Saturday, April 28, 2018

Catch up

So, it's been a while! Where do I even begin? I guess I can start by saying that I'm going to graduate school on the East Coast.


Yeah, I know. I decided to be pretty private about the whole thing because I wasn't sure if I'd be accepted to any of the schools I applied to or if I would ultimately decide to enroll. It's honestly been such an emotional rollercoaster, but I'm grateful for all of it.

"We'll see...."

The past six months have been a lesson in taking steps of faith and being surprised by the result. I decided to apply to graduate school out of a hunger to learn more, to build some quantitative skills, and to explore the possibility of pivoting from public administration to public policy research. Call me a delusional idiot but I only applied to some of the best policy schools in the nation (but was prudent enough to not even try for UChicago and Berkeley; they quant too hard for this chick). My reasoning was, if I get rejected from each and every school, that's a clear signal from God that heading in this direction was clearly not meant to be.

Writing application essays was pretty great; I like writing and being self-reflective, so it didn't feel like a chore though I did exert my best effort in composing them. It forced me to answer the questions of Why do I want this? and Do I really want this? I'd like to think I constructed some compelling arguments.

But the waiting... Oh my word. There was a two-month delay until I heard back from one school, then I waited another two months to hear back from the other two. I didn't spend every single day in self-doubt and self-recrimination over my application materials, but let's be real, it crossed my mind on a regular basis.

Schools these days deliver their admissions decisions in such a needlessly stressful way. All three schools sent an automated, neutrally-worded email directing me to log into their application portal. In the ten seconds that elapsed between clicking the link, logging in and viewing the admissions decision, my heart was about to explode out of my chest!! When I received the offer of admission from each school, I immediately popped up from my desk and roamed the halls, looking for Pat (my certified "work mom" who completed letters of recommendation for me). I think I had a crazed look in my eye because coworkers would stop me and ask, "Are you okay?" With shaky breath I would assure them so, all the while thinking, where the hell was Pat???! I couldn't wait to tell her.

Those moments were absolutely surreal. I was living in a dream... And then the financial reality hit.

The true meaning of "cost prohibitive"

I'm not saying that I recommend this method, but as I decided which schools to apply to, I decided not to dwell too much on the total costs of each program, thinking I would cross that bridge when I came to it. My logic was that if God was going to open the door, there would be some sort of financial aid package that would lessen the enormous blow of the cost of living and tuition. Also, why prematurely sweat the costs of a program to which I might not even be admitted?

In other words, I assumed things would simply work out. I mean, things ultimately did "work out," but not in the straightforward way that my mind assumed they would.

Once I received the offers of admission, I started to crunch the numbers, and my jaw dropped all the way to the floor. What even the hell was I thinking? In the words of my mentor Terry, "I mean, I know you've saved, but not that much!" We both laughed at that because, well, it's true.

Graduate school is a foreign world to me. In a purely Utilitarian sense, I wasn't sure if the net benefits exceeded the net costs. I started asking around, and had no shortage of friends and family with their own "debt stories": how they decided to take the plunge and whether they ultimately regretted it. I also started to conduct research in earnest into these three programs, reviewing the curriculum (testing for rigor and relevancy), grilling current students and reading up on faculty. I came to the conclusion that I could not make an informed decision without going out and physically visiting each of the three schools for their admitted student events.

"Comparative perspective"

Let's just say that New York, Providence and Cambridge are all very, very different places. I had a blast exploring, observing cultural norms and comparing public transportation systems (fun fact: I had never been to any of these places before). The programs themselves were also quite varied. "So have you completed your aggregate scoring of all three schools based on multiple criteria?" my coworker Gretchen inquired. "I haven't set the weighted scores just yet," I joked. No such spreadsheet exists, but you can be assured that I was keeping a mental score of each program's strengths and weaknesses, and it was changing by the day.

Despite three months of lead-up filled with agonizing over the enrollment decision, it wasn't that tough to make in the end. I'm old enough to know that there's no "perfect" program that's made "just for me," but taking the major factors into account, listening to to my heart and observing multiple signs of confirmation from God, Brown was the one.

Joyous liminality

I leave for Providence on May 30! I'm in that unique in-between place of wrapping up things at work, reflecting on the past, thanking God for the blessings of the present, mourning leaving Seattle and the people I love, and lining up all the practicalities of a cross-country move. In all this God has faithfully provided.
"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. [S]he who goes out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with [her]" (Psalm 126:6).
I've definitely gone through difficult times in the past, but I'm grateful for times like these: of plenty, favor, joy and adventure.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

2017 in 12 photos

Read Curious George with my niece and nephew in CA.

Met Charlie Brown in Santa Rosa.

Hosted family in Seattle.

Attended a live podcast taping (HIGHLIGHT).

Experienced the power of "60 mph" winds.

Enjoyed the rare convergence of all out of town relatives.

Climbed to the top of a six-story lighthouse in Spain.

Saw Mariah Carey in concert.

Went to the Pink Door with our Chicago/East Bay relatives.

Heard from [redacted] at the Paramount Theater (don't @ me).

Picked oranges with the CA nieces.

Chilled in Oakland with my nephew.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A love letter to London's public transport

Public transportation is truly a thing of wonder. When I was in college, I had a U-Pass, which gave me unlimited rides on Metro and Sound Transit, and I took full advantage of it. On Fridays I would go on excursions to Sand Point, downtown, South Seattle or Ballard; on the bus it would often take me up to an hour to arrive at my destination but I considered it all a part of my "urban pilgrimage." Since that time, King County has expanded its transportation infrastructure to not only include local and express buses, but Link Light Rail and downtown streetcars as well. I'm pretty proud of our public transpo, but I must tell you, it's nothing compared to London.

King County's Link Light Rail: One line, 77k daily ridership

London Underground: 11 lines, 4.8M daily ridership

London public transport, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Stratford to London Fields

Our first day outing to London we decided to park and ride from Stratford station, which is located near the stadiums constructed for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Little did we know that it was the weekend of the World Athletic Championshps, where Usain Bolt was soon to run his last competitive race. Needless to say, the place was a zoo. In order to catch the tube to downtown London, we had to walk through one of the largest indoor/outdoor malls I have ever seen in my entire life: Westfield Stratford City.

We made our painfully slow way through the heart of the mall, shoulder to shoulder with the enormous and unending crowd. Bear in mind, we were with Naomi's family, and they have three small children, and had never been into the city before. When we got to the station, we had to get a couple floors underground to actually catch the tube--and unfortunately the lift was broken. So we lifted the double stroller and the children through a series of escalators and stairs (it really did feel like a labyrinth) to hop onto the Central Line.

One thing I learned about the tube is that they keep some lines up better than others. The Central Line is definitely not as well kept as others. It is physically small. Riders sit in rows facing each other with one aisle for people to stand. The seats are upholstered with a vibrant pattern that looks like it came out of the late 90s. Also, it has no air conditioning and since we were there in mid-August it was muggy, so all the windows were open. Thus, the whole way in, we could hear every scrape of metal and bump along the tracks. It was so un-glamorous. I loved it.

When we got to Bethnal Green, we ended up walking a little over a mile to get to Broadway Market and London Fields. I played "I spy" the entire way with Naomi's niece, though she says "My spy with my little eye," which is one of the cutest things ever.

London Fields where we met a lot of hilarious local kids on the playground

We ended up catching a bus from Hackney to get to Blackfriars, and like the tourists we are, the first thing we did was run up the stairs and sit in the very front, which, of course, is the best place to take photos and Snapchat selfies.

Being hella cheesy

I must say, the ride was exhilarating. Some "local youths" sat behind us, conversing loudly with much profanity and mentions of alcohol/drug use. And I saw a billboard for Jay-Z/Craig David, the gherkin and St. Paul's! 

Epping to South Bank

Our second time into the city, we took the Central Line again, but this time decided to park and ride from Epping, which is further from the city than Stratford. Epping definitely felt more like a suburb, and I enjoyed the part of the ride looking out into neighborhoods and industrial zones before we plunged into the darkness of the underground tunnel.

One thing you need to know is that we were going to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe, and since I had no notion of what the dress code might be, I was in a sheath dress with 2" heels (turns out I was WAY overdressed; major fail). Well, we ended up having to transfer from the underground to a double-decker bus. However, when we got to the bus stop, it was not in operation due to construction! So we started walking up to the next stop and watched our bus peel off when we were less than half a block away.

"We still have time," I reasoned, as we waited for the next one to arrive. The show started at 19:00, so even though we weren't getting there right when the doors opened to get the best spot in the yard (we got tickets where you stand in front of the stage the entire time, kind of like a mosh pit without the lingering fear of getting trampled to death), I figured we'd be fine.

The bus dropped us off near the Thames, and then we had another 10 minute walk. When we got to the venue, the lobby was entirely empty. I should have known then that something was off, but in my mind we still had time to spare. When I gave my name to the guy at the box office, he said, "The first act started about 15 minutes ago but if you go through those doors and to the left there should still be plenty of room." I blinked several times. "Wait, you mean it already started? I thought it started at 19:00 and that doors opened at 18:30!" He explained to me that the play started at 18:30; the doors had opened at 18:00. We had missed the beginning of the play! "I was wondering why you were so chill," he added, and I gave him my best self-deprecating shrug as we ran up the stairs to catch what was left of the play. "Americans," I'm sure he muttered to himself.

Slightly frazzled from the lengthy commute, I nonetheless greatly enjoyed the play. It was pretty funny, if a bit absurd. Next time, though, I'm wearing Keds.

Heathrow to Stepney Green

My last public transport story is my first solo trip in the city on my way back from Madrid. Flying from Madrid to Heathrow was kind of fun, actually. I had tons of time to kill at the airport, which worked out because the line for passport control was huge. It was an unexpected blessing to be able to speak to a couple of ladies next to me in line (who were from Central America) in my Mexican accent. They understood me (I was getting tired of the funny looks I kept getting in Spain because of the verbs and idioms I use) and their accents felt like home.

(Another aside that has nothing to do with public transportation: Spanish vending machines are on a whole other level! I purchased a smoked salmon sandwich on poppyseed bread... from a vending machine. Is there some way we can get these kinds of boutique offerings in the U.S.???)

When I touched down at Heathrow I followed the signs for the Heathrow Express, which is more or less a bullet train that gets you to London in less than half the time it might take through traditional routes. The first thing that was strange to me, was that they didn't ask for my fare; I just hopped onto the train, stowed my luggage on the rack and chilled. I kept waiting for some security guard to escort me off the train and arrest me. Turns out that they check your fare partway through the ride, kind of like they do on the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter. Apparently they're really trusting!

Heathrow Express is NOT paying me to say this but it was honestly one of the most luxurious mass transit rides I've ever experienced. You can watch the news on a small flatscreen, charge your phone, connect to complimentary WiFi and enjoy the smooth as silk ride. I think my dad would like the Heathrow Express. It's like the Cadillac of trains.

From there I transferred at Paddington station to the Hammersmith & City Line to Stepney Green to get to 40 Winks, a very unique and memorable B&B. Paddington station is HUGE. It's also hugely under construction. The first thing I noticed when I got off the train was there were tons of staff people just standing there, waiting to help clueless travelers like me. A man greeted me, then looked at me with some pity. He had to break the bad news that there was no working lift to the platform, so I would need to lug my rolling check-in, rolling carry-on and a backpack up a couple flights' worth of stairs. "It's okay!" I assured him as I walked away. "I'm strong!" I lied.

Dear reader, may I share a word of advice with you? If you travel in London, pack light. When entering an underground station, you place your oyster card on a sensor that opens gates swinging inward. Well, when I tried to go through with all my luggage, I wasn't fast enough because the gates closed on my check-in bag. I yelped, trying to pull the surprisingly strong gates apart so I could extricate it. A man behind me immediately tried to help; trying to push the luggage through but it just seemed to make the gates close even harder. As I was frantically working with him on this, my check-in luggage and backpack fell over onto the ground with a dramatic crash. By then the man had waved over a transport staff, who used her card to open the gates. I scrambled to pick up my other bag and guy with a European accent asked, "Are you all right?" I must have looked distraught. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," I insisted, more embarrassed than anything as I headed to the lift to the platform.

Another reason to pack light: When I got on the tube, I had to stand at first and it was a nightmare. Spinner luggage is great for getting around in airports with smooth, pristine, polished stone floors, but my bags rolled around with a mind of their own at every stop along the tube route, much to my chagrin. When I managed to get a seat, I assumed an assortment of different positions to keep my luggage stationary with marginal success. Thankfully, the Hammersmith & City Line is much more spacious and better kept than the District Line so I didn't feel like I was being too annoying with all my luggage.

As we neared the downtown stations, a Chinese British couple (or so I assumed based on their appearance and accents) stepped onto the train and sat down next to me. They were smartly dressed and had their Starbucks in hand. The guy pulled out an enormous iPad and started fiddling with it.

At some point during the journey, one of them spilled their latte, creating an ever-growing pool of light brown liquid right in the middle of the train. The guy seemed pretty pained and embarrassed about it, so I dug through my backpack and handed them half of the travel-size pack of tissues that my mom had given me (thanks, Mom). He scrambled to mop up what he could as she kept insisting that it wasn't a big deal. When the train arrived at their stop, I noticed the guy hanging around near the door. He paused briefly. "Thank you," he said in his British accent. "Oh yeah, no prob," I replied.

When I finally got to Stepney Green I made my way to the exit only to find... they didn't have a lift. As I sighed, preparing myself mentally for the climb with my bags, which at this point felt like they were full of literal rocks, a guy stopped and offered to carry the largest one for me! It ended up being three flights up to the street surface level, so I was so grateful for his help.

I then rolled my way through Mile End another 15 minutes as the sun was going down. I really appreciated the paint at every sidewalk intersection with guidance for out of towners like me: "LOOK RIGHT."

After such a long day of travel, it was wonderful to come home to 40 Winks, change my clothes and charge my phone. My exhaustion, however, didn't keep me from venturing out again to get a little something sweet. :)