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.

Making the Most of College


Visiting Beijing Foreign Studies University (my undergrad) in 2013.

Yesterday I finished “Making the Most of College” by Richard J. Light, a Harvard professor. The book is based on extensive in-person interviews with undergraduate students, not only in Harvard but across campuses, private or public, in the States.

The books summarizes general suggestions from students about living a fulfilling academic and social college life, what the most effective classes share in common, faculty who make a difference, diversity on campus, and learning from differences.

I wish I had read this book before I went to college. Having already finished undergraduate and graduate study, I had retrospective reflections on what I wish I could have done differently to capitalize on college experience. Sometimes we don’t realize being able to attend college is such a privilege. Remember Hannah Schmitz from The Reader? She taught herself to read in the prison when she’s already in her 40s. And there’re children in rural China who still couldn’t afford school. We really are the lucky ones. It’s more the reason we should make the most of this experience! Below are a few things I wish I have done in college.

  1. Practice Writing. Possessing a strong and solid writing skill can go a long way. This is true regardless of your major. At some point of your career you’ll be asked to write reports to summarize finding, or maybe just emails to communicate with clients and colleagues. Being able to communicate with precision helps you examine a matter at hand with tight logic thinking. The book maintains that a good faculty is the one who can teach the precision in use of language, which can help sharpen your analysis or even change your opinions. The precise use of language is part of good writing. It helps sharpen your point and get your message across. The author brought up a good tool that some faculty employs: a one minute paper. At the end of a class, students are required to write what they’ve learned in that class? What they wish to learn more, etc. This exercise helps increase engagement because students know they’ll be required to write their thoughts down at the end. This is a little tool professors can utilize.
  2. Participating in the Arts. The book well summarizes reasons why students found engagement with arts so special. First, for many arts simply serve the classic function of pleasure. Secondly, students maintain that art helps make connections between in class academic and out-of-class activities. A third reason is that a big portion of students report that participating in arts helps them learn about themselves. The last reason is art provides a venue to interact and connect with other fellow students. I went to college in China where few art activities groups were available (things might have changed a bit since 2010 though). We had theater, dancing and singing. I didn’t participant in any of these because I was so busy with course work and actively participated in school newspapers, fund raising events, and other activities that I deem more relevant to my school work. Looking back, I wish I could have engaged in an art that can at least serve as an escape from the stressful coursework and activities.
  3. Diversity on Campus: Learn from Differences. My undergraduate campus is a relative a homogeneous one – typical of colleges in China. Ethnic minority, people who are non-Han Chinese, made up less than 9% of the population (Wikipedia). Of about 48 people in my class, only 2 students are from Tibet. The rest of us are all Han ethnicity. I didn’t remember having a lot of interaction with those 2 Tibetan students. Looking back, I wish there’re opportunities for us to mingle and interact. I’d LOVE to know more about their religion and culture. But diversity is not only ethnicities. It also means people who are brought up differently and under different cultural influence. Even me and most of my classmates are Han ethnicity, we grew up in different parts of China, where customs, culture and language are diverse. I certainly remember tensions arose because of that. Things so simple as whether the window should remain open or close during the winter. I hope students remain open-minded when dealing with differences. There’re no right and wrong. It’s just differences.

These are the things that stand out for me for improving college experience. What about yours? I’d love to hear from perspectives!

Travel Can Change Your Life

Taking vacation wasn’t so big in China when I grew up. More than a decade ago, China was still experiencing open and reform. People were trying to make ends meet, leaving them with little disposable income. At home, my parents are quite opposite in terms of travel: my dads went to so many places mainly on business trip. He might have been to most provinces in China and he loves travelling. Even when he was a college student, he would pop on a train and went to explore nearby cities. My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t much into travel. She got car sick very easily and generally disliked the idea of being away from home. The strangeness of places make her nervous.

Long story short, I didn’t get to step outside of my hometown till I was almost 10 years ago. That means I’ve never taken a train or flown anywhere till I was 10. Why did I remember so clearly? Well, it was because I got laughed at on my first vacation for having never taken a train or been on a airplane. For our first vacation, we traveled with a family who are friends of my parents. Due to their work, that family happened to travel quite a lot, at least more than we do. The boy, at the age of 14ish, naturally has been to many places either by train or airplane. When he learned that I had never even been on a train before, he lashed out with astonishment:” WHAT? You’ve never been on a train before? Wow, I can understand you’ve never flown on a airplane, but train?!”

Then he added something even more offensive:”This (meaning this vacation) must be quite an experience for you little country girl.” He used a phrase from a famous Chinese novel which used to describe an unsophisticated or inferior person got an opportunity into the upper class. I tried my best to translate into English.

As you would imagine, I’ll never forget that.

While in college, I was able to travel to more places. A special one was a trip with a group of delegation from the UK. This group are mostly young active volunteers in the UK. It’s part of a government exchange program. That was the first time I really talked to any English speaking people. It was a very energetic group. We went to the Great Wall, Shanghai and a couple of major cities. I learned about their culture, learned for the first time that not everybody speaks London English that we heard on the tape when learning English.

Without that experience, I’m not sure I would opt for going abroad for graduate school. Travel opens your eyes up to new people, new places, most importantly, new way of thinking. Sometimes, traveling alone enables you the time to think especially when you try to make sense of a busy life. I did a solo trip in September, 2013. I always wanted to go to Texas but it’s not a popular destination among my friends. So I just decided to go by myself! I picked 2 cities for my 3 day trip: San Antonio and Austin. It was an interesting experience – you can feel a bit lonely at the beginning. Having no one to speak to or share what you’re seeing. Gradually, you start to notice you’re more observant and aware of the surrounding. Here’s a picture of me in San Antonio visiting the National Bridge Cavern. I remembered speaking with this tour guide. She was a high school girl who was working part time. I was her only guest for that tour so we got to talk a lot. She told me she has been to China before where the local people were so interested in her blue eyes and blond hair. It’s been two years but I can still remember scene by scene of that experience.


So, what was your travel experience? What’s your favorite destination so far and have you tried travel solo?

Facebook vs. Twitter – Differences & Similarities

A friend posed a questions the other day: Is Weibo for nurturing relationship and you translate these relationship to sales on WeChat? You’re probably wondering what Weibo and WeChat are? These are the most popular social media platforms in China. Weibo is an equivalent of twitter. WeChat is a quite unique platform. First off, it’s mostly used on mobile phone as an app. Second, it’s similar to Whatapp and Viber in the sense that it allows users to send free messages and make free calls. If that’s not unique, then what differentiates WeChat from other social media is it offers a “Moment” section which is similar to Facebook’s news feed. You can view photos and videos that your friends posted. On top of all these, you can also subscribe to Moments by celebrities, or what we called Public Accounts. In lights of all these benefits, WeChat has become the most well-received app in China. Almost everyone that I know that has smartphone has a WeChat account, regardless of their age, what smartphone they use.

Anyhow, my friend posed an interesting question in marketing. Are different social media channel suitable for different purposes? Should companies select social media based on their marketing or PR objectives? With these questions, I decided to take a look at Facebook and twitter. In a later post, I’ll write about Weibo and WeChat.

Facebook vs. twitter: #1 Reach

More than 1.3 billion people use Facebook to connect with what it matters to them, be it their family, friends, or even brands! 64% of them use it everyday. (Source: Facebook)

Twitter, on the other hand, have 300 million monthly active users. 500 tweets were sent every day. (Source: twitter)

So Facebook has a wider reach than twitter in terms of active users.

Twitter for Promoting App Download and Usage

twitter users are more likely to try a new app and they have on average more apps on average smartphone users. So you’re looking to promote your app, twitter is a good channel. It can help encourage a download, or an upgrade of the app.

Twitter for Customer Service

73% of SMB twitter users said Twitter provided them with a quicker way to respond to a customer service issue. Due to the feature of Twitter, lots of small medium business use twitter to converse with customers and discover issues in real time. You will see people make complains and raise customer service issues on Facebook as well, but I think Twitter is a more natural fit for that.

Facebook: Remarket to Your Audience

This is a powerful tool. What it means you can target specifically Facebook users who have already shown interest in your business. People who have visited your website, or engaged with your business in other ways. This raises a higher chance of conversion since you’re laser focus on consumers who have prior experience with you.

Facebook and Twitter: Track and Optimize

This is an advantage they share: the ability to track the progress of the campaign and optimize as needed. This is a common feature shared by other digital media like Google Ads. Unlike traditional media such as TV ads, Facebook and Twitter allow you to modify your campaign based on real time results. For instance, certain keywords work better for others, or your business is catching much attention and traction among certain demographics over others. You don’t have to wait till the campaign is over to tweak your tactics. This helps improve efficiency of your marketing efforts.

Brand Building Tool or Call-to-Action Channel?

I think social media is great for call-to-action. You can quick results when you run short term campaigns. You can measure the result by the amount of download incurred due to the campaign, page views, coupon redemption, etc. But what about building the brand equity? My opinion is that it’s limited and restricted. It’s hard to communicate the story of a brand using 140 characters or a short Facebook post. TV is still a more effective way to tell a brand story. Nowadays with videos on youtube, brands started to do some brand building through minutes long videos.