I decided to go back to Mint.com today to check out how my finances are doing.  It's really an amazing tool, putting all of my money in the same place for me to easily see.  It was always a chore for me to sign in to my bank accounts, then my various credit card accounts, all so I could see how much money I had, how much I owed, and how things were doing for me overall.  Now I just need Mint.com to keep track of it for me!  As I was filling out the information for my new retirement accounts (gosh, that is a strange thing to think about), I also completed the rest of my profile.  One of the questions they had for me was what my credit score is.  Well, I certainly don't have a clue.  In fact, I've never known my credit score!  So, I decided it was time to find out.

It's an interesting thing, these credit reports.  I spent ages filling out information at various sites, trying to find one that gives me my three credit scores (for free), period.  For some reason, whenever they ask me verification questions, I get a little nervous that I will answer incorrectly.  I should know my own activity and history with no problem, right?  And I do, but nonetheless, I have that little tinge of worry when I have to give a correct answer for authentication.  I guess it stems from my childhood fear of authority, where anyone with the power to affect my life can make me uncomfortable.  So in this case, it is their control over whether or not they believe I am me, which in turn determines whether or not they will allow me to access information I want, that scares me.

Well, it turns out my credit ratings aren't half bad (all in the excellent range, yay), but I still have room for improvement.  Luckily, I've never been rejected credit and I tend to get way more than I need, but I still have a ways to go, once I start having a mortgage.  I don't plan on having any loans, but who knows, maybe I will get a good financial adviser who can manage all that for me and actually make me better off by using loans.  I do believe my mom is a guru at that sort of thing.  I am also really pleased with Mint.com because they provide me the information I always was afraid I wouldn't have once my mom can't help me with finances anymore.  As of now, she's always the one I go running to when I have a money issue (like not knowing what type of IRA to open up).  I feel more secure in being able to take care of my own money responsibly now.

I have been very lucky in my life, with parents who have always had the foresight to save money for things we needed/really wanted.  I never had to pay a cent for college, or take out a student loan.  It's an amazing gift to start off my career with no debt hanging over my head.  I don't think I can fully appreciate it since I don't know what it's like to be in debt, but nonetheless, I am grateful.  At the same time, I tried not to exploit this privilege and got a scholarship that helped pay some of my way.  Also, we've never not had the money to purchase things when we really needed them.  Granted, that has a lot to do with our concept of what we actually need.  We're not a very materialistic family, so all the nice things we get we get only when we more than have the means to get it.  I have learned some very good spending habits from my parents and I hope that I can retain that, and not live beyond my means.

My mom has always told me that too many Americans get trapped into spending more than they're earning and borrowing a lot, which leaves little room for error.  On the contrary, our family only takes out loans we know we can pay back, only buy cars that are within our means, and only get houses that have mortgages we can handle.  I admire how well my mom handles money and I wish I had a knack for that myself, but if it were up to me, we'd all just live with cash and never worry about credit cards throwing you into debt or losing money on investments.  Ironic, I guess, since I studied finances quite intently during my undergrad career, but it's not a topic I really care for.  It certainly is very useful though and it's a pity I don't know more.  But, with the booming internet, I can always look up what I need to so it won't be too bad.

So, though I may not know the best ways to handle my money, at least I'll make good choices with what I do know so far and just keep educating myself on what else there is.  Ultimately I'm hoping I can make enough to hire a financial adviser to do all that for me.  I'm not much of a risk-taker though, so I don't know how I'd feel about my money being put into the volatile markets.  It seems lame to keep it all in a savings account though.  Which, by the way, has been disappointing me with the economic downturn.  Supposedly my interest rates are still higher than market rates and rather competitive, but it has been sliced to at least less than half of what it used to be!  It's so unfulfilling to see your money growing so slowly.  With the magic of compound interest though, I just need to wait it out and see better results later down the line.

 
Family life 04/10/2009
 

At times I wish I had more family living near me, or a greater extended family sprawled around the world.  I have always dreamt of having an older brother to rely on (or a gay best friend).  Since I tend to connect a lot better with guys, I have always wanted to have one who was very, very close to me in a platonic way.  Unfortunately, though such figures have come and gone, I can't really claim one guy who I can run to when I am hurt or scared or just have a great secret to share.  More than that though, I wish that my cousins and I were closer.  When I was young, I would always follow them around so closely that they nicknamed me their shadow.  It was true enough, since I only got to see them once a year for a few weeks and that was my only tie to my background.

I have lived my life very much alone, or in a tiny family unit consisting of me and my parents.  I always love to have people over to my house simply because nobody ever visits!  It's always just me, my mom, my dad, and for some years, my cats.  There are no random second cousins or great aunts, twice removed who can swing by to say hi.  In fact, there isn't a single other person in our family in the country, from either side of the family.  So, other than the summers that I got to go back to China in my childhood, I've hardly ever seen my relatives.  Lately, I have also spent a lot of my time on my own, first as I went off to college, then as my dad moved back to China, then as I studied abroad in England, then as my mom moved back to China as well, and finally as I moved out to Singapore to work.

Granted, I am not alone alone.  Yet, I have had nobody I can call family in the same country as me for the past two and a half years, but for the few months my mom came to visit, the couple of weeks my dad has spent back, and the lucky few days that some of my aunts and uncles got to come watch me graduate from UCLA.  Family, after all, are the only people who are linked to you from day 1.  And in my life, they are the only ones who have always been there, even if it was largely in the background and rather out of reach.  But year after year, they are there, growing in their own ways, and eventually we will catch up again.  For me, friendship has not worked out quite that way, since each move brought another group of people to leave behind.  I can never claim a best friend from my childhood who watched me grow up.  The only people who truly watched me grow up were my parents.

I have certainly been blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my life, but once again I find that they come and go.  I'm so used to people leaving my life and becoming a great memory that I didn't even notice I do that, until a close friend pointed it out.  Perhaps I got too conditioned to having to leave people behind with every move we made over the years.  I don't have the mindset that makes me think of someone, pick up the phone and call them, or drop them an e-mail to catch up.  Instead, I just wonder whatever happened to them and how they are doing.  I am always grateful when I do hear from a long-lost friend and get to see how they are doing in their lives.  I love that we are becoming a more globally connected world now and facebook was the first social media tool that allowed me to get in touch with friends from lives past.  I also love that you don't need to be maintaining a conversation with each other to keep tabs on and be able to find each other years down the line.

I like to dream about a handful of aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins bustling around during Chinese New Year, as the whole family makes time to be together.  Sadly, I've only been in China once during that time of year since I left (which was when I was too young to remember anything anyway) and I don't recall a thing about it.  My dad has told me that to truly experience Chinese festivities, I need to spend Chinese New Year back in his hometown, the little place that he grew up in.  Now that truly has small town flair in its celebrations, with all the stops pulled!  Maybe if I have time next year, I can make it come true, in the second Year of the Ox that I will experience since the one I was born in.  2010 will be an important year for me because I will have gone through two full Chinese zodiac cycles.  I'm sure that has some sort of significance.

Someday, I'd like to be able to gather with all my relatives (or at least one representative from each family unit).  But over the years, even our not-so-big family has had trouble reuniting as my cousins married off and started to create their own little families.  Between work, children, spouses, and friends, it's hard to find time to get together like we used to when everyone lived in the same town and the only ones missing were me and my parents.  Now I'm embarking on my own life as well, sacrificing time with loved ones in hopes of building a strong foundation for a successful future.  Work is hardly as flexible as tertiary education was, with more hours and less ease of changing schedules.  Plus, there's a lot less time off per annum.  On the other hand, I am very fortunate to be working for a company that would, like no other, work with me to try to make it happen, if I so chose.  One of the things I will miss most about education is the lovely summer months filled with enrichment learning, extracurricular fun, and personal fulfillment.

Despite all this daydreaming about a huge family, I still don't want more than two or three kids, if only because I don't know if I can handle any more.  Growing up so independent and with all the attention focused on me makes it difficult for me to conceive how it would be with a handful of children running amok.  The grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it?  And that is why I wish I had a companion to grow up with, whether sibling, cousin living nearby, or best friend from childhood.  But, because I know there is this tendency to think that the other way is so much better, I do recognize the benefits of only childhood.  Thus, I don't want to overcompensate by having so many kids I don't know what to do with myself.  Instead, to create that feel, I'd like to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other and the kids can play together.  This would also be a great way to expose them to how others live their lives, especially if it's a multicultural community!

 
 

This summer when I was spending time with my parents in Beijing, I got a chance to drop by their office and see where they work (and who they work with).  While I was there, it was the strangest feeling to see my dad's fancy pants office, with mahogany furnishings and all kinds of cool decorations.  It reminded me of one time when I went to see him at his last US office (in LA county), where he had a secretary to liaise with.  People had to go through her to get to him and that, to me, was so odd.  After all, I've always had full access to him!  What was all the more strange this time though, was hearing him being called and referred to as "Dr. Qin" - umm, what?

I don't often see my dad operating in his element, working hard at what he does best, so I've been rather sheltered from the professional side of his life.  He gets a lot of respect in the office and seeing that really reminded me that my dad is a valuable resource at my fingertips.  He has a lot of work experience, especially in mangerial and executive level work, plus he's always willing to advise me for anything I need, me being his only child and all.  I often lose sight of that, which I shouldn't, since there is so much wisdom he has to share.

I think it's funny that my parents named me Qin Bo (秦博), where the 博 (bo) part, which is my given name, represents the 博 in professor.  The complete term is actually 博士 (bo shi) and 秦博士 (Qin bo shi) translates to Doctor or Professor Qin (aka someone who has earned a doctorate degree).  In actuality, 博 by itself means "rich, abundant, plentiful, win, or gain" so that works out to be a good meaning too.  My parents had decided to name me this because professors are one of the most highly regarded and respected positions in China.  Thus, in naming me this, they wanted me to become a successful, smart, and respected figure later in life.

So, when people call my dad Qin bo shi, it's a bit awkward for me not only because it's odd for me to see people so formal with my dad, but also because my name is nestled in there and at first you can't tell who they're going to call.  All my life I've grown up wanting a docorate degree if only to be able to call myself Qin bo shi as well.  I'm already halfway there with the "bo" part, so now all I need is years of hard work to get myself a "shi" part as well!  :-P  Unfortunately, the path that I'm taking and the subjects I'm interested in don't lend themselves to needing a doctorate, so it doesn't look like I will be going in that direction.

In fact, I may go get my MBA more as a rite of passage than for any real purposes.  I'm sure there's still plenty to be learned, but in terms of the extra mileage I could get from business school versus what I learn every day at the office, it may not be worth it.  Instead, I'm still aiming for business school because I want to prove to myself that I can do it.  I can also use it as another way of networking and truly finding like-minded people who are every bit as amibitious as me.  And who knows, maybe a few years down the line I will want to try a different line of business and it will be useful for my transition.

 
Aches and pains 03/30/2009
 

I had an appointment with a Chinese masseuse today it was at once a soothing and painful and tickling experience.  I have had a rather weak and very tight back for 15 months now, occasionally feeling like a 60-year-old woman with the type of soreness I would get there.  I threw it out back in late 2007, early 2008 and it never quite got better.  At first, I would just avoid doing anything that required me to bend or twist in ways that my back would not allow.

When I got back to school, I started going to the Ashe (Student Health) Center for physical therapy sessions.  It helped a bit and I started to gain more strength in that area, but I wasn't very good with keeping up the exercises that were given to me.  My insurance only covered so many sessions, so I then decided that I had plateaued and had enough.  I stopped going and gave acupuncture a try.  I don't know if it did anything since I only did it once, but yet again, I didn't want to continue so long as I had to pay.

This summer found me in Beijing, with massage services aplenty.  My dad got me a membership card thing at a local place and I started to go there every couple of days for the month that I was there.  My flexibility was improving a lot, but then I had to fly off again, to a place where such services are far too expensive.  For months, I have not been doing anything for my back and it has only given me scattered bouts of grief.  I've been meaning to take care of it and go try more variations of help for it, but between not having the time and not wanting to expend the money, I tend to not get it done.

Well, I finally got around to getting another massage and it was a lot different from the last series I got.  This one involved a lot of poking and pressure in the crevices of my spine and some pressure points.  I tried my best to stay still and breathe normally, but I found myself clenching and holding my breath more than a few times.  I came out of it all a bit tender (and hopefully not bruised), but feeling good.  Not excellent and through the roof, but less tense, for sure.  I'll wait to see how I feel tomorrow.

At one point, my loose shoulder was kind of sliding around in its socket (yes, I know, gross imagery, but it's not that bad and doesn't really hurt), so I'm sure the muscles around there will be very unhappy with me in the morning.  I can feel it already.  That area has never been very strong, so all this shaking around will have that joint all riled up.  I'd really like to soak in a sauna right now.  Nice and hot and wet.  My skin would thank me.  I just hope my right arm doesn't get too weak tomorrow, or else it's going to quite the task shouldering my heavy purse, writing, and typing.

One of these days, I want to go try out the chiropractor as well; I hear they work wonders.  Maybe when I get insurance.

 
 

I just overheard my mom on the phone, booking her plane ticket to Mongolia, due to leave just about 12 hours after mine to Singapore leaves LAX.  The past couple of days she has been lamenting what to do about our mail, since many statements cannot be sent to P.O. boxes and there is no one in our family here to take care of it for us.  We used to get it forwarded to a family friend's place, but that's such a hassle to do for just a month or two.

Now that I'm leaving the country, my mom is left to figure out what to do with the house (and her life) again.  When I was studying abroad in England, she rented it out and moved back to China with my dad.  Should she do that again or stick around to try to pursue a career in aerospace, as she's dreamed of doing?  Strangely enough, my life is what gives her some stability - whenever I'm around, she can stay at home and do various types of work happily.  Yet, once I leave, she needs to figure what her life is about, sans moi.

All of this made me think of the fragmented time I spent with my parents growing up and how multiple moves affected my sense of independence.  It's no wonder I did become so independent, what with one parent or the other often away and our family hardly ever staying in one place long enough to make lasting friends.  As I grew older, it became my time to be away from home and friends on my own - to swim camps, to boot camps, to a swim competition in Australia, and the frequent visits to my relatives in China.  Another factor contributing to my independence was early on: I didn't even meet my parents until I was three and a half (my dad left six months before I was born and my mom left six months after I was born, so I hardly remembered her).

In the early days, my parents were busy finishing up their graduate degrees at Penn State - a Master's for my mother and a Doctorate for my father.  To support us, they had to be research assistants and my dad worked as a teaching assistant as well.  From there, it was off to Kansas, where my dad worked for the government and my mom found a random job with Payless Shoes.  I would come home to an empty house and do homework or play by myself.  I think that's when my desire for a sibling or pet began to grow, as I spent many quiet afternoons alone in the house, waiting for my mom to get home from work.  I had one or two good friends, but mostly kept to myself.  I enjoyed playing around during recess, but I rarely mixed home life with school life.

Three years later I was sent back to China for a year to reacquaint myself with the culture and language.  It was a blissful time of no homework, no worries, since I was so far behind in all the subjects - except for English, where I was so far ahead - that I was kind of just a dead weight in class.  Nevertheless, the kids loved me because this little 3rd grader was stronger than the 6th graders, and faster than anyone in school.  I didn't really contact my parents much during that year and when I returned to the US, I had no viable way of staying in touch with my friends from that school.

When we moved to Missouri, my dad had been working there for awhile.  He had secured a position with a company that kept him traveling as he and my mom started their own company, so my mom went back to China for two or three years to work on that.  The internet had just gone public and I was immersed in the world of HTML, making a variety of websites that I have since forgotten about.  I was also an extreme bookworm, preferring to spend time poring over novels to that of physical company.  At school, I was a social butterfly, known by everyone but not close to many.

By the time we made the move to New York, I was in the smack middle of my middle school years.  Afraid that I would get gaps in my knowledge if I took the honors track for math and science, my counselor advised me to follow the normal track and then test out of it after 8th grade.  The classes, unfortunately, were far too easy and filled with immature peers who I did not connect with.  My close set of friends didn't have many classes with me, since they were all on the honors track.  After finishing middle school, I found that this test that my counselor talked about did not exist.  I was stuck.  Meanwhile, my mom busied herself with the stock market as my dad worked hard at his new Vice President position, often going on business trips.

During my freshman year of high school, I took a math class that was nearly a joke for me - algebra.  I aced nearly all of the tests and quizzes and got a disappointing 99 on my final.  Frustrated with the lack of challenge, my mom had me talk to my teacher to find out what I would need to know for the next level of math.  I spent that next summer learning geometry with my mother, meticulously practicing, learning, and writing out homework.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, we took all the paperwork to the principal and my new counselor to show them that I had mastered the material.  It was agreed that I should be allowed to learn trig at that point, however, I still had to attend geometry class.  (Apparently a New York State law that I needed to spend a certain number of hours in the classroom - utterly useless.)  So, I took two math classes simultaneously that year (along with either other classes, ensuring I never had a lunch period).  Though I finally caught up academically, socially it was a bit too late - the honors track students had already formed their cliques.  And I was not a part of them.

My dad had moved to Texas when his company moved headquarters and waited there for us to move there to join him sometime in the future.  Instead, a headhunter found him and convinced him to take a new position as VP over in a Californian company.  So, with just two weeks notice in the summer following my sophomore year, we packed up and moved across the nation.  Being that it was summer, not many people knew what had happened to me and why I left.  Once again I had been the social butterfly, knowing everyone in my grade, but hardly close to any of them.  Only my closest group of friends saw me off and the rest of the school I didn't know well enough to call up to inform.

I started life anew in California as a junior.  With just two years of high school left and a lot of focus on college prep work, I made friends only with people in my classes, on my swim team, and in my JROTC unit.  This was the most present my parents had ever been, but I was far too busy with schoolwork, SAT prep, ROTC training, swim practice, and meets to really spend time with them.  For the last blissful weeks of high school, I lived it up driving around with my friends and enjoying life after APs and before college.

Then came UCLA, where I was so busy with being a college student that I only went home when I needed to do laundry.  When I was about to start my second year, my dad moved back to China to work and has been there ever since.  My third year of college I went abroad and by the time I returned, my mom had joined my dad in China.  I spent my fourth year and extra quarter on my own in this country before my mom came back to join me until I found a job.  Now I'll be off to Singapore and by the time I get back, who knows how things will be.

So you see, much of my life was spent with my parents traveling around or busy at work.  I had a lot of time to myself in the afternoons when I came back from school and spent many years away from them.  Even when we are together, we all are busy with our own obligations, so I don't just hang out with them much.  In fact, the only true bonding we get is the periodic family outings we go on - road trips my dad concocts to all kinds of places.  It's been an interesting lifestyle and it just amuses me that in a week, our family will once again be split amongst three different countries.  I do love being independent and traveling a lot, but eventually I'd like to settle somewhere long-term to have as a home base.

 
 

[originally posted January 5, 2009]

Today, all across the nation (and likely, the world), students are returning to the classroom.  And I?  I sent my dad off at the airport with my mom this morning and returned home to scan some documents.  Just another day, just another chore.  Now, for the first time in my life, I'm not going back to school.  It's a strange sort of feeling to hear about all those who are going back to the old routine.  After 16 years of that, what else am I to expect?  Classes, breaks, homework, midterms, finals... it was all so familiar and now I'm in a whole new dimension, dealing with job searches, applications, cover letters, interviews, networking...  sigh.  It's time to move on with my life, whether I'm ready to or not.

My parents and Panda have been on my case to apply for jobs, send out my resume, get something going.  I know they're right, but at the same time... it's so hard to find the motivation to because I have such a specific image of what I want!  Anything less is just not good enough and I'm afraid I'm being too picky.  I'm sure there are a lot of options that I can settle for, but that's the problem: I don't want to settle.  I want to find a job I'm passionate about, something I'll look forward to doing every morning.  Something I can do for the couple of years that I'd need to before business school.

Well, I guess I just need to hop on it, do my research and see what's out there.

 
 

[originally posted January 3, 2009]

This morning I was rudely awoken at 9 with my mother asking me if I was going to go.

"Go where?" I mumbled, squinting through sleepy eyes.
"To see the Rose Parade floats!" my mom exclaimed as if I wasn't paying attention.  (What she doesn't know is that her first sentence or two woke me up and I never actually "heard' them.
"Ugggh." I grunted and closed my eyes, huddling under the blankets more.

With a swift tug, she pulled the blanket off and held out her hand.

"Come on," she gestured for me to get up.

Sure that I should go, I still hadn't decided if it was worth the lack of sleep and suffering to get dressed in the cold air.  Soon she got tired of waiting for me and went back downstairs to continue without me.  I eventually resolved to get up and drag myself downstairs, shivering.  We piled into the car and headed off, with my mom happily sharing some of the dark chocolate covered cherries she'd bought and informing my dad that the way he was driving to get on the highway is not the most efficient way to get there.  Meanwhile, my dad went forth as he pleased, changing the radio station sporadically until he settled on a Spanish channel called QueBuena!  o.O  Of all the stations... he had to choose the one we wouldn't understand?  Haha, I don't get it.  But I can see how the other songs are a little grating to the ears if you aren't used to it.  Along the way, I texted Panda because he lives in that area, so going that way reminded me of him.  :)

So we got to Pasadena City College, parked the car, and got our tickets before boarding a shuttle to the site.  It was a bit of a gloomy day, but that turned out to be nice since we didn't have to sweat it out in the sun and the flowers probably withered a little less.  I volunteered to decorate the floats a few years ago, so I kind of already knew how it worked, but it's always cool to see so many nice flowers.  Strangely, I wasn't in a picture-taking mood, so I just enjoyed looking at the floats as my dad ran around snapping shots.  About halfway through his camera died, so he moved on to my mom's, lol.

One of the few pictures I did take with my camera, of my parents.


We were walking for a good two, two and a half hours before getting back to the car and navigating our way to a dim sum place on Garfield and Valley.  Our family friends also have their office there and we just happened to run into the husband coming back from a lunch break as we left from our own lunch.  We went upstairs, where my parents caught up with him and I wished I could be spending time with Panda.  It was a nice day out with my parents though - we don't get to go that often and my dad is going back to China in two days.