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

Or

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

Or

  • 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.

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Making the Most of College

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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.

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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.

Be Mindful of How You Spent Your Time

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A couple of weeks ago, I randomly picked up an audiobook by Laura Vanderkam from the library. It’s called “I Know How She Does it“. The book is so interesting and motivating: Laura conducted a research among high pay female working professionals who also care for young kids. She is interested in how they juggle work and personal life. Specially, each participant kept track of how they spent 168 hours in a week, writing down as detailed possible what they did in 15 mins intervals: from taking a shower, reading, to getting your kids to bed, doing emails at work, etc. 
 
The first step towards time management, as Laura Vanderkam suggested, is logging your time. I did for a week and here’s what I noticed:
 
1. I worked longer than 40 hours this week.
My work hours added up to 45.25 hours this week. One thing I can’t help noticing is how tracking the time alone alters how I utilizes my time. Instead of squandering time away in the car listening to pop music, lying on the couch doing nothing, I’m so mindful of filling every minute with activities. For instance, my mere 15 mins commute is accompanied by Laura’s audiobook instead of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”. 
I’m also more cognitive of my energy level. Morning (between 8-10am) is now reserved for important work projects that require lots of thinking. Time right after lunch is for emails when I’m feeling tired and drowsy.
The result is great! By Friday, I feel very productive and made great strides in 3 meaningful projects (marketing plan, top customer review and customer meeting preparation). 
In order to develop my core competency, I aim at working between 45-50 hours/week. That includes actually working on projects that hone my professional skills, attending seminars/networking events, reading about marketing, etc. 
 
2. I did a decent amount of reading. 10.75 hours of reading, though 5 of them were done over the weekend. 
I thought I did a lot more reading than that, especially on the weekend. Reading is my biggest hobby right now. I’m reading “David Copperfield”, “Thinking Strategically” and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. Sadly, the reason I felt I read a lot more than I actually did was I didn’t enjoy lots of the reading I did. The main reason is “David Copperfield”. It’s an interesting story and a classics but I would much rather read “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. The suspense in the latter just grabbed my attention. Maybe it’s time to let go of the good oldies and focus on what I really like! The last thing I need is turning reading into work as well.
 
3. I exercised for 9 hours this week.
My biggest goal this summer is shredding some pounds. From the beginning of June to now, I’ve lost almost 14 pounds! Standing at 5’1”, Right now, I weigh 106lbs – the same as when I came to the US exactly 5 years ago. . A nice achievement as is, I’d like to go down to 103 lbs or ideally 100 lbs. My plan is to make it happen by the end of September. During the past several months, I eat healthy for most part but there’re time I went to buffet. I made up for them by excessive exercising to bring down the calories. Looking forward, I’ll try for a better balance b/t diet and exercising. 9 hours per week on exercise don’t likely to sustain throughout the year. Worth mentioning though, instead of listening to music, I listened to audiobooks and news. So my workout time doubles as reading and catching up on news!
 
CDC recommends adults should do at least 75 mins of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging, running). At least 2 days of full body muscle strengthening workout can exercise all major muscle groups. This week, I altered my workout routine to incorporate more strength training. So far, I’ve done three 60 mins run (or StairMaster) and one full body training. Another one on Sunday. 
 
4. Social time adds up to about 6 hours
Not surprisingly, most of the social time happened over Friday night and the weekend. They were mainly dining with friends and birthday parties. I do hope to see a more diverse range of social activities. For instance, playing tennis can count both as exercise and social time! Rock climbing, kayaking, archery, etc are all good options. 
 
5. Think 168, not 24!
8 hours’ work takes up the majority of the weekday time. That’s why those big chuck of time on weekends shouldn’t be wasted on laundry and house work. Schedule an hour or two for strategic thinking and development of your core competency. Long run, long workout & strength training can happen without you feeling rushed. You could also avoid Sunday night sadness because you feel fulfilled with accomplishments. 
 
6. I slept for 58 hours last week
This averages to 8.5 hours a day! Given this includes Sunday afternoon nap but I want to shoot for 55 hours sleep. Ensure 8 hours a day is plenty to begin with. Then I will slowly cut back 15mins a day. Yesterday I felt awful because I only got 6.5 hours sleep. Anything less than 7 wouldn’t help with my productivity. 
So are you thinking about tracking your time as well? All you need is an excel sheet, or pen/paper, or jotted down in evernote like I did. It will open your eyes and help you discover so much about your time. It is an indispensable first step towards better time management. Give it a try and share with us what you find!

How to Overcome Your Fear? Face it.

Most of my friends know that I’m extremely afraid of dog: it’s really hard not to find out. If you are walking with me and see a person walking his dog coming towards us, chances are I will go out of my way to dodge that dog – regardless of the size and species of the dog. This all started at the age of four. I was “attacked” by a guard dog that managed to unleash himself and ran towards me. He didn’t really bite me or anything but that experience traumatized me. From then, my fear for dogs have been deep rooted and over time, that fear translates to other animals like cats, or even chicken in some cases. Growing up in China and living in an urban area didn’t help either. Most of us live in apartments and very few of my friends have pets growing up. I didn’t get any opportunity to spend time with dogs or cats. On the contrary, because I made it very clear about my fear to friends and family, they purposely shielded me from any type of exposure to dogs and cats. Here I am, terrified of cats and dogs 20 years after.

Believe it or not, when I was planning my move to America, my biggest concern wasn’t living by myself in a foreign country where I had no friends or relatives to fall back on. It’s not about adjusting to the local culture. Nor is it about going to a Graduate Program in a second language. It’s about the dogs – I remember asking my moms: American families raise pets, like dogs and cats, what am I going to do there?! Much to my relief, however, people only walk their dog on leash. Nothing ever happened.

During the past 5 years in the US, it’s interesting to observe how people interact with their pets. They speak of them as part of their family. They treat them with respect. They carve out time out of their busy life to spend time with them. People wept over the death of their beloved pets. All these are so new to me, and deep down, I really like it. Part of me sort of want to give it a try.

My boyfriend Steve, meanwhile, always wanted a kitten. He knows my long standing fear so never forced anything. We did go to PetsMart to look at kittens for adoption. But I just wasn’t feeling the connection. I felt like I just wasn’t quite ready.

Then everything changed on July 11, 2015, about 3 months ago. Steve and I were going to the grocery store. He took out the trash when I started the car. I waited in the car for a few minutes and didn’t see him come back. I got out of the car and saw that he was kneeling down several cars down and was looking under a car. “There was a stray kitten!” He said!

I walked over and saw a tiny black/white kitten under the car. He was so little. (by the way, at that point, we didn’t know if it’s a girl or a boy). Steve was trying to get him out of the car. He asked me to get some milk from the fridge and a box. I went out and get those stuff. After a couple minutes, gingerly, the kitten finally came out at the smell of the milk. He was so small and looks like has been starving for a long time. He sipped the milk and then put him in the box.

There, that day, on July 11, 2015, we took in Nunu! I’ve never regretted it for a second. Steve asked me repetitively if I’m certain I’m ready. My answer was, yes, let’s give it a try. This feels right. Nunu was only 6 weeks when we found him. (The next day, we took him to the vet and fortunately he’s all healthy) He was so cute, innocent, and most importantly, not threatening. And since then, I started to learn all about cats. I read about it, find myself in the cat food aisle selecting toys and debating on dry vs. wet food.

Nunu was very quiet and not active the first one week. He was probably still getting to know us and the apartment. If you put him in the middle of a room, he wouldn’t even move much. That actually turned out to be a good transition stage for me. I was able to hold him – a huge step for me. And gradually I got comfortable with his presence. This was him falling asleep next to me. He was about 8 week old by then.

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Now, 3 months later, he is an very healthy, active kitten! You wouldn’t stop him when he got excited. Two nights ago, I was packing for my business trip and he jumped into my suitcase, refusing to get out. It’s like he knows I’m leaving for a few days.

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Reflecting on this experience, the lesson I take away is: if you have a fear, the best way to overcome it is to face it. Running away will only deepen the fear. The fear derives from the unknown and uncertainty. Start small, take baby step, but get on your feet and face your fear.

“French Kids Eat Everything”

“French Kids Eat Everything” is a book that I read over my cruise vacation last week. The author, a Canadian professor, was married to a French man with 2 daughters, both of who are quite picky eaters. She decided to move the family from Canada to her husband’s hometown in France and experience the life in a small French town. Over the couple of months, she discovered a sharp difference between how French teach their kids about food versus their counterparts in North America. The biggest difference being that French kids are much less picky than American or Canadian kids. They eat everything! The parents decide what the kids eat. And if the kids throw a tantrum and refuse to eat (which rarely happen in the first place), the parent would simply take the dish away. No special meal is accommodated.As early as age 4 or 5, French kids have learned to eat beets, carrots and other vegetables “despised” by American kids.

It’s such an interesting read for me. From a Chinese perspective, I can see many similarities between the Chinese parenting way in food with those of French’s. The book also prompts me to share some authentic breakfast, lunch and dinner dish when I grew up in China.

Breakfast:

  1. Fried Twisted Rolls and Soymilk. I had difficulty translating the dish but it’s one of the most popular breakfast in China. People from the South and North of China both enjoy them. The soy milk is usually freshly made in the morning from yellow beans. You can add sugar to your taste. One way to eat this is to dip the rolls in the soy milk and soften it. At least, that’s why my grandma likes to eat them, because she doesn’t have much teeth:)

Fried Twisted Rolls and Soymilk

2. Cold Rice Noodles with Secret Seasoning!

This is my hometown specialty called Rice Noodle mixed with seasoning, which includes soy sauce, Chinese pickles, peanuts, green scallions, peppers, sesame oil, etc. It’s all time favorite when I was a kid, especially for the summer. Its robust flavor will keep you satisfied and full for an entire morning!

Next, Let’s move on to Lunch!

  1. Lunch at home with Family. When it comes to lunch, it gets a little complicated to generalize. People from South and North enjoy quite different dishes. But generally, for a family lunch, they will have soup, one meat dish (pork, beef, seafood, chicken or duck) and at least one vegetable dish, sometimes two, depending how many people are at the table. Everyone will eat a bowl of rice to go with the dishes. Lots of Chinese dish are sauteed. It’s fast to prepare and cook.

    Lunch at home with Family

    2. Lunch for work! Many people choose to pack their own lunch. Unlike Americans who usually brought sandwiches, the majority of lunch in China are hot meals. You will need a microwave to heat it up. Similar to what they eat at home, people will pack some rice, some meat and vegetable for a balanced meal. A fruit as a desert is also popular.

    Lunch for work!

    Dinner Time. 

    Dinner

    Dinner is quite similar to lunch when all families are at home. A big bowl of soup, vegetables and some meat or fish. The difference I need to point out is that many people believe eating light for dinner. The habit my family has is enjoying a bowl of soup first. The theory is that you will eat less once filled up with soup. The reason for eating light is that you only have less than 5 hours to digest before you go to bed.

    So here’s just a glimpse of what ordinary Chinese have for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. All photos are from online. I’m hoping to take more photos when I go home next year! Just bear in mind that since China is so big, customs really vary from region to region. What I was able to share was only a tiny fraction of the entire Chinese cuisine. To learn more, there’s good documentary called “A Bite in China” about Chinese cuisine on Youtube here.

It has English subtitles so enjoy!