As I mentioned, day two and three were restful days. My big events on those days included laundry and going for a few mile stroll through Concord Ca. So yeah, I will resume this narrative with day four.
Oh, by the way, I should mention this for any readers from conservative areas: personally I have neither fear nor problems doing this, but I encountered some questionable responses. I did not want to stay in a Hostel. This was due to having very limited personal space, and being forced to sleep in a room with half a dozen men, potentially snoring away… Not easy right? So I put an ad on Craigslist saying I would pay fifty a night for a guest room or studio apartment. I got a response from a grandmother who said that she and her husband had never done anything like this before but they looked me up and thought it might work… And it did! I had my private space, and I could take a day off without having six other guys know how long I lay in bed. That is why I stayed in Concord, which is a sleepy suburb of San Francisco / Oakland. Plus I made some new friends in the process.
Since putting up this ad, I have heard of two resources which might also be good for this kind of thing. One is Air B & B and the other is couch surfing. Although with couch surfing, it does not seem likely to have much personal space / time either.
Back to Day Four. This day was spent in Berkeley California. I was never considering it for grad school, because if I wanted something more traditional, I could choose from hundreds of schools closer to Virginia. Instead I was visiting UCB (a.k.a. Cal) because I had a friend who is doing his post doc work there, and to give me a sense of perspective with regard to the smaller schools I am interested in.
Yes, Berkeley does have one of the country’s best Buddhist programs, but again, so does UVa. So I toured the campus with my friend, getting insider commentary on the PhD program and its selective processes. The campus was very refreshing. Walking in, we passed through some redwood trees which always feel ancient to me. Plus there were some enormous eucalyptus groves as well.
The architecture at Berkeley seemed to be a random mixture – we even spotted some concrete buildings one might expect to find in Moscow or East Berlin. It seemed to depend on how well off that particular department was as to whether it had a contemporary building. I was happy to hear that Berkeley’s main focus was on keeping professors’ salaries at competitive rates (rather than spending the money on aesthetic maintenance). Although it did lead to a few buildings seeming to need a good scrubbing.
We spent a bit of time in the football field sized East Asian Library. At three floors, that was A LOT of books in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan! I certainly was happy to see that program doing so well.
We walked around Berkeley’s popular student area full of shops and restaurants. At UVa, this area is called “the Corner.” At Berkeley, it seemed to be a little more integrated with the town, but definitely felt younger at heart. There were a couple of huge music stores with an entire basement dedicated to old records. In one, a contemporaneous hip hop show started up, so that was a little noisy for browsing and we left to check out other stores.
Returning to campus, we did the famous Berkeley Bell Tower, otherwise known as the Campanile or Sather Tower. This was definitely the highlight of the day. For me, I had primarily seen the Bay during periods of fog and haze, so getting a vast view on a clear day was special. I have a mild fear of heights, but the tower is entirely closed in with bars of steel, so I never felt uncomfortable. The Sather Tower is the third highest free standing bell tower in the world, so the view was impressive. We could see the Golden Gate bridge to the due west. But we also saw downtown Oakland, the north bay, the SF downtown skyline and the Cal stadium and hills to the East. I highly recommend the trip up there.
Then my friend dropped me off at a dinner I had heard about, which an acquaintance had invited me to. So basically I was with strangers, but some of them were Buddhist practitioners (one was an older Tibetan Rinpoche) so I felt welcome. Actually there were great conversations as many of the guests were artists or professors, authors or other erudites. It was also nice to practice speaking Tibetan. Therefore this day wrapped up late, but it was enjoyable and I learned a lot.