Maria Holland

First Day at Tsinghua

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2015 at 10:06 am

I had breakfast with some EAPSI students, and one of them told us the story of his extreme Traveler’s Diarrhea, which was probably actually food poisoning.  He went to the hospital and nearly passed out; they couldn’t even measure his blood pressure.  The most interesting thing was that he said he got it from “street food”, and then corrected himself, saying that they went in off the street but it was kind of a shithole.  Then he described it . . . and it was the place with the big red picture menus, the place where we got the delicious wood ear mushrooms.  To me, that was a nice restaurant . . . I guess everything is relative!  Also, my two favorite restaurants so far are where one guy got food poisoning and where we got slipped a fake 100 :(

My advisor didn’t want to meet until 4, but the other Tsinghua Maria was supposed to be at work at 2:30.  We set off together around noon, rehearsing the walk to her lab.  We went through the main gate of Tsinghua University and then took an unexpectedly scenic tour of part of campus, looking for her building.  We parted ways there, and I set off on my lonely trek to 蒙民伟科技楼 where I’ll be working.  It’s kind of on the outskirts of campus.  By the time I got there, I was exhausted.  I’d walked about five miles in 90+ weather, most of it wearing a face mask (which makes drinking prohibitively difficult), and my shoes were apparently not broken in properly so I had blisters :(  I need to get bike . . . 

At 4, I met Prof. Feng and Prof. Li in Feng’s office.  It was a short meeting, mostly figuring out all the things they have to help me apply for (building card, cafeteria card, student card, internet access).  Then they  took me on a tour of the department.  We saw two student offices, where he introduced me, and several labs.  It was all quite impressive, with things ranging from a decent-sized tensile machine to an AFM setup, plus cell culture capabilities.  My favorite part was the machine doing tensile testing on spider silk.  I didn’t realize they even did their own experiments, honestly; we usually collaborate with experimentalists and do the simulations ourselves.

When we were done, they had a student take me to the nearest gate.  As we walked out of the building, I asked her her name, in Chinese.  你叫什么名字? This is first-day-of-Chinese-1 stuff, people, the sentence you learn after “Hello, my name is __”.  But she jumped and looked like she’d seen a ghost.  

This sort of story is where the term “talking muffin” comes from.  There’s a joke: Two muffins are in the oven.  One muffin says to the other, “Man, it’s hot in here!” and the oher muffin goes, “Whoa!  It’s a talking muffin!”.  That’s how I feel sometimes.  I’m just making conversation, and they’re freaking out because they didn’t think I could talk.  Anyway, it turns out not everyone in Beijing is so over Chinese-speaking foreigners.  

We rode on her moped, which was slightly terrifying as I am about a foot taller and waaay heavier than her.  I was quite impressed by her ability to handle that, as evidenced by us not dying.  Once at the gate, I took a taxi.  Yeah, this can’t be an everyday thing but today was exhausting.  It was totally worth the 17元; no regrets.

I showered and a bit later went to dinner with a few other EAPSI students (at the fake 100 place).  We had the things we’d had before, plus a few new dishes.  One of them was . . . twigs?  I don’t know else to describe them.

Dinner conversation was interesting, because someone pointed out that the three people in our group with Chinese experience (including me) are religious.  One guy is Mormon and the other apparently trained to be a Lutheran minister.  So we had a discussion about religion in China; I was interested to hear about their experiences because I go to the patriotic church, but there isn’t a state-sanctioned Mormon church.  The five recognized religions in China are Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam; with that recognition comes simultaneously more restrictions (a lot of watching, I think, with repercussions, plus the whole appointing-bishops thing) and more freedom (Chinese and foreigners can worship together).  The Mormon said he has to present a passport to go to his church, and they have to clear out before the Chinese nationals go in.

Back at the hotel, I spent a while helping some of the other EAPSI students with tasks that required some Chinese language skills.  The biggest challenge was calling a taxi for 4:30am.  This required a phone call in Chinese, which is always intimidating to me.  (First I pressed the button for English service, figuring I’d take the easy way out, but when I actually spoke English with the woman who answered, she just hung up on me.)  A half hour later, when I was supposed to get a confirmation phone call, I instead got a text saying that no one wanted to accept the ride, sorry.  So I guess he’s walking . . . 

Final note for today: I took another EAPSI girl to get our hair washed a few days ago, and the guy tried to hard sell me into doing this treatment for dry hair.  When I refused, he got all passive-agressive about it with me.  He asked if my hair was easy to comb after the shower, and I said yes.  “No, it’s not,” he responded.  Later, she and I were talking and we realized they hadn’t used conditioner.  No wonder it was hard to comb – there’s a product out there that is literally designed to fix this problem, and they didn’t use it.  But for a few days afterwards, I found myself struggling with my hair and wondering if it had, indeed, always been hard to comb?  So yesterday I bought Pantene conditioner, not the Chinese brand that the woman at the supermarket pressured me into buying, and today my hair feels great again.  I don’t know if Chinese hair is different or if Chinese conditioner is just terrible?  It’s still not as bad as that lotion I bought here once that made my skin feel like it was burning, but what good is conditioner that doesn’t condition?

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