Blog » Caltech News 1: Intro

3 Sep 2003

Caltech News 1: Intro

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:53 pm

Hi all!

Having managed to get internet access through the Caltech wireless network, I’ve finally had a chance and time to write some of the last few days’ news!

I have now finally arrived in Caltech, and moved into my accomodation. The first few days in Los Angeles were spent in an orientation programme organised by Fulbright, at the University of California at Los Angeles campus. It’s a very large university, about 40 000 students. We lived in on-campus apartment housing, just a block down the road from Sunset Boulevard, Belagio drive and Bel Air (which, if you don’t know the name, is a subsurb with lots of movie stars in it. Apparently.)

The orientation itself was somewhat useful. There were about 60 of us, from all over the world. It seems South Africa has an education system and culture that is more similar to the US system than most other countries, so I didn’t really learn anything ground breaking about the US. It was really interesting talking to people from around the world about their countries though – heard lots about Thailand, Ghana, Argentina, … and lots more. Seemed at times like South Africa is the centre of the world, because everyone I spoke to had a friend or family member, or had themselves been to South Africa. So no chance so far to persuade anyone that we ride around on the backs of elephants!

On Wednesday night we were taken on a tour of Hollywood and Beverley Hills. Saw all the sites and places, such as the main movie star shopping street, various famous houses, the Walk of Fame and the Chinese theatre (where the first movie premiers are always shown, and the subject of a recent song you may have heard on the radio. As those of you who have played 30 seconds with me will no doubt find easy to believe, I’ve forgotten who sings the song!). It wasn’t nearly as impressive I had expected — reminded me somewhat of Margate at times, just more spread out! Still, it was interesting going to all those places, and after all, (in female singing voice) “Everybody goes to Hollywood….”.

I did also meet during the orientation two other guys who are coming to Caltech. The first, Peter, is a biomedical engineer from the Netherlands, and the second, Ivan, is an aerospace engineer from Spain. Been hanging around with Peter in particular quite a lot, as we can speak Dutch/Afrikaans, he is a Monty Python fan, and quite friendly. He’s now staying with me for a few days, as his accomodation at Caltech is not yet available. This meant we could share the taxi fare coming to Caltech from the orientation, and speaking to someone from the Netherlands is keeping my accent in line!

We made the move on Friday morning. I had earlier tried to book a taxi, but came across some of the worst and most abrupt service I’ve ever experienced! Before I’d realised that I was no longer on hold, I had an operator demanding to know where I was, without even saying hello. If I had not finally worked out her accent in time, there would have been a taxi on it’s way immediately, and not the next day. Still, managed to persuade then to do what I wanted, instead of what they wanted, eventually.

Los Angeles is a really big place. Seriously. It can take more than an hour and a half to get across town, even with no traffic. Over the last few days Pasadena, where I’m now living, has been on average 10 degress C hotter than the NEAREST beach within the city. And it’s somewhat like Johannesburg in that there is no clear centre, but just endless towns and suburbs, all running in to each other. There are of course lots of large roads, with permanent traffic jams – the Europeans are having an interesting time adapting to the size of everything!

Having arrived in Friday, I moved into my apartment. It’s a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment. My eventual apartment-mates haven’t yet arrived, so I’m hoping they’ll be nice… The kitchen is not that large, but has lots of cupboards, and the living area is not too bad. It hasn’t any cutlery, crockery, cooking utensils or bedding, so I went shopping for those later in the day. It’s a rather new experience being actually excited by combination sets of kitchen utensils… Unfortunately I have to wait for the rest of the apartment-mates to arrive if I hope to persuade them to share the cost, so I’m living off plastic plates at the moment. It really complicates shopping, though, when you have never heard of most the brands, and you can only get a feeling for price by constantly converting to Rands (though then, of course, everything is expensive…)

Also Friday I registered as a student, got my Caltech student card and email address (…, though it’s currently simply sending email on to my other account). The campus itself is small (only 2000 students), but set amongst very nice parkland and trees, with occasional fountains. It’s a little intimidating walking around when each building is named after a famous scientist – who actually worked here.

Saturday we did more shopping, as well as went swimming in the pool at the rather nice Caltech gym. It’s incredibly hot here at the moment, and it doesn’t cool down that much at night. In the evening we went to dinner with some of the research team of Peter (the Dutch Fulbright guy). They’re a very friendly bunch, and have been showing us around in a great way.

Sunday we went hiking with them in the mountains that lie immediately behind the city near Caltech. There were 8 of us; three from Sweden, two from the Netherlands, and one each from France, Spain and South Africa. Seems Caltech is not big on Americans… I had thought that it would be a rather easy walk, as some of the people seemed to have enjoyed the America “culture” of overeating. But appearances were deceiving, and it turned into a 16km hike, 8km up the mountain, then 8km down again. All in some of the hottest weather I’ve seen – I was still sweating like mad at 7:30pm. Still, it was a good change, and it gave a good view over a smog cloud that apparently held Los Angeles beneath it…

Monday was a public holdiday here, so we borrowed the one Swede’s car (they really are nice guys…) and drove to the beach. Went to Santa Monica beach, which was actually overcast and a little chilly (quite a change from Caltech’s weather). So instead of swimming we went walking all the way along the beach to Venice beach. It’s a massive alternative flea market, with all sorts of art, clothing and so on for sale. For those that may not know, California is in the midst of maybe throwing out their governor and electing a new one. So there were T-shirts on sale with slogan, “Schwazernegger for governator” (sorry for spelling), and even a guy in almost African traditional fur dress, exclaiming loudly to passers-by that he wanted to be governor. A little further along was Muscle Beach, where there is a whole lot of fitness equipment on the beach-front, under a roof shaped like a massive concrete weight-lifting weight. There was a body-building contest underway as we walked past – these Californians are crazy!! To finish the day off we went for a drive through Malibu beach, and the beautiful mountains behind it. Some very nice houses there!

So it’s been a nice few days of sightseeing. It is a bit tough, though, knowing that it’s not simply a short holiday, but my home for some years to come! Have been missing all you guys, and it’s quite tiring when everything of every day is new or different, and there is no-one and nothing familiar to relax in. So any emails or other news will be most welcome!

Today I’m hopefully meeting some of the phyics department, so wish me luck!

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