The Perfect Ambiguity

I met a sweet, outgoing, and stylish Chinese classmate around my age, Yi at the summer improv course at the university. To be more specific, Carnegie Mellon University, where the best School of Computer Science and School of Drama coexists. Shortly after we got to know each other, she invited me to grab dinner with her husband at a Turkish place near campus.

That night, we talked about our experiences in the US as non native speakers of English. The couple shared their concerns about their lack of mastery of the English language, especially in getting their points across in group conversations.

I also expressed my appreciation to Yi, mostly on how brave I thought she was in the improv class we took together, where she absolutely put herself out there, jumping into actives and just, having fun with us the whole time.

Her husband, Lao Yang, a reserved while witty one, decided to share with me something they odd they encountered in Boston a few weeks ago, where he claimed that “my wife thought my response to the English native speaker was a little rude.”

“Tell me tell me tell me.” I urged.


“Okay, so we were hanging out near the Harvard campus,” Lao Yang said. “My wife had this CMU sweatshirt on. A middle-aged Caucasian man approached us, asking us if we went to CMU. I said yes.

“The guy asked, ‘At the School of Computer Science?’

“I said yes again.

“He was really excited, saying all the best things about how great CMU was in the field of Computer Science.

“I felt really flattered.

“Then, out of nowhere, he pointed to the young college girl next to him and went like: ‘She goes to Harvard, at the CS program too, which is better.’

“I stumbled. ‘Maybe.’ That was all I was able to respond. And the man never continued the conversation.” Lao Yang paused.


“Isn’t my husband rude?” Yi jumped in, “He should probably try harder to at least agree with that guy…”

“WAIT. Didn’t he ask you a question?” I interrupted them abruptly.

There was a pause.

“What?” Lao Yang was super curious.

I repeated: “The guy was trying to be funny by asking you a question, no? Which is better, CMU or Harvard, in Computer Science?”

“Oh my. That makes so much more sense!” They said.

There, a moment of revelation, where the three of us laughed so hard and gladly realized that the man wasn’t just an antisocial narcissist.

“Um, I am pretty sure he wasn’t asking a question. He didn’t raise his pitch at the end of the sentence,” Yi followed up with this piece of evidence.

“Only the yes/no questions will end in a rising tone. The which/what/how questions won’t,” I responded and gave a few examples.

Yi continued, “Right after that odd conversation with the guy, I told my husband that we could’ve said something nicer like ‘Oh although Harvard is better in its arts sectors, CMU is quite strong in Computer Science.’”

“Don’t worry. The guy might be confused too. I guess he was trying to make a joke that nobody understood,” I said.

“He must have thought we were such weird foreigners!” Lao Yang still felt guilty.

“Nah,” I said, “I am pretty sure he’d have told this same story to his English-speaking friends, and they’d probably have challenged him and told him that he was being rude too, saying that ‘my niece goes to Harvard, which is better.’”


After my invigorating conversation at the dinner with Yi and Lao Yang, I couldn’t stop thinking about their choice to say “maybe” at the moment. What I see is that there actually isn’t a right or wrong in cases like this. What if, as an English-as-second-language speaker, he didn’t feel awkward to ask the guy to repeat? Same for the guy as a native speaker too — he could have explained himself after hearing Lao Yang’s near-choking “maybe” — instead of offering mere silence and awkwardness in return. Right?

A lot of times, interpretation is based in part on our own lack of confidence, or overconfidence. I urge that we not be discouraged to continue the conversation.

P.S., Special thanks to Alex at the CMU writing center, who taught me the “multi-paragraph rule” about quotation marks. Alex said that it was an invigorating experience chatting with me, being able to talk about something they never had the chance to. There, I learned how to use the word “invigorating.”

If enjoyed this article, how about clapping it on my original post on Medium?

Mind If I Practice the Piano Privately?

My best friend called me on FaceTime, insisting that he play me a song he had been practicing recently on his electric piano.

Something Richard Clayderman for sure, I knew it. His piano pieces were always so familiar on the ears, so soft, and sometimes like an infinite loop that seems to have no end.

“OK! You are starting to loop the song!” I attempted to stop him at a seemingly appropriate place in the music sheet.


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What does Educational Technology Mean to Me When I Approach Educational Content Design?

I’m passionate about designing an experience for students to tell their stories, enhance their confidence, and see the value of what they’re learning. Because I’m passionate about letting the students feel like experts, I’m conscious of a problem in using educational technology wherein students do not feel confident or expert in certain tools. I solve this problem by focusing on the learning goals of the project beyond the technology.

I have been trying to understand the relationship between education and technology. On Wikipedia, I see that educational technology is "the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources". What does it mean to me when I approach educational content design?

In the case of a recent photography workshop, I was able to inhabit both roles, subject matter expert and a content designer. I learned a few things about how these two roles could interact and benefit from each other.


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Two things happened lately. 

As someone with the minimum sense of direction that you could ever imagine in a person, I follow the same path from one classroom to another. On my Tuesdays and Thursdays of this semester at 10:20 am, after my Application of Cognitive Science class, I'd go downstairs to the ground floor of Baker Hall, exit the building, walk to the fifth floor (ground floor) of Wean hall, take the stairway to go down to its fourth floor, and take the bridge to Newell-Simon Hall.

The stairway from fifth to the fourth floor has been good, where I find interesting posters about plays and events that I found intriguing. Until last week, that it has become fantastic

The photos I grabbed with my phones were not able to do the experience justice. So here is a link to a documentation of the installation.

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From One-Button Simplicity to Infinite Doubts

Last semester, I was working with several classmates on a design project that aimed to foster the documentation process for a group of high school students. These students were working in teams designing games or apps while did not have an existing documentation process. 

When we were researching on the scope and context of the high school students' projects to better understand their needs, we got the chance to interview their mentor, John. In our discussion, he discussed some current practices of students documenting and the challenges that came along with it. For example, how can students document moments, such as taking photos or videos, without "breaking the creative flow?" 

Sometimes certain technologies sound easy. Like a simple one-button that takes a photo of the room when anyone presses on it. However, John proposed a question:

Then who is supposed to be in control of it? 

I couldn't forget about the discussion on this button for the longest time.

   "Will you press the buttons?" 

"Will you press the buttons?" 

As a photography fanatic, I realized that I have this same one-button on my camera too: the shutter that takes one click to take one more photo. Being so effortless to take a photo, it also brings complexities: for one, by having more photos taken, it brings the challenge of managing a larger photo storage, spending longer time to saving photos (and potentially deleting some), and a lot more file management work. The questions, in this case, has become

How should I control the power of controling it? 

Let's Talk about Rejection Letters Like We Talk about...

Seven years ago before I came to the US, as an ambitious high schooler in Southern China, I applied for 12+ undergraduate college programs in the United States. Rejected by most of them, I was surprised to have spent some good amount of time studying the language of rejection letters. I quickly drafted a piece where I quote statements in the rejection letters and interpreted each statement in the form of a relationship rejection. It then went rogue in the college application BBS. Seven years later, I wonder if it is still relevant to me. Absolutely. I am applying for jobs, no? 

I hope you find some joy & peace in my writing below. 


The admissions selection committee has reviewed your application for admission for the fall of 2011.

I received your love letters the other day.



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