le week-end

This has been a really fast, packed weekend. Similarly this is a really packed entry, possibly the longest I’ve ever written. I’m dividing it up into sections for your reading convenience. 🙂

Friday | San Diego
Friday was a long day. I left my apartment at 8.30 to catch BART to the Oakland Airport, where I waited in line for a long time since the computer system had gone down and they were having to check everyone in manually. But I think my recent experience with airports is making me more comfortable with flying and the whole experience in general, so I was at ease and I chatted with some people in line. The person behind me, a grey-haired man with the kind of attractive good looks older presidential candidates tend to possess, was flying to Austin for a wedding (a wedding he wanted to go to, by the way–I asked) and expressed interest in where I was going and what I would be doing there. He works at IBM on Cottle, as it turns out, where several of my relatives worked while I was growing up. He also told me where to sit on the plane for a good view as we flew into San Diego, which turned out to be good advice.

In the airport I got checked out a lot, which was interesting since I’m not usually dressed in business-ish clothes.


I called Mommy and Shra and talked to them individually, then I wandered around to see if I should have some food. But $9.50 for two slices of Round Table Pizza and a soda seemed ridiculous to me, so I spent $4 on a shoeshine and tip instead. I figure the shoeshine guy can use some money more than Round Table can, and anyway it was fun. He was a nice guy, it was almost a mini foot massage, and now my shoes look fabulous.

The plane ride itself was really pleasant, probably the nicest I’ve experienced. It was a clear, sunny day with some fluffy clouds, and I could see everything. The flight largely followed the coastline, with a loop over what I think was San Francisco, which was just stunning. I didn’t stare out the window the entire time–I read over my thesis and my statement of purpose–but at one point I looked out the window to see right in front of me the most beautiful shining white fluffy cloud ever. I think I caught my breath, actually, it was so magnificent. And then, as we flew into the city, as my airport friend had explained, we were flying very close to the skyscrapers and I could look out the window and see them not far from where we were. As you can tell, I loved every minute of it, and even though it wasn’t the shortest flight I’ve been on, it really didn’t feel like an hour and a half.

At the San Diego Airport Sophie met me and we headed out in search of food in the short time we had before her class. We drove by the bay and she told me about the shrimp she learned about in her marine biology class that are intelligent enough to be trainable and which move faster than the human eye can see, and about how these shrimp can see so many more colors that we can, and how scientists think they communicate with one another in color. What a great thought. I think “pretty” and “nice” were my words for the day. I don’t know what I was expecting San Diego to look like but I never thought it would be so beautiful! The sun was incredible, and all the palm trees and the flowers everywhere reminded me of Hawaii. The feeling of freedom and openness about the highway reminds me of the highways near Jackie’s house, and as we drove I kept noticing how different the landscape is from here. The hills, for one thing, are different-they’re craggy and wild-looking, not like our gently sloping hills-but somehow they’re just perfect for the seaside setting. I don’t like to gush, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) help it. Sometimes the beauty of a new environment just catches you so much off guard that you lose everything that worries you, and the day just seems enchanted. Believe me, I kicked myself all day long for not bringing my camera.

Sophie took me to a small Mexican place near her apartment, down the street from a place with the quirky name The Hungry Stick, where I had a shrimp and rice burrito and a tamarind agua fresca. The rice was okay and the tortillas were nice and fresh, but the shrimp was the best I’ve ever had. I think maybe it had just never been frozen, but I’ve never had such incredibly juicy, tender shrimp! I was in ecstacies. Plus I hadn’t eaten anything since eight am. ;b I also tried Sophie’s horchata agua fresca. It’s a rice drink with cinnamon in it-delicious. Tastes like dessert. I sat on the UCSD campus and ate my burrito while Sophie went to class, and then Jon and Steven wandered by so I got to talk to them for a while. They were having Jamba Juice and burgers.

By the way the irony of being fascinated by color-communicating shrimp and being delighted with plump juicy shrimp in my burrito is not lost on me. Someday I will give up seafood. But, as St Augustine famously said, “not yet.”

Friday | Mellon interview
After Sophie’s class she gave me a superfast tour of that corner of campus, then we started for the hotel where my interview would be. The Westgate Hotel is one posh place, let me tell you. It doesn’t look quite so fancy from the outside because it’s still apparently got the same façade it started out with in the seventies, but inside it’s quite something. And it’s not pretentious, either. The pictures on the website make it look huge and looming and venerable but the lobby is actually a fairly small space. I especially enjoyed the restoom. It was heated inside and the walls went all the way down to the marble floors so each space was more a room than a stall. This was especially useful for me because my stomach tends to get a little anxious before important events, if you get my drift. As I was washing my hands another woman came out and started washing her hands and talking to me. She said hi and asked how I was doing, and I thought I could detect a just-been-fed-some-yummy-stuff note in her voice so I asked if she was having the afternoon tea, and she said yes, so I asked her how it was and what they gave you. “They brought us little sandwiches with our tea,” she said, “and then they brought us dessert-and then they brought some more dessert.” Aha, I thought. That’s why you sound so happy. ;b

So the interview itself . . . was scary but not bad. Sophie dropped me off at the Westgate half an hour early, but the interview committee’s director was already waiting for me so I never even had the chance to get nervous. He sat me down and told me what to expect, including that they would start with some easier questions, move on to hard ones, then ask me some that I was not expected to be able to answer. I’m glad he told me that, because I don’t think they asked any of the easier ones at all! I don’t know what grad school oral exams are like, but this interview was definitely not a nice friendly tell-us-what-you-do discussion, this was definitely a test. A grilling. It was only half an hour long and I think the interviewers wanted to get as much out of me as possible in that time so they just jumped right into it, with no preface except to say they liked my thesis (thank goodness for that, at least). If I had had an itch on my nose when I sat down I would not have had time to scratch it until I was out of that room, I was so on the spot for the entire time. I’ve never been in a situation like that before. They hardly asked me any questions that were directly about my thesis, or my work. They wanted to know a lot more about the more abstract implications of what I want to do–the only example I’ve been able to think of is since I got back is that they wanted to know what a study of Chinese food history can give back to history at large, only of course this question would be phrased in a very complicated way with lots of twists and turns! Or so it seemed to me. I would give answers, and then it would seem like my answers weren’t enough. I might say that I think a study of Chinese food is useful because a lot of people know Chinese food and it’s a good lens for looking at Chinese American history, but then they would ask but what would this provide that hasn’t already been provided, or how do I plan to go about this, etc etc. I spent the first twenty or so minutes feeling like I was misunderstanding what they (or mostly just one of the professors, who asked questions almost nonstop!) were asking, but I wonder if maybe they were just challenging me to go further and explain myself more. I don’t know.

Another interesting thing was at the beginning they all seemed to be interpreting my thesis (I only sent them seven pages of it, for heaven’s sake, as my writing sample) as a restaurant history when I’ve always thought of it as more a Chinese American history. I do not feel qualified to write a restaurant history because I know very little about the history of restaurants! And it was odd to me, since I’ve never thought of it as a restaurant history, that they would think so from just the first seven pages of my paper. I think that threw me off a bit. The one professor asking most of the questions was definitely out to grill me. He wasn’t doing it in a mean way; actually I think he rather enjoyed that kind of questioning. But I think if I talked to him one on one I might find that he and I just don’t think in the same kinds of sentences. I don’t think I was quite getting the gist of some of his questions, and some of the other professors would sort of gently rephrase his question in a way that was still difficult but made a little more sense. That helped; it was reassuring to think that maybe part of why I was having a hard time answering these questions was just the way they were phrased, not that I had no clue.

A couple of funny things happened during the interview. The most mentionable is that I said something potentially insulting to the most senior of the professors (just going on appearance)-he mentioned that he has a lot of Chinese relatives, but that they don’t cook Chinese food for family get-togethers. He was wondering, partly whimsically I think–this wasn’t a grilling kind of question–what are the intrinsic qualities of different cuisines, if there are any, or if the Chinese style of cooking is just a time-consuming method that might someday be obsolete! I asked if maybe his relatives don’t make Chinese food for him because they just don’t think he’ll appreciate how much time it took to make the food. That was honestly my first thought, and I said it in a curious way and made clear that I didn’t mean that as an insult, but they all laughed. They knew I wasn’t trying to be insulting, I know, but I just wonder what they thought of someone who would say something potentially insulting in an interview. At least they know I don’t suck up to authority!

I wish I could know how the other interviewees did. I met the guy who got interviewed before me, and he seemed pretty with-it, although the guy who went after me seemed nervous as heck. It would just be interesting to see if other undergrads felt more prepared for these kinds of questions. I have no idea how I did. These are not things I have ever been asked before and it was scary to have to think about them right then and there and try to produce an intelligent response. I felt like I did the best I could have in my present state of being, and I don’t feel like I made a complete idiot of myself, so I’m not dissatisfied. In fact, it was a fun experience, almost exhilarating by the time I was done. When one of the professors announced that we were out of time I couldn’t believe it. The director told me when I got back to the lobby that actually they’d kept me a little longer than thirty minutes, which I also couldn’t believe. I suppose it’s a good sign that I felt like I could have continued for a couple more hours. I guess I feel like I did pretty well, it’s just that I don’t know how I compare to everyone else. Quite frankly I think you’d have to be pretty darn good to do much better than I did, and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I just think they asked incredibly difficult questions that undergrads don’t get asked, and I don’t think anyone else ought to have been more prepared for those kinds of questions than I was. Although what do I know–I’ve been rejected from a few schools so far so I’m certainly not irresistible! I suppose if I don’t get the fellowship I’ll know that the other people must have been really insanely good at thinking on their feet, and I’ll be impressed if disappointed. I’ll find out whether I’m a finalist in a couple of weeks, so they say. I really hope I get the fellowship. I just found out on Thursday that UCLA isn’t offering me any funding, and I’m starting to think that would be a good place for me to end up, so the fellowship money could really come in handy. Plus I didn’t even use most of the money they said they’d reimburse me for, for meals, so if I don’t get the fellowship I’ll feel pretty cheated out of that $45 meal allowance. ;b

Friday | San Diego again, post-interview
After the interview Sophie and I wandered a little before getting back into the car. We passed by a Victoria’s Secret so we went in and tried things on. I didn’t get anything. I tried on one little satiny slip thing because it was on sale and I’ve always wondered how those would look on me, but it just made no sense to me at all. It’s not that it looked bad, but it was so short I just don’t see the point. I guess there’s supposed to be some kind of peekaboo seduction thing going on but really, unless you’re standing around in it not moving at all… Personally I’m most comfortable naked or in dance clothes, anyway. I wouldn’t feel “sexy” in a little satin slip I paid $20 for. Underwear I understand, but things like this just seem silly. It didn’t even feel like I could dance in it. Seriously, I thought about what I would do if I owned this little slip and I realized-I’d just stand around and cook in it. I can see myself coming home from school and then putting this on to stand at the stove and make dinner. And then what’s the point? My apron covers roughly the same areas and it doesn’t matter if I get oil or dishwater on it. ;b Do I sound old and boring? It’s the truth!

Getting back to Sophie’s car was funny. She parked it on Tomato level in the Vegetable Garage, no kidding. We started on Avocado level and then went up to Onion before we found Tomato. Adorable, and a good idea, too, only I took issue with their artist. Their avocado looked like a pear, not an “avadoe” as Shra’s friend Adam puts it. They’d put a stem on it and the neck was a little too defined.

Then Sphi took me to the beach, which was beautiful again, and cold, so we headed back and I got to see her apartment, have some ice cream, meet her delightful roommate Ariel, and put some liquid black eyeliner and shimmery eyeshadow on her (Sphi, not Ariel) and some of the liquid eyeliner on me before leaving for the airport. It’s funny what a nerd I am. I was totally ready to put my feet up and relax on the way back, so I thought I’d get some junk food and a trashy magazine, but instead when I got to the little stands I found that what I really wanted was a bottle of water, a banana, a peanut butter cookie and the New York Times. So I got in my seat and for the next hour and a half endured the incessant, loud chatter of a high school girl a few rows back (not kidding about incessant, or loud for that matter) while eating my food and reading the Times. I was pretty awake, actually, until I ran out of news to read, and then I started getting sleepy. By the time I arrived in Oakland I was completely ready to drop. Erik says I looked frazzled. Fortunately, he was there, smiling, as soon as I arrived (actually he’d been waiting for an hour as it turned out, since my plane was delayed), with a parking spot close to the terminal, so that we could leave right away to go get me a dinner of two slices of cardboard-crust pizza and a half Caesar salad from Extreme Pizza (only pizza place around here open that late, and I was craving pizza). I like Extreme’s sauce and toppings but their crust is definitely made of cardboard. We went home and I flopped on my bed and ate my pizza and salad and we talked about our day, and then it was bedtime.

Saturday morning we woke up at ten thirty, then had some food. I made some scrambled eggs with curry powder in them and put that over some couscous I’d made Thursday night, then I had a leftover half slice of pizza from the night before and somehow wound up sleeping again. When we woke up again it was five thirty so we went grocery shopping. It was the logical next step, I assure you. Instead of eating out we decided to make something instead, so I picked out two recipes from Ruth Reichl’s books and we headed out. We went to Safeway first and stocked up on the basics, then moved down the street to Andronico’s. By this time I was getting hungry so I roved around all the departments eating their samples (yay for gourmet grocery stores!)-they have good ginger cookies-before we found what we had come for. Since I’d had such amazing shrimp in San Diego the day before, I’d picked out a shrimp curry recipe (“Channing Way Shrimp Curry”) but we were put off by both the quality and the price of all their shrimp. So we took advantage of Lent fish sales instead and bought two filets of fresh red snapper for $4. I also stocked up on Italian tuna canned in olive oil, since that stuff never goes on sale otherwise, and then we went home. There was a basketball game and a tennis match (we saw Ron Takaki waiting to cross the street) so we thought parking would be hideous but somehow we lucked out and found a spot less than a block away. In the kitchen, Erik gamely took on the tedious task of deboning the fish while I made the curry, and then we realized my Parmigiano had gone moldy so we couldn’t make the salad we’d wanted to make. So we just added Napa cabbage to the curry instead. It was pretty good and there was a lot left over, and we had mango sorbet for dessert (my idea). Then it was bedtime again. Such a wonderful counterpoint to my hectic day before.

Sunday (today)
Today we woke up and Erik did my laundry while I baked orange muffins with glazed orange slices on the bottom. Those tasted good but didn’t quite turn out like they were supposed to. I think because I didn’t have enough honey (I had to cut open my poor honey bear to get the last bits) and because I used soymilk instead of milk, the orange slices didn’t stick to the bottoms of the muffins like they were supposed to, but they’re still pretty yummy muffins. The steel-cut oats I stirred in add great texture. Then we went out to A.G. Ferrari on Solano to get Parmigiano to replace my poor moldy one from the day before. The cheese man was quite enthusiastic (well, until I asked whether his pendant had a raccoon on it. It turned out to be a wolf and somehow I don’t think he liked the idea that it might be a raccoon.) and had us try some very flavorful eighteen-month-old Gouda and another cheese that was made from a blend of goat, sheep and cow milks, so we bought some of that one along with our Parmigiano, and I had to grab some hazelnut chocolates too. Then we drove all over town looking for an estate sale which we never found, but we did find Indian Rock Park, which is wonderful and nestled right in residential North Berkeley and which I never knew existed, and we also got to see some pretty great views of the bay from Grizzly Peak (after going up some insanely steep slopes that freaked me out). One view in particular made us stop in the middle of the road-it was such a wide view you could see all of San Francisco, and Angel Island as well as the Bay Bridge and I think maybe even to Oakland. We made a huge loop around and wound up behind the stadium, and then back to my place to have some lunch. I told Erik to rest after driving all those hills, but he was silly and sewed up a hole in my pillowcase instead. I made the salad, which seems quite simple but is really, really delicious, so delicious in fact that I had to email two girlfriends right away to ask them to come over this week and I’ll make more of this salad. And we had a baguette with that yummy creamy other cheese we’d bought, and then we talked for a bit, and then Erik went home.

And I’ve been sitting here writing emails and eating and writing this entry, and I’ll stop now! Thank you for reading! Want a muffin?

Oh, and happy Leap Year Day! 🙂

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]