Plymouth, Dosa-N-Curry, and dumplings. A Thanksgiving weekend well spent.
This Thanksgiving, I forgot to be thankful.
Initially, I had wanted to travel to Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day due to its symbolic value as the site of the first Thanksgiving, part of a tourist craze that had recently taken hold of my mind despite never having these inclinations back in California. After texting and calling, I couldn’t find anybody to go with me on Thursday. I decided to go on Saturday instead, when Roshni, one of my friends, was free. I told myself that on Saturday the city would be less crowded and it would work better with my schedule. But inside, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, forced to stray from my original plan.
I spent most of the day at home, attempting to embroider a fruit bowl and make a hand turkey that I was unnaturally proud of. I also spent most of the day in my head — in the memories I waded through like a fog.
The day before, I had gone to the Prudential and bought nothing — instead, I sat on a bench in the middle of the mall and cried.
There is something so human about crying in these mundane places. I sobbed while the world around me kept turning and turning and the fake Christmas lights glistened and the passersby walked past me as if they would rather be anywhere else but here. To know that life will always keep moving, just slightly too fast for you to keep up, not bothering to stop for your tears — it makes your struggles seem more real. Tangible, even.
I cried because I thought about my friends from back home, about how they would be driving back to the Bay Area. I imagined them eating turkey with their families and going downtown together. All the while, I would be just around 3,000 miles away, right at the junction of the semester when the weather got colder and the psets got harder. Most of all, I just wanted to be with them again. To see them and talk to them through something other than an iPhone screen.
Here’s a fact about me: I never had Paypal or Venmo or Zelle before coming to college. In fact, I never even considered getting them. In high school, I belonged to a group of friends who paid for each others’ expenses frequently and eagerly, expecting nothing in return. Like mini-caricatures of my Chinese relatives, we fought to foot the bill at restaurants. “I’ll put it on your friend tab,” we would joke as we signed receipts. “Friend tab” was a rather frivolous phrase that translated to “the amount unpaid by a friend.” In other words: “a forgotten debt.” In other words: “it’s worth it for our time together.”
It was only in the evening that my mood improved. I took the T with Roshni and Amber to an Indian restaurant in Somerville called Dosa and Curry. There, Roshni taught me how to eat dosa and I tried Thums Up  for the first time!
We walked back to the T stop through empty streets, the usual pedestrians lost to family reunions over home cooked meals. It felt like the three of us owned everything we could see: the streets, the city, the night itself. We talked about AP classes and roleplayed the Plastics from Mean Girls. We laughed into the soot-black sky, punctured with light.
I woke up to realize that I had missed my second appointment of the month, a session of a study I had signed up for in the pursuit of extra pocket money. The first appointment was a MakerSpace lathe training. I felt a pang of guilt when I received a passive-aggressive email that reminded me that I was “taking a spot away from another student” and “leaving a mentor with an empty seat in their class.”
After I swallowed the initial burst of frustration — I felt like I was failing to manage even half of what those around me could  — I voluntarily opened up Google Calendar for the first time in my life. What had kept my high school life in a precarious balance was a text document on my desktop where I listed out all my commitments, deadlines, and tasks. I liked it for its convenience and the little effort it demanded from me. (I had shied away from bullet journals for these exact same reasons.)
I spent an hour in Maseeh setting up my Google Calendar while eating a rather sparse breakfast at noon. As I moved each of my events from my text document to Google Calendar, I started to appreciate Google Calendar’s color-coded calendars and week-by-week layout. Most of all, I liked that it could send you as many reminders as you wanted. The more time I spent at MIT, the more I felt like my brain was a kind of sieve. Detail after detail slipped through, no matter how hard I tried to grasp at them: equations from a lecture, early-morning commitments, the faces of acquaintances. Everything just leaked through the holes. I hoped the reminders would keep my life a little more on track.
There was a twinge of optimism in my chest after I put my last commitment into Google Calendar, my earlier frustration washed away. I think that all throughout my first semester, I have been learning how to be an MIT student.
Afterwards, I left Maseeh and rushed to Kendall Square, where I stumbled around above- and below-ground before finding Heidi, a friend from my FPOP  I had stayed in touch with, at the Ashmont/Braintree T-station. I had planned for us to walk the entire Freedom Trail, then take the bus to Castle Island to watch the sunset.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t get this done, especially with how early the sun sets here. Despite this, we walked most of the Freedom Trail, only stopping when it got dark outside. Along the way, we admired graveyards and churches and historic halls. We found and lost that faithful red line on the ground about a dozen times as we explored Boston. I discovered that Heidi’s mother was once a Freedom Trail tour guide, and, unfortunately, that knowledge about Boston’s history is not genetic.
While walking through the North End, we were tempted by a number of Italian restaurants and cafes, though we ultimately decided to eat at a Tatte near Bunker Hill. I forgot the name of the dish we ordered but I still remember its taste: savory and salty and warm and soft and crunchy. If culinary harmony existed, then I had discovered it at Tatte’s table 25, right between a foggy window and a spa water dispenser.
Behind every impulsive urge is a desire. This was the day that I discovered why I loved this city so much, wanting to unfold every inch of it and hold it up to the light. I saw a Google headquarters across from a hundred-year-old pub, and walked past a Chipotle that used to be the Old Corner Bookstore, a stop on the Freedom Trail. This is a city that grows with the times and is all the more beautiful for it.
Our journey ended at Bunker Hill Community College, where we had to part ways: Heidi to a movie with her Boston friends and I to a Thanksgiving dinner at Burton Conner. But before we did, I made Heidi promise  me that, someday in the near future, we would finish walking the Freedom Trail together.
On the day I was supposed to go to Plymouth, the Simmons fire alarm woke me up one hour before I needed to be awake. The alarm screeched intermittently for around 17 minutes, during which Roshni and I hid out in my room, banking on the high probability that the alarm was false and that we would not die.
(We were correct, and we went back to sleep when the fire alarm ended.)
After we woke up (at the correct time), Roshni and I left Simmons, starting a multimodal trip to Plymouth. We walked to Kendall, took the T to South Station, boarded a bus to a station near Plymouth, then took an Uber to the city itself.
Plymouth was a haven for my tourist heart. Overpriced museums, old-timey buildings, and the word “Mayflower” scrawled across just about every surface — I couldn’t ask for anything more. Always overambitious, I attempted to check out everything a person could find by Googling “Things To Do in Plymouth.” 
Roshni and I saw the famous Plymouth Rock on the town’s shore. It was tucked away in a pavilion made of white pillars, reminiscent of the entry to Lobby 7. Though I was told it was “quite disappointing,” I think the trick is to manage your expectations. At the end of the day, it will only ever be a rock.
By far, my favorite attraction of the trip was the National Monument to the Forefathers. I was never one for patriotic appeals, but I loved the way Faith raised her arm to point, into a sky charted with clouds, bruised with the promise of sunset. I felt dwarf-like against the towering stone figures. I took pictures as the sun spilled over the folds of the statues’ clothes.
Our return to the campus was the reverse of the morning’s journey. The bus to Boston came fifteen minutes late. Not only that, all the seats were full and Roshni and I had to stand at the back. Every jolt and tremble of the bus seemed to be magnified tenfold, and within a few minutes, my stomach twisted with nausea. I was overcome with an intense anger at the other passengers, who sat comfortably, unaware of how we suffered. All the while, I tried to keep myself from falling and I felt like I was going to throw up.
Another burst of frustration, like I had felt the previous morning. I was prone to these flares of feeling, which ebbed away as rapidly as they appeared. This time, I try to calm myself. Looking at the faces of the people on the bus, my first impression was that they were sucked dry of life. In front of me, a woman tried to calm her crying baby, to no avail. Behind me, a young man with dark circles under his eyes stared out the window. He hadn’t moved from that position since I first entered the bus. They were suffering, just as I was. Who knows how long they had sat in that bus, packed in rows with perfect strangers?
Eventually, we reached the next stop, and Roshni and I got to sit down. We were quiet during the remainder of the ride, exhausted from the trip.
My last day of break started with a brunch at German House. I ate delicious home-cooked food for the first time in a while and envied the residents who could somehow survive with less than $7,000 spent on food each year.
I had dinner at Heidi’s house which was just fifteen minutes away from campus. I met Heidi’s sister and her parents and spoiled her stuffed lobster  with love. Afterwards, my friends and I sat around the dinner table, folding dumplings and joking around.
Here were some of the standouts that I made:
Peanut dumpling (I do not have an image for this but I hope the title is self-explanatory)
The dumplings tasted amazing — I devoured a whole plate in a few minutes. I never got to find out how the peanut dumpling tasted, since Heidi’s dad ate it before knowing what was inside. The other weird dumplings, despite their odd exteriors, still tasted as good as the rest.
I remembered my mom saying, once, that food tasted better when you made it yourself. In this memory, my mother is slicing an apple and the kitchen is filled with a lifetime of light. Her face is blurry, like the faces in black-and-white period films. I am jittery with excitement because I am about to leave for college and I don’t anticipate how much I am going to miss her.
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. While California had its endings — its blood-orange sunsets splayed across my car windshield — I had gone to the East Coast for college because I wanted a new beginning: without my family close by, without anybody from my high school who knew who I used to be. All the things I suffered for this: a plane ride where I vomited twice from motion sickness, three overstuffed suitcases that I unpacked by myself, a Family Weekend without my family, and a Thanksgiving spent at school because the price of plane tickets always went up before the holidays.
When I stare into the chasm of the future, I quiver every time. Without my mother’s embrace, I feel like I am falling and falling and falling. On the car ride home, I thought about how much I wanted to live so close to campus, just like Heidi. Although it was my own decision to travel this far, the desire came as easily as slipping into a silky dress. Or a set of winter clothes, bought just in time for December in Boston.
Once, there was a me who wanted nothing more than greatness — to her, greatness meant good test scores, awards, and a name-brand degree. It meant gliding down the halls of her high school with awe at her heels. So she worked and worked. She wrote essays and drilled math problems and sent emails and left her friends on read until she was left gnawing at the late hours of the night. She learned to fear failure like a death knell. So, on the day that her dream school released early action decisions, she couldn’t bring herself to check.
You could say this old me wanted the wrong thing for the wrong reasons and I would agree. I am so jealous of my classmates’ honest pasts. I would feel so much better claiming that I got here on passion alone, that I never scrolled into the depths of r/A2C or CollegeConfidential.
But what I want to remember is this: while the girl who used to be me fidgeted in her room with sweaty hands and her heart rattling in her chest, her dad sat in the kitchen downstairs and checked her application portal in her steed. He marched up the stairs and said, “Congratulations!” in such a delighted tone that the girl thought he had to be joking. So she booted up her computer and entered her login information. And she saw it: the little beaver stickers falling down the length of her computer screen, the slender line of text proclaiming, “We think you and MIT would be a great match.”
And for a moment, everything in the universe was good and wonderful and so effortlessly uncomplicated. The girl laughed and cried and did a somersault on the floor for the first time in years. Before then, she had never known what it was like to cry from overwhelming joy.
When I feel down, I think about how much the old me wanted to be where I am now. At a renowned institution, in the cradle of millions of dollars of resources, around peers who make me believe that “geniuses” really do exist. Although I value MIT for much different reasons than I used to, thinking this way helps me be a little more thankful for what I already have.
Yes, I come from a culture of reaching toward more and more and more. Call it Bay Area culture, tryhard culture, AP Student culture, whatever name you have for it. I did everything I could to collect achievements and even when I succeeded, I convinced myself I just needed one more. And then it would be over. Then I would be happy.
But I want to be better, at least better than the girl who used to be me. Forget learning how to be an MIT student, I want to learn how to be a human being.
I want to start with being more grateful. I want to look at my blessings instead of the shadows they cast, instead of asking for more and more out of life. I am grateful for my new friends, despite missing my old ones. Thank you for making me feel like I am a part of this place. I am grateful for the exams I have failed and the problems I can’t solve by myself. There is value in being humbled and challenged by the work you do. I am grateful for the mistakes I have made — my frustrations at strangers, my lack of proper organization, my tendency to schedule too many activities into a single day. I hope that one day, I can become a better person, a better student, and maybe even a better tourist.
I wonder how long it will take for me to learn this. A month? A year? A lifetime? I hope that by next Thanksgiving at least, I will remember to be thankful.
Apparently, dosa is the bread that you break off to dip in the sauces.
An Indian Coca-Cola knockoff that tastes exactly how you would expect a Coca-Cola knockoff to taste like. Yes, it’s spelled “Thums” and not “Thumbs”.
This is probably an article for another time.
This is probably also an article for another time.
I am fearlessly working through my “101 Things to do Before you Graduate” list.
A pinky promise, so she knew I was serious.
Something I’m personally proud of: during this trip, I managed to convince Roshni to switch her intended major to 6-2.
Although, in my defense, there’s not that much to do.
I am convinced every family in the Greater Boston area owns a stuffed lobster.
I still feel bad about this… at least he wasn’t allergic.