January 31, 2010

Make your own luck…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships at 11:45 pm by dinaheng

My mom, several sisters, a brother-in-law, and I gathered in Las Vegas recently for a family reunion. Everywhere we went, there were displays paying homage to the Lunar New Year, which will occur this year on February 14, coinciding with Valentine’s Day.

The display at the Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was my favorite. Using Feng Shui principles, the design features an 18-foot tall Chinese God of Prosperity, who stands amid gold-leafed I-Ching coins.

On one side of the garden are giant pandas, made of living plants, and on the other is a moving tiger, fashioned from dried botanicals. This year marks the Year of the Tiger, known for being fiery years when tempers flare, and fortunes are made or lost.

Legend has it that Buddha asked the animals of the world to meet him on the Lunar New Year, and 12 came, including the tiger. In the Chinese zodiac, the tiger symbolizes bravery and luck.

For the Chinese, luck goes hand in hand with superstition. Growing up, we were taught to wear the color red to attract good luck, and to avoid washing your hair on birthdays and holidays to prevent washing away good luck.

Every culture has its customs and superstitions, and it’s fascinating to see how people incorporate those things into everyday life.

Tourists from Asia are known to be big gamblers, and many casinos have courted this market as the recession has lingered, cutting down on the lifeblood gaming profits in Vegas. It’s interesting to see the proliferation of slot machine games that now have Asian themes, calling you to the Fortune Cookie, Dragon Wheel, or Xanadu.

Every casino has a noodle shop or Asian-themed restaurant, making it easy to get Chinese, Japanese or Thai food around the clock.

My family spent a three-day weekend going from casino to casino, taking in the sights, eating way too much, and yes, losing too much to the one-armed bandits that seduce you into trying to win back every penny, nickel, quarter, and dollar you gambled away and more.

The highlight of one evening was having everyone gather around our mother, who was playing a two cent slot machine — and winning.  After putting in five dollars, she walked away with $92. The sound of our whooping cheers drew quite a few envious looks.

That win, as you can imagine, didn’t come anywhere near compensating for the losses, but hey, as long as you remember that you’re playing for fun and not profit, you don’t feel so bad.

Gambling can become an addiction in no time flat, so it’s best not to play alone and to budget what you can really afford to lose and stick to it. I gave myself a limit of losing $20 a day, and after three days, I lost $55. So I consider myself lucky.

Luck, I’ve decided, is not a matter of chance. Good things happen in life, and so do bad things. What we draw to us is usually a consequence of our actions, so the key is being responsible for what we do, and being grateful for all that Life gives us.

The best part of the trip was just spending time together as a family, which is what the Lunar New Year is really all about. After all, there’s nothing more fortunate in life than being surrounded by the people you love.

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January 21, 2010

Explore your own “buried life”

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality, Television at 12:32 am by dinaheng

What do you want to do before you die?

Most people get to that question when they’re in the midst of a mid-life crisis. But four Canadian college students started asking themselves that question four years ago, and the answers that came led to an inspirational new show on MTV.

“The Buried Life” shares the wacky adventures of four young men (Duncan, 26;  Ben, 25; Jonnie, 22 and Dave, 23) as they travel across North America to explore life and tackle the 100 things they’d like to do before they die. Along the way, for each item crossed off their list, the guys help a stranger to go after his or her dream as well.

“The four of us are from the same hometown, and were all going to college,” explains Jonnie Penn, a philosopher and filmmaker who began chronicling the guys’ activities on an Internet blog. “We felt we weren’t living life to the fullest, and the question of what do you want to do before you die came up.”

The four decided to create their own “Bucket List,” and help others by “paying it forward” as well. In 2009, MTV saw Penn’s work online and offered the group a show.

The show’s title, “The Buried Life,” was inspired by a poem by Matthew Arnold, written in 1852, that talks about a man’s restlessness and yearning for more in life.

As Arnold wrote:

“After the knowledge of our buried life…

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us  — to know

Whence our lives come and where they go.”

“Our goal is to ask as many people as we can, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’ “ Penn says. “It’ll get people to come together because it makes people understand what’s really important in their lives.”

For example, the group met a young woman in Memphis who said she’d like to say good-bye to her mother, who died in Hurricane Katrina and was buried in Denver. Corky’s, a rib joint in Memphis, allowed the guys to come in and work for a day to raise enough money to buy the young woman a plane ticket to Denver.

When the group project first began, Penn and his brother Duncan planned six months in advance to travel for two weeks to work on their list, and to help others. Their father, a doctor, and mother, a nurse, thought they were a little crazy, but lent their support.

“We worked on oil fields, and with the  money we raised, we started the project and brought on sponsors,” Penn says. “We started doing this before the MTV show, and will continue to do it, and keep working on the list for the rest of our lives. Ten years from now, my list may include getting married, settling down and having kids.”

Penn say the group’s “to do” list is always evolving, but of the 100 items now on it, the guys have completed 65 to 70. For the eight episodes of the MTV show, the group chose eight of the hardest wishes on their list to achieve.

Included in those eight wishes were going to the Playboy mansion, helping to deliver a baby, making a toast at a stranger’s wedding, and playing basketball with President Barak Obama.

Penn notes, “I think it’s important to dare yourself to do thing you’re afraid of… Fuel ambition with patience, respect, and a keen eye, and you can do anything.”

To see how — and whether — the group achieves some of the things on their list, check out the next episode of “The Buried Life” on MTV, Monday, Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. Eastern. And if you’d like to share your own list, join the guys on http://www.theburiedlife.com.

January 13, 2010

Family’s the best medicine

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Health, Relationships at 9:22 pm by dinaheng

There are no guarantees in life. No matter how well you plan, things don’t always go the way you want. So when life gives you the flu, think healthy thoughts…

Right. As if your brain can focus at 2 a.m. when you’ve been coughing for the last four hours and have been unable to fall asleep. I keep thinking that the Great Biologist must have had a reason for designing the human body the way it is.

Our physiology is so amazing. We never realize how easy it is to breathe… until we can’t. Or how wonderful it is to taste different foods… until your taste buds take a vacation and the only thing you can taste is cherry cough syrup.

The worst thing about being sick, to me, is the disruption to planned activities, and being socially isolated. Since you don’t want to spread your germs and make others sick, you have to stay away from other people.

So I canceled a flight back to Los Angeles, and stayed a few extra days at my parents’ house. It makes a world of difference being able to recover at home with family.

For the most part, I confined myself to the guest bedroom and bathroom, but now and then, when I couldn’t stay in bed another minute, I got up and sat in the living room or kitchen.

My eyes were too tired to read, so I’d join my mother in front of the TV for some company and zone out to the voices on “The Price Is Right” or “General Hospital,” her daytime programming of choice.

I’m sorry, but Drew Carey is no Bob Barker. I’m starting to get into the whole crazy Franco’s trying to bait Jason by kidnapping Lulu and Samantha while Sonny goes through angst about being a criminal and a good father thing, but what does this all have to do with a hospital show?

My father, bless his heart, never knows what to say when people are sick. So today, after asking if I’ve taken my medicine, he adds, “Do you need any clothes? There are sales going on in the stores.”

No, Dad, I don’t need any new clothes. Well, I probably do, but I until I can fit into more of the old ones, I refuse to buy new ones that will just take up more closet space.  Must be a guy thing — when you’re trying to show concern about a woman’s welfare, ask if you can buy her some new clothes.

The best thing about being sick is you’re forced to do absolutely nothing. You don’t have to answer every e-mail immediately. You don’t have to talk to anybody. You don’t even have to answer the phone.

The other day, my nephew Mark, who’s learning to talk, decided to answer the phone when I didn’t move to pick it up. I let him babble on and on, thinking my mom had picked up on another line. When Mark finally was done talking, he hung up.  I asked him who he had been talking to.

“Bak-bak,” he said, Chinese for “a man.”

When I asked my mother who called, she said she picked up the phone and heard Mark babbling to a telemarketer from AT&T, so she just hung up.

“I figured Mark could handle it,” she said.

Family is always the best medicine.

January 8, 2010

Don’t automatically say but…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Diversity, Relationships at 5:35 pm by dinaheng

If you’re a workaholic like me, you tend to put work first, second and third when deadlines loom, and sometimes when they don’t. Over the last three weeks, I consciously put work last, and family and friends first. Here are a couple of memories that stand out…

The family was relaxing after opening presents on Christmas Day when one of my sisters shared a story about her son.

Like many little boys, my six-year-old nephew Max was taught never to get into fights at school. When the inevitable bullies kept picking on him, he found a way to relieve his anger without picking a fight.

One night, he asked his dad, who’s versed in Chinese, “How do you say butt boy in Chinese?”

“See hoon doy,” his dad answered.

Now, whenever a bully taunts Max, he gleefully says, “See hoon doy!” His classmates have no idea what he’s saying, and Max walks away, having gotten the last word after all.

Not bad for a six-year-old.

Dealing with bullies at any stage of life is hard. You have to acknowledge your feelings, and do something to put the other in their place, without putting them down.

Dealing with a down economy when you’re the only source of income for yourself is hard, too. No matter what economists say, the job market is still tight, and everyone has been affected in some way.

My friend Joan and I were supposed to catch up with a New Year’s phone call last weekend. Before we could set a time to talk, she sent me an e-mail saying she’d suffered an unexpected job loss and was going to unplug from the world for a couple of days to meditate on what to do.

She unplugged her phone and Internet access, and sat at home in silence, reaching within for answers. Several days afterward, we finally connected, and she shared her dilemma. A part-time job that she’d held for some time was about to end next week. Without that income, she would be unable to pay her mortgage.

We brainstormed ideas, interspersed with jokes about movies we’d seen for a little levity. As single women, we both know that the only source of income we have is what we make for ourselves. She assured me that a miracle would occur, and she’d find a way to make that mortgage payment.

After hanging up, I started looking through job listings on the Internet, and began sending her links to check out. A half hour later, I checked my phone messages and heard her voice.

“Just wanted to let you know that my employer just called and asked me to stay on for another two weeks,” Joan said, happily. “With that extra money, I’ll be able to pay the mortgage next month. And I know I’ll find another job before March.”

So miracles do happen.  We just have to keep believing in the best, and work to make it so. The economy will get better this year.

For any Scrooge who doesn’t think so, I have just three words… See hoon doy!