Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

The Twin Cities (Day 2): Gluttony

23 March 2014 Leave a comment

(The mid-term long weekend of Winter Term at Carleton. The Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St. Paul.  See also Day 1.)

We were up quite late the night before, with Zheyu working on a paper and myself getting into his copy of Dave Eggers’ The Circle. I’d been predisposed to dislike it by this article (the article in question having become something of a regular reference, and a perennial favorite, of mine).

Brunch was at the neighborhood café.


That is a glass of winter ale in the background (Indeed’s ‘Stir Crazy’, for the interested).

Our plans for the rest of the day, though, were more sedate, as we both had things to work on, during this mid-term break. We took a bus to uptown Minneapolis and eventually stationed ourselves at Dogwood Coffee, where we worked for most of the afternoon.


The coffee was solid, but my personal favorite there was actually the tea: long3 jing3 cha2, which was translated (fairly enough) as Dragon Well Tea.

At some point in the afternoon, I took a walk across the street to Magers and Quinn Booksellers.


It was partly for a break, but partly also premeditated gratification-through-consumption, since I’d got into my head the vague intention of a purchase or two. I eventually picked out a copy of Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and the collected volumes of The Books of Magic, comprising four comics written by the same (but drawn by a different artist each time).

At the cashier, the assistant noticed that I’d picked up two titles by the abovementioned author, and so proceeded to tell me about the occasion Mr. Gaiman himself had walked into the store. The shop assistant gave an engaging account of the occasion (his noticing Mr. Gaiman walking past the shop the first time and his return fifteen minutes later, the buzz of recognition inspired by the great man’s great hair, the injunction, ‘Let the man shop in peace!’ made in a stage whisper, etc.), but the detail that was most interesting to me was that he’d picked out a huge stack of books from the mythology section. I gathered that this happened not too long ago, since Mr. Gaiman had signed copies of the then-newly released The Ocean at the End of the Lane on display near the counter at the time.

So overall, the mid-afternoon-session visit was quite gratifying.

We continued to work for a while more, and we left around sunset.


For dinner, we headed to the Blue Door pub, which boasted as its signature dish the Jucy Bluecy. The Bluecy itself is a variation on a Twin Cities signature called a Jucy Lucy, which is a burger with a cheese-infused patty (making for a molten cheese core). The Bluecy, as one might imagine, is made with blue cheese instead. If that sounds decadent, let me quote the description from the menu of what I eventually ordered: ‘We soak mozzarella in coconut milk before we stuff it into the patty and top it off with our pickled ginger veggie mix. Served with a side of curry for delectable dunking.’ Sin.



The Twin Cities (Day 1): Footsteps and Traces

23 February 2014 1 comment

(The mid-term long weekend of Winter Term at Carleton. The Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St. Paul.)

I woke at 9:20 a.m. on Saturday morning – later than I’d intended to catch the 10 a.m. bus to the Cities. I’d not really packed, but then I’d planned not to really pack, so it worked out. I made it to the bus-stop in time, where I met some friends also on their way north, and so the trip passed quite quickly in conversation. What was surely the craziest moment in conversation was when I heard that my friend, who’s mainly lived in Minnesota and Florida, was a fan of Xiaxue. In perspective, though, it probably was as little strange to her as it was to me talking about Honey Boo Boo in my sociolinguistics class the week before.

The bus arrived in downtown Minneapolis at about 11:35 a.m. Most of the shops were still closed, I guess because it’s not much fun walking outside in Minnesota in winter. A very many of the buildings downtown are nevertheless linked by skyway.


I roamed around the downtown for a bit until I found a spot where I could consume the sandwiches I’d brought from Northfield. I settled in the indoor plaza of the IDS Center, which was quite pleasant. I didn’t get a good photo of the plaza, but I found one here:

It’s not totally clear from the picture, but the circular pad in the middle of the plaza is a water feature. There were a couple of families around, and the young children were (by what might be a law of the universe) drawn to play in it (as far as they were let).

After lunch it was time for a bottle-hunt. I had a short list, though I’d not checked in advance which were in season. I had, however, identified the bottle shop I’d intended to check out, so I was quickly on my way.

Zipps Liquors had a pretty great selection (probably the second- or third-best in the Cities), and I managed to track down a fall season imperial stout. I also picked up this year’s Rogue/Voodoo Doughnut collaboration, which was a chocolate peanut butter banana ale; we’ll see how that goes. It was good fun just browsing the aisles for the wonderful variety of agricultural produce from around the country, so I was there for a while.


After Zipps, it was about time to meet up with my friend Zhe Yu at a coffee shop in St. Paul (Kopplin’s Coffee), so I caught a bus across the magnificently frozen Mississippi.

I got to the coffee shop a little bit early, and before Zhe Yu arrived, I found myself talking with an elderly lady who’d been writing a journal while at the large table I’d asked to join. She’d observed me taking out my little notebook when I tried to jot down some things too, asked what I was writing about, and so we talked about places (she’d once lived in Santa Barbara, where I’d visited over the break) and writing.

Zhe Yu arrived a while later, and the lady left some time after. We ended up working (or otherwise idly jotting or reading on some electronic device, in my case) for some time in the shop. Zhe Yu was more industrious than I was:


Our dinner stop (Thai food) was some ways away – not the happiest fact, given that the temperature had been falling since the night before, and the roads and sidewalks in the city were treacherously icy. The walk from the dinner place was better than the walk to it, however, because of my meal of what was probably the spiciest fried rice I’ve ever had: the spice feels great in the cold. (I’d been warned that the spice-level the waiter requested wasn’t on a scale of typical American ‘spicy’, but I’d gone ahead with ‘hot’ anyway.) In addition to the ‘hot’- level spice of the fried rice, Zhe Yu and I had a heated debate along some of our classic themes (i.e. any of those contexts where ‘problematic’ is a true summary – not that we let things slide quite as easily).

We headed to Macalester after dinner, where Zhe Yu was due to visit some of his Singaporean school-mates. I’d heard that there would be pineapple tarts, so I was predisposed to be effusive, but really the major part of the fun was catching up about Singapore and mutual friends.

On a slightly more serious note, some kinds of conversation feel almost too easy to do sometimes. One thing I was conscious of at some point was having acquired the bad (or possibly not bad) habit of keeping a close track of these social relations; this is something I squarely blame on having gotten into the political/social life in the university in the manner I did during my first two years. I am being semi-serious with my use of ‘blame’ here, in that I don’t think it’s an objectively bad thing; my unease has more to do with the idea of ‘coasting’ through relationships and the things people say. Ultimately, it was a fleeting moment of self-consciousness in an enjoyably sociable conversation; but to this recently-minted sometimes-extrovert, the fact that I call this ‘fleeting’ when, as a teenager, my self-assessment would well have included ‘perpetually self-conscious’ is sign enough of a change meriting further introspection. (Which I, happily, still seem to enjoy.)

The knowledge I felt from tracing the day in writing was that this was a day very full of places (skyways, aisles, icy sidewalks) and conversation.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: , ,

When the Cold Wind Blows

13 January 2014 1 comment

I arrived back from winter break into scarily cold temperatures in Minnesota. It went down to about -34 degrees Celsius, and about -48 wind chill. There was good news — my friend who lives in Faribault (which is right by Northfield) told me that this was about rock-bottom, as far as temperatures go.

I arrived back late on Saturday afternoon, and spent a slow Sunday on laundry, emails, and prepping for classes.

My first class of the term was on Monday, at the Weitz Center for Creativity. The Weitz Center is, unfortunately, some blocks away from most of the campus buildings, the misfortune in this case being the cold and the wind. It wasn’t that I found myself miserably cursing at the cold under my scarf — I’d actually been feeling quite optimistic at the prospect of starting classes again — but I did find myself, quite without any directed intention, singing out a half-forgotten tune to myself into my scarf.

In the early morning march
With a field-pack on my back,
With an aching in my arms
And my body full of sweat.

I’m a long, long way from home,
And I miss my lover so.
In the early morning march,
When the cold wind blows.


I remember genuinely enjoying the music of this old army song on a few occasions. The refrain consists of repeating the line at the end of the verse four times (which, when sung in the usual call-and-echo context, turns into eight). Each instance varies in melodic contour, and each arc fills the whole line, such that the lines bleed into each other if you hold the notes to their full value. Lyric-wise, too, it’s a nice song; simple but evocative.

While the wind at 0530 on Pulau Tekong can be quite chilly, the cold wind blowing in Minnesota is something else. Before braving the wind that morning, knowing that any exposed area of skin would be an invitation to frostbite, I’d had a proper plan for my layers and under-layers of clothes, made sure the hats, collars, sleeve-ends etc. matched up, and had laced up my boots army-tight for ankle support and water-proofing in the ice and snow. Perhaps it was the thought of these preparations with my head down against the wind that brought the marching song to mind.

I am dramatizing a bit — I fortunately wasn’t in any serious danger on my walk to or from class. It was cold, though, and cold enough to be dangerous to someone who didn’t know to respect it, but I’d been well warned and so sufficiently armored.

Monday and Tuesday were rock-bottom days, temperature-wise, but it’s been getting warmer since, so much so that it was a degree above freezing tonight and you hear the people in town saying, “It’s so nice out.”

During the week, though, my mind was mainly on class and registration matters. I had exciting first classes, and registration’s been smooth so far, with three solid classes for this term (three being the norm). I’ve also managed to prepare an appeal to overload a fourth class in computer science.

It was for this computer science class that I found myself self-administering a crash course in LaTeX. Week One was most clearly marked by the hours in front of computer screens looking up LaTeX tutorials and trying to code tables in it. The learning curve made my first two days with it pretty intense, but I feel pretty good about learning the skill in a pretty short amount of time. While I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised at my ability to sit for hours at a time in front of computer screens while trying to scratch out the right answers to my problem sets in exactly the right format, I’m not sure this borderline obsessive work-pattern has been entirely healthy for me; the rest of my week in school feels somewhat lost in the glare.

The weekend was also slightly surreal. On Saturday night I found myself betrayed by my wish for a quiet drink. I found myself joined at my table by a party of friends (a band and friends of the band), some of whom had been playing at a restaurant in town earlier in the night. When the first few of them sat down I was quite happy to share the space and converse, but I didn’t realize how large the party was, or how animated they would be once they were all settled in — it got to sing-alongs and some table-perching. They were very friendly, though, and I was mostly not uncomfortable, but it all felt slightly surreal.

At some point, I decided I’d take a quick look outside. I hadn’t realized that they’d set up an ice bar, and that most of the deck area had been decorated with ice sculptures. I realized that this weekend it was warm enough (perverse, I know) for the ice bar. In addition to the actual bar and the sculptures, the shots were served in ice too, and there’s an area for you to throw the ice-glass after you take the shot. Encountering all this also felt rather surreal, but something I appreciated was meeting the sculptor and talking about the stuff.

It’s Minnesota-warm, at the end of this week of Winter 2014.

Edit: Something I omitted the first time round: among the sculptures on the deck was an ice bear. I didn’t actually see the ice bear, because it had been mysteriously smashed, most probably by someone who had walked by. I only heard about it from the sculptor, in the course of his explaining some kind of spiritual significance of the bear sculpture, which was related to a very sad story about his son’s death, presumably on military duties. The sculptor wasn’t emotional during the telling, but from what he said, what he seemed to feel most strongly about was how the callous action of the passer-by who’d happened to smash that one particular sculpture was, ultimately, without a sensible explanation.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: , ,


17 November 2013 Leave a comment

Coming to the end of Week 9 at Carleton, I just want to record that feeling of gratefulness for having two beautiful fall days at this season-turning juncture. To be reminded of late summer after the previous week’s snow is one of the things that has been accorded some sort of significance in this life.

I have an essay to write, so I’m not going to begin the attempt to spin out the web of things which seem to signify, but this is one of the threads:

c.1300, “spider threads spun in fields of stubble in late fall,” apparently from gos “goose” + sumer “summer” (cf. Swedish sommertrad “summer thread”). The reference might be to a fancied resemblance of the silk to goose down, or because geese are in season then. The German equivalent mädchensommer (literally “girls’ summer”) also has a sense of “Indian summer,” and the English word originally may have referred to a warm spell in autumn before being transferred to a phenomenon especially noticable then. Cf. obsolete Scottish go-summer “period of summer-like weather in late autumn.” Meaning “anything light or flimsy” is from c.1400. The adjective sense “filmy” is attested from 1802.

(Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Categories: Vagaries Tags: , ,

Cool Exchange Activities List

3 November 2013 Leave a comment

I have a life! Really! Not just of the mind!

But October has been a fun month, even though (as I’ve said elsewhere) that might not be my strong suit.

Some Notable Moments

1. Watching Jeffrey Zeigler play cello at the Concert Hall on a Friday night. The last song was composed by Glenn Kotche (yes, FROM WILCO), and it was magical.

2. Going for Carleton’s TEDx that same weekend. There were a number of impressive talks about anything from the inspiration of yoghurt and the co-op model, to some really exciting cancer research

TEDx Carleton College

3. Watching my second ever sketch comedy show, this one of the work of David Ives.

4. Weekend in St. Paul! I saw the banks of the Mississippi in autumn, took a walk down some of the nicest avenues and houses in the country, had some good coffee and a good pretzel bun, had a fantastic coffee stout, and saw the first tiny dusting of snow for the winter on the morning I left. I also visited Macalester College (where my host studies), and saw a bit of St. Thomas University.

Bell's Java Stout

5. Caught my first movie in the States at AMC Theaters in Roseville (Don Jon).

6, Attended the Q&A session moderated by my erstwhile English Prof. with Salman Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie Q&A

7. And finally, this hour-longer weekend, I watched Ender’s Game in Lakeville and saw the Second City All-Stars improv comedy troupe at Carleton.


This weekend also saw the release of Darkness, a Russian Imperial Stout from Surly Brewing Co. in Minnesota. I was lucky enough to catch it on tap at the pub in town. There have been other beer-ventures.

As I am already most of the way done with presuming your interest, I might as well finish strongly.

Northfield’s been a really good place to find a different rhythm. I’ve been walking a lot around the river and the town, and around the College too. I’ve been enjoying just worrying about classes and homework and stuff. It leaves space to think.

Classes have been good. I feel like it’s been no trouble at all getting into the swing of syntax or phon-phon (as my syntax prof put it). Credit, certainly, to passionate teachers.

More recently I’ve been working on my cases for the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl. It’s kinda like a debate, except there’s no for/against, and we don’t know the specific question we’re arguing until we’re in the room. What it looks like I’m aiming for at the moment is demonstrating why the questions I identify are the central ones, rather than some other potentially misleading questions. If anyone’s interested to take a look at the team’s occasional notes and discussions, drop me a note and I’ll send an invite.

To wrap it up, Skype, postcards, FB chat, and eating spicy food (including a really nice Mexican salsa) are some of the ways I remember home.

Categories: Events Tags: ,