Category Archives: Travel

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.

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!

Greece

The first thing I read when I entered Αθήνα was Έξοδος. To see ‘Exodus’ written like on a normal, modern sign was surreal- the Bible is so old and weird it’s hard to understand that any of it is grounded in current reality (despite having no Latin or ancient history, apparently years of math taught me to read Greek- my education is slightly more well rounded than I’d thought).

Due to laziness that I’d rationalized away (people told me they got delayed due to strikes so let’s keep the plans flexible), I’d booked the Centrotel on booking.com a mere 16 hours before landing in Greece without reading any of the reviews, just going off ratings. Later, I glanced at a review which read, ‘This is the worst neighborhood in Athens. We got mugged right outside the hotel, which is next to a sex shop. Prostitutes line the streets where tough youth openly snort lines of cocaine.’ Concerned, I lookeded for another hotel even though the booking was nonrefundable, but the Internet consensus seemed to be: if you stay in central Athens, it’s noisy all night and you can’t even exit the hotel because of riots, and if you stay outside of Athens, then you’re in a dangerous neighborhood where you will get mugged. They say to bring a ton of cash because the ATMs are down, but if we bring a ton of cash we’ll get mugged. If we take the metro we’ll get mugged but if we take a taxi we’ll get ripped off and possibly kidnapped and sold. Quandary!

Nevertheless we headed out with the plan that if anything at all weird happened we’d head to the Ritz or something and explore Greece under heavy supervision with a bunch of old people.

Much to my surprise, the hotel was awesome! It also had cool art- in Greece art is everywhere, even in random Internet cafes. The neighborhood didn’t feel dangerous- it reminded me of a more run down East Village (Brooklyn?…), and I love The Village. Every single person we met in Greece was super friendly- what they say about Greek hospitality is absolutely true. I also love Greek food! Lots of olive oil and salad, and baklava or some other nutty, honeyed dessert with yogurt is one of my new favorite things.

The only time we felt in peril was walking through downtown Athens at midnight (I guess we were asking for it). There are whole blocks of abandoned buildings. I’ve included a photo of an abandoned building across our hotel from our balcony with the roof caved in. Walking through the abandoned neighborhood and office buildings was creepy and dark. I heard 13K homeless people live in these buildings and it costs less to buy a building than a car. Also apparently there’s a whole subculture of mainly young people who explore these buildings and photograph their findings.

Everything was covered in graffiti, mostly ugly scribbles but some demonstrated artistic ability. I was surprised there wasn’t more graffiti on the ancient monuments littered throughout the city. Aside from graffiti as a sign of angst, other evidence of unrest included cops in riot gear, film/news people with camera equipment, whole blocks of dilapidated, abandoned buildings, and stuff being much cheaper than stuff in Ireland. Despite this, Greece is assuredly first world.

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I’ve always liked Greek myths, and one of my secret pleasures is alternative ancient histories, so I enjoyed the museum full of ancient statues and the Antikythera mechanism- a 2000 year old computer found on a shipwreck. This is part of why I learned to scuba dive- I’m convinced I’ll find a ton of gold and treasure if I just get under the sea and start poking around.

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We also went to the closest island to Athens, Aegina. At first I was seduced by the descriptions of fresh fish and beaches but now I don’t think I’m typically an island person. I do still want to visit Corfu and enjoy seeing animals and wildlife, just not a fan of mosquitos and slow transportation. Once we invent teleportation or helicopters become the norm, I think I’ll be much more adaptive. More photos on tumblr.

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Ireland

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The first time I was in Ireland, I was visiting Denis at Trinity. We went with his parents to little fishing towns and did a ghost tour of Dublin. I told Denis one of my goals was to ride a horse and following the instructions from the first google search we succeeded! Later he admitted he had initially highly doubted it would happen but that it’d ended up being the best time he’d had in Ireland! All due to me and a weird vision of horses in Ireland I got inceptioned with via Braveheart or something.

The second time I was in Ireland, I almost died multiple times. I was doing a horse tour of Connemara and did not know how to ride a horse. The horse people were extremely casual about everything and did not view this to be a problem so I had to learn to post etc on the first day. The other people on the tour owned their own horses and taught people to ride so they gave me lots of tips I struggled to obey, daily heaving me up on my horse in the morning while they gently leapt up Legolas-style.

At one point we decided to take our horses swimming and my horse really did not want to do this. We couldn’t have saddles in the water so I was bareback on an extremely reluctant horse, trying to urge it into the frigid Irish sea so it could paddle around. The horse managed to jerk and swerve so forcefully I last my grip on its bare, slick, wave darkened back and fell into the sea whereupon I saw its hoof swish once right past my cheek, the force of the current of its vigorous treading churning strongly against my face, and I was so thankful not to be brained that when it stomped on my leg I barely felt it despite the incredible bruise this left for the remainder of the week.

When it was time for me to leave, my flight left earlier than the others. The horse people again were quite nonchalant about this despite my tentatively inquiring occasionally what we could do about this since we were in the middle of a loamy bog quite far from any taxis or buses etc. On the morning of my flight, they suggested I borrow someone else’s rental to drive me and a German girl to the airport. German girl was 15, did not have a license but had studied the art of manual driving, unlike me on both counts. I had never considered driving a manual before and suggested she should drive since despite lacking a license she had at least driven manual before, but German girl seemed quite unwilling to bend the rules.

Furthermore, I was supposed to drive on the left side of the road, which I had only done once in the sleepy island of St. John, and then in a normal car.

Nevertheless, we were off. Immediately, we got lost. I have no idea how we found our way to the airport. Despite not speaking English that well, German girl was instructing me how to drive by screaming, ‘Now!’ every time I was supposed to hit the clutch and shift. Looking back, I’m amazed I agreed to any of this. I think the only reason we succeeded is because at each point I had no idea how hard the next part of the journey was going to be. A lot of the roads in Ireland are extremely narrow and people will slow down when a car comes from the other direction to let each other pass. At one point, a bus came barreling around a curve and I swerved away from it. Unaccustomed to judging distance from a right-side-of-car perspective, I hit the left mirror of the car against someone’s bush and it exploded. German girl started laughing hysterically. We also stalled at some point on a hill waiting for another car to pass and then I had to learn the difference between operating the clutch on an incline vs on a flat surface.

This time, I was only in Ireland for a few days, but it seems exactly the same: an extended period of green serenity punctured by terrifying moments of eminent death.

I love Ireland! I love the people, how friendly and helpful and calm everyone is, unphased by anything. I love the flaura and fauna, not particularly diverse but always growing strongly and breezily everywhere. I love the air and the cliffs and the moors and the bog people and the islands and the sea and the trees and the sheep- apparently Ireland is one of the most deforested countries in Europe but it’s still so green. I like the words they use for foods: rockets, bangers, mash, mushy peas. I think Ireland appeals to a simple side of me that would just live off my horse, a mare whose milk I’d drink, who I’d snuggle against for warmth at night, whose veins I’d open and close from which to drink blood on long rides when I didn’t have time to stop for water.

The only thing I noticed this time is there were signs everywhere saying things like, ‘Austerity isn’t working, vote NO,’ and ‘Stability, vote YES.’ The YES slogans seemed kind of weak but maybe that’s what happens when the party is already the majority- it’s the minority party that has to justify itself.

Outside of Dublin we went to Wicklow, Glendalough (of which there are like 5 different spellings), and Powerscourt. Is it normal for my first reaction upon visiting some beautiful estate to be that I want to own it? I don’t think I actually do want to own it but it’s still my first impulse even though in reality all I really own is some electronics and a million cat toys. Nevertheless maybe I should work on my Zen-ness and be free from all desire.

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