Tuesday, December 30, 2008

random ramblings

2 more days and I'll be flying back to Boston. I feel like I'm forever packing and flying to places. I managed to do some packing today. Filled a suitcase with stuff. And then my brother taught me how to throw a football. haha. Anyway, I think this D-lab thing is almost at the point where we've done all that we care to do and just need to go there. Once we're there, I'm sure we'll find out how unprepared we are.

A new year is coming, should I make some new year resolutions? I feel like this upcoming year is very almost too unpredictable to plan. I hope I get into grad school and somehow find miraculous funding for it. But I guess new year resolutions are supposed to be personal. Exercise and floss more...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

SF day

I had a strange dream last night about Cam and couldn't sleep well after that. Maybe it's because I met up with Stella today in San Francisco. Stella is doing her America trip. I found out she's never even been to NYC!! Anyway, we did quite few things today. We went to Pier 39, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Haight District. I'm so tired.

This vacation has been full of eating out, sleeping, reading, and not doing much. A lot of eating out actually. I really met to exercise but it's been so cold out lately. I think I freeze for the first 15 minutes of being outside.

Anyway, last weekend home. I can't believe I'm going to be going back to MIT on Thursday. So soon. I haven't done half the things I said I would do. And they're pretty important. I know I'm going to be incapacitated once I get back due to the jetlag...

Friday, December 26, 2008


Every Christmas morning, we go through the same routine. My brother and I would wake up and call our cousins. We wait for them to come before we open presents. It's always a fun event. The presents were cool, as always. My mom likes the GPS but we're having trouble making it stay in one place. It keeps falling.

Anyhow, now that my brother's busy building things with his Erector Set, maybe I can get some more serious work done. I think these Erector sets are definitely a step up from Legos and K'nex. Each has their own distinctive features though but I the models from Erector are more sophisticated. At the very least, he'll get to play with nuts, bolts, and washers. At some point, I'll get him Mindstorm but he's definitely not ready for that yet.

Also, something really funny happened. My brother and I were building something from the set when the cat started poking around. Snowball was really interested in all the little things in Victor's box. He likes marbles and how they roll around and make sounds on the floor. So he really wanted in on these erector pieces. The funny part is that this happened the last year too! I think he was really interested in a Binonical set last year and even sat on the cardboard. Or maybe that was 2 years ago? Anyway, the cat seems to always be interested in Victor's Christmas presents. So cute. Victor, of course, does not think this is cute at all and is worried that Snowball will run off with a piece.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It's good to be home. I really like Oakland's Chinatown. You can find everything you ever need and want. I went out there for lunch these past two days. On Monday, I met up with some friends from middle school. We got pho and chatted for a long time while looking at all the phone charms in Chinatown. We went into 3 or 4 trinket shops. Seriously, you can get everything you could possibly want. We managed to bump into another friend on the street. It's interesting how we're all at this uncertain point in our lives. What are you going to do next year?

On Tuesday, I went to Chinatown again, this time with a friend who's at Stanford. We went to this cheap cafe place. We got the 2 specials of the day and the bill was $8.70. The special even came with milk tea.

On Wednesday, I did some massive cooking. My mom was thinking about where to go out for lunch when I pointed out we have a ton of food in the house. I stuck a frozen lasagna in the oven and some hot pockets in the microwave. Victor really liked those hot pockets and ate 3 that day. And then I decided to attack the pumpkin the grandma brought over. She grew it herself. It's huge. Apparently that's just one of three. Family didn't know what to do with pumpkins. I had my brother carve it apart. He carved a face into one side. I steamed parts of it and we salvaged the seeds. Then I tried to make pumpkin puree with a hand mixer but it didn't break everything up since it doesn't have any blades. I made soup with this goop but it wasn't very popular. So then I pureed the rest of them in a blender and made a pie and some muffins. The muffins were terrible. Must've skipoed a step.

Later on Wednesday, I went to dinner with my high school math club teacher and three girls who were on the team as freshman when I was a senior. So all three just graduated and is starting college. They were in math club for 4 years. We went to a sushi place. Seriously going to get fat eating like this everyday.

I did some packing for Sierra Leone yesterday. My brother was packing for his Yosemite trip so I started digging through the house for stuff too. We have a lot of junk. Wayy too much junk. I found everything I was hoping to find so I feel better about this whole thing now. Can't believe I'll be going there in less than 2 weeks. I feel a lot more travel savvy now than when I went to Germany but still, this is different. We're supposed to be going in there and helping people. Seriously, these people who we're trying to help know so much more than we do, are so much wiser. We're going to show up with our gadgets and they're not going to believe us, a bunch of kids.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And there goes another semester...

Wow, I can't believe this semester is over. I did an unbelievable amount of stuff. 5 classes, one of which is D-Lab and 2 CI-Hs, worked part time, and applied to grad school. Some people take 3 classes when they apply to grad school. But I guess those people are applying to PhD programs and it's a little more serious.

I feel like I've learned a lot though. My two HASS classes were very rewarding. 500 years worth of East Asian history. Ability to understand basic linguistics stuff. Granted we didn't go into anything in detail but I think I got enough background now to do some self-studying. I think I understand the world a lot better now that I've taken this East Asian history class. And linguistics is so useful. I'm glad the American university system is not like England's. I don't think it's healthy to specialize so much.

In a little more than 2 weeks, I'll be leaving for Sierra Leone. We have to transfer twice and make 3 stops before we get there. It will not be a fun flight. My flight home was delayed an hour and then we had to make a stop in Utah to refuel. At some point, I got so tired, I just slept. I got back home at 2am Pacific time. I was totally out of it by the time I got back. And I was coming home where I knew my parents would take care of stuff. I can just see the 7 of us being extremely tired by the time we get there and have to deal with getting from the Lungi airport to wherever it is we're going.

Anyway, we're so not ready. I feel like there are a lot of little details we haven't taken care of yet. Luggage, who's bringing what, how much cash to bring, gifts, etc. And then there are bigger things like learning Krio and Temne. And rammed earth project wise, we need a packing list, some more calculations, specs of the test structure, and some surveying skills. Woah, better get started soon...

At some point, I need to think more seriously about this summer. I think ideally, I would want to get an internship in either geotech or environmental consulting. I talked to the course 1 internship coordinator the other day and he gave me some good contacts, including someone working in consulting for creating constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. That would be awesome to work on. On the other hand, there are things like the Kawamura Fellowship where they basically pay you to visit Japan. It sounds like a really cool opportunity to do company visits, see the country, do homestays, and such. I think I'm even qualify to do this since I can show "genuine interest in Japan."

Of course, this all depends on what I'm doing next year in terms of grad school. Now that I'm back in the Bay Area, I should really try to meet professors at Berkeley and Stanford. I should get moving on that too...

Anyhow, home is good. Snowball is still as fat as ever. Brother is playing basketball now that flag football is over. The house is stocked with plenty of food. Friends want to meet up. My two weeks home is starting to fill up with appointments. I've been home for a day and all I wanted to do is sleep and mope around. Sigh...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Grad school apps... Done!

I'm finally done with applying to grad schools. Can you believe it? I submitted all 4 applications today. I feel sooo accomplished. Now I need to look for fellowships and scholarships. It never ends...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Reflections on this past week

For those who care, I will be submitting my grad school apps for Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT Sunday morning!! Cornell will come shortly after. Too much pressure...

Last week was possibly the most stressful week ever. I had 2 psets, 2 presentations, and 2 10-page research papers. I stayed up wayy pass my bedtime every night. Took naps during the day. And still managed to attend a 2 hour ESP elections meeting, work for 3 hours, and do a bunch of D-Lab stuff. But it's over. I think I managed to do decently on all the stuff above. I think clicking "play" on my entire music collection helped. Now I'm just waiting for grades to start popping up. I have one final on Wednesday and then I go home.

Part of me can't wait to go home. Just to take a break from all this craziness. But part of me wishes I had booked a flight for later so I can work on D-Lab stuff. We're leaving for Sierra Leone in 20 days!! Yalu and I started packing. But I don't think the reality of it all has hit us yet.

I feel like a lot of things this year has been like "I can't believe I'm going to ... tomorrow!" I remember being pretty dazed after taking the GRE and the next thing I know I was on a plane to MIT. And then D-Lab happened. That class went from me not sure if I want to take it, to getting into the class, to finding out about going to Africa, to working on school construction, and now going to Africa. Grad school stuff sort of happened in between all this.

Anyway, this crazy semester is almost over. I think I learned a lot. Possibly the most I've ever learned in one semester. I hope I managed to get some decent grades...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another 4 day weekend....

This time I MUST apply to grad school. It's do or die. But I'm sooo swamped with homework and D-Lab. I feel really stressed this week. Probably because I spent 30 hours volunteering for ESP last weekend. 2,000 middle and high school students and their parents invaded the campus! Also, taking 2 CI-H classes at the same time is not a good idea. Now I have two 10-page papers due very, very soon. They're both worth a big part of my grade and I need to do a ton of work for them. Good thing I only have one final this semester. I plan to do well on this final.

Friday, November 7, 2008

4 Day Weekend!!

I can't believe it is already November! Where did September and October go? These past two weeks were just crazy. I had a ton of work and not much sleep. So besides sleeping, I have big plans for this weekend. It includes applying to grad schools.

As far as grad schools apps go, I pretty much have everything in place except my essays. And they are the biggest part, of course. I'm dedicating all of Saturday for grad school applications. I'm not even going to look at any other work. Hopefully, I'll get them done, send it off to a few people to look over, and then submit next weekend. That's the plan.

Also, this rammed earth project is coming along pretty well. We went to Home Depot earlier tonight, got wood, and will be building our form on Sunday.

Here's a website that has a lot of rammed earth projects:

Here's a website that was a part of a Masters of Architecture thesis written by someone at MIT. He built the Great Wall of MIT with rammed earth. We met with him the other day. Very cool guy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

on history

I'm taking a history class this semester and it's called "East Asia in the World: 1500-2000". When I first saw the title, I didn't think too much of it. And then people started to comment on how long the time period is. I had taken a history class sophomore year and that was a really good class. It was about WWII so it was a much shorter period of time. We mostly talked about human emotions and motivations. But in this class, we talk a lot about dates, important events, international relations, politics, and economics. I would much rather focus on human emotions and hear stories about people's daily lives. But running through all the centuries in one course also has its advantages.

You really get the whole picture. This class is mostly about China and Japan and how their relationship with the rest of the world changed as we move into the modern era. When we started in the 1500, Ming dynasty in China, I don't think any of us had much thought about where this class was going. But now that we're talking about the 20th century, I've come to realize how useful it is to be able to see the bigger picture. Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty, Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion, rise of Chinese Nationalist Party, Sino-Japanese Wars, Chinese Communist Party.... it all makes sense. I have a such better knowledge of China (and Japan's) modern history. Back in high school, I kept wishing that we could skip all this old stuff and get into more modern stuff. But the 1970s, 80s, 90s don't make any sense by themselves. History is not about what happened, it's about how and why. The events themselves are just secondary. I've also realize that it's not a simple cause and effect. Everything's much more complex when you start looking at how things happen, the motivations, the context, the emotions. I think I just like complex things.

Ramming Earth

This D-Lab project of bringing stable rammed earth structures made without cement to Sierra Leone is starting to come together. So far, Ben (another person in my group) and I have managed to read through a few books and talked to a couple of professors. And.. the project is taking shape. I really feel like I'm putting my education to use. I guess that's part of D-Lab's purpose. Not only are they aiming to empower poor people in developing countries, but also to show MIT students that the stuff we're learning is actually useful. We're using all the principles of design and construction and it's really cool to actually understand these technical books. I understand what people mean when they talk about clays and sands, types of foundations, and other design elements. It's just all coming together. Next up, Lucy's going to try to produce some actual calculations. haha! We'll see how that works out.

Also, for this trip, we have to learn a new language. It's called Krio. It's a language that evolved from English and other West African languages. And since I'm taking linguistics, I'm slowly able to understand linguistic texts that talk about the language. It's really cool. I can't believe my classes are actually useful. Amazing...

Monday, October 20, 2008

$2 a day

One of our homework for D-Lab this week is to experience what it is like to live in a developing country and the whole class is living off of $2 a day. Well, not quite. More like $12 for 6 days. This is mainly for food since everything else we use is hard to quantify. Yalu and I decided to ban together so that we can have more money to work off of. So far, it's been quite an adventure.

We decided to start this on Saturday night, starting at dinner. So that afternoon, after disagreeing about how we're going to get to Star Market, we went out on our food shopping expedition. We stopped at the Korean store and got carrots, nappa, and green onions all for $2.57. Then we went to Star Market and got pork, bread, milk, and peanut butter. Our plan is to make rice porridge for lunch and dinner and then have bread and peanut butter for breakfast. Only it hasn't really worked out that way. We've been eating a lot of our bread and peanut butter since the porridge isn't very filling. I kept making this very watery porridge.

On Sunday, we decided that making porridge everyday would take a long time so we made a huge pot of this stuff all at once. We took some pictures, which I will post here soon. The pot was one of those soup kitchen pots and it barely fit on the stove.

I wonder what the rest of our class is doing. I think the only reason why we've managed to have rice, bread, and milk is because Yalu and I pooled our "resources". Otherwise, we'd both be eating the same thing 3 meals a day.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harvest Fest

On Saturday, I went to Somerville's community garden to volunteer with their Harvest Fest that they have every year. It attracted a lot of toddlers and their parents. We had apple bobbing, cooked veggies that were grown locally, pumpkin carving, and apply cider making. I went and helped with the apple cider making because I was attracted by the cider press. A couple of people were trying to make it work and I was trying to figure out how it worked.

So their way was a pretty long process. Someone would cut up the apples into small pieces, someone else would need to feed it into a grain grinder thing, and we would collect the ground apples (and the juice) to put into the press. The press has sleeves that lets the juice filter out. The result was really good. The only problem was that the cutting and grinding of the apples took a while. The press needed a lot of ground apples to operate. A lot of kids wanted to help grind the apples (turn the handle).

So I let them all help me grind apples. I mainly fed more apples into the grinder and pushed the apples down so that they get grinded. This grinding process can actually go prety fast but not with the kids. They're too energic and jumpy and was just concerned about turning the handle rather than producing any output. I didn't think this was a problem at all but a lot of the adults were complaining that it was taking too long. I'm not sure why they were complaining anyhow. I think we were producing enough cider. We just weren't going very fast. I was just concerned that all the kids who wanted to help, had the chance to help. There was a three year old that was really sweet who didn't do too much, but I didn't mind. If the kids are having fun, who cares if the process is inefficient? Who cares if we aren't really producing a lot of cider? I really hate it when people miss the point because they were concerned about efficiency, production, and doing things fast. Not everything has to be competition. Who cares if one kid can turn the handle faster than the other one?

Actually, I don't think cider making was supposed to be a hands on activity but just a "watching how it's done." But the kids just kept coming and wanted to help out. These other volunteers and parents, though, they just kept commenting on how this grinding the apples was a bottleneck of the whole process. I'm just like, "The kids don't mind! They don't even care about the cider. They just want to turn the handle and see mush come out the other end. And if they learn a little something out of this and get to drink cider, that's great. Seriously, as long as they're having fun and get to do what they want to do, that's good enough for me."

Friday, September 26, 2008

On weekly activiites...

Every Wednesday I wake up and spend the whole day thinking that the next day would be Friday. And then at some point, I would realize that this assumption is false and that I have one more day to go before the weekend comes around.

So this semester I'm very busy. I am totally booked 9-5 everyday except Fridays where it's 10-5. Taking 5 classes and working part-time is apparently very time consuming. And at some point, I need to apply to grad schools and maybe look for a job. 2 of my classes are humanities classes which means lots of reading and writing. And D-Lab, which I just wrote about in a previous entry takes a lot of time because we literally don't know anything. I haven't slept a lot the past few days.

But it's okay because I really like what I'm doing this semester. I really enjoy my classes so I'm willing to put time and effort into them. And more importantly, wake up for them.

This morning I met with my partner for the Language Exchange program sponsored by MIT. They're a program mainly to help recent immigrants in the MIT community like students and spouses of graduate students and professors learn English. A side benefit for the native speakers of English who are volunteering their time is that they try to pair up these English speakers with people who speak a language that the English speaking person wants to learn. And in some cases, the exchange can be between other languages entirely. I read about this on the MIT Medical website and thought that it would be nice to help someone out.

So I signed up and they paired me with a wife of a graduate student. She is Japanese, studied Chinese in university, lived in Shanghai for 6 years, married an Asian American from Hawaii. Her husband's father is from Hong Kong and she said that when they visited his side of the family in Hong Kong, many of the relatives didn't speak Mandarin. So she wants to learn Cantonese as well as practice English. She and her husband just moved to Boston and she has no one to speak English with. Also, her husband is a graduate student at the MIT Center for Real Estate, the office where I work! What a coincidence. So I thought this was all very interesting. I don't know how much I can help her with Cantonese or English. Her English is very well and her Mandarin is way better than mine. They had lived in San Jose for 2 years before coming to Boston. But I think it would be a fun experiene. Maybe I can learn some Japanese...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And this winter, I'm going to....

Sierra Leone in Africa! I still can't believe I'm doing this. I'm going to spend my entire IAP in Africa, trying essentially to do some good. I'm taking a class called D-Lab and the D stands for development, design, and dissemination. Basically, they send teams of MIT students to impoverished communities in developing countries in order to bring "appropriate" technology to help these people. These are mostly rural places where what we would consider basic infrastructure doesn't exist. In a reversal of the traditional top-down aid where people pour money to big agencies to fund big projects and hope that this money somehow trickle down to the rural population where it is most needed, we are targeting the people who need the aid the most. Our goal is not to bring technology but the knowledge. We want to show them ways to make small machines that would make their lives easier by decreasing the amount of time they spent on things like shelling peanuts or fetching water.

We met with our community partner yesterday. He is from Idaho and runs an organization called Village Hope in Sierra Leone. They have partnerships with some villages and has been helping them build schools. Schools in the most villages are in really bad shape. They leak during the wet season and are burning hot during the dry season. They have no books, no supplies, so the students learn by repeating after the teacher. The students don't simple supplies like pencils. And for some kids, the schools are very far and their only way of getting there is walking. Kids drop out of school because of this distance. Some families can't even afford to pack a lunch for their kids so the kids go hungry during the day. Village Hope is looking to built schools with cheaper but more durable materials, better ventilation for the summer, and have a community garden so that they can provide food to the children. So far, the six schools that they built are elementary schools. Most villagers have no access to secondary education. Oh, and toilets are non-existent.

So we're hoping we can do a few little projects and a couple of bigger ones. We're not really sure what these projects will be yet but I think it will mostly be with the schools, finding safe water during the dry season (well-drilling), finding a way of making bricks without cement, and irrigation during the dry season. Okay, that's a lot of projects already... My team consists of 6 undergrads and 1 team leader. We're a pretty diverse group in terms in interests and skills. We've been spending a lot of time together working on various things lately. I don't think any of us realized that we would be working on so many projects. Honestly I thought we would have only 1 major project and maybe a side project.

Anyhow, I think this would be one amazing experience. I have never been to such rural communities or Africa. Before this class (September), I never thought I could actually make a difference. Even when I started taking this class, I thought it would be all fluff. But actually, the work that they have been doing are really amazing. I'll write more about examples of these things in later posts.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Linguistics fieldwork: learning to say no

Part of my linguistics class requires fieldwork. We have to find a friend who speaks a language that we don't speak and have never learned and do linguistics experiments on this friend. One of my friends in the class is from Thailand and he suggested that we become partners. I thought this was a great idea since if we're both in the class, neither of us would feel like we're taking up the other person's time. Anyhow, I was surprised (I probably shouldn't be) at the relative ease of a class of 70+ people at finding a person who speaks a different language (at a native level).

We met up on Saturday and proceeded to do the assignment which was to find out negation (how to say not) in the other person's language. And not just what the word itself is but also how it works (does it come before the verb? after the subject? etc.). It was a lot of fun. We haven't learned the IPA yet so we just made up our own "system". My "system" chopped up Thai like never before... Anyhow, we ran into a lot of difficulties because in order to figure out the negation, we have to have the other person say a sentence and then the opposition. So for example, "She is sitting." and then "She is not sitting.". We quickly found out that neither Thai nor Cantonese really permits sentences like "She is not sitting.". It just sounds really stupid because people would usually just say what the person is doing instead of what she is not. And trying to say eating and cooking was really awkward in both languages too since there is the word "rice" involved, which means "a meal" in addition to the actual rice itself.

Anyways, it was really fun. I actually found out a lot about Cantonese since I've never studied it formally as a language. Cantonese actually has infixes for the present progressive (-ing) tense. My friend was really confused until I explained it. And even though I had claimed that negation is really easy, it's actually not so apparent since there are like 3 forms. The professor had written on the homework sheet that we should explore sentences with "is" and "have" since they have interesting forms. And to the great distress of both of us it was true! Anyways, I enjoyed it a lot. Look forward to learning more about languages. I think this class is really useful since it gives some structure to something that I've always thought as a very touchy-feely thing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

First full week...

Wow, I can't believe it has only been two weeks since the start of classes. Today ends the first full week of classes. And I feel like I've been here forever and not only a few weeks. I've finally figured out all my classes, started working, and began really settling in into all my classes. I'm not taking Chinese anymore. I've settled on taking 1 civil engineering class, a probability and statistics class, Linguistics, East Asia in the world 1500-2000, D-Lab, and Making Public Policy (as listener). So I'm registered for 66 units again, except it is technically more this time since I'm taking one class as a listener. And I'm also working 6-10 hours a week.

So my days are literally packed from 9:30-5pm everyday, usually with only a 30 minute break in there somewhere. I've been pretty on top of things though. I think it's mainly because I'm really interested in all my classes and therefore don't put off work or readings. I have enormous amounts of readings to do but I really look forward to reading them. They are really interesting stuff and I wish I had the time to read more. I think in another life, I would've been an historian.

Also I'm going to do a substantial amount of volunteering too. There's an AmeriCorps scholarship that awards money for time spent volunteering. I haven't gotten this scholarship yet but I think there's a good chance that I would get this scholarship. So tomorrow, I'm going to the Red Cross to make food bags. And next Saturday, Yalu and I will be volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Habitat builds houses for low income families and sells these houses for only material and construction related costs (construction is done mostly by volunteers), so well below the market price. I think it will be a good experience. I also signed up to be a language exchange partner in order to help someone with their English skills. This is mostly to benefit spouses of graduate students who are often lacking some aspects of English. We haven't met yet but I think this will be a fun experience, especially since I'm taking linguistics.

I'm really glad it's the weekend. I felt especially hosed Thursday morning. But I'm really glad to be back.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Too many things and too little time

Today was the first day of classes and I feel so overwhelmed. I went to 5 classes today because I'm still "shopping" around for classes to take. MIT has various requirements for humanities classes to make sure we're well rounded or something like that and we need to take 3 classes classified as "HASS-D". I haven't taken any so I need to take at least 2 this semester. I really want to take all three. Anyhow, my two morning classes today were pretty interesting.

My first class of the semester is a class that I didn't pre-register for called East Asia and the World 1500-2000. It was taught previously by Professor Peter Perdue who is a really amazing east Asian historian who I had the chance to meet last year. Unfortunately he is at Yale now. The professor who is teaching the class this semester seems pretty interesting person though. As soon as he started talking about Chinese history, I knew that he must know more Chinese than I do even though he is Caucasian (but probably not American since he has an accent...). I found out later from the history department's website that he studied Chinese literature at Fudan University. Anyhow, part of this first class, we watched the Olympics opening ceremony. He just showed all the historical stuff and asked us about the image that China wants to present to the world. Man, everything is so different when you discuss this stuff with an actual historian rather than just hearing the comments from NBC. He also showed a few seconds of a documentary called River Elegy which was produced in 1988 by some Chinese people talking about how Chinese culture came from the Yellow River and how the Chinese society needs to move away from this "river culture" in order to advance. It sounds like a really interesting film which I will watch sometime soon (probably this weekend) and comment more about it here.

Right after this I went to Chinese III Streamlined which was way oversubscribed. I thought it's a good class to follow up on what I did in Cambridge since this class, unlike Chinese I and II, is more focused on media and "real" stuff instead of just learning from a textbook. We get to watch movies, listen to songs, read articles, etc. Anyhow, after we did all the admin stuff, we watched a few minutes of..... the Olympic Opening Ceremony. This time the CCTV version. I think I will spend some time watching the CCTV version since it seems like they did not cut out a bunch of stuff like NBC did. They also used a lot of flowery language that I did not understand but they sounded much more enthusiastic than the NBC commentators.

So these 2 classes seem to complement each other. The only problem is that they're both on a Mon, Wed schedule which would mean that I would have way too many classese those days and not enough on Tues and Thurs. It would be nice if my classes were a little more spread out. Also, I'm not sure if I can get into the Chinese class since it is oversubscribed but the teacher is the one I had for Chinese I and she's very nice. Anyhow, this all depends on how my classes tomorrow go. Because even though the 2 classes I took today were interesting, neither of them were like "I MUST take this class". So, we'll see.

Okay, I need to do some reading and get things together so I will write about my other classes later. Just thought I'd tell everyone that I'm already feeling very stressed!! Life at MIT... yup.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I did it! I took the GRE and got fairly decent scores on the verbal and quantitative sections. Since it's a computer based test, I got the scores immediately. I'm glad I found out immediately because I would've spent the next few weeks doubting myself otherwise. I honestly did not think I could do as well as I did. I went in not expecting anything because the recent practice exams that I have been taking have given me such mixed results. I knew I had improved on my vocabulary but since we're only given 30 questions for the verbal section, it's really a matter of luck. If you happen to know the words, then you're in luck. If not, then... well... too bad... Anyways, I think after a month and a half of studying flashcards on BART and doing practice exams after work, I managed to give my verbal score a 100 point boost. I did not need so much help with the math since the math itself wasn't challenging. But I did learn some idiosyncrasies of the exam that helped me a lot. For example, even if they say "approximate" for data questions, the correct answer will always be exact. So if the answer that you came up with is not one of the choices, don't round, check for mistakes instead. Now I can only hope that my writing score is also decent enough. I think it will be okay though since I was really worried about the Issue essay and thought that I managed to write a pretty good one.

Anyways, now that that's done, I can't believe my summer is over. I didn't get to do anything other than work and study. I can't believe I'm flying out tomorrow (later today). It just all seem so unreal. I guess it just never ends. Now that I'm finished with taking the GRE, I need to actually apply to grad school: fill in applications, write essays, ask for letters of recommendations, pay application fees... And I need to start studying for another test: the FE/EIT. This one I really need to pass the first time. It would not be good for job interviews if I don't have this by the time I graduate. And since I'm taking it in April of my senior year...

Speaking of tests, I think I will also take the GMAT. I've been asking civil engineers about the value of getting MEng and MBAs. I think I've gathered that the MEng is important especially in structures and geotech. As in companies won't even consider you as a real candidate unless you have one. And down the road, when management roles are up for grabs, the MBA can be a deciding factor in who gets the job. So now I'm planning to do one of those part-time MBA degrees. One of the engineers I talked to said that she once considered switching to doing business and her sister convinced her that if she wants to do an MBA, she should go full-time because of the networking. But I don't want to switch, or at least, I don't think I do. But having the MBA would be really useful so I think the part-time degree would be a good thing.

And then, most likely while studying for this MBA degree, I would also be studying to pass the exam for SE (structural engineer) or GE (geotechnical engineer). These licenses are not necessary but hey, neither is the MBA. I know, it's not the same, but if you want to go far, these (usually only one of them, not both) are a must. So it never ends.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Caius Reception

A few days ago, I got an invitation to go to a Cocktail Reception for the Master of Gonville and Caius College (the college that I was a part of at Cambridge) hosted by John Lehman and his wife at the Knickerbocker Club in NYC. Now, I'm pretty sure that this John Lehman is THE John Lehman and this club is on Fifth Avenue. I guess one of the perks of the CME program is that you get alumni status so I get magazines, phones calls asking me to donate, and invitations like these. Anyways, this seems like great networking opportunity. I don't think I've even been on Fifth Ave. I don't even know what I would wear to an event like this. What do they even do??? Maybe I'll post the aftermath on the Cambridge blog. Or, uh, ask if it can be posted since they'll probably change the password and such. Man, I didn't even manage to finish writing that "A Day in the Life [engineering]" post. What a loser...

I hope I can keep in touch with my friends at Cam. I wish I had gotten to know them better. If I had only stayed in the room I was assigned to and not moved, I probably would have... Sigh... I don't know why I decided to move. Not much good came out of it and I feel like I missed out on a lot by moving. The first room was so nice. I swear that that second room had bad feng-shui...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Last week

Last full week at home, last week at work. This Saturday, I have a wedding to go to, which I have yet to purchase a wedding gift for... On Monday, I take the GRE. And then I fly back on Tuesday. Right now I'm taking a break from practicing for the writing part of the GRE in order to.... write more.

This summer, I finally got to do what I've been wanting to do since senior year in high school, work for an engineering consulting place. I'm pretty sure this is the type of thing I will be doing once I finish with school. I'm still not sure what I want to specialize in. Everyone at work has asked me about what I want to specialize in at least once. I still don't know. Actually, I don't think it matters all that much. I value the people that I work with much more than the projects or the things that I'm working on. I want to work for smart people. Everyone at work are trained to design, have taken similar classes, and can do calculations. But there are definitely a few that stands out in their ability to plan ahead, using their judgment, and produce results that are unquestionably superior. Seriously, it's not that difficult to design a box. But it's the way that you present your results, the way you answer your emails and inquires, and the problems that you anticipate that counts. I really hope that the first group I work for is filled with people who are smarter than I am. So that I can learn to think like good engineers.

Yesterday, I got an invite from the manager of the civil/highway group for a farewell lunch with some of his group and his interns. We're all leaving this Friday. I think I will be eating out a lot this week. This lunch is on Wednesday. Their group goes out to lunch on Fridays (more like every other Friday) but I'm sure they'll go this Friday also.

Anyways, I'm pretty sure I gained a few pounds this summer. All this sitting and no exercising is no good. And watching the Olympics doesn't help either. It's true that you get pretty anxious while watching Michael Phelps win by 0.01 seconds. But it's no comparison to swimming yourself. Just kidding!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Snowball... sitting

Isn't he cute??!!! He's sitting up!

People on BART

This is something I found really bizarre when I first started working. People waiting for the trains would line up! I guess part of it is due to the fact that the trains always stop in a definite spot. The black spots you see on the ground is where the door will be. So people line up while they wait in order to go in first and get a seat. I found it really weird. I've never seen anything like that before other than maybe the commuter rail in Boston. But BART is not really a commuter rail. It's sort of something between a subway and commuter rail.

Anyhow the thing that I found really annoying though, is that everyone lines up regardless whether or not they will be taking the next train. The station at work has 2 platforms, one going to the East Bay and the other keeps going south down the peninsula. There are 4 different trains going on the East Bay platform and most people need to take a specific train. There are electronic boards that update you on when the next trains are arriving. But people line up regardless what train is coming. This is really annoying, especially during rush hours because if you want to get on a train, there are people in front of you that would move towards the door but then stop. I would always think that they're waiting for people to come out before going in but they're not! They're just waiting for another train. And you would have to go around them to get on the train.

Anyhow, I just think it's really weird how people line up. And annoying..

Monday, August 11, 2008

Potsdam Picture!

Yalu! It's this one! This is the picture of the street in Potsdam. It was warm and sunny out. We ate at one of the pastry shops. There was an outdoor market where I got my brother a coke clock and a boat thing. We walked to that church at the end and back.
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is it almost the end or almost the start?

Last Friday at work:
Me: It's so quiet today.
M: Yeah, it's Friday. Most people are sleeping in their cubes.
[M pokes his head around as if too check on people in their cubes. So funny!]

So only 2 more weeks at work. Having switched cubes in the middle of my internship, I've come to realize that where you sit makes a big difference. In my previous cube, I near the wall and therefore very close to all the offices. I could hear the conversations of all the managers and higher level engineers as they complain about the project and how people use fancy words to describe "kindergarten" concepts. Now, I'm in the middle of my section and almost surrounded by the structural engineering group. I hear a whole different set of conversations and have gotten to know these people a little more. Part of me still likes the first cube since I felt like I was in touch with the progress of the projects. Now that I can't hear my manager's phone conversations, I feel less in tune with the bigger picture and just focuses on my own work. I feel like my summer would be a whole different experience if I had not moved that 20 feet.

I went out to the field on Wednesday where we hired a company to check for the Hayward fault. We climbed around in a trench and walked around to see where the alignment will be. Almost satisfying to actually see the project site. We really didn't do much. Also checked on a archeology group who were checking the site for Native American burials. They had 2 test locations and were digging a 1x2 meter box, going down in increments of 10cm, screening all the dirt, and going down to some depth. Everything is done very precisely. I didn't realize how scientific the work is. That was interesting to see.

Anyhow, non work related stuff. We watched the replay of the opening ceremony on NBC on Friday. It sucks that no one else is allowed to broadcast and since we don't have cable, we can only watch what NBC shows. I mean, we can find this stuff online but it's not the same as watching it in the living room, on the big screen, and sitting on the nice sofas. Our computer screen is only 17" and it is located in my room and the only sitting arrangement would've been rolly chairs or my bed.

Anyways, the opening ceremony was amazing. Very, very well done. Now that I've worked on fine tuning AutoCAD drawings for a few weeks now, I really appreciate the amount of work that must've gone into making these performances happen. Making sure everyone does what they're supposed to do must have taken a lot of work. Coming up with the idea is nothing compared to all the tedious planning, directing, and executing. There must've been countless revisions to get those all those drumers to get the countdown right. Computers can only do so much. Someone had to think about every single drumer and their every movement. I mean, for our AutoCAD stuff at work, we have to check every line, every word, and it doesn't even involve any people, just lines on a computer. Man, I almost feel sorry for the British who have to host the next Olympics. Everyone will be comparing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bilingualsim at Work

I have recently taken over the cubicle that belonged to the person who left our group on Friday. Her computer has 2 screens and is faster so it helps a lot when doing CADD work. I've discovered that sitting that this spot puts me in the middle of multi-language central.

In front of me, there is a woman who speaks Mandarin. She shares a wall with another person who also speaks Mandarin and they talk across the wall about stuff like "why doesn't this excel thing do what I want it to do!" Actually, today, they spent a long time chatting about life, family, and such. One another side of my cube, there is a person who speaks Vietnamese. A Vietnamese from the civil/highway group comes over once in a while and they chat. On the other side of him is a person who speaks a language that I cannot identify. I think it's Russian because his name has a lot of v's and o's. And 2 cubicles down from me is an Iranian and he calls his wife once in a while. One of the other interns and I speak in Cantonese a lot, whenever we're not around other people so they won't feel left out. Actually, a bunch of us went downstairs where there is a fountain and sitting area to eat lunch and he pointed out that besides our group, there are no other Asians around.

I feel very fortunate that I can converse in Cantonese and understand Mandarin. Otherwise, I woud feel so left out in that office, especially sitting in that spot. I would hear people speaking around me all day and not understand what they're saying. Of course, when there are more than 2 people, the conversation is usually held in English. But it makes a difference to be able to speak to someone in their language. I didn't really understand this before going to England.

One of my friends in English is an international student from China. She held a tea party in her room in the beginning of the year. A few people came and we chatted but in the end, it was down to me, her, and someone from Germany. He pointed to a flyer on her wall that was written in Chinese and asked what it was. She explained that it was a flyer printed by the Chinese Student Associate giving information to incoming students about practical things like grocery shopping, buying a bike, etc. He was very confused as to why it was written in Chinese. His reasoning was that all the students must understand English since they got into Cambridge. Her reply was that it wasn't about whether or not they understood English, everyone can, but it was more about speaking Chinese among Chinese people. And that speaking English with fellow Chinese people would seem weird, even to the point of showing off. So while outsiders might look at a group of Chinese people speaking Chinese to each other as a form of exclusivity, they see it as just being friendly. It's like dressing appropriatly to an event. When you're with a certain group of people, you speak a certain language.

I think this is prevalent in many countries where kids grow up speaking many different languages. For them, it's a necessary part of life and they know which language to use when. America, unfortuntaly, does not embrace this. I can't believe there are people in the US believe the whole "when in America, speak English" business. Especially when I'm over here wishing that I had time to go learn languages so that I can join in on these conversations! I mean, if I go into the office one day and start speaking Vietnamese with the Vietnamese people, they would be impressed and appreicate the effort that I put into learning their language and finding out about their culture.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun Day at Work

Today one of the people in my group is leaving the company. She's going back to grad school to get her PhD. So we all went out for lunch. There were 8 of us who went. There are 2 more people in the group but one of them is on vacation and the other one didn't come to work today. Anyway, I enjoyed the lunch a lot. Not so much the food because it was pretty expensive place for not as good and small portions. The guy kept asking if we wanted any appetizers. We probably should've ordered some because most of our meals turned out to be very small. Anyways, the guys were very funny. We talked about the most random stuff ever.

H (to T): I see a lot of young people nowadays with tattoos and nose rings and such. What would you say if your children asks you about getting one?
T [blinks twice]: If they ask you that it's too late! They asks you that means they've thought about it already. It's too late!
[at this point everyone is laughing and making jokes about tattoos and rings]
T: It's true! You've got to take preventive action!
[preventive action! hahaha]
A (to T): You know I had a mohawk once.
T: Ahhh! Good thing you didn't went you interviewed or we wouldn't have hired you. Scared me.
H: Isn't there policy about equal opportunity?
T: Equal opportunity! No such thing! No such thing nowadays.
[we all thought this whole exchange was really funny. T's a funny guy. Always ready to give you his opinion. There's a couple of guys like that in the office actually. They have really hilarious conversations.]

T (to waiter): What is this [points at something on menu]?
Waiter: That's paella. It's a typical Spanish rice dish with seafood.
T: Okay, I'll take it then.
H: That's the most expensive thing on the menu!
T [nudges H]: Hey, I'm not paying. I always order the most expensive thing when we got out. Just ask M. [M's the supervisor.] That's why I don't want to be the boss.
[at this point we're all trying to look at the remaining menus to see how much this dish costs. It's $21. I'm not actually sure that M is paying for it with his own money. I think he has a company credit card and this kind of stuff gets charged to the company. Either way, T is very much into this 不客气 (bu ke qi) thing whenever M is paying. They've been working together for 10+ years.]

[on the way back to work, we pass by this construction site where a building is being built. They've excavated the place and getting ready to build the basement. The site is surrounded by a wire fence and there is cloth to covering the fence so that you don't see what's going on inside.]
T: Woah, what are they doing here?
[goes to a gap in the cloth covering, pulls it apart and peers in.]
T: Wow, big excavation! They've got lots of tie backs in place!
[at this point, there are now 3 guys trying to peer inside. 2 on top of each other and one trying to look over the fence.]
M: Well, you've got to step back and let everyone else see!
[I was laughing really hard and wished I had a camera or a phone to take a picture. one of the construction guys looked over the fence at us. he looked really confused. hahahah]

Oh yeah, I also wore the nerd shirt to work today and everyone was trying to figure it out as we were walking to the elevators to go out to lunch. They were really excited when they finally figure it out. I'm glad that people actually looked and thought about it. Seriously, I was annoyed that at Cambridge no one ever said a thing until I pointed it out.

A bunch of the younger people also went out to a bar after work as a farewell thing for the person who's leaving. Just another excuse to socialize mostly. It was fun. I should really hang out with these people more. I think they wanted to talk about more non-work stuff but I kept probing everyone about how they like the company, their work, grad school, and such. hehe. I really need to network more. Make better use of my lunchtimes.

Bastille Day in San Francisco

I totally forgot all about this. On Bastille Day, I was feeling sad at work because I knew that I wouldn't be seeing Yalu online at lunch time. So I read some news, some of which included things about Bastille Day. And somehow I found out that many American cities also have Bastille Day celebrations. So I found out where the French district of SF is and went over after work. I was not very impressed. Probably because most people come out after work for dinner and I was there at around 5pm instead of 7pm, when the restaurants start getting busy.

Anyhow, I almost missed this "French district". It's the alley in the first picture. It's a pretty cool alley, actually. All pedestrian, even though there seems to be a car parked there. There are many outdoor places to sit. Kind of reminds me of Berlin.

Anyhow, I wasn't very impressed with the restaurants. This first one seems to be Italian food. But they've all decked out in French flags, balloons, and even place settings. There weren't many customers and no one seemed to be speaking French. I had to get back at a certain time so I didn't get a chance to read the menus to see if they were in French. I was kind of disappointed at the lack of people since I had read online that this place is supposed to be really crowded on Bastille Day.

Monday, July 21, 2008


These come from a book on Power Vocabulary that I got years ago. If I had only worked through the book back then... Anyway, I just thought these ones were interesting.

Anima: "The Breath of Life"
Ancient people connected the soul with the breath. They saw that when people died they stopped breathing, and they believed that the soul left the body at the same time. They also believed that when people sneezed, the soul left the body for a moment, so they mutter a hasty blessing to ensure that the soul would return quickly to its rightful place. The Latin root for air or breath, "anima," also means soul, spirit, or mind, reflecting this belief in a connection between life and breathing.

I thought the thing about sneezing was interesting. Not sure if it's true. I always thought it was weird how people say "bless you" when someone sneezed. I always thought it seemed arrogant for someone to be blessing someone else, as if we were somehow more holy than people who seemed less healthy.

Fac, Fact, Fect: "Just the facts, Ma'am"
We have formed a great many important and useful words form the Latin "facere," to make or do. A "facsimile," for example, derives from the Latin phrase "fac simile," meaning to make similar, and has come to mean an exact copy. Since facsimile copiers and transmitters have become very common, "facsimile" is now generally shortened and changed in spelling to "fax."

I did not know this! The fax = facsimile part.

Grad, Gres, Gress: "This way to the egress"
P. T. Barnum was a 19th century American showman whose greatest undertaking was the circus show he called "The Greatest Show on Earth."... When Barnum's customers took too long to leave his famous exhibits, he posted a sign: "This way to the egress." Following the arrow in eager anticipation of a new oddity, the visitors were ushered through the egress - the exit.

Ped, Pod: "Keep on Truckin'"
From the Latin root "ped" and the related Greek root "pod," both meaning food... One curious aberration is "peddler", for it is not from the root "ped," as we would expect. The word may be derived from "pedde," a Middle English word for a lidless hamper or basket in which fish and other items were carried as they were sold in the streets, though it is generally thought to be of unknown origin.

Nomin, Nomen: "A rose by any other name"
The differences between the nominative and objective cases have baffled countless generations of English-speaking students. Is it I or me? Who or whom?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Analytical Writing Section: Issue Task, past topic:
"Unfortunately, the media tend to highlight what is sensational at the moment. Society would be better served if the media reported or focused more fully on events and trends that will ultimately have the most long-term significance."

Hopefully, sometime soon, I will make myself write a response to this topic and then have you guys read it and tell me what you think. The scoring is 1-6 points. 2 readers so you can get up to 12 points. This writing section feels different from the SATs. It's a lot of analytical. You have to "show critical thinking" and "understand the complexities of the issue". I think for the SATs, I picked Hamlet as my all powerful example and applied it to whatever topic. I don't think that will work here. If anyone has any ideas about this topic, let me know and I'll try to write it up too.

There are 2 different tasks for the writing section. The other one is the argument topic where they provide some statement like a statistic about drinking black tea and having less of a chance of getting a stroke and then make a "false" conclusion. And you have to respond to this conclusion that they made and show how their conclusion is not very good by pointing out their not necessarily true assumptions.

I just got a box of flashcards with GRE words. There are so many things I want to/need to do but have no time for. On caffeine all day even though it's summer.... This is not good...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Words, words, words

Word of the Day: Steep - v. to saturate or completely soak. Her plan was to spend three months in Paris and come back steeped in French culture, but all she ended up with was a fuchsia beret from the souvenir shop.

Honestly, I didn't know that this was an actual meaning of the word steep. I've seen it used in this way before but I totally did not anticipate this to come up. My review book has these warm up quizzes where you match the meanings of 10 words and their definitions. But the definitions are only one or two words. It was so hard not to have any context. It's like having the word "eye" on one side and having "center" for its definition on the other side.

This book has some cool sentences though. Like:
Antipathy - n. aversion, dislike
Sam very clearly expresses his antipathy toward certain breakfast foods in the Dr. Seuss classic, Green Eggs and Ham.

Aspersion - n. an act of defamation or maligning
Pete resented the aspersions cast by his opponent, who called Pete a low-down, no good snake who didn't eat his vegetables.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Word of the day: Nice - adj. exacting, extremely or even excessively precise; done with delicacy or skill. He had so nice a sense for chocolate that he could identify the source of the cocoa bean used to make each variety

I just started studying for the verbal section of the GRE and it's sooo hopeless. The words are so hard. I got the ETS book which has previous exams and each sub-section of a section has questions in increasing difficulty. I can answer the easy ones but once it gets harder, I have no clue what to do. Can't even guess. That's how bad it is. Very sad. Need to do some major studying here.

I got a Princeton Review book on the verbal section of the GRE. The exam is computer based and that the computer is trying to judge your level. If you answer a question correctly, it'll give you a harder question. But the way it works is like tuning a microscope. It gives you average questions first and does the coarse adjustments. Once it has some idea of your level/score, it'll do the finer adjustments. Which means the beginning is the most important. Getting things right or wrong will affect your score by 40-80 points versus only 10-20 points by the end. So scary. One good note is that I seem to still do well on the reading comprehension questions. I shouldn't get my expectations up for those yet though since I've only done 2 passages.

Piff, haven't even started studying for the EIT yet... worried.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

GRE, Work, Weekend

Uh ohs... I've just started studying for the GREs and it turns out it's just like the SATs. Not even harder. I think the new SATs probably has a harder math section. But the sad part is that I can't do this stuff anymore. I haven't done stuff like this since I stopped studing for the SATs. Nowadays everything is real (not imaginary), any fraction only goes down to 1/16 (the inch), even the negative sign is arbitary (just change your point of reference!), and everything is rounded up to the nearest hundred or thousand. Anyhow I hope it all comes back soon.

After 2 weeks at work, I still don't know about this place. I really don't like the office. I can't see any windows at all. But besides that, it's really weird when people ask me where I go to school, which is inevitable once they find out I'm an intern. Sometimes I wish I could just say Berkeley, especially when I met random people on the street. Because they either say "MIT? huh?" or "Wow, you go to MIT?" And then I don't know how to react. At work, people are always like, "Wow, you come all the way here for an internship?" To which, I respond, "um.. my family is here." I mean, I've met quite a few people who have moved from far away places to work in the office. But that's like me going to work at an office in Boston not coming back to California to work after studying elsewhere. So I guess I'm feeling like I don't really fit in? Or am I just being too arrogant to think that I am/should be different?

This 3 day weekend went by pretty fast. We went to the outlets in Gilroy on Friday. I got my hair straightened again on Saturday (yeah, it took the whole day). And today, we did what we do every Sunday which is going out for dim sum and then buying groceries. Except today we went to the dim sum place by the water and we flew kites afterwards. Yesterday, I tried to make Mexican food for dinner with my family. Burritos and enchiladas. Didn't turn out so well. Everything was too salty. Today I used a lot of the remaining ingredients to make a bean dip, which was much better liked.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

not knowing Autocad...

I spent most of today in a training session whose purpose was to teach us how BART (the subway system here) wants their autocad drawings done. The people who made the autocad files apparently didn't really follow any standards so the files are all in a mess. And BART is really particular about how they want them done. Three people from my group attended, including myself. The other two had worked on these drawings and spent the whole time either laughing or wincing at their own mistakes.

There were 4 people from the civil and highway group. 3 of them were interns but one of them is part-time. The other person from their group had ran into similar problems with Caltrain. He said that they submitted the drawings and the guy from Caltrains looked at 2 drawings and sent the whole thing back to them. It had taken them 3 weeks with 3 or 4 people working full time, around the clock (almost literally because there were people in New Jersey working on this too), to fix everything. We were like, dude... don't tell us stuff like this. Anyway, there were 2 people from the Oakland office who are experts in CAD and taught us how to fix these mistakes.

I actually have never used autocad for anything useful. This actually turned out to be good news. Because if I had taken a class or have had significant experience with CAD like the other 3 interns, they would definitely make me work on this. But since I don't, my supervisor would rather I work on something else and only let me help them if they really can't find anything else. At one point, one of the other interns was like, "This is a lot harder than just drawing lines on the screen." The other guy in my group pats me on the arm was like, "haha, this is what you're doing, putting lines on screens." And I'm thinking, "crap, I don't even know how to put lines on the screen."

Again, this turned out to be a good thing since there's plenty of other things I can work on including a new project that's more hydrology and hydraulics than anything else. I think we're designing drainage for a road. I'm pretty excited about that actually. The person who was assigned this project said she's never done anything like this and the last hydraulics class she took was a while back. And here I am having worked for a water/wastewater company and taken 2 fluids classes.

Back when I had thought that there would be 4 or 5 of us all working together to fix these CADD files, I recommended that we take over the conference room and move our computers in so we can all be together. Then we can go through the steps together, ask each other questions, and not make dumb mistakes that would take more time to fix later on. They took me seriously. One of the guys was like, "we can ask the IT guy and he'll move a server in." I wouldn't mind working together with the other interns like that. They seem to be pretty cool people and I want to get to know them better. The other 2 full time interns are from San Jose State.

It's funny that they're the ones who are doing most of the work on this though. Especially considering a lot of the drawings are from my group. My supervisor spent the first 2 days back from work yelling on the phone at various people about how his group's budget got cut from 3,000 to 2,000 hours. And some other group has 9,000 hours that he claims they can't possibly use. He was really worried about fixing these drawings. "They're going to spend 2 hours, fix one title block and that's it!!" So I guess the other group gave him their interns to work on this. He was probably sad that I didn't know how to use Autocad at this point. Even if I did, I don't think he would entrust this whole fixing cad files to just one person anyhow. And I'm the only intern in his group. It's pretty critical stuff. They need to get this right since it's the 100% submittal.

Anyhow, this week at work has been pretty cool. It started out pretty slow though. I've gotten to know my coworkers a little better. It seems like a stressful place to work though. But I guess all private consulting place is like that. Everyone has to have billable hours. You're working on several projects at once and trying to stay on budget. I think EBMUD has much better benefits, less stressful, even a nicer office. But it's true that I wouldn't get as much experience. They work on so many different projects. And you can always help out on another project, as long as they can give you the hours for it, of course. It's something that I haven't quite gotten used to yet, asking for hours. I mean, I guess it's necessary but it just makes everything seem so up-tight. Anyhow, counting the weeks here... only 7 more left.

Friday, June 27, 2008

On long term things

Today I went out to lunch with some people from the civil and highway group. Apparently a few of them go out to lunch every Friday. They're all pretty young and cool people. We went to a diner that had a big sign outside that said $7.50 for steak and eggs. One of the guys were really enthusiastic about this and wanted other people to order this. I think 3 or 4 of us ended up ordering this. He ordered some turkey thing himself.

Anyway, onto more important things. The guy that promoted the steak and eggs also promoted the company to me. Maybe he just likes talking.. Anyhow, apparently a lot of the interns turn full-time after they graduate. I think all but one or two of the people who went out to lunch today were former interns. There were 7 of us. One of them worked at the Honolulu office as an intern and has now been working full time at the San Francisco office for 3 months. They said that it's pretty easy if I wanted to work for another PB office. Which is one of the reasons why I really liked this company in the first place. They have offices all over the US and overseas. In Europe they have lots of UK offices, a Dubai office, and plenty of Asia offices too. It's not as easy going overseas, I don't think. Right now, I work for PB Americas.

Thinking about all of this feels really weird to me. Especially since this whole past year I've been running around and not staying at one place for less than 3 months. Everything felt (and was) so temporary. I tried to imagine myself working at the office as a full-time employee and it was just so hard. It seemed kind of boring actually. I don't know if I want to work there permanently. Actually, it's more like I can't imagine myself working anywhere permanently.

Do I want to settle down in some city, go to work everyday, come back to some apartment, cook dinner, do random stuff, shower, sleep, and then do it all again the next day? Part of it seems okay. It would be nice to work on some parts of some projects, maybe volunteer somewhere, and just be a part of some community. But I'm so afraid that I would just watch the months and years go by, never getting around to doing some things and never fully doing other things. I guess I've done a lot this past year, got a taste of being a "global citizen", and just started to realize just how small (not big) the world is. And just when I've realized that I can actually go see the 7 wonders of the world, learn about other cultures, see new things, it feels like it's all coming to an end.

I've still got a year or two before I start working as a permanent employee somewhere. But if I want, I can work for PB. I can tell them I want to keep working for them after I graduate and I would have a job, position, cubicle, computer, etc. waiting for me. And I would become like my coworkers, forever talking about that vacation where they're going to somewhere for a week. Their week-long vacations just seem so trivial and meaningless after having lived in two countries this past year. Sorry if I sound arrogant but that's just how I feel about it. These thoughts have been bothering me this whole week. I don't know... I'm secretly dreading that conversation that I'm bound to have with my supervisor at the end of the internship about whether or not I will come back the next summer. I mean, hopefully, the invitation will come. I just wish I know what my answer would be.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another week

Week one at work is almost over! Man, only 8 weeks left. And I feel like I haven't really started yet. I think this is mostly due to the fact that my supervisor is not going to be in until next week. And when he gets in, he's going to have a ton of stuff to do so probably won't have any time for me...

This summer feels very short. Feels like I'm counting down to when I'll go back to MIT already. Part of me really wants to learn more at my internship. Get to know more people, do more important stuff, etc. But part of me really wants to be back at MIT. I know, there's no good food, it's not relaxing, and won't get much sleep. But still, having been away for a year makes me appreciate it so much more. I miss it a lot.

Those summer goals that I wrote about earlier? Haven't made much progress on any of them. I've discovered that I really don't have much time after I get back from work. I eat dinner, then check email, shower, take care of random stuff, and then have 2 hours max of doing my own stuff. Being at home, I have a lot less time to do stuff. Have to chat with parents, play with brother, entertain the cat, even dinner takes more time. I haven't even started on Book 3 of the 2001: A Space Odyssey series yet, even though I borrowed it from the library. Too sad.

Other news: I just ordered a few things from amazon including study books for the GRE and FE/EIT (licensing exam for engineers). So now I need to treasure the next few days because I still have an excuse as to why I'm not studying for these things. haha.

I should also post an entry in the MIT admissions blogs. Maybe a summary of the year. Don't know. Last night I had 2 separate dreams about Cam. One of them I dreamed that I was with a group of Cambridge engineers doing a project. We biked around, did the required stuff, and then biked to this big building by a lake where they used to take exams. In the next dream, two of my friends came to visit me. I was living in this big house on the second floor. It was raining so we didn't go out and just hung out inside the house. When they left, I really regretted not showing them around Cambridge. I felt that they came all this way (from America) and didn't even get to tour the city. So maybe I secretly miss Cambridge? It's strange because I usually don't remember my dreams. They would fly away when I try to remember them.

Monday, June 23, 2008

First Day at Work

Not much remarkable happened. There was a sign at reception with my name and welcome on top. There was another new hire in another group and we both got there at the same time.

I have my own cubicle. The office building is not a rectangle and therefore very confusing. I got totally lost once and haven't managed to find the supply room again. Not sure if it's the whole office but people in my group just seem to do their own thing. People don't eat lunch together or anything. The supervisor and the HR person for new hires are both out so they got one of the guys in the group to help me out with things. He's been working full time for a year and showed me around, introduced me to people, and helped me out with general stuff. We even went out to lunch together along with another new hire who started 2 weeks ago. He said that he didn't get a welcome lunch and that at his last company, there would be welcome lunches, goodbye lunches, and parties to celebrate random things at 3pm all the time. I half expected that too. I say half since the supervisor is out.

It feels kind of strange to be working at an American office again. I had a really good supervisor at my first internship. She and my other coworkers were especially kind also because I was in high school. I guess my group there didn't eat together either but there were plenty of group lunches for special occasions. But one of the other groups had a weekly group lunch where they all went out to eat on Thursdays. In Germany, I expected things to be foreign since I couldn't understand anyone. But my officemates were very nice people and they all sat together for lunch. I really like this sitting together for lunch thing. I mean, when else would you get to know people? Meetings?

Only other thing I noticed was that there was a lot of Chinese people. I hear people speaking Chinese around the office all the time. There are good handful of people with other accents. I wonder if they're transfers from the international offices. I should find out.

Anyway, as an effort to get to know the people in my group, I think I'll go around and say good morning and goodbye to everyone everyday. My officemates in Germany did this and I think it's really cool. Oh yeah, people in this office come in really early. One of the guys says he comes in at 6:30am and he's the earliest. The other people come in between 7-9am. I think I'll go at 8am.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Books and Summer

Yesterday, my brother and I went to the library and we both borrowed a stack of books each. I really miss not being able to do this during the school year. Just too busy to be reading about random things that I find on a shelf. I just finished reading a graphic novel called "American Born Chinese" and a biography called "Tuesdays with Morrie". Both are extremely well written and I would highly recommend them.

The graphic novel is very funny. The author managed to deal with serious issues with a cool sense of humor.

Tuesdays with Morrie is about a sociology professor who was dying from ALS (a disease that slowly paralyzes your body). It is written by one of his former students who flew over every Tuesday during the last few months of the professor's illness and they talked about how people should live their lives. The professor was an extremely optimistic person and I thought the book was amazing.

Anyhow, the next books on my list are linguistics stuff. I hope they're interesting. The main library in Oakland doesn't seem to have much on the subject. I mean, it has a decent amount on language. It's got its own corner. I didn't managed to find a good Learn Spanish kit (book + audio) this time around. I did managed to get the Michel Thomas course for German, which I think I might already have. Anyway, I might try that out with my brother. I think he might be more interested in a computer program though. You know, one that is designed for kids and lets you earn points, play games, etc.

So yeah, lots of stuff I want to accomplish this summer. I have about 9.5 weeks at home so need to get moving. This list includes:

- Learn a language with brother
- read some linguistics books
- study for and (take?) GRE
- research into grad school and scholarships/fellowships
- study for FE/EIT exam
- Teach brother to use Alice (computer program that lets you make 3D animations by "writing" Java)
- Keep up with Chinese (Chinesepod?)

Arg.. this list is probably incomplete and there's too much on it already!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It's very hot here. I'm very tired from the jet lag. Didn't get to sleep a whole lot on the flight. They were very slow with the food again. My mom commented on how slow people do things in England. I agree. In Germany, they're so fast with checking out your groceries, that you have to dash to the other side of the cash register. Anyhow, I watched Jumper. I was very amused by the description by Virgin Atlantic. The first line said, "This is not about a humble sweatshirt" or something close to that. In British English, a sweatshirt/hoodie is commonly called a jumper. I had half imagined the main character to be always wearing a sweatshirt. Anyhow, I just thought the description was very funny. I also watched Persepolis, which was a lot more serious than Jumper. I really liked it. I think I'll read the book as well as other literature about that part of the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paris Subway Stations with Character 3

I was very amused by the "for... keep going straight" signs in the Paris Metro. Instead of an arrow pointing up, they have an arrow pointing down. I think that's the first time I've seen that. I've only seen ones that point up. The first time I saw this sign, it took me a few seconds. I even instinctively looked for some place to go down. I remember my 10th grade English teacher told us an arguement she had with some French person about how to describe something in French. I'm not too sure what it was but I think it had something do to with describing something how deep the water level is. In English we say "20 meters below (the sea level)" and "20,000 leagues under the sea" while in French they use the word "above" as in the water is above the point of reference. I remembered thinking this was very intersting. My teacher said that she believes strongly that language (way of expression) gives you a lot of insight into a culture.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paris Subway Stations with Character 2

The bejewled entrance to Palais Royal Metro stop.

Huge mosaic and mosaic signatures inside a subway station.

Choose your speed! You can go at 9km/hr! Unfortunately, when I was there, it wasn't going at 9km/hr. Maybe it only does during rush hour. I went there just to ride on it too! So sad.
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Paris Subway Stations with Character

I really like these signs for the Metro. They're only at some stataions. I think they're really cool.

When you're walking up from a metro station and you look up, it seems like there's a big bug thing looking down at you.
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Cool Pics from Paris 2

Cool sheep on skewers! One day I want a garden where I can grow my own veggies and compose my organics... Then I'll need stuff like this. What better way to scare away snails than sheep and other snails on skewers!

Green chicken. Just thought it looked interesting...

The actual clothing didn't seem all that seductive to me.

I thought the picture with the pyramid was cute. Exit = going back out to big pyramid.
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Cool Pics from Paris

Center of Paris! Outside of Notre Dame.
A thumb at La Defense.

And the next day, I saw 4 fingers. Wonder if they're related pieces of art...

Isn't this sign cute? Looking at all my pictures from traveling, I've found that I don't really care too much about sights. I mean, other people have taken pictures of all the important sights anyway. I can just google and get great pictures of the Eiffle Tower. But signs for plugging in your electric car says so much more about French society and how many other people do you think takes pictures like that when touring Paris?

Monday, June 16, 2008


I've discovered (during my week in Paris) that I have the hardest time pronouncing French. Such strange stuff. I really had no clue how to say anything.

Anyhow, I have a grand plan of making my brother learn a foreign language with me over the summer. This way, I have some motivation. Haven't actually chosen a language yet. My brother seems vaguely interested. Lately, he's been saying no to everything so I'm not too sure what he actually thinks. His "no"s are more like "count me out unless you can come up with a convincing argument." I'll probably stick to Spanish since it is more useful. Then again, he'll probably take Spanish in high school so maybe we should go for something different? Don't know. It'll be interesting. I bet he will learn much faster than I will.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Parents and London

I think I subscribe to too many blogs. I have no time to read them these days and they just keep piling up. They're all very interesting of course. Anyway, after spending 5 full days in Paris, I got back to England on the Eurostar and met up with my parents and brother. It took me about an hour to get from London St. Pancras/Kings Cross to Heathrow. It only cost 2 pounds! That's really cool considering how expensive it is to get from Heathrow to Cambridge on National Express.

Anyhow, we got back to Cambridge and once parents settled down a little, we walked around Cambridge a little. I visited Sainsburys 3 times that day to get various food items. That night we had quiche, cornish pasty, and ramen for dinner. I don't think my parents were very impressed by the quiche and cornish pasty but on the other hand I think they were too tired to care much.

We went off to London today. This was not what I had planned. I wanted to spend the day in Cambridge so that it's easier to come back to rest and such. I also didn't want to spend a weekend in London because it would be crowded and some underground lines undergo renovations during the weekends. But this also means that we'll be spending a weekday in Cambridge and I don't mind since you can't get anything done around here on Sundays.

We did a lot of walking today. We walked all the way from Chinatown to Big Ben, crossed the bridge, went around the river, and all the way to Tower Bridge. This took us 5, 6 hours and we were all very tired at the end of it. We ate dinner back in Cambridge at Dojos. The food wasn't too great this time. Too tired to write in more detail... More interesting stuff later, I promise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Paris, short entry

So I handed in my last report that I have to write on Friday and pretty much went straight to the train station. I felt like I couldn't leave Cambridge any faster. I had an adventure getting to Amsterdam to meet up with Yalu and friends. It started with the shabby 1 car train to Harwich (pronounced hair-wich), the creepy scenry on the way, and then finding out that I bought a ticket to go from Holland to Harwich and not Harwich to Holland. Luckily (I really felt like the luckiest person in the world this time), someone had cancelled a few minutes ago and I got their cabin. The ship was full. I will post things about Amsterdam probably after I get home and get pictures from everyone.

Right now I'm sitting in Yalu's apartment in Paris. I've managed to explore lots of Paris in these few days. I met a couple of girls who are on a europe trip and have been hanging out with them a lot. They're friends of Mahalia, so not total strangers. We met a week ago in while they were touring England.

Surprisingly, even with all this walking, I haven't gotten sore. But just feel very tired. Anyhow, more posts later, probably after I get back to the States.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Stayed up until 5am this morning finishing up two reports. But they're finished and turned in. So I'm finally, officially done with all the academic stuff at Cambridge! Wow...

Leave for Amsterdam soon.. yup. =)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Meeting Cambridge Engineers

This post is about something that is a bit lame on my part. I've realized that I haven't really met any Cambridge engineers, especially 3rd years, until these past few weeks. This is primarily due to the fact that there are 2 other people from MIT in the exchange who are doing civil engineering: Mahalia and Stella. We sit together during lecture, usually have supervisions together, work together, etc. Well, I noticed this at the end of last term when I did the Engineering Area Activity. So at Cambridge, the engineers take general engineering classes for their first two years and then specialize during their 3rd and 4th years. And each engineering area has its own Engineering Area Activity (EAA), usually in the form of many labs. The EAA for civil engineering is surveying, which takes place over few continuous days after the end of classes.

So Mahalia and Stella decided that surveying sounded really boring and not meaningful so they chose to do the EAA for mechanical engineering instead. So I got to the first lecture of surveying and the instructor informs us that we have to be in groups of 2 or 3. I look around and see that everyone already knows each other, has friends, and forms groups really easily. I realized that I didn't know anyone so I just asked to join the 2 people who happened to be sitting in front of me. And now for the 3rd year projects that are due this Friday (ahh!!), the same thing happened. Mahalia and Stella chose to do different projects and I end up sitting in rooms with people that I don't know...

But luckily, my first project is a group project where the professor split us up into groups (by alphabetical order). So I started to spend a lot of time with people in my group and their friends. There are only about 20 something people in both of my projects and everyone already knows each other. These are people I've seen all year but never really made the effort to get to know them. They also already know that I'm from MIT but never got around to talking to me either. Anyway, this whole thing is just kinda sad but at least I got to know a few of them now. In fact, I'm spending so much time with them that I've almost started talking like them. Almost, as in, the use of words like "I've got..", "surely", "literally", and other things that I can't think of at the moment. Don't worry, still can't bring myself to do the whole accent thing.

Not too sure what the whole point of this post is, other than to procrastinate from writing my reports. I guess on one hand, I'm really glad I did this exchange with a program, had MIT people all around, many of whom I got to know a lot better (and bonded with). But on the other hand, there's enough of us that it's too much of a safety net and I didn't have to reach out and find friends. I remember during freshman orientation, everyone was really eager to reach out and meet different people because none of us had any friends. That sounds a little desperate but it's the truth. We didn't have know anyone, didn't have friends, so we made the effort to get to know other people.

So I guess the lesson here is to consciously reach out, network, and get to know people whenever I'm dumped into a new area. MIT-CME people don't count because they didn't become friends through a conscious effort. We sort of just bonded because we were all sharing a similar experience. Like I said, this realization is really lame...