1. 2014

    Adventures in China: The Christmas

    Guess where this is?

    This is the restaurant where I went to dinner last night. A fancy, yet very definitely Chinese restaurant. In China.

    News flash: Americans aren’t the only ones obsessed with Christmas.

    Okay, to be fair, nobody turns Christmas into an obsession quite like the United States. I think the frantic rush to start making preparations in September is a uniquely American tradition. But the celebration is catching on among the Chinese, especially young people, in a big way. From what I hear, a lot of Chinese are taking Christmas as an occasion to spend more time with their families. And businesses are capitalizing on the spirit by putting up holiday-themed decorations — lights, presents, and even decorated trees are everywhere.

    As I write this, I’ve been sitting in the Beijing airport for five hours listening to a loop of “Santa Baby,” “There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays,” “Silver Bells,” “Jingle Bells,” and a rather Hawaiian-sounding rendition of “Let It Snow” (notable for the contrast with the complete lack of snow outside).

    I guess the lesson is, if you’re tired of the Christmas frenzy, you might be able to hide, but you can …

  2. 2014

    Adventures in China: the toys of the trade

    My boss got me a new toy today.

    This is one of the perks of working for a well-funded research group, I guess. And a new research group. It’s not often that you get your foot in the door right when they’re buying equipment.

    It’s also a perk of being a phenomenologist (which is like being a theorist but sometimes we measure things we can’t calculate). Unlike experimental physicists, who have to spend their budgets on all sorts of exotic lab equipment (which I’m given to understand means obscene amounts of duct tape and aluminum foil), all you need for phenomenology is a computer, pencil and paper, and a place to sit. So there’s really no reason not to blow as much money as possible on nice equipment. And this is nice equipment. It’s literally the best Apple computer you can buy over here, featuring a 27 inch display (oooooh) and OS X Yosemite, the newest update to the operating system.

    Not that I don’t have reason to complain. The system stalled twice before I even managed to finish the setup procedure.

    I guess I have to start making offerings to the …

  3. 2014

    How one line in one file made me reinstall Gentoo

    Hey, internet. Long time no see.

    (It’s often claimed “long time no see” is a literal translation from Chinese “好久不见”, “hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn”, but actually nobody knows for sure.)

    On Thursday, my computer crashed. Not just that it crashed, but it somehow corrupted itself so that I couldn’t even boot it. It survived for two seconds after being turned on, before bailing out with this error:

    init[1]: segfault at 0 ip 00007ff10ea3fe05 sp 0007ffff7cb49148 error 4 in libc-2.19.so[7ff10e919000+19e000]
    Kernel panic - not syncing: Attempted to kill init! exitcode=0x0000000b

    This is so early in the startup process that nothing is running. It’s pretty much just the kernel and init (which, if you don’t know, is the very first program to run when a Linux system starts, the one that runs all other programs).

    So of course I recompiled (it’s Gentoo) and reinstalled both the kernel and init, as well as libc, several times, as well as several other programs that I’m pretty sure didn’t even get a chance to start, so how could they have anything to do with this crash? Still, better safe than sorry I guess …

  4. 2014

    Adventures in China: the bank account

    Part of moving to a new country is setting up all the “personal infrastructure” you need in order to live. And when you’re starting a new job at the same time, getting paid is pretty close to the top of that list. Which explains how, a couple days ago, I found myself walking into the Bank of China on the CCNU campus to set up a bank account.

    No, wait, let me back up.


    I found myself walking into the Bank of China on the CCNU campus to set up a bank account. Since it is the Bank of China, after all, everything is written in Chinese. Everyone there speaks Chinese. I would have been totally lost without my host (actually my boss, but he’s been so much help getting me settled that I think of him as my host) having come along to translate.

    Apparently the idea of being busy with a customer doesn’t really exist in China. A bank employee at one of the reception desks, where a Chinese woman was filling out a form, immediately beckoned us over. She and my host talked for a while, and she led us …

  5. 2014

    Lessons from my first half-week

    Things that don’t exist in China:

    • Ubiquitous wireless internet. Not so surprising, really, because Americans do have a rather unhealthy obsession with their wireless, but one would think I’d get wifi in the hotel room. Surprise, nope! Naturally this makes it rather less convenient to put up blog posts.
    • Washcloths. Seriously, China, what’s up with that?
    • Dryers. Or, they do exist, but for some reason dryers are considered a luxury item and are pretty rare. The Chinese prefer to stick to the traditional method of line-drying. (Hey, it’s environmentally conscious)
    • Smog. The weather has been pretty fantastic since I got here. From what I hear, outside of Beijing and maybe Shanghai, that’s actually pretty typical.

    • English speakers. Which, again, is not that surprising; China has its own language, so why would they speak English? Nevertheless, you’ll hear in a lot of places that lots of people in China speak English, even to the point that foreigners don’t actually need to learn Chinese! Nope, not in Wuhan.

    Things that do exist in China:

    • Toilets, by which I mean something that Americans would recognize as a toilet. In hotels and international dorms, at least. Public …
  6. 2014

    New Adventures in China

    The blog has been pretty quiet the last few months, because I’ve been getting ready to move to Wuhan, China, where I’ll be starting work as a postdoc at Central China Normal University.

    It turns out that moving to another country - in fact another continent - takes a lot of preparation. Shocker, huh. Airlines put pretty restrictive limits on both the amount and type of things you can take, so I had to pack light. I’ll basically be living out of a couple of suitcases for the next six weeks. But at the same time, shipping things to China is unreliable, expensive, and impossible until I find out where I’ll be living, so I had to make sure to take everything I needed. It took some planning to figure out how to fit the essentials into those two suitcases. My old habit of making a checklist of what to pack really came in handy!

    Then there’s the whole issue of getting permission to enter the country in the first place. Officially, to work in China, I need a work visa. For that I need a work permit from the university. For them to give me the …

  7. 2014

    Hooray, I have a postdoc!

    I figured a quick update is in order to announce that starting this fall, I’ll be a postdoc at Central China Normal University!

    If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember that visited CCNU back in 2012 for a conference and a week of research collaboration. It’s definitely different — you know, because China is not the US — but there’s a lot to like about the place. CCNU is rapidly developing a strong international reputation for their theoretical physics research. They’re well placed to take advantage of the Chinese drive to promote basic science; in particular, unlike the US and even Europe, to some extent, basic research in China still gets substantial amounts of financial support. The living costs are low, so even a small salary goes a long way, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to all the delicious food of Hubei province.

    There’s a lot to do between now and the fall, when I move, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this as it happens. It’ll be nice to be a scientist for a little while longer.

  8. 2012

    Check-in from China

    WELCOME READERS OF THE FUTURE!! (with ominous echo) In all seriousness, I wrote most of this from the Beijing airport yesterday, but without internet access I couldn’t post it until I got to the conference.

    First impression of China: it doesn’t seem that different from the US. Classical music plays over the speakers in the airport. Signs are pretty much bilingual everywhere, or even English-only (although to be fair, a lot of those are actually made-up Western name brands that don’t mean anything anyway). And seeing a bunch of Chinese people walking around speaking Chinese doesn’t feel even a little bit strange. This is a testament to just how many Chinese students have swarmed into American higher education. It’s only when I look around for the corresponding groups of white people and Indians — and don’t find them — that it really starts to become evident that I’m in a foreign country.

    Oh, and another thing: unlike what you might hear (in the US) about China being a “police state,” the police and security officers in the airport really don’t seem to be taking their jobs more seriously than they have to. It’s …