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!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

fine arts in beijing

A good weekend for fine arts in Beijing --

Katharine, a sophomore Physics/Dance double major, has been dancing with a professional dance group in Beijing for the past few weeks. So we went to see her perform on Saturday! It was quite interesting; the choreographer is Chinese-American, so the dances combined modern dance and hip-hop with wushu and taichi. Although I've only gone to very few wushu classes before, I could definitely see its influence. Katharine was splendid, of course, and afterwards there was free food so it was good all around.

Then we went to a performance by the Big John Blues Band in a newly-opened venue in the 798 Art District here. The band is new, formed in 2007, but the members were all hand-picked by the frontman, and many of them have long and fruitful histories in the Chinese music scene. We chatted with the drummer afterwards (he lived in NYC for a year, so he and Franci immediately hit it off), and then went to Lush, where we end 2/3 of our nights.

I will now leave off with some pictures taken on some night of lounging, probably around 3 am. There is no reason for these pictures. I just think we look rather representatively sleepy and lazy:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lazy Day

Between the two of us, Helen and I might have moved a total of 1000 feet today. Most of my total comes from going up the three flights of stairs to do laundry, and Helen's from going to a canteen (dining hall) for dinner.

Today's accomplishments are
- much progress on entrepreneurship conference planning
- demolishing half a box of milk biscuits
- watching 4 hours of Korean drama
- laundry

Entrepreneurship Conference
As mentioned in previous posts, we are planning a conference at the end of May, stated purpose to introduce and inspire local university students to entrepreneurship as a realistic career choice, Silicon Valley-style, perhaps? We initially conceived of the idea about two weeks ago, and at the end of last week we started contacting people. Amazingly it's all coming together. We've confirmed some pretty noteworthy entrepreneurs, VCs, and consultants; booked a nice conference room at Tsinghua University; and secured some sponsorship. I am very excited.

Milk Biscuits
Rozi discovered that the convenience store Wumei sells large boxes of "milk biscuits" that are very satisfying to snack on. Of course, Helen and I followed suit and bought our own box, which was finished extremely quickly... Yesterday night Helen retrieved a half-full box of Anuraag's biscuits and that box is also now empty. Oh dear.

Well, we watched episodes 9-12 of Samsoon. There are 16 episodes total, so I guess we can be proud of finishing 25% of the drama today.

Part of my excuse for not going to the gym today is that my laundry situation was dire - but I successfully did two loads of laundry! Unfortunately I have no drying rack and also not enough hangers so my clothes are dispersed all across my room and the common room and the air is very damp.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

chopsticks and massages

It has been very long (read: 5 days) since I have last blogged, and there are reasons I could give -- the planning of our entrepreneurship conference, which began in earnest last week and is scheduled for the way-too-soon date of May 24; the watching of aforementioned drama; the hours spent on Skype every day; the CS103B midterm which just ended an hour ago...but the real reason was probably just laziness. So I apologize.

Tracy and I had dinner at her language partner's house (he's a freshman Econ major at Beida) over the May 1 holiday weekend. As soon as we entered his house, his mom began berating him about how long his hair was (apparently it looked like the hair of a Taiwanese pop star instead of a Beida student, terrible). Then his parents showered me and Tracy with fruit, candy, tea, wine, massive amounts of food, Chinese paper cuttings, and Olympics phone charms. They were also amazed that we could use chopsticks. Why is everyone surprised at our ability to use chopsticks??

In completely unrelated news, Tracy, Kristine, Franci, Tayvin, Che and I got full-body massages at a spa this weekend. I think we should make massages a weekly tradition.


One of Beijing's less pleasant surprises is its fluff. Here is a picture of a kid running happily through fluff:

Most of us are less happy when we are assailed by the fluff, which is actually flying pollen produced by poplar and willow trees in the springtime. In fact, Beijing has instituted a policy of sex changes for the poplar and willow trees to stop fluff production. Oh, Beijing.

In the meantime, I have discovered a good way to relieve my displeasure with fluff - burn it! It is highly flammable and burns quite satisfyingly when much of it has accumulated in drifts... I would write more about my adventures burning fluff but I am not sure I should document such activities.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Name is Kim Samsoon

We have begun to watch this Korean drama to improve our Chinese. It is rather effective... and so interesting!

Edit by Helen: So interesting, in fact, that we are really tempted to stay up to keep watching despite its being 2:30 am. But we will be strong-willed students and resist. Must resist.

PKU 110

So it turns out the dementors were roaming around yesterday because President Hu Jintao was on campus. Something to do with PKU's 110th anniversary.

I also have my suspicions that the Chinese government seeded the clouds yesterday to make it rain and wash out the air before the celebrations today. Today the skies were blue (bluest in the morning, gradually graying as the day went on...) and visibility was high, unobscured by the usual smog. There was the matter of poplar fluff still, but overall the campus was quite pleasant for the visit of many thousands of visitors, including foreign university presidents and chancellors being transported in black Audis.

I attended some celebrations on Friday to commemorate the 110th anniversary. They were very much like the New Year's celebrations broadcast every year on CCTV. A good amount of singing, dancing, and recitation.

One act/skit was dedicated to Deng Xiaoping. I was informed that Chinese people like him because he got Hong Kong back for China. I was also informed that the next leader who can get Taiwan back for China will be very much liked. Dot dot dot.

Another act/skit celebrated the Lifeline Express, and the PKU graduates who work with the Lifeline Express to offer eyecare to Tibetans. There was a whole elaborate dance, highlighting a Tibetan woman's everlasting gratitude to the Lifeline Express for giving her eyesight.

Pictures and video to come :)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Night's Predominance, or the Day's Shame

By th' clock 'tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.
(Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 4)

At 9:30 this morning it was impressively dark outside. I actually did a double-take and checked my clock again, then checked my cell phone because I still couldn't believe the time. It was also thundering and pouring rain. It looked like it could have 3 am.

At 10:00 the sky had lightened but had also turned green. Frank suggests that it was the smog having a chemical reaction with positive ions.

Perfect conditions for zombies or other creepy supernatural things to take over the world. In fact, I did see a number of security guards dressed eerily like dementors...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

i <3 beijing

Not necessarily the city itself, mind you, because the city is kind of smoggy and big and smoggy. But the Stanford program here and the people and the experience have been amazing so far. I'm really having fun :) just wanted to put that out there. It's 4:41 am here so I'm way too tired to write a real blog post but I just got back from watching six hours of Asian dramas and American movies, singing along to Barry's 3 am guitar serenades, and a delicious slice of chocolate cake. Life is good.

Potato Chip Experiment

A scrap of recently-acquired semi-useful knowledge:

If you leave a potato chip out on a shelf during a Beijing summer, it will become crispier. This is because the air is so dry that moisture is sucked out of the chip.

However, it is also exceedingly dusty here, so your potato chip might end up covered in a layer of dust and ickiness.