Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘pictures’

冠军! Champions!

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2015 at 10:53 am

I woke up at 5am this morning to watch the USWNT in the final of the Women’s World Cup.  Unfortunately, the game didn’t start until 7am – I had miscalculated the time difference (I think because the previous game was in a different time zone in Canada?  Or I’m just an idiot).  

I was too irritated at myself to fall back asleep, so I left the TV on CCTV5, the sports channel, and watched reruns of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Usain Bolt winning the 4×100 relay!), an interview with a doctor about reducing oil in your diet, and a ribbon dancing exercise program.

I had committed to helping a few days at an English summer camp for rising sophomores in the school of Aerospace Engineering, working on their technical English and presentation skills.  Today was the first day, and we were scheduled to talk about air pollution, so I did some reading while I waited for the game.  It was pretty depressing . . . a lot of really high numbers and pictures like this, which is just about the worst thing I have ever seen.  What have we done to this world?  

The good news about being up so early is that the internet is fast.  At Stanford, the internet is robust enough that I’ve never really sensed heavy traffic, but here at the hotel I am painfully aware of everyone’s else’s browsing/downloading habits.  It’s nearly unusable in the evenings, but mornings are at least not terrible.

The game finally started at 7.  At like 7:03, we got a corner kick and Carli Lloyd nailed a perfect shot into the goal, and I probably woke up my neighbors.  The next goal came so quickly afterwards that I’m not really sure what happened; I was just posting something on facebook about watching the game, which I quickly changed to reference last year’s Brazil-Germany World Cup semifinal.   Serious flashbacks to that day, that joy and that confusion – are they just replaying the same goals over and over, or are these happening live?  

One of my EAPSI friends showed up a few minutes later, and was massively disappointed that he’d “probably missed the only two goals of the game.”  Haha . . . not.  The third goal was the most ridiculous, a lob from just inside center field that somehow went in.  Jesse: “That’s gotta be demoralizing – I love it!”.  After that, we had to wait a few boring minutes before the fourth goal.  Jesse: “At least I got to see two goals.  Haha, who just says that about a soccer game?!”

The worst part about miscalculating the start time of the game was not the two missing hours of sleep, it was that I had committed to being at Tsinghua at 8:30, before the end of the game.  After the Japanese managed to get two past Hope, I was so annoyed at missing such an exciting game.  As it was, we scored again to bring it to 5-2 as I walked out the door, and I ended up getting to see all of the goals.  I was kept up to date via WeChat as I biked to Tsinghua, although nothing major happened.  We won!  Congratulations, team!  


This English summer camp got off to a rough start, because I am an idiot.  (Definitely a theme here.)  I had put the location information, building and room number, into my Google calendar, as is my habit.  But when I got to the building, whose name I had remembered, I had no way to look up the room number.  Nothing Google syncs to my phone, I couldn’t get the VPN to connect on mobile data, I didn’t have the login information for the internet account I’m going to use for the rest of the month, and my own internet account was out of money.  I was actually sitting on the steps outside the building when I learned that we won.  Ugh, what an idiot. 

The students all heard some opening remarks about the purpose of the camp and tips about making good presentations, I guess, and then I was able to get a hold of my contact and find my room.  I’m working with a Romanian Masters student who will be there for the whole two weeks, and we have 12 students.  We did introductions, asking each of them to say their name, their hometown, and what they like to do.  Lots of ping pong and badminton, but my favorite was the guy who said he like to read science fiction and that his favorite book was Ender’s Game :)

We have one guy in the class who is a real character.  We decided to go by English names if they have them, and this guy is named “Ancient”.  In his introduction, he gestured to the two people before him and said that “unlike them, my grades are very poor.”  He ended up being the most active participant in today’s group discussion, which was interesting because I don’t think his English is necessarily the best.  Unlike everyone else, though, he seemed reasonably at peace with the possibility that he was going to do or say something stupid, which in my experience is one of the best things you can do when learning a language.  

A few other conversational snapshots from the class:

  • on the topic of air pollution, I asked if anyone had seen 穹顶之下, or “Under the Dome”, the recent documentary about air pollution in China.  A few hands went up, and I asked them to tell me about it.  Ancient shrugged and said simply, “It tells the truth, so it is forbidden.”
  • when we were talking about biking (perhaps asking about helmet use?  or green transportation?  I don’t remember.), one guy started talking about a bunch of people riding bikes in Poland without clothes.  This was one of those situations where what I thought I heard was so strange that I didn’t dare assume that I had heard correctly.  I felt bad, because he actually spoke well enough but I asked him to clarify four or five times before repeating it back to him.  Yes, something about a naked bike ride in Poland.  
  • I tried to introduce the concept of negawatts, which completely failed, but first took us to a discussion of watts.  I kept saying the word “watt” and “kilowatt”, and my coteacher jumped in with “joules per second”, but we just got blank stares.  Finally, I went up to the board and wrote “1 J/s = 1 W” and everyone immediately “aaah”ed with understanding.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we were doing a summer camp to improve their technical English speaking skills.
  • They have to give presentations every other day on a science or technology topic of their choice.  While brainstorming ideas for these presentations, I said that they could talk about the science in some science fiction book or movie.  三体, for instance, I suggested (this is the Chinese science fiction novel I’m reading right now), and wrote it on the board.  I had told them that I speak Chinese, but maybe they didn’t expect me to be able to write, because they all flipped when I wrote those characters on the board.  Never mind that 三 is literally the third easiest character to write, and 体 was among the first 100 I learned as well.  I felt like the winner of America’s Got Talent or something.
I had lunch with my coteacher.  (He was surprised that I had gotten up so early to watch the game today.  I asked him, if the Romanian women were in the World Cup Final, would you watch it?  “But this is science fiction!”, he responded.)  He’s here writing his Masters thesis at Tsinghua and seems about ready to leave, although he doesn’t until September 1st.  He doesn’t speak Chinese, doesn’t like his project, and his labmates work 12 hour days 7 days a week and he has nothing really better to do than join them.  He remarked incredulously that he had a few friends who were studying Chinese at Peking University and that they love it here.  This made me realize how much different the life of a language student is than a graduate student.  I am so fortunate to have spent my first times in China the way I did, with so much freedom to learn Chinese in the way I wanted, and beautiful places to do it in.  I don’t think I would I have loved China if this had been our introduction, so I guess I can’t really blame him.  In an attempt to point out some good things, I said that China was cheap so it’s easy to “treat” yourself.  Except, apparently China is more expensive than Romania.  (He’s also getting gouged for student housing, paying 80元 per night.)  And he drinks coffee, which is an admittedly huge stumbling block that I just happen to not have.

When I went into work in the afternoon, I found that something must have been percolating in the back of my brain over the weekend, because a few more things made sense.  Eventually I found a minus sign that I’d misplaced, and successfully derived the Euler equations that I had struggled with last week.  Yay!!  

I rewarded myself with a break and went up to the top of the building to take a panorama on a mild pollution day.  According to different accounts, the AQI was either just above 100 (the point at which I generally wear a mask) or around 160 (on the low end of Unhealthy).  

100 East

It was far from the worst I’ve seen (which is over 300) and looked only drab, instead of desolate, but it took a little bit of conscious effort to find the mountains off in the west:

100 West 2

which had been so clear on the horizon last week:

Wed West

Over lunch, I told my coteacher that I think there’s something stifling, mentally and emotionally, about the gray Beijing sky and the way it shrinks your world down – lowers your eyes, restricts your gaze to the things near enough to be seen clearly.  There’s something aspirational and inspiring about looking up to the sky, I think.  Am I just being dramatic?  These pictures make me think not.  Today we’re missing the mountains for the smog; perhaps the forest and the trees as well.  I’m sure that there are long-term physical effects from this pollution, but I think there must be psychological effects as well. 

I stayed late at the office and got lunch with GuoYang and Zhao Yan.  I asked them for the name of 伟花’s “zhāngfu”, a question that was met with blank stares.  (Story of my day . . . )  I tried again: “zhángfu . . . zhāngfǔ . . . zhāngfù . . . “  Finally: “husband!”  “Aaaaaah, zhàngfu!”, they exclaimed.  Yes, that, of course that!  I allowed myself to complain to them a little bit – how was I supposed to get “lùchī” out of “nùchī” but they couldn’t figure out “zhàngfu!” from “zhāngfu”??  They all agreed that it was a bit unfair, but what can I do?  Tones are more important than consonants.  

I think I’ve been a little heavy on the “Chinese is hard” side of things recently.  I generally like to balance it out with some aspects of Chinese that are easy, so I told them that I have pity on students learning the English names for the days of the week and months of the year.  Neither of them could spell February or Wednesday – such horrible words those must be to learn, although I don’t personally remember what it was like.  They agreed, suggesting that English start calling months “Month Number One” and “Month Number Two” like they do in Chinese.  It would be nice, but again, what can I do?

Fate Is Like a Strange

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2015 at 10:58 am

Today I adventured to a new church for Mass.  I went to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wangfujing, also known as 东堂 or East Church.  I think that means that I win Beijing Catholic bingo – I’ve now been to the South, West, North, and East churches.

I went to the 4pm Mass because I was meeting friends afterwards.  Only as I walked up to the church did I remember that it was an English Mass.  I’ve generally avoided them (or, rather, not gone to any extra effort whatsoever) because after a few weeks I found that I caught as much or more of the Mass in Chinese than in English when spoken by a Chinese priest.

We had an Indian priest, though, which oddly makes me feel like I’m back in America?  Foreign priests are commonplace in the US; Tulsa was even a missionary diocese, to make our dependence on international priests explicit.

We did several of the Mass parts in Latin chant.  I’ve always treasured the time I spent with one of our priests at the Newman Center in Tulsa learning Gregorian Chant, including the entire Missa de Angelis, and it has served me well.  (Speaking of, that was an option at karaoke yesterday.  Along with the Regina Caeli.  Odd?)  And in my capacity as choir director at the Newman Center, I advocated for at least a basic familiarity with chant and the Mass parts in Latin, because Latin is the language of our universal Church.  This conviction has been reaffirmed in my international travels – Latin is our common denominator.  Plus, if the Chinese can learn it (they don’t even get any cognates!), there’s just no excuse for English speakers.

After Mass, I met up with some family friends from the States.  It was incredible to see them – they’re wonderful people, and I felt so happy hearing those Oklahoman accents.  It was also a very vivid reminder of how much time has passed since I was last in China.  They came over to China in March of 2010 to adopt a son, and I flew over to Guangzhou from Xiamen to hang out with them while they dealt with the paperwork.  I got to help a tiny bit with communication, and got them a few memorable meals (some for good reasons, others because there were cornflakes on the salad).  Five years later, that son has grown into a hulking football player, a high school graduate, and a sharp young man.

Similarly, another of their sons was just learning Chinese when they came over for the adoption. He was full of questions – “how do you say ___” – as a beginner asking someone more advanced.  Since then, he’s spent a year at Peking University studying Mandarin, picked up a few more languages at school, and is off to Japan in the fall for a year of study there.  Now when we talk, it’s much more as equals, and more about experiences than vocabulary.  “Do you feel like you’re a different person in China?”, that sort of thing.

He’s also way more of an old Beijing hand than I am, having spent a year here.  I told him a bit about the difficulties of my third week here – I never realize how deep those emotional pits are until I’m out of them, but being sick, fretting about the lack of progress at work, dealing with a straight week of worst pollution I’d experienced, and various other collisions of expectations with reality really did a number on me.  He said that he loved Beijing, but “it can really chew you up and spit you back out”.  Sounds about right.

We went to 南锣鼓巷街, a touristy market street on the west side of Beijing.  We walked up and down, grabbing dinner and several beers at a restaurant and capping the night with 绵绵冰, my favorite Taiwanese dessert (super finely shaved ice topped with fruit).  It was cold and delicious, basically everything I was expecting.


It was great to see them!  As we were parting ways in the subway, we saw a woman carrying a bag that we became obsessed with:

Fate is like a strange

It is just so ridiculous that our paths have not only crossed once again, but that it happened in China!  Fate is, indeed, like a strange.

Americans Throw the Best Parties

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2015 at 10:31 am

I went in to work for a half day before going home to get ready for the evening’s event – “a celebration of the 239th Anniversary of our Independnce Day in honor of America’s National Parks” at the US Embassy in Beijing.

A few of us met downstairs for pictures (by this beautiful pagoda behind our hotel)



then hopped in taxis to go to the embassy.  Well, at least that’s how it was supposed to go.  In reality, I spent an hour hailing three taxis.  This was using a combination of three apps, plus all 20 arms available to us.  I got the first one almost immediately using 快的, a taxi-hailing app, which lulled me into a false sense of securing.  My next 20 requests on the app, including ones for the more expensive 专车, were ignored, and we couldn’t get Uber China to accept any form of payment we had available to us.  We came upon a driver taking a water break next to his taxi and convinced him to take another group of passengers.  Finally, one of the guys hailed a taxi across the intersection . . . just as my last request on 快的 was accepted, with a driver on his way to get us.  Ugh.

It worked out, because our contact who gave us the details for the embassy party was wrong on over half of the information.  Yes, we had to bring our passports and dress nicely (common sense also suggested as much), but there was no need to leave electronics at home (you could easily check them at the door), or print off the invitation (not surprisingly, a printed version of a poorly-scanned invitation without a name on it does not suffice to get you in the door of the US embassy), or arrive 45 minutes early.

I’d been to the embassy twice before, but today was different.  We were greeted by a good number of American flags, a miniature Lincoln Memorial, and patriotic music playing as we waited in the reception line.  We shook hands with Admiral Adrian Jansen, the defense attaché; Ambassador Max Baucus and his wife Melodee Hanes; and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, and were graciously welcomed by them to “America”.

And goodness, did it feel like America.  We were blessed with another (!) gorgeous day – warm bordering on hot, but with perfectly blue skies above.  The grounds were clean and well-kept, there were myriad buffet lines that included things I hadn’t eaten in a month like cheese and salad, there was a live bluegrass band inside – and in the bathroom, the toilet bowls had so much water in them and there was toilet paper on the stall wall.  I know, right?!

The theme of this year’s party was America’s National Parks.  It was a pretty fun theme.  There were giant painted fabric images from some of our most famous parks, including a giant Mt. Ranier.  Some of the food – a make-your-own trail mix stand and a s’more tent! – were also outdoor- and camping-themed.

I went in every buffet line.  No regrets.  Those key lime pies, man!  It gave me something to do while we were waiting to take a picture with the ambassador.  (No electronics were allowed inside, at least not for lowly students like us, so I’ll have to post the picture when I get a copy.)

After the welcoming address by the ambassador (in which we learned the real reason for this party being on the 2nd – it’s their anniversary!), I went to explore the grounds a bit.  I ended up at the Hawaiian luau, sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines, who recently opened a direct flight from Honolulu to Beijing.  I sat next to a sweet woman from the airline, who showed me how to make a crown of flowers as we listened to a Hawaiian band and watched the dancers.  They had all been in Hawaii that morning – including the flowes! – and it seemed so incredible that they were here in Beijing tonight.  It’s funny, I’ve never been to Hawaii and I’m sure it’s a bit different from the parts of the US that I’m used to – but when you’re far from home, anything that is closer to home starts to feel more like home.  And so I loved my time in Hawaii.

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Then I went next door, to a big room with a band playing – the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia, and they were great.  Before too long, people were swing dancing.  None of the guys I was there with would dance with me :( so I grabbed the two other Beijing girls and made them follow.  I also asked one guy to dance, but most of the guys seemed more focused on their beer than dancing.  (The beer was good, brewed locally by a bunch of expats.)  Other Maria got to dance with the Ambassador for a few minutes!

As the party would down (around 9pm; early, but later than the official time of 7:30 at least!), I ended up talking a man from Denmark.  He was the head of their diplomatic envoy tonight, as the ambassador was out of town – I found this out because I was amazed that he was able to keep his cell phone.  We talked about the Little Mermaid, New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, the EAPSI program, and the other places I’ve lived in China.

It was such a great party – the setting, the food, the people, the activities, the dancing.  I complimented the ambassador’s wife and she said, “Of course!  We’re Americans, we throw the best parties.”  Pretty much.

As we left, a Chinese man was coming in, carrying a bucket and a broom made out of straw tied together.  It was a reminder that we were leaving America and going back to China . . .

Outside, a friendly Australian soldier gave us a bar recommendation in Sanlitun, a nearby part of the city, and we got cabs to head over.  One guy took a cab home, and I thought about going with him – go home, write about the night, and get to bed at a decent hour for work tomorrow.  But no, I thought, I didn’t come here just to write about China, but to live it.  We’re all dressed up, no one’s working late tonight, and we’re already out in Beijing – let’s see where the night goes!  Yeah, that ended up being a terrible decision, as the night went straight downhill from basically that point.  Oh, hindsight . . .

We ended up at Fez, a rooftop bar in Sanlitun.  The sky was perfectly clear and the moon was absolutely brilliant, so the atmosphere got top marks.  Unfortunately, a few of the EAPSI guys took advantage of the setting to smoke.  Seriously, we finally get some nice fresh air and your first instinct is to light up a cigarette??  I’ve never really understood smoking, but I do get why people smoke when they drink – a lot people do stupid shit when they’re drunk.

And then it got worse.  We ordered a giant bowl (5L) of sangria for the 10 of us.  It was 700元, so around $12 each.  A bunch of people chipped in 100元 bills, and the waiter walked away.  A few minutes later, he came back – two of them were fake, he said.  He produced two bills, which were indeed fake, and asked for real bills.  I wasn’t witness to this exchange, unfortunately, but the guys at the other end of the table gave him two new 100元 bills.

Ugh.  This is just the worst.  Our money was good; we were all given stacks of hundreds when we arrived, courtesy of the Chinese government, so where would we have gotten fakes from?  But of course you can’t argue after they’ve made the switch – the bills they presented us with were undeniably fake and we couldn’t prove that the ones we had given them weren’t.

We were warned about fake bills during orientation, and in the context of a scam where taxi drivers will take your hundred and return a fake one to you, demanding that you pay with good money.  Then the first week, we had it happen to us in a restaurant.  We paid again, but later some Chinese friends told us that you should always follow the waitresses to the cash register to make sure they don’t pull a fast one on you.  I should have learned my lesson after that, but I didn’t.

I usually get mad at myself when I make decisions that cost me money, but what was my mistake here?  Being insufficiently paranoid?  Not assuming that everyone is out to get me?  So I’m just angry at the bar.  I also just can’t believe that they had the audacity to claim that we had given them, not one, but TWO fake bills.

The night had lost its charm for me, so once the sangria was done, a few of us left to get a taxi back home.  Sanlitun is a bar area, so there were lots of taxis around – but it’s also an area that’s very popular with foreigners and expats, so most of them were trying to take advantage of the drunk and/or ignorant.  We walked up to one taxi that was parked in the intersection, and I asked him to take us to CUMTB, where we’re staying.  He looked me up and down and said, 150元.  I actually laughed in his face – I couldn’t help it, the fare would be about 60元 on the meter and we all knew it.

Walking on, we started getting targeted by black taxis.  These are illegitimate taxis, just guys with cars who buy red lights to put in the front window to signal that they’re available.  We had also been warned about these during orientation – “never get in a taxi if the driver speaks English”.  They really obviously target foreigners; I hadn’t seen a single one until we found ourselves in Sanlitun at midnight trying to hail a cab.  One thing I will say, they were all on the same page when it came to the bogus fare they wanted to charge – everyone quoted me 150元.

It took us about an hour before we finally got a cab.  He used a meter, and the fare was 60元.  We got home a little before 1.

What a day.  Thinking of the party at the embassy just puts a smile on my face, but the rest of the evening was a rude reintroduction to China.  Thinking about it now, I realize that we saw just about every scam that we were warned about during orientation.  I guess I should be glad that no one tried the tea ceremony scam on us; two out of three was bad enough.  Never again, Sanlitun.

Chinese Catholic Art

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2015 at 10:52 am

I was woken up by one of the most disturbing texts I’ve ever received, from an EAPSI colleague in Shanghai:

I woke up in the midle of the night to a woman screaming.  Look outside my window to see a man beating up a woman.  I go to the front desk and ask them to call the police.  They call the police and the police “don’t want to get involved”.  Amazing.

I went to 北堂 again today.  I had the route figured out and, feeling healthy, had a bit more pep in my step, so I made good time.  I got to the church at least 10 minutes before Mass started, and was able to stake out a good spot near the front.  This is important because I don’t think the music is in hymnals, just on two screens near the front, which I couldn’t read last time.

The only thing I caught from the homily today was that “we all have our own crosses to bear”. I did find myself wondering what people in the pews were hearing back home, and praying for my country.  A lot of “I’m so sorry, Father”s.  

I’ve written a lot about the Church in China in the past, and most of it holds true here in Beijing.  The main new thing I’ve noticed is the fairly regular occurence of priests or members of the congregation taking Hosts back from people who try to walk away with It.  I think I saw this once in Xiamen, and it was very confusing to me at the time; I only later realized what must have happened.  Maybe we get more tourists at the Beijing cathedrals, who don’t know what’s going on but want to get the snack that everyone else is getting?  I’m not sure, but I’ve seen this happen at least once at each of the Sunday Masses I’ve been to so far.  I am really impressed and gratified by the sharpness of their observation, and their courage in confronting people (gently); as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at my home parish, I know it’s a difficult task for many reasons.  

Last week, I took a taxi home immediately because I wasn’t feeling well, but this week I took the time to look around.  I visited each of the side altars, and was struck by two of them in particular:

IMG 2184

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They’re both images of Mary with the child Jesus, but with Asian features and dress.  These aren’t great pictures, but I also bought several prints of each at the religious goods store.  Plus a book on The Art of the Catholic Church in China!

I took my time walking back to the subway as well, and stopped for noodles on the way.  

In the evening, I got a few friends to go to the U-Center for fish.  This was a great choice.  We got one big fish with potatoes and broccoli, plus rice and tea, for the four of us for 100元.  And afterwards I splurged on a kumquat-lemon drink from Coco which was all that I had hoped for, and more.

Today I learned:

You can see a forecast of the pollution at  The next two days are supposed to be more of the same.  I haven’t seen a hint of blue in the sky since last Sunday.  

North Church

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2015 at 10:46 am

I didn’t feel great when I woke up this morning (maybe the spicy food from yesterday, maybe just my period starting).  I faced a difficult question – what about Mass?  My stomach was vaguely unhappy – it could get worse, but it was currently not bad enough to not go to Mass . . . just bad enough to not go right now.  The problem is that 8:30am is the last Mass at West Church, and one of the later ones in the city.

I ended up waiting another hour, feeling slightly better (or at least not worse), and deciding to go to Xishiku for their 10am Mass.  Every church in Beijing is at least an hour away by whatever various combinations of walking, biking, buses, and subway that I use.  This one was no exception: I biked to the 五道口 station, took two subway lines, including a lengthy walk to transfer, and then walked another kilometer to the church.

Xishiku, more commonly known as the North Cathedral, is beautiful.

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I liked the church, the music, and the length of the homily (of middling-to-low importance to me usually, but a serious consideration at Chinese Mass), plus the option of 8am or 10am Mass is nice.

After Mass, the children’s choir sang a song for their dads, and the big screens showed pictures of them with their dads (hard to see here).

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It made me think of my dad!  Happy Father’s Day!

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I felt weak and tired after Mass, so I took a taxi home.  First time using Kuaidi, a Chinese taxi-calling app, and it was wildly successful!

I spent the afternoon in the hotel, taking it easy.  I took some charcoal caplets, took a three hour nap, drank some yogurt, read a lot.  I had dinner in the restaurant downstairs – we just found out that you can order food there, and it is so nice to know that I can get a huge variety of good food at good prices downstairs any time before 8:30pm!

五道口 (Wudaokou)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2015 at 10:52 am

Today, I met up with another of friend of a friend, Tang Zhuo.  We were joined by her brother, whose name I never learned.  We drove to their apartment, where they had a table of food prepared for me – some of it things I’d had before but a few that I hadn’t.  There was a hard boiled egg and a few zongzi, the traditional foods of the Dragon Boat Festival, today’s holiday.  There were also lychee, preserved egg, quince paste, Mongolian milk tablets, and a soup of white mushrooms, ginseng, dates, and lotus seeds (which, it turns out, are super bitter – the only thing I couldn’t get down!).

As we ate, I had my first chance to talk about my research in Chinese with people outside of the field.  I know the words computational, biomechanics, mechanics, and finite element analysis, but explaining the concepts is way harder.  I had to explain the applications of my work, the interdisciplinary nature, and why ferrets are used in experiments on brain folding.  I was exhausting, but really good practice.

Zongzi having been dutifully consumed, we drove to a nice hotpot place near Tsinghua for lunch.

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They were . . . . a little ambitious with their ordering.  We got thinly sliced meat, a full plate of leafy greens, a tofu variety platter, an entire frog, shrimp balls, noodles, ham, a surprising amount of congealed blood, and a platter of cow intestines, stomach, and arteries.

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I tried the intestines, stomach, and arteries, but I hate those chewy textures (I think I’d had all of them before), so I didn’t eat more than a bite of each.  I’ve also had blood before (haven’t we, Mom and Dad??) and while rationally it tasted fine, I couldn’t get over it mentally.  I probably needed the iron, too, so it’s a shame . . . Everything else was good – their selection of sauces was beyond expectations, and the green tea cakes at the end were the perfect way to cool down after a hot meal.

I had been planning on keeping count of the number of times I get asked how tall I am, or what country I’m from, or if I have a boyfriend, but they haven’t actually been common occurences.  Instead, I’m going to keep track of how many times I get told I hold my chopsticks better, or more properly, than a Chinese person.  Current count: 4.

From there we went walking around Wudaokou.  It’s the subway stop nearest where I live, and all four corners of the intersection have big buildings full of shops and restaurants.  I walk or bike past on my way to work, so I was reasonably familiar with the things on the outside, but hadn’t yet gone in.

But I’m so glad we did!!!!  There were tons of cute shops with great potential gifts for people back home, lots of restaurants at various locations along the price spectrum – Beijing hotpot, Sichuan snacks, Papa John’s Pizza, Korean barbecue, several frozen yogurt places.  I bought a pair of [fake, men’s] Birkenstocks, a sort of Chinese tradition for me.

We looked at dresses, but while I love the dresses Chinese girls wear and some of them were loose and flowy enough that I could have worn them, I didn’t buy any.  The problem is, I was wearing a dress I got from the thrift store for about $5.  That’s around 30元, and the cheapest dresses were 100元.  Thrift shopping has driven my acceptable price so low that even China can’t compete!

There were two highlights of the exploration for me: first, we found a Coco milktea place downstairs!!  There was one at the West Gate of Xiamen University, and after I discovered milktea I went there almost daily.  In a country of lukewarm or hot water, milktea with ice became my favorite indulgence.  Unfortunately, t seems like milktea is more of a southern thing – something that surely would have factored into my location preference had I known!  But now there’s a Coco on my way home from work and all is right in my world.

Secondly, we found a foosball table!  They took me into this Mexican restaurant, La Bamba, because Tang Zhuo said their mojitos are really good.  I was intrigued by the prospect of dancing, either there or in the Propaganda bar next door . . . and then I saw the foosball table.  3元 for 10 balls.  Not ideal, but I have to stay in shape while I’m abroad!

Today I learned:

My phone plan might actually be 128元 per month, not 38元 as I was told.  Small difference, right?

You’re not supposed to say “Happy Dragon Boat Festival”, just like “Happy Memorial Day” isn’t really right; it’s a holiday but one observing someone’s death, so it’s not really a happy day.)

You can buy a pet chipmunk on the street.


In Uncategorized on June 18, 2015 at 11:47 pm

The computer situation is still dire today, but in a different way.

I got my own internet account this afternoon, and one of my major concerns from yesterday is now a non-issue.  I had been wondering how I was going to get the research files I need up on the cloud; when I checked this morning I had uploaded around 30 MB of 3 GB total.  But somehow when I got to work, the files were on the computer there.  Both computers now say that everything is up to date.  Miraculous, I tell you!

But, after those resolutions come new problems.  I’m using a beautiful new Windows 8 machine, set up for a new student named Ren Dong.  I’ve been installing programs, but have run into some problems because I have his PIN but not his password.  Today, one of my labmates called him to get his password . . . . and he doesn’t remember it.  Between that and my labmate GuoYang’s revelation that he had messed up the installation of Fortran on that machine so I can’t use the one feature of Abaqus that I need the most, we’re going to reinstall the operating system this weekend.  Sigh.

I ate both lunch and dinner in the cafeteria.  Seriously, I kind of think the best meals I’ve had on this trip so far have been in the Tsinghua cafeteria.  Certainly if you calculate some sort of “deliciousness/元” measurement.  Lunch was fried chicken (it didn’t even have bones in it!) with green peppers-and-egg, plus a surprisingly heaping serving of spicy shredded potato.  Dinner was 麻辣香锅 (malaxiangguo), a bowl of self-selected meats and vegetables cooked in lots of hot and numbing spices.  I didn’t particularly care for the chicken stomach (too chewy for my taste), but the rest of it was fantastic.  Apparently Tsinghua is known for this dish!

After dinner, I biked home.  Seriously, this bike has changed my life.  I barely broke a sweat in either direction, and my commute is now 20 minutes.  It also helped that yesterday’s rain meant clear skies today – not just clear as in sunny, but clear as in not polluted!   IMG_2169

This picture isn’t of anything particularly beautiful, but I was trying to capture the look of the air.  Through pollution, everything takes on a dull gray tint, like a bad picture that you fix by increasing the contrast.  Today, all the colors were vibrant and the buildings glistened in the sun!  It was like seeing pictures taken by a professional photographer after looking at the ones from your own point-and-shoot.  Or wearing glasses for the first time – everything was just sharper and more impressive.

The bike ride has exciting (read: scary) moments but I’ve actually been surprised at how not terrified I am most of the time.  I ride along two major roads for most of it, and that’s all fine.  The intersections, though, are always a circus.  Every single one reminds me of the scene in Mulan where the grandmother closes her eyes and walks across a busy street holding the “lucky cricket”, leaving a scene of destruction in her wake.  Sometimes, though, I can’t quite tell if I’m the grandmother or one of the cart drivers . . .

Today I learned:

How to say the kind of Mexican I am (ethnically, not like a citizen of Mexico): 墨西哥裔人, not 墨西哥族.

How to specify the quantity of rice I want at the cafeteria: by the liang (两), or 50g.  There are two words for the number 2 in Chinese – èr (二) and liǎng (两), and while I mastered the basics of when to use which one years ago, I have been corrected on exceptions to these rules three times in the past few days.  One of these times was when ordering 100g of rice – according to the rules, it should be liǎng liǎng (两两), but they said you should really say èr liang (二两).

Internet Rationing

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2015 at 10:12 am

Okay, so the internet situation feels a little dire right now.

I went into work today and started setting up the Windows computer.  I’d like to be able to leave my laptop at home in the future, so I was downloading the programs that I need for work – Mendeley, Texmaker, Sublime, Evernote, OneDrive (because Dropbox is blocked).

A little before lunch, I ran out of internet.  For the month of June.  The students each get 20 GB a month, and the guy whose account I’m using had already used 18.5 by the time I logged on yesterday.  I’m not sure if they have to pay for the initial 20 GB, but after that they do pay by the gigabyte.  So, another labmate signed me on to his account, and he’s only at 8.5 for the month so that could probably last me for a while.  But tomorrow I’m going to get my own account.  Because I’m not a student, it will be “expensive” – 10元 per day for 2 GB.  It’s not an expense I was counting on, and that’s like 10% of my daily stipend here, but it should be $50-100 total and I think that’s worth it – both from a convenience and security point of view.

I’m still completely bewildered by this, though.  I can’t get over the fact that the Aerospace Engineering department at Tsinghua, the MIT of China, rations internet for their students.  Wireless and wired data is something I’ve never tried or even thought about trying to restrict.  I’ve paid for internet by the hour, or been restricted to lower speeds, but I’ve never before looked at a download size as anything other than an indication of how long I should expect it to take.  

So now I’m in this wierd position where the internet at the hotel is free, but super slow, while the internet at work is fast, but limited.  All in all, I’m not sure how tenable this OneDrive idea is.  I’m trying to put all the files I use for research on the cloud so I can access them on my laptop at the hotel and on my work computer in the lab. I got the necessary files down to 2.8 GB, but I’ve been uploading for about an hour and have only transferred 7.6MB.  Maybe if I do the initial setup manually, using my external hard drive or a flash drive, then maybe it would be possible to only update things?  I don’t know.

Anyway, besides the debacle that is my internet situation right now, things are good.  I walked in to work today and it was even easier than yesterday.  The AQI was around 70 and I’m only wearing a mask when it’s over 100, so that made things more pleasant.  It is frustrating, though, that when I see my building over the wall it means I ‘only’ have one more kilometer to walk, because the two most convenient campus entrances are equally inconvenient for me.  

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I told my labmates that I can’t use my lunch card between 11:45 and 12:30 (you know, lunch time, basically), but we didn’t get there early enough so I still had to have someone buy me lunch.  We ate in a four-story cafeteria!  Lunch was 7元 (just over a dollar) and delicious.  

I sat with three guys and started learning their names by trying to write them.  I did alright, actually – 5 out of 8 characters.  In Chinese, there are a lot of characters that sound the same, so you “spell” by giving an example word that contains the character.  My name, 马利亚, is 马 from “one horse”, 利 from “fluent”, and 亚 from “Asia”.  (They’re phonetic in this case, not so much chosen for their meaning).  Anyway, one of the guys’ names was 林绍珍 – 林 from “forest”, 绍 from “introduce”, and 珍 from 珍珠.  I didn’t immediately recognize the last character or example word, until I realized where I’d seen it before – 珍珠 means pearl, and milk tea with tapioca bubbles (“boba” in the US) is called 珍珠奶茶, or pearl milk tea.  So then I got really excited and said I knew the character because I love milk tea.  He laughed about it, but I felt kind of bad.  The character apparently means “treasured”, and I associate it with milk tea.  He’s a nice guy, though, and now I have an even more positive association with him!  

We had a crazy thunderstorm in the afternoon.  Finally, a new shade of gray!

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It ended very suddenly, and before it could start again I made a break for it.  My labmate 程 lent me her bicycle (she rides a motor scooter), so I rode that home for the first time.  It’s small for me, but I’m actually more comfortable maneuvering that in the traffic because it’s so easy to put my feet down.  The brakes are more of a comfort object than a functional component but then, that’s what my feet are for.  My favorite part is that there’s a basket and it’s slightly bent out of shape in almost the exact same way as the one on my bike back home.  The ride home was awesome – the air was cool and clean after the rain, and the bike made the distance feel way shorter.

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.

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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:

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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.  

Adventuring Towards Mass

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2015 at 4:24 am

I ddin’t realize this because I usually went to Saturday evening Mass in Xiamen, but apparently Chinese Catholics are early risers.  I say this because at many Beijing churches, 8am (the earliest Mass at Nativity in Menlo Park) is the “last chance Mass”.

So, today started a bit early; I went to 西直门, or the West Church, for 8:30am Mass.  It’s the closest church to me – that still means a 20 minute walk and 40 minutes on the bus, but it’s better than the alternatives.  It’s a beautiful church

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and was nearly full when I arrived at 8:20.  Actually, I had a hard time finding a seat until one of the women that had been on the bus with me indicated that I should take her spot, and she went to the back.  It was one of those small but incredibly meaningful moments that epitomize the Church in China for me.  

It felt comfortable to go to Mass in Chinese again.  We sang the sprinkling rite using the exact same song as we used to sing in Xiamen, and I still remembered a lot of the words.  (Next time, though, I need to get there earlier and sit up closer to the TV screens with the words and music.)  Lectors speak very clearly and slowly in whatever language they’re reading in, so it’s always very easy for me to understand the readings.  The homily is always the most difficult part, and this priest was especially long-winded.  The homily was perhaps 20+ minutes, and he spoke for another 20 at the end of Mass.  I catch about 20% of that extemporaneous speaking, max.  

I had planned to get off the bus at some interesting location to get lunch, but wasn’t able to react quickly enough.  Instead, I got lunch at a Western (as in, western China) restaurant.  That turned out well, even the part where I didn’t realize I had to give my order to the kitchen myself.  I sat down to wait for my food and ended up catching the end of overtime and penalty kicks for Brazil vs. Portugal in the quarterfinals of the under-20 World Cup.  Portugal totally whiffed a few shots and lost.

I went back to my room, where I took a delicious nap and did some internet struggling.  In the evening, a few of us went out to forage for food in the area I “discovered” yesterday.  We ended up getting [more] Xinjiang noodles, but no complaints here.  I treated myself to a Magnum bar (maybe a weekly thing?) and then went back to the room where I finally got caught up on these journals!