Monthly Check in – October, 2015

It’s time to reflect on October!

In October, I was able to:

Stick to and exceed my reading plan. My minimum is 4 books a month: one fiction, one book on spiritual, a third one on marketing and a final one of any type of non-fiction. I ended up reading:

  • The Bell Jar – a great novel with beautiful language. It’s the only written novel by American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. It’s a semi autobiography about the protagonist’s struggle with mental illness.
  • The Hobbit. I’ve seen all the movies and always wanted to read the original. It’s interesting but not as enticing as I had hoped.
  • The anti-aging Diet. Interesting read. The author proposed a high-protein diet to boost metabolism for people in their mid-age. As I’m reading “The China Study” now, I’m not so sure about the validity of The Anti-Aging Diet.
  • Know Your Value by Mika Brzenzinski. This turns out to be a very inspirational book and a wake up call. It’s shocking how women was undervalued at work and didn’t know how to ask for more.
  • Build Better Knees. I’m suffering from IT band syndrome and haven’t been able to run for nearly 2 months. Anxious to get back on the treadmill, I turned to this book in the hope to get some ideas. The author offered a holistic approach to treat running related syndromes. I started following some exercise from the book and saw some improvement. The key is building a stronger, mobile core and a strong hip.
  • Let the Creativity Run. This is a book I randomly picked up from the local library. It inspired me to also get the “The Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert on how to unleash your creativity.
  • Education and the Significance of Life by Jiddu Krishnamurti. I make sure every month I read something on spiritual and this one is definitely worth the time and effort.
  • Be Here Now. when I received this book in the mail, I thought they mailed the wrong copy. Unlike regular books, the books were printed in seemingly handwritten letters on brown paper. And you turn the book side way to read it vertically.
  • Content Rules. This one turns out to be slightly disappointing. Not much new ideas I’d like to take from.

Apart from books, I also watched a couple movies.

I went hiking 2 weekends ago in the nearby French Creek State Park. A few friends and us did some BBQ first and then hiked for almost 2 hours. It was slightly chilly but nonetheless a beautiful day. So lucky to catch the tail of Fall 2015. Look how beautiful the scene is!

Hiking Scene_11.10

Fall scenery in French Creek State Park

Me Hiking_11.10

I was all wrapped us!

After hiking, Steve and I drove to Chinatown for a great feast! He got his usual salt and pepper crab and I love my Chinese broccoli and egg plants. We found the seafood restaurant called Tai Lake and almost went there every week. It’s super delicious.

Chinese broccoli and eggplants

Chinese broccoli and eggplants

I’ve been keeping up with my exercise routine. Because I couldn’t do as much intense cardio as before, I spent more time on strength training and started liking it.

On the writing front, I didn’t update the blog as much as I’d like. Still trying to get into the habit of writing. One thing that works well is jotting down blogger ideas right when they pop up in my head.

The last plan is figuring out what to do for Christmas. I wanted to go somewhere but don’t want to pay for the high airfare. So Steve and I settled on road trip. I’m thinking Burlington, Vermont for ski fun! We have about 5 days which allow ample time for 8 hours drive.

Overall October was an action packed month before the wonderful holiday hits!

A Glimpse at Chinese Daily Life Through WeChat

Before we dive into anything else, you might ask: what is WeChat? A quick and easy explanation is: Free messaging and calling app. This, however, wouldn’t do justice to this wildly popular app, not only in China but across the globe. In short, WeChat is a mobile text and call app developed by Tencent China. It was first released in January, 2011. Similar to Whatapp, it allows users to send free text messages, make free voice and video calls to each other. What takes WeChat to its next level is its “Moments” function (or in the Chinese version, it’s called Peng You Quan, or Friends’ Circle). It’s essentially built within the tab where you can see friends’ updates, photos, videos, etc. More than an app to connect with friends and families, one can also follow “Official Accounts” set up celebrities, brands, service accounts, etc, similar to RSS feeds. Frequently the account can push articles and contents that suit your interest and hobbies. All these in one single user friendly app. Below is an image of its clean interface.


Since the introduction, it has been hugely successful. The penetration in tier 1 city in China reaches 93%, almost complete saturation. Last month, Tencent released “WeChat Life Report 2015“, making available a wide range of statistics and analytic previous unknown to the public. Today I would like to walk you through a few highlights from the report:

  1. City Level usage rate reaches 93% in tier 1 city. With tier 2 cities trailing off at 69%. 

In tier 1 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen), WeChat almost hit a complete saturation. But there’re room to grow in other cities. I was amazed by the popularity of this app when all my family members who have a smartphone are on WeChat. It almost replaces text messages entirely. Everyone uses WeChat to send messages.

2. Peak time of engaging with WeChat changes from 10:30pm to 10:00pm. 

It’s such an interesting insights and most likely driven by more older users of the app!

3. WeChat also reveals reading habits of different age groups.

Entertainment gossips appeal most to people born in the 90s. People born in the 80s like to follow national news. And older generation (born in the 60s) like to read health and wellness related articles.

Notably, average users read 7 articles a day – and that’s an equivalence of one full novel per month! 

4. Finally, the most popular time to take a walk is 8pm to 9am after dinner, according to WeRun, fitness tracking feature connected to WeChat.

That’s right. Chinese people like to take a walk to help with digestion after dinner, when the weather is nice. So it’s just an interesting piece of data we get.

Personally, WeChat has been very important for international workers like me all across the world. It’s a great tool for us to talk to our families, follow their updates in life. Even my parents, in their early 50s and not especially tech savvy, use WeChat daily. They also read articles to their interest, share them with me from time to time. The voice and video call quality on WeChat in my experience seem to be better than other app I’ve ever used. My mom doesn’t use iPhone so FaceTime wasn’t possible with her.

So, what do you think of WeChat? Are you ready to give it a try?

The 80/20 Thinking: Work Smart, Not Hard

In the book “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss, the author kept going back to a principle that underlying all his work philosophy: the 80/20 principle. I have heard of the 80/20 principle prior to reading the book. However, despite a vague assumption of what the principle are (e.g. 20% of the efforts generate 80% of the outcome; 20% people in possess 80% of the wealth in the society), I actually don’t know much about it. Therefore, I picked up “The 80/20 Principle” from the library.

It’s an eye opening read. The 80/20 principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or efforts usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards. It’s strategic. To be strategic, it means finding the things that is important to us, not the others; things that are asked by other people but is highly valuable to ourselves. Here’re a couple key takeaways:

  1. Be strategic: concentrating on what’s important to you.

Have you felt exhausted by the end of a work day but realized you hadn’t accomplished anything for yourself? Yes you’ve been kept very busy, answering phone calls & replying emails. But pause for a second. Are you really generating value for your business? Are you building your own skills? Are you driving your business forward? Or rather, are you simply busy answering for other people’s priorities? Email is a prime example – often time your inbox is filled with other people’s priorities, not yours. The author coins a phrase “Productive Inertia” to describe people who’re busy but are really not devoted to their goals.

Take time to think through your priorities. Keep them simple. No more than 3 priorities at a time. Anything more than that turns into a laundry list.

2. “You’re more likely to win again where you have won before.”

I love this saying so much that I don’t know a better way to paraphrase it. Find your strength, become the expert in that niche market you identify and keep at it with determination. The 80/20 principle is about improving effectiveness. A sure way to do that is doing things you both enjoy and are good at.

This has been my biggest objective in the next few months: identifying my very niche. I have some general idea of what I’m good at and have fun doing: marketing, developing strategic marketing plan, analyze quantitative data to solve business issues. In addition, personally I’m concerned with health and fitness, specifically I have this idea of developing a campaign to encourage more physical activities among Chinese teenagers.

3. Give up Guilt & Live in the Moment

Giving up guilt is related to doing things you enjoy. There’s a Chinese saying “Only through working as hard as you can will you come out on top.” The underlying meaning is that one could only achieve success through excessive hand work. No fun seems to be allowed. However, the quantity of work is much less important than the quality of work. Your achievement is not measured by how many hours you work or how late you stay up. Now give up the guilt and be here now. Looking at this matter from a different perspective, guilt is associated with past and future, not present. You’re regretting about the past – I should have worked on my presentation tomorrow, not taking a nice walk in this beautiful weather. Or you’re wondering about the future – what shall I do after work today? Shall I hit the gym or shall I go home and finish the work undone? Among these thoughts, you forgot the most important status: right now. Focus on now, listen to your own voice, and you will know what to do.

The first half of the book explains how 80/20 principle applies in the business world while the second half discusses its application in work and life. Specifically how we can work less and be more effective. Highly recommend this book!

Monthly Reflection: September 2015

Early September, I laid out a monthly plan for the rest of the month. Now we’re in October, let’s review how I did for the past 30 days. I have 4 goals to accomplish which is tied to my annual plan:

  1. Discover my own strength and interest.
  2. Cultivate myself and build my own information library
  3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  4. Plan my travel

Discover my own strength and interest. 

This goal is on the top of my list this year: finding out what I’m interested in and have passion for. Last night I was reading “Education and the Significance of Life” by Krishnamurti, Jiddu. He said:”The right kind of education should also help the student to discover what he is most interested in. If he does not find his true vocation, all his life will seem wasted.” Without identifying one’s true interest, the other efforts are often times beside the point and meaningless. Sometimes we feel like we need motivation and discipline to do something. Tons of books and articles exist on how to motivate yourself, “how to be a morning person.”, “what successful people do that you should start doing right away”, etc. However, if you’re doing something you’re really interested in, do you really need motivation and discipline? I doubt it. It’ll be hard to tell you to stop.

This month, I started to observe myself and what I enjoyed doing. I jotted down notes whenever I can in my Evernote. It’s a process and I don’t expect it to find it this month. But gradually by being more self-aware, I started developing some rough ideas my general areas of interest.

Cultivate myself and build my own information library

I surpassed my goal of reading 4 books and actually finished 8 books, a mixed of fiction, non-fiction that includes tops in marketing. In addition, I’ve watched 8 movies this month. I also set the goal of blogging every day 2 days and I did it!

Now, Discover Your Strength

Life ahead: on Learning and the Search for Meaning

Making the Most of College

Age is just a Number

Education and the Significance of Life

The New Rules of Marketing & PR

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Travel that can Change Your Life

Plan My Travel

Another focus this year is more traveling and see the world. I finished a book on travel and also got tickets to watch a show by Cirque de Soleil in December.

Overall, I’ve met most of my plans but here’s a few areas to focus on next:

  • establish my own library. I’m still typing up notes into my Evernote from my reading but I need a better way to organize them.
  • Strategize more about my blog. Last month, I wrote posts on a sporadic range of topics: health, fitness, time management, book review, weight loss, etc. But what am I trying to achieve via this blog. Am I talking to the right audience here? Is thåe medium aligned with my objectives? What is the objective of my blog? All these need more thinking through.
  • I didn’t go the Franklin Institute or go hiking as I planned. But I’d like to finish that before the winter hits and gets too cold outside.

Now, it’s time to plan for next month!

Losing 20 lbs in Three Months, Here’s How.

Today, I want to quickly share a couple thoughts on weight loss. Since June, I managed to lose 20lbs and got much fitter than ever. The first month was hard – I had to basically drag/convince/bribe myself into the gym every day and stick to my workout. Then everything starts to feel so natural: I go to the gym right after work without exerting much willpower or discipline. It becomes a habit. Long story short, here’re a few tips that I’d like to share:

  1. Find the workout time that works for you.  

Mine is right after work. My work has been very busy recently and I usually feel exhausted when I step out of the office at 5pm everyday. It might be the worst to do any sort of intensive exercise because you’re so out of energy. But for me, workout help rejuvenate and recharge myself. It’s very relaxing and put some cushioning time between work and dinner time (or sometimes even more work at home). I was able to shift my attention completely away from work and deadlines, and instead focus on finishing my workout. I know a lot of people work out in the morning and there’re certainly lots of benefits for that. I sometimes do it over the weekend but I’m not a huge fan of it. If I run without eating much, I feel like I’m a car running without much fuel in it. Maybe in the future when I have kids and won’t have time right after work to work out, I might slowly adopt an early workout routine. It depends on the lifestyle as well.

2. I Multi-Task When I Work Out. 

I used to listen to upbeat music for motivation. One time I forgot my headphone and had to run without music, I felt so much more drained than ever after the workout, although I didn’t do anything differently. It’s all in your mind.

Now I want to make better use of my time. I started listening to audiobook and listen to news. Two apps help me a ton: Overdrive and TuneIn radio. Overdrive allows you to download books and audiobooks from your local library’s digital selection and it’s all for free! I have finished at least 5 books by listening on Overdrive during my workout. TuneIn is another handy tools – it allows you subscribe and listen to podcasts. My favorites are Harvard Business Review, PBS newshour and The Economist. But there’re literally endless options.

3. 70% Diet & 30% Exercise. 

This is the golden rule for weight loss. It’s always more about eating the right amount than excessive exercise. Think about it, a piece of pizza is about 300 calories. That equals to about 40 minutes running on treadmill (calories differ depending on your weight and intensity of course). Eating that pizza only takes TWO minutes. See the math here?

I’m not advocating any special diet. That’s not necessary. Just be more mindful of what you eat and make sure you’re taking in enough good nutrition every day. I grew up in China where our diet makes up of a good amount of vegetables, meat and carb (which is the rice). I started to eat less rice to reduce carb and more vegetables for fiber and Vitamins. At least one fruit a day. One egg or greek yogurt everyday for protein. Meat everyday too. My biggest change is my portion. Friends of mine are always astonished at how much I could eat. Standing at only 5 feet, I used to eat as much as my boyfriend does (who is about 135lbs and 6’1”). I “forced” myself to eat even when I wasn’t even hungry but I just can’t waste any food on my plate. The solution: be mindful about how you feel when you eat. Japanese advocate eating 80% full and I like that thinking a lot. Be really aware and attentive to whether you’re eating because of hungry or eating because you crave for something mentally. That also helps me to eat better and healthier: do I want to be filled up by a cup of hot chocolate, or do I prefer a balanced delicious home made meal? The latter probably makes more sense.

More to come specifically on eating right! Stay tuned!

Kids in China Need More Exercise, and Here’s Why.

General Administration of Sports of China conducted a survey on exercise among people between the age of 9 to 69 living in both urban and rural areas. The survey collected 90,929 valid responses. Below are a few findings related to kids and teenagers between 9 to 16.

  1. 90% said that they like physical education, or exercise in general.

“It’s fun” ranks as the number 1 reason and “learning a skill in sports” follows. Among kids who said they don’t like exercise, “too hot, too cold, too tired” is the most popular reason quoted.

2. Children need to increase their exercise intensity.

The Administration established a standard of exercise “Three times a week, 30 minutes each time with moderate to high intensity exercise”. Among children who exercise outside of school, only 28.6% met this requirement. 38.5% of children only reported low intensity exercise. As a side note, CDC’s guideline for kids is “60 mins moderate exercise per day.”

3. Children’s Exercise outside of Campus is Unguided.

78.1% of children said they didn’t have any guidance when doing exercise outside campus. Most of them choose to exercise in public gyms or community center where little professional direction is provided.

To change all these and improve children’s physical performance, a couple things need to be addressed.

First of all, change mindset that exercise is not as important as academic. When I was in school, physical education, along with arts, crafts, music, etc are commonly known as “Ancillary Subjects”, compared to math, science, Chinese, which are called the “Main Subjects”. Ancillary subjects are usually reduced, cut short, or completely eliminated to make more time for main subjects, especially in higher grades when students are getting close to the National Examination (Gao Kao). This mindset has to be changed. Students should be educated on the importance of physical exercise, not only for their physical health, but their mental and psychological benefit as well. I find myself very motivated and focused after a good workout. A false misconception might be that exercise takes up time, thus it’s a conflict with students’ academic performance. I would argue this is not true. Study has shown that regular exercise can improve memory and thinking skills. I think a good strategy is linking exercise’s benefits with academic performance, which might help change educators and parents’ mindset about exercise in general.

Second, lots of schools reduce the physical activities in PE class in fear of students getting injured and the school blamed for not supervising properly. A couple incidents occurred where students get hurt on campus while participating in PE class. Parents blame the school for providing inappropriate supervision and the school ended up settling the matter outside court. In light of these events, PE teachers are hesitant in organizing any activities that involve even moderate intensity exercise. PE class ended up like a joke – students either don’t exercise at all, or they kind of low intensity exercise that don’t even get their heart rate up. But the chances are, the less exercise there is, the more likely kids might get hurt doing any, especially when they’re outside classroom unsupervised. The above survey shows that most kids exercise outside campus with no professional guidance. If they’re not equipped with basic exercise knowledge and skills from their PE teacher, their chances of getting hurt is even larger on themselves. This, too need to change.

Finally, exercise’s benefits surpass purely physical, it’s about making friends and improve social skills. I was talking to my colleague the other day and she told me she will be taking her 18 months old son to soccer practice on Sunday. “Soccer class? Does he know how to play soccer?” I asked in astonishment. My question was off the point. “I think most parents send their kids to sports more for socializing purpose.” my colleague patiently explained. Many group sports, for instance soccer, are team sports. Kids will be practicing with other kids, actively listen to instructions from the coach. If they have the opportunity to go on a tour, they will even potentially be interviewed by journalists. My other colleague’s son recently went on a cross country tour for baseball and he was in New York Times! We watched the interview and her son was absolutely great with cameras and spoke very eloquently. All these skills can be cultivated through group activities. Parents and educators should be aware of this benefits that’s often time overlooked.

We have a long way to go, and the first step is raising the awareness of benefits associated with regular exercise.

Thoughts on Children and Exercise in China

I didn’t give this topic much thoughts until I started exercise regularly myself. Now I exercised at least 4 times a week and no less than 40 minutes each time. I make sure I do at least 40 mins of aerobic exercise every time and at least 2 strength training per week. Since June, I’ve lost almost 20 lbs, coming down to 103 lbs, fittest ever in my life. Growing up in China, exercise was always pushed aside to make room for study, study and study.

In high school, we only have 45 minutes Physical Education class PER WEEK! Sometimes teachers will organize group exercise such as badminton, or some track racing. However, most of the time, there was no teacher present and you’re free to do whatever you’d like. The majority of the students, including myself, opted not to exercise at all. Some use this 45 mins to catch up with more homework. Others play some card games to relax. Few will actually go out and play. I only recall a couple of guys play soccer or basketball.

Back then, that didn’t bother me. Everyone was under so much pressure to get admission to college. Exercise just wasn’t our concern. Now looking back though, I realize how teenage years might have been the most important time to get into an active lifestyle. A while ago, I stumbled upon CDC’s recommendations of minimum exercise for adults and kids:

Adults need:

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week PLUS muscle training activity for 2 or more days per week that works all major muscle groups


  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week plus the same amount of strength training


  • An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise plus the strength training

I wonder how many adults in China (and in the States) will meet this requirement. Before I change my lifestyle, I couldn’t say I met the requirement. Even now, I put more efforts into my aerobic exercise rather than strength training.

So this is for adults, what about kids? CDC also published guidelines for that. Let’s take a look:

Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.” 

This sounds like a lot. But CDC elaborates on why this is needed:

They suggest that the 60 minutes should incorporate all these 3 kinds of activities: aerobic activity, strength training, and bone strengthening. Similar to adults, aerobic activity should make up most of the 60 mins. Examples of aerobic activity includes brisk walk, running, riding bikes, etc. Secondly, strength training is an indispensable part. Kids don’t need structured strength training programs like weight lifting. For them, push-ups and gymnastics are good options. The last one is bone strengthening activity such as jumping ropes and running. To make it more fun? Dancing and playing basketball also help strengthening the bones!

I wonder how many Chinese kids are meeting this recommendations. High school need to revise their agenda to give more time to physical education. This requires a collected efforts and public education among parents, teachers and children alike. Driving the awareness of exercise, how children can benefit from regular exercise physically and mentally. I’m not sure how the new generation is in tune with fitness related information. Are they interested? In the next few weeks, I plan to research on sports/fitness related social media accounts on China’s web sphere. Hopefully it will show that the new generation shows more interest in exercise than we used to.