Saturday, May 12, 2007

Photos! Happy Times While on my Exchange Programme..

Hey dear friends and faithful readers.
I know I've been moody for way too long. Here's something more cheerful. Nice bright pictures of happy smiley people and pretty things.
I promise no more angsty, moody stuff for a while.


My very first ride on the "F" bus to San Francisco. Hair was short, eyes were wider, much more clueless.
Photo taken by Andy - talented achitecture graduate student and photographer. (You'll find a picture of him a few photos down this entry.)


Berwine my dear friend whom I grew up with since my green-uniform-donning days at Tanjong Katong Girls' dropped a visit at Berkeley during Chinese New Year. She's from NUS and on an exchange programme too, but in UC Santa Barbara, a 7 hour drive south of Berkeley.


Here's Grace and Aunty Grace (I call my church friends' mum Aunty my-friend's-name) when I met up with them in San Francisco. We rendezvous-ed at Union Square.

Look what I found in San Francisco! A Banana Republic t-shirt made in one of those third world countries.


We 4 girls in our hotel room after a "wild" evening spent on a touristy boat with music and dance.

The beach in Acapulco. Honestly, I don't see how different beaches can get across the world and how exceptional the same universal sun can be in a tourist beach... but well. Here's a nice shot of Sara, a sweet girl from China, and me.

Lionel and me! We went on a water motorbike (I can't recall the proper term for that vehicle now). Too bad no one tooked any photos of that! Lionel's one hell of a speedster. Hahaha.. I was clinging onto him for dear life, but it was fun going at such high speeds in water for a change.

There are more photos of Mexico, but I was not thinkingly selective enough and chose the people shots rather than the place shots. Here's a very happy Lionel and Ivan, our Mexican/American (well, he's got dual citizenship) tour guide and companion, at the Daly City airport having a fantastic meal of meat while in transit from Mexico back to San Francisco.. glorious pork ribs. Boy does Lionel love meat.. ;p We Singaporeans (sans Lionel from Stanford) met Ivan from our interactions at the International House (where we pay US$1300 per month in rent each for a small double room). He offered to bring us to his home country. (= I'm glad we had him there. We wouldn't have survived without his help in the almost completely Spanish-speaking country.

Here's Andy, my I House neighbour, who has been very much a big brother to me. He's a nice young married man from New Zealand/China (the people in I House seem to have confusing international roots) with a wife and baby back home. While we were holidaying in Mexico during the Spring Break, he was in New Orleans for an Achitecture rebuilding project. That's the state of the Hurricane-Katrina-stricken city.

This photo was taken in Febuary (by Andy too) in my favourite (and only) pair of flies-eyes sunglasses.

Taken in at the end of March - Check out how my chin has disappeared from my over consumption of American food.
Anyway, here's Grace, Matt, Lionel and I.
I still think I look best in those cooool shades! ;p

We wanted to have a BBQ at Point Reyes, another nice beach. But alas, it was windier than expected. We survived for about 5 minutes to take a quick shot since Lionel had driven us all the way there already, and dashed back to the shelter and warmth of the car.

We scooted off to a less windy park and still had our BBQ. (=

PITTSBURGH - Lionel and I pontanged (skipped) two days of classes to fly across the North American continent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That was where Lionel did his undergraduate degree in Carnegie Mellon. He was visiting some old friends -- I simply tagged happily when he offered to take me with him.

It was the annual Spring Festival. Carnegie Mellon celebrates it with students building booths. It is more or less a 6 month project for the various fraternities/sororities/kaypoh student groups -- from the conceptualising to the construction of the entire display structure which is solid enough for families to bring their kids into.

Lionel and his gang seems to love BBQs. I have no complaints. BBQs in this cool and non-humid weather is enjoyable. And of course, having the guys take charge as usual, makes it even sweeter. (=

We had brunch at a chichi social club. This was the Pittsbirgh Athletic Association. The elderly couple are from the church Lionel attended at Pittsburgh. They "took care" of him while he was in Carnegie Mellon.

We went white-water rafting! I didn't dare tell my mum before I went. The Singaporeans here went skydiving and one of our friends told his mum only after the whole thing was over, "so that she wouldn't worry". Thoughtful right? I thought I'd do the same.
It wasn't that dangerous afterall. We did the Grade 3-4 rapids. (They have up to 7-8). We went in a group of boy scouts. A couple of the pocket-size prepubescent 12-year-olds got thrown overboard. One of them got washed up a big rock, but he seemed to be having fun.

I got myself involved in this volunteer tutoring programme called OASES. It stands for the Oakland Asian Students Educational Services. It's a huge association where most of the volunteers come from the Berkeley student body.
I'm not quite allowed to put up photos of the children, but here's one taken by my "tutee" (that's what they call them at OASES) at the playground during their recess. They spend a couple of hours with a different day-of-the-week tutor every afternoon. I was a Thursday tutor for a couple of fourth graders (9-year-olds).


Lionel brought me to Monterey Bay. It's a couple of hours drive south of Berkeley. This is coincidentally the place where one could go whale-watching. Amazing huh? The things those ang mohs do.. I've never heard of whale-watching. I'd like to try it some day -- to see those sea giants migrate and have my Pinnochio scene of the whale that housed his father Gepetto come to life.
Anyway, we were supposed to go kayaking but apparently, the sea was so rough that day that 9 kayaks overturned with one huge wave. They were not going to take any more risk by sending out more people to sea.

Well, we caught the sunset at the beach. I have watched hundreds of sunsets, but I've never actually sat to wait upon a sunset. That's what you get to do a lot here in California and big countries in general with many nature spots and not much contrived entertainment. Lots of space, lots of time.
Oh, that's the shadow of my hand on Lionel's face.

Well, here's one of the tens of photos I took of the sunset. Sunset photos aren't exactly interesting if they aren't outstanding. I chose this one because it best shows a rocket's exhaust tail. We saw that fella slowly moving vertically up the stratosphere as the sun set. It must have departed from the NASA campus in California, pretty near from where we were.
Update: Lionel says that according to the NASA website, no rockets were due to launch during that time. So it could be some military stuff... or some secret mission... or both..

Here are a couple of photos to show the trees experiencing the seasonal change from winter to spring... Not the best comparitive photos, but yes, it's of the same place. Notice the green gate in both pictures. That's Sather gate.

Taken in January.

Taken in May.

And finally, I had one of the most pleasant meals here with nice people. Grace, Matt and Lionel again. We had dinner at Palo Alto. We had dinner a couple of nights ago at a New-Orleans-style restaurant. I wanted to take a picture of the food, but forgot. So here's us happily contented with the food in our bellies. Thereafter, we had gelato (Italian ice-cream) which was gooood.. Lionel really drives us far, just for food. Thanks Lionel!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Just scared. Afraid of everything.

I really want to go home, but I'm afraid of going home too.

I want to escape from this place of confusion. Social dynamics are so weird here. To me at least. In fact, because it seems weird only to me that it is alll sooo weird...

I feel so uncomfortable. I don't know what to expect of people, I don't know what people mean. I don't know what they interpret from my words or actions. I can't understand people's responses anymore. I don't know what is expected of me. I can't seem to use the understanding of my own social patterns and norms here. I'm not sure if the intelligent academics here are just plain weird -- high IQ and low EQ -- or whether I am really a social oddball.

I feel like I'm living in a different plain of reality altogether. It's as if the law of social physics are totally different. I feel out of this world -- literally.

People are at times so warm, and the next instant so cold I wonder if I've said something wrong. Sometimes they are overfriendly, and I wonder if they thought I was flirting with them.

I seem to be interacting with machines here. Very good-looking, impressive and intellectually capable machines. However, most of them seem to have a bug in their programme that makes them socially incoherent and inconsistent.

This is how I feel, of course. I'm not saying that they really behave like machines. It's just that nothing seems to be making coherent sense to me here.

I was just looking through some old photos, particularly of Ly. In a way, I suddenly wish I could feel all that feelings of familiarity and warmth all over again. The thing is, even though I can remember how I was truly truly happy then, I can't see myself in those photos. Maybe I've put on so much weight now that I can't identify that girl in the picture as me. But somehow, she feels like someone so foreign.

That's why I am afraid of going home too. I can run from this place where I feel so unstable and in a way.. abstract... like I'm subliming -- in between solid and gas states, yet not liquid. I can run home. But when I run home, and if I still feel so out of place, I don't know of any other place to run to where I can find some sense of familiarity and comfort once again.