All posts by Will

September 13 – Olympics

I slept in this morning, and woke up at about 8am. Got on the computer for a little bit, took a shower, and then decided to get some breakfast while it was still open. Going down there, I found that most of the girls were having breakfast, since they were in the bus that left at 9 am. My roommate was still asleep, he got in fairly late last night. When the main part of the group took off to see the early part of the olypics, Sarah and I decided to walk over to the college and explore the northern part of the campus that we hadn’t seen before.

The campus is at least twice as large as I had previously thought, but the other half is very sparsely populated. The area we walked through was fairly overgrown with vegetation, with lots of ponds and streams winding throughout. There were also several old buildings that looked like dorms from the 20s or 30s. At the far north end of campus was worker housing, we didn’t really want to disturb them, but through the fence there were a bunch of small houses with small vegetable gardens and clothes hung out to dry. We walked back on the western edge, past many more old statues that I couldn’t identify. It was threatening to rain for most of the time, but only spat on us a couple times.

A bunch of the stuff on the campus was really cool, and its hard to pick out specific experiences that were especially exciting. Up near the north end, one lake from the workers area was a new building that had been recently maintained, and really stood out from the the infringing nature around it. It was on a point that stuck out into the lake, which was completely full of lily pads. there was a gate, so we couldn’t get up to the building to see what it was, or read the characters over the door. On the right you could see the lake curve around, and on the bank were several much more dilapidated buildings and an old boat tethered to a tree on the shore. Someone had put stuck to big poles into the bank at an angle and put a tarp of them to keep rain from getting on the boat, but it still looked incredibly weather beaten.

We got back to the dorms at 11, and decided to round up people at 11:30 to get food before we left at 1. Joe still wasn’t up when we left again, and we knocked on the other doors on our floor and determined that the other group wasn’t back yet, so we went back to the campus to grab some lunch.

We went to the next block from the long line of cafeterias we’d been pointed to before, and found a rather unassuming entrance that had food-like markings on it. It turned out to be an even larger cafeteria than the ones we’d seen before. I got a bowl of rice, and a plate of food for 3.60, and a sprite for $3 (bottles were much more expensive than fountain drinks, but the water in the fountain drinks is pretty suspect.)

The food was actually some of the best I’ve had yet, it was sichuan style, and looking around a bunch of the food served was from sichuan. The dining hall was laid out like many of the ones on campus; one wall was full of small ‘stalls’ that were selling food. Each stall had several workers, there was a counter you would come up to and it had several large trays on the counter with the types of food you could get from that stall. You’d point or tell them which ones you want, they’d scoop it onto a plate and hand it to you. overall, a pretty reasonable arrangement. My lunch was a deep-fried bird (tasted like chicken, but more bones than I’m used to) with hot peppers of various types (green, red, etc.) The peppers were the numbing hot type, and were really good.

After lunch we went back to the dorm again, and met max and joe just outside. There was about 15 minutes left before 1, and they had just gotten organized to get lunch. we told them that they really didn’t want to be late, because they’d have to find their way over to the green without directions otherwise, and they decided that they would wait until we got to the olympics to eat.

Yu miao came with the bus right at 1, and the other three members of our group magically appeared. we got in a van, I believe driven by the same guy that picked us up at the airport. the Olympics turned out to be right off the same road that we were, as there really weren’t any turns, and eventually we could see that the road ended up ahead, and he pulled off to the side and let us off.

We walked up to the fence, and then followed it to the spectators entrance. Security was very reasonable, and quite quick. The procedure was quite standardized, everything passed through a metal detector, you got wanded down, and then they asked you to open your bags for inspection, and had you take the items out of pockets.

On the olympic green was about the same as the rest of beijing, but maybe a bit cleaner. There was a food stall a bit up the road we were on, and since joe and max hadn’t eaten we decided to stop there.

The olympics it turns out have a set list of food that’s allowed on the green. This consists of drinking water, coke, or bottled green tea. Two types of icecream (with or without chocolate covering) and snickers bars for snacks. To eat there was “boxed meal” and “noodle bowl”. I got an icecream, which is about the same as the icecream in a bag you’ll find throughout the country. The boxed meals that the others got were pretty impressive. A small tray full of rice and a packet with chicken and vegitables was suspended over a larger plastic container. The rest of the container had a plastic packet of water underneath a fabric packet of something. A small tab on the water container was connected to a string that came out of the box. You put a lid on and yanked the string to tear a hole in the water packet, and it would activate the stuff in the fabric packet. That resulted in a very quick release of heat, and steamed the rice and chicken. It meant that the meal fully cooked in about 5 minutes, sadly though it apparently tasted really bad.

We spent the next three hours or so walking around the olympic area. The water cube was pretty impressive, the bubbles on it’s surface are actual bubbles, up close you can see that it’s sheets of plastic that have been inflated. It’s also surrounded by a moat and fence to keep people from getting too close.

The whole area is full of various architecture demonstrating chinese culture. Of particular interest was the area around the subway station, which had lots of water interactivity, lots of steam vents that would activate in patterns, little fountains and waterfalls. Next to this was a large pond that also had a large fountain display.

At some point I broke away from the rest of the group, I moved quite a bit faster than the pack, and wanted to take some pictures I wanted without waiting for everyone else to take theirs as well. We rejoined just before entering the birds nest. It turned out that for the paralympics the seating was all general admission. If we wanted good seats, we probably should have been in line two hours before the first event when the stadium opened, but instead we got there an hour or so before starting. We walked up to the third tier of seats, and probably could have easily stayed on the second tier. There was enough traffic however that we decided that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to move once we were there.

The sheer scale of the place was really amazing, I feel like there must have been over a million people on the olympic green, which is a very large number. The stadium as well makes you feel quite insignificant.

The athletics were pretty cool. The spectators around us were much more engaged when chinese athletes were competing, in the races where there wasn’t a chinese contender you could here mutters of ‘没有中国’ or ‘no china’. The races were more engaging than the javalin throw or shot put events. the only really let-down was that all of the events were seperated by a type of disability. This seemed to be represented in the title ‘like womens shotput final T42’. But, there was never explanation of what T42 was. Sometimes it was obvious, like when all the competitors had prosthetic legs, but other times it wasn’t really obvious.

We left a bit before the last event, which was a good idea, because it wasn’t quite as crowded outside. after dark the place is really, really, awesome looking. The whole main square has strips of lights that can change colors, and both the stadium and water cube have cool illuminating pictures. We wandered around the square a bit and took pictures and such forth. A chinese guy came up to us and was very happy to take pictures with us, and wanted us to pose with him. He gave us a sheet of paper that he had written ‘one world one dream’ on; he had a large bunch of these papers with him.

We walked over to the subway, they were handing out free one-way tickets. The olympic subway was brand new and uncrowded. We got on, and switched over to the #10 line. This line was also brand new and uncrowded, and we took it a few stops until it crossed the #13. This one was above ground, not new, and quite crowded. We took it one stop, to the stop I believed was near campus. It turns out I’ve been reading the maps wrong, the stop we ended up at was near the supermarket I’ve been going to.

We got out, asked a nearby policeman which way the college was to get our bearings, and then started heading back. Since we hadn’t had any dinner, we stopped in a fast-food restaurant on the way back. I got a dish of rice and chicken, with a slightly spice sauce. It wasn’t bad at all, sarah got something pretty similar but it had a bunch of cut up vegetables over the rice. Joe and Max saw a guy eating a large bowl of beef and noodles and decided they wanted that. They had trouble communicating to the waitress though, and ended up getting a bowl of soup, a bowl of noodles with tiny frozen shrimps, and a plate with breakfast sausages except made out of chicken and mushrooms. They weren’t terribly pleased by the result.

On the way home they talked about going out to a club. I was fairly cynical about that although I didn’t express myself, first because we need to be up by 9 tomorrow for a scavenger hunt, and secondly because it was already 10 pm which was fairly late.

I came back, saw that I’d gotten a nice set of class notes from Julian, read through them up to where I am in the book, had a cup of tea, and unwound. As of midnight, the group is still next door and hasn’t left yet, I doubt they will. At some point I’ll comment on my thoughts on the group. They’re still developing of course, and I’m trying to not spend too much time with other students since the whole point is adapting to chinese culture and not being too insular. The group however is very different from that at mudd, and seems to operate at a level that I find to be almost stereotypical of american college students.

Tomorrow we get to visit the summer palace, and go to tiananmen square.

September 12 – Logistics

I woke up early again today, though only at 6 rather than 5. Got on the computer, and talked to some various online contacts. I still haven’t gotten source to continue on the website I’m working on, but the design piece is coming along well.

At about 8:15 I headed down to the cafe in the building to get some breakfast before the morning activities. The cafe reminded me strongly of that in the international hostile I was in the first time I was in beijing. It was clearly aimed at an international audience, and the food was not Chinese at all, but rather things like coffee and grapes were in abundance.

Everyone congregated at by 9:00 am, and Yu miao began our tour. We walked down the side of the university, past the main university stadium (which held the olympic pingpong) to the south end. At this southeast corner is a main tech. district in beijing, which we got pointed out. This was the first part of the city that had the huge towering buildings I remember seeing in shanghai. There were several of them a couple blocks off, but I didn’t get a long chance to examine them as we headed west just past the south edge of the university. The southern street was very gentrified, the university wall was to the north, and upscale shops were to the south. One notable find was that there was a CCB on this road, which I’ll be able to use to withdraw money in the future without an atm fee. We got to the west edge of the university and walked a block north where we were met by li jiao. (one of the program tutors I’ve referred to before). She took us south again, just a couple blocks beyond the university. Here there was another large rise of skyscrapers. To our right she pointed out a large bookstore (probably 6-8 stories within a larger hotel), and then had us turn back east. To our south was a large book district, with many smaller bookstores, but we continued a few blocks past a huge christian church to an even more ridiculously sized shopping mall. We walked in, and it had the normal collection of stores that are to be expected, but at the far end was a single store that was probably almost as big as the rest of the shops combined. It was apparently the largest department store in asia, and we walked through a couple floors, one filled with sporting goods and another that was a huge grocery store.

At the end she said she would head back to the campus with people who were worried about getting lost, but that the rest of us were free. I decided to take the opportunity to look around a bit, and run some errands. I headed back to the beginning of the store, not without some small confusion, and got to the watsons that I had seen there. Watsons is somewhat equivalent to the bartells of the US, and I wanted to get some deodorant and a razor since I’d forgotten those the first time I went out.

the purchase wasn’t a problem, I felt like the area was more gentrified that shanghai had been 4 years ago. all of the cards looked like they’d take credit cards, and it seemed like only official looking shops were in existence, the halls of the mall weren’t filled with smaller tables of clearly knockoff goods.

From the mall I headed back the way we’d come since I wasn’t sure how the connection would work if I headed straight north instead. (there was some huge freeway it seemed that our path had taken us underneath. ) I considered buying a subway card since the station was close to the southwest corner of the university, but decided that it could wait until the first time I needed to use it.

Instead I headed to the largest dianzidasuan (tech. store) avoiding the many offers for laptop computers I walked around until I heard someone trying to sell me an iPhone. I asked him what sort of sim card I needed, and got as far as that any sim would work with the phone and that wouldn’t be a problem. I couldn’t understand most of what he told me but I did hear “near mcdonalds”. On my way out, I noticed that the next building over had a mcdonalds on the ground floor, so I went in and walked around but didn’t see anyone selling sim cards. I figured I’d go back to the university and ask the booth I’d seen there before, since that might be a quieter environment.

First though I walked back to my dorm. I was quite sweaty by this part, and relaxed for a bit, showered, and shaved. The razor I got wasn’t great but it worked reasonable. I was starting to get ready to head back when Matt knocked on my door. It seemed that most of the others had already headed back, and he was feeling like he wouldn’t be able to get lunch since he didn’t know chinese. We walked back over to the campus to the cafeteria line, and went to the baozi cafeteria.

I’m guessing I’ll probably end up eating there a fair amount this semester, baozi are .5 per, which is quite cheap, since a lunch is probably only 3 or 4 of them. They also taste pretty good.

Afterwards I walked over to the department store in the university, which was where the sim booth was located. On the way over we got free cokes, for some promotion involved with the students arriving on campus today. We also passed a bright orange tent marked M-zone with a long line heading to it, I wasn’t quite sure what it was for. i started trying to read the broken english sign at the phone booth I’d seen earlier. The guy there led me over to another guy behind a similar M-zone tent, but without the line. He gave me a sheet to pick out the last four digits of my phone number from a long list of available ones. Then spent after we inserted the sim he spent a few minutes navigating through voice menus to set up the phone. I told he I’d like internet access, and he tried to determine what sort of gprs I wanted. I eventually gave up trying to have that discussion fully understood and just told him that he should do what seemed reasonable for me to have internet access. the solution was that 50 megs would cost 15 yuan, and it would be available next month. The total cost was 200, which was a bit higher that the 160 that was advertised, but I figured the discrepency was had something to do with extra money being added onto the sim because of internet access. (again there was limited communication here, but it seemed to work out.)

I stopped by the office before the afternoon session to tell them my new phone number, and then headed over to the classroom. all of the language tutors gathered with us for this session, where another explanation of the directed independent study was given. We got given some more pieces of paper, like the grading rubric for the studies and such like, and then went to play games with the tutors to get to know them. They all seemed like nice people, all research students at beida. The majority were sociology or anthropology majors, but there were a handful in economics and one lady who was doing fiberoptics under the electrical engineering umbrella. we chatted with them for a few hours and played various games.

Just before dinner, the director Prof. wang rounded us up to assign us with our language tutors and our classes. My language tutor is li jiao, who is very nice, and I’ve had the chance to talk to her already. Me and sergio are the two students placed in the third year, which is being taught by prof zhang (the assistant director.) We don’t have a text book, but will be doing lessons from a variety. The other two years have textbooks from the same series pomona used, although clearly ripoff versions with photocopied covers and such.

The last stop for the evening was dinner which we were having with all of the various tutors. we went to a restaurant outside the southwest gate of the university, that specialized in food from the eastern part of china. (i think) It was another large meal, but I really liked most of the dishes. They had pair dish that was just strips of pair in a citrus sauce that was good, there was something called mao’ao (i think) that was beef with mushrooms peppers, onions, and garlic that was really good. There was also a great eggplant dish, and a good tofu and pork dish.

Coming home I swapped numbers with several friends, and then went online. I found a great english guide describing how the china mobile plan works at It turns out I got the correct setup, though a shame that the internet portion won’t activate until the first of next month. The basic deal is I have a standard sim card & such like, including data access. Data access will cost me .03 cents / kb, for now, but for oct – jan and beyond 15 yuan will be removed and will result in 50 free megs of download, with overage charged at .01 cents. It sounds fairly reasonable; not great, but still cheaper than the us plan by far. Other calls are also pretty cheap, for the $200 (=$30 us) about $15 was loaded on as credit, with the rest paying for activation (sim card / phone number).

tomorrow afternoon at 1 they’ll get a van to take us over to the olympic green, and there aren’t plans for tomorrow morning. I might be able to sleep a bit longer, and am planning to either take a walk, get my first week of math done now that it’s been essentially approved, or do some programming work.

September 11 – Orientation

I woke up at about 5am, a result of the jet lag and going to bed early I suppose. At around 7 am I got up, and checked email / updated status until we were supposed to begin our day at 8:30. Joe got up early as well, also due to jet lag, and turned on the water for tea, which was a great idea. We met in the lobby of the hotel at 8:30 with the resident assistant, who was going to show us to a class room to go over basic logistics. The class rooms were also on the far side of the campus from us, and takes a good 15 minutes to walk. the building was new, and appears to be a classroom building purely for international classes.

The head of the program appeared to be a lady named wang xiao mei. She went over the packets we had been given yesterday and explained what the program entailed. I has correctly assumed that it would be quite different from whatever orientation had dictated, and so was not disappointed by the changes. We were to take, as they had suggested at the pitzer orientation a total of 4 classes. A language class, a core class, and two DISPs, or independent studies. The core class consisted of one afternoon lecture a week, along with cultural activities. The Chinese class meets for 2 hours 5 days a week, the same as my class before in shanghai, but has an additional two hours of one-on-one time each week with a tutor. The DISPs are either a research project which results in a final paper, a film project (that is, the old media studies form I assume), an internship which none of us qualified for since we hadn’t expressed interest earlier so they could set it up, or an apprenticeship in the arts (taichi, opera, etc.).

The rest of the orientation was pretty standard, telling us not to do anything dangerous, and laying out what was expected. There were only a couple of surprises from what I was expecting. First, the language classes are taught specifically for the pitzer program, not with all of the foreign students at beijing daxue. They were saying they were expecting to have 3-4 classes for the 11 of us. Secondly, we will be moving into on-campus dorms after the olympics finish. We will be getting two room suites for each pair of students, which seems quite reasonable. Finally, they gave us all paralympic tickets for saturday in the birds nest. I’ll be watching some of the finals for track and field with half the class, the other half got morning tickets which involves other events. That’ll be fun, given the circumstances.

Afterwards, they took us across the street to show us the main pitzer office, which is where we will ask questions and do various administrative tasks. It’s a small 2 room affair in a large run-down building. The building appears to be partially dorm rooms for foreign students, partially an international student cafeteria, and partially offices.

They had various tasks for us to preform one-on-one, but I went with three other students and one of the assistants to lunch first. We walked through a portion of the campus I hadn’t been to before, further exemplifying the true size of the place. We walked past a large cafeteria that the assistant dismissed as too expensive, past a tent full of soup heaters for incoming students, to a long line of specialized cafeterias. Each cafeteria specialized in one type of food, and we went for dumplings, passing the noodle and hamburger buildings on the way. The dumplings were decent, and only 3.6 yuan for 二两 (which filled a bowl).

After finishing, we went back to the office, and the other group had finished being processed. We got our first meal stipend, $300 us (another $300 given at the half way point.) We can choose to either load the money onto our meal cards, which will be way more than we could ever expect to spend at 3 yuan / meal or use it at restaurants. We hung around and chatted with the director until one thirty when the afternoon activities started. (we here being me and sergio, who has studied in college for two years.) I asked if I could use one of my independent studies to take the equivalent of mudd’s analysis class. She said that would work fine, and asked me to forward the curriculum from the mudd course to her.

After lunch we got the campus tour in two parts. First from two of the helpers, our RA who is also one of the Chinese instructors (a research student) yu miao and a nice lady whose name alludes me at the moment, and then from the director. In the first part we walked a similar path as that for lunch, but continued past the dumpling building to the steamed bun building, the cheap fast food building, and then swung around past rows of new bikes for sale to the incoming freshmen. It turns our that the Chinese students will be arriving this Saturday, no wonder that it didn’t seem to be quite the mob I was expecting. (by that I mean that there are still huge numbers of people there all the time, and the streets were all packed, but you didn’t seem to be seeing period changes throughout the day.) We were shown the supermarket for the campus, which was located underground, and seemed to have a basic selection of most things. I asked what I should do about my iPhone, and was told that tomorrow we would go to one of the tech districts and I could ask about it there. We ended the engagement at the bank, where we exchanged our 300 us meal stipends for Chinese cash (a slight bit over 2000 rmb).

This trip I suppose deserves a special mention. An automatic teller at the door to the bank let us pick our service so that we could wait for a teller, we chose exchange of money. The first girl in got picked pretty quickly, and it quickly became clear that the process was not quite as quick as we had hoped. the helper went over and mediated, but it took a good 15 minutes and two forms, one for exchange of currency and another for foreign transactions to finish. The rest of us decided that in the interest of change we’d have the second girl, sarah, deal with all of the rest of our money and then split the rmb, so she changed $1200, and then we split the result.

We then went with the director, who showed us the dorm we will be moving into. It’s next to the program office, and looks to be in much the same state, but has been there longer with Ivy growing all over it. It has air conditioning, but not heating. On the other side of it there turned out the be a huge garden, along with a pond. the pond was full of wonderful green lily pads, and Ms. Wang explained to us the history of the college. The location was originally just south of the emperors summer palace, and was used as the gardens of diplomats that were of high rank. Many of the ponds and landscaping features are still remnants of those gardens. The college buildings were first developed in the 1920s as an english christian university. It was eventually turned into beijing daxue which had previously been located near the center of the city. she pointed out remnants of the summer palace, as we walked around a nice lake to the pagoda we had walked to last night. We then walked past the library, which is quite majestic, on our way back to the dorm.

The final academic part of the day was language placement tests. I waited with joe and sarah, since our time slots were next to each other, and Sarah had brought the index to the integrated chinese textbook, so we quickly went over the various grammar patterns from last year.

The test didn’t go badly, I was able to answer pretty much all of the questions they asked me, and they seemed happy with my reading comprehension. Afterward I went back to the dorm to take a quick shower. Christine, the room next to mine couldn’t get her internet to work, which seemed strange since it had worked for me that morning, but my initial fiddling didn’t reveal anything wrong with her computer. There wasn’t a ton of time though and the group headed back to the academic building to meet with our professors for dinner.

We were slightly late, but it wasn’t a problem because it was just the pitzer group going, and not all of the international students as I had initially interpreted their meaning. We were all there except for steven, a pitzer student, he showed up a minute later on the back of a bike peddled by a guy in an Olympic volunteer shirt. I’m still not entirely sure how he managed to convince the guy to bike him over to us. On the way over Ms. Wang told me that I seemed much more confident in my speaking and quite above the other students at the second year. She wanted me to start out attending both the second year, and the third year classes to see if I could do ok at the third year. I agreed readily, the third year class consisted entirely of sergio at this point, so it might end up just being the two of us, and even if we’re at somewhat different levels, I’m guessing they can be fairly flexible and make it work. I made a mental note to email pomona, figure out their curriculum for this semester, and email that to Ms. wang as my goal for the semester.

We went to yet another building on campus, this one an upscale restaurant. the meal had probably 15 courses. Notably was jelly fish, which was quite good, and I don’t think I’ve had before, also short ribs which is apparently a Mongolian specialty.

The price was 400 for a table of about 8 of us (there were 2 tables), which really wasn’t that bad at all, considering the amount of food we were given.

On the way back to our dorm, joe and one of the pitzer guys whose name alludes me wanted to get some beer, and I offered to take them to the market down the road, since I wanted to take a walk after the large meal. The walk was quite nice, since it had finally cooled down after another warm day. The supermarket, the same one as I went to yesterday, had a second level. They sold normal beer, along with baijiu, the white wine, but any other forms of alcohol were sold only in gift boxes to be used as presents. The two guys were somewhat disappointed, but rallied well.

Back in the dorm, two of the pitzer girls joined us and we chatted for a while in one of the rooms. Pitzer’s stereotypes were mostly confirmed in my mind, but that’s another matter. I excused myself after one drink to deal with the various emails I had accumulated throughout the day. I came back to my room and plugged into the network only to find that the internet was down.

It turned out that the router was using the default password, and so after logging in and restarting it, things started working again. (and boosted my confidence in my self sufficiency.) I sent emails to pomona and to the director with my intended math curriculum, and then dealt with photos and with this. We meet at 9am tomorrow to tour the city, and apparently go to a tech area that can deal with my iphone.

There have been plenty of opportunities to buy sims, but I want to stop and spend some time talking and figuring out what plan makes sense to get before I just buy a random sim for phone use.

September 10th – Arrival

I was dropped off at SeaTak at 7 am for my 9 am flight. The Air Canada check in was lumped with united, meaning that there was a long, unorganized or coordinated line to check bags. After reaching the front of the queue I was forced to scan my passport to login, the confirmation number was no longer enough. Security was the same, with the exception that they now require all ‘electronics’ to be taken out of your bag and placed separately. I took my camera out as well as my laptop. I don’t think the TSA lady would have cared either way.

The Jazz flight up to Vancouver was uneventful, I read the next several chapters of the China Candid required reading while onboard. The Vancouver airport is as strangely laid out as ever, you walk across the entire airport to get from international arrivals to international transfers, and then all the way back to get to the departure gate. They only had one lady processing international transfers, and quite a line had queued up, but in the spirit of the Olympics the queue was setup to wind through an elaborate mountain panorama of lakes, waterfalls, and a log bridge.

While waiting for the main flight, I ran into two other kids in the same program: Matt from pitzer who hasn’t had any chinese, and Joe from Oberlin who’s had a year. We were seated in vaguely the same area of the plane, but didn’t feel much need to converse during the flight. Air canada has upgraded the plane in the last four years. The first class cabin was turned into individual pods that were capable of being either work stations or almost beds. For the rest of us there were on-demand seat-back movies, and us power outlets on the back of most of the headrests. I took the opportunity to listen to music off of my computer for the entire flight, while finishing the chinese book, and getting a fair way through hitch hikers guide. They brought us 3 means, which was a lot of food, but overall a very pleasant trip.

Getting off the plane, beijing hits you with it’s muggy air. Even on the way down I was glancing despairingly at the smog out the windows, and it didn’t disappoint. Customs was a joke compared to four years ago. Maybe it was because they separated chinese natives from foreigners, and maybe it’s because the para-Olympics are still in full swing but we arrived at a scene of desolation. There was a vast line of customs counters, each with a staffer, and no line to speak of. The entrance was a formality, they stamped the visa, and then asked you to press a button in front of their desk for how good their service was.

At the baggage claim we met a girl from swarthmore who was also on the pitzer program. We waited for bags together, and then the four of us left baggage claim into the waiting area of the airport. A lady was there to meet us, I’m not quite sure of her official function, as I’m not sure of the official posts of many of the people we met this evening, but she was our escort to our dorms. She was somewhat flustered by the new airport, taking us first to the taxi loading area, and then attempting to take us to the as-of-yet nonexistent level two of parking when the driver found us and took us to his van.

Driving in china can never be done justice to, and this trip was no exception. we were in one of the standard issue vans, and drove from the airport to our temporary dorm while the Olympics are running (for the next week). One of the immediate effects that is seen is that the left lane on all major roads has been painted with the Olympic circles, and only official cars are allowed to use it. that means the highways are narrowed in many cases to two lanes, which made for a fairly slow entry to the city. Once in beijing proper the customary negligence of traffic laws was followed to full effect, although almost the whole drive in was through an area clearly developed in the last year in preparation for the Olympics.

Our “dorm” is a actually a hotel, about a block away from the east gate (东门) of Beijing university. It appears to have been built specifically for the Olympics and to have been some sort of government made place for the foreign competitors (a mini Olympic village if you will.) The rooms are hotel rooms, not a typical dorm room, with a small desk and a coffee table and are not great for unpacking or the like. However, they do have some nifty features, the doors unlock by waving your key at them, and to use the power in the room you must leave your key in a holder by the door.

I’m sharing my room with Joe, he’s a nice guy.

Checking was confusing, probably more so to our hosts than to us. We were greeted by two additional members of our teaching staff, the assistant director, who’s name escapes me at the moment, and our RA / English assistant who’s name is Yu Miao. They checked us in at the hotel, asking me to pay a 200 yuan security deposit, which I refused on the basis that they had just driven me from the airport and I didn’t have any money yet. They gave us info packets, student ID, meal ID, room IDs, and then had janitors escort us to our rooms.

After additional chatting with Yu Miao, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. A bit vague in his directions, but otherwise alright. We were told to gather at 6 for dinner.

At 6 a bunch of people I hadn’t met appeared as well as those I had previously met, for 8 in total (5 guys 3 girls, the other two guys had been in beijing for the last two weeks, and the two girls had gotten in on earlier flights.) So far only three of people went to pitzer.

We walked over to the main cafeteria, Yu was right in that it was about five minutes “that way”, and then a left and then another 5 minute walk. I got a small dish of eggs with pork and mushrooms which was quite pleasant. we get what appears to be a 40$ / day food subsidy, and must enter a password if we spend more than 15$ at a time. The cafeteria we went to didn’t seem to have anything more expensive than 10$

After dinner, Yu headed back to the dorm to meet a late comer, and the rest of us decided to go for a walk. One of the guys who had been in beijing for a couple weeks wanted to walk to a pagoda on the northern edge of the campus and proceeded to lead us straight west. After a fairly long traversal of the campus, and navigation of a small lake we arrived at the pagoda which conveniently was not illuminated at night. I wanted to stop somewhere to pick up a towel and a toothbrush, and so we headed back towards our dorm, and past them with a few folks heading to bed (it was 8pm, but a long travel day). A few blocks beyond was a market that the other early arrival recommended to me. He seems like a good guy, although again his name escapes my memory. The mall was much different from much of what I’ve seen in the past. The full floor was owned by one company, and worked very much like a department store in america. Baskets, checkout counters, fixed prices, even credit cards were accepted. I got a towel, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, and toothpaste for about $10 us, and we headed back to the dorm. I took a quick shower and checked the web before bed.

Tomorrow looks like another orientation day, I forgot to get a razor, so I’ll try and do that. I also need to get my phone working, I’m sure somewhere around here sells sim cards and can help me.


Created an account with skype, since I’ve completely blanked on what my old one was. My new username is There’s a status widget to contact me on the contact page to check if I’m online with either google or skype.

China Checklist


* Passport
* Clothes – enough for a couple weeks
* Laptop + cords
* Scanner
* pocket knife
* notebooks
* Camera + charger
* Book for the plane
* Books for research
* Cellphone
* Dictionary
* Gifts & Toys (Frisbee, maybe some mcPhee stuff)
* Contact Lenses


* Toiletries (incl. Towel)
* Subway Card
* Additional cold-weather clothing
* Cellphone SIM
* Shoes, Sandals
* Suit
* (Possibly) Speakers


10 – 12: Arrival

I arrived at 10:20, and got in line behind the Rockstar stage. I was probably a couple hundred people back, but in contrast to the size of the line I was near the front. The line moved very quickly at 11, with a bunch of volunteers scanning tickets. Got in, got my hand stamped for re-entry, got a main stage ticket, and picked up my kexp session ticket.

12 – 2: Film Festival

Got to the SIFF festival, and it was completely deserted. They started with 20 or 30 people in the theater for the 12 o’ clock session. The first movie, about a dancer considering an abortion was quite well filmed, but the second was a disappointment and lacked any real story. The three films in the second hour were all really good.

2 – 3: Mark Pickerel, Lunch

Left the film festival to go get something to eat. There was a long line I passed to get into the 2-3 session, which was somewhat surprising. Sat on the lawn while eating lunch and listened to Mark Pickerel. (R&B, with a sizable crowd of mostly families and older folks.)

3 – 3:20: Monotonix

Decided that I’d try and get to the exhibition hall early for dan deacon, since it was already open for the earlier band. I got in a few minutes before the show started, and got right in front of the sound station. I was lucky because it meant I could sit on a railing and see over most people’s head and catch a glimpse of the band every once in a while (they were playing on the floor, and so only the people right around them could actually see them.) They got cut off after a couple songs because they were being too dangerous, which was probably a good decision. The only other notable feature of the band was that their singer had a very strong resemblance to frank zappa.

3:40 – 5:30: Dan Deacon

Definitely the highlight of the day (and the reason I came). I wandered around after the other concert got shut down, listened to some langhorn slim, and the end of the physics, and then got in line for the exhibition hall. I was probably 20 or 30 back in line, and was one person away from the table. Shortly after the doors opened Dan came in with a plastic bowl of almonds, presumably from the VIP area backstage, and passed it around. The show had a lot of energy, and he did a good job of giving people things to do besides mobbing him. (namely dance offs, relay races, and conga lines) It was a lot of fun, and good music.

5:30 – 6:00: Black Eyes and Bow Ties

Rushed over to this (at the other side of the center) when the previous event let out. The band had just started, but there was no line, the ticket lady was happy to let me in, and there were plenty of empty seats. The lack of people was probably due to the very, shall we say, loud nature of the band; since the people invited were mostly kexp donors (an older age group and probably not this bands target audience). It was a nice place to sit and relax from the deacon concert, and had a much more relaxed feeling than the other venues.

6:00 – 8:00: John Vanderslice

Quite good, hadn’t heard of them before. Went over to the stage to wait for the battles, since there wasn’t anything I particularly wanted to see until then, and the kexp session was shorter than I’d expected. Ran down to the exhibition hall first to pick up an Ultimate Reality dvd, since I hadn’t had time to get a Deacon t shirt earlier and the booth was already mostly replaced with flobot merchandise.

Then I got a a nasty headache and went home, rather than suffer through the remaining few hours to wait in lines and see death cab.

Overall a great day.

Add My Location in 4 Lines

I’ve started using twitter as a very easy way to update this site, and since it integrates well with my iPhone I wanted to show off another cool feature. [Twitterific]( Provides a feature to change your twitter location to that of your iphone. From this base, it becomes very easy to add a map showing your location.


  • iPhone with twitterific
  • Twitter Account
  • Google Maps API Key ([free here](

See the Full Script

Line one:

$status = simplexml_load_file(“[userid].xml”);

where [userid] is your twitter userid.
This Line downloads and parses your recent tweets. The xml format serialized by twitter also includes your current location

Line two:

$loc = str_replace(“iPhone: “,””,$status->status[0]->user->location);

This line extracts the location coordinates from the twitter response.

Line three:

$map = “”.$loc.

where [key] is your google maps api key.
This is where you can fiddle around with the map to display. Google has an interactive [wizard]( to let you configure your options.

Line four:


this line saves the map locally, so you can serve it from your own server and keep it cached. Additionally you can add overlays or manipulate the image before saving.

Some examples of what’s possible:

![Example 1](/twitterloc/example1.gif)
![Example 2](/twitterloc/example2.gif)

Project Ideas

* IMDB API (Using SOAP). The only existing allows searching only a fraction of the database.
* Songbird interfaced Web-Based Music Library. Allowing for quick access to a remote library, with support. Need to allow for playlists as the cake-icing.
* Smart Ubiquity plugins for music and movie titles (the challenge is in natural language processing to determine what is a title)
* Decent Course Scheduling Application. (to be useful, a significant amount of natural language is needed here to spider and parse a college catalog, which will vary in format, be password protected, and span multiple pages.)