Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Taking a Stab At It

Reflecting back on my stay in China, I've been able to come up with a list of some aspects of living there that were good and others that weren't.

The Good:
Everyone was friendly – Especially the people who I worked with. Even with the language barriers, everyone in the Shi group was very helpful. When I mentioned that I needed a bicycle for transportation around campus, Chun-Xiao had posted on their network for one, and when that failed Bi-Jie Li gave me one to use for my stay here (unfortunately, a pedal broke and then it was stolen later on, but all was well...).

Chemistry – I learned more chemistry and laboratory techniques there than I would have under any other circumstances. Long hours and dedicated, friendly group members contributed to that for sure. Additionally, my name was submitted on the Fe catalyzed sp3 C-H bond activation paper after I demonstrated competency in the project early on. What will come of that I do not know. Either way, I had a good time in the lab. Granted, it was extremely stressful at times.

Active – Beijing was a pretty happening city with plenty to do as long as you're willing to find it. However, my work hours and M-F, Sunday schedule often left me too dead on Saturday to do anything too adventurous.

Prices – Even the tanking US dollar can get you very far in China. With what I paid for lunch when I returned to the US I could have purchased about 6 lunches at the Wan liu apartment restaurant; on campus, possibly more. If you can haggle well, the markets offer a wide selection of cheap goods as well.

Language – Since everyone there speaks Chinese, it's fairly easy to attempt to practice. I managed to get free food a number of times by using my limited Chinese and by helping them learn English.

The Not So Good:
Pollution – On some days I couldn't see down the street. Most days I never saw the sky, and I could easily glance at the sun because it was covered in enough smog (not that I recommend directly looking at the sun, of course).

Internet Access – Internet access was spotty at best. It took forever to get a reliable connection, and even then reliable is a relative term because it was anything but. Outages were frequent, sites were blocked haphazardly, rates were slow, and a lot of times I never bothered to turn on my computer because I didn't feel like dealing with the hassle.

Food – Until the second week of July experiencing China's assortment of food was fairly interesting. After that, however, I dreaded eating anything aside from egg-fried rice and watermelon. Even when eating other foods, I felt like I wasn't getting the appropriate nutrients as I would when I shop for myself in the US. Toward the last week I really couldn't stomach it. It doesn't help that my options were also fairly limited. Wan liu didn't have many restaurants around it, campus food was repetitive (and eventually mostly shut down), and it was difficult to travel around the chemistry building for food in a way that would coincide with my schedule. The closest options tended to be either worse than what was on campus or comparatively expensive. Additionally, since we had neither an oven nor a reliable stove (or even a microwave for that matter), preparing our own meals was also quite restricted.

Transit – Although public transit prices were excellent, actually traveling on a bus in Beijing can be a nightmare. If you don't time it right, you'll end up crammed into a scorching hot bus, sweating to death, and having others drip their deathly sweat on you too. Going to work was usually terrible, but coming home was all right because most sane people were already home by the time I left the chemistry building. The subway was pretty good, especially since it sported air conditioning.

Weather – Beijing seemed to like to handle weather at the extremes. For the first few weeks there it rained frequently. Although it wasn't as hot as usual, the place was practically flooding at the most inopportune times. After that it was mostly hot and dry. Overall, it made my sinus problems a consistent mess.

Olympics – The Olympics were a headache before we even came to China. The closer it came to the Olympics, the more difficult life in Beijing became. Just trying to get the appropriate stamps to get in both the chemistry building and on campus became a bureaucratic nightmare.

Overall, it was an opportunity I certainly wouldn't pass up. China is definitely moving quickly, and developing ties with its scientific community is of utmost importance.

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