Archives for Grace

The Last Spring Break

 
 

From Big Bend Nat’l Park, March 2010

I remember when I was a senior in college, my friends and I would talk about the last spring break and how we should make it count by doing something exceptional. However, I do not remember doing anything special that spring break three years ago. Before I knew it, I was back in school, and my friends and I were, again, talking about where to go during our last spring break. This time around, I am determined to make this break memorable. After all, it will be almost impossible to get a week off in the middle of March once I enter the workforce. Subsequent to some discussions and research on destinations and limitations, we explored the possibilities of Colorado, Cancun, and finally decided to take a road trip to Big Bend National Park.

I have never taken a road trip with my friends before, and I think the last time I was at a national park was at least seven years ago when my family went to Yosemite. My excitement was thus mixed with some anxiety of not knowing what to expect out of the trip. But, I did know for certain that the trip would be awesome because of the people I was going with. The participants of the trip consisted of my dear friend and classmate Ming-Chan, her boyfriend Tung-Yeh, our mutual friend Jack, and me. Four people, one Toyota Camry (fixed just in time for the trip!), and a lot of snacks and instant noodles.

The drive began mid-morning on the Friday before spring break officially started. We had a German wurst and schnitzel lunch in Fredericksburg then drove for seven hours almost non-stop to Big Bend (thanks, Jack!)

From Big Bend Nat’l Park, March 2010

For all three nights of our vacation, we stayed at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, the park’s only lodging. For the next couple of days, we hiked into the desert seeking Balanced Rock, down into the Santa Elena Canyon, up onto the canyon overlooking the Rio Grande Village, and played on the sandy beach of the Rio Grande.

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Getting Around In Austin

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Normally I am quiet on the subject of public transportation since I own a car that I unapologetically drive around town. However, the car that I (now sadly) own is a Toyota Camry and, in light of the recent accelerator sticking problem with many Toyota cars, I decided to stay off the road for a bit. I must add, though I own a car now, I have been happily relying on public transportation during the years that I lived in Taipei and Boston. Even now, if I am in a city where I have the options of driving or riding some kind of convenient public transit, I would gladly choose the latter.

 

Although many people would say that it is next to impossible to live in the great state of Texas without four wheels, I have observed a few modes of transportation that the people of Austin use to get around town.

 

1.     UT Shuttles

Since I live right next to a UT shuttle stop in West Campus, I must praise the convenience of the shuttles. They are operated by the same company as the MetroBuses, and mostly UT students utilize these shuttles. I just counted on the MetroBuses Web site that there are fourteen shuttle routes that serve to as far as Far West and Lake Austin. The shuttles run fairly frequently during school hours, and I have never waited for more than a few minutes for a shuttle during the day. The only downside is that the shuttles do not operate on Saturdays and with only limited service on Sundays, which makes going to places along the shuttle routes difficult on weekends.

 

2.    MetroBuses

UT shuttle does not take you to where you want to go when you want to go? Fear not! There are still the city buses that have significantly more extensive routes and services. I have only utilized a few lines near campus and downtown when riding the buses was more convenient than driving, but I have seen many commuters taking full advantage of this public good. The best part of the city buses is that anyone with a UT ID (student, faculty and staff) rides for free! There are also the night owl shuttles that run from numerous campus locations to downtown Austin from Thursday to Saturday for the people who are going out on weekend nights. It is definitely a cheap/free alternative to taxis or paying the high parking fees downtown.

 

3.     MetroRail

The MetroRail is something of a novelty in Austin considering that it has not officially started servicing the general public yet. I am on the hopeful lookout to try it once it is in operation, however! The line that will be unveiled first will run north from Downtown to Leander. Another line in the works will run east from downtown Austin. For more information, please visit the MetroRail Web site.

 

4.    Bicycles

I am ashamed to say that I am a terrible biker. I can ride it, but I lack the confidence to ride it anywhere near a busy street when I have to share the road with other wheels (my friend who has ridden with me can vouch for that statement! I am pretty sure she will never ride with me again). But, there are many savvy cyclists in the streets of Austin who safely get from point A to point B without fearful screaming because many streets, especially near and on campus, have bike lanes that make biking so much easier and safer. The City of Austin Web site has a useful resources page on biking in the city.

 

5.    Mopeds/Motorcycles

I own neither of these, but they are pretty awesome! Their ease to park would be, to me, the biggest advantage. There are also parking spots on campus for mopeds and motorcycles if they are your choice modes of transportation.

 

6.    Your own two feet!

Personally, I like nothing more than to walk around town on a nice day, and Austin is known for its nice days! Although your own two feet can only walk so far, they are powerful tools when combined with any above mode of transportation. Most pedestrian paths are paved and comfortable to walk on. You might be surprised with how far you can walk in Austin!

 

Although nothing beats the convenience of driving your own car, sometimes it is simply easier/cheaper to use one of these alternatives. Plus, you would be reducing your carbon footprint if you decide to use public transportation! I truly believe that the City of Austin is trying its best to become a green and accessible city where people can get around easily without owning a car. I look forward to the arrival of that day!

Love the place that you study in!

It is hard to imagine that the second run of fall exams have already come to a close. After spending many days hiding from my furry roommate during the last two exam seasons, I have visited quite a few libraries on campus (and there ARE quite a few on campus!). I know that some people prefer to study at coffee shops or in their rooms. I prefer libraries mostly because I have problems concentrating for a long period of time (yes, the secret is out), and I need to be around people who are hard at work to force myself to stay on task. Plus, I can do without another excuse to drink more caffeine. Anyway, for the people who might have the same preference as I for the same or different reasons, allow me to share my thoughts on each library that I have visited below. 

 

  1. Perry Castaneda Library (PCL)

Perry Castaneda Library building

I like the PCL mainly for its convenience, because the West Campus shuttle picks up right in front of the PCL until as late as 10:23 p.m. on weekdays, which saves some walking for me when I am already tired from studying. Also, I have checked out a locker in the library that allows me to leave my textbooks and binders there. The PCL also has very long hours that could accommodate anyone’s schedule, though I have not stayed past midnight at the PCL. Finally, PCL’s policies on food and drink in the library are lax, so it is a good place for continuous studying. However, the PCL is sometimes too cold, especially on the higher floors. It is also in serious shortage of electrical outlets during exam seasons when everyone is vying for a table close to an outlet, which is not the most helpful when I need to be on my laptop. Furthermore, some of my friends have complained that they cannot stop sneezing when they are in the PCL if they are studying among the stacks. I guess being allergic to books definitely makes studying in a library like PCL somewhat more painful.

 

 2. Architecture Library Reading Room

Architecture BuildingThe architecture building is right across from the Texas Union, and the library has a side facing the lawn in front of the Main Building. The library itself is very beautiful with dark furnishing and plenty of natural lighting. Windows are important to me because I just need to have a piece of the gorgeous late autumn weather while I am studying. It also provides large desk spaces for people who like to spread their things out like me. However, one downside to this library is similar to that of the PCL, which is an outlet shortage. Another is that its hours are more limited, especially in the evenings and on the weekends. But, overall, the architecture library reading room is one of my favorite spots on campus.

 

 

 3. Law Library

Law School Library buildingTo be honest, I was only in the law library once to study, though it was a ten-hour stay. The law library opens earlier than most other libraries on campus on Sundays, so I trekked over there one Sunday before the first exam season. When I said I “trekked,” I really did. The law library is located past San Jacinto Blvd. on Dean Keeton St., which is unfortunately a good twenty-plus-minute walk from my apartment. It is also far from any food places that I am familiar with. The library itself has many tables and natural lighting. It was also a treasure trove of legal documents and periodicals, which are interesting to look at during study breaks. The thing I enjoyed the most about the law library is that it is definitely in no shortage of hardworking students. Once I saw the law students with the stacks of books by their laptops, I felt comforted by the amount of studying that still awaited me. However, evidently, the inconvenience of the library’s location from my usual whereabouts has kept me from visiting it again.

 

 4. Engineering Buildings

Engineering BuildingThe engineering library is also another option that is easily accessible to me, since it is on the West Campus shuttle route and not too far from McCombs. The library itself is smaller than some of the other libraries on campus, but it has plenty of large tables for students to work on. However, I spent my first finals reading period in Engineering Teaching Center II (ETC) on San Jacinto Blvd. and Dean Keeton St. There is a long row of cubicles along the eastern side of the building with windows that is an ideal studying location for me. Each cubicle has more than one electrical outlet and plenty of workspace. The temperature is comfortable in the building, and it has just the right amount of white noise and diligent students to keep me on track. I think I will reconsider this location for the upcoming finals this semester.

I hope the list gives some new options to other diligent MPA students who are getting ready for finals!

Note: All the pictures of buildings in this post are taken from utexas.edu.

New Roommate


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Above: Fufu, as he tried to yank my camera’s wrist strap – you can see the sparkle in his eyes.

My life has been in topsy-turvy for the past few months. The main reason is that I now have a furry and unruly roommate in the little studio apartment where I live. I adopted a kitten from the Austin Humane Society in July, and he has been with me for almost three months now. His name is Fufu, taken from the Chinese word fu, which means “good fortune.” As an American shorthair, Fufu is basically the run-of-the-mill stray cat that you would see digging through the neighborhood dumpster. But, to me, he is uniquely mine, and, aside from his occasionally disruptive ways, he is the best roommate I can ask for.

My family has had quite a few pets as I was growing up. My older sister, who lives in Houston, has two dogs and a cat. Although I am very used to the idea of living with animals, I have never had a pet of my own that I needed to take care of one hundred percent. Fufu is the first one, and he definitely proves me wrong when I thought that cats were easier to rear.

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Goodbye and Hello

The first week of classes has come and gone. Honestly, since I have been taking summer classes both sessions, I really did not feel the anxiety of starting classes again in the fall. The only aspect of the new semester that I still need some getting used to is not seeing some of familiar MPAs’ faces in classes anymore. Many of my classmates from the class of 2009 have graduated during the summer and moved on to conquering Corporate America, and I will miss them dearly. However, their absence reminds me that I should truly enjoy Austin while I am still here, especially while some ’09 MPAs are staying until December. We have grand (and not-so-grand, but fun regardless) plans in the making, so I am looking forward to the next few months.

The new semester also means new faces. Since I missed some of my core courses in the MPA program due to the spring internship, I am now in classes with many new traditional MPAs. It is definitely exciting to meet new people and to feel the enthusiasm of the new academic year. I am sure that it will be another successful MPA class. Hello! MPA Class of 2010, and I hope you are up for the challenge ☺

Some pictures from our end-of-summer-school Vegas trip:
Buffet dinner at Wynn

Buffet brunch at Caesar Palace

Good bye and good luck, Jie, Fiona, and Kan!