Friday, February 17, 2017

Updated Thoughts on Style

Last week I promised two posts would be upcoming: one about Islamophobia and one about my current story WIP. Those are in the works, but here's a brief detour about style. Because.

I think the last time I wrote on this topic was in fall quarter freshman year, when I said something along the lines of "my refusal to be stylish is an expression of self-centeredness and defiance of femininity" (Unstyled Arrogance, October 2014). Since then I've 1) realized I'm trans and 2) started working on my misogyny*.

*Since I'm not a woman I don't get to call it "internalized misogyny."

A large component of my angst around appearance was my hatred for feminine gender roles and expectations. Everything was lumped into the one bucket of style=fashion=feminine=frivolous=decorative. It wasn't until I started thinking about gender more that I had a change in mindset with respect to the clothes I put on myself. Namely: style and appearance communicate something about you to other people. But "don't dress for other people" doesn't mean "pursue a bland aesthetic to show that you're better than the other girls." Instead, it means go for functionality and comfort.

This change is driven more by getting older than anything else, i.e. chilling out. The clothes people wear can be a platform for communicating their values and personalities and so on and so forth, but one can also stick the middle finger up to the fashion industry and its way of preying on people's (primarily women's) insecurities and aspirations by just...going for functionality. I don't know. It isn't that deep. But I think that in high school and the first part of college I was too preoccupied by how my clothes communicated to other people when really what matters to me about clothing is what it does for me.

(I blame, in part, the lack of weather in California, for my prior mindset. Because I don't really have to dress for weather here, the functionality of clothes has always been somewhat abstract. The decorative aspect is much more prominent.)

What decisions have I made, in this evolved mindset? For one, 100% of the pants I wear on a regular basis are sourced from the Old Navy men's section. The numbers on the pants make sense, there are pockets large enough that you can put a pen in one and forget that it's there, they're more comfortable (particularly if you're moving around a lot), and the material is sturdier. I don't expect to have to buy more pants in college. Luckily I have no curves, so I've noticed no issues with fit; it feels like there's plenty of room so if your waist and hip measurements are significantly different, splitting the difference is probably a good place to start.

Last year, only a few months after I'd (finally) figured out that I'm trans, I remember feeling dysphoric over shirts buttoning the wrong way. Not to diminish the way I felt then, but really, that's not a big deal. Which way a shirt buttons does not affect its functionality as a shirt. (Although as with pants, men's shirts seem sturdier.) As I try to become more of a professional, I'll probably need to head back to the women's section for shirts that fit, but the elusive men's S and XS shirts are excellent. Also, for some reason, easier to find in Germany than in the US (?). Rolling up your sleeves and tucking your shirt into your pants can help make shirts that are too big wearable but they still won't really look sharp. Shirts that have a chest pocket are prime since you can put pens and other stuff there.

In going after functionality, I have acquired three sweaters in the past year--one directly prior to leaving for Germany, one in Berlin, one in Hamburg. They are all of slightly different weights, for versatility in colors that go with anything.

Socks: I like black socks because you can't tell if they're dirty and there's just something sharper about them. But having warm socks is also important (to my sister--thanks for the Christmas gifts).

I have thought some about aesthetics, because I need to admit that I do care what I look like and that I want to look put together. Most of my "style experimentation" in the past year has been layering different articles of clothing and thinking about which colors go well together.

My "uniform" is a button down and a sweater, i.e. dressing like a retired German history professor (i.e. my host dad). Advantages: you look academic and like you care at least a little. Disadvantages: if the sweater is on you can't use the chest pocket, and if you roll up the sleeves of the sweater then the sleeves of the shirt get in the way, and if you pre-roll the shirt's sleeves then there's an awkward bump right above your elbow.

A slightly more casual version is a t-shirt and a sweater. Advantages: the sleeve issue has been resolved, if your pajama t-shirt is a color that goes well with your sweater then you can be ready for the day in record time. Disadvantages: if you take the sweater off it may be too casual, if you don't think about what shirt it is and take the sweater off you may embarrass yourself (see: me realizing with horror that I'd worn my university department t-shirt off campus to a doctor's appointment).

Colors: black and dark green are prime stuff, both individually and together. These colors work particularly well with my coloration (black hair/brown eyes/warm-ish skin tone). Red and gray/black gives off a somewhat aggressive, boyish feeling, and therefore is my go-to when gender has me feeling angry.

I used to have a lot of navy blue in my wardrobe. Not sure what happened there but maybe I've been avoiding it because since coming to college I've become a lot more proud of being a California public school kid, which makes me scorn the East Coast nautical prep style. It's probably not that deep.

I have two scarves, one dark red wool and one tan-colored. In keeping with the "functionality" clause I will usually pick the one that's more appropriate for the weather but sometimes I will decide which one to wear based on the other colors I'm wearing.

In the future, I'll need to buy work boots for sure. I'm a big fan of long-sleeved black clothes but would I actually get use out of a black button-down? Unclear. It might be too formal for everyday wear. Maybe if it was dark green/dark blue? The nicest coat I own is one my sister bought when she was in early high school and one of the sleeve buttons fell off so it's being held in place by a safety pin. May need to replace that at some point. A pair of sweats with pockets would be comfortable but I've been doing fine without.

Whenever I write about clothing I always feel a little silly, because the realizations I've come to--prioritize functionality and give at least a little thought to what impression you give--are fairly basic. Clothing doesn't have to be deep, just don't look down on people who do consciously use it as a way of expressing themselves. Adornment isn't for everyone but it's also not for no one. Still, if femininity isn't working for you at any level, just abandon it. If you're trans, shopping in the section that isn't for your assigned gender can feel affirming, but it is possible that in a year it won't matter as much to you which side your shirt buttons are. Colors are fun and if everything you own is in the same palette (except red shirts because school colors) then you can't screw up that badly. And how badly, really, can you screw up in the context of clothes?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sonnets for Augustus

Earlier this week I was struck by inspiration and wrote two sonnets about Augustus Caesar. Or rather, the first one is about Augustus and the second is about Octavian. Here they are:


Ara Pacis Augustae - Roma, Italia

Now come, let us stop telling tragedies
I do not want to hear about defeat
About the burning Trojan towers; please
Sing to me of Alexandrian heat
No Odyssey, no rage of Poseidon
But Agrippa, glory at Actium
The Pantheon under new construction
Just rule, a census, houses that are plumbed
A new Apollo, but unlike a god
Not gifted by martial skill from above
Whose mark on the earth was a mortal plod
Sickly and small but still happy in love
A new man whose roots draw from country loam—
Augustus, he who in marble built Rome.


Statue of Livia Drusilla - Louvre, Paris, France

With whom else would I want to spend my life?
Stay by my side; no one gets me like you
This is eternal—please, you know it's true
We came of age in time of civil strife
My father—well, great-uncle—died by knife
But his way is not the one I'll pursue
I'll be careful, bring peace. You want it too
Oh, Livia—will you please be my wife?

        Gaius Caesar—why, you're still just a boy
        But I can tell that you will move the earth
        In your story I will gladly take part
        I know you'd rather create than destroy
        Brick to marble, we will build things of worth
        Take my hand. You already have my heart.


I intended to write a post last Friday about Islamophobia and the travel ban, but I didn't make the time. Thankfully, the travel ban has been shot down by the courts, but Islamophobia is still alive and well in the United States and I'd like to keep working on that post, gathering resources, reflecting, etc.

I also think that this blog has wandered quite far from its initial purpose, i.e. as a place to document my writing progress. As I try to work writing back into my schedule, I'll use this space more for that purpose again. So, for personal accountability, look out for a post about my current project sometime soon-ish.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Week One of the Regime

It Has Begun - Starset


Trump became POTUS last Friday. For that and other reasons I was in a pretty awful state of mind Friday and the beginning of Saturday. Then I went with some friends to the San Jose Women's March.

I've never been to a protest before, nor any kind of march. The energy I felt there was very positive, and I felt a lot better about existing, being surrounded by people who cared enough to show up. Although this was a Women's March and deliberately not billed as a protest, obviously it took an anti-Trump flavor.

Chants I heard: "Yes we can"/"Si se puede"; "2-4-6-8 It's okay to immigrate"; "This is what democracy looks like"; &c.

Signs I saw: "Women's rights are human rights"; "Bernie 2020"; "I'm with her" (and arrows pointing off the sign into the crowd, or Lady Liberty); Rosie the Riveter either in the original or with Michelle Obama photoshopped in; "A Woman's Place is in the Resistance" with a graphic of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia; "Not My President"; "If you build a wall I will raise my children to tear it down"; "By the way, Climate Change is Real"; "I burned it once I'll burn it again" with the charred remains of a bra taped to the sign; Martin Luther King, Jr. shushing Trump; "End White Feminism"; "I am alive because of Obamacare"; "Humanity First America Second"; &c.

Lots of people were wearing those pink knit hats that are supposed to look like cat ears.

We didn't bring any signs. I'm not sure what I would have written. Not sure if it is my place to carry such a sign, but I would have liked to see a sign saying "Trans Women's Rights = Women's Rights = Human Rights" because, although I had an overall positive experience, being trans in that crowd felt pretty uncomfortable. More signs focused on the struggles of women of color would also have been good, although since I'm not actually a woman but am relatively privileged (the "model minority" concept is bull but I do have to own up to how that stereotype changes how people perceive me in a way that, net, makes my daily existence safer than it is for someone who is read with different stereotypes), I'd again have to think about what I would be justified in saying.

So we went, and came back. I spent a while lying on my floor scrolling Facebook and seeing everyone I know posting photos from the marches they went to. I didn't take any photos because I want to make sure that when I do the right thing, that I'm not doing it for social validation from my wider network. Not to say anything against people who do post things--communicating your solidarity, making your stance clear, is valuable too. But going to one march without a sign and listening to one speech at the rally afterward does not make me an activist. I am a beginner.

I also saw a lot of quotes/links/photos posted that took a more nuanced view of the Women's Marches. Many LGBT friends took issue with the trans-exclusionary rhetoric of signs equating reproductive organs with gender. Many other friends pointed out the double standard between the media coverage of these marches and of the Black Lives Matter marches.

This picture made a particularly big impression on me (shoutout to GG for sharing it). I am not a white woman, but fall into the same position of benefiting from social movements but not being in a whole lot of danger from police etc. I have never gone to a Black Lives Matter rally or march. Why? Now that I've gone to the Women's March, what is my excuse if I skip out the next BLM event?


I wrote the first part of this post on Sunday, when I was still in...not a good mood, but a positive, optimistic mindset. Then this past week happened. The news is filled with the terrible actions the administration is taking, from the global gag rule on abortion to censoring national parks and environmental agencies to banning Muslim immigrants to approving both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL to...

Saturday's energy was mostly positive. The numbers of people protesting made headlines, made history. And yet--despite all of that, these orders are making their way through the system.

Festina lente, said Augustus. The way to change is not just in momentous occasions, not just in big stands, not in single actions. It takes concentrated everyday effort over a long period of time to get anything done--so what do I do, when the goal is broad and the timeline is long?

There are small things I've done in the past week. Walked by a pro-life group demonstrating on campus to donate to the people collecting money for Planned Parenthood right next to them. Emailing the guy I know at the EPA. Small, small things. I feel silly even writing about them, especially given what I said above about not being performative about my actions. But as I said--I'm a beginner. I'm starting small, but I'm starting...

...and that's another thing about which I'm ambivalent. The fact that it took as abominable a person as Trump taking power to get me to do something. Obama and the Democrats were not perfect by any means, and if Clinton had won I am sure she'd have signed into law things that I would disapprove of. If I'd been paying more attention over the past eight years, I probably would have a much less positive impression of Obama than I do. But now, those kinds of conversations seem less urgent because the basic things that we could count on the Democrats to defend are being uprooted. Science, access to family planning methods, and the like.

I haven't personally spoken to anyone who said that Trump and Clinton would be the same but I wonder if they still think that way. Sure, Clinton would have been the status quo, but this is actively going backwards on all sort of measures. These questions--is climate change real, is it monumentally stupid to try to build a wall along the border with Mexico when real and worthwhile infrastructure projects languish--should be settled. We should be ready to move past them.

I've heard a lot of people say "it's going to be a long four years" and I have thought it, too, but there are several things wrong with that. First--some people aren't going to make it. If the Republicans succeed in getting rid of ACA and don't replace it in a timely way, how many people are going to die? I thought Obama wasn't accepting enough refugees--but now even fewer are going to be able to resettle here, and how many of them are going to die? Hate crimes are rising--how many people are going to die?

Second, it's not just four years. I haven't let myself consider a Trump reelection, which may be naive, but depending on how things go I could see a Pence or Ryan presidency following Trump, which would be awful. (DNC, please for the sake of all of us get it together.) And even if a Democrat is elected--I believe many things would improve but would we be back to Obama levels? And in many ways Obama levels aren't good enough either.

Trump did not start the global rise of white nationalism and extremism and he's not going to be the end of it either. This past week has been particularly bad for the country and the world, and this is just the beginning.


After that dreary post, please enjoy this video. It (as well as various other remixes of the moment it depicts) has been one of the few things this week that made me smile.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grand Tour Reflections

The Grand Tour refers, traditionally, to a trip around Europe that wealthy young aristocrats would make as part of their education in the 17th-early 19th century. Since I spent one-third of my first two years of college outside of the US, I've been thinking about how my travel has affected my development as a human being.


Caveat: the idea of the Grand Tour is rooted in classism. Travel takes time and money. Study abroad, which I did, almost always means taking a lighter academic quarter, which means that people with unit-heavy majors need to be strategic about when they study abroad, if at all. Among the people I met during my quarter abroad, a much higher proportion of people were taking extra time, taking gap years, etc. as compared to the people I know in general.

I think that travel confers unique experiences and consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have, particularly while still young and particularly for long durations. But that isn't intended to say anything against people who don't travel, for whatever reason.


Summary of time spent out of my region in the last two years: 2 months in Indonesia (July-August 2015), 6 months in Germany (April-September 2016, roughly half in Berlin and half in Hamburg) with brief trips to many other places in Europe (of particular importance to my self-progress: Budapest, Hungary and Rome, Italy).


Insights listed in no particular order:

Early on in my time in Indonesia, I read an article, which I can't find anymore although I think it was from the Jakarta Post, about high- and low-context cultures. Specifically, it was talking about how business between Indonesians and Australians can get complicated and be fraught with misunderstanding because in high-context cultures you are supposed to be able to pick up on a lot more nuances without being told about them explicitly, while in low-context cultures everything is supposed to be laid out clearly. I am from a low-context, very casual culture (California Bay Area) and tend towards obliviousness. Throughout my summer I got better at picking up on social cues, thinking about the proper time and place to talk to people about certain topics. I'm still not great at it, but I do pay more attention to what's going on between the lines than I used to.

I've written before about the way my time in Indonesia with the NGO I worked for turned my views on tech+tradition and rural development on their heads. But those insights are still ones that I feel strongly about, even more so now that I'm back in the Silicon Valley bubble, especially with the voting patterns in the election. Technology can be integrated into people's values. It is worthwhile to bring resources and jobs to rural places. Obviously the trends of urbanization and globalization are powerful, and obviously some "traditional values" are awful. But people want a say in progress.

That summer I found two role models. One was my boss, a brilliant woman who has a lot of social and political influence (as in, because of her I am two degrees of separation from the Indonesian Minister of Energy) who once negotiated a ransom for her husband from kidnappers who threatened to murder him, and who also sat me down on my first afternoon in Indonesia and said "welcome home! I will be your mom for the next two months." Over a year removed, of course some things become distorted through memory--but I remember her kindness as a force just as powerful as her entrepreneurial brilliance. I want to be like her.

The other role model is the king I met in the mountains. Someone with quiet, understated authority, someone who cares about the well-being of their people, who honors their history while looking forward to the future and embracing technology and progress. Indelible images: the traditional bamboo palace and the electronics workshop right outside of the throne room. Standing behind a row of men wearing the traditional black-and-ochre headwraps for the Independence Day celebrations as a drone flew overhead recording the event for broadcast to the local TV station. Is it arrogant to say that I want to develop a kingly presence? Well, I suppose my constant role model is imperial.

On a more heartbreaking note: as we drove down from the mountains back to Jakarta, the NGO employee who accompanied us and had taken care of us throughout the summer told me that one advantage of taking on international interns was so that we could see that, and I quote, "Muslims are not terrorists, are not extremists." In a world that is still Islamophobic and anti-Semitic, and perhaps increasingly so, statements that I made offhandedly in high school about how bad religion is can be intended neutrally but will not be received neutrally at all. I'm still an atheist but living in a predominantly Muslim country and talking to people who openly practice their religion and see it as very important for themselves has directly led me to be more careful in conversations about religion.

Unfortunately, my time in Germany only confirmed my knowledge of and deepened my horror toward global Islamophobia. Pro- and anti-refugee signs were rarely seen intact. We met a government employee in Budapest who said, and I am paraphrasing pretty closely, "Germany should take more migrants because they are more used to mixing with Muslims and Asians than we are."

The play FEAR, which I watched in my second or third week in Germany, was probably one of the most important two-hour spans in my entire six months. A concentrated look at the neo-Nazis and the people who are neo-Nazis in all but name, at the liberals who don't do anything (and feeling a strong sense of discomfort about being one of them), und so weiter.

Still: Hamburg was covered in pro-refugee, pro-LGBT stickers. The local antifa had a booth at the neighborhood block party. On the first of May, many held marches in solidarity with refugees.

The traditional Grand Tour is supposed to be about becoming cultured. Well, I went to Paris and Rome. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity but honestly? Paris did not make such a big impression on me. The Louvre was a beautiful temple to European art. I ate a crepe along the Champs-Elysee.

Rome, though--Rome was another story. I still catch myself daydreaming about clambering about on the Palatine, drinking citrus soda from Coop and breathing in the air that smelled more like home than anything I'd smelled in the previous four months, deliriously happy. I've written about Rome already. But being there, as someone with whom the historical figure of Octavian Caesar resonates greatly, twenty years old and full of dreams--Rome is the eternal city and there I felt the most as if I was playing out the role of the Grand Tour traveler, or better yet the pilgrim, coming face to face with something that tells me that whatever I may think my place is, I can transcend it, just like Octavian did. (But with less murder.)

While in Germany, especially during the summer, I was much more independent than I was in Indonesia, or even at home. I loved it. Language barrier? More like a door. I enjoyed daily transactions because I enjoyed feeling good at German, enjoyed meeting people where they were and not being the obnoxious American tourist who counts on people to speak English. My lifestyle was pretty simple, sometimes boring, and I regret not getting out more and making more friends, but it was still a comfortable lifestyle, one I could budget myself (although, on the theme of economic privilege, I knew that I would come out above at the end of each month and that certainty was what made it fun to budget rather than terrible).

I've written about my experiences of race in Indonesia and in Germany. When in Indonesia I played up the fact that I'm Hui* on my mom's side, because it was something that gave me a connection to Indonesian culture. When in Germany, I felt way more minority than ever.

*a Muslim Chinese ethnic minority group


(On a more personal note: my employer and her husband with whom I stayed in Indonesia, as well as my host parents in Germany, were both couples that have been married for decades, have raised children who have gone off on their own paths in the world, and still hold one another in the highest regard and with the deepest respect and affection. I don't even want to consider dating for another few years at minimum, but living with these two couples in successive's not like I didn't believe in love before. But seeing them, I believe in love.)

(There is one person in the universe who is allowed to talk to me about the content of the previous paragraph and if you have any doubts, it's not you.)


The quarter before I went to Indonesia, I took a preparatory class through the public service center wherein we discussed a lot about the ethics of service, particularly service abroad. There was no real conclusion. We read To Hell with Good Intentions, whose express purpose is to discourage people from volunteering abroad, and yet we all still went.

This quote resonates particularly:

If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell.

This is approximately where I am mentally, now. So: technology and tradition, progress and rural areas, are not diametrically opposed. So: I want to be a king, I want to build a business, I want to build a new order, I want to build. So: Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and fascism are on the rise. So: race is complicated. So: context is important. So? What now? The tour was grand but home is where the work starts.

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.