New Year’s 2010

Welcome to my annual New Year’s message for 2010. You’re seeing this because you’re my Facebook friend or have written to me personally in the past year. This is where I spend some time during New Year’s to compile some statistics, come up with some nostalgic musings, and to wish you a wonderful year to come.

Stats for 2009

Megabytes of Email this year: 2,102 (down 46%, probably due to much better spam blocking by Gmail)

Miles in a rental car: 0 (no change from last year – probably because I was able to use Zipcars instead)

Miles in a Zipcar car share: 3,335 (up 113% from last year, with two big road trips)

Miles in a plane: 0 (totally unusual this year, but everywhere I had to go this year was on the East Coast – have to really fix this in 2010)

Miles on Amtrak: 204 (to Philly – it does beat driving and trying to do airport security)

Miles on a bus: 233 (A number of buses now have Wi-Fi on board, and it does make a big difference if you remember to bring your laptop’s AC adaptor)

Places visited: Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, various parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island; Albany, Syracuse, Ithaca NY

Resolutions fulfilled: Learning how to swim (promised 3 years in a row, but finally took that class at the YMCA, and at least my backstroke is reasonably good)

The Tree in the Forest

In front of my old family house in the Kensington section of Brooklyn stood a tree. If you came to the end of 15th Avenue, the road divided, but either way there it was – you couldn’t miss it. It was three stories tall.

Growing up, I had no idea what kind of tree it was. It had these wide leaves at least a foot long, with white flowers with tiger spots in the spring, and autumn-time long seed pods like dark string beans. While it was probably in the Encyclopedia Britannica we had at home, there was no way I could have found it based on the written description. The most CSI-like lab analysis I did was mashing up some leaves for a fifth grade biology experiment, which involved extracting chlorophyll using rubbing alcohol.

Nobody else I knew had this tree in their yards, and I did not have any botanists to consult. All I knew was that it kept the house cooler in the summer and the fireworks and baseballs away from the windows. It was a bit of a hassle when my dad parked his car underneath and it would be covered with flowers, seed pods, and other droppings the next morning. Sometimes it seemed a little precarious during major storms and blizzards, but it did just fine blunting the force with its flexible branches. But while the next door neighbors thought a car port would be a much more practical use of the front yard – perhaps my mom’s carnations might have done better if they were not shaded by its canopy – there was never a thought about getting rid of the tree.

Much later, I find out that this tree is called the Northern Catalpa (you can see one for yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalpa). The thing is, now that I know what it is, it isn’t there anymore. When the family house was sold in the late 1990′s, the first thing the new owners did were to pull down the tree – it just got in the way of progress in putting up a school and catering hall. It took them dozens of people and finally had to be hooked up to a van for it to fall. I don’t know – now that it’s gone, I feel much more connected, and more aware of that tree than I ever did then.

There is a Chinese word for Catalpa, which I understand is 梓 (zi3 in Mandarin, ji2 in Cantonese). From what I can also gather, it also has the connotation of “home”, or maybe colloquially “roots”, where it is used in such phrases as “hometown” (梓里). I’ve only looked this up on the Internet — I’d like to know for sure –so my resolution for 2010 is to actually become literate in Chinese. It seems that my resolutions take three years to actually be fulfilled (see 1. Getting married to Pei – succeeded in 2008, and 2. Learning how to swim – succeeded in 2009), and I’m aware that this is one of those long-term commitments, so I’m giving myself three years for this one as well.

Do you feel the same about something in your life? If you want, leave me a comment below or respond to this message. I have faith that you will have a wonderful new year and decade, hoping it will be full of love and happiness.

Northern Catalpa. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpurrin1/4155464002/ Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic
Catalpa flowers. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsbrown99/2108673278/ Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic