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Jake Petersen :: Blog

August 23, 2009

Important and Useful Tips
  • Get a Subway/Bus Multi-pass (Called the Yikatong Card or ICC Card)
  • Carry around an Umbrella for rain or to keep cool from the sun
  • Carry your Tsinghua University Student ID – You can get discounts off of the tickets at some of the Tourist Sites (Such as the Forbidden City)
  • When we visited China all Bank of America account holders could get money using their ATM card at any China Construction Bank without paying any sort of fees. So if this policy is still in place it can save you a considerable amount of money.
  • Remember that all of the subway stations have a map that shows where some of the major bus stops are located nearby (Make sure to look at it before you scan your card to leave)
  • Inside all of the public buses there is a list of the stops posted on the wall that contain both the Chinese characters as well as the pinyin
  • If you have a smart phone it is a good idea to put the Chinese characters for some of the places you are going to visit on the phone. That way you can use them if you need help finding a place or figuring out what bus to take.
  • Remember there is a shuttle bus that travels around campus. It costs 2 RMB normally, but only 1 RMB if you show your Tsinghua University Student ID. The stops are located all around campus, just look for a purple sign. There is one near the foreign student dorms close to the gate there and you can take it all the way to the FIT Building. Just remember that if you get on going the wrong direction they will make you get off at the end and you’ll have to re-pay.
  • If you are picky about what you drink or if you want to save money buy a drink at 7-11 and bring it to the restaurant.
  • Try to buy a nicer bicycle if you can, but not too nice that it will get stolen
  • Make sure to get a good bicycle lock, possibly even two
  • Be prepared for mostly hot food, especially breakfast.
  • Napkins and paper towels are scare, so it’s a wise idea to bring little packages of tissues with you places (those little packages are sold everywhere in China)
  • There is a Laundry Service on Campus in Building 18. Keep in mind though that from our experience they seem to use little or no soap when they wash your clothes.
  • There is a lot of spicy food in China so be prepared. Sometimes things will be spicy and have hot peppers in them even though the picture from the menu didn’t show them.
  • Most places have a picture menu to order from. Otherwise take your chances or just go somewhere else. Even if there isn’t a description of the dish we usually had good luck just using the pictures if we had to.
  • There is a bus stop right behind the foreign student dorms, just go out the gate nearby and go left. There you can find Bus 731 which can take you to Wu Dao Kou. You can also take it to get to the movie theater we went to, the UME Cineplex.
  • There is a Super Wal-Mart located at the Zhichunlu subway station (one stop from Wu Dao Kou), just follow the signs. Once you find the right exit you walk to the left and then make a right and you have to go up a flight of stairs and into this walkway area, but there will be a big sign for Wal-Mart above the stairs.
  • Bring a card with you that has Tsinghua University in Chinese that way you can show it to the taxi driver. Also have one of the Tsinghua University students write down the characters for the name of the gate that is next to the foreign student dorms, that way the taxi driver will bring you to the right gate.
  • More taxi advice: Once you figure out how to get back to the dorms and you need to take a taxi (for instance it's late and the buses aren't running) you can just point the way if you are close. That way they won't refuse to take you there since if you tell them before you get in a lot of the time they won't drive you to the dorm since it is so close (but it might take 30 minutes walking) and they won't make much money
  • You can use Skype to call people back home and to save money you should signup for one of their monthly plans/subscriptions. You only have to pay $2.95 a month and can have unlimited calls to any cell phone or landline in the United States. That way you can easily call someone any time you want.

Things to Bring to China

  • Bring or find out where to buy an egg crate for the bed as it is really hard. Either that or buy a comforter and use it like a sleeping bag so that it makes the bed softer and so you can use it as a blanket at the same time.
  • Buy and bring with you one of those nice gushy gel seat covers for your bicycle. The seats are very uncomfortable and that will probably help out, but we didn’t think about that ahead of time.
  • If you like to eat cereal in the morning bring some cereal/protein bars with you. That way if you want something quite to eat you have it. If not you can always buy cereal there some of the stores (although be prepared to pay the American equivalent in RMB for them)
  • Bring Powered Gatorade (Gatorade is not easy to find in China and if you do find it will be in a small single serving bottle)
  • Bring hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes. You can bring a small bottle to carry with you and then bring a big one to use in the dorm room or to refill the small one.
  • B ring one of the Tide to Go sticks as those can come in rather handy when you spill food/drink on your clothes
  • Bring Peanut Butter or buy it there (the C-Store on campus has some though)
  • Oatmeal (that way you can have something quick for breakfast that is easy to fix)
  • Bring Peanut Butter Crackers as they make a quick snack or can be breakfast if you have to get somewhere fast
  • Snacks as the snackfood in China is not what you are used to (The Chips Ahoy cookies taste rather weird). I brought two packages of Famous Amos Cookies and Cheez-Its, but I wish I had brought more.
Places to Visit in Beijing
  • The Beijing Zoo
  • The Beijing Aquarium (Inside the Zoo)
  • The Temple of Heaven
  • Summer Palace
  • Olympic Sites (During the Day and at Night) – The Bird’s Nest, Watercube, and the rest of the Olympic Green (You can get off at the last exit on the Olympic Subway line and walk to the Bird’s Nest where you can get back on the Subway)
  • The Beijing Planetarium
  • The Great Wall (The Mutianyu Section is where we went)
  • The Forbidden City & Jingshan Park
  • Tian'amen Square (Mao’s Tomb)
  • The Silk Market
  • Houhai
  • Tian Jin
  • Happy Valley Amusement Park
  • The Wangfujing Food Market (At Night)
  • The Beijing Acrobat Show at the Chaoyang Theater
Places to Visit in Xi’an
  • Bell & Drum Towers
  • Tang Dynasty Dinner & Show
  • Xi’an City Wall (Ride around the wall)
  • Terracotta Warrior Museum
  • De Fe Chang Dumpling Restaurant (Top Floor)

Places to Eat in the Wu Dao Ku Area

  • Grandma’s Kitchen (in the U-Center/Mall at Wu Dao Kou on the 5th Floor) – It has country western decorations and serves American food
  • Lush – An American bar
  • Pyro Pizza– Another American bar (same owners as Lush) that has good pizza and deals on their sandwiches on certain days
  • La Bamba – A Mexican restaurant that had good tacos
  • RBT (Green Rabbit Logo) – We referred to it as a Fusion Café and it has good sandwiches/drinks
  • Issin – A good Japanese/Sushi restaurant
  • Tafi – A fairly good Italian restaurant
  • Charlie Brown Café – They serve good milkshakes
  • New York Burgers – I can’t remember if this is the exact name but it is located near the 731 Bus stop in Wu Dao Ku (in the direction that takes you back to the dorm)
  • Unknown Chinese Restaurant – Has excellent Chinese food. It is located behind the 731 Bus stop in Wu Dao Ku if you were coming from the dorms. There is usually an expensive car (Jaguar or something) parked outside the restaurant.
  • Hot Pot – We tried two and they were both good, so just look around or ask the Tsinghua University students
  • Café Near FIT Building – It’s on the top floor on the side of the building (sort of circular shaped). You walk up a long staircase to get there and it had good sandwiches.

Useful Websites

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Thankfully the trip back home went smoothly. We got up Monday morning and checked out of the dorm. After that was all done we met up with Dennis and took two cabs to the airport. When we arrived we realized that they had switched the terminal, so we had to get on a tram and head over to Terminal 3 which was built recently for the Olympics. We got everything situated there and we noticed that they aren't as picky on the weight of your baggage as they are back in the United States. For instance both of my bags were a few pounds over the 50 lb weight limit, but they didn't seem to care and I didn't get charged any overweight fees. Once that was all said and done we thanked Dennis for all of his help and bid farewell.

While we were heading over to our gate we happened to run into someone we had met at the IMAX Theater when we went to go to the Harry Potter movie. It turns out he was headed back home to Chicago. It was rather strange running into a random person you met several weeks ago, especially considering how many people there are in China.

From there we went to go eat lunch and check our status at the gate. I happened to get lucky and got upgraded to First Class on the flight from Beijing to China. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as I got served excellent food and got a lot more leg room. Oh and the best part was that the chair reclined, so I slept most of the flight.

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The Thursday before we left we went to go see a Chinese acrobatic show at the Chaoyang Theater. We left after work and took the subway to get there and as it turned out it was right next to the subway exit. When we went to the counter to buy the tickets, the attendants told us that the ones for that price had sold out. Luckily we already had a backup plan in place, as the night before we went to the website for the show and booked/reserved tickets. All you had to do was fill out the form and click the submit button. You simply use this system to reserve the tickets (you don’t have to fill out any credit card info or anything) and then you just pay cash when you get there. Although there is no confirmation that it worked (you don’t get an email or anything), it seemed to have worked for us. All we had to do was mention that we had reserved tickets in advance and the name that we booked them under. They went back to the back, got the tickets and had us check our name off a sheet of paper.

After that we headed into the theater to go see the show. It turned out to be a much smaller theater than we had imagined, but the show was spectacular and I would definitely recommend it to the students that come to China next year.

Acrobatic Show Website: http://bjcyjc.com:8081/aspx/enBookTickets.aspx?nodeid=34

As for Saturday we just spend the day doing our last minute shopping. I had originally intended to do something else, which I’ll delve into further detail below.

So one of the things on my list of must see places was Happy Valley Amusement Park. Yeah I know what you are thinking, most people don’t even consider going to a theme park in a foreign country, least of all China,  since there is so much else to do. For those of you who know me though I love theme parks and couldn’t pass up this opportunity. It’s not every day you can go to an amusement park in another country. I had known about this before I had even got to China, I just hadn’t gotten the chance to go yet as we had been so busy.

My plan was to go to the amusement park on Saturday, but when I woke up it there was a huge thunderstorm in the area and it was pouring. Since it looked like it would last for at least several hours, if not the whole day, I decided I would go back to sleep and just do my shopping today. Turns out I should have gone to the theme park, since when I woke up later the sky was nice and clear. Anyway I figured it was no big deal, I could just go Sunday instead. I figured I could spend my last full day in China having a good time.

I woke up on Sunday morning and was at the subway station at around 8:00. The subway ride took around an hour and from there I had to get on a bus. The problem was figuring out where I could get on the bus. Luckily at all of the subway stations there is a map that shows most of the major bus stops. So I looked on the map and found bus 31. There were a few choices, so I picked one and exited the station. Due to the way the roads were laid out I ended up losing my sense of direction and wasn’t quite sure where to go. I wandered around for a few minutes until I saw the bus go by and then I just walked over to that road and started walking until I saw the sign for the bus stop. Sure enough I found it, I just wasn’t sure if it was going in the right direction. Turns out I got lucky and was going the right way, the only problem was that it was a lot farther away than I had thought, about 18 stops which ended up taking about an hour.

I finally made it to the park around 10:00, although I had hoped to be there a little earlier. I had brought my Tsinghua University student ID with me so I was able to buy a student ticket and then I headed into the park. It was much more massive, had better landscaping, and more elaborate theming than I had expected. The lines were all really long (too bad they didn’t have some sort of FastPass system, although even if they did I’m not sure I could have figured out how to use it or read what it said), but the rides that I rode were definitely worth the wait. The first thing I rode was Crystal Wings, which was one out of only several “Flying Coasters” in the entire world. I had been on one in Six Flags Georgia that was called Superman. Anyway you sit down like you would on a normal rollercoaster, except your feet are restrained as well. Then once everyone is ready the coaster cars rotate 90 degrees so that you feel as if you are flying, which is a whole lot of fun.

From there I rode a few other rides, once of which was the Snow-Covered Golden Wing rollercoaster. After that I ate lunch, which consisted of a Chinese version of a hotdog that was rather interesting. From there I went to go ride Titan Truck, which is sort of like a giant rotating and swinging pendulum (it’s the yellow sort of claw ride in the pictures). That’s when the day started to take a turn for the worse. The sky was getting really dark and I was just hoping to get on the ride before it started pouring, but no such luck. The worst part was the area I where I was standing was really low so all the water started to collect there since it was raining too hard for the drain to keep up. The area started flooding so bad that we had to stand on the benches just to keep our shoes from getting soaked, although it wouldn’t have matter that much since at this point I was already fairly wet as it was raining sideways.

Then some sort of announcement was made, but since it was in Chinese I had no idea what they were saying, although I gathered they probably were announcing that everything was temporary shutdown due to the inclement weather. After waiting for around 2 hours the rain finally let up and we ended up being able to get on the ride. The good news was the ride was totally worth the wait as it was my favorite ride in the entire park, even better than the roller coasters.

By then it was already late enough that they weren’t going to open up any of the rollercoasters or other big rides back up. So before I left I ended up going on this weird spinning thing where you lay down in a circle with other people and the floor spins in a circle trying to throw you off. It was rather odd, but fun at the same time. After that I left the park and had a little trouble finding the bus stop as the one going in the opposite direction wasn’t directly across from the spot I had got off at. Once I found it I made my way back to the subway station and met Scott at Wangfujing so we could go to the Nightly Food Market there. They have about everything you can imagine to eat there and some things you couldn’t even dream of eating. In addition, they also have tons of souvenirs and other stuff to buy as it functions as a market as well. Once we spent a little time there we headed back to the dorms to finish packing and get some much needed rest.

Overall I had a fantastic and fun filled day and I would definitely recommend the experience to future students who are interested in theme parks. Although, make sure to check the weather ahead of time and try to avoid the rain.

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August 02, 2009

This past weekend we met up with Liu Xiaodong, a student that I met the first week who was going to work on research related to mine, and he showed us some of the places in China. On Saturday he brought us to a big shopping area in Xidan on the subway and we spent the day exploring the various shops. Then on Sunday we met him early in the morning and traveled to the Beijing South Railway Station. From there we took a high speed bullet train to Tian Jin, which is the sixth largest city in China in terms of population. The seating style was very similar to an airplane and the ride only took 25 minutes.

Once we arrived in Tian Jin we met Liu’s friend Vienna and by then it was time for lunch. For lunch we had Goubuli, which is a famous brand of baozi (similar to a dumpling) and it was delicious. Afterwards we went to the famous food street and bought and tried various types of Chinese treats and sweets. From there we explored around a bit and went to a local market nearby in order to buy some gifts. By the time we finished there it was late in the afternoon so we headed back to the train station and took the train back to Beijing.

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July 27, 2009

When we visited the Forbidden City the previous week we didn’t get a chance to view much aside from the city, so this past weekend we went back and visited Tiananmen Square on Saturday. Before we got to the actual square we saw the National Centre for the Performing Arts, which is the famous egg shaped building.

Afterwards we walked around the square and saw all the various buildings and monuments, including the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. Before you could enter or even get in line, you had to place all your bags, cameras, and other belongings inside a locker area. After that you got in a really long winding line, which thankfully moved fairly fast. Once instead you walked through a memorial area and then you saw Mao’s body inside a crystal coffin. Later in the day we met up with Thin, who is a student that Adriana works with in her lab. She brought us to a local Chinese market nearby Tsinghua University in the Wudaokou area.

On Sunday we met Scott and Adriana’s Chinese teacher, Shadow and her friend Kelly at one of the nearby subway stations in Houhai. After we ate lunch they showed us around the Houhai area and took us through some local streets and showed us the park. It was a nice and relaxing time, it just involved a lot of walking. They also took us to a Chinese market that had everything you could imagine, from cups to shower heads to shoes, if you could name it they probably had it. We bought a few things and it was a nice change in pace compared to some of the more foreigner orientated markets.

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July 21, 2009

This past weekend we visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square on Saturday, which were the last of the big sites and tourist destinations in Beijing that we had yet to visit. Compared to the other historical sites such as the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City seemed to be much more crowded and a little disorganized at times. We had to wait almost an hour in line just to buy tickets and by then it was already almost lunch time.

After we ate we explored the area and visited all the different sections of the Forbidden City. We saw all the buildings, the garden, and various other structures. Although we had a fun time, it was just really hot that day and a little too crowded for our tastes. At the end of the day Adriana and I visited Jingshan Park, which is located behind the Forbidden City. As we made our way around the park we saw the spot where the emperor hung himself. From there we started the assent up to the top of the hill and saw a few pagodas along the way to the top.

Once we reached the top there was another pagoda and from there you had a breathtaking view of the surrounding area and a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City. It definitely looked more enormous from above and it was hard to imagine you walked through all those different areas. Then on Sunday all we did was relax and had a chance to sleep in for once.

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July 17, 2009

On Wednesday Dr. Huang came by to visit and we had a large meeting with all of us and our respective professors. Scott, Adriana, Michael, and I presented our research and then briefly discussed where we were to go from there. We didn’t get into too much detail as we were going to have a separate meeting with our professors and international collaborators. Once we concluded the meeting we went out to lunch and then went back to work. That night Scott and I went to the UME Cineplex and saw Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince in IMAX.

Dr. Huang stopped by again on Thursday so that we could finish our private meetings and get an idea what the next steps of our research project where. While Scott was having his meeting I found some relevant papers and then we went to lunch. After we got back I had my meeting and we came up with a rough overview of what the paper will contain. In the afternoon Dr. Huang took Adriana, Scott, and I to the Bejing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. We explored the campus and visited with the Associate Dean of the School of Computer Science. Afterwards we saw the Lotus Garden and then went to dinner.

Other Collaboration Pictures:


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This past weekend we finally got around to making a trip to the Great Wall. We ended up booking a tour to the Great Wall from this dodgy looking website. The only reason we felt comfortable using it was because someone we knew that was visiting China had already taken a tour with the company and it turned out well, that and the fact that you didn’t have to pay till the end. We called the night before and setup the tour. It was very simple to organize I just had to give them my name and how many people in the group. Then later that night the tour guide called me back with a meeting place and time. We met at one of the hotels nearby Tsinghua University and as it turned out there was only one more person in our group, a woman named Carla. We had a great time talking to her and shared our experiences we had in China so far. She had a whirlwind tour of China as she was there on business and was only in the country for a few days.

The tour turned out to be fantastic as we were in a nice air conditioned van and there were only 4 of us besides the driver and the tour guide. We started the tour on Saturday by visiting a jade factory and then we headed to one of the Ming Tombs. After that we at lunch and then headed to the Mutianyu Great Wall. Since it’s a long way up to the top we opted to take a ski lift to the top. From there we walked along the wall for a few hours and took plenty of pictures. Once we were done we found out we could take a toboggan to the bottom, which was a ton of fun.

Next up we visited a tea shop and participated in a tea ceremony. Upon completing that we went back to the dorms to get changed and then we finished up the day by going to a fabulous duck restaurant and visiting Tiananmen Square at night.

Tour Website: http://www.tours.bj.cn/cbt6.htm

We took tour #6 which visited the Mutianyu Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. There are several other tours available that visit other sections of the Great Wall as well. We opted for the location we did since it is more secluded and not as many tourists visit that section.

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July 08, 2009

We had a spectacular trip this past weekend to Xi’an. On Friday night we took a taxi to the Beijing West Railway Station. We were planning on taking the subway, but it turns out that that subway line to the station isn’t completed yet so we ended up taking a taxi. We left on the Z19 train at 9:24 and arrived in Xi’an at approximately 8:25 on Saturday morning. Once we arrived we waited in line and bought the return tickets.

After we got everything covered at the train station we got a ride to the hotel and checked in. Then from there we went to explore the center of the city and along the way saw the Bell and Drum Tower. Next up was the city wall and in order to explore that more thoroughly we decided to ride a double bike around the entire wall. I had never been on a double bike before, but it was a fun experience. Although the sign said it would take 100 minutes, we managed to cut the time in half and completed the ride in 50 minutes. From there we went to go see a Tang Dynasty dinner and show, where we had a fantastic and appetizing meal and afterwards enjoyed a show.

On Sunday, we took a tour that brought us to the Terracotta Warrior Museum and the Huaqing Hot Springs. On the way to the museum we got to see how they made the terracotta warriors and got a chance to buy a small version of one. After that we arrived at the museum and saw the terracotta warriors and the bronze chariots. It was amazing to be able to see all of the warriors in person, much better than looking at pictures.

Once we finished touring the museum we ate lunch and then went to the Huaqing Hot Springs. After the terracotta warriors, the hot springs were a big let down and were fairly boring. There wasn’t all that much to see there besides a few statues, the landscape, and some empty pits.

On Monday we explored Xi’an a little bit more and visited some of the local markets. For dinner we ate at the De Fe Chang Dumpling Restaurant where we had over 12 different types of dumplings, all shaped differently. They were the best dumplings we had in China so far and definitely wished we had found the place sooner. One thing to keep in mind is this is on the top floor of the restaurant. When we first went on Sunday night we didn't realize there was another floor so we were rather confused why there were only three different types of dumplings to choose from. So keep that in mind if you happen to visit. After that we went to the train station and departed at 8:16 and arrived in Beijing around 7:17 Tuesday morning. From there we had to wait in line for a taxi and then took a long ride back to Tsinghua University.

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July 01, 2009

On Sunday Scott, Adriana, and I went to the Beijing Planetarium. We had spotted it when we went to the Beijing Zoo the previous weekend and figured it would be something relaxing we could do one day. We walked around and saw the various exhibits and saw a few of the movies. For one of the movies the theater was dome shaped and everyone had chairs that reclined almost flat so that you could see the ceiling. Then images of the universe, planets, and various other heavenly bodies were projected onto the screen. The images looked realistic and you felt as if you were seeing the real thing.

Later that night Scott and I decided to go see the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie. We found a movie theater nearby that showed movies in English and had an IMAX theater. It couldn’t get much better than that so we couldn’t turn that opportunity down. We didn’t have the best of seats, but the movie was amazing and we had a great time.

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