Friday, August 31, 2007

Coincidences

Here are some interesting little stories that I forgot to mention on my earlier posts. In other words, here's the more interesting stuff.

My hostel room in Munich was number 309. That's the number of the room that Yalu and I stayed in sophomore year. I couldn't believe my eyes when the person at the desk handed me the key.

The first night in Bonn, my friend mentioned that she had a linear algebra book from MIT. As we were already in bed, she couldn't show me. But I was like, linear algebra+MIT=Strang? She then goes on to say that it was useless for her because her linear algebra class was much more theoretical and that book had more applied stuff. I knew it had to be Strang's book. I told her I took his class and we have two linear algebra classes at MIT, one that's more applied and the other more theory. She showed me the book the next day and it was indeed by Strang, translated into German. I showed her the introduction where he dedicated the book to his grandchildren. I also showed her OCW. She was pretty impressed and looked through the physics stuff.

My roommate in Berlin, Hua-Chen, had a Neuorscience book that looked really familiar to me. I just checked the textbooks in Course 9 and I was right. They use the same book in 9.01. Hua-Chen also has some books by Noam Chomsky. Published by MIT Press and everything. She even had a book that was a collaboration between MIT and Cambridge.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Going to the Mall

Wish I can say the past few days have been exciting but here's a few mundane snippets of my life back home.

Yesterday and today were Spare the Air Days. This means that it's so hot that driving your car makes the air pollution even worse than usual. So on some Spare the Air Days, all the public transportation in the Bay Area is free. I didn't know about this yesterday so I walked to Jack London Square and back. That's about a 45 minute walk. It wasn't bad though. I got to feel the glorious sun on my skin and read some travel books while drinking coffee.

So today I decided to take advantage of this free transportation and got myself to Emeryville. I wanted to go to that one mall with Micheals, CompUSA, and Pets Club. I decided not to follow the directions given to me by the transit website and promptly got lost. I hopped on a shuttle that was supposed to take me to where I wanted to go but I think I missed the stop. I just got off where everyone else got off and ended up in the middle of nowhere. This was when I realized that I wasn't in Deutchland anymore. Whenever I got lost over there, I would just stop by a bus stop or just walk along with the rest of the people on the street. Here however, there was absolutely no one on the street. In fact, one should be suspicious of people like me who walk instead of drive or wait at a bus stop.

When I finally found the mall, I spend some time at Michaels picking out scrapbook stuff. I want to make a scrapbook for the past summer. I've already ordered pictures. But for some reason, Winkflash decided to order only 233 of my 330 pictures that I uploaded. So I have to order again. Sigh. Anyhow, after this, I walked over to Pets Club, CompUSA, and Best Buy. Not as easy as it sounds. This is not a mall that was designed to be walked. You're supposed to drive from one store to the next. When trying to find CompUSA, I walked into an OfficeMax because you can't see store names from the sidewalk. Having lived in Berlin, I am starting to realize just how unwalkable American cities are. I have a bike but I've never ridden it in Oakland because I don't feel safe. Everything is so car-centric.

Snowball

One of the great things about being home is being able to play with my cat. I really spoil this guy. I took several buses and BART to get him is own plant today. Anyhow, here's a video of him playing with a paper bag. All the paper bags and cardboard boxes we get from Trader Joes and Costco belongs to him.

The second day that I was back, I took a nap in the evening and missed dinner with my family. Snowball usually sleeps during the day and comes out during dinner time to socialize with us. He noticed that I wasn't there and thought I left. When I came out of my bedroom at around 9pm, he was really happy and kept meowing. Cute, huh? video

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Can't Sleep

It's 6am, I'm sitting in bed, and can't go back to sleep. It's actually better today. At least it isn't 3am. It's been like this for the past few days. Darn this time difference. I guess this is one of the drawbacks of living in California - Europe is so far away.

I visited my high school on Friday. All my teachers were there so that was nice. I stayed there for about 3 hours and my brother got really bored so I had to leave. Lena, you really gotta email Mr. Rike once in a while. He's still haunting the school.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Last Day in Berlin

I must've been really bored those last few days. I don't know who's going to read all these new posts. I mean, now that I'm home and Yalu on vacation...


By the time I post this, I’ll be sitting at home! I’m so excited. No more being depressed about leaving since that was about work. I definitely need to send a thank you note. Anyway, I spent the morning packing. Not much else to do since it was thunderstorming outside. A huge one too. It was pouring. Packing didn’t take too long and I spent the rest of the morning playing Starcraft and other games on my computer.

The rain let up around noon and I went to the supermarket to return more bottles and got some more souvenirs. My backpack is still pretty empty although my suitcases are definitely a lot heavier than when I came. I’m pretty sure when I came the weight limit was 50 pounds. But I checked on the website and it said that flying to the US, I have a weight limit of 70 pounds. Weird. I hope it’s right because I really don’t think my suitcases are under 50 pounds. Turns out I'm completely wrong and both of my suitcases were way under 50 pounds, even the big one. The big one was only 21kg so I had nothing to worry about.

At 2pm, I went and got my deposit from the housing office. It was sunny by now and very nice out. Since I don’t have a card to the computer room, I couldn’t get in. Usually the door is open or there are people inside. But since it was in the middle of the day on a weekday, the room was empty and locked. So I decided to bring my computer to Haus 6 and stood outside checking email. Good thing I took the effort since it turns out that Jingwen couldn’t make it to the airport for her 5am flight. There’s apparently no taxis that go there so early so she decided to take the Thursday afternoon flight. Since I’ll already be home, she asked me to leave my keys with a friend. I was getting a little worried about her since she was supposed to be back in Berlin at around 8am. But I figured her flight was delayed since it was raining so hard. Poor girl. Such bad luck. I hope she manages to get to the airport for her Friday morning flight home.

While I was checking my email, both Yalu and Xiumin started chatting with me on Google Talk. My computer started burning up since I was sitting in the sun, so I stood in the shade. But it’s hard to type while standing up, I was about to give up when I walked by some bikes under the shade. I balanced my laptop on one of them and chatted with Xiumin while checking the rest of my email. Good thing not many people were around.

After sitting around some more, I decided to take the bus past the Wannsee S-Bahn station, just to see what’s on the other side of the bridge. Turns out there isn’t much so I took the bus back, walked around the lake a little, and had a doner at the S-Bahn station. Yup, the same place that we got our first meal in Berlin. I thought I should eat one more doner in case I don’t find them in England. And where else more appropriate than the place where I got my first doner!

At around 7pm, Hua-Chen and Sarah came to pick me up. They took a lot of the food that I had left over with them. I spend the night at Hua-Chen's place. We watched a movie and I slept on her floor. The next morning I got up at 4:30am and caught a bus and then another bus to the airport.

Last Days at DB

Sorry everything's out of order. This one was written on August 21st, after my last day at work.


I’ve now officially finished my internship at Deutsche Bahn. Officially as in they’ve already deactivated my account when I tried to check my Lotus Notes email one more time at 3pm today.

Let’s start with Monday. I brought my DB toaster to work since it’s the wrong voltage and probably would not fit inside my suitcase. My family already has a toaster that I won at a raffle ten years ago. So I showed Oli and the new girl and put the toaster in the kitchen. At lunch time, Maika asked Oli if he had seen the DB toaster (or something like that. I still can’t understand a whole conversation but apparently toaster in German sounds a lot like toaster in English). Oli told her it was from me. She fiddled with the old toaster that was on the lunch table. I had never noticed this before or else I would’ve put the toaster on the table instead of the kitchen. She then went and got the DB toaster and replaced the old one with it. I tried to tell her that it puts the DB logo on bread but I used the wrong words. A lot of German and English words sound alike and if you use the right ones, people can understand you. So instead of ‘picture’ and ‘bread’ I really should’ve said ‘logo’ and ‘toast’. Anyway, Oli understood what I was trying to say and explained this to Maika. Maika wouldn’t believe him at first and he’s like, “look inside!” She did and was really impressed. She wanted to toast the secretary’s bread right then but it wasn’t the right kind of bread. When the secretary came to eat her lunch, Maika told her all about the toaster.

So that was the highlight of work on Monday. I had to wait until 6pm to meet with my boss. He knew I was leaving soon but didn’t realize it was the next day. I guess people don’t usually leave on Tuesdays but my flight is leaving on Thursday so there’s not much I can do about that. Anyhow, we went over all my projects and apparently I’m the first intern he’s had. So I guess he didn’t really know what to expect either.

So today (Tuesday) was my last day at work. I thought my coworkers knew because they were definitely talking about me in the morning. And I thought they could’ve guessed when I was cleaning out my desk but I’m not sure they did. I mean, they knew I was leaving soon but probably just weren’t sure when. Anyhow, I was busy in the morning going over all my projects. After lunch though, things slowed down because you can only read something so many times before falling asleep. And no matter how many times you refreash Gmail, there’s a limit to how many emails you’re going to get, especially when half of America is still sleeping. Anyway, the secretary was really surprised when I returned my card to her. She said, “Tomorrow, no?” That took me a second or two. I proceeded to say “auf wiedersehen” to my other coworkers. They thought it was cool that I was saying goodbye in German. I told my boss that I wanted to learn German while at Cambridge and come back to Germany after. He said I’m welcomed at the office and just give him a call. Not sure if he really means that but it would be cool to work at the same office again next summer. No, this wasn’t the most interesting summer job ever, but I really didn’t do it right the first time and I want to do it again. If I can work there again but able to communicate with my coworkers, it would be so awesome.

I mean it really sucked not being able to say anything at work. I think it’s customary at DB to bring in cake and make coffee on your last day. I thought about doing this but realized that the point of it is so that you can chat with your coworkers, talk about your time there, thank people, etc. And I can’t do that. Not like “won’t” or “don’t want to” but “cannot” as in “I don’t know enough German to hold a conversation.” So it would’ve been pointless and down right awkward. Which is why I’m glad I decided to bring in the toaster. Now they can make toast with the DB logo on it instead of having cake and coffee.

It was a bit sad that the two people who I actually interacted with in that office weren’t there today. Well, Bosner was there in the morning but he left sometime before lunch, I think. So I didn’t really get to say goodbye. And Jean wasn’t there at all. She asked me when I would be leaving last week and said that we’d see each other before that. But she travels around a lot and just couldn’t make it. I’ll just write them both an email to say thank you.

I met up with Carolyn after work and we walked around aimlessly until we got to an Asian restaurant that served Thai, Vietnamese, and sushi. It was good food. We both got mango lassi which is a yogurt-like drink. I got chicken pad thai while she got a noodle dish. Great food. Neither of us had much waiting for us back at our apartments so we just basically talked about random things and killed time. It was good. I’m glad I wasn’t just sitting in my apartment all night, all alone. Gosh, I don’t know what it would be like to live by myself. Must be lonely.

Work

Typed on August 17th, Friday after work. This entry is about my second to last week at work.


So when I got to the office on Wednesday, there is a new girl at Christiane’s desk. I think she is joining the controlling department. Don’t think she speaks English either but she’s nice. I can tell she’s new since she had a guest card and she called Oli, Herr Raad. That sounded really weird. She was working with the laptop because they had a lot of trouble with the desktop. It took forever to turn on. At one point, she and Oli were both just staring at the screen for like 5 minutes.

My supervisor wasn’t here the whole week. So I didn’t really do much. Just searched the Internet some more and organized my stuff.

On Friday, I gave a presentation on the different project management styles of Germany versus the US to some Chinese and German students who were visiting Deutsche Bahn. Some people from the Strategy department came and gave a presentation. Long presentation and then the students asked a lot of questions. Some of those questions weren’t that great. Like, “why’s the Bahn Card so expensive?” Anyhow, I thought my presentation went okay. I rushed through the slides though. I have this really habit of making up a script in my head, rehearsing it, and then play it back. I don’t think that’s the best way of presenting. Really need to work on this. I think I should be more natural and just improvise more. Except that I have doubts about my ability to improvise. I just end up saying “uh” a lot, which is no good either. Sigh.

Afterwards, Lauren, the other intern who presented, and I went out to lunch. Apparently there is a restaurant at the Sony Center that has a special everyday for Deutsche Bahn employees. So the whole meal was only about 6 Euros. Which is really great. Don’t find out about stuff like this when your coworkers all eat at the office. We chatted about California and school. Lauren goes to Stanford and is from New York. Kati joined us later on and we talked about random stuff such as having siblings. Lauren’s an only child while Kati has at least one older sister. We didn’t really get to talk a whole lot since it was like 2:30pm and we all had to get back to work.

My stomach hasn’t been feeling too well lately. It was pretty bad in the afternoon. I should’ve just gone home early. But I stayed until both of my officemates left. I don’t think it’s actually that bad except that I was also really depressed about leaving Germany. I mean, I’m really glad to be going home but I’m really going to miss my coworkers. They’re such nice people. And fun to work with. I wish I can do it all over again except that I know German. I mean, they make an effort to eat lunch together everyday. You don’t find that everywhere. Not even in other departments of Deutsche Bahn. It makes people feel like they’re part of a family. And they are like a family. They know the names of each other’s family members, have each other’s cell phone numbers, and make fun of each other. I think when you can joke around with another person, poke fun at them, and laugh with them, that’s when you really get to know them. I only make fun of people that I consider friends. Because they know that I’m just joking around and not being mean.

Anyway, I came back to my dorm and took a short nap. All the FUBiS kids are leaving tomorrow. Well, except for one of the guys who is staying for the weekend. I don’t mind since that means I’ll have company. It’ll be really lonely when everyone leaves though. I just got really, really depressed thinking about leaving Germany and not working with my DB coworkers anymore. So I played some Starcraft to keep myself distracted. Didn’t help too much since I kept losing but it killed time. I feel better after writing this all down though.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Munich Part V - Last Day

Now that I'm back home, here's the rest of the Munich trip. With pictures!

We got up a little later on the last day and didn’t get out the door until nearly 10am. After I had breakfast at the hostel, I waited around the lobby for Jingwen to finish checking her email and overheard some other people talking about traveling. This one guy was trying to decide whether to go to Prague or Amsterdam and was chatting with another guy and girl about it.

Girl: Amsterdam’s more fun. Prague’s more… scenic.
Guy: I’m tired of scenic. Amsterdam’s more fun?
Girl: Yeah, I thought so.
Guy 2: Yeah, Amsterdam’s definitely a lot of fun.

All three of them looked like college kids. Definitely won’t get a conversation like this at a hotel. You meet people at youth hostels that have been everywhere, are planning to go everywhere, and people who just like traveling around. People come in and out with big backpacks, on their way across Europe. It’s so cool.

After we checked out of the hostel, we went to the English Gardens, walked around a bit, and found the Chinese Pagoda. On the way there, I asked why Jingwen wanted to see this pagoda so much, given that she had just gotten back from China.

Jingwen: Because it’s funny.
Me: Funny?
Jingwen: Yeah, I saw a picture of it and in my eyes it looks nothing like Chinese. It’s like they tried to imitate a Chinese pagoda and failed.
Me: So you want to see this because it’s funny?
Jingwen: Yeah. And it’s in the middle of Munich. If it was in Beijing, it’d be like whatever.

I was confused. I don’t think anything is worth seeing just because it’s somehow supposed to be funny. Not with swollen feet anyhow. After getting to Munich, Jingwen’s feet started swelling pretty badly. It got worse everyday. It was especially bad today but she managed to take us through the gardens, detoured to see a lake, and then walk to the pagoda. So I didn’t think much of her complaints about her feet since she seemed to be doing just fine. But after we got back to Berlin, you can actually see her feet were really swollen. The next day she said that she had a hard time putting shoes on for work.

Anyhow, we went back to the city center and ate at a restaurant that my guidebook recommended. It wasn’t cheap at all. Our dishes were like 17 Euros and 3 Euros for beer. The food and beer were really, really good. I got pork knuckles which is a Bavarian specialty along with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. I actually didn’t think sauerkraut was as bad as Jingwen made it out to be. I would’ve finished mine except that there was no way for me to finish the whole meal. The waitress gave us 0.5 liters of beer each even though we asked for 0.3 L. It was really good beer though. I felt a little dizzy afterwards.

The train going back was not fun at all. We got our stuff from the hostel and I left for the train station 10 minutes before my train was scheduled to leave. I managed to get a ticket and hop on the train with plenty of time to spare. That’s what I like about trains. No checking in, lines, etc. It was a nice ICE this time but I wish it wasn’t. Because it turned out to be one of the new ones that actually leans over when it goes around a corner. Most people didn’t notice but since I was so tired, had a headache, and gets motion sickness so easily, I noticed. Kim had told me about these trains and I wanted to avoid them. But since I only had 10 minutes before it left, I hopped on without looking at the numbers. I think these trains run only between Berlin and Munich and are the ones designated 1605 or 1604. Well, at first, I was sleeping so well that the ticket checker guy had to tap me on the shoulder. I didn’t even hear him. But after that, I felt nauseated for a lot of the trip. I managed to not throw up and slept a lot. The scenery wasn’t great either. We were taking a different route than the one I took going to Munich. Just a bunch of farm land. Didn’t go through the forest at all.

Munich Part IV - Salzburg

On Monday, we went to Salzburg. We got a Brayen pass that allowed us to travel anywhere in the state for a whole day for 27 Euros. We had to wait until 9am to use it though so we walked around the English Garden a little bit and came back to the Hauptbahnhof to catch the train the Salzburg. It was a 2 hour train ride and there were lots of other people going. People travel a lot in Germany. Well, I think the people across from us were Italian and we saw a lot of Spanish tourists around too.

The Salzburg Hauptbahnhof is really old. We ate at a nearby café after getting off since we were both hungry. I got a pasta dish along with ice cream coffee. Both very good. We got a little guidebook with a map and started walking around the city. The old city is actually across the river from the train station. We walked around a really nice garden and saw Mozart’s birthplace before crossing over to the other side.

It wanted to rain for a while but never started pouring. We walked around some churches, an outdoor market, found the famous little street with cute street signs, and finally found another Residenz (not sure whose it is but it looked nice from the outside). There is a castle on top of a hill but it cost 10 Euros to take a lift. This included the admissions to the castle. We decided to just walk up since it wasn’t that far. But when we got there, it turns out that we had to buy a 7 Euro ticket to go inside, which included the lift to go down. We couldn’t even walk around the castle. I didn’t want to see the inside of the castle anyhow but we wanted to walk around the top and get a nice view of Salzburg.

After this we wanted to take a bus to see the Sound of Music pavilion. We got on the wrong bus so it took us like 2 hours to get there. It’s about 30 minutes away by bus. We got off at the wrong stop but the bus driver was kind enough to let us back on. So after getting lost a lot, we got there and saw the pavilion. Not very amazing given all the effort we put into finding the place. The rest of the park is very nice though. We didn’t have time to explore much since we wanted to catch the train that leaves Salzburg at 9:18pm, bringing us back to Munich at around 11pm. We got some food at a Burger King. I got a milkshake and some onion rings. People don’t eat onion rings much here. You can’t get it with a value meal and they had to fry mine especially for me. The onions weren’t very fresh, a bit mushy.

Munich Part III - Day 2

So while Jingwen is off to see the castle, I decided to go to see the Deutsches Museum. I didn’t go the most direct way because I saw on my guidebook that there are a few buildings that I should see. Well I saw those buildings and then quickly got lost. Yeah, again. It might have something to do with the fact that the street names change every two blocks.

Anyway, I finally found a bus stop with a map but at that point I didn’t really need a map. I saw the Isar River. I found out that I was so not where I wanted to go. But now I can just follow the river and hit the museum at some point. The museum is on its own island in the middle of the river. When I finally got there it was around 9:30am. The museum had opened at 9am and I wanted to get there as early as possible so I can visit the Residenz (where King Ludwig lived) later in the day. Every museum closes at around 5pm.

There weren’t a lot of people since it was so early. It only cost 3 Euros for me since I got the student price. This MIT ID is so handy. The first exhibit I went into was the one with ships and all things related to the sea. It was like heaven! I really love ships and such. They had two old ships inside the museum. I took lots of pictures of this exhibit. The basement was humongous too. I had though it was just something small so I went down. But the exhibit just went on and on. This pretty much describes the whole museum. There were airplanes, bridges (they even have a small suspension bridge that you can walk on!), sundials, ceramics, mining things, wind and water turbines, and everything related to science and technology. It’s definitely one of the most amazing museums I’ve been to.

I walked around for like 5 hours and didn’t see all of it. Around 2pm, I was really tired and didn’t want to see anything more. I went to the museum shop and was disappointed with the stuff they had. I thought they would have some of the cool stuff that I saw. But no.

From there I walked along a big street that took me back into the city center. Before I got there though, I stopped at a discount bakery store and got some food. Everything outside of the city center was really cheap. Should’ve tried those Turkish pizzas.

I walked back to the hostel and took a nap. I got out again at around 3pm. So since I figured I won’t get to see the Residenz, I thought I’d walk over to see Konigs Platz and the English Garden. I found the Konigs Platz and then got lost again. After walking in a big circle, I found part of the English Garden and could not find how to get to the rest of it. By this time, I was really tired again and sat on the grass.

That’s when Sigi saw me again. Such a coincidence. He invited me to walk with him around the city center. So I did and he told me about some of the buildings around the city. I found out that St. Peter’s church is actually the oldest church in Munich, not the Dom - the most famous church in Munich. He got me a cup of cappuccino at McDonalds and we stopped by some really pretty churches that were built in the Rococo style. I think he is Catholic and actually goes to these churches. I found out that he lived in Japan for 7 months for work. He works for Canon and has traveled all over Asia. He’s not married so I got a little uncomfortable when he invited me to dinner at his apartment.

He lives right in the city center in one of those places above a store. He invited me to a home cooked dinner but I made some stupid excuse and we parted. That was the last time I saw him. Nice guy but not sure what to make of his asking me to his apartment. I mean, he’s about 40 years old, has white hair, wears purple suits, etc.

Anyway, I went back to the dorm because I didn’t get to relax on the lawn and was dead tired by this point. When I walked in, I found a guy sleeping on one of the empty beds. I was really surprised since I thought I had booked a female dorm. Apparently not. This is really something since the shower is right in the room and there is just one glass door. We have to undress outside of the shower and it just wouldn’t work out with a guy there. So I explored the showers upstairs, found them empty, and took a shower there. It was only 7pm so most people weren’t back yet. At around 8 or 9pm, I walked around outside again, ended up getting some pizza at a pizzeria near the hostel, and just ate at the hostel. Jingwen came back later and was pretty upset about living in a mixed dorm. But since the guy was out, we just locked the door while she took a shower. This worked for us the next day as well. Another guy arrived in the middle of the night and neither of them came back until at least midnight both nights.

Munich Part II - Day 1

So after I finally got to Munich, I had a strange feeling that Jingwen and I were somehow going to miss each other at the train station, even though we agreed on which exit to meet at. We agreed to meet at the south exit but after standing there for about 10 minutes and not seeing her, I though maybe her flight got delayed since it was rainy out. It was rainy and cold. So cold that I had to put on 3 layers. Good thing I bought the right clothes. Anyway, I went to the hostel and found out that she had indeed checked in but wasn't in the room right now. So I got the key to our room and dropped off my stuff.

I went back to the train station to search for her one more time. Upon not finding her, I decided to go explore the city myself. This is why I now have a dozen pictures of my head and a building.

Munich is a nice city. It's different from Berlin in that it has a city center that is alive. Berlin's city center was where the Wall is and is now dominated by the Bahn Tower. There are no clubs or restaurants or anything fun yet I still see tour buses stopping at Potsdamer Platz everyday. I'm still trying to figure out why these tourists are there.

I followed my guidebook to one of the gateways into the city center. My guidebook suggested crossing the busy street by using the underground passage. So I did. Except I got confused once I got underground and came up on the wrong exit. So I went back down and this time, I just got out of the exit that had two escalators and a ton of people. Not sure why I didn’t do this the first time.

Munich's city center has lots of old churches, nice little stores, restaurants, and fountains. Lots of fountains. This cute fish fountain at Marienplatz is a popular meeting place for tours and such. There was a gay pride parade that weekend. Well, I missed the parade since it was in the morning but they partied all weekend at Marienplatz.

After walking around for a long time, I went back to the hostel and Jingwen was there, sleeping on her bed. She was looking for me at the train station and came back to the hostel right after I left the place. She had been sleeping ever since. Still jetlagged from China. We went out for a while and walked around a bit, mostly around the gardens behind the Residenz. There was no other people there since it was raining and getting dark.

We separated on the way back since Jingwen got a subway pass and wanted to take the train. I was happy to just walk back. When I got out of the an underground passage way that took me across a busy street, I looked around to figure out where I was. A guy who looked like he was about 40 asked me if I needed help. I said no and he asked me where I was from, etc. We chatted a little bit and I found out that he works for Cannon, something to do with office machines and electricity. I later found out his name is Sigi. Sigi asked me to go back into the city with him but I was tired and wanted sleep so I refused. I slept pretty well that night.

Home

It's been 5 months but I'm finally back home! Yay! It's so awesome to see my family again, eat homecooked food, not have to think about groceries, speak English, yup.

My flights went pretty well. I got up at 4:30am and left my friend's place. Got to the airport but the check-in lady didn't give me a seat for my second flight. I thought it would be okay since I would be arriving at Frankfurt 2 hours early. But no. They have a stupid system where you have to stand in line to check in your bags, stand in line for security, stand in line to have to get into the boarding area, and stand in line again to board the plane. So since I didn't have an assigned seat and the people at the gate had to check everyone in before they knew which seats were available (stupid, stupid), I had to wait until everyone else gets on board. The info should already be available since everyone checked in already. Never seen such a dumb system.

Of course, I ended up with a middle seat, sandwiched between this big Italian guy and an American. Luckily, the American is a nice guy and we chatted during the flight. Lufthansa has really good service but some really old planes. There were no individual TVs in the economy class and the flight was 11 hours. The seats were so small and I had no legroom whatsoever. At least this time I could see the TV from my seat and watched Shrek the Third and Blades of Glory.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sunday: Souvenir Hunting

At around noon, I left to go souvenir hunting, for real this time. Jingwen didn’t come with me because her feet started hurting again. She thinks it’s because she walked too much in the past couple of weeks. I didn’t know this could happen but it is.

I took the train the Frederickstrasse and walked towards the Brandenburg Tor on Unter den Linden where all the souvenir shops are. Not going to write about what I got since it would be no fun for the people who are getting these gifts. Well, half the stuff I got is for me but whatever. Anyway, from Brandenburg Tor I took Bus 100, which goes through a lot of the tourist attractions. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go but I was just getting a little tired of walking and wanted to find a good café. The ones on Unter den Linden didn’t look too great to me. So I hopped on the bus and got off when I saw a place that looked like it has some good cafes. Makes me want to get one of those shirts from Life is Good that say “All who wander is not lost.” That’s what I felt like.

Anyway, the area did have some good cafes. I got some more souvenirs and drank a ice latte mocha at a Balzac Café. There is one near where I work but I’ve never tried it. It was okay. Apparently they specialize in espressos and I wanted coffee. My mocha was made with espresso. Couldn’t find wireless but it was fun watching people walk by. This is one of the things I really like about Germany. On Sundays, people actually relax. They walk to the park, drink coffee at cafes, read the paper, and just sit around. Or they go to museums or tour other cities. I wish Americans traveled around more. Not camping but just tour another city for a day or two. I guess it’s not the same since there aren’t a whole lot of historical sites in the US. Not like in Europe anyway.

When I got back to Wannsee, I got currywurst at one of the imbiss stands outside of the station. There is actually an Eis Café (ice cream café) there. I didn’t even know. I mean, I knew that you can get ice cream since there is a big plastic ice cream cone in front but I didn’t know you can get eiskaffe (coffee with ice cream) and tall glasses of ice cream things. The currywurst was pretty good. It’s just sausage with ketchup and curry powder. I got it with fries. The fries were freshly fried and were so hot that I nearly burned my tongue 10 minutes after I got the fries. I wish I know more about sausages though. There are a million different kinds here. I don’t really like the pink, monotexture type. I like the thick, spiced ones. It seems to be a hit and miss every time I get a bratwurst. More misses than hits unfortunately. The best one I’ve tasted so far was in Lubeck. Outside their rathaus, during an Italian festival.

Speaking of ice cream, I've eaten more ice cream this summer than my past two years at MIT.

Saturday: Day of Misfortunes (luckily not for me)

Saturday morning I woke up at around 8am, nearly 9am. The first person I saw was a really frantic Salah running around the apartment. When he saw me, Salah: I’m going to miss my flight! What can I do?Me: You can probably pay a little extra to get on the next flight. Which airport are you going to?Salah: Tegel. Is there a taxi that I can take? Will it be faster?Me: There are taxis at Wannsee.After this he rushed out the door. I hope he made the airplane. Especially if he took a taxi all the way from Wannsee. The taxi would’ve been really expensive. Probably about 50 Euros or so. I found out later that he’s flying to Paris and then back to Lebanon. It would be a real hassle to have to change the connecting flight too.

An hour later, the Polish guy (I can’t spell his name), left as well. He just has to take a train. After this, I went to the computer room to check my email and came back to find Shahab really worried. It turns out that his mom had helped him buy an ICE ticket to go from Berlin to Frankfurt (where his flight leaves to go to Canada) but had put her credit card as the ID. So for the ICE, you need to use either a credit card or Bahn card as an ID if you buy a ticket online. They compare the ID and your ticket on the train. I think it’s so that you can’t pass the ticket onto someone else to use. Anyway, his mom had not made a Bahn.de account so they can’t change the ID online. He’s really, really worried and wanted to buy another train ticket and get DB to refund the one that his mom had paid for. I told him not to worry and just go to the Hauptbahnhof and ask about it and that the last thing he should do is to worry about buying another ticket. Train tickets are always available. But he’s still worried sick. He came back late that night and told me the next morning that they couldn’t change it so he got another ticket and has to go through a long paper process to get a refund. I guess people don’t usually ask for refunds on a fully flexible ticket. I think he could’ve gotten them to change the ID. It’s just that he was so suck on just buying another train ticket. What he really should’ve done is buy a plane ticket on German Wings. I mean, a full price train ticket to Frankfurt is like 100 Euros. Crazy, yeah? So lesson learned: Don’t panic. Always make an account.

I had planned to go souvenir hunting this weekend and was walking through the parking lot to catch the bus when I saw Jingwen walking into the parking lot. Very surprised, I called out to her because she had her head down. Turns out that she had missed her flight and had to reschedule for Sunday night. First of all she misread the bus schedule and caught a bus that left 10 minutes later than what she had planned. And then she found out that on weekends, the S-Bahn doesn’t go to the Shonefeld airport. She had to take a U-Bahn and an airport shuttle or something complicated like that. And on top of that, EasyJet closes check-in 40 minutes early instead of 30 minutes. So even though she wasn’t checking in any luggage, she still couldn’t make it to her flight. The next flight was Sunday evening. Since her original flight was supposed to be Saturday morning, that’s nearly 2 days less. She has to pay 50 Euros to change her flight and 100 Euros more if she wanted to change her return flight. The lady at the counter said that she could check the other airlines but they open at 10am; it was 8am. So after thinking about it for a while, she decided to change only her flight to Paris and came back to Wannsee.

However, luckily for her, some idiot tried to jam a whole folder down the key drop at the Housing Office’s key drop. So I couldn’t put Salah’s key down the box. I didn’t think it was safe just leaving where anyone can take it so I had planned to drop it off on Monday. So Saturday night she stayed in Salah’s room instead of on the couch in my room.

Okay, so the misfortunes end here, more or less. Jingwen and I went out to Berlin together. She wanted to go to Charlottenburg but I was pretty tired of seeing gardens and palaces at this point. I think she was too but she just wanted to be able to say that she had been there. I took us to the flea market at Tiergarten. Jingwen’s not very interested in flea markets plus her feet weren’t up to walking too much, so after walking through one aisle, she sat on a bench and waited for me. I really like flea markets and I found one stand that was selling a huge box of stamps for 5 Euros. I was so shocked at the amount of stamps in the box that I didn’t know what to make of it at first. All the stamps are in really good condition too. So after thinking about it for a while, I got the stamps. Great choice. I increased my collection of East European stamps by like 100 fold. Probably more.

After this we went to the Arkaden mall in Potsdamer Platz to eat at the ice cream place. Jingwen treated me to ice cream as a thank you for letting her leave her stuff in my room and such. We both got similar things. Even though they were on the small side compared to the rest of the menu, we both got full from it. I nearly didn’t finish. It was so amazing.

We sat in the middle of the mall and found free wireless with my computer. We both checked email and then decided to go to Alexanderplatz since Jingwen had never been there. After walking around there for a while, we wanted to take the tram all the way to Schloss Strasse since we had never been on the tram before. But after failing to find the right tram, we just go on one that took us back to Alexanderplatz. There we took the S-Bahn to Rathaus Steglitz and walked to the mall on Schloss Strasse.

This mall is pretty big and we walked around it for about 3 hours. I got a tank top and bag while Jingwen got a shirt, flip flops, bag, and probably some other stuff. She really likes shopping. I wanted to get souvenirs but apparently they don’t have any souvenir shops there. If they did, the stuff would’ve been cheaper than at the tourist attractions, which is why I wanted to check there.

So after not finding souvenirs, we went back to the dorm and cooked dinner. I packed a little bit. I have a lot of stuff but I think I will be able to manage. Most of the stuff that are still in the dorm I will not bring with me – oil, salt, laundry detergent, etc.

This past week at work

Will post more stuff about Munich once I get home. Hard to upload pictures at work.

So when I got to the office on Wednesday, there is a new girl at Christiane’s desk. I think she is joining the controlling department. Don’t think she speaks English either but she’s nice. I can tell she’s new since she had a guest card and she called Oli, Herr Raad. That sounded really weird. She was working with the laptop because they had a lot of trouble with the desktop. It took forever to turn on. At one point, she and Oli were both just staring at the screen for like 5 minutes.

My supervisor wasn’t here the whole week. So I didn’t really do much. Just searched the Internet some more and organized my stuff.

On Friday, I gave a presentation on the different project management styles of Germany versus the US to some Chinese and German students who were visiting Deutsche Bahn. Some people from the Strategy department came and gave a presentation. Long presentation and then the students asked a lot of questions. Some of those questions weren’t that great. Like, “why’s the Bahn Card so expensive?” Anyhow, I thought my presentation went okay. I rushed through the slides though. I have this really habit of making up a script in my head, rehearsing it, and then play it back. I don’t think that’s the best way of presenting. Really need to work on this. I think I should be more natural and just improvise more. Except that I have doubts about my ability to improvise. I just end up saying “uh” a lot, which is no good either. Sigh.

Afterwards, Lauren, the other intern who presented, and I went out to lunch. Apparently there is a restaurant at the Sony Center that has a special everyday for Deutsche Bahn employees. So the whole meal (including drinks) was only about 6 Euros. Which is really great. Don’t find out about stuff like this when your coworkers all eat at the office. We chatted about California and school. Lauren goes to Stanford and is from New York. Kati joined us later on and we talked about random stuff such as having siblings. Lauren’s an only child while Kati has at least one older sister. We didn’t really get to talk a whole lot since it was like 2:30pm and we all had to get back to work.

My stomach hasn’t been feeling too well lately. It was pretty bad in the afternoon. I should’ve just gone home early. But I stayed until both of my officemates left. I don’t think it’s actually that bad except that I was also really depressed about leaving Germany. I mean, I’m really glad to be going home but I’m really going to miss my coworkers. They’re such nice people. And fun to work with. I wish I can do it all over again except that I know German. I mean, they make an effort to eat lunch together everyday. You don’t find that everywhere. Not even in other departments of Deutsche Bahn. It makes people feel like they’re part of a family. And they are like a family. They know the names of each other’s family members, have each other’s cell phone numbers, and make fun of each other. I think when you can joke around with another person, poke fun at them, and laugh with them, that’s when you really get to know them. I only make fun of people that I consider friends. Because they know that I’m just joking around and not being mean.

Anyway, I came back to my dorm and took a short nap. All the FUBiS kids are leaving tomorrow. Well, except for one of the guys who is staying for the weekend. I don’t mind since that means I’ll have company. It’ll be really lonely when everyone leaves though. I just got really, really depressed thinking about leaving Germany and not working with my DB coworkers anymore. So I played some Starcraft to keep myself distracted. Didn’t help too much since I kept losing but it killed time. I feel better after writing this all down though.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Munich Part I - Getting There

In Munich right now and taking advantage of the free wireless at my hostel (Jaegers). No pictures because I didn't bring the USB cord for my camera. Will be back home in two weeks and will probably upload then.


I opted to take the train while Jingwen got a plane ticket to Munich. We both woke up at 5am and got ready to leave. I left about 20 minutes later because the train station isn’t quite as far and I don’t have to check in or anything. I got to the train station with some time to spare so I printed out times for my return on Tuesday as well as times for Salzberg. I walked into the Virgin store next door and looked around for a book or magazine. I found an English magazine section and got an edition of Reader’s Digest. It was 6.50 Euros but I got it anyway. It was a good choice especially since the train ride is almost 6 hours long and I haven’t read Reader’s Digest in a long time. We used to get it at home but we stopped after a while. It’s a great magazine. The funny stories that people send in are just hilarious.

The train started from Berlin so it was empty when I got on. The ICE that I took is an older version so the seats are not as comfortable but the tables for 4 people are equipped with 2 sockets instead of just one. I found a table with just one other guy in it. I sat down but I wanted to keep reading my magazine instead of using my computer right away. Which turned out to be not such a good choice because a huge group of bikers came in later and two of them had reserved seats at our table. So I had to move to the aisle seat and couldn’t plug my computer in.

The scenery for a lot of trip was amazing! Brandenburg (the state that surrounds Berlin) doesn’t have much. Mostly agriculture, and the landscape is really flat. A little after we left Leipzig though, the scenery got much better. We passed through forests. The day was overcast and there was a mist that hung between the tops of the trees. It was really beautiful. I spent a lot of time just looking out the window. Too bad I didn’t have a window seat. Once in a while, we would pass by a village. After Nurnberg, the bikers left and the scenery got less pretty. There’s more agriculture again and the hills were in the distance. It’s okay though since I only had about an hour left. I used part of it to type this entry up.

This past week at work

The beginning of the week was pretty uninteresting. It mostly involved me combing through the internet for info for my new project.

Tuesday afternoon, I heard something coming from Oli’s computer and when I looked over, he informed me that it was Transformers. I walked over and it was the trailer on YouTube. I told him that I would watch it with my brother after I get back and he said that he was going to go watch it on Wednesday. It came out in the US on July 4th but had only reach German on August 1st. I asked him if he watched the cartoon and he nodded. So the next day, he left work really early at around 2:30 in the afternoon. I was really confused when he said goodbye to me. He usually works really late. I looked from the clock on my computer to my watch, both of which said 14:30. I even subtracted 12 from 14 to make sure. Anyhow, he said the movie was good. One of his friends called his cell phone and he said something about Transformers and 5 Euros. I’m getting better at this German business, lol.

So on Wednesday, Carolyn and I went to watch Harry Potter in its original English version. The theater was not full at all so we got better seats than we were assigned to. The movie was great the second time around too. I actually understood the conversations this time. But what changed the movie even more for me was that this time, I’ve finished the 7th book. I looked at everything in the movie with such a different perspective. Carolyn said the same thing. Everything made so much more sense and both of us said that we really need to read the books and watch the movies again.

On Thursday I got to work at 10am because the S-Bahn was on strike again. I took the Regional Express from Wannsee to the Zoo Station. From there I took a bus instead of checking if the U-Bahn took me to Potsdamer Platz. It actually does but I saw some other interns later in the day and one of them said that the U2 was so packed that he had to wait for a second train. The bus that I took only took me to Unter den Linden though. So I had to walk from there to my workplace which was a 10 minute walk in hot, humid weather.

Anyway, I met up with Dorothee Hartmann for lunch. She was the one who emailed me about this internship and we’ve been in contact a lot. I met her for the first time at the DB International Club Event back in July. We went out to a popular pasta place. They make their pasta fresh and cook the sauce right in front of you. You can also get salads or pizzas. The pastas are about 5-8 Euros a plate. It was really good. We mostly talked about my internship and impressions of Germany. After this, we went to a nearby coffee shop. Dorothee said that in recent years coffee shops have become really popular in Germany. They’re everywhere and people really like them. She said that whenever she travels she worries that she won’t be able to find a good coffee shop. I told her that I wanted to visit Australia at some point and it turns out that she visits there about every two years in January. She absolutely loves the place and talked about it very excitedly.

Late afternoon, after nearly everyone else had left, I finally got a chance to talk to my boss about what I’ve been doing. He seems surprised by all the things I’ve found. He told me more about what he wanted out of the project. Which was good. My project is on phytoremediation (using plants to clean up industrial waste in soil, groundwater, sediment, etc.). I think he was under the impression that using phytoremediation is more expensive than conventional methods. I was really surprised because I had thought it was common knowledge that phytoremediation is usually a lot cheaper. One of the things about Germans is that they don’t embrace new technology with quite as much enthusiasm as Americans. They’re still thinking about phytoremediation and only have a few pilot projects while it’s been in use in America pretty extensively for the past 20, 30 years. By the time I met with him, it was just me, him, and Oli in our part of the office. It was kind of creepy since all the doors were closed and it was dark outside since it was really cloudy.

I got to work a little earlier on Friday. Everyone was already there were just chatting in the secretary’s office. I really wished I could’ve joined them. And if I know German, I could have. But since I don’t, it was useless for me even try. After a few minutes of me checking email, Jean came in and asked if I had work to do now. She hadn’t gotten my email from the day before so she went to check. I could’ve just told her what was in it but she left really quickly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bonn Part IV - Sunday

We got up a little earlier on Sunday, ate breakfast, and made some more sandwiches. The Regional Express to Cologne leaves from Bonn every half an hour so we left the dorm hoping to catch a bus. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, the bus only came very hour before 11am. So we hurried to the Hauptbahnhof.

On the way there, there was a lady ahead of us also rushing somewhere. Fan guessed that she is also trying to catch the train like we are. She said that sometimes when they get lost going to her chess tournaments, she would find people on the streets who look like chess players and ask them. It works. I should give this one a try too! lol.

We made our train with time to spare. It comes very half an hour so it wasn’t a big deal anyway. Once we got to Cologne, we walked along the Rhine until we came to the Chocolate Museum. The museum was very cool. It had explanations of the whole cocoa bean growing and chocolate making processes. There is also a greenhouse with cocoa plants. Fan said that she has a cocoa plant at her parent’s place. But when we went into the greenhouse, we saw that the cocoa plants looked a lot like the mystery plant in her room. This mystery plant was left to her by one of her former neighbors who planted a pot of soil with whatever seeds that she had until one of them grew. Fan had thought the leaves looked like ones on an avocado tree. However her friend said that she had never put any avocado seeds in the soil. So we were really amazed by this discovery. In fact, the trees didn’t really look like the plant at her parents’ place but very, very similar to the one in her room.

Did I ever mention that German people seem to like having plants around? Plants and flowers are very cheap here. My office has lots of plants. They’re very big too. Each office has its own collection of at least 5 plants, many of which sit on desks.

After reading all about the chocolate making process, we got to see it in action. There is a factory inside the museum that makes chocolate. There’s even a huge fondue where one of the museum people dips wafers into and gives them out for free (picture: the melted chocolate comes out of some of the golden cocoa beans on the bottom). We went three times to get chocolate covered wafers. Warm chocolate, yum…

There were also exhibits of modern chocolate brands and such. It was all very interesting. Definitely worth the four Euros. I got a few things from the gift store including a bar of nougat which we ate after our lunch of sandwich and grapefruit.

We got back to the train station with just enough time for me to get a ticket and board the train with 5 minutes to spare. Getting really good at this timing.

On the train, I looked for an empty table with an electric socket. It didn’t exists, of course, even though the train wasn’t very full at all. So I sat behind two of these four people tables hoping that one of the occupants of these tables would leave before Berlin. Meanwhile, I played with my camera and figured out that I can actually take pretty good quality videos and zoom in and out while using camera mode. On one of the intermediate stops, the two guys in front of me left. I was so surprised at my luck! But as soon as I sat down, a family of three came in and sat with me. And they weren’t leaving until Berlin, so no luck there. But it was okay. I got to type up a lot of entries for this blog as well as watch two episodes of Stargate.

When I got back to my dorm, two of the guys were eating dinner. They said they missed me. Awww. They had gone to the lake on the weekend and went boating. Wish I had gone with them. Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to swim in this lake… Anyhow, they also cleaned the house! They mopped the floor of the kitchen with soap. I was very impressed.


Bonn Part III - Saturday

Since we went to sleep so late the night before, we got up at 10am. We went to the grocery store and got milk, grapefruit, sausages, and bread. Fan's mom made cereal for her with granola and pine seeds. Fan added sesame and honey before adding milk. It was really good. I need to try this too. I’m learning a lot about cooking this summer. Hua-Chen and her friends like pasta so now I can prepare pasta without using pasta sauce.

After eating breakfast, we prepared some sandwiches and took them with us so we can picnic somewhere. Fan has a picnic mat. Very handy, need to get one of those too.

We walked to the bus station and took the bus to another part of the campus. The University of Bonn is very spread out. Academic buildings and dorms are all over the city. MIT has much more of a campus than they do. We went to the building that was on the postcard that Fan sent me a couple of years ago. There is a huge lawn in front of the building. Much bigger then Killian. Every first Saturday of the month, they have a bike sale.

We kept walking around the city and after a while we took the U-Bahn to the government district. Bonn was the capital of West Berlin. All the buildings now are UN buildings. Everything for German moved to Berlin after Reunification. There weren’t a lot of people there. Okay, there was practically no one there. There was, however, a cute ice cream shop build out logs. It looked just like those Lincoln log toy houses!

We went back to the U-Bahn station again to take the train to Bad Godesberg, a nearby village. The station connected to a museum and part of the museum was underground. We walked through that and saw a really old DB train that was once used by the first German chancellor. One of the good things about museums is that they always have bathrooms. And these bathrooms are usually outside of the exhibits and are free. This particular museum had a very nice bathroom.

We took the train to Bad Godesberg and walked around. We saw a fortress on a hill but realized that we were very hungry. So we walked to a nearby park, spread out the blanket, and started to eat our sandwiches. Bees and other insects attacked us but luckily they stopped once we finished. We had to trap one in our sandwich box. After eating, we relaxed on the grass. I think I fell asleep for a little while.

Fan saw a chess player that she knew and they talked for a while. I think she asked him if there’s anything to see around Bad Godesberg and Bonn and he said that they’re just villages and that we should go to Cologne to see the cathedral. But I had already been to the cathedral. We had planned to go to Cologne on Sunday anyway to visit a chocolate museum. This would be more convenient for me since the ICE to Berlin goes through Cologne.

We got back to the university building with the big lawn, found a nice spot, and ate a grapefruit. There were lots and lots of people playing soccer. There were also a couple of people in one corner juggling and a few people playing Frisbee but mostly soccer. When we sat down, a family next to us started their own soccer game. There were lots of little boys. Not all from the same family but they were all about 6-8 years old. They had a very good game going. I took a picture. Aren’t they cute? Fan and I talked about the various sports in Germany and US. This was when I realized that I hadn’t seen a single basketball hoop the whole time I’ve been here. Not a single one! Fan said that people usually go to the gym to play basketball.

Fan showed me some more academic buildings around the city and we stopped by the library for Fan to borrow a book. They don’t have to buy any textbooks. It works like Cambridge where the professor provides a long reading list. You can check out the books from the library, which has many copies of the books that you need. It’s great that they don’t have to buy any books. But Fan said that it makes it hard having all these books since you never know which one is useful.

We went back to the grocery store and looked for ice cream. They didn’t have much variety so we ended up getting chocolate pudding instead. Once we got back to Fan’s room, I showed her things about MIT on the internet. I showed her a map of the campus along with pictures of Stata and Simmons. She was very amazed at the architecture. I asked if she had facebook and she said that they have something similar for German students. When she showed me, it looked exactly the same except that it had a red theme instead of blue. They don’t have all these new applications that facebook now has but maybe they will get them soon? I showed her facebook and some pictures of my friends.

We saw people setting up for an outdoor concert in the courtyard of an academic building earlier. There is a nice lawn in front so we thought we can go back and listen outside. We weren’t the only ones trying to free load outside. We ended up sitting near the trash can and a portable toilet but it was a good concert. We cooked dinner after getting back. We ate some peaches after dinner and were too full to eat the chocolate pudding.

After I took a shower, I showed her pictures from my computer. Life at MIT, ESP, pictures of Yalu and of my family, yup. Tired from all the walking and wandering, we slept at around midnight.

Bonn Part II -- Arrival

I saw Fan from the window when I was getting off. But there were a lot of people and I was the last one off. When I got off she had already walked away. I caught up with her and finally, after 8 years of writing to each other, we met in person.

From the train station we walked to her dorm. It wasn't far and I got to see part of the town. Bonn is a pretty small city and is very nice. The streets are pretty small, which I liked. I can't stand these 6 lane things that are in Berlin. They're so wide that they have to put an island in the middle for pedestrians. It takes a full minute to get across to the other side. Horrible.

Her dorm only houses 30 people. There are bigger dorms but she said she likes the smaller ones because you get to know people and it’s like a family. Her room is on the top floor so instead of a window, she gets a skylight. I thought this was pretty cool. She said that it makes her room very hot, especially in the summer. She has a view of the church from her window. The bells of the church ring every 15 minutes. It starts at 6:15am every morning. Her room is pretty big. It has its own sink. She shares a bathroom with a couple of other people. There is a bathroom with a shower and a kitchen on the floor below. The school has a cafeteria so not everyone cooks. Their meals are actually at reasonable prices (2-3 Euros).

It was getting late so we cooked dinner. She put cheese in one of the dishes and it was really good. I need to try this sometime. We talked for a while. After we both took a shower, she showed me pictures of her trip with her former neighbor, Jenny. Jenny is an exchange student from Wisconsin but had left for home last week. They went on a trip to Austria and southern German cities with Jenny's parents. They seemed to have had a lot of fun. I think we went to sleep at around 1am that night. Fan had another mattress and bedding for me.

On the Way to Bonn

I had planned to leave Berlin on Friday around 10am getting to Bonn at 2pm. I even emailed Fan with the train schedule. And then my boss finally showed up to the office on Thursday and asked to meet with me Friday morning at 10am. I couldn't really say no, especially since I haven't met with him in about two weeks. So I took the train that left Berlin at 3pm instead and got to Bonn at around 7pm. Luckily, Fan got the email and did not wait for me at the train station.

My supervisor gave me a new project that involves soil, biomass, and contamination. It's another one of those "what does he want?" things. I tried to get more information out of him but I get the feeling that he doesn't really know what's going on either. This really sucks. I'm stuck doing research again. I want to do something real. Is that so hard to ask for?

Anyway, it's probably good that I left early. Absolutely no one was at work. Both of my officemates are out. Even the secretary wasn't there. There might've been two other people besides my boss and me. I got a ticket for the ICE from Berlin to Bonn. There were some very confusing announcements on the platform. Well, confusing since I can't understand German. Anyhow, I figured out that the train is going to two different places and I should sit either in front or in the back, depending on where I want to go. It was good that I was paying attention to the signs since the train separated at one of the intermediate stops. One part of the train went to the Koln/Bonn airport while the other part continues onto Bonn and Koblenz.

The train was more than half full. I had read on an earlier trip that the seats facing each other have electric sockets available for laptops. None of those were available but I wanted to verify whether this claim was true before I sat in one of these seats anyway. I sat across the aisle from one of these seats and pretended to look for things in my backpack for several times trying to spy the electric socket but with no luck. Finally, when I was getting off the train, I found these sockets. There is only one socket for each table (4 people). I was a bit disappointed. I guess it's better than Amtrak where they state on their website that there are very little electric sockets available in coach.

The Simpsons

Carolyn and I went to see The Simpsons last Thursday. Well, since Thursday is free museums day, we went to the Music Instrument Museum first. They had some really interesting stuff. Too bad their postcards sucked so we didn't get anything. After this, we went to eat ice cream at the mall at Potsdamer Platz and had the burger ice cream. It was just as good as last time. Then we went to the 8:00pm showing at the Sony Center. I think the Sony Center only shows movies in their original version.

We got there half an hour before the movie started and went right inside. We walked into the room and it was completely, utterly empty. I'm not sure if this is true elsewhere but at the Sony Center, you get assigned seats. So because of this, no one arrives until the very last moment. Some people even come during the commercials. So Carolyn and I were feeling really stupid at this point and walked around. There weren't any place to sit that wasn't a cafe. Finally we found a Legos store and stayed there for a while sharing Lego stories.

About 10 minutes before the show was supposed to start, we went back into the room. This time there were people so we decided it was time to find out seats. We had the middle of the very back row. There was hardly anyone else so we thought maybe we can change seats. Carolyn even thought that maybe people would be watching the German version at the theater next door. But it turned out that everyone arrived right before or during the commercials. There were a lot of commercials. Next time we know, huh?

The seats were really, really comfortable and soft. We had so much legroom, it was amazing. The chairs don't even fold up. I wish American theaters were like this. It makes sitting for 2-3 hours so much more enjoyable.

So I didn't really write about The Simpsons at all. Can't be posting spoilers now, can I? All I'll say is that I liked the movie. Hope you weren't disappointed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dinner

I'm not sure why but whenever I cook for other people, the food is never good. And then when I just want to fill my stomach, I end up with the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. On Wednesday, I realized I have a ton of food that I need to eat in 3 weeks. So I decided to make fried rice with some carrots, scrambled eggs with tomato and green onions, and some kind of meat. I got pork steaks pretty cheaply at Penny Markt and started cooking. The food was soooo amazing. Okay, it was steak so I didn't have to do much. But I managed to cook it just right, tender and juicy. The rice tasted great with ketchup and carrots and the eggs were delicious. No pictures, sorry. I ate everything too fast. I was really, really happy afterwards.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Roommate

Hua-Chen moved to her new dorm yesterday. I miss her already. Monday night she invited two of her classmates over for dinner. I helped make the fried rice and joined them for dinner. One of her classmates, Hua-Dong made soup and the other, Anna, brought ice cream. It was a really good meal.

This is basically the end of their Masters program. For the next few months, they're supposed to be writing their thesis. But since all their classes are over and many people have to continue to do experiments in clinics back home, not many people are staying in Berlin. It's kinda sad for them, I guess. They spent more than 10 months studying, traveling, and living together. Both of Hua-Chen's friends were leaving the next day. Well, it's not as bad as it sounds though. Many of them will be coming in and out of Europe. There's a conference in August that a few of them will be going to. Hua-Chen's new room is filled with luggages from six different people.
The plan for Tuesday was that I come back from work at 5pm and Hua-Chen and I would move everything to her new place by 6pm. She had an appointment with the housemasters to get her key. But Anna needed a place to store her stuff so she got the key for Hua-Chen. Anna and another classmate, Artem would come at 8pm to return Anna's bike and help Hua-Chen move. So in the meantime, the two of us made dinner. Hua-Chen made pancakes which we spread with Sarah's caramel and whipped cream and ate like crepes. I made some noodles that weren't very good.

On the way to Hua-Chen's new place, I got to know Anna and Artem some more. They are both really cool people. Anna's Russian and left for home right after we helped Hua-Chen move in. I'm not sure what nationality Artem is but he speaks a lot of languages including English, German, Chinese, Arabic, and probably more. They are linguists but I continue to be impressed by the amount of languages that they know. Hua-Chen speaks Chinese and English fluently (no accent) and 5-10 minutes of Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Catonese, Spanish, Dutch, and probably French too. Wei-Ming speaks French as well and is living in France for the next month. Jealous. I never really realize how useful it is to speak many languages.