Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2003

Signs of Sheep

Tomorrow begins the year of the sheep. Or goat. Or ram. I suppose it depends on how macho or independent you view yourself. Or if you are born in that hazy area in January and February, you can switch Chinese zodiac signs if you feel inclined (my sister calls herself a rat, although technically she’s a pig because she was born two weeks early).

I don’t put any stock in astrology except for amusement in coincidences, especially when you look at the compatibility chart. Both of my parents are rats–which meant they were optimally compatible with the monkey (me!), my grandmother is a dragon (another compatible sign), and if my sister had been born when she was supposed to, it would have been an astrologer’s dream of a harmonious family. Sometimes I wonder if my parents actually planned it that way. Lucky signs usually see a glut of newborns whereas some signs are definitely not auspicious to be born under and superstitious Asian parents actually attempt to plan pregnancies away from those particular years. (As for Western astrology, I’d rather trade my sign with someone else. I am totally not a sex goddess.)

The year of the sheep is rather interesting because this is the sign of half of my “peers”, the people who I grew up with through grade school. Tomorrow, apparently, will mark a lucky year for them.


I seriously have to say: I don’t get it. The film society is having a run of anime movies the whole term and I decided to take a brief break to watch some mindless fun. Mindless, yes. Fun, not really. Non-existent plot, poor dialogue, and gratuitous violence. Freud would have had a field day if he saw all the dream sequences.

This particular experience was heightened by the fact that the audience laughed through the bad dialogue and the girl sitting behind me was complaining about the style of animation throughout the whole film. One would have thought that this had been a comedy instead when everyone laughed at the finale. But no, the finale was a shot of the hero (who was the only character to survive the entire ordeal) crying over the bodiless head of his friend, which unfortunately reminded me of Strauss’s opera Salome where the titled heroine made love to John the Baptist’s head.

Something else again:
Justice Department probes Texas Tech professor’s policy. (Also referenced on Metafilter.) I don’t think this is a case of religious discrimination. I think it’s a case of students who think they’re entitled to get recommendations. Professors are not obligated to recommend anyone. Personally, I think recommendations are the last frontier in which students can distinguish themselves when applying for graduate school. Excellent grades are a dime a dozen. I would hate to think that recommendations would also go that route. (I can say this with some authority–I worked my butt off to get my recommendations from well-known biologists, and I’m not happy that smarmy pre-meds want to cruise through the whole process with their photographic memories.)

Another silly quiz, this time via Taco Shop Psychic

Which OS are You?
Which OS are You?

I feel like Charlie when he found the fifth golden ticket. Except mine says I’m going to Boston and not Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

It was one of those spur of the moment things combined with cabin fever. Yes, I could go skiing like everyone else, but that was another thing too–I do not want to be in the middle of nowhere. So with my golden ticket, I thought about going to Chinatown on Saturday to see the New Year’s Parade. That idea got scrapped pretty quickly though. The weather on Saturday is going to be bad. On Sunday, I could go to the Wine Expo, but that costs $60! Then I thought about going whale watching, but early February is definitely not whale watching season. And I’m avoiding the museums. I personally find the admission prices ridiculous.

Does anyone know of some good (cheap/free) places in Boston for a sightseeing, wannabe subway rat?

Seasons Greetings. Oh. My. God. This is so wrong. He reminds me of the Millikan Man, except scarier.
The quorum sensing site. See? Even bacteria don’t want to be alone.

When I was an undergraduate, it was easy to hold contempt for those “greasy graduate students,” those oddities who crashed the undergraduate parties, hung around the undergraduate meeting places, and romanced undergraduate women (which technically wasn’t very ethical considering some of these graduate students were also teaching assistants). How hard was it to find someone their own age to hang out with?

It turns out to be harder than you think. I am one of the unlucky few who are at the interface between relatively carefree early twenty-something (i.e. most undergrads) and the blissfully married late twenty-something (i.e. most grads). I am like the former yet I know and work mostly with the latter. It’s very hard to relate when I’m at a gathering and most of the people are gushing about their significant others. Yet I would never put myself in an undergraduate setting because I feel that that part of my life is over.

Anyways, here is a list of blogs from Dartmouth and as far as I can tell, they’re all run by undergraduates. You would think that with the wireless system around here some graduate students would also adopt the blog. A political blog, based on the rather conservative newspaper, The Dartmouth Review.

Free Dartmouth. Another political blog, this one proports to be liberal.

The Dartmouth Observer. Yet another political blog. They say they’re multi-partisan.

Little Plastic Castle. It’s in more of a journal format. Rather well written actually.

Dartmouth BlogRing. This is a list of Xanga blogs. All I can say is that they’re written in “AIM-speak” which isn’t really for me.

Selective Memory

For all my brain-wracking, I can’t remember. I would have been old enough to remember the Challenger Explosion, after all, I was at an age when I was learning reading and simple math. In fact, I distinctly remember doing just that. I remember learning to read from a paperback red textbook, writing on worksheets, and playing in the snow. But I don’t remember any news.

Perhaps that is the problem with youth. I was too myopic, too worried about myself to bother with the bigger picture. In fact, I’m quite sure I’m still not bothering as much with the bigger picture as I should. Is the sense of unreality, contributed by the television, the radio, the internet, too weak to unsettle my conscience?

Am I sorry that I don’t remember? No, not really. It’s enough that I know it happened. If someone kept a record, written or otherwise, of that day they experienced, I understand. However, I’m just irritated that people speak so authoritatively when they say they remember very clearly the day the shuttle exploded or when JFK was assassinated or when 9/11 occurred. How can that entire day be so crystal clear to them? I must have the worst memory in the world.

Tuesday Too:

1. Are you comfortable spending time alone? Do you actually look forward to that time? Why, or why not?

Yes. I’m one of those people who need time alone. Otherwise I’d just go mad.

2. What’s the next best thing to your best thing?

A battered wide-ruled magenta notebook with “3 subjects”. Why is it my next best thing? Well, for one, I’ve been trying to finish it off for the past six years. It’s been difficult because I’ve been using it as a back-up for my other writing exercise notebook (which is actually bigger and I go through them every one and a half to two years).

a page from one of my writing notebooks

3. What do wish you’d done last week/last month that you didn’t do? If you’re someone who accomplishes everything you set out to do, please let us in on the secret.

Well, aside from reading the entire book, Basic Immunology (I liked Janeway’s Immunobiology better), last week was a dud, partly because it was exam week and partly because I procrastinated on a homework set that I had no business with procrastinating. As for the past month, let’s just say I’ve managed to keep up with the papers I had to read.

* * *

The more I think about it, the more unhappy I am with my living arrangements. I don’t like having neighbors who cause minor fires every time they cook. I don’t really like having roommates who have strange habits, use my things without telling me, come into the bathroom when it’s obviously occupied, throw parties without warning. The same types of people, I suspect, who would tell me to turn my classical music down if I played it loud enough. It feels like the first year of my undergraduate career all over again, that my living space didn’t really feel like mine. I got used to dorm life eventually, but this isn’t exactly dorm life. In a dorm, everyone’s in the same boat and comprehend that you need your personal space. This is like living with a bunch of relatives you can’t stand because relatives believe they can take certain liberties.

Or maybe it’s me.

Unfortunately, I’m stuck here for approximately the next term and a half. Which means I’ll have to use all my extra energy for apartment searching.

More of the same.
Do your own handwriting analysis.

The Devil Piano

Baptists* are notorious for those “call downs” at the end of each service to strongly encourage those who feel they are ready for the next step in embracing the Christian faith. It was comical, how much they made the pastor look like Bob Barker on “Price is Right” and the call itself a “come on down!” as if you didn’t, you risked losing that red convertible or that trip to Baja. People who have personally met Bob Barker tell me that he’s not a nice man, and like Bob Barker, the “call down” has its sinister side in its implication that if you didn’t “come down” you were just a sorry excuse of a voyeuristic sinner.

They (the churches I have been to at least) were very good at doing that, making the average church goer feel dirty at the end. Far from religious. This disillusionment started when I began listening to the words–words that spoke of right and wrong and faith that more often than not, strayed into a lecture. I am not a criminal who broke all ten commandments and neither do I care for the metaphysical claptrap interspersed in between that is more confusing than enlightening. And the hymns, beautiful as they are, have been twisted to suit those attention-seeking divas, pulling on your heart like a leash, leading you to the altar.

I missed the time when the only thing I understood was the music. When I was four years old, the strange smelling ladies from church dressed me up in a white frock with a dark red collar. Apparently I had been volunteered up for the children’s choir by my mother. I was the smallest, so I stood at the end of the line, next to the church organ. The first time the choir performed, what I sang did not matter, because when the organist placed his hands on the keyboard and his feet danced on the pedals below, a roar blasted from the pipes in the wall behind me, deafening. The pastor, cloaked in red and black, stood in a visible alcove behind the choir and his face was devoid of all expression. He pushed someone dressed in white down and there was the rustling of water. The initiate struggled up, red in the face, gasping, wet.

And something went through me then, not awe or wonder, but fear. The pastor acted as if something had taken over him–that wet young man could have drowned! And with the echoing notes of the organ, I began to believe that the instrument was the source of power, that God must be acting through the organ. And the man who manipulated the keys and buttons, the organist controlled all of it.

I wanted to play the organ.

It’s too big**. Your feet will never reach the pedals.

The organist also played the piano. And they were similar enough that I figured, if I knew how to play the piano, I would also know how to play the organ. I begged my parents for piano lessons. My mother thought it was a good idea, thinking that I might actually be good at it if I started early enough (she herself had taken a year of piano lessons when she was a teenager–apparently too late to be of any use) and convinced a piano teacher to take me on despite her early protests that I was too young.

My first piano teacher was a pleasant old woman with infinite amount of patience. I learned the notes, how to read music, fingerings. But what fascinated me were the two electric organs in her studio. When would I learn how to play that? Occasionally, I would see the teacher’s husband, a hoary bent-backed man coming in after my lesson (or going out before) to prepare for his own students. He taught the organ. But at the moment, I was simply plucking out “Twinkle, Twinkle” and thought, maybe if I became good enough, he would be my teacher.

The pastor of the church was moving away at the same time. What a fortunate turn of events! He needed to get rid of his piano; I need one to practice on. My parents took me to his house and I got a good look at it. Unlike the black grand piano in church, this was an upright piano. And it was dark red. The cover and supporting legs were intricately carved with flourishes that looked like flames. And were those faces peeking out from behind, wide-eyed and frightened? It was love at first sight.

The first songs I ever learned were practiced on this piano. Every time I touched the keys, I imagined that these faces started to smile. For the recital, I listened to the more advanced players and learned, there is music out there, more beautiful than those hymns pounded out with such ferociousness every Sunday morning on the organ. When I played my piece, I garnered applause instead of half-drowned men. I realized then what sort of control really mattered.

*Obviously, not all Baptists are rabid evangelists. Nonetheless, I feel the whole situation is about control and not about faith.

**Strangely enough, it was the same case with my secondary instrument, the cello. I wanted to play the bass, but it was too big (it’s still probably too big for me). I must have a fetish on size.

Silly quiz:
Take the Polygeek Quiz at I am 41% geek, far less than what I proclaim myself to be. Here is what it says:

You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You’ll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.


The first time I ran upon the stereotype of the smart Asian was also the first time when I was in a classroom with another Asian. The only things she and I had in common were that we were Chinese, female, and had one younger sister. Other than that (and the fact that my desk was beside hers), we were day and night and I avoided her.

She was indisputably the resident genius. She had stellar grades. Occasionally she would go to the nearby middle school for an advanced math class (already doing algebra!) and doing advanced reading on her own. I, however, plodded on doing acceptable yet average work. Specifically, I remember one creative writing assignment. Ah, perhaps I would be able to stand out with my crazy fantasy story about detectives and fast food restaurants. But my hopes were dashed when she churned out a 30 page realistic epic about a pregnant woman rushing to the hospital to give birth which garnered rave reviews from the teacher.

I envied her unoriginal American first name because it made her “fit” with the rest of the popular girls that she was friends with. She was trendy (I wasn’t) and she was outgoing and outspoken. She took private violin lessons. I played cello in the school string orchestra with all the other “amateurs”. She and I were civil to each other, I suppose, but she made no effort on her part either to be friendly to me.

For that entire year, I felt like her poor wannabe shadow. I sympathized with the awkward heroines in those sentimental Judy Blume books I secreted away. I was conscious of the fact that in school, I was being compared to her and in no way was my quality on par with hers. In fact, I made no mention of her to my parents, afraid that they might start thinking that I could do better than all those B-‘s I kept bringing home at the end of the semester.

The science fair was held at the end of the year. I entered, having no illusion that I would win because I never won before. I did some trite experiment on the effect of light on plant growth. She was studying tornadoes. Her younger sister ended up winning–her project was about studying the components of toothpaste. My classmate, the paragon, cried and threw a tantrum.

I was quietly pleased that she was not perfect. But then I also realized that I was very lucky that I never had that type of tension between myself and my sister.

Happy birthday to Marvin! One of these days, my sister is going to set up shop somewhere on the internet to sell off her chicken artwork. At the moment, she has no time to learn html.

Anyways, that paranoid feeling is sneaking up on me again. It must have been the local grocery store with half of its shelves completely empty and the cash register worked by a creepy thin man with a mustache.

“34 Million”. (via Avaleeland Dot Com) Although I think it’s for a good cause, this comic treads a fine line between amusement/satire and blatant advertisement.
I took the red pill. (via Allied) This is one of the things that make it such a gray area.
Everyday Yoga. At your desk. I hope you don’t strain a muscle.
My Virtual Model Inc. Fun, but scary.
Toaster Art. Okay art critics, try analyzing that!
Japanese Smileys. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an emoticon is simply a mish-mash of punctuation. I’m probably old-fashioned, but smileys only convey one thing for me–that you do not take your writing seriously. If you’re happy, sad, or angry, words should be sufficient to express the general feeling. (Of course, written words are no substitute of speaking in person, but that is completely different.)