Archive for June, 2010

The Curse of the Cucumber


Soon after arriving at Microsoft Research Asia, I learned that the staff has a long-standing tradition of bringing in fruit every day at around 3pm. Naturally I was ecstatic at the prospect of having a tasty snack in the afternoon.

The first day we had some kind of melon, not really sure what it was…kind of like a honeydew melon, except cream-colored inside and softer. Quite tasty. We also had watermelon on some subsequent day. Very soon, though, I came to learn that the Chinese view of a ”common fruit” is quite divergent from that of a Westerner such as myself. This realization came as I entered the lunch room one day to be confronted by a crate of cucumbers.

Seriously? Cucumbers?

Other “fruits” that have graced the tables here include cherry tomatoes, and something that appeared to be an “apple”, but with sour/bitter skin and flesh that tasted like bad water. Incidentally, the sequence of events during my trying this “apple” progressed thusly:

  1. “Oh yay, an apple!”
  2. *bite*
  3. “Mmmmmm…mm…hey wait, who stole the taste?”
  4. *aftertaste sets in*
  5. “Gaaachhh”
  6. *several minutes pass*
  7. “Ok, well, perhaps that’s just the skin. Maybe the apple gets better farther in…”
  8. *bite*
  9. “…”
  10. Apple->trash with extreme prejudice

Apparently this gross misconception is not localized to Microsoft only. When I go to 7-11 to buy a fruit cup, it generally has cherry tomatoes along with watermelon, canteloupe, etc. And I know I’ve seen tomatoes misplaced alongside real fruit in other places, too.

Oh well, I supposed I’ll survive.

On an interesting and somewhat unrelated note, the Chinese word for “watermelon” actually has nothing to do with “water”. But to find out what it does mean, you’ll have to wait for the next post in my Arbitrary Guide to Chinese…

Note: Contrary to my earlier belief, the long green “fruits” served are actually cucumbers, and not zucchinis. Irrelevant. My indignation is still warranted.

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)

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