Wednesday, November 19, 2008

真棒的天!My fabulous day

Yeah today was pretty good.

I've been doing a lot more work in the lab lately.  I have two reactors that are technically "mine," though another grad student helps a lot, but they are both going very well, and it's fun to solve the little problems that come up.  I also got to do some PCR (a useful molecular biology method that necessitates an anal retentive level of precision) today, which reminded me of the good old days at the lab at the U of M.  The grad students are all very nice and happy to speak English and exchange English practice for some valuable knowledge about their work.

I got confirmation today that I can spend two months in May and June in a big laboratory in Zurich helping a student with her aquatic ecology project, which will be awesome.  As an added bonus, now that I have friends living in Germany, Holland, and France, I can visit them and see their hometowns after I'm done in Zurich.

Tonight, I had dinner with my language partner, who is the cutest little Chinese girl.  Afterwards, we made chocolate pudding (amazing. . .) and got together with a bunch of my friends to eat chocolate in several forms and watch West Side Story.  

I'd say today was pretty sweet.  As another bonus, Matt will be here in two days!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Boy's day and my experiment (finally!)

In China, 11/11 is singles day.  Four sad lonely lines.  But the day after is specially celebrated by Tsinghua University as Boy's day (girls get their turn in March).  I went with one of my Chinese friends to watch the festivities.  All the girls of a class give gifts to the boys.  My friend's class congregated outside the dorms where the boys were and called them to come downstairs, then sang to them many cute silly songs.  Another group was playing a relay game that involved holding a cup with your teeth and pouring the contents into the next person's cup.  And on and on down the line.  China is so cute.

And. . . my experiment finally got set up today!  It's pretty exciting.  I have to feed it everyday for the next five weeks until I leave the University and test the influent or effluent 2/3 of the days.  It's pretty cute.  I'm sure it will wear off after a while, but it's pretty sweet right now to have something useful to do.  It's a relatively novel application, so hopefully we can get some good results.  Though, believe it or not, seafood processing wastewater is a little rank.

Tonight I went with language partner #2, Yanan, to go have a special kind of fish.  It's called "water fish."  The cook brought out the squirming fish in a bag before we ate to make sure it looked ok, and then 10 minutes later, it came out swimming in a huge dish of oil and chiles (its' Sichuanese).  It was so fresh and delicious.  Yanan is a cute Asian girl studying fashion design.  I'm hoping to go to her studio sometime and see her stuff.  

It seems like a lot of people like musicals here, which is amazing.  I can share my strange obsession with friends.  

Oh, and being lonely yesterday, I pulled Atlas Shrugged off the shelf, and have been opening to random pages and overcome with joy.  It's amazing--or sad--how good of a friend that book has become over the years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Visitors etc.

The beginning of this week was pretty crazy.  My aunt and uncle were in Beijing for a couple of days at the start of a 3-week China tour, and one of my professors from the U of M was in Beijing for about 6 hours on Monday evening.  It was fun to play tour guide/tourist and to be able to use my Chinese for useful things.  It's neat to actually be able to be witty in another language.  

Some highlights of the sightseeing:  We tried to go to the forbidden city, but it was already getting late, so we went to Jingshan park just north of the palace.  From the top of the hill, there is a spectacular view of the palace and it's 1000 yellow roofs.  We went to Houhai, a lake area that is packed with bars, restaurants, kitchy little shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, and rickshaws.  When I said we like walking because you also get exercise, the driver suggested I bike and he ride.  Lots of street food was consumed, including bings, little sesame cakes, lamb skewers, potstickers, jian bing, and deep fried pumpkin.  

It's a little sad, but I've been less enthused about learning Chinese lately.  I've been going to fewer chinese classes with the hope that if I hang around the office more, I can help out in the lab more.  (I still haven't actually started lab work yet, 2 months later)  I've also been trying to read more articles to learn more about the research being done.  But in the meantime, my original drive to learn Chinese has slackened.  I guess it's good that I'm going to be doing Environmental Engineering my whole life instead of Chinese.

I've been reading a ton here, so if you have a good book to suggest, let me know and I'll try to track it down.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Apparently not that different

I had a Wastewater treatment test today in Chinese.  Last week in class, I thought the teacher said the test was Saturday at 9PM.  I thought, whoa that's really weird, but hey, this is China.  Anything is possible.  So I had made plans for this morning and afternoon, and was putzing around at 9AM when I got a call from my classmate asking why I wasn't at the test.  Everyone was amused that I thought they would schedule a test for 9PM.  

The Prof asked the students in the class who were in his lab group out to eat afterwards (which I thought would be really weird at 11PM.  morning was much better) and we went with his family to a nearby Hunan (his home province) restaurant.  It was pretty delicious.  I love the Chinese charing method of eating, so you can try 12 different dishes instead of just one.  And you don't even have to scoop a bunch on your plate.  You just take bits with your chopsticks directly from communal plate to your mouth.  It's so simple.  Hopefully no one has mono.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ok, some things are just different

Some things about Chinese culture are so puzzling to me.  

1.) It's bad to "lose face."  Under this rule, it's better to tell someone that you will take him to dinner sometime and then just not do it than to say, hey sorry I'm too busy.  Also, it's better to just avoid the subject of a change in plans and then if the other person doesn't mention the thing you had previously planned to do tomorrow, you just assume it's off.  To ask about it would be to make them lose face if they couldn't go.

2.) It's ok to have your phones out during class or important meetings, and send text messages or even quietly answer a call.

3.) I don't know how to generalize this, but this week, the cleaners in our buildings were required to put up emergency exit signs on a specific spot on the inside of our doors.  Many of us had things on our doors and were sad.  But the lady putting it up in my friend's room took down her poster, put up the emergency exit sign, and promptly replaced the poster so that you couldn't even tell the sign was there.  I guess she followed the directions. . .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I think I've discovered the national favorite word here:  和谐。It means harmonious.  Chinese culture puts a lot of emphasis on things being harmonious.  Your associations with other people, the way you organize your own life, the variety of foods that you consume, the bacteria in your wastewater treatment plant, all are subject to this strange word.  It's especially weird because it's always translated as "harmonious," a word I don't think I've ever seen in my life before coming here.  

I'm doing some more work in the lab and reading scads of academic papers, which is actually very interesting (tiring though).  This weekend, my aunt and uncle are visiting, and also a professor from my university, so I will be flooded with things to do.  Also planned are a photo scavenger hunt with foreign friends, and possibly KTV (karaoke) with Chinese friends.  

I've somehow met several engineering students who are applying to their PhD programs in the states right now and have been helping with essays and CVs.  It's pretty interesting to talk to them about the process.  Apparently, the profs are all so busy here, that none of the letters of recommendation are actually written by the prof.  The student writes it and the prof signs it.  Seems a little shady to me.

Also, I've booked a plane ticket to Nepal in January, so I'm for sure going there to volunteer, probably in some po-dunk Nepalese village entertaining small children.  Should be interesting for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween in China

For most of the day, it didn't really seem very special.  I went to class.  I went to lab.  I went to work.  Pretty dull.  

In the evening, some friends organized a free hug event in front of the canteen.  Having never experienced a free hug shin-dig, I was curious.  It was awesome.  The Chinese people were generally really confused.  It took a bit for them to understand what we were doing (despite signs and costumes), but most were pretty willing to have a hug.  I think that all the people we hugged now think that foreigners all give each other hugs on Halloween.  

We went to a party at a pizza bar on campus.  At first it was pretty lame.  Just a bunch of excited Chinese freshman talking to us in English.  After a bit though, we met some really cute Chinese girls and talked to them for a couple of hours in Chinese about many things:  movies, sight-seeing, food.  It's so satisfying to be able to talk to Chinese people about things other than "What's your major?  Where are you from?"  I feel like I can almost hold normal conversations.

Afterward, some friends went to a nightclub, but we went to someone's dorm room and watched the eternal classic "The Princess Bride"