Baby #1 – The Apartment and its Assorted Hacks

I said I’d put up photos, so here they are, finally.

When we first moved in two weeks ago, the apartment looked like this:

Image(The view from the doorway, the clutter is all the luggage we lugged from the hotel to the apartment complex and deposited, unceremoniously, in the living room.)

Image(My room, before moving in, spartan and bare.)

Two weeks later, I’ve finally put up all the photos, postcards, and paintings I collected while in Europe, our laundry is drying in the breeze, our floor is clean, our hacks are ingenious…

Image(The living room, and the couch that is my bed for the moment until we purchase mattress toppers.)

Image(My room, now with a lot more mess but a lot more warmth, sheets, and an improvised pillow – that’s Hack #2 for you)

Image(Remember Hack #1, the inverted-stool-trash-can? Here’s what it looks like ^ If you look closer you’ll also notice a piece of paper wedged between the stool frame and the bag — that’s Hack #1a, our make-shift dustpan. Since we couldn’t find a dustpan at the supermarket, and I’m not sure if it’ll be worth it to purchase one for the summer, what we do is to sweep the dust onto the paper, which we then use to dispose of the dust into the trash bag.)

Image(Hack #3, the low shower barrier, built out of 2 wooden planks, 3 bricks, one plastic bag, and tape. Basically, it prevents water from spreading everywhere when we shower. Mats and house slippers also really helped in preventing us from trekking water around the apartment, so hooray for them.)

The apartment’s something that I’ve come to be really proud of, what with all the work Brady and I’ve put into cleaning, fixing, improving, and decorating it. In fact, you could say it’s like our baby… Our senior intern and co-worker likes to tease the two of us and ask Brady if he’s my boyfriend (he’s not), to which he used to reply with an enthusiastic yes. But now, we basically agree that we’ve completely skipped past the boyfriend-girlfriend phase and are pretty much a married couple, husband and wife, now — we live together, commute to work together, work together, cook together (though I mostly cook because I’m a better cook), and explore Beijing’s nook and crannies together. The apartment was basically the first baby that led to a shotgun marriage, and now, 2 weeks into marital bliss, we have quite a few more babies:

  • The apartment
  • WiFi in the apartment, and VPN!
  • SolidWorks and Desktop PCs
  • The 3D Printer, that was recently repaired in the office, and which is now fully functional and producing even more babies — grand-babies!
  • Bikes, which we purchased over the weekend, and which cut our 30-minute commute to a nifty 7 minutes, woohoo!

Anyway, that was a rather extended analogy, but it still holds so far, and it looks like it’s shaping up to be the running joke of the summer. Here’s some sass from the two of us — more updates about our weekend next time!


Baby #1 – The Apartment and its Assorted Hacks

Water, WiFi, AND SolidWorks! :)

Friday, June 26 2014

When I turned on the tap on Wednesday, there was running water! So now we have both water AND WiFi, which is a winning combination.

Continuing the winning streak in life, in the office we now have our own desktop PCs and SolidWorks (as well as Adobe Creative Suite software), which is a great relief because we really needed them to be able to do our work, especially SolidWorks. We had tried to learn Rhino in the interim, but it’s still fantastic to have access to software that we’re familiar with.

Work-wise, things are heating up and getting more complex and exciting. Brady and I have started CADing up prototypes, and are now waiting on the 3D printer to get fixed so we can start testing them out, which will probably happen today morning. We’ve already been trained to use it, and I get the feeling that over this internship the two of us will become very familiar with it 🙂 On Wednesday, the entire engineering team walked through the entire user experience and listed out all the bugs we had to fix, organized by teams responsible (software, electronics, mechanism) and ranked them from most to least urgent. Brady was elsewhere user-testing a product, and so I sat in alone and tried to understand as best I could — the entire meeting was in Chinese, the discussion was technical, rapid, and heated, but I managed to catch the gist of it, I suppose. Earlier today, we went to the company that manufactures our prototypes to communicate our specifications, and it was great to be introduced to their engineers and shown around their factory.

As one of the senior interns says, 实践是检验真理的唯一标准 (Practice is the sole criterion of truth). He’s a cool guy, and has really taken care of us thus far. He likes to ask us about our learning points, and to deliver his soundbites. Other things he says:

  • It’s one thing to study theory, but it’s another to practice what you’ve learnt.
  • All the different aspects of a product have to fall in step with each other: software, electronics, design, mechanisms, and manufacturing (and it was pretty cool to see that in practice!)

Later, I met up for dinner with an old friend who’s studying and interning in Beijing, and figured out how to ride side-saddle on the back of a motorcycle 😀 Still, I remain really in awe of all these Beijingers who are able to ride side-saddle with no hands, or while texting on their phone! After really good Japanese food and 烤串, I headed back, began the long trek home from the subway station, and… should probably sleep now so I’m not exhausted at work.

Water, WiFi, AND SolidWorks! :)

WiFi or Water, Choose One

Wednesday, June 25th 2014

(Pretend today is Wednesday!)

With the exception of the horrible WiFi in the office, work has been exciting and meaningful and we are making good progress/headway with our project, so yay!

Today, our colleagues brought us to Lenovo’s Toastmaster’s Club meeting, which meets every Tuesday from 12PM to 1:30PM. It was also my first Toastmaster’s meeting, and I ended up being asked to speak on a table topic. The theme of the day was, ‘You are more important than you realize’, and I was given the scenario ’Tom and Jerry’, in which I had to speak from the perspective of Jerry and provide Tom encouragement. Since the scenario itself was already fairly absurd, I decided to go all out, and delivered an impromptu speech about challenges, destiny, and meaning in life. At the end of the meeting, to my surprise, I was awarded ‘Best Table Topic Speaker,’ my first ever Toastmaster’s Award. To be fair though, a lot of the other table topic speakers were Chinese nationals who weren’t native English speakers, but I did manage to beat out a middle-aged guy from North Carolina (probably posted over from Lenovo’s HQ in Raleigh) and Brady, so… yay?

After work, Izzah and I met up for dinner at Wudaokou (五道口), a district that is well-known for its international students, Korean restaurants, and proximity to many universities, amongst which Tsinghua and Peking Universities are probably the most well-known. After dinner (Korean food), dessert (boba, of course), and much much conversation, we parted ways and headed back home, and I embarked on the long trek from the Xi’erqi (西二旗) subway station to the apartment complex where I’m staying over the summer, 回龙观新村中区. Brady had messaged earlier to pick up some tape on the way back, and so I did.

When I finally got back home, our colleagues Fantasy and Justin were at our place, helping us to figure out how to set up our WiFi. We were able to get the previous tenant to extend (续) his WiFi contract by 3 months, and we were also able to borrow a wireless router from one of our colleagues… we just weren’t able to register it with the provider. After trying many time to no avail, they finally called the previous tenant and asked him to come over and help us set up our WiFi. Right when we were waiting for the previous tenant to arrive and resolve our WiFi woes… Brady comes out of the bathroom and announces, ’There is no water. 没有水。’ So, not only did we have no WiFi, we now had no water either! Things were not looking good at all. We poked around the utilities closet and adjusted the valves, but nothing worked. 😦

Finally, the previous tenant arrived, and not only did he and his friend help us to resolve our Wifi woes, they also explained that the lack of water was just a temporary cut from 10pm to 6am the next day, and that a notice had been posted in the lift lobby. Of course, we hadn’t paid it any attention. So now, we had WiFi, but on the downside, we now had no running water. It was as if the Universe was saying, ‘Water or WiFi — choose but one!

Still, having WiFi was pretty freaking fantastic. Riding on that WiFi high, Brady and I decided to keep improving the apartment — our baby — and finish Hack #3, the shower barrier. Just to recap, the problem is that since the shower and toilet are in the same room and there are no walls separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom, water pretty much splashes and flows everywhere. To be totally honest, it wasn’t a big deal for me — that’s pretty much how it is at home too, so it wasn’t anything particularly shocking. However, since Brady was pretty irked by it, we decided to build a low barrier to keep the water from flowing everywhere. When I got back from dinner, he’d already picked up some rocks/brick fragments and two wooden planks, and assembled them into a rough frame. After we got WiFi, we finished the barrier by slicing open (and in two) a plastic bag (with an exacto — I love these knives, and am so very glad I brought them with me, first to Berlin and then to Beijing) and securing the plastic strips to the ground and frame with the tape which I had picked up on the way back.

Photos will be posted soon, but for now, if you want to see photos of our apartment check out Brady’s blog here!

WiFi or Water, Choose One

On Rent, RENT, music, and the little things

Monday, June 23 2014

(Pretend today is Monday!)

Rent! Today we wracked our brains trying to figure out how to pay our landlord, because we were having trouble drawing money from ATMs/banks, and without a Chinese bank account it was not possible to transfer funds easily. We eventually managed to figure it out after a whole lot of frustration and anxiety, and it is a huge relief to be able to lift that load off our minds. I was talking with a friend earlier about how it feels like Brady and I are really growing up since we’ve moved into our apartment and have to worry about paying rent, and he commented, hadn’t I already done that a few years back, when I moved to California for college and became more-or-less financially independent? While moving away from home certainly does that to/for you, to be fair Stanford has been an incredibly protective bubble, where many things are taken care of. This summer in Beijing may be challenging (and it certainly took a bit of getting used to in the beginning), but I think it’s just the right thing for me, right now.

RENT! Brady and I belted out numbers from RENT on the way home from work today, and it felt, as it almost always does, awesome to make music/noise not caring about the stares of other people. One project that we might embark on as a duo this summer is to record duets from our favorite musicals, so stay tuned for that 🙂

Music! The other day, I finished organizing my room and going through all the postcards, receipts, ticket stubs, and notes I’d hoarded over the quarter. I found my ticket stub from when I went to watch the Berlin Philharmonic play Mahler the Friday after last quarter’s finals, the Friday before I left Berlin. I hardly noticed the time go by; it was such an amazing experience, and one that I’ll keep in my heart and mind for a long, long time.

Lastly, it’s an overused phrase I know, but sometimes it’s really the small things that worm into your heart and warm you up:

  • Lining the streets on the walk home are usually many trucks peddling fruits, snacks, and household items — we bought cups (hooray, we don’t have to drink from bowls anymore!) and grapes (cheap, sweet, and just about perfect) tonight and came back to the apartment carrying our haul, delighted and just a tad delirious about owning cups (cups!!!) and having fruits for supper.
  • I’m beginning to learn how precious a sliver of blue sky can be. On our third day the smog cleared up a bit, and we realized that there were actually hills in the distance, just that we hadn’t been able to see them before through the smog. The smog isn’t always that bad, and after it rains the air is fresh and cool, not cloying or humid, and it’s very pleasant 🙂

Time to sleep, more updates tomorrow! We now have WiFi in the apartment, but no running water… It’s an interesting story.

On Rent, RENT, music, and the little things

Moving Day

Sunday, June 22 2014

(The apartment doesn’t have WiFi yet, so this post will probably only see the light of day when I get into the office tomorrow)

Today has been, like most other days, incredibly tiring, and for good reason. A lot of things happened: Brady and I finally checked out of the hotel and caught a cab to the apartment which we’ll be renting for the rest of the summer. It’s really near Lenovo (20 minutes by foot, and 5 minutes by bicycle), which will be a great convenience for us. Dragging two suitcases each and carrying a backpack and assorted sundry items, we made our way to our apartment building, where a middle-aged man let us into the room and showed us how to work the various appliances (the stove, the water heater, air-conditioning, TV) while we waited around for the landlady. While waiting, Brady and I RPS-ed (rock-paper-scissor-ed?) for the bigger and brighter room, and I unfortunately lost 😦 But, we’ll be switching rooms for fairness in 5 weeks (since we’re splitting the rent equally), and in the meantime I’m going to make my room real comfy. After about half an hour, the landlady finally showed up and drew up a simple agreement (all in Chinese) on the rent and amenities, and that was when I signed my first lease… in Chinese! I definitely did not expect that ‘first’ to turn out this way, but it’s a pleasant surprise.

After the landlady left, we unpacked a little and did a load of laundry, before heading to a nearby supermarket, where we picked up a…

  • Pot
  • Pan (urgh this gave us so much grief — some brilliant pan manufacturer decided to paste the brand label right at the bottom of the pan, and of course it would leave a sticky gummy residue behind when we peeled the label off. We had to scrub for ages to get it off!)
  • Knife
  • Chopping board
  • Chopsticks
  • Spoons
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Toiletries
  • Towel
  • Broom
  • Air freshener
  • Kitchen cleaner
  • Small rag
  • Clothes hangers

Realizing we didn’t have enough cash for bedding too, we headed back to the apartment, where we put down our purchases, hung out our laundry, put in another load of laundry, and headed back out again for lunch and Round 2 of household supplies shopping. Lunch was cheap and simple, and I foresee us eating there quite a bit in the future — as it was a really hot day, I got a beer, since it was only 5 RMB/less than 1 USD. 2 mistakes there: 1) Germany has totally spoiled me; it’s going to be hard to enjoy mediocre beer now, 2) I was expecting a smallish bottle when I ordered, but it turns out they only carried the bigger standard-size bottle of >500mL. Brady doesn’t drink, so it was all mine, oh joy.

Round 2: we got our sheets and blankets, and stocked up on some food. Unfortunately, once we got back from the supermarket, we realized that our refrigerator wasn’t working. After texting and calling our landlady to no avail, we decided to get to know our neighbors by asking them if we could please store our yoghurt, ham, and frozen dumplings in their fridge for one day. They’re a middle-aged couple, and were very pleasant and agreed to help us; Brady practiced his Mandarin by introducing himself and asking for our neighbor’s name.

That settled, we swept and mopped and wiped down the entire apartment, and managed to get it to a pretty decent state, yay! Fixed ourselves dinner (… I need to get used to the fact that gas stoves are much stronger than hot plates), got our refrigerator diagnosed and temporarily fixed, and finally, retired to our rooms for the night. I’m exhausted and aching all over.

Also, I’m pretty sure everyone who saw us running around on these errands thought that we were a couple who had just moved in together. My landlady asked us if we were friends or dating, and I confirmed that we were just friends. But alright, it’s hard for me to blame them, and I guess I should be thankful when people seek to clarify rather than simply assuming.

Being able to laugh about it helps too — Brady likes to tell people that we’re moving into our new apartment soon, and then jokingly append ‘and we have a baby on the way too’. On our way back from Round 2, I turned to Brady and exclaimed dreamily, “Brady! Our first apartment!” Response: “We’re going to make such great parents!” Like he’s said, it’s as if this summer is ‘equal parts living in China, working at Lenovo, … and being married to Kylie’. Likewise, my friend, likewise. While we wouldn’t make a great couple, I’m pretty sure we’ll grow to be great flatmates, and we’re lucky that we both love musicals and show tunes, so hooray for that 🙂

As 2 Product Design majors sharing an apartment, I’m pretty sure we’ll have developed a lot of interesting hacks for the apartment over these 3 months. Hack #1: the apartment didn’t come with a trashcan, and so our trashcan is an inverted stool with a plastic bag hung securely from two of its legs. We’re now saving all the plastic bags we get from the supermarket. Hack #2: The supermarket didn’t stock pillows, so for now our pillows are bundles of clothes. Mine is a real piece of work — I basically took my down jacket, inverted it and folded the hood down, lay other items of winter clothing on the back, and zipped it up. In case you’re wondering, it took:

  • 3 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of leggings
  • 1 scarf 

to get to a pretty decent pillow-shaped pillow 🙂 Hack #3 is in the works, as we basically need to build a low wall for our shower to prevent water from getting everywhere. Hack #4… who knows? We also have 2 pieces of cardboard backing from our bedsheets, and I have my exacto knives and am ready to start building 😀

At any rate, I feel super accomplished with all that Brady and I’ve managed to accomplish today, and I’m proud of our lil’ apartment. It really looks like people are living in here now, what with our hacked trashcan, laundry hanging, foodstuffs chilling on the counter, etc. It feels like we are taking yet another step towards, well, the rest of our lives. Towards growing up and living more independently 🙂

This post reminded me of all the laundry that we’ve done today, and that I still have another load in the washer waiting to be run once my hangers are freed up, which reminds me that I should probably wake up early to run that cycle. Ciao!

Moving Day

On work, food, and walking around Beijing, as an Asian girl, with a white male

Saturday, June 21

(Again, pretend I’m posting this yesterday instead of at 3am Sunday morning)

This coming Tuesday, I will have spent exactly one week in Beijing. The past Friday marked our first full week at work (well, for Brady at least), which definitely felt like an achievement. After cracking our brains on Thursday trying to solve the problems we were assigned, we presented our ideas to the team and explained our thought process. Some ideas had already been considered and rejected for assorted reasons, but some were new and, I hope, will be considered. My supervisor commented that we were rather efficient, which definitely made my heart warm — I suppose he didn’t expect for us to check in with ideas/solutions so soon. After the review, we discussed and agreed upon our tasks for the next week, which I’m excited about. Onwards and upwards!

Some things I appreciated about the presentation and review was how much visual communication went on between us interns and the other Lenovo engineers. I had drawn up quick sketches of our proposed designs, which helped to communicate our ideas across, and our supervisors would reply with sketches of their own — Brady doesn’t understand a lot of Mandarin, I unfortunately don’t understand many technical terms, and our team members aren’t very comfortable with English. I was able to translate a few terms (and am currently building a list of technical terms for myself and perhaps future interns), which helped, but the aspect of visual communication was probably the most important. However, even if there wasn’t this language barrier, I believe that visual communication would (and should!) still play as important a role in design and engineering.

Another thing I appreciated, and this is going to sound weird, was having design constraints to have to work around. After we presented our ideas, we received feedback on certain constraints that we had to work around, such as lowering power consumption, using commonly-used power sources, avoiding waste power, keeping costs low, etc. Shush, I know these are all common sense design, but to be totally fair 1) they were indeed in the back of my head when evaluating our ideas and 2) our supervisors had not told us any of these beforehand, probably because they wanted to see what we could come up with at the first go. Still, even though we were on the receiving end of critique and it felt as if we were butting up against many walls, I realize that I enjoyed having these walls to butt up against. It really brought home the fact that this wasn’t just a school project, but a real design/engineering project with actual meaningful considerations and parameters, and that really gets me excited 😀

Anyway, after we got off work on Friday, we had dinner at the staff canteen and headed back to the hotel to kick back and chill. Brady was trying to meet a friend who was having a long layover in Beijing, but she didn’t manage to contact him on time, so we just walked around the neighborhood near the hotel in search of cheap fruits. Didn’t manage to find a fruit stall, but we did stop to buy some ice-cream to eat while walking. When we went to pay for our ice-creams, however, the lady boss (LB) asked me a few interesting questions. My memory’s bad, but it went something like this (the entire conversation was in Mandarin, and this is a rough translation):

LB: (motioning to Brady, but speaking to me in Mandarin) Do you speak their language, too?
Me: Yes
LB: How did you meet?
Me: (realizing that she thinks Brady and I are a couple) Oh no no no, we met in school in the US, but we’re not a couple!
LB: You have quite a pretty face! Oh, I thought you two were…
Me: No no no!
Brady: (being a clown, or should I say a goon) Yes, I am her boyfriend!
LB: (laughing) But he says he is your boyfriend!
LB’s friend: You’re drunk!
(and to be fair, LB was very friendly, and it looked like she had indeed downed about a glass of hard liquor)
Me: You are drunk! (walking out) Goodnight!
Brady: 晚安!再见!

It was a pleasant, funny, and mostly-harmless exchange, and hey, the lady said I had a pretty face! But this is something that has happened quite a few times already — when we were looking for apartments one of the landlords asked (in Mandarin) whether we were lovers, and I hurriedly said no. When people walk past Brady and I on the street, they stare especially long and hard, not just at Brady but at me as well. On one level, I can kinda understand — a guy and a lady walking down a street together (or renting an apartment together), what else could they be but lovers? It’s probably the first thing that jumps into most people’s minds, and it’s hard to fault people for that.

But on another level, I feel that the association is all the more automatic because Brady is a white male and I a Chinese girl, and I resent that it is so automatic. It makes me feel uncomfortable, because I feel that people judge me for (they think) being in a relationship with a white male, for (they think) worshipping white males and devaluing my own ethnicity, when the reality is really not the case. And just like any other person would, I feel indignant at being misunderstood, even if the misunderstanding is only that people think we’re together when we’re not. I should get (or make) a shirt that says in Mandarin and English, “No, we are not dating.” I’ll post more on this issue if a similar incident happens, or if more thoughts occur to me.

Anyway, we got back to the apartment for some much needed rest and relaxation, and slept in till noon today. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in on a weekend, and it was glorious. I really needed it, after a pretty taxing week of work, apartment hunting, and adjusting to Beijing in general. About 1pm we figured that we should probably grab lunch, and so we ventured out of the hotel and ambled around the neighborhood. We found an all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant right across the road from our hotel, and since we hadn’t eaten in about 16 hours, it seemed like a good choice.

And it was. It was fantastic. A few things about me and food, which you might have noticed:

1. I love food — cooking it, eating it, searching for it, all of it.
2. I eat pretty slowly. I’m usually the last to finish in most dining situations because I like to take it slow and enjoy my food. And because I make a point to chew well before swallowing, I suppose?
3. I can eat quite a lot, when I’m in the mood and the food’s good. We definitely got our money’s worth out of that lunch (Also, it was pretty cheap by US/Singapore standards, at 36 RMB). Also, we basically didn’t need to have dinner today. Brady was rather surprised at how much I could pack away. I definitely kept up with him, or should I say he kept up with me, which I suppose is because of points #1 and #2.
4. If you go out for a meal with me, and if it is at all appropriate and possible for me to, I will take care of you. Especially if it’s your first time trying out something, I will try to make sure you have the best culinary experience possible. This happens mostly but not only at hotpot / barbecue / dim sum restaurants, and you may see me 1) taking charge of deciding which dishes to order, 2) cooking and grilling, and 3) nagging at you to eat more vegetables and drink more water to balance out the oil/grease so you don’t fall sick 😛

By the time we got out of that restaurant, it was 3pm and we were stuffed, so we went on a late afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, bought some laundry detergent, breakfast foods and snacks at a nearby store, and headed back to our hotel. After resting for a while (and trying to figure out how to pay our rent when we sign the lease tomorrow), we headed out to a movie theater 30 minutes away by foot to watch Maleficent. Unfortunately, the 8PM showing was totally sold out, but since we had come so far, we decided to commit to the cause and purchase tickets for the 10PM show. Tickets were a tad more expensive than I thought they would be. We killed 2 hours pretty effectively — ice cream (Brady), boba (me), good conversation, exploring the mall, and playing arcade games (I definitely failed at Dance Dance Revolution, but it was real fun and definitely brought me back to high school days). Finally, 10PM rolled around and we slumped into our seats to watch the movie, which was actually pretty good. No spoilers, but oh god those cheekbones.

Alright, time for sleep and rest before Brady and I finally move into our apartment tomorrow!

On work, food, and walking around Beijing, as an Asian girl, with a white male

Getting It Right

Getting It Right

(Click through the title to get to the link)

A poem that begins with

Your ankles make me want to party,
want to sit and beg and roll over

is definitely sure to catch and hold my attention.

Some gems:

Your back is the back of a river full of fish;
I have my tackle and tackle box. You only have to say the word.
Your back, a letter I have been writing for fifteen years, a smooth stone,
a moan someone makes when his hair is pulled, your back
like a warm tongue at rest, a tongue with a tab of acid on top; your spine
is an alphabet, a ladder of celestial proportions.
When I place my fingers along it there isn’t an instrument in the world
I’d rather be playing. It’s a map of the world, a time line,
I am navigating the North and South of it.