Category Archives: Writing

Write. Speak.


When it comes to written and spoken English, I want to ask you these questions:

Does writing a lot help you speak better?
Does speaking a lot help you write better?

Think about it.

If you ask me, my answer to both questions is no.

I have lots of theories when it comes to language, and this is one of them. There are four elements in learning a foreign, or any language: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Here are what I think of the four and their relations to each other:

  • Reading a lot help you write better
  • Writing a lot help you write better
  • Listening a lot help you speak better
  • Speaking a lot help you speak better even more

Familiarity with written words, through reading, helps you in the process of composing words in writing. Familiarity with spoken words, through listening, helps you in the process of composing words verbally.

And of course, ultimately, as we all know, the more you write, the better you write; the more you speak, the better you speak.


On an irrelevant note, I think if you love writing, you most likely love talking too. So in that regard, most bloggers are big talkers.

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SYTYCD Live Tour: It’s LIVE!

I bought the tour tickets mostly because I wanted to see Danny Tidwell dance live and I wanted to see some of my favorite routines especially ballroom ones danced live.

The Start

We arrived at Continental Airline Arena, where the event was held, one full hour early. The line was already 200 people long. About 20 minutes later, we looked back and the line behind us was like this: Continue reading

Kabab Cafe: An Egyptian Experience

An old Chinese proverb says, 民以食为天 (Men deem food as God). After spending a delightful evening at Kabab Cafe, Astoria, I came to the thinking that if food is not a man’s God, it should be at least, as Ali the owner says, his soul.

We first heard of Kabab Cafe from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on Travel Channel. It was featured as one of the most popular restaurants in “Little Cairo”, the middle-eastern neighborhood in Astoria, Queens. Astoria, with its “sizable and diverse immigrant population”, is said to have “some of the best and most authentic food in the country”. Continue reading

My 10th Anniversary as an Immigrant


I arrived in the U.S. on Aug 22, 1997. It was a sunny day, just like today.

The moment I stepped out of LGA airport, I looked up and saw the sky. It was unusually high (I learned later that wasn’t unusual. It merely appeared higher because of the better air quality). Friends who came on the plane together with me, I still remember their faces clearly. We were picked up by a few senior students I contacted earlier. One of them has the same name as my brother’s.

The first trip to PathMark was a curious one. Because we were living in an apartment complex outside campus, shopping was a major problem. None of us had driver license. The senior students took us to PathMark right after we arrived so we could have something to eat for the night.

Everything was so expensive. Fruit and vegetables especially. One of things I bought was Taco chips, recommended by one of the seniors. It turned out to be one of my favorites in the early days. Almost everyone bought cup noodles. They were popular in China back in the time when we were growing up, and they were cheap. Graduate students’ monthly stipend was only $800-$900 and we hadn’t even seen the first paycheck yet.

During the first orientation seminar they offered free lunch sandwiches, very cold Turkey sandwiches. I’m sure it was very healthy and nutritional but I couldn’t finish them. It was tasteless (now I eat those sandwiches on regularly basis). Instead I went to the cafeteria at Student Activity Center nearby and bought a slice of pizza. I was the only new student that did that, though everyone seemed to hate the sandwich.

I met HM in an unusual way. My then b.f. was visiting me and an hour after he left for the train station, I got a call from a girl I didn’t know. She said her name was HM and she just met my b.f. at the train station. She said they had a little chat and he learned that she was also a new graduate student in CS dept of our school, and he gave her my number. I then invited her over to my apt and we chatted. Just like that, I got a new girl friend.

Computer Science Department building didn’t impress me when I first saw it, but that doesn’t matter. It was a very special place because of all the time we spent there, and all the people I met there. The computer room. The Ping Pong room. Our office. My lab. Library. Professors’ offices. The guy in my lab who quit (for a job) after only a few months. The two seniors with the same name Bao in the middle. The guy who took me to Flushing for the first time. The guy who introduced himself by saying he had a girl’s name.

And Theo.

Theo was the reason I bought a TV earlier than everyone else. He was (part of) the reason I was always looking to talk to non-Chinese students, trying to avoid, not very successfully, speaking Chinese all the time with only Chinese students. He said my English was not very good, even though I secretely thought it was alot better than most of other students. He suggested me listen to talk shows to improve listening. I did exactly that, but found the talk shows were much easier to understand than him.

He had a very heavy, thick Greek accent. None of the talk show hosts sounded like him.

Theo was my professor, who I was working closely with as a research assistant.

Not being able to understand him fully was the biggest challenge I faced in my early days. I don’t remember much about other courses/projects except some were harder than others. I did best in Algorithm but never got chance to take Networking in my 3 semesters’ stay. I enjoyed the 2-D barcode decoding algorithm I was working with Theo and the time I spent in SBL as an intern. It turned out to be the only working experience I had other than my current job. All the people there I still remember. My Polish mentor (his “top model” picture in his cubicle). Two Joes. The Taiwanese girl. Michelle.

Starting from ’98 summer, instead of cooking most of the meals I ate mostly on campus. Roth cafeteria. SAC cafeteria. Hospital cafeteria. Smith Haven Mall. I’d gotten driver license and bought a ’88 Toyota Tercel for about $1,000. It saved lots of time and energy. And I found out I was really good at driving and enjoyed every minute of it.

The end of SB era was a little blurred in my memory because something happened in my personal life that summer. All I remember is I had to put everything aside and start looking for a job. By then I had already moved to another apartment where I no longer had a roommate. But HM was there in my hardest time. I didn’t attend graduation ceremony. I can’t even remember the day I left.

For the next eight years, I worked. Some years flew by as if they were a few days. Some days felt they would last forever. I realize how impossible it is to write about the last few years. I realize there are experiences in life that cannot be expressed in words. You succumb to the power of life in awe and sometimes, in fear. But in all the times, you have no choice but endure, live on, and learn, so you can be better prepared for the next time.

SYTYCD, After the Finale


So You Think You Can Dance season 3 is over. My favorite, Danny, didn’t win.

I’d thought I would be pretty upset if he wasn’t the winner, but I’m not. I had such a great time watching Thursday night’s finale show, celebrating what a fantastic season this has been, that I almost didn’t care who the winner would be (the keyword is “almost”;). They really did an excellent job with the finale, putting together lots of interesting pieces, footages and performances and showed them in a nice pace that you didn’t feel it was dragging and were able to sit through the commercials quite patiently.

All my favorite routines were re-danced. Even the guest performances were quite good. The montage shown when the singer was singing “I will remember You” was so moving and real.

This is my favorite show of all. I like it more than Dancing with the Stars, although I thoroughly enjoy both. The choreography, music and dance quality are obviously better in SYTYCD, but what makes it really special is the camaraderie among those brilliant young people and the coach-pupil relationship between them and the judges. In this show the judges appear to really care about the contestants’ progress as a dancer. They give very honest opinions and are very sincere. There is a very pure, almost innocent, quality to the show which is so rare in today’s reality shows. Those talented young dancers get the chance of their lifetime to work with / be critiqued by these highly acclaimed professional choreographers/judges. Everyone is so genuinely involved and speak from their heart. Very little TV manipulation and nothing is fake. This to me, is the biggest factor why SYTYCD was so successful. The spectacular, world class choreography and superb performances are just icing on the cake. They show off the beauty of life like no other art form does, i.e., through the beauty of human body itself.

People like to say, “it’s just a tv show”. Those people don’t watch. To me, this is not a “show”, this is the actual “thing”. It’s life, in front of your eyes, and it can’t be more real.

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Why do we fall in love. Why are we brave. Why do we get hurt. Why are we strong. Why do we keep going. Why do we not change. Why are we happy. Why do we not know happiness. Why do we suffer. Why are we in dark. Why are we loved. Why are we held. Why do we not go on. Why do we go on. Why do we not forget. Why do we not cherish. Why do we believe. That we do not believe in why.

Chinese and English: the Languages

I’ve always wanted to write something about the two languages I have learned and come to love. Or even, to write something about language in general. There used to be a debate between me and cc about how useful Linguistics actually is. I don’t remember the details but do remember that I took a very practical stand on the topic. In my eyes language is just a tool. And that’s all it is, a tool, a “means to an end“, a “device for doing work“. Linguistics is nice and interesting but I was not sure how much practical use there really is to it.

The only thing you should worry about a tool is simply how to use it, to achieve what it is intended for. You use a scissor in order to cut better (you don’t really spend lots of time studying its origin do you). A washing machine to keep your clothes clean. A video recorder, to remember a piece of your life.

In language’s case, it is to communicate.

And some people have more than one tool for this job (they are called bi-lingual or multi-lingual).

The interesting thing here is, no matter how many tools you have, at any given time you can only use one of them. And when you have stopped using one of the them for a very long time, you find it harder and harder to pick it back up and use it as effectively as before. This is especially true in the case where the tool, the language, was not born, but learned.

English is my learned language, Chinese, born.

There cannot be a pair of languages with bigger differences than these two.

When I think of Chinese the language, I think of words like “rich”, “poetry”, and “history”;
When I think of English, I think of it as the language of the modern world. The language to get things done. The language you never dwell on, rarely think much about. It conveys the same meaning in 5 words that takes Chinese 50.

Compared with Chinese, English looks straightforward and bland;
Compared with English, Chinese looks convoluted and contrived.

English is great for lovers, when subtlety is less valuable than candor;
Chinese is great for poets, whose spirit can never be limited by the richness.

If English is a song, Chinese is music.

Sometimes you want to sing to others;
Sometimes, you sit down and play for them.

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