Tag Archives: New Jersey

Home For the Holidays!

It has been more than three weeks since I wrote my last blog. You might wonder, where have I been. Let’s just say I’ve been “missing in action.” As my academic colleagues might concur, the long anticipated break between semesters can easily be winnowed away by the need to tie up loose ends–papers to be graded, theses to be presented, student recommendations to be crafted, and (as is the case for me this year) a new spring course to be designed. Somehow I squeeze in holiday concerts and get-togethers, sending out Christmas cards, a long postponed visit to the dentist, and–on no, not again so soon–jury duty. Thank goodness for on-line shopping and shipping; what did I ever do before?

Let’s just say I’ve been missing in action.

Hmm…. Looking back–many years now–I am reminded just how chaotic the pre-Christmas season has always been. As a graduate student at Columbia University, for example, I viewed the Christmas break as a time to complete those last, nagging term papers. Late Christmas Eve day, I would pack my books, and race from my apartment on 113th Street down to Fifth Avenue, where the stores were all decked out in their dazzling holiday fare. Inside Bergdof Goodman‘s, I was one of the few, remaining customers, scurrying from aisle to isle to take advantage of last minute sales.

Bergdorf Goodman courtesy of Wikipedia

Loaded up with presents for all, I must have looked like a very disheveled Santa Claus, as I traipsed to Penn Station and the train for home, where my mother and father–along with our traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner–were awaiting me. Unloading my baggage with a sigh of relief, and settling in for an evening with my parents, dining on wine and pasta, I knew the holidays had really begun.

Going home for the holidays became, for me, a yearly event, that is, until 22 years ago, when my mother died–believe it or not, on Christmas Eve. (One might say, she knew how to make an exit!) But some holiday occasions and trips home were more memorable than others.

I vividly recall, for example, the ride home on Christmas Eve, when my son Stephen was about five years old. It was a cold night, with snow and sleet intermittently falling as we made our way to the 168th street bus terminal–a dingy, dirty place that reeked of a distinctly unpleasant odor. It was around 6 PM when we boarded the bus to Glen Rock, New Jersey the town where I had spent my teen age years. We were about half way there, when the bus suddenly broke down. The cold wind blew into the bus, as the driver paced in and out, trying to determine the nature of the problem. All the while the little heat that was left in the bus began to dissipate. Looking for a way to entertain my son during this unfortunate hiatus, I pulled out a book. It was Farley Mowat‘s The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, an uproarious and often touching account of the author’s valiant–but more often than not unsuccessful– efforts to refurbish a boat and sail it from the shores of Newfoundland to Montreal.

Ignoring the ironic parallels between the book’s plot and our own situation, I began to read. I had heard that Mowat’s stories appealed to both children and adults alike, an observation that certainly proved true in this instance. So compelling was the story, others began to gather round to hear the tale. As the riders became engaged not only in the story, but also with each other, time flew by. We quickly forgot about the chill, and long before I had finished reading, a new transit bus came to our rescue. Luckily we arrived home in time for dinner. Relaxing afterwards, I reflected on what a warm and heartfelt Christmas Eve it had been indeed.

This year was no different, except that instead of visiting my parents in Glen Rock, we spent time with my son Steve, his wife Haley, and my two grandkids, Ben and Sophie, at their home in Millburn New Jersey.Haley, Ben and Sophie Hoping to arrive in time for Christmas Eve dinner, provided this time by my sister Anne, we calculated for traffic and set out early that morning–my husband Brock, my dog Sparky, and me. However, we could never–in our furthest imagination–have anticipated the traffic situation on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was bumper to bumper all the way, with cars creeping along in tandem much as slime mold moves across the forest floor. With cars climbing up our tail, and our dog breathing down our necks, we tried to make the best of the situation.

With cars climbing up our tail, and our dogs breathing down our necks, we tried to make the best of the situation.

So, having chattered about every subject under the sun, we pulled out and played our tapes of the Christmas Revels. Reminiscing about each delightful production, we suddenly found ourselves in Millburn, where we enjoyed what my husband Brock describes as a Norman Rockwell Christmas.

Perhaps it is only normal that my memories of Christmas Past should focus in part on the journey home. After all, as it is written, the first Christmas entailed Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey to Joseph’s birthplace in Bethlehem, as well as the three wise men’s arduous travels, following the star, to find them there. So, looking back, and keeping the Christmas story in mind, I suspect that all that hustle and bustle entailed in preparing for and journeying home for the holidays, not only enhances the value of achieving the end goal–if only a spaghetti dinner; sometimes, it can have its own inadvertent rewards.

With that said, I wish you many delightful journeys in the New Year!

Those Far Away Places

come with me on a Magic carpet...from Lollygagging

come with me on a Magic carpet...from Lollygagging

Only a few weeks ago, I travelled across the globe from New York to Beijing in half a day. I felt like I was on a magic carpet–here one minute, and there the next. To be sure, this was not the first time I had engaged in flights of fancy. In my childhood, such experiences were commonplace. You see, my home on Lafayette Avenue, in Hawthorne New Jersey, was literally just a hop, skip, and jump from our local library. So it was there that I spent many afternoons, transporting myself to far away places via the books on the library’s shelf.

Three books, in particular, inspired my Wander Lust as well as my life long interest in learning about other cultures. All about China, they included Oil for the Lamps of China by Alice Tibert Holbart, and Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and The Imperial Woman. The latter book, which recounted the story of how a concubine became the Dowager Empress, raised the librarians’ eyebrows, who then reported to my father that I was reading books far too advanced  for my years.

the librarians reported to my father that I was reading books far too advanced for my years. 

But it was not my father who brought an end to my China fantasies. Always supportive of any efforts on my part to learn, my father assured the librarians that I could handle emotionally any book that I could read.  The damper on my literary choices resulted, instead, from the political reaction in the United States to the Yalta Conference, Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare.  China was no longer an acceptable agenda.

It was only in the late 1980s that I finally got to go to Asia–in this instance to Taiwan. Having recently completed the OTA study, Intellectual Property Rights in an Age of Electronics and Information, I was asked to join a group of lawyers from The Asia Foundation, to speak to the justices of the Taiwanese Supreme Court about intellectual property rights. No matter that OTA’s position was in opposition to those of the other lawyers; for the Agency’s report was, in fact, strongly opposed to copyrighting software. Before taking off, I asked my son what he wanted me to bring home from Taiwan–imagining, of course, some kind of inspiring cultural object. I’d like a counterfeit Rolex watch, he said, in all sincerity. At a loss to explain how this might belie the purpose of my trip, I was resigned to disappointing my 13 year old son.

I’d like a counterfeit Rolex watch, he said, in all sincerity. 

Arriving in Taipei, I was in for a shock. Where was the China of Pearl Buck, I asked myself? Lit up in neon lights, Taipei rustled and bustled like 42nd street. But this was not my only surprise; although I failed to convince my colleagues and the Supreme Court Justices that copyright protection was inappropriate for software, I did achieve my secondary objective. I managed to purchase not one, but two, counterfeit rolex watches–one for my son and one for me! 2144842814_baf390604a_m How, you might ask, did this happen? It was out of the blue. Walking back to the hotel one day, a man accosted me: “Lady, do you want to buy a Rolex watch,” he asked? I hesitated in disbelief, but, before I could reply, he gracefully guided me inside a doorway, and then through another, into a room where counterfeit watches, including all the name brands, were neatly laid out, one next to the other, across the entire room. That night our group went out to dinner. To my surprise, we were accompanied by an Asian representative of the US Chamber of Commerce, Worse yet, I was wearing my counterfeit Rolex, and –of all things–he sat right next to me. I managed to eat my dinner with my right hand and the watch hidden in my lap, while keeping a conversation going, even as my food spattered every which way. The axiom is true; Crime doesn’t pay.

Years after my Rolex had petered out, I had the good fortune to return to China, this time to speak to the Global Forum, on the subject of the digital divide. My colleague and friend Tonya accompanied me. We both were eager to wander the streets and engage directly in the local life. And so we did, far more than we had anticipated. One evening, we went for a stroll in search of a ‘bar’ where we might get a beer. Closing the Bar Door, by Puffett As we sat there, drinking our beers, we noticed that most of the clients were male.

“Sorry, no money, no honey.” 

Naive as we were, we did not realize that we were in a red light enterprise until one of the bar maids, who had been playing cards with a young man across the bar, told him most emphatically: “Sorry, no money, no honey.” Not long after, Tonya and I strolled back to our hotel, but not before we got a photo of the bar door, a signal we had missed when entering, in our eagerness to find a bar. So much for local culture.

Three weeks ago I returned to China; this time to Beijing to make a presentation on the challenges of global standard setting. Fortunately, I was able to mix business and pleasure–for my student Ming, who had taken a semester off, met me at the airport, and guided me around the city, chatting all the while, to places and back streets I might never have otherwise seen. But best of all was the evening I spent with Ming’s  family, which was–to say the least–true quality time.Ming and Me  After so many years, I was grateful to engage in an authentic and intense dialogue with a real Chinese family, each member so delightful and fascinating.   It was a dialogue that I hope will go on for many years to come. As you might imagine, after such a special time, there were tears in our eyes when we said goodbye.

Flying home I reflected on my life-long fascination with China. As I visit China, and engage with my Chinese students, I am struck by the many similarities among our peoples. Pearl Buck seems but a shadow in the past. Could it be that it is the remembrance of me, at age 11, sitting on the floor in the library on Lafayette Avenue in Hawthorne New Jersey, the tantalizing books arrayed on the shelves above, that is today what is so long ago and far away.

Blogging on Blogging

Often, when I am planning to travel to an Italian, German, or Spanish-speaking country, my foreign language skills improve the closer and closer I get to the trip. Then, when I arrive at my destination, and begin to immerse myself in the foreign experience, the language becomes ever so more natural to me. Eventually, I feel at home. But, to my surprise, towards the end of the trip, an inverse process occurs — I stumble on grammar, am reduced to the present tense, and forget all sorts of familiar, every-day words.

Experimenting with this blog has been much the same for me as learning a new language.

Experimenting with this blog has been much the same for me as learning a new language. I had to seek help, stumble a lot, and make many mistakes before I could begin to get the hang of it. And now that I have, my vacation here at Lake Hawthorne is coming to an end: We are about to leave this idyllic place for home — forsaking the frogs in favor of sirens in Washington DC. Sitting, for the last time, on the porch in the early morning, watching the reflecting sun ripple like diamonds across the water, I take my leave, wondering: Have I met my husband’s challenge to use the blog to relate theory to practice and practice to theory? More specifically, has blogging affected how I experienced my own vacation at our cabin, here on the lake? Did it alter the way I think about and perceive what I am reading? Will I keep blogging, or will my new found enthusiasm deteriorate, much the way my skills at a foreign language might, when I return home to Washington and become engrossed in the world of work?

Forest Food Web

The Forest Food Web (courtesy Maryland Public Schools)

I speculate… Yes, to be sure, blogging has made a difference. I am more attuned to, and reflective about, what is happening around me. I find that, when reading, writing, and reflecting on my own experiences, I bring my whole self to bear on a problem, issue, or observation. Every object around me is brought into greater relief, and I can recall it in the greatest detail. Thus, I can still see in my mind’s eye the three pileated woodpeckers, their red top-nots bobbing, hammering away simultaneously at the dead tree adjacent to our house. At the same time, however — as is true when looking at any set of objects and activities in all their complexity — I experience how the whole is greater than any of the parts. So I see the frogs, the birds, the midnight sky, my grandchildren — even the deer ticks — as part of a wondrous on-going process: The substance of life, as well as the material for the blog. As Ron Burt might agree, it is the interaction among the diverse senses that is the source of good ideas.