18 May 2010

UC Berkeley & the H. K. Yuen Social Movement Archive

I spent today and Friday in Berkeley, California! If anyplace in California is more my home than San Francisco, Berkeley would be it.

Actually, the entire group was in town, and it was for academic reasons. After a three-hour commute using many various forms of transportation, we arrived at the University of California, Berkeley's campus around noon on Friday, at which point we went through an orientation of sorts. Some things that we learned were reiterating what Dr. O'Rourke had told us, some things muddled the point of our trip a bit, and a few were actually helpful. Because our boss man had to leave early, though, and because we were so hungry after a journey of unprecedented length, we didn't begin work on Friday.

Instead, Mumbi, Michael, and I decided to spend the day in the town. We lunched at the Free Speech Movement Café, which I found to be really neat: in addition to delicious café food, there are informative posters and pictures everywhere in commemoration and celebration of the actions of Mario Savio and others during the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the early 1960s. It was so neat to be in the café and then visit Sather Gate directly afterwards; being in such a legendary place with a tradition of leadership and activism really made history come alive.

I met up with Andrew for a quick hello and picture at the gate - how often are he and I both going to be in the Bay Area at the same time?? Michael, Mumbi, and I then spent the rest of the day wandering around campus and perusing Telegraph Avenue, looking at hats, books, incense, jewelry, and more, on and off the street. The weather was gorgeous; the usually cold temperature had warmed up to the point at which I could even take off my jacket comfortably, let alone stop shivering. Eventually, we made the three hour commute home, exhausted yet satisfied.

Today, we all set off better-prepared - electing to take the faster CalTrain rather than the more interesting bus - and ready to work...since we had yet to really do anything yet. We were split into two different transportation groups this morning; I was in the later one that arrived around 10 - after a quick Starbucks run. We got right to work, since we knew what we were doing. However, you, the reader, do not know, so I will tell you:

To make a long story short, a Chinese immigrant named Hoh Kun Yuen was pretty much obsessed with recording audio files of activist speeches and news. He had equipment running 24/7 throughout the 1960s and '70s. He is now dead, and all of his reels are now boxed in a very unorganized fashion - many of the reels have corresponding notes, but said sheets may or may not be attached or somehow clearly related to said reels. These dozens upon dozens of boxes and thousands of hours of tape were donated to the Ethnic Studies Library at Berkeley. Our job is to piece the puzzle together and figure out what goes where; more than that, even, we are simply recording an inventory. It's tedious work, yes, but it is absolutely fascinating to be copying down a list of obsolete news stories and then all of a sudden come across a Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon from 1963...for example.

We spent 4 hours working today; the rest of our day was spent, again, taking in all that Berkeley and the Bay Area have to offer. That included my first visit to Yogurtland - ahhhmazing! - a few hours in Moe's Books - a used bookstore of nearly Strand proportions - and, of course, a forever-long commute. Due to some mis-timings, I had dinner at Peter's Café and dessert at Chuck's Donuts, both in Belmont, CA, at about 8:30 and 9:30, respectively. If those are not hometown traditions, then I don't know what is!

In Conclusion
I am more than a little jealous of UC Berkeley students for the college town that they have around them. As our boss told us, there is a restaurant for just about every ethnicity of food within a half-mile of campus; there are plenty of coffee shops and enough used book stores that I could lose days at a time; street performers and vendors abound. Such diversity is evident by even walking down the block or from one campus building to the next: in my two days on and around the campus, I have seen many different ethnicities, social classes, and traditions. I do not think that I could ever tire of living in Berkeley - and especially not anytime soon.

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