Wednesday, January 30, 2008


There is a saying, "Houseguests and fish stink after three days", and that was how I felt after staying (sleeping on the pull-out sofa) at my brother's house last Christmas. I am sure it was not too pleasant for my brother and everyone else in the house either. The day after Christmas, my husband was sick with a cold (mainly coughing and running nose). The pull-out sofa in the living room was comfortable but not for resting during the day when there were activities and people walking around. I did not get much sleep at night because of the coughing, and to make matter worse, each morning, my mother would be in the kitchen, next to the living room, re-arranging pots and pans, then the whistle sound from the pot of boiling water as my mother made a fresh pot of tea and packed lunch for my brother.

Later while my husband rested in my mother's room (after she insisted that he should), my mother would comment about her back pain or feeling weak from not being able to have her afternoon rest!

After the third day, one early morning I decided to get out of the house and went for a walk. It was raining and very windy but I needed some fresh air and just being by myself. I went to an Italian bakery shop at the corner. With a cup of coffee and a blueberry donut, I sat and listened to a conversation of three old men sitting at a nearby table. I could not understand what topics they were discussing. All I heard was "Forget about it" in English and "Mama Mia" with the rest of the conversation in Italian.

Perhaps I finally recognized that I can't go home again, just like the character of George Webber in the novel by Thomas Wolfe. I began to see New York City through the eyes of a visitor. Like a typical tourist, I took the photo above showing the Chrysler building and the flag of New York Public Library. Or the sign below showing the subway trains which I never paid much attention since I was too busy and too tired from rushing to work, to school and coming home at night. It has been more than 19 years since I moved away. New York was a chapter of the beginning of my new life in America and where I learned about love, hope and sorrow with the passing of my father. Leaving New York was the beginning of another new life, leading to the larger paths to the world beyond tall buildings, the subways and crowded living space.

The #7 Flushing line carried me for many years of living in NYC, from Elmhurst, to LaGuardia Community College, then to Hunter College, to my job as data entry operator at CIT and later with the insurance company at 666 Fifth Avenue. The Queens Center shopping mall where I used to go shopping had undergone major renovations. According to my brother, it is larger and completely different that I would not recognize the place.

We walked around Flushing while waiting to meet up with my friend, MW and her family for dinner. The last 10 years, Flushing has been flourished with Asian businesses and became a second Chinatown. Unlike Canal street in the other Chinatown in lower Manhattan, Main street in Flushing provided more walking space, crowded yet less suffocating. We went to a Thai restaurant for dinner. As I watched MW and her husband, KL, their 19-year old daughter and 15-year old son, I imagined that could be my own family. I often wonder whether I would be happy with a Chinese husband, fulfilled my duty providing grandchildren to my parents. Would I be happier living near my family, seeing them on the weekends, sharing holidays, birthday celebrations and being of help to my family that a good daughter/sister supposed to be?

The above photo is a view from the rooftop in my sister's building. On a clear day, you could see Statue of Liberty and all the famous buildings in lower Manhattan. My husband looked forward to watching the fireworks on New Year Eve but the building management people decided that the rooftop was off-limit as it was not safe to have too many people up there (drinking while celebrating the New Year). I took the photo below when we stopped by Owl's Head Pier. It was very cold and windy that day. My brother dressed up as Santa Clause and he received various comments from typical holiday greetings to a kid saying, "I know he is not the real Santa", to which VL responded, "No presents for you, young man".

Sunday, January 27, 2008


We received the Annual Report from the School District this week. The report listed the cost of $9,144 to educate a student per year. There are 22,332 students in the district. The total operating costs stood at $186.9 million dollars for instruction (teachers' compensation) at 71%, 13.2 % for building maintenance, 7% for school support, 4.6% for transportation and 4.2% administration. Now I know where part of our tax dollars have been going, to educate future generations. Hopefully these students will have jobs, pay taxes to support social security I hope to collect in my retirement.

Whenever my husband and I saw a young person with purple hair, four earrings on each ear, pierced nose, lips, eyebrowns, a horror thought would come to our minds, "That could be our kid!". My husband usually commented, "We would not allow that because our children would be brought up correctly." Easy said than done. Within each family, there are many situations where we thought we did everything correctly and yet, the kids turned out to be major disappointments.

When we first got married, GN (a niece from my husband's family) was a 10-year girl, always smiling, helping around the house and bringing home report cards with good grades. Somewhere along the way, GN made the wrong turn, got pregnant at 16 with a young man who was involved in auto thef and drug possessions. At 18, GN married this young man, RO and had another child. Two years later, after a third child was born, GN divorced RO when he was again in jail for the same crimes. Currently, they got back together, had another child and living in a small apartment while RO trying to support his family as a delivery trucker. GN with only a high school diploma could only find work that pay minimum wages. Where did we go wrong? Why didn't someone in the family counsel GN and provided guidance before she made the wrong turn? We could only hope and pray that RO and GN will stay on the right paths as their children's future depend on what they as parents do.

I understand that it is not easy being parents. There are many outside temptations, threats and so many worries. I watched how my brother taking care of and providing for his son. Besides clothing and feeding the child, there are Tae Kwon Do classes on week days, Boy Scouts, Chinese school and music lessons on the weekends, all these activities are at additional cost. My brother reads bedtime stories to JL each night, together father and son shared laughters while riding bicycles or setting up a member-only clubhouse.

When we first got married, my husband and I planned to have a son named Andrew and a daughter, Paulina Victoria. We knew exactly how to take good care of Andrew and Paulina. Our childen would received excellent education and participate in many activities such as swimming, organized sports, music and foreign languages. Andrew would learn to be a handy person and about automobile (T-birds and Mustangs) from my husband, but Paulina would have to learn cooking from Grandma as I don't cook. Both kids would be sports fanatics like their mother. We would not have to worry about funding college as our children would receive full scholarships and graduated with honors. That was our dream, and that is what would always be, a dream that never came true as after many years of trying, we were not able to have children.

It takes a village to raise a child. Each parent loves and provides the best way for the children. I am grateful to have loving parents and thankful for everything Mom and Dad provided as a strong foundation that we the children build upon and passing on to the next generations.

Monday, January 21, 2008


The last few days the bitter cold temperature and cut through the bone wind chill prompted me to post these photos taken last August on a sunny, warm summer day in Grand Haven, Michigan. We walked along the pier and watched the people fishing while a few young men jumping off the pier into the cool water. Like many of the towns along the lakes, Grand Haven has its famous red lighthouse and well known as one of the summer destinations. There are campgrounds nearby that provide affordable vacation for families on limited budget. Plenty of summer cottages and luxury condos are also available to tourists with deep pockets. After a swim in the lake or a walk on the beach, a light lunch at Pronto Pups, then a banana boat ice cream would make a perfect summer day.

The menu, a Pronto Pup and a small soda, is the same as in 1947 when Mr. Chuck Nelson started the business. The 7 by 9 foot stand was an inspiration from a similar hot dog stand Mr. Nelson saw in Florida. The hot dog on a stick in deep-fried dough was only 15 cents in 1947 and a small drink was 5 cents. As shown in the above photo, in 2007 it is $1.50 for the corn dog and 50 cents or a dollar for the drink. The stand is open for business during the summer, usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. Our typical order would be two pups for each of us, mine with a little of ketchup on both sides while my husband loves heavy mustard on his.

My husband mentioned that as a child he had a toy of exact model as the above boat. We saw the boat while walking along the boardwalk. We did not realize that the owner was on the boat until we got a little too close to look inside. We apologized and complimented how nice his boat was. The owner smiled and began a lengthy conversation with my husband about the boat while I stood by, pretended to listen but could not understand any of the technical terms in their conversation.

My husband and I have another tradition that whenever we visited Grand Haven, we would listen to the Phantom of Opera music while driving along Lakeshore Drive (photo below) to Holland, Michigan. (Holland is famous for its Tulip Time Festival.) Matured trees line the roads, providing romantic atmosphere during the fall when the leaves change to bright bursting orange and red colors. The homes are on wooded lot and there are many summer cottages, some with rustic looks tucking in between McMansions owned by wealthy corporate executives from Chicago.

My sister, CH and I dipped our toes in the inviting cool water after a walk around the Dunn's River Park in Jamaica. It was one of the ports on our 7-day Western Caribbean cruise in 2006. We connected in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, after CH's flight from NYC and mine from St. Louis. Thank God for the technology of cell phones, otherwise we would have a hard time finding each other as our flights arriving at two different terminals. The next day, we sailed to Key West, Cozumel, then to Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Jamaica and back to Ft. Lauderdale. We are planning our Annual Just the Sisters trip. Not sure where it would be, just to get away and spend quality time between the sisters. The photo below was me in Grand Cayman showing my snow white arms and legs.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


"Couldn't get that Christmas song off your head?", my husband asked when he heard me singing the tune "It's the most wonderful time of the year". My husband forgot that his wife is a sports fanatic and my excitement had nothing to do with Christmas. Actually, it's one of the most wonderful times of the year because the NHL All Star is scheduled on January 26-27. The following Sunday, February 3rd will be the Super Bowl XLII with the New England Patriots trying to capture their 4th Super Bowl victories and Eli Manning of the New York Giants trying to get his first Super Bowl ring.

Since I could not attend the NHL All Star, the above photo I took during practice when the Red Wings came to St. Louis, would have to do as four of the Detroit Red Wings players were selected to be on the Western Conference team, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Osgood and Zetterberg. Perhaps next year we could plan a trip to the NHL All Star weekend to celebrate my birthday. That is a wonderful idea!
The Super Bowl is a re-match between the Patriots v. the Giants from the game on December 29th. It was supposed to be a meaningless last game of the season but turned out to be the most watched (more than 79,000 fans packed into the Giants stadium for the finale) and special televised sport event because the Giants fans would love to see their team stopping the Patriots from closing in on a 16-0 season. I was in NYC at that time and after dinner with my sister CH, we went back to my brother, VL's home. VL graciously let us have complete control of the television in the family room so we could watch the game without interruption. I was so nervous when the Giants took a 28-16 lead but calm down when the Patriots cut the deficit to 28-23 on Brady-Moss 4-yard touchdown pass. Brady two-point conversion was good but it was a risky move.

There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for roasting
And caroling out in the snow
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
OK, so there are no marshmallow for roasting or caroling out in the snow since the Green Bay Packers were eliminated by the Giants. The Packers fans frozen in the stands (it was 3 below at the start of the second half) when Lawrence Tynes nailed the field goal in overtime to send the Giants to the Super Bowl. Just hope Aaron Rodgers will have a chance to start next season for the Packers. Nothing against the legendary Brett Farve, but let young Aaron proves his skills on the field. Let's forget about the ghost stories of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The new chapter is about the New England Patriots with 18-0 record, with 1 more to go on February 3rd to complete the greatest story in the NFL history.

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle-belling
And everyone telling you
Be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year
For now, I will not make any predictions or how many points will be scored between the two teams. I'll just be of good cheer, for both my beloved New England Patriots and my hometown team New York Giants. Whatever the outcome, my heart will be glowing watching the Super Bowl from the comfort of my living room.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Today is the 28th Anniversary of my family arriving in America. My husband sent me flowers and also special ordered the above red, white and blue cake with the words "Welcome to America". (I teased CP that he would not miss an opportunity to eat cake.) As a tradition since 1989 when I moved to Michigan, I called to say Happy Anniversary to my family. We talked about the day we arrived, January 10, 1980 and all the funny things we did along the way from "fresh off the boat" Vietnamese refugees to becoming Americanized.
Last year, both my brother (Qaptain Qwerty) and I wrote about our arrival in New York City in the entries on our 27th Anniversary. We both wrote about the first few days at Uncle PL's house. I thought perhaps I could go to JFK airport and take photo of the escalator that we were so afraid to get on. But with the security level, I would be suspicious unless I could tell our story when we as Vietnamese refugees, saw the escalator for the first time.
28 years later, did we achieve the American Dream? Compared to some people, we did. We have achieved the level of comfortable living, earned college education, being homeowners, professional employment, and most of all, watching my nephew growing up in a country with plenty of opportunities to achieve more and become better than previous generations. Compared to others, we are not millionaires, nor owners of international companies, not well-known politicians or leaders, not movie stars or even contestant on American Idols!
We have achieved the American Dream in our own way. There are still other levels we could try to reach. I am thankful for all the people who have provided assistance, extended friendship and helping hands. I know my Dad is smiling and saying, "Good work", as our family celebrate our 28th Anniversary of coming to America. To my Dad, the foundation and the guiding light, Happy Anniversary. I sure hope there is plenty of chocolate ice cream in heaven for you to enjoy, Dad.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HAPPY 2008

I chose the above photo from Rockefeller Center because with the trumpet, the statue looked as if he/she announced the new year has arrived. Here are best wishes to all my adoring fans for a healthy and peaceful year that will be filled with love, happiness and prosperity.
We took the subway from Brooklyn and got off at Grand Central Station, then walked to the United Nations. There were performances called Light Shows during the holidays. I thought it was appropriate to show the famous clocks that most of the people would recognize as the trademarks of GCS. There were also art & craft booths as part of the holidays fair. We purchased two ornaments and was given a third one at no charge.

Below are a few photos from Times Square. We were in the area prior to going to the Rangers game. It was on Sunday, January 30th and it was already crowded with people (perhaps it was the normal crowd for Times Square). We moved slowly in the sea of bodies, taking in the bright lights, watching the large screen showing various poses of the M&M characters.
For a few years, 1982-1985, I was a member of Metro-International, a program providing orientation to international university students on living in New York City and learning about American cultures. I became a non-paid volunteer yet had all the authority as a staff person conducting meetings and helping the executive director with office matters. During a trip to Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Lanscater County ), we visited Hershey Park and had a great time there. Each student stayed with an American host family. Mr. & Mrs. GE, who were the Mennonites, was my host family. I went back and visited them a couple of times on my own. We still keep in touch and exchanged Christmas greetings, birthdays and anniversaries cards, to this day. (Compared to the Amish, the Mennonites are less conservative, have relaxed dress codes, are permitted to drive automobiles and the use of electricity. The GE family did not have television, only a small radio.)

If my husband had his wish, we would be among the million people standing around for more than 8 hours waiting for the countdown and lowering of the crystal ball as the New Year arrived. We tried getting a hotel room but could not afford the rate of $459 a night. I told my husband that I would not physically be able to stand around or even if sitting on a portable chair, to withhold my needs to use the restroom for more than a few hours.
The photo above show Times Square and the crowd. Then we went up to the second floor in the M&M Store where I found a great corner to take photos of Times Square from up high, as shown below, with the traffic and again the bright lights.


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