September 17 – Moving

Got up at 7 again this morning. Took my backpack down to the hotel lobby, as the program had arranged to move our large bags for us. I took my two smaller bags with me and walked over to the classroom. (I was a bit early, and got there at about 7:45 for an 8:00 am class). The weirdness I had noticed earlier with white barricades along the roads was even more evident as a I walked through. There was no security I had to pass through to get on campus, but that might had just been luck. (normally you have to show your id card to open the closed campus of 50000 people.) Prof Zhang came in right at 8, and said that sergio would probably be late because everything was blocked off for the marathon that was going through campus. I guess shortly after I walked over, the holes in the gate got closed and everyone got told to find another way in, because the main road through campus was only for the marathon runners.

Sergio showed up about 15 minutes late, we had our dictation, and then went through another 20 or 30 new words for the rest of class. Mostly having to do with banking and phone calls.

After class, we gave Prof. Zhang our passports and a room deposit. I hung around the office for a little bit, not entirely sure what to do, but talking with steven, sarah, and alice discovered that they were heading out to buy bikes. I joined them and we walked to a market to the north west of campus with steven’s tutor. In a back alley we found a bike show that the tutor knew of, and found four bikes in working condition. They cost 100/bike, which isn’t that bad, and my bike works and feels like it’s worth about $15 usd. The brakes aren’t like anything I’ve seen in the US, but the tutor was happy to see them, saying they were much stronger than the typical brakes. (this is the mechanism not the actual brakes which are still pads against the wheel rim.) The difference is that rather than a wire that gets pulled, there are actually solid metal rods that move to apply pressure.

I got the bike, the others spent a long time finding bikes, and trying to get the bikes adjusted properly, I sort of figured that my bike felt comfortable enough and for the time I’ll be using it I don’t really need to worry about the exact seat height. I rode back, the bike didn’t break at all, so that was good.

I biked over to the lake and did the first bit of my chinese homework for the day, came back at about 2:10 and there was a sign on the office saying that we could move in at 2:30. So I biked around campus for 20 minutes. I actually like the bike reasonably well. The chain came off once, and was annoying to put back on, since there’s a chain guard that makes it hard to reach. The bike itself is very well shocked, and managed to go over the quite rough streets without too much efforts. It’s also very heavy, which means that it can coast for quite a while on the downhills.

I got back at 2:30, got my key, and moved to my room. The room is a suite, with a large room, a small room, and a bathroom. I guess it’s supposed to be shared by three people. I took the small room, which had a desk and a dresser in it. The big room had two beds and a TV, but really didn’t have any other furniture in it. I unpacked in about an hour, and then discovered that there wasn’t internet.

There were several wireless networks, but only one was open, and it didn’t do anything when I connected. Additionally when I plugged into the ethernet port in my room I got a ‘network is unplugged error’, meaning that something was very wrong with that connection. (other people didn’t get that error, and while they also weren’t getting internet because you apparently have to pay for it, at least it felt like if they paid for it they could get it enabled.)

I took a crack at cracking one of the WEP networks, and did so successfully in about 15 minutes. The problem was that once connected There were no other computers on the network, and it itself wasn’t connected to the internet and hence was a false leed. I started taking packets for the other network nearby but it was WPA encryption, and I didn’t have much hope of getting a key for it. (WEP is broken, WPA is still pretty secure)

in the meantime I walked with steven and sarah and matt over to a cafeteria I’d never been to to get dinner. I got pork and greenbeans, which were very tasty, and some sort of cake like thing for dessert that was also really good. After dinner I came back, wrote my essay for tomorrow, and then fiddled around trying to get the internet to work. Eventually I found that the open network was connected to the main PKU internet, and so I spoofed my mac address to one of the ones I’d seen earlier (actually, one of the ones connected to the closed network I’d entered), and was suddenly able to connect. There’s just one but, and it was pretty big. That but is that I can only connect to .cn domains, and to google. My blog doesn’t work, my music doesn’t work, mudd’s website doesn’t work, it seems that anything that isn’t in china doesn’t work.

After spending lots of time doing google searches and trying to find information in the 1 line snippit of the results that I was allowed to read, I found google’s mobile proxy, and have been using that for this post. It’s official purpose is to reformat websites for mobile devices, but it also allows you to access US based pages despite the weird PKU filter.

I’m going to spend some more time studying characters, as the ones from today aren’t fully in my head yet.

Oh, I forgot to put this in: I met with my math tutor today. One of the tutors (the one who’s an EE major) knew the guy that TA’d for the PKU real analysis class last semester. We met briefly in Prof. Wang’s office, and he seems quite nice. We’ll meet every wednesday in my dorm room at 3:40 to discuss my problem set for the week, and answer questions I have. I can also send him emails if I have questions on things. I’ve finished the first week’s problem set without problem, and am starting on reading lecture notes towards the second one.

I’ll post a picture of my Bike soon, assuming I can bend the internet to my will for a bit longer.

September 16 – Classes Continue

Woke Up at 7am again for chinese class. my notebook situation worked out quite well, and class was good. I had no problems keeping up with the new words today, and seem to be handling the material reasonably. There’s a dictation quiz tomorrow, but I don’t expect it to be that bad yet.

After class I was quite tired, and walked back to the room to take a nap in the early afternoon. I managed to transcribe all of the characters from class onto a new sheet, which is my plan for the semester before napping though.

I got up for a slightly late lunch, and went over to the baozi place for a couple pork baozi. I also reloaded my meal card with 100 kuai, which should keep it going for a while. I ate lunch with sarah and alice, and we spent most of the time discussing what we were planning on doing for our research projects. People seem pretty impressed that I’m doing a math disp, but the other things sound pretty interesting as well.

After lunch we walked over to the classroom, there was a DISP meeting at 2, where we would all present and talk about first our experiences on the scavenger hunt, and then what we were hoping to do for our disps.

I helped Prof. zhang set up a laptop and projector in the conference room for a while before everyone came in. Prof. wang mentioned that they were looking for a graduate student to work with me on my math disp, but the concept didn’t translate exactly and they might end up going with a math professor.

The scavenger hunts were pretty much as expected. They also did a good job of highlighting some of the culture aspects, although probably not for everyone. One group got suckered into buying art from an “art student” and spent $150 per painting. They felt they had gotten a good deal since they had bargained down from $200. Some of the tutors looked amazed, which they took to be a good sign, when in fact the surprise came from the things only being worth $30 or so. My group was funny, they felt that the highlight had been the hutong and the conversation we had with a few guys. I thought the hutong we went to was actually pretty boring. It certainly wasn’t well known, as none of the tutors had ever heard of it. The conversation wasn’t that exciting, and since neither of them spoke any Chinese, I don’t know how it could have left that much of an impression on them, but so be it. They had also put together a power point. I hadn’t helped them saying it was completely uncalled for, and I remain convinced that you could have talked much more eloquently without needing to show random pictures. However all the groups used PowerPoint, even the ones that had to show theirs on small laptops screens because they didn’t bring adapters for the projector.

the disps were interesting. A lot of people want to learn instruments, which is apparently worth credit. Others want to learn cooking, or make documentaries. My math class is probably way more work than any of the other things that are being proposed, but will be a bit more personally fulfilling to me. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but the basic outline is this: I’m going to do the homeworks, read lecture notes and the book to fully take an equivalent to the mudd course. I’ll meet once a week with someone, (either grad. student or professor) once the program gets organized. In that session I’ll go over homeworks and questions I’ve had in the material, and also ask about how this sort of material is taught in china, and learn some of the vocabulary associated with it. When I get back to mudd in the spring, I’ll take the final associated with the class, and all things going as planned waive the class.

My second project will be something more standard. I want to look at intellectual property rights, probably surrounding movies. Take a look at distribution and the various methods, and how it varies between us and china. I’ve already got connections at KG, and it might be interesting to do some sorts of comparison between all of these various distribution models.

After the disp presentations it was basically time to do taiji again. I stopped by a store and got a bottle of water on the way over. Taiji was better this time, although it’s still quite tiring. We cut class short a by 20 minutes or so because it was threatening to rain again.

I walked with steven and jeremy over to the cafeteria area afterward to get some dinner. It was starting to dribble and was very windy when we got there, so we purchased umbrellas and got jiaozi (pot stickers) to go. The cafeteria was pretty full, and a nice contrast to the blustery weather. There was a long line to get soups (wonton soup it looked like), but not that long of a line for potstickers. They seemed to only have one type, but that was fine with me, I got the same number as the first time I was there, two liang, however many that is, and asked for it to go. The server was embarrassed to give it to me to go, but eventually did. The problem was the cardboard boxes didn’t have a way to fasten, and wouldn’t stay closed. It wasn’t that big of a problem though in comparison to the fact that if you put wet dumplings into a thin cardboard box and then take it out into the rain it starts to loose shape pretty quickly.

The walk back was more windy than rainy, although it started to rain pretty good in the last couple blocks. I managed to get the dumplings back to my dorm safely though, and they tasted great; especially for 3 kuai.

I got back to the dorm at 6:30 or so, had dinner, and studied a bit more language stuff. I spent about an hour and finished my first week of math homework, and caught up on correspondences.

My last task this evening is to pack everything up, since we’re moving into our permanent dorms tomorrow.

September 15 – Classes Begin

Got up at 7 today, because classes started at 8. Walked over fairly leisurely, and got there a bit before class started. Prof. Wang was at the entrance of the building and directed me to my room up on the third floor. It’s quite a small room, but fits two students and a teacher without problems.

All told there were 5 of us, me and Sergio, the teacher, and our two language tutors who are going to be listening in for the first few classes to see what level we’re at.

Today was day one, and so we covered an aeronautical vocabulary. A lot of words, we basically spent the full two hours going through new words and doing short examples of how to use them. It was fun, but pretty intense.

Afterward, I went with the second year students to the bookstore outside of campus to see if they had notebooks. They did, but they were quite expensive so we headed back to campus and get them there. A couple kids got whiteboards from the bookstore though since we hadn’t seen them elsewhere. next to the bookstore was a bakery, and it had set up several milk crates full of moon cakes that were on sale (3 for $10). Sarah and Alice both got three moon cakes, Alice tried one of the ones she got, and it turned out to be fish flavored, which wasn’t what she had been expecting. I went into the bakery since I was hungry and got a pizza hot-dog. It was a hot dog, with a custom made bun, and topped with cheese and bell peppers, overall quite good. Steven got a bun covered in pork shavings which also looked okay.

The next stop was the bookstore on campus where I got three notebooks, as Prof. Zhang had asked us to. I got a report pad for writing down new characters, a spiral book for homework’s, and a normal notebook for writing down dictations.

After that Jeremy and Steven wanted to find the gym, so we walked over to the building we were told it was under. We weren’t able to get into the door that looked most promising, and after a bit of wandering around we got hungry and walked over to the nearby cafeteria. Alice wasn’t very happy about her food, because it seemed too mushy. I had, well, something. There were hot peppers, onions, and some sort of meet. The meet was chewy and sort of cylindrical and hollow, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence, since most parts of animals I know of don’t come in that shape. None the less it tasted pretty good.

After lunch I went back to my dorm. I was pretty tired and didn’t get a lot of studying done, but did transcribe all of the characters from today into a new notebook, and wrote a paragraph that was our homework.

At 3:45 I decided to take a walk before the taiji class that evening, and so headed over to the college again. There were white barriers on the sides of most of the roads, and it looked like they would shortly be blocked off from the campus proper to serve as channels for people heading towards the olympic stadium. I walked for a bit, got a bottle of tea at one of the stores on campus, and ended up at the meeting place a few minutes early.

The taiji instructor is a student at the college, and a member of the taiji club. The teachers were quite impressed by his faithfulness to rules, as he told us that the main movements weren’t worth teaching us because they required at least 10 years of preparation to do correctly.

Instead We spent an hour and a half doing essentially squats, the whole basis for taiji appears to be having the ability to move freely with your weight entirely on your heels. It was interesting work, but also quite tiring. The mosquitoes didn’t help either.

For dinner we went to the sichuanese cafeteria we’d been to earlier. I got a sweet-and-sour chicken and cucumber dish that wasn’t bad and a plate of fried noodles. Then I helped direct sergio to the place, since he had stopped to talk to people and then got lost.

After dinner we headed back to the dorms. I reviewed the new characters a couple more times, and sent in my mathematics research proposal.

I still need to deal with some basic housekeeping this evening, but I’m exhausted from the taiji, and expect to sleep well tonight.

September 14 – Mid Autumn Festival

Today was the last day of the orientation schedule, the morning was a scavenger hunt to get us feeling more comfortable with the city, and the afternoon was a picnic with our tutors in celebration of the mid autumn festival. (mm, moon cakes)

Last night I walked over to the room where most of the pitzer kids have been hanging out, and confirmed that I’d meet with the other two guys on my team at 8:30. I got down the the cafe on time, and they straggled in a bit later. I was the only one in our group that knew chinese, so they decided to rely on me for directions and communication. Eventually we got started, after they remembered they wanted to bring backpacks and cameras, and headed towards wudaoko. It was the same lightrail train that we’d gotten off at on the way back from the olympics. We caught a bus and took it two stops over rather than walking the whole way. I didn’t bother trying to read the schedule and just asked the driver if the bus went to wudaoko when it came to the stop, the second one did.

The bus wasn’t particularly crowded, which was nice, and the light rail also wasn’t a problem. I went to the counter rather than the automatic ticket vendor, and tried to buy a pass, but after getting what I wanted and understanding why I was trying to give her a $100 for a $2 ticket the lady said I’d have to go to the other side of the street for that, so I gave up and just got a single trip ticket.

The trip through the subway system was uneventful, though it’s a shame that there won’t be a stop right by us. I’m hopeful that once we relocate midway through this week and are on the other side of campus there will be a closer station.

We got off at the tiananmen station, and headed over to the main square. The only real upgrade from last time I’ve been there is that there are now security checkpoints at every entrance through the square, where you have to pass all of your bags through a metal detector.

The square was about the same as last time; tons of tourists, very hot. The edges were lined with intricate flower displays celebrating the olympics, and there was a 50 foot rotating paralympics sign placed in the middle next to one of the statues of toiling workers. We asked one of the guards when the flag raising ceremony would be tomorrow, and he replied 5:55 AM. (Flag raising ceremony incidentally is sheng qi yi shi). We headed south, to explore the hutongs next passing by mao’s mausoleum.

The Mausoleum was still active as ever, I’ve heard that it will have to close at some point because the body is actively deteriorating due to a botched job with the formaldehyde. The line was way longer than it was 4 years ago though, probably 5 wide and a good 4 hundred meters long.

We headed out of the square, and walked east for a few blocks until we saw a street that headed south into a hutong. The hutong we ended up in was somewhat disappointing to me, but cool in it’s own right. The road went a block, and then got much smaller, there were two pillers in the middle about one car length apart that were painted with stripes of black and yellow, and two temporary road blocks on either side of them. Beyond were high walls recently painted an industrial gray, but the street itself had a bunch of litter. It really looked like one of those ‘end of civilization’ lines commonly seen in post apocalyptic movies. We continued down a few blocks, and then took one of the alleys to get into the actual hutong part, and off of the road that had been cut through it. There was a small store, with three guys in front of it. I greeted them, and the younger guy who looked like the current proprietor didn’t have a particularly strong accent and I was able to understand him pretty well.

He asked where we were from and I told him we were americans studying at beida. We had a discussion on whether the united states or china was better, and decided that they both had their own pros and cons. He also pointed out that everyone has to say that their country was better, but overall they were both good. We parted with him inviting us to look around the hutong, he seemed like a very nice guy.

The hutong itself seemed to be on the way out. Many of the houses were now empty, and it wasn’t exactly bustling. After a bit of walking we found a small group of vendors that were putting together a market. There was a guy with some produce, and another with a bowl of live fish. Farther on were various pancakes (with leeks or corn) or steamed buns. At the other end was another small store. We bought some bottles of water, since the other two were thirsty, and I used the phone to call our teacher since she asked us to check in from the hutong.

I picked up a couple steamed buns on the way out of the hutong since I was getting hungry, and we walked out to the next major street.

We hailed a taxi cab, although to be fair he had already spotted us and gotten into the bike lane and I just had to acknowledge that we did indeed want a ride. He was from beijing, and drove way slower than the normal pace of traffic. It was a good thing that you paid based on distance rather than time, because he certainly wasn’t breaking any records. There wasn’t any particularly interesting conversation in the cab. Rebecca attempted to talk to him, but since she hasn’t had any chinese and was reading off of flash cards I’d have to interpret, and he’d answer.

We got off at the university east gate, and walked back to the hotel. Matt had forgotten his key, and so waited for his room mate to get back in my room, and read from one of our reading packets we’ve gotten in the last couple days.

I did a bit of math, and kept up with some emails.

At about 3 I took off for the classroom on the other side of the university to meet with the tutors. I handed in my health questionnaire, and then talked with the tutors for a few minutes until the rest of the kids arrived. We walked north to the summer palace ruins. The tutors are all really nice, and seem to be really smart. After getting into the park we found a deserted grass area and sat around to eat the moon cakes and snacks that had been brought. they had us do a little exercise where we acted out situations that showed cultural differences and then reflected on them, which was fairly silly. Afterward I we wandered around the park a little bit and then headed out.

We stopped to watch an older guy using a large brush with a sponge at the end to draw a large calligraphic character with water. As we continued out one of the tutors explained to me that it was a performance art. There isn’t any permanent result so the art has to be seen in the drawing as much as the resultant character. there are apparently clubs of guys that get together every day and work on their performances.

We got back to the hotel at about 6 pm, which felt really early, but there had been a lot of walking in the morning. I wrote up my formal proposal for doing a math class next semester. Then at about 8:30 I decided to take a walk, rather than spend the night in. My original destination was to a big bookstore on the other side of campus. I headed first towards the classrooms, and the supermarket next to them. That route passes a big field where taiji is practiced, and this evening it was full of small groups of people eating moon cakes and celebrating the holiday. As I was arriving at the supermarket the wind picked up a bunch and people started moving more purposefully. The whole time there was also lightning in the distance. It was far away, and the evening was nice.

I got a can of milk tea, which wasn’t bad at all, but exiting from the supermarket is started spitting, so I decided to head back rather than continue towards the bookstore. This was a good Idea, because by the time I got out of the campus the lighting was right overhead and it was pouring. I jogged the last few blocks, and ended up soaking by the time I was back at the hotel. I wrung out my clothes, and hopefully my shoes will dry out before tomorrow morning, and decided to call it a night.

I have my first chinese class tomorrow at 8 am, and I want to to an edit and then turn in my proposal for at least the math class by tomorrow as well.

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

Web Hacker