I’ve decided to start journaling periodically as I begin the next chapter of life. My goal is to encapsulate the experiences, thoughts, and memories of a particular period in life; some day I’ll look back and read this, and perhaps the nostalgia will flow. It also doubles as a way to update you what I’ve been up to :)
On paper it seems that graduating from college is perhaps the biggest transition in life; from being a student to a member of the labor force, or from being a net negative to a net positive in income. But it didn’t feel like it. Maybe it was because the presence of ‘school’ had already been diminished to something remote and consequently inconsequential over the last year, or that these things just take a while to kick in. Regardless, I remember not feeling much accomplishment when I walked to receive a ‘certificate of participation’ for the in-person commencement; it was just another procedure.
We had a DSUS teamwide picnic the afternoon after I walked. I (finally) met many people I had been working with over the last year on a screen. Something sort of funny is the dissonance in height: since it’s on Zoom you wouldn’t know how tall someone is and sort of just fill in the gap yourself, but this may be quite off.
I went to visit Adeena in Portland the day after. Most nights, the six of us made a large dinner that was varying degrees of take-out and store-bought food from the Safeway 15 minutes away. Portland also has a lot of Thai restaurants, many of which are pretty good.
From Portland, I took the Amtrak Empire Builder to Fargo, North Dakota. It was sort of a random trip that I had decided to take two weeks prior, motivated partly to stare out a window into nature in an attempt to cleanse my mind. I also wanted to visit the ‘true’ Midwest that wasn’t just Chicago.
The Empire Builder was an oddly replenishing experience. I think the past semester had put me to a stage where doing nothing for 36 hours seemed particularly desirable. For most of the day I sat in the viewing carriage looking out the window, and also used the time to write about my experiences in Hawaii.
The amenities on Amtrak trains are fairly poor; the train was delayed by 3 hours (!), there was no shower or internet, and the food options were so limited that all I had was one of those American cup noodles that taste solely of MSG. But the lack of cell reception or wifi for most of the ride turned out to be a big plus in avoiding worldly distractions. The scenery defined the trip; it’s not that they were constantly beautiful or interesting–in fact most of the ride consisted of endless expanses of fields–but that it allowed me to ‘observe’ the rural countryside and to let my thoughts run free. I made a short video of some scenes I saw on the trip.
The viewing cabin of the Empire Builder
I met up with a friend in Fargo, a city whose greatest attraction is a movie theatre with the words “FARGO” written on its sign. Across the river in Moorhead, MN there was a replica of a Viking church, as well as a Viking boat that recently sailed from Norway to the Americas in order to recreate the journey Vikings had taken a millenium ago. Maybe that’s what Midwestern culture and heritage is about.
From Fargo, we took a bus to Minneapolis. There isn’t much to see in Minneapolis, but it’s a very livable Tier-2 city with plenty of greenery and water. We went kayaking, biked around the same group of lakes, and explored the Minnehaha waterfall park.
We met up with a high school friend of mine the next day, and decided that driving to Iowa to cross it off the 50-state list was the best use of our time. We went to Manly, a dying town that the railway no longer services, as an inside joke between me and Adeena, and the largely-closed mall in Mason City. On the way back, the SPAM museum was a peculiar pit stop in the middle of nowhere, and I also went to WalMart for the first time in my life (!). On the return trip back to Berkeley, we spent a 12 hour layover in Denver where we saw a Keith Haring exhibit at the MCA and a view of Denver’s rather unremarkable skyline at City Park.
If I were to sum up my entire trip from Portland to Denver via the Midwest in a sentence, it’d be that “we did a lot but not a lot at the same time”. Every day was fairly busy, but nothing was particularly exciting. It was a particularly tiring trip (6 states in 7 days), yet I look very fondly back at it. I feel I got to see and understand a bit of flyover country.
After I got back to Berkeley, I started the process of moving out and saying good-byes. It was only then that I began to realize my time at Berkeley was coming to an end.
From my last walk around campus
Last meal in Berkeley at Gypsy’s; we took a photo with cashier who has this Godfather vibe
There are three observations I noticed about the Midwest:
Recently, I’ve developed a slight fascination of visiting the “Real America”, whatever that means. To me, it’s the America I don’t know recognize, the one where Waffle House is a community institution, or the one where ‘ope’ is frequently interjected like in ‘ope! that’s a bit too much ranch!’. When I tell people I want to attend the Texas state fair, or visit Alabama or Iowa, I often get confused looks. I know that there isn’t as much to see there, but my interest stems from how different it is from the part of the country I know.
I found all my exam cheat sheets when moving. It was a blast to the past to when school was in person, and wow I spent so much effort cramming those sheets with every single detail in tiny 0.3mm font. It felt stark contrasting them to what the school and exam experience had become with Zoom University; for one, my effort put in definitely fell off a cliff.
I realized how much stuff I had accumulated in the past 3 years while moving. I ended up giving or throwing a lot of it away, but it wasn’t easy mentally. I told myself I must become more minimalistic after I move to NYC, but I feel I’ll need some kind of rule-of-thumb when acquiring things in the future. Perhaps a question like “would you really be happy taking this with you when you move or not mind throwing it away?” would be useful.
At Berkeley, there is a great viewpoint from the top of the Campanile clock tower steps that looks all the way down into the bay and aligns perfectly with the Golden Gate Bridge. The scene is especially picturesque at sunset; if you are fortunate enough to see a full sunset, you’ll find that the sun slowly changes from bright yellow to orange, then to a dark red, and the clouds turn a beautiful pink while the horizon exhibits a beautiful blend from blue to red. I often take a photo to capture it, but the colors can’t quite be truly captured on camera. I’ll really miss this quarantine pastime once I leave.
The wonders of WalMart: a bottle marked down proportionally.
Something I’ve been listening to: Porter Robinson’s Nurture. I listened to this album non-stop while staring out into nature on the Empire Builder. The album varies quite a lot in emotion, and every piece is quite touching. A few of the tracks are quite serene, almost videogame sound-track like.