Monday, January 26, 2009

Handprints- The Mosaic of Life

Tonight, my university (Mizzou) hosted an event celebrating the Chinese New Year. I met three Chinese guys who I knew from another campus group, and we began working on a Chinese umbrella. One of them had already painted the Chinese flag on part of an umbrella. He told me that he wanted to paint the American flag on the other side. 

If you understand China and the U.S.'s relationship, this willingness to unite the two countries may seem odd, as it did to me. However, I welcomed the idea and so we started to work. He asked me if I would paint the American flag. So, with the help of the two other Chinese students, we completed the flag. 
We decided that with the left over room, we would each put our handprint. Black and
 yellow (the colors of Mizzou) seemed appropriate colors for the task. But one of the students decided he wanted to do his handprint in red. Then, since there was still left over space on the umbrella, he put another half red, half black handprint. 
Now the umbrella was unsymmetrical with two handprints on one side and three on the other, not to mention that the art was much less than professionally done. 

Still, I could not help but find the beauty in this. When I first began working on the umbrella, I imagined a beautifully organized piece of art that had perfect harmony. China on one side and the United States on the other united by the common goal of education, represented by the Mizzou students' handprints. But this is not how life works. We each have our own personalities, our own way of making handprints if you will. Some of us are more sporadic than others, and this mesh of personalities and ideals can sometimes create a mess of things. What I realized is that China and the U.S. may never get along in perfect harmony, but that is okay. The struggles that we go through because of our differences is what makes this world so unique. Perfection is not a part of this world, and complete harmony is something that should be saved for the life hereafter. Until then, I will enjoy this world, with all of our flaws and faults and see them as lines and colors in a beautiful mosaic masterpiece called the human race.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The President Does Not Decide

Today, a new President was inaugurated into office. In his speech, he mentioned the uncertainty of the United States' destiny. This statement could not be more true. Although the incoming administration has many plans and goals over the next four to eight years, it cannot completely determine the path that this country will take. 

When I was talking to a friend in the military, he mentioned the possibility of a war with Iran and how that would affect Obama's presidency. I asked him if he did not think that the change in presidents would change the likelihood of a war. While he admitted that the Obama administration's policies could help ease tension, he said that, ultimately, it was not up to the new president whether or not the U.S. went to war. Iran is the one who will make the decision on whether or not to attack the U.S. or her allies. I cannot help but wonder how true this is in many other areas of government. While there is no doubt that President Obama's decisions will have impacting and long-lasting effects on the U.S., his decisions alone will certainly not determine the course of history. 

What does, then, determine the course of history? It is the congregation of millions of minute choices made by individuals such as you and me that shape history. The decision to stand up against injustice or allow it to continue and grow into a raging monster that cannot be controlled. It is the decision to spend time with your family or work those extra hours each week that change a society from one that values family to one of workaholics. The decision to buy that item of clothing or that jewelry even though you know that by buying it, you are supporting the exploitation of workers; or to take that money and give it to someone in need. These decisions shape our lives, our society, and our world. And not for our president, but for our actions will we be remembered. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

When Your Vacation Goes Awry, Savor the Moments

As far as my family and I could gather, this was our fifth trip to Ruidoso, New Mexico; but this was the first time we ran into real problems (or at least what we considered problems). 

Grindstone Lake is one of several lakes near Ruidoso 
                      that are popular for fishing. 

Because all of us children have different spring breaks (which is normally when we take our family vacation), this year, we decided to go to Ruidoso during Christmas break. Unfortunately, the snow fall was less than satisfactory for this time of year, so we knew snow skiing would not be nearly as fun. As it turned out, only half the mountain was open, and, consequently, the lift lines were fairly crowded. However, in the end, I was not completely disappointed in these unusual circumstances because instead of skiing the entire vacation, I took two days to discover Ruidoso  for what it is besides a place to snow ski.

Besides snow skiing, Ruidoso is a wonderful place to shop if you enjoy various knick-knacks and the like. Stores selling herbal medicines, natural teas, souvenirs, and Native American handicrafts line downtown. What was even more interesting than the merchandise were the shops that had an extra room in the back with unique products. For example, one store, End of the Vine, had wine tasting every day in the back of its shop for a low price of $5, which included six wine samples and a souvenir wine glass. Another souvenir and t-shirt store served free cheese samples in the back and had some sort of a smoke-free hookah bar.

Not less delectable than the stores were the restaurants in town. Although the prices can be a bit expensive due to the tourist atmosphere, the quality is worth it. Great Wall of China offers a fantastic variety of Chinese food including original styled sushi. Even though Pasta Cafe was given bad reviews online, my entire family found the food and service to be absolutely fantastic. The town also has several delis to provide an affordable lunch, although almost none of these restaurants are open for dinner. The only advice I have about dining in Ruidoso is to not travel there during New Year's, and if you do, make reservations far in advance because the restaurants are small and cannot accommodate a large amount of walk ins. Most of the restaurants are owned by locals, who show no remorse in closing for their own vacation time. My family almost ended up eating another round of Lean Cuisines for New Year's Eve dinner because almost all the restaurants were booked with reservations, and for New Year's Day lunch, we were forced to settle for Subway due to the fact that our deli of choice was closed. 

Finally, after all of these forms of entertainment, one might want to simply sit back and relax. So my advice is this. Rent a small cabin, which are normally a good deal more expensive than the Comfort Inn but very pleasant. Then, take one day to go to one of the local lakes (from which there are several to choice) and enjoy a peaceful meal. Of course, I would only recommend this if you are vacationing at a time other than winter. During the time my family and I traveled there, the wind combined with the temperature (which was cool but not cold at midday) was a bit too much. However, on a nice fall or spring afternoon, the atmosphere would be perfectly irresistible. And if these attractions are not enough, the White Sands lie only an hour away from Ruidoso and make a wonderful day trip.

One thing I learned during my time at Ruidoso was to sit back and relax. The people in the city are extremely relaxed. They do not run a tight schedule, nor do they allow the bustle of tourism to infringe on their seemingly peaceful lives. The shopkeepers are more than willing to talk with you and ask sincerely about where you are from and other such small talk. Even the ladies at the Subway in the Walmart appeared to have a different air about them. Although it took a while to complete our order, they took care and diligence in putting our sandwiches together. I observed that had they taken this kind of time in my city of San Antonio, they would quickly be replaced by other workers who could work at a faster pace. But here, in the city of Ruidoso, time is not a ticking clock. Instead, time is moments of life that must be relished and savored each and every day.