Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Asian Pacific American Law Student Association in Philadelphia

A little known fact is that I am the Secretary of APALSA, the Asian Law School Club that is both national and a chapter of the University of Richmond School of Law. Why am I Secretary, much less, a member? Because I speak some Chinese. That is the only reason - that and I am fondly referred to by my more Asian counterparts in the club as an "Asian Wannabe."
Due to a lack of actual Asian participants, I found myself on a train to Philadelphia with the Vice President
of the club, Rosanne, and a member David, who are, assuredly, both Asian, and they
were both tall enough to hide me if the National APALSA Conference we were attending at University of Pennsylvania Law School decided to kick me out as an imposter.
We were lucky to have the law school fund our trip out to Philly, and we stayed in the Sheraton University City Hotel, where the conference was also being held.

The hotel, while very nice and quite similar to many other Sheratons
I've stayed in, was also pretty bland. There were not many memorable aspects about it, but we were required to stay there as participants in the conference.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia, we checked in to the hotel and headed out to Chinatown to get some grub. Philadelphia's Chinatown is the fourth largest in the U.S., and there are plenty of authentic restaurants to choose from. We ate at the Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, which was suggested to me by my Lonely Planet USA guidebook as a great place for noodles. I ordered the spicy peanut noodles, and we gorged ourselves on enough carbohydrates to get through the afternoon.
After wandering around Chinatown for a while, where David found his very own cocktail bar and Rosanne and I got our pictures taken under the gate, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to check out their Van Gogh Exhibit.
The museum is also home to another famous attraction - the Rocky steps. In the movie Rocky, where Rocky Balboa is training for a fight, and trains on a long flight of steps in an epic workout sequence, the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are featured in all their glory. I went on a few amazing runs around the city, and during
one of them I ran up and down the Rocky Steps ten times. I was feeling pretty athletic until I looked over and saw a couple going down the steps on their hands and feet in push-up stance. I felt an intense, competitive urge to copy them, but was afraid my wimpy biceps were not up for the challenge.

Anywho - at the bottom of the steps there is a statue of Rocky Balboa, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone in sweats. David and Rosanne ran up the steps for their own glory before we went into the museum.

The museum is actually a really beautiful museum to visit, and one of the best in the country. The Van Gogh exhibit was diverse, but followed a very distinct theme, and a specific period in Van Gogh's life. A lot of the audio tape tour is pulled from letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother over the course of his life. I was impressed with their great relationship until I found out that Van Gogh wrote his brother Theo nearly 900 letters, and Theo wrote him around 60 in response. Clearly the dude was nuts, and a little bit of a desperado too. But apart from the Van Gogh exhibit, the museum offered an excellent Renaissance section, and some really great American 19th century artwork. David was entranced by the modern work, while I preferred the older paintings. We each picked our favorite artwork by Van Gogh in the exhibit, and mine was Almond Branches in Bloom San Remy.

When we finished looking around, we discovered that the museum
holds a dance party and wine bar reception in the lobby on the weekends from 5pm, called Art After 5. Visitors can drink wine, awkwardly dance in the lobby, or do the sophisticated thing and take a tour that covers a certain period of Art or a theme the Museum is trying to cover. I thought it was a great idea, and they do a really great job of putting on the reception. When we left the Museum, we could see a very beautiful downtown Philly at night.

After our time at the Museum, we concluded that margaritas and Mexican food was in order. We headed out to find El Rey in the Center City. It was packed, but the happy hour had cheap appetizers, and we ate soft tacos and had some of their great margaritas. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the place though, as it's pretty packed all the time, and aside from going there to drink, is not a really atmospheric restaurant.

After we ate our weight in chips and dip and tacos, we headed back to the hotel where I bedded down for the night and David and Rosanne went out to explore the city night life. I had an early morning (see Rocky Run above) and we had a conference to go to in the morning, so I decided to forgo the crammed Friday Night bars and clubs.

Saturday was packed with presentations and panels on being an Asian Attorney and/or Judge. I thought it was incredibly interesting, and many of the speakers were able to present their personal experiences in ways that were applicable to many Asian law students, and in some
cases even me and the other white law student from UPenn. My favorite presentation was a panel of female Asian judges. The women discussed their experiences both as women and as Asians trying to build a legal career from the ground up. Their stories were moving and inspirational, and we couldn't have hoped for more charismatic speakers.

One of the judges presented again later about her life and her growth as an Asian woman in the military JAG corps. We had the chance to meet her and shake her hand after our dinner.

This next portion of the blog should be subtitled "We thought it would be bigger." It turns out, all the great tourist attractions in Philly can be seen in two days. On Sunday, we set out to catch as many great things as we could. First we went to see the "LOVE" sculpture downtown. For some reason, we thought it was going to be person size, but it is really quite small, and a little underwhelming. In fact, it's not even one of a kind - there is one close to Independence Hall and one on the UPenn campus. We still had our picture taken under it anyways, but I was personally a little disappointed by its lack of impressiveness. I would say that it is only something to check out if you are heading down to Independence Hall on foot, as it is on the way.

After the underwhelming "LOVE" sign, we headed out to Independence Hall, where we saw the Liberty Bell. I already knew that it was not as big as one would expect, but it was still funny to hear visitors exclaim "That's it?" in wonder and
disappointment at its small size. It is certainly worth seeing, as it is an important part of our nation's history, but seeing it in person can make a visitor think that they could have just crazy glued that crack shut and let it keep on ringing. Apparently not...

While we were there, we also walked around the grounds of Independence Hall and the park there, as it really is a pretty place, tucked behind the financial and government districts of the city. We saw some horse and buggy opportunities but decided to pass. I couldn't resist taking a picture of one horse doing his best Wells Fargo impression though.

After we finish our historic walk around Independence Hall (we didn't go inside), we headed out to the Italian Market. Vendors sell vegetables, fruits, and odds and ends in this market that is worth walking through, even if you're not in the market for Mickey Mouse umbrellas or children's socks to go with your tomatoes. We found an amazing cheese shop on the street where they sold fresh pasta and a wide variety of artisan cheeses. The shop was called Claudio's Specialty Foods, and not only do they have great service, they also have great, wonderful cheeses. They make their own fresh
mozzarella daily, and you are allowed to taste test the cheeses, as many as you like, before you buy some.

We tried a lot of cheese. A LOT OF CHEESE. It was so good, and we could not leave without buying some aged goat cheese and Swiss cheese. We picked harder cheeses that could make it home in room temperature on the train. I may have to order from them again soon.

The last stop we made was Lush, a soap and hand lotion store that is incredibly posh and based in Paris. This was Rosanne's shopping request,
and, I have to admit, the store was pretty cool. Any place with a chocolate face mask and attendants who are willing to give you a hand "facial" is good in my book. They are pretty expensive, but it was nice to buy some pretty, and fairly inexpensive soaps, to bring home.

Overall, the trip to Philly was really fun, and I had a blast in a short period of time. It is a great place to take a weekend trip, but I wouldn't suggest it as a week-long trip. While we missed some attractions that may draw other tourists, I came away feeling like I had seen everything Philly had to offer me, including an APALSA conference, cheese, soap, a little liberty bell, a little love, and a little Van Gogh.

Roanoke Rapids and Running Out of Things to Do

In January, my old roommates and I planned a reunion in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Those who have ventured into this sleepy town are usually just passing through, but we committed to a whole weekend here.

Literally the only thing worth seeing from a tourist standpoint is the Canal Trail and Museum, which follows an old and defunct canal for 15 miles through the woods. It is very interesting to hear about how the Canal used to be a trade route and a source of hydroelectric power, but now very little if any water runs through the route. The locks and dams are all gone or destroyed, and the area is pretty empty. It was a beautiful place to walk though,
and we enjoyed the time out there.

Other than that, unfortunately the town is dying. There is a paper mill that keeps a small percentage of the townspeople employed, but the houses, big and small, stand empty from foreclosures, and the shops on the main road have changed into second hand furniture and clothing stores.

We tried to look for a place to go out for dinner, or even a coffee shop to hang out in, but all the interesting and unique restaurants have shuttered. I think, what the town needs is a coffee shop that specializes in cheap breakfast sandwiches and cheap coffee in the mornings for workers going to work at the paper mill. But even though the cost of renting on the main stretch, or even buying, is cheap, no one has stepped up to try to awaken the town's economy.

Unfortunately, I have to suggest that travelers avoid Roanoke Rapids until further notice, but I hope things turn around soon for the people of RoRap!