A Good 2017, A Better 2018

Books 2017

The year 2018 had a very cold beginning here in US. Now that I stopped shivering I can write my obligated annual “good-better” summarizing/planning post. My 2017 was good, although I didn’t quite accomplish the goals I set out at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 50 books, 20 of which from shelves at home. Partially Done. I did finish 50 books and here are the book reports: Q1Q2Q3Q4. Amazingly, the average length of this year (2017)’s books is 341 pages, compared to (2016)’s 343, and (2015)’s 342. As a statistician, I can’t help marveling at these numbers. There had to be something significant going on other than coincidence. Only 16 of the 50 books were from shelves at home, so this part of the goal wasn’t reached. I am not going to lose sleep over it though. 🙂
  • Visit 3 new countries. Done. I visited South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Swim 80 times (average 1.5 times a week); yoga at home everyday. Not done. I only swam 37 times, average 0.7 times a week. I didn’t count how many days I did yoga at home, but I suspect it was less than every other day. On average I walked 4,953 steps a day, slightly short of last year’s 5,080 and a lot fewer than the previous year’s 7,000. Seems I missed the marks of my exercise goals quite a bit!
  • Publish 40 blog posts. Not done – only published a shameful 7 posts, not even half of last year’s not-so-good 18.
  • Lose 5 pounds. Not done – my weight throughout the year moved up and down within a six-pound range. At least I weighed one pound less on December 31st than on January 1st, so I consider it losing 1 pound.

All in all, my 2017 wasn’t very productive in reaching goals. However, it was a great year in traveling – I actually was in four continents! 🙂 Here is this year’s travelogue:

  • January. London, United Kingdom (work)
  • May. Seoul, Busan, South Korea; Beijing, China
  • July. Mystic, CT; New England
  • October. Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, Uluru, Australia; Queenstown, New Zealand
  • October. New York City, NY (work)

Australia-New-Zealand-Trip-locationsI haven’t got a chance to write about the 19-day Australia/New Zealand adventure – one of the best trips of my life! It involved 12 flights, 8 hotels, 4 time zones, and temperatures anywhere from 50 to 100 degrees. I ended up being poorer financially but much richer in experiences and memories, not to mention the thousands of photos I brought back with me!

Now here are my goals for 2018:

  • Read 50 books – at least 5 in Chinese, at most 25 in audio format
  • Visit 5 new countries
  • Swim 50 times; yoga at home everyday (except this past week :))
  • Publish 30 blog posts; write at least 3 full-length travel articles in Chinese
  • Learn to cook 3 new dishes
  • Lose 5 pounds

I am looking forward to a better year ahead – more explorations and adventures. I can’t wait to start.


Books read in 2017 Q4

Happy New Year! 2017 is now history and I am glad to report that I did reach my goal of reading 50 books, finishing the last one with 40 minutes to spare :). I didn’t quite make the 20-books-from-home-shelves goal though – I read 16, not bad actually with only 4 books short.

Anyway, here are the 14 books I finished in the fourth quarter:

  1. The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  2. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  3. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  4. Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie
  5. The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
  6. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  7. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
  8. The Three of Us (我们仨) by Yang Jiang (杨绛)
  9. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  10. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  11. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  12. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy
  13. Phantom by Jo Nesbø
  14. Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life by Kenneth Haugk

Five of these are from shelves at home. I enjoyed most books on this list, especially #1, #6, #10, and #13. The classic #9 is powerful, and I regret that I wasn’t able to see her house while in Amsterdam last year. Maybe next time.

Again I set a goal of finishing 50 books in the coming year. I also decided that at least 5 of them should be in Chinese. In addition, half of them are to be really read using my eyes (i.e., not audio books). These specific goals will help me get a better feel of both languages and become a better writer.

I look forward to another good year of reading!

Books 2017Q4

Toddler Years in Changchun – Grandparents

I dreamed of my grandparents this morning. It is high time that I pick up where I left off 2.5 years ago, to continue to write about my childhood in Changchun. To refresh our memories, here are the two previous posts: Overview and Neighborhood.

My father’s parents had the same age. They were originally from Laoting, a small town about 150 miles southeast of Beijing, not far from the sea. I don’t know when their families migrated to the Northeast part of China, but I remember them telling me stories of that difficult journey.

Grandpa was a super nice person, easy-going and warmhearted. He worked at China’s first automotive manufacturer that is still around today (First Automotive Works (FAW) Group). He usually left home around 4 am in the morning and came back early afternoon. Then his job became taking me to a particular park for my daily carousel ride and buying me candies and snacks.

Grandma was illiterate but very smart and capable. She was in charge of a workshop at our street corner, making small carton boxes. A dozen people worked there, most of them handicapped. They cherished the opportunity to earn some money and contribute to the society. Sometimes I ‘worked’ there as well, for fun of course. I was most impressed with a heavy duty paper trimmer (big cutting knife) but I was strictly forbidden to get anywhere near. I waddled and talked and tried to help, I’d like to think I brought much excitement and laughter to that workplace.

Grandpa had a green thumb and our home was filled with plants and bonsai, all prospered under his care. There was a time when Clivia (君子兰) was very hot in Changchun, when people were willing to exchange a TV for a ‘pure’ breed specimen. Grandpa had some very nice ones and was always willing to give others precious pollen or seeds, which made him quite popular among neighbors. Grandma cooked meals, washed clothes, did other household chores, and complained often about not getting help from her hobbyist husband.

Time flew by. I was fortunate to be in their lives for two decades. They witnessed my growing up and accomplishments and life events. We alternated a few times between living together and apart due to circumstances, but I was never far. I visited them at least once a week and enjoyed meals together, until the last few months of their lives.

They both passed away in 1997, five months apart, when they were 76. I was in Beijing at that time and wasn’t around for either of them. I always felt sad and guilty about it, but what remains in my memory is always their smiling faces and abundant unconditional love. I wouldn’t have been who I am today without them.

Books read in 2017 Q3

It is time for another book report, right before I depart for a long trip. My goal this year is to read 50 books, 20 of which from shelves at home. I finished 12 in Q3. According to Goodreads, I am one book behind schedule. Not too bad – still three months left to catch up. 🙂

Here are the books I finished in the third quarter:

  1. The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
  2. A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown
  3. Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
  4. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  5. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
  6. Havana Storm by Clive Cussler & Dirk Cussler
  7. The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
  8. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
  9. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel
  10. 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time by The Editors of Time Magazine
  11. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  12. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Three of these are from shelves at home (behind the goal again). I enjoyed most books on this list. Fictions #1 and #4 are very good; Non-fictions #8, #9, #10, and #12 are really informative, I learned quite a lot from each one.

I need to finish 14 books in the next quarter to reach my goal of 50… Not sure I can accomplish the 20-books-from-shelves goal though, as that requires an impossible 9 in Q4.🙂 Keep reading… till the next report.

Books 2017Q3

Twenty Years in US

IMG_7296On this day twenty years ago, I came to the United States. My point of entry was Anchorage, Alaska. I still remember stepping off the plane, exhausted after an eight-hour flight from Shanghai (and a short flight from Beijing before that), yet excited from seeing the gorgeous snow mountains from the air, and the rows of private jets on the ground. As I stood in line at passport control, it suddenly struck me: I am in a different country and I will be on my own. My family and friends and everything I am familiar with are now thousands of miles away…

There was not much time to be sentimental. I boarded another plane and flew six more hours to JFK. As it approached, I watched the beautiful night view of New York City with all those bright lights and elegant bridges, and felt like I was in a dream. When the wheels touched the ground and passengers applauded, tears rolled down my face. At that moment, so many feelings went through my mind that it felt blank. A new chapter began.

So that was the first trip by air in my life. And it lasted over 20 hours. I was a rookie traveler then and thought even the churning baggage carousel was impressive. Today, I am quite experienced. I have been to 33 countries and 64 airports around the world. Still, that same excitement when the plane touches down in a brand new place never left me.

IMG_7298Many things have changed in twenty years. For example, I came here holding a Chinese passport with a US visa. Today, I have a US passport with a Chinese visa. Between the two countries, no matter which direction I fly now, I consider it ‘going home’.

BTW, here is a post that I published around the 18th anniversary. 🙂 Can’t believe it has been two years since then! Time flies. I wonder what I will be writing about five years from now, or ten, or another twenty…

Books read in 2017 Q2

The second book report of 2017 is overdue… Can’t believe ten days have passed since the beginning of the new quarter! My goal this year is to read 50 books, 20 of which from shelves at home. I finished 13 in Q2 , still a little behind schedule. But I am on track now as I already added two books in July. 🙂

Here are the books I finished in the second quarter:

  1. Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God by Bill Hybels
  2. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  3. The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky
  4. Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers by Simon Winchester
  5. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  6. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil
  7. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
  8. The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity by Skye Jethani
  9. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir
  11. What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions by Robert Wolke
  12. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  13. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Four of these are from shelves at home (behind the goal again). As usual, the books on this list are quite eclectic. My top two are #8 and #10. I picked up #7 and #9 after watching the authors’ TED talks – both met my expectations. #6 has some very insightful and interesting discussions. All the books on this list are informative and enjoyable, except #12, which I probably would hate if I had read the book, but the audio book I listened to was quite entertaining.

Keep reading… till the next report. 🙂

Books 2017Q2

Five Days in South Korea (Busan, Seoul)

Early this month we had a wonderful visit to South Korea, including 1.5 days in Busan and 3 days in Seoul. Hopefully our itinerary below would help people plan their trip to this great and interesting country. I found this site to be quite helpful when I did my planning.

Our day started at 3am US EDT. Due to delay we almost missed our connecting flight at San Francisco. Luckily we made it to the gate 4 minutes before it closed. We arrived at Incheon International Airport around 3pm the next afternoon. Then we got our Korail pass and boarded a KTX train to Busan. Because it was a holiday week the seats were sold out, but we managed to sit for 2.5 hours out of the 3.5-hour ride. Not bad. We arrived at Busan around 8pm – 28 hours after we left home. I promised myself never to make such crazy arrangements ever again.

Day 1. Busan Aquarium, Food Alley, Geumgang Park (with cable car). We made an attempt to go to the famous Beomeosa Temple but were too exhausted to walk the required distance.

Day 2. Jagalchi Fish Market, Gamcheon Culture Village. Afternoon train to Seoul.

Day 3. Half-day DMZ Tour.  Deoksugung Palace (changing guards).


Day 4. Lotte World Aquarium, Lotte World Tower, Coex Aquarium, Namsan Tower.

Day 5. Changdeokgung Palace, Myongdong Shopping District.


Except the DMZ Tour, all the other places are accessible via subway/bus. A must-have is a Cash-bee card. It can be used to pay for subway, bus, taxi, train, or even in convenient stores, and it is good in both Busan and Seoul. That said, we walked on average 15,000 steps a day even with the great public transportation!

The next day we departed Seoul heading to Beijing, China… To be continued.