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Michael Whitney :: Blog

June 24, 2011

So, this is my fifth week and I am not sure what happened to it. As I reflect back, nothing really stands out. Have I become assimilated into Beijing? No, this can't be. Let me see... I know I did something...

I guess sometimes one can have a week that is just not that monumental. I excercised a bit here and there, I went for my second fitting for my suit (too tight), and I spent some serious time working on projects (some current and some to be deployed campus wide in the fall). At one point it rained so hard that a boat might have served me well but that really isn't something to be excited about.

Oh well, tune in next week as I am heading out for what looks like a fun cultural weekend.

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June 17, 2011

To be honest, every suit that I have ever owned made me look like a door-to-door Bible salesman (no offense, but that is not a good look for me). Therefore, I made myself a commitment to look good at my next formal event by sporting a brand new tailor made suit. So, follow along for a beginners guide to suit buying in Beijing as presented from my perspective.

  1. After some discussions and research, a Chinese friend of mine recommended Alice-My-Tailor in the Yashow (Ya Xiu) market in Sanlitun. Supposedly, my friend's Chinese friends got suits for around 400 yuan (a price that I will never get because I am American).
  2. I promised a local Chinese friend of mine that I would take her out to diner in my new suit if she helped me bargain for one (seems fair considering the amount I would save should cover the diner)
  3. At Alice's, we started out by letting the saleswoman know that I wanted to buy three suits and multiple shirts but that I would first buy one to ensure their quality. Claiming multiple suits and shirts was part of the bargaining ploy.
  4. Informed the saleswoman that the first suit was going to be a conservative navy blue with a European cut. She pointed out a bunch of really nice worsted wool fabrics of which I chose a quite nice one with light pinstripes if I might say so myself.
  5. Here, the negotiation started with 1090 yuan ($160). Back and forth things went between my friend and the saleswoman. It seemed to get pretty heated at times as my friend was claiming the 400 price.
  6. Minor movement on the price (800) meant it was time for us to go (mainly a ploy).
  7. One shop over, we were greeted with a salesperson who stated the lowest they would go for a suit - 850.
  8. Back to the original shop with a claim that the second shop offered to do it for 750 and that we wanted them to do it for 700. When asked why they would do that, my friend responded that we would rather have them do it because of their quality.
  9. Done!! One jacket and pants for 700 ($106) even though I believe we could have gotten them down to 600 ($91).
  10. Next step - I needed to choose the style and all those little things that I never thought about (typically just grabbed my other suits off the rack). One, two, or three buttons, pleats, cuffs, one slit, two or none, and on and on.
  11. Now the measuring begins as the tailor starts jumping around measuring me and calling out the numbers to their partner.
  12. Next is to wait a few days and come back for a fitting.
  13. Went to the fitting solo as the deal was made and now it is just fine tuning the suit.
  14. Damn, the initial fit isn't perfect (that is why one goes back for a fitting) but a custom fit suit really makes the difference.
  15. One more return on the fitting and I am looking sharp. Look out next formal event!!!

So, a custom suit for around $100. I plan to get another that is black and a few shirts for around $15 dollars each. You just cant beat the price / quality ratio of this work. I so wish my bank account could afford a closet full of Alice's work!!!

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June 09, 2011

So, this week I am more concerned with sharing the importance of taking care of yourself (this means physically and mentally). More so, as I transitioned to this new culture I found myself living at MSRA, staying up late and not excercising. What this meant for me was that my overall well being was declining. To be more blatent, I just felt plain tired even though I was eating like a king. Solution - excercise, eating healthy, drinking lots of water (I would say lots of tea but the caffeine will keep you up all night) and good sleep.

Excercise - Rather than hopping the train, I walk to and from work every day. This is a half hour each way which makes for an hour of low end excercise. It is nice though because I turn on my audio Chinese lessons and get to work on learning this language. I can only guess what the locals think as I am verbally practicing my pronuncaitions of things like excuse me and where is the bathroom. :)  For some more serious excercise, I have found a climbing wall that I visit and plan to visit at least twice a week. It is located in Ritan park and I have already met a bunch of great locals and internationals there.

Eat Healthy - A pantry filled with snack food, a cafeteria with great food, restaurants all around with some serious cousine, hot chocolate dispensers (my favorite) all mean that it is way to easy to move away from those fruits and vegetables that are so much better for us. As a point, I stop by a local shop on my way to work and pick up some fruit to use as snack food rather than those oh so scrumptious wafer bars. Overall, be sure to take stock in what you are putting in your body as too much of anything is probably not good.

Hydrate - I have touched on this before but the Beijing area is a very dry and dusty (it is common to hack up dust balls throughout the day) area. While tea is abundantly available (it is China ya know), the caffeine will tear your body to shreds. Just do a cup here or there and then go for the water. Same thing with the social drinks. Yes, they might be cheaper than water but they dehydrate your body.

Sleep - yes, it does take a bit of time for your body to adjust and yes the tea will help keep you going throughout the day but it is a vicious cycle. Set a time to be home and in bed and try to stick to said time. When I first arrived here I was running on four or five hours of sleep but that can last only so long. If you try and keep it going, your body will shut down and you will be sick for a few days. Not fun.

So, there are my suggestions for taking care of your body while you are in China. Yes, they are common sense but sometimes we get so excited in a new environment that we forget to take care of ourselves.

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June 02, 2011

So, this is week 2 and I guess I have a few pointers for those that follow.

  1. Bring walking shoes because you will be moving about.
  2. Subway - this is the best and least expensive means (sans walking) to get around Beijing. Get an iPhone application or print out a map to keep for a reference because remembering all the lines and names can be difficult. You can buy single entry cards for 2 Yuan each but I suggest purchasing an RFID card that you can add funds to as needed. This saves the hassle of buying one each time you ride.
  3. Cabs - unless you can pronounce (correctly) where you are going, they will not understand you. So, I will usually put a picture of a map on my iPod and point to the location I want to go to. This also stops interpretation mistakes. Also, if you are alone, sit in the front. Lastly, if it looks like they are taking you for a ride, act upset - point to the number under their id card by the glove box and act like you are going to call and report them. This should cause them to apologize and straighten up.
  4. Get home plan - I always keep 100 Yuan in my pocket with a picture of where my home is (on a map) with me. This way, if the subway stops running (about 10:30) or I am stuck somewhere, I can get home by cab.
  5. Don't drink any water unless you open the bottle. I even practice this in a resteraunt (i.e., I bring my own).
  6. There is no tax so the price you see is the price you pay.
  7. Make sure you stay hydrated and drink lots of water. You dry out and become dehydrated much faster than you would think. You will feel much better when you drink lots of water (just pick up bottles at any store).
  8. Many things are cooked with oils here that we are not used to. For the first few, try not to go on a crazy new food binge as your body is probably not used to the oils. Mix it up with things you normally eat (yes you can find burgers and pizza here).
  9. Housing - this is a crazy endeavor. For the most part, you will have to find an agent that speaks english which is not easy to do (I found one by word of mouth). After that, they probably don't want to work with you because they get commission on the lease and short leases are just not worth their time. This is also true for the landlord because they typically have to travel like an hour or so to complete the lease paperwork with you (takes about an hour). Expect to pay a considerable amount more because of a short lease and also expect to pay the agent (sometimes a month's rent amount) even though the owner is supposed to pay them as part of a comission (if the rent is over 3000 yuan a month). A good place to start is http://www.thebeijinger.com/ or http://wuwoo.com/?lang=en&datatype=apartment&page=0 (I like the WuWoo better because it includes a map).
  10. Dining - sometimes you pay after you order at a sit down place and sometimes after you eat. Try to remember which it was when you are done so you don't accidentally walk out without paying.
  11. Tipping - not done here as it is seen as a judjement on the server in that their position in life is not good enough and you pity them with your offering.

That is about it for pointers for now. As for my life this past week? Well, I think I live here at MSRA. They have everything one needs to be productive. I mean, this place just clicks in a community sense. We have our work area, our productivity resources, our relaxation areas, food, excercise. and so many people happy to help out or talk about what they are working on. Great I tell you.

 An example of how MSRA is an open and welcoming community is the Family Day they had this past week at the Beijing Planetarium. All the interns were there as well as family members. The theme is that we are all family (childeren and intern alike) and that we need to take care of our upcoming members so that our world will be a better place in the future. Amazing and touching it was.

While at the planetarium, I got to experience a 4d show where the images were in 3d but air and water were also used to magnify the experience. Loved it!!!

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May 26, 2011

As typical, the first week is going to be one of adjustment with some patience thrown in. This became very apparant as the airport to apartment cab driver became mysteriously lost and disoriented as we circled around and around the area of my apartment complex. He kept asking if I had a phone to call for clarification to which I had to reply no as I had just arrived. Literally, after 40 minutes of circling, he pulled out a phone and called the place. Um, "why did you not do this like forever ago"? No big because we should have clarification on location. Ten more minutes of circling and I take control and start pointing as to where to go because it appeared as if I could read the provided map much better than him. Hotel on the left - success. Get me out of this thing.

Ah well, only cost like three more dollars and a little extra time. To bed I went with a summer of good stuff ahead!!!

So, first week at MSRA? Wicked!! This place is all about an environment that breeds creativity and solid intellectual work. I mean, I am practically living here because everything that I really need can be found on this campus. This includes tons of people that have a passion for what they do. I so love all these deep conversations I get to have with people that know what the heck I am talking about. I love it!!!

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May 04, 2011

All the paperwork is soon to be done and I am off!!!

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July 25, 2010

This week was a good week, as they all have been. I had the opportunity to visit Ritan park which has some really cool rock structures around a lilly pad covered lake which is home to the Stone Boat restaurant. Ritan park also has a 30M high rock climbing wall. There were some really talented climbers there that I enjoyed watching. Unfortunately, I was unable to climb due to a meeting that I had to make. 

The second thing that was really fun was the Temple of Heaven. I would recommend anyone in the area should go. At one point, I convinced a group of kids to jump up in the air as our pictures were taken. Fun all around. From there, we got to go to Hohai and have some dinner and a nice boat ride around the lake. 

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July 18, 2010

And here we are with just a short amount of time left. This past week seemed like a rehash of previous weeks - nothing really new and nothing really old. Another session of cupping, some rubbing by a blind massouse, and an expanded table tennis network. Yes, I might have lost a game or two and I might have won a game or two. But I have had an opportunity to network with a bunch of great up and coming computer scientists from Tsinghua.

Oh yea, found a great new place called Laowai’s in the Wudaokou area which is run by a group of cool cats from New Orleans. A perfect place to fulfill that western need for conversation, darts, pool, and some biscuits and gravy that are to die for. A must stop for anyone in this area.

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July 11, 2010

Table tennis, what a wonderful game (not to be confused with ping-pong which is what Americans play in their basements and garages). After a short warm up with an individual from my lab, I overheard "měi guó rén?" as I received my first request for a game from one of the best players I have seen so far (easily over 2000). After I played him, I had the opportunity to play with the person I originally came with who also plays quite well. The three of us traded matches but after my two year break from playing, I was no match.

As the night progresses, more and more players show up and more and more I hear měi guó rén as people start paying closer attention to my play. At one point, I had people sitting around the table watching my matches and commenting on my play. Kind of weird to have such attention based on where I was from.

At the end of a very good night, I had met a good set of people and look forward to many new matches and many new friends in the few weeks remaining.

měi guó rén == American             

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July 04, 2010

Ah yes, one more week in Beijing. Unfortunately, most of us were a little under the weather which is somewhat of an understatement. For the most part, I would say that it was flu like symptoms that ranged from bed ridden to miserably functioning. Some chose the rest / hydrate  / cold towel on the head methods. Others went with the medication route. But hey everyone, we are in China, why not go with some not so traditional / off the western beaten path therapy?

You guessed it, I am talking about the therapeutic benefits of China's ancient art of cupping. This is where the patient (me) lies down (sans shirt) face first, closes his eyes and hopes for the best. Fortunately, I had a friend standing by to translate and describe. It went a little like this:

“Ummm, what is that rickety sound?”

“That would be the cart full of small, thick glassed, fishbowls heading toward you."

"OK, what is she doing now?"

"She is now swabbing the inside of it with something and lighting it on fire.”

Right about now, I wish I had a word to describe the vacuum like sound the thing made as she stuck the first one on the back of my neck. But I don’t. Although, the word is not important because as soon as that thing latched on, I had to wimp out and go to my happy place. This is because it felt like an industrial strength sucking machine decided to try yanking all of my flesh through a small fishbowl mouth. And this was the first out of 23.

“Oh my God”


“You look like a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments”

“Please don’t make me laugh, it makes it worse”

“Ooohhh, your skin is turning various shades of purple inside those things. Do you feel all your bad energy being sucked out? Is it working?”

“Ummm, where did that lady go? Is she coming back any time soon? My happy place is not working any more”

“Here she comes”

“I thought you said she was coming over? Where did she go? Have these things not sucked enough?”

If it was ten minutes, it was an hour before the extraction of these things from my back finally began. Another set of sounds that I wish I could describe but with each one came a new level of relief. I might even go so far as to claim I was already feeling better.

At this point, the reading of these newly formed sand dollar sized purple / brown / black bumps  commenced.



“She is poking your bumps and messing with the blood that came out”

“What is she saying?”

“She is going fast and I am not picking up everything but it appears as if your liver and kidneys are having a hard time. She says that you need to drink a lot of water. She also says that your temperature is too low. You need to sleep in the heat tonight. No A/C.”

“Am I done?”

“I think so”

Upon exit, my friend informed me that my back had taken on a look of a turtle. One could literally see sand dollar sized bumps through my t-shirt. They were also somewhat tender which made sleeping quite interesting considering I sleep on my back. Laying flat with an equal distribution of weight and not moving worked well enough.

Amazing. One day later and I am really feeling much better. Maybe a little sloshy because of all the water, but better. I also have a an interesting pattern of marks on my back that are now turning interesting shades of green, yellow, and brown with black specs thrown in.  Cupping anyone?

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