Friday, August 19, 2011

two days

I'm leaving soon. Here's to newness and hopefully awesomeness, and a good summer vacation. This has been the calmest summer I've had in a while, excepting this week. Working, eating, sleeping, working out, &c for days and days on end has been boring, but nice, especially after last summer's fruit flies galore. In any case, a brief summary of my week:

New York City + 4 geniuses, in the rain.

My father likes to drive his red minivan around, so my parents and I pile into the car and drive through the grayness to the city, me glaring at the sky and wishing for the sunny Sunday I'd imagined. We head for Chinatown, knowing that my friends won't arrive in the city for a few hours. They're coming by bus, from Washington, D.C. on their senior summer trip.

We're jammed between a white van and an SUV, dark blue. My mother and I get out, and my father chugs on, searching for parking. The sky spits spitefully at us as we hurriedly put up our umbrellas to spar with the other pedestrians churning along the storefronts. I drip on a grandma as we pause to look at some longyan, dragoneye fruit. She snaps at me. Lady, it's raining; what do you want me to do?

We head for dim sum on Elizabeth Street. At the intersection, I hear a white family saying, "There's Jing Fong! See the yellow sign?" I race across the street ahead of them. A minute can mean an extra ten minutes' wait at this restaurant, which gets more and more popular each time I visit.

That also means the food gets worse and worse. I was disappointed this time; most of the filings were shrimp (faster to prepare), and the chicken feet (my mother's favorite) were soggy. I first came here two years ago, and the scallops and dumplings made my tastebuds quite happy. We might not come back again.

My friends call as my mother and I poke around an herbalist's shop. "We're at the hotel, so it should be another 45 minutes before we can check in." That's our cue to leave. I need a ride to 33rd street, so back to the car it is, after finding my father.

They call again. "I'm at 23rd street, guys."
"So ten more minutes, right?"
Oh, you underestimate New York gridlock.

We get stuck at 26th street. "Where are you? We're all checked in and everything."
"Major detour."
Ten minutes later, I get out and walk. My Chinese mother (better prepared than the Boy Scouts) hands me four umbrellas. I already have one, so that's one for each of us. When I get to the hotel, IY is impressed that I came up with enough umbrellas. So am I.

We (JZ, IY, AY, CL, and I) head to Times Square. We take a quick tour of M&M World ("Cool random-number generator," smirks CL at the "What color M&M are you?" machine), the Hershey Store ("A bucket of chocolate?! Oh, I thought they meant a bucket of MOLTEN CHOCOLATE," says I), and finally, Toys 'R' Us:

"Giant Nerds?!" exclaims IY.

"Look guys!" says JZ. "Lemme guess, a panda," says AY. "She's magnetically attracted to them," says I.

"Let's go to the Barbie house!" That would be JZ (ironically, I hope).
"It'," I mutter in disgust, once inside.
"Toy pianos!" CL, AY, and IY, the piano-players among us. Beautiful excerpts of classical piano emanate from the tinny speakers of the tiny (pink) keyboards as they jostle for position.
"Ingraining bad habits in the young," glares JZ at what appears to be a toy (pink) calculator. "No, no, it's a TABLET," I snicker, pointing at the (pink) labeling.

We eat at T.G.I.Friday's. On the street, we wonder what to do. Naturally, we head next door to a comedy club. Five comedians, five jokes about performing in a sketchy basement, five times we were asked what part of Asia we're from (for the record, Boston. And Connecticut. Also, four from China and one from Korea). Other than that, and suspending my sense of offense, they're pretty funny. The audience is awkwardly silent though, except for a couple from Connecticut:
"Are you his girlfriend?" asks the comedian.
"Yes," he says.
"No," she says. During another act, we'd found out that they had been dating for "Two weeks. I mean three. A month, basically."
"I'm drunk," she says. "Well, drinking."
"Oh, she's drunk," he says, and the comedian agrees.

"That was the first time I've lasted through an entire comedy act," remarks IY. "Whenever the comedians came to school I'd always get offended and leave."

After the show, I have to leave. Halfway home, the rain starts sheeting down. A car accelerates up the on-ramp. The curb ends, and a wave of water splatters across our windshield. I haven't been this scared traveling since I was in a plane landing in Chicago and the wind started tossing the plane back and forth like a child's toy in the bathtub. We make it home, though. I live to sleep in my own bed for one more night.

More tomorrow. It's bedtime.

Friday, August 12, 2011

manufactured nostalgia

The carnival is a vile, germ-ridden place. I prefer Disney World, which despite being vastly more crowded, seems somehow more sterile, the rides sturdier and cleaner.

I go anyway, because my best friend from childhood loves the carnival. I ride the Avalanche and the Pirat, and figure out how to breathe to minimize the unpleasant (to me) jolt of adrenaline. I play the games the boys hawk at the top of their lungs—hey there, girls, wanna try your luck?—and let my friend win. I convince her to ride the one ride I like, the Cliffhanger, which to me feels like what hang-gliding would feel like. She ends up loving it.

I stand in line at the Ferris wheel, watching the two fourteen-year-old boys in front of us posture for the two fourteen-year-old ladies. I get into the seat with my friend—no rocking the seat!—and we rise above the chaos. And it's beautiful. This is the smallest carnival in the area, the gigantic Guilford Fair taking place in the same town and the Durham Fair in the next town over in a few weeks, but the lights are the same.

Sinatra blares over the scene—and I did it myyyyy wayyyyy—and the manufactured nostalgia soaks me like a waterfall. I've obviously never experienced a carnival in the '60s, yet I still feel a sense of the history behind the traveling carnival, romanticized through books and film. I take out my 21st century phone with its 21st century apps, and quickly snap a few photographs, digitally altered to manufacture some more nostalgia.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


10 days to go. I started keeping to a schedule again, a couple of days ago. It improved my productivity about five hundred percent. I'm getting my laziness/procrastination in shape before school starts. Watching 5.111 lectures actually makes me excited to be in class and do homework again. I want to do better than I did my first term at Exeter. I wanted to manage my time well, and I did get everything done and get decent grades, but I was a hyperactive 13-year-old living away from home long-term for the first time. This time, though, I have three years of experience behind me. I'm going to do my work early and do it well. I already deactivated my Facebook (going on only on Sundays from now on), and I usually don't sign in to Google Talk or Skype unless I'm planning to talk to someone or planning to have time to talk to someone. It's not that I spent a lot of time on social media, but I did waste time repeatedly checking my Newsfeed or seeing who was online, and it all ended up adding up.

I can't wait to start school. It's completely weird that it won't be Exeter, and that I'm starting to remember graduation as though it were years ago instead of months. But I'm excited to meet people who'll be my friends the way my Exeter friends are. I'm excited to learn new things with new professors, even if its the end of Harkness all day, every day. I'm sure IHTFP will hold both meanings for me. It all starts in 10 days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

chasing power

I drove most of the way to work, my father preventing me from scraping his right side-view mirror onto a mailbox or telephone pole. Taking a 5,000 pound machine on the road felt like the most natural thing in the world, except when turning or trying to stay in the middle of the lane. In all seriousness, though, I like controlling objects beyond what a human should. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the organ, because the organist is in charge of the entire church building, responsible for filling it with beautiful harmony.

a treatise on fixing

To fix the buzzing refrigerator: slam the door, then close the freezer door which has popped open.

To fix the stalled washing machine: slam the lid once, wait for a click, then slam the lid again.

To fix the darkened lights: whack with a wooden plank.

To fix the unresponsive safe: hit the door with a hammer.

To fix the massive loss of blood: apply pressure.

To fix the stopped heart: pound vigorously.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

i'm a person, now

I am now officially licensed permitted to (learn to) drive. I woke up at 6 so I could eat a nice breakfast, and we got to the DMV by about 7:30. A line had already formed. Luckily, it wasn’t too long yet, but by about 7:45, it was snaking around the cars in the parking lot. I didn’t actually have to wait too long; the DMV opened at 8, and I was out by 9 o’clock. I think learning to drive will be fun, but I’m leaving for school soon (official countdown: 12 days), so my learner permit’s main function is now as a form of government-issued identification.

Of course, going to the DMV couldn’t have been so easy…today was my second journey to under-under-staffed land. On Thursday, I went to the DMV…only to find out that I needed two pieces of mail, and my actual Social Security Card. Apparently, having memorized the number doesn’t cut it. So, my mother and I drive home, and try to open the fire safe. It doesn’t work. The keypad accepts the PIN, but it won’t unlock the handle. Customer service tells us to HIT THE SAFE WITH A HAMMER. (Seriously, why is this an official fix?) However, the woman on the line wasn’t very specific about where to hit, so it didn’t work. After briefly looking up local locksmiths, I happened upon an article about the very type of safe that we were trying to open. It turns out that, yes, you have to hit the safe with a hammer in a very specific spot. Great. After that, it was about an hour and a half of searching to find the actual small piece of cardboard I desired, and then I had to go to the optometrist, so I had to postpone obtaining my permit until today. But now I have a Social Security Card and a learner permit, so I guess I’m a real person in the eyes of the government.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

happy birthday, world wide web

Today is the 20th birthday of the World Wide Web! The very first webpage ( was published by physicist Tim Berners-Lee (a professor at MIT) on 6 August 1991. Who would have thought that in twenty years, the web could go from a single text-and-links page to full-out HD video and Flash (unless you're on an iOS device...).

In other news, two weeks until school. This summer has gone by much more quickly than I expected. At graduation, two and a half months seemed long, but then I remembered how quickly my entire senior year had passed, and now, here I am, in the month of August.

It worries me that three years at Exeter seemed so short. Is MIT going to feel as transient? Does time just keep speeding up? I guess I'll find out soon enough. I'll probably blink and end up at my MIT graduation.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

vignettes from 3 august 2011

“What are you doing?” asks the child, gesturing at the tangled strand of labels overflowing the table.

“Upgrading your folders,” I reply. “Nicole doesn't like having to look on the sides to see the names, so I'm labeling the tops.”

“People these days,” he sighs.

A girl at the next table asks what sales tax is. Somehow, the United States debt “crisis” and Congress's inability to function are mentioned.

“People these days,” he sighs.

I turn away to help find a misplaced math book. When I return to sorting folders and labeling, the child is texting under the table instead of continuing to fill in bubbles on his practice SSAT.

People these days, I think to myself.


I walked down the street, hoping the gray sky would keep its moisture to itself until I'd reached shelter. A hand holding a cigarette between two nicotine-yellowed fingers stuck itself out the window of a banged-up silver Toyota, and the smell of tobacco and hot rubber brought me back to China. I'd forgotten how the long walk between the hotel and the university smelled, though I'd traveled it twice a day before moving in with the professor.


The official countdown starts: 18 days until I start college.

Why start with 18? Well, why start with a “nice” number such 20? It's only a nice, round number because we count in base 10.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

back from unannounced hiatus?

I decided my summer was kind of boring so I stopped writing about it...

So what's happened recently? Ummm...I took a lot of hipster pictures...

Also, I got my dorm for MIT. I will describe it thusly:
1. It is a castle.
2. It has food, such as lunch. More importantly, it has brunch, so that I don't even have to leave to get breakfast.
3. It is close to class. So, no waking up late and sprinting long distances to make it to class.
About three weeks until I get to campus and then head off to FLP. This summer has gone by especially quickly. I hypothesize that my repetitive daily schedule and lack of stimuli outside of my house has made the days blur together.

I'm getting excited for MIT, but I noticed that I'm starting to remember events from Exeter as though they took place in the very distant past, or in a dream. Are experiences so very transient? How long will it be until I forget?

Speaking of dreams, I think I had a lucid dream. I think I realized I was in a dream and made a Korean guy I know turn into a blond guy I know and then back. The problem was that then I forgot I was in a dream and thus couldn't control the rest of it. I've been remembering that I've dreamed much more than I previously did. Strange.

*That makes it sound worse than it is. It just means that I work at home, and then I work at an actual workplace, and then I go swimming. Over and over, in varying orders, with repetition.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


For some reason, I've been consciously separating myself from my hometown. I wear my Exeter t-shirts and my class ring everywhere. I went to the town high school's graduation to cheer for my friends, and I wore my Exeter math club sweatshirt. I'm not really sure why I'm doing that. I guess it's because most of the kids in this town share the same high school experience; they have stories about teachers that everyone understands as soon as they're being told; they have stories that I never would have expected about people I used to know. I have three friends with whom I regularly hang out, but one of them goes to Catholic school out of town, so the other two, who happen to be sisters, are my only source of information about my old classmates, and I usually want to talk to them about their lives, not other people's.

I guess I'm just pointing out that experiences outside of this town had the major part in shaping me. I know downtown Exeter much better than I know downtown Guilford, having spent more time in the former during the past three years than in the latter in the thirteen years preceding that. I have awesome stories about wandering around outside between four and five in the morning on the last day of classes of the year (getting Dunkin' Donuts or being accosted by a strange man in Walgreen's). I had less adult supervision than probably was healthy between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, but now I am not afraid of college because I've already had a similar experience. It isn't my first time away from home, and that's significant. I think it allowed me to get into a good university in the first place.

I definitely don't think I'm better than anyone here. I'm not raising myself above the other kids. I went to my friend's graduation party and I was just another kid. But I was probably the only one who looked only slightly, or not at all familiar. I am different. I'm awkward at parties because I don't want to just talk about my fancy school up in New Hampshire, but I also don't have anything to say about the local high school. I think it'll probably get better at MIT. There, everyone will be from a different place, and we'll all have different stories to tell. And soon, we'll have MIT stories to tell. I'm excited for that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Today, I read the @prepschoolbtch and @ivyleaguebitch twitter feeds. Then, I wondered about privilege and stereotype. I went to Exeter, which, being a New England boarding school, has a reputation for being a school for rich WASPs.

I've actually never met anyone at school who approached the level of (somewhat funny) snottiness found on @prepschoolbtch. I do not doubt that some of my classmates' families were extremely rich. I do not disown my school's past as a grooming ground for rich, white, conservative young men. But that's not what is now.

Most of my friends came to Exeter for the academic privileges, not necessarily because saying "I went to Phillips Exeter Academy" in a room full of businessmen will get you something you otherwise wouldn't have. Most of my friends were on financial aid. Maybe it was only because the sample I'm examining right now is made up of only the people whose company I enjoy, but Exeter for me was full of people who are the opposite of the "I summer in the Hamptons; what country club do you frequent?" prep school stereotype.

I know that I was extremely privileged to be able to attend Exeter, to sit and converse directly with my peers and my teachers in class, to study in the largest secondary-school library in the world, to live in a dorm with heat and running water and eat in a dining hall open all day and not have to worry about having a job during the school year. I know that I was told Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during Assemblies that we were "the future of America", "the CEOs and presidents of tomorrow."

Not that that's actually true. I don't think that anyone can reasonably believe that every Exeter alumnus and alumna is going to accomplish something recognized as great by the general public. But yes, we received the kind of education that would benefit a leader.

My friends and I have ended up looking like pedigreed dogs. Exeter + MIT, Exeter + Harvard, Exeter + Yale, etc. Given only that, we seem like the WASPiest people in the world (a little less so with MIT). Or, some people see us as the smartest kids in the world. Even that's an unfair assumption. There are plenty of brilliant young adults out there who chose not to, or never had the chance to attend an academically renowned high school or college.

I feel like the luckiest person alive, having had enjoyed all the positive experiences and learned from all the negative ones that I had at Exeter, and having all the promise of MIT ahead of me. I know that I'm privileged. I hope others know what I mean by that, and it's not just having Nantucket Red blood.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I just bought a new laptop. HP Pavilion dv6t Quad Edition, Intel(R) Quad Core(TM) i7-2630QM, 1GB GDDR5 Radeon(TM) HD 6770M graphics card, 6GB RAM, 750GB hard drive. Sweet build for around $800.

I’ll probably read this in a few years and think that computers were crap in 2011…

It’s okay, though, because these are really good specs today. I’m really excited to get to play with it when it arrives in a couple of weeks. I actually can’t afford to pay for it on my own, yet, but when my next paychecks come in from my two jobs, I’ll have enough to pay my parents back. This whole having my own money thing is turning out to be really enjoyable.

(Today, I also had to buy my bed-sheets for school. Did you know that the Charter Club twin extra-long 3-piece sheet set ($70) cost more than twice as much as normal twin sheets ($30)? I ended up ditching those and getting one normal flat sheet ($10) and one extra-long fitted sheet ($25) which I think should work out okay. Who knew sheets were so complicated/expensive?)

Anyways, buying a computer reminded me somehow of the number of Mac users at Exeter, which reminded me of a couple of Mac users in my old dorm, which reminded me of the weird divide that existed among the members of the class of 2011 in my dorm while we were there.

I first noticed it upper year. We were waiting for a dorm meeting to start. Three other uppers (my friends) and I were already sitting down, when someone went, “Where are all the uppers? I bet they’re all in “Mary”’s room watching Mean Girls.” Okay, four uppers were already there. Glad to see we weren’t Bancroft uppers? That was just one example. “Senior picture time!” called “Meena,” after the after-check-in snowball fight the dorm head let us have one night. She grabs “Mary” and the other three members of her friend group and they take a picture. The other four of us…guess weren’t Bancroft seniors, either.

The most blatant instance was the last night of school. They had a Bancroft Senior/Parent Dinner right outside of the dorm. In broad daylight. Apparently they were all sitting there when two of us “others” walked out of the front door. I don’t regret being left out of that group at all. I’m perfectly happy with the very close friends I had in the dorm. I just wish “the seniors” hadn’t been so insulting about it to our faces, whether intentionally or not.

The most awkward part? I’m sure it wasn’t meant to end up like this, but “the seniors” were the white girls + the wealthy Indian girl, and the “other seniors” were the Asian and black girls. Alrighty, then.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


At 4:42 P.M., an hour and forty-two minutes after the promised "around 3 P.M.," I got my FPOP email.

"Congratulations! You have been accepted to the Freshman Leadership Program as your Freshman Pre-Orientation Program (FPOP)."

So now I know one thing for sure about the fall: I have to arrive on campus by 5 P.M. on August 22. Two months to go. 61 days. Then we’ll go to the woods of New Hampshire for the program. (Of all places; I thought I wouldn’t be going back to that state for a while. I have mixed thoughts about visiting campus in the next school year. I want to see my friends who are still there, but I don’t quite want to go back. I want some distance.) Apparently, it’s “life-changing.” It makes you question your beliefs. You laugh, you cry, you develop lasting friendships.

I want that all to be true. I really do. I’m trying not to go into this comparing it all to Exeter, but I can’t help it. Exeter was three years of laughing, crying, questioning my beliefs, and developing relationships with people. I went in politically apathetic; I came out very nearly a flaming liberal, but tending towards being fiscally conservative-ish-maybe, and fiercely conservative about Exeter. I didn’t know I’d be that hard-nose opposing the removal of Saturday classes and the shortening of the daily schedule. I went in a shy thirteen-year-old, a follower. Now I’m sixteen and off to college, and I’ve become an outspoken, opinionated person. I’ve grown more in the last three years than in any other three-year period of my life. I find myself wondering if five days in a leadership program can live up to that. But it shouldn’t have to. I’ll try my hardest to keep an open mind.


I really want to wear my Exeter class ring to college. I don’t want to flaunt it; I just want to be able to look at it and remember what Exeter helped me accomplish. It is unmistakably part of my identity.

My mother says she doesn’t want my classmates to assume I’m a rich, nose-up, snotty prep-school snob. I definitely don’t want that either, but maybe I’ll just wear the ring and ditch the rest of the Exeter gear (blanket, jacket, fleece) for at least the first semester, so that people can get to know me first. I haven’t gotten a single comment about my ring yet from anyone, so maybe it’s unobtrusive enough.

I guess I didn’t really have that problem at Exeter. Most people didn’t talk about money, and no one really knew the names of any good/privileged/rich middle schools, so we couldn’t judge based on anyone’s previous school. I think most of us were public school kids. I was, besides a brief and interesting interlude as a non-Catholic at Catholic school my freshman year.

I still remember driving onto campus on September 3, 2008. I remember getting my ID/yearbook picture taken by a crappy little digital camera (horrendously, this would be a yearly occurrence). I remember finding Bancroft Hall, the one with the pink flamingoes. I remember walking into my room, right next to the Common Room. My roommate wasn’t there, but she’d already unpacked. She left me the side of the room with the windows, all three of them. My mom and I tried figuring out what she look like from the pictures on her desk. She was with some of the same people in most of them, so we couldn’t tell. I remember finding Joy, my acquaintance from MathPath, and her roommate Tomi. We went to P.O. We came out. Tomi directed us to the right…somewhat erroneously: we ended up at a boy’s dorm at the far north end of campus. We lived in one of the dorms furthest south.

Joy and Tomi are two of my closest friends. I wouldn’t even call my roommate my friend. Just a fellow Exonian.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

the beginning

I'm trying to figure out a way to remember what it was like to go to Phillips Exeter Academy. So I'm going to write it down here.

It's the summer between Exeter and MIT, the summer after I graduated from high school, the summer before I head off to college. I tried to decide whether I was antsier and excited the summer before Exeter, all the way back in 2008, but then I realized that I couldn't remember. I remember that I went to Chinese camp under the dictatorship of a crazy Taiwanese lady. I went to Milwaukee to attend my cousin's wedding, and to Chicago to sightsee. I watched Michael Phelps dominate swimming in the Beijing Summer Olympics on TV. I can hardly believe that all that occurred before I started Exeter.

I remember that back in 2008, I got my Exeter acceptance letter for my birthday. This year, I got my MIT acceptance letter. How privileged I am, to be able to attend these two extraordinary institutions of learning.

I exchanged a few emails with my new roommate in August, after room assignments came out. I think that’s the most I ever got to know her. We were in Bancroft Hall, room 108. I thought I was lucky to have gotten a first floor room as a new student. My mom thought otherwise—too much through-traffic, she said. An acquaintance of mine from MathPath 2007 somehow landed in room 107. She ended up being one of my best friends. I didn’t know that though, that summer. I just remembered her telling funny stories about the Termichickenator, being awesome at origami, and coloring on people in silver Sharpie.

So here I am, waiting all over again. Waiting to see if I get into an FPOP tomorrow. Waiting for my housing assignment. (Will I get my first choice dorm? Who will be my roommate? Will we be those fairytale roommates who keep in touch decades later? Or will we simply coexist peacefully? We could even dislike each other, or be incompatible roommates, but I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.) Waiting for my advisor assignment, so that I can start planning classes.

I’m bad at waiting. But I remember that September 3, 2008 did eventually arrive, those three years ago, and that I ended up on Exeter’s beautiful campus. So tomorrow, I’ll know about FPOPs. I’ll know what date I will arrive on MIT’s campus. I’ll know exactly how long I have to keep waiting.