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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…

 

Bumps!

Bumps is a 3km rowing competition where your objective is to hit (bump) the boat ahead of you (or reach the finish line) before the crew behind you bumps you. Seventeen boats in various divisions race one behind another, separated by 1.5 boat lengths (1.5 × 20m), taking off all at once with the sound of a cannon! Once two boats bump, they exit the race by pulling off the course to let the race continue, usually at the relief of the boat ahead of them and the grief of the boat behind them. If the race is close, the boat that missed their opportunity to bump can start chasing the boat that thought it was safe. If they get caught, this is called an overbump.

Starting positions for the 4 race event is determined by the historical standing from the previous year. Once a bump (or overbump) is made, the boats come out with their positions switched the next race.

The race is full of tradition and history. Here are the posts related to bumps:

Pasta Faff
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

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!

Emma Sprints and Gamecox!

Emma Sprints http://ebc.soc.srcf.net/sprints/ is a short race that is hosted by Emmanuel College. You complete a short sprint in “fancy dress” – so the whole team dresses up in corresponding costumes. My team all dressed up as Steve Zissou  from The Life Aquatic in our matching blue shirts and red hats. If they gave awards for the most obscure fancy dress reference, we would have won:

From the Life Aquatic
From the Life Aquatic

What this race really turns into is a bunch of novice boats and rowers rowing as fast and as hard as they can and every once in a while you get a crab:

Luckily, we didn’t have anything like that — but we won one race and lost one race. It really had to do with the timing. Here’s the race videos:

Race One: Victory

Race Two: Not so victory

I have a couple comments: first, we were miserably out of time in the second video. If you didn’t notice it, don’t go back and watch it. Second, I was dead out of breath after the first race so the second race was a tad more difficult. Time to work on that cardio!

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Or really the fun started earlier that morning when I had to cox NM2 during their race! Hence, I am officially a Gamecox.

We won our first race and lost our second in a well fought match by less than a foot. It was quite a way to go out, but for my third time coxing, I think I did a pretty good job trying to lead these boys to victory! As you can see from the pictures, I was repping the Team Zissou as the cox.

 

IAMX Concert

Danny and I got the opportunity to go see IAMX in concert in London the weekend before Halloween, and I don’t think we could have planned the trip any better than it turned out. The day was so perfectly timed that we were never in any rush or even stressed about timing for one moment. We had a laid back dinner right before grabbing our tickets at Will-Call and getting killer seats on the first balcony. And an unexpected bonus, there was no filler opener so we got out of the concert with plenty of time to make the train back to Cambridge.

Now to the important part — the concert itself. One word: Indescribable. IAMX is can be characterized as ‘electronic’ music and one would expect that the show was some fancy lights and a guy standing up pushing a few buttons to play track after track, which could not have been further from what actually happened.

 

First, there were four people on stage including Chris Corner, the man who is IAMX, making everything you heard was done live. The drummer laid down the strong beats while the two women provided backup vocals and keyboard. Corner, coming out in his eccentric feathered hat, tank top, and leggings, made use of two microphones as he sang live. IAMX’s music can be identified by Corner’s extremely dynamic vocal range and ability to leap octaves to hit notes I could never dream of touching, but to me, that wasn’t the most bewildering part of his show — it was his ability, mastery, awareness to use a second microphone and assorted live mixed distortions to create the second thread of his voice that a listener would assume to be a pre-recorded track in his music. I cannot begin to explain how fantastic and stunning this was to watch  and listen to. 

Second, the lights. To the stereotype that electronic concerts are worth going to because they’re elaborate light shows with prerecorded music, this shattered all expectations. Instead of having that awesome light show to decent music, you had the awesome music (see above) accompanied by fantastic visuals.

This was easily one of the best concerts I will ever go to — the lights, the live creation of music, the emotions in his songs. I can’t say enough about it. Danny, thanks for joining me for a wonderful night!

First Day as a Graduate Student

Back in high school, a little over five years ago, I remember sitting in my first research lab, performing ATR-FTIR measurements on dyed fabrics for two hours at a time after school, loving every minute of it. It was then, a little over five years ago, that I decided I would go to Graduate School to do a PhD…

Fast forward two years, it’s Sophomore (2nd) year at University of South Carolina. The workload feels like it could crush me from all the piles of textbooks and hand written homework assignments, and all I wanted to do was be in the lab problem solving, collecting data, and expanding the edge of science. All I wanted to do was be done with college and on to grad school…

Two more years pass. The workload is quite literally killing me. The 110 hour work week was maintained by 2-4 hours of sleep during the week, many meals were missed, friendships seemed to fall apart right and left. The applications felt endless, and I did even fewer than I wanted. Life decisions felt like giant stones to be carried up the mountain. I really doubted if I wanted to go to grad school, whether this was all worth it.

Today. Today was my first day as a “Graduate Student”. Okay, you’re right, technically term started last week and I went to safety training, I know. But today, was my first day sitting at my desk and beginning a new adventure of learning and growing as an academic, an intellectual, and a person.

It feels weird knowing I’ve made it. Nothing feels all that different from five years ago, but nothing feels the same. Everything about this experience is new, but yet, so familiar.

I really haven’t done much yet. I attended more safety lectures, seen enough gruesome pictures of lab accidents that I should be afraid to use scissors to cut paper without causing a spark to ignite a gas leak from the floor below me, set up my desk, begun setting up my computer, read a few pages out of a paper, and got my mug (and promptly told them that my work here was done and I could go home a happy man).

Using my new mug at the Department's morning tea time.
Using my new mug at the Department’s morning tea time.

I don’t really know how to describe this feeling — accomplishment, triumph, a halfway viewpoint along a long academic journey, excitement, anticipation, a medley of these and many more. But today, I can finally say “I am a grad student”.

Fresher’s Week!

To the great disappointment of some of my friends at home, “Fresher’s week” was not a week of hazing, forced alcoholism, social shaming, and so forth…  but the alcoholism was voluntary.

Sunrise after a morning workout

“Fresher’s week” is best described as a structured “welcome week” put on by all the colleges and clubs. Activities varied, and the schedules were different for each college, but most had the following events. Matriculation and Matriculation Dinner (champagne and wine), Cocktail Party (take a guess), Brunch, Pub Crawl (hmm…), College Bar Crawl to College Bars (noticing apattern?), Cambridge City Tour, Wine and Cheese with the College Fellows (more free wine, obviously), Punting on the Cam (free champagne), Formal Hall (champagne), and an “End of Fresher’s Week Party”… This doesn’t even include meeting friends at the bar. Like I said, the alcoholism was very easy and voluntary.

Sunset on the bike ride to St. Ive’s

There were a few events that didn’t involve alcohol and were actually quite productive. “Squash” is used as a term for an organizational fair, in addition to the sport, I think. So while attending the organization fair, I did not make the mistake of handing out my email address for free candy and thankfully have not gotten too many emails consequently.

Church in Swavesey

In terms of extracurricular activites that I am committing to, I’ve decided to do the most Cambridge thing I can think of — rowing for Robinson. Where else will I ever get a chance to row on a team as a novice? Two other Gates Scholars in Robinson and I have decided to join the team for those cold, early morning practices on the water. Although my form is bad, and my endurance is terrible (no help from the wine…), I am greatly looking forward to rowing on the novice boats this fall.

Sunset on the way to St. Ive's
Sunset on the way to St. Ive’s

In addition to a formal, organized activity, I’m finally making my health a larger priority. I have joined the University Gym and am committing to early morning workouts (on the off days from rowing) with Dan. I realized how much I missed climbing from the Gates Weekend and have decided to get back into it. Lastly, taking evening cycle rides with friends is gonna be my last activity that I participate in. Weekends are made for rest!

Gates Cambridge Weekend

The Gates Cambridge weekend was truly one of a kind. The group of individuals are all dedicated deeply to their work and won’t be satisfied until they make a difference at the end of the day.

If I were to recreate a team building exercise, it would be heavily based off of the formula that the scholars set in motion: Lots of activities, lots of time together, but not tiresome. But, in all fairness, it would be really hard to recreate such an environment for two reasons: (1) we didn’t know each other before Friday and (2) over half of us are from very diverse backgrounds.

We were all strangers on Friday morning. The 90 new scholars plus the 15 returning scholars who made the weekend possible resulted in about 5,350 handshakes, assuming the returning scholars all knew each other and no one shook hands twice (which totally happened — I introduced myself to several people two or three times, even in the same day). Each handshake went a long with an introduction that went something like “Hi, I’m Eric. What’s your name? … Nice to meet you; what are you studying, and are you MPhil or PhD? .. Fantastic, where are you from? … Neat, I’ve never been there before. What college are you in?”  It honestly got a little repetitive to hear yourself speak those words and answer in return, but you were meeting such an interesting and diverse group of people, it was enjoyable. The hardest part was keeping all the names and faces straight…

The diversity of the group of strangers made the ice breakers quite enjoyable. Here’s a list of some of the questions that were used, each question with a different, group of people:

  • How many unique countries has your group lived in?
  • How many unique languages can you speak?
  • How many siblings do you have as a group?

Honestly, these questions would be duds with friends back home. The answer would be one, two, and something irrelevant because I already counted before anyone in the group needed to speak. That honestly is no fun, but with this group, the answers were so unique with people who know ancient Greek and Latin, who know 7 languages, who had families with twelve siblings, all of which you’d never have known just by walking into that room.

The weekend trip to Ambleside was just one giant continuation of our introductions — it was a chance to talk about our projects, our coursework, our backgrounds, etc. in greater detail while doing things like rock climbing, gorge scrambling (trekking through a flowing river), kayaking, and hiking. There were more games, dancing, food, and of course, alcohol. The surprise that was planned for us on Monday night was sure a pleasurable one, and was only made more fun by the fact that it wasn’t revealed, so in turn, it won’t be revealed here.

All in all, the weekend was quite indescribable. A group of strangers were thrown together in small rooms, buses, kayaks, and hostel rooms and came out the other side great friends, close friends. The only bad part about the weekend is that it ended — the holiday of fun and games with 100 friends had to come to an end — and there will be very few times where you’re gonna be with even a quarter of them again.

A somewhat random occurrence was the fact that I got to meet Craig Mathieson, the current “Explorer-in-Residence’ by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and hear all about his life story and the work that he does with the Polar Academy. He seeks out a group of the “forgotten children” — the one’s who are average kids who feel like they can’t accomplish anything great in their lifetime —  as he put it and trains them to run their own polar exploration. It seemed to be a very neat and life changing experience for those who were strong enough to be selected.

All pictures together:

New York, Washington DC, and MD

Over this week, I was able to make a trip to NYC, Washington DC, and Maryland for an exciting series of hellos and goodbyes to some friends and family.

My adventure started with Josh and Cyrus (now known as Whisper and Speedy) as we departed on an overnight bus from South Carolina to New York City, a roughly 750 mile and 14 hour journey riddled with paranoid intoxicated passengers, numerous uncomfortable sleeping positions, and a climate so cold it could have frozen a polar bear solid. Regardless of what our new friend Anthony thought about the driver’s choice to tailgate or take a path that resembled a bumper-ed bowling ball at a child’s 5th birthday party, we made it safe and sound.

The three of us proceeded to spend the day together purchasing a few final things for their upcoming trek at REI, exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which we so large that it made us feel like we were skipping and skimming everything quicker than the kid who forgot his reading quiz was today on the 300 page book he didn’t read), listening to live jazz in central park, and exploring Times Square. I was excited that they chose to spend the day with me before they continued on to Maine the next day to start their next adventure: Hiking the Appalachian Trail. You, like myself, can follow their adventure on their blog where they will post their adventure and have a link to a shared folder of uploaded pictures: jcontheat.wordpress.com (which I like to vocalize as JC on THEAT) They have my thoughts for their constant safety and wellness, but I fully trust them to be adequately (mostly) prepared.

I was lucky enough to spend a few more days in NYC with a friend who just started her doctorate at Cornell. After saying my farewell to Josh and Cyrus (admittedly fighting back weird condensation formations around my eyes at the fact that I won’t seem two of my best friends for a significant amount of time), I began to explore NYC on my own. I headed downtown and got to see Wall Street, the iconic bull, battery park, the Ground Zero memorial, and then headed up for a peaceful afternoon in Riverside Park and Central park before meeting Wola for dinner and taking the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty that night.

The next morning, we fought the NY metro — got on the wrong direction, changed platforms, and then unknowingly got on a train headed the same direction — before purchasing the last two tickets to the sold out 2pm showing of Wicked, my first ever Broadway show. I’m not a huge musical fan — the idea of a sing-song storytelling method doesn’t appeal to me — but I really enjoyed Wicked. It was a well performed and put together show from the score, the art, and the casting — it surpassed my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We ended our day by visiting Grand Central Station, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and getting late night pizza.

After a great three days, I had to end my first visit and take a bus to Washington DC where I’d meet my family out in Maryland. I read most of the way and was able to finish the book I was reading on my tablet. I had a wonderful visit with my family — a much slower pace, but everything I wanted that trip to be. I ate and drank while sharing stories of my adventures over the last few years while listening to all the new stories about the new additions to the family. We watched Donald Trump run his mouth at a million miles an hour and dig himself a political hole. I got to spend time with my cousin and his family, spending time at a cookout with them where we swam and ate food.

I was able to meet my friend from school in Washington DC for a day. Kevin showed me all of the coolest things at the Air and Space museum before we walked around the National Mall, played pool at the underground “Rocket Bar”, and got ourselves a little carried away on one too many cocktails at “the Brick and Mortar” bar watching Olympic Soccer (By the way, I give Brick and Mortar a glowing endorsement — a fantastic atmosphere with great drinks and bartenders).

Unfortunately, my exciting week trip had to come to an end with a long bus ride from DC to SC, where I arrived at 4am.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, owned photo
Golden Gate Bridge, owned photo

Over the last week, I was able to travel to San Francisco and spend time with friends that I’ve made from school and summer internships. It was a truly fantastic time both reconnecting with friends as well as connecting with new ones. Discussing our lives, our stories, experiences, opinions, and future plans with vigor and excitement made me even more anxious to begin the new chapter in my life — attending grad school.

Some of the most exciting things that we did was getting to see the Golden Gate Bridge in a variety of weather. Although it’s not the most exciting thing to watch the clouds descend over the towers, it made for a pretty awesome picture. Another thing that was gorgeous to see was the Palace of Fine Arts, a wonderful structure built in 1915 and later rebuilt after it was destroyed. This towering structure is finely decorated in a style from ancient Greece. Lombard Street, the iconic hairpin turns, was also beautifully in bloom while we were there.

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts, owned photo

In addition to spending time in SF, I was able to tour the UC Berkeley campus and Stanford campus while contacting both new and old friends. I look forward to furthering friendships of everyone I saw this week.

As excited as I am, I’m also very disappointed to leave friends and family behind to move away; that’s what makes every moment spent and memory made cherishable. I try not to be too sad over something like this but, never-the-less, it does hurt. Oh well, that’s the way the rabbit skips…

House on Lombard Street
House on Lombard Street, owned photo