22 August 2012

Dan's Rubik's Cube Solution

If you were one of my college blockmates in freshman and sophomore year, chances are, you would have seen me messing around with a Rubik's cube.

For posterity, I've rehosted the guide I was using at the time.

14 August 2012

为什么 / Why

I've had to ask myself lately why I've been studying Mandarin.

While I do hope it'll come in handy when my friends and I hit Beijing in October, there remains the question of what I'm going to do with Mandarin after that, and maybe also the question of whether I should continue studying at all.

I've entertained daydreams of returning to Singapore for more than just a visit, and that daydream now includes other Mandarin-speaking countries like Taiwan and, well, China. It seems to be the country to follow, the superpower to understand.

But yesterday, Cris (@crisgee) sent me "You'll Never Be Chinese", an essay by an expat who has decided, after nearly 20 years, to leave the great country he loved. It's not merely a laundry list of grievances experienced by a foreigner but a thoughtful look at how China will likely change, given current political and economic conditions.

I recommend reading the article, but if you're just going to stay here, I'll tell you that the writer decided that China wasn't the best place for him or his young family to live anymore. And if things play out the way he predicts, it doesn't seem like the right place for me, either.

What about Singapore, then? Well, today, Dom Cimafranca (@dcimafranca) shared this article about former PM Lee Kuan Yew urging Singaporeans to reproduce, and this one quote from Mr. Lee was especially intriguing:

"Do we want to replace ourselves or do we want to shrink and get older and be replaced by migrants and work permit holders?"

The comment thread below the article was also interesting. Amid complaints about high cost of living, suppression of free speech, and brain drain, commentators commonly ranted about the influx of so-called FT (foreign talent). So, it seems "You'll Never Be Singaporean", either.

Am I actually planning to leave the country? There's another big, important question.

Judging by the headlines in the paper I work for, people (government, private sector, and investors) are generally optimistic about the country's future. I share a bit of this optimism. I'm actually giddy at the thought of the good some practical urban planning and public-transport-related PPPs will do within the next decade or so.

But, I have this fear that after the next election, everything will be for naught.

Potentially horrible government notwithstanding, though, the Philippines actually looks like a good place to stay for now. I guess it depends on where I'll want to be in the next few years.

Yesterday, I also read "Thirty Is Not the New Twenty: Why your 20s Matter", shared by my cousin Didang (@manangdidang). Psychologist Meg Jay's points aren't actually anything I haven't read before, but they were a great reminder to check if I'm on track toward what I want in life. I particularly liked these quotes:

"Too many 20somethings have been led to believe that their 20s are for thinking about what they want to do and their 30s are for getting going on real life. But there is a big difference between having a life in your 30s and starting a life in your 30s. Even Erik Erikson, the father of the identity crisis, warned that young adults who spent too much time in 'disengaged confusion' were 'in danger of becoming irrelevant.'"

"One way to keep yourself honest about the future is by making a timeline. ... It may not be cool to have a timeline, or to admit to having a timeline, but you don't have to etch it in stone. It's just a way of thinking about how your life might, or might not, be adding up."

"Most 20somethings are terrified of being pinned down. They're afraid that if they choose a career or a job, they are closing off their other options and somehow their freedom will be gone and their lives will be over. In fact, getting a good job is the beginning."

"What you do everyday is wiring you to be the adult you will be."

I will acknowledge* here and now that I have a timeline. It isn't etched in stone, but it's there, keeping me in a holding pattern for the next couple of years while I accumulate necessary experience both professional and personal. After that, I don't know what comes next, but it will depend on what I achieve by then.

Maybe that sounds like the same kind of excuse Dr. Jay hears from late bloomers**. But I'm confident that I'm saying, "This is what I'm doing with my life," not, "I don't know what to do with my life."

I'm trying to be smarter as well as wiser for when I get older and, I hope, happier. I'm trying to be more open with my own loved ones and be more emotionally healthy. I'm trying to break bad habits, build life skills, regain the nerdy do-your-homework-as-soon-as-you-get-home attitude I had in high school, and learn to cook and clean properly.

That way, whatever happens in the next few years, I'll be in good shape to deal with it.

I suppose I can only hope that Mandarin will somehow still be useful at that point.

* One favorite lesson from my Intro to Journ teacher was that "admit" should be used for things that are actually wrong or bad, like errors or crimes.
** I do worry about the message Dr. Jay's interview might send to the people who do "start a life" in their 30s or even later. While some things, like viable egg cells, have an expiration date, I don't want to write over-20s off. Despite lot of setbacks could happen to me in the next five years, I want to believe that it will never be too late for me to have a decent life.

03 August 2012

Chinese Names and the Unfortunate Meaning of 精

I still haven't chosen a full Chinese name.

When I first tried to come up with a Chinese name, I looked up the meaning of Alvarez, which is a Hispanic "Alfher's son." Alfher itself means "elf army" or "elf warrior," which is pretty awesome!

"Adventure Time" © Frederator / Cartoon Network

So, I looked up "elf" in my Chinese dictionary and found the word 精灵 (jīnglíng), which is also used for spirits, fairies, sprites, and genies.

精 (jīng) by itself also means "essence," which I really liked. If I went with the traditional meaning of Katrina ("pure"), I'd come out with "Pure Spirit/Essence."

Sounds pretty good, right? It seemed to fit, if I took into account my physical size, my love for fairy tales, and my occasional intellectual pretensions. It even alluded to one of my actual names — when I was even smaller, my dad nicknamed me "Impy."

As I read the dictionary, the cool meanings of 精 kept coming:
  • vitality
  • energy
  • mythical goblin spirit
  • highly perfected
  • elite
  • the [top] pick
  • proficient
And then,
  • semen, sperm

Cue the record scratch, the face-palm, the dizzying pig's blood scene from "Carrie." The magical, wonderful 精, had to be scrapped, lest I suffer some schoolyard "haha, your name is Pure Semen!" taunting.

I decided to put off the search for a proper Chinese name until I'd learned more. In the process, I found that there are actually Chinese words that are recognized as surnames. All of the names I've encountered so far have several meanings, like 精 above, but one of the dictionaries I use also lists "Chinese surname" among them.

Eventually, I deduced three common characteristics or requirements for a decent Chinese name.
  1. The surname character is a recognized surname character.
  2. For non-Chinese people, the whole Chinese name sounds something like their non-Chinese name.
  3. The characters also describe one's personality or ideals, or just something aesthetically pleasing, like "Little Cloud."

My textbook features two foreigners, David March and Natalie Lynn, and their Chinese names are 马大为 (Mǎ Dàwéi) and 林娜 (Lín Nà). I'm not sure if their personalities really match "great horse" and "elegant forest," but I suppose it's also possible some names are more for sound than meaning.

A better example, I think, is Cris's Chinese name, 耿实勇 (Gěng Shíyǒng). 耿 (Gěng) is listed in my references as a surname, the whole name sounds similar to "Garcia," and the entire name itself means "bright, honest, brave" — quite fitting for my boyfriend, if I do say so myself.

Unfortunately for me, there don't seem to be a lot of Chinese surnames that start with A (there aren't a lot of Chinese surnames to begin with). So, I'm looking now at lists of surnames for B, R/L, W, and Z sounds and then picking out what seems appropriate or interesting:
  • 白 (Bái) - white, pure, clear
  • 毕 (Bì) - complete, full
  • 乐 (Lè) - happy
  • 罗 (Luó) - to collect, gather, catch, or sift
  • 饶 (Ráo) - rich, abundant; to spare
  • 芮 (Ruì) - small
  • 文 (Wén) - language, culture, writing
  • 菑 (Zī) - field ready for planting

I also like 平 (Píng), which means "level," "equal," and also "peaceful." While it doesn't sound anything like "Alvarez," it does match my preferred meaning for Katrina, "each of the two."

For the "ka" sound in my first name, I've only got 卡 (kǎ), which means "to stop/block" or "card" — not very interesting. The next closest sound would be three "kai":
  • 开 (kāi) - to open/start/drive
  • 恺 (kǎi) - contentment, joy
  • 凯 (kǎi) - triumph

I'm not too keen on the last one, though; I'm not a very aggressive person.

For T sounds, there is only 特 (tè), which means "special" or "unusual." Lest anyone think I'm being conceited, the rest of the tè aren't really good options:
  • 慝 - evil/demonic idea
  • 忒 - to make a mistake
  • 螣 - mythical flying snake (téng), now used to refer to a pest insect

There are also some tí that are all right:
  • 提 - to carry, lift, or put forward
  • 媞 - just a sound used in girl's names

If I used a B, L, or W surname, I could also go for a first name with L/R and Z sounds for Alvarez, just as Cris's name mimics the soft C and Y sounds in Garcia.
  • 利 (lì) - sharp, favorable, to do good, or to benefit
  • 立 (lì) - to stand, or to establish
  • 历 (lì) - to experience or undergo
  • 瑞 (ruì) - good luck
  • 睿 (ruì) - wise, far-sighted

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a lot of interesting Z-sound words.
  • 泽 (zé) - pool, pond, or favor
  • 子 (zǐ) - child [this would make a nice allusion to the "son of Alfher" meaning of Alvarez]

Still, there's a lot to work with. I'm going to mix and match these and see if I can make a decision.

Anyone reading this have a preference, or better yet, a reference? Just nothing that means "demonic idea," or "semen."

01 August 2012

Wake / Sprawl House

My great-aunt Luz Reyes died last week. I wasn't very close to her, so I didn't expect her wake to raise all these questions.

One of her former colleagues from Maryknoll/Miriam was there at the wake last night, asked how old Auntie Lutz was when she died (89), and proclaimed, "She lived a very long time."

Immediately, I saw the ratio of my own age to hers, saw my childhood flash before my eyes, and wondered if I was up to enduring about three more turns of my life so far. Then, I looked at my lola, Auntie Lutz's sister, sitting next to me, and thought of all the things she'd experienced in her own life: childhood, adolescence, war, heartbreak, the academe, marriage, children, more teaching, grandchildren, more teaching, the death of her spouse, and now, a quiet life of reading, solving crossword puzzles and sudoku, and occasionally travelling.

Could I live that long, and that much?

I imagined her at my age, then tried to figure out how old she'd been — how long she'd already lived — the day I was born (63; on the brink of retirement), wondered what she thought of her own life, wondered what she was thinking as she sat before the coffin of a sister who'd been just a year older than she, wondered — I'm just going to say it — when will my lola die?, and tried to remember what she'd once said to me — or was it to Mikko? — about death.

I wish I could remember, did she say that she was ready?

I don't fear death, but I want to know, how can one honestly say that they are ready to die?

And I looked at her white hair and her face and her tiny frame in that silvery gray sweater, and I wondered what it was like to be old.


This is a study of a building layout that's sort of possessed me lately. When I first posted the photo on Tumblr, I captioned it, "Small house on the water," but something like "Sprawl House" might be more appropriate.

I don't actually see a house or other structure that itself sprawls. I suppose it could, but really, I'm thinking of the house in great, sprawling environments:
  • Stilt house, with a winding wooden dock, over the water of a vast river or the sea;
  • Remains of an ancient temple, or Atlantis, or Pompeii;
  • Small chapel or shrine set into the rocky red cliffs of a desert, like Sedona or Joshua Tree;
  • Lonely shack in the middle of endless woods;
  • Little cabin on the green prairies or purple moors that stretch on to forever; or
  • Tiny scientific research outpost in the Arctic Circle, during the quarter of the year that the sun doesn't set.
Perhaps my isolated village wasn't isolated enough for me; growing up, I enjoyed stories of people surviving alone in the woods, or of fairy tale heroes finding healing or wisdom in some wizened crone's secret cave / magic hut. I was also a fan of the "Boxcar Children" series, which started out with four orphans making a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar (also in the woods), as well as "The Little Prince," "The Island of the Blue Dolphins," and the perhaps less grand but no less entertaining "Baby Island." Also, many of the stories and games I made up, whenever I played by myself, involved living on a raft or in a one-room house.

Lately, those tingly, make-believe hermit feelings have come back, and instead of stories, I have this layout, as well as the tantalizing idea of much, much bigger paper.