After almost two years of forcing my brother to come up to New York City, I finally got the chance to make the trip in the other direction and visit Washington DC this past weekend. While I was hoping to finally check off the cherry blossoms from my bucket list, the never ending winter foiled those plans. Luckily, thanks to some especially fortuitous timing and a last minute scramble, a few of my college friends from Penn (and one straggler from Princeton, ahem) managed to all convene in DC for a spontaneous reunion! As much as I love my new post-grad life in New York (I think I'm one of the only people that prefers "real life" to college...), seeing everybody in one place reminded me of what I truly value from my college experience. Yes, I had wonderful professors and a pretty great education, but most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of people who were all high-achievers in vastly different fields. When I first got to Penn, I shunned the word "feminist", had no idea what racist microaggresions were, wouldn't have recognized privilege even if it slapped me in the face, and all around just knew so little about society! The diverse ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of this group here as well as so many more of my friends at Penn totally transformed my viewpoints on life, society, education, and culture. Even though we didn't realize how diverse our little reunion actually was, looking at these photographs now brings so much joy to my heart. Beauty truly has no bounds - just look at these people! Beyond the lofty thoughts, though, of course the whole weekend was just an all around great time. I got to explore more of the city, meet my brother's friends, experience some epic brunches (shoutout to Tonic for their ridiculous breakfast tots and Busboys & Poets for their very unique Iraqi corned beef hash!), experience one of the weirdest shows I'll probably ever see, eat a gigantic passion fruit macaron from Bakers & Baristas (although it wasn't a "real" macaron in my humble opinion #ladureesnob), check out the incredible Newseum (the Pulitzer Prize photo exhibit brought tears to my eyes multiple times), re-live my study abroad semester with a friend at Nando's, and of course force everybody to pose for portraits and more portraits. Can't wait to travel more!
Back in 2011, I started a travel blog hilariously titled View the Liew in the Queue about my adventures at King's College London. In a whirlwind, I visited Windsor, Brussels, Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bath, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. And while all of those were beyond amazing, the true treasures were the experiences I shared within the tiny dorms at Stanford Street Apartments. It was there that we all came together - British, American, Italian, and more - to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast. Stephen somehow managed to cook a turkey, I learned how to fry onions for a green bean casserole for the first time, and half of the dishes weren't even remotely close to what would be served at Thanksgiving back in America...and it was all so perfect. We made little pilgrim hats to wear, ate until we wanted to sleep, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Three years later, and my blog has grown up quite a bit. It's shifted to the more mature (and boring) amandaliew.com, but has much better photos if I do say so myself. Beyond that, my friendships from KCL have stayed stronger than I could have imagined - the Brits made an epic both-coast-visit in 2012 where we reunited with the other Americans who were scattered about, Max studied abroad in America in 2013, and Stephen and Sarah came to NYC in 2014. Finally, it was time for things to come full circle with a trip back to London & yet another memorable Thanksgiving. I'm so beyond lucky to have these people in my life - who would have imagined 3 years ago that we would have become so close? Though my trip was short, we managed to jam pack everything possible: Camden Market, South Bank, afternoon tea, and of course just good catch up time. In contrast to my typical vacations where I plan an itinerary for every second of the day, the purpose of this trip was to see my wonderful friends. For Thanksgiving itself, Stephen spent 2 full days cooking and somehow made 18 dishes...for 11 people. It was unbelievable! At one point someone said "I'm so full...but I want to keep eating!" to which I responded with "Welcome to the American way!!" It was truly perfect.
I have been so incredibly lucky to have made such amazing study abroad friends during my time at King's College London. Over a year ago, I brought the Brits on an amazing cross-country USA tour, but was worried when we would all be reunited together next. When I studied abroad, I was a junior in college, but all of our British dormmates were freshman - now, two years later, the British students are in their 3rd years and studying abroad themselves! My good friend Max just loved us Americans sooo much (hahah) that he signed up to study at University of California Santa Barbara. Talk about an American experience! Fortunately, he decided to stay with a friend in Riverside for Christmas, and I was able to drive up for a mini reunion of our own! Considering neither of us knew anything about Riverside, we resorted to Yelp and TripAdvisor to figure out what to do. We went to the Mission Inn for lunch (good food, bad service), and then realized the UCR/California Museum of Photography was just a quick walk away! By far my favorite piece was Hank Willis Thomas' Strawberry Mansions. There were multiple shots of a block connected accordion style. I particularly appreciated how each panel showed the uniqueness of each house, yet the connection of the panels provided a sense of unity of the entire neighborhood. For more of Hank Willis Thomas' work, check out Artsy here. The museum itself was designed in a modern way. They had a large camera obscura outside which allowed you to see an outside view as a living photograph of sorts on an interior wall! I highly recommend the museum - it's free for students or with a Yelp check in, but also only $3 regular admission.
We next decided to go to the UCR Botanical Gardens. I originally anticipated a small walkable garden, but we were astonished to realize how vast the grounds were! The place is massive. There were various plants with which I practiced shooting at a shallow depth of field.
f 1.8 1/640 ISO 400 - I could have probably reduced the ISO down to 100 on this
We noticed that the sun was about to set and thought we could take a path up to the highest point to see the sunset. I quickly realized my sandals were completely ill equipped for the steep hike up, and was too busy dying before Max made me turn around to witness the scene behind me!
All in all, it was a wonderful day and so amazing to catch up with Maximus as I like to call him. I'm excited because another cross-country trip is in the works, and hopefully all of us will be reunited yet again!
The story goes that back in the day when I was quite young, my mom gained a little bit of weight and joked to my brother and I that she was having another baby. I started jumping up and down ecstatically, so thrilled to finally have a baby brother or sister. My brother, on the other hand, started bawling and said in exasperation, "AGAIN?!???" When my parents let us in on the joke, the roles reversed: my brother started jumping up and down with joy and I started bawling at the loss. Well, over two decades later, I can say that that feeling has never fully gone away. Despite my love for my older brother, I've always felt a little hole in my heart that's meant to be filled by a younger sibling. I never prayed for it because people generally grow out of that by the time they reach 7, but God clearly knew the depths of my heart better than I did. When I was 17, He answered my unspoken prayers. I honestly can't even remember exactly how I met Kiersten, but as the most bubbly and outgoing sophomore in the world, she somehow managed to infiltrate a group of us seniors that all went to La Jolla High and La Jolla Presbyterian's youth group. Only one or two months after we met, I felt a random little nudge in my heart that God wanted me to "disciple" her. I had only heard the phrase from Christian college fellowships where a younger student was guided by an older one. I really had no idea what it was supposed to look like, but somehow one night, I managed to muster up enough courage and say to Kiersten, "This is kind of random, but can I disciple you?" In typical Kiersten fashion, she excitedly said yes!... and then said she had no idea what that meant. So together for the rest of my senior year, we made our own rules and did what worked best for us. We met once a week at Don Carlos (only the best restaurant in the world) after school for endless Mexican food, and made ourselves little devotional schedules where we would read one bible passage one day, listen to worship music another day, journal another day, etc. It was so effective for the both of us to have someone keep us accountable, and we were able to talk about everything from what God was teaching us in our every day lives to the standard teenage things like boys...and more boys.
Throughout the years, Kiersten has become the sister that I was meant to have in this world. I think what's most amazing is that back when I first approached Kiersten, I thought God was calling me to be a mentor and a big sister to someone younger. And while I've been lucky enough to play that role for the past 5 years, Kiersten has been an endless blessing in my own life in ways I never even knew I needed. Even though she's my "lil sis", she's been one of the strongest support systems for me in times of pain, confusion, heartbreak, and just growing up in general. She's my life cheerleader: always encouraging me in anything I want to accomplish and always believing in me when nobody else does. She's grown so much in the past few years and though I used to make a silly attempt to "shield" her from my own problems, her amazing depth, compassion, and understanding has made her one of the few people I can truly be honest with and never face judgment. I'm beyond blessed to have been blessed with my Lil Sis, and I couldn't be happier to be her Big Sis.
In terms of photography, this shoot was a particular challenge because La Jolla was just. too. sunny. I know, our lives our really rough. But the brightness caused a lot of difficulty with squinty eyes, shadows, overexposure, etc. The editing process took a lot of toggling with the highlights/shadows and whites/blacks functions. Additionally, as cute as her dress is, the neon pink was a difficult color to accurately portray and often cast an orangey-pink hue on her face. All in all, though, being able to shoot at La Jolla Cove with someone as beautiful as Kiersten was such a fun experience! Even after 22 years, I can't believe we're lucky enough to live here.