Friday, June 29, 2007

First two weeks

One busy week. The last two weeks have been both exciting and exhausting. I already forgot one meeting appointment-never had so many meetings packed in two weeks in my whole life! I brought many papers home to read but have no motivation to do so.

We had a very pleasant 75 F day after two days of 96F. I also managed to hack the thermostat in our office that supposed to be "not working". Now it is much warmer in there. Although I have a suspicion that it will be too hot later.

I realized that I called the IT support about 7 times in a week and half for various odd reasons: login problems, too short of a phone line, forgotten voice mail pin, new access to servers, strange beeping of the telephone etc. etc.

I saw a stork flying by during a meeting. That was pretty cool. I also saw a deer jumping over Rt. 9 in front of me. I heard many different bird near work.

So one more day 2007 is half way through.

I think I should make use of my cable TV more often, but am too lazy to watch it. Tomorrow I am getting my executive desk delivered. Yippee!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I am slowly settling in my new apartment. Alex- I may post some pictures once I get the desk, bookcase and filing cabinet this weekend. Right now the living room looks like a refuge camp still. At least I got high speed internet, so I don't feel so cut off in the first week. I am still not used to having cable TV, even just basic cable- I still don't have the habit of turning the TV on to watch it.

Work has kept me VERY busy. They are getting their money's worth. =). I've been slacking off on the violin. Tomorrow I have to face my teacher for the first time since my move+move. It won't be pretty.

I feel that I need a vacation already. Hopefully I can relax a bit on July 4. Unfortunately I have more shopping to do. Grrr...

During my first two days of orientation, I toured around Cambridge a bit. I MISS THE CITY. I miss being able to walk to places and the nice houses with different styles to gawk at. Although shopping is very easy around here.

Talk Med, this is place is hardly middle of nowhere- many busy roads and too many monstrous shops to spend money. How is Calgary like- I thought that is a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere?

Tomorrow is 96F. The A/C in our office is freezing me to death.

Friday, June 8, 2007


I am exhausted! I found an apartment near work, and will move in a week. It is a much bigger space than what I have now. I am happy with it. It has an outdoor swimming pool and a fitness center. What is more, it is close to a big reservoir and some lake. It is closer to stores and Rt. 9, but have enough trees to keep it quiet and nice.

Next is packing. I HATE PACKING!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A friend and I went to Finale at Harvard Square last night for dinner and dessert last night. My first dine- outside of the summer. I have not been there for a long while. We had some serious dessert orgy. After the "Prelude", we shared the "Fantasia for two" and the "Molten Chocolate". It was quite a sugar high-felt really good. They are serious about Chocolate! Weather was perfect. I was ecstatic about finally getting my car.

Today I had my very last group meeting in my current lab. I also tried to draft a job description for an associate. It is really happening!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Buying a car

I bought a car over the weekend for my upcoming commute to work. This sounds really serious, doesn't it-"commute to work". No more walking to the lab whenever I want. It really hasn't totally sunk in yet, but slowly it is, because of things like buying a car, taking care of insurance, parking, EZ-PASS etc. etc.

It was funny- before I went to look for a car, I acclaimed to friends that I want nothing to do with sunroof or moonroof, no need for anything powered except the steering, which is default for any car nowadays any how. Now I have to eat my words- I bought a car basically with EVERYTHING I didn't plan to pay for: moonroof, power windows, locks, mirrors, ABS... There is even an elbow rest on the driver's side. Yippee! The only thing missing is a remote starter, which can be handy when it is -10F outside I suppose.

So my new baby is a 2001 Honda Civic EX. I cannot wait for the new freedom, but there is also the responsibility=P.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I am both excited and terrified.

I am going to step out of the ivory tower after what has been my whole life!

So this is it. I am going to step into the real world, and have a real job. I am going to be part of the "Corporate America".

Everything will be new. There will be lots of unknown. The reset button is pushed. I am starting all over again. It seems that the older I am, the scarier it gets to start anew. I guess it's because experience taught me what "hurt" feels =).


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Super Hero's life

Spiderman 3 is out but did not get good reviews. I did some catch up on my homework and watched Spderman 2 finally. It is really quite good. So the life of a super hero really sucks sometimes- just like us commoners. He is never gonna get a break. Do we?

I need to figure out when to go home to see my parents again. That is my conclusion after watching the movie.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tornado Watch

We had Tornado Watch in West Mass. today. Tornado in Mass.? Some renegade tornado it was. Well. It certainly looked really ominous outside this afternoon. The temperature also dropped like 25 F. It is typical Boston weather- at least the pollen level will drop tomorrow.

A colleague just had twin boys- Dennis and Calvin. =D. They are certainly cute babies. I hope the parents won't regret their name choices when the kids turn 3. Just hide the comics- don't give them any ideas!

A researcher I know at TCH here in on Charlie Rose about stem cells tonight. I am very curious how nervous he feels.

BTW, I think the Prof. is at the best place to do science. He is probably surrounded with the highest concentration of smart people and creativity.

Friday, April 20, 2007


So I finally started on the Mozart violin sonata in E minor (kv 304). It is a beautiful piece, although a bit dark at places. It was composed in 1778 in Mannheim and Paris- on which trip his mother died and he fell in love with the Weber sisters. Well, I am doing so well on this piece so far. It almost feels like I cannot play as quickly as I used to on the faster notes. If I could just stop grappling the neck of the violin!

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post about the social experiment in which Joshua Bell played at a D.C. Metro station during a Friday morning rush hours. I wish I were there! I would have recognized him for sure! He is pretty cute, but no, I never tried to get his autograph after his performances in Boston. Maybe I should do that next time, Heehee. I don't want to comment on the outcome of the experiment, but rather talk about the piece he played twice during that 45 minutes, first and last- Johann Sebastian Bach's Chaconne. I never heard him playing it in concert, or in recordings. To be honest, I was surprised that he played it in the subway station.

I finally want to write this down- maybe also because the tragedy earlier this week, and all the human tragedies there have been, are, and will be.

This piece is what finally pushed me over the edge- meaning start learning violin as a hopeless adult with no prior music instrument training =(. What an extraordinary piece of music! How could I describe it- it is everything about life itself. 博大精沉。Quoting Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: "On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind."

Not a word of overstatement. The first time I heard it- I didn't know what had hit me. All I knew was that I felt like something started swelling up inside of me, filling up my chest. That deepest core of me was struck by something so powerful, yet so gentle and warm. Tears just streamed down my face. For a long while I couldn't grasp what was happening to me- it was a totally overwhelming and humbling feeling. It was by no means the tear of sadness, although yes part of the music is very sad. It was a total understanding without the need for any words. Yes, you can hear such suffering, such sadness in the music, but then there is the total embrace of such suffering life has to offer, there is the deepest empathy for other human beings despite the darkness human beings can harbor, despite the vulnerability and pain this empathy for others can bring. There is the hope. JSB was a devout, religious man; I am not. I guess you can try to extract some religious meaning from this secular music he wrote, but it is irrelevant here. The one who wrote it 300 years ago, the one who played (recorded) it 30 years ago, and me at the moment, had the total understanding in that 14 minutes of music.

Later I found out that some said Bach wrote the Chaconne after the sudden death of his first wife, Maria Barbara during his trip to Karlsbad.

Sadly, I don't think I will ever be able to play it. It is simply way too hard. But in a way, I am already grateful that it was written, some could play it well, and I can feel it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Five Lives

I am trying to figure out what to do with my life next-meaning finding a real job. I was told to do some self assessment exercises, and one of them, the most interesting and easiest one, is to write down each of the choices if I could live five lives simultaneously. Here they are:

1. Research Scientist
2. Photographer for National Geographic
3. Architectural historian/critics
4. Curator for a major art museum
5. Travel program producer

Now I am running out of the allowed lives, but I want to play the violin like Nathan Milstein!

The pressing question is how I would make a living for myself.

Friday, April 13, 2007

van Houten Cocoa

My boss heard about my story and gave this can of van Houten Cocoa to me. That was very nice of him. It turns out Johannes van Houten invented the "Dutching" process to make cocoa powder. I don't know when it is made, but i really like the decoration.

The Dutch House

Here is what I found in a book "BROOKLINE-Images of America" (ISBN 0752412051). There is a bit inconsistency with what I wrote before. Oh well. Let's just call it "fuzzy history". You can compare the two images. This one shows the house before the bell tower was damaged and the weather wines which are no longer there. This view is the left side of the house.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Picture of the house

The Prof. wants to see a picture of the mysterious house, so the Prof. gets a picture of the house. =) Here it is.

I must say the diverse styles of the New England architecture are quite attractive to me. Walking around Brookline you can often see Georgian, Gothic revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Federal, Romanesque, Tudor revival... within blocks of each other. Oh, apparently the house I lived in when I first moved here was a historic landmark here. It was built around 1825.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bird Sightings

I grew up in a big city where not much space was left for birds. As a child I only remember seeing sparrows, pigeons and rarely, magpies. People raised song birds as pets of course.

In Boston, like in any other city I guess, the most common birds are still sparrows and pigeons. Since Boston is by the ocean, there are also plenty of gulls. By
the muddy river on my way to work, you see mallard ducks and Canadian geese all the time. I have also seen hawks and once or twice, swans. What graceful, magnificent birds swans are. Recently a friend got me interested in bird sighting. I think I am inherently bad at it since getting up early in the morning is practically impossible for me. Still I started paying attention to bird songs while walking outside. If you follow the sound sometime you can have surprising finds, at least surprising for a city girl like me.

The best was near the Longwood Mall. I saw the Northern Cardinals, both male (right) an female (above). The male cardinal has such a stunning fiery red color, deeper and brighter than the picture shown on the right. They have interesting sweet calls as well.

Then there are the Blue Jays (left). There were a whole flock of them! Besides the rather raucous "Jay! Jay!" calls, they actually make a variety of softer, more interesting sounds. They are very pretty too.

Another bird I like is the chickadee (right). They are so small and very cute! You can also see robins with their reddish brown chest quite often since it is spring now. What I don't quite like are the European Starlings. They are aggressive birds and drove out many indigenous birds after being brought to the U.S.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Mystery House cont.

Continue from last post... So I waited a bit more, and I could see someone looking through the window by the door. Moments later, an elderly gentleman with white hair, in a white button-down white shirt, opened the door with a crack. I was terribly embarrassed. "Hi, I am terribly sorry for being intrusive. We both work at HMS, and I pass this house often on my way to work. I am always curious about the history of this house... Was it really built in 1793?" I pointed to the number on the door frame under the eagle relief. Noticing the number was a big relief- it gave me the opportunity to ask a concrete question. He looked at us, then started the following tale in a deliberate manner. "No, it was built 1591 in Holland following a Dutch town hall..." (Imagine the eyes of both A and me became saucer wide and "Wow"s coming out of us) "It was taken apart and moved to Chicago in 1893 for the World Expo. Afterwards, it was taken apart and moved here." Needless to say I was awe struck. He also explained where the "1793" came from, but on that part, both A's and my memories are a bit blurry- I think we were both in shock at that moment. Here is the summary of what we can put together somewhat coherently. Somehow it seemed a Dutch cocoa company acquired the house around 1793, and sponsored its transport to and display at the Chicago Expo- all parts of their advertisement campaign for their cocoa. "That was the time before coffee became popular, you know". He told us.

After telling us the history of the house, he opened the door a bit more and said "Would you like to come in to take a look of the inside?" OMG! It is a miracle! He must be reading my mind! At this point I was ABSOLUTELY dying to see the interior of the house, but it is not something you could ask, could you? I nodded my head as fast as I could (quoting a Chinese analogy, like a chicken picking up grains "如鸡哆米”) and thanked him profusely. We stepped inside. He explained that he had his office downstairs and his wife has an art studio upstairs. There is a beautiful wooden staircase to the left, a coat closet, and an antique pendulum clock on the wall. We were told the clock was also from about the same time the house was built. They found it in some antique shop and spent lots of time having it fixed.

Next we turned right into the living room. I must admit my senses were overwhelmed. It was like a Dutch decorative art museum, but it was better than a museum, because it has the more intimate, lively feeling only associated with a human occupied l
iving space. I didn't know where to look first! It is not like I was in a real museum that I can take all of my time and wander to anywhere I like. I can only offer a laundry list of things I remember here that cannot do its justice. But oh well.

There were beautiful porcelains, majority of them blue-white china-plates, vases, on the wall, window sills, display cabinets. The picture with this post shows what a typical Dutch blue plate looks like, not actually from the house. There is a Tang three-color horse too =). Some sculptures, oil portrait paintings, a harpsichord. There are several magnificent cast iron chandeliers, which I was told to be Victorian. The wallpaper, actually I don't know exactly the material of it, is in a rich Burgundy color with raised golden Baroque? Victorian? flora, medallion, Neptune? face patterns. The wood work in this house is absolutely gorgeous! The ceiling panels are painted with decorative motifs. There are a pair of golden Renaissance dolphins, and a very pretty dutch girl statue in one fireplace. Now the fireplaces. He showed us the fireplaces-they are decorated with blue-white tiles from the 1890's. These tiles picture scenes from the Biblical stories, while all the characters are in Dutch style clothes-like Joseph wearing pantaloons. He specifically
pointed out one appeared several times of a man carrying some wood panels. He told us that he couldn't figure out what this picture was about until one day he read from cover to cover and finally realized that it was Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. He then led us to a plate he collected with the exactly same design on it! The kitchen of the house has been renovated by his architect son. The kitchen is updated with modern appliances. They really did a fantastic job maintaining the house in good forms. I asked if it is a lot of work to keep it up. He said actually no. The house was extremely well built. Each wooden beam has red paint marks on it. He also told this story: they tried to put in an extra bathroom -there was only one originally. To put the the pipes in they had to open the wall, and there was some grass in the wall. So he was like "My god there are small animals living in there!" But an old carpenter told him that this grass was "eel grass". Apparently the grass soaks up the salt and minerals from the sea and thus becomes somewhat fire proof. So it used as insulation for the house! You learn something new everyday! While we were there one clock struck 5 o'clock. I was very much distracted by the charming sound. A said he noticed at least 5 different clocks ticking away, since they are not perfectly in sync. I also noticed a small beautifully decorated porcelain bowl which I took as a barber's basin since it has the shape of Don Quixote's helmet =).

He told us that with his wife they travelled to Holland to visit the original town hall, which was still in use. The Dutch original's bell tower houses 102 bells that play a hymn every 10 minutes! The bell tower of his house was damaged in a hurricane a long time ago (could it be the one in1938?). The Dutch original still performs civil services like weddings.

I was filled with more questions, but we've been inside the house for at least 30 minutes. He showed us to the door. We thanked him again and again. I hope he could tell how grateful I was. It was so kind of him to let us in. I understand he was taking some risk in doing so. It must be many many years of effort to put together such a collection, the exquisite furniture, decorations.
I felt very fortunate to be inside of the house and hear about its extraordinary story.

An after note: the house is in high renaissance style.

Friday, April 6, 2007


Well, cannot believe that I am finally doing it- let's see how long it lasts. I guess I want to record of some of the interesting "adventures" I have for future references. Would be a shame if some details got lost, wouldn't it?

Actually life has been dull lately. I am not traveling nearly as much as I used to or would love to, so "adventures" is a bit of an overstatement. I will start with one happened about a week ago- March 28th, 2007 to be precise.

I always have "a thing" for architectures. Luckily Boston area has a lot to offer in this regards. There is this "mysterious" house on my way to work (not exactly on the way, but a minor detour) I am always curious about. It is not exactly a house, but more like a mansion, not exactly a mansion, but more like a castle, not exactly a castle, but more like... whatever, nondescript. Anyway it is nothing like a regular America house with clapboard shingles, or bricks, or logs, or stones. First of all it is huge- three stories high plus a bird cage thing on the roof. The outside material is like some sort of terra cotta, and in that color too with white patterns. At first glance it looked a bit unkempt-maybe because the paint is peeling. There is a gorgeous bronze lion head knocker on the wooden door. I was never sure if anyone really lived there. Sometimes I saw one gloomy light in the upper floor when I passed by it in the evenings. The glass windows have nice geometrical metalic inlaids, and you can barely see some china displayed near them. Sometimes I see a Chevy PT crusier parked in the drive way. I am dying of curiosity as what kind of house it is- private residence or what.

I "schemed" of going knocking on the door to ask about the house, but was too chicken to do it on my own. It is a big, dark, mysterious house after all. So I managed to persuade A to come with me to investigate "when it is sunny and warm outside (part of my sales pitch)". To clear my conscience, I forewarned A my reason for having him to come along- "in case someone shoots at us, or something might happen, and I need him to hold the ground while I run for my life". I am an honest person you know =).

Anyhow eventually last Wednesday seemed to be a good day- we both were free in the late afternoon and it was a VERY sunny day. Sunny is important for us (and I imagine whoever we are going to encounter) psychologically, heehee. So off we went. A was intrigued at the sight of the house, but we stared at each other for a moment, didn't know what to do. Finally I said to A:"This is it. Are we going to do this? Are we going to do it?... Alright, I will do the talking". So I drew a deep breath, walked up the steps, and pressed the door bell-not the lion head knocker, but an electronic door bell! Nothing happened. I turned around and said to A, in doubt, "Is this bell working? I don't know if anyone is here." A, at least two feet away from me down the steps, said:"Yeah, it is working, someone just looked through the window."

I will finish the story later. I need to give my parents a call...

I am also at a low point in my violin practice- the current pieces are so hard, so I get discouraged very easily. Sigh. Also I cannot get the vibrato right =(. A word of encouragement for myself- it is supposed to be hard, so keep at it.