Her First, and Last, Book

This article from The New York Times has moved me to tears. What is the meaning of life? How should one react to tragedy? I even ponder the way the title of this article is punctuated-Her first, and last, book rather than Her first and last book.

It is not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years…

Her First, and Last, Book
April 5, 2014
TWO years ago, Marina Keegan’s life brimmed with promise. She was graduating with high honors from Yale University, already a precocious writer about to take up a job at The New Yorker.

She had a play that was about to be produced. She had sparked a national conversation about whether graduates should seek meaning or money.

In keeping with that early promise, Keegan’s first book, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” is scheduled to be published in a few days. The title comes from an essay that she wrote in the graduation issue of the Yale newspaper; it was viewed online more than one million times.

The book is a triumph, but also a tragedy — for it’s posthumous.

“I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short,” Keegan wrote in one of her poems. As a senior, she wrote an aching protest on the website of The New York Times about the rush of students into well-paying jobs on Wall Street — not because of innate interest but because that route was lucrative and practical. One-quarter of Yale graduates entering the job market were going into finance or consulting, and Keegan saw this as a surrender of youthful talents and dreams to the altar of practicality.

“Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker, but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one,” she wrote. “This strikes me as incredibly sad.”

Keegan recalled being paid $100 to attend a recruiting session at Yale by a hedge fund: “I got this uneasy feeling that the man in the beautiful suit was going to take my Hopes and Dreams back to some lab to figure out the best way to crush them.”

For my part (and Keegan probably would have agreed), I think that we need bankers and management consultants as well as writers and teachers, and there’s something to be said for being practical. Some financiers find fulfillment, and it’s also true that such a person may be able to finance far more good work than a person who becomes an aid worker. Life is complicated.

Yet Keegan was right to prod us all to reflect on what we seek from life, to ask these questions, to recognize the importance of passions as well as paychecks — even if there are no easy answers.

A young man named Adam Braun struggles with similar issues in another new book that complements Keegan’s. Braun began working at a hedge fund the summer when he was 16, charging unthinkingly toward finance, and after graduation from Brown University he joined Bain Consulting.

Yet Braun found that although he had “made it,” his heart just wasn’t in his work. He kept thinking of a boy, a beggar who had never been to school, whom he had met on a trip to India. Braun asked the boy what he wanted most in the world.

The boy replied, “a pencil.”

Braun quit his job to found Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit that builds schools around the world. His new book, “The Promise of a Pencil,” recounts “how an ordinary person can create extraordinary change.”

I hope this year’s graduates will remember the message in the books by Keegan and Braun about seeking fulfillment, zest and passion in life. This search for purpose in life is an elemental human quest — yet one we tend to put off. And we never know when time will run out.

For Marina Keegan, that was just five days after graduation. Her boyfriend was driving her to her father’s 55th birthday party on Cape Cod. Though he was neither speeding nor drinking, he fell asleep at the wheel. They both were wearing seatbelts, but her seat was fully reclined so that the seatbelt was less effective.

The car hit a guard rail and rolled over twice. The boyfriend was unhurt; Keegan was killed.

Her mother, Tracy Keegan, combed the wreckage. Marina’s laptop had been smashed, but the hard drive was extracted to mine the writings so important to her — and now preserved in her book.

After the crash, Marina’s parents immediately forgave and comforted her boyfriend, who faced criminal charges in her death. They asked that he not be prosecuted for vehicular homicide — for that, they said, would have broken their daughter’s heart. Charges were dropped, and the boyfriend sat by her parents at the memorial service.

The book has been lovingly edited by Anne Fadiman, who taught Keegan writing at Yale. “Every aspect of her life,” Fadiman says, “was a way of answering that question: how do you find meaning in your life?”

Fadiman says that Marina would be “beyond thrilled” at having a book published, but would add: “Please pay attention to my ideas. Don’t read this book just because I’m dead.”


Liking the Older Parts of Hong Kong

An entrance to a village in Shatin, used to be the countryside of Hong Kong, now a very modern town.

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Travel takes me back to Hong Kong, my birthplace.  While the city is symbolized by the amazing skyline, dashing lights, beautiful harbour, and modern buildings, the old Hong Kong fascinates me even more.  Taking a walk along bits of the places of … Continue reading


A doodle is “a rough drawing made absentmindedly”.  The most famous modern-day doodles are the doodles you frequently see by Google when you enter Google search (more about its doodles here).

One of the Doodle 4 Google entries in 2013 by students in Florida for the theme “My Best Day Ever..”:

google doodle

The Doodle I really want to write about, however, is the Doodle that helps scheduling online with a group of people.

A few days ago, I found myself having to coordinate with 25 individuals to compete with 12 slots for coaching sessions, and I scratched my head that surely I can’t be going back and forth with 25 people by emails.  Doodle saved me.

Essentially, I create 12 time slots (different dates) of 30 minute each, force 1 choice per participant and also 1 check per slot.  Within an hour, all the slots are pretty much checked by all the individuals with no need for emailing (except to confirm the time zone as each individual’s doodle page is pre-set with the time zone the IP address is in.)  After you have created your event, you will receive a link for the event polling and another for the administrator’s view to monitor the results.

One can also schedule a meeting using the highest common denominator of free slots.

I hope you will find it useful as much as I do!

doodle 1

Doodle 2

Almost Spring and a Recipe


The gigantic tulips at the farmers market are reminding us Spring is almost here.

After getting some Swiss chards at the farmers market, I came up with a new recipe for brunch – shrimp with scrambled egg, garlic (lots of them) sweet peppers and white beans wrapped in organic Swiss chards. The white beans were a bonus from last night. Really yummy!


My Most Favourite Animal

Panda art 1

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How can you not love these guys? Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province in China, is famous for panda breeding and research.  During the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), a panda-themed carnival has delighted the tourists.  The first panda-arts … Continue reading

San Francisco Celebrating the Year of the Horse

The Chinese New Year of the noble and galloping horse will start on 31 January. Horses represent hard work, victory, energy, warm-heartedness and intelligence to the Chinese.

The San Franciscan Chinese are celebrating just as much as their friends and families back home.

Can you feel the joyful atmosphere in the Chinatown?







Can you spot the little boy peeping down to see the celebration?

Happy New Year of the Horse!

Rolihlahla’s Way

Rolihlahla’s Way

One of the best books I have read about life is Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, written beautifully by Richard Stengel, the editor of Time magazine.  Rolihlahla, meaning Tree Shaker or a more modern interpretation “Trouble Maker”,  is … Continue reading

Made my First Chocolate

I made myself a super healthy vegetable soup tonight with olive oil, celery, carrots, garlic, ginger, onions, mushroom, and tofu, sprinkled with lots of pepper (white or black) and a bit of sea salt, and some watermelon radish on top, all in 20 minutes (courtesy of 101cookbook’s fantastic recipe).  To round off my meal tonight, I made my first chocolate!  I have been fascinated by the author of theearthdiet.org, Liana Werner-Gray, who gives a challenge to herself to eat everything that is directly produced from the earth – i.e. nothing processed – for one year, and she continues with this healthy diet.  She showed how we can make chocolate from raw.  So being a dark chocolate liker, I immediate jump to make some chocolate balls myself.  I can’t believe how easy it was – all in 10 minutes.  I had 4 tonight!


Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (8 tablespoonfuls) – I got the colombian dark chocolate powder from Trader Joe’s

Almond Meal (equal amount as the Cocoa Powder) – also from Trader Joe’s

Sprinkles of honey or agave nectar

Sprinkles of water

(Add a little bit of coconut oil if you like)

Flaxseed meal or coconut flakes

To 8-9 balls of chocolate:

1.  Mix the cocoa powder and the almond meal in a bowl.

2.  Sprinkle some honey and a bit of water (and coconut oil if you like)

3.  Mix with a spoon

4.  Then roll with your hands into balls.

5.  Roll the balls into flaxseed meal or coconut flakes to add extra nutrition and taste.

Freeze or refrigerate for 15 minutes (my own version). This can be stored in the fridge for a week.

Enjoy this delicious, healthy, raw chocolate, with hardly any sugar and saturated fat and absolutely no dairy!

chocolate ball

The Colours of Berkeley

Berkeley 1

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This time when I visited Berkeley, I took snapshots of the “true colours” of Berkeley, which reflected a glimpse of its past fame as the focal point of counterculture, hippies, and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s. Here is a walk … Continue reading

Five Inspirations in 2013

As the year draws to an end, I particularly want to highlight several people, events, or things that have inspired me this year (in no particular order, choosing among a longer list):

Singing and performing in the choral workshop with 400 other people in the San Francisco Davis Symphony Hall under the maestro, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director, Ragner Bohlin – a spiritual and beautiful experience during the Christmas season.  (I can just barely see myself in the alto section!)Sf Symphony community singersLearn to concentrate on Five Areas of your life (95% of your time) in the immediate one year and assign tasks to these Five Key Areas in your daily life, while making sure the other non-related tasks take up as little as 5% of your time, said Peter Bregman in his book “18 Minutes”.  I want to be more flexible with the 95% and would be happy if I can use 80-85% for my 5 Key Areas.  This helps me to focus on the important areas of my life and makes me realize that I am spending too much time on unimportant tasks.   Here is a simple example adapted from Bregman.
Five AreasUsing apps to read e-book on my iPhone or tablet with Blio (from public library) or Kindle (paid or free download).  I can read more interesting books easier, faster and cheaper, which also makes my workout more interesting! By the way, I am totally thrilled with my old phone 4, which was upgraded to the iOS 7 operating system, giving my phone a complete facelift!
Reading ebook at the beach.                                                                                                                                               (Image courtesy of theguardian.com)

My Father, who published his first book at a nice age of 75 drawing from his over 30 years of experiences at IBM, is a clear inspiration to us all!  The family is very proud of you, Dad!Computer age book

I am also inspired by all the blogger’s posts I have read throughout the year and am totally grateful to my followers for all your support.

Here’s to a wonderful 2014 to you all!