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Mother Knows Best

Guest Column Dawen Choy

Having spent more than two years away from home, I thought I could pretty much take care of myself. I can manage my own finances, cook for myself, do my own laundry and generally keep my room clean.

So when my parents came over to visit me during the summer, I was all ready to impress them with the things I could do. And, I must say, they were quite pleased with what they saw. Of course, parents being parents, they still managed to find little faults here and there. Like that unreachable pile of dust in the farthest corner of the room which, I could have sworn, was not there a day before when I was cleaning my room in anticipation of their arrival.

Nor were they happy that I kept my computer and hi-fi system on all the time. My mother complained that my room smelled electrically charged, something which I've never noticed before, and she blamed the smell on all the electronic equipment in my room. Despite my reassurances that there's no smell the rest of the year and my arguments that switching them on and off too often would result in damage, she insisted that I turn off my computer and hi-fi every night before I sleep. My father even half-jokingly connected this to the strange phenomenon that I tend to trigger off store alarms every now and then even when I'm just entering the store.

At that time, I did not pay much attention to what they said; after all, I found it ridiculous that merely leaving the computer or hi-fi on would create an electrical field of significant strength. And I'm sure the real reason why I trigger store alarms is my continual contact with radioactive materials, first during Junior Lab and then during my Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program work on neutron scattering, although my friends tell me I haven't started glowing in the dark yet. Nevertheless, since they only had my interests at heart, I guess I felt guilty disobeying them. So, every night hence, I have been faithfully powering down all the electronic equipment, even though it takes just about forever for Windows NT to shut down.

Any misgivings about my lack of independent thought were quickly swept away last weekend. The fire at East Campus occurred just one floor above mine, and, when the sprinklers came on, there was so much water that a significant portion of it seeped through the ceiling and poured into the rooms on my floor. It wasn't just a trickle; there was water coming out of multiple points on my ceiling, and a bowl I had out to collect the water was filled in less than two to three minutes. Worse, the water came down directly onto my computer, digital piano and hi-fi system. I barely had enough time to move the equipment over to my girlfriend's room next door (which, amazingly, was unaffected) before we were all evacuated.

As I surveyed the damage two hours later when we were finally allowed back into our rooms, I realized how fortunate I was to have followed my parents' advice. If the computer and hi-fi had been powered when the water came down, there could have been some sort of short-circuit. Of course, water still leaked into the equipment and caused some damage, and my VCR now squeaks when it plays tapes - but I'm sure the fact that they were turned off certainly helped my rescue efforts and prevented worse damage.

I guess I am probably exaggerating the usefulness of my parents' advice, and certainly they were not expecting a flood in my room when they advised me to keep my equipment turned off at night. But life works in strange ways, and perhaps this is one way of reminding me that I should always take my parents' advice seriously, no matter how "grown-up" I may think I am. Perhaps it is a way of reminding me that, with their extra 40 years of life experience combined, there were still things I could learn from my parents.

This wouldn't be the first time they have been proved right though. When I was a child, my parents decided that piano lessons would be beneficial to me, so they arranged for weekly lessons at the local Yamaha music school and then subsequently with a private tutor when I was older. To be frank, I hated it at that time because it meant having to sit down at the piano for an hour everyday, practicing classical pieces that sounded horribly dissonant to my untrained ear. And protest I did; there were quite a few occasions when my father had to drag me to class.

Still, I am glad now that my parents forced me to take those lessons, because they have added richness and an additional dimension to my life. I have begun to appreciate the value of that music education, but it is already too late to make up for those years of half-hearted practice. Nowadays, I play the piano only as a form of relaxation and I play only the tunes I like, drawn mostly from contemporary music like pop songs and movie themes. Although I will probably never achieve sufficient skill to ever consider making a career in music, it really doesn't matter, because I enjoy just sitting down at the piano and hammering out a few tunes.

Perhaps the lesson to be drawn from my experiences is that we don't always know what's good for us, especially when we're just kids with hardly a decade or two of life experience. I guess I was fortunate my parents did not give in to my protests and stop the piano lessons, considering how expensive those lessons were. But it also makes me wonder what else I have missed because of my occasional refusal to listen to my parents. Demonstrating independence of thought and action is a sign that we are maturing as adults and are no longer young children or teenagers, but I think this should also be tempered with the realization that we still have many things to learn from our elders. I know I probably sound like yet another cliched advocate of "family values," but hey, ever since I started turning off my computer at night I haven't triggered any more store alarms.

Maybe my parents are right again.

Dawen Choy is a member of the Class of 2000.