Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"You look like..."

Since my work is three blocks down from the White House I have to go through two security check points. One when I first enter the building and then another when I enter the EPA section. There are two entrances into the designated EPA area and I usually come in through the back (or less crowded) section. On my way in I always see, and sometimes talk with, a security officer. He is from Jamaica (although I don't really hear the accent) and is very nice. He just exudes a very sweet demenor, even with him towering over me with his badge and gun. It's quite funny, actually. Well, in the past he has asked about my badge, and I'm bringing this up here because of its relevancy to the overall story. Within EPA there are usually two types of workers: direct government employees and contractors. This is typical throughout most government work and most of the actual federal workforce are contractors and not actual employees. There is a difference. Contractors are usually hired for something specific. They work within a specified office for a specified project for a specified amount of time. Direct employees are different. They are hired into a specific office, but may not be hired for a direct project or particular amount of time. (Does that make any sense?). For example, within my office there are two student contractors (they are here on "loan" from GW- The George Washington University), one actual EPA employee (my boss) and me (neither). It can be quite confusing at times and it is my lack of "neither" that made my security guard friend question me.

On the badges you will see a "C" for contractor or "E" for employee. Mine is neither. I have a "G" on my badge which stands for grantee. Due to the circumstances of my fellowship with ASPH and the EPA (which I will not delve into because it's complicated and boring) I am not considered to be an actual employee nor am I a contractor either. So basically I have slightly higher status of contractors but yet don't have to partake in any of the mandated employee things (i.e. training, drills, performance reports, etc). It's actually kinda sweet but can be confusing. So I am trying to explain this to him along with what I do and we both realize it isn't really making much sense and so just kinda drop it.

Well all that to say (sorry I got long winded) today he totally surprised me with this awesomely amazing compliment. I always say "Good Morning" to him and he says it back but today he said, "You know you look like a scientist. I think that's what you are here; you must be a brilliant scientist." That just really made my day, and not only because just a few minutes earlier I had been contemplating if I really was doing anything worthwhile here, if I really am smart, have I really learned anything. Now granted it has been over two years since I've stepped foot in lab, and even longer since I've touched any of my science stuff, but he's right. I am, and always will be, a scientist, a geek, a nerd at heart. His compliment made me smile. Then I got to thinking, as I'm often prone to do, what made him think that. Is it because, no matter how hard I try, I still have this student air about me? Is it because I look slightly like the mad scientist with my slightly windblown and messed up hair (which seriously needs to get cut)? Or maybe because I haven't yet been able to pull off that really important, business outfit and air? It could be something else entirely... carriage, confidence, determination, who knows. All I know is that today, for the first time in a while, a felt like a brilliant scientist.

Compliment and share with those around you... for you never know when it can really transform their day. Oh and maybe I'll give my security guard friend a Christmas card.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

An Unexpected Treat

Today as I was doing some Christmas shopping in downtown DC I was struck with a sudden inspiration to visit this bookstore that I had seen a few times. At first I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find it but after walking around for a few minutes in the general area I found it. Boy, it is it a find. On one side is a cafe but not like the cafes you'll find in Barnes & Noble or Borders. This one was way more intimate and personal. It was vintage, rustic, and genuine. The food and drinks were a little pricer but I immediately felt like it was a place where people just really sat with each other and talked. They have deep conversations, invest in each other and debate issues. This was in the air and upon observation was noted. People were interested and concerned; it was refreshing to see and hear.

One the other side was the actual bookstore and it, too, had the feeling of personality, rustic, authenticity and vintage. I felt like the books placed here were deliberate and done so with care. The books had prices like $5.38 or $8.63, totally untypical prices seen in big commerical bookstores. Sure they had the same books but this place had a slightly disorganized feel, kinda like a bookstore I'd have. This warmth just irradiated from it. It reminded me slighty of two other similar bookstores in other places. One is called the Tattered Cover in downtown Denver. This store is much larger than the one here in DC but had a similar feel of uniqueness and vintage. It catered to the ecletic and hip crowd. The other is a used bookstore found in Springfield, MO. (Sadly, eventhough I visited this place several times I can't remember the name). This store had all kinds of books and they were all used. It had the cluttered and disorganized feel along with layers of dust adding to the antique feeling, but it was a place I loved all the same. Those of you who have visited this place know what I'm talking about.

One reason I enjoy these types of places so much is because you really have to search for what you're looking for. There's no computers, no workers to point you in the right direction. You have to spend time and consideration to look. This envokes a sense of care and valuability. The commericalization is lost, personality is evident, and that can make all the difference.

When were you last felt genuiness? Seek it for it leads to an unexpected treat.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Christmas Time in the City!

As I was walking back from lunch today I saw multiple buildings covered in red bows, holiday lights and lots of Christmas trees in lobbies. At night when I leave work I immediately walk outside and see lights covering the trees (white lights as colored are less sophisticated and wouldn't work here in DC). Then there's the general glow from the city lights that mingles in with these holiday lights. It's really rather breathtaking to see. As I walked to my Spanish class a few weeks ago I saw all the monuments light up. I've been told they are amazing to see at night and it really was something to behold. Now, they have holiday wreaths and bows on them as well. They look great. Ice skating rinks are being made in various different areas and I can't wait to go on the one that's located on the National Mall. It'll be a blast. Every major office building has a Christmas tree that is wonderfully and stylishly decorated, nothing is extravagent. Today I saw the White House decorated with tree lights, wreaths and bows. It looked even better than it does on tv. Now, the only thing left... the National Tree Lighting Ceremony. It should be great.

Anyway, as I was walking back with my coat, scarf and hat I was reminded of the song, "It's Christmas time in the City." For the first time in my life I'm in a major international city where Christmas is evident. I see the lights, hear the music and now truly understand what that means. There's nothing wrong with rural and suburbia christmas, it's great but there really is a special sparkle in the air and an almost magical feel to the city right now. I'm definitely enjoying it. So the question is... anyone want to go iceskating with me on the mall? (You know you want to). :)


This past week Thanksgiving was celebrated all over the United States. People travelled from near and far to partake of turkey, gravy, potatoes, yams, cranberries, pumpkin pie and so much more. I, too, spent it with family: my sister and her family down in sunny North Carolina and my dad a few miles further north in lovely Virginia. I had a nice time with both of them. I laughed and played with her kids (3 under the age of nine, they definitely wear you out), talked with her and her husband, Jim, and learned about a new Thanksgiving food called simply "the pink stuff." (I'm not a big fan of it lets just say ;). I also helped them pack up their house. Yep, that's right folks, they're moving back to the land of corn... Illinois. As they will be heading out Friday I did my sisterly duty and helped fill boxes, watch the kids, clean dishes and other moving activities. I know Tammy, my sister, appreciated it and I'm glad to help. After all, giving is what this time of the year is all about.

Then my brother-in-law took me up to visit my dad. He lives in Virginia Beach with his girlfriend of five years (I think?). It was nice seeing them again and just being in their company. We talked and ate and had a nice time. We even went down to the boardwalk and saw a Christmas lights show. It's done in the sand right along the ocean so it's pretty cool to see the water reflect the light. Sadly, though, my pictures didn't turn out because it was too bumpy. Oh well. I'll remember the twinkle lights.

All in all it was a nice Thanksgiving filled with good food and family fun. Hopefully you all had a nice time, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chipotle Christian Chat

Recently I have met a wonderful girl named Lata who is from Nepal. I met her at church, as she is one of the other few young single girls. She is also only here in DC for a year and works as civil engineer for an architecture company. She has only been in the states for two years and most of that time was spent in California where she attended school. Lately she has been picking me up for church and various other activities, such as a young adults dinner. From the moment I first started talking with her a few months ago I could tell that she was going to be someone that I could really talk to and share with. Today I was not disappointed.

We decided to go out to lunch today after church and went to a mexican restaurant called Chipotle in Silver Spring. Basically right before she had initially dropped me off after church we were talking about making decisions and how hard it can be trying to figure out the road God is wanting us to take. She had stated she had a really trying week before, as had I, and asked if we could just talk. I agreed, as I had no other plans, and boy was I glad that I accepted.

We talked for over three hours! We ate lunch, walked around the downtown area, and got a little lost both going and coming back. It didn't matter. For the first time since moving out here I was able to physically talk one on one with someone who understands. She is a very strong Christian, and a free one at that. Her story of faith is amazing and just listening to her talk and share really challenged and encouraged me. I knew I had met a kindred spirit.

We talked about barriers, walls, insecurities, how our faith has changed and what we were currently dealing with. I was able to open up to her in a way I have with few other people (for those of you who really know me this is a remarkable thing indeed). The really great thing is she gets me. That's something I'd been lacking out here. I have some friends out here but they're not Christians or are not free Christians. Therefore, they don't understand parts of me or what I'm even talking about. The conversations are usually superficial or only a little more. They are lacking in the deep real quality because to have those thoughts and feelings you have to have a deep, passionate relationship in Christ. Only then can you have conversations that truly knock your socks off, like I had today.

So cherish those who challenge you. Be thankful for their encouragement, understanding, and love. Most importantly, be on the lookout for those of like mind, for you never know when and how they'll appear. I'm looking forward to our next Chipotle Christian Chat.

The State of the World

This last week I attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference here in Washington D.C. This conference is the largest assembly for public health workers held every year. People from all over the states, and sometimes countries, come to attend the scientific seminars, poster sessions and expo. It's a great place to gather information, meet up with alumni, network and learn. This was my first time going and only went because I was reimbursed due to my fellowship. I got lots of information, tons of free stuff from the expo and learned loads. However, I came away with a profound sense of despair.

Why, you may, ask did I get this feeling? Why did I at one point think why did I go into the field of public health? What would make me question whether anything we do really makes a difference? Well, it's what I learned from the various sessions that gave me these thoughts.

I heard from people who worked in HIV/AIDS clinics, from people who worked with vulnerable populations and heard how the environment is causing the resurgance of vector and infectious diseases. I heard from experts how global warming is causing more than an increase in temperatures and how it takes more than medical supplies to truly help communities. I heard presidential bashing regarding public health, the environment and allocation of resources. Diabetes, obesity and lack of physical exercise were all discussed and analyzed. I attended sessions regarding women's health, and in particular reproductive health, and heard all about the history of abortion from a pro-choice lawyer. No matter what session I attended or who I talked to there was an underlying theme, no matter how subtle or insignificant it seemed... failure.

As public health workers we work to heal the entire community. This healing can come in all kinds of forms and usually requires helping multiple levels within that community, such as educating and empowering women. Creating a better infrastructure that includes roads and clinics and increasing the availablity of anti-retroviral drugs are other examples. What I kept hearing throughout the conference was how much more we needed to do and how we are significantly lacking in resources and money. No matter what session I attended there was always this theme. "We can't fully treat the women with HIV/AIDS until we better empower them. They can't be empowered until their government recognizes the need for education and their rights as citizens." Another common phrase, "Due to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, we no longer have the necessary funds to provide the proper services and until they are willing to be humans regarding money we never will."

Therefore, although public health endeavors have been beneficial in the past and still are I couldn't help but get the impression that for every one thing we did that was good ten more things would need to be fixed before it could be put into effect. I felt like it was a vicious cycle and really wondered if it would really matter what we did. The earth is getting warmer, forests are being destroyed, water is becoming more scarce and millions are dying of diseases. Can anything be done to stop this? Is it even worth the time and effort?

Yes, it is. People need help and although we may not see anything beneficial in the current future we never know what may happen in the long term. I looked back at the past of public health and realized good things had occurred that had worldwide effects. Global vaccines such as the smallpox eradication, fluoridation in water and smoking bans have all been beneficial and all took awhile to fully work. So as C. Everet Koop stated, "Health care matters to all of us some of the time. Public health matter to some of us all the time." We shall never give up.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


All this week on the wonderful, lovely Washington Metropolitation Transit System I've felt like a lemming. People get in, they find seats, they stand when there are no seats, they get squashed, they get off at their stop, then stand in nice orderly lines to go up the escaltors where we all pass our SmarTrip cards over the exit gates and head up to the streets. It's a vicious cycle and it's one that I experience day after day. Usually, I've never really noticed it. Maybe it's because my line (the green/yellow line) is never as busy as the other two major ones (blue/orange and red). They are always packed. Maybe it's because I don't deal with transfering lines unless I absolutely have to. (I avoid this by getting off at a green line station and walking down four blocks to work). Perhaps it's due to the fact there's been train problems and red line construction occurring recently. All I know is that for some reason the last few days I've felt like a lemming when riding.

I get up, get ready for work, walk to the bus station and catch the same bus. Then I get off the bus, go up the stairs to the train station and get on the train. I then get on the train ride for a while (yes, I can actually tell you the exact order of stops and how many) and then get off. Stand in line for the escalators and then proceed out. Later that day I do it all again. Sounds great, right? Ha ha. I don't mind public transportation at all, in fact, I'm a very strong advocate of it, and am very excited that the buses run on clean natural gas (it's so much more environmentally friendly and better for the air). Yet, for some reason this week I've been a lemming.

Perhaps I've just noticed people's lack of common sense more when riding the subway. I mean if it's packed people then don't get on, the next one is only two minutes behind. Also, put your bag on the ground and hold onto it. This lets more people on and less people becoming irritated. Oh, and this one is my favorite. Use all eight cars instead of six. There's a reason the trains are eight cars long, it's so we can spread out. Instead, we'll just cram into the same six cars. Seriously, people use some common sense. Then again, we're all just lemmings.

So in the end there's really not much that can be done. I've just found it ironic all of a sudden and, yes, in a few short hours I will once again be a lemming. Anyone care to join?

50 Years from Now...

So I recently watched the movie, Transformers. It was really good and full of amazing special effects and excellent plot. Mixed in among the action and story was a great quote that I'm going to expound upon today: "Fifty years from now when you're looking back at your life don't you want to say you had the guts to get into the car." Now without seeing the movie many may be wondering how that fits into it. Well it's really cool where it comes up and how it further plays into the overall story, but I'm not here to discuss it in the movie setting, on the contrary, I want to discuss it in terms of life.

When I heard it I was immediately taken back and thought, "wow, that is really profound, especially coming from Hollywood." I mean how great is that quote. It made me think of risks and in particular taking risks regarding our life's paths. How often do we take a jump into unknown waters? How often to we have the guts to walk an unknown path and follow an unnamed destiny? Too often we live in regret, fear, and self-denial. We want to follow what seems practical, logical, and time-appropriate. Not knowing what my be in that car, not being willing to explore the unknown has caused us to become downtrodden, sad, and hopeless.

How many of us have ever wishfully thought of doing something different, of truly following our passions and hearts into that unknown? When was the last time you can say you got into that car, that you were willing to risk it all? It's not easy to say and rarely happens. Why? Why do we chose the road commonly traveled over the way less walked?

Well, I think it has a lot to do with fear. Like the characters in the movie they were scared to find out what was in store for them. We, too, have that same fear. We are scared that our lives, our future, my not be what we had always envisioned. It may be something that completely scares us or is beyond our comprehension. We may not understand how it will come to pass and so we flee from it because that's the easy thing to do. But, all it takes is one person. One person, who is willing to get into that car; one person who is willing to take that risk and walk blindly into the darkness, not knowing the way ahead, only that they have a purpose. Are you ready to be that person?

It's not easy to get to that point. It's not easy to live a life without regrets. We all have them in some aspect, but it's what we do with the path before us that matters. It's what you decide to do when a new, interesting, scary and unfathomable door opens before you. I, for one, want to know that I've made a difference in this world. I want to follow that open door wherever it leads and without any hindrances or fears. It won't be easy, if it was everyone would do it, but it's going to be an amazing ride.

What about you? What do you want to see fifty years from now?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Raise a hand for embarrassment!

So last night was my Spanish class. I have it from 6-9pm every Thursday. It makes for a long day but usually pretty enjoyable. I'm in an introductory spanish class, as I've never taken it before. When deciding upon which class to take I was torn between conversational spanish and introductory spanish. I was advised to take the intro course since it covered grammer and the other class does not. Well, grammer is great and knowing how to say things are great but what's really important is pronunciation and accentuation. We don't cover that because it's not the focus of the course according to the government. Apparently my class does more grammer than it's really supposed to, which I should be thankful for. However, for the first time in a long time, I got really embarassed in a language class.

I took German for about four years and even lived over there for a while. True, I haven't spoken it regularly in about six years but I still remember much of the basics. Also, I've had the ability to pick up some of the languages of places that I've traveled, most notably in Turkey. Spanish, for the most part, has been the same, except I seem to have trouble with the translation part. Anyways, that all leads up to my embarassment. There's about 25 people in my class and all comprised of working professionals. They come from various jobs, mostly governmental and you can tell they're all intelligent. This is not a typical community college language class. You've got to be on the ball here. Well I don't usually voluntarily answer questions in the class because I'm not as quick as some at answering. I'm still figuring out what the exercise is even asking when they begin to answer. So last night my teacher decided to have me interact a little more and did so by having me read this paragraph in Spanish that was about Costa Rica.

It was a disastor. As I went along I could feel myself getting redder and redder in the face (and for those who know me, I can get pretty red). I felt like everyone was watching and thinking, "Man, she's horrible, please stop, or come on already." I just wanted to be swallowe d up by the floor. I felt like I was in the slow kindergarten readers class, which I've never been in. I stumbled over the words, even basic ones especially as I got more and more embarrassed and kept pronouncing words and letters wrong. I felt like it was never going to end. Granted I had some very difficult words and I am a beginner but it was bad.

I then realized later that night after class was over that part of the problem was we don't learn about pronunication or accents. It's not covered. So here I am trying to say the words in what I think is the proper way without having learned the proper way. This just seems like I serious lack in the grammer aspect. Maybe it's just me...

Finally, I realized part of the problem relates to the overall language learning aspect in America. We don't teach foreign languages at early ages, unlike every other major country in the world. Asia, Europe, South America, and even places in Africa all begin teaching children very early. Yet here we are asking adults to learn a language. It makes no sense. This was evidenced by a girl in my class, and she incidently sits at the same table with me. She's Russian and not only speaks Russian and English but also German and French. Plus she knows some Italian, Polish and is currently learning Spanish. She said it's just a natural part of their educational system. They learn English from an early age and as they get older they add other languages. I saw this in Germany, too. My host family's daughter, Eva, spoke English, German, and French. Personally, I feel this is a serious breach in our educational system and believe that it should be changed. Who's with me?

That's enough about my language embarrassment. I know we've all felt embarrassed at some point. So raise your hand if you have!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Hint of Fall

Today was the first real taste of fall. I love this time of the year. Fall is my favorite season; however, having grown up in the Midwest I know this year's fall will be different. I've always heard that the trees on the Eastern Coast are so beautiful when they begin to change. Now I finally get to see if that's true. I live next door to a park, literally next door. When I went for a hike a few days ago the leaves hadn't begun to change. Last night I noticed the first hints of red, gold, and orange. Fall's coming! Woohoo! My friend here says that soon we'll go apple picking for Macintosh apples, the preferred apple around these parts. That should be fun and delicious. Although the fall season did make me think of corn mazes from back home. I wonder what this year's theme will be. Last year is was pirates... alas good times.

Fall is such a great time to see the beauty displayed in the world. As I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue today to go to work I looked and saw a very gorgeous deep blue sky. It was littered with large white cumulous clouds and was so picturesque. I stopped on a street corner to see the White House and Capitol amid this lovely sky and it took my breath away. They just stood out so much. The beauty of nature was enhancing the beauty of man. It's was great. This is also the first fall where I've never had school. This will be a nice change as I'll be able to truly appreciate the season, feel the leaves crunch as I hike through the park and have the time to see the change into winter. Usually I'm so busy with work and school that I miss it. Alas, no longer. I can't wait.

Fall truly is a beautiful time. Take some time to go on a stroll, look up into the sky, and see what beauty the world has to behold.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Walking in Passion Daily

This is the last of my many posts for today. Thanks for being patient with all of them. The final post relates to passion, or more importantly, to that deep burning desire found within all of us.

I firmly believe that God has placed within each of us a desire that is truly unique to who we are. If you don't believe me, how many of us lie awake at night thinking there's got to be something more, or we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing? Too many of us, sadly. As children we are dreamers. We want to be different things. When I was younger I wanted to be a comedian, then an astronaut, and finally a doctor. As we grow up our dreams change, or to be more correct, we push aside that dreamer's voice. That voice that says it's ok to want to fly jets, or walk on the moon, or paint a masterpiece. We push it aside because we believe we have to do the responsible thing, the adult thing. Abadoning reason for passion is looked upon as weird, wrong, and unbalanced, and yet, those people are the ones who really understand what the world, what we, ourselves, are all about.

As I commute into work each day I constantly see people with sad, tired, lackluster faces. No joy, no life, no desire can be seen. It's another day of monotany. What's wrong with this picture? Why are we all afraid to walk daily in our passion? It relates to fear. We're afraid to take that step, to truly explore that desire that God has burned within each of us. It becomes fainter and fainter as we get older, or perhaps, more truthfully, we learn to ignore it better. We're often afraid to delve into it because of what else we may discover about ourselves. That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what God wants. He wants us to grab hold of that unquenching fire and never let go. He wants us to explore the depths of ourselves that He's changing to fulfill that passion. In short, He wants us to live in that passion.

Now some of you may have no idea what I'm talking about, others, I personally know you do. Either way here's help. Sit down, close your eyes, relax, and let everything fall away. Ignore the phones, the computer, the tv. Let peace and quiet envelop you. Now, ask yourself, what is your greatest wish. What is your deepest desire? What would you do right now if you could?Is is to become a writer, a teacher, to fly? That answer is just the surface of the true passion God has placed within you. It's not hocus pocus. It's the truth, and a truth I'd forgotten lately.

I have a passion, too, just like us all but like so many people had pushed it aside, ignored it while I went pursing other things. I told myself what I had once believed about me wasn't right and that I had misinterpreted my path. Well, I understand and know differently now. The path I've walked thus far has been all about God using this passion in me. He has great plans for it and I need to be willing to step forth and go. I'm sure you're all itching to know what my desire is but, ha ha, not today. Today, God is calling for you to seek. To hold onto to it and to be willing to overcome that fear and embrace it and truly live. Life may get interesting and paths may be dark, but letting that fire burn freely and truly is the greatest in the world.

I am Special

"I am Special" is a term often heard today. It's told to children at home, in school, and engrained into our heads. However, as I was told this weekend, it's the reason why the 1982-2006 generation is the most narcassitic in history. It's all about us. Me, me, me. I count myself in this group, if not because of age, but because of mentality. This "me" attitude stems from the self-esteem movement that occurred in '80's. Unfortunately, it's gone too far. How many times do you hear," I want this, or I want that, or I need this?" We don't often hear, "How can I help you, what can I do for you, what can I get you?" You can see it in the eyes of young people. It's a greedy, self-absorded, indivdualistic, I'm the most important in the world look.

I'm guilty of it. Too many times I think I need this or I should do that or I want to go see that just because I want to. It's about entertaining me, keeping me happy, watching out for me. What fools we are! If we're not careful we're going to become so self-absorbed that we won't know how to ask for help when we need it. Service towards others has become forgotten. Helping the less fortunate has been replaced with helping ourselves to the next best thing. We crave the newest gadget, hottest movies, coolest cars. Others aren't given a second glance. Praise for others is rarely heard, and we relish in hearing our work praised.

Now, I'm not saying parents shouldn't say, "I'm proud of you," or "You did well." Every person needs self-esteem. They need to be able to stand up tall and know that they are special but not at the expense of others. Not in a way that they only think of themselves, only look out for themselves. We are special because each of us is unique, gifted, and priceless, but part of that is due to our interactions with others. We are best when we share with others, then our individual characteristics shine. Only while serving others do we truly serve ourselves and find the truth and hope inside us. Looking towards others is what really makes us special. That's why God calls us to serve others. Jesus knew that living and interacting with others made him special in God's eyes. The Pharisees were all about "me" and God couldn't stand them. It's not easy to throw away this "I am special" mentality. It's become ingrained into society and a natural way of life, but it's a life that isn't making us special. On the contrary, turning outward truly is special.

Death brings Life?

This question was raised after reading a study protocol that we were asked to review. Basically, human embryonic tissue was going to be used to determine the toxic effects of certain pesticides on babies. As I'm reading this proposed study I wondered where exactly this tissue was coming from. Twenty pages later I read my answer... from aborted embryos. Now this is not going to be a blog about abortion and women's rights regarding that issue. Instead it's going to deal with the question I posted... does death bring life?

The researchers engaging in this study are using tissue that has already been collected. They are not asking women to have abortions simply for this study. Also, they are looking at what happens to fetuses when they are exposed to harmful chemicals early in life in hopes of better stopping adverse effects on babies. On paper it sounds all good, but yet, I still can't help but wonder does the end justify the means. Should we as moral human beings use aborted babies for research? I think the thing that really struck me is that the women who have the abortions all sign consent forms stating that their aborted tissue can be used for research. So that means a couple things. 1. they do in fact care for the fetus and want to see something good come out of the situation (a benefit to society as it's called) or 2. they have no problem with the experimentation and don't care what happens.

Along those same lines are experiments with the elderly. New Alzheimer's drugs, cancer drugs, and various other drugs are constantly being tried out on this population in hopes of helping those that are younger, helathier. Is this ok? Can we consciously allow death to bring life to so many? Now I know death is a part of life and it is a continous circle. Birth=death, but where does the line between nature and man get crossed? When is enough truly enough? How far do we search for that fountain of youth?

Genetic testing, embryonic testing are new and vastly growing fields, and I believe, that if done correctly and following specific guidelines, that these tests can be beneficial and good. What I'm concerned about is the means for acquiring this life. Are we to become propenents of death in order to see another live or do we let death rule? Conversely some say that using the aborted fetuses provides a sense of moral rightness. They say the fetuses are being used to help a baby live that is wanted. Again, the societal benefit concept.

This is a controversial and hot topic and will become more so as we approach the upcoming elections. I don't have any answers. I have personal beliefs regarding the issue but also understand both sides. But this isn't about who's right and who's wrong, it's about asking ourselves how far do we let death=life?


First off let me say I will be posting multiple posts today. I have several topics I wish to discuss and they all occurred to me within the last few days. So I hope you all are ready to read. Firstly, I'll discuss a nice, lighthearted trip I took on my day off to Baltimore, MD.

I took two buses to Baltimore and then hopped onto their light rail service (ah, reminisence of St. Louis) before stopping off in their famous Inner Harbor area. But before I saw all the various ships, shops, and seagulls I went to see some baseball. I saw Camden Yards, home of the Orioles! Woohoo! I'm a big baseball fan and seeing their park was cool. At first I was not impressed with it. It looked like a big brick wall that you walked through to get inside. Boy was I wrong. The "brick wall" was an outer area the lead into the stadium itself. This area between the "yards" and the stadium was home to the team store, various baseball theamed restaurants and nice alleyways. It was a rather nice surprise to walk from a gloomy brick wall into an open, bright, baseball field. I now, partly, understand why many people out here in DC cheer for the Orioles instead of for the Nationals, the hometown team. I saw a statue of Babe Ruth at the entrance of the park and viewed a lovely baseball museum.

From Camden Yards I headed down to Inner Harbor. Many tourists visit this spot and it is beautiful. It's home to various ships and condos and shops and lighthouses. I enjoyed feeling the wind whip off the water and blow through my hair. I took my trusty 35mm camera with me and used an entire role. It felt wonderful to use that camera again, as I'm so often using my digital. I saw sailboats, which I think are amazing, and a coast guard sail ship, which will soon be retiring, and even a boat that was used in WWII. I visited a lighthouse, although, not your typical kind. It was much lower to the ground, circular instead of cylindrical, and red. I cracked up at it. I saw a Barnes and Noble literally ten feet from the shoreline and a Hard Rock in an old factory. It was pretty cool actually.

As I meanered down the Inner Harbor area I walked into Little Italy. It was a place I'd been wanting to visit and had been constinuously checking my trusty internet map to make sure I was going in the right direction. Walking through this neighborhood gave the distinct feeling of walking through Europe. The houses were built side by side with no room inbetween. There were the narrow, crooked alleyways, staggering staircases, lofts built one on top of the other, and my favorite, rooftop gardens. Ah it was bliss. I thought of my friend who lived in Italy, and wondered how authentic it all was. I smelled the food, saw the Itlalian flags, and understood why I loved Europe. Homes were brick, stone, bright, and European. You could tell that the residents wanted their new lives here in America to be a tribute to what they left behind. I took picture after picture and enjoyed it all.

Little Italy was the farthest I went into Baltimore. There were still a few other places I wanted to visit, one being Lexington Square- a fun place to eat, so I've been told. It'll have to wait until a return trip. After being up there for about four hours and being by myself I decided it was time to head home. So two bus rides later, home I arrived. Tired, taned, and delighted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 11th in the Nation's Capitol

Yesterday was the six anniversary of Sept. 11th. This is the first time I've been in one of the impacted cities, Washington D.C. The day was definitely remembered and caused me some serious contemplation.

The first way I knew it was Sept. 11th was due to a mass email that had been sent out the day before by our Agency Administrator. He stated that there would be a rememberance service held in morning in the plaza for anyone who wanted to come. Well as I don't arrive to work until 9 am the service was just about over, so I did not attend. Then I noticed throughout the day the larger number of police officiers that were around the downtown area. They were out and about more and seemed more on the alert. Finally, the culmination occurred. The presidential motorcage zipped past me. There were the police men on motorcycles, the policmen on bikes, the mulitple SUVs and finally the motorcage itself. The roads were blocked along Pennyslvania Ave and several of us were standing around in the rain watching. One man was on his cell phone telling a friend that the entourage was heading their way, that was until the local police moved us along. Anyways, it was quite exciting and amusing at the same time.

However, later I began to realize that we are one of the rare countries that celebrates attrocities. We have remembrances and memorials for Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Why? Why do we as Americans do this? Why when most of the rest of the world deals with bombings, threats, guns, and terror everyday. It is such a part of life in much of the world. Bombings occur daily, lives are lost on a continual basis, and fear is evident. Yet, they don't have remembrances of horrible attrocities. Shrines decidated to those lost. They go on. They live. Why do we have such a hard time? Do we think we're better than the rest of the world and they shouldn't be remembered? Do their daily struggles not mean the same as the ours? Or does the fact they live in it regularly diminish the treat and fear of terror?

I don't have any answers. I'm also not saying that we shouldn't remember what occurred that fateful day. I do think though we must not forget that millions live in that kind of world on a daily basis. They have lives marked with fear, and with hope. They have learned how to survive and carry on. We must think about the global implications of actions that occur from terror. We not only affect those who did the damage but those innocents as well. We should not make their lives harder, instead try to alleviate their pain. Again, September 11th is a horrible day for Americans, but many around the world have those days every day. Are they being remembered?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Geeky Surprise

I have every other Friday off so I will usually do all my errands then while everyone else is at work. Usually after my errands I'll go do something, usually something new to explore. Well this Friday I fed the geeky scientist in me. Washington D.C. has a small science museum that is run by the National Academy of Sciences (the most prestigous science advisory board in this country). It's small because it's only one floor and only has three exhibits; it's also very inexpensive. Five dolloars for a general adult admission, not too bad if I say so. Anyways, the reason I wanted to visit it is because the exhibits are updated frequentlybased on the current science issues that the Academy is dealing with. So that's the basis of my story.

I arrived at the museum around 1pm, after a morning of grocery and department store shopping. I had a coupon for a dollar off my admission and handed it to the workers. Well this coupon was good for four people, and unfortunately I didn't have four people. First off, it was Friday and people were at work, and secondly, of all my friends, including those here in DC and scattered all across this world, I am the true geek. I am the one who gets excited about plants, diseases, and chemistry. I'm the weird person who at age 24 asks for an astronomy book for Christmas, and am a hugh science fiction fan. Yeah, an ultimate geek. Ergo I told them that was the geek among my friends and so decided to come on my own. The workers then laughed and the manager asked laughingly was I truly a geek. I then replied, with a smile, I'm a huge geek and I have no problem admitting it. I then, thusly, proceeded into the museum.

For any normal person they would have probably got through the museum in about an hour to an hour and a half. I spent about two and half hours in there, and there were only three exhibits to see. However, they were three amazing exhibits. The first was called "The Wonders of Science" and showed a video clip of various different things in nature that we're learning about and discovering. Science, astronomy, nature, biology were all encompassed and discussed. It was nice to watch it. The next exhibit was a new and controversial one. This was the global warming exhibit. It was objectively done, which is a rare feat, and discussed the issue, possible solutions, how it has occured, and human's role in it. There were many visual interactions, videos, and personal responses that engaged the visitor. For such a major issue, they did a great job with it, plus it fed into my environmentalist role. The final exhibit is a very public health one and had that written all over it. This was the infectious disease exhibit. The exhibit discussed how vaccines first came about, why they work on certain diseses and not on others. It then talked about emerging disease problems such as drug resistance and virsus and went into heavy detail about the two major ones: HIV and malaria. Again it was a nice exhibit with pictures, videos, pictures, and personal interaction.

Therefore, overall for a very small museum I was thoroughly surprised and impressed. However, upon leaving I got an even further delight. The manager had his workers give me gift bag of science DVDs since I was such a "geek". The nice bag contained six DVDS on various science issues such as evolution, microbes, DNA, and other issues. I haven't watched them but probably will sometime. In the meantime, I was surprised by their sincerity; it made my day.

So for a geek I had a great day and not just because I fed the scientist in me, but do to generosity and the niceness in people. It's a lesson for all of us.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ode to those Past Fallen

On Saturday I was a tourist. I had planned on visiting the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens but got lost on my way there, so I'll now do that some other time. Instead I decided to be a tourist for a day and go visit those monuments I had yet to see, in particualr the Lincoln Memorial and the Tidal Basin. So I set off on a long walk from the metro station to the Lincolm Memorial. This is the monument that is seen from the Washington Memorial, "the pencil" as it's called by locals. This place was very crowded with people but still an amazing site. Lincoln himself was an amazing man and I found it ironic that he's facing the Washington Monument. The reason I found it ironic relates to the history of the Monument. The pencil is two different colors because it was started before the Civil War and then finished after the war. Well when the war commenced the limestone quarry they had used was no longer available and so they had to use a different quarry, thus the different colors. Well I think it's pretty ironic that the man who led this country during one of its most trying times in history stands next to a testment of that fact. President Lincoln is most known for his Gettysburg Speech which was plastered throughout the building. It was an impressive sight.

Then I headed to the Jefferson Memorial. This memorial is also a far walk from any metro station but one I've been wanting to see. It is surrounded by the tidal basin where you can get paddleboats and go along the Potomac. As it was such a beautiful day there were many people out on the boats, although not nearly as busy as the Lincoln Memorial since it was further away from the main National Mall area. I really enjoyed the Jefferson Memorial for several reasons. First, like the Lincoln it has very Romanesque architecture- doric columns, Corinthian doms, archways and sculptures. Secondly, the water. It was so nice to just sit and see the beautiful park surrounding this area, to feel the breeze coming from the water, to be inside the heart of DC yet feel separated from the hustle and bustle of it. I understand why many of the locals like to run or take bike rides around this area. Inside the dome were many of Jefferson's famous writings but the most prominent, and perhaps greatest, is the Declaration of Independence. It was a nice reminder to read it and realize the true genius of the words, the insight he posed into humanity, and his understanding of human rights. It was a spectacular sight to see.

However on my way from Lincoln to Jefferson I visited two other, rather enjoyable, places. The first is the DC World War Memorial. It is a small, single doric pavillion erected from the citizens of DC in remembrance of those who had fought in the World Wars. It is small, and had a slightly neglected feeling to it, as it was tucked away among various bushes and trees. It was hard to see from the major roads, as I saw numerous other people walking right by it, but if you were paying attention then you would notice it. I really liked it. I felt that it had some really geniuness to it. Perhaps because it's only used for concerts or erected specifically by the city's citizens. Perhaps because it reminded of those old pairs of shoes that are so worn they need to be thrown out but you can't bear to get rid off. Whatever it was... I really felt like I had found a jewel. I just sat on the stairs for a few moments listening to the sounds of the forest around it and enjoying the day. It was a nice time.
The other place of noticable significance was the FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Memorial. This one is on the way to the Jefferson and can be bypassed if you're in a hurry. Well I wasn't so I visited it. I've always been a fan of FDR. He is our only four term president, and helped lead us through two very trying times in our history: the Depression and WWII. He wasn't perfect by any means, I don't condone his adultury or hiding his disability, but I do think he was an extraordinary man. His insights into the nature of the American people, and his view of role we play in society are truly amazing. So I thoroughly enjoyed this place. It was filled with several various types of fountains, which I love. Plus all along the memorial were various quotes. They were all amazing and truly insightful. Two of the ones I like best are shown below.

This one really stuck with me given everything that's going on with the world today and how my generation is being looked to to solve the problems. Hopefully, we can prove FDR right.

I felt this one is particularly important for both human rights of those in the states and aboard but also in terms of public health as well. We must not forget that people are individuals, that they should be treated with respect, love, and kindness. We cannot forget or walk over their cultures, ideas, and beliefs. We need to work with them to help them live.

Therefore, all in all, I had a nice time playing the tourist. I visited those places that everyone sees, and saw some others that are less frequented. It was a truly nice day.

Monday, August 27, 2007

God's Warriors

Let me first say that this post will be a somewhat departure from the norm. Sure you'll read a little about what I've been doing but today's post will be discussing a particular issue that has cropped up in my view the last few days. At times it may seem like I'm ranting, or a little scattered as I'm discussing several smaller aspects under this one large umbrella; you'll just have to bear it. So what exactly will you read about today- well it's the controversial topic of religion.

I spent most of last week in Denver, Colorado attending a work conference. While there I saw a CNN documentary entitled God's Warriors. The reporter had spent eight months going around the world studying the major religions. She focused on why people believed in this religion, how it shaped their lives, why they were willing to become God's Warrior and what that truly meant. It was a multi-day documentary and I missed a few days. I missed the report on Judiasm but did happen to see the one on Islam and subsequently the report on Christianity. Also, I believe, there was a report on Buddhism as well, but missed it. First off, I was very impressed by the reporting. She was very straightforward in the facts, presented it in a very unbiased way (which can be extremely hard to do) and she basically let the people and their actions speak for themselves. The really interesting aspect of the program was the age group she targeted. In each religion she bascially spoke with the Generation Xers (my generation: 21-40). This group was targeted for many reasons. We have parents or grandparents who were religious and thusly tried to impart it on us, we're the emerging leaders of tomorrow, we've let the morality of the world change, and we're the ones now forced with fixing the problems left for us in order to ensure a better society for those younger generations. We're also a very cynical, unhappy, materialistic group, so I'm not surprised that's who were targeted.

As she spoke with them about their faith and why they had chosen to follow it I was amazed to hear that so many young people (both here in the states and abroad) were turning to other religions. I was shocked to learn these facts and appalled upon hearing the reasons why a typical American teen had turned to Islam. Reasons such as legalism, hypocracy, and conformity were rampant themes. I wondered was this really true, what view was Christianity portraying to the world. Well I got my answer as the next night was a broadcast on "God's Christian Warriors". Now granted, I know this document was only showing one side, one angle to the story, showing only certain people to fit the mold, I understand that, but still it's disturbing. We've all heard about the pillars of faith here in the States but I don't think any of us have ever stopped to see and understand what type of a message they actually portray. It's not pretty to those seeking. They seem ultra-conservative at times, almost to the point, as one person stated, of appearing to confine people by their beliefs and rules. (Rules they stated included no women in leadership roles in the church- not just pastorship, but any leadership roles- knee length or longer skirt and male submission). Now I have my own beliefs on these various issues and won't necessarily get into them here but I was just thinking that if that's the picture being portrayed to this lost generation then no wonder why they're running to more "peaceful, understanding and accepting" religions. I heard people from both broadcasts state that we should be accepted as we are without fear and that Christianity in its secular sense, as the world understands it, may not be the answer.

As I'm listening to this I'm thinking this can't be entirely true. Then they showed various "christian retreats". We've all been to them. Those times when we go somewhere, have large music shows, here speakers, and go back to our lives. Well they showed this one that completely made me appalled. Honestly I couldn't tell the difference between it and a glorified rock concert, except for the demonstrations across the street. These demonstrators were claiming that this group (I don't remember the name) didn't welcome everyone, wanted to impose ultra-conservatism upon them, etc. It was a ticking time bomb. For some reason this scene just stuck with me throughout the rest of the broadcast. Demonstrations from both sides is not what needs to happen. Yelling at others, trying to be the loudest from the pulpit or screaming hell, fire, and brimstone is not a way to show the Truth. I'm sitting on my hotel bed thinking whatever happened to love, which is the greatest of all. Whatever happened to acceptance, to Grace, to Peace? What's with all the noise, the glitz, the legalism? After listening to the various different pastors they spoke with I honestly got a bitter taste in my mouth, just this bad feeling that if something doesn't change soon the world is going to be radically different.

Now, not everything in the broadcast was bad on the Christianity front. She spoke with young college students who had decided to truly live in the Lord and what that meant for them. They talked about their struggles and the secularism of the world. I was really pleased to see them openly sharing and being willing to admit it's not perfect. Sadly, though, those few brief moments of sunlight did nothing to quell the darkness that I saw eminating. I just felt forcefulness, uncompassion, lack of understanding, and violence. Even when they talked about being active in politics (which I think any bible believing christian should do) I felt they were going at it all wrong. They were talking about bestowing these set beliefs onto the political arena, at finding those candidates that met them, and how they needed to change the politics into one the more firmly followed the Bible... or at least their view of it. I sat there thinking, 1. who are you to impose them, 2. what makes your views the "right" ones, 3. what happened to peace and grace? Why go in there with arms blazing... that never accomplished anything. We never see Christ in a confrontational manner; he always avoided it or never needed it. He used love, grace, and peace to show the world the Truth. Not gun slinging, my way or the highway attitudes. Being the loudest, most vocal, or even "right" never accomplished anything, and I think we've seriously forgotten that, which is why so many are turning away from the Truth and instead following darkness.

I also think we're missing genuiness. It was gospel day on the pavillon at work today. I didn't know this (having only decided to go outside to warm up) and found myself listening to some good ole black gospel music. It was nice, rhytmic, upbeat and I was completely fine with it. It was good praise music, a good time to have some quite moments with the Lord. Then they started to do what every praise leader does and trys to get the audience involved by clapping hands, saying Amen, lifting hands, etc. Well suddenly I was just struck that if people really were genuine in their faith, if it was truly lived the way Christ calls us to live then we wouldn't need any encouragement. We would have our hands up, singing at the top of our voices for Him. We wouldn't have to force it, as I felt and saw. We're too stuck in protocol, in what we're supposed to do, in perception to really open up and allow the Spirit to truly move us. I'm guilty of it and I don't know anyone who's not. But as that music made me think more over that broadcast I was reminded that Muslums really do live their religion. It's a complete part of their lives. They will pray five times a day (no matter where they are), the women (if they are devout) are fully covered with the head scarves.

They are unabashed and unashamad. So why aren't we? Why don't we open up fully and completely? Why don't we allow ourselves to truly show the Lord? If we did there would be no stopping what Christ would do. I don't have any answers. I, myself, am in need of lots of work, but now I know. Now it's time to change.... what about you?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Calm in Chaos

This past weekend was a rather busy one for me. On Friday I went to a happy hour with some of the fellows at a local restaurant near work that provides a free cocktail. Although, I didn't drink I still had a nice time visiting and relaxing with them. It was such a nice night, cool, lovely clouds in the sky, shady, that I really enjoyed just talking with them. Then, after about an hour we all parted ways and I headed off to Borders to get a book that has been recommended to me. Sadly, after much searching and scouring the shop I had to order it. So I walked out of the friendly bookshop slightly down but still ready for the weekend.

Then chaos hit on Saturday. Talk about a busy day. I am a member of Flexcar (which allows me to rent a car for a specified amount of time without having to pay for gas and insurance). Well, as I was a novice about this entire experience I didn't realize just how high a demand there is for these cars. Needless to say I was not able to pick up the car from my local metro stop but had to proceed down to another stop to pick it up. So I'm thinking that's fine, no big deal. Well, of course there's train problems so I'm late getting it. Then I get lost trying to go two minutes down the road to the grocery store (it ended up taking 15mns). Finally, I'm thinking ok, I'll just go grocery shopping and not do Target since I don't have the time (I had to have the car back by 1pm). I then look at the posting placed there by the Flexcar people and read that I could extend my reservation. Woohoo!! So I did. I'm thinking that's perfect. I'll get everything done in time. Well I did manage to get most of my stuff from Target and Giants (although even with a list I still managed to forget stuff) and proceed back to my place, where unbeknownst to me the charts that are at the bottom of our building for our use for unloading are no longer there. So I make three trips up and quickly unload my cold stuff, grab my backpack (because I'm going into the city for a hike) and leave within a span of 10mns to drop the car off. I then encounter a final hurdle... Saturday traffic. Due to this I was late (only about 5mns) in dropping the car off. Talk about an exhausting and grueling trip. However, I learned on major lesson. Next time I'm getting a car on my Friday off, then I won't have the traffic and I'll be able to pick it up from my metro stop.

So here I am sitting on the train going into DC after that adventure in shopping. I was planning on visiting the Lincoln Memorial, as it's been a long time since I've seen it. To visit this I'm supposed to get off at Foggy-Bottom/GWU and then walk to it. The way I had been told it seemed like the monument was close by. It's not. I couldn't find it. Still have no idea how to get to it. I am very good with directions and I know how to read maps, and for the life of me I couldn't get to it. I'll try it again some other time but it wasn't meant to be. Instead I found something different, something that just blew me away. I found the Foggy-Bottom area. This area is home to George Washington University, close to Georgetown, and a very historic area. It was so peaceful, and beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the nature all encompassed in this one area. What really blew me away was the calmness of it. Sure, I understand it was a Saturday and school was not in session at the college yet, but still it was like it's own world. I mean just three blocks up you enter into the urbanness of DC, and yet nothing like that was experienced here. It's like there was an invisible barrier surrounding this area that protected it from the city. I was just amazed by it. What really amazed me was the school setting. For graduate school I went to an urban centered school, and GW is one of those... and yet, not. This is a school that almost seems tucked away from the bustle of DC. It's a large campus with many buildings but there was none of the traditional urban feel to the campus. It had the air of rich history mixed in with quiet tranquility. I just felt like I was experiencing two different worlds. When I was walking from the area I truly felt like I was walking through some boundary... it was very surreal, and another place that I have grown fond of.

So for now, no matter what chaos may be surrounding you always look for the calm. You may be surprised where you find it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Asian Bow

After I leave work I usually go for a forty-five to an hour walk around DC. I do this to become more familiarized with the city and to be outside while the weather is still nice. Plus I love to take pictures so I'll usually snap some with my digital camera (making everyone think I'm a tourist eventhough I'm not). Anyways, after the nightly walk I hop aboard the train and then catch my bus back to my apartment. Usually by this time I'm getting tired and am ready to proceed home, but wait.. I still have a walk to my apartment, for the bus stop is at the very front of the entire property complex and my building is all the way at the back. So then I walk another 5-7 minutes to my place. Up and down a hill, through various townhouses, by the park, and past the pool. It's a really nice little walk actually. Usually nothing exciting happens while I'm walking home but last night something did.

I enter the building through the back because that's the side my apartment is on. Well I usually see the various other units on my way in and sometimes I see people out on the patios either eating or just enjoying themselves. Last night I spotted this cute little Asian girl. She's probably about 3 and I've seen her before. I think she lives a few floors below me. Anyways, I've always just seen her looking out the window and a few times she's waved. One time before she ran up to the window to see what was happening and then started to get really excited and gave me multiple waves. Well, I hadn't seen her for a few weeks and last night she reappeared. I was lost in thought and not really paying any attention when something caused me to look up and I see her apartment. This time I notice not only her but her mom, and her sibling, whom mom was holding. Mom and baby were looking in the opposite direction but the little girl saw me and waved. So naturally I wave back but then she does something completely unexpected... she gives me a bow. Up, that's right, a bow. I was completely surprised and happy at the same time. Why you may ask? Well let me tell you.

This little girl has no idea who I am, and I don't know her either. Yet, for some reason she not only gave me a very American welcome (waving of hello) but she shared with me a welcome from her culture, the bow. Well I bowed back(though I'm not too sure of the traditional bow so I improvised). She was delighted and went running back to her mom, but not before she bestowed upon me one final wave. So as I proceeded further into the building and ultimately up to my apartment I began to think about why that little Asian bow had caused me to smile, to laugh, to feel welcomed. I realized it's because it's freely and innocently given. There was genuine warmth behind that bow. A child hasn't been tainted by the world or taught what is polite. They are impulsive, fun, and enthusiastic. They don't care what's right in a situation; they do what's bursting inside them to do. So she gave me a bow, and I gave one back. Such a small thing, I know, but it really did make my night.

However, this little Asian bow wasn't my only cultural learning left for me last night. I learned another lesson on hospitality from my neighbors across the hall whom are also Asian. I have a friend who is currently stationed in Japan and he's mentioned how he's always having to change shoes for various reasons. I've wondered since then what that looks like and how it works. I saw it last night. As I was walking to my door a nice Asian gentleman was knocking on his door to let his wife and kids know he was there (his arms were full of groceries so he couldn't open the door). Well, as the door opened I saw littered on the hard floor that makes up our hallway rows and rows of shoes. Then, next to the shoes were all these slippers of various shapes and sizes. I saw the dad take off his shoes and then put on the slippers. I was actually quite amazed by this entire process and he saw me with this astonshied look on my face and gave me a very nice warm smile. A smile that shone from his eyes, one full of warmth and friendliness. Again, a small, simple display of welcome but it meant a lot. Especially because many people would be upset that I saw into their apartment or wouldn't have given me the time of day. Then again, it's amazing what a little Asian bow can do for you.

So aside from me giving a horrible bow to a three year old I learned a little lesson about acceptance. Hopefully you to can experience a simple little bow.


This is a quick notice to all my friends:

I love receiving your comments about my blogs but could please include your name at the end. I only know that someone may leave a comment but I have no idea whom you are. So please, leave me your name. It's nice to receive them and I'd like to know who's providing them. I'd greatly appreciate it if you could all do that for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lessons, Years in the Making

Today's blog may seem somewhat scattered and not entirely ordered compared to my previouos ones. This is mostly do to the fact I have several topics to touch none and I'm not really sure how to put them all together. I do know I need to explain one important thing first, my fellowship.

I am here in Washington D.C. due to an ASPH fellowship. ASPH stands for the Association of Schools of Public Health. I applied for this fellowship last spring while I was still in graduate school, where incidently I was working on a Master's in Public Health. ASPH has several fellowship opportunities with various agencies, EPA, CDC, HRSA, ATSDR, and others. Throughout the year they announce openings and then public health students apply to them. Well I applied to the EPA one as I'm an environmental public health student and it seemed to fit. I received a great score on my initial application then was brought out for an interview with their EPA/ASPH review board (all expenses paid, too). From here the board sent out further recommendations to the various offices that I had applied with. Then, the final stage happened with me interviewing via phone with the various departments that I had applied with and with several others I hadn't. Then placements were given based on all the interviews and recommendations, and so here I am. Whew, talk about a grueling process. That, ladies and gentlemen is a good overview of bureacrecy at work (something that I've immediately learned here). The fellowship itself is for one year (with an option for two or for hire). I receive a stipend, travel/training money, helath insurance money, and Metro money. However, that doesn't fully explain to you all exactly what I do (as I was conveniently asked by my sister this past weekend). So here's a description of that... along with several lessons learned along the way.

My official department is the Office of Science Advisor under the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. That's the official title. I work though with the Human Subjects Research Division in particular. This department deals with various environmental human subjects research that is occurring throughout the agency both at federal, state, and local levels. More importantly, I deal with ethical issues, and more precisely still with environmental public health ethical issues regarding this research. I work to make sure investigators are following proper procedures, considering the integrity of the subjects, and making sure public health is being promoted. I'm actually the only one with a public health degree so I bring a very unique perspective to the situation. My big job, though, for this year is to create public health ethics education that is going to be used by the entire agency. One thing I've come to realize and have learned is that most people have no idea how to ethical do a study. The scientists here are so enthusiastic about what they're doing that they often forget they are dealing with people. As a scientist I can understand why this happens (for those who don't know i have a B.S. in chemistry/biology), but with my public health experience I see how we need to be promoting health and ensuring safety to these communities. It's really interesting to see how my two backgrounds have steered me in this task. So this education is to help those researchers conduct studies in ways that is ethically sound but also helps promote public health. Currently the EPA has no such training and so I am basically doing it from scratch. It should be exciting. I'll keep you updated on how it's going.

All that leads me into my main topic of discussion... lessons learned.

I had lunch with some of the other fellows today (we do this about every two weeks since we started in July) and were discussing what we've been doing, our frustrations with burecrecy and just what we've begun learning in our various divisions. Well at one point as we were discussing health outcomes and possible ways of measuring them among the Alaskan villages when there's no current standard, and how health outcomes is a priority among EPA but not currently assessed- it hit me that I've actually learned something from school and from my brief time here. I actually know what's being talked about, how to address the problem and what the problem is. Charlie, one of the other fellows, actually made that point. He stated how when we first started getting together we all felt like we had no clue what was going on or how anything worked and now here we are (about two months later) talking about the OMB (office of Management of and Budget), proper research engagement status, industry stake in EPA, and the correct way to do an ecological based study with risk assessors. It was kind of surreal actually. As students we often wonder if anything we learn will actually help us in the real world and it has.

However, more surprising than the fact that you do remember what you learn is school is the fact that I've learned so much here so far. I've learned loads regarding ethics, public health ethics, IRBs, and human subjects, and still lots to. Also, learned about the world of DC as well: the politics, the transportation, the street layout, and the people. I've learned about the spirituality of this region (which is another blog in itself) and how things work. Basically it's been a really interesting ride so far. As I finish up (and sorry this is so long this time) I just want to say it hasn't been easy. Learning new things never is and everyone has ups and downs. But just continue pressing on. Seeking new things, new lessons, no matter where they're from. You never know when you may use them. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Salsa and So Much More

Before getting into the heart of this blog I need to provide some background regarding the places to be mentioned. So here goes...

I currently work for the Environmental Protection Agency here in Washington DC. The EPA, however, is not just one building, as I've quickly learned. In fact it is composed of several, some found in the downtown area of DC (which is where I'm at), others in Virginia and elsewhere. This fact leads me to explanation of my particular work area. I don't work in the "main" EPA building (which can be even further divided in East, West, and Rios- confusing, I know). Instead I work right next door in the beautiful and majestic Ronald Reagan International World Trade Center. The Capitol can be viewed on the right (a mear 20 blocks down- which isn't really that far) and the White House on the left (about two blocks down and surrounded by trees). This is a wonderful building that is home to several agencies: not just EPA. There's the USAID (United States Agency for International Development), EPA, Washington Visitor's Center, and a very tasty food court filled with delicible coffees (I've found a place that's better than Starbucks), savory asian, tasty italian, healthy subs, and cool shakes. It's a nice building to work in (although extremely cold). So why explain this to you all... well to help you understand my topic.

Between the two buildings (Rios/EPA and Reagan) is a courtyard called the Woodrow Wilson Plaza and everyday from 12pm-1:30pm there's music and performers. Tables, chairs, and shade umbrellas are set up for people to sit, relax, eat, and enjoy. I've often found myself wondering out there during lunch time for some fresh air (my work area has no windows) and sunshine (I often need to warm up). Most of the time the music is nice but nothing extraordinary. I've heard jazz, pop, flamingo (that was cool), piano and other types. But today was best... for it was Latin, and on top of that: salsa music. It was upbeat, vibrate, energetic, and great. I sat there with my foot tapping and head bobbing and thought this was wonderful. People were dancing latin ballroom dances like the mumbo, samba and others. Older folks, little kids, guys in suits, and ladies in dresses were all enjoying the moment. Then I came to a startling realization... I was witnessing true expression.

Now, what do I mean by that. Well the singers, dancers, everyone was just letting go. They were letting themselves breathe, feel, and open up to the world around them. They didn't care who was watching or what else was happening. Meetings, chaos, problems were all melting away as people laughed, danced, and smiled. Life was fully and truly being lived. A latin vibe of self expression... of freedom... of pure enjoyment had swept this political area. And then I began to think why did this surprise me? I mean after all, I do work in the international building and work next door to an international agency, so why did foreign way of life truly affect us all so much? I think it's because we've forgotten how to breathe as Americans. We've forgotten how to look inside ourselves and enjoy the moment. We're too concentrated on work, kids, and various other demands to take the time for a little jig, a little smile, a time of fun. How much we're missing and how sad for us.

Well I left that lunch time feeling much warmer and wondering if I, too, would remember to breathe and remember that salsa is so much more.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

After a month's time

I've been in my lovely new town of Washington DC for a month now. So what have I done in that amount of time. Well, I've been in the Nation's Capitol for the Fourth of July celebration, visited the National Wall, started work, learned the extensive and amazing subway system, and learned why so many people on the east coast are walkers. Not only that but I've gone grocery shopping (which is an adventure when you don't have a car), done lots of "touristy" things, and become used to working a compressed work schedule. It's been an interesting time, not in the least of which involves me getting lost several times, getting caught in the rain last week, and trying to figure out if certains restaurants are good.

So far during this short tenure I've found three notable places that I thoroughly enjoy. The first is my general work area. I work about two blocks from the White House and about twelve from the Capitol. It's such a great area. When you walk out my building (which is the Ronald Reagan International Building-located directly across from the EPA, my current employer) you notice the Capitol on the right and White House on the left. It's really cool actually. This area, called the Federal Triangle area by resident Metroers- those people riding Metro (the subway) is the pinnacle downtown area. It is bustling with people, shops, restaurants, and has that whole big city metropolitian east coast feel. I love just walking around this area. I've found myself walking to the National Mall (which is home to the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums, and others as well) which is just a few short blocks from work. I've walked past the White House on my way to other places and am just amazed by the wonder of this area.

A second favorite place is the Archives area. I will usually walk from here down to work in mornings (it's only 5 blocks) because it's just a favorite spot of mine. The National Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence and other famous articles. The architecture is phenomenal (reminiscent of Roman buildings). In front of the museum is a beautiful memorial called the Navy War Memorial and is filled with stone and bronze depictions of various naval engagements. Along each depiction is a description of what happened and why it's commorative. Also right in the center is an amazing fountain (I love fountains) that just adds to the mystic of this area. However, another reason I enjoy this area is its proximity to Chinatown. This is an amazing sight to see. I walked around it just the other day and was amazed by the many Asian shops, restaurants and feel that was emulating from this area. I was surprised by how in a few short blocks you feel like you're transported to another world. I chuckled when I saw a Ruby Tuesdays stuck right in the middle of Chineses restaurants and was surprised upon seeing a Buddist temple on the outskirts. It is an amazing area and one that I've come to treasure.

The final area the I've taken a fancy to during this month of exploration is the Eastern Market area. This area is located in the Capitol Hills area of Washington DC and is very close to the Capitol building. Sadly the day I visited was extremely hot so I wasn't able to stay as long as I'd liked. But I got enough to know I'll be a frequent visitor. The Eastern market is an open air farmer's market that also has a flea market, and an art fair every Saturday and Sunday. It was soo amazing. I felt like I was transported to another place and time. I walked around the market testing free samples of fruits, vegetables, and ice cream. I looked at all the wonderfully home grown products and couldn't decide what to get. Then I strolled through the vendor area and was blown away by the various products being sold: jewelry, pictures, paintings, handbags, books, etc. You name it. Then I was off to the flea market and couldn't believe my eyes. I was walking through different cultures, times, and places. I found myself thinking, "this would look amazing in my new place," or "wow... that's amazing," or "wonder what that is supposed to represent..." I can't wait to go back. This time I'll have to bring cash and a bag for goodiess.

As you can see DC and I seem to be getting on well. Sure there's ups and downs, nothing is perfect. But for now, the novelty hasn't worn off and for now that's all that matters. Stay tuned more to come...

A Glimpse of what's to Come

As some of my friends know I was never one into blogging. I never really understood the fascination or the point of it. This was before I moved to a new city, started a new job, and found myself so full of new insights that I realized the attraction that is blogging. Therefore, in order to tell everyone who cares what I've been doing, seeing, and learning; I established this blog.

It will contain various glimpses into my new life. I'll share about my new city, my new job, and new friends I'm making. You'll also have the chance to hear more about what's happening on a personal level and what I've been learning. Hopefully many of you will find this fascinating, interesting, or worthwhile. So please continue to journey with me into this realm of the unknown.