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