Monday, July 14, 2008


A couple of us decided to go on an adventure and visit the Peking Man exhibit on Sunday. Peking Man is one example of Homo erectus, the remains were first discovered in the mountains of Zhoukoudian in the 1920s. The trip there took three hours and consisted of three buses and a lot of confusion. We were able to walk around outside and see a few of the past excavation sites and also look at a lot of fossils inside the museum. There were a lot of Peking Man remains, and also remains from animals that existed during the same time period.
The weather on Saturday was beautiful, so six of us took a trip to the Hou Hai District. We ended up renting a six person paddle boat, and took turns paddling around the Hou Hai Lake. We had a really great time even though we had a few boating collisions and had to navigate around the men swimming around the lake.
My research has been progressing over the last couple weeks. My original goal was to bind copper nanoparticles to copper nanotubes. My first couple attempts were pretty unsuccessful, but over the last few weeks the results have been slowly improving. Last week the TEM images showed many small copper nanoparticles bound to carbon nanotubes with hardly any copper aggregation, which was pretty exciting. For the rest of my time in Beijing I'm going to work on optimizing the conditions for monodisperse copper nanoparticle deposition.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Here are a few pictures from the trip so far:

The view from the great wall
The Temple of Heaven
A night at the Peking Opera

Monday, June 9, 2008

Finally Getting to Work

I started work today! I had met with my professor, Yan Li, a few times in the last two weeks, so I knew that I would be doing research involving carbon nanotubes. Since I had never worked with carbon nanotubes before, I asked for some papers to read, which gave me some background information on the subject. I was still a little nervous when I started work today because I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything ended up pretty smoothly though. Luckily most of the people in the lab speak some English, so communication shouldn’t be too much of an issue. One of the undergrads, Lin Zi Yin, whose name I can’t even begin to pronounce (it’s much harder than it looks), got me set up at a desk, with a computer, and gave me a cute little leather lab notebook, goggles, and lab gloves. He also showed me around the lab, explained how to use most of the instruments that I’ll have to use, and translated their buttons into English for me.

I learned today that I’ll be trying to figure out how to effectively bind copper nanoparticles to carbon nanotubes. I spent most of my time in lab today reading a few papers on the topic, and was sent home with a few more to read. Tomorrow I will be trying out my experiment for the first time. It turns out that my overabundance of black clothes will finally be coming in handy. Apparently carbon nanotubes can leave black marks on clothing, so I’m going to have to wear dark clothes into lab for the rest of the summer.

Shen me?

This past week has been similar to the first; we’ve been seeing a lot of Beijing in a very short period of time. I’ve noticed some pretty strange things on the menus here, like stewed bees, and squirrel shaped crab, so I decided to branch out and try some new things. My first food adventure involved eating fermented egg that had been buried in cement dust for a while. It turned out being black and slimy, still slightly resembling an egg, and tasted like a combination of egg and intense fish. It wasn't as bad as I though it would be, but I don't ever want to eat it again.

I also ate meat at dinner on Friday. We went out for Peking Duck, which is a huge part of the culture in Beijing, so I figured I'd have to try some. It was pretty good but after I had a couple bites the waiter gave us a card with personal information about our duck including its name and brief life history. On top of that we discovered the duck’s head, still intact. The combination made me feel bad for eating the duck, so that was the end of my duck experience.

After dinner that night we went out to the Peking Opera, which is also a pretty big tradition in Beijing. We were seated in the front at tables where we were served endless tea and given lots of food. I'm glad I got the chance to see what Chinese opera is like, it was a lot of tambourine type instruments banging around with high pitched voices, painted faces, and some acrobatics thrown in. It seemed a bit strange at first, but in the end I really enjoyed it.

We had been told that karaoke is huge in China, so Liu Nian took us out for our first Chinese Karaoke experience. If you go out to karaoke here, separate rooms are provided for each group of friends; much less embarrassing than karaoke in the US where you are forced to stand up in front of a crowd of people and attempt to sing to them. At first everyone seemed a little apprehensive about taking the microphone, but that didn’t last two long. The only strange thing about the whole experience was that the videos that played had absolutely nothing to do with the songs that were playing. It almost seemed like someone had videotaped random people on vacation in the early 90s, and then given the videos to KTV. I’m pretty sure we’ll be making another trip to karaoke while we’re here.

This weekend five students went to Xian, I was not one of them. The weekend was still action packed for those of us who decided not to go on the trip. Since it was Kelly’s birthday a few of us snuck out Saturday morning to find her a birthday cake. We tried to have “Happy 21st Kelly!” put on the cake, but instead we ended up with “Kelly (21st) Happy!” I actually really liked that touch.

For lunch we went out for hot pots, where we were given two huge pots of boiling broth, and then raw vegetables, fish and meat, which could be cooked in the broth, and then dipped in sesame sauce. The hot pots were amazing, probably one of my favorite meals so far on this trip. Even though we were all pretty full, we had brought Kelly’s cake along. The cake was huge, and there were only eight of us, but we had no place to store leftovers, so we split the cake into eight gigantic pieces and finished the whole thing.

We managed to visit both the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace this weekend, and still have time to explore the Pearl Market. I’ve realized that the reason I buy things at the Pearl Market is not because the merchandise is incredible, but because I love seeing how low a price I can get the merchants to sell me things. The bargain that I am most proud of was a little figurine that originally had a price tag of 280 kuai. After threatening to walk away a bunch of times, I ended up getting two of them for 36 kuai.

First Week in Beijing

I made it to Beijing! After a very long day of travel, with one 13 hour flight, followed by a 4 hour flight, and then an hour long van ride, we arrived at our apartments on Saturday night. The apartment complex is brand new, and our rooms were beautiful and very modern looking, besides the squat style toilet in the bathroom, I’m not sure I’ll every quite get used to those.

The first week in Beijing was completely packed with activities. The day after we arrived, we took a trip to the Forbidden City. Although the Forbidden City was beautiful, it was incredibly hot outside, a little too much for any of us to handle on the first day. After a few hours of walking around in the sun we were too exhausted to go on, and ended up sitting on benches in the shade until our van showed up. We were then taken out to dinner at a pretty fancy restaurant, and served about 20 traditional Chinese dishes. After dinner we headed over to Tiananmen Square to watch a flag lowering ceremony that takes place at sunset every day. Still tired from our long day, most of us ended up sitting in the middle of Tiananmen Square to watch the ceremony.

On weekdays we’ve been taking Chinese language and culture courses at Peking University. Even though I feel like I’m picking up some Chinese phrases nobody seems to understand me when I speak to them, and usually end up laughing at me. Liu Nian, our language teacher, actually started crying because she was laughing so hard at all of us attempting to speak Chinese. I think I need more practice with vowel tones. I did manage to order a vegetarian dumpling in the grocery store the other day, which made me very proud.

Last Saturday felt like a race to see how much of Beijing we could cover in one day. We started off the day by going to a Lama temple, which was beautiful. There were way too many buildings to see at one time, I'm not sure we even got through half of them. One of the buildings was built around the most massive statue I have ever seen, a giant Buddha about 100 feet high. After that we went to a Confucius temple, and a Confucius study area which both looked exactly the same as the Lama temple to me, except with giant turtle statues instead of a giant Buddha. We then took a carriage ride tour of the area around a beautiful lake. The carriage ride felt a little awkward though because instead of a horse carrying the carriage, a little Chinese man hauled the carriage around. He also sang to us, and told us little stories in Chinese, which I thought was really cute even though I didn't understand a word of it.

Right before dinner we walked to the top of a drum tower, with terrifyingly steep stairs leading up to it. The view from the top of the tower was amazing, I could see all of Beijing, or at least as much as I could before the city disappeared into the smog. We stayed at the tower for about a half hour, and ended up seeing a traditional Chinese drum performance. After the drum tower we headed to dinner at Laoshe Teahouse, where we ate dinner on the second floor, with a view of the stage where musicians were playing. After dinner tea was served with a lot of traditional Chinese desserts, while we watched a series of bizarre, but amazing, performances. The first performance was an orchestra with the main "instrument" being a man with a ridiculously high pitched voice. There were also kung fu men, a magician, and some pretty funny skits. The most incredible performer though, was a woman who juggled really strange objects, like tables and huge vases, with her feet. At one point she even managed to juggle a pole with people sitting at each end, using only her feet.

On Sunday we took a trip to the Great Wall, which was about 2 hours away from Beijing. Even though we took cable cars up most of the mountain, the wall was still an intense trek; at some points I was actually afraid I might fall off the wall. I made the mistake of trying to walk along the Great Wall in flip flops, which made the treacherous hike even harder. Luckily we went back down the wall for lunch, where I was able to pick up the sneakers that I had left in the van. We headed back up a different part of the wall, which was less frightening, but much more physically demanding.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One Day Until China

Pre-China questionnaire:

1. What are you looking forward to the most?

I'm very excited about being able to live in China for a summer and become immersed in the Chinese culture. China has always been a country that I have wanted to visit, since the culture is so different from the US, so I'm very happy that I have an opportunity to go. I'm also excited to be able to gain more research experience, and learn more about my interests in Chemistry.

2.What gives you a sense of anxiety about going?

I think I'm most afraid of having to communicate with people while not being able to speak Chinese. Conducting research while not speaking a common language with others in the lab will definitely be a very difficult task. Outside the lab as well, I'm sure just getting around, ordering food, and doing other everyday tasks will be a challenge. I'm hoping to pick up enough Chinese to be able to get around while I'm there, but after taking our first Chinese class a few days ago, this seems more difficult than I had expected.

3. Not everyone who expressed interest ended up applying to go, what was the most compelling aspect of the program that made you decide you wanted to do it?

I was looking for a program that allowed me to conduct research while being abroad, but was having trouble finding research opportunities in chemistry outside the US. When I came across the UM PKU program I was very enthusiastic. I liked the fact that this program allowed me to be with a group of students my age, and seemed much more structured than many of the other programs I had encountered.

4.The pre-program period in Ann Arbor is meant to get the group to get to know each other before the trip. Is this a good idea? Were the activities effective?

It is definitely a good idea to have a pre-departure orientation in the US. We have all gotten to know each other and become friends, so when we arrive in China we'll have a support group. It was a great idea to separate getting to know one another from getting used to the culture in China. If we had all just been given tickets to China, and met once we got there we would not have had the same chance to bond in a familiar environment.

As for the activities, the ones that were planned were pretty effective, but we usually finished them around 2:00, and then didn't have much to do for the rest of the day. I think we would have enjoyed more activities to get to know one another, maybe some fun activities in Ann Arbor.