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.


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