Books read in 2019 Q3

I was two books behind schedule at the end of last quarter. I am happy to report that I managed to finish 15 books in the past three months, and I am finally back on track to reaching the goal for this year.

Here are the books I finished in Q3:

  1. The Man on Mao’s Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry by Ji Chaozhu
  2. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
  3. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  4. End of Watch by Stephen King
  5. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
  6. Elevation by Stephen King
  7. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
  8. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  9. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  10. When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought by Jim Holt
  11. 显微镜下的大明 (The Great Ming Dynasty Under A Microscope) by 马伯庸
  12. Python for Data Science For Dummies, 2nd Edition by John Paul Mueller and Luca Massaron
  13. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  14. Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers by Stan Slap
  15. Neon Prey by John Sandford

Some very interesting books on this list! My top six are #3, #7, #8, #10, #11, and #13. I considered #9 and #14 a waste of time. #12 has good contents but was poorly written – I wrote a review on Goodreads. All other ones were quite enjoyable.

Looking forward to reading more and finishing the year strong. It could be more challenging than I thought though. Will see. 🙂

Books 2019 Q3

 

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What A Year!

One year anniversary celebration golden vintage logotype. FirstMy last day with EY was July 9th, 2018. Therefore today marks a full year since I officially started my “work break”. Reflecting on what I accomplished during this time, I can say without hesitation that the experience has been very fulfilling. I am grateful to have this opportunity to devote much time and energy to what is important in my life.

My new journey actually started on June 25th, 2018, when I shared my plans on this blog before boarded a flight to Europe. A whirlwind of activities followed, as documented in Much needed R&R. Things didn’t get as crazy since then but I have been quite busy nonetheless. I can’t believe how fast time flies.

I set out three priorities during my time off – 1) travel; 2) spend time with family and friends; 3) read, write, exercise, and relax. I did pretty well in all three areas. My post at the beginning of 2019 included the first half of this one-year adventure, and below is a brief overall report (all numbers are for the time period 06/25/2018 to 07/10/2019).

Travel – I visited 14 countries, 11 of which were new to me.

  1. Denmark (Copenhagen, Bornholm)
  2. Poland (Gdańsk)
  3. Lithuania (Klaipeda)
  4. Estonia (Tallin)
  5. Russia (St. Petersburg)
  6. Finland (Helsinki, Aland)
  7. Sweden (Stockholm)
  8. China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong)
  9. Philippines (Hundred Islands, Manila, Boracay, Coron, Palawan)
  10. Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu, Kuching)
  11. Brunei
  12. Singapore
  13. Costa Rica (San José, Fortuna, Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio)
  14. Cuba (Camagüey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Havana)

Additionally, David and I did a 2000-mile road trip in US Northwest from Crater Lake to Glacier National Park via Columbia River Gorge. We fully immersed ourselves in the beautiful nature. We also drove down to Charleston, SC and spent a few wonderful days exploring its rich history and culture.

Spend time with family and friends – Believe it or not, I flew back to China four times this past year for various reasons. With 53 days there, I got a chance to catch up with many old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades. I spent three precious months with my mother during her recent visit, including three trips to Pennsylvania to see my aunt. I was also on four long road trips to New England to visit David’s family, a total of 19 days. Throughout the year there were numerous get-togethers with friends and ex-colleagues as well. I greatly cherished all these wonderful personal interactions.

Read, write, exercise, and relax – I ended up more or less on track with my reading schedule, even though I was four books behind at times. I still wasn’t able to finish the books piled on my floor, nor the many classic Chinese books that I was hoping to re-read. At my friend’s prompt, I wrote 7 Chinese articles on travel (about 20,000 Chinese characters). I didn’t write as many English blog posts as I should though. In terms of exercise, I swam less than before but walked a lot more, averaging 8,209 steps a day. I also attended 12 hot yoga classes and played tennis 5 times. Not sure how much I relaxed this year, given all the hectic activities, travel stresses, and family events, but I feel quite refreshed at the moment so I guess I relaxed more than I remembered. 🙂

All in all, it has been a very rewarding year with many unforgettable memories. I am so glad I made the big decision and carried it out. Now I am getting ready for the next chapter of my life, and I expect great things to come in the near future.

Books read in 2019 Q2

I was two books behind schedule at the end of last quarter. And I am two books behind schedule now. Guess that means my reading was on track this past quarter. This is no small accomplishment given all the travels and other things I did in these three months.

Here are the books I finished in Q2:

  1. Origin by Dan Brown
  2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  3. The Associate by John Grisham
  4. Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
  5. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman
  6. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda
  7. The Bat by Jo Nesbø
  8. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  9. Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner
  10. Deep Freeze by John Sandford
  11. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
  12. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

A good list of books, some of them are quite big page-wise, like #2, #5, and #8. The only two books that I didn’t enjoy as much are #7 and #11. Maybe because I have read quite a few books from the authors and these two books just didn’t meet my high expectations.

Looking forward to reading more. I have high hopes that I will catch up to my schedule by the end of next quarter. Stay tuned. 🙂

Books 2019 Q2

Hope to visit you again, Cuba

It has been a week since I returned from a wonderful trip to Cuba with Road Scholar. We started from Camagüey and visited several cities across the country by bus, all the way to Havana.

Cuba Map

I think about those precious 10 days often, and I felt really sad when I learned of the new ban a few days ago. To me, Cuba is no longer just a ‘communist country on an island not far from Florida’; it is all the people I met during this trip – artists, dancers, musicians, professors, farmers, doctors, business owners, pedicab drivers, street vendors, and children. They are talented, hard-working, friendly, optimistic; they try to make the best of their lives no matter how dire the situation is, and I was both touched and inspired by them.

Our trip was not a superficial one where people just hang out at tourist sites and ride a classic car in Havana. We used toilets where there was no seat or paper or flushing water; we visited local markets and a ‘ration’ store; we stayed in a small town where we lost power three times; our bus shared roads with horse carts and tractors avoiding water-filled pot holes. We experienced more of the ‘real’ Cuba, even though our food and accommodation were still far better than what most local people could afford.

We greatly enjoyed the many people-to-people interactions, when we talked to various artists, danced with professional dancers, asked business owners questions, learned to play dominoes, discussed with kids about environment protection, etc. We drank a few mojitos every day, made in different ways. I cherished the fun time spent with our group leaders and intelligent, curious, caring fellow travelers. The memories will stay with me forever.

 

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There are so many photos to share and so much to write about. It is a great pity that Americans could no longer visit Cuba to experience its rich culture and art. And Cuba people could not benefit from the gifts we bring in – school supplies, art supplies, powdered and canned food, hygiene products – daily things that we take for granted. I heard it mentioned more than once during this trip, that relationships and policies built on love will endure. I look forward to the day when I could visit Cuba again.

Why We Travel

For people who are not passionate about exploring different places, we travelers are crazy. Why spend so much money and time, go through all sorts of challenges and stresses, to see a scenery that they can easily see on postcards, travel channels, YouTube, Google Earth, with all the comfort of home? Well, here are my reasons, and I am sure other travelers could add to the list.

  • The ‘wow’ moments – I look forward to those moments, when something magnificent suddenly appear in front of me, that I cannot help exclaiming ‘wow’ or ‘my God’! My eyes widen, my heart beats faster, and I feel like crying. As they say, “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” There have been many such moments in my life, and I want more.
  • Scale – no matter how good the photos and videos are, they can’t really show the scale of many things. You have to be close to truly appreciate their splendor. Sometimes this is the cause of the ‘wow’ moments. A few examples: Grand Canyon, Uluru, Perito Moreno Glacier, giant sequoias, Terracotta army.
  • Nature – different sunrises and sunsets, stars from both hemispheres, creek or lake water that you can drink directly from, waterfalls’ crashing sound and mist, glacier’s groaning, smells of the air, monkeys’ howling, birds’ chirping, absolute silence. You have to be there in person to experience for yourself.
  • People – Interactions with people and interesting travel stories stay the longest in memories. Fellow travelers on the same cruise, outstanding tour guides, and local people we happen to meet and chat with. Remember that interesting Japanese guy on the train? Or that old couple relaxing in front of their big RV? Observe people at different places – Scandinavians in suits ride bicycles to work; Londoners with big umbrellas; Japanese in beautiful kimonos.
  • Food and Drinks – Needless to say, tasting the authentic signature food and drinks from different places is another benefit of travel that you can’t really get at home. I could never forget the huge pig knuckle in Germany, the kangaroo and emu pizza in Australia, the beignets in New Orleans, the rakija in Serbia, and the mate tea in Argentina.

Finally, I drag my exhausted body and satisfied soul onto flights and into cars for the return journey. Lying on my own bed once again, I sigh out loud: ahhh, I enjoy traveling, and I love coming home.

adventure-earphones-earth-1079034 (2)

Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

Write, Write, Write

It has been nine months since I decided to take a break from work and begin a new journey. I am happy to report that I have accomplished most plans I set out – unforgettable trips to new countries; time well spent with family and friends especially my mother during her visit to US; lots of reading and exercising.

However, there was one thing that I fell short of, and that was “write about my trips and family stories”. I did write a few posts here and there, but not the paragraphs and chapters that I intend to organize into a book (or books) later on.

Today my good friend Jun called me and we talked for about an hour. She is a very accomplished author and she encouraged me once again to write. I ended up promising her that I would write 25,000 characters before May 20th, which is about 1,000 per day. Note that these are Chinese characters, not quite the same as English words count. For example, ‘Italy’ is one word in English, but its Chinese equivalent has three characters. But in many cases one English word does equal to one Chinese character. On average, I estimate 25,000 Chinese characters would translate into about 15,000 English words. Achievable in a month, right?

I will write about my various trips, and this would give me a chance to organize my photos. While I am at it, I will also catch up on English writing for this blog. My current plan is to set aside three hours a day for writing. As David mentioned in his post, “developing a writing routine is essential”!

I will start a routine immediately after I return from a trip in five days…

camera-contemporary-desk-905877(Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels)

Books read in 2019 Q1

My book-reading started slow this year largely due to my mother’s recent visit. At one point I was five books behind schedule in reaching this year’s 50-book goal. I am not complaining though – the quality time we spent together was priceless! I have been catching up this week and managed to finish 10 books in the first quarter. Not bad at all with only two books behind now.

Here are the books I finished so far:

  1. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  2. Police by Jo Nesbø
  3. Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar
  4. The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today by Joel Osteen
  5. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
  6. Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks
  7. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  8. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
  9. The Present: The Secret to Enjoying Your Work and Life, Now! by Spencer Johnson
  10. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

A good list of books – I was captured by the characters and stories in the fictions, and learned quite a lot from the non-fictions. Seven out of the ten books were written by authors that I was familiar with and they all met my expectations. And I was glad that I picked up the three books (#5, #6, #7) by new authors.

Looking forward to reading more!

Books 2019 Q1