Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chinese Orchestra

2 more days and I'll be back at MIT! Just turned in my Full Technical Report today. That thing was supposed to take 10 hours but I went past 10 hours sometime last week. Also had 2 supervisions today one of which started at 9am. Grad students, gosh. I was total unprepared for the other supervision but it couldn't have been helped...

Anyway, the past Sunday, I went to a Chinese Orchestra Concert. This is their first performance as a group so they were really excited about it and played a lot of "traditional and popular" songs. Songs that every Chinese person would've heard before. There was a western instrument department as well as a Chinese instrument department. They're not a very big group but managed to put together 2 hours of performance. I knew quite a few people from Caius, most of whom are Singaporean.

Sitting at the concert, listening to the music was an interesting experience. I don't know anything about music so I can't tell you how well they actually performed. But it felt very special for me because it was the first time in a long time that I heard most of the songs. I don't think I've ever actually attended any live Chinese orchestra. Between taking Chinese here, hanging out with people from China, Singapore, and Malaysia, and attending this concert, I feel like I've been avoiding anything Chinese for the past few years. I don't think I did it consciously but I feel very American compared to the Chinese international students here.

Going to Germany made me realize what "my culture" actually is. I never realized that so many things I took to be "right" was actually part of American culture and that the rest of the world doesn't have the same values. And then coming here to Cambridge, where 50% of the international students are Chinese, I feel... (how do I explain?...) Okay so here, there's not a lot of Chinese British people. I've met a few but nothing like what you see at MIT, New York, San Francisco, etc. If you don't look British, people assume you're an international student. I guess I am an international student here but I'm from America, not China like everyone seems to think. People are just confused once I start speaking because I don't have a Chinese or British accent. (What's this? American?) I've also found that Chinese people don't understand Asian American culture. Things that people in America say are "Asian" are considered "Americanized" by uh, real Asian people.

So while I can safely say I have a good insight to German and British culture, the real culture shock was finding out more about my own culture, why I do things the way I do, the things that I value most and where they come from, etc. etc.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I went gliding!!!

I still don't quite believe I did this but yeah, I went gliding today. It's basically like getting into a small airplane and flying but the airplane has NO engines. The controls are all the same. We were pulled into the air by a winch at the end of a long field. There was a rope that pulled really, really fast and the plane lifts up into the air through aerodynamics!

One of the other MIT students did this and told us all about it. There is a Cambridge University Gliding Club and with a term membership, you get to take lessons and go flying for pretty cheaply. They also do trial flights (which is what I did) so that people get a feel for gliding. It costed £18 but well worth it. I don't think you can go gliding for that price anywhere else.

They picked us up in a van and drove about 30 minutes to an airfield. I think this was also my first time in a car in Britain! Driving on the left is so weird... Anyway, the flight only lasted for about 5 minutes. But I got to play around with the controls and made the plane turn left and right and dive and such! It is so amazing. There really isn't much to do. Just one joystick and a couple of other things. The dials were easy to read and were in feet and knots. The landing was not bumpy at all, very smooth.

The other people doing the trial flight were quite interesting as well. There was the president of the Cambridge Union. They put on debates that are supposed to be pretty interesting, sometimes controversial. I also met an Irish grad student. She and I didn't know our weight in kg... We were like, "uh, pounds?" And I also met an Amerian grad student who did her undergrad at Stanford and some grad school at Johns Hopkins. All in all, it was a very interesting afternoon. Well worth braving the cold. It was freezing outside!

Don't think I will join the club though. 5 minutes is enough for me. I felt a little airsick at the end. Would've been fine if the instructor hadn't turn so suddenly that one time... But yeah, Go Fluid Dynamics!!
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Monday, November 19, 2007

Brussels - the trip

Brussels, Beligum, French, Dutch, chocolate, waffles...

Going there - Friday: trains, planes, and buses
I walked to the train station, which is about a 40 minute walk from where I live. I thought about biking but didn't want to bike when I came back on Sunday night (which turned out to be a good decision since it was raining when we got back on Sunday). I got a Young Persons Railcard which gives me 1/3 off of all train tickets as well as tickets for the train to Stansted airport. The guy was really nice and gave me all the discounts possible and explained everything. London has about 3 airports. I flew into Heathrow from Boston which handles most of the planes that come from out of Europe. For this trip, I went to Stansted which handles most of the within Europe stuff. And then there's Gatwick, which I think, handles smaller planes and within UK things.

I thought Stansted was a pretty nice, medium sized airport. There were lots of shops and food places but not too much. Mahalia and I were admiring the trusses that our structures professor talked about. Everything went pretty smoothly except Sarah had to buy some small bottles to hold her contact solution and the Border Control didn't know what to do with Poting's Hong Kong passport. Apparently a Hong Kong passport allows you to travel to many countries without a visa but most people don't know that since it does say China on it. But it's blue instead of red so I really don't understand...

Anyhow, we had to take a bus for about 45 minutes to get to the center of the city. It was freezing cold and we got to the train station where the Eurostar comes into Brussels at around 12:15am. The metro closes at midnight so we ended up taking two taxis (there were 9 of us) and the taxi that I was on took the long way and he charged us twice as much as the other taxi.

Day 1 - Saturday: waffles, chocolates, and more food
6 of us were in the same hostel room. It was small and cramped. The bunk beds weren't too staple but all we wanted was a place to sleep. I didn't too much. The next day we got up for breakfast. This hostel came with free linens and breakfast. Ross was very disappointed at the toast and corn flakes. I was actually very pleased since there were 4 different spreads for the toast and we got a choice of tea, hot chocolate, coffee, and orange juice. The hostel in Munich had gave us bread and water.

And then we started wandering in the freezing cold. We saw the EU buildings (head of the EU is in Brussels). There was no one around since it was Saturday. We decided to skip the NATO buildings. Some people wanted to go to the Art Museum so we headed that way. On the way, we passed by a waffle truck and got some waffles. They were sooo amazing. Not like the stuff you get from the fridge section. They make it right there and it has a lot of suger in it so no need for syrup. We just ate it as is. I really appreciated the warm part since it was so cold out.

Part of the group (including me) had not interest in art. So we went to the Grand Place (big huge, town hall) and walked around for a bit. Then we all realized we were hungry so we went to a cafe that was recommended by Ross' Brussels book. Their menu was in both French and Dutch. So between a few people who had about a semester of French and Mahalia's German, we were able to figure out most of the menu. We all ended up ordering either chicken or mozzarella paninis that were hot and drenched in butter. It also came with a side salad so it was a good meal for 5 Euros. After this we went to a grocery store and got lots of really good chocolate for cheap prices and separated into groups. My group consisted of Chaitra, Poting, and myself. Most of the other people went to the art museum but we didn't want to look at art so we wandered the city instead.

We had dinner at restaurant that only had French menus. So it was a bit more difficult this time but we managed. None of us really knew what it was that we ordered but they turned out to be really good wraps that came with very interesting and tasty sauces.

After dinner, a few of us went to a bar that was recommended by Ross' guide book. Took us a while to find but it turned out to be an old man's bar with lots of interesting pictures. The guy got mad at us since only two people ordered drinks. But whatever, I didn't want to get drunk. Ross and Yaoyao played chess. After their game, we decided to try out some French fries at Fritland. They were freshly made, really hot, and pretty good. We came out smelling like fries. Yaoyao had to go back to Cambridge for a rowing race on Sunday so she took an overnight bus back.

Day 2 - Sunday: Beligium Unity
The next day, we really didn't do too much. The highlight of the day was the Manifestation of Beligum Unity march. So Chaitra and I were strolling through a botanic garden near our hostel and were heading to pick up Sarah from church. And then we noticed that there were lots of people heading the opposite way, many of whom were had Beligum flags or wearing Beligum colors. We thought it might've been a football game or some sort of sports event and we stopped a guy on a bike and asked him.

Me: What is happening? Game? Football? (points down the road)
Guy: No, uh, convention.
Me: Convention?
Guy: Convention, eh, Beligum pride.

We were intrigued by this so we went on asking several other people and we got bits and pieces of information like: Beligum unity, manifestation, Beligum pride, and that it's at the train station.

We were really confused about what this "manifestation" was supposed to be. After we picked up Sarah though, we saw a huge stream of people walking on the street. At first it looked like some Independence/National Day parade but there was not much noise coming from the group. "A silent celebration?" how strange. Sarah left something at the hostel so we went back there and asked the person at reception about this. He was more helpful since he spoke English. It turns out that some politicians want to split the country up into 3 parts: French, Flemish, and Dutch. But the people doesn't want this to happen so this march is supposed to be a show of Beligum unity - thus a manifestation of Beligium unity and pride.

If we were staying longer, we would've joined the parade which goes on until 6pm where there will be concerts and such. Such a shame we couldn't but it was cool to see it.

After much debating, we went to the cafe that Mahalia and Ross were in that morning and ate sandwiches there. The sandwiches were cheap but the bread was hard and wasn't very good. But it was a nice place to hang out for a while and defrost. We walked to the Eurostar train station and after running about for a while, found the bus that goes to the airport. Wish we were taking the Eurostar instead. It would've been so much nicer. One of these days...


Trip to Brussels went well. But I didn't get any work done so I don't have time to write. Will write about the trip later. In the meantime, here's a link to the pictures:

Friday, November 16, 2007


Going to Brussels this weekend! Somehow I'm not too excited about the trip. Keep thinking about what's going to have to happen Sunday night when I come back...

Stella and I spend about 6, 7 hours yesterday working on one examples paper. We had both started on it and worked together to try to get all of it done. But sadly, we weren't able to finish it. Sigh, I thought I would get more sleep over here in the other Cambridge...

Two more weeks and I'll be back in the States!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Woah, I just rebooted a university computer to Linux. It's not bad. Lets me use printing commands. But there's no Microsoft Office in Linux. OpenOffice just doesn't cut it when you're doing things like resumes.

I just finished updating my resume to using A4 size paper and UK style. We can have 2 pages for resumes here! At first I didn't know what to do with all the extra space. I went to the Career Office and had a quick session with a career counselor. She said that I had to have either 1 or 2 pages. Not 1.5. It just looks bad with too much empty space, I guess. I sat in front of a computer for a while not knowing how to stretch out my resume. And then I remembered Women's Initiative and UPOP and stuck those in there. Now I have a really balanced work experience and activities sections. I think I like this better than trying to jam everything in one page. Although I think having 2 pages lets people put a lot of junk on their resumes. I looked at some of the sample resumes published by the career center and I think, "Man, what a waste of space." They could've used the space they used for their A-level scores for more work experience. But I think students here generally work less than American students so maybe they need to fill up the space.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Classes, Chinese, CCTV

Just thought I should write something. There hasn't been anything exciting going on lately.

I invited some MIT people over to Caius on Tuesday for dinner and 11 people showed up. It was great since they helped me use up a lot of my tickets. Somehow I still have quite a few and will still have to keep going to dinner diligently or else I'll need to invite people again. The good thing about eating there is that I can keep a dinner roll and/or yogurt and eat those the next day for either breakfast or lunch.

I've discovered that my Chinese has improved significantly! Yay! I can speak Mandarin so much easier now. And it's only been a month. If I manage to get an internship in China this summer... I need to put more effort into German though. That class is only once a week and the teacher is not so great so I'm not motivated at all.

Stella and I managed to keep one of our supervisors for an extra half an hour again. He must think we're really dumb because we can't do any of the problems. We haven't been working together at all this week so we're really behind. But he's a really nice guy and seems to care a lot about us so I guess we should try not to fail...

I went to a structures seminar today and the presenter works for Arup. He's working on the CCTV tower in Beijing and explained the engineering challenges behind the building. The building is an engineering nightmare but would be such an awesome project to work on. Arup is a really large international company and they had people all over the world working on bits and pieces of this tower. He said that some of the offices got together for dinner once and one of his slides had a picture of a dinner napkin that had doodles all over it. Apparently, at one of the tables, no one was bilingual and the doodles were supposed to be a history of England along with some stuff that looked like design calculations. That dinner consisted of engineers from London, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong so there were 3-4 languages clashing and no one could understand each other. All the while I was thinking how much I could've contributed by knowing English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, as well as being an engineer (I mean, they must've had translators but how many translators can you find with engineering backgrounds?). It would be amazing to work on a project like that....

Yup, Brussels next weekend so I need to make some major headway on these example papers. At MIT, you finish a pset, turn it in, and then don't have to worry about the thing until you study for finals. But here, you work on the paper for hours and hours, go to supervision and ask questions, find out you've done things completely wrong, and then have to redo the questions again. Sometimes, you've only done part of the paper by the time supervision happens so you ask questions about stuff that you really haven't work on in supervision to get some clues. Then you go back, hammer at it, get stuck, and have to ask about it again at the next supervision. So it just never ends... You get to the point where the question sheet is wrinkled, dirty, and starting to fall apart and you feel sick at the thought of looking through the thing again. Ack!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Dian came to visit!

Dian's at Oxford this semester with 3 other MIT students (2 in material science and 2 in econ). The bus took 3.5 hours and she came on Thursday night.

That night, we met up with Elaine (Dian's friend from course 3), and went out to dinner. We went to Dojo's which is a noodle place featuring mostly Japanese and Thai food. You cannot believe how happy I was to be eating East Asian food. I had no idea how much I miss Asian food. All they serve at our dining hall is British food which consists of a piece of meat, potatoes, boiled vegetables, and salad. And remember, I have to eat there everyday for dinner since they've already charged me for the tickets. I don't really mind the food but I really miss eating Asian stuff so I was really happy. And the amount of food for the price that we paid was great. My friends claim that it's one of the cheapest places to eat. It costs about 5-7 pounds to eat there (which is not cheap by American standards but you really can't go any lower than this unless you want to eat sandwiches here). And they give you giant portions, not like Indian places.

So, after filling myself with seafood udon, we called up some more friends, namely Eddie and Olay. Eddie was really hungry so we went out to eat again. This time to a pizza place. I only ordered a coffee and chatted with the other people. The pizza place was more expensive. I think the guys spent about 8 or 9 pounds on their pizzas and these weren't big either.

The next day, I showed Dian around some of the colleges and she took some pictures on my camera. Which was great since I haven't really taken too many pictures of the colleges. We ended up eating at Dojo's again and went to see fireworks at Downing. Fireworks were really cool but short. We met up with MaryAnn and then a bunch of other CME people. At some point we decided to crash Mahalia's room, chilled there for a while, and then watched a movie in her room. She has a really nice room.

On Saturday we wandered around the shopping area and she left at around 2pm for Oxford. I need to go visit her sometime. I did some pseting with Mahalia, Stella, and Yiling (3rd year, Cambridge student) and then we realized that the upcoming week is absolutely horrible for us. Sad realization since we had just spent 4 hours working on 2 problems, one of which we didn't finish. So yeah, don't expect to hear from me the next week or so.

Only 3.5 weeks of classes left!!!