Saturday, August 28, 2010

Consequences of Inactivity, Belly Fat

We know inactivity may lead to obesity or other health problems, and obesity can lead a host of health problems.

I know by first hand experience on inactivity's effects. Many years ago when I started on my first job, I worked really hard, long hours in front of my desk, no exercise. After a year or so, my usually impeccable annual physical turned a red flag - HDL low! My doctor told me that it was due to insufficient physical activity - an remedy was to exercise. It took years of sustained exercise for me to return the index to the normal range.

A recent USA Today report showed that inactivity has a much broader, more profound consequence: "Study: The longer you sit, the shorter your life". Sitting a lot, e.g. coach potatoes, can make a person gaining fat, and more than that, according to the article, developing "inactivity physiology" . When muscles, especially those in the legs, are "sitting," they stimulate or suppress various hormones which then affect triglycerides, cholesterol and other markers for heart and other diseases.

The finding reported in the is article just give us another reason to "get up and walk".

For my job function, I can sit in front my desk all day long without moving. To break out the pattern of not moving, I plan a mid morning break and mid afternoon break just to walk in the buildings - stretch exercise, in addition to my lunch break to walk outside the building - out of air conditioned atmosphere exercise. An added benefit is a relief of ergonomic stress on my eyes, arms, and hands.

Bugling of mid section is no longer an indication of mid age in the country any more. Some people actually like their potbelly, others don't want to have one, like myself. My personal inclination is more based on fitness concern than anything else. That is why it caught my attention when another USA Today report said that "Belly fat may double risk of death for older adults ". Belly fat can be harmful even if a person is not obese!

I usually do sit-ups daily for an extended period of time, 2 ~ 4 weeks when there is any indication of bulging. However according to the article, "sit-up are useless" for burning belly fat. What can be done to fight belly fat? It's the same advice as for losing weight. Eat fewer calories and burn more through walking, bicycling and other aerobic exercise. Fortunately, I do sit ups as well as walking.

Get up, exercise, and eat properly consistently. That will solve both problems.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Texas Life

It has been a year since I started blogging by accident.

A year ago this time we just came home from a great trip to Alaska. I suggested to Justin to use Blogger for his photo journals. To help him, I checked out the blogger in details and tried to post my first blog - a very brief summary with a link to our online photo Album. It was easy and the post looked great.

From then on, I just keep blogging about our life at Texas - adventures into great wilderness or a stroll at our community park, thoughts and reflections on life, remembrance of loved ones, anniversaries and sketches of interesting episodes of daily life .... I am very pleased that many of my friends/readers enjoyed reading the weekly blogs.

Writing blogs on our Alaska trip and a couple of earlier trips to Big Bend, Grand Teton, helped me to relive those grand adventures, and to enjoy the trips again. The 9 blogs on our Alaska trip, in particular, impressed many. A few friends asked about the links to the posts months after the postings as they were planing for their Alaska trips. On the other hand, exploring nature in our community is equally interesting as highlighted in "See who my neighbours are" and "Spring time stories". We have "Bright colors around us" in the Fall. We have white "Snow in North Texas" as well.

Even at middle age, I am still doing something for the first time which is exciting to me, such as being summoned to "jury duty", or attending a home owner association's board meeting as a "board director". The usual routines, such as "drive to work", work "in the yard" or in "my office' , or simply "a relaxing day" at home can have small ripples in them and prompt me to write. Occasionally troubles also can lead to a satisfying experience as in "fixing Kenmore".

Dramatic events, adversaries do make us think deeper, ponder more about life. 'A very special Christmas' gave us an uplift of spirituality and a feel of being touched by angels. It drew many comments and praises of the Lord from our religious friends. The passing of a friend led to 'a pause in life', a pondering of friendship, love and life, which brought tears to many and touched many more.

Deep thoughts or trivial observations, heavy subjects or light topics, emotional outpour or matter of fact descriptions, the blog give me a channel to express, to record, to summarize, to share, and to formalize, thus to reflect at a higher level.

As a matter of fact, I enjoy reading my own blogs!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Trip to China - ETC

Eat at Street Vendors

With 8 feasts in 15 days, we ate too much delicious food in too short a time. After a couple of days, home made food, especially vegetables tasted better than seafood or other Chinese delicacies from high end restaurants. We craved for ordinary food, looked for street vendors for breakfast and lunch when we were at Shanghai and Wuhan just to have a feel of real life there.

The first morning at Shanghai, we got up really early due to jet lag. We strolled in the street near our hotel at ~ 6:15am, to look for street vendors for breakfast. We found two, which were adjacent to each other. We bought an egg spread from one vendor and went to another for You-Tiao ( a fried flour stick), Soy Milk and Tender Tofu - typical Shanghai breakfast for ordinary people. While we were there, the boys enjoyed their breakfast, I ate and looked around. This was a pop-mom type of shop. The couple apparently knew most of their customers: a couple of city custodians came in for breakfast after their early early morning shift, an old man, apparently from the neighbourhood, came in, and a guy stopped his car in the street, had a breakfast take-out.....

The next morning, we went to a small restaurant across the street from the hotel. It was a family owned restaurant. They were, by their looking and accent, migrants from Sichuan province. They had something different from the other two vendors, they fried You-Tiao on the spot (the others' were pre-cooked), and they also made Sao-Bian (char-coal oven baked flour product) on the spot.

At Wuhan, there is farmer's market very close to my sister's home. We had a breakfast there one morning. We also went shopping for grocery one day when my sister went to work.

Though the dinning areas at these street vendors were not as clean as those in the high end restaurants, they felt more intimate, more close to heart to me. The old acquaintances' greetings of shop keepers to their customers, the bustling Farmer's market brought me the memory of my childhood.

Hair cut

One thing I observed on my subway rides in China was that no men, young or old, had a hair style like mine, hair parted at one side. My hair style was out of date in China. I mentioned my observation to Lily. She persuaded me to have a hair cut at barber shop when we were in Beijing.
One evening we went to a barber shop. Nick had a hair cut first and he liked his new hair style. He went home with grandma pleased. Lily stayed there to accompany me.

As the barber, a young man at his early thirties, started cutting my hair, Lily asked :'He parted his hair. What would be a good style for him?'. This started the barber: Parting or not is not important. The main thing is to have a good transition from short hairs to longer hairs. His hair was OK as of now, but the back does not look good ......

I interjected. "She has been my personal barber for more than 15 years!". "Oh!", the barber was surprised, he paused a moment, and went on, "Your technique is very good for an amateur, but in the back you need to ......" He started to tell Lily what to do to improve her technique while working om my hair, kind of like show and tell.
In the end, Lily and I were pleased with my new hair style. We went home touched by this young man's honesty, down-to-earth attitude and his kindness.

Education and "Connections"

When we were in Wuhan, the report cards for local high school entrance exam and national college entrance exam were just out. For parents of examinees, the question of "How did your child do?" was just as common as "Hello". Of course, education was a very hot topic.

Parents in China emphasize education so much they can spend a quarter, a third and maybe even a half of their annual income on their child's education. They pay for private tutors, they pay for after school programs, they pay to send their children into better elementary schools, better middle schools, out of their residential district, even though in district schools are free.

They have such high expectations of their only child, they dream that their children will go to the best college in the nation. Unfortunately only so many kids can get in in a year. As many parents can not have their children enrolled there, they want instead to go in to take a look at it. The best college in the country - Tsinghua University, becomes a tourist attraction!! I witnessed this when I went to Tsinghua University to visit my former academic advisor.

What makes current Chinese way of life interesting and complex at the same time is the "connections". You want to send your child to better school out of your residential district, you need a connection otherwise you will have no way even if you are willing to pay; you want to find a job for your college graduating child, you need a connection; .... In fact, "connection" permeates every aspect of life in China.

To me, it seems that using connection is just a way to cut in line, a way to take advantage of others, and a way to circumvent rules/regulations. The common sense there, however, is: if you have connections, use them; if you don't have one, find one.

Here or There?

After welcoming me back to work, a colleague asked me:" Do you prefer to be there in China, or here?" "Here", no hesitation in my reply.

Comparing American way and Chines way of living, a Chinese friend, who stayed in USA for a year as a visiting scholar at an American university a couple of years ago, put it this way: " You live a simple, peaceful and regular life in America; we live an exciting, boisterous and complex life in China." In some sense, he summarized his friends' life across the Pacific ocean pretty well.

I like a simple and peaceful life.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Trip to China - Beijing

Due to a short time at Beijing this time, we decided to stay with my parents-in-law, not taking any side trips. This made my mother-in-law busy. She tried hard to enrich our experience at Beijing and we were very pleased with the arrangements she made:

Day 1 - A concert by national symphony at national galleries for performing arts;
Day 2 - Capital Museum of History ;
Day 3 - family portrait at China Portrait Photography and family Dinner at Quan Ju De for Peking Ducks;
Day 4 - River Cruise in imperial river and summer palace;
Day 5 - Olympic Parks;
Day 6 - Flying Acrobatics Show;
Day 7 - Rest/Shopping.

The concert at the Egg

The National Galleries for the Performing Art, a.k.a. the Egg, is magnificent by itself though many architects argued that it disrupted the feel and sense around Tian An Men Square. Justin enjoyed the concert and the building thoroughly. Nick and I fell asleep during the second half of the performance.

Capital Museum of History

We were pleased that the boys actually liked the museum - they looked at the ancient artifacts or modern art collections. The history of Beijing was very interesting to them and me as well.

Family Portrait and Family Dinner

It has been a tradition of my parents-in-law, that every time we visit them, the whole family of three generations has a family picture taken at the famous China Portrait Photography in the afternoon and then we will walk to the well-known Quan Ju De restaurant for a Peking duck dinner.

The portrait of their 3 grandsons, taken 5 years ago, wearing black T shirts with a huge Chinese character "Dragon" printed on the front, is eminently hanging in their dinning room. The family portrait taken then is hang in the living room.

Contrary to my thinking, the China Portrait was quite busy on the hot summer afternoon we went. Many families were just like us, having a family picture of thee generations taken there. We waited for about half an hour before we had our pictures taken. After that my father-in-law walked very fast to the restaurant, way ahead of the family just to make sure that we would have a table when we got there. At Quan Ju De, it is first come first serve, no reservation is taken. It was just 5pm when we got there, very early for a dinner, there were plenty tables available.

River Cruise and Summer Palace

Day 4 turned out to be a relatively cool day of the summer. After the river cruise, we decided to continue to visit the summer palace, which is right at the end of the river cruise route. The summer palace was at its usual beautiful self that day except there was haze when we looked across the lake in the center of the place.

Olympic Parks

After visiting Lily's grandparents' cemetery, we went to visit the famed Bird Nest (National Stadium), and Water Cube (National Swimming Center) used for 2008 Olympic games at the Olympic Parks, on the hottest day thus far of the Beijing summer. We could only look at the Water Cube from outside since it was closed that day. We could however get into the Bird Nest, to appreciate its architecture and construction.

Flying Acrobatics Show

We went to watch a Flying Acrobatics Show the night of our sixth day at Beijing. We liked the show, it was a good change from our other activites.

After all these activties, we rested for a day preparing for an early morning departure next day. My parents-in-law went to the airport to see us off that morning. As we were about to enter the terminal, each of us hugged them goodbye. Lily and her mom had teary eyes.

We had a good time at Beijing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Memeory of Mom 怀念母亲

我们很小时,爸爸就去世了,妈妈守寡一辈子,把我们扶养成人。我们,她的孩子们就是她的一切。可是我长大后,远走高飞了,这就有了一次又一次的盼望,一次又一次的团聚时的幸福,一次又一次告别时的惆怅, 和一个永远也不能满足的心愿。

高考后准备报志愿,妈妈说就报本地的大学吧,我说我想考虑外地的大学, 她什么也没多说。我告诉妈妈我对那些专业感兴趣,妈妈跑前跑后,找专业老师给我深入介绍专业,她还找人推荐本市的学校的好专业。 最后我去了千里之外的东海岸。第一次远行那天,全家人送我到火车站,行李上架,座位占好,我对妈妈说,你们先回吧,妈妈说,不急,再等等。 火车缓缓地起动了,我向妈妈挥手告别,‘妈妈,再见!’, 妈妈笑着向我挥手,刚张口,话还没出口,泪水却夺眶而出,她捂着脸转过头去。

大学三年后,开始考虑读研究生院,妈妈说还是回来在家边读吧,我答应了。可是那年寒假回家前,接到系里通知,我被保送清华。妈妈听到这消息,乐得合不上嘴,泪珠一颗颗往外流。 我们几个儿女开她玩笑,伤心哭,高兴也哭? 妈妈笑着擦去泪水,对我说,‘你去吧!’。就这样,大学毕业,我在家度过暑假后,去了千里之外的京城。

研究生院快要毕业时,我已有念头出国攻博士学位,妈妈说回来工作吧,我答应了,没有告诉她我可以留校任教在国内读博士学位。我终于回到妈妈的身边,在离家很近的大学教书。那些日子里,妈妈心情很舒畅,在路上碰上熟人打招呼 “您终于熬出来了,该享福了!” , 她都是满意地一点头,应声 “是啊!”

回老家工作一段时间后,我小心翼翼地向妈妈讲了我的出国念头,她说国内一样有前途,并不一定要出国。 我已拿定主意,开始攻克一道道难关,关卡。妈妈于是不再提立足国内的话,凡能帮上我的事情,她都尽心尽力去做。

分别的日子终于到了,在国际航空港外,妈妈说:“路上小心,到了学校,安顿好后,来信。”,我说:“好!”,她又看了看我,很有信心地拍拍我的肩膀,“去吧!”。妈妈这次没流泪,因为泪水已在为我准备行李的日子里流干。 妈妈在给我到美后的第一封信中写到,“。。。目送你往海关方向走去后,我在机场外站了很久,看着天上一架又一架飞机飞走,捉摸着会是那一架飞机载着我的儿子去大洋彼岸。。。。” 四年后,妈妈来美参加了我的毕业典礼时才再次见到我。

终于,我携妻带子回到故乡去看望妈妈。全家人又团聚了,看着满堂子孙,她是多么地高兴! 转眼,又要与妈妈告别了。可是因癌症,做过化疗的妈妈,身体太虚,只在客厅与我话别。妈妈看着我,眼泪止不住地往下流。 那是她的心酸和无奈:命运对她为什么这么残酷!!年纪青青就丧夫,含辛茹苦几十年终于苦尽甘来,却又患上绝症! 好不容易盼到儿子回家,可再度离别让她更伤感。

半年后的一个傍晚,接到姐姐从中国打来的电话,医生已通知她准备为妈妈办后事, 妈妈也感到最后的日子的到来,妈妈想和我说几句话。过了一会,电话那边传来妈妈嘶哑的声音,她叫我的名字,我应声 ‘是我,妈妈‘。然后就静静地听妈妈断断续续地说话,偶尔应答她的问话。突然,妈妈一阵咳嗽,然后电话中传来脚步声,家具的碰撞声,接着又传来姐姐的声音,就到这吧。我木木地应了‘嗯’。两天后姐姐又打来电话,妈妈去世了, 你不用赶回来,我会料理好一切。我没有哭,呆呆地站在电话机旁很久很久。

两天前的电话就是妈妈和我的最后的告别,和以往每次告别一样,妈妈有着无尽的迁挂,说不完的嘱咐,深深的思念,可我再也听不到她和蔼的声音,再也看不见她慈祥的笑容;和以往每次告别一样, 妈妈希望我能就在她身边,她却说,别挂念我,我好好的,去创业,去闯荡吧,可我再也回不到她的身边!妈妈临终前想见我一面的心愿永远不能实现了。



note: 我几年前写下这篇短文追忆母亲。