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Bayoan Alvarado :: Blog

July 09, 2010

Let me start off with The Great Wall since that is the place I went this past Wednesday. I was never really looking forward to go to the Great Wall because although it is very important for China culture I think for me there is nothing much to see. Unlike other places like the Summer Palace or Forbidden City, the Great Wall is just that, a wall. It doesn't even have the characteristic Chinese designs. Well the time finally came up to go and sadly I must say that it was everything that I was expecting. The good thing is that it was a nice cloudy day (many people would think that clouds are bad but not here, believe me, you learn to love those precious clouds for their shade) and the breeze was chilly. It is on top of mountains so there was a lot of breeze. The view towards the horizon was impressive. And I can finally tell my co-workers at IBM that I went to the Great Wall. :)  To be fair I went to a non-touristic area of the wall so probably I would've enjoyed it better if I went to the tourist area. And it would've costed me a lot less money.

Summer Palace was a place I went past 2 Sundays ago. I didn't blog about it so I am doing it now. I loved Summer Palace. It has so many beautiful structures and scenes. The constant foggy environment of Beijing gives it an even prettier look. So many opportunities to take artistic pictures, if only I had more time and a better camera. There were a lot of mini museums inside and although I went in and looked around I was more interested in the combination of nature and exotic buildings. Just click the picture below and it will take you to the folder with some of the Summer Palace pictures I took:

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June 26, 2010

So I went to Beijing Zoo and Aquarium on Sunday with a group of 4 other students in the PIRE program. The entrance to the zoo was 20 RMB which includes the opportunity to see the Giant Panda. The Aquarium is inside the zoo and the entrance to the Aquarium is 110 RMB. Sounds a lot but in reality that ends up being like $16 USD which is not bad for being the largest inland aquarium in the world (Beijing Aquarium). So after that I ended up with a lot of pictures and some videos. You can see some of the pictures by clicking the picture below:

It was a long walk and in the next morning my feet were still hurting but it was worth it. Now you may be asking yourself what does this have to do with salt and napkins? Well on our way back to our apartment we stopped by a McDonalds and I was talking to James Mulcahy about how hard it is to find salt in Beijing. Even the popcorn he bought at the Aquarium didn't have salt. Also napkins are rare and we couldn't find any inside the zoo even though the big sausages I ate were a bit greasy. So it is wise to buy a pack of napkins because you never know if the place you gonna eat has napkins. Salt is not that important but I am a fan of salty french fries, I don't like them with ketchup. In the end I took the salt packet I asked for at McDonalds just in case I need it sometime later. If you see at the picture below you will notice the packet is different. It is still paper but it is a very strong paper so we thought it was plastic.



The rest of the week has been pretty busy with work at IBM but it is progressing very smoothly. I work until 6pm so usually the only things I can do after that is to find a place to eat and then go back to the apartment to sleep. 

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June 18, 2010

Alright so I am here to talk the truth about Beijing from my point of view. I don't intend to give the readers a false idea that Beijing is all shiny and beautiful. I will try to keep these blogs as realistic as possible. In this post I am gonna expand more on the last three "Interesting tips" I gave out in my previous post and also I will give a few others that I forgot. So lets get started!

1) People don't use car brakes! It is also true for pedestrians. I don't really know which one is at fault here but while walking around the city I have noticed that actually pedestrians are the major cause of why people in cars barely use their breaks or why they use horns so much. They actually have pedestrian lights to indicate when you should cross the streets but people in here walk even with red light. So it is a good thing to watch out for if you come visit Beijing.
     Also one thing I forgot to mention last time is that even though they barely use breaks they do use horns. Not as an insulting way but more like "Watch out, I am here!". Kinda like the meaning of beep sounds golf carts use when going in reverse.

2) Sky is not blue. Well it is blue sometimes. very early in the morning and then later again right before sunset. Otherwise it is all very foggy. I believe it is because of air pollution but I asked a co-worker at IBM and they told me it is because at this time of the year there is a lot of sand coming from the desert. That certainly could contribute to the fog but it is also true that Beijing has a very high air pollution index. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/08/04/a-year-after-olymp)
     What does this means for your health?  Well so far I haven't had any problems. At first it is a bit hard to breath but I did get used to it. I am an asthmatic person (my last episode was like 4 years ago) and it hasn't been a problem for me so far.

3) No drinks during lunch, in some places at least. I was told that in Tsinghua University it is like that and at IBM it is like that also. But the lack of water during lunch is not really so much problem. They do have something to replace it. You can get a free rice soup that taste like... rice. I know, not the best taste but at least it is something good to have if you have a need to drink something.
     I only get chopsticks and a large spoon. If you aren't skilled with chopsticks you can use the spoon. No one will look at you strange. In fact, I have seen other chinese people using the spoon instead of chopsticks. It is not that hard to use chopsticks really. I got used to them by my third meal and I find them quite fun to use now.

4) Bicycles! There are a lot of them, specially at Tsinghua University. There are so many bicycles parked that it looks like a bicycle junkyard! I wish I had my camera with me when I was there. It is a fun sight at first but you do really need a bicycle to study at Tsinghua because it is so big. I haven't had any need for bicycles because I take the subway to go to IBM and it is all pretty close.

5) Plastic shopping bags costs money. I don't know if it is like that in all supermarkets but at Lotus Center they charge you per each bag. It is actually a nice idea. Then you would learn to appreciate those plastic bags. And actually the plastic bags here are better than the ones in US.

6) Shower and toilet floor are one and the same, no separation. It seems messy and it is. You end up with water creeping into the floor around the toilet. You learn to live with it but this is one thing I have yet to find purpose for. A small separation between them seems a lot better.

7) Manufacture date vs Expiration date - I went to buy some orange juice and to my surprise the printed date on the bottle was for 2010-05-05. I thought: "well, that orange juice has been expired for a long time" but then I learned that it is manufacture date, not expiration date. And it is not for orange juice only but also on other things. I wonder how we are supposed to know when something is close to expiring?

8) Walking after lunch. At IBM people are used to walk outside the building right after lunch just for the exercise, enjoying the breeze and talking with co-workers. Now I am not sure if it is just IBM or it is actually something chinese are used to doing. This is certainly something US needs to adopt.

9) Way too many people. Chengfu Rd (which is right next to the apartment where we are staying) seems to be very popular with all sorts of stores. During the day it is nice but after 4pm or so people start putting stuff out for selling, from clothing to jewelry and food. And then a lot of people come out to buy at those stalls and that is when things get really bad. Walking a block takes you 30 mins. But it is indeed something very local. Not all places are like that and you can take alternate roads to get where you want.


This is pretty much all the things that has taken me by surprise. If I have forgotten something I will make sure to post it the next time. Overall Beijing is a great experience (with some caveats, nothing is perfect) and I would love to learn more about the cultural differences.

Now I am leaving you with a view of Beijing at night from the apartment:


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June 16, 2010

Finally! My first blog. I must apologize since we are having Internet issues at our apartment in China so it has been hard to blog. So here is a summary of what has been going on this first week at Beijing, China:

Tuesday, June 8: I arrived to China and met with the other PIRE students. During this day the first thing we did was to go to the apartment and try to get adjusted to the time zone change.
Wednesday, June 9: We went to Tsinghua University to meet the professors, get a tour around the university and register to get our IDs and dining cards. They gave me a Chinese name which even other Chinese people can't spell it right. They tell me that the first chinese letter is rare (They got over 1000 characters to memorize!). Next time I know for sure how it is spelled I will post it.
Thursday, June 10: Two students from FAU arrived to China and we had to take them to Tsinghua University for registration and tour. Meanwhile I stayed at the apartment to get used to place. I was scheduled to start at IBM in this day but since Ohannes Ohannessian, one of the student who came to work at IBM, arrived in this day we decided to go together on Friday.
Friday, June 11: My first day at IBM. I met with Qing Bo Wang who took me on a tour around the floor where I will be working. He then introduced me to another international intern from U.S. who is working in the same floor but in different project. Then he showed me my computer desk. It is a very nice desk next to the window on the third floor so I got a nice view outside:

During lunch I went with the U.S. intern to eat and we had a nice conversation where she explained me more about the dinning area. After dinner and a walk (Chinese are used to walk around the building right after lunch) I came back to Qing Bo Wang who introduced me to Xing Jin and then we had a conversation about the project and my visit in Beijing. Bao Hua Cao and Su Su Xie weren’t in the office today so I couldn’t meet them but they are the people that have more knowledge about the project. I also met with a co-worker named Tong He. He gave me some PowerPoint presentations about the project. Those I will be reading this weekend.
Saturday, June 12: Working day.We have to work this weekend because there will be a holiday in China from Monday to Wednesday and to not lose those days they ask workers to work during this weekend.
Today I met Su Su Xie who talked to me more about the project. The project is related to virtualization and virtual image building automation. I can't say much because of the NDA.
Sunday, June 13: I pretty much took this day to study all the materials given to me. I got out of work a bit earlier because tomorrow is holiday.
Monday to Wednesday (Holiday): We were still getting used to living in the apartment so I didn't go out much except for doing some shopping at the Lotus Center (It is like Walmart!) and looking for additional places to eat. By the way, the Holiday is about Dragon Boat Festival celebrated on Wednesday (Wikipedia).

Interesting tips about China:  1) People here barely use the brakes! It is hell trying to cross the streets.
    2) The sky is not blue. It is greyish all the time. You can probably see that in my pictures.
    3) At lunch they don't give you drinks and no one actually drinks. You just have to eat everything and then drink after you get back to your office.

Well that has been all for this week. I hope to visit some interesting places soon to take pictures. Until next blog!

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