Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mask of Silence and an Unspeakable

Everything that I keep to myself - personal thoughts, opinions, beliefs - is hidden under my Mask of Silence. Despite being more open to some people close to me, there are still many things that remain under this mask. The extent of the things under this mask is diverse and wide-reaching, from politics, to medicine, to ethics, to controversies, etc.

But it's ironic that I would feel so much more comfortable writing about things hidden under my Mask of Silence on this blog, but perhaps that luxury is afforded through my Mask of Anonymity. I feel one can learn so much about a person by how and what he/she writes. Pay attention to grammar, word choice, format, context, and you are essentially looking into part of a person's soul. So before I forget (and this has already been a draft for days now), I will write about a topic that came up 2-3 times in conversations (very briefly each time) that is an "Unspeakable" to me: (male) circumcision.
Why do I consider this an Unspeakable? One, because I have a physical aversion to talking about it for extended periods of time. After I cross a certain threshold (or something like that) I start twitching a bit uncontrollably. It's like how some people have a physical aversion to vomit or blood, they just can't stand the sight of it. I just can't stand talking about this too long. There are very few things that bother me - I can watch a bloody surgery, talk about gross procedures and weird things, etc - but this really does bother me after a while. Two, I've learned that this topic can be very sensitive to a lot of people and I generally have little interest in getting into a heated debate about things. So I leave it alone for the time being (basically, I'm biding my time till I'm a physician and can influence people one-on-one).

Now, what about it? Personally I'm against circumcision for "non-medically necessary" and "non-religious" reasons. I make a special exception for religion because that's a whole another touchy area I don't want to trespass into. One of my philosophies towards medicine is: if it's not causing any problems (and probably won't cause problems in the future), leave it alone. There are many reasons why I'm against this procedure (I don't called it surgery; surgery, according to, is "the art, practice, or work of treating diseases, injuries, or deformities by manual or operative procedures," which circumcision isn't in the vast majority of cases) but where to begin?

I suppose I'll begin with by saying there's nothing wrong with having a foreskin. It's really not hard to clean and keep clean, so anyone who advocates circumcision for hygienic reasons needs to just shut up. And as long as it's clean, the guy's not significantly more prone to getting STDs or infections, and most studies support this. It also doesn't smell (much) most of the time. Besides, 70-80% of the world's men are uncircumcised; since no one hears a large proportion of them complaining about problems relating to their foreskins, it can only be assumed that problems occur rarely or are easily taken care of without surgical intervention.

Along this line, it's very disturbing to me that circumcisions are usually performed on a non-consenting infant within hours or days of birth. Words can't really describe how terribly upsetting it is for me to think that one of the first experiences for many males is unthinkable pain in an area of his body that's supposed to give so much pleasure. It wasn't too long ago in the US that doctors didn't routinely use anesthesia, so most infants felt the full pain of the procedure, in addition to the pain of recovery. And the thing is, circumcision is almost always unnecessary. No other "medical" procedure is performed on infants without proof that it can only benefit the individual, and only after something has gone wrong does that procedure then becomes necessary.

There are studies indicating that it might lower UTIs (urinary tract infections), but UTIs are easily treated and female infants get more UTIs than either circumcised or uncircumcised male infants, and women get more UTIs throughout life than men. So this argument for circumcision is rather null and void in my opinion, because nothing is done to/for women to reduce their UTI rates. And while there is a slightly increased chance of an uncircumcised guy getting a yeast infection (thrush), yogurt and good hygiene easily takes care of this. (Yogurt is pretty amazing, it can help prevent yeast infections.)

Recent studies also seem to indicate a reduced HIV contraction rate in circumcised men. There is no good cause-effect relationship for this, so I think this is a bit dubious. Until someone proves a cause-effect relationship, it might just be a really strong correlation. Correlations are among the most dangerous things in biology and medicine, because they may/may not be true and it's very difficult to tell. Besides, safe sex practices (like condom use) and good hygiene make circumcision practically obsolete in industrialized nations. It might be a good idea in Africa, where there's a lack of clean water (amongst many other problems), but it doesn't really apply to the rest of the world. Even so, infants aren't sexually active so they can't get HIV through sex. If a guy wants to get circumcised later to reduce his chances of getting HIV in Africa, by all means, he can do whatever he thinks helps. But circumcision is never a substitute for safe sex and condom use. And if you consistently use condoms, does circumcision really help? Not really, I think.

What's also disturbing to me is how the complications and risks from circumcision are so grossly understated. Since it's a surgical procedure, it carries with it the same risks as any legitimate surgery. This includes excessive bleeding, hospital infections (and if you get MRSA - the antibiotic-resistant staph infection - you're pretty much screwed), removal of too much/too little tissue, skin bridges (this one's really common, look it up), etc. Deaths have resulted from circumcisions, even in the US, at a rate of a handful per year. Most of the time the actual cause of death is from (or reported as) a secondary source, such as an infection or hemorrhage. Interestingly, the rate of complication/risk from circumcision is, on average, almost the same as the probability of the guy developing a problem with his foreskin if it were left alone.

And perhaps the most controversial aspect of the circumcision debate is sensitivity. Some studies vehemently state that circumcision does decrease sensitivity while others strongly oppose this statement. Logically, since there are many nerve endings in the foreskin, removing the foreskin will remove these nerve endings. And since nerve endings are the raw source of sensation, circumcision could reduce raw sensation and thus reduce sensitivity. Also, the foreskin protects the glans (penis head) from contacting the outside world more than it really needs to; so it keeps it a bit more softer and sensitive. All I know is, I can't stand to have my glans exposed all day long and I don't understand how anyone else can. Besides, not ever needing lube is a good thing, though I could choose to use some if I wanted and had the time/privacy.

So where am I now? Well, in summary, most guys worldwide are uncircumcised and the vast majority of them never have any problems. The foreskin is easy to clean and keep clean. It's painful for infants and it shouldn't be one of their first experiences in life. UTIs are easily prevented and treated anyway, so are yeast infections. Safe sex is so much more important than circumcision in terms of HIV (and any other STD). Circumcision comes with its own set of complications and risks that are too often understated. And circumcision logically would reduce sensitivity. Oh, and the circumcision rate in the US has fallen to just under 60% in recent years (with that rate being much higher/lower depending on the state).

Basically, as long as one's foreskin is working, he maintains good hygiene, and he practices safe sex, then there's really no good reason for circumcision in my opinion. I believe it should be the individual's choice if it's not for medical or religious reasons. Circumcision is irreversible. If a guy's circumcised and he doesn't like (or he suffers some complication from it), there's really nothing he can do. But if an uncircumcised guy doesn't like his foreskin (or has some problem with it), then at least the choice is his. Choice is one of the most sacred things in my mind; free will should not be shortchanged. As a (future) physician, I would refuse to do circumcisions unless there's a medical need or the person himself chooses it.
This is actually a rather short sample of my argument on this issue, as not everything's coming to mind and I'm not using articles and studies to make/prove my point. If anyone's offended by this in any way, I do apologize but it is my opinion. But it's also not something I'll yield my position to easily, as it's not very easy to argue against me on this issue.

So, if no one comments, I'd like to return this Unspeakable back under my Mask of Silence until it's brought up again. I promise the next several posts won't be "heavy" and controversial.

Why Friends are Awesome

So, I've determined my sickness to be a really weird cold. Day 1 (Tuesday): the symptom was mostly a sore throat and a swollen right tonsil. You know, if you try, you can actually touch your tonsils with your tongue (and play with your uvula, that dangling punching bag thingy at the back of your throat), and that's how I know my right tonsil was swollen. Day 2: the sore throat had gone away, only to be replaced by a runny/stuffy nose. I woke up almost unable to breath with both my nose and ears plugged. Almost didn't go to my first class. Almost. Day 3: the runny nose has diminished a bit, but a cough is developing. What kind of illness has different symptoms each day?!

Today, I couldn't taste my breakfast. That was sad. I could feel the banana and yogurt in my mouth, but I didn't taste them. This was all due to having lost my sense of smell for the first half of today (stupid cold). At least coffee is strong enough to be tasted regardless. Mmmm, coffee . . .

Anyway, I'm so glad SR-F is a 2nd-year pharmacy student. She gave me drugs (I mean, medication), haha. It's great. She knows the dosage, so how much to take, and also if there were any adverse effects from taking some of them in combination with each other. I basically took a strong dose of Claritin that lasts 12 hours for my runny nose, and Tussin that lasts 4 hours for my cough. Alas, the Tussin is wearing off now. But anyway, this is why friends are awesome. Particularly friends who can help you with stuff. SR-F was like, "I feel like a real pharmacist." Aww, how cute. :P

Speaking of cute . . . ES-M is the very definition sometimes. Today after Chinese class, he was complaining about a headache and wanting to sleep, but he also wanting to be in the sun. I suggested that he could sleep in the sun but he said he can only sleep with his blanket. "Well, what if it's hot?" I asked. He said he'd take off his shirt and sleep with it off under his blanket. At this point I was practically mentally stripping him, haha (good thing people can't read minds).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Think I'm Getting Sick . . .

Gah, I think I'm becoming weaker both mentally and physically. My immune system might've been compromised. I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable feeling in my throat. Since then, the back of my throat has gotten dry, irritated, and sore. And my right tonsil is swollen (I can feel it with my tongue). I took some cold medicine - doesn't seem to do much. I tried to see into the back of my throat to see if there were white spots on my tonsils, which could indicate strep throat; alas, I failed in that attempt. Perhaps I should drink more water.

I also woke up with a soreness in my lower ab region, for reasons unknown. Throughout the day it developed into a dull pain that persisted for most of the day. I took a Motrin and that made it a little better, and thankfully it's gone now. I need to learn medical stuff now, so it'll be easier to self-medicate, haha.

I don't know the root cause of my "weakened state." It might be a combination of only getting 5.5-6.6 hours of sleep for the last week and a half, compounded by stress from doing WAY too much in this little time, and perhaps mild depression (which would partly explain the general malaise). For the last week I've also been lifting successively less weight, which makes NO sense as I really should be improving. Sigh.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Inevitable End

Yesterday I spent like 3+ hours late at night talking to my friend JW-M. Every now and then we have really deep conversations; it's great. And it's interesting how the conversation wanders from topic to topic. We talked about medicine and health care, we talked about politics and science, etc.

At one point we were both like, "Wow, we're seniors now. Where did the time go?" And it's kind of scary really. Some days it feels like high school was just last week, and other times high school felt like forever ago. Many days it feels like freshman year was just yesterday or the day before that. Yet when you think about it, it was also quite some time ago. There's like a disturbance in how we perceive time or something. How I wish I could just freeze an instant in time so I could better appreciate it, or make it last longer. And as JW-M said, "Before you know it, you'll blink and you'll be 80. And then you'll wonder where that time went."

That is seriously really scary to think about. One day you'll wake up and be old, and perhaps the next day you won't even wake up again. Death, the inevitable end. It's such a strange thing to think about. I can think of it in terms of other people remote from me, as a fact of nature, or in a theoretical way such as life after death. But I can't bring myself to think of a personal death, to imagine what dying or oblivion would be like for me, would feel like to me. To imagine about not thinking, not feeling, not breathing, not moving - it makes me shudder. Very few things phase me and make me shudder like this, but the concept of a personal death is one of them. I try my best not to dwell on it for too long.

At least I take solace in a few things. There are a few things that help me keep calm when discussing death. Again, one of them is biology. In biology, life is a cycle of birth, growth, life, reproduction, death, and recycle. And with all my heart I do believe that consciousness follows this same cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Perhaps it takes the form of reincarnation, who knows. But that immaterial part of me, and of all living things, will forever exist in some form.

Also, one of the things people fear about death is that they won't be remembered, that all living memory of them will fade away. But I believe our very existence is sufficient. That we exist means that we interact with others, and thus touch everyone in our lives no matter how small and inconsequential it might seem. How we behave towards each other in this life matters, because that's all people will truly know you for; and perhaps, you will pass something on to them that will be passed down for many future generations. And our greatest legacy to future generations is perhaps our experiences and our memories.

This paragraph below is actually part of a passage from the verbal section of a practice MCAT exam I took (terrible, I know). But I feel like this sums up a lot of what I sometimes feel:
Tonight I watch the sky, thinking of the people who came before me and their knowledge of the placement of stars, people who watched the sun long and carefully enough to witness the angle of light that touched a stone just once a year. Without written records, they registered the passage of the gods of night, noting fine details of the world around them and the immensity above them. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods. Behind me, my ancestors say “Be still. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

L. Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. ©1995
However comforting this is/may be to me, it doesn't reconcile the fact that life seems to be going by way too fast. So I've devised a particular activity, if you will, for this very reason.

So at this time, whoever is reading this, close your eyes and take a deep breath. What do you smell? Home? Your apartment? Autumn? Before exhaling, ingrain those smells into your living memory. Carve those instant feelings into an emotion and hold onto it, never letting go. Chances are, years from now you'll smell those smells again, though it may be in a different place and in a different setting. But when you do, remember the memories ingrained right now, let the smells trigger a flood that you should never try to stop. And tell yourself, this was a part of me, and still is, and will forever be.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mask of Duality

Another musing, this one on a most unique mask of mine - the Mask of Duality. I don't know if this is a mask that many people wear, or if they wear theirs to the same degree I do. My entire life seems to have almost been two lives that never quite consolidated into one. Too often I find myself standing on the bridge between two worlds, unsure of which way to go. Indeed, it's often a bridge I'd rather not leave.
1. Culture
Being a Chinese-American automatically gives me a mask of duality. Here then I am a part of two cultures - Chinese and American. Here then I speak two languages fluently - Mandarin Chinese and English. Here then I am a part of an old heritage trying to fit into a newer one. I don't know if other Chinese-Americans feel the same way I do (but I bet they do), but it feels like I'm a part of both cultures and, at the same time, belonging to neither. How does this make sense?

Being a Chinese-American and trying to actively possess elements of both cultures, you're not quite a full part of either. If I were to go to China, it could become obvious really quickly that I'm American. Chinese people would see me as American. In contrast, I look Chinese in the eyes of many/most Americans. Somehow it feels like I don't quite belong.

An extension of this, many Chinese people (not to be confused with Chinese-American) I talk to are surprised that I'm fluent in Mandarin. They assume I immigrated to the US when I was young instead of being born here in the Midwest. They applaud me for being able to speak Chinese at all, but why the hell not? In contrast, many Americans almost expect me to be fluent in Mandarin to some degree, so it'd be really weird if I weren't. It's a rather annoying double-standard. But some of that is self-imposed. "We" expect other Chinese-Americans to be as fluent as we are, and it's widely held by Chinese-Americans that it's embarrassing for a "white person" to be fluent in reading and writing Mandarin over you' so we try to maintain our heritage to varying degrees.

This is why I love my Chinese 104 class over all my other courses this semester. Here then are 14 Chinese-Americans with similar cultural experiences as me. There's a special atmosphere in the class. We all laugh at the same inside jokes, we are able to communicate in both Mandarin and English, we all understand what it means to be a Chinese-American. Here then we gather for an hour four times a week and learn how to read and write Chinese, to "reclaim" a part of our heritage.

I've made peace with this cultural duality. It does confer a sense of specialness. Here I stand on a bridge between two worlds. To leave this bridge would mean embracing one and relinquishing the other. Would I become fully American and forsake my Chinese heritage? Or would I become fully Chinese and become a "fob" (fresh off boat, a somewhat derogatory term for Chinese-Americans who act like new Chinese immigrants)? No, I could never leave this bridge, I could never forsake one for the other. I will maintain my tenuous membership in both as long as I can.

2. Social Life
Another instance where I wear a mask of duality is in my daily social life. Since about 8th grade, I've had two "sets" of friends: girls, and guys. I don't know how or why I developed two such groups of friends, but I did. I would often go back and forth between the two since girls and guys didn't seem to mix as one group too often.

Some days (or time of the day) I'd be in the mood to hang out with one group over the other. There will be times where I spend all my time surrounded by girls. And other times where I only hang out with guys. In either case, it feels like I'm shutting out a group of my friends. It can feel awkward.

I remember my high school prom, that was interesting. I went to prom alone (I must've been the only guy to do so, it was quite embarrassing), yet I "hooked" up with 12-14 of my girl friends at a table (they also all went alone). It was fun as I took turns dancing with pretty much all of them. Basically, I was shared amongst a rather sizable group of girls. I was everyone's date, haha. Still felt awkward, though in a good way at times.

And all this time, nothing has changed. I still have a group of girl friends and a group of guy friends. It's just a bit awkward to be the only guy in a group of girls (though I don't let them know that), but I also sometimes feel like the odd man out in a group of guys. Trying to coordinate my time between the two groups is starting to get just a bit exhausting.

3. Sexuality
And here my mask of duality overlaps one of my masks of sexuality (no need to get into that here, as that was part of a previous post). It feels like I'm being pulled in two directions. Sometimes I'd be more attracted to a particular girl over certain guys, whereas other times it's the other way around. Sometimes I almost trick myself into thinking I'm just fooling myself, that I'm really just straight or gay instead of somewhere in between (it'd certainly be simpler I think). There have been some interesting developments as a result.

I now have ES-M's cell number, haha. And he called me today . . . to study. No problem, that's why he has my cell number in the first place; but I must admit, a part of me is flattered (pathetic, I know). He's such a sweet guy. So innocent, so nice, so cute and insecure . . . so freshman. I actually spend some time reassuring him that he'll survive his undergrad years and telling him that he just needs to find his place, that he's not stupid and all. Sometimes I get a daydream flash where I'd pull him to an alleyway and we'd kiss and such, and take away all his insecurities. Perhaps it's a good thing they're only flashes, I think I've been unconsciously flirting with him . . .

Now in another case, like my job, there are no attractive guys (to me) but there are two really attractive girls. It's honestly kind of hard to take my eyes off them when I should be helping everyone learn genetics. Sigh. I've come to realize and accept that I've "tiers" of attraction. Let's assume (though quite impossible) that we have two people, a guy and an equally attractive girl. All things being equal, I'll probably be attracted to the guy more. But, if a girl is downright more attractive than all the guys in my vicinity, then my attraction gravitates towards her instead. But am I just rationalizing? I don't know.
So my Mask of Duality anchors me to this bridge between worlds (the metaphor of my life). On one side is Chinese, the other is American. On one side are girls, the other, guys. One side heterosexuality, other side homosexuality. I'm a part of both but a full member of neither. Sometimes I'm being pulled in two directions, causing me to almost live two lives back to back. It's a mask I sometimes enjoy and always appreciate, but it also wears me out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some Random Thoughts

Life has been rather dull lately since my last (and rather emotional) post. Ecology is still boring as almost everything I'm currently learning I've already learned in animal physiology, biochem, and genetics. Why am I taking this class again? Oh yeah, because I have to. Sigh. Evolution lecture is still as boring as ever, but at least I was able to finish my Chinese homework during lecture today.

Chinese is still great, I can write an entire post on how much I love Chinese (and any foreign language really). Okay, I must be some kind of an elitist in my Chinese class or something, as I'm the only one attempting to learn both Chinese scripts - traditional and simplified characters. And I'm still "lusting" over ES-M. He honestly needs help with his Chinese because he doesn't know how to write, at all. I'm almost practically throwing help his way (for other ulterior motives too) but he seems kind of oblivious to take me up on my offers. Again, sigh. At least after class today he waited until I finished talking to the instructor so we could leave together and talk. That was endearing, though he probably wouldn't have known. I think the main barrier to us "getting closer," particularly as friends, is that he considers me his senior and treats me as such in a somewhat Asian way (aka, with some weird kind of pseudo-formal respect).

On another note, I'm spending WAY too much time in the undergrad library. I pretty much come here between classes everyday and in the evenings, mostly so I can use their faster wireless internet. My apartment internet really bothers me as it's so slow. At least I'm going to the gym with JL-M and JW-M three times a week (And how could I not? I literally live next to the gym). This is very good for me as I NEED to lose like 15-20 lbs. We run about 1.5-2 miles then lift weights. I'm not into lifting at all, but I'll do it with friends. Maybe by the end of the (academic) year I'll be skinnier and buff-er, haha. Maybe then I can actually consider myself somewhat attractive.

Now I always browse the news on various websites daily. Two articles particularly caught my attention today and I'd like to share my thoughts. The first article was about dying languages and how every two weeks or so another language goes extinct. That's so sad! Languages tell so much about a culture. Like how conjugations in romance languages contrast so greatly with the non-conjugating Chinese. How in Spanish there are masculine and feminine words, whereas in Chinese there are masculine, feminine, and "animal" characters. How different languages greet people and say goodbye, it tells so much about people. This isn't even scratching the surface, but to lose a language is almost like losing a culture and it's so sad to me. If I weren't a biology major and pre-med, I'd totally be an anthropology/linguistics double major.

The second article was about God and the US Constitution. The article was basically saying that the Constitution was written for a secular country, not a Christian (or any other religious) country. Yes people, there is no mention of God anywhere in the Constitution and it's pretty clear in what it says about religion and maintaining secularism (aka, separation of church and state). An extension of this, I've always been uncomfortable with the "One nation under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance, which was added only several decades ago. It somehow just felt wrong, I don't know how to describe it. And today's politics is filled with religion left and right. Why should all the presidential candidates have to profess their religion to gain voters? Why do they have to almost "prove" their religiosity? It's not fair, religion should be a personal and private matter, not public. And I've always detested the invocation of religion in controversial issues such as abortion and stem cell research. It clouds and blinds people.

Well, that was a rather disjointed post. It's reflecting the ADHD part of me today, lol. I do have a tendency to randomly (and quickly) change topics in conversations quite often. Speaking of conversations, something like the following came up between DvF-M and me the other day:

DvF-M: I'm not attracted to guys at all. I just don't see what's attractive about guys. This could be a slight disadvantage. I'm just too straight.
Me: Why?
DvF-M: If I don't know what's attractive in guys, I won't know what girls look for in guys. So I can't make myself attractive to girls.
Me: So basically you're saying that you were slightly attracted to guys or something, so you could see what makes guys attractive so you can become attractive to the opposite sex?
DvF-M: Yes.
Me: Well, there's always something like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
DvF-M: Oh God, I hope I'm not THAT awful. If I am, I hope you or someone, of either sex, would tell me.
Me: Haha. You need a touch of bisexuality. :P

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Gust of Wind, A Rustling of Leaves

So much has happened this week and it went by so fast like a gust of wind, but left me in its wake like the lingering rustling of leaves. Sometimes I'm a sucker for metaphors and similes, but whatever. I'm so glad no one I know knows about this blog (I think, if you're reading this and you know who I am in real life, please tell me!). Now, onto the three major events of the week.
1. Recording Studio
So I agreed to play the cello part for my friend, CM-M, who composed this film music score for our mutual friend, JR-M. The instruments involved were 1 cello, 1 viola, 1 piano, and a vocal part. Needless to say, CM-M did a great job of composing a film score that fits perfectly with JR-M's short film. As the violist described the music and the film, "It's very emo." And it really is, but it's well-done.

It was a great experience having this opportunity to record this composition in our university's newly renovated sound studio. Engineers sometimes have lots of fun, haha. And it was also a good chance to catch up with CM-M since I hadn't seen him in a long while. He has changed A LOT since I knew him in high school. First of all, he lost a lot of body fat, so he got slimmer and put on some muscle. I don't think he worked or really exercised much, so I think it's mostly natural (damn, I wish that happened to me, I always have to work at things). Needless to say, I have a tiny man-crush on him.

And the violist was AMAZING. Like, the viola is the most under-appreciated string instrument largely because it doesn't have very good parts in an orchestra, and also because there aren't many violists that play the instrument well. I never figured why there weren't a lot of good violists, but good violists make the instrument sound insanely awesome. So anyway, the violist (SL-F), was really good. She was originally a music and engineering double-major, but that proved to be too much of a time commitment so she dropped out of the music school. But she is still really really good. And she has a really bubbly and blunt personality that you need every once in a while. Love her personality and I'm thankful for getting to know her, if only for just a few days. Needless to say, I Facebook'd her after we were done recording.

2. Sexy Chinese Guy
So I got the chance to hang out with Sexy Chinese Guy (who I'll now call ES-M) after class yesterday. We finished Chinese and were done for the day, and I was going back to my apartment to get my cello before going to the recording studio. He was headed the same way as I was and we were taking the same bus.

As we were walking, he was like, "Let's speak in Chinese, because mine isn't so good." So we did, and that was cool. I need the practice anyway. And we were talking, and I was translating stuff from Chinese to English so he understood me, and he stopped by my apartment, and I got to know him a bit better. I secretly really liked his company (and I'm also thinking I'm letting my crush get out-of-hand). He's such a freshman though, haha; he doesn't know where a lot of things are, he was tentative about coming into my apartment for the 2 minutes it took me to get my cello, and he was very polite and such.

Yeah, that was one of my highlights of that day. We got separated on the bus as so many people boarded. Oh well. Later on Facebook, I discovered that he has a blog. Being the curious guy I am, I read it. He didn't have that many posts so it didn't take long to read. Some things I've learned. He's very Christian and is part of the Chinese Christian group on campus. So yeah, Chinese Christians tend to be really conservative about certain things . . . Well, that pretty much eliminated any chances (however remote to begin with) of "me and him." Sigh (I'm almost certain he's straight anyway). At least we can still be friends, I'll settle for that.

3. Coming Out to SR-F
After a cello audition for a student-run orchestra today, I went on a walk with SR-F. I had been wanting to "come out" to her since like mid-August, and the opportunity never presented itself. I had asked her to join me at the library several times, in hopes of isolating her long enough afterwards to come out. In the end, I just said I had something really important to tell her, and needed a couple hours for it. So we decided on Friday after auditions.

So for the entire week I oscillated between really wanting to tell her, and really wanting to back out. But now it was the "moment of truth." So we walked around campus and talked about random things. For 2 hours. I kept delaying the inevitable and she kept asking me to just tell her. But somehow, I just couldn't yet. So I kept trying to divert her attention and we kept walking until it just got really cold and windy all of sudden.

So we decided to go to the school of environment building, which is actually really nice inside. We sat in the empty lounge area and talked some more. Then I was like, "I must tell her, I just need to get this over with." It was also good that she prefaced everything by saying, "I'm not going to judge you, you know that. Unless you murder someone, then it's kind of hard to not judge you."

Well, with that I began to slowly tell my "secret." I began with all the crushes (on girls) I've had since freshman year. And how last year when I really could've had a relationship with RZ-F but chose not to because I wanted to up my GPA for med school, I wasn't ready for a relationship, and I needed to sort things out. And we gradually got closer and closer, and I got more and more nervous. I rarely made eye contact and I was occupying myself by repeatedly bending and straightening this magazine I took from a nearby end table. When the time came, when I should've just said the word, I for some reason couldn't. But she said it for me, and that was a small relief.

From there, I don't know. We just talked more, and how it could possibly be my senior year and there was so much I still wanted to do. And now that I've waited till senior year, I feel like I don't really have the time nor energy to go out and meet new people and develop a (long-term) relationship. To be honest, she kind of "knew" since I wrote a LiveJournal post in a stream-of-consciousness way to confuse/slow the reader down. But she was never "sure" until it came from my mouth.

We then decided it was getting a bit late, and we wanted to avoid the random custodians that walked around. So we went to get some bubble tea. Mmmm, bubble tea . . . Before she left for the night, she kept telling me how glad she was that I told her. I knew she'd say that actually, because I know her that well. Somehow, this whole series of events doesn't seem like a relief. It feels surreal somehow, and while she had to practically drag it out of me, it felt like it was going so fast. Like a gust of wind, haha. And it left me behind wondering and feeling kind of empty, only a reminder of what had just happened (the rustling of leaves).

And I can't help but think that something between us had changed; not for better or worse, just changed. There was no going back. Will she still see/think of me the same way? Will there be those awkward moments now? Will this somehow leak out (though I know she would never tell)? Well, honestly I'm not keeping this a super secret; if someone asked me "Are you bisexual" I'd answer with "Yes." But you'd have to ask me.
So that was my week, and now I'm insanely exhausted. I really need sleep, and many other things besides. Ugh, there's a football game tomorrow (we better not lose again). That'll suck away a sizable chunk of my weekend, time that I should perhaps utilize towards homework. And of course, the sad story of my life: every time I fall for someone, he/she is taken (by someone or something). One of these days, I will find someone who's just as alone as I am.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts While in California

So I meant to write about this and post it several weeks ago. But stuff happens, etc etc. Anyway, I was in Milpitas, CA for about a week and a half, mostly visiting relatives. We did go to San Francisco, which was nice (but after a while, Chinatown gets kind of boring). Here are some of my (brief) thoughts while I was in CA.
1. Cousin
My little cousin is so cute. And he loves to interact with people, to play, to be held, and such. He's particularly attached to me. He would always try to lead me somewhere by the hand, "pretending" to drag me wherever he was going. He usually sought me out if he wanted someone to play with. It's endearing, to be sure. But he also has SO much energy! I get so worn out from being with him all day.

Also, he loves to be held and carried, as do all little kids (he's about 4). He likes hugs and such. And I wonder, when do people stop liking that kind of stuff? When do people get defensive about their personal space, and develop distance from others? It's kind of lonely. I want someone to hold, I want someone to hold me, I want to cuddle and get hugs, and all such things. A part of me wants to be a little kid again, to be innocent and free of most burdens and worries. Yeah, it's kind of lonely and I want someone. Alas.

2. Grandparents
Oh man, my grandparents are awesome (I also think most grandparents are awesome to begin with). They're so stereotypical Asian grandparents. All they do is go on walks/exercise, read/watch the news, cook, garden, and the like. It sounds weird, but a part of me really aspires to be like my grandparents.

I know they've gone through so much in their lives, and have survived so many changes. They made it through the Cultural Revolution in China, they were educated (a bad thing at the time in China), and they also had to work on the farms. They raised 3 children and were able to bring them all to the US. And while they don't talk about their own past very much, you can see it's still there somewhere deep inside. There's also a kind of nostalgia in their eyes, but they live so much in the present at the same time.

Strength of character and that kind of wisdom that only comes with age, both are qualities they possess. They've also aged really well. They look like they haven't aged much more than a day over 60 (my grandma's about 65, and my grandpa's over 70). And for their age they have pretty much NO health problems. No high blood pressure, no cancer, no high cholesterol, no diabetes - perfect health. It's rather insane. In a very subtle way, they are among the best role models I know.

3. Asian vs. Western Culture
Okay, so this mostly refers to food and how it's served. But the overarching theme is that Eastern (Asian) cultures tend to be more communal whereas Western cultures are more individualistic. This has been iterated and reiterated throughout anthropology classes, so it's really nothing new. But you begin to notice them in the most random places, such as at restaurants.

In a typical Western restaurant, each person is served his/her own dish. There might be some appetizers that might be collectively eaten, but for the most part each person has his/her own food. In contrast, in a typical Chinese restaurant, each person gets a bowl of rice. But the dishes are ordered and eaten communally, so basically everyone takes a bit of the dish and combines that with their rice. This way, all the food is shared except the rice.

Which "system" do I like better? Personally, I lean towards the Chinese style. You have a wider variety of food on your plate, whereas I'd be stuck with just my food otherwise; and if I didn't like my food, well too bad. Certainly the communal cultures work best when there's a lot of people eating, as was the case when I visited relatives in CA. But even on campus, 4-10 of us would get together, go to our favorite Chinese restaurant, and order 7 dishes or so to be shared amongst everyone. And the bill is divided evenly amongst everyone too, so that's kind of nice.
So I think that's pretty much it. There were some other random smaller snippets of thoughts, but these three are the main ones.

Oh, I met Sexy Chinese Guy yesterday outside of Chinese class. I was leaving the music school from practicing an original film score composed by a friend of mine (CM-M), for a short film of another mutual friend (JR-M). Anyway, we were both waiting at the bus stop.

So I've figured out why he has an accent, and yet his Chinese wasn't that great (it should've been better than mine if he had an Asian accent). He's an international student from Malaysia! He's a third generation Chinese born in Malaysia - his grandparents and parents are both Chinese but lived in Malaysia. So he speaks 3 languages: Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and English. That's pretty awesome. In addition to his awesome accent (again, I've like a thing for foreign accents), he also has a really cute smile.

Gah, Chinese class is so distracting. He sits across the (small) room from me, and right next to Cute Chinese Girl too. I don't really know either of their names yet, but whatever. It's annoying getting these random mini-crushes on people. At least they're not major crushes - the kind that makes you stutter and sweat when you're in that person's presence.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The State of the Apartment

DvF-M and I discovered a vast population of fruit flies in and near our trash. We then proceeded to eliminate that population. I took out the trash, and as I did a bunch of fruit flies flew out of it. At least I've disposed of their progeny. We then spent some time trying to slap them either in mid-air or against the wall to crush them. Moderate success I'd say, managed to reduce their numbers further. All the while, I was thinking of all the experiments I've either done or read about with fruit flies, and couldn't help think that these creatures totally deserve to be experimented with. They're so annoying.

Oh, and DvF-M apparently has fairly bad hearing; that, or I have really good hearing. I could hear the fruit flies crunch against the table when I squashed two of them, he couldn't. I could even hear them fall onto the table after we knocked them off the wall. Granted, I was standing right next to the table, but I heard a distinct little sound as the flies hit the table whereas he didn't. Interesting.

My other 2 roommates in the apartment, AW-M and RG-M, are both very infrequently present. Most of the time DvF-M and I have the apartment to ourselves, and AW-M and RG-M haven't even slept overnight in the apartment for days now. This means that DvF-M and I each have our separate bedrooms to ourselves. This is good because it's been rather hot, humid, and stuffy lately. It's uncomfortable to sleep with clothes on, as I prefer sleep nude on such days. Obviously, I'm not going to do that if I'm sharing a room with AW-M, but since he's not around at night, there hasn't been a problem yet. Why is AW-M never around? It's because he's totally pussy-whipped, and his girlfriend has total control over him; he's totally subservient, and he's rather weak-willed anyway. He can usually be persuaded fairly easily, in my experience anyway.

Okay, I think I should explain my method for writing about people on this blog. All their names are in some sort of code. I use the initials of their first and last name, then a dash, and then their gender. For example: JD-F = Jane Doe-Female, JD-M = John Doe-Male. Yeah, strange isn't it? I'm weird like that I guess.

So for a totally different tangent, here are some of my friends' description of me (pardon my imperfect recollection, this is paraphrased).

RZ-F: There's like 3 categories of people. There are girls, there are guys, and then there's Aek.

DvF-M: You know, when people meet you for the first time, like when I met you freshman year, you don't seem like you're the Asian stereotype. But as people talk to you more and more, you fit the Asian stereotype more and more.

What can I say? I AM Asian. And I AM American at the same time. There really isn't much conflict, as the two are kind of mutually exclusive to me. I'll talk about that and other random differences more when I get around to posting my thoughts while I was visiting relatives in CA.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And Fall Semester Begins!

Oh man, this is going to be a long post consummating the last several days.

New Apartment

So I moved in on Sunday. I was (am) so excited about this apartment with this set of roommates (though 2 of them were my roommates last year too). The apartment is SO much larger than the one last year, more than twice as large, and it's in a great location. It's actually right next to the gym and behind an all-girls' dorm, haha - not that there's anything to see as the windows are usually drawn on both their end and ours. And I've several friends who live in apartments above me, so that's exciting as well.

There are some peculiarities about this apartment, seeing as it's rather old. Most of the rooms only have 2-pronged sockets, which is utterly stupid. There's random damage and wear here and there, probably due to its age and previous tenants. All this is more than tolerable and to be expected. But, the internet sucks so bad. First of all, we're not allowed to torrent or anything. And the internet is slow, so direct downloading takes forever and streaming videos also takes a while. I've been kind of cut off from my anime and porn, alas. I might go insane. And that's where the library with the university's MUCH quicker wireless comes in. I'm so going to be living part-time in the library, which is annoying. I'm currently trying to convince my roommates to get DSL, but I've made little progress as they seem content . . . for now.

Other than all that, moving in has been a very slow process and there are still lots of boxes that need to be fully unpacked, and stuff that need to be put away in their proper places. Unfortunately, my roommates are too busy/lazy. And it's gotten to the point where I've put away some of their stuff for them in order to make room. Anyway, don't want to do that.

Ah, classes. I don't really like some of mine this semester. I have to take Evolution, which is okay. And General Ecology is the only other one that fits my schedule (gah, don't want to take that "hippie" class). In both classes there are couple people I know, but don't know well. They're more like good acquaintances. I also anticipate both classes to be easy, which is good.

And then there's Chinese 104, an ultimate class. It's so intense, as 95% of what's spoken is in Chinese. It's really cool and forces me to get better in so many aspects. And the instructor is from Beijing and has an aura that kind of suppresses you so you don't really want to speak, because you fear feeling inferior. My friend, JW-M calls it a "suppression aura," lol. But it's still a really great class, I can already tell. And again, it's intense, and it'll be a lot of work. I'm glad I remember as many characters as I do, otherwise it might be really hard.

Today in Chinese, the only person I know in the class sold me out. At the end of class as we were preparing to leave, one of the students said he couldn't read and write ANY Chinese characters other than his name, whereas the other people in class could at least recognize what was written on the board. So the instructor asks if there was anyone who was good with characters. My "friend" singled and volunteered me, so now I'm going to have to help him in class and afterwards (if he wants) with learning Chinese characters. Thanks a lot "friend."

So this guy, this freshman, I'm now "helping" is an interesting fellow. He says he doesn't speak very well, but is of course a "native or near-native" speaker otherwise he wouldn't be in the class. He has an accent on his Mandarin I can't quite place, but I think it's almost a Cantonese one. And his English is slightly accented too, which confused me when he said he wasn't really good at speaking Chinese. Anyway, while I don't like Asian accents, they can sound sexy if it's a slight accent spoken by the right person. He's definitely one of them. I must admit, I have a tendency to develop small crushes on some people in my small classes (like Spanish). In my Chinese class, it's him and this other freshman girl who's Cantonese. She's so cute when she speaks, and with that slight accent too. Too bad nothing will ever come of any of this, as after class everyone goes their separate ways and disappears. Sigh.

Oh, I also stupidly bought both the traditional and simplified versions of the textbook when I only needed one or the other. And both recommended dictionaries when I had one of my own. The place I bought them from has a 3-day return policy, and since my dad bought these books for me with his credit card while he was in town and I don't have his credit card, I can't return these books. So now I'm trying to sell them to some freshman who doesn't have a book yet in my class. Alas, most of them seem to have their books now. Crap!

My last class is my Environmental Journalism class, which is a seminar I have on Friday from 9am to noon. Gah, 3 hours! It's also the only class I have with any of my friends, so I only really see anyone on Fridays. I'm going to be so out of the loop this semester, and that's sad. Oh well. I am looking forward to that class, despite it being 3 hours on a Friday morning.

Not much left to tell, other than I visited SR-F and JW-F to see their new turtles. The turtles have taken a strange liking to hiding behind the filter, or sit on top of the heater. It's weird. They're called Max (Max Bruch, the composer) and Mahler by the way. I also went running with JW-M yesterday evening, that was good. We were practicing our Chinese against each other as we ran, and for a white guy who's entering his 4th year of Chinese here at the university, he's pretty good. He has most of the accents and tones down.

I've also been thinking for the last several weeks about "coming out" to SR-F and JW-M about my bisexuality. Of all my friends at the university, they are definitely my two closest friends. I don't consider myself to have a "best friend" as I have several close friends that the qualities of a "best friend" are divided amongst. That's how I think of it anyway, I don't have a consummate friend that "fulfills" every aspect of me. That's actually kind of hard, as I tend to be such a random person with many random idiosyncrasies and "secrets" (though I suppose everyone has their secrets). In any case, the opportunity to "come out" to them hasn't presented itself, and I think I'll have to make it, which is annoying.

And last, completely unrelated to everything else in this post, JW-F wants to start a chamber string orchestra as a branch of the main Pops Orchestra. The program she has planned is really awesome and I really want to be a part of that. This, of course, was inspired by no other than the anime Nodame Cantabile, a great anime for anyone who likes classical music, has played an instrument, and likes comedies. It's definitely in my top 5 animes. But yeah, the orchestra should be awesome. This also means I'll be VERY busy this semester, with Pops Orchestra taking up 3 hrs/week, the string orchestra taking up 2 hrs/week, small ensembles (trio) taking up 2-6 hrs/week, my job taking up about 3 hrs/week, and research taking up probably 9-12 hrs/week. Yeah . . . that's a lot of time commitment. On top of all that, med school interviews (hopefully, here's me praying).

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Most Random Solution Ever

Of all the people on my AIM list, there are only a handful that I talk to on a regular basis. One of them is DvF-M, who is one of my roommates this year (hurray for move-in tomorrow, or now today, since it's past midnight). We have such interesting conversations, always late at night. He's rather conservative whereas I'm more liberal than perhaps I'd like to admit.

Anyway, here's a brief snippet of an AIM conversation we had on the death penalty, which we are both against for different reasons.
DvF-M: but how can a serial killer pay the community back
DvF-M: and of course what you suggest is "cruel and unusual" under the constitution
. . .
Me: i think the death penalty kinda falls under cruel and unusual though
. . .
DvF-M: the worst offenders you couldn't ever let out of prison, if they escape the public will be after your head
Me: they could knit for homeless people inside the prisons!
Me: there
Me: there's your solution
DvF-M: I'm good with that one
Me: we will teach all prisoners how to knit
Me: and basically run a gov-subsidized sweatshop
Me: and produce very very cheap/free goods
Me: it benefits everyone
Okay, so the whole point of this is, prisoners just sit in prison doing nothing and are a drain on society. So they should repay their debt to society somehow. They could build parks, build clinics, plant trees, clean oil spills, knit stuff for the homeless, etc, SOMETHING. I mean, I just read an article in TIME Magazine about people wanting a national service system like military service, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Teach for America, etc. Well, why not "force" prisoners to the more manual public works? And here's my friend's suggestion later in the AIM conversation:

DvF-M: no i mean they can participate in prison public works projects, donate organs, knit for the homeless or anything else thats reasonable
DvF-M: you just have to have some stuff like hour ratings, say knitting is worth an hour per blanket, certain projects are worth 1 hour/hour, harder and more complex ones are worth more, kidneys etc are worth several hundred
DvF-M: and then the judge sentances you in hours, and you stay behind bars until you have done your share

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What a Day

So I feel like talking about my day, as I found it somewhat amusing.
1. Getting to the university

I carpooled with a family friend because he does research at the university. I woke up at like 5:45am and got to his house around 6:30am, as he had a lab meeting today at 8am-ish. He drives like a madman. It's not very reassuring to know that his driving hasn't improved in the last 2 years, the last time I rode in a car with him. I must admit though, I'm quite impressed that (to the best of my knowledge) he never got a ticket nor ever got into an accident. So yeah, got the university at 7:50am or so, with nothing to do until I took my Chinese placement exam at 1pm.

2. The morning
So I wandered around central campus for a while, just enjoying being back (however briefly) and appreciating campus with almost no one around. As I approached the heart of central, I ran into a friend (I'll call her AG-F) who just so happens to be working in the med school lab I also worked in (this lab is different from the lab I work in during the summers, as that's at a different university). So AG-F was apparently on her way to that lab actually (at 8am?!). She works with a really nice Chinese grad student whose lab bench is right next to my researcher's. We'll probably be working next to each other at times throughout the year, and I'm excited about that.

Then after she left, I wandered around a bit more and took 2 pictures of campus; I was going to take more but didn't get around to it. I really do love how the campus looks in the early morning, though I'm almost never awake that early to enjoy it. I love the way the sunlight floods across the grass, and there's a deep golden glow with long shadows. Also, the cool morning air is refreshing, and only serves as a harbinger of autumn - one of my two favorite seasons. I can't wait till the trees start changing colors and everything will be in hues of red, orange, and yellow. It's really pretty, and kind of poetic; apparently, autumn is a very poetic season in literature (especially in Chinese poetry).

3. Visiting a friend
And after 2o minutes of that, I got bored and went to a friend's apartment (I'll call her SR-F). Her apartment is actually quite nice for two people. Though SR-F and her roommate, JW-F (who vehemently professes atheism), are both Jewish, they have more Asian stuff in their apartment than I ever intend on having in mine. They have a Japanese fan hanging from the corner of the ceiling, bamboo mats, a bamboo screen, a sake set, two bottles of sake, and a sushi set. And a rice cooker larger than mine, granted I'm really the only one in my apartment who'll use it whereas they'll both be using theirs.

After the run-through of the apartment, we sat down on her couch and watched some episodes of the animes "Bleach" and "Naruto Shippuuden" that I had downloaded onto my laptop. Then we went out to see if we could buy some of our books for classes. I got my book for my journalism class that I'm taking to fulfill our university's stupid upper-level writing requirement. The book is quite small, so I was surprised that it costed $14.95. Price gouging!! Ugh, I hate buying books at campus bookstores. Oh well, at least I got my 2 biology books for my 2 biology courses online for much cheaper.

Then we went to Borders and walked around, commenting about our "some day list" of books to read. I kind of want to read "The Tales of Genji," the world's first novel. But it's huge and like many books, probably requires knowledge of either the folklore of the area and/or the historical time period. There were some other books that we encountered that looked interesting, or books that we had read and either hated or liked. After that, we went to eat lunch at Potbelly's, a sandwich place that I think is only in the Midwest (if not only in my state), and Starbuck's after that since I had a strange craving for coffee the last 2 weeks.

4. The Chinese placement exam
At about 12:50pm, I went to the designated lecture hall to take my placement exam. The place was packed, almost entirely of Chinese students, but there were also some Caucasians and Koreans. The proctor of the room was quite funny to listen to. He was like, "Everyone who is taking the placement exam for 104 or 204 should get up in a moment and go to a different room we set aside. You are taking that placement exam if you can speak Chinese, but maybe can *barely* read and write, or only a little." He was going to say "can't read or write" and the brief hesitation caused everyone to giggle. Then he said, "Everyone else stays here. You'll stay here if you can't speak fluently, but can read and write some. This includes people whose parents are Chinese but can't speak, read, or write but still call themselves Chinese." This elicited an uproar of laughter. It might be an inside joke of sorts, but you're not really considered Chinese if you can't at least speak the language, even if you're ethnically Chinese.

So the 104/204 exam wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it might be, nor as long. The reading passage was doable, and the first translation from English to Chinese was not overly difficult, though I forgot many characters. The second translation was impossible, so I just turned my exam in and took a number for the oral interview.

The oral interview was amusing and surprisingly short. The interviewer had me read a sentence or two from the beginning of the 104 book (which I could read like 90% of), a sentence from the middle of the book (maybe 70%), and a sentence from the end (now down to 40% or so). She was like (in Chinese), "Clearly your level is higher than 104. But not high enough for 204, though you've already learned most of the characters in 104 but just can't remember them. I suggest you take 104 and if you find it too easy/waste of time, drop it, self-study the book if you have the motivation, and we'll give you an override into 204 next semester." In my head I was like, "I knew my level was right here. And easy works for me, I'm NOT dropping 104."

5. Turtle tank
After the exam, I went back to my friend's apartment as I left all my stuff there. We went to a pet store to buy all the stuff for a turtle tank, since JW-F got 2 small turtles for their apartment. We went outside and picked up rocks for the tank; that must've looked weird to all the people driving by as we took rocks and put them in a bag. I arranged the rocks and gravel in a Zen rock garden-like arrangement. It was really cool and was terraced on one side. But when we added the water, we realized that it was too low so we added more gravel, which covered up my nice rock arrangements. Then the water filter was noisy as it wasn't fully submerged, so we added yet more water. Then just a bit of tweaking after that. I hope the turtles will be happy in their new tank. I love turtles.

6. Visiting brother's dorm and dinner
Some time after that, I visited my brother's room in his dorm. He was all over the place with friends, as he knew a lot of people from our city who's going to the university, as well as people he met during orientation. His dorm room is smaller than mine was, but it's certainly not small nor bad. I love his hallways, they're so wide and spacious. And clean. If his dorm wasn't so far away from many of his classes, I might've been jealous.

My parents came down to drop stuff for my brother and to pick me up. Honestly, my brother is really book-smart but very not street-smart. He just doesn't know how to interact with random strangers and forgets random things, like a towel, laundry detergent, and his alarm clock. It kind of sucks being the oldest, as my parents expect me to watch over him and check up on him so he isn't completely lost and overwhelmed on campus. I'm of the opinion that he'll be just fine, if not better off than me, but my parents have their worries.

So then we all went to dinner at this small Chinese restaurant that we ALWAYS go to when my parents are in town. I first went there freshman year with some friends and recommended it to my parents. It is good Chinese food, and now we've been there so often that the waitress that almost always takes our order has memorized what my parents usually order. My parents have also become friends of sorts with the owner. They recognize us instantly when we go there. Once the chef himself personally came out and talked to us, that was pretty cool. Personally, I'd love to have this kind of relationship with a place some day, that'd just be sweet.