Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Chronicles of a Chicago Chaperone - Part II

This is the story of my adjustment to the downtown Chicago city life as the students began their studies at the University of Chicago.

After dropping the students off at their dorms before their first days of class at UChicago, I decided to find the nearest public transportation rather than paying for an expensive cab ride back to the hotel.  I actually enjoy the process of walking in these new surroundings – if the destination is less than a mile away, I will probably walk to it.   I walked down 59th street using Google maps towards what was supposed to be the University of Chicago Metra station.  To my dismay, I found a dilapidated station under the train overpass with nothing but a garbage can chained to a door and a few faded maps on the wall.  On each side of the map were wooden stairwells leading up, and they were covered in old newspapers possibly to counteract damage from the rain. The ticket kiosk said, “Out of service” and there were no other passengers to be seen.  Did this mean there was no train?  I spent about twenty minutes searching for maps on my phone.  Did an L train pick up anywhere close to here?  No.  I went back inside the station and scoured over the train schedule.  I realized that there were a couple trains coming – the intervals of arrivals were large because it was Saturday.  I climbed the old wooden steps and gave a sigh of relief when I saw others waiting upstairs on the platform.  A nice gentleman assured me that yes, I could buy tickets once aboard the train and that I was standing on the correct platform to get back to Millennium station.

When I boarded the train, I realized that this was definitely the least expensive and efficient form of transport to and from the UChicago campus.  The Metra is a commuter train, almost like Amtrak.  There are quiet commute cars, and I love that.  It only costs $3.50 for a one-way trip, compared to a nearly $30.00 cab ride after tip.  My stop was Millennium station, but I heard the conductor announce, “Next stop is Van Buren.  Taste of Chicago.”  I decided to get off at Van Buren to check out the free Taste of Chicago festival, only for the rain to begin pitter pattering on the people waiting in line to get into the outdoor festival.  I took the Red Line back to the hotel with the rain starting, but vowed to go to the festival the following day.

And the following day, I did.  Below are some pictures from the festival.  Highlights included a free concert played by The Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, a “taste” of jerk chicken with red beans and rice and plantain from a restaurant called Hiyanze, and seeing the larger-than-life Buckingham Fountain.  Oh, and one more thing – the weather was excruciatingly hot and humid.  It wasn’t until early evening when the temperature became pleasant and bearable.

The following day was Monday.  I promised my mom that I would visit the American Girl Place, as its original store is in Chicago.  Using my Google maps, I found that it was right down the street.  I thought my mom’s request was corny at first, but I was actually excited to go explore the store and reminisce about the American Girl dolls my sister, Karly, and I played with during our childhood.  I entered the store and immediately felt the magic of being a child envelop me.  I didn’t know where to look first, because there were so many details – each doll had its own wardrobe, window, accessories, matching ready-to-wear outfits for young girls, video clips, and a book series.  The first doll that greeted me was Grace, the newest American Girl doll.  Grace is my new favorite American Girl doll – she wears a pink beret, has auburn hair and blue eyes, and wears a t-shirt that says “J’adore Paris” with a skirt and some little boots.  I obviously identify with her being an American Francophile and French teacher.  Don’t tell my mom, but I bought her the Grace doll with the pink beret and macaroon set!  I also saw Samantha, the childhood doll that I received for Christmas when I was probably eight or nine, and I looked around for the other four dolls that I knew of – Molly, Kirsten, Felicity, and Addy.   I learned from one of the American Girl employees that certain dolls, such as Molly, my sister’s childhood doll, were put on reserve and not available until a later year – kind of like Disney movies.  I exclaimed to the employee, “When I was a girl, there were only five dolls!  Five!”  Now, there were at least double that amount, and you could even customize a doll to look like yourself.
Samantha's different outfits
So many dolls!

Later that day, I decided to take the Chicago Architectural River Cruise.  The weather had cooled down and the reflection of tall skyscrapers glittered from the river itself.  I boarded the boat and tried to calm the strange stomach feeling I got from the rocking boat.  Thankfully, the sensation went away as the cruise started.  On the boat cruise, I learned about the history of Chicago’s skyscrapers, the famous fire, and of course, the architectural analysis of Chicago’s buildings surrounding the river.  I really appreciated the tour and the architectural knowledge imparted by our tour guide.  I first became interested in architecture when I studied in Paris and took a course on French Gothic style.  Some highlights of the tour were the “Corn on the cob” buildings, the tour guide’s jokes about Donald Trump as we passed the Trump tower, and just people-watching in general.  It was a gorgeous evening.  I left the tour feeling that I had gotten a solid glimpse of the city-scape.

Adjusting to life in Chicago alone has its perks and its obstacles.  Back at home, I am constantly surrounded by my family members, my boyfriend, my friends, and my [parents’] dogs.   It can feel strange eating alone and walking around by myself, but it can also be liberating.  I am free to spend time doing activities that I might not be able to convince others to do with me.  And I don’t have the stress of accommodating other people’s preferences. (The previous sentence may sound selfish, but you should try it sometime.)  I love live theater, and I know Chicago has a wonderful theater district.  Thus, it is my intention to take full advantage of it.  I bought tickets for the Moby Dick matinee showing at the Looking Glass Theater next week.  When I heard that Kinky Boots was playing in the theater district, I jumped at the opportunity to go see it, because I missed it during its San Francisco tour, and I know it won the Tony Award for Best New Picture last year.  I was literally in the last row of the Cadillac Palace Theater, but sometimes that’s the best place to be in order to see the different dance formations and full picture of musical numbers.  I LOVED Kinky Boots, especially its message about accepting others for who they are.
View from the last row

I can’t talk about my performance arts’ experiences without mentioning the live jazz I saw at the Bandera Restaurant, and then again at the Drake Hotel this past week. 
Live jazz at Bandera Restaurant
Another adjustment I have needed to make while living in Chicago is my fitness routine.  At home, I go to jazzercise with my mom and take a conditioning class at Contra Costa College on a weekly basis, so I have been looking at ways to stay active while in the city.  There is an impressive fitness center and pool with a spa at the Omni, so I have been taking advantage of those amenities.  Specifically, fitness followed by the hot tub has helped me feel calmer in this new setting, so I have tried to make it part of my daily routine.  (Hydrotherapy can help cure stress and depression, as well as loosening muscles and increasing relaxation.)  I tried a 30-minute Fit-blast class at Yoga Loft, and the reason it’s only thirty minutes is because it is extremely intense circuit training.  Additionally, the workout room was kept at a warmer temperature (think Bikram) to keep muscles warm.   Tim, our instructor was very encouraging and motivating, and I was proud of myself when I finished the class without passing out or throwing up.  I also tried Pure Barre, an all-female workout based around a ballet bar.  With my history of dance, I felt like I navigated through this exercise class fairly successfully, though it was still difficult at certain moments.  And since the teacher, Emily, corrected my form a few times, I felt like I was probably one of the only new students.  Emily was helpful, and I would like to try Pure Barre once more before I leave Chicago.  A few more details about Pure Barre – you have to wear sticky socks, capris or leggings, and a form-fitting top that covers your mid-drift to better show off your form.  Everyone who participates seems to have a history in dance.  Let’s put it this way – when Emily said to go as far as you can into a split, everyone was able to do it easily with good posture.   My latest fitness endeavor was a yoga course titled “Vinyasa Flow” at the Yoga Loft once again.  Yoga has been a favorite exercise of mine because of the emphasis on breathing and lengthening.  There is a yoga class that takes place on North Avenue Beach in the mornings and evenings that gets great reviews – I think I’ll try it. What could be more calming than yoga on the beach?
Wearing my Pure Barre sticky socks
Speaking of the beach, being within walking distance of Lake Michigan’s beautiful and lively beaches has been breathtaking!

On Thursday, I had a check-in with the students about their first few days of class.  I was happy to see that everyone looked healthy and the ten minutes of conversation with each student seemed to fly by.  I learned that the Developmental Psychology course had a larger workload than the Contagion course and Physics of the Stars course, and Brandon and Tamika were adjusting to the workload and trying to incorporate strategies the teacher had given them for handling the large amounts of reading.  Aisha’s Contagion course, on the contrary, had very little homework, if any, since most of the learning involved the in-class labs.  Aisha was happy about this and has been able to go on most of the RA-planned excursions as a result.  Jae-an’s workload falls somewhere in the middle of the two other courses, and we talked about his upcoming project and the fieldtrips that he will be taking with his class.  I reminded all of the students about our optional excursion to Museum Campus on Sunday.  Some of them felt like they wouldn’t be able to make the weekend excursion due to their homework.  Since University of Chicago is a newer program for the Ivy League Connection, I will be sure to remind the students how important it is for them to pass on the information about their courses, professors, and workloads to incoming ILC students from their schools.

I was very excited for this past weekend in Chicago, because my youngest sister, Claire, was coming to visit.  During her stay, we saw my friend,  Sunny Jha, from Cal who works out here in Chicago, visited Oak Street Beach and witnessed an awe-inspiring thunder and lightning storm across the Lake Michigan shore from the cover of a beach cabana, went kayaking at North Avenue Beach, ate a traditional Chicago deep dish pizza, visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, saw Trainwreck with Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, and ate at one of her must-eats from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, BopNGrill, a Korean-fusion place in Old Town.   But, one of my favorite memories with Claire was going to Second City and seeing “Panic on Cloud Nine,” a collection of comedic skits that the actors practice during the week and then perform on the weekend.  The skits are followed by an hour of completely improvised scenes and improvisational games.  I couldn’t stop reading the program, because I was amazed at all of the Saturday Night Live alumni that have come out of Second City, Chicago.  Second City is one of two main theaters where SNL actors get “seen” before being called to an audition by Lorne Michaels.  Comedic alumni of Second City include Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Chris Farley, Jim Belushi, Tim Meadows, John Candy, Shelley Long…the list goes on and on.
Getting up close and personal with a boa at the Lincoln Park Zoo
The admission to the Lincoln Park Zoo is free, made possible by community donors.
BopNGrill, complete with Korean beef and Kimchi
Second City theater

Second City alum from the 1970s

Another favorite moment with Claire was getting to experience the Field Museum of Natural Science and History at Museum Campus with Tamika and Jae-an on Sunday.  As we bought our tickets, the museum employee asked us if we were there because of last night’s Taylor Swift concert at Soldier Field on Museum Campus.  The Field Museum was fascinating.  Not only does it have the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex (named “Sue”), but its collections of taxidermied animals must be the largest in the nation, if not the world!  There was a formidable exhibit on the early Americas.  We watched a video about how during the Ice Age, it was possible that the water level was so low that there was a land bridge, called the Bering Strait, that actually connected Asia to the Americas, which explains why the earliest signs of man in the Americas appeared to identify most with early Asian populations.  I feel like I have learned this fact three or so times in my history courses, but actually experiencing the history in the context of the exhibit has made it meaningful to me.  I also learned a major theory about why dinosaurs became extinct as a species. (The theory involved a meteorite that caused drastic climate changes, killing about half of all living species of that time period.)  The biggest message I left with was the importance of conservation of our planet’s species.  Scientists from the Field Museum also work on protecting and conserving parts of the world that are in danger of biodiversity destruction due to major entities who use the land for lumber, mining, etc.  These groups of scientists will take three-week assignments in places that have been pinpointed to them by indigenous leaders, colleagues, and community people, and will spend the three weeks exploring and noting all the biodiversity in that area so that proposals can move forward with the government to protect that land due to its housing of certain important species and organisms.  Due to these efforts, hundreds of thousands of acres of huge biodiverse areas, such as the Amazon, have been preserved.  The responsibility of taking care of our planet falls on all of us, and this exhibit’s message gave me the chills.
My first Chicago dog at Museum Campus
Egyptian exhibit 
The Field Museum was the first to have taxidermied elephants.
More taxidermy
Senegal exhibit
Africa's size is larger than the combination of all other continents.
Tahiti exhibit
Mammoth and mastadon exhibit

I was sad to see my sister head back to the airport on the L train – it felt comforting to have a piece of home here with me.  But I look forward to finishing another week in Chicago and seeing the students on Sunday for another optional excursion, this time to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Impressionists and Post-impressionists, here I come!


  1. My first time to Chicago I went with my husband, but he worked all week while I toured the city. It was fun wandering around aimlessly finding exciting experiences. Are you planning on checking out the view from the Sears Tower?

    1. Hi Lynne -

      It has been wonderful! Yes, the Sears Tower is on my list of "must-sees"! Thanks for reading.