Saturday, January 30, 2010

Earthquake Work

On January 12, a 7.0 Mw earthquake hit the western part of the island of Hispaniola. The epicenter of the quake was only 16 miles away from the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Haiti is an extremely impoverished country so it goes without saying that the nation was woefully unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude.

With hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, the country's government brought to a standstill and even the UN mission in the country suffering large casualties, the world responded to Haiti's cry for help.

This made my life interesting as well. The unit I've been interning for at UNHCR since I got back in January is in charge of refugee protection in the Caribbean. It's a pretty small unit (3 people) so when two of them were called up to serve in a multi-agency UN mission to Haiti, a lot of US work was left undone. Because of this, I was asked to work full-time with UNHCR for the next two months. I'll have an opportunity to work on real refugee cases, do country of origin research and lots of other things that make it pretty cool to come in every morning. It's really a shame that it took a horrible natural disaster to hand me this opportunity, but hopefully I'm doing my part in helping indirectly.

As a side note, I'm still in charge of processing certain Haiti-related news for internal UNHCR distribution: I've made some rockin' excel spreadsheets/charts that have impressed my colleagues and some State Dept. people too. Thanks for the education Deer Canyon Elementary!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Great Falls

I ran into my good friend John on the way back from work and he invited me to go hiking with him this weekend. Since I hadn't gotten any use out of my hiking boots since I moved out here, I enthusiastically took him up on the offer.

After a temporary car-trouble setback, we drove out to Great Falls today, which is somewhere up the Potomac River from DC. Forgive me if my geography on the East Coast sucks. I'm working on it.

We put in a nice 5-6 miles over some rock-scrambling terrain on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. It was still around 30 or 40 degrees, but you won't find this San Diegan complaining today! We had some great views of the Potomac and a very leafless forest. Coming from a Californian campoing perspective, John and I both need to get used to these deciduous forests. Some pictures, courtesy of John and his technology:

Oh yeah... we went to this awesome sandwich place in Georgetown afterwards where I seriously had the best sandwich of my life. I'll try to remember what the place was called.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some DC Networking

Yesterday I went to a happy hour with a bunch of nerds.

A little background. When the earthquake hit Haiti, our office was responsible for providing on-the-ground news and knowledge for the main office in Geneva because we're in charge of the Caribbean. What that meant was that as news reports of the horrible death and destruction came in, it was my job to process it, summarize it and put it into a bureaucratic report.

Especially for those first few days, it was very important for the UN to find ot what was going on there (although not as important for my specific agency) becuse a response needed to be coordinated right away and the UN staff in Haiti was just dealing with finding survivors. One of the very helpful tools in getting closer to the primary sources was a project called Ushahidi. Ushahidi geographically maps information as it comes in real time through text messages, social media posts and news. It has been used for election monitoring Kenya and most recently was set up to help find survivors and connect people in need with humanitarian organizations in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.

After work I volunteered to help monitor news for Ushahidi - I don't think I did very much but it's a very interesting project. Anyway, a girl at Ushahidi recommended that I go to a "Tech4Dev" happy hour - people in interested in how technology interacts with international development. So that's how I went, and how I met some really cool people working on some wonderfully interesting projects. So, yeah. See the first sentence.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wedding #1

Last weekend I flew into San Diego for the first of many weddings that I'll be attending this year. I wasn't really expecting it, but I guess this'll be my big wedding year.

My string of weddings started off with a really amazing one - that of my cousin Brandon and his longtime girlfriend Kacie. Our family has known Kacie and her family for a long time through the San Diego Buddhist Temple, which just so happened to be where the ceremony took place.

I was asked to be an usher for the wedding, so Saturday afternoon, I participated in the wedding rehearsal. I escorted my imaginary grandma in her imaginary wheelchair to get practice for the real thing.

The wedding on Sunday was beautiful. Kacie came out to this awesome acoustic guitar rendition of Man in the Mirror. There were a lot of traditional Japanese elements to the wedding as well, including a tea sharing ceremony and the fact that is was presided over by the Sensei (reverend) of our temple.

Then came the PARTY! My sisters and cousins had a great time at the reception despite the Chargers' playoff loss that afternoon and a smattering of rain. Those negatives were definitely drowned out by some awesome dancing (we even taught the wedding guests a "traditional" Japanese dance to the One Plus One Ondo), a free-flowing bar, a photo booth and of course celebrating Brandon and Kacie's love!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

One Last Drive

After months of being cooped up in my parents' garage, my finally managed to find a buyer.

Rather, I found it a buyer. Her name is Lauren and I think they're going to get along well. Lauren got in touch with me at the beginning of last week and it just so happened that I was flying to California this weekend for my Grandpa's birthday and my cousin's wedding. It was pretty easy to buy a cheap one-way plane ticket from San Francisco and the plans for my last hurrah with my car were set.

After a late night flight from the East Coast in which my bag managed to get lost, I set out early in the morning on the familiar route from San Diego to the Bay Area. As I drove up the 5, I reminisced about the great trips my little car had helped me get through. My drive down the coast last spring gave me the inspiration and the courage to make a major life change and when I lived in Oakland, that car was the only thing the kept me in touch with my friends in the Bay Area. I feel old saying it, but I've had that car for five years.

I made a pit stop at the Stanford campus where I visited Marie and Liz at work and got a razor blade from the Parking and Transportation Office to finally take of the years of stickers that had accumulated on the windshield. I met up with Lauren in Burlingame, we test drove the car, signed some documents and she dropped me off at the airport.

Just like that.

As she drove away with the car that I had laughed in, stressed in, rocked out in, prepared for tests in, and driven to some of the most significant moments of my life, I knew I would miss it, but I'm confident the new owner wil take care of it. After all, she doesn't live in Oakland, so the car probably won't get broken into as much.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

California Co-operative Campaign Part 2

I woke up in Santa Cruz to a crisp but wonderfully sunny day. A delicious pancake breakfast and decision-making as to what we were going to do that day took the better part of the morning. We finally left the house to tour a bit around Santa Cruz. My sister seemed reluctant to leave and I could see why.

We spent a while walking along a cliff overlooking the Pacific and watching surfers riding long smooth swells.

Afterward, we drove to an organic market and had lunch at a taco shop. Bags packed, we said farewell to Santa Cruz...

...until the Prius died. We pushed the car to the side of the road (we were still pretty much in downtown Santa Cruz), called a tow truck and spent the afternoon in a dealership. Luckily, our previous Santa Cruz hosts were super welcoming and treated us to dinner at their house that evening. I spent the evening writing my first Macworld review.

After dinner (where I apparently I made ome awkward comments that my sister lectured me about later), we headed to Chavez Co-op, a community house nearby where my sister and friends wanted to spend the night. It's been 2 or 3 years since I last lived in a co-op, so I had to brush up on my co-oppiness, but the place was amazing.

Chavez had a very friendly community feel to it, and all the residents were super welcoming. Some of them took us to a show at a Santa Cruz house, where we heard Matt Embry, former frontman of the RX Bandits play some really awesome experimental music. When I learn how to upload mp3s, I'll stick them here because I recorded some of his stuff on my iPhone. Later that night, we returned to the house, where I talk to some really cool chicks who will be heading out to DC soon, danced in a room dance party, and sat on the floor and talked about music while listening to records with some dude. Very chill.

I fell asleep on a couch in the common room of Chavez with the smell of tea in my nostrils and the faint sound of someone playing a guitar.

California Co-operative Campaign Part 1

What a crazy few days. After some great bonding time over the break with Jennifer, I had the opportunity to catch up with my other sister Kimi on a roadtrip-turned-disaster-turned-adventure...

Although I had flown into San Diego for winter break, my flight out was from San Francisco Airport. Why? Well back when I was booking my tickets, I believed that I was going to sell my car to a friend in the bay area. That didn't work out, so my poor little car continues to languish undriven in my parents' garage.

My flight didn't leave SFO until the 5th and Kimi wanted to drive on the 2nd, so I mentally prepared myself to sit back, relax and take my time. Knowing my sister, I knew there would be a few distractions and detours along the way (she at one point wanted to go camping in Jashua Tree on the way up) but as I wasn't in any kind of rush to get to the Bay Area, I decided I would take anything and everything in stride.

Our first stop going north was in downtown LA, where Kimi and I went to a bunch of thrift stores, checking out retro clothes and hats. My sister has a great, unique sense of fashion. I do not. Our next stop was the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I don't even know if I can explain this place using words. It was definitely an experience and it made me question the very institution of museums and how they represent information. Pretty heavy stuff. We then picked up to of Kimi's fellow co-op members, called "Elves" (their co-op in Berkeley is called Lothlorien). We packed our car to the brim with people and stuff and continued up the California coast.

We made it to Santa Barbara around 8:00pm, where we picked up an additional Elf who had ridden his bike from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara and had run out of food. Fitting an extra person and a bike into/onto the car was a little diffifuclt (we were driving Kimi's Prius) but we overcame. In Santa Barabara, we took a pit stop in a co-op near the UCSB campus called Biko while the group decided whether we would try to sleep there for the night or try to push on to Santa Cruz. There were lots of hand signals and motions and voting things - this is what they do in their co-op. My co-op at Stanford was a little less democratic and considerate...

We decided to make the push to Santa Cruz and had a stimulating conversation about tons of stuff including bees, societal resistance and other fun topics. The Prius made it into Santa Cruz in the wee hours of the morning and we all crashed at the parental home of the bike-riding Elf.

Continued in California Co-operative Campaign Part 2