Friday, June 13, 2008

The End

What a melodramatic title. Anyways, yes, we are at the end of our stay in Beijing.

The last few days have been rather low-key. Despite our grand plans to make the most of the remainder of our time here, we have lapsed into much laziness, assisted by the apocalyptic weather conditions. (Yesterday Rozi and Helen and I literally waded through water that was up to six inches deep, just to get to the convenience store that is right by our dorms.) We've watched an extraordinary number of movies and not done much else. It's great.

Now I'm packing and I am not having much difficulty with luggage space limitations, because I've thrown out a good amount of clothing that has been ruined thanks to being washed in China water. I might have to throw out my Cal hat too, even though it has served me faithfully in China, because it got destroyed by Inner Mongolian duststorms and Beijing acid rain. The clothes I'm not that sad about because that means I get to do lots of shopping when I get back, and the hat, well, I am kind of sad but I think my Stanford friends will be happy to see it go. Hm - maybe it is salvageable? I'll try to wash it when I get back...

We're supposed to move out of our dorms today, but our flight isn't until tomorrow morning, so we'll be having a sleepover in the lounge. Shen Laoshi was kind enough to give us the key to the bathroom upstairs too (we normally have to go back to our rooms to use the bathroom.. very inconvenient) so the accommodations will be good. Hooray for a sleepover and more movies and not sleeping much and preemptively correcting jetlag!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chinese Tutorial: DONE

I just finished my Chinese final and am feeling a little giddy. It was pretty catastrophic, so much that I didn't even want to look my teacher in the eye when I turned it in. Don't think I could have expected much better, though, given that I barely studied - gave up early last night, wasted time all morning (I took two naps! and read about 20 articles on the new iPhone, thanks Google Reader; and also Gtalked per usual)...

2 units, pass/fail (no letter grade option), nobody else in the class - so little motivation to do well! Taking the test felt like taking a test in high school. It was kind of awesome. Stress levels abroad are quite low :)

Sunday, June 8, 2008


The average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit $4 a gallon for the first time Sunday.

Wow. $4/gallon average. I know in Austin it's still around $3.80 and in California it's into $4.30 or something. But that's so high. What happened to the good old $0.99/gallon days....

Friday, June 6, 2008


I'm already making note of all the things I'm going to miss when I leave in a week.

Cabs everywhere, and really cheap, to take you anywhere - Beida Ximer, xiexie :) Nightlife that doesn't require you to be 21. Amazing food at restaurants like Salt and Alameda and Hatsune and Dadong. Fuwa being cute all over the city. The baozi canteen. The little convenience store that accepts fan ka so we can buy jasmine tea and ice cream and in Helen's case Ritz crackers with peanut butter. The gym, with lots of Asian people who don't really work out. Karaoke. Chilling in the Stanford lounge pretending to work while other people watch movies.

Mostly, though, I think I'll miss the people on the program. Here's to an awesome last week :) cheers.

Monday, June 2, 2008

some notes on 内蒙古

The entire Stanford program minus one (22 people total) road-tripped up to Chengde and Inner Mongolia this past weekend.

The most interesting things to note from the trip -

  • Some beautiful temples in Chengde, including the Buddhist Puning temple, built in 1755, and the Tibetan-style "Little Potala Palace," built in 1767.

    Puning temple complex

    Puning temple
Tibetan prayer flags outside Little Potala

Not the great wall, but a pretty good wall nonetheless

  • A truly inedible vegetarian Buddhist dinner in Chengde, which consisted of about 10 types of fake meats - fake fish, fake chicken, fake shrimp, fake duck, fake eel, fake squid, fake pork with fake pork fat, and other creations of varying degrees of rubberyness and tastelessness.
Looks eeriely like real fish, huh?
  • To make up for it, a delicious lamb dinner in Inner Mongolia, where we ate an entire lamb roasted on a spit, and where Pokey, Barry, and Rozi devoured the lamb legs like true carnivores.

  • Horseback riding on the Inner Mongolian highlands through a duststorm.
My horse, about to ride into the duststorm
Protecting ourselves best as we could (aka with hoodies)

A little bit worse for the wear post-duststorm
  • Nearly freezing in the 30/40-degree night in an unheated yurt in Inner Mongolia - we ended up piling 15 people into one yurt (meant to sleep two) to huddle on the two pushed-together beds and play card games late into the night. It worked; we certainly stayed warm while we were there. Leaving that yurt, on the other hand....

    Tracy is clearly too tall for the door in our yurt
    I am cold
Anyway, it was wonderful spending two days under pollution-free skies, and we are now back in Beijing. Finals coming up soon. Then home.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

back from inner mongolia

...where I had the most delicious pecans ever. There were also horses that we rode, and a sandstorm that we rode through. And yurts. And coldness.

I am clean and showered. There are many stories. More to come.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Of KTV and Missed Trains

Wang Ning is here in China! How exciting to have friends visit :) He arrived Saturday but unfortunately Helen and I were frantically busy with conference preparations; most of Sunday we were busy with the conference, and then being extremely tired and lazy in bed recovering from it all.

However, I was finally free yesterday and Wang Ning and I made an awesome day trip out to Tianjin. We caught a late morning train and arrived in time to try Tianjin's famous goubuli ("dog ignores") baozi (steamed buns) for lunch, as well as some other Tianjin specialties.

Unfortunately, food only amused us for about an hour before we realized that Tianjin is a rather boring place. Solution? KTV for 3.5 hours! Amazingly, all the small rooms were taken - I guess Tianjin people were bored enough to be all karaokeing on a Monday afternoon too - so we had a medium sized room all to ourselves, to sing our favorite Mandarin pop songs.

Then we had dinner...

And then we missed our train.

So we got to spend another very warm and sticky hour and a half in the Tianjin train station listening to loud and obnoxious announcements over the PA system. Train ride back to Beijing, cab ride back to PKU, and thus concluded the day trip. Tiring but enjoyable :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

a carefree life once more!

Very happy to report that our conference went off completely successfully -- the room was full, the students were attentive and interested, the speakers were much more thumbs up than not, and there was plenty of congratulations afterward on a job well done. Can't ask for much more than that. Everyone was amazed that we'd pulled it off from idea to actual event in the time span of a month, but what can we say...when you're studying abroad in Beijing, you have a lot of free time.

Now we can once again return to normal, college-student-carefree lives. Well...not exactly, but closer, anyhow.

On Saturday we went on a tour of some hutongs (alleyways), which Beijing is famous for. There used to be over 6000 hutongs in Beijing that, if connected, would reach from Seattle to Washington DC. But now with modernization only about 2000 are left. We did the touristy thing and took rickshaws through some hutongs near Houhai, and then wandered around near the lake for a while. I'd never been during the day before, so it was pretty interesting -- there were lots of Chinese people hanging out by the lake, some swimming, some fishing, blatantly ignoring the "No swimming or fishing" signs behind them.

Riding the rickshaws

Walking along the edge as they pave a hutong road

We also saw the Drum and Bell towers in the middle of the city:

Drum Tower

Bell Tower

Walking centipede-like down the extremely steep stairs in the Drum Tower


Last week there was a sandstorm and the sky was yellow.

2:30 pm

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Google's Sichuan People Search

About a day and a half after the earthquake, Google launched a custom search engine allowing people to search for information about their relatives and friends in Sichuan. It crawls different websites and forums so people can find out if those they care about are safe, or otherwise. Within 10 days it had already connected at least 1000 people with their relatives and friends in Sichuan.

Working at Google last summer made me quite the fangirl, so I decided to share the Google love with my Stanford classmates by organizing a trip to the Beijing office. We were missing a few people who decided on the spur of the moment to fly out to Xinjiang, but about 15 of us taxied over to Google on Friday and had a nice little company visit. They told us about Google's business in China and some of their projects, including the aforementioned people search for the Sichuan earthquake.


I attended this conference called CHINICT on Thursday. It's a very big tech conference, apparently, with big companies, "rising stars" i.e. hot start-ups, and all manner of other semi-related participants, like venture capitalists and angel investors, and media people. The tickets are supposed to be very expensive but I hear that most people get invited as VIP guests and get in for free. A Tsinghua professor who is a Stanford alum invited me and Helen (though Helen didn't come because of Chinese class); the forwarded invitation letter said:

> You can invite people of your choice to register
> free of charge (VIP pass) to CHINICT 2008. Typical
> profiles of interesting people to invite include key
> executives at large companies, officials,
> entrepreneurs, influencers and media.

Yes, that's us.

The presentations were so-so but it was a good networking opportunity. I saw a few of my entrepreneurially-minded friends who show up at all these events. I guess if you hang around Beijing long enough, you get to know this circle of people pretty well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

beijing zoo

I went to the zoo a few days ago. I think I've grown to like zoos and aquariums more as I've gotten many cool animals!

Golden pheasant

Golden eagle

Some zebras

Meanwhile, something to look forward to tomorrow:

INDO Mansion

As part of our conference marketing efforts, we are partnering with, a startup in the area headed by a Stanford alum. The company is like Youtube for documents, and one of their verticals is focused on students (think note sharing), so they helped us design a flyer and are advertising on the site. Look!

Yesterday morning Helen and I made the first trip to their office, located in INDO Mansion (which houses many other tech companies, as we discovered when we encountered Bjorn, another Stanford person, waiting at the elevator). Initial discussions were promising, and I ended up making another trip in the afternoon.

They gave me a desk space in between other company employees, and an Ethernet cable; I had my Macbook Pro with me, and conference publicity work began in earnest: poster + website + other advertising materials. In between that work Jon, the CEO, also invited me to sit in on some company discussions about site UI and I got to contribute my probably-very-unhelpful American viewpoint. It was a pretty neat experience.

On the way out I stopped by Bjorn's office which was a few stories down. It was almost midnight but he was just chilling in the HiPiHi office and reading blogs or something. Nice. We chatted for a while, and he also gave me and Jon a demo of their product, a Second Life-like virtual world. Their logo is a little ridiculously cute.

Monday, May 19, 2008

3 Days of Mourning

Yesterday was day one of three days of mourning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. In the afternoon at 2:28, exactly one week after the earthquake hit, there were three minutes of silence... marked by loud sirens and horns from the city's millions of cars. Actually I didn't know of this until afterwards, because I was at the gym, which is in a basement and well isolated from sound. Anyways...

Websites are all in black and white, too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Internet and Pollution

In my opinion, two critical metrics of the American college student experience in China are Internet speed and pollution levels.

Unfortunately, the Internet has been extremely, painfully slow in the last few days, with Gmail regularly disconnecting; and intense smog has not only been making my eyes very uncomfortable but also everything fuzzy around the edges.

Le sigh.

Monday, May 12, 2008

earthquake in sichuan

'Thousands dead' in Chinese quake

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people may have been killed by an earthquake measuring 7.8 in just one county of south-western China's Sichuan province, reports say.

Some 10,000 people are also feared to have been injured in Beichuan county.

Desperate efforts are under way to find survivors. One school that collapsed has buried an estimated 900 students.

President Hu Jintao has urged "all-out" efforts to rescue victims of the quake, which hit 92km (57 miles) from Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital.

Dozens of aftershocks have been reported since the quake, which was the strongest to hit Sichuan province in more than 30 years, Xinhua reports.

State television said the quake had not caused major damage to Chengdu, which has a population of more than 10 million people, or to the nearby Three Gorges Dam.

The BBC's Quentin Somerville says the Chinese army has a good record of mobilising and getting people to safety.

He also says news is coming through very fast from the affected area - it is one of the most open and speedy responses to an emergency he has ever seen from Chinese state media.

The quake was felt as far away as Beijing, he says, meaning millions of people will feel connected to the disaster and will be watching TV screens closely to see how the government responds.

We're safe in Beijing, far from the earthquake's epicenter. Four Stanford students were in Chengdu at the time of the earthquake (at the airport on the way back from a weekend trip to Sichuan), and are safe but temporarily stranded there...

Salt and Pepper

Time for a pictures post!

I finally went through my pictures from the last couple of weeks and sorted them into albums. I came up with Salt (a restaurant), Pepper (a bar), and Hatsune (a restaurant). However the Pepper album is not that exciting so I am only posting Salt and Hatsune pictures. Too bad "Salt and Hatsune" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Salt and Pepper"...

My parents' college friend is located in Beijing now and he has very generously been treating me and Helen to Beijing's most delicious food, at least according to the "That's Beijing" 2008 Awards. Not shabby at all :) Actually these few meals have probably been the best I've ever had in my life. It's kind of amazing how good food can be for such reasonable prices.

Salt: voted best for contemporary cuisine
First Western food I had since arriving in China. AMAZING. I had forgotten how wonderful Western food can be... especially salad.

Hatsune: voted best for Japanese cuisine
Best sushi I've ever had. Delicious and pretty!