Silence… Hundreds of students hold their breath expectantly. The Germans are about to run. Walkie-talkie gives an order. The crowd knows to turn their attention to the massive screen. A shadow dashes out of Camera 1 and into the next portion of the display. You missed it, it’s on Camera 3 now. Camera 4, 5… An orange flash covers 6. A deep, worried ‘Ooohhh!’ is chanted collectively as all the attendees realise the truth…
But let me explain how we got here. This summer I had one of the best experiences of my life. I saw a full year’s worth of work come to fruition, met incredible people and learnt some of the most important lessons of my life. I will share with you the secrets of my trip to California for the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition, where the top tech universities in the world are redefining the future of transport each year; and learnt more about the world than I did about bolts and nuts.
Working with a huge team of dozens of people is one of the most interesting, amazing and gruelling experiences of a lifetime. There were 14 of us in one of the team houses. Every day, either you were ready at the hour, or the car leaves without you! It was a life-changing experience for me. You don’t want to carry a stone all day, but you will only have what you bring with you. It truly teaches you what’s essential. I get ready so much faster in the mornings now, and my backpack is never heavy.
The trips were long, very long. And so, we spent a lot of time in the car, playing Red Hot Chili Peppers in 6-lane highways. The car wasn’t just the only way to get anywhere in a city made 50% of roads. It is where you do a great part of getting to know each other. The car takes you to amazing events and places. I used to believe North Americans were ridiculously in love with their cars. Everything is made around cars. I swear by it, I swear from the first night I spent in the US. We walked into a Jack-in-the-box, hungry as hell. ‘We only serve drive-thru after 10pm. Wi inli sirv driv-thri iftir tin piim. You can Literally give it to us on the drive-thru window! Heck, if we had a cardboard cut-out of a car, it would have done the trick!
But for the most part, I now understand their attitudes to cars, and like that, there’s a dozen other slices of life I can now relate to on a personal level – their attitude towards job, their never-ending patriotism, and so on.
Los Angeles is a great city, but it’s not perfect. You have to be there to see it, because nobody speaks of this striking reality. It hides in plain sight, politely ignored by your eyes, like a bad pimple on your friend’s face. This is more like a bleeding cut in the face, covered with a band aid and 4 layers of Hollywood magic. LA has a tremendous homelessness issue.
I’m not talking a cardboard box under a bridge, no. Tiny camps sprouted all over sidewalks, roads and heck, trees if they could. It was like a refugee camp had been dropped from 100 metres, shattered like glass, and the million shards spread everywhere the city. If you looked closely, you could even see where the cracks had cut right through a tent or a bed.
Cue in Competition Day! This is why we came. Left and right, the top tech unis of the world show prototypes taken out of a sci-fi movie, their vision for tomorrow’s transport, the definitive solution to traffic in cities; and in the middle, there’s us. Three prototypes have been tested now, catching up to commercial bullet trains! Munich, the Germans, are next.
…it was an explosion. Braking with 10 times the force of Earth’s gravity had caused a piece of shell to fly off and disintegrate in the act. Elon Musk would later pull up from his Tesla X car amongst a sea of cheer, announce the winner and draw closure to a year of hard work.
In our last day, we were invited to the House of the British Consulate. We were treated to a fantastic breakfast and a warmest welcome by the diplomats. I talked to them as much as I could, out of curiosity. A lovely lady told me stories of life in Japan, Thailand and South Africa; gave me tips on the diplomatic career – even shared some insights on how the Consulate runs!
The challenges I faced during this trip and what they taught me have improved my daily life. I took on great habits. I can relate on a personal level to a larger piece of the world. If I could give one piece of advice, I’d say Travel, meet people, talk to everyone you can, listen to their experiences, and live in their shoes. The human experience is incredibly expanse, you have no idea how much there is to learn. Neither do I, but I now know a little more. Put yourself out there, we might cross paths one day.