American public transit gothic

  • Your map says the bus is due. The transit system app says the bus is due. Moovit says the bus is due. The schedule at the bus stop says the bus is due. The automated system you texted INFO to says the bus is due. You find yourself almost believing it.
  • You show up to the bus stop a few minutes early just to be safe. The bus already left. It laughs in the face of your hubris. You are reminded of how powerless you really are.
  • You are walking to the bus stop. The bus is pulling away from the bus stop. You chase after it. You wonder if this is how Sisyphus feels.
  • It is raining. You question the existence of any god who would allow this.
  • The payment system keeps changing. Scan a QR code, swipe a card, tap a card, pay on your phone, pay before you board, pay after you board, say the right incantation, sprinkle some dirt from the foundation of your childhood home on the seat, draw a hyper realistic portrait of your lover on the window. Make sure to bring cash and a dry erase marker.
  • The bus pulls into a stop. It stays there for an uncomfortably long amount of time. No one knows what it’s waiting for. We all held our breaths.
  • The bus pulls into a stop. The driver makes everyone get off. It’s not the last stop. It stirs up your fear of abandonment.
  • You get off the bus to catch a connecting bus to a tram that will take you to the ferry to catch another bus to the train station to catch a train to the metro. You still cannot shake the shrouded figure following you.
  • You get off at your stop. You walk two more miles. You are reminded of the futility of it all.
  • You told someone you took the bus there. They stared at you unblinkingly. You see fear in their eyes. You lower your gaze. You don’t think they are afraid of you, but you can’t be sure.
  • The bus doesn’t run on weekends. Everyone must stay home, where there is the illusion of safety. For all the good that does.

The Captain’s Log at HackIllinois

Friday, February 19, 2016
1:05 PM — Hit the road
2:27 PM — Quick pit stop.
        “Flannery stay in the car and don’t get arrested.”
2:35 PM — Realization that Champaign-Urbana is on central time, which means we are going to get there an hour early
2:50 PM — “Did you know that taking a dead body is technically not classified         as theft?”
        “Chau, this fun fact had better not end with ‘So guys, I was
2:34 PM — Crossed Illinois state line, changed to central time
3:15 PM — Stopped to buy ethernet cables (that we never even used)
3:40 PM — Arrived
        “How will we know where the room is?”
        “Just follow the trail of ethernet cables.”
3:45 PM — Pee break because registration wasn’t open yet, and we’ve been driving for 4 hours straight
3:46 PM — Idea for a pee-related app
5:00 PM — “We should make sure that app doesn’t already exist.”
        “I mean, if it does we can always make a better version of it.”
        “No we can’t.”
5:05 PM — Stood in line to register
5:20 PM — Career fair
unknown copy
9:45 PM — “Why don’t we work on researching the model and you look into
        being the actual computer science person?”
10:30 PM — Microsoft Azure workshop
11:30 PM — “I don’t have enough hands to hold all the snacks I want.”
        “It’s a rough life.”
11:45 PM — Brought in a designer from Georgia Tech

Saturday, February 20, 2016
1:30 AM — Found out confusing issue was just browser related
2:20 AM — Realization that machine learning is the way to go
2:30 AM — “I’m going to go change pants.”
        “That sounds so good right now.”
2:57 AM — Nap time!
10:30 AM — “You look like a teenage girl at a slumber party, which is such an
        interesting juxtaposition to coding an app about pee.”
12:15 PM — “Paint me like one of your French girls.”
12:40 PM — 10 minutes of this:
1:45 PM — Blue Waters Supercomputer!
unknown (1)
unknown (3)
unknown (2)
4:00 PM — *hides in blanket and cries silently*
4:30 PM — “Soylent tastes kind of like liquid oatmeal.”
5:15 PM — “So I’ve decided to switch to objective-C.”
        “I feel like this affects me.”
7:15 PM — Finally got swipe recognition to work
7:42 PM — “Fight me! Just kidding. I’m real weak right now.”
8:06 PM — “Ok, this fortune reveals the key to the rest of this Hackathon…
        I tore it in half. That pretty much says it all.”
9:15 PM — “I still don’t get how to do the thing.”
        “I just told you.”
        “Yeah but I don’t get it.”
10:01 PM — “So this backend isn’t going to happen.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016
3:16 AM — App was finished, everybody was stunned
9:30 AM — App was submitted

10:07 AM — “So if I’m 1000 years old and drink 400 mL, I will have to pee in
        30 minutes.”
11:00 AM — Microsoft interview
        “You guys can just talk naturally, like, keep pissing on Scott for
        getting the most sleep.”
12:00 PM — Projects Expo
        “Oh you guys were the team talking about pee on the fourth floor!”
1:30 PM — Apple guy dragged his friend over to find out when he would need to pee
3:45 PM — Hit the road again
8:00 PM — return “Earlham College”

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Traveling is Like Taking a Cold Shower

Traveling to a new place is like taking a cold shower in an unfamiliar bathroom. First you fumble around, not knowing what any of the knobs and buttons do. This shower is too small, the water pressure is too weak, where do I hang up my towel? Then you flinch away from the cold water. This sucks. I want to get out. I miss the comfort of the last place I called home. But you know you need a shower, so you stay. You start slow, you legs and arms can take the cold water, but not your head yet. You curse a little along the way. Grab the soap, lather up. Soon enough things fall into place. You get used to the cold water. Then you are on auto-pilot. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. You have to get out. But you just got comfortable. The water just started to feel nice. Oh dear you’ve been in the shower for half an hour already. Time to leave again.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece.

Global Feminism

Women hold up half the sky. – Chinese proverb

I had quite a liberal upbringing, thanks to parents who were more spiritual than religious, who weren’t very interested in politics, and who were less tiger parents and more “as long as you don’t get into trouble, you can do whatever you want.” Yet, as I grow older and know more about the world, there was a huge rift between them and I. They want me to aspire to marriage. Sure, a successful career and financial security are nice too, but they want me to find a nice man to take care of me.

For the longest time, I could not fathom how my well-educated, liberal parents could have such a backward view of women and their potentials. I could be anything, an engineer, a doctor, a writer, a politician, a Fortune 500 CEO, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But I also had to be a wife and a mother. It wasn’t that I could have it all; it was that I must.

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Grass-sledding in Costa Rica

When you say “gracias” to a Tico, they don’t reply with “de nada”, but instead with “con gusto”, with pleasure. That exactly sums up the hospitality of this beautiful country.

It was everywhere I went, from the Monteverde campus of the University of Georgia, to the beautiful beach town of Nosara, where hustling tourists in the scorching heat bound to make someone grumpy and wishing for a nap more than anything else.


And it was in the phrase: “We invited you here, you ARE one of us.”

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Running on Four Hours of Sleep in the Rainforest

This is it.

My Biology Internal Assessment and the final draft of my Extended Essay were due within 2 days of each other.

I had four hours of sleep in those 2 days.

My viva voce, a reflective conversation with my supervisor, was done via Skype today. The Extended Essay is finally over, and I now know a thing or two about APA (American Psychological Association) citation.

I’ve also discovered that I enjoyed science writing immensely. I was particularly inspired by an award-winning essay on the nocebo effect by Penny Sarchet, who has written for New Scientist, Nature, and Cosmos, amongst other.

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My First All-Nighter

I’ve just pulled my very first all-nighter.

Yesterday was the due date of the first draft of my Extended Essay.

I’ve stayed up til midnight, til 1am, til 2am before. There isn’t anything special about these times. Everyone is asleep and everything is quiet. The part of Hanoi that I live in isn’t the part of town that is bustling and “never sleeps.” There was the occasional sound of a motorcycle or a car passing by outside, but it was barely audible from my third-floor bedroom. Mostly I could hear myself think. And the constant sounds of key strokes.

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12 Tips on Geocaching

This film has won the following accolades:
– Best Daisy Duke (short shorts – under 3 minutes) at the Traveling Shorts Film Festival 2015, presented at Romantso Cultural Center and Incubator in Athens, Greece.
– Finalist in the Geocaching International Film Festival 2015 in Seattle, WA, USA.

I think I’ve developed a geocaching addiction. I have a constant urge to get out and play (a lot of walking, hiking and scootering involved).

Geocaching is a modern day treasure hunt using coordinates to hide and seek containers called “geocaches”. The hunt is happening everywhere around us, so next time you see a hiker looking around bushes, staring at a handheld device, you know what they are doing.

Footage shot in Hokianga, Northland, NZ (October 2014).

12 Tips on Geocaching from Chau Pham on Vimeo.

The Coming of Kahutia Te Rangi

I had the chance to meet Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider, in Auckland in October 2014, and also attended a writing workshop led by him. In the workshop, Ihimaera talked about reshaping myths for a contemporary audience, and how that can be used to draw parallels and tell powerful stories like The Whale Rider. The fact that I met the author of one of the pieces I would probably be writing about in my final IB Language & Literature exam is simply mind-blowing, and provided so much more context and insights on this wonderful book.

The video below is based on Chapter One of the novel, about the ancient story of the origin of the Māori people. The text of The Whale Rider is quite rich visually, and I chose specific elements from the chapter that highlight this.

Original art by Chau Pham.
Original text by Witi Ihimaera.
Music recorded during a walk through the Waipoua Forest, Northland, New Zealand. Many thanks to our amazing tour guides who led us through the magnificent giant kāuri trees and shared many aspects of Māori culture with us.

A Small Light at The End of The Tunnel

As mentioned in a previous lament, I was walking through the valley of the shadow of the dreaded Extended Essay, chased by the impending deadline, along with every other IB assessments that need to be completed. And I was stuck in a rut about a viable topic to even begin researching and writing my EE on.

But no more! There is a light at the end of the tunnel! I’ve finally finalized my research question, and emailed my online Psychology teacher to ask him to be my supervisor. Yes, I am writing a Psychology Extended Essay.

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