Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Family and Friends

First off, I added another poll to the right for anyone who might still want to vote. I also added PB to the options. The original post about the 3 options is in this post. The information still applies, mostly.

Again, did not get any studying done today. But still productive. I guess if you look at the bigger picture, it has probably been more productive than doing studying for these exams. Although I really need to stop looking at this "bigger picture" and start studying soon....

After waking up really late, we brought my brother to the district's bilingual office where we found out that he passed the district's requirements to get out of bilingual education. To do this, he not only needed to pass the English proficiency test given out by his school, but he also had to get a certain score in the California state exams as well as good report card grades. And then my mom had to sign saying that she wanted him "relabeled" as a fluent English speaker. I never knew it was this complicated. This is why some of my classmates from high school where getting pulled out of AP English to be tested for English fluency.

Okay, more interesting stuff. I met up with EBMUD people to have lunch. I haven't seen these people in such a long time. More than 2 years already. I feel like I don't know anything about anyone anymore. I realized something a few weeks ago. If I end up working as a civil engineer in the Bay Area for a consulting firm, chances are, I might someday be designing stuff for EBMUD. I could be talking to the same people but they would be clients. Whoa, weird.

I really need to do more of this stuff. Meet up with people I haven't seen in a long time. I think GEO2 people are next up on the list of former coworkers. I really don't have time this time around so maybe next school year. Someone remind me!

After that, I met up with a couple of friends from middle school. I was really happy how this scheduling turned out since I would've probably spent the rest of the afternoon in a library and not do any studying anyhow. We talked mostly about college life and future plans. Well, future plans being how now that we've all lived away from our parents, experienced life outside of the Bay Area, made new friends, went to new places, did all these things, and yet still have no clue what our next 5 years will look like. It was really cool seeing them. We didn't do anything other than sit at Starbucks. Seriously, that's all we did. I showed them the Oakland City Center food places and they were pretty impressed at how nice it is.

A few days ago, I discovered 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book). It was on display at the library so I grabbed it on the way out. Today I went back for the next two books in the series. I think there's supposed to be a 4th book but I didn't see it. Guess you can't expect Book 4 in a trilogy to be easy to find.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My bookshelf

Actually, this doesn't exists anymore since I had to pack everything away. But at one point, I took pictures of my bookself since I've never had one that has so many technical books before. I learned to use the library at Cambridge. I really like my college's library. I'm glad it's a good one because competing with other engineering students for books at the engineering library is not fun.

On the top shelf we have the tiger that sings, tangerines, and other food essentials like nutella and museli. Next comes the Hydrology books that I only used for about a week. We had a total of 2 lectures on hydrology. Chinese and German books. And yes, that's a copy of Let's Go Europe.

That's right, that's a coffee press pot. I used it a few times the first term but now I just stick to tea. It's cheaper, easier to get rid of, and great for dunking tea biscuits in. The coffee thing is now at home with dad. Much of this bookself is occupied with structures books, the class that I am struggling the most with. There's a couple of geotech books and then some notebooks that I hardly ever use.

I don't use this helmet anymore either since I don't bike anymore. It's too dangerous and such a hassle to find a good place to park the bike. I mean, what if it starts raining? Or if you want to walk with a friend? I hate pushing bikes. I also picked up some Garfield books in a bookshop. Garfield Annuals that are published specially for the UK. These are now home as well. And then binders. Not very exciting.

Is this too personal to publish on the MIT Cambridge blog? Or should I just do it? What do you guys think? I can draw fancy arrows for the MIT blog instead of just lame descriptions like I have now.
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Stanford, Easter Eggs

Wow, it's Saturday again. Not sure where all the time went. Dentist appointment on Tuesday. Went to Costco and visited relatives on Wednesday. Interview on Thursday. And visited Mike Shaw at Stanford on Friday. This morning I went with my brother and cousins on a Easter Egg Hunt.

Stanford is really nice. Extremely beautiful campus. It took about 2 hours for me to get there, from the time I got out of the house. So it wasn't too bad. I took BART to the end and then went on Caltrain. Mike Shaw and I chatted about various stuff and then ate at a burrito place. On the way back, I got to ride in one of the new Caltrain trains. It was shiny and less bumpy. All the seats on the top deck faced each other so that they were all sets of 4 seats, which I thought was pretty nice. In the old trains, all the seats on top are single seats.

This morning, we got to the egg hunt a little late and nearly all the eggs were gone. But they kept back some eggs for the kids that didn't get any. Doesn't matter anyway since every kid redeems all their plastic eggs for one bag of prizes. There was a raffle but we didn't really pay attention since there was also a golf clinic (the hunt was at a golf course). We got to learn about various swings and such. It was fun.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I just ate an orange from our orange tree. And the first sense that came into my mind when I bit into the slice was that the orange is warm, not cold like the oranges you buy from the supermarket where they refrigerate everything. Still warm from the sun. Amazing...

Not a cloud in sight

Back home again! The past week has been like a long dream. I was so busy. Not "hosed" as in stressed but I had so much to do that I just did everything on autopilot. Last Monday, the Dean of Education and Head of Financial Aid came to visit us. A lot of people showed up for the buffet dinner and discussion. I might write about what we talked about in a later post. The cat is behaving badly again... I spent the last part of the week learning the basics of surveying (land surveying). Trying to get heavy equipment exactly over one tiny speck on the ground in freezing wind and rain was not fun. After that I had to take my German test on Saturday. Poting was there to do her French test and we walked back together.

The rest of Saturday was great though. I made brunch with Stella, Mahalia, and Mahalia's boyfriend. Mahalia and her boyfriend were heading off to Geneva for a week that afternoon. Hope they have fun! After that I decided to get a mocha at Cafe Nero because I really like their coffee and will miss going to coffee shops back in the US. There was a huge line because it was Saturday and there was a science festival going on. They were so swamped that they punched my order in as redeeming a loyalty card and I got a free drink. It also might've been that she didn't want to count the huge stack of change I handed her. After enjoying my mocha, I packed my room and suitcases, all in one afternoon. That night, I went out to dinner with Sophia and some of her friends and we ate and chatted for a few hours.

I got up at 4am on Sunday and heading to the bus station. It was still dark outside and raining. Since I had 2 suitcases, I couldn't use an umbrella. I thought about taking a cab to the bus station but didn't see one on the way. I had arrived way too early again and ended up taking an earlier bus which is actually slower since they take a longer route. But it still gets to the airport earlier and it beats standing in the rain for half an hour more. On the bus, I saw Jenn and her mom. They're going to Croatia for a week. Hope they have fun too!

I was really worried that my luggage were overweight since I'm bringing back all my notes. But I had a smaller suitcase that I stuffed with all my books and heavy things so it was fine. You can't imagine how happy I was when I weighted my luggage and they were both under the limit. After checking in luggage, I had to wait until it was 2 hours before my departure time to go through security. That's right, wait to go through security. Ridiculous? Yes, that's Heathrow airport for you. The reason is, airlines there don't have permanent gates like in other airports. There are just too many airlines and airplanes so they have a huge waiting area instead. And when your plane lands and parks at a gate, they'll announce it, and everyone goes to that gate number. I spent a long time walking around this waiting area, trying to decide if I want to buy anything to eat.

My plane was delayed about 30 minutes for boarding and because of that, we had to wait 2 hours on the plane because there are only so many runways and we had lost our place in the queue because of the initial delay. Luckily, the winds were on our side so we were only delayed by about 40 minutes arriving. I watched Juno, which was really good. The food was not bad. The guy next to me doesn't like cheese and gave me his. I also watched Lust Caution, which was pretty good as well. It was mostly Mandarin with a bit of English and some Cantonese and Shanghainese. I also watched some other random stuff including an interview with Wang Lee Hom and listened to a Jay Chou album.

My plane had really amazing views of the Bay Area as we were descending. I had a window seat and sat on the "right" side to see everything. And then I was back! My family came to meet me at the airport. I swear security is more lax now than before. I didn't even have to take my laptop out at Heathrow and the passport control people didn't ask me anything. I was ready with answers to questions like "what were you doing in the UK?". We had hot pot for dinner last night and I slept for 13 hours.

It's been a while since I've seen sunny skies like the one I'm staring at now. It was so amazing when we were driving home. It was warm, sunny, and not a cloud in sight.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I can now go to a casino

I turned 21 this past Sunday, March 9th. I hadn't planned anything besides going to a formal dinner at St. Catherine College, which Poting had organized (for CME people, not for my birthday). Anyway, I had mentioned it was my birthday a few days back when Cindy was making a card for Jeremy (other CME people), whose birthday is March 8th. I commented that since I was born in China, our birthdays are actually on the same "day". Mahalia asked if I was planning on doing anything, and I was like, "uh, writing my FTR?"

So on Sunday, she showed up with some other CME people with a cake. A normal looking yellow cake but made from scratch (by her), coated with heavy cream, and topped with strawberries. It was amazing. And that morning, she send out an email to all the CMe people plus Sophia (my former neighbor). They had managed to get candles and "attacked some Chinese tourists to get them lite" but the wind blew them out before they could get to my room. I was really touched. I can't believe she did all of that for me.

I guess that's one of the best things that came out of going on this exchange: I got to know people that I otherwise would not have. I knew Mahalia and Stella before the exchange. Course 1 isn't that big. But after a year of struggling at Cambridge, cooking together, working late, we've gotten to know each other much more. Same goes to the other CME people. We have a lot of get formals and get togethers here and I just find it so nice to talk to other MIT people. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed living with Yalu and working with Xiumin and Zawadi just as much but we got along so well that I would've just stuck with them all the time. Doing this exchange forced me to get to know these other MIT people at a level that I would've never done if I had stayed at MIT. I think this is a side effect that none of us really thought about but that I know goes true for all the other CME students.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

And what are you doing this summer?

Wanted to keep this post up top. I added a poll to the left for anyone who has a strong opinion of where I should be working this summer. Also I got a phone call last night pass midnight from Parsons in Sacramento. The manager for one of their construction projects called me because he said that their HR person couldn't get through to me and he really wanted to know if I'm interested. Construction management sounds really cool and again, they have an interesting project. I told him that I've gotten other offers and I'll get back to him if I'm interested. It's such a shame since he must've really liked what he saw on my resume to call me instead of waiting for the HR people to try again.

=====original post. 3/5/08=======

Choices, choices. Earlier this week, I got an email from the Happold Trust saying congratulations, I have been selected to receive a scholarship along with a summer placement (internship) in one of their offices. Since Buro Happold is one of the biggest names in structural engineering, this is great. But... I'm not sure what I want to do. If you want to help out, keep reading.

So placement with Buro Happold will be 8 weeks long and mine will take place in Bath. The scholarship is £2,100. The monthly rent in Bath seems to be around £300 so it's enough to live on. They haven't told me which group I will be working with yet but it will most likely be a structures group. I might also get some experience in geotech because they do foundations as well. Bath itself is a World Heritage Site, seems like a nice place to live, very close to Wales, which I haven't been. There are many advantages to this internship actually. I would get to travel around Britain during the weekends, which I haven't done yet. Yalu will definitely come visit since she'll be in Paris. And since my internship is only 8 weeks, I will have time to do some serious traveling (with Yalu) at the end of the summer. And I just realized that working in England means that I can start my internship right after my projects are done (i.e. start the 2nd week of June), maybe come back to Cambridge for May Balls, and have more time at the end of the summer to travel. The only reservations I have about this company is that the female and male ratio is not great. When I went in for the interview, I actually had to look for the females because there were not so many. Also, people dress nicer than in the US. In most US engineering places, people just wear a shirt, jeans, and black shoes. There the guys had ties and nicer shirts. They do have some offices in the US, namely New York City and Los Angeles. But the LA offices is really small. No big plants like in Berlin. No one really had much personal pictures around their workspaces either, I'm starting to wonder if that's just an American thing.

So after hearing back from these people, I emailed MISTI China and asked about the China situation (China Communications Construction Company CCCC). Appearantly, it looks like they've already decided to take me as an intern but failed see the need to tell me. I think this is another one of those cultural differences business. See, American companies tell you as soon as they have decided so that they can grab you. These Chinese places don't see this as a priority. They don't realize that they've got to compete with other places for me. I think if I didn't ask, the whole thing would've ended up like last year where I got an email in June asking "So when are you going to arrive in Shanghai?" Okay, now that I've finished ranting about this place, let me tell you what they do. They're one of the biggest construction companies in China, working on mostly projects in ports. I would be working in a design office. Where? I still have no clue. Not sure if they're actually going to pay me for this internship although MISTI China will reimburse me for the flight, I'm sure. So I've been wanting to do an internship in China for like 2 years now. The reasons are that I want to improve my spoken Mandarin, understand the culture (since going there with parents and living by oneself is totally different), visit family, maybe seek out old friends, and of course, travel. Oh, and the food. Asian food here is questionable. Also, besides this, MISTI China has no civil engineering contacts. I would be helping future Course 1 students to have the chance to work in China for a summer.

And of course, there are other places that I am really interested in but haven't heard back from yet. There's Parsons Brinckerhoff. I did a phone interview with their office in San Francisco with their geotechnical group. They guys I interviewed with seems really cool. And they have cool projects. There's 2 major projects going on and they said there'll be plenty of work to do. Working for them would mean that I would get excellent experience in geotechnical engineering, which is something that I can't say for the above 2 places. I also interviewed with Gilbane Construction in Boston. An internship with them would mean really good experience in the construction field. Definitely on-site versus hanging out in an office like all of these other places. And there's potentially something in Iceland through Course 1 with Iceland's biggest structural engineering firm. Other than the opportunity to travel around Iceland, there would be other MIT students working there as well. And I would still get to travel Europe with Yalu if I work in Iceland. Not so realistic if I work in China.

Okay, there it is. One really long entry about my summer plans so far. Comments are welcomed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sunset in London

London Pics!

Just realized I haven't posted any pictures of me in London. I went there with a few people the weekend after Chinese New Year to see the parade and enjoy the other celebrations. Poting and I went around London for a little while after that.

Not sure why I don't look too happy in these first two pictures... Anyhow, we weren't really sure where we were going. I had a guide book. But then we saw the London Eye (that big ferris wheel in the back) and started heading towards it.

Westminster Abbey. Sadly we didn't get to go in since it was Sunday and they didn't want any tourists on Sundays. We peaked inside like all the other tourists and it looks pretty amazing. Hope to go back one of these days.

Big Ben! Yay. I should've taken a picture of the subway station next to it. We talked about it in geotech class and how they had to put in a lot of reinforcement to keep the Big Ben from tilting when they put in the tunnel.

As we were crossing this bridge, Poting and I speculated on the price of a ride on the London Eye. I said 10 pounds which seems reasonable. But when we got there, we found out that it was 15 pounds and they're called "flights" not "rides". And actually, a Thames river cruise is cheaper than a flight. We found this confounding. 15 pounds is a little too much for us. And it was getting dark when we got there so we didn't go on.

Black Swan!

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

more rants about Customer Service

I could not find ground turkey at Sainsburys (the local grocery store) yesterday. I complained about this to a fellow CMEer and neither of us likes the fact that Sainsburys doesn't restock properly. Their restocking things are either always sitting in the cramped aisles, blocking space or there would be empty shelves where my favorite brand of muesli is supposed to be found. It's very annoying since I only go to the grocery store when I really need something and don't want to make another trip back. Sometimes it means I have to go to another store or somehow eat breakfast without milk.

Why does this happen? (I) It might be that the store is just too small. At certain hours, the entire town seems to want to get their daily necessities all at the same time. The lines are super long and shelves are robbed of all the popular goods. And since the store is not very big, (i) can't have an infinite supply of ground turkey on the shelf and (ii) can't restock fast enough. (II) But actually, this might also be a case of seeing things through American eyes. We're a society where if our demands aren't met the right way the first time around, we complain and go somewhere else. Maybe that's just not the way it works here. Maybe the people here don't mind when they can't get their ground turkey and are okay with just coming back some other time.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Sunday Morning

I woke up this morning and did not feel like eating cereal/musli. So I went out the Marketplace and got an ostrich burger and a mocha (pronounced mod-ka). The burger was amazing. They have this caramelized onion sauce that is also delicious as well. This whole experience made me feel like a local. The marketplace is actually a tourist attraction, full of souvenir things. But instead of waitinig until 1pm and wait in long lines to get the burger and coffee like everyone else, I went at 11am and got fresh burger and coffee with absolutely no lines. By the way, these two items cost nearly $8. Well, can't get an ostrich burger anywhere I guess.

I want to write an entry titled "It's the little things" in which I would tell my audience about all the little cultural differences that make studying/working/living aboard such a rich experience. But that would take a lot of work so I'll just write a paragraph or two whenever I realize something. Maybe I'll compile it later for an entry on the MIT blog.

So yesterday, I was watching Yahoo! news, New York edition, about the Starbucks closing its doors for 3 hours nationwide to retrain their people. I had already read about this earlier but watched it nevertheless. In the boardcast, one of the hosts said he's a regular customer and the only thing he ever orders is a ice latte with light ice. But the part that attracted my attention was that he said he refuses to call it a "tall" because it actually is a "small." See that cup of coffee to the left that I got this morning? That's a regular. I should really put a penny or something next to it but it's pretty small. It's like an extra-small cup of coffee in the US if they have something called extra-small. Kids sized. And it probably costed me more than getting a Verde coffee at Starbucks in the US.

So Starbucks closed its doors for 3 hours to reteach its people how to make espressos, steam milk, and how to give better customer service. But the only thing that the news boardcast people talked about was "I'm glad they're retraining their people because the service is terrible." Nothing about the coffee itself. Just complaints about the service. Customer service is a huge part of American culture. It's very important to Americans. I didn't realize this until I went to Germany this summer. People elsewhere do not value good customer service. They do not expect it or want it. Living aboard is actually not learning about other cultures as it is about learning about your own culture. Culture = the way we do things here = the things that we value.
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There's a tank outside my window

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