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Debates and why they are exhausting

Self-realization moment.

I suddenly realized why reading debates--whether it's an online blog and all the comments that follow it, friends on facebook, whatever--is SO EXHAUSTING to me. Reading all these articles that describe what a sensitive person or introverted person is like helped put words to it. My indecisiveness has been more or less explained by these articles, as the result of being highly sensitive/empathetic. It means I see the pros and cons of the given choices, and have to really battle it out to decide which pros outweigh the cons most.

Put into the context of debates, I can usually empathize with all points of view, even points of view that I do disagree with. It means that for me to read it and internalize it, I have to look at each point of view from all angles, understanding the origins and where the point of view will lead the person in various circumstances. It means I come across as lacking in convictions, because a person who has strong convictions "knows" they are right and doesn't need to take the time to understand something at the microscopic level.

Because I cannot fight who I am and the need to understand things in detail, it is like I am carrying several people inside of my heart. One person for each view in the debate. It's like chess. I understand where the opponents' piece(s) is/are going to go prior to me opening my mouth in response. Sometimes the diverging paths are so numerous, the weight of the subject so heavy, that I just run away. Not because I don't see or because I "give up" the debate, but because I see too well and it's all too heavy and exhausting and time consuming.

This is regardless of whether or not I am in the debate or just reading the debate, because even in just reading it's like my inner-self just immediately gets to work at empathizing with all parties involved. It's exhausting.

I don't see it as a good or bad thing--the pro is that I actually understand people pretty well, even when their convictions don't align with what I think is right. This means I can have a more humane dialogue with them (as long as they don't get heated). The con is that I do have a hard time forming my own convictions about some things, and avoid trying to fight for one thing over another. This isn't so bad, I think, except that other people WANT you to have opinions and convictions about things. So they can decide if you are on their team or not. More thoughts but it's getting to heavy to carry right now...


Dreams of Tardiness

I feel melancholy today. I had a strange night. Usually I sleep well...I might wake up in the middle of the night, but I fall back asleep pretty quickly. Last night I woke up around 2, and then couldn't sleep. Sometime after 5 I must have dozed off and had horrible dreams. I dreamed I was asked to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of one of my GEM friends/acquaintances (in reality he is getting married in August). It was weird because I don't know his fiancee, and hardly know him, and this carried into the dream so I felt it was strange (though I was honored) to be in the wedding. The entire dream was me trying to find a dress...being unable to...and then not being able to get ready in time for the wedding and not knowing when it began. I thought it began at 4, but then later I realized that was the reception, and I had already missed the ceremony. I was so upset! I was in my Sheboygan home, yelling at my family, trying to curl my hair...

I woke up when Junwen left for work, but then was too tired to get up myself. I fell back into the same dream. I finally found the dress, but then after I put it on in my old bedroom, I saw it was mostly white with gold beading and I felt I looked too much like a bride, so I couldn't wear it! But most of my gowns were in LA, and I was in Sheboygan. I felt just dreadful, having been so late that I missed the ceremony (and I was a bridesmaid! I wondered why they didn't call me when I didn't show up?) and was now becoming late to the reception. Plus, the reason it was in Sheboygan was to make it easier for me to attend, and here I was, not attending!

So weird.


The Night Sky and Jane Eyre

"Worn out with this torture of thought, I rose to my knees. Night was come, and her planets were risen: a safe, still night; too serene for the companionship of fear. We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us: and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence. I had risen to my knees to pray for Mr. Rochester. Looking up, I, with tear-dimmed eyes, saw the mighty Milky-way. Remembering what it was--what countless systems there swept space like a soft trace of light--I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe: he was God's and by God would he be guarded." ~Jane Eyre

Tis better?

"Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Is this accurate?

Sometimes I think being gifted with the best, only for it to be snatched away, can be the worst curse. In ignorance, we need not grieve for what was gained and lost...We never knew what we did not have, and could be content with that.

Once taken, we pine for its return...We hold on to hope, but what happens when that hope diminishes? Truly, depression defined is lack of hope...For with hope we might carry on, but without hope's companionship, the next step may prove insurmountable.


Incorrect Assumptions American Families

I don't know where else I can share this, so I'm using my dusty LiveJournal. Maybe one day if Junwen and I ever start a blog together, I can reuse it. I just feel the need to write to the unknowing masses about what a deep understanding they have about American culture. It was only recently that one of my best (Chinese) friends finally had a light bulb moment about what I've been trying to convey, with much frustration, all this time.

The issue at hand is the widespread belief that Americans have no problem leaving home to work or study, the reason being that we don't have as strong as familial ties as the Eastern cultures. I'm sure that my "Eastern culture" friends would be surprised to hear that until I met and married a Singaporean, MY view of the East was the same as their view of the West. All I heard about was how hard parents forced their children to study, and that work life took over most of one's time. I've even heard it directly from the source, as my Korean friend used to work til 10pm, and told me that if the boss wanted to go out for drinks, too bad if it was the wife's birthday! She's not as important. Even my husband would work super late hours when he was an attorney in Singapore. And of course, most of us have heard about the Japanese "work ethic", and the unfortunate consequences it has on people (leading to depression and even suicide). Additionally, you don't hear much about Americans studying overseas, but here there are tons of Chinese and Korean students, and at FIT it was Indians and Caribbeans. My point being, lots of kids come to the States to study, often with the desire to stay on to work afterwards. So with this in mind, it was such a SHOCK when I started hearing that people's view of the West was that WE are too individualistic, not caring as much about family.

I know that a lot of those incorrect assumptions come from Hollywood. Unfortunately, people around the globe think they know what Americans are like based off of Hollywood. I think that another part is the fact that in modern times, children do move away from their birth towns and into big cities in search of meaningful, enriching jobs. However, with as big as America is, what people don't realize is that there are a multitude of subcultures within our country. Just recently I've read two articles on this topic. The first spoke of "two Americas": There is a “fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant . . . morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation. . . .And there’s the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America, [with] . . . its diminishing cultural and economic force. . . . [T]wo countries.”

The other article split America into 11 nations...The "nation" where I grew up being called, "Yankeedom": "Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the early Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation." http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html

The point I draw from these two articles is that, unknown to many, there is a large part of America that is incredibly family-centric that expects the "denial of self for the common good". What finally got to my Chinese friend was when I was describing where I grew up, I told her that often people's jobs were simply that: jobs. Their purpose was to feed and provide for the family, and that was essentially it. They aren't meant to provide a deep sense of self-satisfaction or self-actualization, or even done with the goal to become the richest man in town. They were simply jobs each honest citizen did to the best of his/her ability, taking pride in whatever it was (factory work, farm work, secretarial jobs, cashiers, etc.), and doing it to provide for the family. (I guess it may also stem from the fact that most jobs in Wisconsin are service or industrial.) It was only then that she responded, "Ohhhhhhhh! Now I understand why you get so frustrated when we say that Americans don't focus on the family as much...When I hear that they work with the main intention of providing, not just to get rich."  So that my friends is one image of America: We are working to get rich.

I think it is still hard for me to grasp, because, having grown up in a very Christian society, family was always seen as the highest priority (after God). There's even a radio show called, "Focus on the Family"!

I think that one reason it is especially hurtful to me, personally, is that this view not only misrepresents who I am and what my priorities are...It also downplays the emotional strain and difficulty I deal with being so far away from my family. When I was young, I KNEW that I never wanted to live outside either Wisconsin or Michigan (where my family is). I KNEW I wanted to live in the same city as my parents, because I felt so sorry for the kids who didn't have Grandparent visitors on Grandparents' Day at school. (Yes, in case you didn't know, America has a full day dedicated to grandparents, and on this day they get to visit their grandchildren's school and be treated as celebrities. Everyone gets SO EXCITED. We perform musicals for them, show them our art projects, give them a tour, and even take them out with us for recess!)

When I moved away for college, I cried for days. I never wanted to study overseas because I knew I couldn't handle being away from my family for so long, and I knew I couldn't handle missing holidays with them. When freshman year ended, I couldn't imagine doing an REU (research for undergrads) because I wanted to go home for the summer. One of my best friends, also from the same home town, decided to move back to Wisconsin because she didn't like being so far away from family.

One of the hardest parts was saying goodbye to my grandparents, who cried (especially my grandpa)...And when I told my grandma that I was going to LA for grad school, and that grad school typically takes 5-6 years, her response was, "Oh, I'll be such an old lady by then..." I realized then that she fully expected me to return home, and that now she would have to grieve that I would be gone for an additional 5-6 years. I didn't have the heart to tell her that most likely, I wouldn't move back if I wanted to stay in my field. My mom, for a long time, was hoping I would move back home--she even told me about the Spaceport in Sheboygan, hoping that this would draw me back. I had to tell her that it wasn't the same as doing research...Not that she isn't supportive. Many phone calls in the past were me telling her, "Mom, I don't think this is worth it! I want to be able to spend time with you all, to place my child in grandpa's hands. I don't think I can do this!" Her gentle, confident reply is always, "You have to live your life not based on other people, but based on what God has in store for you."

People who think it's easier for Americans to move away from their families don't know that I cried on my honeymoon, which was on a small lake in Door County, Wisconsin, because I knew that my choice to marry Junwen meant that I was saying "no" to the possibility of the life I had envisioned...Getting married, having kids near to grandparents, going trout fishing in the summer and tubing in the snow during winter, vacationing at small cottages on remote lakes with nothing exciting to do except lay in the sun, read good books, and go swimming. I made that choice knowingly, trusting that God really has a greater purpose for the two of us in taking us away from our "homelands" and joining us together in a "foreign city". (Yes, compared to Sheboygan, LA is definitely a foreign city! We may share the same English language--and even then, not always, because most people I interact with speak Chinese a lot--but that's about it.) But that doesn't mean that I don't grieve, it doesn't mean that I don't miss my family like heck, it doesn't mean that I crave with all my heart to visit my grandparents more, to be able to give them my child to hold.

It's especially, increasingly difficult now, as two of my sisters are getting married and I can't join them in the preparation process. I missed out on shopping for bridesmaid dresses. I missed out on shopping for their bridal dress. I'm missing out on my niece growing up, which is another reason as a kid I always said I'd never move away from Wisconsin. I knew that I was closest to my aunts and uncles in Sheboygan, and so I knew I didn't want to be that "distant aunt" who only came by once every other year. I really hate not being a part of their lives, it sucks so bad.

The only reason I'm out here in LA is because I have this belief that God has a purpose for me. I believe that this purpose involves my husband, and I believe that there are a lot of people out here who need loving. People who don't know the real character of God, because his image is so warped here. I guess that without this belief, I would go crazy. And this is why it hurts so much when I hear people say that "it's easier for Americans to move away from family", or that "Americans aren't as tied to their families as Eastern cultures". I cry bullshit.

There's a lot more I could say, and I could have said what I did more eloquently. Consider this my catharsis.


How Forrest Gump Reminded me of Perelandra

It's funny. Tonight I was reminded of a lesson I posted about exactly two days shy of a year ago:  The idea of choosing the good that is given over mourning the loss of the good expected. This past week I have felt anxious...a lot. I have felt overwhelmed...a lot. I have felt depressed...a lot. I won't go into the details of why...But suffice to say, sometimes the future feels "hopeless" with regards to some issues we're dealing with as a family. Heck, sometimes the future of the world even feels hopeless.

But then that iconic, well-known quote from dear old Forrest Gump came to mind: "Mama says life's like a box of chocolates. You never know whatcher gonna git." To take the analogy further, you may try to pick out your favorite kind of chocolate from the box...maybe you spend a bit of time analyzing the shapes to select the one you think you'll enjoy most. However, after you bite into it, you find out you chose wrongly...it wasn't your favorite after all. At this point you have a choice: You can be disappointed that the chocolate wasn't what you expected, thus ruining the experience, or you can enjoy the chocolate for what it actually is instead.

This is how Forrest Gump reminded me of Perelandra. This exact lesson is what the Green Lady tells Random, only in terms of fruit instead of chocolate:

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But…the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting side. The picture of the fruit you have NOT found is still, for  moment, before you. And if you wished…you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other…And this…is the glory and wonder you have made me see; that it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good.

…I thought…that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms,  when we go swimming…It is a delight with terror in it! One’s own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands.”

It is a reminder to enjoy the chocolate you chose...To choose to enjoy the fruit you found. If forever you pine after what was expected, you will always live in disappointment and regret, losing out on the beautiful happiness that was there all along, waiting to be chosen.

May. 9th, 2013

Tired, but don't feel like going to bed.


I haven't really written anything like this. I'm not sure what prompted me to do it now...Perhaps enough time has passed that the internal anger is ready to be put to paper in desire to prevent other young girls from getting swept into abusive relationships. So I guess I'm writing mostly to girls (although guys can also be the victim), to their parents, and to their friends.

I was reading online definitions of emotional/verbal abuse and sexual abuse (see below) and for the first time I admitted to myself that yes, I had been in an abusive relationship. Thing is, when you're in one, it's so hard to see that. It's so easy to put the blame on yourself. To feel guilty. To feel ashamed. To feel unable to reach out to others for fear of judgment...Not just judgment of myself, but judgment of the significant other.

That is lesson #1: In an abusive relationship, the victim will act to protect the abuser. The reason? The victim believes she is in love with the abuser, and wants everyone to like him.

Take-away for parents: If you believe your daughter is in an abusive relationship, this is my suggestion. Talk to her about it, but definitely please approach her in love. A word of caution: This will take some finesse. The instant you say something critical about the relationship or about the boyfriend, she will throw up all her defenses and defend him to the death. Even if you ask her to the point, she will deny any accusation. So how do you approach? I'm not a psychologist, but I imagine something like this: Try taking your daughter out for coffee, or some activity in which you can bond and where there is less chance of either of you losing your temper (public places seem to have that effect). Don't immediately dive into the question. Ask her how she and so-and-so are doing. Start by complimenting things about him. (No one is all evil, you can find nice things to say!) You want to be on her side, and in her mind, having positive things to say about her boyfriend is being on her side. You want to convey to her that you love her and have both her and his best interests at heart. Tell her that because you care, you hope she will feel free to come to you if any issues arise.

What is Emotional/Verbal Abuse?

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.

There are many behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse:

  • Calling you names and putting you down.

  • Yelling and screaming at you.

  • Intentionally embarrassing you in public.

  • Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.

  • Telling you what to do and wear.

  • Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.

  • Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.

  • Stalking you.

  • Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.

  • Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.

  • Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.

  • Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.

  • Starting rumors about you.

  • Threatening to have your children taken away.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don't want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person's ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms.Some examples of sexual assault and abuse are:

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.

  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.

  • Rape or attempted rape.

  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.

  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”

  • Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.

  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.

  • Repeatedly using sexual insults toward someone.

Keep in Mind

  • Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually. Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”

  • Most victims of sexual assault know the assailant.

  • Both men and women can be victims of sexual abuse.

  • Both men and women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.

  • Sexual abuse can occur in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.

  • Sexual abuse can occur between two people who have been sexual with each other before, including people who are married or dating.

Iceland was absolutely beautiful. It was exotic, and yet strangely felt like home. I think the latter may have resulted from the fact that it was “end of winter” season so there was brown grasses and sleeping trees; there was a large fjord and a harbor; there was snow; the clouds looked more like the clouds from home; and the people look more familiar to my home city than the diverse population in Los Angeles. But then there was the exotic element which made my heart soar. Mountains everywhere—it wasn’t like the mountains I’ve experienced which tend to be in a range, so you are either in the flatlands looking towards mountains, or you are driving within them. In Iceland, everywhere you drive there are mountains in the distance covered with snow. Then, in the countryside (again, like home, there are actual countrysides unlike Los Angeles), it looked much like how I’d imagine a moor to appear, only less marsh and grasses and more rock and moss. Wide open, but instead of being completely wide open (like eastern Colorado) or open but with a horizon closed by trees (like Wisconsin), here the horizon was closed by mountains.

Another thing I liked a lot was how friendly the people all were. I never ran into a rude Icelander (except maybe the tax refund ladies at the airport, and they were more just grumpy). They were all very friendly and helpful, and didn’t at all convey the attitude I’ve found in Europe before that says, “I don’t like foreigners. Go away.” In fact the shop keepers would ask how we were enjoying our stay, and seemed genuinely happy when we said we were having a wonderful time. I suppose, tourism is a great source of revenue for the country.

I didn’t sleep at all on the flight over, which went from LAX to Seattle to Reykjavik. We landed about 6:30am UT, took the shuttle bus and arrived at our hotel about 8:30am. Unfortunately, check-in wasn’t until 2pm, so we couldn’t take a nap. Jenni arrived shortly after I did, so we stored our luggage and walked about the city, taking pictures of the harbor and walking up to Hallgrimskirkja. It was Sunday, and we happened to be fortunate enough to arrive while the service was going on, so we joined. While we couldn’t understand anything, we could tell when the Lord’s prayer began because the cadence was the same as when we pray in English! Some things cross cultures and languages. J Right, before we walked we explored until we found an open coffee shop where we could put a bit into our stomachs.

After we finished walking, we went back to the hotel and used the internet for about 30 minutes before we could get into our room. I showered off and then we went to the 5pm reception where we met some people, ate some food, and took more pictures from the hotel’s 8th floor (Panorama Restaurant). We were exhausted, so we went to bed around 8pm.

At about 11:45pm, we got a phone call from the front desk to notify us that there was visible aurora! They said we had to hurry because it was moving fast, so I just threw my glasses on along with my warm outerwear and sprinted outside. I crossed the street and stood in the shadow of the Harpa building, where we would hold our conference the following week. There was a lot of harbor lights, but one could still see a green arc across the northern sky stretching from east to west. I saw some dancing rays and some great dynamics. After a while of quiet, I walked around to see if there was a better spot. When there wasn’t, I returned, just in time to see a substorm break-up! A large explosion of green lights swirling in the east started expanding both northward and southward while traveling westward towards my longitude…the auroral bulge/westward traveling surge! After arriving, there was a magnificent display of greens and even violets as the very energetic particles made it to lower altitudes in the ionosphere. It was beautiful! Even after it died down, I sat for awhile, because I knew that it was possible I wouldn’t have a chance to watch the aurora again that week. Soon coldness started seeping in, so I headed back. Unfortunately at this point, the cold and jetlag had woken me up, and I had a hard time falling asleep again.

Each breakfast was provided by the hotel, so the next morning Jenni and I went back up to the Panorama Restaurant where they served scrambled eggs and delicious bacon, fruit, cereals, and more. I was pretty hungry from not eating much over the weird travel time, so I scarfed down eggs and bacon. The rest of the week I craved the cereals more, because I was often thirsty and the milk sounded more appetizing.

The Harpa building, where we had the conference, was uniquely engineered to look like this particular rock formation—the same as Hallgrimskirkja. It served AMAZING lunches. The entire building had glass for walls, so anywhere you were (except within the conference room), you could see the outdoors. I wish all buildings were like that! ;) We wondered aloud about what the heating bill must be for a building made of glass…But someone pointed out that Iceland uses its own geothermal energy to power everything, and uses the hot water of the land to heat buildings, so something like 90% of its energy is completely renewable.

The conference itself was stupendous. The underlying commonality between the presented work was “Magnetotails”, so that meant not just Earth’s but also Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and even Uranus and Neptune made an appearance! I have to admit that I had no previous interest in the Jovian planets…Since I study Earth’s magnetotail, I didn’t see as much relevance and didn’t expect to enjoy the talks about the other planets as much. Much to my surprise, I was very interested by the majority of the talks all week long! It was really neat to get such a global…I mean…”solar systemal” view of space physics. It was cool to see that some of the problems and questions we ask about Earth’s magnetic system are the same questions we are asking at the other planets, while other processes are completely different and thus completely different questions arise! But this puts everything into perspective, as studying different systems than Earth’s can give us different situations to study the same physics and further our understanding about processes that we would otherwise have a very one-dimensional view about. For instance, I didn’t know why Jupiter had such a funny dayside. I found out it’s because it has a current disk which extends around the planet, pushing the magnetic field outwards at the dayside (instead of like Earth’s current sheet which is only in the tail). I also learned that the main plasma source for the Jovian (and I think Saturnian) systems are the moons, not the solar wind (like at Earth). I learned they don’t know how the plasma dissipates though, as they observe substantially less plasmoids exiting the system than is predicted if plasmoids were the main loss of plasma to the system. I learned the Mercury, like Earth, has a neutral line; however it’s super close to the planet at about 2 Hermian radii. I learned that they observe electron acceleration events, but not ions, so they want to know what is the acceleration method since the dipolarizations observed there aren’t accelerating the ions.

Monday night, Jenni and I joined Stein (my instructor when I took the substorm class in Iceland), a well-known Japanese scientist, Stefan (who I’ve known about as long as I’ve been in grad school, as he’s been involved with THEMIS all along and came to work at UCLA for about two years—was it really that long?!), and another grad student who we had just met at the poster session. We went to a SUPER nice restaurant where the food couldn’t have been better….Since it was so nice it was obviously expensive, and since I didn’t want to spend too much I got an appetizer of blue ling (a fish) and lobster. It was SO GOOD! The grad student ordered minke whale, puffin, and arctic char. He let us try it, so I tried the puffin and the whale. They were both to die for! Stefan was mocking us for eating the whale and told us we’d go to hell for it…I have to admit, after I ate it I did feel like I had just eaten a talking beast from Narnia. Stein couldn’t understand our discomfort eating it, because he (growing up in Norway) had grown up eating it. I guess it’s all in how you were brought up.

Which reminds me…I learned a bit of Icelandic history. In 1000 A.D., there was division among the peoples living there over paganism vs. Christianity. The head chieftan at the time who, although he was pagan, decided that for the country’s good that they would need to choose one religion and he chose Christianity. But he gave the people three provisos: They were allowed to keep the icons (idols) as long as they did so privately; they were allowed to continue putting unwanted children outside to die; and they were allowed to continue eating horse meat. Most of us shudder at the thought of eating horse meat, and we usually think it’s because they are so beautiful and graceful, and we build relationships with them. However, I have another theory. The reason eating horse meat was in contention anyway was because horses were sacrificed to the gods and then eaten…And, as I recall reading in the New Testament, Christians were allowed to break the Jewish eating laws and eat anything as long as it wasn’t sacrificed to gods. So that makes me wonder if the taboo on eating horse meat actually stems from that, since horse meat would have been outlawed in any other European nation for that reason!

On Tuesday, after the morning sessions, we took an afternoon walking tour of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, and about 1/3 of the countries population of 320,000 live in the city proper while another 1/3 live in the general vicinity. We were matched up with a tour guide holding a balloon named “Sif”, the name of Thor’s wife from Nordic mythology. The guide looked uncannily like Josh Holte’s dad! We went by the president’s house, which used to be a prison, and had a statue of the Danish king from when Iceland was a colony of Denmark. We then went to the Parliament building, which is an extension into modern days of the original Althingy (I know, what a name!), which makes it something like the oldest system of government in the world. A thousand years ago, chieftans from around the country would travel and meet together to decide on laws and carry out judgments. A man who had memorized the entire law would stand up and read 1/3rd of it each year, so the entire law was read over the span of 3 years. It made me think of the ancient Jews, who also recited the law aloud. We saw the place where people think this speaking of the law took place. There were mounds that were up against the rift from where the two plates (American and Eurasian) are separating, so that the sound would carry well. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as that was another day.

We learned about how during the crisis, the people banged on pots for a year outside of parliament until they allowed the people to vote in new leaders. It was a peaceful revolution known as the Kitchen Utensil Revolution or something like that. We saw the 1st building constructed in Reykjavik, then went to a museum with a HUGE map of the country. This was right by a big pond filled with swans and other water foul. Following this we walked through the neighborhoods towards Hallgrimskirkja, where we were allowed to go in, take pictures, and even take an elevator ride up to the clock tower to see the city below. Jenni and I separated for dinner that night and went to a place our guide had recommended. I got the catch of the day over sweet potato which was delicious!

Wednesday was a full day of science followed by a banquet at the Perlan (Pearl), a rotating restaurant that is a main feature of Reykjavik and has lots of hot water cylinders around it. The views here were amazing, so we took lots of pictures. We sat at a table with the Thomsens and Ted and Sally (forget their last name) as well as two Russian ladies and another new grad student. Here we were served wine, an appetizer of salmon sushi, a main course of lamb which fell off the bone it was so tender, and a delicious dessert of cheesecake and fruit I think…But it was softer than normal cheesecake, so I liked it a lot better.

Thursday was a half day of science after a trip along Iceland’s Golden Circle. This tour began by getting out and looking where the two continental plates—the American and Eurasian—were splitting apart 2cm each year. The result is that the ground between them is lowering, so there is a ridge on either side. The vista was absolutely gorgeous!!! Snow-covered plains densely spotted with mirror still ponds and rivers with snow-covered mountains surrounding the entire area. After this we went to Gloss Falls (spelling?) which in English is Golden Falls. These were the largest water falls I have ever seen! Something like Niagra, I would guess. It was very windy and cold, and the water spray was being caught up in the winds and turned into snow! It was amazing.

After taking pictures until our fingers froze, we returned to the bus and headed off to see a live geyser called Strukkor. This guy goes off every 4-7 minutes, so thankfully the wait time is short to see him go off! It was so cool…You could see the water “breathing” as the pressure was changing inside, and it was first start overflowing the top, and then finally explode up into the air! It was neat seeing all of the steam coming out of the ground…It felt like we were on another planet! Fran was saying it was like we were on the moon Io, since we also smelled a lot of sulfur. Our one Icelandic participant explained to us how geysers work. He said Bunsen (as in, the Bunsen burner), a German scientist, visited Iceland and took temperatures of the water in the geyser at different depths. He discovered that it grew hotter at deeper depths, meaning that the water was also less dense. This makes for an unstable system, since less dense water wants to be on top and float. So it would sit in this precarious balance until something broke the instability, allowing the hot water to push past the denser, cooler water and also pushing it up and creating the explosion! (That’s a very simple explanation.) That original geyser is no longer alive, but is still there. In fact, it’s name is Geysir, and since it was the first geyser ever known to the Western world, it is the source of the term that we call all geysers today! I missed it at first, but when I found out where it was during dinner, I ran back outside in the dark (with the headlamp I had decided to bring along) so I could see it! It was huge, much bigger than Strukker. I could see the deep hole in the middle where water used to shoot out of. It was explained to us that the water depth is about 10 or 30 (I cant remember which) meters less than originally because people used to throw rocks into it to make it spout. The rocks would cause the perturbation that would allow the instability to go crazy.

We had dinner with the Icelander so we got a chance to pick his brain about Icelandic culture and history. He said they normally have a hot dinner of chicken, lamb, fish, beef, or pork during the week. Lamb isn’t a delicacy, but they eat it about once a week. Fish they used to eat almost daily, but no longer. I asked why did Iceland become Lutheran after the Reformation—I was curious because, as an isolated country, I wondered why they would go along with the Reformation. He said that it was mostly political and about money. Since under the Protestant church the king was given possession of the church’s land and belongings, the king wanted the people to leave Catholicism for Lutheranism.  Sadly, the remaining bishop and his two sons were beheaded over it. It’s an awful reminder of how religion—which, at the heart of what it teaches is beautiful and if lived out would give us “abundant life”—can be, as with anything else precious and pure, twisted for use to gain power. You see it nowadays too, with people using religion to push their political agendas…But this post isn’t meant to go into that rant. The dinner at the Geysir Hotel was chicken, potato, and an unknown delicious vegetable.

But before the dinner and after the tour, we had the afternoon science session in the Geysir hotel. This was the session that both Jenni and I gave our 15 minute presentations, and we both rocked it!! We had SO MANY people approach us to tell us what an awesome job we did! Someone thanked me for making it such a clear talk that they could easily follow. A student told me if I was a professor, he would take my class. I had been so anxious and practiced the talk a lot the day before…It always takes me going over it several times before I have the ‘acting” down. Once I was up there I wasn’t nervous anymore (well, only at first so I mispronounced Xianzhe’s name, doh!) I was my usual animated self, and I could tell I had the entire room’s attention as everywhere I looked, I saw attentive eyes and not blank faces or faces looking into laptops. I went overtime, but it was okay…I had lots of questions afterwards, but I was able to acknowledge them all and either say “Yes! We are planning to do that!” or explain it better. There was one time I didn’t know what M. Hesse was asking me, but Vassilis understood and was able to interject just enough information that I was able to understand the question and easily explain. Basically, I had forgotten to mention that we gave the pulse a velocity of 425km/s and allowed it to move in towards the spacecraft, so he didn’t know how the injections could see a time-dependent situation thinking that the pulse was just on all the time. G. Reeves pointed out that he and V. Sergeev had seen similar depletions in eflux and called them “electron holes”. He suggested if I looked at pitch angles I could resolve the cause, which I agreed with and told him I wanted to do that in the future. He was really interested in my work though, and came up to me later to discuss it more. Don also approached me and gave me an awkward praise…He said that because I was so enthusiastic, that he felt he had to pay attention and that he thought it would end up being a cover-up for bad science…But that he was pleasantly surprised that in fact it was very good science! Because I had an embarrassed look on my face he followed up by saying, “No no no, that’s a good thing! Because it was quite good science!” I think he was trying to pay me a nice compliment but it just came out a little funny. He had asked me a question about how particle trajectories would be altered if I included the dipolarization, so I acknowledged this fact and told him I planned to include that in my thesis. M. Hesse also told me it was a very good talk…V (my adviser) also, and the next day he even said it was the best talk! So after so many years of not being allowed to present, I feel I was finally able to shine and get the attention of a lot of influential people in the field. Yay!

On Friday, I have to admit it was hard to pay attention. I was tired from not sleeping well all week, I was done with my presentation, and the content of the talks wasn’t as interesting to me. But, after all the science was over, we took a group trip to the Blue Lagoon to relax and enjoy the geothermally heated pools! We learned that it was the “waste” water of the geothermal power plant that people began swimming in during the 70s, so they turned it into a resort! We started out by viewing the Lagoon from on high, had some appetizers and blue champagne, and then changed into our suits! It was cold outside, so I was thankful that there was a way to enter the Lagoon from the inside of the building. You could enter the warm water inside, and then there was a door that led to the outside. Jenni and I floated around with Shabit (an undergrad from UCLA who works for Vahe), Stefan, and Robert M. who joined us for a bit. At one end of the Lagoon, there was a box of white mud you could put on your face as a mask! So we all did that, and I think that my face really did feel smoother afterwards. Jenni and I found a man-made waterfall which is meant to stand under so you get a shoulder massage. The water is very full of minerals, so it’s supposed to have a healing quality, although it really dries out your hair. We had to use lots of conditioner before and after to try and protect our hair!

We bought sandwiches to eat on the bus ride home, had a relaxing bus ride back, and then chilled out in our hotel in hopes to catch the aurora since the sky was finally clear. Near midnight, we heard our neighbors get a phone call. Then we heard several doors open and slam…and we started suspecting that the aurora might be going on! Sure enough, we got the phone call, so we bundled up and ran outside. It was a meeker show than on Sunday, but we were happy to see some arcs. They generally would appear in the west and propagate eastward. The coolest part was probably that at one point there were three east-west arcs, and the middle arc started propagating equatorward (towards us) and was enveloped into the equatorward arc. We thought this might initiate a substorm, but no such luck. We were alone except for James W., and Mike W. and his wife were out there for a bit as well as Larry K. Everyone else was apparently hanging out at the Viking ship sculpture, which we started walking towards but then turned back from because we didn’t want to miss any possible show.

We had mostly packed up our suitcases after we got back but before the aurora, so we went to bed. It was a good night’s sleep for me…I think I was finally getting over jetlag on Thursday and Friday nights. :P In the morning we got up and had one last breakfast at the Panorama Restaurant. We then checked out and stored our luggage so we could do a bit of shopping before we took the shuttle to the airport. I found some small thank you gifts for the guys who drove me to/from the airport in LA, and also found a nice fleece for myself and postcards for family. Jenni got a pretty wool blanket, since Iceland is so well-known for its wool. We got a lunch of “lamb, mint, and sweet potato pastie” and then went back to the hotel to catch our shuttle.

A lot of conference participants were on one of our flights (there was one going to JFK (Jenni’s), one to Denver (mine), and another to Seattle, all about the same time). Jenni’s flight was overbooked, but thankfully she was able to get on by being upgraded to business class! Unfortunately for Xienzhe, who was after her in line, he was put on standby list. So, now I am on the flight heading to Denver. I tried “happy marriage cake”, which I thought would be fresh but it was packaged. It was a cake with like, raison or prune paste or something. I watched several episodes of Bing Bang Theory, and then I watched Prometheus. I forgot until afterwards that it’s supposed to be a prequel to the Alien movies, so I was pretty confused and also grossed out by it. I think you have to watch the Alien movies to understand what is going on, because I didn’t know why David poisoned Elizabeth’s love/husband, which was very sad. I also didn’t know why Aliens were being birthed out of people.

Anyways, so after that I started listening to “Icelandic music” provided by the plane and then wrote this journal entry, since I knew I would never do it once I got home. But it appears I have managed to do it on the flight with 2 hours and 17 minutes to spare! The total flight to Denver is 7 hours 40 minutes. I am kind of hungry, as I only had the small “happy wedding cake” for dinner and now it is 10:23pm Iceland time…I saw some pretty icebergs as we flew over the Hudson Bay and took some video and pictures. Now either I’ll eat (though I feel awkward calling a stewardess) or take a nap. I could work…but I’m feeling pretty tired. We’ll see!

As they say in Icelandic for goodbye, Bless!

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June 2014


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