Saturday, February 09, 2013

A complex life of meaning or a simpler life of happiness?

On the eve of the lunar new year of the snake 2013, I bid an ambivalent farewell to my dragon year and invite you to contemplate whether you prefer to have a life of meaning and epiphanies even if it is at the expense of your happiness? This was a question I raised in college and I thought I answered... I chose meaning.

In college, I came to recognize that happiness and a life of epiphanies seemed to have an inverse relationship. The pursuit of happiness felt somewhat superficial and meant streamlining complexity from life and appreciating the simple life. I preferred to contemplate the complex and ask the questions that would invite a multi-layered interpretation. With complexity, comes potential unhappiness as we uncover what we don't always want to know or that can hurt us.

An excerpt from this Atlantic article "There's More to Life Than Being Happy" by Emily Esfahani Smith:

"Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment—which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do [...] 'Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,' the researchers write. 'Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.' That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy."

However, I think peace and meaning can co-exist when we author a holistic narrative that we believe makes sense and weaves meaning from the pain from our past. If we can integrate the suffering into the narrative and thus, untangle the cognitive dissonance, we can achieve peace. We then can perceive ourselves to have overcome and transcended those experiences to be more mature, compassionate, and stronger. However, when we cannot create a cohesive and acceptable narrative, then we find neither meaning nor peace and continue to suffer cognitiive dissonance.

I wonder if those who seek meaning over happiness are more likely to be predisposed to do so because their earlier childhood unhappiness forced them to find meaning earlier on as a coping mechanism. That mechanism may enable meaning-seekers to make peace with those that hurt others or for their own hurts.

As I reflect on the conclusion of this dragon year and the completion of this cycle, I question again whether a complex life of meaning is preferable still over a simpler life of happiness? Where is the balance? Can we achieve happiness even with an embrace of life's complexity and all its philosophical implications?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"A Spring in Neverland"

A Neverland of cherry blossoms and weeping willows in the Commons.
Lantern-lit Beacon Hill beckons, a meandering stream of red bricks
Stretches forward to a certain destiny ahead.
From a world of traditions preserved and old patterns remembered,
Nomads leisurely stroll in a moonless evening—
Studying an unmasked open sky
Polka-dotted by spring florets and young, tender leaves.
Cloudy.
Rain awaits a still morning.
Somber clarity in the grey light of day.
Emptiness.
Or a blank slate?


by
Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
May 4, 2011

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Holiday Spirit

It's amazing that Xmas is only a few days away and it will be a new year just around the corner. Perhaps, you're scrambling to buy last-minute holiday presents. Maybe you're reflecting on a year with some challenges and can find also moments of gratitude for what you do have—probably the very things you tend to take for granted. Despite the economic hardships in our own country, there are others around the world hit even harder with less of a safety net. As I look at the mountains of mailings from all kinds of non-profits this year on my desk, it's clear that the need is even greater as many families struggle to feed their children and keep their homes. Families normally generous with others have less money to spare for charities to people in developing nations and to other worthy causes. If you have a few extra dollars to spare, you can step in for these families who cannot donate as much this year and do what you can to support the causes for which you care.

As you think about where to make your purchases with ethnical considerations in mind or if you are thinking about donating to some non-profits, perhaps you may find my notes a couple years ago helpful...

    Tips for Holiday Shopping with Ethical Considerations in Mind:
  • This posting lists the websites for some retailers who sell eco-friendly and/or fair-traded products, or support indigenous arts internationally. You can also support local artists and retailers to stimulate the local economy.


  • Tips for Giving to Non-Profits and Charities:
  • Seeking a gift for someone who seems to have everyone or wish to honor the memory of someone important to you? Maybe donate to a charity in their honor this year. Send them a goat or a dozen chicks... well, not really to them but to a family in need.


It doesn't matter that we don't all share the same priorities for whom to designate as recipients of our gifts. In fact, it's probably a good thing we have different causes we care about whether they be climate change action, wildlife, poverty, children's welfare, education, international development, peace, human rights, civil rights, scientific research, and the arts. All that matters is that you are dedicated to your cause and if we can all do a little or a bit more, we can address more causes together with more heart.

In any case, happy Holiday as you cultivate and rejoice in the holiday spirit!


- jans.siming
www.jsiming.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

We are the World... Michael Jackson Invited Us to Reconnect and Be Rooted in a Childlike Idealism to Make the World a Better Place

Yesterday—Thursday, July 26th—Michael Jackson suddenly passed away. The world lost a spectacular artist, a creative genius, and a cultural icon that captured the spirit of the pre-9/11 era defined by a youthful faith in global peace even as we struggled to emerge from the antithetical cold war paranoia. He was theatrical, bigger than life, outlandish, complex, sensitive, unique, and adored by many but he always remained a lonely character masked in dazzling golds and silvers, sequined gloves, and plastic surgery transformations. He was at once immediately and intimately accessible through the heartfelt music that entreated us to change the world and to make it a better place starting with that woman or man in the mirror, and yet elusive as he shifted into increasingly ethereal-like forms and cultural identities over the years. We were never sure what was underneath that mask. Maybe that is what made him curiously omnipresent yet the true invisible man, a character so mercurial that like water, he could shape his fluid form to the labels and containers we enclosed him. Although he may not have been comfortable in his own skin, he transcended racial divides artistically to unite the world in a shared wonder for the music that invited us to move beyond a concern for the microcosm of our individual nation to the condition of a global world.

Like many others, I felt the urge to dig up MJ's music and reconnect with the crystal-beaded, pixie-dust magic and idealism of the '80s that his music reflected. I downloaded Michael Jackson's songs from iTunes and after consuming a chocolate-almond-coated coconut cream popsicle, danced off the calories to MJ's greatest hits. His songs were the soundtrack to the children of the '80s. I was one of those children enchanted by his idealistic lyrics and entertaining themes. I fondly recall being a third grader dancing to "Beat It", "Thriller", and "Billie Jean" with my friend Claire at her slumber parties.



According to MJ in an interview to ABC News many years ago, he confessed that the song that was the most "autobiographical" was his song "Have You Seen My Childhood?" The most poignant and perhaps insightful segment on his Peter-Pan-like behavior and retreat into Neverland was when he described wistfully how he would look out the window and see children playing carefree on the playgrounds while his father forced him to study and then rehearse all day. He wondered where his childhood went and perhaps, as he grew older and more bizarre to the public, he transformed into a child who believed he was merely interacting with other children as peers.

The song that most defined the idealism of the '80s was "We are the World"... I was a child of that era of hope and believed through global collaboration, anything is possible. MJ co-wrote that song and he inspired a world to care about Ethiopia. He introduced that place on the map to me as a third-grader and sparked a lifetime interest in making a difference in the world. I think other children of the '80s may have felt that way, too. On a global scale, I believe that not only did he influence a new generation of musical pop artists, but also artists of all stripes and colors to make the world a better place through their art.



It's also during these times when an cultural icon dies that I contemplate the creation and endurance of icons. What does our choice for icons at a certain era say about the values we hold as a society? If a cultural icon is adopted worldwide, is this not an indication that there are universal dreams, aspirations, and struggles that unite and are shared across the world? If that icon proves to have an enduring legacy, what are those timeless values that transcend generations? As I survey the flood of worldwide sympathy for Michael Jackson, an icon most never knew personally, I think of why his death has touched so many of us profoundly and why we weep for what we perceive to be the end of an era. What defines an era culturally and how is it that one individual can come to represent an era? Is it the intensity of the media coverage of an image or icon that gives that icon a life of its own? In the American neo-local society, we may not see family members for months perhaps even years, yet for decades, MJ was a constant fixture in our public media consumption like a distant yet intriguing uncle, cousin, or nephew we watched from afar. It seems that Fred Roger (creator of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) understood the power of icons and that even t.v. personalities who appear in children's daily lives could offer children a sense of security and love if they could rely on the perceived permanence of that family icon in their lives. When Princess Diana the most photographed woman in the world passed away suddenly, the world grieved for a woman they never knew personally, but became the embodiment of the good, ordinary women we knew in unhappy marriages—our mothers, our sisters, our friends, ourselves—who never had the opportunity to self-actualize but were there daily for their children. We watched Princess Diana transform from a woman with a charmed life some envied to a woman with an all-to-human life we later could relate.




Like the the People's Princess, the King of Pop held us spellbound in an admiration for his superhuman talents and a stardom that was recognized worldwide to the heights that many of us can only fantasize achieving, yet he attracted our sympathy for his human suffering as he overcame the shadows of his humble roots with an overbearing father to become a superstar through his extraordinary efforts and gifts. His success was the professional fulfillment of the American dream that a world could envy and share. In his song "We are the World", MJ entreated us to view ourselves as citizens of the world even within the context of the "me" generation. He revealed a spirit of generosity we wanted to perceive in ourselves. Michael Jackson was not the man in the mirror; he was the mirror capturing the shape of our imagination, and what we saw through the mirror was our own reflection.

Adieu, Moonwalker, you danced to your own beat with your graceful light steps and rocked the world. Yes, your "We are the World" continues to echo in the hearts of many even if your own voice is silenced and your steps are stilled.


- jans.siming
www.jsiming.com

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Digital Creations Expressed, Intertwined, and Redefined in Mundane Physical Forms

As part of my personal commitment to learn more about pioneering creative work, I make a point to attend as many cutting-edge and/or thought-provoking project exhibitions in Boston area and elsewhere as I can. Over the last month, I attended some stunningly inspiring and awesome events such as the down:2:earth conference presentation on "sustainable design" in Boston and the MOMA (museum of modern art in New York City) exhibition on "design and the elastic mind."At these events, I was struck by the groundbreaking potential of interactive and responsive designs that closely weave digital lives with the physical world, blurring the boundaries between the two and redefining each other. In the previous decade, it seems that there was a real drive to move everything to the exciting frontiers of digital media. However, slowly with time, companies have been moving to an integrated brick and click model. Even in our pedestrian lives, there seems to be a growing interest in bringing the cyberspace into our physical world. This runs parallel to another trend where we're building richer virtual communities where we may share more in common with those of like-mind and interests than we do with some of our offline communities merely connected by geographic proximity. The digital seems to take on more organic characteristics while the organic world is becoming enhanced and redefined by the digital media.



Some examples of fascinating trends that I observe are emerging and may transform our mundane experiences with design:

1)3D printing that has the potential to transform and collapse the manufacturing supply chain as the technology to manufacture 2D generated images into 3D objects such as furniture in a matter of minutes versus days advances. In a MOMA project, I watched a video of individuals painting in white digital globby ink furniture formations around them. This two-dimensional video that featured people interacting with their physical space to create digital forms was then used to print three-dimensional actual chairs made from resin in a 7 days. These chairs and tables had an organic, hand-drawn appearance and were created from a single brush stroke at each time. From a 2D video capture of a 3D moment, I witnessed the transformation of these two-dimensional video images into new physical three-dimensional permutations of the designers' imagination.

2) The Emergence of Responsive Design as demonstrated, for example, by a MOMA project featuring digital organisms that respond to real world physical stimuli such as sunlight, human interaction, etc. These digital organisms display organic characteristics such as an ability to pollinate and populate a room. Represented at the MOMA exhibition were digital flowers—shadowy silhouettes of digital weeds/flowers—that may have bloomed on one wall but then through pollination and interaction with real world stimuli, these digital organic flowers populated other parts of the room.

3) Google Maps customized to the purposes defined by different organizations and companies to give a new level of statistical information and means to examine emerging trends. For example, there were demonstrations of how to find certain fast food restaurants and to search and plot for them on maps. In another example, the NYC police department used google maps to describe hotspots for crime. Individuals are also using it to share photos on their road trips with others in the blogosphere.



4) Digital interactive installations are pulling real-time data from the web to create a more instantaneous and meaningful end-user relationship with live, evolving content. At the MOMA exhibit, I saw a very creative, poetic, and fun installation piece by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar entitled "I want You to Want Me" that pulled real-time data from dating sites such as photos and profile details. These information were presented as balloons representing real men and women on existing dating sites and categorized in varying age groups. When one selected a balloon to view a profile of a particular individual, one could glean the professed identity of that individual and learn more about the qualities he or she is seeking in a mate. Also, another balloon also opened up simultaneously that is a match to that first balloon based on the profile details. Each balloon represented a hope rising to the sky of the large screen, a hope in finding the ideal mate for each individual. This project essentially explored the increasing plurality, plasticity, and ambiguities of digital identity creation as the web and social media community grows.



5) Concise data visualizations that display rich and complex details that empower us to access, absorb, and interpret a tremendous quantity of information more quickly. For example, there was a MOMA project exhibited called "History Flow Maps" that was able to concisely depict the multi-tiered terrain of the collaborative content editing processes for the Wikipedia entries on chocolate and abortion. This project provided perceptive insights into this collaborative Wikipedia process through color coding of each author's editing period in the collaborative sequence and the duration of the color line corresponded to the length of the text line they edited. The project enables one to see which topics described were more controversial through either harmonious periods of non-editing or rapid content changes.

6) Environmentally responsible and sustainable designs are becoming central to a forward-thinking company's message and solution to address a burgeoning public demand for solutions that are socially conscious and eco-friendly. At the down:2:earth expo, Ursual Tischner, founder of a German based sustainable design consulting firm and one of the guest experts in global sustainable design concerns, presented some case studies on this trend. She discussed how firms are starting to recognize that a demonstration of their commitment to socially conscious issues and eco-design is a competitive edge against others in their industry. This commitment also helped these firms project a more progressive image to their customers. For example, according to Tischner, Timberland creates boots made of recyclable and renewable materials and manufactured through energy generated by wind and solar power. They now proudly display their environmental commitment by including a "nutritional label" in all their shoeboxes that feature a quantifiable eco-conscious "nutritional" score on their shoes. Timberland cleverly asks, "what kind of footprint will you leave?" — a play on the ecological footprint concept.

Sustainable design are redefining the landscape of our daily lives as well. At the MOMA exhibition on sustainable design, there was an example of a street light used in Europe that is powered by solar and wind energy. Imagine the potential of these structures as public art sculptures and objects that help to generate its own light through solar and wind energy. These street lights are rather simple sculptures now but as they became more popular as a concept, perhaps there will be even more spectacular sustainable design sculptures. I can envision a world where there are public sculptural art galleries in this city featuring these projects that also serve the purpose of generating solar and wind energy for a public center. If they are truly beautiful displays, imagine their potential to help stir tourism in our beloved Boston or in other cities. If we concentrate these public displays in certain cities and centers, then people may go out of their way to visit these public outside galleries.

7) Increasing awareness that designers are not merely plastic surgeons and beauticians of existing content and images that should be introduced at the last rung of the creative cycle, but rather an integral part of the solution strategy and vision. Consumers of content are more influenced by design subconsciously than many have realized previously. Tischner at the down:2:earth expo also described a case study where a eco-friendly drink was made dramatically more popular with a new well designed product package that conveyed a superior, natural taste. As eco-friendly product packaging also become more attractive and well branded, these products become more appealing and are considered the preferred option beyond the merits of their primarily socially conscious value. Through the imagination of sustainable design experts like SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology), solar cells are given an attractive face-lift and made more compelling to the end users for a variety of reasons. SMIT exhibited and prototyped GROW, a new hybrid energy delivery system designed to look like organic ivy when it's placed over buildings to harness solar and wind energy.

Stay tuned for more musings on particulars of some of these major themes as well as exploration of other emerging themes in digital media in upcoming postings...



Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Web + Graphic Designer, Siming Cybercreative

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"The Evergreen, Everlasting Christmas"

It's 1997.
A wreath of Christmas lights encircles your dorm room ceiling yearlong
I'm lying on my back on your twin bed,
studying you at your desk typing at the computer
Blasting down unknown players lurking in shadows
in a multi-player video game "Doom" between your problem sets,
Your copper hair glistens like a gleaming ornament amidst the lights
Outside, the December white winter snow descends upon the Charles
The whirl of cars sliding sluggishly through
the slushy Storrow Drive punctuate the hours
A chill fringes the windows, I look out at the barren branches and
the white walls of the MIT President's grand home
A festival of psychedelic spring flowers in fluorescent greens and fuschia cheerily adorns the wall before me—
A framed 1980s poster print of a painting you borrowed
The sweet scent of herbal weeds mingles in with
your last Stouffers tv dinner of mac and cheese
Empty plates of crumbs piles nearby the bed
A black-framed Ando Hiroshige's c.1855 woodblock print of
"Navaro Rapids" rests on your pale wooden bureau
A flat box lying on your clothes mountains features
a festive looking house illustration filled with windows of chocolate —
Windows framed by crinkled aluminum foil curtains opened reveal
daily event Cadbury milk chocolates partially eaten
Your mum in UK has mailed me one this year as well,
our first Christmas together.
I faithfully observe the rules, eating only one per day, delighted
You, who have been receiving chocolates for years,
carelessly breaks the rules and take two today.
Every chocolate representing the march of days
looking forward to Christmas.
The room is dim, I stare at the ragged nondescript,
mousey, brown-grey carpet beholding
another green-wired string of Christmas lights flickering,
you far away beyond arm's reach.
This moment feels familiar.

It's 2005.
Exhausted at 3:30 am from another Christmas night
working at the restaurant, my holiday family duties.
The faint scent of oil-drenched fried chicken wings and
chicken fingers lingers on my sweater,
I plop down by the computer in my brother's room,
deciding last minute to check my emails
Expecting a deluge of holiday greetings from well-wishers —
A headline catches my eye, "A sad new about Ben Walter."
I open all the other emails first, my heart sinking.
I note the "s" missing from the word news.
I stare at the period at the end of that email subject header.
Seems so final.
I click. A rapid of words flood fast...
"Died suddenly. Body found. Ben Walter. Shanghai. December 21.
Our good friend. Gone."
I scream. My brother doesn't understand, asks me to lower my voice. He's embarrassed.
I think of the last three emails he wrote on his last couple days to which
he thought I didn't respond. I replied too late. Two days too late.
I think of the last AIM message — the one I paused as I decided whether I should save that message.
I closed the window reluctantly, thinking there would be others.
I ponder what I was doing that day earlier in the week.
December 21. Freelance web design. A day just like most.
It's been 5 years since I've last seen you.
I was in Shanghai in the spring for a day earlier this year —
You were too ill to meet up, you wrote.
You have another college friend in town staying with you.
You have a venture capital meeting in the morning.
The taxi ride is too far away.
Over an hour, you protested. Too expensive.
Rivers apart, I'm by the Pudong, and you at the Puxi.
This moment feels familiar.

It's 2007.
I'm looking out the window on my right, it's a blur of white through my red and transparent swirled curtains.
Snow has melted into a soggy slush.
I suddenly remember I saved that Cadbury chocolate event calendar box somewhere in my closet,
A tribute to a Christmas I once looked forward to carelessly.
Wreaths of Christmas lights now encircle my common rooms downstairs year-round
Christmas lights crown every apartment since yours
Your Ando Hiroshige's woodblock print now rests
on my light wood bureau.
Your b-day card depicting a chubby coppery orange striped cat arms outstretched and wearing a British patrol hat leans up against this print. Card reads, "Happy Birthday! Or as they say in England...
Happy Birthday. We speak the same language."
A b-day card. A valentine's day card. A Xmas card.
Old cards to mark the new chapters of my life line my room.
Only you're not here to say it.
This moment feels familiar.


by
Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
December 15, 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Idiosyncracies of an Effervescent Spring Longing in the Time of Autumn

A sea of black Chinese characters float below
Pastel and pyschedelic animated murals, phantoms of a
sugar-coated alternate universe spun in childhood fantasies
Pixieish, wide-eyed Yuki croons to an effervescent, bubble-gum
sky blossoming of cotton-candy pinks, golds and lime greens
Lithe-figured, sprite-like, she ebulliently leaps and playfully dodges
between the foreground and background of painted scenes and mirages
The tv screen glows, a turquoise-blue gem within the night of day
You chant along in mandarin to this hypnotic pantomime,
your British accent and boyish tones become
an idiosyncrasy of times and places you've traveled and imagined
You swim between your dream states —
Mesmerized by everlasting spring bling in a world of dim shadows,
Enchanted by fantastical potentials, numb to a greying reality
Autumn lowers its eyes to an icy winter enfolding its steel-cold arms
around us outside, between us inside
Quietly, I turn to look at you as I leave.
You hardly notice, your eyes entombed by the screen
displaying another world that grows intensely vivid
This brew of electric blue and kaleidoscopic colors bedazzling
continue to spin and draw you in...
Your copper hair, smouldering embers lit by artificial lights
A lone hue among browns, beiges and the whites of your reality.
The dark closes around you, I close your door behind me.
Beyond the wall, my silenced spring, I hear —
Your immortally child-like voice serenading this digital dream,
It's another autumn setting...
Your song lingering...

by
Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
November 1, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Heartbroken: A Pangaea Divided into Nations

Heart broken,
A world divided into nations
Pangaea, i dream of you
I never knew you well
You dwell in my misty childhood legends
Peaceful, seamless continent
You know not of boundaries
No borders to dispute
No cultural divides
No victors, no losers
Heartbroken pangaea
Your land shredded into countries
Your past battles itself —
Now amongst themselves
Your unrestful, war-torn nations divided now rise in pride
They declare their names:
Ambivalence. Alienation. Envy. Regret. Indifference. Despondence. Disillusionment. Dispair. Sorrow. Vexation. Perplexity. Resignation.
They all fight for Independence.
They fight for Contentment.
They fight for Unity.
For an empire in their own name.
Oceans of Time separate your distant territories adrift
Civil wars arising within your jaded countries spring forth new nations:
Compromise. Empathy. Compassion. Wisdom. Enlightenment.
Multilingual, multicultural, multi-perceptual complexity.
Your nations speak through the languages of philosophy, visual arts, poetry, psychology, spirituality.
Although we may sew your nations together —
One world scarred, jaggedly stitched in wary attachments —
Pangaea, you will never be the same.
You have less and yet you have more.
A heart broken, a heart awakened.
A heart defined by its lines.

by
Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
October 3, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Story of Team Lychee on the Jimmy Fund / Dana Farber Boston Marathon Walk 2007

A Letter to My friends...

Hey guys,

Sorry for the belated report in on the Jimmy Fund/Dana Farber Boston Marathon Walk last Sunday, September 16th since I've been a bit busy with some client project deadlines earlier in the week and I wanted a bit more time to write a longer email. Anyhow, I wanted to thank you all for your generous contribution to the Jimmy Fund / Dana Farber Fund Walk! Through your tremendous generosity, I was able to raise $650 toward the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Cancer Institute that has treated more than 32,000 adult and pediatric patients and over 600 clinical trials in 2006. The money you helped contribute goes toward research and cancer treatments.

Cancer will affect us all — either to someone we love as well as some of us individually. I know some of you donated to honor a loved one who has faced cancer. My siblings and I donated in honor of our late paternal grandfather (ye-ye) and some of you donated in honor of a sibling's or parent's struggle. Your gift is a loving tribute and support for those you listed in the honor roll. I also thank you very much for supporting me as well in my choice to support this cause and in my efforts to get more fit.



To summarize my odyssey of good will: I COMPLETED the ENTIRE 26.2 miles (yes, all in one day)... Not in good time. But in good spirits. And with good company. Fortunately, a friend (John Liu) I made on the walk was able to join me for the grueling walk. The day started on track — I got out of my house by 5:15 am making good time. I had planned to take the subway in from Davis Square and get to Copley before 6:45 am to take the bus shuttle out to Hopkinton where the race began. (This race runs the same course as the Boston Marathon.) As soon as I started going down the escalator at Davis, I was met by an Indian woman who smiled at me as she was going up the other way. I thought, this day is shaping up nicely. I was quite proud of myself for being organized enough to get to the train on time. The Indian lady then turned around and called out, "There's no subway trains." I turned around. She repeated, "There's no trains. I've been waiting." I stared at her blankly. "30 minutes." I then started shrieking, "Are you KIDDING me????? Are you sure???? I think I hear the trains coming" A dozen thoughts started racing as I knew my deadline to get to Copley Square was tight. "Noooo, no trains. Trust me. There's no trains. I've been waiting," she repeated. At this point, I ran like mad out the door and found a taxi and with a flat fee of $20, I made it to Copley with plenty of time to spare. I bought batteries for my walkman and some kashi chocolate chip granola. (Yes, I'm so lame that I don't even have an ipod YET.)

In any case, my sister's friend John (who wrote to me via facebook) climbed onto the bus and I offered him one of FOUR japanese buns with curry beef (my latest fav at the Porter Exchange japanese eatery place). I sorta half-napped on the train. Unfortunately, I had not slept more than 2 hours before the walk. I had big plans to prepare everything beforehand but nope, that didn't happen. I couldn't find my credit cards. I later found it my purse... of course. There was plenty of food at Hopkinton... There were coffee, bagels and cream cheese, bananas, and yes, even Dunkin Donuts. You'd be proud of me that I only grabbed ONE munchkin. I ate the bagels and cream cheese. I registered and got a t-shirt (that I will lose later on the walk). I putzed around for so long that John and I didn't leave for the walk until almost everyone had left. Not sure which direction to turn, a guy turned to look at us and said to come over to where there was a big banner even if it was several paces backwards. He then smiled and said, this is where thousands of marathon runners have started. You're now standing where they stood. I felt awed. For a minute. Then we started walking. It was a sunny day, slightly chilly but it warmed up as the day progressed. We passed by a lovely lake (or reservoir?) where I caught sight of a lily-white swan in a bed of white leaves or soddened blossoms, sunbathing alone.


I was amazed how folks seemed rather disciplined and competitively walking past even a mom with a baby stroller talking to her friend raced by us. Even older people seemed to striding forward quickly. It was definitely more competitive in feel than the Boston Walk for Hunger (you can see my page and donate still I think) where we walked at our own pace and no one seemed to look over their shoulders much to benchmark their place on the course. By mile 8, my left knee was unexpectedly starting to get sore and stiff. I was amazed since on the Walk for Hunger, I completed all 20 miles very easily — it wasn't until about mile 18 (ten miles later) did I feel even a tad more tired. However, here I was attempting to go further and I was more sore already. I chalked it up to the fact that I wore the wrong sneakers. I wore another pair for the Walk for Hunger that I bought at a sports store in Maine for Alex's marathon run. It was on sale but white like dorky runners over 50 might buy. So, I chose beauty and style over utility and wore my black Sketchers sneakers (the label said "Sketchers Sports." I felt reassured). By mile 8, I realized the Sketchers sneakers were not supporting my foot arch and was probably not absorbing the shock of walking on the cement for hours on end. I also think I didn't rest up from the South End Open Studios event where I was on my feet for probably 6 hours so that didn't help things either. Anyway, from mile 8 to 13 (at Wellesley College), I hobbled through those miles. By the time, we got to Wellesley, there was nothing left but some jars of peanut butter and some sad mushy-looking something in a bowl. I elbowed John, whispering, "Do you think that's an egg salad?" He shrugged. I didn't have any but I welcomed the chance to sit for 40 min or so. My youngest bro John had called me on the trip to wish me well and to suggest I prop my feet higher up to reduce lactic acid buildup in my legs. That might have helped. We had plenty of hi-C fruit punches, and cheese and peanut butter crackers on the trip and other granola bars along the way.

Since they were really clearing up the place and there was virtually no one really left from the walkers' group, I felt the pressure to start walking again. Thankfully, John was kindly carrying my bag of snacks and water bottles I thought I would need on the trip. Boy, was that so not necessary since you hardly go more than a mile without snacks at every station. I offered him a Japanese Calpico lychee drink and he suggested that we call ourselves "team lychee" since apparently, the Jimmy Fund had plenty of teams. Not able to conjure up a better name, that seemed appropriate and cute name. As the walk progressed, John ended up carrying more and more of my stuff. (Thanx, John!!!!)



In any case, we were walking along and noticed that there was barely anyone who seemed to surprise us from behind so we were wondering if we were last. At one point, I rested my sore knees around mile 14 and was stretching them above my waist. An Enterprise van pulled up in front of us. An attractive late 30-something guy jumped out and grinned at me. I started wondering if he was about to ask me out since this had happened to me in Harvard Square when I was delivering mail for Harvard one summer between college years. The guy started saying, "I've been watching you. I've been following you." This was getting WEIRDER by the minute. He glanced over at John and sorta dismissively said, "And you, too." He then proceeded to say that apparently, we were probably now last on the walk. Yikes. He said that they have been monitoring us since we were last and they couldn't clear the stations until every walker has gone by. I looked around nervously for more of those Enterprise vans circling around. He offered to drive us further down the walk. I refused since I knew I could complete the walk even if very bad time and I wanted to be able to report to you fine folks, that I have completed the entire walk. He then proceeded to say ominously, "Heartbreak Hill is ahead of you." Really? I thought I had passed that. Nope, he said, you have three BIG hills ahead of you and he asked me whether I could make it. I said yes, if I passed one of them already (which I did), it was barely anything. I proceeded further but I felt the pressure was on. A woman at one of the stations said, "You're very powerful. We can't leave until you do." Talk about PRESSURE. At this point, I stopped all joking on the walk and walked for miles plowing forward. Amazingly, my left knee improved. Maybe it was that the path was more gravelly and more soft so it hurt less. The mysterious Enterprise vans kept circling around. It was like Big Brother was watching. They would stare at me through the window, maybe slow down at some points, stare and nod at me silently, or on occasion, ask me how I was doing.


Eventually, we passed by a couple about 65 or so. Yes, we were even behind the older people. The wife was hobbling around from a hurt, swollen knee bundled up in thick wraps and her husband was determined to complete it. The hubby was sounding a bit grumpy as he cited his wife as the reason why they were so far behind. "What can I do? I can't walk on ahead without her." He sighed loudly, looking back at the ol' ball and chain behind him. "She's my wife." We gleefully passed by them, relieved to now only be the THIRD slowest rather the absolute slowest people on the walk. We watched the Enterprise vans now flock around the older couple behind us, the new targets of their attention. Phew. A short time later, I saw a bunch of high schoolers walking. Boy, did it feel great to walk by them. I would rest for a bit and anxiously ask John to spy on whether those darn high schoolers were catching up. As soon as we caught sight of them out of the corner of our eyes, we were up again and walking. Slowly we hobbled past more "kids." At the top of Heartbreak Hill, they had a guy playing the saxophone standing on a car. Nice treat.




Each mile was marked by a big posterboard with the faces of kids under 7 or so. Written around the photos of each child, were their names, what they liked to do for activities and what they wanted to become. Brilliant idea! It seemed as we got closer to the city, the balder the kids got. Maybe it was a nudge, nudge, don't whine because the kids are having it tougher idea. At one point, I saw this cute photo of a girl and the poster board declared that she liked to "dance, play with her friends, and draw" or something like that. Listed under what she wanted to become, the poster stated "I want to be a dancer." I cooed, ooooh, that's so cute! Then I looked at her age. One. I'm sure if you asked me what I liked to do at age one, it might be something like "mum mum, blah blah blah, and yadda yadda" and I want to become a "boodoopoo" or something. I'm sure I didn't say I want to grow up to be a graphic designer and artist. :P And even if I were able to announce that, the higher-ups in my life would probably had vetoed that declaration and listed "scientist" or "doctor" or "chemist."

In any case, as I plodded further along, I kept exclaiming, "WHEEEEERE is the next baby face??????!!!!" Meanwhile, John reported in that his walking condition had downgraded from "good" to "okay" by mile 23. I was at "this is taking a long time" to "this is taking a DARN #*@!*$%!@@#^!@$!$#$%&%$%@!@@# long time." Finally, we made it to the end of the walk (making a very short detour to pick up angora melon/kiwi lime fro yo nearby the Kenmore station area) sometime after 6 pm. Fortunately, we were NOT the absolute last people on the walk. There were a few high schoolers (or young college students) after us.




Lessons learned:
1) Wear comfy sneakers designed for marathon race (even if they look dorky)
2) Don't bring any snacks since they will only be dead-weight unless you don't like the type of food they provide there
3) Start walking EARLIER than the pack so that you don't end up last
4) Go to sleep early
5) Check to see what time the subway train runs (apparently it runs at 6 am on weekends and not 5 am as they do on weekdays) BEFORE leaving for the shuttle
6) Bring music - ipod or walkman
7) Gleefully savor ALL your calories... no one's counting today (not even your mom... yes, even if she's Asian and STILL slimmer than you have ever been your entire adult life)

I limped my way home and slept an hour later pretty much with my feet propped. The next day, I was still partially limping on my sore left leg but the right leg was 99% perfect. The stiff leg lasted for 1.5 days but all in all, it was a great adventure.



AGAIN, thanx so much to those of you who have already contributed to the cause!!!!! Your generosity is appreciated by many folks who will benefit from your thoughtfulness. (I'm sure those smiling babes in the photos are thanking you as well... if they could talk. Oh, wait... these kids at age one can quote Shakespeare and draw like Picasso or work to solve the riddle of the universe. Kids seem to be getting smarter every generation.) IF you haven't contributed yet, you can still do so and my page is here:

http://www.jimmyfundwalk.org/siming



siming *___*

1/2 of team lychee on the Boston Marathon Jimmmy Fund Walk

Sunday, August 26, 2007

50 Trees Sing Your Name... Remember You for Centuries: In Loving Memory of Ben Walter on his 29th b-day

Today would have been the 29th b-day of my dear best friend Ben Walter. I dedicate 50 trees through Oxfam gifts in his memory so that they can sing his name and remember him for centuries. Two peace books have also been dedicated in his honor as well in hopes that we can build a more peaceful world. Much love to you, dear brains.

- siming

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chance Meetings Defined by Random Chaos or Fate?

“I like chance meetings — life is full of them. Everyday, without realizing it, I pass people whom I should know. At this moment, in this cafe, we’re sitting next to strangers. Everyone will get up, leave, and go on their own way. And they’ll never meet again. And if they do, they won't realize that it's not for the first time.”
- Krzysztof Kieślowski (Director of Film Trilogy "Red", "White, "Blue")

To be familiar with Krzysztof Kieślowski's films is to recognize that this quote befits his approach toward filmmaking and story developments. A minor character in the backdrop of one film becomes the primary protagonists of the sequel.

I find this quote fascinating as I have wondered this as well. I wonder what our lives look like if we could zoom out and see the complex matrix of our interactions with others, the points when we intersect at junctures of street corners, classrooms and theatres. As strangers who think we have never met, we discover we shared the same space years ago at the same time. When we look at each other...perhaps we look familiar. Maybe we have been familiar. I recall being in high school (perhaps the summer of junior year?) and a classmate named Taylor made a rather perplexing comment as we waited for a bus. Someone made a comment that my hair had reddish highlights or silver highlights. Taylor, solemnly observed me and said I had silvery-shiny highlights. He then said he knew me pretty well or something like that. At that point, I said to him that I recall seeing him in our junior high school biology class where he sat at the first row closest to the door entrance, his red and black checkered jacket covering his head. He slept (or pretended to sleep) through all the lectures. I never spoke to him then I think but he was one of the amusing characters in that classroom aside from two girls who came in dressed as if they were pregnant, their backs arched over presumably by the weight of their poofy pillows tied to their bellies or more likely, by the weight of their imagination of a pregnancy. Taylor said quietly and dismissively of that fond bio classroom memory, "I know you much more than that." Hmmmm. Well, maybe in a past life.

I think of random coincidences... maybe they were fated and deliberate rather than the debris of chaos, part of a matrix of a determined future unbeknownst to us. Recently, I joined Facebook.com site and was surprised and bittersweetly delighted to see an email from the younger sister of my late best friend and former bf Ben Walter who happened to have searched for my name on Facebook that very day I signed up. I had wanted to look up Angharad's contact info through a friend of hers since her contact info was not on her site. What a strange and beautiful coincidence that she should have happened to think of searching for my name that very day I signed up.

I wonder about deja vu... is it possible that some people seem familiar to us because they are characters in our lives each time? Perhaps, those who experience deja vu more often re-experience their lives over and over, seeing the same characters again each time. However, for others who are living their lives currently for the first time, perhaps, they don't experience deja vu or a strange sense of familiarity with their existing lives. If we suppose this is true, why then are some of us destined to repeat the same struggles of our previous lives, treading through the same muddy paths, destined to make the same mistakes? Is there a lesson we're supposed to learn but keep missing each time? I like to imagine that perhaps at the moments of our deaths, we are offered two options... a new beginning or a chance to return to our past lives if that would be the only way to see our loved ones again. What if it took thousands of years to be reborn as ourselves or billions of years for the universe to return to this state where we could relive our lives? What if there are some of us who are aware of this cycle somehow in our subconscious and the deep-seated loneliness we may feel stems from the bittersweet recognition that our time is but one quick instance in the billions of years it will take to return and see the ones we love again? Would it not be bittersweet and lovely then to see the face of our loved ones and to re-experience perfect moments with them only to know that it would take millions of years to return to that same moment? What if I've been a lonely nebula floating in the ocean of time, in the womb of the universe waiting to be reborn but alone all this time...

If we could zoom out to witness and map the paths and crossings of our lives like spectators observing our context to our contemporaries, what would the map of our lives look like? Do our paths and interconnections repeat every hundred of years in the paths of our ancestors? Presumably, the world we live in is experienced as smaller to us even as our life footprints span a greater distance. We can travel to further places than our ancestors did in a lifetime. However, could our travels mirror the movements and distances of our ancestors in their clans at their micro-level? I often contemplated when I was in college whether human interactions mirror molecular interactions. Could friendships, relationships, and larger group networks be described in terms such as covalent bonding, ionic bonding, etc?


- Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative

Monday, June 11, 2007

Deconstructing the Film "Day of Fire": Deconstructing Lives, Deconstructing Relationships, Deconstructing Life Meaning

On Saturday, I checked out the Boston Film Festival (session 14 showing) at the Boston Loews Theatre. There were four film shorts that comprised the session 14 grouping of films:
  • Bombay Skies (21 min)
  • Club Soda (23 min)
  • Backyard Suicide (14 min)
  • Day of Fire (94 min)

I was a bit surprised at how polished they were compared to other indie films I think I recall seeing at other Boston or Somerville movie theatres. I found them of Kendall Square indie film quality even at their current state.

Among the four films I watched, the one that impressed me the most was the film “Day on Fire" directed and written by Jay Anania. The poetic and slow-moving feel of the film with its philosophical metaphors, an artistic fixation with thoughtful, beautiful faces that speak volumes when silent, discoveries of lives intertwined and re-examined at the end remind me of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s films. Kieślowski once said that he casted actresses (e.g. Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, and Irene Jacobs) and actors who had thoughtful faces that seemed to say so much even when silent. It was a study of the relationship between several individuals living in NYC — a Palestinian woman Nadzia who is obsessed with learning about all the nitty-gritty, gory details of how a victim experiences a suicide bomb (you find out she lost her parents to a bomb I think), a blond model that befriends the Palestinian, and a lonely middle-aged guy who seems alienated and odd, trying to make an awkward connection with others in the city. There several other secondary characters that you find are all interconnected somehow. At the hospital, Nadzia tape-records a medical physician describing the clinical, dry details of the physical impact and experience of a bombing and while you listen to this endless, grotesque description of bodies torn apart, the camera lingers on beauty during a model’s photo shoot which presents an interesting paradox running in parallel.

The story begins with physicians making an arrangement to transplant the eyes of a donor killed in a recent accident to another victim who has her cornea sliced out by a psychopath. The film seems focused on the intriguing eyes of all the actors even a filthy beggar who interacts with some characters on the streets. Although his face is covered with the dust and grime of the streets, his bright blue eyes are beautiful and pure as they were when he was a child, and perhaps unchanged by time as he peers out at the world. The film probably could have been edited down a bit more but I think it could have been drawn-out and long intentionally since the tape-recording of the bombing was supposed to be described in meticulous detail. The slow deconstruction of a bodies torn by a bomb parallels the slow deconstruction of the relationships of the characters that reveal their universal connection.



- Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In Search of the Everlasting Perennial?

A small, round glass bowl of orchids
Rests on my square, kitchen table
Delicate, pale pinks crown this simple glass —
Yet their petals are firm, crisp, and young
The unbroken idealist.
The light of a cloudy Sunday afternoon
Illuminates the ribboned lines that spill from dotted centers
The drizzle-beaded bay window
Framed by a pseudo-tropical view of a lush ivy and spider plants adorn the fringes of my window view
Overlooking
Outside, a garden of winter weeds
A square patch of brown, barren earth lie unpopulated with greens
The lawn stoicly waits for a sullen summer.
Oh, spring orchids, so perfectly formed and hopeful
Today.
But what of tomorrow?
I've seen your brothers and sisters wilted and browned,
Your mothers and fathers stooped by age and cynicism
Once beautiful like you are today
Bittersweetly, I look upon your frail beauty and resolute pride
and recognize your fragility
But what of the child
Who sees her first orchid?
Or her first flower?
Was love purely hopeful and non-melancholic once?
Were we too young to remember what it felt like then?
And now too old to forget the loss, we pine for memories
we never lived and never knew?
Should we aspire for a childlike naivete unspoiled by regrets and
long-lived experience?
Or walk a tight-rope life, tottering between tentative hopes and
absolute losses, burdened by the knowledge of life's transience?
Can there be a flower that never dies?
Or must we make do with the perennials that expire
And are reborn anew —
But not the same?
Oh, the sun has broken through the grey clouds!
Can the disappointed hope once again be renewed?


by
Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
May 20, 2007