Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I really should not be blogging right now. I should be either studying, eating, or sleeping. Which is mostly what I've been doing these days. My daily schedule has been: eat breakfast, study, eat lunch, study, nap, study, eat dinner, study, sleep. Seriously, that's it. So I really shouldn't be blogging. But my pen ran out of ink so I thought this is a good time to take a break and blog.

What's really funny is that we talked about blogging during Chinese class today. I think we were supposed to read an article during break. I vaguely remember the teacher mentioning it but I also remember having no clue what she said. Imagine someone saying "blog" with a Chinese/British accent... Anyway, none of my classmates blog apparently. They all tried to compare it to Facebook. We discussed it in groups of 2 and 3 and my partner said he's never touched the stuff. And here I am with 2 blogs... haha. Anyway, I suggested to him that when he does his study aboard in Beijing University, he should keep a blog since he'll have friends in the UK. He seemed to like the idea. I would've talked more about this subject since I have a lot to say except I 发现自己不会说普通话。I haven't revised (this is the term they use here instead of study. So it's revision not studying.) any Chinese stuff. The only Chinese stuff I've been doing is listening to music. Apparently that doesn't help very much. I've gained a couple of vocab, maybe.

Anyway, exams. I have to take 7 engineering exams and have taken 2 so far. They were last Friday. I'm really glad I already have 2 of them over with. I really can't tell you how I did. I have nothing to compare it to. It's not like at MIT where I can be like, "well, it wasn't as hard as the midterm."

In all of these exams they let you chose (usually) 3 out of 4 questions to do. All my engineering exams are 1.5 hours long. There is 10 minutes of reading time beforehand where you can read but not write anything. You're supposed to chose which questions you want to do in that time. Unfortunately, in the first exam, I read through all the problems, thinking "which one do I NOT want to do...", and then concluding that I didn't want to do any of them. Sad. I think I managed to make pretty good headway through the 3 that I chose to do though. The 2nd exam was better. It was water engineering and 1.060 (fluid mechanics, sophomore spring semester) gave us really good preparation for this class. So the reaction to the problems was the opposite, "if they give me more time, I can do all of these."

But of course, they don't give you enough time. I think I know the material but it takes me time to think. If I were to memorize everything, the procedure to doing each type of problem, and just don't think when during the 1.5 hours that we have, then I would finish the exam. But I can't do that. (1) Way too likely to make a mistake and (2) I don't think I can physically do that. Anyhow, unless everyone memorizes everything, which is unlikely given that the regular students have 10 exams to take in a period of 3 weeks, I think the end result is pretty much the same as in the US. At MIT, if we don't feel like we were given enough time for a test, we can request that the next test be shorter or given more time. So the distribution of grades are higher and the students feel better about themselves. So I mean, it's the same deal in the end, just an A here is 70% whereas an A in the States is 90% (generally speaking). Conclusion: I think Americans like to feel good about themselves, even if it's fake.

I've also updated the MIT blog with a couple of entries. They aren't very exciting but people have left comments so must be okay.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The next 4 months...

Did you know it snowed here in Cambridge while I was away? Amazing. It was so warm in January and February that we gave up all hopes of snow. Anyway, glad I managed to miss out on terribly cold weather this year. I was only in Boston for one blizzard.

Life this past week has been really boring. All I'm doing all day every day is studying. I don't have any more engineering classes to go to. My Chinese classes don't start until late next week and they're 3 hours of class max. I've found out that I really like routines. I am much more efficient with things if I have more things to do and less time to do them. E.g. sophomore year, very productive.

So somehow I will survive through this monotony for another 3 weeks. And then I have to do these projects which, for various reasons are not looking too exciting for me. I don't plan to put a whole lot of time into them anyway. Hopefully my group mates will be chill about these projects as well. My Chinese classes will end in 4 weeks and then I don't have exams for them until probably the first week of June. So after my Engineering exams are over, I plan to do some traveling around Britain and Europe, probably on the weekends. I'll still have plenty of time for these projects and studying for Chinese.

Life will get even more exciting starting the last week of May. Yalu is coming to visit on the 28th (a Tuesday) and is staying in England with me until June 1st (Sunday). So we'll spend some time in Cambridge and then head over to London that weekend. I think the plan is to try to see as much of London as possible as well as hopping over to see Stonehenge and maybe Bath. Again, I have Chinese exams that following week and will also be finishing up my engineering projects. So after that Friday, June 6th, I'll be free of all academic stuff.

So that Saturday, June 7th, Yalu and I are planning to meet in Amsterdam and stay there for a night. I'll fly there while she takes the train. And then I'll spend the 2nd week of June in Paris with Yalu. And then that Saturday I'm taking the Eurostar back to London to meet my parents and Victor who are coming to visit. The plan for their trip is that we're going to Cambridge first and staying for 2 nights. Then I'll pack up everything and we'll all go to London and stay there for 3 nights. We'll spend a good part of one day in Oxford as well. I don't think we can fully explore London in that amount of time but we'll be able to see all the tourist attractions. That should be enough. It's not too rushed although our last day in England will just be getting up and going to the airport. Not very exciting but it's enough. I mean, it's not like we're staying anywhere for only one night, which is what I usually do and that's pretty rushed for a family trip.

So I'll be flying back to the States on June 19th and then starting work on the 23rd. That would conclude my year in Europe. Well, I wasn't really in Europe for a whole year, more like 9 months of a period of 13 months starting from late May 2007 to late June 2008. Will I come back again? Probably. MIT has this program where you can take Spanish II in Madrid...

Anyhow, this summer: I'm planning to work 9 weeks, stopping on August 22nd. I'll probably spend the weekend with my family before flying back to Boston in the middle of orientation week. Yalu is not going to be back from Paris until the 27th, a Wednesday. Which is not bad since I was planning on going back on a Tuesday or Wednesday anyway. That would give me the weekend at home and a couple of days to straighten out things at home. And when I get to Boston, I'll have time to unpack, get over the jetlag, and maybe do a fun thing or two in Boston before the school year starts and while it is still warm. My brother will mostly likely start school the week I fly back to Boston so no point in me staying home for that whole week anyway. Yup, thinking about the summer, picturing a blue sky, bright sun, and warmth on my skin made me happy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cambridge once again

After spending 2 weeks at home and then 2 weeks at MIT, I'm back at Cambridge. One of the other CME people told me that when she thinks about her dorm room at MIT, she sees a bright happy picture of her and her friends who live next door. And then when she pictures her Cambridge room, she sees this dark little hole in the wall. I had to agree. I mean, I've taken steps to make my Cambridge room more homey but it's not the same. And when I came back from grocery shopping earlier tonight, I discovered that my living room light is out. So right now I'm actually sitting in a dark room, typing this up. I think my Ethernet cable will extend into my bedroom though so I might be over later on. I can't stand sitting in the dark. It's too depressing.

Anyhow, the whole journey was pretty uneventful. It took like half an hour to get through security because there was a huge bunch of British kids, probably just finished touring Bosnywash on spring break. They took their time going through security and spend a lot of time just standing there, not going through the metal detector. There was a group of kids on the plane I was on. Not sure if it was the same bunch. But luckily, I wasn't in the same compartment as them. The plane wasn't very full. I had a window seat and there was no one in the middle seat. Food took forever to get to me. Whenever I sit in the back, they would decide to serve from the front and vice versa.

The only movie I watched was The Golden Compass. I think those shots of Jordan College were taken in Oxbridge. Looks exactly like Cambridge (haven't been to Oxford yet). And now that I've been to Cambridge, the terms "fellows" and "scholars" make a lot more sense. It was a pretty good movie as well as pretty good representation of what happened in the book. I haven't read the book in a long time though. I hope they'll make the sequels. The little girl who played Lyria was really good.

I didn't managed to watch any other movies but watched some sitcoms and cartoons. I fell asleep to Jay Chou's November's Chopin. It was part of Virgin's music collection. I had my big headphones on instead of Skype ear buds and they were great at keeping the airplane noise out. I couldn't believe how noisy it was in the cabin. But it was tricky to sleep with the headphones on. I managed to sleep more on the bus. When I got to customs, there was a huge line. There was another flight into Heathrow from Boston that arrived a little before we did. So it took forever to get through the long line. By the time I finally got to baggage claim (they call it reclaim here), everyone else on my flight was gone. Luckily, both of my bags were still there, sitting to the side of the conveyor. I got to the bus station and saw the bus to Cambridge pulling out from its stop. So I had to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

When I got to Cambridge, I met a lady on vacation from Malaysia. She asked me where the uni was. Cambridge seriously does not have a campus so I didn't really know what to do other than have her follow me to the city center and pointing out Kings College and Trinity Street to her. She also wanted to see the Economic School. I gave some vague directions. I hope she found it. It's really not very exciting. She thought about taking one of those bus tours but I told her that those buses just go around the town and you don't really get to see the insides of the colleges. I really don't know what you would see if you take one of those tours. I can't imagine it being exciting.

I also pointed out Market Square to her as we passed it. She asked if the stuff there is cheap and I said no, it's really for tourists. And she answered that she wanted to see where the locals go. Somehow I found that comment really... strange for a place like Cambridge. I had to keep myself from laughing out loud. I guess the Market Square is not really for tourists. A lot of "locals" go there too. But they sell really expensive stuff there and I realized that the students and residents here are all pretty well off and can afford to spend that kind of money. They want a place like the Market Square where it looks like a haymarket type place but actually sells not-so-cheap things.

I've always wondered at the "go/do/eat where the locals go/do/eat" comments. Is it an attempt to understand the local culture? I always wonder why people always try to understand the local culture when they're only staying at the place for a few days. How can they pretend to understand the local culture just by eating where they supposedly eat? Or try to fit in when they're only staying for a few days and are doing nothing to contribute to the community? I think you really need to live in a place and call it a home for a period of time before you can even pretend to understand it. Don't know how I really feel about all this. I just know that I actually like hanging out in the touristy areas whenever I'm in a new city. It's usually the busiest part of town and I like being around people. Not talking to them or interacting with them or anything like that. Just walking in areas with lots of people.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Life as a Student at MIT and Cambridge

Last night I went to a dinner sponsored by the Boston Society of Civil Engineers. They have a Student Night dinner every year, mostly to hand out scholarships and other awards. The program was a nice dinner, followed by a lecture on Saving Venice by the former department head of Course 1. The last part was the presentation of the scholarships. It was pretty cool to see other Course 1 students again and I had a chance to talk to some 1E people who I haven't seen for a long time.

The part that I really appreciated was the statement by both our current and former department head of how students are the life and blood of the department. The dinner cost $40 for professional members to attend. But our department had paid for all its students to attend. (There were students from other schools as well, namely Northeastern and Tufts.)

This type of thing would NEVER happen in Cambridge. There is a student organization in Cambridge for the Engineering Department but you have to pay for everything. You have to pay for membership, dinners, etc.

At MIT, we have CEESA (Civil and Enivronmental Engineering Student Association). CEESA membership is free. There is free food provided at meetings, courtesy of the department. They hold study breaks, arrange tutoring sessions, and will even talk to professors on behalf of students to get things like more office hours, less homework, or even to inform the professor that he/she is going too fast and should slow down. Last year, the community service chair of CEESA organized a group to volunteer at the Boston marathon and the department paid for the renting of a car.

I just feel that the Cambridge University Engineering Department does not care about its students. Students are not their first priority. Maybe that's just the way they are, the way they do things. But I don't like it. As an undergrad there, I don't even have a place to eat lunch. Which is crazy because the graduate students get a lounge where they can buy hot food and professors get a huge tea room next door where they can hang out. What do the undergrads get? Vending machines in the basement. It's not like this in other parts of Cambridge. In the Sigwick site, where a lot of the humanities are, there is a small cafe (run by the university) where you can buy hot food for lunch. In the Asian and Middle Eastern Faculty, where I'm taking Chinese, there is a common room for ALL students and faculty to use.

The more I think about things like this, the more I realize how much MIT cares about its students. The administration really tries to take care of the undergrads. They look after our well-being, not just academically, but physically and mentally. It's not perfect but at least they try.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A lame post...

I seem to be behind in my plan of getting work done. =( So sad... I don't think I learned too much these two terms. Not looking forward to taking these exams.

Other then attempts to study, during this past week at MIT:
- gone swimming twice
- got certified in CPR
- watched 21
- played Starcraft
- went to Le's at Harvard
- went on an Easter egg hunt

Hm... I'm sure there's more. I should start bringing my camera around with me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Summer Plans

So I've decided to take PB's offer and work in San Francisco this summer. Probably not as exciting of a location as spending the summer in Europe or China but I really think I will learn a lot with them. The other two places are probably not as keen to have me actually working. I also realized I don't have any experience working for an American engineering consulting company, which is what I want to do after graduating.

Next fall, I think I will apply to some grad schools as well. Apparently, Berkeley is the best in civil engineering. At least US News thinks so. Need to do more research into this topic. Hope I'll manage to study for the FE/EIT exam at home...

Anyway, now that I'm back at MIT, I'm starting to study for the Easter term exams. I think I was supposed to start a long time ago. Oh wells, can't turn back time.