandwich bag and reuse them. 

    I have been doing composting all year around for 10 years, ever since I got my first garden in the first house we bought. I enjoy doing it because I can reduce the trash output and enrich the soil in the garden. It’s good for the environment. 

    The peculiar thing I do? I always bring my food scraps home from work. I eat different kinds of fruit every day, so I usually have fruit peels. Instead of throwing them in the trash, I take them home. 

    Today I got a new idea – composting at work. 

    Since I take my food scraps home anyway, why don’t I take it one step further by offering the opportunity to my co-workers in the office? 

    So I put an ice cream bucket out in the break room. On the lid I wrote: 

    Qin’s Compost at Work

    What to Compost:

    • Fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Coffee ground 

    NO spoiled food and meat! 

    It makes me feel good to help protect the environment by doing my part in reducing and recycling whenever I can. 

    We’ll see how my composting at work goes.

    Independence vs. entitlement

    Yesterday we had Pastor Vince Larson from San Diego as our guest speaker at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury. A young pastor in his 20’s, Larson co-founded Anchor Gaslamp Church in San Diego.

    I was impressed and inspired by his message on how we should not only have faith and know the truth, but also live out the faith and truth in action.

    Larson shared a little bit from his life. He mentioned that both he and his wife were laid off at one time, but God provided in miraculous ways, including getting some financial help from parents and friends.

    "It was killing my pride to have to accept charity from others," he said.

    His words struck me, as my mind was still fresh with stories I heard in China about how young people feel entitled to all the help they can get from their parents.

    Generally speaking, I think young people in the US have a better sense of independence and responsibility. They start working and living independently from their parents at a young age. They are independent and self supportive.

    I heard that some young people here don’t like to take free money from their parents. If they need money, they borrow and repay back, even with interests. That is unheard of in China.

    I have relatives in China who work their tails off even after their retirement so they can help their kids buy a house (apartment), a car, or other stuff, and take care of grand kids.

    I know young people in their 20’s or older who live off their parents, even after their marriage. They feel entitled to their parents’ life savings, and parents feel responsible for providing everything for their kids.

    There is a lack of independence and responsibility among young people in China. It’s partly because of parents’ overindulgence in children.

    No doubt, parents in China are very giving and selfless towards their children. But when it reaches the point of overindulgence, it creates problems.

    There is a lot to learn from parents in the US to teach kids independence and responsibility at a young age, so they develop a healthy sense of pride and self reliance.


    The most skilled drivers

    I think China has the most skilled and aggresive drivers in the world. They can drive by each other within inches. 

    While in China, I didn’t dare to drive. I don’t have the skills to drive and navigate between vehicles and passengers. I got nervious just sitting in my brother’s car and saw how he and other people drove. 

    I knew my brother is a very good and skilled driver. He drives for a living and is on the road a lot. He is known for his excellent skills. Still I couldn’t help being nervious when I saw him getting too close to other vehiles or driving the wrong way. People do that because there is less traffic on the other side.

    He told me a few times: "Don’t worry. I know what I am doing." 

    Personal vehicles have increased tremendously in China. In old aprtment buildings and residential areas, there is no parking space. So people have to park on the narrow streets. If cars are parked on both sides, there is barely enough space for moving traffic. 

    While walking, I had to be alert for traffic. Often I had to stop and step aside to let a car pass. 

    At all levels of governments and government agencies, organizations and businesses in China, business vehicles are in abundant supply. Officials with some power and status have business vehicles for their exclusive use, both for business and personal purposes. 

    My brother drives for an official exclusively with one vehicle, and he has another business vehicle for his own use. It is an older one that has been replaced by a new one.

    I told my brother that in Minnesota state government, very few, probably only the governor and lieutenant governor have exclusive business vehicles with chauffeurs. In response he said: "China is very currupt." 

    Now too many personal and business vehicles in China, too much traffic, you need good skills to be able to drive in that environment.

    Good to be home

    I got back home yesterday afternoon. It was raining in Twin Cities.

    This morning on my way to work, it took me a few minutes to get used to driving, because I hadn’t driven for seven weeks.

    The first thing I noticed was the greenery in the neighborhood and the blue sky. The green grass and trees, the white cloud in the bright and blue sky, the freshness and quietness in the air, the clear view and high visibility, the wide and clean streets, everything looks so beautiful and refreshing.

    I missed all these while in China. During the whole seven weeks there, I don’t think I had seen the sun and the blue sky. It always looked gray and foggy.

    In most places it was noisy and crowded. The streets were so busy and full of traffic, I had to be on alert while walking.

    It feels good to be back home. And once again I notice and appreciate things I have taken for granted.

    Getting through US Customs

    Yesterday when I went through the US Customs upon my reentry to the US, I was asked to go for baggage inspection. I wasn’t surprised.

    As soon as I handed in my passport and the agent verified it in the computer, my passport was handed over to another agent standing by the window who then told me: "After you get the luggage, follow the blue line for inspection."

    I knew I was on the blacklist for a reason.

    Five years ago when I returned from my last trip to China, I had two small bags of snack made from beef and wrapped in candy paper in my suitcase that my mother bought for kids. I didn’t think it as a meat product and is prohibited and didn’t declare it.

    After I got my baggage I was done and could leave. But I was waiting for someone to go through the customs who didn’t know English and might need some help.

    I waited and waited near the inspection area. I probably became suspicious and was called by an inspector to go over and open my suitcases.

    I was fined for failing to declare the meat product and had to pay $100 for the mistake.

    It was during the Chinese Moon Festival season. I saw boxes and boxes of Chinese Moon cakes in and outside of the trash canes. These were nice and expensive products, but they are prohibited because they contain eggs.

    I learned a lesson.

    This time I knew better. I didn’t bring fresh fruits and vegetables, plant and meat products, eggs, seeds and soil. They are restricted because they may carry animal and plant pests and diseases.

    On the customs form I wrote down all food related items I have in details: candies, cookies, crackers, dried fruits, dried shrimps and processed fish.

    Most of my suitcases were opened for inspection. Everything passed.

    I asked the inspector whether I will be inspected ever time I go through the customs. She said: "You will be fine if you keep doing what you are doing."

    To prevent any trouble I had experienced, don’t bring anything that is not allowed and declare food if you have it and write down what you have.

    Here is the listing of Prohibited and Restricted Items from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

    Going home

    How time flies. It’s been almost 7 weeks since I came back to China. Now I am going back home to Woodbury tomorrow.

    I wish I had more time to do things I didn’t or forgot to do.

    Time to shop and pack again. That’s what I did in the last two days.

    The big mistake I made was I packed too many clothes for the trip. Some I have never used during the whole trip. Now I have to carry them all back. That’s something I should remember for the next time.

    I have to get up at 5 am tomorrow to catch up the flight at 9:40 am in Shanghai.



    High security

    China has high security all the times, more so during special events.

    Last week when my brother drove me to Shanghai to visit relatives, we were stopped at the security checkpoint and had to show our IDs. I don’t have Chinese ID. Luckily my father reminded me to bring my passport before I left home, so I showed my passport.

    Inside the World Expo in Shanghai, there are police marching here and there. On Tiananmen Square in Beijing, I saw the same thing.

    All the government buildings are highly guarded in China. No one can get in without special permission. The average citizens have no way to get into those buildings.

    What is the government afraid of, its own people?

    When I tell relatives or friends that in Minnesota, all local and state government buildings are open to the public. I can walk into the state capitol any time. I can visit the reception room when the governor meets guests as long as it is not in use. I can meet with representatives if I want to.

    The response I usually get is: "In America, there are democracy and human rights, but not in China."


     World Expo in Shanghai

      Tiananmen Square in Beijing

    Going to movie theater

    Being on vacation and back in my parents’ home, I am down to a very slow pace. There is no hurry in life. There is not much to do every day.

    My kids are watching more TV. And they are getting into more fights with each other.

    Though they are a boy and a girl, but since they are only 1 1/2 years apart in age, they play together but also fight a lot.

    If one is not around for a while, the other gets bored.

    My son likes to tease his little sister to provoke her and get a laugh, then my daughter gets mad and fights back.

    They laugh, fight, yell, and cry every day. It drives my parents nuts. They are not used to that much noise.

    To kill time, I took them to the movie theater to watch a movie today.

    I hadn’t watched a movie for over 10 years, not since my son was born in 1998. I would rather read a book than watching a movie. I remember the last two movies I watched were the Bridge of Madison County and Titanic.

    We watched the Karate Kid, an American movie with Jackie Chan. It was fun. I liked it.

    When I was a kid, movie theaters were huge in size. They could hold 1000 people. They were full. Watching movies was cheap and popular.

    Nowadays, watching a movie is expensive and less popular.

    Chinese movie theaters are like those in the US, they are small. They show several movies at the same time. Each can hold about 100 people.

    For a Chinese who makes 3000 RMB a month, it costs about half a day’s income to watch one movie. That is expensive for the average salary earner.

    On the other hand, it is cheap to buy a movie on DVD. In addition, people have so many other choices for entertainment. So there are less people going to movie theaters now. There were only about 15 people in the theater when we watched the Karate Kid today.


    Meeting friend in Humble Administrator’s Garden


    Last Saturday I met with a high school classmate and we visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) together with our kids.

    Ying and I were in the same class during our last year in high school. We both went to universities in Beijing. I majored in German and she majored in English. We both have lived in the US for almost 20 years. I live in Minnesota and she lives in California. We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years until now. We happen to be back in our hometown at the same time for a vacation.

    We could recognize each other instantly. Not too much has changed with us. She said she could recognize me from the distance from the way I walk. I must have a unique way of walking. I don’t know.

    Zhuozheng Yuan is one of the four most famous gardens in Suzhou. It is full of toursits. Right now the water lilies are in bloom. They are beautiful.


      More photos are posted on my Facebook page.

    Shanghai World Expo

    Today I visited the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai with my kids and brother. My brother got us the ticktes that cover the World Expo admission and bus ride from Suzhou to Shanghai. 

    During the 1 1/2 hours of bus ride, I saw quite a lot of buses with special World Expo logos on highways. The buses bring loads of visitors to the Expo every day. Only those designated buses can get into the World Expo parking lots. The lot we used can hold more than 2000 buses, according to the tour guide. 

    We arrived at the destination shortly after 9 am. The gates were open at 9 am. There were still huge crowds waiting for security check. Just like at the airports, no water is allowed. You can buy bottled water or get water from the water fountains. 

    As expected, there are too many people and too long wait. There were 388,000 visitors today. 

    I wanted to visit the pavilions of China, US and Germany, unfortunately, I couldn’t get into any of those. 

    For the China Pavilion, you need an advance pass to get into it. You have to be a high rank government officials, or have connections, or get to the gates really early in the morning to get the passes. 

    For the Germany Pavilion, it was 4-5 hours of waiting time. 

    I heard from our tour guide that the USA Pavilion isn’t worth the wait. Visitors get to watch three videos. That’s all. So when I saw the crowd as big as for the Germany Pavilion, I didn’t even bother getting close and asking about the waiting time. 

    I ended up visiting about 12 pavilions that required short or no waiting time. The longest I had to wait was about 30 minutes for the Canada Pavilion. 

    Inside the pavilions there is really not much interesting stuff to see, mostly pictures, a few items from the representing countries or products for sale. Nothing impressing or surprising. 

    I had to walk so much, my feet got dead tired by the end of the day. I just wanted to get on the bus and get back home. 

    As for goodies that Americans are so accustomed to at special events, there was nothing. I got an Expo map and a paper fan, and my kids got a tiny Canadian paper flag at the Canada Pavilion.

    China made a big deal out of the World Expo. Everywhere I visited in the country, I saw the World Expo mascot. 

    If you can’t visit the World Expo, you don’t miss anything. In my opinion, it’s not worth spending the money, time, and effort to visit the Expo. 

    KFC vs. McDonald’s in China

    While McDonald’s is more popular in the US, the opposite is true in China. There are more KFCs in China, for two reasons.

    KFC entered the Chinese market earlier than McDonald’s. And Chinese like fried chicken better than hamburgers. KFC is a better match for Chinese taste.

    I had a hamburger only once in my life. It was almost 20 years ago, an American family invited me to McDonald’s and I had a Hambuerger. I don’t eat beef. The hamberger didn’t sit well with me, I felt like throwing up. I never touched another hamburger again.

    Though I don’t normally eat KFC either, but I don’t dislike fried chicken. They taste good.

    In my hometown Suzhou, every big supermarket has a KFC. The physical size of the KFC restaurants are much bigger than those in the US.

    McDonald’s are popular in China too, they are often next to each other in tourist areas.

    Rainy season

    During my trip within China from June 1 to June 20, I visited Maanshan, Nanjing, Wuxi, Ningbo, Putuoshan, Hangzhou, Xian, Huashan and Beijing. The weather was perfect the entire time, except in Hangzhou, where it rained. The rain ruined my visit and walk around the famous Hangzhou West Lake a little bit. 

    When I was back at my parent’s home in Suzhou, the summer started officially. So did the Asian rainy season. 

    The rainy season (Chinese: meiyu, literally plum rain) usually starts at the end of June and lasts a few weeks till July in Suzhou. 

    Since last week, it has been raining almost every day. Today it was so humid the vinyl floor in my parent’s apartment sweats constantly. There is no use to mop it. It gets wet and slippery again right after I mop it. 

    My parents live in an old apartment building that was built in the 1980’s. Unlike newer apartment buildings, there are no basements or underground parking space in those old buildings. Since they live on the ground floor, there is a lot of moisture during the June/July rainy season. 

    My Dad fell on the floor while trying to get up from his lazy chair today. Luckily, he was OK, so far. We had to put some pieces of carpet on the floor. 

    The current weather reminds me of the weather in Florida, hot and humid. We just don’t have sudden shower, but constant rain, all day long. It feels wet and sticky. 

    The high humidity in the air during this season causes mold to grow. Crispy crunchy food like seeds and nuts get dull after they are opened from the original packages which doesn’t happen in northern China and US. 

    Mother nature has been pretty good to Suzhou. There are no earthquakes, drought or flood, except the rainy season.  

    A name change brought good luck?

    Yesterday during a conversation, my brother said to me: “You made a few good decisions at a young age that changed your life for the better.”

    Comparing to my brother, I had a lot more good luck than he did in all aspects of life. The more I think about his words, the more I have to say: “You are right.”

    Name change

    I changed my first name from Zhen-Fang to Qin. I don’t remember exactly why and when it happened, probably when I was in elementary or middle school.

    Chinese first names usually consist of one or two characters. In the old days, they were two characters. The first character was pre-determined by the ancestors. So every male or female in the same generation in the extended family had the same first character in the first name. Only the second character was different for everyone.

    For example, all my father’s five brothers have the same first character “Fa” in their first name. All my mother’s five brothers and sisters have the same first character “Xue” in their first name.

    In my generation, all the male children from my father’s generation (my male cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Guang,” and all the female children (my female cousins from my father’s side) have the first character “Zhen.” I have over 20 cousins from my father’s side.

    So my given name at birth was “Zhen-Fang” (means treasure & fragrant).

    Apparently, I didn’t like my given name “Zhen-Fang.” It was too common and worldly. I wanted a different and more modern name which was a one-character name. So I asked my mom to changed my name.

    According to my brother, I was a lay back person. My mom wanted me to be more diligent and hard working, so she or I picked “Qin” as my new first name, only one character.

    I indeed was, or became, a very diligent and hardworking person. I studied really hard in school and at the universities.

    I remember I lived in a very crowded and noisy home environment. My family with my parents, my brother and I had only one small room as our living and bedroom. We shared a kitchen and dining room with several other families. There were families living above and around us.

    There were no privacy and quiet moment for study. During my last year at high school, I usually got home and slept for a few hours, and got up to study when everyone else went to bed. Then I slept for a few hours before going to school in the morning. That’s how I found quiet time so I could concentrate.

    School transfer

    One year before I graduated from high school, I asked to transfer from the high school in my neighborhood to a better one farhter away from my home, because I heard about a good English teacher there.

    My mom was a math teacher in my neighborhood high school. She talked to the administrators at the two high schools and helped me transfer to the new one.

    The school transfer was a turning point in my life. Had I stayed in the same old high school, I won’t be able to go to college, at least not the top level one I went to.

    I spent only one year in the new high school. Because I had a more competitive environment and better teachers who were very focused on preparing students for college, and I had the best English teacher ever, I was able to do well in the college entrance exam.

    My English teacher encouraged me to apply for the best foreign language university in China which is now the Beijing Foreign Studies University. I did apply and was accepted.

    German Scholarship

    I studied German at the BFSU. After graduation, I got a job at CCTV (Central Chinese Television). Shortly after I started on the job, another German major graduate from Shanghai came on board.

    Chinese and German governments had scholarship exchanges. The scholarships were distributed by the Chinese Education Ministry to different government agencies according to needs.

    CCTV received one spot. I was the lucky winner without contestant, probably because I was the first one on the job at CCTV who knew German.

    I got the scholarship and went to Germany to study without any effort on my part. I received my passport with visa handed over to me, and a quite large amount of money (at that time) to buy clothes and other necessities for the trip.

    Like my brother said, I was lucky.

    It might have all started with a name change. Who knows.

    I will write about my brother someday.

    Visiting Tongli

    My brother has the day off today. He took us to Tongli, a little town about half an hour of driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou.

    Tongli was left behind during the modernization after the Chinese Cultural Revolution when old houses were torn down and new ones were built. As the.result, Yongli was preserved as it was hundreds of years ago. Now it has become a well known tourist attraction in China.

    I was really surprised to see such an old town. The sceneries with narrow rivers, small bridges, gardens and old houses reminded me of the old days.

    In Tongli we met a mini carving artist. He can carve really tiny words on stones with only a needle sharp knife. He doesn’t even use a magnifier to do it while you do need a magnifier to read it. He said: “I carve using my touching and feeling senses.”

    I was amazed by his skills. I asked him to carve the Lord’s Prayer and a cross on a stone that is the size of my thumb. On the other side is my name in Chinese and English along with today’s date and location, see the photos above.

    We spent more than five hours in Tongli. It’s a place worth a day trip.

    Additional website about traveling in Suzhou and Tongli:

    An (un)grateful daughter

    I wish I had more understanding for my mother today. 

    My 76 year old mom has diabestics. She has some difficulties walking. Now she also has some memory loss.

    I left my home town in 1981 to go to college in Beijing. So much change has happened in the last three decades, I don’t know any place in my hometown. I have to ask how to get to a place and what bus to take to get there. 

    Today my mom insisted on accompanying us to visit Suzhou Museum, though I knew what bus to take and should be able to find it. 

    When a different bus came first, my mom said this one should work too. So we got on the bus. But it doesn’t go to our destination. We had to walk for a while. Then my mom told us to get off at the wrong stop. So we had to walk even more. 

    We walked and walked. My mom kept saying "It’s not far." 

    I got inpatient. If we had taken the right bus, we should have arrived at the Museum very closely without much walking. Now we had to walk several bus stops. 

    I was complaining and whining like a child. 

    "How could you take the wrong bus and get off the wrong stop?"

    "When are we getting there? How far do we need to walk?

    "We should have taken a taxi." 

    When we finally arrived at the Museum, my mom sat down near the entrance to rest and wait for us. We found her in the same place waiting when we finished visiting. 

    Later at home, mom told me: "I am getting old. My memory is not so good any more. Anything can happen any day. Some of my friends died suddenly. They were ffine one day, but gone the next day. This can happen to me and your dad too. If something happens to us, we will let you know after everything is taken care of. Don’t worry. Your brother is here. You don’t need to come home again. It’s not easy for you to come home and visit with two kids. It’s a long and expensive trip. It’s good that you visit us now while we are still relatively healthy. If we are gone, you don’t need to visit again." 

    Mom’s words hit me hard. 

    My parents always think and worry for me first, what’s the best for me. Yet I was so inpatient and didn’t show any understanding for my mom this afternoon when she got a little disoriented. 

    The more I thought about it, the more shameful I was. How selfish and ungrateful I was today! 

    I apologized to my mom, with tears in my eyes and sincerity in my heart. 

    "Don’t worry. That’s nothing. I just wanted to share with you something that’s on my heart and mind." 

    Then we chatted some more about the old days when life was so much hard. 

    Mom is very easygoing and content. 

    I am so lucky and grateful to have a mom like mine.

    The most giving parents

    The love that parents have for their children is the most selfless and unconditional love there is. This is the universal truth. It’s true no matter where you are.

    Maybe I have bias, but I think the Chinese parents in general are the most selfless and giving parents there are.

    They give themselves, their all to their children and grandchildren.

    Parents in China do their best to raise their children, give them the best education they can afford. When their children grow up, they help raise their grandchildren.  

    Both my parents and my husband’s parents have spent years living with us to help raise our two children. We have grandma and grandpa living with us since our first child was born. They are approaching eighties and still trying their best to help us.

    The same day I arrived at my parents’ home, my parents handed me 30000 RMB which is more than my Dad’s pension for the whole year. They told me: "You need this to travel in China." 

    My parents wanted to give me moeny to use in China, though I don’t need their money. It’s their way of showing love for me. If I do need money, I would have no hesitation to ask them. 

    My mom gave me clothings and household items she thought I could use. She saves the best for me. 

    When I saw my parents have Lock & Lock containers, I made a comment that I first saw them in a friend’s house and would like to have them. The next day, I noticed a set of the Lock & Lock containers in my suitcase. 

    There is a saying in Chinese I heard lately: parents carry three mountains. It takes one generation to raise a child. It takes two generations to take care of a seriously sick family member. It takes three generations to purchase a house. 

    Parents and grandparents put their life’s savings to help purchasing an apartment or a house for their children or grandchildren. 

    I have a cousin who is retired. But she is still working two jobs to help paying for an apartment she purchased for her son. 

    In China, children don’t borrow money from parents or grandparents. Parents usually give money to their children. Borrowing money from parents and paying back with interest is unheard of in China.

    Neighborhood Center

    The China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is located in my hometown Suzhou.

    Today my kids and I visited SIP with my brother who works for SIP and my parents. While my kids went to swimming at the Xinghai Swimming Pool, the rest of us was killing time by visiting the nearby Neighborhood Center, one of the seven Neighborhood Centers to be built in SIP. I found it interesting. 

    The idea of Neighborhood Center comes from Singapore. The first Neighborhood Center was initiated in Singapore. It provides daily supplies and combines various community functions  in one location.

    The four story business complex looks like a shopping mall. Inside you can find restaurants, supermarket, fresh produce market, community clinic, bank, post office, movie theater, travel agency, salon, bookstore, laundry store, music store, clothing stores, and other specialty stores.

    The local residents can get their needs for daily necessities met in one convenient place. 

    Health conscious

    While China could be the best place to live for senior citizens in some aspects, there are also concerns and problems senior citizens and most citizens face that make China a less desireable place to live.

    It’s the problem with health care.  

    Although there are problems with health care in the U.S. as well, visiting doctors in the U.S. is relatively simple – make an appointment, see the doctor, and pay the bills.

    But in China it’s not that simple. 

    In many places, you need good connections to see good doctors and you need to bribe doctors when you see them. Patients give doctors "red envelops," just like adults give kids lucky money at Chinese New Year, only doctors get a lot more than kids and not really in the red envelop. Everyone calls the bribery "red envelop."

    Now doctors have a really bad reputation in China. Their reputation is worse than lawyers in the U.S. No one likes to go to hospitals and see doctors. Some like my father refuse to go to hospitals. 

    People realize that the best policy against the corruption is to take good care of themselves. Paying attention to nutrition, exercising, living a healthy lifestyle and stay healthy has become the new motto. 

    Green and healthy food, and anything that has something to do with healthy living  are popular in China.    

    Jackson Hole in China

    I had never heard about Jackson Hole in Wyoming, United States, at least it’s not a familiar name for me, until a few days ago when I visited Jackson Hole in China.

    A friend of my husband, both he and his wife are doctors in Beijing, invited my family to spend two days with them in their vacation house in Jackson Hole Beijing Villas. It is a resort community near the Great Wall, outside of Beijing. It takes about two hours to drive from their apartment in Beijing to their vacation home. 

    Jackson Hole Beijing Villas are modeled after the Jackson Hole in the United States. There are about 800 houses, very unique inside and outside. They have nice views and surrounding environment. 

    During the two days, we climbed a mountain in their backyard. On the top of the mountain there are carved ruins where people used to live.

    Jackson Hole provides the impression of the American west. The guards are all dressed like cowboys. There are horses for riding for the residents. My kids and I did horseback riding, my first experience.

    Our friend and his wife are really proud of their vacation home. “You can’t get this kind of fresh air and mountain view in Beijing. It’s so nice to be able to get away from the noisy city life and come here to enjoy the quiet country life.” 

    The prices for the houses have more than tripled since 2005. As word gets around and residents introduce their friends to the resort community, demand has skyrocketed. Now there are higher demand than supply, so interested buyers have to be on the waiting list.

    I posted some photos on my Facebook.

    Best place to live for senior citizens

    I visited my cousin and his wife in Beijing. They are both retired and empty nested.

    My cousin used to be a diplomat. He worked for the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the United Nations. He and his wife had lived in other countries such as United States, Swizerland in North America, Europe and Asian. Their only son lives in the US.

    Now they enjoy their retirement years and have a very active live in Beijing. They say it’s the best place to live for elderly people, with a lot of opportunities and convenience for living.

    China offers free public transportation for senior citizens. With their IDs, they get free rides.

    China has universities for senor citizens where they can take classes and learn new things. You can learn a new instrument, painting, crafting, cooking, etc.

    Both of them are busy doing crossstitches.

    Every morning elderly people gather in parks or on the streets to do things together, exercising, dancing, Qigong, playing instruments, chatting, etc.

    Restaurants, supermarkets and convenient stores are everywhere. You can walk to any places. Subways and bus stops are all within walking distance.  

    My cousin’s wife said she doesn’t want to live in the US or other countries. "I can’t stand the loneliness there. My home is in China. It’s the best place to live for senior citizens."


    Public restrooms in China

    Today I heard a story from a friend in Xi’an about former President Clinton visiting Xi’an a few years ago. He brought two portable toilets from the US on his trip.

    This was the first time I heard about such a thing. But considering the situation with the public restrooms in China, it was not surprising for me.

    I think for all the foreign visitors to China, using the public restrooms could be one of the most challenging things to overcome during their whole visit in China. 

    Public restrooms in China used to be dirty, smelly and disgusting, some still are, even though it’s getting better now.

    A lot of the buildings for public restrooms look very nice and artistic from the outside, but the condition inside still needs to be improved. 

    For foreign visitors, it could be a very unpleasant experience the first time they use a public toilet in China.  

    Most public toilets are squat toilets.

    In 2005 when my daughter visited China, she asked me: "Mom, did someone stole the toilet?" She didn’t find the toilet seat, only saw a whole in the ground.

    On the first few days during this trip, my daughter said: "It smells bad." Now she is used to it.

    There is no toilet paper in most public restrooms, so people should  be prepared to bring their own paper when they are on the road. There used to be someone in public restrooms selling papers. Now I don’t see people selling papers in public restrooms anymore.   

    There are a lot of KFC and McDonald’s in China. They do provide toilet papers in their restrooms, like most restaurants. 

    Airports and hotel rooms all have nice and clean seated toilets and papers.    

    I just want to share this information with you in case you visit China some day, so you have been warned and can be mentally prepared for a surprising experience.

    I hope in a few years this wouldn’t be a problem any more.

    But for now, it is a problem, unless you have the status and power of the president who can bring his own toilet whereever he goes.

    Now I am just wondering what other presidents, kings and queens do when they visit China. Do they bring their own things as well?  


    Climbing Mount Hua

    Hua Shan (Mount Hua) is located 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. Today I went from Xi’an to Hua Shan on a high speed train that can reach 350 km an hour. It was a 40 minute smooth ride, my first ride on a high speed train.

    Unlike a regular train that is usually very crowded, a high speed train has seats for every passenger.    

    Hua Shan is considered one of the most dangerous mountains for climbing in China. If you google it, you can find a lot of interesting pictures.

    I went up to the North Peak, the lowest of five peaks with an elevation of 1615 meters. I got from bottom to the North Peak in about an hour. It was a short cut.

    First I took a bus that went zigzag up the mountain and brought tourists to the cable car station. Then the cable car took me much higher to the mountain. Finally I had to walk on very narrow steps to the North Peak.

    Climbing Hua Shan requires a strong will and a lot of courage. I didn’t have the time to climb the other peaks today, even if I had enough courage. Maybe next time when I visit Xi’an again.

    Today’s round trip from Xi’an to Hua Shan and back to Xi’an took only about seven hours. People say you need three days to really climb all the peaks in Hua Shan.  

    Visiting Terra-cotta Museum

    On my second day in Xi’an, I visited the Terra-cotta Army (also called Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses), located on the east side of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first emperor in Chinese history. It is descripted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

    Three pits are open for public viewing. I was told that they represent only one of the 600th percent of what has yet to be excavated and restored at the Mausoleum of the Emperor Qin Shihuang.  

    At this Museum, I saw the most foreign tourists during my trip so far. I also saw pictures of Clintons, Queen Elizabeth II, Putin, and other foreign presidents, kings and statesmen visiting the Museum. It’s a popular tourist attraction in China. 

    The local farmer who discovered the site while drilling wells in search of water on March 29, 1974,  was present to sign books in the gift shop at the Museum.

    Later I also visited the Huaqin Hot Springs where the emperors and emperesses bathed and Tang Paradise to watch a Tang Dynasty music and dance show. 

    The photos from Xian are on the following Facebook pages.

    Expensive living in China

    People might still consider China a third world country, but in big cities, especially in newly developed areas, China looks more developed and modern than many developed countries. 

    I have been really impressed by the beautiful landscaping in newly developed areas and along highways.     

    In some aspects, such as housing and driving, living in China is more expensive than in other parts of the world.

    A house like mine, an average one around $400,000 in Woodbury, would cost at least over one million dollars in China. House price has multiplied many times in the last few years. 

    Still, people are buying apartments/houses like crazy. Some buy second or third or more residence for investment or kids.

    Driving is also more expensive in China than in the US.

    It’s very expensive to buy a car in China. But it’s more expensive to keep a car. That’s why people say you can afford a car, but you can’t afford to maintain a car.

    Gas is more expensive in China than in the US.  

    All highways in China are toll roads. You get a ticket when you get on highway. Then you pay when you get off highway. The longest time I have been riding in a car on highway was about two hours. I have seen the driver pay about 2-20 dollars each time, depending on the distance. 

    High end, brand name consumer products have the best market in China now. People have money to spend. The more expensive the items are, the more popular they become.

    It’s crazy.  

    I asked  a few people I met in China what’s the average monthly salary is. The answer is it depends. Some say $150, some say $500. Then there are a lot of business people who make way above the average.

    Judging from the average monthly salary, you can see how out of proportion the housing and driving expenses are for the average citizens.       


    Travel updates

    Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days. I have been busy traveling. I am usually too tired to write at night. In addition, I don’t like to use the small laptop computer.

    Since June 1, I have visited Maanshan, Nanjing, Wuxi, Ningbo, Putuo, and Hangzhou. Today I arrived in Xi’an. I was so happy to find in the hotel room a big screen TV that also serves as a computer with Internet connection.

    Xi’an is an ancient capital city in China. The old part of the city is surrounded by a wall on all sides, with four gates in each direction. The wall is 14 kilometers long and very wide, probably 3-4 bus lane wide. It took us 1 1/2 hours to finish bike riding one round. My kids had a really fun time biking on the two-person bike.    

    I have taken a lot of pictures. I will share them when I get back home and have time to post them.


    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.


    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply


    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.


    Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute

    Tonight I am working on my application for the 2010-2011 State of Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI). ELI is a leadership development program for a select group of thirty emerging leaders from across state government designed to help them become successful and effective in tomorrow’s workplaces.

    This will be the fifth year the Management Analysis & Development (MAD) group within the Minnesota Management & Budget offers the program.

    Last year my supervisor has approved my request to apply and has already budgeted money for me to do so this year. Now I need to get the application in.

    My application along with others from the same agency will have to go through a review process conducted by Mn/DOT. Then the selected ones will be forwarded to MAD for further review and approval.

    I am confident that my application will be selected and I am looking forward to a great learning and networking opportunity.

    Technologies made driving easier

    Like many women, I am quite directionally challenged. I don’t have a good sense of direction.

    In addition, I learned to drive after I came to the U.S., more than 10 years later than the average people learn to drive here.

    These two factors contributed to the fact that I don’t like to drive. I feel nervous when I have to drive to a place I don’t know, because it’s not easy for me to multi-tasking on the road, driving and reading signs. I don’t know how people can texting while driving.

    Even though I live in Twin Cities (reside in Woodbury and work in St. Paul), I rarely cross the River to go to Minneapolis, the other part of Twin Cities.

    Today I had to go to Minneapolis to drop off a relative at a downtown hotel. Thanks to Google Maps and GPS, I had little trouble finding my way.

    By typing the address in Google Maps, I could easily find out the direction to the hotel. When I added the term parking to the address, I got a map marked with parking ramps around the hotel. By adding the term restaurant to the hotel address, I got a map marked with restaurants around the hotel. You can even specify what kind of restaurants you want. By adding Chinese restaurant to the hotel address, I can get a map marked with Chinese restaurants.

    GPS is even better for people like me. It tells me where to go. If I miss a turn, it recalculates and shows me the way. Cool.

    For people like me, GPS is a great tool to have.

    French fries caused controversy

    Judy Spooner’s article in this week’s Woodbury Bulletin – What does future hold for French fries in school cafeteria? – has brought quite a few comments from readers on the Bulletin’s website.

    The comments fall in two groups. One group favors healthy choices. The other group favors freedom of choice. They think people should mind their own business instead of trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives.

    So far the result of the online poll (Do you think District 833 should drop French fries from all its school cafeterias?”) indicates that the majority of people think that parents and teachers shouldn’t be so uptight about school lunch.

    Knowing how hard it is to get my two kids eat healthy food at home, I am in favor of limiting unhealthy choices in school cafeterias.

    Families who like French fries have plenty of choices on their own. There are so many fast food restaurants in this country that are more than happy to satisfy their desire for French fries any day and anytime.

    In an ideal world where everyone is responsible and makes good choices, we wouldn’t need any laws, rules and limits.

    If we can’t make good choices, then setting limits is a good thing in my mind.

    Actually I appreciate the few parents who care enough about their own kids and other kids to request soda vending machines to be removed from schools and unhealthy foods to be limited and removed.

    I didn’t know that French fries could cause such a heated discussion. It just shows that Americans love French fries and freedom. Taking these two away, it’s guaranteed to get rejection and protest.

    Let your voices be heard. Share your opinions by leaving a comment or doing the poll on the Bulletin’s website.

    A poet in the making

    My daughter Amy prefers writing poems than doing the dishes or playing piano.

    Today when I asked her to wash the dishes after dinner, she asked: "Can I write five poems instead of washing the dishes?"

    She hadn’t written any poems lately. I would like to see her doing that again. So I said OK.

    Later when she was playing piano, she asked: "Can I write 15 poems instead of playing piano?"

    Again I said OK.

    So she wrote over 10 poems today.

    I am always amazed by how fast she can think of a poem. She definitely has a natural talent in writing poems.

    Here are two of them: 


                                      Adventurous, fun

                               Intersting, exciting, inspiring

                             Words, pages, pencils, erasers

                              Drafting, editing, publishing

                                        Fun, awesome


    I heard a ring

    It was the phone

    But I didn’t answer

    Because I was home alone.

    Some of her poems that won the 2009 Minnesota State Fair are available here.

    Overabundance on display

    After I picked up my son from a special school event, we stopped at a few houses in our neighborhood on the way home.

    Today is the beginning of the annual Lions Club Garage Sale in Woodbury.

    It’s interesting to see what people have for sale.

    At one of the houses, the garage was full of kids’ stuff, clothes, shoes and toys. There was a little 3-year oldish girl playing in the garage.

    I said to the mom: "Looks like you have quite a few little girls."

    "No, we have only this one. I know she is very spoiled."

    It was mind boggling for me. How could one little child use so much stuff? That’s more than enough for a class of kids.

    You never know, even going garage sale can open your mind and let you see things differently.

    The magic of ARE

    Today, out of blue, a certificate of appreciation showed up in my mail box.

    It says: “Certificate of Appreciation is hereby granted to Qin Tang for your leadership and dedication as an agency wellness champion.” Underneath are the following two quotes:

    "The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness." – Dalai Lama

    "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." – William Arthur Ward

    The certificate was signed by Linda Feltes, Project Manager for State of Minnesota Worksite Wellness.

    Yes, I know Linda who is from a different state agency. I am on the Mn/DOT Health & Wellness Committee and have met Linda from attending H&W related meetings and presentations. I have helped plan and organize some brown bag presentations for state employees.

    But I really haven’t done anything so significant that deserves such a certificate.

    I was totally surprised by Linda’s kind words. I really appreciate Linda’s appreciation for the little things I did. And I also like the two quotes she put on the certificate.

    The interesting thing is I am just reading Lee Cockerell’s book “Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney.” Lee Cockerell was the Executive Vice President, Operations, for Walt Disney World for over ten years.

    In Strategy #7, Burn the free fuel, Lee Cockerell focuses on the importance of appreciation, recognition and encouragement (ARE). He says ARE are free fuel that builds self-confidence and self-esteem, boosts individual and team performance. Great leaders look for opportunities to give out the free fuel of ARE in an authentic, specific and timely manner.

    Recognizing employees, saying thank-you, catching them doing something right, doing the little things, being visible, participating at events, giving positive feedback, celebrating achievements are some of the ways leaders can dispense ARE every day.

    When I saw the certificate of appreciation today, it did feel like something magic happened.

    Linda , Thank you for showing me the magic through your giving of ARE. You certainly created magic for me by allowing me to experience the power of ARE.

    Little things can mean a lot to people.

    BTW, this was exactly the same words I sent to Suzanne Beecher after I read her 5/12/2010 blog post on life’s little "nothings."


    Bad day

    Today was not a good day for me.

    First I was upset about a family issue. Then something happened to my van as I was about to leave for home. Police had to be called.

    After three phone calls and more than an hour of waiting, a St. Paul police officer finally showed up.

    The experience reminded me of the excellent service we have in Woodbury. I know if anything happens in Woodbury, the police will arrive in less than five minutes.

    I remember one day several years ago I misdialed a phone number at home. Once I realized that I made an error and my call went to 911 an operator, I quickly hung up the phone without saying anything. That was another mistake.

    Soon afterwards, my door bell rang. I was surprised to see a police officer at the door. He came to check if everything was OK because of the 911 call.

    I was embarrassed, and also very impressed by the Woodbury police.

    Now I think about it, I feel thankful, because nothing serious happened to me today. Good or bad, it’s all relative and about perspective. And I am thankful to live in Woodbury with better police service.

    Lincoln on Leadership – book interview

    I recently interviewed Serge Phillips, Mn/DOT federal relations manager. We talked about the third book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.


    Tang: Why did you pick this book?

    Phillips: I like to read about historical subjects and biographies.
    Lincoln is considered by many as the greatest president and leader in our country. A lot has been written about him. He has become such a heroic and mythical persona that his actual persona can be overshadowed. I wanted to find out what really made him such a great president and leader.

    Tang: So what did you learn from the book?

    Phillips: Lincoln became a president at a critical time in this country. By the time Lincoln took office, seven states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Ten days before he took the oath of office, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy. President Buchanan had given up hope of holding the country together.

    Under Lincoln’s extraordinary leadership, he was able to overcome the nightmare he inherited. He held the divided nation together and abolished slavery.

    The characters and qualities that Lincoln possessed – honesty, integrity, vision and decisiveness, empathy for the common man, devotion to the rights of individuals, commitment to the Constitution and liberty and equality – are the foundations of his extraordinary leadership abilities that contributed to his remarkable accomplishments.

    Tang: What did you like about the book?

    Phillips: The book is good at emphasizing Lincoln’s leadership principles. It provides examples of his principles in four categories: people, character, endeavor and communication.

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

    Phillips: Lincoln was the only U.S. president to hold a patent (for a method to make grounded boats more buoyant). You can read about it at this website.

    Lincoln was also a very humorous president. He wrote his own speeches and over a thousand of letters.

    Lincoln was a man of paradoxes. He was consistent yet flexible. He valued security yet dared to take risks. He controlled his emotions so they remained private. He wrote out harsh letters but did not send them out.

    Tang: What part of this book inspired you most?

    Phillips: When Lincoln took the oath as the nation’s 16th president, he was relatively unknown. He was the first Republican president, a Washington outsider, and viewed as completely ill-equipped and unable to handle the presidency. He had little respect in Washington except for his most loyal supporters. Even his cabinet members considered him a figurehead whom they could control.

    Yet Lincoln demonstrated that he possessed the leadership qualities and abilities necessary to turn the situation around and to save the nation.

    As a great leader, Lincoln is an inspiration for many people, including our current president Obama.

    Tang: What are some ideas that you can use in your work or daily life?

    Phillips: Lincoln had an open door policy and was very approachable. It was relatively easy to visit him at the White House. He enjoyed talking to people, and telling anecdotes. He often used humor to solve difficult situations.

    Lincoln was good at building strong alliances on both personal and professional levels. He gained trust, respect, loyalty and commitment by taking the time to talking and listen to people, mentoring and empowering people and showing compassion. He treated his subordinates as equals.

    Lincoln was a good leader, because he persuaded rather than coerced people to get results. He made requests or suggestions rather than issuing orders. He discouraged litigation and encouraged compromise.

    Lincoln encouraged innovation by making allowances for failure.

    Lincoln knew how to solve problems by bringing all feuding parties together to the table and let them work things out, until peace is made.

    A good leader is someone who gives credit where credit is due and accepts responsibility when things go wrong.

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

    Phillips: “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”

    Tang: Has reading this book changed you in any way?

    Phillips: It rekindled my interest in reading more biographies of famous people. You can learn so much from other people. It also reminded me of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Parallel Lives is a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in pairs to illuminate their moral virtues and vices.

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

    Phillips: I like to read newspapers. I read local papers as well as some national papers such as Washington Post and New York Times.

    In addition to read history and biographies, I also like to read fiction and English translations of works from all over the world.

    Tang: Any other thoughts regarding the book, Commissioner’s Reading Corner or reading in general?

    Phillips: Reading helps me learn and gain better understanding of certain subjects. It also helps me relax.

    I like the Commissioner’s Reading Corner idea. Through reading the books Commissioner recommended, we get some understanding of what his leadership style is based on.

    Related posts:

    Getting Past No (3/26/2010)
    Letters from Leaders (2/24/2010)

    Visiting Sioux Falls

    Over the weekend my family had a short visit to Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, with a population of 155,000, about half of the size of population in St. Paul, the second largest city in Minnesota.

    We visited Falls Park, Sanford Children’s Hospital, Sertoma Butterfly House, Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, downtown, etc. I was most impressed by the newly completed Sanford Children’s Hospital, made possible by a donation of $16 million from Denny Sanford.

    Mr. Sanford is CEO of United National Corporation, First Premier Bank, and Premier Bankcard. He is considered one of the most generous philanthropists in the United States.

    Sanford was born in St. Paul. He graduated from St. Paul Central High School and University of Minnesota. He lives in Sioux Falls.

    Here are some pictures from the trip. 

    Falls Park

    Hospital outside

    Hospital inside

    Butterfly House

    Clubhouse Hotel

    Living in a distracted world

    We are living in a distracted world. In our every day life we face many distractions.

    For some people, the distraction is TV or video games, for some it is Internet and web surfing, and for some it is shopping and consumption, etc. The list can go on and on.

    As for myself, the biggest distraction is definitely Internet and web surfing.

    Often times I have good intention and plan to finish reading a book or get something done before going to bed. Then something happens that distracts me in a totally different direction.

    For example, an email message shows up with a request to be friend on Facebook. I could easily spend an hour or more poking around on Facebook checking people’s profiles and who their friends are. When I get email updates from blogs I follow, I could easily spend an hour or more reading blogs and write some comments.

    Pretty soon, the whole evening is gone, and midnight is past, I didn’t even finish a page of the book I intended to read or start on the project I wanted to do.

    “Oh, my, time to go to bed now. Where has the time gone? What did I do tonight?”
    I don’t like it when this happens.

    I love Internet. It has really enriched my life in many ways. It’s great for learning, research, information, networking, etc. The benefits are so many. But I think if I don’t pay attention and exercise a little self-control, even good can turn into bad.

    Balance, moderation, self-control are the keys for staying on track and not being distracted too much.


    Fashion Feng Shui – dressing with intention

    Today I attended a brown bag presentation on dressing with intention. This was part 2 on Feng Shui presented by certified Feng Shui practitioners Caroline Lehman, Karen Hollingsworth, Mary Conley and Carol Seiler.

    Fashion Feng Shui is dressing with intention the Feng Shui way – using the five Feng Shui elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal.

    Evana Maggiore created the concept of Fashion Feng Shui by connecting the five elements of Feng Shui to fashion and personal style. It teaches you how to dress with mindfulness and intention so that your clothes express your authenticity and attract your deepest desires.

    It was a very interesting topic and presentation.

    For more information about Fashion Feng Shui, visit Fashion Feng Shui International’s website.

    Contact the presenters for information on classes and presentations.

    Eight-Hands Collaborative
    Caroline Lehman
    Mary Conley
    Karen Hollingsworth 

    Related post:
    Feng Shui and intentional living


    Men and women differences

    Will Manley is a retired librarian and city administrator, and author of several books. I have enjoyed reading his monthly column Will’s World in American Libraries for several years. I love his humorous commentary on library and life in general.

    Four months ago he entered the blogosphere with Will Unwound. Today he posted an interesting topic on his blog: “Women and Men – Is there Really a Difference?

    He shared his own observations and asked several questions for readers to comment on.

    He asked: Are women more verbal than men? If so why? Can you think of any anthropological or sociological reasons for this? What are women always talking about? Is there really that much in life to talk about so continuously and quickly? …

    I found some of his responses to readers’ comments interesting:

    “Not sure guys are as obsessed with happiness as women. Or maybe our definition of happiness is so much simpler than yours. What makes women happy…companionship, communication, validation, self esteem, cuddling, unconditional love. What makes men happy…tickets to the Super Bowl.”

    “I grew up a huge sports fan, played all sports in high school and college, and then followed sports pretty closely. Then I stopped getting television service when I retired two and a half years ago, and now the only sport I care about is golf, which I play everyday. When I look back at my life one of the things I regret most is wasting so much time following sports. what good has it done me now? I would have been much better off reading through the Great Books starting with Homer and ending with Finnegans Wake. Who really gives a flip who won the ’93 Super Bowl?”

    Understanding the difference between men and women has always been a very interesting topic for me.

    Generally speaking, women are more verbal than men. But I know a guy in my circle of friends who is incredibly verbal, talkative, and knowledgeable. He can talk non-stop and talk about all kinds of things: sports, politics, history, current events, famous people, etc. What I couldn’t understand was why guys like my friend always talk about such topics that are so remote and have nothing to do with their own lives. How can you get to know your friends on a deeper level without talking and sharing about yourselves?

    We women like to talk about things related to our own daily lives, through heart to heart conversations about our experiences, challenges, happenings, good or bad, we establish deeper friendship and relationship with each other.

    I got a better understanding about the men-women differences after I read Deborah Tannen’s book “That’s Not What I Meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Your Relations with Others.”

    According to Tannen, men tend to communicate at the information level, and women at the relationship level. Men tend to focus on the message (information conveyed by the meaning of words) and women on the metamessage (what is communicated about relationships). It’s not what you said but the way that you said it.

    Communication is motivated by our universal human needs – the conflicting needs to be connected to others and to be left alone/separated, to be involved and to be independent, to have safety and to have freedom, to show solidarity and to show power.

    Communication is always a matter of balancing these conflicting needs. Communication will never be perfect, because whatever we do to serve one need necessarily violates the other need. In addition, we have different conversational styles.

    Women have a relatively greater need for involvement, and men a relatively greater need for independence.

    Women are more attuned to metamessage because they are more focused on involvement, on relationships among people. It is through metamessages that relationships are established and maintained.

    Differences between male and female can be observed in girls and boys. Girls play in small groups or pairs. Their social life centers around a best friend. Friendships are made, maintained and broken by talking.

    Boys tend to play in larger groups, often outdoor. They spend more time doing things than talking.

    To women, the relationship is working as long as they can talk things out. To men, the relationship isn’t working out if they have to keep working it over.

    The assumptions about what’s interesting are different.

    Women like to tell/hear details of her daily life or the lives of other people, not because the details are important in themselves, but because the telling of them proves involvement – that you care about each other, that you have a best friend.

    Men tell facts about such topics as sports and politics or how things work.

    When man and woman talk about relationships, he feels out of his element.

    In conversations, women pay attention to what is said and how, men pay attention to scientific explanations and facts.

    Men and women have different expectations.

    Men think like this: After all this time, we should be able to tell each other what we want. Women think like this: After all this time, you should be able to know what I want without my telling you.

    Problems arise when we assume and expect the opposite sex should think, feel or act the way we do.

    We must realize that men and women are different. We can not change others to suit our needs. Instead we need to adjust our behavior and make compromises to meet each other’s needs. 

    Acknowledging, understanding and accepting our differences are the first step in improving communication and relationships.

    Why you should stop watching TV

    Reading Celestine Chua’s blog post Top 10 Reasons You Should Stop Watching TV reinforced my own belief that watching TV is more than a waste of time.

    As I mentioned in a Woodbury Bulletin column TV Fasting August, I have not watched TV since my son was born in 1998.

    By not watching TV, we have more time to live our own lives the way we want and create our own experiences instead of living through the lives and experiences of someone else.

    The best memories come from life’s experiences. We can only build memories with experiences, our own experiences.

    Life is too short to spend it by watching others living their lives.


    Slow consumption

    Utne Reader, a magazine started in Minnesota more than 20 years ago, is a digest of independent ideas and alternative culture, drawn from alternative and independent press.

    In the March /April issue of Utne, I read an article titled Slow Consumption: Heirloom Design.  

    It says: “we need to start making stuff that lasts … make those products not only durable, but also repairable and upgradable.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. And I think slow consumption requires more than making products that are durable, repairable and upgradable, it requires a cultural change and mind shift.

    In our modern throwaway society where it’s often easier, cheaper and more convenient to buy something new than getting something repaired, there is not much incentive for slow consumption.

    The mass production of cheap goods and the material abundance have created new generations that are hand challenged.

    In our parent’s generation, most people were handymen or handywomen, out of necessity of life. They could do with less, could make so much from scratch, and repair household items.

    My parents in China did a lot of things themselves. My mother made all my clothes while I was growing up, from underwear to winter jackets, from hats to shoes. My father made a lot of things, from big ticket items of all our furniture that could last more than a life time to small items such as keys. He did/repaired/fixed everything from electricity and plumbing to bicycles, pots, shoes, etc. My parents didn’t buy much, not only because they didn’t have a lot of money, but also because they could make and repair stuff themselves.

    Even if you were not as handy as my parents, you could easily find someone in the neighborhood to fix things for you.

    Now it’s a different story with my generation. I am not nearly as handy as my parents. It’s so much easier and cheap to buy a sweater than to knit one myself, and I don’t have time and skill to make and fix things. Without necessity of life, without incentives, over time we have lost the mental and physical ability to be handy. So people throw away stuff at the first sign of malfunction.

    Then there are people who throw away stuff that is perfectly fine, just because they want something newer, better, bigger, fancier. So we are still not going to totally solve the problem of fast consumption by making stuff last longer, because some people get rid of stuff long before it breaks.

    We have to change our thinking before we change our behaviors. We have to care enough about the effects of our lifestyle on the environment and future generations before we change our lifestyle. 

    Spirit of Life Youth fundraising – MeiPan Jewelry

    If you are still looking for a Mother’s Day present, you may want to visit Spirit of Life Bible Church Youth fundraising open house on Saturday, May 1, 10 am – 2 pm.

    MeiPan Jewelry will be for sale. Each piece is unique. 

    The Church is located at 690 Commerce Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125.

    For more information , call 651-731-1900 or visit Spirit of Life website.  

    Teacher conference

    I went to Lake Middle School right after work for my son’s teacher conference.

    For the last two conferences in fall and spring, I had to spend more than two hours each time to go around the rooms, wait in lines and talk to a few core subject teachers.

    Today, there were hardly any lines. For each teacher, there were only one or two parents ahead of me. I was able to go around and visit with every teacher, not just the core subject teachers, but all teachers my son has classes with right now, including language, math, science, social studies, art, Chinese language, band, and gym. It was the first time I met the Chinese and gym teachers.

    This time I finished the conference in less than two hours, and also got to talk to all teachers. That was great.

    Teacher conference provides a good opportunity for me to talk with teachers and find out how my kids are doing in school and how they can improve and do better. It also provides an opportunity for me to find out who my kids’ teachers are and to connect with them.

    Keeping good communication between teachers and parents are beneficial for all parties involved.

    When the science teacher told me that Andy is doing well in the class and got an excellent grade for his recently finished project, I mentioned that science is not Andy’s strong subject. He doesn’t feel very confident in this subject area himself. The teacher was surprised about it. She said she would pay more attention and encourage him more in the class.

    By communicating with teachers, both teachers and parents can better help the students improve.

    As I said in a Woodbury Bulletin column, education is a joint venture.


    Inspiring quotes

    I love inspiring quotes. I have always wanted to post some I like on this blog, but so far, I haven’t had time to compile them.

    When I read Celestine Chua’s 101 Most Inspiring Quotes of All Time (in 3 parts) today and found many that I also read and liked, I thought I could just use her list as a starter, along with some other websites of quotes.

    I will add more later when I have time.

    Quoteland: http://www.quoteland.com/

    Brainy Quote: http://www.brainyquote.com/

    Wisdom Quotes: http://www.wisdomquotes.com/

    Quotations Page:  http://www.quotationspage.com/

    Quote Garden: http://www.quotegarden.com/

    Great Quotes: http://www.great-quotes.com/

    Retirement: http://www.retirement-quotes.com/
    JOY = Jesus, Other, You (in that order).
    “Pleasure comes from without. Joy comes from within.” Bishop Fulton Sheen
    “Joy is untouched by circumstance.”
    “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.”
    “Joy is not in things; it is in us.”
    “Joy is an Inside Job”
    “Joy is the highest expression of love.”
    “Joy is the infallible sign of the Presence of God.”
    “Learning to live in the present moment is part of the path of joy.”
    “The closer you come to your core, the greater is your joy.”

    “Knowledge is proud that he has learn’d so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” – William Cowper

    Yesterday is our teacher. Tomorrow is our dream. Today is our reality.

    “A Vending Library Is No Library”

    Today I read an interesting article in the 4/15/2010 issue of Library Journal titled “A Vending Library Is No Library,” written by James R. Lund, Director of Red Wing Public Library, MN.

    “A new Washington County Library location is scheduled to open in Hugo [MN] in February with no books and no librarians,” the Pioneer Press reported. This plan for a library kiosk with an adjoined book locker is not as comprehensive as the Library-a-Go-Go service model already in operation in Contra Costa County, CA, where stand-alone machines house and circulate 400 books. Yet, both vending solutions share a reductionist and, ultimately, self-defeating philosophy of library service—one devoid of human contact and only as dynamic as the nearest RedBox.”

    The article is interesting for me because it mentioned Washington County Library. Washington County recently added its first freestanding library kiosk in Hugo, which allows patrons to order materials to pick up later.

    Some are concerned that such kiosks might replace small libraries in the future.

    A library kiosk is definitely not a library. In many places, the public library is the heart and center of the community. A library kiosk cannot fill that important role of the traditional library. I certainly don’t want to see libraries being replaced with vending machines.

    However in small communities where a traditional library does not exist, a library kiosk is better than nothing. At least it offers a convenient place to pick up and drop off materials.

    A two-part series related to Washington County Library was published in Pioneer Press on April 18 and April 19. Here are the links:

    To balance books, libraries close, take new forms

    Lake Elmo library supporters consider mutiny in the county

    What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

    Tools to keep track of your books

    I have a habit of keeping records of the books I read, and I have a simple way to do it.

    I use an index card to write the author, title, subject headings, call number, the dates it was read. They are like the cards people used in the library card catalog in the old days.

    When I start reading a new book, I make a card for it, with the starting date. The card can serve as a book mark too. When I am done, I write the completed date on the card. Then it gets put in a box.

    This is a simply system, easy to do. It helps me remember what I read. The only problem is it is not easy to locate a particular card. I might have filed it under one category and then look for it under another category years later.

    Even though I still do my cards, more out of habit, I have found a better way to keep track of my books by using the online tool www.Goodreads.com.

    Signing up for an account is very simple. All you need is your name, your email address and your password.

    Once you have an account set up, you can add books to your account.

    To find books you want, go to Find books and enter title or author or ISBN. Once you find the right title, simply click Add to my books. You can write a review, rate the book, add the date it was read, and do other things.

    When you go to My books, you have the list of books you added to your account, with book cover and detailed information about the book. The visual image of the book cover is very helpful in refreshing your mind about the book.

    You can use Goodreads to catalog your entire home library.

    Goodreads.com is definitely a great tool to help keep track of what I have read and what I like to. Now I just need some time to actually add the books to my account. I already added some, but a lot more still needs to be done.


    Best blog for personal development

    Two day ago, it was Friday, April 23 to be exact, I read an article online titled 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself. It was such a great article.

    What’s more fascinating for me was that it was written by a 26-year-old young woman from Singapore, Celestine Chua. Looking at her picture, she is more like a high school girl. So young, yet so wise. I couldn’t help but venturing over to her own website and blog to learn more about her.

    The more I read, the more I wanted to read. Her passion to help others grow and live their best lives is very inspiring for me.

    So in the last 48 hours or so, I spent a big chunk of my time reading her articles. I only read a small portion of her 140 articles, they are all excellent. I felt so energized and inspired by her.

    I want to share her website/blog/articles with you. Hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.

    Here are a few of the articles I read.

    Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away?
    Create Your Life Handbook
    What’s On Your Bucket List? 101 Things To Do Before You Die 

    Be sure to check out her website and blog to read more of her articles, so you can “Be your best self, live your best life.”

    Bag sale at library

    The Big Book Sale is going on at the Washington County Library, R.H. Stafford Branch in Woodbury. It started on Friday and will end tomorrow.

    There was a bag sale today. It was the first time the bag sale happens on both Saturday and Sunday. Instead of paying $2 for a hardcover and $1 for a paperback on Friday, today one pays $6 for a bag. Tomorrow the bag sale will be only $3. The library wants to move as many books out of the storage as possible.

    Restocking happens every day. So if you already visited the book sale yesterday or today, there is a good chance that you can still find books you like tomorrow.

    Book lovers, don’t miss this once a year opportunity to stock up your own personal library.


    “My name is not Jones”

    If you are one of those people who like to keep up with the Joneses and suffer chronic financial dissatisfaction (most people are even though we don’t think of ourselves like that), the following article “My name is not Jones” by Gary Foreman should be of interest to you.

    Gary Foreman is the editor of The Dollar Stretcher.com website and various e-newsletters including Financial Independence. Financial Independence is designed to walk step-by-step with you as you take control of your finances and achieve financial freedom!

    The Dollar Stretcher website contains a wealth of information covering all kinds of topics you face in life. Appliances, banking, cars, debt, retirement, working women…, yes, it covers all of them. It is a great resource to know and share.

    Gary’s passion is to help people live better for less and achieve financial independence.

    I have been reading Gary’s articles and e-newsletters for years. There is always something new and interesting to read and learn.

    Adopt a Highway for a cleaner earth

    Today is Earth Day.

    In Twin Cities, Minnesota, we had a gorgeous day with sunshine, clean air, blue sky, and the temperature close to 70. It’s neither too cold, nor too hot, nor windy. A perfect day weather-wise that everyone should be happy about. 

    Don’t take it for granted. Some places in other parts of the world don’t have what we have, either due to an act of nature (such as volcano in Europe) or effects caused by human action (air pollution). 

    Instead, take a moment to appreciate what we have, and think about how each of us can contribute to protect the environment and keep our earth clean. 

    There are many things we can do. These days, tips and ideas abound. We are certainly not lack of information in this regard.

    I recently had an article published in The Edge, Soul of the Cities, titled “Eight R’s for a Greener Earth.” You can read it here.

    I came across this Simple Mom website today that lists 40 tips to go greener. Personally, I am already doing many of the things listed.

    But in this post, I want to mainly talk about a program that some might not be familiar with. It’s called “Adopt a Highway.”

    Adopt a Highway program, offered in several states, provides community groups, churches, businesses and individuals an opportunity to make a personal contribution to a cleaner environment. This May marks the 20th anniversary of Mn/DOT’s Adopt a Highway program.

    According to Mn/DOT, there are more than 12,000 miles of state highway in Minnesota of which 9,800 miles are adopted. Currently, there are an estimated 4,500 statewide groups and 45,000 volunteers registered.

    By joining the Adopt a Highway program, groups agree to adopt a highway for a minimum of two years and pick up litter on a segment of highway approximately two miles in length usually two to three times a year during spring through fall.

    In return, Mn/DOT will erect a sign along the group’s section of highway to recognize their commitment to a cleaner environment, provide retroreflective safety vests, trash bags and safety information, and remove filled bags and large, heavy or hazardous items from roadsides.

    If you are looking for a one-time project, you can “Pick a Highway.” Pick a Highway is a one-time litter picking activity on an assigned segment of state highway. Mn/DOT will provide the bags, vests, training, and bag retrieval. You contribute approximately four hours of labor.

    You can take on the Adopt a Highway or Pick a Highway program as a family, a group of neighbors or friends, as a church or an organization. It can be a great team building, community service and volunteer project. 

    For more information about the program, visit Adopt a Highway website.

    Silk Road Adventure Tour

    Katie Dailey, owner of Dailey Travel in Woodbury, is planning a 17-day trip to China from August 14 to August 30, 2010.

    The Silk Road adventure tour starts from Beijing, then to Urumqi, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Xian, and ends in Shanghai. You will see all the major towns and the mysterious sights on the Silk Road, plus the two biggest, modern cities in China.

    • Visit the Mutianyu Great Wall, the pride of China and one of the Seven Wonders of the World
    • Take an exterior visit of Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest/Olympic Stadium) and National Swimming Centre("The Water Cube")
    • Take a Hutong tour showing the traditional lifestyle of Beijing people
    • Experience the ancient Emperor’s daily life at the world’s largest palace, the Forbidden city is a massive complex of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and gardens where 24 emperors used to live
    • Take a boat ride on Heavenly Lake surrounded by green pastures, pristine conifer forests and snowy Alp-like peaks
    • Visit Grape Valley and sip the local wines at the base of the Flaming Mountains
    • Into the Gobi Desert, visit the Bezkelik Thousand Buddha Caves covered with brightly painted murals
    • Visit Mogao Caves hold the world’s richest treasure house of Buddhist sutras, murals and sculptures
    • Visit the amazing 2000-year-old Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses excavated from the tomb of the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang in Xian
    • See must-see attractions in Shanghai and visit the World Expo

    If you are interested in this tour or other travel opportunities to China, contact Katie Dailey at 651-323-0101 or katie@daileytravelservice.com. More information is available at www.daileytravelservice.com.


    Library Big Book Sale

    Washington County Library holds Big Book Sale at several of its branches on an annual basis.

    R.H. Stafford Branch in Woodbury will have its annual Big Book Sale this weekend, Friday- Sunday, April 23-25. Used library materials and donated items are for sale on the lower level in Central Park. It’s a great opportunity to buy books at a low price.

    I love libraries and books. I am also trying to do more volunteer work to give back to the community. So the book sale at the Library provides the perfect opportunity for me.

    For the last two years or more I volunteered at the book sale. I enjoyed doing that. After a couple of hours, I went home not only with a good feeling in my heart, but also with some good books in my hand.

    I have signed up again for this year to help on Saturday morning.

    For more information about the book sale and donating books, visit the Library’s website.

    Woodbury Community EXPO

    The Woodbury Chamber of Commerce and the Woodbury Community Foundation are hosting the first annual Woodbury Community Expo at Bielenberg Sports Center on Saturday, April 24, 2010, 10 am – 4 pm.

    The EXPO is an opportunity for local businesses and nonprofit organizations to promote their companies and causes to the public. The event is free to attend.

    For more info, visit the Woodbury Community Foundation website.

    According to an email sent by Alisa Rabin Bell, Executive Director of Woodbury Community Foundation, the event is sold-out (127 booths!) and more volunteers are needed in the following areas:

    Please contact Alisa directly if you are interested in helping. Just email her with your preference and time availability. (Alisa@WoodburyFoundation.org, 651-788-6586)

    • 3 AM SATURDAY SET-UP!: Yes, that is 3 in the morning. We need help from some night owls to do some manual labor with regard to electrical and overall set-up. A lot of hauling and schlepping. If you are up to it, please let me (Alisa) know asap!

    • Exhibitor Greeters: Check-in exhibitors and assist exhibitors with locating booth and answering questions

    • Event greeters for the public: Familiar with event areas to answer questions

    • Exhibitor monitors: Roams the event to ensure rules and regulations are being followed by exhibitors

    • Volunteer coordinators: Point person to manage volunteer schedule

    • Entertainment/Seminars: Point person to check entertainment acts at appropriate time, assist with PA needs also for seminars

    • Food: Monitors food area to ensure area keeps clean and point person for the food exhibitors

    • Garbage: Roams the area to pick up garbage from the public and exhibitors, changes garbage containers

    • Kids Activity Area: Maintain the area so it is always neat in appearance and replenish supplies (crayons, coloring sheets, etc.)

    World Tai Chi and Qigong Day at Normandale

    World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, a fee global community event, will take place at Normandale Community College, Bloomington, on Saturday, April 24, 2010, 9:00am – 12:30 pm.

    Fore more information about the World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, go to this website.

    Here is the event schedule.

    To learn about the healing benefit of Tai Chi and Qigong, click here.

    Woodbury AT teams won at state tournaments

    Academic Triathlon‘s Minnesota state tournaments took place at Minnetonka Middle School East today.

    Three teams from Woodbury (Lake Middle School, St. Ambrose and Woodbury Middle School) won the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at the Green Meet with nine teams in total competing.

    Woodbury should be proud of our students for the victory at the state.

    My son’s team didn’t make it into the first three places at state, but he had a great time. He said he will do it again next year. I am glad. Last year I asked him to participate in AT, he was not interested at all. Now after one try, he changed his mind.


    Tough love or over the boundary?

    This week during my regular dental visit at the HealthPartner Dental Clinic, I was again asked to take an x-ray.

    Being a very, some might say extremely, green minded person, I responded with “No, I don’t need it,” as I usually do.

    I don’t want x-ray for two reasons.

    First, I have excellent teeth with no cavities. I eat a healthy diet, take good care of my teeth by brushing and flossing daily. Doing an x-ray on my teeth would be totally unnecessary. In my mind, it’s a waste of resources or money. Even though I don’t have to pay anything out of my own pocket, it is still a waste for me.

    Second, I am concerned with the effect of x-ray. I don’t want it if I don’t have to.

    But this time, my response met with strong resistance. The new dentist told me, because I had not taken an x-ray since 2006 or so, if I was not willing to do it this time, then they would not see me again at the Clinic. She said, in her words, they didn’t feel they could adequately treat me without an x-ray.

    I don’t have anything that needs to be treated. All I need is a regular, twice a year teeth cleaning to keep my teeth in good condition. I don’t think I need any x-ray and any treatment.

    I felt like I was given an ultimatum by the dentist.

    Reluctantly, I agreed. Because my whole family has used HeathPartner for several years and I like the convenience, I didn’t want to bother to switch to a different clinic.

    The result of the x-ray, as I expected, showed that everything was fine. There is nothing wrong with my teeth and I do not need any treatment.

    It just didn’t feel right to me that I had to do something I didn’t want and need.

    I think the medical professionals are overly cautious for fear of malpractice law suits. They rely too much on equipments and overdo with tests. There is also financial motivation to do more.

    Several years ago, my daughter fell from sofa and broke her arm. A local Orthopedist threatened to turn me over to social workers because I didn’t give him permission to take the X-Ray of her elbow for the third time within a 10 day time period.

    About two years ago, I did a routine physical check up. I was told my test result was not normal and I had to do it again. The second time I was told everything was normal. It just wasted my time and money, in addition to causing some unnecessary anxiety. I almost wished I didn’t do the check up in the first place.

    I am not sure what to think about my experience this week.
    Did the dentist exercise her duty in a professional manner and showed some tough love or did she cross over the boundary?

    I think the job of the dentist should be to advise me what to do, but it’s up to me what I want to do. It’s my health and I should take the full responsibility. If I didn’t want to do x-ray, then she should have respected my wish. What she did felt like an ultimatum to me: If you don’t do what I ask, then you are out of here.

    Am I being discriminated or am I wrong in my thinking/behavior?

    What do you think? Do you have similar experiences like this? 

    Woodbury Citizens’ Academy graduation

    2010 Woodbury Citizens’ Academy class picture

    The first Woodbury Citizens’ Academy ended today with the graduation ceremony at the Eagle Valley Golf Course.

    I am honored to be part of this first WCA class with 25 members. During the last nine weekly sessions, we learned about all aspects of Woodbury community: city government, public safety, community activities, city works, history, education, local media, business, and voluntarism.

    It was a great opportunity to learn about the community and to meet some leaders in the community. I recommend this program to anyone who is interested in learning and getting involved with the community.

    The graduation ceremony began at 7:15 with welcome and remarks by Alisa Rabin Bell, Executive Director of Woodbury Community Foundation. Then each class member was presented with a graduation certificate and the book Volunteer for Life: Achieve Your Personal and Professional Goals by Kelly Jahner-Byrne who spoke at our last session on voluntarism. Kelly is the winner of the 2001 Mrs. Minnesota pageant.

    A heartfelt thank-you to Alisa Rabin Bell, Matt Stemwedel (City of Woodbury) and Marisa Novak for planning and organizing this program. Thank you Matt and Marisa for volunteering your time to the Woodbury Citizen’s Academy.

    Dorothy Ann bakery & Café in Woodbury deserves a special thank you for providing refreshments at each program day.

    Marisa Novak, Qin Tang and Alisa Rabin Bell

    Inspired by Southwest Airlines

    I have lived in the U.S since 1991 and flown with most major airlines, but never with Southwest Airlines.

    In fact, I didn’t know anything about this company until I read the book “Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success” by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg (1998) which I finished today.

    The book tells a fascinating story about Southwest Airlines, the company, its people and its legendary customer service (or Positively Outrageous Service).

    Once you read the book, you will understand why SWA won so many recognitions including the 2009 Reader’s Choice Awards by Smarter Travel for Favorite Domestic Airline (ranked #1 in Best Customer Service, Best Airfare Prices, Best On-Time Service, Best Baggage Service, and Best Value Frequent Flier program, among others). SWA was named the seventh most admired company in FORTUNE magazine’s ranking of the 50 Most Admired Companies in the World; the only U.S. airline to make the list and the 13th consecutive year that Southwest has been named to the Most Admired List.

    To say that I am impressed by what I read feels like an understatement. One thing is for sure, the next time I fly and have a choice to fly on Southwest, I will definitely do it. I have been really inspired by the Southwest Spirit and want to experience it personally.

    Fortunately, SWA serves Twin Cities metro area. According to Southwest Airlines fact sheet, Southwest flies to 68 cities in 35 states, including Minneapolis/St. Paul.

    If you are interested in leadership, personal and business success, I highly recommend this book to you.

    Read, let yourself be inspired by Southwest Airlines and then go NUTS!


    Academic Triathlon Awards Ceremony

    The 2009-2010 Academic Triathlon Awards Ceremony of School District 833 was held today at Bailey Elementary School at 7 pm.

    Academic Triathlon is an after school enrichment program offered to 5th graders and higher through the District’s Gifted & Talented Office. G&T Coordinator Nancy Vague presided over the awards ceremony.

    All AT participants and their families were invited to the event.

    This year, District 833 has 42 teams with total of 184 kids and 58 adult coaches participating in AT. Among the 42 teams are 23 teams of 5th graders, 12 teams of 6 graders, and 7 teams of 7th and 8th graders.

    District 833 Superintendent Mark Porter, several principals, administrators and teachers representing various schools were present to congratulate the students for participating at AT. Thanks to all the educators for your presence and for your support.

    Every AT participant received a customized medal.

    It has “2009-10 USAT” on the front and participant’s name and school on the back of the medal.

    My son Andy has received different medals from doing Math Leagues, Math Masters and basketball. This is the only medal that has individual’s name inscribed on it. So it is more special for him.

    Andy’s team with members from Woodbury Middle School and Lake Middle School will go to the state meet this coming Saturday.

    Good luck to all the teams from our District that will go to the state meet.

    National Library Week

    It’s National Library Week.

    Today Minnesota Public Radio run a story about public libraries and changes that are happening at libraries since the recession: Librarian’s job description expands to help unemployed by Rupa Shenoy.

    I appreciate MPR for doing this story to bring awareness to the important role libraries play during recession, just in time for National Library Week.

    During the tough economic times as we are facing now, libraries should be supported more than ever, because library use and the needs for library services are increasing.

    I hope stories like this will bring awareness to the decision makers at all levels to support libraries more instead of cutting funding for libraries.

    This article touches only on one aspect of the services provided by public libraries. Public libraries provide more than help with job search and technology skills.

    Public libraries are the centers of the communities. They provide valuable services for learning and entertainment for all age groups.

    After reading or listening to the story, please consider sharing your thoughts with Minnesota Public Radio via “Help Minnesota Public Radio cover the news” commentary page.

    If you love your public library, send a note to Suzanne Beecher at Suzanne@DearReader.com and tell her why. You will not only make your library staff happy, you might also win a prize for yourself and for your library. For more details, visit her blog.

    Attention, soda drinkers!

    Here is an article I wish every soda drinker would read: "Can You Believe These Statistics on Soft Drink Use?"

    And some of the comments from readers: 

    "I used to drive a truck and occasionally had to deliver the soda pop "ingredients" to warehouses. The giant bags of "ingredients" are HAZMAT(corrosive). Doesn’t that just make you want to go chug a liter down?" 

    "Ever drop a well used, dirty coin in a Coke? It will come out shiny. I remember years ago a friend spilled some on the roof of his car and did not clean it off. It ate the paint." 

    "The compassionate ones, like Dr Joe, that are doing their best to educate us will hopefully get the messages across… but first minds must be opened, questions asked and the truth sought, heard and believed."

    Done with taxes

    I feel really relieved today because I finally got my taxes done.

    Since last Saturday I spent an hour or two here and there to organize papers and documents needed for tax return, and to work on the various forms. It feels good to have it done and get it behind me.

    I know a lot of people have their taxes done by professionals. I like to do it myself for several reasons, despite the fact that I don’t like to do it and keep procrastinating till I can’t ignore it any more.

    My family has a pretty simple and straightforward tax situation, so it is fairly easy to fill out the forms.

    I don’t find taxes are all that hard to do for the average person. So I don’t want to pay big bucks to have someone else do it for me.

    In my almost 20 years of living in the United States, I had a professional accountant do my taxes once. He didn’t do it right or better than what I could do. So I don’t want to outsource the job again.

    I want to keep myself informed about the tax and finance matters. People who don’t do their own taxes tend to be less informed and knowledgeable about finances.

    Don’t let the professionals tell you that you are not smart enough to do your taxes.

    You don’t have to be good at math to do your taxes. I am not good at math. I can’t do some of the math that my son (6th grader) is learning at school. But I don’t have problem doing my taxes.

    You don’t have to be brilliant to do taxes. There are plenty of people doing their own taxes who didn’t finish college or even high school.

    I think the majority of people can do their own taxes unless they don’t want to use their brain and deal with taxes and finances.  

    I know some people have no interest in thinking about taxes, let alone doing taxes. In that case, then spend the money and hire someone.

    More and more people are into simplifying their lives. I wish our government would get on board and simplify the tax code, or better yet, abandon the complicated tax code and find a simple way to tax people.

    I would vote for taxes based on consumption. The more goods and resources people use, the more they can afford to pay taxes and the more they should pay.

    Incredible changes in China

    Recently I asked my parents and brother, what I can bring them when I visit them in China this summer. They said they don’t need or want anything. They have everything. Nowadays, you can buy everything in China.

    How time has changed!

    I remember when I made my first visit home from abroad in 1989, I used the money I saved from the scholarship I received from the German government and bought my parents their first wash machine (still in use), their first refrigerator, and their first color TV, all made in Japan.

    I had to make a special trip from my hometown Suzhou to Shanghai to purchase the items. Only people with foreign currency and coupons issued by the government to those returning from abroad were allowed to buy these appliances at designated stores in a few big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. I could even sell the coupons for money. Not many people could afford to buy those big ticket items, and even if they had money, they couldn’t buy the imported appliances without the coupons.

    When I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we needed ration coupons to buy anything, from rice, cooking oil, sugar, egg, meat, to fabrics, watches, bicycles, etc. Everything was rationed.

    When China changed its policy and opened its door to the world after the Cultural Revolution at the end of 1970’s, things started to change.

    Universities opened their doors again. Young people could go to college again and later many had the opportunities to go to universities in other countries. I was one of them.

    The ration coupons became history.

    With privatization of government owned businesses and private businesses flourishing came the material abundance. You can buy anything in China.

    The luxury goods market in China is the fastest growing in the world. Since luxury goods are much more expensive in China than in other countries, wealthy Chinese go to other countries to do shopping now.

    Houses are more expensive in China than in the U.S. I heard that people from China buy houses on the west coast with loads of cash.

    Brand name clothes and shoes are also more expensive in China.

    People used to buy things like clothes in China to bring to the U.S., now they do the opposite. They buy clothes in the U.S. to bring to China.

    When I had my 20 year college reunion in 2005 in Beijing, I found some of my classmates are much better off financially than I.

    Today I read an article titled "Want to look rich in China? Get yourself a Tibetan mastiff" in the Pioneer Press. It sounded so crazy to me that wealthy people in China spend more than my annual salary to buy a dog.

    It’s just unbelievable how much China has change in the last three decades. It has lost some common sense or even gone crazy in some way.

    I know I will experience more surprises when I go back to China this summer.



    Americans are big on volunteering. People volunteer everywhere, in schools, senior centers, hospitals, and many other non-profit organizations. They volunteer in local communities and on mission trips thousands of miles away.

    The unmatchable spirit of voluntarism found in this country is part of what makes United States one of the greatest countries, if not the greatest country on earth now.

    Any program dealing with local communities can’t be complete without talking about voluntarism and community services.

    Voluntarism is the focus of session nine of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held today at East Ridge High School. It is our last session of learning. Next week’s final session will be our graduation and celebration party.

    We had presenters and panels representing different non-profit organizations in the community.

    Bill Hargis, Mayor of Woodbury, who was supposed to be at our first session to talk about city government but missed it back in February, came today and shared how he got involved in different volunteer activities and later became the mayor of Woodbury.

    I have seen the mayor’s pictures in local newspapers and city publications countless times, but this was probably the first time I met him in person.

    Alisa Rabin Bell, Executive Director of Woodbury Community Foundation, organizer of this first Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, said a few words about the Woodbury Community Foundation and some upcoming events.

    Valerie Jones, Community Thread, gave a presentation on voluntarism. She talked about the national, state and local trends and resources.

    Dick Stafford, former Washington County Commissioner, talked about the Woodbury Veterans Memorial.

    Darrin Ewing, talked about the Woodbury’s Yellow Ribbon Network.

    Michelle Witte, President of Woodbury Community Theater and Vice President of Arts Connection, talked about how the permanent home –  the Loft Theater at East Ridge High School – for the Woodbury Community Theater came about and the new Arts Center to be built in the near future, thanks to the $2 million donation by Dorothy Merrill.

    Larry McFadden talked about Kiwanis Club, a global organization dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.

    Mary LaPrairie, talked about Relay for Life, the biggest fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

    Theresa Janechek talked about Woodbury Days as its Council Chair.

    It’s interesting to learn about the different organizations and volunteer opportunities.

    When Valerie Jones asked every participant to say one word what volunteer means for him/her, the following were mentioned.

    Rewarding, grateful, inspiring, fulfilling, personal, long-term, learning, giving, sharing, etc.

    These words summarize well what voluntarism is all about.

    Spring Forest Qigong

    As a native Chinese, I know a little bit about Qigong.

    Qigong, dating back to about 5000 years in China, is a practice that uses slow movements and controlled breathing techniques to promote the circulation of Qi within the human body.

    The Chinese character for Qi means air, breath, or life force. Gong means work. So Qigong is the practice of working with one’s life force. (see Wikipedia)

    Qigong is a simple, effective method to balance energy, reduce stress and maintain wellness. It can help heal physical and emotional pain. It can help people experience optimal health, wellness, and happiness. It can enhance the quality of life.

    I first heard about Spring Forest Qigong a few years ago at one of the Experimental Collge or EXCO classes I took at Macalester College in St. Paul. It was about energy and healing. A SFQ master healer shared how SFQ healed her sick body and allowed her to walk and live a normal life after she couldn’t walk for many years.

    Then at the Dragon Festival last July in St. Paul, I stopped at the Spring Forest Qigong booth and learned more about it. Later I read the book by the founder and creator of Spring Forest Qigong Master Lin titled “Born a healer.”

    Recently when I had the opportunity to help plan brown bag presentations at Mn/DOT as part of our Health and Wellness program, I naturally thought about Spring Forest Qigong.

    Today I had the pleasure of meeting one of the SFQ master healers, Sheila Judd, at Mn/DOT and listen to her presentation. Her topic was Balance Stress and Maintain Wellness with Qigong.

    Sheila shared her own life story and how she began her journey with SFQ. She talked about what Qigong is, what the four components of SFQ are. She also demonstrated and taught a few simple Qigong movements in the session.

    It was a great presentation and also a good reminder that there are alternative, more holistic ways of healing our body and maintaining our health available to us.

    Thank you Sheila for your presentation.  


    Sharing Yards and Resources

    The gardening season is soon upon us. I am really looking forward to working in my garden and eating home grown vegetables again.

    In fact I already did some gardening yesterday when the weather was warm. I transplanted some Chinese chives from one side of my garden to another side, in hope of getting better and healthier growth this year.

    Today I learned about a new website that might be of interest to gardeners or want-to-be gardeners: Yards to Gardens (www.y2g.org)

    According to the website, the purpose of Yards to Gardens is to help create gardens by connecting people who are looking for gardening space with people who have available space, and to provide a place for exchange of gardening tools and resources.

    So if you have space in your backyard that you want to turn into a garden, but do not like to do the work, you can offer the space to other people and let them do the work in exchange for some fresh produce. It is a win-win for everyone.

    For more info, check the website and the press release.


    The healing power of water

    Every morning, the first thing I do or before I eat anything is to drink a cup of water.

    Ever since I read the 1992 book “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water” by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj several years ago, I make sure that I drink enough water every day.

    According to Dr. Batmaghelidj, our health is dependent on the quality and quantity of the water we drink. “A dry mouth is not a reliable indicator of dehydration. The body signals its water shortage by producing pain. Dehydration actually produces pain and many degenerative diseases, including asthma, arthritis, hypertension, angina, adult-onset diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis.”

    If you suffer pain or other illness due to dehydration, don’t expect your doctors to find the cause. What they do is to give you medication to kill the pain and treat the symptoms, not to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it.  

    Dr. Batmaghelidj’s message to the world is, “You are not sick, you are thirsty. Don’t treat thirst with medication.”

    I do believe that healthy living starts with something as simple as drinking enough water.

    For more info about the book, visit http://www.watercure.com.


    Worship ancestors or God

    Last two nights I called my parents in China and couldn’t reach them at home. It was unusual. Wondering what happened, I called my brother’s cell and found out that they were out observing the Qingming Festival.

    Oh, yes, this weekend is the traditional Qingming Festival in China. I totally forgot that.

    Qingming means Clear Bright in Chinese. It’s a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and tend to the graves of ancestors.

    The Qingming Festival is known in English as Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day.

    It is a day for people to remembering ancestors. People visit the graves of their ancestors. They worship their ancestors by cleaning and sweeping the graves, offering food and burning joss paper.

    The Qingming Festival usually occurs around April 5. It has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. In mainland China, its observance was reinstated as a public holiday in 2008, after having been previously suppressed by the ruling Communist Party in 1949.

    So over the last weekend my parents with my uncles and aunts visited the graves of my grandparents and other relatives. They do this annually like millions of other Chinese do.

    I remember when I was at school in China, I was very excited about the annual Qingming Festival. We didn’t have the day off, but it was a big field trip day for school kids. I wasn’t so much interested in visiting the graves of fallen war heroes, I was just interested in the field trip. We hardly had any field trips in school. Qingming was the field trip day of the year for me.

    Now that I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, the traditional Qingming Festival to worship ancestors doesn’t mean much to me. The graves contain nothing significant. They are empty. We come from the dust and return to dust. Only our spirits live on.

    While we should remember our loved ones who have departed, we don’t need to worship them at their graves. Instead we should worship our God who created everything and gives us hope of eternal life. Someday I will meet my grandparents and other deceased relatives in heaven.

    Today Christians around the world celebrate Easter and Jesus’ resurrection. His tomb is empty because he has risen. Christians do not worship the empty tomb, but the living God and the living Spirit.

    My parents and other relatives in China do not believe in God or anything, but by observing the Qingming Festival, they do worship and believe in something in a way.


    Genetically modified foods

    Whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not, it’s likely that we are consuming genetically modified foods on a regular if not daily basis.

    Since GMF are not required to be labeled, it is not easy to know what foods are GMF.

    If you want to avoid GMF, you need to become an educated consumer. Here is an article on genetically modified foods that might be of interest to you.

    Engineered Poison Lurking in Your Everyday Food?

    Advice from leaders

    Henry Dormann’s book Letters from leaders: Personal Advice for Tomorrow’s Leaders from the World’s Most Influential People is a collection of letters and advice from some of the most successful leaders around the world.

    I read the book early in January. Honestly, I don’t remember much any more. But yesterday when I reviewed the book shortly before the book discussion, the following letters jumped at me.

    In the letter by the 39th president Jimmy Carter titled Expand your hearts and minds, he wrote: “I would say try new things. Don’t restrict your lives. Don’t live encapsulated in a cocoon just with people like you who speak the same language, or look the same, or sing the same song, or worship the same way, but constantly explore new ideas and new experiences.”

    Several leaders shared the same advice on taking risks.

    William Harrison said: “Work hard. Take risks. Everyone can be a leader. Taking risks is very important. You should take risks all the time to improve and to prove yourself.”

    Muriel Siebert said: “Take stands, take risks, take responsibility. You create opportunities by performing, not complaining. You see an opportunity and step up to the plate.”

    I am not a big risk taker. I admire people who are. Having the courage to take risks and step out of the comfort zone is something I need to be better at.

    In the letter by Muhammad Ali, he wrote: “Most of all, I believe in God and the wisdom he has for what my life should be.”

    As a former atheist growing up in a communist country, believing not in someone, a human being, but in an invisible God, was a big challenge and change for me. So when I read about famous and successful people and find that they believe in God, that is encouraging and reaffirming for me.

    Another letter I like talks about giving back. “It’s important to give back to the community in which you live and work.” “Giving back is more than an obligation, it’s a privilege.”

    Indeed, people who can share their time, treasure and talent are privileged.


    Taking risk

    Today I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something I had not done before.

    I was asked by our Mn/DOT commissioner Tom Sorel to co-facilitate with him a book discussion with in-house and remote audience.

    Now I have been working on the Commissioner’s Reading Corner  project for a while and was really looking forward to this kick-off of the monthly book discussions today. But to facilitate a discussion and speak in front of the public was not something I felt comfortable with. While writing is easy for me, the thought of speaking English (which is not my native language) in front of people made me a little nervous. I was afraid of making mistakes.

    But then I decided to take one of the advices from the first book to be discussed today, which is to take the risk, take the opportunity and give it a try. I told myself, if I make foolish mistakes or make a fool of myself, so what? This is April Fool’s Day. I have an excuse.

    Once I took on the challenge, I went right to work. I didn’t have much time to prepare.

    I quickly wrote down the things I wanted to say as an introduction. And I reviewed the book again and made notes and comments to share at the book discussion.

    With my notes in hand, I felt more confident to face the unknown.

    The one-hour discussion turned out to be great. In fact I was not nervous as I expected. I think Commissioner Sorel is so fun and easygoing that he can put people at ease. The feedback I got has been very positive and encouraging.

    In case you are wondering, why Mn/DOT has this Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month discussions and what the purpose is, here is the reason.

    Leadership is one of the strategic directions in Mn/DOT strategic vision. Under leadership it says “Empower all employees to be leaders and ambassadors for MnDOT.” Our Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month discussions offer an opportunity to collectively engage employees in developing leadership skills.

    In my 2/24 post, I already shared Commissioner Sorel’s comments on the first book in the series Letters from leaders: Personal Advice for Tomorrow’s Leaders from the World’s Most Influential People by Henry Dormann. Tomorrow I will share a few comments I have.


    Connecting through chatting

    A friend called me today to talk about an upcoming event. Pretty soon our conversation wandered off to something totally unrelated. We ended up spending some time talking about her husband’s family and siblings.

    Being the kind of person who likes to ask questions, I probably asked her more questions than necessary, one just led to another.

    Later her husband questioned her about the "unnecessary" conversation. Why did we need to talk about his family?

    That’s because women like to chat to feel connected.

    I love hearing people talking about their families. That’s how you get to know them and feel connected.

    I am just reading a book titled "That’s not what I meant" by Deborah Tannen. Here are a few points I got out of the book.

    Some people, mostly men, communicate at the information level. They convey information by the meaning of words. Once their messages are communicated, they are done. They like to “get to the point."

    Others communicate at the relational level. They like to small talk, chat, and keep in touch.

    The universal human needs that motivate communication are the (conflicting) needs to be connected to others and to be left alone/separated, the needs for social involvement and independence (privacy).

    One way of showing interest and appreciation is asking questions, but questions can also seem nosy. Too many questions can feel like interrogation for some people.

    America as a nation has glorified individuality. In many parts of the world, people glorify involvement in families and communities.

    So from my friend’s husband’s perspective as a man and an American, his questioning was very understandable.

    Men in general don’t talk about family and personal matters on a deep level, but women do. Women feel more connected the more they talk about family and personal issues.

    That’s why women have more good and deep friends than men, and live longer too. 

    In one word, my friend and I just enjoy chatting, talking and keeping in touch.

    The Edge: Soul of the Cities

    The Edge: Soul of the Cities is one of my favorite magazines.

    I loved it since I first discovered it a few years ago in the building where I work. I make sure that I get a copy every month.

    As someone who is very interested in soulful living, I really enjoy reading the articles in the Edge. I like it so much that I have kept most of the issues I have. I want to be able to go back and read them.

    I also like the fact that the magazine is free and local. In fact, the editor and co-publisher Tim Miejan is a Woodbury resident.

    Today I was really happy to see the new April 2010 issue. The very first article I submitted to the magazine was published in this April issue that will be available online starting on April 1, 2010.

    My article on page 25 is titled: “Eight R’s for a greener earth.”

    Like a mother gives birth to a baby, it is very exciting for a writer to see her writing being published. Both are the results of love. As often said, writing is a labor of love.


    Back to China

    This summer, I will be going back to China to visit my parents in Suzhou.

    The last time I went back to China was in 2005 for my 20 year college reunion. I had a great time.

    China has changed beyond recognition since I left in 1986. Because I don’t go back often, the changes were unbelievable for me. Even people who go back to China regularly agree that the changes are noticeable every time.

    I am looking forward to spending some time with my parents and brother, reacquainting myself with the place I grew up, showing my kids the Suzhou gardens that are world famous (see some pictures here), going to Shanghai World Expo, visiting relatives and friends in Beijing where I went to college.

    I know I will be surprised again and again during my trip. My kids are also excited about making their third trip to China.


    The Case for Saturday School

    Like kids in China and many kids from Chinese immigrant families in the US, my son and daughter go to school on Saturday.

    They have been going to Saturday Chinese school since they were five years old. They spend about three hours at the Saturday Chinese School to learn Chinese and math.

    My daughter used to say: “I go to school every day. Monday through Friday is regular school. Saturday is Chinese school. Sunday is Sunday school.”

    I like my kids to spend more time in school learning. I prefer longer school year and shorter summer breaks.

    According to the Wall Street Journal article “The Case for Saturday School” (Sat./Sun., March 20-21, 2010), kids in China attend school 41 days a year more than students in the US. American youngsters devote more time to using entertainment media and less time to formal learning in school.

    In addition to shorter school year, American schools spend “enormous amount of time on gym, recess, lunch, assembly, changing classes, homeroom, lining up to go to the art room, looking at movies, writing down homework assignments, quieting the classroom, celebrating this or that holiday, and other pursuits. It’s not all wasted time but neither are these minutes spent in ways that boost test scores, enhance college-readiness or deepen pupils’ understanding of literature, geography or algebra.”

    “Longer school days and years also aid working parents; for many of them, 2:30 dismissal times and three-month summer breaks are more burden than benefit. And the more time kids spend in safe schools, the less time they have to go astray at home or in the neighborhood.”

    I agree with what the author Chester E. Finn Jr. said in the article. He is a former assistant secretary at the Department of Education.

    When I wrote about extending school year in the past, I got mail from readers. I noticed that it is a controversial topic and draws critics from opponents.

    I hope they will at least understand why Asian kids (Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Singapore, etc.) in American schools generally do better than their classmates, and youngsters from many Asian nations routinely out-score their American counterparts on international tests of science and math.

    Asian kids are not necessarily smarter, but they do spend more time on learning and work harder for school.

    Getting Past No – book Interview

    I recently interviewed Deb Ledvina, a Mn/DOT employee since 1992 and an attorney who was appointed by Commissioner Sorel to serve as Mn/DOT’s first ombudsman in September 2008. We talked about the second book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury.

    Tang: Why did you pick this book?   

    Ledvina: I read this book almost 20 years ago. It was such a good book, it stuck in my mind. So when Commissioner and I were talking about books for Commissioner’s Reading Corner, this one come to my mind. We both read it and liked it. And the topic of the book is so relevant to the work I do at Mn/DOT, it’s just a perfect fit.

    Tang: What do you like the best about the book?

    Ledvina: The book filled a void in other leadership books by offering a practical, step-by-step approach to problem solving. It’s like a recipe book or checklist I can follow easily. It helps me navigate through a problem or an issue and find solutions with more confidence and ease. The ideas and steps in the book are really helpful in all aspects of our work and personal lives.

    Tang: What are some ideas that you found helpful?

    Ledvina: I am an action oriented person and tend to react a lot.

    The first of five strategies in the joint problem-solving process is “Don’t react: go to the balcony.” It means to distance yourself from your natural impulses and emotions, to control your behavior and reaction. Buy yourself time to think. Regain your mental balance. Instead of getting mad or getting even, concentrate on getting what you want. Don’t make important decisions on the spot.

    Going to the balcony gives a useful image for getting perspective on the situation: imagine yourself standing on a balcony looking down on your negotiation.

    Tang: Can you name one new thing you learned from this book that’s empowering?

    Ledvina: Forget the old saying: “My way or the highway” and don’t use power play.

    In part II, chapter 5, it talks about using power to educate. The key mistake we make when we feel frustrated is to abandon the problem-solving game and turn to the power game instead.

    Instead of seeking victory, aim for mutual satisfaction. Don’t use power to impose your terms on them. Use your power to educate the other side that the only way for them to win is for both of you to win together.

    Tang: How has reading this book changed you in a positive way?

    Ledvina: I know every disagreement can be worked out, almost anything can be resolved if we approach it from this joint problem-solving perspective. As I re-read this book, it really inspired me again and gave me more energy to do my job.

    Tang: Please share a few passages from the book that left a big impression on you.

    Ledvina: Negotiation is joint problem-solving. “It is soft on the people, hard on the problem. Instead of attacking each other, you jointly attack the problem. Instead of glowering across the table, you sit next to each other facing your common problem. In short, you turn fact-to-face confrontation into side-by-side problem-solving.” – Overview on p. 5

    “Breakthrough negotiation is the opposite of imposing your position on the other side. Rather than pounding in a new idea from the outside, you encourage them to reach for it from within. Rather than telling them what to do, you let them figure it out. Rather than pressuring them to change their mind, you create an environment in which they can learn. Only they can break through their own resistance, your job is to help them. ” – Overview on p. 11

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

    Ledvina: In recent years, I listen to more books on the tape in my car than read print books, though I still read every night. I found I am an auditory/verbal learner. I process information better by listening.
    Mostly I read self-help books, because I want to be the best person I can be and do the best I can do. 

    Related articles:

    Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel 


    All about business

    I have lived in Woodbury for almost 10 years, but have never been to Woodwinds Hospital which opened 10 years ago in 2000. It’s the only hospital in Woodbury and in the southeast Twin Cities metro area.

    Today I had a chance to visit this award winning and much praised health care facility, not because of any medical needs, but because I had Woodbury Citizen’s Academy session eight in Woodwinds Conference room.

    It is a nice facility. When I walked in, I didn’t feel like I was in a hospital.

    Roger Green, who works at Woodwinds and is also on the board of Woodbury Community Foundation, gave us a brief introduction about the Hospital.

    Today’s main topic was about business in Woodbury. An important part of business development is going toward health industry, because Woodbury is developing a medical campus and trying to market Woodbury as a medical destination.

    We had representatives from the City of Woodbury and Woodbury Chamber of Commerce to talk about business development and WCC.

    Scott Carlson (Local business owner) and Dawn Paetz (WCC Chair) gave an overview about Woodbury Chamber of Commerce.

    Janelle Schmitz, Planning & Economic Development Manager from City of Woodbury, talked about strategic planning for economic development.

    Christopher Burns, an attorney and volunteer for the Economic Development Commission, shared how citizens can get involved in economic development planning through various committees.

    Now I have a better understanding of what Chamber of Commerce is. Some people might think that Chamber of Commerce is part of the city government. That’s what I thought. But they are two different organizations. However, they do work closely together to promote business development in Woodbury.

    As with the past seven sessions, this was another informative one. I enjoyed learning new things. It’s fun to meet people in person whom I read about in the newspaper.


    Everyone is a leader

    Are you a leader? 

    If I ask you this question, my guess is most people might say no, especially if you are not in a management position in any organization.

    But according to James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of Leadership Challenge, everyone is a leader in some way, even if you don’t hold an official title in an organization.

    If you think leadership is about position or title, about power or authority, or about status or wealth, that too is a misconception.

    The authors emphasize in the book that leadership is about relationships. It is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It’s about credibility and what you do. 

    The truth is everyone is a leader. You are the most important leader in your organization, in your family, and your life. Leadership opportunities are everywhere. And learning leadership skills is everyone’s business. 

    One way to learn and sharpen your leadership skills is to read books on leadership. Another way is to learn from leaders around you whom you admire.

    Respect is earned, not demanded

    Parents often demand respect and obedience from their children by being authoritative: “You have to do what I told you to do, because I am your parent.” Period.

    Likewise, some bosses demand respect and obedience from their subordinates by being controlling: “You have to do what I told you to do.” Period.

    The truth is, if you demand respect and obedience, your children or subordinates may do what you want, out of helplessness and fear, but they don’t necessarily respect you and obey you from their heart. They are just acting that way.

    Demanding alienates people. They will either be rebellious or simply distant themselves from you.

    The fact is, the more you demand respect, the less you will get. The more respect you give to others, the more respect you will get back.

    Once people lost their respect for you, it is very hard to get it back. So try not to do anything that might cause people to lose respect for you.

    Here are some ways to earn respect from others around you:

    • Respect and trust them
    • Be human and be personable
    • Show compassion and understanding
    • Care about who they are and what they do
    • Listen up
    • Be helpful to others and they’ll return the favor
    • Have a good attitude and team spirit
    • Have integrity and good work ethic

    Remember the old saying: “You don’t demand respect, you earn it.”

    Lead with heart

    A few weeks ago I randomly picked up a free issue of Minnesota Women’s Press. It’s one of the several magazines and newspapers in the free publication section in my office building. I walk by it all the time, but haven’t paid much attention.

    In that February 2010 issue of Minnesota Women’s Press, I found an article titled “Lead with heart.” I really liked it. It stuck in my mind and I kept it.

    Today, something not so pleasant happened to me. This article came back to my mind. As I re-read the article, it took on a deeper meaning than when I read it the first time.

    The author Marcia Hyatt, a leadership and life coach, says in the article: “Leadership wasn’t as much about task completion as I thought, it was about relationships… With 20 years of hindsight my conclusion is that love is all there is. Really. As a leader, my job is to tend the relationships as well as the work.”

    If you are a leader or a manager, I would like you to ask yourself this question when you make a decision, “What difference does this make in five or ten years?”

    Leading with you mind and by the rules only can probably get a job done, but it can also damage relationships.

    Remember, also lead with your heart.

    I am thankful that this article fell into my hand. I am thankful that I know and can do better than if I had not read the article a few weeks ago.


    I often tell my kids: “Get your homework done early. Don’t wait till the last minute.”

    I wasn’t happy that my daughter Amy didn’t get her social studies homework done today. She had the weekend to do it, but she forgot. And worse, when she was ready to do the homework right before bedtime, she realized that she forgot the assignment sheet in her textbook at school and didn’t know for sure what needs to be done.

    Amy asked me to wake her up tomorrow at 6:15 am to do homework.

    Thank God, this kind of incidence doesn’t usually happen in my house. My kids are mostly responsible for their own school homework. If they forget something, they will get up early the next morning to finish it.

    I don’t like the last minute hassle and stress, and prefer to get things done early and on time.

    But truth be told, I don’t always follow my own advice. When it comes to things I don’t like to do, such as filing tax return, I tend to procrastinate a lot.

    Every year, I wait till April, often right before April 15 to do my tax return. Every time I get it done, I feel such a relief as if a burden falls off my shoulder.

    Logically I know I should get it done as soon as possible so I don’t have to feel burdened. But because I don’t like to do it, I procrastinate as much as I can.

    In real life, people often behave irrationally. This is just an example. We wait till we can’t any more, knowing so well along the way that we are better off not to wait and procrastinate.

    If I could do things I like to do and don’t have anything I don’t like to do, then I probably could say goodbye to procrastination.

    Since this is unlikely in real life, I have to accept the fact that a certain degree of procrastination is a part of life. I am not perfect, and I can’t expect perfection from others either.

    Good that I didn’t get too upset with my daughter today. I was pretty calm and didn’t yell at her. She has to take responsibility for her own action and learn from consequences.

    Sustainability and Landscape Workshop

    City of Woodbury 12th Annual Sustainability and Landscape Workshop, used to be called the Environmental Landscape Workshop, took place this morning at Woodbury City Hall.

    The workshop was sponsored by the Woodbury Environmental Advisory Commission, a volunteer group that advises the City Council on matters relevant to sustainability including solid waste, air, water, land, energy, and other natural resources.

    Four presentations were offered during the workshop:

    1. “The Unexpected Joys of Gardening with Natives” by Julia Vanatta
    2. “Superabundant Small Gardens” by Susan Reed
    3. “Psychology of Sustainable Behavior” by Christie Manning
    4. “Emerald Ash Borer & Other Invasive Insects That Really Bug Us” by Renae Smith

    My favorite presentation was the second one on vegetable gardening. The session provided an overview of planting techniques for growing more food in smaller places. Reed shared tips for cost-effective gardening and how to maximize you harvest with the right varieties and efficient design.

    I have been attending the annual landscape workshop since I moved to Woodbury in 2001, beginning with the fourth annual Environmental Landscape Workshop in 2002.

    This year’s workshop was the best attended one ever. I can think of three reasons for the high turn out today.

    1. Vegetable gardening has become more and more popular in the last couple years with the economy going south. People are very interested in learning how to do it.
    2. Free non-toxic household cleaners in spray bottles were given away for attendees.
    3. Prize drawing for a compost bin must be attractive too.

    If you missed the workshop, you missed the goodies, but you can still view the presentations.

    The workshop was broadcasted live in South Washington County on cable television Channel 16 and will be replayed later. You can also view the program on the Internet via Web streaming on the South Washington County Telecommunications Web site at www.swctc.org.

    Academic Triathlon Regional Meets

    My son Andy is part of an Academic Triathlon team made up of six 6th graders from Lake and Woodbury Middle School.

    Today the SWCS Area Regional Meets took place in eight schools in Woodbury. My son’s team along with five other teams of 5th and 6th graders had their regional meet at Crosswinds Middle School.

    Parents are only allowed to watch the last part of the competition, which is P.A.R.T.Y. in the box.

    The theme for the PARTY presentation was about turning a crisis around and living happily ever after. There has to be a non human character involved.

    Andy’s team came up with a really cool idea. It’s about someone who became the fattest person in the world. At the time he got the good news of breaking the Guinness World Record, he was also told by his doctor that he is going to die very soon unless he changes his eating habit and lifestyle. 

    He becomes conscious and has to make the difficult choices as to what to eat. Two non-human characters played the roles of hamburger and salad. Each tries its best to win him over. The fattest person decided to choose salad. He starts to eat healthy and exercise. After losing his weight, he lives happily ever after.   

    I really liked their creative idea. My daughter and I both thought it was the best play at the meet.

    Andy’s team won the second place. They were disappointed, because their total score is the same as the 1st place team from Woodbury Middle School. But the computer picked the other team as the 1st place winner based on some raw data. I don’t know how the process works.

    It was a fun event. I felt the kids are smarter than their parents like me. I couldn’t do what they did.

    I want to thank Bob Condon for coaching Andy’s team. They had practices since November 2009. It was a big commitment for the coach. Thanks so much!  

    What happens next is the first place team from each regional meet will go to the State Tournament to be held on Saturday April 17, 2010 in Minnetonka, Minnesota.  


    Update from coach Bob on March 27, 2010:

    Congratulations on your 1st place finish at the regional meet. 

    Due to a scoring error ( Face Off was counted twice) we are going to State. The date is Saturday, April 17th at Minnetonka East Middle School.



    Meet the local media

    As a writer and someone who cares about the local community, meeting with editors and publishers of the local media and learning about what they do and how they do their jobs are of great interest to me.

    I am fortunate to be part of the first Woodbury Citizen’s Academy. Today, for session seven, we had the opportunity to meet the press in the Woodbury City Hall.

    The following people gave us a brief history and overview of each entity they represent.

    • Hank Long, Managing editor – Woodbury Bulletin
    • Ted Lillie, Publisher – Lillie suburban newspaper
    • Debbie, Editor – Woodbury Magazine
    • Julie Lehr, Communications Coordinator and Jason Egerstrom, Communications Specialist – City of Woodbury Communications

    Hank Long, Ted Lillie and Julie Lehr walked us through the development process of how to cover a news story, using Woodbury Lakes Shopping Center as an example. They talked about the five stages in the process: rumor, application, public hearing, approval and grand opening, and demonstrated how one would go about identifying the sources and issues, and writing from interesting angles.

    Debbie Musser shared how she plans an issue of Woodbury Magazine. She also let us play the role of editor and brainstorm ideas for the Magazine.

    It was a really interesting and informative session. I not only learned some insights of the local media, but also met with the people in charge of the media. What a great learning and networking opportunity!

    I knew Hank from writing for the Woodbury Bulletin. I thought he always writes about other people and put other people in the spotlight. Today I could finally put him in the spotlight. That’s why I took a picture of him during his presentation.

    So here comes Hank, editor of Woodbury Bulletin.

    Oops, my picture turned out to be a little blurry to be useful. So unless Hank is willing to send me a picture of himself, you would have to get a paper copy of Woodbury Bulletin to see him. You can get the newspaper in grocery stores or gas stations in Woodbury. It comes out every Wednesday.

    For the monthly Woodbury Magazine, you can get free subscription by requesting it via its website. I highly recommend it. I enjoy reading the Magazine with beautiful photos and nice articles.

    I am not so familiar with the Woodbury-South Maplewood Review. You can get more info from its website.

    City of Woodbury has a few publications worth mentioning and reading: the Woodbury City Update (10 issues per year) and Parks and Recreation brochure (three times a year in April, Aug. and Nov.) that every household and business in Woodbury gets automatically.  

    The City of Woodbury website has a wealth of information. You can sign up for InTouch lists to get updates on different topics from the city.

    BTW, when you go to the city’s Parks and Recreation website to register for classes, you can see a photo of my son. That photo won the Woodbury Photo Contest a few years ago. I am glad they like the photo and have it on their website.


    Nominate your favorite teacher

    Want to show your favorite teacher a little appreciation?

    Then help him/her win a FREE 8-meal session from Let’s Dish by nominating him/her for the 1st Let’s Dish! Teachers of the Year awards.

    Nominations are accepted through April 2nd.

    The top nominees will be announced the week of April 5th. Then everyone can vote for the finalists.

    Five deserving teachers will be surprised during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3-7, 2010) with a FREE 8-meal session from Let’s Dish!

    Today my daughter went to a Destination Imagination celebration party at Green Mill. It was organized by Middleton 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Joan Hochman.

    Mrs. Hochman organized and coordinated the DI program at Middleton this year. Eight teams with some 60 students participated in the program. A lot of work, time and effort went into team building, weekly practices, preparing for competition on March 6th and the party today.

    When I noticed the “Nominate your favorite teacher to win” email in my inbox later in the evening after I came back home with my daughter from the party, I just had to nominate Mrs. Hochman. She definitely deserves lots of appreciation and a free meal.

    Thank you and good luck, Mrs. Hochman! 

    To nominate your favorite teacher, fill out the form here.

    Feng Shui and intentional living


    Today I attended a brown bag presentation on Feng Shui and the Power of Intention by certified Feng Shui practitioners Caroline Lehman, Karen Hollingsworth and Mary Conley.

    They talked about

    • The four principles of Feng Shui
    • The five elements
    • how to create and live your day and life with more intention and awareness, both within and without
    • how to align your thoughts and actions to experience a more balanced, healthy, happy, fulfilling life, and an increased level of satisfaction and well being

    It was a wonderful presentation, the best attended one we had so far this year at Mn/DOT.

    For more information about the topic, check the presenters’ websites or read my articles published in Woodbury Bulletin. You can also find tons of information on the Internet.




    Why scanning documents?

    One of the things I always wanted to do was to scan all of my important paper documents onto computer.

    Well, I finally did it today. I took out a binder that contains important documents such as ID cards, passports, birth certificates, graduation certificates, marriage certificates, vehicle and house titles, etc. and scanned them all in 2-3 hours.

    There are many advantages of having those documents scanned onto computer.

    Peace of mind
    I can make a backup copy of my computer and store it somewhere else. In case something happened to the original paper documents, I still have a copy in electronic format.

    Reduce paper clutter and go green
    Scanning paper documents onto computer is a great way to reduce the use and storage of paper. I don’t need to keep multiple paper copies. I can always print copies if needed. This will reduce paper waste and conserve energy.

    Easy portability and access
    I can keep the electronic documents on my computer and also on a flash drive. I can access the documents whenever I need them.

    Easy organization
    Electronic documents can be organized much faster, better, and more easily than paper documents. In addition, finding, viewing, and sharing electronic documents can be achieved with unprecedented speed and ease – instantly.

    Paper documents will turn yellow and become brittle over the time. Scanning paper documents onto computer can preserve and improves the quality of those documents.

    For my next scanning project, when I have time and desire on another day, I would like to scan more photos, and school reports and certificates from various activities.

    Imagine, when my kids grow up and start their own lives, I’ll be able to hand them a disk with important family documents and history, lots of photos and their childhood memories, everything on a disk.

    Wouldn’t it be cool?


    A day refreshed in body, mind and spirit

    What a nice day we had today!

    It was sunny and warm. With a record-high 64 degrees in the Twin Cities, it felt like spring or summer, though there were still chunks of ice here and there on the road.

    Kids were wearing shorts and t-shirts while playing balls, biking or scooting outside.

    I also came out of my winter hibernation. I did a couple of things I haven’t done in the last few months.

    In the afternoon, I worked in my garden. After dinner, I took a walk.

    Just last week, the garden was still covered with snow. With rain and rising temperature, the ground has thawed. I was able to dig a trench in my garden and mixed into the ground my food scraps that were accumulated during the last few months.

    Since I started the vegetable garden in our backyard when we moved into the new house in 2001, I have been doing composting all year around.

    Most of the year, I just dump the food scraps in the trench and cover it with some soil on the top. But during the winter when the ground is frozen, I leave the food scraps in plastic bags under my deck. I compost them all when the weather gets warmer like today.

    I feel good that I am able to garden organically using soils enriched with my own compost. It also makes me feel good to reduce trash and help save the environment.

    After dinner, it was still bright. I took a 40 minute walk around the neighborhood. It felt so good to breath in the fresh and warm air. I had missed my after dinner walk for a few months.

    During winter, I hardly see anyone on the street. Most residential areas feel like ghost towns. Now I can see and feel life in the air again, with people walking and kids playing outside.

    As I was walking, I pondered again on the message that my pastor Frank Sanders delivered this morning at Spirit of Life Bible Church.

    His message was centered on the question: “What is your priority in life?”

    Pastor Frank is passionate about God. His sermons are always insightful and down to earth. Today I was especially touched by his message. He spoke to me, into my mind and soul.

    I pondered the questions he asked everyone: “What is your priority and do you have your priority right?”

    I think I know what my priority is and should be.

    • To look beyond the earthly and temporary things and set my eyes on the eternal life.
    • To love my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and love my neighbors as myself.
    • To walk with the Lord in my daily life, to read his Words, to obey, to pray, to serve.
    • To surrender my will and obey His will and follow his plan and purpose for my life.
    • To accumulate wealth not on earth, but in heaven.

    But, do I practice what I know?

    As I reflected where and how I spend my time, treasure and talent, I knew in my heart that I don’t always do what I should do.

    Even though I know what my priority is, but if I don’t do it right, it’s no different than someone who doesn’t know what his priority is.

    Pastor Sanders’ message really stirred my heart today.

    Working in the garden, walking in the neighborhood, with Pastor Sanders’ message in my mind, and the fresh air in my body, I felt refreshed and reenergized.

    What a beautiful day I had!

    To read my article about Pastor Frank Sanders, Living the Spirit of Life with Passion, visit my blog here.


    LMS won 2nd and 4th in Math Masters


    Two teams made up of ten 6th grade students from Lake Middle School participated in Math Masters Regional competition held at John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood today. They won the 2nd and 4th place in team competition. Each team member received a medal and a certificate.

    A few students also won in the Fact Drill and Individual competitions.

    My son won three medals, one from each category. He was happy and proud. It was a fun event.

    Math Masters of Minnesota provides competitions in mathematics for fifth and sixth grade students in public, private, and home schools. The regional competitions are held around the state of Minnesota each spring.

    In 2009, more than 4000 students competed at 35 different sites around the state of Minnesota and in Wisconsin.

    Thanks to Lake Middle School for offering and sponsoring Math Masters this year. A especial thank-you to Ms. Tina Van Erp, Gifted Education Specialist at Lake and Woodbury Middle Schools, for coordinating the program, and to Riyad Moe and Hong Ding for coaching the two teams.


    EXCO – Free, community-led education

    Learning is a life long process. I believe everyone should continue education no matter what state they are in their life.

    Nowadays, many ways and opportunities exist out there that help us continue the life-long learning.

    If you don’t care about getting a degree and a piece of paper to advance your career and financial life, if you simply want to learn for the joy of learning, if you are interested in taking some free classes in Twin Cities, check out the Experimental College of the Twin Cities (also known as EXCOtc) and its website.

    “Everyone can teach or take classes, and all classes are free!”
    This is the motto of the EXCOtc.

    The Experimental College Movement started in the 1960s by college students in search of equal access, social justice and democratic education for social change. It aims to bring alternative voices to the University culture and to provide a forum for learning and teaching in an informal, cooperative setting.

    ECXO is generally a school within a school, based out of a college or university that offers classes taught by not just traditional professors, but students and community members as well, often without grades and free of charge.

    EXCO has a community-based emphasis. It welcomes members from the community to teach and learn.

    EXCO provides an outlet for individuals to share their interests and skills. It provides opportunities for lifelong learning.

    EXCOtc was a relatively new establishment. It started by Macalester students in 2006.

    EXCOtc is expanding to other college campuses and community groups.
    The University of Minnesota (Twin Cities Campus) chapter was created 2007.

    A wide variety of classes are offered through EXCOtc by a wide variety of individuals, from professionals to amateurs.

    There’s something for everyone at EXCO. From theoretical to practical, from politics to languages, from health to spirituality, you will probably find a class that interests you.

    If you are interested in teaching or taking a class with EXCOtc, submit an application or sign up a class online at www.EXCOtc.org. To contact EXCOtc, you can also call (651) 998-9268, or send an email to excotc@gmail.com.

    Education opportunities in Woodbury

    Education was the topic of today’s session, the session six of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held at Woodbury High School.

    The following school principals and administrators from local schools gave presentations about birth to adult education, school choices (public, charter, private) and brief introduction about individual schools.

    • Linda Plante, Principal, Woodbury High School
    • Nicole Robbins, founder, Footprints Academy/Peace of Mind Early Education Center
    • Terry Campbell, Administrator, New Life Academy
    • Matthew Metz, Principal, St. Ambrose of Woodbury
    • Tiffany Simmons, Globe University

    Alison Canty, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator at School District 833, shared her experience as a student growing up in Woodbury.

    Woodbury is a growing community with a variety of education opportunities. Having high quality education and different choices of schools have certainly contributed to the growth of the community.

    I can’t believe we have already been more than half way through with the 10 week program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation. I look forward to every session to learn different things about Woodbury. When you have fun, time just goes by so quickly.

    Next session’s topic is about local media. As a writer, that certainly will be my favorite topic. I look forward to meeting with editors and publishers of the local media. 

    Reading Rivalry at Middleton Elementary

    Reading Rivalry Competition was held at Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury today. The 3rd, 4th and 5th graders had separate competition at the grade level. I watched my daughter’s 4th graders competing.

    Amy’s team got the 3rd place. They lost the 2nd place to a boys’ team when they didn’t answer the 2nd tiebreaker question correctly.

    Nice job, boys, for winning the reading competition. It shows you are not only good at sport (they were all wearing some kind of sport team shirts), but also at reading.

    It was a fun and exciting event.

    Each team had to read 12 books in order to participate in the competition. They had practiced with a parent coach since mid January. Amy was one of the few who read all 12 books.

    Thanks Brenda Erikstrup for coaching Amy’s team! And thanks to all teachers and parents involved who made this event possible.  


    Winter band concert at Lake Middle School

    Today the 6th grade band students at Lake Middle School performed the winter concert, their second concert in the school year 2009-2010. Their first band concert took place on Dec. 3, 2009.

    About 150 students participated in the performance in three groups, one for the first year band students, and two for the second year band students. They also played together for the last piece “School spirit.”

    My favorite from all 12 pieces performed today was “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” by Mozart.

    The concert was conducted by the Band Director at Lake Middle School, Mr. Roderic VanScoy.

    My son plays clarinet in his second year. I wish he could treasure the opportunity of having band lessons at school and spend some time practicing at home.

    Practice makes perfect. It’s especially true when it comes to playing an instrument.

    Making comparison – cause of trouble

    Yesterday I read a biography about Michelle Obama. It was one of those books I checked out for my kids to read, but I ended up reading it myself.

    Michelle grew up in a working class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. She graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She worked at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met her future husband. And the rest is history.

    Since becoming First Lady, Michelle Obama is a role model for many women.

    I found her life story inspiring, the same way I feel when I read most biographies.

    But I have to admit I had some unexpected, mixed feelings this time.

    The simple fact that I was born in the same year as Michelle, went to college and graduated from college in the same year as Michelle, also lived and worked at a law firm (not as a lawyer though) in Chicago as Michelle, caused me to make comparisons between her and myself, which was unusual for me. I am very content in my nature. But somehow I couldn’t help it after reading the book and realizing that we have something in common. It didn’t matter, that something is not important at all.

    I didn’t go to Harvard Law School. I probably could have if I were born in this country like Michelle.

    I didn’t make so much money as Michelle did. She actually made more than her husband.

    I didn’t marry a famous man as Michelle did.

    I didn’t …

    I could have …

    I would have …

    I wish …

    Pretty soon, I was feeling like a failure.

    I caught myself as I was feeling sorry for myself. I should have known better.

    Just three days ago I shared the story “Lessons from hot chocolate” on my blog.

    “Life is the hot chocolate; your job, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The cup you have does not define, nor does it change the quality of life you are living. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the hot chocolate God has provided us.

    The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything they have.

    And remember, the richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.”

    As human beings, we have the tendency to compare ourselves with others and to envy others for things we don’t have. And it is really easy to fall into the trap of comparison and envy!

    When we begin to eye one another’s cups instead of focusing on the content in the cups and enjoy the hot chocolate God has prepared for each of us, we soon become dissatisfied, depressed and unhappy.

    As I brought myself back to my normal state of mind, I reminded myself, “Enjoy your own hot chocolate, Michelle’s cup may look prettier, but she has the same hot chocolate God has prepared for each of us.”

    False, yet still has truth

    Last week, I got a forwarded message with the subject: A Must Read – John Hopkins Update.

    Since the text doesn’t look so official and professional, I went online to Snopes.com to check its validity. According to Snopes, the message is indeed false.

    Though the message did not originate from John Hopkins and therefore it’s false, however, based on my own reading, I personally believe it contains a lot of truthful information.

    One example is about sugar and Aspartame.

    It says: “Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful.”

    Coincidently, last week I also received in my inbox Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Newsletter. It contains an article about the artificial sweetener Aspartame, titled “America’s Deadliest Sweetener Betrays Millions, Then Hoodwinks You With Name Change.”

    People should read both articles and maybe more in order to decide for themselves what is false and truth. Please also read the comments to Dr. Mercola’s article.

    Last week I found out that some people are not interested in truth or are afraid to know truth.

    When I asked someone who drinks coffee if she was interested in reading an article on artificial sweetener, I was totally surprised by her response: “No, don’t send me that. I don’t want to know.”

    I was dumbfounded.

    I wanted to share information I think could be helpful, but was rejected.

    I am surprised that people are not interested in or are afraid of truth.

    I am not saying what I know and share is all truth. What I think is truth may well be false. But I think being informed and making an educated decision are important.

    You can only inform and educate people if they want to be informed and educated. 

    Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. What I provide here is for your information only. 

    DI Tournament and Award for Principal

    My daughter Amy and I spent more than half of the day today at Harding High School in St. Paul for the 2010 Minnesota Destination ImagiNation East Metro Regional Tournament.

    Destination ImagiNation is an after-school educational program for students from elementary school through college to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving.

    Each team chooses a Team Challenge to work on. The team works together to create a solution and presents it on tournament day. The Team Challenge is the first part of the DI competition and is open to spectators.

    The second part of the DI competition is the Instant Challenge. An Instant Challenge is an unknown challenge and is conducted in a private room with only one Team Manager for an audience.

    The winning teams from the Regional competition are then eligible to compete at the affiliate-level "State" competition. Winners at the state level can compete at the Global Finals in May in Knoxville, Tennessee.

    Amy was on one of the eight teams from Middleton Elementary School that participated in the event. The teams started practicing weekly since December 2009.

    We left right after the Instant Challenge and before the award ceremony. So we don’t know the results yet.

    Middleton teacher Mrs. Joan Hochman has organized and coordinated all the details around DI practices and competition for Middleton, with several parent volunteers as team coaches. My daughter’s team coach is Dana Millington. I want to thank them all for making the DI possible and successful at Middleton. I know they had put a lot of time and efforts into the program and tournament.

    For more information on DI, visit the following websites:
    Destination ImagiNation

    Minnesota Destination ImagiNation

    Wikipedia Article 

    Speaking of Middleton, I got the following good “News from District 833” yesterday.

    "Middleton Principal Julie Nielsen receives MESPA award
    Congratulations to Julie Nielsen for being named the recipient of the 2010 Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association Division Leadership Achievement Award. MESPA members selected 12 of their peers to receive the 2010 MESPA Division Leadership Achievement Award. Principals are responsible for a school’s instructional, school culture, and resource leadership. The award honors principals whose exemplary leadership and sustained efforts have made noteworthy contributions to the operation of effective school learning programs – improving education, their communities, and their profession."

    Congrats to Middleton and Principal Nielsen.

    Lessons from hot chocolate

    I want to share a message I received from a friend. It is such a nice story. I don’t know who wrote it.

    A group of graduates, well established in their careers, were discussing their lives at a class reunion. They decided to go visit their old university professor, now retired, who was always an inspiration to them.

    During their visit, the conversation turned to complaints about stress in their work, lives and relationships.

    Offering his guests hot chocolate, the professor went into the kitchen and returned with a large pot of hot chocolate and an assortment of cups. Some cups were porcelain, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite. He invited all to help themselves to the hot chocolate.

    When they all had a cup of hot chocolate in hand, the professor shared his thoughts.

    “Notice that all the nice looking, expensive cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

    The cup that you are drinking from adds nothing to the quality of the hot chocolate. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What each of you really wanted was hot chocolate, not the cup . . . but you consciously went for the best cups. And soon, you began to eye one another’s cups.

    Now friends, please consider this: Life is the hot chocolate; your job, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The cup you have does not define, nor does it change the quality of life you are living. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the hot chocolate God has provided us.

    Always remember this . . . God makes the hot chocolate, He does not choose the cup. Man chooses the cup.

    The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything they have.

    Live simply … Love generously … Care deeply … Speak kindly … Leave the rest to God.

    And remember, the richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.”

    Enjoy your hot chocolate!

    Learning about Woodbury history

    Learning about the history of the community we live in and hearing older generation talking about what life was like in the old days are fascinating.

    That’s just what we did today at session five of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held in the oldest church of Woodbury, maybe one of the oldest in the whole state, Woodbury United Methodist Church.

    Several members from the Woodbury Heritage Society came to do a presentation and panel discussion to share their knowledge about Woodbury: its geography, history, first settlers, first churches, first mayor, first developments, early schools, early community life, population growth, etc.

    It was great to learn where our street or school names such as Bielenberg, Red Rock, Middleton came from, among other things.

    We had a chance to see some pictures and artifacts. We also did a whirlygigs project to take home. That’s what kids played with before they had plastic toys so common today.

    I have lived in Woodbury since 2001. I don’t know how many times I have driven past the Woodbury Heritage House and Garden located at the corner of Radio Drive and Lake Road. In the last couple of years I wanted to take my kids to visit it, but never did. It’s a shame. I will make sure to visit the little house this summer. After today’s presentations I am really motivated to do so.

    I want to say thank you to Bill Schrankler, Wayne Schilling, Kathryn Ho, Ken Wolterstorff and Bud Urtel from the Woodbury Heritage Society for your informative and interactive presentations and discussions. Thank you for what you have done to help keep Woodbury’s past alive. I hope your love for Woodbury has inspired a few souls to join you in your wonderful cause.

    Woodbury Heritage Society is in need of volunteers who can help preserve and document Woodbury’s history and aid residents of our community in learning and understanding more about Woodbury’s early years. Please visit Woodbury Heritage Society’s website for more information.

    Self introduction

    Since today is my birthday and I have never really introduced myself to the audience of this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to post my self introduction article from 2006. That initial article launched my career as the Woodbury Bulletin columnist in 2006.

    Not much has changed in regarding to my background and myself, except the time has changed. And I no longer write the weekly column for the print edition of Woodbury Bulletin, instead I write this daily blog that is linked to the Bulletin’s home page.

    I hope the article will help connect some of the dots I threw out in “100 blogs, 100 words” on 2/26/2010.

    Here are some pictures. Unfortunately my parents lost all of my childhood pictures during one of their moves. I didn’t have many to start with. Now I just have pictures starting from my college years in Beijing, China. 

    Beijing, China

    I was in front of the university entrance, shortly before graduating.

    Beijing, China

    Standing on the Tiananmen Square, in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen in Chinese), the front entrance into the Imperial City (or Forbidden City). It is widely used as a national symbol, just like the White House is a national symbol for the United States. Here Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic on Oct. 1, 1949. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen

    Beijing, China

    Facing a brighter future, I left for Germany that year.

    Heidelberg, Germany

    Standing on the Old Bridge in front of the Heidelberg Castle. The Old Bridge and the Castle are symbols of Heidelberg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_Castle

    Madison, Wisconsin

    The year I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Madison Campus is very colorful and pretty in the fall. Behind me is Lake Mendota.

    Chicago, ILL

    I worked in Chicago for a few years before moving to Minnesota.

    Woodbury, MN

    My family moved into the new house in Woodbury.

    Touched by adoption

    One thing that often touches me more than anything is reading and hearing about people who adopt special needs children.

    This past Sunday [02/28/2010], Pioneer Press had a front page adoption story titled “Just a little more perfect.” It’s about a couple, Chris Stein and Meryl Rose, who adopted a girl from China with a cleft lip or palate. They are going to adopt another child with the same condition.

    Connections, a newsletter by Gillette Children’s Hospital, also had a story about Willow’s adoption in its Fall 2009 issue. Read “New Family. New Future!" here.

    What a selfless act and sacrifice!

    I am always touched by stories like this. I feel admiration for people who adopt children in need, especially children with special needs. And I am happy for those children who were abandoned by their biological parents but now found new parents and new homes.

    It is true a real parent is someone who raises you, not someone who just gives birth to you. I hope when these children grow up, they will realize how fortunate they are. Even though they were born with a physical problem, yet in a way they are more fortunate than many physically healthy children who grow up without love at home and in abusive families.

    As a native Chinese, I feel thankful for all Americans who have adopted children from China and give these orphans a loving home. I am more than thankful for those who have adopted children with special needs. I really admire them.

    One of the first two articles I wrote for Woodbury Bulletin in 2006 was about an adoption story of a couple I met in Woodbury who adopted a special needs girl from China.

    Read "A special adoption journey" here.

    Don’t be intimidated

    To teach my son financial responsibility, I helped him open a savings and a checking account over three years ago. So he could save his money in his bank account instead of keeping and spending all, and learn to use checks.

    Mid November last year, Andy wanted to buy a school t-shirt, and he was willing to pay for it. So I wrote a check of $7 from his account to his Lake Middle School.

    Unbeknownst to me at that time, his account would soon be closed by the bank due to six-month of inactivity.

    The account was closed near the end of January 2010. The school didn’t cash the check until at the beginning of February. I don’t know why it took so long to cash the check. And I didn’t realize that I had the check still unpaid.

    Last week I got a letter from a collection agency dated February 15. I was asked to pay $37.

    I never had something like that happened to me. So I was not happy about it. A $7 t-shirt became an expensive $37 t-shirt.

    But it was something I couldn’t blame anyone else for, I still had to pay.

    Today I called the collection agency to pay the charges.

    I pay everything with credit card. It’s just easy and convenient. So I asked the customer service rep if I could pay with my credit card. She told me I had to pay extra $12 for using credit card. Then I told her I would just send the payment with a check in the mail.

    Then she started to intimidate me, saying if I didn’t pay right away with a credit card, I should mail the payment overnight. Sending the payment in the mail might be too late. The case could be referred to lawyer tomorrow and I could end up with expensive lawyer and court fees.

    I asked for a timeline. I wanted to know when that would happen to avoid what she was telling me about dealing with lawyer and court. She couldn’t tell me. When I asked to talk to her supervisor or another person, she got upset, saying I would get the exact same answer. I didn’t buy it. She got inpatient and hung up the phone.

    Having to pay extra $30 was enough for me. I didn’t want to pay another $12 unnecessarily. I certainly felt intimidated and threatened.

    I would rather pay the school district the extra fee than the collection agency.

    So I called the school district business office and told the woman on the line what happened.

    She made a phone call to the collection agency. Then she called me right back and told me that what the rep did was not right. I don’t need to worry about being late. I have plenty of time to mail the payment in.

    I was glad I didn’t give in to the intimidation.

    This reminded me of another experience I had eight years ago with a doctor from Capitol Orthopedics.

    My then three-year-old daughter suffered some fractures on her left elbow due to an accident. A local orthopedist threatened to turn me over to social workers because I didn’t want him to take an X-Ray of her elbow for the third time within a 10-day time period.

    I felt the doctor was trying to manipulate and intimidate me. I never went back to him again. And my daughter turned out to be fine without that extra X-Ray.

    I wrote about that experience in a Woodbury Bulletin article.

    My point is, don’t let people in any kind of power or position intimidate you. Especially in the business world, people do certain things for their own best interest and benefit. If you feel intimidated, go to another source and get help from someone else.

    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 www.Goodreads.com 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: http://www.5lovelanguages.com

    [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.

    Reading incentive

    My kids love to read. So I don’t worry about them not reading or not reading enough. 

    But I am concerned that they don’t read broadly enough. They read almost exclusively fiction. I am a nonfiction reader. 

    I wanted to encourage them to read more nonfiction books, especially biographies. I think at this young age, they can learn a lot of important lessons and wisdom from other successful people. Through reading life stories of famous people, they learn how to overcome poverty and challenges, how to work hard in order to become successful and reach your dreams. 

    Today I had an idea and announced it to my kids. 

    Whoever reads 1000 pages of nonfiction books will get an ice cream at the library. 

    I don’t uaually buy my kids treats, so an ice cream at the library is a nice treat and a big deal for them. They were both excited and motivated. They couldn’t wait to go to the library today. 

    In the afternoon we went to the Washington County Library in Woodbury. They checked out a whole bag of books, about 40 biographies. All of my son’s books are about athletes. My daughter’s books are about artists, musicians, writers, etc. 

    And they started reading intensely. 

    In 2-3 hours, Andy has already finished 400 pages. I don’t know about Amy, she hasn’t tallied her totals yet. She is a fast reader. I won’t be surprised by her high number. 

    Some of the juvenile books Andy read are really easy. The page numbers add up quickly. 

    I was glad to hear a comment Andy made after he read about 10 books. He said he liked reading those biographies. 

    Now I am getting concerned that I will owe them too many ice creams by next Sunday when we visit the library again. 

    For sure, going to the library will be more exciting for them than it used to be.

    Living food



    Today I found in my basement two cabbages I bought at Farmer’s Market.

    Back in October 2009, I bought quite a few of cabbages at Farmer’s Market when the produce was fresh and the price was unbeatable. These are the last two left.

    As you can see from the pictures, the cabbages are still good. They have also grown.

    Both have grown at the bottom. One has grown on the top as well, actually from inside out.

    Can you imagine what the cabbage would look or smell like if it had been cooked and left out for three months?

    It would be really gross.

    Also imagine a raw potato alongside a cooked one, the raw potato will last for weeks and even sprout whereas the cooked potato will spoil in a few days.

    Here lies the difference between living food and dead food.

    It reminds me of what I read in Hallelujah Diet a few years ago.

    To show the difference between a food that is DEAD and one that is ALIVE, the author Rev. George Malkmus suggests this little experiment.

    Use 5 raw carrots. Place one in water and watch it grow. It will grow, because it is still in its living form.

    It’s true. Sometimes I find the carrots left in the fridge for a while will grow roots.

    Now take the remaining 4 raw carrots, and cook them. Cook one in boiling water. Cook the second carrot in a steamer. Cook the third carrot in the oven, and the fourth in a microwave.

    Now take each of those cooked carrots and place them in the water as with the first raw carrot, and watch them grow.

    Will these cooked carrots grow? Of course not! Why? Because the heat of cooking killed the life force (enzymes) within those carrots!

    When we cook our food, we destroy all enzymatic activity, that is, the life within that carrot has been destroyed, along with a high percentage of its nutrients. 

    Our body is comprised of trillions of living cells. These living cells are constantly in the process of dying and replacing themselves with new cells. The quality of the new cells is totally dependent on the building materials – the food we put into our body.

    Dead (cooked) food cannot provide the proper building materials with which to build a new, healthy, vital, vibrant, living cell.

    A healthy cell and a healthy body need living foods, foods which are still in their natural raw, living forms. Living foods are more nutritious because they still have all of their vitamins, minerals, and enzymes which will be destroyed in the cooking process.

    People who eat living food are more alert, have more energy and need less sleep.

    When I was growing up in China, I didn’t eat much raw food. Almost all vegetables were cooked. The only raw food I ate was probably cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots, in addition to fruit.

    Now I am trying to eat more living raw food.

    I always like fruit. I eat different kinds of fruit every day.

    In terms of vegetables, now I can also eat raw celeries, cabbages, etc. During the summer, I eat salad every day from my own garden.

    I hardly eat meat any more. I still like seafood, but I am eating less of seafood too.

    What dads and moms need to know

    I recently read the book “What Dads Need to know about Daughters / What Moms Need to know about Sons” by John and Helen Burns.

    The Burns are internationally known speakers on marriage, family, and relationships. They also pastor Relate Church, a thriving family church with three worship centres in the Vancouver area.

    The book provides advices on how to raise sons and daughters to become healthy, mature, and loving adults.

    One of the ideas talked about in the book is to have a regualr parent-child date to foster a close relationship and friendship. I knew that and read about it many times. But I haven’t put it into practice yet.

    I know I should. It is a great idea.

    Intentional Living & Valentine contest

    I don’t watch TV, but I like to listen to talk shows on radio.

    My favorite radio station is KTIS AM 900 Faith Radio in Twin Cities. My radio at home, in my office or in my car is set to this station all the time.

    One of my favorite talk shows is Intentional Living by Dr. Randy Carlson at 3:06 pm on weekdays and 10:06 am on Saturdays.

    The program used to be called Parent Talk On Call With Dr. Randy Carlson. In the last couple of years it was changed to Intentional Living.

    I enjoy listening to Dr. Randy’s biblical teaching on parenting, marriages, relationships and intentional living. His advices and comments are practical and common sense, with insight and wisdom.

    Dr. Randy is the author of several books, including:

    • The Power of One Thing: How to Intentionally Change Your Life
    • Starved for Affection
    • Unlocking The Secrets Of Your Childhood Memories
    • Father Memories: How to Discover the Unique Powerful and Lasting Impact Your Father Has on Your Adult Life and Relationships

    Today I heard about the Intentional Valentine Contest on his radio. You can go to his Intentional Living website and enter to win the grand prize of a trip for two to the Intentional Living Marriage & Parenting Conference – with free roundtrip airfare, lodging and admission to the conference.

    Plus you can enter to win Dr. Randy’s books. Two of his latest books will be given away each day starting February 1 through February 11.

    You might not win anything if you enter the contest, but if you check out his website and listen to his radio program on KTIS AM 900, I think you will learn something.

    Mindfulness in practice

    Every night after I say "Good night. I love you!" to my kids, I usually hurry to the computer room to do my stuff, i. e., emailing, reading and writing.

    But last night, after my son Andy went to bed and I said "Good night. I love you!" I stayed and sat down next to him in the dark bedroom for a few minutes. 

    Without my saying anything, my son started to share something happened to him at school. 

    A classmate, a bully and a trouble maker, scratched Andy’s neck with his fingernails. He reported the incident to the teacher. Later the assistant principal came to talk to the student. 

    I said: "Andy, you did the right thing. I am proud of you."

    Then I also told him: "It’s not good to bully other kids and make troubles. That kid is a bully and a trouble maker. But let’s have some sympathy and compassion for him. He must have experienced some troubles and difficulties in life. If he had grown up in a nice family with loving parents, he won’t have become a troubled kid and a trouble maker in the first place. This kid doesn’t get the love and attention he needs at home. So he makes troubles at school to get attention. He is not a bad kid, he is just a victim of a troubled family. So try to be nice to him. OK?"

    Andy responded: "OK." 

    I left the room, with a sense of satisfaction, because I just practiced mindful living. 

    Had I hurried to leave and go do my own things, I would have missed the conversation and moment of sharing with my son. 

    We talked for only a few minutes, but it was a meaningful moment. 

    I realized I need to slow down and practice more mindful living, so I won’t miss important moments like this in life.


    Mindfulness is a topic that has always interested me.

    Today I had a chance to participate in a brief presentation by Judith Lies from Seeds of Mindfulness on mindfulness-based stress reduction.

    Mindfulness is being in the present moment, having our mind and body in the same place at the same time.

    The Chinese character "nian" for mindfulness is composed of "jin" (now) and "xin" (heart, mind). It means to "reflect, think; to study, learn by heart, remember; recite, read" – to live in the now, with heart and mind.

    When we are engaged in a hobby, when we are focused on doing something we really like, we often forget the time. That’s when we are practicing mindfulness.

    Mindfulness means our mind is focused on the present, not on the past or the future. We live in the present without judgment and expectation, without being in the fight or flight, reactive mode which causes stress in life.

    During the presentation we spent a few minutes on meditation. It resulted in a relaxed and peaceful feeling.

    I wish I could spend some time every day practicing mindfulness meditation. That will be really good for my body, mind and spirit.

    Making photo magnets

    My kids are doing basketball this school year. Recently they got their basketball photos back. I bought them a package that includes a team picture, a couple of individual pictures and a bottom.

    My son was not so happy because I didn’t buy the package with a photo magnet.  

    Why should I? I can make one so easily myself.

    So today, since my kids have no school and I have the day off, we made some photo magnets together.

    I asked my kids to select any birthday or school pictures they like and want to make them into photo magnets for fridge. 

    I am one of those people who saves everything for reuse and recycle. I have saved a lot of magnets that businesses give away at conferences and events. I use them mainly to make photo magnets.

    First I select the appropriate size of magnet for the photo. Next, I peel off the business card from the magnet. If there is enough adhesive left and the surface is still sticky, I can simply put the photo directly on the magnet. If the surface is not sticky, then I use a glue stick to glue the photo on the magnet.  

    It takes less than five minutes to make one. It’s really simple and easy.   

    Now my kids are happy that their basketball pictures are on the fridge, along with some of their other photos. 

    As you can see from the following photo, our fridge is very cluttered with photo magnets. But it looks nice. The photos make a pleasurable display on our fridge. Guests to our house are always attracted to that fridge area to look at the pictures.


    Keep organized with three ring binders

    I love three ring binders. They are a life saver for me. I use them to keep my life organized. I also use them to keep my kids’ life organized.

    I use three ring binders and sheet protectors to keep related items together. For examples:

    • My published articles in newspapers or magazines

    • All the appliance manuals

    • Retirement and financial statements

    • Recipes

    For each of my two children, I gave them a three ring binder with plastic sleeves when they were born. I have been building a portfolio for each of them.

    Each binder contains important documents from the birth to present – birth certificate, graduation certificate, school report cards, test results, yearbooks, awards, letters from teachers, etc.

    My son‘s first binder was full when he finished 5th grade at age 11. So when he started 6th grade at Lake Middle School last year, I gave him a new binder. The transition from elementary to middle school was the perfect time to start a new binder.

    I have a few binders that contain all their birthday or school pictures.

    Another binder for frequent use contains all current information about their after school activities, practice and game schedules for sport. The binder keeps all papers in one place and is handy when I need to know quickly when and what about their activities.

    When my kids grow up and leave home, each will have a portfolio to take with them, their life summarized in a few binders, neatly and orderly.