Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Everyone has their opinion of what constitutes a good life, things I should be doing that are good for me. In a perfect world I would be fluent in reading and writing Chinese. I would devote a hour each day reading Chinese newspapers and magazines. I would practice the guitar and teach lessons on the weekend to retain the skills I worked so hard to acquire. I would exercise everyday, alternating strength and cardio training. I would run 20+ miles a week. I would drink eight glasses of water and get eight hours of sleep each day. I would spend ten hours each week volunteering for a cause I believe in. I would eat more vegetables and lesser meat. I would have the perfect figure and perfect skin. I would have the most gentle temperament and rarely raise my voice. I would call my relatives in China every month. I would be a perfect daughter. I would do everything in moderation. I would meditate everyday. I would let things slide and never sweat the small stuff.  I would easily let go of people who are not good for me.

But this is who I am. I never get eight hours of sleep even on the weekends. I exercise sometimes but never consistent enough. I have forgotten how to read and write Chinese. I never call my relatives in China even though I miss them dearly. I haven't played the guitar since my senior recital. I don't eat enough vegetables and when I'm hungry I just put a slab of meat on the stove. I get breakouts. I get mad. I get attached to the wrong people and sometimes I get caught up in the small stuff. I am far from being perfect. Somehow I've got to let go of all the should-s and just be. Life moves forward. Every now and then we have to let go of something old to acquire something new. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Drive Back

Driving back from ORD after a 14-hour flight from Shanghai. For the first time I saw dark circles around my eyes that were not leftover from unwashed makeup. A friend from Chicago who had offered to meet me at the airport a few days ago decided to visit with a friend at home instead. I left the airport without any delays and put on Coldplay as I raced home. Instead the feeling of calmness I once felt sitting in the car with my cousin, all I could feel now was sadness. The sudden jolt of being transported from 1.3 billion to just one was paralyzing. I had just left a place where I was loved to come back to a place that is cold and desolate. Other than my parents, no one missed me here. And looking inward, I missed no one here myself. The only things I did miss were western style toilets and hot showers with good water pressure. I don't know how but love must be sown and grown here. For now, my family is a half world away. Tears came. It felt good to miss something. 

Going away or going back?

Spa at Shanghai airport:
"Are you going away or going back?" the masseuse asked me as he worked through tiny knots in the arches of my feet I never knew existed. I was perplexed by what would otherwise be a perfunctory question over small talk. "Am I going back or am I going away?" I thought to myself a few times in quick successions. Unable to decide on one or the other I had to explain to him that my family is in China but I have taken residence in the US for the last 17 years. "I guess in away I'm going back in both cases." "Oh, that's a good thing!" Yes, indeed it is. Either way I am going back. I have never thought of it that way. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Sitting in my cousin's BMW with air conditioning on and Coldplay streaming out of the speakers, I felt a world away from the nauseating city. Navigating through traffic in this part of the world is a nerve-wracking experience, even more so for passengers with control issues. I may have control issues but nerve-wracking I wasn't. Instead, I was overcame with a sense of serenity that I haven't felt for a long time. I sat back as Lilei zoomed in and out of chaos masterfully and effortlessly. I wasn't worried and thinking back, I never really did worry.

If you have been to this part of the world you would know, this is life, a continuous series of near-misses. So much of our lives is out of our control, even though we are behind the wheels the entire time. We can plan our routes ahead of time meticulously and change it along the way when new traffic patterns emerge. We often second doubt the path we take yet we are never hesitant to make a split second decision to avoid a collision. Somewhere there is a balance between planning ahead and responding to situations in real time. Goals and aspirations propels us forward but it's the unexpected that makes the journey most enthralling. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Long Way Home

I have completely lost track of how long it took me to get here. 14-hour flight from ORD to Shanghai, a 5-hour layover that was delayed for another 2 hours. By the time I finally got to Changsha just before midnight local time we got into a car accident before even getting out of the parking lot. Needless to say traffic police and insurance here are completely worthless. It was almost 5am before I was finally able to lay down on a bed only to be startled out of bed 4 hours later by goddamn firecrackers from downstairs. Now I remember why I dreaded coming here. Despite all that I feel rested and in good spirit. It's a long way home but I know it will be worth every mile. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013


How fast can you go? I can't run yet but I can spin. There is nothing more exhilaration right now than going all in with heart-pumping music at the RMP class at work. In additional to having a break from my sedentary desk job, going to RMP makes me feel really great about my body.

It wasn't until recently that I started to become more aware of my body. By exercise regularly and deliberately, I began to see and feel how different parts of my body function and improve over time. I'm a few pounds heavier than I had been when I was in my early 20s but I have never felt more strong and confident physically. I know running has a lot to do with it. Even though I've always had strong legs and ran track when I was young, I never worked on endurance enough to even complete a 3k before. To know that I can go out there and put down ten miles is an amazing feeling. Second to that, is the feeling of sweat dropping down from my chin during a climbing track at RPM class. But instead more of a mental high I get from running, paddling over high resistance or spinning over 130 RPM makes me feel connected to my body in a visceral way. I feel high and sexy at the same time. Of course, the music helps too. How can you not feel hot when you're spinning to Party Bounce or Never Give It Up?

While I don't think I've ever had any body issues growing up I never really gave much thought about it either. Surely, we all think we can afford to loose a few pounds but I never felt the need to cover up at the beach or turn the lights off during sex. Pretty or not, I have long accepted that this is what I look like and this is how my body is shaped. Although I don't consider myself attractive, my appearance have served me well over the years. I was kind surprised reading about other women's struggle with their body images from Cyndi Lee's book, "May I be Happy." The opening passage was what made me take the book home from the library.

"Vinyasa has three parts: arising, abiding, and dissolving. And the dissolving of one thing is arising of the next. Every day turns into night turns into day. Winter becomes spring becomes summer becomes autumn becomes winter. Waves roll and slip back out; tides ebb and flow. Every breath is like this. Every life is like this.

Each flower buds, ripens, and blooms, wilts and fades away. The leaves fall to earth and create the ground for a new plant to grow.

The Sanskrit word vinyasa means "to place in a special way." It means that everything is connected and the sequence of things matters. It means that every action, thought, or word that arises now is planting the seed for future fruit. "In a special way" means the unfolding of life is logical. If you plant a tomato seed, you will get a tomato. If you plant an apple seed and you wait long enough, you will get an apple tree. And if you plant a hard thought, you will get a hard heart."

The author's "hard thought" was about her never ending criticism of her body. I don't know exactly what my own hard thoughts are. If I have them, they are not about my body, especially now. I am grateful for my health and I am grateful for my body. It has carried me through tough times, allowed me to go on my adventures and perhaps acted as the catalysts for friendships, relationships and other encounters over the years. This is the one and only body I will ever have and now is the time to be kind and take care of it.

What I really liked about the opening passage is the visual image of impermanence. As I begin my final countdown for moving out of Champaign, I can't help but to feel melancholic. Some days I contemplate on what life would be like if I stayed here. With the right person I could start a family here. It can be a lovely place for a family after all. But then, with the right person any place could be tolerable. Of course, when I show up at the office all the warm and fuzzy feelings dissolve instantly and all that's left is get me out of here, I can't stand this place for another minute! When that happens, I take a deeper breath and remind myself: there is impermanence in all things, this work, this place, this blog, this life. Live in the moment but don't attach to it.

In time, one way or another, life teaches all of us the lessons we need to learn. I learned to not to take things or myself so seriously. Whether or not things turn out the way we had planned doesn't change the fact that everything is transient. Yet at the same time life teaches us to live responsibly, for like the ripple effect, every action triggers a response, within you and around you.

Under my photo in my high school year book is a quote of my choice, "life is beautiful." I believed it even though they were just words to me. Now, more than ten years later, I am finally beginning to see and feel life. It's wondrous, light, and always more than what we could have imagined. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


By now I should have been to enough meditation sessions to know the basic etiquette of of zazen, bow before you enter, bow to your cushion, three bell rings to start zazen, two rings to mark the end, a clap starts the kinshin, another clap speeds up the walking, etc. There is deliberation and significance to every gesture, not so much as to worship but to show a pronounced mindfulness in one's actions. And as a beginner cultivating mindfulness I always forget to bow! And even when I do bow, I manage to bow at the exact wrong time! Good lord, how embarrassing!

Somehow I have the hardest time remembering to bow before entering into a space. I simply just wonder into the room, quietly, timidly but never mindfully enough to mark the occasion! Then I sit down and wonder why I always forget! Life is a continuous journey, why must we break it into tiny pieces and bow in between? Yes, I get it. It's the similar to the thing people do at beginning of a good yoga class, they take a moment to seal their intentions. We bow to honor the space and commence our practice. I understand it intellectually but nevertheless, absent emotionally.

Some people live for structure, sequence of events, one after another. Caught up in the starts and stops, it's easy for the mind to become preoccupied by the next event rather than the one at hand. At the same there, there is another dynamic taking place. One that is rich, organic, fluid and constantly evolving. I feel deeply in a visceral way that there is continuity in all things. Whether it's an interaction with another person, an inanimate object or a physical experience, they never quite stop effecting us. Each experience comes to us at different times, overlaps with each other, and fads in and out of our conscious minds at different intervals. The music I listen to may come back to me later in my mind long after the music had stopped playing. The experience never truly stops nor does it stay static. And in this way, the most insignificant interactions can have the most significant effect on us, if not immediately then perhaps some undefined time in the future.

I asked the teacher if this is a healthy sentiment, to which he responded that it's fine as long as we're not blinded by it or find ourselves attached to our thoughts. We, in fact, carry the entire universe with us at all times. This moment we have now carries all the moments before it and envelopes all the moments there are yet to come. There is an element in music called a pregnant pause. When taken out of context, it is just a silent pause in between sounds. But when there is tension and anticipation in the music, a deliberate gap is defined by all the notes that precede it and carries the intention for all the notes that follow it. The pause carries just as much meaning as all that is audible. In this way, the music never breaks. There is no start or stop. The present is like a continuous stream of pregnant pauses. Sometimes the most profound music can be heard even in silence.


We all want intimacy. We all feel it at times. Yet, I really had a hard time defining it. I have been going to zen meditation sessions on Sunday mornings at the Prairie Zen Center for the last few weeks. It just so happens that the teacher mentioned the word intimacy at this mornings Dharma talk. One of the central tenets in Buddhism teaching is to be awake or present. In fact, the word Buddha literally means the awaken one. And unsurprisingly, the teacher linked the act of being intimate to being present. Once the words were mentioned together, the linkage appeared so obvious to me, it was as if someone had just pointed out that the sky is blue and grass is green!

And now I can put it into words:

Intimacy is not something that comes to us by chance when we think we're in love or when our list of preconceived conditions are met. Whether it is with a person, an object or a place, we experience intimacy through the act of being present, or as some people call it, being in the moment. The possibilities are endless and choice is always ours. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013


"You feel good."
"You say that every time"
"That's because you feel good every time."
"What does that even mean?"

I couldn't come up with an answer other than that he felt comfortable. Without reference points, we perceive each experience in isolation. When we wreck up enough battle scars, we start looking at things collectively. We start realizing that true comfort between two people is in fact a rare occurrence. After all this time, I could count on one hand the people who I feel completely comfortable with. It's not that I'm trying to persuade him of anything, nor am I offended by the fact that he hasn't the remotest interest in me or at least that he is aware of. One person can have a unique take on things but it takes two people to create the kind of comfort space we have. I do wish he could for one second open his eyes to see just how precious these moments are. Instead, I just have to enjoy it for both of us.

Life can't be lived backward. Sometimes we have to go out for a very long way before we realize that what we are seeking was in fact right in front of us the entire time. Yet, we continue to make up excuses on why we can't simply reach out and grab hold of the things we want. At first I thought I'd find a place I want to settle down at. Maybe somewhere warmer and closer to the ocean. It didn't take me long to realize, all this moving around, advancing in career and higher education is just a very long and circuitous route to get back home. There are many things I don't like about Rochester but I miss it dearly. My heart is open but for now, Rochester is where home is. 

Friday, May 3, 2013


"This is fun! Wouldn't it have been fun if we were neighbors back when we were little kids?"
"Yes, it would have been fun."
"I was a real tomboy back then!"
"You still are."

I played with the kids outside this evening, chased them on a tiny scooter, pushed them on their bicycles with trainer wheels, picked them up and spun them around. Even after a soul killing day at work, I felt exhilarated and carefree like one of the kids.

When I first started to volunteer at the nursery at the beginning of the year, I was a nervous wreck. I had never changed a dipper or given a bath before. The only interaction I had with a toddler I can remember was pushing my then 3-year-old cousin into the wall because she wouldn't stop asking me questions. I regretted it the instant it happened but she still loved me after that. I can't name anything concrete that I've learned from the nursery except that I now feel much more at ease with little kids. I know I want to have kids some day and this is a start.

I am slowly coming to understand what people mean when they say it's the tiny and abrupt moments between long stretch of madness that make having kids worthwhile. I have experienced many of those moments in the short amount of time I have spent at the nursery. Just last week a two-year-old girl fell asleep in my arms as I read to her The Cat in the Hat. I felt a sense of peace and calmness as we laid on the big beanbag together. Contentment is knowing in your entire being that this is the place you're meant to be at this moment in time. I didn't know where she came from or where she will go when she leaves the nursery or whether I will ever see her again. All I knew was that for that moment I was there, with her, and that's all it mattered.

Tonight it was Efram's turn. He cried and cried as the other volunteer tried to rock him to sleep in a stroller. His arms stretched out of the covers as I was walking by. Without asking for permission, I picked him up from the stroller and walked around the backyard with him until he stopped crying. But Efram would start crying again as soon as I try to sit down so I held him for the rest of the night even though my arms were tired. Now I understand the purpose for such curvature between our neck and shoulder. Greater than a lover's kisses is the feeling of the warm head of a small child resting peacefully into the space that was designed for them.

Even until recently I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to handle boys if I was a single mother. Rob once said that he couldn't imagine anything coming out of me except a little girl. To some people I will always be a girly girl. But if I look for it, the tomboy that was inside of me never went away. I want to be a mom. Whether I have a boy or a girl I know I can cheer them on from the sidelines, discipline them when it's needed and love and care for them with all of my being.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Race

I went to the Second Wind Post Race celebration tonight. Even though I don't know anyone in particular at the club I still felt a sense of belonging. For someone who is unable to stay with a half day tour group, I sure have put down a lot of miles with the team. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have been able to run through the toughest of winter days. Sometimes we need others to show us our strength. These are the runners who have inspired me to run. These are the teammates who showed me that I am capable of more than I think. I was disappointed to have decided to pull out of the half marathon a week before the race. My calves had been bothering me for a couple of months by then from overuse. I had to stopped running all together after a tough race at Effingham. Still, I knew I had to participate in the event. The organizer, Jan, was kind enough to make a last minute switch for me to run the 5K on Friday night. I also signed up to volunteer all day on Saturday as a course volunteer for the full marathon on John and Mattis.

The 5K was the most exhilarating event I have ever participated. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was that excited about anything. I even skipped lunch at work that day to get a rainbow tutu for the race! I met up with Mike and his wife at Body n Sole and carpooled to the Assembly Hall, where the race finished. My excitement grew as we walked closer to the starting line to join the rest of the 7,000 runners. I chatted with Jane from SWRC as I waited for the race to start. By the time we finally shuffled to the start my face was actually hurting from grinning so much! With thousands of people cheered us on along the way, my adrenaline was at an all time high. Having started at the back of the pack, I passed people left and right. My legs were hurting but I couldn't stop running. I took notice of everyone around me, the spectators, the runners, the streets, the buildings, the dimming evening light. The ordinary place suddenly looked surreal, almost magical. Along with the masses, we passed the law school, the building where I took my LSAT, the bar where I met with Cass and Blake for the first time after I moved here 18 months ago, Green Street, the ARC where Sam, Cass and I had gone to aerobic classes together, and then the final dash into Memorial Stadium for the first time. I came up behind a little boy as we made our way into the stadium. I could tell the boy was getting tired. I shout out, "keep it up, you're doing great! you're almost there!" Then his father said to him, "the finish is just in front of you. When you see it you go for it!" As soon as he said that, the finish banner appeared before us as we emerged from the tunnel. The boy took off as if he just hit the NO2 reserve. My eyes moistened instantly as I ran after the boy. I looked down at my watch and noted that we clocked under 7:30/mile pace as we crossed the finish line. I looked around the packed stadium and thought to myself, what a nice run this has been. The 18 months spent here were not wasted. Later on as we walked back to my car, I realized that I just did something I couldn't do back when I was eleven years old. As part of the track team I don't think I even finished a 3K race before. It's good to know what I'm getting older and stronger at the same time.

I woke up on Saturday with just as much excitement as Friday but with more pain. I hobbled to my intersection just before 8am to meet with the two police officers. Although they were cute like I had requested from Kim, the volunteer organizer, alas, they were not single. Just goes to prove that the cute ones are already taken! I had no idea what i was going to do other than to make sure that no runners get run over by cars and that I have the phone handy to call for help if needed. The first runner crossed my spot between mile 17 and 18 at exactly an hour and half after the start. He looked fresh and energetic as if he had just started the race. His strides were high and strong. His arm movements accentuated as if they were powerful pumps. It was amazing to watch. Other runners trickled through. About a dozen later I saw the first female runner in a gray shirt. She looked pretty and normal, not at all lanky like what we imagine good runners to be. I cheered her on and never stopped for the four hours that followed. I had never screamed and clapped so much and so loudly my whole life. Over and over again, I shouted, you've got it! go for it! keep going! looking good there! good job! good job! good job! I was so relentless I surprised myself. All my life I've wanted to be under the spotlight, if not for fame and attention, then certainly an opportunity to express myself. I never saw myself as someone who cheered on for others from the sideline. Now, not only have I found out that I can be an amazing cheerleader, I actually love it!

Unknowingly, I had saved the best for last. The youth run is a 1K race for kids of all ages. Once again I got all teared up watching little kids run. One five-year-old girl with disabilities crossed the finish line with her tiny walker. How could you not cry and be inspired at the sight of that? What about the mom finishing the race with a baby on her back and one toddler on each hand?? And all the other parents who ran with the kids while shooting videos and taking pictures? I love it! When I have kids I want to run with them. I want to be there when they cross the finish line.

So now the training is over I feel a little melancholic. I know all the miles I had put down with Second Wind did not go to waste. Whether I ran this race or not is not the point. We are rarely defined by a singular race. Instead, running is a lifestyle I hope to adapt to. I need to wait for my legs to heal up and slowly work up the mileage again. I will run a half marathon soon enough. I might even come back here one day to complete this race. No matter what, I will never forget the people who have inspired me to run. Thank you Second Wind. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Certain Uncertainty

"What are you anxious about?"
"The relationship. I really want it to workout but I don't know if it will."
"That's the best part! You don't know exactly what's going to happen and you're really excited to find out."
"That's where you and I differ."
"I know. You prefer certainty and I like possibilities."
"Exactly. I'd take boring and predictability over options any day."
"Well, it's not that I don't like certainty. It's just that's not how life is. Even if I want things to be certain, it's not my choice to make. You can prefer whichever you want but ultimately you don't get to decide."

He laid his head in my lap as we watched the Deadliest Catch, the unlikeliest of shows to be watched by both of us in its entirety separately due to unlikely circumstances. I was in TRF and he was sick. But this time there was no anxiety, depression or illness for neither of us. I felt at ease. Later on as we laid on the futon, I went into my little soliloquy on sex and intimacy. He stopped me before I could ramble on. Sometimes bodies are just meant to fit together and this was one of those times.

Spending time with the young neighbor reminds me of the place I once was. When we're young we perceive the world in black and white and we think in terms of absolutes. We are constantly launching ourselves in projectile motion from one point to the next but never quite land on target. With enough trail and error we realize that world isn't as structured as we thought and that very rarely are we the only driving force behind our own destinies. Somehow life has the ability to humble and empower us all at the same time. The very same uncertainties that humbles us eventually gave rise to self-efficacy. Life is unpredictable but we're never lost. I believe there is a plan for all of us. We just don't know it yet. After all, where would the fun be if we already know the course?