Lessons learned from Christine Lagarde

Christine_LagardeChristine Lagarde is an extremely successful (the first finance minister of France and the first woman chairman of the IMF).  Below are a summary of quotes we collected.

On physical fitness

“We only have one body and we’d better look after it because that body keeps us going and will carry us through the day, through professional life and personal life. We don’t have time, but we must do the preventive checkups and keep physical training as much as we can.”

On crisis

“Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, you will get it wrong anyway. So you might as well be optimistic.

Never give up, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But we should never give up.”

Skill sets required for her role in lobbying so many countries

  1. Listening skills: where they are coming from, what are their vested interests, what is their time table at the back of their minds, what are the clear obvious and hidden agendas- the ability to listen and to catch all these
  2. Communication: describe what is in it for them in their future, how they can sell to their public on what is in the plan and yet be honest. “This is how we are today, these are the challenges, but there is a way out of it and let’s get on with it.”

Virtue of memorization in learning math

The biggest ones in word cloud associated with memorization are probably “boring” and “meaningless”.   People never hesitate to trash memorization and praise free creative learning.   To me, however, memorization means discipline and foundation building for creative or any other learning, dumb or smart. Without the foundation and/or frame built by memorization, there is no ground for free creative thinking.

In a math class with Professor Patrick Gallagher at Columbia University, one of our first quizzes was to write down the exact definition of “partition.” I went to the professor and protested, “Why do we have to write it out word by word; can’t we just get it close?” Professor Gallagher smiled and said nothing.  He might have been thinking, “She really does not know what she is talking about.”

In order to pass the quiz, I memorized the definition of “partition” word by word. I am still enjoying the many benefits of it: the meaning of MECE (“mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive”) and the method of problem solving.   I apply this method of problem solving in my data analysis frequently.

“Limit”, “continuous” are among some other definitions that I memorized.    Just reading the descriptions won’t give you anything. Reading the definitions again and again, until I memorized it by default, helped me develop understanding and appreciation of the art of mathematics. The understanding of limit is essential in calculus; it was as beautiful as the best poetry “to hold infinite in the palm of your hand” (Tagore).

No pain, no gain.   Where do we think we are going with only fun and no pain?   The true reward at the mountain top does not come free with easy roaming.


Financial literacy for the young | 理 财知识 从小开始

I volunteer at a financial literacy program jointly sponsored by PBS and HSBC.  The program is catered to high school students.   The experiences with the high school seniors reinforced my focus on financial math for children.

These seniors are very close to 18 years of age, which means they would be legal to vote soon.   We talked about getting money for college and finding jobs.    But none of them knew how social security tax worked.   None of them knew the two ways the US government raised money: tax and borrowing.   It is not their fault.  They had not been taught somehow.  So we have to do something about that!

Below is a video of a series of interviews with college students.  They know pop trivia very well but not at all about their financials.  Quite a few mention their parents take care of the finances (and therefore they don’t have to know).  The young urgently need to learn about financial math.   We need to make financial math plain, simple, fun and everywhere.


On career and jobs | 职业和工作

Sometimes we read/hear complaints about not able to find a great job despite having advanced degrees and/or having been published. But we have never heard anyone complain of not being able to find a great job despite having some highly sought after skills.   The importance for your career is what you CAN DO now; it is not what school you graduated from, or the master/PhD you obtained a long time ago.

Liberty Science Center on New Year’s Day

Liberty Science Center's New Year's Day visitors

Liberty Science Center’s New Year’s Day visitors

On the first day of 2016 we were at the Liberty Science Center (http://lsc.org/). I was surprised to see so many cars on the parking lot, recalling two months ago there were hardly any people on October 31, 2015, which is understandable, as normal parents took their kids to trick or treat rather than to the Liberty Science Center.

LSC can definitely be better by having more hands-on activities.  And, for a science center, it is missing a telescope.  However it is still a great place.

I saw a 50 lb. snapping turtle that looks more like a rock in the water than a creature. I saw colorful poisonous frogs. I learned that snakes, spiders shred their skins like an old piece of clothing when they are outgrowing the old ones. Some snakes even shred the skin once every two weeks.

I saw a plastic ball floating in the air, seemingly all on its own, and a baby boy who just learned to walk trying to reach it. This led me to read up on Bernoulli’s principle (伯努利定律): the faster liquid moves, the lower air pressure gets=> an ordinary air balloon can stay afloat if air blows at it from below upward=> how airplanes are designed to fly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernoulli%27s_principle

How it feels like to be walking on a bar many feet above ground like a construction worker

How it feels like to be walking on a bar many feet above ground like a construction worker

The best part in the LSC experience is meeting children who seem so knowledgeable about science.  I have met kids how can recite Newton’s three laws and explain how rockets work.  Elon Musk blogs at LSC’s blog as well!


The most important reason that I go to LSC is to break away from the daily habits, and to ask questions on what I have taken for granted and to learn the physical world, not for academic requirements, but for the mind to stay alive.

Lastly, I just learned that it was my friend, Jerry McCann, the former two-term mayor of Jersey City, who brought the Liberty Science Center to Jersey City.   The renaissance of Jersey City began with Mr. Jerry McCann.

Two Chinese schools & one great library

library Chinese books

Chinese books at Livingston Library

According to Wikipedia, Livingston, NJ, has about 30,000 people and about 20% Asian and 50% Jewish.

Victoria reading at Livingston Library

Victoria reading at Livingston Library

It has two Chinese schools within one zip code and minutes from each other: Livingston Chinese School李文斯頓中文學校and Livingston Huaxia Chinese School 李文斯顿华夏中文学校.   During 2007–2008 budget year, Livingston allocated 60% of local property tax to  the Livingston Public Schools. 

Pulbic Library at Livingston

Elizabeth & Victoria at Livingston Library

Additionally, a separate budget of 7% of all municipal services went toward the operation of its public library. According to library statistics collected by Institute of Museum and Library Services, Livingston Public Library was ranked 22 out of 232 municipal libraries in New Jersey based on total circulation in 2006.

Livingston Chinese School (李文斯頓中文學校) was founded in 1983 and opens on Sundays from 1:30 to 4:10, 是唯一在北澤西提供以傳統正體字為主的中文注音符號,漢語拼音, 及粵語三種教學的中文學校.    Livingston Huaxia Chinese School (李文斯顿华夏中文学校) was founded in 2002 and opens on Saturdays (每星期六上午9:00到下午2:05).

From the numbers, it is apparent that the town places strong emphasis on education and culture.  Add these to low crime rate and vicinity to NYC, this is surely a great place to live.

Slow is fast in teaching children

Stephen Covey, in “7 Habbits of Highly Effective People”, described how relationship with people is “slow is fast”.  The faster or “efficient” you want it to be, the slower it is.  The slower you are in developing the basis of a genuine relationship, the faster the relationship builds.

Shark by Elizabeth

Digital art by Elizabeth

The same is true for teaching young children.

Be slow, very slow, try to understand what he/she understands and does not understand.   We each live in our world and can be universe away from what a young child’s world is if we assume our logic is universal.   To assume every child must be fast learner without any difficulty is stupid and robotic.

Actually, everyone, except the rare few, learns fast when the start is slow because our minds need the time to link the new with the old.    Like a building, only if you take the time to make sure foundation is solid can you build a tall one that does not collapse soon.

Sit down on the floor, so that you are lower than the child.  Now look up at the face of the angel and ask her “can we play a game together? If one hand has 5 fingers, then how many fingers I will have if I have 3 hands…”

Financial math equations

  1. Revenue – Expense = Profit,
  2. Net worth= Asset – Liability

My dear children learned while we were shopping at IKEA that:

Revenue & Expense by Elizabeth

Revenue & Expense by Elizabeth

  revenue = money coming in  expense = money going out

  profit = revenue expense

Money that mommy earns from her work is revenue

Apartment rental income is revenue

Money we spent paying for everything we use is expense

  asset = things that bring in profit

  liability= things that do not bring in profit

Can you please tell me what are the assets and what are the liabilities that you know?

Let kids learn about money and finance 钱

Money (钱)is very important in life, although it is quite pointless to compare it with things that are best not to be measured in money.   Money is money.  It does what it does.  It is very important.  Period.

I ask my children “If you have $100 and you spend $100.  How much do you have left?”  “Nothing left”.   “Likewise, if you have $1,000,000 and you spend $1,000,000.  How much do you have left?”  “Zero!”

That is right.  To be rich, it is not only important that one needs to make money, but also save money (节省).   My children know that we should buy things on sale as much as possible.

We were looking at historic prices of properties in Zillow.com.   I showed them the time series of prices and point to the trough in 2009 “this is sale price” and the peak in 2005 “and this is the full price that we should never pay for. “

When we go shopping, I try to let my children pay.   Before we come to the cash register, if our shopping cart is not that full, I will ask them to try to sum up how much the total is and compare how close our calculation is to the actual.

There are just so many places and so many things to learn.   I have explained to my children what a bank does, interest rate, what collateral means and so on.   “Why do you think the bank employees are so nice to us by giving us candies/hot chocolate when they are helping us to keep our money?”