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.

Read And Misread In October

Reading often goes hand in hand with misreading. Being an immigrant and reading English as a second language have taught me this fact. At first this made me rather uncomfortable–the sense of uncertainty and self doubt following me like a shadow in a bright sunset, which means the shadow is much bigger and longer than my own figure. However, I’ve since got used to it.

“Modern Love” audible book by Daniel Jones, who’s the editor. It includes more than 40 tales, each around ten to fifteen minutes, by more than 40 authors. It’s easy to misread the title to consider this book as a collection of modern romance stories, which it is not. A more accurate title will be “Love And Unlovable Consequences”. The problem is that love is in a modest amount and consequences are huge. It could be that our industrialized social structure and value system are incongruous with out emotional needs. Is it so that any social structure will be a hindrance to our natural flow of love and emotions and human connections, which prefer a random unstructured existence?

“The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. I thought of dropping the book when I had 70 pages left. I trudged through the first 300 pages and was at the end of my meager strength. Somehow I continued, not without a lot of mental flagellation to keep myself going. Now I still have 20 pages to go, but I know I would really enjoy throwing it away. Years ago I read “Jude The Obscure” and was so depressed by the story that I had to give up half way. These two books, about entirely different subjects and with very different writing styles, are similar in its depressing hopeless, almost suicidal, view of life.

“Aimless Love” by Billy Collins. It’s a delight to read his poems and he can always animate an inanimate object and award significance to the insignificant.

“Feminasty” by Erin Gibson. Half way through the book. I wouldn’t call it “nasty” at all. I would say it is asking questions of equality and can be named female in shining armors ready to fight and shout.

“We Wanted to Be Writers” by Eric Olsen. Finished it, but still find my own writing lacking. I feel like a movie director who imagine a lot of interesting scenes, but not able to reproduce them through the camera.

“How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers” by Scott Steve. Great suggestions, but whenever I try to follow the suggestions, I feel that my hands are tied and my writing just don’t flow as naturally. Why? I don’t know the reason.

Backyard Farming

I call them backyard farmers, but they probably don’t agree with me. It’s popular among Asian immigrants in New Jersey to engage in backyard farming every year. I even know a couple who don’t live in a house and don’t have a backyard to grow their produce. What do they do? They rent a plot from Rutgers University for $25 a year to grow half an acre of vegetables from May to October.

It’s an arduous task. The seeds have to be bought and planted. The Asian grocery stores here sell cucumber, loofah, long bean, and even winter melon seeds. The cucumber has to be the kind with little spikes on the dark green skin, not so prickly to bleed your hands, but rather gentle barbs to tickle your fingers. The inside is so crispy that you can hear the crunchy sound when you take a bite. The loofah is the most popular since it is quite expensive and non-fresh from the store. Planting is the first step. What follows are months of labor and vigilance. Fence has to be erected to fend off rabbits and deer; frames to be constructed for tomato vines to climb; fertilizers are bought and deployed. There are also various tools to dig, till, twist, rake the soil for the best planting condition.

Once I was staying in a place in upstate New York. The couple I was staying with had a backyard more than an acre, on which they grow cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, leeks, and several other items as well. The couple invited me to go to the backyard to pick vegetables to make salad for dinner. They are very proud, sort of a back to nature kind of style for them. I had no interest in their backyard farm, but I had to accompany them, offering my compliments and pretending that I envy their food, self sufficiency, organic life etc. I feel myself so fake. Why can’t I just say I have no interest at all in planting, farming, or harvesting?

When I was in high school, we were sent to a village not far away from the big city for two weeks. Our whole class of 50 or so students lived in two separate farm houses, one for boys and one for girls. It’s the harvest season and the rice field is endless. The farmers didn’t really want us there since we didn’t know how to do things. Harvesting rice with a sickle is not as easy as we tend to think. I couldn’t advance even three feet within half an hour. It ended up that I had to give up my sickle–a big curvy knife–to somebody more skilled than I was. The most menial job was assigned to me–to pick up the stalks with grains and yellow hulls that were left in a harvested field.

The farmers worked from dawn to dusk. They didn’t go home for meals. The whole village became a collective unit with only several older women cooking for the whole village. They cooked and delivered the meal to the field. At the end of the day, the villagers were not going home to take a rest. They continued to get the crop husked on whirring machines at a corner of the village. Then the husked rice were laid out on the ground to dry. They worked all night, taking turns to go back home to sleep. The machines never stopped for one minute. This went on for as long as it could last. Rain is the biggest enemy for the harvest season. All stalks that have been cut down need to be husked and dried before the rain come. In the subtropical region it is hard to find a whole week without rain and things need to be organized well and executed efficiently and swiftly.

I really admired these farmers and their hard work, something that I can never do. When we went back to school, I submitted my homework assignment on the backbreaking work of the villagers. My teacher disliked my essay and criticized me for being too negative, which I vehemently denied.

When You Don’t Have An Appetite

I don’t have an appetite today and I don’t know why. Is it because of the melatonin pills I’ve taken these past two weeks for my insomnia? It could be. It is said online that melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our body and taking a little won’t have any side effect on the body. Probably I just have some rare reaction to it–loss of appetite. I dislike any medicine or chemicals, like a typical Asian. I know many women who refuse even to take pain killer tablets for their menstruation pain. I am not going to such an extreme though.

So what can one eat when one doesn’t have an appetite. I can eat the grass jelly I bought from the store. I can’t remember which Asian grocery store I got it from. Am I losing my mind? I used to be able to remember which store I got which, but not anymore. The grass jelly will be the best if mixed with canned lychee, but I’m out of canned lychee.

I can make a tofu jelly with the agar powder I have, but that’s too complicated. I can’t believe how lazy I’ve become nowadays as far as cooking is concerned. My grandmother was practically living in the kitchen most of her life. Several years ago I went to a party at a friend’s friend house. She’s living with her husband and two sons at Bucks County, right at the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When we arrived, she just pulled out a tray of baked chicken legs and wings out of the oven. By the way, she’s one of very few among Asian immigrants I know to utilize the oven. Most of us just use it as an extra storage space. Her sons and two or three other kids came over. She insisted that each put food on a paper plate. Minutes later, the tray was almost empty. And the kids ran away. Suddenly the hostess said to us out of blue, “I cook all the time, but still not enough. Look the tray is empty again.” We stared at her and my friend W said, “What do you expect? Your two boys. They can finish everything in sight.” Somehow I sensed that the hostess and W were talking about different things. The hostess was talking about herself. There’s ennui in her tone. Obviously she doesn’t really enjoy cooking but found herself spending so much time on it. W was talking about the healthiness and the activeness of the boys. W’s tone really means she’s trying to praise the boys and hiding her praise behind a faint complaint. However W’s compliment missed the point. Sometimes we lose real chance of communication, just like this one.

I poured a big glass of soy milk and toasted a slice of cinnamon raisin bread. Now I can’t help dreaming of all those delicious things my grandmother cooked–bamboo shoots braised with pork belly, dried fish simmered in a pot of soup with mutton and potatoes. I am going to write a story of an immigrant who’s dying for a childhood dish her mother had cooked, but couldn’t reproduce it.