Day 2: My New Favourite Korean Food

I spent a lot of today learning about the way things are done here in America. Apparently, jaywalking happens all the time and the police don’t really care unless you’re putting others at risk. Sales tax is an extra 6% on top of everything you buy (at least in Massachusetts). Sometimes it’s included in the price, sometimes it’s not, so often times you get caught out. Even the locals agree it makes no sense. It’s only done this way to allow corporations to keep their attractive 99¢ prices.
I’m not at all religious but I thought it would be quite interesting to go with Hee Yeon and Greg to Mass at the Paulist Centre in Downtown. The church is directly opposite Boston Common, the site of the white supremacist ‘free-speech rally’ yesterday, which was reported in most news outlets across the world. Both of the fathers there had countermarched and had a lot to say about the days’ events. What I didn’t realise was that, even in New England, a lot of the statues are in some way related to slavery and its bygone proponents. Like a lot of people, I get the feeling that the tearing down of them, as seen in Charlottesville, will become a common occurrence in the very near future.
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We went straight from the service to lunch at Pho Pasteur, a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. A small bowl of rare steak pho was only about £6.25 (+ tax) but the word ‘small’ is relative. Eating constantly for 10 minutes barely scratched the surface – I now understand what people mean about American portion sizes! A coconut butter bun at Hing Shing Pastry was then in order.
Having picked up a Charlie Card, the equivalent of an Oyster, at Park Street Station, I tried to top it up with a 7-day pass. My FairFX card was declined, I guess because the machine didn’t accept MasterCard. Thankfully, it wasn’t a problem but I realised that it’s always a good idea to have at least a day’s budget on you, in cash, stored in various places on your person. One thing that struck me about the ATM I went to was that you can choose the composition of the notes you take out: so you can choose 20x $1, for instance, which is useful to have on hand for tips.
Later on, I got the Red Line from Downtown Crossing to Kendal with Greg, in order to see the MIT campus, whilst he went to the lab for a few hours. In fairness, it was a Sunday but there didn’t seem to be much for visitors to do. I ended up in the William H. Gates Building. I don’t know whether it was open to the public but the door was unlocked and no-one seemed to mind me being there. There’s quite an impressive tribute to a man named Sean Collier in the lobby, an MIT patrol officer killed by the Boston Bombers in 2013. Thousands of origami cranes hung from the ceiling, each one folded by an individual wishing to remember his service to the university.
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What I like about MIT is how laid back everything is. People can be found fast asleep in the sun on public benches, something you just can’t imagine happening in the UK. It’s a great place to vibe rather than rushing around to tick off attractions. I spent a good couple of hours just ambling around, seeing if there was anything that took my interest. In the late afternoon, simply walking down the Charles’ riverfront, looking out onto the Boston skyline and the dozens of dinghy’s and kayaks, is a great way to spend time.
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I got back to Alewife just in time to head out to Buk Kyung, a Korean-Chinese fusion restaurant in Sommerville that Hee Yeon and Greg seem to frequent. Though it’s often hard for food in the West to be truly authentic, I get the feeling that what was served here is fairly close to it. I was one of only three non-locals in the restaurant, which is always a good sign. To anyone reading at home, I’d highly recommend ganpoongki – which is essentially deep-fried battered chicken in a sweet & spicy sauce. The same goes for bulgogi or ‘fire-meat’: thin, grilled slices of marinated beef or pork.
It was nice to end the evening to realise that my little jet lag trick seemed to have worked. At 11pm here (4am at home) I was wide awake and planning Day 3. I say planning – it was more a list of things I could potentially do, depending on how I felt in the morning.

Day 1: MAN to BOS

Leaving home, I wasn’t particularly excited. Last night I had the pre-trip jitters – “have I forgotten something?”,”Will the airline lose my bag?” (they didn’t but I wouldn’t have minded – being compensated for wearing the clothes you flew in for a few days is hardly the end of the world). This morning all that had gone, almost to the point of me being emotionally void. I was ‘flying the nest’, ‘going walkabout’ for (up to) 3 months and I felt nothing. No excitement, no terror. I guess because this is the trip I’ve been dreaming of since I was 14, there was nothing more I could do but go and see where I ended up.
I got the train to Wilmslow and still felt no excitement. “You’ll feel it when you get to Boston,” I told myself, “you’re not feeling it now because flying’s no longer a novelty.” I was wrong. I stepped off the connecting train at Manchester Airport and it hit me. I walked into the departure hall grinning like an absolute knob.
I checked in and was through to the gates in less than 25 minutes. I was happy that I could waltz through; the tetchy woman sorting trays for the scanner wasn’t. “Take your belt off”, “take your coat off”, “quickly”, “hurry up” “NOW!”. Lovely. Skipping the lines sounded good, but really it meant waiting around to board for longer. Alistair Humphrey’s second book ‘Thunder and Sunshine’ helped but I was still bored in the 2:30 hours I had to wait. Hardly promising for the weeks ahead!

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Fortunately, that boredom was somewhat alleviated by the flight. Having been playing music all day, my headphones decided all of a sudden to break before takeoff. So there I was, with no music or in-flight entertainment, repeating the following for the next 7 hours: eat, sleep, stare into space, repeat. In fairness, the food really wasn’t that bad. That said, I ate school food for the majority of my teenage years. A lot went on in my head in that time. I realised that Trump, a man with a nuclear football, is now in charge of my safety for the next however many weeks… What a thought!
I touched down in America at 3:20 EST. Waited for what seemed like an hour to get through customs. Put my fingerprints on record and was waved through with a stamp. Then waited for what seemed like another hour to collect my bags and changed my SIM card – I got 5GB of data free from Three but that’s a story for another day. Took my luggage tag off my bag to appear less of a tourist and then hopped on a Silver Line bus to South Station.
This is the point at which I thought I was going to be robbed. I put my bag on a bag rack and sat down on the back row. I noticed the guy sat next to me and a guy in a snapback & Timbs next to the door were making eye contact in a “we’re in this together kind of way”. Or so I thought. In my head, the guy next to me would block me in whilst the guy at the door would get off with my bag, just before the doors closed at a stop. I was just about to get out of the ‘situation’, by getting off with my bag and catching the next bus (they’re only every 15 or so minutes) when we got to the last stop. Shit! As it turned out, these guys had never met and both got off with their own luggage, baggage tags and all. I realised at this point just how on edge tired, jet-lagged me was. I guess at times like that it’s better to have your defences up too high than not have them up at all though.
After all that I took the T to Alewife (Ale-wife not Ally-wife) to finally meet Greg, my godmothers’ nephew and his wife Hee Yeon, who’ve kindly agreed to let me stay with them at their apartment in Cambridge. The Metro in Boston is great – you can get signal underground and (young) people tend to smile at you if you smile at them, instead of giving you a resting bitch face like you’d get on the Tube. The only bad thing is that the seats are rock solid. Like sitting on bricks.
Greg, as it turns out, is a really interesting guy. He’s just completed his doctorate at MIT and come back from a trip to Japan. His wife, Hee Yeon, is a Harvard grad, who grew up in Pittsburgh then moved to Boston when she met Greg. Both are lovely people and I found myself at ease and eating slow-cooked beef and sticky rice within minutes of getting through the door. By this stage, it was about 11 pm at home. I thought I’d try going to bed at a reasonable local time – apparently, it allows some people to sleep off jet lag within a single night. So I sat up and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (weirdest film I’ve ever seen) and an episode of John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ (how Trump hasn’t had him deported yet I’ll never know).
So, 21 hours after waking up, here I am in the States, tired but well-fed and well. The start of my gap year(s) couldn’t have gone any better!