Category: travels

Entry 1 – Asiana 271 — 7/4/2009 – 8:33 PM (PST)

(If you have been tagged, it means you’re mentioned–probably because I think we should meet up over the next week!)

I don’t think it would be a complete trip without taking some time to reflect upon it so here we go. Two days ago, it you asked what my July 4th plans were, I would’ve said a massive 30-mile bike trip from the University of Washington into Redmond, on my “new” mountain bike with a church community that I’m growing more familiar with. Instead, I’m sitting in seat 38G of Asiana Flight 271, seven hours into a 12 hour flight to Korea and at the start of a one and a half week long trip using vacation days I don’t have to a country I haven’t been to in three years. Suprising how factors outside my control can change my priorities and schedule so suddenly.

There are a lot of emotions and thoughts swirling underneath my consciousness; I’m not really thinking about them, but it’s definitely putting me at unease. <REDACTED> It sucks that I need to be worrying about that now given the circumstances of my travel, and especially moreso that I won’t get closure until I’m about to leave. Rohit did give me good advice though, that while I can’t do too much about these unknowns, I can work to have a more meaningful experience while I’m there.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Second on my mind is how to make the most of the 10 day trip that I have. This whole trip came rather suddenly, and I’m not sure if the people I want to see are going to be around, or available if they are. And then there’s work–there are some critical meetings occuring, so I’m shooting to be remote working for 4 hours / day. How effective this will be, I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that I can put the time I spend adjusting to jet-lag to good use. Here’s the list of things on my agenda:


Family and Family
– Grandmother’s farewell / Visit to family graves
– Chill with Jeeyeh/Jeewoo
– Meet up with Sunghwa nuna
– Meet up with Joyce
– Meet up with Haine
– Meet up with Huh
– Meet up with Austin
– Meet up with Jenn
– Meet up with elementary / middleschool buddies
– Meet up with… anyone else that’s here???
– Actually DO stuff with people met up with, and LIVE while I’m here. ūüėõ

– Try to get 4-hours / day of work accomplished.
– Visit MSFT Korea

It’s a tough plan, with a lot of stuff, and not too much time. Time to get on it! See the rest of you all soon, and thanks for the best wishes.

Xander’s Overseas Log Day 3-5

Entry 004 

Foreign Student Dormitory Zijing
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Day 5 – 5.30 ‚Äď approx. 11:00 PM

Okay so I skipped a few entries. Time¬†for more backtracking. We had our orientation, where we got our food¬†cards, and access to the internet! Yes! No longer am I isolated in¬†this foreign land and can call Sq! I also got Skype, my first¬†experience with VoIP since Dialpad six years ago. It’s niiiice, and¬†really clear, and most importantly, CHEAP. Sq and I have now¬†chattered‚ÄĒand can vouch for its quality. I’ll call home at some¬†point… lol, such a bad child. But then again, they haven’t called¬†or emailed either so, ha! Fair by me.

About Skype: I recommend everyone to get it, if not for the low rates to any phone worldwide, then for the outstanding PC-to-PC quality (and free!) phone communication. So get yourselves a headset, and head on over to

That said… today, we had our first¬†classes in language and culture. Obviously I’m in the beginners¬†class, which is perfectly fine with me. Learning is fun! I’m in it¬†with a few great people‚ÄĒCheuk, Frank, Evan, John, Bernice, Allison,¬†Tim… and I think that’s it. Frank and I managed to get ourselves to¬†the top, despite him learning the ‚Äúwrong kind of Chinese‚ÄĚ. Three hours is a little too much for a class though, and I found myself looking often at the clock, with the hour hand moving all too slowly. But then I remembered “Night”… and thought, ‘this is nothing.’

And¬†then to lunch. We had issues ordering food, mostly due to the fact¬†that the menus were all in Chinese, and the number of us that could¬†read was limited. Thankfully, some of the places had pictures, so¬†those who could speak could say things like… ‚ÄúThat one‚ÄĒwhat is¬†it?‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúI’d like that one‚ÄĚ. Also, another discovery: Yanjing¬†beer! Now that I am of age (not that it matters here) I have no¬†qualms about enjoying a nice cold Yanjing along with a meal. Frank¬†owes me a few anyway (though that is not a matter of pride). A 610 ml¬†bottle costs 2 RMB‚ÄĒor about 25 cents. Good deal. Tastes like Miller¬†light, except more diluted. Tsingdao next!

Next came the culture class. Now… on¬†THIS, i have a lot to say. I thought it was great. It’s definitely¬†refreshing to hear history and culture from a perspective from the¬†other side of the world. Professor Wong, though with a heavy accent,¬†knew how to talk to us‚ÄĒand her first presentation was both¬†entertaining and educational. It was mostly an introduction to the¬†city, including a warning about traveling on bikes. ‚ÄúThe Chinese¬†understand the flow of traffic, but you are foreigners you don’t know¬†it yet‚ÄĚ. (it sounded better when she said it). She also warned us¬†not to get ‚Äúdrunk‚ÄĚ… lol‚ÄĒof course not. She explained the¬†geography and political condition of the nation, and had some amusing¬†things to say about China-Taiwan relations and other conflicts,¬†including North Korea, and the increasing militarization of the¬†region. ‚ÄúThis little place,¬†is Taiwan‚ÄĚ; ‚ÄúAmerica is playing a very dubious role‚ÄĒspeaking¬†with a forked tongue‚ÄĚ.

You can tell that the perspective of history¬†is different when you are a part of a history lasting thousands of¬†years. Recent history loses its meaning, and culture, tradition, and¬†the idea of time itself is changed. A hundred years means very¬†little, and even when thinking of the beginning of the 20 th ¬†century, it feels as if its current history. That said, Professor¬†Wong and China in general seems to have a healthy idea regarding the¬†clash of the old and new. Recognizing the flaws of the old China and¬†current China was crucial. I wondered how much of that was indirectly¬†a result of revolutions in China. In Korea, I feel there is a severe¬†disconnect between what is ‚Äúreal‚ÄĚ and what is ‚Äúideal‚ÄĚ for the¬†country. This I attribute to the 20 th century leaving the¬†country in shambles‚ÄĒthe people feel that there is more potential¬†than what there is. While this forward thinking contributes to¬†nation’s pride, but it leaves people losing touch with the real¬†problems of the nation.

Professor Wong with our TA and Guide, Jeff

…anyway. So it’s¬†true, we’re not growing up in a peaceful world… not exactly tragic¬†though, we have a different kind of peace now. A peace brought on by¬†awareness between peoples. HAH, that’s my idealism still here!

Oh man… I miss¬†home‚ÄĒI miss people back home. But I don’t wish I could be back home¬†as much as I wish people at home could be here. Sq would be educated¬†well… so would everyone else, I think. There’s a lot to know that’s¬†hard to get without immersing yourself in this kind of modern¬†culture.

Chinese Islamic restaurant, and Tsingdao.

Our nights for the¬†first two nights were generally confined to on campus stuff. And I’ve¬†been eating a TON. Monday night (I think?) we went out to this nearby¬†Islamic Chinese restaurant. They had GREAT food that just kept on¬†coming… and once again, all for under $3. Gaining weight without a¬†doubt (yes!), Sq would be proud. I think I’m getting a little sick¬†though; hopefully it’ll pass. Bowling tonight, I was tired, but I¬†went anyway with good spirits. Scored 111. Expensive though, it cost as much as it does at the Union.

And that is all.

Xander’s Overseas Log – Day 1-2

Backtracking a bit…

Okay, so I’m a few days behind… but I think I need to make this post now, to announce that in fact, something terrible has not happened. I originally intended to write a LOT on this trip, but things have been kinda hectic, so I haven’t been keeping up. But with so much going on, I should right? Meh, well–I think it’s about time. I’ll post one entry a day, just to keep up, and let things settle in.

Two things:




Trip Log Entry 001
Continental Airlines Flight 86,
36,150 feet above the North Pole
Day 1 – 5/26 — 6:25 PM CDT

Over North Pole

So, here is the beginnings of the¬†longest trip away from home ever. As I’m writing this, I am currently¬†36,500 feet above the North Pole , in a Boeing 777-500, a¬†behemoth of a plane with engines as wide as the fuselage of a 737.¬†From the window, the arctic cap seems to stretch on forever. Hmm…¬†it’s been so long since I’ve chronicled my life that I feel like I’ve¬†forgotten how. But… a trip like this cannot go without a proper¬†journaling, so here we go! (Schimitt and Schmoot are sitting next to¬†me, watching and agreeing as I type this.)


Here’s a chronological account of the¬†last 12 hours:

So my flight was scheduled for 7:30 AM,¬†which meant we had to get to the airport by 4:30… so what did I do?¬†Obviously decide that sleep is expendable and pull an all-nighter. I¬†had originally planned to finish packing by 11 and watch X3 at 12:01,
but tragically, I didn’t finish packing on time… (sorry Wangsta!),¬†but that’s all right (I’ll have plenty of time in China for that). Sq
came to help, and the packing went very haphazardly; I spent most of¬†the time moving back and forth between rooms trying to keep track of¬†where everything was being put. Clothing, paperwork, camera, phone,¬†etc… In spite of all the last minute craziness, I was done packing¬†and out of my house by 4:30 AM.

At around 5, I arrived at the terminal and found fellow IPENGers arriving, as well as an old friend.

Checking in was messed up… since when¬†did they replace all the helpers with an automated touch system? That¬†caused a minor hassle. Then at the security check in, I found out¬†that I was selected (!) for ‚Äúadditional screening‚ÄĚ, which¬†basically included a pat down and a deep scan of my stuff. And of¬†course, this had to be done in front of the other few hundred people¬†there, so that was fun…

[waah! The plane is shaking!]

At the gate, we sat around and¬†chattered for a while, and Georgia, our travel agent supervisor¬†stopped by to let us know that the plane was delayed, and make sure¬†that we were all okay (‚Äúbasically, if you’re here, you’re here, if¬†you’re not… oh well!‚ÄĚ). Come to think of it, I think we’re¬†missing one or two people… ‚Äúoh well!‚ÄĚ

The first leg of the trip was from¬†Chicago to Newark in a 737-500. This was uneventful, and sleep was¬†good. Our brief stay in Newark was very rushed. Since our¬†first flight arrived later than planned, we barely had enough time to¬†make it to our connecting flight. I felt a growing sense of¬†camaraderie as we all made sure everyone got to where we needed to¬†be…

We arrived in Newark, New Jersey at¬†11:20, with just under 50 minutes till our next flight departed.¬†Rushed through the airport, without glimpsing at much but the¬†‚ÄúWelcome to Newark!‚ÄĚ signs. We arrived at the gate, called home,¬†called Sq, and then I was soon juggling three cell phones trying to¬†get one of them unlocked. Failure, Samsung said to call the carrier,¬†T-Mobile said they don’t hold records for more than 90 days after¬†termination, but that I could try calling Samsung. Screw that… I’ll¬†do it in China…

Continental Airlines Flight
86 Newark-Beijing

12 hours later…

This has so far been the longest plane¬†ride of my life… I finished reading Night (which many people were¬†surprised that I’d never read before), wrote this entry so far… and¬†mostly just chatted with my neighbor, a cool dude named Fang from¬†Texas visiting relatives in China, and wandered around the plane. I’m¬†beginning to realize how significant a cross continental voyage is;¬†we’ve traveled halfway around the world for this. Maybe I just¬†haven’t been traveling for a while. But it’s still cool! We’re¬†directly over the North Pole as I’m writing this; a place that I¬†never thought I’d get close to; but seven miles below us is the¬†biggest expanse of ice that I’ve ever seen.

I’ve also realized that I have close to¬†zero Chinese ability. I’m sure it won’t be a problem at international¬†places, such as the airport or our dorm… but out in the city…¬†hmm…

Till next time!

Entry 002 

Foreign Student Dormitory Zijing
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Day 2 – 5.27 — 8:10 AM (Beijing
Standard Time)

I’m gonna make this entry short,¬†breakfast and orientation at 9 AM.

Backtracking a little bit… haha, we¬†had to fill out customs reports on the plane, declaring anything that¬†might be considered contraband in the People’s Republic of China.¬†Among those included: arms, imitation arms, ammunition, counterfeit¬†currencies, deadly poisons, drugs, and… printed matter, films,¬†photographs, records, tapes, compact discs… …which are¬†detrimental to the political, economic, cultural and moral interests¬†of China. I suppose the government must at least make its¬†censorship official. I wonder how much more we’d see…

We landed at Beijing International at¬†12:45 PM, exactly on schedule. The airport was very clean,¬†very well serviced, and ¬†very new looking, at least, compared to O’Hare. I was surprised at the mass amounts of¬†corporate advertising everywhere, especially the masses of American¬†companies; it seemed as if every third sign was a GE ad. There’s one proof that this is indeed Asia however: the English.

I find this hilarious–you’d think that the person making signs would at least check the English with someone who actually KNOWS English? This one isn’t so bad, but I’ll be sure to see more (and photo them of course!). Security¬†was light, and we exited customs without incident. And then faced¬†this:

SO many people with signs, and about a third of them were in Korean!

There was a large Korean tour group¬†that had exited with us; I was surprised‚ÄĒabout a quarter of the¬†people coming out seemed to be Korean, and the signs were posted in¬†three languages, English, Chinese, and Korean. Expected, I guess…
Seoul was closer to Beijing than Nanjing even…

Here we met up with professor Wong, and¬†were introduced to our three guides, a student dude named Jeff, who¬†introduced Ms. Yuan, and ‚Äúhis friend‚ÄĚ Ms. Leong. We were also¬†delayed a while because two students went missing… and we also¬†found out that one of us missed the plane. Sad… so disorganized¬†already. Five minutes later, I took my first step into China.

So many cars!

The weather was actually very nice,¬†warmer than it was in Chicago, humidity was tolerable for the¬†temperature. Quickly, we boarded our buses, and were off! The ride to¬†the university was amazing‚ÄĒthe city reminded me a lot of Seoul,¬†lots of billboard advertisements, tall apartment buildings, masses of¬†construction everywhere, and of course the millions of newly planted¬†trees to prevent erosion. There was also a lot of Olympics related¬†construction. Beijing reminds me of Seoul in many ways; narrower¬†lanes, obviously planned tree lines, packed traffic (with an obvious¬†disregard for traffic rules), and of course, the masses of people.

The city has something that Seoul lacks however: MASSES of¬†bicyclists! There are SO many! I swear‚ÄĒthere are at least twice as¬†many people on bikes as there are on foot! And of course, we would¬†have to get one too later. Excitement.

Anyway, skipping forward (yes, this is¬†just a summerized narrative; I’ll put in thoughts later, when I have¬†time), we’re at the our dorms now not too shabby of a place¬†really‚ÄĒsmaller than I expected, given the pictures from last¬†year‚ÄĒbut I think I can make it home. Classes start on Monday!

By our dorms…¬†

Till then!

Entry 003

Foreign Student Dormitory Zijing
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Day 2 – 5.27 — 7:10 PM

We still don’t have internet¬†here‚ÄĒsaddening, as I told Sq that I’d email daily. Nor do we have¬†telephones, which is also slightly saddening as I told my mom that¬†I’d call upon arriving. Mleh mleh… I suppose this is still better¬†than things might have been years ago. A lot has happened so far¬†today (but I’m writing this in the slightly distant future, so I¬†don’t quite remember everything… but we can pretend, yes ;)?) We¬†did basic things today, getting stuff… including our red hot ‚Äúnew‚Ä̬†bikes.

Walking across campus

Two things I’ve observed on the walk to¬†get out bikes: Tsinghua University definitely spends its money: the¬†grass is plentiful, roads well paved, and buildings elegantly¬†designed and definitely in good shape too. The university itself is¬†also very well organized, and there are a LOT of wide open spaces.¬†However… I’ve also observed that the traffic is as crazy within¬†here as it is outside, though not with cars, and bikes instead… and¬†the occasional honking car/van/bus. I don’t know how these people all¬†manage not to collide with each other; it reminds me of the high¬†school freshman hallways, except with people on junky bikes. Somehow¬†though, I haven’t seen a single collision, and traffic manages to¬†move ‚Äúsmoothly‚ÄĚ, even when people are merging, turning, stopping,¬†swerving to avoid cars. My only guess is that they’ve adapted. Oh the¬†human capacity to adapt to anything… so incredible. Anyway… I’m¬†beginning to worry about getting our own bikes. I suppose we’ll¬†learn, eh?

The Main Library

At the bank, I exchanged the first of¬†my Benjamins for renminbi‚ÄĒthe colorful and highly controversial¬†currency of the PRC. About 800 RMB, and then, it was time. We got our¬†bikes from the junkiest seller of bikes I’ve ever seen‚ÄĒat the¬†corner of some streets in front of the bank. There had to be at least¬†100 bikes there‚ÄĒtaped with bubble wrap for some unknown purpose.¬†Maybe to give the illusion of ‚Äúnew‚ÄĚ? Picking one was hard: there¬†didn’t seem to be one without a serious flaw. But then the dudes got¬†to work hammering, twisting, and otherwise manipulating the bikes to¬†become ridable as we flashed out money. Even in their junky state, it¬†seemed to be a decent deal: 160 RMB for a bike and a lock (about¬†$20). We ended up taking a quarter of his stock‚ÄĒbut not before he¬†suddenly started arguing with Jeff (our student supervisor) about how¬†we did not pay him enough. It was resolved deftly by the flashing of¬†extra RMB, and Jeff’s persuasive skills. Junky AND shady.

My bike was at some point dark blue…¬†but it was now more gray than blue. It was the only one without any¬†serious defects that I could see… though that definitely didn’t¬†mean anything. Being so cheap, I started testing its limits, and¬†within three minutes of riding, the pedals started getting funky; and¬†the next minute… the metal ¬†holding the pedal to the bike bent off and broke. Had to get the¬†entire bike replaced. Anyway–this is what I have now.

Yet unnamed…

Touring the university was¬†interesting‚ÄĒlearned some history about China and its relation with¬†the U.S. Apparently one of the original architects of Tsinghua went¬†to U of I… and it couldn’t be more obvious than a look at one of¬†the ‚ÄúQuads‚ÄĚ here:

Foellinger in Beijing?

We took our first group picture at the¬†current Tsinghua’s President’s Office. Once the palace of a Qing¬†dynasty prince, it now serves as a cool place for us folk to play¬†around in.

One of like… 20 pictures taken on 8 cameras.

We wandered some more‚ÄĒtook a LOT of¬†pictures.. and then wandered off to a fully paid for dinner. We sat¬†at tables that had little ‚Äúappetizers‚ÄĚ on it, consisting of¬†various unknown small dishes, including a basket of cucumbers. We¬†were all very wary of these, especially the cucumbers: professor Wong¬†had warned us not to eat ‚Äúfresh vegetables‚ÄĚ as they apparently¬†don’t clean them as well as they should… and often use human feces¬†to fertilize the food. She did also say that we must brush our teeth¬†with bottled water, and various other precautionary advice. So we sat¬†there for a while, poking at the food, slowly trying it… but then¬†the food still didn’t come, so one of us‚ÄĒI think Charles decided to¬†take a bite out of a cucumber. We took the fact that he didn’t spit¬†it out in disgust as a good sign and each tried the food. It was¬†good. Ten minutes later, when our first dishes started coming out I¬†noticed that the other tables hadn’t even touched the food. HA. So we¬†were the bold ones.

The food came… and didn’t stop¬†coming. At first I was afraid that I would lose more weight than¬†gain… then changed my mind. This had to be like… an 8 course¬†meal, with all sorts of meat, fish, vegetables, etc… it was great.¬†Apparently, it also cost about 20 yuan per person, about $2.50.¬†Amazing. Life is gonna be great.

Anyway… that’s it for now. Orientation tomorrow–as well as our first trip shopping ūüėÄ where I shall begin my quests! Mwahaha… Sq shall be in for a great surprise!

Till then! ūüôā