Thursday, February 22, 2007

Novel: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


The story is set in the 1960s in Sylvan, just after the civil rights bill has been passed. A 14-year-old white girl Lily Owens is haunted by the accidental death of her mother 10 years ago. She lives with her cold, brutal, sadistic father on a peach farm. During her childhood, Rosaleen, a good-hearted and strong African American woman, is her only companion and acts as her "stand-in mother." One day in July 1964, Rosaleen goes to town to register to vote and insults three racists of the town. She is arrested, beaten up, and hospitalized. Lily decides to rescue Rosaleen and they flee to Tiburon, a town that Lily believes her mother had a connection to. In Tiburon, the black Mary labels on the honey jars lead them to Boatwright sisters named August, June, and May. August, the beekeeper, generously takes in Lily and Rosaleen. In their home, Lily recaptures the ideas of religion and racism, and also finds the long-lost maternal love. Irresistibly, she is infatuated with a young man, a black man.

My Opinion:

I like the story of this book in the way the author presents the wisdom about life:

  • Prejudice is always caused by a lack of understanding. The author shows how life experience has changed Lily’s thinking towards Blacks and June’s negative impression towards Lily.
  • The power of love can break the barriers between humans – Lily expresses her loves toward Rosaleen and Zach, while August shows her care for Deborah and Lily.
  • Lily forgives herself for her involvement in her mother’s accidental death and also forgives her father who treats her badly.

However, I disfavor with the following:

  • The story gets tedious when Lily is reluctant to come clean with August. I really dislike Lily’s character because she is too good in lying and she likes to keep everything inside of her. What’s more, I tired of her whining.
  • The story about May’s suicide is oversimplified. It is inconvincibly to have so many things happened in 20 minutes – walk out from the house to the river, come out with an idea of suicide, write a note, and suicide. Furthermore, there is no indication of May’s tendency to commit suicide.
  • T. Ray gives in too easily to let Lily stay in August’s place.
  • The relationship between Lily and Zach is unclear at the end of the story.

There are a couple of favorite quotes from the book that I like most:

  • … women made the best beekeepers because they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting – it comes from years of loving children and husbands.
  • “…, some things don’t matter that much, Lily…. How big is that in the overall schema of life? But lifting a person’s heart – now, that matters. The whole problem with people is –”, “… the problem is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily?...”

For further detail about the book, please refer to:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Major Change of Daylight Saving in the USA

New Federal Law—Springing Forward in March, Back in November

Beginning in 2007, a new federal law is in effect. The federal goverment annouced extending Daylight Saving Time (DST) by about a month. This year DST will start the second Sunday of March (3/11/2007) and end on the first Sunday of November (11/4/2007). Arizona and Hawaii do not use daylight saving time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Charity Auction

I was lucky to have a chance to attend a charity auction in State College. It was a biannual fundraising dinner held by Global Connections, a community non-profit organization. Generally the event was divided into two sections – the Silent and Live auctions. At 6 o'clock in the evening, guests were starting to arrive in the Ramada Inn conference room. Each of the guests was given with a personal bid number. They then walked around in the conference room to look at more than fifty auction items that were nicely displayed. The starting price and the minimum increased price were written on a sheet of paper near to a particular item. If a guest interested in an item, instead of her name, she would write down her bid number and the price that she would like to bid for on the sheet of paper. The whole process of silent auction took two hours. It ended at 8 o'clock, and the highest listed bidder won the prize. For Live auction, it took place after the guests had enjoyed their dinners. Auction catalogs were printed and distributed before the event got started. For the auction was conducted orally for people to hear, an eloquent auctioneer was needed. Again, the highest bidder won the prize. There were altogether 10 auction items in this section. All the bidders would pay the money and carried their items back home after the program. To encourage more people doing charity, the U.S. government offers tax reduction on the money that people spend for charity purposes.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Westerner vs. Easterner

There are very dramatic social-psychological differences between East Asians as a group and people of European culture as a group.

- East Asians live in an interdependent world in which the self is part of a larger whole;
- Westerners live in a world in which the self is a unitary free agent.

- Easterners value success and achievement in good part because they reflect well on the groups they belong to;
- Westerners value these things because they are badges of personal merit.

- Easterners value fitting in and engage in self-criticism to make sure that they do so;
- Westerners value individuality and strive to make themselves look good.

- Easterners are highly attuned to the feeling of others and interpersonal harmony;
- Westerners are more concerned with knowing themselves and are prepared to sacrifice harmony for fairness.

-Easterners are accepting of hierarchy and group control;
- Westerners are more likely to prefer equality and scope for personal action.

- Asian avoid controversy and debate;
- Westerners have faith in the rhetoric of argumentation in arenas from the law to politics to science.

(Richard E. Nisbett, 2003. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Thinks Differently ... and Why)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Emperor vs. King

"Is there any different between an Emperor and a King? Or they are actually the same, and it is just a matter of terminology?" asks a student in Tom's short story class, while we are talking "The Emperor's New Clothes."

I thought it is a terminology matter, but I am wrong! According to Wikipedia, an emperor is a (male) monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm, while king is a (male) monarch, or head of state. Emperors are generally recognized to be above kings in honor and rank. Empress and queen are the feminine forms of emperor and king respectively.

However, Czar, Tzar, and Tsar are the titles of former emperor of Russia. Kaiser is refered to German and Austrian emperors.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Story Review: A Visit of Charity

In a technology prevailing world, most people are in favor of computing electronic mail. Many electronic mail users are probably familiar with “Eudora” – an email client. However, not many of them know that the software is actually named after a Southern writer Eudora Welty. The program is developed by Steve Dorner who was inspired by Welty’s short story “Why I love at the P.O.” Eudora Welty was one among few renowned American female writers, and she was also a successful photographer. In her 92 years, she published a number of novels, short stories, photographs, essays, and one children's book. Welty uses her gift of literacy to express sympathy with human difficulties – illness, old age, poverty, and ignorance. These can be seen in the short story “A Visit of Charity.” In the story, Welty provokes thought about selfishness, callousness, negligence, and dehumanization through an ironic tone. The title itself is rather a paradox. Charity means to show kindness, humanity, and social conscience toward people in need. Nevertheless, neither the protagonist Marian nor society possesses these values.

“A Visit of Charity” is a story about a fourteen-year-old girl, Marian, who visits two old women in a nursing home. The purpose of her visit is to earn a three-point for her score in Campfire Girl. By bringing a potted plant to the nursing home, she can earn an extra one point, or a double point is counted if she brings a bible and reads it to the old ladies. Marian brings with her a potted plant. In the nursing home, she is so shocked by the inferior environs and two cantankerous old ladies. During her brief stay, she is peculiar, and her mind cannot function properly. She loses the abilities to think, see, speak, and hear clearly. She has a strong impulse to run away from this strange place, and strange elderly women. At the end, Marian leaves a crying old woman and an imploring old woman untouched. She gets back an apple she has hidden under a tree and runs to catch the bus to go home.

The story takes place on a very cold winter day at a nursing home, where the building is described as “whitewashed brick and reflected the winter sunlight like a block of ice” and is beautified by “prickly dark shrub.” These scenes imply the absence of affection and warmth from a society towards forsaken elderly people in the nursing home. Marian is the protagonist of the story. She is a self-centered person. She is concerned about the progress of her Campfire Girl points more than anything. Her visit is clearly insincere when she tells the nurse at the desk, “I’m a Campfire Girl… I have to pay a visit to some old ladies.” When the nurse asks if she is acquainted with any persons there, she answers, “No-but-that is, any of them will do.” The potted plant is more evidence that shows Marian’s selfishness. Instead of bringing fruits or other more practical and sincere presents, Marian chooses to bring a potted plant that can earn her one extra point. However, compared to the previous campfire girl who has brought a bible during her visit, Marian is considered to have a little self-awareness for she does not choose to bring a bible that can earn more extra points for her. Welty sarcastically suggests that people who use bibles as the tools for self-gaining are indeed those who are overly preoccupied with their own benefits. Their actions fly in the face of sanctification.

Marian, however, has dehumanized the two old women unconsciously too. She associates the sound of an old lady to a sheep’s bleating and the hand of another old lady to a bird's claw. When entering the tiny dark room, she is frightened by her own creative imagination, where she is being caught in a robbers’ cave. After all, these hallucinations are caused by Marian’s lack of preparation. Welty’s description of Marian’s reactions also shows the disrespect of teenagers or society toward elder generation. Through the story, Welty dramatizes the isolation life in the nursing home. In the mid-morning, the hall is quiet and the doors are closed. This suggests that most of the residents are staying in their tiny rooms with their roommates only; no one trespasses other people boundaries. Too much furniture in the room indicates that the ladies spend plenty of time in the room, and they do not socialize with other residents in the public area in the nursing home. Therefore, it is not surprising that the two old women always argue with each other. Perhaps arguing is one of the few things if it is not the only thing they can do in a day. Also, if they are not isolated, why does Addie feel miserable on her birthday, and why does nobody help to celebrate Addie’s birthday?

After listening to Addie’s dissatisfaction about her roommate and knowing that today is Addie’s birthday, Marian seems to have experienced an epiphany. She begins to realize something about the old ladies. For the first time, she asks a question, a question that refers to Addie, not a sheep, “How old are you?” Although Addie refuses to answer the question, she indeed feels warmhearted and so she cries. Needless to say, it must have been a long time since any one was concerned about her existence. Marian’s simple question means a lot to poor Addie. Unfortunately, Marian’s epiphany is too short. She becomes untouched again to the other old woman who is imploring her for a penny. Perhaps she is just confused with feeling that she has never had before – sympathy. Finally, a red apple appears at the end of the story. It is traditionally a symbol of love or knowledge. Marian retrieves a red apple from a tree implying the ignition of love from the bottom of her heart towards elderly people. Or it also can imply the knowledge she has gained from her visit to the nursing home.

“A Visit of Charity” is a story that has a moral message to the readers. The author conveys through the story the inhumane treatment in nursing homes. The nursing home lacks amenities for elderly people. The condition of the room is comparable to a jail – small, wet, dark, and closed door. A nurse acts more like a jail guard than a compassionate professional. Welty portrays Marian as an individual person or as a whole society that is insensitive to the welfare of elderly people. People in society was used to living in their own comfort zones and neglect the inferior lives of unfortunate people. The story uses campfire girls who pay visits to the nursing home for self-benefits as a mirror of the selfishness and dehumanization of society in reality. The epiphany of Marian in the story is actually a symbolic of readers’ awareness of human difficulties.