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by SS at 4:23 am on Monday 27th January

The official beginning of another (and my final) semester at UC Berkeley coincided almost exactly with my 26th birthday, starting the day before - a Tuesday, since Monday was a public holiday (Martin Luther King day). I say the official beginning because, as an Master of Engineering student, our 'Engineering Leadership' course (i.e., the more MBA-esque portion of our program) began a week earlier, on the 13th of January.

My winter plans kept me rather busy (although not necessarily in the most productive sense). A flight back to London was followed by a flight to Enfidha, Tunisia and a short coach ride to the Hammamet Beach Resort. My sister, cousin and I were the youngest guests in the 'adult only' beach resort. Tunisia, being in the northern hemisphere, some distance from the equator and adjacent to the Mediterranean sea, was cool. As a beach resort, this rendered the main attraction of the hotel mostly uncomfortable, although still somewhat scenic.

We spent our energies instead on eating well and plenty (as our family holidays always tend to focus on, much to my horror). Taking advantage of the comfy beds, I decided to simultaneously avoid adjusting to the time zone (GMT + 1, 9 hours to the east of Berkeley) and to kick the caffeine habit I picked up in my first four months in America. This went moderately successfully for a few days, sleeping during the day and working a small amount at night. The cold I had picked up in Seattle (through my attempt to 'man up' and 'brave the weather') was on its way out and I was being moderately productive.

Eventually though, my self confidence overtook me and I decided to try one of the local beer bottles in the minifridge - included in our all-inclusive package. This was a foolish move and I quickly regretted it, as I spent half of the next day nautious and the rest of it with a temperate fever. Logical reasoning suggests that most guests were not all-inclusive and as such that bottle had been in the fridge for a very long time. While the contents may have been perfectly safe, it's unclear what unfortunate pathogens had taken up residence on its exterior.

I mostly recovered though, by the time the New Year's Eve celebrations rolled around. The hotel celebrations were predictably underwhelming (running at 40% occupancy, they had neither the guests nor the staff to throw a truly exciting party) but it was very pleasant to spent it with my parents, sister, cousin, aunt and uncle. A local Tunisian band took turns with the hotel activities coordinator and/or DJ to play music. Sadly, their music was less danceable (to the point where all the guests sat down) and they had somehow negotiated the right to play the slot leading up to and including the countdown. It was a very sedentary change of the year.

Later we hung out with some acquaintances of my sister's until the small hours of the morning. You know it's a small world when you run into a Dutch friend in Tunisia who you first met at a hot springs in New Zealand, in your summer holiday from university in Australia while back for Christmas in London. Aside from a potentially embarassing encounter with a belly dancer (avoided by grouping together and collectively bearing the embarassment of dancing with this terrifyingly woman), the hotel 'club' was notable. It was notable because of the installation of UV lights combined with unclean seats. I stood for the short time we spent there. (Interestingly, gin and tonics grow green under UV.)

Another flight back to London's Gatwick and 2014 had truly begun. Within the space of a week I met with approximately 40 odd friends and family, packed up my bike, computer and tried to avoid feeling too homesick. The reality of living away from home in somewhere that is as busy as Berkeley is that home is out of sight and truly out of mind - as there is minimal spare mental capacity. While I still am very happy with life in the Bay Area, being back home made me realise that there were elements of my 'old' life, in England, that hadn't made it with me to California. Most notably, family, but also just the comfort of the house I grew up in, the extent to which I knew parts of London extremely comprehensively and really, the hot chocolate in Europe which is so much better than here in California.

A lot had changed over the preceding few months, my little cousins had grown at least 10% each. At the same, much hadn't changed. Many of my university and school friends hadn't really changed too much. They may have gone on yet another interesting middle class holiday, picked up a new car, or become engaged to their long time girlfriends but otherwise, nothing really interesting had happened. Where's the adventure, friends? :)

My flight back to San Francisco was made wonderfully enjoyable again by the kind Virgin Atlantic staff. When my seat reservation was lost on check-in, I brought this up and they graciously offered me an exit row seat as compensation. I mentioned while doing so that I'd always wanted to sit in the economy cabin on the upper deck. Apparently the timing of this comment was just about right because two hours later, I was sitting in the exit row on the upper deck of a Boeing 747, chatting to a ballet director about his work and enjoying the 4 feet of leg room in front of me!

Landing in San Francisco, my experience collecting and moving my possessions was less intense than the first time I came to Berkeley - primarily because they fit on one trolley. Renting a car worked out cheaper than a taxi (and taking my luggage on the BART was not an option) and, feeling very American, I filled a Jeep Patriot with my luggage and drove into the traffic on the Bay Bridge.

The jetlag and tiredness from the week of running around London caught up to me the next week and combined with my hypothyroidism and newly implemented caffeine-free principle to make it a truly lethargic one. Eventually, I went to the doctor to get my thyroid levels checked. The test results came back 'OK' (although they checked just one level, how's that for a lack of comprehensiveness) but I took the opportunity to ask if it would be better to take my medication in the evening. The substitude physician at the Tang Center mentioned that there was no harm in doing so but she was not aware of any increased efficacy. Three words into Google later, I found two papers (2007 and 2010) suggesting a statistically significant benefit in doing so. Sigh.

The day after returning to Berkeley, I had the pleasure of interviewing at a startup whom I first contacted last semester and who told me to get back in touch with them in the new year. As soon as January rolled around, I sent them an email and they duly set up a first 'interview'. Being just 9 employees, they have a wonderful office which is a converted 'loft' - essentially a three story house in San Francisco where the bedrooms house engineers working, rather than sleeping. This went well and, mentioning my expiring offer, they quickly booked another interview. Sadly, the only day I had free from class happened to be my birthday.

The chronological boundaries of my birthday was somewhat blurred, as my sister wished me as it hit midnight in Australia (19 hours ahead of Berkeley) and then my cousin mistakenly wished me 'Happy Birthday' on Facebook. A few friends panicked and wished me a happy birthday by which time Facebook's News Feed algorithm had picked up that people were wishing me a happy birthday in volume and started advertising that fact to my other friends. This only accelerated the process.

On my birthday itself though, I woke up after just a few hours sleep (caused by work, not the onslaught of birthday notifications) and pedalled down to the BART station. At the roundabout or 'traffic circle' near our house, I narrowly avoided a rather ironic death on my birthday when a moronic driver decided that he wouldn't yield at the roundabout and took it at full speed (~ 40 mph). Thank god I'd readjusted my brakes the previous weekend else the roundabout would be bearing rather more visible marks of that encounter than just rubber on the road.

The final interview went badly, at first, and then better. My favourite portion was talking about Canadian folk rock bands with their UX designer - aren't startups cool? Lunch was a sampling of deli meats, cheese and some warm bread. This was pure class.

After a stressful session at the lab, where an important meeting we had been waiting for apparently materialised sooner than expected (and threatened to derail my evening plans). Thankfully, we were able to reschedule it and I wandered off downtown to have dinner with my two awesome flatmates at Saturn, a vegetarian restaurant, that services "chicken" burgers. Note the quotation marks.

Arriving home, a number of packages ordered by my parents were present - including an entire cookie cake which, sadly but deliciously, no longer exists.

On Friday, I had a rather excellent birthday party at the Albatross Pub, not far from the North Berkeley BART station. At first there were just three of us holding a large table to ourselves. Some more people soon arrived and then some more. Eventually we took over nearly the entirety of the back room of the bar and it was great fun catching up with everyone, albeit too brief. My friend Amy amusingly summarised it best when she said, 'I'm amazed that you have so many friends here.' I am too, and rather glad for it.

2 comments posted so far
m wrote at 8:31 am on Mon 27th Jan -
it's Martin LUTHER King
SS wrote at 4:10 am on Tue 4th Feb -
Whoops! Sorry!

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Happy Belated Birthday
Happy Belated Birthday
To the Moosra!
3:09 am on Friday 19th June by SS
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