August 08, 2006

Whirlwind Tour

It's 1:40 AM and I cannot sleep. I am typing to you from a huge internet bar with over 100 computers in Lhasa, Tibet (China, Xizang). The altitude here is 3700m (11,200 feet), enough to get altitude sickness -- dizziness, insomnia, and headaches. More intense symptoms are possible, especially if you fly in.

Only a month ago, China opened up the first railway from Golmud (in Western Qinghai province) to Lhasa. The project costed $3 billion, and had to deal with high altitudes up to 5000 m, permafrost, and frigid temperatures. It was projected to be completed in 2007, but with Chinese diligence, it was completed a year early. We took the chance and bought some scalped tickets and were on our way to Tibet. The scenery is exceptionally beautiful, as you zip along at 100+ km/h in an oxygenated car. This "gift" from China to Tibet is a mixed blessing, likely to bring further Han Chinese settlers from the east along with a freight route (for import of Chinese goods and export of Tibetan minerals, etc).

Our plans in Tibet include a visit to Namucuo (a large, clear lake with 7000m peaks in the background, just north of Lhasa), Shigatse, Nepali Border, Chamdo, and Mt. Everest. Like Mongolia, this place is not so developed and the only way to get around is by land cruiser on dirt road. Very expensive. We're going to try our best to bus it each way and minimize the amount of land cruising we'll have to do.

I've been here in China for nearly four months. The first three I spent doing some research at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I wanted to see what it was like to do research in China, and also to see the inner workings (and problems) of this upcoming R&D powerhouse. The third month I also taught English at this massive summer camp at Tsinghua, where 3,000 sophomore students take a seat to refurbish their English skills. Although they have studied English for ten years, their spoken skills are still quite poor: pronunciation, grammar, and simply confidence in speaking English all needed tuning. I also tutored three 9-year olds English. That was a special treat. We sang songs, played Simon Says, watched movies, and previewed their English book they were to use the following academic year. They learn fast; most notably their pronunciation, which was far better than the Tsinghua students!

In that time we were able to sneak away to Mongolia (mainly Ulaan Baatar), Kunming, Dali, Canton, Dongguan, and Macau. This was necessary since our visa only lasted 60 days, though we could enter and exit as many times as we wanted until late September. I'm going to refer you to Vicky's archives of pictures at shutterfly (once I find the link). Btw, she is an excellent photographer and storyteller, you won't be bored flipping through.

I return to the states on the 1st of September, and will be starting work at Acorn Product Development -- a small mechanical engineering design firm based in Fremont, CA with clients like Apple, HP, and the like, as well as one-time inventors. It's right up my alley, and reminds me a lot of the "random" design projects we did at MIT. Not only that, but they are also giving me the opportunity to work in their Chinese office, located in Dongguan, Guangdong. It is a "small" Chinese city of about 400,000 that sprouted from a small lychee farming community in a few years. As a result, all the ppl there are imported from all over China, and I don't need to learn how to speak Cantonese! It's nestled in between Guangzhou (Canton) and Shenzhen, and only an hour away from Hong Kong. I'll be moving there either later this year or early the next. You're welcome to visit :)

Finally, I didn't say this before but I left the Ph.D. program. Like many Christians would say to those who didn't like the church life that much: "It's not for everybody." Honestly, I was pretty bored with the projects available to me and saw very little impact being made. After a couple years I'd been losing my zeal for studying and just felt it was time to move on. I made out with an M.S. and am very happy with my experience, as well as the people I met. My best advice to anyone thinking about graduate school is: get an M.S. and get out. Only exception would be for Chinese or Indians who make it into a US school, get as high a degree as possible.

That's my quick whirlwind tour to fill in the past eight months of unwritten entries. See you in another eight months! lol jk hopefully soon :)

Posted by peter at 02:21 PM