Settling into the majestic Bronfman seminar room 102 with its orange curtains and walls of brick, I hand Ran Bi ’11 a Dove dark chocolate as a welcome gift, hoping she likes dark chocolate but forgetting to ask before insisting she open it. On the foil wrapper is inscribed a message, and she reads her fortune aloud: “Joy is found in the smallest of moments. Like now.” Sure that this is a One in 2000 made in heaven, we get down to brass tacks.
How do you pronounce your name. Is it Rahn or Ran or. . .
I go by both actually. People have different preferences.
Do you have a preference?
No, not really.
You don’t! What does your family call you?
It’s in Chinese, so it’s more like Rahn but I like Ran too. Some people think it’s W-R-E-N, and that’s such a beautiful name.
If only that was your name.
People make fun of it, like . . . “ran by.”
Right, it’s like your own . . . dependent clause.
[Laughs] I guess.
You’re a math and political science major. Why did I think you were a WGST (women and gender studies major)?
I am thinking of majoring in gender studies.
I’m a little confused how you are in two of my WGST/English courses and are also a math and political science major. How many classes are you in?
Well, this is one of my craziest semesters. I have six classes, two in each major.
You are enrolled in six. You’re not auditing any.
Yeah, I’m enrolled.
Are you the only person in the world to do this?
Nah, not really. An ’07 I really admire took six classes and pushed himself really hard, and I just thought I should do that, too. I also took six classes last year in the fall semester, with a full-time TA job in math. It was Math 105, so about 100 students.
Oh, that’s it? Just a hundred? How do you function?
I don’t know! I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. For me personally, I just want to know where my limit is.
So Ran, you’re from Suzhou â€“ have you lived there your whole life?
Not really â€“ I had a traveling childhood. I was born in Inner Mongolia, in the northeast, in a village actually, and lived in the city next to the village, then I moved to Shenzhen, a place near Hong Kong. Then I moved to Suzhou and have been there ever since, since fourth grade. Suzhou is pretty small. I would say it’s small, but it’s like five or six million people
Oh, it’s teeny weeny.
I guess physically it’s really small, but it’s cramped. It’s a city famous for the gardens.
Did you have a garden?
No . . . not with five million people all cramped in apartments
Did you know Robyn Marasco [former professor of political science]?
Do you . . . think I look like her?
Yes I do!
I’ve heard of her a lot because of that. She left, I should have met her.
She swooped out of here to the big city.
I understand that that urge hits a lot of people around here.
What is your favorite dining hall?
I think I like Mission most. It’s not the best food, definitely not.
I’d say that you have a minority opinion.
Definitely. But I like sitting in that one seat all the time, all the way at the end, facing the trees. People don’t find you that much there. I like that.
Where are your other corners on campus â€“ Bronfman after dark?
This room in particular. It has minimal window coverage, and the seats aren’t all facing one direction.
Do you sit in a particular space in this room?
This is huge! I am having a true Ran Bi experience.
I also have a carrel in Sawyer basement. People hate Sawyer so much.
I love Saywer!
I love Sawyer too! It’s down to the basics, it’s not like Schow, all fancy and open, full of lights and people walking around. In Sawyer, you’re surrounded by books, no decorations, and then you have your little carrel. My carrel is on the balcony in the basement, the mezzanine.
[We ruminate on the fact that Ran’s carrel is actually on the same level as the ground-floor entrance to Sawyer, except she has to go upstairs, then down to the basement, then up another flight of stairs in order to get back to the same level on which she started. She is moved to verse by this revelation]
I’m poetically inspired … the grandest journey is always into yourself and back to the start, I guess.
We should e-mail Dove, and they can put that on a wrapper . . . so, what is a Ran Bi weekend?
Like an ideal one? Sleep 48 hours!
What is an actual Ran Bi weekend? Or like a Ran Bi Friday at 11 p.m.?
Usually sleeping … I talk to my parents once a week, Friday or Saturday. I do go to parties once in a while. Oh I have to tell you about my first party experience freshman year. It was like 11:30, and I just came back from the library and was ready for bed, but two suitemates were like, “We’re going to a party do you want to tag along?” and I was like, “Sure! Cultural experience! I should go!” I often wear gender neutral clothes, and I remember I was wearing a guys’ button-up shirt and guys’ jeans, and I had my handbag, and my hair was all messed up in a bun. Then we got there. Everyone was dressed up all pretty and dancing together and I was just like “What is this?!” Everyone was like, “Oh no, we freaked her out.”
Has it gotten better, since?
I think when I came here I was holding onto a lot of values I didn’t really understand or believe in. I guess I had a moment of epiphany, that so many things don’t matter. I’m a Buddhist â€“ in my own way â€“ and I realized being a Buddhist doesn’t mean you have to be so afraid to be involved in the real world. It actually means the opposite. Things you are surrounded by don’t necessarily define who you are if you are sure enough about who you are. That’s a really liberating thing for me to realize: I do what I want, I don’t do what I don’t want.
Is there a Buddhist community here at all?
I know a lot of friends who are Buddhists, and it’s interesting that we all have very different ideas of what Buddhism means . . . I believe in transcendence and detachment. I sometimes have this sense that I am one person living my life, but I’m also an outsider looking at what I’m doing, analyzing what I’m doing in a detached way.