Wednesday, June 17, 2009

America night and other activities

It’s been a good week here in Dalian. Last Friday we had “America Night.” We were all craving a cheeseburger, and the easiest option we found was the McDonald’s downtown. I despise McDonald’s for many reasons, but that double cheeseburger was one of the best I’ve ever had. Later we invited our grad students over to Ben and Felipe’s apartment to teach them the game of Beer Pong. Since there was no luck finding solo cups, we were stuck with smaller cups which made the game much more difficult. They LOVED playing the game, and loved watching it even more. Each time someone made a shot, all of the grad students would clap. Only bad part of this was the Wal-Mart brand beer we decided to buy because it was incredible cheap. It tasted unbelievably awful. We started playing at 8and by 10:30 the grad students decided they were done, so they all left. The rest of us caught a cab into Zhongshan Square to check out an ex-pat place called Dave’s Bar. There was a dude playing guitar that was beyond awful. We ended up talking after he played, and he told us he was Cassidy from Utah and he was in Dalian “living the dream.”
On Saturday, we took the bus to Xinghai Square. We walked along the beach and saw some amazing buildings and took some great pictures. Dinner was at a little barbeque place on the beach that had great skewers and an amazing view. I was feeling pretty tired, so I started to walk back to catch a bus back to campus. We found bumper cars for 5 yuan, and decided to give them a whirl. It was the same as bumper cars in the U.S. except each car has 2 guns affixed to it so you could pretend to do drive-by shootings. I took a great video that I need to get on Facebook as soon as I can.
The grad students had an event planned for us on Sunday: cherry picking at7 AM. All of us were pretty much zombies as we took the bus to the orchard place. They did not let us get baskets for the cherries, so we ended up walking around for about an hour eating cherries. With still 2hours left, we were a bit sick of cherries so we found some tables and played cards instead. That night we went back to Xinghai to a Schezuan restaurant, luckily one of Sara’s friends (who knew Chinese) was with us and managed to get us to the restaurant for one of the best meals we’ve eaten in China.
Tuesday morning brought our proposal presentation. Hung Tao came back to Dalian, and the guy who works for NSF and got the funding for our program came to watch our presentations. I went first, and was a bit nervous but ended up doing an alright job. After that we toured some of the labs and had a huge lunch at the campus hotel. Only interesting thing that we ate was a conch shell and watermelon for dessert. I ate the conch shell, which tasted like stinky fish. I managed to keep it down, but got a good laugh when one of the other REU guys said it tasted like crabs. I don’t remember who said it, but I know for sure they have never had a Maryland crab because conch does not taste like good crabs.
I got a cell phone with 2 months of service for about $21. I have started to notice more and more of the cultural differences between here and America. The biggest is that there are no such things as table manners in China. You can pick up your plate, slurp, and reach for any food you want. Taking the last bit from the family-style plates is encouraged without even asking if anyone else wants some. Another big difference is that students have a much different schedule here than more American college students. They wake up early every day, around 6 or 7. Lunch is at 11 and dinner around 4. While the grad students are at work, it is not unusual for them to stop working for hours at a time to watch movies, play computer games, leave to play tennis, or even pull out a pillow and take a nap right at their desk. Nobody stays out late. The streets are pretty much empty at about 11 PM on weekends. They also work on the weekends. The office is pretty much home for them.
Our internet in the apartment is quite slow, so Skype has not been working too well. I am hoping to find some sort of internet café that will have better service. Also, the mosquitoes (or some other bug) are eating my hands and feet, and I have yet to find bug spray or some other repellant so I am stuck with little red and white bumps all over my hands. Luckily they are not incredibly itchy.
This weekend is the 60th Anniversary for the Dalian University of Technology so there will be a bunch of stuff going on around campus and we’re pretty excited to experience it all!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

First Week in Dalian

It’s been almost a week in Dalian. First thing that I’ve found to love here is the weather. It hasn’t been more than about 83 degrees and not humid at all. It is definitely not touristy here like it is in Beijing, but people do know enough English that we can communicate relative easily.
Our apartment is alright. The most interesting thing is the bathroom. There is no tub or shower, just a drain in the floor. That took a bit of time to get used to, but it works. I’m sharing a room with one of the other guys, something I haven’t done in a long time but it’s working out just fine. We have internet at our apartment, and so far it is much more reliable than the internet in the office. Pictures of our place are up on Facebook.
Work here is not intense, at least not yet. We work from 9 to 5, with about an hour or so for lunch. I am in a cubicle room with a few other REU kids and grad students. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed; many of the grad students watch movies and sleep at their desks throughout the day. This week has consisted of reading journal articles and taking notes as background information on our topics. I will be doing this sort of stuff for another week, and then I will start learning how to use the program, ANSYS. I will be modeling and running simulations of a stinger used to lay pipe in very deep water. If anyone wants to know more details of my work, let me know and I’ll tell you all about it. It is semi-interesting, but I wish I had a project that I actually got to use my chem engineering knowledge with. I have also been working on my proposal presentation that I have to give on Tuesday of next week.
The highlight of the week was definitely our visit to downtown Dalian. Our school is about 30 min (by bus) from the city center. We spent the day walking about the city checking out all the shops, malls, and random stands. We also visited a park that had a giant soccer ball in the middle, and a bunch of theme park rides around it. That night, we got dinner and tried to find a bar or club to chill at. We found a bar, The Meeting Place, which had a fake American décor. It was real tacky and dull so we left. The bar we ended up staying at was called the Alice Bar. Apparently the thing to do there is buy a bottle of liquor for your group, and then they make drinks for you and keep your glasses full. There was a small dance floor, and it wasn’t long before we were the main people dancing and singing. They played American music, but a mix of stuff I never thought I’d hear in a bar. Whatever we were doing at the stage was good because more than a few people bought us drinks. We got a cab home, luckily we knew the name of our school in Chinese or it would’ve ended up being a long night.
I still can’t believe how cheap everything is here, especially food. There is cafeteria type thing right by the office, and we can eat a pretty big lunch for about $1-1.50. When we go out to dinner, we eat amazing food and end up paying around $2-3 each. So far we have only had one bad experience. We had all liked this eggplant dish, just eggplant covered in a sweet but spicy sauce. One day at lunch, we thought we were eating the same thing but with a different texture. After eating almost the whole plate, our mentor told us that we had been eating pork fat. That pretty much killed my appetite.
Where we are in town there are a lot of universities, so there are tons of kids our age walking all over town. We’ve been playing soccer after work. There are a bunch of fields and it’s not hard at all to get a pickup game going. We call ourselves Team Meiguo, or Team America.
I find myself missing home just a little bit, especially certain food. I would kill for a cheeseburger or a big plate of my mom’s pasta.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Onto Beijing and Dalian

Blogspot is banned in China, so I am writing these entries and then having my parents post them to my blog.

On Saturday morning we got up before 3 and were at the Ottawa airport by 4:00. We caught a flight to Toronto and then to Vancouver. In Vancouver we walked around for a little bit and then got on our flight to Beijing. We were in the middle section of a 767. The flight was long and boring, but not too bad and we got in about 3:00 PM Sunday afternoon Beijing time. Before we were allowed off the plane, doctors came aboard and scanned our temperatures. Apparently we all checked out because we walked into the airport where they scanned us again using thermal imaging cameras. As my friend Matt and I walked through, it started to beep and Matt was taken aside for further tests. It turned out that he had a 37.2 degree Celsius temperature. His reward for this was to spend the next 2 days in a Chinese hospital while they did more tests and filed paperwork.

Our first Chinese meal on Sunday night was at a restaurant close to our hotel. We had a bunch of different vegetable and meat dishes along with delicious flower tea. Being quite jet-lagged, we all fell asleep quite early that night.

Monday started with a buffet breakfast at the hotel before we left for our tour. We traveled to the Ming Tombs outside of Beijing and then to a jade factory. Both of those were pretty cool but nothing compared to the Great Wall. We climbed as high as we were allowed to and the views were absolutely incredible. The pictures are on facebook. After that we drove back into Beijing and went to a tea ceremony. We tried some good teas and bought a few things. We drove through the Olympic village, and hopefully we will get a chance to go back and actually go inside the Birds' Nest and Water Cube.

On Tuesday we had the same tour guide and we traveled to the Temple of Heaven. It was a giant park with lots of people singing, dancing, and playing games. Naturally we all had to join in. We then visited the Forbidden City which was impressive because it was so big and built just for the Emperor. After lunch we visited the Summer Palace, where the Emperor lived during the summer. The pictures I have from there are absolutely incredible. The whole area was much cooler than the rest of Beijing (~85 degrees when the city was 100). After a boat ride with T-Pain we visited a Pearl factory and then went back to the hotel. Dinner that night included really good dumplings and jellyfish. Jellyfish is actually pretty good.

Wednesday we had a very early flight to Dalian. Flying is a much bigger deal here than in the States and there was a lady filming our entire 1 hour flight. Dalian is a very modern looking city, but the area we are in is outside the city and slightly less modern. We traveled to the office to meet our mentors, but mine is in a meeting so I am stuck waiting for him to get back. Our apartment in Dalian is alright. I am sharing a room with Nick, and then Sara has a room next to us. Felipe and Ben have their own apartment in the building next door. We don't have internet in the apartment yet, and it would be up to us to get it. Also, skype is blocked in the office so I will have to find another place where I can use it.

At the moment I am a little nervous and missing home a bit, but I hope that once I start working 40 hours a week I will do better. I don't feel too comfortable at the moment but I'm sure that in a few weeks I will love it.