Friday, October 24, 2008

on history

I'm taking a history class this semester and it's called "East Asia in the World: 1500-2000". When I first saw the title, I didn't think too much of it. And then people started to comment on how long the time period is. I had taken a history class sophomore year and that was a really good class. It was about WWII so it was a much shorter period of time. We mostly talked about human emotions and motivations. But in this class, we talk a lot about dates, important events, international relations, politics, and economics. I would much rather focus on human emotions and hear stories about people's daily lives. But running through all the centuries in one course also has its advantages.

You really get the whole picture. This class is mostly about China and Japan and how their relationship with the rest of the world changed as we move into the modern era. When we started in the 1500, Ming dynasty in China, I don't think any of us had much thought about where this class was going. But now that we're talking about the 20th century, I've come to realize how useful it is to be able to see the bigger picture. Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty, Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion, rise of Chinese Nationalist Party, Sino-Japanese Wars, Chinese Communist Party.... it all makes sense. I have a such better knowledge of China (and Japan's) modern history. Back in high school, I kept wishing that we could skip all this old stuff and get into more modern stuff. But the 1970s, 80s, 90s don't make any sense by themselves. History is not about what happened, it's about how and why. The events themselves are just secondary. I've also realize that it's not a simple cause and effect. Everything's much more complex when you start looking at how things happen, the motivations, the context, the emotions. I think I just like complex things.

Ramming Earth

This D-Lab project of bringing stable rammed earth structures made without cement to Sierra Leone is starting to come together. So far, Ben (another person in my group) and I have managed to read through a few books and talked to a couple of professors. And.. the project is taking shape. I really feel like I'm putting my education to use. I guess that's part of D-Lab's purpose. Not only are they aiming to empower poor people in developing countries, but also to show MIT students that the stuff we're learning is actually useful. We're using all the principles of design and construction and it's really cool to actually understand these technical books. I understand what people mean when they talk about clays and sands, types of foundations, and other design elements. It's just all coming together. Next up, Lucy's going to try to produce some actual calculations. haha! We'll see how that works out.

Also, for this trip, we have to learn a new language. It's called Krio. It's a language that evolved from English and other West African languages. And since I'm taking linguistics, I'm slowly able to understand linguistic texts that talk about the language. It's really cool. I can't believe my classes are actually useful. Amazing...

Monday, October 20, 2008

$2 a day

One of our homework for D-Lab this week is to experience what it is like to live in a developing country and the whole class is living off of $2 a day. Well, not quite. More like $12 for 6 days. This is mainly for food since everything else we use is hard to quantify. Yalu and I decided to ban together so that we can have more money to work off of. So far, it's been quite an adventure.

We decided to start this on Saturday night, starting at dinner. So that afternoon, after disagreeing about how we're going to get to Star Market, we went out on our food shopping expedition. We stopped at the Korean store and got carrots, nappa, and green onions all for $2.57. Then we went to Star Market and got pork, bread, milk, and peanut butter. Our plan is to make rice porridge for lunch and dinner and then have bread and peanut butter for breakfast. Only it hasn't really worked out that way. We've been eating a lot of our bread and peanut butter since the porridge isn't very filling. I kept making this very watery porridge.

On Sunday, we decided that making porridge everyday would take a long time so we made a huge pot of this stuff all at once. We took some pictures, which I will post here soon. The pot was one of those soup kitchen pots and it barely fit on the stove.

I wonder what the rest of our class is doing. I think the only reason why we've managed to have rice, bread, and milk is because Yalu and I pooled our "resources". Otherwise, we'd both be eating the same thing 3 meals a day.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harvest Fest

On Saturday, I went to Somerville's community garden to volunteer with their Harvest Fest that they have every year. It attracted a lot of toddlers and their parents. We had apple bobbing, cooked veggies that were grown locally, pumpkin carving, and apply cider making. I went and helped with the apple cider making because I was attracted by the cider press. A couple of people were trying to make it work and I was trying to figure out how it worked.

So their way was a pretty long process. Someone would cut up the apples into small pieces, someone else would need to feed it into a grain grinder thing, and we would collect the ground apples (and the juice) to put into the press. The press has sleeves that lets the juice filter out. The result was really good. The only problem was that the cutting and grinding of the apples took a while. The press needed a lot of ground apples to operate. A lot of kids wanted to help grind the apples (turn the handle).

So I let them all help me grind apples. I mainly fed more apples into the grinder and pushed the apples down so that they get grinded. This grinding process can actually go prety fast but not with the kids. They're too energic and jumpy and was just concerned about turning the handle rather than producing any output. I didn't think this was a problem at all but a lot of the adults were complaining that it was taking too long. I'm not sure why they were complaining anyhow. I think we were producing enough cider. We just weren't going very fast. I was just concerned that all the kids who wanted to help, had the chance to help. There was a three year old that was really sweet who didn't do too much, but I didn't mind. If the kids are having fun, who cares if the process is inefficient? Who cares if we aren't really producing a lot of cider? I really hate it when people miss the point because they were concerned about efficiency, production, and doing things fast. Not everything has to be competition. Who cares if one kid can turn the handle faster than the other one?

Actually, I don't think cider making was supposed to be a hands on activity but just a "watching how it's done." But the kids just kept coming and wanted to help out. These other volunteers and parents, though, they just kept commenting on how this grinding the apples was a bottleneck of the whole process. I'm just like, "The kids don't mind! They don't even care about the cider. They just want to turn the handle and see mush come out the other end. And if they learn a little something out of this and get to drink cider, that's great. Seriously, as long as they're having fun and get to do what they want to do, that's good enough for me."