Thursday, February 28, 2013

practice makes perfect

I haven't posted about my almae matres in a while so without further ado...this time I shall deal with the dark side of Cornell (insert dark intro music here).

Prelude (1998):
Before I was Architart, I was Enginerd.  During the summer of 1998 I took an Engineering and Technology summer course at a local university in San Antonio, taught by an excellent lecturer named Dr. Richard Howe.  He was clearly a fan of James Burke and structured his lectures to connect the greatest hits of major engineering breakthroughs from aqueducts to petrochemicals.  Almost all of the inventors were male until we got to the 19th century and Ellen Swallow Richards. Richards was the first woman admitted to M.I.T. and also the first person at the university to qualify for a doctoral degree but the university  refused to grant it to her (they wanted to give the degree to a man even though none qualified).  She was, however, allowed to be an unpaid assistant instructor.  Eventually she said f*#k that went on to become a sanitation engineering expert, introducing the word "ecology" to the English language.

As women began to gain admittance at universities, Richards created the home economics degree.  Most of us have taken home economics courses, which consisted of sewing a pillow and baking a pizza, but the actual degree was far more compelling.  With a mind toward the fact that most women were meant for homemaking careers, Richards devised a curriculum that included chemistry, nutrition, sanitation, economics and household management.  A lot of the relevance has been lost as women have moved into other careers and the remaining modern housewives don't really need to know how to mix their own cleaning compounds although once in a while you hear about someone mixing store bought solvents and being rushed to the hospital from the resultant toxic fumes.

Vassar College granted an honorary doctor of science degree to Richards in 1910.  M.I.T. did not.

Cornell was the first Ivy to admit women in 1870, five years after it was founded.  To this day the home economics degree exists in some form, though it is now called human ecology. The College of Human Ecology comprises departments of Human Development (HD), Policy Analysis & Management (PAM), Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS), Design & Environmental Analysis (DEA), and Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD).  Students graduate with degrees in Biology and Society, Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, Human Biology, Health and Society, Human Development, Nutritional Sciences, and Policy Analysis and Management.

So what's the dark side, you may ask.

Let me tell you about practice apartments.

In the early 1900s, home economics programs across the US introduced practical experience for their child rearing students.  At Cornell, students could live in practice homes where they performed a range of homemaking activities.  The child rearing portion took place with a practice baby.  Practice baby being an infant secured from an orphanage or child welfare association.  This was justified because the infant was being raised according the latest, greatest scientific principles.  To be fair, the infants did not come from ideal conditions (some were malnourished) and what little information is available suggests that the practice babies became sought after by adoptive families because of the state-of-the-art nurturing practices.

Still, I wonder what Harry Harlow and other behavioral psychologists would have said based on their studies on primary bonding and maternal deprivation.

Eventually, the majority opinion shifted away from the need for practical applications of homemaking.  The flower children of the 60's were less inclined to spend their evenings nursing a baby.  Practice apartments were dropped form the Cornell curriculum in 1969.  That same year, armed students took over Willard Straight Hall to protest institutional racism.  It was a time of conflict and social and ideological change.  The babies went out with the blackwater.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

no pain

Our rugby team won our semifinal and are on our way to our fifth grand final in a row.  We were not expected to win the semifinal, having lost to the opposition team every time we met in the regular season.  This probably was my favorite win in recent memory; not only did we play our best game as a team after an average regular season, but I tackled their fly half.  Twice.  And I'm a prop.  Yeaaaaahhhh!

Our club has been partnered with Australian Nutrition and Sports, and they have provided us with protein drinks and other nutrition/performance supplements throughout the season.  Before the match we were given energy gels.  I was concerned about being too jittery and then crashing but Tom, the representative, explained to me that they did not contain caffeine or anything that would cause the peaks and lows that a lot of energy boosters cause.  Since our team hadn't been performing well anyway I figured that I had nothing to lose by trying out the gel, which was filled with electrolytes  vitamins and amino acids.

After the match my teammates and I debated over what caused the peak in our performance.  Most of us felt much higher in energy throughout the match and it wasn't until an hour after the match before I started noticing fatigue.  Was it the gel, the placebo effect, or adrenaline?  After the first half I had the feeling that you get with a runner's high.  Apparently the runner's high is great with masking pain because I had no idea that I had sprained my wrist until hours later.  And my legs - let's just say that I'm wrapped and compressed like a mummy in hopes of a speedy recovery.  I look hot; I don't know why SB isn't all over me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

in my bones

After hearing almost nothing but positive reviews, I finally sat down to read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  It had been sitting on my Kindle backlog of books that I had purchased with intentions to read but didn't for various reasons.  One of the friends who recommended the novel to me did so during a conversation over how I was coping with losing my uncle.  She thought that the book, though not exactly an uplifting story, did a wonderful job conveying the breadth and depth of emotions accompanying loss and recovery.  It was supposed to be uplifting.

A couple of chapters into the book I realized that I had made a huge mistake.  My mind could not wrap around the lovely bones of connections that were growing in the character's absence.

I was thinking not of Uncle Jon but of another woman and a wound that remains open.

Michelle Parker went to high school with me in Winter Park, Florida.  At one time she was very close with my best friend but they had a falling out. Typical high school silliness.  After graduation we went in very different directions.  My best friend attended a well regarded university in another state and then built a storybook ending type of life for herself in Chicago while Michelle remained in town and apparently dated the the same types bad boys that had swarmed to her in high school.  Michelle was beautiful with a vivacious, forceful personality.  I write in past tense because she has been missing since 17 November, 2011.

Missing.  There is no wholeness being built in this story, but gaping emptiness.  She was last seen after a dispute with her ex-fiance, Dale Smith, was publicly aired.  Coincidentally, Dale Smith was the last known person to see her, hours after the video aired. In the video she claimed, "He gets pretty malicious and vindictive..and he's a mean person, especially when he's been drinking. He shouldn't have put his hands on me, and he shouldn't have put his hands on me prior."

I cannot finish the book.  Every time I even think about the book, I am filled with an awful weight of despair and frustration.  Where is she, Dale Smith?  I am sickened that he has custody of the children when he is the prime (only) suspect.  I am angry that the police can't prove anything that all of us feel in our bones, that he murdered her.  I feel the ghost of the book in the form of these questions and fears that are floating around me.  Where is she, Dale Smith? Where is Michelle?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I was one of the people who reacted strongly upon hearing that wrestling may be dropped from the 2020 Olympic Games.

The reasons given for dropping wrestling made monetary sense and it is a fact that staging the Olympic Games places a massive and often unrecoverable financial burden on the host nation.  Wrestling did not make the cut of the 26 core sports based on analysis of more than three dozen criteria including popularity, television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policies, and global participation.

But are they really telling us that wrestling was less popular than trampoline and  race walking?!  And let's please revisit why the modern pentathlon, a clearly less popular sport, didn't face the ax.  The IOC assures us that the son of Samaranch's position as vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union had nothing to do with its preservation.  And heck, it's not even a pentathlon.

I hope that wrestling governing bodies can come up with a way to adapt the sport so that it can continue to compete.  Maybe a reworking of policies and some investments to promote global participation can save it.  They could take some pointers from rugby and lacrosse, which are fast growing sports.  As thrilled as I am for rugby sevens to be on the Olympic list, I personally would choose wrestling over sevens for historic reasons.

Wrestling is one of the oldest sports played in the games (since the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896) and a form of it was also present in the ancient games since at least 708 BC.  I didn't understand the lack of popularity since it is a very popular sport at both high school and collegiate levels in the States.  I guess the rest of the world, with the exception of former Soviet nations, doesn't care so much.  I wonder what will happen to its popularity if it is permanently removed from the games; I imagine that a lot of kids take it up with Olympic aspirations.

If anything, reworking some of the policies to make wrestling appealing to the Olympics can help its popularity with fans.  The current scoring system is very hard to follow so at home television watchers  would appreciate changes that made it easier for us to determine the winner.  I hope that something can be done to return wrestling to the games.

off record

At some point my blog address was changed by Google from to I didn't think anything of it until I tried searching the blog with my Google search tool. It only looks under the hk suffix so it will only return results from a year and a half or so. So now if I want to look up something on the blog I have to remember to look up both the current address and the previous one. I wonder if the blog address changed back to the ".com" suffix when I was in the States last summer. Will it change again if I move again? I wish that Google had given me the option of staying with my original blog address.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Keiko Fukuda

Sensei Keiko Fukuda, who was brought to my attention when she achieved her tenth dan at the age of 98, passed away at her home in San Francisco on 9 February.  At 4'10" (147cm) and pushing the century mark, she was probably the most unassuming martial artist you could meet.  

When I ponder what my retirement age will be for contact sports I can take heart that Sensei Fukuda was still practicing her technique on the mat until very recently.  Of course, she was more marvel than typical but one can only be inspired to hope.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

mean girls

We finished our regular season with our first and only home match at the So Kon Po sports ground, against the blue and white team.  As is the tradition, I came away with a few more facial abrasions than I usually pick up.  The team photographer was able to capture the other team's flanker ramming her head into mine at scrums.  I didn't complain about it at the time because we destroyed the opposition, winning their ball from them frequently.  I was told that my opposing front rower played for the national team so I was pleased with my performance over her.  Our tight five led the team in this match.  Usually it's the backs who deservedly get most of the praise but this match was messy and full of restarts that we dominated.

(source: Phoebe Leung)

At a breakdown, as I was clearing a ruck, I caught a player from the other team as she was withdrawing her hand from clawing me in the face. As play moved on, I stood over her and lifted my boot.  It had rained the night before and I was wearing my big, metal studs.  We had a moment where we made eye contact and I saw her wincing in anticipation of what was coming but instead I stamped my foot next to her and then went back to the game.  I am not a fan of turning the other cheek and it was more difficult not retaliating than it should have been.  SB felt a bit bloodthirsty after seeing the scrape down my nose and thought that even if I didn't stamp her, I should at least have stepped on her.   And maybe added a foot twist.

After the match our club's women's teams went to dinner at SCAA, followed by beer on the rooftop.  Eventually there were drinking games.  One of the games bothered me; it was a trick where two people face each other with spoons in their mouths and take turns rapping each other on the head.  One player is the hapless victim and the other has a cohort who, each time the victim bows her head to take a rap, reaches over and whacks her on the head instead of the player with the spoon.  The goal is for the victim to concede because it hurts too much or figure out the trick that is being played.  The game went on until the victim was being hit with a cocktail glass instead of a spoon.  Some of the girls watching the game seemed to be taking too much pleasure and I found out later that the victim player had been chosen because she had committed some kind of a wrong against the others.  Mean girls.

After the game I went to join SB and the men's teams in Wanchai.  Instead of playing drinking games the men were standing around in the bar with their shirts off. There were few women in the bar so the scene was kinda homoerotic.  I could only take so much of being accidentally rubbed by drunk, sweaty men before calling it a night.  I left them dancing with each other as the remaining women fled into the night.

Friday, February 15, 2013

love hurts

I patted myself on the back for planning my portion of our V day meal so that most of the work was done ahead of time and skipped off to rugby training.  Soon after the session began I started wondering if my coach was down on love.  For the next hour we went through increasingly difficult drills that involved carrying our teammates around the pitch.  We were paired off according to position, which resulted in me being placed with another front rower who probably outweighs me by seventy to eighty pounds. Then we spent the last thirty minutes in a team run.  If I'd had any energy left at the end of it, I would have flipped off coach when he wished us all a happy remainder of our Valentine's day.

SB had reason to worry when I staggered through our front door like I had sea legs.  I barely had the energy to shove the pre-made dishes into the oven.  I passed out on his lap before we made it to dessert and woke up to find him watching some gory show about the Boston Irish mob digging up putrid bodies in a basement.  Considering the previous mishaps, this was one of our more successful V days so I will chalk it up as a win.

Even better, I woke up this morning and had the red velvet cake for breakfast.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

love is easy

Thursday is St. Valentine's Day, commonly known as the commercial holiday when you can pay lots of money for cards containing sentimental swill and heart shaped boxes of waxy chocolate.  For years the 14th of February was a dreaded event because I was either single and received unwanted (and insincere) sympathy from my coupled friends or I was in a relationship and felt enormous pressure to be lovey even though we hadn't progressed to that stage.  These days I am nauseatingly infatuated with SB so I can appreciate having a day to remind ourselves of our deep wuv for one another.  But we'll skip the box of chocolate this year, as we have every year since that incident when he brought me lowfat chocolate.  He doesn't handle pressure well and he's already sweating over a gift to give me since he missed my birthday again.

I made a few suggestions to him and decided to share them on the blog for any other readers who don't have time (or complexity management skills) to go all out for your loved one but would like to make a gesture.  SB loves music so he will be creating a playlist of songs that evoke happy memories.  So far he played Foo Fighters' February Stars and told me about his warm memories of driving in the snow with ex-girlfriend F.  F is my favorite of the exes but I was kinda hoping that he would have songs related to me.  My playlist will include Death Cab for Cutie's Soul Meets Body and Muse's Uprising.  Even thought there aren't any memories related to it, I will also chuck in Jeff Healey Band's Angel Eyes because I loved it as a hormonal pre-teen and dammit, I want it to be "our song."

SB will also be cooking something.  Something uncomplicated.  If you have an oven or even a toaster oven that can hold a baking dish, the recipe for Chicken Marbella is pretty easy.  All you need to do is pre-marinate the ingredients.

Even easier is making Panna Cotta for dessert.  I really like the recipe by David Lebovitz.  You can use heart shaped silicone molds and pour red berry sauce on top to bump up the romance level.  Whatever you do, please read the whole recipe before embarking on your culinary journey to make sure that you have allocated enough time.

Happy St. Valentine's Day!


Less than a week after my outburst regarding the Catholic Church, I opened my news compiler to find that the pope is going to abdicate.  I hear that one of the attributes for those born during the year of the snake is psychic ability.  If only I could predict how he will be remembered or more importantly, what corrective measures will be taken now that he's gone.

I know how I will remember.

He is the man who in May 2001 warned every bishop of the extreme gravity of reporting of rape and torture because such accusations against clergy were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction and charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence" and everyone "is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication." (source: Jamie Doward's two reports in the London Observer)

In April he very publicly rebuked American nuns for spending too much time “promoting issues of social justice” while failing to speak out often enough about “issues of crucial importance to the life of the church and society,” such as abortion and gay marriage. (source: Stephanie Simon's report for Reuters)

In 2010 he called same-sex marriage one of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world. Did someone forget about the allegations of child sex abuse? (source: Nick Squires for the Telegraph)

Monday, February 11, 2013

free market

Hong Kong is a city of consumers; the masses of shoppers have propelled Causeway Bay to the top of the world for retail rental prices, hopping over Fifth Avenue and Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  As a Hong Kong dweller, I can find almost everything I want if I know where to look.  Hong Kong retailers don't utilize the internet as much as I would like but I have a network of friends who are savvy shoppers.

Cousin Shoils is the purveyor of all information related to restaurants and fine foods.  Neighbor Daphne is always looking for the elusive best/cheapest combinations and can readily tell you where she thinks you should go for dumplings, baked goods, and barbecue.  One of my colleagues will hunt down the best deals for electronics and give you the list, including brown market and goods of dubious origin.  I have never gone underground but he did a great job negotiating for my laptop at the Wanchai Computer Centre.  Even I have found a use: I am great for remembering unusual items that I have come across.  I felt pride in being able to repay Cousin Shoils' resourcefulness when I told her where to buy dog bone shaped cookie cutters and I can tell you where to find size XXXL neon orange safety suits.

If you have any doubts about my utility, just take a look at what people are buying and selling.  When SB and I placed our dining table on sale on AsiaXpat we saw some really interesting ads.  I've added a highlight reel of my favorites below:

Arts and Crafts: I applaud the amateur designers such as this one, who is selling an iPhone cover in ...some kind of a theme.

Horse Riding Simulator: I don't know whose home has room for this but at $0, it's the right price and what a conversation piece it would be!

Flight Simulator: This looks like fun!

Designer Packaging:  Yes, you read that correctly.  This person is selling empty boxes, but they are top designer brand empty boxes.

Used Makeup: I wouldn't even give away my used makeup but maybe buyers of used makeup don't have my hygiene concerns.

Giant Beer Bong: for you and your five closest friends.  What it was doing in the sporting goods listing is beyond me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Flowers and the Chinese New Year 2013

SB and I rang in the New Year by attending the flower market.  No, not the one in Victoria Park.  Do you think we're crazy?  We brilliantly managed to get ourselves invited to dinner at a village near Kam Tin and stopped by the Sheung Shui flower market on our way home.   Four years ago we had attempted to attend the Victoria Park fair and were waved away by a police officer.  Literally.  He was making emphatic arm motions in case the thousands of people standing in line looked appealing to us.

The best part of our visit to the Sheung Shiu market was that the family who hosted us for dinner were happy to discuss Chinese traditions and flower meanings at length.  We figured that red was for luck and yellow was for fortune.  I had been wondering about a yellow plant that looked like citrus so it was nice for the mystery to be solved as the plant was identified as Solanum Mammosum (Ng Doi Tung Tung), or "Five Generations Living Harmoniously Under One Roof." 

According to our hosts, chrysanthemums signify easiness with life, narcissus signify prosperity, lilies signify innocence, peach blossoms signify luck and are especially meaningful in the winter, tangerines and orange fruits signify abundant happiness, and willow branches represent the ability to bend without breaking.  I can't remember the rest of the meanings so if anyone wants to add any (or correct any that I may have gotten wrong), please do.  We also were not able to find out why flower markets occur in the New Year.

We brought home an orchid and willow arrangement along with lilies.  SB wanted more blooms but I didn't think our small home could handle any more scents.  On the way home an older Chinese man struck up a conversation with us.  He used to be a police officer in Queens and now lives in Monterrey Park, California.  I don't know what it is about SB that renders him easily approachable.  He was sporting his beard that makes him look like the Unabomber, which also focuses one's attention to his nose that has clearlybeen broken a few times.  Not a friendly look in my opinion but as usual, he was making friends with random strangers. I think that I look like a pleasant person but I don't get chatted up nearly as much as he does.  By the time we exited the train the two of them were guffawing like old chaps while the man's niece was looking at them in bewilderment.  At least she recognized that SB looked like someone you wouldn't want to meet on a cold, dark, new moon night.  Smart one, that niece.

Friday, February 8, 2013

the prodigal bum

SB has returned sporting enough facial hair that I am sure that he didn't shave once during his two months away.  And toenails so long that he looks like a cat.

Somehow I am overjoyed to see him.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

paved with god intentions

Reading the news articles regarding the cover ups and behind the scenes manipulation by the archdiocese of Los Angeles has enraged me.  Over the years, the Catholic Church has engaged in many slippery maneuvers to protect their assets without a care to their victims- the most innocent of victims, abused by the worst kinds of individuals, shielded by the church. Eight U.S. Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection.  In Florida, the most vocal opponent to removing the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors was the Catholic Church.

I am sick with thoughts of my indirect support of these criminals.  I think of every tithe I paid to my congregation, of all the money I raised by fasting and donating my lunch money as a kid, and any pride I had is replaced by deep suspicion of what the money was used for.  I remember my first trip to Italy and visit to the Vatican.  I saw the priceless artwork, including one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world, but my awe is replaced by cynicism.  I wonder how the great wealth that was funneled into the highest ranks of the church is somehow untouchable to the victims of these "bankrupt" dioceses.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

oh baby

It seems that every other person I meet wants to know why SB and I aren't married.  I've had some people ask the question within hours of being introduced.  I don't know why I answer politely when such a personal question seems so impolite coming from someone I just met.  Maybe I feel pressure to present unmarried couples in a good light rather than a sinful, red light.  We aren't opposed to getting married; in fact we have been working toward it but at a very, very, very slow pace.  We'll do it when we feel like it.  There is no major rush since we aren't doing it for religious/procreation purposes.

The follow up inevitably is why don't we want children.  Almost every busybody will then exclaim, "but you would make such good parents!"  First of all, we just met you so that's a really irresponsible thing to say.  Second, why does everyone think that it's a valid argument?  I DO think that I'm capable of being a good parent.  I have volunteered to coach or tutor children almost all of my adult life, and in one case the kid I mentored spent more time with me than his mother, even when she wasn't in jail.  My desire not to procreate is not because I'm some child hater or lacking in ability to nurture.  In fact, I love our nieces and nephews to bits and trips home always include plans to spend quality time with the kids.  So please stop telling me that I should have children because I'll make such a good mother.  From my experience as a pole vaulter, I'd probably make a great pole dancer but that doesn't mean that I should be running out to buy a pair of Lucite heels and a sparkly thong.  Or does it?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

top gear

Has the number of cars in Hong Kong increased?  Today I walked from the valley to Causeway Bay and I think that my foot speed was faster than the vehicles I passed.  No one seemed to be moving at higher than a crawl.  It is always sad to see drivers in their sleek race cars idling in traffic.  Wait, no it isn't.  But I have noticed that every other vehicle on the road seems to be some type of van with dual license plates.  Are these cars just going back and forth to Shenzhen and Guangzhou?

Monday, February 4, 2013


I took up the whistle yesterday for a couple of U12 matches.  It was a last second appointment and I hadn't had a chance to review the IRB laws so I was nervous. I tended to run slightly behind the attacking line instead of on it but I was pleased with my overall performance.  I was good about communicating clearly with the players so that I didn't need to use my whistle very much.  That was a good thing because the referee manager was watching the match and I could see him wincing every time I blew; apparently my ice hockey whistle wasn't up to his standards.  He is giving me a louder, shriller whistle for my next run on so we can thank him for bleeding ears in the future.

My initial nervousness was compounded when not even half an hour into the tournament a coach came storming up to the organizer and me, ranting about another referee.  I had observed some of the match and understood the coach's frustration but this didn't make me feel thrilled to be up next.  It was my experience as a coach that made me apprehensive about being a referee.  Some parents are completely out of control.  I should video record some of the pitch-side antics.  There is a woman whose son is a wing and she runs alongside him, screeching at the top of her lungs.  When he makes mistakes, she is right there next to him to wave her arms and yell at him or the referee.  Last year I was distracted while coaching a match when a parent on the other team started yelling at his "stupid" son.  If I had been the referee I would have stopped the match and sent that SoB away.

There is one particular group of parent coaches who can always be counted on to put on a show.  If the ref misses a call they will all start sighing and moaning like a Greek chorus.  They look ridiculous.  They position themselves around the pitch so that you can hear them at all times.  Most of the squawking is directed at the kids but they are good at spreading the love to everyone on the pitch. I try to be fair and clear so that it's not all noise and negativity for the kids.  I'm doing this because I love rugby and I hope that I can give back in a way that allows others to love the game also.

Friday, February 1, 2013

in the garden

SB and I were having a familiar discussion of preferred seasons.  He's all about a winter wonderland while at this point in my life I enjoy autumn best.  I grew up too close to the equator to experience the beauty of leaves changing until I moved to New York.  My first autumn up there was spectacular.  Each day brought another color in the landscape until finally the first snowflake fell.  It will be a long time before that novelty wears out.

All the talk about seasons got me thinking about The Secret Garden.  The Broadway musical, based on the book, remains in my top ten.  I used to own the cassette recording from the original cast but it disappeared a long time ago, not that I could even play it anymore.  I can't remember the last time I saw a cassette tape player.  For years I was unable to find the CD and most internet searches pointed to Zbigniew Preisner's score for the film version, which was not related to the musical.

Then last night I did another search and found my beloved soundtrack from two sources.  You can download or purchase the CD at and a Youtube musical aficionado has uploaded the songs.  I have been happily singing along all evening while watching ice hockey on the television. I'm not sure that the two go together as well as playing Vivaldi while admiring Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery but it makes me happy.