Amber's Notebook

Saturday, December 25, 2010     ***Christmas Presents 2010***

I opened all my Christmas presents this year. I really thank my friends for remembering me. All the presents are useful and the edible ones are tasty.

Besides all the friendship, one of the things for which I am forever grateful was getting exposed to the advice from Dr. George Ku(顧小培博士)in 2010. Dr. Ku used to do research in various U.S. pharmaceutical companies. He returned to Hong Kong to be with his mother and has been writing a lot of articles and several books about foods and supplements that are good for various situations. When I was in Hong Kong in September, I went to his retail store and got to ask him about my minor ailments. He recommended taking quercetin and apple pectin for my conditions. My health has improved indeed. Now, I am more knowledgeable about what to eat and what to avoid. Dr. Ku is a sincere man. His advice is free of charge and one does not have to buy the supplements from him. The line for his advice is always long and he is always patient to answer questions with immediate reference to authoritative research articles in major medical databases via the Internet.


Sunday, December 5, 2010     ***Picture with Santa***

I was flying to San Diego for business last Thursday. It made me happy that the shuttle driver did not make me go to all the hotels around my residence to see if he could pick up other random customers to go to the airport. When I was waiting for my flight, Southwest Airlines and Microsoft together were offering free pictures with Santa at a gate converted to a studio. Why not? I accepted the offer and one of the pictures is shown here. This Christmas, work is keeping me so busy that, I do not even have time to decorate my home. Nevertheless, Christmas is an important festival and I still welcome enjoying some Holiday Spirit through this unexpected activity, some eggnog, reading about other beautifully decorated homes in a magazine, contributing to a canned food drive at work, and a Christmas concert at church.


Thursday, October 7, 2010     ***Room for More Training***

I attended a hosted session on Cloud Computing in a nice hotel today. The audience was primarily composed of government IT professionals. Being an educator, I noticed a phenomenon and it is actually quite common among people who are more into Technology than into Business. I realized that one of the attendees at my table was very uneasy in such a business setting. He did not participate much in the small talk around the table. Instead, he kept himself busy with his cell phone whenever he was not eating.

I understand that, there are a lot of factors behind one’s uneasiness in such a formal business event: personality, being surrounded by strangers, not knowing exactly what to do or what to talk about, etc. If we can train our students to be more at ease in such business occasions, I think we can produce more well-rounded graduates who can be better at handling themselves and at representing their employers in such public events. This would be beneficial to their career development as well. Such training would include (1) promoting the idea that, while being introverted may be one’s nature, one can also train oneself to gradually overcome this (being able to overcome one’s weakness is a sign of maturity), (2) sharing that, the pre-requisite of having conversational topics with others is being well-informed about current events, (3) teaching the “know-how” part of social or professional grace, and (4) giving the students the opportunities to practice. This reminds me of the fact that, a formal business dinner was always included in the orientation activities of an MBA program in a certain state university.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010     ***The Tragedy in the Philippines***

I think, by now, we all know of what happened to a group of Hong Kong tourists in the Philippines on Monday. They were hijacked in their tour bus by an armed local former police officer. Eventually, the gunman and a total of eight hostages were killed. Some other hostages were wounded. People in Hong Kong are still mourning and some are still very angry. My friend said that, the atmosphere now is equivalent to that around the 9/11 event in the U.S.

I have been reading online news stories about this tragedy. According to experts, many mistakes were made in the siege, such as, the rescuers' apparent lack of rehearsals with a similar bus before action, rescuers not being fast enough, rescuers not being well-equipped, and not hacing medics standing by, etc. Reading about the victims is still very saddening to me. One story that impressed me most was that of the tour guide. He was the very first one shot by the gunman. He was brave and responsible in fulfilling his duties to his death.


Saturday, May 8, 2010     ***Encouraging Single Christians to Know More Christian Singles***

Last week, I was chatting with a friend about one problem among single Christians in Hong Kong. Indeed there are more available single Christian females than available single Christian males. However, we can say that, there are many factors that have contributed to the seemingly perpetual status of being single for some Christian sisters. One of these factors is the lack of opportunities to meet enough single Christian guys. (There are other issues after having the chance of meeting singles in the same circle, which have been discussed in my three Chinese books.)

This led me to the thought that, (H2H) has indeed made a tremendous contribution to bettering the lives of many single Christians in Hong Kong. It is a fellowship group on the Internet with various discussion forums and a few chat rooms, etc. We used to have more regular brick-and-mortar gatherings in Hong Kong. Only single Protestant Christians over 25 and who attend church regularly can join. The members that I know are mostly serious Christians. I remember the crowdedness of the main chat room, especially during weekend evenings when many people were home. I have been a member for many years and many members have indeed found the right one among fellow H2H members. Whenever it is the birthday of a member, we would leave a message on the "Celebration Forum" to say, "Happy Birthday to you, I wish you the withdrawal of your H2H membership soon." When a sister on H2H is getting married, I see her as being sent off by H2H. It was just that, we began to have technical difficulties with the chat rooms and many members began to use other means of getting together online. Nowadays, with Facebook and other constraints, the web site is much quieter but we still continue on Facebook.

I personally think H2H should occupy a page in the documented Christian history of Hong Kong. May the Lord continue to use this fellowship group for Christian growth and for fellowship among single Christians.


Monday, April 26, 2010     ***My Old Garage Exhibited a New Business Model***

Last week, I shared about my experience with the new auto service garage. Actually, my old one (now closed) was not bad at all. It was very unfortunate that it could not survive the recession in California.

When I first moved to California, without knowing any trustworthy garage to take care of my car, I chose one affiliated with the local AAA Club. It was very different from all other garages that I had used before. Besides being honest while charging a little more in a reasonable manner (a given), this was the first garage that kept a complete record of all the maintenance work done on my car in its computer system. This practice is similar to having a complete Electronic Medical Record (EMR) of a human patient. It facilitates efficient use of information for the long term.

The other aspects of that AAA garage that impressed me included several. (1) Besides also giving rides to customers, it had a large and comfortable area for customers who were waiting for the auto work to be finished: a cafe with a lot of tables and chairs, an outdoor patio for customers to use, and a children's play area. In many garages, the area for customer is usually just a tiny and noisy corner with two sofas and a pot of coffee. (2) This garage had an auto rental counter on site for those customers who needed to rent a car. (3) It sold greeting cards and other auto accessories on site. (4) It also operated a car wash service and gave a free car wash when a customer bought an oil change. At least, the concept of turning the area for customers into a much more comfortable place was revolutionary to me. I could get some work done comfortably while waiting.

As the recession began, that AAA garage started to downsize. It closed the cafe and installed a coffee vending machine, eliminated the car wash service and auto rental counter, stopped selling merchandise, decreased the number of employees, and added auto tire services (which it had not provided before). Eventually, it was closed in December of last year.

It would be good if some garage can improve this business model to make it profitable without sacrificing customer service and survive in a tough business environment!


Monday, April 19, 2010     ***Selling Some Peace of Mind***

Earlier this month, my car needed an oil change and when I arrived at my usual auto service garage to make an appointment, I found that it had been closed since Christmas of last year. On the door, I found the business cards of another garage and a $20-off offer for new customers. After doing some searching on the Internet, I found that this garage was very popular in town. I called and made an appointment.

When I arrived last week, the people of this new garage (new to me) did not disappoint me. All the staff members were very friendly and courteous. The regular oil change included checking other aspects of the car and a round-trip ride between there and my office. When I reminded the owner that, the driver-side interior door handle was broken, he offered to work on an estimate for fixing it (though it is not an auto body repair shop). When I asked about the results of their inspection, the owner took me to my car to explain a few things that will need more attention when the next two oil changes are to be done. (I enjoyed a cup of their piping hot Starbucks coffee for free as well.)

For such a knowledge-intensive task of maintaining my car, my first choice is always an honest auto service garage which does not try to charge me for things that my car does not need. I do not mind paying a little more than the prices charged by garages that do not have the earned brand name of being honest and reliable. Besides, this garage is not selling individual auto care services, it is selling the peace of mind of knowing that, I can rely on their mechanics' skills and superior service to have a car that can take me to work safely everyday. Then, my mind can be more focused on my work.

I think continuity is very important to the customers of auto service garages, hairdressers, tailoring services, dentists, and healthcare services, etc. Once we have found a good one, we would like to stick with it. As for this garage, I learned that it is having so much business, it can afford the luxury of being closed on Saturdays and Sundays - to let the staff members take a break during the weekend.


Tuesday, April 5, 2010     ***Trip to Houston and Chicago***

I just came back from a trip to Houston and Chicago. The major purposes were to see my friends and relatives and to get recharged. My department chair taught me that, doing something that I do not usually get to do is the way to get recharged to go again. In Houston, I visited Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital. There is a very comfortable lounge for the family members of patients. One can use their computers to surf the Web and they provide free tea and coffee. What a nice place to have a break after walking around this huge campus.

I have a lot of friends in Houston. I had dinner with my former colleague and his wife. I spent half a day with my friend talking and visiting different shopping centers with Chinese stores along Bellaire Boulevard. I was her maid of honor when she got married.

I also got to spend one day with a friend, Anna, another friend, and some of Anna’s extended family members. Anna and I used to be neighbors in College Station. Then her family moved to Houston to be closer to her husband’s siblings. It was a well-designed plan. All the siblings had retired and each family bought a house in the same neighborhood. Nowadays, they always have potluck dinners and a lot of fun together.

We had Dim Sum at a restaurant and Anna taught me how to evaluate the quality of different Dim Sum items while we were eating. While Anna is an expert on food and cooking, I usually eat whatever is presented to me happily. (A dish has to be really bad for me to be able to discern that it is bad.) Anna also demonstrated how to make the skin of “Cheung Fun” at home. She is always generous in sharing her knowledge. We all enjoyed a home-cooked dinner together. Once again, I saw the familiar dining table in Anna’s house. It reminded me of the good old days in College Station.

When Anna and I were neighbors, we spent a lot of time together. I remember that, one weekend morning, I wanted to have a Chinese tabletop-cooking dinner and asked if we could get together to do it that evening (just her family and I). If yes, I would go to the local American and Korean supermarkets to buy some ingredients. She could not decide at that time because they were about to go to Houston. I did not pursue it further and assumed a “No.” When evening came, she called me to go to her place and I found some other families there with a lot of ingredients purchased for a big tabletop-cooking dinner! Since I did not expect that, I could only contribute what I had in my refrigerator: a container of tofu. It was a happy event. Not only this, we had birthday parties and other dinner occasions at Anna’s house. After they had moved to Houston, when I took my evening walk in the neighborhood after dinner, I always walked back to their house and the fond memories replayed in my mind. Not long after they had moved, I also left College Station for California.

Many Chinese families in College Station have moved to Houston for their retirement years. They are all in nearby neighborhoods again. They enjoy planting trees and vegetables in their backyards and going to community centers to take different classes. To them, there is no pressure in life and I am happy for them.

In Chicago, I rested for one day: watching Chinese soap operas and taking a walk in the nearby courtyard of an outdoor shopping center.

Some of the pictures are in a set under “Amber’s Photo Albums” on this site.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010     ***Attending a Symposium About Energy Efficiency***

Two weeks ago, on behalf of the School of Engineering and Technology, an adjunct professor and I attended a symposium honoring the energy efficiency pioneer, Dr. Arthur H. Rosenfeld. Speakers and panelists from industry and nearby universities participated. Dr. Rosenfeld talked in the third session. His message was very easy to understand: we should paint the roofs of cars and houses white to save energy cooling them.

Another thing that I have learned was, employers in the energy industry need to hire employees who can do all three: (1) working with government officials to help design and implement relevant energy-efficiency policies, (2) working on the business side of providing energy-efficient products and services to consumers, and (3) working in the laboratories to make energy-efficient innovations to be commercialized for consumers.

Overall, learning through the sessions and meeting professionals in this burgeoning field was a nice break from my routine.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010     ***Bye Bye, My First Laptop***

A few weeks ago, National replaced my laptop with a new one. The old laptop was the first laptop in my life. It was assigned to me shortly after I had joined National. I used it in the office and carried it home to prepare for my classes. In other words, it had been with me for several years. During this time, there was one hard drive crash and I lost many of the files. It was good that I had backed up the most important ones.

Saying goodbye to something that had been with me through thick and thin was a little emotional to me. Here are three pictures of that baby before it being turned over to IT - for the last time.



Monday, February 8, 2010     ***A Nice Place for Breakfast***

Besides my job, the thing that can retain me in California is breakfast at La Bou Cafe. I came to know of this local chain a few months ago. One morning, I went to have my annual checkup after fasting from midnight the night before. After my blood had been drawn, I was very hungry and just went into a nearby place for breakfast - La Bou. It has attracted me to go back time after time.

The interior of a La Bou is usually very bright and spacious. The tables and chairs are full-size. It is more comfortable being there than being in a Starbucks. La Bou serves good coffee and the refills are free. I usually have coffee and a spinach and cheese croissant for breakfast. The ambience is a little French and very homey. The staff members are always friendly. They have different types of customers, from business professionals stopping by for coffee to retired people enjoying their chats nearly every morning there. It is a good place for a good breakfast before starting a busy day.

The prices La Bou charges are not that low. My usual breakfast costs almost five dollars "a pop." That is why I usually only go once a week. It offers a reward card and after you have spent fifty dollars, you get a free breakfast. The last picture below shows one of the breakfast bagels served there.




Saturday, January 2, 2010     ***Learning in My Higher Education Career***

Around 24 years ago, I entered my master's degree program as a student and began to work in the field of Higher Education. There were eight years in which I worked in industry. Among the sixteen years in Higher Education, I was Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, Lecturer, Assistant Professor, and currently, Associate Professor.

In my "Assistant" era, I learned how to conduct lab sessions, how to grade tests and homework sets, and how to proctor exams. Then, I began to teach a course on my own in the middle of my Ph.D. years. My teaching skills got sharpened from that time onwards. At Millersville, I was full-time Assistant Professor and started to consciously set "learning" as one of the major objectives on the job, not just as a necessary task performed to keep a job. I remember it was the then Dean of School of Humanities and Social Sciences who set this example for me. (He is now President of a public university on the East Coast.)

Having been with National University for almost four years, I must say that it has been here that I have learned the most about Higher Education. National has given me the chance of learning through practice. Being Regional Lead of my department, I started with learning how to do faculty and student recruitment and how to work with academic advisors. I have also learned how to create an advisory board and how to specifically market an academic program. Then, being appointed the Chair of the School Assessment Committee, I began to be exposed to the subject of Academic Assessment and became one of the committee members to work on our accreditation renewal self-study report. National sponsored me to attend internal and external assessment conferences. I have acquired the concept and the know-how of doing academic assessment systematically. It is very clear that academic accountability is much more important and explicit in Higher Education today than in the past.

As for the management aspects in academia, I have learned and practiced how to take charge of the implementation of an academic program: staffing and giving comprehensive training to the instructors, ensuring the quality of each class via checking the course web sites and making at least one classroom visit per class (more for new instructors), conducting regular surveys among the students, and nurturing the bond among the alumni and students via hosting various activities for them. This bond is for them to build a network among themselves, for their own mutual support years into the future. Last year, I was also elected a faculty senator and selected to be on the special faculty committee for high-level administrative human resource matters.

I am always grateful to National for letting me learn so much here. I have been blessed with excellent supervisors who are very supportive and collegial. I clearly remember that, when I first joined, one of the colleagues told me directly, "We want you to succeed here." He and many others have also expressed this via their help and guidance. When one and one's work environment are a good fit, this encourages one to try to contribute in even more ways (within one's capabilities). Whenever there is a difficulty, I always remind myself of what National has given me in these years, so as to maintain a balanced perspective. Of course, as mentioned before, I also have a lot of mentors who give me invaluable advice whenever I call them.

In these 24 years, I have observed different types of people. The undeniable fact is, a small number of them have the attitude of "the world owes them a living" and a few others only do the minimum to get by. I can imagine that, there must be some reasons behind (maybe the "fit" described above is missing for them). On the other hand, I always remember one line in a TV drama that I watched when I was very little. In that scene, the actor commented about the life of an apprentice. He said, "When you are an apprentice, you get to acquire the skills of a master and you get paid as well. What more do you expect?"


Wednesday, December 25, 2009     ***Christmas 2009***

Christmas festivities began way before Christmas Day. I attended three National University Holiday Gatherings - one in San Diego and two in the local area. The one in San Diego was on a very large scale. We had a professional photo booth, a small field filled with manmade snow, various fun activities for children, and a wonderful buffet with all kinds of food, such as prime rib and Salmon Florentine, etc. It was similar to a mini-carnival. I was in San Diego for NU business that morning. Therefore, I had the chance to take part in that party. Some of the pictures are in a photo album on this site. Our local holiday dinner party was in the ballroom of a golf course. Besides, We had our annual holiday potluck inside our building. We also had a gift exchange and an annual donation drive for a local charity.

This year, I have received a lot of Christmas greetings (many of them electronic, some in the form of a family picture slide show with music) and fourteen presents. The picture below shows most of the presents and some are already in my refrigerator and freezer. Christmas is for celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ. The application of it is giving, connecting with family and friends, and expressing our goodwill, etc. I decorated my home a little bit (as shown below). The most precious thing to me has been the communication and gathering among friends, family and relatives, as well as colleagues - via snail mail, e-mail, phone calls, or face-to-face gatherings.

My original plan for Christmas this year had been attending my friend's big birthday party in Houston. Due to an unforeseen reason, that party was canceled. I am going to relax and watch a movie or a concert on DVD this evening. I also have to come up with a plan on where to go within one year to use up the airline credit that I have because of this canceled trip.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009     ***New Orleans, College Station, and More***

I was in New Orleans for presenting a paper the week before Thanksgiving week. This was my second time of visiting New Orleans. Besides presenting a paper and attending other sessions, I attended the annual ICISA (International Chinese Information Systems Association) dinner. I got to meet many old and new friends in my profession. Needless to say, I also had Gumbo and Jambalaya whenever possible. Unfortunately, my conclusion was, the best Gumbo is still the one served in the restaurant inside the Hilton Hotel in College Station! That Gumbo really has a strong smoky flavor which all other versions lack. The best Jambalaya is still the one served at a BJ's where I live.

After the conference, I flew back to College Station, TX for a personal homecoming. I had wanted to go back to visit for a long time. When I first drove from the airport into town, I was a little nervous until I reached my old post office on FM 2818. I was confident about my way from there. In those few days, I visited my own neighborhood, the mall, my old pharmacy, my old neighborhood supermarket, and many other places, for nostalgia. The happiest moments happened when I visited with friends and former colleagues. One auntie still gave me her homemade roasted pecans as a snack. I also spoke at a local fellowship group meeting. This was a service to a group of local students and their spouses. To me, going back to College Station was emotional. I love College Station, no matter how boring it seems to be.

The next day I came back from Texas, my Chinese herbalist and his wife visited with me on their way to seeing their daughter for Thanksgiving. We had Dim Sum in the best restaurant in town. It seems that the end of the year is the time when friends and family see each other. What a heart-warming time of the year!

Please feel free to take a look at the selected pictures displayed in my photo album.


Saturday, November 24, 2009     ***My First Live Pop Concert***

A few weeks ago, I attended my first live pop concert in Oakland, CA. It was quite an experience. Two top-notch singers, Alan Tam and Hacken Lee, came all the way from Hong Kong to perform for us.

The concert was held in Oracle Arena and it was really loud (to me). They had student dancers for a few songs. It was a little ironic that, the singers danced better than the dancers! The concert was for fundraising for a local Asian social service organization. In order to ask the audience to donate more money than just buying the tickets, the singers went down from the stage themselves to collect money in jars (while still singing). They claimed that, collecting cash donations themselves would urge people to put in bills in larger denominations. In the Hong Kong currency, a thousand-dollar bill is gold in color (a golden bull), a 100-dollar bill is red in color (a red snapper), and a ten-dollar bill is green in color (a green crab). They wanted to see colors at higher denominations. They asked the audience about the different colors of the US bills. Well, all US bills are in green, one color, bummer! Nevertheless, going down to collect money themselves was surely an effective method because we all wanted to see these stars at a close distance.

Both Alan Tam and Hacken Lee are well-established singers in Hong Kong. I could not believe that I could see them in person and it happened on that day. Alan Tam sang an oldie, Love in Late Autumn ( 愛在深秋 ), which brought back memories from my graduate-school years.

These singers said that, actually, this fundraising concert is an annual event and in past years, they did take turns performing in this event. I wonder how a social service organization can successfully ask these top stars to do so nearly every year!

This concert brought a piece of the Hong Kong culture to me.


Saturday, November 7, 2009     ***A Part of Dating 101***

Recently, I visited a fabric store after a few years of absence from sewing. I used to visit one almost weekly when I was in Texas. What I saw this time reminded me of a simple rule that every woman should know: do not insist that your boyfriend or husband pay a long visit to a craft or clothing store/event with you.

While I was browsing the pattern catalogs in the fabric store, I realized a man there. He was waiting for his female family members to finish shopping. He looked bored and all he could do was checking messages on his cell phone. This reminded me of what I always see inside the local Forever 21 store. Forever 21 is a clothing chain mainly for young ladies. I like many of their feminine blouses for social gatherings. The line for the fitting rooms is usually long. Whenever I am in line for trying on an item, I always see several young guys standing around, waiting for their girlfriends who are in the fitting rooms. I have never seen a positive facial expression among these guys. This shows that these young ladies still do not get it: in general, guys are not as interested in taking an aimless walk in the mall as we girls are. This is especially true if the stores visited are clothing stores for women. Why give your guy a hard time like this? I would go by myself or with my female friends instead.

One time, I saw something even more interesting inside Forever 21. While a young lady was examining some clothes in a relatively quiet aisle, her boyfriend was trying to make a pass at her (just the usual hugs and kisses, nothing indecent). See, their interests (at that moment) were completely different.

The above rule is also described in the book, 7 Things He'll Never Tell You ... But You Need to Know, by Dr. Kevin Leman.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009     ***Memorable Wedding Events***

I was in the Seattle area for my friend's wedding last week. Since I was one of the bridesmaids, I arrived three days before the wedding. I came home bringing a lot of memory about the different episodes in these few days. There were so many activities that I should say it was a "wedding package." Because of all the hard work of the bride, this wedding package was well executed both from the viewpoints of a guest and a helper. I think future to-be-weds can just replicate and simplify this one for their own.

Two days before the wedding, the bride, the maid of honor, and the two bridesmaids spent a fun morning getting massage sessions and having an all-girl lunch. Then we worked on the bouquets and went to the wedding rehearsal. The whole party then went on to the rehearsal dinner inside a nice community center. We had Chinese roasted pork (a whole roasted baby pig) as one of the entrees on the buffet table. One of the dinner coordinators was so smart to bring a lot of plastic zipper bags and disposable lidded containers to hold the extra food at the end. The bride assigned the bridesmaids the job of saving the extra food with these bags and containers many weeks ago (excellent planning).

One day before the wedding, the bride and groom engaged their families for a Chinese tea ceremony. I was assigned the job of being the photographer for this event. The couple were dressed in Chinese costumes and served tea to their parents and elder siblings with their spouses in a formal manner. The teapot and the six tea cups are a beautiful set brought all the way from Hong Kong. In the afternoon, I got some free time to have coffee and walk around in the downtown area.

The most enjoyable part came on the wedding day. We all went to the church around 7:05 a.m. and waited for the hairdresser and makeup artist to arrive. All the ladies used the room for female choir members and all the guys used the room for male choir members. While we girls were busily getting ready, the professional photographers came in to take pictures of us. I was not aware of that when the bride told me to stand straight. I said, "I will when the pictures are taken later." She said, "They are taking pictures now. This is a part of the story." Wow, this was not a Priscilla Chan's concert (the concert DVD shows the makeup artist putting makeup on Priscilla's face in her dressing room). Portraits were taken before the official start of the church ceremony. This was when a funny part came in. I thought we would just do formal portraits. Besides taking those, the photographers taught us how to pose for funny pictures. This made the wedding more lively. Then we all headed back to the dressing rooms to get ready for the ceremony. The ceremony went beautifully because of the thorough rehearsal. There were two solo singing performances. One of them took place when the couple went down to thank their parents (what a nice multi-tasking idea). In the future, instead of a solo, if a duet can be performed, this may even be better because having a partner can have a calming effect on a performer. More pictures were taken after the ceremony. Then the reception took place outside the sanctuary. We had milk instead of alcoholic beverages for healthy living. Out-of-town guests and long-married couples were especially honored. The wedding coordinators had thinly sliced bell peppers ready. Two couples were asked to take one each and consume it together (one chewing from each end) and eventually, kissing each other. The model couples did not just kiss. The husbands dipped their wives while kissing them as if they were dancing. Then, the bride and groom had to do the same for they had "learned" how to do it already. Lastly, we went to a nice Chinese restaurant for a small wedding banquet/dinner during the evening.

Besides all the fun parts, it was good to see that, all the coordinators and helpers were treated with a lot of appreciation. The bride kept pouring words of thanks, presents, and Chinese "red envelopes" on us. One common mistake that happened in many previous weddings observed by me was: those other brides, grooms, and their parents were too busy with the guests to the point of taking the helpers for granted.

The couple used Alex Studio for all the engagement and wedding pictures. They played a slideshow of their family and engagement pictures during the reception. I did visit the web site of Alex Studio and was very impressed with their demo portraits. The engagement pictures emphasize the bond between the couple and the poses are very meaningful. Future couples will not need to fly to Taiwan to get these portraits done. Alex Studio can do an equally excellent job. I did bring my own camera. However, as I was a bridesmaid, my major job was helping the bride anytime necessary. That was why I did not have the chance of taking many pictures with my camera.

Overall, it was an unforgettable package. I enjoyed meeting new friends. It was a nice break from my routine. This one included, I have been a bridesmaid for four times in my life.


Saturday, September 26, 2009     ***A Great Learning Vacation***

I went on a seven-day bus tour with my friends last week. It was another experience comparable to the trip to the Canadian Rockies earlier. This tour was operated by Joy Holiday in the Bay Area and there were 54 people besides the tour guide and the bus driver. Among us, two to three are non-Chinese speaking and two came from the Philippines. The tour guide had to explain the same thing in three languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.

The bus went through a big circle in the northern part of the Mountain States. We visited Salt Lake City in Utah, Independence Rock State Park in Wyoming, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park (mainly in Wyoming), Grand Teton National Park and Jackson in Wyoming, Bighorn Mountains in Montana, Idaho Falls in Idaho, Reno in Nevada, and Lake Tahoe in both Nevada and California. I was amazed by the beauty of those natural geographic formations. This tour was knowledge-added because the tour guide, James, was never tired of explaining the history and the geography of every place that we visited. Please see the pictures under "Amber's Album."

From this tour, I could realize that the tour guide plays a very important role in the success of such a tour. James is an experienced tour guide. He said that he had led this particular tour for seventy times and he had been a tour guide for thirteen years. He always took pictures for us and he bought eleven cases of bottled water for us. We only paid him 25 cents for a bottle along the way. From the way he worked, I could see that being a tour guide is not easy. One has to be interested in history and geography. One of us suddenly asked him a question about Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which was unrelated to our trip. He could tell us the history of this bridge down to the years of construction. A tour guide has to take care of the tour members and this job is especially challenging if someone gets into an accident, such as having a fall in the hotel bathroom. He/she has to give directions but cannot expect everyone to listen and do as directed. (One time, I jokingly explained to James that, a tour group is not a group of soldiers under the commander.) A tour guide even has to resolve dispute among the tour group members. This happened two times in these seven days.

James did an excellent job and many of us have become fans of him! He was very responsible and professional. His spoken Mandarin (his mother tongue) is pleasing to the ear and his spoken Cantonese is actually quite colloquial. He always welcomed minor corrections from Cantonese-speaking people. One time, he said, "Shuen Ai" for a cliff. I walked back and told him that, it should be "Yuen Ai," not "Shuen Ai." He immediately accepted my suggestion. I appreciated how hard he, as someone from Beijing (I was told), tried to speak in Cantonese and how much he had achieved. This showcased his professionalism.


Saturday, July 18, 2009     ***From Product Development to Product Quality Control in Higher Education***

I have always enjoyed the learning experience at National University. I was involved in Academic Program Assessment, i.e., product quality control, for two years. I am having the chance of observing and participating in program development from scratch.

I am involved in the development of several new academic programs. Around two years ago, I gathered the information about job prospects and professional accreditation in a particular field. One of the Deans at National is doing the development of several potential academic programs in that field and he invited me to the meetings. He started with asking the relevant educators and professionals: what skills their companies need and what types of training should be provided to the students, etc. Then, the team moved on to be involved in curriculum planning. What an opportunity for gaining first-hand experience and observing how this should be done.

Having the opportunity of learning something useful for my long-term career development surely makes me happy.


Saturday, June 13, 2009     ***Two Assessments on Facebook***

Last evening, after coming back from San Diego, being too tired to do any reading, I wandered around on Facebook. While I was visiting a friend's page, I came across some interesting psychological tests that she had taken. Just for fun, I took (1) how effective I am in attracting guys and (2) which type of guys I would probably marry.

As for the capability of attracting guys, I scored a 95%! I did not expect this high score partly because I am not that young anymore. I guess this result validates the legitimacy of my second book in which "How to Attract Guys" is a major topic. According to the test result, this capability is due to the fact that, I dare to be truthful in front of others. As a result, guys are attracted but they also worry about being rejected. Well, I always believe in the "nothing to hide" approach with others. I also know the "fear of rejection" part very well. As I mentioned before, guys feel intimidated by me for no reasons at all.

The second test result says that, probably, I will marry someone who is mild-mannered. He is a guy that is not hysterical, i.e., someone that seldom yells at others. It also "lectures" me that, when two people are living the married life together, both have to accommodate and forgive each other. I would add that, issues have to be faced and resolved rationally and selflessly. Indeed, the outward appearance of an eligible man is just something that could lead to the decision of whether I would like to get to know him better or not. The determining factors lie in the inward qualities of a person.

What a fun Friday evening!


Saturday, June 6, 2009     ***Award Dinner***

National University honored all the President's Professoriate and Player award recipients in La Jolla on May 28. I was one of them. The evening went very smoothly and it was both professional and heart-warming. The Interim President was there very early to greet each guest. She chatted with us in a manner that we all felt welcome and at ease. Her sincerity always shines through and this time was not any different. After the reception, the dinner was great. Then, each recipient went out to receive the award and take official pictures with the President. Since I got a ride with one of the staff members who took care of us, I was not the first one to leave. The President also stayed until everything had been taken care of.

A nice touch about this evening was that, many administrators and the supervisors of the award winners were also invited to the event. This made the event more meaningful. Believe me, this was important to us. I wish my Ph.D. advisor had been at my commencement ceremony when I walked across the stage. He did all the hard work of training me and sharing my joy of getting the degree right at that moment was what he also deserved.

I have not received the official pictures yet. Please feel free to take a look at the pictures that were taken with my camera on this web site (Amber's Photo Albums).


Saturday, May 23, 2009     ***Overcoming Difficulties***

National University requires all program directors to do formal program reviews every five years. Since I am the Chair of the School Assessment Committee (SAC), I have been involved in coordinating the review of several such Program Self-Study Reports (PSSR). One of them has given me a glimpse of what managing an academic program is about.

In the past five years, one of the graduate programs of my school has gone through tremendous challenges and improvements. When the advisory board of that program recommended having a hands-on laboratory for the students, the program director wrote grant applications to ask for funding and equipment. When suddenly, a new wave of international students joined the program with the demand of a different class format, the program director had to look for available instructors to support these classes. When a large group of students tried to be "creative," so as to gain work experience, the program director had to handle this unforeseen but disruptive incident. When I read the PSSR written by this program director, I could see his courage and hard work in handling all these difficult issues, while always keeping an eye on how the courses were conducted and where improvement to the program could be made. I have never heard him complaining at all. This is what I see as "the paragon of the great General" (「大將風範」) in Chinese. Managing a program indeed is not just making teaching assignments. Because of the program director's dedication to his job, this program has been raised to the "premier" status within my school.

The example set by this program director reinforces my thinking: there is a tremendous difference between hiring someone for his/her time and hiring someone for his/her dedication.

To me, a large part of being dedicated to one's job comes from one's intrinsic motivation. One has to have a high standard for oneself first. He/she also cares about his/her own brand name among the bosses and colleagues. The amount of pay is just a hygiene factor. As long as the pay is fair and reasonable, it should not be a major factor. If the culture of a workplace is really an impediment to one's intrinsic motivation, I would suggest finding a place to work where the company is a good match in the way it nurtures your motivation. To a serious Christian, the fundamental driving factor is the fact that, through his/her performance at work, the Lord's name is either glorified or negatively affected.

Being able to hire and keep such a self-motivated person makes the whole organization much more productive.


Saturday, January 31, 2009     ***Academic Program Learning Assessment***

This month, I participated in an intensive academic program learning assessment workshop in my school, a part of the ongoing movement of National University progressing towards more rigorous academic learning assessment practice. The instructor was an expert in the area of Academic Assessment and I was sort of the Teaching Assistant. While she was teaching, I distributed the handouts to the attendees. This brought me back to the days when I was a real T.A. at Texas A&M (so much for nostalgia).

Conducting planned learning assessment regularly is for making sure that students have learned what we want them to learn and for making future program improvements. In the workshop, faculty learned how to align program learning outcomes with institutional learning outcomes, how to implement program learning outcomes through course learning outcomes, different courses fulfilling a program learning outcome at different levels (introduced, developed, and mastered), collection of evidence via signature assignments, the design of useful and rigorous rubrics, and the use of assessment results for making improvements, etc. Individual program directors did revise the learning outcomes of their programs. Faculty also collectively created a detailed rubric for capstone project reports. Overall, it was an informative and fruitful workshop.

While engaged in some discussion with a colleague during the workshop, one issue came to my mind. This new movement of doing such systematic and rigorous program learning assessment is for accountability and rigor in the service that we provide to the students (higher education). In order to be successful, we have to make sure that we address all relevant issues. Being School Assessment Committee Chair and a faculty member, I have observed an obvious obstacle in the way. Are we giving program directors enough resources for doing a good job with implementing a thorough and comprehensive program learning assessment plan? One major task is establishing signature assignments for each program learning outcome (at least one at each level: introduced, developed, and mastered) and embed them in the appropriate courses of the program. I am afraid not all adjunct professors can spend the time and effort to take this responsibility. Therefore, this responsibility falls back on the program director. Would a program director have the time and motivation to do this? This is tied to the concept of "quality." Although I am not a program director, I am a regional director. We are going to have a new hybrid (half on-site and half online) set of classes starting here soon. I have to recruit students, train adjunct professors, do an orientation for the students, and I even edited an adjunct professor's syllabus for four to five times to get it right. Managing a program or the instantiation of a program is not just making staffing assignments. What does a university have to do to motivate pogram directors to take on their additional duty of setting up a proper learning assessment program? This is not my job now. As the Chinese say, "If one is not in a certain position, one should not inquiry about the business of that position." I fully go by this saying. That is why the most I can do now is sharing this issue on my own web site.

I am glad that I am exposed to so many aspects of implementing academic learning assessment now. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for my future.


Saturday, November 1, 2008     ***Sad but Hopeful***

Around two weeks ago, a friend of mine, Sally, passed away in Michigan after a brief battle with cancer.

I came to know Sally when I attended Illinois State University more than twenty years ago. At that time, the group of Chinese Christian students from Hong Kong and from Southeast Asia was a close group and we all attended Calvary Baptist Church. Two couples, Scott and Sally with Jerry and Susan, were staff of Real Life Fellowship. They also attended Calvary and served the Lord there. Every Wednesday evening, they held a Bible study session with international students in Walker Hall (now demolished), the International House. They also held an overall fellowship meeting with all Real Life members once a week. Scott taught Sunday School every Sunday. Susan came to visit me every week for casual chatting. As a result, Susan and I became close friends. Although Sally and the rest were not as close, I could say that, these two couples did play an important role in laying a firm foundation for my faith. Eventually, Scott and Sally moved to Michigan while Jerry and Susan moved to North Carolina. I lost touch with Susan until recently. She found me via this web site. I still send a Christmas card to Scott and Sally every year and receive their newsletters regularly. In August of this year, I first got the news about Sally's sickness since February from their newsletter. I began to follow the story via visiting their web pages on and pray for her everyday. In the midst of chemotherapy, Sally remained strong and cheerful. I really admired her courage. Finally, the Lord took her home last month.

With Sally's sickness and passing away, I have been saddened. At first, I asked the Lord humbly, "Why do you let Sally suffer like this? She has been serving you all her life. Why don't you make it easier for her, please?" Witnessing the end of life with someone that I know (such as Sally's) was not easy at all. The image of how Scott first introduced Sally to me kept coming back to my mind. I always asked, "How can someone so healthy and lively then become so sick now?" When the inevitable happened, it felt like losing a teacher to me. We, the Chinese people, respect our teachers very seriously. Many of us are forever grateful to those teachers who positively influenced our lives, though we may not feel comfortable enough to express it. In my head, I have always been sure that Sally's death would just be going to the Lord. We will meet again in Heaven in the future. I also believe that, Sally had no regrets. Our calling in life is doing God's will to glorify His Name. It is implemented through our vocation and our relationships with different people in our lives. We try our best and at the end, with the feedback (or the figurative object: the gold watch) "Well done, my servant" from the Lord, we would be really DONE with our responsibilities on earth. Sally IS done and can rest now. However, emotionally, I am still unhappy about her physical suffering and her departure whenever it comes back to my mind. I guess we Christians have to figure out how to balance the knowledge in our heads and the matters in our hearts.

Sally's experience also reminded me of the fact that, the journey from here to eternity is a journey one takes alone. One day, when I die, nobody can go along with me, no matter how much my family, relatives, and friends love me or how much I love them. Nevertheless, it is good that, I will be going to see my Heavenly Father who loves me, not to some unknown dominion ruled by some unknown force.

Because of Sally's departure, my old ISU friends started to communicate again via email. We were telling each other about Sally's incident and her web pages on I got know the email addresses of those who had not been in touch for so many years. I got to talk with some of them via email. Modern communication technology brought us together again without requiring us to do any physical traveling.


Saturday, October 11, 2008     ***It Dawned on Me***

Last week, when I was doing some household chores, suddenly, it dawned on me that, men I should date are those who are emotionally and intellectually very secure. In addition, in order for the relationship with me to be successful, he has to be so secure about himself that, he does not need to put others down (including me).

I came to this conclusion as some past incidents appeared in my mind. I did date men (one after another) who are intellectually my equals. Both being engaged in academic research, we would discuss issues about work and our professions. Many of them were not receptive to my general suggestions, e.g., on how to make a better presentation. Some even reacted (not responded) with an attitude. Some others intentionally showed off their superiority (to impress me, I guess) while challenging me. Having been trained to be teachable, as well as to appreciate and practice understatement, I think you can imagine why I am still single today.

The logical thinking went on: if men who are my equals still have to behave like this, what kind of men would be able to take other people's (or my) accomplishments (if any) without feeling threatened? Maybe those who are really way superior to me. They would need to have much more professional experience than I do. Naturally, they must be those that I look up to.

I remember that, around twenty years ago, a guy friend told me, "Amber, the guy that you would date must be a very knowledgeable man." I disagreed with him at that time because I could not figure out why and I did not think deliberately impressing me with one's knowledge would be romantically attractive to me. Now I agree with him because, logically, a person who is knowledgeable does not feel threatened easily. Moreover, if he is secure enough, he would not need to put others down whenever he takes a venture outside his comfort zone.


Saturday, August 16, 2008     ***Change Management Is Not Easy***

As chair of the School Assessment Committee, I am heavily involved in the Program Annual Review activities of National University now. Being placed between all the program directors of my school (School of Engineering and Technology, SOET) and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA), I am in a position to get a glimpse of both sides. This year, OIRA is doing a superb job of answering questions and providing one-on-one training on how to use the new software, AMS, to complete assessment reports. The untiring efforts of all OIRA staff are to be commended. Their hard work is also making my job much easier. On the faculty side, since this is only the third time of doing a university-wide annual assessment, the procedure is yet to be called “mature and stable.” Inevitably, there is a learning curve for all of us. No matter how early OIRA training started and how much time was given to the program directors to prepare their reports, due to all possible reasons, some program directors could only start to fill in the blanks of their report templates on the day the reports were first due (not to say starting to collect evidence).

Despite the minor clinches encountered to date, I am positive with our existing assessment procedure. I would like to document a thought of mine. For a university that has not done any formal university-wide assessment at all and wants to get started, maybe, it should spend more time doing more at the “Unfreezing” stage of implementing a significant change (according to Psychologist Lewin, the three stages of the Change Process are “Unfreezing,” “Change,” and “Freezing/Refreezing”). Since formal academic assessment in the U.S. is still new to many universities and, at least, fellow instructors of my generation (and those earlier) did not receive any formal training in this area when we were in our doctoral programs, this is a significant cultural change to many university faculty. If a university can spend, e.g., one year, on promoting such a climate of formal and regular learning assessment, then when the actual assessment activities commence, faculty would be much more prepared and receptive.

The above is a part of what I have learned from my assessment experience to date.


Saturday, August 2, 2008     ***This Is Not My Father's College Academic Program***

Nowadays, higher education in the United States is really different from that when I was going to college. As getting a degree is becoming more and more expensive, parents and legislators are demanding accountability. Universities are formally engaging in student learning assessment more than ever.

Being the chair of the School Assessment Committee, I have been learning a lot about doing assessment at all levels: course, program, and university. I am also fortunate enough to be on the committee to prepare for our upcoming accreditation renewal. We are learning that assessment always begins with learning outcomes. Then, we design the curriculum and teaching material to help students acquire those outcomes. Finally, we assess how well the students have achieved those learning outcomes. Valid learning assessment is done from scratch. It should not be an ad hoc activity only to satisfy an external accreditation authority. It should be done for continued program improvement. For a specific academic program that covers, e.g., eight to twelve learning outcomes, assessment has to be well planned. One way is assessing students' performance for a few learning outcomes a year and covering all of them in, e.g., five years.

It is good that I am learning about assessment in a systematic manner even before I become a program director. One day, the Lord willing, when I have the chance to become a program director, I will know how to do assessment from the ground up. The Lord's timing is the best. Once again, I have realized that, the Lord's way is always better than one's own way (even when one is humbly acknowledging that one's intelligence is given by God). God is capable of seeing the big picture of my life and I am not.


Saturday, June 28, 2008     ***Some High-end Restaurants Just Don't Get It***

Why do I choose to eat lunch at a relatively high-end restaurant, where I have to spend over US$10 for a meal, instead of going to a fast food place? There are many reasons behind (for all restaurants): (1) the food is healthful (such as Souper Salad or Souplantation, etc.), (2) the place is comfortable for taking a break between two intellectually hectic work periods of the day (morning and afternoon), and (3) the servers are friendly. When I spend that kind of money for a lunch, I expect a pleasant experience.

Most high-end national-chain restaurants do it right to make customers feel welcome. One or two local independent ones just do not understand how to deliver a good dining experience. One common issue is the fact that, although they have their waiters/waitresses fully dressed in their uniforms to convey a sense of formality, these waitpeople just do not understand what their customers want. As a professional, I want quick and friendly service (besides good food). First, instead of acting in a friendly manner, they are always aloof. This makes customers feel that the restaurant does not value their business. Second, maybe they have to strictly adhere to assigning a customer to a specific server for gratuity issues, it really makes me feel unfair if a neighboring table is being served and I am being totally ignored just because I am some other person's responsibility (with no explanations given). I want to get in and get my order taken fast.

Third, somehow, these waitpeople do not scan the restaurant for customers asking for help or service. Instead of conveying an atmosphere of being formal, this behavior only conveys the image of the servers being dumb. On the contrary, one year, I was visiting Hong Kong after many years of being away. I just took a walk in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) and ended up eating lunch at a high-end restaurant. The place was busy and after I had finished reading the menu, I looked around for a waiter (without even raising my hand for their attention). Almost immediately, one of them realized that my head was moving and came to me himself. This showed how smart and alert these servers were. In my mind, this restaurant fully deserved charging higher prices. The sweetest thing is that, I still remember it after around fifteen years.

Well, if one of the goals of going out to have lunch is to relax, to be refreshed, and be able to work at 110% again later, such a lousy dining experience does not serve this purpose at all. In fact, it makes my life even more stressful. Why would I go back?

For a restaurant that offers the right dining experience, let us assume that I dine there once a week only. That means around fifty meals a year. In addition, I may bring friends every now and then and I may tell my friends how good this restaurant is. Please do the math to calculate the life-long value of such a customer. Who knows how many such customers there are altogether? I just cannot resist saying this: do these restaurant owners ever read a book in Experiential Marketing?


Monday, June 16, 2008     ***Another Positive Example***

At National University, I am very fortunate to have the opportunity of working with a high-level executive of the whole system. She is a very friendly person and through observing how she leads the group, I can understand some attributes of successful professionals.

First, this adminstrator's mind is always very sharp. During a meeting, as soon as our discussion has gone a little off topic, she can identify the problem and immediately explain why we need to go back to the current topic being discussed. Second, she always takes the initiative to lead the discussion as a leader, much more extroverted than I am. Third, she is very efficient in everything she does: from conducting a meeting to going to the cafeteria to get lunch. This is the work style that can get things done. Third, she always finds opportunities to say positive things to her subordinates. This is the best motivator that one can give. This coincides with the approach taken by another CEO of a successful company in Hong Kong. That CEO said, "One key to my success is remembering to clap my hands for my subordinates."

I look forward to learning more from her in the near future.


Saturday, May 10, 2008     ***Credit Should be Given to Her***

I would like to document the strengths in Ms. Hillary Clinton that I have observed. First of all, I have never followed her news deliberately. She gave me the impression that she is an eloquent speaker. Further, she can handle embarrassing or controversial situations well (in other words, she has a layer of thick skin, as expected in all politicians or public figures).

If one follows the news nowadays, one can hardly miss the news about Hillary running against Mr. Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. This campaign has been a long and hard one, with all the ups and downs, for her. It is through this event that, her resilience shines through. She demonstrates the stamina, determination, and diligence of someone who is worth the salt. If you listen to her nowadays, you will also realize that her voice is much hoarser than it was before (poor thing).

On the softer side, we all know that she followed her husband to relocate to Little Rock, AR many years ago. To me, this demonstrated her willingness to give up herself for her husband. She went to school at Wellesley and Yale and was having/starting a career in Washington DC at that time. For such a strong person, who could have had more career opportunities on the East Coast (despite a temporary setback) to be willing to relocate to a relatively small town, for her husband, it could not have been easy.

Although I am not Hillary’s fan, I think I should commend her for the above.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008     ***The Capability of Finishing a Project Quietly***

When I was younger, I learned that being able to finish a project quietly is a positive thing in the workplace. Recently, my observation on an incident really reinforced this theory and I am glad that I had the chance to "run into" that book when I just got my first full-time job.

A few days ago, a person that I know had to organize and host a function at work. To me, it was just a simple half-day event that was not difficult to organize at all. Besides, he/she worked alone and had the full control. There were no fairness among team members issues. Since this volunteered task was extra to his/her (I use his/her here to protect his/her identity) daily duties, he/she became furious very easily in the preparation process. He/She was so emotional that, at one time, he/she threw things on his/her desk publicly. I regrettably felt that such behavior was unprofessional in the workplace. Ventilating is fine when one is alone. Doing it in public (especially in the workplace) could be damaging to one's image.

I personally think that one of the reasons behind this type of behavior is seeing one's job as an entitlement and having the idea that only doing the minimum is what the boss deserves. Therefore, people with such thinking tend to sulk or get frustrated if they have to spend one more minute at work. This observation reminded me of a couple that I met when I was going to junior college in Hong Kong. At that time, Communist China just opened up and only a limited number of people could move to Hong Kong - a British colony where people enjoyed (and are still enjoying) more freedom and human rights than people in China then. There was a couple who just came from China and both of them were working at the school canteen counter. They handed us our meal plates when we gave them the purchased meal tickets. Sometimes, when they were not busy, I stopped by and chatted with them for a little while to practice my spoken Mandarin. They impressed me with the fact that, they were always happy and they loved their jobs very much. I think this was because they really valued their chance of working and staying in Hong Kong, for a breath of freedom. What a contrary to this incident that I observed!

Being able to finish a project that one started and to do so quietly may not be instantly observable or noticeable by others. However, not being able to do so can immediately hurt his/her reputation. They may negatively affect the morale of the people around them. I do not want to acquire this habit unconsciously while I have to be around this type of people. I would rather be around people who are upbeat and willing to go the extra mile without raising complaints because they are always my positive examples. Moreover, I cannot resist saying this: are people who have this type of entitlement mentality ideal spouse material?


Saturday, February 16, 2008     ***How Can a Guy Get His Dream Girl More Easily - Some Thoughts on Valentine's Day***

My Valentine’s Day 2008 started quite right. I had all the things that made me happy: a cup of good coffee, no traffic on the way to work, having my favorite Chinese dumplings for lunch, and getting work done (as usual). One of my female friends called to share her frustration of just receiving an electronic card from someone who is pursuing her (let us call this guy Joe again, for short). At first, I just tried my best to be a listener and comforter. Then, after delivering an optional lab session to my students, what my friend talked about kept coming back to my mind. This also saddened me while I was having dinner and taking a walk in the mall to wind down. I just felt for her. On the other hand, it was good that someone else understood what she was going through. I could be of some use to my friend.

The way Joe treated my friend is such a familiar event to me. I was presented similar things two times in my life as well. I thought it was only my personal experience. Now, I can say that this may be more common than I thought. Why does this type of disappointment and frustration have to be repeated year after year? If you want to get along better with your dream girl, please read on.

In my mind, if a guy has already explicitly expressed his wish to seriously pursue a lady, then the lady deserves at least, a box of US$1 chocolates and a simple card for Valentine’s Day. I do not want to lecture on this subject anymore. A relevant article in my first book does that in detail. That article, "An Unforgettable Valentine’s Day," was written the day after my own similar event. Here, let us discuss why it is so hard for a guy to do such a simple thing for the lady that he admires (I assume that the reason for pursuing her is admiration). I am not talking about those guys who have done more than the above already.

Maybe guys, such as Joe, do not understand the fact that, to a woman, there is a tremendous amount of difference between receiving something tangible and receiving just a phone call or an electronic card. In the movie, Lust, Caution, a big diamond ring received from Mr. Yi, the man Ms. Wang (acting as his mistress) was trying to kill, exposed Wang’s true identity of a spy (she was so moved that she told him to get away ASAP, her spy partners were around to kill him). My interpretation is: it was not entirely the materialism behind that ring that led to her own downfall. It was the love taken as the meaning behind that ring that did it. Mr. Yi did not care much about diamonds when his own wife was talking about them but he could arrange for buying that ring for Wang. Can you see the contrast? To me, between a man and a woman, it can be any other thing, such as the willingness of taking over chores that he hates, etc.

On the other hand, some guys, such as Joe, do not realize the price they may be paying by avoiding the “trouble” of sending the above (a total of no more than one hour and US$5, including packing and postage for long-distance sweethearts). The frustration and disappointment created is far more expensive and detrimental than the time and money spent making such a simple and sweet gesture. I myself declined those two guys after those Valentine’s Days. I refused to accept that kind of treatment. I was so frustrated that I did not want to investigate why they behaved like that. Denying the honor that your loved one deserves on Valentine’s Day is similar to not letting a football fan watch the Super Bowl. Guys, if you want your dream girl, please, learn how to do your calculations right, for your own sake.

I am afraid that, a free and handy electronic card will not cut it on Valentine’s Day even in the 21st century.


Saturday, February 9, 2008     ***A Hong Kong Diner that Impressed Me***

I was in Hong Kong for my book signing last month. There is a type of restaurants in Hong Kong that is called "Tea and Meal Restaurant." I personally think that it is the equivalent of the American diner: the same economical prices and greasy environment. I was particularly impressed by one such Hong Kong diner close to the Yaumatei Post Office. First, though it is not a big diner, I found it exceptionally clean and neat. The waitresses and the cashier were always friendly (there was another one across the street where the cashier totally treated me as invisible when I went to the counter to pay the bill and it is no longer in business now).

I also saw one logistically smart practice in this diner: Underneath the table at every booth is a drawer. When the waitress brings a dish to a customer at a booth, the silverware, chopsticks, and paper napkins are taken out from that drawer for the customer. This is more efficient than having the waitress walk to a station to gather the silverware and bring it to the table.

To remain competitive, these Hong Kong diners cannot charge high prices. For example, this diner charges around HK$21 (US $2.7) for a set breakfast. There is a variety of set breakfasts and a typical one is some combination of toast, one to two hot dogs (yes, in Hong Kong, they serve hot dogs instead of sausage for breakfast), two eggs, a small bowl of noodle soup, and a cup of coffee or tea. (I do not remember exactly because I did not order this "neo-western-style" set breakfast.) If one likes to eat Chinese, one can order a big bowl of bubbly hot savory meat porridge for HK$20. We are talking about a diner on Nathan Road in Yaumatei where rent is very high. It is like State Street in downtown Chicago or J Street in downtown Sacramento. I was really amazed at how diners like this can survive while providing such good-priced meals to their customers.

Another thing about these diners that amazed me was the flexibility of their menus. The newest dishes available are usally on some special cards on the table or some posters on the walls. As Hong Kong is a city very driven by what is "fashionable," the chefs have to be flexible enough to know how to cook what is "in" and the diner owners need to be flexible enough to be willing to offer new dishes. As for lunch and dinner, they offer a wide variety of dishes from Chinese to even a few others in Korean and Thai styles.

One drawback about this diner in Yaumatei is the fact that, its name is one that is too common for restaurants. That is why I cannot recall its name after coming back to California.

This diner illustrates the shrewdness of some Hong Kong businesspeople.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007     ***Early Retirement***

When I was sightseeing in Canada in September, there was a lady in the group, who used to work as a pharmacist. We talked casually and she told me that she had retired. I was surprised because she looked like she was at most ten years my senior. To be honest with you, I had also thought about when I could go back to Texas and fill my days with just reading, writing, swimming, playing golf, walking in the park, playing the violin, and planting vegetables in my garden.

After talking with this lady, my perspective has changed a little. It is good if someone can afford to retire early. On the other hand, regardless of her financial affluence, I felt that this lady could have continued to contribute to society through her knowledge and vocation. Would I be wasting a resource of society if I stop working while I still can?

Then I tried to think harder on why I wanted to retire before 65. To a workaholic (I am one), it is not the workload that makes him/her want to retire. Sometimes, it is the patience needed to handle different types of people in the workplace that makes one want to retire early. Not having to work means not having to spend my energy on handling some issues that would be unnecessary in a perfect world. Some (common) examples include having to handle: (a) crafty people, (b) people not pulling their weight, (c) people flossing in front of others, and (d) people whose only automatic response to an unpleasant (unpleasant to them) situation is yelling and issuing threats (this type is, at least, better than #a above), etc. I have encountered all these situations throughout my twenty-four years of (part-time and full-time) work life.

Anyway, now I have seen the situation from a third person's point of view, I may not want to retire early after all. A better solution is learning how to minimize or resolve unnecessary issues that tend to drain our energy. My uncle predicted that I would refuse to retire even at eighty. We will see!


Wednesday, November 7, 2007     ***University-wide Assessment Summit***

Last week, I attended the annual National University Assessment Summit at La Jolla, CA. Being the Chair of the School Assessment Committee, I had to make a 25-minute presentation about how the academic programs of my School (School of Engineering and Technology) did last year. I thank the Lord that I did a good job speaking in front of the President, the Provost, my Dean, and other colleagues. Thanks to the formal training received during my Polytechnic years in Hong Kong. I still have that textbook, English for Business, on my bookshelf.

At the summit, I realized that, at National, all departments (academic and non-academic) go through assessment each year. Non-academic departments, from IT to Facility Management, also have their annual goals to drive their work. Assessment data are collected, e.g., via surveys, and presented at the summit. I can really appreciate such an approach to being accountable. Understanding the procedure of assessment up front and publicly sharing assessment information really promote more transparent operations.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007     ***It is More Credible from Someone Else's Mouth***

When I was sightseeing with a group in Canada last month, what a group member (an elderly man with grandchildren, let us call him Mr. T) told me from his observation really did justice to me. I was so happy to hear that.

The story goes like this: Among the 33 people in the group, there were only two single people: me and another guy (let us call him Joe, I do not know his name) from Beijing. I made comany with a couple from China and Joe mostly made company with Mr. T and other guys. I realized that Joe was quietly paying attention to me but did not talk with me or approach me. At one stop, Mr. T and I chatted casually and he said, "Your outstanding quality really makes it hard for guys to have guts to approach you. Even they are interested and would like to know you better, they feel intimidated and choose to keep a distance instead." I replied, "You really understand my situation well."

In fact, the above has been my situation for many years now. If I tell others about this myself, then they would ask me, "How do you know the guy is interested? He is not even asking you out." If it is from someone else's mouth, it is more credible.

That is not the end of the story. After this conversation, we arrived at Banff National Park. Before we could ride the tram to go to the top of Sulphur Mountain, the whole group had to pose for a group picture. I was the first few to sit down and there were spaces to my left. Joe was next to arrive. He saw me sitting there and he saw those spaces next to me, he hurried his footsteps, (I think) trying to get to the seat next to me. When he arrived, suddenly, he changed his mind and stood behind me instead. At that moment, I came to the conclusion that my busy life really cannot afford to incubate some puppy friendship like that. In other words, I gave it up at that very moment. That is the end of the story about Joe.

Well, what can I say? Am I supposed to be a worse person just for "catching" some guy? Am I supposed to sacrifice my personal development just to have a boyfriend? Excuse me. I am not and I do not act conceited or fastidious (as far as I know). If I am still deemed being not approachable, so be it.

Now, my readers can understand why my books only talk about attracting the opposite gender and do not talk about "closing the deal (i.e., how to get married)." It is because I have not succeeded yet. Bummer! LOL


Thursday, September 13, 2007     ***Working with Elderly People***

I do two hours of volunteer work at a local community center for the elderly every month. As usual, I helped out with the respite program yesterday. A thought came to me.

The respite program is a day care service for elderly people who have dementia, so that their family members can have half a day off to run errands and take a break from caring for them. Each time the group meets, we do some singing and light physical exercises, work on a craft project, and serve a light lunch, etc. As a volunteer, I participate through serving the food and helping them with the craft project. We are serving these grandpas and grandmas in a way similar to teaching children in kindergarten. One of the ladies cannot even participate in the activities. She just sits in a wheelchair with her eyes closed all the time and someone has to feed her. Usually, most of them cannot finish working on a 24-piece jigsaw puzzle within fifteen to twenty minutes.

In my mind, I could see these elderly people when they were younger and healthier. In those days, they must have worked diligently and their minds must have been sharper. Then, I thought about myself. At present, I am trying my best to fulfill the responsibilities of life and to attain self-actualization - trying to live the life that the Lord has planned for me to the fullest. I am using my mind 16/7. I can pay attention to detail to finish all projects at work and to take care of myself. Who knows what I will be like thirty or forty years from now? Maybe I will become one of them. A friend told me that, having dementia can come to the point of not knowing what is going on around oneself at all. Another friend, who is an MD, said that, some patients do get violated by hospital workers (illegally, of course). If one has to live this way, what quality of life is there for this person?

I hope that, one day, when I cannot take care of myself anymore, the Lord will take me back to Heaven as early as possible.


Thursday, August 23, 2007     ***Why Some People Can Achieve More and Some Think That They Cannot***

Sometimes we meet different people in our daily lives to give us different insights. Have you ever met a person who seems to think that God owes him/her a lot? Usually, such a person thinks that he/she could get higher in his/her career but thinks that, in one way or another, he/she has been unfairly blocked.

Many times, we cannot see our own blind spots. If someone has the habit of not delivering what he/she has promised, such as always being late, this will negatively affect how the people who have to work with him/her look at him/her. Gradually, people will lose faith in him/her. If it is a business relationship, this relationship may not be last long. If it is an employment, there may be a glass ceiling waiting for this person. As I mentioned before, professionally, we cannot say "I don't know" for too many times either. This is another way for people to lose faith. I see these as habit issues more than capability issues.

Well, what I have observed is, there is a reason(s) for everything. As I have the chance to meet different people, I also have the chance to verify what I have learned through reading business books. Advice, such as "under-promise and over-deliver" and "you cannot say 'I don't know' for too many times", is correct. I am glad that the Lord has given the chance to read so many right books, starting when I was younger. I am also glad that the Lord has given me a humble heart to be teachable.


Thursday, August 9, 2007     ***The Fast Money MBA Challenge Show***

I watched two back-to-back episodes of the MBA Challenge show on CNBC for the first time last evening. MBA students from well-known US business schools were engaged in a Jeopardy-like competition for a grand prize.

Last evening, in the first episode, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth was against the Yale School of Management and Yale won. In the second episode, the UCLA Anderson School of Management was against the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and Chicago was shot down. The questions were about current business events, US business history, business legends, and the Fed, etc. We can say that this show is mainly about testing the real-world knowledge of MBA students, not testing their academic knowledge. Maybe that was why the students from the University of Chicago did not fare well in that match.

I majored in Management Information Systems (MIS) when I was in Graduate School. It was not one of the traditional Accounting, Management, Finance, and Marketing business majors. There were no questions on MIS last evening. I could still manage to get many answers right. I think this was because of my constant reading of business books and magazines for many years. Those questions were about well-known companies, such as Wal-Mart, 3M, and Waste Management, etc. Their stories always appear in magazines, such as Fortune and BusinessWeek. My worst category was Stock Ticker Symbols.

I managed to derive two points from this television-watching experience. First, this confirmed that it is very hard for someone to excel in a field by just memorizing textbook material. One has to be really interested in the field, so that one is eager to absorb relevant knowledge on one's own. However, many times, we got into a field only because of many reasons other than interest, such as survival, potential job security, high pay, and parents' opinion, etc. Second, we, as educators, need to re-think about how we are educating our students. Do we just transfer academic knowledge or do we also inspire them to be more interested in the field, so that they will seek to learn more on their own, and as a result, will have a better chance to excel in their careers?


Tuesday, June 26, 2007     ***Quality Assurance in Higher Education***

Due to the need of my department, I have started to investigate the topic of Academic Assessment. The first step was to get myself educated in this area. Here are some thoughts after spending some time on this topic.

Assessment is a very important part of providing higher education to students. Let us think of the job of managing a program or a department in a more coherent manner. To me, a basic mission of being an educator is helping students with their careers. Beyond this, we may add others, such as influencing them to become more responsible citizens and to know how to manage their lives better. Nevertheless, managing one's career is a fundamental part of managing one's life. This is because we all need to survive in society. Therefore, we need to train students to have marketable skills in the workplace. Given this bigger picture, what we do as an administrators should be linked together in a coherent manner. For example, we need a sound assessment procedure in place and we need to have an industry advisory panel to guide us in improving our academic programs. These two are highly related. The panel members have to have access to valid and relevant assessment data to give us good and in-depth advice.

Assessment should be composed of various activities for data collection in different areas. The major issue of assessment is measuring how well students are achieving the stated learning goals in our academic programs. We can immediately infer that we need the right, relevant, and measurable learning goals. Then we need to make sure that what we teach does achieve those goals. We need to know how to measure student outcomes: both inside and outside the classroom, etc. Complete data collection involves comprehensive and periodic surveys given to new, existing, and graduating students, as well as employers of our graduates, etc. Ideally, the department or the school should have a complete and appropriate plan for the assessment of all its programs, for external accreditation and internal improvements.

Besides the procedural aspect of assessment, data collection, and proper data usage, we have to tackle the cultural aspect as well. First, how can we nurture an assessment-friendly environment for faculty members? Second, we cannot deny the fact that, sometimes, no matter how hard faculty members work, some students may not be that interested in learning. Some may just be interested in getting the degree. Some are burdened with work and family responsibilities and can barely get through classes. The issue becomes how we can cultivate a culture of putting a higher priority on learning and excellence among everyone in the university environment.

As far as I can see now, assessment is an important component of providing high-quality higher education. Good higher education management or administration involves issues larger and more complex than assessment alone.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007     ***Different Work Environments and Different Approaches***

As invited by one of my supervisors at National, I had the chance of sitting in on a meeting for one of my colleagues yesterday. Other attendees of the meeting belong to a prestigious committee of the university. The chair of the meeting was particular accomodating to me. Understanding that I was a newcomer, he explained things to me, so that I could follow along.

Such a positive experience can never be taken for granted in the business world. This reminded me of a similar incident that happened in another organization many years ago. At that time, my then supervisor could not attend a meeting with other administrators. He asked me to attend on behalf of him. I tried to refuse but he did not let me. As soon as I stepped into that meeting room (we did not have teleconference calls or voice over IP in those days), at least one of the people inside gave me "the look." That look was "What are you doing here? Are you trying to get a promotion to become one of us? Go back to your desk, keep your head down, and keep working."

What a difference between the two incidents! You don't need me to tell you which organization is better at retaining employees, right?


Friday, May 18, 2007     ***Be Proactive with Communication***

As I am training myself for adiministrative positions in the future, my present job is really a fertile ground for me to gain invaluable experience. After a lot of thinking, I have come to the following conclusion. Before collaborating with a new partner, it is better to discuss mutual expectations and the best way of working together ahead of time. This friendly conversation can minimize misunderstanding because, sometimes, we rely on assumptions too much. For example, person A may assume that person B has understood some facts about the present task and will act accordingly (again, will act according to A's assumptions). However, in reality, peson B may not even know the details of the situation.

If we can communicate proactively and prevent misunderstanding, this will make working together a lot smoother and will help preserve goodwill among co-workers.


Friday, May 4, 2007     ***Outstanding Customer Service***

I went to my dentist's office for several "deep cleaning" sessions. The lady who cleaned my teeth is a remarkable professional. She is always friendly and she does everything to help a patient feel at ease. When a patient enters her room, she is always concerned about whether he/she needs a blanket. Then she explains the procedure and applies the local anesthesia. She reminds her patient not to eat or drink hot beverages before the anesthesia completely wears off. After she has cleaned the teeth for a while, she massages the patient's jaw muscles in case they feel sore. She provides a pair of goggles to the patient and when she takes them off after the cleaning is done, she massages his/her temples.

I have always thought that nurses in the US are the kindest and the most patient people. This dental hygienist stands out even among US nurses.

If I were the dentist (the owner of the practice), I would try to do my best to retain her as an important member of my team.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007     ***Keep Learning***

Since I took this teaching job one year ago, I have been learning a lot about how to manage an academic program. At present, I am a Regional Director. I am responsible for staffing and evaluating local classes, as well as all relevant administrative activities. For example, we just held a very successful gathering of former students, adjunct professors, and existing students last month. The Dean of the School of Engineering and Technology came to our campus from San Diego. We had a keynote speaker from a local government agency. I learned how to do this through observing an administrator of another university several years ago.

I am learning how to be a Program Director through observing my colleagues. I was in San Diego for our Spring Symposium last week. One colleague had a proposal for updating his program and another one talked about having annual and five-year formal program reviews.

I really enjoy being exposed to all kinds of administrative activities (either through observation or hands-on experience). Let me share something about organizational behavior next time. Having to handle different types of people is really paving my way to future opportunities.

There is one sad note this week. Let us remember the friends and families of those who died in the Virginia Tech massacre. Nobody wants this to happen anywhere. This has also led me to thinking about the students and staff members who may need help with mental issues. What policies a university should have in order to extend help to them and to protect the general university population?


Thursday, March 29, 2007    ***Being More Rational as One Grows Older***

It seems to me that, it is really harder for older singles to find "the one" with whom to grow old. At this age, we have experienced a lot and we are much more rational as compared to how we were, say, twenty years ago. There are a lot of objective criteria to be used, such as whether we want to raise a family or not and whether we will be a good match in the way we think or do things together, etc. For example, I am a person who tends to do things as early as possible. I would not be a good match with someone who is a habitual procrastinator. I foresee that such a couple will have a fight whenever they need to get something done. Once we know that there are these barriers that would contribute to an unsustainable long-term harmony, the rational ones will give it up before anyone gets hurt, no matter how intense the initial attraction was.

I guess there is a reason for the Lord not letting something happen: not to let us get hurt unnecessarily.


Sunday, February 18, 2007     ***What an Example!***

A few days ago, an executive of my university (i.e., my indirect boss) came to visit our campus from San Diego. It was the first time I could link his face to his name. He really displayed an aura of being a commander. I believe this is through years of practice and putting theories into action.

First, he knew the business of academics very well. This showed that he had worked very hard on every issue within the scope of his job responsibilities. Second, while the way he spoke was full of confidence, there was not a hint of conceit nor insincerity. While he did not need to please us, he was very approachable and he responded to our questions well. He even helped set up the table for coffee and cookies. Third, for some question that he did not have an answer yet (given the present situation, the solution is yet to emerge), he did not say he did not know. Instead, he said, "It is anyone's guess right now." This approach of handling the situation matches the theory that, when others ask us for answers that they expect us to know, we cannot say "I don't know" for too many times. Otherwise, we will lose the respect from them very soon. Lastly, his outward appearance was neat and appropriate. He was wearing the uniform - a dress shirt, a suit, and a neck tie. This showed that he respected his audience and was serious about this meeting.

I think all executives-to-be can learn a few things from this highly respected person.


Thursday, February 8, 2007     ***Don't Make Enemies***

When one is working in the real world, one meets different types of people. I believe that it is important to try one's best to maintain a collegial relationship with every person.

The above is especially true when one works in a small organization where all employees know each other. When one arrives at the office and sees a colleague the first time of the day, saying hello back to him/her will not hurt and this is a form of courtesy, whether one has related business matters with that person or not. It is unfortunate that some people do not realize or do not practice this simple business gesture. They consistently act as if those colleagues with which they do not have related business affairs to handle do not matter at all. To me, these people can be savvier in the business world. Perhaps they do not realize how much further one's career can go (with other factors being held constant) without oneself making enemies in an unconscious and unnecessary manner.


Sunday, December 3, 2006     ***Bliss to Me!***

A few days ago, some simple examples of bliss or being blessed (“xing fu” in Mandarin and “hang fuk” in Cantonese) came to my mind. A casual chat with my friend gave me the idea that, to a single man, bliss is having home-cooked meals prepared for him.

To a woman, bliss is when her man sees her as an important part of his life and expresses it naturally. Although an emotionally independent woman does not need this to be happy, if she has a man in her life, this will give her happiness that no money can buy. How can we tell how important a woman is in her man’s heart? I got a clue (which is a heuristic, not a universal rule, hey, my area is Expert Systems) from looking at two different pictures a few days ago. Each picture shows a couple. In the first picture, the man is physically very close to his woman. His arm is around her back with his hand on her shoulder to gently take her in. His facial expression shows eagerness and seriousness for this picture to include both him and her. In the second one, the man is sitting next to his woman but his focus is on himself. Well, the second man may be too shy to express his emotions. Different people may have different standards as well. It is interesting to read people's body language.


Sunday, October 29, 2006     ***One Unspoken Business Rule***

A few days ago, a friend shared her story with me. It confirmed my own thinking of how not to offend the other party when we pick up a ringing phone. When we go into a retail store, the store clerk says, “Good morning, how can I help you?” This is fine and we feel that he/she is behaving properly. However, when a friend calls us, it is better not to greet him/her with “How can I help you?” This sounds like we have already made the assumption that this person is asking for our help. It sounds condescending and may make him/her feel bad, no matter he/she is really asking for help for not.

Further, I think that, in a normal situation, even if I am really helping another person, it is better to act in a way not making this person feel that he/she is in a weak position and in need of help. A grateful and reasonable person will naturally thank us without our reminding. On the other hand, if a person has a track record of taking advantage of others, that would be a different situation.

In the business world, there is an unwritten rule that people help each other (or exchange favors). This is a part of networking. Of course, while we are receiving a favor from a person, we must remember that we have to reciprocate when the time comes. In this context, if we are able to extend a little help to another person, is it really a big deal that a friend comes and asks for help? Therefore, is there a justification for greeting a friend with a condescending “How can I help you?”


Wednesday, October 18, 2006     ***About My Multiple-choice Exams***

Yesterday, I received my students' evaluations for the very first class that I taught. One common feedback was about my exams. They did not like my not-so-simple mulitple-choice format. Usually, many choices of my exams are "I and II only," "I, II, and IV only," "All of the above," and "None of the above." I know that this format requires one to really know the materials and read the questions carefully. One student wrote, "There is no room for errors."

Well, I think that as long as I have covered the materials clearly, all such materials are fair game during exam time. Besides, the course syllabus clearly states that the exam format encourages studying and discourages guessing. Usually, I give a handout showing sample exam questions at the beginning of each class.

Nevertheless, these students were very cooperative and mature both inside and outside the classroom. Although it was a lot of work, teaching that first class was fun as well.


Sunday, October 8, 2006     ***It Would Not Hurt***

A few days ago, I went to a colleague's office to ask a question. Since she was on the phone and her door was open, I tried not to stand too close to the entrance. Her office is the only office there and I was the only person standing outside waiting. Suddenly, another person arrived. Instead of looking around to see if there were other people waiting, she just went inside to wait for my colleague to hang up. In other words, in the first-come-first-serve world of waiting to see a person, she jumped the line. I was a little upset because I had to spend more time waiting. Given the culture here and the situation that my colleague was still on the phone, it was inappropriate to go in and say, "Excuse me, I had been waiting here before you came in. You just did not take a look."

No matter how high one's position is, before one goes into someone else's office, it is better to look around to see if there are other people already waiting. If there are, it would not hurt to ask (for example), "Are you in line to see Mr. Smith?" I thank the Lord that I learned this many years ago (probably through observing some great example). To me, having the patience and attention to detail to be considerate to others is one of the many important success factors in the business world.


Wednesday, October 4, 2006     ***About Teaching***

My former colleague and I talked on the phone a few days ago. He asked me about my new job and new environment. Am I happy with my new job? Yes, I am happy with my teaching job here in California. Despite the fact that, I usually have to put in long hours and eat a lot of take-out food to get things done, I enjoy this job more. It is because my effort is appreciated by my supportive bosses and colleagues, the experience accumulated here will be useful for my personal growth, and teaching is one of my strengths. Of course, I did make my load of mistakes when I was teaching as a Ph.D. student. Throughout the years, I have learned how to teach better.

Nowadays, I am older and more experienced, I have come to appreciate teaching more. When I was teaching earlier (around eight years ago), my then colleague mentioned something like, "The ones who cannot do it, teach." I totally disagree. The task of effectively transferring some knowledge to others is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to prepare for a class. Instead of taking the intangible reward of teaching for granted, I have come to value and find satisfaction in it. It was received when a student told me, "I enjoyed being in this class because I was really learning something." Another unforgettable moment was when a student told me, "I am actually a student of another college. I am taking this summer class here because my friend recommended you as an instructor. I have taken this class for more than one time at my own college but I could not understand the materials until now."


Wednesday, September 27, 2006     ***Teaching My First Online Course***

I just finished teaching my first online course in my life. It was an Advanced Programming in Java course and it totally changed my view of online courses. I used Blackboard as the repository of all class materials and used iLinc, a virtual classroom on the Internet, for class sessions. As usual, I had my lecture notes in Word documents (with keywords blanked out) for the students and used my full Power Point slides during lecture. When the class was on iLinc, I shared my Power Point slides on my desktop and talked to everybody through a microphone. The students could also ask questions in a session. The best thing was the capability of recording all the individual sessions and putting the recorded files on Blackboard. The students could retrieve the files and play the lecture back as often as they liked. Besides, holding virtual office hours in a chatroom was completely new to me.

The most enjoyable part of the course was the students. National University educates working adults who work during the day and attend classes during the evening. Since they have been working in the real world, most of them are mature and reasonable. They even turned in homework early and worked on additional features beyond the requirements.


Sunday, September 24, 2006     ***How to Get More Assignments***

Working with different people has really enriched my experience in the workplace. Some of the people that I work with are very responsive to business correspondence and some are not. In my observation, it is always better to be diligent even if a job is part-time. If someone does not even respond to email messages, how can you be 100% sure that he/she will be responsible when it comes to taking care of the responsibilities given to him/her? On the other hand, if a person has established a track record of being good at following up on issues, future opportunities of getting more assignments will definitely increase because people know working with this person will be efficient.


Thursday, September 14, 2006     ***I Miss Texas!***

Today, I read an article about the best places for retirement in the US. It reminded me that, it has been around six months since I moved from College Station, Texas to California. I still miss College Station a lot. Whenever I have some free time, my friends there and the local environment of College Station always come back to my mind. College Station is a small town with its own local Texas A&M traditions. Since I went to school and worked there, I have developed some warm friendship with a few local families. The climate there is always good (if you stay indoors as much as possible in the summer). Houses are very affordable and there is not much crime in my old neighborhood. Most Texans are friendly and honest.

In some way, a bond has been formed between me and College Station. In my head, I know that I have to move forward with my life and my career. I hope I can go back and spend my retirement years there in the future, the Lord willing.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006     ***Harmony Demonstrated***

A few days ago, I went to a fast food place for lunch. I saw an elderly couple having lunch there as well. They looked very healthy and were wearing shorts and sneakers. After eating chili dogs, they shared a really big ice cream cone. What struck me was that, the way they interacted conducted a sense of harmony and contentedness. Indeed, life does not have to be fancy or complicated. Having some leisure time to enjoy a simple meal with a loved one is already a pleasure (let us not discuss whether hot dogs are good for senior citizens or not).


Wednesday, August 23, 2006     ***Acting Dumb***

When we meet different people in the business world, we can always learn from positive and negative examples. A few days ago, I met someone whose demeanor was definitely a wake-up call for me. I have always encouraged my friends and students to have confidence in oneself. However, if one is overly confident and builds that confidence relatively to that of others, it is easy to come to a point at which the way he/she interacts with others always makes them defensive or sounds like a lecture. To me, a person behaving this way is not that approachable. He/she does not know how many more obstacles could be removed along his/her career path, if only he/she can be more restrained about how insightful and superior he/she is. This leads to the fact that, sometimes acting dumb at the right time is not a bad thing.

I guess we all have our blind spots and should be much grateful if a dear and sincere friend can tell us what we do not know about ourselves (more effectively, if done in a nice way that makes the message easier to be swallowed).


Sunday, August 20, 2006     ***IT Degree Programs***

Yesterday, we held an information session (or an open house) to introduce the Computer Science and Information Systems degree programs of National University to the public. My colleagues were very helpful and supportive. I presented the overall US Information Technology (IT) job market situation (which is very bright, five out of the ten fastest growing jobs are in IT) and the various positions available in this field. Let us be realistic, nowadays, we need a four-year bachelor's degree, at the minimum, to have long-term IT career prospects. Then, I went through the programs that National offers and asked a student to share his NU experience. The feedback from these information sessions has always been positive. The audience has also given several constructive suggestions.

One thing I like about this job is the fact that, I have the chance to apply what I know in Business to solving problems in Higher Education. I am also learning from the experience of my colleagues.

This week will be a busy week for class preparation.