Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Everyone we've ever known

Do you see it? The pale blue dot. That's Earth, as seen from 6.1 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) in an image taken by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990. This excerpt, as cited in Wikipedia, is from Carl Sagan's 1994 non-fiction book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It's a beautiful piece.

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Though your heart is breaking

Everything I've learned about customer service I learned from my first job (at a fast-food restaurant).
  • Greet the customer with a smile and a welcome
  • Answer a "thank you" with a "thank you" instead of a "you're welcome" (I still do this, and I think people think that it's weird. For some reason, "you're welcome" sounds too harsh to me.)
  • Annunciate when you speak
  • Repeat the order before you ring it up to make sure it's right
  • Count out the customer's change in front of them
  • The customer IS always right (you can have doubts, but treat them like they're right, except in extreme circumstance where you know they're just trying to work the system)
This combination of things rarely happens at any restaurants/businesses that I frequent in my city.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Qué dijiste?

My earliest memory about Spanish was that I pretended to strangers that I was a lot more proficient than I actually was. I was in a bookstore, and I was probably around 8. I was browsing the Spanish book section (I don’t know why, maybe because even then I thought Spanish was cool?), and a stranger saw me and said “Oh, you speak Spanish?” And I said “yes” and I grinned and started paging through the book (It was a kindergarten book with a few words per page) and pretending I knew what I was doing (I didn’t, really).

Growing up in San Diego I had a lot of exposure to Spanish but I didn’t actually start speaking it or learning it until my freshman year in high school. From the very first moment in that class, I was in love. My Spanish teacher was Mexican, and although she was a little tough on us freshmen (wise on her part), she was fair and she was kind. I still remember the Spanish songs I learned in that class, and even some of the lines of the dialogues we memorized. “Beto, Beto Chavez.” “Ay, ay, ay! No hay carpetas?” “Dulce de chocolate, chocolate candy, chocolate candy. Uno para mi y uno para ti. One for you and one for me!” This was the actual song, by the way. I’m not translating. This was in the days before Dora the Explorer, I might add. We didn’t need it back then.

By the time I was a senior, Spanish wasn’t so much a pleasure as a chore and a series of increasingly daunting tasks. That’s because from one year to the next, I skipped a good two years’ worth of Spanish classes. I was planning on only skipping one year to take an AP class, but that class didn’t fit with my schedule so I took the next available AP class, which was the even more advanced Spanish literature. So I went from just barely starting to study the subjunctive tense to reading classic Spanish and Latin American tomes and writing essays about them. I didn’t know what was going on half the time, when I spoke in class it was just in the simple present or the simple past (no subjunctive, ever), and my mom and I split the task of looking up all the words I didn’t know from my assigned reading because it would have taken me all night to do it by myself. Sometimes I would read an entire short story thinking the narrator was a man and then get to class and discover it was actually a woman. That’s how much I was groping in the dark. But somehow, almost inexplicably, I took the AP exam and I got the highest score. From then on, I was absolutely committed to Spanish.

Then later:

Spanish is how I picked my major in college

Spanish is how I picked my concentration in grad school.

Spanish is why I travel.

Spanish is how I met my husband.

Spanish is how I got my current job, which is challenging, but good.

Spanish has opened doors for me.

My dream job when I was 15 was to be a high school Spanish teacher. Maybe I’ll do that someday, and help make Spanish open doors for others.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Type B Personality

The world has been conspiring to keep me from donating blood. When I first became cognizant of the possibility of donating blood, I was in high school. Not only was I under 18 (strike 1), I was under weight (strike 2). In college in Connecticut, I successfully gave blood a few times. It was a great experience each time. The place where we donated was a converted school hall that was really quiet and relaxing, and the nurses treated me well. After each session, I would promptly return to my dorm room and take a nap to recover my energies.

After college, I gave blood in San Diego and got a coupon for an oil change and a sticker that said “be nice to me, I gave blood today.” In DC, I gave blood after waiting for half an hour even though I had an appointment, watching my husband get kicked around several times (the people at the center were pretty rude and kept telling him to sit in different places – he doesn’t give blood as a general rule but he was there to keep me company), spending 15 uncomfortable minutes getting questioned about every place I had travelled abroad (including down to the city), and being asked to my face what gender I was (I think it’s pretty safe to assume I’m a girl). The nurse said she couldn’t really find my vein (no nurse has ever told me my vein was hard to find), and left long red bruises on my arm from the blood pressure monitor being applied way too tightly (I didn’t complain, but then again, how was I to know what was too tight until I saw the marks that were left?), but I successfully donated that time. I went back to the same place exactly two months later and, even though I had my blood donor card by that time, I had to sit through the exact same questions again and wait around even though I had an appointment. But this time, I was told that my iron was too low. I try again a few months later at a blood donation center at work and am told that my blood pressure is too high. I didn’t even get to the iron test.

Those last two times, after being told that my blood was not wanted that day, I had to sign a form that said I would not donate at all that day. My blood type is B+, so nothing special, but I like it because it’s easy to remember when I think to myself “be positive!” But it’s hard for me to stay positive when I keep having all these crazy experiences when I try to give blood in this city. Maybe I should cross state lines. Maybe in Maryland or Virginia they won’t be as strict, and the process won’t be as stressful. I feel like the other day my pulse was quickened due to all the “bad blood” that has passed between me and the blood donation process I’ve experienced of late.

Be positive, indeed!

According to the interesting charts here, my blood type is only 8.5% of the U.S. population, but 20.59% of the world’s population (thanks in large part to India, where almost 1/3 people are type B). So, since blood types are inherited, that means my blood is from the Central Asia/Mongolian regions of the world. Proof positive that I am in fact Asian.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow globe

Early release from work, thick snowflakes falling sideways outside, cozy pjs and slippers at home: perfect conditions for writing and reading. This has been a week of ups and downs for me. I need to let myself rest and reflect. I hope it snows so much that I get excused from work tomorrow and I can get even more time to myself. We'll see how it pans out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On pain

This is a heartbreaking, surprisingly well-composed suicide note from a fellow Trinity College alum. I think that it's important to read it. My heart goes out to all victims of sexual abuse. He was 27 years old and a gifted computer programmer.