Planning Between USC and the Community

Our Planning Theory class ended on Tuesday, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on phenomenology activity (Thanks Professor Drake). For this class, our assignment was to take a stroll around USC and the neighborhood and share what we discovered. A group of students and I headed towards the south side of campus towards Exposition Park. As we got closer, we discovered, there was no crosswalk between the surrounding community and the park. I was shocked that USC hadn’t invested in a walkway between the community and the school. It was such a contrast to the beautifully paved crosswalks just a block away. It created a very unwelcoming and unsafe environment for pedestrians from both the school and the community.

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Given we couldn’t walk to the park since there were no crosswalks, we decided to explore the surrounding homes and buildings near the freeway. As we passed by homes, I saw a block of beautiful gated homes housing multiple families. Upon approaching the end of the block, we saw a large homeless community near the freeway entrance. People from the community were outside talking to each other.

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On the way back, we passed more homes with beautiful gardens. Afterwards, we walked underneath the freeway to get back to campus. I noticed the Metro Station entrance, and several USC Community Ambassadors at key pathways to the campus. It was an interesting experience, and one I rarely have the opportunity to glimpse.

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Five Steps to Keep You on Track in Grad School

Leonardo da vinciThe summer has ended and I have entered my second year of graduate school. I’m happy to report that things are going well (even with midterms and finals on the horizon). I created a list of 10 lessons I learned in graduate school earlier this summer, and I wanted to check-in and update them for this year.

  1. Exercise – I’ve been trying to go to the gym three times a week since I started school. This is a huge stress reliever for me, especially while I’ve been going through some challenges with friends and family over the last couple of months. It helps me to remain calm, collected, and energized.
  2. Create a Handy Calendar System – I’ve started using google calendar to manage my life since August, and its been quite successful. The difficult part about this is always keeping up with the calendar. Now that I’ve taken on multiple side projects – starting Association for India’s Development, being Communications Chair for PELA and organizing events, working as a Student Correspondent for METRANS Transportation Center, and going home every alternative weekend to visit my parents, this calendar is a life saver. I find myself constantly referencing it anytime I am asked to schedule something.
  3. Create Art – This semester, I’ve found myself less stressed than previously, even though I have more to do because I have a notebook handy to sketch and doodle, and I’m constantly taking pictures on my cell phone. The process of creating art is very therapeutic for me, personally. It helps me to cope with tough situations and be more thoughtful when I’m on my daily walk.
  4. Meditate – Meditating is extremely helpful in times of extreme stress like midterms or finals. It may feel challenging to sit for a few minutes each day with your eyes closed, letting your mind wander, but it has tremendous calming effect. I’ve had numerous times this semester where this tool allowed me to process with challenges I was facing in school and life.
  5. Check in with yourself – It’s easy to ignore your feelings during times of stress, and keep telling yourself you will push through. This isn’t a good idea. I’ve been checking in with myself daily this semester to see if I am happy with what I am doing, and if I am bothered by something, how I could make it better. These little check-ins are helping me to cope with a lot of big and small life changes.

Place It! Workshop

A week or so ago, one of my coworkers gave me her ticket to attend an American Planning Association event with James Rojas, the founder of Place It! Place It! is a design and participation based urban planning firm that uses model-based workshops and on-site interactive models to help engage the public in community development. He has used toys as tools to empower immigrants in Los Angeles to share their ideas about how the neighborhood should be designed. The concept was simple, yet profound. We used toys to share our favorite memory from childhood and then we worked in groups to address a conceptual problem.

James Rojas – Place It! Founder
Pile of toys for us to play with!
This group worked on tackling economic development. Their solution was automated robots.
This group dealt with mobility, they created zip lines to connect businesses and homes, as a way of transporting people through the air.
My group tackled sustainability. We made an urban city based on Singapore, it had water recycling, wind mills for energy, compost which went to the large farms, rooftop gardens, and people lived next to the river, so they had easy access to water. It was paradise.

Hidden in Plain Site – Oakland Street Art

During the first weekend of June, I met up with Tess to have lunch at a nice crepe restaurant in Oakland and catch up. On my walk home afterwards, I saw the most amazing art work hidden in plain site across the neighborhood. Its crazy to think that this was all within two or three blocks of each other. Check it out.

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First Friday Art Walk in Oakland, CA

Hi everyone,

To kick off the first week of June, I went to First Friday Art Walk in Oakland with Abhinaya and Johnathon. We walked through a street filled with live drumming, music, artists painting works, hand-made jewelry, and of course Pete’s Coffee and Tea was giving away free samples of their coffee. While at the Petes stand, I saw a woman pedal a bicycle blender.  Enough said. Here we go.

Pete’s Coffee and Tea Bike Blender!
This was the first art gallery we walked into. I didn’t get the name of it, but it was pretty cool. On the inside, there were flyers and posters in support of #blacklivesmatter. I’d love to check this out again at some point during the summer.
This was the first big art mural we saw on our walk. It looks like a cross between a lion/wolf and ducks with upside down faces. I love the vivid colors and repeating patterns.
The next exhibit we entered was the Johansson Projects. This place had some really interesting art work patterns. You can check out more on their website:
This was one of the art works on the wall of the Johansson Projects exhibit. They did a lot of monotone repeating patterns. The variation in the patterns makes it really interesting to look at. I could have stared at the intricacy of this work for hours.
The next place we went to was very different. It featured a lot more playful and child-like pieces. This one was my favorite. Its two friends walking together. In the bodies of the two friends is a painting of the universe.
On our way back, we saw a huge variety of murals painted on the businesses. This one conveys a lot of intricacy. I love the message on top of the door, “Give & Love”
This one was right across the street from the “Give & Love” mural. In stark contrast, this conveys a more sad, contemplative image of life in Oakland.
Lastly, across the street from both of those murals was this image of animals, jungles, and flowers.

My First Concert at the Fox Theater

Last Thursday, Abhinaya bought tickets for us to go to a Spoon concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland as an early birthday present (Yes, I know, she’s awesome). It was the first time I’ve ever been at the floor of a concert hall, listening to a band I enjoy playing a line-up of their best songs. If you haven’t heard of Spoon before, they play music like The Way We Get By, Do You, The Underdog, and Don’t You Evah. We managed to get there early enough to get in the second row. The entire theater was sold out. The experience of watching one of my favorite bands play live in concert was amazing!

Abhinaya and I at the concert!
Abhinaya and I at the concert!
Spoon singing the first song!
Spoon singing the first song!


Lead singer =)
Lead singer =)


Here is a video of Spoon playing “Do You.” This is currently one of my favorite songs from them. =)

East Bay Music Festival

As mentioned in the previous post, I went to the East Bay Music Festival with Abhinaya last Saturday. The festival was located near Lake Merritt and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in downtown Oakland, amidst many residential and commercial buildings. The festival was home to local bands and Bay Area food trucks and start-up food businesses. Here is what the festival looked like:


While I was checking out the food trucks and food stalls, Abhinaya informed me that there is an ongoing movement in Oakland to re-open the Kaiser Convention Center. According to a Facebook group supporting the movement, “since 2005, this nearly hundred-year-old gem has been sitting on Mothballs, doing nothing. Not serving the community, not hosting cultural events, and being basically ignored by the City of Oakland in favor of glitzier theaters downtown.”

The City of Oakland transferred the building into the hands of the redevelopment agency before Governor Brown eliminated funding for all redevelopment agencies back in 2011. Here is what the building looks like right now:

View of one of the entrances to the gated building.
Side View of the building.

Abhinaya bought some iced coffee and some apricot donut holes from the Red Bay Coffee stall while we were there. I spoke to the owner of the business, Keba, about his experience at the festival. He was having a good time, and told me a little bit about his kick starter campaign to build a coffee shop out of a shipping container. Abhinaya and I sat down afterwards and tried the donut holes, which were pretty delicious. You can learn more about his business here.

The festival made Oakland feel like home on my first day back in the Bay Area. There was a sense of community culture among people and the locally grown businesses. It would be exciting to see free community events like these happened more often in Downtown Los Angeles to encourage the same kind of culture. If anyone knows of some, please share in the comments below.

My Epic Moving-In Journey

Readers, you will not guess the crazy day I had last Saturday. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong happened and I still managed to complete my intended goal. It was one of the craziest experiences I have had in my life so far.

As you know, I am interning in Oakland for the summer. I drove up to Oakland on Friday night from Los Angeles and slept at my best friend Abhinaya’s apartment. Abhinaya had agreed to help me move into my apartment Saturday afternoon. She had taken time from finishing her personal statement for medical school to help me (which I am very grateful for).

We headed off to my other best friend, Pratiksha’s apartment, to pick up the keys (The girl I was renting from was friends with Pratiksha and had dropped them off to because all the renters were gone over the weekend). Pratiksha was gone on a trip for a silence course. She had told me she was going to leave them in a pot in her neighbor’s house. When we arrived at the apartment, the keys were nowhere to be found. We looked and looked for five, ten minutes. Nothing appeared…I was terrified because she wouldn’t be back until Wednesday, after my internship began.

After some quick thinking, I texted her boyfriend, who told me that she may have left them with her neighbor Charlie instead of in the pot. We rang Charlie’s doorbell two or three times. He wasn’t home. So, we left a note for Charlie on his front door and headed back to Abhinaya’s apartment, hoping he had them.

When we got back to the apartment, Abhinaya suggested that we stop by at the East Bay Music Festival, to get our minds off the tense situation. The free festival was happening just a few blocks from her apartment building in Downtown Oakland. It was very unique and fun (I’ll talk about this in another blog post).

As we were heading back to the apartment after the festival, I received a call from Charlie saying that he had the keys and would be home for the rest of the evening. Abhinaya and I were both thrilled at the news. We decided we would just get into the car as soon as we arrived at her building and drive over to pick them up, and then drop off the supplies.

Everything went smoothly when we got to the apartment. Charlie was at the door within a minute to give us the keys, and we got back into the car to head over. EXCEPT….I realized that I didn’t have the address for the apartment building or the apartment number. I had called the girl to find out the address earlier that morning and had written it on my computer, which I didn’t have with me.

Abhinaya and I were both disappointed, since we wanted to finish moving everything in on Saturday and it was a major inconvenience to head back to her apartment. So, I texted the girl I was subleasing from, asking her again. We figured she would message us back in a few minutes and we headed off towards the general direction of the apartment building in Berkeley. I knew it was near the corner of MLK and Channing Way, so we loaded the GPS on Abhi’s phone and headed off.

We still hadn’t received any calls by the time we arrived at the intersection. We decided to take a right hand turn and reassess what to do. As we turned the corner, Berkeley High School was there. A memory came to me of when the girl had described the apartment complex to me. She had said it was right across the street from the school. So, I continued driving up the street. Then, I saw a large apartment complex building with a parking lot that looked like the place when I had Google mapped it a few days ago.

We parked in the parking lot of the building and got out of the car. The building was gated. We walked to the front and tried to open the gate with the two keys that had been given to us. The first key didn’t work…the second did. The apartment building gate opened. WE WERE AT THE RIGHT APARTMENT.

Then, when we entered into the apartment building. We stood there as it donned on us that we may have entered the building, we didn’t know the apartment number of the place I was subletting….

At this point, we still hadn’t received any calls or messages from the girl and every time I had tried to call, her phone said she didn’t have signal. But, we’d gotten this far, so we decided to go up to the first floor of the building and scope out how much work we would have to do in order to get into the apartment.

We get to the first floor of the poolside apartment and look around. There are three floors, each with approximately 10 apartment doors. We are both flabbergasted. How will we ever figure out which apartment is mine?

Abhinaya started shouting random door numbers at me hoping it would jog my memory. We stood there for a few minutes. At this point, I vaguely remembered the girl saying that the apartment was somewhere on the first floor. I am very uncertain about this, but we decide to just give it a try. Since we know that no one should be at home in the apartment, we listened for noises coming from each of the doors. Then, we tried the keys on the doors without any noise. We walk around the first floor, trying the key in each door. 1G passed, 1F passed, and finally we get to the end of the hall, and we hadn’t found the right apartment door yet…we are out of ideas.

We had no option but to head back at that moment. But, as we were about to walk downstairs, we see two doors near the stairwell. There are two additional apartment doors we missed near the entrance, 1A and 1B. I tried the key in 1A. It doesn’t open. As a last effort, I put the key into 1B. The door lock clicked open….We were still a bit uncertain at this point about whether we had just broken into some random stranger’s home or if we had actually found the right apartment. We looked around, and surely enough there was a room with two beds, a loft and one on the ground floor, just as the girl had told me…We had found the right apartment!

We were astounded. Then, the unthinkable happened. As we began loading the boxes and bags into the apartment, I lost the keys….

Abhinaya and I had gone to take boxes from my car, and as we approached the door with boxes in hand. I couldn’t find the keys to open the building door anywhere. I dropped the boxes off near the entrance and went to look inside the car. They were no where to be seen. We were stuck. The door to the apartment was open, but the building gate was locked, so we couldn’t get inside.

At this point, I was ready to cry. We had gotten so far finding an apartment complex without an address, finding the right apartment number… and now, because of my stupidity, we couldn’t even finish putting all the stuff away. Abhinaya calmed me down. She asked what we could do in that moment that would be helpful…

So, we decided we would wait for someone to open the gate. In the meantime, we continued to move the boxes out of the car and put them near the entrance. Surely enough, as I was getting a box out, a college student and his girlfriend entered the apartment complex. I asked them to open the door for us, and we were in!

We dropped the additional boxes inside the apartment and started searching for the keys. They were no where to be found. I went downstairs and searched the car again. They had completely disappeared. We didn’t know what to do…

We were near the kitchen counter, trying to figure out a solution. When we turned around, there was an extra set of keys on the counter. Abhinaya was suspicious as to whether these keys actually worked, so she tried them on the door. Surely enough, they worked!

So, we decided to finish bringing up all the boxes in the meantime, and find the original set of keys later. As we started moving the additional boxes from the car Abhinaya spotted the keys! They had been hidden behind a large box.

At this point, we finished moving all the supplies back to the apartment. As we finished and locked the door we realized how amazing this experience was. We had miraculously found the right apartment building and door without an address. We had managed to lose a pair of keys to the complex and find an extra pair of keys to help us. And with God’s grace, we had managed to move into the apartment.

Let me know what you think of this story and if you have ever had a similar experience in the comments below.

Touring the Getty Center with Erin

After returning from my trip to the Bay Area, I had some fun adventures with Erin at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The Getty is one of two museums funded by an oil tycoon. The museums are internationally renowned, this one being the most well known.

View of the Getty from the garden.

As we stepped into the main building, we saw my favorite part. There was an art piece in the main entrance building created by high school students from LAUSD. The work critically looked at whose values are promoted in society and whether they are good or bad. Social justice folks in the room would have really loved this.

Afterwards, I went to explore the outdoor garden exhibit. This is one of my favorite parts of the museum.

Lastly we explored the pre-17th century and 17th century art buildings and the Turner Exhibit. Here were some of my favorites. There were just too many great paintings to put on here, so I uploaded a gallery instead. You can view it here.