From Sorrowful to Spectacular: February on a Roller Coaster (and a Great Beginning for Lent)

February started a bit on the sour note for me.  I became occupied with research and teaching, especially on grading weekly quizzes…but I still go to the gym and play volleyball.  The broomball season was actually short since this winter has been warmer than usual, and water has been seeping through ice on the lakes. 

On the evening of 13 Feb (which is the morning of Valentine’s Day in Taipei), I received news that my dear grandma (from my mother’s side) passed away that morning in Taiwan.  This brought a new meaning to the fourteenth day of February for me, and I was feeling awful for weeks since then.  Even my faculty advisor and the coordinator of the course I teach noticed that I was not myself at all.  I only shared this news with close friends and co-workers around then, and I have been in close contact with my parents and brother as well.  ‘Twas interesting since my grandma has been an amazing lady in my life who taught me many things ranging from portraying beauty to the world, showing care to others around you, and staying strong and being happy during the worst of times…She was unconscious and in pain, and she reunited with the grandpa I never saw since birth on a special day.  I became more and more open-minded after a few days instead of burrowing myself constantly in grief since she did live to the old age of ninety-one.  Although I could not attend the funeral in Taipei, I made a recording of myself singing Schubert’s Ave Maria with my cheap digital camera and sent it home.  It will be played during the funeral on Monday, 27 Feb.  My grandma would always applaud and cheer when I sing to her, and I remember that tears streamed across her cheeks when I sang to her last May when I went back home for the urgent two-week visit.  Although she was a vegetable, she would shake when I held her and even wiggle a bit as if she would want to talk to me.  I just hope that the song sang from my heart will be a good send-off for her since her baptismal name is Maria.  I still carry the photo of her and me and would glance at it each day, and I will definitely not forget her.

The Taiwanese custom is that relatives of the deceased will have to abstain from parties, visits to people’s houses, celebrations, and other large-scale joyful/social events.  Interestingly, this period coincides with Lent for me.  Before the incidence, I made plans to grab drinks with co-TAs and friends, to meet and socialize with prospective students of my program through drinks and potlucks, and more…it felt awkward to cancel all those plans, which included telling some curious folks the reason of my absence.  However, most of them were understanding.  Some, such as my professor, the coordinator of the course I teach, and the coordinator of my program, shared their grief and would share their experiences with me too.  Due to limitations in parties and such, this is why I am giving up alcohol for Lent.  It can be healthier for me, and that opens more opportunities for me to go to the gym, walk or bike around town, and keep myself active.  This period also made me closer to my family too, and I am grateful for that.

Throughout this period, I still interact with great friends.  I bumped into Jordan a few days ago, and I remember him as a scrawny kid two years ago when we took a course together.  He is still tall, but perhaps more muscular and mature, and I was surprised that he is still in Madison.  He declined an offer to go to medical school and found passion in teaching and parasitology.  Therefore, he is tutoring students through the Department of Zoology and is working in a company while applying for public health programs in different universities.  I also bumped into many former students, such as Alex the ATP guy, Logan (whom I wrote a letter of recommendation), Stephan (who just got engaged), and Jenn (a great mom and soldier).

Michael, one of my co-TAs, has been amazing since January.  He started as a newbie for teaching who avoided any courses and opportunities for public speaking in the past…He did not do that well during his first week and eventually broke down in tears, but he became a different person the following week and has been doing a brilliant job in standing and delivering.  He became more confident, although he would still say that he is nervous and that the students are plain stupid (he took this course a loooong time ago and got an A without trying too hard, and there are tons of students who have been getting poor scores and cannot organize thoughts or reason through things)…but he is a great guy to talk to one-on-one.  He is funny and great to talk to, and he became a great friend.  I guess that we have been encouraging one another in little ways.  On Mardi Gras, I bought students donuts from Greenbush Bakery and saved one for him since he mentioned that Mardi Gras was his most favorite holiday with hurricanes and parties and that I knew that he would be stopping by the building when I was teaching.  After teaching, I noticed that he was selling like hotcake with five students surrounding him in the TA office, so I dropped off the donut and left.  Who knew that he would run after me and graced me with a red and a blueish green strains of beads?  He is such a funny guy…and he even brought me a huge Snicker’s bar after meeting his wife for dinner prior to proctoring an exam on Thursday.  Speaking of his wife, Michael would describe Brooke in a manner that made me vision her as the one with the whip during S&M play, but I actually meet her on Monday evening, and she was a cute and lovely lady!

At the same time, I still go to Bible study with the same gang and would text and meet-up with my friend Chuck.  I also would text and chat with Matt through gchat, and we went for a walk together after I was done proctoring on Thursday.  We walked around the neighborhood for forty-five minutes to an hour, appreciating the snow and each other’s company.  He has accepted a postdoc position in Detroit since he did not get offered the faculty position at Gonzaga, and I am glad that at least life is not too uncertain for him now.  it turns out that he went to Mass on Ash Wednesday and is giving up alcohol for Lent too!  I gave him a can of beer earlier, and he told me that ’twas still sitting in his fridge due to Lent.  Throughout the walk, he told me about a new bakery in town, and I decided to check it out today.

I walked along State Street and passed by the bakery yesterday, just to notice that ’twas closed although the label and facebook indicated that it should be closed after two hours.  I left, hoping it visit it the next day, and so I dragged myself out of bed to be an early bird who gets baked goods straight out from the oven from Bakers’ Window.  I remembered the label indicating that the bakery would be opened at 8AM…I arrived at 8:30AM, and folks were still setting up things.  Who knew that they actually open at 9?  However, I was offered to enter and purchase goods.  Matt told me about the croissants, and so I purchased some pain au chocolat (with regular croissant being the other option since there were not many other items out from the oven) and was given a wedding cookie for free.  Those chocolate croissants were still hot and just out from the oven, but the bread had some buttery goodness that did not make the croissant too flakey and dry.  It was not too soggy either.  The chocolate was in a generous silky serving, and the pain itself was huge!  That was perhaps the best pain au chocolat I ever have in my life.  Before that, I had great memories of the ones by Cafe Soleil before it closed, but the croissants from there were smaller, the chocolate filling was one single strip in the middle (and could be hard on some days), and also more expensive.  Thanks to Matt, I will definitely pay Bakers’ Window a visit in the near future to try the scones, pies, and other baked goods.

Throughout my interactions with friends, I was also wondering if I should get a new cellphone since I have been eligible to upgrade my phone since last December.  I have one of those free cellphones from Verizon with a keyboard.  ‘Tis handy but I could not use internet and such on it.  I remember when I was crossing Los Angeles back into Las Vegas with a friend three Thanksgivings ago, we were lost and the GPS guided us into a desert area without paved roads but one filled with cacti…which scraped off the tires and ended with a tow truck carrying us back to Las Vegas so I could catch my flight back to Madison.  From then, I noticed that having a technological upgrade could be a plus since I would hope to find routes or maps with a cellphone.  Even my friend Max used his iPhone to search for bus routes when we went to Chicago for the Cubs game two years ago, and ’tis a great tool to search for restaurants and such as well.  However, I could not stand typing an email with a cellphone.  Surfing through the web might be okay and texting friends…but typing a well-written email or an entry like this on a cellphone can be unbearable for me.  When I am outside of my apartment, I also do not constantly use my cellphone since I would love to spend time with the fresh air and scenes around me, so I doubt that I will be facebooking when I am walking on the streets or at work.  I still like to have the feeling of a real keyboard instead of a virtual one.  Plus, while interacting with Matt’s smartphone a while ago, my fingers could be too big for the keys.  I also like the idea of having some apps such as angrybird, but I do not think that I will like the idea of having Grindr on my phone since it can be creepy for people to know where I live…However, Chuck is encouraging me to invest in a Droid RAZR (smartphone) since that is indeed a beauty (I love the Gorilla Glass), and Max has been trying to sell me the idea of getting an iPhone since ages ago.  Therefore, this is pretty much my dilemma: should I get a Droid RAZR, and iPhone, or just stick with the simple but yet functional phone I have now?

So in short, I am doing well and life goes on.  No matter what happens in life–good or bad–I will continue to look forward for the next day while cherishing the present.  I am glad that I did not make anything too regretful at this point; I know that I will not be able to forgive myself if I did not fly back to Taipei last May to see my grandma…and I am still surrounded with the simplest joys and love in life.

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