My piano composition for the Carol Klose Hal Leonard Piano Composition Competition

It’s been a while since I last competed in piano back in high school, but it’s fun to get into “competition mode” again. This is my first time competing in a composition competition. Hal Leonard is the largest music publisher and if I have a chance at getting published with them, then it’s certainly worth trying!

My composition is titled “Hurricane.” Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waniOKXZXgk&feature=youtu.be

Nanxi Liu Piano

Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherby Amy Chua is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. I give this book a A+. It’s a very fast and easy read (I read it in one sitting). Perhaps it’s because I can empathize with both Chua and her older daughter. There were certainly a huge amount of criticism for her book when you took quotes out of context:

“… I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”

The fact is, anyone who reads the book will realize the book is a self-deprecating memoir. Much of the time, Chua is making fun of herself and I’m laughing along with her. Many of the Chinese mother traits and habits she addressed were spot on:

  • The immigrant mentality: My parents, like Chua’s, came here as immigrants. It was hammered into my head from a young age that my parents came to the US so I could have a better future. Aka, I better not let them down after their years of hard work. For the better part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in a tiny apartment, surviving off of their $1,000/month income. I loved the smell of stale Chinese food because around 10pm every night, my mom would come home after waitressing at a local Chinese restaurant and give me a kiss goodnight. Caught on her outfit would be a hint of hot-and-sour soup. My mom had a master’s degree in systems engineering, but when she came to the US, she had to start over. From the age of 6, my parents constantly reminded me that they placed the stepping stones and now I had to make use of it to get to pot of gold.
  • The “you owe me” mentality: I completely agree with Chua’s statement about how Chinese parents feel like their kids owe them everything. It was absolutely expected from me from a young age that I would work hard so that I could one day provide for my parents. My parents laughed at the thought of allowances when I suggested it to them because my friends from school received them from their parents for doing chores. “We make you food, put a roof over your head, and provide you with clothing. You should be paying us!”
  • The daily comparisons: Almost every day, my mom would show me an article from a Chinese newspaper talking about an 10-year old piano prodigy. “She’s already playing Beethoven Concertos! Why aren’t you playing that yet?” Like Chua notes, Chinese mothers don’t say this to make their child feel incompetent. Rather, they say this because they believe their kids can be the best. Of course, as a 10 year old, I was furious and sometimes would even cry when my parents compared me to someone who seemed more talented. I look back and I’m actually thankful my parents would tell me about kids my age that were doing incredible things. It expanded my idea of what was possible. I learned to play a Beethoven Concerto two years later at 12.

While I can relate to her daughters in how we were brought up, I also see myself in Chua. I have a 10 year old sister and I treat her like a “tiger mother.” When I visit home in Colorado, my first words are, “Jamie, did you practice piano today? You only practiced 30 minutes?! If you want to get anywhere in piano, you need to practice at least 1 hour. How do you think you’ll pay for college? You need scholarships and if you can’t even get a music scholarship after learning piano all your life, how can you get any other scholarship? Do you know how lucky you are to be playing on the piano you have right now? I learned on an old broken piano and you have a beautiful, new piano. Go practice piano right now.” Yes, in a Chinese family, drilling college plans into a 10 year old is not a moment too soon.

Anyway, Battle Hymn is a delightful read. Even if you don’t believe in the methodology of Chinese parenting, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra ideas on hand for disciplining your kid.

My new song!

While I was in New York for a quick 2-day trip, I met up with my friend Ben Hedman. He’s a  rapper and Harvard Law grad (awesome combo right?). We’ve always enjoyed making snogs together. The last song we made together was years ago-while I was still in high school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCSEspQhmN0. Finally, met up again this year and decided to make another song. We only had a few hours to hang out so after we went to grab food, we decided to give each other an hour to make a song from scratch. We combined the “oldest” type of music-classical music with dubstep, the “newest” type of sound. Let me know what you think!

Young and Baroque YouTube

Kairos 50 Award and Dance Party on the NYSE

It’s an honor to have Nanoly Bioscience be named in Kairo’s Top 50 companies started in college.

As part of the Kairos 50, we all got to present our companies on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange! Attendees included the Prince of Jordan, the CEO of AutoDesk, founder of Vonage, CEO of Forbes, and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. I feel so lucky to be able to connect with these people!

My friend Julia from Spain and I have dinner at our hotel

My friend Julia from Spain and I have dinner at our hotel

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My friends from UC Berkeley and I take a photo together on Day 1

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Officially part of the first rave on the NYSE. Live performance by European DJ, Madeon

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Ringing the NYSE opening bell

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With a fellow attendee, who dressed glamorously in orange, having a drink on the NYSE.

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Presenting my company on the NYSE floor

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The personalized trophy they gave to the Kairos 50 companies

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Volunteering at Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour

As one of the youth advisory board members of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, we get to help out with her genius Born Brave Bus tour program. Before each Lady Gaga concert, there is an area set up outside for young people in the community to learn about clubs, activities, and mentoring groups nearby. I admire how much Lady Gaga cares about getting her fans involved with their community. This Born Brave Bus program features tents that showcase community organizations, a fun tour bus that people get to go inside and sign their names on the wall, and free food! Afterwards, the other advisory board members and I went to the concert!

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Front Row at the MTV Video Music Awards

Enjoying live performances from Taylor Swift, Pink, Green Day, Alicia Keys, and many more, the MTV VMAs this year was such a well-produced and entertaining event! I attended the event along with 2 other members of the Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation’s Youth Advisory Board. The Foundation’s is “committed to connecting young people in SAFE ways and empowering them with SKILLS and OPPORTUNITIES that will inspire them to create a kinder and braver world.”

Front row!

Sitting next to one of my FAVORITE comedians and actors, Russell Peters

Outside the Staple Center where the event is held

Completely packed!

The US Women’s Gymnastics Team that won gold at the Olympics!

Taylor Swift closing the show with her new single, “We are never ever getting back together”

My First Piano Recording!

This is my very very first time recording myself on the piano! Super excited to share music with everyone! A wonderful lady gave me a brand new AMAZING keyboard piano for my birthday a few months ago. The great thing about this keyboard is that you can directly record music on it so I thought I’d take full advantage of that feature :)

The song I decided to play is called The Moon Represents My Heart. It’s a famous old Chinese classic that was originally sung by Teresa Teng. It’s a beautiful piece so I wanted to share it with everyone :) I will post the direct audio download here soon (I need to upgrade my WordPress account to do this.)

Youtube version of the recording: 

Serving on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation Youth Advisory Board

Today, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation officially announced its Youth Advisory Board! Along with 23 other young people on the board, I am thrilled to help the foundation accomplish its mission of Empowering Youth and Inspiring Bravery. I had the opportunity to spend 3 days with the 23 fellow youth board members at the foundation summit in Los Angeles earlier this month. The experiences they shared of their obstacles and how they fought through them or are still fighting were some of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard. Working with this youth board this year, I am confident we will accomplish major milestones in helping young people be kinder and braver.

Support individuality and kindness. Join the Born Brave Nation.

walking in Hollywood after a day’s work with fellow YAB members

Our meetings were held in Paramount Studios!

Welcome dinner with Cynthia, Lady Gaga’s mom and President of the Foundation

The BTWF YAB banner!

7 Fabulous Days in Hawaii

Over the winter holiday season, my family and I went to Hawaii for a week. We planned our trip carefully to maximize the experience in Oahu. If you are interested in going to Hawaii, I hope this post helps you organize your itinerary!

As a disclaimer, vacationing in Hawaii is very expensive! We had to save a lot of money to afford all these activities, but we decided it was worth it. What’s the purpose of making money if you don’t spend it to enjoy life, right?

Day 1: Arrival in Honolulu

We arrived in the evening at Honolulu airport and checked in at the Waikiki Gateway Hotel. The hotel was about a 25 minute taxi ride from the airport. We had not booked a rental car before our arrival. When we discovered that the cheapest rentals for cars were $100/day because it was peak season, we opted out of a rental car. Make sure to book a car ahead of time! The taxi ride was about $35 + tip.

We chose to spend our time in Waikiki Beach in Oahu. Waikiki is an area in Honolulu. Our hotel was situated right by the shopping area that lines the streets of Waikiki. We took a walk in the area and chose to eat dinner at Ezogiku, a ramen house. I recommend the seafood ramen or ramen with wonton.

We took it easy on the first night we got there because of the tiring 9-hour flight from Colorado.

Day 2: Expedia Activity Booking, Waikiki Beach Chilling, Surfing, Paddle Boarding 

In the morning, we attended a workshop hosted by Expedia Activities. We booked our hotel and flight package with Expedia so they sent us an invitation to their activity center. There are activity/vacation specialists there that give you a list of activities available in Hawaii ranging from day trips to see the volcanoes on the Big Island to whale watching to swimming with dolphins. We chose to use this service because it is very convenient. We had our entire week planned during this two-hour long session. They booked our activity ticket and transportation for each activity so we didn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week. The activity prices were the same (and some at a discount) as if you were to book it individually with the company hosting the activity.

For lunch, we went to Shore Bird. The restaurant is right on the beach so the view was a perfect compliment to our Maui Maui Burgers. The price per entree is about $15-$20. The restaurant has no windows so don’t be surprised when a seagull hops around next to your feet.

In the afternoon, I signed up for a group surfing lesson ($50 for 1.5 hours) at the activity tent on Waikiki beach. They provide the surf board and wetsuit. I highly encourage taking a surf lesson for first-timers. The instructor was excellent so I was able to surf on the first wave I caught.

Picture my dad took on the beach of me paddling out to the waves

Afterwards, I went paddle boarding with my sister and dad. Paddle boarding is where you stand on a surf-board like platform and have a paddle to move yourself around! The paddle board rental was $30/hour.

A picture my dad took of me paddle boarding

For dinner, we went to Keo’s, a Thai restaurant near our hotel. The entrees are from $15-$45. Their desserts are a must-have. I recommend their Mud Pie ($9), a chocolate lover’s favorite. The main dishes was pretty good, but the ambiance of the restaurant is what makes it a worthwhile dining experience.

Day 3: Polynesian Cultural Center

If you ever go to Honolulu, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a destination you should certainly make time for. I encourage the full-day activity package, which includes the entrance fee into the park, buffet dinner, and post-dinner theatrical show. We purchased the “ambassador package”, which is one of the upgrades, because it includes a tour guide, upgraded buffet menu, and front-row seats during the performances. The package is about $145/person. Our transportation came to pick us up at 10am to take us to the PCC, which is on the north side of the island (Waikiki is on the south side). It was about an 1.5 hour drive. The PCC is like a theme park featuring six different areas, each representing a different Polynesian island. There are hands on activities such as basket weaving (in the Samoa area), hula dance workshop (in the Hawaii area), and dance performances in each. There is a mini-river that snakes around the park and you will get to row in a canoe in it.

A unique element of the PCC is that it is run by Brigham Young University. Many of the tour guides and performers are students at the BYU Hawaii campus. They work at PCC in return for tuition payments. Thus, the ticket costs all proceed to providing for the university.

The park closes at 5pm, but that only concludes the first half of the PCC experience. The dinner is hosted at PCC and it is in a high ceiling, island-themed dining hall. The hosts and waiters are all in costume. We chose the Prime Buffet diner menu, which includes a sushi bar, unlimited crab legs, salad bar, and dozens of other options.

Following dinner, we explored the mini-shopping area, which featured island souvenirs. Then, we entered the amphitheater for the nightly, award-winning, theatrical performance called “Ha: Breath of Life.” The show has extraordinary visuals, exciting performances, and a touching story. During the intermission, they served us dessert, which came with our tickets. My sister’s favorite part of the show was at the end with the fire dancers.

This picture was taken in the Polynesian Cultural Center. Notice the temporary tattoo on my left arm? That was one of the fun activities we did at one of the tribes.

Day 3: Pearl Harbor

Our tour bus came to pick us up at an inglorious time: 6am. We arrived at Pearl Harbor around 7am because the bus makes multiple pickup locations. We bought the multi-tour package ($70/person, kids are free). This includes visiting the Battleship Missouri and the famous Arizona Memorial. The entire activity lasted until at 2pm. In between the tours, we also visited the Pearl Harbor museum on-site, which features a gallery of video interviews of Pearl Harbor survivors.

My dad and I on the USS Missouri

Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial: Picture is one I took from the room with the names of those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona

For dinner, we went to Roy’s, an Asian-fusion restaurant. This is one of the highest rated restaurants on Yelp in Honolulu. The atmosphere is fantastic, service is great, and food is delicious. We ordered the 3-course prix fixe menu ($50/person), which included your choice of appetizer, main course, and dessert. I chose the salmon with rice for my main entree.

I ordered the salmon with rice at Roy's Restaurant in Waikiki

Day 4: Chilling on the beach and swimming with dolphins

We spent the morning relaxing on Waikiki Beach. The water is cold, but because of the sunny weather, you will quickly get adjusted to the ocean temperature.

My sister and I building a sandcastle. It has a tunnel through it too!

Around noon, our transportation came to take us to Sealife Park, a marine-life activity park that was on the North side of the island so it took about an hour to get there. The general entrance of the park is $30/person, which gives you access to the sea animal petting area, sea lion show, and dolphin show. The dolphin show is spectacular and demonstrates the extraordinary intelligence of the animal. However, we went there specifically to swim with the dolphins.The swimming with dolphins costs about $100/person. You are in the water with the dolphin for about 30 minutes, but the actual individual interaction with the dolphin is only a few minutes since you are in a big group with people taking turns playing with the dolphin.

Here I am dancing with a dolphin!

For dinner tonight, we went to Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, a highly-rated Japanese tempura restaurant on Yelp. Each entree is about $20-$25. The entrees come with miso soup and salad. I enjoyed the lively environment of the restaurant. The food was good, but I haven’t eaten a lot of katsu before so it’s hard for me to judge.

Day 6: Submarine Underwater Tour and Catamaran Dinner Cruise

We took a two hour submarine tour with Atlantis Submarines. There is a catamaran that takes us to the submarine that is floating near the surface about half a mile from the beach. The submarine has individual seats and large windows for each passenger so we all get a clear view of the underwater scenery. We saw turtles, a plethora of exotic fishes, a sunken ship, and a sunken airplane. One of the interesting things I learned is that the company, Atlantis Submarines, purchases old planes to sink into the ocean for the specific purpose of allowing people to see a sunken airplane during their tour. The tour was about $100 per person and children have about a 50% discount.

50 feet underwater next to a sunken ship

After the submarine ride, we headed for our Ali’i Kai Catamaran dinner cruise. It was about $75/person. The catamaran sails around the Waikiki beach area from 5-8pm. The dinner is an Asian fusion buffet featuring dishes such tofu chicken, mashed potatoes, salads, and curry. Shortly after dinner, performers showcased dances from various Polynesian countries. The performers then invited audience members to join them in the jovial dances. At 8pm, we headed for the top of the catamaran to admire the weekly Friday fireworks show on the Waikiki beach.

Picture of the fireworks show taken from the catamaran

Day 7: Return home!