Touchdown

(Pretend I’m posting this on Thursday night Beijing time rather than on Friday during lunch break)

Thursday, June 19 2014
After the most amazing quarter in Berlin, I stuffed everything I owned into two suitcases and a backpack, boarded a plane to Beijing, and arrived in Peking International Airport on Tuesday, June 17th for my summer internship with Lenovo Beijing. Two days later, here I am now — resting in a hotel near Lenovo (in Haidian district, where all the major tech companies like Baidu, Lenovo, Microsoft, and others are located), smashing away at the keys on my keyboard. This isn’t exactly going to be real-time reporting, but hey, I tried. And I will try, in the future.

I’m not going to lie, leaving Berlin was difficult. The past quarter had been an all-around amazing experience, and I found myself more caught up with the fact that I was leaving such a beautiful city, than the fact that I was embarking on a new journey in a new city. Perhaps it was also the idea of leaving so many good friends, for a new city where I hardly knew anyone. Perhaps it was also that the fatigue was, at that moment, outweighing the wanderlust — in that short span of a quarter I had been to Norway, Rome, Athens, Talinn, Leipzig, Dresden, and Munich. Right now, I’m very content to stay in Beijing for the summer and explore its little nooks and crannies. The plane ride brought many thoughts, tears, and… more on that in another post. Although I was initially worried about Hainan Airlines, which I had never heard of before I booked my tickets, I was pleasantly surprised by the food and service, so hurray for that.

When I arrived in Beijing on Tuesday morning, I was picked up by a HR lady from Lenovo, who brought me to the company to put my luggage down, after which I was introduced to my supervisor and other colleagues, brought for lunch, brought to check out apartments to rent, brought back to the company for dinner, and finally back to the hotel where I’m temporarily staying with another intern, Brady, while we try to find a suitable place to rent. All on 3 hours of sleep, with me all gross and still in my airplane-clothes (not too shabby; I was in slacks and… a Palantir shirt. Awkward). I pretty much fell asleep immediately after reaching the hotel at the end of the day, and very gladly so.

The next day, after a long and arduous commute to work (because we didn’t know that we could take the bus :<), we first went to grab some breakfast at the convenience store with a co-worker, and then went to check out our colleague’s apartment, which was similar to the one we wanted to rent. It’s a 20-minute walk from work, and 5 minutes by bike, and so even though it’s not near any major subway lines or bus stops, that makes it a good location in my book. We ended up staying for lunch (粽子 and instant noodles with egg and cabbage, and a movie, 画壁, was playing on TV) before heading back to the office, where we met with our supervisors and were introduced to the various projects we’d be working on over the summer. Then, we headed on over to Peking University (北大) for our School of Engineering China Internship Program orientation with the other Stanford interns — I really liked the campus! It’s big, and some parts are very impressive, especially the Stanford Centre! A whole lot of adding each other on WeChat ensued. Later, we had dinner together with our program coordinators and mentors at a restaurant (梦桃圆) in 北大, and then headed back home to rest. This was also the night we managed to jump the Great Firewall, woohoo!

Today was a really, really long day. We got to the office early in the morning, started learning how to use Rhino, and discussed our projects and work schedules with our supervisors. We then went for lunch at the staff canteen; which was mostly rice and side dishes (菜贩) — definitely brought me back to high school canteen memories. The lights in the office shut off from 12:00PM to 1:30PM, which I take as a sign that we should take a break and not work through lunch, unless absolutely urgent. After lunch, we resumed work and went till 6:30PM. Not to go into details about what exactly we’re working on, but we’ve started working on actual mechanical and electrical design, and it is exhilarating. And tiring. Our team members are all really nice and helpful, and I feel really humbled by what they know and have to teach us. Although they keep apologizing for their English, I feel like I should be apologizing for my Chinese not being adequate enough! After work, we went to see an apartment that we wanted to rent, and were satisfied with it, and so we’ll be signing the lease and moving in on Sunday, yay! I’m really relieved that we’ve figured out housing.

First impressions of Beijing: it’s not the easiest city to live in — I am definitely filled with a hell lot of respect for my friends who went abroad to study in Beijing. The smog is pretty bad, and while I’m sure I’ll get used to it and wear a mask when the air quality gets toxic, and while there’s something strangely and oddly pretty about high-rises fading into the smog, it still weighs on your mind and irritates your eyes and throat. It’s very crowded, which can be rather stressful at times. Public transportation is really cheap (2 RMB for a subway ride from any stop to another, 1 RMB for a bus ride), though crowded and not very dense. I haven’t really explored Beijing very much though, and so will refrain from making any further judgments until I’ve really come to understand and know it. One awesome thing, though, is that I’m discovering that my Mandarin Chinese is pretty adequate for getting around and conversing casually with people. Still need to develop my technical vocabulary, though, which I’ll be working on this summer!

First impressions of Lenovo: we work in a pretty swanky and large compound (I’ll post photos soon!) with a huge (and well-designed I should say) water feature, more than 8 buildings, a convenience store, two cafeterias, and more that I probably haven’t seen yet. The office looked pretty much like any normal office you would find in Singapore or the Bay Area (?) — cubicles with low walls, and all sorts of curious knick-knacks adorning them. There are a few rooms where project teams collaborate together, but for the most part there is less room for casual collaboration and no hotdesking. The department has weekly salons where people present on relevant topics (we’ll have to do that in a couple of weeks), and various sporting activities.

The dress code was really unexpected — you’ll see dudes walking around in berms and t-shirts, ladies walking around in short shorts and singlets, etc. While some ladies really do up their make-up, others don’t, and this is a great relief. I will say though, that there’s something nice about office formal — everyone always looks incredibly spiffy and smart and attractive when they’re in office formal, and it’s nice dressing up like that at times. In this weather, though, you’re probably better off in shorts and a t-shirt.

All the people I’ve met here thus far have been incredibly friendly and chatty, and I’m really glad that the company’s taking such great care of us and making us feel welcome 🙂

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Touchdown

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