Category Archives: Life

Christmas in America

Last year, my parents made the long haul across the pond to come visit me in the UK for Christmas. It was great to have them here, but some of us didn’t enjoy the atmospheric deploring gloom and  despairing lack of sunlight that the UK has to offer this time of year. In return, I made the trip home this year and took Kait with me, checking off her first trip to America! She was as excited as a puppy when it came to this trip, and showed her excitement in much of the same way. The trip was short, but we managed to fit a lot of  “American” activities in.

Welcome Home

First and foremost, we had to take a trip to Kroger to make a few purchases: a 64 oz bottle of my favorite BBQ sauce, a bottle of Buffalo wing sauce, 10 lbs of flour to bake with, and candy — American candy. Since you can get a lot of things in the UK, there were only a few things Kait needed to try, namely, Crunch and 3 Musketeers. Perplexed at first, she seems to approve.

Boating

To the bewilderment of my father, Kait took her first boat ride, EVER, on our second day home. Some of us got in smaller boats than others, but we decided to enjoy the best of the weather that the forecast had to offer and ride around Lake Murray.  After the boat ride, we waited diligently until it got dark to visit Saluda Shoal’s Christmas lights. For 14 years now, a public recreation center has put up a drive through lights display, sponsored by various local businesses. This is always a holiday favorite of mine and is one of many stops we like to make on our holiday light tourism route. Unfortunately, one major stop has stopped putting up their lights, but seeing that they put so much work into it with very help, I can understand why they stopped.

Christmas Eve Baking

On Christmas eve, two significant events happened. First, to the bewilderment of my mother, Kait attended her first church service. This was a bit of a reverse-culture-shock to many of the women in my mother’s friend group to find that other people in the world don’t attend church religiously, or at all. The second thing that happened, arguably more monumental, was my mother tried some of my bread after a year and a half of a no carb diet!

I took my sourdough starter home and baked bread over the holiday. I made a loaf of bread for a party, pizza dough, and three dozen bread rolls to split between my family and my neighbors. It was a big hit and probably one of the better pizza crusts I made.

Christmas Day

This year, Christmas day had three notable events. Upon waking up at 7am, I proceeded to start my baking of the bread rolls and had rolls to my neighbors at 8:30 am — they didn’t know what hit them! The second notable event was the slow migration to the presents was late this season, occurring at a record late 10:00am. Lastly, we had Christmas day lunch/dinner with our neighbors, which was a pleasure to get to host them and spend time with them.

Boxing Day

On boxing day, we spent the day walking around downtown

Charleston, SC

Kait and I took a day to ourselves to go explore Charleston, but as with every good road trip, you need to start your day with a good breakfast, of Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits. Kait had been giving me crap for months over what a “biscuit” is… She finally got to see for herself and she enjoyed it, although it confused her. We decided she could understand it as a buttermilk scone for the rest of her life, and I will know it for all its glory, a buttered biscuit.

With the biscuit-affair out of the way, we were on our way to downtown Charleston to see the markets and Waterfront park. I’m not sure if Kait had it in for me or something, but all I could seem to get of her was pictures of her walking away from me! I was finally able to catch up to her and get a picture with her at the pineapple fountain though. We met up with a good friend of mine for lunch, Jake, before heading off to see the Citadel, Rainbow Road, and the Battery. We hit some southern breakfast food at Rarebit and head home to see Star Wars.

One of the things I learned was that pineapples are a sign of hospitality in the South. To quote from Southern Living:

The ability of a hostess to have a pineapple adorn her dining table for an important event said as much about her rank in society as it did about her ingenuity. These beautiful fruits were in such high demand, but so hard to get, that colonial confectioners would often rent them to households by the day. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it. While fruits in general–fresh, dried, candied and jellied–were in great demand, the pineapple was the true celebrity. Its rarity, expense, and striking beauty made it the ultimate exotic fruit. Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests’ dining pleasure. In this manner, the image of the pineapple came to express the sense of hospitality characteristic of gracious home gatherings.

Star Wars Episode VIII

Kait and I tried to see the movie after coming back from Charleston. Unfortunately it was sold out, so we picked ourselves off and begin to head home when I overheard a dad telling his kids and their friends that they couldn’t see Star Wars because it sold out. I was crushed for him, but there was nothing we could do for them since we were in the same boat as well. We just tried again the next day after lunch with two childhood friends of mine, Kristen and Liz, who both happen to be in Europe as well (Oxford and France respectively).

Star Wars Episode VIII… as for the movie itself, I’ll air my grievances  in another post… Kait got the largest size popcorn she could though. Had to make the trip worth it somehow…

Popcorn
Popcorn

Korean Food

One of my good friends invited me to go to dinner with him at the best Korean restaurant in all of SC: Korean O-bok Restaurant. Man, that place is great. Their grilled bulgogi is out of this world. Would highly recommend.

Basketball and Margaritas

On our last full day in the states, my brother got us tickets to the Winthrop Basketball Game vs High Point University. As a team manager, one of the perks is that he can “get us in” on the “VIP list”, which, honestly let us walk by the giant line of people waiting to get in. Afterwards, we went to a Mexican restaurant (or at least the South’s take on Mexican food — which is better than the UK’s to be fair). Since my mother had been here before, and she wasn’t driving thankfully, she decided to get a “Margarita Grande” without checking the menu. She got a fish bowl. A fish bowl full of margarita. We were impressed that she walked out of the restaurant.

Waffle House

The last fine dining location she needed to visit was, of course, Waffle House. She seems to have enjoyed her breakfast… it may have just been the coffee she was missing… who knows.

Waffle House
Waffle House

The biggest thing I wish I had was a few more days to spend with my friends. It’s a bit hard to be so far away from them and get so little time with them… But I’ve been fortunate to make such good friends here, and am happy to be back with them.

The trip ends here, where Kait and I pack ourselves in the steel tube called a plane and head home to start another year. This year was good, but I’m excited to see what 2018 brings.

Passed my First Year Viva!

So it’s been quite a while, and I’ll go back and write some updates about cool things that happened in the last few months, but I figured I’d go ahead and write about this one now!

All entering PhD students are “registered for no formal registration (NOTAF) until satisfactory progress has been made” and can say  we are “registered for a a PhD (Probationary) or NOTAF” for the first year.  The satisfactory progress includes a short presentation, a 40 page report, and an oral exam (known as a viva).

All in all, I passed. It wasn’t by any flying colors, but it wasn’t poor enough to look at failing me. This was aided by some of the circumstances regarding project handover and project definition being less than clean or clear for an extended period of time, so my progress was not held to such a high standard, nor has it made it to where I wish it was. My grasp on how to clearly deliver the underlying information, and in what order, was definitely lacking, which made for an uncomfortable few minutes.

The viva then turned from being grilled into a discussion, which proved very fruitful and thought provoking. We discussed ways and resources to improve my writing and undergo a longer writing process. They gave me advice on creating effective and concise figures, rather than my attempt to get my 11th hour data into the report. We discussed how to move forward with a project plan, which should prove most useful in the near future. Most importantly, we talked about the fact that I’ve been very detail oriented and have lost sight over the bigger picture, a skill I need to exercise and develop more.

This was a good and productive meeting for me. I feel both relieved to have gotten through it and excited to focus on improving in areas highlighted in the viva. I’m looking forward to spending the next few years in Cambridge developing my PhD.

New Building!

Today was the big day, we made the move from the old building to the new building! After an afternoon and a morning of strenuously packing our desks and unplugging our computers, we have arrived in the new building and our new offices in West Cambridge.

It will take some getting used to, and my ability to socialize with the other first year students has gone up (seeing they all sit to my left), but I believe it’ll be a good change. I’ll be making full use of my headphone’s ability to drown out the noise around me.

 

7 April 2017 Update:

After a full week in the department, I think this will be a good space for us. The whiteboard has been put to good use as a mechanism to discuss and work out mathematical problems for simulations. The first years sitting together has been a good way to use each of our skills to further our work – Angiras’ ability to extract and summarize information quickly, Gustavo’s familiarity with the software that runs our simulations, my knowledge about shell scripting and programming, Kimberly’s calm demeanor around all of our chaos.

I also like the fact that the gym is across the street from the offices, so I’m finally getting my money’s worth of my gym membership I signed up for and rarely used because of rowing…

Friends from Home, take 3: Kelsey!

This week was a very special week as one of my longest and closest friends came to visit. Kelsey took her spring break to fly into London to spend a whole week with me! Yes, but why? Good question. I can barely stand to spend time with myself as it is, why would anyone fly 4,000 miles to voluntarily spend 9 days with me. She probably just had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire.

She few into London on Friday and went around and toured different museums while I finished off my work that afternoon. We had arranged to meet when my train got in around 6 at King’s Cross. To be honest, it really wasn’t real that I was getting to spend that time with her until I was able to spot her, dazed and exhausted, in between a few people at the station.  We welcomed each other with a warm embrace as if no time had passed since I last seen her. In fact, it had been exactly a year since I had seen her.

We got to do a lot in London over that weekend, even having a productive day on Sunday before heading to Cambridge. We ate dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant and then turned in early Friday night. Saturday was seeing Big Ben, Westminster, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and London Tower all in one day! Kelsey got to see her friend from Clemson, Katie, and hang out for the afternoon. Before heading in for the night, we were able to walk around a giant mall at Sheppard’s bush. It’s YYUUUUGGGGE, the biggest. Jokes aside, it was so huge and filled with such fancy stores that it was just out of this world. It was a neat and mesmerizing walk.

Sunday we walked around Notting Hill, which was amazing. It reminded us of the prettier parts of Charleston and me of some of the quieter parts of places like Wilmington. The colors were lovely. I was able to capture what our trip looked like.

Typical image of us.

After Notting Hill, we went and rode the London Eye, which was much better than the Brazilian guy made it out to be. I enjoyed it during the day as much as I did during the evening* when I went with my family. After that, we headed back via Waterloo station where Kelsey proceeded to run into a bollard while taking a photo followed closely by me wearing half my sparkling water from Pret. We were on a roll there for that 20 minutes. After that we headed to a store that her friend point us to and stumbled across a place called Kingly Court. A neat little place that we immediately decided was going to be where we came back to eat next weekend.

Since I had Head of the River to prepare for, our mornings in Cambridge were much earlier than either of us really wanted them to be. I’d leave her in the morning, cox my crew to victory, then head to work before meeting her for lunch. Our favorite lunch was probably Peterhouse. It wasn’t so much the food as the fact that we showed up too early and spent 15 minutes walking around the gardens that I didn’t know existed.

Thursday night, Kelsey attended her first Formal Hall. Connor was able to book us, him, and his mom  as part of the Engineering Formal Dinner for Churchill and they sat us away from them.  We had a great time with good food and even better company.

Friday we went into London and I was kind enough to bring her stuff in for her so she didin’t have to carry it around all day… I figured this meant her suit case but I found a backpack when I came back for her stuff. -.- So I traveled to London on the train with her backpack, my backpack, and her suitcase – I was a sight to have been seen. We had our dinner at Kingly court and a restaurant called Brown and Whyte.

Saturday morning we had time before Kelsey had to head to the airport, so we went out for a late breakfast/brunch. I couldn’t convince her to order one herself, but I ordered the full English breakfast and got to show her what it was. She seemed convinced that she wouldn’t eat that much food for an entire day as I devoured the plate in front of me.

After our breakfast we had some time before she had to leave so we walked around a park near our AirBnB. It was interesting to sit and watch families in the park. The dogs that played and were well trained, the one that was not so well trained and ran off as the owners casually watched and followed later. It was interesting to see how independent the children were, riding around on their scooters – a stark difference between US and UK parents.

After the park, we walked to the tube station and headed our separate ways – her to the airport and me back towards King’s Cross. It was sad to watch her ride away on the Tube, but it’s nice knowing she’ll be back in May! Until next time!

 

*Evening = 4:30 when it got dark…

 

Friends from Home, Take 2: Mackenize

This weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to host a friend from USC, Mackenize, as he finished off his spring break Europe trip.

This was the first time I was able to show someone from home a true tidbit of my life here in Cambridge. When he got in, we picked up food and then went to a Tequila tasting event at Claire College’s MCR Bar where he got to meet a lot of my chemical engineering friends. On Sunday, we had a couple friends take us to brunch at King’s College – a first trip to their dining hall for both of us. This was just after the International Women’s day celebration Hall and all the portraits of the men were covered by cardboard. A neat but worthless and meaningless gesture IMO. We all toured their chapel and went for ice cream. That afternoon, I headed out for rowing (preparing for Head of the River!) while he continued to explore town and figured out how he was getting back home. Our evening was filled with some good food and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something I had been meaning to do since arriving.

Monday morning was more rowing (he really got the full experience here) and hanging out with Mack before he had to head off. We meandered around the city and stopped for lunch before we had to say goodbye. As always, it was a pleasure to get to spend time with him. Can’t wait to see him next.

Bumps: Day 3

After a hard earned day of rest, we came out today focused and ready to chase down FaT3 before they caught Maggie m3. The weather was a bit windy again, and my start wasn’t as clean as it could have been, but we pressed hard, but not hard enough.

By the time we were coming around the first corner, we watched peterhouse get bumped behind us and FaT3 had bumped Maggie — the two boats in front and two behind us, Gone. Our hearts sank as we passed FaT3 knowing our chance of bumping them was gone. We still did our best to row on and, without words, we all turned our attention on that glimmer of hope of the overbump. Everyone in the boat silently agreed that no one would let up, we could feel it in the press of the blades as we put more pressure down with each call from the cox. “And… NOW! Legs one! legs two! legs three! …” was intermixed with calls from the bank “You’re gaining Binson!”

Against all logic of hope, we pushed on from about 5 lengths behind Magdalene, unbeknownst to us, with the last two thirds of the race to go. The radio station CamFM broadcasted, “Robinson will row over.”

As we entered the halfway point in the race, we heard more calls from the bank that we were gaining as more and more pain settled in, but no one let up and the cox, the birthday boy, got to work his magic, sitting at about four lengths back.

“Here we go boys, we’re three lengths off of them, give me three tens here… Now! Swing one!…” our cox demanded; the pain continued to set in, but we pushed harder. Shouts of “They’re falling apart! Get them Binson!” distantly rolled in from the coaches on the side; the pain continued to build, but no one lost hope. “Good, boys, two lengths! SWING, NOW! SWING, One!… ” Our muscled cried out in pain, deprived of oxygen; our minds wondered if we had enough race course to catch them, but we pushed through each stroke.

As we begun approaching the railway bridge, we heard the whistle, the Holy sign to say we were within one length. We pushed harder, moving it to two whistles – indicating a half a length between us and their stern as we passed under the bridge. Our bodies pleaded and ached for us to stop after this 8 minutes of oxygen deprived torture, yet, everyone agreed to push on without ever uttering a word.

We exited the bridge. Whistles came from the bank. Crews waiting to go off shouted and cheered. The distractions were at an all time high as our bodies tries to tell us ‘no more, no more’. Our cox yelled to us: “Finish them, NOW! HOOK, SEND! HOOK, SEND!…” The whistles stopped and were replaced by shouts of “CANVAS!!” From the bank to say we were less than 4m off them. In agony we all pushed, knowing they were within reach and the end was approaching soon. I could look over and see the stern of their boat as we took the final strokes, catching the blade of their stroke seat.

The arm of their cox went up and ours yelled “Hold it up! Hold it up!” That was it, we had done it, achieved an overbump! Exhausted, we pulled off to the side, cheering and screaming out of both joy and agony.

In these moments, everything that I love about the sport came together for eight and a half beautiful minutes. The rowers all endured pain of immense agony as the oxygen was stripped from our muscles. We, all eight of us, answered the question “what will you do when it hurts, when you have no reason to believe and push harder?” Silently and in harmonious unison, we answered back: be our best, stay focused and determined, push hard, and trust every other member of the crew to do the same under the leadership of our cox and coaches. Our cox was faced with “How will you motivate and lead your crew when you know what mountains of challenges they are facing?” And answered with level-headed control, judgement, and communication; with mutual respect and trust. Today, our team became something more than the sum of the individuals in the boat. Today, our team accomplished something special, an overbump. Today, it became apparent to everyone that we have a team bond filled with unending trust, respect, and determination. Today, we validated every early wake up, every cold morning outing, every evening erg session, every reason why we trust and believe. Even luckier for me, today, we caught it all on video.

Tomorrow, one final push, one final outing towards blades.

Binson M2 +5

 

 

Bumps: Day 2

My mental focus and physical resilience was put to the test today. Less than 30m from the boat house, a pedestrian blindly stepped out into the sidewalk. Pedro slammed on his breaks coming to a stop before hitting him. Unfortunately, my brakes didn’t fare as well and I clipped Pedro’s back tire, sending myself tumbling into the street. With just as much bruising to my pride as my legs, I quickly gathered my belongings and begun to walk to the boat house. Luckily, I was just a bit bruised up and left with a little bit of road rash through my jeans, but after a few stretches and a couple minutes on the erg, I determined I was still in good enough shape to row. Putting the accident behind me, I honed in on the challenge ahead.

As if that was not enough of a test, we rowed through a flock of birds who flew away in all different directions, but not without one skillfully hitting me with excrement. At this point I felt I had two options — the easier being to let myself be mad and flustered that these two events had happened to me, losing focus and thinking just about myself; or, to put it behind me and let it go, to focus in on what was to come. I washed off that part of my jacket, considered myself lucky, and placed the last 30 minutes behind me.

With a new order and a new comprehension of the process, we rowed down to the marshaling area with the same hard fought determination. We knew we had an angry Churchill M2 behind us, and a slow Claire Hall ahead of us.

BANG! Off we went. Our start was clean and powerful today. Our focus was sharp and locked. We all knew what was needed – put the blade in the water and push, push hard.

Our work was rewarded by quickly closing in on Claire Hall within the first 600 m of the race, bumping them with our hardest effort off the start yet.

Due to our failure to understand how to use the GoPro, we ended up with a slideshow set to music chosen not by us…

Robinson M2 +2 for the week.

New Years and Barcelona

Over the last few days of 2016 and for the beginning of 2017, I had my first friend visit, Josh. Unfortunately, unforeseen to me, all of the colleges were closed for break, which I learned while my family was here. So, instead of touring around the colleges, we spent a lot of time reading, working out, and playing Halo. Josh seemed open to this, even though I doubt it was his ideal version of the trip.

For new years, we skipped out on going to London and stayed in Cambridge, hanging out with some Gates students to ring in the new year. The company was great, games fun, and drinks plentiful. Sadly, we didn’t do anything to watch a count down. I don’t think this is because the countdown is not as big of a deal here as in the US, I think this was just more we didn’t make an effort to find it online. Instead, someone just counted down from ten off their phone, we all chanted, declared happy new year, and blissfully put 2016 and its problems behind us for the evening. Some people scoffed at this notion, reminding us that yesterday’s problems aren’t solved by the turn of a calendar, we drunkenly asked them to let us have the night and to remind us tomorrow.

After recovering on New Year’s Day, myself, Josh, Alex and Marisa flew to Barcelona to escape the grey blanket and see some sun and blue skies for a few days before returning to work. Immediately, I wished I understood more Spanish, a feeling that has been growing with my encounter with more international students. The city was lovely and the food was amazing, but I couldn’t help but feel like a pampered guest in the city. People talk about Barcelona as the nightlife where everyone parties until the break of dawn, which is not the side of Barcelona or any culture I want to see.

Some of the coolest stuff that I did see was the idea of how much history did occur in Barcelona, with the Catalonians and the explorers. Standing on the same steps where Columbus would have walked to ask for money or have returned with Native Americans was quite a powerful thought. I learned to look up free walking tours where you tip your guide at the end. These were fun and informative.  We took a Paella cooking class where we took part in preparing and cooking Paella and making Sangria. Josh made a great bartender. Lastly, I look forward to touring la Sagrada de Familia on the inside instead of just the outside.

P.S. Only buy drinks on a crash!

Family visits at Christmas

Last March, I told my mother I wasn’t coming home for Christmas. As the look of devastation begun to appear, I told her that she would have to come visit if she wanted to see me at Christmas. This gave me two benefits: (1) I didn’t have to worry about making plans to travel home and (2) my mother would focus on planning a trip and not me leaving all summer.  And it finally happened!  They arrived at the Heathrow airport last week!

We got to spend a few days in London. Our airbnb was out just a few metro stations away from the middle of all the tourist attractions, so it was a nice place to be, but the building with the windows knocked out across the road from the metro stop was a little unnerving.

Some of the best experiences we had in London we had was seeing Wicked and visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide. James booked us tickets to see Wicked, which I got to see in NYC. I really enjoyed seeing it a second time because it was like rewatching a movie or book — you got to catch all the foreshadowing. I was able to recall some of the clues after watching it the first time, but it was amazing to see how much I missed the first time.

The slide was 80m tall and takes 40 seconds to slide down, and Alex was able to convince James to do it. Here they are admiring their challenge, and conquering their challenge.

James was a little less enthusiastic about enduring the slide than Alex was. He’s lowered the amount of time he’s willing to endure anything from 40s to 30s…

After venturing around London, we headed to Cambridge to spend time there. Alex had  to leave the day after Christmas and I got to spend a couple of days with my parents, hanging out, and visiting the Ely Cathedral before they headed home.

End of my first term

Well, I cannot believe that the first term is over. Like the rest of my time here, it has flown by.  The term was filled with lots of new friends, reading textbooks, compiling software (LOTS of unsuccessful attempts), tea times with the group, lunch with the first years in the department, lectures on new topics, enough alcohol to drown a fish, enough formal halls and good food to keep me satisfied, and about three department holiday parties.

Out of all of that, I think the three holiday parties was the biggest surprise. I’ll raise my glass to the next one.