Category Archives: Fun

Iceland

The word Iceland is poetic and mysterious. All Icelandic words sound like they have magical powers, intended to be tossed off in rapid, low mutters by wizards and elves, written only in fancy script on scrolls made from the skins of sea monsters. Let’s play the language game! Guess the recipients of these Icelandic names: Grimsey, Thingveller, Eldfell, Strokkur, Vatnajokull, Gullfoss, Hagkaup, Vik.

Despite having all of Sunday free to get from the Olympic stadium to Gatwick, we almost missed our flight to Iceland. We wanted to buy sleeping bags and hiking shoes, yet ended up spending 2+ hours in some shop in Kensington. British people already have the advantage of sounding professional and smart even if they’re going on about the dumbest things, and this phenomenal Kensington shoe salesman was a case in point. After subtly criticizing our existing shoes and making Sherlock-Holmesian inferences about our lives based on our feet, he explained foot mechanics and had us submit to measurements and experiments wherein he determined my left foot is supinated, thus requiring special shoes! I declined, to his grief for my extremely rare foot problem. In contrast, Dilip almost bought orthopedics from this guy. “Dilip, do not buy those 80 Pound orthopedics from this camping store dude. We came here to get sleeping bags.”

By the time we were back at our host’s place and heading to the train, the automated tube ticket machines were closed and we faced an endless line to buy them from humans. Luckily we found 2 others going towards Gatwick so we all split a cab. We then ran from the Gatwick express to the airline. Sadly we missed the check-in by 5 minutes.

For every normal person who does not read confirmation emails from airlines: Icelandic Air does not allow online check in. There is a 90 minute window 45 minutes before the flight during which you have to be physically lined up at the desk at the airport to check in. We arrived 40 minutes before the flight and the lady hastily escaping said without eye contact, “Everything’s closed, and no more flights tonight.” My powers of seduction failed, as always when I am annoyed. My mother was always good at getting strangers to break the rules for her but, alas, I’m not as consistently immediately charming to stupid people. I blame this on having been an unfashionable nerd in a strange land from ages 10 to 13- this must’ve put in a subtle kink in my mass appeal, whereas my mother never had a moment where she wasn’t universally admired by idiots and geniuses alike.

We ran to another desk and after gasping, “Can we make a run for the flight despite being 5 minutes late for checkin?” the guy’s phone rang, he nodded, and sent us back to the desk from whence we came. We then checked in and got on the flight. My only explanation for this is that it’s the airlines modus operandi to give everyone minor freak outs before allowing them to check in anyway. Maybe it’s their way of teaching everyone the important lesson of reading emails from Iceland Air.

Before arriving in Iceland, I knew little about it. Some seductively simplistic, ultimately nonsense article by Michael Lewis about Iceland had given me nondescript expectations of a place somehow surreal. On top of that, Bjork was so annoying in Dancer in the Dark (maybe bc Gondry wasn’t directing? Gondry was MIT’s cool artist in residence who’d party at Senior House) I swore off her music forever. However Lewis was right about one thing- no one in Iceland listens to Bjork either. Anyway, this is the real deal about Iceland:

At the airport, magazines are $20. Blond, tall people are beautiful, but there are only 300K of them. All people in the service industry look like massive supermodels, with gigantic yet perfectly formed fingers and eyeballs. One Icelandic person could probably give an average person 1.6 whole-body, perfectly poreless, skin grafts (I filed this information with other creepy facts: if I want the best quality skin or probably any body part, Iceland’s the place). The people who served me food and checked out my groceries were all golden gods. On an unrelated note, I bought a lot more whale meat than needed (it’s totally tasteless and deep blood red. May be a scam- who would know?).

In Iceland, there exist several sides of several fluffy goats that are black. The big-headed ponies with stubby legs and feathered bangs stomping around in people’s yards waiting to bounce you around the mountains can also be eaten cooked with thick pony sauces in local restaurants alongside puffins and delicious baby seals. The fish, though fresh, is heavily salted and served with dark, dense bread. Random stores stock gloves made of Arctic foxes and other soft, furry animals.

Iceland lacks diversity of flora and fauna, even more so than Ireland. No native trees exist on Iceland so all the trees you see are neatly and meticulously planted by humans. There are no mosquitos! There are no roaches (except as pets??)! Iceland is one of my favorite places so long as the no-pest thing lasts. My love of nature is conditional. I like natural beauty, but nature that’s too vibrant can easily become an overabundance of annoying animals: I like space and I don’t like bugs touching me.

When you leave the giant ring road encircling Iceland, you’re at once lurching on unpaved rocks that’ll lead you to some natural wonder like a spring or waterfall. We saw stinky geysers with boiling water running in rivulets on the steaming ground under our shoes, hiked on a glacier sliced with sky blue crevices (“kull” where my toes froze in my vibrams (I never bought hiking shoes, remember!)), had our hair swept crazily by the wind on a black sand beach, walked behind an icy waterfall (“foss”), and picked up hitchhikers from a silicon mud hot spring to Reykjavik. The phone GPS was wrong regarding several locations so we did a fair bit of grinding over mountains of volcanic rocks.

After trying some airbnb’s in the rest of Europe, in Iceland we roughed it and slept in the car. I love camping in cars- that’s my level of nature loving right there. I like getting out of the house, but I don’t like getting all the way into a tent, so cars are perfect. Also, I often strategize about how to be an efficient homeless person and this was an opportunity to put some ideas to the test.

It drizzled the first day but was sunny after that. The drizzle was benign and light, somehow suiting the landscape and bringing out all the lichens’ colors. The infrastructure is amazing for such a small country- there were Subways, no garbage, and cozy streets patrolled by prim, sedate, fat-tailed cats- probably nicer than most of the places in Europe or America. For a country where in August it’s still light at 11pm and light again starting at 4am, the Hagkaup 24 hour stores are awesome. They have aisles full of everything from American cereal to knitting equipment (there were 2 aisles full of yarn). After cramped, dusty Europe, it’s a relief to find a place that’s more like America. The tiny, closed-in-the-afternoon, closed-after-7pm, charge-you-for-plastic-bags, pharmaceutical-less, 1-type-of-apple European grocery stores become tiresome so fast. Apparently everyone in Italy is so busy enjoying life, drinking wine and coffee, having long, animated conversations while smoking cigarettes and having sex that there are zero enterprising immigrants manning 24 hour pit stops. Outrageous! Italy: not for me. Iceland: 5 stars!

Bay Area Vibe

Everyone in NYC wants to be a star in some ferociously competitive industry, like finance, ¬†entertainment, fashion. Every waiter wants to be a rock musician or top chef or something. Everyone’s very ambitious, yet the elites turn out to be old, white, male, tall, and business-y.

As an ambitious, driven person, the NYC atmosphere suited me better than Chicago, where I lived for the first 3 years after college. Chicago is a great city, but it’s definitely Midwest. People get married at age 23 and live super balanced, normal lives. They leave work at reasonable hours to go hang out at sporting events. Not feeling compelled to get married or settle down anytime soon, I sometimes felt out of place in Chicago.

Californians are as ambitious as New Yorkers, but in a more gadgety, nerdy way. Everyone seems to genuinely believe their new app is going to save the world, whereas most New Yorkers don’t seem to consider that when they talk about their work. Unlike in NYC, the successful Bay area people are nerdy, young, and not always white, male, or tall. I am nerdy, young, Asian, female, and average height. No wonder I keep going back to the Bay!

Here’s some photos of new places we hadn’t gone to before: French Laundry, Muir woods, Napa, Sonoma.

Staying with Anna at Mobi Headquarters

I’m trying to write some shorter posts because Anna said all of my posts are pages and pages long. Here’s a short post:

When Anna invited us to stay with her in Lincoln 30 minutes from MIT, Dilip was like, “I don’t know…” I told Anna I’d try to convince him.

Winding up the green, wooded driveway, we both said, “Let’s stay a few extra days.” I said this without even seeing the house- the sparkling smell of the air was enough. Maybe I was just overjoyed to be back on US soil.

A VC gave Anna and Nii the house for their headquarters. Although we didn’t use the underground movie theater or roof deck hot tub, we made good use of the gigantic pool. I loved all the light coming into the house- many walls were windows and the sunroof in each room made the air bright. Also who knew there was such a thing as doors in the back of your closet opening into the laundry room so you could put clothes straight into your drawers from the laundry machine? And there was a tiny treehouse and groomed grassy fields flanked by trees to tumble around on.

In addition to Mobi, Anna runs the Vehicle Design Summit and is doing a fashion startup Lorien.¬†Anna grows corn and other plants in her greenhouse area and prepares yummy foods for us that I devour while imagining murderers creeping into the huge house through one of its million entrances to take showers or something. Every time I pass the sauna I speed walk in case there’s a sweaty murderer lurking inside. This is why I need a pack of ferocious dogs- to alert me of squirrels and murderers.

European PIGS Tour, Evaporative Cooling

A few years ago my coworkers scoffed when I said Europe was doomed and going to become third world. I was really short Europe without knowing too many details, mainly short socialism. Recently we went to do a quick tour of the PIGS countries because I had a big bet on- Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.

Similarities: Really expensive gas, like 8-9 USD a gallon. People stay up really late (except maybe Ireland). For example we would walk into “the best tapas place in Barcelona” after 1AM. Many restaurants don’t even open till after 8:30pm.

Differences: In order of cheapness, the countries were Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Spain. Lisbon seemed worst off. I didn’t see as many young people and it was like an older, hilly, less polished version of Barcelona. Spain surprisingly seemed to be doing amazingly, though we were in Madrid and Barcelona which might not be super representative. Barcelona was really beautiful. It was extremely clean and livable, filled with drunk tourists.

And now I feel sad Europe is doomed and wish they wouldn’t collapse. Now I feel like they can do some things in the next year or so to stave off doom for a while longer. It’s such a waste- Europe is so old and cool! But things like this happen all the time. Civilizations, countries, companies- everything ages, fails to adapt, and evaporative cooling always happens: high energy people leave, however you define high energy.

I was thinking about Eliezer’s evaporative cooling idea for human groups since learning Eduardo Saverin gave up his US citizenship. Anyone who gives up their US citizenship is no joke one way or another- politically, ideologically, financially… But almost no one leaves the USA forever. Europe, however- educated Europeans are leaving their countries. And anyone who disagrees sufficiently with policy also leaves. So what remains are people who don’t have the resources to leave, or who really agree with the policies, so that the remaining group becomes increasingly entrenched ideologically. Does anyone return after the policy changes? Do refugees eventually return to their countries?

Ways to stave off group cooling:
1) Be picky about who you let in initially, maybe continuously raising the average bar.
2) Don’t force outliers out (maybe make it easy for them to form subgroups within the original group?).
3) Do something to heat up the group once in a while?

We’re going to Iceland and some other places soon. Let me know if you’re going to be there too!