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Back in Boston

I’ve been back in Boston since Tuesday August 13th but it feels like I’ve been here all summer. The apartment finally looks like it’s reverted back to its normal state with the tables cleared of random papers, the dishes in their proper cupboards, and the sink free from any leftovers. I think that I succeeded in all of my initial goals for my return back to my college town: make some money to counteract the cost of self-maintenance and travel, explore a bit more of Boston, and say goodbye to old friends. The first goal was easily accomplished through the Boston University employment office where I applied for a quickie job. A quickie job through Boston University usually involves a student usually applying for few hours-long job that someone needs. This usually involves something like moving furniture or babysitting or being a translator during a meeting. I applied for three jobs, and was called back by this woman in Newton, MA who needed help moving. She lived around the mile 18 marker on the Boston Marathon route on Commonwealth Avenue. It was one of the most interesting jobs that I have ever worked. Her family was old and rich. Her still-living mother was in her 90’s, the woman was in her 60’s, her daughter in her 40’s and still living with them. The house was a corner house and beautiful. The woman in her 60’s, who was a Justice of the Peace, used to be an art dealer so the house was filled with dozens of professionally framed drawings, paintings, and canvas. The first day I biked the 7 mile route from my house to theirs, and impressed them because they suggested that I take the T instead so that I wouldn’t be too tired. I first met her husband, who used to be an accountant, and we struck up a small-talk conversation. However, as soon as his wife, the justice, stepped in he turned to go upstairs up to his cluttered office.

The justice offered some snacks to me and then told me how we needed to load her rented UHaul van with boxes and bins. I started right away and made sure to make efficient use of the available space in the UHaul. I spent about an hour carrying and packing the boxes away. She was very impressed with my work, and we drove the van over to the new apartment. You see, the family was downsizing from a full-sized family house to a much smaller one. I helped her unload all of the bins and boxes using some bellhop carts, and then unwrapping all of the individually wrapped jars, plates, and pots of porcellain ranging from Budapestian porcellain to the Meissener Pozellan. Her 90+ year old mother and her sister came to help as well. As we were unwrapping, she asked me if it would be alright with me if I worked for a few more hours that day. I agreed, and she quickly asked if I wouldn’t mind working for a few more days at the same monetary rate offered for that quickie job. I told her that I would be free for  few more days and would love to work with her. I was fed dinner, paid $140 for 7 hours of work, and then driven home by her sister who was very intrigued with me.

And so I continued working for them at the rate of $20/hour. And it was one of the most fulfilling jobs that I have ever had the pleasure of doing well. I would wake up in my apartment here on Ashford Street, clean it up a bit more, and then head over to Newton to the family house where I would help the justice bubblewrap famous $10,000 oil paintings surrounded by $600 frames, carried more bins and boxes to the UHaul van, and even helped her husband the accountant clean up and organize his cluttered office. That last one was also cool, because I was called by him the night before and asked if I could help him. He said that he trusted me and that there were some documents that were so personal and important that he didn’t want the movers touching them. I was greatly honored by his request to allow me access to his personal items. And so we commenced the cleanup of his office. We moved electronics, papers and bills from the past two decades, and dozens of office supplies.

I learned a lot about that family that day. I learned that they were rich, had many things, but also had each other. The accountant and the justice struck me as hard workers. And I always impressed them with my math and science skills, because the family appeared to be more logically, administratively, and artistically inclined but not so much mathematically and scientifically inclined except for the accountant. The hardest part was parting with the things that they have had. It was hard for the justice, because it seemed that she had a long story associated with the life of the artist of a painting we were wrapping, a vignette connected to a piece of clothing that fell out of a bin we were carrying, or a tidbit about something that I said that reminded her of something. But she was also selling or giving away so much of her stuff. And she would confide in me that I was such a Godsend because she wouldn’t have known how to move her important possessions without someone else helping. The accountant was a larger man and had trouble walking, and the 40 year old daughter was still living at home and was having job problems. It almost seemed that this justice was the matriarch of the family and supporting it with her tireless will.

Literally, it almost felt like both she and I were the only ones doing work. But as annoyed as she appeared to be, and as much as they all bickered as a traditional New England family with its white-collar problems, it still struck me as one amazingly beautiful story about a family going through a tough time before it moved on and grew. Their house was definitely shrinking in size, but that only seemed to bring them closer together. It was cute to hear the justice still call her 90+ year old mother “Mommy.”

I asked the justice what she learned about moving out, and she told me that she learned about how one can accumulate so much stuff that is not needed. She learned that what she needed was just good friends and family and a few cherished things. And so I labored, cleaned, and ate with this family and shared stories. We would mainly just talk about the Peace Corps and my eventual deployment to Uganda, Africa this coming November. She would then ask me about my travels and I would tell her about my Dresden Study Abroad Semester and my summer internship in Berlin and my recent Eurotrip with my two best friends this summer. She talked about her own travels and experiences throughout mainland Europe, and her husband would talk about his travels in Eastern Europe right after the wall fell. And on the rides home, her sister would talk about her daughter’s study abroad semester in Barcelona. We shared stories about our successes and our failures, and a small part of our beliefs.

Sometimes the justice would just stop our working to tell me a 5-10 minute story about a couple whom she had just married. This justice really did not want to preside over “cookie-cutter” marriages. She would sometimes offer her own backyard and parlor room to host the legal ceremony for Massachusetts’ couples. And then she would have a small cake with some candles in order to celebrate for a while with the two. But one of the most beautiful stories was about these two women whom she had married in the Arnold Arboretum. She was with one of them at the entrance and the other woman in the marriage was running a bit late. They had chosen to be married at a specific spot near the entrance of the Arboretum, because that was the spot where they would meet since they both worked different shifts as nurses at different hospitals. But then a group of young college students plopped down at that exact spot. The justice walked over to them and inquisitively asked them why they had picked this exact spot. Naturally the students responded, “Uh, I dunno. It just seemed like a good spot.” The justice then informed them that they had every right to be on that spot, but that if they chose to stay then they would be in the middle of a wedding ceremony. The kids then stated that of course they would leave. And as they were leaving one of them shouted, “You look so beautiful,” to the bride who as already in the Arboretum.

I eventually finished up my last day of work with them, and was then invited to join the entire family, including the sister, her husband, the Barcelona daughter, and a close family cousin called Bunny in order to celebrate the 93rd birthday of the justice’s mommy. It was an emotional meal, because the sister shared a toast about how this would be the last meal in this house after almost 2 decades of family reunions, parties, marathon barbecues, and get-togethers with families and friends. It was stressed that this was a house and not a home and that the home was wherever they all were as a family and where the apartment now is. It was a beautiful toast, and the food was amazing and consisted of cucumber and sausage lasagna, Caesar salad, and keylime pie. The sister had made it all, but she professed that she wasn’t a good cook. I bid my farewells to all of them, and exchanged emails with the justice, the accountant, the sister, Bunny, and the sister’s husband. I promised to keep in touch with my endeavors and to share my Peace Corps blog when I leave. I promised to send them messages from time-to-time, and then I was driven back along the Marathon route of Commonwealth Avenue and back to the land of bohemian musicians, college students, broken glass, and a very different family in a very different home that I was more used to.

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Atypical Sunday

Last Winchester GrettosSo I guess that I am emotionally compromised for a bit. There are days when I just feel numb and apathetic, then there are days when I just feel as if there are too many emotions to handle. The evening before I had spent performing with my a cappella group, Allegrettos, for the last time ever. It was a small gig at Winchester High School where we have always performed year after year for a few hundred dollars. It was my first ever performance with the Grettos as a freshman in the fall and now it has been my last ever performance with them.

After that I headed to the CAD (computer aided design) lab in order to run some simulations on my Final Senior Design project concerning the test response accelerations of a raised floor system in areas of heightened seismic activity. I setup the simulations on four computers and wrote notes on the screens so that no one would touch them while they were running. I biked back to my apartment and invited one of my friends, Max, over to hang out and chill with me until one of the freshman in my a cappella group came over for a midnight bike riding adventure. We listened to some good music (Dr. Dog and Wilco) and then headed over to one of my other friend’s apartment houses at 87 Linden Street in the Allston neighborhood. His house apartment was pretty cool, and the way you entered into the apartment was through the back door after going on a wooden deck that connected to the second floor.

We entered through the back door, which led to a hallway that housed his bikes, and then entered into the living quarters. Ah it was a very alternative college living area, as one of my friends put it. There was the kitchen with the liquor bottles lining the tops of the cabinets, and multi-colored Christmas lights weaving their way around the bottles, which gave off a very soft glow of dulled colors. The middle of the room had a metal table that was so low that one had to sit down with ones feet underneath it in order to sit at it. Around this table was a very soft L-shaped couch that was awesome to sleep upon, but not that great to lean back with.

Our host, Thierry, at 87 Linden gifted us with delicious micro-brewed beer and some Gin & Tonic with fresh limes. We chilled, and I Thierry's Houseremarked that his apartment reminded me of a hostel. It had the feeling that it held many stories over a long period of time with a wide variety of people coming in and out of that place. We listened to a very indie/alternative playlist that seemed to fit in perfectly with the chill hostel mood. I eventually left, danced a bit at the White Horse Bar and then headed back to my house where my neighbors were throwing an after-party for one of the all-girl a cappella groups at BU.

http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/linden-street-fire/?utm_campaign=prbumain&utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&sf12204665=1

http://www.universalhub.com/2013/nine-residents-rescued-burning-allston-house

I awoke with a hangover the next day, and instantaneously went on Facebook. I scrolled through the notifications, and read that there was a fatal housefire in Allston. I shook my head and thought, “Ah well, not another one.” I then took a closer look at the picture and realized that that was the exact same house I visited last night; 87 Linden. I quickly called my friend, Thierry, who lived at that house and he texted me back that he was alright; however, one of his roommates, Binland, who also lived in the attic with him may not have gotten out. One Binland’s friends, Amanda, called me and asked if I had any information about Thierry and Binland. I explained to her that our mutual host friend was alright, but that Binland was probably the one who died in the fire. I then got confirmation from Amanda around 3pm just as I took a picture of the pink flowers of a tree just outside of the Mechanical Engineering. I promised her on her Facebook wall that I would post the picture of the flowers.

http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/linden-street-fire/

Flowers for BinlandIt felt weird knowing yet another person who had died, especially since I was in such close proximity to where the fire happened, and she was probably sleeping already and just didn’t wake up before dying. I remembered the last time we had seen each other, which was at 87 Linden when I was working on an Engineering Economy assignment. Then the time before that was during a Halloween Party in Junior Year when I met her and found out that she was slated to go study abroad in Belize since she was a Marine Science Major. And it was so close to the end of Senior Year too.

I was at a loss during that day, and I biked passed Linden Street, and saw the aftermath of the blaze: the charred remains of a house with police cutting off entry to the street with police tape. I biked to campus, and attempted to continue my simulations for my Senior Design Project of a Raised Floor System. Needless to say, I couldn’t focus. But then my friend from Dresden Study Abroad, Sean Manton, called me and asked if I wanted to go spend a 30 minute break seeing his friend’s art exhibit by the Boston Commons. I naturally assumed that this meant seeing murals, paintings, or floral arrangements. We biked down Commonwealth Avenue northwards to the Commons, and the day was just so beautiful. Dads were playing catch with their sons, girls were frolicking on the grass, couples were going on strolls, and the world seemed normal again. We made it to the Commons and stopped in front of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, located on 138 Tremont Street. It is an Episcopalian Church that had scaffolding that led to the top of the roof in front of the facade. Sean and I pulled one of the fences in order to create an opening, and then climbed up the scaffolding to see Sean’s friend from Colorado who was in charge of a project to put an aluminum Nautilus on the front top of the church. I couldn’t believe that right now I was overlooking all of the Commons on the top of a very tall scaffolding structure.

Sean’s friend, John, explained how this design was desired for over 200 years, but they didn’t have anyone to build it at the time. So then Episcopal Nautilusthey recently had the ability to commission this design with a new artist using an aluminum shaping plant over in Colorado and then shipping it over to Boston. I explained to Sean that I never had a dull moment with him. I would say that it was the perfect way to take a break from the events of the blaze and my senior project.

We then biked back along the Esplanade, and I couldn’t help but smile at the feeling of sun across my back and people enjoying nature by the Charles. I then happened across Amanda with one of her friends on one of the short piers jutting out from the Esplanade path. She seemed pensive, looking out across the waters of the Charles as the afternoon sun started to set. She asked me how my day was, and I responded that it was good, but not perfect. She then inquires, “What would make it a perfect day?” I then respond with, “No senior design.” However, I knew that this was just a cover for my other emotions, but I knew that she was also dealing with many other emotions as well. I then hugged her and told her to take care as I continued biking back to the lab and to senior design work.

So I would say that this was my atypical Sunday. I did work, and my journey wove through the lives of so many others in many intense ways. Binland’s memorial was on Tuesday afternoon on Marsh Plaza and I honestly could not have felt so many weird emotions. There were engineering friends, two of her ex-boyfriends, old friends, and roommates. Then there was the realization that it wasn’t too long ago when we had all gathered at Marsh for solidarity, support, and mourning for the Boston Marathon Bombings. But together we could join as a community and share memories about those whom we had lost and loved.

Around this time last year the BU community lost Austin Brashears, Daniela Lekhno, and Roch Jauberty. And there have been so many lost since then, and this weekend was just the latest. But we will continue to strive forward, because that is all that we can do. There is life out here and it is good.

Binland’s Website

“We are the voices of the Ocean.”

Amanda on the Charles


To Life We Sing

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/04/22/178415907/agony-ecstasy-irony-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-college-a-cappella

And so starts the beginning of the end. I wanted to share the article above, because it resonates very strongly and intimately with me. I have been involved with a cappella since the sophomore year of high school. I was part of the J~Notes at Loyola Blakefield High School, and we weren’t that good. Honestly looking back, we kinda sucked at most of our songs and were reasonably impressed when I helped to arrange the simple Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” with my choir director. I didn’t think too much of this group, and felt more connected with my high school choir, rugby team, musical productions, or other groups that I was a part of.

Then back in Fall of 2009 I started my time at Boston University and participated at the SPLASH event on Nickerson Field. This event allowed most of the active student groups on BU’s campus to attract as many of the incoming freshmen as possible to their tables and get them to sign up for information meetings, auditions, networking nights, or practices. I walked down a corridor of tables around the center of the field. This corridor had tables filled with all of BU’s a cappella groups. I specifically remember this short blond girl, whom I later found out to be named Megan, yelled at me saying, “Come join the Allegrettos!” So I got one of their flyers and decided to try my hand at auditions for a collegiate a cappella group.

I auditioned with “I’m Yours”, got called back for a second round of auditions, and eventually got accepted into the group. It was during that second round of auditions that the Allegrettos performed one of their songs, “Semi Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind. I couldn’t believe my ears; it was just pure awesomeness to hear human voices joining together in some weird sort of harmony in order to recreate a song. The rest has been history, and one that is still hard for me to believe. I cannot stress enough just how much a cappella has shaped my college experiences, and it’s ridiculous to think that these a cappella groups were initially formed by students and all student-run. First of all there are the two 3-hour rehearsals Thursday and Sunday night. Then there are the gigs where we performed some of the songs that we learned in rehearsal.

However, the night that everyone looked forward to was the Night of BU A Cappella hosted by the Treblemakers a cappella group. In one of the larger BU auditoriums, all of BU’s a cappella groups performed two songs. It wasn’t an official competition, but it was a night where every group could be represented in the a cappella community and show itself off to the rest of the university with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the Franciscan Hospital for Children. There have been staples of the BU a cappella community, and then there have been groups that have come and gone throughout the years:

Co-ed: Allegrettos, Treblemakers, In Achord, The Bostones

All-Girl: Terpsichore, Chordially Yours, Aural Fixation, BU Sweethearts

All-Male: Dear Abbeys

Christian: Mustard Seed

Indian: Suno

Korean: K-Seoul

Night of BU A Cappella has been one of my favorite nights of the year. It’s a feeling of just being enveloped by such an intimate and intense sound of music. In response to the initially posted NPR article, I think that a cappella has evolved past traditional boundaries, and college a cappella has been proof of that. It has become its own community in college filled with its own drama, interwoven pasts as intricate as some harmonies, and performance opportunities as diverse as voice types. It is impressive to hear a well-produced song on the radio that impresses you, but it’s even more impressive when you can convey that same feeling using only voices. It’s just a different world, because choirs usually sing songs tempered by time and strengthened with the musical expertise of a professional composer.

On the other hand this is all student-run: from the musical arrangements, to group funding, to transportation, rehearsal space reservations, and even group structure. Sometimes I forget that all of these groups are self-run, and that it is through our actions, thoughts, and suggestions that events, performances, and songs occur.

It is hard to convey just how much a cappella has impacted my life. Some of my first real college experiences came from my involvement with the group both through our performances and through our social gatherings. My first ever time getting drunk was with a cappella, my first real college party was with a cappella, and my first time feeling a part of something much greater than myself in college was through a cappella. It had become synonymous with college life ever since I stepped foot upon campus, and I will never be able to convey that feeling of knowing that I would always have this normal routine where I would go to class, go to work, and then go practice with my a cappella group that comprised a large part of my college experience. There have been many adventures that I have shared with my group: running out of water and electricity in bumfuck nowhere Vermont, performing at every Night of BU A Cappella, drunken scavenger hunts, late night practices, singing outside on the streets,  tripping the fire alarm at our retreat house in Cape Cod, hosting a cappella parties, being the guest group of the now best a cappella group in the nation (Nor’easters), and travelling to perform at various gigs throughout the Northeast.

And I will end with one of my all-time favorite college experiences. It was the tail end of Freshman Year, and we were asked to perform as the guest group for RPI’s Rusty Pipes all the way in Albany, New York. It was an overnight performance and we sang “Otherside” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The performance was cool, but what I really remembered was how the after-party was filled with old Rusty Pipes alumni and how they all were singing old songs. We were asked to sing one, so we decided to do “Semi Charmed Life” and everyone joined in because the other groups had their own versions of it. As a drunken freshman, I loved every moment of singing in harmonies and rhythms alongside so many other a cappella members from different backgrounds and lifestyles joined together through our love of singing. I have never forgotten that moment, and I will not forget those notes, harmonies, friends, the sand beneath my toes, and the songs with the four right chords that could make me cry.


Marathon Monday

I know that I haven’t written in this blog for  long time, and I’ve mainly done stream-of-consciousness, but I decided to finally spend some of my free time writing here just to keep me grounded and put my thoughts down on paper. I don’t think that I was in the right state of mind to write down my feelings after the events of Marathon Monday/Patriot’s Day. So right now, after the fact I am now able to give life to my thoughts and words as well as to fulfill my role as archivist and historian of these events that have transpired.

On Saturday I was at a party with a friend and I remember having a nostalgic moment with her. We talked about how it is ridiculous that we can literally start counting down the days until graduation, and how classes will end within a month’s time. The talk eventually settled around how we had all travelled around the world and grown from our four years worth of experiences here. I then said, “We have all become displaced,” and our conversation fell silent amid the din of keg-stands, beer pong, and blasting Top 40 pop music. We had come to a moment when we realized that college students and those who grow up in life look for a home. We are displaced in our minds, through our emotions, and in our physical locations when we leave for college and new lands. That realization that college will soon end had already hit us and we are now desperately grasping to share moments among the friends whom we love.

So on Sunday night before Marathon Monday, I travelled from Boston University backwards from the Marathon Finish Line all the way to Midnight Cyclingthe starting line at Hopkinton. I journeyed there with two friends, a member of the BU cycling team Michael Wexler and a member of the BU track team Michael Bhat. We biked through the night on the marathon route and eventually made our way to the starting line. We literally chilled there in the almost freezing temperature until the rest of the Midnight Cyclists that had arrived at the Southboro Commuter Rail stop led the first wave of cyclists past the finish line. I biked back the entire way to Copley alongside the hundreds of other professional and casual cyclists who joined together in solidarity to bike the marathon route. I get to the finish line, and it felt like a moment of peace after an arduous journey there and back again. We take some pictures and I head back home to my apartment to finish making several gallons of sangria in preparation for intense Marathon Monday day-drinking.

I sleep well for a few hours and awake to my roommate and her friends pre-gaming in our living room. Before I could even fully open my eyes, I already take a few gulps of vodka and sprite. The rest of the day involves an adventure through the pre-gaming areas of Allston. I made it to a courtyard where hipsters were tossing a Frisbee disk, hippie girls were hula-hooping, my indie friend was taking Polaroid pictures, stoners were drinking cannabis-infused creamer, bros were passing a football, and drunk biddies were belting Beyonce songs.

I drank here for a bit, then left to another place where I got to play Fusion, a mixture of beer pong and flip cup. Ahh it feels like ages ago, Marathon Mondaybut the day felt so wide and so warm. There were friends everywhere, and all were invited to partake in a breakfast of eggs and kegs. I split off from the pregaming a little bit after noon, and walked towards south campus where the runners were going down Beacon Street. There were only smiles everywhere as I weaved in and out of apartments filled with European girls, Lebanese smokers, and cheering frat bros. I walked down the Beacon Street T lines towards Park Drive where the majority of my engineering friends were all cheering, dancing, and laughing with each other. I just felt so happy to be celebrating my last Marathon Monday with the friends whom I cared about and those whom I had shared my college experience with. This place had become my home, and I was sharing this gloriously beautiful day with my college family. These were the poignant moments of hugs with old friends, small adventures of drinking sangria behind garbage bins, and solidarity as a Boston community cheering on an event of almost superhuman endurance and skill.

And then around 3pm we started hearing rumors of a bomb. Most of us dismissed it as fear-mongering and just went about our normal activities of cheering and drinking. And then the texts and alarmed calls started flooding in and people started to take notice. The police started checking people’s bags even if they were unattended for a few moments, and even I got manhandled a small bit as the cops angrily asked if that was my bag lying unattended on the sidewalk.

Deserted BeaconAround that time, the marathon runners started getting diverted and the cops instructed spectators to start heading indoors. I took refuge inside one of the South Campus apartments with several of my friends and few other BU classmates. It was a very intense atmosphere; with one guy in tears saying how he felt like it was 9/11 all over again. We all tried to sober up as fast as we could, and when I looked out of the window the streets were all deserted and not a single marathon runner could be seen anymore.

I felt distraught, and the tv kept broadcasting the same message on all channels:

“BUPD has reports of an explosion near the finish line of Boston marathon on Boyleston St. Information that people are injured in that area. Please remain out of the area of the marathon route. Remain indoors and return to your residence at this time. More information to follow.”

I then made my way to Marsh Chapel where a few people had already congregated. I needed to clear my head, so I knelt down in prayer by one of the pews. I then made it back west to the Allston area and back to my apartment where I finally got internet access and saw the live-stream of what had occurred. What hit me the hardest was hearing about the casualties and the dozens of amputees. I literally empathized and started to feel like an emotional wreck realizing how so many people who had trained their whole lives for a these moments of joy and celebration could have their entire lives taken away. A lot has already been said about this issue, but there is always more room to share one’s story.

I just didn’t know, all I could ask myself was why? Why? Why did someone do this? What was there to gain from this tragic attempt to steal away people’s joy? I never found an answer that day, but instead I found an overwhelming feeling of the human spirit. All around me there were acts of human kindness, love, and generosity. The technology that we have said distances people from interpersonal relationships brought people closer together in times of crises that could not have happened before. I literally had dozens of texts and calls from friends, acquaintances, and loved ones near and far just to ensure that I was safe. I even got long-distance calls from friends studying abroad thousands of miles away. Then there were the Facebook posts, articles, stories, and pictures sharing how good can come from this evil. And that is what I wanted to share today; the goodness that eventually triumphs over the bad, the love that wins over hatred, and the good works that unite all humans together. The following are links to articles that have demonstrated the overwhelming response of people who have decided to look for the light in a day that was clouded.

http://www.businessinsider.com/inspiring-images-from-boston-2013-4

http://katielannan.com/2013/04/15/the-boston-marathon-is-everything-thats-right-with-the-world/

http://nesn.com/2013/04/boston-college-students-organizing-walk-to-finish-boston-marathon/

http://bucultureshock.com/stay-strong-boston/

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/04/16/17782438-a-story-behind-the-photo

http://bostonmarathonconspiracy.com/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-blast-help/2086273/?csp=sporttumblr

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/15/if-you-are-losing-faith-in-human-nature-go-out-and-watch-a-marathon/

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/04/photos-stories-kindness-boston-marathon-bombing/64258/

“Runners know that timing is everything… And I will never forget that 7 minutes after I crossed the finish line Boston felt the first explosion… I’m so grateful to be alive”

~Rosie Woods (One of my BU friends)

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

~Anne Frank

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

“Boston is a tough, resilient town, and so are its people.”

~President Obama

“This tragedy is not going to stop Boston… We will not let terror take us over.”

~ Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino

“There’s something particularly devastating about an attack on a marathon. It’s an epic event in which men and women appear almost superhuman. The winning men run for hours at a pace even normal fit people can only hold in a sprint. But it’s also so ordinary. It’s not held in a stadium or on a track. It’s held in the same streets everyone drives on and walks down. An attack on a marathon is, in some ways, more devastating than an attack on a stadium; you’re hitting something special but also something very quotidian. When we find out who did this, we may well find some fascination with the event—perhaps a foreign terrorist, or a sick American. Perhaps it was someone who spotted a terribly easy target. Or perhaps it was someone who saw a reflection of the human spirit and decided just to try to shatter it.”

~Nicholas Thompson, New Yorker

“As some of you know, I was 1/2 mile from the finish line when the explosion went off. I had no idea what was going on until I finally stopped and asked someone. Knowing that my family was at the finish line waiting for me, I started panicking, trying to call them. Diverted away from the finish line, I started walking down Mass Ave towards Symphony Hall still not knowing where my family was. Right before the intersection of Huntington, I was able to get in touch with Brian and found out he was with my family and they were safe. I was just so happy to hear his voice that I sat down and started crying. Just couldn’t hold it back. At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was okay, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be ok. The man then asked me if I finished to which I nodded “no.” He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me “you are a finisher in my eyes.” I was barely able to choke out a “thank you” between my tears.

Odds are I will never see this couple again, but I’m reaching out with the slim chance that I will be able to express to them just what this gesture meant to me. I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time. This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be ok.”

~Unknown

“Today, in the place I have called home, there is no doubt in my mind where this goes from here. If you have lived in Boston, you probably already know this. If you haven’t, let me assure you, that you need not doubt the strength or spirit of this particular American city. It proved itself in an earlier time, a time it was commemorating yesterday, Patriots’ Day. And the video of people rushing in to help the injured speaks for itself, but it is bigger than even that.

Boston is not the biggest city in America; it is not the most politically powerful. But it has an inner determination and power that only the foolish ignore. Next year, at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I confidently predict there will be more runners and more supporters than ever before.

The attackers, whoever they are must be incompetent.

They picked on the wrong city.”

~Jim Walsh, 90.9 WBUR

These were just a few of the sentiments that I saw within the past few days. I will say that there is a new-found sense of determination here Allston Sunsetthat has united all Boston students together. In a sense we all felt attacked and knew that what we needed to do was to stay together and hug our loved ones. There is a spirit here that prevails through the tears and sorrow, and through the toil and strife. As my close friend Mitch wrote down later that night:

“Today is a day that should go down in drunken college history. Unfortunately, the events of the day will be remembered for different reasons. Nevertheless, days such as this force us to recall all those important memories with loved ones that truly matter.”

And so in troubled days like these I will walk on the road that Patriots walked upon into the cool spring air and let Boston save me.

Let Boston Save Me


Everything

I just wanted share the story of the weekend, because it was jam-packed with many events and situations. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera to most of the events, but I do remember them quite well so here it goes. Friday consisted of my a cappella group holding callbacks. I knew that the auditioners were nervous, but I too was nervous because it would be my first time teaching music to someone else. I had sung this song so many times for over a year, but still had some trouble with it. I am perfectly capable of tutoring Calculus I & II, Physics I & II, Engineering Mechanics, and Matlab Programming, but I have so much trouble when it comes to teaching even relatively simple parts in music. I just get nervous, have trouble with complicated and syncopated rhythms, and end up getting off tempo and beat. However the rest of callbacks ended up working out just fine and I was successfully able to teach my part to the other tenor 2’s who came to callbacks. My group then deliberated until past 1am and then we dispersed only to all hang out back at my apartment. I cooked several types of pasta and we all chilled hardcore until well into the early morning.

Saturday was packed. My a cappella group performed at College Fest near the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. It was pretty much a convention with many booths promoting various services that would be interesting to college students. During this time, groups would perform on-stage. Around 4pm, my group performed Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine as well as a Crawl/Fly by Chris Brown/Rihanna mashup. We then left the venue and then did an impromptu performance out on Newbury Street and we were able to attract a decently-sized crowd of people. I biked back home and prepared to go to the Ben Howard concert at the Paradise Lounge.

My friend and I pregamed and then headed over to the concert venue where we soon found ourselves in a cozy area that gave us a clear view straight ahead of the stage area. The opening performer was cool and sounded very Southern folksy. Then the crowd went wild when Ben Howard took the stage. I absolutely loved it. I could feel his music reverberating through me in a totally different way than Amon Tobin’s songs. Whereas Amon Tobin’s songs were very physical, Ben Howard’s songs were all about the feeling and the emotion. His voice just had this timbre that made you feel as if you were hearing someone share a story about a home far-off in some distant country. The first time that I had heard his music was during a cold night last year after a party when I was coming down from my unsoberness and had just finished cleaning up the house. I felt lonely, and longed for the kinship of friends and the wonder that came from exploring those lost areas during my study abroad in Germany two years ago. I decided to Stumbleupon while I lay down in bed. I came across this site featuring Ben Howard’s music videos. While watching and listening to Old Pine, I felt as if I were transported back to the rolling green hills of Germany. I felt as if I was once again exploring hidden pathways on the Rathen Bastei trail in the Sächsische Schweiz. I felt as if I finally found my home again.

I would continue to listen to his music as the year progressed. I spent dozens of long, cold, sleepless nights and would find comfort listening to the Ben Howard Pandora radio station. His songs describing the longing of coming back home, the renewal of all things, and keeping your heart strong helped get me through the stress of Junior Year when I felt a little bit dead after coming back from the excitement and life that was life in Dresden, Germany. I’d say that it was a rough year in many different ways, but I learned a lot about myself during those sleepless nights. And Ben Howard kept me company.

So I would close my eyes while he played on stage, and let my mind wander. I could feel the emotion emanating from his entire being as he sang these songs that sent chills down my spine. My friend who accompanied me there succinctly put it, “I felt like I had something in common with everyone there, besides just that we like ben howard’s music. everyone except that obnoxious, drunk (and I think english) girl.” Yes, other than the drunk biddy who was yelling at inopportune times, I felt as if we had all come together in unity to partake in the wonder that was Ben Howard’s music. For an hour we all shared a common home in that venue.

The concert came to an end, and I hurried back home in order to prepare for the rest of the night, which involved the Senior Standard Party at the Fuller Building (the one on Commonwealth Avenue with all the art). The party was originally supposed to be secret, so that only a few hundred seniors would come and then they could have an open bar. However, word spread and over a thousand people RSVP’d, so they had to make it a cash bar and find some way to accommodate the large number of seniors who all-of-a-sudden wanted to attend. Regardless of this, I biked back home to shower and pregame, then I headed over to the Fuller Building whose windows were fogged up from the large amount of heat and humidity inside due to the hundreds of drunk dancers. I had decided to wear an all-black outfit and as well as bring my camera, which convinced most people that I was the official photographer for the event. It struck me that with every step that I made, I would see a senior with whom I had shared an experience with. I saw members of my a cappella group, rugby team players, engineering students, community center volunteers, Catholic center students, study abroaders, PDP classmates, random people whom I partied with at some time, ex-bfs and gfs, and close friends with whom I had shared many intimate moments with. And they were all together under the same roof united by the fact that we were all seniors exercising our right to party together.


Working Harder

Ahhh Matlab coding how I’ve missed you. Also I just realized that I have been using the wrong apostrophe mark on the keyboard. Apparently one of the other keys looks very similar and I was using it instead. Oh German keyboards. So I was finally assigned my task by my PhD student, and it feels epic. I almost feel as if I was in my freshman year Matlab class at Boston University all over again, except that the save and opening options and buttons are in German. My internship revolves around figuring out the theoretical hydropower potential of run-of-river generators dependant on surveying and GIS data taken on the Caribbean islands. Philipp, my PhD student, gave me several files along with a Quantum GIS map of the Caribbean where each island was modeled as a conglomerate of several 40km x 40km block cells. These individual cells can then be clicked on, and give several different types of information: the cell ID number, the different ranges of heights, if water flows downstream into another cell, and the average height. In addition I was also given two different sets of data; one that could be opened with an excel spreadsheet and one that took about 1 minute to open on a notepad. Both seemed a bit overwhelming at first, considering that the matrix of data from the notepad was approximately 2,088,960 rows x 4 columns. So coding was definitely in order. I took out my aged Matlab: A Practical Introduction to Programming and Problem Solving book by Stormy Attaway PhD (Boston University, Mechanical Engineer Coordinator). It’s funny where life has brought me, because coding is probably my weakest link as an engineer, but now I am coding in 1 day what it would have taken me about 2 full days to finish. *read the next sentence half-heartedly with a slow fist pump* Woooh… cutting work time and efficiency in half. So my job was to combine both sets of data together in order to find the theoretical power potential of each individual cell. Now this would seem relatively simple in Matlab, but remember that I am not a computer engineer and that the last time I had to use loading functions was when I was a wee bitty freshman.

The equation for hydropower potential is Power = ηρgQΔh. It’s not too bad, the greek letters just stand for the hydropower efficiency (dimensionless), the density of water (1000kg/m^3), the gravitational acceleration (9.81m/s^2), the volume discharge (m^3/hour), and the change in head height (m). Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for for problems with loading. I literally took one hour to get the loading done correctly because I either had the formatting on Matlab wrong, or I accidentally corrupted one of the data files given to me. After I fixed those hurdles, I then had to decipher the instructions given to me by one of the hydropower research articles given to me. Apparently, the theoretical hydropower potential of a specific cell involves adding together the internal hydropower potential of the cell and the external hydropower potential that is added to it by surrounding cells that have a water discharge that flows into the receiving cell. Thus I first had to extract the data from the notepad file, and average the water discharge values of each cell for the past 40 years with 12 measurements taken during each year (one per month). I had to remind myself that every month has a different amount of days, while wondering if I had to take leap years into account. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about the leap years. When I finally got that data analyed to my satisfaction, I moved my sites to the excel data set. So this data set contained the average and minimum heights of different land surveys taken in each cell. This was up-to-date and did not have the 2million+ data values like the notepad file. So then I had to find the internal potential using the above mentioned function with the delta h as the difference between the mean height of the cell and the minimum height of the cell. Then in order to find the external potential I had to use the above function again, but have the del h represent the difference between the minimum height of the receiving cell and the minimum height of the discharging cell with the volumetric flow rate coming from the discharging cell too. The tricky part was that several times a cell would receive discharge from several other surrounding cells. And let me tell you that that sucked, because I initially misinterpreted what my Philipp told me, and thought that it was the other way around with; I mixed up the downstream and the discharging cells, which switched my data around.

Fortunately, I fixed the problem with some head scratching, slices of cake, and some nifty coding. Aww, I know that I will get used to it, but right now my head kinda hurts from all of the logic and coding that I relearned today. I also realized how much I had to step up my game, when Philipp looked at my coding and pointed out what I had to improve. I also asked him if my pace was good for the first few days, and he hesitated at first before saying in his low, German accent, “Yeah… it was good. Yeah… it’s good for now.” It almost sounded as if he were trying to convince himself more than me. I understood and took no offence, because I need to be more competitive and hard-working in this internship. I am utterly humbled by this internship, because I feel like I do hard work, but there is still so much that I can improve upon, such as my Matlab coding and my German. I was informed several times that I was one of the most promising students who applied to this internship position through RISE, and that they all expect great things from me. I even had the administrators and bosses tell me during the meeting that they looked forward to learning and seeing my progress on my work, especially with regards to renewable, green energy in the Caribbean. I am not just an the stereotyped intern who gets coffee and then does other menial tasks; rather, I am doing legitimate and actual work on a project that could influence the world in some beneficial way. And that is fucking awesome. I’m living the dream.


Marathon Monday 2012

“Do it! You’re almost there!”

“Go Kara! Woooooh!”

“I believe in you!”

“To the Commons! You can do it!””Just 1 more mile!”

These are just a few of the cheers that were yelled and chanted during the morning and afternoon of the Boston Holiday known as Marathon Monday (April 16, 2012). Many Bostonians deem Marathon Monday as one of the biggest holidays of the year, on the same level as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Indeed, several of my Facebook friends even posted statuses such as “Marathon Mon

About a week and half ago, one of my a cappella group members notified me of a bike ride that would be occurring on the midnight of Marathon Monday. About three years ago, a bicyclist from Boston University decided that he would bike the entirety of the Boston Marathon from the starting line to the finish line starting around midnight. During that first year, about 20 of his friends and interested cyclists joined. The year after that, about 2oo cyclists participated and this past Midnight Bike Ride 0ver 400 people participated. Honestly, I was so excited and stoked for the entire event. I started off making eight grilled cheese sandwiches in order to have some food for before, during, and after the ride. I met my friend outside of his apartment by West Campus around 8:45pm, and then we biked to Warren Towers in order to meet up with another one of his friends.day should be a national holiday.” But before I talk about the sunny, hot day that everyone experienced, let me back up a bit and talk about my experience 12 hours before the sun reached its noontide peak.

My friend from the a cappella group brought his Canon camera that could also record video footage. The quality was exquisite, and looked beautiful. One of our early plans was to have him make a youtube video of the journey there along with the actual bike ride and sync it up with a video and some music. We followed Commonwealth Avenue down towards the Commons, and then wound our way past Downtown Boston to South Station. We got there and two of my other friends from Engineering greeted me. I had skipped out on a Chinatown dinner date with the both of them beforehand.

I quickly dig into my Irish Cheddar, Rosemary, and Cinnamon grilled cheese sandwiches and get my ticket to Zone 6 Southboro which is a few miles away from the Boston Marathon starting line at the intersection of W Main Street and Grove Street in Hopkinton. We wait in the station for about 20 minutes, and then we exit the back of South Station towards the train platforms. My friend from my a cappella group met someone who knew him from dancing and through another mutual friend from a cappella. She too brought her Canon camera, but she did not have it mounted nor have video recording capabilities. I gave her my Facebook information so that she could later find me and look at the pictures that I took. We slowly make our way to an empty train car, and we use the left benches in each train car as the place to leave our bicycles, while sitting in the right sided benches.

It is during this point when I become separated from my Engineering friends, and instead sit two benches in front of my a cappella friend in a different train car. I started to doze off, but then a cyclist wearing an orange-reddish cycling shirt and a interesting-looking hat walked through the different cars and debriefed us on what would happen along with a history of the Midnight Bike Ride. He moved on to the next car, and I quickly passed out from a long day of a cappella recording.

We end up getting off the train at the Zone 6 Soutboro/Falmouth stop and congregate in an empty parking lot. We waited there for about 30 minutes while the rest of the cyclists left the train. In that parking lot, one could really witness the breadth and variety of bicyclists who would be participating in the bike ride. As the excitement continued to build, I looked around and witnessed the wide variety of experiences from Hubway users, bike renters, professional cyclists, casual riders, people dressed in tutus, a unicyclist, a guy on rollerblades, single-gear users, and fixed-gear users. I heard the beating of drums, saw the flashing of bike lights, and felt the warm drops of rain fall on my skin. The rain soon evolved into something between a drizzle and regular rain. We made our way down the street and underneath a bridge into Hopkinton. The street took us uphill, and we were surrounded by hundreds of cyclists of all ages and backgrounds. We got to the top of the hill and zoomed down through the rainy darkness of a wooded street. Even before reaching the starting line, there were already a few casualties. Dotted throughout the route were groups of people crowded around bicycle riders who had popped their tubes, gotten a gear stuck, or needed some extra air in their tires.

Honestly, it felt so epic riding through the night surrounded by a diverse range of people united through the one love of biking. Even now, I get shivers remembering speeding through dark and torturous paths not knowing what would greet me around the bend. Shortly thereafter, we reached the starting line. We paused there for a bit, because one of my Engineering friends needed to pump some extra air into his tires. We took a group picture, set off at the starting line at 1:18am, and began our descent into the dark path before us. There were a few memorable moments that occurred throughout the duration of the bike ride. Aside from the turn onto Highway 16 and a few turns once we reached the city, the ride was pretty much straightforward. The rain eventually let up, and the weather became perfect for nighttime bike riding. The breeze felt cool with a warm and wild wind blowing through our spokes. There were a few spills scattered around the train track crossings and groups of people congregating for breaks around gas stations.

What struck me the most were the people out around 2am on lawn chairs with beers in their hand, starting Marathon Monday off right even before the sunrise. I remember passing by small towns and thinking that I would eventually like to return to them one day and enter into local shops and explore hidden areas. One of the highlights of the entire journey was the smell. Oh my God the smell of the good, damp earth permeating every road. It was during that adventure that I truly felt alive. It was one of those moments when I truly felt like I fully lived out those hours.

I got the good kind of chills rushing through small towns and empty intersections with the wind at my back. It was an interesting feeling where the rush of the moment took you by surprise and you started to understand something a little bit deeper about yourself and the world. Eventually, my friends got split up and we waited about 10 minutes to see if she got stranded somewhere behind. As it turns out, my friend was not used to much strenuous physical activity, and would get tired biking up hills. So we took a small break and I switched bikes with him, and gave him one of my grilled cheese sandwiches. He found it easier to continue on my bike, and I found it easier to continue on his bike. We continued biking along the marathon trail, and would sporadically pass by some cyclists every now and then. Before long, we passed by Boston College and knew that we were almost home. I pedaled faster, and eventually made it to the finish line near the Boston Commons and I cheered because I knew that I had done something worth doing. I participated in a mass bike ride marathon through the night and felt so epic about it. I felt as if I could conquer anything.

We took some pictures, basked in the glory of joining in such an epic experience and made it back home. I walked with my two other friends, because one of their bikes broke two blocks from the finish line. Honestly, that would have sucked had it broken further back along the route. So we walked back to my friend’s apartment by the fens, and I bid farewell to my friends when they got to the on-campus dorms. I speedily biked back, showered, changed into comfortable nighttime clothes, prepared the sangria for festivities once I woke up, and then passed out like a rock.

I awoke to the sound of bouncing ping pong balls and laughter emanating from my stoop. I knew right then and there that Marathon Monday had officially begun. I sprung out of bed, realized that I didn’t have any alcohol in my sangria, so I biked to Blanchards Liquor Store in Allston and bought a full 750mL bottle of red wine, and emptied it into my sangria, which was held inside of a gigantic cooking cauldron pot. I pregamed in the sunny area of Gardner street at one of my other a cappella group member’s apartments. I opened one of my Magic Hat beers, and quickly started to partake in the day drinking that would be the theme of the entire day. Before I continue, I first have to mention my outfit that fit the theme of the day. I wore tie dyed rugby shorts with white spandex underneath, and my Dresden Rugby shirt that had “My drinking team has a rugby problem” written across the front. I felt that Marathon Monday was a suitable enough occasion as any to wear that outfit. So I made my way out with the sangria in one hand and an open beer in my other hand. A cop car drove past me and said, “You may wanna think twice before you do that.” In my tipsiness I forgot that I lived in a country with an open container policy and could therefore not drink outside whenever I pleased.

With the help of one of my other group members, I used one of the IKEA grocery carts with white polka-dots to transport the sangria all the way across campus to South Campus where the marathon runners would pass through. It was funny to think that I only a few hours ago I was riding alone through the marathon track, and now there were hundreds of people celebrating the marathon day. The most fun was seeing everyone drunk and finding an excuse to cheer. Oh my God it was beautiful seeing familiar faces and yelling at the top of our lungs to give encouragement to the runners.

This day was about them, and finding any excuse to day drink. I saw people dressed in their own country flags, I saw runners with names written across their arms, I saw people in costumes (like red solo cups and the sort), and I saw people running with friends and family members. However what struck me the most were those who looked defeated as they half-walked/half-ran along the marathon route. I remember people pointing at them and yelling, “You can do it! I believe in you! Go go go go!” And it touched my heart so much when I saw that runner lift his head, give us a short nod and smile, and rally together for the final push. There was just so much support, and everything just seemed so good. Funnily enough, Marathon Monday rekindled my faith in college students and humanity. Yes, we were drunk, and of course work was one of the last things on our minds, but we joined together runner and crowd in a beautiful union. For those precious few moments, we formed an intimate human bond where the body may have reached its limit, but the hearts and mind were filled to the brim. So yes, I’d say that it was a beautiful day.