Tuesday, April 29, 2008

SH v BJ, 6-4-2

Lest any readers of this blog come to the hasty decision that Beijing is more awesome than Shanghai because of its more awesome mascots, here is a more comprehensive comparison of the two cities.

cute mascots: BJ
Okay, well... see post on Shanghai World Expo.

clean air: SH
"Clean" is very relative, but the sky in Shanghai was recognizably blue! Currently in Beijing the air looks extremely gray and foggy, with the slightest, almost imperceptible tinge of blue. And the fog is, of course, smog.

cool buildings: SH
Shanghai has very funky architecture. The most famous is the Oriental Pearl Tower, but there is also the Jinmao Tower, and a can opener shaped building currently under construction of which I have forgotten the name - right to left order:

paper/coin currency: BJ
I am in favor of Shanghai abandoning coin currency. In Beijing people use bills even for one kuai (approximately 14 cents) and five jiao (approximately 7 cents). Everything is coins in Shanghai :( a mi wallet no le gusta.

shopping: SH
My judgment on the quality of shopping - and by shopping I mean bargain shopping - is based on very few data points and so is not very accurate, I'm sure. In any case, I have been rather disappointed by shopping in Beijing so far, but we went to Taobao City in Shanghai and that was enjoyable.

A bit of trivia: Taobao is China's equivalent of eBay and it trounces eBay here. Taobao City is a 3-story mall that was opened a few years ago, with 300 stores representing existing sellers on the site. Neat business idea, bridging e-commerce with real life retail.
Another sidenote: Shopping with Stanford people who are not Asian is always quite interesting. One seller tried to tell Pokey that the rhinestones on the cap he was examining/bargaining for were actual diamonds, and thus he should pay more - but even she couldn't keep a straight face.

style: SH
As we pulled into the Shanghai Train Station I received an SMS welcoming me to the 時尚之都, or Fashion Capital. Shanghai is definitely far more fashionable than Beijing. I actually felt semi-inspired to upgrade my usual outfit of Aeropostale polo and jeans, although I did not act upon this semi-inspiration.

ease of transportation: draw
My primary mode of transportation in both cities is taxi, because I don't know the bus and metro routes and I am scared of so many people squishing in public transportation. Taxis are cheap but they are also immensely difficult to flag down! Not much difference between the two cities.

food: draw
All very tasty. 小籠湯包, xiaolongtangbao:

clubs and lounges: SH
I am entirely not qualified to speak on this subject but I vote Shanghai. Perhaps Helen will substantiate this decision in another blog post, or refute it.

wifi: BJ
Being the EECS nerd that I am, I carried my Macbook Pro around with me in Shanghai in my extremely large handbag, searching for wifi. I failed. This despite repeatedly SMSing a Shanghai entrepreneur I met last week, requesting wifi hotspot locations. Oops. Beijing wins because I have internet access here and have successfully located two (! plural!) wifi cafes, which students use to study when their electricity has been turned out at 11 pm.

Master Kong jasmine tea: BJ
Master Kong jasmine tea is my favorite type of bottled tea, easily available from convenience stores in Beijing (or at least those that I frequent). Not so easily available in Shanghai (or at least where I looked). This tea is actually extremely important to my personal happiness, so big plus points for Beijing. See my collection of Master Kong tea bottles:

waterfront: SH
Beijing has Houhai, but Shanghai has the Bund. One side of the river has European-looking buildings lit up in warm yellow and orange tones at night; the other side has neon rainbow-colored alien-looking buildings like the Oriental Pearl Tower.

Monday, April 28, 2008

cooking class! dumplings edition

Yesterday evening, we had our first of four cooking classes--set up by the Stanford in Beijing program, probably because they realized we like to eat and will do anything related to food.

At 6 pm, Tracy, Christian and I walked to the home of a Chinese grandmother who lives near Beida. She spoke no English at all, but was extremely cute, and I think all three of us took an immediate liking to her. We walked up four flights of stairs to her apartment, and she showed us to her kitchen table. She'd already mixed out a little bowl of pork dumpling filling and a little bowl of dough. As she explained what ingredients went into each bowl, we learned out to stretch the dough, snap! it off in pieces, roll it, and wrap the dumplings. All three of us tried all the steps and very quickly learned that we were better at some things than others -- my snapped pieces were all too big or too small; Tracy's rolled dumpling skins looked like amoeba instead of circles; Christian's dumplings were floppy and didn't stand up like they were supposed to. But eventually we found our niches and got a nice little assembly line going, and proceed to pump out slightly deformed dumplings at a good rate.

Eventually we used up all the filling in our little bowl and brought them proudly to the kitchen to be cooked. Our grandmother looked at our misshapen creations and told us, while clearly attempting not to laugh, that they were "not bad." She also informed us that she had actually made some dumplings before we came so we wouldn't eat at 9 pm, and when we went into the kitchen, we found about 100 dumplings beautifully folded. It put our combined 25 dumplings between three people to shame, but we cooked beautiful and deformed dumplings all together, and they were delicious.

Then she fed us apples + pineapples for dessert, hawberry fruit skins for dessert #2, jasmine tea, and chocolate candies to top it off. She chattered while we were eating about how ginger should be added at the beginning of dish preparation since it took a long time for the flavor to be released, and onions should be added at the end, and hawberries are good for digestion, and computer games are addictive, and how she liked to do 24-form taichi.

She was so cute! Next Monday we will be back to make Beijing noodles. Looking forward to it :D

大牛 - not a real post

My father has informed me that "大牛" would be better translated as "big ox" or "big bull" than "big cow." I thus stand corrected.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shanghai World Expo 2010

In Beijing, everybody is crazy about the 2008 Olympics and the Fuwa (formerly known as Friendlies, but no longer, because the word might be mistaken for "Friendless" or "Friend Lies").

In Shanghai, everybody is still crazy about the Olympics, but also about the 2010 World Expo that will be in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the mascot for the World Expo is not very cute. I think his name is 海寶, hai bao, "treasure of the sea". He looks a little bit like toothpaste.

Friday, April 25, 2008

in shanghai

So both Internet and time are scarce. We'll be back Monday morning (our time) so expect updates in a few!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

houhai, and the art of bargaining

A few nights ago, Che, Pokey, Tracy and I made the trek out to Houhai:

Houhai (Simplified Chinese: 后海, English: Back Lake) is a lake in Beijing, part of the Shichahai lake area. In recent years it has become famous for nightlife because it is home to several popular restaurants, bars, and cafes.

It was a cold, rainy Sunday night, and Houhai is well-liked because of its outdoorsy feel -- bars and restaurants around a lake, rooftop terraces, etc -- so it was pretty empty. We ducked into the first not-too-sketchy bar we saw to get out of the rain, and it turned out to be a pretty cozy place with comfy sofas, a synchronized swimming competition playing on CCTV, and a lone guitarist lip synching to American songs.

A very eager waiter (服务员 fuwuyuan) handed us a drinks menu and must've seen the faces we made at the relatively high price of 35 kuai/shot, because we hadn't looked at the menu for ten seconds before he gave us a sideways glance and said, "I can reduce each shot by 5 kuai, if you want..."

Our combined immediate reaction was a, "....what? we're allowed to barter for set drink prices at bars??" But he'd handed us the option, so we happily accepted and ran with it. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Us: 5 kuai off? That's nothing. How about this, we want to buy in bulk. Give us 8 shots for 150 kuai.
Waiter: 150! That's impossible, way too low. 240.
Us (to each other, while shaking our heads and making faces): There are so many bars around here, we can always go somewhere else, nothing's keeping us here. Nothing special about this place.
Waiter: No other bars will give you discounts! Believe me. No one else! I'm being so generous already [you ungrateful foreigners]. I won't do 150 kuai, but I can pour a little bit more in each cup.
Us: A little bit more? Hmm...all right, how about this. 200 kuai for 8 shots, with a little bit extra poured into each.
Waiter: 200 kuai? [goes over to consult with his fellow fuwuyuan] Okay...200 kuai.
Us: Deal, then! And how about you throw in a free plate of peanuts?

Sometimes it's pretty awesome, this bargaining thing.

Healthy Beautiful Happy Gym

The gym here is called 康美樂, which literally translates to "Healthy Beautiful Happy". I can only aspire to be so awesome at naming gyms.

Anyways, Helen and I have been trying to go every day, since life is less busy here than at Stanford. We succeeded Monday through Thursday last week, failed Friday through Sunday, and have been succeeding this week so far :)

It's interesting to see the set up. There are maybe twenty treadmills, but only four ellipticals, two of which are broken. Not much love for the ellipticals here, I guess. The machines are all lined up against a mirror wall, and on the opposite side there are dance studios where classes such as belly dancing are conducted. My treadmill today was in the perfect location for me to watch the belly dancing class in the mirror. The instructor is male, he likes wearing training-bra-like tops, and he is very exuberant. Take a look:

A less exciting part of my 6km (! crazy! that's the most I've ever run in my life) treadmill run today was the less-than-fragrant guy on the treadmill next to me. He smelled bad as soon as stepped onto the treadmill, before he even started exercising :( When he came I had a very vigorous debate with myself about whether or not I should leave, but my desire to get into shape won out over my poor nose's discomfort, so I got to observe him a little while longer. He was wearing a collared shirt with a pocket in which he put his mp3 player, and khaki shorts, not quite normal gym attire. He ran for about two minutes, then straddled the track as it kept going, and did random squat stretches; stopped the machine, started it again, slowly, and picked up a little bit of speed; then started snapping his fingers and pointing at an invisible crowd and throwing out his arms like a wannabe pop star. It was glorious. He must have been having an excellent make-believe concert.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I <3 Skype

I have discovered that Skype is kind of amazing.

Prior to this discovery, all communication was conducted via IM or email, which really isn't so bad. However, especially now that I am in the midst of RCC interviews (I need housing next year oh noes) Skype is just awesome.

I Skyped with my mom yesterday, and it was our first voice conversation since I arrived in China a month ago. Oops. Apparently my accent in Chinese is becoming more mainland Chinese and less Taiwanese. Dammit China, I want my Taiwanese accent back!!

Oh yes, Skype in the news (although this is unrelated to my recent discovery of its general awesomeness as a service):
Luxembourg, 21st April, 2008 – Skype announced unlimited* calling today to over a third of the world’s population with the launch of its new calling subscriptions. The new subscriptions signal the first time Skype has offered a single, monthly flat rate for international calling to landline numbers in 34 countries.

Monday, April 21, 2008

surprise! a haircut

After a long day of shopping last Saturday, Tracy and I packed our bags and headed down six flights of escalators in the Xidan shopping center to catch at taxi back to Beida. We were on the first floor and almost out the front door--so close!--when Tracy was grabbed forcibly on the arm by a male person and dragged down the plaza. She turned around and gave me a sort of, "What the hell is going on?!?" look and I ran after her and her abductor.

Of all places, we ended up in a hair salon, and abductor guy (who, admittedly, had pretty stylish hair) was joined by his abductor friends and they sat both me and Tracy down in salon chairs and started spraying water and shampoo into our hair and massaging it and washing it. We still had no idea what was going on, but they didn't seem to care much about our protests and just assured us that they just "wanted to show us what our hair could look like" and it was a special promotion and completely free service.

After a few minutes, it came out that the "showing" was free but any cutting would cost us 30 RMB. Ok, 30 RMB, around $5 USD, that was a decent price for a haircut. We both agreed, especially since it was kind of pleasant getting our heads thoroughly massaged, and since they'd sort of already started cutting our hair by this time. Ten minutes later, I looked over at Tracy, and she had little foil things all over her head....umm...did haircuts usually require the use of foil?!

Aha. Here was their trick, then....they had told us our hair would "look good if it were lifted" and tried to perm our hair without explicitly telling us they would. They were just hoping we'd obliviously go along with it and then accept their 300-500 RMB bill afterwards, and they almost succeeded before Tracy realized that she was going to be charged for the silver foil things in her hair and demanded they remove them.

Long story short, we ended up with unexpected (but cheap and pretty decent) haircuts. But it was such a strange experience. What a marketing technique.

So strange.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

entrepreneurship in china

Re: Tracy's post on the Stanford Alumni Reception - I suggested we go up to Bravman and tell him he was a 大牛, but we weren't sure how he would feel about being called a "big cow," no matter how complimentary a phrase it is in Chinese...

As has been alluded to in past posts, Tracy and I have spent many of our free hours in China meeting up with various people connected with tech, business, and entrepreneurship here. We're interested in potentially working in a field in/related to China, so we're trying to find out as much as possible while we're here.

We've so far spoken at length to a consulting company that helps multinationals enter the China market; the United States Information Technology Office; Stanford alumni working at start-ups in virtual world technology and the Internet space; local Beijingers working at a start-up on mobile local search; and yesterday, many interesting people at the Stanford Alumni Reception, including a member of the Stanford Alumni Association Board of Directors, a professor at Tsinghua University, a venture capitalist in China, and a president at a consulting company who might be able to hook us up with SOEs so we could get a better sense of how they operate.

All pretty exciting :) Understandably, this has kept us pretty busy in between our classes at Beida, our classes we're taking online at Stanford, attempting to go to the gym every day, and still leaving time to hang out with other people in the program.

So much to blog about from the past week! 4 hours of KTV, a surprise haircut, going out last night and learning to play the dice game....

well, another time.

President Hennessy at PKU

President Hennessy spoke at PKU just now: "Stepping Up: How Universities Must Change to Meet the Needs of Society in the 21st Century".

I think I was the only Stanford student that went. I guess some people were in class, others couldn't wake up, and the others who wanted to go probably didn't know the location. I happened to go up to the lounge really early, so I ran into Professor Shen who is the Stanford at Beijing program director, and a couple other Stanford faculty, a few minutes before they left. I got to sit in VIP seating with the Stanford delegation, behind Vice Provost Bravman and Dean Plummer. Pretty sweet.

Hennessy mentioned a lot of history and numbers in his talk. There have been 500+ Stanford students that studied at PKU since 1994, the first Stanford students went to China in 1979, that sort of thing. He discussed three trends that he sees as relevant to universities in the 21st century:
1. increasing complexities that society faces, like the environmental challenges that come with overpopulation and economic development
2. globalization, as local problems like terrorism and infectious diseases become global problems, and how the rise of Asia is an important subtext to globalization
3. the speed of technological development, so that universities are key in discovering new knowledge and educating their students to use this knowledge.
And, very pertinent to his actually being at PKU, he talked about how universities need to collaborate more and prepare students to collaborate more.

Hennessy's remarks probably lasted half an hour, and then it opened up to questions. The first girl said that Hennessy was too idealistic and the reality is that the Chinese government suppresses many of their dreams; someone else also commented on the political tension right now. One person asked how PKU students can go to Stanford, in reference to the Stanford at Beijing program; Hennessy said, "You can come if you apply and get in!" rather sidestepping the question. I asked the last question - just a generic question on behalf of the Stanford students here, what we should do to make the most of our time, not particularly brilliant but I felt I should at least represent the Stanford students. Hennessy somewhat remembers me from our long conversation yesterday, I think! How exciting. His answer wasn't too specific though, just 1. spend more time with locals, but more pointedly, 2. get fluent in Chinese.

On a slightly related note, one of the PKU administrators working on this program saw me after the event concluded, and asked me if I was the one that did the opening remarks for the program on the first day, which were in Chinese (I did). Then he complimented me on my English, saying it was very fluent, and asked if I had prepared my question for Hennessy beforehand (I did not), and that it was very well asked. I suppose the PKU students wrote out their questions ahead of time, but I'd hope my English is good enough to wing a casual question...

Stanford Alumni Reception

There was a Stanford Alumni Reception in Beijing, Shangri-La Hotel, yesterday. I learned that alumni receptions essentially consist of many hors d'oeuvres and talking to random people.

Okay maybe not that random: people including John Hennessy, President of Stanford; John Bravman, Vice Provost of Stanford; Jim Plummer, Dean of the School of Engineering; two other deans, composing the delegation to Asia; a number of professors; and some very impressive alumni. A few of us chatted with Hennessy for 20 or 30 minutes about China, Tibet and the Olympics, censorship, and all sorts of interesting intellectual things. Actually, Che and I intro'ed ourselves with: "Hi, we used your textbook last quarter, we love EE108B!" and it somehow segued nicely into less nerdy conversation. At one point Hennessy said, "China's trying to paint the Dalai Lama as some sort of monster.. that's obviously not going to work. I've met the guy, he's such a nice person" and proceeded very casually with the rest of the conversation. I wonder what it's like to be name-dropping on the order of the Dalai Lama. We also chatted with Bravman for a while, about the weather and such (a little bit less intellectually stimulating). One of the most notable alumni I talked to was Nick Yang, who began with, "My company is publicly traded on NASDAQ. Oh, by the way, this is my second company. We sold the first one for $30 million." And then, "But I'm not the most successful in my class, the Google guys were at Stanford the same time as me."

Chinese people have a term for really cool/baller: 牛, niu2, literal meaning "cow". All of the people I mentioned above would be considered 大牛, da4 niu2, literal meaning "big cow".

I had the foresight to make business cards last week when Helen and I visited the Central Business District to see someone at USITO. That was pretty clutch. I'm not even looking for a job, although I was basically offered one by virtue of the fact that I'm EE - but it was really cool to meet people and distribute my business card! and hopefully I will be motivated enough to stay in contact with these 大牛. All of whom, by the way, are engineers, interestingly, and predominantly EECS. I love it. Actually, Stanford EECS is pretty much all I have on my business card.. but it's so key! One alumnus yesterday saw that my nametag had MS'09 on it (I don't know who registered me, but they put BS and MS'09), and he said, "Wait, let me guess. You must be econ undergrad and MS&E coterm." When I responded with "EE undergrad, CS coterm", he seemed much more impressed. That's right ;-)

[Haha, this intellectual elitism needs to stop. EEs are a little too proud of being EE, I think.]

Studying with PKU Students

To Stanford students, I think the most unfathomable part of the PKU student experience is having dorm electricity shut off at 11 pm (luckily, as international students staying in the Shaoyuan Guesthouses we are exempt from such atrocity). How is it even possible to be a student without all nighters and intense study sessions?

I learned from a PKU student who is a math major that because math is a more difficult major (苦, ku3, literal meaning "bitter"), math majors have access to classrooms in which they can study 24/7. As we are starting to feel the pileup of work from three weeks of play, Helen and I joined him for a study session last night, and it was actually very productive for our CS103B pset. Studying here is very different from studying in the US. We "work together" in study lounges but we also chat once in a while, listen to music, take late nite breaks, etc. At PKU, people study in classrooms, so they're sitting in rows, each studying his/her own material very seriously, and NO talking. Dead silence. Helen and I were the only ones with laptops, and our typing was a little disruptive, I think. Also, late nite is more along the lines of going out the South Gate and buying "small eats". And people usually pack up by midnight - I guess 24/7 access doesn't actually translate into 24/7 studying.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

washington roulette

Tibet, from China's POV

(check out page 3 especially)
(taken from Che's posted items on Facebook)

After Chinese class some Beijing guy came up to me + Pokey + Barry and asked us if we could please help him out, he was trying to get tickets to an event, but you had to have a Beida student ID to get tickets and he wasn't a student. We looked at the flier for the ticket he wanted, and lo and behold, it was for President Hennessy's talk on Monday here at Beida (he's the president of Stanford). Pokey and Barry decided to help him :P

I don't think the guy had any idea we were Stanford students--students from any other school would probably have no idea who Hennessy was and wouldn't be too eager to help a random guy get tickets to a random event--but he got lucky I suppose.

Criminal Justice Law Class

I'm in class right now, one of the BOSP Beijing content classes. Our classes are all Stanford classes, catered to Stanford students, and taught in English. The teacher for this criminal justice class is a professor from the Peking University Law School. He studied in Germany at some point in his career, so he likes saying "JA" as a filler, which I slightly prefer to the Beijing "ERR" sound, but after a while it's also not so novel.

Three-hour-long fuzzy lectures are killer. I'm not used to mandatory attendance! I'm a big fan of techie classes where doing well on psets and exams is sufficient. Class is entirely optional, and sleeping in class is quite normal, or bringing laptops and Gtalking all the time. Well, I guess I do have my laptop now and I do spend most of the three hours Gtalking, but I do mildly resent having to be in class from 9 am to 12 pm.

I am looking forward to lunch! and purchasing train tickets to Shanghai for next weekend :D

china, tsinghua, usito

Similar to the Facebook status changes I noted last time in my Tibet post: support for China on MSN

It's really quite difficult to post these things, because Blogger is blocked, Techcrunch is blocked, I have to go through proxies to view most vaguely blog-like objects on the Internet...

The past few days have been super busy. Had dinner at Tsinghua University (MIT of China) with an old friend - the campus there is quite beautiful. Will post pictures sometime.

Tracy and I visited USITO (United States Information Technology Office) today, an NGO that acts sort of as a lobbyist to help American tech companies gain permission/contracts to enter the Chinese market. It has something like 50 US member companies, including eBay, Cisco, Microsoft, Freescale, etc. We learned a ton of interesting things about governmental regulations on technology in China and how difficult it is for foreign companies to work here.

This post lacks actual content, but now I must go shower. Just got back from the gym, and dinner + pub quiz in half an hour :P Leave a comment/email us if you are actually interested in learning more about either the tech market in China, or in getting a basic sense of what the government's views are regarding technology.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

after the lights went out

Waiting for 11 pm yesterday night was likened by some to waiting for Y2K eight years ago -- by 10:55 pm, those of us in the Stanford lounge were all sitting in anticipation, scrambling to get homework done, awaiting the darkness of electricity-less-ness. The lights turned off a few minutes late, so for a while we were afraid it was going to be just as anticlimactic as Y2K turned out to be. But luckily we were wrong :D

I played my first ever game of Chinese Chess last night at around 11:30 pm, by the light of one flashlight in the lounge. It was like a (really high-tech) middle school camp after lights out - watching a scary movie on a laptop, playing games by flashlight, and navigating around our rooms by the light of our cell phones. I want to play more xiang qi!

Obligatory Food Post

- in chronological order, coincidentally also in increasing order of amazingness by location (i.e. skip to Part III for the fancy stuff)
- apologies for low resolution, my 10MB camera takes pictures that are far too large to upload in the original

Part I:
Little Cafe in the Central Business District (CBD)
Total cost: 13 RMB/two people (~$1 pp)

  • dumplings

  • 揚州炒飯 Yangzhou fried rice

Part II: International Student Cafe at Renmin University
Total cost: 90 RMB / 5 people, 9 dishes (~ $2.57 pp)

  • Kristine and 小籠包 xiaolongbao

  • 拉皮

  • Japanese style tofu

  • seaweed

  • sweet batter fried corn

  • 京醬肉絲 (tofu skins and pork with sweet sauce)

  • spicy Sichuan veggies

  • 土豆絲 shredded potato

  • 疙瘩湯 (soup with clumps of flour.. I didn't translate that right)

Part III: 大董烤鴨店 & 鼎泰豐 - Da Dong Peking Duck & Din Tai Fung
Total cost: 805RMB / 4 people, 7 dishes + drinks + 4 desserts (~$28.73 pp)

  • Helen and I with the menu (essentially a big studio picture book of food)

  • 春筍 bamboo shoots

  • 宫保蝦球 kungpao shrimp

  • jellyfish

  • unknown veggie

  • cod buried in salt bonsai garden

  • cod excavated from salt bonsai garden but now wrapped in leaves

  • tofu soup

  • condiments for Peking duck

  • wrapper for Peking duck

  • cutting up the Peking duck

  • Peking duck, in pieces

  • this is how to wrap Peking duck

  • Peking duck wrapped and finally ready for consumption

  • 杏仁露 almond dessert

  • fruit atop smoking dry ice

  • Wrigley's gum served on a plate

  • almond tofu shaved ice

  • combination shaved ice

Saturday, April 12, 2008

we are blocked :(

Dashboard is still up so we can make posts, but all Blogspot sites are (temporarily?) blocked so we can't actually view our page or any of the comments.

Also, I have been trying to upload a video to Facebook for about 2 hours and the upload speed has ranged from a high of 8KB/sec to a low of 0.5KB/sec. It's currently going at 2KB and I have uploaded 1.3/63MB. This is no good.

Also, our electricity is being turned off from 11 pm - 6 am tomorrow night for....not sure. Energy testing of some sort?

Also, Tracy and I are both dying - we're both kind of sick and the cold weather and pollution aren't helping much.

So sad :(

Friday, April 11, 2008

love at renmin

After getting back from clubbing at 4 am yesterday (see post below :D), I happily slept in today and woke up at noon. My day was consumed by 4 hours of KTV of entirely Chinese songs -- exactly one of which I could actually sing. But it was fun trying to follow along and read the (traditional!!) Chinese characters fast enough to keep up with whoever was singing. And now I might go learn a few songs for next time :D

We visited Renmin University, another fairly good college in Beijing, with a friend of a friend who goes there. Over dinner, we learned all about love and dating at Renmin.
  • You know how we joke about sketchy grad students at undergrad parties? At Renmin they take that to a whole new level - they have scheduled parties on Wednesday and Saturday, the sole purpose of which is for PhD students to find girlfriends. Male PhD's pay a minimal fee to enter the party, girls of any age go in for free, and everyone's happy. Right?

    (Tracy and I politely declined an offer to go to the next one.)

  • If a guy likes or is dating a girl, it's tradition for him to make a heart out of candles in front of her door on her birthday. A heart of lighted candles...aww..how cute.

  • If a guy wants to tell a girl he loves her, he takes her out to this grassy field on campus at midnight (when no one was around, it was explained) to tell her. Apparently it's a popular place to declare love.

    At Beida, there's the pretty Weiming Lake in the middle of campus that serves the same purpose. We tried to think of an equivalent place at Stanford, failed, and concluded that maybe no one ever told anyone else they loved them at Stanford :( how sad.
I don't think we really have any traditions at Stanford regarding dating, in fact, unless you count Full Moon on the Quad, which I don't. I wonder if it's cultural, or because it's Stanford. On the other hand, maybe I'm just ignorant, so do enlighten us if you know of any such traditions at our lovely school.

Nightlife in Beijing

Yesterday was my first night rolling out to a bar and club with the Stanford kids. We went to Lan and Mix in the Chaoyang District downtown. Overall, very fun, despite my extreme tiredness :)

Lan 蘭
According to the Insider's Guide to Beijing, Lan was voted 'Best Decor' in that's Beijing's 2007 Reader Bar and Club Awards and Restaurant Awards. I believe it. Lan takes up the entire fourth floor of a shopping mall and it definitely qualifies as a luxury venue. To take the bathrooms as an example, each toilet is in its own decorated room - mirrors for walls, tinted red, an island in the middle with the sink, the faucet of which is the mouth of a dramatic swan sculpture. The prices of drinks match the opulence; Christian treated us to a round of drinks and he paid the equivalent of US$115 for a handle of vodka. The NYC prices were probably why the place was very empty on a Thursday night and the few people there were middle-aged foreigners who couldn't dance very well. It wasn't exactly the most happening place, which is why we headed over to Mix shortly afterwards...

Mix is a pretty legit club. Good dance music, despite the sleepy looking DJs, and enough people to make it fun but not so many that it was uncomfortable, although there seemed to be more guys than girls. Ordering drinks was also a ridiculously complicated procedure thanks to the extremely loud music and the usual language difficulties. Anyways, it was a lot of fun dancing with the Stanford people, and we managed to avoid the sketchies pretty well. Hooray, good times.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

contentious issues

Tracy, Katharine and I had lunch with Billy, a Beida student, today. Billy is a third-year Psychology/Econ double-major here. He's from southern China, and is in my Corporate Governance class (which means, among other things, that he went through three rounds of interviews and written English tests to be selected as one of 11 Beida students allowed to take Stanford classes).

We went to this sort of Western restaurant on campus where they served us salad with silverware and "egg budding" that was actually flan. Over lunch, conversation wandered over to current events, as it often does. Billy was telling us about how angry he is at Europeans in general (and protesters in Paris in particular) for being so close-minded regarding China. Paraphrasing:

They protest the Olympics and protest Tibet without really knowing anything about the issues, only reading biased Western news; a lot of them don't even know where Tibet was or what any of the history between Tibet and China has been, but are simply jumping on the bandwagon and denouncing China because everyone else is doing it. My Chinese friends in Europe say there is a generally unfriendly atmosphere there towards China.

Not to mention, Europeans think all Chinese people are brainwashed by the central government, when in fact a majority of college students dislike the CCP and the way it runs the country. They put up with it because they believe that "China's transformation" and rise upwards should be accomplished by a united country, and not a fractured one (aka not a repeat of the Warring States period of Chinese history). Now is not the time to cause dissonance. The students all have ways of getting around the Chinese firewall (proxies, tunnels, etc), and often read Western news as well as CCP news to try to get all the facts. We're all fluent in English as well as Chinese.

The interesting part of this, for me, was that unlike most times in the past, when he and his friends have just shrugged off outside criticism of China, the Tibet/Olympics issue -- and the "biased Western media accounts" of the story -- has angered a large portion of the college crowd at once. People are actually gathering together online in support of China and against the unfair accusations towards the Chinese government. They're angry at CNN in particular for biased reporting -- one example he gave was a CNN photo that was cropped to show only Chinese soldiers with guns in Tibet, without showing the Tibetans throwing rocks at the soldiers. Billy, who a week ago thought the concept of the Olympics was stupid, now wholly supports the Olympics to show his support for China.

Not to say that the government has acted well. Clearly, they are suppressing free speech, and they are limiting the Tibetans' freedom of religion. The point is that even students who by and large don't support the CCP think portrayal of the Tibet issue has been unfair enough that they're willing to stand up for the central government.

This is true of Chinese (international) students in the U.S. too. Amongst my facebook friends list -

It was the first time I've really talked to any of the Beida students about Tibet, so it was interesting. Tracy's Taiwanese friends would give you an entirely different story.

Fuwa 2: Jingjing, the violent one


The most adorable Olympic mascots ever. They're everywhere in Beijing (China?), bringing joy to all in the form of excessive cuteness.

Advanced C++ Class

I sat in on a Peking University CS class today. Advanced C++ for freshmen, I think?

It was amazing, but not in a good way :( There were about 30 or 40 students in the class (3 or 4 girls, and many many guys with glasses) so my presence was rather conspicuous, especially as I came in just on time and had to sit in the front row. As far as I could tell from the two hours of class time today, the primary mode of teaching is putting code on the projector screen and asking students to go up, explain, and write the output on the chalkboard. And then the next slide in the ppt is the answer key.. I was asked to go up twice and both times I declined as politely as I could, saying that I'm not actually a Beida student, but the substitute teacher clearly thought I was just trying to get out of the classroom exercises. (This might have been a good time to have a distinctively non-native accent in Chinese; my Taiwanese accent apparently doesn't mark me as very foreign.)

For those who are CS-y: The entire class was on C++ STL classes!! One hour on set and multiset, another hour on map and multimap. There's a reason for cppreference and dinkumware and Google! It's quite unnecessary to walk through exactly what every function does :( All I could think of during this lecture was how much better Julie Zelenski and Jerry Cain are at teaching CS than this teacher was.

If this were a Stanford class, all the students would have peaced after half an hour of the first lecture, and probably would not have shown up again except for the midterm and final. Or if some did show up, they would have brought laptops and been doing other things all through class - not a single person had a laptop today! Maybe it's against school policy, or something. Chinese students are very respectful of their teachers. They even applauded at the end of lecture! and it was just a random, not-very-good lecture in the middle of the quarter.

I think the excessive number of exclamation points in this post is a good indication of my amazement today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

how to squish college students

1. Have a tiny campus. Pretty, but tiny.

2. Put students 4 - 8 to a small room (2 - 4 bunk beds per room). Leave no room to hang clothes up and make students hang them in the halls. Don't allow students to pick roommates. Force them to stay in the same room all four years.

3. Turn off electricity in all dorms at 11 pm every night. Close the library at 10:30 pm. Force students to go to off-campus cafes if they want to study past 1 am or so (after their computers run out of battery).

-1. However, the food is amazingly cheap. Any given meal at one of the campus canteens -- a serving of jiaozi (dumplings) with rice porridge, five baozi (meat/veggie filled buns), a stir-fried dish and rice, a steamer of xiaolongbao -- usually costs less than $1USD. I eat so much.

-2. The Beida students are really nice!! One of the best things about being here is getting to meet them, eat long meals with them while attempting to communicate in Chinese, party with them...

I'm quite enjoying being at Beida. I'm just glad I'm an international student, with the privilege of a room to myself and 24-hour electricity.

And despite being at the top university in their country--and having studied like crazy to get here--the students here almost universally dream of going to the United States to study.

We went to see some Peking Opera. It was interesting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

observation 1

if china were to lose its autonomous regions (yellow), it would look exactly like a squirrel:

it exists!!

Yeah, we gave up on being creative. Maybe we are just not creative people.

Soon-to-come: adventures, interesting observations, and photos! Stay posted!

ps. sorry if looking at this page hurts your eyes. it is rather pink.

Hello from Beijing! (2 weeks after arrival)

After many failed attempts at a creative name for our travel blog, Helen and I have settled on tracyandhelen.blogspot.com to document our adventures in China during our quarter at Peking University.