Sunday, August 27, 2006

leaving today..

That's it for posts from China, I'm leaving today.... more later.. I have so much to say.. but, not enough time to write.. I have to do real work! (and pack...)

Nanjing and More

Ben, Bill, and Will
Ben's Friend Chen-Ming came for a quick visit from Taiwan, so we decided to go to Nanjing overnight last Friday for a visit. Ben's friend's Will and Susan live There. Chen-Ming is a friend from Ben's junior college in Taiwan (waaaaay back) and Will was Ben's roommate in Tang Hall during his first year at MIT as a grad student.

Najing was the captical of China at least twice. Once during the Ming dynasty, and also when the Republic of China (ROC) was formed 1912. (This is not the same as the PRC).

It's was a great trip. Way too much to tell, so I'll have to summarize...

I posted a photo gallery of my trip here: Bill's trip to Shanghai. It's got most of the stuff in the captions. Too much to write.

1) We took a cab to the train station. It was the scariest cab ride of my life! Driver in Shanghai are completely nuts. I was getting used to it, but this guy probably watched a little too much F-1 racing (which is really big over here). He was darting in and out of traffic and narrowly missing pedestrians and bikes so many times I almost...

2) The train station was amazing. There were so many people there. Like a million or something. You say, "it can't be a million!", but think about it. China has a billion people. A million is only like 0.1%, so it's not that much of a fraction.

3) We arrived in Nanjing after about 2 1/2 hours and met up with Ben's friend Will and his wife Susan.

4) After lunch, we were off to a park near the Purple Mountain. It's named that because it has some purple rocks, apparently. I didn't see any.... The first thing we saw was some 800 year-old monuments to the Ming Dynasty.

5) We first went to visit a mosoluem dedicated to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the ROC. It involved a lot of steps, and it was very hot.long climb to the top

6) Next, we stopped by a buddhist temple.

7) Next, we climbed a giant pagoda. Tough climb in the heat, but a great view from the top!

8) later we had dinner, then we went to a Concert run by Will's wife Susan. It was concert featuring the Erhu. There were many Erhu and musicians of all ages. It was fantastic!

9) The next day, before we caught the train back to Shanghai, we went to visit the former presidential palace of the ROC. It was also the same site as a former regional king's palace in Nanjing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

where have I been?

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I was pretty sick yesterday.  I went out for Thai food 2 nights ago and the next morning my stomach was not to happy with me.  You can guess what happened next.    My advice is to be careful what you eat when traveling.   And, if you are not careful, then make sure you bring "intestinal" medicine and stomach medicine just in case.   I was lucky I could just sleep at the apartment all day.   Imagine if I were on a plane or train.  Ugh.  that would be miserable.  (I'm ok now).

Today Ben and I went to the tailor to pick up some pants that I ordered.  The taxi dropped us off in the wrong place, so we had to walk really far to get there.  We went through a working class neighborhood.   It was actually pretty cool.   There were lots of people selling stuff on the street.  Clothes, snacks, dishes, household goods, comic books, videos... just about everything might want.  I always thought this is the way a city should be laid out.  Everything you need is right at your doorstep.  No need to drive.   The sidewalks were filled with vendors, so we had to walk in the street.  Every now and then a bike, motor scooter, or occasionally a car would beep at us to get out of the way.    The thing that impressed me the most about this street was that the people seemed really calm, laid back, and generally content.  No one was pressuring me to buy things.   I felt very safe there.  (perhaps i am naïve?).

In the evenings, the TV is usually on in Ben's apartment.  Their satellite dish is broken, so they only get the approved Chinese channels.  There are about 12 CCTV (China Central TV) channels run by the government.  There are also some mandarin channels from Hong Kong and Taiwan that are available.    One CCTV channel is in English.   The state run channels are heavily business focused with a little bit of international news.   The government's influence can clearly be seen in the available programs.  The international news is almost always negative.  (like the recent plane crash in Russia, for example).  The China news is always positive.    The business news is mostly a collection of short feature stories about successful, well-behaved business people in China.  Occasionally, they have a story about a business person from another country to teach how they became good business people.   There was one story about the new train from Beijing to Tibet.  They were talking about how great it will be for Tibet.  Many non-Tibetan Chinese are now moving there  and setting up businesses to take advantage of the tourist trade.  They are mostly importing good from Eastern China, so the local people don't have to bother to even make goods or work in stores for the expected influx of new tourists.   So, Tibetans are really happy about this. (right!)   The story ends with a quick interview with some old Tibetan woman praying and some statement like, "no one knows what will happen to the Tibetan people and their culture".... Well, it's good thing the Tibetans are happy!

I will post photos soon.  Unfortunately, I am at a café with poor internet connection.   I'll be on a faster one later.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

past couple of days in SH

I've had a good couple of days here... I'll post a couple pictures soon. We've been working a lot, but we've also taken the time do a couple of social/tourist things.

On Saturday we met up with a group called the "Sea Turtles" at an American Bar and Grill-type restaurant. The Sea Turtles are a group of Chinese who left China to study overseas and have returned to "lay eggs". (Sea turtles always return to the beach where they were born to lay eggs). It was an interesting time. There were many engineers, finance people, and entrepreneurs who were trying to network with each other. I get invited to these kinds of alumni events in Boston all the time (now that I have attended 4 different schools of higher ed.)... I've never go, but maybe I should. It's probably a good chance to make some contacts.

On Sunday we went met up with a friend of the Koo's for lunch. We went to a Shanghainese restaurant with a great view. It was in the "Super Brand Mall". The food was really tasty. Definitely the best that I've had on this trip. The Super Brand mall is an amazing place in itself. It's an 8 story mall filled with mostly fancy Western shops. It's so big inside that it reminds me of the huge canyons in the west of the US. It's so big that when you look up from the ground floor you can't really conceptualize the imense size. There are two things that make it even more amazing: This is not the biggest mall in China (yikes!) and there are two more floors in the basement that house an gargantuan department store/supermarket. We went down there to buy some water. It was bigger than any store in the US that I've ever seen. Quite amazing. I guess with the cheap cost of labor here, you can build anything.

Later on, we went to a fabric gallery across the river. There, I ordered two pairs of pants custom made for me. I probably paid too much ($40 for two), but I picked out the most expensive fabric they have and ordered all the finishing options possible. I hope it comes out well. I've had trouble fitting in commercially sold pants, so maybe custom cut pants will suit me well. (SO LUXURIOUS!) If this goes well, maybe I'll order a suit next time I'm in China.

Next, we walked along the Bund. The Bund is series of English-built buildings along the river. They are all in a classic late-colonial style. The buildings housed various banks, customs houses, and hotels. The Brits used this as a trading port. One building in particular was really amazing. The ceiling was painted with a fabulous mural depicting the reach and influence of British empire. This ceiling was covered by fleeing British to prevent it from being destroyed by Mao's army. It has been recently restored. Unfortunately, due to the Chinese national firewall, I can't find any links to photos.. There might be some here at Wikipedia. Strangly there is a message on ceiling that says, "ALL MEN ARE EQUALS ON THE HIGH SEAS". Really, "all men"? I have a hard time believing that was true in 1930.

I'll post more photos soon... back to work...

Friday, August 18, 2006

cultural differences

Ben and I are spending the day at a local coffee shop.  They have wireless Internet and it's fairly quiet here.  We have come to this place twice before.  The food, coffee, and waitstaff are good.... and, best of all: it's clean.

A couple of strange things happened today.  They are strange for me, but I suppose it's normal here.

Early in the day, we ordered a pot of coffee.  While rearranging our books and laptops on the table, I accidentally knocked a cheap plastic napkin holder onto the floor.  It broke into two pieces.  I was not surprised, because it was basically two pieces of plastic glued together.    The waitress brought over a replacement and then told Ben that she was adding 15 RMB (less than $2) to the bill for the damage.   I was a little surprised, but he said this is normal here.   In the US, if such a thing happened a customer would throw a fit.  I thought it was pretty rude.  This place is actually a pretty expensive restaurant.  Many of their specialty drinks are $10-$20.   Later, the waitress came over and told us that it because it was "the fault of the staff", she would take 40% off the charge.  So, now we owe 9 RMB for the plastic thing.   ok, whatever...

In the afternoon, suddenly all of the male waiters in the cafe marched in unison to a location right outside our window.  They stood at attention as the manager carefully inspected each of them.   He especially checked to see if their fingernails were clean by holding a white piece of paper under their hands.  Then, they all chanted some Chinese phrases in unison.  (I suppose it's something like: "we are polite to customers! we keep our fingernails clean! we will charge customers for all damage to napkin holders!).   Then, they marched in formation back into the restaurant.  Ben shook his head and said it's likely that the manager is x-military.  This is his way of keeping quality standards high.

OK, back to work.  hopefully, I can refrain from breaking any more napkin holders. 

Thursday, August 17, 2006

2nd Trip to Shanghai

Here is my report of my first couple of days...

I flew to Shanghai via Chicago on tuesday the 15th. It was a pretty decent flight. I'm a little dissapointed in the quality of American Airlines International Coach. They have a nice entertainment systems with screens at your seat, but the quality of the movies has definately dropped. Some manager probably said, "Get cheaper movies!", so they did. The best movie was "RV" with Robin Williams. yikes. This is about a family that rents an RV and has crazy adventures. They probably got that for free. Additionally, my controller was faulty, so I had trouble changing the volumes. Oh yeah. The earphones were of poor quality too. The sound was highly distorted (squeaky) and they hurt my ears after about 30 minutes of use. Luckily, I had my own set in my carry-on bag. ugh. You know how else they "saved" money? They cancelled all of the on-board magazines. That must have saved them about $25 for the flight. Good job! But, I got here safely, which is the important thing...

ok, that is the end of my ranting. I wont talk about the service or food.

This time, upon arrival in Shanghai, Ben picked me up and we took the new MagLev train to get to his apartment. The train is built on an elevated track system and has electromagnets that can levitate it above the track while it's moving. This allows it to move extremely fast. We reached a top speed of 430 kph (267 mph)! This is about half the speed of an aircraft. In 7 minutes we were within a mile or so of his apartment. Last time I came to Shanghai it took 45 minutes by car to get here. Ben told me that I am one of a very tiny fraction of people in the world that have ridden on a working MagLev train! Here is the photo:

maglev speed

We have spent the first couple of days working at home and catching up on eachothers research. I have a few good meals already... M is jealous about the good food I am able to eat here, so I wont go into too much detail!

Everywhere we go, we bring little Henry Koo. He is 7 1/2 months old and very well behaved. Here is a photo of Ben and Henry taking a quick nap at the Hagen-Dasz across from the Bund:

ben and henry

More photos and stories later... On Sunday we are planning to take a break and spend some time seeing the sights of Shanghai.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

3 things!

1)  Today we ate the first tomato!  It tasted fantastic.   My two tomato plants are both 5 feet tall now.  Each has about 5 or 6 tomatoes growing on it.   I'll post a picture when I get a chance.

2)  We finally moved our furniture around today to create a bathroom for Gracie.  She loves it!  She has a green curtain to cover up her kitty litter.  Now she can finally have some privacy when nature calls.

3)  On Tuesday I'm leave for Shanghai on a research trip.  This time I will be there for two weeks.  It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm really excited to just be in one city for two weeks, instead of hopping around like last time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Soaring in Vermont

SGS 1-26
On Monday I drove up to Vermont with Bruce C. (a grad school peer of mine) to stay at my advisor's cabin in Vermont.   My advisor is a soaring enthusiast.   I always thought gliding was sort of an odd hobby and couldn't possibly safe or fun.  (Why wouldn't you want an engine??) But, it is actually really fun, exciting, and amazing.  Too bad I didn't bring my camera.  I'll include some photos from the gliding club's website.

We pulled out the two-seat glider (an SGS 1-26) onto the runway at the Sugarbush airport.    It's a very small runway with a few hangars a little control tower.    The glider only has wheels along it's centerline, so one person tows it with a golf cart while the other person (me) holds up the wings.  Although it's about 40 feet across (the wingspan), it's actually very light and easy to hold up a wing.   

Piper PA-25-235 PawneeWe next hooked the glider up a tow plane.   I expected a large tow plane, but it's actually a fairly small plane.  Only one seat and one propeller.  It doesn't take very much to lift the glider.  The tow rope is carefully laid on the ground in a big S pattern to prevent any knots or loops from forming.

I strapped myself in the front seat while Ed did a pre-flight check of all the mechanisms.  It's actually quite hot inside once the glass canopy is closed.  There no powered fan or air conditioning inside the glider.  There is only one small battery to run the radio.   Once we were flying, small adjustable air vents provided the comfort controls.  The whole idea of gliding is to take advantage of the forces of nature as much as possible.

Once everything was all set and we were strapped in, Ed radioed to the tow pilot and the control tower that we were ready.   One of the club members held up one wing while we waiting.  The tow plane started pulling us off the grass onto the runway.  Within seconds the club member was able to let go of the wing because we were already producing enough lift to keep the glider upright on it's own.

Within 10 seconds were were in the air just above the runway.  The glider actually lifts off before the tow plane because it is optimized to generate as much lift as possible.  The next couple of minutes are actually some the most difficult in the glider flight.  The pilot of the glider has to be careful to stay behind the tow plane with tension on the tow rope.  It's easy to accidentally shoot ahead of the plane  or cause a loop in the rope if you are not careful.

At about 4000 feet, Ed pulled a yellow knob in the cockpit which released the rope.  We were freely soaring at that point!   In order to stay aloft, a glider needs to find one of three sources of lift:  thermals, ridge lift, or wave lift.   Ed was able to identify some cloud formations that indicated wave lift nearby.  We gently guided the glider towards them.    He was right, as we were soon rising at a rate of 2 to 5 knots.

For the next 30 to 40 minutes we gently circled higher and higher above the clouds.  It was a bit hazy, but you could still see the wonderful landscape of the Mad River Valley in Vermont.   We reached 10,000 feet and decided that we should head down so that Bruce could also get a ride.  (If we had kept going we would have to stop at 14,000 feet because we were not carrying oxygen).   Ed let me take control of the glider for a little while, so I could gently glide around the clouds and fully experience the thrill of soaring like a hawk.  It was really wonderful.

We actually had a tough time getting the glider to go down.  We had to use the spoilers (used like an airbrake) to slow down the glider.   Ed told me that some people fly for years without finding a strong source of lift like I did on my first flight.  I guess I'm just lucky.

The landing was interesting/thrilling too.   We circled the runway a few times so that we could gently lose enough altitude to land.    I always thought the idea of gliding was dangerous, but actually, it actually takes some work to get the glider to go down.  A trained pilot should always have enough time to get back to a runway considering how slowly the glider descends.

I highly recommending going for a glider ride if you ever get a chance!