Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Soundtrack of 2014

2014 has been an amazing year for me, full of milestones. I accepted a job offer, got engaged, finished and defended my thesis, moved cross country, and started my first real job. As always, music is strongly tied to my memories, so I will provide a few tracks that are serve as my personal soundtrack for this past year.

(I don’t know how to link to only the music without the video. The content of the music, and subsequently the music videos, often have nothing to do with my associated memory of it. So try to ignore the video, especially Tove Lo’s provocative looking stop frame.)

I played this track from Childish Gambino in the rental cars to each one of my interviews, to pump myself up. The end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 were a blur of job interviews, and while it was exhausting, I loved every moment. I got to travel for free, learn about different industries, meet and talk to all sorts of smart people. All while, for the first time in my life, I felt like I could perhaps contribute something to the world. Even now, hearing 3005, makes me feel like I’m on top of the world, like I’m ready to nail another job talk.

Similar to Childish Gambino, I used Cold War Kids to pump myself up while working in the clean room. Miracle Mile in particular reminds me of gowning up in those bunny suits, and running around different bays to use several instruments simultaneously to most efficiently use my time in the clean room (which charges a hefty fee to my advisor by the hour)

Because I know I tie songs with memories very strongly, I wanted to have an album I would immediately connect with writing my thesis. I wanted to remember being holed up in my office late into the night (sometimes through the night) writing, printing out a completed chapter to read through and edit, realizing what I wrote was awful and incomprehensible, and completely marking up my chapter with red ink through gritted teeth. Writing my thesis was simultaneously one of the most frustrating and rewarding processes. I wanted to recreate that feeling by simply listening to a song. Hence, I put an album on repeat during the few weeks I was writing intently. And yet, somehow, I have absolutely no idea which album that was, so I guess that didn’t work. I do remember listening to “Not a Bad Thing” and “Pusher love girl” by Justin Timberlake one particular night, when a persistent fly was zipping around my head, and I thought I was going to go crazy.

I first heard this song while feeling completely overwhelmed by life — it felt like everything was plowing ahead at a frightening speed, and leaving me behind, lost and confused. Mike and I had just bought our first car, and were struggling to find affordable insurance. I had just emailed my completed thesis to my committee, movers were coming to my apartment in a few days, and my defense was in less than 2 weeks. I was sitting in the living room of my friend Ben Maron’s house in new york, bathing in the morning light streaming through the windows. I played this song on my phone, and the crooning alto verse immediately calmed me down. I recognized how lucky I was to have so many exciting events happening, and to be surrounded by supporting friends. This track helped me, for the first time in a long time, process my emotions and recognize how sad I was to be moving away soon.

We bought the new Alt-J CD at a hip record store in Austin, TX. We had been listening to the singles from the album for a while already, and I had very high expectations for the album. This isn’t the right post for me to review the album, so I’ll save that for another time (hah!) But “Left Hand Free” in particular reminds me of driving cross country in our new car, the excitement we felt starting a new life on the west coast.

I listened to this song every morning while driving through the Santa Monica mountains in my first few weeks at my new job. The 15 minute drive is stunning, each turn offering a new view of the rocky canyon, green mountains, or the ocean. I was (am! this is so recent it’s hard to speak about it in the past tense) nervous about finding where I fit in the company, wanting to make a good first impression, without coming across as too eager.

Again, this post isn’t meant to be a review of music in 2014 (the first three tracks in fact are from 2013). I will say that this year was a weak one for music. However, because I use this blog as a way of keeping track of music and entertainment, I want to give a “shout out” to my favorite albums of the year: This is All Yours (Alt-J), I Never Learn (Lykki Li), Seeds (TV on the Radio), 1000 Forms of Fear (Sia), Talking is Hard (Walk the Moon).

What about you? Any favorite albums or tracks this year? Am I the only one who has such strong associations between music and memories?


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Why it’s hard being 22

It’s 5:40am and I’ve already been up for 2 hours. Why, you ask? I’m pretty sure I woke up from a bad dream. In my dream, I was a transistor and I was trying to plug a resistive load into my output (that is not an innuendo!). But I couldn’t for the life of my figure out if my output was on the collector or emitter end. I got so frustrated and fed up with being a transistor, I woke up myself up at 3:30am. And I haven’t been able to fall asleep since. Curse you, Phys123!! You are ruining my life!

So I’ve been up for 2 houars, sitting on the couch, and thinking. I explored all of my thoughts, including the ones in the corners of my brain, hiding in the shadow of the happy thoughts. After what seemed like endless contemplation, I realized that the source of all of my troubles and unhappiness in the past few months boils down to this: I’m entering adulthood and it fucking blows.

What does “entering adulthood” mean? Technically, I’ve been an “adult” since 18. So why the big change now? The thing is, I’ve realized that for the first time in my life, I need to start assuming full control and responsibility (what a big word!) of my life. Everything before now has been preparation for becoming an adult. School is something I had to go through and do well at so I can have a successful future. But the future is now, and I’m not really sure what it is. I’m in grad school, which in some ways is still preparation for a career. The difference, though, is that none of this is mandatory anymore. I don’t have do to anything! Every class I take, every choice I make, every…every breath you taaake, every move you maaaake, I’ll be watching you. Dun dun dun dun, da dum da dum — oh wait, sorry. I couldn’t help it. Also, trying to type-sing is really hard.

The point is that every thing I do now has the purpose of fulfilling a greater goal. But the big question is: what is that greater goal? Grad school so far has brought me a series of questions, one after another. The hardest part about being an “adult” is that there is no longer anyone to answer them for you. The questions range from specific (“Are solar cells based on quantum dots a field worth pursuing?”) to the broad (“What makes me happy? What am I passionate about in life?”)

My biggest worry is that I’m just blindly following the momentum of my life and settling for the easiest path. What if what makes me pretty happy at the moment does not make me happy in the future? Every once in a while I get this itch to just suddenly destroy everything I’ve built for myself so far…to drop out of everything and leave everyone I know and start from scratch to answer those pesky questions. Who is Shanying and what does she want out of this life?

When you’re a kid, knowing what makes you happy or sad was the easiest part of life. I liked to eat, play, and poop. I did not like to be hit or made fun of. But now something so simple has grown to be the most complicated part of life. How do I find the answer without ruining everything I already have?

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We’ve all experienced it. Someone catches you off guard with an insult, a challenge, or perhaps just a simple question. You stumble, trying to think of a clever response, but your mind blanks. So you say something really stupid instead only to think of a perfect comeback a few minutes/hours/days/years later.

For example: when I was a senior in high school, I was making some presentation in my math class. For whatever reason, I decided to also use the chance to make some comment about being against the War on Iraq. Yeah, 17-year-old me was pretty obnoxious. That day during lunch, a group of boys who were well-known conservatives approached me. “We heard that you were complaining about the U.S. fighting the war in Calc D today. Is that true?”

May I briefly interject here and explain that these group of guys were the stars of the Speech and Debate club, and I was one of the worst debaters (though I did at one point win “Most Improved”). (Oh god just the memories of Speech and Debate makes me want to cry). I was outspoken about my political views but didn’t do much reading on stuff, where as those guys were digesting, like, 25 news sources a day. Secretly I worshiped the ground they walked on, wishing I could one day be as eloquent and politically minded as they were.

Anyways, as I was saying, they came up to me at lunch and said blah blah you’re a really stupid girl who’s way beneath us and you whined about the war on Iraq, right?

“Um. Yeah?” I responded cautiously. “War is bad!….?”

“Well,” the tall, sort of scrawny and nerdy and YET SO TERRIFYING guy said, “how do you explain that earlier today [some value] percent of the Democrats in the Senate [or House] voted in favor of fighting the war?”

I blinked. He was throwing facts at me. FACTS! How do I ever come up with a good response against this intelligent, reasonable, knowledgeable conservative? I did what any other politician would have done.

“Na uh!”

“It’s true. Check CNN.”

“Oh, well then.” Heat began radiating from my face. I quickly said “whatever, I haven’t read that report. I can’t trust your sources.” And then I ran the hell away.

That shameful memory haunted me for years and years. Finally, five years later, while unable to fall asleep in bed I’ve got my comeback. I’m very excited about this, guys. Are you for it? Are you? Okay. Here it goes.

“What do party lines have to do with anything??” BAM. In your face.

Do you guys have any time in your life you wish you could go back to now with a better comeback? I’m sure you do! Entertain me, so I don’t feel so lame. Whatever it is, your response couldn’t have been worse than “I, personally believe, that, Americans, don’t have maps.”

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Dear god it’s been a long time since I last updated this blog. I can’t even begin to describe how crazy my life has been. Let me just say that the best part of my days in the past few weeks was sitting on the loo, reading the Economist, because it was the only time I could do something relaxing without feeling guilty about it.

Last weekend, while I was guilt-riddenly procastinating my take-home midterm, my NSF application, and studying for an in-class exam, I decided to go back through my MIT webmail to try to figure out when Mike and I first met. I’m pretty sure everyone who reads this blog knows this already, but for that one person who doesn’t, this is how the boy and I met:

Mike, I hope you don’t mind that I’m posting this. It’s your fault for still being asleep at 1pm! I’M SO BORED WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ME TO BE DOING INSTEAD?!?!?!?

Erm anyways. As I was saying. We met because we had to kiss in a phone booth at the student center during the scavenger hunt between the all-female and all-male a cappella groups at MIT. I guess that’s cute. It also sort of makes me feel like a slut. But whatever. I liked him because he had long hair which made him a hipster/emo boy in my eyes. He liked me because I had short hair. It turned out that he’s just a preppy private school kid who’s too lazy to get a haircut and I was a boring, nerdy chick who had a really unfortunate haircut by a fellow student. So basically, our relationship is completely based on the wrong first impressions and misunderstandings. Isn’t it romantic?

Anyways, this marks our first anniversary outside of college, which should call for a special celebration. We officially made it through four years together, despite the hardships MIT put us through. Last week he bought me six chocolate bars from a gourmet chocolatier as our anniversary present (He’s been lobbying for an anniversary month, not day. I won’t complain). SIX! I take this as a sign that he has accepted the fact that he’ll be around long enough to see me get fat anyways, so he might as well be the source of it.

What a sweet bf. Happy anniversary, dear. Love you.

Note: I wrote this blog on Sunday morning while fattie was still sprawled on the bed, mouth agape, and drooling. But he woke up before I had the chance to post, and I felt kind of weird writing about him when he was around. I know. I’m great at communicating feelings…

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Death is a funny thing. It’s debilitating and impacts you on many levels, but there is so little you can say that doesn’t come out cheesy and cliché. Words don’t do a good enough job expressing how you feel.

“Now how in the world did they miss THAT mispelling?” Mike laughed, holding up MIT’s newspaper The Tech for me to see. I noticed the word “Marthon” on a large heading on the front page and giggle loudly. Oh, Tech, you really need to work on your editing, I thought to myself. Then I saw the words “Chemistry Graduate Student” and “Dead” and “Collapse” in the heading and my head began to reel. The article began with “Peter N. Curtin, 23, a graduate student in Course V, died Saturday…”

It didn’t make sense. Things weren’t adding up, and my stomach was dropping fast. I remember Peter. We TA’ed 5.112 together. We went out to bars, watched Superbad, and hung out at his apartment. He gave me worth advice on applying to graduate schools and NSF that I was just passing on to another undergraduate in my new lab. He comforted me after I spent all night crying about not being accepted into Stanford. He’s not one to collapse 25-miles into a marathon. What is this article trying to telling me?

I read the article 5 more times, each time growing more confused and bewildered. I was in shock, and I simply refused to believe it. I texted another fellow TA to get the real story. He confirmed it was true. I would be being dramatic if I were to pretend my world fell apart. It didn’t quite. But I was suddenly feeling an overwhelming amount of anger towards everything. Towards the alleged 250 doctors at the race who weren’t able to save him. Towards the Chemistry Department for not notifying me first. Towards marathons in general for being such a ridiculous and demanding sport.

Since that terrible moment I called another fellow TA in San Diego to talk about it. Then I met up with two TA friends at Dunkin Donuts to figure out if there was anything I could do. We caught up, talked about Peter and how everyone is coping. I feel better now. But the thought that is still getting me and catching me off guard is what he told me last time we hung out. He was expressing doubt about graduate school and whether or not it was right for him. Some of the same doubts that are clouding my mind these days. And I can’t help but wonder — did he pass happily, or did he have deep regrets? I really really hope and wish with all of my heart that he grew to love his lab and his research and that he felt nothing but content and happiness at the end.

Whenever I read obituaries, I am always surprised at how similar they sound. The decreased is always fun, happy, deeply sympathetic, intelligent and is described to always have a big smile on his/her face. I don’t know if it’s true for every other obituary I’ve read, but it is definitely true for Peter. Whenever I think of his face, I think of his big, hearty smile. Rest in Peace, Peter. Keep smiling up there.

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Mah crib


I promised pictures of the apartment something like 3-4 months ago. Then I got lazy and/or busy,

and by the time I was ready to take pictures, most of you had seen my apartment already.But I was telling my mom over the phone about how I put up new shelves. She wanted to see them, so I began taking pictures. Then I thought, why not just put the pictures on my blog and link them to my blog?

That’s right guys. I’m about to send my parents a link to my blog. Ever since I cleaned it up though, I actually feel more comfortable sharing it. So hi parents! Enjoy my blog! Please don’t get mad at me 😦

And so begins the tour of my apartment (click on the pictures for a larger image). Let’s begin with the entrance. Welcome!

To your left you will find some beautiful artwork of local Tuscan artist, purchased in Italy. Not gonna lie: buying art made me feel pretty legit. Too bad those aren’t the originals. The prints are still pretty though. To your right you will see my obsessive collection of coupons. I LOVE saving money and I won’t let any coupon slip away.



Towards your left, next to the art is my rather small, but nice kitchen. What got me really excited about the apartment at first was the fact that everything was newly renovated. The kitchen is where I spend too much time, creating tasty meals shared on dinnechezmoi (I’m trying to make the blog a legitimate food blog!)


Proceed now onto the dining room. Most of my food photos come out pretty crappy, which I will blame on the bad lighting. It really has nothing to do with my lack of photographic ability! Next to the dining table is the buffet that we bought not too long ago. We joke that it’s the classiest corner in our apartment with the expensive wines and 30-year-old scotch. To add to the classiness, I have a unicorn figurine impaling people figurines with its magical horns. (seriously. It’s awesome.)


The living room contains a used couch that needs badly to be replaced with a newer and nicer one. But we did get it for free and couches are quite expensive. Next to the piano is the origami bookshelf my flatmate made himself. Check out his crrrrazy origami!


Finally, here is a glimpse of our bedroom and its workspace (observe new shelves).


Staples is having a sale selling 4 corkboards for $5, which is quite a bargain. Go grab some before they run out! Word of caution though: these corkboards are very low quality…I need some more pictures or other fun things to put on my boards. The picture on the upper left corner is my mom holding my stuffed animal on the ride home after sending me off for the first time for MIT four years ago. Oh and check out the cute cups we got in Italy last summer! Particularly the udders on the female cow. Adorable!


Hope you enjoyed the tour! Feel free to pop by and hang out. We always welcome guests here!

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What I’m about to tell you isn’t for the faint of heart. What I’m about to tell you will also definitely ruin the image you have of Shanying being cool in any degree. And I know you ALL think I’m super duper cool and hip.

So…here it goes.

I totally absolutively friggen love being back in school. Seriously.

It’s so nice to just be able to sit back and listen to Professors who are at the top of their field share their vast knowledge with me. Unlike with work, I actually look forward to waking up in the mornings. At school, someone else does all the thinking and the planning. All I have to do is learn. I don’t have to “take charge” or “motivate” myself. Plus, every lecture is different, and I won’t get bored by the monotony of it all. I couldn’t wait to get started on the problem set when the professor handed it out, even though it’s not due for another week.

My new-found love for school has also led to near-obsessive writing. Below you can witness the uncharacteristically neat notes and problem set (ps. if you’re a 282 student, pls don’t copy my answers? kkthnx). I’ve laid out my absolute favoritest pen and pencil at the moment for those who are interested: Pentel R.S.V.P. Fine-tipped black and red ballpoint and Pentel P205 0.5mm mechanical pencil.


P.S. I give this euphoria a week. I predict that by 3pm on Friday, 9/18 I will be back to complaining about how stressed I am and how much I hate classes and school and oh my god I can’t believe I actually liked, nay, LOVED it last week.

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