Saturday, November 28, 2009

Heaven on the Earth - Grand Teton

When our airplane was landing at Jackson Hole Airport in July 2008 - we were pleasantly surprised to see the glacier covered, vertical raised rocky peaks - the famous Teton Ranges and the snake river ruining in a valley dotted by glacier lakes.

The very next day we went to Jenny lake at the foot of the Teton Range. The lake's water looked so green due to reflection of dense pine trees on the shore. It is not too big and is a perfect place for canoeing and kayaking, we would kayak/canoeing in the lake later. We rode a boat crossing Jenny lake to have a short hike in the mountain with two other families. Walking on the trail by a rushing stream, seeing white water flying down, listening to the sound of nature, then passing a rocky cliff section, we reached our destination - inspiration point. Jenny lake was at our feet, the broad valley and the snake river was in front of us. All were under the bright morning Sun. Back down, we took a detour to check out the hidden water fall. In between mountains, water gushing over a ridge, flying down between tall pine trees, spread mist all around it. At parking lot, we looked at the snow covered mountains again, saw two mountaineers in the glacier covered peak.

At lunch time, our friends went to a restaurant, we went to the shore of Jackson Lake for a picnic. Jackson lake is much larger than Jenny lake. The water is crystal clear at the shoreline, a few kids were playing in the freezing cold water; it is dark blueish farther away reflecting the blue sky. Teton range was on the other side of the lake from us, lush green trees all the way to tree line, then grey spiky rocks, white snow, blue sky - a story book fairy land.

The next day we came back to watch the sunrise and then drove on to Yellowstone National Park. A turn in the road, I was absolutely amazed by what I saw while driving: mirror-surface water reflecting lush green trees on a island and Teton Range from afar. We arrived at Ox Bend of the snake river.

At this early morning, we had all this beauty and tranquility to ourselves. Just then a duck flew into the water, and then swam toward the island, breaking the seemingly absolute stationary water, producing ripples in its wake. If Teton Range is the fairy land, then Ox Bend is the Heaven on earth.

Note: In addition to its amazing beauty, Grand Teton has everything else, mountains, water falls, lakes, river. We hiked into the mountain, ran river rafting in the snake river, kayaked at Jenny lake, picnicked by Jackson lake, or just like the morning at Ox Bend, sitting or standing there to take everything in.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Reflections

I am thankful for what I have - family, friends, the community we live in, the work and job we have .....This Thanksgiving I am particularly thankful for my teachers over the years of my education.

On November 1st, Dr. Jim Knowles, my Ph.D. thesis advisor passed away, at age 78. Jim was a superb teacher, he made any subject he taught seemed so clear and simple. Graduate students in engineering at Caltech loved to take his classes. He always had a full classroom of students for any course he taught, from principles of engineering mathematics to much harder ones, such as finite elasticity. Jim is well known for his seminal contributions to the theory of linear and nonlinear elasticity, he is also famous for not putting his name on students' papers originated from their thesis. His more than 100 published papers were all his own work.

As Jim's student, I had many interactions with him. He was always kind, and listened patiently to whatever I had to say on my mind, research or otherwise. After qualification, like all his students, I was trying to select an appropriate topic for my thesis within the general framework of his research funding. It was hard initially. I did not have a clue to what would be a good topic, trying everything, anything I could think of. He was always encouraging, probing my work, he never discounted any idea I had even when he did not like it - he just did not go back to talk about that idea any more. After over a year of hardship and frustration in searching for a thesis topic, I was finally on track. I made major breakthroughs in my research when he was on sabbatical at MIT. With trust, he trained his graduate students to be independent, self reliant researchers. That training is a benefit of life time. I am blessed to be associated with Jim.

I started my career at my second hometown, Pasadena, California. The adventure into the world of science and technology, however, started much earlier at my hometown, Wuhan, China, at the No. 15 middle school of Wuhan. Ms. Peng, the biology teacher, Ms. Wang, the math teacher (grade 6-8), Mr. Liu, the English teacher, Ms. Li, the chemistry teacher, Ms. Zhang, the Chinese teacher, Mr. Zhang, the math teacher (grade 9-10), all had profound impact on my education and development. Their cares, appreciations, encouragements and mentoring, made my adolescent period a wonderful time in my life. I don't remember their full names, I do remember their voices, their images, their smiles, and their kindness.

In this Thanksgiving, I want to say thanks in my heart, to all my teachers, from elementary school, to middle school, to college, and from graduate school at Tsinghua University to graduate school at Caltech.

Thank you, my teachers! Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sunrise at Grand Teton

Last year during our trip to Yellowstone National Park, we first visited Jackson and Grand Teton national park for the first two days. On our way to Yellowstone, we watched sunrise at Grand Teton.

On that morning, we got up at 4:30am, drove in dark from Jackson in order to watch sunrise at 6am at Grand Teton. It took us about an hour to get to Grand Teton from Jackson.

Unfortunately we could not find the location rangers suggested for the best view of sunrise at Grand Teton. After a few tries, we simply stopped at a parking lot by the highway and waited for sunrise. It was still dark, and it was freezing cold, I could see frost on bushes.

Looking east, the faint early morning light revealed the mountains in the horizon, looking west, the Glacier covered mountains peaked into the clear sky, snake river was running at their feet. Just then the mountain peaks were lit up in orange light, and shortly after a flock of birds were flying by. (Click on the picture at right to see the birds)

Looking east again, it was still dark, the sun had not risen yet. In ten minutes or so, the east sky turned orange red, the sun was rising, climbing above a mountain - crescent shaped orange ball popped in front of the mountain, as if cut through it. The aura of the sun was mesmerizing.

As the sun was rising, we drove to a vista by the snake river, and sun was still climbing over a small patch of trees. We stayed there for a while to breath in the crisp cold air, and to enjoy the scenery - sun lit glacier covered mountains, silver water in snake river.

During travel, we rarely watch sunrise, however it is always a visual feast when we did watch it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Having Fun on Cruise Ryndam

During the 7 day Alaska inside passage cruise, we had plenty of time on board - everyday evenings and nights and a couple of days full day, so the first thing we did on board Ryndam was to check the ship out - the walking promenade, swimming pools, library, kids zone, music lounge, art gallery ......

Gourmet food

Food on the Cruise was really good, hearty breakfast, lunch buffet (If we were on board) and formal dinner. Kids actually loved the formal dinner!! First dinner on board was Nicholas' first formal dinner, he was very excited and he ordered the 4-course dinner from adult menu himself! There were 3 formal dinners on board - when we had to follow dress code and had dinners with various people on a large table for 8. The dinners lasted 2 hours or so each time, bu we got time to meet other people. We basically tried all choices on the menu, and liked all of them.

The last dinner on board was a dinner party, chefs, waiters and on board entertainers performed for us - singing and dancing between tables. It was fun.

Big chess

During our walk around of the ship, we noticed a huge on ground chess, Justin and Nicholas started playing the huge chess. Later on they found out that there was daily chess tournament at Cruise library. They played the tournament once or twice, Justin actually beat two adults. Nicholas was not as successful


There are two swimming pools on board, one is the sky pool, which is on the top deck in open air, another is indoor swimming pool with pool side food supply. At Kechikan, we returned ship early from our excursion due to mishap in planning, we went to swim - more play than exercise - it surely increased our appetites.

Trivia contests and ping pong tournament

Justin went for a trivia contest by himself, he was in a group with a few old ladies - he really got time to show off his WizQuiz training while endearing those old ladies. When Lily and I went to his group at the end of the contest, one old lady kept telling us how great Justin was. The second time Justin and I went for a second contest, our team mates include three dinning mates - two middle school teachers from California and a Federal government attorney from New York. Due to the presences of middle aged adults, Justin and another supposedly smart kid were kind of intimidated - they did not answer many questions.

The last day Lily and I participated in a ping pong tournament - I won one game!

Piano concerts and other shows

Of all the shows, Justin and Nicholas liked a culinary show and piano concerts/magic show. The culinary show was about making cakes - the ship captain and cruise director making cakes with a hostess explaining the step - it filled with jokes, teasing and humor.

The two piano concerts were what all of us liked the most. The pianist was originally from Poland. He liked to play Chopin's music, and he talked about his understanding of the music he was going to play every time, and from time to time his personal stories - full of emotion. He really captured Justin's full attention. Justin talked to the pianist/magician after his first concert.

There were a lot of shows, activities on board and quiet times if we liked- there was no downtime on the ship until sleep time.