“Laws Won’t Be Enough. Heart Must Change.”

President Obama bid us farewell today in his last presidential address in McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois.

The president is going to leave office in a matter of ten days. And in ten days, President Obama’s successor, entrusted with legacy of America, will take his newly gained authorities for a spin. Judging by the “4 more years, 4 more years, 4 more years” chant resounded among the president’s supporters in the auditorium, it is suggested that many other Americans are also praying against the highly likely crash-and-burn moment of the whirly ride that we all will be in with the president’s successor.

As I was listening to President Obama’s speech broadcasted worldwide, I could not help but nod along even after having just waken up and still bearing the morning stupor.

I nodded, in agreement and awe, at one of his quotes–one which directed at the needs of Americans putting differences aside and uniting to preserve and uphold democracy in this increasingly diverse America.

I nodded as I was being reminded of a moment of my recent placement in Cambodia as part of inclusive education project.

“Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change.”

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Figure 1. Teaching waste management. Arriving in the community and standing in front of these children. I had my mission of ingraining into them a mindset contrary to that which has been shaping their character.

One day, a hustle-bustle took place during an English lesson I was leading with my team members in Siem Bouk community, Stung Treng, Cambodia. Upon opening the door, there were fifty-plus kids each with a plate and spoon in hand. They were hungry. They wanted their food. Pekthra, the boy in charge of lugging two buckets, one filled with rice and another with soup, set the two bins right outside my classroom. Over time, noise grew louder and louder. Among other things, some dug in their licked spoons to scoop up food into their plates. And some just outright dug up food with their soiled plates. A hustle-bustle turned into a caveman survival frenzy. And amid all this, there was no authoritative figure out there to choreograph this brunch distribution.

I couldn’t bear the sights and left the teaching to my team. I closed the doors behind, grabbed the lids, and shut the two bins. “Stop!” I called out in Khmer in an attempt to bring order. “We are not gonna be able to eat with everyone being this way. Alright, we need to form two lines. And fetch another ladle for the soup, Pekthra.” Everyone was inching backwards, but none were ready to give up their places to merge into two proper lines. The unopening lids luckily convinced them to dissolve into the lines I asked for. We started to have order. But every ten seconds, the lines buckled and everyone resumed their old reptilian instinct. Then two more students volunteered to run the lines with Pekthra. One joined Pekthra in food distribution and another paced up and down to manage the lines. And I became the evil authoritative figure whose eyes were peeled for every little unhygienic quirks among these children. Our roles lasted until the bins were all emptied of food.

It might be false to think that the haunting influences of Khmer Rouge, which ended just less than 40 years ago, is still at play today, that today’s cultural ethos still bears a resemblance to that of the Khmer Rouge time. Sometimes, I think to myself. Are the reasons for the prevalence of profanity and temperament of the people in this country only due to the insufficiency of education and other financial and superficial factors? Nonetheless, to President Obama’s “Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change”, to cultivate the heart that will reflect and ruminate on things beyond just for oneself and just for today will complement, if not outdo, the efforts of law. Be it in U.S. or Cambodia.

As an auxiliary teacher for the community students, I am honored to have played a role in changing the heart of these children.

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A Friday Night Impasse: Likes and Dislikes, a Beacon for Destiny–Maybe

Finding the purpose through likes and dislikes.

Likes and dislikes can be qualified as intrinsic preferences of a particular individual. And by our nature, we gravitate towards what we like and are repelled by what we dislike.

It’s difficult for one to characterize one’s like or dislike towards something if one has not yet decided to pursue a subject without a preconception. How do we know we like or dislike something without even unbiasedly learning about it? The value which we merit from the resulting experience can therefore be unfounded and untrue.

But then, how would one even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, interest-whetting, to begin with? So apart from likes and dislikes, there must be another/other qualities that provoke, stimulate, that pull us in. For instance, we have to work to raise the family, to reduce loans, to return a favor, to make that diploma worthwhile, and for many other unpredictable reasons. But whatever reasons are at the start, they ultimately also usher along the sentiments of like and dislike. In other words, the task positively grows on the being in the case of one finding the subject likeable or negatively for dislikeable reasons.

And somehow, it’s inescapable that both like and dislike manifest.  

Ask one his/her opinion of his/her job, for instance, and the answer will consist of positivities as well as negativities, be them proportionately or disproportionately. Similarly, ask another about his/her relationship partner, and observe the answer. So it’s probably safe for now to assume that we can neither like or dislike something wholly. Instead, we like to only dislike simultaneously, vice versa. Why so? I am unable to answer logically. Perhaps, too much like can lead to infatuation, “like-blind”,  just as too much dislike can never bring satisfaction or joy to enable one to stay the course; and this may lead to the notion of unpurposed existence.

However, it is also incompletely valid to say that a journey guided by dislike can never lead to a purposed life. For many, it has only been because of dislikes that they are able to arrive at like. It’s through the errors of these trials that things finally “work out”, that a purpose is defined.

So ultimately, is it valid to say that purpose can be defined by both like and dislike, but is only finally fulfilled by like?

For this reason, turning back to the question of how one would even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, is it because of destiny that we are able to engage in something we dislike? Assuming that one will only renounce one’s dislikes, one will then avoid one’s own dislikes at all cost. Then only destiny is able to rule over our feeling of dislike and bring into intersection our aversion and dislike; only destiny will then direct one to a place, at a particular time, and for a particular reason; and that reason being in order for one to ultimately arrive at, to discover like, to arrive at a purposed existence?  

This now parallels the conundrum everyone faces: what you have to do vs. what you like to do, leading to the similar paradigm: fate vs. choice. Furthermore, it seems to take us back to where we started, the very question: how can destiny manifest without our commitment to an experience without a preconception to begin with in order to discover our likes and dislikes, to discover ourselves?…*brain fart*…

The Love of A Man

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I often turn to a cup of brewed chrysanthemum when chaos knocks on my door. And when I inhale its aroma and savor its taste as a way to extract its healing properties, the thought of her manifests.

“Her name means chrysanthemum, a symbol of  love and life. The result of where, who, and what I am is all attributed to her existence. It is because of her that I am alive, literally.

It dates back years ago. However unplanned our meeting was, it was destined to be love at first sight. Up until now, I confess that no matter how great my love is for her, her love for me has been logarithmically greater. Furthermore, now that we have been together for years, there have been instants when I missed to think that I live for her. In contrast, she never ceases to forget that the meaning to her life is me; she breathes, works, lives, and loves for me. No matter how selfish I am in achieving what I set out to accomplish, her love remains unconditional. When I fail, I avoid turning to her. And as you might have expected, she always cares to lend an ear and is always so loving. I owe it all to her.

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Some time during Pol Pot’s takeover of Cambodia in mid 1970s

One of the gifts by Chrysanthemum for which I am thankful is her push for my education. Chrysanthemum came from a family that was fortunate enough to escape Pol Pot’s reign of terror alive. But unfortunately for her, the end of Pol Pot also left the nation economically receded, poverty-stricken, and most of its populations illiterate. As a result, Chrysanthemum did not have the fortune to receive any education as a child. Her main source of knowledge was her experiences which ranged from the wisdom passed down from her folks to her day-to-day empirical endeavors. Therefore, Chrysanthemum’s inability to fully verbalize her thoughts simplifies into an  action-speaks-louder-than-words form of communication. This leads me to disclose to you that Chrysanthemum never mutters: ‘I love you’, which is a baffling feature of a woman whose one of the features is love. Nonetheless, our many years together have made me accustomed to her cryptic form of communication.

I also admire her for many of things she has taught me. One of which has also been deeply captured in a saying by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘live simply so others can simply live’. Through her passion to provide for me something she was deprived of, Chrysanthemum has taught me the importance of education and more importantly the essence of giving, the former a means to grow into a moral and practical being while the latter a conscientious quality I believe to be indispensable in defining humanity. To Chrysanthemum (perhaps I have finally come to realize), to give is to love.

I often think of the alternate reality, of what my life would have become if we had not met; I could be a completely different person, owning a  different identity, living a different life, writing about a different woman…etc. But the work of probability brought me to her and she never had a second thought thereafter. Dear Chrysanthemum, I want to let you  know that you are my creator–my god, you are my best life master, you are my greatest love, I can never ask for a better mother. Thank you for giving me life and teaching me how to live it. I thank you every day. Happy Mother’s Day.”

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Hence, when I smell chrysanthemum, I smell peace. I smell devoted love. I smell where mom is.

Two Weeks Two SHORT Stories of Optimism

Ever since I started driving, I have never had to deal with the dreaded traffic jam. Complaints and exasperation from friends over traffic jam never earned my commiseration. On top of that, I passively criticized those who had nothing better to do than to sway my positive mornings askew with their traffic catastrophe. I then came to realize it firsthand.

During my two weeks assignment at a company in South SF, my commutes, both ways, were equivalently 1/3 of the time I spent at work. Traffic jam was the culprit.  I had never thought my commutes would be this terrible. I felt so disturbed that each day I would rather arrive at work an hour before and nap away in the car till 8 o’clock. On one hand, I can’t say that I disliked all of it as, en route to work, NPR seemingly shortened the travel distance and I enjoyed being educated about our national social contemporary issues. On the other hand, at the end of each day, going home was in fact the last thing I looked forward to as it entailed idling through the congested highway at 30mph or less. But what made driving, fatigue, anxiety-buildup worthwhile was all due to the employees and their stories I learned during this brief placement.

As a temp, I didn’t expect much. Going in as a problem-solver, my objective was to get the project done with another hired temp and move on. Nonetheless, to ease the discomfort that usually exists initially between the temp and regular, I made small talks with the regular to 1) learn about their opinion of their employer. 2) to learn about them.

There were many nice people. May of the Analytical Lab, for instance, expressed more enthusiasm than us when answering our questions. Ray of MCD Dept. spoke with a firm, warm, fatherly tone as we exchanged our backgrounds. My boss, Nand, with his background as a K-12 science teacher, was rather generous with his time when it came to showing us around especially things regarding equipment/policies in his department. Nand held fast to safety guidelines and he hoped we left the company ready to confront emergency with an emphasis on personal safety. However, among all the people I met, Suzy of Molecular Cell and Development Dept. and Mike of Environmental Health and Safety, the department under which I contracted, were two of the most positive ones.

Suzy is positive for her future. Despite having her MS degree in Biology, Suzy thinks that her current science position is still whetting her appetite for something greater. Suzy told me that she didn’t see herself being in the biopharma industry for the rest of her career. This is partly due to scarcity of opportunity to move up. Costly overhead is another factor that stands between her and her goal. She then proceeded to share her dream of owning her own bakery. As she was telling me, I started to detect her increased rate of speech. The sparkle in her eyes also became more visible as she carried on. I was shut down by her immense energy; I was speechless but continually smiled and nodded along. This was because Suzy spoke of something that I haven’t yet heard by most scientists.

Many pursue professions in the tech and biotech in hope of realizing their scientist dream and the financial security that comes with the titles. Suzy’s story is inspiring as it takes courage for one to resign from a position in what economists call secondary sector, which accounts for only 20% of U.S. labor force, to join a tertiary sector—where 80% of the U.S. labor force competes to strike rich. Nonetheless, even though money is one of the motives for which one struggles hard, this is not the case for Suzy as I do believe that it’s been a dream of hers to run her life/career to the fullest even if it means she has to forsake a highly-regarded job title. Her passionate bakery dream told me so.

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As luck would have it, I ran into Mike before I left. Mike is a stout man. He’s about 5’8 but packs a muscular 200 lbs frame. Mike never failed to smile. A lot of people who have met or worked with me would describe me as optimistic and light-hearted. But Mike would be a stronger definition of them both, in my opinion. Mike told us briefly about how he landed a job here in EH&S. He had worked for companies around the area and had once been a temp of his current company. Three months went by and he was called off. Mike then persisted in similar companies around the area. One contract after another, Mike finally was called back to his present company as a result of his excellent review during his contract period. Mike went on to say that finding a job had been tough, but so long as the positive spirit was in check, light in the tunnel would gleam. And that is the reason why he is spreading his smiles like Ebola in all the areas of his duty. We were fortunate to have been at one of the places. “Stay positive, gentlemen!”, said Mike as the other temp and I shook hands with Mike and bidded goodbye.

These two coincidental encounters during my job as a temp did really feed me spiritually. What I mean to say is, in the face of hardship and hopelessness, optimism  and positivity are only what is left in us for us to come home to. Suzy was able to stay put despite possible hopelessness in realizing her dream. And Mike was able to utilize faith to actualize a humble, beaming smile that he was later able to share with everybody else on the job. Their journeys are different but their optimism was cast in the same mold. And in the end, this is what I would like to leave my readers with. Just like how Mike did it, I am going to cyber-shake your hands as this post is coming to its close, “Stay positive!”

A Dig Into My Memory Box

I didn’t think moving boxes from one room to another would take me longer than I had expected. It could be partly ascribed to my prior ingestion of some heavy MSG-laden snacks which, according to my relatives, blindsided me with an unmotivated spirit. By the same token, I found something in which so worthy of getting lost while moving that this languidness was another reason for me to sit for 45 minutes to just dig through and reminisce. If you have some time, move off your mouse touch pad and lay your fingers on the arrow buttons on the keyboard instead; scroll down with me through some of the things in my “memory box” this afternoon.

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This is a photo of my cousins and I visiting Golden Gate Bridge together for the fist time. I remember I had just recently injured my wrist from basketball that week. We all look pretty young in the photo. One of us has gotten married and is raising his baby girl. Another is about to undergo that same ceremony. The rest of us including me are just praying against that day.

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Hahhaa….>.< Valentine’s Day. I should have noted the year on this one. It should happen somewhere in high school. Neither a crush nor a partner gave this to me. I saved this because how she gave it to me was very memorable, even though I can vaguely recall it. It was just a simple hand-over, but it was deeply felt by me. Thank goodness the candies have their wrapper. They are supposed to be gummy-bear chewy. When I felt them, they were hard and crusty to touch. Let’s not open it.

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One special un-working watch that I am still holding onto. It is from Pa. I got this roughly at the age of 11 or 12. I had an old man taste back then, somehow. I preferred styles like this as opposed to mades like Casio, which was a fad among my peers. This could possibly explain why a lot of people in highschool implicitly acknowledged me as an old head on a young shoulder as I can relate more to older people.God bless you, Pa!

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And the next thing I am sharing is this emblem. 4Seasons, so we called ourselves. If everybody each gets 15 minutes of fame in his/her life, some of my minutes have to be during the time of our abrupt existence as 4Seasons. Adopted from MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, our high school held its own edition of Best Dance Crew.  Here is the video of it.

During the time of our participation, there were only 4 teams competing. Though it was a small tournament, performing in front of the school and being the first season winner did feel really good. I still can’t believe we managed to put together our routines in such a short time.

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I think all of us know this one. Jansport. If you wanna be cool, you’ve gotta double-strap on a pack of this brand. But this realization didn’t dawn on me until later in middleschool. Meanwhile, what remarkable and will always remain in my heart about this pack is it was given to me by gramp, and it’s been around nearly as old as I am. Ok, I might have lied; it is mayble 5 or 6 years younger than me. I remember getting so antsy to go to school so that I could don the bag. Also, when I first received it, it was much bigger than me. I had to wait a couple years to properly piggyback this thing. Now, there are tears and it’s started disintegrating, but sweet moments with it are long-lived. God bless you, gramp!

what are some of the keepsakes you have in your memory box?

Chemical Philosophy: Electron Meets Happiness

Electrons are characterized by the energy states in which they reside. These energy states are further referred to be “quantized” as they are separated by precise amount of energy in different molecules. Coupled with the allowable angular and magnetic spins, each electron is very unique. Surprisingly, our happiness is no different. Happiness is also very intrinsic, subjective, and in a scientific term, quantized; what makes me happy may not do you any joy. The common praise: “you are very special!” may also owe its origin to this abstraction.

Just like the event of each excitation of the electron, upon each “excitation” of our happiness comes “relaxation” to its former ground state. Happiness is short-lived. We feel it in this second, it then diffuses away from us in the very next. An adrenaline rush, a smile that stretches from ear to ear, a momentary peace of mind and uplifted spirit, these are all we get. Then everything cycles again til the next stage of happiness is reached. “Could ‘the pursuit of happiness’ be founded on this very idea?” This may also very well explain why mankind is on an endless voyage to seek happiness because its happiness routinely reverts back to its “ground state”.

In Chemistry, electron is a mobile negatively charged subatom that brings about the system of an atom. It is also the main contributor to chemical bond formation in molecules, be them organic or inorganic. Being capable of moving up to the speed of light, 3 x 108 m s-1, electrons’ constant motions make it hard for their locations at a given time to be determined. But it is specifically this feature of the electron that could shed some light on why a living body should also be relentlessly moving and avoid idling. It is this feature that could possibly highlight the importance that to be moving is to be pursuing happiness.

We are a species that becomes harder and harder to please.

Take a baby infant, an open of arms of that of an embrace gesture or a smile will light up its expression. Take a preschooler, that gesture alone might no longer cut it without a cone of ice-cream, perhaps, in order to revive that liveliness. Then comes teenager and I think you get the idea. Instead, I’d like to take this space to admire moms and dads who are quite tolerant of their temperamental teens. In adulthood, we are now conditioned by goal setting. As we grow older and bear more responsibilities, happiness is now a measure of how successful we achieve our goals. In other words, goal accomplishment transcribes into a feeling of happiness. But imagine this. Run a 10k marathon for the first time, beat it, you feel spectacular. “I did it!” loudly and almightily. However, beating it for the second time might not abstract the same degree of happiness as you first did. The more and more you run this course, the more and more it becomes mundane to you, and the less and less you feel satisfied about your accomplishment. In fact, repeating this over and over could eventually desensitize your response to your achievement and take your enjoyment out of running altogether. The main point is the road to happiness seems to become more and more far fetched with respect to age and goal. And in this stage of adulthood, if we don’t set forth more goals that challenge us to stay in motion, we could become less and less happy, less and less satisfied with ourselves.

“Be an electron!”

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You will never find a static electron in this sphere called Earth governed by magnetic field. By the co-existence between moving charges and magnet, you will never find a charge, or an electron, that is never in motion. The fascinating nature with electrons is that they are always “looking for new opportunities”. Being loosely held by the nucleus of the atom, they are free to seek new electron clouds from other electrons in other atoms to form bond with, through donating-accepting or equal sharing, which is scientifically known as ionic or covalent bond, respectively. This “opportunity seeking” is a characteristic of electrons to challenge themselves to find ways to form a more efficient and energetically-favorable bond. “Can we find more ways to form bonds that will allow us to become more energetically stable?” is the mentality each electron bears. To electrons, the formation of a new bond, though earns them a feel of accomplishment and brief happiness, is only the start of a new challenge to form an even more stable bond. And so they achieve their goal given the right experimental conditions.

To be an electron, it is to never cease exploring new breakthroughs. To be an electron, it is never to cease pursuing the state of happiness.

“Be an electron! Pursue your happiness!”