Saturday, July 2, 2011

Phinally in Philly

Today was a very full and productive day. At 6 A.M. we hopped out of bed, packed our luggage up, and met downstairs in our hotel lobby at 6:15. It was pretty early, and we were in a hurry to get moving, so I didn’t eat at the hotel lobby, but decided to wait until later. We took a taxi that was waiting for us, and we all enjoyed the sights of Washington, D.C. one more time. Soon, we arrived at the large D.C. train station, and once again I was struck by the gorgeous architecture of the massive building. We walked under one of the three enormous U.S. flags, and quickly found our train’s departure gate. Inside, I enjoyed seeing how many people were using the train system. I think that it’s unfortunate that we don’t have a lot more public transportation in California, because riding the train here was a convenient and pleasant experience. As soon as we pulled away from the D.C. station, I enjoyed staring out the windows at the expansive forests and occasional swamps. After a while, I got tired of staring out the window so I dug through my backpack for some sort of entertainment. First, I ate the bagel and drank the orange juice that I had purchased at the train station, and then I started reading a book that I brought with me. The book I read some of on the train was “Fast Food Nation”, a muck-racking novel about the fast food industry that I was assigned to read over the summer for an AP Language class that I will be taking this coming year. I found the writing to be quite graphic, and equally persuasive at scaring me away from fast-food which I already refuse to eat. Soon enough, we arrived in Philadelphia, and we took a taxi to our nearby hotel. It was clear from the start that Philadelphia is a college town, because I saw lots of UPENN flags on the short ride to the hotel. Soon enough, we ventured out into the streets of Philadelphia, and the heart of the UPENN campus was only a few blocks from our hotel. Once we were on campus, I was excited to see several parts of the campus that I recognized, such as the multiple Ben Franklin statues that are scattered around campus.

Soon, we discovered a beautiful botany garden on campus that contained a large pond with dozens of turtles, several ducklings, huge koi fish, and a pretty waterfall. While UPENN is a very urban campus, this pond was a very nicely designed haven from the bustling city of Pennsylvania. We walked around a bit more, and then we found a nice restaurant on campus. The restaurant had a very modern design, a friendly staff, and a killer pepperoni pizza that I thoroughly enjoyed. After lunch, we had a bit of free time back at the hotel. While we have spent a large amount of the past few days on our feet, I’m used to bike riding several times a week to burn off energy at home, so I decided to check out our hotel’s fitness center. Besides the large outdoor pool that I plan to visit tomorrow, the fitness center has a spacious cardio and weight room. I spent about an hour running on a treadmill enjoying the view of the Philadelphia skyline. After that, we headed downtown to a restaurant called Butcher and Singer. The interior was beautifully lit, and we sat down at a table near the entrance. Only a minute or two later, we were joined by June Chu and Margaret Wang. Margaret is a current UPENN student from Guam who was very enthusiastic to talk with us about anything we were interested in. June, a pre-major advisor, was also very willing to tell us tons about UPENN. The most important thing that I took back from the evening was a taste of UPENN’s culture. I learned about the local restaurants, the huge number of student clubs, and that Margaret really enjoys her fellow students at the UPENN campus. With our stroll through the gorgeous Penn campus, and enthusiastic comments about Penn by Margaret, I am even more excited about learning at this beautiful Ivy League School.

Enough Said.

Inhabitants of the Botanical Park

Our First Glimpse of the Place We Will Call Home

My day began at 6:00 this morning. Brian and I were able to finish packing our things before 6:15, the time that we had designated to leave our hotel in Georgetown, and head for the train station. We arrived at Union Station with plenty of time to spare so we grabbed a quick breakfast from the Starbucks, which for me consisted of a bagel and hot chocolate, in the station. After a brief period of waiting to board the train, we were off to Philadelphia.

The train ride was only about an hour and a half long. For about the first twenty minutes, Mr. Miranda and I discussed innovations in learning that have been developed in recent years. This led to a conversation about the age gap between his generation and my own in which we analyzed the benefits and trade-offs of having technology that fosters a constant desire for instant gratification. I enjoy talking to Mr. Miranda very much. He is extremely intelligent and seems like a bit of a renaissance man because he is so knowledgeable about so many different things. We are very fortunate to have him as our chaperone. It is kind of saddening to think that we will be departing his company (for the most part) in just a few days. After my conversations with Mr. Miranda, I began listening to music and gazing upon the beautiful countryside and occasional towns that we passed on our smooth train ride to Philadelphia. Before I knew it, we had arrived in the City of Brotherly Love.

We took taxis to our hotel for early check-in so we could drop off our bags before the information session at Penn. It turns out that our hotel is adjacent to the campus (if not actually within, we cannot quite discern Penn’s boundaries yet). Before today, I only had a vague sense of what it meant for a college to have an urban campus. I had never imagined that it would mean such complete integration into the city. You truly cannot tell where the campus boundaries end and the city streets of Philadelphia begin. I’m still deciding whether I find this appealing or not. After check-in, we took a taxi as close to College Hall (the Penn Admissions Building) as we could. We had to walk the rest of the way, but that certainly is not a complaint because Penn’s campus can be easily appreciated for its ascetics. Upon our arrival at College Hall, we discovered that every person in the Admissions Office left early for the Fourth of July weekend!

Since there were no Penn faculty members, there was neither an information session to attend nor a campus tour to be taken on. Although we were slightly discouraged at first, we decided to take our own campus tour around parts of the campus. Although we were not able to get any of the history of the school or detailed information about what each building housed, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves by taking in Penn’s beautiful architecture, wildlife, and serene inner campus. I think my favorite part about the campus thus far is the architecture. Most of the buildings are either made completely out of stone or bricks, and most are very ornate. Every building seemed to be unique in its own way and it made the campus feel like a living thing that was in no way uniform. After taking our own personal tour, I am very excited to learn more about Penn and am even more anxious to move in on Monday.

Following our self-guided tour, we made a brief stop into the Penn Student Store and then grabbed lunch at a restaurant called Cosi that specialized in dishes involving flatbread. I forgot to snap some pictures, but I enjoyed a flavorful pesto chicken sandwich and a small bowl of creamy, rich tomato basil soup. I will definitely eat at Cosi again at some point this month, after I experiment with the other restaurants Penn’s campus and the surrounding city have to offer of course.

We finally had our first opportunity to relax this afternoon. The past two days have been rather hectic and it was nice to be able to slow down for a moment. Since we planned to do our tour of Philadelphia tomorrow, we decided to take the afternoon off. From about 1:30 to 5:15 we reclined in our respective hotel rooms. Brian and I spent the first couple of hours just hanging out and having some laughs. Then he left to take a run in the fitness center of the hotel and I decided to pay back some more of my sleep debt by taking a short nap. After I awoke refreshed, I got dressed for our dinner at the Butcher and Singer Restaurant with Ms. June Chu and Ms. Margaret Wang.

We left the hotel around 6:00 and taxied to the restaurant. The ride took less time than we thought and we arrived a good thirty-five minutes early. We took the opportunity to walk down to the massive and ornate Philadelphia City Hall. This mammoth building was made almost completely of stone and had dozens of statues and other artistic carvings adorning its exterior. I will have to take pictures from a distance during tomorrow’s sight-seeing so that I can capture it in all of its glory. After a twenty-minute walk, we had returned to the restaurant and were soon seated.

Dinner was fantastic and I am proud of myself for organizing the occasion (thanks for your assistance and suggestions Mr. Ramsey!). Ms. Chu, a Pre-Major Advisor from Penn, and Ms. Wang were both excellent company and very thorough whenever we had questions about the school. It was evident that they both loved the school very much and were happy with their decisions to work and attend, respectively, this university. Over the course of dinner, Ms. Chu was able to inform us about how intertwined the lives of the faculty and the students are and also the numerous pros of attending Penn. Margaret was also able to give us all kinds of inside information like excellent places to eat, fun classes to take (if we apply and get into Penn), and why she decided to go to Penn. Not only did we have excellent company, but also amazing food. The entrees were rather large and the sides were served family style. I enjoyed a tender piece of veal that was charred to perfection. We all shared dishes of mashed potatoes, green beans, mushrooms and onions, stuffed hash browns, and creamed spinach. Each of these dishes brought something exciting to the meal and my plate was a wonderful medley of flavors. For desert I decided to partake in some delectable New York Cheesecake with blackberries and nice blackberry sauce. The contrast of the sweet and bitter made for an excellent dessert. Dinner left me very satisfied, both in terms of my curiosity regarding Penn and in terms of the meal.

Today was a fairly relaxed day, and a welcome one at that. I continue to cherish the time I spend with my cohort because they are all fun people and we’ve really become a tightly-knit family over the past few days. I look forward to sight-seeing tomorrow and spending my Independence Day with our Penn cohort. With that, I am signing off.

Our new hotel room.

A glorious Philadelphia horizon.

A gigantic Penn crest.

Penn wildlife.

Wooden hands are surprisingly comfortable to sit on...

The six of us at Butcher and Singer.

First Impression

It was another early start today; we arrived at Union Station at about 6:45AM. The sheer size of the building was enough to wake me up a little. Compared to the Amtrak stations in the Bay Area, Union Station was a marble palace. It's obvious that trains are a much more widely used form of transportation here on the east coast than back at home. I now wish we had such easily accessible and exquisitely furnished train stations, the trip to Philadelphia was very pleasant. The seats were comfortable and the view out the window of the Maryland and Delaware lakes and greenery were quite beautiful.
Within about two hours, we were checking into our hotel in the exquisite city of Philadelphia. Immediately, the first thing I noticed when I arrived (after the scorching heat) was how very friendly and chatty the people we met were. Compared to the suit-clad brief-case-carrying commuters of D.C., the people in Philly seemed very personable. The trend continued throughout the day.

Before lunch, we strolled to the University of Pennsylvania campus hoping to catch the 11:00 information session and tour. Unfortunately, all the buildings were closed and most of the faculty had gone home for the Fourth of July long weekend. So instead, we showed ourselves around campus. Armed with a map, we found our way around all the amazing arcatectre of the stone and brick buildings that towered high above our heads.

As we explored the campus, I got more and more excited for the start of classes on Tuesday. Not only were the buildings, landscape work and walkways all very pleasant, I also got the feeling that when the campus wasn't deserted, it would be even more impressive and very lively.

On our stroll, we stumbled across a small, tranquil park. Complete with a coy fish pond that housed a multitude of turtles and ducks, a waterfall, and a winding path that passed by many secluded benches. We spent a long time in the shade of the trees taking in the wildlife. We met a very nice couple there who told us a little bit about the pond and how the animals survive during the winter when it freezes over, pointed out the biggest and oldest coy fish, nicknamed "Big Red", and recommended a very good restaurant to eat lunch.

We took their advice and found that the food was, in fact, quite good. They served flat bread that they baked in a huge oven right in front of us, it was pretty amazing.

After lunch we returned to the hotel for a few hours of downtime (an Ivy League Connection first) before hitting the city streets for a short stroll around the town before dinner. We walked past the very impressive city hall, the giant clothes pin, and countless shops and restaurant that all seemed very exciting.

I found myself enjoying the wide sidewalks and sky-high buildings of Philly. The city is great for walking in, an the uniform street layout made it easy to get around. I look forward to exploring it with my fellow ILCers whenever I can this month.

When we sat down to eat dinner, I must admit I was a little nervous. Tonight was the night we were meeting with June Y. Chu, an academic counselor at UPenn and Margaret Wang, a current student. As soon as the two showed up, I was immediately put at ease. Both of them were extremely friendly and quite funny. Margaret shared some valuable information with us about what it's like being a science major at Penn. She also told us which restaurants in the area she thought were good; it was quite a long list. In fact, When Ms. Chu asked her which restaurants she didn't like, Margaret was at a loss.

Ms. Chu also had a wealth of knowledge about the university. It was interesting to hear from her about what she thought set Penn apart from other Ivy Leagues, specifically that Penn makes a point to empower students and be as flexible with their individual ideas as possible. It was an overall very valuable experience and she very generously offered to answer any follow up questions we had once our program started via e-mail.

After wandering the campus and speaking with Margaret and Ms. Chu, I feel very confidant that this program is something that will challenge me as a student and a person, but that if I feel at all lost or confused I have a number of resources that I can turn too thanks to the Ivy League Connection.