Friday, August 28, 2009

Time as a winding path.

Consider the construction of a Mobius strip. Take a strip of paper, give it a twist, and connect the ends. Now, starting at the seam, trace a line along the length of the strip. Curiously, the line will be on both sides of the paper before it eventually meets back with itself. What this amounts to is that a 1-dimensional line going in a single direction on a 2-dimensional strip will loop back to itself without ever having left the line, and without ever noticing that the strip has been twisting and turning in 3-dimensional space.

Now consider this analogue. I am a 3-dimensional figure moving through 4-dimensional time in a single direction, but there is this possibility that time is actually taking a tortuous route through 5-dimensional space without me ever noticing. The existence of five dimensions would allow for me to loop back to myself on occasion, without having to leave the seemingly unidirectional path of time. This is a much less scientific and much more romantic way to mull over the origin of memories, and for the religiously inclined, of reincarnation.

Reality is much, much more than can ever be conceived.

PS. Ruminations on the Klein bottle next time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A rare shopping high.

During college, I became almost vehemently averse to the modern culture of buying useless things at whim, only to dispose of after just a short time of use. To me, this senseless hoarding seemed like the ultimate waste, driven by advertisements and social pressures that aim to devalue the importance of resourcefulness as a virtue.

This is not to say, however, that I don't buy things anymore, nor that I don't enjoy making certain purchases. One result of my developing minimalist mentality is a vastly increased interest in the durability and craftsmanship of the items I do purchase. I spend the majority of my income on non-material things, mainly rent, food, entertainment, travel; but when I do acquire a material good, it is usually after serious deliberation on the necessity and quality of the item.

That said, I'm pretty damn excited about some of my newly-acquired loot, all stuff I will be heavily using on my trip.

REI portable towel. A friend of mine has it, and I thought it was so useful that I got one myself. Folds down to wallet-size, light, dries quickly, and doesn't smell. Much better than wet, mildewy cotton towels while traveling or backpacking.

REI convertible pants. Always wanted one of these. Good for rainy days and hot weather in dusty India. Dries fast and packs small.

Keen mid-weight hiking boots. I spent an absurd amount of time trying on shoes at the store. I thought about getting Goretex but decided that I'd prefer something more lightweight and breathable for warm weather. I've been happily breaking these in around the house, and can't wait to test-run them in the mountains of north India.

Katadyn water purifier. I wasn't planning on spending the money on one of these, but a friend generously sent it to me as a gift, and I imagine it'll be indispensible in a country where tap water is unsafe, and I'll be unable and unwilling to boil water or buy bottled everywhere.

Lafuma 40-degree sleeping bag. For potential camping around the Himalayas, and for all those budget hostels with sheets of questionable cleanliness. I was worried it would feel like a straightjacket, but it turns out there's plenty of room.

There's a lot of satisfaction knowing that I put a lot of consideration into these purchasing decisions, and that this is all stuff that will serve me well on my trip and beyond.

P.S. It's relevant to add that I'm planning on buying a lot of the clothes I wear once I get to India. This is mainly for logistical reasons. I don't want to ruin my nicer clothes from home that I have to wear to work, I'm not sure what the weather will be like, and I'm trying to pack as light as possible. Besides, I can blend in more easily if I wear the same clothes as other people, and thereby be a less visible target for harassment. I love gorgeous textiles, and am looking forward to adopting saris into my temporary wardrobe. Moreover, clothes in India are cheap, and I'm sure there's not a lack of people who would appreciate a donation once I'm through wearing them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Q & Answer, part one.

What was it like growing up in the bible belt where most of the population is white? Do you ever see yourself living back in TN?

Restricting. Home and family is in Tennessee, but most certainly not my future abode. I could point out specific reasons, but it ultimately comes down to simply not feeling a fit.

What three careers do you honestly see yourself having?

University professor, given I have enough will to trudge through the bitch-work that is required of lower-level profs before getting tenure. This is the path I've been planning for the longest period of time.

Given the burgeoning demand for doctoral statisticians and the range of compelling problems I could solve with a job in industry, this is an increasingly attractive option. Statistics has applications in everything from mapping genes to modeling environmental phenomena to evaluating education policy. I'd be spoiled for choice in choosing projects to work on.

Food writer or professional eater. Something in which I'm required to eat food, create food, make judgments on food, or think about food for the majority of my day. These will always be things I do on the side, but who knows? perhaps an opportunity will somday arise, and I can live the dream in the style of Anthony Bourdain.

Do you think it is okay that fine arts like opera, ballet, classical music, and museums cost so much money for people to audience?

Of course I don't like it. It is always better for more people to have more exposure to these types of things, and lowering the costs of admission would aid that effort. But like anything else, good things cost money, and actors, singers, dancers, and musicians, as well as set designers, choreographers, writers, and directors have to be paid in order to keep them in the business. Raise the prices, you hurt the audience; lower the prices, you hurt the industry. You could ask the government to subsidize fine arts, but that doesn't seem like a viable option at present.

Are you grateful your parents raised you in America? Or do you feel like you were sort of robbed because you were not raised in China?

I don't really spend much time thinking about the what-ifs or the could-have-beens. I certainly don't feel robbed of anything. Growing up in America has undoubtedly given me a better education and a standard of living I wouldn't have had in China, but I don't doubt that had I been raised in China, I would have used whatever resources I was given in much the same way.

What are you doing in life, and why are you enjoying it?

These two questions are the same. What I am doing in life, by definition, I enjoy. I try to learn about everything I can get my hands on, and I place great importance on the warmth of friendships and the love of family.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Houston: a friend and a plate of risotto.

A good friend and former roommate of mine, Ramesh, gave me some of his free air miles to spend this past weekend in Houston. On Friday, we saw Julie and Julia (huge thumbs up), had dinner at a great Italian restaurant, and saw Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood at the Alley Theater downtown. Saturday, after being treated to incredible homemade pumpkin-cranberry muffins, we spent the entire afternoon at the enormous Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The crowning achievement of the weekend, however, was the enormously successful dinner we cooked last night. Boursin and spinach risotto, with seared herbed salmon. This was my first real attempt at making risotto, and it certainly won't be my last.

Ramesh had eaten a boursin-spinach risotto at a restaurant and wanted to replicate it, so we combined a couple recipes we found online. We pureed some cooked spinach with vegetable broth, and gradually added it to the arborio rice on low heat, taking care to stir continuously. After about 40 minutes, the rice was al dente and the perfect consistency, at which point we stirred in the creamy boursin cheese. The salmon was sprinkled with a mixture of basil, thyme, rosemary, and fennel seed and seared til a beautiful brown. Paired with asparagus and pomegranate wine, this was perfection in a meal.

Always a pleasure to see an old friend.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cop-out post.

Sometimes, I just itch to put something on the internet, but currently I lack inspiration. And Lexie's q&a looked like a good time. So, you: ask me a question, and I'll answer if it the total number of questions reaches some kind of critical mass. Make 'em interesting. I've been wondering what the audience to this blog is anyway, so whoever reads this should fire away.

Update: These questions are fantastic. Many merit entire posts to themselves. I'm working on it. Ask me more!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

An extended trip.

Months and months of searching has finally come to a close. Starting mid-September for about half a year, I will be a resident of New Delhi.

I applied to dozens and dozens of jobs, heard back from some, turned down a few, and was rejected by many. By July, the process had become disheartening. After having anticipated the excursion for so long, the mere possibility of not being able to go was an idea I dared not entertain. All the Krakauer books I read this summer didn't help either; they stirred my romantic sensibilities and made me long for the road, toward unknown places with unknown people.

My job is straightforward enough. I will be working for an education company called Educomp (the joint venture of Pearson in the US), designing math curriculum, lesson plans, and worksheets for K-12 level. The salary is a modest $100 (around 5000 rupees) a month, but the company offers free transportation, free breakfast and lunch, and $60-a-month accommodation. Financially, I should just come out even. India is cheap, and I'm counting on using the money that I have saved to fund my trip and more.

I'm going to India not because I got a job there; I got a job there because I wanted to go to India. As I learned with Australia, living somewhere is a vastly different experience than just stopping by, and I think the country I have chosen will have more than a few things to teach me. New Delhi promises to be an uncomfortable place in many ways. I will be probably be lonely sometimes. I'll probably puke my guts out on occasion. People will stare at me, and I won't understand the language and certain customs. There will be heavy pollution, public pissing, undrinkable water, and slums. But isn't this the point? The lack of the familiarities and amenities of home is the entire allure of going.

There is a grittier side of life that I have never lived around or observed seriously, and I consider that something of a character flaw. There's nothing like learning about what you are by learning about what you're not.

(Aside: for the upcoming birthday, book donations will be received with much appreciation. See my to-read-list. Does New Delhi have English bookstores/libraries anyway?)