travel company

I was bicycling up the road on my way to class when a bright, yellow butterfly fluttered next to me. I’ve had a few travel companions in my twenty-one years of life, but never a butterfly.

Where we met.

I matched the butterfly’s pace. When the butterfly stopped, I stopped. And where the butterfly went, I went. I generally don’t chase animals and prefer to let them be, but something compelled me to change my mind. (Maybe I just enjoy chasing beautiful things).

We went all the way to the International Center before the butterfly crossed the street and flew over oncoming traffic. Gone just as soon as it came — and not even a goodbye.

a brief thought on the recent El Niño storm

It’s been about a week since the El Niño storms first hit San Diego county. Flood and tornado warnings make for an interesting start to the year, but the rain is welcome and so is the fresh air that comes afterward.

One unexpected realization: how cozy it is to huddle under an umbrella with someone. Twice last week I was saved by friends who were more prepared than me. Significant height differences determine who holds the umbrella and who is the one crouching.

There is also a certain point when the wind and rain become so strong that instead of fighting the storm you just accept all of it (including the soaked underpants) and close the umbrella.



Lars in the lab: “At least you don’t have to take a shower tonight.”

on grading assignments

Prof. Norman and Prof. Hollan enjoy teaching, but they hate grading assignments. They say it’s their least favorite part about their job.

Norman: “Some professors actually like giving out grades. But then I find that I don’t like being around them.”

As a teaching assistant, I enjoy reading student responses. People are getting smarter and smarter, and it’s amazing to see what they come up with. I’m even fine with commenting and giving feedback on projects, especially when it forces myself to know the material and be clear in my thinking. But I take zero pleasure in stamping grades onto people’s work. (unless someone’s been a real trouble maker — fortunately that hasn’t happened yet)

It’s easy to see who’s been doing exceptional work and who’s been slacking, but what about everybody in-between? More awkward is when you have to grade the assignments of your acquaintances and friends inside the class. I want to support them and see them do their best, but what happens when they don’t?

Being a teaching assistant is a great gig. There’s no better way to learn the material than to teach it, and it’s a ton of fun when the students in the classroom share the same enthusiasm for learning. But even the most interesting opportunities come with the baggage of uncomfortable administrative duties.

Consider it the price of admission.



(Still, there has to be a better way of evaluating work)

the community piano at Muir Woods Coffee House

Jake playing piano

Jake’s at the electric piano again, but I have no idea what he’s playing. I can’t hear any of the musical notes — only the tapping of the plastic keys.

That’s because the community piano itself is muted to the public; you’d have to plug in your own headphones to hear anything. This way the piano player can play without disturbing or imposing their music on anyone else nearby (related: “guy who brings their acoustic guitar to every gathering”).

But since I know the piano player personally, I also want to know what he’s hearing — maybe it’s really good and I want to experience it, too.

A similar situation: you want to know what’s going on in your friend’s mind. But even if you ask them and they tell you, there will always be a gap in understanding between you two. They may not even know what they’re thinking themselves.

Anyways, good to see him jamming away.

“I’ll go into the ocean if you go into the ocean”

The view from Blacks Beach at midnight -- a gorgeous walk down from UCSD.
The view from Blacks Beach at midnight, by the cliffs. The lights in the distance are from downtown La Jolla.

Hannah ran in first. She would have done it regardless, but there’s something about the full moon or the beginning of the new school year that makes the students here feel more adventurous — because if not now, then when? I don’t think I would have jumped into the ocean at midnight on a regular day.

If you’re going to jump into the salt water with your clothes on though, do be ready for all the chafing on your legs as you go back up the hill. As you bear that soggy underwear and start to shiver from the cold, you may ask yourself: “Was it all worth it?”

I think it was.

(And it was definitely worth the cough I got soon afterward).

the moment before meeting the new students, as a T.A.

The “First Year Experience” class is something fun and optional that incoming students have to apply for, so there’s already a certain level of interest suggested on their part (always a good sign).

In less thirty minutes I’ll be meeting twenty fresh faces. I am so, so excited — and nervous at the same time. What are the new students like? And how can I be a good T.A. for them?

tying memories to old junk

An empty bottle of wine lies in the bottom left corner of the closet. I stashed it there two years ago and had forgotten all about it until now, when I was cleaning out the room.

I still recognize it. It’s the same bottle my friend and I shared on the second-to-last day of freshman year. I finished my exams and she didn’t, but we drank it anyway. Moscato, because we both had a sweet tooth and didn’t know any better.

What’s curious is that I lugged the empty bottle from San Diego the entire ten hours back home to San José, when I could have just put it in the recycling bin and leave with the memory only. Is it the fear that if I throw the bottle away, I’d throw away my memory of the night, too?



The bottle is still there. I’ll peel the label off, keep that as a souvenir, and then recycle the rest — a compromise.

a brief thought about summer and lingering

Shortly before school ended I had a conversation with Geoffrey on the bench by Ledden Auditorium instead of going to class. We met a few years earlier. He would tutor me in the AP&M (Applied Physics and Mathematics) basement, and if it weren’t for him I would have flunked out of calculus my first year. He’s a Ph.D. student now and I’m still an undergrad, but we enjoy the same benches and beaches and books, and we bump into each other from time to time.

Skipping lecture runs contrary to the good-student-role, but I also remembered to keep it in perspective. There’s more to enjoy and learn from lingering on the bench with a good person instead of rushing from lecture to lecture, so I could cram a few extra facts I’d soon forget.

We talked about summer, among other things.

  • Summers are some of the best times of personal growth. You have time to reflect and take stock of all that you’ve done throughout the year. Am I going where I want to go? What are my priorities? Do my actions align with what I consider important to me? and other questions that often get buried in everyday busy work.
  • Also important is to cherish the current summer we have. There are really only a limited number of “true” restful, even idle summers in life. After I graduate (next year, eek!) there’s probably not going to be another summer when I can just stick my head in the clouds all day — unless I decide to go into academia. As for Geoffrey, he’s going on a cross-continental (the way he described it) road trip from California to New York and back over the summer, with a good friend from his exchange year. He says if he survives he’ll come back with good stories.

When I finally said goodbye, Geoffrey said: “I’m glad you stayed around as long as you did.” Me, too.



30 minutes late. Too late to sneak in without a sound or people looking, but I went in the lecture hall anyway.