All posts by Will

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.)

New Blog

In preparation for my upcoming travels, I am reviving this blog using a new interface which will actively combine many of my online presences. If all goes well, I’ll be quite happy.