A Belated/Advanced New Year Greeting of 2016

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(This message should have sent to you last year. Sorry for the delay.)

When I stepped out of the immigration lobby in Dulles Airport four days before last Christmas, I was greeted with festive holiday wreaths and colorful lights in the arrival hall. There did I realize I had been away for quite some time. Precisely, I was in a more dismal state for more than a month. (Read on, you’ll know why.) Dragging my weary body as heavy as my backpack and suitcase on the handcart, I was immersed in the joyous scenes of reunion at the airport. I had my own warm homecoming as well. An affectionate hug from Arnold and then as soon as our car pulled in the turn of our house, I saw beautiful lights lit up the front of my neighbor’s and our houses. A huge thank-you to our very thoughtful neighbor Winnie. The lights had brightened me after a day’s non-sleep air travel. Inside the house, Arnold had decorated almost every corner that could strike my attention with Welcome Home banners and balloons. Presents were lying on the table awaiting to be uncovered. Then in the following days, greetings cards from everywhere, by postal or by email, flew like snowflakes in our mailbox. And one of the greetings is from you!

Thank you so much for thinking of me (us). Your holiday wishes have warmed my heart.

I hate to begin my greeting with an apology for being unresponsive either in person or online in the past few months. I am sorry for having made some of you misunderstand me for snubbing you. If you don’t have time to read on, I just want to tell you that I am doing fine. And I cherish our friendship dearly.

I am still working full time in Washington, DC and spicing up my life with reading, movie-going, housework, yard work, and excursions with Arnold. He’s such a remarkable driver that other than flying to London for last Labor Day weekend, to Japan last November where my father joined us and then to China for a family visit, we (actually he did!) drove 99 out of 100 times domestically. In China I used to rely on air travel to my destinations. Here in America I am more of a frequent rider than a frequent flyer. I like to be driven. If only I have the stamina to sit behind the wheel!

This is a belated newsletter for 2015, although by the Chinese lunar calendar we are still in the Year of Sheep until Feb 8, 2016 when the Year of Monkey arrives. Last year, in addition to at least 25 movies I watched in theatres (Hollywood should send me a reward for my contribution to the box office), we traveled to the neighboring wild and wonderful West Virginia, the familiar and yet fascinating northern Virginia, and of course, the enchanting Finger Lakes that we loved so much that we visited twice. We also visited Saratoga, NY and NYC for family get-together. As a compromise for having a pet in the house, we planted a tree on the front lawn. So do come and visit in the new year! (despite the fact that our lilac tree is not on Google Map yet.)

2015 was eventful. My column “Karen in America” for a Chinese/English bilingual magazine said farewell last December, due to the restructuring of the magazine. My writing was mostly work-related. My literary writing is unfortunately slack. I tried to self publish my memoir but in the end even the printing service turned its back on me. Just like those hundreds of rejection letters to agents and indie presses, none of them explained why and why not. Is this the American way of doing business? No response, no follow-up and no manners. When I said my writing was work-related, I mean at work I go through global news headlines daily and write a news summary. I am working as an administrator for a news media company. So the perk of my job is to tune into current affairs closely. With today’s new media, it becomes too easy to obtain information, just almost instantly as it happens. Overall, I managed the tough times at work. So did I in dealing with my father’s health issue.

Some of you may know that my father was diagnosed with advanced tongue cancer. After a week’s visit in Japan with my father, I accompanied him to the hospital in Guangzhou, China for a checkup for an aching growth on his neck. From then on, the situation changed quicker than the volatile Chinese stock markets. My father was immediately admitted to the hospital and underwent an operation the following week. The surgery that lasted almost eight hours went well. The malignant cancer in my father’s mouth and neck was removed. He was in ICU for two nights and another three weeks hospitalized in a regular ward. I extended my visit in China and cared for him all the way until he was discharged from the hospital. When I left him for America four days before last Christmas, my father was getting ready for radiotherapy with the care of his brother and a live-in caretaker.

Long story short. My father is doing ok and I will travel to see him next month after his course of treatment. I am very thankful to families and friends from the US and Guangzhou for your concern and care and suggestion during this difficult time. While encouraging my father to live on every day in his bout with cancer, I am fighting against time, anxiety, uncertainty, fear and frustration in the face of adversity. And yet I draw on my experience with my care for my late mother. (Do read my memoir someday!) Please don’t worry about me and my father. This obstacle will prove how strong both of us can be and how close we are as family.

At last, wishing you a healthy, prosperous and happy life in the upcoming Year of Monkey!! We may be far apart by geographical distance, but not in mind. Stay in touch!

I’m ending with an excerpt of the new year letter from Arnold in case that you may be interested in seeing our life from a different perspective:

No fancy online cards or moving pictures and cartoons here, folks, just a simple wish that all have a happy, fruitful new year, despite the apprehension that 2016 will be bloodier, more chaotic and, perhaps, more significant than 2015.

Karen and I saw the peanuts cartoon movie, starring Charlie Brown, the other night. Toward the end, Charlie Brown with hope tries to kick the football that his nemesis, Lucy, is holding for him. As usual, she drops it just as he tries.

At new year’s time, we’re all so much like Charlie Brown, hoping to kick our football and wishing everybody the peaceful, prosperous new year that doesn’t quite ever happen. Enough of pop philosophy!

Our plans for the new year are uncertain. We’re just back from a lengthy visit to Guangzhou, China. As some of you already know, while we were there, wife Karen’s dad underwent an emergency, eight-hour surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his tongue and jaw. As a result, we extended our visit so Karen could help with his care.

We are back in Virginia. He is out of the hospital in Guangzhou and starting with an intensive course of out-patient radiation therapy. Depending on what leave arrangement she can make at her work in DC, Karen may soon return to continued assisting his recovery.

We had hopes of taking Karen’s dad on a tour of the U.S. West Coast in the new year. That was before his surgery. Now that hope is on hold. However, there is an increased chance we’ll see her friends in Guangzhou during the new year.

World Events

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I am undergoing self-censorship lately.

Everything I write, before I publish it, I just hit the delete key. I need more practice here. After the completion of my memoir, writing is getting farther from me. Well, in the past few months, my interest in global affairs is growing  tremendously. Thanks to my first European trip last November, I am more aware of European current events such as Greek financial crisis. Thanks to my first European trip, I take heed of British politics as well as anything French. I am teaching myself French. I am reading a biography about Marquis de Lafayette–this is the first historical non-fiction in English I have read with gusto. On July 14, I even celebrated Bastille Day at the French embassy in the U.S. Turning myself into a Francophile is really a joy!

Last week I attended a lecture at Library of Congress with two former U.S. Secretary of State–Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. Despite the fact that I was seated in the wing of a full auditorium where only live TV streaming was available, I was awakened to some diplomatic viewpoints made by Madame Albright in particular. Am I now interested in foreign service? Yes I am. It’s quite a daunting but challenging career. A saying that I learn long time ago says it well. Don’t wait for changes but take action to make changes.

On July 14 at the French Embassy I watched a remarkable environmental documentary film–“Ice and the Sky”–by Luc Jacquet. The stunning images and thought-provoking script of the film really moves me. Yes, the power of humans against adversity is immense. If everyone believes he or she can make changes, the world will change significantly too, either good or bad.

At the moment, my mind is in turmoil, in a good way though. I must have grown up over the past few years. I am now thinking about taking a greater responsibility as a citizen on this blue plannet. I am learning every day, from Bosnia War to Iran nuclear program, from Japanese history to China’s role on the international stage, my quest for knowledge can be insane. Just like a line in “Ice and the Sky” says, “forage, comprendre, forage, compredre (drilling, understand, drilling, understand)”, scientists are never tired of their exploration in Antarctica.

I am not going to self-censor my zest for knowledge. This is a good film review about the documentary film. I strongly recommend to watch it.


A Lake Gazer

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You may have heard about the Great Lakes in North America. Well, not far away from the Five Great Lakes—Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to be exact—lies a pattern of beautiful smaller lakes in the west-central section of New York State in America. The total of eleven pristine lakes spread like fingers across the region, thus, they are known as the Finger Lakes.

As an old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the gazer. I dare to say everyone who has visited the Finger Lakes will marvel at their tranquility and grace. I am one of these lake gazers. My recent visit to the Finger Lakes deepens my love for this fertile land, which nourishes acres of farmland, and mile after mile of vineyards. Centuries ago, Native Americans settled around these lakes. Their legend is echoed in the names of these fresh water lakes: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneka, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco.

I spent two days exploring the biggest Finger Lakes—Cayuga Lake and Seneka Lake. The Indian name Cayuga means “Boat Landing”, and Seneka means “Place of the Stone” or “Stoney Place”. These two big lakes are also the most visited ones. Tens of thousands of tourists and summer residents flood in the lake region starting from the Memorial Day weekend, which falls on the last Monday of each May. In May, the lake region is blanketed with lush greenery. From endless fields to rolling hills, from grape vines that are at a teenager’s height in orderly rows to the dense towering trees that canopy the mountain range, each and every perspective offers varied shades of green. The flickering leaves in the sun and the dancing branches in the breeze, together with a palette of flowers, really infatuate me.

Just when I am bathing in the sea of green and colors, a silver belt in between two mountain ranges shines in front of me. The silver belt is the sparkling water in the lakes. The closer I approach it, the more it enthralls me. From the map you will see both Cayuga Lake (to the east) and Seneka Lake (to the west) are long and thin and next to one another. There is a canal in the north tip connecting both lakes. The Cayuga Seneca Canal connects these two lakes to the Erie Canal which runs through the Finger Lakes to the north. Each lake is connected by rivers ultimately leading into Lake Ontario that borders between Canada and the United States.

Well, in reality, the silver belt of water can be either Cayuga Lake or the Seneka Lake as both of them lie between two evenly moderate high grounds. However, the statistics show with 40 miles in length and 96 miles of shoreline, Cayuga is the longest of the Finger Lakes and the lowest to sea level; whereas Seneka is the deepest of the Finger Lakes at the maximum depth of 618 feet. Image that a 62-floor tall building could stand underwater!

To visit Cayuga Lake, you won’t miss its largest city—Ithaca, which is home of one of the Ivy League schools—Cornell University. Do you know Connell’s campus overlooks Cayuga Lake? As its Alma Mater sings, “Far above Cayuga’s waters, with its waves of blue, stands our noble Alma Mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our Alma Mater! Hail, all hail, Cornell!” On this trip I happen to see the proud Cornell graduates in their red-and-black caps and gowns, welcomed by joyous families and friends with bouquets in hand.

The Finger Lakes area is New York State’s largest wine producing region. In fact, the area’s wine trails are very popular. These trails showcase local wineries and tastings are often not limited to just wine—beer, juices, ciders and mead can be sipped throughout the region. It is interesting to know that Seneca Lake seldom freezes in winter. Therefore, there are more wineries along Seneca Lake than any other Finger Lake. And if you need a break from numerous water sports in the lakes—fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, you name it—the Wine Trail, Cheese Trail and Brew Trail may satisfy your sense of taste.

I conclude my lake ride along the Y-shape Keuka Lake. Keuka Lake is the only Finger Lake with an outlet into another Finger Lake—Seneca Lake. Gazing at the crystal clear water and hearing the rhythmic waves rocking against the stony beach, I feel as placid and reflective as the lake. Lake-effect weather is well known in the Finger Lakes area. Perhaps these lakes are as influential to the atmosphere as to humans. This lake gazer is truly hooked.

Keuka 1 Keuka 4 Seneka 1 Seneka 2 Seneka 3 Seneka 7 Seneka 8 Taughanock Falls 2 Cayuga 2 Enfield Glen 6 green 1

Published magazine article–Delectable Paris

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Crazy English Teens May 2015