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.