Summer Postcards 2013
MYSTIC, Connecticut—The lights on the Charles W. Morgan glitter softly from across the Mystic River as the hulking black ship rocks in the evening light. In the distance a whistle blows, signaling that it’s time for the drawbridge to go up, and for a cluster of white sailboats to cut across into the deep blue Atlantic.
Standing on the edge of the river, I breathe in the smell of salt and sea, and think about how, for me at least, Mystic has always been a place that exists outside of reality. It feels like adventure time again. Here, time seems to slow to a stop, and everything is like it was the first summer we spent up here, just after I’d finished first grade, when things seemed a whole lot simpler. Back then I towered over my brothers instead of the other way around, an afternoon with friends meant playing with dolls in the yard, and college was nothing more than somewhere the characters disappeared to in TV shows and movies. But then, of course, as soon as I really start to look there are a bunch of tiny details that prove time does keep moving after all.
CHENGDU, China—Although Chengdu is only the fourth largest city in China, and not well known in the Western world, it is at the center of the massive urbanization and modernization occurring throughout the country. I have spent the past week here on a program through the IOP, meeting with government officials and business leaders, learning about the growth and development plan that is currently being implemented in Chengdu.
We are beginning to get a sense of the way that business works here. The other day I was vividly reminded of an old American history lesson in high school about vertical integration in the steel industry. We learned that large steel companies owned the mines, the production mills, the distribution centers, and the train lines that distributed the finished product.
GABORONE, Botswana—There are two emotions that will forever spring to my mind whenever I recall my arrival in Gaborone, Botswana to conduct HIV/AIDS research. One is of an unbearable excitement to set foot on the African continent for the first time and embark on what promised to be a hugely transformative internship and adventure. The second is of a humored surprise at seeing cows on the road. To me, this was an image that captured the funny stage of development that Botswana is in, where modernity and tradition constantly rub elbows, and it was one that seemed to augur the delights that awaited me during my stay in this new country.
I indeed made unforgettable memories from immersing myself in the unique and peculiar aspects of Botswana’s culture and tourist attractions: seeing giraffes, baboons, and ostriches in their natural habitat; learning a bit of Setswana; experiencing biweekly power outages; admiring the decorated cow horns and hand-carved wooden masks for sale in marketplaces; and sampling delicious traditional Botswana cuisine. But what left a deeper impression on me was the extent of the similarity between Gaborone and Cambridge.
CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom—At the back of the dining hall of Trinity College, Cambridge (we just call it “hall,” with no article—as in, “I’m going to hall for dinner!”) there’s a raised platform. Unlike the raised part of Quincy dining hall, the tables on this platform face the rest of the tables in the dining hall at a right angle. And also unlike the raised parts of Quincy dining hall, students are not allowed here. High Table is where fellows—post-docs on research fellowships and faculty associated with the College—eat their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners sitting up above the lowly undergraduate and graduate students, enjoying nicer food served to them with real silver cutlery and strawberries every night.
At 7:30 pm each night, that night’s dinner guests file in, often wearing black robes. Someone rings a gong and everyone in hall must stand silently while the College Master reads a prayer in Latin—even if you’re sitting below and have already finished your meal. Grace at the high table takes precedence over the continuity of undergraduate dinnertime conversations.
BOSTON—Life has been prodding me in the general direction of "adulthood" for some time now. Sometimes it even succeeds. After all, I’m already like 19—and what better assurance of adult status could I have than the knowledge that I’m only two years away from legally purchasing alcohol? Despite my nominal designation as an adult, though, I (and I suspect most of my peers) haven’t really needed to live or budget like one before. My college expenses thus far have primarily consisted of movie tickets, random things from CVS, and unfortunate amounts of 3 a.m. Tasty Burger.
With no Canaday or Annenberg over the summer, though, I’ve had to (slightly) adapt my sheltered existence to a strange, new reality: living expenses. And so begins my ongoing summer fling with the local Shaw’s Supermarket (Whole Foods is just out of my league).