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A guy like me would be frightened of birthdays since everything (or most things) after the twenty-first birthday might start going downhill.  For me, I often critically think whether I have been using my time wisely, or if I would regret not being sexually active and hunt for relationships.  I removed my birthday from facebook, since I feel weird when “friends” only message you on your birthday when they are actively checking statuses and pictures.  I did prevent the flood of wall posts, but my birthday this year actually turned out to be great with a weekend of festivities.

 

I. The Messages

Even if I did not roam around town and publicize my birthday, I received warm messages from my parents and my brother around midnight.  I have been extremely close to family members since when I was young, and I was glad to hear from them.  They kept telling me that I have been an amazing son that they could trust and let me go, or that I am the most amazing brother in the world.  Sounds cliche, I know, but those words mean a lot to me since they portray love.

Other than my parents, I got a surprising email from my childhood friend Lincoln.  We went to the same elementary and junior high schools, but he left Taipei at a young age with part of his family to go to Africa.  He is now doing well as a doctor in Scotland, and he remembered my birthday too!  I was happy to hear from him and that he is doing well with his brother.  Hopefully we will meet up and catch up in person soon.

The last message I want to include here is a message from my college friend Kevin.  Even though I removed my birthday from facebook a while ago, he left a post about it today.  He was traveling for the past few days, but he remembered my birthday and wished me well too.  I was touched since I did not expect anyone to leave a message of that sort on my wall on facebook, but Kevin’s care reminded me of our first year in college.  ‘Tis amazing that we still keep in touch although we are at different states in the country now.

 

II. The Visitor That Arrives Back

I met John last summer when he came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to conduct research as a graduate student from the University of Texas-Austin.  ‘Twas a great summer with some meetups accompanied by drinks, food, and conversations.  John messaged me earlier this month indicating that he will be back to town this summer and that he will be arriving around the weekend.  I noticed that he was back on the eve of my birthday, and gave him a call.  We chatted and soon decided to catch up and meet up since he was around my neighborhood.  We walked around town for a bit and then went to Brocach.  ‘Twas a great catchup of more than two hours, and he bought me a pint of Guinness at that Irish pub.  He then drove me back to my place, and we are already talking about hanging out together this summer.

 

III. The Night Out

My friends Colleene, Collin, and Peter were talking about going to Madison Children’s Museum for Adult Swim, where adults roam around the museum and rejuvenate themselves for an evening offered once a month, a month ago when we had dinner at Colleene’s.  Seeing that there was one in May, I emailed the group a few weeks ago seeing if people were still interested.  Unfortunately, Collin would have to be in New York for his job, but Colleene and Peter quickly gave me a YES.  Who knew that Colleene remembered my birthday and noticed that May’s Adult Swim was on my birthday?  So a simple trip to the museum soon become a lot more complex with planning…but after a few emails, we got something set.  We first had dinner at Kabul, an Afghan restaurant along State Street, at 5:30PM, and then we walked along State Street and arrived at the museum by 7:20PM.  We had so much fun in the museum, and left at 9:30PM for a seven-minute walk to grab desserts at Nostrano.  ‘Twas a great evening that ended at 11PM with these two wonderful folks, and then I stopped by my friend and former student Vinod’s place.  I promised Vinod, who has the same birthday, that I would stop by and say hi since I was invited to his birthday/graduation party, and I did.  I stayed there until 11:30PM and headed home.

I passed by many folks on the streets since ’twas bartime.  I walked along University Avenue and saw funny faces going into some undergraduate bars.  Who would know that there would be three gunshots around that area later at 1AM?  Thankfully I was in bed by then.

 

III. The Party In The Farm

On the next day of my birthday was Dr. Brad and Dr. Isadora’s graduation party on a farm in Oregon.  I met Brad and Isadora through volleyball and was invited to the party. They have been great friends to talk to and that they indicated that there is an end of life as a doctorate student.  They will both be moving to Chicago, and I am glad to be able to attend and send them off.

Since I currently co-own a car, my brother was using the car by then, and that I will be buying my own car later this or next year, I got a ride from Erik, whom I also befriended through those four-hour volleyball sessions on Saturdays and/or Sundays.  ‘Twas a nice ride with conversations, and Erik’s wife Andi joined us too.  We were a bit lost at first, but we were amazed by the mansion and the farm Brad and Isadora booked for the party and for accommodating their family members.  The place was HUGE and there were TONS of food.  We all felt as if we were in heaven while walking around with wine, interacting with others, playing beanbag toss and croquet, and so much more.  ‘Twas a great party, and four hours passed by quickly.

 

IV. A New Friend For the Day

When playing outdoor volleyball today, I made some contact and interactions with Adam, a guy who came to Madison to start his business.  He was a jolly guy to talk to, and he was pretty good at sand volleyball too after growing up in Michigan and living in California by the bay area.  We only chatted for ten minutes at the end of the games, and then we parted.

I came back to my place a bit tired, but interestingly I felt that perhaps I should go out and start dating again.  I felt lonely again somehow despite having so many awesome friends, and perhaps I just hope to be able to cuddle with someone.  I started texting John for advice.  He is a guy who likes me a lot, even to the point of flirting with me…and I value him as a friend.  He is also encouraging too, for he told me not to go to bars by myself and that I deserve way better than that…that I am a quality, attractive, and intellectual man…and that I would be a great catch for any guy.  ‘Tis funny though since I’ve been single my entire life for now, and maybe that’s cause I can be a bit picky; I like someone who is tall around my height since I cannot see myself making out with a 4’2 person, healthy/athletic and even muscular, well-educated with travel experience, curious and open-minded, nonsmoker and non drug abusers, independent and organized, and fun to talk to.  Unfortunately after all the eight dates I went on, I have not found the right person yet.  I then decided to take a walk around town to calm myself and to destress myself from work, and who knew that when I passed by Michelangelo’s, I saw a familiar face with dark hair and thick eyebrows looking at me.  ‘Twas Adam!  Haha he was working with a cup of Joe, but he still offered me to sit with him on the table and chat with him for a bit.  He is in his thirties, but he looks young.  He graduated from Michigan (AA); lived in New York, Germany, and San Francisco, been to many parts of Europe; and is a great guy to talk to with more questions and exchange of ideas.  We have many commonalities too: our appreciation for applications since he is an engineer, our desire to get out of Madison and go somewhere else, our aim to do great things in life, our passion for travel and beer, and so much more.  I sat there for a bit more than an hour with excitement, and we exchanged numbers at the end.  Although I do not expect much from this, I am glad to gain a new friend and hopefully we will hang out at the end of this week or soon in the summer.

 

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Madison is a transition point where people just come and go.  My heart feels funny every year in Madison around my birthday since it coincides with the graduation weekend.  Seeing those smiles from people walking down the streets with their gowns reminded me of my own college graduation, which was also a moment where good friends depart from one another.  I was a workaholic in my undergraduate years, and it took me until graduate school to learn to socialize with others.  I regret not spending enough times with friends in parties as an undergraduate, but the only thing I can do now is to renew friendship while gaining new ones too.

I am blessed to have so many wonderful and amazing people in my life.  Along with family members, I am surprised when a few of my friends would remember my birthday and/or spend part of their time with me.  The evening with Colleene and Peter strengthened our relationship, and we will be hanging out again within two weeks on Collin’s big day.  The awesome trip to the children’s museum reminded me that we can be forever young and we should not worry much when we age.  Sure…there can be arthritis, broken hips, and Alzheimer’s, but men and women can age like fine wine too.  Although many people have left Madison, I am glad to be able to send people off and at least wish them well before they leave.  However, I will be interacting with incoming students next semester when teaching, and the cycle begins again.  Although I hate the fact that the end is another beginning, perhaps that is how I motivate myself to move forward nowadays.  When I was in first grade, I cried after the last day of school since I worried about not seeing my friends again, but things went well during my second grade and even in graduate school.  New people, such as Adam, will come into our lives, and we need not to live in the same moment all the time but move forward while viewing photos from the past.

Thanks to all of the beautiful people in my life, I have so much love during my twenty-six years of existence…and I look forward for more to come and share!

 

One

I never enjoyed running when I was a child.  I used to be overweight, and would moan when my parents took the family to the track or the gym.  I love swimming, volleyball, and soccer…I even joined soccer and volleyball teams and even become a lifeguard, but running just never clicked with me.  Carrying extra baggage made running a tough task too, and I also did not enjoy being on a treadmill.  I just felt that I was dragging my sole and my body unwillingly as I ran from a step to another, and it just felt drowsy.  A few years ago as an undergraduate, I also thought of running along the lake, but I pretty much failed since I would be tired after running a few steps.  Even some passersby who saw me would encourage me not to give up but continue running…but I ended walking back to my residence hall instead.

Time passed by, and I changed my lifestyle to become a healthier guy.  Around the end of last year, I decided to overcome my treadmill phobia and started running on treadmills since then.  I challenged myself to increase my time on the treadmill bit by bit, and soon I was making more progress.  Of course, I did not forfeit my usual routine of rowing, biking, playing volleyball, and taking long walks.  Perhaps my endurance elevated from all the exercising through time.

The weather has become quite warm as if ’twas summer in Madison.  With all the snow gone and humidity increasing under the weather ranging from 60 to 70F, many bikers and runners could be see on the streets.  Guys would be playing frisbee or dipping into Lake Mendota, and ladies could be seen lying on the green grass reading novels or taking naps.  Bascom Hill is once again flown by students and community members who would bathe themselves under the sun.  As I passed by these folks on my bike today, I noticed some topless guys running along State Street.  I have always hope to become one of those muscular guys who could show my body as I was on the streets, and all of a sudden something in me told me to go out to run and enjoy the sun.  I was doubting myself, thinking that I would just run a few steps and started bickering about it, similar to my old self.  However, I started filling my water bottle and preparing myself for a short run after getting back to my place at 5:45PM, and I started my run at 6PM.  ‘Twas still warm and sunny with many folks on the streets, and I just could not tell myself to stop running from there!  Of course I halted from time to time to take water breaks and to stretch so that I would not have a cramp, but I felt so amazing as sweat was streaming down my back and was inked onto my shirt.  I felt the winds next to me and people’s smiles on their faces as encouragement when I passed by them.  I saw other runners around me, which became my single-serving friends and motivators.  Who knew that I would spend thirty to forty minutes running around and stretching out at the end?  I felt as if I became a bird spreading his wings to explore unknown territories, and I did not feel as tired as I would have imagined.

I ended running 2.3 miles, which was longer than I thought.  I remember as a middle schooler that I would spent more than thirty minutes just to do a mile run on those good ol’ days of fitness tests, and taking more than ten minutes to do a 800m run as a high school student.  Those were during my overweight days, and I noticed changes in me as I was stretching in the park in my neighborhood.  The sun was lowering itself as the day ended, and I just felt so peaceful at the moment.  This experience would make me a regular for running, and I am definitely moving forward in life by overcoming my phobia and by making myself into a stronger and better person.

I passed by crowds in the park, and I was overjoyed to see children enjoying time with family and folks enjoying time with friends.  I took a quick shower, looked at myself in the mirror, and hope that I would become even more attractive physically soon.  Running, although considered as high-risk with knee injuries, can be health-improving with many other benefits.  I just hope that I will be able to see the benefits after running a lot more around town.

Two

My brother’s birthday was today, and after knowing that he did not have special plans other than spending time with his girlfriend, I decided to invest in a birthday cake.  I know that he does not like chocolate and that the both of us hate those sugary frosting and icing, so I went to my favorite Bakers’ Window and ordered a carrot almond cake a few days ago.  I figured that Bakers’ Window would be the ideal place since my brother and friends love the croissants and pastries I got them from there.  I also am a supporter of local businesses that use organic and community-produced ingredients when compared to large corporations with their artificial coloring and partially hydrogenated fats.  Plus, the baked goods from Bakers’ Window always tasted wonderful and fresh out of the oven without any sugar-coating.  The dense carrot cake with tons of almonds also left me a grand impression, so I thought that would make a lovely birthday cake.  After seeing me quite often with my bulk orders (since I eat some for breakfast and would share fifty-percent of my purchase with my brother and friends), the adorable managers and bakers (a lovely couple) agreed to make the cake.  When I went to the bakery today, I saw the familiar welcoming smiles from the bakers and staff, and the cake was adorable.  After a few minutes in the bakery and storing the cake in my refrigerator, I started my day and planned on meeting with my brother at night.

My brother stopped by my place at 8PM after he and his girlfriend had dinner together at Bonfyre, which is one of their favorite restaurants for barbecue except that ’twas not as good tonight as the previous times they went there.  They are a beautiful couple, and I am happy for my brother to be in a relationship with a gorgeous, caring, simple (not materialistic), and well-mannered lady when compared to his exes.  They were both glad to see me, and they were shocked by the huge size of the cake when I presented it.  When I told them that ’twas a carrot cake, my brother’s eyes started glittering.  He then told me that he loves carrot cakes, and I guess that is why we’re brothers 🙂  He felt that the cake is different compared to other cakes since ’twas dense but moist, the cheesecake frosting was not as sweet or overpowering, the almonds were a nice decor and complement (and we love almonds), and he simply LOVES it.  His girlfriend, being a foodie, also loves the cake too!  We chatted more throughout the evening until they left, and they ended taking half of the leftover cake with them.  I had never seen my brother hugging that much of a cake, but he indicated that he really loves it and that his friends would not have introduced such a wonderful cake.  I am glad that the cake was a success, and then I presented him and his girlfriend the other pastries and croissants I got for them earlier today.  They went back to my brother’s place happily, and I was glad to send them off.

I only have one blood-related brother, and ’tis amazing to see that he is now twenty-three years old.  When we were younger, I did not cherish him as much since I became independent at a younger age.  We did share bedrooms until we moved to a new apartment during my high school years.  He would want to come to my room, but I ended dragging him out.  Although we have been in Madison together for five years now, we rarely hung out until this year.  Maybe this comes with age.  We met with each other more often on a weekly basis, and our brotherhood became stronger.  For me as the older sibling, I also helped him with groceries, great croissants, and many others, and these simple acts of giving did lighten his heart too.  He is always appreciative of the many wonderful things I gave him…and I could see that he loves those or else he would have returned them to me.  I hope and pray that we will be stronger support for one another and that things will go well for him too.

Three

And just a list of a quick update:

1. I went to All You Can Eat Sushi at Restaurant Muramoto with my brother.  My brother and I are sushi and seafood lovers, and Restaurant Muramoto created many memories for us.  This establishment was introduced to me through my brother when we dined together on the evening of my college graduation, which was on my birthday a few years ago.  We would go to Muramoto establishments for sushi since the Asian fusion style is unique compared to other sushi restaurants.  And then…  Restaurant Muramoto started having the All You Can Eat Sushi deal for $25 per person!  That was a great deal for us since our typical sushi bill would unfortunately be in the hundreds, which is a great contrast between the price and freshness of seafood in the midwest when compared to Taiwan.  We finally went there together two Sundays ago, and the food was great as we remembered.  We ended eating ten rolls and twenty-two pieces of nigiri along with servings of seaweed salads and miso soups for three hours…The original price without the deal would be more than $220, but we only paid $50 without the 5.5% tax and tip!  What a meal!

2. Grad school is going well.  I’m enjoying teaching, and I am moving forward with research.  I will be meeting with my committee next week, hopefully to be certified and to set a date for my qualifying exam.  Some folks have been decontaminating and “fixing” the biosafety cabinets in the lab, so it has been a war zone!

3.  Life is good!  Volleyball, as usual, this weekend.  Hoping to enjoy another three to four-hour game 🙂

Thanks to LMFAO, I have been feeling sexy these days for many reasons.  Not because I’m high on testosterone and that I am horny, but because many wonderful things have happened since the last time I wrote.

My cousin Mel, the Texan native, visited last weekend and we hung out for a bit.  The visit was on a short notice, so we did not have anything planned.  My brother and I were excited though, since we have been telling her to come visit Madison.  She came with three friends (one is working here in a software company and engaged to his gay fiance who visited as well, and the other is a lady who is interested in psychology and sociology).  Although their flight was postponed and the arrival time changed from 11AM to around 11PM last Friday, we still managed to meet on Saturday.

The gang arrived at 6PM, and everyone chillaxed a bit at my place while my brother poured some of the New Glarus Wisconsin Belgium Red for the guests.  Similar to Ben’s Wisconsin friends whom I met in Chicago over New Year’s Eve, the UT-Austiners loved the drink.  We chatted a bit more and then headed out to dinner at 7PM.  Unfortunately with no reservations, we could rarely find a spot for six without a more than forty-five minute wait.  We walked along Capitol Square and State Street, and then my brother and I decided to take them to The Nitty Gritty.  My brother left when we got to the establishment since he needed to go to an 8PM discussion, so the five of us dined there.

Dinner was nice with conversations, and I was surprised by the two gay couple who are engaged.  They were not too handsome or hot, one of them has some gastrointestinal related illnesses and some other diseases, they were nice folks, and yet they look so wonderful next to each other.  I really do admire the both of them since that is true love right there.  They did not love each other due to lust or bed-related actions, but they looked beyond each other’s imperfections and linked their hearts together.  The strong support they provided for each other fascinated me, and I just hope that I will be able to find the special one too.

After dinner at around 8:50PM, Mel’s three friends decided to go back to their place since one of them needed to finish writing a paper.  I was going to send my brother a burger I bought for him, and Mel decided to come along and stick around!  We met up with my brother at 9PM when he was on his way home.  He was going to have a short night and head to bed soon since he was under stress with exams and studying, so Mel was left with me.  I took Mel for a walk, which she enjoyed with the fresh air although ’twas a bit chilly.  We walked around Memorial Union, then hiked up Bascom Hill, then onto Observatory along the lake, then to Tripp and Adams (where I resided during my sophomore year and first year of house fellowship), and then we took a break by the lakeshore area for some ice cream since Mel had not have ice cream from the Dairy State.

We shared a sundae with chocolate peanut butter ice cream, Heath, pecans, and Reeses…and sat on a booth and started catching up with life.  We did talk a lot about academia, her plans after graduating in May, law school, her trip to Italy, dating, and many more.  ‘Twas a great break with many exchanges of thoughts.  At first, I was worried that our four to five year age difference will not have too much in common since Mel was a bit more talkative to my brother earlier during the evening, but I was wrong.  Even my aunt told my parents (who told me later) that Mel has always respected me as a big brother and valued my conversations with her since when she was in high school.  She is hoping to work in Chicago through a law firm after completing an internship through the firm, and I will be glad to take her around Chicago with my brother!

After the break, we walked along Linden, passed by Henry Mall, and went into Union South.  Later, we walked along Johnson and Park Street, and then went into Library Mall and started walking along State Street.  ‘Twas the weekend of WIAA High School Wrestling, and there were many topless youngsters running past by us as celebration after the tournament.  Mel and I even laughed when one of the youngsters slapped my ass so hard that we both heard it.  If I were in an office, that could be sexual harassment, but ’twas fun for the both of us to see youngsters bearing the cold and cheering for their accomplishments.

Mel’s friend called at around midnight indicating that he would be going to bed soon and would like to pick her up since she was staying at his apartment with the others.  We then walked from the Capitol to my place, and she was off at 0:35.  She said bye before she boarded her plane on Sunday, and she enjoyed her visit too.

This visit also affirms my view that family members are the greatest and closest support for one another.  During the period of mourning for my grandma, whose funeral took place on Monday in Taipei, the visit reunited all the youngsters from my mother’s side who are in the United States.  Each visit, similar to the one in Chicago with Ben and those meals and walks with friends, are ways to renew relationships of any sort.  Even a small sundae with great ice cream and Heath toppings could make one smile for a day too… ‘Twas a great visit, and I could not believe that I had not seen her for five years, with the last time being before I went to Germany!!! I do hope that my brother and I will be able to visit her in Austin soon before she leaves that campus.

On a different note, I heard back from my advisor regarding my research proposal two days ago.  I am glad to finally see progress since he had the document for more than a month.  He made some great changes, and I am glad to learn from them and see his thoughts and intentions.  I am hoping to have that done soon so that I can meet with committee members to get their approval and take my qualifying exam soon!!!

Teaching has been going well too.  Students are learning about arthropods this week, and many of them were squeamish and excited.  Some of them were similar to Dora the Explorer (English and Zoology Edition) when observing hexapods, crustaceans, chelicerates, and myriopods with curiosity.  Some of them even dissected the destroyed the entire crayfish, which would need to be used by the next class too 🙂  Anyway, my students (especially the Monday and Tuesday ones) have been doing great this semester, and I hope that they will continue to be this motivated!

After working yesterday, I decided to take a walk in the afternoon and even call the afternoon off.  I left the lab at 2PM, and then bumped into Megan!  She was a former co-TA and a friend, and I was surprised when she walked by me and yelled out my name since she usually has a soft voice!  She was on her way to the library, so we walked together for a bit and caught up with one another.  ‘Twas great to hear that she missed teaching and that she is planning to come back too.  After she left, I continued walking, and eventually revisited Bakers’ Window.  I got to chat with the couple who baked the goodies since the wife started talking to me about organic milk in glass bottles and their use of organic materials.  The husband chatted more with me when the wife went to deal with the delivery man, and I discovered that they went to Munich together before.  They also learned to bake in Paris and also in San Francisco, and they are aiming to open a bakery under their names in the future without another owner or landlord.

My first visit to Bakers’ Window was last Saturday, and I had a great impression of the pain au chocolat.  There were more selections this time, since I went there during their normal hours when compared to thirty minutes before opening.  I got some pain au chocolat for my brother and Michael the co-TA, a Danish for myself, and carrot almond cake.  I am a big almond lover, and I loooooooove carrot cakes as well.  The mix of both made it an expensive dessert to make, and the cake made by the couple who baked all the goodies looked marvelous.  I tried some, of course…and ’twas surprisingly dense that I could only eat one-fourth to a third of a slice each time to feel fulfilled.  The cream cheese frosting and the cake overall was not too oily and sweet as the carrot cake made in other places, and the almond was a great compliment.  In many places, even those in the Farmer’s Market, the pastries and cakes would be swamped with frosting or sugar, but the baked goods from Bakers’ Window have always been simple.  ‘Twas not too plain, but the sweetness tasted came from the ingredients inside the pastry instead of a huge sugar-coating.  The cake was delicious and was worth it.  I am a food lover who would bike or drive for miles just to taste some dishes, and I can now say that Bakers’ Window is the best bakery I have experienced in Madison.

After being indulging on pastries for a while, I finally decided to visit the gym in case if I become a fat jolly Buddha.  I still go to the gym to play volleyball, such as my four-hour session last Saturday.  However, I have not been great at going to the gym on weekdays due to things to do, meetings to attend, and bad weather.  I finally made it to the gym at 7:30PM, started stretching, rowed 5000m, ran and hiked on the treadmill without phobia nowadays, and finished with sit-ups and stretches with an exercise ball.  I then saw Danielle, a grad student I know from a course I took last semester, and we started catching up with one another.  ‘Twas great to see a familiar face in the gym who is striving to live healthily too 🙂  So other than the awesome feeling of perspiration and meeting a familiar face during the work-out session, I felt wonderful after coming out from the shower.  I felt so relieved and clean, and I smelled great! 😉  I even flexed myself in front of the mirror, and boy were my arms getting larger and larger compared to the scrawny and flappy ones I had when I was bigger.

So yes, I’m sexy and I know it…I work out!!!!  Life and God have been good to me, and I just hope that I can continue visiting the gym and started going five to six days again like my usual routine.  I am doing well with my Lenten sacrifice: giving up alcohol.  I wonder if I can survive to forfeit having baked goods or sweets, but we can find that out in another Lenten period.  I hope that I can continue to make more progress with research, teaching, and in social life…and become more muscular soon, especially if I will need to put on swim wear and show my body if I go to Hawaii one day!

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.

I have no idea what’s up with me today.  Perhaps ’tis due to being in Madison too long, being too busy with work lately, or missing time with friends…but I became nostalgic today for some reason…

First, I started thinking of family in Taiwan this morning when I was in lab.  I played some traditional Taiwanese songs on youtube, and I started seeing pictures of the green terraces with tea bushes and Taipei 101.  I was home last May for two weeks due to an urgent family matter, but I was not back for three years before then.  I started thinking of my time with my parents, grandparents, and some longe-lost friends when I was back during the past seven years.  There were many wonderful moments: trying restaurants with my mom, going to the ocean with my dad, spending time in traditional markets with my grandparents, singing with my aunt and uncles, meeting up with friends over meals, and cooking for the family.  Who knows when will be the next time I will be back visiting family members?  Although the flights can be lengthy and the time differences would mess with my circadian rhythm, I just miss people’s friendliness and hospitality.  Wisconsin is a friendly state in the Midwest, but ’tis nothing compared to Taiwan.  Plus, life in Taipei is more exciting with night markets and a convenient metro system.

After getting off from lab, I decided to treat this nostalgia with a quick fix of Chinese food.  I went to QQ Express across the street, ordered the noodle with seafood combo and peanut chicken, and paid six to seven dollars for a mountain of food.  I am picky with Asian food since most restaurants would Americanize the dishes with too much salt, oil, sauce, and glutamate…but ’tis something different from eating oatmeal with tons of vegetables and protein for every meal.

While eating dinner, I decided to watch Shall We Dance?, a great movie starring Richard Gere (one of the sexiest men alive for his age), Jennifer Lopez (hot sexae ladae), and Susan Sarandon (whom I’ve noticed from other films that I cannot remember now).  The movie actually created the other three things I missed…

Chicago.  Yes, the movie was filmed in Chicago, and I missed that great city as I saw the skyline, the the L train, bridges, and one of the malls.  I was in Chicago quite a few times: last January, last August, and also during New Year’s Eve…and I do enjoy being in a large city with things to do and places to go.  I remember my time with Ben over New Year’s Eve: walking along Clark Street from his Belmont/Lincoln Park neighborhood to downtown, going to a party with Wisconsinites on the twenty-somethingth floor with a great view of the downtown area, being introduced to some Chicagoan favorites, and simply catching up with him.  Actually, that also made me think about how Ben and I surprisingly bumped into each other at Memorial Union two to three years ago and started renewing and deepening our friendship more and more since then.  I also went to Chicago quite a few times with my brother to celebrate our birthdays, and that was fun too.

I have many favorite things to do.  I work out and exercise quite regularly with volleyball and broomball although the weather would rarely permit biking nowadays, but the tango music and dance moves made me think of ballroom dancing.  I noticed a couple doing ballroom dancing steps at my friend’s wedding in Oct 2010, and the beautiful and graceful moves captured my heart.  I decided to learn to dance other than aerobic dancing and took the Ballroom Dancing I course last summer.  ‘Twas one of the highlights of my summer with a funny instructor with a South African accent, seeing people who are not too well-coordinated and musical attempting to move their legs and arms, and pretty much relaxing.  Slow waltz was one of my favorites, and I still dance to waltz music whenever I hear one.  I also missed foxtrot, swing, tango, and cha cha although I did not learn too much about some of those.  I started thinking about when I went dancing with my friend Eric last May and even to swing dancing last September.  However, the movie made me want to dance more, even now!

The dancing part made me miss my joyful self.  Being submerged with work ain’t too fun in life, and I just feel that the beginning of a semester is always tough with so much to do.  Even with research, I want to move forward, but my professor can be slow with things.  I met with my professor today, and I will unfortunately have to do more mouse work and eventually kill more mice…which I hate.  With teaching, I felt impatient when my co-TAs would submit things in the last minute or would rely on me too much.  I could hardly smile this afternoon due to all the things on my mind, and having a nervous college does not help.  He is open to me and would share with my things, but he has little faith in himself…and even cried in front of me after he taught today.  I did talk to him and offer him tips with encouragement since public speaking is one of his fears, and I hope that I will continue to be patient and stimulating to him and others around me.  However, I hope that I will not become a victim by focusing on them since I have other things to accomplish and people to meet too.  I hope that I can be carefree and start dancing around with happy feet.  I hope that my heart will not be chained with concerns but be lightened.  I pray that I can be humble and cheery.  Heck, I think I’m going to walk around town while dancing to songs in my head after posting this entry.

I have been hoping to write this entry since most of my friends would cry to me about life in graduate school, their dissolving or empty love life, and many other concerns in life. I do face these worries everyday as well, and there are definitely moments when I would just want to burst into tears and leave my frustrations aside when I stood in front of Lake Mendota. However, numerous homilies I heard from Mass and words from friends would calm me down, and I hope that this entry will serve the same purpose to many of my friends and fellow readers.

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Most of us have been educated by our parents and the society to have goals in life. As a naive child, one would want to become a firefighter or the president of the universe. When one gains more knowledge and eventually become more acquainted with the social order, one would plan to get married one day, have a nice house with children, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, things are not that easy in life, especially when one leaves the family and learn to become independent in college. Some of us would notice that we do not even fit in the current social order and things need to be changed. Many of us would use all of our strength to reach those goals, but they might not be fulfilled due to the lack of resources around or due to the timing.

When facing obstacles, some might just avoid hardships and choose an easier route. This can be hiding from the true self and work a job that is not as fulfilling. Or that one might forget about seeking love and just give in to instant hookups. For many, even if we decide to choose an easier route, we would still feel awful at the end and bitch about life. Yes, life does suck, life is full of shit, life is pointless, life is just boring…

The society has influenced many to live in fear: whether a nuclear missile will be coming towards our way tomorrow morning, whether those chopsticks made in China are bleached and toxic, whether someone would break into my apartment when I go on a vacation, etc. However, the worst fear is the fear of losing what we currently have, and not gaining what we do not have and what we desire. Many people would worry about the apocalypse and lost the motivation to live fully each day. Many folks would wonder if the relationship is not working and simply let it rot instead of doing something to make the relationship lively again. Many graduate students, like me, would plan a year in advance to submit an abstract to go to a conference in San Francisco…but became discouraged when collaborators lost the samples and did not notify others for four to five months, or when the collaborators are just slow and did not even pick up the samples prepared four weeks ago, resulting in losing the opportunity to submit an abstract. Things do not work out smoothly each time, and we need to keep reminding ourselves that. It is natural for one to feel depressed, sad, lonely, abandoned, discouraged, and sorrowful in life. Perhaps we can never find true happiness on earth, but we have to learn from each moment when we cry, when we just want to cuddle with someone, when we hate ourselves for not being able to go to San Francisco for a conference and a little break from the middle-of-nowhere, and especially when we feel hopeless. These are just some of the road blocks we face in life, and we need to persist and persevere to overcome these moments. Afterwards, we will be able to taste the sweet fruits and we would feel better. Even when we look back to those depressing days, we would simply chuckle and become a better person.

The path to taste the sweet fruits ain’t easy though. I do feel discouraged for a period, and it would not take a minute or a day for me to overcome these negative feelings and thoughts. However, I told myself that this is not going to be the last of me, and that there will be more wonders in my life in the near future.

The first principle I have is to love myself. I used to think that I am ugly as a guy who is seventy-five to eighty pounds heavier, that I am just a hopeless workaholic who is being utilized by single-serving friends, and that I am just going to die at an early age. I used to treat myself with a whole cheese cake for an evening, but soon I realized that is the wrong way to treat myself. I learned to change my short temper and have more patient with myself. I learned to love my body and soul, exercise a lot more, become more active in life, and even attempted to go on a few days. I also became more social and confident with myself, and I became more cheerful as a person. When I accomplished a task, even a babystep, I would reward myself with a dark chocolate truffle or a short trip. When I am discouraged, I would tell myself that it is not God’s will for me to focus on a certain task, and that I should focus on other items on my list in order to give me more potential and abilities to accomplish that one certain task. No longer do I look haggard with extra packages, but I still treat myself to some cheese cake sometime 🙂

The second principle I have is NOT to quarrel about money with others and to love others, especially those who are greater than myself: God, parents, brother, friends, students, peers, etc. When showing love to others, I felt happy in my soul. Although some people and the old me would bicker about money, I learned that many relationships are dissolved due to quarrels about money. I told myself that I only live once, so ’tis fine for me to enjoy my time with others. Perhaps that is why I became more social in graduate school too: getting beer with friends, going out to eat, have friends over for dinner, attending concerts with others, etc. I do enjoy some of the finer things in life, but I would be frugal with myself as I eat oatmeal in my apartment. However, saving money and contributing them to family and friends could be a wonderful thing. If money would be an issue, do not take your friend(s) to a fine dining establishment and then complain about the cost later during the evening. Instead, go to somewhere affordable so that you and your peer(s) would have a great time.

With this said, I also notice that I tend to be the giving tree in most of the dates and relationships I have been, even brotherhood. This leads to my third principle: to never expect anything back from others. Of course, ’tis nice if someone would give us gifts or spend his or her time with us, but do not expect anything from others. Think of the ability to be loving and sacrificial to be a generous gesture, and thank God that you have the ability to support, help, and show love to others in the world.

Another principle is to be patient with oneself. Many of us, even me, would dream to be in a relationship with the perfect being…and yet we would be too aggressive in that area that we would be disappointed after each date. Learn from each interaction and experience, and prepare ourselves to become greater. What is not meant to be or happen should not be forced to occur. Do not take things too personally too. Afterall, everyone has a different opinion about everything in the world!

Last but not least, enjoy the simplest happiness in life. When we are sad, be grateful to those who would listen to our speeches with agony. When we are crying, be thankful to those who would ask us if we are okay and even offer us a shoulder. When we are hopeless, look for the simplest blessings God has offered to motivate us to live through the toughest of times. Never give up on oneself, and don’t stop believin’ either!

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On a personal note, these thoughts have been circulating and forming in my mind since when I finally told myself that I would never be able to submit an abstract to go to the conference. I prayed to God, and who knew that I would change my view on that and thought of it as a wake-up call for me to focus on getting certified as a candidate for Ph.D. and to take my qualifying exam during the first half of this year? By then, I would feel more comfortable and even less stressful as a graduate student.

Another thing that has been preventing me from reaching where I want to be is due to the situation of the lab. My professor is sixty-eight and was hoping to retire. However, he accepted me to continue for a Ph.D. after I defended my Master’s thesis…and I am grateful for him. Yes, that was the same year the stupid me only applied to one university for Ph.D. I thought about taking a few years off working in labs and then reapply, but my advisor saw something in me and accepted me. He has always been a fatherly figure who cares about me and thinks of the best for me. He also published more than two hundred papers, but I guess that due to his age, he was not too eager to apply for research grants. I was actually fine with that since I am gaining lots from being a teaching assistant, and I also expanded my social network through teaching. I knew that funding would be tight, so I might not be able to fly to Tokyo or Italy for a conference. However, I was surprised that I would spend thousands of dollars on research animals and supplies, and that I was encouraged to continue publishing papers (which ain’t cheap and time-saving, by the way) too. ‘Tis true that I always aim to be as productive and even more efficient than the graduate students at Harvard, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, and other prestigious colleges. Perhaps most of them are better off financially than me with a large research team, but my graduate school experience has certainly made me more independent. Although I have some collaborators, I would be the one to shift the direction of the projects in the near future and I even have the chance to design my experiments too…which is different from other graduate students I know where a topic or project was handed to them. Even until today, I still aim to be as dedicated and motivated as I can be to not just rot in the lab.

Even with love, I have never been in a serious relationship and I never know if I will. Yes, I have been discouraged after dates that never work out–simply because I do not see myself being with the other person most of the time or that I never heard back from the other person. However, I am grateful for the dating experience and I am glad for the friends I have. My close friends have been caring, and we would often meet up and chat. Family is also another great support, as I still talk to my dad and mom every weekend, and my brother and I would often text message one another to see how we are.

Perhaps 2012 started on a sour note for me, but not really! ‘Tis this experience that will make me cherish God, others, and myself more…and I just hope and pray that things will be better in the future.

Things have been going well for me in life. M and I are still texting and chatting with one another each day, and I am glad that he would be willing to share a part of his life with me. He will be back in town soon, and I just cannot wait to see him! I have also been going to the gym, and one of my students said hi to me yesterday. I did not know that he works there, so I will hopefully be seeing him more often there. Other than that, I still have lots to do: writing some letters of recommendations, hanging out with friends before the semester begins, and more on research. Speaking of research, I cannot believe that the pathologist that collaborates with my lab is just uber slow. My professor and I decided to give him another chance after screwing up and losing my samples that I submitted in June 2011…and the worst thing is that he notified us about that in November! He has been apologetic since then, but we were going to submit samples to him around Christmas. He told us that he would talk to people in his lab, but we did not hear back from him since late December! The samples were still sitting on my bench, and I have not been too pleased. I was hoping to be able to submit an abstract by 15 Jan, but now it seems that things are going downhill. Perhaps I should just quit my time here and go somewhere else. Sigh! All these frustrations in graduate school and the biosciences. If I were a grad student in the humanities, perhaps life will be so much better. I can even take vacations to exotic places!

Life is interesting with so many questions to answer. I have been talking to my mom, and I just wonder about myself and my love life sometime. I have never been in a love relationship, and I guess I am just confused about myself and even my sexuality. I thought that I am asexual since I do not think of sex everytime when I see a nice ass on the streets. I thought that I was interested in ladies in high school and college, but then I never went on a date with the ladies due to my workaholic self…although I did ask a girl out to a dance. I thought that she would be a great girlfriend, but she broke my heart after a few years of interactions. I thought then that I would be gay since I admired and always wanted to be one of those muscular studs in the weight room when I was seventy-five to eighty pounds heavier. I did go on six dates with different guys, but I felt awkward and disappointed at the end. Sexual attraction? I do get horny after a great workout due to an increase in the hormone levels, but I can control my own penis when I am horny, so no need for hook-ups and quickies. With my background, I am definitely paranoid and anal about sexually transmitted infections…just to think that around 30-40% of the youngsters who frequent the bars would have syphilis, chlamydia, or even HIV.

‘Tis true that these terminologies (straight, heterosexual, gay, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and the list goes on) are set by the social order, but sexuality and love is actually a lot more fluid biologically speaking. People tend to set preferences for themselves, but would we not be blocking a part of us from exploring more in life with these terminological restrictions? Some would say that they are only interested in dating African Americans, but what happens if a nice Caucasian comes along and satisfies your heart? Perhaps this is why many surprises would occur in blind dates…Yeah, I do agree that some of these restrictions are set by a culture in order to preserve a culture, but will that make the world more multicultural with different cultures truly interacting with each other? We can coexist and be tolerant of each other, but is that sufficient without truly serving and caring for each other?

Perhaps I am more attracted to men because I am a man and that I like meaningful relationships. I do have meaningful relationships with females too, but ’tis tough to treat a lady as your own brother. ‘Tis easier for me to relate to guys too. Brotherhood is quite important for me, and I do have strong support with many of my guy friends. ‘Tis easier for me to grab a beer, ride a bike, play sports, have long walks, and hang out with my guy friends…for I am not really too good and patient at shopping and fingernail painting with my female friends, although I could help picking a great outfit. Perhaps I view the brotherhood I have as love, and I do love those male friends. However, am I not seeing something here? I would love to have my own children i.e. with my genes and have a family too, and perhaps I have just not fully explored the dating scene with ladies. ‘Tis true that I would have dinners and chats with my female friends, but I have never been on a date with one. I have never been intimate with a female too.

So after the constant chats with my mom, I realized that perhaps I should be more open and to explore more of myself. I should not just rush through things and declare myself to be a set being. I am twenty-five, and perhaps ’tis true that men can age like fine wine, and that I will be more accomplished and attractive with a stable career in the future. For now, I am only a poor graduate student! I need to aim to get my degree first and get out of here…which means that I might not be in for a long term relationship unless if my partner would be willing to sacrifice his or her career and move with me. No matter what happens in the future, I do not mind to remain celibate as well. Who knows, perhaps I would be chuckling when I read this entry twenty years from now, thinking that I was just too naive.

I shared my thoughts with M, and he is on the same boat too. He dated a few women in the past and dated one guy for six months before me. Perhaps this is why we have so much in common, and I am definitely loving him more and more each day. He has been a great friend and brother…and although I love him and that he has indirectly asked me to be on a short-term relationship with him on the phone, I have to constantly remind myself that he will be leaving Madison soon for a faculty position somewhere…and so I will have to cherish my time with him and eventually make our relationship (even friendship) everlasting. He asked me to explore with him in life as he figures things for himself too, and I am glad to have a buddy during this process. I do want to get the hell out of Madison after I get my degree too, for Madison is just a transition point and not many people would stay here for a career…we’re both professionally minded, but ’tis always great to have a buddy to talk to at the end of the day and to share thoughts. I have been offering him many advice for different topics, and he liked those too. He is a sweet guy who likes the smiley faces I sent him and my sweetness, and that goes the same for him to me. I guess that we lift each others up, and that no matter what happens, we will still be in contact…but I will think about departure in June!