Friday, January 28, 2011

Game On

When I first started at my new job, I had an introductory meeting with one of the managers at the company during which he said to me "new people don't last very long here." At the time I just thought it was an odd thing to say to a new employee. Now, almost 5 months into my new job I know exactly why this place is hellish for me and believe it or not it has nothing to do with the -30*F temperature. I find it laughable for someone who is 6 feet tall and 250 lbs to go cry to my superior every time his little feelings are hurt. Back stabbing and corporate bullying is something completely new to me and it's sure didn't settle well with me today. I know if I let it bother me I would have let the xenophobe win (but the fact that I'm writing about this now obviously shows that it bothers me to some degree!).

I rarely read my horoscope but today it's spot on:
"The less said, the more you will accomplish. consider adding new touch to your work area. Funnel your attention carefully. Someone might be doing a lot of squawking, trying to get you to notice him or her. Which is more effective: ignoring this person, or give him or her a few minutes? Tonight: squeeze in a stress buster. No excuse, please."

Docile is most likely not a word that comes to mind when people describe me. I didn't move 1,300 miles to this frozen tundra to back down from a cry baby. I'm not one to back down from a challenge. This is a whole new level of learning for me. Everything enriches who we are. If I know if I can make it through all this I can be that much more confident about my abilities.

When I was young and foolish I thought I already knew everything. I'm can still be little Ms. Know-it-all but now I also know the fact that there is so much more for me to learn. Some people are intimidated by opposition. I personally find it stimulating. There is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction for accomplish something that others thought couldn't be done. I guess that's just the little rebel in me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Best Chili Ever!

4 pounds of beef (half ground, half cubed steak), three onions and jalapeƱos, three cans of beans, two cans of diced tomatoes, two cups of black coffee, a bottle of Sam Adam Winter Lager and bunch of spices. Even better than what I made last year. Can a chili still be the best ever if there is no one else to taste it?

I-500 Cross Country Snowmobile Race

video This must be one of the few sporting events that one should enjoy from the warm and comfort of inside of the car.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

-20*F

A pessimist would say it can't get any colder; an optimist would say yes it can! In this weather one has to be mentally prepared to just step outside. As soon as I opened the door my nose hairs would freeze instantly. The quarter mile walk to my car everyday is torturous especially since when I finally get to the car I have to plunge into a frozen leather seat. Ouch. As I wait for the engine to warm up for 15 minutes I sometimes play the African Groove CD from Pottery Barns, close my eyes and try to imagine the lush forests in Ethiopia. It doesn't work. When I open my eyes I just see the flashing red low temperature gauge. This is not a place for the faint of heart, nor any living being. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota is 60*F. The optimist says we've got 40 more degrees to go!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dear Wegmans

Life is not the same without you. Today I spent hours looking through photos of you on google and drooling over luscious food pictures on your website. You were there for me when I was hungry with your enormous prepared food section. You were there for me when I was lonely or bored with your inviting atmosphere with captivating displays. More importantly you were always there for me whenever I needed you, around the clock 24/7 even with tasteful music. Without you, grocery shopping is no longer an experience but a chore.

How am I going to use your recipes now without Food You Feel Good About? I’m missing five out of only six ingredients for the Mahi Mahi Al Forno with Soy & Sacllions. The dish would have to be reduced to just two green onions here. Without you the Wegman's Slow-Cooked Chicken Cacciatore would just be 1 cup dry red wine and 2 tsp McCormick Italian Seasoning (and I'm allergic to wine).

Seeing you used to be the highlight my work day. You always had a large variety freshly prepared food waiting for me. Now I have to try to heat up my raw meatloaf and eat it in a monochromatic cafeteria alone. I have a dream that one day everyone can have access to you $6 meals.

I used to be so proud to introduce you to every new comer in town. I was so proud of having grown up in the same town as you, Pittsford. Not everyone there appreciated you the way I did, probably because they've never had to live without you. Now I tried to explain you to my new coworkers but it's hopeless. You're unimaginable and irreplaceable

Everything you made was good from Wegmans brand granola and yogurt to coffee and baby wipes. I miss everything about you and can only hope that one day we will be reunited again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fridge


I honestly don't know how any living being can survive this harsh and inhospitable place. We have not had above freezing temperature since early November.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bump and Scratch

When I was in high school my mom would always knock on my door at 8 on the weekends and shout out, get up! It's 10am and the day is almost over! The Chinese always say the best season of the year is the spring and the best time of the day is in the morning. Years later even after I moved out of my parents' house I still had hard time sleeping in on the weekends, that is until now. I slept in until noon yesterday guilt free.

This morning was off to a slow start too. I made pan sheered duck breasts for lunch. One of the cats ran off with half of it while I was getting a glass of milk. I caught him and gave him a good beating. When I finally got motivated enough to head to the gym in my hello-kitty pajama bottoms I backed into the neighbor's car. Luckily someone else had already done all the damage for me. The passenger door I ran into was already subjected a semi serious side collision. The girl first tried to blame some of the damages on me when they were obviously much higher than my bumper. I was in no mood to file an insurance claim. While she hesitated with a decision I ran inside and grabbed my checkbook. We can get the only police in town here so he can tell you none of the damage was caused by my car leaving you with nothing or I can write you a $50 check right now for the small inconvenience. Of course, I didn't give her a lesson on market pricing but I did offer her a check for $50. Problem solved. My back bumper has a few scratches but I'll wait until all the snow and ice melts in the spring to evaluate. Sometimes I do wish I own my car so I don't have to be overly concerned with each little dent or scratch. Leasing a car is like borrowing it from an uptight friend who's going to nickel and dime you on every tiny thing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

An Evening of Hockey at the Ralph Engelstad Arena


Unexpectedly I got an invitation to the company's annual hockey night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND curtsy of my manager. It's evident that the winter blues have despoiled me of whatever tiny amount of patience I had with people. For a brief moment I thought of declining the invitation to save everyone else from my foul mood but instead I just kept reminding myself throughout the day to be on my best behavior. I didn't realize just how exclusive this event was until I got onto the chartered bus. A dozen or so royalties from the top management team greeted me as I made my way down the bus isle. Although no one else probably thought much of it, I felt silly for being the least well dressed person in the group. Had I knew about this ahead of time I would have found a cute team shirt or sweater.

This was my very first hockey game and the second sporting event I've ever been to. The first one was a UCLA and Syracuse basketball game my dad took me to while I was in high school. I can't call myself a sport enthusiast and I most certainly knew nothing about hockey. The Ralph Engelstad Arena is a very impressive facility and the controversial Fighting Sioux logos are ubiquitous. The game was UND Vs. Minnesota. Even though we're from the Minnesota side, just about everyone is a Sioux fan. The game was quite enjoyable especially from the suite with plenty of food.

I knew most of the people at the gathering. A few people brought along their spouses so the group appeared to be more evenly divided. People always use the small percentage of female CEOs in the fortune 500 companies to show that fact that we have not yet reached a gender equality. When I actually think about it, out of all the VPs and Directors at the company, I work for the only one who's female. Maybe we have a even longer way to go from here. Still, for this evening, everyone left work and their differences behind for convivial conversations. I even got to meet the owner of the company, a very private and slightly eccentric character, who most employees have never had the chance to see or meet. I was told that I was very privileged

It was late by the time the bus finally made it back to the company. My boss gave me a ride to my car and waited around for it to warm up to make sure I can get home ok. The evening turned out to be much more pleasant than I had thought and I am touched by how nice everyone was, especially my boss. At last, I am tired and content.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cheesecake Feud

Yesterdays blog might sound silly unless you can actually witness what I'm dealing with here. I'm not trying to convert devout Christians to Atheism or to explain theory of relativity. We're talking about what I thought were simple things. For example, how do you tell a roomful of people who are oohing and aahing about a cheesecake from Sam's Club when they are actually eating a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting? Well, you can't! Because if you try they will quickly correct you that any cake with any cheese or cream cheese is considered a "cheesecake"! I didn't bother. I didn't stand a chance.

One of the employees met her untimely death from an auto accident just a couple of weeks ago. When her car collided with a snowbank she was ejected out of her vehicle because she wasn't wearing the seatbelt. Of course, it's a quite sad and unnecessary loss. Yet, people, who I have to interface with on a daily bases, still find it appropriate to launch their rabid attacks on the government seatbelt law and proudly proclaim that they either mechanically disengage the seatbelt alarm in the car or clip it behind their backs! Are you serious?! To most people it would be foolhardy to drive without wearing a seatbelt but if a dead woman can't convince them otherwise I don't need to bother.

Minnesota is one of states with no motorcycle hamlet law. Someone said to me, "who are they to tell me how to be safe. If I crash on my motorcycle I'd rather die than to be in intensive care." Well, it sure doesn't bother me a bit. Her solution would probably save all of us a tremendous amount of medical care cost.

One of my pet peeves is using plastic bags at grocery stories. Whenever I go grocery shopping I'm always dragging along my Wegman's shopping bags and squeezing as many things in it as I can (I also don't like other people bagging for me). So when I went to Walmart yesterday I was told that they HAD to give me a plastic bag. My god, I was so annoyed I couldn't even get a word out. Unfortunately for me the only solution to this problem is 2,000 miles away.

The only way to get through all the diametrically opposite views is to not take things seriously, at all. To them I'm just a godless liberal with my reusable shopping bags and an absurd ladybug car.

If you're still wondering Squidoo offers a good definition for Red Velvet Cake:

"Red Velvet Cake is a sweet, rich layered cake with a very distinctive red color. The color of the cake varies from red-brown, to dark red to a startling bright red. White icing or frosting (butter roux or cream cheese buttermilk frosting are popular) is almost always used, and this brings out the cake's red color even more."

The big hint here is the RED!














Now, this on the right here is a cheesecake!
If you can't tell the difference you've got major colorblindness. Go get your eyes checked.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Pianist and A Cow

There is a Chinese expression that goes something like “playing piano for a cow”. Surely we all have our frustrations when it comes to our jobs. You may not always get your point across, people don’t always agree with each other and what you think is priority rush can easily fall off another person's table. What really ticks me off sometimes is the inability to communicate simple concepts. I think there are a few internal factors involved that often times get me into stressful situations:

1.I am stubborn as a donkey. Once I get started on a topic I forget when to say Thank you.
2.I assume what is easy and logical for me is the same for everyone else.
3.I expect people to understand me and explicitly express that.

Those are not excuses for creating less than pleasant situations with coworkers but rather factors I need to understand and correct overtime. In order to circumvent these shortcomings I have to almost assume some type of superiority complex that I am not accustomed to. I have to know and remind myself that a concept however simple it seems to me can in fact be complex and/or incomprehensible to others. In most cases I shouldn’t even bother to explain. If I do try to explain and fails I shouldn’t take it personally or be waste my brain cells to be completely annoyed with the situation. Without doing that I am simply implying a different case of superiority in that I am the ultimate educator by taking great effort to play the piano for a cow. Ultimate, the fact a pianist can't entertain a cow with Debussy is neither a poor reflection on the pianist nor the cow . It is simply a fact that nobody can change. Although, studies have shown dairy cows respond positively to country music. Certainly there is a case to be made for explaining to an audience in its own language. We’re not going to venture into that topic.

The most recent census statistic shows that on average 14 out of one hundred residents in rural MN have college degrees. That is an absolutely shocking figure to me. The locals are extremely proud of the fact that this is the perfect place to raise children. People are products of their environments. In no way would I want my kids to grow up in an area with no diversity and more uneducated people than people with college degrees. Needless to say there are many other factors here that would make this an unlikely candidate for the ideal place to raise a family. If I ever have kids, I would want them to have the opportunity to be exposed to many things and pursue a variety of interests. Some people are perfectly content with the monotony of life here and see no fault in raising their kids in the same environment. I am not attempting to pass judgments onto others. However, I do feel sorry for the kids who don’t have much of a chance to excel beyond their surroundings, at least not until they have reached a legal age. Hence, to my original point, not everyone has had the same privileges I’ve had. Playing piano to a cow is a complete waste of time and energy.

A strong-willed, independently minded, single Asian female can be offensive to some people on all four accounts. Had I lived in the 18th century Salem I most likely would have been subjected to one of those witch trials by ordeal!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Neutrality

When Og Mandino wrote, “waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside,” he must had been writing from northwestern MN. Life here is quite bland. I'm not sure if I'm happy but I know I am not unhappy and that's probably a good thing. I also know that I'm more balanced here. There's not much to expect so there's not much to be upset about. Being quite the emotional person I am, the variance on my ups and downs have greatly reduced. The term noise in the economical sense applies to things other than accurate information. In daily life noise can be referred to distractions from one's true self. Pretty quiet here.

Many people are familiar with the classic: How to Win Friends and Influence People. I read the first five pages a while back and am still trying to master the first rule: when you have nothing better to say, just say thank you. Contributing too much is one thing I know I have a problem with. Today I had a good learning opportunity.

Working in the same office as two other females we're constantly stepping on others toes. When a load of uninvited advises and criticisms was unleashed on me today my blood instantly boiled over. It was clear to me that the person had no interest in listening to what I had to say yet I tried to explain my position anyways. When, against all my instinct I said, thank you. Those of you who know me understand how difficult that must have been for me. I'm glad I said thank you but next time it will be the only thing I say.

Today I shed a tear reading the newspaper. If I believed in prayers I would extend them to the families in Arizona. I was never a fan of 24-hour news coverage. Today as I watched CNN I couldn't help but to feel completely frustrated by the absurdity said by tea party organizer who's last name starts with an L and ends with oesch. And what's with the red slutty lipstick??? It's just outrageous.
I used to cry watching movies. I still do but now I'm much more touched by real tragedies and stories of perseverance.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chinese Mothers

There is a great article on the Wall Street Journal today written by Harvard Law Professor Amy Chau on "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." Having grown up in China I can most certainly attest to the parenting methodology described in the article, although not from first hand experiences. That probably explains why I never made it to the Ivy Leagues.

Honestly, I find this article to be extremely enjoyable. Finally, someone who can verbalize Chinese parenting style in layman's term to incite angry American readers to call child services! I think it takes one to know one. From the outside you can criticize and debate the merits and shortcomings of Chinese parenting styles until you're blue in the face. One thing you can't deny is the disproportionate number of Chinese kids in Science Olympia, Ivy Leagues, top programs in every school and every major search lab in this country. When was the last time you saw a homeless Chinese person?

From the Chinese perspective, it's all business as usual. The "Chinese mother" is not going out of her way to do something counterintuitive to her own motherly instinct. But rather, that's just how she handles and deals with things. The politically correct thing everyone is going to say is everything is great in moderation. Well, moderation = mediocrity. Have fun at that. I don't think Ms Chau's parenting method is flawless but I will defend her to the N-th degree. The truth is that we can all sit around and talk about parenting like there is no tomorrow but at end of the day you've got to have your kid to show for. Chau's kid can play the Little Donkey and your kid is just chunky.

And yeah yeah, everyone thinks his/her kid is best kid who ever lived on this planet (that is until they have more than one, then what?). Honestly I'v never heard any Chinese parents bragging about their kids the same way I've seen from my American friends. For one thing they tends to have some sort of standard and also they value modesty.
There is nothing worse to a Chinese parent then having less than straight A kids. Anything less than top grades will most certainly brings shame to the family name! Just about every kid I grew up with, including my cousins, is familiar with the painful sensation of a leather belt against their bare skin. I was spared from such treatment not only because my parents weren't around but I don't think they would be quite like that.

My father was very strict with me when I was very young. I remember the spring after I turned 3, I stayed home alone while my father went to work not far from our house (my mother's work place was much farther in downtown Beijing). Every morning before leaving for work, my father would write down a couple dozens of math problems for me to work on. Things like long additions, subtractions and eventually simple multiplications and divisions. He would come home during lunch time everyday to check my results. Some days I didn't get to eat lunch because I had wrote down a wrong answer. One day I had an apple. Of course, at the time I didn't realize just how strange it was to leave a 3-year-old at home by herself with math homework and no lunch. I didn't like it much at the time but it didn't do any harm and I sure am not scared for life or anything. Because of parents like my father, I too excelled at math in American schools just like all the other Chinese kids did.

Of course, I don't have any kids, just two cats. They are on a better diet than majority of the population out there. When one of my cats tries to eat food out of the other cat's bowl I would take him to a separate room for a time out. I'm Americanized enough to use the dryer but still Chinese enough to not put my outer clothes into the washer after only wearing them once. Any kids I encounter are likely to be subjected to strict parenting; however, I tends to be much more patient with them than I do with adults.

Friday, January 7, 2011

4 Down 20 To Go

As much as I like to complain about my job I do have to admit that I have gained a tremendous amount in both industry knowledge and personal growth in the last couple of years. It is difficult to explain in short exactly what I do, that is trade compliance. Basically I evaluate sales transactions and internal business processes to ensure the company is operating within legal guidelines. In reality, no company is 100% compliant at 100% of the time so professional in my industry are really managing risks and exposures. I stumbled into this field more or less by chance, just like how I’ve gotten into pretty much everything else, music, dance, travel, etc. Over time I have actually learned to enjoy reading government regulations, constructing internal policies, conducting training sessions and utilizing my economics background to connect it all in the real time business world. It is understandable how personal habit manifests itself in one’s professional conduct. On the flip side, it amazes me how much my job have influenced my thought process on a personal level.

At my previous job I had the wonderful opportunity of working directly with our general council on legal documents and trade agreements. It totally gave me a new found appreciation for corporate lawyers, paralegals and the concept of written contracts. Nowadays, the world simply can’t function without them. When so much depends on the little words, what is printed really matters. Everyone at the office joked about how long it takes for a lawyer to edit a piece of document.

One morning I brought a one-page document for signature after a dozen edits. Our general council read over the document one more time and said: “Every time I read it I find something to improve on. I can edit it over and over again. It never ends. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to writing. It can always be improved doesn’t matter if it’s a business document or a Shakespeare play!” Of course, at the time I didn’t think much of it and just shrugged my shoulders and handed him the pen.

After reading countless pages of business contracts and government regulations I too have become obsessed about the little words on paper. In this digital age, everything is in writing: email, text message, twitter, etc. There’s no question that the amount of writing have increased over the years along with literacy rate. With changes in the publishing world and the possibility to “self” publish through a variety of media, I wouldn’t be surprised if there has also been a sharp increase in the number of publications available to the masses. In contrast, I'm not sure if the level of writing has improved at over time the same rate.

Studies have shown people make 60% more grammatical errors in speech than in writing. I know I can easily double that rate. Even though my Chinese is at the level of a 2nd grade kid in China, English is still my second language. Lucky for me, most people don’t pick up on half of the errors in conversational speech because our brains have adapted to make sense of things and move on. When we write, we have more time to think things through and make corrections before a piece of writing is finalized or shared with another person. Unfortunately for me, that also gives me more time to pick other people’s writing apart!

The longer I work the more I realize how important it is to have good writing skills. Emails, memos, policies, meeting agenda, presentation notes. The inability to write coherently can really be a handicap when it comes to today's business world. I am by no means a good writer but at minimum I am acutely aware of my audiences and I make a point to read and re-read everything I write before I hit the send button. It drives me absolutely crazy at work when I have to read a poorly written email or edit another coworker's document/policy that doesn't make any sense. Misspelling and grammatical errors can be corrected but it is completely hopeless when someone is lack of basic reasoning or comprehension skills. Sometimes I get so frustrated I simply have to give up before I work myself into a correction frenzy! People with high scores on graduate school entrance exams might not always have exceptional writing skills but on average I'm sure they are better than the rest. The only hope for me is perhaps to go work with more MBAs and for that I probably have to first get one myself... Better start studying up on the verbal section of the GMAT!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Digging My Way Home

A week flew by and now it time to head back to North Pole. The flight home was somewhat entertaining as I sat next to a garrulous woman who named her twin daughters Lucky and Lucy because her Korean mother-in-law couldn't pronounce L. I left Indianapolis at 6:50 in the morning and landed in Grand Forks, ND around 10:30 without any delays. With shopping and Christmas presents, I came back with a lot more things than I left. When I finally dragged all my stuff to the car in long term parking I had no way of getting them in!

Alas, my poor bug was buried in the snow! I surveyed around for someone to help or a shovel but found neither. In the freezing cold I walked to the nearest human being in the short term lot pay booth only to hear her tell me that there is no help around! AHH! I didn't want to walk all the way back to the terminal while leaving my bags out in the open. When the parking attendant refused to even give me a phone number I pointed to a car nearby and said, who would you call if someone is vandalizing this car right here right now?!!! Finally, she give me a controller number. The guy told me over the phone that he's the only person on duty for the day and can't leave his post to help me. Besides, he didn't have a shovel either! Are you serious?! When the F*** is the next flight out? Because I've just had enough of this place! Later on I was able to borrow a shovel from the terminal security guy with my camera as a collateral! This place is absurd.