There’s no place like home.

There’s no place like home.

While Berlin has been great, I have to hand it to the USA, California, Bay Area, and Stanford for some of the privileges I get over there. There’s that saying that you don’t know what you’ve got until you don’t have it anymore. So amidst the spring breaks of semester-school kids and finals week for my fellow quarter-school people, this is just something I quickly whipped up (I should really be studying Econ…) and I hope this is a good break and a reminder of what we can be thankful for 🙂 Also to get myself hyped up to get back there!

1) THE SUN. Oh wowie, I mean, I knew the sun was fantastic over in sunny Palo Alto but who knew you could literally see NO sun and JUST gray skies for a good 2 months? My friend Sam’s blonde hair is naturally lightened by the sun, but now she’s near a brunette–okay that’s an exaggeration but her hair IS significantly darker now due to lack of sun! When my parents came to visit me, first thing my mom noted was: You look paler. Well, gee maybe because I don’t get my fill of vitamin D daily but just walking outside anymore. So yeah. Sun is bueno. *thumbs up*

2) Living on a campus. Yes, there is the Stanford bubble, where it takes literally 40 minutes to get off campus, but at least getting to classes takes 5 minutes! Quite the opposite in Berlin: the minute I walk out the door, there are things to see and things to do, but I wake up a good 2 1/2 to 3 hours before my 10AM to get ready and make sure I catch the bus on time. Trust me, I’ve had some major panic attacks when public transportation is unreliable. But what can I do? Walking to school takes a good hour 😛

3) My violin. That’s a biggie. While not bringing my violin freed up my time significantly and allowed me to explore/travel, going to those Berlin Philharmonic concerts really made me nostalgic. For our German class, we had a final presentation with the theme “Oh, wie schön ist Berlin,” where we had to discuss an aspect of Berlin and our personal experience with it. I naturally chose to talk about the classical music scene and the Berlin Philharmonic as my presentation. In order to add the personal flare, I actually ended up digging up the SFSYO European Tour blog, finding photos of me with the orchestra from 3 years ago at the places I’ve become so familiar with. It did set me off on a huge walk down memory lane, and I cannot be ever more ecstatic to come back and pick it up (although I will be INCREDIBLY rusty, I don’t even want to hear myself the first week)

4) CS. Yes I know, in my last post, I stated “no CS” as one of my favorite things about Berlin. And I admit, I have a huge love/hate relationship with CS. I think most people are at the extremes as well with that field–either they love it or they absolutely hate it and will never type another line of code ever again. I was definitely the latter my senior year of high school. I was taking APCS just because it was one of those science APs that I had not yet taken and I had a spot open in my schedule. And let me tell you, it was tough, it was frustrating, and I hated it. Those for loops and polymorphism totally just went over my head. And I never thought I would touch CS ever again, but of course to my dad saying “Stanford is KNOWN for its CS program, you HAVE to take at least one CS class” did I end up taking CS106A my first quarter of freshmen year. Not only was this class almost a breeze because I had already learned Java, but it opened my eyes to what I had accomplished with CS, and appreciate that. Who knew that building a chess game with a little bit of AI in senior year was a big deal? As I quickly wrapped up Yahtzee, Hangman, and the primitive Facebook assignments we had for 106A, I finally recognized that tangible versatility at the fingertips. Of course, the learning curve is steep and hard, but once certain obstacles are overcome, I find myself enjoying the field even more. So yes, it’s definitely been a rollercoaster–currently in a semi-hate relationship due to 107 battle scars, but no matter; I think I’ll keep pushing until my limits because I now understand its potential to…make me happy 🙂

5) Friends. How can I forget? While I’ve learned so much and have gained great friendships with people here (I don’t think I would have ever encountered even ONE of these people if we had never gone abroad), I have an incredible support system back at Stanford, and I hope they miss me as much as I miss them. Honestly, Skype calls are just not the same. So here’s to you amazing people, because I absolutely cannot wait to enjoy my spring quarter back at an amazing place with amazing friends!

A small bonus: 6) Having to do Skype interviews. So many technical difficulties like wi-fi. Not to mention, there is no incentive to mentally prepare myself. I literally take a nap until 5 minutes before and then frantically straighten myself out before the interview. Yeah no, in-person interviews are much better.

Good luck with finals & enjoy spring break everyone!

These are a few of my favorite things

These are a few of my favorite things

in Berlin of course.


2) the German language. Living in the city where it is spoken has finally rejuvenated me, reminding me of the joys of learning a language, because a language embodies the culture and the lifestyle.

3) Berlin Philharmonic. Need I say more?

4) Street Food Thursday. The tradition everyone has to go to.

5) Wonder Waffle. Who knew waffles could taste like heaven, literally?

6) WiFi in my homestay. Petty I know, but I’ll be yearning for this every time Stanford WiFi gets disconnected -_-

7) U-Bahn, S-Bahn, buses, public transportation. The ability to explore a city so vastly and quickly is something that I think I may have underestimated during my time here.

8) Being at the center of Europe, and just being in Europe in general. That in itself has reaped so many benefits to be detailed below

9) Traveling. In America, if you want to go to the other countries of interest in Europe and Asia, takes at least a good 9 hours from SF. It literally blew my mind that I could fly or even take the bus to another country. AND all the cities I wanted to visit were within a direct flight.

10) EU. The European Union. Makes traveling so much more convenient without the need for passport control and customs. Not to mention I could bring home Turkish delights hehe. And no need to exchange currency is always a bonus.

11) Being in the middle of international affairs. My issue all the time was not being in tune with the outside world, apart from my studies. The hashtags on Facebook did me no good because I felt no need to check them out. But I had to be so cautious and meticulous when traveling, making sure of major societal and political tensions. I’ve definitely increased my extensive efficacy (props to AP Gov).

12) Flea markets. I know there are a lot of farmer’s markets in the Bay Area but not so much stands filled with antiques and handmade goods that you could bring back home for people rather than the conventional T-shirt and keychain.

13) Tea breaks in Econ. When do you get offered tea by YOUR professor?!

14) Small classrooms. The ability to interact with my professors on a personal level and on a daily basis will be lost when I return back to those vast lecture halls where all 300 people are frantically copying down code.

15) Walking. Sure, a city is bigger than a college campus, but the difference is there is always something to do the moment I walk outside. I feel that on campus, I need to have a purpose behind the place I wander to, whereas in Berlin, I’ve been able to take my time absorbing my surroundings.

16) (Lack of) work. Let’s be honest, you’ll probably end up taking way less units/classes when you’re abroad AND chances are, these classes don’t even count towards your major.

17) Safety in the city. Maybe it’s because I actually stayed here for 10 weeks and I wasn’t always in the touristy areas, but I still feel like Berlin is probably the safest city I have ever been in. Walking around at night was a huge cautious deed for me when I first came, and now it’s an everyday act.

18) No CS. Okay, that’s terrible to say. But by no CS, I mean no CS 107. Y’all know how that goes. Courtesy of Nicole for this snapshot of CS107 life.

19) Cafes galore. On every corner of every street on every block in every neighborhood. Although they aren’t a huge fan of letting people just work there.

20) “Silicon Valley of Europe.” And with good reason! Germany’s economy is export-oriented, depending on the major industries of electronics, automobiles, chemical & electrical manufacturing. Even if I knew null to zero about cars, I knew what a privilege it was to go into the Mercedes-Benz museum and see the newest models.

This was a fun new twist to a blog post for me, thanks for reading my 20 favorite things about Berlin! With less than a week left, I still plan on writing up my lasting thoughts and I’m interested myself in seeing how I readjust back to life at Stanford, so maybe I will talk about that as well in the future 🙂

Trapped in the Jewel Box

Trapped in the Jewel Box

As weeks fly by, so does my work ethic. But I promised you all an insight at Dresden so here we go.

Getting up at 6AM ain’t my jam… but if it’s for the sake of taking a crash course through one of the most historical cities ever, I guess it may be worth the time. You can imagine how the bus ride went *crashes* But the 2 hour bus ride was plenty to reenergize myself for the day ahead. Oh, but first off, HUGE shoutout to Sam for being the best travel buddy and for letting me use her photos HAHA.

Since it was literally the last day of February, hopes were high for a nice warm day to be spent strolling through the city. Nevertheless…. there was rain, there were clouds, and it was in the high 30s. Hey, I guess it could have been worse (cue Stanford: What IS 30-something degree weather? We just see palm trees and sun) Of course, we had to start the day off with a nice hot bowl of soup! This was actually probably the first true German meal I ever had. It was a potato soup with sunflower seeds and sausage, and it was mightily scrumptious ^_^

Dresden is infamous for being at the center of attention for the British and American bombings in World War II. At the same time, it is nicknamed “The Jewel Box,” and with reason to–if I were just dropped off here without knowing what city I was in, I would have had absolutely no idea that any bombing had taken place because this city was so dazzling, as if it just came out of a book. The reconstruction done on the various attractions was, unlike most, completely finished and there were no signs of works being in the process of restoration.

Disclaimer: Due to it being a weekend and only having a day to explore, we mainly just “window-shopped” and couldn’t go inside the various buildings. Not that it detracts from the beauty at all.

Beginning in the Old part of the city, first stop was the Frauenkirche, or “The Church of Our Lady.” It’s one of the largest domes in Europe and is the best example of Protestant sacred architecture. But I have to say, my favorite part was probably the piano just in front of the church, playing a classical sonata. So befitting, yet I had to wonder how the pianist was not freezing his fingers off (not to mention, when we came back 3 hours later, he was still playing). In passing, we found the Fürstenzug, or “Procession of Princes,” which is this HUGE mural along the wall of the Dresden Castle, depicting the mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony. The next BIG stop was the Zwinger, which was almost too good to be true. This place is enormous, even frantically trying to capture every nook and cranny of this place for an hour was not enough. Not to mention there was also a jewelry collection inside (again not allowed in).

Okay, y’all already know this but I’m such a foodie. So when a couple of Google searches brought up Pfunds Molkerei and fantastic ice cream, how could I say no? Thus the segue to the Neustadt, the new part of the city (which ironically is actually the oldest part of the city. Funny how things are named and they just happen to contradict their nature.) Now you know the drill, more churches, cathedrals, castles, and food. Generally sweet food. I think one of my favorite parts about Europe (and also probably the bane of my existence) is the presence of chocolatiers on virtually every few blocks. The Berlin program knows what a sweet tooth I have (and that influence has been wrought upon Sam, MAH B), so when we saw a chocolatier on the corner of a plaza…. oof.

Honestly, a day in Dresden probably didn’t do it justice. When I came back home, my host mother was astonished that I had not gone inside the Zwinger or the Albertinum museum. But I guess the accumulation of exhaustion, final projects, and the cold were enough hindrances for me and my partner. Nonetheless, it was a great getaway to another city (especially one that’s in Germany). I feel that I may have disregarded other German cities. As people were excitedly making plans to Leipzig, Hamburg, and Stuttgart at the beginning of the quarter, I was more concerned with getting out of the country and seeing drastically different cities like Madrid and Istanbul. Either way, this was an impromptu excursion that I absolutely do not regret because Dresden holds just as much history as Berlin.

So I think I first need to apologize for the brevity of this post. While the quarter is winding down, things are also starting to pick up: finals, taking care of financial matters, and finally leaving Berlin in just two weeks. You can imagine how my head has been wrapped in a thousand other things, and I kept pushing this post back and back until I decided to just get it done. I can say though that this is the last post on traveling, and I’m currently writing this while in a boba shop in Berlin on the first Saturday I have spent in Berlin in a REALLY long time. There may not be so much new content because with these last few weeks, I feel the need to revisit some of my old favorites. But I guess the next few topics to anticipate are (perhaps, depending on my experiences): tour through major car companies in Berlin, flea markets and Berlin Zoo (as I struggle to find presents for peeps), life updates, and my lasting thoughts on Berlin. Honestly, it’s crazy to think that this experience has flown by when I swear, in week 1, I was complaining why I wasn’t already back at Stanford yet. But I’ll stop rambling now. Thanks y’all for sticking with me and my exhaustion up until Week 9.

Chocolatiers and Palaces, that’s the way to a girl’s heart

Chocolatiers and Palaces, that’s the way to a girl’s heart

They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. As long as you get through those 21 days, it becomes significantly easier, almost second nature. With weekly blog posts, does that mean 3 blog posts = 3 weeks = 21 days, or 21 blog posts? No matter, I must admit I was lazily getting to this post so apologies that it came so late! I’ve been ridiculously enjoying the comments some of you have been giving me, and I can’t thank you enough for reading! Please don’t be shy–always feel free to contact in whatever way (more info in About Me). Now let’s get on with the show.

Before the next weekend trip, I was lucky enough to have my parents come visit me. Of course, when I ask them to come visit me, they take advantage of that offer. They ended up going on a package tour through Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Stuttgart, to just name a few. Nonetheless, seeing family after being alone since the New Year was a huge blessing (and they get to pay for the noms). It hit me on the first day that they were here how incredibly familiar I have become with Berlin. I knew exactly where to take them and what to show them based on where they were staying (without using Yelp and for once…) Can I say “Ich bin ein Berliner” yet?

Unfortunately I’ll have to leave the familiarity over the weekend again. Adventures in Europe part 2! To Madrid we goooooo~!

A lesson I have learned in these past two weekends on planes: don’t fly at night. Just don’t. Not only are you exhausted from an entire day’s worth of work, but once you get there, you have to worry about figuring out public transportation and walking to your well-hidden airbnb in the middle of the night while lugging around your bags on cobblestone streets. And don’t forget the pickpockets and drunken people on the side. Also, coming back home? The idea of school the next morning KILLS me each time. I think I’m done with planes until the end of the quarter. Speaking of which, isn’t it crazy to think that it is Week 8 already? I’ll be back at Stanford in a matter of weeks.

Let me start by saying that this was the most stress-free trip I have ever had, which is surprising since this time no one was showing us around, we knew nothing about Madrid. First off, we didn’t have to exchange any money and we never ran out (thank you, Euro zone!). Next, none of us were too crazy about the idea of staying out super late; in fact, on Saturday we clocked out at 8PM without any dinner HAHA. Madrid was also a lot smaller than we had anticipated; everything was within walking distance and there was no need to use the Metro besides going to and from the airport. But the most amazing thing about Madrid was that everywhere there was beauty and history. Walk a few blocks and you’re bound to come upon a spectacular cathedral or a museum or a vast park.

Day 1: We began by going to a bakery near Plaza Mayor. And boy, was that bakery PACKED. Bakeries in Madrid seemed to have a bottom floor for on-the-go food and the upstairs for sit-down. The Pepitos and the Napolitanas were simply scrumptious ^_^ We all immediately noticed and were caught off guard that no one spoke English. No one. Everything was in full-on Spanish, and while cognates can help you understand quite a bit, still doesn’t get you very far. Also, need I explain the agony of wanting to say “Gracias” but “Danke” being the first word that comes to mind? Aiyahhh. (It also became a problem when I came back to Berlin and I was used to speaking in Spanish after 2 days!)

The day was a lot of meandering, but productive meandering. We found ourselves in Plazas like the Plaza Mayor and near churches. Wow. There are a lot of churches and cathedrals, and for good reason too. Interestingly, these places did not have very many people–I did get the vibe that the incomers were very respectful of the space. The silence allowed for some of us to sit for a good ten, fifteen minutes just absorbing the space around us… It was refreshing 🙂

Amidst wandering around, we ran into a Chinese New Year event. Honestly, it seemed so out of context. Here, you have all of this Spanish architecture and in the middle of it all are ribbon dances, red lanterns, and a lot of Chinese people. Ash asked, “I wonder what would bring Chinese people to Spain.” Maybe it’s the Econ class I’m taking, but it’s interesting to see for what profession people flock to a specific area and choose to leave their homeland. I think there was also a Lion King exhibit but the weekend ain’t got time for that.

We also spent some time at the Palacio Real, the Jardines de Sabatini, and the Teatro Real. By time, I mean take photos of the beautiful place (or in Lauren’s case, have a photoshoot 😉 haha just kidding).

I find there is one great way of judging a city: the food. And I find that there is a good way to experience the local life: markets. Just like how I got the chance to visit the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul (if you haven’t read about that, click here), we found the Mercado de San Miguel. It was almost like a mini Street Food Thursday, mini because it was in one small building, so you can imagine how packed it was, with elbows jostling over one another and maybe to the point of needing to gasp for air when walking between booths. They were selling merengues, so I bought one. It wasn’t hard and small like the ones sold in Trader Joe’s; it was literally a cup full of sugar. Felt pretty gross afterwards and did not even finish it.

The best part of the day just had to be watching the sunset from the Templo de Debod. Especially after weeks of gray skies and clouds, being able to watch the sun go down ever so slowly and then just drop out of sight was a cherished sight. Not only that, but the skyline was just gorgeous. Pretty much everywhere in Madrid you could see the hills and the horizon. Such things like that, we seem to take for granted.

Who knew the Spanish know how to do chocolate?! In fact, chocolate and churros?! It’s a golden combination that I had never even thought of. Waiting in line outside was so worth it. Lauren and I, with our sweet tooth, were ambitious and wanted to order 18 churros for the group. But everyone convinced us to just do 12, and it was a good choice. The chocolate was oh so rich but oh too much.

Day 2: We visited the flea market. The juxtaposition of some quality crewnecks with cooking pans in one booth… so interesting. Afterwards, we entered the Museo Nacional de Prado. Right in front of the museum, we ran into a protest promoting a political party. On the other side of the city on the same day, there was another protest against homophobia. Talk about current events. Luckily, we had an Art minor with us (Ash), and she knew exactly which paintings to go see. I was glad to recognize some of the paintings she pointed out. There was even a painting of the Mona Lisa, done by one of da Vinci’s students. Right next door to the building was a beautiful Buen Retiro Park. With palaces just plopped into the park in the middle and a small lake, it was quite the afternoon walk through the park. You could even rent tiny boats to go in the water.

MY THOUGHTS ON MADRID: It was a simple yet grand city. Simple in that there isn’t so much busy-ness on the streets, which I appreciate, not being a city person myself. Grand in that there are so many cathedrals and palaces right at your doorstep. It was the perfect city to go to for a weekend, and I also liked reviving my Spanish 😉 Let’s just say, Spain won my heart with chocolate and churros. Maybe I should have gone to Brussels since I like chocolate so much, but I am so done with planes right now.

Let us all take the time to realize that it is already WEEK 8. It just hit me today that I only have three weeks left in Europe… After being pretty frazzled and dissatisfied in Week 1, I have definitely come to appreciate a great deal more the opportunity of studying abroad. The ability to meander around a city without being a tourist and fearing the thought of getting robbed. Being able to UNDERSTAND what people say to you and to be asked directions and KNOW the answer. Also the variety of cheap food options. Simply being so much more aware of international affairs and politics because 1) I’m not bogged down by my required classes and 2) European Union has got a lot going on. With only two weeks left, I can finally say I DO NOT REGRET studying abroad whatsoever. Thanks to those who continued to encourage and support me throughout the quarter, both near and far. But I can’t wait for the reunions and the glorious sun (ohhhh yeesss, Vitamin D)

No more flying, but why do the adventures have to stop? Look out for the next stop in Dresden!

Hey girl, you come from Gangnam Style?

Hey girl, you come from Gangnam Style?

While everyone in my program has been frantically packing each weekend with a city to go explore, I had been idling a bit. I’m already in Berlin, why would I want to lessen my time living IN the city? Besides it’s tiring, getting on planes and trains every 3 or 4 days! However, this post is going to be about my first weekend traveling. Yes, it was absolutely exhausting and I wish I could just lay in my bed for hours and not have to go to school in 20 minutes, but it was also incredibly rewarding. No regrets. Apologies in advance for the length of this post, but I swear every word has worth. It’s also what you get when you try to explore an entire city in just 2 days…

Week 6 starts off strong with having to enroll in classes and FINALLY finalizing travel plans. Not just that, but our econ class spent Monday class to spend almost 4 hours at the German Historical Museum.

The name itself is pretty self-explanatory–the ultimate cram session on German history with the bonus of visuals. But one may find himself struck with awe. It’s all the stuff he has been learning for years and years beyond, yet to have the history presented to you not in the form of text in a 600+ page textbook but rather right in front of your eyes, is a bit breathtaking.

From tribes to being conquered to conquering to world wars to automobiles, this place had it all.

In class, we finally arrived to the age of the Cold War, Berlin Wall… and it’s sometimes crazy to think that the adults were alive at that time (i.e. my grandparents were alive during the Korean War) but it’s even crazier to hear eyewitness accounts of these global events. Our professor Ingo Klein had in fact lived in East Berlin. This was even more jaw-dropping than the museum because he brought in tokens of history that he had kept from when he was a young man, i.e. the flyer of the New Forum, souvenirs from rallies that helped bring the Berlin Wall down. After the wall came down, he participated in the round table talks surrounding economic affairs in East Germany. Talk about a blast from the past.

Thursday. While I had the usual classes, I could barely sit still. All the new German words flew wayyyy over my head, I was fidgeting in my seat like crazy. Once Econ ended, it was I who bolted out the door, flung on my coat, and ran off to catch the bus to the airport. Because the weekend had finally come, Köln and Istanbul were just awaiting!

A group of 4 took a night flight to Köln. Thursday had marked the beginning of Carneval, a week-long celebration that goes on until Ash Wednesday. It is traditionally a festive season preceding immediately before Lent. Right when we arrived, we knew we had to be in Köln. There were hundreds of people strolling about at 11PM–or should I say, staggering about. The majority had been drinking since 9AM, and they were all dressed in costumes and in their own drunken happiness. My friends called it “Halloween for adults;” I call it “just like Bay to Breakers but 10x bigger o.o.” Unfortunately for us, our host notified us that Friday would probably not have very much going on…because everyone would be hungover. Splendid. While this was at first a downer, to not be able to see much festivity in the daytime, I think we were spared the chaos of Carneval and we were able to appreciate the atmosphere of Köln that much more. There were sporadic parades/performances occurring on the streets, and a stroll along the Rhine was liberating.

Luckily the Kölner Dom was open to the public. It’s been a while since I had entered such a grandiose cathedral and it was a nice time to just sit and have quiet time. I think it’s fantastic that people used to build these churches and cathedrals with sky-high ceilings and embellish the walls with Biblical scenes; while some may view it as superficial aesthetics, I think it could serve as a testament to how great they believed God to be, and I support that.

After having lugged our bags with us to the center of the city, you could say we were more than relieved when it was time to board our plane to Istanbul. There were many firsts for me on this trip: first Turkish delight, first visit to mosques, first apple tea, first Baklava, first jazz club…

We finally land in Istanbul and honestly it was a bit of a shitshow struggle. We frantically tried to find WiFi to contact our host, couldn’t find WiFi but realized it was saved in my email, needed a phone to call him. Then it took us over an hour to get to the station we were supposed to arrive that, and then we were holding phones trying to pinpoint our location as we precariously walked down a cobblestone hill to meet the host at around midnight… whew.

In that first night of Istanbul, two things were already obvious from the start: 1) people here LOVE to guess where you’re from (“no where are you REALLY from?”). As I was on the phone with our host, the person we borrowed the phone from tried to guess the ethnicities of my 3 companions. He was only right for 1 person. 2) There are soooo many stray dogs and cats here, it was almost frightening haha (good reason too, allergic to cats over here ugh). We saw cats and dogs just roaming around at night, and dogs sleeping on pieces of cardboard that residents must have left outside for that exact purpose. Many of the dogs were also tagged, to signify that they have been vaccinated by the government. I wonder why there are so many strays–mainly because they seem to be well fed for the most part and people like to go pet them. I wonder if it’s costly to keep a pet in the house in Istanbul.

The subsequent days in Istanbul were honestly a struggle to begin. Legs feeling like jello, sinking into the mattress the moment they hit the bed, begging to not be moved for an extra hour or so after my body wakes up. But we had appointments, schedules, and all we could do was keep moving. But let’s not forget the language barrier! You know it’s a big  big problem when you say “Danke schön” rather than “Thank you” to the seller.

Before I even begin to talk about what happened in Istanbul, let me give a HUGE shoutout to Kevin, Niles, and Alexa for being our tour guides the entirety of Saturday. They helped us save so much time since they knew how to get to places already, and they knew what was the good noms. Because you know, you can mainly judge a place by its food 😉 And while we’re on the topic, if you’ve gots time, check out Niles’s blog. He’s a good friend of mine, and just like me, he has been blogging his way through his study abroad experience in Istanbul, and I’ve enjoyed reading it myself 🙂

Meeting up with the Stanford in Istanbul people in the morning, we went straight to Cafe Privato and experienced firsthand the glory of Turkish breakfast. I don’t usually stuff myself unless it is a traditional Korean meal, but boy…was this stuff good. There were 3 plates of cheese, 3 plates of fruit/jam, 3 bread baskets, 4+ plates of sauces. There was an interesting plate of clotted cream. When we asked, one said, “You put the cream on the bread. Then the honey. Then you die a little inside.” I certainly died inside multiple times during this trip, usually during noms hehe. The interesting juxtaposition between Berlin and Istanbul is that Berlin is ridden with international cuisine. In Istanbul I did not even see a speck of foreign food. We even ordered apple tea; did YOU know there was even such a thing as apple tea?

We proceeded to visit Hagia Sophia. Not gonna lie, I was so excited to see this wonder after reading about Robert Langdon’s adventures in Istanbul in Dan Brown’s Inferno. The greatest thing about the Hagia Sophia is that it was at one point in time a pagan temple, church, and mosque, the only building in the entire world to have been a part of 3 religions. After seeing the Blue Mosque’s outside though, I have to admit I wasn’t as impressed by Hagia Sophia at first. The inside… was a whole other story. What the exterior had lacked, the inside made up for it all, and since pictures tell a thousand words, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

The reason we had blown past the Blue Mosque the first time was because at the time we had gone, they had closed off the mosque to the public because it was prayer time. And wow, what an experience. There are now speakers installed on towers of the mosques, so the entire city is within hearing distance of the prayer calls. It blows my mind that these interspersed prayer calls have become such an everyday occurrence, like how a clock tower rings every hour (or in Stanford’s case, every 15 minutes…) to both the religious and non-religious. But after Hagia Sophia, we made a beeline back towards the Blue Mosque. We were eyed by security, to make sure most skin was covered. We were told to take off our shoes and to cover our hair and neck with scarves. Inside, half of the mosque was blocked to the public, purely reserved for people wanting to pray.

Since our friends in Istanbul had already been tourists early on in the quarter, we quit being tourists and I guess you could say we hung out for the rest of the day… Turkish style. We took the tram to Corlulu, a hookah place. I had my doubts about being in a room filled with smoke. But it turned out to be a pretty spacious area yet cozy as all 7 people crowded around a small square table with 2 hookahs. Friends recommended the Sahlep and apple tea here, and it was heaven in my mouth. After a couple of minutes of failed attempts of “hookah Olympics,” it became a casual get together, going back and forth about our respective experiences in Berlin or Istanbul for the past 5 weeks. Then we headed off to dinner and I was reunited with Sri, another Stanford student who had gone to the same high school as me. As we were catching up, she proceeded to say, “I think this is the longest conversation we’ve had since Stanford…wait, maybe this is the longest conversation we’ve had… EVER.” It’s so interesting to think that high school classmates you see everyday, in the moment you don’t really think of setting aside the easy five minutes to talk to them, but once you get out of that everyday mundane context, you learn to appreciate those small conversations so much more and you take the opportunity to have them.

The Istanbul kids were nice enough to invite us to a jazz club. Because it was Valentine’s Day, the entrance fee was TWICE the normal amount. The only live jazz I had ever heard was at school concerts and festivals, so it was a completely different setting to be in a small club with the band 10, maybe 20 feet in front of me. It was dazzling, especially for a classically trained musician who could never improvise. I would be lying if I said I was totally engaged in the 2 hour long performance. After walking on cobblestone hills all day, I was just thankful to have a seat and catch up with close friends.

Second day in Istanbul. This time, we were all on our own. We headed to Suleymaniye Palace, which was also incredibly grandiose. But the highlight of this last day was the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. An eerily orange-lit building, there were stores on stores on stores of teas, spices, and Turkish delights. We were allowed to try delights before buying; I think we all ate at least 15, maybe even 20 delights before buying a box. Comparing these street markets to the ones in Korea, first thing I noticed was that 99% of store owners were men. They yelled variations of “Where are you from?!” “Pretty girl, come over here for a nice cup of tea” “I love you so much” As the title of this post suggests, one store owner came up to me and my friend and asked us “Hey girls, you come from Gangnam Style?” We laughed…. and then left. But man, those Turkish delights and apple tea… I’ll miss those when I run out of my stash 😛

That’s a wrap for Week 6: History sessions are much needed in a place like Berlin. Carneval ain’t my thing. Valentine’s Day was well spent with an amazing group of people in one of the most intriguing cities I have been to in my entire life. Also, what is sleep anymore…

Due to the ridiculous length of this post, I will withhold thoughts on particular observations in Istanbul… but in the meantime, thanks for joining me on my attempt to condense this dreamy trip, and be on the lookout for Travel Post #2: MADRID.

Brief Musical Interlude

Brief Musical Interlude

I had so many people ask me, and be shocked, when I tell them I didn’t bring my violin to Berlin. In such a musical community, it was honestly a disappointment to not be able to find a teacher (it is a school break here in Berlin) who was willing to give me at most 10 lessons in the winter, and then subsequently to be convinced that it was “not worth it” to bring my violin all the way to Europe when I have so many other matters to deal with. But going to concerts the past couple of weeks has… almost revived me? And I just wanted to share this text that is pinned on my violin teacher’s door that I had hoped would serve as a reminder of why I do what I do.

Why teach music?

Music is a science:
It is exact, specific, and it demands exact acoustics. A conductor’s full score is a chart, a graph which indicates frequencies, intensities, volume changes, melody, and harmony all at once and with the most exact control of time.

Music is mathematical:
It is rhythmically based on the subdivisions of time into fractions which must be done instantaneously, not worked out on paper.

Music is a foreign language:
Most of the terms are in Italian, German, or French; and the notation is certainly not English— but a highly developed kind of shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas. The semantics of music is the most complete and universal language.

Music is history:
Music usually reflects the environments and times of its creation, often even the country and/or racial feeling.

Music is a physical education:
It requires fantastic coordinations of the fingers, hands, arms, lips, cheek, and facial muscles, in addition to extraordinary control of the diaphragmatic, back, stomach, and chest muscles, which respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind interprets.

Music is all these things, but most of all music is art:
It allows a human being to take all these dry technically boring (but difficult) techniques and use them to create emotion. That is one thing that science cannot duplicate: humanism, feeling, emotion, call it what you will.

This is why we teach music!
Not because we expect you to major in music.
Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life.
Not so you can relax.
Not so you can have fun.
BUT— so you will be human.
So you will recognize beauty.
So you will be sensitive.
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world.
So you will have something to cling to.
So you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good— in short, more life.

Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless we know how to live?

That is why we teach music

I came to Berlin with doubts of maybe even continuing lessons when I get back–glad to say I will continue taking lessons, doing chamber music, and hope to finally join an orchestra at Stanford.

Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle…

Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle…

Sometimes, we all need a break, and with a quarter-long school system like Stanford, I must repeat myself and say that 10 weeks is simply not long enough to do everything I want to and get the necessary rest. It’s crazy to think that we need to start enrolling in spring classes this weekend… Of course, being abroad has its benefits of no real “midterm season” and PSets (except for y’all taking E40, sorry). But it presents its own challenges, such as making travel plans with your peers while managing to finish your work before catching that flight, and struggling to hold conversations with waiters and cafe owners with the vocabulary you had thought would be useful but turns out “when the heck will I ever need to talk to someone about bears and tiger-ducks”?

Being disconnected from campus even has its ups and downs. Yeah, you don’t need to be running back and forth between meetings. There are “less” people you run into and realize you desperately need to catch up with them. There is also no “midterm season.” But so much has been going on on campus such as Silicon Shutdown, and I would love to have active discussions with my peers. You also have that inconvenient time difference of 9 hours, so if you DO want to keep in touch…email is opted for. Not to mention the 50 emails I get while I’m catching some z’s. But let me give a shout out to all y’all who have been FB messaging/Skyping/emailing me ^_^ I’m above all excited to see your beautiful faces when I get back.

But these past 2 weeks have definitely been the best “rest” I’ve gotten since coming to Berlin. Also maybe it’s time to check off the items on my bucket list. You can’t even imagine how many times we’ve said “we still have to go to ____.” Time is quickly running out, leggo.

Let me start with Week 4. This was the first week that I finally had time to myself for the ENTIRE week (well, almost). Many people while studying abroad opt for traveling every single weekend, but I rather enjoy just wandering aimlessly through Hackescher Markt and seeing what cafes/restaurants are open on Sundays (actually, maybe it’s more of a hungry hunt for food…). Thus the lack of a post this past week. (And yes, that street sign says “Big Hamburger Street”)

On Friday, Stanford graciously sponsored an event to the Konzerthaus Berlin, a ravishing performance of Beethoven Egmont Overture, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1, and Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. You all know I’m a FAN of Beethoven and Shostakovich (many thanks to Echappe Quartet [Alyssa, Tyler, Jenna, Hayaka, Albert, Yuki] and the amazing Alyssa Wang for making me so crazily empassioned about their music!) It was, as our visiting musicologist said, a heavily anti-Russian program. But it’s such a lovely combination: we have both the early and middle Beethoven with the staple Shostakovich piece. I confess that seats were not nearly as fantastic but the hall was so bass-friendly, the articulation in the double bass section was so clear. I was also intrigued by the brass instruments; the trumpets and horns did not have valves or keys. I presume there must have been holes because the fingers were still flying around. The best part, though, was when all of us exited the hall and were greeted by the biggest, fluffiest, snowflakes in the wake of night. It’s finally “winter in Berlin.”

The weekend was playing “catch-up” but not really; the imminent presentation of Nazi war economy and the German test caused the bulk of my weekend to be preparation and studying. In terms of classes, I haven’t talked very much about my economics class. At first, it struck me more as a history class… it still does, but necessarily so. You cannot possibly understand the upswings and downfalls of industries and in particularly the German economy of the 20th century without taking into account the global events. The class has certainly grown on me. It also strikes me that in middle and high school, the world wars are an exciting topic from my memory but they were so overly simplified into “it is Germany’s fault,” “Germany was the enemy,” “Hitler was a madman.” Thus far, we have been talking about the economic implications that led Hitler to rise in the government and to make those decisions. He allowed the public to adopt his very simplistic assumption that Jews were to be blamed. And when Roosevelt led the rhetorical attack by encouraging Britain, France, and Poland to resist Nazi expansionism, the presence of Jewish influence in Western governments such as Roosevelt (he had Jewish roots but didn’t necessarily identify with that religion) led him to adopt anti-Westernism. Also, you know how they say you need a little bit of luck/that window of opportunity? Hitler did have that, and so did Albert Speer. Very interesting to how lazy we can be and just take things for what they say without looking at the bigger picture. Also, if you haven’t heard of “The Wave,” I highly suggest you look it up on Google. Its findings are quite astonishing and make you wonder if that kind of experiment were to happen in today’s time, say at Stanford, how would the results be similar/different?

Week 5. For the weekly field trip, we checked out the remaining sites of the Berlin Wall along with a church community that was amongst the divided communities/families/friends when the Berlin Wall was present.

Now, what does one do without the instrument she’s lived and breathed with for the past 14 years? …go to MORE concerts.

Berlin Philharmonic. THE BERLIN PHILHARMONIC. Sir Simon Rattle. Leonidas Kavakos. And an ENTIRE Sibelius program. ❤ Thanks to Diego and Mark for being so down to come with me to this amazing concert. I can die a peaceful and happy death now. If you haven’t heard Sibelius Symphony No. 7, go check it out!

Now, the biggest event in Berlin Winter is probably the Berlinale, or the Berlin International Film Festival. With 400+ screenings of 100+ movies, it is quite a show indeed. The film class here got passes to get into movies, but students talk of “horror” stories of getting up at 5AM to wait in line for 2 hours just to get tickets. All so that they can watch the required 10 movies for class. Yikes. But it sounds like a fun time. The Philharmonie was actually in the vicinity of Potsdamer Platz where one of the Berlinale venues is, so I had some down time to check it out. You know, how on TV you see the red carpet with cars rolling in, flashes of cameras, radio station cars all lined up? Yeah, it’s a thing.

On Saturday, our professor took us on a big field trip to Potsdam. Field trips this week were not at very good times, they were always lots of walking and freezing our ears off. The main takeaway of Potsdam is…. everything is pink there.

Just kidding! Potsdam used to be Germany’s capital and it was where a conference was held post-WWII to figure out what they should do with Germany. So it definitely is significant to the history (and Kaiser Wilhelm owned many palaces in the city. Apparently Tom Cruise owned one as well when he was filming Valkyrie). It was a very beautiful city, with the cobblestone that is pleasing to the eye but as you step you’re worried about twisting your ankle. It was a great way to get out of the city but get some walking in, vs. the people who watched 5-6 movies for their film class. But there WAS a lot of pink.

What this post is about: yay for snow, ugh for freezing my butt off. a TON of music, because why not ❤ also too much dessert

Stay tuned for Carneval in Köln and Istanbul!