Exactly a year ago, right at the peak of the 2nd wave of COVID, I sat at my desk writing my reflection on 2020. Being stuck at home during winter break, I was bored, exhausted, and somewhat depressed from everything the pandemic had brought on over the previous year. However, I found writing to be therapeutic. As I scrolled through my camera roll, I fondly relived the highlights of 2020 and reflected on everything the year had given me. After completing the first draft in about a day and a half, I realized that my 2020 was actually quite fun and eventful; I had tried to make of the most of it and had a lot to be proud of.
It was also around this darker time that I had decided to leverage the COVID remote situation to my advantage in 2021. During that winter break, I convinced a few friends to go to Hawai’i for a month in February and also arranged a few weekend getaways in January – Clear Lake, Tahoe, a couple ‘staycations’ in the Bay Area. At night, as a fun ‘escape’, I planned an itinerary for Italy that I didn’t expect to materialize.
Looking back at this year, I ended up going a little bit towards the extreme. There were only a handful of weekends in which I was in Berkeley, and later NYC. I actively tried to be always ‘on the go’, probably taking more plane rides than the last 3 years combined and definitely visiting more places than ever before. All in all, I think spent about 6 months of the year traveling.
All the stars aligned this year — I was beyond fortunate to be remote, have a 4 month break between graduation and starting work, and get the vaccine relatively early. As a result, I was able to spend about a month in Hawai’i, a month in Mexico City, 2 months in Europe, a month with family traveling, and also go on a dozen or so smaller trips interspersed in between. There will probably never be a year like 2021 again for me, but I know that traveling will be a bigger part of my life going forward. I feel like I unlocked an adventurous part of myself, perhaps originating as a repressed response from being stuck at home in 2020.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing my 2020 reflection and decided that I’d do it again in 2021. In fact, I had been collecting thoughts here and there in a note on my phone for things to include in the reflection. But about halfway through I realized that if I did the same thing as last year, this piece would be like 20,000+ words and take hours to read. Instead, I’ve selected 75 pictures (and 3 gifs) that highlight my year, with some backstory behind each one. They say a picture is a thousand words, you get the gist. Notably, I didn’t add any pictures of food here, even though pictures of food are probably 70% of my camera roll. I’ll save that for another piece.
January 2nd: I went down to the South Bay for 2 nights as part of my ‘staycation’ in the Bay Area over winter break. It was a rather uneventful trip; in fact I was motivated mainly to get the qualifying nights for Hyatt. Except for food, I only have this unremarkable photo of Stanford to show for my trip.
Something I discovered during my everlasting boredom over winter break was that it would be much easier to qualify for the Hyatt’s top status — Globalist. Hyatt had reduced the number of nights to qualify in 2021 from 60 to 30, and had a bonus in which each night stayed in January & February of 2021 counted as 2 nights. By applying for the credit card, I got another 10 qualifying nights, which meant that I only had to stay 10 nights between Jan-Feb to attain globalist status until 2023. So that’s why I went down to Cupertino. It’s also why I had another ‘staycation’ in SF three weeks later.
Was it worth it? From a purely economic perspective, yes, but with asterisks. In Minneapolis I was upgraded to a suite that had more TVs than occupants (3 TVs for the 2 of us), while I now write most of this article at a Hyatt lounge in Cartagena. But loyalty programs thrive on some part of irrationality though, like my love affair with sweetgreen. We’ll talk about that later.
January 16th (Fort Bragg, CA): enjoying a takeout meal along the NorCal coast in the fog. We took a road trip up to Clear Lake that was 60% leisure and 40% work: while seeing the best of what a Northern California January had to offer, we were trying to jumpstart the ECON 140 semester.
In Spring 2021, I switched from being a GSI for DATA 8 (Foundations of Data Science) to ECON 140 (Econometrics) in order to assist the transformation of the course to Python. To us, using Python (or R for that matter) was the future; compared to STATA, it was open source (read: free), far more extensible, and more applicable to other domains as well. However, it wasn’t an easy task: we had to get buy-in not just from students who did not know Python, but also other GSIs who did not know Python. During our weekend in Clear Lake, we created an additional lab for Python resources and hosted a walkthrough for the rest of course staff.
Unrelated, but I remember we went to a Safeway during this trip and saw a 7-up cake on sale in the bakery section. I really wanted to get it but my friend was very against the idea of ingesting 7-up cake, so we didn’t end up getting it. To this day, I still wonder what a 7-up cake tastes like.
January 19th (Berkeley, CA): what my schedule looked like that day. I ended up dropping CS 194 and INFO 232, stopped attending the CS 267 live lecture, and only went to about half of the STAT 259 lectures.
In Spring 2021, I went at about 40% effort compared to previous semesters. I attribute this to three main causes: firstly, things became a bit more stale by the 10th semester in college and 9th at the Division of Data Sciences. Secondly I had accumulated a tremendous amount burnout over the last 2 semesters of intense online school + 4.5 years of university, that even going at 40% often felt like too much. And lastly, since the semester mostly coincided with travel, the opportunity cost was much higher.
January 30th (Tahoe, CA): playing with snow at Lake Tahoe. It was the first time in a few years since I last saw snow. We had bought lift tickets for a ski resort that day, but the parking lot was full by the time we showed up so that we couldn’t even get in. Instead, we spent the day exploring Lake Tahoe and playing with snow, a novelty for quite a few of us.
February 5th (Berkeley, CA): I finally hit gold status in sweetgreen, after a summer and semester’s worth of hard work. The loyalty program was basically nonexistent – I think you had access to a concierge (why would you need a concierge for a salad shop!?), early access to new items, and a free salad on your birthday or something.
They shut down the loyalty program soon after. I haven’t been back since.
February 9th (Kihei, HI): working remotely in Maui. Hawai’i was 2 hours behind the west coast, so my 9AMs became 7AMs, which I soon stopped attending.
February 12th (Kihei, HI): sunrise over Maui. We went snorkeling at Molokini crater, which had a breathtaking amount of fish. I swam behind a sea turtle for a bit, and saw whales quite a few times too.
February 13th (Maui, HI): driving the road to Hana, footage from the drone. It is one of the most fun road trips I’ve been on: there are dozens of waterfalls, scenic views of the ocean, and plenty of fun stops along the way including a large cave that we explored and delicious banana bread (get it as a sundae). The mustang was an iconic way to go around the island. We stayed a night in Hana to catch the sunrise on the east coast, and were able to see the famous black sand beach without any other tourists.
February 14th (Maui, HI): getting our car stuck in the sand on the way back from Hana. We decided to venture a little off the road into the valley, but got stuck about 100 meters in. Turns out the mustang is not an all wheel drive.
Three Hawaiian lads who were on a group Valentine’s date off-roading spent 3 hours helping us engineering solutions to get our car out. Ultimately their jeep was able to tug it out, as seen in the picture above. We felt terrible for ruining their date, but they didn’t seem to mind at all and were so helpful throughout.
February 15th (Kahului, HI): taking a Boeing 717 to Honolulu. Boeing only made 156 of these aircraft around the turn of the 21st century. Today, there are fewer than 100 still in operation today by 3 airlines, with most now being phased out. Hawaiian airlines owns 19 of these and flies them inter-island.
February 19th (Honolulu, HI): a rainbow over the Palolo valley, near our place in Honolulu. Hawai’i is the land of rainbows: when I was there, it rained daily but never for long, and when the sun revealed itself a cheery rainbow would sit over the mountains.
February 24th (Honolulu, HI): I caught a shiny 100 IV legendary pokemon, the emblem for team Mystic. If you have no idea what’s going on in this picture, just know that this is very rare in Pokemon Go: it happens once in 6³ * 20 = 4320 (chance of 100 IV * chance of shiny) raids. For context, I think I did like <100 raids this year.
February 27th (Honolulu, HI): Fisherman at Ka’ena point, the westernmost tip of O’ahu. My friend described it as ‘the edge of the world’, and it definitely felt like it: we were at the tip of the island, with mountains behind us and the sun setting over the endless ocean.
The hike itself isn’t too hard terrain wise — the path is also used by off-roading vehicles — but it is fairly long at 3-ish miles each way. We did the walk in the late afternoon and were awarded with a majestic sunset with pink clouds. I saw a seal right next to me when I went out onto the rocks. However, if you plan on doing this, make sure to bring a flashlight because it’ll be dark on the way back. We foolishly did not consider this when doing the hike, but managed to hitch a ride back in a Jeep from two guys who came to do some off-roading — my first time hitchhiking. The whole ride back took about 15 minutes and was super bumpy like an amusement ride. We definitely got lucky as there weren’t many people out there.
March 1st (Oakland, CA): got my first Pfizer shot. I flew back from Hawai’i for just a day to get the vaccine and spent about 450$ in the process. At the time, vaccination eligibility was quite exclusive, but somehow California began allowing educators to get the shot. I was able to snag an appointment by logging onto the site exactly at 12AM on Friday for the Monday after, then I booked my tickets back.
In retrospect this was a pretty ‘extra’ move; I had been scared that by the time I returned to Hawai’i they would’ve tightened the eligibility requirements and thus would’ve had to wait until July (that was the ETA back then).
I’m glad I did it though. I was only able to go to Mexico for a month because I was fully vaccinated by then. In fact, I remember asking myself on the plane back to Hawai’i: ‘since I’ll be fully vaccinated by 3/22, where should I go next?’ That’s when I decided to go to Mexico City.
March 6th (Honolulu, HI): view from the upper Makua caves. Reaching this cave is technically illegal, much like many of the hikes in Hawai’i. You enter through a non-descript entrance into dense fields then follow the trail and slowly ascend upwards through tall grass.
At the top, there are a couple ‘caves’, really just openings in the mountain that help you frame the view to make it particularly picturesque. During sunset, even though the mountain on the side blocks the view to the sun, how the sunlight reflects off the Leeward (West) coast is beautiful.
March 10th (Honolulu, HI): hiking the Wiliwilinui trail. About halfway through, the heaviest rain in the last 15 years struck that caused a power outage in our neighborhood for the night. Parts of the trail turned into a rushing stream, while my pockets and backpack started collecting pools of water that broke all of my electronics except my phone (so much for the gore-tex on the Arc’teryx). I remember loud strikes of thunder and fearing that I wouldn’t be able to make it out as it began to get dark. I somehow managed to call an Uber despite my phone screen being completely wet, and waited for 20 minutes under someone’e garage while hoping they wouldn’t cancel on me.
The hike is otherwise pretty nice, you walk along the ridges inwards and see pristine valleys on either side.
March 11th (Honolulu, HI): at the Pali Notches. It was one of the most fun ‘hikes’ I’ve done, requiring quite a bit of rock-climbing and abseiling with the ropes provided. It was definitely the most interesting trail out of all the hikes I did in Hawai’i. Upon getting to the top, you can then follow the ridge to go further up. The view at the ridge looks outwards to Kailua on one side and towards the valley on the other. I felt very accomplished after completing the hike.
March 26th (San Jose, CA): buying a brand new Lego Cafe Corner (10182) from Craigslist. I took the BART all the way down to Berryessa to get the set, then went back up with a fellow masters student who had never been to Berkeley to show him around.
This set has been my white whale since when I started collecting Lego 5 years ago: it’s the first set in the modular building series, and was discontinued in 2009.
April 7th (Mexico City, Mexico): walking in Polanco. I was coincidentally in CDMX when the jacaranda trees were blooming. The streets were covered with these purple flowers, creating these idyllic and quaint neighborhood scenes especially in more historic neighborhoods like Roma or Condesa. This photo really doesn’t do it justice; I took this picture because the tree pictured here was particularly large.
April 7th (Mexico City, Mexico): working in a particularly cute café. My routine in CDMX was to find a new café every day to work out of for the day, and this also encouraged me to walk around and ‘feel out’ many of the different neighborhoods.
One thing I worked on a lot during my time in Mexico City were applications to early access MBA programs. I really didn’t enjoy writing the essays: it was like applying to college all over again, trying to craft a story about your identity and convince schools that you have unlimited potential. In particular, I remember writing this essay with the prompt what makes you feel alive when you’re doing it? I thought about the essay topic for days, struggling to name a single thing that made me feel ‘alive’. I remember considering things like food, travel, or whatever, but they all felt like such basic responses that really didn’t positively build out my profile.
Ultimately, I found the answer a few layers deeper — I had to repeatedly ask why? Why did I do the activities/courses I ended up doing in college? Why was I all the way in Mexico City? Why did I try out all the shave ice flavors in O’ahu? It made me realize that I lived to explore beyond what’s familiar . Through writing these essays, I learned a little bit more about myself that I never really thought about.
April 18th (Mexico City, Mexico): a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over Teotihuacán. It was my first hot air balloon ride, and honestly the ride by itself isn’t too special. However, the tour allows you to see the entirety of Teotihuacán, so that when you get back down to walk around the site you realize how impressively massive the complex actually is. These temples are each 100+ meters in length.
May 8th (Milwaukee, WI): the first Harley-Davidson motorbike at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to Chicago for a long weekend right around finals week (I had no finals), and took a day trip to Milwaukee. We did a river cruise, tried some squeaky cheese curds (Lakefront brewery is the place), and also took a picture in front of the stadium of the soon-to-be 2021 NBA champions.
May 11th (South Bend, IN): walking around the University of Notre Dame. A friend of mine from high school is currently doing his MD-PhD there, so we took a train from Chicago to visit. Notre Dame was like the picture-perfect American college, the kind that appears in movies. It had all the tropes and was without blemish: everything from the roads to the buildings felt brand-new, students hung out on many of the different quads, and the buildings styles ranged appropriately from faux-old to futuristic.
May 16th (Berkeley, CA): I graduated and walked in front of an empty memorial stadium. This photo is taken moments before my cap landed in the Hearst Mining Fountain behind.
On paper it seems that graduating from college is perhaps the biggest transition in life; from being a student to a member of the labor force, or from being a net negative to a net positive in income. But it didn’t feel like it. Maybe it was because the presence of ‘school’ had already been diminished to something remote and inconsequential over the last year, or that these things just take a while to kick in. Regardless, I remember not feeling much accomplishment when I walked to receive a ‘certificate of participation’ for the in-person commencement; it was just another procedure.
May 21st (Montana): the viewing cabin of the Empire Builder. I went to visit Adeena for a few days in Portland after graduating, and then took Amtrak’s Empire Builder train to Fargo, North Dakota. It was sort of a random trip that I had decided to take two weeks prior, motivated partly to stare out a window into nature in an attempt to cleanse my mind. I also wanted to visit the ‘true’ Midwest that wasn’t just Chicago.
The Empire Builder was an oddly replenishing experience. I think the past semester had put me to a stage where doing nothing for 36 hours seemed particularly desirable. For most of the day I sat in the viewing carriage looking out the window, and also used the time to write about my experiences in Hawaii.
The amenities on Amtrak trains are fairly poor; the train was delayed by 3 hours (!), there was no shower or internet, and the food options were so limited that all I had was one of those American cup noodles that taste solely of MSG. But the lack of cell reception or wifi for most of the ride turned out to be a big plus in avoiding worldly distractions. The scenery defined the trip; it’s not that they were constantly beautiful or interesting — in fact most of the ride consisted of endless expanses of fields — but that it allowed me to ‘observe’ the rural countryside and to let my thoughts run free. I made a short video of some scenes I saw on the trip.
May 22nd (Fargo, ND): exploring Fargo, a city whose greatest attraction is a movie theatre with the words “FARGO” written on its sign. Across the river in Moorhead, MN there was a replica of a Viking church, as well as a Viking boat that recently sailed from Norway to the Americas in order to recreate the journey Vikings had taken a millenium ago. Maybe that’s what Midwestern culture and heritage is about.
May 22nd (Minnesota): watching Nomadland on the 4-hr bus ride from Fargo to Minneapolis. Note the jank engineering we did to keep the laptop stable.
Nomadland was a great film. The cinematography is fantastic, and showcases the beautiful yet more forgotten parts of the US. The movie felt more about conveying a ‘mood’ than an actual plot, showcasing a meagre and simple lifestyle in ‘exile from society’.
May 24th (Manly, IA): visiting Manly, Iowa. In Minneapolis, we decided that driving to Iowa to cross it off the 50-state list was the best use of our time. Manly is a dying town in Northern Central Iowa that the railway no longer services, such that its only notable attraction — the railroad museum — has since closed too. We stopped by because it stemmed from an inside joke between me and Adeena.
On the way back, we stopped by the SPAM museum. I also went to WalMart for the first time in my life that day (!).
May 30th (Berkeley, CA): everything I’ve learned in college, in one picture. While cleaning out my room, I found all the exam ‘cheat-sheets’ I had created over the semesters.
It was a blast to the past to when school was in person, and wow I spent so much effort cramming those sheets with every single detail in tiny 0.3mm font. It felt stark contrasting them to what the school and exam experience had become with Zoom University.
June 5th (Shelton, WA): crossing the Vance Creek Bridge. Vance Creek bridge is a railway arch bridge about 100 meters tall, abandoned since the 70s. You’ve probably seen it before on social media.
We hiked for about an hour to get to the other end, then crossed the bridge to go back. It was an exhilarating experience — my heart rate was heightened and my palms were sweating profusely — but really it wasn’t that dangerous unless you were near the edge. The wooden slats you could see through all the way to the bottom of the valley mostly weren’t large enough to fall through, and the boards were generally stable. In fact, I didn’t feel any sense of fear until I dropped my lens cap and it fell through. Something switched on in my mind that second; perhaps I began to realize the possibility of a potential fall, and I wanted to get off.
June 8th (Rome, Italy): everything in my one bag during my 2-month Europe trip. In hindsight, I still brought too much stuff: I didn’t use half my toiletries and probably could’ve left a pair or two of pants.
I booked my trip less than a month before departure, when Italy announced designated ‘safe travel flights’ to resume tourism. There were way fewer tourists than normal years, which meant less waiting at tourist attractions and easier reservations at popular spots: I reserved Osteria Francescana only 2 weeks before, and was able to get same day tickets to the Vatican museums.
June 10th (Rome, Italy): exploring the streets of Rome. Rome is a historic city that constantly reminds you of this fact; elements of the Roman Empire or Republic are common, interspersed between mostly classic buildings from the 17th or 18th century.
June 12th (Bagnoregio, Italy): view of Civita di Bagnoregio. I took a day trip from Rome to visit this town set atop a mountain that supposedly inspired the movie The Castle in the Sky, and I highly recommend it because it’s so unique and picturesque. The town is stuck in the middle ages and slowly dying, only accessible by foot. Check out this video about the city.
June 15th (Positano, Italy): taking a high-speed ferry from Amalfi to Positano. Paul Klee once described Positano as “the only town in the world conceived on a vertical, rather than a horizontal axis”, as stairs were the main way to get around town. I remember trying to visit the town and having to stop often for breaks because my heavy one-bag didn’t interact well with stairs.
The Amalfi Coast was definitely one of the most beautiful places I went to in 2021. It’s breathtakingly pretty because of how human and nature interact. The Amalfi drive, the 2-lane coastal highway connecting the coastal towns, was one of the most scenic yet stressful roads I’ve been on. Next time I’m in Italy, I will definitely return to rent a Vespa and drive down the coast.
June 15th (Naples, Italy): walking to my Airbnb in the Spanish Quarter. To be honest, I was not expecting to see a scene like this in Western Europe. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Shanghai’s Nongtang, except with even higher density and disorganization.
June 18th (Umbria, Italy): view from my monastic cell at Eremito. It was one of the most unique hotels I’ve been to, if you can even call it a hotel. Eremito is a monastery in the middle of nowhere, the place you come for a complete detox; rooms are modeled after the cells of medieval monks, phone use is discouraged and there is no wifi/signal, and the main pastimes include yoga or hiking. After the completely silent and vegan dinner complete with monastic chants, I chatted with other guests sitting around the communal fireplace as the sun set, drinking a cup of home-grown herbal apple tea. At night, I saw fireflies for the first time.
June 19th (???, Italy): can you guess where I am? (Hint: Galileo)
June 21st (Florence, Italy): buying street art in Florence.
While I was walking by the Pitti Palace, her style stood out to me immediately in the sea of street artists in Florence; originally I was drawn to the abstract ‘multi-layered’ watercolors + pen etchings that came out of the frame, but I ended up buying four abstract scenes of the Tuscan countryside that connected together.
After I completed the purchase, she told me to ‘take a photo of the artist and her work!’
June 22nd (Venice, Italy): a welcome gift from the Hyatt in Venice. I also happened to submit my SIR to MBA programs that day, so the Prosecco came in handy :)
June 23rd (Venice, Italy): going up San Marco’s Campanile. From the top, you get an unobstructed view of Venice and the other islands nearby.
This is the tower that Berkeley’s Sather Tower was inspired from (which is also affectionately called the Campanile); a bit ironic since I’ve never been up the one in Berkeley during my 5 years there.
June 24th (Modena, Italy): walking around the gardens of Casa Maria Luigia before dinner. For context, Casa Maria Luigia is the country guesthouse of Osteria Francescana (a pretty good restaurant), which serves a tasting menu consisting of the classics from the restaurant.
I feel this picture really captures the two things Modena is most known for: Ferrari and Osteria Francescana. In fact, this was Chef Massimo Bottura’s Ferrari. Right before dinner service, he walked over to his car, took out his chef coat and put it on while saying jokingly, ‘like superman [putting on his suit]’.
I stayed for 5 days in Modena to truly understand what it was like to live in Italy. It was inspired by one of my favorite shows, Master of None, in which the main protagonist moves temporarily to Modena to learn how to make pasta. I didn’t have much of a plan in Modena; I shopped at the central market for in-season cherries and tomatoes, went to local homecooking restaurants without looking up reviews beforehand, and browsed the Sunday antique market in the central piazza for random old stuff.
June 27th (San Marino): visiting San Marino, the 5th smallest country in the world. It’s a beautiful microstate mainly perched atop a mountain, overlooking the surrounding Italian countryside.
June 29th (Cinque Terre, Italy): sunset of Manarola. I stood at this viewpoint for the entire duration of the sunset, watching the sunlight reflecting off the buildings turn from yellow to gold to red. I remember thinking to myself that this was a scene I never wanted to forget.
July 3rd (Milan, Italy): go bears.
I saw a guy wearing a Berkeley shirt and instinctively exclaimed “Go Bears!”. He was confused and didn’t know much English; turns out he had no idea what he was wearing and that he bought this shirt just because it looked cool.
July 6th (Berlin, Germany): on a walking tour of the abandoned Spreepark. Spreepark was a theme park built in East Berlin during the late 1960s, which continued operating after the Berlin Wall fell. In 2002, the theme park was declared insolvent, and its owner was subsequently caught for smuggling cocaine while transporting theme park equipment.
Today, there are ongoing efforts to turn Spreepark into a public park. The rollercoaster ride shown above will instead become a public walkway into the cat’s mouth.
A city with a somewhat tricky history, Berlin has done an impressive job repurposing its historical sites into modern facilities while paying homage to the past. For example, the Berlin Wall Memorial along Bernauer Strasse features original poles marking where the wall once stood, complete with touching information placards telling personal stories of families affected by the wall. It also doubles as a strip of urban greenspace, a popular jogging track for residents and frolicking spot for dogs. I also took a tour of the perfectly preserved Tempelhof airport, the main site of the Berlin airlift, which hasn’t been in operation since 2008. The airport runway has been converted into a large urban green space, often used for electronic music festivals.
July 16th (Prague, Czechia): sunset from the Old Town Bridge Tower, overlooking the Charles Bridge.
Prague is a unique and historic city; the significant tourist sites like the Charles Bridge, Castle, or Tyn Church are gothic from around the 15th century, while most of the buildings in the old town are from the classical period.
I got pretty sick in Prague and ended up staying for a week and a half. Consequently, I have pretty mixed memories about the place.
July 18th (Verbier, Switzerland): the walk back home after dinner in the village at Le Châble. I stayed a few nights here while taking paragliding lessons. My days in the Swiss countryside, away from tourist hotspots, were serene and idyllic. I’d love to come back and live here for much longer some day.
July 19th (Verbier, Switzerland): paragliding ground school.
For 2 whole days, we ran up and down a field, learning how to take-off and land. It was tiring and grilling in the sun, and the fact that we were 2200 meters above sea level didn’t help. But at least the location was beautiful, and we also got lucky with the sunny weather. It had been raining all week last week, but this meant the ground was still muddy so my shoes were wet the whole day.
On day 3, we were like young birds who had just learned how to fly: we ran off an incline into the valley about a mile high, flying completely solo for 15 minutes. The pre-flight of that first flight was a bit nerve-racking, but once in the air my nervousness faded immediately. This was probably the closest to human flight I could get to, and the pain from the last two days became worth it. I hope to find time next year to complete my lessons and get my license.
July 23rd (Jungfrau, Switzerland): at the Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe. I was severely underdressed for the occasion — I wore a pair of shorts and a light jacket in freezing temperatures with strong winds.
July 23rd (Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland): view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley from the Murren Via Ferrata trail. This was one of the most exhilarating and scenic hikes I’ve ever done. Through the 3 hour trek along the side of the valley, I crossed multiple waterfalls, hanging bridges, and briefly felt a paralyzing sense of vertigo on a section only consisting of iron rungs directly above the valley.
July 24th (Grindelwald, Switzerland): at Bachalpsee, an alpine lake near Mt. First.
I felt very connected to nature the two weeks I was in Switzerland. I made a video about my time in Switzerland here. I hope it conveys the nature vibe that I now treasure.
July 26th (Zermatt, Switzerland): seeing the Matterhorn from Riffelsee.
I woke up early to catch the first train up to Riffelsee, Toblerone in hand. It was only me and this girl there, and we were both trying to take this shot. However, it was not easy getting the perfect picture with one hand holding the bar and the other aiming the camera. We ended up teaming together to take the picture above: she held the bar and I snapped the shot.
Unfortunately, clouds covered the scenic peak the entire time I was in Zermatt. This picture here was when it was least covered: the Toblerone bar hides the clouds shrouding the peak.
July 29th (Lucerne, Switzerland): hiking in the clouds at Mt Pilatus.
August 1st (Poissy, France): visiting Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier in a suburb of Paris.
I really enjoy (modern) architecture; it combines practicality and design, and the viewing experience is very interactive. I saw some pretty special buildings this year. In Mexico City I saw the house of Luis Barragan and experienced how he incorporated light and color in his works. In Milan, the Bosco Verticale was a stark definition of urban greenery. In Berlin, Zurich, and here in Paris, I learned about Le Corbusier’s vision of modern homes.
August 2nd (Paris, France): I took a timelapse of Paris from the Hyatt, using 2 hotel cups as my tripod. I had originally been upgraded to a suite during my stay, but I instead requested a downgrade to a standard room for the view.
August 4th (Brussels, Belgium): seeing Empire of Light, at the Magritte museum in Brussels. I’m a big fan of Magritte’s thought-provoking, often paradoxical, style. Here, the painting presents a peaceful night scene at the street level, but also a serene day scene in the sky. Combined, the two otherwise calming settings make the viewer a little uneasy.
August 6th (Paris, France): visiting the Musée d’Orsay, the Mecca for Impressionist art.
I visited quite a few of art museums during my time in Europe, from the Uffizi in Florence to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, with time periods spanning from Ancient to Contemporary. I learned a lot from guided tours and audio guides that I’ve all forgotten by now. Money well spent?
August 9th (Mukilteo, WA): One of the pinkest sunsets I’ve experienced. For a brief 5 minutes, it was surreal.
August 16th (Zion, Utah): hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. I ambitiously convinced my family to wake up at 4:30 AM in order to avoid the crowds and beat the mid-August heat. But even then, there was a considerable line for the first bus out, and many sections were still clogged. The hike is supposed to be quite dangerous and daunting for those who fear heights, but the long queues of hikers near the top didn’t allow me to fully realize this. It was epic up there though, with a beautiful view of the Zion canyon in the desert.
August 17th (Zion, Utah): hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park. After Angel’s Landing, I did The Narrows, named after the narrowest section of the canyon.
For the entirety of the trek, you hike up a river with towering sandstone walls on both sides. Navigating the route along the river is a fun challenge, and if you didn’t do it right the water could get up to your chest. It’s not an easy hike: there were fewer and fewer people along the way, and by the end only a handful remained. The 9 mile hike took 5 hours to complete, and nobody overtook me. By the next day, my arms were more sore than my legs because I relied on my hiking stick as a third leg to keep balance.
August 17th (Page, AZ): looking up to see the ‘seahorse’ from the Lower Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon was truly special and felt out of this world. It’s very aesthetically pleasing from how the light shines into the smooth canyon (make sure to go around noon). I spent the entire tour taking photos, but I regret this slightly; I wish I had spent at least had 5–10 minutes with my camera away just to take it all in with my eyes.
August 28th (Cabo San Lucas, Mexico): Kayaking near the famous arch of Cabo. We had to go out at 7AM before it got too hot and the commercial boats started their tours. While I enjoyed visiting Cabo with Adeena, I will not make the mistake of visiting the beaches of Mexico in the summer again; it was unbearably hot, sunny, and humid outside, making most of the activities one would do in Cabo almost unenjoyable.
August 30th (Berkeley, CA): walking on campus through Upper Sproul. It was a throwback to see UC Berkeley lively again like before the pandemic; I was sort of in disbelief walking down Sproul again getting flyered by clubs.
I went back to Berkeley to ship my belongings that I had stored in a storage unit over the summer off to NYC. I came to visit campus and also lectured for the first class of DATA 88E: Economic Models. It was surreal to be in front of 100 students after two and a half semesters online, and really felt like a fulfilling way to close my (five-year long) chapter at Cal.
September 2nd (Palo Alto, CA): waiting in the night for a tow truck at Stanford. My friend popped his tire right before picking me up for dinner. We spent an hour trying to jack up the car, gave up and went to dinner, then came back and waited a couple more hours in the chilly and windy summers of Palo Alto before the tow truck arrived.
September 25th (Dallas, Texas): attending the Texas State Fair. Ever since I saw a youtube video about eating fried butter at the Texas State Fair, it’s been on my bucket list. Fortunately, we had a company offsite in Dallas the week right before the Fair started, so I stayed the weekend.
The Texas State Fair is a hubristic showcase on the creative extents of deep fried foods. You can have deep fried lemonade and butter (it tastes like what you imagine it to taste like — melted butter in fried dough), as well as classics like oreos or corndogs, which were invented at the fair almost 100 years ago. However, my favorite thing at the fair was the turkey leg; it wasn’t even deep fried.
October 11th (NYC, NY): golden hour in my apartment. On a day with good weather, my apartment turns ‘golden’ for about 5 minutes right before sunset. The moment is fleeting, so I’ve learned to appreciate it.
I’m grateful for the west-facing direction of my apartment, and it also comes with a view of the Manhattan skyline. In addition, the corner location allows for a great deal of natural lighting, which I think really helps me feel less burned out from long days of working from home.
October 22nd (NYC, NY): experiencing Porter Robinson’s Nurture live.
Nurture is the album I’ve listened to the most this year — in fact, Spotify recently told me that I ranked in the top 0.5% of all Porter Robinson listeners this year. The album varies in emotion, and every piece is quite touching. A few of the tracks are quite serene, almost videogame sound-track like.
I have a lot of memories associated with the different tracks of Nurture. When I listen to these songs I get hit by a wave of nostalgia: I remember listening to Look at the Sky on the last day I was in Mexico City, walking around Chapultepec and looking up as the Jacaranda trees started to wither. I played the album on repeat while watching nature roll by on the Empire Builder, and the video I made from that uses Lifelike as the soundtrack. Get your wish, the first album’s first single released back in early 2020, brings back memories of the early days of quarantine in Portland.
October 24th (Oklahoma City, OK): touring the living room of a mission-style home in Heritage Hills. The highlight of my time in Oklahoma City was completely unplanned for: I was passing through the city’s ‘rich’ neighborhood while walking from lunch to the OKC bombing memorial when I stumbled upon the annual Heritage Hills Historical Homes Tour. For a weekend every year, a bunch of rich people open up their houses for us commoners to admire, and charge $20 for the experience — a weird way to flex I suppose. Nonetheless, it was an experiential version of flipping through a picture-perfect interior design magazine; the amount of detail put in to balance creativity, history, and livability was inspiring. I felt I got a slice of what (high socioeconomic status) life in Oklahoma was like.
October 30th (Chicago, IL): seeing a Chicago Bulls game at United Center. DeMar DeRozan is pretty good at basketball.
November 6th (New Windsor, NY): enjoying Fall at Storm King Art Center.
November 28th (Vieques, Puerto Rico): exploring the abandoned W resort.
Vieques is a smaller island 25 minutes away by prop-plane, known for its lack of tourism development. While its sites were not particularly remarkable — there were no viewpoints and the snorkeling was dull — there was a genuine country charm about the island. Wild horses roam freely and the roads are often unpaved. There are no major hotel chains on the island; Hurricane Maria had caused the only W retreat to permanently close.
After learning about this place from seeing the now closed W airport lounge on Google Maps, I reasoned that it’d be fun to visit the abandoned resort. Guards didn’t stop us as we drove through the gate into the residential area nearby, so we parked our golf cart and snuck in. Perhaps because everything — even the toilets — had been removed, there was nobody on patrol.
December 12th (Kansas City, Missouri): at the Nelson-Atkins museum of Art.
I didn’t expect to want to return to Kansas City. Originally, we had decided to go there to tick off two states – Kansas and Missouri – but that was it.
My short weekend there turned out to be very insufficient. There were many interesting museums like the Toy Museum to the TWA museum that I didn’t get the chance to go to, partly because they were closed on Sundays (that was a big theme in KC). There’s also a lot of food–some BBQ some not BBQ–that I want to try.
December 13th (Toronto, Canada): sunset from the Toronto office.
I got a 3-year Canadian work permit just to see a Toronto Raptors game.
It all started because I accidentally responded Going to a Toronto case team event thinking it was online, but my Canadian colleagues were like “why don’t you just come over?” and I was like “why not?”. One thing led to another and I ended up applying for a work permit. I colocated in the Toronto office during the last week of case work in 2021, and took this photo from the office.
December 18th (NYC, NY): cosplaying as skyscrapers at the Skyscraper Museum in NYC.
December 24th (Miami Beach, FL): admiring art deco buildings. To save 100 dollars on our flight to Medellín, we opted for a 24-hour long trip with an overnight layover in Charlotte and a 7 hour layover in Miami.
Originating from a rejection of modernist architecture, the art deco buildings of Miami Beach are iconic. They integrate color distinctively and incorporate ‘maximalist’ elements with inspiration from ocean liners to vacuum cleaners.
December 25th (Medellín, Colombia): overlooking Medellín in District 13.
Medellín is a very colorful and lively place. It felt like every household owned an industrial-grade stereo that they blasted music with. In between the countless nativity scenes and big pots of Christmas stew cooked right on the sidewalk, we really got a sense of a Latin American Christmas.
December 26th (Bogotá, Colombia): just an alpaca eating some mangoes in Plaza Bolivar.
December 30th (Santa Marta, Colombia): on a bird-watching tour. Do you see the parrot? (Hint: look next to the tower)
Adeena and I woke up at 5AM to go on a bird-watching tour, after I convinced her that Colombia had the most diverse species of birds in the world. She probably hates me for it though: it wasn’t just because it was 5 AM or that bird-watching is a fundamentally ‘boring’ activity, but that we got like 100 bug bites each (I’m not exaggerating) in the short 2 hour span we were out. Our legs were like painted with polkadots.