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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Quora: Vegetarianism?

Having a non-mainstream diet means being more deliberate about your food. My perspective is that I like the taste of meat and want to continue eating it, but find it morally indefensible.

In the places I’ve lived, many people don’t eat much meat so no one asks me about it, but sometimes people make fun of it. I think it’s easier for me as a girl to not eat meat and not get heat about it, but some people might view it as a holier-than-thou attitude and get offended by it, plus there’s somewhat of a negative connotation about vegetarians being wimpy and annoying, bleeding-heart bozos. Some of my male vegetarian friends avoid conflict by saying they don’t eat meat due to health reasons.

Being vegetarian means you think more carefully about everything you’re eating. When you do whatever everyone around you does without thinking about it, when questioned it can be easy to automatically rationalize whatever you and everyone else is doing as correct, otherwise why would everyone do it? Growing up in a Chinese household with a lot of meat, that’s how I felt about vegetarianism until I read DFW’s essay for Gourmet Magazine “Consider the Lobster.”

Aside: Most Chinese people eat a ton of meat. Chinese people will eat anything. If China doesn’t care about human rights, how are Chinese people supposed to even imagine the concept of animal cruelty? For example, I was telling my cousin about my beloved cat, how sweet this cat was, how much I missed her. My cousin said, “Oh, I used to have a great cat! Let me tell you a funny story.” This story began with how my uncle was mad the cat was on the bed, so he picked up the cat by the leg and threw it across the room, thereby breaking its leg. Thus for the following months this cat was confined to the bathroom, where its only occupation was the observing of people using the toilet, so that afterwards it also used the toilet as well! Ever after, this delightful, intelligent cat would comically race into the bathroom in the morning whenever it saw anyone heading in and start using the toilet first. The person wouldn’t be able to shoo the cat off since it would immediately start pooing, so everyone would have to wait till the cat was done before being able to go to the bathroom in the morning. No one thought this story was anything but pure comedy, and the preface about the cat’s broken leg was not shocking to anyone: a cat thrown across the room by the leg had the emotional equivalent of “I was going to the store one day when-.” (This story also illustrates how Chinese people often find poo and other bodily functions funny and will not hesitate to tell poo stories, especially to good friends and family.) So yeah it can be weird being a Chinese vegetarian.

Animals are inferior to humans. We control their lives and their environments, but I would hope that if aliens from outer space came to Earth they would show mercy to the inferior humans, which to them would be like animals ripe for enslavement, breeding, eating, labor, etc. Do unto others, right?

When I first started thinking about it, I was reluctant to conclude that eating meat was not The Right Thing To do. After all, I’m a good person, and I eat meat, therefore eating meat should be Good. Plus it’s so delicious! DFW’s essay caught me off guard and snuck in behind my cognitive dissonance.

To animals, we humans are like all-powerful gods. Before honestly and openly questioning whether I should eat animals or not, I was like an indifferent and uncaring god. After thinking about it, I decided if I continued to eat meat after being unable to defend the position, I would then move into evil, cruel god zone, and I didn’t want to do that- I want to a be a benevolent, compassionate god. My argument isn’t based on logic or rhetoric, it’s based on compassion, empathy, and the hope that karma will cause aliens to spare my sweet, delicious brains.

It’s not a question of whether the life of an animal is worth as much as the life of a human- clearly it is not. No one typically needs to eat animals to survive- I only eat them because I like the taste. So the real question is if an animal’s life is worth as much as the enjoyment or entertainment a human gets from eating the animal. If you think you will get more utility out of eating the meat than the cost of the animal’s suffering and whatever costs there might be to the environment, then from a utilitarian perspective, eat it.

This is subjective and each individual’s decision. Sometimes, the dish really is that delicious! Sometimes my mom would insist on cooking me chicken soup when I was sick, and if I didn’t eat it she would weepingly smile, bravely trying to hide her obviously broken heart. If my mom cooked a dead baby, I’d probably have to eat it, so sometimes you have to choose the animal’s suffering and death over the suffering of another human being.

It’s not that easy to think about doing something differently from the default behavior I grew up with- far easier to just be on autopilot and do whatever my family and friends do. But as someone who cares about utilitarianism, I feel good whenever I choose not to eat meat even when part of me wants to. I feel like I’m being slightly self sacrificing, even though it doesn’t cost me much and is probably on average benefiting my body and wallet.

What’s it like to be a vegetarian?

Quora: What is it like to be a humanities major at MIT?

Most MIT humanities majors have the humanities major as their secondary degree. If you’re only interested in humanities, I don’t know why you’d go to MIT, and neither will the other students. Other people will probably think you’re not hardcore enough to hack it in a “real” major, and if you are truly interested in only a humanities field then the MIT education is a suboptimal way of achieving expertise in that field because you’ll be spending a lot of time on hard math and science classes that wouldn’t really contribute to your goal. I also question the value of a degree in writing, especially a BS which is what I got (MIT only gives BS’s). You need degrees for hard sciences to pursue many of the goals involved in those fields but MIT people who get degrees in the humanities, unless they’re going into academia, basically do it just because they can. An MIT Bachelors of Science in Writing is meaningless and “ironic” on its own and doesn’t qualify me for anything.

After attending my first session of an MIT writing class, I seriously considered transferring. After the students apathetically struggled to interpret the most basic reading, I was concerned half my brain would starve to death in such an environment and seriously considered leaving. Then I emailed Alan Lightman, a physicist and writing professor, who told me that science was for young people whereas writing often improved with age, so why not study both if I liked both? He asked to read my work, was really supportive, and recommended I avoid the intro classes. For discussion driven humanities classes, the interest and talent of the other students are vital to having a good class experience, and I found this was only true in classes such as small workshops that most students wouldn’t take to simply fulfill a HASS requirement.

After my initial doubt, studying writing at MIT was awesome.
1) As the only writing major of my year, I got lots of attention. I won grants and writing prizes because there wasn’t that much competition. All the professors opened their doors to me and were eager to read my stuff and help me write better.
2) Great faculty. MIT has a lot of money for a world class faculty, even in the humanities departments. Junot Diaz was my main writing teacher, and he ended up winning a Pulitzer.
3) In comparison to the class I took at Harvard, MIT students are in general less well-rounded and well-read, so the discussions will take a pretty different path at MIT than at Harvard. Although Harvard kids know more about literature etc (so I guess are better educated in these areas), I think MIT kids are more direct in their feedback.

What is it like to be a humanities/social science major at MIT?