Aldrich Park: A World of its Own
by Erica Kim
The weather said it was going to rain today, and, not surprisingly, it was wrong. It’s 4 p.m. and the sun is high above, illuminating the grass — bright green — and casting shadows next to trees that scatter throughout Aldrich Park. I came from the entrance of the tunnel that leads to the Student Center and now stand where it seems like the heart of the park. While some couples sit on the benches that surround the area, others just want to get to class, so they walk through unphased, past students who sit on the grass taking refuge in the shade, soaking in the park’s rhythm.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, and when I turn around, I am given a dainty yellow flower by two girls donning bright red noses. The girl who hands me the flower has long, red, wispy hair, while the other has two brown braids resting on her shoulders. They don’t speak. Puzzled, I ask, who are you guys? After exchanging smiles with one another, they turn around and take off their noses. Sarah and Stacy introduce themselves along with their clown personas, Pumpkin and Stacy. As they explain how they can’t talk, Michael and Sunny (also clowns) walk over to where we are. They lip sync and dance to songs playing on Stacy’s phone, all the while miming how they feel.
For a split second, I feel like a kid again, laughing and dancing at the park. Stacy is the only one who hasn’t reverted back to her clown (who is also named Stacy), and so I ask her why they choose to be at Aldrich.
She responds, “We’re just out here spreading some laughs and joy.”
And with that, Michael the clown is off making a large group of kids sitting under the shade laugh. That’s when I notice that they’re all face down, furiously jotting down notes onto paper. Out of curiosity, I get closer to peer over their shoulders. When I ask one of the girls what she’s doing, she hides behind her bangs shyly.
I hear a voice on my left, “They’re working on ‘Thank you’ letters for their homestay family.”
Jean, a staff member and teacher, tells me her group of kids is fairly young, mostly nine to 12 years old, but the other two groups have older kids. I learn the kids are from Hokkaido, Japan, and enrolled in “Fun Opportunity Abroad,” an organization that coordinates short term study tours in Southern California.
Yesterday they went to Disneyland; the day before that, a museum, and now, this Friday afternoon, Aldrich Park was the ideal place to relax.
We all said our goodbyes and I began to walk towards the quidditch team. A part of me was curious, because I knew of their existence since freshman year, but never really knew the logistics of how to play. To me, Aldrich wouldn’t be complete without their presence. So, I am completely surprised when player Jonwe Hwang tells me the quidditch team has been official at UCI for only two years. Hwang and Phillip Long give me the lowdown on how to play, and I realize it’s a mixture of rugby and dodgeball but better because it has a Harry Potter twist to it.
The game is more serious than people give it credit for. In the middle of our conversation, a player gets an ankle injury and everyone looks beat. By break time, spirits are high and high fives are exchanged. Hwang said, “You know, some people chuckle seeing how silly it might, be but it’s a full-body contact sport and I’ve seen such growth [from players] as people and as athletes.”
I ask how long practices are because it was almost 6 p.m. With a smirk, he said 3 to 5, but thanks to daylight savings, the sun was still out. Before running off to play the next game he adds, “It’s something we look forward to at the end of the week.”
Just before leaving, I approach a group of students huddled in a circle between a large rock and a few small trees. I can’t help but be curious, because they seem to blend into the background with how silent they are. When I walk up, I don’t dare say anything because they’re praying. I observe the earnest look on one of the guys as he stares up to the sky and the beautiful emerald beaded rosaries wrapped around their hands, immersed in serenity.
My eyes met one of the girls’ from the circle and she walked over with a smile. I whisper, what are you guys doing? Rebecca Renteria tells me that their group, HOPE (Hearts Openly Praying Everywhere), does prayer and reflection every Friday near the rock. It looks like they’re praying to the rock, but that’s not the case.
They choose to pray near the rock because it seemed to be the center of the park, and by extension, the campus. One member said, “It’s just a time to know Jesus again and to pray for the campus.”
They invite me to play soccer with them after, saying that it’s their weekly routine to pray then to hang out. I turn it down because dinner calls for me at home. Turning around, I walk past the trees and the grass until my foot hits the pavement floor that leads towards the parking lot away from Aldrich and the life that it holds.
I think to myself: Yep just another casual Friday.