Friday, January 6, 2017

Travel Lessons

When I think nostalgically about my six months in Europe, the biggest thing I miss is the feeling of being mobile, of having the time and money to go places. To see things. Continuing the theme of posts I should have written months and months ago, today I'm going to talk (in no particular order) about things I learned from traveling this past spring and summer.


Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Transportation to/from the location. Compare bus, train, plane. If you're in Germany, consider a BahnCard (but it automatically renews every year, so make sure to send a cancellation email at least 6 weeks before the expiration date) if you're going to be making a lot of train trips. Transportation was usually the biggest single expense for me. Overnight trains are often reasonably cheap, and if you bring a warm sweater and a jacket you can sleep on them. Then you arrive in your destination early in the morning and the world feels very shiny and new and ready for exploring.

Housing. Hostelworld, other hostel websites, AirBnB, whichever. When looking at hostels, consider proximity to the things you want to see and to transportation (e.g. in Salzburg I roomed at a hostel that was only two blocks from Hauptbahnhof because I had a 0600 bus).

Food. Bring your own food with you if you have a long trip or are just stingy (me). I got a box of granola bars the day before any trip and used those as breakfast and snacks. I think for my Rome trip I got two boxes. Go to grocery stores for food--it also will make you feel less like an obnoxious tourist. I felt particularly smug about getting most of my food from the Coop supermarket chain in Rome because I remembered the name from middle school Italian class. A big bag of crackers is easy to cart around without worrying about it melting or something. Bakeries are also good places to get cheap food. Get something to drink that refreshes you; my go-to was anything carbonated and citrus-flavored. Treat yourself to gelato if it's summer. Do try regional foods, if they fall within your dietary restrictions (e.g. I ate no wurst but I did eat a lot of potatoes).

If you're going to a city, any city, check if they have a tourism card/pass deal. These typically cover public transportation and some attractions/get you discounts on attractions. The Salzburg Card was the best deal I encountered (everything was free except a couple of special exhibits) while the Berlin Welcome Card deliberately leaves out Museum Island so just getting day passes for transportation made more sense. If you buy it from a person (e.g. at an airport or central station kiosk) they might give you a map also.

But if you can't count on that, download or print out a map so you know where you're going. I like being able to look at everything I want to do all at once and plan an efficient route (which may get thrown out midway through but hey, it happens). Before going, spend some time on Google Maps inputting places you want to go and how long it will take to get where. Of particular importance, plan out how you're going to get to your transportation back.

What to do? If you know someone who lives in or has been to the place you're visiting, ask them for advice. Look at the map and the city's tourism sites for inspiration. Go with what you like more than with what you're "supposed" to do. Are you going on vacation for yourself or for an audience? Examples: in Salzburg I visited the fortress twice, because I had written about it for Ubermadchen and it meant something to me. I skipped most of the Mozart- and Sound of Music-related stuff because I didn't have that connection. In Rome, I spent a whole lot of time in the Forum and Palatine area, even paying to get in a second time because I was not going to leave Rome without visiting the houses of Augustus and Livia. I didn't even try to go to the Vatican.

But if you're going someplace that doesn't have any particular personal meaning to you, that's fine too and you'll probably have a good time following travel guides. Still, if you have the choice, go someplace that means something to you.

Check the weather but no matter what bring a raincoat or umbrella. Go for maximum pockets but also be aware that pickpockets exist, so go for protectable pockets too. Because Germans tend to have very high standards of modesty, I ended up wearing long pants everywhere, even Rome, but this probably isn't necessary. Comfortable shoes. Hats are good--go for warmth if you're going someplace cold, go for sun protection if you're going someplace warm. Layers are good, especially if you're planning to be out doing things throughout the day. There are legit travel bloggers who can give pointers on the ideal wardrobe to bring to optimize simultaneously for a light pack and comfort.

Toiletries. I forgot to bring my toothbrush on multiple occasions. Bring a small towel, always (see: Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy). My hair is very low-maintenance so for weekend trips I could get away with not bringing shampoo but you do you. If you get periods, bring the necessary materials even if you don't think it's likely that you'll need them. Highly recommend having a small bag that holds all of this stuff, so you can bring it all in one go to a hostel bathroom and not worry about leaving something behind.

Money. In some places, cash is strongly preferred to card (Germany). Other places card is okay. Different cards may have varying charges associated with international purchases so check that so you don't spend money unnecessarily. Make sure you know your PINs (seems obvious and yet there I was, staring dumbfounded at the ticket machine in Copenhagen central station at 8 in the morning). Bring only slightly more cash than you plan to spend in your wallet, in case you do get pickpocketed, and hide extra money in your phone case or anywhere else that seems safe.

Charge your phone, charge your camera if you have one. Bring along a portable charger if you'll be out for a long time/if your phone drains battery quickly, and charge that fully too. A bag for your chargers/cables is a good thing. Make sure you have lots of empty space for pictures. This was more of a concern for me than for most people since my old phone had very little storage on it. I was constantly deleting apps to make space for more photos and then redownloading them once I'd had a chance to move my photos to my computer.

Souvenirs. I like postcards. Postcards are small, light, cheap, easy to personalize. I wish I had picked up a few more generic postcards from various places so I'd have something to give to people who I realized after the fact might appreciate something of the kind. For people I didn't forget, it was usually pretty easy to look through an assortment of postcards and pick something they would like. Art museums generally have quality selections; tourist-geared vendors often have deals if you get multiple. I didn't get a lot of physical souvenirs, because suitcase space, but I tried to go for things that were small in size but personalized.

Re photos: there's a lot to be said about experiencing things in the moment and not necessarily documenting them. I took pretty much no photos of places such as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, or the concentration camps of Hamburg, for the same reason I don't talk to people when visiting such places--anything that could lead to greater performativity inhibits the sort of genuine response that I think these places require.

On the other hand, if you're visiting someplace to have fun, take photos all you want. Or if you see something interesting and want to document it. The act of composing a photo can also make you be more aware of what you're looking at, which is valuable. And even though I think you should let your wishes drive rather than the thought of what it looks like to others, there's nothing wrong with sharing photos of stuff you see. The biggest benefit, though, in my self-centered eyes at least, is being able to look through an archive of meaningful and happy memories.


Upcoming: a more philosophical post on the Grand Tour and the idea of travel being a necessary component of education.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Being Chinese in Germany

Today's episode of "posts I should have written months ago..."

I have definitely written about my experience of race in Germany before, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to continue the scintillating series of Being Chinese in [Insert Country]. So here goes.


Race and ethnicity in Europe are very different from race and ethnicity in the US. Ethnicity matters a whole lot more and the demographic history is less marked by immigration than in the US. What that means is that the idea that your ethnicity and nationality should "match" is much more prevalent (and legally encoded), which naturally causes a lot of discomfort for someone for whom that does not hold true, by which I mean me.

My host parents encapsulate this viewpoint fairly well for me--luckily, because I really like them and so we could talk about it. They asked me if I felt more Chinese or more American, if I could ever see myself living in China; talked more about their travels to China than about their travels to California. In my German class we had a unit on immigration to Germany and talked about the situation of immigrants from different regions, and I talked about that with my host parents and their experiences of teaching immigrant children and children of immigrants. They apologized for any discomfort they may have caused me by treating me as Chinese instead of American--but they are also old, and grew up in a much more homogeneous Germany than the one of today.

When walking with a friend of mine who is also Chinese-American, we were ambushed by a guy on the street who shouted "konnichiwa" at us. When we were talking at a mixer event for students and host families at the beginning of the quarter, one of the host moms saw us and remarked, "Multi-kulti."

At two in the morning in the Cologne train station, two fellow travelers--an Iraqi man and a Kurdish man--struck up a conversation in Arabic, then started talking to me in English. I explained that I was a student from America; when I saw the Kurdish man later he waved and said, "ni hao." Somehow this offended me less than if a white guy had done it.

On my second trip to Hamburg, I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Two Chinese guys, also studying abroad, sat at the table next to me. Upon hearing Mandarin, I said hello to them and we ended up having a nice conversation and becoming Facebook friends.

While in Berlin I went to two different Chinese restaurants, ordered in Mandarin, and on all occasions received free dessert, un-asked for (although I insisted on paying both times and passed it off as a really big tip).

In Hamburg I shopped at an Asian market two minutes farther away and slightly more expensive than another one because the proprietor spoke Mandarin to me and we had a long conversation about the difficulty of learning German and about her struggles with raising her kids with their culture--a struggle she said my parents must surely understand.

A Vietnamese immigrant, a student working part-time at a bakery, held up the line chatting with me after I'd ordered my sandwich. We complimented one another on our German, and she guessed right away that I was Chinese.

My last weekend in Berlin, I noticed two Chinese girls taking selfies and offered to take a picture of them together. They guessed right away that I was American-born Chinese, each insisted on taking a picture with me, and exchanged email addresses.

What do all these anecdotes mean? In Germany I was way more minority than I have ever been in America (granted, I live in the Bay Area). I felt much more instant solidarity with other Asians than I do at home, and they felt the same way about me. The summer I was in Indonesia, my boss told me that I was lucky to be Chinese because wherever I go in the world I'll have people who are willing to help me. I laughed at the time, but it kind of ended up being true? Hearing Mandarin made me instantly want to help someone if it looked like they needed help, and I certainly felt well taken care of by those restaurant owners who chatted with me and then gave me fruit plates.

I don't actually know how race relations among minority groups works in Germany, mostly because I didn't see many such interactions, certainly not enough to notice a pattern. Going by my own experiences is probably misleading because I come to the situation as an American, and as someone who had spent much of the previous quarter talking and thinking a lot about race. Was the sense of solidarity I got from my conversation with my fellow travelers in Köln one-sided or did they choose to talk to me because I was also not white?

My perception is that some of the same "model minority" bullshit is going on. When talking to my host parents about immigrants they singled out Korean immigrants for praise, but also said that these immigrants tended to come as students or professionals, so it was probably a class/education difference rather than anything racial. My flatmate from the summer asked me if I was quiet because I was Asian, because most other Americans she'd met were loud.

I talked to some other students about their experiences and some had worse experiences than I did--host parents who assumed ethnicity==nationality and were not willing to talk about it, for example. Did I get lucky or did they get unlucky?


Bonus: Being Chinese in Rome

As I buy tomatoes, an employee on break who had previously been chatting with the cashier bowed to me with his hands together and said, "Domo arigato." I replied, "Non sono giapponese." He said: "Ah, mi scusi."

Not five minutes later, as I walked along the train platform to find a bench (three days in Rome is hard on the feet), someone shouted behind me, "Konnichiwa! Sei giapponese?"

...means that people will assume that you're Japanese.


Being Chinese in China
Being Chinese in Indonesia

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review: 2016

2016 was an eventful year, with a lot of personal highs and a lot of international lows.


Winter Quarter 2016 was probably the hardest quarter I've had, academically, in my college career. But I think I handled it a lot better than Winter Quarter 2015. I was taking German 3, mechanics of materials, writing, and a host of smaller things: an engineering project class, beginning BIM, and a unit of research. I was also head of construction for my project team and wow did that take a lot of time, as well as participating in a sustainability club (not too time consuming, though).

The biggest aspect of that quarter for me was my emotional growth. I had a lot of good and meaningful conversations with people, about race and gender and class and future anxiety and even religion/spirituality. I learned more about what it takes to be a good friend, which is more than just caring. I was really stressed and tired all the time but there were some bright spots.


Over Spring Break I finished writing Übermädchen, which clocked in at exactly 500 pages in the Word document.


Spring saw me arrive in Berlin. Academically, it was an easy quarter. I took intermediate German, German theater, materials science, and a field trip class. My German language skills increased a lot, in great part thanks to my lovely and delightful host parents. Berlin secured its place in my heart as my favorite city. I miss it a lot and very often, in large part because being there, international issues became much more prominent in my daily life. I cannot claim to be particularly wise or worldly but being in Germany for six months did help me (begin to) break out of my US-centric mindset.

I traveled a lot. Within Germany, I only went to Hamburg and Essen (in the industrial Ruhrgebiet). Internationally, I went to Hungary with the entire study abroad program, to Stockholm and Uppsala in Sweden to visit Lieutenant Sarcasm, and to Paris, France with some other friends who were studying abroad. Mostly, I explored Berlin.


Over the summer I worked in Hamburg as an architecture intern. My sister and mom came to Germany and we visited Köln and Heidelberg together; they traveled through the south of Germany and into Austria during my first week of work.

My job was enjoyable, although sometimes repetitive. I really, really liked living independently, even though it could get a little lonely. My flatmates were friendly and vegan, so I cooked vegetarian for myself all summer.

I traveled even more in the summer than I had in the spring: to Lübeck, to Salzburg, to Sankt-Peter-Ording (for my twentieth birthday), to Rome, back to Berlin, to Skåne and Copenhagen. And back to Berlin for one last weekend, wrapping up loose ends and saying goodbye to Berlin and to Europe. I enjoyed going to each individual place, have already written a monster of a post about why Roma meant the world to me, enjoyed too the freedom, the peculiar delight of being on my way, of being someplace new, of having a budget and a map and navigating someplace new in the language of the place (except for the Sweden/Denmark weekend, where I let my Swedish friend do the talking).

In my life I hope to be able to go back to Europe at some point, and probably with friends or family. I am sure I will enjoy it. But I feel extremely lucky to have been able to go alone to so many places while young and unfettered.*

*I'm planning to think through this bit about travel and education more thoroughly in a separate post.


Then I came back. Autumn 2016 was probably...okay, looking back on it, maybe this was the most challenging quarter ever? I took four CEE classes: geotech, fluid mechanics, structural analysis, and steel design (+ a seminar about smart cities, but that was one unit). The workload was intense and through a combination of factors I found myself withdrawing a lot more from my friends. I spent a lot of time with my competition team and they're moving into actual friend territory, though.

I also spent a lot of time inhabiting a professional mask, one in which I have to pretend not to be such an introvert and also to be a cis woman. It was uncomfortable as hell, will continue to be as uncomfortable as hell, but I think I can live with it. Or I'm repressing my dysphoria the way I did all throughout middle and high school; who knows?

For the first time ever, I have a job for the summer lined up before the end of winter quarter--heck, before the beginning of winter quarter. Thank goodness for avoiding the horrible job anxiety of years past. Maybe this professional mask is working.


But what happened in the world?

The two political events that stand out the most for me are Brexit and the US election. Brexit happened when I was in Germany and Germans were not happy. The election happened once I'd gotten back and...I am not happy. Most people I know are not happy. Many people I know are in fact terrified about what Trump's election means for them and the people they love.

Other events: the Pulse shooting. The Oakland fire. Syrian rebels being massacred in Aleppo by Assad's forces. Various terror attacks throughout Europe, as well as in other places where mainstream news makes less of a fuss. Merkel's crumbling popularity as right-wing nationalists use the refugee crisis as an excuse for their fascism. Standing Rock and the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Police violence, police murders of innocent black Americans. The evil and good of Stanford swimmers: the Brock Turner case vs. Simone Manuel winning four medals at the Rio Olympics and making history. Oh, right--the Olympics. The UEFA championships. On November 8th, the electoral college system picked Donald Trump, but the US popular vote picked Hillary Clinton and California picked Kamala Harris. Solar and wind are becoming ever cheaper. Good news is hard to remember.


Creation: I finished writing Ubermadchen. Graz and Vienna and epilogue. I took a few months to write a short story about Marilla and some ghosts by the seaside. Since then, I've gotten a few thousand words down in various stories, but I'm starting to own up to the fact that my idea of blithely churning out short stories in a variety of styles is probably not going to work, because what gets me about writing is characters and all the characters who mean something to me live in worlds that I have to research, are involved in plots I have to think through. Trying to write without doing research, worldbuilding, or plotting is just not working for me.

I wrote a respectable quantity of poetry, but the quality is lacking.


Best posts:
Real World Issues

  • Väter und Söhne - original book by Ivan Turgenev, script prepared for the Deutsches Theater by Brian Friel
  • Tschick - Wolfgang Herrndorf
  • Die Weiße Rose - Inge Scholl
  • Ever Since Darwin - Stephen Jay Gould
  • Stand Still Stay Silent - Minna Sundberg (cheating because this is a running webcomic, but there is a book)
  • A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn (cheating because I'm not actually done yet)

*I'm going to write a post reviewing films I've seen recently, more on these there.

  • Blue Neighborhood trilogy - Troye Sivan
  • Oft Gefragt - AnnenMayKantereit
  • Ai se eu te pego - Michel Telo
  • Regenbogen - Wincent Weiss
  • Wir sind groß - Mark Forster (UEFA song!)
  • I Found - Amber Run
  • Bailar - Deorro ft. Elvis Crespo
  • Unsteady - The X Ambassadors
  • I Want to Change the World - Jetta
  • Monster - Starset
  • Rocketfuel - Thomston
  • How Far I'll Go - Auli'i Cravalho

After a Christmas lunch which was...bad, I stayed up late for my much-needed strategy summit with myself. That clarified my way forward. I'm still going all in on civil engineering, but I'm also going to get my advisor's input on grad school and my post-undergrad plans in general. I need to have more conversations with my friends, particularly the ones I didn't see much of last quarter, about real topics. I need to write stories that provide hope and happiness in the face of trying times--and this will be one of my selection criteria when I evaluate what story I am going to write next, because with a Trump presidency on the horizon, we're all going to need to find happiness and hope somewhere else.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hamburg Guide

The long-promised, long-delayed guide is here. There's a google map with major locations marked at the end.



Hamburg has a good public transport system, although a little more expensive than Berlin's. Find the map here. They have an app as well. The Hamburg card gets you transportation as well as discounts on some attractions; read more here.

I used the city bike system a lot and found it very convenient, sometimes more convenient than public transportation, but I don't know if they have short-term touristy deals or if you have to make an account. Could be worth it.

It rains a lot so bring a coat or umbrella. Even during the summer.

As in Berlin and really the rest of Germany, cash is usually better than card.

English levels are pretty high. Notice the hamburgisch accent ("jo" instead of "ja"; "moin moin" is a very common greeting).



I would like to thank REWE, falafel, and noodle boxes for feeding me this summer.

The best snacks remain Ritter sport and paprika chips. Oh, man do I miss paprika chips.

My impression is that the cuisine is less international than in Berlin, but I also cooked for myself much more so this could be just a perception issue. Since I was vegetarian this summer I replaced the sushi I would have eaten in Berlin with Indian vegetable curry.


I didn't show anyone around Hamburg systematically the way I did for Berlin. I visited twice before leaving Berlin; my sister and I had a couple days hanging around Hamburg before I started work, but that was before I knew the city; and a couple of friends visited the city and hung out with me for a couple of hours after I left work. Therefore I can't vouch for any particular itinerary that will hit all the highlights, although the major stuff is mostly in an area that's walkable from Hauptbahnhof. I'll use Hbf as a starting point and outline several possible walking tours. Pick your own adventure style.


Walkable from HBF


If you're arriving in Hamburg from anywhere else in Germany or anyplace reasonably close in Europe, chances are you'll go through the main train station. I adore Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, although to be fair I like transit centers that are destinations in general. There's a lot of food to be had, including my favorite 3-euro Gemüse-Nudeln Box. The Ritter sport chocolate advertisement banners also always amused me. It is also conveniently located for a lot of cool stuff.

To the east of Hbf you can find Lange Reihe, a hip street with lots of restaurants. I had to make a model of this street, so I like it. There are sometimes flea markets and festivals here. Some famous churches. But the exciting stuff is really in the opposite direction.

Toward the northwest you can find the Hamburg Kunsthalle, which is a big art museum with lots of beautiful art. Continuing in that direction you can walk along the banks of the Alster, beholding the fleets of swans on the water. Soon you will reach Dammtor, where iirc there is a somewhat alarming World War One monument and some counter-monuments.

Continuing northwest you can reach the University area, which has a lot of free or cheap museums. The Völkerkunde Museum, or ethnographic museum, is particularly interesting and rich and gratis after 1400 on Fridays. You can also find lots of good cheap food near the university.

Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen

If you choose instead to walk through Planten un Blomen, a fine park with many flowers and ponds and places to buy Eis, you will reach a place where the park intersects with a plaza containing various justice-related buildings. Take special note of the statue grouping of the three Hanseatic cities: Hamburg, Lübeck, and Bremen. You will soon reach the Museum für Hambürgische Geschichte, or the museum of Hamburg, which I really really should have gone to but did not. I know. I know. You will also reach a Bismarck monument on the top of a hill.

If you continue even farther you will reach Landungsbrücke, which has touristy stuff, ferries (which are included in the public transportation network), and the Elbtunnel. Although the inside of the Elbtunnel building is cool, the tunnel itself is not too compelling and there is only industrial shipping stuff on the other side. Good for photos of a certain aesthetic but not much in the way of attractions. You can take a ferry to Oevelgonne, which is a dock with many old ships--an open-air musem--and a nice beach, or on foot from Landungsbrücke you can reach the Reeperbahn, a hip and famous street in the hip and famous Sankt Pauli district.


If instead from Hbf you go directly west you can find a big shopping district, which is nice enough. The main thing this way is the Hamburg Rathaus, which I think is one of the best ways to see what the Hamburg spirit is all about. Hamburg is still styled as a Free and Hanseatic city and that sense of civic pride really shows. Take a Rathaus tour--only four euro for adults. One thing I delight to tell people is how the Rathaus has a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm but it is placed on a relatively low pedestal so that he cannot look down on any citizen of Hamburg. #justhamburgthings, oder?

There's more shopping past the Rathaus and then you run into Platen un Blomen.

Going south from Hbf is the best choice, in my opinion. First you pass the beautiful Central Library (Zentralbibliothek). Then you pass Deichtorhallen, an art museum that I never entered but which bears in front of it an inscription that really resonates with me. Two phrases form a cross. One, in German: EIN BISSCHEN ZEIT + GANZ VIEL EBBE. The English translation: TIME + TIDE.


From there cross over to Der Spiegel's building and you are in the harbor area--Speicherstadt, to be precise. The neighborhood is beautiful, all warehouses (half of which were rebuilt after being destroyed in the war), and has raised walkways that I swear are straight out of a vaguely steampunk YA adventure novel dream I had. Some major attractions in this area include the Miniatur Wunderland, which is an astonishingly large collection of miniatures. Markthalle has you covered for food (Chutney is an Indian food chain whose curry is incredible, at least to me).

A little farther south in HafenCity is the International Maritimes Museum (Maritimes, not Maritime, because of German Adjektivendungen): ten floors about all things relating to ships. The Elbphilharmonie is a gorgeous building with a very chaotic construction history, but the visitor center is neat and has places where you can listen to recordings, as well as a model that you can look into. Other buildings in the neighborhood have interesting architecture that quite charmed me the first time I visited; some have off-colored bricks that I think are meant to represent rain.

The Miniatur Wunderland and IMM are both on the expensive side and also very large, so make sure you leave enough time to visit both. My sister and I had a day where we basically just went to those two things, and we regretted not doing so on a rainier day when it would make sense to be indoors all the time instead of walking around outside more.

You can go farther south in HafenCity, and will find parks and people and the HafenCity University. I did not actually spend a lot of time there, but HC is being built up and growing as a neighborhood.


Farther afield

I lived in the northeast of the city in Barmbek. We have some cool stuff too. The Stadtpark is great and has a lot of concerts and events. Go there in the summer and every damn couple in Hamburg is there with their dog. The Planetarium was closed during my entire time in Germany, is set to reopen early next year, and I am sure it will be great. We also have Frau Larsson, the most amazing Swedish cafe, with cakes that I dream about. The Museum der Arbeit is very close to the Barmbek station and although I, er, never actually went there, the museum campus (complex?) is cool to walk around.

Museum der Arbeit

Between Barmbek and the city center there are some patches of commerce. Hamburger Meile is a big shopping center, Wandsbeker Markt and Wandsbeker Chaussee stations bookend a street with lots of shops...nothing really mind blowing here, although there is a neat memorial to the poet Matthias Claudius just past Wandsbeker Chaussee.

Farther north of Barmbek is Friedhof Ohlsdorf, a huge cemetery with lots of statues and plants. I never explored it properly since I always went fairly late in the day when the sun was already starting to set. On one weekend I walked along the Alster for several hours, ruminating on life, and made my way to the Alstertalmuseum. Going the other way, one arrives at the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp memorial. Part of the complex is still used as a prison, about which I still do not quite know how to feel. The volunteers at the memorial were very kind and answered all my questions. Very close by is the airport, which I only interacted with on my way to and from Rome.

In the south is the neighborhood of Harburg. I ventured there only twice, to measure apartments. The secretary, with whom I was working, said that it is a lower-income, working-class neighborhood and that there is not a lot to see there. I am not sure if I should take her at her word but I did indeed not spend a lot of time there.

Schloss Bergedorf

In the extreme southeast of Hamburg you will find Bergedorf, which has Schloss Bergedorf and some other historical sites. The quarter around the castle is quite quaint-looking too. I saw some kids playing Pokemon Go around the castle and its moat, so if that is your thing, go for it. I tried to cross the border into Schleswig-Holstein via a nature park but did not succeed.

From Bergedorf you can also take a bus to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp memorial. I went on my last weekend in Hamburg and spent quite a few hours there. The concentration camp site is located directly across the road from peaceful, bucolic fields, and walking down a country lane in late summer thinking about all the horrors perpetuated there made me feel as if the world was not quite real. But of course it is.


Google map. Go wild.


Related: Berlin Guide


I spent a good deal of the summer comparing Hamburg to Berlin, which was patently unfair. Die Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg is a great city and I was very lucky to live there for three months this summer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Autumn 2016 Recap

The first part of this post was written 12/10, the second 12/20.


Dead week is finally over, finals week looms ahead. It is fair to say that this has been one of the more challenging quarters I've had, but really, when have I had an "easy" quarter? Abroad doesn't count--academically it was not as demanding, but there was the challenge of adjusting to another country. Freshman year I had to juggle fewer responsibilities with respect to extracurrics, but I also had huge emotional and social barriers to hurdle.

This quarter I took four of my core major classes: geotech, fluid mechanics, structural analysis, and steel design. Surprisingly enough, geotech and structural analysis ended up being the two "easier" classes, while fluid mechanics is...hard. Steel design isn't conceptually hard but I struggled a lot with it anyway, and it was a lot of work. Add onto that leadership positions in two groups that relate to my major.

Besides classes, the readjustment from coming home from abroad has caused a lot of struggle. I daydream a lot about being back in Berlin or in Hamburg; when I overhear German grad students talking my heart beats faster. I'm going to work on the Hamburg post over winter break, promise, because I miss my Freie und Hansestadt.

Emotionally this quarter has been...well, I can't necessarily say it's been worse than any other quarter. But I loved and adored my dorm from last year, how I could talk to anyone, go into the lounge or any hall and find people to chat with. I don't spend a lot of time in my dorm this year and of course upperclassman dorms are going to be different culturally from freshman dorms, but it's harder than I thought, especially after half a year of living--well, not alone, but not with any peers. And a lot of my friends whom I'm not necessarily the closest to, but with whom I click the most, who don't drain me, are scattered all across campus (or abroad). I haven't had any big emotional crises this quarter, but I had dinner with a couple of friends from my freshman dorm last week and was astonished at how much more at ease I felt after it.

I need friends who have an instinctive sense of my boundaries, with whom I don't need to constantly assert my need for space. And this isn't to put down people who have a higher need for closeness or who are more emotional. But I need space and I need silence and if they aren't left for me I will make them.

...which is quite a contrast to what I wrote last winter about love, isn't it? But if emotional energy is a renewable but finite resource--like a forest--then it needs a balance between input, output, and the level of the property in the system. Just like control volume analysis. And I'm approaching the end of the quarter pretty drained.


I've been sleeping a lot since coming home after finals week. It really has been a draining quarter, and the first part of this post is somewhat negative. But I do enjoy learning and I am finally looking at the knowledge I've accumulated and seeing that the road from where I am to where I want to be is under construction. I have a lot more contact with grad students than I did last year and it's good, it's nice. They are much more knowledgeable than I am and although I don't see academia as my future, I do want to get at least a masters.

My plans are currently: get into the coterm program next winter (Jan 2018). Start taking grad level classes in winter of senior year. Get my BS. Defer starting my coterm to work for a year or two. Get my masters is a year, or less if I can swing it. Jump headfirst into my career.

I have a long list of things to discuss with my advisor, including the possibility of research--I don't want to pursue research just so that I can potentially graduate with honors, but I have never really gotten into research so I wonder if I'm selling myself short by not exploring it further.

I have an even longer list of things to discuss with myself, because I look at this writeup and think about the heartfelt reflections I wrote in freshman year and wonder if I'm losing my focus, losing my powers of introspection, losing...something. What do I value? What kind of impact do I want to have on the world and what do I need to do to set myself up to accomplish that? Is the dream now the same dream I had when I entered college? What work must I do so that I can die satisfied?

Is a coterm really the best thing for me? I want to get a masters as quickly and cheaply as possible. And I do for sure want to get a masters, because I don't want to stay a peon for my whole career. But what will be most useful, what will be the most valuable?

This quarter I was supposed to clarify these questions, and instead I think I ended up sucked into the whirlpool of doing nothing but working on the things in front of me. So this break I need to have a strategy summit with myself and figure out where to go from here.


//I'm pretty dissatisfied with this post, may come back and add things later.