Sunday, July 31, 2011


Officially I graduated from ETSU, with a master’s degree, at the Graduation Ceremony in May, 1964. By then I was all set to go to Illinois in September. I moved to another apartment by myself on the east side of town, as George Kuan, my roommate, had left for a summer job as usual. I bought a 1956 used Chevy sedan, and started to drive to work.
The Graduation Ceremony was well attended; I felt that everyone was there. It took quite awhile, I was happy to take some pictures with some friends.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Great Lakes Research

Great Lakes Research was part of Great Lakes Carbon Company. The name originated from when it was located in Chicago, near Lake Michigan. When the research laboratory moved to Elizabethton, Tennessee, in 1962, the name was not changed. In 1963, I was hired as a summer worker. Then I started as a full time research specialist in January, 1964, working until mid September of the same year. At GLR, my project was “the regeneration of chromic acid” to a higher oxidation state, which I did successfully with a nice report. I later I worked on another project with GLR in 1976, after I returned to ETSU as a faculty member. At that time I was asked to purify nuclear graphite by removing metal impurities until they fell below the ppb level. This was a much tougher project and quite expensive. At the end, we applied for a US patent for GLR for the technique of removing the metals with chlorine gas, using a thermal cyclic transport processes at a very high temperature. I was very happy with the result, but was very disturbed by the releasing of some chlorine gas into the atmosphere.
Even though I was paid a good salary in 1964, when they offered me the opportunity to continue working, as I was preparing to leave and go back to school, I did not hesitate for a moment but said my goodbyes. I appreciated the two years postponement which the University of Illinois had given me, allowing me the opportunity to get a master’s degree and to work at Great Lakes Research, and I was anxious to continue my education. The picture below was taken at GLR.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Other Important People at ETSU

The other most important person for this foreign student was definitely Mrs. Mamie Lily. She was the stockroom keeper. She was well organized and kept the stockroom like her closet, neat and spotless. Most importantly, she knew where to locate everything. This was very different from the stockrooms I knew at National Taiwan University. Her place was the gathering center for all lab assistants (both graduate and undergraduate students) and teachers. We usually took our breaks there, had our donuts and drinks there, etc.  She brought treats to the stockroom regularly and she even invited me to meet her husband and an adopted daughter. She was kind in every way I could imagine. I feel very badly that I do not have a picture of her, even though her cheerful image is fixed in my mind forever.
Another important person was my thesis director, Mr. Clifford Boyd, who was an analytical chemist. At that juncture of the department, there was no physical chemist on board who was active in publishing. Mr. Boyd was active so I decided to choose him, even though he was not in my field of interest. He worked with me and I got some opportunities to play with a polarograph machine. Since most of the courses at ETSU were quite easy for me, I took as many courses as possible every quarter. By the end of the 1963 fall quarter, after just four quarters, I had finished all my requirements and my thesis. A master’s degree in this time frame was probably a record at ETSU. At the beginning of 1964 I started a full time job at Great Lakes Research.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dr. D.G. Nicholson

He had a great loud voice; you could hear him in the hallway anywhere on the Chemistry main floor during the two years I was at ETSU in 1963 and 64. He was a man of big heart and warm spirit. He had three degrees from the University of Illinois and was one of the earlier students of Baylor, who was a famous inorganic professor at Illinois. Nicholson knew an enormous amount of descriptive Chemistry, as did all of Baylor’s students. He worked for Fisher Scientific Company before coming to ETSU as the chairman of the Chemistry Department. He was not only kind to his students but also to all of his faculty members, regardless of whether they were competent or not. I will have more to say about that later. He took care of me and treated me like my father. He was one of the elders in the Presbyterian Church and was impressed by my singing in that Church Choir, which he considered as the best around. (That was the first time that I encountered singers who were paid to sing in the choir – some for each part!) That a chemistry student could sing in this choir was remarkable! He did a lot of demonstrations in the classroom; students either loved him madly or were scared of him because of his voice and manner! 

I was fortunate to meet this man. He played a more important role in my life than I realized at the time. Later, my life was mingled with his again. I will talk more about this later.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What is a “girl friend”?

Recently my junior high school classmate Chen called us to tell us that he and his girl friend were coming to visit us. The last time we saw each other was more than 58 years ago. We saw each other every day for three school years between 1952 to 1954. After that, we went to different senior high schools and colleges. We were all busy in our own ways and never had a chance to see each other until recently. Janice asked me what was meant by “his girl friend” so we could treat her properly. After 58 years, how well do you think I could understand Chen’s meaning? 

The visit was great! We had three nice days together. It turns out that they both lost their spouses because of disease quite a while ago and the two families used to know each other well. They were just continuing their friendship. The definition of “girl friend” is different depending on culture, religion, and tradition. It changes by location, time, and certainly the ages of people involved. Chinese in general did not have a good definition of girl friend in the 1960’s period. I have wondered how many people were “forced” to marry someone because they went to a movie together or because they had held hands together. The force of tradition when I was growing up was that serious. I was criticized because I wanted to know more about girls. 
In 1964, I met a local Tennessee girl who was raised by a single mother. Three daughters lived in Kingsport with the mother. The oldest was married, I dated the second daughter and the third was in high school. This family gave me a wonderful impression, and the girl I dated certainly gave me the caring and considerate concern which I had never experienced before. This was so new. I was not fully certain how to accept what I was given. It took a bit of time to digest! When do you change the status of a “girl friend” to a different level?  When you read here you might wonder what am I trying to tell you, depending on what background you have and how old you are … etc.

Friday, July 8, 2011


This was a brand new word, or concept, to me. There is really no equivalent in Chinese. My first experience was a blind date. A friend’s fiancĂ©e needed me to accompany her friend to a movie. I thought that would be fine. After the movie, we all got together in the lobby of the girls’ dormitory. The dorm at the time closed at 11pm on the weekends. Everyone was chatting, kissing, and playing in different corners of the lobby. My date, Brenda, who was supposed to have already been engaged to someone else suddenly asked me if I was going to kiss her.  I was certainly not prepared to say”yes” to her.  So I told her, “absolutely not”. Certainly the ending was not very pleasant! There just was no “dating” for fun, in China! I had to learn quickly, but I did not anticipate any problems!
Then, I started to date Tish Sevier whose home was in Greenville. She lived in an apartment on top of Preas Hill on Buffalo street. I later met her parents at their home for Thanksgiving dinner. She was “requested” to meet with the Dean of Women, since she was seen with a Chinese TA on campus. In 1963, that was still a no, no! And this Dean of Women was just trying to do her job.  Tish told the Dean of Women that her parents did know that she was dating a Chinese and I was even invited for Thanksgiving dinner.
Later, when Taotze, my junior high school friend, came to visit me in Johnson City, she drove to Bristol to help me pick up him at the Trailway bus station, since she had a VW at the time. We all took this following picture together. I certainly learned quite a bit about dating from Tish. 

Taotze and I even went to a picture booth to take a picture together, in the American style!