Quarantine Foods

The year 2020 started normal. Every weekday, I go to office. Three times a week, I pump those muscles at the gym. Every four days, I visit the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread, along with other ingredients. Every Friday evening, I have a video chat with my family.

🕒 12 Timezones Away — 3 Timezones Away — Oops, It's Here

The first sign of problem occurred on Chinese New Year's Day. Traditionally, my mother's extended family would have an annual gathering during the holidays. However, my mother informed me that their gathering has been canceled, because there's a Coronavirus outbreak in parts of China. I thought, well, this doesn't affect me, because I live in Maryland USA, 12 timezones away from China.

The next week, China entered a lock down due to the spreading virus. My father found himself relying more on grocery delivery services. A difference from what I observed in 2017 is that, the gated community is not allowing delivery persons to enter the neighborhood, and my father has to collect his deliveries at the neighborhood entrance. At the same time, I heard on Twitter that the Coronavirus has reached the Chinese community in Seattle, 3 timezones from me.

In early March, the Coronavirus reached Maryland. A week later, public schools are being closed. This is when things started to get serious.

PO Box 3943

PO Box, or post-office box, is a uniquely addressable lockable box located on the premises of a post office station. There is a wall of PO Boxes in the University of Arizona's Student Union Memorial Center, where it costs $25 to rent one for a semester. I found them interesting, although I didn't use one because I could receive mail in my apartment, and the Tucson heat did a good job to keep the grounds dry so I didn't have to worry about packages.

When I first came to Maryland, I rented a room in Orchard Place neighborhood. It rains often, and the house does not have a porch. Seeing the post office right outside the neighborhood, I thought it would be the perfect chance to try a PO Box.

Opening My PO Box

Rental fee for a small PO Box at Diamond Farms post office is $54 for six months, or $30 for three month. I would live at Orchard Place for two or three months, so the 3-month option seems more reasonable. However, it is cheaper to choose the 6-month option, because the post office offers a ½ refund if I close the PO Box within three months, so the final price is only $27.

PO Boxes at this location include "premium service": every PO Box comes with a street address, and can accept deliveries from non-postal carriers. This is an important factor for me, because most items I buy online are not shipped via USPS, and having a street address allows me to receive them at the PO Box.

Orchard Place

I moved into Mr Argoti's house on the afternoon of Oct 29, 2017, and became a resident of Orchard Place neighborhood.

The Tiny Bedroom

My assigned bedroom is incredibly small. There are five pieces of furniture: a BED that later turns out to be a sofa, a four-drawer DRESSER, a big glass DESK, a nice office CHAIR, and a small wooden end TABLE. My room also includes a small FRIDGE and a MICROWave. The following diagram shows their placement.

+--------------------------------------E------------------+-------------------------+
| [HEAT]            +-----------------------------------+ |   =====   |             |
| +-------+         |                                   | |  | TOI |  |   SHOWER    |
| |       |         |                                   | |  | LET |  |             |
| |DRESSER|         |                BED                | |   \---/    \____________|
| |       |         |                                   | |                  |      M
| |       |         |                                   | |S                 | SINK I
E +-------+         +-----------------------------------+ | TC               |      R
|                                                         +D            /-+------E--+
W                                                                  /DOOR            |
I                                 |CHAIR|                      DOOR         CLOSET  |
N                                 \-----/                                           |
| +--------+ +-----+    +----------------------+                      DOOR+---------+
| | FRIDGE | |     |    |         DESK         |                          |
| | MICROW | |TABLE|    |                      |             DOOR         E
| +--------+ +-----+    +----------------------+                 \DOOR-\  |
+------------------------------------------------------S--D             \-+

<--- SOUTH            E=electric outlet  S=light switch

The existing furniture took up more than half of the floor space, so that everything I have must fit into the other half. When I moved from Arizona, I had four roller bags, two small bags, and a large box of cookware. Half of my clothes already filled the dresser and the space on top of it, so the other half had to stay in the luggage. The desk obviously belonged to my computers and other gadgets. I managed to squeeze the cookware box and a smaller roller bag into the tiny CLOSET. One of my roller bags could fit under the bed by opening it to two halves. The last two roller bags had to stay in the open in front of the WINdow. After settling all my belongings, I only have an open "hallway" between the desk and the bed, just enough for doing a few push-ups.

Settling in Gaithersburg

I moved to Gaithersburg Maryland to start a research job at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). As I exited Washington Union Station on Oct 26, 2017 after enjoying an epic 4-day Amtrak train journey, I felt lost immediately: this is no longer Tucson, the toasty city that I know and love, but a completely different place. Nevertheless, Cortana's voice guided me along Interstate 270, and my rental car arrived at Extended Stay America Gaithersburg South, where I was greeted by James and received a spacious and comfortable room.

Before I first came to Tucson, I signed up for a student housing apartment online. Unlike six years ago, I did not select an apartment before traveling to Maryland. Gaithersburg is not a college town, and I am no longer a student, so that I couldn't get a fairly straightforward "student housing" option. Instead, I am facing a much larger and complex apartment rental market. I want to see the apartments myself before committing to sign a lease.

Oct 26 is a Thursday, so there was only one weekday remaining before the weekend when most leasing offices would be closed. I browsed online apartment listings, and selected four apartment complexes to visit on Friday. I still wanted to avoid owning a vehicle, so location was the most important factor in my consideration. I also preferred a furnished apartment, to avoid the hassle of buying and selling furniture.

Spring Ridge apartments model room

My Epic Cross-Country Move on Amtrak

I recently moved across the United States from Tucson, Arizona to Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1940 miles apart. Tucson is in the southwest; Gaithersburg is on the east coast just north of Washington, DC. The move was a long and complicated process, as well as an epic journey.

Choosing the Train

Most Americans would drive across the country. When my uncle graduated from University of Maryland, he spent two weeks driving from Maryland to California, and visited Yellowstone National Park and many other places during his trip. Driving across the country would allow me to have a good look at the country, and seek geocaches in many states. All my clothes, computers, and other toys can be packed in the car.

While this option was attractive, I decided against it because of its high cost. Unlike my uncle, I did not purchase a vehicle during college, but relied on rental cars. Renting a car is inexpensive, but only if you return the vehicle to the same place. If I rent a car in Arizona and return it in Maryland, they are going to charge a "one way fee" that is approximately $1000, on top of the normal rental and insurance charges. Additionally, I have to spend on motels and meals. In total, the driving option would cost me between $2000 and $3000.

Google Maps estimated a driving distance of 2290 miles, or 33 hours non-stop. I am not accustomed to long drives. I felt exhausting on the 3-hour drive from Tucson to Yuma, and I couldn't imagine a 11x longer drive. This is another important factor for me to decide not to drive.