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.