Category Archives: USA

Coronavirus in Taiwan, Part 3

In Part 1, I write about Taiwan’s brush with SARS in 2002-03, the beginnings of the crisis in January, and Taiwan’s initial reactions that put us on a path to getting ahead of the virus.

In Part 2, I write about the extended school closure in February, voluntary self-distancing, and the Diamond Princess.

Part 3:

Though three weeks of extended break seemed like forever, they ended quite abruptly. On Monday, February 24, we went in to school for a fever screening training, which I was promptly excused from by my supervisor and our Head Nurse. Fortunately, school was not so short staffed that we needed a pregnant woman to man the stations! To speed up the entrance of over 2,300 students and 500 faculty and staff members into school every day between 7 and 8 am, nine stations were being set up around school at regular entrances, and teams of 2 people would take their positions at each station. One person would be responsible for using an infrared gun to take temperatures, and ensure that everyone registered below 37.5 Celsius. The best place to take the temperature was over the right or left eyebrow, and we were instructed to ask people to pull aside bangs to make it simple. The other person would be responsible for making sure that that person also stretched out their hand for a spritz of sanitizer, and if a student had a temperature of 37.5 Celsius or above, to take them to our quarantine room where they would be given a mask and instructed to wait until a parent could take them home. Both persons working the stations would wear a face mask for the duration of their time, and the nurses demonstrated the correct way to put on (and then NOT TOUCH) a face mask to make sure that it was working as necessary.

The next day, we headed to work for the first time in a month. At school, most people were enthusiastically greeting each other, and I remember walking up to colleagues in my department with a very big smile as they exclaimed over how big my belly had gotten since we had seen each other. However, it did seem much quieter than usual, with no parents sitting in the cafeteria talking to each other over a cup of coffee, and fewer people lingering about the school. Some Taiwanese staff wore a face mask even inside at school, and as a result, sometimes I could barely tell who was coming up to say hello and exclaim over my pregnancy and ask about my due date! Back in the office, my co-worker and I spent a good week trying to figure out our new workload, as the nature of my job had definitely changed, with fewer events to figure out and coordinate. Over the next two weeks, school also made other changes as the Ministry of Education gave guidelines: no gatherings over 200 people, school-wide events or events with off-island schools and organizations were canceled or postponed until the fall, and the cafeteria changed the operation of its usual salad and yogurt bars to leave fewer items in the open and to have all our bakery items entirely shrink-wrapped. Even fewer visitors were allowed on campus, and all who came had to declare their travel history to the school.

Despite those changes, normalcy had begun to settle in again in Taipei as schools re-opened and families resumed their daily schedules. We still made food at home several nights out of the week, but took alcohol wipes with us to restaurants when we ate out. At each restaurant or store, staff would invariably have a bottle of alcohol or sanitizing spray on the counter so that people could help themselves. On the MRT and public transit, we wore face masks, but out in the parks or on the street during the day, it was more like 50/50. People had either taken to heart the CDC’s reminders that masks were not necessary if you were healthy, or the rationing that had continued was taking its toll: either way, people were only wearing them where they needed to. And of course, we donned them for our monthly visit to the doctor’s at our hospital for my pregnancy check-ups.

Meanwhile, a different sort of shift had taken place as the COVID-19 situation continued developing around the world. On February 22, a friend shared an article on the pending pandemic nature of COVID-19, throwing the entire crisis into a different relief for me. According to the authors, “containment” is a strategy that cannot defeat an outbreak, only delay it. At this point, we were seeing that the situation in South Korea and Japan meant travel bans, quarantines, and contact tracing could not stop the epidemic, only slow it down. So what should communities and individuals be doing about this now? How should governments communicate about it to their citizens? I quickly realized that it really is better for the public to be prepared and ready which make them feel empowered, rather than to place all your faith in governments that say they have it “under control” or “on lockdown”, and later on see that trust betrayed. That’s what’s happening now, as the masses in Italy and the US and other nations experience the whiplash of everything changing in a mere week or two. Their countries had not prepared them adequately for the magnitude of the change that was coming, and because of the lack of containment and mitigation, their crises are even larger. As a result, instead of closing for three weeks, schools and universities in the US and Europe are now looking at closing for three months, an entire spring semester truncated.

As Steve noted, Taiwan has fared so well so far because it has continuously looked ahead to what will be needed in the future and made plans for that now. Similarly, we had prepped our pantry and was in good shape despite the toilet paper panic. As we started calming down about the situation in Taiwan, we started wondering, what if COVID-19 did make inroads into the United States? What about our families? On February 25, we sent a few messages to Steve’s parents to see how they were doing, and they responded that there were no reported cases in South Carolina, where they lived, and that “it doesn’t seem to be a big concern here”. During our next Google Hangout chat, we sent on an NPR article on getting prepared for coronavirus, which was filled with very commonsense advice, like stocking up on prescription medication, non-perishable food supplies, and working through emergency plans. What was the worst case scenario? Who were the most vulnerable people? What would Steve’s parents do if his 90-something year old grandmother caught the virus? What if either of his parents got the virus? Who would take care of their two dogs? Talking through each scenario gave us all some clarity and sense of control over the situation. Being prepared, we impressed upon them, was the key difference between panicking when the situation hit the fan and being able to calmly execute the steps that would keep us and our loved ones safe. Later that week, I had my weekly video call with my parents and urged them to do the same thing. Without even realizing it, Steve and I had pivoted from worrying about ourselves and considering evacuating back to the United States to worrying about our families and hunkering down in Taiwan.

Steve had continued his voracious reading of COVID-19 related reports every single morning, and was starting to speak constantly about “the sigmoid”. The sigmoid is mathematical jargon for what is also commonly known as the logistic curve. Everyone and his mother has now heard about “flattening the curve”, but this video by Three Blue One Brown explaining the logistic curve and the exponential growth behind it that drives the spread of diseases like COVID-19 is worth a second look for everyone. (I felt so much smarter after watching it, and you will too!) He was worried that Japan and South Korea were on the sigmoid already, and that Italy and Iran were as well by the waning days of February. It’s worth noting that the United States was not at that point, and despite the number of cases in Taiwan, we weren’t either. Starting in early March, the world had begun to pay even more attention to coronavirus and gratifyingly, to what Taiwan had been doing. News outlets started reporting on the concrete steps that Taiwan had taken to jump on this crisis early. We were resting on our laurels a little bit. I had started hoping that this could be a great demonstration of soft power that would enable Taiwan to get an observer status back in the World Health Organization, or if we could start exporting face masks to other countries, oblige them to remember that in times of need, Taiwan stepped up.

But in the first few days of March, we started seeing the numbers creep up in the United States, and the lack of direction on a national level became downright alarming. Why wasn’t the United States testing in large numbers? Why had they turned down the WHO’s offer of test kits in favor of developing their own, which turned out to be initially faulty? Why weren’t they at least temperature screening anyone who came in, as had been done in Taipei since mid-January? Why could hospitals not test for anyone who had symptoms of COVID-19? It was mind-boggling, as we had just learned that South Korea was pioneering drive-thru testing, and Taiwan was testing thousands. Steve noted that it was not a good sign when the US CDC stopped reporting testing numbers around the beginning of March. “You never want to hide the good numbers,” he pointed out. (Though the CDC has started reporting this information again, it’s not in line with the way the rest of the world does it, which is largely by number of people tested, not samples – most people need two samples to be verified, and may be tested multiple times.) We started seeing the first few Twitter reports of empty shelves, people voluntarily quarantining themselves in San Francisco, and the NYC subway system getting sanitized every 72 hours (for comparison, the Taipei MRT which runs 18 hours a day has been getting sanitized every 4 hours). We started feeling powerless despite all our warnings to family and friends, and worried over the fact that no one seemed to be in charge with a central strategy. One evening over dinner, we just spent time brainstorming things we would do if we were heading up DHHS or the CDC, and almost the next day, I laughed to see that Nicholas Kristof of the NYTimes had done the exact same thing in “12 Steps to Tackle the Coronavirus” (March 11, 2020).

Given everything we thought, it was still a shock to me the next week when the situation really started to hit the fan. In retrospect, I thought everyone was on the same page as my parents and Steve’s parents. They had been informed about the seriousness of COVID-19, because we had all been talking on a weekly basis since mid-January. But obviously, not everyone had family in Asia who had been going through it. In fact, friends informed us with disgust that some people had thought this was a Chinese-engineered virus or simply a hoax to keep their attention from the impeachment process. From this side of the ocean, the tendency of fellow Americans to see such incidents as hoaxes or hollow threats is more laughable than ever. We’ve been wrapped in such a blanket of security that allows us to believe we’re immune (sometimes literally) to all the ills that affect other nations, that we never even saw this one coming.

So last week, the panic in the United States just began taking over our social media timelines and news feeds. There were nonstop pictures of empty grocery store shelves, from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to Kroger and Target. There was a run on toilet paper (of course!). People started hoarding hand sanitizer and worse, price-gouging by selling those supplies on Amazon and eBay for many times what they were worth. It was overwhelming and awful, and I started feeling my eyelid start twitching again. As the cascade continued, schools and workplaces started shutting down. Friends who were teachers started brainstorming ways to translate their courses online, and friends who had families were looking at how to entertain and take care of their little ones while dealing with the impending dread and fear of having their parents and older relatives taken from them. It was everything we had experienced last month all over again, and it was the rest of the people I cared about who were going through it now.

At this time, I was outraged like many were in the United States to find that the system was failing its most vulnerable people. To be clear, there are multiple instances of the system failing to protect vulnerable people right now in the US, from people who are facing eviction, high medical bills, and food insecurity, just to name a few problems. But the one that is close to my heart is higher education, and I was absolutely enraged to find that universities were beginning to close and kick out students from their campus without a backward glance. This was happening at some of the most well-resourced, well-heeled, private non-profit institutions that the US had to offer. The US CDC had put out some clear educational guidelines on how to prepare your student body for containment and mitigation of COVID-19, but universities saw much bigger risks. Spring break was coming up for a number of schools, and the worry was intense that students would not obey travel recommendations and inevitably bring back cases of COVID-19 to these crowded campuses. I can’t say in all honesty that it was the wrong decision to make because that is a lot of unknown and a lot of risk, but universities went about it in decidedly the wrong way. Schools like Harvard sent out emails giving students mere days before spring break and stubbornly kept classes in session, setting off waves of panic as students struggled to pack their belongings and move out to perhaps more unsanitary conditions than those in student dorms, increasing the number of people traveling by planes, trains, buses, and automobiles at a time when social distancing was supposed to be adopted widely. There was a huge disparity in information and resources available to students who were dealing with a cascade of problems that came with being forced off campus: where would they stay? Could they get any financial assistance with buying plane tickets or finding storage at the same time as 5,000 of their peers? What about the income they were depending on from their work-study or campus job? Would they receive refunds for room or board or tuition? How could they be expected to figure this all out and then still pay attention in online classes? Sad to say, but I don’t think universities even considered the number of local adults whose lives they’re throwing into economic disarray by taking away their blue-collar jobs as cooks, cleaners, janitors, and generally everyone who keeps a campus up and running. It didn’t look like UChicago did, anyway.

As disappointing as this was, I saw mutual aid groups (UChicago, in Greater Boston, Harvard, Tufts, MIT) beginning to emerge when students and alumni realized that the universities were unable to facilitate this change in a meaningful way for their student bodies. Where they failed to step up, people came forward to offer sublets and rooms and couches as well as food, face masks, supplies, and comfort when institutions threw them out. The silver lining is that people are forging closer connections with each other, which we sorely need in these trying times. But the more damning downside is that colleges and universities were given the chance to shine in this, and they threw it away. While the a few schools were able to provide laptops, airport shuttles, free storage, pay students who were supposed to work on campus, and in general, throw some of their resources at the problem, most schools disappointed their students completely.

What’s the argument in favor of what the universities should have done or how they carried it through? The only real argument I’m willing to accept is that universities have been caught completely flat-footed, duped just like the rest of the US was, into thinking this wasn’t a big deal at first. According to VOANews, “In most cases, U.S. universities and colleges followed similar trajectories, first announcing they would move classes online but that campus facilities would remain open, and then either all at once or through a rapid series of announcements, finally deciding the campuses would close entirely.” The speed with which things escalated indicates to me that behind those rapid announcements were hours of panicked meetings as high-level administration had to quickly come to grips with what America is figuring out – it’s not enough to get hand sanitizer and food and be prepared yourself, it has spread too far, so you must take that next step of cancelling schools, events, and social distancing.

To play devil’s advocate, Steve pointed out pragmatically that higher education is really just a service, and people are paying for courses and a diploma. It just sucks in times like these to be forking out a quarter of a million dollars and to get shafted like this. But I think it sucks on a very different level that is much more damaging. Colleges and universities in the US have long been selling a different product than a diploma: they have sold to us the promise of a community that you will be a part of forever, a brand that you can be loyal to because it lives up to its pure ideals of growing knowledge and enriching lives and helping the world. But this reaction is beyond disappointing, because nickel-and-diming your students and refusing vulnerable populations the right to stay on campus and eat in your halls does not look like this. Speaking as someone who has worked in higher education and philanthropy and has donated to all the schools she has attended, I don’t think higher education is going to recover from this for a long time.

In Part 4, I write about the second wave of COVID-19 cases hitting Taiwan, just when we thought it was starting to get better, and maybe, what lies ahead for the future.

Return to the western motherland.

I’m fighting jet lag and some exhaustion in order to put some fingers to the keyboard. Twice in the past year or so, I’ve started an entry about our visits to Seoul and Kyoto/Osaka, but it’s so hard to encapsulate everything about a new visit to a new city, and yet that’s just what I want to do. Recently, we also went back to Taichung for a day, and in revisiting some of the blog entries I wrote in the summer of 2015 about our time there, I was reminded of not only how lovely some places were, but how I was transported back to that rhythm of life by the entries I wrote neatly documenting the minute details of our lives. It made me resolve that I’m going to spend more time putting that down, even imperfectly or piecemeal. Perfection is the enemy of getting anything done, as far as my blogging is concerned. So here’s some imperfection.

I had been planning my first trip back to the US since we moved to Taiwan, but it got moved up since I left my job at the end of December. Thus,  I scheduled it for late January to avoid the crush of Chinese New Year, but I forgot the temperatures I would be facing. In fact, I left all my scarves and gloves in Taipei, and the first day out here, I started bitterly regretting that fact. The weather is just one of the many things I’m startled by. I’ve taken to religiously smearing Vaseline on my lips before bed, and reviving my habit of lotioning up. The cold is not only cold – it’s dry. I raise static on my arms taking off and putting on sweaters, the ends of my long hair stick to my puffy jacket, and I actually shocked myself the other day, something I haven’t done since 2013 in Chicago! How cold is it, you might ask? After lows in the 40s Fahrenheit in Taipei, I’ve now been thrown into the lower 20s, with significantly less humidity and more wind. My phone still thinks I’m in Celsius territory, though, so it routinely reminds me that it’s -1 degrees Celsius outside, striking fear into the hearts of those who know me back in Taiwan. Thank goodness for long underwear and my double-coated method, although I did have to buy myself something resembling a hat and gloves the first day I was out.  Continue reading Return to the western motherland.

Finding America in Okinawa.

One of the things I was most interested in when we were planning this trip to Okinawa was its historical and current relationship with the US. I knew that the US had bases on Okinawa, and that it had been a major part of the WWII offense against the Japanese. I was curious to see what sentiment remained today around Americans, and also what remained of the history from that era.

We got to learn more about that when we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum on our second day. It was a wonderfully detailed museum with plenty of English captioning, and we spent a long time watching videos, checking out some amazing audio-visual exhibits, and being absolutely amazed by the wealth and the breadth of history covered here. There was a stunning projector display of the weather patterns around the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is the biggest), as to where typhoons typically go, and currents which have guided historical trading patterns with the Chinese and the Japanese. The more traditional exhibits didn’t disappoint either, with a lot of detail about how Chinese influence led to imperial adoption of dragons and similar architecture, and Japanese influence led to imposing a feudal samurai-and-peasant structure. Continue reading Finding America in Okinawa.

Overnight through the heart of America.

8:10 pm
Thursday, June 16
49 Lake Shore Limited
Between Schenectady, NY and Utica, NY

I found a wonderfully picturesque seat in the lounge car where I can gaze at the river beside me. Just a little while ago, the sunset was lighting up the wide, misty path of the river. I took so many pictures from the window here, glorying in how beautiful everything was. The sun has almost set, but now the surface of the serene river, with only very few ripples in it, reflects the cloudy sky above and the rising moon. The light of the sunset will probably linger for at least another half hour or so.

We’ve been running alongside the Mohawk River in upstate New York for a good half hour now. Sometimes it twists away, divided from the train tracks by a few houses or grassy fields, or is elevated through a set of locks, but has kept coming back. The river is fairly wide and placid, sometimes broken by large islands with sprawling green vegetation, or sometimes choked along the banks with thick reeds. Beyond the river, I can see some green hills or in some cases, small towns. There is a good deal of industry along the river in this part of New York. I don’t know what kind of factories are here, but there certainly are some. The locks and bridges that occasionally span it look somewhat rusted and faded. Earlier, we even went by a horse ranch.

Sitting up here in the lounge car instead of back at the seat has been slightly more interesting. I’ve run into a Worcester man of many years named Chris who is fervently “feeling the Bern”. He and I talked a little while about the People’s Summit that he and several people are on their way to in Chicago. Bernie Sanders is also giving a speech tonight, as I saw on social media, around 8:30 pm. Chris avidly denied the likelihood that Bernie was going to actually give in and ask his people to support Hillary, and invited me to watch the speech with the rest.

I also had a funny incident with an Amtrak conductor that caused me to blush as red as a lobster for five minutes. While fooling around with my camera, I tried to get as many photos of the outside as I could, and then switched to taking a few pictures inside the car. I even turned the camera on myself at one point, and then caught a conductor sitting kitty corner from me giving me one raised eyebrow. To be fair, taking a selfie with a DSLR looks pretty funny, so I laughed also, and then put my camera away.

I’ve been sitting in the lounge car for almost over an hour, just trying to get a seat in the dining car. Though it’s possible to buy some food from the café car, which is just like a concession stand, I’d rather get a seat in the dining car and meet a few folks and enjoy an actual meal. After all, there are still quite a few hours left in the trip before I’ll be able to get to sleep.

7:37 am
Friday, June 17
Aboard the Lake Shore Limited

I’m not usually awake at this hour, but the rest of the world is. The sun already seems well up in the sky, no longer casting the sharp shadows it did half an hour ago. I woke up for good from my fitful sleep just after 7 am as we rolled through Ohio. We are now making our stop at Bryan, Ohio, our last stop here before moving onto Indiana, and then Illinois. Wonders of wonders, the train seems to be on schedule. We’re bound for Waterloo, IN, Elkhart, IN, and South Bend, IN before rolling into Chicago, IL just before 10 am.

We’ve been going past giant rambling fields of hay for the longest time now. Everything is as flat as a pancake, and every house seems to have its own grain silo. Welcome back to the Midwest, I guess. Some random observations: People seem to have a lot of dogs here. When we went by the Waterloo station, I saw a woman opening up her yard sale at 8 am. It was cool to see because I haven’t ever gotten up early enough to catch a yard sale when it first opens.

Last night’s dinner was somewhat disappointing, since I got seated at the very end, and had a table all to my lonesome. I had mac and cheese and a very good piece of cheesecake with graham cracker crust to console myself, and then went back to my seat. Soon, we’ll be in Chicago, and I look forward to seeing Anthony and Blenda, the friends we are staying with, and a really hot shower and a nap!

Afternoon on the Lake Shore Limited.

3:49 pm
449 Lake Shore Limited
Between Springfield, MA and Pittsfield, MA

Western Massachusetts is green in the early summertime. I’ve watched our train wind through woodsy forests and wide grassy fields. The trees here are not pines or stately trees that outline boulevards but wild and tall oaks. I spent a few minutes trying to determine why they looked so different from the trees in North Carolina before I realized that most of them were not wrapped over in kudzu, that Japanese vine that has so invaded the South. In Durham, some trees along our usual walking route were so covered with kudzu in the spring and summer that they resembled the largest green topiary dinosaurs and structures. Here, the afternoon sunlight shines brightly as we glide past green, verdant hills.

Since I haven’t written here since Durham, I’ll summarize our travel plans. In mid-May, we moved out of Durham, and absconded to Greenville, SC where we stayed with Steve’s family for a few weeks. Last weekend, I bid a fond farewell to our wonderful Stella, and came to visit my mom in Boston. It’s been a great week here of hanging out with her and seeing some friends, but now I’m off to Chicago. Tomorrow, Steve will join me in Chicago with all of our luggage, and after a weekend of gathering with friends in Chicago, we will fly out on Monday to Taipei. I start a new job working for a social enterprise in early July, so this is a very exciting time for us.

This afternoon, I hugged and kissed my mom goodbye at Back Bay, where she dropped me off. Back Bay is one of the origin stations of the Lake Shore Limited, the Amtrak train line that runs from Boston to Chicago. Since getting on the train just before 1 pm, I’ve mostly read and napped to rest up. I was woken up a little while ago when we ran through Springfield, and a most rambunctious pair of children (what look like four year-old twins) sat in the seats in front of me. Though I was hoping for a longer nap, it was impossible not to smile when I heard how excited they were to be on the train and how amazing they thought it was to be moving so fast. It reminded me of why everyone loves the train, and shares their wonder.

The Lake Shore Limited is hardly one of the more vaunted train lines in Amtrak history, but I still like the chance to ride it when I can. In fact, many years ago, this was the first train trip I took. In tenth grade, my friend Isaac and I took the Amtrak west to Columbus, and then switched to Greyhound, to go to Cincinnati during spring break to visit some good friends there and take part in a Latin quiz bowl competition (but that’s another story…). I had never taken Amtrak before, but Isaac, a lover of trains, masterminded it all for us. I don’t remember the trip out well, but on the trip back, the connection for the train in Columbus was hours late. As an apology, they put us in the Viewliner roomette, the two-person bunk cabin that came with free meals. Both of us fell asleep immediately, exhausted by the travel, and I woke up to Isaac enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the meal car.

Going west on the Lake Shore Limited is a little bit less exciting than going east. Though we hug the coast of Lake Erie and then Michigan as we move westward, we do most of that in the dark. The Boston part of the train, which I’m on now, will arrive in Albany around 6 pm, and then we connect with the part of the train which has come up from NYC, and around 7 pm, we set out for the rest of the trip. Though it’s summertime, dusk will still fall around 8 or 9 pm, so we won’t be able to see much soon. I expect to have a good hearty meal on the train car and meet some good dinner companions, and then set to working on the computer some more before going to sleep for the night. I’ve packed an eye mask and ear plugs, and suspect that I’ll be able to keep spreading out to the other seat next to me because this doesn’t bear any resemblance to a fully-sold train ride. The train is supposed to arrive in Chicago’s Union Station at 9:45 am the next morning. I say supposed to, as a realistic and yet optimistic fan of Amtrak. It may be a bit late, affording us better views of Indiana and Lake Michigan than anticipated, so there will be a silver lining. Thanks to Amtrak Connect, there’s actually wifi on this train, enabling me to type my usual train entries for Circumnavacation on the website instead of into a Word document! Amazing. I look forward to writing more later.


Packing is hell.

As I write this, our apartment looks an unholy mess. My desk is overflowing with books and papers, pens and knickknacks. Our furniture has been sold and given away, and piles of books, clothing, papers, and belongings sit directly on the floor. So many things are seemingly too relevant to throw away, but not important enough to fit in a few small suitcases.

That’s right. We’re on the move again. I have mixed feelings about all this, the chiefest of which is…

Tired, because we just got back from a four-day weekend trip to DC, where we got in quality hangout time with two sets of friends, visited the National Air and Space Museum, and applied for 10 year-Chinese visas at the embassy. We’re also packing everything up, of course, and selling and giving away what we’re not packing/ storing. We’ve done a good job of getting rid of things, so that moving isn’t the exact hellish experience it has been before, but it’s still bad enough to make Steve throw up his hands in the middle of everything, and exclaim that we should just give it all away.

Excited, because I’m pursuing some job opportunities in Taipei (the holy land). Out of a desire not to jinx anything or overcount my chickens, I won’t talk too much about it, but it seems like it may actually be possible to get that perfect trifecta: to work in education evaluation and work, live in Taipei, and be paid a decent salary. We’ll cross our fingers for now…

Sad, because we’re leaving Durham. It’s been a good home for two years if lacking the excitement and hum of the big city like Chicago or L.A. or even Boston. I will more than miss all the friends I’ve made at school in the past two years, but even if I were to stay here, it won’t be the same. What I will ache for sometimes is walking into an airy, vibrant, bright building where friends sit around every corner, and I can poke my head into a dozen offices to say hi to someone I know. I will miss all the opportunities to work on fun things, to make changes for our cohort, program, and university. I will miss running into professors and staff and PhD students who care about the same things that I do too.

More emotions on the way, but sleepiness is taking over. In four days, we’ll be out of here and to Greenville for a few weeks to regroup. I’ll write more then!

Fieldwork and learning in South Carolina.

Fieldwork is about freezing your ass off and being patient.

Two months ago, I read an email from the Social Science Research Institute list-host looking for participants to join a research team in South Carolina over the holidays. A faculty member in environmental policy was going to lead a team of student researchers in interviewing people in Columbia, SC about the fall 2015 floods. The floods were estimated to have caused a billion in damages, and the governor issued a state of emergency. Though my area of interest and expertise isn’t environmental policy, I sent along an email anyway, interviewed, and was accepted, much to my delight. Continue reading Fieldwork and learning in South Carolina.

Northward on the Crescent.

Written Wednesday, December 30 – On the Amtrak Crescent (northbound)

Heading out of New Orleans, Louisiana
7:18 am

The Crescent leaves New Orleans in the morning at 7 am, so I made my way to the train station under cover of darkness. I hailed a cab at the hotel and kissed my mom goodbye. I emerged into the train station to find a long line. I found a comfy place on the train, moving several times to ensure there was a wide window view for the trip north. Altogether, the trip to Greenville, South Carolina takes about 15 hours if you take into account the time change between Central and Eastern standard times. We pass through half a dozen states on the way. Continue reading Northward on the Crescent.

The National World War II Museum.

Written Tuesday, December 29 – New Orleans, LA

I was at a loss for where to go and what to go today in the morning, but recourse to the old standbys of TripAdvisor and such yielded the National World War II Museum. I was impressed by the immense ratings that people gave, and thankfully, it was only a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel in the Central Business District. So my mom and I made the trek, and as recommended, ended up spending the whole day there.

As a museum, it is absolutely immense. There are five separate buildings – several we didn’t need to go into because they hosted the theatre and restaurant, but the others we all ended up seeing. We saw several large exhibits and some really innovative components, all in exquisite detail and with many descriptions, uniforms, artifacts, illustrations, and audio-visual clips or short movies. The Home Front exhibit showed the war effort at home, from ration coupons to recruiting posters for the Women’s Army Corps (“Before she married, Mommy served in the WACs in the Philippines.”) They detailed collection of even household fat and how it was rendered into glycerine to make bombs. The scale of the war effort was truly astounding. We also saw the D-Day Exhibit, which went into exactly how it was conceived, structured, and how the decision was made. We learned that the British and Canadians were assigned to Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and the Americans to Utah and Omaha. What I found fascinating was the amount of preparation that went into it beforehand – how bombers tried to knock out German weaponry first and then paratroopers were dropped into Normandy ahead of time to secure roads and towns. By the time that June 5th dawned, many Allied forces had already come into Normandy. Continue reading The National World War II Museum.

City Park and the Mississippi River.

Written Monday, December 28 – New Orleans, LA

On our second day around the city, we woke up bright and early, and took off to one of the large attractions of New Orleans to the north of the city: City Park. We only ended up exploring a fraction of it, but it was beautiful from what we could tell. We took the Canal Street streetcar north, which wound through Mid-City and some other neighborhoods that are more residential. While they did look a bit rundown, they seemed more real and authentic than much of the French Quarter we were walking through. We disembarked at the end of the line and walked down a wide street set with trees on either side to the New Orleans Museum of Art. It wasn’t open since it was Monday, but the white columns and classical architecture were quite pretty. We moved on to explore its Sculpture Garden which was outside and indeed available to enter. There were some very modernist and even surreal sculptures, some plaster statues and giant safety pins and disturbing sculptures of morphed, long-limbed monkeys that had human hands but also limber tails.

Afterwards, we moved on to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which is a small gem of a garden set within City Park. It wasn’t the best day to go, since it had rained the night before, and water still permeated much of the earthen walkways within the garden. But the conservatory was small and gorgeous, with a Christmas tree of poinsettias in the center. Outside, it was painted butter yellow, and contrasted gorgeously with the stone statue of a mermaid outside in the fountain. We roamed about a bit before coming out to see more of the City Park. It had been well-restored since the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Many of the city’s oaks still stand, gorgeous and gnarly with curtains of silver Spanish moss hanging from the branches. We saw a bit more before going back to the streetcar and taking it back down. Continue reading City Park and the Mississippi River.