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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

A Run through Boston by Yan Z. '12

Having an adventure was easy. Carrying the camera around was the hard part.

Recap: I survived the last week of February with hit points to spare, despite running out of energy cards sometime around Thursday afternoon. During my confrontation with Level 10 Opponent “Electricity and Magnetism Exam” on Friday morning, my challenger played the familiar “Long, Hideous Integrals” attack card, coupled with an “Insufficient Time Remaining” damage card. Equipped with foresight and past experience, I pulled out the “Approximately-convincing-but-not-really-correct math because I didn’t actually calculate anything, oops” card from my emergency deck, slapped it all over page 2 of my test booklet, and continued to the next round of combat. Faced with a barrage of Conceptual Quantitative Questions as I neared the end of my life points, I took a gaspingly unprecedented risk and whipped out the Lagrangian Formulation (on an introductory E&M exam!) and proceeded to spew unneccesarily-but-hilariously theoretical answers over the dwindling battlefield of questions about giant disembodied vectors in space and electrostatic motors. It appears that graders can have a sense of humor too, however, since I got an A anyway.

In case you didn’t care to read the previous paragraph, in which I describe my 8.022 exam in the style of a narrated Pokemon card game tournament, the short of it is that I used the Lagrangian on a test in the vain hope that this would amuse the graders and probably (hopefully) ended up getting LOL points for my gratuitous referencing of theoretical mechanics.

(Ignoring the possibility that nobody read the last page of my test booklet closely enough to notice, or that my handwriting had changed into an approximation of Cyrillic by that point, both of which are entirely probable.)

The day after Friday happened to be a Saturday. Let me restate this so that profundity will not go unheeded: it was Saturday. It came after a Friday. This seemed like a miracle.

Last week was a thick, stubborn clump clogged in the metaphysical sink of time. The momentous advent of Saturday was like a welcomed influx of Drain-O. Saturday came in sun-drenched breezes and swirled in a nebulous illusion of infinite possibilities, an eternity of restless, test-less days. I woke up at 7 AM. A marvelous savoring of hours ensued.

And then I looked out the window and thought, Boston is at my doorstep. I should walk over it, because that’s what most people do with things on their doorstep, unless they’re telephone books, which most people recycle. (There the analogy ended.)

Well, life is short. Why not run?

So I grabbed a map.

And chucked some spare change and a $500 camera into a knapsack. (And now, a message from our sponsor: the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department. They gave me this bag for free!)

And off I ran, striding down Massachusetts Avenue to the Charles River Esplanade . . .

Across the Harvard Bridge . . .

. . . and into Boston, the greatest city in the entire world south of Canada and north of Connecticut and east of New York and west of the Atlantic, except for Cambridge. That’s a compliment.

After ten minutes of cobblestone sidewalks and generic New England charm and (insert other quaint detail for local color), I beheld the open gates of Boston Common, “the starting point of the Freedom Trail and the oldest park in the country,” according to its equestrian-friendly website. No horses did I see, but statues aplenty.

I also learned how to focus a camera, for just about the first time in my life.

Resting my camera in the shade of a willow, I leapt into an empty pond and immediately sank into 4 inches of mud. I leapt out shortly thereafter to prevent camera theft.

Onwards I ran, through the discoursing innards of Boston Common, out the South end of its tree-lined intestines, and back into the streets of Boston. Finding myself abruptly deposited in the heart of the Theater District, I decided to detour into Chinatown. A few blocks later:

Washington Street: a chaotic resounding of bakeries, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, grocery markets, pawn shops, and traffic violations, as incongruently and densely packed together as a 12-note cluster chord in an Ives sonata. Skipping down the curb and over a few elderly pedestrians along the way, I rounded a corner and practically tripped over a Vietnamese sandwich shop about the size of my floor’s bathroom.

Everything in sight was fresh and under 5 bucks, so I caved in to my inner gourmand and shelled out $2.75 for a sandwich. Were I a humanities major, I would write that it was a life-affirming sandwich, about twice the length of my head, redolent with the toasty breath of an oven, stuffed with spicy curried chicken and pickles, gloriously piled onto a soft baguette reminiscent of French colonialism. Heck, I might just become a humanities major. It was the best sandwich of my life, even better than the one at Subway that I had on March 12th of 2005, the crumbs of which I have saved in a locket.

So I walked down the street, oblivious to the careening taxis and streetside peddlers, wonderfully enraptured in the prophetic sandwich that I was consuming with reckless gusto. And then I saw a Chinese bakery and suddenly felt homesick, not for my own home in St. Louis, but for the childhood home of basically every protagonist of every Amy Tan novel ever written. This is just a complex way of saying that I really wanted to buy some bread.

I purchased a meat pie, which cost about 70 cents, which is like .000000001% of my total tuition. This justified my decision to go into every other bakery I encountered and buy more meat pies.

No kidding! Evidence follows.

Having gulped my fill of Chinatown, I looped back to Boston Common hauling a backpack stuffed with baked goods and, seeing that the afternoon was still in its languorous youth, ran downtown via Tremont Street.

Sprinting into the Faneuil Hall Market Place, a 250-year-old hub of American marketplacing, I greeted the imposingly Colonial front side of Quincy Market. I considered stopping in for purposes of enriching my historical education, but then I saw a Starbucks inside.

At last, a horse!

And then I stumbled into the vague outer rim of Haymarket, a bustling, overcrowded sprawl of fruit vendors and cheesemakers and butchers clashing for the attentions of every overstimulated nerve cell in your body. The produce and meat is perilously cheap, but wrestling through the crowd is just plain perilous.

Did I mention the staggering ethnic diversity of the bread? It staggered me.

Tangential anecdote: Will ’12 tried to buy a single fish at Haymarket a few weeks ago and got one for free, inexplicably. Will is a logical person who sits in my 8.022 recitation and asks ridiculously mathematical questions, so it’s no surprise that Will took the fish home, cut out its eyes, installed LED lights in the eye sockets, and made a fish circuit. Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming.

As irresistable as the prices were, I resisted the temptation to indulge my desire for a giant slab of questionable fish. Next time, though.

By then, it was getting close to 2 in the afternoon, which meant that I was starting to feel a strong natural urge to do linear algebra homework. When you go to MIT, the need to work on problem sets becomes part of your Circadian rhythm after a while.

So I called it a day and ran back to Random Hall.

Moral of the story: MIT has a nice doormat known as Boston. I probably could have stated this more gracefully, but I didn’t, and now you have to deal with the fact that I called Boston a doormat at least twice in this entry.

Appendix I: A map of my route. Going counter-clockwise, I’ve put blue markers on Random Hall, 77 Massachusetts Avenue (where all the tourists take pictures of themselves obstructing the paths of MIT students), the statue area at Boston Common, the sandwich shop and cluster of bakeries in Chinatown that I lovingly patronized, Quincy Hall, and Haymarket. From the MIT campus, all of these destinations are easily reached by bike, which is The MIT Student’s preferred mode of transportation.

52 responses to “A Run through Boston”

  1. Tree says:

    Beautiful entry. Gah. I feel like running now.

  2. comboy says:

    hey, my weekly schedule
    it’s on youtube comboy channel

    time table

    legend (translation)

    clock – mo(o)nday, artday,nerdday, phunday, holiday

    courses: operating systems, film as art, linear algebra, conceptual sculpture, technical report writing, object oriented programming, pumpkin(oversleep), stuntrunning

  3. Yan says:

    @ Javal:

    The nice thing about E&M is that if you make a sign error, you can just tell yourself that you’re actually right because Ben Franklin made an epic-scale sign error when he came up with the charge carrier sign convention.

    @ Narce:

    Thank you for your peer review. I will conduct my research more carefully in the future.

    Also, it snowed about 8 inches the next day.

  4. comboy says:

    thanks Yan for [cryptography] McDonald Sad o way [/]

    results of watching 3.09 is on “Six Word Memoirs. Want to Play?”

    i don’t think if bill gates was the reason for me to watch it, they’re not open to innovation that’s cruel wink

  5. Stacy says:

    Lovely entry Yan. Your pictures and descriptions are always delicious.

  6. Sheila '13 says:

    Ahhhh!!! I just suddenly felt a longing for Boston when I saw those pictures….yes, I’ve been to every of those places you went to except the

    yummy, those bakeries…hmm…those breads are awesome. *munches* smile Kudos to your post!! ^_^ Do you shop anywhere else besides food? *hint: any other non-food cheap stuff/stores you can share with us?* :D :D :D

  7. R says:

    I love your blog!

  8. Jamo says:

    haha great! It gives a pretty good look at Boston. I really love the pictures, look forward to more!

  9. Matt A. says:

    The day I have the metaphorical skill to describe a test in terms of the Pokemon card game will be a wonderful day indeed. Well played! (Hideous pun intended raspberry)

  10. deng says:

    ooo.. I like that fourth picture
    are those waves though?

  11. Fish circuit? Hey, I’m a vegetarian and totally against the killing of animals for food or pleasure, but a fish circuit sounds kinda cool.

  12. kathryn says:

    hooray for more food entries! mouth-watering as always. Great post yan, and a lovely saturday spent, I’m sure.

  13. Yan says:

    Thanks, guys.

    @ Deng:

    Nope, that’s the partially-frozen surface layer of the Charles River. It was frozen solid until last week or so.

  14. deng says:

    oh ice! duh
    now I see that the reflections are different too

  15. Moose says:

    I love your writing. It sometimes reminds me of Douglas Adams(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

  16. Victor says:

    Boston sounds and looks amazing.

  17. Matt A. says:

    You know, I never thought of that, and I think that explains why I like it too.

  18. Bridger '13 says:


    Good point. However, THGTTG doesn’t have nearly the same number of frozen fish pictures.

  19. Anonymous says:

    omg your pictures always make me so hungry!

  20. '13? says:

    caltech sent out their RD decisions…c’mon mit! wink

  21. Anonymous says:

    This is a beautiful entry.

  22. Varun says:

    That was a lovely description, though I didn’t get what exactly you were hinting at – there’s just too many cartoons nowadays! Beautiful entry Yan!

  23. Anonymous says:

    your “clockwise” confused me :(

    but the rest was nice

  24. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous;

    Oops, it’s been fixed. I meant the positive k-hat direction.

    @ Sheila:

    I’m not a big fan of shopping, but I can ask around.

  25. Javal says:

    I always imagine my exams as epic battles too, though I usually have a whole dungeons and dragons mantra going. My Save vs. ‘ridiculous sign error that makes everything icky’ hasn’t been too good lately.

  26. Lainers '12 says:

    I will forever associate blue Google Maps markers with pink beangoose tea.

    Also, I would like to note that all of these places are also reachable by T, when weather, time constraints, large bags, high heels, or other conditions make human-powered transportation non-ideal.

  27. Reena says:

    That Brain and Cognitive Science logo is the exact same one that’s on the 2009 BU Regional Science Bowl T-shirt I’m currently wearing!!! In fact they’d be the same shirt, except for this one being red and saying different stuff on it O.O

  28. Narce says:

    Silly Yan, Pokemon don’t use life points! (individual pokemon = hit points, and in the card game, final victory is when the last opponent Pokemon on the field OR the 6th opponent Pokemon total loses the remainder of its hit points… or the opponent runs out of cards, lol)

    You might have been thinking of YuGiOh >_>

    It’s also interesting that it looks more like autumn to me in your pics than winter or spring~

    Anyway, yay, more food pictures! *stares longingly at meat pies*

  29. Paul says:

    What camera brand/model did you take these pictures with? They are very nice smile

  30. You realize that regardless of my decision from MIT I will continue to read your blog ^_^

    Oh, and I second Narce.

  31. Yan says:

    @ Paul:

    Canon Powershot G9 all the way. Sometimes, I think I should get a shirt that says this.

    @ Mark:

    That’s the spirit! It’s not whether you get in or not, it’s whether you give me more page views!

  32. Narce says:

    Err, Mark, exactly which part of my post do you second? The “omg yay food” part?

  33. Mark says:

    @ Narce

    Yuuuuuuuu giiiiiiii oooooooooh

    that part

    that one show i was banned to watch yet somehow still know many of the characters and basic concepts

    the television that banished children to the shadow realms… literally and figuratively

  34. Passerby says:

    Stumbled upon your blog the other day. smile

    Heh, it’s nice to see someone at MIT actually take time away from “work” and go explore the city like you did. Makes me miss my non-jaded days.

    I have to say I like your attitude with regards to grades and whatnot. Nice contrast with all the hardcore premeds. XD

  35. Jimbo says:

    Y’all people who go to MIT sure are smarter than you’re average regular person who can’t even comprehend a 3-sphere or abstract Fourier space.

  36. “From the MIT campus, all of these destinations are easily reached by bike, which is The MIT Student’s preferred mode of transportation.”

    I would have guessed that the T was more convenient for excursions across the river (especially to pedestrian markets). Is bicycle the predominant vehicle even for trips to Boston? around campus?

  37. :0 says:

    you are inspiration. and you win at life.

  38. Wow! That looks like the funnest day ever! (And yes I know that technically funnest isn’t a word, but I just used it, so yeah it is.)

    What other transportation do you use besides bikes? I know Snively has roller skates (at least I think its him, I know one of the bloggers does), and so I was curious as to what other vehicular devices you MIT -ians employ. Do students own cars? Or is all like public transportation?

  39. Yan says:

    @ Sam:

    Correct, the T is really, really popular. I think I meant that bikes were more popular than cars and planes here, but somehow didn’t count public transportation as a mode of commute. Anyway, you’ll probably end up taking the T into Boston/Upper Cambridge for most trips.

    @ O:

    I won something! Thanks!

    @ Becca:

    Basically nobody here owns a car. If you’re lucky, you’ll ride in one once a semester or so. Roller skates and scooters and skateboards are common, but I’ve always suspected that they’re secretly a waste of energy. The subway and the bus are your friends.

  40. Reena says:

    And, you meant cyclonically in the Northern hemisphere raspberry

  41. Beautiful pictures as usual, Yan.
    I LOVE Viet bread rolls.

    Question: What’s the white on the river in the picture of Harvard Bridge?

  42. Ginger says:

    Dang Yan! And now you’re going to do it again tomorrow! Dang Yan! And now you’re going to do it again tomorrow! <3

  43. umm says:

    @ Helen:

    Ice?? After all, it is winter in New England… :-(

  44. kai says:

    Sounds so exciting! honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever played a Pokemon card game as intense as the one you described.

    Yan, your blog has inspired me immensely to find a new pokemon card buddy…and visit Boston ASAP of course. =]

  45. comboy says:

    Yan, G9 has face detection and can automatically focus on faces, well i’m sure this options take away the chance of focusing except you choose to focus on a to-be-bloomed.

    look at mit homepage today, highest standard of creative achievement.
    don’t miss the chance to see Bill Viola, ride your bike to room 10-250 tomorrow.

  46. Jacob Herman says:

    The way… you put… words…. in the… English… language…. together…. is soo stunningly beautiful that it would be a crime for you not to right a literary piece.

  47. Narce says:

    Then again, Yan is studying at MIT, so it would also be a crime for her to put so much time into humanities to write (don’t get the spelling so left next time) a literary piece XP

  48. Anonymous says:

    Is that a 1.5 magnitude pun I detect?

  49. Mom out west says:

    Yan- Kudos on your amazing blogs- the photos and descriptions always make me salivate, though a majority are of meat, and i am a vegetarian. That, right there, says a lot about your ability and that of your camera, whether you focus it right or not.It’s great that you are at MIT, but too bad that you are at MIT – you really should be working for Bon Appetit or Saveur magazine, making connoisseurs of food-ignorant young folks- a collaboration with someone like Ming Tsai would be awesome- I say this not because he’s Oriental(narrow-minded and pigeonholing), but because he is in your neck of the woods.

  50. ella says:

    hahaha i love your writing style! your blog amuses me to no end smile
    MIT undergrad admission results are tomorrow – haha nerve-wracking to say the least.

  51. Yan says:

    @ Mom out west:

    Much thanks! Depending whether I survive Junior Lab at MIT, food journalism may still be a viable career option . . .

  52. Mom out west says:

    A week later, she reads it and says “Maybe you can be the new Harold McGee or Alton Brown- explain the joys of food through science. You ever notice how all the scientific food mavens are always male?? Like, I am female, I can either do science or food, but both? Oh no, I feel a headache coming on. Have a relaxing spring break. And yes, all of the above apply, irrespective of outcome of Junior Lab, though I wish you the best in that too!”