Sunday, January 29, 2012

waging war on wmata.

Perhaps this is coming too late, now that I no longer have that DC zip code to my address, but it still doesn't wash away the five months of hell I lived through as a dependent of the DC metro system.

When I first moved from California, I found myself enjoying the easy transportation. Public transportation was not a common component of life in California, and I was happy to have the metro system transport me where I needed to go. Quickly, the charm wore off, and I learned exactly why Mengfei had told me before I moved that I would hate the metro.

Unless you are traveling during rush hour, expect to be waiting for a really long time. It's as if WMATA forgets that they have people to serve on off-peak hours, or on weekends too. They seem to be doing track maintenance all the time, and my question is, "Are you actually making improvements?" Because if you're doing maintenance all the time, you must not actually be fixing anything. I once waited 45 minutes at Gallery Place for the red line on a Sunday because of single tracking. Seriously, WMATA--why don't you do your maintenance during non-operating hours? It's bad enough the metros stop running at midnight (or at 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) so that any chance of enjoying the limited DC night life is impossible, but then you force people to endure delays while you "improve" your system. But you're not improving anything.

And now there's talk of a fee increase? For what? It is already ridiculousy expensive because you charge by distance and don't allow for a monthly unlimited pass the way the New York subways do or, hell, even the Sacramento light rail does. Plus, it costs more to ride the metro during rush hour--the only time it's somewhat efficient! I'll support your fee increase when you actually do what you're supposed to be doing.

It would also be lovely if the escalators and elevators worked in each station. The tracks are so far underground that stairs would kill most people. I remember a time when the Woodley Park elevator was out for a month, and then it "worked" for a week, but then was out again for another three weeks.

I've been passed by trains that just didn't stop, offloaded for no discernible reason, and trapped in tunnels without so much of an impersonal intercom apology. And I know I'm not the only one--just check the @unsuckdcmetro Twitter.

And, of course, if stranded and in a time crunch, you will be forced to take a taxi, which is another rant itself. DC taxi drivers take advantage of everyone, whether you're a tourist or not. They will drive slow, take long routes, and charge you for the most ridiculous things. Unfortunately, those taxis are your only option, especially if WMATA shuts down stations you need in the guise of "improving your experience."

When people ask me what it was like to live in DC, I wish I could spend more time talking about the historical sights and the wonderful galleries and the amazing time I spent at NPR. But all that takes a backseat to my explanation of why it is one of the most frustrating cities to live in: because WMATA will rob you of your time, money and patience.

The one positive thing is that the metros are clean. But I'll take the cold, gray New York subways over a cushioned orange seat any day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

journalism vs. j-school.

One of the most underrated arenas of campus life is the field of college journalism. The most challenging obstacle it faces is the belief that it doesn't need to be taken seriously. In my opinion, college journalism is one of the best launching pads for young journalists. You can take risks, cover a smaller environment in-depth, and you can learn the ins and outs of ethics, leadership and creativity. The way I see it, college journalism is a microcosm of the "real world," and if you want to be a "real journalist"...well, take advantage of the opportunity. Your four (or five, or six...) years as an undergraduate will shape your work ethic, and those years are important in creating the kind of journalist and writer you want to be.

But what about grad school, then? Is journalism school necessary?

In a 1993 article for The New Republic, Michael Lewis ventures into the hallowed halls of the Columbia School of Journalism to find the answer for himself. He sits through classes, talks with professors and students, and talks to working journalists as well:
“Whenever I hear someone went to journalism school I immediately assume they are inferior in one way or another,” says Joel Achenbach, who writes the “Why Things Are” column for The Washington Post. “All we do is ask questions and type and occasionally turn a phrase. Why do you need to go to school for that?”  
Post editor Katherine Boo agrees. “It's just a huge hoax,” she says. “I think how you become a journalist is that you write. You don't see any correlation between journalistic education and an ability to write a story. When you get a great piece, and you call the person to see who he is, he never says, 'Oh I just came from journalism school.'”
What strikes me about those comments is the similar ones I heard while at NPR--and this is about eight years after Lewis's article. Multiple senior editors and producers all shared the same belief: j-school is not necessary. It doesn't guarantee you a job. What guarantees you a job is the motivation to pursue the profession and an ability to really write and get to the heart of a story. Experience matters, not a graduate degree.

J-school students will disagree, and they're entitled to their opinions. But I strongly recommend Lewis's article. Hands-on experience matters, especially in our current age of growing technology. You could sit through two, three, four years of j-school learning things, but in a week, something new will pop up and you'll have to learn it all over again.

Gather your years of experience as a journalist and a forward thinker in your 18-22 years. Be bold, take risks, find your voice. Then once you flip that tassel and have that diploma in your hand, get ready to plunge into the workforce. It's an exciting world with a lot of news to cover, so don't spend your time waffling at school. If you want to be a journalist, be one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

loving, with choice.

Inside my grandparents' home: the cross-stitch my mom made with all nine grandchildren's
names and birthdates; the mantle lined with all of our graduation photos; the wishing tree from
Mel and Kim's surprise baby shower we threw them back in August.
Families are frustrating. I think they're supposed to be, or else we couldn't learn to appreciate them in times of crises and need. I was born into a strong community full of strong individuals. It's a large family, full of aunts and uncles and cousins who feel more like a second set of parents and siblings. I think one of the saddest things about being away from all that now is the realization that if I ever had kids, they won't get to experience that too.

I've never thought of myself as much of a family person, but the more time I spend with them as an adult, the more I miss them. As the youngest, I never really got to bond with my cousins the way I wish I could have. Perhaps this is why 'communities' are so important to me: because they remind me of my most significant, yet distant, one.

Thanks to a persuasive New Yorker review of Parenthood, I marathoned through all of the episodes up until the latest one and found that the strength of the show lies in the irritating characters that you can't help but care about (except, maybe, Kristina). Watching Parenthood makes me homesick, and not just because it takes place in Berkeley, but because it's the kind of community I can only see now through photo albums. We're all so spread apart--and yet, when there are celebrations or holidays that reunite us, it makes me yearn for that community to exist year-round. Despite the frustrations and the arguments and the drama, there's still a love that can't be tossed aside.

Mom always told us that her father reminded them that family is the most important thing because, at the end of the day, that's sometimes all you have. And I think it's true. Sure, you don't have to love them, but you choose to because they're yours, and whomever you choose to date or marry better appreciate that too because my family is made up of a fierce love that radiates toward everyone who enters our home. Be prepared to be engulfed with passion, care and encouragement. When it comes to birthdays and holidays and every little milestone, we go big. We'll love you because someone in our family loves you, and that's all we need to know.

Being far away from my family makes me feel less connected to my identity and culture. It's tough to go from being surrounded by it, to never having it around. And because I didn't seek out similar communities in college, I had friends who would joke about me being whitewashed which, secretly, really upset me. They have no idea, I would think, of who I am or where I came from. Maybe it's my fault for never saying anything.

Anyways, the point is...it's difficult for me to articulate how important my family is to me. Each one of them has something that makes them special and unique, and I could spend pages and pages just writing about them. It makes me sad that I won't have the opportunity to bring new people into this community while I'm thousands of miles away.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

protecting the silenced.

Carolyn Kater/AP
Update, 9:51 p.m.: This was written before news of Paterno's condition was released today and is in no way meant to be disrespectful.

Update, Jan. 22, noon: Joe Paterno passed away earlier this morning.

Last week, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post published her feature on Joe Paterno, the first public interview with the former Penn State football coach since he was fired last November. In the article, Jenkins manages to put together various pieces of the Penn State puzzle, and also looks at the bigger picture of what the charges against Jerry Sandusky mean for society.

Regarding the allegations, Paterno recalls moments in the past when accusations of Sandusky's actions were brought to his attention. In 2002, Assistant Coach Mike McQueary went to Paterno to report what he witnessed in the Penn State locker room showers. "You know, he didn't want to get specific," Paterno said in the interview. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."

Jenkins's profile of Paterno does not seek to blame or tear apart the man who headed the successful Penn State football program for decades. What it does is expose one of the biggest problems in society: the lack of conversation and education about sexual abuse. There are some who will say it's "over-covered in the media," but what they're thinking of is the sensationalization of these stories in the media that often tend to miss the real problem: it isn't that this stuff only happens to high-profile people; it happens everyday, everywhere.

Yesterday, the New York Times took a look inside the world of college sports and asked an age-old question that is now at the surface of many conversations: "Has big-time sports hijacked the American campus? The word today is 'balance,' and the worry is how to achieve it."

At UCI, there was no football team--something that many will blame the lack of campus spirit on. But UCI Athletics was a constantly growing and evolving program that saw seasons of highs and lows. While general campus spirit and interest can arguably be tied to a strong athletics program, I don't think it should overwhelm and take over the culture of learning and process of growth and maturation that should be happening at a university. We should learn to foster close communities, yes, but we should be careful of the communities we choose to protect when dangerous situations arise. The riots that followed Paterno's firing and the upset over that action taken by the university was uncalled for. We as a society need to be better than that.

And maybe not everyone can always know what to do in these situations, but the urge to not speak about "it" is damaging. Is Paterno at fault for what happened to Sandusky's victims? No--not exclusively, at least. In many ways, society is. We are all responsible for these victims of sexual violence because the longer we as a society keep quiet, we are contributing to the perpetuation of violence and abuse.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

wrinkled.

I don't own an iron.

I never really thought about this before. Whenever something needed to be straightened out, I would just hang it in the bathroom during a hot shower and use my hands, a la Loretto choir dress style. I never really had much need for an iron, anyways--just one more thing to move around.

But when I was back in Sacramento recently, I was watching my grandpa iron his shirts before we went to lunch, and it occurred to me how weird this was to me. The last time I used an iron must've been high school, and only because my mother told me to. Sure, there are times now I'll be sitting on the metro and I'll look down at my slightly wrinkled shirt and think, "Shoot, I look like a slob," but then I move on with life, and nobody comments (out loud, at least).

As I rolled up my clothes and shoved items in my suitcases to prepare for the next chapter of life in New York, all I could think was, "I'm going to look like I rolled out of bed when I get to work." What a great first impression, huh?

I suppose the lack of an iron is representative of instability, not so much a symbol of an unkempt demeanor. I'm not a slob (normally) and I always get my work done at the end of a day. So don't judge my appearance, world. I promise I'm clean, just a little off track right now.