Sunday, May 26, 2019
Organizing Teri’s ‘awake wake’ and memorial gathering
Establishing the Teri Li Award for Young Educators in Pediatric Gastroenterology and an ongoing endowment
Working while taking care of my declining father 22/7 for 3½ years – unpredictable day to day
Organizing my father’s memorial gatherings - in Milwaukee and Lawrence
Resolving my father’s estate - including flying to HK
Sorting all of his academic papers – the half in Chinese with the help of an art historian
Donating his papers to Taiwan National University – his desired choice consummated
Donating his remaining books to Arizona State – altogether these papers and books took 2½ years
Cataloging and properly storing his artwork – with the help of 2 art historians and an art organizer – took 2+ years
Retiring from the Medical College – yeah
But, continuing to give talks, write articles, edit UptoDate, mentor students, fellows and faculty, review papers and write letters of promotion
Traveling 75+K miles/year to see family especially grandkids Jack, Naomi and Flora, friends including a bunch of 80-92 year old younguns, and colleagues ... and give a few talks and view artwork
Traversing the globe for both work and play – Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada, China, Kenya, Tanzania, Netherlands over the past 12 months
Maintaining an ongoing base in Vancouver (especially if we get Trumped again) – onsite 4+ months/year
Receiving two career awards in Pediatric Gastroenterology – Murray Davidson Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics 2012 and the inaugural NASPGHAN Master Educator Award 2018
Receiving the MCW President’s Inclusion and Diversity Award 2018
Receiving the APAMSA 25thYear Anniversary Mentor Award 2018 - 2018 was quite a year for this retiree
Learning to live on my own! A relearning experience and life makeover.
Undergoing and surviving 4 elective surgeries – 1 with complications
Improving my health through intermittent fasting, eating more plant protein, taking antioxidant tea and suppments and practicing Tai Chi
Becoming a serious practitioner of Chen Tai Chi – with a bonafide master in Vancouver
Undergoing therapy to deal with Teri’s demise, my Tiger mother and my distant father – and in the end, coming to peace with them, my life and all of its challenges
Learning about Chinese ink art through auditing courses, reading my father’s monographs, and now extending his collection – he would be proud
Selling my father’s condo
Selling our condo - last Tuesday
Downsizing to a 10’X10’ storage locker and 1 room of furniture!!!
Moving to Madison
I didn't realize ...
With brimming thoughts, I told all three that I was in a good place, doing well in body, mind and soul and, most importantly, that I had come to peace with both of them (my parents) and my recent challenges. After what I’d been through, I think all three, especially Teri as to how much I’ve grown as an individual and both parents as to how far I’ve come professionally and personally, would be proud of me. That felt really, really fulfilling. I told them that for the very first time … I felt I was finally and fully free and ready to move forward with my life.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
It began at Chen Tai Chi ‘boot camp’ in Vancouver where I averaged 2½ hours a day such that ambulating became arduous. Despite my age, I’m learning and understanding faster and deeper but each time I have to correct bad habits developed practicing solo back in the States. Sadly, it was the last time I saw my friend Don who passed away within 3 months of discovering a brain malignancy (see previous blog). Dogwoods were in full blossom.
In Louisville (pronounced Lewisville), Pat (Japanese art historian), David and I hiked above Boulder in the spectacular Flatirons with spring green and thorny blossoms. We walked through their dream Japanese-styled house in progress, went to the Denver Art Museum and met the Asian Art curator, and visited with another Asian art curator/collector.
|Flatirons south of Boulder|
|Pounding out another day at the office|
In Baltimore I was overwhelmed by the national Pediatric conference at the Convention Center. A nice dinner with the few GI speakers in attendance. I discovered the Walter’s Museum extensive collection of 19thC British art. On demand rental scooters (Uber) zipped everywhere along sidewalks, bike lanes and streets, yet another glimpse of the future. Someone yelled “Dr. Li!” in the colossal hallway. I turned around and there were the two Robbins sisters who did summer research for me in Columbus now all grownup both pediatricians and parents! What a sheer delight to catch up after two decades.
|Robbins sisters, pediatricians and parents|
Onto DC where I entered the depths of the Freer Gallery storage to view ancient Chinese paintings with my octogenarian buddies Margaret (Chinese ink artist) and her husband TC from Houston. Inches away from our eyes, paintings dating to 978 CE (1041 years old!), one from the 14thC on which my father wrote a monograph, and 16thC Chan (Zen) Buddhist paintings by Bada Shanren thoughtfully juxtaposed next to two of Margaret’s
paintings that reside in the Smithsonian. A tie to my father – this is what he did for a living! And a Leonardo DaVinci, French impressionists on one side and Rothkos, Calders in the opposite East Wing.
|Hong Xian aka Margaret Chang|
|Baton runner, not twirler|
|Swingin' Jack Hammer|
|The Vessel - outside|
Happy Mother’s Day, Teri.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
I had come to know Don through his spouse Cora both artists in Vancouver. She is the daughter of my father’s best friend from Pui Ching Middle School in Macao. Her father was an eminent scientist-leader who set up Taiwan’s first research park in the 1980s. Because we were in the adjacent state, we would visit during summer vacations. Her father also Dr. Li was one of the few Chinese males who gave me fatherly advice and actually was fatherly, unlike my own. Some six years ago, after a 50+ year hiatus, I renewed ties. They both are just the sort of insightful, liberal, socially conscientious, art activist folk that I respect.
Whenever in Vancouver, we would gather at their inviting custom-designed Japanese-style house replete with large, vegetable garden, beehives, large coi pond, free standing artist studio, wall-to-wall paintings (his Asian inspired acrylics) and drawings (her geometric ink). They are vegetarian. Don is a red-blooded Canadian, that is to say not only respectful as Canadians tend to be, but also opinionated and outspoken. Other adjectives that come to mind include high energy, inquisitive, adventurous, well-read, perceptive, and thoughtful. As one example, when he goes to China to do videography, he unabashedly uses his studied Mandarin to connect.
Mid-December, 2018. I took my usual late fall sojourn to Vancouver to “correct” deficiencies in my Tai Chi form. As always, we got together for dinner. Our dinners are typically full of extended discussions on a myriad of topics from kids, grandkids, healthy living, local, national and Chinese art, current books, social and political issues. We also went to see Crazy Rich Asians together and had a dinner discussion afterwards.
Late January, 2019. I received an e-mail from Cora saying that Don had a brain tumor and was scheduled for surgery. I then went to Kenya and Tanzania. Sporadic updates revealed that Don went home but had completely lost his speech, an unimaginable loss of connection. However, he understood things normally. And he preferred not to have visitors. I sent my best written and internal wishes.
Mid April, 2019. I planned another two week “corrections” trip to Vancouver. I asked if I could come and see Don. Yes, he did want to see me but it would depend upon how the day went as he was having recurring seizures. I felt honored. It also evoked my traumatic experiences with Teri. I approached this with less trepidation about his seizures but more about what I wanted to say and how best to say it. I brought some homemade tea/soy sauce eggs and some store bought dofu skins stuffed with mushrooms that I thought he would like.
I received a text message that it was OK to see him that afternoon. I arrived and found him resting following a mild seizure. I then learned that the illness began subtly with his noticing difficulty finding words – albeit not noted by anyone else. At the Emergency Room they discovered a large brain tumor on CT scan and three weeks later it proved to be a highly malignant glioblastoma. Emerging from surgery, he spoke normally, but within hours had a seizure and then lost all speech. At his follow-up, they offered radiation therapy which was accepted. Despite the loss of speech and some one-sided weakness, he understood fully, communicated nonverbally and was able to take care of his bodily functions. Hospice care was initiated at nighttime as they awaited the outcome of radiation therapy.
Don walked out of the bedroom and … amazingly looked like his old self! He was moving well, calm but unnaturally silent. Yet his intense gaze and occasional nod revealed his full attention and understanding. I spoke briefly about my trip to Africa. Then I told him how he presciently predicted my growing involvement with art and art collecting, something I could not anticipate. I also shared that I had just commissioned a ‘chaos’ calligraphy from a contemporary Chinese artist in whom we shared a mutual interest, and, how my decision to obtain a larger piece was clearly inspired by his expressed intent to do the same and his usual ‘go for it’ attitude. I told him that once completed I would like to bring it to show to him.
As I prepared to depart, I was overwhelmed by my thoughts. I felt good that I could share, and he comprehend, that he had influenced my life. I was profoundly struck by the speechlessness which so affected his inter self and was relieved that his core self was still intact. Yet I wondered how I would ever cope with a locked in persona. This made me think about who he is and what he stands for. And I worried about Cora coping with the day-to-day and ultimate uncertainty and that this occasion might be the last time I would see him.
We hugged. I felt his warmth, gentleness and clear gaze. He waved goodbye. I became wistful.
Two weeks later, Cora notified me that Don had passed away.
With respect and love,
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
The move to Madison/Middleton is only a freight train fortnight away but the feelings are churning slowly. After six days, Teri’s seven different warm fall colors were resurfaced by contemporary neutral reflecting the six inches of powdered snow outside. Necessary for sale, so I’ve been convinced. It is a bland canvas now bereft of personality, artwork, momentos, and photos with the ghostly ribbed duct dragon suspended above us properly prepared for new owners. The dragon reminds me of upcoming Chinese New Year of the Boar on Feb 5, 4717.
It has been a gargantuan and lonely multiyear task of sorting through all of my father’s, my mothers, Teri’s letters, my work, and my personal material. Reliving Teri’s letters that bridged our first year of married separation (KC to NYC) and the full blown exuberance. And through those from my parents I rediscovered, largely forgotten, that they were initially not supportive of our union. Still processing why, I know that its roots lie in the mismatch between the traditional Chinese parent vs. raised Chinese-American adult.
Soon, I will be downsized to a 10’X10’ storage locker and one room of furniture! Rachel had given me the Marie Kondo book to help me. I didn’t formally ‘tidy’ but began to look at the 39+7 years of accumulation partly as an anchor preventing me from embarking on my next journey. Teri had efficiently eliminated our suburban attic, basement and garage as she was without regard for any items that hadn’t been retouched. It took me much longer as I stewed but finally queried myself if I would likely miss it? A friend asked ‘Are you a minimalist?” No I’m utilitarian. It does feel simplified, right-sized.
Memories and images revisit me in night dreams and day dreams. I have now lived in this cool condo longer without Teri than with her. The walkability along the river to restaurants, theater, symphony, barber, financial advisor, bank, health club. I will miss it. The southern view of the Milwaukee River provided constantly moving water to quelch my type A fires. The 11’ tall wide open concept with exposed concrete and wall of windows comfortably engulfed the GI division or some 50+ energetic medical students, with all their shoes lined up outside.
And especially, Rachel and John’s wedding reception, little Jack at birth and at one, Dad’s 90thbirthday party, and his memorial. And this abode was endlessly infused by Teri’s presence, energy, and eye. Most of all, I can never erase her evocative ‘awake wake’ a few days before her passing nestled by family, friends, colleagues, neighbors: Ben’s white coat ceremony, heartfelt spoken recollections and appreciations, and her music all woven together into an indelible, timeless tapestry.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
It began auspiciously with the anticipated trek to Cullivan’s for Christmas to spend time with Jack and Naomi recently turned 8 and 6. A year ago, they challenged me to take my first downhill lesson (X-country was old hat). I survived that foray and had fun. So, this year, they wanted to ski with/ahead of me. Jack would launch above me, ski down to where I exited the magic carpet, and forge ahead, leading me on the descent.
As I prepared for bed that night, I began to pee pure blood. Although 6 weeks out from prostate surgery, that was the most likely source. I reached Steve’s son Dave a urology fellow who affirmed this. So not to worry. But some 15 minutes later, I became obstructed and began to worry. Then roiling waves of bladder cramps every 5 minutes dropped me to my knees but failed to extrude even a drop of urine. I realized I was in big trouble and the spasmodic pain unbearable. I mobiled upstairs to Rachel, then John. No answer. Should I call 9-1-1 with the ruckus of flashing lights and/or siren? No, but desperate, I crawled upstairs and awakened Rachel who was aghast when she saw me hunched over on the floor.
An interminable ride to the nearest major hospital Emergency Department from John, awaiting in the waiting room, admitted to a bed, vital signs, ultrasound and blood work between continued spasms of pain, and finally catherization – with immediate relief– as dark red wine poured forth. Do I have to stay and miss Christmas? Yes … I was wheeled to the darkened Neurological (stroke)/Medical/Surgical Unit at 3 am.
What stands out about the next 58 hours? Hospitals provide humbling experiences, loss of autonomy and privacy of privates, and, acute of awareness of others’ annoyances and algesia. But it was Christmas so … 5 golden hens, 4 calling chimes, 3 French caths, 2 nightingales and a plumber in a pear tree … who said with vexation from one to another (GI) plumber … ‘you retired at the right time’. With rotor rooter efficiency he removed countless clots – uncomfortable – but said he would have to repeat the process later. Yaoza! He explained that the urokinase released by the clots were initiating further bleeding causing a vicious cycle that could only to be halted by removing most of the clots. Finally, after the second round, the urine began to lighten while the continuous irrigation mopped up over the next 48 hours.
What about my nonmedical experience? The nightingales spoke lingua New ‘Joisy’ in rainbow Latino, African-American, Indian-Asian and white, all wonderful. I discovered a pregnancy that hadn’t been revealed to fellow staff. I learned of a tradition where the extended family are all given matching lounging PJs. I traded grand kid yarns with my roommate. And I recalled Teri’s ambling as I propelled my mobile tree decorated with urine container, 3 gallon bags of irrigation and 1 quart of IV fluid. Teri called hers her dancing partner and attached a picture of … who, you might ask? Colin Firth, of course, she had good taste.
My reflections. The amount of post-surgical and post-bleeding perineal pain – I’ll just say donut cushion – provided me full-scale empathy with all in-labor and post-partum women ... though I doubt it would be echoed to a male wuss. I had ample time to reflect and to be thankful. For effective emergency care, good hospitals, great nurses and consultants. For the chance for full recovery different from my bedridden neighbors. For FaceTime to see Flora in Christmas outfit in Denver, and Naomi and Jack buried under a flurry of presents. For thriving kids and spouses with whom I have great relationships. For Jack who made a big welcome home sign, for Naomi and I to build Legos together, and for Flora who chases milestones day by day. For delayed festivities so I could set up mathematical and riddle clues for Jack and Naomi’s Christmas present hunt. And for P which in NJ usually represents my mater Princeton, but for me on this fair holiday, simply the passage of Pee!
|I can't move|
|This is better, ahh, except for the hat|
|Christmas sweater galore!|
|Jack sort of sorting, Naomi 'lil chef|
|Happy New Year 2019 everyone!|
Monday, October 1, 2018
I just returned from a nearly 3 month summer sojourn in Vancouver. Richmond, the Chinese-dominant (61%) suburb lying on the flightpath to YVR, has evolved from tourist spot to second home. Teri adored it, I came to realize belatedly, as it resembled an upscale Chinatown similar to where (NYC) she grew up speaking Cantonese, Mandarin and English and due to the readily available comfort foods such as zongzi – sticky rice with pork shiitaki wrapped in bamboo leaves and bingzi – fried large flat dumplings filled with chives, bean threads, eggs typically laboriously prepared at home. And, in these environs there are days when I don’t see a single Caucasian.
Reading, art and sport spectating are my non-Tai Chi mainstays. I read 17 books mostly fun ones: Ava Lee (Canadian forensic accountant/martial artist) takes on big bad villains all over Asia (Ian Hamilton) and Inspector Chen deftly solves politically-charged crimes in present day Shanghai (Qiu Xiaolong). With good friends, I saw Crazy Rich Asians about ultrarich boorish Singaporean Chinese … and realized that those uberwealthy are close by right there in Vancouver. I collected a few new paintings ‘hair tornado’ by Hong Zhang and Water Moon Bodhisattva (Dunhuang Caves) by a Tai Chi buddy Fanny. And I watched Wimbledon, Tour de France and World Cup on the same day in a rare cosmic alignment of sports events.
And for me too, Vancouver is the peaceful side of my dichotomous existence distinct from my frenetic Stateside life. And so, I’ll try to distill it for you.
Altogether, I've made 21 trips to Vancouver totaling 14 months of which I’ve spent 12 months studying Chen style (original form) Tai Chi which places me chronologically as a beginner.
My daily rhythm circumambulates the Tai Chi practice schedule, and all other activities avoid Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and Sunday afternoons. I've dedicated myself completely to improving my Tai Chi form and avoid traveling whereas I wing 75,000 air miles the rest of the year. Without a car, I bike and walk and use Sky Train (100 yards away) and bus as needed. I also swim twice a week and try to go on one long 20-30 mile bike ride on Sunday morning.
In July and August the weather is usually pristine with pure azure skies embracing looming mountains and shimmering sea in a singular vista. It is rain-free with low humidity and in the comfortable 70’s daytime and sleep enhancing 60’s nighttime. Different from the sweltering Midwest, it is largely bug-free and the windows are screen-less. I chuckled when a heat advisory was announced in the low 80’s! However, in a harbinger of climactic change, over the past two years forest fires have sullied the air rendering it 10+/10 air quality rated as the worst on the planet … a mask failed to alleviate the coughing and congestion.
The food offerings in restaurants, food courts and Night Market are ethnically diverse, abundant and superlative especially the Chinese dim sum. I curtail eating out unless with friends as the tasty foods are all too gluttonously tempting. Instead I eat simply relying on vegetarian zonzi, dofu skins with mushrooms, gluten with cloud’s ear mushroom as well as a variety of dumplings to which I add vegetables and noodles. Based upon the messages from the Longevity Plan and China Study previously reviewed, I’m shifting from animal protein. Now perhaps 3-4 of 20 meals a week contain chicken, pork or beef and instead I eat seafood, eggs and plant proteins.
Richmond has become my annual Chinese immersion as most (80%) of the Choy Lee Fat club members are native Cantonese speakers from either Hong Kong or Guangdong Province. My parents both from Guangzhou spoke to me primarily in Cantonese up to age 3, so deeply imbedded phrases are now percolating up and I am understanding more (sick tang) and speaking a little (em sick gong). I study Mandarin and some Cantonese for 4 hours a week. Mary, my Tai Chi disciple-teacher (Dad’s former graduate student) dispenses linguistic lessons as well. Because she has degrees in Chinese literature, art history and Buddhist philosophy she is adept at providing much appreciated background to the vocabulary.
Tai Chi has become the epicenter of my Canadian life. Our Sifu (master) Paul Tam differentiates external kung fu (Choy Lee Fat that trains muscles for power) from internal kung fu (Tai Chi Chuan trains muscle, circulation, chi) the latter being a deeper practice. He stresses that Tai Chi should become more than exercise for health … to training with perfection of the forms. So in the last 2-3 summers, it has become a 2 hour a day 7 days a week boot camp and … some days I can barely walk. Mary has become my Tai Chi Tiger Mother – ‘do it again’ ditto, ditto, ditto. This summer with her help, I revamped my back, hip and knee postures. In a personal breakthrough, I can now experience the key internal hip sinking/relaxing. And, I can feel the surge in circulation out to my fingertips. At the Taiwan Fest in downtown Vancouver, we performed multiple synchronized routines of Tai Chi with the advanced disciples using straight swords and curved swords. As a result of all this, I am unequivocally in the best health – balance, flexibility, weight and core strength – of the last 20 years. Better for fall prevention and aging gracefully. However, it is not all fun and games. In front of the entire class, Sifu yells a critique (‘stick out your butt’) at me from 30 feet away or freezes my position to hold me up as a bad example … this I have come to learn is his expression of respect for my efforts to improve. Ahhh, I have become a full-fledged member and now have the scars to prove it!
|Taiwan Fest - Labor Day - Downtown Vancouver - Where's Waldo?|
|Ages 20 something to 83|
One book worth mentioning is a mind changer aptly titled How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan (Carnivors’ Dilemma). It concerns the psychedelic experience and its potential therapeutic use. What? Yes. He describes his ‘trips’. Then documents that psilocybin is more effective in treating refractory depression, drug addiction and fear of dying than anything else! The mechanism of action appears to be dissolution of the ego which produces the mystical vision of oneness with the world. He cites neuroimaging studies that localize the ego to the default mode network that includes the posterior cingulate gyrus. And the serotonin receptor 5HT2A mediates (or blocks) the psychedelic effects. Of necessity, the analysis intertwines psychology (distorted visions), neurobiology (brain function), philosophy (meaning of life) and places them in a somewhat comprehen-sible context. I can’t even begin to do it justice. But mind bending, mind expanding …
In Canada, I continued my unpaid academic work that maintains my mental activity including publishing a paper, editing guidelines on treatment of CVS in adults and several textbook chapters as well as preparing several talks for the fall. And, I was notified that I was awarded a second career award from our national pediatric GI (NASPGHAN) society for educational contributions – the Master Educator Award. It is a brand new award and I am to be the inaugural awardee! This is parallel to the Teri Li Award for young faculty except that it is designated for a senior member. I received the Murray Davidson Award from the Academy of Pediatrics in 2012. I wish Teri and my folks could be there.
I returned to the emptied condo in Milwaukee that has been staged and readied for sale. Teri’s jade tree fragrant blossoms welcomed me the moment I opened the door. The echo of my steps reverberated in the newly empty space. It was different. I took down paintings from the wall and with professional help moved them to Madison (90 miles away) where I will settle for the next several years while awaiting Rachel and Ben’s next stops. I'll be sharing a condo with best friend Steve’s sister and her husband who live in Southern California. Met with stager, realtor, photographer, art manager …
Not everything is smooth riding back at home. The day after I arrived home, with the sunny crisp fall weather in the 60s, I went on a 20 mile bike ride and had two missteps. Because my 30-year old bike that I ride daily in Richmond has no clips that lock my feet to the pedal, when I mounted my carbon-frame bike in Milwaukee with clips, I forgot to unclip them when I stopped and promptly lost my balance and fell over. Fortunately, just minor bruising. And it happened a second time ... ugh.
So, my dichotomous existence persists. The political craziness, the scheduled trips and talks and upcoming surgery all before New Year’s, plus the impending sale and move … contrasts with the ascetic, peaceful, physically-taxing, Chinese immersion experience. I think you can see how the latter has become an anchor for me to pursue intensive health, explore cultural roots, and experience simplified living. Nancy the realtor told me that as the condo sale progresses I will experience emotions and so it began yesterday when our cleaning lady-friend began to tear up as she finished … as we were both flooded with memories of Teri and this place. We hugged.
P.S. New pictures of Flora are uploaded below.
For added perspective from a very talented fellow Tai Chi student Maki see the new link @ http://kfstudy.wordpress.com
For added perspective from a very talented fellow Tai Chi student Maki see the new link @ http://kfstudy.wordpress.com