One Oxford term down, one to go

Leave a comment Standard

I woke up this morning exhausted, still a little bit sick, and unsure if I ever really fell asleep last night. I got up out of my bed and fumbled across the tiny sleeper car to open up the window. Grey skies. Sigh. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting. Actually, that’s a lie—I had a romantic notion of train travel across Britain, fueled by a bizarre Victorian-era fantasy of afternoon tea while watching the rolling hills of the countryside. But in reality, much of the United Kingdom has been swamped with heavy bouts of rain this week, and it was 6:30 in the morning… far from “afternoon tea.” I blame the National Railway Museum in York for filling me with these romantic notions.

IMG_2995.jpeg

A dining car at the National Railway Museum in York

A knock came at the door. Breakfast was delivered to my room—a smoothie bowl, orange juice, and English breakfast tea. As I slumped back in my bed, sipping my tea, I couldn’t help but watch the remarkable contrast between the bright green hills and the depressingly grey clouds. It was, after all, the only thing to do for that last hour of the journey. But then finally—a break in the clouds. For just a brief few minutes, the bright rays of the sun shone upon the Scottish countryside, lighting up the small homes on the hills. It was a brief but beautiful sight as the landscape quickly changed from rural Scotland to the Glasgow cityscape.

This is my third month living in England as a visiting student at the University of Oxford. I’ve been affiliated with Brasenose College, one of the thirty-eight colleges that compose the university, and it has a reputation as “the happiest college at Oxford.” Some fun facts: Brasenose was founded in 1509; that’s before Ferdinand Magellan tried to circumnavigate the globe. The most famous alum: probably David Cameron (don’t worry, everyone I’ve met is much more pleasant than the former prime minister).

IMG_2469.jpeg

Hertford Bridge, also called “the Bridge of Sighs” after the one in Venice (although it’s actually much more similar to the Rialto—which I can confirm after spending a month crossing the Rialto every day)

It’s been a journey—mostly good, a bit funny, and at times just ridiculous. I think I’ve acclimated pretty well: I add milk and sugar in my tea, I spend many nights a week at my college bar, I’ve learned how to pronounce cities like “Edinburgh” and “Slough” almost correctly, I’ve grown used to asking about dress codes for events, and I’ve figured out which piece of silverware to use in a formal dinner setting. My phone, much to my frustration, has started to autocorrect words, such as “realize,” to match its British spelling (‘realise’). It’s stupid, and it makes me want to throw my phone against the wall.

This term, I did a tutorial in anthropology theory; tutorials are a style of learning unique to Oxford and Cambridge, where I had a one-on-one, once-a-week meeting with my tutor (mine was a fellow at All Souls College since Brasenose doesn’t actually have anthropology) to discuss my weekly essays and go over the material. Tutorials are a bit of an antiquated system, and there’s no real reason they continue to exist beyond just tradition. But it’s one I really prefer; the individual attention and frequent writing and personalized feedback has really helped me improve my ability to write and more critically understand social theorists. It’s even come to the point where I’ve been able to trick a few people into thinking I understand late nineteenth-century philosophy!

IMG_2499.jpeg

Formal hall at Magdalen College during my first week at Oxford. Magdalen, along with Brasenose and Corpus Christi, is one of the colleges that Stanford students can be affiliated with.

While my anthropology tutorial—as well as the Spanish tutorial I’ve been doing—is taught through Oxford, I’ve been doing a Stanford seminar with about six other students taught by the faculty-in-residence this quarter, an experimental course on arts in prisons in the United Kingdom. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’s been an eye-opening look at the criminal justice system in England and Wales, complete with a visit to a youth prison facility and a prison for sex offenders.

The “arts” piece of it has been a bit more whimsical to me since I’m personally more interested in the “prisons” aspect, but now with just a week of the class left, I’m really grateful I took it, mostly because I got to meet someone—a Stanford Law School graduate, actually!—who does amazing work in advocating for youth in prisons. Instead of trying to recap her life story, I’ll share this, which is available publicly online:

When she was 16-years-old, Christa’s best friend was raped, and she became determined to be a district attorney. But when she got to law school, she signed up to teach the Fourth Amendment at juvenile hall, and her life path changed. She saw something powerful happen as the group of Chicago kids she taught developed into a community where even gang loyalties relaxed. She was personally transformed by the experience of hearing them long for something better than what they saw ahead of them. Christa transferred to Stanford Law School after her first year but took her juvenile hall experience with her. She started a Street Law program at Stanford, similar to the program in Chicago, to teach incarcerated and other at-risk youth about the law. But this time, Christa built her own curriculum and was soon being asked to speak about it at national conferences.

In one of my more embarrassing moments here, I actually started bawling at the end of her final day with us. I was trying to thank her for how much of an impact she had on me, and then I broke down crying. Stupid, right? The next afternoon, I called my parents, told them I wanted to stay at Oxford for another term, and that I was staying so I could study human rights law. Both my parents were initially not pleased—I was supposed to go to Santiago in the spring, which was already a very last minute decision, and just days before the withdrawal deadline, I wanted to back out. But when my parents heard I wanted to study law, my mom was immediately in favor of me staying.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 10.44.53.png

A reflection I shared on Facebook about two and a half weeks later, after visiting my second prison

My sudden realization that I want to pursue a human rights career is by no means the only reason I wanted to stay. I’ve made such amazing friends here, something I didn’t expect to do since it’s notoriously difficult for Stanford students to really feel integrated during their time here. But thanks to a perfect storm of being a little bit pushy, forcing myself to be more extroverted than I’ve been since my first month at Stanford, a stroke of good fortune, and running into some incredibly warm and inviting Oxford students, I can say pretty confidently that I’ve made at least a few friends. It’s truly such an experience to walk down into the Brasenose bar and realize that, on any given day, I know enough people to feel comfortable.

I’ve only just started becoming comfortable enough with people to really get to know their fuller personalities and their stories. I’ve been criss-crossing the United Kingdom, spending time in southern England cities like London, Windsor, and Bath, heading further north to Birmingham and much further north up to York, as well as to pretty random places, like Swansea in Wales. As you might have guessed, this week I’m in Scotland—I’ll be in Glasgow to visit some Oxford friends for the next few days, and then I’m off to Edinburgh to join the other Stanford students on the trip we take every term. (Next term, the trip will be in Cornwall, the weekend before Easter.)

IMG_2711.jpeg

A rare occurrence: snow at Oxford! Truly a magical time.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve done a good job of meeting a variety of people and seeing as much of this country as I can, even if that’s meant a few long nights because I always choose new experiences with Oxford friends over regular study times and travel within Britain over travel across continental Europe. And yet, right now, I feel like if I left, I’d be closing a chapter of my life that I’m nowhere near finished reading. How convenient is it, then, that I have until the end of June?

Come mid-April, I’ll be surrounded by a new crop of Stanford students. They’ll come in with the same sense of magic and excitement that I did, and with luck, the magic will never disappear—even if it becomes shaped by the contours of reality. The week after Easter, I’ll be cheering on a few of my Oxford friends who will just be finishing exams. I’ll be spending my time reading and writing about international human rights law and social class in Britain, as I pivot to studying a mix of law and sociology. I’ll be spending my free time sitting on the grass to celebrate what the British call “summer” but I call “an exceptionally warm winter,” And of course, I’ll still be exploring the random nooks and crannies of the United Kingdom.

IMG_3315.jpeg

Oxford in Feburary, LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom

Exactly three months ago on January 13, I had just finished my first week in Oxford, nervously wondering whether I would enjoy being here, whether I would make any friends, and whether I would want to stay. If you would have told me that I’d actually be here until the end of June, I would have been in disbelief. But I don’t know why I’m so surprised. From the week I turned twenty years old, just nine months ago, I’ve chosen to chase after adventure after adventure, taking great leaps of faith that have led me doing everything from a cross-country trip across the United States, three weeks of studying the Venetian Republic in Venice with a brief stop in coastal Slovenia (complete with a brief archeological dig!), a week-and-a-half in Israel and Palestine meeting with people from both sides of the Green Line, and traveling through Western Europe where I did everything from stumbling upon the yellow vest protests in Paris to meeting my brother’s bone marrow donor in Berlin.

Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” And now, the adventure continues, against all odds.

The Battle for Texas: What I Learned From Campaigning

Comments 4 Standard

This is the third and final part of my series on the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race. The first part, written in the spring of 2014, introduced the two Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. The second part detailed the candidate rally I attended in the summer of 2014.

IMG_3117

Alessia and I after Wendy Davis visited our office.

It’s been almost one full year since the 2014 midterm elections, one year since Democrat Wendy Davis lost her race for governor of Texas, and one year since I took my first swing at politics. If you would’ve asked me in the spring of 2014 whether or not I’d work for a campaign, I would’ve told you, “Of course not. Why would I do that?”

But I went ahead and did just that. After stumbling upon a rally celebrating the anniversary of Wendy Davis’ landmark filibuster in support of Texans’ reproductive rights, I found myself on a list of potential volunteers for her campaign and received calls while I was a summer debate camp at UT Austin from Battleground Texas, the field arm of the Wendy Davis campaign, trying to get me to volunteer. While it’s not shocking for a political campaign to attempt to tap into enthusiastic supporters, what is shocking is that I said yes… and brought Alessia, one of my best friends, along for the ride.

IMG_3222

Right before Fellows Training at the campaign headquarters.

As soon as I came home from debate camp, I called back the field organizer for my county and Alessia and I found ourselves in our county’s Democratic Party office for an introductory meeting. It was the first of many, and over the next month we learned about phone banking (calling people the campaign identified as possible Democratic voters), block walking (knocking on doors to convince people to vote), “cutting turf” (preparing packets of houses for volunteers to visit), and other essential data-driven campaign tactics. On top of those meetings, I went to two region-wide summits—one open to volunteers and another only open to fellows on the campaign—all by myself, learning so much more about how campaigning works. And then there were the events: the small rally outside the office when Wendy Davis dropped by, the book signing for her memoir at a local bookstore, and the debate watch parties.

As summer turned into fall, I quickly rose in the ranks, moving from a regular volunteer to a senior fellow, the youngest one in my area. Campaign work became something I did alongside my schoolwork, and it created (rather, cemented) a perception of me within my school as a liberal activist, since I was definitely the most vocal and visible Wendy Davis supporter in my entire school. Looking back, even though being a senior fellow on the campaign was oddly (and sometimes unnecessarily) stressful and not sleek and sexy like I imagined it, I’m so incredibly glad I took the opportunity because I learned so much in those few months on the campaign. And while these five things aren’t all I took from my experience, these are the five I’d like to share with you today! Continue reading

It’s been a while: an update

Comment 1 Standard

Wow, it sure has been a while since I’ve last posted—about half a year, in fact. The last time I wrote on here, I shared that my younger brother Jude was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. When I’ve shared about his first cancer experience, I mentioned that finding another bone marrow donor would be incredibly difficult considering Jude and I are mixed race. But miraculously, we found another donor who was also a perfect match—a woman in Germany. Jude had his marrow transplant in the beginning of September, and since then, everything has been looking pretty good.

As for the rest of my life, senior year of high school has been… an experience for sure. While junior year was incredibly stressful because of my classes and extracurriculars (I blame you, AP Physics!), senior year has been a small sigh of relief—most of the classes I’m taking are classes that truly interest me, I spend less actual time in class since most of my classes are four days a week instead of five days, and there’s just less general wailing and gnashing of teeth since first semester of senior year is one of the lightest course loads I’ve had since freshman year (although the flip side of that is that I have a much heavier course load—one of my heaviest ones—in the spring)!

But despite that, my classes are still harder than last year, and college applications have been eating me alive from the inside. I’m so incredibly excited about going to college next year, but I just don’t want to actually do the applications—writing essays and stressing out about resumes and activities aren’t exactly super fun. I applied to my first-choice school just yesterday, and I’m now just waiting until December to hear back from them so my fingers are crossed and I’m hoping for the best! (Also, if you happen to be an admissions officer from said school, I would be overjoyed if you accepted me!)

Yet even in the craziness that is the college admissions cycle, I’ve had a chance to really reflect on what I find personally important in my life—things like writing, advocacy work, and volunteering. And now that I must resign myself to a little over a month and a half of waiting for a decision, I’ll at least have the chance to take a break and do things for me without the threat of college application deadlines looming. And one of those things is sharing more on this blog and on Bok Choy and Broccoli.

See you soon!

What I’m thankful for in 2014

Comments 2 Standard

Earlier this year, I had no idea I would even make it to the end of the year. My life seemed like it’d forever be just a few things: adjusting to school and doing election work. But, as it’s very clear to see, I made it. And with Christmas and New Year’s ahead of us, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the many things I have to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for my friends and family who’ve supported me through all my endeavors. And even when I ask a lot from them, they’ve always continued standing by my side.

I’m thankful for a strong end to my sophomore year and the incredible amount of progress I’ve made through my junior year, even though it’s been a little rocky.

I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to travel this year—spanning from New Orleans, to Washington, D.C., to New York City—and being able to see both old places and new places.

DSC_0220

The Capitol as seen from the deck of the Newseum.

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

Comments 7 Standard

Let’s get real. There’s nothing more colorful than the beauty that is… les macarons.

You can’t begin to know how excited I was when I found out my friend went to Paris and brought me back a pasalubong (gift/souvenir in Tagalog) from, of all places, Ladurée! I’ve gone on about Ladurée before, like after I returned from multiple stops at the maison in New York. (Yes, I’ll be triumphantly returning this July, as well.)

DSC_0032

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

Comments 2 Standard

This week’s photo challenge from the Daily Post was “home.”

DSC_0004

For as long as I can remember, my mom would always decorate our front door with something to match the season—normally a wreath that would have different leaves and fruits depending on the season. It’s only fitting that we decorate our front door for Chinese New Year as well.

Continue reading

Morimoto

Comments 4 Standard

Who doesn’t love sushi?

I ate my last meal in New York at Morimoto — a Japanese restaurant on 10th Avenue. I definitely didn’t want to leave New York City without having great sushi, and luckily, Morimoto delivered.

DSCN1382

Our meal began with the toro tartare.

DSCN1384

Our waitress served us the raw, chopped toro, topped with domestic caviar, in a large bowl filled with ice. Inside the bowl was a tray filled with dashes of sauces — wasabi, sour cream,  nori paste, chopped chives, guacamole, and rice crackers — and a cup of dashi soy. To eat the tartare, you use the metal spatula-like spoon to scoop out toro, add condiments, and dip in the dashi soy.

The toro tartare tasted delicious! It’s one of those foods that I’ll want again if I go to New York, but not all the time — it costs $31 on the lunch menu. It’s definitely worth the price for a non-local, though.

Maki and nigiri sushi were next on the lunch agenda.

DSCN1386

The shrimp tempura rollspicy salmon roll, and sake (salmon) nigiri created a triumvirate of flavor, headed by the sake nigiri.

The sake nigiri was absolutely phenomenal! The salmon practically melted in my mouth. The chef’s inclusion of wasabi in between the slice of cool, raw salmon and the sweet sushi rice made the sushi taste ten times better. In Japan, the sushi chef lightly smears a small bit of wasabi in between the fish and the rice, as wasabi should not be mixed in the soy sauce, which is commonly done in the West.

Taking a short break from sushi, I feasted into the crispy rock shrimp tempura.

DSCN1389

The rock shrimp tempura had both a green chile and a wasabi sauce. Our waitress gave a ranch dip along with the rock shrimp tempura, which added a cooling dimension to the spicy shrimp. Honestly, I think I should have started with the shrimp, as it’s quite filling. Plus, its hot properties clash with the coolness of the sushi I just ate.

I ended the meal with two more maki rolls.

DSCN1391

The spicy tuna roll and California roll were calm and somewhat “safe” endings to the meal.

The standout roll was definitely the California roll. What made it stand apart, especially from other California rolls, was the use of real snow crab meat — very different from the usual imitation crab found in most sushi restaurants and grocery stores.

The Verdict:

I definitely recommend trying out Morimoto if you visit New York. Would I go back to Morimoto if I take another trip to the Big Apple? Possibly, but probably not. I won’t lie — Morimoto is ridiculously pricy, even for lunch. Is the food worth it? I’d say yes, but it’s not the place for someone on a budget (unless you want to leave hungry and underfed). I’d say try it once, then decide to return if you think it’s worth it. Just watch how much you’re ordering.