Maria Holland

One Shade of Gray

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2015 at 10:13 am

The air today was “heavily polluted” (AQI of 233) with 139 µg/m3 of PM2.5, the smallest and most harmful particles.  (For context, the daily limit allowable in the US is 35µg/m3.)  Some of the other EAPSI students didn’t even bring face masks to China (I guess they like to live dangerously?) but I brought several and am wearing them on my walk to Tsinghua.  My lungs don’t need another reason to act up.  

The walk today was more pleasant in the cooler morning weather, wearing more comfortable shoes, and going directly to my office.  But a 3.5km walk is still a 3.5km walk.  And by cooler weather, I mean that it was still 80.  

I was shown my desk and spent the morning settling in and working on my introduction presentation.  Mostly settling in, though.  They’ve given me a Windows 8 computer, and it’s mostly in Chinese.  The internet situation is also extremely interesting at work.  On the one hand, Google is somehow unblocked!  And it’s all quite fast!  

On the other hand, I have to sign into Tsinghua’s internal network, and we’re limited to 20GB per month.  I’ve never seen wireless internet rationed like this – dialup used to be priced by the minute back in the day, and I know some hotels charge different prices for different speeds, but never by the GB.  I work entirely on a computer and, back at Stanford, on a remote server, so the idea of rationing data is unthinkable to me.  Here, the main program I use is installed on the Windows machine that I’ll be using, so it might be okay.  Well, except I’m using someone else’s account and when I first logged on today, halfway through the month, they’d already used 18.5 of the allotted 20GB.  So, this could get interesting.

While preparing my intro presentation, I wanted to introduce EAPSI, the program that brought me here.  I started to list the 7 host countries where students are working this summer . . . then deleted a few words and changed it to “7 host locations”.  At the pre-departure orientation they told us that NSF refers to host locations instead of countries because both China and Taiwan are included in the seven.  I laughed at the time and rolled my eyes, but I know from experience how touchy the topic is, and I do not want to get into an extended discussion of Taiwan Province at lab meeting on Friday.  So, host locations it is.  Thanks, NSF, for preparing me for this!

My new labmates seem nice.  I guess word spread through the group from the one girl (WeiHua) who took me to the gate yesterday, because a few of them kind of knew my name and at least one knew that I had studied at XiaDa.  We all went to lunch together and they all walked with me because I didn’t have a bike and paid for my lunch because I didn’t have my lunch card yet.  They all spoke a bit of English with me, but once I said a few full sentences they seemed to just throw in the towel and fall back to Chinese.  

Even after they got done freaking out about how good my Chinese is (reminder: the bar is set very low), I surprised one guy again by asking if he was a southerner.  Yes, accents are generally a slightly advanced skill (I remember a time when I couldn’t tell Chinese from Korean, much less distinguish accents) but this one is not that hard.  Southerners speak very sibilantly, turning ‘sh’ into ’s’, and I did live in the south for a year.  It’s also a big region, not like I picked out his exact province or anything.  But he was amazed!  

Over lunch, we talked a bit about grad student life in China and America.  I asked what their plans are for this weekend, which is a there-day for the Dragon Boat Festival.  They confirmed that we get the day off, but basically told me they’ll all go in to work yesterday.  One of the students told me he usually works 9am to 11:30pm, to which I did one of those “I’m sorry, I must have forgotten basic Chinese numbers and time-telling, could you try that again?” things.  The schedule sounds similar on the weekends, too.  My Chinese residents back at Stanford make a whole lot more sense now.  

In the afternoon, WeiHua took me to get my cafeteria card.  Doing things like this (办事) is like a scavenger hunt, where you go to many different locations and they give you a red stamp and tell you the next place to go.  We first printed a letter, then got Prof. Feng to sign it, then 谢伟华 converted that into a letter of invitation.  Then we went to some building to get a red stamp and be told that I can’t use my card between 11:45am and 12:30 because I don’t live on campus.  And then we went to the cafeteria card building, where we got the card.  And then we went to another desk in the same building to put money on the card.  

Tomorrow I still have to get my student card, my building card, and an internet account of my own.  More scavenger hunts!  

Before I left for China, a friend told me to listen to the most recent This American Life episode, about Americans living in China.  My favorite part was when one of the speakers said that the measure word for foreigners is a “hassle”.  It’s very true, and although I’m probably only conscious of about half of the inconvenience I strew about me, even that’s a lot.  I asked Cheng a question about getting my own internet account, and she picked up her phone to make some phone calls.  Five minutes later, I overheard, “but before I called here, I called there. . . “.  Some of that is general Chinese bureacratic inconvenience, but a lot of it is probably me, this foreign visitor who is not a Tsinghua student.  A hassle of foreigners, indeed.

I walked home the long way again, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  I got some pictures of the “main building” (literally its name) and the east entrance.

IMG 2158

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On the way home, it started to rain.  It’s wierd, though, because you really can’t see the rain against the solid gray backdrop.  This was the view out of my office when it was sunny:

IMG 2156

and this was on the walk home as it rained:

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It’s so monotonous.  This is the only context in which I would say that I would love to see fifty shades of gray.  

  1. Wow, everything looks so green! Well, where it’s not gray.

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