Monday, June 18, 2012

First Day, Early Start

Alex, Eric, and Mr. Chan-Law, enjoying their 5 o'clock breakfast.
It has been a long day, especially with a three-hour difference to throw our natural cycle off. I tried to get some sleep the night before, but for a teenager, going to bed before midnight just seems impossible. So as I rolled out of my warm bed at 2 AM, California time, I had to remind myself that one sleepless night would be worth it. Although I felt tired during Don's mini-orientation and baggage weigh-in, I am proud to see that I look okay in our group picture. Finally, around 3:30 (I didn't check my watch), we were off to the San Francisco Airport. We actually got there before the employees did, but by 5:10, we were through security, and eating a delicious but expensive airport breakfast (I got a mushroom omelet).
The flight was quick and rather uneventful; it only took about four and a half hours. We arrived in Philadelphia around 2 PM, and collected our baggage without incident. The van that picked us up was too small, though, so Eric Wang, Frank, Calvin, and Alex were crammed together in a three-seat section, with Eric Wilson and I put in the back. As our van passed first a refinery, then several decrepit buildings, and finally at least two rusty overpasses that looked like they could crumble at any moment, my first impression of Philadelphia became "dirty." Due to its age and historical significance, I expected the buildings to be preserved and pristine. Instead I found a defiled graveyard of past glory, ruined by graffiti, dirt, and overall neglect. Of course, the downtown area looked cleaner, but only because of the fancy shopping areas and the surrounding university; it does little justice to the buildings that may have been around for 200 years.
We waited about 20 minutes for our rooms.
The fancy light buttons.
I can watch the taxis pick up and drop off people.

I would not let this disappointment ruin my fun, though. We had to wait awhile for our hotel rooms because they had not been paid for yet, but it was worth it. My hotel room (located right on the UPenn campus) is beautiful, and full of tricks and toys. In order to save electricity, guests must insert their card into a special slot which turns on the room electricity; when they leave, people can take their card out to conserve energy. The room is also equipped with an LG flat screen TV (complete with HBO and Showtime) and an iPad. The bathroom comes with fancy light buttons (sorry, that's the only way I can describe them) and my shower is just another part of the room (no tub, just walk to the left, close the curtain, and turn on the water). I also have a decent view of the street, part of a campus library, and some of the downtown area.
Two beds - one for sleeping, one for jumping.
The entrance to the restaurant
(for tall people).
After playing with the iPad, I unpacked my stuff, and joined the rest of my cohort in a quest to find a convenience store (Mr. Chan-Law wanted water, and I needed more batteries for my power-sucking camera). We returned to our rooms for another hour and a half before meeting up again for dinner at the Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse. My veal cost almost $40, and it was the best I've ever had. It actually reminded me of the omelet I ate earlier this morning; but it was delicious, with the perfect combination of salt, pepper, and whatever wonderful juices the restaurant used. And best of all, it was gluten-free!
Calvin, just having a good time while we waited for our table.
My veal was awesome!
Dinner finally ended and we returned to our hotel via taxi, which is where I am now. My computer says it is 9:20 PM, but I know it's really 12; so good night for now, until I can describe my new adventure on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

A Whole Different World

It has been one of the longest days I ever had. To start off such an exciting, as well as exhausting, day, I met up with my cohorts before the sun even rose. It was colder than I thought at 3 AM, and as Don was talking about the trip to Pennsylvania, I could feel myself shivering a little. It felt much warmer in the van on the way to the airport. Since the van came early, we had plenty of time at the airport with around 2 hours. At the airport, we bought the biggest burritos ever. They were huge and, best of all, filled with bacon. They were much preferred over airplane food, but a little too big. They were a little bigger than the size of my foot. After we finished our meal, the dreaded airplane trip arrived.

No matter how long a flight is, whether it is 13 hours to China or just 5 hours to Pennsylvania, I always hated them. As soon as we enter the plane, the smell just makes me nauseous. My ears would soon be popping every other minute once in the air, and there were only beverages served on the plane. Most of the time, I had to read the book Cornell assigned. Once the flight was over with, the day would gradually become better.
Hotel Lobby
Finally arriving to the hotel, we had to wait at the lobby because there was some confusion because the rooms weren’t paid. In most hotels, it would be a pain to wait, but in The Inn at Penn, the interior was well designed, which made the wait enjoyable. However, it was quickly resolved and Eric Wilson and I went to our room while the others went to theirs. Since we had plenty of time to spend before our dinner we went walking and just viewing this unfamiliar territory. After going to CVS, we came back, with 2 hours to relax. During this entire time, I was too tired to really do anything due to that flight and the time difference.
Ceiling of  Del Frisco Steakhouse
Finally, it came time for the big dinner. I was looking forward to this because I haven't eaten since we left the airport. We arrived, and I was flabbergasted by the incredible interior. There were huge columns, as well as a magnificent staircase of wine. We ordered our steak, which what I thought took quite some time (maybe because I was hungry.) However, when the steaks finally arrived, they looked fantastic, and the time we waited for the steak was worth it. Everyone just devoured their steaks partly because we hadn't really eaten lunch, and also, because it was so good.  
Biggest steak I ever ate
This day has been a great start to what will be a fabulous experience. Today's activities were fun, but the next few days would be even funner. 

Day One and Loving It!

The beginning of the day was an overall success.  After waking up at 2 in the morning I spent the early hour checking and re-checking my belongings so as to be sure nothing was left behind.  After a few scares on the way down to El Cerrito High I was relieved to see that I didn’t forget my key for the laptop security cable, one of my biggest concerns.  The real problem turned out to be the cold.  While preparing my luggage to complement the seemingly hot and humid East Coast, I almost rushed out of the house without a jacket only to have the below-55 degree wind greet my exposed legs in my athletic shorts. Not the best planning to say the least.  We were soon ready to leave the school after a group photo taken by Don of what I would expect to be a photograph of six, half-awake teenagers seeking refuge from the cold by bundling their hands in any available pockets.  The airport shuttle soon arrived and we were off!

The ride to the airport was interesting.  Turns out that even during the early morning hours San Pablo Avenue is still a busy place.  Everyone was seemingly awake but all too tired to say a word.  I guess the excitement of what lay ahead kept everyone awake, but the fact that it was 3:30 in the morning combated any effort to display any physical enthusiasm whatsoever.  We made good time to the airport in the end, so good actually that the stations for baggage check weren’t even open yet!

The plane ride was not particularly eventful.  I spent my time listening to music, sleeping, starting Fast Food Nation, our summer assignment for AP Language and Composition, and outlining Plato’s Republic for the most part.  Yes, as you may have guessed, there was not a television on the plane. 

Waiting in Philly
We were picked up from the airport by another shuttle, but not one of those plain white vans similar to what we rode from the high school to the airport.  No, this was a black Chevrolet Suburban, the kind that you see the secret agents riding in the movies.  As we headed toward Philadelphia, one of the first things that made an impression on me, being a total baseball nut was seeing, from a distance, Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Calvin later made the observation about the freeway signs how at the fork on route took you to New Jersey while the other took you to Delaware, not something you really get to see growing up in California.  After crossing a bridge into Philadelphia we went straight into the heart of UPenn, where we will be visiting tomorrow with the Columbia group.  Our hotel: The Inn at Penn, is located on campus and is beautiful, to say the least.  Being a victim to allergies I was particularly pleased to see that the bathroom was equipped with Kleenex brand facial tissues as opposed to those rough generic-brand tissues one usually finds at hotels.  I will be staying in a room by myself, something that I never have done before so it may be interesting. 
Entering Philadelphia

Something that came as a pleasant surprise about Philadelphia was the city’s overall consciousness regarding recycling.  Even from the walk from the gate to the baggage claim, every trash bin was accompanied by two recycling bins (paper and plastic/aluminum) as “Philadelphia Recycles” posters decorated the walls of the airport.  In the streets of the campus the same applied as most trash bins were split in two with a recycling bin.  Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I have always thought that we were the most conscious about distinguishing waste from recycling, but Philadelphia had made more of a public effort to spread the concept of recycling across the city, something I appreciated.  In addition, US Airways separated the beverage cans from the napkins and garbage as well, which I have not noticed on a commercial air service ever, as the hotel room carries both garbage and recycling bin as well. 

The conclusion to a wonderful day
Tonight we dined at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House.  We took our first cab ride on the way to the restaurant and were introduced to Philadelphia at night.  To start, the food at Del Frisco’s was amazing.  Everyone ordered a steak, all of different shapes and sizes, all simply but gorgeously prepared.  The restaurant used to be a bank and was remodeled into a three-story restaurant.  Many of the buildings in Philadelphia have had their architecture preserved on the outside only to be remodeled on the inside for a more modern taste, similar to some buildings in San Francisco.  I would call the night a success as everyone finished his or her steak as we cabbed home to call it a night. 

Tomorrow will be an amazing experience.  We will meet up with the Columbia group, who flew into New York City today, and will spend the morning at Independence Hall and later tour the University of Pennsylvania.  I cannot wait to spend another day as a member of the ILC and am looking forward to sharing my experience with you soon!  

Across The Country In 5 Hours

Although Don told us to sleep the night before the trip instead of staying up and sleeping on the plane, I was too excited to go to sleep anyways. Unfortunately, I hit that time where I actually fell into a deep sleep about twenty minutes before my alarm went off and when the time came, I went straight for the snooze button. I was finally forced to wake up by my mom and reluctantly did so. However, the most painful part of this 2:00 AM dilemma was not actually waking up, but trying to put in my contacts in my bloodshot eyes (Maybe I should have worn glasses instead like Alex and Rachel.  Well, you live and you learn).

To my surprise I was the first of my cohort to arrive at El Cerrito High School for the pre-departure meet-up, keeping my streak alive from the Cornell dinner. After Don weighed all our luggage (mine came out at 31.78 pounds), he gave us some words of wisdom that mostly pertained to blogging. Thanks to Don, I will be sure to share as many photos with you all as possible.

We departed for SFO in a shuttle, but the ride was pretty quiet since all of us were still a little groggy from the lack of sleep. Once we got to the airport, our check-in counters weren't even open yet, and to my surprise, there were people earlier than us waiting in line. Once we got all our luggage checked-in and our boarding passes finalized, we headed to the security checkpoint which, again, was not open yet. When we all got through security, we went to go get some breakfast. Unfortunately, I devoured mine before I could take a photo of it. After that it was time to board the plane.

The flight overall was extremely bumpy, it seemed that the pilot tried to find every possible turbulence spot to fly through. Now I'm not one to complain since I, for some strange reason, love bumpy plane rides. Once we landed we headed towards the baggage claim area that was literally half a mile from the boarding gate of the plane. When we all got our luggage we waited for our ride because, apparently, they forgot when to pick us up. Just like the Brown-I group, we rode in a Chevy Suburban.
Our lengthy trek towards the baggage claim
Citizens Bank Park
Oh, hello UPenn!
When we got to the hotel, confusion ensued. The front-desk clerk told us that our rooms had not been paid for yet so there was this seemingly endless conversation between Mr. Chan-Law and Don and the receptionist. Finally, they got it settled and we were off to our rooms (I'm rooming with Eric Wang). Saying this hotel room is amazing is quite an understatement. I mean, the TV itself has over 2000 channels!
Did I mention that our hotel room has an iPad?
For our first dinner in Philadelphia, we went to Del Frisco's Steakhouse. With some background information, we all found out that the building used to be a bank. The food there was amazing! However, the wait was a little longer than expected, but it was worth the wait. As this day wraps up, I am looking forward to the campus visit to UPenn tomorrow! Well, off to bed to try and adjust to the new time zone.
Del Frisco's
Front entrance to Del Frisco's
Amazing wine “cellar" inside Del Frisco's
My phenomenal 24 oz Prime Porterhouse

Live From Philadelphia

Today was a pretty eventful day. The Cornell cohort gathered at El Cerrito High School bright and early to leave for SFO and make our flight to Philadelphia. Our shuttle was early and we arrived at SFO so early that none of the check-in registers were even open! I was shocked to see about 50 or so people just waiting to check in their bags. After checking in our bags and going through security, we enjoyed a nice breakfast before we boarded our flight to Philadelphia.
Waiting in Gate 26 for our flight to leave.
For the most part, the flight was pretty uneventful. I sat in middle of three seats with Rachael to my left and an elderly woman to my right. The lady to my right was reading today's San Francisco Chronicle and passed section by section to me as she finished reading them. I spent the flight reading the newspaper, rereading Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, listening to music, and playing with my IPod. It was nice to just relax and get to know more about both the world and refresh my mind about Isadore Sharp's book.

After we landed and claimed our bags, we were driven to our hotel: The Inn at Penn. I was expecting the driver to drive like the cab drivers I had in New York City last year, but it was anything but. The driver wasn't aggressive, in fact our driver didn't drive any differently than any driver would drive in the Bay Area.  We then checked into our hotel which is magnificent. The WiFi is fast, the room is comforting, and I'll get to know my cohort member Calvin better because we're roommates!
Our hotel room.
Our hotel room, part 2.
The dinner tonight at Del Friscos was magnificent. I had a prime rib-eye that was extremely succulent. Now that I'm full and happy to be on the east coast, it's time to wind down and hang out with Calvin for a bit before I sleep.
My delicious steak.
The birds' eye view of my steak.

Bright and... No, Just Early

The day began like any other... except 6 hours earlier. A quick shower, a quick breakfast, and off we went to ECHS. After weighing in our luggage and a quick speech from Don, we took our cohort photo. It wasn't until right before we boarded the van that it struck me that I wouldn't be home again for almost a month.

Yes, that is a complementary Ipad
We actually arrived at the airport before the baggage checking booths and security lines opened. Luckily it was only a short wait. Then once we set up at our terminal we went for some breakfast. I ordered a breakfast burrito and was extremely pleased. The flight was a blur as I tried, half awake, to read about Plato's philosophies. After we arrived in Philadelphia I finally felt awake and ready to go. After a short car ride we arrived at our hotel. Unfortunately there was a mixup in the payments for the rooms and we ended up waiting as our fearless chaperone, Alfredo, boldly championed our cause. Finally an agreement was reached and we continued to our rooms. Our rooms are somewhat impressive, each coming equipped with an Ipad 2, a flat-screen TV, thousands of channels, and free WiFi.

After accommodating ourselves to our rooms we took a brief, yet pleasant walk around the area in search of snacks, and came back with only one bottle of water. Despite our lack of success, I enjoyed the chance to see the area and start getting to know Philadelphia.

I spent the next few hours before dinner with Frank in our room, watching sitcoms, getting situated, and of course blogging. For our first East Coast dinner we ate at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House.I ordered what was advertised as a 32 oz. steak, and even though it was more of a 22 oz. steak with a 10 oz. bone I still enjoyed it. Now all that is left for tonight is to relax, watch some basketball, listen to some music, and read some Plato. It should be fun.

Then  tomorrow its off to UPenn for our campus tour and dinner.

Part 1 of the 2fer

For someone like me, this morning’s departure of our Cornell cohort was the first part of a 2fer.  That is, Cornell was supposed to depart for the airport at 3:40 AM and then our Columbia cohort was to depart for the airport at 4:30.  This morning I had two departures for the price of one.

For all intents and purposes, this meant that there was one fewer “get up” in the middle of the night to see our intrepid sojourners off.  Considering how tired I am right now, that would seem like a good thing.

We work diligently with our ILCers to teach them life skills that may be of some value to them as they move onwards and upwards.  One of those skills is the value of being on time.  As you might expect when working with young people, we’ve had a few incidents where an occasional ILCer might arrive at a function past the agreed upon start time and there have been consequences.  Tempers flared, harsh words were spoken and tears were shed.

I’m pleased to state that with all three of our ILC cohorts that have departed for the east coast so far this year, they have all arrived on time for our pre-departure ceremony.  If ever there was a way to get on the good side of Good Don and to keep Evil Don away, being on time is it.  I thank all of our ILCers who have helped in this way.  Evil Don can wreak havoc on the world and getting him back in his cage can be a daunting task,  It’s best that he never be invited out in the first place.

Considering that it was 54 degrees, the Bay Area summer fog made the air a bit damp and the wind was kicking up big time, when the airport shuttle arrived early we had no problem in coaxing our ILCers to board the shuttle early.  I never got inside the shuttle but I’m betting they had a heater in that shuttle and it was a welcome relief for the entire group.

As you’re looking at this group photo you may be wondering why it is that everyone is smiling except Frank and Calvin.  I really shouldn’t speak for them but I’m betting that while the group was standing in the cold having their photo taken, Frank and Calvin both were thinking about that nice warm bed they left and wondering if there was any way to crawl back under those blankets for even a few minutes.  I know that that’s what I was thinking at the time so it wouldn’t surprise me if they had similar thoughts.  The difference, though, is that they’re on a plane winging their way to a stay in Philadelphia right now and as soon as I hit the UPDATE button I can actually crawl back into my nice warm bed.