Mini Story: The Battle Of Love

“Yesterday I threw all his books out the window.” Lulu says to me.
“Really?” I feign surprise but I’m not really surprised.
“I made sure the car is not parked in the driveway first and the screens were taken down for the winter.” Lulu and her husband Tun live in a tenement style townhouse and the driveway is right underneath the living room window.
“I liked the sound of the books hitting the asphalt. He ran out to pick them up while shouting that I’m the meanest woman he’d ever known.”

We were sitting at the dining area of H Mart, a Korean grocery store, in Edison, New Jersey, and sharing several steamed red bean buns. Originally we planned to go to Menlo Park Mall together afterwards, but Lulu’s obviously not in the mood. I guess the shopping trip is off. I have to be careful when Lulu complains about her husband. If I don’t ask for details, she is going to be hurt that I don’t care about her; if I ask too many details, she is going to think that I am too nosy; if I don’t criticize Tun, she’s going to think I am not on her side; if I criticize Tun, she may be annoyed. Two months ago I gave Lulu several suggestions when the couple was having a spat. When they reconciled afterwards, she told Tun everything I said. Tun has not spoken to me since and probably will never speak to me.

“You know his parents were against our marriage and thought we are not suitable to each other. Now I think about it. They have a lot of foresight.” Lulu says.
“Why did they say you are not suitable?” I ask.
“His zodiac sign is sheep and mine is dog. They think the dog will eat the sheep. At the time I thought that’s just nonsense old superstition.” Lulu says.
“It is nonsense. You are not saying you start to believe it now?” I say.

Lulu and her husband Tun met in Singapore where she was working on her computer science degree. Tun moved there with his parents several years before Lulu. Tun’s father is the best player of an obscure string instrument in the world and also a rare scholar in a pictograph language with dwindling native speakers. Under a new diversity initiative of the Singapore government, scholars like Tun’s father were recruited to the universities there to give lectures and demonstrations. Tun’s father didn’t want to move. They were living in Northern Thailand at the time and had a modest income and a stable job and very high social status. However Tun’s mother were interested in the opportunity and persuaded her husband that it would be good economically for the whole family. In this tropical city state, both Tun and Lulu were immigrants with very few friends and very limited resources. The locals shun poor immigrants socially if not professionally, and the couple felt lucky that they found each other.

Several years later, Tun worked as his father’s assistant and Lulu’s company opened a new office in New Jersey. Tun and his parents didn’t want her to come, but she didn’t listen to them. She came and settled down and battled with her husband and in-laws, who eventually caved in. Her husband came but could only manage to get very ill paid jobs.

“I gave him an ultimatum–either he starts to learn computer to get a good job or…” Lulu says.
“What if he doesn’t want to learn computer? He’s not like you.” I shrug my shoulders.
“Oh, he has to. He has to sacrifice for our family.” Lulu says, “and you know we have an opening for web testers and document writers. If he just learns a little bit of computer and passes the entrance test, he can triple his current salary.” Lulu says.

Two weeks later, Lulu calls me. She kicks her husband out.
“Isn’t that a little too dramatic? What are you going to do?”
“I threatened to kick him out and now I did it.” She says with a sad triumphant tone.

Three months later, I meet Lulu again. She happily informs me that her husband has just moved back home.
“Is he learning computer skills now?” I ask.
“No. He’s just his old self.” She says, a little crestfallen.
“I am glad it’s blown all over now. Let’s just relax and be happy. This is love, you know? You just have to accept who he is.” I smile at her. There’s never a crestfallen woman happier than Lulu, I think.
“OK, I’m accepting him all right, but can you talk with him? I mean to persuade him to learn computer?” Lulu asks.
“What do you mean? You can’t persuade him yourself. How can I persuade him?” I’m a little panic.
“Well, you deal with people and you know how to persuade people.” Lulu insists.

Just when I think their battle of love is over, I realize it is not.

Poem: It Is A Ghost

A common Friday, 
not bad enough to be tragic,
not funny enough to be comic,
not good enough to be happy,
not unproductive enough to be 
a total waste of time.

Every method of human contact
can be used to thwart real communication,
which is the best way to lie
without really lying. 

An advice I gave, 
too conspicuous, too rational.
I know it's going to be rejected.
Why bother to give it then?
Just to rid myself of guilt later on
of not helping the best way I can. 
Or do I have other motives
that I wouldn't admit I have?

Let's hope you never wake up 
from the wishful.
That's a luxury your life's twists and turns
refuse to give you.
That's a deceptive knot your experiences
can't stop to unravel. 

It's October--
all kinds of phantoms and ghosts 
come out to play
in our mind, 
messing up our reality. 


That’s No Joke

“Alexa, tell me a joke?”
Silence. My Kindle Fire is hitting a mini glitch.
“Alexa, hello.”
“It’s Sarcasm Awareness Month, and I say ‘hi’.”
“Alexa, can you tell me a joke?”
“Why do zombies make such excellent golfers? They really know their way around a corpse.”
“I can write better jokes than that.” I say to my friend immodestly.
“Really? You know you are never funny.” My friend says in equally immodest criticism.

This is the moment that I usually prefer sweet lies from my friend, but as usual I receive bitter truth instead. Not that bitter truth ever prevents me from pursuing what I want to pursue–only delays. Not that I aspire to be funny, but still I think I have a joke or two in me, just like everybody else.

I see jokes in more places than my friend, who tends to have a stricter standard. For example, the fact that we all want to listen to sweet lies while still expecting the liar to be a true friend. Is that a joke or not?

Good And Bad On Standing Up

I can’t remember who told me this–a person has to stand up or walk around for at least four hours a day. If not, the bones will not be healthy and the body will be in decline. Well, if the decline is impossible to stop, at least the four hour rule will help slow it down. It’s a good advice since for people who have a sedentary life, maintain certain hours of standing up time is common sense.

However I’ve never really thought about this rule before. Some days, I’m probably only in non-sit position for an hour. I can’t have a timer with me to monitor my standup time. That will be strange. Only a very nerdy person will do that, but I am not so nerdy. Without resorting to accurate measurements too eccentric to be deployed, I can only guess how my time is allocated between different postures. My estimate is that I just can’t live up, or stand up, to the four hour rules.

Once I met an old lady who lives in Cranbury, New Jersey and she’s eighty years old, but she walks like a thirty or forty years old, talk without pause or hesitation that people of her age sometimes do, drives her car, and swims every day for an hour or two. When I met her, I thought to myself that I wish I could be like her when I’m eighty. I think she can certainly meet the four hour standard. I mean the one hour swim probably is equal to two hours of standing up already. By the way, I met her because she’s a friend of my then acupuncturist. I helped the acupuncturist get rid of the virus in his computer. The next thing I knew, one of his patients wanted me to help her with her computer. I am no expert on computers. I only know how to read the instruction online and reset the computer to a previous time.

I know I know. People don’t like big mouthed women like me who can’t stop talking about what she knows, but I just can’t help myself. During the medieval time I would be burned as a witch, not for any lofty idea such as the earth circling the sun, but for the fact that I talk too much about things that people don’t want women to talk about. My grandmother, my father, and my brother have all warned me of my tendency to reveal my knowledge and make other people uncomfortable. It’s not that I know a lot. Actually I don’t know much at all, but my relatives know less. Among them, I’m considered too knowledgeable for my own good.

Now back to this advice I received. How can I increase my standing up time after a prolonged period of sedentary life style? Should I get a high desk? I mean a table with long legs so that I can stand up and type? I’ve never seen a desk like that. Then I thought long legs are not enough and they have to be adjustable legs. How do I know how high is comfortable for typing before I even try it?

With no desk with flexible height, I use the bookshelf to anchor the laptop. When standing up and typing, I feel that something is different. I don’t know what but something is definitely differently. The different kind of vibe is vibrating around me and I hope good ideas may start to pour in, which I have always wanted but which has never really happened before.

Haiku: Memory

A sunny day,
A simple breakfast. It's there--
the memory smiling at me from the charred toast.

I stop the car,
raise my eyes. It's there--
the memory appearing, hanging on to me, like my handbag.

I walk past the familiar hedges
of careless landscaping. It's there--
the memory recurring, like someone repeating a tired tale.

Why the tenacity, 
why not disappear,
like other memories, content with oblivion.

It has something to tell me.
I know it has,
but what's the message?

Such a vague figure, uncertain shape,
like a ghost, wandering and haunting. 
I know it will not go away until I get the message.

Friendly Advice

I got a friendly advice today when N told me to sanitize the second hand book I ordered from in case there are remnants of Covid19 clinging to the pages ready to jump on anybody who touches it and send the person to fever, ventilator, or even an early grave.

“You know the virus is discovered on seafood packages and groceries.” He warned, eyeing the book suspiciously.

I opened the package and revealed the thin volume, while he took a step back as if to avoid something contagious. In the past, I would have deliberately thrown the book at him just to have some fun at his frightened reaction, but this is no normal time. People are very nervous.

“New Jersey has 1100 cases yesterday.” He said.

“I’m not going to add one more case on the pile just by reading this book.” I said. I was a little disappointed at the thin volume, but I know I need to read poetry. As a non-native speaker, my natural sense of English is rather non-natural and non-instinctive. Reading poetry has helped me feel the language.

“I will spray rubbing alcohol on every page.” I told him, but I knew I wouldn’t bother to do that and I knew he knew that I wouldn’t bother to do that. Whey did I say that?

When will this end? It has been more than six months of restrained activities and rumors of health hazard–some say the virus can get a free ride through a building’s air-conditioning system and one person with no symptom can super-spread to everybody in the building.

N has an abscess and it’s painful for him to walk. At least that’s my diagnose, just by listening to his description of symptoms. I hate myself for being such a busybody who has opinions and suggestions just about everything and can’t seem to shut up. If I were living in the Medieval time, I would have been drowned as a witch for talking too much. N’s doctor is only half active, meaning that she only sees very few patients. The problem with New Jersey is that the state has no-cap for victim compensations in case of medical malpractice. Doctors have to pay very high professional liability insurance. A lot of good doctors end up migrating to neighboring states which handle such issues with more reasonable policies.

“I don’t think my doctor can handle this. I will ask her to refer me to a specialist.” N said. N really doesn’t trust his doctor. The only reason he selected this one as his primary doctor is because it’s easy to get certain prescription drugs from the doctor. I actually think N only has an abscess. No big deal. It really doesn’t need a specialist. Just my opinion. Like what I said, I have an opinion about everything. I just can’t help it.

“You can go to emergency room, but emergency room is not safe, right? I mean you may contract Covid19 when you sit there for five hours waiting for your turn.” I said.

When will this end?

Life’s Discrepancies

Years ago one of my acquaintances told me this. At the time, I didn’t really think about the merit or the moral of the story. I should have, but I didn’t. I am not completely impervious to learning, but I pick up hints or wisdom very slowly. Now I can’t even remember it was a party or just a chance encounter somewhere. My memory is so bad. Yet despite my bad memory, I remember what this person told me.

At the time she was an immunology researcher working in a lab associated with a hospital in upstate New York. For years, she didn’t have any publication. Year after year, she grew increasingly desperate. Her future depends on these publications and yet despite all her effort, she was not able to. Her boss was equally desperate since his grant was also depended on the experimental results and published papers. Without any paper to show for it, he would soon be losing his eligibility to apply for new grants. At a conference, he met a brilliant post-doc from NIH who asked him for a favor. In return for the favor, he asked the post-doc to come to his lab and help him troubleshoot what the problem is. The lab people were working very hard, but…

So here is the diagnose. The post-doc said people in this lab, though working very hard, always considered the lab result should conform to certain standard. They would discard all the results that didn’t conform. The post-doc reviewed their past results and said they could have published several papers if they could relinquish their ossified standard and understand how to interpret data. The real world never really conforms to the human standard.

There were four of us hearing her story at the time. One said, “this is like the Watson and Crick and Rosalind Franklin story, isn’t it? Franklin worked hard on the X-ray crystallography of DNA and obtained her result, but she didn’t know how to interpret it.”

“That’s theft. How can you use this example?” Another one said.

“I am not talking about the theft part. I only said the data interpretation part is similar.” The first one said.

“How about MaClintock’s jumping gene? For years, people just can’t accept the jumping gene because it doesn’t conform to people’s scientific views.”

The reason I thought about this today is because a girl asked me for advice on something that I am not at the liberty to write about. However it’s another story that the real world event just doesn’t happen in the way we think it should be happening. Sometimes I wonder how many data I’ve failed to interpret, how many events I’ve wrongly discarded as things not worth noticing.

Things I Don’t Want To Do

Things I don’t want to do, like weekly chores, suddenly don’t seem to be so bad when I am stuck, blocked, not able to proceed for one more line. At such a moment, my self doubt is everywhere, sitting on this very chair, filling up the four corners of the room, clinging up to the walls and the ceiling. Even the fall leaves out the window seem to shake with disapproval and misgiving. Nothing is spared of the touch of insecurity and self loathe. At such a moment, tidying up, wiping counters, mopping kitchen floor can be a welcome diversion. At least this is something I can do for certain. Something I can accomplish and the result is exactly as I would expect. Certainty is a wonderful thing. No wonder we often opt for a life of certainty even if we are bored to the point of madness.

It’s really the fault of our ancestors who decided to switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Hunting and gathering are surely more fun, but with uncertain results; agriculture, on the other hand, adds a lot of certainty to life, but the fun part is probably reduced. With so much repetition of work, long hour of labor, often in one backbreaking position of bending over during the plant season for hours if not for days, our ancestors continued year after year. I think they probably didn’t really enjoy the switch in the beginning. There must be a lot of people who reversed back to hunting and gathering in the beginning. Then during the lean season without much wild animal to prey on or without anything to gather, they went hungry. Hunger is a worse enemy than boredom obviously. So it ended up that people went back to planting and harvesting. So this tradition of aversion to uncertainty was born and passed on to posterity.