Surprises and Plans in San Francisco

This past weekend, Julie and I went up to San Francisco to fulfill my birthday present for her. I said I would get her a messenger bag, but it was important that we find the right bag that would work for her and hopefully last a lifetime. SF is home to Chrome Industries, Timbuk2, and Mission Workshop, so we made a walking day trip out of the store visits around the city. We planned out our route, major stops, and meals, but a big part of these day trips are the unexpected parts, like seeing the Dalai Lama.

On our walk from Uniqlo in the Union Square area to Timbuk2 in Hayes Valley, we passed by the Symphony Hall on the other side of the street where we saw people standing around with signs. As we approached, the letters cleared up to a most surprising protest target: the Dalai Lama. I asked a guy standing on our side what was going on.

“The Dalai Lama is coming out of that door,” he replied.

“Soon?” He nodded in response.

I looked over at Julie, and we agreed that we could wait to see the Dalai Lama. There were a few false alarms when other suited security members walked in and out of the musician’s entrance door. We were amused by an enthusiastic passer-by who happened to carry dog treats in her purse and dog owners who were more permissive of random food than the dog itself.

Several minutes after the police has blocked off the street and the 3 black Suburbans had started their engines, we saw a figure robed in orange emerge from the door. The protesters immediately began their not-so-religious chanting: a call-and-response from a guy on a speakerphone. The first monk went into the first Suburban, but then another monk appeared and went into the second Suburban.

I had seen the Dalai Lama once in real life, and though I couldn’t remember it that well, I was pretty sure that neither of the monks were him. Then, the giant rolling garage door opened, and we saw the feet of more security guys. Behind it, we saw 2 more black cars, which pulled out as soon as possible. They drove off with the rest of the convoy, and I only got to maybe see the Dalai Lama through a tinted car window.

As Julie and I continued our walk, we joked about the “decoy monk” strategy by security. Obviously nothing went wrong with security, but had something happened, it was a pretty clever strategy. Were it, say, George Clooney, it’s somewhat difficult to fake a George Clooney. With the Dalai Lama, however, it’s probably not unlikely that there were more people like me who just know that he’s an old Tibetan guy.

When we planned our trip to the city, we did plan to have a delicious brunch in SoMa somewhere. We didn’t plan to see the Dalai Lama, or to almost see the Dalai Lama, or to see the Dalai Lama impersonators who actually look nothing like the Dalai Lama. We did plan to pick up socks from a shop in the Mission. We didn’t plan to get into a discussion with a Spanish storekeeper about the ethics of eating meat.

In fact, we weren’t even planning to go as of dinnertime the evening before. When Julie told me that her weekend was comparatively light, I off-handedly asked if she wanted to do this day trip to the city, and she agreed. I myself wasn’t actually so resolved to go up, so I hesitated in that moment: I had sketched out the day, but I didn’t have a route or specific stops in mind. Of course, it was only a matter of looking at a map and train schedules, so we figured out the details there.

Had we not decided to go then, however, I’m not sure when we would have gotten around to the trip. I have drifted back and forth on the best way to figure out the best things to do. When I was gung-ho about planning, we ended up waking up early on weekends and rushing to hit train schedules to maximize our time. When I relaxed, we ended up sitting around at home and not getting out there.

Like with many things, it seems the best methods are somewhere in-between and dependent on the situation. In this case, it took the right amount of planning to assemble an exciting itinerary and spontaneity to get out and do it. And the trip itself worked out with both the intended stops and unexpected encounters. I’ll have to stay both intentional and open-minded in the future.

Day Trip to SF with the Family (Int’l edition)

I wasn’t planning on writing about this, but I ended up writing it for an oral report for my Chinese class. Characters first, Pinyin second, English last, hilariously disjointed and contrived language all around.

上个周末,我父母(parents)来斯坦福大学看我。因为他们来,我舅父(uncle)和他家也来了。星期六,我们打算在旧金山(San Francisco)玩儿。

我们觉得天气会下雨,所以我们要在房子里面开始。十一点,我们去 Golden Gate Park 的 De Young 博物馆(museum)。现在,博物馆有 Tut 国王的陈列(exhibit),可是我听说不太好。因为票很贵,我们没有去看 Tut 国王的陈列。我们只看了被子(quilt)和画。

在博物馆,我差不多跟着我表弟(male cousin) Owen 看。他九岁,有活力(energetic)。他妈妈 Berkeley 毕业,可是他真聪明。我表妹(female cousin) Maddy 十三岁,也很开朗。他们都是戏迷,也表演(act),所以他们唱歌唱得很好。

然后,我们去唐人街(San Francisco Chinatown)看春节游行(Chinese New Year Parade)。五点半游行开始。我们在 Union Square 看很多孩子跳舞,有名人,和漂亮的车,可是我最喜欢的东西是龙。别的人对龙投爆竹(firecrackers),龙在爆竹上走。

晚上八点,我们去唐人街吃晚饭。来斯坦福大学以来,我不常吃中餐,所以去旧金山的时候,我一定吃中餐。我觉得 Sam Wo 饭馆是最好吃的饭馆之一。这个饭馆在 Washington 路,很小,可是菜不贵。如果你要炒面(fried noodles),你应该去那儿。如果你知道在唐人街有很好的点心,你应该告诉我因为我正在找。

吃晚饭以后,我父母,姐姐去 Oakland 飞机场,可是我舅父来 Peninsula,所以我跟他回来。十一点我回校园,很高兴我跟我家人过了一天。


1)为什么我们不看 Tut 国王的陈列?

2)为什么我喜欢 Sam Wo 饭馆?

shànggè zhōumò, wǒ fùmǔ (parents) lái sītǎnfú dàxué kàn wǒ. yīnwèi tāmen lái, wǒ jiùfù hé tā jiā yě lái le. xīngqīliù, wǒmen dǎsuàn zài jiùjīnshān (San Francisco) wánr.

wǒmen juéde tiānqì huì xiàyǔ, suǒyǐ wǒmen yào zài fángzi lǐmiàn kāishǐ. shí yīdiǎn, wǒmen qù Golden Gate Park de De Young bówùguǎn (museum). xiànzài, bówùguǎn yǒu Tut guówáng de chénliè (exhibit), kěshì wǒ tīngshuō bútài hǎo. yīnwèi piào hěn guì, wǒmen méiyǒu qù kàn Tut guówáng de chénliè . wǒmen zhǐ kàn le bèizi (quilt) hé huà.

zài bówùguǎn, wǒ chàbuduō gēn zhe wǒ biǎodì (male cousin) Owen kàn. tā jiǔ suì, yǒu huólì (energetic). tā māma Berkeley bìyè, kěshì tā zhēn cōngming. wǒ biǎomèi (female cousin) Maddy shísān suì, yě hěn kāilǎng. tāmen dōu shì xìmí, yě biǎoyǎn (act), suǒyǐ tāmen chànggē chàng de hěn hǎo.

rán hòu, wǒmen qù tángrénjiē (San Francisco Chinatown) kàn chūnjié yóuxíng (Chinese New Year Parade). wúdiǎn bàn yóuxíng kāishǐ. wǒmen zài Union Square kàn hěn duō háizi tiàowǔ, yǒumíngrén, hé piàoliang de chē, kěshì wǒ zuì xǐhuan de dōngxi shì lóng. biéde rén duì Lóng Tóu bàozhú (firecracker), lóng zài bàozhú shàng zǒu.

wǎnshang bā diǎn, wǒmen qù tángrénjiē chī wǎnfàn. lái sītǎnfú dàxué yǐlái, wǒ bù cháng chī zhōngcān, suǒyǐ qù jiùjīnshān de shíhou, wǒ yídìng chī zhōngcān. wǒ juéde Sam Wo fànguǎn shì zuì hǎochī de fànguǎn zhīyī. zhège fànguǎn zài Washington lù, hěn xiǎo, kěshì cài bú guì. rúguǒ nǐ yào chǎomiàn (fried noodles), nǐ yīnggāi qù nàr. rúguǒ nǐ zhīdào zài tángrénjiē yǒu hěn hǎo de diǎnxīn, nǐ yīnggāi gàosu wǒ yīnwèi wǒ zhèngzài zhǎo.

chī wǎnfàn yǐhòu, wǒ fùmǔ, jiějie qù Oakland fēijīchǎng, kěshì wǒ jiùfù lái Peninsula, suǒyǐ wǒ gēn tā huí lái. shí yīdiǎn wǒ huí xiàoyuán, hěn gāoxìng wǒ gēn wǒ jiārén guò le yì tiān.


1)    wèishénme wǒmen bù kàn Tut guówáng de chénliè?

2)    wèishénme wǒ xǐhuān Sam Wo fànguǎn?

This past weekend, my parents came to Stanford to visit me. Because they came, my uncle and his family also came to the Bay Area. On Saturday, we met in San Francisco to see what to do.

We were worried that it would rain, so we decided to start indoors. At 11:00AM, we met at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Right now, they have an exhibit on King Tut, but I heard that it wasn’t very good. Because the tickets were also expensive, we didn’t look at the King Tut museum. We just looked at the quilts and paintings instead.

In the museum, I mostly followed my younger cousin Owen around. He’s 9 years old and has a lot of energy. Even though his mom, my aunt, went to Cal, he’s smart. My other cousin Maddy is 13 years old, and she’s also outgoing. They both act and are musical fans, so they both sing well.

After that, we went to Chinatown for the parade and dinner. The parade started at 5:30, and we stood at Union Square to watch. I saw many dancing elementary school kids, famous people, and nice cars, but my favorite were the dragons. Peopole threw firecrackers at the dragons, and the dragons walked over them.

At 8:00, we went into Chinatown to eat. Since coming to Stanford, I rarely eat Chinese food, so when I go to San Francisco, I have to eat Chinese food. I think Sam Wo Restaurant is one of the best restaurants. It’s on Washington, and it’s small, but it’s cheap. If you want good fried noodles, you should go there. If you know of a good Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, please tell me because I have been looking for one.

After that, my sister and parents had to go to Oakland airport, but my uncle was driving back to the Peninsula, so I got a ride with him. I came back to campus at 11:30PM. I was very happy to spend the day with my family.

Thoughts on the Walt Disney Family Museum

A few months ago, I saw an article in the Times about a Disney museum. I read it only out of interest in Disney stuff, but when I saw that the museum was in San Francisco, I knew I had to go. Over Thanksgiving break, I made my way into the city and got to spend a few hours looking around.

The museum is located in the Presidio, one of the few urban national parks around, according to a sign I saw there. It covers the northwest part of San Francisco just below the Golden Gate Bridge and has large fields and neatly laid out buildings. We arrived at a relatively small, but well-labeled building just before noon. Although most of the Presidio was quiet, many people buzzed around and in and about this one.

The Walt Disney Company has been making dreams for kids for decades, and the museum tries to capture the process that led to its cartoons, movies, TV shows, theme parks, and more. Instead of focusing on the company, however, it focused on the man Walt Disney. As I mentioned, the building wasn’t huge, but the designers used all of the space effectively. The exhibits span 9 rooms, starting with Disney’s family and childhood and ending with his death in 1966. Much of Disney’s work since then, including the movies of my childhood, weren’t addressed, but we did get to see more into Disney’s personal interests, such as the vision of the Epcot center and Disney TV shows.

The museum goes through all of these topics in a completely controlled manner. My sister once took a college course where they talked about how museum’s present items to generate a certain response from patrons, and I got the sense that everything in this museum was carefully displayed. Traditional museums can get away with less cohesion: a natural science museum might put dinosaurs and the room next to the Amazon, and an archaeological museum is somewhat constrained by what a particular collection might contain. Those sorts of museums allow patrons to jump around, but in this one, each room leads directly into the next, forcing you to view exhibits in a particular order. I was struck by how well everything fit together and how they built a picture of Disney’s life and who he was.

Given that the building is small, that they packed a lot of content, and that everything is sequential, some areas in the museum felt more crowded than they should have been. Especially towards the beginning when everyone still wants to read all of the panels, I had to squeeze myself into awkward angles to read how Disney drew for his high school paper or how he served in WW1. To avoid crowding, the tickets are marked for timed entry, though they weren’t enforcing it when we came in.

The reading did make me think that the museum wasn’t necessarily designed for children. I thought for a second that it might have been meant for people my age who had grown up with Disney productions and were now old enough to appreciate how it happened, but kids have been growing up with Disney forever. I would put myself at the lower end of patience to read this, so the museum is meant for adults. 7 year old Kevin would never have put up with all of the reading, though he might have liked all of the TVs everywhere.

In fact, the integration of technology was one of the most impressive parts of the museum. TVs were everywhere. Some were just monitors playing clips of movies interspersed with commentary, but many were more cleverly added, such as embedded inside a frame on a wall of other pictures. The museum was mostly looking, not touching, but there were just enough activities to liven slow sections. For example, patrons got a chance to watch footage from “Steamboat Willie” and play instruments to synchronize the sound with the cartoon (also known as “Disney Rock Band”). Many other touchscreens and projections were spread across, but none were too time-consuming to develop lines or keep you from moving along.

Although I would have liked to see more detail on how the animation and filming process happened, I was too engrossed with all of the imagination I saw laid out before me. We finished in just about 3 hours, which should be fairly consistent across all visitors given how the museum is designed. The museum is likely a one-time deal, but anyone with any interest or familiarity with anything Disney should find it an eye-opening and fascinating experience.

The Experience of the Exploratorium

This past Friday, I went to the Exploratorium on a field trip with other students in my major, symsys. We aren’t known for being particularly cohesive, so whenever an opportunity to meet and hang out with other students with similar interests, I usually try to make it. And though I had been to the Exploratorium this past summer with family friends already, it seemed like a place worth going again and again.

The Exploratorium is primarily oriented towards little kids, but it certainly has universal appeal. The museum is covered with a bunch of mini-exhibits, each showing off one or two scientific concepts. For example, a ring rolling around in a dish was supposed to represent chaos theory, and a drinking water fountain over a toilet bowl demonstrated our developed aversions. The advising fellows for symsys had justified the trip with the “Mind” area in the back, which was mostly a series of optical illusions. I had wandered around with Te, a senior who had taken a class on these exact topics. He would look at an exhibit, see the trick, then say something like, “Oh… that’s just lateral inhibition.”

While not all of us have had the same coursework, I think we all recognized some of the phenomenon at least from our high school education. But we were just as excited as the little kids running around, amazed by these things they had never seen. Reading about something in a textbook and accepting that it’s true just isn’t quite the same as being able reach out and touch it or feel yourself falling for a mental trick.

Just before I had left for the field trip, I had been in section for a class, “Mind, Matter, and Meaning.” In the class, we basically just talk about consciousness. Most of our reading is from David Chalmers’ “The Conscious Mind,” and our early discussion was focused around the difference between what he calls the psychological and phenomenological aspects of consciousness. Psychological aspects are primarily focused on what mental states do and the sort of functions associated with that. Phenomenological aspects are primarily focused on what mental states feel like and why something feels like it does. And when we’re trying to figure out if our brain and our mind are the same thing, this is where the phenomenological part gets messy.

Because it’s a hard question to say why something “feels” like it does. What does an apple taste like? What it is like to see the “redness” of an apple? What’s interesting about these questions to me is that they are absolutely subjective. We’re trying to boil down all these sciences into a disembodied, objective explanation, but what we feel seems linked to who we are. I’m certain many people have come to the questions about whether everyone else is conscious or what the nature of others’ consciousness is. I mean, even if I assume all of you fine readers are conscious (in the sense used above, not the awakeness sense; I know the latter to be false), how do I know what you see to be red is the same red I see? Maybe my red is your blue.

And I think it’s amazing to probe the differences in how we experience things. One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had here at Stanford was helping one particular student with a program in the computer cluster. She was a little slow in finding her mistakes, but she was entirely capable of using her computer and thinking through and fixing her mistakes. It probably would’ve been otherwise insignificant if not for the fact that she’s also blind and deaf in one ear. Thanks to Microsoft Sam, she could navigate her code line-by-line, jump between windows, and very quickly fix even syntax errors with her code.

I can’t even imagine how she could do something like that. For one, she was able to navigate her file system very quickly and without error based on snippets of words. I kind of have a sense about how my file system is structured, but I have to look things up everytime, and I know I’m constantly depending on context cues to go to the right place. So being able to have a mental representation for that is amazing. But moreover, I just can’t even imagine what code would look like if I had never seen a letter of the alphabet before. On a psychological level, I understand that in such cases, it’s common that areas of the brain responsible for processing visual input can be retooled to enhance capabilities with the other senses. On a phenomenological level, that’s just baffling. What does a block of code “sound” like?

But I guess if I believe the distinction here, it’s all kind of peripheral. Walking around the Exploratorium, I don’t have to feel to learn. It’s just the psychological process of learning where I have a new experience that creates a different representation and new pathways to understand something. And my joy is just a trained response to learning that causes my eyes to widen and my body to get jittery. Maybe a zombie version of me, which has the exact same psychological processes but no phenomenological experience, would have done the exact same things that I had. But I don’t think that makes the sensation any less valuable. I’d still say the Exploratorium is worth going to because you can actually see and touch everything.

Expanding Horizons

Yesterday, several of my dormmates and I took a trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts (SF MOMA) as part of a grant. People often look at modern art and say, “I could’ve done that,” and our experience was a way of challenging that.

San Francisco is a city with a lot of culture, and it’s always been a good experience going up there. At the SF MOMA, we spent part of the time with a docent, who led us around to look at a variety of works, including a wall painting from Sol LeWitt, one of Marcel DuChamp’s “Fountain“s, Henri Matisse’s “Femme au Chapeau,” and a bunch of Clyfford Still paintings. To be honest, I still think some of it is of questionable worth, but I now know a little more about the actual importance and meaning of pieces. For example, the “Fountain” wasn’t originally meant to necessarily be “art,” but was a challenge to a group who claimed that they would accept any submission (for only a fee) into their exhibition.

We had some time to walk around the rest of the museum by ourselves, and I saw more works, including photography and new media pieces using video cameras. It was very interesting, but I was definitely only there to look. I would hope that some people actually understand this work, though it would be a minority for sure. I remember on a trip to the Houston Fine Arts Museum a long time ago, my sister’s boyfriend said something like, “You’re not supposed to understand it; you just see it.” And now, I’m still only at that point.

Which seems to encompass a lot of experiences I’ve had over my time here in college. There are so many experiences and opportunities around, from cultural festivals to guest speakers, and it seems a waste to miss any of them. Granted, I have no idea what’s going on in a lot of them. Terry Sejnowski, a leading figure in Computational Neuroscience, is currently a visiting fellow here, and I went to a talk entitled “Google Brain.” I don’t think I understood any of it. But I went, and I feel like I can see a little more.

College is a time of tipping points. For many, it’s a time to finally get out of generalized education from required classes in high school, and actually focus on useful classes towards getting a major. It’s a time to become more discerning and set upon a life career. Education and society push us from boundless opportunities towards a singular goal that we can call a life and become a productive person.

Well, after we came back from the museum, we completed the rest of the grant by painting. We had a bunch of real canvases and acrylic paints, and we would actually try to make our own pieces of modern art. In most other circumstances, I probably would’ve skedaddled as quickly as possible, but I tried it out and have now created something that is sitting in the dorm lounge right now. It was surprisingly difficult, partially because of how intimidating a blank canvas looks. But I realize now that I also had many inhibitions that made it particularly difficult to get through the work. And looking at it, what I created honestly looks like a bad version of what I might have drawn in Kindergarten. At least back then, I knew what I was trying for.

Our docent had mentioned while looking at the Still painting that it’s often much more difficult for adults to express what they see than for kids to. I can agree with that. When I was a kid, I wasn’t conditioned or molded in many ways that I am now to have certain blocks that hinder what I do and see. And maybe that’s something that I can partially recover, because it’s definitely something that college can offer, if I can avoid getting locked into a single path.