Thursday, August 21, 2008

June & the chocolate cheese...

Chocolate cheese (i.e. pudding) anyone?

Monday, August 18, 2008

An Olympic Adventure…

It was a special Friday – 8-8-08. The excitement had built up for years and months and the D-day has finally arrived. As you’ve probably heard from several sources, 8-8-08 is very special to the Chinese as they consider 8 to be a lucky number. Peter and I decided to send a few postcards to family and friends that would be stamped on that day. This was a last minute decision and the previous evening we went over to the largest Olympic store at Wangfujing to purchase some special Olympic postcards. Friday morning we decided to take a short break from work and dart over to the Post Office right across the street that Peter had located.

I was exhilarated to be out on the street. No one in Beijing could miss the buzz in the air and the Chinese/Olympic flags that people sported were conspicuous. Olympic volunteers who had been sporting their uniforms for days and those with the privileged yellow badges ensured that they were noticed. Many organizations and stores were closed, although we could never figure out which ones would close down and their timings.

The streets were empty, except for great masses of people heading towards the Bird’s Nest and other tourist areas. Living close to the Bird’s Nest, the nucleus of all activity, offers great vistas of the opening ceremony. However, the package comes along with greater security, implying blocked roads and fewer options for travel and transportation. We did hear the military helicopters that morning but the enormous fortification was still a surprise.

Before noon most of the roads and footpaths leading up to the Bird’s Nest were closed and we weren’t allowed to cross the 4th Ring Road. It was warm but with the Olympic fever rising we decided that it was well worth it. After all, how often do you get to send postcards stamped 8-8-08 on the day of the Olympics opening ceremony? So we walked around to go over to the post office and soon we discovered that the other side was also blocked.
Peter recollected that there was a post office on Tsinghua campus, his undergrad school, and we decided to go there. It was a long walk from the main entrance to the campus post office. We finally made it there but to our surprise it was closed. Luckily, we found a helpline number that we could call. The lady informed us that only 5 post offices around the city were open that day. So the next stop in our expedition was the Summer Palace Post Office. It was teeming with enthusiasts. There were long lines for everything, from purchasing stamps and envelopes to using the glue for pasting them. I was chatting with some person who was clearly a pro at this. He had come in really early in the morning to purchase first day covers, which were sold out within hours of their release. Peter and I seemed to have the fewest postcards. People ahead of us had several hundred postcards each, waiting in line to get special stampings done with the bird’s nest and the water cube.

The cash registers of China Post were ringing and the employees had no place to stash away all the money that was being collected. Finally, 4 hours after we embarked on our mission we achieved our dream – our post cards were stamped and mailed on 8-8-08! We were done for the day.

Or so I thought. We decided to take the bus home rather than a cab. After all, buses in Beijing always have special privileges. We changed buses near Tsinghua, but only to realize later, that the bus stop near our home had been ‘cancelled’. So the bus would either halt 3 stops before our apartment or further beyond that. The rumors on the bus were that even the driver wasn’t certain where he could stop. It was a tough call but since three stops before was around an hour walk from home, we decided to take the risk and get off later. We ended up getting down at a stop past the Bird’s Nest. Our reasoning - we live near the Bird’s Nest, surely if people with tickets can walk around in that area, we should be allowed to get back home. That worked well with a couple of cops, as they allowed us to pass through but not with others further along the road. We ended up taking a cab and a circuitous route back home. However, it seems that the round trips were well worth it. The tight security did make it a comforting sojourn and overall an incident free and safe day. We entered home about 6 hours after we had departed and it was undoubtedly one of the most amazing days of my life.

In retrospect, this was easily avoidable by leaving home earlier but we never intended this to be a major project. It was just supposed to be a short break from work and something for fun. The experiences were simply fantastic, just as the rest of this summer has been. They were just not about the postcards but they involved navigating through unforeseen circumstances in a foreign land on such a momentous occasion.

Going by the sheer number of postcards at the Post Office, I would be surprised if our postcards actually reach their destination but if they do I hope the recipients cherish them as much as we treasure the experiences associated with them….

Art in Beijing

This piece is called "Water Cube," by Aishwarya and June. It is an innovative modern art piece drawn using June's new drawing tablet (it knows Chinese too!). -Aishwarya and June

Friday, July 25, 2008

Current MIRTHE Team in Beijing

Funny Signs

Sometimes signs make us laugh!


Peter, June, Raleigh and I ventured to a new (to me) part of town for dinner the other night. I have actually noticed this area while in taxis before but never realized this was the famous Houhai that people always say "Have you been to Houhai? You must go, you'll love it!" It's true, I did love it and I can't wait to go back. Houhai
means Back Lake and it is a really cute area around this lake which was a really interesting mix of restaurants, shops, houses etc. It seemed to attract the ex-pat crowd but also the young crowd. There were lots of touristy shops and all sorts of different kinds of restaurants. On the lake were lots of boats and people continued to use them late into the night. We even saw lots of people out for a swim! I really love the old architecture in Beijing and that is probably why I really fell in love with this area...all the crooked streets and interesting buildings... the lanterns...
We ate dinner at this really great Vietnamese restaurant and we sat outside on the rooftop! It was a tough decision as inside you could sit in a rickshaw to have dinner but the roof deck won out. The view was incredible. In one direction was the lake, in another were the drum and bell towers, and in another was a street full of little shops. I really love that in Beijing there are all these really interesting areas that have so much character. Oh and the food... excellent! - anna

p.s. someone asked me if there were modern buildings in Beijing - and the answer is yes... I just like the traditional buildings so much more so I take photos of them....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Home Depot Day

Some engineering requires a trip to Home Depot. During my first so many weeks
here I have needed a Home Depot many times but every time I describe the store I get
told there isn't one in Beijing. I had this grand plan to introduce Home Depot to China but it turns out all I needed to do was to ask Peter... as the B&Q is just like Home Depot and I pass it every day! I actually had asked what the store was and been told it was a furniture store by numerous people but I should have just gone inside.
We went to B&Q to get some supplies. They sold some things we didn't even know what they were! Furniture inhibitor? We bought the wood and foam that we needed and asked to have it delivered but there is a truck ban at the moment in Beijing as they are trying to cut back on emissions to lower the air pollutants. So we couldn't have a truck deliver it. They were very nice though and said we could pay a deposit and borrow shopping carts so we took off down the street. We hadn't gotten very far when this motorized cart stopped and said for $3 the driver would deliver it. Deal! Peter got a nice ride out of it too!

We had to have some glass work done too so we went in search of a glass cutter. Luckily Peter and Xue knew how to find one. I don't know if I'd be able to find one in America! For $7 we had a window cut for us! Unfortunately the window was broken in the process but we had a guarantee that if the window was broken we'd get a new one for free. The window cutting man wasn't very happy though so he smashed the broken window all over the ground so Xue and I then had the fun task of cleaning it up....


After a nice morning visit to Fedex to send Professor Wysocki a nice present, Xue and I found a quiet coffee shop to work in, SPR coffee, that had free wireless. It was fantastic! Do you think SPR stands for Starbucks of the People's Republic? Iced Peanuts anyone? - anna

Practicing English

I needed to get some plastic sheeting for work (I swear we work really hard here!) so Xue and I ventured to the local market. While Xue was busy helping to cut the plastic sheeting, the children of the stall owner were busy talking to me. They were so interested in me because I was a foreigner and kept asking me where I was from in Chinese. I kept having to ask Xue to translate for me. Their mother kept telling them to practice their English with me. All they could say was "hello" and "thank you" and "bye bye" so they kept saying it over and over again. They wanted me to take their photo so they could see themselves in the camera. It was all very cute and they didn't want me to leave! -anna

The Great Wall

You never know who might show up in Beijing.... of all the people to happen to be in Beijing this summer, I never expected I would get a visit from my good friend Stace!
Dr. Stace Beaulieu is a deep sea biologist (and I mean deep) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Stace and I did a lot of field work together when I was in graduate school as we spent 2 months as cabin mates together in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (where she would make me lattes when we worked the 12-4 am shift) and did quite a bit of scuba diving together... oh and we drank a lot of coffee together while I was a graduate student. Stace came by Beijing on her way to a conference and she signed us up to do a 10 km Great Wall hike. Most tourists who venture to the Great Wall visit an area called Badaling which is close to Beijing and is a restored section of the wall. Instead we ventured further to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai in an unrestored section.

We saw very few tourists during our day. Stace and I had a guide, Kung Fu Bruce, who hiked with us the whole time. He told us about all of his adventures hiking in China and about the Great Wall and even gave Stace some spicy tofu to eat. The hike was harder than I had imagined as the steps were so steep in places but the scenery was incredible and it was really nice to be outside of the city. It was lightly raining on and off all day. It started to downpour at the end and luckily not before otherwise it would have been really scary. Kung Fu Bruce told us he was hiking with a group of middle school students this past winter and it started to snow! I never imagined I would have the opportunity in my life to hike the Great Wall of China! I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did the hike. -anna

Professor Frank Tittel Comes to Visit

Professor Frank Tittel from Rice University came to visit us in Beijing. He is Rafal's advisor and therefore was excited to see what Rafal had been busy working on. Professor Tittel also got to meet new members of the MIRTHE team, like incoming graduate student Xue. We ventured into the heart of Beijing for dinner, passing Tiananmen Square. Luckily we had time for a quick latte at Starbucks! Professor Tittel gave a talk at IAP during his stay with us. He was also very happy to find that they were selling plastic bucky balls at the Forbidden City so he bought one to give to the Nobel Prize winner who discovered bucky balls!

MIRTHE in Beijing Photos

Here are some photos of our group with our IAP collaborators. We enjoyed dinner at a lovely restaurant next to a canal with the IAP group. -anna


One day Yan got a phone call that said, "Your package from Austria is stuck in Amsterdam" which confused her very much as she hadn't ordered anything from Austria. June was convinced someone had sent us a bomb. After a little bit of investigating, we found out two cakes and coffee were on their way from Austria to China thanks very much to Professor Gmachl! They took a little detour and visited Amsterdam first. We were very excited when the package arrived. Yan took good care of the package giving it a chair to sit on during lunch and shielding it from the rain. We shared the cake with many MIRTHE and IAP members and everyone agreed that it was delicious! -anna

Jim and Mary Lynn's Anniversary

Jim and Mary Lynn's wedding anniversary was during their stay in Beijing. Although we offered to babysit their son Eric, they decided we should all join them for dinner. We chose a restaurant that June described as "the beautiful restaurant across the street" and went out as a group. The restaurant definitely was uniquely decorated! Some of the food had funny English translations. Jim said, "I am not sure how I will be able to top this next year!" We enjoyed the dinner and laughing about the aquariums full of plastic tulips. Eric kept his eye on the big fish in the tanks for fear he might have to eat them for dinner! - anna

Confucius Temple

Mary Lynn, Eric, and I ventured to the Confucius temple one afternoon. It was a really pleasant place to go as it was away from the usual tourist circuit so there were few people there but yet retained the same style architecture that you see at other places like the Forbidden City. - anna

Long Lines

Jim wanted me to take a photo of this long line at the train station as he couldn't believe the line we had to wait in to get a taxi!

Some things are pretty American....

Some things are pretty American and if you want something you can probably find it in Beijing.... There are more KFCs in China than I have ever seen in the US. We did go to Pizza Hut one night and it is a whole different experience here. It is a sit down restaurant and they serve coq au vin pizza! Although as you can see from the photos, they didn't quite spell "dining" right and they weren't very happy when I took a photo of it! Mary Lynn bought donuts from this bakery...they were quite dense!

Photos from Shanghai Trip - Very belated!

Here are some very belated photos from our train trip to Shanghai. When we were in Shanghai, about 15 middle school girls suddenly surrounded us and wanted to take their photo with us! I guess they thought we were celebrities or something.... (Notice that Jim doesn't see the girls behind him while he was busy taking our photo!) Yan's mom took us to eat lobster and we ate trays and trays of them. It was great having a local show us where to eat as we never would have found such a great lunch place.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Small World

So for the first 7 weeks that I have been in China I have not really met anyone.
Very few people speak much English and I don't speak any Chinese unfortunately.
I very much stick out in my community as I am not Asian. Today I am
riding the elevator in my building and there is an older Chinese lady in the elevator.
She asks me if I speak English. I say yes do you? She says yes. I ask
her how she learned it and she said she went to New York University in
the 1940s! I told her that I live in New York City.
We keep talking as we ride the elevator down and continue talking once we
get off. Her English is perfect. She tells me that her children live in Boston and I say I went to college there. She asked me where and I say MIT.
Small world... It turns out her husband got his PhD from MIT in 1950 in Chemical
Engineering! We talk about Cambridge and she tells me she taught Chinese at Harvard for a few years. She told me she and her husband moved back to China a few years ago as it is easier to be retired in China as you don't have to drive.
I gave her my business card and my china mobile number and tonight her
husband called me and we talked. He was a visiting researcher at
MIT while I did my undergraduate studies there! I am still amazed by this chance encounter.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The chocolate balls were different sizes too.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lesson Two: How to Buy a Power Supply

While Jim, Mary Lynn, Eric, Yan, and Anna were away to Shanghai, Rafal and I had to fend for ourselves.

About three weeks ago, Rafal needed a power supply and he handed me this complicated-looking thing and said he needed to buy one. In my mind, I was thinking that there was no way we were ever going to find that another one of those things because a.) the thing was made in Germany (or some other European country, I forget), b.) I didn’t know where to go, and c.) how the heck do I explain this to people in Mandarin? I called Yan, who suggested Suning, which is a big store for electronics and appliances. So I looked up the closest Suning online and Rafal and I took a taxi the next morning. Well, it turns out that they didn’t have the thing. In fact, they didn’t even have an extension cord with surge protection, which Rafal also needed. We walked out of the store and started walking around, me (at least) feeling hopeless. Anna got such an extension cord last time we went to Carrefour, but Carrefour was kind of far from where we were. Then by pure luck, we came across a little office supplies store that had extension cords with surge protection. So we bought that, and I asked the people at the counter where we can find the power supply. They asked me what it was and I said it was a power supply (in Mandarin). Then they asked me what it is used for and I said I didn’t know how to explain it in Mandarin. They looked at us funny and told us to go to this place. I couldn’t understand the woman, so I told her to write it down (I can read and write Chinese—and speak in Cantonese…). I asked whether there are a lot of electronics there and she said yes. So we went.

So. Rafal and I took a taxi to the place the woman suggested and it turns out to be this street with one electronics mall after another. The place was awesome. Way better than Circuit City in the states. Although we weren’t sure which store to go to since there were so many of them. We just walked towards the entrance of a store, and there were many salespeople yelling, “SONY! SONY!” or “TOSHIBA!” or “CANON!” I approached one of the guys, showed him the power supply, and asked where I can find it. This guy ALSO asked him what it was used for and I said it could be used for a computer (I made that up at that moment…. but I confirmed with Rafal afterwards that it could, indeed, be used for a computer as well) because I couldn’t figure out what else to say. They guy looked at the power supply with a somewhat confused look on his face (I don’t blame him…) and he walked us to a store and took us up the elevator to the second floor.

Wait, so about the elevators. I don’t think I have seen so many people trying to get into an elevator in my life. It was pretty insane. Rafal had to wait a few times to actually make it into the elevator. Every time the elevator door opened, a bunch of people would rush in until the overweight alarm went on, the thing would beep non-stop, and people would start yelling and complaining until some people stepped outside the elevator. It seemed like a continuous cycle of the same series of events for the five minutes that Rafal and I stood there. I was squeezed next to a smelly guy in the elevator (not Rafal).

When we were at the second floor, we showed the power supply to a person who seemed to know his stuff. He recognized it as a power supply immediately, but he also said that no one sells this type here because the current is so low. I probed further into where we could potentially find it in Beijing, and the guy pointed us to a place about 800 meters away and said that if we don’t find it there, we won’t find it anywhere. I then asked the guy the correct term in Mandarin that I should be using in order to look for this device. He said it, and then he wrote it down for me upon my request. Then Rafal and I fought our way into the elevator again and went to the place the guy suggested.

It turned out to be just the right place. The place the guy suggested comprised of four stories of electronic parts. It was unbelievable. It wasn’t just a store either. At each floor was stall after stall of different people selling different types of parts, and looking around the place, there were people bargaining everywhere. There is simply no equivalent in the states. Rafal said that he probably could’ve bought all the parts of his instrument here instead of bringing the instrument from the U.S.! I really wouldn’t be surprised. After trying a couple of stalls (and me very painfully trying to explain to them what we needed), we finally came across one that finally had it. Then there was another long, drawn-out and painful conversation about the technical details of the power supply and whether it was really what we needed. The conversation involved part Mandarin, part English, some pointing and hand gestures, and also some writing in Chinese and drawing on a piece of MIRTHE paper with a lot of writing and drawing on it from before. The whole time, I was trying to go from English to Cantonese to Mandarin inside my head.

And then, believe it or not, we finally bought it.

Rafal and I had Pizza Hut and then we both went back to work afterwards. I LOVE authentic Chinese food and so generally, I’m really enjoying the food here, but I didn’t realize just how much I missed cheese.


Road Trip! Part 1: Suzhou

Yan took us on a road trip...well a train visit the town where her parents live and to see Shanghai. If you don't know how to pronounce Shanghai properly, ask Professor Jim Smith. He'll help you learn how to say it correctly. Although Yan didn't grow up in Suzhou, her parents now live there and it is famous for its gardens.
Jim, Mary Lynn, their son Eric (shown here reading Hinamart what we decided must be like the sky mall catalog for Chinese trains), Yan and I took the overnight train to Shanghai.


I was a bit worried that the overnight train was going to be awful but Mary Lynn was right and it was very nice. They even gave us slippers to wear. Our train did get stuck for some reason for 2 hours and sat and watched about 10 trains pass us unfortunately. It did give us the chance to see more in the morning which was nice. We went over the Yangtze which was exciting. One thing we found odd was that my Chinese cell phone would send me text messages in Chinese welcoming me to every town. The phone knew where I was...

Yan's mother met us in Shanghai and was a wonderful host to us. It was really great to have the inside tour and we enjoyed her hospitality. I know she was very happy to have Yan visit too!

First we went to one of the beautiful gardens in Suzhou.

This we followed with an amazing lunch and then an interesting trip to a silk museum.

I couldn't believe how much construction was going on here. This area is rapidly expanding due to the oil industry. There is massive construction everywhere it was unbelievable. High rises and cranes everywhere!


Random Funny Photo

I thought this was a funny name for a restaurant!
funny sign

- anna

Flashback to June's Birthday Weekend

June 23rd was June's Birthday! June and I spent the morning at the Dirt Market. It has a Chinese name that I can't pronounce. It was a very interesting market with all sorts of things from Mao watches to fake antiques to thousands of Chinese books. We could have spent all day there! I plan to go back to the dirt market one of these weekends. It apparently opens at 4 am but I have no intention of going so early!

Dr. Wang invited us and his students for a lunch feast complete with a giant birthday cake! Meals in China always seem to be feasts to me but Dr. Wang always tells me that you don't gain weight in China, but I still am not convinced. There are always so many dishes and so much food. It is amazing. Look how big the cake was and how happy June is!

Yan's sister-in-law took us to another market. This time it was an indoor market that sold everything you have ever wanted in one place. I think it was about 6 stories!
(Roxanne- We thought of you at this market! Can you guess why?)

We also enjoyed dinner in a courtyard house in a hutong. I really love the hutongs as the architecture is so unique and beautiful.

More photos and posts to come!

Back to Blogging....

One of the wonderful things about being on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary project is that throughout the summer we have numerous engineers coming to Beijing to work with us. We also have several visitors at different times this summer. During the past couple of weeks, Professor Jim Smith and Dr. Mary Lynn Baeck from Princeton and Rafal Lewicki, a graduate student from Rice University, came to Beijing. Jim and Mary Lynn are involved in both the QCLOPS project and the WRF-Chem modeling project. Rafal came to set up the NO sensor that he co-designed and built. We were so busy both working and playing tourist during their visits that we didn't blog, but we now will try to catch up with the photos that we didn't post during the past couple of weeks! We have several new team members coming this week and perhaps they will be better than us about keeping the blog up to date!

- anna

Saturday, June 28, 2008

NSF EAPSI orientation week

As Anna mentioned already, I went on a week-long orientation for the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) program last week, and I thought I would share some pictures! In addition to Chinese language and culture training, the other EAPSI participants and I were introduced to a number of institutions to learn more about the state of science and technology development in China. Officials from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Tsinghua University (one of the top universities in China), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences all extended their welcome to us and they each gave us an overview of their program. The best part of the orientation week, however, was the day trips to the Great Wall, the world's most famous Peking Duck restaurant, the Laoshe Teahouse (a teahouse with live performances), the Capital Museum, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square.

Tsinghua University.... the campus was beautiful and it was just nice to walk around.

Great Wall.... I have to say that going to the Great Wall was somewhat anticlimactic, because I guess I had never imagined myself on the Great Wall before and in my mind, I never thought of it as being just a wall. It was only when I was walking on it that it hit me. It was still neat to think that each and every brick was laid down by hand though (actually, the brick kind of reminded me of the Graduate College at Princeton...). It was a foggy day when we went, so we couldn't see very far, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it was still a good hike. I was fine going up, but I was kind of scared coming down... it was VERY steep.

Feast at the Peking Duck restaurant.... the most food I have ever seen in my life. The dishes just kept coming... although that seems to be typical in a Chinese dinner....

Laoshe Teahouse.... impressive. The live performances were excellent. The most impressive one was of a girl who was able to spin a variety of heavy objects with her legs.... (see photos)... I also liked the performance when two men put on a whole show by making realistic sounds of a train, a horse, birds, an airplane, etc. with only a microphone.

Capital Museum.... my personal favorite! Lots of really cool stuff and I feel like one can really learn a lot about ancient Chinese history.

More to come...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blue Sky Day

After it rains, the air clears somewhat and you can actually see the Bird's Nest quite clearly and the sky becomes quite blue. Saturday had "blue" skies but was also ridiculously hot.

With June still away at NSF events and Yan hanging out with her sister-in-law, I ventured off on my own to the Forbidden City. It was probably a bad choice of days to visit as it was so incredibly hot. I know why the Chinese ladies all carry umbrellas now! Still it was a beautiful site to see. I almost bought ice cream to eat to cool down, but decided that pea flavored ice cream just wasn't my thing. Whatever happened to vanilla? I was amazed by the immense size of the Forbidden City. I can't image that I even saw half of it. Just like New Yorkers go to the Hamptons, the emperors used to go to the Summer Palace and now I know why... to get away from the terrible heat of the Beijing summer and it's only June!

All of the tour books claimed that there is a Starbucks in the Forbidden City but I never found it. I just looked online and apparently it was shut down.
So much for me having a blueberry muffin and a latte!

I must admit that I did stumble across a Starbucks later in the day and got excited for a coffee. I don't really visit Starbucks itself that often in the US but I do love coffee and muffins and they are both very hard to find here, so Starbucks is a big treat. Also- my $7 coffee maker I bought for the apartment here makes very watery coffee. It brews the coffee it about 1 minute. I don't know why, but it doesn't seem to work right, yielding very speedy but very watery brown coffee. Sad. Unfortunately that Starbucks was sold out of blueberry muffins (I think that is the 2nd time I have tried to get blueberry muffins) so I was resorted to getting mandarin flavored muffins. It was that or red bean scones! I think perhaps Starbucks doesn't realize that it isn't the locals that visit, but the tourists that do, so they should just make thousands of blueberry muffins to sell.

Enjoy the photos of the Forbidden City! I really enjoyed snapping photos of people with their umbrellas! There was also a lot of construction going on at the Forbidden City. I wonder if they will finish in time for the Olympics.... Also- the reason the photos are never very vivid is due to the constant smog in Beijing. I am always tempted to photoshop them to make the colors of the buildings look brighter but that would not show you the smog!

I left the Forbidden City and went through to see Mao and Tiananmen square. I am old enough to remember the protests of Tiananmen square. It was very interesting to see the picture of Mao and Tianamen square as they are such famous sites and I have seen them so many times in the news. There were these fountains in front of Mao that suddenly came on and did a kind of show...sort of like at the Bellagio in Vegas but on a much smaller scale and with no music. Different patterns of water fountains shot up at different times.

I like to wander when I travel as often the best finds are off the beaten path. I have found great stores, restaurants, and sights walking away from the main touristy areas in so many countries. Usually the local people are more than happy to see you and are friendly. I have brought home great things from shops that are away from the touristy areas and are in the more local areas by doing this. So after my visit to Tiananmen, I started to walk. I came across a lovely little park with koi fish. There was a man at the park dressed in an official looking outfit, like a security guard. Anytime someone got too close to the pond, his job was to yell at them. I then came across a fancy shopping area. I liked how between the fancy shops there was a McDonalds. You would never see that on 5th Avenue in NYC! I also discovered a good place to find a clean and proper toilet is at McDonalds. I think this is why Mary Lynn sent me to China first!

I then came across this row of stalls selling anything you can imagine on a stick. Squid on a stick, corn on the cob on a stick, crab on a stick, sugar on a stick....
and the workers at every stall had exactly the same hat and apron on.

I kept walking and came across hutongs.
To quote wikipedia, "In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history."

I immediately fell in love with the hutongs. The architecture is amazing and there are so many doors and alley ways. I just want to explore them all! I had left the touristy part and it was just me and my camera and people sitting in a park playing games and such. Everyone was smiling at me and said hello. I was cautious about taking photos or entering the alleys but one man waved me in and after I entered the first, I wasn't afraid. There were shops and restaurants in them.
I came across a restaurant and took their card so I could return to it. I really want to see inside some of the courtyard houses and several restaurants now occupy houses so this is a good way to get to see them. Apparently you can live in courtyard houses which is a very interesting place to live! After walking around for a long time, I was tired and took a taxi home. There are so many hutongs in Beijing that I can't wait to have some time to go explore more. The architecture is truly incredible. I don't think these photos do them justice and next time I'll aim to take better photos!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lesson 1: How to buy a soldering iron in China

We packed almost everything that we thought that we would need to do lab work in China. However, the one thing that we decided not to bring was a soldering iron due to the power conversion. We figured it would be easier to buy it here than risk trying to convert the power on it. Yesterday of course what do I need, a soldering iron!

I asked the graduate students if they had one, but no one could find me one. One of the graduate students wrote out the Chinese characters for soldering iron, the characters for the name of a store that "sells everything," and drew me a map to this store.

I figured I was on my way to a Wal-Mart or Home Depot type place. When I got to the store and went inside, I discovered it was full of hundreds of tiny stalls selling everything from goldfish to fruit to shoes. I started to laugh not sure what to do not sure how I was possibly going to find a soldering iron in here. I wandered around and bought some bananas. Finally I came across a stall that had some electronics goods. I showed the man the characters for soldering iron and voila he produced a soldering iron! I could not believe it! I only wished someone could have been with me to laugh with!

I was also confused that the soldering iron had no stand and that it plugged directly into the wall. I tried to ask this but my miming this question got me no where. I did manage to ask for solder though and he produced a small coil of solder.

When I asked how much for the soldering iron and the solder, he said 25 yuan ($3.6 dollars!). Of course I was at a market in China so I had to practice my bargaining skills. So I offered 20 yuan ($2.90) and he accepted. Great I saved MIRTHE $0.70! Although the soldering iron did the trick and saved the day, the tip fell out while I was soldering and burned my lab book! I guess you get what you pay for!

Random Photos

Here are just some random photos taken near our apartment and near the tower site....
The birds were just hanging in cages and very loudly chirping in the park next to the canal by IAP. All these people were just sitting around next to the birds hanging out.

I hope Professor Smith and Dr. Baeck packed their dancing shoes and their 70's clothes so they can go dancing in their Beijing apartment! Check out the light-up floor in the closet in the apartment they are going to stay in.

The air quality hasn't been too good for the last couple of days. We hear rain is in the forecast however.

And yes sometimes they don't quite get the English right. I also liked the sign I saw on a sliding glass door that said "Mend Door." They meant to write "Mind Door!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

QCLOPS Arrives!

It has been a very busy week thus far and we have only just finished up Wednesday!
On Sunday, June moved out of our apartment and into her "dorm room" as she began her NSF EAPSI program. She and I moved all of her things to the Mining University. When we arrived at the University, the cab driver let us off at the front gate. It turned out that we really needed to be let off at some other building and it took us awhile to figure that out (language barrier) and to get all of her suitcases to the right place.

It was graduation day at the Mining University and June and I enjoyed seeing the hoods. They all seemed to be made of silk and were floral. Some of the students had yellow floral and some seemed to have red floral. We weren't quite sure what the students exactly were doing for graduation as they seemed to be standing outside the gate for the hour or so we were at the university. We also watched them toss their caps into the air. June was given the largest plastic key we had ever seen. It turned out you needed to stick this in a slot to get the AC to work. The "dorm" wasn't quite what June was expecting but she was mostly sad that there was no internet!

On Monday, I waited for QCLOPS to arrive at IAP. Next to the guard's station, there is a bunny on a leash who helps to "guard" IAP.... Finally, after having made it safely through customs, QCLOPS arrived in 2 vans! Luckily Dr. Wang has lots of graduate students who were willing to help us get QCLOPS from the vans into the "lab." The boxes arrived perfectly and when we opened them they were exactly as we had packed them. And we got to work....

When we tried to get liquid nitrogen, we found out that we can't just get liquid nitrogen whenever we want. Instead, we can only get it when the lab that uses it gets it delivered. Therefore, we decided to order our own tanks. We called to get it delivered. The nitrogen itself is about 50 cents per liter but the deposit on the tanks is about $600 so we had to go to the bank as they only take cash! We decided to combine a trip to the bank with a trip to Starbucks for an afternoon jolt. We were also thrilled to find out that there was high speed internet at Starbucks, much faster than in our apartment! We know where we'll be finding June!

Yan took us to a hotpot restaurant which is kind of like fondue except you don't have fondue sticks but you do have chopsticks. We each had our own little pot so I could eat lots of veggies and Yan could eat lots of meat. The food in restaurants in China is very inexpensive. They also always bring you all these "free" dishes. Yan sometimes asks for a discount and they often oblige. The receipts also have scratch off things where you can win money off your dinner. It's all very confusing.

Science is a little different here and I am enjoying the experience very much! The liquid nitrogen arrived and I had to give 4000 rmb in cash to a man in a van. I can't imagine that every happening at Princeton! The "lab" space is a room which I think has typically been used as a meeting room in the past. It is where the drinking water is so people come in and out all day.There is also a rice cooker in the room but so far no one has used that! The room looks right into the guards room outside and you can also see the 2 towers out the window. There is one very friendly professor who can't speak any English but is very smiley and nice. He always waves and says hello when he comes to get water or sees me at IAP. QCLOPS is now all set up and aligned! It needs some more tweaking but I have a good signal all the way through so I am happy now! Actually I was very happy the minute I saw a signal from the laser! Tomorrow I will let it run in the lab for a long time and see how well it runs.

There is a nice green space, as Yan calls it, or a park, as I call it, about a 2 min walk from IAP. Here there is a canal where you can sit or walk. I took my lunch and sat and walked here the last couple of days to get some "fresh air." I say fresh because the Professor who sits in the office opposite to my "lab" chain smokes in his office. It is a really beautiful park and nice to get outside for a little bit. Yan tells me in July and August that I won't want to go outside at all due to the heat!

I took some photos of some signs that I thought were funny or confused me. I am not sure why there will be so many emergencies in the park!

And finally a few random photos....


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer Palace

From the zoo June and I took an hour long boat ride along a canal to the summer palace. Luckily the man behind us spoke English and told us we had to change boats. The canal was full of all sorts of cool bridges. It was raining though. The entire time there was a lady on the boat giving us a very loud tour in Chinese about what we were seeing.

The boat took us to the summer palace which was incredible. We only made it through part of the grounds. It has lakes, pagodas, temples, bridges, and ferry rides. It was so beautiful. There is apparently an old part which we didn't even make it to.
Even though it was a rainy day, June and I ate some yummy ice cream. I couldn't convince her to get the corn flavored ice cream though. I wonder if it looks like a corn on the cob? They also sell corn flavored yogurt at the shops here and corn juice.

I would like to go back to the summer palace on a sunny day. It felt like you weren't in a city. It was built as the summer retreat for the emperor. After we got tired of walking, we took a taxi to a place mentioned in my tour book as good for dumplings. We ordered vegetarian dumplings and they were yummy.
Our dinner of dumplings and 3 cans of coke/sprite costs $5 and we still brought half the dumplings home! The area where the dumplings were was cool so we walked around a bit. June liked the "cutesy" stores full of hello kitty flip flops with blow up hello kitty faces stuck to them and things like that. It was fun to look in the different shops.

QCLOPS is set to be delivered tomorrow morning at IAP so expect more science-y blogs soon!



On Saturday June and I ventured out on our own to do some sightseeing. We started by going to the zoo to see the pandas! There were so many pandas and little ones too. They have the Pandas rescued from the conservation park that was in the earthquake zone.
The pandas were so adorable. They all were either sleeping or eating!

Our Apartment

I know several of you have been wondering where we are living so we thought we should show you photos of our apartment. We will have two apartments this summer since such a large group of MIRTHE engineers will be traveling to China at different points this summer. This summer we will have undergraduate students, graduate students, a postdoc, research staff, and faculty come to Beijing from both Princeton and Rice Universities and from electrical engineering and environmental engineering. June will be moving into a university dorm as part of her National Science Foundation in China summer program, though for now she is living with us. She claims she'll hang out at our apartment if our internet connection is faster than hers, though I can't imagine how it could be much slower or flakier! -anna

Our apartment is in a high rise building that seems to be a mix of apartments and offices. These very nice ladies say hello and open the door for you every time you enter the building. The apartment next to ours seems to be a tv station's office. There is a 7-11 type convenience store downstairs and a foot massage place, although the photos of the feet are a little bit scary looking. There is also a restaurant that is sometimes open although they overcharged June for being a tourist so we aren't sure how we feel about them anymore.

Our apartment came with some "interesting" art. It has great windows for watching the urban landscape. The windows get very dirty here so the window washers keep busy here washing them. Yan let out quite a good scream the other day when she walked into her room and saw a man outside her window washing it! We live on the 12th floor!
It is great to have a kitchen and I love all the wonderfully colored and very tasty fruit. I bought a coffee maker at WalMart for $7 so now I can have my morning caffeine fix. We can't drink the tap water so we have water delivered. That too is quite inexpensive, about $2 for a 5 gallon container.

Friday the 13th

Today was the worst air quality so far, thus, I decided to do the logical thing and venture out to take photos of the Olympic venue in the pollution. It was unbelievable and hopefully these photos can described at least somewhat what I saw and felt. The Olympics are set to begin in less than 2 months and they are still building. Around the Olympic venues, buses are lined up ready and streets are waiting to be opened; yet, everything is coated in this thick layer of dust and the air is thick. The streets are being lined with flowers in preparation for the Olympics. I took a photo of the apartment building that we are living in, the tall reddish high rise. The rest of the photos I took as I walked around the Olympic venue. Some are of Olympic buildings and some of neighboring buildings. You can see that they are still building. I realized that I had not seen the sun until I took the photo with the sun peeping through the smog. We think that the tower that you see is where the Olympic flame will go. I went with June to get some lunch and she hid herself from the smog. We met the amazon delivery man who kindly let me take his photo. So far, except for one cranky taxi driver, everyone has been extremely nice and helpful to me. - anna

Friday, June 13, 2008

June Arrives in Beijing

June has arrived safely in Beijing. We passed through a beautiful tollbooth on the way to the airport. The Jersey turnpike should take note...
I was very happy to find out that across from the International arrivals gate is a Starbucks. You can sit and drink a latte while watching for your arriving passengers! I also stocked up on blueberry muffins for the next few mornings since baked goods aren't easy to find here. We don't have an oven in our kitchen (not that I will be baking) since Chinese cooking doesn't include baking apparently.
The apartment where we are living is located close to IAP which is also very close to the Olympic center. Our apartment is basically located across a highway from the main Olympic buildings. One of them looks like it is in the shape of the torch and has giant tv screens on the side. They seem to still be building that one but test images on the screens. I wonder if they will broadcast events on the screens or if it will be for advertisements? June and I went to look at the Water Cube at night. The Water Cube is the Olympic Aquatics Center and looks really cool at night when it is all lit up.

Field Site Selection

We are working this summer at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics - Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Our host is Professor Wang Zifa. There are two main locations of this Institute, the modeling site and the tower site, both are within a few miles to the main Olympic stadium. On Wednesday, Professor Wang took Yan and I on a tour of the Institute to scope out the field site where we will be working. Our summer work involves both modeling and field work and both IAP and Princeton are interested in the integration of the two. MIRTHE will be deploying two instruments for field testing at IAP this summer and we needed to locate ideal sites for each. Each instrument has its own unique set of requirements and we found two different locations that meet our needs. We did manage to get locked on one of the roofs while scoping out the sites but luckily Dr. Wang had his iphone so could call one of his graduate students to open the door! The good thing about working at the tower site is that you can see the tower from quite far away so we can't really get too lost! Did you notice how blue the sky is on this day?- anna

Welcome to Beijing!

I arrived in Beijing on Monday and have spent the week adjusting to being in China and to being 12 hours ahead of the east coast! Yan and I spent much of the week running errands to try to get our apartment set up. Although the apartment includes furniture, we needed to get sheets, towels, order water, get cell phone service etc. Some of the English translations gave me a good laugh! For example, the saucepan that I bought was labeled as a "glaring milkpan." I also learned that in Beijing you have to add salt to the dishwasher because the water is so hard. The air pollution problem was sadly immediately recognizable.

Monday, June 9, 2008

MIRTHE gears up for Beijing Olympics

by Yan Zhang-Princeton University

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing have focused attention on the problems of air quality in urban environments and will serve as an important platform for developing and testing new technologies and procedures for analysis and management of air quality problems. Regional decisions concerning industrial development, agricultural practice and urban policy can play important roles in air quality problems linked to fine particulate matter. The Olympic Games will provide an important research venue for addressing these issues and unique opportunities for advancing novel environmental sensor systems and atmospheric models. In our work, we will deploy two environmental sensor systems at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences near the Olympic Stadium in Beijing from June to August 2008 for continuous monitoring of trace gases, before, during, and after the Olympic Games. Data from these sensors will be incorporated into analyses using the Weather Research and Forecasting model, a state-of-the-art meteorological model which is coupled with an atmospheric chemistry (WRF-Chem) module. These analyses will be used to examine air quality problems in the Beijing metropolitan region and regional climatology problems linked to trends of decreasing precipitation in the Beijing metropolitan region associated with increased aerosol loadings.

The environmental sensor systems deployed in Beijing use Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs) as the core technology for measuring trace gases from "remote sensing" and "point" sensors. QCLs are tiny, tunable mid-Infrared (mid-IR) semiconductor laser sources that have extremely broad wavelength coverage (3-20 μm), which includes the wavelength range where trace gases have their strongest absorption features. The lasers are designed to emit at aparticular wavelength; thus, by knowing where a gas absorbs best, a laser can be designed for detection of that specific gas. As a result of new developments of QCLs, laser absorption spectroscopy is becoming aviable alternative to other analytical methods for trace gas sensing.

QCLOPS (Quantum Cascade Laser Open Path System) is an "open path" remote sensing system that uses two QCLs for monitoring multiple trace gases. The principal target gases for QCLOPS are ozone, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Elevated ozone levels in urban regions around the world present one of the greatest air quality and public health challenges associated with industrial and automobile emissions. Ammonia plays an important and complex role in aerosol chemistry in urban environments and development of sensor systems for ammonia has proven especially challenging. Carbon dioxide is broadly recognized as an important greenhouse gas and its measurement in urban environments is an important goal of QCLOPS. The laser radiation is transmitted through the air and reflected back by a retro-reflector to a detector. The detector is connected to a data acquisition system and a computer. The computer runs a custom algorithm to calculate concentrations.

NO and NO2 are important ozone precursors and their presence in urban environments is strongly connected to automobile emissions. Detection of NO and NO2 is of great interest for air quality problems linked to elevated ozone concentrations. Fast and sensitive detection of NO can be realized by Faraday rotation spectroscopy. The best NO detection limit (sub-ppbV;parts per billion by volume) can be obtained at approximately 5.3 μm. An "externalcavity" (EC) QCL source that precisely coincides withth isoptimum absorption wavelength was developed and a Faraday rotation spectrometer based on the EC-QCL was developed for detection of NO. The measurement technique will allow for sensitive and selective measurements of NO even in the presence of strongly interfering gases (especially water vapor). A fully automaticand autonomous EC-QCL Faraday rotation spectroscopic sensorsystem will be deployed at the Beijing test site for contiuous atnospheric NO monitoring.

The Weather Research and Forecasting model, coupled with the WRF-Chem atmospheric chemistry module (WRF-Chem), provides a powerful platform for meteorological and air quality forecasting, as well as regional analyses of the impact of anthropogenic emissions on air quality and regional climate. WRF-Chem has been used at Princeton for analyses of aerosol impacts on regional precipitation climatology in the Baltimore and New York City metropolitan region. With the collaboration of the Nansen-Zhu International Center of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP), the Chinese Academy of Sciences, WRF-Chem will be implemented as a forecasting tool for the Beijing Olympics. An important element of the forecasting system will be integrating observations from sensor systems like QCLOPS in to the forecasting process. The Princeton group will also work closely with IAP in studying and understanding how the urban aerosols influence local weather and public health through coupled modeling and monitoring analyses.