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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ban Assault-Style Weapons and Protect Children from Gun Violence

Given the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, I urge you all to send emails to your representatives to protect our children. You can look up your officials here:
Here's a template:

As a [pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)], I urge you to ban assault-style weapons such as AR-15's. Children need common-sense policies that protect them from gun violence, not that put them at greater risk for harm.

Among children and youth under 19 in 2015, over 70 percent of all homicide deaths and over 40 percent of all suicide deaths were the result of a firearm. Each day, an average of seven children and youth under age 19 die from a firearm-related injury. 

Gun violence is a public health epidemic, and must be addressed that way.

The recent mass shootings (Newton, CN; Aurora, CO; Santa Monica, CA; Orlando, FL; Las Vegas, NV; Sutherland Springs, TX; Parkland, FL) have all been due to easy and unnecessary access to the AR-15. The semi-automatic nature of the AR-15 makes it too easy to kill many people in a few seconds. In addition, an 18 year who isn't allowed to buy a pistol, should also not be allowed to buy an AR-15. In fact, the AR-15 was outlawed under the assault weapons ban, but the ban has lapsed since 2004. 

All children deserve to be safe from gun violence where they live, learn and play. I urge you to ban assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 and work to advance meaningful, comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation. 

Thank you for all you do for children and families.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Pantheon

The Vatican is like no other country. It's one of the 3 countries surrounded by another country (I've been to Lesotho, now I just have to go to the Republic of San Marino to complete the trio).

Entrance to the Vatican

We booked the tour from the official Vatican website that encompasses an audio tour of the Vatican and tickets to go in to St. Peter's Basilica.  Little did we know that it would take forever to walk from the Vatican to St. Peter's Basilica and we would have to wait in line forever at St. Peter's if we didn't get the tour that includes both. So we changed our ticket when we got there, but because it was peak season and the previous day was a holiday, there were MASSES of people. We must have waited in line for an hour even with tour/timed tickets.

Courtyard with St. Peter's Basilica in the background

The guided tour wasn't pleasant at all. There must have been 30+ people, and we would all be squished together with BO and all, trying to see what the guide was talking about. The guide was pretty good, however, and had a spunk about him. He was also kind of sexist and kept on hitting on one of the elderly ladies (similar age to him) in a way that was more trying to get her closer so she can see. He was very knowledgeable, but the sheer number of people and rush we went through was too much. The Vatican Museum was HUGE, but the rooms and doors were very narrow, so it really felt like we were being herded as cows. Since the Sistine Chapel (with Michaelangelo's "Birth of Adam") was the prime feature, starting from 10 rooms away, it was soooooo crowded - to the point where I couldn't even see the floor.

Masses of people in the "bust" room

Afterward we reached the Sistine Chapel, we went back to the start and went on our own pace, separating from the group, and did the audio tour because we had already bought it anyways (7 euro each I think).  It was much more pleasant, we could go our own pace, and just dial in the red number next to certain items.
"Sphere within a Sphere" by Arnaldo Pomorado in the Courtyard of the Pinecone

Aside from being herded, the place was AMAZING. It almost seemed selfish of them to be hording all these precious, beautiful works of art and statues in such a small space.

There were collections from Egypt: sarcophagus, sphinx, ancient tablets, ancient papyrus and mummies.
Egyptian statues
Pine cone from Egypt that the Courtyard of the Pinecone is named after

There was a room of mainly busts. One with famous sculptures of Roman gods/goddesses, room of the 9 muses, room of animals.
Mercury and our guide
Room of Animals

Here are some featured sculptures:

The courtyard had some of the most beautiful sculptures such as these:

Apollo, whose face is supposed to be the inspiration for Michaelangelo's David.

Laocoön and His Sons: priest of Poseidon who tried to expose the Trojan horse ruse by using a spear, but instead snakes were sent to kill him and his sons - unclear whether it was because he was right or because he did wrong.

Belvedere Torso: Said to be what Michaelangelo based his statue of "David"'s body off of.

Room of the gods:

Plato? and Homer, and a very fine, wise man

There was an amazing gallery of Tapestries with floor to ceiling tapestries that showed the life of Jesus on one side. There was a gallery of maps that that huge maps of every province in Italy with the middle hallway indicating the mountains in the center of Italy (world's largest pictorial geographical study). The ceiling was gilded with gold.


When we took our time, we realized the first time we had bypassed the Raphael rooms. So if we didn't come back and take our time, we would have missed The School of Athens and Rodin's Thinker, Matisse, and Salvador Dali!
School of Athens
The Thinker by Rodin
Salvador Dali

The Sistine Chapel is truly amazing. The creation of the world is in the center on the Ceiling with the "Creation of Adam" in the middle. There is truly something amazing in this painting showing the serene yet also very muscular Adam lounging as he receives life from God.

Sadly we missed the famous spiral staircase - but it's okay, we had a full day!
At the end, we "snuck" in with another group through short cut from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's Basilica so that we ended right in St. Peter's Basilica without having to wait in line. Our tour actually gave us that privilege, but we we had left the tour a while ago.

St. Peter's Basilica:
The Basilica was so big, it took some time to take it all in. It was neck straining to be staring up and looking around for so long. We just looked on Wikipedia for all the information. There was an option to climb the stairs (or take the elevator) to the top of the dome for a fee, but AB was pooped. 

During the terror of Nero and the persecution of Christians, St. Peter was martyred, crucified, and buried. Later, his tomb was moved to St. Peter's Basilica, constructed by order of Constantine in 324. It is a longitudinal building with a nave, 4 aisles, and a transept (cross shape). Charlemagne, King of Franks, was crowned here.

After the original church was in disrepair, the new foundation was built in 1506, and later Michelangelo took over construction until his death in 1564. It took 150 years and many artists to complete the basilica. The basilica is the largest church IN THE WORLD! It has beautiful Renaissance architecture and is one of 4 churches in the world that hold the title of Major Basilica (all in Rome). The dome is a daunting 190m long and 136m (448 ft) tall, and stands as the tallest in the world. It can fit 20,000 people.

Bernini constructed the great colonnade in the front with a first century obelisk in the center. St. Peter and Paul stand at the staircase to the basilica. Notable works of art within include Bernini's baldachin (large bronze canopy over the alter) and Michelangelo's Pieta.
The Baldachin
The Pieta

Along the wall are various statues depicting Jesus' side being pierced, St. Helen (emperor Constantine's mother), St Veronica who wiped Jesus' face with a cloth, and St Andrew (St. Peter's brother crucified in Greece).


We didn't visit the grotto, which contains the tomb of St. Peter as well as queens, kings, and popes.


The first day we tried to visit the Pantheon, it was closed due to one of the many random holidays in Italy. So we watched street performers and took pictures under the corinthian columns in front.


When we did visit, we were awed by the pure size of the structure. Although it is nearly 2000 years after its construction, it still stands as the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. It is pleasing to the eyes because it is as wide as it is tall (43.3 m or 142 ft). At the very top is actually an opening to the sky (oculus), so the floor has tiny holes that allow rain water to drain through. The dome is actually made from successively less dense material as it gets to the top, reducing the burden of the dome.

The Pantheon was a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods (per name), built around 0BC. The original was burnt down. If anything, it appears fire was the biggest nemesis of ancient buildings.


Thankfully, it was dedicated as a Christian Church, so it remains as the best preserved ancient temple. However, you can still see holes on the outside where marble used to be attached, but has been stripped for use in other buildings.

River outside the Vatican

Castel Sant'Angelo

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Last day in Rome

For the last day, we had a train leaving around 4p, so we had a chill day.

Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini
In the morning, we took a tour at Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini. It was just some site that I found on google with a really good rating (4.7), so I booked a tour a few days before (good to book a tour just in case). It was pretty cheap (12 euros), but it was one of my favorite places in Rome! It is located near the Alter of the Fatherland, Piazza Venezia, and the Trajan Column. It consists of a tour of ancient Roman excavations beneath a 16th century building with multimedia features. The multimedia features included projections, virtual reconstruction, hologram, showed what life might have been.

The Palazzo Valentini itself was built by a cardinal in the 16th century. But recent excavations of the palazzo's basement found the remains of an ancient patricia "domus" or home of Imperial Rome. It likely belonged to powerful families with its beautiful intricate mosaics, decorations, bathing spaces, and many more.

The first room we entered involved a large bath and also an area where the slaves worked to keep the bath hot. There were channels beneath the tiles that created heated flooring. There was also a balcony with intricate roof tiles and mosaic on the floor with marbles of 4 different colors.

In another room was a cold bath, while another had a grand staircase as the narrator describes what might have been. In the kitchen, there were remnants of plates and bowls with unfinished food within as well. In another area, it seemed as though a road ran straight through the house. The road gave insight to how roads were made in ancient Rome where gigantic rocks of 10-25kg were paved across Italy, all leading to Rome. Through really cool hologram/lighting, it showed a potential cause to the end of this beautiful house - fire.

In a separate exhibit, through hologram, a narrator tells the tale of the Trajan's conquest of Dacia, present day Romania, through the exquisite details on the Trajan column. The carving was magnificent in itself, but it had so much detail, such as depicting the different clothing of the different ranks, the god's helping Trajan from above, and much more.

There is a gallery of some of the sites:

Villa Borghese
For the rest of the time, we spent some time biking and walking around in the Villa Borghese. After walking all the time, it was nice to get on the bike and breeze through the Villa. This is a lavish Villa designed by Ponzio and Vasanzio. It was used by Cardinal Scipione Borghese as a party villa and as a place to house his art collection.

The Pincio hill on the south side of the park offers a beautiful view of Rome.

Within the villa is also a museum - Galleria Borghese, a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater, a zoo (even the outside of the zoo looks ancient and grand), an equestrian arena (Piazza di Siena), and various lakes including one that holds the Temple of Aesculapius.

Spanish Steps
For the rest of the time, we picked up our bags and hung around the Spanish Steps that led up to eh Villa Borghese. It was soooooo crowded, and we slowly made our way to the top. Afterwards, we wandered around and looked at all the expensive shops in that plaza (Tiffany's, Luis Vuiton, Versace, Gucci, etc.).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

1 Year Anniversary Thoughts

Well, it's been a year. Boy did time fly. It seemed like it was just a little while ago when we got married! Here are some general thoughts:

*Didn't seem that difficult to adjust to married life given we saw each other nearly every day prior to getting married. Although there were a few things of adjustment such as snoring, alarms, etc. Maybe AB has a different perspective.
*Somehow we simply split chores up among ourselves naturally without needing to designate him or I to do certain things. I like cooking; AB doesn't mind washing dishes; we got a robotic vacuum because we both don't like to vacuum; doing the laundry when our clothing runs out; AB tends to throw out the trash. It helps that we both try to help the other out when we see the other doing chores. So then we often end up doing chores together. Given both of our love languages are quality time, it really helps.
*Occasionally, since we know each other so well, it can be a little difficult not to use the "irritated voice." But AB catches on quickly and asks if I'm in a bad mood, and that helps diffuse irritation or at least remind me to be caring and nice when I speak, even though I know he'll love me no matter what. I've learned that when he doesn't talk, he probably is tired or upset, both of which requires some cool down time.
*Sometimes I do get irrationally upset or anxious sometimes. It helps when AB points it out. I also told him to hug me whenever I'm upset. That helps too.
*It's nice to have lazy days here and there to just sit on the couch and talk.
*Sometimes I wonder when the honeymoon period is gonna run out. Hm...
*We've developed some routines such as asking how each other's days went after work, watching Jimmy Kimmel every weeknight at 10:35pm, grocery shopping on Sunday nights. It's nice to have some regular things to look forward to.
*Financially we're both pretty frugal, so it helps to be on the same page.
*It's been really fun watching AB take care of kids during church. He laughs at the kids, I laugh at him laughing. Haha.
*It's also been fun to do each other's activities: tennis, swimming, baseball, kickball, football. It's really nice to always have a buddy to do everything with.
*Our first big trip together was to China - didn't really go too well given us being ill, the cold weather, some beguiling tour guides, pollution... Our second trip to Italy was massively planned, and went much better. I think we had more realistic expectations of what each other is comfortable doing each day. I generally like to over-pack my schedule, and AB is more a relaxed tourist. With some compromise, we had a great vacation.
*Premarital counseling was really helpful
*I like it when AB sends me messages during work - whether it's just a text about what to do at night, traffic update, or anything.
*We should really finish those marriage books we started.
*It really is the day-to-day that makes married life great. Not so much the extravagant dinners or shows (although those are nice in small bursts), but just the happy thought that I get to see my best friend every day!

Love you sweetie! 💗

Friday, October 20, 2017



After Venice, I was initially a little disappointed by the city of Rome. In Venice, right after we got off the train station a beautiful canal and beautiful structures stood right in front of us and all around us. But with Rome, when we got off the train station, it looked like we were just in another old city. But Rome did not disappoint. 

Day 1: Colosseum
The first day we went to the Colosseum. No matter how much grandeur we were expecting, we could not have expected a more amazing structure. It was very crowded and chaotic but it was large enough to hold everyone without getting in the way of us enjoying the stadium. 
And here it is! One of the most amazing structures that still stands!

Fortunately AB looked it up beforehand and found that it was important for us to get tickets for a specific tour to see the underground portion and the upper ring. However even when we booked on the first day when it was available, all the English tours were booked, so we had to book an Italian one. It turned out okay, although we didn't understand the tour guide, neither did about 15 the other people on the tour (American and Chinese).  We just listen to the American tour guy giving a tour to the other five people who were American, and looked up things on Wikipedia.
Inside the Colosseum. With the tour we got to go to the ground level here. You can see the Hypogeum below.
Here is a model of what the trap would have looked like to lift animals/slaves/people onto the stage.

View from the hypogeum

The history of the Colosseum was very interesting. Apparently it was used not just for Gladiator fighting, but also for regular performances like theatricals. Also because it was dedicated as a Christian structure, it was relatively spared of destruction.  Seeing the underground portion was very interesting, because that's where they stored the animals and the slaves. They also showed us a rebuilt of the trapdoor that lifted animals and slaves up onto the main stage.  Going up to the upper ring was very interesting too, because we got to see an overall view of the Colosseum from above. The size of the stadium was amazing, and it was also sad to see how much of it was destroyed.
View from the top floor (accessible by tour only). The seating areas are gone.

Arch of Constantine viewed form the Colosseum
Temple of Venus and Roma viewed from Colosseum, largest temple of Ancient Rome, constructed in 121. Destroyed by an earthquake in 9th CE.

Palatine Hills 
Since the Palatine Hills were right next to the Colosseum, we thought we would just visit the Palatine Hills and Roman Forum the same day as the Colosseum, but I think it was a bit of history overload for us. The Palatine Hill is supposed to hold the Lubercal, which is the cave where Romulus and Remus were found and kept alive by the she-wolf Lupa.
What the palaces on Palatine Hills looked like in the past. You can see the remains of the aqueduct featured in the back.

Hippodrome (stadium) on the Palatine Hills, that acted more like a sunken garden.
Remains - probably of Domus Augustana, which consisted of an outer room, huge pool with temple island, several other rooms around a semicircular hall, 2 level courtyard, and a long gallery with wings overlooking the Circus Maximus and its races.
The Palatine Hills were also where the wealthy lived in the past. This included royalty and politicians. However much of the structures from the past have become ruins. We could imagine how grand it was in the past, and it was sad to see that not much of it was left. Some of the buildings would have been bigger than Disney World. We could imagine the old living rooms, bedrooms, or Hippodrome (Stadium), and rooms where they entertain their wealthy guests. There was marble and art from all over the world. Despite all the ware and tear the buildings have withstood, we could still see certain intricacies such as the detailed patterns in the ceilings and mosaic floors.

Part of the Domus Severiana, last extension built by Septimius Severus. He ran out of "hill," so the arches were to build the building up to the level of the other buildings.
You can visit the House of Augustus and Livia (we didn't). The House of Augustus is supposed to the birth place of the first emperor of Rome, Augustus.

Roman Forum

What the Roman Forum may have looked like in the Late Empire looking from the South.

From the Palatine Hills there was a gorgeous view of the Roman Forum: from the Colosseum to the Senate House. This was where ancient government buildings and temples were located. It was also known as the marketplace where all the hustle and bustle was. Triumphal processions, public speeches, criminal trials, and commercial exchanges took place there. We wish we had listened to Rick Steve's guide, but the lonely planet guide also gave a good picture of what the Forum used to look like. At the southern end was the Arch of Titus that the Arch Du Tromphe was modeled after. There were also ruins of the Temple of Vestal Virgins, the Regia (ancient royal residence), and the Shrine of Vulcan that became the Comitium, where Senate had formal gatherings. The judiciary and Senate later moved to the Basilica Julia built by Julius Caesar.
View of the North. Left large columns are remains of Temple of Saturn. Temple of Vespasian and Titus next to it. You can see the Arch of Septimius Severus. The 3 columns in the foreground is the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The small columns in right lower area are remains of the Temple of Vesta.
Right bottom are remains of the Temple of Vestal Virgins. At top are the remaining columns of Temple of Antoninus and Faustina converted into a Roman Catholic church, which helped its preservation. To the right, the circular building is the basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano (saints of medicine), which incorporated remains of the Temple of Romulus.

To the south:
Looking to the South. Colosseum in the background, and Arch of Titus just before it. The arches of Basilica of Maxentius is partially visible to the left.

In the North, stands the 8 remaining columns of the Temple of Saturn which also functioned as a bank. Near it also stood a few remaining columns and pedestals of the Temple of Concord, Vesta, and Castor and Pollux. People performed animal sacrifices before them. 

Because the area used to be a marsh and sediments from the flooded Tiber would settle there, the level of the Forum had been rising with people paving over the sediments. 

It was a super hot day, so we took refuge in a tiny super expensive cafe inside and ate some yummy ice cream popsicles. We also waited forever for the bathroom because there was only ONE bathroom open for the entire place! We didn't get to walk through the whole thing...We were historied out. 

Trevi Fountain
We slowly strolled to the Trevi Fountain, featured in the film La Dolce Vita. It was beyond crowded. There were so many people we couldn't even reach the fountain to touch it. It was tradition to throw a coin using your right hand over your left shoulder backwards into the fountain, meaning that you'll come back to Rome someday. Alan warned me multiple times not to do it because I might hit somebody since we were standing several feet away and on the steps. I insisted on doing it the proper way. Sure enough, when I threw it, it hit some guy's leg. The guy was so nice, he gave me back my coin and Alan threw into the fountain facing forward. All the coins from the Trevi Fountain are collected daily and given to donation. After they made a law forbidding people from taking coins from the Trevi Fountain their profit increased significantly.

Piazza Navona
We continued our Excursion to the Baroque Piazza Navona. This is what one-way imagined to be the quintessential Roman Piazza. There were street artists, musicians, people sitting outside of restaurants getting a drink and enjoying the view. In the very center is Bernini's Fountain of the Four rivers. The four figures represent gods of the four major rivers: the Nile (Africa), the Danube (Europe), the Rio de la Plata (America's), and the Ganges (Asia). On top is an obelisk with a dove holding an olive branch representing the emblem of Pope Innocent X's family, whom, this fountain was dedicated to. The Pope's palace faces the fountain as well as the Church Sant'Agnese in Agone. 

The Ganges long oar represents it's navigability. The Niles head has a cloth draped upon it meaning no one knew where the source of the Nile was. The Danube touches the Pope's coat of arms because it was the closest to Rome. Rio de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins represents riches from the New World. He is also scared by a snake meaning rich men's fear that their money could be stolen. A myth has it that the Rio de la Plata is cowering from the church of Sant'Agnese, fearing this structure built by his rival Bromini will crumble on him.

We continued on to the Pantheon, but it was closed that day because of a Holiday. We decided to enjoy a nice meal in a small restaurant featured in the Lonely Planet, and we took the bus back. But we had to walk quite a ways to find a bus ticket as it seems all the bus ticket stations close around dinner time. For those visiting, note that there is an app to download for easy access to bus tickets!