More We Age, Less We Laugh–A Day in Life

Did you know six-years old laugh on average 300 times a day? As we age, away drift our laughters. As adults, we now give ourselves only 15 to 100 chances a day to laugh. Among some benefits of laughing are the reduction of stress hormones and the strengthening of immune system. The mere anticipation of laughing alone increases endorphins, the feel good hormone, by 27%. 

I was presented this statistics on laughter at a class lecture. And I couldn’t be more taken aback by the numbers; we laugh as little as 15 times in a day.

Is it true? What about me? How many laughters will I be entertaining my mouth? My curiosity got to me. So I took out a day in which I took down the details of my laughters. They included time, reasons, and people with whom I laughed.

Here is the breakdown:

5:30 am: woke up, cleaned up, rehydrated, packed breakfast and lunch, and meditated (not one laughter).

6:45 am: exited the door, drove to station, rode BART, and walked to lab (Still no laughter yet).

8:46 am: On my way to work, I dropped by Grocery Outlet for some discounted drinks and snacks. At the store front, I saw a woman shopping with her own rolling cart. She had in her cart a pineapple. She stimulated my first laughter of the day by breaking up the pineapple crown with her 60-something years old bare hands. Almost walking into her, my panic countenance was turned into a wonder-struck laughter instead (I still relish that moment as I am writing this.) I bid her goodbye with a “wow, you are strong!”

9:10 am: As I was crossing the last street light to work, my colleague, Amelia, caught up to me and couldn’t wait to share her donut fiasco that took place on previous Friday at work, during which the rest of the entire team was out for a team volunteer event. She now had failed to serve donuts to everyone at the office the second time. We laughed as we were moving quickly to beat the pedestrian green light.

9:43 am: Amelia and I further shared our weekends as we settled into work mode. We laughed with each other for the last time before getting serious.

1:00 pm: lunch break. One more laughter as I enjoyed lunch with the colleagues.

1:49 pm: While walking to the bathroom, I spotted Dahn falling asleep while she was sitting in front of her computer. I stood silent right in her field of view, counting down in my head to see how long it would take her to notice my standing there RIGHT in front of her. That gave me a good laugh.

2:00 pm: I don’t recall the exact reason. Florence suddenly did an impression of Meghan while speaking to me. I found it silly and funny at the same time. I snickered a little.

2:12 pm: David accidentally printed his documents on my printer-ready labels. Little mishap like this somehow elicited a laughter from me.

3:15 pm: Liusheng, lost in thought and baffled by his experiment, started talking to himself. I was working on my own experiment and overheard his tragedy monologue–Shakespeare would have named it the same way I did. We then engaged in discussion about using surfactant for his protein binding study. Amid the talk, we delighted in a few jokes.

4:18 pm: Liusheng came back with his reporting of the impact of surfactant on his centrifugation time. He lit up like a child and his joy infected me before we parted for the day. And that also ended my laughter for the day.

9:xx pm: I reconnected with an old friend named Jimmy. It’s been some years since I last heard from Jimmy. We exchanged a little and I got to learn that Jimmy was now working as a nurse. What an amazing news. I was overjoyed as I was texting him and congratulating him. Years of hard-work and perseverance finally paid off, Jimmy. Hearing news of you was the fireworks to the conclusion of my evening.
Overall, I had 10 instants of laughter. I did not count exactly how many times I laughed in each instant; Let’s approximate between 1 and 4 laughters per instant, that gave me a range of 10 to 40 laughters in total that day.

What an interesting bookkeeping for the day. Seeing this tally, I couldn’t help but to brainstorm questions in my head: am I that stoic? Is it because the environment in which I put myself was not conducive to evoking laughters? Is it because I am a passive-laughter, in that someone has to initiate the cue to stimulate my laughter? The possibilities go on…

For now, it’s interesting to discover some parallel to the above statistics. While various factors such as personality, one’s social circle, one’s appreciation of life, and many others contribute to one’s overall sensitivity to laughing, it seems like laughing, a native ability we were born with, is becoming harder for us to commit to it. We have been tucked in multiple directions and have had our time fragmented into multiple priorities, into which that leave us unaware of our connection to both our body and surroundings. As this continues to go on, laughing wholeheartedly seems to only get harder with age.

Why don’t you try it out for yourself? Pick a day and keep a note of how many times you laugh that day.

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A Question Following Death

A few steps ahead of me, Emma was summing up her turn by crossing herself. Being a first time funeral attendee, I was still unsure of what to do once Emma had moved forward and I walked forward to take her place. Should I also cross myself? should I envelop the hands of the body? My mind was vacillating between what appropriate and inappropriate in order to conduct myself in just a few seconds.

It was well lit at the the stage where the body lied. Flowers surrounded each end of the casket–whose gleam from the golden gilded-edges, accentuated by overhead beams, metaphorically sanctified this passage of life. “How peaceful?” I had thought to myself as I stepped into the zone.

Jeremiah, the person whom I was meeting for the first time, was unaware of who i was. Slight discoloration in his skin tone ensured that Jeremiah was no longer in touch with his bemoaning spouse or relatives. His body was well-embalmed, evoking the time he once took up the hand of his loving spouse and vowed to be with her until death. Only now his hand cupped his own but still exuding no less confidence, though lifelessly. He was present, but away was he. “Hey Jeremiah, look after your loved ones”, said I to the empty body–my first and last favor of this stranger.

I turned around to face the seated audience. Everybody in the front wept. While Jeremiah’s spouse–who was my colleague and whom also invited me to these proceedings–wailed the heaviest, their kid daughter capered back and forth sprightly and offered a reverse perspective to the present sentiment. Suddenly, silence was not the only dominant energy in presence of this painful goodbye; life was still dancing face-to-face with death, literally.

I wasn’t able to tell which were Jeremiah’s parents and I took it upon myself that the question would be better left un-pursued. I simply acknowledged those in the foremost pews and walked on to offer an embrace to my colleague, something that I have picked up along the way in life that is known to chip off bits of insecurity from the person who surrenders to it. I sure handed out with both arms far and wide. However, the stressed and over-wrought body I was engulfing shook off my confidence. The embrace left me the one who was more in need of solace to comfort my own comforting.

The proceeding continued with relatives giving eulogies and guests further amplifying the stillness, all the while hymn subliminally orchestrating the tranquility. The somber energy pressed me further to conjure open-ended thoughts and herein the reflections that barely scratched the surface of my feelings at the time. But I remember driving away from the burial site pensively musing:

“Will the person I love, or the person(s) who loves me, find it harder to accept my passing?”

Mung Beans for Breakfast: An Impetus to Eating Well

This childhood-inspired dish refocuses Mung beans as the star of the dish and ditches other interrupting tapioca and colorful jellies. More importantly, it silences the artificially amplified sweetness, shifting it from a high glycemic-index desert to a healthful morning fuel.  As a result of sharing this thought,  I hope that this recipe can inspire you to look past sugar and sweetness as the only way to satiate your cravings and view food ingredients for what they truly are to experience the joy of eating and elevate your appreciation for the raw ingredients we have available to us. After all, we are nothing without them.

For the past month or so, oatmeal has been my go-to for breakfast. Using oat as the star of the dish, I dress and  mingle it with different ingredients such as coconut oil, avocado, almonds, Chia seeds, Goji berries, blueberries to give myself what I deem to be nutritious and flavorful to my taste without relying on maple syrup or sugar as a carrot on a stick to make myself look forward to breakfast. However, just as how you cannot eat egg and toast every morning, the recipe can lose its luster over time despite all its conspicuous health benefits. For this reason, I have been exploring new ingredients to excite my morning and simultaneously prime my body and mind for the day ahead. One of these is Mung bean.

If you are anything like me: come from an Asian heritage, conditioned to view ingredients or certain foods to be cooked in certain ways and eaten only at a certain time of the day as a way to pay your food and body respect, you have probably only used Mung beans (sprout form) in noodle soup or eaten them post-dinner to calm your sweet tooth before wrapping up the night. This new breakfast idea can give you an “aha!” revelation.

This recipe is so simple to make with so few ingredients that I encourage you to try it out for yourself. You only need Mung beans, vanilla extract, and raw honey to start with.

1. First, boil water in a pot.

2. Add in your store-bought Mung beans. Cook until beans are softened; you can prod around with a spoon to gauge the texture. Take note of the water level as you are cooking. Add some water to the pot to avoid burning the beans. Once you have your Mung beans cooked into a consistency to your liking, you can set the pot aside and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Drop in a few droplets of vanilla extract and a few tablespoons of raw honey and stir until honey is all dissolved.

5. (Optional) Finally, add and subtract spices to flavor that suits you. Spices I like to include are: cinnamon, cacao powder, and cardamon. Sometimes, I also include a squeeze of orange, Goji berries, and shredded coconuts.

6. Enjoy as a new breakfast.

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Figure 1.  Mung Beans and Azuki Beans breakfast

If you’d like to be creative with it, you can also cook Mung beans along with Azuki beans as shown above. If you choose to combine the two, I recommend cooking Azuki beans 5 minutes prior to adding Mung beans as Azuki takes longer to cook.

 

Christ Towers Jr. School: A Fundraising Campaign for Ugandan Rural Pupils

Your donations will fuel many projects around the school from as basic as increasing hygiene around the campus to cultivating next generation leaders, giving every child a chance to lift himself/herself and those around out of poverty. Richard and Sylvia Kent’s efforts have proverbially (and to some extent literally) given local children “a shot at life”. You can help uphold this spirit in the distant, and I encourage you to do so.
For more information and to donate: https://www.givinggrid.com/zjlcnv/

If you believe in doing good, I’d like you to center your attention on this short post of mine. Yes, I am asking for money; I am asking you for donations that will result in the greater good for Ugandan children.

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Figure 1. School ground-1 (before)
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Figure 2. School ground-2 (before)

Promised to be a sustainable ground for physical and cognitive development, Christ Towers Junior School (CTJS) strives to supplement its pupils with education and food at low-cost to realize its vision: “A rural population fully empowered, reformed and liberated from the ills of poverty and illiteracy through education.”

It all began with Richard and Sylvia Kent, both of whom started Christ Towers Juniors School (CTJS) as a day care center that aimed to support local women of shopkeepers and farmers. Due to its success, demand, and support by the local women, CTJS has expanded to include primary education in addition to its nursery.

Having survived its infancy in the past four years and graduated 184 children, CTJS is now ready to take on more responsibilities; it has recently transitioned from a non-profit to a small company in its attempt to expand further in order to accommodate more local children. Some of anticipated challenges are:

  1. The biggest challenge ahead of us is the high increasing student population realized annually, mainly caused by parents who keep expressing willingness to leave their children with us to continue educating them until primary seven level.
  2. Lack of enough space to accommodate all the admitted children and Lack of enough playing space and suitable scholastic materials for all children.
  3. Having limited number of school requirements and failure to meet the costs of maintaining enough members of the Teaching and support staff.
  4. High costs experienced in renting the school buildings, purchasing welfare items for the children plus cost of necessary utilities and other related charges.
  5. Lack of Medical Care Unit and Nurse who keeps checking on children daily health status, prevention of diseases and attending common emergency health problems.
  6. Lack of transport vehicles to fetch and return children from distance areas.

Your donations will fuel many projects around the school from as basic as increasing hygiene around the campus to cultivating next generation leaders, giving every child a chance to lift himself/herself and those around out of poverty. Richard and Sylvia Kent’s efforts have proverbially (and to some extent literally) given local children “a shot at life”. You can help uphold this spirit in the distant, and I encourage you to do so.
For more information and to donate: https://www.givinggrid.com/zjlcnv/

Disclaimer: there are not any crowdfunding websites that participate in Uganda at the time of this writing. As the volunteer and manager of this fundraising campaign, I will see to its end. The amount collected will be first deposited to my bank account, after which will be transferred directly to bank account of Christ Towers Jr.’s account. Hence, your donation will not qualify for tax-deductible. 

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Figure 3. School ground-1 (present day)
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Figure 4. School ground-2 (present day)

Baking: An Excuse to Write

However richer and tastier butter can embellish a dish, the thought of unnecessarily ingesting extra fat turns my stomach. Surely, this American favorite also comes with vitamin E and A. Nevertheless, unless I am able to find a type of butter whose food label is more honest than “Natural Flavors” or to afford the premium quality butter whose source comes from a grass-fed cow, it doesn’t seem like I can be convinced to voluntarily stock this ingredient inside my fridge. This is why I was excited when I finally came across a banana bread recipe that ditches the butter while locking fingers with my all-time favorite flavor in the form of flour: coconut flour.

I found the recipe on this website:
https://detoxinista.com/best-ever-coconut-flour-banana-bread/
But I didn’t follow the instructions to the tee; kitchen is the only place I can conduct chemistry without having to rely on class A glass wares and more importantly, one should be free to just mix and stir inside one’s own kitchen. Moreover, I decided to add in a few ingredients to venture a little. Altogether, please put your hands for “Banana Coconut Bread Ginger Bread”.

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Figure 1. Ingredients;  ginger and sesame (not included)

In the end, I got what I cooked. The aroma of vanilla and coconut permeated the kitchen. The sweetness of banana and cinnamon grappling with the piquancy of ginger for dominance reached a deadlock that had to be resolved by my craving, creating a satisfying taste from reconciling the opposing flavors. In the end, an attempt at this personalized Banana Coconut Ginger bread didn’t end in vain.

P.S. The flavor profile was exciting, but the consistency of the bread was still lacking. The bread was not as moist as a normal Banana bread; I might have put in a tad too much coconut flour.

Coincidence, or More?

In Fall 2016, while volunteering in a joint Primary and Middle school in northeastern Thailand, I turned to horoscope for some leisure reading and (honestly also for) some spiritual guidance. More importantly, I wanted to see how accurate the piece of writing reflected in my life so far as 2016 was no more than a quarter of a year away from ending. I remember going through synopsis of my birth sign and nodding to some claims while wishing some predictions had been true. My eyes then led me to my lucky numbers of 2016. It was a string of integers. I cannot recall what all the numbers were. However, “1” and “5” were among them and have left an impression on me until today.

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Figure 1. One of my favorite classes at Nonghoipang Witthaya School. They graduated in 2017 and moved on into high school.

As my final days at Nonghoibang Witthaya School drew to a close, a few endearing teachers whom I got to partner with handed me their school official football (soccer) jersey as a gift. I accepted with a bittersweet smile and started ruffling through the vinyl cover to throw on this new gear as a way to show how appreciative I was, not just of the gift, but also of our time together. And guess what…I was player “15”.

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Figure 2. Football (Soccer) jersey with my supposed lucky number. >.<

Sometimes, two events of this sort are just too coincidental to just label them as coincidence.

This past Friday on 032318, it happened that I had to stay late at work in order to read over a friend’s internship application personal statement. I didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm. Since I already lost then sunlight and had not made any solid plans for that evening, I decided to drop by Grocery Outlet for some food, continue on home, and cooked. As I took a turn opposite to the route I normally went on, I saw a figure standing in the divider of the traffic, waving. A few cars in front of me dismissed the hitchhiker. Thinking that the straightaway stretched for more than 2 miles and that it would not be troublesome for me assuming I was also going the same direction, I pulled over and gestured for the hitchhiker to come over.

Once the stranger in the gray hoody reached the passenger side of my car, I called for him to open the door. “Hey, where are you trying go?”, I asked. I didn’t get a word back apart from a blank stare. He then took a minute and tried his best to mutter “downtown”. I then realized this hitchhiker was not a common hitchhiker.
“Do you speak chinese?”
blank stare…
“Korean?”
blank stare…
“Japanese?”
Finally there was some life in him. And as soon as I told him I could speak a little Japanese. The man let out a deep relief; he felt he had been saved.

With my broken Japanese, I was able to make Masayuki-kun feel at ease and learn that he was trying to reach a Bart station to get to downtown San Francisco. Because there was not a convenient Bart station close to where I was heading. We worked out an agreement that he had to come with me to the supermarket first before I could drop him off at the station.

And then started my night as a Japanese hitchhiker rescuer. =)

My weekend did not end with just Masayuki-kun.

This morning, I felt the need to use the bathroom as I was finishing up work at Starbucks. There was no line for the bathroom. And out of the blue, I decided that I was just gonna hold it until I got to Trader Joe’s. I packed my stuff, felt accomplished for what I had completed this morning, and walked out the cafe. As I was pacing towards Trader Joe’s, an art shop caught my eye. Despite being in dire need of the bathroom, I took a detour and spent some time in the art shop. Unknowingly, browsing the shop erased the thought I had to urinate. I spent more than 10 minutes inside the shop, longer than what I had planned.

Finally, I made my way to Trader Joe’s. I still didn’t walk straight into the restroom as soon as I reached there. Instead, I picked up some spinach, frozen veggie burritos, a butternut squash, dilly-dallied around the aisles, and at the checkout, a bar of 72% dark chocolate. At that very moment, because there was a line of people ahead of me and I caught the word “Restroom” as my head turned rightward towards the the back end of the shop, I finally recalled I had to use the bathroom. And the biological urge to remove waste resumed. And it became urgent.

I paced towards the toilet. One bathroom was in use, and a man just came out of another. A woman behind me then kindly asked me if she could use it first. I made way for her. Soon after, a lady exited the occuppied room and held the door for me. I left her with a “thank you” and proceeded to take my turn. I did my business and as I reached for toilet paper to dry my hand, I saw a phone sitting right on top of the dispenser. what do you know.

And then started another rescue mission: phone and its owner reunification.

It was a rather interesting weekend for me as you can see. Getting off work late on a Friday night turned into a hangout with (and of course a rescue mission of) a foreign hitchhiker. Delaying my biological needs of the restroom turned into saving a woman from a trouble that could have costed her time, money, and emotion. As I am sitting writing this entry, I am still amazed at how the timing of each event put me in a position to make a decision that could have either costed people on the other side sizable distress or saved their day. Masayuki-kun told me that night that he had spent over 3 hours walking from the airport to get to Oyster Point (approx 5 miles apart), where he was waving for attention. The happiness in his attitude after realizing that he had finally received help at the setting sun made me feel pleased with myself for having pulled over for a stranger. The same goes to the reaction of the woman who left her phone inside the bathroom. I am glad to be in a position that allowed me to show others that humanity still exists. This is because I know that through this both Masayuki-kun and the woman will be enocouraged to do good for others whom they will encounter in the future, coincidentally.

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Figure 3. Gift from Masayuki. I told him I wanted to hike Mt. Fuji. Before he got on the train, he handed me this as a thank you gift.  It’s of Mt. Fuji. What another coincidence!

P.S. I am still hesitant to accept it as a coincidence in the case of meeting Masyuki-Kun. This was because, on top of everything that occurred that Friday, I sent Masayuki-Kun on Bart train using a Bart ticket that I had purchased months ago but remained unused, and wedged inside my phone case. But it could be anything. Everything happens for a reason.

If you are reading this, Masayuki, thank you for your Fuji yama handkerchief. I am glad I got your endorsement on In-N-Out burger.

 

An Inspirational Hackman

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Figure 1. Tuk-Tuk (n.) a chariot drawn by a motorbike.

When offered a chance to move up and become something more, some may not think twice and sign and date. However, at least for this 41 years old tuk-tuk taxi driver, Sophun Sam did not hesitate in his choosing when offered up-front the opportunity to supervise a Japanese restaurant with the opportunity of becoming more than just a branch Manager. He knows what he wants. And he’s willing to invest in driving customers from dawn to dusk instead.

I was puzzled as Sam told me while his friend, the person who made him the offer sitting 2 feet away, was speaking to his other Japanese friend.

When asked whether it was due to the pay differential, Sam admitted that ferrying customers might not earn him as much as overseeing a restaurant for his Japanese friend. On top of the pay–which could do his wife and children a great favor–a shop Manager may also be more stable as a day to day occupation and give his family a peace of mind with regard to the safety nature of his current work and might also safeguard him and his family against the negative societal views associated with being a Tuk-Tuk driver.

“Being a hackman is not an easy task. I need to be at my peak”, said Sam “otherwise, I would not be able to carry out my 12-15 hr work each day. Every morning, I wake up at 4am to jog around the round-about of the Central Market to freshen up for the day.” The moment his children have been dropped off at school, the chase begins.

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Figure 2. Sam Sophun, an over 10 years experienced Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In Phnom Penh, it’s impossible to get the approximate counts of how many tuk-tuk taxi or motorbike taxi drivers there are. There is not an official census for this line of work. Any one who owns a tuk-tuk or a motorbike can become a makeshift taxi driver and start earning conveniently without having to register with any authority units. Union also does not exist; every man jumps on the opportunity to earn when he sees fit.

For Sam and others, getting passengers can also be a hit or miss. Sometimes, an overlooked wave by the passenger as they ride pass means a net for the next driver. Some can also be so focused on picking up the client that he would dismiss the red light and ease through the flowing wave of motorists to get to his client. I cringed as I saw this happening right before my eyes.

Luckily for Sam, with more than 10 years of riding experience, he has mastered the game. On top of picking up customers along the streets, Sam also has his own working website and Tripadvisor page to get him more traffic from out-country  visitors. According to Sam, ferrying foreign tourists and visitors can earn him a more promising fare; this comes in the form of tips earned by his charisma and easy-going nature, which are not much valued by local clients.

Some frequent visitors who have been chauffeured by Sam, apart from continually patronizing his service when visiting Cambodia, do not hesitate to lend a hand in getting him more business. For instance, his current website and tripadvisor account were all created for him by one of his regular customers from Sweden who he now casually refers to as friend. In fact, his Japanese friend whom I just mentioned is also a frequent foreign client of his. Sam has also been invited to accompany him to Laos.

This was probably the reason why Sam enjoys his work even though if his win and loss is up to the stroke of luck, I thought. The evolving friendships between him and his customers thrive on his ferrying and accompanying his customers to their destinations. And to throttle down might consequently downshift their friendships.

But finally, I got to hear Sam’s own explanation as to why he chose running a taxi instead of a restaurant for his friend.

“My children need me,” explained Sam, “I am making an investment in my children; I can still come home at the right time and be with my children if I choose to be a hack man. It is true that the costs of living are taxing on me. The primary cost is school tuition. Every three months, I have to stow $420 dollars for their tuition costs. Some of my driver companions have commented that I should put the money to a more practical use such as moving into a bigger space and enjoying the income with my family instead. But for me, I don’t care if our family merely ‘gets by’. I want my children to go to good schools. And I want to have time for my children especially when they are stuck on their homework. I want to be by them as they are growing. And when they are all grown up, they will have the confidence and the skills they obtained from their father to carry out their lives independently. I pull the weight by their side so they’ll know how to in their adulthood.”

God helps man who helps himself.
Keep fighting, Sophun!

Sam Sophun’s website:
http://tourphnompenh.com/
Sam Sophun’s tripadvisor:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293940-d11910971-Reviews-Sophun_Tuk_tuk_and_Van-Phnom_Penh.html