Tag Archives: Life

An Ohio Yankee at Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo

I’m graduating tomorrow! From the BOSP Beijing study abroad program, that is. With the last finals and final papers of junior year turned in, I’m now officially a senior at Stanford.

In other news, my mom, my brother, and a friend are somewhere over the Pacific Ocean at this moment, on their way to Beijing to travel with me for the next 2 weeks. Except for the part where I speak Mandarin on par with a Chinese toddler, I’m basically a Beijing native at this point, so from now until Sunday, I’ll be showing Mom and Co. around Beijing and its many visual and gustatory attractions. We’ll then fly to Taipei, Taiwan, where I’ll get to see my grandparents and other relatives for the first time in over a decade. Then it’s back to the mainland, Shanghai and Hangzhou, for a few final days in the Orient, before we return to the US and life goes on…

I’ll be back in the US on June 23 and back at Stanford (living in Crothers) for research on June 28 (2 days before I turn 21!), but with everything that’s going on in my life (i.e., packing, eating, shopping, more packing), I don’t have enough time to write a full post right now. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures from the last couple weeks of my Beijing adventure, including a trip to Shanghai and the 2010 World Expo…

The 2010 Shanghai World Expo Mascot. With a blue "toothpaste thing" in the background. (They call him Haibao)

Mai, Me, Adriana, and Lili at the Tunisia Pavilion

Kelsey and the home of Messi

The US Pavilion. Surrounded, of course, by Chinese people trying to get in.

Half of our group (Chris, Kelsey, Lili, Adriana, Mai, Bill)

The other half (Dominik, Tarun, Amanda, Marty, Lianna)

Mexico, Stanford-style. (Photo courtesy of our resident photographer, Lianna)

People hopping fences to get INTO Mexico? Really?

Meet my friend, Frida Kahlo.

Usain, you're such a poser.

Romania's Greenopolis Pavilion

Reppin' Stanford.

Lunch at the Africa Pavilion: Ostrich wraps

Inside the Africa Pavilion. I don't understand...

The UK Pavilion. The shimmering effect comes from 60,000 transparent plastic rods that act like fiber-optic filaments in drawing light into the pavilion.

Marty, Me, and Adriana, playing in Australia

The host country China's spectacular pavilion, the only one that will be left standing after the Expo ends in October.

Taiwan and a Taiwanese.

Vietnam and a Vietnamese.

Burma and a... Chinese?

UFO? Nope, just the World Expo Performing Arts Center.

The Saudi Arabia Pavilion. Basically a gigantic lit-up bowl with palm trees on top. And a 4-hour wait to get in.

Nanxiang Xiaolongbao: The most famous steamed dumplings (baozi) in the world. No joke. They were invented here in Shanghai. The baozi are magically filled with soup, so you drink the soup with the straw before eating the rest.

On the Bund, looking over the Huangpu River to Pudong. Shanghai's iconic skyline is in the background.

The Shanghai skyline at night.

Stone Age weights. For real men only. (Let's go pump some... stone?)

Aww, how cute.

Even cuter.

Not quite as cute.

Ditto.

And we have a winner! The kitten in a box in a Shanghai alley was by far the cutest thing we saw all weekend.

An American-style diner in the French Concession was holding a contest: Eat a 1-kilogram burger in 10 minutes, and you don't have to pay for it. We convinced my roommate Bill to take on the challenge. At left is a normal-sized burger for comparison. Notice how the monster burger is bigger than Bill's head.

Chowing down.

Success!

Over 2 pounds of meat and bread (plus fries!) in 9 minutes. What a trooper. (I just noticed that I'm in the background of the Polaroid. Success.)

The Wall of Champions.

Me, Mai, Adriana, and Kelsey. Halfway up Xiangshan (Fragrant Mountain), on the outskirts of Beijing.

The girls, all looking amazingly happy for a candid shot.

Halfway up the mountain.

At the top of Xiangshan. Check out the view of Beijing in the background.

You just can't get away from those pandas. Sure, they're cute, but this is ridiculous... 🙂

Thanks for reading! Check back in 2 weeks for more new and exciting content. 🙂

-Joel

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A Hitchhiker’s Guide to China

Unless you want to be human-trafficked or see your face on the evening news, hitchhiking is one game you really shouldn’t play. Especially in China. Especially in southern China. Especially in the mountains of Yunnan Province.

But there we were last Sunday, lost in southern China, in the mountains of Yunnan Province. What choice did we have?

That particular adventure began peacefully, innocently, with a taxi ride from Peking University to Beijing Capital International Airport. It was the Chinese May Day holiday weekend, and the eight of us––7 students from Stanford, 1 from Peking University––had planned a 5-day expedition to Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. A 3-hour Hainan Airlines flight later, we were breathing in the clean (!) air of Yunnan and facing the imminent danger of having our body parts sold by a predatory swarm of strangers offering us cheap rides to our hotel in unmarked, windowless vans. We declined politely and took legit taxis to our home-away-from-home-away-from-home, the 4-star Kunming Jin Jiang Hotel. Granted, that’s 4 “Chinese stars,” as my roommate put it––1 for a bed, 1 for a TV, 1 for a working toilet, and 1 more for a shower––but even with 8 people stuffed into 2 rooms, we were living the good life.

Friday

Having banned early morning activity for the weekend, we set off at noon the next day in a rented bus with hired driver, in search of a real Chinese adventure. Our first stop: Jiuxiang Scenic Area (the equivalent of a state park in the US), 2 hours southeast of Kunming. On the way, we got a glimpse of the “real” China: sun-browned farmers knee-deep in rice paddies, a bevy of sad-looking oxen, and, in a representative juxtaposition of rich and poor, lavish country clubs with 18-hole courses right next to crumbling peasant abodes.

Jiuxiang Scenic Area

Chris, Me, Adriana, Lili, and Marty outside the caves of Jiuxiang

Still water.

I'm not quite sure what was going on here...

Jiuxiang is arranged as a linear passage, leading visitors through dazzling caves and spectacular gorges, and although the views alone were worth the trip, I was most impressed by the preferred mode of transportation back to the entrance…

Horses!

Buck-wild on a bucking bronco. Or something like that.

My horse couldn't hold it in, and Adriana couldn't help taking a picture.

Who knew horses could climb stairs?

Adriana, Marty, and Lili

That 20-minute ride on a Yunnan farmer’s horse––and a friendly chat with the farmer himself––was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip. Upon reaching the entrance of the park, we proceeded to spend tourist-worthy amounts of money on dried fruit, fresh fruit, and souvenirs.

Back in the bus, our questionable young driver was stewing in discontent. Hoping to shirk half a day’s paid work and get home before sunset, he lied to our faces, saying that we were out of time, that our next planned destination, the Stone Forest (Shilin), closed daily at 5PM. We insisted on going anyway.

The Stone Forest, which covers a vast area extending beyond our field of view, turned out to be a climber’s paradise. Rocks of all sizes sprout out of the ground in clusters, with hidden crevices, weathered cracks, and natural handholds aiding our efforts to scale them. Our late evening arrival meant the park was completely devoid of tourists, and we did our best Spiderman impressions in clinging to sheer rock faces and posing for sensationalistic photos. And from our vantage point atop the tallest stone cluster in the park, we had the opportunity to watch the sun set over the rock-dotted horizon. Beautiful.

Entering the Stone Forest

Stanford students can fly. Briefly.

King(s) of the Hill.

Sitting Stanford ducks: Marty, Bill, Me, Adriana, Lili, Chris, Bella, Beatrice.

Climbing is way harder than it looks...

Success.

Adriana did me one better.

As did Lili.

Meanwhile, snoozing alone in the bus, our driver had reached a tipping point. When he realized that his contracting manager (basically his pimp) had signed him up for the extra drive to Shilin for a meager 200ÂĄ, he exploded. We feared for our lives, as the crazy kid floored the gas pedal and started passing cars left and right. At 80 miles per hour. On a 2-lane mountain road. We made the 2.5-hour trip back to Kunming in 1 hour, but by the time we reached our hotel, none of us ever wanted to see a bus again.

Saturday

Saturday was a day for relaxing. After a massive Western-style breakfast––our first since coming to China––at the hotel’s 20th floor “revolving” (it didn’t revolve) restaurant, we explored downtown Kunming, wandering through a crowded but charming city park, a minority food and music festival, and various roadside shops. With the evening approaching, we took a cab over to Dianchi (Dian Lake) and watched the sun set over the Western Mountains (Xishan)––yet another unforgettable view.

Public dating boards: Find your true love, by age, hometown, and major (?!?)

Adriana admiring the lily pads.

Chinese civil disobedience: Uncensored (proxied) web access at an internet bar

Stanford + Chinese minority girl

I hate getting inattentive advice.

Outside the Yunnan Minority Village... Check out Xishan in the background.

Many horses were ridden on this trip.

Bella, Marty, and Adriana. Looking mighty gangsta there, Marty.

Beautiful sunset over Dian Lake and the Western Mountains

That evening, we were all tired, but we decided that we couldn’t leave Yunnan without experiencing a night out on the town. The concierge recommended checking out the Kundu Night Market. The party didn’t start ’til we walked in, and when one club started blasting Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” just as we walked in, we knew we were in the right place. Brash Americans the lot of us, we had no shame taking over the stage at each venue––the moment we got on, everyone else got off––and, there in the middle of downtown Kunming, we danced the night away.

Clubbing in Kunming. I love the picture of the little girl in the background.

Sunday

It was supposed to be a day of rest.

With grand plans of climbing the Western Mountains, we set off for the park gate around noon on Sunday. A navigational debacle ensued, with half the group ending up on the wrong side of the largest lake in Yunnan, and the rest of us baked in the sun for an hour waiting for our lost companions. Once we were all together, a gondola whisked us over Dianchi and halfway up the mountain.

Repping Stanford AND Peking University.

Climbing Xishan was like trying to wear out a Stairmaster. The stone steps seemed to never end, and when we reached a summit of sorts––so what if it wasn’t the actual mountain peak––we declared victory and celebrated with a picnic of eggs, Chinese bread, and jackfruit chips.

Nice umbrella, Bill.

Kunming from ahigh. (Xishan summit)

A quick downhill walk and a rocky bus ride later, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain, with no transportation and no idea where to find transportation. Our Holy Grail was the hot springs district of Anning, a small town 30 kilometers away, but how would we get there? We started to walk, hugging the shoulder of the mountain road and winding our way through shabby little towns before realizing that we had no chance in hell of finding our way alone.

After finding out that taxi companies in Yunnan do not, in fact, dispatch drivers, we set off on a wild goose chase, taking a series of rickety, peasant-filled buses and ending up in the middle of some sort of city, which we were first told was close to Anning, then were told was as far from Anning as it was humanly possible to be. With each passing moment, hitchhiking was becoming more and more attractive an option.

We were saved by a couple brave men, Kunming taxi drivers willing to ferry us through the mountains to our destination for a reasonable fee. We arrived at the Jinfang Shenlin Wenquan Resort––it was truly a resort––around 8PM,  paid 128ÂĄ RMB per person, and hightailed it out back to the springs. Each spring was like a big hot tub, minus the bubbles and the grime, and several were flavored: milk, rose, various Chinese fruits/vegetables. Befitting the theme of our trip, every time our group entered a spring, the incumbent Chinese family immediately departed. We didn’t mind. After our trying day, it took 4 hours of physical and spiritual cleansing before we were ready to part from the heavenly warmth of those hot springs. The experience was worth every penny and every wrinkled finger and toe.

Ready to hit the hot springs.

Hot milk. Mmmm...

Me and Chris.

Rose-flavored hot spring. 🙂

All in all, one of the most exciting weekends of my life.

-Joel

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Beijing: More Than We Bargained For

Stanford in Beijing at T–– Square

On our first Friday (no classes!), we rolled out as a crew for a day trip to the must-see tourist sites in Beijing proper: T–– (I’m trying to avoid the censors…) Square and the Forbidden City. We first took a Beida bus to the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition, where Shen Laoshi attempted to convey to us the spirit of the re-imagining––the rebirth––of the city of Beijing on a massive scale, in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The massive model of Beijing was spectacular, and as a map-lover, I was particularly thrilled. After an IMAX-style 3-D plunge into the history of Beijing, stomachs were growling left and right, and we headed straight for a feast of Peking duck and all sorts of Chinese dishes at a classy restaurant south of the Forbidden City. Fully satiated, we stumbled out the door and into a hutong, the traditional Chinese neighborhood arrangement, consisting of roads lined with fully-connected adjoining houses. We managed to ramble our way onto the store-lined central (north-south) axis of Beijing, just south of T––, and finally bypassed security to reach the famed Square.

The largest public square in the world, T–– Square is at once monumentally oppressive and grandly liberating; if you could decouple the physical location from its grim history, you would find yourself in a spectacular venue, perfectly fit for kite-flying or photo-taking. The gargantuan portrait of Chairman Mao hanging over the gate to the Forbidden City, however, quickly quashes any possibility of that, a constant reminder of the atrocities once perpetrated on the spot where tourists now pose smiling for pictures to email home, and evidence that the Chinese Communist Party endures today. Our tour of the Forbidden City blurs in my mind as an exceedingly long and vaguely interesting history lesson, taught by an eager Shen Laoshi. One memorable observation was that just 100 years ago, the imperial palace that we were touring was still occupied by a Qing Dynasty emperor and empress, as well as up to the oddly-specific official limit of 72 concubines.

A close-up of everybody's favorite chairman.

The emperor, of course, needs his star-rated toilet. I wasn't impressed.

After sneaking out the back door of the Forbidden City in the tradition of the last emperor of China, we decided to climb Jingshan (“Coal Mountain”), the manmade hill made of the dirt removed to form the moat of the Forbidden City. It was truly a magnificent view, and we did our best tourist impression by taking as many photos as humanly possible.

On the summit of Coal Mountain. The Forbidden City is in the background.

On Saturday, April 3rd, I met up with my aunt’s friend’s son, Luo Zhuo Kai, AKA Roger. He’s a 4th year med student at Beida, which means he lives off campus near a hospital where he’s interning. Here in China, aspiring doctors start med school immediately after high school, so Roger is only one year older than I. He took me to Lush, an expat bar overlooking the Wudaokou subway station, for a tasty American lunch. Roger grew up in Taipei, then after his mandatory military service came to Beida. He’s something of a cultural anomaly, a young Taiwanese guy in Beijing who just broke up with his 30-year-old girlfriend because she was ready to get married and he wasn’t. After promising Roger that we would get together again during my stay in Beijing, I met up with the Stanford kids at the subway station for our first trip to Silk Street, the legendary tourist market where hordes of Westerners are the norm and bargaining is essential.

The subway station opens up directly into the basement of the Silk Street building, providing easy access to all in need of fake designer clothes and awkward exchanges with aggressive saleswomen. There’s certainly an art to bargaining, and the road to mastery is littered with overpriced regret––usually in the form of tacky t-shirts––good intentions lost in translation, and premature “walk-aways.” I experienced the first on a grand scale when I attempted to purchase a North Face (North Fake?) jacket from a couple young female vendors. Initial asking price: 600¥ RMB. I instinctively reacted with an open-mouthed facade of disbelief, and so commenced the haggling game. It was a verbal sparring match, both the vendor and I bobbing and weaving, looking for a weak spot to jab in our desired price. After a few landed punches, I managed to pull off the “walk-away” maneuver successfully: I turned my back and started to walk away, and like clockwork, my adversary chased me down, grabbed my elbow, and agreed to my final price with an air of magnanimity. I handed over the cash––a quarter of what I would have paid in the US––and in return was handed a comfy new North Face jacket. In hindsight, the entire deal was more dance than dispute, both parties sharing a tacit understanding that the initial asking price was far above the jacket’s value and my initial counteroffer far below. We played the game simply to determine where in that range the final price would rest––and to have a little fun in the process. No China experience is complete without a trip to Silk Street or one of the countless other markets strewn throughout China’s major cities. Who would have imagined arguing over a price tag could have such grand cultural implications?

During our second week here in Beijing, things started to settle down. We realized that to venture into the heart of Beijing every single evening of the week would require a monumental and ultimately unsustainable effort––indeed, we were all so exhausted from our first such week that the subsequent 4-day Chinese Memorial Day weekend was fully devoted to recovery. I’ve developed a weekday day-to-day routine of such simplicity that I could not even imagine living this life back at Stanford, or anywhere else in the real world: Wake up between 9 and 10AM, Skype with friends and family and do some EE research, eat lunch with my fellow Stanford or Beida students, attend Chinese class from 1:30-2:30PM, go to the gym to run or lift, grab dinner with the Stanford crew, and spend the evening watching a movie and hanging out in the student lounge.

A pleasant deviation from the schedule came up that Wednesday, when we began our weekly Stanford-organized cooking classes hosted by local families. Kelsey, Beatrice, and I were assigned to the nicest old man in the world and his equally-nice wife, and upon arriving at their tiny apartment, we were showered with oranges and tea and chocolate. We rolled up our sleeves and learned how to make dumplings and a variety of other Chinese dishes: tomatoes and egg, a pork and squash dish, and Chinese-style potatoes. Turns out Chinese cooking is very simple: Just stir-fry everything. Once our meticulously stir-fried dishes were ready, we stuffed ourselves until we 走不动了 (couldn’t walk anymore), recovered with some after-dinner tea, and waddled back to Shaoyuan.

The next evening, we had a pizza and movie night (Raise the Red Lantern) with some Yale students, and after the movie, we all decided to go clubbing in Sanlitun, THE expat nightlife district. If you’ve ever seen a ridiculously glitzy club scene in a movie and wondered where in the world such an actual club exists, I now have the answer: It’s in Beijing. And it’s called Vics. Or Latte. Or Mix. Whatever. The evening was a blur of neon lights, rows of DJs spinning simultaneously, and rocking out on stage with the Stanford crew, eardrums bursting from the deep bass that seemed to emanate from the floors, the ceilings, the walls, everywhere.

The next day, no one had the energy to party hard again, so we went out exploring on foot, wandering through Tsinghua University’s massive campus. Known as the “MIT of China”––which means it’s without a doubt the second-best engineering school in the country 🙂 ––Tsinghua has an overwhelmingly male student population and a campus overflowing with Western architecture. Many Tsinghua landmarks would fit right in on the campus of any university in the US. We ended the evening in Wudaokou with a tasty Japanese dinner and a brief detour to a roadside peanut stand and the Golden Phoenix Bakery. Side note: If I could live anywhere, I’d choose to spend the rest of my days in a Chinese bakery.

Tsinghua University: The "MIT of China." Check out my new North Face jacket.

Our 8AM departure for the Great Wall on Saturday, April 10, was a rude awakening. The bus ride from Beida to the Mutianyu section of the Wall took nearly 2 hours, and everyone passed out for the duration of the trip. We awoke to the sight of mountain peaks and the winding, awe-inspiring stone wall that stands as the protector of China past and the pride of China present. The first thing I noticed was that I could breathe again, for the first time in weeks: We had left the flatlands and the pollution of Beijing behind, and all that remained was clean, fresh mountain air. A quick chair lift ride later, we were clambering up the steps of the wall itself, with legs and lungs burning and cameras at the ready.

Marty, Lianna, Me, and Adriana. We told Marty, "No gangster signs," but he was too gangster to listen.

Can you read the Chinese characters far off in the distance? "Loyalty to Chairman Mao"

Conquering the Great Wall.

From seeing pictures of the Great Wall and watching Mulan, I imagined the trail at the top would be a smooth, continuous surface––not so. The stone steps ranged from door jam-sized ledges to countertop-height plateaus, and I couldn’t help but wonder how a common soldier, burdened with sword and shield, could possibly make it to his post in time to keep the invading Mongol horsemen at bay. After taking hundreds and hundreds of group and individual photos, we finally made our way back to the top of the chair lift, where we found ourselves with just one option for transportation down the mountainside: toboggans. Plastic toboggans on a sheet metal track, to be specific. As I careened down the sheer rock face, a park official yelled out, “发疯了!”––which translates to “You’ve gone crazy!”

Look, Ma, I found the horizon!

We were happy because we could breathe at last.

Stanford students: Too weary to walk, but still smiling.

My new ride: The preferred form of downhill transportation in China.

And the fun didn’t stop there. We broke for lunch at an open-air restaurant in the mountains, and were met at the door by a young Chinese man holding several huge nets and bamboo fishing poles. It seemed he wanted us to catch our own lunch. Our gracious host then ushered us over to a nearby pond and left us to our own devices. I’ve always found that food tastes better if you’ve worked for it, but it soon became apparent that unless we changed tack soon, we weren’t going to have any food to taste. After half an hour of unsuccessful man (Stanford student?) vs. fish action––I maintain that “survival of the fittest” worked against us, for the remaining fish were those that had already evaded capture by bumbling humans countless times––the Beida program director, whom we have affectionately dubbed “The Godfather,” swooped in and netted three of the slippery beasts in quick succession, and we had our lunch. The return trip to Beida passed by in that tranquil, post-exertion state of euphoria, and so ended the second week of our Beijing adventure.

Working for our food.


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Are You A Procrastinator?

Stanford philosophy professor (and 1980s Soto RF) John Perry has discovered “an amazing strategy… that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.”

He calls his theory “Structured Procrastination.

How does it work?

Picture the To Do list you keep on your Windows 7/Mac OS X desktop, on your iCal/iGoogle, on an explosion of Post-Its all over your workspace, wherever. Now imagine doing everything EXCEPT the 2 or 3 most important tasks on that list. How much have you actually accomplished?

Not much, you might say, considering that you didn’t do what you most needed to get done. But if your To Do list was organized correctly––i.e.,  in line with the tenets of Structured Procrastination––you’ve probably never had a more productive day.

The key to Perry’s theory lies in the structure of the To Do list. Most people organize their list in order of importance, with the most important tasks (“Sign up for classes”) on top, moderately important tasks (“Brush my teeth”) in the middle, and trivial tasks (“Brush my dog’s teeth”) on the bottom. Note that a To Do item doesn’t have to be on top of the list to be well worth doing; working on these “less important” tasks becomes a way to put off working on the first few items on the list. And by putting tasks that only SEEM important and urgent (e.g., “Write a blog entry”, “Check my PO Box”) on top of the list, you can make progress on the tasks that really matter.

I don’t know if this game plan works for everyone, but I know I’ve been using a similar strategy for a long time. I’ll work on my research to avoid writing a paper, or make a flyer for ASES to skirt a trip to the post office, or plan out my classes for next quarter to escape packing. Try it out. Sometimes self-deception can be a very powerful tool.

-Joel

P.S. A word of warning from Perry…

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this goes contrary to the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be by definition the most important, and the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is a way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being.

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Study Break

In honor of finals week at Stanford, check out the work of some of the world’s best test-takers. (Courtesy of Mom)



And if you really want to procrastinate, read on…

Dr. Schambaugh, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, is known for asking questions such as, “Why do airplanes fly?” on his final exams. His one and only final exam question in May 1997 for his Momentum, Heat, and Mass Transfer II class was: “Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with proof.”

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

“First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave.

Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, then you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant. Two options exist:

  1. If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.
  2. If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the quote given to me by Theresa Manyan during freshman year, “It will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you” and take into account the fact that I still have NOT succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then Option 2 cannot be true… Thus, hell is exothermic.”

The student, Tim Graham, got the only A.

And you thought you were good at making up BS. 🙂

-Joel

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A Stanford Winter

Kyle, me, and Lauren on top of a mountain

Lantana Snow Trip: Hitting up the slopes at Squaw Valley

Maybe it was the 2 weeks of mono-induced torpor and swollen lymph nodes that I barely survived early in the quarter. Maybe it was the countless hours I spent preparing for my big research presentation. Or maybe it was the endless February rain that had Stanford’s entire bike-riding population––i.e., the entire Stanford population––praying for spring to come early.

I don’t know why, but I can’t help but wonder: Where did winter go?

I woke up early––read: 8AM––this morning to go for a run and realized that spring’s already here, at least in California. It’s kind of like when you lay down on the couch for a quick afternoon nap and open your eyes to find the sun sinking below the horizon and another day gone. Except this time, it’s an entire quarter, gone. Almost. We’ve still got one more week of classes, a not-so-dead Dead Week, and finally finals, but at the rate we’ve been going, we might as well be done.

But I’m not at all stressed out. It helps that I’m taking a relatively light courseload this quarter: EE41 (Physics of EE), EE108B (Digital Systems II), EE216 (Principles and Models of Semiconductor Devices), and EE191 (Special Studies in EE). At a time in the quarter when most students feel the weight of an ambitious Week 1 course selection, I’m staying even-keeled, with the constant workload of research tempering the inevitable ups and downs of an academic term at Stanford.

And with winter’s demise comes the advent of China: I’ll be leaving for Beijing on March 25 and studying abroad at Peking University for all of spring quarter. At the end of the program, I’ll be going to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai with my mom and brother, then possibly visiting Seoul or Taiwan or both. The visa application process turned out to be quite a pain, but the light at the end of the Chinese government’s proverbial tunnel is getting brighter.

Much more about China to come… It’s super exciting and I can’t wait, but winter quarter’s definitely not over till it’s over.

-Joel

Shanghai Skyline: It looks like something out of Star Wars... (Click on the picture and look closely)

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Nerds are Unpopular?!?

Stanford University is the home of the world’s most athletic nerds. Naturally, they would ask a question like…

“Why don’t smart kids make themselves popular? If they’re so smart, why don’t they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests?”

For an interesting answer, check out Paul Graham’s polemic against peer persecution of smart kids in America’s middle schools and high schools, “Why Nerds are Unpopular.” I found it pretty entertaining.

White and Nerdy.

His best line:

“Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done.”

I was incarcerated for 12 years and didn’t even realize it. Man, adults are too smart.

-Joel

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The Stanford Bubble

I spent the first 18 years of my life trying to get into college and the last 2 trying to get out.

That’s not to say that I spent my freshman and sophomore years at Stanford biding my time, waiting for the perfect moment to drop out or run away or take some other equally dramatic action––that would be a terrible waste of all those palm trees on Palm Drive that I’ve invested in with my tuition dollars––but rather that I’ve long wondered how best to break free of the Stanford Bubble, in mind and in body.

For the uninitiated, the “Stanford Bubble” is a term often tossed around in reference to the once-in-a-blue-moon frequency with which students get off-campus. The phenomenon stems from the immense size––Stanford, CA is its own city, with its own ZIP code, 94305––and the self-sufficiency of the Farm, and usually refers to the day-to-day physical insularity that students here experience and bemoan jokingly, but it applies just as well to the psychological disconnect that grows with every passing day on the campus of any university, so-called “elite” or otherwise.

I'll try to avoid this...

I'll try to avoid this...

It comes down to a loss of perspective. The exigencies of the quarter system force upon us a terrible triumviral ultimatum: academics, sleep, a social life––choose two. Keeping in touch and up to date with the world beyond 94305 isn’t even an option. And sometimes we get so caught up in the relentless rush of midterms and problem sets and meetings that we simply forget why we came to college in the first place: to continue our education and to make our visions of the future into reality.

But I really can’t complain.

See?

See?

I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do––i.e., going to Stanford, making new friends, learning a lot, working my ass off, running all over the country. But the weight of the world lies squarely on my shoulders when I think about everything I want to and believe I can accomplish. I do my best to live 100% in the moment, but when “the moment” is 7 hours into a problem set that strains the limits of both my understanding of PDEs/circuits/signal processing and my ability to conjure up reasonable-looking answers, I still can’t help but wonder why I’m spending $200,000 and 4 years of my life “learning how to learn.”

It’s only when I reconnect with a friend I haven’t seen in a while or fly home to my family in Ohio that I can take a step back, recover perspective, and find my center, so to speak. It’s those moments that drive me, that revive me, that propel me forward into every new day with an extra spring in my step. No day is ever better than today, but I still can’t wait for tomorrow.

-Joel

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The Amazing Race

I’m back at Stanford.

Last Saturday I competed––competed is a strong word––RAN the US Air Force Half-Marathon, the first non-marathon road race I’ve ever run and the first I’ve run outside of California. Besides a couple 100-meter dashes in 8th grade track & field, my parents have never seen me compete in a legit race before, so I’m glad they were able to come out and help me carry all those heavy, heavy 1st place trophies home. 🙂 OK, maybe not. But I’m still glad they came.

The race was scheduled to start at 8:30AM on the grounds of the National Air Force Museum, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so I woke up at 6AM to eat a banana and drink some water––it’s best to eat at least 2-3 hours before a long run––and pump myself up for an exciting 13.1-mile journey with the Air Force’s finest. Right before a race I’m always worried that my race number or timing chip is going to fall off while I’m running, and Saturday morning was no exception. I probably checked my bib and chip at least 10 times before heading out the door.

With my super strength, I will tear off these warm-ups.

With my superhuman strength, I will... tear off these warm-ups.

The weather was perfect: 60-something and sunny. After a painfully slow Air Force rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a flyover by a couple F-16 fighter jets––apparently, the “sound of freedom” is that of your eardrums exploding––we were off.

From mile 1 to the mile 6 turnaround, I just glided, sitting on the tail end of the 1:40 pace group. Life was easy. I didn’t keep track of my pace too carefully, but there was a huge, ripped Air Force guy right in front of me, and I figured if I could stay with him, I’d be in pretty good shape. Well, he kept a metronomic pace, but this guy was FAST; just trying to keep an eye on him, I left the pace group in the dust.

By the time we reached the tenth mile marker, I was ready to die. Every breath hurt.

If you compare the last 6.2 miles of a marathon with the last 3.1 of a half, they’re pretty much the same. In either case, you feel like you’re going to die. The only difference is despair. In a marathon, when you hit the wall at mile 20, you literally have no energy left in your body. In a half, at mile 10, you know the pain is temporary, no matter how much it hurts. In Harry Potter terms, it’s Avada Kedavra vs. Cruciatus. Both hurt like hell, but one is somehow infinitely worse than the other.

So when I saw the sign that said, “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass,” I grinned and kept on running. And at mile 12, I sprinted past my giant pacer––who I admit DID have a knee brace on––and never looked back. The tunnel vision kicked in around then, and I saw nothing but the next guy/girl I had to pass in order to make it to the finish line as fast as humanly possible. Then it was over.

The taste of victory.

The taste of victory.

I crossed the finish line in 1:36:35, a pace of 7:22 per mile. Negative splits too––I covered the first half in 49 minutes, the second half in 47. And as I discovered on Saturday, there’s a certain satisfaction in being competitive in a race––not necessarily in terms of being fast enough to vie for an overall or age group award, but rather in sustaining a competitive mindset throughout the entire race. Invariably, when the glycogen depletion rears its ugly head at mile 20 of a full marathon, all I can think of is finishing the race upright. In Saturday’s half, I crossed the line with the notion of finishing as quickly as possible still intact in my mind. It’s kind of like taking a class pass/fail vs. taking it for a letter grade––in one case all you care about is getting by, in the other you always want to do as well as you possibly can.

Will and me

Will and me

Post-Race Family Pic

Chilling with my parents

Today’s assessment: nothing bruised, nothing broken, nothing sore. Now I feel like running barefoot again.

What a way to end the summer.

-Joel

P.S. Congratulations to Mom for finishing her first 5-K on Friday!

Congratulations, Mom!

Congratulations, Mom!

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USAF Half-Marathon

I’ve been at home for nearly 3 weeks now, and I’m headed back to Stanford on Saturday.

But right before I get on that Frontier Airlines flight bound for San Francisco, I’m running the US Air Force Half-Marathon with Will, one of my childhood friends. I’ve been training pretty consistently most of the summer, but for some reason, I’m not really nervous or even completely aware yet that I’m going to be running a 13.1-mile race in less than 2 days. Usually, right before a marathon, I’m all hyper and raring to run, but this time, I guess I have other things––the start of another school year, mostly––on my mind. Also, in terms of difficulty and glycogen drain, 13.1 miles is definitely NOT equal to half of 26.2 miles, so I haven’t had to carbo-load or taper. And no taper = no “taper madness.” 🙂

12 weeks of training: Check. Race number (4469): Check. Broken-in shoes (Brooks Adrenaline): Check.

So I’m in pretty good shape for the race, right?

Nope. So on Tuesday morning, I picked up the book Born To Run, by Chris McDougall, and couldn’t put it down until I finished it that afternoon. It’s a hyper-paced story that revolves around a lost tribe of sorts, the Tarahumara Indians of the treacherous Copper Canyons of Mexico. The Tarahumara are legendary among those in the know––essentially two communities: ultrarunners and crazy sports scientists––as the world’s natural-born superathletes, gods among men. The problem is, with AK-47-toting drug lords guarding their precious crops and perilous cliffs that drop away into nothingness, few people ever make it in AND out of the Copper Canyons alive (the Tarahumara themselves are a peaceful people). Anyway, McDougall weaves together a storyline involving a mysterious gringo named Caballo Blanco (“White Horse”), a delegation of the world’s best ultramarathoners, and a 50-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the best of modern running against the best of the “Running People,” who run in sandals made of used car tires and rope. And the book is NON-FICTION. Amazing.

The most exciting non-fiction book I've ever read

The most exciting non-fiction book I've ever read

The book talks up the genuine joy of running so much that, naturally, I decided yesterday that it would be a good idea to try running barefoot, kinda like the Tarahumara. And well, it sure felt good while I was running.

Then I woke up this morning.

It felt like Chris Brown had gotten mad at my calves and decided to teach them a lesson. (Too soon? Sorry, Rihanna.) Luckily, I still have another day and half before the race, so I should be at full strength by the time I pin on my race bib.

At least the race t-shirt looks sweet.

-Joel

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