Saturday, September 25, 2010

Our pet

Our pet is a turtle. The kids named it Francis. We welcomed Francis into our home when it was a 4 month old baby turtle. Now it is 7 years old and its size has tripled since.

Its home is a water tank with a stump in it. Its daily routine include: swims round in the tank, has food, then rest on the stump for extended period of time, watching the surroundings. Francis gets off the stump for the night - sleeps in the water. It has been there quietly for all these years, attracting young visitors attentions occasionally.

Recently I become curious about two of its behaviors: its climb onto the stump ; its cleaning of half of the tank.

The climb

With its inflexible shell, short legs, it must be really hard work for Francis to climb the stump. I saw Francis' final push onto the stump by chance once. Its front legs grabbed the edge of the stump, neck stretched as long as possible, with a fast push from its hind legs, Francis pivoted around the edge of the stump and landed on the top with a light thump.

I tried to capture the process on camera in the last couple of weekends. I waited stationary on a sofa some distance from the tank for its climb; I sat at the top of stairs which faces the tank at an angle, a good 30 feet away; I hide behind a matter where I was, once I raised the camera, it stopped climbing and went down into water. I would find Francis on top of the stump when I was back at the tank after a 20 ~ 30 minute absence. "Francis is shy!", Lily jokingly told me.

Apparently Francis knows that in the final push of the climb - all its four legs and neck stretched out, it is in its weakest defensive position. Francis will stop attempting the final push and retrieve into the water when it senses any movement.

Not wanting to spend more time to capture the climb, I placed turtle feed on top of the stump and stayed some distance away from the tank, and finally caught Francis' climb on camera.

Partial House Cleaning

Last Saturday, I was surprised to see that half of the tank was clean. Obviously Francis cleaned the tank itself, pushed its feces to the other side. Francis was pushing on the tank wall and looking up to me. When I opened the tank cover to put some turtle feeds in, Francis turned around and hided it head and legs in its shell. When the cover was closed, Francis started eating.

I told Lily later about my observation, she said that Francis has been doing this all the time - nothing extraordinary.

About 1 hour later, I noticed that the other side of the tank was clean now, turtle waste was pushed to the previously clean side!

Why does Francis clean half of the tank? For its self comfort? Maybe not, I see Francis in soiled water all the time. Lily usually feeds Francis after she cleans the tank. Is it possible that Francis acquired this trained reflex? When we forgot to feed Francis, Francis knows that if the tank is clean, it will get fed?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gershwin Concert at Meyerson Symphony Center

It had been a long long time since we went to a concert the last time. One reason was that kids were too young to sit quietly in a classical music concert. Now they are growing up, especially Justin is very into classical music, opera. He was all excited when a friend invited him to a opera. He was also very pleased to go to the classical music concert at National Centers for Performing Arts when we were in Beijing, China. Lily and I know that it is time for us to have some regular formal cultural activities for him and the whole family.

I receive ample information on DFW art/cultural events from my daily listening to classical music on WRR101. I pass on the information at dinner table. ...The Saturday on August 28th, our family went to Meyerson Symphony Center at downtown Dallas for a concert of Gershwin favorites.

We donned formal dresses. A black dress for Lily, a suit for Justin and me. White shirt and dark red tie for me; black shirt, silver tie for Justin. Nick wore a polo shirt and black long pants. We went to the Meyerson early at 6:30pm for an 8pm concert to avoid rush, and to look around the center inside and out.


Meyerson Center is located at Art District of Downtown Dallas, an elegant building in an area crowded with buildings. There is a pretty large tree covered court yard at one side of the front of the building, with a couple of sculptures. The sound of running water overflowing a wall suppress the noise from highway.

The inside is grandeur. Entrance hall is tall, open and very welcoming. Partial glass roof reveals the outside world. The concert hall itself is quite compact. A unique feature is that it has seats for audience from the back of the playing platform, and upper level decks for audience are so steep guard rails were installed.

The concert

This concert was a part of Dallas Symphony's Pops series with Marvin Hamlisch as conductor. It was well attended, the concert hall was about 80% occupied per my estimate. The audience was mostly older adults, with scattered young faces. We were the only group with youngsters in the section. The conductor was well aware of the scarce of young audience. He purposely talked to a couple of teenager audience he saw during his comments between performances.

The choice of this concert was excellent for Nick by chance. Since this was a pops series, the conductor made educational comments between the performances. His dry humor, sometimes funny comments made it interesting to him. He wrote in his weekly journal "It was dark, gloomy and all the light was focused on the stage. The first song played was Porgy and Bess. It was a wonderful selection, but some parts were incredibly loud and some parts were very soft. The next song was “Swanee” there was a sing along, and if anyone sang, all of it was drowned out by the music. The next one I remember is Rhapsody in Blue. The conductor told us about it and then for the next 20 minutes we listened them play, it was incredibly smooth and the pianist Kevin Cole helped a lot. It was light and filled with happiness and I listened excitingly."

We are used to outdoors. It was great to have a formal indoor culture event for a change. All of us enjoyed the concert.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lake Mineral Wells

Lake Mineral Wells is about 90 miles west of Dallas.It is man made, like most lakes in Texas. It is not among the most popular state parks and relatively small, a good site for a quiet short excursion. We went there during labour day weekend for hiking, kayaking/canoeing and camping, and for fresh countryside air, outdoor exercise, and closeness to nature.

The reservation made three weeks ago guaranteed us a campsite, and our arrival on the cool sunny Saturday morning landed us a campsite with lake view. After setting up the tent, we went for a short hike along the lake shoreline. The trail was not well traveled or maintained but the view was gorgeous - the dark blue lake, green forest around it, white blooming flowers, light red fruits of sort, purple prickly pears, dragon flies of various colors - green, yellow and black.

Canoe and Kayaking was a major activity during this trip. We raced a bit in the open water, we spent quite some time exploring the shoreline: A hawk of sort soared in the blue sky, another rested in a tree. Monarch butterflies feasted with bees on some white flowers. A hosts of dragon flies flew around; A pair of them rested on my kayak. A grand Egret was on the far side of the lake and a blue heron some distance away from it. A red breasted bird was chirping in the woods..... When we slowed down to observe, we saw wildlife everywhere.

Tent side cooking in the evening was a fun part for the kids. Both of them were eager to help their mom. The dinner they helped to make was delicious. After a evening hike at Timber Cross Trail, we went into the tent to rest and play card game 24. As night fell, we came out of the tent, it was quiet - except the buzzing of insects, and dark. I looked up. The night sky was full of stars, Milky Way was right over my head .......

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Our American Identity

In this country of immigrants, a white person can be an immigrant, a non-white person can be a natural born American.

A couple of months ago, at our dinner table, Justin told us a traffic accident involving his friend's family. He refereed to the other driver in the accident as "American". "Do you mean the other driver is a white person?", I asked. "Yes", he replied. "You know", I said, "A white person can be an immigrant. You are born here, you are natural born American ...". He then explained that he refereed to the other driver "American" because his friend's mom did so.

A couple of weeks ago, a co-work, who is originally from Asia, refereed to a white co-work as "American" when he talked to me. I did not stop him this time because I did not know if he is an American or not.

In fact, some Asian-Americans still refer to white people as "Americans" during casual conversations. This might be partly due to the fact they had been foreigners for so long before naturalization. On the other hand, this behavior may indicate a deeper issue, that is these Asian Americans still subconsciously treat themselves as "foreigners" to USA!

Of course, it is U.S. citizenship that determines a person being American, not the color of skin. For naturalized citizens, it will take more than a citizenship for us to establish our American identity.

A key to our American identity is a conviction that we belong to this country and the country is our country. To belong to is to participate in political process (vote in elections, run for offices if personally inclined to....) and to participate in criminal justice process (obey laws, report to jury duty...). To belong to is to get involved in the communities we live in. To belong to is to be a part of it, to assimilate into the main stream cultures.

When we truly feel that we belong to, we are truely citizens of the country.

Back to the dinner table, Justin said that we were refereed to as Chinese, Asian all the time by white people. I told him, it is OK to be refereed to per our race or ethnic background. When this occurs in a conversation, we refer to other people by their race or ethnic background as well - black, white, Hispanic, Caucasian..... When citizenship is refereed to, we proudly say "We are Americans" because we are.