Category Archives: Daily Notes

The Audial World of A Café

Rao'sAs an undergraduate at Duke University, I took a class on anthropology of sound, studying the culture of sounds and the sounds of different cultures. We have covered materials in which the sound of a church bell has constituted a unique and shared communal identity. Even in the absence of any clear geographic boundary, a fading or closing sound of a church bell allowed local commuters to know when they were back home or leaving it behind.

We have also visited the audial world of faraway cultures, some of which created and sustained fictitious creatures through artificial noises. A shortened nowadays equivalent of such audial creation may be the noise we generate in an attempt to startle an unguarded friend or the eerie sounds that we implant in an epic haunted house on Halloween.   

Years from that semester, I find myself mentally revisiting the class over Catherine Reid’s Song Heart Rail. From a volunteer birder-to-be listening to taped bird calls to witnessing a Virginia Rail’s call – “it clicks and wheezes, a hammer on an anvil, a bagpipe filling and emptying” – Ms. Reid not only brought back memories of that particular undergraduate course, but also enhanced the audial world of a café that I frequent in west Massachusetts.

A faint music is always played in the background. While none of the customers seem to pay any particular attention as what’s been played, the presence or the knowledge of its presence made all the cacophony of noises much more bearable, or more precisely enjoyable. The sudden spins of the blinder, scoops against ice cubes, coffee beans in a grinder, plates and cups clink as they get dropped off in a bin, hellos and goodbyes as customers file in and out of the café, pulls and pushes in an effort to position tables and chairs, but none of the individual noise is able to impose any distinct impact in the presence of the background music.

As faint as the music may be, it absorbs, shapes and reshapes a café full of noises. Conversations along with all the rest of sounds merge into a single cloud of overhanging noise, which magically crafts a very distinct audial world of a café.

Even without take a sip at the newly brewed coffee, the sounds of a café satiates one’s caffeine needs through his/her ear bones of hammer, anvil, and stirrup vibrating in response to the café’s pulsating audial world. 

The noise then adds to the quality of the café as much as tranquility does to a starry night.

Jun.  14th, 2014

The Flowers Never Made it, But Love Has

My Love Bouquet

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey! Sorry, the flowers caught traffic and wouldn’t make it there on time.”

She is away at a psychology conference in Austin Texas. The night before she flew off we had lobsters to celebrate Valentine’s in advance. With her usual charm, she tried to learn what I had in stock for her for the Valentine’s Day. I am never good at keeping surprises, not even our engagement proposal. However, I stood my ground and kept my lips sealed. “Not telling you, but you will love it,” I assured her.

What’s the surprise then? You may wonder.

Hershey’s chocolate? No, she never liked chocolate.

Stuffed bear hug with a personalized card and candy treat? Sounds fun, but lack romance.

Upon her checking in to the local Radissons Hotel & Suites, I asked for the room number. She was bit tickled and asked what it was for. “Nothing, just want to know,” I replied. Silly? Yeah, but didn’t have a more witty line on the fly.

After virtually roaming every floral shop in town, I settled with a Be My Love Floral Bouquet – red roses and carnations exquisitely arranged with white Asiatic lilies and chrysanthemums in a ruby red glass vase. I was certain that the flowers would adorn yet another beautiful and romantic chapter in our life.

“May I order a flower bouquet for delivery please?”  I asked.

“Sure. For tomorrow? Valentine’s Day?” the florist responded.

“Yes. For tomorrow,” I confirmed.

After taking down the delivering address and my card info, he asked for my phone number and email address.

“Do I need to provide my email address?” I wasn’t ready to put my email account in any harm’s way – subject to endless spam.

“Yes, we want to make sure that the delivery is on time. If we couldn’t reach you by phone, we will email you,” reasoned the salesperson. They sound really responsible. You may wonder, so have I, until things gone south.  

The service fee was over $16. Yes, it’s not a typo. “It’s Valentine’s day rate. Everyone is paying that much,” as the salesperson put it.

“You sure that you guys will deliver the flowers on time, correct?” I asked. I wouldn’t pay $16 delivery fee if they weren’t ready to do it on time.

“Absolutely. I can assure you,” promised the salesperson.

So the order has been placed. There is nothing left but waiting.

I even mentally run the episode in my head, imagining a delivery person at her hotel door.

Knock, knock.

“Who is it?” she asks.

“This is for Mengyao,” he hands over the flowers.

Yes, I can see the smile on her face. The joy runs through her. I even had my phone ready for her call. What a fantastic Valentine’s Day – near or far, together or apart. I had it all planned out.

Not exactly … here comes the reality, the evil floral shop.

After a numerous call to the front desk, no flowers have been delivered. I went through my web browser history and dug out the merchant’s number (1-800-848-5510). Six calls, none went through. Their facebook page states that they are no longer taking any orders for Valentine’s Day. The full romance I had installed in the bouquet started to escape.

Every call to the front desk, every attempt to reach the Evil Flower Shop bled the romance a little, until there was nothing but utter disappointment and abhorrence. How could they do this to any customer?  Let along on Valentine’s Day?

The wind became chiller. Folks started to file out of the café. Every time someone leaves the café, a gust of fridge wind breaks through and imposes a lasting shiver upon the dwindling customers.

At 5:32, I received an email, most likely automated, from the floral shop. It states:

FROM:  WWW.FLOWERSDEPOT.COM                                                    EMAIL:FLOWERSDEPOT980@GMAIL.COM                                                                                                                              DEAR (addressed to me) : DELIVER OR CANCEL                                                                                                                           



BUSINESS DAYS AS PER OUR DELIVERY POLICY.                                      


WILL CANCEL YOUR ORDER.                                                         





“Please tell me this is a Valentine’s Joke, a silly one. I have paid close to $80 for a flower bouquet and now you are refusing to deliver it as scheduled.” I pleaded.

“I have asked time and again (review your recordings, if you have them) whether you will be able to deliver it on Valentine’s Day, and the answers were resounding ‘ABSOLUTELY,’” I argued.

“I refuse to accept your overbooked at this late in the day (5:32pm). Deliver my flowers as you promised. You’ve already successfully drained every last drop of romance out of this effort. Deliver my flowers as we agreed. She is there at a conference and not going to stay around three days to wait for your flowers,” I reasoned.

No responses from the shop. They have gone silent. This is war. I mentally declared war on this ill-managed floral shop ( They were super good at charging extra fees, but equally good at failing their promises. So where does this leave my Valentine’s Day.

The flowers never made it there on time. The floral shop resent the automated email and once again promising to deliver it within the next three business days.

My valentine has been very good sport about it. She appreciates the effort as much as she would have with the flowers.

The flowers never made it, but the underlying emotion has, fully.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Melon! ­­­­­­


Little Brother Shields Baby Sister From Punishment

BrotherThis post is dedicated to a second grade little boy who tries to shield baby sister from receiving punishment for not turning in her homework.

A chill breeze reminds people the turning of the season. Soon this part of Tibet will start to receive its regular snowfalls. A row of adobe houses amidst rolling green hills serves as the entire school facility for the local kids. Nothing about the morning suggests anything different about the day.

The sound of the school bell cracks the morning tranquility and sends little kids racing towards those adobe houses. The teacher cups hands against his mouth to keep them warm before walking down the aisles to collect homework. The aged wooden floor sends out squeaking sounds as rusted nails give way to loosen pieces of woods against the teacher’s weight. The floor even squeaks at the weight of a child. Everything at the school indicates decades of regular use with little maintenance.

A gentle breeze sends the door ajar and the teacher goes on collecting homework. He stops by the desk of a little girl, who doesn’t have anything to turn in this particular morning. Students often receive punishment for not doing their homework. She rose, barely visible behind the desk, and pressed her hands by the sides. The teacher waits for an answer, and she has none. She drops her head and tears well up in her eyes. The teacher leads her to the front of the classroom. As he reaches to a ruler, which he often uses to beat students’ palms for making mischief or failing to turn in their homework, a little boy makes his way to the front. He stops right by the little girl and lifts up a notebook without looking at the teacher.

“Here is my sis’s homework,” says the little boy.

“Why is it with you then?” asks the teacher as he examines the dog-eared notebook.

The morning resumes its absolute tranquility for a few minutes before the teacher asks where the little boy’s homework is. The room fell silent again. The little boy stared at the floor and ready to accept the punishment.

With a closer look, the teacher noticed a wet spot on the back of the notebook where the student’s name was. The little boy has tried to rub off his name and turn in the homework as his baby sister’s. He was ready to accept the beat on his baby sister’s behalf.

Noise @ Nightfall


This post is as much of a heads-up for potential future tenants of this house as it is to unload a cacophony of noises, which through time has almost engraved in my bones and driving me crazy. 666 Crescent (modified) is too old to stay quiet.

Imagine yourself living underground, where the city’s water lines run, as you try to drift off to asleep, water kept splashing against the half empty pipelines. It is like the sound of tides encased in pipes and installed in this old house. Night deepens, but the noise sustains.

Imagine yourself living next to a leaking pipe, where the sound of flowing water dropping down into a pool of water, and kept making a boy’s peeing sound, every time when you think it’s over, he pushes bit more.

Imagine yourself living upstairs of a hardworking blacksmith, whose hours extend late into the early morning hours. Every time a second of drowsy descends, he hammers it away. The noise of metallic clicking sound is so severe, one couldn’t help but to worry the water pipes bursting into splash of water jets any second.

Imagine yourself living at an old train station, where an countless approaching carts or pulling away steam locomotives whistle to signal their arrivals/departures. The whistles are weak in spirit, but loud in volume. The aged heater in this house make such a desperate and worn hissing sound, it is simply suicidal.

Imagine yourself walking up some ancient wooden towers, where every step of ascend sends out such a weary shriek, you almost hesitate to take the next. It is not so much of a fear of falling through broken stairs, but alerting dormant spirits, which often dwell in such old places, or so do the yarns spin.

Worst of all, living in this old and noisy house, you are not living at any single spot mentioned, but at all spots with all the noises jumbled together into the most venomous and eerie voice of darkness and unknown lurking spirits.

Listen, noise @ nightfall.



As I wait for final decisions on my doctoral candidacy and employment applications, I have been spending my days to read and write. Both my academic trainings and work experiences have exposed me to a wide range of environmental topics, however, none of which has penetrated to a depth where I can proudly label myself as an expert.

While a label in and of itself does not really make too much of a difference, and may even fall subject to mockery as being superficial. Action speaks louder than word, or does it? Let’s be real. Today’s society operates, unfortunately, more on connection and cash than meritocracy. Leaders give birth to “leaders,” university educators educate a lineage of “academicians,” and even the religious leaders’ recognize their kids as reincarnations of some sort. Consequently, a label is more often than not more important, at least for one’s entrance ticket, than actual knowledge.

The commodification of labels is no longer rare, and the inflation of one’s record is only a part of the social trend. Everyone, in today’s society, is an innovator. In 2010, the word innovative is one of the most overused buzzwords, only surpassed by “extensive experience.” In other words, the unreasoned emphasis on and measures against these labels as means to categorize people into different ability quadrants have led to label trade and piracy. However, neither trade, nor piracy carries much substance. On the contrary, such social yardstick, socially accepted, but morally corrosive, will only serve as a catalyst to further erode what is already a shaky social structure.

A, or a bunch of, label[s] has become the entrance ticket[s] to opportunities ranking right behind cash and connection. However, as more and more people buy rather than gain higher labels, the pursuance of these labels has become costlier and often results in no long-term paybacks guaranteed any more than the ones purchased.

A label can only say so much about a person that it is time to evaluate individuals against their deliverable capabilities and lived experiences rather than labels they purchase or pirate.

30/11/12 Tupgon T.

Wire Hanger Stove

Ecochunk recently published a piece on eco-friendly dung stove made using recycled wire hangers ( As a nomad and environmentalist myself, I feel obligated to voice against misrepresentation of my culture and dilution of the global effort to go green.

Recycled-Wire-Hangers-Stove for Tibetan nomads, is this some type of Halloween cold jokes? Come on, you got to be pulling everyone’s legs here. First of all, let’s not be fooled with the catchy Eco friendly title, and be carried away with the scary indoor toxic fumes in Tibet, and be stupefied with the billions of wire hungers ended up in the U.S. landfills every year.

While I salute to the creativity and eco-mindedness of folks involved here, let’s not paint the cliché racially biased picture of primal nomads freezing in the plateau blizzard, and then there comes the savior wealthy ones. The latter’s trash becomes the former’s treasure, and everyone lives happily ever after.

First, how eco-friendly could shipping American wire hungers off on “dwindling and carbon-emitting fuels” to the Tibetan plateau be? Let’s be realistic, it’s not eco-friendly, period.

Second, how socio-economically sensible is it to transport these wire-stoves overseas? Are the invested parties going to transport them by ship or airfreight? It doesn’t take an economist to figure out the cost if a village’s worth supply is to be transported. Wouldn’t it make more sense to reallocate the cost to raise health-related awareness, to hold basic medical training sessions, or to come up with something more levelheaded?

Third, how culturally acceptable can it be to propose the introduction of a wire-bound pile to hot rocks in one’s residence? When you are stressed over the possibility of your kids run into designer kid-friendly soft edge furniture, please do not forget the very families you are trying to save with your hangers also have little ones to worry about.

The list goes on, but I hope you got my points.

May I have a cup of coffee, please?

So here I come, ready to embrace a productive day, but only find the clumsy chick at the café keeps folks waiting. Five, ten, fifteen minute gone by, finally it’s my turn. “What are you getting today?” asks the colorful headed hippie, who wears more colors in her hair than a rainbow does.

“A large cup of regular coffee, please.” “Sure. Give me a minute” says the Ms. Fashionable and walks away to attend the bakery, and then the overflowing sink. I gave her five more minutes, and that’s it.

“A-hum (fake cough), excuse me. Hello, excuse me.”

“O, why don’t you go to the other side, and they will get your order,” says the Ms. F.

I mean it’s ten in the morning. A population of folks lined up on the other side of the counter to break their fast.

She got to be kidding. “You mean on that side?”

She nods.

“With all those folks?”

She nods again.

“Can I just get a cup? It’s two bucks.”

“You just want the coffee?” she finally wakes up.

“Yes, madam.”

“O, here you go. Enjoy.”

A slow day because of Hurricane Sandy

Schools are closed. Public transits suspended. Even the prognosticating cashier at the corner store encourages you to stock up and avoid any trips in the days ahead. “It’s gonna be bad, real bad,” she emphasizes and shakes her head in disbelief.

The landlord shares tips as how to prepare for a power outage. A friend even sends a voice message to describe how big of a battle he has had with the strong wind to keep his clothes from being stripped away. SCARED? If the answer is not yet, then here come some more scary facts about the impending storm.

Emergencies are issued in states across the east coast. President Obama cancels Florida campaign trip to return to DC to monitor the storm. The New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq closed on Monday and reportedly will remain closed on Tuesday. “[It] is the first time in 27 years the stock market have closed for a full day due to adverse weather,” reports BBC.

Scary yet major news channels kept telling about the “super storm turning ugly,” “Hurricane Sandy barrel[ing] toward Northeast,” and the storm churning the Atlantic Ocean. In short, no much rain has come yet, but psychologically the storm has already reached its climax.

So here we go, virtually watching the hurricane to unfold, and psychologically battling the storm hours ago. It’s like watching a horror movie. You invest undivided attention, so we have with the “approaching” storm. We wait. We wait, and we wait. We are having a slow day because of the strengthening storm.





Attitude & Performance

One’s writing skills depend more on attitude/mindset rather than linguistic talent. According to ICL&W, 70% of a person’s articulacy in writing comes from his confidence rather than any linguistic aptitude. Often times we mentally focus too much on producing quality work that by the time when we are actually ready to type up the work, fatigue has already claimed most of our energy. The end result is then a so-so work, and we often being judged or otherwise graded by such writing. However, the more I write, the more types of writing I engage in, the flow and the sense of ease I get from different writing seem to see eye to eye with ICL&W’s findings.

The quality of one’s writing also seems to depend on who one’s targeted audiences are. Composing an email to my colleague professors often takes a much longer period of time in comparison with putting together a longer blog on my personal website. In hindsight, it is the pressure we put on ourselves to produce quality work that interrupts our writing flow and negatively impact the overall quality of our writing. Therefore, it seems to be reasonable to conclude that placing too much pressure on producing good quality work can backfire and be counterproductive.

With cautious steps let me take this argument bit further. A person’s performance is largely predetermined by attitude/mindset than it is by aptitude/talent. At a specific setting, with a particular individual, or during a certain period of time, one’s performance (i.e., articulacy, writing, sporting, etc.) may set a new record at either end of the spectrum. Often time we attribute such peak/trough in our performance to the concept of luck or level of our physical and mental energy. It is hard to deny that energy level does influence our performance. By putting attitude/mindset of the performer in the spotlight, I do not intend to downplay the importance of other factors. However, attitude does influence our performance at a maximum level that I wish to candle a lively discussion regarding both the role of attitude in our performance as well as how to best de/reconstruct the right set of mind that will allow us to be at our best.



Where to Call Home

Emile Durkheim’s functional view of society suggests that the social environment we live in shapes our personality. Does it or does it not? I think it definitely influences, if not casts, one’s personality. My personal journey from a rural county in Tibet to world-class higher learning institutes in the US enables me to have a deeper level of understanding of the importance of where I call home.

Upon graduating from universities in the U.S, I often spaced out into long spins of deep contemplation: where to call home. Where should I pursue a career and start a family?

China? Regardless of all the debate about its total corruption, moral failure, political totalitarianism, leading role in energy consumption and carbon emission, it’s still where my childhood memories along with my beloved family members live. It’s hard to imagine distancing myself away from my parents when age deprives them of physical vitality and every additional month seems to deepen their wrinkles and harden their joints.

Yes, with the modern transit system and cutting edge technology we are fully wired. In theory, I can visit and contact my relatives at anytime and from anywhere. However, it is also this very notion of fully wired that excuses us from shouldering our responsibilities as a son/daughter and reduces the role of parents into a background voice, a clip of video and a holiday visit. So, should I call the great wall home and return to work in China?

If I do, am I failing the generations yet to come, who will address me us their father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Frankly speaking, the great wall is not necessarily a great place to live. It’s dirty. A short walk in any urbanized part of China, all senses are bound to fall victim to urbanization. The smell, the noise, the ever-jammed traffic gridlock, and the stuffed public transit hardly leave any healthy room for me to welcome my kids when everyone else is trying to immigrate to elsewhere.

It’s rude. A person is often judged and treated by his dress than qualifications. Hyper-frequent public spitting and toss of trash is nothing out of the ordinary. An increasing number of Chinese people are falling in love with pets. However, the difference between westerners and Chinese people walking their dogs is while the former bag up and get rid of dog drops, the latter rush their pets and walk away from the scene as soon as job is done.

It’s unfair. The disadvantaged ones are always trapped in a cycle of poverty. A poverty that is not situational but generational, which Dr. Ruby K. Payne describes as a cycle that passes from generation to generation. Opportunities are circulated within the social elites. It is even true with employment opportunities. Some work up from their bootstrap and successfully complete college degrees or even achieve higher credentials and only find themselves being sent to some rural villages to idle away the rest of their lives, while others don’t even need to complete high school degrees and are already promised with highly paid government jobs in the main town seats or cities. It’s beyond startling to witness the level of indifference and apathy government officials hold towards corruption and injustice. It is a system that operates on cash and connection.

The list goes on, but let me end it with one last comment about its lack of safety. Theoretically, everyone is equal in front of the rule of law. However, rule of law are made and operated by people. Therefore, corruption among people infects the system and distort rule of law. Lives are constantly lost at the hands of those who are supposed to safeguard people’s lives. Public facilities often claim lives due to their ill design and poor qualifications. There is also an increasing number of cases in which second-generation-elites, as it is often being called, sport with people’s lives. What is happening in China between the bourgeois and the proletariats is no less cruel than what has happened between the whites and the blacks in the history of U.S. Different level of lynching can be seen and read day in and day out. Therefore, if I call China home, I am depriving my kids of the freedom and safety they otherwise can enjoy elsewhere.

Where I call home is a generational concern. Should I take care of the ones ahead of me or should I prepare for the ones yet to come?

Now, U.S has often been described as the land of opportunity. Americans do enjoy, for the most part, a higher level of freedom that we all dream for. It’s reasonable to argue that the legal and educational systems in the U.S are far more advanced and better crafted than anywhere else. If I were to become American citizen, I can have my voice heard and opinions shared. As long as I don’t violate the rule of law, it’s a powerful defense weapon that can provide my family and me with security and justice. So, should I call U.S home?

In the eyes of westerners, Asians equal Chinese and Chinese are born cheap. For any cheap product and service, China town is the place to go to. Racial discrimination will always be there. Yes, U.S is working hard and has made amazing progress in shaking off all sorts of discriminations. However, a level of overdone often spells discriminatory residues in the activities day in and day out. Be it a joke, a random conversation, a flint of eye, a subtle gesture, discrimination is still omnipresent in the U.S. So, am I going to await my kids to fall prey to such discrimination?

What about Europe? What about an island? What about a village? Where is a home and where can I call home? Where would Emile Durkheim recommend anyone to live?