Posts about my visit to China.

Drew’s Guide to Learning Chinese in an Arbitrarily Long Period of Time


So you want to learn Chinese, but don’t think you have the time? This guide isn’t for you. Maybe you have some time, and you want to become fluent in Chinese? Nope.

But maybe you just need to learn some survival Chinese fast, so you can get around as a tourist? Now you’re talking.

Still no.

This is Drew’s Guide to Learning Chinese in an Arbitrarily Long Period of Time*. I cannot guarantee that you will learn fluent Chinese from reading it, nor can I guarantee any specific amount of time that it will take. But I can guarantee that you’ll have a lot of fun reading it!

*whisper whisper* What’s that? *whisper* Huh? *whisper*

Ok, my lawyers have informed he that we can’t guarantee that, either. So I guess the only remaining reason to read this guide is, well, because you’ve arbitrarily decided to do so!

THAT at least is okay to say, right? *whisper whisper* Seriously?!

…although other unknown and/or unforseen reasons may in fact exist, for which we accept no responsibility or liability.

*whisper whisper whi-* *THWAP*

So what CAN you expect? In this “guide”, I’ll be writing down info about Chinese characters, words, and phrases I’ve learned, as well as some things about about the Chinese language in general. So far I’ve not really spent the time to sit down and read a (real) Chinese tutorial at any length, so most of the content here comes from:

  • Me looking up characters from signs using my phone’s dictionary
  • Online dictionaries
  • Conversations with Success or others
  • My inference from signs

I really do need to get around to learning some survival phrases from a book, but until then, there’s this guide! Next time I’ll begin by posting some general rules and concepts in the Chinese language, and from there we’ll look at different symbols and phrases that I’ve found. You can follow the posts pertaining to this guide at this link.

Thanks for reading this post of arbitrary content!

* an arbitrary abbreviation of the full title, “Drew’s Arbitrary Guide to Learning an Arbitrary Amount of an Arbitrary Language Like Chinese in an Arbitrarily Long Period of Time, in an Arbitrarily Arbitrary Manner (with an Arbitrary Number of Occurrences of the Word Arbitrary).”

Getting settled in


As many of you know, the reason for my visit to China is a research internship with Microsoft. “Microsoft Research” has 6 labs around the world: three in the US; one in Cambridge, UK; one in Bangalore, India; and the one I’m working at, known as “Microsoft Research Asia”, located in Beijing, China. These labs are set up to provide more of an academic environment then in Microsoft’s software development groups, focusing on innovative and longer-term projects. There are a several major research focuses at MSRA; you can read more here if you’re interested.

I landed in Beijing at around 2:30pm on a Thursday, so after retrieving my luggage and finding Success, we decided there was still time to check in at MSRA before they closed (the official hours are 9am-6pm, I believe). We took a taxi from the airport into the city proper. The trip took about 45 minutes, and we passed near the Olympic area. Here’s a picture I took of the Bird’s Nest, though it is partially obscured by trees:

Bird's Nest on the Way to My Apartment

I got to talk to Success for a while in the taxi. He is a journalist, and works in his group to maintain a news website. His company compiles news from other news sources. Pretty cool.

Other than accidently arriving at the wrong building, and then taking a second taxi, we arrived at MSRA without any trouble. After signing a bunch of papers committing my time, confidentiality, and soul to Microsoft, we walked over to my apartment to dump all my stuff (it’s about 3 mintues away). Here are some shots of the room:

My Room 1 My Room 2

Incidentally, I’ve started a small map showing important sites near  my apartment. I’ll be adding more points to it, as well as adding completely new maps, in the future.

Map of the known world. Or at least the important parts.

That’s about everything notable that happened on my way in to Beijing. Now that I’m finally here in my blog, I can begin posting about some of the places I’ve visited here, and the interesting/weird/weirder things I’ve seen. My computer should be back from repairs any day now, so there should be a flood of photos soon. And, of course, a more than adequate about of gibberish to accompany them.

But alas, examining the important question of the identity of zucchinis will have to wait until next time…

Computer broken :(


computeronfire Unfortunately, my laptop computer died on me this past Saturday night. It won’t come on, and gives me some weird beep code. It’s likely a motherboard and/or power controller issue. Luckily, it is still under warranty for two more months (thanks NCSU for making my buy the 3 year warranty!). I’ve gone through several phone numbers, and I finally have the number for the local service depot, so tomorrow I will call them and find out how to get my computer serviced.

If it is indeed a motherboard issue (or something similarly serious), I expect it will take several days for repairs. So for now, I’ll just use my workstation in the office after hours. Unfortunately, the best game on here is Minesweeper, which, although surprisingly addicting, doesn’t quite live up to the gaming experience of Call of Duty. So for now, I’ll be reduced to exploring the wonders of China for weekend entertainment.

Oh wait, nevermind; Success has a Wii.


(Thanks to this guy for creating the burning computer pic)

Flight to Newark - Clouds

Flying in to Beijing


I finally found some time to post (it takes quite a lot of it, considering the abysmal Internet speeds in the apartment). It’s high time I started bringing this blog up to date!

For those who fly often, committing an entire post to a ride on a plane might seem silly. I, however, have not flown since I was about 5 years old. I had vague memories of terminals and looking out the window, but it was mostly lost to me. This, combined with the anticipation of traveling to a new country for the first time (Canada and the Caribbean cruise don’t really count), caused some excitement for me, so I think it merits some comment.

My itinerary consisted of two flights, from Charlotte to Newark, and from there directly to Beijing. The first leg of the flight was scheduled to leave at about 6:30. In the morning. Adding an hour to drive to the airport, and the 3 hours lead time suggested for international flights, I elected not to go to bed before I left not long after 2am. And boy am I glad we left when we did; we arrived at the airport just in time to stand around for one and a half hours until someone actually showed up at the desk. And then it took approximately 20 minutes to get through security and to the gate. Luckily it’s not like I was sleep-deprived or anything, so staying awake was no problem at all.

The flight to Newark was about two hours long, and was uneventful. I was a bit bored, and the clouds out the window looked really cool, so I took some photos thinking that Adam (my brother) would get a kick out of them:

Flight to Newark - Clouds Flight to Newark - Clouds Flight to Newark - Clouds

Thanks to some (unexpectedly accurate) directions from an gate attendant, find the gate for the second flight was pretty painless. The three hour layover was less so, but I managed to avoid sleeping through the departure. To kill some time while I waited, I stopped in an electronics store to have a look around. I ended up talking to the clerk there for a while. He was from India, and had been working in the US for a few years. Some fun trivia: apparently it takes significantly longer to fly from Newark to India than to China, even though the distances are similar, because flights to India need to route around quite a bit of protected airspace on the way there.

The flight to China was fairly comfortable. The plane (a Boeing 777) was quite large, and my parents upgraded me to a bulkhead seat with extra legroom (thanks!). All of the seats on the plane are outfitted with a personal touchscreen (10ish inches), with which you can watch any of long list of movies or TV series, play some games, or watch the progress of the plane along its course. I decided to watch Avatar, since I had yet to see the blockbuster film. It was decent: great graphics and effects, generic storyline. Granted, it was hard to hear over the plane engines, so I did miss some of the dialog. But this isn’t a movie review, so I digress.

Besides sleeping, watching Avatar, and attempting to read some background research papers for my internship at Microsoft (the purpose for which I am visiting Beijing), I also spent some time talking to the nice Chinese woman next to me. She lives in the US, but was traveling to China to visit her granddaughter. She was funny and good-humored, and we talked about many things.

The course of the plane took us first northward, then east over the top of Greenland and most of Russia, and then south through Mongolia into China. I took more photos out the window during this flight, particularly once we entered China. They have really cool mountains here.

Flight to Beijing - Clouds Flight to Beijing - Greenland Flight to Beijing - Greenland Flight to Beijing - Greenland Flight to Beijing - Acrtic Circle Flight to Beijing - Acrtic Circle Flight to Beijing - Russia Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China Flight to Beijing - China

We arrived at the Beijing airport without serious delay (although we had to circle for about 15 minutes due to a back up). Getting in through customs/security was much easier than I expected. I simply filled out a short form on the plane before we landed, handed it and my passport to an officer at the desk (after waiting in a short line), and then proceeded through the rest of the airport freely. Oh, except for one additional requirement:

Beijing Airport - Relax

The airport is huge. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos to capture it, but I had to take a 2-3 minute subway ride to the main building if that tells you anything. Oh, and don’t worry about the train: apparently it is disinfected regularly:

Beijing Airport - Train

And that’s about it. I picked up my baggage and met up a friend whom I had previously contacted for a ride. His name is “Success”, which is the literal translation of his Chinese name, “Cheng Gong.” In China, it seems there are not generally separate words for “people names”, but instead regular words are used in names. The fact that this is not true in English does not disuade some from assuming the direct translation as their English name. Success has been a great help to me, as have some others. But more on that next time.

So what’s going to happen next? Do we make it safely to my apartment? Does Beijing actually exist, or is it all a conspiracy? And is a zucchini really a fruit?! You’ll have to wait and see…

Hello from Beijing!


Ehem…is this thing on?…wait here’s the switch…testing? Good.

Hey everyone! This is, well, my blog. I’ve never run one of these things before, so if some of my posts seem a bit strange, don’t be too surprised. Ok, all my posts will seem more than a bit strange, but for reasons entirely separate from my inexperience at blogging.

I’m a bit behind on chronicling my epic journey to the far east, as I’ve just started this blog now (almost a week after I landed), but I plan to make some retroactive posts Soon(tm). And photos will be forthcoming, so shield your eyes.

Well, I’d probably better get back to work (more on that later, too). Until next time!

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