Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Milan: City of Trickery

This past weekend, G. (’19), J. (’20), and I travelled to Milan, which is possibly the city with the most unexpected surprises so far. Here is a guide so that if you choose to visit Milan (it was fun!), you will be equipped with knowledge:
I actually like anchovy pizza.
1. The Entrance Test
After you arrive at the airport, there will be a friendly local who will offer to help you buy metro tickets. Ignore them. It’s extremely easy to buy tickets with the machines. These people will take your change or demand money for their service. Luckily, I recognized what the woman was doing and firmly told her we didn’t need her help, so we weren’t duped.

2. The Infinite Metro Loop
We were on the metro. The next stop would have been the stop we were going to get off at. BUT to my shock and great confusion, the metro started reversing direction. What? What is happening??? We arrived at the stop at the airport, and suddenly the metro started running in its original direction. This is the “Oscillating Metro Trap” where if you aren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t notice that you’re travelling back and forth between these three stops forever. To escape, get off at a stop, then walk to the other side of the metro station.

3. The Unattainable Treasure
On top of a terrace (Duomo).
Although The Last Supper is in a museum, you actually need to make a reservation a month in advance for tickets. Or, you could relent and buy a pricey tour, since lots of tour guides buy out all the tickets for this famous painting. Unfortunately, we did not know this, so we did not see it.

4. The Sea of Peddlers
In almost all the tourist places, there are many people who will try to sell you something. In short, if someone tries to talk to you, shut them down. I was impressed by G. (’19)’s ability to utterly and repeatedly reject such friendly-seeming people, although he was approached at least eight times. Meanwhile, unsure if these vendors are sexist, but J. (’20) and I were not asked once.

Milan is quite beautiful, and the city has great gelato. (The pizza is yummy, but not extraordinary). In all, I think my favorite part during the trip was when we were walking back from the Duomo under a golden cloudy sky at sunset, with rain droplets gently splashing down, and with a grape and chocolate gelato cone in hand, a rainbow behind me and the music of a talented street guitarist fading, I realized just how lucky I was to have MISTI.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Hornet Adventures

It never rains. EVER!
What is France like? Not the tourist-y parts, but real France. In Southern France, because of the nice weather, a lot of people eat outdoors. This is very apparent in the small properties that restaurants own, where there are often tables set outside rather than inside the building.

In all of France, the food is better than in America. For around six euros, I can get a dessert, entree, and appetizer at a cafeteria near the school. More effort is made in the presentation of the dish, and the desserts aren't too sweet. It's also a well-balanced meal, including carbs, protein, and vegetables.

Boulangeries are amazing.
I think it's the combination of the great food and the great weather that my coworkers and I were placed in a critical situation today. Because of the great weather, we decide to eat outside for lunch. And because of the great food, various insects are attracted. Like hornets.

For context, most of my coworkers are masters students. In France, internships are only granted to masters students since at this step in the education ladder students understand what they are researching. Like I've mentioned before, my coworkers are at least four years older than me. And besides J. ('20), they are all guys.

Yesterday, the first hornet attacked. Our lunch was cut short as the large, menacing hornet hovered over someone's plate. Thus, a masters student in the navy (imagine a rather athletic, tall guy) proceeded to smash his chair on the table. As he puffed out his chest, assuming dominance over the meager insect, he then scrambled back in terror when the angry hornet zoomed out from under the chair.

Today, the hornet returned, probably thirsting for vengeance. Somehow, it knew to aim for the plate of the guy who was allergic to hornets. I didn't know this at the time, but apparently he had quite the traumatic experience recently when a hornet stung him on the lips after he sipped some Coca Cola.

While four out of the eight at our table jumped out of their chairs and backed away, I remained seated, grabbed a glass, and waited patiently for the hornet to settle on the tray. Then, I calmly lowered the upside down cup onto the table, encasing the hornet in a transparent prison.

Navy guy looked at me. "Vivian, you're a badass."

This beats MIT dining any day.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end. The hornet's brother arrived at the opposite end of the table, but now my coworkers were equipped with the knowledge of how to defeat this insect. Two people reached for empty glasses and eyed the enemy, who flew in random, spontaneous patterns to save itself. Suddenly, when the hornet was floating low on the platter, MC striked. And promptly shattered the glass the was holding to pieces.

I'll admit, I was laughing pretty hard. But at least I had the decency to ask if he was okay (he was). The hornet was probably frightened by this fierce show of strength because it flew away, and we returned to lunch as normal.

Back to work (my research).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Japan and Cultural Reflection

I decided to nip on* up to Japan for the weekend. I stayed at a hostel near Osaka airport Friday and Sunday night, and in Kyoto on Saturday - so I got to see a bit of two cities. I've been really bad about blogging in Taiwan (sorry, mom), so this will simultaneously be a blog post about various Taiwanese experiences that come to mind.

*forgive me 

Kyoto is full of literally thousands of temples, even more tourists, and pretty wooden houses and lanterns in the older parts. The tourists basically come in two varieties: European (kinda jarring to see so many white people after two months in Taiwan - like, wait, why is she taller than me?) and Asian (mostly Chinese and Korean, I think). Few Americans, interestingly. Most of the Asian tourists walk around Kyoto in rented wooden platform flip-flops and kimonos, which look both pretty silly on most people and uncomfortable. The temples are pretty, although I had some bad luck with seeing things - the most scenic hillside temple is currently covered in construction netting, trains were getting cancelled and delayed when I tried to go to the red-gate shrine park, and I arrived at both the castle and the famous Golden Pavilion right after closing time (that last part is probably more bad planning than bad luck). Many of the tourist sites are surrounded by shopping streets selling sweets, kimonos, fans, swords, tea, delicious pickled vegetables, and other things that look very exciting until you see the price tags. I was a little disappointed in the main food market - you can find most of the selection in a Taipei night market, but with more action and for a third of the price.

The Kyoto National Museum is off the main tourist track, but I went in on a whim and was so glad I did: it's beautifully curated and illuminated and has some incredible statues on loan - seeing the Bhuddist hell gods definitely makes you want to avoid Bhuddist hell. (Not sure how one does that, actually. Liz and I toured a huge Bhuddist monastery near Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, where we got VIP treatment because my mentor's uncle is the village mayor. The museum there emphasized entirely non-religious, liberal-westerner-friendly values - compassion, tolerance, charity, etc. But that's a particular Taiwanese sect known for being pragmatically focused. I'm sure how different Japanese traditions are; there wasn't a lot of information posted in the temples.) The other part of Kyoto that I really liked was Arashiyama, an area on the northern edge of the city. There's a little bamboo forest swarming with tourists, tourists getting photographed in geisha makeup, tourists sitting on rickshaws getting pulled by Japanese men in cone hats, etc. But I went farther, as instructed by the Turkish staff guy at Hostel Santiago, and had a really nice long walk through little villages and more temples. 

I went to Osaka for a couple hours yesterday evening. It's different from quiet, cutesy Kyoto - very modern, very colorful, and very loud. I wandered around the boisterous shopping arcades and saw a small outdoor concert, then had chirashi and plum wine (good stuff).

Miscellaneous impressions:

The train system is super-elaborate, which also makes it hard to navigate. I was kind of amazed by how much harder it felt to get around than in Taiwan - after all, I still don't speak much more Chinese than I do Japenese; but somehow Taiwan feels familiar enough now that transportion doesn't feel like a challenge. (Having an unlimited data plan helps, too. I was reminded this weekend that paper bus maps are a thing that exist, and what a wonderful thing they are.) 

Japanese toilets, including in public bathrooms, are exactly as high-tech as one might hope. On the other hand, soap is not a thing in a lot of places - slightly disconcerting in restaurants. (It's unclear to me why the CDC considers Japan to have American-level food safety standards, but Taiwan to be an aah-don't-touch-the-street-food third-world danger zone.)

Everything is super expensive, especially compared to Taiwan. Prices for food, transportation, hostels, tourist attractions, etc. are even higher than American ones, I think. 

None of the meals I ate were exceptional - definitely not for the price. Flavors are generally mild and portions quite small, although things come beautifully presented with a bunch of tiny dishes. 

People generally don't seem super-friendly (except this one old man in a village who kept smiling and waving at me from across the street) - even the information-counter staff made me
feel as though they were doing me a big favor. People do seem to warm up once you talk to them a little more, though. My perception here is probably colored by several cultural factors: first, Japanese people don't generally seem comfortable in English (nor I in Japanese, of course). I think it might also be the case that they tend to be uncomfortable with foreigners in general; that's what I was told by Taiwanese coworkers, but I don't really have enough evidence to judge. It also seems that facial expressions are used differently - that people just tend to smile less, which my American lens translates as coldness. 

Maybe my biggest impression, unfortunately, is how patriarchal and sexualized the culture is, and how immediately obvious that is. I noticed as soon as I got off the plane that women dress differently than in Taiwan. The Taiwanese notion of femininity (which is already much more constraining than in the West) generally involves a cute, innocent look - think loose, shapeless dresses over white t-shirts. Japanese women dress much more to emphasize their figures. It seemed like practically every young woman, especially in Osaka, was wearing heels, full makeup, carefully done hair, a tailored outfit, etc. I parsed this at first as just a difference in sartorial taste, but after seeing the cities, I think it's more a reflection of cultural expectations - pretty exhausting ones, too. Kyoto and Osaka are both filled with an impressively creative variety of methods of objectifying women: hostess lounges, special massage parlors (best name: "Mrs. Banana"),  strip clubs, geisha parlors (this culture is huge in Kyoto, and I won't pretend to know enough about it to comment further), "girl karaoke", cosplay-girl party centers, porn mags at the ramen counter, and on and on. I talked about some of this with a Ukrainian professor of art history, who specializes in Japanese culture, that I met in the Kyoto hostel. She told me about some elements of the cultural background - like the absence of a Judeo-Christian concept of forgiveness, which makes "saving face" so crucial, and the expectation that women take up as little space as possible, even to the point of holding their thumbs folded in. She said that for her Japanese women friends abroad, it's much easier to live outside Japan because the burden of expectations is so much smaller. Interestingly, she also talked about the near-nonexistent rape rate - she seemed to feel that the open sexuality somehow contributes to keeping violence low. My hunch, though - supported by this harrowing Quora thread - is that assault of various forms exists but is very rarely reported or prosecuted. I had some drunk businessmen lunge at me on the street (in an "oh ha ha white person let's yell in English that sounds fun" kind of way, not in an intimidating way); it seems hard to believe that said wasted businessmen, in an environment where women are provided for their amusement, would never fail to "be a gentleman", as the sign outside "Geisha Beautiul Ladies Hostess Lounge" instructs. Some other fun facts from cursory Googling: workplace sexual harassment is not illegal; the pill was illegal until 1999; until last year, women (but not men) were required to wait six months to remarry after divorce, and there's still a waiting period for pregnant women.

I've been realizing, this summer, just how much a child of the West I am. Even in Taiwan - which is by all accounts the most liberal, gender-equal, and generally most West-like country in Asia - the culture can feel stifling. People are constantly surprised that I do X by myself (with X often as simple as taking a bus to work!). I'm not sure to what degree that's because people just generally don't do things alone much, to what degree it's because I'm a foreigner and don't speak Chinese, and to what degree it's because I'm female. I suspect a little of each. A lot of things that are really important for me - independence, spontaneity, risk-taking, heterogeneity - are just not part of the culture here.

I went to a MISTI training a couple of years ago where they talked about the anthropological division between group-oriented and individual-oriented societies. I didn't get what that meant while travelling in Europe or Israel, but I'm coming to understand it now, and it's real. I think the difference is enough that I could never really feel like I belong in Asia (even setting aside physical distinctiveness), in the same way that I could be comfortable in Europe or the US or Canada or Israel. 

That's certainly not to say I don't like it here! I've really enjoyed my time in Taiwan (would recommend a visit to everyone - probably more than Japan tbh, especially if you're on a budget...), and I want to see much more of the continent (in part because I've spent the last couple of paragraphs generalizing about a couple billion people based on my passing familiarity with a few cities, and that seems slightly problematic... especially since Taiwan considers itself culturally closest to Japan, which means that the differences among other countries in Asia are probably greater than the difference between Taiwan and Japan). But I'm looking forward to coming back to the undignified, mixed-up U.S. coastal bubble. And I wonder if I can squeeze in an anthropology class next year...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

3.0 Tournus

As I'm writing this on my phone while sitting on a charmingly rustic balcony of my future Course 3 professor's château, I feel a little bit like a cheater. There's this wonderful view of a green countryside spread in front of me, and yet I'm taking breaks to stare face down on my digital screen and type up some thoughts. I think I'd prefer reading from my Agatha Christie book and enjoying the tranquility, but I don't want to wake up the guy sleeping downstairs right next to my backpack if I noisily ruffle through clothes and whatever else is stuffed in my book bag to inevitably find what I'm searching for last.

Also I was going to write about Paris and Lyon since those happened first, but I figure since I'm here I'll just write in the moment.

Old picture of old castle.

BACKSTORY: When I was still a freshman (now I've upgraded to rising sophomore I guess) I declared Course 3. Almost immediately, I heard rumors of a Course 3 professor having a French castle and inviting his students to stay in the castle during the summer. Somehow, I managed to get my name on the excel sheet in the Course 3 fb group and now I'm in Tournus, France with a couple of other Course 3 students.

[Sad. I can't add pictures with this blogger app. All the reviews were right.]

[Hmmmm... I'll probably just post this later with pictures. Blogs without pictures for me are just a bunch of words. I don't think I have the literary talent to make my words interesting enough alone.]

Back in the train station in Lyon, my friend A. ('20) asked me who the person I was looking for looked like. I responded no clue, but I had her profile pic on fb messenger. This gives you a sense of how much I did not know these Course 3 people at all.

Homemade rosemary ice cream.
But, they turned out to be pretty cool. Would I even say otherwise since I'm going to send this blog to them? Probably not, but in that case I wouldn't mention them at all. So these people were cool. Like I could imagine being in that Course 3 "frat" and hanging out and struggling through sophomore year with them or looking to upperclassmen for their wisdom.

The Course 3 professor was also the nicest host. Professor Carter treated us to a quaint, local French restaurant called Cassandre: La Table de Chapaize. I stress the "French" part because it seems that in Southern France near Italy, all the restaurants are Italian. That's not a bad thing: authentic Italian pizza, pasta, bread, and gelato are quite delicious. However, I was excited to try actual French cuisine in France. A true four course meal, paired with kir and red and white wine (for those over 21). Everything was fantastic, both taste and presentation-wise -- it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've probably ever had in my life.

The next day, we snacked on boulangerie bread spread with raspberry jam and a light, creamy cake for breakfast. Afterwards, the professor took us to the flea market on our way to sight-seeing in a small town with a stone church and amazing view. We bought local, historical trinkets like hundred-year-old postcards, aluminum absinthe spoons, and silver candlestick holders.

I should mention that in quiet, small, countryside towns, you need cars to travel. As there were nine students, someone else besides the professor had to drive; not only drive a stick shift, but also have the honor to drive a truly "grungy" old white van that was only the slightest bit sketchy. I will mention that the person driving the van (apparently also known as Mum) had incredible skills.

["Nature prefers low enthalpy at low temperatures and high entropy at high temperatures." Just the typical conversation that occurs between Course 3 MIT professors, students, and graduates.]

Everything about the French countryside is charming. Peaceful and tranquil. Beautiful.
It was quite the shock when I arrived coming from Paris, with its busy streets, constant stream of cars and people chattering, endless succession of opulent buildings and towers and museums.

Pregnant donkey.
The moment I arrived at the château in Tournus, I listened. Birds chattered. Wasps buzzed. I marveled at the silence of nature.

The scenery is rolling green fields, patches of white cows, golden squares from neatly arranged rows of wheat and corn crops. Instead of golden-tipped obelisks, there's richly green trees towering the roads.

In fact, I am extremely glad that I came to visit. Though I was quite tired from the (mis)adventures of the Paris fireworks of the night before, the quiet serenity of the countryside seemed to possess natural healing and restorative abilities. Although Professor Carter half-jokes (probably actually serious) that he will make our lives quite miserable in class, he seems to truly care about teaching.

Before this week, I told E. ('17) that I entirely don't feel like a Course 3 because I hadn't taken a single Course 3 class, not even 3.091, and somehow I'm going to spend two nights in a Course 3 professor's castle. She replied laughingly that I already sounded like a Course 3: the trick was to mention "Course 3" as much as possible.

In the end, I can't really tell if I chose the right major quite yet considering I haven't taken any classes. But I am at least more confident in the community. And whatever nightmares or terrors I hear from upperclassmen who tell the tales about sophomore year, at least I feel that these *miserable* classes will create tight and lasting friendships.

P.S. I'm too lazy to write down everything that happened, plus I don't really want to interrupt the natural flow of writing I've got, but it would be amiss to not include the following conversation that happened during our sight-seeing. We asked a man to take a group photo of us:

Man: *holds phone* "SEX!"
Course 3 people: *confusion*
Man: "Funny!"
Course 3 people: *laugh awkwardly* *smile uncomfortably*


"Maybe he only knew enough English to sound kind of creepy."
"No, sex still means sex in French."
"That was weird."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lunch in Lyon

Right now, I'm writing this while sitting on a five hour train ride to Paris Bercy. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to buy a round trip ticket, so to my surprise all the trains to Paris Gare Lyon were full. My hopes of looking around Le Louvre or the catacombs before my flight today dashed, I resigned to reading my detective novel with at least the countryside scenery outside the window to comfort me.

I accept that my pictures will never be as aesthetically pleasing as Effie's.

Backtrack to Saturday morning.

After waking up at about 6:30am in X.'s ('19) apartment, I showered, dressed, and headed out to the bus stop outside. It was a chilly early morning, and since I wanted my wet towel to dry, I wrapped it around my arms to block the cold wind. I wished for probably the fiftieth time that I had brought my MIT sweater but counted myself lucky that I was not ill.

A decorated clock in a church.
Speaking of luck, the bus arrived with only five minutes of waiting, and I was at the train station in half an hour's time. My first dilemma faced me at the ticket-buying machine. If I wanted to leave for Lyon at 9am and meet up with my friend for lunch, I'd have to spend €100, which is roughly the cost of the flight from Nice to Paris. However, there was a later option at 10am, which would save me €20. Which should I choose?

I pondered the situation for roughly 30 seconds and went for the first option, since I figured seeing my friend was worth a few euros. Thus, after buying a direct ticket to Lyon, I hiked out of the train station to find a boulangerie for breakfast.

After returning to the station slightly less exhausted (the wonders a warm apple tart can do), I slept on the 2 hour train ride to Lyon Part Dieux and met my friend in the station. With a few more hours of sleep in me and the excitement of being in a new city, I was ready for another adventure before my departure for T--.

I'd add the actual profile pic I took of my friend, 
but apparently the shadow is unsatisfactory.
Lyon is actually the second biggest city in France, surprising since it doesn't seem to possess the natural charm of a French ville like Nice or Paris. Perhaps this first impression isn't accurate, since my friend assures me that he loves Lyon and believes that the city is greatly underrated. In any case, we had two hours to explore and eat lunch before I needed to be back at the station to catch the train.

We took the metro to the river and walked to the old part of Lyon from there. The river was quite beautiful, and old Lyon had the narrow cobblestone streets that I recognized as a trademark of France in all the cities I've traveled to, lined with small local shops and restaurants.

Yummy tripe! It's not fish, but it's delicious.
My friend guided me to a restaurant that looked almost packed although it had just opened. Real French cuisine, three courses for only €15. It was a gem of a place. For an appetizer, I ate a poached egg in a soup of vinegar, bacon, and mushrooms. Then the main dish consisted of tender strips of tripe, which was quite the novelty. Finally, I finished the meal with dessert: a tarte tatin and homemade ice cream. All the while, I shared an enjoyable conversation with my friend, so lunch was lovely.

Unfortunately, we had to rush back to catch the train at 2pm. I missed it. Fortunately, I can't understand emails, so while I thought there was a train at 2pm, I only needed to be in Lyon at this time. The next train to T-- was at 3:15pm, so my friend and I just continued talking while sitting nearby a fountain in a rather large mall by the station.
A beautiful river and a beautiful bridge.

Finally, it was time for me to actually go, so we somehow found the other Course 3 people in the train station even though I had no idea what these people looked like. After confirming that the other half of the group was dismally stranded on a bus with a cluelessly lost driver, we headed on the train for our departure to T--.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Snapshots from Belgium

I've mainly been in two places in Belgium: Louvain-la-Neuve (the location of my internship) and Brussels.

Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN) is a planned city, meaning that the purpose of its construction was to house the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL). As a result, the design is very much intentional, and LLN has an ever-present "college town" vibe to it. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, university buildings, dorms (known as kots in Belgium), and also a lake and a park. Everything is walkable; I haven't walked more than 15 minutes to get to anything in town. 

Some wood structures made by architecture/civil engineering students at UCL

A family of geese at the lake!
Since starting work, I've realized that it's really difficult for me to just sit and stare at a screen all day. So, as a way to keep myself more engaged, I usually alternate between 3D-modeling on my laptop and sketching in my notebook. Some results:

As for Brussels, it's less than an hour away by train (the train system is great!). I've been a couple times now—with different people, seeing different things:

Mont des Arts

Grand Place

CityTree: a green initiative by Green City Solutions. It is a 13-foot wall of specific moss cultures and apparently has the "same effect as up to 275 urban trees." 
Visited the Atomium and Brosella (jazz festival)
So, even though LLN and Brussels are great places, I think my favorite part of it all is just riding the train and traveling between cities. The entire landscape is green—the trees are overgrown and plenty, sprawling their way onto train stations and over walls. It's pretty amazing.

If you want to see what else I'm up to, you can find me here:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hanging Out with Coworkers Part Deux

(In case you're wondering, Nice was Part Un).

For people who know me, I'm writing this waiting for my hair to dry so I can sleep.

This past Saturday, I rode the train to Eze with two of my coworkers and my roommate J. ('20). The two coworkers, MC and VC, are two first year master students from an engineering school in Paris. They're at ParisTech as "stagiares" or interns, like us. They only arrived a week before us, and we all work in the same huge office that consists of four rooms separated by half-walls.

At first, when I arrived at ParisTech and heard that J. ('20) and I were the only undergrads, I thought that maybe the age gap would be too wide to hang out with our fellow coworkers. Wrong! There's that stereotype that guys are less mature than girls, which I think may hold some truth at least in this situation. I mean, I don't see any of the girl master students randomly playing ping pong on the floor in our office (since for some reason we have ping pong balls and paddles but no table). So hanging out with these grad students didn't feel weird at all.

MC always complains that VC is playing games all day during the weekend, so MC has nobody to go out and have fun with (they're roommates). So he tagged along with J. ('20) and me this weekend, and we extended the invitation to VC. Frankly, I thought he was going to decline from all the times I've heard MC complain about VC's addiction to video games, but he said he would join us in Eze, so score!

This is the blog post where I give up trying to do fancy formatting because it changes after you publish.

We arrived at the Eze train station around noon, but we still had to take a bus to the Eze village. My first impressions of the mountain village was a watered-down, less rich version of Monaco. That is not to say that I had a bad impression of Eze. Quite the contrary, it was on the opposite spectrum of cool tourist places: the quaint, peaceful village with the beautiful ocean and mountain scenery resting in the background, periodically interrupted by the zoom of a Ferrari, presumably from the neighboring wealthy city-state.

A historic church in the style of the baroque period, if I remember what I read from the sign correctly.

The first thing we did was hike up a small distance from the bus stop to the succulent garden at the top of the tiny mountain. It was a warm day, and with the sun shining full force, it was almost kind of hot. However, the approach to the top was simple and direct, nothing like the confusing staircases in Monaco, so the journey was pleasant and the succulents exotic.

Such cool cacti.
After reaching the top, with the most beautiful, rewarding view in front of us, MC declared he had to take pictures for his snapchat and facebook. Conversation that followed:

MC: "Why don't you get an iphone? The camera is better!"
Me: *shows him my camera on my android*
MC: "Oh. Can you take a picture of me?"

I somehow become his photographer during this trip.

Afterwards, J. (20') and I hit the tourist shops that are carved from small enclaves in the rock mountain. They're not the cookie-cutter shops that sell all the same things like Ferrari jackets or Formula One hats. Instead, inside each store there's something unique, whether the products are rubidium crystals or alternative fish paintings or sparkling ruby hairpieces. The guys mostly stayed outside while we looked around, since apparently it's a "girl thing" to go shopping. They missed out.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the stores, so here's another pretty view.
After a late lunch, we visited the Fragonard perfume factory. It was free entry, and I was really excited to see a factory with condensation glasses and evaporation techniques. Did I care about the perfume? Not at all. I don't even wear perfume. I just wanted to see the chemistry and the machinery.

So worth it!!!
I ended up falling for the tourist trap and buying a royal jelly cream for my mom, so the "free entry" actually cost me 25 euros. But it was worth it, since the whole interior of the admittedly small factory was packed with citrus and floral scents and fragrances. Plus, my mom would be happy that I bought her a gift. And what do you know? MC and VC both bought products for themselves. So I guess you don't have to be a girl to like buying things.

Afterwards, we headed to the beach to wait for our train, since the train station was only about a five minute walk away. For some reason, I was the only one wearing shorts, so I kicked off my shoes and waded in the water. It continues to amaze me how clear the water is at the Cote d'Azur. You can see small fish swimming in the distance, and look down at the rounded rocks and pebbles littering the sea floor.

Likewise, MC rolled up his jeans and stepped in the sea. He stooped down to pick up a circular, flat rock, and skipped the stone rather impressively three times. Then, VC, staying on the shores of the rocky beach, immediately outdid him by skipping a stone that bounced five times in the water. They both taught me their tricks, and I was able to skip a stone twice! New skill to work on.

Finally, around seven in the evening, our group of four headed home. Except while MC and VC stayed on the train to actually head home, J. (20') and I got off at Antibes to eat dinner and gelato and buy cactus juice.

Do people usually leave scales on the salmon? I ate it all, but it was a little bit weird. Still yummy!
Thus concludes our adventure in Eze. If there's one lesson I've learned while in MISTI, it's that coworkers are pretty cool to hang out with. And guess what? I'm going to hang out with another coworker next weekend. And who else? Hint: one of the sassiest people in LMF who shares my love for Cardcaptor Sakura. Next time: Paris!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Things Missing from Cambridge

It's now been about two years since I came to the northeast for school away from my home in Colorado. While many people go on grand adventures during the summers or other vacations, I've stayed in Cambridge for both of my summers, and rarely even leave on vacation.

During my five days this summer away from the school, I've been back home in Colorado reflecting on the things that I miss most whenever I'm in the city.

  • The star filled night skies on a cloudless night.
  • A lack of humidity that can completely dry a swimsuit in under 5 minutes.
  • Mountains that remind you that buildings really aren't that impressive.
  • Seemingly endless pine, fir, spruce, and aspen trees.
  • The feeling of isolation with no cell service or internet nearby.
  • A general feeling of friendliness and community as complete strangers strike up conversations on a trail.
  • The ability to isolate yourself in the outdoors from the endless stream of people marching through life.
  • The feeling that it's okay to take life more slowly and enjoy the world around you.

It troubles me that I may never be able to live in an area like this again and will forever be bound to large cities for my career.

Apologies for the lack of pictures.

Paris Shenanigans


As a kid, I grew up dreaming about going to Paris. Now, after having visited the city twice, I still dream about going to Paris. The city is an endless adventure, whether in the form of places, people, food, or culture. Here are some snapshots from my weekend:

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An abandoned railroad track near the south of Paris.

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Some new friends and one old friend, messing around on the tracks.

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Musée d’Orsay, which used to be a train station. Sidenote: I really like the museum's logo.

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Paris Pride ingredients: pink hair, semi-nudity, and rainbow flags.

The first time I went to Paris, I had just graduated high school and wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. My interests have shifted a bit since becoming an architecture student. So on Sunday morning, which I had to myself, I wanted to visit some of the architecture spots in the city:

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Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry.

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Musée du quai Branly: a combination of some of my favorite things—green, blue, and plants.

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We’ve talked about the Centre Pompidou in all of my architecture classes thus far, but it was a different experience to finally see it in person. The guy with the blue hair was a nice touch to the photo. 

A couple reasons why I like exploring on my own:
(1) I'm more introverted than extroverted, so it helps me recharge. There's less stimulus than from being in a group, so I have more time to listen, observe, and think.
(2) I can plan—or not plan—to go and do whatever.
(3) I get to visit these amazing places!

Overall, the weekend was a good balance of meeting new people, going on adventures, and having some time to myself. As the summer continues, I'm hoping for more weekends like it.

If you want to see what else I'm up to, you can find me here:

Monaco: That Place with Lots of Rich People

Around 11am on Saturday, J. (20'), G. (19'), and I arrived at Monte Carlo, Monaco. The first thing I noticed in the enormous train station was that wow! there were escalators. I come from a smaller city where there are no escalators, since most buildings are one story, so already my day was off to a good start.

This was a view from the train station. THE TRAIN STATION.
I'll admit, I'm terrible at history and geography so I didn't really know much about Monaco. A quick wikipedia search tells me it's the second smallest country in the world and is ruled by the royal family, although France controls its military.

In about an hour, the Monaco royal guard changing ceremony would commence. So, our little MIT tourist group had to make our way from the train station to the palace on the other side of the country. At first, we took our time, soaking in the beautiful sights around us, enjoying the walk as Monaco is a pretty tiny and rather gorgeous country.
There are gardens on the tops of the buildings. Yay green roofs!

Then, we realized the city-state, decorated with its elegant architecture, with floating walkways that led to rooftops, second stories, and other parts of a building besides the ground floor, was in actuality a distracting maze. The map we picked up was deceptive in that although we picked the path of least distance, that path didn't exist.

I aspire to be rich enough to own a huge red poodle statue, but
I probably wouldn't use the money to buy a huge red poodle statue.
You can't just go in a straight line from destination A to B. Nope, you need to wind down sidewalks alongside roads, skip down a set of stairs, reach a dead end in the form of a glass wall that leads to the entrance of a top of a building, climb back up the stairs, trudge your way up another set of stairs, only to realize that to reach the palace, you need to somehow mysteriously make your way to the bottom of the city-state and then muster the will to hike back up to the top.

Quite frustrating when you can see the palace in the distance, and yet when you look down, you're still confused on how to get there. Also a tiny bit stressful when you now have half an hour before the ceremony starts, and changing of the guards is only a once-a-day kind of thing.


But, despite being used to MIT time in which everything starts five minutes late, we were actually a few minutes early. Or I guess you could also look at it in the way that the Monaco changing-of-the-guards ceremony is on MIT time, since it starts at 11:55am. 

We even have enough time to take a picture of the postcard-perfect scenery.  
There's the guard marching impeccably towards the palace.
The ceremony wasn't too long, probably 15 minutes or less. A band started to play and some high-ranking official started counting, and maybe 10 guards began performing synchronized movements with their guns and sabers. G. (19') and I agreed that although it was pretty interesting watching the ceremony, the guards were not totally in sync with each other. You could hear a small splattering of claps and observe movements that were seconds off from each other. To be fair, I might be extra sensitive to synchronicity from being in the orchestra, where everything depends on togetherness with other musicians, being perfectly on beat. But seeing the guards dressed in their perfect, white uniforms in front of the grand palace of Monaco was worth the rush.

Next we hit the tourist streets. To be honest, I was slightly disappointed. There weren't any boulangeries, and most of the "gelato" places were just regular ice cream shops with cookie-cutter stands that popped up every few steps. Although Monaco is near Italy and within France, since many international tourists visit (we saw a number of Americans, British, and Chinese), I think these tourist streets went for stereotypical France and Italy rather than genuine. Most of the tourist gear had to do with race cars because I believe there is a world-famous racing cup of some sort in Monaco. 
However, I know nothing about cars. I don't even know what car models my parents have. I don't even have a car. G. (19') on the other hand was in paradise. He really wanted a Ferrari jacket, and he got shots of almost every Ferrari that drove by.

Fancy yellow car.
Fancy red car.
Fancy grey car.

The following situation occurred about 15 times since apparently there's a lot of rich people who own fancy cars in Monaco:

G. (19'): "I'm having a normal conversa--"
G. (19'): *GASP* "Is that a Ferarri X Year Y Model?" 
G. (19'): *proceeds to whip out phone*
G. (19'): *groans* "I missed it!"
Me: *points behind him* "Wait is that another fancy car?"
G. (19'): "NOOOOOO!"

There are a lot of really rich people in Monaco. Not just the ones who can afford luxury brand cars, but the ones who own the obviously-at-least-a-million-dollars-ridiculously-expensive cars. You could also tell that rich people lived in Monaco because of the casino. There is this one huge casino in Monaco that a coworker suggested for sight-seeing, not necessarily for gambling. Although you have to buy a 17 euro ticket, the inside is supposedly amazingly beautiful. However, my dreams were crushed because of my tennis shoes, which are apparently forbidden inside this high-class casino. I saw dozens of tourists turned away because of their footwear unfortunately.

The kid next to me: "NEMO!"
That's okay. We went to the aquarium and garden of animals instead. An interesting note about the aquarium: it's not too big, but the outside is stunning, reminiscent of Greek columns and classical aesthetics. Probably because it was built in early times (not that early) but when Prince Albert I carried out expeditions to kill sea animals and study them. At first, I was a little sad that he killed all these animals, but it was the only way to study them back then (late 1800s?). Also, he made a speech declaring that human greed would lead to the extermination of all these species, which is sadly prophetic of the present.

Pretty albino peacock, like the Monaco guards dressed in white.

We ate American dinner at Stars & Bars. The view of the mountains from the restaurant beside the port was incredible. The menus were ipads, which might have been a bit extra. I had a regular cheeseburger with fries. Overpriced at 17 euros? Sure, but the view was amazing. The music, on the other hand, was slightly disturbing. A DJ blasted music outside, and although I don't have anything against the song choices themselves, the way the songs clashed when transitioning and mish-mashing by fading in/out was quite dissonant.

Finally, at the mere hour of 20:00, we were about to head back to the train station. I voted for walking back and prolonging our adventure in Monaco, but J. (20') and G. (19') wanted to take the bus back. Defeated, I resigned to leaving at a reasonable hour when a miracle took the form of a kind lady at the bus stop. She overheard our conversation and pointed out that there was a city dance party that night, and only that night. You can't pass an opportunity like this! If there's one thing I gained from having EC friends, it's perhaps a sense for adventure.

Outside the casino where J. (20') and I were turned away for our footwear, a crowd of perhaps two hundred or more people enclosed an enormous stage. Some were tourists, some were families, and some were obviously dressed very well. On one side of the stage, a group of dancers dressed in grass skirts performed a hula, while on another side, a different Spanish group was preparing for their turn. There were Indian groups, teenager contemporary groups, even a talented and elegant pole dancer. Very reminiscent of the MIT One World tent party, except for a city. After the performances, all the dance groups descended into the streets and set up a few lessons so that the audience became participants in their informal instructing classes. I learned a few steps of cha cha and it was a lot of fun!

Finally, at the late hour of 21:30, we decided to leave, as it would be an hour train ride back home.

An illuminated train station while we wait for the our delayed train to take us back home.
Next weekend: Eze? or Marseilles?