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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


It's been a bad week. I didn't honestly think that Trump would win. I looked at the projections and thought, well, of course Hillary Clinton will be our next president. Listen to all the awful things that Trump has said, look at who worldwide is praising and who is condemning him. How could anyone ever vote for Trump?

And then 60 million of my fellow citizens did.


I'd Love to Change the World - Jetta (Matstubs Remix)


This isn't going to be a coherent post. I need to write it because I've been thinking about the election in all of my free and unfree time since Tuesday, trying to wrap my head around this dumpster fire of an outcome. There are a lot of pieces to put together, a lot of different perspectives to compare and try to reconcile, and I need to get my own thoughts down so that I can have a chance of focusing on all the stuff I have to do this weekend.

This will mostly be a compilation of things that I've read and my reactions thereto*. You've probably seen all this already.
*this sentence sounds less awkward if you approach it with German structures in mind


First: Hillary won the popular vote by about 400,000 votes. This really stings. I've seen various articles floating around calling for the abolition of the electoral college, and as someone who never thought it made sense anyway I'm likely to be sympathetic to the arguments therein. I remember my eighth grade history teacher saying "all or nothing, state by state," and those words were playing on repeat in my mind as I watched Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin fall to Trump by the barest of margins on Tuesday night.

As a Californian, I felt a huge exhale go through my entire being when our 55 electoral votes were added to Hillary's count, marking one of the few points when she was ahead as the night went on. The West Coast is where it's at, I say, with the caveat that I will address this mindset more in depth later on.


New York Times has demographic breakdowns based on the exit polls. The race one, second from the top, is particularly interesting. For me as an Asian kid it's distressing that 11% more Asians voted Republican than in 2012. Way to throw other POC under the bus there. I may know a Trump supporter, one of my parents' friends, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at her the same way.

(This article claims the exit polls were incorrect, but doesn't quite explain why their method is more accurate. Including it here as food for thought, and for general analysis on AAPI voting patterns.)

The overwhelming white support for Trump is unsurprising. It is also scary.

Whites without a college degree voted 2/3 for Trump. For all that the narrative has been "Trump won over the white working class," though, the support by income level is fairly even, with Hillary holding narrow margins over Trump for income levels below $50k/year.

The rural/urban divide is interesting and to be explored more below.

By religion: I want to see Muslim as a separate category, although I doubt the results would be surprising. The overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish vote does not surprise me (although it's interesting that it's even higher than it was in 2012). Same goes for the overwhelmingly Republican evangelical vote.

Who the hell are the 14% of LGBT people who voted for a platform with conversion therapy?

Military leaning Republican not a surprise. I don't know if the lack of marker re: change from 2012 means that there's no data or there's no change.

The direction of country graph is the first one that makes me feel sad rather than angry, because of those who thought the direction of the country was generally correct, 90% voted Democratic. Because these are the same people (myself included) who now feel, with the results of the election, that the country's trajectory has been reversed and very much not right anymore.

The graphs farther down about family financial situation (better or worse today?) and condition of the economy and expectations for the next generation of Americans show the same trend: those with a more optimistic view voted blue. This sentence sounded pretentious as hell; let me address it later.

Most important issue: for those who voted Democratic, foreign policy and the economy. For those who voted Republican, immigration and terrorism. I'm aware that I sound like a flaming liberal by saying this but wow, look at that fear of the Other.

The responses to the question of what should happen to illegal immigrants is frightening. If you click the "scale by population" button at the bottom, it shows that more people said "offer chance to become legal" than "deport," but still...25% of those surveyed said that illegal immigrants should be deported. The margins on support/opposition of a goddamn border wall are even narrower. (As a civil engineer: we can't even get it together to build infrastructure we *need*, much less infrastructure we very much do not need.)

The "most important candidate quality" question is also interesting. "Cares about people like me" has more responses from Democrats than from Republicans but it's a 58/35 split. Trust for the candidates is low.

60% of people had decided how to vote before September. Those who decided later tended to skew Trump. What happened in the last-mile campaign stretch? I have a lot more thoughts about the failure of the DNC to campaign effectively but that chart speaks volumes.


The mood has been tense. In some cases, including my own, fearful. I'm going to start the process of renewing my passport, not because I'm planning to flee the country but because...well, it needs to happen and I want a safety line.

I don't cry a lot, but I did on Wednesday after I'd called both of my parents. They're fine--but I realized that the factors that make me feel secure about them are that 1) my dad has citizenship and my mom is a permanent residence, all accepted by the system 2) they're educated and employed 3) we live in California. For a lot of people, these factors are not true. I am not worried about my own physical safety or about the safety of my family members, but lots of people like me are terrified for the futures of their immigrant parents.

Various people have been posting "what to do" guides on my facebook feed. Here are a few:

One of the items on both of the practical guides listed above is how to get a passport, so here you go.

I'm not personally going into crisis mode, which is a function of my class/geographic privileges. But I'm also not ignoring these, because I know I default too easily to thinking "things will turn out okay."


Above I alluded to talking about the rural vs. urban, liberal coasts vs. middle America, tradition vs. future divide. I was raised in the Bay Area, go to school in Silicon Valley, have been in a liberal echo chamber my entire life.

Someone I know posted this article from, whose URL would suggest it's titled "6 Reasons for Trump's Rise that No One Talks About" but whose actual title is How Half of America Lost its F***ing Mind (language in the article is no cleaner). Some quotes that made a particular impression:

"If you don't live in one of these small towns, you can't understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called "Cost of Living.""

"The rural folk with the Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I'm telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying."

"Already some of you have gotten angry, feeling this gut-level revulsion at any attempt to excuse or even understand these people. After all, they're hardly people, right? Aren't they just a mass of ignorant, rageful, crude, cursing, spitting subhumans?

Gee, I hope not. I have to hug a bunch of them at Thanksgiving."

The author's name is David Wong, and when I googled I found that that's a pseudonym and the guy is actually white. Which is not grounds for writing off his article but does provide some context for this quote:

"the racism of my youth was always one step removed. I never saw a family member, friend, or classmate be mean to the actual black people we had in town. We worked with them, played video games with them, waved to them when they passed."

Just notice: we vs. them. The "actual black people we had in town." Hm.

I can read an article like the one above and try for empathy, and I do believe, or at the very least want to believe, that not everyone who voted for Trump is a raging bigot. I have never felt the kind of economic hopelessness described, but I think I can imagine how crushing that would be. But a helluva lot of POC also live in poverty, in rural areas, and every single non-white ethnic group voted blue.

I need to do some soul-searching about what atrocities I co-signed by voting for Hillary, but anyone who voted for Trump also needs to think about what they are implicitly condoning by saying that a man who wants to deport millions, vowed to ban Muslims from entering the country, and has sexually assaulted several women should lead our nation.

This article provides another perspective: I'm A Coastal Elite from the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America. It suits my existing worldview better, so naturally it resonated more with me. But I also think that it's less tone-deaf on race than the one. Some choice quotes:

"We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience."

This brings up issues of the feasibility of travel, of course. I believe that the time I've spent internationally in the years since coming to college have been crucial in expanding my worldview and have made me a better person--but I also realize that there are a lot of financial barriers to travel, and that the Grand Tour tradition is one strongly rooted in class inequality. So I agree with the author's point but it's not as easy as he makes it sound.

"Change has not been kind to the Midwest and rural America.

And rather than embrace it, rural and white working-class Americans are twisting and turning, fighting it every step of the way. We will never return to the days where a white man could barely graduate high school and walk onto a factory floor at 18 and get a well-paying job for life. That hasn’t set in for much of the Midwest.

This doesn’t mean that coastal Americans can’t empathize more with their fellow Americans and try to find solutions to these problems (nor does it mean that there aren’t many struggling working-class people in coastal states). And it certainly doesn’t mean coastal Americans haven’t contributed to this divisiveness."

When Hillary first called Trump supporters a "basket of deplorables" I thought it was amusing and probably true. But now I think that it was irresponsible and probably cost her a lot of votes.

And was it true? Now that the election results are known, I'm trying to find a way around that. Because I don't want to believe that half of the voters in America are irredeemable. What I want to believe is that people who are hurting economically were persuaded, all too easily, to fall back on baser impulses (e.g. white supremacy and xenophobia), that they are driven by fear rather than hatred. And I want to believe that the DNC will realize that they screwed up and offer a better vision, a better message, for these people. A way to make America great without the "again," without the appeal to a less diverse, whiter past.


I watched the clip below, in which Van Jones talks about "whitelash," on CNN as the election results aired on Tuesday, and have been thinking about it off and on ever since.

My heart hurts for everyone whose sense and reality of safety have been compromised. Hate crimes spiked in the UK after Brexit and have stayed high, and the same thing looks like it's happening in the USA now. I've said that I am not afraid for my own physical safety, but I am afraid for the physical safety of some of my friends. Not necessarily here, but I have friends going home to Texas, to Florida, to rural parts of states that are nominally blue, over Thanksgiving. Are they going to be okay?

My heart also hurts for the Obamas. America elects its first black president for two terms, a man who pushes for universal healthcare, under whom we recover from one of the worst recessions in our history--and then he's followed by a bigoted celebrity with no political or military experience, whose running mate is a conservative Christian whose evil is just barely better hidden, who wants to appoint a climate denier to run the EPA, who is going to undo decades of legislative progress. I'm not going to link to Trump's plan for his first 100 days but it is a goddamn nightmare.

The subtitle of this article from Dem* Spiegel, Europe Reacts to Trump, is "The World is Crumbling in Front of Our Eyes." Who is celebrating? Putin, unsurprisingly; Orban; Le Pen.
*The magazine is called Der Spiegel but if I was writing the above sentence in German the from is "von" which takes the dative case, hence "dem"

I would like to offer a more optimistic point of view but I really can't see the silver lining. Republicans have both houses of Congress, and will be able to put at least one justice on the Supreme Court. I don't think Trump will be able to deliver on all his campaign promises but there is a lot of damage he can do.


A few notes on other topics:

Third party voters/people who didn't vote: I'm not going to blame these people for the outcome as much as literal actual Trump supporters, but I do consider it a bad strategic move, unless someone is truly indifferent to who is president i.e. the Trump policies that have me and most of the people I know terrified do not threaten their sense of safety.

I've been seeing more and more about how the Voting Rights Act was not enforced in this election, and I still need to read up on that. But voting access and voter turnout are huge issues that disproportionately affect lower-income and minority groups.

Political action and organization outside of voting is important, and I should think about that more. I just found this article on action items for young Bay Area people. I'm a young Bay Area person. Going to look at this more closely later.

Some other Medium articles that have passed across my facebook feed: an International Student's Open Letter to Americans and My Reaction to My Grieving Liberal Friends both offer alternate perspectives. I don't agree with them fully--yes, Hillary's actions as Secretary of State contributed to violence and conflict around the globe, but is Trump really going to be any better? +There are substantive policy differences between Trump and Clinton--the choice of Supreme Court nominee alone will affect law for decades to come.

The question of why liberals don't just move en masse to swing states is worth thinking about some more. In the interest of my physical safety I'm not going to move anywhere that is both more white and less liberal than my hometown, but a big city in a swing state could be an option. Looking up the swing state margins is making me upset but I could consider Pennsylvania, I could consider Michigan.

I'm renewing my passport but I don't think that leaving the country is the most honorable route for me to take. Yeah, when I was in Germany I kind of wanted to stay forever, but isn't it better to stay and do what good I can here?


EDIT: This is Der Spiegel's latest cover.
The End of the World (as we know it)

EDIT 2: This article is good. What to Do About Trump

Friday, November 4, 2016

Autumn Update

The past month sure has been something. I can't quite complain, since every bit of stress I've been under has been something I chose, but wow is junior year a lot of work. I'm in four technical classes, which I was warned was a bad idea but which is also pretty much my only option given that I studied abroad and want to clear up my schedule for next year. A lot of different thoughts have been floating around in my head since the last time I wrote anything here. In no particular order:


Financial literacy. I had a really good conversation with the resident fellow of my last year dorm about financial literacy and how most college students, no matter their family's socioeconomic level, are more or less clueless about a lot of financial stuff that we're going to get hit with as we enter the adult world. She asked me for some topics about money and personal finance that I thought were particularly important. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it included topics such as:
  • Credit--how to build a good credit score, what a credit card really is (NOT free money), different types of credit.
  • Taxes--how to file them, ????.
  • Savings--I know I need to start saving for retirement right away because the earlier you start the longer your savings can compound.
  • Budgeting--this past summer in Hamburg I think I did a good job budgeting, by which I mean I saved enough money by eating cheap and commuting by bike that I was able to both travel a lot and take a decent amount home, but my finances are only going to get more complex here on out.

We also talked about other aspects about personal finance to address, one of which is people's pre-existing attitudes towards money, and any potential psychological blocks they have about it. These "issues" so to speak aren't necessarily correlated with SES, and may relate more to people's parents' relationships with money e.g. an expensive lifestyle funded by debt vs. money being tight but always well-managed.

We also talked about making the topic seem approachable and accessible, and how people's backgrounds could differ widely. And about what money means to people--security, status? and how money can be used in relationships as a tool of power (any relationships, but the example she brought up was domestic abuse enacted through controlling money).

When I was about 13-15, I wanted to study finance, and consequently read a lot of financial magazines--Money, Smart Money, Fortune, if I remember correctly--and asked my dad all sorts of questions about things I didn't understand from my readings. When I switched my focus to engineering I got out of that habit, which I think is unfortunate. I need to update my knowledge.

I'm not too worried about my financial future: a single cheapskate living on a civil engineer's salary will be able to make ends meet, and since I tend to be fairly controlling I *want* to learn all about how to stay on top of my money. But to be honest, I want to excel at my personal finances. I want never to have to worry about money, I want never to be in debt where the payback path isn't absolutely clear. I no longer see the point of being filthy rich, which was a goal six years ago, but I want to make enough to support myself, to support my parents when they retire, and to give charitably.


Since I'm in two classes that have lab portions, I decided it was high time to learn LaTeX. Since I use Windows (which my Linux-using friends view with horror) I downloaded the MiKTeX distribution. A collection of links here, my main reference for "what do I type to get this thing" here. The learning curve is very, very shallow and you absolutely do not need any coding knowledge whatsoever. The final product looks super sharp and professional. 10/10 would recommend.


Last Saturday I went contra dancing. Because of Halloween, the dance was a costume ball, so I dressed up as Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation (although I wrote Fire Lord Zuko on my nametag because I'd rather be a fire lord than a prince).

It's been over a year since the last time I went to contra, because when I went at the beginning of last year I was still really uncomfortable with my gender identity/expression and ended up dancing follow pretty much the whole evening, which is making my skin crawl to remember. Not to say that women--cis or trans--who prefer to dance lead are doing anything wrong re being women, but I enjoy dancing lead a thousand times more than dancing follow, and the only reason people think that that's weird is because I appear to be a girl.

So I went to the dance on Saturday intending to dance only lead. Aside from 1.5 dances (once someone asked me to dance and refused to follow and I'm not quite rude enough to have said "well I'll dance with someone who will follow then" and another time when someone led me through the first half of a waltz to show me how it was done) I accomplished my goal.

I remember the first few times I danced contra, when I thought I was cis, I enjoyed it uncomplicatedly. On Saturday, I ended up satisfied but it felt like something I had to fight for. One guy apologized to me during the snack break for assuming that I would dance follow, and that was nice; the women all seemed to take it with more equanimity than the men. I led my friend who is one foot taller than me and we confused people a lot with that.

Gender stuff has been bothering me off and on since the quarter started because 1) apparently I never updated some of my friends on the fact that she/her is wrong 2) I am not coming out in my professional life anytime soon and because of my various extracurrics I'm occupying that public face more this year than last year. There's one friend I really want to talk to about this, a trans dude who was in my dorm last year, but for some reason our schedules just don't line up this quarter. Alas.


Since I'm a junior I've been thinking more and more about my future. The rest of this year is pretty much set, although there are various things that I may be doing in the spring that I want to think about more (a project class working with the City of San Jose that sounds awesome and also very time-consuming) (if I want to graduate with honors I'd better think some more about a question that genuinely interests me that I could turn into an honors thesis). Senior year I really, really want to staff in my dorm from last year, and about half of my classes are set.

And after that? A lot of people at my university coterm, and I am giving thought to that. But I also definitely want to work for at least a year after I graduate. I want to get a masters or a Professional Engineer license and I'm not quite sure what order to do that. When do I take my GREs? I need to schedule a conversation with my advisor, clearly.

I'm also trying to get a construction internship this summer, because every single upperclassman I've talked to has said that you learn more from being in the field than anywhere else. Construction is also probably the route I'm planning to take, although I also haven't gotten to much designing yet so I'm not ruling that out entirely.

So far I've had three interviews, gotten callbacks from two (the third was yesterday so not surprised not to have heard back yet). I'm cautiously optimistic, since I think my employability took a huge jump between last year and this year. Here's hoping I avoid the crushing job anxiety of the past two years.


Writing. Lieutenant Sarcasm and I were throwing around ideas for reviving the Protagonist Club storyline, with our two main characters Serenity and Justine studying abroad in Italy at the same time and running into a whole new cast of characters. Revisiting these characters is quite fun.

A few other threads of stories are floating about, including quite a few set in Germany. Everything requires a good amount of plotting out and worldbuilding, so I've not been very active about getting new words down. But I think I'll reel out a few ideas and see which ones are promising.

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo because really? I'm having enough trouble managing my time as is. One of these years...I may try to use this as a reason to write more consistently, but no promises. This coming month surely will be just as much "something" as the one past.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

College Advice

We've had two weeks of school. I am busy but with good things, worthwhile things. I've been missing Deutschland, especially Berlin. But being back at school has its advantages, one of which is being surrounded by other students and being in positions of authority--some de jure and some de facto.

Now a junior, I've gone through two of the most transformative years of my life since coming to college. I was thinking today about things I do that have improved my college experience, and have assembled a list of ten:

1. Be considerate of the staff.

If you make a mess, clean it up yourself. Pick up your trash, use the doormat so you're not tracking leaves and mud inside the building, and so on. If you take dishes, cups, utensils, etc. from the dining hall, bring them back. Be patient if something is taking longer than usual. Say hello to people.

2. Refrain from assuming you know people's lives.

Race/ethnicity and assigned gender may seem visually obvious, but be aware that people's experiences are not monolithic. Economic background can be more difficult to determine and no matter the patterns of behavior that people exhibit, be aware that you could be reading them incorrectly. The two factors that I have been most surprised by, because I wrongly assumed things about people, are 1) mental health and 2) relationship to family.

3. Avoid buying textbooks at full price.

Some classes may not really require the textbook, or you can get an old version and copy problems from a book in the library. Do a thorough search for PDFs. I have no sympathy for textbook publishers.

4. Maintain a calendar.

I need to be able to orient myself in time, so I have a lot of calendars. But keep track of assignments, long-running projects, deadlines, exams, events, etc. because they pile up really fast. A term-long calendar, taped above your desk, is great. Leave a column to write down a list of things due that week, it actually helps a lot.

5. Decorate your room.

Whether you spend a lot of time there or just use it to park your body while you sleep, making the space your own helps counteract any homesickness that may occur. Or, if like me you don't really get homesick (...because home is half an hour away), it still feels nice to have a place that is yours.

6. Try working in different places.

If your original study place happens to be the best, you can always go back to it.

7. Combine food in the dining hall.

I learned what an Arnold Palmer is in freshman year (lemonade + iced tea) and my life is improved because of it. Adding pasta or rice to soup is also good.

8. File old notes and work.

Cheap paper folders, stacks on your bookshelf, whatever. Keeping old stuff organized by course helps a lot when reviewing for finals. If you file stuff away promptly, e.g. at the end of every week, then it's a super low-maintenance system. Much worse is letting stuff pile up and needing to block out an hour or more to sort through it all--not that I don't enjoy that kind of thing, it's just less efficient.

9. Schedule in vacuuming and doing laundry.

You don't need to put them in on your calendar formally, but doing them at the same time every week (or two weeks, or three weeks, depending on your desired frequency) builds the habit of doing them. Same goes for any sort of housekeeping task.

10. Check in with yourself.

Some stretches you barely have time to think, you're so busy. But if you have a chance to catch your breath, gather your thoughts as well. They may surprise you.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Return

I am back in the US, back on campus, all moved into my dorm room and with a full week of classes behind me. Not going to lie, it's strange being back.

After leaving Hamburg, I spent a few days in Berlin. My host parents from the spring were kind enough to let me stay with them, and I had two full days--Sunday and Monday--which I spent in exactly the way I wanted, saying goodbye to my favorite city.

On Sunday I went to the Flohmarkt and got souvenirs, finally made it to the DDR Museum and the museum in the Holocaust Memorial, and watched the news coverage of the Berlin elections with my host parents. On Monday I had some business to take care of and experienced the thrilling paranoia of walking home with over 1000 Euro in my backpack from cashing out my bank account. Then I watched Tschick in a near-empty theater and spent too much money on notebooks and wandered around the Freie Universität.

I woke up on Tuesday at 0530 in Berlin and went to sleep on Tuesday at 2200 in California.

My Wednesday to Friday were spent writing emails, eating, walking, and sleeping. On Saturday I moved back and got my room all set up. I'm fairly pleased with how it turned out.
(I particularly like the parallelism of these decorations. The Polaroid-style postcards are from Berlin and Hamburg; the MRI is of my head; Memento Mori e Festina Lente. The art on the bookshelf is all by the infinitely talented Lieutenant Sarcasm.)

I want to write more in-depth posts about my six months abroad before it all fades away in the rush of the school year. The bubble is really a vortex that strips away everything you may bring with you until you remember no life before setting foot on campus--or at least that's how it felt freshman year. And this year feels like a second freshman year for a variety of reasons more or less superficial--I started a new journal so I can't read back to the previous two years, I'm in a dorm where I don't know most of the people, some of my most important people are far away (on the other side of campus, abroad), I've been away for six months so campus feels new--but I have begun, slowly, to regain the feeling of being a continuous creature, of building something that will last me the rest of my life.

This quarter I am taking four civil engineering classes (or rather, five but one is a weekly seminar), which is a little scary. Fluid mechanics, geotechnical engineering, structural analysis, and steel design. I really want to do well in all of them. Somehow I ended up in leadership positions for two extracurrics, so those are also taking a lot of time, but I also greatly enjoy having power and being the person making executive decisions.

The first week back is always exhausting, and the rest of the quarter is likely to be the same--although once things settle into a routine I'll be better able to manage it. It's going to be a long year, I can feel it, but also one where I really build the knowledge and skills that will (ahem) be the foundation of my professional life.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tschüß, Hamburg

Warning: image heavy post.

I am leaving Hamburg today. Yesterday was my last day of work, and my Probe-BahnCard runs out today, so I'll be heading back to Berlin for a few days before flying home to California. I'm going to write more posts about my summer and about my almost six months abroad, and I also plan to write a Hamburg guide similar to the one I did for Berlin.

The whole summer I've been comparing Hamburg to Berlin and finding it wanting in many ways. But on Thursday, as I was showing a friend around the city, I surprised myself with a rush of sentiment. Hamburg is a dynamic, interesting, fun, Free and Hanseatic city with a long and complex history, and although it had the misfortune of being the next city I lived in after imprinting very strongly on Berlin, it is actually pretty great. There are things I regret not seeing (such as, er, the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte) and things that I will miss dearly (Frau Larsson, the Swedish cafe ten minutes from work that has the best cakes ever). I got lucky and ended up both living and working with extremely nice people. Overall, I have just been very fortunate.

Not really feeling in the mood for a lot of words. Here are some photos from the past thirteen weeks, instead.

Birds along the Alster
Schlager Move parade, described to me as "Love Parade but with 70s folk-inspired pop"
Harbor on the Alster
Sankt Pauli, the cool neighborhood
Old turbine (?) in front of the Museum der Arbeit
Frau Larsson's cake display
Fields near Neuengamme, a concentration camp on the outskirts of the city
Friedhof Ohlsdorf
Probably the Alster
Cranes in the industrial area south of the Elbe
Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck (the three major Hanseatic cities) in front of the Justice Building

Danke schön, Hamburg. Ich hoffe auf ein Wiedersehen.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What I (Will) Miss

And suddenly, we are a week into September already. When did that happen?

The past few weeks have been quick. The pace at work quickened briefly, and the project I've been working on since the end of July will wrap up neatly for the end of my internship. Last weekend I was in Berlin, on Friday for the seminar with the other interns that had me stressing, and on the weekend with friends. This weekend I will be traveling again. Next weekend I will travel to Berlin and stay with my host parents a couple of days, and then I travel back to the United States.

Last week, on September 1, I found myself stunned at the thought that on September 1 I was on a different continent. Until college, school always started before then. Now it is the first month of autumn and I am in Hamburg, not the Bay Area.

I've been thinking about things I miss and will miss, and have been too busy planning travel and sending real-person-emails to come up with anything more substantial to post. Here, then, are the lists.


What I miss:

Consistent good weather. The rain I don't mind, and after living in drought-stricken California it's refreshing. But the cold! North German summers are like California winters. I wondered if I was being dumb getting more sweaters after coming here, but they have been absolutely necessary.

Meat. I've been eating vegetarian this summer because I'm living with a vegan, and once I get back to Berlin you know I'm going to go to my favorite sushi place and get one of their combos.

Various foods. These are things I will obtain in short order once I get back to the states:
-burrito with guacamole
-cajun fries with BBQ sauce and honey mustard (from TAP or Five Guys)
-chicken egg drop corn soup from any Chinese restaurant
-In-n-Out. I've been abstaining from mammals for a while now so I might not actually make good on this one. But something about being away from the US for months at a time makes you want a burger.
-chili. I was going to cook it for myself this summer and never got around to it, because I'm lazy.

Friends and family. Of course. I've already written about feeling isolated here.

Speaking English. Not because it's easier (although it definitely is) but because I speak German in a higher register than I speak English, for whatever reason, and I don't like that.

My own bike. These city bikes are absolutely fantastic, but I want mine. This item also includes having a helmet.

Being in the same time zone as people. I'm sure it looks super professional to these engineering firms to get emailed back by this college kid at 0300--but no, that's just me sneaking emails in on my lunch break.

Drying machines. Not that the drying rack is all that inconvenient, but it is slower.

All the music that is blocked in Germany but not in the US because of copyright issues.


What I will miss:

The clouds. German skies are gorgeous.

Cheap groceries. Food is way less expensive here than in the US, although I'm not sure why.

Various foods. These are things I will miss having in close reach:
-falafel dürüm
-savory baked goods like the Kartoffel Teigtasche I had for lunch and the Tomaten-Paprika Strudel from the Podbielskiallee U-Bahn Imbiss in Berlin
-croissants for under 1 Euro
-cake from the Swedish cafe ten minutes away from my work place
-cheap Ritter sport chocolate. My sister informs me these are also available in the US, but pricier.

Living independently. This includes cooking for myself and having to run household errands. I don't know, I kind of like that stuff--although cooking sometimes takes longer than expected and doesn't turn out consistently well.

Living in a city. I like having a lot of different things clustered together. The convenience of being able to run almost all my errands in the stretch between work and home is excellent.

Good public transportation. Good cheap public transportation, I should add. There's a real network here, and although I think Berlin's system is better than Hamburg's, Hamburg outshines the Bay Area a thousandfold.

Perspektiv. In the US it's easy to get insular, and here...well, you can get insular, but the bubble is not quite as present.

Speaking German. I am at a reasonably good level of German for a year and a half, and I want to keep building on it. Living in Germany and absorbing the language I hear around me has been good.

The potential for a rational sleep schedule. Admittedly I have gone to bed past midnight a few too many times this week, but at least I had the option not to. Next quarter when I'm in my four technical classes and trying to figure out how to lead a team, that will not work so well.

High background level of environmental consciousness. Separate your trash. Separate all your trash.

Convenient far-distance travel. The number of countries I've been to has doubled since I landed in Germany in March. An hour and a half to get to various other capital cities? Amazing. Long-distance buses and the rail network? Also amazing.

Not being in a drought.


It's been over five months. This is much longer than the last longest time I was out of the country, which was two months last summer. I don't know the next time I will be in Europe--so I need to enjoy the time while I have it.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Roma Amor

It's taken me a while to get around to writing this, partly because Rome was a lot to process and partly because I had to play the role of the responsible adult more than usual this week, which took all of my energy.

Before I start: in case you have not already heard, on Wednesday a 6,2 magnitude earthquake struck Central Italy. The town closest to the epicenter, Amatrice, has been all but destroyed and the death toll, last time I checked, is over 280. Thousands more have been displaced. Here is a link with ways to help.


I landed in Rome on 19. August 2016, the two-thousand-and-second anniversary of Augustus Caesar's death. I hadn't planned it that way, had picked this weekend because it was when flights were cheapest, but--although I do not believe in fate--it does hint at the tenor the weekend would take.

Rome. What does one think of, when one thinks of Rome? For me it has always been the Roman Republic, the Roman Principate, the Roman Empire. Marble arches and columns, aqueducts, togas, war, blood, iron. Cypresses. Piranesi's carceri d'invenzione. I am a stereotype of the Grand Tour jerk who travels to better themself and goes to Rome to touch eternity, with barely a thought spared to the modern city and its more recent history. If this is reprehensible, then I am reprehensible.

Because I've been in Germany for--wow, five months now, I did wonder several times about the lack of reference to fascism in the city landscape. Where are the memorials? The monuments? In Berlin one does not have to seek them out, one sees them everywhere. Not so in Rome. But I wasn't there to see Mussolini. I was there for Augustus.

I'm struggling to figure out how to present my weekend in Rome. The visit had a strong enough emotional charge that I could go full melodramatic/pretentious. It was also a really fun vacation with lots of sun and gelato and practicing my Italian. An itinerary is probably the most straightforward format, but the narrative of the weekend is not fully linear. But Rome is a palimpsest and if I throw together a bunch of approaches, from various angles, perhaps that is after all the most honest way to approach it.


The basic itinerary:

Here is a photo of the ticket stubs and maps I accumulated. One of the first things I did after landing at Fiumicino was go to the tourist info point and purchase my 72-hour Roma Pass, which is a darn good deal: access to all public transportation (except to/from airports), two free museums/sites, reduced price on everything visited thereafter. If you're an EU citizen under the age of 25 you get the reduced price anyway (or free if you're under 18) but for the rest of us, definitely a good deal. Then I got my train ticket and went to the hostel. At the transfer from train to bus I got turned around in the station and asked directions from an Italian soldier carrying a machine gun. To be fair, I had just seen a pair of French tourists do the same thing. Still intimidating.

After checking in at the hostel, the first thing I did was walk along the Tevere (Tiber, but in italiano e' tevere) to the Museo dell'Ara Pacis. I've written before here about why Augustus is important to me (and if you've forgotten/are a new reader, there will be plenty of that later in the post) but the Ara Pacis is particularly special because in an archaeology class I took my first quarter of freshman year, my final project was about Augustan Rome using the Ara Pacis as a jumping off point.

Some historical background: the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, was built by the Senate to celebrate Augustus's return from victories in Spain and Gaul. It features carvings with a procession of notable Romans, including my favorite three (Augustus, obviously, and also Agrippa and Livia); plant motifs with palms and swans to represent Apollo, Augustus's patron god; and of course Lupa with Romulus and Remus. It is the most perfect thing I have ever seen.

After writing an essay in the guest book (not really, it was just a very large paragraph [and in Italian, I'm proud to say]) and getting kicked out (it was closing time and I'd been there for almost two hours), I walked around the Mausoleum of Augustus right next door and then went along Via del Corso, looking at famous sites--the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, eccetera--before eating dinner (spaghetti pomodoro). At this point it was dark, which shocked me because in northern Germany it doesn't get dark until very late. Flux doesn't even kick in until around 2030.

But it's Rome. The city was still very much awake and I wandered around for another few hours, seeing more famous sites under the stars. The Fontana di Trevi is a lot larger than I expected and the marble is stunning. I couldn't quite believe it was real.

A quote from Rilke was dancing around the edges of my thought, and I couldn't remember it verbatim, but here it is:
"Waters infinitely full of life move along the ancient aqueducts into the great city and dance in the many city squares over white basins of stone and spread out in large, spacious pools and murmur by day and lift up their murmuring to the night, which is vast here and starry and soft with winds." (source)

The next day I got up early and went straight to the Musei Capitolini. Well, not quite straight, because I stopped at Coop, an Italian grocery chain whose name I vaguely remembered from learning about it in middle school, in order to purchase the fizzy citrus soda and bio crackers that were destined to become both my breakfast and lunch.

I spent three hours in the museums and wondered what I'd have to do to be allowed to live there. I am an utter pleb when it comes to art appreciation, because my criteria for enjoying art is 1) do I like how it looks 2) does it make me feel or think something 3) is anyone I know in it. By "anyone I know" I mean historical figures about whom I know something. For Rome, that means Julius, Augustus, Livia, Agrippa, Tiberius (sort of, his treatment of his mother makes me not so okay with him), Hadrian, Antinous, Marcus Aurelius. For mythology, I get the most excited about Athena/Minerva, Apollo, and Artemis/Diana. The museums had plenty of depictions of my favorites, so I was happy.

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius
This did mean, though, that by the time I got to the Forum/Palatine area I had missed the last turno accompagno for the Casa di Augusto/Casa di Livia. I didn't realize that you need a tour to get access and went in anyway, which royally (imperially?) upended my itinerary but about which I can't really be upset. When I realized my mistake, I considered staying with my original plan for about half an hour.

Then, as I wiped tears from my eyes at the short film A Elegia di Augusto playing in the Palatine Museum, I thought--when Octavian met Livia they were both married and both Livia and Scribonia (Octavian's then-wife) were pregnant. He broke up both marriages in order to be with her. You cannot be serious in saying that twelve euro is the wall at which you will stop.

So I threw out plans to visit the monuments to Garibaldi and the Napoleonic Museum and decided that, well, I'd go back the next day in time for the tours.

I visited the Museo Etrusco next, which is a bit out of the way but astonishingly well-curated and informative. Got dinner to go and ate it on the bench in front of the Ara Pacis.

I decided to walk around the Ara Pacis, just to see the carvings again, and ended up having a breakdown. It's private so I won't say much more about it, and if you know me in real life please don't bring it up, but I did break down. The Res Gestae is inscribed on the wall below the museum (it's on a slope) below the face of the Ara Pacis that has the procession with Augustus, and I spent a lot of time there.

The enormity of what Octavian/Augustus achieved hit really hard. I've been very slowly making my way through a German biography of Augustus and one of the comments in it is that Octavian's decision to accept the responsibility of being Julius's heir is one of the few instances when an individual choice, more than prevailing historical forces, changed the course of the world. He was nineteen years old.

After my breakdown I felt perfectly, blissfully happy and at peace. I crossed the river and wandered around a bit and the Castel Sant'Angelo was open for the night (some special program, I'm not sure) so of course I went in, because fortresses. I went up to the top and looked out over the city at night and somewhere there was a fireworks show. It was beautiful.

The next day, bright and early, I got my new Forum/Palatinate/Colosseum ticket but eyed the line for the Colosseum and thought I'd take my chances later. Instead I went to the Pantheon, which is marvelous, bought some souvenirs from little shops, and wandered around the Altare della Patria, or the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele, il primo re d'Italia. Gorgeous architecture.

I went to the Forum/Palatine early and saw the A Elegia video again, and cried again, and then was twenty minutes early to the meeting point for the Casa di Augusto/Casa di Livia tours. These were as expected wonderful. I got the turno accompagno which is "accompanied" not guided, and I think the guided tours get you access to more areas, but I saw what I came to see.

Inside Casa di Livia

After that, I braved the line for the Colosseum and got in in about forty minutes, which really isn't too bad. The deep intense personal part of the trip was over, and so I just enjoyed walking around the Colosseum and taking group photos for other people. I spent a little time reflecting at the Circus Maximus, looking onto the Palatine Hill, then bussed to the train station. I bought tomatoes for my flatmates and took the train to Fiumicino, and sat on the floor writing postcards (which I need to address and mail soon if I want them to get to the US before I do) and then--back to Germany.

A good weekend.


Bad travel advice/travel advice for people who are bad at traveling.

1) Who needs lunch when you have citrus soda and crackers? Not this kid, apparently.

2) Right after making an inconvenient change of plans, do something nice like ask to take group photos.

3) Visit sites that have deep personal meaning alone so no one can see you break down.

4) If you want to practice a language just keep talking until the person you're talking to switches.

5) If you bring a hat, use it.


California has a Mediterranean climate. I've been aware of this for decades but it surprised me how at home I felt in Rome, just because of the weather. Northern German summers are quite different from what I am used to and although I love the clouds in Germany, these perfect blue skies made me smile. I was also surprised that walking around the Forum/Palatine it even smelled like home. The trees smelled just the same as hiking around in California--or perhaps I have just been away for too long and they simply smell closer to California than the trees in Germany?

View towards the Colosseum

I enjoy being able to communicate with people in their language. Back in the day I was actually pretty darn good at Italian and though I no longer have any idea what to do with passato remoto or congiuntivo and I almost forgot that the word "dunque" exists, I could communicate at the basic level of asking for directions, buying things, and so on. I'd like to keep up my Italian. I'm going to try to get B2 certification in German when I go back to school (and need to email my German prof to ask how one makes that happen) and I'm planning to learn Spanish and my Mandarin is in bad need of repair...but I'd like to keep up my Italian. We'll see how that works out. I'll come up with a plan; if there's one thing I can't stop myself from doing, it's making plans.


I am glad that I ended up going alone. This visit was not just a "trip," not a "weekend getaway." Because I was alone I could experience Rome entirely on my own terms and on my own terms, it became a pilgrimage. This sounds stupid, but it is honestly the way I have been thinking about it. And if I had someone else there it could not have been as deeply personally meaningful as it was.

"In my nineteenth year, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army with which I set free the state, which was oppressed by the domination of a faction..." (source)

The Ara Pacis on the night of 20. August 2016, 2002 years and one day after Augustus died. The most perfect thing I have seen. This is what winning looks like. This is victory. This is careful planning and opportunism and tapping directly into the wishes and longings of the people and giving them exactly what they want in exactly the way most beneficial to you. And yet when you say Caesar most people think Julius--but Augustus, Augustus is the one who made Rome into Rome. Without Octavian, without Augustus, would there have been a Rome? Imagine Marc Antony at the helm of the Republic, imagine Cleopatra as its queen. I happen to like Cleopatra (and am indifferent to Antony) but I truly do not believe they could have established the systems that Augustus did, could not have set Rome on its course towards empire.

I like to visit things multiple times, to see and then circle back. In Salzburg I visited the fortress twice. In Rome I visited the Ara Pacis and the Forum/Palatine twice. Repetition is a form of prayer.

I don't believe in gods, just as I don't believe in destiny. But I do believe that the right person can be at the right place in the right time--because Octavian was. And I believe that if your deeds are great enough and move the world deeply enough, you can asymptotically approach immortality, which is one aspect of divinity. Augustus and Livia are nowhere near as Romantic and dramatic of a couple as Antony and Cleopatra--you will see them less in art, in literature--but they were the ones who created more lasting change in the world. Gaius Octavius was a short, sickly guy who was afraid of cats and of storms, and got nervous enough around his wife that he would take notes to prepare for conversations with her, and he created the world that we know today.

Festina lente. Make haste slowly. Change takes time, and you cannot lose focus and you cannot lose patience. I believe that when Octavian accepted Julius's inheritance he dreamed that the Ara Pacis could exist. I believe that he knew his endgame. I am not so sure of mine, but I know that now, having been lucky enough to touch eternity, I want to create some more of it myself.

"I found Roma a city of bricks and I left it a city of marble."

Now go forth. It's your turn.