Wednesday, December 27, 2006


As I look back at events that took place in 2006 and review the items on my To Do list, I realized that another year has gone by and there are many tasks I did not accomplish.

Before making my new To Do list and New Year Resolution, I count the blessings in my life and know that I have much to be grateful for. I remember the positive aspects of our nation, my family and the solace I receive from my Christian faith.

I remember that my employment though is not the most exciting workplace, it is a good job. My job does not define who I am. I recognize that the title of the book "Do What You Love and Money Will Follow" by Marsha Sinetar should not be interpreted as do what you love and you will make more money. I guess when you love what you do, money is no longer important.

Using real-life experiences, the author show how people liberated themselves from unfulfilling jobs, overcame their fears, took the risks, utilized their unique talents and became the persons they wanted to be.

Featured articles in newspapers and magazines offer plenty of help on how to get your ducks in a row by following a few simple strategies. The list include secrets of resolution success on how to organize your home and office and get things done. There are advices on how to get rich and earn more money. Of course, there are suggestions on how to lose weight, find time to exercise, create healthy life style and getting rid of bad habits. Thankfully I don't have to worry about the three vices listed in the article - gambling, drinking and smoking!

According to an exclusive LIFE/AOL Coaches poll, 31% of the people answer "Losing Weight" to the question, "What is your #1 goal for 2007?" It is nothing new, except when Losing Weight (31%) compared to only 2% wanting to spend more time with family. Getting more organized and earn more money at 8% is also higher than spending time with family. Finally 18% would like to tackle the chore of organize family photos. Well, if you could not spend more time with your family, you would not have to worry about organizing family photos!

For now, I will continue to find the ways to achieve the kind of life I want. I will keep my list of resolution to myself. It is not just for 2007 but a life time of learning, growing and trying to be a better person.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I did something very brave today, two days before Christmas and I went to the grocery shop. It looked like half of the town population was driving along the main road and the other half was in the stores. We already shopped for what we needed to make a nice Christmas dinner. Today I only needed a few items and did not feel the pressure to rush around like other people in the store.

I smiled and said Merry Christmas to a woman who almost ran me over with her cart piling high. She stared at me as if I committed a crime being pleasant among all the grumpy shoppers. I stopped to tell a store employee that she was doing a good job and thanked her for working so hard during the holidays. She started telling me that she worked 10 hours every day the last two weeks and how she still had to purchase gifts for her children.

As I moved along, I overheard an old lady asking someone where she could get the eggnogg. The person said he did not know. I turned around and pointed to the corner where I saw the eggnogg. Looking at the sea of shoppers, the old woman could not find the item. I decided to walk with her to the aisle that had the eggnogg. As I began walking away, she asked, "Is this the sale item in the newspaper?" I politely responded, "I did not see the newspaper but these are $5 for two large cartons." She decided to purchase one small carton for $2.99 each.

The store manager probably thought I had nothing better to do or just trying to repent for all the terrible things I did by helping the sweet little old lady. The person who monitors the store's security camera wonders why I was the only smiling shopper while everyone else rushing around with a frown on their face. I simply follow the advice of a wise man, "Stop and Smell the Eggnogg." Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


"Stuff. Do you really need it or just want it?", the article in USA Today (Friday, December 15, 2006) started with the question I have used as a guideline before I make purchases.

Very often we purchase a new cool item because other people have it. We convince ourselves that we really need the item and that the item is a necessity as we could not live without it. Another reason is to prove that we have achieved the level of wealth by becoming an owner of certain item, i.e. the Cadillac, the designer handbag or a cruise on the Freedom of the Seas.

Here is a comparison of what I consider necessities or luxuries compared to information according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last month.

91% of the people in the survey think that a car is necessity. I agree with this response because living in St. Louis, I must have a car. If I lived in New York, I would be among the 8% of the people who consider a car is a luxury or would not want to have a car because of insurance and crimes.

Clothes washer and dryer are a must for me and these items are necessities (90%). I was surprised to read that 63% considered dishwasher a luxury. One of these people must be my mother because she uses the dishwasher as storage while I could not live without mine.

Living in St. Louis with its humid weather in the summer, every house must have central air conditioner. Late July and August and early September, the temperature could reach 95 degrees. No one would purchase a car without air conditioning. I am sure it is different if I lived in Alaska or Montana.

68% considered microwave a necessity. My mother would never agree with this. It would be a crime if she found out her delicious eggrolls are warmed up in the microwave. The only correct way to warm food is to use the oven toaster according to my mother.

51% consider home computer a necessity while 67% consider high speed internet a luxury item. Prior to September 2006, I would agree with this statement. Now, I could not live without my laptop, wireless keyboard and mouse and I refuse to go back to the dark day of modem.

Pauline Wallin, a clinical psychologist, pointed to the cellphones as the perfect example of a gadget infiltrates our culture. 49% of the people consider cell phone a necessity while exactly the other 49% consider a luxury; yet 74% of the people responded to the survey have cell phones. Whenever I forgot my cell phone at home, I felt so vulnerable and almost paranoid that something bad could happen to me and I would have no way to get help without my cell phone.

In 1995, I obtained the first cell phone for emergency protection while attending evening classes at Saint Louis University. After that the phone became communication tool to let my husband know when I have business meetings in the evening or running late for an appointment. Later to check what else was needed for the house while I was in the grocery store. Now we use the phone to find each other in crowded shopping malls or to decide on what's for dinner.

There are two items on the list that I still have not become a slave to, Flat screen or plasma TV and iPod. I am trying to cut back even though I don't spend a lot of time watching television. I usually watch hockey games, Sunday football and educational programs such as Discovery Channel, History and the Food Channel, especially The Secrete Life of ... with Jim O'Connor.

It is ironic that the items I currently consider necessities (computer, cell phone, television) were meaningless when I was living in the refugee camp. Back then, we only need food and shelter to survive. I wonder with the wealth he already obtained, what items would someone like Mr. Bill Gates consider luxuries.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


In his new book, "The Average American", Mr. Kevin O'Keefe provided a composite of an average person in America by crunching all the responses of nearly 300 million people. Here is a comparison of my personal data and the Average American (AA) according to Mr. O'Keefe's book.

AA (not Alcohol Anonymous) drinks 22 gallons of milk every year - I never kept track of how many gallons of milk I drink, probably 22 gallons, more or less. Perhaps this could be an item on my to-do list for 2007 (ya right!)

AA blinks 3,700,000 times in a year - I would like to know who does the counting?

AA spends 10 minutes and 24 seconds in a shower - I will remember to set the timer next time I take a shower.

Each AA household spends $80 on telephone charges every month - I am not sure if this information is accurate considering the explosive of cell phones and the hi-tech services of Bluetooth, Blackberry and other gadgets. It is typical for each family to have at least two cell phones, a home phone, and high speed (DSL or cable) internet services.

The list also mentioned that a person goes on 100 dates before getting married. My husband and I had less than a dozen dates before we got married since he lived in Michigan and I was in New York. My question is whether the 100 dates was with the same person and if physical intimacy was involved.

I was surprised that AA purchased 35 greeting cards annually per household. With the introduction of einvite, ecards and emails, I thought no one cares to take the time to send cards and write a few personal notes anymore. When my father passed away, I received an email with one sentence expressing sympathy to me and my family. Ms. Emily Post would have been very sad to see this level of cold and impersonal expression.

Additional information can be found on Mr. O'Keefe's website at

I also picked up the book "America by the Numbers, A Field Guide to the U.S. Population" by Dr. William H. Frey and his associates Mr. Bill Abresch and Mr. Jonathan Feasting.

According to "Population Structure" on page 4, my generation was the Late Baby Boomers (people who were born from 1956-1965). Under Asian American Diversity on page 44, I am one of the 30% of Vietnamese American who earned a college degree. I thought the number would be higher. The Taiwanese American is considered the most well-educated with 70% earning college degree.

I am among the 62% of the middle-class Americans with annual income between $50K to $75K (page 91). My excitement of having achieved the level of wealth in the American Dream was crushed when I read today's newspaper that 25% of the "super rich" (those whose household net worth more than $10 million) travel in their private jet to shop for holiday gifts while I had to fight for a parking space in a crowded mall.

According to Elite Travelers Magazine/Prince & Associates "2006 Holiday Spending Survey", the rich spent $91,000 on fine jewelry, $22,300 on spirits, and wearing their designer clothes while I have to wait for sales after Christmas.

In the words of a wise man, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The rich are different from you and me," and the response from another wise man, Ernest Hemingway, "Yes, they have more money." My question is "How much more?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Last week while browsing through a Discovery Store for possible toys or educational items for the kids, a t-shirt with an imprint "Life is Good" and a happy looking face on a stick-figure, caught my attention. There are other items such as pajamas, hats, coffee mugs etc. from the same brand name, Life is Good. The next day I visited the company's website and learned about how "the Little Brand That Could" got started.

In 1989 (same year I left New York to get married and moved to the little town by the lake in Michigan), Bert and John Jacobs designed their first tee shirt. For five years, the brothers sold their goods in the streets and door to door in college dormitories. They lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in their van and showered when they could (the website did not disclose the locations where the brothers showered, whether at someone's house or public places).

In 1994, at a local street fair in Cambridge, Massachuesetts, the brothers sold all 48 shirts (their entire inventory) the most and the largest sales. The Little Brand That Could began to spread its products with an emphasis on humor and humility across America. Today, Bert and John Jacobs managed a corporation that employs 152+ people and a $50-million international business. The iconic smiling face of a happy little stick fiture fullfil what Americans are hungry for - something positive and focus on what is right and good.

The company created two annual outdoor festivals that raise money for Project Joy and Camp Sunshine.

Camp Sunshine provides accomodations at a week-long camp at no-charge to all families with children who have life-threatening illnesses. Meals, on-site medical services, counseling, and recreational facilities also provided free-of-charge.

Project Joy provides preschool teachers and daycare providers the training and resources to assist children who are survivors of acute and/or chronic trauma. The 4th Annual Life is Good Watermelon Festival is Saturday, July 7, 2007 in Boston.

I don't plan to purchase all Life is Good products. I will definitely consider the items as gifts when appropriate. It is refreshing to read positive stories in business world and how corporations are giving back by sharing their profits. At the beginning of the report in American, a slogan "Do what you like. Like what you do" was mentioned as Life is Good founders' philosophy. I will remind myself this slogan as I evaluate what I have done in my life and what my 2007 resolutions should be and how I will make the most of the years ahead.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I don't know who started the so-call "Holiday letters" or "Braggin' letters" stuffed in with holiday cards.

Friends and families who send us their letters usually brag about how well the children do in school, good grades, honor classes their gifted sons and daughters are in. Others wrote about their vacations, with photos to prove that they were there. (With photoshop and all the hi-tech gadgets, I am not sure if the people really visited the Pyramid or just cut and paste themselves onto a postcard!)

So here is our braggin' holiday letter. 2006 has been a good year for us. There are so many blessings that we are thankful for, our family, good health, decent employment and peaceful living condition.

I celebrated my 45th birthday in February with a trip to the Superbowl XL in Detroit. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks to capture the Championship. My husband and I were so excited to attend our first game (and probablly the only Superbowl tickets we could afford to purchase). For any serious football fans, the Superbowl is the ultimate dream. I would love to be able to attend the game in 2002 when Tom Brady and Company led the New England Patriots to a shocking win over the St. Louis Rams. Again in 2004, the Patriots captured their second Championships over the Carolina Panthers and the third time defeating the Philadelphia Eagles.

The following month (March) I went on a week-long cruise to the Western Caribbean with my sister V. We had a great time and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about my sister and how she has grown to be an independent woman with strength and convictions.

In July, my husband and I took a week-long driving trip to Colorado in the T-bird. I helped drive the 7-hour straight road through the State of Kansas on Interstate 70, going West, into Colorado. We saw a lot of cows, corn fields and flat farm lands as far as the eyes could see. Once we were in Colorado, C did all the driving, especially the twist and turn going up to Pike's Peak, all the way to the summit at 14,000 feet. At 9,000 feet the snow and rain started. At each turn, the signs, "Falling Rocks" and the stiff cliff next to my window, reminded me of the horrid journey by boat from Viet Nam. Except now I do have more to live for, a retirement fund, investments in stocks and many earthly possessions.

We also drove the T-bird on the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in the world, hanging at 1,053 feet above the railroad tracks and the raging Arkansas River. There was a sign the middle of the bridge, "No Fishing". The park rangers must have a good sense of humor.

In October, we attended Game 3, the first World Series game in the new Busch Stadium between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals captured the World Series championship and the City of St. Louis rejoiced.

That is the summary of our 2006 activities, here, there and everywhere. We hope 2007 will be another good year. Perhaps in next letter, I could write about the Detroit Lions winning the Superbowl or the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup!

Here is good wishes to people everywhere and peace to all nations.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


This weekend my husband and I made our first trip to the mall for holiday shopping. The last few years, we decided that we would give each other small inexpensive gifts and save the fund for a nice summer vacation. When we first got married, at Christmas time we spent a lot of time shopping for a total of 13 kids. My husband came from a big family of seven. I used to drag the hours when the kids tore up the wrapping papers, went thru each present without caring where the presents came from and robotically thanked everyone before rushing away to play with the new toys or to plan their shopping based on the gift cards received.

Later, our giving policy was simplified thanks to the popularity of gift cards. Another policy was no more Christmas gifts when the kids graduate from high school. This year, we only have to purchase presents for three kids under ten years old. For my nephew J, I usually send a check and ask my brother to purchase something J would like. Throughout the years, I would send J something when I found items I thought J would like and not waiting until the holidays.

At the risk of being a Scrooge, I consider gifts giving during the holidays an obligation and not necessary thoughtful and caring gestures. I am not suggesting that we should not give or exchange presents as a part of the celebration. I am simply saying that don't make gifts a major big part of the holidays.

I notice that fragrances are one of the big sellers and easy selections for men to purchase for their women. I could never understand the attraction of fragrances bearing names of famous people such as Ms. Paris Hilton or Ms. Britney Spears. A $65 bottle of fragrance by Estee Lauder would make me smell nice but definitely would not make me beautiful as the brand name on the label. Who would care whether I pay $25 for a handbag by an unknown manufacturer or Coach's $250 purse?

There are about three major shopping malls within 20 minutes of driving distance from our home. As previously mentioned many times that I don't like shopping whether to make purchases for myself or anyone else. There are times when I would not go to the malls for three or four months. When I do feel the urge to do some serious shopping, I would go by myself. I do not want to make my husband waiting with the other husbands sitting around the benches in the mall. Even though my husband told me that he would not mind waiting, I prefer to shop by myself.

Sunday newspapers are packed with advertisements and many offers of discounts. Some stores offer no interests on monthly payments until January 2008. Television commercials bombared viewers with jewelries and gift giving ideas such as a Mercedes or a Lexus that costs over $30,000. A brilliant marketing idea this year is the necklace with six diamonds to replace last year three diamonds of past, present and future. This year the six diamonds necklace pendant symbolizes a journey of love. I wonder what next year would be; perhaps nine diamonds as a symbol of eternity of the relationship since the pronounciation of nine in Chinese is similar to the word forever. Then why stop at nine, what about 10, 100. Maybe one diamond is enough as the saying goes, "Diamond is forever" whether just one or 1000.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


"Where do you come from?" is a typical question non-Asians asked Asian Americans. And when a response such as "I came from Chicago, Illinois" is given with a perfect midwestern accent, the answer still not satisfactory to the inquiring mind. It is 2006, and yet most of non-Asians still assume that someone with an Asian face was born overseas, came from somewhere else and not from downhome Alabama or as American as apple pie.

Most of the time when someone asks me the question, "Where are you from?", I respond with a question, "How far back do you want to know?" I used to say that I came from Jupiter. When I am not in a friendly mood I would say that I am saving the information for my biography and ask whether the person would like to be on my mailing list to purchase the book.

Next month, January 2007 will be 27 years since my family & I came to America. We left our birth country, Viet Nam in May 1979. We survived the horrid boat journey and lived in the refugee camp in Indonesia for about 7 months. An uncle, a cousin of my mother, sponsored our family to relocate to New York City. A major snow storm visited the City the week before we arrived. Coming from tropical region, we were not prepared for the bitter cold and strange beauty of snow covering the parking lot.

I moved to Michigan in December 1988 when I got married. My answer to the question, "Where do you come from?" became, "I came from New York."

In October 1994, I again moved to St. Louis, Missouri. My answer to the question, "Where do you come from?" became, "I moved here from Michigan."

I understand that people will ask me the question of my background to create relationship or to seek understanding of Asian culture. However, it is not my job to entertain people who are not sincere in their inquiries. It is a waste of time to share my life story with someone whom I most likely would not meet again. I really dislike people who ask me the question, not to know me as a person of interesting background, but as an open line of bragging about their vacations in China or Viet Nam.

The story of where my family came from is a story I hope to record and preserve so that my nephew J will appreciate and understand the struggle and how we overcame the difficulties on the long and winding road from Viet Nam to America.

Friday, December 01, 2006


"Mr. Z passed away this morning", the nurse at the front desk informed me when I explained the purpose of my visit. It was my second assignment after I completed the training to be a hospice volunteer. My first assignment was Mrs. Y who was in her late 70s. A stroke caused permanent damage and paralyzed her lower body. I visited Mrs. Y for about six weeks until her daughter moved her to another facility that was out of my area.

For a moment after I was told that Mr. Z died, I did not know what to do next because I forgot the instructions during the training. As hospice volunteers, we understood that the people we served would not have long to live. We also must not become attach to the patients. Yet, I was not prepared to accept death as part of my volunteer work.

I remembered an incident the second week I visited Mrs. Y. One woman cried out monotonously, "Help me, help me" as I passed by. She was among the residents forming a ring of wheelchairs circled around a lunch table. Their claw-like hands, bony shoulders and expressionless faces were evidences of stroke-damaged brains. Their stares were stony while their cancer-riddled bodies made them looked like rag dolls. The nurses were on the phone chatting away with their friends while casually keeping an eye on the residents who looked like they were sleeping, holding washclothes to their faces to catch the saliva from their stroke-slackened mouths.

Later the same woman again yelled out for me, "Hey Chinese, take me home with you." I understood and was not angry at her when she continued yelling, "Hey dummy, answer me." The nurse finally came to take the woman back to her room. Although I had no personal connection, I was sadden to witness the confined conditions that Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, severe diabetes, or simply aging illnesses assaults on the bodies of the residents. I was told that two-thirds of nursing home residents do not have regular visitors. Holidays were no different from any other days as in this place, time does not mean much to the residents whose world is simply spent in their sickbeds or in silence circling the nurses' station.

I have also been part of a ministry called Angel Corp at my church. We visit people who are in the hospitals, homebounds or suffer from long illnesses. Since last year, my husband joined me in this ministry. Once a month, we are scheduled to make our visits. Last month, we visited an elderly man who was in his 80's and had lung cancer. He died a week later after we visited him in the hospital.

More than 5 years since my father passed away, I still experience grief. I still think of what I should have said to my Dad before he passed away. I still feel the pains each year when Father's Day comes around. I still long to share stories with my Dad. I still wish I could have provided my Dad a trip to China and many other places in the world.

The last three months I have been in training every Thursday evening to be a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministry is a not-for-profit Christian training and educational organization based in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk is the founder and executive director of Stephen Ministries. Laypersons are trained by churches to provide the caring for its congregations. The training consists of 50 hours including instructions on how to care for people who are going through a period of crisis such as grief, chronic illnesses, unemployment, personal and families problems, and other life difficulties.

It is my hope that I would be able to provide the caring and support to others because I have experienced grief of losing a loved one. I have seen so much sufferings, both physically and mentally, at the nursing homes and skilled care centers. Despite all the training, I will be shocked when being told someone had passed away because it is human nature not to accept death. The pains has lessen but the wound is always there as the memories of my Dad will forever live in my heart.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


"Is something wrong with you?", the person asked me. Her question was directed at me after I told her that my husband and I were not able to have children. Reactions from people after learning that I am married yet without children, were mostly assumptions that my body was being defective. After all, women are the ones who carry the child, and are responsible for giving birth, not the men.

Mardy S. Ireland, a psychologist with a clinical practice in Berkeley, California, wrote that traditional women who have failed to be mothers, who as childless women are perceived as a vast, unfillable empty womb and their bodies as black holes, unable to make contributions to society by producing a child. In her book "Reconceiving Women - Separating Motherhood From Female Identity", Ms. Ireland conducted a survey and found that 40% of American women do not have children. Women who biologically are denied by their bodies to carry children are labeled as traditional childless women. Society made these women feel so abnormal because of their failure to have children.

While society is most familiar and more accepting of these traditional childless women because of their medical condition, the transitional women are labeled as selfish since these women delayed child-bearing to pursue their careers until it is seemingly too late to have a child. These women who like me are not mothers have found source of personal fulfillment and purpose of our identities.

I never felt the need to explain to anyone the reason my husband and I could not have a child of our own. I also did not care to explain that we have tried to adopt but the adoption took too long and very costly. I did not care to admit that I would not be able to love a child born as a product of artificial insemination. Our childless situation was a medical condition that even expensive treatments could not correct. For more than two years, we were willing to take injections that left our bodies with bruises and dutifully taking and recording tempature on the charts everyday.

I remembered the times when I broke down in tears in the doctor's office or looking at the pretty little dresses imaging about the daughter I would never have. I remembered the times when I lied to strangers showing photos of my daughter, T. and son, W. (T and W are children of my best friends, M.) Recently when someone asked, I would tell them that my son is Brady Quinn, the quarterback of University of Notre Dame! Actually, at my age I could have a son in college. Of course, my son would receive full scholarships and we would not have to work two jobs, or worry about second mortgage to pay for the tuition.

If I could, I would trade all the fancy vacations and the investment porfolios for a child of my own. When my nephew J put his arms around my neck and said he loved me, and when I cradled his head in my arm while reading Thomas the Train story, my heart is filled with joy. I have learned to accept that I will be a childless woman. I am at peace with reality that having children isn't what makes me a woman or a person with fulfill heart.

I learned to accept my identity as a childless woman and as a complete person outside of the institution of motherhooad. I don't need affirmation from society that I am a woman with my own strong foundation. My heart is fill with love that could be shared with my nephew, children of my friends and many other children around me.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


The headline "Black Friday" prompted me to look in American Idioms Dictionary, Second Edition by Richard A. Spears, to learn more about the usage of colors in the English language. I also notice how Asian cultures assigned different meanings to the colors when compared to the English language.

While the term "black" is often used to describe something negative, Black Friday is a positive term for retailers. It is the term used to describe the day after Thanksgiving when crowds of frenzied people, mostly women, waited hours prior to the official time when the stores open at 5:00 a.m. hoping for some bargains. Black Friday is the official kick-off for the holiday season shopping.

I was never among the Black Friday shoppers. I don't like shopping and I don't need any new clothes or anything else. My brother L did the crazy thing this year and he wrote that he would never get up at 3:00 a.m. for Black Friday again. I will be sure to remind him next year.

In accounting term, "in the black" is good. When the company is in the black, it has no debt and is in financially profitable condition.

While the color red symbolizes good luck in most Asian cultures, it is bad luck in the English language when it comes to budgets and accounting. "In the red" means the company has a lot of debts and could be filing for bankruptcy.

When a person is "being a black sheep in the family", he/she is not successful as other family members (i.e. unemployed, has less education, live in a mobile home etc.) and is in trouble with the laws. I never saw a black sheep before.

Sometimes I considered myself a black sheep when compared to other successful Asians or Vietnamese Americans. I am not good with math or computer. My friend, RL, did not have a college degree, yet he is an owner of an insurance agency and a travel agency. He bought a nice house for his parents and he himself lives in Long Island with a wife and two kids.

Red could be used in negative manners such as "red tape" and "red herring". According to the dictionary, the government departments in England used red tape to tie up bundles of documents. Red tape being used to imply unnecessary delays were caused by too much rules and regulations.

Red herring is the term used when a piece of information introduced to draw attention away from the real issues. Herring is a type of strong-smelling smoked fish that was used along the trails to mislead hunting dogs.

Where as colors carry different meanings, I hope I will be "in the pink" as being in the pink means I am in very good health, physically and emotionally.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


My husband and I enjoy taking day trips to nearby historic towns such as Kimmwick, Washington and St. Genevieve. These are Missouri small towns with old world charm and rich in history. Without children and the demands of soccer games, dance lessons, or swim competitions to attend, we spend our weekend driving the Thunderbird to these small towns.

First stop is Kimmwick, Missouri, a historic riverfront town, just 22 miles south of St. Louis. In 1859, Theodore Kimms, a German dry goods merchant, purchased the land of 160 acres and named the town after himself, Kimmswick. Wealthy German merchants and stonecutters were among early settlers as the town prospered due to easy access to railroad and river transportation. The coming of automobiles sealed the fate of Kimmswick at the turn of the century. Today, the town is known for its unique antiques shops, historic buildings and landmarks, gift shops, annual Apple Butter Festivals in October, Strawberry Festivals in June, and The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery well known for its 40 different selections of pies and the Levee High Apple Pie (I measured the pie at 7 inches high!)

Washington, Missouri, is named after George Washington (who else?) and the family of Daniel Boone settled in the area starting in 1799. Washington was a strong supporter of the Union during the American Civil War. The town became a railroad and steamboat transportation center, and its manufacturing industry has remained strong from the end of the civil war until today. Missouri Meerschaum, Inc. the world largest corncob smoking pipe factory headquartered in Washington. There are 445 historic buildings, Bed and Breakfast inns, charming restaurants in old masions and plenty of gift shops.

The village of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was established somewhere between 1722 and 1749. It is about an hour of driving from St. Louis. The villege is the only original French Colonial Village left in the United States. When in Ste. Genevieve, we take a walk around the town square, enjoyed looking at items in antique shops (we are not collectors and we don't know how to tell whether the old water pitcher is worth $50 or just a piece of junk), and have taste tests at various wineries. One of the historic houses is The Commandant's House which was a center for government activity during the final days of Spanish rule before the French took back the territory and sold it to the Americans. Jean Baptise Valle, its owner, came from colonial Ste. Genevieve's leading family, which had prospered in mining and mercantile business.

If you desire to leave your cell phone, pager, laptop and enjoy a weekend with peace and quiet, come to Kimmswick, Washington and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Here in these charming towns, you will experience the laid-back comforts of fine dinings, bed and breakfast inns while stepping back in time browsing antiques shops. Slow down and Have some good old times.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Do we have to serve turkey at Thanksgiving? That is a question every turkey would like to have an answer to. The last five years, my husband and I began having traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with a small turkey, vegetable (green beans, corn and potatoes), honey-baked ham and an apple pie for dessert. That is a lot of food for just the two of us.

My husband took care of the cooking and I did all the clean up since I don't know how to cook. I have nothing against cooking or trying to prove that I am a liberated woman or something like that. My mother takes pride in her cooking. She has many special dishes such as Thousand Layer Cake (my brother L provided this term), Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring Rolls), tender beef cubes with carrots and sweet onions and too many other dishes to list here. Whenever I called and my sister V was visiting, my mother would explain in details the delicious dinner she would be making. I would jokingly ask my mother to stop since I was drooling all over.

About three years ago, a restaurant called Monsoon Vietnamee Bistro opened in my neighborhood. Since then my husband and I have not visited other Vietnamese restaurants that are about 30 minutes drive compared to only 10 minutes from our home to Monsoon. Most of the time I would call Monsoon, placed an order and either my husband or I would pick up the food on the way home from work.

With both of us working and I don't know how to cook a proper meal, I have the phone numbers of most of the restaurants on speed dial on my cell phone. Besides Vietnamese and Chinese, we have a few favorite restaurants that are Mexican, Italian and Greek. I enjoy various ethnic food and am willing to even try food from Somalia, Jamaica, and East Indian (I don't care much for spicy dishes). When it comes to comfort food, it would have to be Vietnamese dishes. Pho Bo Dat Biet (Special Beef Noodle Soup) always fill my stomach and warm my heart on a raining day. When I am homesick for my mother's cooking, Banh Hoi Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork with Vermicelli) and Goi Cuon (Prawn and Pork Rolls) help me get over the lonely feelings. I long for the desserts I used to eat growing up in Viet Nam such as Xoi Nep Than (Black Sticky Rice) and Che Xoi Nuoc (Sweet Dumplings in Ginger Syrup).

I have wonderful memories of my family sharing daily meals. I remember the times when the whole family driving home from the market and we began opening up all the packages, passing the food around in the car - these were happy times in my childhood. I remembered fondly of the street vendors, especially those wanders up and down residential streets and buildings, calling out the goods from their bamboo baskets. I realize that when we eat, we do not just to satisfy hunger. The food we consume represents connections to our family and our traditions. My mother is right, how I wish I lived nearby so I could have comfort food from my mother's kitchen everyday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The headline "Drifter's dream sinks with homemade boat" caught my attention. The story was about a 32-year man who left home at 18, worked at odd jobs and drifted around the country. The man grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, left his home town after high school, took part in animal rights protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Two years later, he found his way to Maui, Hawaii.

For most of his adult life, the man taking trips to Europe, Mexico and North Africa by riding freight trains, hitchhiking and depending on the kindness of strangers who offered food, shelter and working at odd jobs.

In July of this year, he decided to built a boat from scrapwood, 55-gallon plastic barrels, a pair of French doors and a couple of outboard motors. The first 700 miles was a pleasant float down the Mississippi River. Somewhere along Illinois, a towboat got too close to the drifter's pontoon and caused it to capsize. The man escaped unharmed but his boat was somewhere in the murky water.

The man's brother who has a stable real job as a food broker, commented that everyone wishes they did not have to work and just travel whenever they wanted to. I too wish I did not have to work. I would like to be able to travel around the world, to have a lot of free time to read books, to do volunteer work and definitely not worry about a paying job.

My youngest brother, L, a talented cartoonist, works as network administrator. I am sure L would love to work at a place where he would be able to combine his drawing talents, passion for learning and knowledge of computer.

My sister, V would love to get paid to travel the world then write or report about the places she visited. In a perfect world, we would all getting paid for doing what we love. In a perfect world, I would be a university professor with tenure, giving lectures at conferences, signing my books to the adoring fans and living in a house with a wrap-around porch overlook the Mississippi River. Every morning, I would sit in an enclosed upper desk, drinking coffee and watching the eagles flying towards the horizon.

In a perfect world, I would live in Alaska in July & August because it is humid and 95 degrees in St. Louis. From September thru the end of November, I would travel around the world. I would come back to visit family during December (I'll be home for Christmas). I would live in Detroit to watch my favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings and all the hockey games on Canadian television. I also make time for my football games, between Notre Dame (college football) and New England Patriots (pro football). Late June, after the Stanley Cup playoffs, I would continue my travel in between baseball games and golf.

This week I received my Social Security Statement provided free-of-charge from Social Security Administration. I don't know how I started receiving the statements yearly. Perhaps I made the request or statements are sent automatically to all taxpayers. Or it could be the government is trying to show that my tax dollars are at work by providing this service. The statement shows the amount I would receive if I work until 62 years old. I would receive more if I work until full retirement age of 67 (a few years ago it was 65). There are also estimate benefits paying to the surviving family members. The good news is that I have earned enough credits to qualify for Medicare when I am 65.

Actually, there are people who live in a perfect world, celebrities and professional sports. All these people doing what they love and getting a lot of money. Since I am not beautiful and have a good agent to compete against Ms. Nicole Kidman. Since I am not tall to even getting a tryout with the Chicago Bulls, not strong and fast to be a receiver for the New England Patriots, not talented to be a right-wing for the Detroit Red Wings, I guess I should count my blessings that I have a decent paying job, a good home and a brand new laptop with wireless connection capability.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I used to subscribe to O, The Oprah Magazine. It is produced by Ms. Oprah, the famous talk show host of The Oprah Show. The last page in every monthly issue is the column written by Ms. Oprah entitled, "What I Know For Sure". The column supposedly serves as "a bolt of energy or a dose of wisdom" Ms. Oprah wishes to share with the readers.

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday, I thought it would be appropriate to write about what I know for sure that I am thankful for.

What I know for sure is that I am blessed with loving parents who tried their very best to provide a good life for our family. My parents took good care of us in Viet Nam and protected us on the horried journey and through our struggles the first few years in America. Even when there was not much to give, my parents provided shelter and fed us with little food they could accumulated. I know my late father is watching over us and what we have accomplished are the results of the strong foundation my parents have built for us.

What I know for sure is that the distance never divided my sister, brothers and me from loving and caring for each other. We don't always agree and often don't spend much time sharing feelings. We just know that we will always be ready to offer help when needed. We keep in touch by email and recently reading each other's blog entries. I am proud of my sister and brothers.

What I know for sure is I am grateful for the blessings of living in America. I am grateful for the safe neighborhood and good living environment with affordable housing and decent employment.

What I know for sure is my husband is good person, loving and caring. We do have problems and disagree on many subjects. Over the years, our faith and commitment to keeping our marriage intact have kept us together.

What I know for sure is that I am able to see, walk, think and function in the daily activities. I am grateful for each day and each person in my life. What the future will bring is unknown, and I am willing to work hard to live my life according to my Christian faith, my passion, my commitment to my family, to my husband and to my community. These are the things I know for sure.

Happy Thanksging - May God blessing's upon you and your family.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I am updating my blog on my laptop while my husband is in his office transfering files from his old computer to the new PC. I am in my office on the main floor of our house and my husband's office is in the basement. The whole evening of approximately 3 hours after dinner and prior to going to bed, we were in different time space. I am sending email to my brother and sister in New York. My husband is sending email to his brothers in Michigan, Colorado and Virginia. Or he could be making purchases on Ebay from someone somewhere in the country.

Have you ever seen two people standing together, talking not to each other but to someone else on the cell phones? What about parents who talked and laughed on the cell phones while their child crying for their attention? These people are not in the moment, they are mentally away from the world around them. Physically they are not on the same planet with the people they are with.

Being present and being with someone physically and mentally is different from being at the same place, in the same room but a world apart. That was what I tried to explain to my husband that for many years even though we were together during Christmas celebration but there were 20 or 30 people around us. We were not with each other celebrating as husband and wife.

The first few years after we got married, my husband and I spent all the holidays with his parents. It was about three hours drive from where we lived. We got married in June, we spent July 4th, Labor Day in September, Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December and stayed thru the New Year, then Easter in April, then Memorial Day in May, then July 4th - the visiting schedule started all over.

After three years, we began taking camping trips during Memorial weekend, July 4th and Labor Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas still spent with my husband's extended family. Christmas is the important religious holiday and also birthday celebration. Even after we moved to St. Louis, we still made the 8 hours drive in the stormy and snowy weather to Detroit, Michigan.

In 2005, after more than 15 years of our marriage, through the help of marriage counseling, my husband finally understood my request that I wanted to create our own Christmas traditions. For many years, my request was viewed as a conflict and disrespect to his family get-together. I did not know how to create healthy boundaries from the beginning. I should have been strong and clear about creating a family of my own and not the entire in-laws when we celebrate holidays. Family bonds are important but not when your spouse became secondary to your parents and siblings.

Traditional families are close and tight-knit but not at the expense of loving relationships between husband and wife. I believe in providing support to in-laws and to honor parents from both sides. I also believe the lines should be drawn as boundaries and placing your spouse as your priority and not an afterthought to your family. I have learned to speak up when appropriate, to stay strong and firm with requests that I felt threaten to my marriage.

I look forward to the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. I hope to just relax and spend time with my husband. I know we don't need to constantly be together. I just hope we don't spend too much time on cyberspace and neglect the real people in our real world.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It happened again last Friday evening as I was waiting in line at the bank. I stood by the sign, "Please wait here for the next teller" while Linda, the bank teller, finished helping a drive-through customer. I have been going to this bank the last five years and Linda knows me well. Over the years, I noticed Linda always wore different pins with angels on her blouses or jackets. Last week I gave Linda a pin with an angel I found at a local art and craft show. Linda was appreciative.

A customer walked through the door, passed by where I stood and proceed to Linda's window, as if I was just standing around for no purpose. Linda gentle told the customer that I was next. I told Linda, loud enough for the rude customer to hear, "I guess I am invisible." The rude woman stepped away from the window without apologizing.

This is not the first time that someone treated me as if I was invisible. I don't want to play the race card but the only conclusion I could draw from these incidences is because I am a short Asian woman. Somehow that would give others the assumption that I would not speak up or object to their rudeness. After all, Asians are supposed to be nice and not confrontational.

Last March my sister and I was on a Western Caribbean cruise. It was an Italian cruise line. The passengers on the ship were mostly Europeans (Italians), Canadians and Caucasians (Americans). We noticed that the cruise personnel provided better services to the Italians and ignored the rest of us. A few times when my sister and I spoke up and pointed out the low level of service, the crew as well as the passengers acted surprised at our demands. Perhaps they did not expect the two Asian women to be outspoken.

One instance when I tried to take photos of the display of ice sculptures, a tall East Indian man walked over, stood in front of me as if I was not there. I firmly told him that he was very rude and that he should move. He gave me an angry look but decided to move when I made known that I would not be intimidated.

Perhaps not because I am a short Asian woman that people treated me as if I was invisible. It seems that people don't have the common courtesy or just being ignorant when it comes to minding their manners in public. I remind myself not to let others' behaviors bother me. I understand I have to choose which battle to fight and hope that the next asteroids that hit the earth will eliminate only the people without manners. In the meantime, I should sign up for a talent show under the name "The Invisible Woman".

Friday, November 10, 2006


The last few weeks, I watched the program called Natural Disasters from Discovery channel featuring major earthquakes and asteroids. I watched the series and became interested in learning more.

I learned that New Madrid is a city in New Madrid County in Missouri. According to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, the area is famous for being the site of a series of major earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, believe to be the most powerful earthquakes recorded in the contiguous United States.

The following explanation is from the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis, Tennessee. The New Madrid fault system, or the New Madrid seismic zone, is a series of faults beneath the continental crust in a weak spot known as the Reelfoot Rift. The fault system crosses from Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky through Tennessee.

A magnitude 6.0 on the Richter Scale could happen and the losses of lives, injuries and properties due to the earthquake would destroy the entire area, St. Louis included. The Center mentioned that we can reduce the effects and there are many things can be done to protect ourselves by planning, by building better structures, and make sure all citizens are earthquake prepared. I am not sure how much prepare I could do if the earthquake happened while I was driving at 65 miles an hour on the highway and the road open up beneath me or the highway split in half.

According to Mr. Robert Kraske in his book, Asteroids - Invaders from Space, there are estimate 1,500 to 2,000 asteroids one-half mile in diameter or larger in near-Earth orbits. If Earth and one of these asteroids arrive at the same point in space, the two will collide (no kidding, were they supposed to know to stop and let the other passed?). One close call came on July 4, 1991, an asteroid nearly 1,600 feet wide, passed a mere 1.6 million miles from Earth. As a person with very little of knowledge in science, was I supposed to fear a rock spinning somewhere 1.6 millions miles away could kill me? Should I worry about the prediction by the astronomers that Earth might be in danger in 2126?

There are fancy words such as Stones from Heaven or Loose Cannonballs for the killer asteroids. On February 1, 1994, a 100-yard wide rocky asteroid exploded over the South Pacific. The force of the explosion equal to that of 110,000 tons of high explosives lit up the sky. I like to think that on that day, God sent a special greetings and fireworks to celebrate my birthday!

For now, I will try not to worry about New Madrid fault line or a mountain-size rock crashing into Earth. Until the Big One hits, let's keeping on Rock & Roll.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


"I want to be a kid forever", my favorite nephew J declared. These are definitely words according to a wise six years old child.

According to the column "Hot Topic" by Lyric Wallwork Winik, in the Sunday Parade Magazine, only 20% of Americans have enough saving to survive three months of unemployment.

The article included the following questions, "What Worries You? Which of the following is your biggest worry?

The risk of unemployment.
Being able to afford a major medical emergency.
Paying off credit card debt.
Having enough for education, a home or major expense.
Saving enough for retirement.
Or finding out at the check-out counter that all your coupons expired."

Well, I made up the last statement. Every Sunday I would dutifully look through the Sunday coupons, cut out those I would be using (especially $1 off) and organize them in envelopes that marked "Household Items", "Food" and Mics. I would remember to sort through these coupons or taking them to the stores three months later. Most of the time, the coupons were expired. I cut these coupons during football games, so at least I don't feel I wasted another marble in the jar of my life. (For details about the marbles , please read my blog entry entitled, "Don't Lose Your Marble" Saturday, September 23, 2006.)

My major worries have always been being able to afford a major medical emergency or my biggest fear is being in an accident that would cause me to lose my sights or unable to function independently. The last time I was admitted into the hospital due to blood clots (Please read my entry entitled "Blood Money" Saturday, October 14, 2006), the total amount was approximately $2,500. The charges were for one overnight stay, three injections at $100 each, three blood tests, two doctor visits at 5-10 minutes each time, three meals, dinner, breakfast and lunch. Luckily the insurance company took care of 80% of the cost.

My husband and I count our blessings that we both have jobs with decent income. We paid off our mortgage a few years ago. We don't have any children, therefore, no worries about savings for college education. Besides, we always thought our childen would be smart enough to obtain scholarships and we would not have to worry about paying college tuitions.

Of course, we don't know what the future will bring. There is always the risk of being out-of-work the next day. No job is secured in this economy. We try to save for rainy days as well as for retirement. Perhaps we should learn to enjoy being a kid, appreciate simple things in life and stop worry about things that might never happen. What could we do if tomorrow the economy collasped and the country was in depression? Could we stop the company from eliminating our jobs? How would we avoid getting into an accident or having serious illness?

The world according to J, Let's be kids forever!

Friday, November 03, 2006


Last month at a business luncheon, someone commented that I have a very firm handshake. I don't care for people whose hand shakes are more like steel grips and crushing squeeze. I don't offer a limp "wet fish" hand either. I have seen women who have delicate and perfectly manicure hands (which I envy) who offer only the tips of their fingers in a very careful manner. I don't know when and how I know to have a firm hand shake.

My mother advised me to be more ladylike by walking like a lady and carry myself with feminine postures. She further added that I needed to talk softly and don't laugh too loud. When I told my husband what my mother said, C disagreed and said he loves me just the way I am, with my manly walk and unladylike laughs.

With the flu season just around the corner, I make sure that I have hand sanitizers when attending church services. After the homily and the Lord's prayers, the congregation extend hands to those around and say, "Peace be with you". If I noticed someone has a cold, I would discreetly clean my hand after our handshakes.

Last year I was on jury duty for a few days. The first morning I reported to the courthouse and was among the potential jurors gathered in a large room. There were approximately two hundred people. Every hour, the court clerk would come in with a list of names. We would be put in groups of 30. Then we moved to another floor and each group would be called into various courtrooms. We would then be asked questions by the attorneys for the defendant and for the plainstiff. Based on our answers or whether our background indicated that we would be a good juror or a bad juror for the case, the attorneys either agreed that we could serve on the trial as one of the twelve jurors, or we could be sent back to the big room and spend a day or two more until we are discharged.

"You walked into the room as if you owned the place," said the person who nominated me to be the foreman. He explained that as soon as I walked into the juror room, I began organizing pens and papers on the table. I walked around introducing myself to others. I found out locations of nearby restaurants since we had only one hour for lunch and must report back promptly. There were many office buildings around the courthouse and that could be a problem with getting a quick lunch.

A Board member mentioned to me that I had a purposeful walk and that I carried myself (all of my 5'3" frame) with confidence. Thanks to an old friend "Ann" who told me to always stand straight and never slouch. She told me to always extend your hand first to show that you are in control. I don't mind handshakes. At many meetings, I have to maintain the professionalism and courtesy to the members. I also have to be firm and make known that no one should cross the line. Working in the male-dominated construction industry I have to learn how to be helpful and courteous yet maintain the level of seriousness and not allow any intimidations.

The title of this entry is a song by the Beatles. I probably should change it to, "I don't want to hold your hand. Just a firm hand shake would do."

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I drove home at 9:15 last evening from a Board of Directors' meeting. Most of the time I participate in work-related meetings immediately after regular work hours. Thankfully dinners are served at these functions so I was never hungry and don't have to eat a big lunch.

The main road leading to my house after the exit off the highway has been repaved since last week. The yellow lines dividing the lanes have not been painted. I can't see very well at night and the plastic reflecters on the road did not help much. As I tried very hard to stay in the right lane, I thought of a letter from my brother L wrote to me in 1990. In the letter L wrote that out of the blue while waiting for the train, he thought of me and the time when he helped me refreshing my driving before I moved to Michigan.

L wrote that he smiled when he remembered how I zigzagged through the streets of Queens. How he told me to ignore the other drivers speeding passed me. And how he told me not to get nervous from the cars following closely behind me. I sure missed those long letters L wrote to me the first two or three years after I moved from New York. I understand L does not have much free time and he has a lot of responsibilities at work as well as taking care of his family. I am happy that we keep in touch by email and short phone conversations. I treasure the time we spent together, just the two of us, when I visited New York last August. I enjoy reading L's blog entries and thankful that we have this outlet to share our thoughts and daily activities.

I received my driver license in 1987 but living in New York did not require that I owned an automobile. After moving to Michigan in December 1988, in record time, I learned to drive in winter conditions such as white-out, black ice or wind and snow blowing across the highway while I was stucked behind an 18-wheeler. Once I lost control of my car trying to avoid hitting a vehicle that moved too quickly over my lane, I ended up in the median. Luckily I was able to get back on the road with the help of a highway patrol officer.

My driving skills really improved when we moved to St. Louis. The first few months, I explored all major highways and challenged myself to find and avoid interchanges that were considered as "bottle-neck" traffic. My husband often teased me about my shortcuts trying to save five minutes of driving time. I also learned to give directions to other people with instructions such as "travel east after getting off at Dorsett Road exit, then north on Schultz road".

On a philosophical thought, I believe driving is like living. You have to know where you are going, when to merge and when to speed up, when to slow down and which exit to take. While driving, you must not hesitate and back-out once you decide to move to other lane. Of course, you must check your blind spot and make sure the traffic is clear before moving over. I have seen drivers starting to move over and then quickly move back without turning on signals.

Driving is like living because you have to concentrate on your own driving while keeping an eye on traffic around you. That is called driving defensively. But of course, there are people who should not be on the road, i.e. road rage, careless people who talk and eat while driving or stupid people who endanger others because they did not want to slow down at stop signs or speed through intersection even after traffic lights already turned red.

There is one thing I still have not learned is driving a stick shift. My husband tried teaching me but I was not comfortable with the shifting and the two pedals. I am driving a 2002 Mazda and it is perfectly fine for driving to work and home, and running errands. When we went on long distance trips, I helped with the driving and only then I would drive the T-bird on a stretch of highway for hours without too many vehicles around. My husband loves the T-bird and I would not want to drive the car on busy roads.

So baby I don't want to drive your fancy Thunderbird. And I don't care much for convertible because the wind messes up my hair!

Saturday, October 28, 2006


A newspaper article reported that consumers could be in debt from purchases made during the holidays in an average of $1,000 per family. At 19% or 21% periodic finance charges, that would amount to approximately $45 per month if the person remits only the minimum payment required. These minimum payments of $15 or $20 are tempting as a quick and easy solution when the person has other essential bills to take care of.

I am not against the usage of credit cards. I appreciate the convenience the service offers. In September when we had the sewer back-up problem and had to enlist the service of Rescue Rooter, we were able to pay with Discover Card instead of running to the ATM machine to withdraw cash at midnight. My husband puts his Discover Card (DC) to use as often as possible at places that would accept DC. Currently I carry three cards and rotate the cards when making purchases as I try to accumulate enough points for rewards.

A few months ago I was lured into signing up for a MasterCard with Barnes & Noble (B&N) by the promise of a $50 Gift Card after the first qualifying purchase. B&N MasterCard offers one reward point for every dollar purchase and for every 2,500 points, I will automically receive a $25 B&N Gift Card.

Earlier this year, I was sweet-talked by a sales person at Target to sign up for their Visa card. I do my shopping for household items such as detergent, shampoos, toothpaste etc. at a local Target store. That particular month my total at checkout was almost $250. I was offered a 10% off (=$25) the total purchase if I agreed to fill out an application for Target Visa. The incentive for this card is that I will earn one point for every $1 spend at Target and one point for every $2 spend elsewhere. When I accumulate 1,000 points (equal $1,000+ in spending), I will automatically receive a Rewards certificate good for 10% off a full day of shopping at Target.

Over the years, I have different cards during stages of my life. When I was young and foolish, I was willing to pay $150 annual fees to carry the Gold American Express (AE) card. I fooled myself by believing that the AE card was proof of my social status and that I was an important person. My other cards were from Citibank, department stores such as Bloomingdale's, Steinbach, Fashion Bug and a few others that no longer in business.

In 1995, my husband and I attended our first Notre Dame (ND) football game. As we walked around the campus, on impulse, we signed up for a ND Visa card. As a joke, I put down that I was unemployed (I was a graduate student at Saint Louis University) and that I have zero in my bank account. The next month, I received the Visa card. The reason must be that I had good credit records and the company was willing to take the risk.

There are many offers such as $25 Starbuck gift card from Chase Visa, $50 gift cards from Citibank or 25% off from department stores for purchases over $500. Advertisements from this weekend's newspaper showing purchases of furnitures or appliances could be deferred until January 2008 with 0% interests. These are offers that are very hard to refuse! The moral story is it's only money, and money will not buy happiness unless it is someone else's money and you don't have to pay for the purchases!

Friday, October 27, 2006


Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals on winning the 2006 World Series Championship.

The Flying St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Crawling Detroit Tigers tonight in Game 5 at Busch Stadium. Wednesday night, after waited for almost two hours for Game 4 to start, the people had to go home because the game was cancelled due to heavy rain. These ticket holders must be so happy and forgot the suffering on Wednesday night because they were able to celebrated tonight when the Cardinals won the deciding game.

The St. Louis Cardinals became only the second team that won World Series title in the new stadium. The New York Yankees is the only other team.

I feel sorry for the City of Detroit for the loss of revenue that would have generated if there were Game 6 and Game 7. According to a report in St. Louis Post Dispatch, the City of St. Louis enjoyed an estimate of 35 millions of revenue from the three World Series games played in St. Louis. I am sure more money will be spent from fans who are willing to spend money on merchandise and tickets for next season.

Here is to the St. Louis Cardinals - It is a winner!

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I thought the title is a good fitting for my entry of personal connections while the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals batting to win the 2006 World Series. I change the title from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Couching Detroit Tigers, Hidden St. Louis Cardinals.

The movie Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was one of the top movies in 2000. The plot was about two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are lead to an impetuous, physically-skilled, teenage nobleman's daugher, whose love story created the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. The movie captured the audience's attention with requisite fight scenes on the rooftops, atop the branches of bamboo trees and a blend of action, romance, and the conflicts between individual spirits and social obligations.

So here are a few interestings between the two cities, Detroit (DET) v. St. Louis (STL), based on my personal connections.

DET - My husband was born in Detroit. He graduated from Lawrence Technology University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
STL - We purchased our first home together. My husband bought the house in Michigan before we got married.

DET - In February 2006, we went to our First Superbowl in Detroit. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seatle Seahawks to capture the NFL Championship.
STL - On Tuesday, October 24th, we attended our First World Series game, also the first WS game in the new Busch Stadium.

DET - The City's nickname is Motor City with automobile headquarters Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Volkswagen of America.
STL - The City's nickname is Gateway City with the famous Arch.

DET - The City is also known for one of the most popular musical style called "Motown" with well-known artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson.
STL - Tina Turner grew up in St. Louis (born in Tennessee) and famous for the song "What's love got to do with it?".

DET - The Detroit Red Wings plays at Joe Louis Arena, named after the boxing hero who grew up in the city. The Red Wings won 10 Stanley Cups.
STL - The St. Louis Blues never won a Stanley Cup.

DET - The City has the Fox Theatre.
STL - The City has the Fox Theatre.

DET - Whenever we go to Detroit, we enjoy visiting Hamtramck, the best well-known Polish community.
STL - Every September, we enjoyed going to the Polish Festival sponsored by the Polish Falcon-St. Louis Chapter.

DET - My husband and I got married at St. Hedwig Catholic Church, downtown Detroit.
STL - We probablly will spend our retirement years in St. Louis.

Finally, a little of history of the Cities -

DET - Founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac who began a fur-trading center where downtown Detroit is today.

STL - Founded in 1764 by Pierre Laclede (there is a place in St. Louis called Laclede Landing by the riverfront) and Auguste Chouteau. St. Louis also became a fur trading hub.

Here is to the better team - either the Crouching Detroit Tigers or the Hidden St. Louis Cardinals. And here is to the boys of summer! I am ready for hockey - let's welcome the boys of winter!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


There are two newspaper articles I thought would be interesting to write about.

A commentary written by an independent journalist named Mvemba Phezo Dizolele. The story was about the Mushangi area in eastern Congo's mountains, far from Kinshasa, the capital of Congo (Africa). The hills of Mushangi are abundant with strategic minerals such as coltan, cassiterite and wolframite that are essentials to cellphones and other electronics. For the last 10 years, Mushangi has been at the crossroads of a conflict that claimed more than 4 million lives. The flow of small arms has emboldened militias to challenge the central government authority. The illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources generates large sums of revenue. At the core of the conflict is the militias struggle for control of natural resources and mineral wealth.

Congo holds 80 percent of the world's reserves of Coltan. Refined coltan yields tantalum, which is used for the production of mobile phones, laptop computers and video games. The writer called for actions from United States and Western countries to send a message to corrupt Congolese government officials that the resources should be used to help the people of Mushangi so they could live in peace.

After reading the commentary, I ask myself should I stop using my cell phones or my laptop? Am I indirectly adding to the conflict by my purchasing of these products? Should I write letters to the leaders (U.S. President and United Nations) asking them to take action or should I make monetary contribution to organizations that are helping the people of Congo?

Another article was about an auction of watercolors and stretches, mostly landscapes depicting cottages, churches and pastoral hillsides. The auction took place in Lostwithiel, England drew special attention and protests because the artist was Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany who ordered six million European Jews murdered. The unknown artist was the same tyrant who plunged the world into a war that took over 40 million lives.

Adolt Hitler was thought to have done hundreds of paintings as a struggling artist during breaks from the front while stationed in Flanders, Belgium during World War I. According to the book entitled, "The Most Evil Dictators in History" by Shelley Klein, Adolf Hitler applied for a place at both the Vienna Academy or Art and the Vienna Academy of Architecture, but to his life-long fury, both Academies rejected him.

Adolf Hitler became the dictator and the master of mass emotion, able to manipulate eighty millions people to the point of hysteria simply by the power of the spoken word. Like a skillful magician, Hitler used technical devices such as the radio and the loud-speaker at mass rallies to cast a spell over the audience and deprived them of independent thought.

I would like to know whether the professors at Vienna Academy of Art and of Architecture who rejected Adolf Hitler's applications ever felt responsible for creating the evil dictator. If Hitler was accepted, he could have been a famous artist. He would have been a professor of art, encouraging his students to be patient in learning the art of paintings and not the dictator who hypnotizing thousands upon thousands of young people to become soldiers all dressed in identical uniforms, all marching in unison to the same beat and all become poisoned in their heart with hatred and crimes against humanity.

If Adolf Hitler was never rejected by the Academy of Art, would another person take his place and become the dictator with different name? How would we know if our minor decision would cause major changes in others' lives? We don't have the power to know what the future will hold when we make our choices today.

I often think of how my late father working so hard driving the taxicab in New York City. He always had a positive outlook and unwavering spirit. He told me that he tried to be nice to his passengers with his friendly smiles and being courteous. And that in turn would help the passenger to be positive when he arrived at his office or in good spirit when he came home to his family.

There are so many conflicts and causes in the world that I wonder if we ever truly live in peace. I don't know whether it is good to gain knowledge and not able to make any changes or not willing to take the risk and fight for justice. I admire people who stand up for their belief. Each of us in our own limited ability is making a contribution. How we take care of our family and how well we do our job will determine how society as a whole will maintain its stability. This is something to think about.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


People often asked me what my original name was and why I adapted an American first name. I was also asked how I could tell the person's ethnicity from their family name.

Let me start with a few Vietnamese family names. For example, Nguyen and Tran are like Jones and Smith in America.

Vietnamese, unlike the Chinese characters, is a monosyllabic tonal language with three distinct dialects based on distinct regional differences, Northern, Central and Southern. Again, unlike Chinese, Vietnamese people from all three regions use the same spoken language with minor differences in vocabulary. Under the French colonization in the third century, Viet Nam adopted a modified Roman alphabet and added diacritical marks with vowels to mark the appropriate tones. The French dominated Viet Nam for more than sixty years which explained the strong presence of French language and in Vietnamese cuisine.

A Vietnamese family name such as Ly often is mispronounced by Americans as Lai. Someone told me that people in Quebec knew to say Lee because y is pronounced as ee in Vietnamese as in French.

So, here are few examples of family names to help non-Asian person to know where an Asian came from -

Ly - Viet Nam

Lee - Hong Kong or Korea

Li - China

Tran or Truong - Vietnamese

Chang or Chen - Chinese

Park or Kim - Koreans

Re or Pak - Cambodians

Singh, Patel, Mythily Kamath, Pattabhi Maddipati, Asha Premachandra, Sujata Vinjamuri - East Indians

Filipinos have family names that are similar to Hispanic. For example, Eduardo Gonzales, Alberto Viloria and Esther Figueroa.

Japanese names are identified easily because of the trade relations between the two countries. Fujiwara, Hoshino or Shibusawa are a few Japanese family names.

A person with a name such as Boonchanh Soukpraseuth is from the country of Lao.

Someone from Thailand would have name such as Kongsak Tanphaichitr or Sombat Meungtaweeponysa.

By now, you probablly wonder whether I have made up all these names, especially the lengthy family names. I found these names from the Directory of Ethnic and International Resources published by International Institute of St. Louis.

As an Asian person, 95% of the time I could tell the ethnicity of the person from their facial features. Of course, the family names are secondary information to identify the country where the person came from. I hope the above information is helpful to you. Stay tune for the next discussion of the meanings of the first name and the person's social status based on their family name.


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