A charter bus to Chinatown

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

hiladelphia was an adjustment for Jingzhi “Jacey” Chang, who arrived just before the pandemic. “You would feel homesick, definitely, and sometimes I think I would feel lonely,” says Chang who graduated from the Stewart Weitzman School of Design’s master of city and regional planning program last year. 

During the early part of the pandemic, Chang, from Harbin, China, says she didn’t go outside for months. So when asked to think about transportation modeling in a course taught by Megan Ryerson, she thought about her own transit needs as an international student. Many of the sauces and vegetables she needed to cook for herself are not available locally in West Philadelphia. She says the first time she bought an American eggplant it was not what she expected. Yet she felt uncertain about taking public transit to Philadelphia’s Chinatown, feeling both fearful of anti-Asian racism and because not all transit riders were wearing masks. “So, I think I won’t be the only one,” she says. “I think some of the Chinese students are not familiar with asking for help. I think they are in need of help.” In three surveys with more than 300 responses, Chang saw there was a need for safe, reliable transportation to Chinatown. 

The Chinatown charter bus service, launched as a pilot program in spring 2020, ferries anyone with a Penn card to and from Chinatown on alternate Saturdays, with buses running every 30 minutes between noon and 5 p.m.. On average, about 200 seats are reserved when the bus runs, says Peter Van Do, director of the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH), whom Chang consulted for help in her project. The service, co-sponsored by PAACH, the Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, and the Chinese Students & Scholars Association at Penn, in collaboration with Penn Transit, is staffed by volunteers. The service, which went on hiatus during the winter, is up and running again, with its next service on March 19. 

"The initiative for the Chinatown charter bus really comes from the students. Jacey has been very thoughtful throughout.

When Chang graduated, she asked fellow design graduate student Jing Zhang of Beijing to take care of the project. Zhang coordinates the volunteers and volunteers herself. She says she’d like to see the program expand, with more stops to service the broader international community, but the project needs additional funding to survive past the pilot stage. 

“I really like this service,” says Zhang. “I feel like it provides not only emotional support but also physical support to the Asian community.” 

Wen Jiang, a second-year Ph.D. student in computer and information science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science from Shaanxi, China, takes the bus every two weeks to buy sauces and vegetables, he says. He learned how to cook from Chinese websites and YouTube and likes to make dapanji, “big plate chicken” with potatoes and peppers, and Laziji, a dish of spicy chicken from Sichuan cuisine.

Deborah Xie, a first-year graduate student from Nanyang, China, who is in the master of science in social policy program at the School of Social Policy & Practice, says she feels safer taking the charter bus. “It’s clean and on time,” she says, and builds a sense of community. 

Penn Lions in the Year of the Tiger

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dripping rain falls through barren branches along Locust Walk late on a Thursday night. Students hurry past, unwilling to linger in the unhospitable February weather. But the ARCH building glows golden. Drumbeats reverberate through the structure. Four solemn thumps announce the interplay between two fighting lions engaged in a tug of war. The ornate animals, enhanced with vibrant red, bright gold, and ruffles of sparkling sequin fabric trimmed in faux fur, are tussling over a head of romaine, the lettuce symbolic of wealth. These are the Penn Lions, an undergraduate group that spreads good luck and blessings through the traditional Chinese lion dance, and they are practicing for the Lunar New Year, a reminder of rebirth and new beginnings to come after the cold rain.

The Lions, who have two practices per week during the academic year, are training for Feb. 8 performances in collaboration with Penn Dining, which is featuring a Lunar New Year menu with recipes from Fuchsia DunlopAndrea Nguyen, and David Chang.

Traditionally spent with family, Lunar New Year is a time to root ourselves within all of our connections. The multi-week holiday is celebrated in many parts of Asia, including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. It’s a time to prepare and reflect on how we can wish each other and ourselves blessing, prosperity, health, security, and peace for the rest of the year,


This year marks the year of the water tiger, says Van Do, as one of the elements—wood, water, metal, fire, and earth—are also associated with the zodiac animal. This year will draw upon the embodiment of both the element and the animal, which is associated with ambition, bravery, courage, and strength, he says. 

The lion dance is believed to good luck throughout the community. “The lion dance wards off evil spirits and brings prosperity,” says Tiffany Lu, a junior from Hershey, Pennsylvania, studying fine arts in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Lu is one of the Penn Lions’ two dozen members. While she came into her freshman year as an experienced dancer in both Western and Eastern traditions, most learn lion dancing mainly through oral tradition, with upperclassmen teaching the newcomers. Only about one person per class has prior experience.

One of these was Zelan von Kaenel, a senior at Wharton specializing in finance and operations. Born to a Dutch father and Chinese and Costa Rican mother in Princeton, New Jersey, von Kaenel went to a Cantonese primary school, where the students were taught lion dancing basics. Reigniting this passion in college has been “one of my best decisions,” von Kaenel says. “The Lions has some of the friendliest and best community of people that I have met at Penn, and very diverse. If I wanted to know someone from a specific school, they are probably in Lions.”

Friendship bonds are consistently cited and praised within the Lions. “You come for the lion dancing; you stay for the community,” says Luke Bandeen, a senior from London. Far from a benign quality, this trust is essential as the two parts of the lion, the “tail” and “head,” work together as one. “The tail stabilizes the head while they do crane stands, wild kicks,” says Bandeen, who dances as a tail. He’s tall and robust—well over 6 feet—which comes in handy with the heavy lifting, called “stacking,” that is part of the tail’s role.

Penn community honors victims of mass shootings at vigil

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

On Tuesday night, about 50 Penn students gathered on College Green for a candlelight vigil commemorating victims of recent acts of gun violence. 

The vigil was organized by Penn Democrats, the Pan-Asian American Community House, the Spiritual and Religious Life Center, and Amnesty International at Penn, and featured City Councilmember and Penn alumna Jamie Gauthier, along with a number of community leaders. Speakers shared their thoughts regarding the recent shootings, particularly the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, the March 22 Colorado grocery store shooting that killed 10 people, and the April 15 Indianapolis FedEx shooting that killed eight people, including four people from the area’s Sikh community. 

The Indianapolis attack was at least the 50th mass shooting — defined as having four or more casualties excluding the shooter — in the United States since the Atlanta shootings.

"Islamophobia is real, and there are many South Asians and Southeast Asians and other communities that are impacted, whether they identify as Muslim or not. "Let's remember that the act of anti-Asian racism and violence due to Islamophobia is happening to this day, and it needs to be recognized and addressed now."

He added that anti-Asian violence is made possible due to “anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity.”

Throughout the vigil, attendees and speakers wore solemn faces, with some tearing up.

College first year Mira Sydow, a Penn Dems member and the main organizer of the event, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that their goal in organizing the vigil was to offer support to the Penn community.  

“Even one person showing up and feeling a bit better and feeling like they are supported in this community would have been enough,” Sydow said. “Seeing that we got as many people as we did and that we were all so touched by the remarks from the speakers is incredible.”

Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Sydow explained that she was very involved with Atlanta’s Asian American community and local activists last semester when she was mobilizing Asian American voters for the January runoff elections for U.S. Senate.

Supporting Penn’s Asian community

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A year marked by the global pandemic was also marked by anti-Asian xenophobia, evidenced most recently in the Atlanta shootings. The Trump administration’s reaction to COVID-19…

Calling it the Wuhan flu, kung flu, the China virus, struck multiple chords. That rhetoric, combined with the increased violence toward Asians documented on the news and in lived experience results in many people living in fear of stepping out, even for something as simple as getting groceries.

In response, the University launched the Task Force on Supporting Asian and Asian American Students and Scholars at Penn in April 2020, affirming its commitment to diversity and anti-discrimination. As part of the task force, Van Do has been working with Penn Global and Pablo Cerdera, associate director for restorative practices at Penn, to hold healing spaces for Asian and Asian American populations.